Friday, 8 July 2022

Anxious kids and covid - how much to tell them?

It's always a dilemma, as either a parent or a teacher, how much to tell the child in your care about Covid and its effects.
Children are naturally curious and with the saturation of TV, youtube, various other platforms such as snapchat (which I don't recommend for children under 16 anyway) and of course facebook its difficult for children to filter out what is real information and what is scary hype. That's where you come in! As an adult you have the life experience and maturity to know what is real or fake news, but how much to tell your child?
I guess you've noticed how bad news travels lightning fast, especially on social media. With every new variant of the Corona virus our tech companions have flooded us with information, some of it helpful, some just sheer sensationalism. I find it  worrying just how much wrong information is out there, which is why we don't have the TV connected. There's news, and then there's the overly dramatic. I find I have little patience with it these days!
Firstly, before you inform your child, make sure you have good, solid, scientific evidenced based information yourself. (ie: not facebook). Government websites, the World health Organisation, the Mayo Clinic, Infectious Disease Control etc. Whatever is relevant in your country.
So, how much to tell your child?
Of course it depends on their age and sensitivity. Children under 5 need only know that germs are invisible things which make us sick and to avoid that we wear a mask, wash our hands and avoid large crowds or close physical contact with strangers and people we know are sick with it. True, the symptoms are most often like the flu, but for some people Covic 19 is deadly. Let's not forget that. And one of those people could be your child. It's best I think to focus upon basic hygiene as a matter of course. This is behaviour and habits which we want our kids to develop for their entire life, not just during a pandemic. Modelling how to wash your hands, blow your nose, and keep your own germs away from others is part of this. Children as young as 3 can learn to wash their hands properly, with soap and all over the skin surface of their hands. Covering their mouth when they sneeze or cough is also very important. You  could make this an activity by getting out the pencils and textas and paper and drawing pictures of people doing the right thing and not doing the right thing. Let their creativity loose by asking what they thing covid germs look like and draw them! You could also tell it as a story, illustrating it together, or your child could record the story onto your phone. It's a lot of fun for kids to hear themselves speaking!

Children who are very anxious tend to magnify the danger and ruminate over the possibilities until they can't sleep or struggle to control their fears at school and home. It's wise not to burden them with too many details, but if they are school aged, say 6-12 years old, a good idea is to create a little project together, with basic information, pictures, drawings to illustrate and diagrams, of the human body for instance. You could even discuss the body's natural immune system and how it protects us. Positive aspects of disease management are vital for anxious kids. It shouldn't be all bad news. There are actually things we can do to minimise our exposure and therefore have a measure of control over it. Make a video together giving practical advice to children. Also, keep the social aspects of your child's life open by inviting a friend over, one whom you know is low risk and has parents with a similar philosophy. They could put on a play or perform a song for you!
Of course you should immunise your child, (unless specifically instructed not to by your General Practitioner).
So, to sum up:
children aged 2-5 years -
  • discuss germs as little creatures we can't see that make us sick.
  • draw them! And make it a fun activity. 
  • model hygienic behaviours
  • record a verbal story about covid creatures or hygiene etc.
Children aged 6-12 - 
  • create a project together with diagrams, drawings, basic information and prevention tips.
  • discuss the body's natural immune system and how it works to keep us safe
  • discuss how to minimise exposure
  • make a video together for other children
  • encourage socialising with low risk children 
  • encourage putting on activities like a play or performing a song about covid germs etc.
If you want more tips on managing anxiety in your child, have a look at my book for kids - 12 Annoying Monsters - Self Talk for Kids with Anxiety

Friday, 17 September 2021

Kids aged 6-13 Use of Mobile Phones - Is it HARMFUL?

The link between phones and anxiety
I believe most adults understand that kids using phones contributes to feelings of anxiety, that the access to applications (apps) such as facebook, snapchat, tiktok etc, particularly in an unsupervised situation, can be harmful. 
Why is this the case? Children don't have the capacity to rationalise and discern what is suitable for their age group. They simply click on something interesting and follow the link. They can be approached by unsuitable adults whose intentions may be dangerous. They can be drawn into online discussions where hurtful behaviour occurs, yet unable to pull themselves away from engaging with it, believing what is said about them or their family. Bottom line - children need guidance to navigate the world. Especially the online world.
Children are easy to manipulate
Added to this, the developers of phone apps understand very well the nature of addiction. They are paid to create programs that will keep people staring at the screen and engaging with the device, so that more time is spent being exposed to the advertisers who largely pay for the company to produce the app in the first place. It's a neat circle, don't you think? A circle of addiction. Before yo know it, you've bought something through Instagram that you didn't really need. Before kids realise what has happened, they have given away personal details that nefarious persons can use to entrap them, manipulate them or expose them to material that is devastatingly harmful, perhaps even drive a wedge between parents and children.

While some adults can recognise when they are being manipulated and put the device aside, children have an underdeveloped area of the brain, the frontal lobe, where decision making and risk aversion are located. When these areas are not fully developed, (development finishes at age 25) the person takes risks without much care, is impulsive, and isn't capable of thinking through the possible consequences that may arise from their decision. Hence, kids being drawn into sexting, not even realising how dangerous it is to them personally and the impacts it will have on future adult relationships. 
Children are very easily drawn to apps such as snapchat, where they experience bullying and a constant state of anxiety about what other children think of them. Added to that, it is much easier to make sacrcastic and nasty comments about someone online than in person. It's fun to be cruel online. There is no adult there to stop you or remind you that being kind is far more appropriate, that being mean is hurtful. There are no limits.  
So, how many kids in Australia actually have phones?
According to The Australian Communications and Media Authority, in June 2019-June 2020  46% of children aged 6-13 had access to or owned their own phone. What's interesting to me is the disparity between the reasons parents think their child should be allowed to have a phone and the actual use of the device that results. Do kids make calls with their phones? Sure. Do they play games? Watch youtube? Listen to music? Take photos? receive texts from their friends? But the MAIN activity kids use phones for? Its not for communication. Its not for taking photos and sharing them. It's for PLAYING GAMES. So as a communication device, its fails miserably in its purpose. It's almost purely for entertainment.
Statistically, as illustrated by the above graph, the reasons kids use their phones is described in order of use here, beginning with the most popular:
1. Games 60%-73%
2. take photos and videos 59%-70%
3. use apps  53%-68%
4. send or receive texts  53%-63%
5. call parents/family  56% -61%
6. listen to music  50%-57%
7. receive calls from parents/family  53%-57%
8. access to the internet  36%-42%
9. receive calls from friends  36%-42%
10. call friends  36%-42%

Games are just for fun aren't they?
Games seem like just a fun way to spend some time, don't they? Parents all over the world can get on with making dinner while junior is occupied with their phone and not pestering Mum and Dad. And there's also the idea that games can be educational. Don't get me started on that! The idea that games can be a substitute for direct instruction is ridiculous. And I should know. I spent my 28 year career working with kids at risk of academic failure, kids with high IQs, kids with learning problems, kids with speech and language problems, kids with emotional and social issues.

So what's the link with anxiety?
So, where am I going with this? How does a phone contribute to anxiety in children?
If you've read my previous posts you might recall that technology cannot replace personal interactions in a physical sense. To be in the actual moment with someone, in the same physical space, is much more powerful. You pick up on signals that your conscious mind doesn't even know how to process. That's called instinct. You become aware of a persona's facial features, their body movements, their pupil dilation. You may even subconsciously pick up on subtle smells, chemicals released by their body, such as sweat due to nervousness, adrenaline fuelled anger etc. And you may feel a chemical - the best one of all, oxytocin, released in the brain when people hug each other and which gives a sense of happiness and well being. All these interactions are possible only in the physical sense, with real people, in real time.

How children miss out
Children who spend their time online or playing games miss out on all of this. They are disconnected from their environment. This disconnection can also cause their fight or flight response to be impaired or make them hyper vigilant, as any physical interaction or presence in the room breaks their mental focus on the phone and can scare them. Kids can also become so addicted to the phone that they become angry when forced to disengage. I have seen it myself - kids come over for a sleepover with my child and end up staring at their phone instead of having fun with my child. Which was not only socially extremely rude but rather painful emotionally. In addition, kids who don't engage with actual physical play miss out on so much more. They don't learn to assess physical risk adequately by testing their strength, skills, and dangers. They don't participate in healthy competition. They don't have the satisfaction of achieving physical goals like running fast, riding their bikes through a difficult obstacle course for instance, or building things with their hands. Its the physical learning that benefits a child's brain the most.
The good  news!
Yes, children as young as 6 years of age have their own phone. But the good news is there are still 54% of Australian children aged 6-13 who don't have a phone or access to one. 

Schools and whole countries are taking steps to discourage children from using phones so much. In France, mobile phones were banned from schools since 2018. A top Sydney school banned ipads in 2019 as they found the devices were distracting and did not improve learning outcomes for students. 
What can we do as parents?
  1. Firstly, get this straight with your child - using a phone is a privilege, not a right. When YOU are ready to provide one, you will.
  2. A child must be educated in the proper use of a phone before actually owning one.
  3. A child must respect your phone and your privacy therein before earning the right to own one.
  4. A child under the age of 15 should not have a phone. Its that simple. They don't need it for safety. They should always be under the supervision of an adult. They are not in danger. 
  5. A child under 15 cannot understand what responsible use is. They don't have the brain development to understand the dangers.
  6. A child should not take a phone to school. It's too tempting to use it in class. Plus they may be influenced by other children who show them how to download apps and other unsuitable things.
  7. Provide a phone that is restricted to phone and text only, for communication with friends and most importantly FAMILY. Talk and text packages cost as little as $5 a month. (Dodo)
  8. Only provide internet access through 'hotspot' on your phone for a short period of time. Again, its not a right, its a privilege.
  9. Encourage use of approved apps that encourage real interactions with suitable people, such as family and close friends. I recommend closely monitored use of Instagram, to post photos of their interests (but not endless selfies) and ONLY a private account.
**** I hope this helps you. Entering the shadowy world of mobile phone use isn't something to be done lightly. Children require our experience and knowledge of the dangers. And we have to be strong to resist their blackmail! Good luck. It will be worth it, to protect your child from developing serious anxiety.



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.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

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

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 cognitive development. 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 and manage risk. Their mental processing, and mostly importantly, self regulation, grows too as they ask themselves:
  • 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: " 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, because virtual communication, by its very nature deprives users of the vital body and facial cues of others which make up 70% of human interaction.

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!" 

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. Worse, it's becoming ubiquitous.

So why are these young adults so angry and afraid?
It comes back to parenting, to the messages they received 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 wasn't a healthy questioning of authority as part of a democratic society. And the broader 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 are partly responsible. They 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 will 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 and filters
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? It's not for safety. 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.

So what's this got to do with overprotecting kids?

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)

Life Skills Your Child Needs

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 and all the hard work ordinary people do to build facilities.
  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, to develop discernment. 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?

Image result for anxious child
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.


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. 

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!

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.