Talking to Teens about Sex

You may have already had a chat with your pre-teen about the body, the female menstrual cycle, and even how babies are made, so you may feel that you’ve done all you need to do. However, as your child grows into his or her teens, there is good reason to have another chat. The stakes are higher now as it is increasingly likely that your youngster will actually have some sort of active sexual life before marriage and before the age of twenty. In fact, he or she may have several intimate partners during this period. To be healthy and safe, your child needs accurate information. If you do not talk to your teenager about sexuality, your child will still learn about it — perhaps from sources you won’t approve of. Not all schools offer quality sex education; most kids glean information about sex from the internet, TV and well-meaning (but not necessarily knowledgeable) peers. If you want to make sure your teen understands sexuality the right way, it’s best to invest time in “the talk.”

How to Speak to Your Teen about Sex
The ideal way to talk about sexuality is the way a doctor would do it – in a friendly, matter-of-fact, educational sort of tone. “Parental” talk full of threats, dire warnings, judgments and so on, can backfire, causing your child to go underground, get answers elsewhere and/or become deceptive. In fact, if you feel that you can’t speak about this subject calmly and non-judgmentally, you can actually make an appointment for your doctor to give over the important health information to  your child. On the other hand, if you feel up to being the educator, you may want to research the topic of sexual disease, using books, internet and medical resources like your doctor. You want to be sure to give your child the right information because if your child finds that you have been exaggerating or fabricating or just giving wrong information on one or two points, then he or she may disregard your entire message.

Utilize Resources
When talking with your child, you can use books designed especially for teens on this subject – ask your local librarian to suggest some titles. Leave a couple of books around the house (and in the bathroom) for your child to leaf through. Books make the information less personal – the truth is that it’s not YOUR ideas you are trying to ram down the child’s throat, but rather, it’s just a collection of objective facts and information. Most books will discuss both the physical health concerns and also the emotional aspects of intimacy. You should also address both aspects, helping your child be aware of his or her impact on other people as well as being prepared for the intense emotions that can be triggered by intimacy. Ideally you can discuss the differences between having sex and having a relationship.

Be Honest and Open
You should mention your personal values regarding sexuality, while acknowledging that your child will have to form his or her own opinions on this important subject. Emphasize, too, that what popular culture and media has to say doesn’t always reflect your own personal values or your family’s values. Go ahead and discuss how the media represents sex and sexuality, exploring current cultural values regarding love, marriage and intimacy. Compare and contrast these values with your own. Help your child to understand why you feel whatever you feel on this topic. For instance, if you believe that a person should only be intimate in the context of a serious relationship, be prepared to explain why you feel this way. At the same time, acknowledge that your child may feel differently. This acknowledgment helps prevent your child from having to reject your values, as it gives him or her space to evaluate what you are saying and see how it fits and feels. Although you are making it clear that you do have opinions and values, you want to keep that tone non-judgmental. This will allow your child to ask questions. And be prepared – he or she may have LOTS of questions.

Confront the Issues Head On
Today’s culture encourages bi-sexuality, homosexuality and to some extent, promiscuity (a large selection of intimate partners). Polygamy, open-marriages, serial divorce, “friends with benefits” and all sorts of other intimate relationships are rampant. Be ready to give your opinions about all these lifestyle issues and the reasons for the way you feel – but be careful to continue to speak in a tone that is soft and welcoming. Acknowledge that other people have their own opinions on this topic. Be proactive if you want, and ask the child what he or she thinks about these things. If the child says that he or she has cravings for the same sex, acknowledge that this is common as we grow up, but that almost all people develop a specific sexual orientation over time. If the child feels that he or she is bisexual, then again, acknowledge that this is a common feeling and then discuss the pro’s and con’s of each lifestyle. If you have a religious perspective, offer it. However, even if you believe that homosexuality is a grave sin, continue to express your ideas respectfully and calmly. As it says in Proverbs, “The words of the wise are heard best when spoken softly.” In other words, having a temper tantrum won’t help your child choose a healthy path. If your child is confused and wants help, offer to arrange a meeting with a spiritual advisor and/or a professional who specializes in sexuality or adolescent psychology.

Homework Issues

While homework sometimes goes smoothly for some children and their parents – it often doesn’t! Homework issues abound, from kids who forget to do their homework, to kids who don’t want to do it, to kids who simply can’t do it. Let’s look at some common homework challenges and their solutions:

Inborn Homework Challenges
Some children are naturals when it comes to homework. They enjoy school work and tend to be independent and mature. They know what their homework is, they bring it home and do it and they take it back to school – all with no or minimal parental supervision. However, there are two other genetic homework profiles to consider: the “average” child and the “organizationally challenged” child. The average child would rather play than do homework. Like the average adult, this youngster tries to avoid unpleasant tasks as long as possible. Parents have to provide encouragement and structure for this kind of child, teaching him or her to settle down to the task and apply appropriate attention and effort. In the younger grades, parents may actually set the homework time and participate in the work itself with some of these youngsters, although some children in this group simply need to be pointed toward their desk. The average child may balk or dawdle, but eventually he or she cooperates and the task is completed. Smart parents try to make the time pass pleasantly with plenty of positive feedback, good humor and maybe even little niceties like milk and cookies. The average child might also benefit from and be receptive to some parental advice when it comes to homework: encouragement to take short breaks, for instance, or reminders to do the work carefully and neatly.

The organizationally challenged child often doesn’t bring his or her homework home. If it is brought home, it is wrinkled, crinkled and half-missing. If it is in one piece, it is too long or too hard or both. If it gets done, it doesn’t make it back to school. No matter how the parent tries to organize this child – providing special notebooks, folders and systems – the same organizational challenges present themselves year after year. This child’s brain is wired for creativity and many other positive attributes, but not for boring, detailed tasks like homework and not for the organizational abilities required to see it through. The wiring – being a built-in feature of this kind of brain – normally affects people throughout their life spans. Although they may eventually learn some tricks to help themselves work around organizational deficits, the best trick in adulthood is to get a good administrative assistant and/or spouse!

Teenagers & Homework
As these three homework “types” move into adolescence, the challenge for parents changes. The “organized and responsible” child never presented a real challenge and that likely remains the same throughout the teenage years. The “average” child who needed some coaxing in the grade school years, is now an adolescent and, like all adolescents, has much less tolerance for coaxing. At this age, a young person has a strong distaste for being told what to do and when and how to do it. If the parent was an unpleasant coaxer earlier on – that is, actually fought with the child over homework – the topic will be even more contentious now. However, even if the parent had been firm and patient in those earlier years, the teenage child now balks at explicit instructions.

What can parents of homework-allergic teens do? First of all, it is necessary to adopt strategies that are appropriate for the second decade. Compliments are welcome throughout the lifespan, so the occasional positive remark offered for responsible behavior can be employed. Too much praise for doing homework at this age is inappropriate, however. It would be the same if your spouse praised you regularly for getting up in the morning – more insulting than helpful! Once the children hit the teen years, the most important strategy is standing back. By that time, you will have expressed your philosophy of life and homework many, many times over. The child knows your views. Now is the time to let the child experience the consequences of not performing well. Here is where it becomes very hard for parents. In the teenage years, children need to deal with their own problems in order to develop the muscles for doing so later in life. Indeed, adversity breeds creativity, ingenuity and other coping skills. It is better to have learning opportunities in the teen years than in the years of adulthood that follow quickly after.

Most important, be aware of the possible consequences of your interventions. While the occasional reminder may be tolerated, many reminders might actually erode your parent-child relationship (and thereby, your overall power to positively influence your children). NEVER use anger. Even if the homework gets done, the personality of the child and your relationship with her may both be damaged as a result of anger. Moreover, academic success achieved this way is normally a temporary exception in the child’s life. Once the child is left to his or her own devices, he or she will regress to the default non-performance position. The most important strategy of all may be to reinforce your child’s natural talents and abilities and focus less on academic performance. Help him or her to find and maximize natural strengths. People normally succeed best in life by utilizing their God-given gifts. Strengthen these and by doing so, you will strengthen your youngster’s self-confidence, self-esteem, positive mood and desire to do his or her best. And that’s the best that you can do.

Parenting Style
Some parenting styles can contribute to homework issues in some children. For instance, when parents provide insufficient supervision for younger children, the kids sometimes figure out how to “work the system.” They learn that they can just show Mom and Dad a little effort and then, with no further reporting obligations, they can get back to their games or computer to have some real fun! Problems like this can be addressed by being more conscientious about checking to see if homework is complete and well done when children are still in grade school.  Close supervision of this kind is not generally appropriate for teens however. That age group must deal with the consequences of their poor study habits (such as low grades or teacher feedback) and make corrections on their own.

Distraction
Sometimes, the learning style of the child affects the way homework is done. For instance, incomplete homework may be due to being too distracted to get the job done successfully. Perhaps your child’s study station is too noisy and busy for him to be able to concentrate for a long period of time. Some children do better with less hustle and bustle around them. If this is the case, try to make the homework location as protected as possible. This can sometimes be accomplished by putting a desk in a quiet part of the house or creating a homemade “study carol” by using cardboard boxes around the desk to block out the sights and sounds around. Of course, some children are distracted not so much by their external environment as by their internal environment – the chatter inside their heads. For instance, a child may start to do his arithmetic and then begin thinking about the numbers in a card trick he learned. This gets him thinking about what happened at recess and reminds him that he has to talk to his friend after school today. His mind flits on and on, from one topic to another and the arithmetic is no longer on the agenda. It’s just the way his brain works, moving from one thing to the next, making it quite challenging to focus on boring tasks like homework. The Bach Flower Remedy Chestnut Bud may help reduce the scattered tendencies when they are caused by an easily-distracted nature. or the Remedy Clematis might help if the child is prone to being “spacey” or engaging in daydreams. (You can find more information on the Bach Flower Remedies online and throughout this site.) If neither help, a professional assessment is in order. Sometimes the cuplrit is ADHD – attention deficit disorder; treatment may involve behavioral modification and/or medication. If your child does get distracted on a regular basis, a professional psycho-educational assessment can help determine the cause of the problem and the most appropriate forms of intervention.

Learning Disabilities or Challenges
Incomplete homework may also be an indication that your child is having problems with the lesson. After all, it’s not unusual for teachers to combine easy and hard questions in the same assignment to both interest and challenge a child. Perhaps your child breezed through the simple problems and then struggled with the more complicated ones. If failing to complete homework is a chronic and recurring issue, then consider the possibility that your child is having some difficulty with the task. If this is the case, an educational assessment may help locate the source of the difficulty. Ask your child’s teacher or pediatrician for a referral to someone who can diagnose a child’s learning problem. Sometimes tutorial services may help the child perform better and parents can arrange this help with or without having the child assessed. However, an assessment can point the way to the best interventions for the particular youngster.

Perfectionism and/or Anxiety
Failure to complete homework may also be a sign of anxiety regarding failure and/or evaluation. Maybe your child is motivated to start assignments, but dreads the idea of you or teachers checking his or her performance. For some kids, it is less threatening to think “I failed because I have incomplete work” than feeling “I failed because I wasn’t good enough.”

If this is the case, do what you can to take some of the pressure off of academics; help your child to relax and enjoy life by focusing on extracurricular activities, hobbies, exercise and relaxation. If these steps don’t help your anxious child to calm down around schoolwork, consider the possibility that the youngster is more anxious than he or she needs to be. Again, professional assessment can help determine whether professional intervention of some kind might be helpful. If home treatment is sufficient, you can offer Bach Flower Remedies (or, try the remedies first and if they seem to help within a few weeks, then further assessment and treatment may be unnecessary. However, if after a few weeks of treatment with Bach Flowers, your child’s anxiety is still interfering with schoolwork, it is likely time for a mental health assessment.) For a child whose self-imposed high standards are interfering with completion of schoolwork, you might try the Bach Larch (for fear of failure) and Rock Water (for perfectionism). Alternatively, an evaluation by a Bach Flower Practitioner can help determine if other remedies may be useful. You can also read up on descriptions of the 38 remedies in books and online and try up to 7 of those you think might be useful. Mix 2 drops of each one in a single 1oz. glass mixing bottle and put 4 drops into liquid (juice, water, milk, chocolate milk, tea, coffee, soda, etc.) 4 times a day until the child no longer seems to be experiencing tension and fear around homework issues.

Assessment and Intervention
As we have seen, many factors can impact on a child’s ability to do homework. If you have done everything you can and your child is still having homework problems, do try to arrange for a psychological assessment to help determine the source of his or her difficulty and to receive remedial recommendations and interventions.

Fakes Illness

Children often complain of stomach aches and vague symptoms like “not feeling well.” When there isn’t a fever, a rash, an x-ray or other “evidence” of illness, parents often feel confused. Is the child really sick of just “faking it?” Should the parent allow the child to stay home from school or send him off whining and crying?

What would cause a child to “fake illness?” While some parents may feel that laziness, lack of motivation or some other attitude problem may be the culprit, in fact there are often more serious reasons lurking beneath the surface.

If your child frequently complains of illness that the doctor cannot substantiate, consider the following tips:

Social Problems
Some children feel unsafe or uncomfortable at school. The discomfort can be triggered by the teacher, classmates or children in the schoolyard. How does a parent find out if the child is feeling frightened? Try not to ask directly. For instance, try not to ask, “Is someone frightening you?” Instead, use bibliotherapy – the reading of stories (or telling stories) about kids who are having trouble with friends, bullies or teachers. As you are reading, share some of your own memories of difficult times in your own childhood school days. In that context, you can ask the child “did something like this ever happen to you?”  This approach eases the child, allowing the youngster to learn first that social difficulties are normal and common. This helps him to relax, talk and listen better, giving you more opportunity to be helpful.

If the child does end up sharing a social problem, try to stay very calm and quiet no matter what you are hearing. This helps the child feel safe enough to tell you the whole story and to continue to share with you. If the child needs your help or intervention, do all problem-solving calmly and slowly. Take time to seek advice from your spouse, the teacher or a professional – whoever is appropriate. Work out a plan with the child and/or with a professional. Sometimes a formal plan isn’t necessary – just giving the child the opportunity to talk about his problem can be helpful. Often the child can work out his own solutions when a parent just listens compassionately, without jumping in with advice.

Academic Issues
If you have an exceptionally bright child, then he or she may not be interested with the current lessons and is painfully bored at school. On the other hand, school can sometimes be too challenging for a child, leaving the youngster feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Sometimes a child just needs a day off – a mental health day – after a period of hard work, academic stress or general life pressure. In such a case, just give your child an occasional day off and tell him directly that he doesn’t need to be sick. Just arrange a break once every couple of months or so. If you’re not sure whether schoolwork is the issue, a psycho-educational assessment can pinpoint the problem and offer solutions. Sometimes, it’s as simple as ordering glasses for a child who can’t see the board or read the instructions.

Family Problems
Sometimes a child is emotionally distressed by stress in the home. The child wants to stay home either because he is too distressed and distracted by what’s happening in the family (conflict, violence, separation, divorce, illness, dying, etc.), or because he wants to keep the home safe himself by “holding down the fort.” Sometimes the child is trying to divert attention from a family crisis by being “sick” and needy; if everyone has to take care of him, then they won’t be able to die/fight/dissolve or otherwise engage in some destructive process.

If you suspect that the child is reacting to family problems, make sure you are addressing the family problems. Enlist the help of a professional family therapist – your child’s behavior is a real cry for help. Make sure that the adults get the help they need and that the child has someone to talk to.

Hidden Health Problems
Just because the family doctor can’t find a problem, doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. Consider consulting a naturopath or alternative health practitioner to explore the aches and pains more fully. There are many different paradigms and healing options out there – you might discover one that really helps. Especially when stomach problems are reported, keep in mind that stress is NOT always the problem. Hidden food intolerances can cause lots of physical, emotional and even behavioral issues.

Alternatives to University or College Education

Traditional college education is not necessarily appropriate for every single young person. In fact, many students and their parents are looking for other options besides the traditional universities and community colleges. Fortunately, many are finding newer and better opportunities outside the traditional school system.

If your child isn’t interested in or well-suited to a full-time, full-length post-high school academic program, consider the following tips:

Independent Learners
Distance learning education can be an excellent option for teens who can work independently. Independent learning programs often allow for greater flexibility, allowing students to work at their own pace. Your teen does not need to attend a campus, but can work wherever there is an internet connection. Some courses don’t even require that. There are special educational consultants who have already done all the research for you and who can find the right program for your child. Programs based in other countries may be accredited in your own town – just be sure to find out if that is the case before taking any move. It would be a shame to invest a lot of time and money in getting a certificate or degree, just to discover that it is not recognized in your own locality.

On-Job Experiences
Your teen may be able to get academic credit for his or her job experience in an organization. Discuss this option with certifying educational programs. In addition, keep in mind that working experience is actually vitally important when it comes to finding a full-time job – even if it doesn’t count as part of the academic credits, it is likely to have a significant positive impact on your child’s future. Today, many students “intern” – meaning, do unpaid work in order to learn skills and acquire experience. Whether it’s called interning, volunteering, apprenticing or something else, unpaid work experience can certainly set a child on the right course toward a productive career. Similarly, entrance-level positions where the youngster can learn on the job can be great stepping stones to a proper career.

Working and Studying
Some young people can start working in a field of interest or in a related field, and then beginning taking courses in order to qualify for higher level work within that  field. Mature students are often more motivated and even more competent at their studies. After a few years in the workforce, people have a better idea of what they really want and they can aim their efforts more directly at their goals. It happens occasionally that young people decide they want to go to university or college full time in order to complete a particular degree, or it may happen that their place of work will pay for them to take certain courses, certificates or even degrees.

Gaining Credit for Current Skill Set
Another consideration is the possibility of obtaining university or college credits based on current skills. For instance, your child might be fluent in a foreign language or possess excellent skills in Math and Physics. Some universities offer the privilege of skipping certain courses as long as the student gets the required grade on a standardized examination. It is sometimes possible to get credited and accelerated this way, saving time and money toward a degree.

The Importance of Teddy Bears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding Your Teen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vocal Tics (Sounds and Noises)

Some children (and adults) make repetitive sounds that serve no communicative or health purpose. These sounds are called “vocal tics.” A vocal tic can be a cough, much like the cough one has when one has a cold, except that in the case of a tic – there is no cold and consequently no need to clear the passages of mucous! Sometimes the doctor will mistake this kind of cough for post-nasal drip – a small irritant in the throat. However, a true vocal tic is more like a bodily habit without a physical cause; there is no post-nasal drip. In addition, the cough does not stem from “nerves” or nervousness and therefore, it is also inaccurate to call it a “nervous habit.” A vocal tic is a biological disorder that is usually inherited. Calm people can have tics just as easily as anxious people. Nonetheless, stress does tend to aggravate tics, resulting in a temporary increase in symptoms.

Coughs are only one kind of vocal tic. A person can make any sound, including words. There are barks, hisses, grunts, sniffles, clicks and other noises. There are words or phrases that are repeated and in one kind of vocal tic (corprolalia), there are expletives (swear words) or “dirty words” that seem to jump out of nowhere.

If a child has both vocal tics and motor tics (repetitive, non-purposeful movements like jerking, bobbing, twitching and so on), he may have Tourette’s Syndrome. If he has only one kind of tic for less than a year, he may have transient tic disorder. Chronic Tic Disorder is the name given to tics that last longer than one year. Some children with tic disorders also have other disorders such as ADHD, OCD, mood disorders, anxiety disorders and conduct disorders. Many children, however, have simple tic disorders that improve with treatment or even on their own over time.

What Causes Tics?
Brain abnormalities can cause tics. Both structural changes in the brain and biochemical changes have been found in those who have tic disorders. Tic disorders run in family trees. Tic disorders commence before the age of 18. Sometimes they begin after taking a medicine (i.e. Ritalin, antidepressant medication, Cylert and Cocaine can all trigger tics in sensitive individuals). Sometimes tics may begin after a strep infection (in a similar way to PANDAS – the post-viral form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder). Sometimes injuries or other health conditions (even a common cold) can trigger the development of a tic. In all cases, the environment is thought to trigger a gene that is present in the child.

Although more tics occur when a child is feeling stressed or anxious, neither stress nor anxiety cause tics. Emotional distress worsens or aggravates a tic disorder temporarily. Stress reduction techniques bring tics back under control. The condition waxes and wanes – sometimes throughout life, but very commonly only until the end of adolescence when the tics may just disappear by themselves.

What Helps Tics?
Some medications can be helpful for tics – speak to your doctor or psychiatrist about this approach. Behavioral therapy can also be very helpful in reducing the tendency to tic. A psychologist can create the proper intervention for this kind of therapy. In addition, some alternative treatments have been found to be helpful in treating tics. For instance, nutritional interventions such as abstaining from coffee, pesticides, certain chemicals and so on, can sometimes help. Bach Flower Therapy (especially the remedy called Agrimony) has been very helpful for some children and teens with tics – consult a Bach Flower Practitioner for best results. Homeopathy and acupuncture might also be helpful. In fact, any intervention that helps reduce stress can help reduce the tendency to tic. Experimenting with several different healing modalities will help parents assess which one or ones have a positive effect on the course of the disorder.

Asking a child to stop making noises is NOT helpful and in fact, may lead to more tic behavior as the request itself induces stress. Tics are not done on purpose and they CANNOT be resisted. A child can delay a tic, but not stop it. Therefore, the youngster needs parental understanding and tolerance. The tic is not the child’s fault; rather, he or she is suffering from a disorder of the brain. Fortunately, tic disorders can be relatively mild, they can remit spontaneously and even when they do persist, they do not tend to interfere with academic performance or other normal functioning.

Self-Care

One important parenting goal is to raise children who are independent. Hopefully, by the end of two decades of effort, parents have been able to teach their child to take care of him or herself in every way. When the young person leaves home, he or she should be able to cook, clean up, pay bills, manage money, do laundry, maintain healthy, hygienic personal standards and take care of him or herself in every other way. Training starts early in life: as soon as a little one can pull on his or her own socks, parents must stand back and give room for trial and error. While it seems easy in principle, in daily life teaching a child habits of self-care can be quite challenging.

In teaching your child to take care of him or herself, consider the following tips:

Baby Steps to Independence
At first, parents do EVERYTHING for a new human being – dressing the infant, grooming the infant, changing the infant’s diapers, washing the infant, carrying the infant, feeding the infant. As the child develops, we hope that he will be able to take over all of these functions. By toddlerhood we are hoping that the child can dress himself, brush his hair with a little parental assistance, toilet himself with minimal assistance, cooperate with the cleaning process (starting to learn to brush his teeth and use soap in the bathtub), walk about and feed himself using cutlery. By the time the child is in school, we expect that he can completely dress himself (perhaps with a little assistance for difficult snaps or buttons), brush his own hair, take care of his bathroom needs independently, brush his teeth, wash his face and bathe himself (with supervision), walk, run, cycle and perhaps skate and swim as well, and eat properly with a knife and fork.

Small Children Enjoy Being Helped by Their Parents
Very young children, and even kids up to 6 or 7 years old, enjoy parental attention and contact. Although they may be able to take their own clothing off or put new clothing on, they thrive on the feeling of being assisted. It reminds them of the “old days” when Mommy and Daddy nurtured them in every way possible, taking care of every tiny need. Now that they’re “big,” parents often abandon them to attend to the new baby in the family or just to do their own things. The young child misses the affectionate and gentle touch of the parent. An adult woman may be very skilled at putting her own coat on, but this doesn’t stop her from feeling oh so special if her special man holds it up for her to slip her sleeves into! In a similar vein, it is fine to assist young children in their dressing and grooming activities even though the child is capable of doing everything on his own. This sort of assistance is just one way of showing love and affection. Don’t do EVERYTHING for the child, however, as this may actually stunt his development. Rather, it’s fine to hand him his second sock as he is putting on his first one or help zipper up his pants after he pulled them on himself. Make sure that the child can, in fact, perform all the tasks adequately by giving him plenty of opportunity to demonstrate competence. Offer assistance in different ways rather than just the same way every time. This helps ensure that the child gets to practice his skills. Unless your child is severely disabled, you have every reason to expect that he’ll be able to perform all acts of self-care during the period of childhood; you needn’t worry that assisting him will somehow prevent his normal development.

Teach Your Child
Actually sit down and show small children how to get dressed, comb hair, brush teeth and so on. It’s fine to repeat aspects of the basic lessons with older kids as well. Some children need verbal instructions and demonstration – with everything broken down into small chunks. Don’t assume your child already knows what she is supposed to do. If the child needs practice, try to make it short and pleasant – even a form of “quality time.” Older kids can learn more indirectly. Bring home library books along with books on all sorts of other interesting subjects. Leave them in the bathroom and around the table. There are books on fashion, style, image and all aspects of personal appearance. If you feel your child needs a gentle hint, leaving such books around can be useful. An uninvolved party is delivering the important information. Similarly, local libraries may carry DVD’s on the subject. For teens who cannot get themselves together nicely, consider a consultation with a personal style consultant. Such a person can show your child how to pick out fashionable clothing, make-up and hair styles. A consultation such as this can give the child necessary confidence as well as skills.

Allow Time and Permit Failure
Whether you are encouraging your toddler to put on his own snow pants or encouraging your teen to get a driver’s licence, you need patience and a tolerance for the learning process. Everyone learns by trial and error. You can get your 5 year-old dressed faster so it’s very tempting to just grab those clothes and dress the child yourself when you’re in a rush to get to work. However, your child really needs the practice in order to become independent. Doing everything for your child not only delays skill-building, but may actually interfere with the child’s normal development.

The solution? Start the morning routine earlier to allow for time for the child to develop skills. Once your child knows how to dress herself, brush her teeth, do her hair, make her bed, get herself some breakfast and make her own lunch – you’ll have a much easier morning! It’s worth the investment of your time up front to help your child learn each skill.

Self-care for older children involves more complex tasks like thoroughly cleaning their own rooms, knowing how to cook healthy meals, knowing how to clean up afterward, knowing how to use the washing machine and dryer and wash clothing by hand, knowing how to get into bed at a decent hour and how to get up independently in the morning. It can also involve knowing how to apply for a job, take public transportation or learn to drive, go to work, purchase personal items, use a credit card and manage money. Of course, teens also need to be responsible for taking regular showers, brushing their teeth and arranging for regular medical and dental check-ups. Children grow into these skills over the second decade of life – but only if their parents encourage them to do so and give them opportunities to spread their wings.

Emphasize the Positive
Look for the “right” part of whatever the child is trying to do. If she is learning to wash her own hair, praise as much as possible before correcting her. For instance, tell her she is using the right amount of shampoo and you like the way she is scrubbing hard. Then, if correction is necessary, keep it short and emphasize what needs to be done, rather than what she is doing wrong. For instance, instead of saying, “you didn’t rinse all the shampoo out of your hair,” try saying, “you need to rinse a little longer to get all the shampoo out of your hair.” Obviously children need lots of guidance before they can become competent at any aspect of self-care. In order not to discourage them, ensure that your positive feedback far outweighs your negative feedback. If a small child has gotten dressed all by himself, it is more important to applaud his independence than to point out that his pants don’t match his shirt. All people go from strength to strength. Letting the child know that he is on the right track helps him to continuously improve.

Use Positive Reinforcement and/or the CleaR Method
Use simple praise to reinforce attention and competency in self-care routines. Trying telling a young child, “I like the way you got dressed all by yourself and so quickly!” To an older child you can offer, “You look really nice today. I really like the way you color-coordinated that outfit.” To a teen, you might quietly utter “Hmmm… someone smells nice!” When a child allows you to help him with a task the he needs help with (i.e. a 5 year-old who can’t tie up his shoe laces), you can praise his cooperative attitude: “Thanks for letting Mommy show you how to do this.” When a youngster struggles and struggles with some difficult article of clothing, finally succeeding at getting it on (or off), you can say, “I like the way you persevered with that! You worked hard and it paid off!”

The CLeaR Method takes praise a step further through commenting and labeling positive behavior and then providing a reward for such behavior. This can be especially important when a child has been having a very hard time learning some aspect of dressing or self-care and especially when the child’s attitude toward the task has been very negative. For instance, if your 5 year-old has been refusing to button his own clothing and finally relents, doing the whole job himself, you can Comment: “You did up all the buttons yourself today!” Then you can offer a Label such as “You’re a good dresser.” Finally, you can offer a reward for the effort he put forth, “You know, since you worked so hard at that today, I think I’ll make your favorite pancakes for breakfast this morning!.” You can say to a child brushing her hair properly, “You did a very nice job brushing your hair this morning (Comment). You’re getting to be very competent at that (Label). Do you need any new hair accessories? I’ll be in the store today (Reward).”

Some Kids Have Problems that Interfere with Self-Care
Ask your pediatrician about normal developmental milestones. If your child is not able to put his shirt on or use a fork properly or perform some other physical act as skillfully as you expect him to by his age, you might consider the possibility of some sort of perceptual deficit , muscle weakness or other problem. Alternatively, problems with following directions may make it difficult for the youngster to perform a complex task that has many steps. Short-attention span can lead to similar difficulties. Similarly, auditory processing difficulties, gross motor skills, immaturity, a mental health diagnosis and a host of other issues can impact on self-care performance. If your child is lagging behind his or her peer group in self-care activities, seek professional assessment. The sooner you intervene to give corrective treatment, the sooner your child can make progress. Young children can learn rapidly. However, if you don’t identify a lag in development, you are not giving your child the chance to receive the help he or she needs.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

For many years, medical achievement has been thought of as a purely intellectual phenomenon. Success was equated with scholastic record, with high grades considered as a sign of a hard-working and talented child. High academic achievement was linked with high salaries and high success in every area of life. But recent findings are pointing in an altogether different direction. In fact, many experts have found that the intelligence quotient or IQ is not a good predictor of success in adult life. A new factor looks much more promising as a predictor for adult happiness and successful functioning: Emotional Intelligence, or E.Q.

What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence refers to the ability or skill in identifying, managing and communicating one’s emotions. It also involves the sensitivity and ability to empathize and respond to other people’s feelings and way of thinking. An emotionally intelligent child can effectively recognize and deal with unpleasant feelings, such as anger or sadness, without being frustrated or debilitated. Similarly, a child can recognize when other people are upset or happy, and can adjust his or her behavior accordingly.

An Emotionally Intelligent Child
Emotional intelligence is well illustrated by the concept of frustration tolerance — that is, the ability to patiently bear something unpleasant in return for the promise of achieving a bigger or better outcome. A famous example of frustration tolerance is the marshmallow test. In the test, children are offered one marshmallow to eat immediately, or two marshmallows to eat after a ten minute waiting period. Kids who can wait for the two marshmallow deal tend to grow up to be more emotionally adjusted adults.

Emotional intelligence is also related to the ability to know one’s strength and limitations. Kids who are emotionally intelligent can tolerate attacks to their self-esteem, simply because they can manage the unpleasant emotions that come with failure or disappointment. More importantly, they know and understand that feelings of defeat are simply that — feelings — and do not, in any way, define them as individuals. If they so want to, they can even change negative feelings to positive ones! This ability to manage their internal world well is one of the reasons why emotionally intelligent children are resilient children.

Lastly, emotional intelligence is related to self-regulation: the ability to adjust when circumstances demand some flexibility. A child who is emotionally intelligent, for example, can sense the difference between a natural conversation and a conversation laced with subtle tension. And because they can read between the lines, they are better able to respond to the communication that is being directed upon them.

Fostering Emotional Intelligence in Children
Although kids are born with a certain amount of emotional intelligence in place, this trait can be affected by environmental factors. In other words, what parents say and do can make a positive difference. Parents can name their own feelings on occasion (“I’m starting to feel frustrated…” or “I’m so excited…” or “I’m so disappointed…”). Parents can also regularly name their children’s feelings (“You’re upset with Mommy…” or “I know you’re scared…” or “It’s not fun for you…”). Regularly naming feelings is a big part of fostering emotional intelligence in the family.

ADD/ADHD – Attention Deficit Disorder

You’ve always considered your son to be an active child; even as a toddler he was always on the go. He gets bored quickly if there isn’t structure or if he doesn’t like the activity (like homework!) and he prefers to do several things at once. He often interrupts people when they speak, but you’re confident that he can outgrow the behavior. However, his inability to sit still during dinnertime is increasingly annoying and of even more concern is the trouble he’s been getting into in school for calling out answers and leaving his seat without permission. You’re wondering – could he have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)?

Most children are first considered for formal assessment when their school performance is suffering. However, ADD/ADHD can occur in children of every intellectual level (from intellectually challenged all the way to intellectually gifted). The brighter the child, the longer it may take for teachers and parents to become concerned, since the child’s academic performance may not be as quickly or as severely affected by his disorder. Nonetheless, a child who has to work extra hard in order to counteract the effects of ADD/ADHD is usually feeling stressed, exhausted and irritable. These behavioral symptoms should be taken seriously – not just the child’s grades. In fact, no matter what the child’s grades are like, behavioral disturbances at home should also be taken seriously. Sometimes these are a result of parenting style, but sometimes they are caused by conditions inside the child. A proper assessment may lead to a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD or some other developmental condition or simply stress that the child has not been able to express to his parents. Parents should also seek assessment when their child seems to have trouble following instructions, remembering to do what he is told, taking turns, waiting patiently, organizing his schedule and belongings or sitting for age appropriate lengths of time. Don’t assume that a child doesn’t have ADD/ADHD just because he can spend hours sitting quietly in front of the T.V. or computer screen. The disorder only interferes with “boring” activities, not activities that stimulate the child. That is because ADD/ADHD is a brain condition that is essentially understimulated. In fact, medicinal treatment consists of stimulant drugs. Although normal people can tolerate boredom fairly well, those with ADD/ADHD have zero tolerance for boredom because their brains are stimulant hungry – boredom is actually painful for them. This is also why kids with ADD/ADHD tend to get into trouble when left in unstructured situations. They will create activity by getting into mischief. Highly structured programs help prevent this problem.

What is Attention Deficit Disorder?
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD, are behavioral conditions characterized by an inability to maintain focus for a long time and/ or an inability to keep still. These difficulties in managing attention and activity are more than what is expected developmentally from kids of the same age. The symptoms tend to also persist across all situations, thus a child with ADD or ADHD tends to be inattentive or disruptive, not just at school but at home as well.

ADHD affects somewhere between 5 and 10% of schoolchildren, depending on measurements utilized. Symptoms of ADD or ADHD are never the same with any two people. People with attention deficit disorder may not be able to sit still, plan ahead, finish things, or pay attention to what’s going on around them. Symptoms for ADD may include: having difficulty remaining in one place, difficulty waiting one’s turn in groups, blurting out answers before the question is complete, poor organizational skills, losing things, shifting from one uncompleted task to another, talking excessively, not listening to what is being said, being easily distracted, entering situations without thinking, having difficulty following instructions, fidgeting with hands and feet, squirming while seated, interrupting people often and forgetting things that are necessary for a task or activity.

Kids with ADD/ADHD may also have additional symptoms such as problems with anger, poor social skills, poor fine or gross motor skills, anxiety, sleep disturbances and mood issues. Sometimes ADD/ADHD occurs alongside other disorders such as Tic Disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, depression and social phobia. Attention Deficit Disorder has an early onset, and usually manifests itself before a child turns 7 years old.

Symptoms for attention deficit disorder are broken down into three groups: Type 1: Inattentive. This group of ADD sufferer have symptoms of attention deficit – i.e. being easily distracted, daydreaming, losing focus. Type 2:  Hyperactive/Impulsive. This group of people with ADHD show symptoms of overactivity (fidgeting, running or pacing where inappropriate, always “on the go”) and impulsivity (acting without thought, interrupting others, calling out). Type 3 is Mixed Inattentive and Hyperactive/Impulsive, where the person has a mixture of symptoms across both categories – that is, a mix of ADD and ADHD symptoms. Diagnosis is generally not made until the person concerned has eight or more of the above symptoms, and the symptoms have remained the same for at least six months.

Below is a summary of the common symptoms of ADD:

  • Short attention span, mind tends to wander
  • Frequent  forgetfulness
  • High rate of unfinished projects
  • Gets painfully bored when task isn’t interesting or when there is a lack of structure
  • Makes careless errors in schoolwork
  • Is easily distracted
  • Doesn’t follow through on chores or instructions, appears not to listen
  • Disorganized; loses and misplaces things frequently
  • Difficulty in concentrating on tasks, a high rate of unfinished projects
  • Excessive activeness or excessively high energy levels

Common symptoms of ADHD include:

  • Constantly being on-the-go
  • Frequent fidgeting and running about
  • Impulsive behavior like blurting out answers in class
  • Trouble waiting in-line or other slow-moving situations
  • Talks excessively and interrupts others

There are no laboratory tests that can measure ADHD; as a behavioral condition, psychologists and medical practitioners rely mainly on observation, interview and teacher reports to get a clear picture of the patient’s state. Diagnosis can be made by a paediatric specialist (a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of ADD/ADHD or by a psychologist whose speciality is assessment and diagnosis). Sometimes the family doctor can make a diagnosis as well. Teachers cannot diagnose ADD/ADHD although they may suspect its presence and they are also a vital source of information for those who provide the assessment. Teachers can often refer parents to those who can diagnose. Finally, friends and relatives CANNOT diagnose ADD/ADHD – specialized tests and measurements are required in order to make a diagnosis in addition to behavioural data collected from parents, teachers and others.

What Causes ADHD?
The exact origins of ADHD are still under debate, and many controversies surround the different theories being pushed forward by various research groups and experts. The most accepted explanation so far is that ADHD is a neurological condition related to both the lack of specific chemicals in the brain, and brain structural issues that inhibit attention and self-control. This biological basis is most favored, as ADHD appears to be a genetic condition that begins as early as infancy. However, many researchers also believe that diet, lifestyle and environmental conditions have a lot to do with the symptoms of ADHD. They argue that ADHD is a fairly recent phenomenon, and the condition was rarely reported 50 years ago. ADHD is also rare in poor and developing countries, suggesting that there is something in the way we approach life today that promotes symptoms of inattention and inactivity. In particular, some scientists blame the high sugar content of the modern diet, as well as the rampant used of preservatives and artificial ingredients for ADHD. Excessive use of  technology, such as the television, computer and gaming consoles have also been considered as culprits. Additionally, poisonous chemicals in the air, water and food products are also believed to cause neurological impairment.

How is ADHD Treated?
Once a diagnosis is obtained, parents have a variety of treatment options that they can consider. Both behavioral and biological interventions are usually recommended.

Psychostimulants such as Ritalin have been found to be effective in increasing an ADHD child’s attention span and improving performance at school. Some parents prefer to try alternative treatments such as homeopathy, herbal medicine and nutritional supplements. Some parents will try the natural approach for some months and, if results are not satisfactory, then try psychotropic medication.

Cognitive-Behavioral techniques are used to help manage inattention and impulse control. Children and adult ADHD sufferers can be taught specific techniques to help reduce symptoms and enhance functioning.

When making a decision as to which form of treatment to employ, consultation with the following people is recommended: a behavioural optometrist for a developmental vision evaluation, an allergist regarding possible allergic reactions, a child psychologist who can devise a behaviour modification program, a medical doctor who can assess the need for and prescribe medication and an occupational speech therapist with expertise regarding sensory processing problems. Other professionals to consider are special education tutors who can provide specialized supplementary education when necessary and naturopaths who are experienced in the alternative treatment of this syndrome. Although the treatment team seems large, it is also comprehensive, helping to create the most thorough and effective intervention for those children who have ADD/ADHD.

Bringing Out the Best in the ADD/ADHD Child
Raising a child with ADD/ADHD requires superb parenting skills. Being “Average-Joe-Parent” just won’t do with this population. For a set of easy-to-acquire top parenting skills, see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe. While your doctor and other members of the professional team are addressing your child’s symptoms, you as a parent can keep the following points in mind:

  • The ADD/ADHD child is not purposely disobedient or unruly. He is dealing with inner compulsions and forces; he would like it if he could be easier going, more flexible, happier and relaxed, but he just can’t get there.  He needs your love, support, patience and understanding.
  • Keep expressions of anger to an absolute minimum with this population. They lack the ego-strength (self-confidence) to handle anger and often react with depression, withdrawal, aggressiveness, acting out and other forms of intense emotional turmoil and dysfunction. Learn how to discipline without using anger at all.
  • Your child might benefit from reading self-help books on ADD/ADHD – there are now many available, written for children and teenagers.
  • Consider experimenting with Bach Flower Therapy as a treatment for ADD/ADHD. Bach Therapy has no side-effects of any kind, yet can often effectively reduce many of the symptoms of ADD/ADHD such as impulsivity, immaturity, hostility, depression, anxiety, restlessness, lack of concentration/attention and more. (You can find more information on the Bach Flower Remedies online and throughout this site.) Your naturopath may also recommend other alternative and dietary interventions.
  • Consider enrolling your child in social skills or anger management programs providing sheltered group activities or individual activities that will build personal confidence and self-esteem such as karate lessons, drum lessons, art lessons, cooking classes etc. These needn’t be formal classes – if you can provide extracurricular activities yourself at home (like teaching your child to cook or sew) – that’s great! ADD/ADHD children often grow up to be adults with exceptional creativity and unique gifts. As long as their self-esteem remains intact and they develop ways of working around their deficits, they are capable of being highly successful professionally and personally.