Child psychologist Dr. Tali Shenfield and other experts offer advice on child development, child mental health, and intelligent parenting topics. Our mission is to deliver psychological and psycho-educational services to children, adults, and families.
Middle school is generally believed to be the most troubling transitional period in a child’s life. The abrupt change of moving from one school to another is followed by hormonal shifts, social upheaval, and a sudden driving need for independence that often causes stress at home. It is within this maelstrom that young people must begin to find their adult sense of identity.
Though the above process is not easy for any child, gifted children often struggle more profoundly during the middle school years than non-gifted children do. Their extreme sensitivity, tendency towards introversion, developmental differences, and keen moral compasses make the “tween” years especially challenging to navigate. Gifted child often faces difficulties in one or more of the following areas:
– Fitting in: Most middle school-aged children desperately want to fit in, and gifted children are no exception to this rule. The “differences” brought about by giftedness are therefore very intensely felt during this period in any gifted child’s life. Gifted children are often caught between their natural preferences and interests (a desire to perform well at school, engage in intellectual hobbies, and so on) and the kind of pursuits their non-gifted peers deem socially acceptable. Some gifted children choose to “mask” who they are in order to fit in, whereas others try to carve out a small but authentic niche with like-minded peers.
– Motivation and achievement: Gifted children who choose to try to hide their giftedness in order to fit in often play down their intellectual abilities and therefore intentionally underachieve at school. Other factors can also hinder a gifted child’s motivation during the middle school years: Former high achievers may begin to get bored with their classes because everything comes too easily to them, for example. These children often look to the complicated milieu around them for stimulation and become distracted. On the other side of the spectrum, gifted children with undiagnosed learning disorders often begin to struggle during middle school because the more challenging curriculum makes it impossible for them to compensate for their LDs. This can lead to disappointment, frustration, and ultimately, apathy.
– Bullying: Like all children who think or behave differently than the accepted norm, gifted children are at risk of being bullied. Furthermore, their heightened sensitivity and well-developed sense of fairness leaves them ill-equipped to deal with the kind of hostile school environments where bullying flourishes. As is the case with neurotypical children, gifted children who are bullied often suffer from anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, and poor self-esteem.
– Establishing a sense of identity: Despite the pressure to conform that tweens experience at school, the middle school years are a time of great self-discovery. Around the age of 12, children start to develop a much stronger sense of who they are; they explore and define their preferences, interests, and opinions. Gifted children who don’t wish to be stereotyped as “nerds” or “smart kids” often have a number of questions and conflicts to resolve as they flesh out their sense of self: E.g., is it possible to be smart and a “jock” at the same time? Is it okay to want to be one of the popular kids when you’re gifted? Etc.
– Becoming more aware of the world: Because gifted children are so perceptive, they’re quick to challenge existing systems, processes, and authority figures when they detect what they think is unfairness or hypocrisy. While some degree of this is, of course, a sign of healthy independence, a certain percentage of gifted children experience painful personal awakenings and existential crises as they question the world around them. They may turn their backs on family values, religious views, cultural traditions, etc. If these children don’t manage to carve out a niche for themselves with like-minded peers, this transformation process can lead to a sense of isolation, rejection, and eventually, anxiety and depression.
How To Help Your Gifted Middle School Child Succeed
Though gifted children face extra challenges during middle school, there’s a lot parents can do to help them not only survive, but thrive:
1. Remain vigilant for signs that your child is struggling. If your child begins eating or sleeping noticeably more or less, losing interest in hobbies, or isolating himself, he could probably use some support (and possibly professional counselling). A sudden decline in academic performance should also be thoroughly investigated. (Don’t automatically assume that your child is under-performing on purpose; explore the possibility of an undiagnosed learning disorder first.)
2. Practice compassionate curiosity. Though most teens and tweens are slow to open up and seldom respond well to direct, probing questions, well-timed gentle inquiries can yield valuable information about how your child is feeling. Many parenting experts recommend that you engage with your teen or tween in this way while enjoying a favourite shared activity; this will help him feel less awkward about sharing his feelings.
3. Apply calm and consistent discipline and provide objective guidance.Parenting a gifted child through middle school can be an emotionally exhausting experience. Many parents find themselves watching a once-excellent student sink into apathy while others end up enduring extreme defiance. Some parents simply feel helpless to protect their child from the many trials of growing up gifted; they worry that they cannot “reach” their suddenly withdrawn son or daughter.
Difficult though these years may be, if you’re the parent of a gifted child, you must remember that he needs a calm environment and clear boundaries now more than ever. Avoid escalating arguments or punishments; if a situation with your child becomes overly tense, walk away and take a “time out” before you react by shouting, threatening, or otherwise becoming emotional. Furthermore, you should avoid being judgmental or controlling when interacting with your child; this will almost certainly backfire and cause him to rebel. Offer advice only once you have listened to your child and understood his needs and point of view.
4. Seek support—for both you and your child. Counselling and the support of friends and family members can be invaluable for both gifted children and their parents. Likewise, gifted children often benefit from socializing with other gifted children. Doing so helps them to feel less “different” and therefore makes it more probable that they will embrace, and not reject, who they are.
5. Push for the services your child needs. If your child’s school does not offer many options for gifted students (i.e., gifted programs), don’t simply resign yourself to what’s available. Instead, you should proactively advocate for better gifted services. If possible, talk to other parents of gifted children who attend your child’s school and come up with a list of educational supports to implement. You can then provide the school’s principal and administration with the input they need to provide better services.
Remember that while middle school presents many challenges for gifted children, with adequate support and compassionate parental guidance, gifted children can leave middle school feeling more confident and possessing a stronger sense of personal identity. What’s more, helping your child overcome the hurdles he faces during middle school will forge a deeper and more trusting bond between you both, setting the stage for an excellent relationship over the years to come.
Author: Rachel Cohen
This is a guest post by Toronto psychotherapist Rachel Cohen. Rachel is very knowledgeable in giftedness, after completing her Master’s Degree in Psychology at the University of Nevada, she worked for 3 years at the Davidson Academy for Gifted Children. You can follow Rachel on Twitter at @RachiieCohen
Article reviewed by Dr. Tali Shenfield on May 23, 2018
When most people think of a child with ADHD, they imagine a precocious youngster who never stops moving and rarely stops talking—a child who, in other words, embodies extreme extroversion. Nine times out of ten, this mental image depicts a little boy. Indeed, many parents who are not deeply familiar with ADHD are quick to point out how closely behaviours associated with this disorder resemble an intensified version of typical boyish conduct. It’s therefore little wonder that research indicates up to six times more boys than girls are referred to clinics for ADHD testing.
Unfortunately, this gender bias works against female ADHD sufferers. While it’s true that more boys than girls are affected by ADHD, the male to female ratio is believed to be about three to one, not six to one. We can therefore safely assume that a substantial portion of the female population is living with untreated ADHD. Because these young women don’t exhibit “typical” ADHD traits, they are simply never referred for testing.
This is highly problematic because ADHD affects more than just a child’s ability to concentrate in class. Investigation into the emotional lives of girls with a history of untreated or poorly managed ADHD has shown that these young women are at increased risk of developing depression, disordered eating patterns, and low self esteem. This is particularly likely if their condition remains undiagnosed when they enter their preteen years.
ADHD is not a personality type; it’s a medical condition that affects a person’s executive functioning skills. Initially, hyperactive and impulsive behaviours were believed to be its primary hallmarks, and it was thought to overwhelmingly affect young men. However, research conducted during the 1980s revealed that a percentage of boys diagnosed with ADHD showed symptoms of inattentiveness without displaying overt hyperactivity or impulsivity. Researchers therefore had to update the definition of ADHD, and today it includes three different types:
– Inattentive type
– Hyperactive/impulsive type
– Combined inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive type
Further research has shown that while the hyperactive/impulsive type of ADHD is rare in girls, the inattentive type is far more common than many people realize. Unfortunately, the inattentive type is much harder to detect and diagnose, in both boys and girls. Not only are children with inattentive ADHD quieter and less disruptive than their hyperactive peers, they frequently use their intelligence to mask the signs of their condition. Indeed, an inattentive type child may achieve average or even decent grades. At the same time, however, she’ll be struggling with both the academic and emotional aspects of her condition and she will be unable to perform at her full potential.
Even girls who do have the hyperactive/impulsive form of ADHD often fly under the radar, so to speak. For one thing, these girls are often still less impulsive than boys with the same form of ADHD, thanks to developmental differences between the sexes. (Boys with hyperactive/impulsive ADHD show a reduction in brain volume in areas of the brain responsible for impulse regulation and fine motor control. Girls with hyperactive/impulsive type ADHD show less impairment in these regions, probably because the female brain matures more quickly.)
Additionally, hyperactive girls sometimes manifest their excess energy socially rather than physically, making them seem like the archetypal bubbly “social butterfly.” These young women appear jovial and functional enough that they, too, often end up suffering in secret. Furthermore, despite their friendly demeanour, these girls may actually have difficulty maintaining friendships. Girls with ADHD often experience more strained interpersonal relationships than boys with ADHD, probably because girls are expected to meet higher standards of conduct. Qualities like attentiveness, patience, listening, and care-taking are disproportionately assigned to young girls. Ergo, while an outgoing young woman with ADHD will usually make friends easily, she will also struggle to keep them. This can lead to feelings of deep hurt, rejection, and unworthiness.
Due to the factors outlined above, it’s not unusual for ADHD to go undiagnosed in girls until they reach puberty. At this juncture, surging hormones and a rapidly-changing brain can cause girls with ADHD to become truly disruptive for the first time. Some parents describe their daughter as having “erupted” virtually overnight, going from being a relatively docile child to being one who is outwardly rebellious and extremely restless. Alas, even if a parent suspects that his or her child is acting out due to ADHD, they will usually be denied a diagnosis. The current diagnostic criteria for ADHD state that a child must display obvious symptoms prior to age seven in order to receive an ADHD diagnosis. Adolescent girls are therefore often incorrectly diagnosed with a personality disorder. Meanwhile, boys with ADHD—who are usually identified and treated early in life—actually settle down and become more cooperative as they enter their teen years.
When girls with ADHD remain undiagnosed well into adolescence, their problems only intensify. Teen girls tend to repress and internalize their feelings, and this leads to an even higher risk of anxiety and depression. Furthermore, these young women often attempt to deal with their feelings of rejection in unhealthy ways. They are more likely to engage in substance abuse, binge eating, and promiscuous sexual behaviour than their neurotypical peers.
Getting Help for Girls with ADHD
While ADHD is often hard to notice in young girls, it’s certainly not impossible to recognize. Today, a number of innovative diagnostic tools are being developed in order to facilitate earlier detection of female ADHD sufferers. Detailed questionnaires, for example, are now used to help girls self-report their symptoms. Better therapies, such as group therapy, individual coaching, and family therapy, are also available to treat ADHD in boys and girls alike. If you suspect your child has ADHD, you should therefore strongly consider taking her to see a mental health professional who is well-versed in the latest methods for detecting and treating this challenging condition.
Confidence, like education, provides an integral foundation for success, fulfillment, and happiness. A confident child will typically experience better interpersonal relationships, be more open to new opportunities, and have an enhanced sense of well-being. Likewise, children with a healthy self-esteem usually exhibit fewer behavioural problems.
As a child psychologist, I see an alarmingly high number of children with poor self-confidence. While growing up with unrealistic expectations based on Facebook and Instagram posts is certainly a contributing factor, poor confidence is often a multi-generational issue; parents who never developed a strong sense of self-worth struggle to engender confidence in their children. At the same time, they model insecure behaviours. As children learn primarily through observing their parents (and rely almost wholly on their parents to affirm their value), they easily inherit their parents’ traits of habitual self-doubt and self-criticism. Though insecure parents often realize that they are insecure and wish to spare their children from bearing the same burden, their attempts to teach healthy self-esteem often miss the mark—or even backfire.
Parents should therefore begin the process of teaching their children confidence by defining what confidence is; it’s not a well-moderated form of narcissism, nor does it lie in being arrogant, overly assertive, or aggressive. Instead, it’s simply about having a healthy self-image: When a child or adult wakes up in the morning feeling capable, when she likes who she sees in the mirror, and when she has healthy boundaries and a robust sense of being loved, she can be said to be a confident person. To help your child achieve a healthy, stable sense of self-worth, try implementing the ten strategies outlined below.
Building Confidence In Your Child: The 10 Steps To Self-Esteem:
1. Work on your own self-confidence
Simply put, none of us can teach what we don’t know ourselves, so to effectively engender confidence in your child you must first make sure that your own self-esteem is healthy.
How you do this will depend on your unique needs and circumstances. If, like most people, your level of confidence is neither remarkable nor profoundly low, researching confidence-building strategies and taking a “practice makes perfect” approach will likely suffice. Additionally, you should work with your partner, a trusted friend, family member, or counsellor to uncover any painful past events that have hindered your development and then seek healing. If, on the other hand, you struggle profoundly with poor self-worth and/or you experienced traumatic events during your youth that left your confidence badly damaged, it’s best to seek the aid of a trained mental health professional.
Regardless of how you choose to work on your confidence, it will likely prove helpful to engage in the following exercise: As you look back and assess the good and bad parts of your childhood, get a pen and paper and (being as specific as possible) write down:
– What your parents did to build your self-image;
– Any parental actions, words, or behaviours that damaged your self-image.
Once you have created this list, you can proactively plan how to emulate your parents’ helpful behaviours and qualities while also avoiding their harmful traits. If you find it extremely difficult to stop yourself from copycatting your parents’ negative patterns, you should seek the aid of a professional.
Remember that the aim of this exercise is not to solidify any anger or resentment you may feel toward your parents; on the contrary, forgiving them is essential to healing.
2. Practice attachment parenting while your child is an infant
Though it’s important to enact consistent discipline and avoid over-indulging an older child, babies are wired to need a great deal of parental attention. According to recent research, parental responsiveness—how quickly and how often parents respond to an infant’s signs of need or distress—is key to building self-worth. When your baby is held frequently, worn close to your body, and fed and cared for on cue, she develops the perception that she is loved and valued a great deal. She also learns to expect to be “heard” by those around her, and as such, she will grow up being unafraid to express herself.
It’s vital to note, however, that your baby doesn’t need you to be superhuman—no one can be in two places at once and it’s a fact of life that sometimes you won’t be able to respond to her needs immediately. As long as you display an overall pattern of responsiveness, this won’t be an issue, so don’t worry unduly about circumstances you can’t control. The more relaxed you are around your baby, the more safe and secure she will feel.
By the time your child is about two years of age, she will probably begin to assert her independence; at this stage, attachment parenting becomes less necessary and parents should begin to find a balance between responsiveness and setting healthy boundaries that teach their child respect for others. The attentive care she was given during infancy will have already formed a sense of self-respect and an overall feeling of well-being, giving her the strength she needs to begin seeking autonomy.
3. Give your child positive affirmation
How your child feels about herself will be shaped, in large part, by how you react to her: Do you praise her when she does well, forgive her when she makes mistakes, validate her feelings, and demonstrate empathy and compassion toward her? Or do you set the bar unrealistically high (e.g., responding to a “B” grade by asserting that it should have been an “A” rather than appreciating her effort) and negate her emotions?
Remember that it’s surprisingly easy to accidentally invalidate a child’s emotions or come across as critical, even if you mean well; children are sensitive beings. For instance, blithely telling your child that something deeply upsetting to her is “Not a big deal,” or that it will all be “Better tomorrow” is a form of invalidation, despite your kind intentions, because it minimizes her emotions and makes her feel foolish for having them. Ergo, all parents are advised to investigate affirmation techniques like compassionate curiosity, active listening, and empathetic discipline.
If you consistently reflect positive messages back to your child, she will not only grow up feeling confident and valued, she will also probably be (within reason) well-behaved. Children who feel secure relying on their parents for positive affirmation become deeply attached to their sense of being pleasing to their parents; as such, they react more strongly to indicators of parental displeasure when they misbehave and will often self-correct. Conversely, children who receive negative feedback regardless of how they behave are likely to act out frequently, both due to frustration and a desire for parental attention—after all, it’s when they’re bad that they get noticed.
4. Don’t hesitate to play with your child
If your child approaches you and asks you to join in a game she’s invented, researchers say that it’s a good idea to set adult deportment aside and learn how to play again. While parents sometimes fear that acting as a playmate to their children will undermine their parental authority, this does not appear to be the case; instead, playing with your child will validate her interests and reassure her that she’s worth your time and attention. At the same time, you’ll be able to get to know her better (playtime is, after all, a firsthand demonstration of how she interacts; it may also reveal issues that are on her mind).
Don’t treat playtime like a “chore” or something you are only doing to please your child; the more you enjoy joining in, the better your child will feel. While it’s true that “child’s play” can seem dull or repetitive to an adult, play-time is not without benefit: Playing with your child can give you a much-needed break from the stresses and complexities of adult life.
5. Address your child by name and make eye contact during positive situations
Many parents get into the habit of addressing their child casually (e.g. using a nickname, not looking at her while talking to her) until they become angry, at which point they suddenly switch to using their child’s full name and making direct eye contact. This practice often backfires; not only does it teach your child that she will get more of your attention if she angers you, it associates negative feelings with a powerful self-identifier—her name.
Instead of doing the above, address your child by name when she has pleased you and take a moment to make eye contact; while it may seem like a small gesture, this will make your child feel important and recognized while also emphasizing the idea that her name and identity are connected to a sense of achievement. Likewise, a child who is unafraid of her own name will not hesitate to address others by name—an important quality to have in the adult workplace.
6. Encourage your child to develop her talents (and help her stay realistic)
Having a special talent—such as singing, being good at a particular sport, or drawing—is a powerful confidence-booster for any child. Research suggests that children whose talents are nurtured rebound more easily from failure and seek out new opportunities and challenges more readily.
In general, you should focus on what your child does well, rather than placing undue emphasis on those things she doesn’t currently excel at; as her overall confidence increases, she will naturally work harder to make up for any shortcomings she has. The more capable your child feels, the less self-doubt will be able to hold her back.
That being said, parents are also valuable voices of reason; if your child is placing unrealistic expectations on herself, be sure to take her aside and remind her that you love her for who she is, not what she can do. Assure your child that no one is perfect—no matter how talented they are—and that’s okay. Every time we make a mistake, we learn something new.
7. Keep an eye on who your child befriends
While parents are the primary builders of their child’s self-worth while their child is young, as a child gets older, she will inevitably look to her peers for validation. While this is a natural part of growing up and ought to be accepted and encouraged, parents should also keep a watchful eye on the kind of people their child is befriending. This doesn’t, of course, mean that you should try to “force” your child to be friends with only one type of person (e.g. only other straight-A students or only those who share similar values or religious beliefs), but you should stay vigilant and monitor how your child feels after hanging out with her friends: Does she seem happy and energized or upset and worried? If your child seems intimidated or put down by her current group of friends, it’s likely best to intervene, find out what’s going on, and try to steer her toward better influences.
One of the best ways to keep track of who your child is friends with and how her friends make her feel is to allow her to have her friends over as much as she likes (within reason, of course); while this can create a bit of extra work, it often pays off in the form of insight. Note, too, that as your child gets older, paying attention to the social environment at her school will become very important. After all, no matter how much you try to steer your child away from bad influences, if she’s destined to encounter dozens of them at school each day, she will remain susceptible to adopting confidence-eroding behaviours and beliefs. Likewise, a poor social environment and substandard teaching often go hand-in-hand, meaning that your child is likely being deprived of appropriate adult role models if her academic environment is generally toxic. If you suspect your child’s school is at the root of her social issues it’s therefore a good idea to consider switching schools.
8. Don’t place an emphasis on labels
Many children struggle with a chronic illness or learning disability, but while it’s important to seek the appropriate treatment if your child has a condition that impacts her everyday life, placing too much emphasis on a child’s label (even in a supportive way) often proves harmful. Using a label to describe your child causes her to associate said label with her identity, often to the point of eclipsing many other parts of who she is. This can cause your child to attach her self-esteem to her condition, to the point where if, for instance, her asthma or ADHD clears up as she gets older, she may feel lost without her label.
Instead of relying on labels to describe your child, teach her to embrace her whole self and explore her various unique traits. This will create a well-rounded and resilient sense of identity.
9. Start teaching responsibility early
Some parents shy away from giving their child chores and duties at a young age, feeling that their youngster should have time to enjoy “just being a kid.” However, research suggests that giving a child duties and responsibilities as soon as she is old enough to take on small tasks (usually by the age of three or four) is one of the best things parents can do to build their child’s confidence. Children who are trusted from an early age to help out around the house (e.g. by making their own bed or drying the dishes) feel like a valuable, capable member of the family—someone of worth.
Parents should be sure to keep tasks age-appropriate, however; loading your child up with tasks that exceed her current ability level will have the opposite effect, making her feel incompetent. Start small—keeping in mind the fact that little children usually have a very limited attention span—and pick tasks your child has already shown an interest in. As she gets older, you can add more complex tasks, ideally keeping a “task schedule” on the fridge and giving her a reasonable allowance as a reward for all her hard work.
Remember that tasks shouldn’t be limited to just what needs to be done around the house: Plan enjoyable jobs, too (preferably ones you and your child can do together). Ideas for fun “family jobs” include cooking together, planting a family garden, or making things that can be used around the home.
10. Encourage your child to express her emotions
When a child or adult bottles up hurt, worry, and upset, it slowly eats away at them—eroding their sense of well-being and self-worth. As such, the final step to raising a confident child involves not instructing, but listening: Teach your child that it’s okay to open up to you, to express anything that’s on her mind and rely on you to help her find solutions to her problems. (Remember, never shut your child down when she is speaking or belittle her emotions.)
You should also gently guide your child towards using emotional self-moderation techniques in situations where excess emotionality is not appropriate. Teach her to recognize, acknowledge, and accept her feelings without judgement, then take a deep breath and let them go for the time being if necessary. Visualization exercises are often helpful in this endeavour; for instance, you can suggest that she imagine putting the negative feelings in a box to unpack later when she’s safe at home.
While it’s impossible to control every factor that is likely to influence your child’s self-esteem as she grows up, by creating a supportive home environment and implementing time-tested, research-based confidence-building strategies, you can give your child the strong foundation she needs to overcome life’s challenges. The path to a positive self-image starts early, so hold your child often, don’t hesitate to remind her that she’s loved, and proactively nurture her talents and sense of responsibility. While it may be hard work at times, you will be rewarded with the joy of seeing your child flourish in diverse and astonishing ways.
Having your child sometimes wake up and cry out in fear, or come running into your room desperate for you to protect him from a “monster” is a troubling yet relatively common experience. Though basic parental support and comfort (i.e. the offering of physical affection and assurances of safety), is often enough to allay a child’s fears temporarily and return him to a sound sleep, sometimes nightmares can become worryingly persistent, forcing parents to research additional coping strategies.
If your child is dealing with either frequent random nightmares or a single recurring bad dream which he cannot seem to shake, try the recommendations below; though there is no foolproof way to prevent nightmares, with understanding and parent-child communication, they can be dealt with more smoothly. Learning how to handle nightmares effectively can also become an empowering experience for your child, one which leaves him feeling more in control of his own mind and body.
Understanding Nightmares In Children
Children have both bad dreams (dreams they remember upon waking in the morning) and nightmares (dreams which wake them from a sound sleep) often as a matter of course; why this is the case is not yet fully understood, but it may have to do with the fact that the brains of children are in a state of rapid development and therefore processing a vast wealth of information. According to a recent study conducted in the Maastricht University, approximately 67 percent of children between the ages of four and six reported experiencing frightening dreams “sometimes” or “often”; this figure rises to 96 percent in children between the ages of seven and nine, then falls to 76 percent during the preteen years.
This is not to suggest that all childhood dreams are negative, however; most of the dreams children have are pleasant or neutral in nature, with bad dreams occurring only about 27 percent of the time. These bad dreams are also usually fairly simple in nature and therefore easy to troubleshoot; the Netherlands study revealed that most children dream about ghosts, monsters, the threat of harm to themselves or their loved ones, or intimidating animals. Children over the age of six may also have dreams about being kidnapped.
Regardless of which age group a child falls into, his dreams are likely to be influenced by information he’s encountered during waking life: Fully 70 percent of children reported that the topics of their nightmares reflected something they had heard during the day, such as a news story about terror attack or an act of violence, while just 15 percent had bad dreams based on actual experiences.
The Link Between Nightmares And Anxiety
As common as bad dreams in children are, it’s important not to discount their relevance; multiple studies have shown there is a strong link between frightening dreams and daytime stress and anxiety. Not only can parents sometimes learn about real issues which are scaring their children by paying attention to what they say about their dreams (e.g. worries about kidnapping), excessive bad dreams may indicate that a child is struggling with an unusual level of anxiety. If this is the case, the root of that anxiety should be explored; your child may have had a bad experience he is hesitant to talk about or be dealing with chronic stress (for instance, he may be being bullied at school).
Helping Your Child Cope With Bad Dreams
In addition to investigating any possible sources of unusual stress in your child’s day-to-day life, to help him overcome chronic or recurrent nightmares, you should:
– Establish a soothing bedtime routine and adhere to it each night. Research has revealed that sleep-deprived children are more prone to nightmares, which can quickly turn into a harmful cycle: The more nightmares a child has, the more he will likely resist going to bed. To prevent this from happening, develop a soothing bedtime routine: Remove your child from all sources of media (the television, phone, computer, etc.) at least one hour prior to bedtime and engage in a positive, lulling activity with him, such as reading a bedtime story together.
– Teach your child relaxation strategies. If your child is apprehensive about going to bed, try teaching him to relax via deep breathing exercises (counting may help your child focus on his breathing), positive visualization, and muscle relaxation. If your child is too young to process such strategies, try alternate means of inducing a similarly tranquil state, such as having your child take a warm bath before bedtime and then sit with you and list fun plans and things to look forward to before going to sleep.
– Provide comfort objects. Many children appreciate having a safety net of some kind, such as a flashlight within reach of the bed, a nightlight, dream catcher (or other “magical” object), or “monster spray”. Additionally, you should provide your child with a stuffed animal; depending on your child’s nature, he may either wish to protect the stuffed animal or be protected by it, and research suggests both of these approaches tend to be effective at reducing nighttime fear and anxiety.
– Educate your child about dreams. While adults tend to understand dreams for what they are—conjurations of the mind which are often devoid of significant meaning—children frequently attach magical qualities to dreams which make them feel more frightening (for example, a child may believe dreams to be prophetic in nature). You should therefore explain to your child that dreams are just harmless thoughts and that dreaming is no more “real” than what your child imagines during playtime. If your child is hesitant to accept this idea, have him try to “imagine” something implausible into happening; when it never occurs, he will begin to understand that thoughts are powerless over physical reality.
– Combat recurrent nightmares by helping your child change their narrative. Simply telling your child that his recurrent, terrifying nightmare is “not real” is often unhelpful and invalidating. Instead, empower him by asking him to close his eyes and vividly imagine the storyline in his nightmare changing; for example, have him imagine that he gains magical powers and turns the terrifying monster into a tiny mouse or banishes it to another dimension. If your child enjoys drawing, encourage him to sketch out this new story to help cement these happier images in his mind. Children who triumph over nightmares in this way often go on to be less frightened of bad dreams in the future as they feel a level of control over them.
Tantrums and childhood go hand in hand, much to the chagrin of parents. However, while most children quickly outgrow the tendency to have out-of-control meltdowns, kids with ADHD often struggle to overcome this trait. They have meltdowns more frequently and more severely than neurotypical children and these episodes may persist until late childhood. This is because the brains of children with ADHD struggle to regulate emotion. It takes less to trigger their anger, and once a tantrum has started, it’s harder for them to regain control.
Though many parents try to equip their ADHD child with coping skills (deep breathing exercises, counting to ten, and so on), they often fail to sufficiently analyze how they are handling their child’s anger. Approaching a child who is having a meltdown incorrectly can escalate, rather than defuse, the situation—and make it even harder for a child with ADHD to calm down. Ergo, if you’re the parent of a child with ADHD, you should avoid making the following mistakes when dealing with your child’s outbursts:
1. Losing your cool
Children with ADHD become overwhelmed by stimuli more easily than other children. As such, if you lose your cool (even in minor ways like raising your voice or snapping at your child), he will only become more upset. It’s therefore important to practice the same anger management techniques you preach to your child: Take a deep breath, count to ten, then do your best to demonstrate patience and compassion. Remember that children learn how they should behave primarily through observing their parents, so modeling appropriate anger management methods will help your child behave better, too.
2. Being reactive, rather than proactive, about discipline
You will be far more likely to respond to meltdowns unhelpfully if you don’t have a plan for dealing with them in place. When your child is calm, take him aside and collaborate on a “behaviour plan” that details how he should behave when he feels like he’s about to lose his temper. This plan should include incentives that reward him when he’s able to keep his cool and consequences for when he acts out in ways that are hurtful or destructive. As a parent, it’s your job to administer those rewards and consequences calmly and consistently. Resist the temptation to cave in and spoil your child when he’s “being good” and don’t escalate consequences unrealistically when he’s “being bad.” Give your child clear, predictable boundaries to operate within.
Similarly, rather than snapping at your child in a critical or demanding way, try to encourage him to stick to the plan you’ve both made. Instead of saying something like, “Ethan, I demand you stop this silliness right now!” Try, “I know you’re very upset right now, but do you remember our plan for how to calm down? I think it will help you, and I know you can do it.” Just don’t expect immediate results: You may need to reiterate this message a few times before the instinct-driven part of your child’s brain settles down enough to let him think clearly.
3. Not listening to your child
Your child’s feelings are no less valid than any other person’s, even if he sometimes acts “out of control.” Don’t get so busy trying to control your child’s outbursts that you forget this fact and end up silencing your child. After all, his thoughts, feelings, and observations can provide valuable insight into what drives his anger—and who he is as a person. When you see your child starting to lose his temper, ask him why he’s upset, and (if he’s calm enough) ask him to help you brainstorm possible solutions to what’s making him angry.
It’s important to keep in mind that children can lose their cool for all kinds of different reasons. Your child may, for example, actually be anxious about something. Because his brain doesn’t regulate emotions and impulses well, this anxiety triggers his “fight or flight” reflex, resulting in aggression. If you practice compassionate curiosity in this situation, you will probably uncover what’s making your child anxious. Once you have this information, you can both resolve the immediate problem and potentially prevent future meltdowns in similar situations.
Get to know your child and always try to find common ground and compromise when you’re having a problem. Not only will your home become a calmer place as a result, your child will know you’re his ally and there to help him combat his anger.
4. Giving up too quickly
When you’re parenting a child with any kind of special needs, creating meaningful behavioural change takes time… A lot of time. It’s absolutely essential that you don’t give in to frustration and assume your child can’t get a grip on his problematic actions and reactions. If your child senses that you have given up on him, he’s likely to give up too—and then change will never happen.
If you feel like you’re in danger of “breaking down” due to the difficulty inherent in parenting a high-needs child, remember that you don’t have to do it alone. Support is available, in the form of mental health professionals, parent support groups, and friends and family members. Reach out for help and give yourself breaks when you need them; sometimes a bit of time away from your child can help you get the perspective you need to see the progress he’s made.
Even if your child doesn’t make significant progress, you shouldn’t lose hope. He may have been misdiagnosed or have more than one disorder; as such, you should talk to his physician about getting a referral to a psychologist if you have lingering concerns. He or she will be able to perform a more comprehensive evaluation on your child and create an individual treatment plan that meets his needs. Once your child has the right help in place, he’ll probably begin to make great strides toward healing.
Strong-willed children are often maligned owing to how difficult they are for parents and other authority figures to manage; frequently labelled as disruptive, unruly, or “difficult,” these children also typically possess a range of untapped gifts. When appropriately nurtured, these spirited young people often grow up to be great leaders and visionaries—possessing a great deal of creativity, passion, and drive—but conversely, when harshly disciplined, they can turn into deeply troubled and rebellious individuals. Many gifted children are strong-willed and, as gifted children perceive the world very differently than their parents, it often leads to confrontations.
At the heart of the negative bias against strong-willed children lies the unrealistic expectation that young people ought to be inherently obedient and compliant; words like “assertive” and “stubborn,” for example, automatically take on a negative connotation when the subject is a two year old child but are seen as admirable qualities when the subject is an adult executive. Many children are still victims of outdated ideas from centuries past when young people were expected to be “seen and not heard” and to never question their elders. In short, they were often given little room to act in accordance with their individual natures.
How To Develop A Healthy Relationship With Your Strong-Willed Child
There’s no doubting the fact that strong-willed children can be overwhelming at times; their intelligence fills them with a need to challenge authority figures, their creativity makes them expert negotiators, and they frequently demand a great deal of attention and validation. They can also be hard on themselves: Their innate perfectionism can result in a fragile self-esteem and make them more prone to depression and anxiety. Though these multifaceted children may appear bossy, independent, and self-assured, they remain in need of gentle guidance and empathy.
The secret to managing the extremes inherent in parenting a strong-willed child is learning how to create balance: Parents need to foster trust and allow their independent child the freedom she needs to express herself, while also setting healthy limits and boundaries. Strong-willed children are, after all, still children, and all children need boundaries in order to feel safe and secure.
Calmness is essential to maintaining this balance; parents who are reactive and judgemental will invariably escalate negative situations and bring out their child’s more defiant aspects. Additionally, being intelligent, these children will often learn how to play on a reactive parent’s emotions and attempt to manipulate situations so that they get their own way. (Note that while this sounds negative, at base, it’s not; these children are not malicious, they are simply testing the world around them and the people in it in order to gain understanding.)
As difficult as balance can be to achieve, parents who successfully master the art of parenting a strong-willed child often report that the experience causes them to grow profoundly as people—and say that they wouldn’t change their child for any reason. However, a little preparation goes a long way when trying to effectively parent a child who is spirited and independent; if you’re looking for guidance on how to nurture a strong-willed child while also keeping a stable and healthy home, try implementing the strategies outlined below:
– Focus on the “Three C’s”. Connection, Communication, and Cooperation form the core tenets of dealing with a spirited child—the moment she feels invalidated, ignored, or as though you are her adversary, she is likely to rebel. Practice techniques like compassionate curiosity (investigating your child’s feelings with acceptance and empathy, even when her behaviour is difficult, to uncover her motivations) and active listening (reflecting what you hear from your child and allowing her to confirm or deny it), in addition to simply investing a lot of quality “one on one” time into the relationship. Likewise, when your child is behaving poorly, make sure to avoid labelling her or treating her like a problem to be “fixed;” focus on reprimanding the behaviour itself and explaining why it can’t be permitted.
– Don’t take your child’s rebellious nature personally. Disobedience from a strong-willed child is not meant to be a personal insult, so it shouldn’t be taken as such; your child is simply trying to assert herself and has strong opinions on how situations should be handled. Reacting defensively when confronted with a difference in opinion will make the conversation take on an adversarial tone and your child will become less receptive to your point of view, so it’s essential to take a deep breath and attempt to invite cooperation. Ask your child why she’s having difficulty obeying a particular rule and then request suggestions for how you could help her adhere to it (or offer to pitch in and assist her in completing the task she’s struggling with).
– Calibrate consequences to teach responsibility, not control behaviour. Children who feel “punished” often become resentful and unwilling to change, so using harsh disciplinary measures to curtail unproductive behaviour is likely to backfire. Instead, you should give your child the opportunity to work on her behaviour (such as by saying, “That action obviously hurt your sister’s feelings; what do you think you could do differently next time?” or “How could I help you and your sister be nicer to each other? We’re all happier when we get along.”) You should also try to model honest, accountable, kind, and genuine behaviour as children learn appropriate behaviour primarily through observing their parents. Finally, while limits are important, you should try to impose only those limits which are truly necessary (too many rules and regulations will fetter and overwhelm a spirited child) and you should discuss these limits with your child so she feels as though she has a voice in determining how they are implemented. Create household routines together and keep them consistent.
– Don’t be afraid to get creative. If your child is struggling to adhere to a rule, try thinking “outside the box” and engaging her active mind when creating a solution to the issue. If she quickly gets bored of doing the same routine of chores in the evening, for example, you can write down the names of various chores on slips of paper and then have her close her eyes and draw one or more slips out of the jar so that the job she gets (e.g. sweeping the floor, helping with the dishes) will be a surprise each night.
Though it will take patience and perseverance, it’s essential to remember that the key to helping a strong-willed child flourish is to empower her rather than trying to overpower her. By modelling good behaviour and encouraging her to develop compassion and empathy for others, you will teach her how to use her strength productively and positively.
Most conventional parenting literature is oriented towards parenting extroverted children; it typically highlights the value of spending a great deal of time interacting with one’s children and encouraging them to go out into the world, make friends, and explore. But, what if your child doesn’t seem particularly interested in these outgoing pursuits? What if she is perfectly content to spend most of her time in her room, reading? What if one or two friends appear to be more than enough for her?
Because introversion can appear similar to the symptoms of childhood depression, it’s easy to worry about an introverted child’s well-being. However, if your child was born with a tendency to prefer her own company and the need for a lot of “down time,” it’s likely that she’s content the way she is (whereas sudden, uncharacteristic social withdrawal is more typical of depression and anxiety). The secret to helping your introverted child flourish is not trying to change her; instead, it lies in embracing her for who she is and helping her make slow, gradual adjustments to the extrovert-oriented world around her.
The five tips below will help you to effectively and happily parent your introverted child:
1. Destigmatize introversion
While introverts are often portrayed as a minority within the media (the “shy loner” or “odd one out” stereotype), in reality, they are estimated to make up about 30-50 percent of the population. Likewise, contrary to popular belief, introverts often make effective leaders, entertainers, and business people. Because introverts are generally calmer and have better listening skills than extroverts, they can become excellent communicators and negotiators if their confidence is properly nurtured during childhood. Introversion, in short, will not hold your child back in life.
If you’re an introvert and have had bad experiences (such as childhood bullying) that led you to deem introversion a problem, it’s a good idea to talk to a therapist about your feelings. Resolving lingering issues with your own introversion will help you to assess your child’s situation objectively and lay your fears to rest.
Finally, it’s important to realize that introversion does not arise from improper parenting. In all likelihood, you haven’t done anything to “make” your child the way she is. Child development experts like Dr. Marti Olsen Laney, author of The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child, have shown that most children’s temperaments are innate and parents can only nurture what nature has provided.
2. Don’t label your child
All too often, introverted children are given unflattering labels like “shy” or “timid.” These labels can negatively affect how your child sees herself, making her feel as though she is “different” or flawed in some way. It’s important to understand that your introverted child may not be shy or timid at all (shyness is often a product of social anxiety, not introversion in itself); her brain just works differently. She doesn’t need a lot of quiet time because she inherently fears other people; instead, because she relies heavily on the use of the parasympathetic side of her nervous system (rather than the sympathetic side), her brain needs to rest frequently to digest new information, resulting in an appearance of quietness. Extroverts, on the other hand, are prompted by their brains to react immediately to stimuli around them owing to the “fight, flight, or freeze” reflex of the sympathetic nervous system.
Your introverted child may also have a more highly-developed prefrontal cortex, according to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience. This gives her a heightened capacity for abstract reasoning and intelligent decision-making, but at the same time, it causes her to think things through thoroughly – giving her the appearance of being cautious or hesitant.
3. Let your child do things at her own pace
Because introverted children need more time to process stimuli and make decisions, they often become overwhelmed if bombarded with too many new people or new environments in succession. Don’t push your child to leap into novel situations with both feet; let her get used to people and activities and get comfortable before joining in. Ideally, you should introduce your child to new environments early (such as taking her on a tour of her new school before school starts so she can adjust to it while things are quiet) and allow her to observe social situations for a while before joining in. Don’t hesitate to keep your child company while she’s adapting to something new; your presence will help her feel safe and likely expedite the adjustment process. (If you can’t gradually introduce your child to a new situation, take some time to vividly describe what it will be like; your introverted child’s versatile imagination will help to create a kind of “virtual tour.”)
Furthermore, you should teach your child that it’s okay to take breaks. If she’s feeling overwhelmed in a social situation, tell her that there’s no harm in excusing herself and taking a few minutes to recharge somewhere peaceful. (If your child is too young to be aware of her stress level building, be sure to watch her for signs of fatigue and take her aside as need be.)
4. Encourage your child to cultivate her passions
For an introverted child, interests and hobbies are much more than just a way to pass the time. They are, more often than not, uniquely enthralling pursuits that stimulate the mind, build confidence, and give the introverted child a platform on which to connect with others.
Provide your child with opportunities to explore her interests and make sure that you never minimize them as being frivolous or unimportant. Additionally, if your child is comfortable with the idea, help her to find and attend groups, camps, etc. that revolve around her interests and hobbies; this can be a great way for her to find like-minded peers.
5. Learn how to speak your introverted child’s “language”
Introverts typically communicate differently than extroverts do; they can, for example, struggle to make themselves heard. Introverts often express their feelings in ways so quiet and subtle that the emotional depth they are feeling remains unnoticed, so it’s important to pay close attention to your introverted child’s body language. Likewise, you should make the effort to gently draw her out of her shell; ask open-ended questions to encourage her to talk and practice compassionate curiosity regularly. Your introverted child might not always ask for help when she is struggling with something, so it’s important to remind her that you’re there for her now and then (just make sure not to push her when you do; when introverts feel pressured, they immediately clam up). Finally, remember not to take it personally if your child doesn’t open up right away, or if she seems to need to spend a lot of time alone to recharge in general—her brain is just easily overwhelmed by stimuli.
If your child is particularly retiring, you may also wish to teach her how to use assertive language and help her practice it at home. Some introverted children have a difficult time standing up for themselves and setting boundaries, so teaching them how to say “no” to others firmly (and speak up and seek adult aid when need be) early on can be incredibly valuable.
Remember that above all else, you should cherish your child’s temperament. While introversion is not exactly glamourized by the media, it too carries many unique gifts, such as inherent thoughtfulness and a penchant for creativity. By helping your child to accept and love herself, you’ll give her the confidence and self-esteem she needs to develop a healthy and balanced psyche, enabling her to leverage her innate introversion to its best advantage.
Few behavioural disorders are static in nature; instead, many are episodic, exhibiting periods of severe symptoms and periods of mild symptoms. One of the most well-known causes of behavioural fluctuations (even in the absence of another known disorder) is the changing of the seasons. Indeed, over the last two decades, the term “Seasonal Affective Disorder” or SAD has been used to address the prevalence of behavioural changes that occur in tandem with seasonal patterns. SAD is generally most pronounced during the dark winter months.
However, there is one seasonal behavioural correlation that has not yet been studied in adequate depth: The possible link between ADHD symptom severity and SAD. While a diagnosis of ADHD requires a symptomatic period of at least 6 months, it is entirely possible that these symptoms may follow a pattern of seasonal fluctuation. Understanding this pattern, if indeed it exists, could both provide more insight into the disorder itself (ADHD) and help clinicians avoid accidentally over-medicating patients diagnosed during a “high symptom” period.
ADHD And SAD: What We Know
While the link between ADHD and SAD is not definitively established at present, several relevant studies have been conducted, shedding some light on a possible connection. Their results are as follows:
– Those with ADHD are more likely to experience SAD than members of the general population, according to a study conducted by Dr. Robert Levitan from the University of Toronto. (The symptoms of SAD include depression, lethargy, and poor concentration, among others.) As expected, those at higher latitudes experienced this correlation more profoundly than those closer to the equator. This study also revealed that, just as women are more prone to SAD in general, women with ADHD are more vulnerable to SAD than men with ADHD.
In addition to these expected results, the study yielded some unique and interesting data. Most notably, it was discovered that those with the inattentive subtype of ADHD (rather than the hyperactive/impulsive or blended subtypes of the disorder) were most prone to seasonal affective issues. This finding builds on the existing theory that comorbid depression is experienced by those with inattentive ADHD more often than other types.
– ADHD and SAD both respond well to the use of “pseudo-stimulant” anti-depressants like buproprion (Wellbutrin). While this does not, of course, prove a link between SAD and ADHD (as Wellbutrin is useful for treating a wide spectrum of different disorders), most experts feel that this fact is still worth noting. Wellbutrin is still used frequently as an ADHD treatment (in place of true stimulant medications) in the event that a patient has both ADHD and a depressive disorder. This may make it useful for also treating ADHD/SAD patients who do not have comorbid (year-long) depression.
– Those with ADHD experience greater seasonal disturbances in their circadian rhythms. Not only do those with ADHD often experience atypical circadian rhythms in general (staying up far later or waking up far earlier than the general population), emerging data suggests they may also be more prone to seasonal fluctuations in their sleeping habits. That is, they may sleep much more or much less during the winter months and their sleeping hours may become increasingly deregulated.
There is, however, hope for those with ADHD who are experiencing both SAD and circadian rhythm disturbances: There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that light therapy, when administered at the correct wavelengths, can treat both the depressive and inattentive symptoms of SAD and help to regulate the patient’s internal clock. (Note, however, that in rare instances the stimulant medications used to treat ADHD can interact negatively with light therapy as they can produce light sensitivity as a side-effect.)
– Omega 3 (n-3) fatty acid deficiency may play a role in all of the above-mentioned issues: SAD, ADHD, and circadian rhythm disturbance. While no single cause for ADHD or SAD has ever been identified, multiple studies have shown that Omega 3 deficiency—which is prominent among people with both SAD and ADHD—may play a role in exacerbating these conditions. Likewise, new research has revealed a surprising correlation between Omega 3 deficiency and circadian rhythm disturbance. It is believed that Omega 3 fatty acids may be involved in the production of the sleep hormone melatonin; as such, a lack of it could lead to a poorly-regulated sleep-wake cycle. Because sleep deprivation (and poor sleep quality) frequently leads to mood disturbances and problems with concentration and short-term memory, Omega 3 deficiency could be having a multifaceted impact on both ADHD and SAD.
The above theory is bolstered by the fact that seasonal affective disorder is quite uncommon in Iceland, despite the nation’s extreme northerly latitude. The Icelandic people eat a diet that is very rich in cold-water ocean-going fish, one of the world’s best sources of Omega 3 fatty acids. As such, a dietary change and/or Omega 3 supplementation could provide a relatively simple, easy, and side-effect-free way to treat ADHD, SAD, and circadian rhythm disturbance (particularly if used in conjunction with light therapy and vitamin D supplementation).
While the link between SAD and ADHD is intriguing and potentially important, it’s essential to keep in mind that ADHD has already been more strongly linked to many other potential comorbid issues (in addition to other learning disabilities, ADHD is associated with a higher risk of Tourette’s, anxiety, conduct disorders, and depressive disorders). Before assessing how much the fluctuation of the seasons is affecting a patient with ADHD, mental health professionals should therefore rule out these other, more firmly linked conditions first.
The tendency of children to doubt themselves can appear baffling and extreme to adults. A straight-A student might decide that she “can’t” do math after getting her first B or C grade, a well-liked child may decide she is unpopular because of a single negative remark made by a peer, or a budding artist will sometimes run down her drawing skills simply because they are not yet at adult level. While it’s tempting to dismiss these fears as being out of proportion with the situation, it’s vital that parents listen attentively when their child expresses self-doubt; while these instances may seem minor from an adult point of view, if left unaddressed, they can easily lead to the formation of lasting negative thought patterns.
Understanding Why Children Internalize Doubt
Children, especially young children, have a tendency to think in a very globalized, “black and white” way. Their inexperience often renders them unable to see the bigger picture, and as such, they see small successes and failures as sweeping indicators of whether or not they can do something. This is why a single remark praising a child’s singing ability may convince her that she will one day become a famous pop star and a few stumbles while trying to jump rope will have her believing that she “can’t” jump rope so ought not even try.
If children take on too many limiting beliefs as a result of making mistakes, they risk developing a low self-esteem; a past history of what they perceive as failure makes them hesitant to take on new challenges, and as such, they miss out on many of life’s opportunities.
To prevent small failures from dominating a child’s self-perception, parents should help children to confront their anxieties and then reframe the negative experience more positively. To accomplish this, try using the following communication techniques:
1. Listen to your child and validate her feelings. Many parents try to console their children by showing them how minor their mistakes are and telling them there’s nothing to be worried about, but in doing so, parents risk dismissing their children’s feelings as “silly” or wrong. Instead, you should start by simply listening to your child as she vents her negative feelings and self-doubt, indicating that you understand why she would feel bad about the error she made. Likewise, you shouldn’t rush in to give good advice before she’s had a chance to fully explain why she feels the way she does.
2. Ask your child to describe how her worries feel. According to a study published in Child Development, children who suffer from chronic self-doubt often have concurrent conditions like anxiety or depression. If self-doubt seems like a particular problem for your child, you should therefore try to discover what’s driving her to worry so much (e.g. asking if she’s upset because she sits alone at lunch to uncover feelings of social alienation) so that you can tackle the root of the issue. If the problems remain stubbornly persistent or serious in nature, parents should consider seeking the aid of a mental health professional.
3. Teach your child to isolate details. You can combat your child’s natural tendency to think in harsh black and white by showing her how to see shades of grey in her experiences. For example, if your child is expressing the idea that she is “bad” at a certain sport, help her to isolate the parts of the sport she is good at and the parts she is struggling with (for instance, she may be able to “serve” well when playing volleyball but be poor at playing close to the net). If she sees herself as neither “good” or “bad” but as having a collection of strengths and weaknesses she can begin to formulate a plan to maximize her strengths and overcome her weaknesses. For instance, she can ask her gym teacher or coach to work with her one-on-one to address the parts of the sport she’s having difficulty with. Over time, your child will learn that obstacles always feel smaller when isolated and she will become a more effective problem-solver as a result.
4. Educate your child about the power of self-talk. Children need to understand the power that thought has to shape their experiences; a negative outlook will often lead to negative experiences, and in the same vein, a positive outlook makes one more receptive to opportunities. Teach your child how to reframe her negative thoughts in a way that is positive without being unrealistic, such as by having her make a list of practical suggestions for how to overcome a problem she is facing.
5. Harness the power of positive visualization. Many adults use deep breathing and positive visualization exercises to combat anxiety and self-doubt, but few children are taught how to utilize this essential skill. Help your child get into good habits early on by teaching her “kid friendly” deep breathing and visualization strategies (such as visualizing bubbles rising or a balloon filling up and emptying with each exhale and inhale). Have your child count to a certain number while performing this exercise so that she is not tempted to rush through it. Once your child is relaxed, ask her to visualize herself overcoming her self-doubt.
6. Pay attention to the language you use when describing your own experiences. No matter how much your encourage your child to put her mistakes into the correct perspective, if she sees you beating yourself up regularly over minor errors (e.g. claiming to be a “terrible” cook after burning a single meal) she is likely to emulate your behaviour. Parents are, after all, a child’s primary example of how to behave and perceive the world. Likewise, because children tend to take things very literally, your child is unlikely to understand that you’re either venting a moment’s frustration or joking at your own expense.
If you slip up and generalize your own abilities after making a minor error, correct yourself immediately; if you do this, not only will your child learn how to approach her own negative self-talk, she will know that you can relate to the experience of self-doubt.
Children today are raised with their social lives never far from reach, having access to wireless communication devices typically as soon as they reach school age. In an era when safety concerns are paramount and many households are eschewing the use of a land line, equipping even young children with mobile devices can feel more like a necessity than a luxury – but this new way of life has come with steep costs. Devices which represent a simple enhancement of convenience for most adults have fundamentally changed the lifestyles and social dynamics of modern youth in ways that parents struggle to understand.
Though problems like attention issues and dependency are troubling, the most disturbing trend of all related to the use of mobile technology has been the rapid increase in “cyber bullying”. Cyber bullying is notoriously insidious not only because a child carries access to his or her tormentor everywhere, but because children today face immense pressure to be online almost constantly. In order to remain accepted by their peers, most young people today have to engage with online social networks daily, often for hours a day; if they do not, they risk being ostracized. In essence, children face a choice between either being exposed to their online harasser(s) or being harassed at school for their failure to participate online – a situation parents must fully understand before attempting to limit internet access in a bid to protect their youngsters from harm. Cyber bullying should under no circumstances be left to progress unimpeded, but it requires a careful, thoughtful, and nuanced approach.
Why Intervention Is Necessary
Some parents make the mistake of viewing cyber bullying as being incapable of causing grievous harm as they feel their child is not in any direct physical danger; they may also believe that dealing with some amount of verbal taunting is, unfortunately, part of growing up. Parents may try to support their child emotionally but ultimately leave it up to him or her to resolve the issue, or they may suggest that their child grow a thicker skin in preparation for dealing with the adult world.
These approaches, though usually well-intended, are short-sighted; cyber bullying can, in some ways, have an even greater impact than traditional face-to-face bullying. Though the latter can be more frightening in an immediate way due to the implied threat of physical harm, the former has a deeper and more lasting psychological effect. When experiencing conventional bullying, a child can return home and access a “safe space” wherein it is possible to get respite from the bully and recover. A child experiencing cyber bullying, on the other hand, has no environment where the bully cannot enter, no place he or she cannot reach. Over time, this can become so distressing that the young person being targeted tries to escape through other means; sadly, several cases of teen suicide over the past several years have been attributed to online harassment.
Adding to this issue is the fact that cyber bullies tend to be incredibly persistent; unlike bullies operating in physical spaces, they are relatively free from the fear of repercussions. There is no teacher present to catch them in the act, as often happens in the event of schoolyard harassment, and parents and teens alike may be unsure as to the identity of the bully owing to the mask of anonymity that the internet provides. Complicating matters further, many young people hide the fact that they are being bullied online from their parents, both due to shame and the fear that if they speak up, their internet access may be removed. Parents must therefore learn to become vigilant for signs that their child is being bullied online, and they must also acquire the knowledge needed to come up with a plan to prevent the situation from escalating.
How Do I Know If My Child Is Being Bullied Online?
While there is no one definitive way to tell that your child is being harassed online, common indicators that bullying is occurring include:
– You notice your child has changed the way he or she uses technology—either avoiding it almost entirely or using it obsessively.
– Your child frequently seems subdued or upset after using his or her cell phone or computer; this is often coupled with apprehension any time a new text message, email, or notification is received.
– Your child is extremely careful to avoid having you see his or her phone or computer screen.
– Your child has begun to withdraw from friends and social activities (or has suddenly changed friends); his or her academic performance may also be suffering.
– Your child seems to have become withdrawn, irritable, and moody at home. He or she may also behave poorly, e.g. act out.
– Your child’s sleep and/or eating habits have changed.
It is also important to be aware of the fact that some children are more likely targets for online harassment than others: Mental illness, learning disorders like ADHD, ODD, and Autistic Spectrum Disorder or Developmental Disability Disorder all make children more appealing victims for online bullies. If your child falls into the aforementioned categories, be especially vigilant and consider installing protective software, such as McAfee Parental Controls, eMailTrackerPro, or Predator Guard on your child’s computer.
Supporting A Child Who Is Being Bullied Online
If you believe your child is being harassed online, keeping the lines of communication open is paramount to supporting him or her. This should not take the form of long lectures on the perils of online bullying or other such heavy-handed discussions; instead, try to spend quality time with your child and gently prompt him or her to open up, e.g. by asking the child to explain new technologies, why he or she is interested in social media, etc. Use positive reinforcement to encourage your child to keep sharing with you and assure your child that if he or she is ever having problems online, he or she is free to discuss them without fear of punishment or a loss of internet access.
When you do tackle the topic of cyber bullying, it’s a good idea to create a printable “checklist” of online safety protocols and include the following precautions:
– Never post personal information (i.e. addresses, phone numbers, and images or videos that reveal your appearance) “publicly” while online. Never reveal information about where you live or how to contact you by phone or email to anyone you don’t know in “real life.”
– Only give access to personal social media profiles and/or reveal instant messaging handles to people you know. Keep your security settings as tight as possible.
– Use public chat rooms with caution, and only do so after reviewing the security measures they offer.
– Understand that if you use services like Instagram and wish to post photos of yourself it is extremely important to take safety precautions, namely not revealing any location information. It is also strongly advised to keep such services “locked” so that only confirmed followers can view your accounts.
– If you are being harassed, either block the bully immediately or, if you cannot, contact the site administrator. If the problem persists, save evidence of the activity, tell an adult you trust about what is happening, and inform the bully that you will involve the police unless he or she ceases to harass you. Many police departments have units devoted to investigating cyber bullying so help is indeed available if you feel threatened.
Parents should also take the time to educate their children about the various forms cyber bullying can take: Stalking (repeated messages of a threatening or sexual nature), sexual coercion (where the victim is pressured to send nude or sexually provocative photos or videos to someone who often later shares them publicly), “flaming” (posting insulting messages, often on forums or in chatrooms), the sharing of personal information as a form of aggression (“outing”), social exclusion, and “masquerading.” Masquerading is a relatively rare and complex form of cyber bullying wherein a bully creates an elaborate false persona, sometimes going so far as to steal usernames and passwords in order to hijack another person’s social networking accounts and from there engage in malicious activity.
To combat cyber bullying, it’s important to both keep your own digital knowledge up to date and to interface with educators and other parents in order to remain informed of potential problems. If your child has been a victim of cyber bullying, connecting him or her with support services (e.g. counselling) is recommended.
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