Understanding the parent's role in Therapy

Understanding the parent's role in Therapy

1).  Parenting Principles: Earn Respect, Stay Consistent?

Talk to any parent or teacher and they’ll tell you that kids these days have gotten way out of hand. They talk back. They’re disrespectful, even extraordinarily rude. What’s happened to our children? It is something in the water or the air? No, experts say. What’s changed is the way we raise them. In a reaction to the way our parents treated us, we’ve given our kids too much freedom and too little guidance.


2).  Helping or Hovering? When ‘Helicopter Parenting’ Backfires?

According to health news helicopter parenting could backfire and leave kids feeling insecure and incapable rather than supported or empowered:As the first generation of overparented kids continues to graduate into the world, a slew of studies, including Segrin’s, now show that youngsters whose parents intervene inappropriately — offering advice, removing obstacles and solving problems that kids should tackle themselves — actually wind up as anxious, narcissistic young adults who have trouble coping with the demands of life.


3).  Guiding Our Children Through School Transitions: Elementary School?

Educational transitions are often tough for parents. We start parenthood with little beings that are totally dependent upon us for all their needs, as well as their safety. We get used to running the show and calling the shots. It’s really hard to give that control up to the school and people we may not know. Plus, our children may also be nervous or scared of what school will be like. So how do we handle all of these issues with grace and strength, and not like a blubbering, freaked out mess?


4).  Sidewalk Safety: Wear Those Helmets!

In a recent survey conducted by Safe Kids Worldwide, nearly 40 percent of parents out of 1,600 participants said that they require their kids to wear helmets when skating, biking or riding a scooter outside. In 2015, the organization reported that nearly 50 kids were sent to the emergency room every hour because they were not wearing protective gear when they fell.


5).  Tips on Talking to Your Tween About Their Changing Body?

It is common for tweens and teens to gain weight leading up to and during puberty, so it is not surprising that this particular time in your child’s life may spark a lot of concerns about their weight. I know this was true with my own three tween/teen daughters and frequently came across it during my 15 years as a kids’ health coach. Their bodies are changing quickly and they may be looking quite different from their peers. This is very clear if you have visited a classroom of 11 year-olds; the differences in body size, shape, and maturation can be striking. For parents, it can be challenging to know when a few extra pounds could be a problem, and if and when you should talk about it with your child.

My two eldest daughters have always had very different body types that were made more evident by the onset of puberty. My 17-year-old was as skinny as a rail until she was 15, while my 15-year-old struggled with rapid weight gain and signs of puberty at 10. While they had different reasons, they were both frustrated and angry. But to be honest, I was much more concerned about the rapid weight gain experienced by my middle daughter. So was she. After lots of tears, talking, and hugging, we figured out what information and resources she needed to gain control of her health and how I could best support her through this difficult adjustment. Knowing your child’s BMI percentile can provide a frame of reference to determine whether or not your child’s extra weight is unhealthy. Doctors rely on the BMI (Body Mass Index) percentile for children and teens because they are still growing. If your child’s BMI percentile is above 85%, then they are considered clinically overweight. To calculate your child’s BMI, go to the CDC BMI Calculator for Kids and Teens.

Regardless of whether or not your tween or teen falls into the clinical range for overweight, if they are expressing concern about their weight, it’s important you as a parent feel comfortable discussing it, and that you avoid some common pitfalls. Here are some suggestions on how to talk to your tweens and teens about their changing bodies.

  1. Be on high alert! Are they being teased at school? Is shopping particularly upsetting because nothing fits? Are they asking you if they are fat? Are they resentful of a skinny sibling? Try to avoid the parental instinct to comfort by telling them these things are not true. Instead, listen and find opportunities to discuss an action plan.
  2. Stay positive, nonjudgmental and compassionate. This is actually much easier said than done. Despite our best intentions, we parents tend to focus on the negative. It is easier to point out the behaviors that we are worried about than all the good things our kids are doing. The problem is that our comments about what they are eating and how much time they sit in front of the TV make them feel judged which will likely cause them to keep doing those things we don’t want them to do. Do your best to stay positive, keep negative thoughts to yourself, and ask them how they want you to support them!
  3. Focus on health. Steer the conversation away from weight, which is secondary to health. It’s not about how they look or how their friends look. Instead, focus on how they feel by drawing attention to healthy behaviors that make them feel good. Do certain foods make us feel energized or tired? How do I feel after I exercise? Discuss the physical and mental benefits of healthy habits such as improved concentration, decreased feelings of sadness, and increased self-confidence. And parents, don’t talk about your own weight!
  4. Create a healthy home environment. Do your part and make it easy for your family to choose healthy options by removing tempting treats from the house and keeping the healthy choices readily accessible. This means a little extra work to wash, peel, and cut the fruits and veggies we want our kids to eat, but it is worth it when you see the plate of veggies or bowl of grapes disappear. If you don’t want them eating donuts, don’t bring home the donuts!
  5. Be a good role model. Make sure you are practicing the healthy behaviors you want your children to adopt. Like it or not, kids do as we do, not as we say. With teen drivers in my house, I better not talk on the phone in my car if I don’t want them to! Take this opportunity to evaluate your own habits and decide what you can work on to model healthy behaviors for your family, such as creating your own exercise plan or cutting back on sugary drinks.

There is no question that watching our kids turn into young adults is a particularly emotional transition on many levels, and seeing them struggle with weight and body image issues, too, is heartbreaking. I will never forget when Molly, a young tween I was coaching, told me she was scared to death of middle school. I, like her mom, thought it was the number of kids she didn’t know or the extra homework. So I was a little surprised when she finally told me the real problem. It was PE; she was scared to change clothes in the locker room. When I finally understood her true fear we were able to come up with some creative solutions that allowed her to look forward to middle school instead of dread it. But this story reminds me of two things: 1) that the worries of our tweens about their bodies are very real and powerful so we must take them seriously, and 2) as a parent, I need to truly listen and try to understand how they are feeling so I can provide the positive love and support to empower them to make confident, healthy decisions.


6).  Would your child know how to call 911 in an emergency?

We are often amazed by kids who make those hard yet calm and courageous phone calls to 911 operators in an emergency. While it is reassuring to hear those recorded calls, how do you know if your kids know who to call during an emergency? In a recent experiment by TODAY and the New Jersey police department, many parents who had the conversation with their kids about making 911 calls were surprised and shocked by how their kids responded when they were put to the test.


7).  Why Breakfast Is More Than Just a Full Stomach

Research shows that not only are breakfast-eaters less likely to be obese, they are more likely to have lower cholesterol and less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. But that’s not all. There are many other benefits to eating breakfast, like improved academic performance. However, many Americans experience hunger and food insecurity. In 2015 alone, Feeding America reported that 42.2 million Americans lived in food insecure households, including 13.1 million children. That’s more children going hungry than the total populations of New York City and Los Angeles put together.

As a teacher and a parent, I know how a nutritious morning meal not only sets a child up for success but provides structure for their day and helps contribute to the needs of the whole child. In my classroom, I can tell when a student comes to class hungry. They do not have the fuel to learn, which has a negative impact both on their academics and behavior. The lack of energy and focus leads to behavioral and attention problems, which not only impacts the student but the class as a whole. Every child deserves the chance to have the opportunity to thrive. The federal School Breakfast Program makes it possible for millions of children from low-income families to start their day with a nutritious breakfast, yet according to the latest Food Research & Action Center’s (FRAC) School Breakfast Scorecard, nearly half of low-income children who are eligible for a free or reduced-price breakfast through the School Breakfast Program don’t eat it. With a rise in students regularly coming to school hungry, why are students who are qualified for free and reduced-price meals at school not taking advantage of the School Breakfast Program? Lack of awareness about the School Breakfast Program, lack of time to eat breakfast, late bus schedules and stigma associated with the program are some of the reasons students don’t eat school breakfast when it is served in the cafeteria. However, there’s more than one way to serve breakfast to students at school, like moving it out of the cafeteria and into the classroom for everyone to enjoy.

Recognizing the issue of childhood hunger and the low participation rates of the School Breakfast Program, schools and organizations are doing something to improve it. For example, a group of education and nutrition organizations that I work with called Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom, has helped more than 37,000 students start their day with a healthy breakfast and funded school districts to implement alternative breakfast models. Alternative breakfast models include:

– Breakfast in the Classroom – Students eat pre-assembled breakfasts together in class.
– Grab ‘n Go – The food service staff prepares breakfast meals in a designated location such as a cart or kiosk for students to grab en route to class.
– Second Chance Breakfast – Breakfast is served after the first class or during mid-morning. Breakfast is usually delivered or students pick up it up from a designated location.

A grant opportunity through the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom can provide technical assistance and support to help bring alternative breakfast models to schools. Districts in select states can apply to implement the breakfast programs to help fight childhood hunger.

Why should you care about breakfast in the classroom?

I know the morning hours can be a hectic time – getting kids dressed and out the door can turn into a monumental task. Busy lifestyles and bus and commuting schedules can all interfere with children being fed breakfast at home. In addition, we’ve all heard the phrase, “I’m not hungry” when kids are getting ready in the morning; of course, they will have a bigger appetite later in the morning. By serving breakfast at school, after the opening bell, it provides all students with the morning nutrition they need to start their day ready to thrive regardless if they qualify for free- and reduced lunch. Breakfast in the classroom alleviates those hectic morning routines and also brings a sense of community to the students when they eat together. Having a nutritious start to the day not only improves their concentration, alertness, comprehension, and learning, but it also reduces disciplinary problems, tardiness, and visits to the nurse.


8).  60,000 kids poisoned by medicine: Don’t make this common mistake

Kids are more clever than we think when it comes to finding their ways into medicine cabinets and  twisting the child safety lids off of bottles. According to a new report from Safe Kids Worldwide, every year nearly 60,000 children are rushed to hospitals after getting into medicine cabinets. “Nine out of 10 parents know that medicine should be stored up and away and out of reach and sight, every time,” said Morag Mackay, director of research for Safe Kids Worldwide. “But we found that 7 out of 10 of them admitted to not doing that.” The report finds a disconnect between what parents know about storing medication safely — and what they actually do. Although parents might think that kitchen counters and bathroom sinks are high enough to be safe storage places it turns out that it some kids can find ways to access the medicine if they are tall enough to reach or strong enough to climb.

Don’t be fooled by ‘child-resistant packaging’

It only delays the time it takes a child to break into a bottle of pills. “We’ve had children get into medicines because they were given the bottle half-full of tablets to use as a rattle,” said Rose. The new Safe Kids Worldwide report includes a survey of 2,000 parents with children under age 6. While the number of children visiting an emergency department for accidental poisonings has declined since the 2010 peak, the decline has slowed in recent years. Prescription and over-the-counter medications cause the most severe poisonings, but vitamins and supplements can also cause problems.


9).  How your bad eating habits can have a negative affect on your kids

Kids pay attention to everything, including your eating habits. Teaching your kids about healthy food choices and positive weight management starts with modeling for them. If you are dieting, one way to do this is to communicate with them about why you are switching up your diet because it can help them better understand healthy decision making. Another way could be to prepare meals with them to teach them about portion control. Here is some advice from our friends at the TODAY Show. By the way, Happy Nutrition Month!

1. Not eating dinner, but picking food off your kid’s plate

One of my patients admitted that she didn’t eat dinner because she wanted to lose weight, but basically picked off her child’s plate instead of feeding herself. This is so common that I call it “air food,” since people often treat food that went through the air and never landed on a plate as having calories that don’t count. While this behavior seems fine with toddlers, it can become more dysfunctional as the kids got older. Not only would the kids comment on mom not eating dinner, but worst of all when she tried to pick off her oldest son’s plate, he slammed his fork down and said, “Mommy, get your own!” She had no idea what to do then.

Change the habit: If you want to eat something that your child is eating, get your own helping and put it on your own plate. If it’s a high-calorie food, make sure it’s worth gaining weight from and savor every bite. Otherwise, repeat to yourself these three essential little words: “It’s not mine.” Instead, choose something that comes without guilt as a side dish.


10).  How to Utilize Your School Social Worker

“Is this normal?” an anxious parent asks as she sits down in my office.  It’s a common question that many parents ask a school social worker. Fortunately, most of the time, the answer is “Yes, most kids that age struggle with…” As a school social worker in a suburban Chicago school, I reserved the first half-hour and/or last half-hour of each school day for parent consultation. It was a convenient time for them to stop in since they were either dropping their children off or picking them up from school. First-time parents don’t have the experience of having a previous child hit developmental milestones. They worry that their child is late to talk, to be potty trained, ready to walk to school on their own, adjust to a new classroom, or experiment with alcohol. School social workers are experts in normal child development. We know that it’s normal for 1st graders to wiggle a loose tooth, for 6th graders to form cliques, or for teens to rebel against adult authority. Sometimes, we’ll ask a parent if they can remember what they were going through at the same age as their child only to discover that the issues really don’t change much.


11).  France Just Made Spanking Illegal

Parents in France are no longer able to spank their children now that the French parliament decided to make spanking illegal. The decision was made to eliminate all forms of “cruel punishment” towards kids. Research shows that spanking has negative impacts on some children both mentally and emotionally. In lieu of spanking, psychologists recommend parents to try positive reinforcement like time outs and having conversations with their child. Parents throughout France now need to think twice before spanking children who misbehave, as it could land them in hot water with the law. According to a new law that was recently passed, parents will be required to spare the rod and turn to other measures of discipline — like positive reinforcement — instead. On December 22, the French parliament successfully voted to enact the “Equality and Citizenship bill, which places a country-wide ban on all forms of corporal punishment, including harmful physical treatment like caning, flogging, or, a more common form of punishment — spanking. Child abuse was already illegal in the country, but this new law, which makes spanking a civil rather than criminal offense, was created to eradicate all forms of “degrading, cruel and humiliating” treatment of kids by their parents. “Ending cruel, degrading or humiliating treatment is an indispensable component of a comprehensive national strategy for the prevention and elimination of violence against children. It lays the foundation for a culture of respect for children’s rights; safeguards children’s dignity and physical integrity; and encourages positive discipline and education of children through non-violent means,” Marta Santos Pais, a special secretary representative of the United Nations who specializes in child protection, said in a statement supporting the new law.


12).  How to Hear “Me, Me, Me” Less and Teach Young Kids to Give

“Look, Mama!” my five-year-old son E said peering proudly over his grocery bag teeming with – toys? “Oh!” I was confused by what I saw. It was the day of the school Christmas store in which students could buy gifts for family members at inexpensive prices. We had spent time the day prior talking about what Daddy, Grandma, and Grandpa might like for gifts. And I had placed a $10 bill in an envelope in E’s backpack to allow him to make purchases. I thought I had properly prepared him. But when his teacher sent him off shopping with a fourth grade buddy as his guide, he felt overwhelmed by the sparkling goodies before him. His buddy, a go-with-the-flow kind of guy, told him, “Yeah, get some for yourself.” The freedom and excitement E must have felt having money to spend took him over and he forgot the reason he was shopping in the first place. Children at the preschool and kindergarten age fly with grand excitement from one play activity to another. Their attention span does not last long. So preparations the day prior, as I had tried to do with my son, are not typically retained. And impulse control is still not completely developed. Which means when left to their own devices, they may not stop themselves from grabbing goodies at their fingertips. However, children’s development at this stage can assist them in some ways. They are often eager helpers. They want to demonstrate their ability to do tasks on their own, even if they may fumble a bit, and they are thirsty to show others how they can contribute to a home or classroom.

At the most fundamental level, children have a readiness for giving and generosity when parents have demonstrated giving to them through their love, attention and responsiveness to their emotions. Young children seek a secure attachment with their parents so if a parent responds with care when they are upset, the child grows in his trust for them and in turn, the rest of the world. Conversely, if a child is told to ‘toughen up’ or ‘stop crying’ when upset or simply ignored, that shutting down of their emotions can make the child feel insecure, not trusting themselves or their relationships. The young child gets overwhelmed by her feelings and still cannot adequately communicate them. Her upset can be compounded by her lack of emotional vocabulary. Parenting at this time requires great patience. But being responsive can look like the following; your four-year-old daughter cries inconsolably. A responsive parent can guide the child to a safe, non-public area. They can help her to calm down, and offer the child words to describe how she might be feeling. “You sound angry and frustrated. Is that right?” Not only will it help deescalate the child’s heightened emotions, but it will also offer invaluable practice for dealing with emotions in future social settings and interactions. Research supports that five-year-olds who have had more experience with understanding emotions – their own and others – and with taking others’ perspectives have a greater sense of gratitude. Giving is a natural outgrowth of gratitude. When we feel we have abundance, we are more willing and eager to give. That is as true for young children as it is true for adults. In addition to being responsive to a child’s emotional needs, parents can support young children in experiencing the true joy of giving by offering guidance in several ways.

Promote a giving mindset by creating family habits of gratitude. Consider how often you get a dose of negativity whether it’s announced on the radio news or by a fellow parent in the pick-up line at school. Negativity seems to come at us throughout the day whether we go looking for it or not. It’s easy to take for granted the abundance in our lives in the rush of our days, but gratitude is the surest way to overtake feelings of fear and anxiety. They simply can’t co-exist.

Consider a daily routine in which you might insert grateful thinking. Do you eat breakfast together? Talk about your hopes for the day and what you’re looking forward to. Do you eat dinner together? Express gratitude for the food you have, the people involved in growing and producing that food and recognize the abundance you enjoy. Do you have a bedtime routine tucking in children at night? Reflect on your happy thoughts from the day. It only takes a moment of reflection but can help orient your child’s thinking to appreciation and ready him for giving.

Model appreciation for family members. If you want to positively influence other family members’ behaviors whether it’s a child or a partner, recognize the ways they contribute to your family life. Use “I notice…” language and be specific. “I notice you placed the dishes in the dishwasher without my asking. That’s taking responsibility for yourself!” With siblings, ask “How did you observe your sister being kind?” to promote reflection on each other’s positive acts. Comments in which you recognize and appreciate family members’ actions will also contribute to a grateful mindset in your home.

Practice perspective-taking and empathy. Gift giving that truly considers what the other person might like involves perspective-taking. If you celebrate a holiday that involves gift giving this season, use the opportunity to practice perspective-taking. “What might Grammy like?” Think aloud with your child and ask directly as you go through your own list. Guide by articulating Grammy’s interests and talents. Follow through by involving your child in shopping and giving the gift so that she participates in the whole process. Imagine along with your child Grammy’s face when she opens your gift – “How will she feel?” This helps your child practice and develop empathy.

Practice gift giving and receiving. Since play is the central vehicle for young children’s learning, creative role playing offers the chance for adults to adequately prepare children for giving experiences. After you talk about what Grammy might like, ask your child if she might draw a picture of it. Wrap the drawing together and pretend to give it to Grammy. Then, trade roles, pretend your child is Grammy and give the drawing gift to your child. What will she say? Consider the fact that children will receive gifts they don’t like or already have. Why not give them some practice in receiving any gift graciously? Making an enjoyable game out of the practice of giving and receiving can prepare a child for any circumstance.

Engage your child in helping. Consider small ways your child might contribute to the maintenance of your home. Can he hold the dust pan while you sweep the dust into it from the floor? Can she help you load the washer with some assistance? Offering your young child opportunities to demonstrate she can authentically contribute to your family allows her to take responsibility and feel a sense of competence and giving to your household.

Focus on the love put into the gift. With the deluge of holiday catalogues coming in the mail each day, it’s easy to focus on the “stuff” of the season. When considering gifts for others, ask your child how he might show his love for Daddy. Gifts that come from the heart are typically free, homemade or inexpensive so help your child find ways to create thoughtful presents that can serve as keepsakes for loved ones. Consider recording an interview between your child and a Grandmother, making a frame for a special photograph or guiding your child to draw a picture of your family.

Reflect on giving experiences. After gifts have been exchanged and you have a moment without time pressures, reflect on your experience. “How did Daddy feel when he opened the gift you got him? And what did you feel when you opened the train set you were hoping for?” If your child had a positive experience, she may relish in the opportunity to talk about and savor the experience. Ask, “Why do you think it feels so good to give?” encouraging your child to consider not only the joy of getting but the intrinsic joy of giving.

Extend generosity to strangers. In order for children to learn that they are a part of a greater community, they need a role in contributing to it. Find small ways to involve the whole family in giving in your community whether its canned food for the local food drive or collecting warm scarves and mittens for a homeless shelter. That service opportunity will expand a child’s sense of home beyond his house and into a far wider circle of friends.

Ultimately, we want children to learn that giving is about how they express their love and care for others whether it’s a family member, a friend, a community member or a perfect stranger. Offering young children many small chances to think about others, to plan what they will give and to feel the pride and joy that comes with giving will give them the experiences they need to become generous.

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