Parenting through the holidays

holiday girl and dad freedigitalphotos imagerymajestic 300x198 Parenting through the holidaysThe holidays can be such a wonderful family experience, but they also bring many moments that present emotional challenges for young children.

Here is a series of essays from The Grandmothers that address a range of situations and thoughts to make the holidays special and memorable for everyone in the family.

  • Keeping holidays focused on the children holiday girl and dad freedigitalphotos imagerymajestic 150x150 Parenting through the holidaysIt’s happening again. We’ve all seen it before: A mother rushing along the sidewalk or through the mall, pushing a stroller and holding the hand of a 3-year-old who is pasted along her thigh, half-walking half-trotting in an effort to keep up. The holidays are coming. The media is ratcheting up the excitement and the stores ...
  • A holiday wish: Simple delight in your children happy family David Castillo Dominici freedigitalphotos 150x150 Parenting through the holidaysWhat quality would we Grandmothers most ardently wish for you parents of young children as 2012 fades away, you ask? Well OK, you didn’t ask, but we’re going to tell you anyway. Not patience, not insight, not mediation skills, not tolerance for mud and messes, not the ability to survive your busy day on three hours ...
  • How little ones learn to love giving candycane playdough1 150x150 Parenting through the holidaysWe Grandmothers are certainly aware that today’s families live in times of “Hurry Up” – that mothers and fathers both work and have to deal with malls filled with gifts of every shape and color. We recognize time is a precious commodity, so it’s often quicker and easier to suggest or even buy something for Aunt ...
  • The spirit of giving: How children’s gifts are recieved presents stacked stuart miles freedigitalphotos 150x150 Parenting through the holidaysIt was Christmas morning. As the family sat around the little tree, under which was a modest pile of wrapped gifts, Nina could not contain herself. She ran to the tree, pulled her gifts away from the others and distributed them; one for Poppa, a couple for Mommy and Daddy, and one for Grandma. She then stood ...
  • The Santa Question santa ron bird freedigitalphotos 150x150 Parenting through the holidaysThis is a controversial subject, so we’re going to work up to our main point gradually. The Tooth Fairy No parent that we’re aware of takes great pains to protect the true identity of the Tooth Fairy. Maybe that’s because by the time a child starts losing teeth – at about 6 – he’s already well aware ...
  • Excitement vs. Fun excitement v fun David Castillo Dominici freedigitalphotos 150x150 Parenting through the holidaysIn most circles excitement is a positive word – often considered synonymous with fun. A movie, a television program, even an activity for young children, is praised for being exciting. Using the common definition, the opposite of exciting is boring, and boring is to be avoided at all costs. Excitement, however, can also refer to agitation, ...
  • Handling holiday disappointments grumpy ballerina freedigitalphotos.net david castillo dominici 199x300 150x150 Parenting through the holidays“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” sings Andy Williams over the PA system in Walmart – and as we pile gifts in our shopping cart we halfway believe it. The kid riding in the cart, eyeing the decorated artificial trees and the life-sized cardboard Santas and the aisles and aisles of toys sincerely believes ...

Image courtesy of Imagery Majestic/Freedigitalphotos.net

Keeping holidays focused on the children

holiday girl and dad freedigitalphotos imagerymajestic 300x198 Keeping holidays focused on the childrenIt’s happening again. We’ve all seen it before: A mother rushing along the sidewalk or through the mall, pushing a stroller and holding the hand of a 3-year-old who is pasted along her thigh, half-walking half-trotting in an effort to keep up.

The holidays are coming. The media is ratcheting up the excitement and the stores are inviting us in with glorious decorations, repetitive holiday music and store shelves overburdened with things to buy.

We are beginning to feel a little overwhelmed and as though we couldn’t keep up either. We wonder how the dictionary could ever have defined “holiday” as “That period of time when one does not work and does things for pleasure instead.”

In the rush of it all, what can we do to keep the children – particularly the preschoolers – in mind over the next few weeks?

“Oh for goodness sakes” you might object. “We constantly keep them in mind. We rush about buying them toys so they will have plenty of gifts. We make sure they have special clothes to wear and we hurry to get their pictures taken with Santa. We push our time limits to take them to see the big-headed characters in the downtown shopping center. What more do you want us to do?”

Perhaps we should all take a minute to try to see things from young children’s perspective, since we insist “These holidays are for children.”

Doing so might result in fewer frantic moments and less exhaustion for everyone.

Perhaps your children really aren’t so keen on having a picture taken with Santa. This you may observe if you stand watching one preschoolers after another scream while being hoisted onto the bearded man’s lap.

Perhaps being pulled along through the mall trying to avoid the oncoming legs is not something that is fun. Perhaps a mound of toys, to be opened in a few hours is, in truth, overwhelming.

“Yes,” you agree, “each year we do resolve to calm it down – next time But each year we get caught up in the excitement and the guilt we know we’ll feel if we let someone down.”

We Grandmothers got together and, after admitting that we too get caught up in holiday excitement, decided to suggest the following ideas to young parents. It might help.

1. Let your preschoolers help you

Decide whether a picture with Santa or the trip to the mall to see the big-heads is worth the trip, the wait and the anxiety it often causes for young children.

Set up a place at home where things can be made by your preschoolers and wrapped as gifts.

Kids love to help in making cookies or decorating butcher paper with handprints or potato prints to use as wrapping paper.

Any mess can be cleaned up faster than you can go to a mall, find a parking space, lift your preschooler out of his car seat and keep track of him as you run from store to store.

More important, the times you are quietly spending with your child – and the inner pleasure she gets as she makes the gift, gives it and is showered with appreciation – far outweighs the time it takes to clean up. 

2. Prepare them for what’s happening

When your holiday involves travel to visit a friend or relative, prepare your children for what will happen. We take so many things for granted and forget it is all new to them. They may erroneously think, as one o four own grandchildren once did, that they won’t be returning home.

Young children fill in missing information with their own private assumptions that often never get voiced because they are afraid of what they may hear.

“Where will I sleep? Will there be a bathroom there? What’s a kennel and what will happen to Spot? Will someone feed him? Will we ever see him again?” There are reasonable questions for a young child who has little experience with such holiday hubbub.

Often people come to visit and household members are shifted to other rooms to make room for grandparents or friends. If this is a surprise to your preschooler be prepared for embarrassing tears of objection.

A discussion ahead of time about the change – about how hard it can be to give up a room for a few days, with a concrete description of exactly where everyone will sleep – often helps alleviate any showdown.

Being a part of the alternative plan and feeling the welcoming attitude of a mother and father beforehand enriches the experience in ways that live well beyond these holidays

3. Reduce the burden on yourself

We can take a cue from the breaking news each year that the “Black Friday” shopping rush has overtaken a little bit more of Thanksgiving Day, as employees implore management to “please respect our families and allow these rare times when we can be together.”

The times children remember as most special are those when parents themselves are able to relax and enjoy special time together.

Though it may be difficult at first, mothers and fathers can reduce the times when they are feeling they have to rush along with young children plastered to their sides to get it all done. Make these holidays “those periods of time when one does not work and does things for pleasure instead.”

Image courtesy of ImageryMajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

 

 

Apologizing

bullying Arvind Balaraman freedigitalphotos 198x300 ApologizingThe Deed

Joel and Andrew, 4-year old friends, were playing with Lego when suddenly, Andrew howled, “I was just going to use that—it’s mine!”

Joel had snatched one of the pieces Andrew had in his pile beside him. When Andrew protested, Joel knocked down his building and Andrew began to cry. Joel looked at his mother wide-eyed.

What To Do?

“Oh, no,” thought Joel’s mother. Normally, he was not a selfish boy, but lately he’d done some very unkind things. What should she do this time – demand that he immediately tell Andrew he is sorry, make him have a time-out in his room, take away his Lego set for a week, tell him he couldn’t have anyone over to play until he could manage better?

On other occasions, she had tried one or more of these options but unhappy situations were still occurring. Besides, she was realizing that a parroted, “I‟m sorry,” was just that – saying the words with no feeling behind them. When she had made him go to his room, there was usually a fight with Joel in tears, yelling and acting as though he were the victim. When he had to put a toy or game away for a period of time, it didn’t bother him very much because he could soon begin to play with another toy and seem to forget about the stored one.

What could make a difference, make him want to change his behavior? Make him feel truly sorry when he transgressed?

Sincere, With Compassion?

How does a child get to the point of sincerely apologizing – in other words, with feeling and compassion?

Joel’s mother might begin by saying, “I know that Andrew is your friend and you like to play with him. When you take something he’s using and knock down his building, he feels bad and doesn’t want to play with you anymore.”

She could remind Joel, “Remember when you and Sue were playing and she wouldn’t let you have a turn? You felt picked on and angry. Mother comforted and talked with him, he had stayed angry with Sue and called her “mean.”

She could ask him, “Is that how you want your friend to feel about you?” Joel would be better able to feel compassion when connecting Andrew’s feelings with ones he has experienced; he could be sensitive to the way he made Andrew feel. This will make his words, “I’m sorry,” much more healing for Andrew and for Joel himself.

Remorse and Repair

Mother’s help in realizing another’s bad feeling or hurt and knowing that he caused it will also lead the way to a feeling of remorse on Joel’s part. He will wish he hadn’t been so unkind. He will wish that Andrew wasn’t so angry with him and would still be his friend.

He will want to do something to make things better. He will like the adults’ approval when he does the kind thing instead of causing their disappointment and anger.

This can open the way for Mother to help him think about what he might do to repair what he has caused. In this case, it might be to gather the pieces of Lego that fell and, if Andrew wishes, help him re-build his building.

Sometimes repairing might mean doing some other act of kindness –drawing an “I’m sorry” picture, getting a tissue for a crying playmate, getting tape to repair something that was torn, etc.

Doing something kind will help restore Joel’s good feelings about himself instead of getting stuck in the misery of being the “bad guy.” He will feel better when he can sympathize with others and help them feel better, too.

Making Choices

Each time Joel is helped to realize how his actions have affected someone else or have turned a pleasant time into an unhappy one, he is forming convictions of what he wants for himself and how he wants to be thought of.

Does he want to be a bully who snatches whatever he wants, who destroys other people’s things, who spoils a nice time with a friend by his unkind behavior?

Or does he choose not to do those things he knows will hurt his playmate and end a fun playtime?

He will need help from the adults around him to think about what kind of boy he wants to be and to realize that only he can make that choice for himself. Four- and 5-year-olds are beginning to struggle with their developing consciences and the increasing capacity to empathize with others’ feelings.

They feel better when they learn their mistakes can be corrected, and then they are able to move on.

Image courtesy of Arvind-Balaraman_freedigitalphotos

Helping your children in the wake of the latest school shooting

hug David Castillo Dominici freedigitalphotos 199x300 Helping your children in the wake of the latest school shootingIt’s amazing how routine it’s become to hear news of violence that affects children. Does news of yet another school shooting still affect you quite the same way it did when we heard about Sandy Hook?

If so, our first reaction on hearing the latest is to hug our children tightly. If not, if you’ve grown numb, keep in mind that young children who hear about it are learning of such things for the first time. And it’s hard to think they won’t learn about it without some extra consciousness on your part.

Because in the days and weeks that ahead, children will be exposed again and again to replays of the scary images from the original event. 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 recent news of school violence.

Blog post from The Hanna Perkins Grandmothers: Some insight into the questions children really have – though they may have trouble finding the right words. And how to answer those questions simply and lovingly.

Another perspective by Shari Nascon on talking to your kids when they hear of tragic news that in some way hits close to home.

Article from the Lucy Daniels Center for Early Childhood:  A three-part approach to talking with children about school violence …

  1. Protecting and supporting
  2. Discussing
  3. Individualizing

… and how to put it into practical use.

Fred Rogers’ advice on how to talk about tragic events in the news: An excerpt from Mr. Rogers’ last book before his 2003 death, offering practical suggestions for helping your children navigate news of the tragedy.

 Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How violence affects young children

clecom article 865x1024 How violence affects young childrenAn article published Oct. 21, 2014 in The Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com cited Hanna Perkins Education Director Barbara Streeter in explaining why children who are victims of violence have such varied reactions.

The article noted: “A child’s reaction to violence is difficult to predict and depends on a number of variables, Streeter said. But it’s where the child’s brain is in terms of its development that plays a larger role in how such trauma will impact children later in life.”

The article’s launching point was a news story from the previous week, in which three boys were robbed at gunpoint of snacks and ice cream. The article, available here, indicated violent crime against children seems to be on the rise in Northeast Ohio.

Recognizing the limitations of a brief news article to address such a topic fully, Streeter also offers this elaboration:

Victims of violence have been subjected to an overwhelming experience of terror and helplessness. Generally speaking, younger children have fewer coping skills and less ability to make realistic sense of what has happened to them than older children.

Younger children have trouble differentiating fantasy from reality and rely on magical thinking in order to cope. They may resort to directing their anger at their parent for not being there to protect them, or to only being able to be with others when cloaked in the fantasy that they are a superhero.

Somewhat older children may worry that they did something wrong which caused the event to occur; and if they could identify what they did wrong, then maybe they could make it right. This idea may seem more comforting to some than trying to come to terms with the fact they were helpless to prevent what happened.

Others resort to warding off the helpless feeling by turning the situation around and terrorizing others – being the perpetrator instead of the victim. Some become crippled by their anxiety, afraid to venture out and try new things.

But what is most common among crime victims of any age is that the feelings of terror and helplessness don’t go away.

Children need the support of family – and often that of professionals – to come to terms with the experience and learn to cope with the feelings in a more realistic way. Otherwise, they may be unable to give up their initial, less-than-adequate modes of coping. This, in turn, impacts their lives well into adulthood – and in some instances results in a pattern of warding off the feelings associated with the victimization by becoming a perpetrator.

Free Replay: 21st Century Parenting Webcast

21st cent parenting 300x168 Free Replay: 21st Century Parenting WebcastOur 21st Century Parenting Webcast, on managing your child’s behavior, provided insights on a wide range of questions – from separation issues to sleep troubles to struggles with organization to setting limits on use of technology. Relevant questions for parents of children from toddler to adolescent make this a helpful program for anyone.
You can replay of this event any time you want, and as often as you want.

The webcast was hosted by GlobalCast MD, and featured child development specialists from Hanna Perkins and The Lippman School. It was held at Hanna Perkins Center on Oct. 6, 2014.

Halloween: Please don’t scare the little ones

halloween fun freedigitalphotos.net phaitoon 300x199 Halloween: Please dont scare the little onesDear Grandmothers:  A few years ago, my 3-year-old Phoebe helped me hand out treats on Halloween and we were having a lot of fun until a child dressed as a witch came to the door. Phoebe was terrified—she ran and hid under a table and wouldn’t even go near the door the rest of the evening. What should I do to make Halloween less traumatic for her this year?            –Phoebe’s Mom

We answered:  First, let us congratulate you on taking your child’s fears seriously – and before October 30. So often, we are taken by surprise when all the hype — which begins just after the Back to School sales — begins to cause our children to become over-excited or nervous. We may not realize that such behavior is all about the upcoming season of scare.

Despite all our talk to our preschoolers about the difference between what’s pretend and what’s real, they are still too young to really know this. Even though they say “I know it’s not real,” they can still be confused and frightened when confronted by witches, skeletons, ghosts and monsters – all the scary props of the season.

You can help your preschooler if you can just remember that everything she sees is absolutely real to her.

Another way to help young children is to recognize that your memories of your childhood Halloween fun are not from your preschool years.  You certainly were in elementary school when you had so much fun trick or treating until all hours with your friends, watching a scary video, or visiting a haunted house.

Many parents remember only those school-age Halloweens and think that such activities are what it’s all about, even for the littlest children. But they’re not—those kinds of activities are way too much for preschoolers.

Don’t worry;  you have many years ahead of reliving your childhood Halloween fun.  Just don’t rush it with the little ones.

So, what can you do for Phoebe this year?

Protect her from scary TV (even many commercials are overwhelming and frightening—or, at the very least, confusing).

Be on the lookout for signs that she is overwhelmed, overexcited, scared.  Is she running around excitedly, or does she cling to you, have her fingers in her mouth? Any unusual behavior at this time of year should make you wonder if she’s confused or frightened and should prompt you to ask her if she is worried about something.

Just your recognition of her nervousness will reassure her and help her to calm down.

If you can get her to tell you what she is worried about, don’t try to talk her out of her fears; acknowledge them and try to figure out a way to help her manage.

Let her decide how much she wants to participate in Halloween activities, respect her wishes. And give her a calmed down, low-key Halloween:  a costume, no mask;  trick or treating at a few friends’ or neighbors’ houses;  pumpkins and cute black cat decorations;  protections from anything that is overwhelming and not understood—or at least acknowledgement of those things and reassurance from you that you will keep her safe.

So, have fun this year, but be on the lookout for things that are “too much.”  All too soon she’ll be 10 and begging you to help her put up a haunted house in the garage.

Photo courtesy of Phaitoon/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A sense of what matters at Hanna Perkins School

HP Classroom lowres 300x199 A sense of what matters at Hanna Perkins SchoolAn 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.

 A sense of what matters at Hanna Perkins School

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’s focus has been not on the drawings of trucks or firefighters, but those 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 sense of what matters at Hanna Perkins School

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.”

 

Standing Up For Myself

fingerpainting girl  David Castillo Dominici freedigitalphotos 300x199 Standing Up For MyselfAsserting oneself begins at birth. We parents quickly learn the differences between the loud, insistent screams our babies make. We know when our one month old is saying, “I’m hungry, NOW” or “Something really hurts!”

Asserting oneself becomes all too evident during the toddler years when “Me do” and “No”, provokes nods from adults and we mutter knowingly, “ the terrible twos”. This strong push toward independence, although it tries our patience, is generally understood to be a predictable part of growing up and we look forward to the next stage when the child insists on independence in more subtle ways.

But what about a child like 4-year-old Sarah who is so “nice” and easily gives? She lets another child grab the doll carriage she is playing with and take off with it and doesn’t yell “No”, “Mine”, or run to get the help of an adult. What about the four- year-old who returns, uncomplaining, to building his castle after his two friends steal some of his blocks to build their own castle?

How Do We Feel?

We parents are often grateful for children who aren’t always raising a rumpus about their rights. We assess and label them as “easy going” and “nice”. There are times when it nags us a little that our four year old always gives in but a play date free of fights is what we value in this hectic, over-scheduled world. One adult watching the group of kids that included Sarah suggested she was simply the early version of the adult who doesn’t get “hyper” about little things and decides most things aren’t worth the hassle or fuss-up.

Where is the child Headed?

This behavior raises a red flag. What was really happening and how was Sarah feeling as she watched her carriage disappear? First of all, given her age, assuming she could make on-the-spot decisions about what things are important to pursue and what might not be worth the emotional expenditure is unrealistic. At age four, children are unable to think this way. That doll carriage was an important part of her play. She had chosen it and had a plan in mind as she pushed her doll in it. Her imagination was at work and she might well have been imitating what her Mommy does with the new baby. Just because she’s four and only “playing” does not mean the things she chooses to do are not terribly important to her. This play is the model for how she will one day treat her daughter or manage her business. Will she continue to give in and be so “nice” at 10 years of age when a friend urges her to be unkind to another friend or at fifteen when she’s offered drugs?

Cause

What is a good way to think about this interaction between two four year olds? We have decided Sarah’s play was important to her and so should ask ourselves why she didn’t stand up for herself. Why didn’t she object to her carriage being grabbed? Was the other child a frightening peer who always became aggressive when he didn’t get his way? Had she perhaps received strong messages from adults that nice girls share and keep unhappy feelings to themselves? Perhaps she felt very small and her feelings of inadequacy were powerful. They were so powerful that she was incapable of finding the strength to hold on to the carriage and say, “No.”

What to Understand?

We can begin by understanding that standing up for oneself is important but complicated. We can begin to be more aware of the times our children don’t assert themselves when it would be logical to do so and try to understand how they are feeling. We can observe our child who is so likeable and eager to please but quietly reluctant to assert herself. When everyone likes a child and they are no trouble, it’s easier to let it go or to interpret the behavior as the observer did, as deliberately choosing her fights.

What To Do?

How should we parents use this example as we nurture and raise our children? After all, sharing the things we have is a valued characteristic and one we praise among our children and their friends. If we see our three or four year old continually relinquishing a toy to another child we should observe thoughtfully and notice behaviors and expressions. Did she really want to share her carriage or did she hesitate, look uncertain and then move on to something else? Some children are frightened at the prospect of showing displeasure or anger so it’s important for parents to remain calm, be supportive and reassure our children that it’s all right to be angry particularly when something has been taken away from them that they were playing with. We must mean what we say. We can also help by giving our children the words to use even when their vocabularies are limited, such as “No!” or “I am playing with that!”

Understanding the importance of children’s play and taking seriously a child’s investment in a particular activity or toy is a first step in helping a child who has feelings of inadequacy or is afraid to stand up for herself. Right now, at four years of age, Sarah is worried about the loss of her doll carriage and her inability to hold on to this toy. She does not know how to make things right for herself and is afraid to try. Knowing this, we can gently move in beside her and help.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/Freedigitalphotos.com

Dealing with stranger anxiety

anxiety  Arvind Balaraman freedigitalphotos 300x198 Dealing with stranger anxietyParenting 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