Worry about the World Situation

Reading the newspaper, listening to the news or watching the daily bulletin on TV can be a stressful exercise for anyone. Bad news in all its graphic detail is flashed before the viewer’s eyes: violent storms, terrorism, crime, fatal accidents, human rights abuses and more. Watching, hearing and reading this sort of content on a regular basis could cause anyone to worry about what’s going on in the world. However, children are particularly susceptible to negative impressions, tending to overvalue images and information not only because of emotional vulnerability, but also because of a lack of knowledge, experience and perspective. In addition, some children are particularly vulnerable to the impact of the media because they are natural born “worriers” to begin with. Once exposed to distressing information, these youngsters may run with it: “Will we die in a tornado?” “Are we going to have a war?” “Will the robbers come to our house?” “Professional worriers” can obsess about, talk about and even dream about world problems like  terrorism, war, famine and natural disasters. .

If  your child worries excessively about the world situation, consider the following tips:

Validate Feelings
Address the worry directly by inviting your child to tell you about it. Your child’s worry may be exaggerated, but very real and distressing for him or her to experience. You can help your youngster release some of this fear by welcoming his or her thoughts and feelings without judgment or correction. This form of listening is called Emotional Coaching. It consists of naming and accepting feelings, and summarizing what your child is saying. For instance, if your child says “I’m scared of the terrorists” you can say, “I’m glad you’re telling me. Yes, terrorists are scary because they hurt people.” Even though you are acknowledging your child’s fear – and his right to be afraid – , you will still be helping  him to calm down just by listening and naming his fear. Because you are not avoiding it or trying to talk him out of it in any way, the child experiences your lack of fear of his fear. This is what calms him down: your ability to name his feeling calmly. If the child asks questions like, “are terrorists going to come here?” you can name his feeling and speak the truth as you see it: “I know you’re scared that terrorists will come. I don’t know if they will or not but I hope they don’t. It’s really up to God. We will do the best we can in any situation in which we find ourselves.” In other words, you are not making false promises. If there is only a tiny chance statistically of certain kinds of disasters happening in your geographical location, it’s fine to say this as well. For instance, “I know you’re afraid of earthquakes. Our area is very unlikely to have one because it’s never had one yet. And there’s nothing we need to do to prepare for one. Therefore, when you find yourself thinking about earthquakes, you might be better off putting your attention on a happier thought or idea.”

Calm Anxieties
Children who worry obsessively (think too much about the world situation and its potential negative consequences) may benefit from the Bach Flower Remedy White Chestnut. This remedy helps to calm a noisy mind (in both children and adults). Two drops in any hot or cold liquid, 3 or 4 times a day, can be taken until the negative obsessing stops. If worries return, start taking the drops again.

You can also teach your child how to use EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) to put a stop to worrying. There are many online resources teaching EFT and there are also many therapists who can offer both treatment and training. EFT helps children of every age learn how to use acupressure to effectively eliminate all kinds of stress and anxiety, including worrying about the world situation.

Another technique to offer your child is to help your child refocus his or her attention when worries come up. Talk about the fact that worries don’t solve the world’s problems but they do cause personal stress. Explain that we can choose which thoughts and feelings we will pay attention to and that we don’t HAVE to pay attention to a thought that pops into our mind if that thought is not making us feel comfortable. Instead, we can put our attention on a completely different, very good feeling thought. For instance, instead of thinking about possible terrible events, one can think about one’s pet or one’s favorite ice cream cone! It’s important to focus attention on the better feeling thought for a number of moments.

Books and internet resources can also teach children and teens (and adults) techniques to help stop worrying.

If these self-help measures are insufficient to reduce your child’s worries, a mental health professional may be able to provide further help in relieving your child’s worry habit.

Activism vs. Helplessness
A child’s worry about world events is often wrapped in feelings of helpless and/or overwhelm. The feeling of being a potential victim is indeed disturbing. However, parents can help empower their kids through inculcating healthy attitudes toward factors outside of one’s control. Instead of just brushing off a child’s worry with  “we can’t do anything about those things, Honey”, or “we already have more problems than we can handle without having to worry about what’s going on halfway around the globe!”  parents can take the opportunity to instill in their kids social awareness and social concern. By teaching children that there ARE actions that they can take, parents give children a way to take some control of their lives and the world they are living in. This sense of control is, itself, an antidote to worry. There are lots of books in the public library about children who were able to make a difference in the political realm simply by raising money or writing letters. Parents can inspire their kids by reading these stories to them. Parents can actually teach children how to write a letter to government officials or how to give charity to help victims of terrorism or natural disasters. In other words, parents can convey the message that when there is a problem, people of all ages must step up to the plate to help solve it.

Repetitive Asking (Child Asks Same Questions Over and Over)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Teddy Bears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Afraid of Monsters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worries

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

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

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

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

How to Stop Your Own Worry Habit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nightmares

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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).