Tuesday, February 14, 2017

How to help my angry child

It hurts so deeply when we hear our beloved child saying: -“I HATE YOU”-. At such a young age, our children may come up to us with painful and scary phrases like: “I don’t want you to be my mom”, “I wish you were dead”, and some may even come up with: -“I want to kill you”-. And as Parents, we tend to feel so disappointed, terrified, and so very sad, and angry too. It is heartbreaking to hear those words when you are doing your best to become a better parent every day. We feel our children should either show some gratitude or, at least, a little respect and kindness for us.

The plain truth is that it is going to take many years for our children to realize and praise our efforts at Parenting. You are doing the right thing, and you are doing your best, but your children are still very far away from appreciating it because children don’t see the world through your grown up eyes. 
Your Top One response to those disturbing phrases should start by acknowledging you need to stay calm.

These outbursts of rage among children are merely a signal from an underlying cause. They don’t metabolize their emotions as we do. Those explosions may be caused by sadness, frustration, or anxiety. Children who seem angry and defiant often have severe, and unrecognized, anxiety. When children have anxiety, especially if they are hiding it, they may have a hard time coping with situations that cause the distress, and they may lash out when someone puts pressure on them that they can't handle. Furthermore, children struggle to understand what they are feeling and don’t know how to cope with it. Their outbursts are a clear call for your help.

After conducting a thorough research on the subject and consulting many authors and specialists, these four steps came up as the Most Positive Approach to help children manage their anger:

1) As soon as your child gets “possessed” by rage and anger, take a very deep breath and don’t react. Don’t say a word until you are in full control of yourself.

2) Use your body language, posture, volume, and tone of your voice to show your child you are very calmed: “I will leave the room now. Please let me know when you calm down”. Don’t raise your voice, don’t take privileges away from your children and don’t punish them. Remember you are trying them how to stay in control of your mind and body, and to express and communicate their feelings in an assertive and positive way. 

3) Wait until your child has calmed down completely, even if you must wait an hour until his or her breathing gets back to normal. As soon as your child enters a “peaceful” state engage into “Connection” time: Use 20 minutes of exclusive play time to connect with him or her and try to see the world through your child’s eyes. Let your child show you what is bothering him or her. 
Children express themselves nicely through play or simple words when you give them the time and confidence they need. Instead of asking questions, while playing, you can tell your child simple real stories about yourself just to inspire them to express their feelings: - “Yesterday I was very mad at my boss because he forgot my birthday. It made me very sad too” -.

4) When you feel angry or sad or anxious, let your child know how you feel and model the behavior to manage those emotions: practice belly-breathing together, teach them how to punch a cushion or go out and take a walk together to get some fresh air. When you have calmed down, use simple words to tell your children, in the shortest possible phrase, what made you upset.

I read this tweet today: “Love is not what you feel. Love is what you do”. It inspired me to write this post for you. Very often, we all need to remind ourselves: loving our children is accepting and supporting them unconditionally, for them to know they can always trust us, to nurture their self-confidence by showing them we will love them no matter what. And when we feel wounded by their “mean words”, we need to keep in mind they are cues intended to let us know our children are in pain and need our help. 

It is our responsibility to show our children how to achieve a peaceful state of mind, stay calmed and successfully manage their emotions, but we can not teach that with words because this is taught by example.  

If you try this approach for a month and your child still comes up with violent phrases like: “I want to kill you” or “I wish you were dead”, my advice is for you to ask for some professional help from a Psychologist.  

Thursday, February 9, 2017

How to help my child focus and concentrate

Think of “Concentration” as if it were a muscle: it needs to be trained progressively, get rest and be nurtured. Also, same as the whole human body, our brain performs a lot better when it is relaxed, oxygenated, and clean from the stress toxins. To help your child focus and concentrate, you need to take care not only of the “brain training” per se but also of the environment and the emotions your child is dealing with. These are the four key factors you need to work on: 

FACTOR #1: Anxiety is the greatest obstacle for concentration
From the Biological standpoint: to focus, our brains take oxygen from our blood. It needs to receive oxygen at the proper pace. When children are anxious, their hearts beat at an accelerated hasty pace and end up bringing too little oxygen way too fast. So, these children’s brains are not properly oxygenated for concentration. 

Furthermore, children struggling with anxiety receive constant “internal stimuli”. These are disrupting and spontaneous thoughts or memories that interrupt their concentration by making them feel alarmed or frightened. This may explain why many children can’t perform a task requiring three or more steps without forgetting a step.  

Anxiety leads to avoidance, the opposite of concentration. Children with anxiety need their parents to work on their “connection”. This is the healthiest and most effective way to find the real source of children’s fears, and helping them deal with it will strengthen their self-confidence. Also, you and your child would benefit if you practice belly-breathing together before trying to concentrate. Steady, diaphragmatic breathing slows your heart rate and clears your mind so you can concentrate. This is an important skill for all of us to learn as early as possible: calming the body through breathing. 

FACTOR #2: Overscheduling and Fatigue
We tend to try to keep our children distracted and busy all the time. Children that are whisked from activity to activity can feel mind-tiredness, they need a downtime to allow their young minds to recover from an activity. Their brains need some boredom time to recover from School. 

While some children will prefer to lay on their beds and watch the ceiling to get lost in their own thoughts for some minutes, other children will find it more beneficial to ride their bikes or play outside. You need to make sure your child has had the chance and time to get bored, to run, walk, or jump around before sitting down to homework. 

FACTOR #3: Feeling overwhelmed
When children are struggling to concentrate, they can be overwhelmed when projects look too big or complex, or when they’ve got many things to do. 

A great tactic to help increase your child's concentration is to split the task up into smaller pieces. Big projects can overwhelm. Even grownups have that feeling of "I don't even know where to start." Splitting the task up will give a child the feeling of progress as the pieces are completed. 

Another tactic is to make a To-do-list. Help your child focus on getting things done by making a list together of everything he or she needs to do for the day. Then let your child cross off each task as he or she finishes it. 

And, of course, you need to show your child how to use “Breathers”. During homework time, make sure your child takes a few breaks. After working for 10 or 20 minutes (depending on his or her age), invite your child to get up and move around, get a glass of water, and then go back to work. It is ok if your child wants to change the subject at homework. Some of us need to switch between courses (like language and sciences) because it allows us to switch the side of the brain we are using and this helps us stay away from tiredness. 

FACTOR #4: Distractions
Children get easily distracted because their young brains are still developing their “data-filters”. Your child’s senses fill his or her brain with a huge amount of information and can “saturate” it. While we grow up, our brains learn to put filters on the data gathered by our senses, so that we only process the relevant information. 

During childhood, many of us need some help to avoid unnecessary data while we are trying to concentrate. These may include conversations, TVs, cell phones, music, aromas, or fragrances, etc. Even the smell of just-baked-cookies keeps children from focusing on homework. Needless to say, hearing their parents arguing will upset children and will make it almost impossible for them to concentrate on what they are doing.  

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

How to help my child cope with divorce

Young children and even teens are still very self-centered and we need to protect them from taking responsibility for our own decisions. A divorce will always affect your children and there is no way to avoid that, but you can turn it into a positive experience if you face this situation as an opportunity to teach them “How to embrace changes when we are very frightened?”. And you can also do long term protection by nurturing your “connection” with them, by strengthening their self-confidence.
To help your children deal with a separation or divorce, you can try the following:
1) Reinforce this is not their fault. For most children, it is easier to blame themselves than to blame their parents. As you both are the pillars for their self-confidence, if you are not explicit and consistent, they will unconsciously put the burden on their backs. For their young minds, it is a lot easier to process -“It is my fault”- than -“It is my parents’ fault”-. As we are their source of love, care, and tranquility, it is very hard for them to understand how could we possibly do something that hurt them. For this same reason, please try not to argue about anything related to your children when they can hear you. They will translate your arguments into: “I knew this was my fault. There are arguing because of me.”
2) Protect their self-confidence and self-esteem by not interfering in their relationship with the other parent. Your children need to have their own (unbiased) opinion from each of you. As they grow up, this is just part of the natural process of becoming more independent. The image they have from both of you will evolve little by little over the years to come. This process needs to be protected from any “unwanted interference” or “manipulation”. 
Please be very careful not to make any negative comments about the other parent. It will only make your children be very frightened, and will also make them hold resentment towards you. Also, don’t let your good intentions to add any “decorations” to the plain truth: Don’t lie to protect them. Tell them the truth in their simple words when they ask. For example, if she asks: -“Where is Daddy?”-, you should answer: -“I don’t know. Why don’t you call him and ask him yourself?”-. If he asks: -“Why is Daddy….?”-, you should reply: -“I don’t know. Why don’t you call him and ask him…”-.
3) Control your anxiety. It won't help your children if you feel guilty. They will be more than OK if you both stay calmed and peaceful. Anxiety is what you should really strive to keep out of your lives. I encourage you to avoid “buying things” like candies or toys aiming to “compensate” what you may perceive as a loss for them. It is not. They will always have a Mommy and a Daddy, and you will both do better now that you are apart. You will be happier so your children will end up being happier too. 
Even though it is natural for parents to have this “urge” to make it up to their children and buy things to make them smile, you will only be giving them the wrong message: “I feel sorry for you”. Your children don’t need you to teach them to feel sorry for themselves, they need you to teach her “How to embrace change when we feel frightened”.
4) Nurture your “connection” with your children. This is long-term protection. The “connection” we have with our children help them raise their self-confidence while strengthening our relationship with them. I encourage you to have a 20 minutes’ playtime session with each child, every day you have them with you. Turn off your phone and just play as if you were her (or his) age, without any rules. Let her (or him) be the boss. Don’t try to teach them anything, just play, observe them without being judgmental.

Friday, January 27, 2017

How to help my hypersensitive child

Many children experience hypersensitivity to touch or sound, with or without being diagnosed ADHD. Your child is not fussy and this is not a disease. Your children may just need some training for their wonderful brains to learn how to filter the overwhelming quantity of information they are receiving from the environment. And you can help a lot.
  • Does your child frequently complain about how rash are his or her clothes?
  • Does your child avoid playing with mud?
  • Does your child avoid walking barefoot?
  • Does your child complain when he or she feels the wind on his or her face?
  • Does your child get anxious when his or hands or clothes get dirty?
  • Does your child dislike how the sun feels on the skin even on cold days?
  • Is your child reluctant to walk on uneven surfaces?

Hypersensitive children may look like if they were shy or a little frightened. These children's brain may need a little help to "filter" the quantity of information it (the brain) is receiving, to then design and “command” the right physical response for their bodies. 
There are 3 Tips I always recommend to help hypersensitive children, to help their brains self-regulate while nurturing their self-confidence:

1) Respect your child. Don’t force him or her to do something they don’t feel comfortable with. This means: if they don’t want to walk barefoot on the beach, don’t nag them

2) Inspire your child to experience new sensations. Offer new delightful experiences for your child’s touch:
  • Cover your windows with shaving foam and make hand prints
  • Do some wall-art with washable painting. Use only fingers, hands, and feet, no brushes
  • Clean your car with your child, use soft soap and sponges
  • Give some bare hand massage to the chocolate chip cookie dough. If your child is reluctant to this massage, ask your child to help you get the chocolate chips out the dough 
  • Make some mud pies under the rain: get soaked together and laugh loudly
  • Invite your child to bury your feet in the sand. Then ask your child to bury his or her own fee
  • Ask your child to help you serve the jell-O with his or her bare hands, without any utensils
  • Ask your child to help you decorate the T-shirt you are wearing. Show your child how funny it is to get some stains on our clothes. You can handwash it later together.

3) Help them structure little processes. For example, how would you explain to your child how to wash his or her hands?:

Step 1: Roll back your sleeves
Step 2: Get some soap on your hands
Step 3: Get your hands wet
Step 4: Rub your hands
Step 5: Rinse your hands
Step 6: Dry your hands

Explaining simple processes to him or her and encouraging your child to follow them will help his or her brain to start creating an “organized response”. 
Everything we do can be explained as a process. Do this exercise: Which is the process you need to follow to brush your teeth? To set the table? To make a sandwich? To get dressed? The more simple processes you explain and help your child follow, the better and faster your child’s brain will self-regulate. You can add complexity to the processes little by little, always in a positive attitude to strengthen your child's self-confidence. But there is an important component in this equation: This has to be fun!

Children learn a lot faster when they are having fun.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

How to help my child to make friends

How to help your child make friends
Children are not born with social skills. They are learned. Some children may develop these skills faster than others and it will depend on the stimulation and environment they are exposed to. 

It is a fact that a  single-child will tend to struggle more to make friends. It is also a fact that your child will do a lot better with just a little help from you. After all, you only have to show your child how it’s done.

In Tribal Societies, this concern about Social Skills hardly ever exists. Children of all ages hang out together, so the older ones look after the little ones, they play with them and, therefore, “model” the social behavior for them. The little ones just imitate the older ones. In our society, instead, children are grouped by age at daycare, preschool, and school, so there is very little room for “role modeling” unless it comes from their parents.

These 4 Tips should help your child to make friends at school or preschool:

1.    One-on-One Playdates. Have only one friend invited to your house. Let your child choose who will be his or her guest. During play time, you’ll have to “model” the social skills your child needs. Some other day, you take your child to his or her playmate’s house and you keep “modeling” the social skills. Playdates work a lot better if you start only with one playmate at a time and at your house: your child will feel more secure and self-confident. You can increase the number of playmates and switch houses progressively.

2.    Outdoor and Indoor Playgrounds. Climb into the attractions with your child and take an active role in “pretend” play. Let your child see how you “break the ice” and start interacting with other children. Then you take a step back and let your child play. You’ll only step in if your child needs help to defend him o herself.  

3.    Have some Role-Playing when you are alone. Pretend you are a new friend to your child. How would you behave if you were a child who wants to play? You would use phrases like: “Hi. Can we play together”, “Do you like dogs? I have a pet…”, etc.

4.    At Preschool and Elementary School Age, have your child’s friends coming over to your house as often as possible. Kids love to show their toys and having their “little gang” in their own house, and it helps them to be more self-confident at school too. 

Childhood is about having fun and learning by playing. It is our job to do the best we can to help them.  

Monday, January 23, 2017

How to motivate your child to do better in school

We tend to be near-sighted. The grades your child gets in school, your child’s ability in math or reading and his or her attitude towards school are largely explained by your own concept of “Education”.

You can define “Education” as an organized process and system to get the selected knowledge and skills “installed” in your child’s brain or, you can define “Education” as “Learning”: that magical ability we humans have to “Unveil the Secrets of the World”.

Every child is unique. But children have something in common: when inspired, they are capable of everything.
If you inspire your child to learn new things, then you will stop worrying about you child’s grades.   

Try these 6 Tips to Motivate your Child for School while strengthening your "connection" and nurturing his or her self-confidence:

1)    Connection. Communication. Talk to your child every time you can. Answer their questions and ask back. If you can’t find any topic, take a book from Jules Verne and start sharing what you are reading.

2)    Mind Game: Question of the Day. Ask a question: "Why giraffes have such long neck?" or "Why do stars shine only at night?". If you don’t have the answer, you go and look for it together. You get the answer before putting your child to bed. You’ll be asking the questions first. Over time, you’ll see you child comes up with his or her own very interesting questions.

3)    Excursion: Trip to the Bookstore. Take your child to the Library or the Bookstore and have fun in there. Dive together into hundred’s of books and topics. Observe your child. Find out what topics is he or she attracted to. Mine was all into Princesses and, all of a sudden, she is now into “How Machines Work” and “The Kratts”.

4)    Experience: Experiment of the week. There are some very cool experiments you can do at home during the weekend. Your kids will get super excited and they will find out: It is SO fun to learn new stuff!!!. There is a website that has some awesome ideas: www.growingajeweledrose.com

5)    Give the right message. –“Do you know why you go to school? To have FUN. We take you to school to learn because learning new stuff is super fun”-.

6)   Ask the right questions. Stop asking about the quiz. Ask your child what he or she learned today. If there is no answer, share what you learned today. Teach by example. Be the person you want your child to be, your child will follow your example.  

Grades at School or Performance Ratings when working for a big Company, they all get pretty high when you are “Doing what you love to do”. If you put your anxiety or pressure behind your child's education, he or she will very likely end up hating it. The more peaceful you are, the happier and healthier your child will be, and it will show up in his or her learning curve.   

Friday, January 20, 2017

How to help my child stop biting his or her nails

Nail-biting is a “nervous habit”, like thumb-sucking, hair twisting or nose-picking. If your child is over 3 years old, then this nibbling is a symptom of an underlying anxiety. Your child is doing this for self-soothing purposes. Then, if you just “make” your child stop, he or she will replace this nail-biting with some other “self-calming habit” (namely eating or putting things in his or her mouth just like a baby). The real solution relies on reconnecting with your child to help him or her “drain” the anxiety while you identify and address the real cause behind it.  

I really like the approach from Joshua Sparrow MD, a renowned Child Psychiatrist. Hear it from the source:

If you want to help your child stop biting his or her nails please don’t expect results overnight. If your child’s “nervous habit” is bothering you and making you nervous, keep in mind your child is not doing this voluntarily. Anything you might say to make him or her stop will just hurt your child’s self-confidence and generate even more anxiety.

There is a Two-Steps Solution to deal with “Nervous habits” in children I always recommend because I have seen really impressive results:

Step 1: Learning to deal with anxiety
     Connect with your child. Play with him or her 20 minutes a day, without your phone, TV, iPad, Tablet or any other distraction. Just observe. Can you tell what specific activities help your child "calm down"? Is it riding a bike, swimming, playing ball or is it painting, or singing? Take all the time you need to find this out.
     Invite your child. Don’t nag. Once you have identified what type of activities help your child “drain” the anxiety, invite him or her to do that together every time you catch your child nibbling. Ask him or her to sing, paint or play with you, without making any reference to the “nail-biting”.
     Make it a wonderful time for your child. Let your child put the rules, let your child win. Make some mistakes on your own while you are playing. Don’t be critical.     
     Show gratitude to your child. When you have played like this for at least 20 minutes, just say: -“Thank you for playing with me. I feel relaxed now”-.

     Step 2: Go straight to the root cause
Is there any major change around? Is everyone relaxed at home?
Is your child happy at school? Is he or she afraid of something? 
We went through this a while ago: 
     Observing and understanding: Hope (4-year-old) was nibbling. I noticed she was super enthusiastic about her Pre-K and then, all of a sudden, she just didn’t want to be there. One day, without her knowing, I stayed at her Pre-K. I just observed the group dynamics: I noticed a girl took a toy away from her. My daughter only looked down and did not say a word.

     Validation: that night, I asked Hope: -“Would you like me to show you some ways to defend yourself from other kids so that no one takes your toys away without saying “please”?”-. Can you guess which was the answer?: A wonderfully beaming little face I will never forget. 

     Crack-it together. Give your child options to solve the problem, what I like to call “resources”. I am referring to mainly alternative responses for your child to choose the one he or she feels comfortable with. For example, I shared with Hope these ideas and she chose to try both (b) and (c):

a) Stick Up for your rights: -"Don’t let anyone take anything away from you. Speak loud and clear"-. We used some role playing and switched for her to practice some lines and moves at home.

b) Be a role model: meaning to show the others how she deserves to be treated being respectful, honest and persuasive: -“If you take my toy away from me without my consent, I will tell my mom and she will tell your mom tonight. It is up to you to choose”.-

c) Ask for help: -“Tell the teacher as soon as it happens and point your finger if you need to. If your teacher does not do anything about it, you let me know and I will take care of it”-. Some teachers just don’t get involved, if this is your case, let your child hear you when you talk with the other kid’s parents. 

If you repeat this Two-Steps approach every day, if you make a part of your life, you’ll notice this nail-biting habit will go away progressively. Give it a try and let me know how it worked for you.