Monday, 11 February 2019

How the love of your grandparents never leaves you

I'm taking an online writing course at the moment (Neil Gaiman's masterclass) and  one of the helpful suggestions is a kind of diary of things that you noticed today that interested you. I started yesterday.

Today I looked down at a photograph on my computer, of my step-grandparents in Norway taken on the 17th May many years ago. This is the national day of independence from Denmark. Everyone dresses up in suits and national dress, their best clothes. It's an amazing display of solidarity and nationalism I wish we had in this country. It's a day of unity and purpose. Even the teenagers aren't embarrassed to participate.

But I digress.

The photo of my Bestemor and Bestefar, smiling in the sun of their backyard of the family island home evoked these thoughts:

They lived in a very small, protected world, unlike mine, knowing nothing of Science Fiction or modern music. Some would say ignorant. But they were happy in their little world. And they loved their children and grandchildren. They took us in as their own, into a sort of  cosy bubble around everyone. They were stalwart sentinels of love and patience. Weekly rituals. Annual rituals. The years rolled away until their bodies and minds faded and we lost them, those two shining people of all that is good. They knew hardship as a young couple during the war. They knew death and suffering. Is that what enabled them to create a sense of gratitude and joy towards life? All I know is I can still hear their voices and feel their arms around me.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Anxiety and puberty - emotional outbursts and intrusive thoughts

Pre-teens, Tweenies and Teens - whatever happened to kids?
We've all been pre-teens, even perhaps before the term was invented. Before 'Tweenies' were a thing. There seems to be a push towards breaking childhood up into so many different stages and groupings these days. I'm not sure it's helpful. Separating them into tinier groups has the effect of isolating them from each other, from what they have in common - the central fundamental principles by which all kids live. Kids, whatever the age, have the same needs -
  1. to feel loved and wanted 
  2. to feel they are worth something 
  3. to feel they can achieve their goals
Puberty can sidle up to your child and then suddenly, despite all the chats and pre-planning, it can just explode in your face. Take the example of hapless dads trying to deal with menstruating daughters. The embarrassment is absolutely hideous  for both. Even after all the emotion has died down a bit there is the recognition that when it's happening, the emotion can be overwhelming and confusing.

When girls in particular are in year 4, parents should begin discussing aspects of growing up, with the help of age appropriate books:
  • your body will start changing in the next couple of years, getting ready to make babies
  • these are the changes you will notice
  • it will sometimes be embarrassing, but everyone has to go through these exact stages
  • everyone understands because everyone older than you has been through this
  • its very important to talk to mum or dad about what is happening
  • its very important to say when you need help
  • teachers at school, even office staff, will always help you if you ask them
Be prepared, especially with girls. Have a kit for her school bag with pads, underwear etc that she will need if it suddenly happens at school. It may be that your prepared daughter will be there to help a friend who wasn't prepared.

The gender divide
One way to reduce anxiety and embarrassment is to have a phrase your daughter can use when she needs 'supplies' so that her dad knows this is a female problem which she is too embarrassed to deal with and needs his help, such as purchasing pads when she's run out. The phrase 'Woman Stuff' works! ie: "This is woman stuff, Dad."

With boys the issues are slightly different, but equally embarrassing. The parent of the same gender is the go-to person. Mums, please don't try and be best mates with your son. It's weird. It doesn't work, no matter how wonderful he is. Dads, please don't try and be girlie with your daughter, no matter how sensitive you are. It's weird. It's not the same as a mum or aunty. Allow someone else to step in. Someone of the same gender. And yes, I am a traditionalist and do not apologise for it.

No Slammed Doors!
After a particularly embarrassing or emotional outburst make sure you are there to discuss your child's feelings. DO NOT ACCEPT the slammed door in your face. Keep the communication open. If slamming doors has become normal in your house, MAKE IT ABNORMAL. Teaching our kids to feel the anger but not take it out on others is a crucial part of parenting. Kids will often throw the 'privacy' thing in your face. Likewise, this is not an acceptable way to behave. When something affects others, it must be talked about and dealt with. It's funny, but kids will push you away because they are embarrassed, but as soon as you are there for them and they tell you what's wrong, the floodgates open.

Anxiety is like fire; it's a living, breathing element. It flows and ebbs, it rears up, it subsides, it burns those trying to help it, it often feels our of control. And it can be utterly devastating.

But just like fire, it's also manageable.
Believe it!

Steps to manage anxiety you can teach your child
The important thing is to break things down to the smallest of possible steps and inch forward.
Teach your child that when anxiety strikes, the first step is to:
  1. Take deep breaths. 
  2. Allow the adrenaline to subside a little, the palpitations to slow down, the heat to to dissipate. The feelings in your body are only temporary. They will go away.
  3. Shake your hands beside you, let them go loose.
  4. Look around - tell someone what is happening. It can be a friend at school, a teacher, a counsellor, an office lady. Whomever you feel safe to talk to.
buy on Amazon

In my book, 12 Annoying Monsters - Self Talk for Kids with Anxiety  I provide lots of resources to help your child manage this, even lists of words to use when trying to describe feelings, self assessment to figure out what is causing the most stress in their life, what trigger thoughts bring on feelings of anxiety etc. The 12 monsters represent unhelpful thoughts which intrude on our minds and replay, most unhelpfully throughout the day, making us feel alone and unable to stop the effect they have on mood. Such as: "Everything must be perfect!" and "Nobody loves me" and "Bad stuff always happens to me." 

This book was written for my clients, kids with quirky academic and social needs. It's now available worldwide for kids who struggle to understand what is happening to them, especially when they are experiencing an anxiety attack or can't sleep because of endless intrusive thoughts. It's a talking point for parents and their children, it can be read alone or discussed. Many parents say they wish they'd had access to a book like this when they were young. Parent of Asperger's or Autistic children find it particularly helpful, especially the social skills sections.

Be prepared! Start talking to your child about these changes in their life today! Build that trust and open communication, with love, patience and firm boundaries.