How to Help Kids Cope with Trauma

Sometimes, the hardest part about being a parent is the things you can’t do. 

The past year has shown every family how powerless we are as parents to protect our children from trauma and stress. Even if your family was lucky enough to avoid serious illness or loss from the COVID-19 pandemic, your children experienced disruptive routine changes and isolation as they transitioned to online or hybrid school. And now, just as things are starting to get “back to normal,” one of the largest fires in our state’s history is raging just a few counties away. This year is underscoring the reality that we as parents can’t prevent frightening things from happening in our children’s lives.

And even if life does get back to normal over the next few months, that transition can be challenging, too. Going back to in-person school will be stressful for kids who’ve been learning online or hybrid for most of the past year. In addition to the stress of re-learning how to interact socially, kids need to re-learn how to get up and out of the house instead of rolling over and turning on the computer, how to manage a long day of school and after-school activities, and how to keep up with homework and motivate themselves after a long day at school. Plus, they’re doing all this in the middle of a pandemic that still hasn’t ended — most kids still can’t get vaccinated, and the possibility of more lockdowns and more school shutdowns still hangs over their heads. 

But even though we can’t prevent stressful situations in our kids’ lives, we can help them cope. 

Here’s how parents can help children manage trauma and stress. 

Keep your routine

Maintain your family routines as much as you can. Routines can give kids a feeling of security and reliability, so they can help kids feel safer in the middle of transition and stress. Even if it’s not possible to keep all your daily routines, aim for weekly routines. Even something as simple as a family board game night every Friday can help your kids feel more secure and give them a routine to look forward to. 

Listen

Now more than ever, it’s obvious to parents – and probably to kids, too – that we can’t always keep our families safe from danger. But as parents, we can create a sense of emotional safety for our kids, even in dangerous situations. Do this by listening and validating their emotions. Give kids a chance to talk about what they’re feeling about scary events in the world, whether it’s the fear of going back to school and not being able to connect with friends or the fear of having to evacuate because of fire. Help your kids find words to express their emotions, and validate that those feelings make sense.

Just listening can be difficult – when your kids talk about stressful feelings, your instinct is to want to fix it. But telling kids that it’s not as bad as it feels, or trying to convince them to feel better, can actually make them feel worse. Instead, try to just validate their feelings by saying something simple like “That sounds really hard” or “It sounds like you feel really scared.” Instead of offering solutions, give your kids space to feel negative emotions – and then give them the time to come up with their own solutions to the problem. 

Cry together

Grieving is an important piece of processing stress and trauma, but it’s one that we often try to gloss over. There are few things more painful than seeing your child cry, but grieving – and sometimes crying – is an essential step in accepting when bad or scary things have happened. Kids can process emotions in lots of different ways, so encourage them to express their feelings in whatever way feels best for them. That might mean crying and cuddling together, or it might mean drawing pictures or reliving scary experiences with toys. Even though it can be scary to let your kids revisit frightening or upsetting experiences, the truth is that feeling those negative feelings is essential to processing them. 

Encourage good boundaries 

For kids, traumatic experiences often involve having their boundaries violated. Feeling scared can also cause kids to struggle with defining good boundaries; they might want lots of space and independence one minute, and want to be coddled the next. You can help your kids process by modeling and teaching good boundaries. Teach them to recognize when they’re feeling stressed or angry, and tell them that anger is often a sign their emotional boundary is being crossed. Encourage them to tell you (with words!) what they’re feeling and to ask for what they need. 

Teaching kids to enforce their own boundaries is difficult, because most of the time, they’ll practice this skill first on you. But as a parent, it’s your job to be a safe space to practice these kinds of interpersonal skills – even if it’s uncomfortable for you. So when your kids ask you for space, model respect for their boundaries. It might feel like you’re giving up on connecting with them, but in the long run, your relationship will be stronger for it. 

Empower them to find solutions 

Instead of offering solutions, ask your kids questions that will help them create their own solutions. If they’re worried about seeing their friends in person again, help them role play what might happen and what they want to say on the first day of school. Encourage them to think through the “worst case scenario” and how they would handle it. Even though the worst case probably won’t happen, it can help kids feel better to make a plan for it.  

Tell the truth

When your child is struggling, it’s a natural instinct to reassure them that “everything is going to be okay.” But the truth is, you can never be certain about the future. You don’t know for sure if the pandemic is going to go away, or if the fire isn’t going to spread. Instead, tell your kids the truth: that their feelings are valid and allowed, that you’ll always support them no matter what, and that you love them. 

There are many things you can’t do as a parent. You can’t prevent bad things from happening, and you can’t control the future. But you can love and support your children unconditionally – and ultimately, that’s enough.

How Do Children Show Stress?

The past year and a half has created a new paradigm of stress for many families. A couple of years ago, a stressful day meant losing a baseball game or getting a bad grade on a test. But since 2020, stress means spending months or more indoors separated from friends, struggles with virtual school, and tragic family losses.

As an adult, you’re probably familiar with how you tend to react when stress gets to be too much. You might get snappy or irritable; you might have trouble sleeping; you might struggle to concentrate at work. But for your kids, stress can be expressed in a variety of ways. As a parent, it can help you to know how stress can look in kids of different ages, so you can help your kids recognize and manage it. 

Infants 

You might think that young children are less susceptible to the stressors we’ve experienced in the past year – after all, they don’t understand what COVID means, and their entire lives have been in quarantine. But the truth is that babies and toddlers are highly sensitive to family stress, and even if the pandemic didn’t have a significant impact on their usual routine, the stress you’ve felt has affected them. 

For young babies born just before or during the lockdown, life in a global pandemic is the only life they’ve known. For them, the return to normal schedules might be a bigger stress than anything they’ve experienced yet. If you’ve been home 24/7 for most of your baby’s life, then a new daily routine involving driving, work, and daycare could be a big and stressful change. Babies who are stressed tend to cry more and sleep less, which isn’t likely to improve your stress level (or your ability to get out of the house on time). But any significant change in your baby’s normal behavior could be an indication of stress, from dietary and bowel changes to sleep and activity levels. 

On the bright side, helping your infant better manage stress is relatively easy: nurturing touch and quiet routines can go a long way toward calming them down. Young babies don’t need a lot of entertainment or stimulation, and they usually get enough educational stimulation from daily life, so reducing stress for infants usually means reducing stimulation with calm, quiet time together. Just holding and rocking your baby can cause her cortisol levels to drop. And the bonus? Snuggling with your baby can reduce your stress levels, too. 

Toddlers 

Toddlers who have been growing up in Covid probably appreciate the fact that their parents have been present a lot during quarantine. Just like with babies born in the past year, for young toddlers it’s probably the “new normal” of businesses opening back up and parents going back to work that’s causing the most stress in today’s changing world. 

Just like young babies, toddlers aren’t verbal enough to talk clearly about their feelings, so they mostly express stress through behavioral changes. Bedtime resistance and nighttime wakings are a common sign, as are bowel changes, dietary changes, and activity changes. Stressed-out toddlers might become more clingy and unwilling to go to daycare or play with friends, and they might have nightmares or bedtime fears. They might also say they feel sick and complain of headaches, stomachaches, or other physical pain. Finally, of course, toddlers will show stress with their favorite way to express emotions – tantrums. 

One of the biggest ways to help toddlers manage stress is with familiar routines. So while it’s helpful to acknowledge what your child is feeling, and to name the emotion they’re expressing, it’s usually not helpful to change your usual plans in response to your child’s tantrums. Giving your toddler choices can help them feel empowered, but too many choices or too much change will make them feel out of control. Rather than saying “ok, you don’t have to go to daycare today,” try offering a choice like “do you want to put on your shoes first or your pants first?” Keeping a (somewhat flexible) routine and structure helps toddlers feel more secure, which reduces stress in the long run – even if it means you have to push through some protests.

It’s also common for stressed-out toddlers to invent routines out of random things you happen to do once. For example, if one morning you give your child orange juice and then a plate of scrambled egg, they might decide that this routine is essential and get angry if the next morning you give them eggs first and then orange juice. As your routines are changing in the transition out of quarantine, it can help toddlers to maintain as many daily routines as you can — even if they seem minor or silly. 

School Aged Children 

For school-aged kids, school and friends are a key source of both social learning and emotional support. Kids who’ve been separated from friends for much of the past year might have been really stressed by the isolation – and even more stressed about the return to school. If they haven’t seen their friends in a long time, they might worry that their friends don’t like them anymore. They might feel that they’ve lost the knowledge of how to make friends or how to play with other people. All of this might mean they have very mixed feelings about the coming school year – a perfect recipe for stress and worry. 

These emotions can show up in a variety of ways. Just like with younger children, your first clue will probably be behavioral shifts such as changes in sleeping, eating, or activity levels. School-aged kids who are stressed might withdraw from family and friends, or they might lash out and get in fights with friends or siblings. They might also have problems with grades due to difficulty concentrating or a loss of interest in schoolwork. 

Vague physical complaints, such as stomach aches or headaches, are another common symptom of stress in school-age children. Younger school-aged kids may also regress with behaviors like bedwetting, thumb sucking, or even tantrums. 

Even though these kids’ language skills are developed enough to talk about complex emotions, they probably don’t have the emotional awareness to understand or put into words what they’re feeling. If your school-aged child is lashing out or overreacting to seemingly small problems, it’s probably a sign that their level of stress is at the tipping point. 

While talking about their emotions can help, talking about anything can actually help kids at this age process stress as long as they feel like you’re listening and you care. Schedule time every day to just listen to your child talk about whatever’s on their mind, even it’s only 15 or 20 minutes. This might feel like a waste of time when all they ever want to talk about is their favorite video game or the latest video they watched on YouTube. But if you provide that space every day to listen, then eventually they’ll surprise you by sharing the emotions and fears that are worrying most. Playing with you is also a powerful way for school-aged kids to connect and express themselves, so make time to play what they enjoy – even if that means playing that video game you hate. 

Teenagers 

Teens are almost adults, and they’re likely to express stress in many of the same ways you do: getting snappy and irritable, having trouble concentrating, and having outbursts of frustration or anger. But because they’re teens and have a harder time regulating their emotions than you do, these outbursts are likely to be more extreme than an adult’s. 

Peer relationships are incredibly important to teens, but they’re also a big source of stress – and never more than now that they’ve been strained by separation and quarantine in unprecedented ways. Stressed teens might withdraw from friends and from social activities, and they might express worries that no one likes them or they have no friends. 

Teens can also react to stress with the same types of behavior changes as younger kids, such as trouble sleeping, changes in eating habits, and difficulty concentrating. 

However, all of these behaviors can be hard to distinguish from normal teenage moodiness, so how do you know if your child is stressed-out or just hormonal?

The truth is this: It doesn’t matter. No matter whether your child is dealing with the normal stress of teen hormones or the massive stress of transitioning out of a global pandemic, the emotions they’re feeling are real to them. It’s normal for teenagers to feel that problems that seem small to you are devastating and life-changing, and as their parent, it’s your job to accept those emotions and support them through them. Even if you think the source of their stress seems unimportant, treat it like it’s as big a deal as your child feels it is.

Just like with younger kids, scheduling time every day to talk with your teen about whatever’s on their mind can help them manage stress in their lives. Even if they don’t talk with you about what’s really bothering them, making yourself available is a statement to them that you care about their emotions. And just like younger kids, teens will eventually tell you what they’re feeling if you give them enough space and time and listen without any judgement. 

Stress is normal, and major transitions are always going to be stressful. In the wake of the Covid pandemic, it’s impossible to prevent your children from experiencing stress. However, the first step to helping them manage it is for you to recognize it for what it is. Once you understand that your child is dealing with big emotions, you are better equipped to help them manage and process stress. In our next blog post, we will talk about ways to help kids process stress and trauma.

Keep Your Kids Learning This Summer – and Have Fun Doing It

If you have a school aged child, then summer learning loss has probably worried you in the past – but never as much as this summer. This school year was a once-in-a-generation experiment in educational innovation. Your child probably experienced virtual school for the first time, and they may have even been in virtual school the whole year. If the coming of summer has you wondering whether your child will be prepared for the next academic year, you’re not alone.

But if you think that means it’s time to hire a summer tutor, think again. Many school systems are offering catch-up summer school, but after a year that brought unprecedented stress to children as well as adults, more time in the classroom may not be what your child needs. Before you shell out your stimulus check for a summer math class, consider what education your child really needs to be prepared for the next school year. 

There’s plenty of academic education to discover in the adventures of real life – and after a year in front of the computer, real-life adventure may be exactly what your child needs most. 

Practice real-life math with cooking. 

Remember all that sourdough you baked last spring? Maybe it’s time to break out your starter yeast again. Cooking, and especially baking, offers plenty of opportunities for kids of all grade levels to practice math skills. Younger kids can measure and count; older kids can convert recipes for different numbers of servings (hello, fractions!). Try doubling the recipe and bringing a loaf of sourdough to your neighbor. For bonus skills, have your kids invent a recipe of their own. 

Explore science at the park.

Science was invented in the great outdoors, and nature is the best teacher for kids of all ages. The inherent curiosity of kids makes them naturals at the scientific method: they’re constantly observing and asking questions about what they see. This summer, instead of googling the answers, help them figure it out for themselves with real-life experiments. Can that broken dogwood branch grow into a new tree? What do ladybugs eat? Only time – and a bit of experimenting – will tell. 

Take a geography trip. 

After a year of quarantining, many of us are itching to get out of town this summer. If you are heading out of town, take some of the planning off your plate and teach your kids geography by inviting them to plan part of your route. While they’re practicing skills like reading maps and estimating travel time, they can search for interesting points along the route that they want to visit. In addition to adding some adventure to your trip, having your kids identify locations they want to see – and predict how long it will take to get there – should cut down the endless whines of “Are we there yet?” 

Read, read, read.

As a parent in the 21st century, the value of reading with your kids has been drilled into you from the day you found out you were expecting. But if reading has gotten a little stale after months of being stuck in the house, try something different to spark your kids’ love of stories. Spend an afternoon in the library together, or hit up the library storytime. And if an overuse of screen time during quarantine has your kids bored by non-moving words on a page, try downloading some audiobooks to listen to together while you do a craft, or read a book and then watch the movie. 

Play board games. 

Board games are a lot more than a fun family night – they’re an amazing tool for teaching a wide range of social and academic schools. In addition to helping kids practice taking turns and following the rules, board games can teach math (Monopoly), reading (Cards Against Humanity Kids’ Edition), and even logic (Clue). While there are plenty of board games that are explicitly educational, pretty much every board game requires some academic skills to play, so play what your kids enjoy! 

Write stories. 

Sitting down and writing a story over the summer may not appeal to your kids – but storytelling is a human instinct, and there are plenty of ways to help your kids rediscover the joy of sharing their ideas through narrative. Try getting them a set of puppets and building a makeshift puppet stage, or download an app for green screen so they can make movies with their toys. Encourage them to write the story down so they can perform it for you (and maybe even the neighbors, too). 

Learn social studies through advocacy. 

2020 was a big year for political upheaval, and many people found themselves involved in political advocacy, often for the first time. Talk with your kids about political news, especially local issues that affect them. What rules will their school follow for COVID safety in the fall? What guidelines does the county have now for swimming pools this summer? Kids can write letters to representatives, call the school superintendent, and even make signs about an issue they care about. 

Watch for learning opportunities.

After a year of spending so much time together with family, paying attention may be the most difficult thing to do this summer  – but it’s by far the most important. Curiosity and interest are the biggest drivers of learning, and if you want to help your kids’ academic progress over the summer, the best thing you can do is pay attention. Notice when they ask questions. Notice what they’re interested in. Then look for ways for them to explore those interests and questions. When kids are interested, that’s when they learn. 

This past year of upheaval and change has been harder for parents than for anyone. After a year of worrying about COVID, working while teaching virtual school, and struggling to entertain bored children, the last thing you need is to add more stress this summer. Instead of working hard to make sure your children catch up on academics, seek out ways to let learning happen naturally – and make it fun for you as well as your kids. Fun, after all, is the best way to learn.

5 Ways to Prepare Your Teen for Adulting

High school graduation, check. College decisions, check. Job applications, check. You’ve guided and supported your teen toward the next phase of their life. Or perhaps your teen has a few more years before graduation. But before you know it they’ll be fully grown, and there’s more to adulthood than the academic knowledge they receive in high school. 

This summer is the perfect opportunity to catch your teen up on any life management skills they’re missing. Here are five ways to help your teen get ready for the big day, when they head out on their own – whether they are off to college, or simply onto their own apartment.

Ask your teen to cook a family meal.

Soon-to-be-freshman might be eating most of their meals next year in a college cafeteria, but they should still know how to cook a real meal before they leave home. Being able to cook something more than ramen will give your young adult a boost on healthy diet habits. Cooking dinner for the whole family will give them some practice at putting together an entire meal instead of just one dish. Bonus? You’ll get a night off. (Added bonus tip: If you’ve got a teen that needs to earn some spending money, hiring them to regularly cook dinner for the family is a win/win for you both.)

Let them do laundry. 

If your teen isn’t already washing their own laundry, it’s definitely time. With a brief lesson on how to sort and what temperature to use, they’ll be able to avoid being that freshman whose white t-shirts are all pink from being washed with colors. Your child may not want to fold their socks as neatly as you do (or at all), but giving them responsibility for their own clothes early in their teen-hood prepares them for a lifetime of caring for their own clothes. 

Give them bills to pay.

Chances are you’ll be helping your teen – even your new graduate – with their living expenses for a few more years, but that doesn’t mean they can’t start paying some of their bills and managing their budget before they leave home. If your teen isn’t already paying for some of their own expenses like cell phone, gas, or clothes, this summer is a great time to start. Obviously, in order to pay their own bills, they’ll need some income, so if they won’t have a job this summer, consider giving them an allowance or pay for help with chores so they have a budget to work with. 

Let them clean the bathroom.  

The stereotype of the dirty college dorm room bathroom may have more to do with students not making time to clean than not knowing how, but if you’re not confident that your teen can clean their bathroom, this summer is a good time to make sure. This goes for other household cleaning as well. It’s never too early to include teens in helping keep the house tidy.

Help your teen plan for emergencies

As a parent, this one could be hard to think about. But if your teen will be living away from home next year, they might need to handle an emergency on their own. Do they know what to do if they’re in a car accident? What about if their apartment pipes freeze? Talk through emergency scenarios with them and make sure they have a plan for the major situations life might throw their way. 

If some of these tasks are new for your graduate, they’ll probably give you some pushback – after all, it’s summer and time to kick back after the rush to wrap up the school year. But knowing how to take care of household tasks before they leave your house will be worth it for them in the long run.

Nurturing Attitudes

When I was a teen, my mother pretty regularly told me to “stop with the attitude”, “change your attitude”, or “watch the attitude”. If you have teens, you probably know what she meant. A  teenager’s approach to their blossoming independence often comes with some changes in attitude.

But teenagers aren’t the only ones that have attitudes. Part of being human is the process of forming attitudes and people of all ages have them.

What are attitudes and where do they come from?

Attitudes are ideas that we hold about ourselves, others, objects, or experiences. We can have a favorable attitude about something, a negative attitude, or even an ambivalent attitude. All of our likes and dislikes are formed by the attitudes we hold about those things. 

For example, you might have heard people talk about “cat people” and “dog people.” I grew up with both a cat and a dog in our household. I remember enjoying them both equally and never preferred one over the other. I never had a bad experience with either cats or dogs. And yet, today I admit I am a dog person. Dogs are friendly, cuddly, and always delighted to spend time with you. While some cats are also friendly, cats are often aloof, standoffish, and uninterested in cuddling. 

I’ve had some unpleasant experiences with cats as an adult. So it is not surprising that I ended up with this attitude about cats. Despite a pleasant childhood surrounded by both a cat and a dog, my experiences with cats have resulted in an attitude about cats that isn’t very favorable.

Psychologists define attitude as an evaluation a person makes about an object, person, group, event, or issue. I have definitely made a judgement about cats. Since our attitudes can be favorable, neutral, or unfavorable, we can have attitudes about both things we like and things we dislike.

The ABC Model of Attitudes

There are three components of an attitude, often referred to as the ABC model. The first component, A, stands for ‘Affective.’ Before we form an attitude, we experience or observe something. 

We may have a physical reaction that results from the chemical changes that occur as our brain processes the experience. For example, suppose I see a spider scurry up the wall beside me. Without conscious thought, my body reacts by jumping away.

This is the second component of the ABC model of attitudes, Behavioral. The experience results in feelings or emotions inside us and in response we take an action or behave in some particular way. 

Our experience and resulting behavior help us form a belief and an attitude about it. The third component is Cognitive, our conscious thought process. We form a belief based on the experience or observation. That spider startled me and I don’t like to be surprised. So I form an attitude about spiders.  

The attitudes we have formed as a result of our experiences and observations affect how we respond to new experiences. As parents and educators, understanding the way attitudes are formed can help us nurture healthy attitudes in the children in our care.

Join us virtually on Wednesday, June 2nd, for an indepth look at Nurturing Attitudes in the children in our care. Dr. Aoife Magee will guide participants as we examine the three components of attitude and explore approaches that promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-bias in early childhood. We will explore practices to develop positive environments for growth and learning among children, families, and professionals. 

The workshop will be held online from 6:30pm – 8:30pm. To register: email poel@linnbenton.edu or call 541-917-4899.

How to Help Siblings Build Great Relationships for Life

As a parent, nothing hurts you more than seeing your child hurt. Whether it’s your tween moping because she didn’t get a part in the school play or your toddler sobbing over the last piece of cake, you feel your child’s pain as if it’s your own. 

And when it’s another child who’s hurting your child…that can strain your compassion to the limit. Your neighbor’s cute toddler at the playground will transform in your mind to an evil demon the minute she hits your child in a fight over the swing. 

But when the child who’s hurting your child is also your child? You’ll never feel so torn.

Siblings can be each other’s best friends and worst enemies – often in the same day. As a parent, seeing your children fight can be overwhelming. You want to simultaneously yell at them  and hug them both forever. 

But as difficult as it is, sibling conflict is also an opportunity. Siblings know each other better than anyone else, and sibling relationships are the key place where children can build conflict resolution skills like compassion, negotiation, and compromise. Here’s how you can help them build those skills – even when you’re seeing red. 

Appreciate each child’s individuality 

A desire for parental attention is often at the heart of sibling rivalry, so giving each child your undivided attention is key to minimizing conflict between your kids. Try to schedule 1:1 time with each child, even if it’s only a few minutes a day. Let them take the lead and tell you about their interests and stories. Listening and encouraging what they have to say will promote a healthy sense of self, which can help them learn to set boundaries and manage conflict with their siblings. 

Listening to each child talk about what they care about will also help you know how you can encourage activities they’re interested in. Valuing and recognizing the interests and personality traits that make them unique will help each child feel appreciated for who they are, without comparisons to siblings. This can help you, as Mayo Clinic recommends, “respect each child’s unique needs” and parent them equally, but not identically. 

Model healthy conflict 

Parents who have partners often think it’s best to go somewhere private to solve disagreements between adults, so children don’t have to listen to arguments. But the reality is that conflict with your partner is unavoidable, and since it can happen at any time, trying to keep it private often means that children see the beginning but not the resolution. It’s probably better for kids to watch you work things out, as long as you can do that in a healthy way. One study found that teens who observed “cooperative marital conflict” had better emotional coping skills. Another study found that children whose parents demonstrated “constructive marital conflict” had more prosocial behaviors. Good conflict means being able to compromise, avoid aggression even when you’re mad, and ultimately resolve the situation – even if you never come to an agreement. 

Arguments with your partner aren’t the only opportunity to model healthy conflict resolution – disagreements between you and your kids are inevitable, too, and you can use them as opportunities. Practice staying calm even when you’re frustrated, and model what you want them to do when they fight with each other. Demonstrate “I” statements, firmly but kindly step away if you need to cool down, and be open to negotiating with them. After all, if you want them to compromise with their siblings, you might need to be willing to compromise, too! 

Let kids work it out when you can

It can be tempting to break things up quickly when your kids are fighting. But waiting to see if they can work it out will let them build conflict resolution skills. If they’re not yelling or punching each other, let conflict go for a little to see if they can solve it on their own. 

You can set them up for success by creating routines that help prevent arguments before they happen. For example, teach toddlers to take turns with toys (it’s easier than sharing, which young kids don’t understand). When your kids start to argue, pay attention to their tone and body language – that will give you a clue whether the conflict is escalating or moving toward resolution.

If you do need to step in, be a coach, not a director. Offer suggestions and tools, but let your kids take the lead, especially when working out a compromise. If the ideas come from them, they’ll be more satisfied with the outcome – and they’ll have more skills for the next disagreement. 

Conflict is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to ruin relationships. Rather than preventing sibling rivalry, work on teaching your kids skills that will enable them to build better relationships not just with each other, but with friends, teachers, and even you.

Nurturing Strength in Children of All Ages

Our children come to us as helpless infants. As we care for them, we watch them grow stronger and develop skills. Newborns gain strength daily, becoming strong enough to hold up their head and control the movements of their arms and legs. 

Usually, when we hear the word ‘strength’ our thoughts immediately go to brawn and muscle – the physical ability to lift heavy objects. We don’t often think of young children as being strong, since strength is something you develop as your body grows and matures.

But strength can apply more than just the abilities of our muscles. 

There are other kinds of strength, like emotional strength, mental strength, character strength, social strength, and skill strength, such as athletic ability or artistic ability.

This month, Dr. Aoife Magee invites us to join her in exploring ways to nurture all of these different kinds of strength in our children. 

Mental Strength

Being mentally strong doesn’t mean acting tough or being defiant. Kids with mental strength are ready to meet challenges with confidence and courage. Mentally strong children are resilient, able to handle challenges, and bounce back from difficult situations. Mental strength is sometimes called ‘grit’, which is often defined as courage and resolve, and strength of character.

Helping children develop emotional regulation is the first step in building mental strength. As young children learn how to handle disappointment they are developing resilience and mental strength. As they get older, developing skills in positive self-talk helps build their ability to handle failure and try again. 

Mentally strong children are able to take responsibility for their actions and learn from the consequences when things do not go as they expected.

Emotional Strength

Like mental strength, emotional strength helps children navigate life’s ups and downs. Learning to understand and handle big emotions is part of developing emotional strength. Letting children know their feelings are ok and helping them learn to manage the way they react to their feelings is part of developing emotional strength.

Says Amy Morin, author of “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do”, social and emotional skills are the biggest predictors of future success.”

As adults, we can help support children’s big feelings by letting them know it’s ok to be frustrated, while helping them manage their behavioral choices when they are frustrated.

Physical Strength

Physical strength is built as children’s bodies grow. Active play builds muscles and encourages the use of their growing bodies. A well-rounded diet that includes fruits, leafy vegetables, and proteins contributes to healthy bodies and the development of physical strength.

KidsSense notes that physical strength and endurance are important to children of all ages: Strength and endurance are important to enable children to perform everyday functions such as fine motor skills (e.g. holding a pencil appropriately, cleaning teeth), gross motor skills (e.g. carrying heavy school bags, walking, running, skipping, playground skills such as climbing, and sporting skills such as catching, throwing and hitting a ball with a bat). Muscular endurance helps maintain proper posture all day long.”

Maintaining an active lifestyle, with lots of opportunity for running and jumping, climbing and lifting helps growing children build both physical strength and muscular endurance.

Nurturing Strength

We will explore ways to nurture all kinds of strength in our children at the next session of our Nurturing Children series.

Join us online at 6:30pm, Wednesday, May 5th as we take a deeper dive into ways to help children and families grow stronger together. Nurturing Strength will explore the strength-building power of attachment and positive relationships, social-emotional support for resilience, aids to physical development, and the usefulness of mindfulness practices for building strength in children and families.

To register send an email to: poel@linnbenton.edu or call: 541-917-4899.

Giving Teens Responsibility

In our last post we looked at the benefits of including our young children in the household chores and talked about how children are happier and develop greater self-esteem when they make a meaningful contribution to the family. This week, we look at what happens when kids enter their teen years. It’s an opportunity to meet their need for independence with expanded responsibilities beyond their contributions to household chores.

As our children become teenagers a big part of their attention shifts to their relationships with their friends and figuring out their place in the wider world. 

But they are still a big part of the family and continue to need parental guidance and support. Their bodies have changed and they may have reached their full adult size, but their brains aren’t finished developing.  They still need us while insisting they don’t.

This combination of an adult-sized body, the importance of relationships outside the family, and all of the time and attention needed to figure out what their adult life will look like can make for challenging times.

One way to ease the strain is to support their growing need for independence by expanding their responsibilities. They can still be expected to contribute to household chores, but we can help them grow toward adulthood by giving them some added adult responsibilities and more opportunities to make their own decisions. 

Growing toward Adulthood

Expanded responsibilities can mean that young teens take on more of the meal planning and grocery shopping. A few summers back, when we had three tweens/teens at home, we implemented a dinner rotation for meal prep. Each person in the family was assigned one night a week where they were responsible for preparing dinner for the family. Each Saturday we would get together to plan the meals for the week. Each teen decided what they wanted to cook. The ingredients they needed for their meal got added to the grocery list. I did the shopping, since none of them were driving yet, but if you have a teen who is driving, they can take on this responsibility too.

Post A Chore List

Another way to support this time of transition in your teens life is to take a step back from reminding them about their chore responsibilities. When you’ve reached agreement about what they will be responsible for, post the list of who is doing what where it will be seen often. The front of the refrigerator is always a great location for capturing a teens attention. 

You can also offer monetary incentive for taking care of their assigned chores in a timely fashion, or offer to pay for help that is above and beyond their assigned contributions. For example, making their bed and keeping their room clean might be a part of contributing as a family member, while doing yard work or watching younger siblings are responsibilities that you will pay them for.

Amy Morin, at verywellfamily.com suggests you let your expectations be known, clear, and reasonable. Assign chores ahead of time, be flexible about when they get done, and establish clear consequences so they know what will happen if they don’t do their chores. Now is the time to step back a little and let them take responsibility for time management and meeting expectations without reminders.

Help Them Set Up A Budget

If you reward them with money or they have an allowance, help them set up a budget. Have them write down what they want and need regularly so they can keep up with it. Older teens who have part-time jobs after school can assume more responsibility for paying for their own things, such as their phone bill or social activities. 

Show them how to track their money and keep a ledger. Some banks even offer budgeting tools in their online apps. 

If you haven’t helped them open a bank account yet, now is the time to do it. Helping them establish good money management skills while they are still at home will set them on the path to success as independent adults. 

Expanding Responsibilities for Older Kids

Here are just a few ways you can support your tweens and teens growing desire for independence:

 

10-13 Years: Pre-teens can help with everything smaller kids can help with in addition to sweeping and mopping the floors, helping out with yard work, cleaning out the car, and helping to make meals.

13-16 Years:  Young teenagers can take responsibility for all their personal hygiene and laundry, can help with or make meals, create meal plans and grocery lists. They can be responsible for yard work on their own and can watch younger siblings.

16-18 Years: Our older teenagers who have a job can be responsible for their own money and budget. While their chores at home might not change much, they are now in a position to begin paying for some of their own things – the cell phone, clothes, the costs associated with activities they do with their friends. 

With a love and guidance, helping our teens take on more responsibilities as they reach high school graduation prepares them for a lifetime as independent and responsible adults. 

Giving kids responsibility

Research shows that having kids share in the responsibility of household chores can increase self-esteem, build their ability to delay gratification, and equip them to deal with frustration.  By helping out around the house, children learn valuable life skills, gain confidence, and build self-reliance, which can lead to greater success at school, work, and in relationships.

Says one blogger on children and chores, “Knowing that they contribute and are productive members of the family gives children an important sense of self-worth and belonging. Also, self-mastery (being able to do things for themselves) builds stronger self-esteem and leads to a more capable young person.”

They may grumble when asked to do chores, but research tells us that children actually feel happier when they make a meaningful contribution to the family.

Make it Easy for Kids to Help

The earlier you include kids in household chores, the less resistance you will get and the easier it is to keep them helping willingly. By creating a consistent routine that includes everyone pitching in, children are more likely to contribute without complaint.

Routines keep things predictable. Kids and grown-ups find comfort in knowing what to expect. Creating routines that include chores also reduces the likelihood of pushback when they are reminded of the things they are expected to help with.

Another way to make it easier for kids to help is by decluttering. Too much on a shelf, or stuffed into a drawer or a closet, can be overwhelming. When everything has its own place on the shelf, or in the drawer, and there is ample space between things, picking up and putting away is less stressful and easier to do. 

For the very youngest helpers, some preparation on our part will help them be successful even as they are still learning.  For example, even a toddler can be responsible for feeding the cat if we prepare a small container that holds the cat’s next meal in advance. Placing the pre-measured food on a low shelf means the toddler can feed the cat by taking the container to the cat’s dish and pouring the food into the dish.  

Two-year-old tantrums are often the result of frustration at not being allowed to do something they feel completely capable of accomplishing. 

True, we are all busy and sometimes it is hard to find the patience for waiting while they practice new skills. It is so much easier, and faster, to just do it ourselves.  We have years of experience putting on shoes and we know we will be out the door so much more quickly if we simply scoop up the child and the shoes and put their shoes on their feet for them. 

Waiting for our toddler, who is just learning to coordinate the movement of their hands with the movement of their feet will take more time. 

But planning ahead to allow more time – and having the patience to let them try – will result in a happier toddler as they experience the satisfaction of accomplishment while building their self-care skills with each new effort.

Children as young as 18 months can help pull clean clothes out of the dryer and into a laundry basket. With a little direction, toddlers can help put linens on a closet shelf, socks into their sock drawer, and dish towels into a kitchen drawer.

As children are learning to perform their chores, doing them together allows them to learn from you. Working as a team over time, the child can watch you perform a new chore, then begin to help with that task, and eventually will have had sufficient practice to take responsibility to do it independently. 

What can they help with? 

Here are just a few of the things that kids can be responsible for:

2-3 Years: Our youngest children can help us with our regular household chores. As we straighten a room, they can take a piece of trash to the wastebasket, use a dust cloth to help dust tabletops, take dirty clothes to the laundry hamper, help pull clean clothes out of the dryer, and learn to fold washcloths.

4-5 Years: Our older preschoolers can help with all of the above and they can take responsibility for setting and clearing the table, making their bed, matching and folding socks, wiping up spills, using a hand-held vacuum, preparing a simple snack, and helping with meal prep.

6-7 Years: All of the above, as well as emptying the dishwasher, putting groceries away, sweeping and vacuuming floors, dusting, folding towels, watering plants, raking leaves.

8-10 Years: Empty the trash, wash dishes, pack lunches, hang and fold clean clothes, weed the garden.

With a little planning, a lot of patience, and loads of encouragement we can help our kids on their road to independence with some well-timed responsibilities throughout their childhood.

Strengthening Adult Relationships

Our primary relationships – with our partners, our children, and our immediate family  bring us joy and enhance our life. Social connections are part of being human and our relationships with other adults offer important support. 

Social distancing during the pandemic has been hard on us all. It runs counter to our natural inclination and desire to spend time with others enjoying each other’s company and building relationships                                                           

That is because humans are social beings. We enjoy our adult relationships. Not only that, according to HarvardHealth, our social connections also contribute to our long-term health – in ways every bit as powerful as adequate sleep, a good diet, and not smoking. Dozens of studies have shown that people who have satisfying relationships with family, friends, and their community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer.

But it’s not always easy to find time for adult relationships. Our children and their needs keep us busy from the time our feet hit the floor in the morning until we stumble, exhausted, back into bed at night. 

But as challenging as finding the time for our friends can be, making time for our adult relationships can help us refuel and provide much-needed emotional support.

Tips for strengthening adult relationships

Here are a few ways to strengthen the adult relationships in your life.

Relationships with significant others/spouses

Spending time together is the number one way to build relationships. It’s easy to let our relationship with our partner take a back seat to all the logistics of family life, but being intentional about carving out time without the children, can go a long way to strengthening our relationships. The Gottman Institute recommends  six specific steps  you can take to strengthen your romantic relationship.

Relationships with siblings

Our siblings are the people who know us best and have been there as we’ve become adults. Says Janessa McQuivey, “In many families, sibling relationships make an abrupt shift when individuals enter young adulthood and leave the home. Some adult siblings find themselves spread across multiple states. Distance can be further complicated with differing life stages – college, work, marriage, and children. Many find they don’t spend as much time connecting with their siblings as they would like.”

She offers this tip for deepening sibling relationships later in life. “Little steps and deliberate moments of kindness can help siblings feel loved, have a greater desire to stay in touch, and lead to deeper, more satisfying relationships in years to come.” 

Relationships with childhood friends

Are there people you knew when you were younger that you’ve lost touch with? Take a little time to reach out. You may find you still have a lot in common.  Technology can facilitate friendship across long distances. When the pandemic started eliminating outside activities and keeping us at home, many people found time to initiate regular Zoom ‘happy hour’ gatherings with friends far and wide, virtually.

Making new friends

Parenting can be isolating. When we focus all of our attention on our children and their  schedules we may be missing opportunities to cultivate new friendships with other adults. Where can we find new friends? Here are just a few possibilities:

  • Be open to getting to know the other adults in the lives of your children’s friends and your children’s school. 
  • Be active with groups that engage in activities you enjoy (running club, biking club, the gym). 
  • Consider volunteering with an organization doing work you believe in. 
  • Participate in small group activities at church. 
  • Take a class through the local community ed organization. 
  • Join a PSN parenting class, where many participants form friendships that last for years after the formal class has ended.

The Parenting Success Network offers opportunities for parents with children of all ages to gather with others who are at similar stages of their parenting journey. Classes are offered continuously, with every class posted on the events calendar of the website.  Join us for a class today. You might just meet your new best friend as you strengthen both your parenting skills and your adult relationships.