Fear of Clowns

I’m sure you’ve seen it: a child cringing and screaming at the sight of Ronald McDonald, Krusty the Clown, Circus Charlie or another clown. Whether the youngster met the clown in person or just saw him or her on television, the reaction is the same: intense dislike, panic, even pure horror. It makes one wonder: how can a mascot designed to bring on fun and silliness end up being a villain?

The fear of clowns is called coulrophobia. This phobia is more common than most think, affecting both adults and children across different cultures. In most cases, coulrophobia is a mild and temporary phobia, one that starts in early childhood and is naturally outgrown by puberty. But extreme cases also exist, with sufferers experiencing severe stress by the mere thought of clowns.

Why Would Kids be Afraid of Clowns?
Most of us recognize that clowns are just ordinary people dressed up in heavy make-up, colorful wigs and baggy clothes. We can also associate their presence with entertainment, magic tricks and comic relief. However, kids – especially really young children – can’t yet make those conclusions.

For them, clowns are strange-looking creatures who interact with them in a way that they are not used to. It’s only natural for children to be wary and fearful of what they don’t understand — it’s part of a person’s natural instinct. Also, consider that kids often meet clowns in loud and confusing settings, such as at a party, a show or a carnival. The context can also make clowns feel very intimidating to young children.

Media images may also play a role in the “villain-ization” of clowns. Television shows and movies today often poke fun at coulrophobia; take Bart’s line of “Can’t sleep, clown will eat me,” in an episode of the The Simpsons, or Sam Winchester’s “Planes crash… and apparently clowns kill,” in the horror series Supernatural. The late Heath Ledger also gave a convincing portrayal of a psychopath clown as The Joker in the movie Batman: Dark Knight. These kinds of images only contribute to feelings of upset and fear that vulnerable children may have.

What can Parents Do?
Fear of clowns that developed spontaneously (that is, was not caused by a traumatic experience involving clowns) will eventually go away on its own. However, clowns are hard to avoid in a child’s life – they show up on T.V., in movies, at shopping malls, at a birthday parties and many other places that children frequent. If a child’s fear is overwhelming to the point where the child doesn’t want to go out or to the point that the child will have a full blown panic attack upon seeing a clown, then professional help is in order. Child psychologists can help a child recover from coulrophobia.

If the fear is annoying but not that strong, then home treatment may suffice; try Bach Flower Remedies like Mimulus for phobias and Rock Rose for panic attacks – 2 drops of each given 4 times a day over a number of months can gently melt fear out of the system. Also, taking the Bach preparation Rescue Remedy along on outings is a useful strategy. Rescue Remedy can quickly calm a child and turn off a panic attack or tantrum – 4 drops in a small amount of liquid, given every couple of minutes usually calms the child very quickly. It also comes in spray form so that it can be sprayed into the child’s mouth (or even right on his or her arms).  Teaching the child EFT (emotional freedom technique) or doing EFT on the child can also cure the clown issue in many children. Check out online information on EFT as well as videos showing the treatment of children with phobias through EFT.

Fear of clowns that persist until adulthood, or fear that causes significant stress in a child should be referred to a mental health professional.

Fear of Thunder, Lightning, and Other Weather Conditions

Storms can be frightening for children and adults alike. A flash of electricity lighting up the night time sky, a rumble of thunder followed by a crashing boom can send shivers up anyone’s back! Some children are more afraid of severe weather conditions than others, but parents need to know how to help any child feel more comfortable in the face of howling winds, noisy storms, torrential downpours and all the other frightening weather events that inevitably occur in our world.

To help your child be more comfortable during severe weather events, consider the following tips:

Make it Fun
Many adults associate storms with fond childhood memories. You can help your child do the same by starting “traditions” of story-telling or game-playing during storms. Since everyone is stuck inside anyway, it’s a great opportunity for family time.  Sipping cocoa, munching munchies, listening to music, cuddling up with a good book or movie – cozy activities can create cozy feelings toward rough weather condition.

If it’s already bedtime and your child is under the covers, you can still help her associate storms with comfort and positive feelings. A young child might appreciate the companionship of a special plush toy (or the real family pet). An older one might enjoy a flashlight and a good book to read under the covers – a special activity reserved for stormy nights. Or, you might help the child imagine that there is a noisy celebration of fireworks outside. Or, you can take turns making up explanations for the noise with your child as a fun and silly game – for instance, you suggest that the sky giants are bowling and your child suggests that the angels are go-carting and you suggest that the clouds are arguing and so on and so forth. Or, you can invite everyone into your bed so they can all fall asleep together. Most storms don’t last very long, so hopefully everyone will soon return to their own beds!

If your child is too frightened and upset to enjoy the fun, consider learning and then treating him or her with Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). This very simple self-help tapping technique can be used WHILE the child is overwhelmed with panic to help turn off the fight-or-flight response. Learn about EFT online or from one of the many books on the subject, or consult a mental health practitioner who uses and teaches the technique.  EFT can often reduce intense feelings of fear in just a few minutes.

Consider Rescue Remedy and Bach Flower Remedies
Another resource is Rescue Remedy – a harmless, water-based form of vibrational “medicine” that quickly calms agitation and fear. Give your child 4 drops in a small amount of water, encouraging him to sip it every few minutes until he feels better. Rescue Remedy also comes in spray form and can be sprayed directly into the child’s mouth.

The Bach Flower Remedies Mimulus and Rock Rose can be prepared together in one mixing bottle (see instructions on this site and elsewhere online and in books, or consult a Bach Flower Practitioner for assistance). Giving this mixture to the child several times a day for an extended period (i.e. many months) can help prevent the fear of storms from occurring in the future.

Explain the Science
Understanding the science of storms can help reduce the child’s fear. Get the information you need about the cause of severe weather conditions and give it over in an age-appropriate way to your child. Be sure to include information about how to stay safe in a storm.

Teach Self-Soothing Skills
Teach your child simple but effective ways of calming feelings of fear. Self-talk is a good tool for this purpose: teach your child to tell him or herself, “the storm will be over very soon and everything will be back to normal” or “it’s noisy outside but I’m safe here inside.”  You can also teach the child how to calm the fight-or-flight chemistry by breathing very slowly. Your child’s fear is fueled by his or her negative imagination (picturing worst case scenarios). Teach the child to use positive imagination instead (i.e. picturing how nice and fresh everything will look after the storm).

Professional Help
If self-help techniques do not sufficiently help your child through storms, do take him or her to a mental health professional. Fears and phobias produce a lot of unnecessary anguish and suffering – they are usually quickly and easily resolved with a short course of professional treatment.

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.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is typically thought of as something that happens between a boss and an employee, or committed by a drunk in the bar. But recent reports have shown that sexual harassment in schools is on the rise. A national survey of American public schools report that as much as 80% of female students and 60% of male students have experienced sexual harassment while in school! Worse, most of the time these harassments occur right out in the open, in full view and/or hearing of other people.

What is Sexual Harassment?
Put simply, sexual harassment is any unsolicited and unwanted sexual advance or attack against one’s gender and sexuality. Behaviors considered as sexual harassment exist in a range, from making sexual jokes or comments, to giving looks that may be construed as lewd or suggestive, to inappropriate touches and forcing someone to engage in sexual behavior.

Sexual harassment can happen face-to-face or indirectly. Abuses within internet chatrooms, spreading nasty rumors, and vandalisms that contain explicit sexual content targeted to a particular person are all considered indirect ways of sexual harassment. Both direct and indirect ways of sexual harassment can cause severe stress and trauma to its victim, and must be taken seriously.

What can Parents Do?
There are many things that parents can do to prevent sexual harassment from reaching their children.

Prevention is always better than any steps taken after the fact, so it’s best if parents take a proactive role in combating sexual harassment.

Parents can start by educating their kids on what sexual harassment is, and its impact to its victims. For instance, parents must take a hard stance against making inappropriate jokes and comments, even if there are those who would say “boys are just being boys” or “it’s all just good-natured teasing.” Sensitizing children on the offensive nature of sexual jokes is a good start in preventing sexual harassment from spreading. Similarly, children must always be taught to respect people’s sexuality. Calling someone a “faggot” or a “dyke,”  a “whore” or other insulting sexual names is not to be tolerated under any circumstance. By teaching kids not to hurt others in this way, parents help put an end to the cycle of victimization.

However, parents also have to teach their children how to respond to sexual harassment in the case that it happens to them. This can help prevent trauma.  When a child knows what steps to take, he or she feels empowered and supported. For instance, teach your child to report harassment to the principle or guidance counselor immediately.  Kids can also be taught how to stand up to bullies of all kinds, including those who bully through sexual harassment. Bully-proofing can be brought into schools as a program for the student body – speak to the guidance department about arranging this. Kids should also be taught how not to invite abuse and harassment through their own behaviors. For instance, if a girl dresses very provocatively instead of more modestly, she is communicating that she wants to be noticed sexually. Although she is not responsible for being victimized by harassment, she is certainly responsible for inviting sexual attention. Teach your kids how the opposite gender reacts to cues (i.e. how boys are stimulated by revealing clothing and so on).

Parents can ask their local librarian for help in selecting age-appropriate materials on this subject to bring home for their kids. When children learn from books it can be extra powerful – it means that the information they are receiving is not just Mom or Dad’s nervous over-reactions.

Sometimes parents can take the advocacy to the school and the community. Many school administrators, teachers and community members are unaware of how prevalent the problem is, and thus they are not as vigilant in identifying and reporting sexual harassment cases. A culture of silence and impunity may exist in a school, so it’s best to launch information campaigns designed to remove the stigma associated with being victimized. Establishing clear channels for reporting harassment and systems of response and referral are also ideal.

Lastly, it’s important that parents make their kids aware of what their rights are. For instance, choosing not give in to peer pressure to harass others is a right and a responsibility. Similarly, one always has a right to say “no” to any unwanted communication or sexual advance. And if they are victimized, or know someone who has been, it’s their right to report the harassment to the proper authorities.

Understanding Self-Harm

Hurting oneself on purpose seems to be an odd thing to do, yet the practice is growing in popularity among today’s teens. There is a reason for this: self-harm is a “harmless” way to reduce feelings of anxiety and angst. Due to the ease of modern communication among teenagers, word has caught on that this strategy works. It is cheap, easy and always available – unlike other methods of stress relief like drinking alcohol, taking drugs or even accessing counseling services! As a result, this disorder is highly influenced by peer behavior; when children learn that others they know are hurting themselves, they often experiment with this stress relief strategy themselves. Unfortunately, self-harm is a very dysfunctional behavior that often causes feelings of deep shame, helplessness and inadequacy in much the same way as other addictive behaviors do. For instance, bingeing and purging (overeating large amounts of food and then vomitting or using laxatives) also temporarily dispels anxiety but then causes those same painful emotions of shame, helplessness and inadequacy. Some people feel that self-harm is a cry for attention or help. Parents are naturally distressed to learn that their child has been hurting him or herself. Nonetheless, there is some comfort in knowing that self-harming actions are not necessarily related to suicidality. The goal of sufferers is to inflict minor pain, release endorphins and communicate to family members. Suicidal teenagers don’t practice self-harm; they practice killing themselves and sometimes succeed.

What is Self-Harm?
Self-harm is any action taken to cause oneself pain. Some people hit themselves – slapping their head, their face, their limbs or their body. Some people burn themselves. Some bite their skin or pick at it till it bleeds. Some use a sharp object to make small cuts on themselves – most commonly on their arms but also on other parts of the body.

Understanding the Paradox: Why Do People Do It?
When we are pain, such as when we experience a cut or burn, our brain releases natural pain relievers – endorphins – into the body. The chemicals associated with pain relief are also managers of mood. Hence, cutting and other methods of self-harm does bring some form of temporary relief to a person in distress. This temporary relief can get so addictive, that self-harm becomes a person’s first line of defense against emotions he or she can’t handle.

Experts also believe that there are psychological reasons why self-harm makes sense to the people who do it. Many times, cutting becomes some form of displacement. When emotional pain is too much to bear, “transforming” the emotional pain to physical pain makes it more manageable. Engaging in self-harm is also a way of validating that the pain one feels is real. There’s no evidence of inner distress, but seeing scars and burns are an acknowledgment that one is suffering.

In some cases, people engage in self-harm as an unconscious way of punishing themselves or a cry for attention. There are also situations when self-harm is an attempt to “feel something”; too much pain or trauma can numb one’s self. For people who engage in self-injury, self harm is better than feeling nothing.

Is Self-Harm a Suicide Attempt?
Not usually. However, people who self-harm are at additional risk for becoming suicidal. Therefore, parents need to take self-harming behaviors seriously.

While many who engage in self-harm report that they have no plans to kill themselves (they just want the temporary relief self-harm brings), they are always mentally unhealthy. Healthy people don’t hurt themselves. The mental health conditions typically associated with suicide attempts (e.g. clinical depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, severe anxiety) are often the same conditions that trigger self-harm. It is possible that self-harm activities are not suicidal in and of themselves, but if people are left alone to wallow in progressive mental illness, self-harming tendencies can progress to actual suicidality. Parents and mental health professionals are therefore recommended to take the cautious view and always treat the underlying emotions and mental health conditions of those who engage in self-harm.

What can Parents Do to Help a Child Who Engages in Self-Harm?
First off, be alert. Children and teens who self-harms take extra pains to hide what they are doing; you need to be a conscious and attentive parent to spot what’s going on. Symptoms of self-harm includes persistent wearing of clothing that hide common targets of self-harm such as the wrist, the upper arms and the chest; frequent “accidents” that explains injuries, a high need for privacy, implements like cutters, ropes or lighters in the bedroom, and symptoms of depression.

When you’ve confirmed that your child does engage in self-harm, it’s important that you raise the issue with him or her instead of hoping the behavior will go away on its own. Provide unconditional acceptance and a listening ear. And most importantly, arrange an appointment with a licensed mental health professional.

Helping Your Child Cope with Traumatic Events

All parents want to protect their children from things that can unsettle or harm them. But sadly, there are many things in life that even the most conscientious of parents can’t control. Our children may witness or experience traumatic events despite our best efforts to shield them. When this happens, they may have difficulty bouncing back. Sleep disturbances, sadness, anger, fear, or other symptoms of trauma may plague a traumatized child long after the traumatic event has ended.

What is a Trauma?
Trauma is a psychological reaction to highly stressful events, particularly those that threaten life or safety. When an experience is considered traumatic, it means that the coping resources of the person witnessing or experiencing it are not enough to deal with the impact of the event, and some degree of psychological shock or breakdown occurs. Events that most people consider traumatic include vehicular accidents, crimes, natural disasters and physical or sexual abuse.  Although parents may think that trauma results only from catastrophic events like war or rape, it can actually occur as a result of more normal and common events. For instance, a child can be traumatized by being chased by a dog, by a harsh reprimand from a teacher, from a threatening bully, or from being laughed at while giving an oral report. What makes an event traumatic differs from person to person, as individual coping abilities must be taken into account. Personality factors, psychological profile and past history all play a role in producing a traumatic reaction. A trauma response often includes symptoms like reliving the event over and over again (obsessing about it; experiencing intrusive thoughts), panic attacks, nightmares, numbing and fog responses, avoiding people, places and things that trigger a memory of the event, depressed and/or angry mood and increased nervousness (startle response).

How can Parents Help Children Cope with Trauma?
Parental support is critical when a child is dealing with trauma. Unlike adults, younger children don’t yet have the ability to understand what they are going through. Not only is the original event traumatic, but their trauma symptoms too, can be traumatic. For instance, physical symptoms like tremors and nightmares, mental symptoms like obsessions and hallucinations, and emotional symptoms like fear and anxiety can be overwhelming for a child to be experiencing.

The first line of business is to help children manage their emotions. Encourage them to talk about their feelings. A traumatized child may talk about the same thing over and over again, and this is okay. The content of the sharing is less important than the process of getting things out. If a child finds difficulty in expressing what he is going through verbally, either because of age or because of the trauma, then consider non-verbal ways of venting emotions. Letting it all out can also be done using drawings and pictures, clay sculptures and toys, play-acting, and story-telling.

Second, give your child a rational explanation of the traumatic event, that is appropriate to his or her age. The more information the child has, the less he or she is likely to generalize the event to other situations. For instance, knowing that a car crashed because it skidded on the snow can help a child feel safe in cars with good snow tires and in cars driving on dry roads. Without this information, the child may conclude that all cars are dangerous at all times. (While this is in fact true, the healthy state of mind is one of sufficient denial that a person can comfortably drive and be driven at all times. Phobic and traumatized people, on the other hand, over-exaggerate the likelihood of a catastrophic event occuring again, such that they can’t live in a normal way.)

When a child is suffering rather mild symptoms, parents may find that self-help interventions are sufficient. For instance, learning how to do EFT (emotional freedom technique) with the child may complete calm the youngster’s nervous system. However, parents may prefer to take their child to a child psychologist who practices EFT or EMDR. Both of these techniques are used to rapidly heal the trauma of one-time events. If the child is experiencing many symptoms of trauma, it is essential that parents DO NOT try the self-help approach. Instead, they should take their child to a mental health professional who is specifically trained in the treatment of post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD). PTSD is the name for the cluster of symptoms that occur in reaction to a traumatic event. The “p” in this label for “post traumatic” points to the fact that trauma symptoms can suddenly occur months, years or even decades after the original traumatic event(s). The mind/body seems to wait for the “right time” to release the memory of the event(s).

Technqiues like EFT and EMDR can also be used as part of a longer therapy addressing more chronic forms of trauma (such as being subjected to chronic bullying, physical abuse or incest). These and other interventions are specifically designed to heal both the memories and the bodily reactions and return the child to his normal state. In addition, the Bach Flower Remedy called “Rescue Remedy” can help reduce temporary and chronic symptoms of trauma and is especially effective for home-management of symptoms inbetween psychotherapy sessions.

The good news is that children respond well to treatment of trauma. They can experience a complete healing of their symptoms and a return to “normalcy.” In fact, children are often even happier, calmer and more mature after trauma therapy than they were before the traumatic event(s) occurred.

Child is Bullied

Being the victim of a bully can take a severe toll on a child. There are intense feelings like anger, helplessness, sadness, shame and fear to process and accept. There’s also the stress that comes with the aftermath of the difficult event, including having to deal with authority figures who want to know more about what happened, and peers who choose to tease and ridicule. The effects of bullying can be felt for weeks, and in severe, traumatic cases – a lifetime.

If you have a child who has experienced bullying or mistreatment, consider the following tips:

Emphasize That It’s Not His or Her Fault
Bullying and mistreatment are the result of a perpetrator choosing to act aggressively against a less strong individual. This means that the problem is with the aggressor, not the victim. Kids need to know that they did nothing to “ask for it” — they did not get victimized because they deserve to be treated shabbily. Nor is the aggression a result of them being weak and fragile. Being stronger is not license to abuse one’s power.

Help Your Child Vent His or Her Feelings
As mentioned, surviving bullying and mistreatment can create many unpleasant emotions in a child. These emotions are normal, and should be affirmed by a parent or a caregiver. Saying that “you’ll get over it” or “you’re overreacting” or “toughen up” will just force a child to repress what he or she is feeling, instead of getting it out and moving on. If you want to help your child bounce back from a negative experience, give them the opportunity to grieve. Let them talk about what happened; allow them to cry, stomp their feet or temporarily withdraw from friends. When it comes to negative emotions, it’s better to let them out than keep them in.

Role Play Victory Over the Aggressor
Sometimes kids who are victimized ruminate about their inability to fight back. These thoughts can become obsessions, and in turn become anxieties. One way parents can help their child recover from their feeling of helplessness and self-blame is to role play what they want but didn’t or couldn’t do to their bully. For example, did they want to scream and fight back? Do they fantasize about telling the bully off? Let them paint a verbal fantasy of what they wish they would have done or what they’d like to do now – don’t worry about how violent it may sound. Imagining “pay back” aggression doesn’t lead to actually becoming violent; on the contrary, the imagination releases violent feelings in a safe, harmless way. Once the energy is moved out of the child’s mind, it is also moved out of his body. If,however, you notice that your child is actually talking about taking revenge in the real world, do step in and advice him of the potential negative consequences. Help your child identify with “good guy” characters rather than villains. Make up stories for him or ask your librarian for help in selecting books that will model the right attitudes and behaviors in the face of victimization.

Affirm Your Child’s Strengths
Focus on your child’s innate strengths and ability to recover. You don’t have to teach all skills in moving on from a bad experience. Instead, affirm what is already there and build from it. Bullying and mistreatment do not make the whole of your child’s person; for sure, he or she has plenty of things to feel proud out. However, if bullying has weakened your child’s self-concept, try to give your youngster extra “strengthening” experiences. For instance, enroll your child in sports or self-defense arts to build a strong physical self-image. This will help put a protective aura around your child so that bullies won’t be so tempted to pick on him. Or, enroll your child in drama classes so that he can experiment with and find different aspects of his personality that he can call upon when he needs to. Make sure you are not bullying your child at home with forceful discipline or name-calling; if your child gets used to being treated badly, he wears an invisible energetic sign that says “beat me up” – and disturbed children are all too willing to comply. Your child may benefit from assertiveness training or special anti-bullying classes, art therapy or play therapy. Other types of psychotherapy can also help your child process the pain of his experience and learn skills that will help him become “bully-proof” in the future. School guidance counselors may also provide good support and practical skills.

Unsettled After Death, Divorce or Other Trauma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bedtime Anxieties

Bedtime anxieties are common and occur for many reasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Child is Angry After Divorce or Separation

Anger is a natural reaction to loss, threat or helplessness. When we feel that something is being taken away from us, we feel anger; it’s an instinct born out of protecting what we consider to be ours. When we feel insecure, uncertain or attacked, we get mad. And when we feel like we don’t have any control over what is going on in our life, when we feel victimized but incapable of fighting back, we can feel enraged.

It’s understandable then for children whose parents are separating or divorcing, to feel anger. When a marriage falls apart, all three “anger triggers” are present: loss, threat and helplessness. In many cases, children are simply caught in the cross-fire of fighting spouses. The spouses will go their separate ways and the children will be the ones who have to live with the short-term and long-term consequences of the broken marriage.

If you’re a parent experiencing divorce or separation, the following are some tips to help you deal with your children’s anger:

Acknowledge That They Have a Right to Be Angry
As mentioned, anger is a normal and expected reaction during divorce or separation. It’s an appropriate feeling; that is, the situation is really anger-provoking. Do not devalue your children’s anger in any way, nor ignore it or “pass it over.” The worst thing that a loved one can do during this difficult time is to make a child feel guilty for feeling whatever he or she feels. Instead, both parents must strive to communicate that they know their kids are angry, and that they respect their right to that emotion. It is often hard for parents to acknowledge and accept their child’s anger; they want to believe that the children will be as “happy” and relieved about the divorce as they are. They tell themselves that it’s better for the children this way. Few parents can stand the guilt they would feel if they acknowledged to themselves that their children might be truly hurt by the divorce. For all these reasons, it takes a brave parent to allow a child to express his or her anger and upset. And yet, allowing it is one of the biggest favors a parent can do for his or her child at this time.

Help Them Find Ways to Deal with their Anger
Anger is not black or white; instead it’s a complex emotion that has many nuances, shades and colors. It is important that you provide you child with the opportunity to look at their anger, and see (a) where is it coming from, (b) how strong it is, and (c) where is it directed. When a person can break down his or her feelings into its component parts, the feeling becomes less of a vague consuming monster and more of a state that’s tolerable inside and can be discussed and shared outside.

This step is important as different kids experience divorce and separation differently. In fact, even siblings have different reasons for their anger. One can be upset because he or she wasn’t consulted in the decision-making; another sibling can be upset because he or she blames herself for not noticing the problem and saving the marriage. A parent must be able to take a personalized approach to their children’s anger, so that specific issues can be responded to effectively.

Give Them an Avenue to Express their Anger
Anger is an emotion that is best released; otherwise it can eat a person up and even cause mental health issues like depression or anxiety. Art therapy may be suitable for some children, giving them a safe way to release the darkness of their inner world. Professional art therapists are trained to help people of all ages release negative emotions in a healthy way. Some children may do better by talking about their feeling. They may be able to talk to a parent when the parent is skilled in  “Emotional Coaching” (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe). Emotional Coaching involves welcoming, accepting and naming a child’s feelings without judgment or correction of any kind. In this way, the emotion is safely released and healed. For instance, if a child says, “I hate you for leaving Mommy” the father can respond, “You’re really really mad at me for breaking up this family. I can understand that. This is not something you ever wanted. You want us all to be together.” By saying all this, the father allows the child to express his rage and let it turn into the sadness that is really under the surface. If the child starts to cry after hearing his father reflect his feelings, the father can say, “I know this makes you so sad. It’s so painful not to have us all together anymore.” And then the child will cry some more and the father can just sit silently near the child, allowing all the pain to move freely. This approach is very healing. It is very different from the “cheerleader” approach in which a parent says things like, “Don’t worry – it will all be great! You’ll have two homes and lots of fun going back and forth and all your friends will be jealous, etc.” This kind of response can actually make a child furious, because the parent is rejecting the child’s pain instead of facing it head on. Child psychologists are trained listeners who know how to help kids express and release their pain. If your child isn’t opening up to you or is inconsolable or is having problems at school or misbehaving excessively at home, do try to arrange for professional therapy – it can really help.