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.”

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.

How to Raise Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (E.Q.) refers to “people smarts.” A person with high emotional intelligence understands both himself and others. Not only does the person understand people, but he also knows how to make them feel comfortable – he knows how to bring out the best in others. As a result, the person with high E.Q. experiences more success in relationships and at work. Kids with high E.Q. have better relationships at home and at school, with kids and with adults. Moreover, high E.Q.in children and teens is associated with better academic performance, better physical health, better emotional health and better behavior. In adults, high E.Q. is associated with better performance in every area of life.

What can you do to help foster your child’s emotional intelligence? In this article we will discuss ways one can boost their child’s emotional intelligence.

Adapt an Authoritative, Not an Autocratic Parenting Style
Parenting style has a huge influence on children’s emotional intelligence. When parents can guide their children while still being sensitive to their feelings, children have higher E.Q. Authorative parents are warm, but consistent in setting appropriate limits and boundaries. They will use discipline, but not at the expense of respectful communication and care. Their children will learn how to be sensitive to others and they will also learn how to “talk to themselves” compassionately, modelling after their parents. This gentle self-talk becomes a major aspect of their emotional intelligence, a tool they can use to reduce their stress in a healthy way.

Autocratic parents, on the other hand, don’t care that much about the child’s feelings. Instead, they focus on the rules of the household, what is allowed and what is prohibited, what the child may and may not do. Sensitivity to the child’s inner world is missing. In this case, children fail to experience parental empathy and as a result, fail to learn how to soothe their own upset emotions. They may attempt to relieve their discomfort by becoming aggressive, acting out their feelings. Eventually they may turn to comforts outside of themselves such as addictions (to food, alcohol, drugs, etc.). Acting out and addictive behavior reflects lower E.Q.

The more feeling words used by parents and educators, the more sensitive a child becomes to his inner reality. Most of us tend to use few emotion words in our dealings with children, and when we do, we often use the same few tired ones over and over.  It is important that we move beyond “mad,” “sad,” “glad,” and “scared.”  Shades of feeling are most helpful and can be used when describing our own feelings or the child’s feelings. Words like irritated, annoyed, frustrated, anxious, worried, terrified, alarmed, disappointed, hurt, insulted, embarrassed, uncomfortable, unsure, curious, interested, hopeful, concerned, shocked, elated, excited, enthusiastic, let down, abandoned, deserted, mellow, calm, peaceful, relaxed, bored, withdrawn, furious, enraged, frightened, panicked, and proud can be used DAILY to help provide an emotional education in the home or classroom. These are the regular feelings that children have in facing life, stimulated by everyday experiences, dreams, movies and even novels. Identifying a youngster’s emotional reaction and feeding it back to him, helps him to become aware of his inner processing. This information then forms the core of his emotional intelligence, providing an accurate barometer of his response to his world. From this place of inner certainty, a child is well-equipped to navigate life, knowing what he feels, what he is searching for and when he has attained it. His familiarity with the world of feelings allows him to connect accurately and sensitively with others. This prevents him from hurting other people’s feelings with words and further, permits him to achieve great kindness and sensitivity in his interpersonal transactions.

Here are some practical steps you can take to bring feelings into focus:

  1. Respond to your child. From the time your child is a crying infant to the time she is a young adult, be sure to be responsive. This means that you take her communications seriously. If she cries, try to come (instead of making her cry it out.). If she asks for something, try to answer her promptly. If she talks, you listen and respond appropriately. All of this responsiveness builds emotional intelligence because you are giving your youngster valuable relationship feedback. In the opposite scenario, in which a parent either fails to respond or responds only after a long waiting period, the child learns that people tune each other out. This causes the child to shut down. She assumes that her feelings aren’t that important based on lack of parental responsiveness and from this concludes that people’s feelings aren’t that important – the very OPPOSITE of the conclusions made by emotionally intelligent people. Quick responsiveness gives the message that people’s feelings matter. This is a prerequisite concept for emotional intelligence.
  2. Use a FEELING vocabulary. Pepper your daily conversation with “feeling” words. You can name your own feelings. Let your child know that you feel excited or dismayed or discouraged or resentful or whatever. This gives your child the vital information that everyone – including parents – has feelings and an inner life. Some people do this naturally, of course, but many do not. For instance, when a child is making too much noise, a parent may just say something like, “Can you please quiet down?” However, the Emotional Coach would say something like, “I’m starting to feel overwhelmed with all this noise going on. Can you please quiet down?” Similarly, a regular parent might give positive feedback to a child in this way, “I like the way you waited patiently in line with me at the bank today.” An Emotional Coach, on the other hand, might say something like, “I felt very relaxed with you in the bank today because you were waiting so patiently.” In other words, the Emotional Coach looks for opportunities to describe his or her inner experience. It is this description that helps the child begin to build an emotional vocabularly that will open the doors to Emotional Intelligence.
  3. Name your child’s feelings. Children feel feelings all day long but not all parents comment on them. In fact, many parents are more practical, focusing on solutions to problems. For instance, if a child is upset because there are no more of his favorite cookies left in the jar, the typical parent might say, “I’ll pick up some more for you when I go shopping this week.” While that solves the problem, it doesn’t build emotional intelligence. An Emotional Coach might say, “Oh, that’s so disappointing! You really love those cookies! I’ll pick some up for you when I go shopping this week.” The extra few words acknowledging the child’s inner world (“Oh that’s so disappointing”) make all the difference when it comes to building Emotional Intelligence. Similarly, parents often try to get kids to STOP their feelings or at least SHRINK their feelings by saying things like, “Just calm down – it’s not such a big deal” or “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” of “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.” The Emotional Coach, on the other hand, accepts all the child’s feelings, giving the child the name for what is going on inside. “I can see how upset you are,” or “You’re really scared about this,” or “It so important to you,” and so on. By accepting all feelings as they are, the Emotional Coach teaches kids not to be afraid of or overwhelmed by feelings. This is a very important part of becoming emotionally intelligent.
  4. Teach your child how to express emotions appropriately. While all feelings are acceptable, all BEHAVIORS are not. It is not O.K. to hit and scream just because you feel angry. It is not O.K. to cry for an hour at the top of your lungs just because you are disappointed. Parents must teach children – by their example and by their interventions – the appropriate behavioral expression of emotions. For instance, parents can teach children to express their anger in a respectful way by saying things like, “When you are mad at your brother for touching your puzzle, just tell him ‘I don’t want you to touch my puzzle. I’m working hard on it and it bothers me when you move the piece around.’ Don’t slap his hand!” Parents will have to use the normal techniques of positive attention, encouragement and discipline to get the lessons across. It is, of course, essential, that parents are respectful themselves in the way they express their upset, fear and disappointment. See “The Relationship Rule” in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for details on how to teach the proper way to express negative emotions.
  5. Let them experience failure and disappointment. It’s understandable that parents want to protect their children from disappointment. But know that rescuing children from pain, to the point that they never get to experience life, will backfire in the long run. Children need to know how to bounce back from adversity — resilience muscles need training too! And children won’t know how it is to rebound from disappointment if they aren’t allowed to experience it to begin with. When your child gets a poor mark on a project, don’t rush to the teacher to get the mark raised; instead, use emotional coaching with your child (that is, NAME her feelings). “This mark is so disappointing! You tried really hard and the teacher didn’t appreciate it. That is frustrating!” By naming feelings, you actually help shrink them down to size. Feeling words act as “containers” for feelings. It’s O.K. for the child to be upset, or even to cry. After awhile, she’ll calm down. And this is the important part – learning that calm follows a storm. Everything in life doesn’t need to be perfect. There is such a thing as recovery. “There will be more projects, more chances to get a good grade.” You want to show the child that you yourself aren’t afraid of negative experiences or emotions. This model that life is “survivable” can really help a child cope when the going gets rough.
  6. Expand their social network. Few parents think of other people as possible teaching instruments in promoting emotional intelligence. But kids can learn more from interesting personalities and other people’s life experiences than they can from a classroom lecture. Having to adapt well to different types of people — quiet, assertive, annoying, fun-loving — can teach a child how to regulate their behavior based on the demands of an interaction. The challenges other people go through can also provide insight on how to manage one’s own trials in life. Learning vicariously through the success and failure of other people is a good way to raise a child’s E.Q. So if you can, go ahead and enroll your child in various clubs or organizations. When they’re a bit older, encourage them to volunteer in community service. Send them on mission trips. Let them talk with grandpa or grandma. Every person has a lesson to impart to a child.

Help Your Child Deal with Rejection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weddings and Other Celebrations

Family celebrations are not just occasions to have fun, but also important learning opportunities. Most parents tend to exclude children in making plans for family events, seeing them as more of a distraction than a key participants. But when parents give children an active role to play during preparations for weddings, anniversaries, victory parties, and religious milestones like baptisms, dedications, and bar/bat mitzvahs, they help them learn a lot about their family, their faith and their core family values.

In what ways can parents involve children during weddings and other celebrations? Consider the following tips:

Always Explain What is Behind a Celebration
Milestones and achievements are worthy of celebration – but why? Explain to your child what is so special about a wedding (i.e. commitment, love, spiritual values, community relationships and so on) or other special event. Try to take it beyond the food and fun. You can say something like the following, modifying it to fit your own values: “Uncle David is getting married to his girlfriend Carol! Carol will become part of our family now – she’ll be your aunt. Weddings bring more people into our family to love. Maybe one day David and Carol will have children and those children will be your cousins. We’re all going to the church/synagogue/mosque for the wedding because people get married in front of all their friends and relatives and God. A person’s wedding day is one of the most important days in his or her life. You can help make it special by helping us make the cookies for their engagement party.”

Involve the Children in the Planning of the Celebration
Another way parents can make family celebrations fruitful for children is to involve them in the planning and preparation stage.This may be most appropriate when arranging a party at home for one of the members of the nuclear family. “We’re making a birthday party for Daddy’s 40th birthday. We’re starting to think of what we should do to make the party special. So far, we’re thinking that we’ll have balloons and a banner and we’d like you guys to make up a funny poem or story to tell about Daddy. But what other ideas do you have for the party?” When children are part of the effort, they will naturally learn to appreciate celebrations in their lives. These special events don’t “just happen.” Loved ones go to a lot of trouble to make things beautiful, meaningful and pleasureable. Most importantly, children will learn the intense pleasure of doing for others; it is very satisfying to bring happiness to other people and all too often, children are robbed of that particular pleasure. Involving them in part planning and participation provides education in how to give, as well as the pleasureable experience of giving itself.

Give Your Child a Role in the Celebration
As a family member, your child is more than a guest. If there are important family occasions, give kids a role, such as usher in a birthday toast or flower-girl/ring-bearer in a wedding. Being part of the actual ritual makes a child feel involved and appreciated — a part of the family. It also facilitates bonding with the rest of the clan. Family occasions after all mean solidarity in the family — so it makes sense not to leave kids behind! When photos are taken and the child sees him or herself as an important part of the celebration, it helps create lifelong impressions of the importance of giving, loving and celebrating.

Use Occasions to Help Kids Manage Difficult Transitions
Some family occasions can be emotional moments for children. Having a big celebration like a bar mitzvah, graduation or wedding right after a parent passes away can be very hard on a child. Or, having such a celebration while a parent is deathly ill, can be very difficult. Similarly, having such a celebration when the child himself is dealing with serious illness or trauma can also be hard. In addition, the re-marriage of a parent after a death or divorce can be difficult, as it’s both a hello to a new family life and a goodbye to the old. In all these cases, sensitivity is required. Don’t force a child to participate if he doesn’t want to. Allow him to have his natural feelings of grief and/or resentment. You can use “emotional coaching” (the naming of feelings) to show him that you understand and accept his emotions. For instance, Jan and Ted divorced 3 years ago. Jan had since become involved with a new man, named Joe. She had dated Joe for 7 months but only introduced him to her son 2 months ago. The boy had been complaining to his mom that he didn’t want to come to the wedding. This is what Jan said to her 10 year old son a few weeks before she was to marry her new boyfriend Joe. “I know the wedding day is going to be a hard one for you. You still miss Daddy and wish that he were part of our family again. That is very natural. And I know that while you kind of like Joe, you really don’t know him all that well yet and you’re not sure how this is all going to be for us. And the truth is, we need time to see how things are going to be (although I’m marrying Joe because I believe he’ll be a good man in our family). Right now, I guess you’re more upset than happy about all this. I can really understand why you don’t want to be at the wedding. We still have a few weeks to decide things. We’re not going to insist that you do anything that you aren’t comfortable with. We’ll talk more about this later. ”

When there are mixed emotions or just negative emotions, parents can include the child by asking him what level of involvement he’d like, where he’d like to sit, what role he’d like to play. Respecting the child’s responses and working with him can be healing as well as caring. When a child feels that he won’t be pushed, it helps him WANT to be part of things (in his own time). At times like these, it isn’t about what other people will think; it’s about what the child really needs.

Moving to a New Home

There are many reasons why families move from one home to another. Change of location for employment, separation or divorce, expansion of the household or the desire to be near extended family members are common motives behind a move. Another possible reason for a move is a change in financial situation: having a tighter or looser budget can prompt the desire to go house-hunting. Sometimes people move in order to change neighborhoods, looking for safer areas, or areas with more similar cultural or religious values, or areas that are more family-oriented. No matter what the reason for a move, the project itself is always challenging. Financial cost, physical efforts and psychological stress all make moving a serious undertaking for adults.

Moving with Kids
Just as moving is stressful for parents, the many changes that come with going from one home to another can take its toll on children. A child’s attachment to a home goes beyond liking the physical structure of a house. There’s also the many roots a child has made in a particular place. Moving means saying goodbye to friends and playmates, transferring to another school, maybe even adjusting to new weather conditions. In the case of divorce or separation, moving also means a new distance from a loved and cherished parent.

How can parents help ease their children into the transitions that come with changing residence? Consider the following tips:

Don’t Blindside Your Child with a Move
As with all changes, adjustment is better when there’s minimal shock. Even before making the decision to move, sit down with your child and discuss the idea of moving. Gauge how much resistance he has to the prospect and where his feelings are coming from. Use emotional coaching (the naming of feelings) to show acceptance and understanding of your child’s reaction. “Yes, it can be very upsetting to have to leave your friends,” or “Yes, I know you love this house so much,” or “Yes, it would be a bit scary to have to start a new school.” DO NOT “undo” your emotional coaching by then trying to talk your child out of his feelings. Instead, just acknowledge the feelings and stop talking. This gives your child the space he needs to reassure himself. If you don’t say another word, the child will often continue the conversation saying things like, “but maybe we’ll have an even nicer house” and so forth. Even if the child doesn’t say anything right now, it’s fine. He needs time to process the information and mourn his losses. You don’t want to rob him of this important work by trying to cheer him up. When the child sees that you are moving regardless of any objections he may have, he will help himself to make the necessary adjustment.

For very young children, help prepare them for a move by reading story-books on the subject of moving. Your local librarian can help you select age-appropriate materials that explain and illustrate the entire process of moving homes.

Prepare Them for the New House
Fear of the unknown is what gives many children anxiety about moving. When kids know very little about what is to come, they tend to imagine the worst. If the new residence is near enough, scheduling a visit or a drive can be helpful for a child. If it’s some distance away, pictures and websites can be useful. A little sales talk will not be amiss; share with your child all the things they can look forward to in the new place. Make it feel like an exciting adventure.

Seek Their Help in Packing
If a child is willing, let him help in putting belongings in boxes and bubble wraps. While packing can get very emotional — for parents as well as for children — it’s helpful in orienting the psyche to the reality of moving.

Let Children Say Goodbye to Those They are Leaving Behind
There are real losses and it’s healthy to make sure your children face them. Give them time to say goodbye to friends, classmates and neighbors. Drive them around town so that they can have a last look at the community they are leaving behind. If advisable, organize a going-away party. Goodbye rituals for the home are helpful also — give your child some privacy to walk through the empty rooms and halls before finally saying farewell. If possible, take pictures of everyone and everything that will be left behind. These can be put in a special album for regular viewing anytime the child wants to walk down memory lane.

Unpack Your Child’s “Security Blankets” First
The first night in a new home is usually the toughest, especially if the new residence is yet to be arranged and decorated to resemble an inviting living space. When this happens, it’s best to unpack first all the things that give your child comfort and security such as their toys, linens, pillows, blankets and photographs. Being able to hold on to something familiar while in a strange new place is helpful, especially for really young children.

Have a “Hello” Ritual
If the family had a goodbye ritual as they bid farewell to their old residence, they should also have a hello ritual to welcome all that there is to come. Schedule a drive around the new neighborhood so that your child can get acquainted to his or her new environment. Check out what activities your child can enjoy there; do visit the local playground or the community center that offers classes and clubs. And if you can encourage your child to meet new people, like the other kids in the neighborhood, then they can adjust better to being in a new place.

Give Your Child Time
Lastly, be patient. Kids can’t be expected to adjust to change overnight. Expect sleepless nights, temper tantrums, and even crying spells during your first weeks in a new house. Don’t reprimand your child for these perfectly normal reactions. Instead, offer your emotional support (welcome and accept feelings!) and be patient. Soon their new home will be their true home.

Sexual Harassment via Social Media

Our children may be spending considerable time each day logging on to social networking sites. But just because your child is surfing from the comfort of home doesn’t mean his or her safety is guaranteed. In fact, there is one serious threat to children online that must be given particular attention by parents: sexual harassment via social media.

The anonymity of the internet can easily make people do things they wouldn’t normally do in real life. Inhibitions, after all, can dissolve when you can’t see the person on the other end of the line. Add to this is the difficulty in policing people online, and the lack of anti-cyber crime laws in many countries and states. The reality is: the internet is ripe for committing sexual harassment.

Many cases of sexual harassment online have resulted in tragic consequences; from the teenage girl who developed an eating disorder because of the barrage of negative comments about her figure, to the gay teen who committed suicide because a video of him kissing another man was uploaded by a roommate. Sexual harassment, whether face to face or online, can result in psychological trauma and severe mental anguish.

The following are some tips in helping protect your child against sexual harassment online:

Educate Your Child
The first thing you need to do is to increase your child’s awareness of what sexual harassment is. Many children today are already getting sexually harassed but don’t know it, simply because the internet is filled with ideas presented in all extremes. For example, not all kids know that demeaning comments about one’s gender and/or one’s gender preference is a form of sexual harassment. The same goes with unwanted sexual comments or innuendos. Your child may already be suffering the ill effects of sexual harassment, and yet not know that they are being victimized.  Talk about the issue comfortably so that your children will feel comfortable coming to you when they have concerns or need your help. The last thing you want to do is make your child afraid to come to you when he or she needs you most. Avoid heavy-handed threats and tacticts. The internet is here to stay; help your child learn to use it safely and learn to use YOU as a safe resource.

Protect When Possible
Using child protection software may be helpful. Keeping your computer in a public area or just doing random checks can help your children and younger teens stay on a proper path and not deviate off to more suspicious communications online. Let your child know that you have reporting software and that you are checking regularly. Older teens want and need more privacy. With this group, make sure you keep your communication lines open; keep a warm and friendly relationship with them so that they’ll feel comfortable asking you for help when they need it. Also, as mentioned above, talk openly about your concerns and the dangers that some innocent kids have fallen into.

Never Release Private Information Online
Tell your child that he or she must always be careful what kind of information to release online — even to friends! Never give out contact details aside from email addresses; you can always give this information face to face. Similarly, never release information that can be used to track you, such as school ID number or a parent’s social security number, especially when commenting on pages accessible to the general public. A social networking site may claim to have privacy settings that protect members, but at the end of the day, you don’t really know when your private information will be hacked by someone with malicious intent.

Don’t Engage the Harasser
Teach your child that if you’re the victim of sexual harassment on social networking sites, the first thing you must do is to disengage — whether the other person is someone you know or is a stranger. Don’t argue or fight with your harasser; it will only lengthen the ordeal and encourage further contact. Instead, collect documentation, e.g. screenshots of what they said with timestamps, copies of their emails and IMs, and all information about them that you have. Then block your victimizer from your list of friends immediately and/or change your account, password and/or username.

Report Harassment to the Authorities
Tell your child the following: They should tell you and other adults what is going on. Let the right authority deal with your harasser. If he or she is someone from your school, then do report their action to the school principal or prefect of discipline. For people you don’t know, and for serious cases, report the crime to the police. You should also send the management of the social networking site a copy of your documentation so that they can permanently remove that person’s account.

Stalking

Have you ever been so enamored of a celebrity that you wanted to know what they were doing every single minute of the day? Or did you ever have an ex in your life that you couldn’t let go of, and you hungered to know details of what he or she was doing in life after your relationship ended? Intense curiosity about others is a normal phenomenon experienced by millions of people every day. Usually, people don’t act on their feeling of “wanting to know,” but sometimes they do. When someone closely tracks another person’s activities it is called “stalking.”

Young people are just as capable of stalking as adults. What can you do if you discover that your own child is involved in this activity?

What is Stalking?
Stalking refers to tracking the behaviors of another person in such a way that the person feels harassed and violated.  Stalking, an invasion of another person’s privacy, can take many forms. For instance, stalking behaviors  include spying on someone’s private mail or phone conversations, following a person wherever they go, watching a person’s comings and goings, sending unwanted correspondence or gifts, forcing unwanted relationships, and even threatening and attacking the object of one’s obsession. Very recently a new brand of stalking has surfaced — cyberstalking — which is stalking behavior conducted over the internet.

Stalking is a criminal offense punishable by law.

How Do Kids and Teenagers Engage in Stalking Behavior?
Stalking behaviors can range from mild to severe. In some cases, kids and teens don’t even realize that what they are doing may be considered stalking. In other cases, they may be fully aware that their behavior is unacceptable, harmful,  and even illegal but they continue to do it nonetheless.

Obsessing about and following celebrities is the more common type of stalking behavior among young people. Teens can get so attached to a matinee idol or rock band, for example, that they devise creative means to find out where their favorite stars hang out, and sneak inside the hotel they are staying in or the restaurant where they’re eating. This kind of behavior in young people may or may not be considered a criminal offense; some celebrities do encourage these accidental “spottings” (even announcing it on their microblogging sites!) for the sake of publicity. But in any event, any excessive adoration is unhealthy, and can cause significant problems at home or at school.

But there is also the more serious type of stalking behavior happening among young people today, one that is more malicious and ill-intentioned. With the ease of modern  communication and networking, young people can easily find ways to attack someone that they have issues with, or force embarrassing public confrontations. Pervasive harassment through sms, emails, blogs and social networking sites, for example, are fairly common among young people. Worse, some kids and teens are unaware of how they are actually victimizing other people with their actions. They underestimate the destructive impact of their behavior.

What can Parents Do?
Stalking behavior should be treated as a serious matter. Not only can stalking cause severe problems in relating and working, stalking is a criminal offense that can result in arrest and/or commitment to a juvenile facility. Children and teens must know when to draw a line between acceptable ways of relating and violation of other people’s rights. Remember, even if a fixation or obsession is manageable at the moment, it can easily turn unhealthy.

If you’re a parent whose child engages in stalking behavior, consider the following tips:

Evaluate the Gravity of the Situation
As mentioned, stalking behavior exists in a range; with some behaviors more understandable and acceptable than others. Find out where your child is in the stalking spectrum so that you may know if guidance and education is sufficient, or stronger interventions are necessary (such as assessment and treatment by a mental health professional). Signs of seriousness include the presence of delusions (e.g. the belief that the other person is in love with the stalker), lack of empathy for the other person’s feelings, severe anxiety if stalking behavior is not fulfilled, and intrusions of the obsessions into everyday living causing problems at home and/or school.

Explain to Your Child Why Stalking is Wrong
Perhaps your child is simply unaware that what they are doing is wrong. Educate your child about the impact of stalking behavior on not just the stalker, but also on the target. Psychologists have conceptualized stalking as a form of mental and emotional assault (sometimes even physical), that can be traumatic to its victim. But even if the target of the stalking is unaware that he or she is being followed or watched, common courtesy and ethics demand that stalking be stopped. Moreover, obsessing, even without stalking, is an unhealthy habit for a person and should be replaced with more wholesome activities. If your child seems fixated on someone to the extent that other activities are being neglected, try to arrange a consultation with a mental health professional to help address the problem.

Make Them Aware of the Risks of Stalking
Aside, from getting arrested, stalking can also put a person at risk for various negative consequences. Following celebrities around, for example, can result in being crushed in a throng of people, especially if the celebrity sighting is accompanied by fan hysteria. A person also does not know how a victim of stalking will react to finding out that they are being followed; stalking also puts person at risk for being victims of assault.

Give Them Sensitivity Training on Issues of Privacy and Boundaries
At the end of the day, what you want is to enhance your child’s sensitivity to the basic rights of other people. Take all opportunities to teach your child about the importance of boundaries and private spaces. Differentiate between information that should be kept to one’s self, and information that should be kept in private. Tell your children that in the same way they don’t want to have their secrets broadcast to strangers, they also don’t want to intrude on another person’s private correspondence and activities. Let them also understand the line between being friendly and being creepy. Training in social skills can help eliminate stalking behavior.

Deal with the Feelings Behind the Stalking Behavior
Obsessively following or communicating with another person can be a dysfunctional way of coping with unpleasant emotions. For example, the inability to let go of a lost relationship can cause a person to obsess on an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend. Boredom over one’s plain and unexciting life can cause teenagers to want to follow celebrities around. If you can teach your child to better manage their negative emotions, you can give them more functional coping strategies than stalking. Again, treatment by a mental health professional can be the most effective way to help your child if he or she is obsessing or stalking. Keep in mind, too, that stalking and obsessing may be symptoms of a mental health disorder. A psychologist or psychiatrist can help.

In-Laws

Dealing with your spouse’s family, especially his or her parents can be quite stressful. Sometimes your mother-in-law criticizes the way you raise your children. Perhaps your brother-in-law excludes you in the family reunion. Maybe you feel like your spouse’s entire clan is ganging up on you. In most families, there are interpersonal challenges. It’s hard enough to deal with one’s own clan; it’s doubly hard to deal with one’s spouse’s clan.

However, it’s important to exert every effort to get along with, even establish a close relationship, with one’s in-laws. Not only because you have no choice (technically, you married into their family), but because in-laws are a rich source of support and caring. There is nothing that says you can’t expand your family; in fact, you are giving your children greater stability when you are in good terms with everyone.

The following are some tips on how to build healthy relationships with one’s in-laws:

Earn Their Positive Regard
Problems arise when we have the mentality that our spouse’s family should automatically accept us, simply because their loved one chose us to marry. While it’s an ideal, the reality is: we are strangers to our in-laws. To be really accepted into the fold takes work; at the very least we should exert the effort to establish rapport with everyone. After all, you can’t expect your in-laws to like you if you yourself don’t work on the relationship.

So do your best to earn your in-laws positive regard. Create opportunities to get to know them — and for them to get to know you. Invite them for dinner (or at least, lunch!). Bring them small gifts. Express gratitude easily and gerously. Show interest in what they have to say. Compliment them. Offer to help out – especially when you are a guest in their homes. And be patient; relationships take time. What’s important is that you consistently communicate your openness to be part of their family.

Set Boundaries
Your in-laws are not YOU; they have a different way of doing things than you do. They might feel strongly about giving the baby his or her own room; you’re from the co-sleeping school of thought. You don’t like junk foods ever; your father-in-law wins his way to your child’s heart through sweets. Your mother-in-law may think you’re starving her child; you’re quite confident that you’re doing a good job as a spouse. The possible areas of contention between a spouse and in-laws are broad and limitless.

What’s important is that you set your boundaries beforehand. Just because you want to earn their approval doesn’t mean that you have to give up your values and beliefs. At the end of the day you are raising your own family —a different family from theirs. While your in-law’s input and experience are valuable, you have to use your own values as compass for what to do.

So make a list of what for you are non-negotiables, and what you can concede to your spouse’s family. And then, discuss this with your spouse. If the two of you are in consensus regarding an issue, then you can both communicate your boundaries to the family.

Strike That Balance
It’s important to set boundaries, but it’s as important to be reasonable. When there’s conflict with the in-laws, don’t make your spouse choose between you and his or her family. You don’t want your in-laws to do the same (blackmail their loved one into an agreement), so play fair. All issues can be attacked objectively, if you only present facts instead of emotions.

It’s important to concede from the very beginning that your spouse will always have loyalties to his or her family of origin. And the closer your spouse is to the family, the stronger is this bond. Be willing to compromise. This will work well for you when it’s your spouse turn to have conflict with your own family!

Anxious in Social Situations

Does the thought of giving a class presentation keep your child awake at night? How about the idea of introducing him or herself to strangers? Does your child obsessively worry about what others might say, and whether he or she will be liked? Or is he or she afraid to make social arrangements? If the answer to any of the above is yes, consider the possibility that your child has some level of social anxiety.

What is Social Anxiety?
As the term implies, social anxiety is the experience of discomfort, worry or fear when in the real or imagined presence of other people. Situations where one has to introduce and present one’s self, initiate and maintain conversation, or put oneself up for scrutiny and critique, trigger unease and concern in the person with social anxiety. Anxiety reactions can range from mild to severe – from just feeling nervous to deciding to avoid all social situations altogether.

Is Social Anxiety Normal?
Moderate social anxiety is a normal and common human condition. You yourself have probably worried at some point in your life about what others would think of you, or how strangers, friends and loved ones would react to you. In fact, social anxiety might be construed as a sign of a child’s growing appreciation of another person’s point of view and the natural stresses of relating with other people. After all, judgment is real and the consequences of rejection are also real. A bit of social anxiety can be considered healthy in that it is a realistic appreciation of the possible risks and costs of social interaction. It might even keep us in line, enhancing self-control and self-regulation (so as not to make fools of ourselves!) The trick is to manage moderate social anxiety so that it doesn’t get in our way or in the way of our children.

There are some self-help strategies that can help adults and children reduce normal levels of social anxiety. Practicing social skills can help. Parents can bring home some library books for their children on social skills and good manners. These can provide concrete strategies that will build confidence. Enrolling in drama class may increase social confidence as a child learns how to “act” social. Taking social skills classes from a professional social skills teacher can also be helpful.

There are also strategies geared to managing anxiety symptoms. For instance, before meeting new people, giving a presentation or attending a party, a person of any age can take “Rescue Remedy” (a Bach Flower Remedy available at health food stores and online). Rescue Remedy helps turn off “butterflies,” rapid heart-beat, sweaty palms and other symptoms caused by the release of adrenaline (the body’s panic and anxiety chemical). A few drops in a glass of water, sipped slowly, can restore a sense of calm. Similarly, preparing for the event by using EFT (emotional freedom technique – a self-help tool that turns off the adrenaline response) can be really helpful. There are lots of on-line resources for learning EFT. If a child or adult suffers from chronic social anxiety, he or she can use Bach Flower Remedies to heal the self-conscious tendency. Either visit a Bach Flower practitioner for a specially blended mixture of the remedies, look online for descriptions of each remedy, or simply experiment with a mixture of Rock Rose, Mimulus, Larch and Cerato (remedies that address common underlying reasons for the anxious feelings). If you choose to mix your own remedies, simply add 2 drops of each remedy to a one-ounce Bach Mixing Bottle (available where Bach Flower Remedies are sold) that has been filled with water. Add one teaspoon of brandy to preserve the mixture in the bottle. Take four drops four times a day until the anxiety is no longer an issue. If it returns, repeat the treatment. Repeat as often as necessary until the anxiety no longer returns.

Consider Social Anxiety Disorder
While feelings of social nervousness and self-consciousness can fall within the normal range, there are also social fears that are much more intense and problematic. When social anxiety causes severe distress or interferes with functioning at work, school or socially, then it may be a manifestation of Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)  – a serious mental health disorder. The anxiety experienced by a person with SAD can be so extreme that the person has difficulty  working outside his own home environment or going to school and he or she may be unable to establish friendships or intimate partnerships.

Social Anxiety Disorder requires assessment and treatment by a mental health professional. A psychiatrist can prescribe anti-anxiety medication that may provide relief. Psychologists may set up cognitive-behavioral interventions or other interventions aimed at reducing and managing anxiety. A child with social anxiety should be seen by a child psychologist or pediatric psychiatrist. Parents who see that their child is overwhelmed by social anxiety can have the child’s pediatrician or doctor make a referral to a mental health professional for assessment.