Four Ways to Connect with your Kids in Today’s Busy World

 

A Family Connected

To connect as a family requires an understanding of what your family needs.  In addition, it also means one understands what demands our busy world is putting on each family member.  Raising kids today is much different than it was for other generations. The expectations that adults have for kids are increasingly more difficult today than they have ever been, as well. Children are expected to follow adult rules, stay on task without exception, only speak when its appropriate, among others. These expectations have cut into the creative and playful opportunities that children need to learn how to interact, communicate and process their world. What happens when there is not enough balance of healthy expectations for children? Children exhibit an increase in energy, often described as hyper, inattentive, argumentative, impulsive, loud, antagonizing, restless, etc. Oftentimes, parents describe the challenges they face with their kids’ behavior as overwhelming, exhaustive, disruptive and families find themselves disconnecting. So, how do families connect with the challenges that are thrown at them every day? Take time to slow down, connect and practice intentional family time. Ultimately, these family connection times can provide the safe place for you and your kids to connect, balance demands, and improve emotional health and family harmony. Here are four ways to establish a solid foundation of connecting with your kids.

Be intentional. Schedule times as a family without media, social media, emails, accepting phone call or texts from others. Be aware of the needs of the family when scheduling activities, outings, sports, classes, etc. If your family feels stressed with the busyness of your schedule, has trouble “winding down”, or if it has been a while since all members of the family have been in the same place at the same time, it may be time to evaluate what parts of the family schedule are not essential.

Be present. Connect, connect, connect. Eye contact, hugs, high fives, smiles. These elements convey interest, connections and intentional presence. Throughout the day, it is not uncommon for each member of the family to experience many experiences or interactions that leave a negative imprint on our thoughts or emotions. Research over the years has shown that for every negative comment or event, five positives need to co-exist to maintain a healthy balance. Let the family be that place of comfort, encouragement and resiliency. Find ways to have fun together, where these connection times happen – and let every member of the family choose an activity or event, or have a say!

Be expectant. Model the behaviors you want from your child. If you want respect, show respect. If you want calmness, model calmness. Find a family mindfulness activity to calm the mind and body, where all members have fun and participate. If you want communication, talk to your kids. Find age appropriate ways to discuss family values, positive choice making and problem solving. Model appropriate content. If you do not want your kids to enact aggression or repeat inappropriate language, limit what your family will allow for viewing and listening.

Be comfortable. Get rid of labels and shame. Lose the need to strive for perfection within your family. Acceptance of self and others provides vulnerability and safety in connection and relationship. Children pick up on other’s emotional energy, especially within the family, and when you can be comfortable in your presence, children will respond accordingly, where connection and relationship can flourish.

Below are some fun, low or no cost, engaging activities that will help provide ways practice and connect:

  • Walks in the neighborhood or park – find things of the same color, shape, size, etc.
  • Create a family vision board
  • Play board or card games
  • Establish a family ritual at family meal times, where everyone in the family tells about something positive and helpful that they experienced that day
  • Have a family meeting each week to discuss upcoming events, needs of each person, check-ins on school, activities, etc.

If you would like more information on how to help your family connect in today’s busy world, or challenged by your child’s behaviors, please call! I would love the opportunity to help you explore creative ways to connect and flourish as a family.

Teresa Paterson, LPC, LCPC, RPT

Three steps to decrease stress

Parents often ask what they can do when their child is stressed.  In that stress moment, it can be difficult to engage with wisdom, and instead worry about the situation.  Some parents worry about saying or doing the wrong thing, while others worry about not understanding what their child needs to overcome the stressful moment.  It is understandable.  Parents do not want their children to suffer or experience intense emotions, and parents generally do not want to “do the wrong thing”.  Interesting is that every child and every parent is unique and every situation is different, so it is important to understand from a place of wisdom instead of being overcome with intense emotion.

Good news! There is a way to approach the situation when your child is stressed, without loosing it, or feeling like you are loosing it.  Here are three mindful tools to help to decrease the stress in the moment – even if it does not take the problem away!

  1. Be mindful of how you are experiencing your own thoughts and your own feelings.  Oftentimes, when parents feel the intensity in and around them, they are having difficulty understanding their own experience.  Take time to identify what you are feeling.  Then, what are you thinking about the situation? It may be setting the tone for how you respond to the child in that stress moment.  Children learn from what is exhibited in front of them.  If stress is met with stress, it increases stress.  If stress is met with wisdom and calmness, children learn to regulate their own internal states (stress & emotion).
  2. Take a moment to understand what is happening in the environment.  Use your senses to take in all of the information.  What do you see, hear, smell, and feel? Using a mindful approach to the situation will help you understand the situation more fully.  Additionally, your child may be responding in fear, disgust, confusion, worry or anger to something in the environment, which is causing the stressful moment.
  3. Take a moment to connect with your child’s world and understand the stress moment from your child’s view. Help your child calm their emotions before trying to engage in conversation.  Research shows that a child who is elevated emotionally cannot engage in logic to make their best choices or communicate effectively.

By changing these three steps in each stressful situation with you and your child, you are changing the way your family experiences each other.  Need help implementing these strategies? Please feel free to reach out.  Support and encouragement are a phone call away!

Is anxiety behind your child’s behavior?

Do you ever wonder what is really going on with your child’s “out of control” behavior? Studies have shown that there has been a steady increase in the number of children suffering from the symptoms of anxiety.  Although, our society generally tends to label children as “out of control”, angry, aggressive or defiant.  Children who exhibit these out of control behaviors may actually be experiencing anxiety, and be misunderstood.

Anxiety is best explained as a physiological response to a real or perceived threat, which maximizes the child’s ability to face or escape the danger.  Children simply cannot tolerate big situations around them that cause big emotions, such as fear.  What could result is an outbursts that many would label as a temper tantrum, or a complete “melt-down”, or the child may become defiant, angry, aggressive, isolated or withdrawn.  Some children withdraw from the situation and isolate themselves, appearing sad, while others may react with an overwhelming behavioral escalation that is difficult to calm or control.

child behavior

In my practice, I have seen an increase in the intensity of these behaviors and concerns with children and teens.  Anxiety can mimic one of the many different childhood and adolescent mental health diagnoses, such as ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, PTSD and possibly learning disabilities, among others.  This is even truer for children who may not have enough words to describe their feelings.  This generally causes impairment in their ability to function at home, school, with friends and in other social contexts, causing emotional and behavioral problems.  Oftentimes, these problems are misunderstood, causing frustration and confusion within the family.   When the child is labeled angry, aggressive and defiant, shame may begin to develop, not only with the child, but also with the parents.

Although anxiety has clear descriptors, it does look different from child to child, and it is important to understand what happens when your child experiences any of these symptoms.  If you are concerned that your child may be responding more from anxiety than as an angry, aggressive or defiant child, or may be labeled due to their intense emotional reactions, call today to explore ways to help your child overcome these behaviors.   Together, we can navigate your child’s needs, so that you, your child and your whole family feel better and function better.  And most importantly, your child learns how to understand what they are experiencing, and is empowered with skills to handle the situation that is causing the stress.

 

Practical Ways to End the “Back Talk” and Defiance in Your Family

As a parent, hearing the words “No, I won’t do it”, “You can’t make me”, or “I don’t have to”, or witnessing your child fall to the ground in a tantrum, or whine uncontrollably, can ignite a fire of frustration inside! Back talk, whining, and temper tantrums are one of the largest complaints that parents give when their children are being defiant and families are experiencing conflict in the home. Now that school is in full swing, settling into a new routine and managing the conflict that comes with the transition can seem daunting. You might also see your older child respond with eye-rolling, or simply ignoring, which may also frustrate you! I have some good news! Parents, our choices and insight into what our child is going through can help end this endless struggle of power and control.

The most effective way we can begin the process of ending this struggle is to provide your child with a positive control to learn to gain independence, and consequently respond to situations in a more calm and respectful way. No matter what age your child is, children look for ways to develop emotional strength and independence, and will find ways of exerting this, regardless of how we approach them and the situation. Parents have a choice. By setting healthy limits independence is fostered and the negative, hostile behavior is minimized in the home. I have some simple tips on how to get your kids within your zone of approval:

1. Allow your child to have some independence (power)
Yes, I said that! That does not mean that you allow your child to be the parent, it simply means that you give your child some power of the things that they can have direct control of, within your healthy limits. Children often have very few choices throughout the day, and are told what to do by parents, teachers, coaches, and many other adults. Give the younger child an opportunity to choose between two outfit choices for the day, or give an older child the opportunity to choose what to make for the family dinner for the day – including the vegetable choice! When you engage you’re your child and provide some simple choices, the less resistance they will show, which means that their emotions are manageable, and the response will be more positive and in line with your expectation.

2. Be aware of what you are bringing to the moment
Oftentimes, parents are unaware of what their voice tone and body language sound like to children. It is possible to communicate your expectation without sounding like you are bossing, yelling or controlling (i.e. not allowing the child to make choices and have some power). If the parent chooses to not be aware of their own behavior, the parent may be inviting defiance and back talk. By putting a limit on orders, demands, directives and correction, and finding creative and fun ways to communicate your expectations assertively, and offering choices, you may find that your conflict will be greatly reduced!

3. Fill a bucket!
Not a literal bucket; a feelings bucket! Children yearn to know that they are loved and accepted – no matter what. Spend small snippets of time each day, once in the morning, and once in the evening, where you can get into your child’s world with no one else getting in the way, or interrupting this special moment! They may need a hug (physical affection), and some may a compliment (words of affirmation), or need a peaceful conversation about something that matters to the child (quality time). These buckets need filling every day, and the child needs your undivided attention. That means put down your tablet, cell phone, turn off the news, and completely focus on your child – 100%. Children are very creative and getting their needs met. If parents are not intentional with this part, children will find a way to get it one way or another – and that can often times be a way that causes you frustration!

4. Limits, limits and more limits
Children respond well and feel a sense of security and safety when they know what to expect. Have a structured routine for getting ready for school, meals and bed. Set very clear limits for what you expect with their behaviors, participation and activities. These limits, some families call them rules, are also met with clear consequences that are relevant to the offense. Parents do not need to be harsh to maintain consistency and order, just simply reliable and consistent, firm and fair.

5. Take a break!
Parents, our children learn from what we do, much more than what we say. When feeling overwhelmed or frustrated with the situation, take a deep breath and take a break! It is just fine to tell your child that you need a moment to calm down before addressing a meltdown, temper tantrum, back talk, or any other form of defiance. Let’s face it; this may be a number one trigger for us as adults to manage without losing it ourselves! By modeling this for our children, they are learning to value the other persons involved, as well as respect the limits that are expected within the family.

6. Use firm and positive statements
By responding in a positive and assertive way, you communicate to your child that you are the parent, your job is to help them stay within the limits in a loving and accepting way, and their job is to respond in a respectful, safe and compliant way. After taking a deep breath, you can simply say something like this, “I am hurt when you talk to me with those words and with that tone. When I hear you talk like that, I am going to walk away. We can talk again when you can speak respectfully to me.” With consistency, children will learn that if you are not responding with negativity and hostility, they will not have anyone to engage with in that manner, and the back talk and defiance will subside.

7. Follow through
As with most things, practice makes perfect…well, almost perfect. One of the biggest elements of changing this behavior is consistent follow through. If you miss any opportunity, whether you are not fully engaged, tired of trying with no results, or just plain ignore what just happened before your eyes, the child will learn that you are not serious about enforcing the limits and providing effective consequences. This shows the child that they actually have more of the power – but it is the wrong power! When you follow through, your child learns to have power over their own choices and behavior!

Give it a shot! These steps can have a positive impact on the conflict level in your home, as well as the defiance and back talk infestation that you may be experiencing! For more information on positive parenting, please contact me!

EMBRACING THE POWER OF PLAY WITH YOUR CHILD

Research has shown that children who have a secure attachment with their parent, otherwise known as a good parent-child bond, continually excel in areas such social skills, self-confidence, emotion management, empathy and competency.

Playing with your child is an avenue of developing a secure attachment with your child. Dr. Gary Landreth, along with Dr. Sheila Eyberg, pioneered child-directed play therapy to provide a natural and non-threatening way to improve the parent-child relationship as a means to improve the child’s behavior. Play not only helps us to feel connected to those we play with, but it also helps us think creatively, explore, communicate and develop a positive sense of self. Additionally, play provides an avenue for developing the social skills necessary for children to learn to get along with others, which is a key component to a child’s healthy development. Although child-centered play therapy is a technique utilized by Play Therapists, and other professionals who use play therapy in practice, there are some great ways that you can use play with your child to strengthen your parent-child bond.

Engage in play – Play is an important way for parents to build and strengthen their bond with their child. Get on the floor with your child and join your child with what your child chooses to play with. Spend unstructured and protected time involved in what they are doing, instead of allowing yourself to be distracted by emails, texts, Facebook posts, Tweets or your to-do list. Let your child lead the play, and watch your child’s creativity, ability to communicate and connection with you blossom! Engaging with your child communicates that you value your child, you are interested in what they are doing, and most importantly that you care about your child’s thoughts, emotions and dreams.

Use of praise – Use descriptive and specific phrases to praise your child. For example, “I like the way you asked for help when you were frustrated”, instead of using “Good job”. This provides an opportunity for you to notice the child’s decision making, problem solving skills and pro-social interactions. This gives the child insight as to what your expectations are, and contributes to the child’s development of self-concept. These are all important elements of your child’s healthy development.

Natural teachable moments vs. teaching moments – Narrate the child’s play, and notice and explain what you are experiencing while playing with your child. You might say “I saw that you chose the green crayon”, or, “You are focusing on building a tall tower”. This communicates to your child that you are interested in what they are doing, that it matters to you, and that you are present and in the moment with your child. Avoid the tendency to use teaching moments, such as “What color is that block?” which is natural for adults. Teaching has its place and time, and is used in educational moments, not necessarily in playful moments.

Have FUN! – Welcome the opportunity to play with your child as often as you can so that you can experience life in their world. Lessons learned through play, and in a playful manner, are more meaningful and easier to apply in their world and relationships. Making it fun helps it to stick!

When you embrace playing with your child, you not only enter into a world of fun, you are also cultivating a secure attachment with your child. This bond with your child communicates mutual respect and trust, which are important components for your child’s healthy development. Play is natural for children, and a safe place where children can communicate openly, express emotions and learn to cope.

What ways do you embrace play with your child? Comment below to share your “playful” stories!