Natural Treatment for Stress Relief

Bach Flower Remedies are one-ounce bottles of specially prepared water (see below for details). Although they are only water, they can affect the way people feel emotionally. In fact, they can help balance emotions so that a person can release stress, upset, hurt, anger, fear, sadness, irritation, jealousy, impatience  and any other distressed emotion. Indeed,  many people report that they have successfully used Bach Flower Remedies to feel calmer, sleep better, worry less, recover faster from upset and heartache, handle parenting stress and work stress better and so on. Many have also reported that they were able to see a reduction in their child’s tantrums, aggressive behaviors, moodiness  or fears because of the use of the remedies.

But the remedies can do even more than help a transitory bad feeling : they can also help correct the tendency to fall into those feelings in the first place. When the remedies are used to treat a chronic emotional issue (like a tendency to be stubborn or a tendency to be explosive), they might actually be assisting in a processes now referred to as  “epigentic healing” – the healing of the gene that leads one to experience chronically negative emotional states. We now know that genes can be turned on and off and this is what appears to be happening when someone takes a long course of Bach Flower Therapy. This means that a child who tends to be very shy can take the remedies over time to reduce the shy tendency altogether. The Bach Flowers do not change personality, however. What they do is enable a person to be their own best self. A very strong-willed, obstinate child will retain his strength of character but instead of just being difficult to live with he will be his best self: a born leader, a confident person, one who can take appropriate action. When the Flower Remedies help a childhood overcome chronic separation anxiety, they leave the child’s personality intact: it is the same youngster without debilitating fear blocking the expression of his true self.

It’s hard to believe that these little remedies can work and it’s best not to even TRY to believe that they will; rather, just try the remedies yourself and observe how you feel while taking them. Or, offer a remedy to your child and observe the child’s behavior over the next days and weeks to see if there is any difference. Bach Flowers sometimes seem to have a dramatically positive effect on both behavior and mood and other times seem to make little difference. (Of course, there is no medical or psychological treatment either that works equally well for every single person who employs it.) In the latter case, it might be that the wrong mix of remedies is being used, but it can also be that a longer period is necessary before change will occur or even that a particular person is not responsive to the remedies at the particular time that they are being offered (i.e. this could change in the future). It can also be that while the Bach Flowers are having some positive effect, a complete treatment  requires other interventions as well including strategies like nutritional support, exercise, psychotherapy and/or medicine.

How are Bach Flowers Prepared and Used?
Dr. Edward Bach, a prominent physician in Britain who died in 1935, was interested in preventative medicine. In his search for something that could boost the immune system to ward off disease or to help the body recover more quickly and thoroughly from illness, he discovered a water-based method of healing that became known as “Bach Flower Therapy.” Modern physicists use principles of quantum physics to explain how water remedies can affect human emotions. Dr. Bach, however, understood the remedies on a purely intuitive level. He felt their effects and he could see what they were able to do to effectively relieve stress and emotional distress.

Bach Flower Remedies are prepared by taking the head of a certain flowering plant and placing it in a clear bowl of pure water. The water is heated in sunlight or on a stove for several hours (depending on which flower is being used) and then the flower is removed. The water is the remedy. It is bottled (and preserved with a bit of grape alcholol) and – in our times – sold in health food stores throughout the world as well as on-line.

Bach Fower Remedies are a form of vibrational medicine, not herbal medicine. They are NOT medicinal. They do not act on the body at all. They don’t interact with other medicines or foods or health conditions or anything. They are the same as water is to the system. However, if someone cannot have even a minute amount of alcohol in their system, they should look for the newer remedies that are made using glycerin instead. In general, however, anyone can safely use Bach Flower Remedies – babies, children, teens and adults, pregnant women and elderly people. Even plants and animals respond well to the Bach Flowers!

How Does One Take Bach Flowers?
If a person is using only one of the 38 remedies, they can take 2 drops from the remedy bottle in a small amount of liquid. They should do so 4 times a day – morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening.

However, most people take anywhere from 2 to 7 remedies that have been mixed together in a “mixing bottle.” To prepare a mixing bottle, one places water in a glass bottle with a glass dropper – generally a  30 ml  (1oz.) amber bottle. (These bottles are sold wherever Bach Flower Remedies are sold and they are called Bach Mixing Bottles.) Then one adds 2 drops from each desired remedy bottle. If a person was using 7 remedies, they would be adding 14 Bach Remedy drops to their mixing bottle. To ensure that bacteria does not grow inside of the mixing bottle, a teaspoon of brandy or apple cider vinegar should be added to the bottle.

This Bach Flower Remedy Mixture is then taken, 4 drops at a time, in hot or cold liquid, with or without food. Ideally, these 4 drops are taken 4 times a day, for a total of 16 drops daily. A person takes them in the morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening.

Adults can put 4 drops of their Bach Flower mixture into coffee, tea, water, juice, soup or any other liquid. Children can take their drops in water, chocolate milk, juice, cereal or any other beverage.

A person takes their mixture until they start forgetting to take it and they no longer need it. (Or, parents give a mixture to a child until the child’s behavior or mood issues have resolved to the point where the parent is now forgetting to give it to the child)  If symptoms return (and they most likely will), the person starts taking the remedy again. In fact a person may end up using the remedy off and on for a year or two (less time in children) before the problematic tendency  disappears completely.

How Does One Know Which Remedies to Use?
Dr. Bach wanted to keep his healing method very simply. A person should be able to read the description of the 38 remedies and decide which ones he needs. Of course, some people feel that they need all 38! However, no more than 7 should be used at a time.

A person could pick up a book on Bach Flower Remedies and decide which flowers they need based on the description of who the remedy is for and what it can do. Also, most health food stores have a pamphlet that explain what the remedies can too. Alternatively, a person can make an appointment with a Bach Flower Practitioner who will be pleased to help them design a remedy for themselves or their child.

Arguments and Arguing

Everyone has an opinion: the toddler thinks she should stay up late while Mom thinks she should be in bed early. The 10 year-old thinks ketchup belongs on every food while the parents think not. One spouse thinks dishes can dry in the drainer while the other thinks they belong in the cupboard. Sometimes, we just don’t agree.

What happens when people disagree with each other? In some households, disagreements bring people to the verge of hysteria (and sometimes beyond). There can be shouting, pushing, throwing and other aggressive or even violent displays of opinion. In some homes, there is endless argument and debate, a verbal repartee that wears everyone down. In some homes, disagreements melt silently into the atmosphere; they are barely detectable, politely expressed as a difference of opinion. What’s it like in your home?

Arguments Hurt
Respectful disagreements are a necessary part of family life. However, arguments are not. Arguments cause stress, exhaustion and bad feelings. If they are frequent, they harm relationships. It is essential that people who live together learn to communicate without arguing. A peaceful home is not one in which everyone agrees about everything all the time; it is one in which people can make their point, be heard, be flexible, give-in, compromise, move-on and work together. It is one in which everyone’s needs are considered and respected.

Teaching Kids Not to Argue
Parents can help their children learn to handle differences peacefully. They do this in two ways – by modelling and teaching appropriate behavior.

Parents who argue with each other or with others teach their children to argue. These kids are likely to grow up to argue with their spouses and their own children. It will not be possible to teach your kids to handle conflict respectfully if you don’t do it yourself.

If you are providing a good model of respectful conflict resolution, you still have to TEACH the children how to handle their own negotiations in a respectful way. The combination of the parental model and parental instruction gives the child the best opportunity to acquire this skill. However, the child’s nature is also an important factor. Some people are born to argue! Their temperament is rigid and controlling. Other people are flexible and easy-going from birth. Whatever the inborn difference in their children, parents who provide the proper model and education are doing all that is in their power to help their kids enjoy peaceful and loving relationships. The desire to argue occurs frequently when a parent must deny a child or teen something that is requested. The answer “no” often leads directly to arguments. Let’s look at the “I Don’t Argue Rule” to see how parents can help children learn to accept this inevitable part of life without argument (you can learn about this rule in more detail in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.)

The “I Don’t Argue Rule”
The “I Don’t Argue Rule”  helps prevent escalation of conflict by ending combative conversations quickly. The entire conflict lasts only two rounds. For instance, a child wants to put ketchup on everything but the parent doesn’t want him to. The child enters “round 1” saying, “Can I put ketchup on my peas?” The parent enters “round 1” saying, “no” and offering one brief reason. For example, the parent might say, “No. It’s not healthy for you to put ketchup on all your food.” This reason is not meant to be a solid all-encompassing defense. The reason is a courtesy, to help the child understand that the parent is not simply a stubborn, mean dictator. When the parent usually answers “yes” the occasional, well-considered “no” must learn to be tolerated and respected by a child, not debated. (The child should have ample room to expand his mind in active debate at the dinner table over thought-provoking discussions about life, politics, religion and any other subject of interest: his creativity and intelligence will not be stifled by the “I Don’t Argue Rule”). In order to teach the “I Don’t Argue Rule,” parents must be reasonable people who are flexible and compassionate. They must be “yes” people, rather than “no” people. Unfortunately, “no” parents actually create the conditions under which children MUST argue in order to survive.

The child then starts “round 2” with a variation on the theme (i.e whining, repeating the request louder, giving logical arguments or whatever). For instance, the child says, “PLEASE!! I WANT KETCHUP! PLEASE?” The parent pauses to think carefully on “round 2” then either changes his or her mind OR repeats the original reply. If the parent repeats the original reply, he or she adds the words, “and that’s the end of the conversation.”  For instance, the parent now says, “I’ve thought about it and I don’t want you to have ketchup on your peas – and that’s the end of the conversation.”  The child does “round 3, 4, 5 etc.” alone, whining, begging, protesting, threatening or whatever without any response from the parent. In fact, the parent does not continue the discussion in any form, but rather gets involved in some other activity. When this approach is used consistently, children soon learn that they might as well stop talking after “round 2” because nothing they say will make a difference. They therefore stop arguing completely.

While using the “I Don’t Argue” Rule, parents ignore the unpleasant tactics of their kids. The rule is meant to teach children only one point: do not go on and on and on. Debate can be fun at the right time (i.e. on the debating team!) but is stressful when it occurs in the course of normal family communication. By teaching children this important point, parents give them a skill that will help them maintain pleasant relationships throughout their lives. When parents focus on giving and accepting only respectful communication, they help their children guard their tongues and their happiness. Differences of opinion exist; fighting and arguing doesn’t have to.

Help Your Child Deal with Criticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Help Your Child Deal with Rejection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Help Your Child Manage Anger

Anger is one of the most destructive emotions; people who have difficulty managing their anger can end up hurting others and themselves. As adults, they can destroy their most important relationships – those with spouses and children. Parents can help their kids have lifelong satisfying relationships by helping them to find healthy ways to deal with anger. In addition, when parents provide their kids with anger management tools, parenting itself becomes easier and more pleasant. On the other hand, when free range is given to angry outbursts, temper tantrums and rage, family life becomes very stressful. Moreover, children who are allowed to vent their rage not only scare their siblings and their parents, but they also frighten themselves. Their out-of-control behavior leaves them feeling emotionally out of control as well. For all these reasons, parents will want to help their kids deal effectively with inevitable provocative and upsetting situations.

The following are some tips on how parents can help children manage their anger:

Anger is Not Always Loud
It’s important that parents know how to recognize anger. Some expressions of anger are obvious and easy to spot. For example, raising one’s voice, banging hands on a table, and kicking the trash can are external and explosive ways of dealing with anger. But there are also more hidden and subtle expressions of the emotion. Passive-aggressiveness, depression and sarcasm can be signs of anger that are more internalized. If parents know how their child expresses his or her anger, then they can shape their interventions appropriately.

Model How to Handle Anger Well
Parents are in the best position to teach kids about anger during discipline. When offering negative feedback, correction or any type of guidance to a child (including giving negative consequences for misbehavior), show that you have control of your anger — even if you are really upset. If children can see that there are assertive (polite yet firm) ways of expressing anger, they will use them themselves. When you find yourself getting angry at a child, model the entire process of calming yourself down. For instance, tell the child, “I am getting frustrated. I need to calm myself down before I say anything more about this. I’m going to the kitchen to get a big glass of water and I’m going to sit down and drink it slowly until I feel better. Then I’m going to start thinking about what I need to do to about your behavior so that this problem doesn’t happen again.”

Take Ownership
Never blame the child for your anger. This teaches the child to blame others (like his siblings, friends and you!). In other words, don’t say things like “You’re making me mad” or “If you do that again, I’m going to get mad.” Instead, just take ownership: “I’m starting to get mad.” Remember, you may be getting mad because you are sleep-deprived, stressed, and hungry. You might feel helpless with this child, not knowing how to gain his cooperation. None of these reasons has to do with the child. All kids misbehave. It’s the parent’s responsibility to learn how to handle misbehavior without anger.

Don’t Accept Excuses
Similarly, don’t excuse your child’s angry behavior. Teach your youngster that “He broke my castle” is not a good reason for hurting a toddler. It’s an opportunity to use words “You’re not allowed to break my castle! I’m not playing with you now.” Even if the child is angry for really good reasons such as the fact that parents are going through a difficult divorce, or the child himself is challenged by illness or whatever – angry behavior cannot be excused or condoned. You understand, of course, that the child is very stressed. However, as a parent you want to teach the child that he still has control over his mouth and body. He can choose his behavior. Choosing to be hurtful or destructive is only one option. A stressed person can choose to remain sensitive to others even though he himself is suffering emotional pain. 

Don’t Accept Abusive Behavior
Anger is a feeling. Behaving hurtfully or destructively is a behavior that is abusive to others or to the environmnent. Slamming doors, yelling, swearing, throwing things, hanging up – all of these aggressive behaviors are abusive to those on the receiving end. Punching holes in walls, smashing furniture, and so on, are also acts of abuse in that they terrorize the household. Use negative consequences for abusive behavior: “You cannot say or do hurtful things like that every again. From now on, when you choose to yell, swear (etc), such & such consequence will occur.” (See Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for a detailed approach to discipline).

Teach Your Child Safe Ways to Release Anger
Parents can help their children deal with anger by teaching them how to use their words effectively. The most powerful tool for this is the parental model. Saying to your child, “I am really upset about this” teaches the child to use those same words when she is feeling upset. In addition, actually teach the child to use such words. “It’s not O.K. to call someone names. Instead, just tell them how you feel. For instance, when you’re mad at me, don’t say ‘you’re the worst mother in the world’ but instead say ‘I’m really really upset about this.'” Equivalent phrases include “I’m not happy about this,” “I’m not happy with you right now,” “I’m really frustrated,” “I resent what you did,” “I’m extremely displeased,” “I am furious,” “I am angry.” Sometimes a child will be so angry that she’ll want to throw something or break something. Such behavior is destructive and cannot be permitted. However, you can teach your child to rip paper into shreds (an exercise that makes a good ‘ripping’ sound and uses a fair amount of physical energy), or let out a silent scream (just open her mouth and imagine screaming at the top of her lungs) or pull and twist a folded towel (which releases excess physical energy). Punching a pillow or punching bag is NOT recommended as this activity actually stimulates more anger rather than releases energy. Another good way to release fury is to sit down with pen and paper and write really fast, pouring out all the wrath in words onto the page. The page should be thrown out afterward. Younger children can be offered a big black ‘mad’ crayon to scribble pictures and feelings onto paper. Teenagers can be encouraged to release angry energy by engaging in intense physical activity like lifting weights, doing push-ups or riding the exercise bike.

Give Examples of Destructive Anger
Your child need not learn through the school of irreparable mistakes. They can learn through the mistakes of other people. When you hear stories in the news of people committing angry crimes, talk about it to your children. Let them know that anger is a dangerous emotion when it is not controlled and expressed in healthy ways. Show them that you value communication and the skill of calming down.

Consider Bach Flowers
Bach flower remedies may help your child feel less angry. The remedy Vine can help reduce an angry nature. The remedy Holly can help children who are easily offended or prone to jealousy. Impatiens can help those with a short fuse. (These remedies can help adults too!) For more information on the Bach Flower Remedies, look online, in books and throughout this site.

Point Out Positive Role Models
Similarly, when you see or learn about people who handled a difficult situation gracefully, be sure to talk about it with your kids. Emphasize that people always have control and can make the choice to maintain their dignity and the dignity of others even in very stressful situations.

Seek Professional Help
If you have tried all of these interventions and your child is still easily anger, aggressive, or verbally abusive, consider making an appointment with a child psychologist. A mental health professional can provide effective treatments to reduce anger.

Helping Kids Deal with Feelings

Parents sometimes get so caught up in the physical demands of childrearing (getting kids ready for school, providing meals, making sure homework is done, taking them to lessons, getting them into bath and bed), that they can easily forget that there is a whole other side of parenting that is equally important and that must be attended to: the child’s inner world – the world of feelings. Helping children identify and manage their emotions is a critical task for any parent. So much of a child’s behavior is driven by emotions; frustrated children may become aggressive, frightened children may refuse to cooperate at bedtime, socially anxious children may isolate themselves, and so forth. Indeed, young children are prone to react emotionally to every situation rather than think about what they ought to do. Kids of every age are prone to experience periods of overwhelm or insecurity, moodiness or anxiety. Parents can play a major role in helping kids to negotiate the world of upsetting emotions.

How can parents help children deal with their feelings? Consider the following:

Be Open about Your Own Emotions
Kids feel free to explore and express their emotions only to the extent that they feel their family is open to it. So teach by example. If you feel sad, then express to the family that you are sad: “The ending to that movie was so sad that it made me cry!” If you are angry, assertively (that is, politely but firmly) express that you are angry: “I am really upset that you didn’t listen to me!” When you are feeling anxious, say so: “I’m worried about Grandpa. He fell twice last week.”  When children see that their parents are comfortable having and speaking about emotions, they will learn that feelings are just a normal part of the human experience. Parents who tell children to “stop crying” or “there’s nothing to be afraid of” accidentally encourage kids to bottle up their emotions.

Welcome Your Child’s Feelings
Differentiate between behaviors and feelings. You won’t be able to accept all of your child’s behaviors, but you can certainly accept all of his feelings. Let’s say that your youngster is mad at his brother for breaking the tower he was building. The anger is understandable and acceptable. However, punching the brother is completely unacceptable. Anger is a feeling – always acceptable. Punching is a behavior – and behaviors may or may not be acceptable. Is your child whining because he doesn’t like the meal you prepared? Whining is a behavior and one that happens to be unacceptable. Not liking dinner (feeling disappointed or frustrated) is a feeling and is acceptable. Your response can welcome the feeling while correcting the behavior. For instance, “I’m sorry you don’t like tonight’s dinner. I know that you’re disappointed and frustrated – you wanted something else. It is not O.K. to whine like that. Just tell me how you feel in words and I’ll try to help you out.” No matter what your child is feeling, accept the feeling without criticism or correction. This is easy to say but really hard to do. Sometimes your child feels things that you might find frightening. For instance, your child might say things like, “No one likes me” or “I’m so ugly” or “I don’t want to finish my degree. It’s just too hard” Your job in all of these cases is to accept the feelings BEFORE you try to educate the child. “No one likes you? That’s a sad feeling!” “You feel ugly? That’s really hard! “You don’t want to finish your degree? You sound very discouraged.” As the child responds, continue naming feelings as long as possible. Don’t jump in to correct the youngster because that will stop him from trying to share feelings with you in the future. When your kids have angry feelings, teach them the right way to express those feelings. How feelings are expressed is a behavior. Yelling, for example is a behavior, as is talking in a normal tone of voice. Teach kids that yelling, name calling, swearing, throwing, kicking and so on are all unacceptable ways to express the feeling of anger. On the other hand, saying “I’m angry” or “I’m really upset” or “I am so frustrated” are all valid ways to verbally express anger. Teach them to name their feeling and ask for what they want. It is normal for both parents and children to feel frustrated. You can certainly name, accept and validate your child’s upset and frustration. You cannot, however, accept his abusive behavior.

Use Pictures to Help Your Child Identify Feelings
When young children have difficulty articulating what they are going through, it’s best to turn to non-verbal aids. One such aid is a set of pictures depicting the different kinds of emotions. Instead of asking children to tell you how they feel, encourage kids to point at the card that illustrates the emotion they are going through. Parents can also use the cards as a prompt when trying to figure out what their child is feeling. Some parents put a “feeling wheel” on the refrigerator where a child can easily see it and use it to describe what he is experiencing.

Make it a Habit to Ask Children How They Feel
Very few parents take the effort to deliberately help their kids to identify what they are feeling at a given point in time. But there are many occasions when a focus on feelings can help increase a child’s emotional intelligence. Occasions when kids are happy, such as when a playmate comes over, can be an opportunity to teach kids about positive emotions. It looked like you guys were having a blast? Was it fun having Steve over?” Occasions that are sad, such as the death of a pet, can be opportunities to instruct about negative emotions. “I can’t believe that Fluffy died! I feel so sad. How about you? How are you doing?” By inviting open discussion of feelings you make it easy for your children to access their own and others emotions and become emotionally intelligent.

Arranging Everything Just So

Some children are fussy about their things. They like everything in it’s place. Others care so little about this that their parents struggle with them for two decades to clear a path to their beds! And yet, despite the obvious benefits of being very neat and organized, this trait can sometimes be problematic. The basic question is, when is it too much?

If your child has to have everything “just so,” consider the following tips:

Monkey See, Monkey Do
If you or your spouse also like everything “just so,” it may simply be that your child is copying your style. Sometimes, the child’s copy is more intense than the parent’s original, but if it is in the same department, it may be nothing more than a learned behavior. As long as none of  you gets overly distressed when something is out of place, there is nothing to be concerned about. However, if any of you become extremely agitated when something is missing or not in exactly the right position or angle, then things are not quite as they should be. In that case consider the information below.

Nervous Habits
Arranging things “just so” can help calm inner feelings of tension and mild anxiety. Tension might be barely perceptible, not even conscious. However, straightening things up can bring a pleasant sense of order to an inner chaotic state, even when the person is not even aware of the inner chaos. In other cases, the person IS aware of feeling uptight or bothered and knows full well that cleaning, straightening, organizing or adjusting things helps calm him or her down.  Even when it accomplishes this, however, the inner tension has not been properly dealt with. There are much better ways of handling stress, such as using mindfulness meditation to see what exactly the stress is and to clear it out of the system, or some other strategy like EFT (emotional freedom technique) or Focusing (a technique for paying direct attention to the stress in the body to ‘meet and greet’ it and release it).

Consider an Anxiety Disorder
An intense need to have everything “just so” can also be part of the anxiety disorder called “obsessive-compulsive disorder” (OCD). The same psychological dynamics are at play in OCD as described above for normal stress and tension. However, in the case of OCD, the brain itself gets “hooked” or addicted to the behavior that releases the stress (in this case, arranging things just so). Once the brain is hooked, failing to be able to arrange things just so can cause an intense withdrawal reaction, including feelings of panic, rage, overwhelm, extreme irritation, and more. OCD is a physical disorder, a condition of the brain itself. Fortunately, the brain can be rewired to become “un-addicted” – but this may take some professional cognitive-behavioral therapy (and in some rare cases, the help of medication). Parents need to know how to help their compulsive child because ignorance not only fails to help, but it can actually worsen the child’s brain condition. In other words, when parents respond appropriately to their child’s need to arrange things just so, they can help re-wire the child’s brain, but when they respond inappropriately, they can actually help wire it in the WRONG direction! Therefore, if you suspect that your child may be suffering from OCD or OCD-like behavior, arrange for a consultation with a child psychologist or other mental health professional for a proper assessment and, if necessary, treatment plan.

Habits

What’s the difference between a bad habit, a nervous habit and a compulsive habit? When should a parent be concerned about a child’s habit?

Bad Habits
Everyone has bad habits. Leaving one’s dish on the table is a bad habit – one that many kids (and adults!) have. Calling a sibling “stupid” or some other insulting name can be a bad habit. Slamming the car door too hard can also be a bad habit. A bad habit is any repetitive behavior that needs improvement. That behavior can be a small, annoying behavior or it can be a more serious problematic behavior. For instance, a teen might have a bad habit of calling home past midnight to say that he’ll be out later than expected, or, he might have a really bad habit of forgetting to call home at all and just showing up at 3 in the morning.

Parents can help their children overcome bad habits by using normal parenting techniques like teaching, rewarding and disciplining. If the child’s bad habit is interfering with his health or functioning, however, then professional intervention is a good idea. For instance, a child who is chronically sleep-deprived due to going to bed too late or who is doing poorly in school due to chronically getting up too late, may benefit from counseling or other appropriate therapy.

Nervous Habits
Nervous habits are bodily behaviors that aim to discharge stress or tension. Twirling one’s hair, biting one’s nails, rocking back and forth, shaking one’s feet while seated – all these actions are examples of nervous habits. Talking rapidly, running to the bathroom urgently, gulping down food, giggling inappropriately – these, too, can be nervous habits.

If a child has a nervous habit he or she may benefit from learning better techniques for stress reduction. There are children’s classes and groups for yoga and mindfulness meditation that can be helpful. Alternative therapies can also help. For instance, herbal medicine can come the system down and Bach Flower Therapy can relieve stress and tension. Parental nagging to stop the nervous habit, on the other hand, does not help at all – if anything, it might increase the nervous habit. If the habit is bothering the child or parent, a consultation with a mental health professional may be helpful.

Compulsive Habits
While bad habits and nervous habits occur to some extent in almost everyone, compulsive habits occur only in those who have various mental health disorders. Eating disorders often involve compulsive activities like weighing oneself or cutting food into tiny bits. Certain kinds of psychotic disorders also have compulsive symptoms.

Compulsive habits are most characteristic of the anxiety disorder called obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This sort of habit is more ritualistic than the habits we’ve discussed so far. For instance, someone with a “nervous” habit might tap her feet while waiting in a long line. However, someone with a compulsive habit might tap her feet exactly 13 times – not because she is tense, but because she is attempting to reduce truly anxious, troubling feelings. Tapping exactly 13 times – not one less or one more -is a compulsion. A compulsion is a specific action whose purpose is to calm the anxiety associated with troubling obsessions (thoughts or sensations). There are many, many types of compulsive habits. Washing one’s hands a certain number of times is a common compulsive habit that often results in red, chapped, even bleeding skin. Counting steps, saying certain words or numbers, checking things repeatedly, praying in a specified way not characteristic for others who practice the same religion – all of these can be compulsive habits. The child who engages in these or other compulsive habits is a slave to the habit – he or she MUST perform the action or else suffers overwhelming anxiety.

Compulsive habits do not tend to go away by themselves. Instead, they get worse and worse over time and spread into more and more styles of compulsive habits. The sooner a child receives professional treatment for compulsive habits, the sooner the child will be able to lead a normal, healthy, compulsion-free life. If you think that your child’s habits may be compulsive in nature, arrange for an assessment with a mental health professional (psychologist or psychiatrist). Treatment can help!

Head-Banging

Seeing one’s child banging his or her head against the wall or a wooden bed is alarming for parents, especially if the child is a baby or toddler. Parents are not only concerned about the possible pain and injury that may result from such an activity – they are also worried about the child’s psychological well-being. “Is something wrong with my baby?” is a reasonable question for parents to ask when their child deliberately harms himself.

In fact, in most cases, a child’s head-banging is caused by a normal desire for stimulation or soothing (as we will discuss below) — not by underlying mental health issues. Additionally, young kids rarely hurt themselves during head banging enough to cause considerable pain or head damage. Head-banging may also occur in certain developmental syndromes such as autism. In these cases, there will be other neurological and behavioral symptoms besides head banging. In an otherwise healthy child, head-banging is not a matter for intense concern.

What’s Behind Head-Banging?
Head banging can be a way for kids to get stimulation. The habit can relieve the discomfort of boredom or stress. Remember that during the toddler years, kids are in the process of understanding and appreciating different body sensations such as sights, sounds and  even feelings of pain and discomfort. The sensation that comes when we bang our heads against a hard surface is new and foreign to a child, and understandably, the child is curious about it. Thus he may repeat head-banging so that he can explore the sensation better.

It’s also possible for children to head-bang in order to soothe themselves when they are anxious, in discomfort or otherwise distressed. In these cases, head banging is no different from thumb sucking or nail biting. It’s ironic, but it’s possible that children find the pain of head banging a distraction for their current discomfort or unease. Some kids may also find the rhythm of soft head banging comforting, in the same way that a slow and steady drum beat can be soothing, rhythmic head banging can be reassuring to a child.

What can Parents Do?
Safety is always a primary concern. Even if head-banging is usually harmless, there’s nothing wrong with taking a few extra precautions. As much as possible, keep young children away from hard surfaces like walls or bed posts. If there’s a risk that they will run into a hard surface, protect your child by putting a soft pillow or foam padding as insulation. If you can make it impossible for your child to head-bang against something hard, then you can worry less about head-banging behavior.

It may also help to provide your child with stimulation and soothing when you feel that he or she needs it. Toys of different shapes and colors, as well as materials of varying comfortable textures and temperatures can provide stimulation to a child. Rocking, singing a lullaby or a soft massage are also positive ways to provide soothing.

When parents suspect that unease, discomfort or stress is causing the head-banging behavior, they can offer their child the Bach Flower Remedy Agrimony. Two drops in liquid four times a day can be used until the banging diminishes. Or, for a more complete treatment, call a Bach Flower Practitioner. You can find more information about the Bach Remedies online and throughout this site.

Older children who are banging their heads may need more than Bach Remedies (although these should be tried first). Stress reduction through professional psychological counseling may be very helpful. If very young children are stressed, family counseling may be preferable. Parents may be able to make environmental changes that put the child more at ease.

When Should Parents be Concerned?
While head-banging is generally normal and harmless, there are occasions of head-banging behavior when parents need to provide their children with stronger interventions and/or professional help.

One situation is when kids use head banging as a way to get negative attention, punish themselves or release anger and frustration. When head banging is a deliberate action to achieve an end, parents should arrange a consultation with a child psychologist. The psychologist may help the parents intervene in more appropriate ways or he or she may work with the child directly in order to reduce underlying tensions.

But a second situation is when parents suspect an underlying medical or psychological condition behind the head banging behavior. If head banging is seen alongside symptoms of social withdrawal, delayed speech and motor development, and inability to empathize, parents should consider consult their pediatrician. A referral to a mental health professional for assessment can confirm or rule out a diagnosis of autism or pervasive developmental disorder. Head banging that seems beyond a child’s control may be a symptom of Tourette’s Syndrome. Various seizure disorders may also account for head banging behavior. To be certain, it’s best to get a child diagnosed by the appropriate medical or mental health professional.

Rocking and Shaking

Babies often rock back and forth in their cribs starting around 6 months of age and are usually growing out of it by around a year and a half. The motion of their own bodies is soothing; babies love the sensation of being rocked by themselves or others.

Some children (and adults!)  also use rhythmic movements to “calm their nerves.” Rocking back and forth or shaking their legs helps to relieve stress. The behavior may be done almost subconsciously (without conscious intention or awareness) – it just seems to happen on its own. In other words, the child or teen does not actively think to him or herself, “I’ll rock now” or “I’ll shake my legs now.” While the child is sitting in a chair working or talking, the movements occur. Other people can interrupt the process by pointing it out: “Stop shaking your legs!” At that point, the child becomes aware that he or she was moving his legs. However, just a few minutes after stopping the movement, it usually starts again.

If your child is a “mover and shaker,” consider the following tips:

Rhythmic Movements are Usually Harmless
In otherwise normal children and teens, rocking and/or shaking is a harmless “nervous habit.” However, like other nervous habits, it can become socially unacceptable. Excessive movements disturb other people, even though they don’t seem to bother the rocker/shaker. There is an annoyance factor when someone keeps moving his or her body. If your child’s teacher reports negative peer reactions or other disturbances in school as a result of rocking or shaking, it’s time to help your child lose this habit and find more appropriate ways to self-soothe. When rocking and other rhythmic behaviors occur in a child who has other neurological or behavioral abnormalities, be sure to get a complete medical or psychiatric assessment. In these cases, the rocking may be part of a medical syndrome that requires attention.

Nagging Doesn’t Help
Telling a child to stop rocking or shaking is not an effective way of curing the habit. Although the child may stop for a moment or two, he or she will start again. Since the behavior is out of the child’s awareness, he or she is not exactly aware of when it begins or even that it is happening and therefore, has no effective way to interrupt it on a regular basis. It is annoying for the child to be told repeatedly to stop moving. Since this strategy causes tension between parent and child and does not effectively treat the problem, it cannot be recommended!

Stress Reduction May Help
Anything that helps the child relax his or her nervous system will help both directly and indirectly. The direct form of help is that it may relieve the tension and therefore the need to self-soothe. The indirect form is that it may make it easier for the child to successfully apply behavioral strategies. Herbal remedies or Bach Flower Remedies that calm the body and mind can be very helpful in both regards. See a professional herbalist or naturopath to assess your child and make up the appropriate herbal remedies. Alow time to see the results. Similarly, see a Bach Flower Practitioner to make up an individually tailored treament bottle for your child. Consider remedies like Agrimony and Impatiens and others that address your child’s personality. A homeopath or other natural healer may be able to help as well. In addition, it may be possible to teach the child stress reduction techniques like yoga or even breath-based meditations (or, for teens, mindfulness meditation). In some cases, regular, intense exercise will be helpful. Of course, reducing stress in the house is always helpful so anything you can do to keep calm, enhance your marriage and de-stress yourself, will help as well.

Behavioral Therapy
When rocking becomes dysfunctional (excessive, bothersome, embarrassing or otherwise disturbing), consult a behavioral therapist – someone who is experienced and skilled in the treatment of habits. There are also habit removal workbooks (i.e. The Habit Change Workbook by Pedrick) that you may be able to work through with your child or that your older child or teen can work through indepedently.