Help Your Child Deal with Criticism

Where would the world be without constructive feedback? While criticism may sting, it is necessary to help us grow and improve. If we’re not willing to be criticized, we can go on for a long time thinking we’re doing well, when we’re actually moving in the wrong direction. In short, painful as it may sometimes be, criticism is good for us and our children.

It is important that parents teach their kids how deal with criticism in a healthy and positive way. While all parents want to protect their child’s ego and self-esteem, the reality is that no one can ever really avoid appraisal. When a child wants to join the football team, he’ll have to face the coach’s assessment. When he wants to be a performer, he’ll have to deal with the auditions and the performance reviews. And of course, any child who wants to survive school for twenty or more years is going to need to know how to comfortably handle negative feedback from teachers and peers. On the home front criticism is rampant, coming at a child from all sides (Mom, Dad & siblings). The over-sensitive child will suffer excessively and may become an adult whose over-reaction at work, in marriage and in parenting brings painful consequences.

So how can you help your child deal with criticism? Consider the following tips:

Establish a Culture of Assertive Communication in Your Home
Training a child how to handle negative feedback should begin at home. Make a habit of offering each other constructive criticism — feedback  that is well-intentioned and geared towards building a person up instead of putting him down. When a child handles other people’s opinions on a regular basis, he or she will be more open to criticism from other people. Don’t be afraid to give the child helpful guidance. It’s O.K. to say things like, “Thank you for setting the table Honey. I’d really appreciate it if you could make sure to put the napkins by each plate next time.” Offering negative feedback respectfully helps children learn that criticism is safe and not harmful. When parents criticize harshly, however, children become “allergic” to negative feedback of any kind. This is why we see adults who cannot tolerate any criticism at all from their spouse. They have been scarred by too much and/or too harsh criticism during childhood. Keep criticism in its place within the 80-20 Rule (see Ch. 3, Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe).

One Person’s Point of View Doesn’t Make a Fact
Let your child know that while everyone is entitled to their own opinion, not all opinions should be taken as being valid and true. Each criticism should be taken as a mere suggestion; you can accept it or refuse it. When kids know that they are not obliged to internalize everything that other people say, they will not be beaten down by unsolicited and undeserved negative feedback. Indeed, clarify that they can always respond assertively to an unfair criticism — a critique need not define their person. It is equally important to help children identify abusive forms of communication. When children hear harsh criticism that they recognize as abusive (too loud, too insulting, too long and so on), they can recognize that the fault is with the communicator (the one who is doing the criticizing) rather than with themselves. In this way, they are spared from absorbing the negative judgments of the speaker and internalizing self-hatred and low self-worth.

Help Them Process the Criticism That They Receive
Distilling the good and the areas of improvement in a criticism takes skill — you need to teach it to your child as it is unlikely to develop on its own. So instead of merely agreeing or disagreeing to a critique, help your child learn to analyze: is there merit to this critique? And if so, what were the things that I did right? What are the things that I should not do again? Criticism can be a motivating factor if you and your child know what to do with it.

Showcase People Who Have Successfully Bounced Back from Criticism
Negative feedback may feel like the end of the world. But the reality is, many people have successfully bounced back from the many negative things that people say about them. The key is to analyzing the feedback without taking things personal. If you can separate the message from the feeling the message elicits in you, you can make the most of a criticism. Your local librarian can help you find age-appropriate novesls and biographies for your kids to read that will demonstrate how others have handled criticism. Learning that most great writers, inventors and accomplished business people had to deal with plenty of rejection and negative feedback before they finally hit success, can provide an inspirational model.

Help Your Child Deal with Rejection

Louise worked so hard on her speech; she wanted to be the school’s representative in the annual public speaking contest. Unfortunately, she didn’t pass the auditions. She was so disappointed.

It took awhile for Tommy to ask Jerry and his friends if he could join them in their game of softball.  After one week of mustering the courage to ask, Tommy had to deal with Jerry’s hurtful answer: a “no.” 

Nobody wants to be rejected. It’s painful and humiliating and at times extremely frustrating. It can also make a person question his or her self-worth. If you’re always rejected, it’s not unusual to ask: “Can something be wrong with me?”

To avoid feeling defeated by rejection, it’s important to develop one’s coping muscles. It’s unreasonable to expect that we will be accepted all time; in life, there will always be moments of rejection. What’s important is that we gain control of the setback, so that it doesn’t debilitate us.

The following are some of the ways parents can help their child deal with rejection:

Raise Your Child’s Self-Esteem
Parents can help bolster their’ child’s self-esteem in three important ways:

  1. By giving generous positive feedback
  2. By limiting and softening necessary criticism
  3. By giving children ample opportunity  to experience success through their own activities

When a child has a positive view of self, he or she has a strong shield against the sting of rejection. Rejection becomes situational instead of personal, with the pain temporary instead of permanent. When you know deep down that you’re a person of worth, you’re willing to risk trying again, because you know the problem is not inherent in you.

Allow Your Child to Feel Disappointment
Welcome, name and accept all of your child’s feelings, including the sad ones. Avoid the rule: “You must always feel happy!” This rule stunts children’s emotional growth and makes it very difficult for them to ride through inevitable negative feelings and life experiences. Disappointment is just part of life. When you use “emotional coaching” (the calm naming of a child’s feelings) you demonstrate that YOU aren’t frightened by the child’s temporary distress. YOU can handle it! This gives the child courage to handle it too. Remember, you don’t have to force your child to cheer up every time he or she gets rejected. In fact, the best thing you can do is to give them time to feel sad about their situation! You can say something like, “Gosh, I guess that’s pretty disappointing.” Don’t look like you’re going to cry! Have confidence in your child’s ability to face life. In fact, the more you are able to comfortably name the child’s feelings, the more the child will be able to manage moments of distress. Remember that no matter what has happened, the sadness will pass and the child will be able to get on with life.

Help Your Child Figure Out How to Do Better
Rejection is an excellent motivator, and parents can take the opportunity to teach their child how to channel their disappointment into inspiration. Help your child figure out the reason why they got rejected. Perhaps they didn’t try hard enough; perhaps they were the wrong fit with the crowd. Whatever the reason is, there are always ways to do better the next time around. Effective problem-solving can lead to greater success.

Identify to Your Child the Areas Outside of His or Her Control
Sometimes the rejection is unfair and arbitrary. Sometimes rejection is the result of large numbers and insufficient placements. There may be a time when your child is subject to some form of bullying that leads to exclusion. Or your child could lose out on a great opportunity because someone forgot to file his or her application form. When these situations happen, it’s important to teach kids that sometimes it’s just unfortunate circumstances, or “not meant to be.” Not everything is within our control, and when we face something we can’t influence, the best approach is to simply let go. Those with a strong religious faith can draw on their belief that the rejection is not an accident and it is meant for one’s best development.

Learning Disabilities and Self-Esteem

Because they have more difficulty in school compared to other kids, children with learning disabilities (LDs) sometimes start to question their own intelligence and competence. Their self-esteem can suffer, despite the fact that they usually have normal or even very high intelligence as measured on standard instruments.  In fact, a learning disability is defined as a SPECIFIC deficit in one or two areas of functioning (i.e. math and reading) despite overall normal (or even higher)  intelligence. However, children typically experience a great deal of failure and frustration before they end up being officially diagnosed with a learning disability. It is often during this period of not knowing what the problem is that kids are particularly vulnerable to developing low self-esteem.

However, even after diagnosis there are many threats to the child’s self-concept: there’s the anger, self-pity and a sense of helplessness that comes from having to work harder than peers, or from needing to be isolated in special learning situations (remedial teachers, classrooms or schools), or having to endure after-school tutors and lessons. Despite all the interventions and efforts, many children with learning disabilities will never do as well as their peers in their weak areas. Moreover, some kids with severe learning disabilities will not be able to keep up with or join in certain activities because of their deficits and this exclusion, too, can contribute to low self-esteem.

In addition, not all people are sensitive or affirming when they relate to children with disabilities. Some kids can be downright cruel, teasing children with special needs or even bullying them. Parents and teachers may also unconsciously communicate low expectations, and may unintentionally send the message that they don’t see the child as capable.

A Predictor of Success
However, since healthy self-esteem is a key ingredient for attaining  success in life, it is important that parents do what they can to help their learning disabled child acquire a positive self-concept.

Studies have consistently shown that if kids with LDs consider themselves as capable and confident, they do better in all areas of life. Moreover, they are less likely to fall into mental health issues associated with LDs, such as depression or anxiety.

Define the Term “Learning Disability”
A learning disability is a condition, not a trait. In this way, it is similar to diabetes or asthma. Helping your child know that he or she is normal but has a condition, can go a long way to keeping that youngster’s self-esteem intact. There are books for children that explain learning disabilities; seeing the condition described in a book can also help kids realize that this is something outside of themselves that they must deal with, but it does not define all of who they are. Children often misunderstand the term “learning disabilities,” thinking that it means that they can’t learn! This erroneous idea can affect their performance across the board. Instead of just having difficulty in one or two areas, a child with this misconception can do poorly in every area simply because he believes he is intellectually handicapped. It is very important for parents to spell out the specific disability and to highlight the child’s learning strengths. For instance, a parent might say, “your brain has trouble recognizing and remembering letters (this is called ‘dyslexia’)and so you have to work harder to be a fast reader. But in every other way, your brain works perfectly and you are actually very smart. So this means that you should find it easy to do your arithmetic, art, gym, music, science and most of your other subjects. You can can also be awesome on the computer and in sports. And because you’re so smart, you will be able to figure out how to help your brain remember the letters and you will become a good reader – it will just take a bit of work. But we’re going to provide you with extra help so it will be even easier.”

In addition, parents should focus on their child’s areas of natural strength and competency. If the child is a talented musician, artist, cook, computer whiz or whatever, parents can highlight the child’s gift and smarts in these areas. Parents can try to expose their child to as many different activities as possible in order to help the child find areas of competency. For instance, if you don’t invite the child into the kitchen to prepare dessert for the family, neither you nor the child will ever know that cooking is his natural talent! In addition to skills, LD kids also have commendable traits such as determination, compassion or courtesy. Giving positive feedback to character and behavior is another way to boost the child’s self-esteem.

Let Them Contribute
Assume that the child is competent unless the child proves otherwise. Therefore, treat your learning disabled child as a full fledged member of the family with all “voting” privileges and responsibilities. Parents can help their child feel normal by holding them to normal expectations and standards. Offer compensation only when the child’s LD is actually affecting task performance. For instance, kids with learning disabilities can fold laundry as well as anyone else, so don’t let them off the task. However, a particular child with LD may have more trouble running errands due to the difficulty of handling money. This doesn’t mean that the child shouldn’t be allowed to go to the corner store. It might mean, however, that you help him with this task by explaining what to expect in the way of change, showing him what the financial transaction is going to look like or otherwise “tutoring” him through the task.

Use Emotional Coaching
By naming a child’s feelings, parents can help boost the child’s self-esteem and overall emotional intelligence. Naming a feeling lets the child know that he is O.K., his feelings are normal and acceptable and he has emotional support. Thus, when the child is struggling with a difficult task, a parent can acknowledge “It’s hard! It’s frustrating to try that again and again and still not get the answer!” It is hard to believe how powerful a simple acknowledgment of the child’s feelings can be. Moreover, a large body of research shows that just naming feelings helps the child do better academically, behaviorally, socially and emotionally.

Bad Self-Image

Have you ever visited the “mirror room” in a circus? You know, the one where there are many different kinds of mirrors, each one reflecting an unreal and exaggerated version of the viewer, making the person look so much taller, smaller, fatter or skinnier than he or she really is?

For people with Body Dysmorphic Disorder or BDD, every day is like staring into a circus mirror. Except, people with the condition don’t realize that what they are seeing is a distortion – they believe their distorted reflection is real. They consider themselves physically flawed, although no one else would agree with this assessment. They preoccupy themselves about a perceived flaw in one or more of their features or body parts — their nose is too big, their eyes too small, their skin too light or too dark. They feel ugly — both from the inside and out.

While most people have some issues with their appearance — indeed, the beauty and fashion industry preys on our insecurities — the obsession about perceived physical flaws among those with BDD is excessive. In fact, most of their perceived flaws simply don’t exist, or if they do, they are barely noticeable. However, sufferers are absolutely convinced that they are deformed or ugly and feel shamed just by being in the presence of other people; they are often so anxious that they can’t work or enjoy life. Some are so intent on fixing their imperfections that they risk multiple surgeries and unproven treatments.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder often comes with other mental health conditions like clinical depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, impulse control disorders like trichotillomania, anxiety disorders and eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.

What causes Body Dysmorphic Disorder?
BDD is more common than most people realize; it is believed to affect 2 in every 100 members of the population. It is most prevalent among teenagers and young adults, mainly because it is during these times that the pressure to present a “beautiful” front is most intense.

A family history of BDD or obsessive-compulsive disorders increases the likelihood of the condition developing in a person. This implies that BDD has an organic origin, such as chemical imbalance in the part of the brain that controls emotions and habits. Traumatic experiences, like physical and sexual abuse, can also trigger Body Dysmorphic Disorder in those who have the genetic vulnerability for it.

What Are the Symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder?
The following are some of the signs parents should look out for:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Excessive pre-occupation with physical appearance
  • A pervasive belief that one is ugly or unattractive despite assurances and evidence to the contrary
  • A feeling of shame or self-loathing related to one’s body
  • Frequent examination of the body parts they consider as flawed
  • Eating disorders
  • Use of many cosmetic products or procedures, exercise regimens, with no pleasure at results
  • Social withdrawal or social anxiety
  • Inability to function because of preoccupation about appearance

What Can Parents Do?
If you see signs that a child or teen may have Body Dysmorphic Disorder, it’s best to consult a mental health professional. The obsessive-compulsive nature of the illness, as well as the pervasiveness of the perceptual disturbance make simple assurances ineffective. Counseling, therapy and medication are known to help. If the illness is accompanied by dysfunctional eating and exercise habits, then the help of a medical doctor, eating disorders specialists or psychiatrist will also be helpful.

Afraid to Sleep in Own Room

Kids of every age can be afraid to sleep in their own room. This can cause stress for the whole family. Parents get frustrated – especially if the child is no longer a toddler or pre-schooler. Siblings may be disturbed by the distress of the fearful child. Bedtime can be a nightly struggle and difficult experience for the child who is afraid.

If you have a child who is afraid to sleep in his or her room, consider the following tips:

Separation Anxiety is Normal in Very Small Children
Toddlers and pre-schoolers like to be near their parents at night. This doesn’t mean that they are suffering from clinical anxiety. In this age group, anxiety about being in one’s own room apart from parents, is perfectly normal. Of course, it’s annoying and inconvenient for parents! Parents would like their kids to just go to sleep quickly and easily and stay that way until the appropriate hour for waking in the morning. For very small children, this is not the most common scenario. Most young children need help settling down to sleep in their own beds and many need some sort of nighttime parental comfort as well. However, most of them outgrow these needs over time and do go to sleep happily in their own rooms.

Daytime Anxiety and Nighttime Anxiety are Related
While there are some children who are ONLY fearful at night, they are in the minority. Most kids with nighttime fears have experienced or are experiencing other fears as well. The tendency to be fearful or anxious is a genetically inherited trait. The child is not at fault for feeling afraid. He or she can’t help it! And he or she is suffering from it. The child needs YOUR help to learn to manage anxious feelings.

Saving the child from those things that he fears actually increase fear over time and causes it to spread. For instance, if a child is afraid of dogs and the parents are careful to prevent the child from ever having to deal with a dog, then the child’s fear of dogs will remain, and even intensify over time. Moreover, it is very likely that other fears will also develop. The reason for this phenomenon is that the child’s brain can never survive the fearful stimulus, since it is always avoiding that stimulus. You can’t master the fear of dogs when you are never allowed to be in the presence of dogs. What has to happen is that the child is helped to experience “survival” in the presence of a dog and this helps build confidence that dogs can be tolerated. The learning that something fearful can be tolerated allows the child to tolerate other anxiety-provoking things as well.

The trick is to HELP the child feel comfortable enough to be with the dog so that he can stay there long enough to feel he has “survived” the experience. Helping the child is a step-by-step process. For instance, the first step might be staying with the child while the child sees a dog that’s safely secured in a cage (at the pet store for instance).  A next step might be holding the dog tightly on a leash, a distance from the child who is being held by an adult. A next step, might be to bring the dog a bit closer while being held on the leash. And so on.

These same ideas can be applied to helping a child overcome fear of sleeping in his or her own bed. A gradual process is easiest on the fearful child, allowing him or her to build confidence step by step. For instance, when putting the fearful child to bed, sit on the bed or lie down with the child for a few minutes until the child is able to fall asleep. A next step might be to sit beside the child until the youngster falls asleep. A next step might be to sit by the door of the child’s room, then just outside the door of the room, then in the hallway and then somewhere else on the same floor as where the child is sleeping and, if the house has more than one storey,  then being on a different level of the house than the child.

Making it Easier for the Fearful Child
Not only does the child have to face and survive whatever he or she fears, but the child needs to feel comfortable during the process. If the child ISN’T comfortable, it is very unlikely that facing the fear will actually happen. Some children have only a minor fear of sleeping alone in their rooms. But others are intensely fearful. Those with relatively minor levels of fear, may be able to just “build up their emotional muscles” by experiencing the step-by-step parental withdrawal program described above.

However, children with intense fear may just panic as soon as the parent attempts to leave the room. Panic is an overwhelming sense of anxiety accompanied by all sorts of very uncomfortable physical and emotional symptoms. Children who throw a big tantrum may actually be experiencing feelings of panic. They need help in managing such strong reactions. But what help do children receive? Keep in mind that adults have access to powerful medications to take the edge off their own anxiety. Children, on the other hand, are left for the most part to tolerate their feelings without relief.  Fortunately, there are some forms of alternative medicine that can be safe for children and that can help gently lift intense fear out of their system.

For instance, Bach Flower Remedies can gently melt away the tendency to be fearful. The remedy Aspen is suitable for fear of the dark. The remedy Mimulus is suitable for fear of separation from parents (fear of being alone). The remedy Rock Rose is good for relieving symptoms of panic. A Bach Flower Practitioner can make a remedy bottle containing the most appropriate flower remedies for your child or you can read about the remedies and choose those that you think may be helpful, or you can try any one or all of the three mentioned here. The pre-mixed remedy called “Rescue Remedy” can also help with nighttime panic. If using only one remedy, drop 2 drops of it into a bit of liquid (any kind), 4 times a day until the anxiety has lifted. If using more than one remedy, put 2 drops of each in a Bach Mixing Bottle (one ounce glass bottle sold where Bach Flower Remedies are sold in health food stores) that has been filled with water. Add a teaspoon of brandy to preserve the bottle. Give four drops four times a day until the anxiety has lifted.

Essential oils can also soothe nighttime anxiety. Consult a professional aromatherapist for a suitable preparation and dose whenever using essential oils since they are slightly medicinal. Essential oils like lavendar or chamomille might be useful.

Herbal remedies can also soothe fear. However, always consult a professional herbalist for correct herbs and dosage since these are medicinal. Teas that you can purchase ready-made in health food stores and supermarkets are likely safe for children, but of course, they are far less potent. Nonetheless, giving the child a bit of chamomille tea or “sleepy-time” teas may help calm his or her nervous system.

Homeopaths, accupuncturists and naturopaths may also be able to help.

Get Help if Necessary
Parents cannot always solve the problem themselves. If you’ve tried to help your child in various ways but nothing is making a positive difference, consult a child psychologist or other mental health professional. This person can teach your child more skills for coping with and reducing fearful feelings. With the proper help, your child WILL soon be sleeping alone in his or her own room without fear.

Bedtime Anxieties

Bedtime anxieties are common and occur for many reasons.

If your child suffers from bedtime anxieties, consider the following tips:

Fear of the Dark is Common and Normal
Children are afraid of monsters, shadows, robbers and all kinds of things that go “bump” in the night. Here are a few things you can do to help them settle:

  • Try Bach Flower Remedies. For vague fears like fear of monsters or the dark, use the remedy “Aspen.” (Add 2 drops to any liquid, 4 times a day until the child is no longer afraid). For specific fears like fears of robbers or fears of being kidnapped, use the remedy “Mimulus.” For night-time panic attacks or hysteria, use “Rock Rose” during the day and “Rescue Remedy” at night.
  • Use “bibliotherapy” – that is, read bedtime stories or make up stories about hero-type children and grownups slaying monsters, being brave, overcoming challenges and otherwise solving problems. When children hear stories about small people conquering big challenges, they incorporate the message into their own self-concept. They come to believe that they are powerful problem-solvers, rather than helpless victims.
  • Leave the light on for your child as he or she falls asleep. If your child wakes up in the night, then it’s fine to leave the light on all night too.
  • If the fear persists, consult a child psychologist.

Fear of Bad Dreams
Children who’ve been suffering from nightmares and bad dreams sometimes don’t want to go to sleep – they’re afraid of having another bad experience. Try to arrange a consultation with a mental health practitioner. A child psychologist will be able to help your child learn tools for ending the nightmares and coping with the fear of them.  Getting professional help is absolutely necessary if your child’s bad dreams are happening as the result of truly frightening life events that the youngster has experienced. For instance, if the child is having nightmares after being bullied at school, or being abused by an adult, or being in an accident or natural disaster – seek professional psychological help.

If your child’s bad dreams are not caused by some terrifying or upsetting life events, you might try some “self-help” techniques first, before seeking professional help for the child. For instance, you can give the child Bach Flower Remedies for a short while to see if that helps solve the problem. Consult a Bach Flower Practitioner to get the most accurate guidance. If this isn’t possible, try giving the child Rescue Remedy before bedtime. If this doesn’t help, try giving 2 drops of “Agrimony” in liquid 4 times a day and see how that goes. Another technique that you can try, is to have the child describe his or her bad dream. Then help the child tell the story again, with a new, much better ending. Have the child tell you the new dream over and over – maybe twice a day for a week or so. See if this helps end the fear. Finally, experiment with “crystal healing.” Go to a rock & mineral store and buy a small piece of amethyst for your child to hold at night. Tell the child that the amethyst can help make bad dreams go away. See if this helps your youngster. If it does help, it really doesn’t matter whether the help came from the placebo effect (just believing that it would work) or because amethyst can actually prevent bad dreams!

Children and Teens can Suffer from Anxiety Disorders
During the daytime, everyone is busy. Although both children and adults can be anxious during the day, they can be even more anxious around bedtime. Defenses fall away as we get ready for sleep. Those who are anxious by nature, will find that anxiety rises as the mind and body begin to relax and get ready for sleep. At this point, children and teenagers may be so overwhelmed with anxiety that they can’t sleep alone in their beds or their rooms or they can’t fall asleep or stay asleep. Some children and teens start to ruminate – they think and think and think about everything under the sun. Or they start to worry. Or they just feel vague unease. Or they begin to feel symptoms of panic. Different kinds of anxious feelings require different interventions. It is best to have your child’s anxiety treated by a qualified mental health professional like a psychologist.or psychiatrist. If the anxiety is mild, you might try some self-help techniques first. As above, you can consider Bach Flower Remedies. Try to find a Bach Flower Practitioner to prepare a remedy bottle for your child. Alternatively, your child might respond well to EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique). There are many therapists who can teach this technique to you and your child and there are also excellent on-line resources and books where you can learn the technique yourself. Children can also learn simple versions of Mindfulness Meditation that help ease anxiety. Find a teacher who works with young people or find a psychologist who practices Mindfulness Based Psychotherapy or Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (MBCBT).

Help your Child Deal with Academic Failure

A child spends about twenty developmental years in school. He spends more time on academics than any other activity during his growing up years. What happens when his talents and abilities lie outside the academic realm? What is it like to deal with regular academic failure and frustration? Whether a child has chronic and severe learning issues or whether he or she has simply gotten a low score on one particular project, academic failure can be traumatic, especially when it comes after much hard work and struggle. Not being able to make the grade on a regular basis tends to lower a child’s self-esteem; tutors, remedial classes and make-up tests can be demoralizing.

How can parents help their child deal with academic failure and frustration? Consider the following tips:

Intervene Early
It’s important that parents communicate their concern and support as early as the first signs of academic failure. While trusting our children to bounce back on their own is a good thing, parents can’t afford to intervene only when the final report card is released. Ongoing interest in the child’s school performance not only prevents sudden surprises at end of term, but also allows parents to offer emotional support, encouragement and practical intervention. Sometimes a little individual attention from a teacher or tutor can set the child on course. Sometimes boosting the child’s confidence in non-academic areas can buffer the frustration of negative academic feedback. The earlier parents can step in to address the situation, the less “repair” they’ll need to do later on.

Deal with Your Child’s Feelings
Parents understandably get upset when presented with a failing mark. But it’s important to remember that children have strong feelings about failure too — even if they come across as uncaring about their grade. Sit down with your child and ask them how they feel about the situation. Let them vent. And be willing to look past a defiant exterior; insolence can be a mask to hide a child’s feelings of vulnerability inside. Don’t be alarmed if your child “doesn’t care” about his low grades – that’s most likely a neat defence he is building to ward off feelings of shame and failure. Don’t overwhelm your youngster with your own feelings about his grades; instead, ask in a matter-0f-fact tone about how he feels and then reflect his words back to him. “I know what you mean..it IS frustrating when the teacher doesn’t give part-marks…and really annoying when you actually spent time studying and then get a mark like this.” After you “emotionally coach” the child in this way, spare him the lectures. If you have a handy tip to offer, first ASK him if he’d like to hear it and if he doesn’t want to, just leave it for now. He may ask you about it later. You can also offer help and intervention: “Would you like some help in studying next time?” or “Would you like me to ask the teacher to give you a little time after school to go over things?” or “Would you like a tutor?” and so on.

Help Ascertain the Reasons for the Failure
Instead of focusing on the disappointing outcome, focus instead on identifying the factors that contributed to the failure. Usually it’s not one reason, but a combination of many things like learning and/or attention issues, lack of motivation, lack of conducive study spaces or dislike for the subject matter. When academic problems are chronic, a professional psycho-educational assessment is the best venue for determining the cause. Most school boards can arrange this for their students and private psychologists also specialize in providing this service.

Get Your Child to Take Responsibility
Is your child at fault for the failure? Perhaps he skips class or chooses to watch TV instead of reviewing for an exam. If this is the case, it is important that parents get the child to acknowledge that he also has a contribution to the failure. This step is not to encourage self-blame, but to instill responsibility for one’s choices and behavior. And to make responsibility easier to accept, parents can also acknowledge their own shortcomings to their children and how they’ve addressed them over the years. Modeling how to take ownership for the consequences of one’s actions is one of the best gifts parents can give to a child.

Set Learning Goals Together
Parents can help children deal with academic failure by being future-oriented and proactive. Set learning outcomes together with your child, for example decide on acceptable and realistic targets for the next grading period or the next school year. Create a workable map on how to achieve those learning outcomes. Make plans too involving behavioral changes that need to happen in order to facilitate a better academic performance.

Fear of New Experiences

To a certain extent, we all fear new experiences. We human beings like to know what to expect and what is expected of us in any given situation. The more we know about a “first-time” experience, the less fear we feel and the more confident and in-control we tend to be. Preparing for childbirth, for instance, helps first time parents to learn about the different stages of birthing and helps them acquire coping skills for each stage.

Children have many “first-time” experiences. There’s the first time with a babysitter, the first time getting a haircut, the first day of school (each year!), the first time at the dentist and so on and so forth. Every first-time event brings the child into contact with the unknown and the stress that accompanies it. What can parents do it help their children negotiate new experiences more comfortably?

Preparation
Just as it does for adults, information helps kids cope better with new experiences. Parents can use “bibliotherapy” (reading books)  to help prepare children for most new experiences; your public library most likely has a large selection of books about starting school, going to the doctor, going to the hospital, going on an airplane and so on. Similarly, parents can use the computer to show children pictures of virtually everything and in many cases, parents can actually take the child physically to the scene of the upcoming experience (i.e. to the hospital, to the classroom, to the barber shop) in order to become familiar with the setting and procedures before having to actually use them. Telling the child what will happen in a step-by-step fashion is also an excellent form of preparation (“First we’ll wait in a big room until a nurse calls our name. Then we’ll go into a small room and wait for Dr. Paulson. You’ll take your clothes off and put on a special hospital gown. Then Dr. Paulson will ask you to lie on the table and he’ll feel your tummy with his hands, sort of like this…”).

Alternative Remedies
Bach Flower Remedies and other similar preparations can be used to help children who are particularly fearful of new experiences. The remedy Mimulus can help as can the remedy Walnut. Two drops of each remedy in water or other liquid four times a day a couple of weeks before the new experience can help the child feel more relaxed and confident on the day of the event. Most health food stores carry the Bach Remedies. On the day of the new experience itself, whether or not the child has been taking remedies in the previous days or weeks, the mixture called “Rescue Remedy” can be taken as often as needed to help the child feel calm and confident (it’s great for adults too!).

Bilateral Tapping or EFT
Self-help techniques like “WHEE” or “EFT” (emotional freedom technique) can be used to help very fearful children get calm before a new experience. The internet is an excellent resource for these techniques and there are many therapists who can teach you how to help your child using a few minutes of these mind/body strategies.

Professional Therapy
Children who experience panic at the thought of a new experience or who have overwhelming fear during new experiences can be helped by a child psychologist. Often, brief therapy is all that is needed to provide the child with a set of coping skills.

Fear that Parents Will Die

“Please don’t go to work today. I don’t want you to get hit by a car.”

“I don’t want to sleep. What if you don’t wake up with me tomorrow? You can stop breathing sometime in the night.”

“I think something bad is going to happen. I can just feel it.”

Childhood fears and phobias are normal during the younger years; in the course of a child’s life, he or she will get afraid countless times. But no fear is probably as gripping or as anxiety-provoking as the fear that parents will die. Parents are a child’s entire world, and just the thought of losing one or both parents is too tragic to even contemplate.

But what can parents do? Of all the fears, this is one of the hardest to give assurance for — we don’t know what will happen to us tomorrow. But we can hardly let our child go on worrying about our health, safety or well-being 24/7. Not only will the fear paralyze them, it may also result in long-term issues in parental attachment. Children can become afraid of getting close to us because of the fear of loss.

The following are some tips in dealing with children’s fear that parents will die:

Try to Determine Where the Fear Started
Around four or five years of age, fear of parental death often surfaces. At this age, children begin to become aware of the concept of death and they often start asking about it or fretting about it in an almost obsessive way. Their concern normally fades away over a period of months with little parental intervention. Fear of parents’ death is sometimes triggered by an event that made children aware that people can die. Perhaps a classmate’s parent passed away. Or maybe there is terminal illness in the family. It can also be that your child saw a television program where the main character’s parent passed away, or there are news accounts of accidents and crimes. It’s important that you surface the cause of the fear and show that the odds of you suffering the same fate are low. Let your child know that people do die, but this usually happens when people are very old and the children are all grown up. One of the major underlying fears of parental death is the fear of abandonment. Letting children know that they will always be looked after by grownups if anything happens can help reduce the fear somewhat.

Allow Them to Talk About their Fear
Fear of parents’ death can’t be commanded to go away. Like other fears, it is best addressed by Emotional Coaching. Instead of concentrating on offering reassurance, concentrate on naming the child’s feeling and allowing her to just have it. For instance, if your daughter says, “I’m afraid you’re going to die,” don’t tell her “I’m not going to die.” Instead, name her feeling back to her: “That IS a scary feeling. You don’t want Mommy to die.” You don’t try to reason with her or talk her out of her fear, since this strategy has a way of sending the fear even deeper into the psyche. Instead, you just show that you are relaxed with the child’s feeling – you’re not all in a panic about her panic! When the child sees that you are able to handle her fear, she also relaxes and very often, she completely drops the fear! Suppose the child continues the conversation by actually asking you for reassurance: “So tell me are AREN’T going to die Mommy.” Again, name her feeling. “You’re really scared Mommy is going to die! Well, that isn’t very likely right now. What’s very likely is that Mommy will wake up with you tomorrow just like she did yesterday and the day before.” Again, you’re calm attitude will help a lot. Don’t work too hard at proving nothing will ever happen to you because, after all, even you don’t know that to be true.

Teach Positive Coping Skills
Fear is an emotion, and therefore can be addressed by skills in emotional management. They may be encouraged to draw what they are feeling, and more importantly, talk about their drawings to their parents. Structured play can also help kids relax and ventilate. Children can be taught to pray and to feel God’s support. They can be taught to imagine calming pictures in their mind instead of imagining scary ones. Bach Flower Remedies like Red Chestnut (for worry about loved ones) or Mimulus (for fears) may be helpful. If a child is suffering from her fears – i.e. she is having trouble falling asleep, sleeping in her own room, maintaining a calm, happy mood – professional assessment and counseling may be warranted.

Fear of the Dark

Turning the lights off is usually a signal to rest and relax. Some children, however, consider it as a signal to panic. When a child is afraid of the dark, even the simple act of trying to sleep can be a stressful experience.

Fear of Dark is Common
Fear of the dark is one of the most common fears among young children, with the fear affecting kids as young as two years-old. Many researchers believe that this fear is part of our survival instincts; some of our ancestors probably did well by being alert during nightfall. But since we no longer need to worry about nocturnal beasts roaming after day, this fear no longer serves a purpose in our civilized times. The best thing to do is manage the fear, as the threat doesn’t exist.

Fear of the dark is often not because of the dark per se, but of what can be lurking in the dark that you can’t see. When kids hear strange noises as they sleep, it’s easy for them to imagine that a monster or a robber is out to get them. When they can’t make sense of the moving shadows on their walls, their mind starts going to ghosts and ghouls. It doesn’t help, of course, if they are fond of watching horror programs on TV or news stories about crimes. Children have imaginative minds; you’d be surprised with what they can fill blanks with.

Helping Your Child
One way to help a child manage fear of the dark is to simply let them sleep with the lights on. After all, there’s no harm in not turning off the lights, except perhaps to the parents’ electric bill! An alternative is to give them a nightlight, like a small lamp, or a flashlight that they can use when they don’t feel safe. When kids have the means to check out whether their fears have basis, they will feel more in control.

Most parenting experts don’t recommend checking for “monsters under the bed” or “bogeymen hiding in the closet.” Doing so merely affirms to a child that these creatures do exist, and will come to get them. An alternative is to accompany them in checking their room’s nook and crannies, so that they can be assured that they have nothing to be afraid of.  The Bach Flower Remedy Aspen helps heal fear of monsters and general fear of the dark.

Fear of robbers is a different matter of course, as the possibility of getting burglarized does exist. If your child is afraid of criminals making it to their room, the best thing a parent can do is show them how tightly locked their windows are, and how accessible is help in case they need it. With children old enough to understand “probability” parents can do a bit of homestyle cognitive therapy: ask the child if they personally know anyone who was bothered by robbers (this only works if you live in a safe neighborhood). Then ask them how likely it is that a robber will break into their house. If the child knows that it is highly unlikely but still feels intense fear you have several options:

  • Help the child to learn to just “sit” with his or her fear; tell the child to pay attention to the fear and how it feels in the body (i.e. around the heart, in the tummy). The child should continue to feel the fear in the body and just let it be there. Sooner or later the fear will just stop by itself (this being the nature of adrenaline).
  • Teach the child some visualization strategies: help him or her to picture protective angels, animals or other imaginary protectors. Or, help the child picture sleeping safely at night and waking safely in the morning.
  • If you have a religious faith, teach the child to pray for protection before going to sleep.
  • Assign a large stuffed animal to protect the room (especially suitable for small children but even bigger kids with robber phobias may go for this)
  • Leave the light on.
  • Give the child the Bach Remedy called Mimulus. Add 2 drops to water or other hot or cold liquid four times a day until the child’s fear of robbers diminishes.
  • If none of the above steps work, consider arranging a consultation with a child psychologist.