Thursday, 13 September 2018

Cotton Wool Kids - How Overprotective Parenting is Actually Harming Our Children

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What is happening to our kids?
What we are seeing in the media and particularly on the news at university campuses is a rise in mental and emotional disorders among our kids and young adults. We all want our children to grow up safe and happy, don't we? But what if the way we are parenting is making them the opposite? In unpicking this tangle of an issue I want to focus on the influences on a child's life, how a child's brain is affected by their activities, what is making kids and young adults so afraid and the characteristics we need to develop in our kids.

What is driving this phenomenon
My personal opinion is formed by my formal education as a Special Ed and High School Teacher and Counselor and from working with at-risk kids for almost three decades. It's not something I just came up with a minute ago, it's a problem I have observed for a long time. Thirty years means the kids I taught when I first graduated are now parents. What sort of parenting are they providing? What examples did these young parents have? The children of these parents are now finishing high school and starting university.

How can kids from loving families feel such despair?
What I've noticed is that more children are presenting with emotional despair, PTSD, suicidal tendencies and uncontrolled anxiety. In the last ten years as a teacher I was shocked at the number of quietly despairing children who had already contemplated how they would kill themselves. And these were kids of  ordinary people, loving parents. Children feel less able to cope with basic elements of life. They feel powerless and overwhelmed and therefore are too reliant upon adults instead of figuring things out for themselves. Where is the resilience?

There's a prevalence of 'getting in touch with your feelings' and expressing them openly that probably came from a sensible idea but has led, in reality, to a preoccupation with one's own feelings to the expense of the feelings of others. I've also noticed a rise in anger issues and a blaming culture. None of these things enable children to develop healthy social habits or give them a positive sense of themselves and their abilities.

An unhealthy attitude shift
There's been an attitude shift and not just at the university level. What we have now is a tidal wave of intolerance -
  • intolerance of others' opinions 
  • intolerance of difficulties they encounter
  • intolerance of any form of hierarchy
  • intolerance of authority
  • intolerance of debate
  • intolerance of political differences
  • intolerance of others' feelings
What is the relationship between the rise in anxiety and depression and this  anger and intolerance?

Is technology to blame?
My short answer is, yes, partly. Children in Primary school are spending a lot less time playing outside in the dirt and on grass, sorting out their differences, communicating directly, having to cooperate. Where are they? Indoors, staring at their phone or tablet, on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat etc. or watching movies and TV shows. Among college students their virtual life can overtake their actual life, bringing with it all sorts of problems such as mobile phone addiction and sleeplessness. According to Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, Wayne State University 1 in 5 university students suffers with anxiety and depression. And what does he put top of his list as a factor? Dangers in technology. In an insightful article, here he explains:


Social media and technology are among the most dangerous of these factors. Excessive use of each tends to engender impaired social interactions and an increased sense of isolation.
Excessive social media use also fosters a certain competition between one’s real life and one’s virtual life. That is, a tug of war between being engrossed in posting experiences on social media, sending texts and taking selfies instead of enjoying the moment for what it’s worth.
Many college students are living dual virtual and real lives, and the virtual life is competing and at times becomes more important than real life. This is not only something that those of us in the trenches see clinically but it has been well- documented in research studies.
Several other studies have found that mobile phone addiction, as well as excess smartphone use, is also associated with increased sleep disturbancedepression, anxiety and overall stress.
These habits begin at home when children are young. It's just too easy for parents to give in and let children sit there, unmoving, for hours. And this lack of interaction is having a huge impact, both mentally and physically.

A lack of physical movement is making our kids dumber
What a lot of people may not understand is that physical movement in childhood is vital to development. Brain and body. Kids learn so much from interacting with their environment - climbing trees, playing with water, jumping over obstacles, squeezing through tunnels. They become attuned to their body, which helps them control it and become aware of what is around them. Their brain grows faster and stronger from having to navigate obstacles, think about how to solve problems, work out the best option, interact with others. Their mental processing, and mostly importantly, self regulation, grows too:
  • Which way would fit better? 
  • What is safer? 
  • How far can I lean without losing my balance? 
  • How strong am I? 
  • Can my arms support my weight?
  • If I pedal harder will I make it up the hill?
  • If I rest a bit I can then keep going
  • Should I share this?
  • Does he/she need help getting up?
  • How far can I throw this?
  • How can I make sure he/she catches it?
  • What's that noise?
  • How can we cooperate so we both get what we want?
Daniel Goleman, in his ground breaking book, Emotional Intelligence, says: "...how crucial it is for social competence to notice, interpret, and respond to emotional and interpersonal cues." This you cannot learn from chatting online and using emojis! In fact, emojis were created because people were misinterpreting each other online, due to the virtual communication, by its very nature depriving users of the vital body and facial cues of others which make up 70% of human interaction.

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University protests are the new fascism
I support the idea of protest against injustice, of course I do. But what I am noticing now is the aggressive intolerance of young adults to anything that they don't agree with. The anger and hatred is so powerful! And misguided. Guest speakers have had to be escorted safely off campus by police. Students have tried to sue other students for simply using campus resources they wanted segregated for a particular group. Ironically, in the name of 'tolerance' more rifts are appearing, more delineations, groups and identities separate from the rest. Being 'special and different' has become an obsession. Being angry at someone has become the norm. Saying whatever you like without allowing others the same right has become acceptable. I've witnessed outrageous, infantile public behaviour that left me shaking my head in disbelief.

The expectation seems to be that everyone must think the same, that no one is allowed to discuss or debate or present their ideas rationally, calmly and intelligently. I hear statements like: "You can't say that!" and "That's offensive!" and my absolute favourite: "You can't say that!"

I've seen 'protests' used as a form of suppression of free speech and the free flow of ideas. It's a new form of fascism, by people who claim to be fighting fascism! Hilarious really, if it wasn't so dangerous. The sheer audacity of some of the students who elect themselves moral judge of others beggars belief. And unfortunately, the rise of Political Correctness has created and nourished this monster.

In their brand new book, The Coddling of the American Mind, moral psychologist Jonathon Haidt and free speech lawyer Greg Lukianoff discuss an interesting paradox that is emerging in American universities; a campus radicalism which fuses fragility with extreme intolerance. This generation has been brought up protected and coddled but has this produced young adults who protect and coddle others? The opposite is true. Their intellectual energy has been misdirected into an inward facing philosophy. Inner rage is surfacing, looking for a target and any target will do. Instead of uniting for a cause that actually produces something positive for society, the focus seems to be upon ripping everything apart. Instead of feeling strong and independent, confident in their own thoughts but OPEN TO OTHERS' OPINIONS we end up with rage, irrational behaviour and, to put it bluntly, self centred, attention seeking behaviour and an overriding fear of practically everything that is becoming ubiquitous.

So why are these young adults so angry and afraid?
It comes back to parenting, to the messages they received growing up from school, the media and peers. This generation grew up with Facebook, fake news, an obsession with looks that borders on hysteria and a declining sense of decorum, modesty, thoughtfulness of others and a sense of duty to society. This generation has whatever they want, just one click away. They've been sitting there in the corner chatting online, inside the virtual world instead of being out in the real world, coping with reality. Their expectations are therefore warped by this artificial world. Their sense of their place in the broader society is warped.

When I ask kids what they want to do when they grow up/leave school quite a few lately have said "Social Justice." I respond with, "That's not an actual job, it's an idea. What do you want to be?" They are fed a diet of fighting against every different opinion, without regard to evidence, proof or debate. I was gobsmacked when my kid came home from school one day spewing hatred about the Prime Minister. When I challenged the assumption and asked for proof she had very little understanding (of course) of BOTH sides of the issue they had apparently 'discussed' at school. She came home with blind vitriol, instead of respect for the office of Prime Minister. The hatred she displayed was quite alarming. It's not a healthy questioning of authority as part of a democratic society. And the effect has perhaps escaped the notice of teachers/adults - if a child can't feel safe in the knowledge that the leader of their country, the adult at the highest level, is competent and respected, what hope do they have of feeling confident about their community, their school, their family?

A similar over-the-top reaction was evident the day Donald Trump was declared the new USA President. My child, who lives in Australia mind you, came home visibly distressed, saying Donald Trump was going to kill people and blow up the world. I patiently explained that Trump had won a democratic election, that Americans wanted a change, that there were issues we didn't understand because it's not our country and that it was none of our business. I assured her that no one was going to blow up her world, that she was safe. It begs the question: did she get these ideas from her teacher? Doubtful. The media and other kids? Highly probable.

So if the media are deciding how a child feels about themselves and their world, and the media is driven by appealing to our baser instincts, catastrophising for money, of course children are going to be anxious! Have you watched the news lately? Have you seen any music videos lately? Have you seen what kids are saying to each other online lately? What they're watching?

It's not uncommon for me to go to a cinema to watch a film rated MA (15 years +) and see young kids in the audience. I was absolutely horrified recently to see the trailer for a new MA rated movie, supposedly a comedy, with clearly adult content and, of all things, Muppets. Yep, you read that correctly. Muppets. So, I'm wondering just which audience is this film made for? Young kids are going to beg to see it, because it's got harmless 'Muppets' they recognise from Sesame Street. Movie ratings are decided by a panel of our peers for very good reasons - to protect children from things they don't yet understand and yet parents ignore them. The moviemakers know that children are going to be attracted to seeing this adult content movie but they make it anyway. So it's up to parents to put on the brakes and make an ethical decision for their child. But are they?

We have a situation now where children as young as five have body image issues. Where does that come from? I can't see the average mum looking down their nose and making snide comments about their five year old's weight, can you? But glamourising the 'perfect' body and face is a big part of almost every reality show on TV, in every magazine on display in the newsagent.

Online influences
Parents, I believe, give in too early to the incessant demands for a) a phone and b) unsupervised internet access. Both of these are disastrous. We are not born with built-in filters. This is a skill we learn. Hopefully from our parents. What parents are doing is allowing their kids to make the important decisions, thinking this is giving them responsibility, when it is in fact the parents' responsibility to keep them away from harmful online influences and teach them how to manage their online habits. In any case, why does a child of nine need a phone? They are always under the care and supervision of adults, whether it's at home, at school or on the bus in between. A phone is primarily for communication. But these days it's used as a babysitter. The result is kids become preoccupied with the minutiae, the tiny unimportant aspects of life, such as what people are wearing and saying. This affects how kids see and value themselves. And it's rarely a positive influence.

It's well documented that when children are exposed to violent content, it becomes reflected in their behaviour. Of course it does! Otherwise advertisers wouldn't be making gazillions every day. What we watch becomes part of us.

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So what's this got to do with overprotecting kids?
I believe we're not adequately preparing them for responsible adult life. One of the most important aspects of responsible adult life is respect for others, particularly for authority. Sure, it's fine to challenge the status quo when required. Otherwise we wouldn't have the female vote. But at some stage you have to just knuckle down and get on with living your life and mind your own business. Our job as parents isn't easy, but no one else should be doing it for us.

As E.D. Hill, journalist and mother of eight children says in her excellent book, I'm Your Parent, Not Your Friend :

"After decades of experts telling us to raise our children in the opposite way than our ancestors, because 'it's better for the child,' we are struggling with problems they never expected. The theories of kids have greater autonomy from their parents, wearing clothing that expresses their individuality; attending open, non-judgemental schools and receiving unconditional approval have been an abysmal failure. The result is increasingly violent juvenile crime, extreme disobedience, staggering rates of depression, millions of children on medicine to help them behave normally, and skyrocketing obesity." (p.200)

My view is, by the time your child finishes school they need to have these basics:
  1. Social aptitude. Being able to read social cues, understand the 'feel' of a situation by noticing body language and facial/voice cues of others is extremely important for not just everyday life, but for functioning in the working environment as well as intimate relationships.
  2. Personal care. This doesn't just mean showering! It means knowing how to cook proper healthy meals for yourself, keep your living environment clean and tidy, disposing of your rubbish thoughtfully etc. Dressing appropriately!
  3. Manners. Being thoughtful of others, showing care and concern, (even if you don't agree with their ideology!) Basic politeness, especially in public spaces!
  4. Conflict resolution. Respect means we can agree to disagree. Shake hands and walk away. You don't get to decide what other's think and feel! There are often two sides and it's important to understand both. Intelligent, rational people are interested in understanding views different to their own. It makes for a more well rounded person and more cohesive society.
  5. Respectful of authority and public amenities. Everywhere you go, every public amenity you use, whether its a train, a bus station, a road, a toilet, a hospital or a library, has been built from tax dollars paid by working citizens. The people in charge of the enormous task of delivering those services, human though they are, deserve our respect and compliance. Trashing public amenities is kicking tax payers in the face.
  6. Have goals for yourself. Immediate and long term planning, working towards goals, having a positive attitude, not waiting for someone to provide what you need. Save up! Have a plan for your life and think about steps to get there.
  7. Personal attitude. Have a positive attitude about yourself, be proud of your achievements, continue to grow and learn about life, become the best human being you can be. Be humble when it's appropriate! Be prepared to change your beliefs as more information comes to light. Have an open mind to other ideas. Be positive towards others and their achievements too.
  8. Character. Put time, thought and effort into developing your character. What kind of person do you want to be? Whom do you admire? What positive characteristics do you mean to develop in yourself? How will you contribute to society? What positive influence will YOU have on others.
Parents are the key to success
The most powerful influence in a child's life is still their parents. And yet many abdicate this responsibility, handing it over to TV shows, movies, and worst of all ADVERTISERS, who get to choose what influences a child's thinking, how they feel about themselves and their world, what news they see, what music they hear, whose opinion they follow. What we see and hear becomes part of our thinking, which then influences our actions. Who we associate with changes us, even as adults. Our kids must develop the skills to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy influence. And that is our job to teach them. We must provide good role models for them to copy, because copy they will. The result will be a young adult who knows who they are, is confident in their abilities, is resilient in the face of hardship, is respectful of others, is polite and well mannered, acts responsibly and intelligently and is on the road to their goals and dreams with hope in their heart and a plan of action.

This young adult won't have the time or the heart for slamming others. This young adult will know where to get help if they need it but will be focussed upon striding forward to achieve their goals.

The most powerful antidote to anxiety and distress is hope. Hope in oneself. Hope and trust in others.


Monday, 6 August 2018

ANXIOUS KIDS - How do I know if my child is experiencing TOO MUCH ANXIETY?


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Anxiety like never before
Is the situation worse now these days or are we just imagining it? There's no doubt our childhoods were different to those of our children. There are social pressures on our kids that we didn't have, such as (the big one) social media, cyber bullying, media images affecting body image, fewer stay-at-home parents, faster paced everything, dietary changes, less outside play and more.

Some level of anxiety is NORMAL. But a lot of kids seem to suffer too much with anxious thoughts. This is when parents sometimes become alarmed and look for help.

What is 'normal' anxiety?
It's normal to be a little anxious about these sorts of things:
  • first day at school
  • seeing a new doctor
  • meeting a relative you've never met
  • being alone in the dark
  • going to bed in winter
  • a dog barking at you
  • hurting yourself
  • getting lost
  • losing track of Mum when shopping
Normal anxiety:
  • feels uncomfortable, but not life threatening. 
  • passes fairly quickly.
  • is often overcome with encouragement
  • can be talked through and managed
When anxiety levels rise and spill over to heightened anxiety that cannot be contained, or the anxiety stops your child from interacting normally, then we're entering into phobias/obsessive thoughts/panic attacks territory.

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What are the physical symptoms of anxiety?
Anxiety is a natural mechanism in our brains designed to keep us safe from danger. It involves:
  • the brain
  • blood circulation
  • hormonal system
  • muscular system
It begins with a thought in our consciousness, which makes us aware of danger. This triggers a reaction in our brain, which causes adrenaline to be released, which raises our heart rate. Blood flows to our limbs getting us ready to run away or fight. The feeling of needing to run is very high. This is a chemical reaction in our body. Perfectly normal. And if the danger goes away or proves to be a false reaction (no actual danger), the chemicals dissipate and our body returns to normal.

Normally, these physical changes are lightning fast and uncontrollable. As soon as the thought enters our head, the changes occur. Similarly, as soon as we realise there is no actual danger, the thought triggers a calming down process.

It is also normal to have sweaty hands and forehead, a thumping sensation in the chest, tingling in the hands. But, as I mentioned, these feeling pass.

How do I know if my child is experiencing too  much anxiety?
Sometimes extra 'sensitive' children may feel anxious over smaller, trivial things. Or children may feel heightened emotions due to trauma they have experienced or are in the middle of experiencing, such as family break-up, death of a loved one, relocation to a totally new environment. Many children with Asperger's Syndrome or Attention Deficit Disorder experience intense anxiety as part of their condition.

There are lots of triggers in a child's life that can cause a rise in anxiety symptoms. This usually passes with time and gentle understanding on the part of the adults in their life.

If a child:
  • is having trouble breathing, 
  • their eyes are wide and they have a look of terror on their face, 
  • suddenly screams 
  • hides in their room crying over a trivial matter
  • can't stop crying
  • refuses flatly to go to school
  • becomes physically violent in their panic
  • vomits from stress
These are symptoms of distress. Your child needs help. 

How do I help my anxious child?
The first step is to make an appointment with your GP. Do a bit of research and find a GP with counselling experience or one who specialises in children.

Secondly, begin reading up on strategies for managing childhood anxiety. From my work with children and their parents over 28 years I have written a book especially for children. 12 Annoying Monsters - Self talk for Kids with Anxiety 

It's packed with information, fun activities and is designed to get parents and children talking about this very issue. There are many useful tools in this book that parents and children have loved. It has also been used by psychologists and counsellors in their practices.

My son loved it. I thought it was absolutely brilliant. It was insightful, compassionate and used kid-friendly language. I truly enjoyed reading it. I only wish I had a book like this when I was a child.
– Flavia Young, Publicist and blogger

Your 'Monsters' book is excellent Dawn. I am giving it to my daughter (Special Needs Teacher) to see if she can utilise it in her work as well.

– Harry Mayr, Principal Psychologist, St Marys/Penrith Psychological Services





Sunday, 6 May 2018

First term back at school anxiety - chase those monsters away!

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First Term Anxiety
It's the end of first term. How has it been for you? What about your little munchkin? If it's the first term EVER, life has changed radically for both of you. If it's the first term AGAIN, life can still be challenging if your child is prone to having anxious thoughts. School isn't home. The comforts of your own environment just aren't there. And when Mum or Dad isn't there, life can be a bit overwhelming. Teachers are great at dealing with these issues, but they do have so many other kids to attend to. Eventually your child will have to learn his/her own strategies for overcoming these anxious times. It's a skill for life.

Firstly, it helps to identify the problem.
For this to work your child needs to be able to discuss what happened, how they felt, how their body felt, and what thoughts they had. Mindfulness isn't as hard as you think. It just takes practice. Help your child to become mindful. When you're out together and you see something, or something happens, ask the question - 'What did you think about just then?' For example, if your child reacts badly to an event, such as burst into tears or fire up angry, ask them, what did you think just then? What thought did you have? My kidlet said the other day that she thought "I'm never going to fix this!" And so an anxious moment followed. Also, her reaction was a bit over the top because she had misinterpreted what happened. For younger children this level of self reflection might not be possible. So focus on how the body feels. Or use a toy/puppet show to talk about the situation. Often a child finds these less confronting and easier to handle because it's not directly about them, it's about the puppet. Genius, isn't it? Counsellors and psychologists use this method for tuning in to a child's mental state.


So what has this to do with school anxiety?
Much of our response to stressful situations brings on anxiety because w feel we are not in control of what is happening and we fear the outcome, ie: get into trouble, get hurt, lose a parent, become lost etc. I know myself that in new situations I wonder how I will be perceived, whether I will find my way around a new place without getting lost or being late. For children starting school again or for the first time there is the worry that:
  • Mum or Dad are not going to be there 
  • the teacher is new, a stranger 
  • there are unfamiliar children in the class 
  • the classroom is new and unfamiliar
  • the routines are different (child doesn't know what is going to happen or when)
  • other children won't play with them/like them
  • they will make some sort of mistake and get into trouble
So how do you begin working on mindfulness with your child? In my book 12 Annoying Monsters - Self Talk for Kids with Anxiety I provide resources to help kids find the right words to describe how they are feeling, to look at what makes them feel anxious.

What are you afraid of?
Here’s a little exercise to help you identify what it is that you fear or are anxious about: Say this and fill in the missing bit –

“I am scared of ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_______________ because ____________________________”

“When I’m scared it stops me from ___________________________________”

“If I wasn’t scared, I would be able to __________________________________”

I also explain the physical symptoms of anxiety, and that even though it seems very scary at the time, these symptoms do go away if you focus on breathing evenly and deeply, speak to someone about what is happening and find a distraction.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Foods that HELP ANXIOUS CHILDREN

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Anxiety and Food - is there a link?
Does the food we eat make us more anxious or do we eat certain foods because we're anxious? Is this a natural behaviour that evolved from survival 'in the wild' where we needed high calorie foods for energy to escape danger? These questions were explored through a study by Murphy and Mercer article published in UK completed in 2013. The results indicated the following:
  • What a mother eats during pregnancy and while breast feeding can impact upon the child's mood and later food choices
  • We tend to be attracted to certain types of foods when we are anxious. This may seem to be a natural response in our bodies. In the natural environment where we might be in danger it would be helpful, but in our modern environment where we are mostly inactive and not in immediate threat of danger, these foods just make us fat.
  • Anxious people may be born with that tendency and their food choices may reflect this
  • It is possible for Children conceived and breast fed with high caloric foods such as high in sugar and saturated fats to change their dietary habits later in life
  • Eating to feel better sets up a cycle that may be difficult to break away from. The more we eat of these foods, the more we want and feel we need them.
Treats or Traps?
Many parents feel it is a battle to get their children to eat fruits and particularly vegetables, while at the same time don't want them to 'miss out on treats like the rest of the family.' From the above research it would seem that the diet of the mother is crucial in the process of establishing healthy food choices in your child simply because foods and the body's response are chemical processes that affect the child connected to her body through either being in utero or breast feeding. So,
  • Model good food choices yourself. Your children copy you.
  • Don't give your young child chocolate, sugary drinks, potato crisps, deep fried foods AT ALL while they are developing their 'taste buds'. It takes a child up to 15 goes to become used to a new flavour. Persist! Don't have alternatives in the cupboard.
  • Children have brand new taste buds, naturally sensitive to even the subtlest flavours. There is NO NEED to give them spicy, sugary, salty foods to keep them 'happy'. For a snack, celery sticks, carrot sticks, cheese cubes, apple slices, banana etc to chew on and WATER to drink. I shudder when I see babies and toddlers in prams with a bottle full of Coke or fruit juice. There is absolutely no need for either. You are setting them up for a lifetime of struggle with their weight and nutrition!
  • When we want a treat or feel depressed a pick-me-up may well be in order. But keep it to a SMALL AMOUNT.
 
sliced apple, rye bread, celery sticks with cream cheese, eggplant (aubergine) dip, salami, sweet corn, swiss cheese slices

Other considerations
Diets low in Magnesium can increase anxiety related behaviours. The Harvard Medical School health blog has some great tips here
  • Keep meals regular. If you skip meals your blood sugar level drops, making you feel jittery and anxious
  • There is a definite link between gut health and mental health. Probiotics may also help anxiety, as they help gut health, which impacts greatly upon mental health.
  • Choose complex, unprocessed carbs such as whole grains and starchy vegies which take longer to digest. These keep you calmer for longer.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine. These alter your mood artificially and can easily be overused, worsening the problem.
  • Legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains, also spinach have lots of Magnesium

Other foods which will help reduce anxiety and improve mental health 
Some foods actually increase dopamine and serotonin levels in the body, helping you feel better!
  • Foods rich in zinc such as oysters, cashews, liver, beef, and egg yolks have been linked to lowered anxiety.
  •  Asparagus, avocado and almonds
  • pickles, sauerkraut and kefir
  • fatty fish such as wild Alaskan salmon

Foods designated as high in antioxidants also help reduce anxiety
  • Beans: Dried small red, Pinto, black, red kidney
  • Fruits: Apples (Gala, Granny Smith, Red Delicious), prunes, sweet cherries, plums, black plums
  • Berries: Blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, blueberries
  • Nuts: Walnuts, pecans
  • Vegetables: Artichokes, kale, spinach, beets, broccoli
  • Spices with both antioxidant and anti-anxiety properties include turmeric (containing the active ingredient curcumin) and ginger.
  • dark chocolate, in small amounts!
  • eggs
  • green tea

Sleep issues?
According to this article, avoid proteins such as chicken, cheese and turkey at bedtime. They actually interfere with the body's production of tryptohpan, which winds down your brain for sleep. Carbs, on the other hand, make you sleepy.

There are countless websites with recipes you can try, simple things to put in the lunchbox. Its just a case of reaching for the vegetable peeler instead of the packet of chips.

Habits! That's what we're trying to form.
And healthy ones, at that.

For more ideas on simple, quick meals for kids click here http://secretstohappykids.blogspot.com.au/

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

BAD weather and anxious kids

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When the thunder booms I think its pretty cool and love to snuggle up, but when I was a child I was afraid of it. One night Dad sat me on the front verandah and explained the different types of lightning, how the sound is made when air pressure cells collide and how wonderful rain is for the Earth. I haven't been afraid of storms since.

But I am afraid of wind tearing off the roof.

I have to admit, the screaming sounds and rattling of the windows and roofing iron do my head in. Lots of kids suffer with this same fear. It's perfectly natural to want to feel safe and nature is a powerful force we cannot control. In my work with children over 28 years I have always maintained that knowledge is the key to independence and conquering fears. Knowing how and why things work helps a lot to rationalise what's happening. And so the day after the storm hubby went up into the roof and informed me the house was very solid. A builder came to inspect minor damage due to wear and tear and even he said it was fine. Just needed a bit of silicone on the roof screws.  In time we will replace the tin, but this place has been here for 100 hundred years and isn't going anywhere. Our neighbour said the exact same thing about his house, of a similar vintage.

Focus on the positives
I'm sure there are great youtube clips you could watch with your child to explain the phenomena which frighten him/her. Perhaps have special activities for stormy days, such as drawing and colouring in pictures of stormy weather, adding happy, smiling faces or fun, ridiculous things you could do in a storm if you had super powers. Card games, favourite shows or music would also help. Some people swear by essential oils. 

What you don't want to do
Is check the weather predictions all the time. this will increase anxiety. If you've taken all necessary precautions and are safe, checking wont change anything and can lead to a phobia of weather.

 

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Christmas Tantrums - how to avoid the blow-ups!

Yep, it's that time of year again. As parents we may feel ambivalent about it because of the 'parent trap' - what if your precious darlings don't like the gifts you bought them?

Scenario #1 -
It's Christmas morning and you're enjoying a snoozy lie-in when suddenly you hear shrieks and screams and heartbroken cries from the lounge room. Thinking someone must be mortally wounded you leap out of bed, fall over the bedclothes on the floor, rush into the lounge room to find your child huddled in the foetal position on the floor, wrapping paper and discarded presents scattered around the room. What the hell happened? Your child's tear stained, furious face tells it all. They hate what you gave them. They hate you. They wanted something else, probably more expensive than your budget allows. You're the worst parent EVER.


Scenario #2 -  
You're shopping for Christmas presents with your little darling/s and they see something they reeeeeally want. When you explain that they a) don't need it, b) are too young for it, c) you can't afford it, your sweet natured little angel throws an embarrassing tantrum, screaming and chucking stuff out of the trolley while onlookers gasp and film you on their phones.

Scenario #3 -
Your child is a highly anxious little person who worries about what to buy, whether people will like what they choose and whether they will get what their heart desires. Or they may be worrying that there will be tension in the house, people arguing, adults not getting along. It happens in most families. This level of anxiety can be difficult to combat. Christmas can represent a stressful time of year for some people, simply because the expectations of the occasion being 'nothing but happy' are way too high.

Scenario #4 - 
The fighting, OMG! Your gorgeous kidlets are killing each other out of jealousy, because you definitely love one more than the other and always give the other a better, more expensive present because you're SO UNFAIR! You fell like gathering up everything and throwing it in the bin, to hell with the cost and the number of extra hours you had to work to pay for it all.

Scenario #5 -
Your extended family are all gathered around the tree. It's the moment where 'Santa' gives out the presents! Yay! You're expecting shining happy faces, hugs, genuine thank yous, blissful hours of quiet while they enjoy their gifts, with looks of rapture and delight. Er, no. Not quite. Instead you get tears, anger, presents being thrown on the floor and stomped on, confused looks from grandparents, aunts and uncles as you scurry off into the kitchen/garage/toilet to nurse your shattered pride.


Scenario #6
You've given your darling some money with which to buy presents for family members. You anticipate the fun they will have choosing something their relative might like. It'll be fun! The hunt for the right item, figuring out the budget limitations, learning about handling money, appreciating the effort YOU go to every birthday and Christmas because they are now performing the same task. What a lovely life lesson! They will now understand the meaning of giving from the heart, right? WRONG. Your precious little tiger rants and raves, wants to spend the money on himself/herself, waste it on lollies, complaining loudly as you rush the trolley out to the carpark.

What can you do to avoid this embarrassing disaster & stress?
This is not what you imagined when you were pregnant. Yes, of course, TV and films romanticise Christmas to the point of ridiculous: snowflakes and mulled wine round the fire, singing carols, a loving atmosphere...

How can you teach your child the true meaning of Christmas? How do you nurture that selflessness? How can you ensure your child copes with Christmas? Here are my top tips. And it's never too late to start.

To effect change you must take the focus off the presents. Both receiving and giving. Yes, baby Jesus was given very expensive gifts from kings, but that's because he was destined to become a king himself! This does not represent your duty to your own children, much as they act like miniature royalty and have developed an effective sneer of disapproval. Christmas is about the entire season, of GOOD WILL towards others. It's about traditions. (more on that later). So what practical things can you do to teach this?


1. Carols and community
Take your children to the local community carols service. Yep, grab your foldable chairs, a thermos and blanket each, settle on the lawn of the local church or community park and sing along, waving your candles gently, feeling part of the community. Hear local leaders talk about what the community has achieved this year, whom they've helped, how they've raised money for those less fortunate. Take along a bag of goodies to give out. Walk around with your child and hand them out, along with sincere Christmas wishes. Catch up with friends. On a starlit night its fabulous.

2. Tradition and how it calms your child
In our house the Christmas traditions start on December 1st when we put up the tree and decorate the house. It's lovely to see the ornaments we haven't seen for 11 months, so familiar and comforting for kids to witness that no matter what happens, Christmas is celebrated. It's a time for family, for good fun and good food. We also start planning the menu. Every year I make Julie Goodwin's Last Minute Christmas Pudding from a beautiful recipe that is super easy! The caramel brandy sauce is to die for! You can vary the dried fruit. Whatever you like. We include currants, chopped apricot, glace cherries and blueberries. My mouth is watering already... Depending on the weather, how much work I want to do and our climate (Australia) I choose simple dishes that are wholesome and yummy. Every year we are laying down a solid foundation for our kids. Wonderful memories they will talk about with their own children. So make it count. Make the effort to keep your own family traditions, every year, and involve the kids in it. predictability goes a long way to helping anxious kids cope with the upheaval of having lots of people around the house and lots of noise. Make sure you provide a quiet place and time if it all gets too much or you start to see their behaviour fraying at the edges. Christmas ought to be a positive experience. 


3. Actively support charities, such as the shoebox donation program
The Shoebox Donation program is excellent for children and can be done as a family activity. You are given a special shoebox sized box, from a participating charity (such as Samaritan's Purse program ) in which you place wrapped gifts for a boy or girl of a certain age from a poor family who can't afford any presents at all. It can be a lot of fun shopping for that child, thinking of little things they might find useful, even making a card and perhaps a little toy to be included in the box, as a personal touch. Children need to know that their own life experience is NOT THE SAME for other children. Watch documentaries on war-torn places where children don't even have their own home any more. Put your child into the real picture. Some supermarket chains also have a christmas tree scheme, where you can place a wrapped present under the tree for a less fortunate child. In Northern hemisphere countries donating blankets and warm clothing to charities is always appreciated.

4. Write a list of things your child MAY BE GIVEN for Christmas
Don't make promises you can't keep. By you writing a list, your child can plainly see what is on offer. What is a reasonable expectation. And it's not the latest iphone, ipad etc! Inform your child that if they throw a tantrum, the list will be removed and they will get nothing. Did you read that right? NOTHING. Or their present will be donated to charity. Don't back down on this! Be strong. If you want to break habits of entitlement, you have to be strong. It only takes one time to follow through on your threat and they will never doubt your resolve again. It does not make you a 'bad' parent to deny your child one christmas without presents. It's good parenting to teach your child gratefulness and appreciation. Compared to children in some African countries who spend their day walking on hot sand just to get drinking water or who resort to digging up roots to boil for a meal, going without new toys for one Christmas is nothing.

5.Christmas Gift List for others
Because gifts are inevitable at Christmas, why not focus on what you plan to give to others? Your child can keep a list of what they are going to purchase and/or make. Right click on the image below to save and print.




6. Talk about the real meaning of Christmas and where it came from.
We take for granted that kids will learn this in school, but often there is a gap in their knowledge. The present giving thing was only a tiny part of the Christmas story. It actually involved two miracles - the birth of two boys who would later become very famous, even thousands of years later. Elizabeth had no children and was considered too old to fall pregnant. But her husband Zacharias was told by an angel that she would bear a son, called John. (who later became known as John the Baptist). Three months later her cousin Mary had a visit from an angel who told her she would also bear a son, despite not being married to Joseph yet and still a virgin. (slightly embarrassing situation!) The angel also said the baby's name would be Jesus and that he had an extraordinary future ahead of him. The government of the time was conducting a census, so everyone had to return to their original place of birth to be registered. That's why Mary and Joseph were on the road while she was heavily pregnant. Skip to 30 odd years later and Jesus was killed for teaching people to love each other unconditionally, forgive each other, speak directly to God of their troubles, live a good life and look forward to a new 'kingdom' - Heaven, which the authorities took to mean that he was going to overthrow the government. Despite knowing he was going to be killed, Jesus kept teaching, right up until he was arrested. He even tried to convert Pontius Pilate, the local government official who was condemning him. Jesus was talking about a spiritual kingdom, not an earthly one. And that's why celebrating Jesus' birth is so important. He made an amazing sacrifice for what he believed in. If you have Christians beliefs you'll know that his death was symbolic for all humanity, natural born sinners unworthy of living in Heaven. There are lots of kids books which explain these ideas better than I can!

 7. Crafts and love
Making cards for special people in your child's life adds excitement to the occasion. What will Grandma say when she opens up the card? What expression will Uncle Nev have when he sees it's a one-off, created especially for him? Seeing happiness on the face of someone knowing you put it there is a powerful feeling of joy and belonging. You can't buy that. These experiences underscore positive relationships as well as teaching children to be kind and grateful. It's not how much money you spend, it's how much love and thought goes into the present. This is something only you can teach your child, by your own example. And don't underestimate the soothing power of sitting down with your children to do christmas crafts together. Just having your attention and making something fun together is a beautiful way to connect with your child. You can listen to audio stories while you work. It's a brilliant holiday activity that works every time! I recommend a free website of stories, storynory

 In my book, 12 Annoying Monsters - Self Talk for Kids with Anxiety I provide lots more practical ways to help your anxious child cope during times of stress and high expectation. Buy Here

Monday, 27 November 2017

A New Year - Are you moving house? Keeping a lid on anxiety

Leading up to the end of the year some of us find ourselves having to move house. As renters, we often had to suddenly move at the end of the year, right at Christmas time!

Kids and moving - why is it such an upheaval?
I was always an anxious kid and we moved a LOT. I attended 11 schools in 12 years. For the 'average' child who doesn't suffer overtly and consistently with anxiety, moving this much would be a bit of a trial, but they would settle into the new environment and make friends pretty quickly. But some of us weren't that lucky. As a child, my anxiety manifested in different ways. Sometimes I got angry at the lack of control over my life. At other times I was so overwhelmed I hid in my room for hours or wandered around in the bush for hours, alone with my thoughts, and the dog. At other times I'd burst into tears suddenly or weep privately at night in my bed, struggling to get to sleep.

Anxious kids are all different in their little quirky ways but they all have one thing in common - circumstances, for whatever reason, become overwhelming and they aren't equipped emotionally to deal with it in a practical, sensible, calm manner.

So how do we help?
Routines are so important to anxious kids. Not that you want your child totally dependent upon having things run smoothly and predictably all the time. But you can make their life so much easier by making what is able to be managed stay pretty much the same, most of the time. Have mealtimes and bedtime at the same time each day. Expect your child to get up at the same time each morning and be ready for school at the appropriate time. Your child should also have the same chores each day. Responsibility and predictability go hand in hand. A child soon learns that the dog/cat/chickens need breakfast too. Make sure you continue to read a story to them at night, even when you're dog tired from packing and organising.

The rest of the time your child needs to learn to adapt to the situation and be flexible in their thinking. We can make lots of plans, trying to think of every possible outcome and put contingencies in place for perceived disasters, but in the end, we all must find ways to cope, because life isn't orderly. Its chaotic and unpredictable.

The talk
Just saying this to your child won't work. You need examples. So before you have the conversation, jot down some family stories, or your own experiences or preferably your child's experiences, to help get the message across. For instance, I asked my daughter if she thought a friend's three year old would understand the things she, at ten years, would. Of course she replied emphatically, 'NO!' and looked at me like I had gone mad, right there in front of her. And so I was able to explain that my life experience meant I understood things she wasn't able to understand yet.

A visual chart - properly displayed
In our house we use the calendar a lot. I photocopy two months, the current one and the next, and put them up on the fridge. This way we all know what is happening. Everyone fills in the relevant information about events, appointments etc. This way we all know what is coming up and can be prepared for it, practically and emotionally. So a visual chart of some kind is very helpful.

So what's this got to do with moving house?
Moving, relocating, is a huge upheaval in your family life. Just close your eyes and imagine all the boxes you will have to pack, the junk you have accumulated all these years,the cost of the moving van etc. Feeling panicky? So keep it organised and teach your child how to organise themselves. Lists are great. My daughter now writes her own whenever she is going somewhere like a sleepover, day trip or school camp. Having a list takes the anxiety down by many notches. Start writing the moving house list weeks before the moving day so your child can add items to it as they go. They are less likely to forget something this way!

So, some tips:
  • with your child, make a list of clothes and toys no longer wanted to be donated to charity
  • a list of items definitely needed immediately on moving day (PJs, toothbrush, clothes for the next few days, favourite toys, books, pillow and bedding, etc)
  • a calendar to show how many days left
  • a special treat that happens the night before
  • a new responsibility, to show they are ready, grown up a little more, have your confidence, such as helping you pack the laundry stuff, getting things from cupboards etc.
  • show your child HOW to pack a box properly. Let them pack their own stuff.
  • discussions about what is scary about moving and what is super fun about moving
  • if possible, driving to look at new house, or on google maps and satellite photos
  • google the new school and look at photos of it, learn the name of the principal and deputy
  • google local attractions such as the pool, library, skate park, shops etc.
  • write letters/cards to best friends giving them the new address details
  • choose something new for the new place, such as a colour to paint the bedroom or a new school bag or lunch box or some item of clothing they need
  • encourage your child to keep a journal and write down their thoughts. They may need some help getting started
  • take photos of everything they love about the old place and put it in a special book or album to take with them and treasure. Take photos of friends too. 
  • on moving day, let them play in spare boxes 
  • have an emergency moving day package, with coloured pencils, books, audio stories to sit and listen to (or just use storynory.com its free!) a yummy HEALTHY snack, etc.
  • start a new reading book the first night at the new place
I'm sure you could come up with loads more ideas too! The main thing is to treat this new chapter like an adventure that is manageable, not too exciting, not overwhelming. Be prepared for tears and outbursts. Its normal for any child to be afraid of the unknown. They will need you even more than usual, so be patient.


My book, 12 Annoying Monsters - Self Talk for Kids with Anxiety is packed with practical and easy ideas for kids and parents to make anxiety manageable. We want our kids to be resilient, to survive out in the world on their own some day and be confident adults fulfilling their potential. It all begins with the simple things we do in times of change in their lives.