Your Teenager’s Friends

Friends are very influential in the teen years. It’s at this age when a child finds peers far more interesting and far more knowledgeable than family members. Unless parents get to know their teenager’s friends, they’re in the dark regarding the kind of influences their youngster is receiving. But how can a parent get to know the people in his or her teenager’s inner circle?

If you’d like to get a feel for who your child’s friends are, consider the following tips:

Invite Them to Your Home
You can get to know your child’s friends in different ways. If you pick up your teen up from school everyday, then offer to drop off friends. Be conversant; talk about current events, ask them about school stuff, or comment on the song playing on the radio. You get to know your teens’ friends a little through the talk, and you also get to know where they live.

Another important strategies is to make it easy and pleasant for your child to bring friends home. Your home will be a safe and appealing “hang out” if you create the following kind of environment:

  • it is a peaceful, conflict-free environment (no loud fights occur between family members, particularly when “company” is over!)

  • the home looks normal (not excessively messy, chaotic or run down)

  • there are lots of snacks and very few rules

  • you make yourself fairly scarce, giving the kids space to interact freely without excessive adult supervision

  • you offer goodies, make a few pleasant remarks or light jokes and you refrain from asking personal or intrusive questions

  • you say nothing about your child to his or her friends and you don’t ask the friends about your child either

  • you never correct or criticize your child in the presence of his or her friends

Allow your child to invite friends on weekends and for a sleepover, dinner, school project, or movie marathon – make everyone feel welcome.

As kids come pouring into your home, take note. Hopefully your child has made good choices in friends. However, there might be a child or two who makes you feel concerned. Use this feeling to spearhead a small investigation – you’ll want to take your time with this. Refrain from jumping to conclusions based on limited exposure and external appearances. The child’s style – even if it is the style you associate with dangerous thugs or subversive characters – may actually be just the child’s style! The teenager under the costume might be a very nice and totally respectable kid.

Do a Little Research and/or Have a Little Chat
If you are seriously concerned about one of your child’s friends, try doing a little research. You might be able to pick up some information on social networking sites like Facebook and other places. Even Google Search might yield something. If you find something that makes you feel uncomfortable, be sure to tell your child. For instance, you can say something like, “You know, your friends seem like such a nice bunch of kids but that one fellow Craig always makes me feel uncomfortable. I decided to look him up online just to check my instincts and  I found a photo of him getting arrested for running a grow house! Were you aware of that?”

You can follow up by explicitly stating your concerns and worries, but DO NOT forbid your child to associate with a particular friend. Such a maneuver is likely to backfire, causing your teen to become sneaky, devious, rebellious and otherwise unsavory in his attempts to remain a free agent. Instead, simply invite your youngster to think about whether he really wants this sort of person as a friend. For instance, one might say, “I’m sure Craig is a nice guy but I’m worried that he’s not the best influence – he’s not exactly a model citizen. You might think differently, but I think that the people we hang around with tend to rub off on us – you know, walk into a perfume shop and you come out smelling like perfume – and all that stuff. Sometimes hanging around unsavory characters automatically puts us in the same category with them. But it’s up to you to choose the kind of friends you want in your life. Everyone has to make that choice for themselves. I myself would think twice about associating with someone like Craig.”

More often, you won’t be able to find any strong “evidence” against your child’s friends. Your gut feeling and parental wisdom will more likely be at the root of your worry. In this case, explain to your child that although you have no real proof that anything is amiss, your own instincts tell you that something is not quite right with his friend. Ask him if he has ever had a similar feeling about someone. Tell him that as a parent, you feel concerned for him and that although you certainly can’t advise him to drop the friend based on “nothing,” you are hoping that he’ll use his best judgment to decide whether this is a person he should keep close to him. Honesty will be your best policy. Again, refrain from ultimatums, threats or any other kind of drama. Your loving concern will be evident and the most powerful educational tool that you have.

Talking to Teens about Sex

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

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

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

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

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

Helping Teens Survive Heartbreak

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

Consider the following tips:

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

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

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

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

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

When Your Child Comes Home Drunk

It is well-known that teenagers are in a stage of experimentation – they are exploring the world around them, the world of relationships and their own inner landscape. What feels right? What creates pleasure? What is meaningful? What relieves stress? What brings social, academic and personal success?

Somewhere along the way, most teens will encounter alcohol. Some will like what they find, indulging the substance more and more in order to gain social acceptance or psychic relief or both. Others will find that they don’t like the feeling that alcohol gives them and will move away from it toward other, healthier forms of stress relief and happiness. And some will find a small place in their lives in which to place consumption of alcoholic beverages – certain social situations like celebrations and other special gatherings. No matter what kids ultimately decide to do with alcohol, however, many will get drunk at least one time.  Some will do so accidentally, simply not knowing their limits. Others will do so intentionally. No matter how it happens, however, parents have to know how to handle the situation.

Below are some tips in handling a teenager who comes home drunk:

Stay Calm
There is such a thing as a “teaching moment.” This is a moment in which the child is calm and coherent and a moment in which the parent is also calm and coherent.  When either child or parent is not fully present due to overwhelming emotions (like anger, grief or fear) or impaired consciousness (i.e. not fully awake, drunk or stoned) no learning will occur.  In fact, talking to a drunken person is futile; alcohol significantly impairs comprehension and inhibition — your drunk teen doesn’t have the mental capacity to process your message, nor the ability to explain things properly. Therefore, when your child comes home drunk, wait until he or she sobers up before you try to deal with the issue. Let the child sleep it off – the best time to talk is likely to be the day after the incident.

Take the intervening time to settle your own nerves. You might be feeling alarmed, enraged, disappointed or otherwise extremely upset. Emotion, especially of an intense, hysterical or dramatic kind, will work against your goals. Remember – you shouldn’t be addressing the issue at all until you are calm enough for your child to be able to take you very seriously. This talk will be an important one – you don’t want to appear off-balance while you are trying to make important, life-impacting remarks. Staying calm, you help give your teen someone to take seriously, look up to and respect. You increase your power to provide education and guidance when you come across as a loving, concerned, firm, clear, knowledgeable and trustworthy adult. Try to get into that state before you hold a meeting with your teen!

Emergency Intervention
Do call your local emergency medical information line if your child’s state concerns you. You can describe your child’s behavior in the intoxicated state and if there is a concern, an ambulance will be sent out. It’s always better to err on the side of caution – there is no reason NOT to call and describe symptoms unless the symptoms are barely noticeable. However, sometimes a child is barely conscious. Sometimes he can’t stop vomiting. Sometimes he is experiencing alcohol poisoning. Unless you already know what to look for, make the call.

Appropriate Response
Even if you think it’s kind of “cute” or funny the first time your child comes home drunk, you should consider the importance of refraining from showing any kind of pride or pleasure in this behavior. Remind yourself that teens are very easily addicted and that addiction will bring them much suffering. Their careers, their relationships and their health can suffer serious negative consequences. Their drunken state can lead to their own or someone else’s death or permanent disability. A teenager may misread your cues, thinking that you are encouraging self-destructive behavior. Be careful to respond seriously and responsibly. Your child’s future is at risk. Everything you say and do at this critical time can have a life-long impact. Refrain from helping your child avoid current consequences of this particular episode – do not cover up. Help him to learn that there CAN be negative consequences. If nothing bad happened during this episode, then make sure you discuss with him at some point, what CAN happen when a person is drunk.

Know Where You Stand
Different parents have different rules on drinking; some demand total abstinence from alcohol, others allow drinking in moderation. Regardless of where you stand on the drinking issue, it’s important you address the situation of your teen coming home intoxicated. Alcohol is an easy drug to abuse. As previously stated, it can also be a dangerous drug leading to life-threatening accidents, legal problems and health problems. You might want to do some research to find out more about alcohol, the state of intoxication, addiction and other issues so that you can talk knowledgeably to your child. Inviting your child to do research WITH you might be even better! It’s best to create rules and guidelines that make sense in the light of the information you have about alcohol – such rules are more likely to be taken seriously by your child. Rules that “make no sense” tend to be defied by older kids. If you and your child do research together, you two can also formulate reasonable guidelines.

First Time Only
If this is the first time your child has come home drunk, education is the correct intervention. Punishment should be avoided. In fact, don’t mention negative consequences at all. If it happens again, however, make a rule that there will always be severe consequences for this in the future. The first two episodes are for education only – not punishment. All other episodes require heavy negative consequences (see the 2X Rule in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe).

Seek Professional Help if Necessary
If you think your child is already abusing alcohol habitually, or is at risk of becoming an alcoholic, contract a substance abuse counselor. Alcoholism is an incurable, progressive and fatal disease – it’s best  to intervene as soon as possible.

Loner or Socially Handicapped?

Is there something wrong with a child who doesn’t like to play with friends? Or, is it possible that the child is just a healthy loner? How would a parent know if and when to intervene?

If you are concerned about your child’s lack of social life, consider the following tips:

Content vs. Discontent?
Is your child playing happily on his own? Is he busy with books, toys, computers, and other resources in the home? Is he building, creating, learning, exploring and otherwise enjoying himself? Is he acquiring new skills or engaging in productive activities? If your child is thriving in his independent activities, he may just be an introvert – someone who is energized by his own personal activities and drained by being with people. Or, it might just be that he’s had enough people for the day, having interacted with his peers at school for 8 hours or longer; now he’s ready to spend time with himself. Not a full-fledged introvert, he just has a lower need for social activity. Adults are like this too – many grownups just want to relax at home in the evening after a day of interacting in the world. In short, if your child is happy on his own, don’t worry about his behavior and don’t push him to be with friends.

Fearful or Comfortable?
If your child would like to have friends but doesn’t know how to make meaningful social connections, he might benefit from some help. Try a bit of bibliotherapy – ask the librarian for age-appropriate books on the subject of how to make friends. Talk about the subject directly or do some role-playing in order to practice various skills: making and accepting invitations, being a host, being a guest, keeping friends and so on. Also consider enlisting the help of professionals – there are social skills classes and trainers and also mental health professionals who can help. If your child actually feels fear at the idea of inviting a friend over or fear at the idea of going to a friend’s house, then accessing the help of a mental health professional is definitely recommended: there are techniques and interventions that can help your child overcome social discomfort and anxiety.

All or Nothing?
If your child has even one or two regular pals, there is no need to worry about his social life. Not everyone wants or needs a big social net. Similarly, if your child has close and warm relationships with siblings, cousins, community members or neighbors, there is no need to worry that he doesn’t have more friends. However, if your youngster has absolutely no one to connect to there is more reason for concern. Having someone to interact with and talk to is an important life skill. Again, professionals are available to help your child learn how to create at least a small social circle.

Your Teen’s Right to Privacy

Today’s teenagers live in a world that their parents often find scary and alien. It seems that there are no protective walls around their youngsters – computers and cellphones open them to a wide world of exposure and vulnerability that the parents don’t even fully understand. Moreover, cialis teens are more independent and are physically away from their parents more hours of the day and night. Parents are losing a grip – they no longer control or even know, what their child is up to. Many take to looking for clues as to their child’s whereabouts and activities, while others insist on constant check-ins and reports on the who, where, what & why of all activities. But how much does a parent really need to know about his or her teen’s activities? How far do the parent’s rights extend – does the parent have the right to full disclosure of all a teenager’s comings and goings? Does a teen have any right to privacy?

If you’re wondering where to draw the line on your teen’s privacy, consider the following tips:

Everyone is Entitled to Personal Space
It is healthy for every child to have a sense of privacy. This helps the youngster develop appropriate personal boundaries, a sense of “me” vs. “you” that helps the child come to know who she is and what she stands for – with the subsequent ability to stand up for one’s OWN values and beliefs. Privacy is attained by maintaining physical privacy – the ability to dress and bathe in privacy and the ownership of a private space (a bed, maybe a bedroom, a private wardrobe, personal possessions that are not for the use of others without permission). Your teenager is at an age where it is inappropriate to rummage through her drawers or belongings. Unless you suspect your teen is hiding drugs, weapons or other dangerous possessions, you have no right to search her belongings. In fact, the kind of privacy you should give your teen is the privacy he or she deserves. If your teen has grown up to be responsible, caring, and trustworthy, then there is no reason for you to watch his or her every move or even suspect impropriety.

Talk about Life
Raise interesting issues for discussion at your dinner table. Raise topics from your weekly news magazine or paper. Talk about what’s going on in the world and in your local community. Talk about violence, crime, sexuality, bullying, materialism, fashion, addictions, war – everything that is out there. Help your kids think about life and clarify their own values. Provide education in discussion format – not lectures and dire warnings. This will help your teen make good, healthy choices.

Be a Good Listener
Kids who can talk about their stresses tend to act out less. Instead of turning to drugs, stealing, sex or other distracting unhealthy activities, your child can turn to YOU for support, approval, comfort and nurturing. Work hard to listen without offering criticism or even education. Just show compassion and trust for your youngster, conveying that you believe in him or her.

Confront Untrustworthy Behavior
Catching under-aged teens drinking alcohol or stashing inappropriate materials are reasons to initiate an intervention, but this response has to be done appropriately. If the disturbing behavior is mild, parental intervention alone may be sufficient – heart to heart talks, discussion concerning consequences and other normal parenting strategies can be employed. If the offence is recurrent, however, or if it is serious, then it’s best to enlist professional assistance. Speak to your doctor for a referral to a mental health practitioner.

After your child has acted in an untrustworthy manner, it is tempting to “check up on him” from time to time. However, acting in a sneaky way is likely to backfire at some point. Don’t do anything that you don’t want your youngster to do. Therefore, if you don’t want to find your youngster searching your purse or your private drawers, refrain from that kind of behavior also. If you don’t want your youngster checking your email or social feeds, don’t do it to him. If something in your child’s demeanor makes you feel concerned, talk about it openly. It’s fine to ask your child to show you (on the spot) his last string of communications with friends if you have serious reason to suspect dangerous or illegal activity on his part. Otherwise, never ask for such a thing.

Some kids who are addicts will act in deviant and sneaky  ways because of their addiction. Work with a professional addiction counselor to create appropriate interventions in the home. If checking on the child is recommended by the counselor, then of course, follow the recommendation.

Checking In
For reasons of common courtesy and safety, it’s reasonable for your teen to let you know when and where he is going. Depending on the age of the teen, it will also be appropriate to ask permission to go there! If you have curfews in place, it is important to expect the teen to comply with them or renegotiate them to everyone’s satisfaction. However, once your teen is out and about, it is intrusive to call and check on him or her. If the child is traveling a long distance, it’s fine for him to call to say he’s arrived (i.e. he has taken a flight), but you don’t need him to call for local trips to friend’s houses. On the other hand, if your thirteen year-old daughter has to walk a few blocks alone in the dark to her destination, you might ask her to call – it depends on the safety of the area in which she is walking.

Act as if your child is completely trustworthy unless your child shows you otherwise. If there is a problem, sit down and try to work it through, explaining your concerns and working towards solutions. If this is insufficient, enlist the help of a professional family therapist. If the child is acting out – engaging in inappropriate and/or dangerous activities – do consider bringing a mental health professional into the picture.

Discovering That Your Child is Bullying Others

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fakes Illness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dealing with Jealous Feelings

There are always people who have more than us – just like there are always those who have less. Unfortunately, instead of feeling grateful for having more than others do, it is all too easy for children, teens and even adults to feel jealous of those who have more. Jealous feelings are not only unpleasant to experience, but also potentially destructive; the emotion can transform otherwise well-behaved youngsters into “green-eyed monsters” who behave very badly. “Why does HE have more! It isn’t fair!” can be followed by grabbing whatever it is out of the child’s hand. Older kids may react by snubbing or mocking others – or worse. It’s important then that parents teach their children how to manage jealousy and envy from an early age.

If your child experiences jealousy feelings, consider the following tips:

Be “Fair” not “Equal”
In your home, make it a priority to meet the individual needs of family members. If one child needs new shoes, he or she gets them – but there is no need to get shoes for another child in the family who does not currently need them. Getting both children shoes would be trying to make things “equal” whereas getting each child shoes when they’re needed is “fair.” When the child asks “Why does SHE get new shoes and I don’t?” you can answer “because SHE needs shoes now and you don’t.  When YOU need shoes, you’ll be getting them – I promise!” In other words, everyone will get what they need at the right time.

When serving dessert, refrain from taking out the ruler to make sure everyone gets the exact same size piece of cake. “He has a bigger piece!” can be answered with “It all works out in the end – sometimes his piece is a bit bigger and sometimes yours is the bigger one.” Your relaxed attitude and your refusal to try to make things equal can help a child learn that equality is not really necessary.

Easy & Difficult Children
Most parents do not have difficulty treating their kids approximately the same – giving each approximately (not exactly!) the same kind of wardrobe, the same types of privileges and so on. Where parents might experience a greater challenge would be in the way they treat favored and not-favored children. For instance, it is just easier to smile at, joke around with and complement easy-going, cooperative children. More challenging children tend to earn themselves more criticism, complaint and negativity. Treating the “easy” child and the “difficult” child the same is quite a challenge – but try to do it anyway. Children are VERY sensitive. The difficult child doesn’t want to be difficult (no matter what it looks like to you); he or she is suffering from some internal challenge. The child can easily see that you like a sibling more and the subsequent jealousy and hurt can be very destructive. It’s O.K. to ACT more loving than you feel; care less about the risk of possible deception and more about the devastating effects of parental rejection. And, of course, it is essential to avoid making comparisons between the children. Each one needs to be celebrated according to his or her OWN milestones and accomplishments.

Boost Your Child’s Self-Esteem
As much as you can, emphasize, acknowledge and celebrate each of your children’s strengths — let them know that they are people of worth and value. Show them everyday how much they matter to you. Furthermore, communicate that everyone is unique, with their own gifts and charisms. A sibling may be a better singer, but it doesn’t mean that one is inferior or lacking. Perhaps one’s talent lies elsewhere! Having cute nicknames that highlight each child’s strength and unique identity can help – only if the child identifies positively with his or her nickname. For instance, in one family, we might have “Canary Carol” or sings so beautifully and “Hammer Henry” who is a very competent young handyman. Avoid potentially insulting labels like “Brainy Ben” – the brains in the family and his less bright sister “Beautiful Betty” – it is much more important to highlight Betty’s strongpoints in skill, talent and personality than just her exterior looks. Everyone has some speciality – finding one of your child’s many strong points highlights this fact and reduces insecurity and jealousy.

Most importantly, encourage your child to celebrate the sibling’s successes and strengths. Help your kids to feel the joy of pride in a sibling’s accomplishment – whether it is the building of a tall block tower or winning on the debating team. Encourage a family feeling of group identification: “You little Rosses are all adorable!” (or brilliant, super, thoughtful, etc.). Also encourage each child to bring gifts for the others in the family – “Did you get candy when you went to see Grandma today? Why don’t you offer some to your brother?” Follow up with the CLeaR Method (comment, label reward – see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for details). “You shared so nicely. That was so generous of you! I think you both deserve to go to the park with Mommy this afternoon.”

Name and Accept Feelings
When your child expresses a jealous feeling, refrain from reprimanding him. A feeling is just a feeling – just name it:  “Yes, I understand that you’d like new shoes now too. It’s hard to wait. It doesn’t seem fair.”  Without using the word “but” make a new sentence to continue your thoughts: “You’ll be getting new shoes when you need them. Remember how you got shoes in the summer but no one else in the family did? That’s because YOU needed them and they didn’t. Everyone gets shoes when they need them.”

Discipline Misbehavior
While feelings are all acceptable, behaviors may not be. If your jealous child lashes out at you or a sibling, the misbehavior needs correction. “I understand that you wanted his toy. You cannot grab it from him – you need to wait your turn. From now on, when you grab things away from him, you won’t get your turn at all that day.” (See the 2X-Rule of discipline in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice.)

Consider Bach Flower Therapy
The Bach Flower Remedy called “Holly” can help ease jealous and angry feelings. This harmless, water-based remedy can help “turn off” the tendency to fall into jealousy (learn more about Bach Flowers in “Bach Flower Remedies” on this site).

Consider Professional Help
If your child is really suffering jealous feelings and your interventions are not helping, do consult a mental health professional for further guidance.

When Your Child is Sad

Dealing with sadness effectively is a skill that will serve a child all throughout his or her life. After all, loss is an inevitable experience in this world – whether it is the loss of a favorite sweater, a cherished pet or beloved family member. Sadness is the appropriate response to loss. It is an emotional signal that says, “something is missing.” We feel sad until we have somehow reorganized our inner world to sew up the gaping hole left by the loss.

Parents can help children move through sadness. Moving through this feeling is important because failing to do so – staying stuck in sadness – can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety and panic, among other reactions. Unresolved sadness can also manifest as bodily pain and/or illness. For instance, unexplained tummy aches and headaches can be fueled by unresolved feelings of sadness. Parental support and guidance can help move sadness through and out of the child’s heart.

If your child is feeling sad, consider the following tips:

Let Your Child Know That’s It’s Okay to Feel Sad
Many parents are so distressed at seeing their kids upset that they want to cheer them up, reassure them and if possible, replace their loss, immediately. However, this approach only teaches children that sadness is an intolerable emotion. Unfortunately, such a message not only fails to teach a child how to handle feelings of sadness, but also increases the likelihood that kids will eventually run to escape measures like addictions when sadness threatens. Therefore, the first and most important step for parents to take is to calmly and compassionately welcome feelings of sadness. A simple acknowledgement of sadness can suffice, as in “you must feel so sad about that.” A period and a pause is necessary in order to convey acceptance, before continuing to speak. Avoid the word “but” since that word rushes too quickly to “fix” the sad feeling without processing it (see below for more about this). Allowing a child to feel sad also means letting him or her become temporarily withdrawn, unhappy and moody when suffering a loss. Refrain from trying to distract a sad child and from telling him or her to “cheer up.”

Provide Emotional Coaching
Dr. John Gottman, author of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child explains that naming and accepting a child’s feelings helps the child to both manage and release painful emotion. Just saying something like, “that must make you feel sad,” or “it really hurts” or “that’s very painful” or “I know it’s very upsetting” can give a child a channel for acknowledging difficult feelings inside of himself.  When the child can acknowledge the feeling, half of it disappears immediately. The other half will slowly melt out of the child’s heart with the continued support of the parent. All that is required is to let the feeling be, without  minimizing it or trying to change it in any way. For instance, suppose a child is very sad because his best friend is changing schools. The parent is tempted to say things like, “don’t worry – you can still visit him and have a friendship over the computer and the telephone.” However, the parent who offers Emotional Coaching says things like, “Wow, that’s hard. It’s sad to lose a best friend. I bet you’re pretty upset.” The parent accepts whatever the child says, naming the feelings that seem to be present. Emotional Coaching often allows a child to go even deeper into the bad feeling before resurfacing with a positive emotional resolution. Perhaps the child in our example might say something like  “Yes I am upset! I’ll never have another friend like him! I hate everyone else at school. There’s no one I’ll be able to be friends with!” If this happens, the parent just affirms how awful all that must feel (“It’s such a disappointment that he’s leaving, especially when there’s no one else to take his place and you’re going to be all alone.”) Once the child hears his feelings being spoken out-loud, he usually self-corrects and starts to cheer himself up (“well, maybe I’ll spend more time with Josh Lankin”). If the child doesn’t pull himself out of the sad feeling, the parent who has provided emotional acknowledgement is now in a good position to help the youngster think things through: advice that is offered AFTER Emotional Coaching is often much more likely to be accepted. You can learn more about Emotional Coaching in the book Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.

Provide Perspective
Parents can provide education and guidance AFTER providing Emotional Coaching. Trying to do it beforehand often backfires, as the youngster feels that the parent just doesn’t understand the pain he or she is experiencing. Without understanding, the parent has “no right” to start offering advice. After Emotional Coaching, on the other hand, the child knows that the parent really understands and accepts the feelings of sadness. Now the parent “has the right” to try to provide information or perspective on the matter. In a study of children with depression, it’s been found that optimism is one of the factors that help protect children from the effect of overwhelming sadness. Kids who experience intense feelings of sadness (e.g. the sadness that comes after parents’ divorce or separation), but remain resilient are those who believe that the sadness is temporary — and that tomorrow will bring better days. If you can teach your children to look at the next day as having the potential to bring a new beginning, then you can help your child manage sadness better. Some parents will be able to draw on a strong religious faith to bring this notion forward and some will draw it out from their own bright view of life. If you have neither, however, try looking at the writings of Norman Vincent Peale – the father of “positive thinking.” Peale wrote dozens of books on the subject of maintaining an optimistic outlook, but even a quick perusal of his famous “The Power of Positive Thinking” will fill you with a rich reservoir of ideas to share with your children.

Encourage Your Child to Seek Social Support
Friends are handy in all moments of grief! As kids grow older, they can look to friends as people they can trust with their innermost thoughts and feelings. Studies among children and adults confirm the value of social support when handling difficult situations in life. Encourage your child to always maintain a couple of close friendships and a couple of casual friends. Close friends can provide valuable emotional support through sad and troubled times and casual friends can provide welcome distractions. Model this practice in your own life.

Consider Bach Flower Therapy
Bach Flower Remedies provide emotional relief in the form of a harmless water-based tincture. A few drops of remedy in liquid (water, tea, milk, juice, coffee, soda, etc.) several times a day can help feelings resolve more rapidly. Star of Bethlehem is one of the 38 Bach Flower Remedies – it helps heal feelings of shock and grief. It can help kids deal with death, divorce, loss of a good friend and other serious losses. Walnut can help kids move more gracefully through changing circumstances. Gorse can help lift depressed feelings. Mustard can help with sadness that comes for biological reasons like shifting hormones, grey skies and genetic predisposition to low moods. Larch can help with sadness that is caused by insecurity and Oak can be used when excessive strain and effort leads to unhappiness. There are other Bach Remedies that can help as well, depending on how the child is experiencing sadness. Consult a Bach Flower Practitioner or read up on the remedies. You can purchase them at most health food stores and online.

Consider Professional Help
If your child is “stuck” in sadness and can’t get out of it despite your interventions, do consult a pediatric psychologist or psychiatrist. A mental health professional is highly trained to help kids move through sadness and get on with a happy, productive life!