Unsettled After Death, Divorce or Other Trauma

Although most of us wish that children could be sheltered from the pain in life, the reality is that many youngsters endure real trauma during their developmental years. One of the more common forms of modern trauma is the breakup of the family. Divorce is certainly hard for the adults who go through it but it can actually be traumatic for children – because of the loss of contact with a beloved parent, because of conflict that accompanies it, or because of life changes such as moving away from friends and family, acquiring a “step family” and so on. Death of a parent is another, usually traumatizing, experience that many children endure. But many children endure all kinds of other traumas that are less spoken about such as the serious illness and/or death of a sibling, family violence or chronic, intense conflict, addictions or mental illness within the family and much, much more. Children react to these kinds of intense stresses differently from adults. In fact, parents may not even realize that the child is suffering, since one of the common ways that kids handle overwhelming stress is to “act normal!”

If there has been intense stress in your child’s life, consider the following tips:

No Reaction is a Reaction
Suppose your friend was a passenger in a car that experienced a serious collision. The driver and two other passengers were instantly killed. The car was demolished, blood was everywhere, four firetrucks, 3 ambulances and 5 police vehicles were on the scene within minutes. Your friend miraculously escaped unharmed. Over the next days, weeks and months, this friend went about his or her business as if nothing at all had happened. He or she ate well, continued to joke around and enjoy life, never spoke about the accident and just went on very much “as normal.” Wouldn’t you find that a bit strange?

This is exactly the way many children respond to traumatic events in their lives. Instead of registering the pain and acting it out, they appear on the outside to be completely fine. What has probably happened, however, is that the overwhelming pain has been dissociated – cut off from the child’s conscious awareness. It is stored somewhere where the child can’t feel it just yet. It may surface years or even decades later, as more life stress builds up and eventually triggers it. Sometimes, it remains mentally dissociated for a lifetime, but expresses itself through the body in various forms of physical disease. The reason that children dissociate in this way is that they don’t have the emotional or intellectual resources to assimilate the experience. In other words, they just can’t handle it at the time it is happening.

If it appears that your child is not affected by a traumatic event, in reality he is quite likely affected! However, you can help. First of all, make sure that YOU are talking about the events. Some parents think, “why rock the boat? If my kid isn’t bothered by the tragedy, I’m sure not going to mention it!” Or, parents think to themselves, “the child is too young to understand or care about what is happening. There is no need to discuss it with him or her.” This is exactly the opposite of a helpful response. The child is likely to assume that the incident or events CANNOT be spoken about because they are way too terrible. On the other hand, when parents talk about what is happening and name their own feelings about it, they help children to take in the experience as a legitimate part of life and they help the child learn that his or her feelings about it are normal, expected, healthy and welcome. For instance, suppose a family suffers a crib death of their new baby. The mother can approach their children aged 4 and 6 and say something like, “It is so sad for all of us that our baby died. Daddy and I are so sad right now. You might be feeling that way too. We’re also confused. It’s hard to understand how this happened so suddenly; the baby was healthy just yesterday! You must also be feeling confused. We will all be thinking about this for quite awhile. Eventually, the pain will go away and we’ll all be happy again.” Parents can include any spiritual beliefs that they hold and want to provide their kids with at times of tremendous stress and upheaval.

Physical Reactions
While children may not be able to express their shock and pain in words, they may be able to feel it in their bodies. Headaches, tummy aches, colds and flu’s can all increase as an aftermath of intense stress. Play therapy can help children who are “somatizing” (sending emotions through their physical bodies) and talking therapies can help older kids and teens in the same way. Once emotions are acknowledged, physical complaints often subside.

Sleep Issues May be a Reaction
A child may have trouble sleeping through the night or sleeping alone in his or her bed. Or, the child may have trouble falling asleep or may suffer from nightmares. This may be part of a larger syndrome of Acute Stress Disorder (that happens as a trauma is occurring or within the month following) or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (that happens more than a month after traumatic events have ended) or Chronic Stress Disorder (the effects of ongoing stress such as living with family violence or addiction or other deeply disturbing issues).

Psychotherapy will help the child clear out the feelings of stress. This will allow him or her to have restful, normal sleep.

Anxiety and Mood Issues may be a Reaction
A child or teen may experience panic attacks, separation anxiety (always wanting to be in the presence of loved ones), increased irritability or chronic sadness. Again, when parents are able to talk about what is happening in the family, children experience fewer emotional symptoms. Sometimes, however, the child or teen may benefit most from personal counseling in order to process the events and lift the burden of stress from the mind oand body.

Misbehavior or “Acting Out” may be a Reaction
Sometimes children become rebellious, disrespectful, impulsive or otherwise poorly behaved at home and/or school in response to stress that is happening at home. Particularly if the poor behavior is a change from previous functioning, parents should consider the possibility of this being a reaction to stress. Counseling for the parents may help reduce the stress in the home and the child’s behavior may simply improve by itself as a consequence. However, some of the stress that may trigger poor behavior are not remediable by parent counseling (for instance, the death of a family member). Nonetheless, parents may benefit from counseling that can address specific behavior and emotional interventions that THEY can provide for their child at home. If these are insufficient, the child him or herself, may need some sort of counseling or behavior therapy.

Afraid to Sleep in Own Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bedtime Anxieties

Bedtime anxieties are common and occur for many reasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baby Wants to Sleep with Parents

Many babies want to sleep in their parents’ bed. They like the body warmth, the comfort and sometimes the nursing. But many parents like their babies to sleep in their own cribs!

If your baby wants to sleep with you, consider the following tips:

Your Baby is Normal
Throughout the ages, babies have slept next to their parents. In olden times, no one had multi-room homes in which a baby could have his own nursery. The cradle was in the parents’ room and just as often, the baby was in the parents’ bed. Mothers nursed their infants throughout the night until they weaned them around the age of two or so, depending on the culture. Modern life is so different! Working mothers, bottle-fed or supplemented babies, room-to-room intercom systems and a completely different lifestyle has resulted in an era of babies separated from their moms at night. If your baby doesn’t appreciate the innovations of the culture, don’t worry – he’s in good company! Normal babies want to be held day and night. They like to sleep on people’s bodies. In our nuclear family, this usually means that babies want to be with their parents. In previous times, babies may have been happy to sleep with any number of people who nurtured them – siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles and whoever else was nearby and available.

You are Normal Too
You want a good night’s sleep so you can function and feel well the next day! While many parents do enjoy sleeping with their babies for the first couple of years (Dr. Sears calls this “attachment parenting”), many parents just can’t sleep with someone kicking around them in bed, pulling at their nightgown for all-night feedings, or otherwise disturbing their peace. If you can’t sleep well with your baby in your bed, it’s important for everyone’s well-being that you find a way to keep your child OUT of your bed! A tired, resentful parent is not only miserable, but also at risk for doing some poor daytime parenting as well.

If you are one of those parents who don’t mind the baby being in bed with you, then definitely go for it! There is nothing wrong with a baby sleeping with his parents. Do some research on safety issues; you will find all sorts of information showing that babies who sleep next to their parents have less risk of SIDS (sudden-infant-death syndrome) and conflicting research showing that they have more. You will have to draw your own conclusions. However, keep in mind that many, many people are currently sleeping with their babies and we’re not hearing about a high fatality rate from this practice. If we did, the practice would have been legally prohibited by now. Some parents find it easier to have the baby in bed with them than to have to get themselves out of bed a couple of times a night to tend to the child in another room. Such people say that they feel more rested having the baby by their side than they do having him down the hall.

Keeping the baby out of your bed. You will almost certainly have to tolerate some amount of crying in order to train a baby to stay in his own room. Whatever method of education you use, (and there are MANY!), the child will likely complain with tears and temper for a number of days or even weeks. However, once the crying has stopped and the baby has caught on to the fact that his bed is elsewhere (because you have consistently refused to take him into your bed), you may find that your child sleeps peacefully throughout the night. Both you and the baby can get quality sleep. Sometimes, the baby will still awaken once or twice in the night for feedings or even attention. However, you and your spouse may be able to take turns at nightime care and both of you will be more rested than you might be with the baby right in your bed.

It is important not to make exceptions once the child has been trained to sleep in his crib in his own room. If he is ill, keep him in his own room – even if YOU have to sleep there too. If you are going back to bed, give yourself peace of mind by keeping a baby monitor on loud and clear. Moving him into your bed because he has an earache or because you’re on vacation or because he’s teething, can completely disrupt the baby’s ability to stay in his own bed. You may find that you have to go through the entire training process all over again.

Fear of the Dark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fear of Robbers and Bad People

Children are afraid of all kinds of things. Many children are afraid of robbers or “bad people”. Your child may be worried about someone breaking into the house in the middle of the night. Or, maybe your child worries about walking to school by himself because he’s afraid of a “bad guy” getting him. These fears can impair not only your child’s life, but also your own as he seeks the safety and comfort of your presence.

If your child has a fear of robbers and “bad people”, consider the following tips:

Try Emotional Coaching
In emotional coaching, the parent names the feelings that his or her child might be experiencing. For example, a parent can say things like, “I know you’re worried about a robber breaking in.” or “I understand that you’re scared to walk to school by yourself because you’re afraid that a bad person might hurt you.” This simple acknowledgment of the child’s true feelings is the opposite of what most parents tend to do. The more common approach is called “discounting” – an attempt to reassure the child by minimizing the seriousness of his fear. For instance, a parent who is discounting might say something like, “Your imagination is too active; there is nothing to be afraid of.” Interestingly, discounting not only fails to reassure a child, but it actually increases fear over time. Most parents will notice that no matter how many times they tell the child NOT to worry, the child continues to worry. Emotional Coaching, on the other hand, has a greater chance of helping the child to release his upsetting emotions. Once the bad feeling is named by someone else, much of it melts away. Therefore, when the child hears the parent reflect back to him, “Yes, I understand that you are afraid,” the child becomes LESS afraid. The parent can then go on to explore what will make the child feel more comfortable. The conversation might sound like this, “I understand that you are afraid of robbers coming into your room. Since you still have to sleep in your room, tell us if there is anything that we can do to help you feel safer.”

Talk About Safety
It’s impossible to shield children from images and news of “bad guys.” Instead of throwing out the T.V., shutting down the computer, silencing the radio and hiding news publications, talk to your fearful child. Ask him to tell you what he is most afraid of (i.e. it might be a fear of being kidnapped or murdered, or being abandoned because a parent is kidnapped or murdered, or experiencing pain or some other fear completely). Use Emotional Coaching (naming his feelings) and Validating (acknowledging how the feelings makes sense). Then, give your child both information and anxiety reduction strategies (see below). Helpful information includes offering some sense of statistical probabilities of experiencing robbery or other crimes (which doesn’t cure fears, but can help reduce them). Other information you might share, depending on the age of your child, is how to dial 911 for emergency help, how to hide if necessary, how to reach a safe adult and even how to defend oneself. Rather than being frightening, this kind of information can help reduce feelings of helplessness and increase a sense of agency.

Use Bibliotherapy (read stories)
Ask your local librarian for suggestions for age-appropriate books and movies that highlight children’s abilities to courageously and creatively face challenges and solve problems. Reading about other children dealing with problems and facing challenges can help give your child self-confidence that he too will be able to deal with difficult circumstances. This is not to suggest that a child might be able to fend off a robber, but it can help your child to remember the safety steps you have taught him for emergency situations. Most importantly, it will help the child begin to develop a more POSITIVE imagination and a less vulnerable, helpless mindset. This can reduce the habit of conjuring up scary images of bad people and bad things happening. It can build a healthier feeling of being empowered and safe.

Be Careful Not to Reinforce Fears
Avoidance makes fears worse – don’t solve the problem by letting your child sleep in your room if he or she has already been sleeping in his or her own room. In addition, be careful not to show excessive interest in your child’s fears. Too much attention can accidentally reinforce the fear. The first time the child mentions the fear, give all the understanding and education that you can. After that, give mini-versions for review and, as time goes on, say less and less. After a while, you can say things like, “Remember what we talked about before. Good night. Have a good sleep.”

Teach Strategies to Cope with Fear
Show your child how to think positively. Teach him to imagine protectors, robber-stoppers, friendly lions, angels, and so forth. If you have taught him about God, then teach him to ask for protection and expect to receive it. Teach him or her to notice every day and night how he and everyone he cares for is still safe and alive. Let him realize that there is nothing to worry about.

Another helpful thing to do is to teach your child how to calm his or her nervous system with breathing techniques. This gives the child a way to soothe himself without needing you to be in the room. Used regularly, it can also prevent fearful thoughts from occurring in the first place. One good technique is to teach your child to pay attention to his or her breath, thinking the word “in” when breathing in and thinking the word “out” when breathing out. Help the child breathe this way with you for a few minutes and then instruct the child to continue to breathe like that on his or her own whenever the scary feeling arises. This method of breathing calms the nervous system and can even help the child to fall asleep. Another useful anxiety-taming strategy is EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique. This simple acupressure technique can make fears literally disappear. The internet is a rich resource for instruction on EFT and there are also many books available on the subject. Some therapists also use and teach EFT in their practices – you can search for one online. EFT takes only a few minutes to do and is so simple that a child can do it independently once instructed.

Experiment with Bach Flowers
Bach Flower Therapy is a harmless water-based naturopathic treatment that can ease emotional distress and even prevent it from occurring in the future. Bach Flower Remedies are excellent for the treatment of fears.  Of the 38 remedies in the system, there are many that deal directly with different types of fear. The flower remedy Mimulus can help cure phobias, while the flower remedy Rock Rose can prevent feelings of panic. Walnut is the flower for those strongly affected by seeing or hearing about bad people doing things (i.e in the news and media). Bach Flowers are sold in health food stores around the world. You can mix several together in one treatment bottle. Fill a one-ounce Bach Mixing Bottle (an empty bottle with a glass dropper, sold wherever Bach Remedies are sold) with water. Add two drops of each remedy. Add one teaspoon of brandy. The bottle is now ready to use: place 4 drops in any liquid (juice, water, milk, tea, soup, etc.) 4 times each day: morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening. Remedies can be taken with or without food. Continue until the fear has dissipated. Treat again if the fear returns. Continue in this way, treating the fear when it is present and stopping treatment when it is not present, until it is simply gone.

If Fear Persists and Interferes with Sleep, Seek Professional Help
If you find that your child is still intensely fearful of robbers and bad people even after you have provided support and education, do consider accessing professional help. A child-psychologist may be able to treat your child’s fears in a few brief sessions.

Children’s Fears

For many children, vague fears are a common occurrence. Worries and fears can include a fear of “monsters”, the dark, or simply “bad things happening.” Such worries can be intense and prevent a child from falling asleep peacefully at night. They can also hamper his independence (i.e. he may not want to sleep alone or walk places by himself). Worries like these are not only present at night, but can also manifest during the day, preventing concentration in class or enjoyment in play. Thoughts such as “What if something will go wrong?” or “What if I get hurt?” can often be present as a result of these unnamed fears. The child’s entire world can be a place where unknown danger lurks at every corner.

If your child is bothered by vague fears and worries, consider the following tips.

Use Emotional Coaching
Try not to discount the child’s worries or fears. Responses to his fear such as “there’s nothing to be afraid of,” or “there’s no such thing as monsters,” will not provide the help your child needs and may even increase his anxiety. Listen to him and show him that you care, and that you are taking him seriously. Use Emotional Coaching – the technique of naming the child’s feelings. For example, you might say, “I know that you are afraid of the dark. It’s hard for you to stay in your room alone.” After naming the child’s feelings, you may refer to the “facts” – i.e. “It’s important to go to sleep in your own bed. We can leave a night light on if that will make you feel more comfortable.”

Note that reacting intensely to your child’s fears (i.e. helping him to check every corner of the room for monsters) can also be detrimental to his condition, as you may be implying that his fears are rational (since to state that he is now safe implies that there was a indeed a possible threat!).

Reward Positive Behavior
Whenever your child faces his fear, provide positive attention. For instance, if your child goes to sleep even though he’s afraid of something, praise his bravery in the morning. Providing positive attention can help reinforce your child’s positive behavior.

Teach Relaxation Techniques
Breathing exercises and other relaxation strategies can help one counteract feelings of fear or panic. One such exercise that can prove very helpful in helping one relax is this simple mindfulness-based practice. Ask your child to lie down, close his eyes and notice his breathing by paying attention to the feeling of air going in and out of his nostrils or by noticing the rising and falling of his chest or tummy. When the child feels that the breath is going in, he should think the word “in” and when he notices that it is going out, he should think the word “out.” By concentrating on his breath this way, the child’s mind remains in a safe place, far away from imaginary catastrophes and dangers. Moreover, when focused on, the breath naturally slows down, calming both the body and mind.

Replace Bad Thoughts with Good Ones
Fear is a product of thought. One imagines something, whether it is monsters hiding under the bed or evil lurking in the dark, and his brain triggers a fear response. However, if those disturbing thoughts are replaced by positive ones, the the child can feel relaxed and safe instead. Reading your child a positive and happy story before he falls asleep can be one way of encouraging positive thoughts. Ask the child to concentrate on the details of the story as he or she falls asleep. Also, teach your child to think positive thoughts (such as remembering the fun parts of his day or thinking a phrase such as, “I’m safe in this house and protected by my parents (and/or God).” Putting attention on uplifting thoughts can be an effective tool in combating fear.

Read or Tell Stories about Brave Children
An effective fear-reducing technique is therapeutic story-telling. Tell your child a story about a little boy or girl (who happens to have the same name as your child) who encounters many challenges and overcomes them all. For instance, “There was a little boy named Michael-the-Brave. Michael-the-Brave went on a hike with his friends. Suddenly, they spotted a crocodile in the river! Michael-the-Brave pulled out a magic net from his backpack and threw it over the crocodile. The crocodile immediately became friendly and asked to the children if he could come along on their hike. Of course, they were happy to let him come.” Add all sorts of imaginary adventures, each one ending happily. This technique helps children develop a positive, confident imagination and helps them incorporate a self-image of bravery and strength.

Try Bach Flower Remedies
Bach Flower Remedies can help your child overcome fears. The remedy Aspen addresses vague fears (like those discussed in this article). Give your child 2 drops of Aspen in liquid 4 times a day until his fear has diminished. You can find more information on Bach Flower Remedies online and throughout this site.

Consult a Mental Health Professional
If you’ve tried all the tips in this article and your child is still experiencing fears and worries that are interfering with his day-to-day life, you may want to consider a consultation with a mental health professional.

Child Won’t Brush Teeth

Sometimes children don’t want to brush their teeth. Whether they don’t want to brush because they’re too impatient or they find it annoying, stomach or they don’t like the taste of the toothpaste – or for any other reason – getting them to attend to this important task can present a daily parental challenge. As good oral and dental hygiene is important for children’s health, see parents naturally want to help their kids develop proper habits of routine brushing.

If your child doesn’t want to brush his or her teeth for whatever reason, nurse consider the following tips:

Try using Emotional Coaching
When your child doesn’t want to brush his teeth, you can try using emotional coaching. Emotional coaching is the naming of feelings. If your child finds brushing his teeth to be an annoyance you can say “I know you don’t enjoy brushing your teeth.” If he would rather play instead of brushing his teeth, you can say things like “I know you’d rather be doing something more exciting than brushing your teeth.” Articulate whatever negative feeling he has about brushing his teeth and let him know that you understand his feelings. After all, from a kid’s point of view, how much fun is it to brush one’s teeth? Emotional coaching actually reduces resistance. When a parent shows simple understanding and can even relate to the truth of what the child is saying, then the child is more likely to cooperate. He is not so inclined to battle it out when he can see that his parent is truly sympathetic. Of course, this only works when the parent is truly sympathetic; always try to really understand your child’s feelings from a child’s point of view. Saying empty words has the opposite effect. Children can see when you are patronizing them and this INCREASES resistance rather than decreases it.

Use the CLeaR method
In the CLeaR method, appropriate behavior is reinforced by providing your child 3 kinds of positive attention: a comment about the appropriate behavior, a label that describes the behavior and, in some cases, a reward for the behavior. To encourage more tooth-brushing, a parent might use the CLeaR Method whenever he or she notices that the child has brushed or flossed. It might sound something like this: “I see you brushed you teeth today” (a positive comment), followed by “You’ve got great hygiene!” (‘great hygiene’ being a label that describes someone who brushes his teeth). “And because you remembered to do that, I think tonight would be a good night to have that ice cream we were talking about. I know that you’ll do a good job of brushing them again tonight.” (Offering a reward for desirable behavior).

Use the 2X Rule
If your child refuses to brush his teeth on a routine basis, use the 2X rule. In the 2X rule, you warn your child about the possibility of a negative consequence if there is disobedience. For instance, you can say to a brush-resistant youngster, “You need to brush your teeth before going to sleep.” If the child ‘forgets’ and doesn’t brush before bed, you then say, “From now on, when you don’t remember to brush your teeth before bed, you will have go and brush them when I come to say goodnight and you will miss having your bedtime story.”  You can learn more about The 2X-Rule in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice.

Encourage Independence
If your child simply doesn’t want to brush his teeth by himself but will brush them with your assistance, then try to encourage independence. One way to do this is to create a reward chart. When your child brushes his teeth by himself, have him place a sticker on the chart. When the chart has X amount of stickers, the child can get a reward. In this way your child can become more comfortable brushing his teeth alone.

Make it Fun and Enjoyable
If your child doesn’t want to brush his teeth because he finds it boring, try implementing these ideas:

  • Have races to see how quickly your child can brush his teeth. Show him that it doesn’t actually take that long.
  • Get interesting or colorful toothbrushes. If your child likes a particular movie franchise, comic book hero, or other entertainment icon, chances are there will be toothbrushes decorated like one of them available for purchase.
  • Get interesting or flavored toothpaste. Just like the entertainment industry has toothbrushes available, toothpaste containers also may be decorated the same way. Additionally, toothpastes of all kinds of flavors and colors exist today. Check your local shopping mart to see what they have available.
  • Talk to your child while he’s brushing (quality time).

Consider Bach Flower Remedies
Bach Flower Therapy is a harmless water-based naturopathic treatment that can help improve a child’s behavior. The flower remedy Vine can help strong-willed and defiant children who refuse to brush their teeth. For negative kids who complain about everything you can use the remedy Beech. You can mix several remedies together in one treatment bottle. To do so, you fill a one-ounce Bach Mixing Bottle with water (a mixing bottle is an empty bottle with a glass dropper, sold in health food stores along with Bach Flower Remedies). Next, add two drops of each remedy that you want to use. Finally, add one teaspoon of brandy. The bottle is now ready to use. Give your child 4 drops of the mixture in any liquid (juice, water, milk, tea, etc.) four times a day (morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening). Remedies can be taken with or without food. Continue this treatment until behavior shows improvement. Start treatment again, if the behavior worsens. Eventually, the behavior changes should become permanent.

Bath-Time Battles with School-Age Children

Babies and toddlers aren’t the only ones who may have trouble with bath-time. Even school age kids can give you a hard time when you try to get them to have a bath. Though some children may not like getting wet, purchase or worry about getting soap in their eyes, decease often the biggest issue with school age kids and bath-time is the fact that it’s just feels like a waste of time to them: they’d rather be playing.

If your child is “bath-time challenged” consider the following tips:

Use Emotional Coaching
Let your child know that you hear and understand his feelings about bath-time. Whether he considers it a waste of time or he has some other reason for this aversion to baths, capsule show that you care. Say things like “I know you find baths boring.” or “I know you’d rather be on your computer instead of having a bath.” Your child will still have to have a bath, but he’ll be able to release some of his feelings towards bath-time when you use emotional coaching. Emotional Coaching tends to increase a child’s willingness to cooperate and decrease his tendency to fight and argue, because he experiences the friendly, compassionate attitude of the parent.

Use the CLeaR method
The CLeaR method’s system of commenting, labeling and rewarding appropriate behavior can be helpful in getting your child to take baths routinely. (Learn the details about The Clear Method in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice).When your child has a bath without giving you trouble, say something like, “You got ready for your bath right away.” (Comment), “That’s very cooperative of you!” (Label), “I think there’s an extra piece of cake in the fridge, why don’t you go and have it for your snack tonight? (Reward). This system helps to reinforce your child’s positive behavior and can make the behavior continue in the future.

Make it Interesting
If your child finds baths boring, try making them more enjoyable or interesting. Get colored or fragranced soaps and bubbles for your child’s baths. Or maybe get a special bathrobe or something similar that can be special for bathtime. (Bathrobes may be designed like comic book heroes or movie characters.  You may be able to find one that your child can’t wait to wear!).

Make Sure it’s Routine
If you tell your child to have a bath at different times or days of the week, it can be disruptive to whatever he or she is doing. Instead, consider developing a regular bath schedule (i.e. baths on Mondays and Thursdays) so that your child is psychologically prepared for his or her bath. This can help the child plan for baths and get ready more easily.

Use “Grandma’s Rule.” Avoid bribes like, “If you have a bath you can have a cookie.” Instead, use Grandma’s Rule which is constructed with “When” and “Then”  or “As soon as,” and “Then.” For instance you might say something like “As soon as you’ve finished your bath, then can have your cookie.” Grandma’s Rule puts the parent in charge of the situation rather than the child. It also prevents the child from “black-mailing” the parent with sentences like “what will you give me if I listen to you?”

Use the 2X Rule
If your child refuses to have a bath, warn him or her that continued refusal will result in a negative consequence like losing computer time or some other privilege.

Consider Bach Flower Remedies
Bach Flower Therapy is a harmless water-based naturopathic treatment that can improve behavior in addition to other things. For children who are defiant or strong willed, tending not to cooperate with anything, including their baths, the flower remedy Vine can help. For children who complain about everything (i.e. “Why do I have to take a bath now, I don’t like baths!”) the remedy Beech can help. You can mix several remedies together in one treatment bottle. To do so, you fill a one-ounce Bach Mixing Bottle with water (a mixing bottle is an empty bottle with a glass dropper, sold in health food stores along with Bach Flower Remedies). Next, add two drops of each remedy that you want to use. Finally, add one teaspoon of brandy. The bottle is now ready to use. Give your child 4 drops of the mixture in any liquid (juice, water, milk, tea, etc.) four times a day (morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening). Remedies can be taken with or without food. Continue this treatment until the behavior improves and bath-time becomes easier. Start treatment again, if the behavior degrades. Eventually, the behavior will improve permanently.

Consider Professional Help
If hating the bath is part of a larger picture of negativity or defiance, and your interventions have not helped sufficiently, consider seeking out the help or assessment of a mental health practitioner.

Bath-Time Battles with Toddlers

Sometimes toddlers don’t want to take baths. There can be multiple reasons for this. They may not like getting wet, they may worry about getting soap in their eyes, or they may simply dislike the whole routine– considering it boring when they would much rather be playing with their toys.

If your child is “bath-time challenged” consider the following tips:

Use Emotional Coaching
If your child is distressed or clearly unhappy about taking a bath, try using emotional coaching. Emotional Coaching is the naming of feelings. In this case, it involves acknowledging and accepting the child’s dislike of baths. You can say, “I know you don’t like baths.” or “I know you’d rather be playing right now.” Outline and articulate whatever dislike your child has of baths. “You don’t like the water.” “You don’t like feeling cold.” Your acknowledgment and acceptance of the child’s true feelings actually helps your child to release those feelings a little – just like when you tell a friend a problem and your friend’s sympathetic listening helps you feel a little better even though you still have the problem! On the same note, you like your friend more because he or she listened without judgment. In the same way, your child likes you more when you accept the way he or she feels – without trying to change it. The bond between you is strengthened and this tends to increase the child’s overall tendency to cooperate.

Employ the CLeaR Method
You can reinforce each step of the bath time routine with the CLeaR Method. The CLeaR method uses a comment, label and reward system. For instance, when the child comes when called – the parent says, “You came right away when Mommy called. You’re a good listener!  When the child cooperates with getting undressed, the parent says, “You’re getting undressed so nicely. That’s very cooperative of you.”  When the child gets into the bath, the parent says, “You got into the bathtub. You’re a clean bunny!” You can reward cooperation with an extra bedtime story or special snack.

Make it Fun and Enjoyable
Baths can be made into an enjoyable activity. If your child finds baths boring you can enhance the experience in many ways. Below are some examples:

  • Put some bath toys in the water with your child. Rubber ducks, toy boats, or any other water appropriate toy can make baths entertaining.
  • You can have a countdown to see how quickly your child can get into the bath. Put on a timer or count to a certain number of seconds. If your child beats the time, reward him with a treat or prize.
  • Make the water colored, add bubbles and watch your child go wild.
  • Have fun! Get into the bath with the child and splash around together! Or, put more than one child in the bath at a time to play together.
  • Talk to your child as you bathe him or her.

Avoid the Things that Your Child Dislikes
If your child is worried about getting soap in his or eyes, exercise extra caution to make sure that never happens or get soap or shampoo that doesn’t irritate the eyes. If he is worried about drowning, keep your hands on him so he feels safe. Whatever fear or dislike your child has, show that you are taking it seriously and doing your best to address it (without going to ridiculous extremes!).

Follow Routine
Make sure to set a time of day for bath time. If you decide to bathe your child at random times, he can be frustrated and upset at having whatever activity he may have been engaged in interrupted. Make it known to your child that the bath will happen at a specific time (and perhaps specific days of the week), so he knows what to expect.

Make it Short
If your child still hates baths, you can simply speed up the process. Baths don’t have to be long and drawn out. Give him or her a quick bath and then move on to story-time!

Use “Grandma’s Rule.”
When parents use the word “if” in sentences, they imply that whatever they are discussing is an option. However, as this is generally not the case, it is advisable to remove the word “if” (and other similar words) from such dialogue. For example, instead of saying, “If you have a bath, I’ll read you a story right after,” a parent might say, “As soon as you’ve had your bath, I’ll read you a story.” This technique (Grandma’s Rule) allows the parent to provide the child a reward for good behavior, without making the good behavior optional (as is the case with bribes). Grandma’s Rule enhances cooperation, whereas as bribes tend to create little tyrants who try to bargain with you for everything you ask them to do.

Use the 2X-Rule
If a child tends to run away when you announce bath time, warn him or her that running away will lead to a negative consequence such as losing a story at bedtime or not having snack along with milk after the bath (or whatever other enjoyable activity the child might normally experience).

Consider Bach Flower Remedies
If hating the bath is part of a larger picture of negativity or defiance, consider Bach Remedies like Vine (for strong-willed defiant children) or Beech (for negative kids who have complaints about everything). Two drops in liquid 4 times a day until the issue disappears. You can find more information about Bach Flower Remedies online and throughout this site.

Professional Help
When hating the bath is part of a larger picture of negativity or defiance and the techniques listed here haven’t helped sufficiently, do consider enlisting the help of a mental health practitioner.