The Parkland school shooting: What your children need right now

Another horrific event has occurred, and it will dominate the news and social media for days and weeks.

Except for the very youngest children, you won’t likely succeed in sheltering them from it. They will seek to understand what they see and hear, trying to put it into the context of what they know about the normal and expected.

The amount of information children need from parents in such situations differs depending on the child and, of course, his or her age. Here are a few resources to help talk with your children about the school shooting that took place on Valentine’s Day in Parkland, Florida:

 Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Inoculating our kids against pedophiles like Larry Nassar

The news has been full of Larry Nassar, the team doctor for USA Gymnastics who will spend the rest of his life in prison for sexually abusing girls and young women in his care. Much has been said about the harm he caused, and about the disheartening lack of response to those who previously tried to report him.

But Jackie Acho and Eva Basilion, who learned the Hanna Perkins Way when their children attended school here, offer important words for parents in their essay, “Inoculating Our Kids Against Pedophiles like Larry Nassar.”

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

Support Hanna Perkins when you shop at Heinen’s

If you shop at Heinen’s and use its Preferred Card, you can help Hanna Perkins School receive valuable donations that support us in providing valuable services to families throughout Northeast Ohio.

Through the grocery store’s Tasteful Rewards program, Preferred Card users can select a school to receive a donation form Heinen’s of 1% of whatever they buy during the school year (Sept – April).

If you already have a Heinen’s Preferred Card, please help by visiting heinens.com/schools and clicking the link there to designate Hanna Perkins School as your ABC School Program recipient. If you don’t already have a card but want to join the program, click here to register.

When the kids are just too busy

Some time ago, parents sought me out and indicated they very much wanted my assistance with their daughter. But when it came time to schedule an appointment, I had to contend with step-dancing on Mondays, piano lessons on Tuesdays, pottery class on Thursdays with sleepovers on Fridays. Barely eeking out C’s, the girl informed me that she did her homework in the car on the way to her various activities. Clearly too muchness was part of her problem.

This reminds me of the proverbial kid in the candy store who wants everything. Parents wouldn’t dream of permitting him/her to have it all. “You’ll get sick!  Just pick one or two pieces.” But when it comes to helping children reach their full potential, parents often throw this sound thinking out the window.

Emotionally, children need meaningful relationships with their parents — not as cab drivers, but as moms and dads.  Family life and school need to be their top priorities.

When children bombard you with the ”I wants,” help them grow up by having them prioritize and select a couple activities (for preadolescents) – with one preferably on the weekend.  Then, after homework, plan simple family activities — cooking dinner together, family movie night, a hike in our lovely MetroParks, a trip to the public library.

Three of these examples allow for talking, but don’t jump in there and pepper your child with questions. Let him/her take the lead and practice good listening. Remember:  A relationship with you is much more important than any extracurricular activity.

“But mom, Hannah gets to take tap, ballet and art classes too.”

“Every family has their priorities and this is just right for us.”

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

5 things you can do to support and promote children’s mental health

happy_david garzon photo_freeimages.com

Thursday, May 4, 2017 is National Children’s Health Awareness Day.

We talk a lot about this thing called mental health, but what does it really mean and how can we promote it in our children?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Mental health in childhood means reaching developmental and emotional milestones, and learning healthy social skills and how to cope when there are problems.”

Laying a strong foundation from the start can help children develop appropriate emotional, social and coping skills.

Here are 5 things parents can do to promote good mental health.

  1. Help children verbalize feelings from a very young age. The more an individual can use words to describe difficult feelings the less he or she will rely on their body to communicate (e.g. tantrums, hitting or acting out in school).
  2. Help children be problem solvers. Protecting a child from every possible failure sends the message that he or she cannot cope. Facing failures and frustrations in bearable bits helps build emotional muscle that will last a lifetime.
  3. Validate feelings rather than negate or stop them. If a child is crying, there is a valid feeling behind it. Be investigators together and find the reason for the feeling. Telling children they have nothing cry about, or telling them everything will be fine when it may not, teaches them to suppress feelings, rather than building tolerance for hard feelings.
  4. Encourage children to manage their own feelings. Just because a child is angry at you does not mean you have to fix, handle or change the situation. They have a right to their feeling and they have the power to find ways to make themselves feel better – even when life seems unfair.
  5. Promote empathy. Wonder with your child how other people may be feeling, especially when they may have hurt someone else’s feelings. Encourage children to talk through conflicts and hear another point of view. Make an apology a natural part of conflict resolution – rather than words that must be recited to avoid punishment.

This year, on National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day – and all the days that follow – let’s do everything we can to build the foundations for success in our children.

Image courtesy of David Garzon/Freeimages.com

Kimberly Bell, Ph.D. Hadden Clinic at Hanna Perkins Center

Kimberly Bell, Ph.D.
Hadden Clinic at Hanna Perkins Center

Emotional Intelligence

2 boys_david castillo dominici_freedigitalphotosThe foundation for future learning is established between birth and age six. During this time, a child transitions from dependence to independence, and develops an emotional blueprint that informs every aspect of his or her life.

Emotional intelligence – the ability to understand and manage feelings – is considered the driving force behind intellectual and social achievement, and the strongest indicator of human success.

Emotional intelligence can be fostered most effectively during the preschool years, regardless of the genetic or temperamental predispositions with which a child is born. It is an area in which we can make a difference. Children who receive the gift of adult mindfulness during these early years develop essential assets, such as

  • Curiosity
  • Problem-solving
  • Competence
  • Mastery
  • Creativity
  • Management of worries and fears
  • Ability to focus
  • Self-control
  • Kindness
  • Self-advocacy

By understanding this and addressing a child’s inner life, all children can be helped to cultivate  critical life skills. Children who receive the gift of adult mindfulness during these early years develop essential assets, such as flexibility, relationship-building, conflict management, self-awareness, self-discipline and planning skills.

Through emotionally-based learning, children are best equipped to build resilience and maximize their own potential.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/freedigitalphotos.net

 

A parenting technique that really works

At a gathering of parents sponsored by The Hanna Perkins Center for Child Development (HPC), Licensed Independent Social Worker and HPC Child Psychoanalyst and Therapist Deborah Paris addressed a range of questions and concerns, including this one:

 Q: I keep hearing about “attachment parenting” and other parenting techniques. Is there a particular technique that you like?

A:  My preferred technique is whatever works best in promoting healthy development. It begins with understanding there are certain goals in raising young children:

  • Self care
  • Self regulation
  • Self determination

What makes people healthy is developing this sense of self – not us as parents doing for them.

You know, we do a funny thing these days. On one hand we see the helicopter parent, who is over-involved in everything the child tries to do. On the other hand we sometimes act like children are little adults, and we expect all sorts of things from them that they aren’t ready to handle – like sitting quietly through a long meal at an upscale restaurant.

In both extremes, what’s happening is the parents are trying to control the outcome. It’s as if by just doing or demanding all the right things, everything will come out fine. This is actually leaving the child – as an individual person – out of the equation.

If you insist on controlling the outcome, then your child is going to struggle to learn and practice self care, self determination, self regulation. It will be about you instead of about them.

But if you start from the perspective of what the child needs and what is going on inside of him or her– as opposed to adopting a specific parenting “technique” – you’ll end up in the right place.

Children have an inner world that is understood (or misunderstood) from the perspective of a 2- or 3- or 4-year-old brain. Be sensitive to this. Work with them to identify and resolve misunderstandings and misconceptions. Help them learn those things the developing self requires.

If you want to call this a parenting technique, I’d say it has a pretty good record of success.

Image of little boy courtesy of Julie Moore/Stock.xchng

 

6 strategies for talking about the election with your children

boys_bw_back_cco-public-domainA few days after the presidential election, in one of our own classrooms, a 5-year-old declared, “My Mom voted for Trump.”

“Trump’s an idiot!” a 6-year-old classmate replied. And then a teacher stepped in.

In our schools, on the playgrounds, in our homes, conversations like this are going on amongst children ages 2 to 18 – often as not, unsupervised. Older children have been suspended from school for posting threats and ridiculing others.

What does it mean to these children that the country is so divided, that adults and the media are making frightening predictions of what’s to come? What does it mean to children of color or different religions? And what does it mean to their friends?

This post is not about politics, it is about the things children hear and say. How do we, as parents and teachers, help them sort it out? How do we help those who are frightened to feel safe?

Here are six strategies for talking to your kids in this heightened political environment:

1. Start by listening. Before rushing to explain, ask questions, listen to the answers and ask more questions. When your child says “Trump is mean” or “Hillary was bad,” find out what he thinks is meant by the word “mean” or “bad.”

2. Try to uncover misconceptions and provide context. For adults, presidential elections happen every four years. For young children, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Adults understand concepts like voting but often forget to explain it to young children. One 4-year-old understood voting to mean, “Whoever has the most signs.”

In general, children are exposed to much more than they are ready to understand. They hear adults talking, they perceive how we feel and they catch bits of information on the news that seem unfamiliar and strange.

If an adult doesn’t step in gently to help them make sense of it, they’ll try to make sense of it on their own, based on their limited experience in the world.

3. Understand a child’s concerns in the context of her world rather than yours. Younger children worry most about their parents’ well being. It’s scary to see a parent very upset or very angry. Ask if she noticed you were upset and if it scared her. Then reassure her that even though you had big feelings, you are OK and nothing bad is going to happen.

Older children may worry about the things that will happen to themselves or children they know if the laws change or if people are fighting. Will the family have enough money? Will a good friend be sent away? Most often, these worries can be assuaged by realistic responses. When they can’t, children need to know that they shouldn’t have to worry about it – the grown ups will be taking care of what happens and how the problems are solved.

Adolescents need to be able to talk with adults about their various questions and ideas about world affairs without it becoming a debate or argument. Just a few reality oriented comments and factual questions here and there are often sufficient to help ground them as they move forward in their thinking. They may project anxiety about themselves and worries about being out of control by criticizing everything in government and how adults are handling things – and this is healthy. What isn’t helpful is when they’re left to work out these things alone or among themselves without the grounding of safe, caring and respectful adults. That’s when talk can escalate and adolescents begin to act out.

4. Be judicious with punishment and discipline. Children who post threats, talk meanly to peers or engage in unsafe behavior are often doing so in order to ward off their own sense of vulnerability in the face of the unknown. The first priority is to stop the behavior before it creates harm to them or anyone else. After that, help them give voice to their fears in a situation where they feel safe, perhaps at the family dinner table, or in quiet conversation one-on-one. Then, after showing compassion and acknowledging their own concerns, determine what consequences are appropriate for their behavior – with a sincere apology to anyone they’ve mistreated often being the most important thing they can do.

5. Reduce media exposure. Shelter children from the media as much as possible. When they are exposed, help them understand that everything people say on TV is not necessarily true, and that watching people yell at each other or do mean things doesn’t help anyone figure out how to solve problems.

Barbara Streeter, School Director

Barbara Streeter, School Director

6. Be prepared to discuss it again. Don’t assume all is resolved after discussing a worry. Children are constantly re-thinking everything you say and do, everything they see and hear. Stay alert for signs that they’re ready for the next dialogue.

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