Bulimia

Bulimia is an eating disorder – but one that is not necessarily easy to spot in one’s own child. Other eating disorders are more visible. For instance, pills almost anyone can recognize obesity – a condition in which the sufferer is significantly overweight. People can also often recognize cases of anorexia nervosa – the condition in which a person is severely under his or her ideal weight (and may therefore look painfully skinny and boney). However, it is not possible to identify someone with Bulimia Nervosa just by looking. The sufferer of this eating disorder may be a perfectly normal weight. It is not the WEIGHT that is disordered in this condition, but rather the way in which the person maintains that weight.  A bulimic (one who suffers from bulimia nervosa) eats way too many calories in one sitting (for example, a number of grilled cheese sandwiches, a full tub of ice cream, a box of crackers, a bag of chips and a plate of waffles). This episode of overeating is called “bingeing.” It is normally followed by feelings of panic (about gaining too much weight), shame and guilt and an intense effort to “undo” the eating behavior by engaging in excessive exercise or using laxatives to empty the gut, or inducing vomiting for the same purpose. Episodes of bingeing and purging (over-eating and then “undoing” the calories somehow) can sometimes occur many times a day. On average, people with Bulimia binge 12 times a week, consuming as much as 11,500 calories. Foods rich in processed sugar and fat, such as pastry, ice cream, bread and donuts are the most common objects of binges.

Bulimia Nervosa is more common than Anorexia, and affects girls more than boys.

Signs of Bulimia
Although parents can’t tell from LOOKING at their child that the youngster is suffering from bulimia, they may be able to discern a problem by observing their child’s behavior. Those suffering from bulimia usually feel a lack of control when it comes to eating. While most of us stop eating when we feel full, those with bulimia keep on eating to the point of feeling pain.  This inability to control their eating can be very embarrassing and typically bulimics try to hide their binging and purging.  Some typical symptoms that may indicate bulimia are:

  • Wanting to eat alone
  • Eating very little in public
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom after meals
  • Disappearance of food
  • Hidden stashes of junk food
  • Eating large amounts of food without putting on weight
  • Excessive exercising
  • Using laxatives, enemas or diuretics

People with bulimia may also have physical symptoms caused by purging.  These include:

  • Puffy cheeks caused by repeated vomiting
  • Discoloured teeth caused by exposure to stomach acid when throwing up
  • Frequent fluctuations in weight
  • Calluses or scars on knuckles and hands caused by putting fingers down the throat to induce vomiting

An Impulse-Control Issue
Are sufferers of Bulimia Nervosa aware that their eating pattern is dysfunctional? Yes. However, they have difficulty controlling themselves; the act of binging and purging is a compulsion. In fact, many Bulimics report that they only stop a cycle of binging or purging when they feel physical pain. Otherwise, they can’t help themselves. They have a compulsion that is too strong for them to overcome, much like an addicts relationship to his substance.

Bulimia Nervosa has been linked to emotional stress as well as body image issues. Low self-esteem, a history of abuse, a difficult life transition, traumatic experiences and other stresses have been found to be higher in those suffering from Bulimia. In addition, there is a higher rate of bulimia in those who are drawn to a body-conscious hobby or profession like modeling, ballet, gymnastics or physical fitness training. It is not clear whether the activity and peer pressure found in the activity actually induces bulimia or whether those with bulimic tendencies (obsession about body image) may choose those activities to begin with.

A Serious Health Threat
Bulimia is a serious health issue. Chronic bingeing and purging can cause serious gastro-intestinal diseases. The purging (in the form of vomiting, laxatives, and diuretics) can lead to electrolyte imbalances, usually in the form of low potassium levels. Low potassium results in symptoms such as lethargy, confusion, irregular heartbeat, and cardiac and kidney dysfunction. In severe cases it can even cause death. Other effects of bulimia may include:

  • Weight gain
  • Constipation caused by chronic laxative use
  • Abdominal pain and bloating
  • Tooth decay
  • Chronic sore throat and hoarseness
  • Broken blood vessels in the eyes
  • Weakness and dizziness
  • Loss of menstrual periods
  • Acid reflux

Risk Factors
Bulimia generally begins in adolescence and 90 – 95% of those with the disease are women.  There is no single cause for bulimia but low self-esteem and poor body image are often contributing factors.  Some of the more common risk factors for bulimia are:

  • Dieting – people who diet on a regular basis are more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who don’t.
  • Involvement in professions/activities that emphasize weight control – the pressure placed on gymnasts, dancers, models, actors, and other athletes to maintain a certain weight can lead to the development of eating disorders.
  • Low self esteem – this can be a result of abuse, depression, a critical home environment, and a desire for perfection.
  • Poor body image – young women are often influenced by our culture’s glorification of thinness and beauty.
  • Major life changes – bulimia is sometimes a reaction to stress, which can accompany a major life change.  Examples of major life changes may be; moving away from home, puberty, divorce, and the break-up of relationships.
  • Biological factors – since eating disorders run in families there is likely a genetic component.  In addition, research indicates that low serotonin levels play a role in bulimia.

Treatment for Bulimia
Treatment for Bulimia should be a combination of a medical and a psychological program. At times, an in-patient weight management program needs to be implemented alongside counseling in order to address the two critical aspects of the illness. Most often, however, bulimia is effectively treated on an out-patient basis. People do heal from this disorder. They may have relapses occasionally but when they learn effective stress-management techniques they can usually prevent relapses over the long-run. Seeking counseling and using self-help strategies are both important for long term recovery.

Psychotherapy is the main form of treatment for bulimia.  Specifically, cognitive behavioural therapy is often used to break the binge-and-purge cycle and change unhealthy thought patterns.

Medication such as anti-depressants may also be used.  These help to reduce binge eating and treat the depression that is often a part of bulimia.

Symptoms of Depression

Depression is the most common complaint presented to mental health practitioners. This is not surprising; almost all of us have experienced sadness at some point in our lives, with some episodes being quite intense. However, clinical depression is not just sadness. It is a multifaceted illness that affects every aspect of a person’s functioning. It causes major distress and disrupts the sufferer’s ability to carry on with work, school, or other responsibilities. The illness can occur among the young and old, the rich and poor, the educated and the uneducated, and it can come at any point in a person’s lifetime. The good news is: depression is treatable. When sufferers are trained to spot the early symptoms, the onset of depression can be managed and relapses can be avoided.

What are the Symptoms of Depression?
Symptoms of depression can be classified into four categories: emotional, mental, behavioral and physiological symptoms. Let’s take a closer look at each one:

Emotional Symptoms of Depression
Mood disturbance is the most significant among the symptoms of depression. An individual with depression may be prone to feelings of sadness, emptiness, dejection, helplessness, hopelessness and lack of self-worth. Episodes of crying, irritability and/or of anger are also common. A marked loss of interest in work, relationships and self-care may also be seen.

Mental Symptoms of Depression
There are also cognitive symptoms associated with depression. Psychologist Beck believes that people with depression are tortured by what he calls the cognitive triad: a negative view of one’s self, a negative view of the world and a pessimistic view of the future.

Self-accusation and mental anguish are typical, especially when the obsessions start to come. For instance, a depressed individual may constantly tell himself that he is ugly, incompetent or unwanted; that others do not care about his welfare; and that tomorrow will offer no relief. It is this cognitive triad that keeps a depressed person stuck in the rut, unless some form of therapy is conducted to correct and heal the debilitating thoughts.

Depression can also cause a person to have difficulty making decisions or concentrating on tasks.

Behavioral Symptoms of Depression
Depression may be about an internal state, but symptoms of depression can be objective and observable. In many cases, physical appearance already provides a clue regarding the depressed person’s mental health. People with severe depression may not care much about their appearance or even their hygiene. They may gain or lose significant amounts of weight. Their movements may be slower or faster than those of the average person, and there may be a delay in their communication. They may have difficulty in accomplishing their job or otherwise carrying on their normal tasks. They may withdraw from others.

Physiological Symptoms of Depression 
Depression is an illness that affects the entire person — his or her physicality and biological processes included. People with depression suffer from disturbed patterns of eating and sleeping. They can have loss of appetite or an increase in appetite (what is called emotional eating). They can suffer with various forms of insomnia (trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up in the wee hours, etc. Or, they can end up sleeping much longer than the average person. They may be more prone to ailments such as heart conditions, stomach disturbances, infections, unexplained pain and vague disorders.

If you or loved one has symptoms like those above, consult a doctor or mental health practitioner. Treatment not only provides more rapid relief than “waiting it out,” but also helps prevent recurrences of the disorder.

Asperger’s Syndrome

Named after Hans Asperger, the pediatrician who first described its symptoms, Asperger’s is a part of an umbrella of neurological and social conditions called “autism spectrum disorders.” Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is more difficult to identify and diagnose than many autism-related disorders, mostly because symptoms can be attributed to many other conditions. But the diagnosis of AS is usually empowering, as persons with Asperger’s typically have an easier time mainstreaming than those with other autism spectrum disorders.

The onset of the disease is usually at 3 to 5 years old.

What is Asperger’s Syndrome?
Asperger’s Syndrome (also called Asperger’s Disorder) is a neurological condition characterized by:

Severe Impairment in Social Interaction and Skills
People with Asperger’s tend to be self-focused (which is not to say they are self-centered). They prefer to be alone and have very little need for companionship. They are more interested in their inner musings, and are prone towards introspection and daydreaming. They can appear rude when spoken to, and may have difficulty following the subtext of a conversation (they can’t “read between the lines”). They can be very selective  when it comes to associating with peers or adults. Additionally, many kids and adults with AS are prone to random bursts of temper.

Limited Repetitive Behavior
People with Asperger’s are also prone to various obsessions and narrow interests. For instance, they might be interested in  parts of objects (like clocks) or they might like spinning things over and over and over. They flap their hands (particularly when excited).  Some children with Asperger’s are called “little professors,”  as they like to recite to others (as if teaching) whatever it is they are currently obsessing about.

Lack of Emotional Reciprocity
People with Asperger’s have difficulty identifying their own emotions as well as empathizing with other people. They can’t read non-verbal cues that communicate feelings, and may even appear cold and dismissive of other’s distress or pain. They are also poor at using non-verbal cues themselves such as maintaining eye contact, showing appropriate facial expressions or using gestures naturally. Not surprisingly, considering all this, people with AS have trouble making friends. However, they often don’t care so much about this as they are not all that interested in social relationships.

People with Asperger’s Syndrome tend to have excellent language and cognitive skills, and may even excel in areas they obsess on. Some may have motor problems and clumsiness.

What Can Parents Do?
If parents suspect that their child may have Asperger’s, the best thing to do is to get a diagnosis by a qualified mental health practitioner. Developmental psychologists, as well as psychiatrists, are generally competent at diagnosing autism spectrum disorders, but it’s always better to consult one who specializes in the disease. Because Asperger’s is primarily biological in origin (it is not caused by trauma nor by bad parenting), it has an early onset; symptoms that look like Asperger’s, but appear later in life, are unlikely to stem from Asperger’s Disorder.

Early intervention is critical in managing Asperger’s Syndrome. Currently, there are no cures for the illness, but medications and therapy can assist in managing symptoms. Many with AS are able to live highly functioning and productive lives. It does help for parents and other care-providers to be educated about their children’s particular needs. Training in social and communication skills, as well as occupational therapy can help with the various symptoms of AS.

Stomach Aches as a Symptom of Stress

Children get a variety of aches and pains just like grown ups do, but “tummy aches” seem particularly common. Although the doctor may find a physical cause, this is the least common scenario; apart from constipation and food intolerance, medical reasons for this pain are rarely discovered. A gastroenterologist (stomach disorder specialist) may need to be part of the medical team in severe and unremitting cases. However, since food sensitivities often cause stomach pain, after the doctors’ examinations, a naturopathic assessment might be helpful too. In addition, emotional stress can cause stomach pain. In fact, once all medical and physical causes have been ruled out, it is generally assumed that the child’s stomach ache is either stress-induced or even imaginary. Since stress, upset, fear and pressure can cause all kinds of bodily symptoms (headaches, stomach aches, colds, sleep disorders and so on), it is safe to assume that a child who complains about stomach aches actually has them. Usually the pediatrician makes a diagnosis of “anxiety” or “stress.”  Of course parents are rarely surprised at such a diagnosis: they themselves already suspect emotional causes for the tummy aches since they so often occur in the year of the “hated” teacher or in the week of the spelling test. The only thing parents may wonder about is if the pain is real or if it is offered up as an escape clause.

The Body Speaks
Although some desperate children may take to lying about their pain, most who complain of stomach aches, head aches, dizziness and other stress symptoms are in fact describing exactly what they are feeling. Stress causes bodily changes in children and grownups alike and has been sighted in the medical literature as being the underlying cause for about 80% of all true medical conditions. Stress hurts both physically and emotionally. Each person will first experience stress in his or her genetically endowed vulnerable physical systems: some people will first experience stress in their stomachs, others in tight muscles, some in head pain, some in lowered immunity, some in increased anxiety and some in lowered mood. Untended stress can actually lead to disease as it penetrates deeper in the physical body and it can even lead to death.

For healthy youngsters stress rarely causes more than temporary physical discomfort or ailments such as colds, flu’s, diarrhea, constipation, headaches or migraines. However, the explanation “it’s just stress” does nothing to relieve any of these conditions. Whereas adults may be advised to seek professional counseling for the relief of their stress, children are rarely advised to do anything about it at all. Parents often “treat” stress-induced tummy aches by telling the child, “Don’t worry. It’s nothing. The doctor says you’re fine.”

Taking Stress Seriously
Such a strategy teaches children to ignore their initial symptoms of stress – the ones that go through their “vulnerable systems” as discussed above. This means that they may develop the habit of waiting until the stress has penetrated further, causing intense problems in their vulnerable physical/mental systems or moving into other systems of the body, creating symptoms and illnesses that can no longer be ignored. Indeed, some experts say that adults can reduce their chances of experiencing serious illness by paying attention to the body’s first signals that all is not well, rather than continuously ignoring minor signs and symptoms. Teaching kids this valuable health lesson involves refraining from minimizing the significance of their stress. It’s important NOT to use the phrase, “just stress.” Instead, parents can acknowledge the importance of stress in their child’s life. “Is your tummy hurting again Honey? I guess that means there is a part of you that is worried or bothered about something. Why don’t you close your eyes for a minute and ask your tummy what it is trying to tell you? If you listen carefully, your tummy will tell you what it’s upset about.” Even if the child cannot create a communication with his subconscious mind this way (but don’t be surprised – many children and adults can actually do this!) – the parent is teaching that the body and mind are linked and that stress is something to pay attention to. It is possible too, that the child doesn’t have to ask his tummy – he already KNOWS what it is bothering him. In that case, the parent can simply acknowledge that fear and upset happen in both the mind and the body and that we have to take care of both parts of ourselves.

Stress Management for Kids
Identifying the source of stress must be followed by an action plan. Sometimes it is possible to reduce the stress itself by making a changes in the real world (“How about taking one course less this term?” or “I’ll talk to the teacher and see how we can adjust things,”). Even when it isn’t possible to remove or adjust the stress, strengthening and calming the body is always an essential part of stress management. Helping the child sleep and eat better, exercise more, laugh more and relax more can reduce the harmful effects of stress. Taking the child for art therapy or talking therapy, naturopathic support or other professional support may provide profound relief. Allowing the child to talk about his stress can help prevent the stress from moving into the body where it becomes a “tummy ache.” Parents can use emotional coaching – naming, accepting and validating feelings – to help stress-proof their kids. In faith based homes, teaching children to talk directly to God about their problems and teaching them that God hears, cares and acts, can be an excellent stress management tool – as the research literature indicates. Of course, parents should model all of the interventions they want their kids to use and more. Children learn about stress management through watching you live your life in balance. Stress management can be a family project in which everyone takes on a minor lifestyle adjustment or specific relaxation strategy.  In fact, your own calm and happy mood is very helpful for your stressed-out youngster – and terrific for you as well!

Specific Tools for Stress-Relief
Here are some more ideas for helping your child move stress out of his or her body:

  • Getting a good night’s sleep daily. Sleep can have a significant impact on a child’s stress levels.
  • Exercising, doing yoga or playing sports often. Exercise helps all organs and body systems function better, and contributes to improved digestion and fewer pain syndromes.
  • Eating the right foods. Some foods (like processed foods or foods that are high in sugar or trans fat) can cause an increase in stress levels. Other foods (like whole grains or foods high in fiber and vitamins) can reduce stress. In general junky foods contribute to stress, while healthy foods reduce stress. Make sure your child is eating nutrient-rich food as much as possible.
  • Learning breathing techniques and meditation. Many simple breathing techniques can work wonders for stress. One simple technique you can teach you child is to think the word “in” while breathing in and think the word “out” while breathing out. Encourage the child to practice this technique before taking tests and examinations, before falling asleep, when anticipating some sort of stressful event, when in the dentist’s chair, when getting a needle or other medical procedure, when feeling overwhelmed or when feeling upset. This form of breath work is simple enough that even young children can do it. Older kids and teens, however, will benefit the most since they will be able to identify innumerable occasions for its use. Paying attention to the in and out of the breath is as calming to the nervous system as an anti-anxiety drug and has no negative side-effects!
  • Relaxation and stress-reduction MP3’s. There are stress-reduction CD’s and MP3’s that are especially designed for children. There are many different kinds including guided imagery, progressive relaxation, mindfulness training and binaural beats. Sometimes the child will need to experiment to see which product is most helpful. However, if the child is willing to use one of these products on a very regular basis (i.e. daily), he or she will obtain great benefits.

Consider Teaching Your Child EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique)
This simple acupressure tool can knock stress and pain right out of the body. There are lots of internet resources for learning how to use EFT and there are also many mental health professionals who are trained in the technique. EFT is meant to be a self-help tool. Older kids and adolescents will find it to be an easy way to help themselves feel less tense, happier, calmer, less anxious and less stressed. All of this can help reduce stomach aches. Moreover, EFT provides pain relief. Therefore children can be taught how to use EFT to release pain quickly and easily all by themselves.

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. There are different emotional issues that can lead to stomach aches. Sometimes a child is a perfectionist and really pushes him or herself in school. The remedy Rock Water will help him or her take a more relaxed, more balanced view of things. However, many other issues may be provoking stress: social rejection, too much schoolwork, fear of going away to camp, moving to a new house, dealing with a parent’s divorce and so on and so forth.  A Bach Flower Practitioner can help you pick the remedies that are most pertinent to your child’s situation. Meanwhile, here are some for you to consider: Agrimony (for a child who seems happy on the outside, but whose body carries the stress), Larch ( for fear of failing or other performance issues), Elm (for feelings of overwhelm), Mimulus (for fear and worry), White Chestnut (for repetitive thinking and obsessing over problems), Walnut ( for adjusting to change more easily). You can mix several remedies together in one treatment bottle. 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 four drops of the mixture in any liquid (juice, water, milk, tea, etc.) four times a day (morning, midday, afternoon and evening). Remedies can be taken with or without food. Continue this treatment until the stress has dissipated. Start treatment again, if the stress returns. Eventually, the stress should diminish completely.

Other Considerations
Be careful not to accidentally reinforce sickness with too much attention.  Don’t give extra attention than normal to your child when he or she is feeling unwell. Give the sympathy and compassion necessary, but carry on with life as normal. Providing more tender attention in times of illness than in times of good health, can give your child the idea that being sick leads to more attention from you (and therefore he’ll enjoy being ill). Therefore, be careful to show tenderness and nurturing even when your child feels just fine! Then, when you help him or her through a tummy ache, it won’t seem like such a big treat that it’s worth being sick for.

Consider Professional Assessment
If your interventions have not helped sufficiently, consider setting up a meeting with a mental health professional for an assessment. Sometimes there is more going on than meets the eye and often, a trained professional can provide the best help.       

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.

Afraid of Needles

Nobody enjoys getting a needle, but getting the occasional needle is a fact of life. Babies, kids and teens get them for immunizations as well as for blood tests and other routine medical care. Some children who have been treated in a hospital have endured intravenous injections as well. In fact, no one knows when they might have to receive a needle for emergency medical care. This being the case, it is highly inconvenient to have an intense fear of needles! Unfortunately, many kids are afraid of the pain that accompanies receiving a needle and some children have an actual needle phobia – a reaction involving irrational terror and panic.

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

Use Emotional Coaching
If your child is afraid of getting a needle, try using emotional coaching. Emotional coaching is the naming and accepting of feelings. In this scenario, you can say such things as “I know you’re afraid the needle will hurt,” or “I know you don’t want to have the needle – nobody really likes getting needles.” Acknowledge your child’s fears without minimizing or discounting them. For instance, DON’T tell him the needle won’t hurt or that it’s not such a big deal or that he is being a baby! When you simply accept the fact that he’s fearful, it actually helps take away some of the fear. However, if your acceptance does nothing to minimize feelings of panic, it is still valuable: it shows the child that you take his feelings seriously. This helps develops the child’s emotional intelligence which, over time, helps the child have greater comfort with his own and other people’s feelings. (Emotional Intelligence also leads to success in every area of functioning.)

Be Careful Not to Reinforce Fears
Avoidance makes fears worse – don’t solve the problem by letting your child skip the needle if it isn’t absolutely necessary or if it can be taken on a later date. Moreover, try not to show excessive interest in the fear (i.e. by constantly talking about it). Make your communications and interventions on the topic brief, matter-of-fact and low-key.

Try Simple Techniques First
Some kids can be bribed out of their fear, so if offering a treat or privilege helps to distract the child from fear, then go ahead and do it. Similarly, if distracting the child at the time of the needle with a joke, a funny face, a question or a puppet will help the child get through the moment comfortably, then go for it! However, if your child’s anticipatory anxiety is way too high for such simple interventions, then consider the techniques below.

Teach Strategies to Cope with Fear
Teach your child how to use his imagination to help him stay calm and confident. Right now, your child is imagining his skin being painfully punctured. He is fixated on the moment of pain. You can instruct him to imagine the time period AFTER the needle – he can picture himself leaving the doctor’s office with a nice lollipop in his mouth, or a storybook that you’ve bought for him, or (if he’s older) the new game on his handheld device. (Of course, you don’t really have to get the child anything new; he can just imagine having one of his old favorites with him!) Imagination is strengthened by asking the child to close his eyes and cross his arms across his chest, Indian Chief style. He should then picture leaving the doctor’s office happily while he taps alternating left, right, left, right with his hands on his upper arms or shoulders. Tapping like this for one to three minutes is all that is necessary and can be repeated whenever he starts to feel fearful. Bi-lateral tapping helps the imagination take root deep in the mind where it can affect the emotional centers.   Another thing you can do, is teach your youngster breathing techniques to help calm his nerves, particularly when he is about to receive his needle. One simple technique that is easy to teach is to have your child think the word “in” while breathing in and think the word “out” while breathing out.  In addition,  you might look into a fear-busting technique called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). This is a simple form of acupressure that you can do with your child before his gets his needle. It involves tapping lightly on your child’s body on meridian pathways on the face, chest and fingers. In many cases, the technique causes the fear to completely disappear in a matter of minutes. In other cases, it brings the fear down to a more manageable level. There are many internet resources for learning EFT – a very easy and quick technique to reduce fear and other negative emotions.

A Needle Phobia May be a Genetic Condition
While fears can be acquired after bad experiences, phobic reactions are biological vulnerabilities – a child can inherit the tendency to have one or more phobias. (If a child develops panic around needles because of having had a life-threatening experience involving a needle, then it may be part of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder rather than a simple phobia.) Therefore, if your child has a complete meltdown, cries, absolutely refuses to cooperate with the doctor (or even go to the doctor), it is possible that he or she is suffering from the very common mental health disorder known as Simple Phobia. There is nothing “simple” about such a phobia from a parent’s point of view, however, since the child’s overwhelming reaction makes it extremely challenging to provide the proper medical care. Some children will calm down, however, if given a few drops of Rescue Remedy in water. Rescue Remedy is a harmless water-based remedy – a special type of Bach Flower preparation – that is used for intense upset and overwhelming experiences. It helps turn off the fight-or-flight response. Although it is useful in the moment for a child who must have a needle, proper treatment with Bach Flower Therapy can help prevent the panic from happening in the future (see below).

Experiment with Bach Flowers
Bach Flower Therapy is a naturopathic treatment that can ease emotional distress and even prevent it from occurring in the future. It treats every type of emotional disturbance (fear, panic, worry, anger, tantrums, low mood, guilt, perfectionism and so on). When your child worries obsessively (i.e. can’t stop thinking about the needle that he is going to have), you can give him the flower remedy called White Chestnut. For specific fears (like the fear of needles) you can use the remedy Mimulus. The remedy Rock Rose is used for feelings of panic. You can mix several remedies together in one treatment bottle. 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 four 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 is gone. Start treatment again if the fear returns. Bach Flower Therapy can help melt fears out of the system over time and can compliment any other treatment the child is receiving.

Professional Assessment and Treatment
If your interventions have not helped your child face needles more comfortably, you can have him or her assessed by a mental health professional. A short course of professional treatment may help your child manage this fear much better.

Won`t Speak to Adults or Strangers

When parents talk about improving their children’s social skills, they’re usually referring to skills in interacting with same-aged children. But truly socially-adjusted kids are those who are not only comfortable dealing with peers, but are also comfortable dealing with older children and adults too.

But what if your child refuses to speak to adults or strangers? Consider the following tips:

Who is a Stranger?
It is appropriate for children to be wary of strangers and there is certainly no need for them to interact with complete strangers when they are alone. However, kids have to know how to approach even a total stranger for help when help is needed – i.e. someone has been injured or lost or is otherwise in trouble. It’s not practical to tell a child to find a police officer since police officers aren’t always handy; sometimes the child will have to ask a regular adult for assistance. Advising children to search out a sales clerk in a store or a mother with children may be a good opening strategy. If neither is available, however, children should be advised to look for other outer signs of respectability in a strange adult – type of clothing, companions and other “safety features.” Don’t assume that your child knows all these  things – take time to give examples and spell out details. When out and about, point out the kind of people that seem most trustworthy for emergency-only interactions, as well as the kind of people you feel it would be best to avoid if possible. While providing this education, make sure to point out that almost all people are kind to children and most strangers are very normal, respectful people. Moreover, let your children know that just because someone wears a nice suit doesn’t mean that he is a good person and just because someone has an unusual hair style doesn’t mean that he is dangerous. Looking for conservative appearance is only one small step a child can take toward ensuring his or her safety.

Apart from life-and-death issues and other safety concerns, kids should be encouraged to talk to adults when they are with you or other caregivers. Naturally shy children will need your help in developing social skills. Explain exactly what you want them to do – i.e. smile, say “hello” and possibly shake hands. Offer generous positive feedback when your child makes efforts to behave appropriately and avoid criticism. Speaking to adults on the phone can be part of the training process. Take time to teach the skills: use a pleasant tone of voice, say “hello,” and “one moment please” or ask the person “could you please hold on?” and so on. Be patient with your youngster, allowing him or her to build up confidence and skill through practice over time.

Is Your Child Feeling Intimidated by Adults?
A child whose teachers and parents are low-key, warm, friendly people tends to have less fear of adults than one whose teachers and parents tend to be strict disciplinarians. If your child is overly intimidated by adults, it could be that he or she is just very timid by nature but it might also be that you have accidentally (or purposely!) instilled a little too much fear. Keep in mind that kids turn out healthiest when they are raised by warm, loving parents who impose a comfortable amount of structure and rules. Following the 80-20 Rule as described in the book Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice will achieve the desired effect.

Does Your Child Need Time to Warm Up?
You can’t just introduce your child to a stranger and then expect him or her to immediately jump into conversation. Kids usually like to feel their way into a conversation, making tentative remarks and openings that can eventually lead down a fruitful path. Moreover, it’s important not to push a child to speak when he or she clearly feels uncomfortable. If a child holds onto your skirts, let him for the time being but make a note to practice social skills (see above) later. Do not mock or criticize your child for the way he or she acts around people. If your child tends to be shy during the first hello, be patient. Establishing rapport takes time; allow your child to go at his own pace. Say nothing at the time – and be particularly careful not to comment on his or her quiet behavior IN FRONT of another person – and then provide help later.

Child Refuses to Talk to Adults at All
There are some children who simply won’t talk to adults outside their immediate family members. This can include their teachers, doctors, neighbors and others. They might be suffering from Selective Mutism, a psychological disorder in which a child is capable of speaking but absolutely refuses to do so.

Children with selective mutism may speak to other children but refuse to speak to adults or, in some cases, refuse to speak to certain kinds of adults (like men or people in positions of authority). Sometimes kids refuse to speak in public (i.e. school or other areas outside the home) to both children and adults. For instance a child with Selective Mutism in the classroom may not speak at all to her friend, but if that same friend is invited to her house for a play-date, she will speak to her completely normally.

Selective Mutism is diagnosed and treated by speech and language pathologists and mental health professionals. If you believe your child may have Selective Mutism, do consult a speech and language pathologist or child psychologist with experience in assessing and treating Selective Mutism (you can ask your pediatrician for a referral).

Difficulty Awakening or Remaining Asleep

Most parents won’t be surprised to learn that babies and young children don’t always sleep through the night. In fact, even older children and teens may wake up before dawn.

If your child wakes up in the middle of the night consider the following tips:

Waking Up After Being Put to Sleep
This problem is very common among babies and some toddlers. A very new baby may wake up only minutes after being put to sleep. Older babies may wake an hour or two after “going down for the night.” And toddlers are notorious for waking up 4 or 5 hours after going to bed.

Children, like adults, drift in and out of various sleep cycles. When they are in a light stage of sleep, they may wake seeking food, comfort or both (i.e. babies may wake up to nurse). These small humans may wake several times throughout the night, disturbing their already exhausted parents.

Most people keep very small babies close to them at night (in their bed or in a cradle or crib in the parent’s room or nearby) in order to minimize the amount of energy nighttime parenting will take. It’s easier to roll over to take care of a baby than to get up, paddle down the hall, tend to the baby and then return to one’s own bed. However, many people do the latter even with newborns and certainly with older babies and toddlers. At a certain point, a parent may stop responding to the waking child in order to train the child to sleep through the night. Many people wait until the baby is around 9 months old before starting to withdraw nighttime attention in a gradual process. Some wait until the child is 14 months. Some just wait until the child stops waking up all by him or herself. Whatever works for the parent is fine. Parents know the limits of their own energy and they know what parenting style works best for them. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to solving nighttime waking problems. However, as long as a baby is permitted to nurse at night, he or she will tend to wake up many times in order to do so. Nighttime weaning therefore is a necessary step on the way to stopping nighttime waking.

Some school-age children also wake in the night. Usually, some sort of health problem (like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome or nightmare disorder) is responsible. However, anxiety can also be a culprit; when an anxious child goes into a light sleep cycle, he or she may wake up for a moment and discover that he or she is alone – this can cause the child to wake up fully, get out of bed and run to the parents’ room. Teenagers can also wake up after going to sleep. Like school-age children, this indicates some sort of physical or emotional issue. Teenagers may have sleep disorders caused by, caffeine, drugs or alcohol as well as mental health issues like anxiety or depression, that interrupt sleep. When children and teens wake up in the night, a trip to the doctor for a complete check-up is recommended. If everything checks out fine, a trip to a mental health professional is then indicated. Even when the child does not have a mental health diagnosis, a psychologist can teach the child self-soothing and relaxation skills that can help him or her fall back to sleep independently and quickly and/or stay asleep throughout the night.

Difficulty Waking Up in the Morning
A totally different type of problem is having trouble waking up. This issue doesn’t seem to affect babies or toddlers! School age children usually have trouble waking up when they have not had enough sleep. This can happen because the parents haven’t established a consistent, appropriate bedtime or because the child cannot fall asleep at the appropriate time. Sometimes a child’s system is too active and he or she just can’t wind down and go to sleep. Some kids lie awake for hours after being put to bed. Of course they’re tired in the morning! Teens who can’t get up may have the same problems but they are likely to be short-changed on sleep for other reasons as well. This age group likes to stay up on their computers late at night or stay up with friends into the wee hours of the mornings. They can’t get up because they just don’t go to bed on time.

Children who can’t fall asleep at night may benefit from medical and/or alternative treatment. Medications, herbs and supplements are available that help the nervous system settle down at the right time of night. Melatonin is one such treatment but there are many others; ask your doctor and/or naturopath for assessment and treatment. For children who CAN fall asleep but choose not to, more structure and discipline may be required. Consequences for failing to be up on time can help motivate a youngster to get into bed earlier. A teen who wants a ride to the bus stop can be deprived of that ride if he isn’t out of bed on time. Or he can be deprived of his allowance or some other privilege. Children who can’t get up on time may have to go to bed a half hour earlier the next night or lose some privilege. If you are having trouble finding consequences that matter, consult a psychologist or parenting specialist for ideas.

It’s important to establish some sort of reward or consequences system to help kids get up on time – do not use anger as a wake-up tool! Sometimes, waking up is as simple as finding the right alarm clock (i.e. something very loud and very funny is good for kids). Teach kids NOT to use the snooze alarm, as this just teaches them to sleep through the alarm.

Remember too, that the parental model is important – if you sleep in, your child is more likely to do so as well. And keep in mind that most kids do grow out of the “sleeping in” stage eventually. Those who don’t generally find careers that allow them to sleep in! Try to guide your child but don’t stress too much about it. The consequences that life presents are usually sufficient to encourage morning wakening (i.e. detentions at school, job issues, parenting responsibilities and all the rest).

Insomnia and Sleep Issues

You may have thought that you would be finished putting your kids to sleep once they emerged from the pre-school years. Think again! The reality is that even school-age children often need to be settled to sleep. This age group suffers from various sleep challenges like excess energy and difficulty winding down or over-excitement, or anxiety or other troubled emotions. Many kids cannot fall asleep, others sleep fitfully and others wake several times a night. And given that the responsibilities of being a student require that kids are not just physically awake but are also mentally alert during the day, parents will want to help their kids sleep well at night. A good night’s rest is important to academic success. Parents can do much to help their youngsters achieve this goal.

In this article, we will discuss some tips and strategies parents can use to help school-age children fall asleep. We will start off by discussing what might be preventing your child from getting a good night’s sleep.

Possible deterrents to sleep include:

Physical Discomfort
Being too hot or too cold can interfere with sleep. An environment that is too noisy may also cause sleep problems for some adults and children. Babies can’t tell you about their comfort levels, unfortunately. When they cry, however, you might try adjusting their blankets or clothing to see if it makes a difference. Opening or closing a window, adjusting lights, shutting or opening the door – any of these environmental changes might make a positive difference.

Deflated and Elated Emotions
Depressing and troubling situations like death in the family, or very good news like winning the lottery (or another exciting development), makes the body produce chemistry that may linger beyond the time we need at which we normally go to sleep. We only need to settle this chemistry back to normal in order to put both the mind and the body to rest and eventually enter the state of sleep. Babies who’ve had an unusually active day may be more alert at night even though parents may think that they should be more exhausted than usual. Similarly, children may have trouble settling down after a particularly exciting day at the amusement part. Teenagers who are prone to experience strong emotions relating to their social lives may also have trouble settling down; too much chemistry is running through their bodies. Parents going through stress or trauma inevitably have sleeping challenges, as do those who experience tremendously positive events. Most of these kinds of sleep issues are temporary.

If a noisy mind, emotional stress, or agitated emotions are what’s keeping your child (or yourself) up at night, you may wish to consider Bach Flower Remedies. Try “Rescue Sleep” – a mixture of Bach Remedies available at health food stores and online, consult a Bach practitioner for an individually tailored remedy, or learn more about Bach Flowers on this site. Another  fast and effective intervention for emotional stress is EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique. You can learn this technique  yourself from Internet resources and books or you can consult a therapist who uses this technique in the clinical setting.  You can treat your child with it before bedtime, spending only a couple of minutes to release anxiety and stress or, you can teach an older child how to use the technique independently. Stress that doesn’t respond to self-help can be addressed effectively by a mental health professional.

Change in Sleeping Pattern
Our sleeping pattern is determined by our daily routine. As we normally sleep at a certain time everyday, our body gets used to this pattern and eventually remind us to sleep at that particular time, the same way we get hungry during lunch or dinner time. It does this by producing sleep hormones. When we suddenly try to change our time of sleep, we find it hard because our body is not used to producing sleep hormones at that time. When you change your child’s sleep time (as in the seasonal changing of the clock) be prepared for a week or so of poor sleep. Similarly, when you remove your toddler’s nap time, or go on vacation – expect disrupted sleep patterns. When the new pattern is established, sleep will be restored.

Change in Environment
Just as the body is affected by sleeping routine, it gets used to certain sleep settings. When we switch beds or when we put the lights on when we’re used to sleeping with the lights out, our body takes time to adapt to this new setting. We’ll go through sleepless nights and days before our body gets used to the new environment. When you change sleep locations due to vacations and visits, expect sleep disruption. When you move to a new house or even change your room within your old one, expect some sleep disturbance for a couple of weeks. Children and adults are similarly affected. Be patient and wait for the body to adjust.

Chemicals
Substances like caffeine and nicotine, as well as certain medications with stimulating effects enhance the activity of the brain. Take chemicals into consideration when serving kids food in the evening (cut down on sugar, caffeine, food colorings and highly processed snacks).

Over-stimulation
In the hour before bedtime, wild behavior, intense exercise, scary or intense media and other sources of stimulation can make it hard for kids and teens to settle down. It’s best to use that pre-sleep hour for calming the body and mind, rather than rousing it up!

Strategies for promoting sleep include:

Change the Bedtime
“Bedtime” is the time at which a person is tired enough to go to sleep. If you’ve set a 7:30p.m. bedtime for your child who isn’t sleepy until 9, then consider the possibility that you’ve set the wrong bedtime. Not all kids need the same amount of sleep. Some children, like some adults, can get by well on fewer hours than you might think is normal. Maybe you thought that every kid needs 9 hours sleep, but it turns out that YOUR child only needs 7! If your child can get up in the morning fairly easily and function well at school all day and maintain a decent mood until the evening, then he or she is getting enough sleep. But what if your child ISN’T doing well on just 7 hours, but has to get up for school on time anyways and still isn’t tired at the time that would allow him or her to get those important extra hours of sleep? In other words, what if your child does need  8 or 9 hours sleep but is only getting 7?   If this is the case, you haven’t set the bedtime too early. You need to find a way to help the child feel more tired at the right time.

You can Increase the Child’s Sleepiness
Some parents find that they can “tire their child out” by making sure the youngster has had plenty of fresh air and exercise in the daytime. Although this doesn’t work for every kid, it might work for yours – so give it a try. Encourage your older child to do sports, dance or other forms of exercise after school each day. Take your younger child to the park if possible, or for swimming lessons, skating lessons, karate or other active sports or physical activities. Try to arrange outdoor time – walking to and from school or friends or lessons. Try not to drive the child everywhere – let him or her walk or bike instead.

Teach Your Child to Relax and Wind Down for Sleep
To help ready a child for sleep, reduce stimulation in the half hour or hour before bedtime. Help the child turn his or her attention away from the activities of the day toward a quieting down, readying for sleep focus. You can teach the child (or have someone else teach the child – like a yoga teacher or a psychological practitioner) how to use the breath to induce deep relaxation and restfulness. Herbert Benson’s Relaxation Response is one excellent breathing tool that is so simple even very young children can use it and so effective that it helps people of all ages learn to deeply relax and fall asleep. The technique involves breathing normally, but on the “out” breath, think the number “one.” That’s all there is to it. Yet breathing this way for a few minutes, alters all the rhythms of the body and mind and settles them into patterns conducive to profound relaxation or sleep.

Try Natural Sleep Aids
There is a reason why parents give their kids milk before going to bed. Milk has a very calming effect on a drinker, and taking it before going to sleep can help facilitate some zzz’s. You may also consider natural herbs that are known for helping people get a good night’s rest. There are many herbal preparations (teas, lollipops, syrups) that are safe and healthy for kids. A special blend with sedative properties can be prepared by a professional herbalist or you might be able to find a pre-mixed blend in your local health-food store or on-line. The more days the herb is used, the stronger its effects become. Sometimes the herb is to be taken in the evening to help the child to unwind, and sometimes the herb is taken during the day, to help the entire nervous system become more calm and settled, which will facilitate normal bedtime sleepiness in the evening. Consult a herbalist to learn about which herbs are appropriate for children or teens and which ones should be avoided. Learn about dosage and safety issues.

Nutritional supplements can have similar effects. Some feeds are sedative and calming in nature and can even induce fatigue. Arrange a consultation with a holistic nutritionist or dietician who may be able to guide you. Naturopaths may also be able to advise you on the selection of foods and nutritional supplements that can help calm and settle the child or teen for sleep. Similarly, homeopaths, acupuncturists, Bach Flower practitioners and other types of alternative healers may be able to offer interventions that can improve your child’s circadian rhythms (sleep cycle), or help relax an overactive body or mind.

Consult a Doctor
Sometimes a doctor will prescribe melatonin to help the child experience fatigue at the right time. If the child’s wakefulness is caused by ADHD, medications can be altered or added to induce sleepiness. Other physical and mental health conditions that cause the child to be hyperalert can also be addressed with medication.

Create a “Parking Bay” for Nightly Concerns
There are occasions when kids have trouble sleeping because they have so many worries about the next day. If this is the case, parents can help their child by starting a ritual of listing down all these worries before going to bed. Create a pact: once a concern is listed on paper or on a white board, it means that it is to be temporarily set aside until the next day. This way your child gets to unload from their mind all the things that are bothering them before going to bed. However, after writing down worries, be sure to write down some positive thoughts, memories of the day and things to look forward to. You want to help the brain go to sleep peacefully and happily.

Set a Schedule
You know how kids are with their assignments; if you leave your child to accomplish their homework when they want to, they will play all afternoon and evening, and then try to finish their assignments way into the night! If you want your school-age child to sleep on time, set a regular time for homework and a regular time — with justified limitations — for their play. If kids are conditioned from an early age that the day ends at bed time, then they are less likely to stay up well into the night. Make the transition to bedtime with a period of quiet time – bathing, stretching, reading in bed. Teach your child a few yoga postures and breathing patterns to dispell stress and physical tension.

Be Strict about Lights Out Policy
Lastly, one effective way parents can get their children to sleep on time is to implement a daily lights out policy at a reasonable bed time. Lights outs should include no computer or TV time after bedtime. In a house of parents and teens,  everyone may go to bed at the same time – or not!. However, when there are younger kids in the family, there will always be several different bedtimes going on. As each person hits their bedtime zone, everything must quiet down around them. The quiet and stillness itself is a cue to the brain to settle down and get ready for sleep.

Consult a Mental Health Professional
If you have done all you can to help your child establish good sleep habits but your child is still having trouble falling asleep, then make an appointment with a mental health professional who can guide you further.

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.