Archive for the ‘Good Parenting’ Category
Am I a Helicopter Parent?
You may have wondered if you are too attentive to your child’s needs, or if you have been overly involved in his or her relationships or decisions. And if you have, you wonder how to stop, to keep your child from becoming so dependent on you or your opinions, that he can’t make decisions for himself.
It can be hard to tell how much is too much. You are caring, attentive, involved, and dedicated to your child’s success … all the things you hear make up good parenting. And yet, sometimes you get sideways glances from your friends or relatives. Other times they come right out and tell you that you shouldn’t be so involved in your child’s life. Or worse, they avoid talking and withdraw from your friendship, leaving you wondering what you did wrong.
“I want the best for my child,” says a client who comes to me with this issue, “but I don’t know where the line is. Should I be checking his grades online every day or every week? Should I try to find out who he’s texting, who he’s friends with on Instagram, and how the coach feels about his performance at practice? Should I contact the school counselor if he seems depressed or discouraged?”
What IS a parent’s job in this day of over exposure to media and pressure to perform?
First, realize that it’s a totally different world from the one we grew up in. The sheer number of ways that a child can now interact with the world without parental knowledge is mind-boggling. The news carries stories of Amber Alerts and stranger abduction. It’s very hard to know how to navigate this territory, and you are not alone.
Here are some tips for healthy monitoring of your child’s life, without overdoing it.
- Place parental controls on all your child’s devices. Don’t apologize for doing this. With the Internet’s reach, it’s simply good parenting to eliminate the vast array of potentially harmful sources. Google your Internet provider + parental controls to get the info you need. Do this today.
- It’s not being too involved if your child is struggling in school, and you check the parent portal once every week or two. Your only response needs to be one of offering help if needed, not a lecture on grades. If your child is doing well, it’s his or her business what the grades look like.
- If you are paying for the phone, you have access to the texts and social media passwords. I’m sorry to say it’s important that your child not have privacy in this area, because cyber-bullying and inappropriate postings are too easy for developing humans. They need our guidance, and having access to them, along with weekly checks, is just prudent practice. Keep in mind that some apps (get a good list here) are designed to have the messages disappear after only a few seconds. If someone posts something inappropriate that features your child, it IS possible to preserve the image by screen-shot, and pass it on on other social media platforms, which means it’s on the Internet forever. This needs to be explained to your child.
- “No screens an hour before bed” (to prevent sleep loss) and “the phone is charged in the kitchen” (to prevent constant availability) are two good rules.
- It’s not overly involved to talk about ways predators can pose as 15-year-olds online and ask teens to meet them in person. Be certain that your child’s whereabouts are always clear to you. Apps on their phones that communicate with yours can locate them, and I think it’s a good idea. Ask your child to let you know where she is, and expect compliance. Be casual about it, but also be firm. The phone is a privilege, and its use depends on this rule being followed.
- Being friends on Facebook or Instagram with your child’s friends is usually over the line. Being friends with their parents is a good way to stay connected, so you know what’s happening in their world, too, and can be united for all your children.
- Encourage in-person socialization, so that children don’t forget how to relate one-on-one. Allowing them to invite friends to your home is not overly involved. Inviting them yourself, or asking their parents to send them over, is.
- Monitor sleep-overs just enough to discourage drinking or inviting unwanted guests. Do not “hang out” with your child’s friends in your home unless invited.
- Remember that some level of privacy is necessary for a child to develop normally. Invite sharing, but if you don’t get it, stay relaxed. Have an understanding with your child that if something seems really amiss with a friend, you will be in touch with his or her parents. Use compassion, not policing.
- As your child grows into young adulthood, take a stance of support and encouragement, while being there as a guide for the inevitable rough spots.If you have questions about this or any other parenting issue, visit www.parentingmojo.com/parent-coaching.
Holidays with Your Intense Child
Tina Feigal, M.S., Ed.
Copyright © 2016
Holidays with your intense child can cause a great deal of discomfort. You’re concerned about keeping things socially acceptable, you would rather not see “that look” on your sister-in-law’s face, and staying home in front of the TV never felt so appealing. But on you go, feeling the pull of family responsibility, not wanting to disappoint people – still knowing you will, because it’s almost impossible to take your child anywhere without a scene.
This holiday season, it’s time to get a handle on visiting others and helping your child maintain some semblance of civility.
Here are five tips for surviving, and even enjoying, the holidays with your intense child. Yes, it’s possible, and no, you don’t need therapy or medication to get there.
- Talk in advance with your child about how it will be at the relatives’ house this holiday. Recall what it felt like last year and take note of how she talks about it.
- Consider that sensory issues are at the core of the misbehavior you see in your child. Too many smells mingling, sparkly things and bright snow, tags in new clothes, sounds of people all talking at once, proximity of other bodies, and the taste of unfamiliar foods can throw a child into a state of complete undoing.
- Make a plan to decrease the sensory input for your child. Ask her what would feel good: would you like to go somewhere in the house if it gets to be too much? How about spending time under mom’s big jacket? What breathing exercises would you like to do to calm yourself? Focus her on special gift giving, so her attention is on others instead of herself.
- Decrease expectations for your child’s participation and ask others to do the same. Remember that intense behavior such as tantrums come from being overwhelmed. If you’ve already had a lot of excitement before the big gathering, your child may be simply unable to take more input. Ask for understanding, explaining that “She just has trouble with too much stimulation at once. We’ve made a plan, and I hope you can support us in it.”
- Go to her frequently throughout the visit to give her positive statements about how well she’s doing. “When you take care of yourself while we’re at Aunt Sarah’s, I feel so proud of you.” “When you joined us for that little chat in the living room and gave out your ornaments, I could tell Grandma really enjoyed it.” “When you were able to play with your little cousin in the den, I know it meant a lot to her.”
These statements help your child stay on a “string of successes.” She will respond with more successes, as you are causing a response in her body that says, “I am good at this.” The better she feels about how she’s doing, the more she’ll do it!
This may just be a great opportunity to come away with a successful visit, which you can talk about with your child, strengthening the bond between you along with her ability to cope! Enjoy your holiday with your intense child!
If you would like help with this or any other parenting issue, click here for all the info on parent coaching.
When Child Behavior is Scary
We have all had those moments when child behavior has frightened us as parents. They sometimes have no impulse control and give us heart attacks with their unexpected aggression toward their siblings. Or they may jump off a way-too-high surface, and cause us to react with loud warnings. They may drive the car too far from home, or have a close call on the freeway, leading us to wonder where we went wrong.
On this Halloween, let’s acknowledge that being a parent can be scary for us at times. When my son was able to go into the world on a large scale, I found myself saying, “Don’t tell me when you’re about to climb that 17,000-foot mountain. Just tell me when you’re back down.” I felt like I had to protect my heart from his adventurousness.
Being afraid as a parent is normal. The world is so full of opportunities for our kids to “mess up” as my 4-year-old grandson says. Life is full of mistakes, and if we keep perspective, mistakes are seen as great teachers. Sometimes, yes, mistakes can have horrible outcomes, but if we stay focused there, we live a life of fear and anxiety. For some children, this fear gets absorbed, and they are more cautious and anxious than they need to be. Anxious children can act out, and become more scary to us as we worry over their next moves!
It’s a fine balance for a parent – enough warning vs. enough freedom to explore.
“How much freedom should my toddler/pre-schooler/ primary grade/middle schooler/ teen have?” is a frequently asked question in my work as a parent coach. Knowing what’s normal is not always natural, as we can have amnesia for being that age (and sometimes our normal was not so normal.)
Here are some tips for handling the typical fear that comes with parenting children:
- Practice mindfulness. Check in with your thoughts and ask yourself, “Is there really a danger here and now?” If so, act on it. If not, say to yourself, “There’s no present danger, so I will let my child explore.”
- Remind yourself that as much as you’d like to control their every move to keep them safe, children are their own persons. They have their natural, evolving urges as a normal part of child development, and you shouldn’t try to take that away.
- Read up on normal child development. It’s so important to know what’s appropriate at every age so you can be on track with your expectations. Click here, and bookmark this site.
- Take a break from parenting whenever it seems reasonable. Plan for time to yourself at least once a month, so you can rejuvenate and come back to parenting feeling refreshed.
- Call for coaching if you need help in determining what’s normal for your particular child, and how to respond. We’re here to help! Click here.
Have a safe and happy Halloween!
The School Year is Wearing Thin Already
The school year is wearing thin already. We parent coaches usually see an up-tick in referrals from professionals and calls for help from parents at this time of year. Parents are distressed because homework struggles and/or behavior calls from school are increasing. The newness has worn off, and learning issues are coming to light. Children can’t do their math, they bother their friends, they seem testy and disrespectful, and they are emotionally wrecked by the end of the day. Gifted kids are disrupting the classroom because they are being under-challenged. kids with undiscovered reading disabilities are losing their hope. Those with ADHD are remembering that it’s more of the same every day … I can’t focus enough to do what the others do, and I don’t want to be different!
What can parents do to help in these situations? First, understand that if your child is losing interest in school this early in the year, it’s important to
- Listen closely to what he’s saying
- Avoid blaming him for being unmotivated.
If the issues persist week after week, asking the school for accommodations and/or testing is well within your rights and responsibility. If it’s math, reading, or writing that’s causing the issue, the evaluation team can try some strategies to help your child. Do not wait for a few more months to go by. If there’s a true learning issue, the sooner you discover it, the better. If the strategies (i.e., fewer problems or items assigned, moving to the front of the room, or more time allotted for tests) don’t seem to help, the team can decide that a formal learning evaluation should take place.This may involve:
1. the school psychologist (IQ/learning strengths and weaknesses testing)
2. the reading, writing or math specialist (grade level achievement testing)
3. the regular education classroom teacher
4. your input via surveys and conversation
5. music, gym, and art teachersIf your child shows that there’s a significant grade-level lag in his or her abilities, special education can be provided for the Specific Learning Disability in the form of an Individualized Educational Plan, or IEP. The child will have programming, often in the regular classroom with the special education teacher co-teaching as a resource for special needs students. Or the child may be in the special education resource room for math, reading, or writing. Each school handles this according to their staffing configuration. If no learning disability is discovered, the child may be eligible for regular education accommodations that can support him or her. Many schools have supplemental reading programs, in particular, that can be of great help to your child.
If the problems at school are more focused on behavior and emotions, a similar path can be followed by the school staff. After a request from parents or a teacher, a team meets to discuss the issues, and then accommodations (i.e., moving to the front of the room, more breaks between activities, and extra guidance at transition times) are made. If there’s not significant improvement, a special education evaluation can take place. The process involves classroom observation, questionnaires for parents, teachers and familiar adults in the community, and sometimes surveys completed by the child. The parents, the school psychologist, the regular classroom teacher, the social worker or counselor, and the Emotional-Behavioral Disability special ed teacher could all be involved. If the child is determined to be in need of special education in this area, the EBD teacher would write an IEP, and the parents would be invited to hear the details in a meeting. If the parents approve, the school can institute a regular program of support for the child, with contact with the EBD teacher, social worker, or counselor.
IEP’s follow children from year to year in school, and are reviewed annually. Parents are considered part of the IEP team, and are invited to all annual meetings to learn the results of the tests, and to hear of, and contribute to, changes in the plan. If a need for an early IEP meeting becomes apparent, parents are included in it, too. Every three years, the special education team re-evaluates the child’s learning disability to be certain that services are still required. Some children mature out of their need for extra support, so they can be “mainstreamed” fully in the regular education classroom.
Some other children have conditions that interfere with their learning, such as hearing or vision impairment, medical issues, or ADHD, that do not qualify them for special education, but require classroom accommodations. In this case, a 504 plan can be instituted. This is a regular education program by which the school team and parents make plans to assure success in school for children whose needs are not in the special education realm, but are still significant enough to require help. Read more about 504 plans here.
You may also hear your child talking about the classroom, lunchroom, bus, or gym being “too loud.” She may say that she cannot concentrate in class because of certain smells. You might hear that your child is struggling because the lights in the room seem to be flickering. He may say that he cannot stand wearing jeans to school, but can only wear wind pants or sweats. These all point to sensory processing issues (sensory avoidant), which can understandably interfere with learning. Some children have sensory seeking tendencies, wherein they are always touching a wall, other children, the floor, or furniture. They often bump into others and have difficulty keeping their bodies in their own space. For some children, sensory avoidant and sensory seeking are both part of their landscape. Click here for information on Sensory Processing Disorder. These issues can be helped by Occupational Therapy, which is usually delivered outside the school setting, but is no less important than school-based services. OT’s do provide services in school, but usually related to handwriting and other needs that are directly related to school performance. For more concentrated OT, ask your pediatrician for a recommendation, and start with requesting an evaluation from the OT.
Many children whose behaviors are found to be on the autism spectrum receive special education services in autism-specific programs. Evaluations at school and by medical professionals help to determine if autism is the issue. If you have a question about whether your child exhibits traits of autism, be sure to start the conversation early, as that will insure earlier intervention and more academic success for your child. Click here for the characteristics of autism in children.
It’s possible to have sensory issues on their own, and it’s also very common for children with autism to have sensory issues. If your child has sensory concerns, it’s not necessary to assume autism, but it certainly warrants an investigation if some of the other characteristics are also present.
Auditory processing may also be an issue for your child. This is different from the processing disorder above, where it’s hard for the child to receive auditory input. This auditory processing issue involves the inability to get the message from the teacher when he or she is speaking. If your child repeatedly says, “I just didn’t hear him,” or “I don’t remember what she said,” this may be your sign that auditory processing is the issue. For children with ADHD, who appear not to be “paying attention,” you can assume that auditory processing is low. Think about how much of school is delivered auditorily, and it’s no wonder kids with ADHD struggle.
It’s also possible to be gifted and have a learning disability. Your child could exhibit “enormous capacity for novelty” and constant curiosity about topics way beyond the interests of her peers, and still struggle with math, reading, or writing. Do not be lulled into thinking your child is not gifted if one of these areas is not up to grade level. Ask for an evaluation to find out if your child is Twice Exceptional, meaning she’s gifted and struggles with learning in one or more areas. Sometimes gifted children have autism characteristics, as well.
Giftedness is determined by IQ testing. If a child doesn’t make the IQ cut-off for giftedness, the school district may consider the overall creativity, verbal adeptness, interest in advanced subjects, or advanced musical or art abilities to include the child in gifted programming. Many parents are reluctant to say, “My child may be gifted.” Please, please respond if your child is showing signs of giftedness. These children often get overlooked and become discouraged in school, leading to behavior issues. They are vulnerable to depression and anxiety when their learning needs go unrecognized. School personnel who are not attuned to gifted characteristics may not recognize what is causing misbehavior or withdrawal, so it’s up to parents to call attention to this issue, and ask for testing. Again, this is your right and your responsibility.
This can be a dizzying collection of information if you’ve never had to deal with it before. Do not blame yourself if you feel you should have addressed these issues earlier. You could only do what you knew how to do!
If you need help sorting these topics out, parent coaching is the ideal way to get that help. Information on coaching is here. Please write firstname.lastname@example.org or call 651-453-0123 for an appointment.
This is Quick. Don’t Praise Your Child.
I imagine you found that headline kind of odd. Isn’t conventional parenting wisdom all about being positive? Sure it is, but one thing sticks out with being positive. Sometimes we overdo the positives to the point that children can’t live their lives without looking to us for approval. And when we praise, we may fall into the comparison trap, creating kids who are anxious and perfectionistic all the time because they weren’t the BEST at art or baseball or swimming or gymnastics or reading.
We all know kids who give new things one small try and give up. It’s so frustrating as a parent, because we’re supposed to encourage new things! When they don’t even try, how are we supposed to do our job?
First, let go a little. Let your child experiment with success and failure. The best teacher is trying and not doing so well, so let her have that teacher. It’s not a reflection on you if she fails and tries again, but she won’t try again if you are monitoring her too closely. She deserves her space and autonomy in her learning world, so don’t stand in the way.
Second, understand that she may be 5, and may not have done her gym or dance routine perfectly, but that’s childhood. Allow it. Don’t comment on it. Just let it be. Don’t even say, “Did you have fun?” every single time. We are in danger of making “fun” a parental expectation, which takes the fun right out of it!
Third, an 11-year-old is not an 11-year-old is not an 11-year-old. They vary a LOT. So if you see others whose children are nimbly rock climbing at 11, absolutely resist the temptation to make sure yours does that, too. Instead appreciate who he actually is, and what he actually likes. He’s not on this planet to make your parenting persona look good. Sorry, he’s just not. You’ll be a lot happier with your child if you just observe his strengths and encourage, even admire, them.
Fourth, watch what you say within earshot. It’s vitally important to express any negative thoughts about your child where he doesn’t hear them, IF your thoughts are a signal that you need an attitude adjustment. Don’t include your child in that.
Fifth, instead of praise, which usually involves some type of comparison, offer heartfelt appreciation. “When you … I feel … because … ” is a relationship-builder, not a corrective action. Kids can definitely feel the difference. And voila! With heartfelt appreciation, they have room to grow into their true selves! Everyone wins!
If you would like coaching on this or any other parenting issue, click here.
When Children “Take care of” Their Parents and Siblings
I had this question from a foster mom yesterday. “Should I be all right with my child comforting me and apologizing when we’ve had a disagreement, and there’s been some yelling?”
My answer is, mostly “yes.” But with some caveats.
Some children become “parentified” when they have lived in less-than-healthy situations. If at a young age, their parent(s) have not fulfilled their emotional and physical needs, children will naturally take on the role of the “missing” need-fulfiller. This can be true whether the parent is present or not. If the parent has mental health needs of his or her own, is abusing drugs to mask emotional pain, is too busy with work, or is physically not able to take care of the child, the child’s unconscious response is: “Someone has to do this. It must be me.”
Note that I said, “unconscious response.” This is not a choice on the child’s part, but rather an automatic physiological mechanism. So often I hear the phrase, “She’s trying to manipulate the situation by being the ‘little mother.'” Believe me, if she’d had a mother who was able to do her job, she would have remained in the child role. Yes, some well-loved children are just natural care-takers, and they are not the ones I am discussing here. I’m talking about the ones who become extremely uncomfortable with adults caring for the younger siblings, or for themselves.
These children will rush to take care of everyone’s needs, without prompting. They seem blind to their own needs, as well, and can’t seem to even think about them, let alone attend to them. When prompted to care for themselves, and not get involved in others’ business, they respond anxiously with, “She needed me!” or “I have to take care of him!” If a new adult says, “You can relax. I have it now,” this child will become very agitated and confused. This is not obstinance, but a normal reaction for a child who has seen a lack and tried, in his or her own way, to fulfill it.
Children will often act as their siblings’ disciplinarian. At first glance, one could judge the child as unduly harsh with the sibling, and label him or her “mean” or “controlling.” What’s really happening is that the child again feels an internal imperative to protect the younger ones, and is not mature enough to determine which situations require intense warning, and which ones are not really dangerous. This is natural, as it addresses fundamental safety, and yet it needs intervention.
Another way we see this expressed is when a parent has not met the child’s needs, and the child insists on defending the parent. Even when no one is trying to blame the parent, the child is defensive, guarded, and secretive. The imperative to protect one’s parent is STRONG, as the foundational relationship was, at its onset, representative of the child’s very survival. To engage in criticism of that parent strikes a cord of disloyalty that the child cannot tolerate, as it implies a threat to the child’s survival that was established in infancy, pre-memory.
How do we help kids who seem overprotective of their adults or siblings?
- First, avoid asking the child to calm down. That will only escalate the issue, as he or she cannot just calm down on command after building protective responses over time.
- Second, build trust with the child. Act as the adult, guiding decisions and providing structure. Regular bedtimes and meals may be foreign to the child, but over time they provide security.
- Third, ask the child’s advice on the sibling’s care. If you are new to this sibling group, the older child, most often, IS the expert on the younger ones, and can provide good information. Sometimes it will be immature, and you’ll have to say, “That’s a great idea. And to be sure he’s safe, let’s also put these sturdy shoes on him.”
- If the child is caretaking to an adult, show appreciation for the care, and then ask, “Do you think I might be able to handle it from here?” or “Do you think she’s grown up enough to make her way through this?” Always start with appreciation, and then ask a question that draws out the child’s intelligence. If the parent has not proven to be adult enough, empathize with the child that it’s uncomfortable to watch him struggle. Also, lightly let him or her know that each person has to find his way, but don’t get into a big discussion about it.
- Rather than repeatedly reassuring the child, ask questions that help him question his need to take care of others. Reassurance can increase anxiety, as the brain immediately asks, “Well what if that other bad thing happens?” So getting the child to think works a lot better.
Back to the question above: if my child has gotten louder and more intense than she intended, is it appropriate for her to apologize and comfort me? Yes, if it’s from a desire to connect and empathize. You want your child to grow up with empathy. If you sense that the child is very anxious when you are upset, it’s time to sit down and talk, when this issue is not occurring, about how you are a big person, and can sometimes get angry or cry, but you’re also taking care of yourself. Again, genuinely appreciate the child’s comforting gesture, but let him or her know that big people can cope with strong emotions.
In the case of a sibling needing care, express how nice it is that the child is there for her. Then ask some questions that imply that the child is the expert on the sibling, followed by a gentle suggestion that the sibling may be able to handle his or her own need. You’ll sense how much of this the older child can tolerate by his reaction, and take the pacing from that. It will take time, weeks to months, for the older child to feel comfortable allowing the younger one to make a mistake or do something mildly dangerous.
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Being Vulnerable as a Parent
Tina Feigal, MS, Ed. Copyright © 2016 Center for the Challenging Child
Maybe the last thing you ever thought a parent coach would tell you is “be vulnerable with your child.” You’ve spent your whole adult life making sure your child knew who was boss, working hard to never let him take advantage of you. You thought if you did that, you would lose your authority and never get it back. Who wants to live with a child who thinks he’s the boss of his parents? Wouldn’t being vulnerable give him the wrong idea?
Dr. Brené Brown, a social work researcher, talks about “leaning into the discomfort” in her TED Talk on the power of vulnerability. She was NOT built to accept anything uncertain, and railed at the thought of it, as many of us would. You might ask, “What does leaning into the discomfort mean?”
Dr. Brown also talks about “connection” being the reason we’re all here. And she says that shame is the manifestation of disconnection. Underlying this is “excruciating vulnerability.” To truly connect we need to be vulnerable, she says.
After 6 years of listening to people’s stories on shame, she wrote a book and published a theory, realizing that the people who have a strong sense of belonging believe they’re worthy of it. Our fear that we’re not worthy of connection is what causes disconnection, which leads to shame.
Dr. Brown says that “wholehearted people” live from a deep sense of worthiness and had a “sense of courage” in common. This courage is made up of telling who you are with your whole heart, the courage to be imperfect, compassion for self and others, connection as a result of authenticity, and fully embracing vulnerability. These courageous wholehearteds believe that what makes them vulnerable makes them beautiful. They say it’s necessary to do something where there are no guarantees, i.e. willingness to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. In the words of my dear friend Artem Kuznetsov, this describes “beautiful uncertainty.”
To me there’s nothing more beautiful nor more uncertain than raising a child. Without guarantees of any kind, we rush headlong into the most compelling, uncertain, vulnerable experience of love, usually without a map or compass. And then the children we love so intensely defy us. They develop their own will, they want what they want, and we feel utterly broad-sided after pouring so much of our hearts into their being. Where’s the gratitude? Can’t they tell how much we’ve cared?
Frankly, they can’t. Because they’re children. And it’s completely understandable that parents start to want control, in order to protect themselves from the strong will of their child and the rejection of having your beloved, cherished offspring turn on you.
It’s normal. Almost every parent experiences it, especially those with strong-willed children. So where’s the redemption here? In vulnerability? Well, yes.
Children who attempt to run the show are often bright. They may be intellectually bright, interpersonally gifted, intrapersonally astute, highly creative and sensitive, or all of the above. And some average-ability children also attempt to run the show, depending on their own experiences as babies and toddlers. Whatever the reason, we feel the last thing we should do is become vulnerable with them. But really, it’s important to do this.
How does it look to be vulnerable to your child? It means stepping off the “perfect, all-knowing adult” platform and getting down to your heart with your child. When you do this, he starts to realize that you’re human, too, and a switch flips. He has less to resist when you become less rigid. Now the grace and light-heartedness for which most parents yearn can begin seeping into your relationship. Herein lies the benefit of “leaning in.”
What do the words look like? Instead of saying, “I’m your dad and I mean business” when a child is acting out (usually because of a fear), it’s more heart-centered to say, “I know. I had that fear when I was your age, too. Want me to tell you how I got past it? I used to pretend that the monsters under my bed had five eyes, so many that they couldn’t focus well enough to see me.” Here, the father has become a child again, this time for the purpose of connecting with his child. He’s remembering his child-like self, allowing a little vulnerability, and adding a dash of humor to bring intimacy to the conversation.
Dr. Brown’s mission to “control and predict” led her to the answer that the way to live is with vulnerability.
Letting go of the need to control and predict your child and building emotional intimacy is the hallmark of a strong relationship. You get there by being vulnerable, and you can’t get there without it.
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Happy New Year! Now Put That Down!
Comedian Louie Anderson answers the question: What made you laugh in 2015?
A. I made myself laugh the most this year thinking I was so smart or right about something. I can’t tell you how many times I searched for my glasses only to discover them right on my face, or thinking I’ve lost my iPhone or someone has stolen it only to discover that I was sitting on it or it was right there in my hand. Not to mention the keys in my hand, in the door lock or in the ignition of my car. “As plain as the nose on my face,” I can hear my mom say.
Parents, can you relate? I know I find myself laughing about this often. The thing that strikes me most lately is that I am holding something, totally unaware, while I’m holding six other things, and suddenly I’m spilling or making a mess because I failed to put something down.
So in the New Year, let’s all watch how much we’re holding at once. When we are bombarded from all sides by children’s requests, paying bills, doing laundry, buying food, making meals, going to the doctor, helping with homework, taking care of pets, cleaning the house (ha!) and attending to the needs of our work, ourselves and our mates, maybe we should think about putting something down, just for the moment. “Present Moment Parenting”, we call it. It involves taking something up, yes, but also putting something down. Maybe putting several things down.
I’m not just talking just about physical “things” or tasks here, but also thoughts, distractions, and mind-wanderings. Children sense when parents are not present, and they tend to exploit the situation, as you are well aware. They also learn distraction from us. So if you’ve been complaining about your child not being able to focus, try taking a quick inventory of the times he or she has seen you in a distracted state (using the tablet, phone, or computer.) Maybe you’ll see where distraction is being reinforced. And if you feel as if your child is demanding, again, take a look at how you interact with her, just to check whether she’s learning a demanding, hurry-up, right-now sense of urgency from you.
This sense of urgency seems SO necessary in today’s world, but it’s time to rein it in for our mental and physical well-being. We actually can slow our thoughts down to a normal speed, even though it doesn’t seem so. Consider this: at the end of the day, will it matter if you’ve had the average 50,000 thoughts or 20,000? Who will be counting? And what will you gain if you slow the thoughts down? Perhaps a bit of peace of mind, perhaps a slower, more connected relationship with your child or partner. Perhaps mindfulness and fewer health concerns.
I think yoga has enjoyed such popularity in the US and beyond in recent years because as humans, we realize the need to slow down is coming from our inner core. With all that goes on with a busy family, it’s very easy to get caught up in quick, impersonal, even commanding interactions that erode our sense of peace. Let’s learn to listen to our inner voices and say no to the constant “hurry up” of modern life. When we do, we give our children an enormous gift, for this present moment and beyond.
Happy New Year from all of us at the Center for the Challenging Child.
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Five Steps to Helping a Traumatized Child Regain Control
Tina Feigal Copyright © 2015
If you are parenting or teaching a child who has experienced trauma, you know that every day feels like a struggle. This article is written to give you insight into the behaviors that are a direct result of the trauma, and ways to handle those behaviors. There is a compassionate way to approach a traumatized child, just the way we treat animals with compassion when we adopt them, not knowing what they have experienced in the past. Let’s share this far and wide. Our children need our compassion. And they are all our children.
1. Understand that the cause of the behavior is often the effect of stored trauma, not the misbehavior of a cranky child. A traumatized child cannot regulate emotions by “making a better choice” any more than a caged lion can remain calm when someone comes at it with a spear. Having had trauma (neglect; emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse; hunger and inability to anticipate being fed; homelessness; loss of friends or family through separation, divorce, death, or incarceration; drug or alcohol abuse by a parent) changes the child’s brain. It stays in fight-or-flight mode, even when there’s no current threat. This is adaptive brain function, as the brain interprets it as assuring the child’s survival. It’s also difficult for adults who haven’t seen the trauma in action to believe that misbehavior comes from the brain’s over-responses to perceived threat. To help you remember, say to yourself, “This is trauma, not disrespect.”
2. Help the child regulate. If it’s safe to do so, give the child space; avoid approaching the child. After a period of quiet, ask “Would you like to keep crying (yelling) or would you like to calm down now?” Wait with a calm demeanor for the child to show signs of decreasing agitation. Model self-regulating techniques, such as sitting or lying down, breathing deeply, and using soothing self-talk. (I can calm my legs, I can calm my arms, I can calm my head, I can calm my hands, I can calm my feet.)
3. Identify true feelings. “If I guess how you’re feeling, will you tell me if I’m right or wrong? I imagine you are frustrated (angry, sad) because you wanted to do your own thing right now, and we are asking you to join the class.” Have the child draw the feelings on paper. This releases the child by helping the brain get the message, “I am seen. If I’m seen I will survive. I don’t need to act out to be seen, because she just let me know my feelings are real and they are OK.”
4. Provide opportunities for sensory calming or remove child from sensory overload. For example, apply deep pressure (weighted blanket, hugs, self-hugs, pressure on shoulders or legs) or other sensory calming techniques.
5. Check for hunger, thirst, fatigue and/or oncoming illness, and attend to these needs by providing food, drink, rest, or medical care.
Final note: It’s important to remember that consequences do not work for traumatized children. Children who have experienced trauma are in disequilibrium as they have not had their basic needs met. They are experiencing fear for their very survival, and thus cannot attend to the needs of the environment. Their brains are in fight-or-flight, so the reasoning part of the brain is turned off, and planning ahead based on previous consequences is just not possible in this state. Instead of trying to “teach him a lesson”, stick to the steps above. It will save time and frustration, and especially important, it will keep the situation from escalating, which only fuels the brain’s over-response to perceived threat.
For help with this or any other parenting issue, for children of all ages, click here.
Self-Care for Parents During the Holidays
Tina Feigal, M.S., Ed.
Copyright © 2015 Center for the Challenging Child
Who takes care of you during the holidays? Maybe you have a supportive spouse who shares parenting duties equally with you, as time allows. Or maybe you have your parents, friends or neighbors who are there for you when things get intense. Or you could be feeling on your own this holiday season, whether as a matter of course, or a recent life change.
Whatever your situation, the gift of self-care is vital for making it through the holidays with some sense of sanity. It’s all too easy to think that parents are the giving machines when it comes to creating good times for their families. Noble as that thought may be, it’s not adequate, and it could be harmful, as stress will take its toll on you if you don’t care for you.
I’ve recently worked with two parents who are going through tough break-ups, and I emphasized that they need to “put the mask over their own nose and mouth before assisting others.” They both cried when I said that, so I know I hit a tender spot. The parents expressed that they were just hanging on from moment to moment, trying to hold life together for their kids, and not thinking about their own needs. As much as I am loathe to add another task to their to-do list, I have to. As their parent coach, my job is to offer support and direction to parents whose lives are feeling out of control. Self-care is paramount if child behavior and parent-child relationships are to improve. There’s no short-cut.
Whether you are in a life transition now or not, self-care needs to be on your Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa list. You likely have a job, kids, holidays, relatives, cooking, cleaning, wrapping, mailing, concerts, plays, travel, and oh yeah, laundry, on your plate. Now is not the time to imagine yourself as Superhuman. The stress associated with doing so can actually ruin the very holiday spirit you are trying to create. Let your children see you put yourself on the caring list. It’s great role modeling.
I remember looking at photos of myself at Christmas when my children were young. I looked exhausted, and was unable to enjoy their joy. The image of those photos is burned on my memory and it’s what I want to help you avoid.
So say “no” to 40% of the things that offer themselves as holiday opportunities. Make it 50% if you have a large family or friend circle. Each “no” equals an assurance of your peaceful mental state, and should be regarded as gold. You do not want to give your children the memory of a totally stressed parent for the holidays. Sometimes you’ll be saying “no” to yourself. Be a good steward of your mental state, and promise not to overload yourself. There’s no competition for “best mom” or “best dad” at holiday time. What kids really need is your emotional presence.
Sit with your children and read a good holiday story. Buy egg nog and cookies and indulge with them. Play a friendly board or card game. Put on music that brings the season to mind. None of this costs much, but it all serves to preserve the spirit of the season. If you have a major event such as a play or holiday concert, take other things off your plate. Wrap presents simply or not at all (better for the environment, too), give only one gift to each person, engage the kids in helping with the meal or cookie prep, let the house be a little messier, keep the gatherings to a few hours when you can, and don’t try to please everyone. You can’t possibly succeed, and it just exhausts you. Relatives who put their desires in front of your self-preservation are just misguided about the meaning of the season. Let it go, and do what’s good for you and your family.
With that, I wish you peace in your heart this holiday season.
Tina Feigal, Parent Coach and Supporter
Helping Keep Tabs on Kids’ Phones
Below is a list of apps that can be helpful monitoring your kids’ phone location and usage.
1. Many wireless carriers have their own apps: (AT&T FamilyMap, Sprint Family Connector, Verizon FamilyBase and T-Mobile FamilyWhere)
2. Below are free or low cost apps:
-Life 360 is a location tracking app
-Time Away helps manage app usage and location tracking
-Mama Bear does location tracking and sends updates on types of social media usage and types of posts
-My Mobile Watchdog has parent controls including phone logs, read text messages on teen’s phones, and location tracking. It can be used to block certain times of use, and block certain apps. It’s not spyware in that the kid is aware they are being watched.
-Mobiflock’s Mobile Guardian has similar controls to My Mobile Watchdog, with more ability for web filtering and content blocking
-Canary lets parents know if teens are using the phone in the car while driving, allows “geo- fencing” – areas the phone can/can’t be used, and allows a phone curfew.
-Mobile Guardian includes web content filtering, application blocking, scheduling use, contacts management and contacts blocking, as well as a GPS tracking and geo-fencing
This should be very helpful as you work to keep your child safe!
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What’s Your Child Doing Online?
I get a lot of questions about online and cell phone activity by kids. Should we respect their privacy, or be checking their texts? How about what goes on with video game chats? Is it our business to know what they say and receive on social media? And how do we handle talking with kids about this sensitive issue?
Consider these points:
1. Modern parenting requires knowing what your kids are doing on social media and saying in texts (the two most common ways they communicate with peers.) We now have a “private” life to monitor about which our parents did not have to be so concerned.
2. When children’s brains are not fully developed, their impulses to say and do things that they would not normally do if a parent was present, put them at greater risk for bullying – either being the bully or receiving bullying.
3. Perpetrators are seeing their opportunities, and we need to closely check to be sure the “kids” our children are contacting online are actually kids, not sexual predators.
4. Social media is here to stay, so it’s best to confront these issues head-on, to protect our kids.
5. Open, honest discussion and consistent monitoring are your best strategies for keeping kids safe.
How to talk about it?
First, become familiar with the technology. Set aside a specific time to go over each outlet with your child. This will include Facebook, but less and less with the advent of these more youth-driven applications:
Micro-blogging apps and sites
Chatting, Meeting, Dating apps and sites
When I look at the list above, it seems overwhelming, as I am sure it is to many of you. Keep in mind that if you are paying for a phone, you have the right to know how it’s being used.
And what’s a Self Destructing/Secret App? The message only appears for a few seconds, and is gone forever. This makes it much harder to monitor, and these apps should not be allowed. Children are regularly posting inappropriate photos of themselves and their friends. I know, it’s tough being a parent in these times.
Call a family meeting, and focus on the teens. If you have younger children, it’s good for them to hear your stance on social media and texting.
Make these points very clear:
1. Yes, kids love connecting with their phones. You understand that it’s a wonderful way to stay in touch.
2. We need limits on the phone and computer use, because so much can go wrong when kids are using them, even when they don’t mean to get involved with something they shouldn’t.
3. As long as parents are paying for phones and computer service, they have access to all account passwords, and run frequent checks.
4. Phones sleep in the kitchen at night, so kids get their sleep. Research now shows that the blue light from electronics interferes with sleep, so this is non-negotiable, for health reasons. (Also, it eliminates “too much freedom” to text at night.)
5. Respectful use of language when using electronic devices is not optional. The best way to make sure it is respectful is to give positive feedback when you see respect. Also, include your child in a discussion on what feels respectful to him or her, and how important it is to always show consideration to others. Kindness does not only apply when adults are present and included. It’s the way our family communicates at all times.
Challenging as this topic can be, it’s also a fabulous opportunity to share values with your children. It can be so enriching to your relationship to face this topic with respect and appropriate limits. That’s what keeps a child feeling safe.
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My Kids Don’t Listen to My Advice
Maybe it’s that we as parents typically toss out directives without much thought about how they land on their children:
“You need to get off the video game. It’s not good to spend so much time playing. You’ll miss the rest of your life!”
“You need to clean this room. If there was a fire, you would trip on all this stuff trying to get out.”
“You should always pay attention to the assignments. The teacher gives you instructions, and you need to write them down.”
“You need to get your education. It’s more important than your interest in music. There are no good jobs in music. Use that as a hobby, but get a real job.”
“Listen to me. I’m your dad (mom). I know what it’s like to grow up and I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I (my brother, my dad, my mom, your sister) made.”
Sound familiar? If it does, stop and think with me for a minute. If, as an adult, someone gave you these directives, would it inspire you to follow their advice? Or would you tend to discount them, and do your own thing, grumbling under your breath, “Yeah, as if he knows what’s it’s like to be me.”
Here are some tips on gaining your child’s cooperation, rather than demanding it (which never works in any lasting way.)
1. Think about how you’d like to be addressed, and use that much respect in your tone with your child.
2. Ask instead of command. “Let’s take a look at your time on the computer and decide together on a reasonable amount for each day.”
3. Use inquiry when talking about life interests. Hold your own anxiety back regarding your child’s future, and just interview him or her on what’s wonderful about their music, art, writing, sports, math … any interest they show. You are much better off supporting what comes from the child naturally, rather than trying to assign a future to him or her.
4. Remember that your child is developing, not fully formed. They make mistakes, and that’s how they learn. Allow for child development while you create your expectations. If you need some guidance on this for teens, click here.
5. For household tasks, express your heartfelt appreciation every time you see helpful behavior around the home. “When you take your dishes to the dishwasher, I feel very appreciative because it shows me that you care that we live in a healthy home.” “When you straighten your room, I love seeing how you arrange everything. You made it so pleasant in here.” “When you sweep without being asked, I feel so relaxed because it’s one less thing for me to do, and you do a very nice job.”
For help with this or any other parenting issue, click here.
Handling Touch with Touchy Teens
By Tina Feigal Copyright © 2015
Yesterday I coached a mom to put her arm around her teen son and express her appreciation for the living room being picked up. She let it go when I said it, but circled back to it later in the session, saying, “About that putting my arm around him? That’s not happening.”
We discussed what she thought may have been the reason for the “no touch” policy her teen was silently enforcing. She said she didn’t really know, so I offered some ideas. “That one,” she said after I gave a short list, “He doesn’t feel lovable.”
Sad as this is, it doesn’t have to stick. When this caring mom realized that her son didn’t feel lovable, we set about planning to help him receive her touch. Why? Because kids thrive on the unspoken acceptance that comes with touch from their parents. Even when they don’t seem to want it, it can be a powerful message of affirmation.
Another reason to help your child accept touch as a normal form of healthy expression is that you want him able to accept affection as a precursor to forming a romantic relationship. This is normal development, and should be seen in a positive light. If you feel hesitant to touch your teen for fear of being misinterpreted as inappropriate, let that go. Kids need healthy touch from their parents. Arms around shoulders, soft hand caresses, hugs, cheek and forehead kisses, and for some cultures, kisses on the lips, are all bonding tools for parents and children. Don’t miss your opportunity to help your child learn healthy touch.
Here are 4 ways to build toward positive physical affection:
1. Let go of preconceived ideas about touch. Open your heart to moms and dads showing physical affection to their teens, because they need it. But don’t push when your child moves away from your touch. It may take a while before it feels comfortable. Stay focused on the giving aspect of physical touch, rather than what you’re receiving. That will come later.
2. Start with your voice. Use a tone that says, “I accept you.” So if there’s a hole in the screen door, ask gently, “What happened?” and then, “What do you want to do about it?” A lecture at this time will only spark opposition, and won’t get you what you want, which is a screen replaced by your child and an intact relationship. Gentle inquiry will be interpreted as willingness to help them problem solve, but without the judgment. That’s what teens need.
When you need tasks done around the house, meet with your children and ask, “How should we divide the tasks around here?” but don’t offer your ideas. Create a vacuum so they can fill it in with their solutions. Use an appreciative tone when talking about their cooperation: “When you cleaned up the kitchen, I felt so relaxed and happy, because I didn’t even have to ask. You are making my day!” (Note: Even if it’s not perfectly clean, do respond with appreciation. We get more success when we reward their efforts without criticizing the exact way they cleaned up.)
3. If your teen isn’t used to touch, start small. You wouldn’t want to give bear hugs to someone who doesn’t ever hug you, so a warm touch to the forearm when you are talking will be a good start. If that’s rebuffed, let it go and try again with a touch to the hand. When that’s gone well, use opportunities to put your arm gently on his shoulder when talking. Then work toward touching cheeks at bedtime. As these small touches are accepted, you can move toward a light hug, and then a “real hug.” The pace will depend on your focused reading of the teen’s signals, with backing off if it’s not well-received, and starting again with a smaller touch.
4. When your teen needs to feel lovable (and what teen doesn’t?) keep an open dialogue, supported by interested questions about his day, his friends, school, and sports. “What did you learn in science today?” shows interest. “Did you get all your science homework handed in?” communicates controlling. Teens are allergic to being controlled, so you’ll get a lot more conversation when you leave that part out, and just show curiosity. “Thanks for telling me,” is a great response.
Some teens are just not open to touch, even if you do everything right. That’s OK. You tried. But work on the tone of voice and helping him feel lovable anyway, as these are huge in allowing your child to grow toward healthy physical affection.
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