PARENTING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
The internet world is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can be highly resourceful when your child needs to do research for a school project. On the other hand, your child can be exposed to inappropriate content or be the victim of cyberbullying. So, as a parent, your role is to teach your child how to navigate the web safely. You will want to supervise your child’s internet usage, teach her web smarts, from net etiquette to web literacy to simple safety. Even if your child may know more than you do about technology, as an adult, you know more about life, and as a parent, you need to set rules and enforce them.
Here are a few strategies to help your child navigate the internet safely:
1. Educate yourself. Since children are digital natives, most of them know more than we do. So, our first job is to educate ourselves, so we can help them stay safe and learn digital etiquette. You can find online resources that will help you be up to date with the evolution of technology.
2. Educate your child. The same way you educate your child about social rules, make sure you have constant talking, questioning, and educating about the digital world. For instance, make sure your child knows that everything posted online is permanent, to never share passwords, even with friends, to never say anything online she would not say in person, to assume that nothing is private online, and to ask for the help of an adult with anything that feels worrisome.
3. Make family screen rules. Since the use of screens is addictive, it is essential to establish some rules. For instance, your child needs to ask permission before going online, use timers and monitoring softwares, make, post, and review contracts established together.
4. Porn-proof your child. It is a sensitive subject. However, it is a question of when and not if when your child will get exposed to porn content. Statistically speaking, most children stumble upon porn by the age of eight. So, do not hesitate to start a conversation about this topic before this age. A good book can help you introduce this difficult issue. "Good pictures bad pictures" by Kristen Jenson is a recommended book for this topic.
5. Be a role model. If you barely look up from your phone when you are with your child, do not expect your child to do differently. Model the relation with technology that you want your child to have as children copy naturally people in their environment.
It’s never too early to start teaching children healthy media habits. Educating your children by engaging them in regular discussions about the topic are ways to empower them to make safe internet choices.
HANDLING YOUR ANGER AT YOUR CHILD
At some point, we all get angry at our children who perfectly know how to push our buttons. The challenge is to call on our maturity so that we can control the expression of our anger and thus minimize the impact on our children. Parents’ anger is nothing short of terrifying to our children as they are dependent on us for food, shelter, safety, protection. So, the challenge is to model healthy ways of handling anger so that our children can learn from us.
Here are a few strategies to help you manage anger responsibly:
1. Set limits before getting angry. Oftentimes, parents get angry because they have not set a limit, and something is nagging them. As soon as you start feeling angry, it is time to intervene in a positive way. You will probably need to interrupt what you are doing, restate your expectations, and redirect them, to keep the situation, and your anger, from escalating.
2. Calm down yourself before acting. In order to deal with a difficult situation, it is essential that you calm down first. Stop, drop your agenda, and breathe. Deep breath helps decrease the tension in the nervous system. Shake the tension out of your hands. Take several deep breaths. Dancing and singing can help to physically discharge the anger as well.
3. Wait before disciplining. Acting while angry is not recommended at all. Instead say something like “I can’t believe you hit your brother after we’ve talked about how hitting hurts. I need to think about this, and we will talk about it this afternoon. Until then, I expect you to be on your best behavior.” Take a 10-15-minute timeout to calm yourself. If it is not enough, do not hesitate to postpone the discussion off until you feel ready to have a calm and constructive conversation with your children.
4. Avoid threats. Threats made while you are angry are always unreasonable. If you don’t follow through, then they will undermine your authority and make it less likely that your children will follow the rules next time. Instead, think of an appropriate response to your children’s misbehavior and let them know once you made a sound decision.
5. Avoid physical force. Many studies have shown that the use of physical force has a negative impact on children’s development that lasts throughout life. Spanking may make you feel better temporarily because it discharges your anger, but it does not solve anything and ultimately sabotages everything positive you do as a parent. So, it is best to control yourself, including leaving the room. If you cannot control yourself and end up using the physical force, apologize to your children telling them you were wrong to act this way.
By modeling a healthy model dealing with your own anger, your children will learn how to handle their own anger in appropriate ways. It is a win-win situation.
MAKING HOLIDAYS BETTER FOR YOUR CHILD
The holidays are a period that is fun and joyous, but also a busy and stressful one. Between buying presents, holiday events, entertaining, traveling, and family gatherings, it is inevitably difficult to remain calm and peaceful. As a result, children can often get carried away.
Here are a few tips to keep your child happy and ready for the holiday season:
1. Set a calm example. As a parent, your child looks up to you. So, if you are relaxed and calm as much as possible, then your child will also behave this way. Try to be self-aware and set aside time for yourself. Also, remember to practice self-care and to get enough sleep. Taking steps to handle your own stress will reduce anxiety in your child.
2. Keep in mind the importance of routines. Children behave the best when routines are predictable. Once a party is over, try to get routines back on track, especially for bedtime and mealtimes. The following day after a special event, try to stick to quiet and calm activities.
3. Have your child help you out. School age children usually love to help their parents. Do not hesitate to praise your child when she is responsible and helpful. For instance, ask your child to help you find an item in a store or to help you decorate the house. Giving your child a task will boost her self-esteem and make her feel member of the holiday team.
4. Manage your child’s expectations. Some children get incredibly excited around the holidays expecting to receive expensive gifts, spending every day of vacation being busy visiting museums, having endless play dates and multiple sleep over. While your child will be busier, let your child know up front what to expect. Look at the calendar and plan activities together so that you child is aware of her holiday schedule.
5. Discuss the values of the holidays. Material gifts are great, but the best gifts might not be these ones. Volunteering, participating in a local toy drive, or giving each of your child a little money to give to a charity of her choice are all great ideas for getting children in a more generous mood. Also, remember to take the time to get together to play a game, watch a movie, or decorate sugar cookies.
By planning, talking to your child about your and her expectations about the holidays, and by trying to stick to her routines as much as possible, the stress and the anxiety from the holidays will be manageable. You and your child will be able to enjoy this special time of the year.
STANDING UP TO BULLYING IN SCHOOLS
Bullying can be devastating for children’s confidence and self-esteem. If your child is being bullied, she will need a lot of love, guidance, and support so that she knows you are on her side and will take action to prevent any further bullying.
Here are a few strategies to help her deal with it:
1. Talking with your child about the bullying.
2. Taking positive actions.
Helping your child deal with a bully will build confidence and prevent a difficult situation from escalating. What parents shouldn't do, no matter the child's age, is assume that this is normal peer stuff that will work itself out.
CULTIVATING MINDFULNESS WITH YOUR CHILD
Mindfulness defined as a state of increased awareness can also be developed for children. Most of them have little control over their life as they need to go to school they may not like, interact with children who may bully them, do after school activities they did not necessarily choose, and follow rules they don’t always agree with. Overall, some children live a life that puts a lot of pressure on them. Recent studies show that teens are more stressed than adults. In order to alleviate the stress, mindfulness is a useful tool that parents can teach their children.
Mindfulness can reduce the risk of depression and anxiety, help children become more empathetic, increase children’s focus at school, and may even improve their health.
Here are a few mindfulness exercises for your children:
1. Practicing progressive muscle relaxation. Starting from the feet and moving up to the head, help your child contract and then loosen her muscles in her body. This exercise will help your child gain control over physical and emotional tension bringing thus more awareness of her body.
2. Observing and naming thoughts and emotions. For five minutes, ask your child to focus on herself so that she can notice each thought that crosses her mind and then let it go. Similarly, she can focus on her emotions and name them as she experiences them. Help your child slow her breathing at the same time.
3. Using your child’s senses. Ask your child to focus on one sense after the other one. The goal is to notice what is happening in the present moment. So, ask her to only listen to her environment, then to use exclusively her sense of smell, and then to solely observe what is around her.
4. Playing games and puzzles. Games that demand your child’s full attention are inherently mindful. Avoid online games and instead try challenging games such as puzzles, chess, or word games.
5. Creating a serene scene through visualization. Guide your child in creating a detailed mental image of an attractive and peaceful setting or environment. To create a such scene, your child needs to involve each of her 5 senses to ignite positive messages throughout the mind and the body.
Research has shown that mindfulness can strengthen a child’s emotion regulation skills, which includes awareness of their emotions and the ability to influence how they are experienced and expressed enabling them to relate positively with others.
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.