The Las Vegas 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 inthug_David Castillo Dominici_freedigitalphotoso 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 recent news of violence in Las Vegas.

 Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/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

 

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

A sense of what matters at Hanna Perkins School

An all-hands staff meeting at the beginning of the school year offered a good opportunity for Barbara Streeter, director of Hanna Perkins School, to remind everyone of the care given to the thoughts of preschool and kindergarten students.

She asked people to be conscious of magazines that are left in waiting areas throughout the building – removing any that contain scary images or content that isn’t appropriate for young children.

“It’s always important, but particularly so in the beginning of the year,” Streeter said. “They are working so hard at being independent human beings without their parents being here; they need a predictable, safe, comfortable and controlled environment.

“They notice everything and they hear everything,” she continued, “So please be aware of the conversations you have with other adults if there are children around.”

While the same courtesies could apply at any school, Hanna Perkins’ focus on the ability to discuss feelings provides frequent reminders how young children struggle with the unfamiliar and unknown.

Their effort to make sense of adult conversations or new sights is confined to their own, limited experience of the world, and it can lead to wildly inaccurate – perhaps troubling – interpretations. This is what development professionals are referring to when they talk about magical thinking in young children.

Too close to home: Young children may overlook the fire-fighting action, focusing instead on flames in bedroom windows. Photo of drawing from “My Fire Engine” by Michael Rex.

As Exhibit A, Streeter held up a picture book about fire trucks – seemingly appropriate for preschoolers. Who, after all, isn’t fascinated by fire trucks and the heroes who drive them?

But it is no longer part of the classroom environment at Hanna Perkins because more than one child has focused on the pictures of flames shooting from windows of a house that – to a 5-year-old – may be a very good rendering of their house.

Exhibit B was another book, Storm is Coming, by Heather Tekavec and Margaret Spengler, which Streeter skimmed through at the meeting.

It’s about a farmer who observes, out loud, “Storm is coming.” The animals – like young children – misunderstand his meaning. They think Storm is a person – and a scary person at that, based on the concerned tone of the farmer’s voice. As they wait fearfully in their cozy barn for Storm to arrive, the animals welcome the darkening sky, then the rain, wind, thunder and lightning – hopeful that each of these phenomena will scare Storm away.

It’s a book that Streeter predicts children will enjoy because they will get the joke early, and they’ll relate to the situation of misunderstanding information that comes to them from the world of adults.

A book children will appreciate; it understands their misunderstandings.

The school occupies only a portion of Hanna Perkins’ facility, so Streeter also reminded staff members who are not involved in the school’s day-to-day activities that hallways and facilities in that part of the building are off-limits during school hours.

In explaining this, she cited the practice of one noted Northeast Ohio pediatrician to put a smock on all babies during well-baby visits.

If parents wonder why it’s necessary, Streeter said, the doctor’s response is something to this point: “When is a baby too young to deserve privacy and respect with regard to her body? When is it too soon to convey to a child that her body is precious, valued, belonging to her, and deserving of protection?” 

“We feel the same way here,” Streeter said. “When are children so young that they shouldn’t get the same respect that adults get? Walking into their classroom or onto their playground space is no different than when someone walks into your office.”

Finally, Streeter reminded the group that the facility doesn’t decorate for, or celebrate, Halloween.

Older children have learned to understand the concept of scary fun – though some don’t enjoy it as much as others.

But children in preschool and kindergarten are still learning the difference between real and pretend. “At this age, scary fun isn’t fun; it’s just scary.”

That doesn’t mean Halloween is ignored completely at Hanna Perkins. “We talk about it in class,” Streeter said. “The children may want to share their feelings. There are usually a lot of questions.”