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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.

Home Alone After School? Top 8 Safety Checks for Parents

Last updated on October 14th, 2019 at 10:30 am

little boy opening doorWe are now a few weeks into the new school year and along with all the new fresh faces roaming the halls during school, there are fresh faces staying home alone after school for the first time.   Now I’m pretty sure that if you have made the decision to leave your child home alone after school that they are what you deem to be old enough and a responsible person.  Yet even the most responsible adult can run into problems or have emergencies when home alone, so a little pre-planning and forethought can go a long way to your child’s safety and your peace of mind.

Let’s start with the basic safety checks:

  • Emergency contact numbers, are they known or preprogrammed into a phone or highly visible place near the phone?, Parents, friends, neighbors ,poison  control ?, the best case scenario would be to have someone close to your home whom you trust to be aware of the situation and willing to be on call.
  • Safety gear, Next we can get all of our safety gear such as flashlights, candles, and a fire extinguisher all together and know how to safely use each.  As a little side note, any fire station will gladly teach you how to properly use an extinguisher.
  • Medications, these can be anything from pills that parents take to needed medications for the child like Insulin or any type of med available in the home.  Medications that parents take should be kept locked up and medications the child may need to take while home alone should be clearly taught and understood and closely monitored by the parents upon coming home.
  • Household cleaners should always be locked up if there are  little ones around and if they are not, it should be understood the dangers they present when used and how to take proper precautions, such as opening a window for ventilation and hand and eye protection.
  • Major emergencies, It cannot be understated how important it is to call 911. It should be understood that calling 911 is not embarrassing and should not get anyone in trouble.  It is what we are here for.  Should anything happen in or around the home when your child is home alone that makes them feel unsafe, please instruct them to call 911 right away! ,They could be cooking and accidentally start a fire or smell smoke in an odd place,  hear electrical buzzing, maybe they see or hear someone outside or anything that makes them feel unsafe, please make it ok for them to call 911. If it turns out to be nothing, that is fine. You can talk about it when you get home and everyone is alive, safe and well.

Three of the biggest things we worry about with children that are home alone are Fire, Strangers and Weapons. 

  • In the case of fire, it is a great idea to have an escape plan from your home.  Escaping from a single story window or door may not be hard but a second or third story may require an emergency ladder or alternate route in case of stairs blocked by fire.
  • When it comes to strangers, there is no shortage of bad people. That being said, it is a good idea to have a do not answer the door policy and even a do not acknowledges anyone at the door policy.  If it is at night, the house should be well lit and should the person at the door not go away or make your child feel unsafe then 911 should be the next call. A police officer recently told me it’s a good idea to have a second alarm control keypad in the upstairs area that can be activated with a panic button in case of an intruder or strange noise.
  • When it comes to Weapons it goes without saying that they should be respected and understood.  Your child is home alone and if there are weapons in the home they should be safely stored, locked and secured as to avoid the awful accidents we see on the news every year.   If your child is old enough, trained and certified with a gun, then it is your decision to give them access to it, but be warned because accidents happen.  I would think it would be a better and much safer thing to do the things that deter unwanted guests, such as outdoor lighting, cameras, alarm company signage, a dog, anything that does not put a loaded weapon in your child’s hands.

I hope these safety checks give you something to think about and I hope it keeps all the kids safe.

Keeping You and Your Family Safe From “Free Roaming” Dogs

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

Father and toddler feeding and walking with dogMany years ago, my sister had told me that while out walking her small young pup (A shih Tzu/Bichon mix) near my Mom’s house, a huge Mastiff came flying out of a house and ran straight for them. Her initial reaction was one that many of us would have…. Protect the one you love… so she grabbed Sylvi off the ground and used her own body to block the huge dog from getting to her.

I had not heard much more on this subject until recently…. but in the past few months, I have heard it quite a bit. My sister called me for advice on how to respond to some recent articles in her neighborhood newspaper about unleashed aggressive dogs in the neighborhood, that come flying out at people walking by with their dogs or kids. A friend of mine stepped in when a dog viciously went after her dog, and she ended up getting severely bitten in the process. And yet another instance where my friend’s 7 year old daughter was playing in her own front yard and a medium sized stray went after her. She only got a scratch, but that was because luckily, her Dad was right inside and chased the dog away… or it would have been much worse! But the most difficult part of this is that this little girl, who loved all animals, is now a bit fearful of dogs.

Let’s face it, having to be on guard the entire time is anything BUT relaxing!… so how do you handle it when a strange dog comes flying at you, your child, or your dog while you are just out for a nice relaxing stroll?

I have heard many different solutions to this problem… for example, some recommend carrying mace or pepper spray at all times. The problem I find with this is that for it to be effective, the dog has to be right up on you already.  At that point, the spray may lessen the damage they do, but is not going to thwart the attack. The other danger to this is that you are spraying a chemical while you are in a panicked state, not to mention to use this item, you have to remove the cap, point and aim correctly, and make sure the wind outside is in your favor. The chances of you spraying it and hitting your target are minimal at best, and if you accidently spray towards your own eyes, you are now rendered useless and cannot help you, your child or your dog.

Another method I have heard used often is a walking stick brought along on the walk. The stick could be used as a weapon against a stray dog coming at you. However, for the same reason I find the Pepper spray or Mace to not be a good idea, again with a stick, you have to wait until the dog is right up on you to use it effectively.

So what is your best option? To start, some things to do before your next walk:

  1. First off, the most important thing you can do is to remind yourself to stay calm. No one thinks clearly when they are panicked.
  2. With regards to your children, you need to have a safety word that lets them know NOT to scream or run at that moment. Because self preservation is present the minute we are born So instinctively, if a dog runs towards your child, their initial reaction will be to scream and run. This is absolutely the WORST thing that they can do at that moment. When an animal in the wild is actively being hunted or pursued, it shrieks and runs away. So when your child goes to do this, it sets off the chase/prey/hunt instinct even more. Whatever your word(s) may be, make sure your child understands it means to calmly and quietly step behind you, but not to grab your legs….which would restrict your movement.
  3. Another important piece of advice…. Kids are notorious for asking a million questions. This is not the time or place to answer them. I remember growing up my Dad always had one rule in his car that had to be obeyed… if he said, “DUCK” at any time; we were to do it first, ask questions later. Same rule applies to your safety word. Now is not the time for: “But why…??”
  4. Finally – get yourself a very loud air horn. You will find them very inexpensively at Walmart or even at Party City . The advantage to these are they are lightweight, easy to use, no harmful chemicals are utilized, and best of all, it works!! Why does it work? When an animal has ‘locked on’ to a target, it is very hard to sway them from their mark. (We actually discuss this in detail in my post Recognize a Dog’s Body Language Before Your Child Get’s Bitten). Their 100% focus is on that target at the moment. However, a very loud and unexpected noise will break through and interrupt that brain wave that has them focused on you, your child, or your pet. Think of all the old movies you have ever seen that take place in the wilderness…. When the wild animal is about to attack, the human in the movie will shoot their gun into the air… and the animal takes off. Again, it is the loud unexpected noise that startles them and changes that brain wave.

If you are with a pet or a child and a strange dog comes at you, don’t quickly bend and pick them up. This now makes you the obstacle they have to get through to get to their target, and they will have no qualms about attacking you to get to them. Add to this that if you panic and go to pick up your dog or your child, now you have to juggle them and the horn, making it that much harder for you to use the air horn effectively.

Again, the most important thing is for you not to panic…. The calmer you stay, the calmer your child or pet will be knowing that you have the situation under control.

So now lets walk through the steps of what to do if a strange dog is coming at you, your child, or your pet…..

  • If you are walking with your child….. Have the air horn in an easily accessible place… many of them come with belt clip-ons. You see an animal coming towards you, Remember to remain calm…. sudden movements may agitate the stray even more. Give your child the word that means stand behind you. Your child gets behind you and you have your body turned towards the approaching animal. Mother And Daughter Walking Along PathCalmly take the air horn, and now blast the air horn. (Hold the button down for a long continuous noise. You don’t want to keep hitting the button over and over again… remember, it is the loud sudden unexpected noise that startles and stops them… don’t give them a chance to ‘get used to ‘ the noise by repeatedly hitting the button It will lose its effectiveness.) While holding the button down, instruct your child to start slowly walking backwards with you. When the animal stops and/or runs away, be aware that your adrenaline is still pumping…. It is a scary moment…. But do not start running away with your child…. It may cause the animal that was retreating to want to chase you again. Keep calmly walking away until you know you and your child are safe. Now, remember to tell your child what a great job they did!!!! Let them know how proud you are of them, that your teamwork kept both of you safe!!!
  • If you are walking with your dog…. It is important to remember that your dog’s instinct is going to be either fight or flight….. which are both dangerous reactions in this scenario. If their instinct is flight…and they go to run, the aggressive dog is going to give chase. On the flip side, if their instinct is to protect you…and they go into fight mode, they are actually ‘challenging’ the other animal and things can get ugly very fast. So remember, before heading out for your walk, put the air horn in an easy-to-reach convenient place. If another animal comes towards you, immediately tighten up on the leash, or step on the leash as close to their collar as you can get. (One of the advantages of you stepping on the leash close to the collar, is that this unusual action will surprise your dog, and they will be more focused on this than the approaching threat. It will also keep them still and free up your hands.  Now blast that air horn!! Remember that it may startle your dog as well, so make sure you either have a firm grip on your leash, or that your foot holding the leash is firmly planted. The last thing you want is to have your foot on the leash, the air horn frightens your dog, and your dog tries to run, knocking you over in the process. Once the intruder has ran off, do not assume they are gone for good. Start backing away with your dog, keeping an eye on where the intruder went. You don’t want to turn your back on the intruder, thinking he is gone, bending over to pick up your dog and now you are attacked. Once you are sure they are gone, you can then pick up your dog or start walking away… but again, don’t run… it can attract the intruder’s attention and have him coming back for more.
  • If the other dog starts to head back in your direction, blast that horn again, long and loud.  It should stop them in their tracks.  At the very least, it should attract passerby attention and hopefully get you some assistance.

So to wrap this up, we’ll do a quick recap…. Before leaving for your walk, have the air-horn in an easily accessible place. If a strange dog starts to come towards you, remain calm and rational, have your child get behind you slowly, or hold your dog’s leash firmly to you. Do not run away or make any sudden movements. Give the air horn a long steady blast, not a bunch of quick bursts, then slowly back away, keeping an eye on where the intruder disappeared, and once you know you are safe, praise your child or pet your dog and reassure them (and yourself!) that you did a good job keeping every body safe!!

One last comment: as a professional trainer, I’m sorry to have to add that I can’t account for every possible dog’s reaction. I wish I could. But, for example, a dog that has been trained to be aggressive may not react the way the majority of animals would.  There are always exceptions to every rule – however in most cases, this will be the most effective way to keep you and your family safe.

Parents: Beware The Zombies (Phones, That Is)!

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

When cellphones made their introduction into the market, they were only capable of audio transmissions (calls).  Technology increased, opening up the opportunity for texting and eventually, video transmission.  Today’s smart phones are so different from their ancestors that I don’t even refer to them as phones, but as portable computers that are capable of telecommunications.

zombie hand holding phone

New 5G phones work at speeds of 300 Mbps – fast enough to stream video calls, YouTube videos or even movies from Netflix, Hulu or any other service.  The difference in speed is only one difference between the two generations.  The way they transmit data has also changed.  Dramatically.

No longer dependent on a service provider and access to cell towers to transmit data, these portable computers only need access to Wifi to be virtually 100% equal to a phone that has phone service.

In mid-August of this year, a story went viral about a teenager named Dorothy who was punished by her mom for not paying attention to the stove, resulting in a fire.  The punishment, if the story is to be believed (there is some doubt) goes that her mom took away all of her devices, leaving the girl cut off from her online life.  Not to be outsmarted by her mom, Dorothy was able to access WiFi capable devices, even sending out a tweet from her refrigerator!  Shortly afterwards, #FreeDorothy started trending online.

Teenagers are Digital Natives.  They grew up with technology.  Even at pre-school, they may have been using technology on a daily basis.  I didn’t get to use my first computer until I was a high school sophomore and it was about the size of my current car.  Today’s middle school children are likely to have a computer in their pocket that is more powerful than the Cray supercomputers from decades ago that only the elite could use.

And they’re virtually addicted to them.  In a 2015 study conducted by CNN called Being 13: Inside the Secret World of Teens, one young girl stated that she might take as many as 200 selfies just to get the “right” one that is good enough to post online.  She wasn’t alone in showing just how engrained social media had become to her generation.

Even if Dorothy’s story is untrue, it still illustrates the degree to which technology has become an integrated part of our daily lives.  It’s in places we’d never expect and is capable of doing things that would surprise most people, including parents.  As a result, any inactive phone that is capable of using WiFi can be used to go online, access social media accounts, or send texts and emails.  That’s a zombie phone.

In fact, with apps like WhatsApp, the calling app owned by Facebook, they can even create a unique phone number and continue to make calls.  While watching a cybersafety program delivered by a local police department, the detective told us how he got a phone call on his personal phone, but he didn’t recognize the number.  He was amazed to hear his grade school aged daughter on the other end, who explained that she downloaded WhatsApp on her tablet and called her dad.

Taking away a child’s devices might be done for any reason, including doing something inappropriate online or offline.  In theory, it’s a punishment that should stop a child from getting online, but the reality is very different. Restricting a child’s access to their phones might have no real effect on their ability to go online.  With so many homes and businesses having WiFi, any device that can use WiFi can get them back online.  That includes desktop computers, laptops, tablets and inactive portable computers that are capable of telecommunications.

While at home, parents can see who is using their WiFi without their knowledge. Outside of the home is another matter entirely.  Many businesses, restaurants, public libraries and the like offer free WiFi as a way to encourage people to spend more time there.  In addition to providing a child with the opportunity to “get around their parent’s decision to keep them offline for a time”, using open/public WiFi also opens the device to viruses and malware.  While that may not be a concern for an old, inactive phone, it also might put their account information at risk too, including passwords and even credit card information.

So what does all this mean for parents?

The solution is not an easy one.  Many children may already have zombie phones and their parents may never know about them.  Certainly, if this is a concern to a parent, they should take older phones from their children with each upgrade so that they no longer remain in their possession.

Another way to see if children are using zombie devices is to check their social media accounts.  Parents should not just assume that their kids are not able to get online once their devices have been “removed”, so there’s no need to check on their online activity.  With schools back in session now, they will most likely have access on school devices as well as using zombie devices with a school’s WiFi, so keep that in mind.

Learning what technology is capable of doing and involvement with our kids’ online lives is the best way to be keep them safe.  That may not sound simple and in fact, it’s not, but our kids are worth it.  Learning what technology is capable of doing is the easy part.  Getting the kids to open up to their parents is the hard part.  However, in an article I wrote here for Pediatric Safety last June, I showed parents ways to help get kids to open up to them.  Try it for yourself and you should see a difference.

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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Dr Borba’s book The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and WildestWorries, 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.

Would You “Sabotage” Your Special Needs Child For More Services?

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

We all know the bad news about the economy. We also know that raising a child can be expensive, and raising a special needs child can be incredibly expensive. Public schools and agencies can’t keep up with demand, so only the most extreme cases qualify for services. Usually this involves an assessment or examination. Many times I struggle with myself – I want my child to do well on these tests, but I also want her to get as much assistance and support as possible.

Other special needs moms say things like, “Well, I know he can do that task but he was tired so he wouldn’t cooperate,” and I wonder if they put their child to bed late on purpose. Or a caregiver will “forget” a medication, or let a dietary rule lapse before an appointment.  And I wonder if they really forgot something they have done every day faithfully up until that point.  Did they actually not know the ingredients of that food when they read all labels diligently?  Or are they deliberately sabotaging their child in order to gain more assistance?  And would I do the same?

It seems to be more and more cut-throat out there.  Caregivers must constantly advocate for the special needs children in their lives.  My fear is that anything my child is given means that another child with greater support needs might not get helped.  I feel guilty about that.  But on the other hand, anything my child is denied means she may never reach her true potential.  She may have to learn to live with a challenge that she could have overcome if it had been addressed in therapy.  Isn’t it my job to give her the best future possible?

So where do you stand?  Where do you draw the line?  Have you ever sabotaged your child accidentally, or on purpose?  It’s okay, your secret is safe with me because I really, truly understand.