Simplifying Childhood May Protect Against Mental Health Disorders

When my Dad was growing up he had one jumper each winter. One. Total.

He remembers how vigilantly he cared for his jumper. If the elbows got holes in them my Grandma patched them back together. If he lost his jumper he’d recount his steps to find it again. He guarded it like the precious gift it was.

He had everything he needed and not a lot more. The only rule was to be home by dinner time. My Grandma rarely knew exactly where her kids were.

They were off building forts, making bows and arrows, collecting bruises and bloody knees and having the time of their lives. They were immersed in childhood.

But the world has moved on since then. We’ve become more sophisticated. And entered a unique period in which, rather than struggling to provide enough parents are unable to resist providing too much. In doing so, we’re unknowingly creating an environment in which mental health issues flourish.

When I read Kim John Payne’s book, Simplicity Parenting one message leapt off the page. Normal personality quirks combined with the stress of “too much” can propel children into the realm of disorder. A child who is systematic may be pushed into obsessive behaviours. A dreamy child may lose the ability to focus.

Payne conducted a study in which he simplified the lives of children with attention deficit disorder. Within four short months 68% went from being clinically dysfunctional to clinically functional. The children also displayed a 37% increase in academic and cognitive aptitude, an effect not seen with commonly prescribed drugs like Ritalin.

As a new parent I find this both empowering and terrifying. We officially have a massive opportunity and responsibility to provide an environment in which our children can thrive physically, emotionally and mentally.

So, what are we getting wrong and how can we fix it?

THE BURDEN OF TOO MUCH

Early in his career, Payne volunteered in refugee camps in Jakarta, where children were dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. He describes them as, “jumpy, nervous, and hyper-vigilant, wary of anything novel or new.”

Years later Payne ran a private practice in England, where he recognized many affluent English children were displaying the same behavioural tendencies as the children living in war zones half a world away. Why would these children living perfectly safe lives show similar symptoms?

Payne explains that although they were physically safe, mentally they were also living in a war zone of sorts, “Privy to their parents’ fears, drives, ambitions, and the very fast pace of their lives, the children were busy trying to construct their own boundaries, their own level of safety in behaviours that weren’t ultimately helpful.”

Suffering with a “cumulative stress reaction” as a result of the snowballing effect of too much, children develop their own coping strategies to feel safe. Parents and society are conscious of the need to protect our children physically.

We legislate car seats, bike helmets and hover in playgrounds. But protecting mental health is more obscure.

But, sadly, we are messing up. Modern day children are exposed to a constant flood of information which they can’t process or rationalise. They’re growing up faster as we put them into adult roles and increase our expectations of them. So, they look for other aspects of their life they can control.

THE FOUR PILLARS OF EXCESS

Naturally as parents we want to provide our kids with the best start in life. If a little is good, we think more is better, or is it?

We enrol them in endless activities. Soccer. Music. Martial arts. Gymnastics. Ballet. We schedule play dates with precision. And we fill every space in their rooms with educational books, devices and toys. The average western child has in excess of 150 toys each and receives an additional 70 toys per year. With so much stuff children become blinded and overwhelmed with choice.

They play superficially rather than becoming immersed deeply and lost in their wild imaginations.

Simplicity Parenting encourages parents to keep fewer toys so children can engage more deeply with the ones they have. Payne describes the four pillars of excess as having too much stuff, too many choices, too much information and too much speed.

When children are overwhelmed they lose the precious down time they need to explore, play and release tension. Too many choices erodes happiness, robbing kids of the gift of boredom which encourages creativity and self-directed learning. And most importantly “too much” steals precious time.

PROTECTING CHILDHOOD

Similar to the anecdote of the heat slowly being turned up and boiling the unsuspecting frog, so too has society slowly chipped away at the unique wonder of childhood, redefining it and leaving our kid’s immature brains drowning trying to keep up. Many refer to this as a “war on childhood”.

Developmental Psychologist David Elkind reports kids have lost more than 12 hours of free time per week in the last two decades meaning the opportunity for free play is scarce. Even preschools and kindergartens have become more intellectually-oriented. And many schools have eliminated recess so children have more time to learn.

The time children spend playing in organized sports has been shown to significantly lower creativity as young adults, whereas time spent playing informal sports was significantly related to more creativity. It’s not the organized sports themselves that destroy creativity but the lack of down time. Even two hours per week of unstructured play boosted children’s creativity to above-average levels.

PARENTS TAKE CHARGE

So, how do we as parents protect our kids in this new “normal” society has created?

Simple, we say no. We protect our kids and say no, so we can create space for them to be kids. No, Sam can’t make the birthday party on Saturday. No, Sophie can’t make soccer practice this week.

And we recreate regular down time providing a sense of calm and solace in their otherwise chaotic worlds. It provides a release of tension children know they can rely on and allows children to recover and grow, serving a vital purpose in child development.

We filter unnecessary busyness and simplify their lives. We don’t talk about global warming at the dinner table with a seven year old. We watch the news after our kids are asleep. We remove excessive toys and games from our toddler’s room when they’re sleeping. We recreate and honour childhood. Our children have their whole lives to be adults and to deal with the complexities of life, but only a fleetingly short time in which they can be kids. Silly, fun loving kids.

Childhood serves a very real purpose. It’s not something to “get through”. It’s there to protect and develop young minds so they can grow into healthy and happy adults. When society messes too much with childhood, young brains react. By providing a sense of balance and actively protecting childhood we’re giving our children the greatest gift they’ll ever receive.

Parents, Get Realistic About Your Expectations For Young Kids

Your two-year-old refuses to share his toy with your friend’s child. He snatches back his Thomas train. You are embarrassed, send him to his room for a time out, and tell him to come out when he’s ready to apologize. Once in his room, your child throws a full-fledged tantrum, complete with loud crying and kicking the wall. Now he’s really in trouble and will have to be punished, but were your original expectations fair?

According to a recently published survey of parents of young children conducted by ZERO TO THREE and the Bezos Family Foundation, the answer is no. The study reveals there is a sizable expectation gap between what child development experts know to be true and what parents assume their very young children can do. And the consequence is great frustration for parents and too much punishment for children.

Sharing:

Many parents and even some preschool educators often have unrealistic expectations that young children should be able to share and take turns. As an early childhood educator, I often observed a negotiation that goes something like this. The adult tells the child she may use the toy for a certain amount of time (often, a timer is used) and then she must “share” and give another child a turn. The most common result is for the child to refuse to relinquish the toy when time is up, followed by tears and consequences. For this reason, early childhood programs have multiple copies of the same toy in their youngest classrooms.

Because 43 percent of parents think children can share and take turns with other children before age two, however, many of young children are punished or labeled as selfish. In fact, this skill develops between 3 to 4 years, so what is interpreted as bad behavior is really a matter of development.

Impulse control:

As a preschool director, I often talked to parents who were angry with their little ones for not following rules. Some tried positive reinforcement techniques like sticker charts or resorted to bribes. Unfortunately, most relied on some form of punishment, most commonly putting their children in time outs for infractions. To their dismay, their children often repeatedly broke the rules regardless of the parents’ disciplinary technique and warnings.

Brain science research teaches that for children under age three, it is developmentally appropriate for them to be unable to control their impulses. Yet 56 percent of parents believe two-to-three year olds are being defiant when they break rules, and 36 percent believe this to be true for their children under age two. The truth is that children just start to develop the ability to control their impulses between 3.5 to 4 years, without it being consistent until much later.

Controlling emotions:

Crying and tantrums drive most parents up the wall. This often leads to lectures, yelling, and punishment such as the traditional time out and/or isolation in a room. (Hopefully not spanking the child, but I’m sure that happens too.) While leaving a child alone in a safe environment until he calms down may work, tantrums often happens in public where there is no place to do this. Becoming angry and even hitting a child in this state is like pouring fuel on the fire.

What parents don’t understand is that it is unrealistic to expect children younger than 3.5 to 4 years old to control their emotions. 24 percent of all parents of one-year-olds believe that children have the capacity to control their emotions, and 42 percent of parents believe their children should have this ability by two years. Thus, according to the survey, the majority of parents of very young children think they should not have tantrums and emotional outbursts. Once again, I suspect many kids are punished for something they can’t control.

Assume most parents love their children:

According to the study, the good news is that most parents (91 percent), regardless of race, ethnicity, income and education level, believe their children are their greatest joy. They think they are adequate parents but also want to improve their parenting skills. The parents surveyed felt if they knew more about child development and appropriate expectations, they would be better parents. They wished they had more positive parenting strategies in their arsenal. And they understood the importance of the first five years of life.

The majority of those surveyed are really “good enough” parents, but they shared these important goals for improving their parenting skills:

  • Manage their own emotions as a model for their children
  • Have more patience
  • Not lose their temper or yell at their kids

In order to achieve these goals, there needs to be a greater understanding of how expectations are often at odds with developmental ability. Perhaps this disconnect between what we want children to do and what they are actually capable of is fueled by the growing expectations we as a society have for very young children. The increasingly academic orientation of our early childhood and lower elementary classrooms is a perfect example of this phenomenon.

10 Things That Changed Me After the Death of a Paren

ALEXANDERNOVIKOV VIA GETTY IMAGES

I don’t think there is anything that can prepare you to lose a parent. It is a larger blow in adulthood I believe, because you are at the point where you are actually friends with your mother or father. Their wisdom has finally sunk in and you know that all of the shit you rolled your eyes at as a teenager really was done out of love and probably saved your life a time or two.

I lost both of mine two years apart; my mother much unexpected and my father rather quickly after a cancer diagnosis. My mom was the one person who could see into my soul and could call me out in the most effective way. She taught me what humanity, empathy and generosity means. My father was the sarcastic realist in the house and one of the most forgiving people I have ever met. If you wanted it straight, with zero bullshit; just go ask my dad.

Grief runs its course and it comes in stages, but I was not prepared for it to never fully go away.

  1. My phone is never more than 1 foot away from me at bedtime, because the last time I did that I missed the call that my mother died.
  2. The very thought of my mother’s death, at times, made me physically ill for about six months after she died. I literally vomited.
  3. Their deaths have at times ripped the remainder of our family apart. I did my best to honor their wishes and sometimes that made me the bad guy. The burden of that was immense, but I understood why I was chosen. It made me stronger as a person, so for that I am grateful.
  4. I’m pissed that my son didn’t get to experience them as grandparents. I watched it five times before his birth and I feel robbed. He would have adored them and they him.
  5. I would not trade my time with them for anything, but sometimes I think it would have been easier had you died when I was very young. The memories would be less.
  6. Don’t bitch about your parents in front of me. You will get an earful about gratitude and appreciation. As a “Dead Parents Club” member, I would take your place in a heartbeat, so shut your mouth. Get some perspective on how truly fleeting life is.
  7. It’s like being a widow — a “club” you never wanted to join. Where do I return this unwanted membership, please?
  8. Other club members are really the only people who can truly understand what it does to a person. They just get it. There is no other way to explain it.
  9. Life does go on, but there will be times even years later, you will still break down like it happened yesterday.
  10. When you see your friends or even strangers with their mom or dad, you will sometimes be jealous. Envious of the lunch date they have. Downright pissed that your mom can’t plan your baby shower. Big life events are never ever the same again.

Here I sit eight and ten years later and there are still times that I reach for the phone when something exciting happens. Then it hits me; shit, I can’t call them.

Their deaths have forever changed me and how I look at the world. In an odd way it has made me a better parent. I am always acutely aware of what memories can mean to my son and how I will impact his life while I am on this earth. He deserves to know how much he is loved and when I am gone, what I teach and instill in him now, will be my legacy.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-schmidt/10-things-that-changed-me-after-the-death-of-a-parent_b_7925406.html

Police Department Offers Special ‘Tip’ For Parents With Kids In Crowds

 

“Taking your young child to a big event, theme park, or other busy location?”

Summer is upon us, and many parents will be taking their children to outdoor events and attractions with large crowds, like theme parks, local festivals, zoos and carnivals.

A California police department offered some advice for parents who want to be prepared in the event of a separation. Last week the Clovis Police Department posted a special “#TipOfTheDay” on Facebook for parents with young kids.

“Taking your young child to a big event, theme park, or other busy location?” begins the post. “Write your phone number on their wrist and cover it with liquid band aid in case you get separated.”

The post — which features instructional images from mom and blogger Cherise McClimans — also advises parents to “take a photo of them using your cell phone the morning of the event so you have their clothing, hair style, and up to date photo. #BePrepared.”

According to the Clovis Police Department, this advice is a repost of a #TipOfTheDay they shared back in September in anticipation of a local festival. With over 7,000 shares, the post was “one of our most popular ever,” they explained. “[S]o we decided to post again!”

This repost has reached over 10,000 shares and 3,000 likes.

While it’s hard to anticipate the unthinkable, it’s clear that this attitude of preparedness has resonated with many parents. And of course, taking such measures does not mean families should forgo vigilance in large crowds.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/police-department-offers-special-tip-for-parents-with-kids-in-crowds_us_57693dbee4b0853f8bf219dd

5 Reasons We Should Stop Distracting Toddlers (And What To Do Instead)

Apparently, distraction often works — at least momentarily — and I can appreciate that it allows mom, dad or caregiver to remain the good guy. I love being the good guy! Instead of saying, “I can’t let you draw on the sofa. Here’s some paper if you want to draw,” (or better yet, not leaving young children unsupervised with markers in the first place) it’s easier and less likely to cause friction if I change the subject enthusiastically: “Can you draw me a silly face on this piece of paper?”

So, I may save my sofa in the nick of time, but my child has no idea that drawing on it is not okay, and he may very well try it again. Well, at least there are no tears, and I’m still the good guy!

And right there is the first of several problems I have with distraction:

1) Phoniness. I don’t like acting perky and upbeat when I’m really a little annoyed. Besides making me feel like a big phony, I don’t think it’s good modeling or healthy for my relationship with my children. As uncomfortable as it is to face the music (or markers on the sofa), I believe children deserve and need an honest response. No, we shouldn’t react angrily if we can possibly help it, but we don’t have to perform or be inauthentic either. Staying calm and giving a simple correction and a real choice (like “You can draw on paper or find something else to do.”) is all that’s needed.

Yes, the child may get upset — he has a right to his conflicting opinion and his feelings. It’s good for him to vent and for us to acknowledge, “You really wanted to draw on the sofa and I wouldn’t let you.” Children are capable of experiencing these kinds of safe, age-appropriate conflicts. Which brings me to my second objection to distraction….

2) Wastes opportunities to learn from conflict. Our children need practice handling safe disagreements with us and with peers. When our infant or toddler is struggling with a peer over a toy and we immediately suggest, “Oh, look at this cool toy over here…,” we rob him of a valuable opportunity to learn how to manage conflicts himself. Directing our child to another identical toy, if there is one, might be helpful if children seem really stuck, but even then the infant or young toddler usually wants the one that has ‘heat’ in another child’s hands. Often the children are far more interested in understanding the struggle than they are in the particular toy. But whatever their focus, young children need time and our confidence in them to learn to resolve conflicts rather than avoiding them.

3) No guidance. What does a child learn when we direct him to draw a silly face rather than just telling him we can’t let him draw on the sofa? Infants and toddlers need us to help them understand the house rules, and eventually internalize our expectations and values. Distraction erases the possibility of a teachable moment instead of helping children benefit from it.

4) Underestimates and discourages attention and awareness. Distracting a child means asking him to switch gears and forget what has taken place. Is this lack of awareness something to encourage? An article I read recently on the subject (“Understanding Children”) suggests: “Since young children’s attention spans are so short, distraction is often effective.”

Even if I agreed about children having short attention spans, which I don’t (see video), distracting them from what they are engaged in seems a sure fire way to make them even shorter.

On the other hand, children who aren’t used to distraction don’t buy it. They can’t be fooled, coaxed or lured away from marking up the sofa (unfortunately). Encouraged to be fully present and aware, they need a straight answer, and they deserve one.

An aware child may be less convenient sometimes (when we can’t trick him with sleight of hand, “Oops, the cell phone disappeared, here’s a fun rattle instead!”), but awareness and attentiveness are essential to learning and will serve him well throughout his life.

5) Respect. Distracting is trickery that underestimates a toddler’s intelligence — his ability to learn and comprehend. Toddlers deserve the same respect we would give an adult, rather than this (from a website about parenting toddlers):

Distract and divert. The best form of toddler discipline is redirection. First, you have to distract them from their original intention and then, quickly divert them toward a safer alternative. Give them something else to do for example, helping with the household chores and soon they will be enjoying themselves rather than investing a lot of emotional energy into the original plan.

How distraction can be construed as discipline is beyond me, but more importantly –would you distract an adult in the middle of a disagreement and direct her to mop up the floor? Then why treat a younger person like a fool? I believe that we can trust babies to choose where to invest their emotional energy. Only babies know what they are working on and figuring out.

Here are some alternative responses that not only work,  but also feel respectful and authentic:

Breathe first. Pause and observe, unless there is a marker making contact with our sofa or a fist making contact with our toddler’s buddy’s head, in which case we quickly take hold of the hands and/or markers as gently as possible. But then we breathe.

Remain calm, kind, empathetic, but firm. In the case of a peer conflict, narrate the situation objectively without assigning blame or guilt. Infant expert Magda Gerber called this ‘sportscasting’. “Jake and John are both trying to hold onto the truck. It’s tough when you both want to use the same thing… You’re really having a hard time…” Allow the struggle, but don’t let the children hurt each other. “I see you’re frustrated, but I won’t let you hit.”

Acknowledge feelings and point of view. When it’s over, acknowledge, “Jake has the truck now. John, you wanted it. You’re upset.”

Be fully available to respond with comfort if the child wants it.

After our response to a behavior like drawing on the sofa, and after we’ve allowed the child to cry, argue, or move on as he chooses, while offering empathy and comfort, we can acknowledge his point of view. “You thought the sofa needed decorating. I said no.”

Recognize achievement and encourage curiosity. The use of distraction as redirection reflects our natural tendency to want to put an immediate end to a child’s undesirable behavior. And in our haste, it’s easy to forget to recognize and encourage positives in the situation – positives like inventiveness, achievement, curiosity. When the situation isn’t an emergency, we can take a moment to acknowledge: “Wow, you reached all the way up to the counter and picked up my sunglasses!”

Then we can allow the child to examine the sunglasses while we hold them. If he tries to take them out of our hands, we might say, “You can look at these and touch them, but I won’t let you take them.” Then, if that turns into a struggle, we might say finally, “You really want to hold these yourself and I can’t let you. I’m going to put them away in the desk.”

Dealing with these situations openly with patience, empathy and honesty — braving a child’s tears and accepting temporary ‘bad guy’ status — is the path to a loving relationship, trust and respect. This, believe it or not, is real quality time.

http://www.janetlansbury.com/2014/05/5-reasons-we-should-stop-distracting-toddlers-and-what-to-do-instead/

Why It’s ‘Self-Reg,’ Not Self-Control, That Matters Most For Kids

“Self-regulation is about identifying the causes and reducing the intensity of impulses and, when necessary, having the energy to resist,” psychologist Stuart Shanker writes in his book, Self-Reg: How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life.

LA Johnson/NPR

As parents, it can be natural enough to conclude that when our kids act up or act out — at home, at school, away at the beach or park on family summer vacation — we should tell them to calm down and be sure they follow through.

After all, isn’t it our job to teach our kids to learn some self-control?

But what about the kids who not only can’t calm down, they have no idea what it means to calm down? What about the kids who are continuously over-aroused, stressed to the point where their nervous systems need not words but step-by-step embodied guidance to even begin to calm?

In the just-published Self-Reg: How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life, psychologist Stuart Shanker of York University and the MEHRIT Centre in Canada asks us — parents, teachers, coaches, anyone who mentors kids — to think not in terms of self-control but of self-regulation.

Shanker writes: “Self-control is about inhibiting impulses; self-regulation is about identifying the causes and reducing the intensity of impulses and, when necessary, having the energy to resist.”

Looking at five domains in a child’s life — biological, emotional, cognitive, social, and prosocial — and how they interact, we can begin, he says, to reframe our own perceptions of what’s going on with our kids, as a starting point to help them gain greater calm and attention, and also empathy for others.

Self-Reg
Self-Reg

How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life

by Stuart Shanker and Teresa Barker

Hardcover, 307 pages

purchase

The biggest lesson that I’ve taken from Self-Reg is that when a child insists that a teacher’s voice is harsh, or a restaurant or classroom is unbearably bright or loud, we need to recognize (even though we might not experience things that way at all) that the child is very probably not lying, exaggerating or trying to be oppositional. Instead, the child’s biological sensitivities may make her exquisitely reactive in a way that triggers a constant cycle of over-arousal-crash-over-arousal as she tries to cope. That’s where Self-Reg comes in, with strategies for regulating the out-of-whack nervous system.

And the worst thing we can do is to ask our kids to calm — or even go to sleep — by playing with computer or gaming devices. That sort of activity only feeds brain and body hyperactivity, and when the child eventually becomes depleted, he will crave even more arousal.

Stuart Shanker and I have collaborated on research and writing projects in anthropology and psychology. Last week, after I read Self-Reg, I asked him some questions via email:

I was very struck by your point that many young children today simply don’t know what the sensation of “calm” feels like. How did we get to this point, and what are the first steps that parents and teachers can take, in turning that around?

Kids get stuck in what neuroscientists call a “higher set point” — think of a car with a higher idling speed — and seek out experiences to keep their engine racing. They become so accustomed to this state that they find slower-paced activities aversive. They push their nervous system to its limits, crash, then push to the limits again. Parents need to slow things down with them. Find shared calming activities — like going for a walk, listening to music, baking — where the reward is being in this state together. The big thing is, they need to feel what it’s like to be calm, not be told to “calm down.”

The “Interbrain” is a key concept in your book. Can you talk a bit about what it is and why it matters so much?

The Interbrain is like a wireless brain-to-brain connection that operates, not just between a “higher-order brain” that possesses self-regulating skills and a developing brain just acquiring them, but throughout the lifespan. Our need for strong Interbrain connections is a biological imperative, and when that need wanes, this is a sign that the stress-load is too great. The old “genetic” way of thinking about the brain as an isolated organ governed by ancient mechanisms actually describes what human functioning is like when social engagement has broken down because of heightened stress.

Do parents or teachers ever snort disbelievingly at your insistence that there are no bad kids, or tell you, “look, these kids need to toughen up — if we fix for them every little sensory annoyance they’ll never function in the real world?” I think it can be hard for all of us, at first, to grasp the idea you write about, of an escalating cycle of over-arousal that may be set off by sensations that — to a hyper-sensitive child — aren’t small at all.

One of the most rewarding experiences has been to see teachers who did more than just snort go on to become Self-Reg champions. We place so much emphasis on how a child’s learning of “calm” has to be experiential, but the same point applies to Self-Reg: You have to feel and not just read about the changes that occur when you help a child self-regulate in order to get past your initial resistance. What you are describing in your question is that true empathy for children that is our species’ greatest strength.

It seems a profound realization for all of us as parents to hear what you say in Self-Reg: “All too often we confuse our needs with the child’s. We seek to make children more manageable, rather than self-managing.” Your program aims to change that, and has caught on not only in Canada but internationally. Why do you think this shift from managing kids to helping kids with self-reg is touching such a chord?

I think there are two reasons. The first is, because the stress that children are under today has become far too great, and for that reason, we are seeing so many problems in mood, behavior, and attention as well as a sharp rise in physical health problems. To understand why this is happening we have to recognize the many different kinds of stress that kids are under, hidden as well as overt, and learn how to distinguish between misbehavior and stress-behavior.

But the second part of the answer is that our own stress drops dramatically when we shift from trying to enforce compliance to reducing the causes of challenging behaviors and teaching kids how to do this for themselves.


http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2016/07/07/484910409/why-its-self-reg-not-self-control-that-matters-most-for-kids

Why Executive Function Is A Vital Stepping-Stone For Kids’ Ability to Learn

brain
iStock/manopjk

Neuroscientists and educational psychologists are constantly learning more about how children learn and the various influences beyond IQ that affect cognition. Some research, like Carol Dweck’s on growth mindset or Angela Duckworth’s on grit, quickly became catch phrases among educators. At the same time, critics have pushed back against the notion that students underperform only because of cognitive deficits, pointing to an equally pressing need for big changes to teaching practice. Many teachers are trying to combine the research about cognitive skills with more effective teaching practices. They are finding that whether students are working on self-directed projects or worksheets, executive functioning skills are important.

Bruce Wexler has been studying executive functioning — a group of cognitive abilities crucial for managing oneself and information — for the past 20 years. He first worked with adults, but he began to wonder if he could design interventions specifically for young children to get them started down a positive path before any of the negative secondary qualities associated with under-achievement — like disengagement, low self-esteem and behavior problems — began to manifest at school.

“The data just keeps coming in about the importance of focus, self-control and working memory for learning and life,” Wexler said in an edWeb webinar. One meta-analysis of six studies found that a child’s executive functioning skills in kindergarten predicted reading and math achievement into middle school and beyond. This research is particularly important because students who have poor executive functioning skills because of trauma, poverty, or diagnosed disorders are missing out on learning. Often these children haven’t had a chance to develop executive functioning skills required for school before arriving there.

Many kinds of interventions can work to improve executive functioning, another reason researchers feel confident that this cognitive ability is not innate, but rather taught. Martial arts, yoga and exercise, among others, help improve students’ ability to focus and control themselves. Wexler helped design his own intervention, called Activate, which uses a mixture of online games and physical activities to target focus, self-control and working memory, the skills most closely linked with academic achievement.

To test whether the program works Wexler’s company, C8Sciences, took executive function tests designed by the National Institutes of Health and made them Web-based so teachers could use them in class. These tests helped Wexler’s team learn about the relative areas of cognitive weaknesses in students before using the Activate program.

“Soon it became evident that not only did we want that information, but that it was very valuable for teachers,” Wexler said. It’s often hard for a teacher to know when a student isn’t learning something because of a lack of executive functioning capacity, because it hasn’t been taught well enough, or because the student just needs more time with the content. The online diagnostic tests helped give them valuable insight to tailor their teaching.

After determining a baseline for students, Wexler’s team asked teachers to use the Activate program and then tested students after four months to see how it affected their cognitive abilities. Early tests showed the training improved working memory, but Wexler was more interested in whether the training would carry over into academic achievement, so he tested third-graders from a low-income school on reading proficiency. In the test group that used Activate, 83 percent of students reached third-grade reading proficiency, compared to 58 percent districtwide. On a first-grade math proficiency test, 92 percent of students in the test group reached proficiency, compared to 63 percent districtwide. In another first-grade class at the same school that did not receive the training, only 53 percent of students reached proficiency.

“Training these executive functions leads to improvement in achievement schools,” Wexler concluded. And the effects seemed to last through the summer. Another test showed kindergartners who received the training showed better executive functioning skills when they started first grade than their peers.

When Wexler compared the effects he was seeing to other interventions — like one-on-one tutoring, summer and after-school programming — improving executive functioning skills had a much bigger effect. “Training a whole classroom in focus, self-control, and memory has a bigger effect on math achievement than providing one-on-one tutoring,” Wexler said. Tutoring had the next strongest effect.

Executive functioning training also seems to make a difference regardless of student IQ. “Its effect was four times as big as the differences in IQ,” Wexler said. “Of course IQ is important, but executive functioning is something we can do something about.”

SCHOOLS FOCUSING ON EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONING

Carlisle Area School District has taken the research on executive function and put it into practice, especially in K-5 schools where educators hope to improve these cognitive skills early so students don’t fall behind. District leaders started by educating teachers about different neural pathways and why problems with executive functioning could lead to problems with learning. In trainings they give teachers scenarios, and ask them to identify a student’s cognitive weakness based on behavior, and then design an intervention. They also ask teachers to reflect on their own cognitive weaknesses and where they might be able to identify with a disorganized student or one who has a hard time staying on task.

Carlisle teachers also have a long list of strategies they integrate into the day with the whole class that emphasize brain breaks, exercise and routines. Additionally, some children need more help developing executive functioning, and educators differentiate strategies for them as well. They often talk to students about how their brain works and emphasize that when their “amygdala is hijacked,” they need to stop and think about the next action rather than lashing out.

STRATEGIES

  • Breathing buddies: Students lie down on the floor with a favorite stuffed animal on their chests. They slowly breathe in and out, watching the animal rise and fall. This helps students calm down when they are upset and gives them a strategy to implement when they feel themselves getting worked up.
  • Teachers keep “meta boxes” in their classrooms full of fidget toys students can use to help them pay attention when they feel like they need to move.
  • When transitioning between subjects or recess, teachers often play calming music and let only five kids in at a time to limit the chaos.
  • Many elementary school teachers have had the experience of asking a question, seeing many hands in the air, but then calling on a student who says he forgot. That could be a working memory problem. Some Carlisle teachers are proactively addressing this by letting those kids record their thoughts on paper or a device so they can contribute when they’re called on.
  • Carlisle was an early adopter of Wexler’s Activate program, too. The iPad lessons focus on typical working memory games that require students to remember the order of things, progressively getting harder as the game develops. The physical games reinforce the online learning with social interactions that help embed the memories in movement. Mass ball is one game that requires students to throw a ball in a specific sequence. Students have to juggle paying attention to the order and catching the ball.
  • Carlisle teachers also have students do a lot of balancing games, which help with executive functioning. Teachers might ask students to walk on a line balancing bean bags on their heads or to do the same walk on tiptoe. Teachers also use relay races to get kids moving, since exercise alone helps with executive functioning.

Adults have an attention span of about 12 minutes with a fully developed executive functioning system, so it’s no wonder kids can’t focus without a break. “It cannot be overemphasized that all of us need to be thinking about taking information in smaller chunks,” said Malinda Mikesell, the reading supervisor for the Carlisle Area School District. She said kids need an opportunity to do something with the information on their own before having the chance to reset for the next chunk of information.

“We have mature executive function systems as adults, so we have to be careful that we’re not putting our perspective onto very immature executive functioning systems,” Mikesell said. She also emphasized that teachers in her district have successfully involved parents in their effort to improve executive functions, educating the adults about the brain and what cognitive weaknesses look like. Often parents have noticed the same lack of short-term memory, difficulty focusing, and disorganization affecting kids at school, and are happy to learn tips to help their child.

Mikesell said Carlisle is in the early stages of evaluating data on how well their approach is working. Early data showed that kids in the Activate program were outperforming peers not in the program on reading tests. Teachers are also reporting stories about disorganized students improving, who never had what they needed for the day or activity. Now those students are able to follow the classroom routines and are benefiting from checklists and visual organizers that teachers put together to help them with their working memory weaknesses.

https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/12/13/why-executive-function-is-a-vital-stepping-stone-for-kids-ability-to-learn/

Building Resilience in Children – 20 Practical, Powerful Strategies (Backed by Science)

All children are capable of extraordinary things. There is no happiness gene, no success gene, and no ‘doer of extraordinary things’ gene. The potential for happiness and greatness lies in all of them, and will mean different things to different kids. We can’t change that they will face challenges along the way. What we can do is give them the skills so these challenges are never able to break them. We can build their resilience.

Resilience is being able to bounce back from stress, challenge, tragedy, trauma or adversity. When children are resilient, they are braver, more curious, more adaptable, and more able to extend their reach into the world.

The great news is that resilience is something that can be nurtured in all children.

Resilience and the brain. Here’s what you need to know.

During times of stress or adversity, the body goes through a number of changes designed to make us faster, stronger, more alert, more capable versions of ourselves. Our heart rate increases, blood pressure goes up, and adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormone) surge through the body. In the short-term, this is brilliant, but the changes were only ever mean to be for the short-term. Here’s what happens …

The stress response is initiated by the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for our instinctive, impulsive responses. From there, messages are sent to the brain to release its chemical cocktail (including adrenaline and cortisol) to help the body deal with the stress. When the stress is ongoing, the physiological changes stay switched on. Over an extended period of time, they can weaken the immune system (which is why students often get sick during exams), the body and the brain.

Stress can also cause the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain to temporarily shut down. The prefrontal cortex is the control tower of the brain. It is involved in attention, problem solving, impulse control, and regulating emotion. These are known as ‘executive functions’. Sometimes not having too much involvement from the pre-frontal cortex can be a good thing – there are times we just need to get the job done without pausing to reflect, plan or contemplate (such as crying out in pain to bring help fast, or powering through an all-nighter). Then there are the other times.

Resilience is related to the capacity to activate the prefrontal cortex and calm the amygdala. When this happens, the physiological changes that are activated by stress start to reverse, expanding the capacity to recovering from, adapt to, or find a solution to stress, challenge or adversity.

How does resilience affect behaviour?

Children will have different levels of resilience and different ways of responding to and recovering from stressful times. They will also have different ways of showing when the demands that are being put upon them outweigh their capacity to cope. They might become emotional, they might withdraw, or they might become defiant, angry or resentful. Of course, even the most resilient of warriors have days where it all gets too much, but low resilience will likely drive certain patterns of behaviour more often.

Can resilience be changed?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Absolutely resilience can be changed. Resilience is not for the genetically blessed and can be strengthened at any age. One of the most exciting findings in the last decade or so is that we can change the wiring of the brain through the experiences we expose it to. The right experiences can shape the individual, intrinsic characteristics of a child in a way that will build their resilience.

Now for the how. Building resilience in children.

Building small humans into healthy, thriving big ones isn’t about clearing adversity out of their way. Of course, if we could scoop them up and lift them over the things that would cause them to stumble, that would be a wonderful thing, but it wouldn’t necessarily be doing them any favours. A little bit of stress is life-giving and helps them to develop the skills they need to flourish. Strengthening them towards healthy living is about nurturing within them the strategies to deal with that adversity. Here’s how.

  1. Resilience needs relationships, not uncompromising independence.

    Research tells us that it’s not rugged self-reliance, determination or inner strength that leads kids through adversity, but the reliable presence of at least one supportive relationship. In the context of a loving relationship with a caring adult, children have the opportunity to develop vital coping skills. The presence of a responsive adult can also help to reverse the  physiological changes that are activated by stress. This will ensure that the developing brain, body and immune system are protected from the damaging effects of these physiological changes. Anyone in the life of a child can make a difference – family, teachers, coaches – anyone.

  2. Increase their exposure to people who care about them.

    Social support is associated with higher positive emotions, a sense of personal control and predictability, self-esteem, motivation, optimism, a resilience. Kids won’t always notice the people who are in their corner cheering them on, so when you can, let them know about the people in their fan club. Anything you can do to build their connection with the people who love them will strengthen them.

    ‘I told Grandma how brave you were. She’s so proud of you.’

  3. Let them know that it’s okay to ask for help.

    Children will often have the idea that being brave is about dealing with things by themselves. Let them know that being brave and strong means knowing when to ask for help. If there is anything they can do themselves, guide them towards that but resist carrying them there.

  4. Build their executive functioning.

    Strengthening their executive functioning will strengthen the prefrontal cortex. This will help them manage their own behaviour and feelings, and increase their capacity to develop coping strategies. Some powerful ways to build their executive functioning are:

    •  establishing routines;

    •  modelling healthy social behaviour;

    •  creating and maintaining supportive reliable relationships around them;

    •  providing opportunities for their own social connections;

    •  creative play;

    • board games (good for impulse control (taking turns), planning, working memory, and mental flexibility (the ability to shift thoughts to an alternative, better pattern of thought if the situation requires);

    •  games that involve memory (e.g. the shopping game – ‘I went shopping and I bought a [puppy]’; the next person says, ‘I went shopping and I bought a [puppy and a bike for my t-rex]’; next person … ‘I went shopping and I bought [a puppy, a bike for my t-rex and a hot air balloon] – the winner is the last one standing who doesn’t forget something on the shopping list;

    •  exercise;

    •  giving them opportunities to think and act independently (if they disagree with you and tell you why you’re wrong, there’s a plus side – their executive functioning is flourishing!);

    •  providing opportunities for them to make their own decisions.

  5. Encourage a regular mindfulness practice.

    Mindfulness creates structural and functional changes in the brain that support a healthy response to stress. It strengthens the calming, rational prefrontal cortex and reduces activity in the instinctive, impulsive amygdala. It also strengthens the connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. When this connection is strong, the calming prefrontal cortex will have more of a hand in decisions and behaviour. See here for fun ways that children can practice mindfulness.

  6. Exercise.

    Exercise strengthens and reorganises the brain to make it more resilient to stress. One of the ways it does this is by increasing the neurochemicals  that can calm the brain in times of stress. Anything that gets kids moving is stellar, but of course, if you can make it fun that pretty much grants you hero status. Here are some ideas, but get them thinking and they’ll have plenty of their own:

    • throw a frisbee;

    • kick a ball;

    • give a hula-hoop a spin;

    • dance stars;

    • walk the dog;

    • superhero tag (the tagged one stands in the middle of a circle on the ground, a superhero saves them by using their superhero powers to fly with running feet through the circle);

    • detective (in the park or backyard … first one to find five things that are green; or five things starting with ‘s’; or seven things that could be used for dress-ups; or ten things that smell gorgeous – ready, set, go!).

  7. Build feelings of competence and a sense of mastery.

    Nurture that feeling in them – that one that reminds them they can do hard things. You’ll be doing this every time you acknowledge their strengths, the brave things they do, their effort when they do something difficult; and when you encourage them to make their own decisions. When they have a sense of mastery, they are less likely to be reactive to future stress and more likely to handle future challenges.

    ‘You’re a superstar when it comes to trying hard things. You’ve got what it takes. Keep going. You’ll get there.’

  8. Nurture optimism.

    Optimism has been found to be one of the key characteristics of resilient people. The brain can be rewired to be more optimistic through the experiences it is exposed to. If you have a small human who tends to look at the glass as being half empty, show them a different view. This doesn’t mean invalidating how they feel. Acknowledge their view of the world, and introduce them to a different one. (See here for more ways to nurture optimism in children.)

    ‘It’s disappointing when it rains on a sports day isn’t it. Let’s make the most of this. What’s something we can do on a rainy day that we probably wouldn’t do if it was sunny?’ The idea is to focus on what is left, rather than what has been lost.

  9. Teach them how to reframe.

    The ability to reframe challenges in ways that feel less threatening is linked to resilience. Reframing is such a valuable skill to have. In times of difficulty or disappointment, it will help them to focus on what they have, rather than what they’ve lost. To build this skill, acknowledge their disappointment, then gently steer them away from looking at what the problem has cost them, towards the opportunities it might have brought them.

    For example, if a rainy day has meant sport has been cancelled,

    ‘I understand how disappointed you are about not playing today. I’d be disappointed too. What can we do because of the rain that we might not have been able to do otherwise?’ (If they’re really disappointed they might need your help.) ‘You could snuggle up and read a book, watch a movie, play a game inside, walk in the rain, we could cook and throw a pretend party or have a fancy afternoon tea – with very fancy clothes of course, and jewels and fancy shoes and china plates and fancy glasses and maybe even … a tablecloth – but no forks – we are not eating cake with forks, no way – that’s just too far.’

    Let there be ridiculous ideas too. This will let them push past the obvious and come up with something that is beautifully unique. It will also encourage them to question any limits or ideas about how things ‘should’ be done.

    ‘Maybe we could have a picnic in the rain, or a beach party. Maybe we could paint ourselves with mud, or wash the dog in the rain, or make a bubble bath out there and wash ourselves!’ Are there ways they can turn this into interesting ideas.

  10. Model resiliency.

    Imitation is such a powerful way to learn. The small humans in your life will want to be just like you, and they’ll be watching everything. Without pitching it above what they can cope with, let them see how you deal with disappointment. Bringing them into your emotional world at appropriate times will help them to see that sadness, stuckness, disappointment are all very normal human experiences. When experiences are normalised, there will be a safety and security that will open the way for them to explore what those experiences mean for them, and experiment with ways to respond.

    ‘I’m disappointed that I didn’t get the job, but that’s because it was important to me. It’s nice to have things that are important to you, even if they don’t end the way you want them to. I did my very best in the interview and I know I’ll be okay. That one wasn’t the job for me, but I know there is going to be one that is perfect. I just have to keep trying and be patient.

  11. Facing fear – but with support.

    Facing fear is so empowering (within the limits of self-preservation of course – staying alive is also empowering) but to do this, they need the right support – as we all do. Kids can be fairly black and white about things so when they are faced with something difficult, the choices can seem like only two – face it head on or avoid it at all costs. But there is a third option, and that is to move gradually towards it, while feeling supported and with a certain amount of control. See here for the stepladder, which explains how to edge them gently and safely towards the things that challenge them.

  12. Encourage them to take safe, considered risks.

    Let them know that the courage they show in doing something brave and difficult is more important than the outcome. Age-appropriate freedom lets them learn where their edges are, encourages them to think about their decisions, and teaches them that they can cope with the things that go wrong. When they take risks they start to open up to the world and realise their capacity to shape it. There’s magic in that for them and for us.

    ‘I love how brave you are. When you try harder and harder things, they might not  always work out, but it means you’re getting stronger, smarter, braver and you’ll be closer to getting it next time.’

  13. Don’t rush to their rescue.

    It is in the precious space between falling and standing back up again that they learn how to find their feet. Of course, sometimes scooping them up and giving them a steady place to be is exactly what they need to find the strength to move forward. The main thing is not to do it every time. Exposure to stressors and challenges that they can manage during childhood will help to ensure that they are more able to deal with stress during adulthood. There is evidence that these early experiences cause positive changes in the prefrontal cortex (the ‘calm down, you’ve got this’ part of the brain), that will protect against the negative effects of future stress. Think of it like immunisation – a little bit of the pathogen, whether it’s a virus or something stressful, helps to build up resistance or protect against the more severe version.

  14. Meet them where they are.

    Resilience isn’t about never falling down. It’s about getting back up again, and there’s no hurry for this to happen. All of us experience emotional pain, setback, grief and sadness sometimes. Feelings always have a good reason for being there, even if they can feel a little pushy at times. The key for kids is to learn to respect those feelings (even the bad ones), but not let them take charge and steer towards trouble. Sadness and grief, for example, can make us want to withdraw for a little while. It is during the withdrawal that information is reflected upon, assimilated and processed so that balance can be found again. If this is rushed, even if it is in the name of resilience, it can stay as a gentle rumble and show up through behaviour, sometimes at wildly unexpected times.

  15. Nurture a growth mindset. We can change, and so can other people.

    Research has found that children who have a growth mindset – the belief that people have the potential to change – are more likely to show resilience when things get tough. Compared to kids who believe that bullies will always be bullies and victims will always be victims, kids who believe that people can change report less stress and anxiety, better feelings about themselves in response to social exclusion, and better physical health. See here for the step by step on how to nurture a growth mindset.

  16. Let them know that you trust their capacity to cope.

    Fear of failure isn’t so much about the loss but about the fear that they (or you) won’t be able to cope with the loss. What you think matters – it really does. You’re the one they will look to as a gauge for how they’re going. If you believe they have it in them to cope with the stumbles along the way, they will believe this too. This isn’t always easy. We will often feel every bump, bruise, fall or fail. It can be heartbreaking when they struggle or miss out on something they want, not because of what it means for us, but because of what we know it means for them. But – they’ll be okay. However long it takes, they’ll be okay. When you decide, they’ll decide.

  17. Build their problem-solving toolbox.

    Self-talk is such an important part of problem-solving. Your words are powerful because they are the foundation on which they build their own self-talk. Rather than solving their problems for them, start to give them the language to solve their own. Some ideas:

    •  What would [someone who they see as capable] do?

    •  What has worked before?

    •  Say as many ideas as you can in two minutes, even the silly ones? Lay them on me. Go.

    •  How can we break this big problem into little pieces?

    So say, for example, the problem is, ‘What if I miss you or get scared when I’m at Grandmas?’ Validate them first, then start giving them the problem-solving language without handing them solution,

    ‘You might miss me. I’ll miss you too. It’s really normal to miss people you love, even if you’re with people you love being with. What do you think might help if that happens?’ or, ‘What would [Superman/ Dad/ big sister who is practicing to rule the universe] do?’ or ‘What sort of things do you do here at home that help you to feel cozy or safe?’ I know you always have great ideas.’

  18. Make time for creativity and play.

    Problem-solving is a creative process. Anything that strengthens their problem-solving skills will nurture their resilience. Children are naturally curious, inquisitive and creative. Give them the space and the time to play and get creative, and they’ll do the rest.

  19. Shhh. Let them talk.

    Try to resist solving their problems for them. (Oh but so tempting, I know!) Instead, be the sounding board as they take themselves to wherever they need to be. As they talk, their mind is processing and strengthening. The sparks that are flying up there could shine a light bright enough to read by. Guide them, but wherever you can, let them talk and try to come up with their own solutions. You are the safest place in the world for them to experiment and try new things. Problem-solving is a wonderful skill to have, and their time talking to you, and coming up with ideas, will build it beautifully. Give them the opportunity to explore and wander around their own great potential.

  20. Try, ‘how’, not ‘why’.

    When things go wrong – as they will – asking kids ‘why’ will often end in ‘don’t know’. Who knows why any of us do silly things or make decisions that aren’t great ones. The only certainty is that we all do them. Rather than, ‘why did you paint your sister’s face?’ which might lead to the perfectly reasonable explanation of, ‘to make it yellow’, encourage problem-solving and reflection by asking how they can put it right. ‘She’s yellow but it’s not okay for her to stay yellow. How can you fix this?’

And above all else …

Let them know they are loved unconditionally. (But you already knew that.)

This will give them a solid foundation to come back to when the world starts to feel wobbly. Eventually, they will learn that they can give that solid foundation to themselves. A big part of resilience is building their belief in themselves. It’s the best thing they’ll ever believe in.

http://www.heysigmund.com/building-resilience-children/

Fear and Anxiety – An Age by Age Guide to Common Fears, The Reasons for Each and How to Manage Them

 

It is very normal for all children to have specific fears at some point in their childhood. Even the bravest of hearts beat right up against their edges sometimes. As your child learns more about the world, some things will become more confusing and frightening. This is nothing at all to worry about and these fears will usually disappear on their own as your child grows and expands his or her experience.

In the meantime, as the parent who is often called on to ease the worried mind of your small person, it can be helpful to know that most children at certain ages will become scared of particular things.

When is fear or anxiety a problem?

Fear is a very normal part of growing up. It is a sign that your child is starting to understand the world and the way it works, and that they are trying to make sense of what it means for them. With time and experience, they will come to figure out for themselves that the things that seem scary aren’t so scary after all. Over time, they will also realise that they have an incredible capacity to cope.

Fears can certainly cause a lot of cause distress, not only for the kids and teens who have the fears, but also for the people who care about them. It’s important to remember that fears at certain ages are completely appropriate and in no way are a sign of abnormality.

The truth is, there really is no such thing as an abnormal fear, but some kids and teens will have fears that are more intense and intrusive. Even fears that seem quite odd at first, will make sense in some way.

For example, a child who does not want to be separated from you is likely to be thinking the same thing we all think about the people we love – what if something happens to you while you are away from them? A child who is scared of balloons would have probably experienced that jarring, terrifying panic that comes with the boom. It’s an awful feeling. Although we know it passes within moments, for a child who is still getting used to the world, the threat of that panicked feeling can be overwhelming. It can be enough to teach them that balloons pretend to be fun, but they’ll turn fierce without warning and the first thing you’ll know is the boom. #not-fun-you-guys

Worry becomes a problem when it causes a problem. If it’s a problem for your child or teen, then it’s a problem. When the fear seems to direct most of your child’s behaviour or the day to day life of the family (sleep, family outings, routines, going to school, friendships), it’s likely the fear has become too pushy and it’s time to pull things back.

So how do we get rid of the fear?

If you have a child with anxiety, they may be more prone to developing certain fears. Again, this is nothing at all to worry about. Kids with anxiety will mostly likely always be sensitive kids with beautiful deep minds and big open hearts. They will think and feel deeply, which is a wonderful thing to have. We don’t want to change that. What we want to do is stop their deep-thinking minds and their open hearts from holding them back.

The idea then, isn’t to get rid of all fears completely, but to make them manageable. As the adult in their lives who loves them, you are in a perfect position to help them to gently interact with whatever they are scared of. Eventually, this familiarity will take the steam out of the fear.

First of all though, it can be helpful for you and your child to know that other children just like them are going through exactly the same experience.

An age by age guide to fears.

When you are looking through the list, look around your child’s age group as well. Humans are beautifully complicated beings and human nature doesn’t tend to stay inside the lines. The list is a guide to common fears during childhood and the general age at which they might appear. There are no rules though and they might appear earlier or later.

Infants and toddlers (0-2)

•   Loud noises and anything that might overload their senses (storms, the vacuum cleaner, blender, hair dryer, balloons bursting, sirens, the bath draining, abrupt movement, being put down too quickly).

Here’s why: When babies are born, their nervous systems are the baby versions. When there is too much information coming to them through their senses, such as a loud noise or being put down too quickly (which might make them feel like they’re falling), it’s too much for their nervous systems to handle.

•   Being separated from you.

Here’s why: At around 8-10 months, babies become aware that when things disappear, those things still exist. Before this, it tends to be ‘out of sight, out of mind’. From around 8months, they will start to realise that when you leave the room you are somewhere, just not somewhere they can see you. This may be the start of them being scared of being separated from you, as they grapple with where you’ve gone, and when you’ll be coming back. During their second year, they begin to understand how much they rely on your love and protection. For a while, their worlds will start and end with you. (Though for you in relation to your little heart stealers, it will probably always be that way.)

•   Strangers.

Here’s why: An awareness of strangers will peak at around 6-8 months. This is a good thing because it means they are starting to recognise the difference between familiar and unfamiliar faces. By this age, babies will have formed a close connection with the ones who take care of them. They will know the difference between you and the rest of the world, not only because of what you look like or the sound of your voice, but also because of what you mean for them. For many babies, strangers and ‘sort of strangers’ – actually anyone outside of their chosen few – will need to move gently. Babies will be sensitive to their personal space and will be easily scared by anyone who quickly and unexpectedly enters that space.

(At this age, separation anxiety and stranger anxiety can be a tough duo for any parent. Your little person doesn’t like being away from you, but they might not be too fond of the person you leave them in the care of. It can be tough, but hang in there – it will end.)

•   People in costume.

Soooo lemme get this right – you’re putting me in front of a big man in a red suit with a white beard the likes I’ve never seen before and you want me to sit on his lap? Nope. Not today. Probably not until I’m like, five. Or 72. Or when I figure that out he brings stuff. Then I might get close enough to tell him want I want, or maybe I’ll throw him a letter or something. And I don’t get the point of the big people-sized rabbits that carry baskets of shiny wrapped thin- … actually, wait. No to the rabbit people. Yes to the shiny wrapped things. Just put them where I can reach them and leave. K?

•   Anything outside of their control (exuberant dogs, a flushing toilet, thunder).

Here’s why: At around age one when your child starts to take little steps, he or she will start to experiment with their independence. This might look like moving small distances away from you or wanting to play with their food or feed themselves. With this, comes an increasing need for them to have a sense of predictability and control over their environment. Anything that feels outside of their control might seem frightening.

Preschoolers (3-4)

•  Lightning, loud noises (the bath draining, thunder, balloons bursting, fireworks, loud barking dogs, trains) and anything else that doesn’t make sense.

Here’s why: They will become very aware of their lack of control in the world. Because of this, they might show a fear of things that seem perfectly innocent to the rest of us to make no sense at all to a grown up. It can be a scary world when you’re new to the job of finding your way in it!

•  Anything that isn’t as it usually is – (an uncle who shows up with a new beard, a grandparent with different coloured hair).

Here’s why: It’s hard enough when strangers are strangers, but when favourite people look like strangers … whoa! Familiarity is the stuff of happy days. There’s so much in the world to get used to when you’re fairly new to the job. When things change unexpectedly, it can feel like being back at the beginning and having to get comfortable all over again. Massive ‘ugh’.

•  Scary noises, Halloween costumes, ghosts, witches, monsters living under the bed, burglars breaking into the house, burglars making friends with the monsters living under the bed and ganging up  – and anything else that feeds their hardworking imaginations.

Here’s why: Their imaginative play is flourishing and their imaginations are wonderfully rich. At this age, they will have trouble telling the difference between fantasy and reality.

•  The things they see on television or read in books might fuel their already vivid imaginations and come out as scary dreams. This might bring on a fear of the dark or being alone at night.

Here’s why: At this age, kids can struggle a little to separate fantasy from reality. If they hear a story about a pirate for example, as soon as the lights are out they might imagine Captain-Russell-With-The-Boat-Who-Steals-Toys-From-Sleeping-Kids is waiting under their bed, ready to cause trouble. A calming bedtime routine and happy, pirate-free stories can help to bring on happy zzz’s.

•  People in costume (Santa, the Easter Bunny, story or cartoon characters.)

Here’s why: At this age, grown-ups in dress-ups are no more adorable than they were in the baby days. If Santa doesn’t know what they want, he might just have to work harder, because there’s no way they’ll be telling him in person. Lucky he’s magic and has people on the ground who know the important stuff.

•  Being separated from you or being away from the people or pets they love.

Here’s why:  They might worry that something will happen to themselves, the people they love or a pet, particularly if something happens to someone close to them.

•  The dark and being on their own at night, particularly if they hear a strange sound or see lights or shadows on the wall.

Here’s why: The dark can feel scary at this age. With their imaginations running wild and free, they might put their own explanations to strange night-time noises or shadows on the wall. They might convince themselves that the sound of a moth hitting a lightbulb is definitely a robber, because no other explanation makes any sense.

5-6 years.

•  Being separated from you.

Here’s why: At this age, children might show a strong reaction to being separated from one or either or their parents. This comes as they start to see outside of themselves and realise that bad things can happen to the people they love. They might want to avoid school or sleepovers so they can be with you and know that you’re safe and sound.

•  Ghosts, monsters and witches – and anything else that bumps around in their wonderfully vivid imaginations. This can also show itself as a fear of the dark – because we all know the spooky things love it there.

Here’s why: Their imaginations are still hard at work so anything they can bring to life in there will be fuel for fear.

•  The dark, noises, being on their own at night, getting lost, getting sick.

Here’s why: As well as being scared of things that take up precious real estate in their heads, they might also become scared of things could actually happen. These are the sorts of things that might unsettle all of us from time to time.

•  Nightmares and bad dreams.

Here’s why:  Because of the blurred line between fantasy and reality, bad dreams can feel very real and are likely to peak at this age.

•  Fire, wind, thunder, lightning – anything that seems to come from nowhere.

Here’s why: They are still trying to grasp cause and effect and their minds are curious and powerful. They might scare themselves trying to explain where scary things come from. Lightning might mean the sky is about to catch fire. Thunder – who knows – but anything that loud surely doesn’t come in ‘cute’ or ‘chocolate coated’.

7-11 years.

•  Monsters, witches, ghosts, shadows on the wall at night.

Here’s why: Though their thinking is more concrete, children at this age will still have a very vivid imagination.

•  Being at home alone.

Here’s why: They’re still learning to trust the world and their capacity to cope with small periods of time on their own, without you. Staying at home alone might be exciting, scary or both – then there’s that imagination of theirs that might still ambush them at times.

•  Something happening to themselves or the people (or pets) they care about.

Here’s why: They start to understand that death affects everyone at some point and that it’s permanent. They might start to worry about something happening to themselves or the people (or pets) they care about.

•  Being rejected, not liked, or judged badly by their peers (buckle up – this one might stay a while).

Here’s why: This can show up at any age but it might ramp up or towards the end of these years. This is because they will start to have an increased dependence on their friendships as they gear up for adolescence.

Adolescents (12+)

•  What their peers are thinking of them.

One of the primary developmental goals of adolescence is figuring out how they are and where they fit into the world. As they do this, they will start to worry about what other people think. They also have the job of moving towards independence from you. What their friends think will take on a new importance as they start to make the move away from their family tribe and towards their peer one. They will always love you (though it might not feel that way if you’re weathering one of the storms that comes with adolescence!), but their dependency on you will shift. This is healthy and important and the way it’s meant to be. It’s all part of them growing from small, dependant humans into capable, independent, thriving bigger ones.

•  Themselves or someone they care about getting hurt, becoming sick or dying.

Here’s why: They will be very aware that accidents happen, people get sick, and sometimes you just can’t see it coming. This fear will probably have more muscle if they hear of someone around them becoming sick or getting hurt. Realising that people can break isn’t all bad for them. During adolescence, they will be particularly prone to taking silly risks. It’s all part of them extending into the world and learning what they are capable of. What’s important is keeping their fear at a level that it doesn’t get in the way of them being brave, learning new things, and finding safe ways to discover what they’re capable of.

•  how they’re doing at school, exams, failure, getting into college or university, not being able to ‘make it’ after school.

Here’s why: They’re thinking about life after high school . They want to do well, live a good life, and chase the dreams they’ve been dreaming.

•  Strangers getting into their room at night, war, terrorism, being kidnapped, natural disasters – and any other frightening thing they might hear about in the news.

Here’s why: They realise that bad things happen sometimes but don’t understand the likelihood and the rarity of such events. With their increasing time on social media, they will tend to hear about bad news more often and come to believe that the risk of it happening to them is greater than it actually is.

•  Talking to you about important personal issues.

Here’s why: It’s their job during adolescence to learn how to need you less. Adolescence isn’t always gentle with it’s developmental tasks and needing you less might be felt as ‘loving you less’. It’s not this – they love you as much as ever and however they might act towards you, what you think really does matter to them. They want you to be proud of them and they don’t want to disappoint you.

•  Fear of missing out.

Here’s why: Being connected to their friends and being a part of what’s going on in their friendship group can feel like a matter of life or death. It sounds dramatic and for them, it is – but there is a good reason for this. For all mammals throughout history (think cave-people) and in nature, exclusion from the tribe means has meant almost certain death. For our adolescents, that’s how it feels when they feel on their outside of their tribe – it feels like death. In time they will learn that they will still feel connected to their friends even if they aren’t a part of everything that happens.

What to do:

For babies.

•  Play peek-a-boo.

It will start to teach your baby that even when your face disappears, you’re still there. (That, and because the way their face lights up when they see you is gorgeous.)

•   Teach them that separation is temporary, but go gently.

Practice leaving the room for short periods at a time so your baby can learn that you will always come back. Start with a minute, then, when your baby is ready, move up from there. When you are ready to leave them in the care of others, start with people they are familiar with for short periods, then work gently up from there.

•  Always say goodbye.

Saying goodbye is the most important thing to do when you leave them. Making a quick dash while they are distracted might make things easier in the short term, but it will risk your baby being shocked to find you’re not there. This can add to their fears that you’ll disappear unexpectedly and it also runs the risk of chipping away at their trust. Have your ‘kiss and fly’ routine ready – tell them you’re leaving, a quick kiss, and let them know you’ll be back soon – or whatever works for you. It will be worth it in the long run.

For kids and adolescents.

•   Give them plenty of information.

Even though kids at this age are aware of their environment, they don’t understand all of the things that go on in it. Thunder feels really scary – it’s unpredictable, it’s loud, and for a curious, powerful, inquisitive mind, it can surely feel as though the sky is breaking. For the child who is still getting used the world, it’s not so obvious that they won’t be sucked down the plughole when the bath drains. Point out what they can’t see. (‘Water fits down the plughole, but my arm won’t fit, neither will this boat, or the vacuum cleaner, or the car, or a hippo, or my foot, or my elbow. An ant would fit – wait – maybe that’s why ants don’t have baths! If I’m away from the plughole, nothing happens to me. See?’)

Give them all the information they need to put their scary things in context, where they belong. There’s no such thing as too much talk and at this age, they’re so hungry to learn. Make the most of it. By the time they reach adolescence, you will no longer be as smart (or sought after) as you think you should be. Celebrate their curiosity and feed it. They love hearing the detail of everything you know. You’re their hero and if anyone knows how to make sense of things, it’s you.

•   Meet them where they are.

Some kids will love new things and will want to try everything and speak to everyone. Others will take longer to warm up. Unless it is a child who races towards the unknown like it’s the only thing to do, introduce new things and people gradually. There’s so much to learn and little people do a brilliant job of taking it all in when they’re given the space to do it at their own pace.

•  Play

Play is such an important part of learning about the world. So much of their play is actually a rehearsal for real life. If your child is scared of something, introduce it during play. That way, they can be in charge of whatever it is they are worried about, whether it’s playing with the (unplugged) vacuum cleaner, being the monster, or having a ‘monster’ as a special pet. Give them some ideas, but let them take it from there. Through play they can practice their responses, different scenarios, and get comfortable with scary things from a safe distance.

•  Be careful not to overreact.

It’s important to validate what your child is feeling, but it’s also important not to overreact to the fear. If you scoop your child up every time they become scared, you might be inadvertently reinforcing the fear. Rather than over-comforting, get down on their level and talk to them about it after naming what you see – ‘That balloon scared you when it popped didn’t it.’

•  Don’t avoid.

It’s completely understandable that a loving parent would want to protect their child from the bad feelings that come with fear. Sometimes it feels as though the only way to do this is to support their avoidance of whatever it is that’s frightening. Here’s the rub. It makes things better in the short term, but in the long term will keep the fear well fed. The more something is avoided, the more that avoidance is confirmed as the only way to feel safe. It also takes away the opportunity for your child to learn that they are resilient, strong and resourceful enough to cope. It’s important for kids to learn that a little bit of discomfort is okay and that it’s a sign that they are about to do something really brave – and that they have what they need inside them to cope.

•  Let them explore their fear safely.

Introduce the fear gently, in a way that your child can feel as though they have control. If your child is terrified of the vacuum cleaner, explore it with them while it isn’t plugged in. If your child is terrified of dogs, introduce them to dogs in books, in a movie, through a pet shop window, behind a fence. Do this gradually and in small steps, starting with the least scariest (maybe a picture of a dog) and working up in gently to the fear that upsets them most (patting a real dog). The more you can help them to feel empowered and in control of their world, the braver they will feel. (For a more detailed step by step description of how to do this, see here.)

•  Don’t give excessive reassurance.

If your child has had a genuine fright or is a little broken-hearted, there is nothing like a cuddle and reassurance to steady the ground beneath them. When that reassurance is excessive though, it can confirm that there is something to be worried about. It can also take away their opportunity to grow their own confidence and ability to self-soothe. Finding the scaffold between an anxious thought and a brave response is something every child is capable of. Understandably, it can be wildly difficult to hold off on reassurance, particularly when all you want to do is scoop them up and protect them from the world that they are feeling the hard edges of. What is healthier, is setting them on a course that will empower them to find within themselves the strength and resources to manage their own fear or anxiety. Reassure them, then remind them that they know the answer, or lovingly direct them to find their own answers or evidence to back up their concerns. Let them know you love the way they are starting to think about these things for themselves.

•  Understand the physical signs of fear.

Fear might show itself in physical ways. Children might have shaky hands, they might suck their thumbs or their fingers and they might develop nervous little tics. When this happens, respond to the feelings behind the physical symptoms – fear, insecurity, uncertainty.

•  Something soft and familiar makes the world feel lovelier. It just does.

Toys or special things might be a familiar passenger wherever your child goes. Let this happen. Your child will let go of the toy or whatever special thing they have when they are ready. Security blankets will often be the bridge between the unknown and familiar, and will form a strong foundation upon which they will build confidence and trust in their own capacity to cope with new and unfamiliar things.

•  Be alive to what they are watching on tv or reading in books.

If you can, watch their shows with them to understand how they are making sense of what they see. Some kids will handle anything they see, and others will turn it into a brilliant but terrifying nightmare or vivid thoughts that become a little too pushy.

•  Remember they’re watching.

They’ll be watching everything you do. If they see you terrified of dogs, it will easy for them to learn this same response. Remember though, if you can influence their fears, you can influence their courage. Let them see you being brave whenever you can.

•  Validate their fears and let them put word to their fears.

Let them talk about their fears. The more they can do this, the more they will be able to make sense of the big feelings that don’t make any sense to them at all. Talking about feelings connects the literal left side of the brain to the emotional right side of the brain. When there is a strong connection between the right brain and the left brain, children will start to make sense of their experience, rather than being barrelled by big feelings that make no sense to them at all.

•  Acknowledge any brave behaviour.

Because they’ll always love being your hero and it will teach them that they can be their own.

And finally …

It can always be unsettling when fears come home and throw themselves in your child’s way. Oftenthough, fears are a sign that your child is travelling along just as he or she should be. The world can be a confusing place – even for adults. Of course, sometimes fear will lead to a healthy avoidance – snakes, spiders, crossing a busy road. Sometimes though, fear will be a burly imposter that pretends to be scarier than it is.

Fears are proof that your child is learning more about the world, sharpening their minds, expanding their sense of the world and what it means to them, and learning about their own capacity to cope. As they experience more of the world, they will come to figure out for themselves that the things that seem scary aren’t so scary after all, and that with time, understanding, and some brave behaviour, they can step bravely through or around anything that might unsteady them along the way.

Help Protect Your Child from Sexual Abuse

 

 

You can help to protect your child from sexual abuse by teaching the following crucial Body Safety Rules.

1. From an early age, teach your child that their body is their body and it belongs to them. Explain that they have the right to say “no” if they don’t want to be kissed or hugged by someone.

In a greeting situation, encourage your child to offer the person a high-five or a handshake (or, with people they know well they could blow them a kiss instead). Other adults may be offended by your family’s stance on this issue, but the best option is to explain your family’s reasons behind this practice.

Keep in mind it is our job as parents and carers to empower our children and not to pacify the occasional disapproving adult and/or relative.

2. Help your child to create a Safety Network. A Safety Network is made up of three to five adults that your child trusts. These are adults your child could tell anything to and they would be believed. The people who have the honor of being on your child’s Safety Network should be adults who will listen to your child’s concerns, who will always believe them, and who are accessible. Remember, it is your child’s choice who they place in their Safety Network.

3. Talk to your child about their Early Warning Signs. Explain that if they feel worried or unsafe, their body will let them know. Their Early Warning Signs may include feeling sick in the stomach, feeling shaky, their heart racing, etc. Explain to your child that if they feel any of their Early Warning Signs, they must tell an adult on their Safety Network straightaway.

4. Always call your child’s private parts by their correct names. Explain that no child, teenager or adult can touch their private parts, that they should never touch another person’s private parts even when asked, and that they should not view images of private parts.

Explain that if any of these things happen, they have the right to say, “no” or “stop,” and then they must tell an adult on their Safety Network straightaway. If that person is not available, they will need to tell another person on their Safety Network. Reinforce that your child needs to keep telling until they are believed.

5. Discourage secrets. Explain that your family has “happy surprises” instead of secrets because happy surprises will always be told. Explain that if someone does ask them to keep a secret, they should tell that person that they don’t keep secrets. Reinforce that if someone does ask them to keep a secret that makes them feel unsafe or uncomfortable, they must tell an adult on their Safety Network straightaway.

A few final hints!

1. Decide on a “family word.” For example, “pickles.” So if your child is somewhere without you or in a situation where they can’t speak up, and they feel unsafe, they can call or shout out “pickles.” This will alert you to the fact that they feel unsafe and need to be removed from the situation immediately.

2. Educate yourself in Body Safety; this includes signs of child sexual abuse and the grooming process. Remember, sexual predators groom both parents and children.

3. Encourage your child’s school to teach Body Safety! And if they don’t, please ask why not.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/help-protect-your-child-from-sexual-abuse_us_5878261be4b03e071c14fbc8