Afraid of Monsters

Boogeyman under the bed, one-eyed balls of fur in the closet, you name it – children have vivid imaginations. This allows them to be endlessly creative and, unfortunately, to conjure up endless varieties of frightening images. Imagination, combined with a child’s actual experience of real helplessness against forces much larger than himself, often finds expression in the common childhood fear of “monsters.” Far from being “cute,” this fear can prevent kids from getting a good night sleep. It often leaves them afraid to be alone in their own rooms, fearing shadows, cabinets, closets and that ominous space under the bed.

If your child is afraid of monsters, consider the following tips:

Accept the Feeling of Fear
Fear of monsters may seem silly to adults, but it is a serious matter for young children. Avoid shaming the child or discounting his feelings, even as a form of encouragement (i.e “don’t be silly!”). Instead, acknowledge that the child is afraid by saying something like “I know you’re afraid.” This simple comment can accomplish many things: it conveys understanding (which, in itself, is therapeutic for the child), it helps strengthen the parent-child bond (because the child feels “seen” by the parent), and it helps shrink the fear (because naming the feeling gives it a “box” to fit in, rather than leaving it larger than life). The simple naming of a feeling without negative judgment helps the child to accept and release his own feelings which, over time, helps him to calm himself down more easily. The naming of a feeling is called “Emotional Coaching” and it helps build the child’s emotional intelligence (see “Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice” for more information about this technique.)

Teach Courage in the Face of Fear
After you’ve named the child’s fear, you can provide problem-solving tools and you can still enforce your normal household rules. You might say something like this: “I know you’re afraid of monsters. You can keep the little night light on and sleep with your bear. You need to go to sleep now.” As we have already mentioned, there is no need to discount the child’s fear (i.e. by saying things like “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”)  You can acknowledge the fear and still insist that the child sleep in his or her own room.

Positive Stories can Help
Use stories to help empower children. Kids who are afraid of monsters are usually toddlers and preschoolers; the older a child gets, the less believable monsters are. Younger kids are not likely to believe a parent’s direct reassurance that monsters don’t exist. After all, how would parents know? Maybe they just haven’t seen one. Because of this, indirect methods of communicating are best. Library books with stories of kids who “conquer” monsters can provide relief and an indirect invitation to be courageous in the face of “boogeymen.” In addition, making up stories of children who overcome all sorts of challenges, can help kids feel less helpless and more competent. This helps reduce the insecurity that leads to fears of monsters. Parents might take their child’s name, add a title, and make up adventures. For instance, here is a story that one Mom made up for her son Kevin:

“There was once a little boy named “Kevin-the-Brave.” Kevin-the-Brave took his friends to explore the deep jungles of Africa. He was paddling his boat up the river when he saw a big crocodile up ahead. ‘Quick,’ called Kevin-the-Brave to his friends, ‘throw me a rope! I have to swing it over that branch and pull our boat away from the crocodile. Someone handed Kevin the rope; he threw it high and it landed on a nearby tree. Quickly he tugged on it to pull the boat sharply out of the crocodile’s path and they were saved.”

The story continues with adventure after adventure, with little Kevin  always saving the day. These kinds of stories have a tremendously empowering effect on kids, sending messages of courage and strength deep into their little minds. Try it and observe the results!

Use Positive Imagination to Elicit Safety & Comfort
You can encourage positive imagination through comfort objects. Young children can find a little extra comfort in stuffed animals and dolls – especially kids with good imaginations. Imagination, after all, can produce different kinds of images; negative images like scary monsters and protective images like magic bears. Encourage your imaginative child to generate helpful, happy ideas. The more the child does this, the stronger the positive mental habit becomes. Instead of saying, “See, there are no monsters,” you can guide the child to positive thinking by saying, “Here is your friend the Bear to cuddle with. The two of you can sleep together. The bear will keep you company and scare the monsters away.” If possible, get one or two smiley, happy-looking dolls or stuffed toys for the child’s room and put up positive images on the walls (bright, happy-looking pictures). Keep the atmosphere safe and friendly looking. To keep your young child’s mind focused in brighter places, consider playing some sweet lullaby music as he or she drifts off to sleep. Music can calm the anxious mind and distract the child from his or her worry-habit.

Be Careful Not to Reinforce Fears
Avoidance makes fears worse –  try not to solve the problem by letting your child sleep in your room in order to escape the monsters in his room! Moreover, be careful not to show significant interest in the fear; keep your interventions brief and low-key. In this way, you will not accidentally reinforce the fear by giving it excessive attention. Simply attend to the child in a calm, brief, matter-of-fact way. “I know you’re afraid. You can keep the night light on. Remember to use your calming techniques. I’ll be downstairs with Dad.”

Provide Protective Presence
If you have the time, it’s fine to stay with your young child for 10 or 15 minutes IN HIS OR HER OWN ROOM until he or she drifts off to sleep. Surviving the experience of being in his or her own room is an important aspect of healing the fear. However, being supported emotionally in the room is fine – the child doesn’t have to go it alone in order to get better. Young children feel most secure (and least bothered by monsters) when their parents or other loved ones stay with them during the transition to sleep. Most kids outgrow the need and desire for this practice once they are school age. Let kids share a room: kids tend to have less monster fears when sharing a room with a sibling. Keep in mind that the fear of monsters is time-limited and you can change sleeping arrangements later on.

Consider Bach Flower Remedies
Bach Flower Therapy is a harmless water-based naturopathic treatment that can ease emotional distress and even prevent it from occurring in the future. Of the 38 Bach Remedies, several are excellent for different types of fear. For instance, Aspen is for vague fears like fear of the dark, fear of ghosts or fear of monsters. The remedy Rock Rose is for panic. If a child loses control due to intense fear, Cherry Plum will return stability. If the child becomes stubborn, absolutely refusing to sleep in his room for example, Vine can help him become more cooperative. Bach Flowers are sold in health food stores around the world. You can mix several together in one treatment bottle. Fill a one-ounce Bach Mixing Bottle (an empty bottle with a glass dropper, sold wherever Bach Remedies are sold) with water. Add two drops of each remedy. Add one teaspoon of brandy. The bottle is now ready to use: place 4 drops in any liquid (juice, water, milk, tea, soup, etc.) and give it to your child 4 times each day: morning, midday, afternoon and evening. Remedies can be taken with or without food. Continue until the fear has dissipated. Treat again if the fear returns. Continue in this way, treating the fear when it is present and stopping treatment when it is not present, until it is simply gone. In this way, a child can become more secure over time and possibly less prone to anxious feelings in the future.

Seek Professional Intervention
If you find that your child is still intensely fearful of monsters even after you have provided self-soothing techniques, do consider accessing professional help. A child-psychologist may be able to treat your child’s fear in a few brief sessions.

Worries

Worrying is a common human activity which everyone engages in. While children and teens have specific worries at various times – such as worry about school, doctors, robbers, dogs, or friendships – some children tend to worry about almost everything! When worry is frequent or across the board, it can become a serious source of distress in your child’s life. Moreover, your child’s intense worrying can also have an impact on you as you spend endless hours trying to offer reassurance and inspire greater confidence.

If your child worries a lot, consider the following tips:

Worry is a Form of Stress
In its mildest forms, worry is a stress-inducing activity. Worry involves thinking about stressful events like something bad happening, something going wrong or some disaster occuring. Such thoughts send stress chemistry through the body. Some people say they worry in order to prevent something bad from happening. Their logic is that it is not “safe” to be too sure of a positive outcome and believing that things will work out just fine can actually cause them to go awry. Interestingly, no spiritual or religious discipline advocates such an approach; on the contrary – every spiritually oriented philosophy encourages POSITIVE thinking in order to help positive events occur. Nonetheless, many people claim that worrying is somehow helpful to them. Some say that it prepares them in advance for disappointment so that they won’t be crushed if things do turn out badly. Like the superstitious philosophy above, this really makes no sense. Suffering in advance only ADDS a certain number of days or hours of pain to the pain of disappointment of something not turning out well. It would be better to be happy in advance and just feel badly at the time something actually goes wrong. Besides, most of the things that people worry about actually turn out O.K. which means that they have suffered many hours for no reason whatsoever! In short, there is really nothing that we can recommend about the habit of worrying. It is simply a bad habit that wears us down.

Because worrying is a habit, the more one does it, the more one will be doing it in the future. In this way, worrying is just like playing piano – practice and more practice makes it easier and faster to play the (worry) song. The worry habit builds up a strong neural pathway in the brain. However, once a person stops worrying, the neural pathway shrinks from lack of use and more productive thoughts will more easily and rapidly occur. But how can one stop worrying? And how can one help his or her child stop worrying?

How to Stop Your Own Worry Habit

  • As soon as you are aware that you are worrying, start thinking about something else – anything else. For instance, look at what is right in front of you and describe it. This breaks up the worry activity and interrupts the automatic habit, sort of “blowing up” the worry pathways in the brain.
  • Set aside 2 periods each day to specifically worry about a problem that you have. Allow five or ten minutes for each period and worry all you want. If you find yourself worrying at any other time of the day, STOP and remind yourself that it is not your worry period. Be sure to worry during your scheduled times.
  • Learn “mindfulness meditation.” This technique can help you release worries as well gently. (See more information about related techniques below).
  • Take the Bach Flower Remedy (see below) called “White Chestnut” for general worries (especially those that keep you awake at night) and “Red Chestnut” for worries about your close family members like parents, spouse and kids.

How to Help Your Child Stop the Worry Habit
When your child expresses a worry, name his feelings and don’t try to change them. For instance, if your child says, “I’m so afraid I’m going to fail my test.” you can say, “I understand Honey. You’re afraid you won’t pass.” Or, if your child says, “What if no one at the new school likes me?” you could say, “Yes, it’s scary to think that the kids won’t like you.”  The main part of this technique is NOT trying to talk the child out of his or her worry (i.e. “Oh don’t worry about it, you’ll be fine!”). If you refrain from offering reassurance, your child will begin to reassure HIMSELF! It’s not much fun worrying out loud when no one tries to reassure you. This discourages the child from thinking so negatively – or at least, cuts it very short. Also, by naming and accepting the worry WITHOUT trying to change it, your child learns to be less fearful of his or her own feelings. Rumination (worry) is much less likely once the original feeling has been acknowledged. When you are in the habit of acknowledging and accepting the child’s fear or concern, the child learns to accept his or her own feelings as well and this causes them to release quickly.

Help Your Child Access Positive Imagination
Children often have wild imaginations. This imagination is commonly used to conjure up thoughts of bad things happening (i.e. robbers breaking in, a dog attacking him/her, etc…). Teach your child how to imagine good things happening instead. Show him how to imagine guardians, angels, friendly lions or knights etc. Imagination can be a powerful tool. For a young child, make up stories that employ protective images. If you are raising children within a faith-based framework, draw on this resource. Consult the teachings of your faith and pass these on to your child. Research shows that people of all ages who draw on their faith actually do much better emotionally, suffering less worry and stress in the long run.

Techniques to Calm the Mind
Breathwork and other forms of meditation can help retrain and calm a worried mind. Teaching a child to focus on his breath for even three minutes a day is a very powerful way to introduce him to the idea that he has some control over his thought process. By paying attention to the “in” breath and the “out” breath for just a few minutes, the child can have a mini-vacation from worry. He can turn for that vacation as part of his daily routine AND whenever he is feeling stressed from his own worrying process.For instance, instruct your child to think the word “In” when he’s breathing in and to think the word “Out” when he’s breathing out. Focusing on the breath in this way for even three minutes, produces powerful anti-anxiety chemistry in the brain.

Refocus Attention
Worriers focus on the negative – all the things that can go wrong. The worrier eventually builds up a strong negative tendency in the brain, automatically looking for worst case scenarios at every opportunity. To help counter this brain development, teach your youngster  how to notice the good in his or her life. For instance, institute a dinner time or bedtime ritual that acknowledges all the things that are going right in life, all the ways things are good, all the prayers that have been answered, etc.  A few minutes of this practice each day can be enough to stimulate a new direction of neural development in the  brain. Self-help techniques like EFT (emotional freedom technique) can be very helpful for people who worry.

Use Bibliotherapy (read stories)
Ask your local librarian for suggestions for age-appropriate books and movies that highlight children’s abilities to courageously and effectively face challenges and solve problems. Such stories can help reduce a child’s sense of helplessness and vulnerability.

Talk about Resilience
If your child worries about terrorism, war and other threats to personal safety, address the worry directly. Keep in mind that with all the forms of media available today, it has become increasingly hard to shield a child from disturbing news and images. Therefore, trying to protect your child from such things should not be your goal. Instead, focus on giving your child the information he needs to feel reasonably safe and secure and then acknowledge that there is no absolute guarantees that bad things won’t happen. You can convey that people have always been able to “step up to the plate” and handle what comes their way. People can face adversity with courage. If you know some examples in your family life or in your community, share them with your child. You can also look to the larger world and select some heroes who have clearly demonstrated the human capacity to cope with challenge and difficulty. This approach is more helpful and calming than making false promises that nothing will ever go wrong in your child’s life.

Consider Bach Flower Therapy
Bach Flower Therapy is a harmless water-based naturopathic treatment that can ease emotional distress and even prevent it from occurring in the future. For worries, you can give your child the flower remedy called White Chestnut. White Chestnut helps calm a “noisy” brain. If your child experiences specific worries, such as a fear of that someone will get hurt or fear of illness, you can offer the remedy Mimulus. For vague or unclear fears (i.e. scared of the dark) you can use the remedy Aspen. Walnut is used for those who are strongly affected by learning about bad things happening in the media or other places. You can mix remedies together and take them at the same time. To do so, you fill a one-ounce Bach Mixing Bottle with water (a mixing bottle is an empty bottle with a glass dropper, sold in health food stores along with Bach Flower Remedies). Next, add two drops of each remedy that you want to use. Finally, add one teaspoon of brandy. The bottle is now ready to use. Give your child 4 drops of the mixture in any liquid (juice, water, milk, tea, etc.) four times a day (morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening). Remedies can be taken with or without food. Continue this treatment until the fear or worry has dissipated. Start treatment again, if the fear or worry returns. Eventually, the fear or worry should diminish completely.

Worry as an Anxiety Disorder
When a child’s worry does not respond to home treatment or when it is causing significant distress or interfering with the youngster’s functioning at home or school, assessment by a mental health professional is important.  The child may have a mental health disorder that can benefit from treatment. For instance, excessive and chronic worry is a symptom found in Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). In GAD, worry symptoms are often accompanied by a variety of physical symptoms, such as shortness of breath, fatigue, restlessness, and trouble sleeping. In other words, the worry habit can also make child feel physically unwell. A mental health professional can assess and effectively treat excessive worry, helping your child to enjoy a healthier, less stressful life.

Nightmares

Everyone dreams. Most people probably remember having at least one nightmare – a very frightening dream. There are some people who are bothered by regular nightmares, so much so that they don’t want to go to sleep. This can happen to children as well as to adults. After experiencing a traumatic event, people can have nightmares virtually nightly, until the trauma is resolved. Whether it’s once in a blue moon or a regular occurrence, a child’s nightmare always requires parental attention.

If your child has had nightmares, consider the following tips:

Some Kids are Sensitive to Images
Some kids are particularly vulnerable to scary images they see in books, movies and on T.V.. They can also create their own frightening images based on what they hear in snippets of conversations around them.  It isn’t possible to always shelter kids from unpleasant images, but parents can certainly respect the child’s vulnerability and try to limit frightening stimulation – for example, there is no need to insist that a child confront a disturbing image that is only recreational in nature (i.e a violent movie). If a child has come across a disturbing image, parents can help the child to talk about it, both accepting the child’s fear and also explaining the pretend-nature of the picture. For children whose vivid imaginations and sensitivity often lead to nightmares, parents can try offering the Bach Flower Remedy called Walnut – a harmless, water-based form of vibrational medicine available at health food stores everywhere. Give two drops in liquid (water, juice, milk, etc.) four times a day until the nightmares stop. Or, for nightmares about ghosts and other vague, scary fantasies, try the Bach Remedy called Aspen. The remedy Mimulus can help with nightmares about more specific fears, such as people dying or scary events like being robbed or chased. A Bach Flower practitioner can help further. You may also find more information about Bach Flower Remedies on this site.

Nightmares can be Triggered by Food Sensitivities
If there is no other apparent reason for the nightmares, you might consider the possibility of food sensitivities. Sometimes such sensitivities can chemical processes that can cause nightmares. Any food can cause problems, so you might need a systematic approach to food elimination in order to find out if there is a sensitivity. Naturopaths and self-help books can help with the process, or you might be able to find a medical specialist who tests for sensitivities (not allergies).

Consider Stress or Traumatic Events
If your child has experienced a stressful event or situation lately (i.e. medical or dental procedures, moving, a mean teacher, examinations, and so on), or even a traumatic experience (car accident, robbery, bullying, assault, family violence), then it’s possible that the nightmare is a sign that he or she is having difficulty coping with the situation. If a child who recently experienced the death of a loved one, for example, gets recurring nightmares, it’s possible that there are feelings he or she can’t identify or express. The child may also have experienced some sort of traumatic or overwhelming experience that you aren’t aware of – at school, at a place of worship, at an extracurricular activity, while volunteering or babysitting or even in your own home with his or her siblings or other relatives.  If you KNOW that something stressful has happened, be sure to talk to your child, naming the feelings that YOU would have if you were dealing with that situation. Help the child to express his or her feelings by using Emotional Coaching  (learn how to use this technique in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe). Unremitting nightmares should always best checked out by a child psychologist.

Medicines, Substances and Illness
Certain health conditions can trigger nightmares, as can mind-altering substances and even over-the-counter medications. Withdrawal from substances can also trigger nightmares. If your child has been unwell or on medication and is having unusual nightmares, speak to the pediatrician.

Ways to Help Your Child
Accept your child’s fear and anxiety. Saying things like, “It’s not real. Go back to sleep,” doesn’t do anything to comfort a child and may even make them feel ashamed simply for having a normal reaction. Remember: to a young child, a dream can be so vivid, it feels like it actually happened. Go slowly and gently, taking time to calm and soothe your child to help orient him back to reality. Give a hug or a kiss or rub his or her back. Get him or her a glass of water or even a cracker to munch on, as eating and drinking are “grounding” activities that bring a child back into his body and away from the fantasy in his head. Putting a few drops of Rescue Remedy in the water can be particularly helpful, or even dropping them on a child’s wrists will work (Rescue Remedy is available in health food stores and is a harmless Bach Flower Remedy that quickly turns off adrenaline and restores emotional balance in cases where the fight-or-flight response has been activated.)

After a bad dream, separation anxiety may re-surface. Kids may demand that you stay with them as they go back to sleep, or they might insist on following you back to your room. They may also put up a big fuss when you attempt to leave their presence. Remember that these responses to terrifying dreams are all normal. Because your child is feeling fearful and maybe even disoriented and confused, make the exception if possible, and indulge his or her need for physical presence.

Nightmares are ultimately fantasy, so fantasy is an excellent way to deal with them. If your child’s nightmare did not have a happy ending, perhaps you can continue the story together — with your child emerging triumphant against the object of his or her fear. For instance, if the nightmare is about being attacked by monsters, a child can be encouraged to pretend that he or she is a “monster exterminator.” The child can role-play assertively warning the monster that he’s toast, and capturing the monster with special weapons. Although this may seem silly, this very strategy is used very successfully to help victims of trauma to deal with their terrifying nightmares.

Help Your Child Cope with the Aftereffects of a Nightmare
Sometimes the fear isn’t just an aftershock to a nightmare. It’s also possible that a nightmare creates worry that tragedy will happen in real life. For example, dreaming that a loved one died can create fear in a child that the loved one will indeed pass away. Gently but firmly explain to your child that just because something happened in a dream doesn’t mean it will happen in real life. At the same time, acknowledge your child’s fear. For instance, you can say something like, “I understand that you’re worried that Grandpa will die because he died in your dream. That must make you feel very sad.” When you name the child’s feeling, the feeling will intensify (often to the point of tears) and then disappear. In this example, the child might cry when the parent acknowledges the sad thought and then the child might say, “Anyway, it was just a dream. I know Grandpa is fine.” Allowing a person to feel his feelings is a fast way of helping that person to clear the negative feelings out of his system.

Help Your Child Prevent Nightmares
If a nightmare has really made a child feel helpless and victimized, you can teach him ways on how to manipulate images in a dream. While controlling one’s dreams takes practice to learn to do, the steps are child-friendly. Just encourage kids to visualize their desired dream content when they get to bed (“think of something nice that you’d like to dream about”), and remind themselves that they are just dreaming when faced with bad dream content. They can wake themselves up and change their focus to a positive storyline as they fall asleep again.

In addition, using effective stress management techniques before bed can help alleviate bad dreams. For instance, you might teach your child EFT (emotional freedom technique – there’s lots of on-line resources for this technique as well as therapists who can teach it to your child) so that the child can remove worries, fears and problems from his mind before falling asleep (YOU should learn it too!). This helps the mind have a better, more peaceful rest.

For a recurring nightmare, ask the child to create a satisfactory ending for the bad dream. Have him tell you the dream along with the new ending. Have him do it over and over until he feels calm. If he’s old enough, he can also write and rewrite the new dream, helping to install it deeper in his unconscious mind.

Therapeutic Bedtime Stories
Parents can make up healing bedtime stories for young children. One way to do this is to create a main character whose name just happens to be the same name as that of your frightened child. By way of example, let’s call the main character in our story “Liam.” The title of the series of stories is “Liam the Brave.” You now make up a different story each night about episodes starring Liam-the-Brave. In each story, Liam fights off scary foes using his arsenal of magic weapons. For instance, on Monday night, Liam-the-Brave takes a canoe trip down the river in deepest Africa. As he passes through the tropical jungle, he encounters crocodiles, warrior tribes, hungry animals and more. Every time he faces a threat, he pulls out a magic weapon from his magic weapon bag and aims it at the “enemy.” By waving, shaking or otherwise triggering the weapon, Liam successfully makes the threat vanish into thin air. He then continues on his trip, observing the beautiful waterfalls, plants and friendly animals, until the next threat appears. And so on. Of course, the story always ends happily with Liam arriving at his destination. On Tuesday night, the parent tells a similar story, this time taking place in outer space. On Wednesday night, the events may take place in the Antarctic and so on. Although the stories are nonsensical, they have been shown to give children a sense of power over internal enemies. Try them for a week or so and see if they help end your child’s nightmares and his fear of having bad dreams.

Consider Professional Help
Your child should not have to suffer from regular nightmares. Be sure to speak to your doctor and/or a child psychologist if your interventions have not resolved the problem.

Anorexia

The eating disorder known as “Anorexia” has become so common, that almost everyone now knows what it is. When we think of anorexia, we think of excessively skinny people – sometimes with a skeletal appearance of skin and bones – whose lives are at risk due to malnutrition. And this is exactly what the disorder leads to. Anorexia is a condition that causes people to starve themselves.

Anorexia Nervosa used to be a condition that was most commonly found in individuals whose professions demand subscription to particular “body image.” Models, actors and physical trainer, for instance, have long suffered from eating disorders because their jobs require them to look a certain way.

Unfortunately however, the incidence of Anorexia Nervosa is climbing among the general public, with highest rate found in adolescent girls. Furthermore, onset age of the disease get lower and lower each year, with girls now as young as 7 years old succumbing to the illness. It may be that the way the media portrays attractiveness, the decreased focus on healthy eating habits, and the decrease in parental guidance as dual-income families and divorcing couples increase, all contribute to the rise in adolescent anorexia.

What are the Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by an irrational obsession with having a thin body.  A person with Anorexia controls his or her body weight by limiting food intake and also by attempting to “un-do” eating by inducing vomiting, using laxatives or exercising excessively. When kids start restricting their diet to very low calorie foods, start obsessing about and avoiding “bad” foods like fats and carbs, cut up their food in small pieces and shuffle it around their plates, wear baggy clothing to hide protruding bones, claim they’ve eaten when they haven’t, exercise way too much, and so on, it’s time for parents to be concerned.

People with Anorexia suffer from a distorted body image. Regardless of their actual weight and height, or of their objective appearance in the mirror, they still feel that they are “too fat” and need to lose some weight.

Types of Anorexia Nervosa

There are two more common types of Anorexia Nervosa: a “restricting type” and a “binge-and-purge” type. Those who belong to the first type obsessively lose weight by fasting or eating extremely small portions. Those who belong to the second type alternate between binging (eating large quantities of food), and then later finding ways to remove the eaten food before the food is digested.

A Serious, Even Fatal Disorder 

Anorexia, like all eating disorders, must be taken seriously. It is not a “teenage fad,” but rather a serious health risk.  Aside from the psychological impact of the disease, Anorexia Nervosa can result to many serious physical conditions — even death. Starvation alone may result into cardiac arrhythmia, hypotension, gastric issues and low blood pressure — not to mention various complications resulting from many nutritional deficiencies. Anorexics may require hospitalization, and a full physiological therapy, before they can even start dealing with the emotional issues associated with the disease.

What Can Parents Do? 
Given the seriousness of this disease, what can parents do to protect their children?

Preventing Anorexia Nervosa in one’s home begins by promoting a healthy body image for the family. Contrary to what the media promotes, there is no one measure of attractiveness and beauty. Similarly, body size and shape doesn’t necessarily equate to health — ethnicity, bone/muscle mass and body structure must all be taken into account before one can be considered as underweight or overweight. While parents are recommended to be health and diet conscious in the home, they must also be affirming of their child’s natural beauty so as not to encourage a pre-occupation with body image. Neither parent should praise a child for being skinny. A thin body type is simply an inherited characteristic – as is a softer, bigger look. As long as your child is not eating poorly (i.e. living on a diet of coke and cookies, munching chips and ice cream instead of eating dinner), then just help him or her to learn the basics of dressing well. For instance, a “square” shaped child will look better in a certain type of sweater/pant or skirt combination than in a different kind of outfit – teach your adolescents about dressing to highlight their own good looks. Much can be accomplished with a few library books on the subject. If your child is actually eating poorly, encourage good eating habits without becoming so intense about it that the child swings the other way; many anorexics were once overweight and compensated by going too far in the other direction. When parents are too invested in the child’s “look” they may accidentally nurture the seeds of disease.

Even more important, however, is the emotional climate of the home. Kids act out their stress with eating disorders, so try to create and maintain a fairly low-stress environment. This means, work on your marriage (or even your divorce) so that there isn’t a lot of hostility being displayed, refrain from raising your voice or using very stringent punishments, keep demands light and reasonable considering the age of the child, bring laughter and love into everyday interactions EVERY day, and don’t get too stressed yourself. Although nothing a parent does can guarantee that a child won’t succumb to eating disorders, taking these steps can reduce the chances.

If you suspect that your child is developing symptoms of anorexia, then go with the child to a medical appointment to obtain a formal assessment. You can tell your child, “I’m not an expert. I don’t know if the way you are eating and the way you look is fine or not. I am, however, feeling concerned. So I’ve made an appointment for us to see Dr. So and So, who can tell me where things stand. If there’s no problem – great! I’ll leave you alone. But if there is any problem, then we can help you with it.” Such an appointment should never be optional. If you thought that your child’s lump on her skin was suspicious, you wouldn’t ask her to please come for a biopsy. You would TELL her that she needs to be seen by a medical professional. You would not allow your child to refuse to go, knowing that untreated cancer can be life-threatening. In the same way, you need to use all of your parenting power to get your child to a doctor when you suspect the life-threatening disorder of anorexia.

Sleeping Issues

There are many sleeping issues that babies, children and teens may have. Many of them are the “normal” sleeping issues that almost all parents deal with in the course of raising children: in one way or another, the child isn’t sleeping enough. Perhaps the child isn’t sleeping right through the night, or isn’t going to sleep early enough, or is waking too early. It’s true that some kids wake up too late, but those children usually went to bed too late also. (It’s also true that some kids go to bed on time and get up late, meaning they are getting too much sleep, but this is a relatively rare sleeping problem that is usually attended to by the child’s medical doctor.)

However, there are other fairly common sleeping issues that youngsters may have includiing some of the following:

  • suffering from night terrors (screaming with fear without dreaming, can’t be consoled, forgetting it happened)
  • suffering from nightmares (experiencing scary dreams, usually remembered upon waking)
  • experiencing insomnia (trouble falling asleep or staying asleep)
  • suffering from restless leg syndrome (painful or uncomfortable sensations in the limbs that disturb sleep)
  • breathing problems like sleep apnea (interrupted breathing that causes snoring and/or waking throughout the night)
  • sleep-walking
  • experiencing unrestful sleep
  • tooth grinding

There are also other, more rare, disturbances of sleep that can affect people of all ages. If your child has any sleeping problem whatsoever, consider the following tips:

Common Causes of Sleep Issues
The “normal” sleep issues are caused by childhood! Babies just want to be with their parents 24/7 and suck and snack throughout the night. Toddlers also want to be with their parents and tend to wake with the sun. School-aged and older don’t like to go to bed – they are too enthused by life and all its stimulating activities. Adults also often have that problem! In our modern society, light bulbs give us the opportunity to keep  active all hours of the day and night and with the exception of a small number of children, adolescents and adults, most people want to stay up too long.

In addition, dietary factors may affect sleep. Having too much caffeine in the evening (available in soda as well as chocolate, coffee and tea) can cause excessive wakefulness at bedtime. Sugar can do the same.

Many sleep problems can be caused by physical and emotional issues. For instance, depression, anxiety and ADD/ADHD are just a few of the many disorders that can affect a child’s ability to sleep well througout the night. Depression can cause wakenings between 1 and 3a.m. or early termination of sleep around 4:30 or 5a.m. Anxiety in the form of “separation anxiety” can prevent children from sleeping happily in their own rooms or their own beds. ADHD can cause problems in settling down to sleep, staying asleep, or feeling rested by sleep. Physical conditions such as chronic pain, itching, breathing problems, endocrine and metabloic diseases, neuromuscular disorders and many other conditions can interrupt sleep.  There are also substance-induced sleep disorders caused by alcohol, illegal drugs and medicines.

What can Parents Do?
The normal sleep issues are best addressed by healthy sleep routines (see the articles on “bedtime problems” on this site). Understand that babies and small children normally wake many times in the night and eventually outgrow this practice (with or without help from their parents). You can read all the sleep books you want, but if your child still has waking issues, keep in mind that this is normal in kids up to around 5 years old or so. Nonetheless, always describe your child’s sleeping difficulties to your pediatrician just to rule out medical causes.

Helping Them Fall Asleep
Some babies, kids and teens have trouble getting into sleep mode. They cannot settle down either emotionally or physically or both. It’s as if their “on button” is stuck in the “on” position! These children can benefit from a wide range of interventions that your pediatrician, naturopath and mental health professional can suggest. Be prepared to spend time and effort in experimentation – it takes professionals awhile to diagnose the cause of sleep-onset disturbances and it takes parents time to see which interventions will make a positive difference. Don’t blame your child for having this sort of trouble. He’s probably not very happy with the situation either. Older children and teens may be able to participate in their “cure” by learning relaxation techniques (meditation, visualization, breath work) or modifying their habits (to include more exercise, dietary changes, quieting activities in the evening). Even so, the “how-to” of good sleep hygiene may have to come from a professional rather than the parent. Somehow kids take outside “authorities” more seriously than Mom and Dad.

Getting Them Back to Sleep
It would be less of a problem if those children who woke up didn’t wake their parents up! If they would wake up and then just turn over and go to sleep, it would actually be a totally normal process – humans don’t actually tend to sleep 8 hours straight without interruption. Rather, they wake up frequently during the night but then go quickly back to sleep. Parents work hard to help their youngsters stay asleep all night, but their efforts would be better directed to helping children soothe themselves back to sleep. Again, a team of professionals may be helpful in this regard, offering self-help strategies ranging from relaxation strategies to sniffing essential oils that have been prepared for the occasion. Breathing problems can contribute to frequent waking, as can other physical health conditions, so it is important to talk to your child’s doctor about this symptom. In fact, be sure to tell your child’s doctor everything you can about your child’s sleeping problems. Even if everything checks out fine on the physical front, parents will want to do something up their child’s night time wakefulness. Naturopaths may be of assistance: professional herbalists, for instance, can sometimes create a special tea for the child that will strengthen the youngster’s ability to sleep deeply and steadily through the night. Homeopaths may be able to address the condition as well. Sometimes hypnotherapists or child therapists will have expertise in this area as well. Sometimes nothing will help the child stay asleep, but parents can still help the child to stay in his bed – mental health professionals can provide techniques ranging from positive reinforcement to negative consequences.

Consult a Professional
In any case of sleeping issues, do consider consulting your child’s pediatrician for further advice and guidance.

How to Raise Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (E.Q.) refers to “people smarts.” A person with high emotional intelligence understands both himself and others. Not only does the person understand people, but he also knows how to make them feel comfortable – he knows how to bring out the best in others. As a result, the person with high E.Q. experiences more success in relationships and at work. Kids with high E.Q. have better relationships at home and at school, with kids and with adults. Moreover, high E.Q.in children and teens is associated with better academic performance, better physical health, better emotional health and better behavior. In adults, high E.Q. is associated with better performance in every area of life.

What can you do to help foster your child’s emotional intelligence? In this article we will discuss ways one can boost their child’s emotional intelligence.

Adapt an Authoritative, Not an Autocratic Parenting Style
Parenting style has a huge influence on children’s emotional intelligence. When parents can guide their children while still being sensitive to their feelings, children have higher E.Q. Authorative parents are warm, but consistent in setting appropriate limits and boundaries. They will use discipline, but not at the expense of respectful communication and care. Their children will learn how to be sensitive to others and they will also learn how to “talk to themselves” compassionately, modelling after their parents. This gentle self-talk becomes a major aspect of their emotional intelligence, a tool they can use to reduce their stress in a healthy way.

Autocratic parents, on the other hand, don’t care that much about the child’s feelings. Instead, they focus on the rules of the household, what is allowed and what is prohibited, what the child may and may not do. Sensitivity to the child’s inner world is missing. In this case, children fail to experience parental empathy and as a result, fail to learn how to soothe their own upset emotions. They may attempt to relieve their discomfort by becoming aggressive, acting out their feelings. Eventually they may turn to comforts outside of themselves such as addictions (to food, alcohol, drugs, etc.). Acting out and addictive behavior reflects lower E.Q.

The more feeling words used by parents and educators, the more sensitive a child becomes to his inner reality. Most of us tend to use few emotion words in our dealings with children, and when we do, we often use the same few tired ones over and over.  It is important that we move beyond “mad,” “sad,” “glad,” and “scared.”  Shades of feeling are most helpful and can be used when describing our own feelings or the child’s feelings. Words like irritated, annoyed, frustrated, anxious, worried, terrified, alarmed, disappointed, hurt, insulted, embarrassed, uncomfortable, unsure, curious, interested, hopeful, concerned, shocked, elated, excited, enthusiastic, let down, abandoned, deserted, mellow, calm, peaceful, relaxed, bored, withdrawn, furious, enraged, frightened, panicked, and proud can be used DAILY to help provide an emotional education in the home or classroom. These are the regular feelings that children have in facing life, stimulated by everyday experiences, dreams, movies and even novels. Identifying a youngster’s emotional reaction and feeding it back to him, helps him to become aware of his inner processing. This information then forms the core of his emotional intelligence, providing an accurate barometer of his response to his world. From this place of inner certainty, a child is well-equipped to navigate life, knowing what he feels, what he is searching for and when he has attained it. His familiarity with the world of feelings allows him to connect accurately and sensitively with others. This prevents him from hurting other people’s feelings with words and further, permits him to achieve great kindness and sensitivity in his interpersonal transactions.

Here are some practical steps you can take to bring feelings into focus:

  1. Respond to your child. From the time your child is a crying infant to the time she is a young adult, be sure to be responsive. This means that you take her communications seriously. If she cries, try to come (instead of making her cry it out.). If she asks for something, try to answer her promptly. If she talks, you listen and respond appropriately. All of this responsiveness builds emotional intelligence because you are giving your youngster valuable relationship feedback. In the opposite scenario, in which a parent either fails to respond or responds only after a long waiting period, the child learns that people tune each other out. This causes the child to shut down. She assumes that her feelings aren’t that important based on lack of parental responsiveness and from this concludes that people’s feelings aren’t that important – the very OPPOSITE of the conclusions made by emotionally intelligent people. Quick responsiveness gives the message that people’s feelings matter. This is a prerequisite concept for emotional intelligence.
  2. Use a FEELING vocabulary. Pepper your daily conversation with “feeling” words. You can name your own feelings. Let your child know that you feel excited or dismayed or discouraged or resentful or whatever. This gives your child the vital information that everyone – including parents – has feelings and an inner life. Some people do this naturally, of course, but many do not. For instance, when a child is making too much noise, a parent may just say something like, “Can you please quiet down?” However, the Emotional Coach would say something like, “I’m starting to feel overwhelmed with all this noise going on. Can you please quiet down?” Similarly, a regular parent might give positive feedback to a child in this way, “I like the way you waited patiently in line with me at the bank today.” An Emotional Coach, on the other hand, might say something like, “I felt very relaxed with you in the bank today because you were waiting so patiently.” In other words, the Emotional Coach looks for opportunities to describe his or her inner experience. It is this description that helps the child begin to build an emotional vocabularly that will open the doors to Emotional Intelligence.
  3. Name your child’s feelings. Children feel feelings all day long but not all parents comment on them. In fact, many parents are more practical, focusing on solutions to problems. For instance, if a child is upset because there are no more of his favorite cookies left in the jar, the typical parent might say, “I’ll pick up some more for you when I go shopping this week.” While that solves the problem, it doesn’t build emotional intelligence. An Emotional Coach might say, “Oh, that’s so disappointing! You really love those cookies! I’ll pick some up for you when I go shopping this week.” The extra few words acknowledging the child’s inner world (“Oh that’s so disappointing”) make all the difference when it comes to building Emotional Intelligence. Similarly, parents often try to get kids to STOP their feelings or at least SHRINK their feelings by saying things like, “Just calm down – it’s not such a big deal” or “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” of “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.” The Emotional Coach, on the other hand, accepts all the child’s feelings, giving the child the name for what is going on inside. “I can see how upset you are,” or “You’re really scared about this,” or “It so important to you,” and so on. By accepting all feelings as they are, the Emotional Coach teaches kids not to be afraid of or overwhelmed by feelings. This is a very important part of becoming emotionally intelligent.
  4. Teach your child how to express emotions appropriately. While all feelings are acceptable, all BEHAVIORS are not. It is not O.K. to hit and scream just because you feel angry. It is not O.K. to cry for an hour at the top of your lungs just because you are disappointed. Parents must teach children – by their example and by their interventions – the appropriate behavioral expression of emotions. For instance, parents can teach children to express their anger in a respectful way by saying things like, “When you are mad at your brother for touching your puzzle, just tell him ‘I don’t want you to touch my puzzle. I’m working hard on it and it bothers me when you move the piece around.’ Don’t slap his hand!” Parents will have to use the normal techniques of positive attention, encouragement and discipline to get the lessons across. It is, of course, essential, that parents are respectful themselves in the way they express their upset, fear and disappointment. See “The Relationship Rule” in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for details on how to teach the proper way to express negative emotions.
  5. Let them experience failure and disappointment. It’s understandable that parents want to protect their children from disappointment. But know that rescuing children from pain, to the point that they never get to experience life, will backfire in the long run. Children need to know how to bounce back from adversity — resilience muscles need training too! And children won’t know how it is to rebound from disappointment if they aren’t allowed to experience it to begin with. When your child gets a poor mark on a project, don’t rush to the teacher to get the mark raised; instead, use emotional coaching with your child (that is, NAME her feelings). “This mark is so disappointing! You tried really hard and the teacher didn’t appreciate it. That is frustrating!” By naming feelings, you actually help shrink them down to size. Feeling words act as “containers” for feelings. It’s O.K. for the child to be upset, or even to cry. After awhile, she’ll calm down. And this is the important part – learning that calm follows a storm. Everything in life doesn’t need to be perfect. There is such a thing as recovery. “There will be more projects, more chances to get a good grade.” You want to show the child that you yourself aren’t afraid of negative experiences or emotions. This model that life is “survivable” can really help a child cope when the going gets rough.
  6. Expand their social network. Few parents think of other people as possible teaching instruments in promoting emotional intelligence. But kids can learn more from interesting personalities and other people’s life experiences than they can from a classroom lecture. Having to adapt well to different types of people — quiet, assertive, annoying, fun-loving — can teach a child how to regulate their behavior based on the demands of an interaction. The challenges other people go through can also provide insight on how to manage one’s own trials in life. Learning vicariously through the success and failure of other people is a good way to raise a child’s E.Q. So if you can, go ahead and enroll your child in various clubs or organizations. When they’re a bit older, encourage them to volunteer in community service. Send them on mission trips. Let them talk with grandpa or grandma. Every person has a lesson to impart to a child.

Fear of Public Speaking

Does your child have a fear of public speaking? Well, he’s in good company! The fear of public speaking is right at the top of people’s greatest fears and phobias. The thought of embarrassing one’s self in front of people critiquing every move is very anxiety-provoking for almost everyone.

If your child has a fear of public speaking, it’s good to address it early on. Even though it’s normal, it’s also in his or her way. There are so many occasions in life that demand public speaking: giving school reports and later on, business reports, participating in classes, making speeches in social settings like graduations, weddings, the celebrations of one’s children, funerals and so on. There’s a lot to be gained from being able to speak comfortably in front of a group. Aside from skills in being a good communicator, successful public speaking also builds self-confidence, logic, and excellent communication skills. As an extra-curricular activity, or as a support for everyday school and work life, public speaking has a lot to offer.

The following are some tips in helping a child master a fear of public speaking:

Teach Self-Help Skills to Manage Anxiety
If possible, teach your child EFT (emotional freedom technique) or have a professional practitioner teach it. This speedy acupressure  technique can be done the night before, and again right before, a presentation to completely remove the butterflies, settle the nerves and help your child do his or her best. It can be learned in one or two sessions and there are lots of on-line video and text support for further training and information.

In addition, you can offer your child Rescue Remedy – a water-based harmless remedy available at health food stores and on-line, that can often immediately calm anxiety.  A few drops in water, or sprayed in the mouth or splashed on the wrists right before speaking (and the night before), can help tremendously. Rescue Remedy is also available in chewing gum and candy form in many places.

Also, you can teach your child how to slow his or her breath down in order to turn off the rush of adrenaline. Visualization techniques can help too: have the child imagine everyone clapping and cheering after his or her speech. Have him or her draw pictures of smiling faces in an audience and post them around the house. This can desensitize the brain and help grow the expectation of a successful outcome. If your child still feels uncomfortably anxious after trying these interventions, consider consulting a mental health professional for further help. This is especially important to follow-up with if your child is already a teen since teenagers have more occasion to engage in public speaking.

Start Small
Is your child willing to practice a speech with you? If so, help out. Otherwise, enlist the help of a sibling or even a speech instructor.  Whoever does it – the principles are the same.  Start small by delivering simple, short pieces (how about a two minute speech on how much you like jam?) It’s also good to cut down to a small audience (just one person) while mastering one’s fears.

Help Your Child Rehearse What He or She is Going to Say
One of the scarier things about public speaking is the fear of forgetting the words or stuttering in the middle of a speech. These fears can be addressed by constant practice. Help your child rehearse his or her speech or book report in front of a mirror several times before the big day. Teach him how to make cue cards for the bits they tend to forget. Introduce simple memory aids like cue cards.. The more a child rehearses, the more he or she will be confident in speaking in front of a group.

No Pressure
It’s helpful to reduce performance pressure. Don’t build up such a frenzy that the child will be terrified of letting the whole family down. In fact, it isn’t even necessary to emphasize how excellent the performance was even if it was – but rather emphasize how much fun it was for you to see the child on stage. By taking the pressure off, you allow the child to grow more gently and naturally into his or her speaking skills.

Dawdlers

Some kids take forever to get moving. They take their sweet time getting up in the morning and must be reminded ten times before completing any given task. They take an hour or so getting a small sandwich down! And just when you think that they’re dressed and ready to go, they’re glued to the TV screen, wearing no shirt and only one sock on, begging for 5 more minutes. Dawdlers drive their parents mad. Unfortunately, the morning rush just won’t wait – school starts at 9. The evening schedule presents its own demands and deadlines – homework, dinner, bath & bed. . Yet dawdlers are oblivious, taking their own sweet time, moving in their own little universe. What can parents do to decrease dawdler-induced stress?

If you have a child who drags his or her feet in the morning or at other times, consider the following tips:

Helping Your Dawdler
Particularly, with young dawdlers, it’s fine for parents to gently move the child along – hand the child his shirt, point him toward the kitchen table and so on. Younger children might respond to incentives or races. Some dawdlers are “spacey” (and might benefit from an assessment to make sure that ADD or some other type of challenge, isn’t at play). If the child is otherwise healthy, the Bach Flower Remedy Clematis can help increase focus and decrease spaciness, leading to a reduction in dawdling behaviors. If the child is easily distracted from his focus, the Bach Remedy Chestnut Bud can be helpful. (You can learn more about Bach Flowers online or throughout this site). If you need to insist on performance (for instance, the carpool ride is coming and the child MUST be ready on time), use a fair form of quiet discipline such as the 2X-Rule (see below and in more detail in the book Raise  Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe).

Use Positive Strategies
Instead of nagging and yelling, parents can use positive strategies to help their slow-poke youngsters. While nagging and yelling can greatly harm the parent-child relationship and even increase mental health problems for kids, good-feeling techniques can strengthen the parent-child bond and facilitate healthy development while encouraging more appropriate, timely behavior.

Positive attention itself is one such strategy. As a child is moving (ever so slowly), a parent can NOTICE and ACKNOWLEDGE progress. For instance, the parent can say, “I see you’ve got one sock on. That’s a great start.” Every time the child completes a step of his morning routine, the parent can give this sort of positive attention. On the other hand, the parent should refrain from talking to the child about his slow behavior. For instance, when the child is moving slowly, the parent should NOT say, “Hurry up – you’re moving too slowly.” Rather, the parent should wait until he or she can make a positive comment.

Positive reinforcement can also be used. If the child happens to have completed a step in a timely fashion, the parent can offer a concrete reward. “I see you’ve finished brushing your teeth before 7:30 – that means there’s time for me to give you that special breakfast treat I bought for you.” Of course, any reward can be offered, such as an extra few minutes to watch T.V., a story, a game, a kiss or any privilege. When rewarding a timely step, the parent needs to ignore other aspects of dawdling. This means that the child might still be running late but has received a reward for being on time in the early part of the schedule. The trick here is to ignore slow and late behavior and only give attention and rewards to timely and prompt behavior.

The CLeaR Method (Comment, Label, Reward) can be very helpful as well. For instance: when your child is on task, make a positive comment (“I see you’re getting dressed!”). Then offer a positive label for the behavior (“You’re a fast mover this morning!”). Finally, offer a small reward (“I think you deserve an extra treat in your lunch.”). The label “fast mover” can be very helpful in building a healthier concept of your child as a person who CAN move efficiently. Be sure to NEVER use negative labels such as “slow poke,” “dawdler,” and so on. In fact, don’t talk about “dawdling” at all – never use the words “dawdle,” “dawdler,” or “dawdling.” The CLeaR Method is explained in full in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.

Use Consequences
Setting time limits can help reduce dawdling behavior. Limit setting can be accomplished with the ‘“2X Rule.” The first step of this rule is to give the time limit: “You have until 7:45 to brush your own hair.” Then, just before the deadline, repeat the limit and name the consequence: “It’s almost 7:45 sweetie – if your hair isn’t brushed in another minute, I’ll have to come and give it a quick brush for you.”  Even if the child would be angry, the parent would gently, kindly but quickly brush the hair if necessary. A steady rule can also be employed such as “From now on, if your hair isn’t brushed by 7:45, I’ll have to come in and give it a quick brush.” Such a rule can be employed for any deadline, varying the consequences: toothbrushing, bedmaking, eating, being at the door in time. The consequences must be delivered quietly, without any fuss, anger or upset. “You haven’t got any more time to make your bed, so I’ll be making it this morning and you’ll lose your T.V. show tonight (or whatever consequence you have pre-arranged with the child). When first introducing consequences to a dawdler, only concentrate on one deadline. After it is established, you can pick a second on and so on. The key to using consequences effectively is to let the consequence teach  the lesson, rather than using anger, lecturing and so forth (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for a detailed explanation on the constructive use of consequences using the 2X Rule).

Consider Possible Reasons for Lethargy
If your child has a tendency to move too slowly on a regular basis, not just during the morning rush, then consider possible medical and psychological reasons for lethargic behavior. For example, your child may lack energy and needs a carbohydrate boost. Or your child might be suffering from depression. Sometimes apparent dawdlers are really obsessors and ritualizers. If your child is taking too long because she does things over and over again to get them “just right” then a professional assessment can help you determine whether anxiety might be the culprit. If so, there are good treatments that can help put an end to the problem. If you suspect that your child’s dawdling is due to more than a bad habit, do consult your pediatrician or a child psychologist.

Boosting Your Child’s Self-Esteem

Parents know that high self-esteem is a good thing, but they may not know exactly what this trait is or how to help their kids acquire it.

What is Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem refers to a person’s assessment of him or herself. High self-esteem indicates that a person has made an overall positive assessment of him or herself, whereas low self-esteem means that the person has an overall low opinion of him or herself. Unlike “confidence,” self-esteem is a global measurement – an assessment that sums the person up. It is the conclusion a person makes after examining all of his or her positive and negative traits and skills. “Confidence” on the other hand, varies according to the specific trait or skill being measured. For instance, a person may be a confident driver but an insecure public speaker. However, if public speaking is very important to that person, then doing poorly in this area may lower that person’s overall assessment of him or herself, resulting in low self-esteem.

Why is High Positive Self-Esteem Important?
Positive self-esteem correlates highly with happiness and life satisfaction. It enables people to bounce back more quickly after rejection, failure and other challenging experiences. It reduces their overall stress level by helping them to feel whole and good under a wide range of circumstances. High self-esteem makes people feel stronger, more confident and more optimistic, allowing them to take more risks and thereby achieve greater levels of success. Those with high self-esteem are less dependent on outside approval; they are able to live their lives with less fear and more freedom.

Low self-esteem is linked with many mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. People with low self-esteem are also more likely to be victimized than those with a healthy self-esteem. This is because those with negative self-esteem are prone to both accepting abuse as their due, and believing that they are helpless in fighting bullies and victimizers.

How Does a Child Acquire High Self-Esteem?
A person’s self-esteem is a product of many things. Just as low self-esteem is linked to disorders of mood and anxiety, disorders of mood and anxiety are linked to low self-esteem. This means that the biology underlying certain mental health disorders also generates feelings and attitudes about the self. For instance, depressed people tend to view life negatively and they also tend to view themselves negatively. This has nothing to do with their life experience. It is caused by the chemistry of depression itself. The negative view on life and on oneself is, in this case, inherited genetically.

However, self-esteem is not only a product of biology. Life experiences can also lower or raise self-esteem.

For instance, parenting style influences self-esteem because young kids look up to their parents for clues regarding their worth and value. Positive feedback helps build positive self-assessments. Kids who feel loved by their parents tend to develop more positive self-esteem because they internalize the message that they are worthy of love, and therefore must be inherently good. Kids who experience neglect or abuse tend to develop low self-esteem since their parents’ behavior reflects back to them the message that they are flawed or inherently bad. Calling children names (like “bad,” “stupid,” “lazy,” etc.) lowers their self-esteem since children tend to believe the parent’s judgment and internalize it as their own. Not only parents, but all other people, have the ability to impact on one’s self-esteem. Peers, for example, also affect self-esteem. Being rejected or bullied for a significant period of time can leave a child very down on himself (as well as traumatized). Teachers are also in a position to positively or negatively influence a child’s self-esteem. Other life experiences like academic performance, experiences on sports teams or in extra-curricular activities and experiences with first jobs, all impact on self-esteem. Children who do poorly in school, for instance, often suffer low self-esteem since twenty years of academic mediocrity or worse gives them a low opinion of their capabilities.

Because personal performance strongly affects self-esteem, it is most helpful if parents can provide opportunities for their children to experience success. Exposing them to a wide range of activities (like lessons or practice in sports, dance, art, cooking, crafts, hobbies, paid employment, household responsibilities and so on) gives them the chance to explore their talents and aptitudes. The less a child does, the less he or she can succeed. This inhibits the growth of self-esteem. Thus “over-protection” and excessive “helping” can actually interfere with the growth of a child’s self-esteem. On the other hand, offering the child many opportunities to overcome challenges, learn new skills, engage in independent functioning and express personal talents helps the child develop high self-esteem. A child who can do many things in many different areas of life acquires the kind of positive self-image and confidence that contributes to high self-esteem. Remember, you can’t build a child’s self-esteem by telling him or her that he or she is just “great” or smart, or beautiful. Rather, you can help the child discover his or her own strengths by providing opportunities for the child to EXPERIENCE those strengths through personal accomplishment.

How to Help Your Child Acquire High Self-Esteem
From the above, we can see that parents can do many things to help their child acquire high self-esteem. For instance, parents can:

  • Be generous with positive feedback and praise
  • Show acceptance, understanding, warmth and affection
  • Avoid anger, criticism, insult and abuse
  • Give the child the oppurtunity to learn skills in as many areas as possible, such as; self-care, money management, cooking, independent travel, sports, crafts, music/dance/other creative and/or performing arts, martial arts/gymnastics/yoga, sewing, computer literacy and more
  • Help your child develop social skills, fashion know-how, leadership skills, assertiveness skills and other skills that will help him or her to maintain positive social relationships and reduce the chances of being bullied, victimized, marginalized or ostracized – all of which can lower self-esteem

Build Security Through Acceptance of Inner Feelings
Another way to increase security and self-esteem is to help the child make friends with himself. Using Emotional Coaching (the naming of the child’s feelings) shows acceptance of the child’s inner world. This helps the child become more accepting of himself (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for further information about Emotional Coaching). When a parent calmly names a child’s feelings (i.e. “You don’t like the way you look? That must make you feel sad.” as opposed to “What do you mean you don’t like the way you look? You look beautiful!”), the child actually learns to be more accepting of all of his own emotions. Extensive research has shown that accepting even our most negative feelings has the result of building our confidence and inner security! It’s as if the parent is saying to the child: “I can handle whatever emotions you have without becoming overwhelmed or frightened.” This unspoken message gives the child the confidence to be fully himself.

The opposite approach – making a child feel that he’s got the wrong emotions – has the effect of of making him feel more secure. It’s as if the parents are saying (and some parents actually say this) “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Of course, parents say it in more subtle ways like, “You needn’t be afraid; there’s nothing to be afraid of; there’s no need to be upset; you shouldn’t be mad; there’s no cause for sadness; it’s not true that kids don’t like you; it’s not true that you’re fat,” and so on and so forth. All of these well-intentioned statements are actually DISCOUNTS of the child’s own experience. The child IS afraid or upset or mad or sad or he DOES feel that no one likes him or he’s fat and so forth. When a parent effectively tells a child that he’s feeling the wrong way, the child loses touch with his inner experience, his own truth. This makes him more insecure and less self-confident.

Address Biological Factors
When low self-esteem is caused by biological factors, parents can consider helping their child with Bach Flower Therapy (see articles on this site for detailed explanations of Bach Flower Therapy). You can meet with a Bach Flower Practitioner for an individualized assessment and treatment bottle, or consider the following remedies:

  • Cerato – for the child who doesn’t trust his/her own judgment
  • Larch – for the child who feels inadequate compared to others
  • Pine – for the child who is hard on him/herself, feels guilty or worthless
  • Centaury – for the child who has trouble standing up for him/herself
  • Holly – for the child who is insecure and easily insulted

Bach Remedies are available at health food stores and on-line. Put two drops of the remedy in any hot or cold liquid, four times a day until there is so much improvement in the child’s self-esteem that you forget to give the remedy! Remedies can also be mixed together in a Bach Mixing Bottle filled with water. In this case, give four drops in liquid, four times a day. Ideally, the child takes his drops in the morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening.

If a child’s self-esteem is negatively affecting his or her functioning at home, with friends or at school, or it is causing the child real distress, the child may benefit from medical assessment and treatment. Medical intervention can increase self-esteem when self-esteem is lowered by chemical factors.

Seek Professional Help
Suffering from insecurity and low self-esteem is painful. If, despite your parenting efforts, your child is burdened with these kinds of feelings, consider accessing professional help. A good child psychologist can use specialized strategies to help a child move into greater self-acceptance and confidence. The positive effects can last a lifetime.

Natural Treatment for Stress Relief

Bach Flower Remedies are one-ounce bottles of specially prepared water (see below for details). Although they are only water, they can affect the way people feel emotionally. In fact, they can help balance emotions so that a person can release stress, upset, hurt, anger, fear, sadness, irritation, jealousy, impatience  and any other distressed emotion. Indeed,  many people report that they have successfully used Bach Flower Remedies to feel calmer, sleep better, worry less, recover faster from upset and heartache, handle parenting stress and work stress better and so on. Many have also reported that they were able to see a reduction in their child’s tantrums, aggressive behaviors, moodiness  or fears because of the use of the remedies.

But the remedies can do even more than help a transitory bad feeling : they can also help correct the tendency to fall into those feelings in the first place. When the remedies are used to treat a chronic emotional issue (like a tendency to be stubborn or a tendency to be explosive), they might actually be assisting in a processes now referred to as  “epigentic healing” – the healing of the gene that leads one to experience chronically negative emotional states. We now know that genes can be turned on and off and this is what appears to be happening when someone takes a long course of Bach Flower Therapy. This means that a child who tends to be very shy can take the remedies over time to reduce the shy tendency altogether. The Bach Flowers do not change personality, however. What they do is enable a person to be their own best self. A very strong-willed, obstinate child will retain his strength of character but instead of just being difficult to live with he will be his best self: a born leader, a confident person, one who can take appropriate action. When the Flower Remedies help a childhood overcome chronic separation anxiety, they leave the child’s personality intact: it is the same youngster without debilitating fear blocking the expression of his true self.

It’s hard to believe that these little remedies can work and it’s best not to even TRY to believe that they will; rather, just try the remedies yourself and observe how you feel while taking them. Or, offer a remedy to your child and observe the child’s behavior over the next days and weeks to see if there is any difference. Bach Flowers sometimes seem to have a dramatically positive effect on both behavior and mood and other times seem to make little difference. (Of course, there is no medical or psychological treatment either that works equally well for every single person who employs it.) In the latter case, it might be that the wrong mix of remedies is being used, but it can also be that a longer period is necessary before change will occur or even that a particular person is not responsive to the remedies at the particular time that they are being offered (i.e. this could change in the future). It can also be that while the Bach Flowers are having some positive effect, a complete treatment  requires other interventions as well including strategies like nutritional support, exercise, psychotherapy and/or medicine.

How are Bach Flowers Prepared and Used?
Dr. Edward Bach, a prominent physician in Britain who died in 1935, was interested in preventative medicine. In his search for something that could boost the immune system to ward off disease or to help the body recover more quickly and thoroughly from illness, he discovered a water-based method of healing that became known as “Bach Flower Therapy.” Modern physicists use principles of quantum physics to explain how water remedies can affect human emotions. Dr. Bach, however, understood the remedies on a purely intuitive level. He felt their effects and he could see what they were able to do to effectively relieve stress and emotional distress.

Bach Flower Remedies are prepared by taking the head of a certain flowering plant and placing it in a clear bowl of pure water. The water is heated in sunlight or on a stove for several hours (depending on which flower is being used) and then the flower is removed. The water is the remedy. It is bottled (and preserved with a bit of grape alcholol) and – in our times – sold in health food stores throughout the world as well as on-line.

Bach Fower Remedies are a form of vibrational medicine, not herbal medicine. They are NOT medicinal. They do not act on the body at all. They don’t interact with other medicines or foods or health conditions or anything. They are the same as water is to the system. However, if someone cannot have even a minute amount of alcohol in their system, they should look for the newer remedies that are made using glycerin instead. In general, however, anyone can safely use Bach Flower Remedies – babies, children, teens and adults, pregnant women and elderly people. Even plants and animals respond well to the Bach Flowers!

How Does One Take Bach Flowers?
If a person is using only one of the 38 remedies, they can take 2 drops from the remedy bottle in a small amount of liquid. They should do so 4 times a day – morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening.

However, most people take anywhere from 2 to 7 remedies that have been mixed together in a “mixing bottle.” To prepare a mixing bottle, one places water in a glass bottle with a glass dropper – generally a  30 ml  (1oz.) amber bottle. (These bottles are sold wherever Bach Flower Remedies are sold and they are called Bach Mixing Bottles.) Then one adds 2 drops from each desired remedy bottle. If a person was using 7 remedies, they would be adding 14 Bach Remedy drops to their mixing bottle. To ensure that bacteria does not grow inside of the mixing bottle, a teaspoon of brandy or apple cider vinegar should be added to the bottle.

This Bach Flower Remedy Mixture is then taken, 4 drops at a time, in hot or cold liquid, with or without food. Ideally, these 4 drops are taken 4 times a day, for a total of 16 drops daily. A person takes them in the morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening.

Adults can put 4 drops of their Bach Flower mixture into coffee, tea, water, juice, soup or any other liquid. Children can take their drops in water, chocolate milk, juice, cereal or any other beverage.

A person takes their mixture until they start forgetting to take it and they no longer need it. (Or, parents give a mixture to a child until the child’s behavior or mood issues have resolved to the point where the parent is now forgetting to give it to the child)  If symptoms return (and they most likely will), the person starts taking the remedy again. In fact a person may end up using the remedy off and on for a year or two (less time in children) before the problematic tendency  disappears completely.

How Does One Know Which Remedies to Use?
Dr. Bach wanted to keep his healing method very simply. A person should be able to read the description of the 38 remedies and decide which ones he needs. Of course, some people feel that they need all 38! However, no more than 7 should be used at a time.

A person could pick up a book on Bach Flower Remedies and decide which flowers they need based on the description of who the remedy is for and what it can do. Also, most health food stores have a pamphlet that explain what the remedies can too. Alternatively, a person can make an appointment with a Bach Flower Practitioner who will be pleased to help them design a remedy for themselves or their child.