Sullen and/or Uncommunicative

Kids – and especially teenage kids – can sometimes withdraw from family communication and particularly from communication with their parents. They may retreat in different ways. Sometimes they sulk around the house saying very little to anyone including family, friends and others. Sometimes they don’t say much to their parents while they maintain contact with other family members and/or they talk non-stop on the phone to their friends, text madly away or chat avidly online. Sometimes their mood is morose for just a few hours and then they’re “suddenly” all happy again. But sometimes they withdraw for weeks or months on end. These silent and sullen periods are confusing for parents; how can parents tell if their child needs professional help or if he or she is just being a kid who needs space?

If you are dealing with a sullen or uncommunicative youngster, consider the following tips:

No One is Happy and “On” All the Time
Neither children nor adults experience constant positive moods. It’s normal for all of us to feel stressed or low, off and on throughout a day. Circadian rhythms alone (our biological clocks) affect our moods and energy levels, as does our diet, our exercise (or lack of it) and the various life stressors that each day brings. It’s important to give kids space to be a little irritable or quiet; they – like the rest of us – may need recovery time. Therefore, there’s no need to panic when you see that your child is in a mood. Instead, note the child’s mood and ask if there’s anything you can offer. For instance, you might say something like, “You seem a little down. Do you want to talk or do you need a little neck rub?” If the child declines on both counts, you just say “O.K.” and move on. You have shown an appropriate level of interest and concern without being intrusive or annoying. However, if the child is normally pretty balanced and then enters into an unremitting low, sad-looking mood for two weeks straight, you should express more concern. “Honey, I’m getting concerned. You’ve looked really sad for two weeks now and this isn’t like you. Is there something going on that is hard for you to deal with or are you feeling sad for no reason in particular? I don’t mind if you don’t want to talk to me about it – maybe I’m not the right person. But if you’re having trouble getting into a happier place, I want you to know that Dr. So & So is very nice to talk to and she might be able to help.”

Normal Needs for Privacy
Mood issues aren’t the only reason that kids withdraw from communication with their parents. Sometimes they are just expressing a normal need for privacy. No one likes their life to be a completely open book. You don’t share everything with your child and your child doesn’t need to share everything with you. If you don’t give enough privacy voluntarily, then a child may take it by refusing to open up. One way to offer privacy is to avoid intensive questioning. For instance, don’t ask your child detailed questions like “Who did you talk to today? What did you talk about? What is Bobby doing this weekend? Were you invited? Why not? Have you spoken to Carey lately? Don’t you think you should?” and so on. Children subjected to such inquisitions often learn to give very little information about anything. However, even when parents don’t ask much, teenagers are notorious for wanting to keep a private life. They may have no noteworthy secrets; being quiet doesn’t always mean that the youngster is engaging in suspicious activities. It may just be a case of privacy for privacy’s sake (i.e. “I don’t tell my mom who I see on the weekend not because I have something to hide, but just because I don’t feel like telling her.”). Sometimes, of course, excessive secrecy does indicate a problem behavior. However, usually there are other behavioral clues that contribute to a suspicious picture (for instance: a sudden drop in school marks, red eyes, unusual irritability, strange behavior, a change in behavior and so on). A lack of open communication by itself, is not necessarily cause for concern and in fact, is considered to be pretty normal in adolescents.

Set Appropriate Boundaries
If your child is otherwise happy and well, it is fine to set boundaries for the expression of sullen and uncommunicative behavior. For instance, if your kid is able to talk nicely to his or her friends and others, then go ahead and ask him or her to speak nicely to the folks at home as well. Make sure, however, that you are being mostly positive and pleasant yourself – check your communication ratio. Are you 90% positive and only 10% in the criticism-instruction-discipline section with your teenager (80-20 with your younger child)? If not improve your own pleasant behavior first and then ask your child to do the same. There is no need to allow rude behavior in the home and doing so gives your child the wrong message that family members aren’t real people with real feelings. It’s fine to say something like, “You don’t have to have a long conversation with me if you you’re not in the mood, but when I greet you please just look up for a moment and say ‘hi.’ It’s not acceptable to completely ignore a person who is talking to you and especially,  your parent.” If the child continues to ignore you after you’ve provided this information, something deeper may be going on – perhaps there are parent-child relationship issues, discipline issues or mood issues that would be best treated with professional help.

More Serious Mood Issues
When a previously happy child suddenly becomes sullen and/or uncommunicative for an extended period of time, he or she might be suffering from an internal or external stress. Internal stresses include mental health issues like social anxiety or depression. External stress includes life events like marital breakdown, failing grades or bullying at school. In children and adolescents, depression often shows up as irritable mood rather than sad mood, and is accompanied by other behaviors like changes in eating and sleeping patterns, a tendency to isolate from people, excessive low self-esteem or insecurity, changes in energy and other symptoms. If you are concerned about whether your child’s behavior requires professional intervention, ask your doctor for a referral to a child and adolescent mental health professional with whom you can discuss the issue.

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.

Experiences Frequent Headaches

Recurring headaches are common in both children and adults. Headaches, although uncomfortable and annoying, are most often transient and harmless on the physical level. Usually headaches are a bodily response to emotional stress; once the stress is properly addressed, the headaches will decrease or even disappear. Sometimes headaches are caused by external physical factors (see examples below). Of course, there are also rare occasions when headaches are an actual sign of disease or injury. It always pays to be cautious when kids complain about frequent pain of any kind. A trip to the doctor can not only help rule out health issues but can also provide information on controlling the frequency, duration and intensity of headaches and migraines. Similarly, a trip to a naturopath, osteopath, or cranial sacral specialist may be able to provide assessment and treatment interventions that can help.

If your child has  frequent headaches consider the following tips:

Stress  
Life is actually not a bowl of cherries for children – it is stressful! Kids and teens have social challenges, academic problems, sibling issues, issues with their parents, step parents, other family, and many other issues as well. They feel pressure and stress just like adults do. Stress can cause many bodily symptoms, including stomach aches, anxiety, depression, illness and of course, headaches. If your child tends to complain about frequent headaches, try to address stress factors first. Perhaps she has too much on her plate. More rest, improved nutrition,  increased support and a more balanced schedule will usually help reduce anyone’s stress-related headaches. Or, perhaps there is something going on in your child’s life that is overwhelming, frightening or otherwise disturbing. Try asking your child about this possibility. If you use Emotional Coaching (naming and accepting feelings without offering education, judgment or criticism of any kind), your child may open up to you. Sometimes just talking things through can relieve significant amounts of stress. Also teach your child that everyone needs to talk to someone – having a friend, a school counselor, a parent or a professional to talk to can really keep stress in its place and prevent it from wreaking physical or emotional havoc.

If you do suspect that stress is the culprit behind the headaches, you might also teach your child specific stress-management self-help strategies. HeartMath is a simple, child-friendly program for stress reduction that helps reduce stress and manage pain. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is another one that kids and teen can use to help calm upset and troubled emotions. There are many books on emotional regulation and stress-management geared specifically to children and teens – bring them home from the library; your kids will have a chance to learn strategies for releasing stressful feelings. This is especially important for those kids who just don’t “open up” – the exact kids who are most prone to physical manifestations of stress.

Stress that doesn’t completely resolve with self-help home measures is best addressed by a mental health professional.

Vision Issues
Headaches, especially those symptomized by a throbbing pain near the nape, can be a sign that a child is experiencing vision problems. The strain of reading the blackboard when one’s vision is less than 20/20 can cause frequent headaches. The same goes with spending long periods in front of TV screens and computer monitors. In all cases of regular and frequent headaches, a trip to an ophthalmologist is recommended. Very often, a child doesn’t realize that he or she is not seeing properly or has other eye-related issues.

Nutritional Factors
Missing meals can cause a cascade of chemical effects leading to headaches. For instance, skipping a meal lowers blood sugar, which in turn increases blood pressure which can cause headaches. Dehydration is also a possible cause of frequent headaches in children. Not having enough fluids in the body can cause the constriction of tissues in the brain and the spinal cord, leading to headaches.

Sensory Overstimulation
In today’s age of iPods and mp3 players, kids’ ears often get abused. In fact, a very recent study released by BMC Neurology has revealed that cranking up the music for even just an hour or two is associated with pounding headaches among teenagers. (In addition, long-term exposure to loud music using earphones can result into tinnitus, the perception of sound, e.g. ringing or buzzing, when none exists.)

Viral Infections
Headaches have been known to be associated with various viral infections. This is because issues with the nasal pathway as well as the throat can cause constrictions in the blood vessels in our head. When the infection is treated, the headache disappears. Fortunately, bed rest and a diet rich in fluids and vitamin C can usually address symptoms associated with the common cold, cough or flu. There are also many over-the-counter medications, herbal products, essential oils and other medical and natural interventions that address the whole umbrella of symptoms associated with viral infections.

Sensitivities and Allergies
If your child’s headache tend to occur after exposure to a particular food, pollutant or situation, then consider the possibility of an allergy or sensitivity-related headache. Eating foods rich in soy sauce, for example, has been known to trigger mild to severe migraine in some children. However, any food sensitivity can trigger frequent headaches and a child may be sensitive to any food group. For instance, many children have been found to be sensitive to wheat, gluten, milk, sugar and/or eggs. In order to rule out allergies and sensitivities,  consult an immunologist or an allergy specialist. Many naturopathic practitioners also test for food insensitivities.

A Final Thought
It is not only unpleasant, but it is also uncomfortable and draining to suffer from routine headaches. You may have to use a multifaceted assessment and treatment process in your attempts to relieve your child’s pain. However, when people are willing to pursue all avenues, they almost always find a measure of relief from pain.

Why to and How to Stop Yelling

Parents love their kids. So why do they yell at them?

Here are just some of the reasons parents may yell at their children:

• Kids don’t listen when parents speak in a normal tone of voice but do listen when parents yell
• Parents were raised by  parents who yelled at them, so it just comes “naturally”
• Parents are tired & stressed
• Parents don’t realize how much damage is caused by yelling

What Damage is Caused by Yelling?
There are short-term and long-term negative consequences of frequently yelling at kids. Here are some short-term results:

• More misbehavior at home and/or at school
• More nervous habits (bedwetting, thumb-sucking, hair-pulling, etc.)
• More physical ailments (headaches, stomach aches, flu’s & colds)
• More academic problems
• More social problems

Here are some long-term results in adults who were frequently yelled at as kids:

• More mental health problems
• More marriage and parenting problems
• More physical health problems
• More difficulties at work
• Sometimes more social issues or criminal issues

Kids who are yelled at frequently by their parents may not have a close relationship with their parents during the teen and/or adult years. Some people don’t ever talk to their parents again or have minimal contact as adults, cutting their parents off from their own children (yelling parents may lose the opportunity to have a close relationship with their own grandchildren).

How Can Parents Avoid Yelling at Their Kids?
Parents who yell must interrupt the neural pathway in their brain that draws a bridge between a provocative child and the parental urge to scream. Neural pathways are physical. When a child misbehaves or doesn’t listen, a pathway is triggered (within milliseconds) and a raised voice pops out of the parent’s mouth. In order to interrupt this pathway, a parent must add a new step. Let’s say the pathway looks like this:

Child provokes — parents yells.

The parent can add a step like this:

Child’s provokes —– parent yells — parent writes out two pages of lines “I always speak softly including those times when I feel very  frustrated.”

This new step of adding an annoying writing assignment actually causes the brain to drop the original pathway. The trick is to increase the negative consequence for each episode of yelling or for each week of yelling. That is, raise the assignment to 3 pages, then 4 pages, then 5 pages and keep going as necessary until all yelling has stopped. It will stop of course, because no one has time to write so many pages after each yelling episode!

Now that the parent is not yelling, he or she must have strategies with which to guide children and gain their cooperation. Not yelling is a good beginning but it is not parenting! A parent must be able to teach a child, correct a child, instruct a child and altogether raise a child! Children can not be raised on praise alone. It is, after all, necessary to assert healthy boundaries and to model the process of boundary assertion for children. However, creating healthy, respectful boundaries and limitations requires skill. Parents can learn this skill by taking parenting courses or by reading parenting books.

Five Parenting Skills That Prevent Parental Anger
The following five parenting skills can completely remove the need to resort to anger in parenting. Parents who use this approach find that their kids behave better. In addition, the techniques facilitate the development of a strong parent-child bond, high self-esteem and increased emotional well-being. Outlined very briefly below, they are explained in detail in the book Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.

1.The 80-20 Rule: 80% of parental communication feels good to the child. In this way, the child wants to please the parent. The child exhibits far fewer misbehavior.

2.Emotional Coaching: Parents consistently name a child’s feelings. This technique creates an intimate bond between parent and child, causing the child to have a better understanding of his own feelings and the feelings of others. The result is better mental health, better physical health, better academic performance and better behavior!

3.The CLeaR Method: A good-feeling form of discipline that capitalizes on a child’s positive tendencies. By shaping desirable behavior with pleasant forms of acknowledgment, the child goes from strength to strength. The child has very little need to seek negative attention or to enter power struggles with parents.

4.The 2X-Rule: a firm but respectful form of discipline in which a parent never asks a child to do anything more than two times. By refraining from repetitive requests, the parent saves him or herself from getting angry. The 2X-Rule utilizes mild negative consequences instead of parental rage in order to gain a child’s cooperation.

5.The Relationship Rule: This rule insists on consistently respectful communication in the home from both parents and children. It helps the entire family manage their angry feelings appropriately and keeps the family emotionally safe. The rule states: “I only give and accept respectful communication.”

Is it Really Possible to Raise Kids without Yelling at Them?
Absolutely! The first step is to take the idea that yelling is damaging very seriously. The more yelling occurs, the more damage occurs.

The next step is to punish oneself for yelling. This also must be taken seriously. It is not enough to remember the idea of punishment or to remind oneself that one shouldn’t yell. In order to disrupt the harmful neural pathway, it is essential that the body/brain experiences the punishment. If a parent is willing to punish him or herself, yelling WILL BE cured!

The final step is to have a new set of strategies in place. Parents must never be left helpless. Parents need skills that will create a solid bond with their children because the bond itself increases cooperation (in addition to creating a foundation for mental health and emotional well being!). Parents also need to know how to discipline effectively and respectfully.  The word “discipline” means teach. There are actually good-feeling forms of discipline as well as unpleasant feeling forms. The majority of discipline that occurs in the home should be good-feeling.

Yelling is not part of the discipline process. It is an emotional reaction on the part of a parent, indicating upset, lack of control and helpless rage. Parents are entitled to their feelings. However, feelings need attention and calming. They are not parenting tools. Parenting tools require some study and thought whereas the expression of negative emotion occurs impulsively, without thought. However, the time it takes to think and plan parenting interventions is well worth it. The positive results of this kind of thinking endure for a lifetime.

Name-Calling in the Family

When children feel upset, they may express their feelings in less than ideal ways. As adults, we can express our feelings maturely and without conflict (there are exceptions though!). However, as children are children, they can resort to insults and name-calling when they feel slighted, without any regard to the feelings of other people.

If name-calling is a problem in your family, consider the following tips:

What is Name-Calling?
Children often use words like “stupid,” “baby,” “idiot,” “moron,” and so on when addressing their siblings in anger. While parents do not generally “name-call” in the traditional way, the use of negative labels can have a similar effect. When a parent calls a child’s behavior “babyish,” “silly,” “mean,” “rude,” or “selfish,” he or she is in effect, also name-calling. Parents may not even realize that they are name-calling when they use these negative labels. They can innocently put these words into many simple, appropriate-sounding sentences – such as those below:

  • “You are being so rude.”
  • “What you are saying is rude.”
  • “Don’t be so rude.”
  • “That was so rude.”

Whatever grammatical structure is used, the negative label rude will be absorbed by the child. Parents cannot minimize the effects of a negative label by trying to hide it in various sentence structures. If the label is used anywhere in a sentence, it will be felt as an insult by the child. Of course the parent is simply trying to educate the child and not trying to insult him or her, but the child does not necessarily understand that.

Negative Effects of Name-Calling
Any negative label or insult has the potential to hurt a child’s feelings. Children who are frequently insulted by their siblings often remember the experience with pain even in adulthood. Children who have been insulted by their parents (i.e. being called “stupid,” “selfish,” “bad,” “good-for-nothing” etc.) also often retain the pain throughout adulthood.

However, remembered pain is not the worst consequence of name-calling. Far worse is the impact name-calling can have on personality development. Even fully grown adults who are subjected to regular insults (verbal abuse) are eventually affected by it: they come to feel less adequate, less competent and less lovable the more they experience being insulted. This effect is much much more powerful in childhood when a youngster’s sense of self is not yet fully formed. At this point, being called names can leave the child truly believing that he or she is damaged, worthless, useless, bad and defective, as well as unlovable. Once a child entertains such notions about him/herself, the child tends to act in ways that are consistent with that poor self-image. So a child who is regularly called a particular negative label, comes to believe that he IS that label. The label can be crippling, causing him to give up trying or project negative judgments onto others for the rest of his life (“I know no one really likes me”). Of course the negative labels used regularly by parents tend to be much more damaging than those used only by siblings, but the effects of sibling-abuse must not be underestimated.

Model Appropriate Behavior
Parents can help their kids learn to use positive words instead of negative labels. The first step is providing a model. This means that parents never call children names – they never use negative label or insulting language. Many people wonder how it is possible to correct a child without using a negative label. The secret is this: whenever you want to use a negative label to accurately describe a child’s behavior (i.e. “rude”), replace the label with the exact opposite word. For example, instead of saying to Junior, “You are being rude,” you can say, “You need to be polite when speaking to me.”  Always use the desired label instead of the offensive label. In this way, your children only hear your target words (your goals for them) throughout their 20 years growing up with you. This helps program their brains to remember your goals. Positive labels encourage positive growth whereas negative labels work the opposite way. If all your children hear is “stupid,” “lazy,” “selfish,” “wild” and so on, they will associate those words with their identity and all they are capable of being.

A few more examples of label switching are below:

  • messy becomes clean and tidy
  • disorganized becomes organized
  • selfish becomes generous
  • careless becomes careful

Your sentence then changes from, “You’re acting like a baby” to “I know that you know how to be mature. Please act that way now.”  Similarly, you can change “You’re being nasty to your brother,” to “Please be kind to your brother.”

Direct Teaching Techniques
Now that you have provided the model (and by the way, this also means that you don’t call your spouse or other people names), you are ready to teach your children. The following process can be used:

  1. Explain to your children that name-calling hurts and is harmful. Tell them that they must express their annoyance, frustration or upset simply by naming their feelings without adding insults. For example, it is fine to say to a sibling, “I disagree,” or “I don’t like what you did,” or “I don’t like your idea,” “Stop doing that” and so on.
  2. Make a clear consequence for name-calling. Whenever someone insults another person, they will have receive a previously established consequence of your choice. Tell the child what consequence he will receive for name-calling in the future and then give him that consequence after subsequent name-calling. For a complete list of appropriate negative consequences and the exact way in which they should be applied for name-calling, see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.
  3. Apply the selected consequence EVERY TIME you hear name-calling.  If improvement doesn’t happen over a few weeks, select a different consequence and try again.

Ridding your house of name-calling is a service to your family and even to your grandchildren, as the inter-generational chain of verbal abuse stops with your new programme. Good luck!

Turning School Failure Around

Kids don’t enjoy receiving failing grades. It leaves them feeling inadequate and incompetent, frustrated, disappointed and disheartened. It is so much more satisfying to succeed! Fortunately, there are ways that parents can help their kids turn school failure around.

If your child is struggling in school, consider the following tips:

Working Hard/ Working Smart vs. Being Smart
It’s important to help kids understand that failure is the result of many factors, inborn intelligence being only one, often relatively insignificant one! Assuming that a child is placed in an appropriate academic setting (whether that is a special school, a special class, a regular class or a gifted class), he or she ought to be able to achieve a passing grade and possibly even an excellent grade. Children should not be sitting in classrooms that are way beyond their intellectual or academic level. For instance, we don’t put a 6 yr old child into a university level physics class! If your child is in the wrong academic setting, take care of that first. However, let’s assume for now that the child is where he or she belongs. Academic failure under such circumstances is a result of insufficient effort. That insufficient effort might occur because of stressful circumstances such as divorce or death in the family, or poor attitude such wanting to party and socialize instead of studying. Regular study with proper concentration usually leads to passing grades and even good grades.

It’s important that you help keep your child from attributing failure to himself or herself. When kids internalize failure, chances are, they will not try again. On the other hand, attributing failure to a cause that’s external makes the problem workable. After all, someone can fix a bad study habit, but it’s virtually impossible to fix a defunct brain.

Bite Your Tongue
No matter how much your child protests that he or she doesn’t care about the failure, deep inside he or she probably does. The casual attitude is most likely just a front to protect his or her self-esteem. Since a failing child already feels bad; there is no need to make him or her feel worse. There certainly is no need to create punishments – failure is punishment enough. Refrain from saying things like “I work hard to send you to a good school and this is what you give me?” Instead, share what you feel. “I feel disappointed that this is your grade.” It’s okay for parents to feel sad, disappointed, frustrated and upset about the situation; it is NOT O.K. to make hurtful or abusive remarks.

Reiterate Your Support
It’s a difficult time for your child, so offer your support. Ask your child if he or she would like help of some kind – homework tips, study partner, tutor, extra help from the teacher or something else. Do whatever makes sense with the resources of time and money that are available. Your child will see that you consider school success to be a valuable asset. However, apart from offering help (or insisting on it, for younger children), do not emphasize the importance of schoolwork to the point where your child feels annoyed or nauseated! Refrain from lectures and simply offer help.

Figure Out How to Get Better Grades Next Time
Be future-oriented. While it’s alright to ask: “what do you think went wrong?”, you must also ask “how can you change for next time?” Explore possible contributing factors such as low motivation, poor time management skills, mental blocks, emotional stress, fear, overwhelm and other issues. See what adjustments can be made. If possible, provide support in the form of l tutors, educators, therapists or other people. Sometimes a helping hand makes a huge difference in the child’s ability to persevere and succeed.

Find Your Child’s Strengths
Your child may be an underachiever in one area, but he or she may have plenty of strengths in another. Discover what your child is good at. A special interest, aptitude or hidden talent may be what you need to help your more generally motivated. Success in one area often spills over into success in other areas as well. Even if it doesn’t it certainly helps balance the child’s self-esteem as he or she discovers competencies and abilities that spell “success.”

Reinforce Positive Changes
There’s no better way to turn a school failure around than to turn it into a school success, and when that happens, make sure to give positive feedback. Kids, like adults, go from strength to strength. Focusing on small successes along the way helps to ensure big successes further down the line. Reward improvement with praise, treats and privileges (“Wow, all that studying really paid of on your math test. Why don’t we go celebrate with an ice cream cone?”). Similar to a “bonus” for hard work at the office, concrete forms of acknowledgement are powerful motivators for more effort in the future.

Helping Teens Survive Heartbreak

First love is a wonderful experience, but also a risky one. Most “first” relationships end at some point and with the ending often comes a crushing heartbreak. How can parents help their child through the feelings of tremendous pain, shock and grief that can accompany heartbreak?

Consider the following tips:

Use Emotional Coaching
Listening is one way of providing essential emotional support. Listen for feelings and name them back to the child without trying to cheer up the teenager. For example, “It really hurts.” or “It’s quite a loss.” Be careful not to use the word “but” when listening – as in “Yes it hurts but you’ll soon meet someone even better.”  This too-quick attempt to make the pain go away only tends to prolong the agony.

Share Your Own Experiences
If you’ve had the experience of heartbreak, go ahead and share a little of it. Don’t take front and center – it’s not about you right now. Nonetheless, sharing your feelings can be therapeutic. Your child will feel somewhat better knowing that you suffered a broken heart and lived to tell the tale. He or she can see that you survived and went on to love again (hopefully); this can help ease some of the desperation he or she might be feeling right now.

Refrain from Diminishing the “Ex”
Although the relationship seems to have ended, you never know for sure – the two may get back together at some future date – weeks, months or even years in the future. This is true even if you think it shouldn’t happen. Therefore, don’t say anything that may come back to haunt you. Also remember that your grieving youngster may still have strong positive feelings for the young man or lady. Your insults are not likely to be well-received. Instead of talking about the ex-girlfriend or boyfriend, just support your child through the feelings of pain and loss by listening sympathetically. You don’t have to share all the thoughts that you have!

Suggest “Rescue Remedy”
Grieving heals with a listening ear and time. However, many people find that the Bach Flower preparation called “Rescue Remedy” can also help calm feelings of desperation, hysteria, panic, loss, confusion and overwhelming pain. Rescue Remedy is available online and at health food stores and some pharmacies. It is harmless enough to be used safely by infants and pregnant women and does not interact with other medicines, foods or treatments. However, if you have special health needs or any concerns about it at all, do ask your doctor before suggesting it to your child. Rescue Remedy is available in liquid form as well as candy and chewing gum varieties.

Consider Professional Help
If you are noticing signs of depression, hopelessness, addictive behavior, or loss of interest in friends and school, then consider taking your child to a mental health professional. Teenagers do not always handle heartbreak well; in some cases, it is the trigger for a suicide attempt or an actual suicide. Keep the doors of communication open and if your child tells you that life isn’t worth living anymore, acknowledge the pain and say something like, “I know it can hurt so much that it doesn’t even seem like there’s a future after something like this. But there are professionals who can help people climb out of the dark hole and into the light again and I’d like you to talk with someone like that. There’s no need to try to get through this all on your own.”

Conflict and Competition Between Siblings

Siblings fight. They compete, they argue and they love each other too. In fact, siblings often have complicated relationships. Unfortunately, parents cannot control how siblings will feel about each other, much as they wish that they could. Just like kids hate to see their parents fighting, parents hate to see their kids fighting; everyone’s ideal is a home filled with harmony and love. Although it’s not practical to expect perfection, parents can certainly do their best to help foster a civil, respectful and even caring relationship between siblings.

To help minimize conflict and encourage a cooperative and pleasant family atmosphere, consider the following tips:

It’s Normal for Kids to Fight
Kids are not born mature. They are likely to fight over toys, clothing and other belongings, as well as property and space. Fighting involves yelling, name-calling, pushing, grabbing and other aggressive or unpleasant communication strategies. It’s up to parents to gradually teach kids to express themselves in more civilized and polite ways: speak in a normal tone of voice, use normal language, ask for what you want, negotiate respectfully. Expect kids to fight and expect to have to TEACH them how to resolve conflict respectfully.

Teach in a Teaching Moment
Provide education only when everyone is calm. Have a curriculum and present it in “teaching moments” – times when you and the kids are not upset or roused up. When the kids are fighting, your first goal is to end the fight. Break them up, send them to different rooms, ask them to calm down. When they’re feeling a bit better, help them resolve the particular issue they’ve been fighting about. Later that day or even the next day, sit them down to teach them how to resolve conflict. Choose a time when everyone is alert but calm – right after a meal for example.

Give Them a Strategy
Lay down the rules: no name-calling, no violence, no rough stuff. Yes normal tone of voice, yes listening to each other, yes asking for what you want.

Offer a strategy for stopping a fight in mid-air. For instance, if one child is yelling or name-calling, show how the other one can help turn the volume back down to normal by speaking calmly and slowly in response instead of responding in the same hostile and emotionally volatile way. Show that them that each child has the power to determine the “flavor” of the communication – each one has the power to set the tone.

When they’re calm enough, they can begin the problem-solving process. Teach the kids to take turns listening to each other’s point of view. Teach them to negotiate – work out a deal that brings some benefit to each of them (i.e yes you can use the computer now if you give me 15 extra minutes later tonight). You might look at some negotiating books yourself in order to get some good ideas for the kids. If they’re old enough, ask them to read up on negotiating skills and then discuss what they’re learning at the dinner table each night for a couple of weeks. It can be a fun discussion for everyone. You can also look at marriage books to get ideas, since you are likely to find rules for fair fighting and constructive negotiating in those books as well.

Be sure to let them know that if they get stuck in their problem-solving attempts, they can call parents for assistance.

Encourage and Carry Through
After teaching children how to negotiate and cooperate, you can reinforce positive sibling behaviors using the CLeaR Method (for details, see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice, by Sarah Chana Radcliffe). The letters C, L, and R stand for comment, label and reward. When you see the kids getting along, working out details, sharing nicely and engaging in other desirable sibling behaviors, make sure to comment on this. “You guys figured that out really nicely,” “I like the way you two are playing together,” “You spoke in a very respectful way – good for you!” Tell them what KIND of behavior they did, using a label: “That was very cooperative/respectful/patient” and so on. Once in awhile, actually reward the behavior: “I think you both deserve an extra story at bedtime for that.”

Use positive attention only for the first while after you’ve taught the kids how to get along. However, if fighting is still going on after some time, use discipline as well, in the form of the 2X-Rule (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice). Tell the kids that name-calling, hitting, yelling and other unacceptable behaviors will be penalized with a negative consequence each time they occur. You don’t care WHY they occurred – you’ll look into that AFTER the consequence is finished. Your rule will be “there is no excuse or justifiable reason for abusive behavior in this house.” After the consequence has been given, you can certainly sit down with the kids to see what went wrong with their negotiations and try to improve your protocols so that the problem can be avoided in the future. For instance, maybe you forgot to include instructions as to what to do when a sibling starts getting physical. Add in the new considerations (i.e. call Mommy or Daddy/leave the room quickly/call for help).

Be a Role Model
Show them how mature people resolve disputes! Don’t let your kids see, hear or discover that you and your spouse are fighting destructively. They are likely to copy your style. Instead, disagree respectfully and negotiate fairly. Show your kids what you want them to do in similar situations.

Celebrate Each Child
When each child in the family feels seen, loved and appreciated, there tends to be a little less sibling conflict. Highlight the special qualities of each child out loud, helping the whole family to recognize the special strengths of each member. Try calling the kids by the family last name to reinforce positive group identity (i.e. “Calling all little Goldhars for dinner!”).

Teach Your Kids to Support Each Other
When a child has succeeded in some undertaking, encourage the whole family to celebrate (“Let’s all take Ginger out for dinner for getting that great mark on her difficult science test!”). When every child benefits from the other child’s success, competition is reduced. Instead each one is genuinely happy for the accomplishments of the other. “How about making a card for your brother to tell him how proud you are of his winning team!”

In addition, when a child is in need of support, encourage the others to give it. “Cindy isn’t feeling well. Would you like to make her some cookies to cheer her up?” “Brian is feeling sad after losing the game; would you like to cheer him up with a game of chess?”

Although it’s not fully within the control of parents to determine how siblings get along, parents can encourage, teach and facilitate skills for healthy sibling relationships.

Discovering That Your Child is Bullying Others

Everyone knows that bullying is a big problem in schoolyards and communities. However, health if it IS a big problem, search it means that there are a lot of bullies out there. It also means that a lot of parents have children who are bullies! Most of these parents are kind and reasonable people, order people who are shocked and dismayed when they discover that their child is a bully. They are also truly confused: how did this happen? How could their own child fail to absorb their values of respecting and caring for others?

If you have been informed that your child has been intimidating, scaring or hurting other children, consider the following tips:

Keep Perspective
Hearing that your child has been aggressive – and maybe even violent— tends to evoke a lot of strong feelings. There’s often anger, grief, embarrassment and shame – especially in front of the victim’s parents; there might also be confusion, guilt and maybe a little self-blame. It’s best to take time to process these intense emotions and really important NOT to try to deal with your child while you are still feeling very overwhelmed and/or very upset. If you confront your child at the height of emotion, you risk aggravating the situation and possibly even making the bullying behavior worse!

While you are calming down, consider the silver lining in this cloud: you have been made aware of a problem that needs healing attention. Often, bullying is a symptom of a bigger problem. It can be that your child has been victimized and is acting out his or her own pain. It might also be a symptom of a problem in your family that really needs corrective attention. Sometimes something in the child’s biology or psychology needs therapy. Take the current crisis as an opportunity to diagnose what is not working in your child and/or your family.

Look for Anger
Bullying is usually a symptom of a child’s repressed anger. If you find out that your child is a bully, try to determine if your child is angry and/or needs help managing anger.

Note that even young kids do experience anger. If they feel powerless against a parent or a sibling, they are likely to nurture a lot of resentment. If they are being bullied by bigger bullies, then they might be seeking revenge on people they can control. Children can also be angry about the “cards” that life has dealt them: experiencing difficult circumstances such as chronic illness, disability or death in the family, financial problems, separation or divorce, or other challenges and this anger can be unfairly directed at vulnerable people. This is even more likely when the child’s pain has not yet been identified or addressed by parents or professionals.

Look for Role Models
If your child is bullying others you might also look into the influences that might be feeding this behavior. Sometimes kids learn to bully by becoming friendly with bullies or even admiring a popular crowd of bullies in their school or neighborhood. Sometimes they learn it in the home, as older kids or even parents use “strong arm” techniques to get their way with them or other members of the family. Sometimes T.V., movies, computer games or other media can make rough behavior seem permissible or even positive in some way. If you see that your child is spending time in the presence of aggressive models, take steps to improve his environment and what he’s exposed to.

Seek Professional Consultation
Unless this is the first time your child has been accused of bullying behavior and unless that behavior is the most mild form of bullying (i.e. being a bystander when another child is acting aggressive), do consider involving a mental health professional. A little prevention can go a long way. Have the professional provide an assessment of the problem and make recommendations for the best treatment. If it is appropriate, have the professional provide therapy as well. Nipping this kind of behavior in the bud can help your child lead a happier and more successful life.

Take Other Steps to Address the Problem
If the bullying is new and minor, consider using Bach Flower Therapy. The Bach remedy Vine can often reduce the bullying tendency in children as well as adults. Four drops four times a day in liquid can be given until the behavior is no longer an issue.

Bach Flowers can also be used when other steps are also being taken – such as counseling, anger management programs, behavior management programs or other interventions that your child might benefit from. You can find more information about Bach Flower Remedies online and throughout this site.

You might also want to arrange a bit of family counseling or marital counseling. It’s important to offer the best model possible for your kids. If you or your spouse tends to be very strong in parenting or marriage communications, your child may be acting out or copying your style. Professional help can speed recovery along, although if you and  your partner are motivated, self-help videos, books and classes can help bring your family to a higher level of emotional well-being while reducing conflict, anger and aggression, improving relationships and enhancing empathy.

Continue to Monitor Progress
Let your child know that bullying is completely unacceptable and will always be addressed through every possible means, be it education, communication, discipline, therapy or any other form of intervention. Show your youngster that this is a behavior you take seriously and want to help, not only because you object to it on moral grounds, but mostly because you know your child will never be happy as long as he or she feels the need to hurt other people.

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.