PARENTING SECRET OF THE WEEK
Parents have always grappled with harsh realities to protect their children. But our culture poses risks that are difficult to navigate, because they aren't obviously dangerous. In fact, we take them for granted as we go about our busy lives.
The greatest dangers to our kids may not be the ones we worry most about, the ones that make the evening news, like abduction and child molestation. Random abductions by strangers are relatively rare in the U.S., approximately 200 annually, and molestation is almost always perpetrated by someone the child knows. Most parents can reduce these risks dramatically with attentive parenting.
Stress researchers now believe that the greatest risk for many children is the wear and tear of the way we live, which makes all of us more vulnerable to dangers from depression to obesity to substance abuse.
The American Psychological Association's annual stress survey has concluded that teens are as stressed as adults in our culture. But they've also found that even younger children are often more stressed than we realize.
All of us pay a high price for living in our stressful society. Everything is hyper: hyper-stimulated, hyper-materialistic, hyper-sexed, hyper-competitive, hyper-busy. No wonder we're all so anxious so much of the time.
Given how stressed we feel as parents, it's often a surprise to hear that stress can be even worse for our children. Why? Kids suffer from the same hyper-scheduling as adults, but it's made even more challenging by their immature emotional and intellectual development. Children's brains are still developing, laying down neural pathways in a daily context of stressful over-activity, upsetting images and hyper-stimulation. Researchers are only beginning to understand the effects of this on children's neurological development.
Compared to adults, children perceive themselves as powerless, at the mercy of schedules, parents, peers, school. They struggle with pressures that most of us didn't, from much more homework to over-precocious peer culture to being constantly plugged-in. They have less downtime and less access to the grounding of nature.
But resisting the seductions of our culture altogether is impossible, because virtually all parents participate in it ourselves. How many of us would be willing to move to the country and live slower, more peaceful lives without screens and alarm clocks, in tune with the rhythms of nature?
On the other hand, it is our job as parents to protect our children from things that may endanger their welfare, and we need to face the hard truth that some of what we take for granted in our modern lives is actually destructive to our children. I don't have all the answers on this. But research studies do give us some guidance on how to protect our kids. For instance, here are twelve pointers to help you reduce the stresses on your child...
1. Slow down.
Humans are designed to love excitement and novelty, but stress kills. Literally. Stress erodes our patience, our health, and our ability to give our best to our kids. Stress makes us edgy and compromises our emotional control so we're more likely to become furious. Stress sabotages our immune systems and our energy levels. If we're honest with ourselves, we can usually see how we make our lives more stressful than they need to be, simply by being unwilling to make the choice to pare back. If you want your kids to behave better, start by slowing down and not rushing so much. Your child will gravitate toward your centered presence and want to follow your lead.
2. Resist the impulse to over-schedule.
All kids need downtime, creative time, time to dream and do nothing and even get bored. Kids need to learn to like being with themselves without being entertained. They need quiet to tap into their own still voice. They need to notice that when we're still, unfinished emotional business often arises, swamps us, and then passes away, resolved, leaving us more free. They need to learn to structure their own time without always looking to us or their screens. They need to understand that life isn't the activities that fill it, but something much more vast and mysterious....
Dr Laura......My 10-year-old is giving us absolute fits at bedtime. He comes out of his room constantly, complaining that a light is too bright or it's too hot or the TV is too loud....We have finally started letting him use ear plugs - this seems to help. But he still will come out and even turn lights out on us. He says they shine under his door. Hubby thinks he's trying to manipulate us... But he really seems to want to go to sleep and gets frustrated.
I want to start by saying that when you help your son with this issue, you are not "capitulating." This is not a power struggle or a negotiation. He is not manipulating you. He needs your help.
It sounds to me like your son may have sensory issues, which he needs your help to learn to manage. Or, since he doesn't have a hard time every night, he may have other sensitivities, like food issues, that are keeping him awake. Or maybe on those nights when he has a hard time sleeping, he's been exposed to screens too late in the day, and his body hasn't made the melatonin he needs to fall asleep. Or, he may have a emotional backpack that he needs your help to empty.
And of course, there are those stresses that you say he's been feeling. Those include a baby in the family and the beginning of his body and brain changing as he enters the preteen years. The fact that he has a meltdown means that he has a lot of feelings stored up that he needs help to let out. After he has a chance to cry deeply, the feelings evaporate. I am betting that after he cries, he can fall asleep pretty easily, right? But until he cries, he feels tense and wound up, and anything sets him off and keeps him awake. Since he's very sensitive to sensory stimuli, naturally sound bothers him acutely.
So the first thing for you to remember is to see it from his point of view and try to keep yourself calm. It's fine for him to have that meltdown. In fact, it's good for him. So if you can just stay very compassionate, he will hopefully feel safe enough to have the meltdown and show you all that stress. He will relax in general, be happier and more cooperative-- and he will start falling asleep more easily, not just the night he cries but every night.
Does this mean you can't give him earplugs? No, of course not. Certainly try the earplugs first. Do everything you can to help him block out stimuli. Sleeping with a little facemask -- the kind they give you on planes for overnight flights -- can be very helpful to block out light.
Also experiment with other factors, like screen time and diet, that could be having an impact. It's entirely possible, though, that this is just a physical change brought on by approaching puberty, and he needs help to relax.
Remember that when he's tired and tossing and turning, every noise seems loud. You might experiment with him by trying different types of music if that helps him to relax. I especially recommend sleep cds for kids, because they teach relaxation skills like deep breathing that are essential life skills for sensitive people......
Ages and Stages: PreSchoolers
Preschoolers are social creatures, generally very interested in other kids and quick to notice and adopt social norms. They're becoming more able to control themselves, and more able to verbalize their feelings, opening up a host of options beyond hitting and screaming. It's the perfect opportunity to teach them social habits that will support them throughout childhood.
Teach kids to negotiate peer relationships by talking with them about their friends and the social scene in general. If you start this in toddlerhood, and continue now, you'll give them valuable emotional tools -- and they'll be more open to talking with you about these issues when they're in middle school.
1. Continue sensitizing your child to other people's experience.
It's crucial that children develop empathy, not just so that they're nice people (although we all want that for our kids) but because reading the social cues of others is the only way to function in a complicated social world. Researchers watching children join new social groups found that kids who observe and pick up the rules of the group are more readily accepted by the group, compared to those who don’t.
2. Introduce the problem-solving concept of "We can find a solution that works for everyone."
For instance, "Tiffany wants to play dress-up. Jade wants to play dolls. What could you both enjoy doing?" They may decide to play house, which could involve both dress-up and dolls. Or they may go outside to the swings. Either way, no one loses.
3. Supervise playdates as closely as required, but as loosely as possible.
The more kids have opportunities to work through issues themselves, the more they learn to do so. But you may well need to intervene at times. Kids do need adult help to learn successful interpersonal conflict resolution......
“I have found when another child is witnessing the process of helping kids with emotions they become aware and able to help. Mine often imitate what they've seen me do and can even help each other through upsets on their own with empathy and understanding.”
The hardest part of having more than one child is those times when they both need you at once. After all, your love may be unlimited, but you only have two hands.
That’s why preventive maintenance is so important—children don’t fall apart as often.
But there will inevitably be times when you’re the only adult present, you have more than one child in your care, and both children really need you at once, or one child needs your full attention for ten minutes but you can’t focus on him because the other child is there. What can you do?
1. When both children NEED you at once
...try to tend to them both. (If you pick one, your children will perceive you as picking a favorite or taking sides.) Announce what’s happening:
“I have two upset children who are both hurting right now! You both need your Papa right now, don’t you…Come here, my Sweethearts, there is always plenty of room in my arms…You on my right, and you on my left, both of you in my arms….That’s right, you can cry as much as you want…then we will sort this out and make everything better… whatever happens, we always work it out.”
This isn’t easy, but it is possible. Just keep one on each side so they’re out of reach of each other physically.
2. If you need to go to one child over the other, speak to the child you aren’t going to.
So, for instance, when one child (Brian) is hurt physically, while the other child (Kaylee) is hurt emotionally, you might scoop Brian up, while saying:
“Kaylee, I hear you’re hurting and you need me, and I will be right there. I am just helping Brian with his owie, and then I will help you with your feelings.”
3. Keep the less needy child busy while you tend to the one who is most upset.
If one child doesn’t seem particularly upset, connect with her briefly to make sure she’s okay. Give her a big hug and tell her “I have something special for you to do for a few minutes while I help your sister with her feelings.” Then, pull out an activity you know she loves, like an audio book or the Activity Box with sensory bags that you set up to keep your child busy while you fed the baby (see Chapter 9.) Worried that your 16 month old can’t be safely occupied? Look online for sensory bags for young toddlers and use a lot of duct tape so there’s no chance he’ll tear it open. Put him in the next room with his activity box, visible, while you help the child who’s upset through her meltdown.
4. When your other child is concerned about the crying sibling, acknowledge her feelings and reassure her.
“Your sister is sad and mad…I’m helping her with her feelings...She'll feel better soon.”
5. If the other child insists on coming close
...just sit on the floor and keep them on opposite sides of you. You’ll have to shift attention from one to the other, but you can acknowledge the feelings of both.
6. The child having the meltdown will often get angry that the other sibling is intruding.
Just acknowledge his unhappiness:
“You don’t want your sister here…You’re having a hard enough time without her…Sometimes it’s hard to have another person around.” Then, restore safety: “Your sister is just worried about you…She will stay over here, away from you. I am right here for you."
7. Keep your sense of humor.
Two crying children will feel like an emergency. But if you can stay calm, you'll help them shift their energy, too. When children are over-wrought, they need you to understand why they're upset ("You're mad and sad....your brother bumped your tower and it fell down"). But just as important, they need your nonverbal communication that they're safe; it really isn't the end of the world even though they feel like it is. So take a deep breath and shift yourself out of "fight or flight." Just keep breathing and reminding yourself that they'll feel (and act) better after a good cry.....
If you're looking for more ideas on how to put peaceful parenting into practice when you have more than one child, you'll find them in Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How To Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life, from which this article was excerpted. To finish this article on the Aha! Parenting website, click the link in the blue box below.
Quotes of the Week
"Hearsay......What toddlers do when someone utters a dirty word." - Bacon Babble
"No matter what you've done for yourself or for humanity, if you can't look back on having given love and attention to your own family, what have you really accomplished?" -- Elbert Hubbard
"Looking back, I cannot recall any crisis that wasn't 75% age- appropriate behavior. There is no doubt that it helped if I behaved with sensitivity and compassion, and that it hindered growth when I behaved hysterically and stupidly, but really and truly, a lot of it was just a matter of learning to wait, having faith in my daughter's innate capacity for growing and changing." — Eda LeShan
“It kills you to see them grow up. But I guess it would kill you quicker if they didn't." -- Barbara Kingsolver
"The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt." -- Frederick Buechne
"We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth." -- Virginia Satir