Parents: It’s Time for A “Back In School” Reality Check

School is now in full swing, the “honeymoon period” is over and studies say kid stress is mounting. This is the time to check in on how your child is doing and nip any problems in the bud.

checking inAccording to a poll from the University of Michigan, childhood stress is a top-5 concern for parents, ahead of bullying and just behind Internet safety. And 56% of parents believe the stress levels are getting worse, especially during the school year.  One thing is true: stressed-out children have a tougher time focusing on the teacher’s lessons and enjoying as well as succeeding in school Here are a few tips to help your kids manage those busy schedules and keep stress levels in check.

Set up a “30-day check in” Just like when you start a new job, parents should sit down with their kids each month to take stock and see if there are any problem areas. This way you can discover problems like overscheduling or bullies and nip them in the bud before they get out of hand. Here are the top kid stressors to check in on:

  • Overscheduled: This is the time to check your child’s calendar to see if it is overscheduled. Does he really need to do everything that is listed? Is one of those activities boosting instead of reducing stress? Can you cut one thing? Ask him!
  • Homework: Get to that open house and be sure to ask about the teacher’s homework policy. How much does she expect kids to do each night? Is your child keeping up?
  • Grades: Review those first test scores and grades on perhaps the first essay or book report. If there is a problem, check in with the teacher. Is your child in the right ability groups? Do you need to hire the high school student next door as a tutor? If the struggle is lasting and your child just doesn’t get it, your son or daughter might need a referral for a Individual Education Plan.
  • Social jungle: Bullies, mean girls and aggressive kids are unfortunately part of the school scene. How is your kid faring? For a quick gauge ask him to draw a map of the cafeteria: “Where do you sit? Who sits near you?” (The cafeteria is often a place where kids are most likely to be rejected. Does your child have social support?) Ask your younger child to draw the playground: “Where do you usually play? Who plays with you?” Every child needs at least one loyal buddy. If your child lacks one, then it’s time to boost friendship making skills and extend those pal invites to your home.

Tune into stress signs. Each kid responds differently, but the key is to identify your child’s physical behavioral or emotions signs before he is on overload. A clue is to look for behaviors that are not typical for your child.

Physical Kid Stress Signs

  • Headache, neck aches and backaches
  • Nausea, diarrhea, constipation, stomachache, vomiting
  • Shaky hands, sweaty palms, feeling shaky, lightheadedness
  • Bedwetting
  • Trouble sleeping, nightmares
  • Change in appetite
  • Stuttering
  • Frequent colds, fatigue

Emotional or Behavior Kid Stress Signs

  • New or reoccurring fears; anxiety and worries
  • Trouble concentrating; frequent daydreaming
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Social withdrawal, unwilling to participate in school or family activities
  • Moodiness; sulking; or inability to control emotions
  • Nail biting; hair twirling; thumb-sucking; fist clenching; feet tapping
  • Acting out, anger, aggressive behaviors such as tantrums, disorderly conduct
  • Regression or baby-like behaviors
  • Excessive whining or crying
  • Clinging, more dependent, won’t let you out of sight, withdrawal

Try to handwrite notes and reminders – Parents and kids are communicating more and more via text message and email, so slow down and take a minute to write a quick note like “Good luck on your test” or “Dentist appointment at 4:00” and put it in their bag. Kids don’t admit it, but they love this special attention and it helps them feel more relaxed during a busy day.

Reduce after-school stress. After-school stress is a big issue for kids and they need some downtime to help them relax. At the same time, you don’t want them to just zone out completely. The trick is finding alone-time activities that help them relax a few minutes and release some of that stress, but are also fun AND keep their minds engaged. Most kids don’t need more than a few minutes of a stress reducer, but the key is finding what works for your child and then turn that stress reducer into a routine so the child does the same brief relaxer everyday. Research shows your child will then be able to focus more on that homework and acquire a lifelong habit.

  • For the tween and teen kids – the newspaper is a great multi-purpose tool. Most newspapers are written around a 9th grade level (USA Today is at a 5th grade level), and just reading the paper every day can help spark that love of reading and learning. (YES!) There’s something for everyone – a crossword to build vocabulary skills, the kids section has games and brain teasers, and calculating stats in the sports section can even help with math skills. The trick here is to find the one section that you think might spark your kid’s interest (even the comics) and then put it right by a healthy snack. Circle an article that you think your teen might enjoy (from Lindsay Lohan or a movie review) and you can use that as conversation bridger to how things are going in your kid’s real world.
  • While the younger kids don’t have quite as much stress, they still can find fun ways to relax and brush up on the new skills they are learning. My favorite game that kids will also love is VTech’s MobiGo, a new educational gaming system for kids ages 3-8. It combines touch screen technology with important early learning skills like math and vocabulary. Kids can swipe, drag and tap, just like Mom and Dad do on their electronic devices. The great part is that it is hand-held so you the child can use it anywhere–in the carpool while waiting for brother or on the couch. Parents can plug it into the computer and visit www.vtechkids.com/download to download progress reports for their kids, along with all kinds of games, themes and other content.

Get them to talk up about their day. Of course, you want to stay connected with your kid, but there is an art to getting kids to open up so they will be more likely to tell you about their day. Doing so will help you weigh how your kid is handling stress.Here are a few secrets to the never-ending battle of “How was your day?” and getting beyond, “FINE!”

  • Wait! The time kids are most stressed is the moment they walk in the door. So don’t push the “how was your day?” inquiry. In fact, teens say they hate that question. “It’s predictable. She’s going to ask, ‘How was your day?’ Instead, a simple, “Looks like you could use a snack and a minute to unwind. Glad your home” works best.
  • Use your kid’s time zone. Identify the time your kid is most receptive to chatting. With one of my sons I discovered it was around five o’clock in the afternoon by the refrigerator, and that’s where I’d plant myself.
  • Don’t ask questions that kids can answer with “yes,” “no,” or “fine.” If you ask “what did you do after lunch?” is more likely to get a response other than yes or no. To help you find a conversation topic about what’s going on at school, check the school website or the school/teacher newsletter. Your kids may be more likely to engage in the conversation: “Wow, the next football game is going to be tough! Do you think your school has a chance?”
  • Talk while doing. Boys in particular are more likely to open up when they are doing something. So trying talking while he’s stirring up a smoothie, shooting hoops or playing lego’s.
  • Start a family ritual to connect. It used to be family dinners, but busy schedules are making that a rarity. It doesn’t have to be elaborate – get the kids magazine subscriptions that math their interests. You can read the articles and engage them on topics they are excited about over a snack. Or set up a time from 8:00 pm where everyone in the family stops and meets in the kitchen for a backrub, a healthy snack or a check-in. The key is find a time that works for you and then turn it into a routine.

If you notice a concerning change in your child that is not typical and lasts, then don’t wait. Call for an appointment with the teacher. Check with other caregivers in your child’s life. Stress builds and is damaging to our children’s academic success, as well as emotional and physical health.

Now is the best time to take a reality check on your child.

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Dr Borba’s book The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries, is one of the most comprehensive parenting book for kids 3 to 13. This down-to-earth guide offers advice for dealing with children’s difficult behavior and hot button issues including biting, tantrums, cheating, bad friends, inappropriate clothing, sex, drugs, peer pressure and much more. Each of the 101 challenging parenting issues includes specific step-by-step solutions and practical advice that is age appropriate based on the latest research. The Big Book of Parenting Solutions has been released and is now available at amazon.com

How to Raise Empathetic and Caring Kids in A Self-Absorbed World

Following our conscience can be tough at any age. But, for children, whose conscience is still developing, it can be a real challenge. So, how can you raise your child to do the right thing when faced with a dilemma? Here are some helpful hints to get (and keep) your child on the right track.

• Lead by Example – We all have situations that require us to make moral decisions. When these situations arise, make sure you’re doing the right thing yourself, and make sure to talk about it with your kids. We’re not talking about tooting your own horn. But, if you’re in a sticky situation and your child is aware of it, letting them know that you had a choice to make – and that the choice was difficult, will help them to think through situations when they arise. If they see you taking the moral high ground, they’ll be much more likely to do so as well.

• Teach Empathy – Let your children observe situations that help them develop empathy. We’re often so consumed with providing a good life for our children, that we fail to show our children that not everyone has it as good. Being empathetic is really the skill of standing in someone else’s shoes and knowing how it feels. Practice developing empathy with activities – Blindfold your children and play tag or put headphones on and walk into town. Of course, be safe while they learn and grow. Help your children observe the lives of others. Teach them to open the door for an elder person or allow a child with a disability on the swing set first.

• Model Giving Back – Why not spend part of this Summer digging a garden at a children’s shelter? This Thanksgiving serve meals at a soup kitchen. Then help out with Toys for Tots this Christmas. When your children practice caring for others, they’re more likely to consider how their decisions might benefit or hurt other people. This gives them that little “voice” that helps them do the right thing.

• Praise Positive Behavior – When you witness your child doing the right thing, point it out. Sharing their toys, cleaning up a mess they made without being told, and following the rules at home without complaint are all situations that deserve your praise. If you make your children feel good about doing the right thing, they’ll want to do it.

• Have Appropriate Consequences for Not Doing the Right Thing – Sometimes, when your children choose not to do the right thing, the results include lying, cheating and stealing. These behaviors should be addressed with consequences that teach – and that they’ll remember. Pre-determine consequences for behaviors such as pushing, shoving or being selfish. Involve your children in generating your consequence list, so that they are committed to the consequence process. Make consequences relate to the infraction and focus on giving back, improving or repairing relationships.

• Allow Reality To Teach Lessons – Don’t cover up for your child. For instance, if you catch your child stealing, you should make him return the item to the owner at once, and fess up to what he did as part of the teaching experience. It’s likely that having to own up to what he did will teach him a lesson he’ll never forget.

Teaching your children to be responsible is about showing them the “right thing to do”. Do so by modeling, using age-appropriate expectations and teaching life lessons every day. It is possible to raise empathetic, sympathetic and caring kids in today’s self absorbed world. It just takes some patience, attention, teaching and caring on your part.

What Not To Do if Your Child is Bullied Online

No parent ever wants their child to be bullied online.

Upset teenage girl with smartphone in dark roomBut if it happens, would you know what to do about it?  Better yet, would you know what NOT to do?  Too often, we focus on what we should be doing that we fail to consider what we shouldn’t do at a time like this.

Getting through a child being bullied will take a lot – mostly, it will take time and patience.  Here are six things not to do while you’re helping your child get past it.

1. Don’t Lecture

Best selling author, Stephen Covey, is quoted as having said that, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  He’s right about that.  This is the time to listen to your child, not lecture them on what happened to them or what they might have done.

Right now, the child is probably scared, but maybe not for the reason many people would expect.  Being attacked can take a toll on a child, but what can make it even worse is the way that adults respond to it.  Being told that they need to be able to handle it themselves, being labeled as a snitch or having their technology restricted can all make children hesitant to speak out at a time when they need it more than anything.

Isolating a victim only makes it worse.  Instead, listen to what they have to say.  Ask for clarification, but try to avoid asking leading questions.  For example, instead of asking the child if that’s when “they posted the video on Snapchat”, ask them, “what happened next?”  It will provide a clearer picture of what happened and can avoid them taking shortcuts, potentially leaving out important points which need to be heard.

2. Don’t Accuse or Overreact

Next, don’t make it worse than it really is by overreacting.  After listening to the child, make sure that what’s being reported is really what happened.  There are several reasons why it may not be what it appears to be at first.

  1. Typos – We all make typing mistakes and auto-correct isn’t always our friend. One misspelled word or grammar mistake can dramatically alter the meaning of a message, making it come off very differently than intended.
  2. Having a Bad Day – Anyone can have a bad day, including the typist and the reader. Letting emotions cloud our perceptions can cause problems that aren’t really there.
  3. Confusion – Maybe the person who posted it simply wasn’t clear in their meaning. Or maybe the reader misunderstood what was meant.  Either way, no harm might have been intended.
  4. Failed Humor – I tell my students all the time that humor in written form doesn’t come off as it does when heard aloud. It often needs the right context and inflection to be understood.

When discussing the matter with others, especially with the parents of a child being accused of being the bully, keeping a level head can make all the difference.  State the facts of the case, but avoid coming off as inflammatory.  Just as you’re there to protect your child, the other parents are there to protect their child.  Making the case calmly can mean the difference between having an ally and having protective parents close ranks, eliminating the possibility of meaningful dialogue.

3. Don’t Tell Your Child to Ignore It

Being able to take an active stance against bullying can go a long way to helping kids feel that they have some control in their lives.  Studies have shown that the majority of kids being cyberbullied don’t report it to an adult, much less to their parents.  As Rebecca Fraser-Hill indicates in this article, feeling powerless is one reason why kids don’t report it.

Parents often tell their children that if they are ever attacked online, they should just ignore it.  That engaging with the bully is the wrong approach to take and the bully will move on if they don’t get a reaction from their target, so they should simply not engage and the problem will go away.  That made sense to me, until I attended a program by Christa Tinari from Peace Praxis a few years ago.  She advised the exact opposite and I love her reasoning.

Assuming that strategy works and they do “move on”, all you’ve done is set up another child for being bullied.  Instead, the target of the bullying needs to let the aggressor know, in no uncertain terms, that their actions are not wanted.  The idea is that the bully may not realize that their actions are as bad as they really are, making them stop their actions.

This can be as simple as replying back to the person and telling them that their message wasn’t appreciated and they should stop.  But it will vary, depending on the nature of the initial message.  Some messages are clearly a case of bullying, while others may fall under the four scenarios mentioned above in the “Don’t Accuse or Overreact” section of this article.

In some cases, the person’s intention was to bully and no amount of replying back from the target will likely get them to stop.  That’s where Christa’s next idea comes into play.  To reinforce the message to the bully that they’re wrong, Christa’s next recommendation was one that I’ve really taken to heart – the idea of Positive Slamming.  The idea is that when someone see another person being bullied (online or offline), that others should immediately come to that person’s defense. The more people who do it, quickly and publicly, shows the bully that their actions aren’t appreciated and hopefully, makes them realize that they’re in the wrong here.  It may not stop every bully, but those that believe that their behavior is perfectly acceptable and may even believe they have the support of their friends, may do a double-take and stop.  They need to be made to realize that their behavior is NOT ok.

While Michele Borba doesn’t call it Positive Slamming, her article on teaching kids to be active bystanders calls out many of the same reasons why we want to get kids to be active bystanders in bullying situations. The tricky part here is that those who are defending the victim do JUST that – defend the victim.  They should not go an the offensive and make matters worse.

Letting a bullying victim know that they aren’t alone in this and that there are people who care about them can literally mean the difference between life and death.  Just ask anyone who has suffered at the hands of a bully, including those who have been the victim of domestic violence.

“What hurts the victim the most is not the cruelty of the oppressor,
but the silence of the bystander.”

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize Winner

In the event that the situation can’t be resolved through these ways, kids need to know that they need to tell a trusted adult what is happening.  It might be a parent, family member, teacher, religious leader or any other adult who can help with the situation.  Many kids resist telling their parents, but they need to have someone that they can trust in these situations and parents should encourage them to speak to an adult, even if it’s not with them.

4. Don’t Ignore It Either

As parents, we should not ignore what our children are saying to us, even if we think it’s a “little problem” that will likely resolve itself.  Doing nothing can send them the message that their parents don’t care about what’s happening to them.  Also, as Rebecca Fraser-Hill mentioned in her article, they may believe that telling about bullying won’t make a difference and that’s certainly what kids will take away from an experience where their parents tell them to ignore it.

Imagine then, when something even more serious happens, if the child does not come forward, because past experience has shown them that their parents will not do anything about it. Make sure they know – if they say something, you’ll do something.

5. Don’t Let Them Delete Anything…And Neither Should You

After telling a child that if they ever do get bullied online to just ignore it, the next bit of advice they might give is to tell them to delete it.  As much as we’d like to remove all proof of such unacceptable behavior, if there is one good aspect of cyberbullying, it’s that it leaves a trail, otherwise known as EVIDENCE!

Having emails, texts or posts/comments may be the only way to prove the allegations.  Print them out and keep a folder of them later.  If necessary, take screen shots so that if someone else is able to delete it (and does so), there is evidence to present to parents, school officials and the police.

6. Don’t Force Mediation between the Bully and the Victim

In conflict resolution, both parties wish to come to an agreement, but that’s not the case with bullying.  That doesn’t stop many people from forcing the parties involved from using mediation or conflict resolution techniques.

The bully doesn’t want the situation to change.  They like it the way that it is.  Conflict resolution assumes two parties disagree, but both want to come to a resolution.  It can also send the message that both children are partially right and partially wrong and we are here to work this out. But that is not the case. Bullying is one-sided.  The victim wants no part of it.  Not only is the bully unlikely to take the process seriously, it runs the risk of antagonizing them and could make matters worse.

Conclusion

Remember to avoid these mistakes and hopefully, a family with a child who has been bullied online will be able to get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Parents need to put their priorities on making their kids feel safe and protected, while doing what they can to prevent it from happening again.