WHAT TO SAY AND NOT TO SAY TO YOUR ANXIOUS CHILD
When your child is feeling anxious, even the most well-meaning parents may unknowingly pronounce hurtful words to their child. So, instead of alleviating your child’s anxious feelings, you will dismiss them. It is essential to remain calm and positive when encountering your child’s anxiety.
Here are 7 phrases to avoid and what to say instead:
1. “Don’t worry.” Saying these words will not prevent your child from worrying as She already does. This statement implies that her worries are unreasonable or unacceptable. Instead, say to your child “Can you tell me more about your worries?”
2. “It is not big deal.” Children generally know that their worries are indeed a big deal as they can affect their school performance, their relationships with their peers or their family. So instead, try this: “I notice you are feeling very anxious about this. Let’s do deep breathing exercises together.”
3. “You will be fine.” Your child will not feel reassured by this statement, as it does not resonate with what she experiences. Instead, give her some emotional support by saying “I am here to help you.”
4. “There is nothing to be afraid of.” Children do fear a lot of things in their daily life: judgement, peer rejection, failure at school or in sport/artistic activities. To ease your child’s fear, open the conversation by saying “Let’s talk about that.”
5. “I will do it.” When a child gets stuck because she is anxious, you might be tempted to do the task yourself. However, this does not help your child build coping skills. Instead, support your child by saying “I know you feel anxious about this. I am here to support you. What do you think is the best way to do it?”
6. “Stop thinking about that.” Your child would probably love to do this but cannot. So, instead give her support by saying “Let’s talk to your worried brain by telling it positive stuff.”
7. “I don’t know what you need.” This statement will frighten your child as she relies on you to help her. If you express helplessness, your child’s anxiety will spike. Try this phrase: “Let’s find strategies to help calm your mind right now.”
Coping with anxiety is a learning process that takes time, patience, and practice. By responding with compassion and by exploring with your child different strategies, she will progressively become better at dealing with her anxiety.
STRATEGIES TO HAVE YOUR KID TALK TO YOU
Most children cannot stop talking when they are in preschool. In elementary school, many start to clam up with their parents. Once in high school, only 22% still talk openly to their parents about their personal issues. But, there are strategies to have your child talk to you.
Here are a few of them:
1. Ask non-judgmental and open-ended questions to open conversation. For instance, instead of asking how school was today, say to your child “What was the best thing about school today?” or “How did the soccer game go at recess?” Use questions that start with why cautiously as these questions often make children defensive. Say “What makes you say that?” instead of “Why did you say that?”
2. Refrain from jumping in with solutions and advice. First, children need to vent whatever they are experiencing, then they need to get a chance to figure out their own solutions. This contributes to develop their self-confidence. Our role is to help them reflect on their own feelings and brainstorm solutions.
3. Be aware of the way you initiate contact. Our children are often very busy between school, homework, and after school activities. Once they reach puberty, the hormones kick in and parents can go low on their list. It is often because they take us for granted and know they can rely on us. So, when you would like to spend time with your child, use “I statements” that help you express your wishes. For instance, say “Next weekend, I would like us to do some activities together. How about going to the park or to the museum? What do you think?” instead of saying “You never ask me to do anything together these days”.
4. Stay available. When you are ready to talk does not mean that your child is. When children feel a pressure to talk, they clam up. If as a parent, you are a good listener and make yourself available when your child is ready to talk, then they will open up when something is on their mind. Simply being in the same room and doing something such as folding the laundry together or cooking a meal may create an opportunity to start a conversation.
By focusing on your child’s emotional needs and making yourself available in a non-judgmental way, your child is likely to come talk to you about what is happening with her.
GIVING UP THE FANTASY OF THE PERFECT HOLIDAY
Most of us wish to give our children a fairy-tale holiday. Seeing our child’s face shining with joy is our biggest reward. But wanting to give our children the perfect holiday is a fantasy. Sometimes, it is driven by the hope that we will make up for the times we have not been ideal parents. Or maybe our yearn is rooted in our own childhood when we felt lonely or hurt. The holidays can be a magical time, but cooking, decorating, and buying presents are not the only ingredients needed to be happy.
Here are a few resources to spend happy and enjoyable holidays for everyone in the family:
1. Ditch the guilt. Even if you planned everything early, there will be always a last minute change or something that goes wrong. This is perfectly normal. Remember that to be happy, your child does not need a present she wants, but that you cannot afford. What your child needs is real love that cannot be bought. Deep love is expressed through time spent together, sharing activities, listening to her, and understanding her emotional needs.
2. Do not make up for not being a perfect parent. No one is. What matters is to be authentic to your child, to model graciously an imperfect human being, to apologize when it is necessary as it will show her the right path when she misbehaves. Give her unconditional love no matter what. You may disapprove her words and actions at times, but never who she is. This is truly the most beautiful gift you can offer to your child for the holidays and throughout the year.
3. Give your child time. With our busy schedules, most of us do not spend as much time as we would like with our children. So, take the opportunity of the holidays to catch up. Children spell love with the letters time. Be fully present with your child and she will remember this time with you for the rest of her life.
4. Let life be as it is. Give yourself permission to let go of perfection and just be yourself. Real holidays mean dealing with cranky children, messy kitchens, and botched recipes. This is part of life. Remember that joy comes from appreciating the wonder disguised in the moments of our everyday life. By offering your emotional generosity every chance you get, you give your child plenty of opportunities to be happy and to build memories she will be fond of later in life.
HOW TO TALK TO YOUR CHILD ABOUT SEX (2)
From a very early age, it is essential to have age-appropriate discussions with your child about sex. By the age of 9-10 years old, your child should have explored their body, have some basic knowledge about sexuality, and have developed safe boundaries for themselves. A lot of topics still need to be explored though as they get older.
Here are a few to discuss from children from 9 and up:
1. For children from 9 to 12. Puberty talk is the main topic for this age range. This type of discussion can be initiated by a good book on the subject. Your child can learn the technical aspects such as the differences between testosterone and estrogen, why and how their bodies undergo changes in hair, genitals, and voices. Kids should learn not only about their own bodies, but also about other bodies. Ongoing conversations are recommended as your child needs time to process any new piece of information.
Another aspect to consider is how to safely explore the digital space. Establish rules about talking to strangers online and sharing pictures online. Discuss also what to do if they come across something that makes them feel uncomfortable. Finally, without necessarily being explicit about pornography, explain to your child that some websites are about grown-ups doing grown-up things and that those websites are just for adults.
2. For children from 13 and up. If you have talked openly about sex and sexuality with your child, she is probably comfortable talking about the topic and asking questions.
One big topic is about having safe sex. It might seem daunting, but studies show that teens make better choices if they know the risks. So, discuss with your teen the meaning of making healthy and safe choices. Also, you should highlight different types of birth control and explain the basics of how they work.
Finally, as this age group has freedom online, chat periodically with your teen about internet safety and keep building on your established rules and values. What does it mean to be respectful on social media? Explain to your teen that sharing nude or sexually explicit photos of themselves or their peers is illegal in California, even if the people involved are consenting.
Ultimately, as a parent, your goal is to empower your child/teen so that she can evaluate risks and make healthy and safe decisions for herself.
HOW TO TALK TO YOUR CHILD 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 which helps 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 probably has 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
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.