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Parenting Resources to Keep Kids Safe Online

In many cases, children are more adept at using technology than their parents.  Today’s children are Digital Natives, meaning that they grew up with technology and social media is a way of life for them.  They never knew a time without smartphones and social media.  For anyone over 30, their teen years didn’t involve posing for selfies, using emojis or having to worry about sexting problems.  However, as parents, we have more LIFE experience than they have and that’s what can make the difference in keeping kids safe online.

Many parents feel a sense of trepidation when it comes to what their children do online and that’s to be expected.    The concerns involve not only what can happen to their kids, but how do they help them get through the problems.  From cyberbullying to sexting and online predators, there are many real dangers to our children.  Shawn Henry, of the FBI reported that at any given time, there are an estimated 750,000 child predators online.

Fortunately, there are some great resources available to help parents with their concerns.  If you’re reading this now, then you’ve found one – Pediatric Safety!  Dr. Michele Borba, Dr. Lynne Kenney and others are here for you.  Dr. Kenney’s article on teaching kids empathy, while not specific to online issues, is spot-on about having life experiences that can help kids with problems of both offline and online matters. Kids with empathy are less likely to cause trouble online.

Below are several other resources available to you, including some free online sources and recommended reading to help parents understand more of what they can do and in some cases, use as teaching aids with their children.  They may not always listen to their parents, but when they see real stories about what has happened to their peers, it may open their eyes and make them more receptive to what their parents have to say about online safety.

Cyberbullying Research Center

This is by far, my number one, go-to source on the Internet for help when it comes to online (and even offline) bullying issues.  After all, cyberbullying is simply one more form of bullying.  It has specific attributes, such as staying anonymous, that physical bullying doesn’t have, but that doesn’t make it any less impactful or less damaging to the target.

Heavily focused on doing the research to make their case, Dr. Justin Patchin and Dr. Sameer Hinduja are outstanding in the field.  Too often, people may want to dismiss cyberbullying and its effects as being overblown or simply anecdotal.  These guys have done the research to prove the effects and they have plenty of free resources for anyone to use.

Common Sense Media

For parents looking for help on everything from what apps might cause problems to what movies are appropriate for certain ages, Common Sense Media is your best option.  The site is broken down by age, by topic and provides “ultimate guides” for many popular apps and websites.  There is a wide selection of material available in Spanish as well, which can be extremely helpful!  Like the Cyberbullying Research Center, they are heavily involved in research and can provide you with a lot of data to support their positions

Needless to say, I love this organization and everything that they do.

International Bullying Prevention Association

People who bully offline are more likely to bully online.  So, while their focus is not exclusive to cyberbullying, IBPA does provide resources to parents trying to understand what their kids are experiencing online.  Their dedication to bullying in any form, online or offline, is very hard to beat.  They have resources available for youth, family members, educators and more.

I especially like the resources dedicated to our youth.  Many victims of bullying never tell anyone, suffering in silence.  Just letting kids know that there are resources out there for them, specially designed for them gives them the opportunity to at least find some help if they don’t want to speak to anyone about their problems.

Darkness to Light

Child sexual abuse includes the sharing of intimate pictures of minors online.  Perhaps the most valuable resource they provide is working as an advocate for victims of sexual abuse within the community and at all levels of government in the U.S.  Education is great, but we need more people who will get involved in protecting our kids and Darkness to Light will do just that!

Unless you’ve experienced this for yourself, you can’t relate to how this feels.  Having known a family personally that has been through this experience, I know the kind of trauma it can bring with it.  If you ever have the opportunity to attend their training, I highly recommend it.

Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate

I don’t know what I can say about this book except that you should read it.  A target of online harassment herself, Sue Scheff, who I am proud to call a friend and a mentor, does an amazing job with this book.  Her storytelling teaches us how to avoid the problems that so many of us find ourselves getting into all too often.

These stories illustrate the real life repercussions that often accompany online actions.  We tend to think of cybersafety issues such as bullying and shaming as being mainly problems for kids, but Sue shows how it affects people from all walks of life and all ages.  Her examples of what I call the #OnlineMeetsOffline lesson is one that we all need to learn the easy way, not the hard way – by learning how to avoid it, rather than experiencing it for ourselves.

Cyberbullying and the Wild Wild Web

Jayne Hitchcock’s latest book is another great book that provides real-life examples of just how much is at stake when we go online.  The target by an online stalker, she knows full well how dangerous it can be – something that our Digital Natives may not fully appreciate.  While most people would agree that the Internet is largely a wide open, unmonitored and unregulated breeding ground for poor behavior, Jayne shows you quick and easy lessons to avoid problems from happening in the first place.

She uses examples of what can happen to create learning opportunities for people.  For families, the fact that the book is relatively short means that children may be less likely to be intimidated by it and actually read it.  Once they get started, they won’t want to put it down.  I was really involved in reading this book and couldn’t put it down.

Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology

I love this book!  Diana Graber is a middle school teacher and a cybersafety advocate whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in person.  She uses great examples of how things can go wrong and shows us how to do them the right way.  Her C.R.A.P. acronym (Currency, Reliability, Author & Purpose) is a great way to teach the value of doing good online research for school – I now use it in my own classes at Thomas Jefferson University.  Diana is very adept at relating to teenagers and parents learn how to talk to their kids about the value of good Digital Citizenship even if they aren’t up on the latest technology.

Conclusion

The approach parents take is key to helping protect our children.  A heavy-handed approach rarely works with children in general and in the case of technology/social media, it’s too easy for them to get around any restrictions parents may place on them.  The use of multiple accounts on the same platform (known as Finstas) and easy access to zombie devices make it almost impossible to prevent them from using the apps, so it’s more important to make sure that they know how to do it wisely.

I know what other parents are feeling, because I’m a father to a teenage daughter.  Our ability to teach our children life lessons based on our own experiences is more important than our ability to use technology as well as they do.

My Roller Coaster Kid: Calm Things Down and Enjoy the Ride

Up and down, over and under, so the roller coaster goes. Are you worn out just thinking about it?

roller coaster kidLife with an intense child is like a ride on a roller coaster, some moments are thrilling, others calm, still others fear-inducing. Intense kids feel so powerfully, they see more, hear more acutely and feel more deeply. Of course, they have to share all of it with you, ’cause life can be just so overwhelming. It’s almost like in their meltdowns and fits they say, “Here Mom, hold this.” Meaning, hold my pain, suffering and overload for a moment while I try to gather myself together.

What seems like a behavioral issue to many, the school, your parents, (you know what I’m sayin’) is more likely a problem of brain mediation than willful non-compliance.

You see, children want to be calm and happy. Evolution encourages children to strive – to live well, be loved and thrive. When children are willful, obstinate, unhappy or anxious, this is not their healthiest state. Their behavior and mood signal an imbalance in their body and brain.

So what can you do about it?

  1. Know that the limbic brain is older and in the case of intense kids, momentarily more powerful than the frontal lobes. So plan for those amygdala melt-downs and prepare calming strategies with your child ahead of time. Talk about the times they feel like they are going to lose it and ask them if you can help by offering some pre-planned calming solutions like taking a walk, a bath or a bike ride. Consider calming music from advancedbrain.com (sound health) or calmmeforhealing.wmv.
  2. Know that food and nutrition matter. Remember, it is not what you eat but what your body assimilates that is important. Consider whole food pharmaceutical grade vitamins, a transition to whole food and protein at each meal to help your child’s brain have better access to healthy nutrients.
  3. If you need more help see a developmental pediatrician, pediatric psychologist or neuropsychologist who specializes in cognitive and limbic calming strategies. Meditation, yoga and brain exercises can help increase neuronal connections thus harnessing the power of the Thinker to manage the Caveman.

Intense kids are creative, intelligent and lovable, you just have to plan for the squall…after all living on the coast is beautiful, it just storms sometimes

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familycoach-book-smallerThis post reflects Dr Kenney’s “The Family Coach Method” used in practice for a number of years, and released for publication just this past September. The Family Coach Method is ‘rug-level,’ friendly and centered on the concept of families as a winning team – with dozens of age-appropriate sample conversations and problem solving scenarios to guide a family to the desired place of mutual respect, shared values and strengths. The goal is to help children to develop the life skills, judgment and independence that can help them navigate the challenges of an increasingly complex world. The Family Coach Method is also being taught as an Educational Series where parents can join with other moms and dads in live calls with Dr Kenney.

In Today’s Culture, Can We Raise Strong, Confident Daughters?

A five-year study of 2516 teens by the American Psychological Association found that girls who frequently read those dieting and weight loss articles are far more likely to fast, vomit, or use Strong Confident Daughterslaxatives to lose weight. In fact, the data proved that the more frequently a girl reads those fashion magazines, the more likely she is to resort to extreme weight control behaviors.

These days it’s almost impossible to not hear what Odeya, Bailee, Ariana or some other pencil-slim celeb is up to. Photos of them all to often leaving some nightclub (drink in hand) wearing some highly revealing outfit and unmistaken sexy look are blasted on every news channel and magazine cover.

But have you ever wondered if those young celebrities influence our kids’ values and attitudes? Could those images actually effect how our kids turn out?

The American Psychological Association’s study confirms what many parents feared: All those raunchy, sexy girl messages do indeed have an negative impact on our daughters and are correlated with eating disorders, lower self-esteem, and depression. Not too long ago The Today Show asked me to address what parents can do to counter those negative messages. Here are a few solutions I offered to help us raise strong, healthy, emotionally secure young girls who can buck those raunchy images and come out on top.

  • Get savvy about our new culture. Remove those blinders and take a realistic look at the new X-Rated world. Sexy, raunchy images of girls are everywhere. TV shows push the limits, magazines flaunt photos young party-going girl celebrities, the Internet has no rules, and CD lyrics are darn-right scandalous. But watch out: these days marketers are targeting even our youngest girls. The new “Hooker Look” (I can’t think of a better term) is the hot new fashion. (Did you know that last year seven-to twelve year- old girls spent $1.3 million on thong undies????) Toy makers are designing new long-legged, doey-eyed looking female dolls in slinky outfits ready for the hot-tub for our preschoolers. You do control the purse strings and that remote!
  • Find healthier outlooks. Discover your daughter’s natural passion and talent whether it be surfing, basketball, art, yoga, soccer, and then support her involvement. Those positive activities will help you focus more on her talents and interests, and show her that you value her for her strengths, not appearance. It will also help her develop a stronger identify based on her passions instead of ones borrowed from young, rich celebrities on magazine covers.
  • Tune into your daughter’s world. From television shows, video games, movies, music and Internet sites, stay involved in your daughter’s lifestyle choices. Monitor what she watches and listens to, and who she seems to admire. Doing so will help you understand her values at that moment, as well as help guide your next discussions about your family values. If you don’t like a TV show, movie, CD, video or an outfit explain “Why” instead of just saying, “No.” Your daughter needs to learn how to make wise choices and needs someone (that’s you!) to be her sounding board as well as perspective maker.
  • Downplay popularity and appearance. Girls need to hear messages that convey: “Who you are is far more important than how you look.” So zip your tongue and halt those comments likes: “She’s lost so-o-o-o much weight!”, “I love her hair!”, “I wonder what moisturizer she uses?” “Did you get invited to the birthday party?” Also, watch your gossip and how you talk about other women–especially in front of your daughter. Your kids are scrutinizing your behavior, and they do copy what they see and hear. Always be the example you want your daughter to copy.
  • Don’t forget your sons. Boys, as well, are bombarded by those sexy images and cause unhealthy images of women to develop. What’s more, our boys may think girls even like to be treated as sex objects. Don’t leave your son out of the mix. Talk to him. Counter those messages by giving him the right view of how women do like to be treated. (So says the mom of three boys!)

Sure, the world these days is more X-rated, but parents have always been an excellent counterbalance to sleaze and raunchiness. Remember you really do influence your daughter’s attitudes, values, and self-esteem. Your goal is to help your daughter from the youngest age know she is a person of worth just for who she is, and not for how she looks. Be mindful of that goal, and don’t deviate from it. After all, raising children to be strong and healthy is a 24/7 proposition and in today’s sexually-explicit culture that aim becomes even more challenging.

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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 is available at amazon.com

This Holiday Season, Ask Yourself – Am I Raising a Spoiled Child?

“Spoiled! Not my kid!” Right??? Or would you admit that your child is just a tad bit spoiled?

All the polls say that most Americans feel kids today are more spoiled than ever. A TIME/CNN poll found that two out of three parents feel their kids are spoiled. A poll by the New American Dream showed 70 percent of parents believe kids are too focused on buying things. I have to say I agree with the polls. The truth is there is no gene for spoiled. We have ourselves to blame for this one. Spoiled is clearly a learned behavior and one that is none too pleasant. But the good news is that this trait can be turned around. The first step to a makeover is realizing why spoiling our kids doesn’t do them any favors. The second step is taking an honest reflection to see if your child is moving into the “spoiled category.” Here is how to get started:

The Dangers of Raising Spoiled Kids

Of course we love our kids and want the best for them. We don’t want to see them unhappy for a single second. But indulging our kids’ every little whim doesn’t do our kids any favors. In fact, there are a few dangers to overindulging kids. Here are my top four concerns:

  • Don’t win popularity contests. Forget the birthday party invitations. Spoiled kids are not pleasant to be around. Other children do not like them because spoiled kids are often bossy and selfish. Who wants to be around a kid who always wants thing to go his way, who rarely shares, and who considers his own needs first? Adults (especially teachers) are turned off to spoiled kids because they are often rude and make excessive demands.
  • Reduces perseverance. Because everything comes a bit easier, a spoiled child has a tougher time handling the downsides of life. Spoiled kids are used to getting their way ASAP so they not only may have reduced perseverance when it comes to schoolwork but also a tougher time handling advertisy and the harder parts of life.
  • Lowers self-esteem. New research shows that always getting what you want leads to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, more psychosomatic complaints, and worse relationships with parents.You’re also in danger of the raising an “always unsatisfied” kid who always wants more and is never appreciative.
  • Robs character. Watch out! Spoiled kids often measure their worth based on what they have instead of who they are. They have a tougher time in the “empathy” department of feeling for others (a benchmark of ethical behavior) because they are more concerned about themselves.

But how do you know if your kid is spoiled? Here is my four word review for spoiled.

A Four-Word Test For a Spoiled Kid

There are four words that typically describe spoiled children. How is your child doing? Here is my four-word test for a spoiled kid that I shared on the TODAY show:

  • “NO!” She can’t handle the word. He expects to get what she wants and usually does. Take my Toy store test. Your child is in walking down the toy aisle and wants a toy he doesn’t need. You say no. Can you kid handle no (or does he beg, nag or have a tantrum to get his way).
  • “ME!” She is self-centered and thinks the world revolves around her. She thinks more of herself than about others. She feels “entitled” and expects special favors and generally succeeds in getting them. He watches TV. You do the housework. She doesn’t like the dinner. You cook another meal just for her. He wants an extension on his homework assignment that he never got around to doing and expects the teacher to give it to him.
  • “GIMME!” A spoiled kid is more into getting than receiving, because she has so much and she just wants more. She’s generally unappreciative and a bit greedy. You can’t think of what to give her for the holidays because she already has everything. He requests things only by brand name. She bases her character on what she owns and wears instead of who she is. Do you feel more like an ATM machine than a parent?
  • “NOW!” A spoiled kid just can’t wait and wants things A.S.A.P. It’s just plain easier to give in to this child than to postpone her request. She interrupts when you’re on the phone and expects you to stop. And you do. She whines to get the cookie-n.o.w.-and can’t wait for after dinner.

Be honest…Do any of those words fit your child’s typical behavior? Any one words could indicate that your child is moving into the “spoiled” category. Here is another quick test: Do you think an outsider would consider your child spoiled? If so, it’s time for a serious makeover.

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Teens today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were thirty years ago. Why is a lack of empathy—along with the self-absorption epidemic Dr. Michele Borba calls the Selfie Syndrome—so dangerous? First, it hurts kids’ academic performance and leads to bullying behaviors. Also, it correlates with more cheating and less resilience. And once children grow up, it hampers their ability to collaborate, innovate and problem-solve—all must-have skills for the global economy. The good news? Empathy is a trait that can be taught and nurtured.  UnSelfie is a blueprint for parents and educators who want activate our children’s hearts and shift their focus from I, me, and mine… to we, us, and ours.  It’s time to include “empathy” in our parenting and teaching!  UnSelfie is AVAILABLE NOW at amazon.com.

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

Last updated on December 10th, 2019 at 02:25 am

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

3 Stress Busters for Kids and Teens

Last updated on October 14th, 2019 at 10:28 am

Think stress is just for adults? Not these days.

Research finds that between 8 and 10 percent of American children and teens are seriously troubled by stress and symptoms. And stress is also hitting our children at younger ages. If left untreated stress not only affects children’s friendships as well as school success, but also their physical and emotional well-being. Chronic stress symptoms break down children’s immune system as well as increasing their likelihood for depression.

One thing is certain: Stress is part of life and each child handles stress differently. The critical four parenting questions are:

How does my child handle stress?

What could be triggering the stress?

What can I do to reduce unhealthy stress?

And does my child know healthy ways to reduce the stress?

Here are three steps to reduce kid stress and solutions to help children and teens cope with stress.

STRESS BUSTER STEP 1: Defuse Home Stress

One recent study found that 85% of teens say they are stressed—and the number one cause: the stress at home! It may be time to take a Home Climate Stress Check. Here are just a few things to consider:

How is the everyday climate in your home

Does it increase your kid’s stress level or help him relax? Are there opportunities for your family to relax?

Are you watching your family’s diet intake for things that could increase stress?

Are there times you’re modeling how to let down and cool off to your kids?

Are you checking your kids’ (and your) stress loads?

Are you making sure sleep is on everyone’s agenda?

Are you taking time to talk to your kids about their day and their worries?

Are you checking your kids’ work load? Can they keep up?

Watch out! Stress is mounting and is impacting our children’s emotional health. Competition, after school activities, a lack of sleep, a crunched schedule, peer pressure, tests, and bullying are just a few things that boost our kids unhealthy stress levels. Make sure your home is a place where your kids can de-stress. Build in times where you and your kids can relax.

STRESS BUSTER STEP 2: Know Your Child’s Stress Signs

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

  • Physical 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 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.

STRESS BUSTER STEP 3:  Teach Family Members How to Handle Stress

This last step is crucial but often overlooked: Make sure you teach your child a specific way to reduce stress. Without knowing how to cut the stress, it will only mount. Here are a few strategies. Choose the one that works best for you and your family. Then practice, practice, practice until it becomes a habit and your child can use the stress reducer without you.

  • Melt the tension: Tell your child to make his body feel stiff and straight like a wooden soldier. Every bone from his head to toe is “tense” (or “stressed”). Now tell him to make his body limp (or “relaxed”) like a rag doll or windsock. Once he realizes he can make himself relax, he can find the spot in his body where he feels the most tension; perhaps his neck, shoulder muscles, or jaw. He then closes his eyes, concentrates on the spot, tensing it up for three or four seconds, and then lets it go. While doing so, tell him to imagine the stress slowly melting away from the top of his head and out his toes until he feels relaxed or calmer.
  • Use a positive phrase: Teach your child to say a comment inside her head to help her handle stress. Here are a few: “Calm down.” “I can do this.” “Stay calm and breathe slowly.” “It’s nothing I can’t handle.”
  • Teach elevator breathing: Tell your child to close his eyes, slowly breath out three times, then imagine he’s in an elevator on the top of a very tall building. He presses the button for the first floor and watches the buttons for each level slowly light up as the elevator goes down. As the elevator descends, his stress fades away.
  • Visualize a calm place: Ask your child to think of an actual place he’s been to where he feels peaceful. For instance: the beach, his bed, grandpa’s backyard, a tree house. When stress kicks in, tell him to close his eyes and imagine that spot, while breathing slowly.
  • Blow your worries away: An instant way to relax is taking a slow deep breath from your diaphragm that gets oxygen to your brain. A quick way to teach the skill is to tell her to pretend she’s blowing up a balloon in her tummy (as you count “one, two, three” slowly). Then she lets the air out with an exaggerated “Ah-h-h-h” sound (like when the doctor looks in her throat). Explain that taking slow breaths from deep in your tummy will help blow her worries away and then encourage her to practice taking slow, steady breaths by blowing soap bubbles or using a pinwheel.
  • Find a relaxer: Every child is different, so find what helps your kid relax, and then encourage him to use it on a regular basis. Some kids respond to drawing pictures or writing about their stress in a journal. Other kids say imagining what “relaxing” or “calm” feels like helps. (Show him how to make his body feel like a slowly moving fluffy white cloud or a rag doll). Or allocate a cozy place in your home where your kid can chill out when he needs to ease the tension.

All kids will display signs of stress every now and then. Be concerned when you see a marked change in what is “normal” for your child’s behavior that lasts longer than two weeks. When you see your child struggling and feeling overwhelmed, it’s time to seek help from a mental health professional. And don’t wait: Stressed-out kids are two to four times more likely to develop depression, and as teens they are much more likely to become involved with substance abuse.

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