Helping your child cope with anxiety

Q: My 10-year-old is suddenly worrying about different things and just seems overall anxious. I tell her everything will be okay, but that helps relax her for only a bit. Is there anything else I can do to help her?

A: It can be hard as a parent to watch your child go down the rabbit hole of worry. Sometimes you may find yourself thinking, “What could my child possibly have to worry about at this age?” As a parent, you are not alone in dealing with this and the good news is, there are different things you can do to help! But before diving into discussing different techniques you can try out to help your little one cope, it is helpful to step back and view the world through their lens. Sure their worry about who to sit with at lunch, passing an upcoming math test, or walking down the hall in the dark may seem minor to adulthood worries, but to them it may feel just as big. Going down the path of comparing your worries to their worries can be invalidating and create a roadblock from you being able to actually help them cope effectively.

The goal is to help them identify their anxiety and cope with it in a healthy way. In order to do that, you have to hear them out. When you notice your child is becoming anxious, explore it with them instead of simply saying, “Don’t worry. It’ll be okay.” While that approach can provide temporary relief, it also comes with the risk of closing communication lines and no skill to cope in the future. Instead encourage your child to tell you about how it feels to them. This gives you the opportunity to reflect their experience and supply names for what they are doing or feeling. For example, “It sounds like you are worried about tomorrow’s reading test.” Then focus on assisting them in developing a game plan to address how they can cope if things do not go their way. Continuing with the example of the reading test, you can explore what your child can do if they do not do so well on that test. Allow them to come up with their own ideas and of course help as necessary to brainstorm effective ideas, such as asking the teacher for help in the future. A plan helps your child view the situation not just as a problem, but rather a problem that also has a solution. It also sends the message that you are confident in their ability to cope with the challenge.

Another skill to consider is giving anxiety a name, such as the worry monster. This approach helps your child separate the anxiety from themselves and puts them in a better position to then talk back to it. One great way to talk back is by creating coping cards. Examples include: “I can do this” or “Take a hike worry monster!” If your child does not want to carry a card, consider designating an object to represent what the card would say. For example, clipping a purple paperclip to your child’s backpack or notebook that can serve as a cue for their response.

Visualization is another helpful tool to cope with anxiety. For instance, encourage your child to imagine or even draw out what the worry monster looks like. Once that is done, have them imagine the worry monster on a boat floating far, far away until the worry monster is no longer visible. Alternatively, you can talk to your child about real life experiences that were fun or relaxing. Have them think about it and use their imagination to recall as many details as possible using all their senses. The idea is that by visualizing something pleasant, their mind is not focused on the anxiety producing thought or situation and also the visualization elicits a positive sensation.

It is helpful to remember that often childhood anxiety passes with time, especially after children learn ways to cope with the worry monster. However, if you still feel as though your child could benefit from further support, consider scheduling an appointment with a specialist.

Warning Signs a Child is Being Bullied

Q: I think my son is being bullied, but I am not sure and he won’t tell me. His teachers think he is fine. What can I do?

A: When it comes to the well-being your child, any type of uncertainty can be scary. When your child is not forthcoming about whether he or she is being bullied and school personnel has not reached out to you with any concerns, but you are suspecting something is going on, recognizing warning signs can be an important first step. After you are able to identify and recognize signs, you are in a better position to talk about them with your child. It is important to keep in mind the warning signs shared below can be related to other issues as well; however, having open communication with your child can help differentiate the root of the concerns.

Before jumping into warning signs, let’s take a moment to understand bullying. According to stopbullying.gov, bullying is defined as unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. Often, it is repeated behavior over time. Bullying can come in three forms: verbal, social, and physical. Here are examples of each form:

Verbal:

  • Teasing
  • Name-calling
  • Inappropriate sexual comments
  • Taunting
  • Threatening to cause harm

Social:

  • Leaving someone out on purpose
  • Telling other children not be friends with someone
  • Spreading rumors about someone
  • Embarrassing someone in public

Physical:

  • Hitting
  • Kicking
  • Pinching
  • Spitting
  • Tripping/pushing
  • Taking or breaking someone’s things
  • Making mean or rude hand gestures

Take time to educate yourself on the warning signs or potential red flags related to bullying, so that you can identify them as they come up. The stopbullying.gov website outlines the following signs linked to possible bullying:

  • Unexplainable injuries
  • Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, jewelry, etc.
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches
  • Feeling sick or faking illness
  • Changes in eating habits (i.e., suddenly skipping meals, binge eating, or coming home hungry because they did not eat lunch at school)
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Declining grades
  • Loss of interest in schoolwork
  • Not wanting to go to school
  • Sudden loss of friends
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Self-destructive behaviors (e.g., running away from home, self-harm, or talking about suicide)

As discussed above, these red flags may be indicative of other issues and not just bullying. Regardless of the cause, if any of these signs are present, parents should explore them further and not ignore them!

Kids sometimes respond better to shared stories than to direct probing. Try sharing a story from your own childhood of when you or someone you cared about was bullied or not treated well by other kids, then check in to see if your child has experienced or seen anything like that. Using softer words and moving up to more serious words can also help draw kids out, such as using the phrase “not treated well by others” initially versus “bullying” when asking him what he has experienced. If he shares nothing and you still strongly suspect there are issues with bullying, consider taking your child to a therapist. Sometimes it is easier after a few sessions for a child to share information with a neutral third party than with parents. Also, let the school personnel know so they can keep an eye open for any issues; tell people such as teachers, principal, school counselor, school nurse, recess or lunch room supervisors, and coaches. Lastly, even if your child denies it is happening, engage in an educational discussion about how to deal with being bullied, why it is important to engage the help of adults, etc.

Telling Kids of all Ages About Divorce

Q: My husband and I are planning to separate. How do I tell my child about this upcoming change?

A: That is a great question—often it feels as though there is never the right time or perfect way to have this conversation. Experts say that it is not the divorce itself that has the greatest impact on the child, but rather the actions parents take during it. Discussing the upcoming separation is the first step.

First and foremost, it is important to keep in mind there are different strategies for how to approach this topic depending on your child’s age. With younger children, use language they will understand. For instance, the terms “separation” or “divorce” may not mean much to them, so try explaining it in the context of “mommy and daddy will not be living together” and “being married is not working.” While there may be numerous uncertainties, be sure to explain that some things will change and it is okay if you do not have all the answers about how exactly things are going to change. During this conversation, we encourage you to highlight that no matter what, you will never stop loving them.

Now for adult children—regardless of their age, you are the parents and want to care for them through this process. If your child now resides out of the home, inform them you want to speak with them, but be sure to reassure them there is no illness or death. It can by scary to receive a call from mom or dad simply stating, “we need to talk.” While face to face conversations are encouraged, they may not be feasible, so try alternative options such as FaceTime or Skype. For adult children, things such as, where they should expect to come home for holidays, what is going to happen to the family house, and who is going to pay college tuition are additional topics that may need to be addressed. You can expect anger and even shock, which may require you to repeat information several times before it begins to resonate with them. Try your best to normalize their reactions and avoid invalidating their thoughts and feelings. Another thing to avoid is telling them you delayed the separation because of them. With adult children, it can also be helpful to share you believe in family and your separation or divorce does not mean they will not be able to have strong and happy relationships. Additionally, if you have more than one adult child, try to share the news at the same time. This may require considering multiple schedules and some planning.

As mentioned above, there is no perfect way to go about this conversation. Make sure you have ample time carved out to have this discussion, so that you do not find yourself rushing your child. Also, consider practicing ahead of time while anticipating reactions. After all you know your child better than anyone. Regardless of age, steer clear of bashing your partner, falling down the rabbit hole of the blame game, and discussing specifics of the separation. Instead, encourage open communication and offer support. After all, it is a process for everyone. If you feel like your child is struggling with the news and upcoming transitions, consider meeting with a specialist to help navigate this life experience.

Sex Education

Q: My 13-year-old daughter is entering high school in the fall, and I am afraid that she will be peer pressured to be sexually active. I grew up in a household where talking about sex was taboo, so I am unsure how to even initiate “The Talk!” How can I bring up my concerns and what topics should be discussed?

There is a common misconception among teenagers that all of their peers are engaging in sexual behaviors. This notion fosters a false sense of peer pressure and results in teens (especially boys) feeling pressured to have sex. As a parent, it is your responsibility to address inaccurate beliefs regarding sex – ideally before your teen starts dating or becomes sexually active.

Your child deserves your honesty, so it’s okay to admit that having “The Talk” is difficult. Despite how awkward some topics may seem, strive to keep the conservation going. However, you must first conquer the step that intimidates many parents: initiation. Fortunately, there are strategies you can utilize that make approaching this topic easier! Rather than sitting your child down for a lengthy heart-to-heart talk, try weaving various subjects into everyday conversation. There are plenty of moments throughout the day that can serve as transitions into teaching opportunities. For instance, the occurrence of risky sexual behavior in a TV show or movie could be used to start a discussion about safe sex. By actively choosing to make sex education an ongoing dialogue, you help normalize sexuality!

When deciding what topics to focus on, you should not assume that your child’s sex health education classes in school adequately discuss all topics. Additionally, teens are susceptible to learning misinformation from friends, media, or the Internet. You play an important role in supplementing, correcting and reinforcing any information your child may already know. A good way to begin is to find out what your child already knows and build from there. Listed below are some important topics you can use to develop the conversation.

  • Safer Sex
  • Contraceptive Use
  • Abstinence
  • Pregnancy
  • HIV/AIDS and other STDs as well as STD testing
  • Healthy, respectful relationships
  • Sexual assault and rape
  • Sexual orientation/attraction

Positive and Negative Consequences

Q: Despite reading various information online about managing my child’s behavior with consequences, I’m not sure I really know how to most effectively utilize consequences to get my child to behave. Can you give me some examples of how to best use consequences to get my child to behave? Thanks!

Often times parents find themselves deciding in how to respond to their child’s behavior. What happens immediately after a child engages in a specific behavior is a consequence. This could be either positive or negative. A positive consequence demonstrates to your child they have done something you approve of, whereas a negative consequence or discipline shows your child they have done something unacceptable or inappropriate.

Let’s take a look at positive consequences or rewards. Rewards can be beneficial in encouraging your child and it increases the likelihood of them engaging in positive behaviors. Rewards can come in many forms, including praise, attention, activities, or material rewards (e.g., a toy). Praise and what I call relationship-based rewards are some of my favorites because they build self-esteem and connection. Examples of relationship-based rewards could be getting two stories at bedtime while snuggling with mom and dad instead of just one book, getting to choose the game played for a family game night, or 1-1 time with dad at the park or playing video games versus having to ‘share’ dad with your siblings.

When deciding on this approach, be sure to set goals that are realistic because if your child does not feel he or she can achieve the goal, they likely will not try. Also, when choosing a reward, determine if it is desired by your child. For instance, if your child does not care about a new sticker book, then it would not be a good reward to choose. So take a moment and consider your child’s likes and dislikes. For this to be successful, parents should give rewards regularly and consistently. This can be achieved by aiming to provide rewards periodically while your child is working towards a bigger reward for when they achieve a long-term accomplishment. For example, rewarding good grades on exams and projects while working towards the long-term goal of good grades on the final report card. Additionally, once a reward is promised, be sure to always follow through! This increases the likelihood of a follow through on your child’s part when a new goal and reward is established in the future. When setting up this approach, be clear with your child about the requirements to receive a reward by being as specific as possible. For example, a clean room means picking up clothes off the floor, putting toys in the toy chest, and making the bed. Similarly, be clear about the reward. If the reward is picking the restaurant for the family’s Friday night dinner out, you might specify the price range, any off limits because the commute is too far, or any other limitations that may exist. To track progress towards a reward, get creative and create a method that works for you and your child. As a general rule of thumb, for toddlers and preschoolers, it is best to reward them immediately, as their memory is not as good as it is for older children and the positive consequence must immediately follow the positive behavior for them to connect the two.

Now let’s talk about negative consequences. When using negative consequences or discipline to target misbehavior, aim to clearly identify the inappropriate or misbehavior. To achieve this, first ask yourself what it is you want your child to stop doing. Once you are able to answer that, make clear to your child what is okay and what is not to reduce confusion on their part. For instance, if your child is doing something you want them to stop doing, respond by providing a warning that the behavior needs to change or a consequence will follow. Be specific about the behavior and exactly what is to follow in the instance the child continues to misbehave (e.g., “If you throw the block again, I will take all the blocks away.”) It is often best to tie the negative consequences to the negative action, such as throwing blocks leads to blocks being taken away. However, it is also important to know your child’s ‘currency’ as to what is important to them. For example, for several months my daughter was in love with her pink sparkle shoes, and any warning that I would take them away for the rest of the day was followed with her complying with whatever I had requested she do or stop doing. Once the warning has been issued and the behavior persists, the next step is follow through of the consequence. It is worth noting, if your child does what you have asked, a positive consequence should follow. This can be in the form of praise, high fives, or a hug. If you find yourself having to go the route of a negative consequence, it is helpful to explain why the negative consequence is taking place (e.g., “Because you threw the block, I am taking the blocks for the evening.”) At this point, children may beg, plead, negotiate, or tantrum in an attempt to sway you into not following through with the consequence. That is normal and should not impact your decision to follow through; in fact, if you cave, your child will learn your warnings can be ignored as a negative consequence will not follow. Once the consequence has taken place, go back to communicating positively with your child. Be on the lookout for positive behaviors and acknowledge them with a positive consequence! That side if the equation is more fun for children and parents alike.

Is your child ready for a cellphone?

Q: My son is 10 years old and will be entering middle school in the fall. He keeps asking me for a cell phone, claiming that all his friends at school already have one. Is my son too young for a cell phone or am I too afraid to let him grow up?

A: As technology has advanced and become entrenched in every aspect of life, the debate on when children should be able to use a cell phone has grown. It is important to remember that each child is different and there are a multitude of factors that can influence if your child is ready for a cellphone.

Responsibility should be considered, and is perhaps the most important factor. Children must demonstrate that they are responsible enough to have a phone. Children who constantly lose things or disrespect property might not be mature enough yet for a cell phone. If a child often loses their cell phone and gets consequences for such, the phone can turn into a negative experience for all. If a child is generally able to take care of their things well, that is a good sign they might be ready for a phone. Proper usage is also a responsibility, that is, the ability to either self-regulate usage (such as doing homework versus using their phone) and/or the ability to follow the parent’s rules about when and how the phone can be used.

Children are becoming more and more tech savvy, so it is imperative parents understand the capabilities of their child’s cell phone and consider taking steps to limit usage. Depending on the needs of you and your child, restricting data access can be beneficial (and cost effective). Cell phone carriers can provide advice about plans that will work best for you and your child. Many phones also include child-mode features that limit usage to basic functions. Once the phone has been properly set up, it is crucial that you talk to your child about the privileges that come with using a cell phone. Restricting your child’s cell phone usage to certain times (e.g., after schoolwork is finished) can promote positive behavior. Remember that limits on cell phone use will vary according to your child’s age. For instance, taking away a teenager’s phone may be seen as a sign of mistrust and could result in hostility. In addition, make sure that you model the expectations you set up for your child by putting your phone away during meal times or while driving.

Age and grade relate to some practical considerations. Typically, when children enter middle school they become more involved with extra-curricular activities. A cell phone gives your child the ability to stay in touch with you regarding their whereabouts, schedule (e.g., soccer practice is cancelled) or call you in the event of an emergency. Your child having a phone can thus also be convenient for the parents as the child is easier to reach and coordinate with. The biggest takeaway? Only you know your child well enough to know if they are ready for the responsibilities that accompany owning a cell phone. If you determine your child is not quite ready, and they are asking for a phone, set some concrete markers they can strive for that would indicate to you they are ready for a phone.

How to Handle the Santa Myth

Q: I never meant to perpetuate the myth of Santa but have found myself going along with it over the past few years as my kids learned about it from other sources. Now my kids, 4 and 6, are full-on Santa believers and I feel guilty that I’ve somehow fed into this lie, plus there’s so much more meaningful stuff to be learned about giving gifts at the holidays. I work with them to think about what to give their sibling and we give to families in need. Eventually they are going to have questions about why we give gifts when Santa takes care of that. How do I turn this around to make holiday gift giving a lesson about love and giving, etc. without them feeling betrayed that their mom was lying to them all this time?

A: Ah, the Santa Myth. When your kid comes home from school raving about Old St. Nick it’s hard to be the one to pop their innocent, sugarplum bubble. So you don’t, and just like that you’re an accomplice. Parents have found themselves supporting the Santa myth at least as far back as the 19 th century when children flocked to see store Santas, when Salvation Army Santas rang their bells on street corners, and
when “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” echoed through the neighborhood every Christmas Eve. So, as with many parenting quandaries, you’re in a big and crowded boat. By the time we’re adults we think of Santa and the accompanying lies with warm nostalgia and it might be hard to remember why we should be thoughtful about how we drop this bomb. Though Santa might seem commonplace or even silly to adults, to a child he is magical and beloved; someone to whom they write letters and for whom they’re on their best behavior; someone whose approval (and reward!) they desperately want. Someone who is very real and on a very tall pedestal. So how to best end this long con without crushing your child’s innocence and trust? There are of course many ways to go about this, but here are three options to appeal to three major camps. Probably any one of these yields better results than being told by an older kid on the playground:

  1. Get them on the team. Before they pull back the curtain on their own, tell them they’ve grown so much, in height and heart, and they are ready to become a Santa Claus. Walk them through what they know about how Santa operates. Draw out the details of how he makes people happy by giving them what they need or want… in secret. It’s not done for the glory or the gratitude (or the Christmas cookies by the fireplace). Engage them in talking about the good feeling that comes from helping people, something they’ve no doubt experienced on both sides. Then give them their first job as the World’s Newest Santa Claus: secretly find a person who needs something and get it to them without ever revealing your identity to anyone. While this method of revealing might be mind-blowing, the idea is it’s overridden by the good feeling that comes from being a partner in (an altruistic) crime.
  2. If you’re a fan of the scientific method, take a page from Neil DeGrasse Tyson and plant some healthy skepticism in your child about Santa by asking them thought-provoking questions (“We’ve heard about Santa, but how do we know he’s real?”). Support their natural curiosity by
    encouraging them to come up with ideas on how to figure out what’s really going on. There might be some ‘splaining to do about the last few years of Santa talk, but giving your child the experience of using unbiased observation of facts and critical thinking to help figure out the truth might be worth it.
  3. And for those who prefer to emphasize faith over science, you can lovingly acknowledge that you have had the honor of doing the gifts all this time, and explain that it’s a longstanding tradition that they might carry on as parents, because adding magic to a child’s life in this way is priceless.

There is value in encouraging selfless giving, and in scientific thinking, and in childhood magic. Mix-and- match if you like; these myth-busters aren’t mutually exclusive. Whichever road you take, consider reminding your child that some of their peers might still be believers and that different families handle this in different ways, so keeping the secret to himself might be thoughtful. Then give him a Christmas cookie – that softens any blow.

Teaching Your Child About “Bad” Words – September 2017

Q: My partner and I disagree on how to deal with bad words with our kids. He uses foul language when he’s frustrated and doesn’t see that as a big deal. I do. I don’t want our kids walking around swearing when they’re mad or stub their toes. How should we handle this?
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A: Once, when I worked in an elementary school, a child got a hold of the overhead system and said every bad word they knew before the microphone was taken. Between the power that comes from booming your thoughts to 500 other kids, and the power that comes from using “bad” words, I can only imagine this kid felt like the Master of the Universe for those five seconds. And while many of us adults were amused, his parents understandably were not. How do we make sure our kid makes different choice when given that moment of power?

First, talk with your partner. With an open mind explore your own and your partner’s philosophies on swearing. Sometimes we get stuck on a rigid belief that something is “good” or “bad” but upon further exploration we find it’s somewhere in the middle, or doesn’t fit our thinking now and we’ve just held onto it for reasons that no longer exist. When you’re both clear with yourselves and each other on what you believe, work together to find a compromise about the policy at home. It’s important to present a united front on rules so kids aren’t confused or start playing parents against each other.

You’re right in noticing that the emotion your partner uses with the foul language is an important factor. Kids might not understand the definition of a word but it’s not hard to figure out from the accompanying emotion what it means. And children are little recorders, playing back language just the way they heard it. Sometimes kids are simply trying out new language, or doing it to get positive or negative attention from someone, but sometimes it’s used as a real expression of their feelings when their language is still limited.

While it’s tempting to ban words, that’s almost certain to have the opposite effect of what you want. Think of it this way: you wouldn’t say to your children, “Whatever you do, don’t ever go into this room because there are a lot of fascinating toys in there you can never play with.” You would expect at some point your children’s curiosity would get the better of them, right? So it is with words, which aren’t even behind a closed door but rather right there on the tip of their tongue! Additionally, parents often ban words in the heat of the moment, meeting the child’s anger with their own anger. Fear of punishment might stop the child’s use of prohibited language in the moment, but could encourage them to practice it in the privacy of their mind. It’ll pop out later, purposefully or by accident.

And let’s face it, unless your child does not and will not be exposed to other people, books, movies, TV shows or the internet, they will certainly learn all these words at some point. The goal isn’t to keep them from being exposed to words but rather to give them all the information they need to make their own good choices about what language to use. In an age-appropriate manner, teach them what the word means (literally and culturally); how it can affect other people; how it can affect how the user is viewed; and that it’s a weak substitute for more clear language about thoughts and feelings. Then, give them that other language.

Start with the basics: sad, scared, mad, hurt. As they become more comfortable with them you can get into more nuanced language: lonely, excluded, embarrassed, ashamed, worried, terrified, irritated, furious, etc. Help them come up with language for their thoughts also, since thoughts lead to feelings. What did that event mean to them that they ended up having such big feelings about it? This will not only help them develop strong language skills but also help you empathize with them during their struggle and strengthen the bond you have with them.

Then when you hear them using bad words, calmly redirect them to a better choice (and of course if the language was aimed at another person you might employ your regular consequences for being unkind). You could turn it into a fun moment by challenging them to come up with a silly word or phrase they can use instead. You’ll be grateful for it when they one day get their hands on a microphone.

Helping Your Kindergartener with the Homework Habit – August 2017

Q: My son is starting Kindergarten soon and I’m dreading the homework. It’s hard enough to get him to wash his hands without a tantrum sometimes, I can’t imagine him willingly sitting down to do work. I want to get him off to a good start so he has the best chance of developing a positive attitude about it through the years. Any ideas?
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A: You are not alone. The word “homework” has negative connotations for many former students, and the thought of dealing with a child who also dreads it can be daunting. Plus, you’ve probably heard that homework now is a different creature than when you were in school –many things are taught differently and there’s more of it. Keeping a few things in mind can help you (and your son) stay in a good place with homework and each other once Kindergarten kicks off.

Remember that it is not your job to make your child do his homework. You are not his manager here. You are a guide, support, cheerleader, and minor resource. Let his teacher be the person who grades him; you be the one to help him parlay feelings about the grades into motivation to work. Removing yourself as the disciplinarian here allows you to stay out of power struggles (which you’ll always lose anyway, because all he must do is not do the homework). You can offer structure – in the form of routine and extrinsic motivation – but not micromanagement. You won’t nag, argue, convince, threaten, punish, or do it for him. This might be one of the first “big kid” things he gets to decide about – let him make his decision and then sit with the consequences (grades, mild embarrassment at not having it done, etc.). Since you are the parent you can choose to let a fun thing happen only after this necessary task is done. You probably do this in one form or another – no dessert until you’ve eaten veggies, no bubbles until you’ve picked up the Legos, etc. but that is still allowing your child to make a choice in their own life (the meat of every power struggle). Respect their choice.

Help create an environment conducive to homework: a pleasant, well-lit, quiet area free of distraction and with all the needed tools to complete the job. Have him work at the same place every day and around the same time so he can quickly get used to a routine. Figure out what works best – some kids need to run around and blow off some steam between school and settling down for homework while some kids need to get right down to it so they don’t lose momentum. Similarly, some children like to have parents around to help them stay on track while others prefer privacy to do their job (since he’s a rising Kindergartener you might err on the side of being quietly nearby to encourage him to stay on task and be available for help in the beginning when needed). Remember that developing a new routine is a process and you’ll need to work as a team to figure out how to tweak what doesn’t work.

It might help your anxiety to remember that the goal of homework isn’t to turn in that piece of paper. The small and short-term goal is to reinforce what was learned in school; the bigger and long-term goal is to teach responsibility, independence, and project-management skills (time-management, planning, etc.). As with anything else in the world of parenting, if we focus too much on the concrete, immediate goal (getting the homework sheet filled out), we can easily lose sight of the more important life goals and end up shooting ourselves in the foot.

If it seems like the homework battle isn’t worth it, that it’s causing too much stress for you and your child, hurting your relationship, your child’s feelings about school, or his self-esteem – talk to his teacher. They want children to have a good initial school experience and can help you problem-solve based on their experience and what they’ve noticed about your child in class.

And you’re right, your attitude about his homework is critical because it can strongly influence his attitude. Shoot for a lightly enthusiastic one, viewing homework as a fun challenge. The attitude one develops about homework in elementary school can be the attitude one carries through middle- and high-school years when homework has a real benefit, according to various studies. In fact, it is because of these studies that an increasing number of parents and professionals have a schoolwork ban at home (even when their school does not). Some schools have implemented a no-homework policy because of research suggesting that elementary school homework has little value and can be detrimental to some children’s academic career (not to mention self-concept and self-esteem) when it causes undue stress very early on, resulting in them associating homework with daily misery. If the no-homework mindset fits your values and if your child is really struggling to get it done, you might consider finding out the school’s policy on unfinished homework and then try to work within that structure to help your child develop a good attitude about it with a manageable workload (mention your mindset and method to his teacher). The amount of time recommended by the National Education Association and the National Parent Teacher Association is 10-20 minutes in first grade, with an additional ten minutes for each grade after. Many teachers and schools try to keep these guidelines in mind when assigning homework.

Helping Your Child Stay in His Room At Night – July 2017

Q: Since my youngest son could walk we’ve kept a doorknob cover on his bedroom door so he couldn’t get out and roam the house (our house doesn’t accommodate baby gates and we were worried about him hurting himself). Now he’s three and we’ve taken it off. He falls asleep pretty well but keeps coming out of his room at all hours of the night and very early in the morning to explore the house, snuggle with his brother, or wake him up to play (older brother is happy to oblige). We’ve added “stay in room” to our behavior chart (sticker reward – works well for other behaviors), and bought him a clock that turns green when he can come out… nothing has worked yet. The urge to explore and play is too strong I guess. Any advice?
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A: We think once we’ve got our baby sleeping through the night, we’re golden. But then they have a newfound freedom of a big boy bed or an open door and we’re back to daytime zombie mode. Let’s face it, learning to stay in your room or bed is hard work. Bedtime is boring and kids have a natural and healthy desire to explore what’s around them. And to test limits. So both at once? And big brother is game?! Too much to resist! One thing to keep in mind (to keep your sanity) is that this is typical behavior and for many kids only lasts a short period of time.

First know that nighttime wakening is normal in the early years. But if there’s something in the environment or routine that is waking him up (Outside noises? Getting too much sleep during the day?), try to problem-solve that. If he’s coming out of his room because of fear (of monsters, or waking up and being alone which usually improves after age four, or nightmares which peak between age 3-6), you want to address that with compassion and empathy, and help him problem-solve to feel safe. If he’s going into his brother’s room to feel less lonely or to quell anxiety, help him get that need met in his own room (stuffed animal, security blanket, night light, picture of family, etc.). Of course, use good sleep hygiene to help him get into sleep mode (30 minutes before bed turn off screens, decrease stimulating activity, dim lights, have a relaxing bedtime routine).

There is a lot of reinforcement for his behavior – he finds new treasures in the house, he gets to play with his brother, and gets your attention (even if it’s negative attention; most little kids prefer that over nothing). So, bring him back to his room without talking, without making eye contact, and without snuggling – in other words, make the event of being caught very boring for him. Use your behavior chart to positively reinforce the wanted behavior, but maybe upgrade the reward for staying in bed (e.g., temporary tattoo?). One suggestion for sticker charts is to have a variety of stickers and don’t let them pick ‘em! Otherwise they get really familiar with them so they are no longer special, plus there’s no eager anticipation about which one they’ll get.

If all that doesn’t work, some parents find good success with “door consequences.” Tell him the plan in advance: if he comes out of his room you’ll escort him back and close the door halfway. If he comes out again you’ll close it completely for 2 minutes. Then you open it all the way again and start over. This will only work if he wants his door open, and you only want to do this if he isn’t freaking out about being shut in his room. The goal is to teach, not traumatize.

Remember that whatever you try, do it consistently. Give a solution at least two weeks before deciding it isn’t working and trying something new. And if you start to lose hope, remember that this too shall pass. Your 16 year-old son might have other behaviors you’ll want to curb, but sadly, searching the house for snuggles in the middle of the night probably won’t be one of them.