ParentTip

A Hard Hit

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This post goes out to the parents of littles, but take note that much of what you read can easily be adapted to fit your own needs or the needs of an older child. Do not underestimate the importance of self-care and self-compassion during a hard time. Even if you have not had a “direct hit” by Hurricane Harvey (i.e. your house may not have flooded, you didn’t have to evacuate, you only had a power outage), seeing friends and family suffer, even seeing strangers suffer, can be downright difficult and exhausting. There’s so much information to digest about how to help, what to do and what not to do that it can be overwhelming. There’s enough information download and processing happening, so let’s stick to some really important fundamentals. Please feel free to pass this along, as our connection with one another is more important than ever!

When something scary and unreal hits, like what Texas has experienced with Hurricane Harvey, our children need support in making some sense of it. Parents and adults can help children in adapting healthy coping strategies. Here are some simple first steps:

1. Attunement: Time is precious right now. There may be a lot going on with you and around you. As a parent, taking some time to connect with your child will have many positive effects on them and on you. This might be the time when you actually need to schedule, yes schedule, special time with your child. Go ahead and do it - carve out about 10 minutes for play time, extra cuddles, fun reading and good ‘ole fashioned one on one time. Perhaps make this a part of your new routine before bed, but slipping it in between phone calls is fine too. Just make sure that you have given yourself a chance to transition to a place of calm and focus before engaging with your child. Providing special connection time for your child during chaos will remind them of the fact that they are loved and safe. It will also give them an opportunity to be just as they need to be - a child without worry and fear.

2. Response: This might be a time when you, as a parent or caregiver, get a lot of questions. “Where will we sleep tonight?” “Why did this happen?” “When can I go back home?” “Why did my friend have to leave her house?” My go-to suggestion for parents overwhelmed by questions and feeling like they need to answer them all and answer them well is this: Pause and Breathe. Make space for you to clear out anxiety, stress and worry. Your child will not think twice if you don’t immediately answer their questions. Next step is to think: Is this an answer now or answer later question? If it is an answer now question, keep your response simple and age appropriate. The information you give doesn’t need to have a lot of detail. You can give a little bit at a time and check to see if that answers your child’s question. If you think this could be an answer later question, that’s okay too. Generally, those are for the real tough ones or when we don’t know what to say at all. Give the question the space it deserves. Respond with, “Wow, that’s a really good question. Mommy needs to think about that one. I’m not sure right now. I’m going to think about it and then answer you later.” Then, actually do think about it and answer it later. You can also ask your child what they think and how they feel about it.

3. Feelings: There are a lot of them right now. And they might not all make sense or seem totally logical. For instance, the feeling of anxiety may come up but bring into question 'why' because your family maybe hasn’t been directly affected or experienced significant hardship. Any feeling is fine right now. If you notice some behaviors or signs from your child that seem unusual to you, do you best to help them put words to their emotions. As Dan Siegel, MD, says, “Name it to Tame it.” It really does help to say the feeling or feelings out loud in order for them to be soothed and attended to. As a therapist, I love to suggest the following phrase, “I wonder if…” “I wonder if you are feeling scared. There are some scary things happening right now.” “I wonder if you are feeling tired right now. I see that you are rubbing your eyes.” “I wonder if you might be feeling lonely. It’s been a few days since you were able to play with your friends.”

Remember, in a time of crisis, much of how we cope is based on the need to survive. If you are seeing some concerning behavior in your child, DO reach out to a mental health provider to learn more about how to best address what you see and ensure that your child is being well taken care of during this time. The first priorities are providing safety, nourishment, shelter and love.

 

 

My Loved One Experiences Anxiety, Why Can’t They Get Over It?

Anxiety can feel as though you are being chased by a lion. Although this analogy may seem extreme to those who don't deal with an anxiety disorder, it's one that makes sense to someone who encounters anxiety on nearly an everyday basis. Sufferers of anxiety know the feeling of fear, experience hypervigilance to everyday situations, have an excess energy or even a depletion of energy due to the exhaustion of panic and feel that there is imminent danger nearby even though there may not be an actual threat around them.

Having the understanding of friends and family to support you through your anxiety can make all the difference in the world, but it isn't always easy to have empathy when you haven't experienced anxiety firsthand or been taught a bit about it. It is very natural and common for those closely connected to individuals with an anxiety disorder to believe a number of things such as, “I support them, I love them, and it doesn’t seem to be enough,” “It cannot possibly be that bad,” “They have a good life, this doesn’t make sense,” or “Why can’t they just get over it?” These are some typical thoughts to have, but are not helpful for someone who is struggling with anxiety to hear.

When someone is going through anxiety, their body is reacting as though there is danger close by and their stress response is activated. This means they experience acceleration of their lungs and heart, so the blood will rush to their extremities to be prepared to run from danger or “brace” themselves from it. It can also mean they cannot utilize critical thinking or logical thinking because their energy is currently in use to save them from a perceived danger. They can also experience tunnel vision, loss of hearing, and shaking, among other physiological responses. So, truly, they are reacting as though they are being chased by a lion. And yes, they know they aren’t being chased by a lion, which can make these feelings worse because they do not make sense to them.


So, what can you do? Ask them what they need. They may tell you they need to be alone because they are overstimulated and that is okay. Tell them where you will be if they need you. They may say that they need you, but do not know how they need you. You can sit with them and wait until they are ready to talk to you. But probably the most common response is, “I don’t know.” During these times, you can use your judgement, but giving advice may be the least helpful since they cannot truly hear you and any advice given may be minimizing their experience. Once they have calmed down, rested, and time has passed, ask if you can talk about what they need or want you to do in these situations. Ask them what is helpful and not helpful. It could be a trial and error situation, but the fact that you acknowledge what they are going through is real will make all the difference. And as always, if it is debilitating for them or they/you believe they need more help than what you can give, have a gentle discussion with them about finding a professional who can help the both of you.

ParentTip: Childhood Grief - How You Can Help

Grief can be a difficult process for most people, but it can be especially troublesome for children when they can’t put words to their emotions or feel like no one understands them. Teachers, parents, coaches, uncles - no matter the role, most of us have children in our lives that we care for in some capacity.

While grief can lend itself to feelings of helplessness, there are actually some concrete ways that adults can support children through the grieving process. An article in the Huffington Post suggested that one of the most important things being to accept a child’s feelings and avoid the urge to just ‘cheer them up.’ Easier said than done right? But think for a moment, if you’d lost someone you loved and rather than listen to your thoughts and feelings someone just told you to feel better, wouldn’t you feel a bit dismissed? It’s a very similar experience for children. When a child is angry, sad, or upset your role as a loving adult can normalize those feelings and provide a safe space to work through them. The Coalition of Grieving Students has created a manual for helping children work through the loss of a loved one.

 

More helpful resources can be found below:

What Not to Say

Informing a Child of a Significant Death

49 Phrases to Calm an Anxious Child

As a parent, watching your child struggle with anything can be difficult. Whether it be friendships, injuries or one of life’s many obstacles, our instinct is always to swoop in and save them by fixing the problem. But what happens when your child faces anxiety? It’s much harder to ‘fix’ a feeling isn’t it? Thankfully, as a supportive adult, helping a child feel understood is actually more important (and easier for that matter) than trying to solve the problem.

Rather than hide from anxiety or ignore it, we can actually learn a lot from it if we stay curious. Our bodies often signal to us that anxiety is approaching, and when we examine it like a detective, we can start to learn what triggers it. It can also be difficult to know what to say when your child is stuck in an unpleasant emotion, so here are some helpful phrases that you can use to show support without having all of the answers! We’ve put a few of our favorites below:

  • Can you draw it?

  • This feeling will go away. Let’s get comfortable until it does.

  • What do you need from me?

  • Let’s find some evidence.

Take a look and see which phrases fit how your family communicates. No need to reinvent the wheel, just look for the phrases that stick out to you as something you’d actually say at home.

 

ParentTip: The Power of Apologies

We’ve all been there: frustrated, loud-voiced, faced with a sudden realization that we are not handling a tough situation the way we intended.  Even moments when we’re coming up short are opportunities to guide and teach our children.

In fact, acknowledging mistakes and making repairs with our own kids provides some very valuable relational lessons.  They too will (and often do) lose their temper; they will occasionally hurt and disappoint people they care about.  Personally demonstrating how to take responsibility for a mistake and care for another person, even when that person is three feet tall and may or may not be personally responsible for the total destruction of a brand new rug, is a powerful way to emphasize the importance of holding yourself accountable and treating others with respect and dignity.  When we apologize to our own children, we allow them to experience the comfort of being on the receiving end of an apology and let them in on the secret that even parents aren’t perfect – everyone makes mistakes and everyone can take steps to recover from them.

Follow the link below for some tips on apologizing to our own children:

http://www.positiveparentingsolutions.com/parenting/apologizing-to-your-child

ParentTip: Bridging the Parental Happiness Gap

Soon to be published research calls into question the significant happiness gap between parents and non-parents in the United States. With data representing 22 different countries, results point to the US families enduring the largest happiness gap of all. So are parents regretting the decision to grow their families? Not at all. In fact, researchers attributed this gap to several factors, the most influential being summed up as "the tools to combine work and family." Specifically, that the relative wages earned compared to the cost of childcare for a 2-year old and the amount of paid leave, doing the most damage to American parents.

What's even more surprising? Some countries, Norway and Sweden, to name a few,  were found to have no gap at all and even an inverse outcome of parents reporting more happiness than non-parents.

Cultural factors were also found to play a role, when considering the almost limitless options of parenting styles available in our country coupled with the societal need to "compete" for the best childcare and educational options. What does it all boil down to? The stress of too many parenting options, not enough support, and the constant struggle of families wading through the inequality of resources as they try to do what's best for their children.

So how do we bridge the happiness gap? Dr. Coontz of the Council on Contemporary Families suggests more holistic and family friendly policies and legislation that support people's efforts to balance work and family.

How do YOU think we can bridge the gap?

 

ParentTip: Teaching Girls Bravery Not Perfection

According to Reshma Saujani, founder of the organization Girls Who Code, “we're raising our girls to be perfect, and we're raising our boys to be brave." In her TedTalk, she addresses the gender-specific socialization that is leading our young men to take risks and see obstacles as challenges to be surpassed, while our young women view obstacles as opportunities to fail or tarnish their image of perfection. Imagine how limiting it would be to only attempt tasks that you were certain you’d succeed in. This not only hinders progress in the classroom, but in the workplace and our society at large.

Through the limitless task of learning to code, Saujani’s program is socializing girls to be brave rather than be perfect, and more importantly, teaching them that they are not alone in their imperfection. When the risk of failing is seen as an opportunity to learn and try again, our young women become empowered and an entirely new world of opportunity is available to them.

Check out this awesome article on raising brave girls!

ParentTip: Engaging the Child Behind the Behavior

When a child is misbehaving it’s easy to assume the worst. Whether it be our own child, a student, or family member, thoughts like “they’re just doing that to get attention” or “he’s just a troublemaker” sneak their way into our heads and actually affect the way we perceive that child’s actions in the future. Adults can have a habit of immediately labeling children without considering the factors that may be contributing to the unwanted behavior. This can result in a child being labeled as “bad” when it’s really the behavior that’s causing trouble. Now imagine how such a label could impact a child who struggles with chronic anxiety or depression which manifests itself as unwanted behaviors in the classroom or at home?

Kids who are struggling with chronic emotional and behavioral concerns deserve the benefit of a compassionate doubt.
— Mitch Abblett and Joseph D'Antuono, Esq.

Psychologist Mitch Abblett suggests that adults try look past the behavior and focus on the emotions that are fueling it. Easier said than done when your seven year old is face down in the kitchen kicking and screaming for a granola bar right? Thankfully, he offers a step-by-step approach to staying calm and becoming curious to what’s causing your little one to completely lose it.
 

Pause & Practice: Kid-Whispering with Kindness

The next time you’re watching a kid struggle to manage their feelings and actions, try the following practice to spark a higher, more helpful perspective.

1. Anchor yourself in your breathing. Feel the sensations of the breath in the body as you inhale and exhale one complete breath.

2. Notice something in your immediate surroundings or bodily sensations (perhaps the feel of air on your skin, your feet on the floor, or the tick of a clock). Just quickly and silently notice something that is “here and now” other than the labels, judgments and blaming thoughts about the child (e.g. being “a pain,” “manipulative,” “just looking for attention”) that are likely surfacing.

3. With genuine curiosity, ask yourself: What might they be “needing” behind this unpleasant, disruptive, angry behavior? What unmet expectation is most important to them? Don’t stop with labels of “attention” or “escaping a demand.” While these may have an element of truth, they still blame the kid in a way. Instead ask: And what might be behind that? (Hint: it will be something along the lines of looking for caring, respect, reassurance, a sense of competence, being connected and belonging to something/someone, etc.).

4. Notice any blankness, push-back, or “but” reactions in your mind and let them pass. Let go of your agendas and desired outcomes. Hold onto the need behind their behavior as if it’s a jewel you’ve discovered—a hidden treasure others have missed in this kid for a long time.

5. Wonder how this perspective on what’s behind things for this child might inform your next action. How might you act from compassion instead of consternation? Perhaps you will lean forward and whisper that you “know things are hard” and that you “want to help them get through this.” Or maybe simply loosen and let go of the scowl or the exasperated eye-rolling.

6. Wonder how this child might benefit from actions from adults informed by compassionate, “behind”-the-behavior perspective? If you in some way reach or, or stay present with them despite their difficulties, what message will that send?

7. Take in another breath and take a leap in the direction this perspective nudges. DO something to talk in a non-blaming or shaming way. Offer choices or solutions. Give them your sincere caring. Certainly make it clear that they are responsible for their negative behavior AND make it clear they are not a bad kid for having used these behaviors to wake people up to the needs behind them.

8. Adults should give kids permission to fail. We shouldn’t avoid talking to children about their problems and “imperfections”—be they emotional, physical or behavioral. The avoidant silence from adults is message enough. Kids struggling with emotional, learning, behavioral, or physical challenges are left filling in the blank stares with assumptions of blame and badness. Joe thinks we should let kids be imperfect. “Just talk to them,” he says. “Have the conversation so that they know you care.”

 

ParentTip: How to Talk to Your Kids about Racism

  Caprice D. Hollins, Psy.D

Caprice D. Hollins, Psy.D

In this brief interview, Caprice Hollins of Cultures Connecting speaks on how families can engage in the conversation about race to help their children become aware of and navigate modern racism. Believe or not, children begin to internalize stereotypes as early as three years old, so having a healthy dialogue at home allows kids to work through some of the messages they receive through media or society at large.

The conversation will most likely look different based on the racial composition of a family, but regardless of race, it is an important topic for all families. Parents don’t have to have all of the answers, in fact, asking questions is a great way to teach compassion and empathy for another’s experience. Question-based conversations about race help kids put themselves in another’s shoes and imagine the perspective of those different from themselves. Parents can also lead by example when engaging differences. In fact, Hollins suggests naming negative behaviors rather than to reverting to name-calling which can lead children to make generalizations or name-call themselves.


Hollins concludes that a “color-blind” approach is no longer relevant, as our differences are not to be ignored, but celebrated. Children will notice differences on their own, so it can cause confusion when those differences are not acknowledged. How often is race talked about in your home? What sort of messages do you think your children are receiving about who they are?