If your family is like most, your children and adolescents are still in a state of denial that school begins within the next few days or so given the holiday festivities. As parents however, you are ready for the holidays to end and excited about getting them back into structure and routine. Many parents avoid the concept of talking to their children about school re-starting for they fear putting their children into bad moods and getting into a fight. On the other hand, when parents do not approach talking about getting ready for school again and looking ahead to perhaps new year’s expectations for success, the avoided conflicts tend to emerge shortly after school begins when problems may already have arisen or repeated themselves from the following term. In addition, when parents do not discuss this upcoming change, children will often go into a short term slump as they re-enter school due to not managing their feelings of disappointment.
As with any transition, preparing ahead of time is always a good idea. When situations are thought through, discussed, and planned for, there tends to be less anxiety generated and a greater likelihood for success. Young children in particular are not yet capable of thinking in the abstract and plan ahead and need assistance in understanding what is expected of them and how to reach their goals. Many times parents place responsibilities on their children that they are not able to developmentally manage which can set their child up for failure. The responsibilities of school are common areas where parents either expect their child to manage themselves or rely on the school to teach them how to both organize and study.
Each January after the holidays represent opportunities for parents to discuss change and goals for the new year. Parents of both grade and middle school students need to sit down with their children prior to beginning school and discuss both expectations and plans on how to help them succeed. Reviewing the importance of school, your faith in their abilities to manage their work, and discussing concepts such as studying, organization, and note taking are all essential in making sure their child feels prepared. Often times after such discussions, the parents and child determine that there may be some areas that need some assistance and this can then be provided which then serves to avoid a later problem. As I have discussed in prior segments, self esteem is generated when the child him of herself experiences success. When the child has the tools necessary to manage their life, success is more likely. On the other hand, if your child is doing well, be sure to pat them on the back and tell them that you are happy for them.
Structure is also very important. Children and adolescents who have a daily “routine” tend to do better academically and socially. For example, it is always a good idea to have an after-school plan which entails: 1) an after-school snack; 2) some time for play or sport; and then 3) a scheduled homework time to be performed in a distraction-free environment. Once homework has been completed, a “reward” time can be offered to celebrate getting through their assignments after a long day of school. When children have something to look forward towards, they tend to feel less frustrated and seem more motivated.
For the high school student, who can think in the abstract and hopefully understand that their success at this time of their academic life will serve later goals, discussions are also necessary but inquiring with them about how they plan to manage their school work will make them feel as though you respect their intellect. If however, you determine that they do not seem able to manage themselves well enough, you will have to help them as well. Allowing children and adolescents to “learn from their mistakes” is poor judgment on the part of the parent for the child and adolescent is not yet mature enough to manage their lives independently without parents.
1. discuss school beginning with your child now to get them ready
2. review expectations for the “new” year ahead of time
3. implement structure to help with success
4. make sure they have an academic plan and can perform the required tasks
5. get them some help if needed early
15 year old Billy told his parents that his New Year’s Resolution for 2014 would be to get straight A’s this year in school to better his chances for college admission. Up to this point, Billy had historically struggled in school given some mild learning differences and a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, both of which he had received assistance in managing. Billy’s wish to elevate his grades is based on the reality of college admission competition and also in service of wanting to please his parents and raise his own self-esteem. Despite his encouraging statement to his parents, both his mother and father were concerned that Billy set his expectations too high given his natural attributes. In particular, his father was concerned that Billy was going to set himself up for a let down.
This type of circumstance is very common when both children and adults alike set New Year’s Resolutions. In many cases, individuals have had particular struggles over the previous year or years which they decide they want to conquer. They therefore set out personal expectations for the upcoming year hoping that the particular struggle will be conquered once and for all. Unfortunately, many of the sought after goals are either too high or unrealistic to reach which then result in a personal failure for the individual causing lower self-esteem and a sense of failure. We see this quite often in weight loss or smoking cessation programs. Once an individual witnesses personal failure, they will be less likely to seek that particular goal in the future and subsequently feel like a failure for not being able to reach their goal.
There are four basic reasons why many New Year’s Resolutions fail. First, as mentioned earlier, the goal is either too high or unrealistic. When an individual decides on a resolution, it is essential that it is a reasonable achievement that can be reached without over suffering. Second, failing to have a plan on “how to” reach the resolution will commonly result in failure. Billy’s decision to get straight A’s was made without him having a concrete plan on how he was going to achieve this goal. Third, having some personal rewards along the way towards the ultimate goal is essential. For most individuals, children and adults alike, a final goal at the end of the tunnel often times feels too far away and small rewards along the way help maintain motivation to continue. Lastly, the final reason why many resolutions fail is due to a lack of follow through. Insight and thinking are essential in planning for a goal or a change, but action MUST also follow and in many cases, this is where goals fail to become reached. This is due to the establishment of habits which are difficult to break even if they are maladaptive – in order to break any unwanted habit, the individual must first decide they are going to break it, understand why it developed in the first place, establish some goals, determine a reasonable plan, follow through even if it does not initially feel natural, and have rewards along the way and at the end. Over time, the new habit will replace the old one and a new sense of esteem will develop and will be the ultimate condition that keeps the resolution in place. People who follow this type of protocol tend to reach their resolution and keep the newfound trait in place. Compliance however is necessary and the hardest part.
1. Resolutions must be realistic and attainable
2. Have a concrete plan on how to reach them
3. Establish mini rewards along the way
4. Follow through – habits are hard to break
5. Better esteem keeps the resolution intact
With the holidays just around the corner, children and adults alike are struggling to find that “right” gift for a loved one and become concerned with issues such as quantity, quality, degree of personal appreciation, and amount of money available for gift buying in an economy that is tight for many. The giving of a gift for most however, is ,intended to be an expression of love, affection, and appreciation of others, while the receiver is commonly touched by the thought and investment of the other’s time and thought about the choice of the token.
The “right” or most meaningful gift however is typically based upon on how well the giver knows the needs, interests, and personality of the recipient. When this type of information is obtained, issues of quantity are replaced with the more important aspect of quality, and the outcome is a benefit for all. The recipient feels as though the giver took the time to find out what he or she was really in need of or interested in, while the giver then feels gratified that their choice was well accepted and appreciated. So, how does one go about obtaining this type of information? If one plans ahead, asking the recipient what they are interested in before the holiday season allows one to gain important and direct information. However, most people do not plan far in advance and then asking such questions too close to the season eliminates the surprise. In most cases, most people then rely on other people who know the interests of the person and t! his then helps narrow down possible gifts.
Once this type of information is obtained, the concern of finance then becomes an important consideration and the giving person must be realistic in what they are able to afford given other gift commitments for their entire lists. Here, perhaps having a number of possible “meaningful” gifts for the recipient is important for some will be more expensive than others and one may fit more into the budget than another.
For children giving gifts, they will typically need the assistance of their parents to both choose and purchase gifts for others. For many parents however, they often enjoy their child making them a gift, rather than buying one, and this is often more meaningful than any sort of purchased item. Here, again, the quality of the gift outweighs the amount of money spent of number of presents.
It is very important that parents teach their children early about the goals of gift giving – that gifts are tokens of love, appreciation, and an investment in trying to bring some joy to another person. Here is where the uniqueness of a gift becomes important as it relates to a person’s needs and desires and that they have more to do with the meaning of the gift rather than the price or amount of presents given or received.
After all, when all is said and done, most individuals, adults and children alike, seem to be most invested in gifts which fit their needs and interests, rather than numbers of gifts which end up being stored in a closet and never enjoyed.
- The “right” or most meaningful gift however is typically based upon on how well the giver knows the needs, interests, and personality of the recipient. Quality is much more important than quantity.
- The concern of finance then becomes an important consideration and the giving person must be realistic in what they are able to afford given other gift commitments for their entire lists.
- For children giving gifts, they will typically need the assistance of their parents to both choose and purchase gifts for others.
- It is very important that parents teach their children early about the goals of gift giving – that gifts are tokens of love, appreciation, and an investment in trying to bring some joy to another person. It is not the price of the gift, amount of gifts, but the thought and meaning behind the gift that is the most important.
If you have kids, then you know the difference between an adventure and a vacation. Simply put, if you are an invested parent and your kids like you, there is no such thing as a family “vacation” per se. It’s always an adventure and that’s a good thing. Too frequently, parents forget that 18 years goes very quickly and if you don’t realize that on a regular basis, time with your kids will slip by. Therefore, embrace the time with your kids and make the times together “fun” and “adventurous.”
True, all parents do need their own “down time” to be readily available to their children, but, this can be done separately from the time spent together as a family. This is where the needed “date nights” for parents are essential as well as parent vacations when the kids are old enough to allow you time away from them.
When children grow, they remember the participation times spent with their families. For example, when families travel to foreign destinations, the learning is intensified because the parents were together with them during the experience. Most adults reflect fondly to these times of childhood and adolescence and frequently remember them as positive for the trip was a constructive family event that all could share together. Vacations on the other hand, are defined as relaxation. Very few parents are able to relax when they are travelling with their kids because children need their parents because they cannot entirely self-manage themselves until they are adults. Sure, some vacation spots have kids programs, but why use them if your kids are only kids for a finite period of time?
Picking a destination should also be a family decision. Children in both grade and middle school study different cultures and countries. Consult with them about ideas of where to go. From a financial point of view, economical adventures are also fun whether it might be camping or some sort of a road trip. The most important decision is family time which form memories which last a lifetime.
As the holiday season is off and running, many children will shift from one home to another due to split families. During the holidays, many custody schedules change due to children having the opportunity to spend more time with each parent especially if one of the parents happens to live out of town. In other cases, the regular schedule changes due to vacations, greater opportunities for kids to be with their non-custodial parent, and also because sometimes the kids themselves wish to spend more time with a particular parent. As with any sort of change, care must be taken into consideration for all parties involved, but especially for the children as they have been accustomed to a routine for most of the calender year.
Children fear many things when a custody change occurs. First, they fear that they will not be able to contact their parent as frequently which can create anxiety and worry that they will somehow lose contact and love with that particular parent. It is very important that both parent parties work together to allow their children to contact the non-custodial parent whenever they want to. Granted, each household should deal with conflicts under their own roof and not allow the child to attempt to “split” the parents, but checking and sharing stories is a very natural and important activity for children to be able to do over the summer when they may not see their parent as often. Second, many children miss the familiarity of the home that they are not presently residing in. Children in split families typically have two rooms, two sets of friends, and different activities that they do at each home. It is very important that both sets of parents are sensitive to these differences and allow for some flexibility in in blending some of the activities. For example, allowing your child to invite a neighborhood friend from mom’s house to dad’s house is a nice way that parents can be supportive to their child’s needs. Third, often times children worry that their parents will speak poorly about one another once they spend more time together. Despite differences between any set of parents, it is very important NOT to speak poorly to your children about that particular parent. If your child is having a conflict with your ex-spouse, it is always best to encourage your child to speak directly to that parent in a sensitive manner. If you find out that your ex is not being very receptive, you can try to calmly encourage their father or mother to try to be more sensitive to their feelings. Fourth, any sort of adjustment takes time and also once the holiday ends, custody schedules tend to go back to the way they were written during the regular school year. This is also another adjustment that parents should discuss with their children the month before school starts.
As with any divorced family, the focus needs to always be on the children and their best interests. When the parent’s animosity, anger, and resentment color the waters, the children always suffer as will your relationship with them if you do not put your feelings aside for the love you have for your kids. Children always look to their parents to model how to treat others, especially someone who they love and need which is certainly their other parent.
- allow children to contact their parents whenever they want to over the holiday unless it is due to conflict between you and your child. If this is the case, work it out with your child .
- allow flexibility in reference to friends and time
- do not speak poorly about your ex-spouse – this will only make your children resent you and make them nervous. It is only out of feared danger for the safety of your child that a parent has to set limits about the other custodial parent..
- be sensitive to adjustment to your house and away from their other home
Now that the Thanksgiving holiday is just around the corner and other holidays are coming next month, many are preparing for extended family visits. Although for some the experience is enjoyable and savored, for others it can be a time of stress and conflict. This is due to the fact that earlier conflicts from childhood and adolescence become revisited when extended families reunite even for brief periods of time, such as over the holidays.
Old patterns of communication, personality conflicts, disturbing trait and characteristics surface once again, igniting old uncomfortable feelings and actions which can put a damper on the holiday spirit and cause a regression in everyone’s level of functioning. Furthermore, many then feel guilty that the experience was “ruined” and become saddened and angry.
Family dynamics remain fixed over time and although there is a continual wish that the next experience will be more enjoyable, coming to terms with the reality of imperfection is an essential coping mechanism for time spent with extended families. When individuals internally prepare ahead of time for periods of potential conflict, the outcome of the experience tends to be less disturbing due to a period of expectation and internal preparation. Here, although still stressful, the individual is not caught by surprise and can plan ahead for ways of the internally soothing themselves when conflicts do emerge, which hopefully do not include the increased use of alcohol, which actually can make matters much worse.
Aside from the essential step of internal preparation, there are also additional external manipulations that can be put into place to reduce conflict and stress, which can also be planned ahead of time. These include the following:
- Have a number of planned activities outside of the house.
- Consider having guests stay in a hotel rather than your house.
- Avoid conversations that are potentially dangerous or could lead to drama
- Review family rules with visiting children
- Set limits respectively when necessary
- Place limits on alcohol consumption
- Limit the amount of days of the visit
When such precautions can be instilled from internal preparation to some of the external ideas mentioned, the holidays with extended family members can be better managed.
Summer is always a time of transitioning for children. Sometimes it’s just moving up one grade from the next, which can be stressful, but some transitions are more significant than others. For example, any change from one level in school to the next is more significant than merely a grade change. Therefore, transitioning from Preschool to Elementary School; Elementary School to Middle School; Middle School to High School, and then High School to College represent such “significant” changes. Much of this change not only entails academics, but also commonly involves a school change which includes lost and new friends, a new environment, and new tasks to master.
Much focus on such “significant” changes over the years has been on the transition from Middle School to High School whereby parents and educators stress that from an academic point of view, the leap is intense and the kids who were not serious about school in Middle School better shape up over the summer for high school performance over the next four years will determine where and if they will go to college.
But, it’s in Middle School when children reach puberty, engage in more of a departure from relying on mom and dad, seek intense peer relationships, become obsessed with the opposite sex, and have to perform much greater than they did in elementary school. Many high school students have told me that the transition from elementary school to middle school was much harder than beginning high school after 8th grade due to the multitude of changes that go beyond studying more, having up to 6 different teachers, and wanting to “fit in” with the popular group. Most of the stress felt by the Middle School kids has to do with physical and psychological changes which he or she has little control over. Biology doesn’t wait for the psyche to mature and in many cases the kids just aren’t ready for their bodies to become mature. On the other hand, some kids are ready and their body isn’t. These two groups, the early pubescent and the delayed pubescent are considered “risk” groups due to the multitude of tasks that a 12 to 14 year-old has to face during the Middle School years.
The tasks of the Middle School child are as follows:
1. Accepting a changing and maturing body
2. Mastering a greater separation from parents
3. More academic and social demands
4. Interest and relating to the opposite sex
5. Greater intensity in same-sex peer relationships
The “who am I” becomes a common question for most middle school children and it is not an easy one to answer given all of the changes and demands made during this two-year period of time. I see these middle school students as both a vulnerable group, but also provides an opportunity for helpful outside influences if more people are sensitive to the importance of this period of time in a child’s life. Middle school is often like a middle child. More focus is either placed in the earlier years or in the upcoming high school years, and these two significant years are then minimized and frequently ignored. Another contributing factor to this is the common attitude of this young adolescent which is frequently resistant, strong willed, and not terribly nice and friendly to their parents. Typically based on desired independence, many parents hope it is just a phase and hope it will pass once their child goes to high school. In these cases, too much distance may be created between the parent and child which then leaves this vulnerable child more alone with so much on his or her plate. A lack of enough parental involvement can then further confuse the teenager and leave more influences in the hands of their peers.
So, how can parents withstand their child’s “attitude”, but not get pushed away too far so not to help their child better manage these invaluable tasks that they need to master to better make it in both middle and high school?
1. Be aware of the tasks their child has to master and help them if needed. For example, if a child is having trouble in school, insist they get some help even if they don’t want it.
2. Be sensitive to their normal vulnerability and be compassionate. Kids will act nicer to you if you are genuinely nicer to them.
3. Continue to have family time despite resistance but try to find activities that are enjoyable to everyone.
4. Insist respect and do not allow they to get out of control. Young adolescents are like large toddlers and need the same type of loving limits when they are struggling to tow the line.
They will feel better about themselves, be more successful socially and academically and less conflict will echo in your home. You will also be helping them prepare for high school which is a stage where new and more complex tasks are right ahead of them and mastering the ones in middle school will give them a great foundation in obtaining them beforehand.
It’s that time of the year again where most kids are busy daydreaming about getting ready for another Halloween. Dressing up, decorating the house, and making things “spooky” is all in the October weeks prior to the “big day”. However, the spirit of Halloween can be both a fun or scary experience depending upon certain precautions that parents need to take. To begin with, costumes can be both amusing and fun but also quite frightening when considering the age of the child.
For the under 6- year olds, too much exposure to costumes or decorations involving blood, guts, or mangled body parts, as well as too scary a costume, can evoke both extreme anxiety and bad dreams. In some cases, such over-stimulation can cause fears which can last up to a month or longer. Parents of this group of children need to both be careful what they allow their child to wear as well as what they are exposed to during the Halloween ritual. It is recommended that this group begin trick or treating as early as possible and end before the older children get onto the streets wearing graphic costumes and engaging in possible pranks. Obviously, parents need to stay very close to the children in this age group. In addition, when approaching homes with creepy decorations, be sensitive as to whether your child will be too affected by the decor and if so, you may wish to miss that particular house. Haunted houses are also NOT recommended for the under 6 year-olds for the same reasons as mentioned regarding costumes and decorations for children in this age group are still between fantasy and reality thinking and graphic exposure may feel “too real” to them causing undue anxiety.
For the 6 to 11 year-olds, it is suggested that parents also stay close by as they venture onto the streets due to possible dangers that could occur due to group behaviors and the effects of anonminity that wearing costumes can cause – for example, children are more likely to act out if their identity is masked. In addition, impulsiveness increases in numbers. Therefore, parents are needed to safeguard the grade school aged child.
Regarding the early to middle adolescents, they will most likely try to ditch any parent who attempts to tag along, but it is still suggested that the parents of this age group are still somewhere present in the neighborhood – perhaps in a parked car at the end of the street – here, the adolescent has some independence but also some supervision to help keep them from getting into any trouble. Hopefully, the post 16 year olds have given up trick or treating, so this should not be an issue for most parents.
As always, parents need to check through the candy and toss away anything that is unwrapped or seems questionable. Furthermore, limits need to be placed on the amount of candy eaten in order to avoid potential negative health effects. Following these guidelines should assist in a fun and happy Halloween.
Safe Halloween Planning Key Points:
- For the under 6-year-olds, be careful about exposure to scary costumes/houses.
- Start the evening early for the small children to avoid older children antics.
- Up to preadolescence, parents need to be chaperones for safety.
- For the early to middle adolescent, position yourself at a checkpoint.
Always check through candy and limit consumption.
In order to truly break a habit, we need to fully understand exactly what a habit represents. In other words, habits are complex due to the fact that they are a part of our personality or character. Here, the habit functions as an active component of our lifestyle serving commonly a multitude of functions or needs. In other words, there are always two sides to a bad habit: one which is maladaptive, but the other serving some sort of “need”.
Giving up the symptom, or bad habit, is a loss and often leaves the individual feeling vulnerable or anxious because the underlying conflict then becomes exposed and uncomfortable. This dynamic helps to explain why often times the habit fails to extinguish and, although the person feels like a failure, another part of them feels protected.
In the addiction literature, another way of conceptualizing this aspect of the habit is referred to as the “psychological addiction” aspect of the bad habit. The underlying and typically unconscious aspect of the secondary gain is never uniform. Depending upon the personality of the person, such unconscious explanations could range from desires to be taken care of to unconscious guilt and subsequent self-punishment, low self-esteem, and attention seeking—just to name a few.
In order to fully conquer a bad habit, the individual must come to terms with this aspect of the habit to fully master its representation and eventually let it go and perhaps find healthier ways of managing the anxiety. In many cases, psychotherapy is needed to help determine this aspect of the habit and assist the person in working through the process of change. Other modalities for change, such as Life Coaching with a Mentor is also an option and is a more integrative approach.
To further complicate matters, however, as in the case with smoking or drug usage, there is an additional component of a physical addiction, where the body craves the substance when it becomes absent. This is often why breaking a substance habit requires medical consultation in order to advise the patient in how to slowly wean the body.
Preventatively, assisting your child in developing healthy habits early paves the road for healthier functioning along the developmental path.