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.”
CREATING AND CULTIVATING A HEALTHY BODY IMAGE
Let’s start by defining what body image is. Body image is the way you feel about your body. A child who has a positive body image feels good about her body. She is happy with the way she looks, how her body moves and grows, and what her body can do. Having a good image body is essential as it affects directly your child’s self-esteem. As your child grows up, as a parent, you can support her so that from an early age she starts building a healthy body image she will have her whole life.
Here are a few strategies that can help your child develop a positive body image:
1. With babies and toddlers. Naturally, babies and toddlers seem happy with their bodies. They enjoy kicking their feet, playing with their toes, and squirming. Once they know how to stand and walk, they are very proud of themselves. In order to help your child feel good about her body, you can give tender care and cuddle with her, give her opportunities to develop new ways to use her body, smile, encourage, and praise her when she tries to master new physical skills.
2. With school aged children. As your child grows up, she is often proud to see how tall she has grown, how she looks like with a new haircut, or how fast she can now run. At this age, your child starts comparing herself to other children; she wants to feel good about her body and be able to measure up to her peers. As a parent, you can help build a healthy body image by helping her take care of her body, by finding physical activities she enjoys as feeling fit, strong, and capable is one aspect of positive body image, and by making positive comments about people of all shapes so that your child knows that beauty does not come only in size 6.
3. With preteens and teenagers. As your child goes through puberty, her body changes and the way she feels about her body will too. So, it can take time to get used to a body that looks and feels different. A lot of preteens and teens focus on what they do not like about their looks. Girls wish to have more or less curves while boys would like to have more muscles. As a parent, you can support your preteen/teen by making sure your child is active every day, by allowing her to try new styles and looks, by making sure she gets plenty of sleep and have a healthy diet, by discussing the impact of the media’s promotion of perfection and the beauty of supermodels above everything else, and by role modeling a good body image yourself.
Young people with a positive image of themselves feel more comfortable and confident in their ability to succeed. In contrast, kids with a negative body image feel more self-conscious, anxious and isolated. They are at greater risk for excessive weight gain and for eating disorders. So, take the steps to give your child the gift of positive body image.
WHEN MY CHILD IS A BULLY
No parent wants to hear that her child is a bully as it is painful and sometimes makes the parent feel guilty and/or ashamed to think of her child inflicting harm on others. If your child is engaged in bullying behaviors, it might be a sign of serious distress that needs to be addressed. She might be experiencing anxiety, depression, and have difficulty regulating her emotions and behavior.
First, it is essential to understand the reasons behind your child’s behavior. Here are a few:
-Your child is looking for attention from teachers, parents, or classmates, and hasn’t been successful getting it other ways.
-She is getting bullied at school or at home and is trying to regain a sense of power by acting aggressively toward her peers.
-She has a tendency to perceive the behavior of other kids as hostile, even when it is not.
-She wants to fit in with a group of friends who are picking on another child.
Here are a few strategies to help your child handle her behavior differently:
1. Talking through the situation with your child. It will help you understand why the social aggression is happening and how to respond to it to make it stop. For instance, if your child has low self-esteem, bullying gives her power and control over something or someone.
2. Look inward. If your child is exposed to unkind or aggressive behavior at home, it is likely she will repeat the same scenarios at school. Sometimes, family members are not aware of the impact of their own words or actions. So, ask yourself those questions: do members of your family engage in yelling, name-calling, or putdowns? Do your children pick on one another, or hit each other? How do you handle conflicts? If these types of behavior are happening, it is important to start fostering a positive home environment where kindness, respect, and support are encouraged and valued.
3. Make it right. Once your child has understood she made a mistake, then encourage her to apologize (in person, via text message, over the phone,…), but repair is an essential component of the process. Depending on the situation, your child may bake cookies for the whole class or play a game with a peer she had been previously excluding. Discuss repair options with your child.
4. Stay connected. By being present with your child, you are building an open channel of communication about her daily life. This will put you in a better position to recognize signs of bullying. Asking your child a few open-ended questions on a daily basis will help stay connected in a supportive, non-judgmental way to your child who needs to feel that you care and truly listen to her. In the morning, such questions can be about what your child has planned for the day. After school, you can ask her about a thing that went great and then about one that did not go so great.
Bullying is a maladaptive pattern due to pain and distress that your child does not know to handle differently. By trying to understand the roots of this behavior, by adopting an attitude of empathy, active listening, and support toward your child, and by exploring collaboratively appropriate ways for your child to express her underlying emotions, the patterns of aggression and coercion may soon disappear.
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.