When Your Child Has Been Bullied

Being the victim of a bully can take a severe toll on a child. There are intense feelings like anger, helplessness, sadness, shame and fear to process and accept. There’s also the stress that comes with the aftermath of the difficult event, including having to deal with authority figures who want to know more about what happened, and peers who sometimes choose to tease and ridicule. Bullying and mistreatment can even be so traumatic,that the effects are felt for weeks, months or even years – in some cases, decades!

Do you have a child who has experienced bullying or mistreatment? Consider the following tips:

Emphasize That it’s Not Your Child’s Fault
Bullying and mistreatment are the result of a perpetrator choosing to act aggressively against a less strong individual. Any aggressor has problems – the person hurts others because of their own psychic pain. Explain this to your victimized child (in an age-appropriate way) just to help the child shake feelings of personal responsibility for their abuse. Kids need to know that abuse isn’t their fault.

Help Your Child Vent
As mentioned, surviving bullying and mistreatment can create many unpleasant emotions in a child. These emotions are normal, and should be affirmed by a parent or a caregiver. Saying that “you’ll get over it” or “you’re overreacting” or “toughen up” will just force a child to repress what he or she is feeling, instead of getting it out and moving on. If you want to help your child bounce back from a negative experience, give him or her the opportunity to express their fear, rage, helplessness and loss. Use Emotional Coaching – naming the child’s feelings – to help the child express and clear feelings (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe, for more information on Emotional Coaching).

Role-Play Victory
Sometimes kids who are victimized ruminate about their inability to fight back. These thoughts can become obsessions that become anxieties. One way parents can help their child recover from their feeling of helplessness and self-blame is to role play what they want but didn’t or couldn’t do to their bully. For example, did they want to scream and fight back? Do they fantasize about telling the bully off? Let them paint a verbal fantasy of what they wish they would have done or what they’d like to do now – don’t worry about how violent it may sound.  Imagination can help release violent feelings in a safe, harmless way. If, however, you notice that your child is actually talking about taking revenge in the real world, do step in and warn him of the potential negative consequences. Help your child identify with “good guy” characters rather than villains. Make up stories for him or ask your librarian for help in selecting books that will model the right attitudes and behaviors in the face of victimization.

Affirm Your Child’s Strength  
If  bullying has weakened your child’s self-concept, try to give your youngster extra “strengthening” experiences. For instance, enroll your child in sports or self-defence arts to build a strong physical self-image. This will help put a protective aura around your child so that bullies won’t be so tempted to pick on him. Or, enroll your child in drama classes so that he can experiment with and find different aspects of his personality that he can call upon when he needs to. Most importantly, make sure no one at home is bullying your child with forceful discipline or name-calling; if your child gets used to being treated badly, he wears an invisible energetic sign that virtually invites others to mistreat him (and troubled kids are all too willing to comply). Your child may also benefit from assertiveness training or special anti-bullying classes, art therapy or play therapy. Other types of psychotherapy can also help your child process the pain of his experience and learn skills that will help him become more “bully-proof” in the future.

Repetitive Asking (Child Asks Same Questions Over and Over)

Asking questions is a sign of an intelligence. In fact, it is recommended that parents encourage questions, as this gives permission to young curious minds to explore the world and seek understanding. But what if your child has a tendency to ask the same question, or variations of it, over and over and over again? If your child is a pre-schooler, then this behavior is just a normal phase – answer the questions a few more times and move on. If your child is already in grade school, however, this pattern of asking may indicate some sort of anxious feeling or condition. Knowing how to respond is important.

If your child keeps asking the same question over and over, consider the following:

Perhaps Your Child Doesn’t Feel Heard
It’s true for adults, and it’s true for kids as well: if a person feels the need to repeat himself, chances are he or she sensed that the message did not get across. A child can feel that his or her question wasn’t taken seriously, or perhaps the youngster found the answer unsatisfactory in some way. Asking again might be the equivalent of saying, “let me put the question another way,” – except that the child doesn’t bother to rephrase it or elaborate! If you suspect that your answer was somehow lacking, go ahead and give a more complete one now. If there is still a problem, ask your child to expand on his or her question so that you can understand what is really being asked for.

Your Child is Not Really Asking a Question, but Expressing a Feeling
“Why does Dad have to work all the time?!?” At first blush you’d think this question is a mere inquiry regarding why parents need to work. But it’s possible that your child is sad and missing his or her father. In this case, your child needs comfort, not an explanation. If you’re a parent with a child who repeatedly asks specific questions, ask yourself whether it’s possible that there is an emotional need behind the subject being asked. Your child may be confused, lonely or scared, but can’t communicate it directly. He asks a question and gets an answer that doesn’t satisfy him, so he asks again. If you answer the unspoken sentiment, the child will stop asking. For instance, instead of “Grownups have to work many hours in order to make money to support their families” you can say, “You really miss Daddy, don’t you? You wish he could be with us more of the time.” If your emotional coaching “hit the spot” the child will stop asking his question!

Your Child Didn’t Understand Your Answer
Questioning stops when a satisfactory answer is received. Unfortunately, parents sometimes forget that the younger a child is, the more difficulty he or she will have in processing abstract answers. Explaining that rain comes from evaporated water that becomes clouds may be too much for a three year old. You might need to adjust your answers more appropriately to the particular child who is asking. Often, the more simple the answer, the more satisfying it is.

Your Child is Trying to Break Down the Question
Kids have limited attention-spans and therefore may not have registered your whole answer. In addition, some kids have auditory processing deficits that cause them to remember limited amounts of information. For this reason, they may ask the same question again over and over again until they can put together all the information they’re after. If you notice that your child only remembers part of what you’re saying, try to break up your answers into small pieces. For instance, if a child asks “Why does it snow in some countries?” you can start off with a brief reply like, “because in some places it is so cold that the rain freezes into snow crystals.” Then the child can ask a NEW question, like “How cold does it have to be for that to happen?” You can then answer this new question in a few short words. That might lead to the next question, and so on.

Your Child is Expressing Wonderment
Children are in a constant process of discovery. Things that are ordinary for us adults, are profound new things for kids. It’s possible for kids to repeatedly ask a question as an expression of amazement. In other words, the child is confirming a new piece of information over and over again, because he is relishing it! For instance, a young child might say “Why is that tree so tall?” when he doesn’t really want an answer. He might mean “That tree is SO tall!” In which case you can just echo the sentiment. “It is so tall, isn’t it?” These conversations tend to happen with very small children.

Your Child is Expressing Anxiety or Insecurity
Sometimes repetitive questions are a symptom of anxiety or insecurity. For instance, when a child asks, “Is it time to go to school now?” every 10 minutes in the morning, it can be that the youngster is worried about being late. Similarly, if the child asks over and over again, “Are you sure this outfit looks alright?” it can be a sign of insecurity. In OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), it is common for sufferers to constantly ask the same question or versions of the same question over and over, as they seek to reduce their anxiety. For instance, a child might ask, “No one has touched this bowl, right?” followed by, “The bowl wasn’t touched by anyone, was it?” followed by, “No one touched it all, even a little, right?” and so on. In all cases of anxious questioning, the best intervention is to refuse to answer more than once. Whether the issue is minor anxiety, normal insecurity or OCD-type intense anxiety, when parents refuse to answer more than once, they actually help reduce their child’s insecurity. Anxious questioning is uncomfortable for the child as well as for the parent.  When the child knows that he or she is only getting one answer per question, he or she eventually feels calmer and experiences less need to ask again and again. Parents are not helping anxious children by continuing to answer repetitive questions – in fact, they can actually worsen the child’s anxiety by doing so. When repetitive questions seem to be arising out of worried, insecure or anxious feelings, a professional assessment can be helpful. A psychologist or psychiatrist can let you know whether the child’s behavior will likely disappear on its own or with minimal at-home intervention, or whether professional intervention should be utilized to help reduce underlying feelings of anxiety or to address an actual anxiety disorder.

The Importance of Teddy Bears

Why do kids love Teddy Bears? For the same reason that adults do! Although stuffed toys may seem “silly” or “unnecessary” to the untrained eye, they can provide many benefits.

The Human Need for Softness
The softness of a stuffed animal can provide not just emotional comfort, but actual physical healing as well. Research done on baby monkeys separated from their parents (Harlow’s studies) showed that those who had a soft, terry-cloth mother “substitute” actually thrived physically. However, those who had a wire substitute did much more poorly, even though they were sufficiently fed. Primates – and that includes us – are obviously meant to be nurtured by softness. Somehow, softness is associated with the tender feelings of mother-love and as such, can trigger bits of that warm feeling in one who encounters it. People instinctively buy soft bears or other stuffed toys as baby gifts, but as it turns out, softness appeals to more than just babies.

Teddy Helps Manage Emotional Distress
A teddy bear can provide comfort through hard times. When a child suffers a loss or when he or she is feeling fearful or upset, the inanimate object has the power to soothe and comfort. The animal “looks” as if it understands and cares, which allows a child to feel supported while he or she is all alone. Having the chance to “talk” to the bear or simply communicate emotions non-verbally is equivalent to the adult exercise of journaling. Journaling involves writing feelings out on a piece of paper or computer screen: despite the fact that no one is receiving the journaled message, journaling has been shown to be highly therapeutic, helping people to release all sorts of emotional pain and work through their issues. The teddy bear is like a blank screen for a child or teen, an invitation to process emotional pain and clear it. Words don’t always need to be expressed; emotion can be transferred in a wordless hug.

Teddy Bears Convey Love and Acceptance
People of all ages see the “love” within stuffed animals. In fact, it is possible that stuffed animals can stimulate the energetic heart center and stimulate both emotional and physical healing – perhaps one day research will reveal just such a positive effect. Meanwhile, people will continue to buy stuffed toys for themselves and their loved ones even without documented health benefits! Stuffed animals have their own quiet way of saying “I love you.” This can be very helpful to a child who feels rejected by peers or who is suffering the anger of a parent or sibling. Even in good times, stuffed animals can add love to one’s life. For instance, cute bears are often exchanged between girlfriends and boyfriends on Valentine’s Day, birthdays and other romantic occasions. People also bring stuffed animals to hospital visits, to leave a bit of loving energy behind.

And, unlike their live furry counterparts, remember that stuffed animals don’t need to be fed or cleaned up after; they offer lots of the same emotional benefits without any real costs (except for the initial purchase!)

People Outgrow Their Teddy Bears and Live Normal Lives
Many adults still find stuffed animals adorable and even comforting, and while some people may claim this is infantile, it is probably better to take comfort from one’s Teddy Bear than from the alcohol, drugs, foods, pornography and other addictive and dangerous “comfort” objects that adults frequently access.

Some grownups are open about their relationship with a stuffed animal. The world record breaking land and water champion Donald Campbell was always with his Mr Whoppit teddy bear on record attempts. In the record breaking first non-stop Atlantic flight in 1919, aviation pioneers Alcock and Brown took their teddy bear mascots with them. Indeed, many adults feel that their bears and such are “lucky charms.” So go ahead and enjoy your own stuffed animals and give your blessing to your child’s bears as well.

Socially Unacceptable Bears
Peer pressure causes kids to give up the public affair with their bears. They stop taking them to school, sleepovers and so on because they don’t want other kids to make fun of them. For most children past the preschool years, bears stay home in bed.This is as it should be. If your teenager is inseparable from a stuffed animal (i.e. takes it with her around the house, takes it with her outside the house), you should arrange for professional assessment. Recognizing that bears are for comfort in one’s bed is a sign of normal development. It’s fine to like the funny and heartwarming look of stuffed animals around the house as well. What is not normal, however, is NEEDING a bear in one’s hand all the time past the age of 5 or so. Having said this, a child who has experienced a trauma may benefit from the comfort of a bear-in-arms even though that youngster is older than 5. Still, extended and inappropriate bear-holding even in traumatized kids is a sign that psychological assessment may be beneficial.

Understanding Your Teen

Teenagers can be challenging to raise. However, knowing what “makes them tick,” can make the job far easier. Let’s look at the typical characteristics of teenagers in order to better understand this period of life.

The following are some of the hallmarks of the teenage years, and some tips on how parents can help navigate them:

Rapid Physical Changes
Adolescence is a time of many physical changes as children gradually transform into young adults. For boys, there is a “growth spurt” — a rapid increase in height and weight, sometimes followed by changes in bone structure. Hair starts to grow in different places: the face, the armpits, the legs and the pubic areas. The adolescent’s voice deepens, and sounds more “grown up.” There are increases in muscle mass and strength as well.

Girls are also have sudden increases in height and weight. Breasts develop, hips become more defined, and body hair grows in the pubic and armpit areas. This is also the time when menstruation begins, often bringing along hormonally induced mood swings.

In both genders, the skin becomes more sensitive and sweaty, making adolescents more prone to pimples or acne. Kids develop at different paces – some making early changes and others making later ones. Often, kids are self-conscious about where they are in the normal distribution. Everyone wants to be “average” but of course, that isn’t possible. As a result, teens can feel embarrassed, inadequate or otherwise troubled by their physical changes: boys with squeaky voices and girls with flat chests can feel temporarily inadequate or self-conscious. Sometimes, the lingering consequences of insecurity can last for decades. Parents can help by being sensitive to their teens, never making rude jokes or unkind remarks. After all, every human being must go through adolescence on his or her way to adulthood. The gentle support and guidance of a parent can make the transition easier.

From Parent Approval to Peer Approval
At this stage of development, your child’s main focus of attention will shift from you to their same-aged classmates and friends. They may now prefer to spend more time with friends than with family members. Some kids don’t even want to be seen with parents in public! It’s all part of the push toward independence. Their “cutting of the apron strings” is a temporary phase: as your child journeys to adulthood, a healthy balance between family life and social life will emerge — and you’ll regain your place in their heart.

Testing Limits
As mentioned, kids at this time are exploring their identity and independence. Testing of rules and limits is all about pushing the borders now, bursting out of the protective shell. Teens might violate curfew, disobey house rules, experiment with various risk-taking behaviors, and constantly negotiate their “rights.” You might bring books home from the local library on subjects like smoking, alcohol, sex, drug use and so on. There are many books for this age group designed to be appealing to teens – with pictures and simple explanations this literature can provide the warnings and education your child needs in a teen-friendly way. Books can be a better method than dire warnings from an anxious parent.

At this point, parents should strike that balance between being understanding of their child’s need to be autonomous, and setting reasonable and consistent rules for their child’s safety and well-being.. As a rule, try to accommodate the new freedoms they ask for, for as long as safeguards are in place. Take the opportunity to teach about responsibility and accountability. It’s important NOT to establish rules that none of their friends have. Instead, allow your child to be a normal teen within his or her community and try to put your own fears to rest. It can be helpful to access the help of a parenting professional or mental health professional to get normal parameters such as age-appropriate curfews on weeknights and weekends, dress codes, use of alcohol and drugs and so on. If you have an accurate frame of reference, your rules will be more appropriate – and your child will probably have a greater respect for your decisions, which might lead to greater compliance with your rules.

An Increased Interest in Sexuality
Your child will now be showing an interest in all things sexual including advertisements, internet porn, and real people. Don’t be surprised if you see your normally “plain and simple” son or daughter dolling up a bit, and taking an interest in grooming, fashion and flirting. This is all a normal part of the growing up process. Modern teenagers may be more open about sexuality than older generations and may want to be sexually active and more sexually active at earlier ages. Many kids in today’s society are confused about their sexual orientation and some may benefit from professional guidance. Your job is to share your values, provide information and establish clear expectations. You probably don’t want your child to be making babies just quite yet but teenagers don’t automatically know how to prevent that from happening. Teach responsibility and safety in sexuality – don’t assume that your child has learned this at school or on the street. Your child needs to know about sexual diseases as well and how to both prevent them and identify early symptoms. Some parents arrange for the child’s doctor to explain the details of contraception and sexual protection from pregnancy and disease.

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.

What is an Eating Disorder?

Eating is a way to get nourishment and sustenance; it is, for the most part, a pleasant and fulfilling act. Sometimes, however, eating becomes part of a disabling or even life-threatening disorder.

What is an Eating Disorder? 
As the term implies, an eating disorder is a mental health condition that is characterized by dysfunctional eating patterns such as overeating, deliberate starvation, binging and purging. Eating disorders are associated with extreme concern or anxiety related to one’s body shape, size or weight. Some family therapists have conceptualized eating disorders as illnesses related to issues of control, like addictions or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Whatever the cause, an eating disorder is conceded as both a physiological and a psychological problem.

Who are at Risk? 
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, eating disorders occur frequently among adolescents and young adults, although there have been reported cases of childhood eating disorders and eating disorders that occur during late adulthood. The disorders are more prevalent among women than men, although in recent years, men are suffering in greater numbers.

What are the Types of Eating Disorders?
Types of eating disorders may include:

Anorexia NervosaAnorexia Nervosa is characterized by the relentless pursuit of thinness despite severe negative consequences. People with Anorexia Nervosa are convinced that they are too fat or too heavy, even if objectively they are already underweight. They may therefore engage in excessive dieting, self-induced vomiting, overexercising, the use of diuretics and laxatives, and abuse of weight management pills. Alarmingly, people with Anorexia Nervosa are ten times more likely to die from the condition than those without the disease.

Bulimia Nervosa. Bulimia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by repeated patterns of binging and purging. Binging refers to the consumption of large amounts of food in a short time, e.g. eating several plates of pasta in one sitting. Purging refers to the compensatory action to get rid of the food or calories consumed during the binge episode. Purging techniques include the ones people with Anorexia use to lose weight, e.g. self-induced vomiting, laxatives, diuretics and overexercising. Unlike sufferers of Anorexia, people with Bulimia may have normal body weight.

Obesity. Obesity is a condition of excess weight – essentially the result of consuming more calories than are needed for energy. It can affect a teenager’s self-image and self-confidence and it can also affect his or her health. For instance, obesity is sometimes associated with the development of insulin resistance – a sensitivity to sugars in the blood. This condition can be a precursor to a more serious condition such as diabetes.

How are Eating Disorders Treated?
There are three steps to treating eating disorders.

The first step is the physiological or medical intervention. Eating disorders may be classified under mental health issues, but they carry with them serious medical effects. People with Anorexia Nervosa, for example, can suffer from severe malnutrition that serious and irreversible damage to vital organs occur. Eating disorders may even be fatal if not arrested in time. Therefore the first order of business is to restore the patient to an ideal weight, address nutrient deficiency, and treat the medical side effects of the condition.

The second step to treating eating disorders is psychological assistance. Counseling and therapy must be employed to address the psychological reasons behind the dysfunctional eating patterns. Eating disorders are related to dysfunctions in perception of one’s weight or shape. Often, patients suffer from low self-esteem, obsession about body weight, and a sense of helplessness about their situation. It is also not unusual for other mental health issues to develop because of the eating disorder, such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

The last step is maintenance to prevent relapse. Like people with addictions, those with eating disorders must consistently monitor their behavior even after treatment to prevent symptoms from recurring. Joining support groups, on-going family therapy, and education about proper nutrition and weight management are ways to maintain progress in recovery from eating disorders.

How Can You Tell if Your Child is Suffering from an Eating Disorder?
You will not be ablet o diagnose an eating disorder on your own. However, what you CAN do is take your child to a doctor or psychologist for assessment if you suspect that something isn’t right. Most parents are able and willing to do this when they see that their child is overweight. However, kids suffering from bulimia may be a totally normal weight. Kids suffering from anorexia may gradually lose weight and cover it up with clothing (and excuses). However, there are some red flags that can alert a parent to the need to have the child assessed. For instance: consuming large amounts of food without gaining weight is a red flag for bulimia. Playing with food on the plate, cutting it into small bits and moving it around, becoming increasingly picky as to what is fit to eat and clearly not eating much, may be red flags for anorexia. Other symptomatic behaviors include being very cold, growing a thin layer of hair on the skin, engaging in excessive amounts of exercise, buying laxatives and vomiting without being ill. Don’t get into a conversation with your child about whether or not he or she has an eating disorder. Instead, tell your child that diagnosis will be left up to a professional.

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.

Helping Your Child Deal with Death and Loss

Facing death is one of life’s biggest challenges. Inevitably, many children encounter experiences with death – ranging from the loss of a beloved pet to the loss of a beloved parent. How can parents help their child deal with death and loss?

Consider the following tips:

Children Handle Death Differently from Adults
Your child may act like everything is fine – he or she is playing with friends, chatting online, engaging in hobbies and after-school activities; everything looks “normal.” This is just the way children deal with trauma. In fact, traumatic events like life-threatening illness and death can be so overwhelming for children that they sometimes bury it deep inside themselves where it is locked away for later review – often decades later. Meanwhile, they carry on with life. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of psychic energy to keep deep feelings of fear, loss and grief buried inside. The child may become depressed, anxious, poorly behaved or highly distracted (see below). It’s much better if some adult can help the child deal with the feelings and let them out, little by little, so that there is no “pressure cooker” inside.

Types of Reactions to Loss
Some children react to death by “acting out.” This means that their behavior deteriorates. Again, they may seem to be unaffected by the death in that they’re not crying, they’re not acting sad or depressed, and they’re not wanting to talk about the death. However, they are getting into plenty of mischief at home and at school. If you notice this sort of behavioral change in your child, then professional counseling can help. Although the counselor may recommend cutting the child some slack for a short time, make sure that you do so ONLY for a short time (i.e. a couple of weeks). It is important to impose regular standards and normal structure for the child, including reasonable limits on behavior. Accept all of the child’s emotions, but not any of the child’s destructive, disrespectful or dangerous behaviors. Just because a child is distraught it is not O.K. for him or her to swear at people or destroy property or disregard the rules of the house. As parents step in to gain control of the situation, the child will actually begin to feel more in control as well. The limits can be reassuring, communicating that normal life does go on and the parents themselves are O.K. enough to do normal parenting. All of this helps the child to return to a normal baseline.

Some kids kids become very anxious after a death, suffering from bad dreams or nightmares, having trouble sleeping, developing fears of the future and phobias in the present and obsessing about the death, the dying process or the person who died. If your child develops intense fears that don’t clear up within a month, seek professional help. Sometimes these signs may be symptoms of a post-traumatic stress reaction that requires specialized treatment.

Children May Become Withdrawn After a Loss
Instead of acting OUT, they act IN – becoming sad and isolated. It’s fine to allow children some quiet time, a time in which to lick their wounds and slowly recover. However, if a child is still turning away from life several months after a loss, seek professional assessment. It may be that counseling can help speed the mourning process along and help the child return to his or her life.

Talk about It
Very often, kids will not initiate conversations about the loss. This does not mean that they don’t need to talk. It often means they don’t know HOW to talk about it or they’re afraid of causing the parent upset. Parents, therefore, need to try to initiate talk. If the child doesn’t want to join in, then give the child space. However, some kids will be very happy to have the input of their parents. You can talk a little (not too much, so as not to overwhelm the child) about your own sadness and loss, but be sure to show interest in the child’s feelings. “We’re all sad and missing Grandma. I used to talk to her every day and now I really miss that. How are you doing with it? It must be hard for you too.” This sort of sentence gives the child an opening. Some kids will take the opportunity to express anger. “Why did she have to die? I want her to be here with us!” Acknowledge the child’s pain BEFORE answering questions. “Yes, we’re all upset about it. We all want her here. I know how much you miss her. No one really knows why people have to die – it’s all part of God’s plan. For some reason we don’t understand, we can’t live forever here on earth. But when the body dies, the soul still lives and in that sense we never die… (explain death in whatever way you understand it).”

When you support your child through a grieving experience, your child learns that he or she can turn to others in times of crisis. This is a very important life lesson that helps to stress-proof your youngster.

Other Healing Strategies
Some children will cope better by drawing their feelings. In fact, there are art therapists who can help your child process grief and loss through artwork and this can be a very gentle and helpful process. Or, just have drawing time a couple of times a week and ask your child to draw his or her feelings on a blank page. It doesn’t matter whether the picture is “nice” or not – it is simply a channel for the expression of emotion.

Making a “memory book” of the lost person or pet can also be a helpful exercise. You can help the younger child and the older child or teen can do it independently. Stories, pictures, thoughts, photo’s – anything about the person or pet may be put in the pages of this special book designed to honor the departed one. It is common to cry and laugh while making such a book –  many feelings are released. The exercise is very healing and helps the mourner move forward, taking the positive aspects of the loved one forward with him or her.

Be Aware of Your Impact
Although grieving adults are often in too much pain to parent well, it is important to remember that your children are always watching you. Your reactions – at least the ones they can observe – teach them a lot about life and stress management. If you are too overwhelmed to function well, show them how you access professional help or family support. Let them know by your model, that you needn’t go through pain and deep stress alone. If you are so sad that you find yourself crying all the time, let the kids know that the tears are temporary and that they are your way of letting the sadness out of your body. If you are crying in front of them for more than two or three months, get professional help. Your intense emotion can alarm your kids and give them a feeling of helpless despair. Ideally, after the first few weeks, you can cry when the kids are in school or asleep or at other appropriate times. Keep in mind that people go to work after the death of a loved one and they are able to refrain from crying eight hours a day when they are being paid to function well. Functioning well at home is equally important as children are sensitive to and affected by their parents’ mood.

Consider Professional Support
If your child has changes in behavior that are of concern like chronic loss of or increase in appetite, intense behavioral problems or new behavioral problems, nervous habits, bedwetting, a new set of “bad” friends, suspicious behaviors, sleep disturbances, fears, low mood, new academic problems or any other behavioral or emotional symptom that worries you, get a professional assessment. Sometimes intense stress can trigger latent mental health concerns or cause complicated grief reactions that benefit from professional help. The sooner you can help your child, the sooner your child will return to normal functioning.