About Victoria Todd, Child Psychoanalyst

Victoria Todd, LISW-S, Child & Adolescent Psychoanalyst, is a summa cum laude graduate of Case Western Reserve University with a B.A. in Sociology and Psychology and a master’s degree in Social Administration.
She developed the “My Mad Feelings” curriculum to prevent bullying by working with children as young as 4 to understand their emotions and appropriately express themselves.
A qualified child psychoanalyst, she completed her training at the Hanna Perkins Center for Research in Child Development.
A member of the American Psychoanalytic Association, the Association for Child Psychoanalysis and the Cleveland Psychoanalytic Center, she teaches classes and workshops at Case Western Reserve University. She served on the Treatment Subcommittee of the Ohio Child Sexual Abuse Grant and was a member of the Guardian ad Litem Advisory Board and the Children at Risk Coalition.

Dealing with stranger anxiety

Parenting has always been stressful, but now more than ever it seems. So my heart goes out to moms and dads who struggle with the issue of how to keep their children safe without instilling undue fear – fear that can lead a child to heightened levels of stranger anxiety.

Stranger anxiety is a normal part of development that occurs in most children around the age of 6 or 7 months, and it may last until the child’s first birthday or so.

At this stage, children are very attached to their primary providers, and they may experience considerable distress when in the company of people with whom they are unfamiliar. Often, they show this distress by hiding behind their parents, quietly peeking at the stranger and loudly protesting if he or she makes any overtures.

When this kind of behavior is seen in older children, I often wonder about angry feelings they may be experiencing. Are those aggressive feelings being projected outward and making the world seem like a very unsafe place?

This is typical of what you find in children who are terrified of the boogey man, burglars, ghosts, etc. As one savvy boy put it, “I think that’s just my mad feelings coming back to get me.”

So, what do you do?

First and foremost, keep your cool. Children are masters at picking up on their parents’ anxiety.

Very matter-of-factly reinforce the importance of not talking to strangers. But then, prepare the child in advance for situations where contact with strangers will be unavoidable – like at the airport, as an example.

You can say things like: “Mommy and daddy will be with you and keep you safe.” Or if a school field trip is planned, you might offer: “When you go to the museum, there will be strangers, but you’ll be with your teacher. And the school staff will keep you safe.”

Also, remind your child about police officers, whose job is to keep us safe.

If you suspect your child is projecting his/her own anger, encourage the use of words for feelings. “You seem angry; I wish you could tell me about it.” If your child seems scared of strangers to the point of panic, seek professional help.

More Parenting Tips available at www.westpsychotherapy.com.

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

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    A simple test to know if a child is ready for Halloween frights

    Halloween is right around the corner and houses are decked out with witches, spiders, graves and bats.

    Some adults seem to be involved in a strange competition to see who can create the most ghoulish, terrifying images and haunted basements, etc. All of this scariness is appropriate for older, school-age children and teenagers. But it can be very confusing and downright frightening for preschoolers and young children who don’t have good reality testing.

    How do we know they don’t have good reality testing?  Because they believe in the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny. Older children with better reality testing will tell you there’s no way Santa can go all over the world in one night and he’s too fat to come down a chimney. But younger children believe he can.

    I vividly recall a terrified, 6-year-old coming to her therapy session with tears in her eyes. She just saw a coffin open up in someone’s front yard and a “dead person” popped out. She then proceeded to make scary noises and jump out of the dark at me, so I would know firsthand how frightened she was. Then she asked me if dead people “get out of their graves” at Halloween.

    I hope you will keep these thoughts in mind as you decorate and celebrate Halloween. If your school-age children are going to be around little ones, don’t permit them to wear frightening costumes. If you have younger children, serve as a protective barrier from scary Halloween sights, sounds and activities. Keep Halloween fun, as it was meant to be.

    Photo courtesy of Victor Habbick/Freedigitalphotos.net

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      Dealing with bullying – from both sides

      Bullying, a topic of concern to parents nationwide, is really a 2-year-old trouble. Toddlers can be very mean—biting, hitting and snatching things from others. This is why it is important for parents to be firm with toddlers.

      “No. That’s mean and mommy (or daddy) want you to be a kind boy.” This message has to be repeated over and over again through the years whenever you see your child engaging in hurting behavior. Parents must be watchful and immediately intervene.

      If your child is engaged in a group activity with peers and gets aggressive, he/she needs to be temporarily excluded. “You can join us again when you’ve settled down, but there’s not going to be any meanness. Kickball is meant to be fun.”

      In my many years of work with bullies, I have never met one who did not eventually describe an incident of bullying directed at him or her.

      Sometimes they were bullied by a parent, sometimes not. But all reported someone glaring at or making ridiculing/threatening comments to them. And this very behavior was passed along to a younger or somehow more vulnerable peer.

      Here it is important to remember that a bully is looking for a particular response — a child who will be intimidated just as he or she was. But bullies need to talk about the incident that scared them and made them feel unsafe rather than doing to others what was done to them.  And they also need to apologize for their mean behavior and realize that adults will be watching them to assure it doesn’t happen again.

      Bullies get great excitement out of intimidating. So children need to take the excitement out of it by acting bored in response to their meanness.

      Then the bully will move on to another who will fall into their trap. But this is a tall order for children.

      So, if your child has been the victim of bullying, it is important to devise a protection plan. Don’t be too quick to jump in there and offer suggestions. Let your child take the lead.  “It’s important to keep you safe. How can we do that?” In this way, you are helping your child be active (rather than passive) on his or her own behalf.

      This protection plan may well include school personnel. For example, your child may need to tell the teacher if someone is mean to him/her, or stay close to staff on the playground.

      Every now and then I run across a child who will not abide by the protection plan and seems to invite bullying from multiple sources.  In this situation, the child is part of the problem and needs professional help. Likewise, if a bully continues his or her mean streak—get counseling.

      Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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        The forgetful child and feeling forgotten

        As a child psychoanalyst, I provide consultation services to tutors who work with children who have learning troubles.  My job is to help them understand that behavior is a meaningful communication. Children can’t always tell you how they’re feeling; they let their behavior do the talking.

        Recently a tutor reported that a boy showed up for class without his school supplies. So, the tutor gave him a pencil and paper only to learn that he “forgot them somewhere” by second period. This “forgetting” happened over and over again.

        So, what was the boy really saying to his tutor? Was he feeling forgotten?

        Sometimes children believe their parents get so busy during the day with work or, worse yet, taking care of younger siblings, that they forget all about them. Of course, as is true of all behavior problems, this is just one possibility. However, it’s worth exploring.

        You can do it by saying something like this:

        “You seem to be forgetting a lot lately. I wonder if you ever feel forgotten. Maybe you think I get so busy while you’re at school that I don’t think about you.”

        Then see what he/she says. If this is the issue, encourage your child to elaborate as much as he/she can and then acknowledge, “What a sad thought that you’re feeling forgotten.  So, how can I help you know that I keep you in mind?”

        This could be something simple like putting a note in your child’s lunch: “I just wanted you to know I will be thinking about you. Love, Mom.” Or maybe you could put a picture of you and your child in his backpack with a note that says, “When you get home tonight, I’ll be so glad to hear about your school day.” Often these little reminders can be quite helpful to children who worry about being forgotten.

        Image courtesy of ImageryMajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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          Your vacation and their daycare

          Following the last vacation season – spring break – I heard from several parents about their young children’s disruptive behavior at home.

          They were puzzled by this, as they had maintained their children’s daycare schedule even though they took time off from work. They had made this decision because they needed time to “recharge their batteries.”

          But children need time away from the daily grind too.

          Parents also indicated that they didn’t want to disrupt their children’s schedule. They assured me that their children didn’t mind or even know that they were at home. In truth, children are very perceptive. And yes, they may be quite attached to their care providers at daycare, and they might miss playing with classmates. But nothing is as important as spending time with their parents.

          As for the disruptive behavior, I suspect it was a communication — a child’s way of letting parents know of his/her sad and mad feelings.

          I know that being a working parent is taxing. But I would urge you to keep your children with you when you have several days off.

          Remember, the time is coming when children will be much more focused on their peers and not so needy of your attention. And when turbulent adolescence arrives, you will be very glad to have established a strong bond with your son or daughter.

          More Parenting Tips available at www.westpsychotherapy.com.

          Image courtesy of Imagery Majestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

           

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            Addressing lying in older children

            Pretend your son and his friend are playing basketball in the driveway. When his friend hits at long range and proceeds to celebrate, your son gets angry and hurls the ball at him. When you intervene he insists he didn’t do what you just witnessed through the window.

            Now what?

            When it’s obvious a child is lying, tell him that you (or another witness) saw him do what he denies. Then you must deal with the misbehavior and the lie.

            First and foremost, deal with the misbehavior.

            Whenever possible, give your child the opportunity to undo what he has done; in this situation that would be to offer an apology. Then impose a reasonable punishment: “You’re showing me that you can’t play basketball safely.”

            “No, I can! I promise I can.”

            “We’ll try again later, but for now we’re going to stop.”

            In private, talk about what occurred, including the fact that your son lied to you.

            If lying is an ongoing problem, counseling is advisable. If this is more of an isolated incident, discuss the importance of being honest — that lying is wrong; others won’t like him if he lies; and they won’t trust his word.

            Inquire as to whether he has ever been lied to and how it made him feel.

            In this instance, as well as all others, you see how very important parental example is. Try not to lie to your child, and always keep your promises – or explain why if you can’t.

             Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

             

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              Parenting tips on overly competitive behavior

              As I love to watch non-professional sports, I have been a regular at area basketball games over the past few months. Thus I witnessed struggles by children and adolescents with overly competitive behavior.

              Parents seated nearby shared my concerns and wondered if sports encourage aggressive outbursts in participants and if competition is healthy for children. One mother, alarmed by her son’s behavior, inquired, “How will I know if he needs professional help?”

              Good question. And, at her request, I shall address it.

              Perhaps the best way to think of this issue is in terms of normal childhood development. Toddlers begin to have competitive feelings with siblings, which often focus on the issue “Me first!”

              Gradually these competitive feelings get expressed outside the family with peers in preschool. But by kindergarten and certainly 1st grade, children should be able to relate to age-mates as partners with feelings. Thus they are socially ready for group play. Competitive feelings still exist, but not in such a demanding, mean-spirited way.

              By their nature, games are an arena for the deployment of competitive skills – some of an attacking and others of a defending nature. Governed by inflexible rules, participants must be able to tolerate frustration and control their aggression.

               As they play and compete, all children compare themselves to others to see where they fall on the achievement scale, priding themselves on their abilities and worrying about their shortcomings.

              Eventually healthy children get on friendly terms with their strengths and weaknesses and gain both proficiency and pleasure from competitive games. They also develop an appreciation for their teammates’ skills and can play cooperatively without becoming overly excited or aggressive.

              But some children suffer in silence, withdrawing from group play as they feel so inferior to their peers. Others show off their superiority – taunting and ridiculing those who cannot perform at their level. In both of these situations, children are telling adults, through their behavior, that they are in need of help.

              Other indicators of a need for professional assistance include:

              • Overly aggressive behavior with a desire to hurt others
              • Inability to tolerate frustration leading to outbursts
              • Overly controlling behavior (ie. “ball hog”)
              • Endless complaints about unfairness and being mistreated
              • Repeatedly cheating
              • Inability to tolerate losing; desperate need to win
              • Showing off and always expressing “better than” feelings

              For more Parenting Tips, visit www.westpsychotherapy.com.

              Image courtesy of Naypong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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                Putting sarcasm in its place

                I think it’s important to think about things from a developmental perspective. So, let me take you back to the second half of your child’s first year of life. Remember the biting? Remember how it hurt? Well sarcastic children no longer bite with their teeth; they bite with their words. But their biting comments still hurt.

                Unfortunately sarcasm is rampant in our society. Just turn on the TV and you’ll get a big dose of the mean-spirited comments that America calls humor. But here the example that you set is crucial. Be mindful of your words and what you laugh at. Take advantage of opportunities to encourage empathy so your child will be able to put him/herself in other peoples’ shoes:

                “How do you suppose Sophia felt when Chloe called her stupid?” “Did you hear Ryan call his younger brother a baby? He said he was just kidding, but his brother looked so sad. I wonder what you thought about that.”

                Be sure to intervene in private if you see your child engaging in sarcasm:

                “I heard you call Emily a loser and I wondered what was going on; I thought you and Emily were friends.”

                “We are.”

                “I wonder why a kind girl like you would treat her friend in a mean way.”

                “Just kidding.”

                “Is it? I remember how picky you were about Emily’s birthday present and how you made her a card when she was sick. That’s how to be a friend. But mean words drive others away.”

                By so doing, you’re making your child aware of her meanness and reminding her of her kind side. But, most important, you’re letting her know how self-defeating sarcasm is – if you want to have friends. You might also remind her of when someone’s sarcasm hurt her feelings. “Wasn’t funny then and it isn’t funny now.”

                Image courtesy of Milissa Thompson/Stockxchng

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                  Helping school-age children overcome procrastination

                  Your child has a history project due in two weeks, but he hasn’t even started. You’ve seen this behavior before — procrastination.

                  As is true of all childhood troubles, procrastination can have many causes. But this time, your son gives you an important clue about what’s going on:  “I can’t do that assignment.  It’s too hard!”

                  Often, procrastination is due to anxiety. Somehow that project feels way too big. And starting it, even thinking about it, leads to tremendous anxiety.  So, he shoves it aside and tends to less daunting tasks – or maybe even no schoolwork at all, because it will remind him of the history project.

                  How can you be a helpful parent and assist him? Teach him how to break the BIG history assignment down into bearable bits.

                  “Come on, Nathan. I’m going to help you. We’re going to make this job manageable. Let’s start by making a list of what needs to be done and then putting them in order. First, do this, then this, then this.”

                  Once you have the list, suggest he do a little each night. On nights when he doesn’t have much schoolwork offer: “Let’s see if you can do a couple items on your list tonight.” And if he starts getting frustrated?  “Nathan, I can see you’re getting frustrated. When you start feeling really frustrated, you know it’s time to take a break. So stop what you’re doing and get yourself a glass of water. Stretch your legs for awhile. Then you’ll feel better.”

                  By taking this approach, you’re teaching your child valuable organizational lessons. Remember, your role is supportive.  So don’t take over the job, as that will play right into your child’s “can’t do” thinking.

                  And be sure to stand back and admire the finished product. “Good job, Nathan!  I’m so proud of you and I hope you’re proud of yourself.”

                  More Parenting Tips available at www.westpsychotherapy.com.

                  Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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                    Parenting Tips project


                     

                    I wanted very much to bring Hanna Perkins Center’s understanding of child behavior and their tried-and-true methods that have been working for over 60 years to the West Side of Cleveland. But how?

                    That’s when I approached Father Tim Gareau, the parish priest at St. Raphael’s Church in Bay Village and he helped me get the ball rolling.

                    I informed Father Tim of my profession and my willingness to be of assistance to his church. He arranged a meeting for parents through the school principal, and I was pleased with the turnout.  The format of the meeting was question-and-answer, with many expressing concern about bullying due to national coverage on this issue.

                    I did my best to field their questions, but I later thought of additional information that might be helpful. So, I wrote an article on bullying and returned to Father Tim. In a meeting of church administrators, all agreed that a monthly Parenting Tips article in the church bulletin was a great idea.  In fact, the Parenting Tips would also be sent home in the school children’s weekly folder.

                    My first Parenting Tips on Bullying article appeared in the church bulletin on Nov. 20, 2911. I received positive feedback from parents, grandparents and educators, who were grateful for my advice. So, I kept writing.

                    As my monthly Parenting Tips expanded, so did the project.  By April 2012, Parenting Tips was appearing in seven church bulletins in six adjoining suburbs. They are also available in five preschool/daycare newsletters and three public libraries. And the project is still growing.

                    On Feb. 20, 2012, Fox 8 TV newsman Todd Meany interviewed me about the project. His take was:  “Parents go to church to pray for their families and some go home with an added bonus—parenting tips in the church bulletin.” This news segment aired on March 12 and 15, 20912. (See video, embedded above.)

                    I hope these Parenting Tips are helpful to you.  If you believe that your church, school or preschool/daycare would be interested, please contact me.

                     

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