Join me at the Verona Public Library on Thursday February 8th from 6:30-7:30pm for a presentation on how to discuss body safety and healthy boundaries with preschool and elementary school age children in a way that is empowering. I'll provide an overview on the prevalence of child sexual abuse, prevention strategies, and offer resources you can use to start this conversation at home with your children. We can't afford to not discuss this important topic! I hope to see you there.
There has been increased interest and research on the benefits of mindfulness and meditation strategies for both adults and children in recent years. Mindfulness encourages people to be intentionally present with their experiences while suspending judgment and being open and accepting to what is happening in the present moment. Achieving this state can help us calm down and allow us to experience relaxation (Kabat-Zinn, 2013, p. lx). Mindfulness based practices are now incorporated in many school environments with the goal of helping children to increase compassion, kindness, and emotional regulation. You may be wondering how you can support your children with using mindfulness at home as a strategy for relaxation and enhancing self-regulation.
Here are some ideas on how to get started. The list below includes a few of the resources that I have used in my sessions with clients. There are many additional resources available!
“Peaceful Piggy Meditation” by Kerry MacLean (picture book)
“Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents)” by Snel (includes an audio CD)
"The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook for Kids" by Shapiro & Sprague (includes both stress reduction and mindfulness interventions for parents and kids to do together)
Free Child-Friendly Apps:
*Because kids are always more eager to practice a new skill when there is an app for that!
Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame: Interactive and ideal for ages 4-7.
Settle Your Glitter: Simple to use and great for practicing deep breathing!
Stop, Breathe, and Think Kids: Requires a parent email to activate. Includes guided meditations for children.
Headspace: Includes short (1-3 minute) meditations. Some of the features require a paid subscription.
Calm: Better for older children and adults. Includes several free meditations, and timed unguided meditations. Additional meditations are available for purchase.
Want to learn more about mindfulness? We are fortunate to have the Center for Healthy Minds as a resource here in Madison. Check out their research and upcoming events on their website.
It’s not uncommon for me to initially receive odd looks when I talk about using praise as a discipline strategy. After all, praise is a positive thing. Parents ask, “Why would it make sense to give my child positive attention when they aren’t doing what I need them to be doing?” Valid point. However, we know that positive reinforcement and praise are actually among the most motivating parenting techniques you can use with your child. Children want to please you and they need to be taught and reminded about the desirable behaviors you want to see. They get plenty of feedback from others about what they are doing wrong, and very little feedback when they get something right. When we look at the origins of the word “discipline,” we find that it means “to teach.” When kids are acknowledged for things they are doing well, they pretty motivated to repeat those behaviors because praise helps them feel good about themselves, what they’ve done, and connected with you. Don’t forget that you are arguably the single most important person in their lives.
So, the next time you are frustrated during a battle over homework, chore refusal, sibling arguments, brushing teeth, or fill in the blank for your child here, ask yourself, “How do I let them know when they’ve done a good job?” and “How did I let them know they did the right thing, even if it took them 45 minutes longer than it needed to.”
Here are some specific suggestions for using praise:
While I am not one for promoting movies, I have to tell you that I watched Inside Out at the theater over the weekend and was pleased to see a movie free of violence that introduces children to the important role that emotions play in our lives. Those of you who watched understand that the movie goes beyond an introduction to primary emotions and illustrates the influence of thoughts, experiences, and emotions on behavior. Children and teens often have the belief that only positive emotions are acceptable, when all emotions play an important role in shaping experiences and getting our needs met. As with most media content, I suggest you help your children process what they are seeing. If you watched this movie with your children, I encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to connect with your kids and discuss their perception.
Here a few discussion questions you could use with your children after viewing the movie:
Those of you who are parents can all think of many times your children really pushed your buttons. You set rules, you do your best to enforce them, and work hard to instill good values and morals. Yet, your kids still reliably find ways to break the rules. Why is this happening?
I believe that all behavior has a function or purpose. It can be helpful for parents to pause and reflect on why their child may be breaking the rules. There are different reasons why kids break the rules. Here are some of the reasons I see most often:
Children are still developing and often do not know what they should/shouldn’t be doing. Children’s cognitive, moral and social-emotional development occurs well into adolescence. Children need to be taught. They learn from your direct lessons and they learn from what is modeled for them. If the house rule is “No shouting” please do your best to model this. If you tell your children to “Use their words” they will need your help to describe their experiences and feelings. You can teach this by helping your child narrate their experience and giving them feeling words to help describe what they are experiencing. For example, “You’re sad because Johnny took the toy that you wanted to play with. I wonder if we can talk with Johnny about that,” instead of “Why are you crying? If you can’t play nicely then you’ll have to go to your room.” Try to catch the teachable opportunities.
Kids act out when they are feeling unsafe and when things are unpredictable.
Children thrive when they have a sense of predictability and structure. They feel safe when they know what is going to happen and what is expected of them. Consistent routines and rules/limits set by you help them know that an adult is in charge and is there to keep them safe and well. Establish a household routine, especially if you have young children. Do your best to maintain this routine and discuss changes to the routine (such as on weekends or school breaks) with your children so they know what to anticipate. Have consistent, clear rules and consequences for misbehavior. Children are figuring out what is expected of them and will naturally test limits and boundaries. They will be more likely to push your limits if your response often varies, or if you and your co-parent are not on the same page.
They want your attention.
This one is simple to understand, and yet it can be challenging to implement with all of the demands parents are trying to balance. You can all probably recall a time when your child misbehaved in an attempt to get your attention. This doesn’t make your child a “bad” kid. Your children want quality time with you. They want you to get down on the floor and play with them. When your children are feeling connected and engaged with you, they are much less likely to demonstrate behavioral problems. Challenge yourself to spend 5-10 minutes per day giving your children undivided attention. Put the cell phone down, turn the TV off, ask your partner to respond to the other children, and take a break from household chores. Focus entirely on your child for this short amount of time. Allow your child to direct your play together while you join his/her experience and follow their lead. Some great ideas for this type of play include: art work, Legos, block building, doll house play, dress up, imaginary play, and getting outside together.
Children want your positive attention. In addition to offering more quality time with your child, remember to praise their positive behaviors. Children will be more motivated to repeat behaviors that result in praise or positive reinforcement from adults.
Why So Many Teens Tell Me They Can’t Talk to Their Parents-- How You Can Improve Communication with Your Teen
I often have parents come into my office and say, “My teen won’t talk to me.” I meet with the parent(s) and they discuss their concern about their child not opening up to them. They talk about the teen’s tendency to withdraw, and they wonder what is going on. I later meet with the teen alone and the teen says something like, “I can’t talk with my parents…they just don’t understand me.” This can be a frightening experience for parents. Their child hits adolescence and suddenly (or so it seems) they feel distant from their child.
Adolescence is such an exciting time. Teens are figuring out who they are, forming their own opinions, using critical thinking skills, and exploring new relationships. While allowing for increased independence during adolescence is important, parents should continue to play an active role in the lives of their teens throughout the adolescent years. Parental monitoring is essential for supporting teens with making safe choices, reducing risky behavior, and providing guidance and support that teens will need as they begin to prepare for adulthood. Parents who are good listeners are going to be able to connect with their teens most effectively. Teens who feel connected to their parents are more likely to go to their parents when they really need help and support (e.g. teens will follow through with calling Mom or Dad if they drink at a party and need a safe ride). Listening well to your teen’s perspective before analyzing or offering advice will promote good connection and will allow your teen to be more receptive to your coaching and guidance.
With the best of intentions, many parents are quick to give advice, judge, interrupt with their own thoughts, and lecture their teens instead of truly listening and trying to understand their perspective. When this happens, teens do not continue to talk and explain their point of view. Rather, they shut down and think to themselves “They just don’t get it.” For example, your teenage daughter comes home from school in tears, and through the tears she manages to tell you that she had a fight with her best friend after the friend told a popular boy that she had a crush on him in front of five other people. Your daughter tells you they’ll never be friends again, she now hates her friend and she will never be able to walk past this boy in the hallway at school again because she was humiliated. She also said she wants to quit the track team because she thinks the coach is out to get her.
Oh my. Sound dramatic? Maybe so, and you probably know that your daughter and this girl will be best friends again by the end of the week, that she is one of the better athletes on the track team, and all your child needs to do is take a deep breath (see previous post) and view tomorrow as a new day. You are probably right. However, in the moment, your daughter is not going to listen if you tell her that this will all blow over, she will make up with her best friend soon, she always makes a big deal out of nothing, and she is definitely not quitting the track team. In fact, she’ll probably become more upset and think that you just don’t understand how awful things were for her today.
Instead, your teen wants to know that you get how hurt and upset they are. Think about how your teen’s reaction would be different if you responded with, “Oh wow, Sweetie, that is really tough. You are embarrassed that your friend said that. What happened next?” They are going to keep talking, giving you more information about their day, and they will walk away from the conversation thinking that you are supportive.
Here are some tips for good communication with your children:
Side note: This works for communication with your partner too!
Sara Kind-Michels, MS, LPC, LMFT
Do you have a comment or question about a blog post? If so, I would love to connect with you. Send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or give me a call: (608) 886-9595.