HOW TO TALK TO YOUR KID ABOUT SEX (1)
Talking to your child about sex may seem a daunting task. You might wonder what to say and/or how to convey the information. First and foremost, keep in mind that being somewhat nervous and awkward is perfectly normal; one of the most important aspect is to focus on being honest and not being afraid to admit you do not have all the answers. Experts recommend that you have regular conversations with your child about sex. The best way is to weave it into everyday conversations, adding more information as your child grows up, and introducing certain concepts at specific ages.
Here are a few ideas about how/what to say to your child about sex depending on their age:
1. For children from birth to 2. As surprising as it may sound, it is recommended to start the process of talking about sex when your child is not verbal. This means using the proper names for genitals for every day activities such as bath time. You may use cutesy names as well, but the proper names should be known by your toddler to communicate health issues or injuries. Try to be casual and treat these terms as you would for any other anatomical terms such as "hand" or "ankle". The more natural you are, the more your child will be when using these terms herself.
2. For children from 3 to 5. The main focus for this age group is to learn about boundaries. Through your guidance, your child needs to learn what is and what is not appropriate when it comes to touching or being touched. Children have a say over their own bodies that will help them build a feeling of safety. At this age group, tell your child that others should never ask to or try to touch their genitals. If your child has a tendency to touch her genitals - which is perfectly normal - explain to her that it is something we do in privacy (her bedroom for instance). Be gentle with your child as you do not want to instill a shameful message.
3. For children from 6 to 8. By this time, your child has probably more deeper questions. She is ready to hear the mechanics of sex. A good book might help to introduce the topic. Then, you may want to hear the questions your child has about sex. If you do not know how to respond to a question, let her know and tell her you are going to get more information before getting back to her. At this age, it is also a good time to talk explicitly about sexual abuse. Start with the basics as no one should be touching her without her permission. If it ever happens, then she should tell a trusted adult as soon as possible so that the adult can take action to protect her and thus prevent any potential repetition.
Talking about sex is never easy, but not talking about it is actually worse as your child will get information her own way. So, it is best to establish from a very early age a safe dialogue based on trust and openness so that your child knows she can come to you to ask any questions she may have.
Stay tuned for the next blog that will cover this topic for children from 9 and up
DISCIPLINE VERSUS PUNISHMENT
As a parent, you may wonder what discipline strategies are the most effective. Is it wrong to raise your voice? Should you give your child a time-out or just an icy stare? It is essential to understand that discipline does not happen only when your child misbehaves. It is part of your education system that not only encourages proper behavior, but also promotes resilience, independence, strength of character, and solid values. There are two sides of discipline: proactive techniques that promote good behavior and reactive techniques used in the moment when your child is misbehaving. The more proactive you are, the less reactive you will need to be.
Here are a few proactive techniques to help you achieve those goals:
1. Determine the root of the problem. If your 5 year old throws a tantrum at night when going to bed, she might not be oppositional, but rather might have nightmares or be afraid of something. Then, figure out with her what could help her feel better. Maybe a nightlight and a picture of her parents on her nightstand. Involving your child in the solution will give her ownership over it and promotes self-discipline.
2. Be authoritative, not authoritarian. Setting limits is of course necessary, but if you make all the decisions and ask your child to follow your rules, then you ask your child to be obedient. Instead, let your child help establish the rules, set goals, compromise, and work as a team. For instance, your child may help devise a chore chart at home and an older child could help set limits on how much screen she is allowed to have on weekdays and weekends.
3. Make sure everyone is clear about the rules and their consequences if they are broken. Set realistic consequences and follow through. If you do not, your child learns you do not mean what you say. If you clarify your expectations and the consequences for poor behavior in advance, your child is more likely to behave properly the next time. For instance, if your children fight in the car, tell them before you leave that if they misbehave, you will pull over to the side of the road and wait until they are ready to stop.
4. Encourage your child, but limit rewards. Rewards can be motivating to a certain extent as you do not want your child to be so reward-focused than he does not want to do something unless there is an external incentive. A child’s main motivation to behave well should be her own sense of accomplishment, not just pleasing the adult. When you say to your child “I am proud of you”, you praise her, but when you say “You must be proud of yourself”, then you encourage her. Encouragement is an essential component of education as it teaches your child to seek inner satisfaction rather than looking for constant approval. Your child needs to learn how to self-evaluate instead of relying on others.
Keep in mind that discipline has two functions: one is to ensure that children have a consistent and a safe environment in which they can learn and understand the importance of reasonable rules and limits and the second is to nurture self-discipline that will help them develop resilience and let them deal with frustration and mistakes.
CULTIVATING SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE FOR TODDLERS
Teaching social skills to toddlers might look like a big challenge as young children face several difficulties. First, they learn to manage their emotions, then they need to develop empathy towards others, and finally they have to learn to express their feelings and needs while respecting their peers. So, as a parent, your role is to assist them in developing their emotional intelligence.
Here are a few strategies to help your toddler:
1. Show empathy. When children receive a lot of empathy for their own feelings from the adults in their environment, then they develop empathy towards others early. Empathy being the cornerstone of successful interpersonal relationships, it is essential to cultivate it at a young age.
2. Do not force your toddler to share. Although it is a common belief to think that toddlers need to share, it is indeed counterproductive if your child is not ready. First, children need to feel secure in their ownership before being able to share. So, the first concept is to learn to take turns.
3. Stay close during playgroups. Toddlers who hit during social interactions do it because they feel overwhelmed by their emotions and do not know yet how to handle them. If an adult is there when the hitting is happening, then the adult can coach the child how to manage the situation without hitting. For instance, you can say: “Yes, Calvin took your bucket…is that okay with you? No? You can say “My bucket!” If your toddler knows you are here, she will feel safer, learn strategies to express herself without hitting.
4. Teach assertiveness to your child. If your toddler often lets other kids take away things from her and seems unhappy about it, then show her how to stand up for herself. For instance, tell her “If you are not ready to give that up, you can say “I am still playing with it.” Until your child develops her own language skills, you will need to be her “voice” when she plays with others.
5. Set clear limits on physical aggression. Children are entitled to their feelings, but they need to learn to express them appropriately. For instance, tell your child “You can tell us and show us how mad you are without hitting. You can call me, and I will always help you. Now, let’s tell Laura how you are feeling. You can say NO and stomp your feet as hard as you want.”
6. Give your child language for their feelings. It is never too early to start labeling emotions. This will help your toddler process her emotions verbally instead of physically. For instance, say “It is so frustrating when you work hard on your tower and it collapses like that. No wonder you are angry.”
Social skills are a crucial factor in predicting a child’s happiness in life. Studies show that it is indeed more critical than academic or financial success. So, give your children plenty of opportunities to develop and cultivate emotional intelligence.
DINNER TIME: NURTURING THE MIND AND THE BODY
Everybody has heard that having dinner together as a family is a good thing for your children. Recent studies show the huge positive impact that children get when eating dinner with their families. The more frequent family dinners children have, the better they do in school, the less likely they get involved with drugs or alcohol, suffer depression, consider suicide, or become sexually active early in their teen years.
The benefits of eating together help children and parents to stay connected and build better relationships. A family dinner gives children a tangible sense of belonging and fulfills their need of being nurtured through the ritual of sharing food with those they love. In order to create a productive dinner hour for everyone, here are a few ideas to get started:
1. The food is not the point. Although healthy meals are essential, decent nutrition does not necessarily require a long prep time. So, instead of focusing on an elaborate meal on weeknights, remember that the point of sitting down together is to connect and share with one another.
2. Cultivate sacred space. Create a daily, short, but restorative celebration of family, which will help everyone to relax from their busy day. Some families light candles, put a seasonal table cloth while others say a blessing that may or may not be religious, but speak about our gratitude of being together and our appreciation of each other.
3. Make the discussion interesting for everyone. Make sure to not talk exclusively about jobs and school. The initial question might be “How was your day at school/work?”, which can lead into a broader topic. Family dinners are also the occasion to talk about an upcoming family decision such as the next vacation. Ask your children their opinion or what they think about a decision you made. Share a poem or a book you truly appreciated. Jokes can also be shared but be cautious to not hurt anyone.
4. Truly listen to your children. Unless asked, do not offer advices as children will be more willing to bring up what is bothering them if they do not get interrupted. Listen to their perspectives of the described situation. Praise your children if they did/say anything that they can be proud of. Point out your concerns/worries using “I statements”. For instance, instead of saying: “You can’t keep coming home so late. It is inconsiderate.”, say: “I feel worried when you come home so late. I wish you would call me.”
5. What to talk about? If you run out of topics of discussion, ask everyone to write on index cards possible agenda items. Then, pull out an index card when it is dinner time. Some topics may include ideas such as “Tell each person of the family why you are glad they are part of the family.”, “What do you think makes a person popular?”, or “If you could have a conversation with anyone in history, who would it be? What would you discuss?”
Having dinner all together after a busy day for everyone is a privileged time to reconnect with one another, share happy and difficult times of the day, discuss an important topic, or make a family decision. In any case, it is a way to express love and attention in constructive ways.
ENHANCING YOUR BABY BRAIN DEVELOPMENT
In order to develop their brain the best way, babies need the presence of an adult who is responsive to their emotional and physical needs. Human babies are designed to develop by interacting with and observing loving and caring adults. However, it is essential to not focus exclusively on the baby as making every moment about her would put pressure on her and make her anxious.
Here are a few tools and resources to help enhance your baby brain:
1. Engage warmly with your baby throughout the day. By enjoying her, engaging with her, responding to her, showing her the world, and reassuring her when she is upset, then your baby receives the foundation of emotional security necessary for her intellectual development. Studies show that infants who are the most advanced intellectually, physically, and emotionally are the ones who have caregivers who are attentive, responsive, and warm.
2. Read to your baby. Reading to your baby has multiple benefits. By exposing her to the sound of your voice, it soothes her. It also helps develop feelings of emotional intimacy between your baby and yourself as well as increase her attention span and memory.
3. Talk to your baby. Involve her and speak to her as you move through your daily tasks. Babies learn language by listening to you and others use it. Soon, you will be able to check your child’s understanding of words. For instance, ask your baby to find her favorite toy or stuffed animal. If she turns toward it, she probably knows what it is. Make simple requests such as “Wave bye-bye”, “Give me a hug” or “Throw the ball” and observe her reaction.
4. Play brain development games. Make sure to make it interactive and age-appropriate. Remember to introduce your baby to sensory games, not just cognitive ones. You may sing to her, play pat-a-cake type games, massage her, play music of different kinds for her, or dance with her.
5. Let her be on her own. While babies do need plenty of interactions with their caregivers, they also need plenty of time to play with their toes, listen to noises in their environment, stare at the dust motes in a shaft of light, or just figure out how their own muscles work.
Quality time is not necessarily busy time. Babies don't benefit from over-stimulation. All babies need time to play and explore the world in the security of a loving and caring adult, but they also need time to occupy themselves without our interference. A healthy baby has access to both types of experiences.
As a parent and a therapist, I want to offer some tips on how to raise happy and healthy kids. Please feel free to comment on my posts.