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Really Listening – activities for your family

Make your own family’s “Day of Listening” to both record family stories and for everyone to practice their listening skills.

Here are some family games that help sharpen listening skills:

Series of Sound

Using everyday items, you can incorporate hidden sounds into a family game. Challenge family members to listen for, draw, and repeat a series of common sounds. It’s amazing how much everyone tunes out the sounds around them.

Preparation

  • Collect everyday objects such as a stapler, book, paper, kitchen tools or toys and place in a plastic bin or cardboard box.
  • Be sure to have a variety of items on hand to make noise with. Take turns making organizing a set number of these. For example, a series might include banging a book on the desk, bouncing a small ball, stomping your foot, clapping your hands, stapling papers, whistling, clicking keyboard keys, or shaking a bag of Lego blocks.

Instructions

  1. After dinner, have everyone at the table listen for sounds made only by the designated “sound engineer.”
  2. Every time a new sound is made, everyone should draw a picture of the item that made the sound.
  3. After all the sounds are made, share everyone’s lists, pass around the items drawn and recreate the series of sounds in order. Celebrate everyone’s listening success and laugh about the sounds no one got.

The Last Word

Multi-tasking is an essential element of effective listening. Similar to a common improvisation activity, this game challenges students to listen to classmates while also preparing a relevant statement in their head. Small or large groups can easily play ‘The Last Word.’

  1. Choose a topic such as in the jungle, prehistoric life, an episode of a TV show, or a new pop song.
  2. Select an order by handing out numbers or base your order on the seating arrangements.
  3. The first player must walk to the front of the room and say one sentence that relates to the chosen topic.
  4. The next player must immediately walk to the front of the room and say one sentence that starts with the last word said by the player immediately before them.
  5. Play continues until all students have had a turn. If a student is unable to come up with an appropriate sentence within ten seconds, he is out of the game.
  6. Game play continues in this fashion until there is only one person left and he is the winner.

Story Builder

Instead of playing 20 Questions on your next car trip. start a story where one person starts a story with a single sentence. Each person adds a new sentence, but only after repeating all of the previous sentences.

Check out this list of 15 Activities to Build Listening Skills:

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Why Parents Need to Really Listen Right Now

(using Active Listening Skills)

Are you concerned about how your child (or spouse, or friend) is coping with all of the issues confronting them right now?  Have you actually tried to find out what things are really bothering them, rather than just assuming that they are facing the same issues and concerns that you are facing?  Are you confident that they know they can bring their concerns to you and find a safe space where they can process everything that’s going on, knowing that you will understand and respond with empathy?  (And not try to solve their problems, or offer your opinions.)

Have you walked away from a serious conversation with your child feeling like your words were just not sticking? Maybe your child feels the same way.  As Amanda Ripley wrote “Humans need to be heard before they will listen.”  In lockdown we’re with our families mostly 24-7, and tuning everyone out is one coping mechanism. Unfortunately, it also closes the door on really being able to help your child deal with their frustrations and concerns.  Now is the time to mix things up and start by looking at how you listen.  And as your listening skills improve, so will your child’s, and you will be heard.

It’s easy for the important things to go out of focus while you’re trying to work from home and manage your child’s online learning. In the midst of COVID-fatigue, it becomes rather easy to go through the motions of listening, and not really hear what your child is saying. When this happens, we can miss little cues that tell us how they are doing and how they are feeling.  Equally important, your child notices that you aren’t listening, which makes them feel belittled and insignificant

To “really hear” what someone is saying, you have to consciously put yourself in the “really listening” mode.  Your responses to the speaker will let them know that they are being heard.  Think about a conversation where you felt the person you were speaking with really heard what you were saying. It’s likely that person used some of these active listening techniques that made you feel heard and understood:

  • Eye contact
  • Attentiveness
  • Open minded
  • Don’t interrupt
  • Ask questions to help better understand the situation
  • Empathize with the person
  • Give positive feedback

When your child is sharing a part of their day with you, put yourself in “really listening” mode and show that you are listening. For a child, knowing that they are being heard provides a sense of security and reinforces positive self-esteem.  When your child knows they won’t be judged they can safely bring their concerns to you — not only the issues they are facing now but also the ever-more-difficult ones they will face as they grow up.

These active listening skills are important in situations when you want to be an involved parent and help your child make good decisions. Listening well does not mean you always agree with what your child is saying. If you don’t agree with what your child says or how they handled a situation, take a step back and listen in order to try to understand where your child is coming from and how to coach them on where they are going.  Really hearing someone means you do not jump in with your opinion, ideas or judgment; it means that you absorb what the speaker is saying and respond with empathy.  And as you really listen to your child, you can help them assess their actions, analyze their options, and choose their path.  You can’t be by your child’s side every minute, telling them what choices to make and what actions to take.  As they grow up, you have to trust the lessons your child learned as you calmly nodded and coached them through their earlier mishaps.

This is especially important right now when we’re all mourning losses: a loved one, the opportunity to play on the varsity team, a graduation celebration, a long-planned vacation, a visit with grandparents, or simply hanging out with friends. Being able to listen to and help your child name and explore their feelings, such as anger, frustration and sadness, will help them as they process their experiences and prepare to move on.

As you listen to your child, take the opportunity to think about how you experienced things when you were your child’s age and what things were like for you at that point in your life. Then you can provide perspective that can help your child think about and understand their own experience.

Your empathy is powerful. Your child learns about how to communicate in every conversation they have. Making some of these techniques part of how your family talks with each other, you will be benefiting your child’s ability to communicate with their peers, now over Zoom, FaceTime, etc., later when they return to school, and in social situations generally. Being an effective listener helps make an active learner, as well as providing valuable skills for problem solving and conflict resolution. These skills also help build a strong foundation for your family’s relationships and communications; these skills can be crucial when faced with other challenging situations and provide a framework for working out conflict. And when life returns to some semblance of “normal” you’ll be able to point to your child’s resiliency in dealing with the challenges faced today.

*                      *                      *                      *                      *                      *

Try using these tips to help you get the best out of a conversation with your family and build bridges to better communication:

  1. Set up some one-on-one time with each of your children.  It can be as simple as when your child is helping you make dinner, set the table etc.
  2. Focus on your child.  Ask them how their day was (even if it was all spent within earshot of you), ask open ended questions, make sure they know you are interested in what they have to say.
  3. Try not to interrupt if they are telling you a story about some behavior you don’t really agree with. Try to ask questions that are not judgmental. For example, “why do you think you reacted that way?”, “how did you feel after you had that reaction?”. Help your child sort through the emotions and come up with their own conclusions.
  4. Put yourself in your child’s position.  Try to listen and not over-analyze what they are saying. Remember your child is talking to you, they want to trust you with their stories and feelings.
  5. Share an experience where something similar has happened to you, and you can offer some comfort.
  6. Restate parts of the story, so your child knows you are listening. This also helps you better understand the context of the story.
  7. Repeat this sequence with each of your children.  Sometimes having these conversations as a group will ensure that no family member feels left out and not heard. 

Over time, using these techniques will help develop your family’s listening “muscle.” According to Stephen Walton from The Positive Parenting Centre website: “It’s critical to model your capacity to listen and understand.  In turn, your child will instinctively develop active listening techniques of their own.  They will become less argumentative and defensive, become more democratic and develop emotional maturity.”  Be the best listener you can be to help promote good communication and understanding within your family.   Active listening is not only about paying attention, it is also about engaging in dialogue, and one important pay-off is deeper and richer family relationships.

Further Reading

Nine Nonobvious Ways to Have Deeper Conversationshttps://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/19/opinion/nine-nonobvious-ways-to-have-deeper-conversations.html

To Process Grief Over Covid-19 Children Need Empathetic Listening

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/to-process-grief-over-covid-19-children-need-empathetic-listening/

Grieving the Losses of Coronavirushttps://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/23/well/family/coronavirus-grief-loss.html

A List of 9 Books to Help Teach and Reinforce Active Listening

http://www.parents.com/fun/entertainment/books/best-books-to-teach-listening/

How to Use Active Listening with your Kids

Listening is a Skill

Ten Steps to Help with Active Listening

https://www.forbes.com/sites/womensmedia/2012/11/09/10-steps-to-effective-listening/#1717be7d3891

Active Listening Skills Enrich your Parental Communication

http://www.the-positive-parenting-centre.com/active_listening_skills.html

Become a Better Listener

https://psychcentral.com/lib/become-a-better-listener-active-listening/

Everybody Loves Raymond Uses Active Listening

‘When I Was Your Age’ And Other Pitfalls Of Talking To Teens About Stress

http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/04/16/523592625/-when-i-was-your-age-and-other-conversational-pitfalls-of-talking-to-teens

Taking Action – to learn about activities you can do with your family to enforce really listening, click here.

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More Information on Setting Limits for Older Children and Teens

It’s important to keep your cool when talking about limits with older children and teens. Not only are you teaching self-control and responsibility, as a parent, you’re modeling that behavior.

  • Rules need to be specific. Have a family discussion so that everyone is on the same page and understands both the rules and the consequences. 
  • Create dialogue by involving your child in developing the rules and consequences; that way, even if they are not fully satisfied with the boundary, they will have a better sense of the rationale behind it.
  • Consistently follow through with consequences.
  • Recognize and encourage success and effort
  • Keep the conversation going so that the boundaries you establish change both as your child grows and matures and can handle more responsibility. If rules aren’t respected, keep talking so that problems can be addressed before they get too overwhelming.
  • Reach out for help. There are lots of resources in the community: counselors at school, clergy at houses of worship, community organizations like COPE or others on our website.

Further Reading

Questions for Setting Limits

From Australia: Independence in teenagers: how to support it

Advice about having the hard conversations with your teen:

What should I teach my high school-aged teen about personal safety?

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More Information on Setting Limits for Toddlers and Young Children

It’s all about safety and establishing a routine for babies and very young children, but even when speaking to young children, how you communicate these limits is important.

Explain the limit in a positive way that explain why there is a boundary:

  • “Hold my hand when we cross the street. There are lots of cars and you might get hurt.”

Use an “I-message:”

  • “I can’t let you throw sand, you might hurt someone in the sandbox. Unless you stop, we’ll have to go home.”

Consequences should be logical:

  • “If you yell loudly at the movie, we’ll have to go home because other people can’t hear.”

Use “when” statement to communicate your expectations:

  • “When you have washed your hands, you can have a snack.”

Offer choices:

  • “It’s cold outside, you can wear your sweater or your jacket.”

Further Reading

5 Ways to Set Limits  by Eleanor Reynolds

Essentials for Parenting Toddlers and Pre-Schoolers: Creating Structures and Rules from the CDC

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Making Lemonade Out of Lemons: What Making Mistakes Teaches Us

Saying “No!” and meaning it a big part of parenting; equally important is how you frame conversations about your child’s mistakes. Turn making a mistake into a problem-solving opportunity. Brain science research tells us that making mistakes can help us learn. Doing it wrong should send the message to work harder to get it right, not discourage you from trying. So, what can we do as parents to encourage this “growth” mindset? To give children confidence to feel good about themselves and their abilities to ultimately get it right requires that parents lay a foundation, all of which are building blocks of positive parenting:

  • Manage expectations: this strategy only works when expectations are realistic. What is being asked should be age/developmentally appropriate.
  • Set a good example: when you get frustrated or mess up, do you rage or laugh at yourself?
  • Be patient with accidents and mistakes. Calmly having kids clean up their own messes teach responsibility and that these things do happen.
  • Recognize effort; find the positive and ask what lesson was learned.
  • Don’t solve your child’s problems for her. Throw a lifeline to help her understand her mistakes and focus on how to find solutions.
  • Empathize. Show you understand and believe in your child’s abilities.
  • Consequences still matter. Don’t skip the conversation about how to right a wrong.
  • Stay in the moment; don’t shift focus to past mistakes.
  • Problem solving doesn’t always work in all situations; some problems can’t be solved, know when to try a different approach.

The process of how you do something sometimes matters more than the result or outcome. The lessons that stay with you are the ones that you own. The key is to make figuring something out a part of the fun.

Another piece of developing your child’s confidence by allowing them room to learn from their experience, both good and bad, is backing off from being the over-involved parent. Sometimes demonstrating love by being in the middle of your child’s life experience blocks them from developing the very independence and resiliency you want from them.

Here’s an interesting take:  When to Advocate for Your Child and When to Back-off.It’s a quick read and will help give you some perspective.

Want to read more: How Making Mistakes Primes Kids to Learn BetterLearn From Mistakes and How Praise Became the Consolation Prize.

Don’t forget that how you communicate is as important as what you communicate. Here’s a link to a simple chart for giving good directions.

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When Your Teen Has a Friend in Crisis

When Your Teen has a Friend in Crisis

It’s important to support teens who are dealing with a friend’s crisis. Coaching them to make good choices in responding to their friend’s issues will not only help the friend, it will model for your teen how to handle difficult situations.

Whether your teen openly tells you that he is worried about a friend or you just have a “sixth sense” that something is wrong, the first step is to encourage your teen to speak to someone if he is worried about a friend. It may not be you, but as a parent, you should follow up with your child about his having shared his concerns. Let him know that talking to someone is the right thing to do, even if the friend has asked for secrecy. You know that your teen is still a child—and needs your guidance– even if he thinks that he and his friends are “grown-up.”

Supporting friends is hard work and emotionally draining. Your job to parent your teen. Show empathy, ask “Are you okay? I’m here to for you if you want to talk.”

Help your teen make a plan. How is he going to act on his concern? Guide him to make good choices, especially about sharing concerns with his friend’s parents. Prepare him for his friend’s reaction, which may be anger at your teen. Remind your teen that he acted out of concern and that he may just have to weather his friend’s anger or hurt.

Dealing with a friend in crisis may be the first time your teen has to wrestle with big emotional issues and the challenges that life throws us all. Remember that how you support your teen models how you want him to support the people that are important to him.

Resources for Parents:

How to Talk to Your Teen About A Suicide

https://med.nyu.edu/child-adolescent-psychiatry/news/csc-news/2016/parenting-teenagers-how-talk-your-teen-about-suicide

When A Child’s Friend Attempts Suicide

How to Help Someone In Crisis

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/September-2017/How-to-Help-Someone-in-Crisis

Supporting a Teen with a Friend in Need

Consider reviewing this webpage together with your teen, as it contains disturbing content.

Taking Action: How to Intervene During an Overdose

Resources for Teens:

Save a Friend: Tips for Teens to Prevent Suicide

https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources/school-safety-and-crisis/preventing-youth-suicide/save-a-friend-tips-for-teens-to-prevent-suicide

Four Key Things That Can Help You Support A Friend

https://www.youthbeyondblue.com/help-someone-you-know/supporting-a-friend

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Setting Limits: Why saying no may be the most important gift you give your children

            It’s hard to say no. Ask any parent of a young child, especially when it has been a long day at work, near the end of a long, rainy weekend day, or in the cookie aisle of the supermarket. There are plenty of times when it feels easier just to say “yes” just to get a little peace and quiet. These are the times to refocus yourself and remember just how important it is for children to have clear, consistent limits.        

            When parents set boundaries and expectations, they are helping their children feel safe and secure. If the rules are clear and children know what is expected of them, they learn not only how to regulate their own behavior, they also learn what your family values are.

            This doesn’t happen overnight. When you begin establishing rules and limits and consistently making your expectations clear over time, you are providing your children with a toolbox of skills they can use to navigate the emotional and behavioral challenges they will face throughout their lives.

            It’s both impossible and undesirable to manage setting limits at all times and in all circumstances. What matters most? Protecting your child from harm, looking after personal property, respecting and caring for other people—these are commonly-held principles for everyone.

            The other limits and boundaries you set depend on what is most important to you as a family; while the guiding principle remains the same (“A good night’s sleep is important”), the details (actual bedtime) will of course change over time as your child develops physically and emotionally. Other situations to consider are screen time, food choices, being left unsupervised, and of course, phone and driving privileges. As children mature into teenagers, these boundaries evolve into a means of helping them become responsible adults, especially when they are challenged by peer pressure.

            Here are some things to think about when setting limits for your family:

  • Knowing why a limit exists can make it easier to respect the limit.
  • Keeping rules simple and consistent also makes it easier to help your child follow them.
  • Use clear and straightforward language, focusing on “do” rather than “don’t.”
  • Offering your child choices when possible helps exercise decision-making skills.
  • Labeling behaviors rather than the child avoids the trap of promoting a poor self-image.
  • Praising success makes everyone happy.

            Most boundaries are not set once in stone for the entire course of a child’s development.  You can also think of boundaries as a set of evolving expectations that reflect your child’s developing brain. Involve your children in setting the rules and routines that structure everyday life in your family. Talking about why you have certain rules helps them to understand the reasons for having them and the consequences for not following them. You may also find that they see novel solutions that work for everyone!

Taking Action

Remember that children learn by pushing up against limits; as a parent, setting those limits and holding firm isn’t conflict. The boundaries parents set for their families keep everyone safe, reinforce a family values, and teach children how to live with others.

Toddlers and Young Children

It’s all about safety and establishing a routine for babies and very young children, but even when speaking to young children, how you communicate these limits is important.

Explain the limit in a positive way that explain why there is a boundary:

  • “Hold my hand when we cross the street. There are lots of cars and you might get hurt.”

Use an “I-message:”

  • “I can’t let you throw sand, you might hurt someone in the sandbox. Unless you stop, we’ll have to go home.”

Consequences should be logical:

  • “If you yell loudly at the movie, we’ll have to go home because other people can’t hear.”

Use “when” statement to communicate your expectations:

  • “When you have washed your hands, you can have a snack.”

Offer choices:

  • “It’s cold outside, you can wear your sweater or your jacket.”

Older Children and Teens

It’s important to keep your cool when talking about limits with older children and teens. Not only are you teaching self-control and responsibility, as a parent, you’re modeling that behavior.

  • Rules need to be specific. Have a family discussion so that everyone is on the same page and understands both the rules and the consequences. 
  • Create dialogue by involving your child in developing the rules and consequences; that way, even if they are not fully satisfied with the boundary, they will have a better sense of the rationale behind it.
  • Consistently follow through with consequences.
  • Recognize and encourage success and effort
  • Keep the conversation going so that the boundaries you establish change both as your child grows and matures and can handle more responsibility. If rules aren’t respected, keep talking so that problems can be addressed before they get too overwhelming.
  • Reach out for help. There are lots of resources in the community: counselors at school, clergy at houses of worship, community organizations like COPE or others on our website (hyperlink to website listings).

Further Reading

Toddlers and Young Children

How to Set Effective Limits With Your Child

http://www.ahaparenting.com/parenting-tools/positive-discipline/effective-limits

Everyday Rules and Limits

http://www.fredrogers.org/parents/everyday-experiences/everyday-limits.php

Making Rules and Setting Limits

https://www.kidsmatter.edu.au/sites/default/files/public/KMP_C3_ED_MakingRulesAndSettingLimits.pdf

5 Ways to Set Limits: By Eleanor Reynolds http://www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildhood/article_view.aspx?ArticleID=91

CDC: Essentials for Parenting Toddlers and Pre-Schoolers: Creating Structures and Rules

http://www.cdc.gov/parents/essentials/structure/index.html

Teens

Questions for Setting Limits

https://www.drugabuse.gov/family-checkup/question-4-setting-limits

Understanding Challenging Teens

http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/blogs/responding-struggling-teens-need-balance

Keeping Teens Healthy by Setting Boundaries

https://www.plannedparenthood.org/parents/keeping-teens-healthy-by-setting-boundaries

Technology

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-digital-family/201011/eparenting-setting-limits-even-if-your-kids-know-more-you-do

Internet Addiction

http://www.addictionrecov.org/Addictions/index.aspx?AID=43

Limiting Screen Time

http://familyinternet.about.com/od/introtofamilycomputing/a/LimitComputer.htm

Divorced Parents: Setting Consistent Limits

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-new-grief/201110/consistent-limits-help-children-survive-divorce

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Taking Care of the Caregiver (resources)

Taking Care of the Caregiver

Being a parent is hard work, and when a parent has the additional emotional and physical responsibility of being a caregiver to a family member, it can strain even the most resilient person. It’s important to take advantage of the many resources and tools available to help you provide care for your loved one. Remember, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to care for anyone else.

The Caregiver Coalition of United Way of Northern New Jersey has resources online and programs to support caregivers, including a handbook: http://www.unitedwaynnj.org/ourwork/heal_caregivers_pathways.php

The Caregiver Coalition website:

http://www.unitedwaynnj.org/ourwork/heal_caregivers.php

Taking Care of Yourself: Self -Care for Caregivers

http://www.cdss.ca.gov/agedblinddisabled/res/VPTC2/4%20Care%20for%20the%20Caregiver/Taking_Care_of_You_SelfCare_for_Family_Caregivers.pdf

25 Simple Self-Care Tools for Parents: Quick Ideas to Renew Energy, Strengthen Relationships, and Be Good to Yourself

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/joyful-parenting/201708/25-simple-self-care-tools-parents

Why Self-Care Is Essential to Parenting: Caring for Children with Intense Needs Can Take an Emotional (and Physical) Toll on Parents

How to Practice Self-Care When Your Child Is Living with Mental Illness

http://community.today.com/parentingteam/post/how-to-practice-self-care-when-your-child-is-living-with-mental-illness

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Raising a Resilient Child

As a parent you know that a healthy diet, exercise, and a good night sleep are important for your child to grow and thrive. These are all about keeping the body healthy as well as nurturing social and emotional well-being. For a child to truly thrive, their mental health and intellectual development are two – but not the only other – aspects of development to pay attention to as a parent. And you can apply these same concepts to your own well-being. You’ve probably heard the term “resilience.” Resilience is, very simply, the ability to quickly recover from adversity.

How does resiliency fit into your parenting goals? You can think about it as teaching your child to be a “half-full” kind of person and fighting the negativity of seeing the bad stuff in life as what defines you. Being able to adapt well in the face of challenges: turning around your day when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed; using “not doing well on a test” as a challenge to figure out how to do better next time and learn from less than satisfying results; not being devastated after losing the big game; how to mourn falling out with your best friend or breaking up with a girl or boy friend and not being defined by the ended relationship; as well as more serious adversity, trauma, or tragedy.

What is the key to thriving in the face of the bad stuff? It is a kind of balance, of having the “muscle memory” of thought patterns and behaviors that replenish physical, mental and emotional reserves to bounce back.

Like so much of parenting, cultivating resiliency in your child means that your behavior and responses set the example that your child will mirror. Being resilient means developing your own emotional bank account. To do this includes:

  • Be aware of your own thoughts and feelings
  • Form and maintain strong relationships
  • Cultivate optimism; fight pessimism
  • Learn from experience and be explicit in modeling this for your family
  • Practice self-care, including making physical exercise part of your routine as well as some mindfulness exercises
  • Lighten up; don’t take yourself too seriously, be able to laugh and be silly sometimes

Another piece of this puzzle is having a “growth mindset,” an outlook that encourages you to see challenges as an opportunity and not a barrier.

Through decades of research, Dr. Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist, found that people’s beliefs about their intelligence differ. Some people believe that their intelligence and abilities are unchangeable. In other words, you have a certain amount of intelligence, and you can’t do much to change it. This is called a “fixed mindset.” Think about the phrase, “I’m not a math person.” This statement indicates a fixed mindset about math, because it attributes math ability to an unchangeable quality. Others have different ideas about their intelligence and abilities. Some people believe that it is possible to grow your intelligence through effort. This is called a “growth mindset.” Think about the phrase, “Math was really confusing at first, but I’ve studied hard all year and I understand it a lot better now.” This indicates a growth mindset, because it shows a willingness to dig in deep.

(Fixed vs. Growth: Understand the two basic mindsets that shape our lives https://www.mindsetworks.com/parents/understanding-mindset)

There are tools to help you consciously shift your language toward a “growth mindset.” A useful one is this simple chart about changing how you, and in turn your family, thinks about problem solving:

From: Greater Good Website/Magazine: Science Based Insights for a Meaningful Life. Click here for more resources.

The next step is how you encourage and praise your child. You want to praise a child for her hard work rather than for being smart, emphasizing the effort and not the innate ability. Think about great musicians; every child prodigy who turned into a brilliant soloist got there through working hard, sports superstars train every day. It isn’t enough to innately be good at something, you need to work hard at it. For most of us mere mortals, the ability to persevere and keep working on solving a problem or mastering a skill is an essential part of accomplishing anything. The ability to do that is like a muscle, it needs to be cultivated and exercised.

As a parent, you need to “walk the walk” through how you approach challenges, and you need to “talk the talk.” Just as you need to shift how you think about problem solving, shift how you talk about it. Offering sympathy may at first seem like the best approach when your child is struggling, but instead try encouraging a child to chip away at a challenge saying something like “Maybe it’s time to try a new strategy.” Of course, as a parent you need to know when a child has reached his limit and redirect him toward something that builds his confidence. And there are challenges that can’t be overcome, from something as trivial as a child being tone-deaf to something serious like a learning disability. As a parent, it is important to be attuned to this and a part of a parent’s role is to balance a “growth mindset” with your knowledge of who your child is.

Resources and Further Reading

How resilient are you? Take this test: https://testyourself.psychtests.com/testid/2121

A listing of resources to build resiliency https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/Building-Resilience/Pages/Building-Resilience-Resources.aspx

Ken Ginsburg, MD, FAAP, in a 7 minute YouTube video introduces the 7 C’s Model of Resilience – competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping and control. It is a plan for helping children develop the skills to make them happier and more resilient. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTmi4kHor_s

The Road to Resiliency https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience

Carol Dweck’s TedTalk on growth mindset and kids and challenges https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve?language=en

This is a great set of short lessons on the role of the parent in Growth Mindset. Includes short videos, surveys, and activities. Includes a Spanish version.

https://www.mindsetkit.org/growth-mindset-parents

How does this fit into school; an interview with Carol Dweck: How Can Teachers Develop Students’ Motivation — and Success? https://www.educationworld.com/a_issues/chat/chat010.shtml

Looking for a deeper dive into your own resiliency and well-being, this article has links to a variety of resources. https://blog.fracturedatlas.org/a-journey-in-cultivating-resilience-465fb11c441b

Want to read more, the book Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by Steven M. Southwick, M.D. and Dennis S. Charney, M.D. provides a range of strategies for developing resilience.

For Teens

Creating Your Personal Stress Management Plan

http://www.fosteringresilience.com/stress_management_plan.php

When to Ask for Help http://www.fosteringresilience.com/teens_help.php

Ryan Leak: Chasing Failure (YouTube video) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwj3fI66Dug

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Parenting Positively

Parenting is hard, and good parenting is even harder.  Good parenting is parenting the child you have at this moment, proactively exercising some basic parenting skills, while being positive and supportive.  Kids need structure and limits. This may seem daunting, but these will become easier and smoother to establish if you think them through ahead of time and base them on your family values–what is most important to you. These limits may change as your family and circumstances change; but as long as they are rooted in the values most important to you, they will remain consistent.  It also really helps if you keep your ultimate objective in mind:  a well-adjusted, independent, and resilient adult. Maintaining a sense of humor (especially about yourself) and not micro-managing your child’s life are also part of the recipe for good parenting.

Your child’s current social and emotional stage determines how they feels, thinks and interacts with others. So not only is each child unique, but each child changes almost daily as they pass through the various developmental stages on their way to adulthood.  This means that you, the parent, also have to change almost daily, adjusting your approach based on where your child is today, and don’t forget that social and emotional development don’t always synch up with intellectual (or physical!) development. And if that isn’t enough of a challenge, how you communicate within your family is also critical.   

We believe that there are four foundational skills that will help you become the best parent you can be. These are: active listening, giving effective instructions or commands, pick your spot and firm and giving meaningful consequences.

Scroll down to the end of the article to see 4 Key Parenting Skills. More detailed information can be found in the Ages and Stages under Topics for Parents on our main menu.

Throughout this article there are links to more in-depth information. In addition, on the spenj.org website the menu Topics for Parents provides a deeper dive. Our Resources for Parents emphasizes organizations local to Essex County, NJ, but there are many other links to websites and organizations that help support good parenting.

Here’s a quick take on a child’s social, emotional and intellectual development:

Early Childhood is a time when children have become mobile and are actively exploring their environment. Children at this stage experience rapid physical and intellectual development. “Emotional regulation” can be challenging as a child learns to modulate their emotional expression, discover their independent nature, and learn that they can say “No.” Over time, with help, the child also learns how to accept being told “No”.

Throughout the elementary school years is when children reach an understanding of the physical dimensions of the world and develop an accurate perception of events; they are capable of rational, logical thinking and are able to understand right and wrong, but they will say and do things to avoid punishment.

In the middle school years, children identify much more with their peers, while distancing themselves from their parents and families. They are hyper-aware of their appearance and are very self-conscious about it as social acceptance depends on conformity to the norms of their peer group. While they are beginning to be able to think abstractly and logically and are able to consider the consequences of thoughts and actions without experiencing them, they are not yet able to apply these mental processes to themselves.

During the high school years and young adulthood, each teen forms their own identity.  They examine the values, beliefs and behaviors of others, organizing those perceptions into a coherent world view for themselves, sometimes at odds with that of their families.

They are capable of systematic problem solving, able to consider multiple solutions and plan a course of action for themselves. However, reasoning skills are the last part of brain development (often not completed until the mid to late 20s) to occur. This means that they may behave in reactive, impulsive or novel ways, since their brain’s decision-making structure is still under construction. This means that they often cannot explain or understand their own actions. This development doesn’t magically end at age 18.  Social, emotional and brain development continues well into the 20s.

Life lessons often come in unexpected places. While you don’t want to obsess about all of your patenting choices, how you interact with your child, how you behave out in the world, the choices you make about books, television and other media as well as your expectations for your child, yourself and other people all contribute to the person your child will develop into.

Don’t feel burdened by this. Think creatively. Teachable moments happen all the time. Remember that you are always on stage for them. Stopping to let another driver turn, interacting politely with the cashier in the grocery story, volunteering at a soup kitchen, being conscientious about recycling… are these actions are observed and absorbed.  Speak to your child as you want them to talk to others. Please and thank you matter. Don’t be afraid to admit that you have made a mistake and apologize.

There are teachable moments in the everyday.  Use yourself as an example, both good and in the needs-improvement category.  Find stories, books and electronic media that model for your children ways that you want them to be in the world, that show children of different genders challenging gender roles, that show diverse faces and bodies, that show families of all different make-ups.

Beginning in elementary school, help them develop sense of right and wrong, both through conversation and action. Talk about respecting others, and what to do when others are not kind or respectful to them. Talk to your kids about being a global citizen and what this means.

As your maturing child engages with the outside world, talk about the news and issues that you are hearing about or that family members are involved with. Listen to what your teen is saying. Use open ended questions to try to get them to open up. You can even choose family movie night selections that might start a conversation. Be honest about what you believe and why and why you want them to do (or not do) something.

All along the way, find ways to act on your beliefs, with or without your child.

Remember that you are always on stage for them. Swearing at another driver, using your cell phone in the car, volunteering at a soup kitchen, getting involved in politics, being conscientious about recycling are all absorbed. Talk to your kids about being a global citizen and what this means.  Don’t be afraid to use yourself as an example whether of what’s happening in your day to day life now or of when you were growing up.

Sometimes it may seem that your teen rejects all of your “good advice”, but give it time. It may take 3, 5 or 10 years, but there is a good chance that they will do you proud.

4 Key Parenting Skills

Active Listening

It’s easy to miss out on the important things when you are busy getting your family’s dinner on the table, helping with homework or making sure your child has what they need for their extra-curricular activity. At times, children are telling us things and we just go through the motions of hearing, but we’re not really listening. When this occurs, we can miss little cues that tell us how they are doing and how they are feeling. 

Giving Effective Instructions or Commands

Effective instructions or commands are specific and direct. They are given face-to-face, and after giving them, the parent remains in charge. Ineffective commands are broad, vague, yelled from another room, and cede control to the child. Rather than asking your child to tidy up the kitchen, tell them to put their dishes in the dishwasher. It is important to make sure that you have your child’s attention when you give the command. Ineffective commands are phrased as a question: “Do you want to take out the garbage?”  What do you do when your child says no?  You are then stuck, having ceded power to your child.

Pick Your Spot

It is important to know your limits (what you will and will not accept) and stick to them. Typically, your child will push those limits in predictable ways in routine situations. Ahead of time – before you get into one of those situations – know what your limit is going to be.

Giving Meaningful Consequences

When giving consequences it’s important to be fair, firm and consistent.  Try to give the consequence in a friendly manner; you are enforcing consequences for a behavior or action.  Ideally, we want to reinforce desired behaviors in order to prevent undesired ones.  You want to support the child being good much more than you want to punish an undesired behavior.  If you see your child playing nicely with a younger sibling, praise them for doing so and reinforce the good behavior.  Don’t wait for them to lash out when their younger sibling disrupts their play and then give a consequence such as a time out. 

Communicate clear rules and expectations so your child know what to expect in advance. In all cases, you want to name the behavior to help make things clear, both in the moment and later, when you’re talking about what happened. It’s also helpful to have a menu of reasonable consequences ready in advance so that you’re not scrambling at the last moment to come up with something and then possibly overreacting. Also remember to keep your expectations and consequences age-appropriate.

Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself

It is all too easy, when juggling the demands you face as a parent, to put taking care of yourself at the bottom of your to-do list.  We think that’s bad!  To be a positive and effective parent you must make sure to take care of yourself (and your relationships) too.  Effective self-care requires that you know yourself, your own limits and needs. Before you can help someone else, you have to take care of yourself; this is not selfish. Just like on an airplane – you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can help those around you.  You have to make the time for self-care, not find the time. Plan ahead and create the time slot in your busy schedule, so that you know that you have time to take care of yourself and your partner. This is an example of integrating your priorities into your daily life.

By taking care of yourself, you become better equipped to care for your family. Keeping all of the parenting balls in the air at once isn’t always easy and practicing self-care makes that juggling more do-able. And by making self-care and mindful practices part of your own coping tool-kit, they become part of your family’s routine.

Know too that there are resources to support your parenting. On the spenj.org website are in-depth discussions of these and other topics of interest to parents, a resource guide linking to organizations and information available online, and information about the parenting workshops we run that help parents put these skills into practice.

Sometimes reading something new or getting insight into children’s developmental stages is will help you “up your parenting game.” Our goal is to provide you with the understanding and tools you need to parent your children so that they grow to be independent and resilient adults.

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