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.
HELPING YOUR CHILD MANAGE ANXIETY
Anxiety is a normal response to a stressful or dangerous situation. However, it becomes problematic when it arises at unexpected moments or is in full swing. When a child or a teen experiences anxiety, symptoms such as unexplained headaches or stomachaches may interfere with sleeping, eating and school. As a parent, you can help your child cope with it.
Here are a few strategies:
1. Do not talk your child/teen out of it. It might be tempting to try to reassure your child by saying to her “Do not worry about it. It will go away.” Telling your teen these words do not make her feel validated in her feelings. In addition, your child does not know how to stop her anxiety. So instead, ask her what her experience is and acknowledge it. Your child/teen needs to see that someone gets her.
2. Normalize her feelings. Explain to her that anxiety is normal and that everyone experiences it at some time in their life -before an exam, when meeting new people, starting a new school. Sometimes, it also happens without obvious reasons.
3. Explain the nuts and bolts of anxiety. Tell your child/teen that anxiety is caused by some part of her brain (the amygdala) that thinks she needs protection from a potential danger. Its job is to get your child ready to run away from the danger or fight it. The problem is that the amygdala does not make the difference between a real danger, let’s say a wild dog running toward her, or going to a new school. In both cases, the amygdala is working hard to protect her and anxiety gets then triggered.
4. Teach your child to breathe slowly and deeply. Since anxiety modifies the regular breathing pace, it is useful to help your child regain control of her normal breathing pattern. Tell her to hold her breath just for a second between breathing in and breathing out. Make sure the breath is going right down into her belly – not just into her chest. You can tell because her belly will be moving. Do this about 5 to 10 times. Remind her to practice regularly.
5. Practice mindfulness. Research shows that practicing mindfulness provides relief and protection from stress, anxiety, and depression. Being present in the moment, which is the concept of mindfulness, helps to have or regain control over the brain when worrying does not stop.
Here’s the how you can help your child/teen practice:
Anxiety is treatable but it might take time. So, it is essential to keep practicing mindfulness and deep and slow breathing to reach the goal.
HANDLING THE MIXED EMOTIONS OF GOING BACK-TO-SCHOOL
Heading back to school after the long summer holidays can be an emotional rollercoaster for everyone in the house. When thinking about your children’s first day of school, it’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed. Kids (and indeed parents) often go back and forth between feelings of excitement and nervousness. So, working with your children to build resilience and manage their emotions can be beneficial for the psychological health of the whole family.
Here are a few strategies to help you deal with your children’s emotions:
1. Listen and talk to your children. In order to unload their emotional burden, your children need to share with you what is happening with them. So, several days before the first day of school, take the time to listen to what they have to say about going back to school. After they are done so, it might the opportunity to share with them some of your memories about your own first days of school. It will help your children normalize their emotions and feel they are not the only ones feeling this way.
2. Empathize with and support your children. Let your children know you are aware of and understand what they are going through. Make sure they know you are here to help them any way they need. Encourage your children to acknowledge and face their fears by validating how they feel.
3. Get involved in your children’ school life. Knowledge of the school and the community will better equip you to understand your children’s surroundings and the transition they are undergoing. Meeting members of your community and school will foster support for both you and your children. It will also show your children you are interested in their life at school and do your best to help them.
4. Practice the first day of school routine. Getting into a sleep routine before the first week of school will aide in easing the shock of waking up early. Organizing things at home — backpack, binder, lunchbox or cafeteria money — will help make the first morning go smoothly. Having healthy, yet kid-friendly lunches will help keep them energized throughout the day. Also, walking through the building and visiting your children’s locker and classroom will help ease anxiety of the unknown.
5. Get familiar with your neighborhood. If your children are starting a new school, their level of anxiety might be high as they are facing a lot of unknowns. In order to alleviate their stress, get to know the neighbors by walking around the block. Try to set up play dates, or if your children are older, find out where neighborhood kids might go to safely hang out, like the community pool, recreation center or park.
The end of summer and the beginning of a new school year can be a stressful time for parents and children. Fortunately, children are capable of coping with changes. As a parent, you can help them in this process by fostering resilience and encouraging them to share and express their emotions and feelings about returning to school.
RECLAIMING SUMMER WITH YOUR CHILDREN
Summer time is often a privileged time that children wait all year long. Since children are unbounded by school, they have time to explore, make new friends, lie on their back and watch the clouds. Summer is indeed a great opportunity to connect with your kids and to build unforgettable memories.
Here are a few ideas to make this summer memorable:
1. Spend quality time with your child every day. Whether it is running through the sprinklers on a hot afternoon or observing the stars on a blanket in the backyard, do at least one thing each day to connect and have fun with your child. Remember that what matters is the caring and loving connection between your child and you, not the most original or brilliant activity they could have.
2. Maintain some minimal structure. Most children who have a very busy schedule during the school year develop a high level of stress. So, when summer kicks off, they do need time to relax and chill. However, they still need a minimum of structure throughout their day, so they know what to expect. Depending on your child’s age, you may discuss how she wants her days to look like.
3. Remember transitions take time. If your child starts a summer camp program or some new activities, she may experience some anxiety. So, a few grumpy days and a few meltdowns are not unusual. Taking the time to discuss ahead the new activities and how she feels about them will help her reduce anxiety and her nervousness the first days.
4. Limit technology time. The use of technology is very tempting during summer as children have more time. When children are bored and it is hot outside, screen time may soon be their favorite pastime. However, the more screen time is limited, the more children can be creative, enjoy themselves differently, and make new friends.
5. Encourage your child to try something new. Summer is the ideal time to experiment something new. Whether she wants to try painting, self-defense classes, or horseback riding, new activities encourage brain development and build your child’s focus. It also contributes to deal more effectively with frustration and impulse control.
Summer is the perfect time to get (re)connected to your children. Devoting time and brainstorming ideas are all you need to reclaim summer for your family.
As George R.R. Martin says, “Summer will end soon enough, and childhood as well.”
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.