Sibling Rivalry for the School-Aged Child

School-aged children must learn how to name and accept conflicting feelings about a sibling. These children must learn that they will need to cross many small streams during their lives, but they must always be aware that even a small stream after a heavy rain can become perilous to cross. By being aware of this danger most severe sibling rivalry issues can be avoided.

Learning how to recognize, understand and respond to jealousy and competition allows the school-aged child to learn how to build positive and supportive relationships. Learning how to name conflicting feelings is the first step to head off sibling rivalry. By responding to these feelings the older child is also preventing emotions from developing into unconscious drives that result in unhealthy and even risky behaviors. Unconscious drives can easily evolve into destructive behaviors such as tattling, physical or verbal aggressive behavior or the destruction of personal property.

The goal of every parent is to build lifelong positive and supportive relationships between all of their children. By being fair, not having favorites and not comparing children parents are setting a strong positive example of behaviors they support and endorse. This is done by focusing on individuality and not equality. By learning how to give and share in a non-judgmental and accepting fashion, children will be ready and able to reach out not only to sibs but also to others they meet and desire to develop positive relationships with.

Parents must paint a realistic picture of both the fun and less than fun aspects of having a new infant in the family. Infants are fussy, cry often, require constant attention and even require “smelly” diaper changes. By starting early and preparing the school-aged child for the work ahead you are more likely to find a partner in this endeavor rather than an adversary.

Parents who do not set a positive example run the risk of accelerating negative rivalry issues and supporting the evolution of negative behaviors. Parental responses must focus on being fair and never comparing children. There can be no favorites and unconditional love and support must be provided daily if your child is to have a secure sense of security. Weekly family meetings where the importance of love, unity, trust and positive self-worth are discussed can also be very helpful. It is essential all participants understand that everyone is entitled to an opinion and no one has the right to change or control the behavior of another. Parents must learn how to listen during these meetings, acknowledge the feelings of participants, sum up the situation and then support the development of a dialog between the participants. This is done by asking for solutions rather than providing solutions. Criticism must be avoided and positive behaviors supported.

The aim of a parent is to focus on prevention of rivalry rather than directing blame on a specific behavior or child. By learning how to arbitrate rather than judge parents are less likely to be drawn into a conflict where there is no right or wrong. This also prevents alienation and supports the ability of every child to resolve conflicts in a respectful fashion.

Being Bullied

Do you know what it feels like to be bullied? I Do. Being repeatedly bullied changes you. It can either leave a mark or induce change.

As a new freshman in high school I turned the corner and quickly scanned the hallway. Experience had taught me what to look for and how to look for it. Repeated bullying teaches you how to scan a sidewalk, a playground, a gymnasium, a room or a hallway. Never make direct eye contact and never, ever stop listening. While most children look for their friends, those who are bullied see sudden movement and hear the shuffle of feet and always know where the closest exit is. As I walked down the long hallway I approached a group of boys. They leaned on open lockers and their laughter echoed off the tile floor. Laughter was always more worrisome than loud talking.  I drifted over to the other side of the hall and softened my shoulders as I shifted my books to my other arm. You always kept one arm free when passing a bully. The laughter did not change and I sighed silently as I turned the corner and began scanning the next hallway.

For the observer bullying is often difficult to recognize. It can happen everywhere and anytime. For the one who is being bullied, bullying is always recognizable. It includes both spoken and unspoken actions, words and behaviors. A tilt of a head, a look in the eye, a sudden turn, a push, a trip, a sound or a series of words all indicate unwanted and unsought after aggression that has been directed at you. When you are young it starts with simple name calling, teasing or taunting. When these behaviors are repeated and are associated with one child trying to control or scare another child it becomes bullying. Threats of physical harm, rumors, embarrassing false stories and inappropriate sexual comments soon follow and you change. Not everyone becomes a victim but everyone changes. You notice social behaviors including how others avoid you or leave you out of games. You learn how to recognize the bully as well as those who assist and reinforce those who bully. Knocking, tripping, punching and hitting become a sport and if you are smart enough you learn how to scan and disappear.

There is no single reason why a child becomes a bully. Fear, anger, inadequate attachment, lack of control and low self-esteem are common themes. A lack of compassion and respect for others and the pursuit of social power and attention are also commonly seen in those who bully. Bullies may be well connected to peers or they may be loners who are isolated and easily pressured by others. Bullies tend to be aggressive and have difficulty following rules. They resort to dominating behaviors when they become frustrated and often think badly of others. They view aggressive behavior in a positive way and tend to have friends who bully others. In adulthood bullies often continue to have problems both at work and at home.

Children who are bullied tend to be different from others. They may be smart, sensitive, short, tall, overweight or just “different”. The way they dress, the words they choose or the way they act turn them into magnets. Bullies are drawn to these children and search for targets who are weak, depressed, anxious or unable to defend themselves. Bullying soon follows.

The best way to eliminate bullying is to talk about it and model appropriate interpersonal behavior. Bullying must be recognizable and understood if we are to prevent it. Bullying can be prevented by keeping all lines of communication open, urging all children to seek help if bullied and for those who are not bullied to be encouraged to step in and stop bullying before it happens. In this way all children will benefit. We must be clear, consistent and concise about how aggressive behavior harms both the giver and the receiver. We must never tolerate bullying and must model in our daily lives the use of effective non-physical positive discipline techniques that encourage appropriate behavior and discourage inappropriate behavior.

Being bullied changed me. I became a protector of others and along the way learned how to protect myself. Listen to your child and search for those children walking down the hall who know how to disappear. Your support, your teaching and your words of encouragement can allow an invisible child to hear the laughter and not the shuffle of feet.

Parenting Basics

Parenting advice is often difficult to hear, understand and incorporate into our daily lives.  No one enjoys criticism no matter how constructive it is. On some days everyone wishes they had a parenting GPS to follow. Due to the complexity of parenting responses and the diversity of behaviors children express a single map is not available. There are, however, certain basic steps to follow that will help you end up at the right destination.

The first step is to recognize when you need help and advice. Everyone needs help. Learn how to ask for and accept help graciously and not feel judged. Parenting skills only improve with repetition and practice. Sometimes it is easier for others to see our mistake.  Deliberate practice and looking at your responses critically through your eyes and the eyes of others you respect will point you in the right direction.

The second step is reflection. Every parent must reflect on the concept perfection is not what we seek. Studies support the need to have a correct behavioral response only thirty percent of the time for your child to learn and acquire an appropriate behavior. Certainly, we all aim for a higher percentage but a better batting average is not needed. You will know when you find this sweet spot when frustration, anger, shame and guilt fade and are replaced by a general feeling of success that your goal has been reached.  Another concept to reflect on is that behaviors change. When you are worn down and believe there is no hope just sitting back and waiting a few days often allows new behaviors to develop and the old problematic behaviors to resolve.

The third step is to monitor your reaction. When the above signs of frustration, anger, shame and guilt begin to dominate your thoughts it is time for you to seek professional help and advice. The importance of knowing when it is time to pursue self-care and seek supportive counseling for you is essential.  Neglecting these feeling can lead to negative parenting responses and unhealthy health consequences for you.

The fourth and final step is to monitor your responses. Perseverance and determination will help you become successful. Committed and basic responses are often best. Find a mentor who can help you stay on track and provide focused immediate feedback to you. As with most teaching the steps to follow are explanation, demonstration, imitation, correction and repetition.  Focus on improvement but be willing to accept negative feedback if you want to challenge yourself to improve your parenting skills.

Handling Negative Emotions

It is important every child learns how to handle negative emotions. Children must know how to feel strong emotions without hurting themself or another. The ability to cope with and express these feelings is something every parent must support within their child.

Emotion coaching uses reciprocal parent to child communication to teach empathy. The parent becomes a role model, and by taking the child’s emotions seriously, the parent is able to better understand the child’s perspective.

Every parent must be aware, attentive and responsive to the child’s emotions. By connecting and listening to the child a parent is better able to model healthy behavior for the child and help the child describe and name the emotion being felt. The final step in this process is to help the child find and choose solutions that allow the child to move past the negative emotion and develop a strong sense of resilience and a healthy emotional attitude.

When a parent is presented with a negative emotion it is easy to dismiss or disavow the emotion. Parents often distract a child from the negative situation by substituting a positive one. This is not healthy. Children must learn how to accept and manage negative emotions. Other parents will disavow negative feelings by telling a child it is not acceptable to feel that way. This is also wrong. In the same way a parent who “takes on” the negative emotion of the child without providing solutions is not advancing the child’s emotional development.

Children must learn that becoming scared, sad, angry, nervous and afraid are all part of life. In fact, fear, frustration, anger, inadequacy and rejection are all programmed into us. How a child learns to manage these feelings will determine the amount of stress a child encounters and the amount of positive emotions that arise from these encounters.

Many children are taught to consciously suppress and unconsciously repress negative feelings. This denial is unhealthy and often leads to the projection of negative emotions onto others. Other unhealthy tendencies include the use of temper tantrums, outbursts and body language to release enough negative tension to allow the child to “go on” and an “ignorance is bliss” approach that suggests momentary distraction allows a child not to think about and experience the negative emotion. These types of defense mechanisms are unhealthy since they do not foster autonomy. They support the development of shame and doubt which lead to dependence and withdrawal.

Parents who listen, talk and support a child through the turbulence of negative emotions allow a child to own and control responses and at the same time support the development of socially acceptable behavior. If such support is not present, fear without reason predominates and anxiety develops. A child without this support is unlikely to develop the initiative to reach out to others due to hidden fear and negative emotions. This leads to guilt which further hinders emotional development.

What can you do to connect with your child? Be attentive and responsive to your child’s needs while being attuned and sensitive to your child’s temperament and developmental level.  In this way you will help your child experience negative emotions, reframe situations, build positive emotional experiences and develop a strong sense of initiative and autonomy.

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The Importance of Praise

As parents we worry about praising a child too much or too little. Too much praise and a child might grow up spoiled and unwilling to tackle challenging tasks. Too little and a child grows up insecure, overly independent and absent healthy reciprocal relationships.

Praise encourages your child to explore the world.  It is the natural progression after providing secure attachment for your infant. It engenders a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose in your child’s life. Acts of praise make your child feel worthwhile and loved. It is a powerful reward. Your child wants to please you. Acts of praise show your child she is a good person. It allows her to build her self-confidence and self-worth.

Acts of praise give parents the opportunity to show a child it is the actions we choose rather than the outcomes we achieve which are important. Praise allows a parent to focus on efforts not outcomes. At the same time a parent is able to focus on strengths. By focusing on strengths and not weaknesses your child’s confidence and self-worth increase. Over time, your child will learn how accomplishments are appreciated but actions are treasured.

When praise is given in a fashion that supports feedback rather than criticism your child will learn how statements made from a position of power are prone to be overly personal and lead to feelings of inadequacy, anger and frustration in the child.  Effective praise is directed to events and not the person. In this way praise teaches your child the importance of direction rather than criticism.

Praise also teaches us the importance of authenticity and realistic expectations. Children know when we are being real and when we are not. Praise is one of the ways we learn the importance of being true to ourselves and to others. Another reason it is so important concerns realistic expectations for our child. It is very easy for a busy parent to project onto a child expected behaviors that are not developmentally appropriate. By giving appropriate praise each of us is reminded never to forget the importance of our child’s physical and emotional developmental levels.

Blended Families

Blending is difficult. Roles and boundaries are easily blurred and even the best intentions can be misread. Challenging “normal” behaviors are often interpreted as being due to being part of a blended family when in fact many of these behaviors are often normal and expected patterns. Children test both parents and stepparents. The reasons for a behavior are often buried deep and due to a confluence of issues relating to attachment and fear of being abandoned.

Common behaviors include temper tantrums, aggressive behavior or avoidance behaviors. Separation and divorce cause anguish for children. These behaviors are often a reflection of a child’s own feelings and his or her own perception of self.

Your best approach is patience and not overreacting. Time is a great healer and showing your love and concern in clear, consistent and concise ways is best. Do not take it personally if a stepchild wishes to keep you at a distance. Stay non-judgmental and be sincere and honest in your interactions. Do not hide your feelings and always be clear that you do not plan to assume the role the child’s biological parent.

The sharing of mutual interests and activities will help build a relationship with your stepchild. Allow time to build the trust each of you will need. By understanding the importance of respect and mutual acceptance you will be laying the foundation for future successful interactions. At all times remember you are married to the parent of the child, and you are not married to the child.

Always be ready for episodic flare-ups of mistrust and doubt. The separation and divorce of parents is difficult for children. When a parent remarries fears of separation and abandonment often resurface. If such issues do not lessen with love and patience then formal counseling may be necessary. The earlier intervention is pursued, the less chance toxic stress will infect the entire family.

Choosing a Daycare

Is the day care licensed?

To be licensed means the facility has met minimal standards in your area for health, fire and safety.  This includes child/staff ratios and inspections of facility and staff at regular intervals.  There is no national day care standard of care that must be met so you must be knowledgeable about your community’s standards.

Is the day care safe?

Check stairway safety for gates at top and bottom of stairwell.  Look for fire extinguishers, smoke alarms, electric outlet covers, locked cabinets, and furniture with no sharp edges.  Safe outdoor equipment with soft play surface coverings such as bark chips should be in place in case of falls.  Non-toxic art supplies and toys that cannot be aspirated or swallowed should be used.  Security and screening of visitors should be enforced.  Emergency phone numbers should be posted.  Staff should be trained in first aid and CPR.

Does the day care promote a healthy environment?

Infections are common in day care, but many can be prevented.  Diaper changing areas should have disinfectants close at hand.  Staff and children’s hands should be washed prior to food handling and after utilization of toilet facilities.  Staff should wash their hands after contact with sick children.  Surface, toys, and equipment should be cleaned daily with disinfectants.

All staff and children should be properly immunized prior to enrollment and/or employment.  Each day care should have a physician consultant connected with its program.

Is the day care a “happy” place?

Observe interactions of staff and children.  Staff and children should enjoy interactions with one another.  Adequate physical space and a proper ratio of 4 to 5 children per staff member assures both the space and attention your child requires to enjoy his/her stay.  Avoid day care centers with high turnover rates of staff.

Is the day care providing creative activities?

A wide variety of acuities should be available for all children.  Music, art, reading and picture books, puzzles, balls, blocks, puppets are a few items your child should enjoy.  An equal balance of structural programs, as well as supervised free play, keeps children interested and motivated.

What type of discipline is used?

Inquire as to the policy on discipline in the day care.  Corporal (physical) punishment should be avoided.  A more effective intervention is one utilizing “time out” or redirection.  Be clear with the day care about what type of discipline you want used.  Observe how the staff deals with problem behaviors in other children.  Avoid a day care where staff relies on threats, arguing or loud voices to get children to “cooperate.”

The 4 C’s of Successful Parenting

Parenting is a scary topic. Most parents want to do the right thing, but busy schedules and complex issues make it difficult to know what is the right response to their child’s inappropriate behavior. The general rule is to always anticipate negative behaviors and head them off before they occur. You also want to seek a relationship with your child that encourages your child wanting to please you. By interacting with your child in a supportive and ongoing fashion you will develop a relationship built on trust. Your child sees you are attentive, responsive, attuned and sensitive to his needs and this will encourage good behavior and discourage bad behavior.  At the same time, however, always be aware of a negative behavior due to your child being tired, hungry or feeling alone. In these situations the best thing you can do is to respond to the basic needs of food, safety, warmth and security and allow the behavior issue to resolve itself.

If you are successful in these general rules your next step is to move up to the four C’s: competent, committed, consistent and confident parenting. In order to become a competent parent you should reach out to those you admire and ask for advice and suggestions about parenting tips and techniques. Read parenting books, blogs and articles or take a parenting course. Read about child development and always remember to look inside yourself to understand the choices and decisions you make. Learning how to manage your own emotions, deal with disappointment or frustration and examine your ability to have full and meaningful relationships with others. These are the initial steps to become a competent parent.

To become a committed and consistent parent you must evaluate your expectations about parenting and then determine your ability to follow through with your desires. What are your core parenting beliefs? What behaviors do you support? What actions are you willing to take? When are you willing to take them? How willing are you to pursue the actions and results you desire? Are you ready and able to follow through with your goals and objectives? Most parents have difficulty with limit setting even though they know the setting of age appropriate limits is associated with positive behavioral outcomes for children. Limit setting builds trust and a respect for consequences. Children raised by parents who are committed to consistent limits are better able to delay gratification and wait for something they want. They get along better with peers and are more confident in social situations.

To become a confident parent you must believe in yourself. You must become empowered by your knowledge and actions to believe you are the best parent you can be. This knowledge will allow you to project assertiveness to your child with your facial expression, gestures, tone and rate of speech and eye contact. Before you redirect your child go through a set routine to practice what you are about to do. This allows you to be prepared for what you are about to do and allows you to find a comfortable rhythm and mind set. Always consider enlisting the support of others concerning your actions. When doing something new or difficult it is helpful to have the support of someone you trust and love. Have a weekly parenting review with your spouse to support each other. Be available to receive a phone call or text message from a spouse who needs your immediate support. The simple act of hearing someone tell you they believe in you builds confidence. Another tip is to stop what you are doing and maintain eye contact with your child during a parenting interaction. Your body position and gaze will show him you are engaged and this interaction is important to you. Stop moving or fidgeting. When parents redirect children they often are uneasy with the interaction and their body movements show it. Talk in a smooth and controlled fashion. Avoid signs of excess emotion including talking too fast, too slow or too loud. Stand or sit upright with your shoulders back, head up and your arms uncrossed. You will look and feel more confident.

As a parent if you follow these general rules much of the fear of parenting will dissolve and be replaced with the confidence that consistent, committed and competent parents feel every day. So start now. You can turn these C’s into A’s.

The Parenting Puzzle

In order to maintain a bond with your child that will not unravel or suddenly separate it is important to follow some specific guidelines. Imagine that you and your child fit together like two complex shaped puzzle pieces. Your Parent-Child fit will be strongest when you minimize the forces that pull and push you away from one another and increase the attractive forces that push you together. As a parent, the greater the separation from your child the greater the repulsion forces to separate you further and make you grow apart. You must allow the fit to be voluntary and separable since your child must be allowed to mature into an adult who is not dependent on her parent. Dependency and co-dependency must not be fostered or supported.

The key steps for a good Parent-Child fit include the following: Do not attend to what your child seeks when she is seeking your attention or exhibiting behavior aimed at delaying what you are seeking. Always be consistent in your discipline strategies. Be cautious not to show your hand in terms of what your breaking point is for “giving in”. In order to meet these goals you must set your priorities and establish a parenting budget that allows you to act and not react. This allows you to choose your own battles. Never bluff. Talk without action does not work. Take time to see situations from your child’s perspective and avoid the blame and bitterness game. Start every day fresh and never live in the world of if and when. Live in the world of now.

The strongest forces of attraction for you and your child include the following: Provide and set immediate and specific consequences for her behavior. Make sure the consequences are consistent and focus on rewarding positive behaviors. Punishment should be avoided but if punishment is given try to choose positive punishment rather than negative punishment. A positive punishment concerns giving something to your child rather than taking something away. Generally, punishment creates many problems and it is better to use positive strategies if possible. Focus on rewarding positive behavior and always have a plan in place for how you will respond to misbehavior.

Managing Aggressive Behavior in Children

Aggressive behavior by a child is a major problem for families. When a pattern of aggressive behavior is seen intervention must be sought. The first step is a thorough assessment as to why the behavior may be occurring. Are specific antecedents or associations evident? Are the behaviors specific to certain people or surroundings? Have there been any recent social, emotional or personal events that may have triggered the onset of the aggressive behavior? Often these issues are complex and difficult for you to assess on your own. In these situations seek out the help of a knowledgeable and experienced professional.

After a determination of possible cause has been made a decision about therapeutic intervention is the next step. Numerous types of interventions may be appropriate. It is important to choose an intervention that is evidence based and reasonable in terms of financial, emotional and personal cost to the family. It is best to avoid the use of medication as a first line treatment unless the severity of aggression warrants.

After initiating an intervention you must monitor the behavior as it relates to the chosen therapeutic intervention and you must perform an ongoing assessment of environmental effects of both the aggression and the therapeutic intervention. Treatments and your child’s response to the intervention do not just affect the child, siblings, parents and the family. After considering each of these issues all negative and positive effects must be monitored in an ongoing fashion.

Throughout this entire process utilizing supportive services to foster communication and relationship building, while at the same time decreasing moderate and toxic stress must be pursued. Every parent and family who deals with aggressive behavior needs support. All levels of stress cannot be eliminated but the moderate, severe forms must be managed and the toxic forms that hinder and prevent interpersonal relationships must be eliminated. This may involve routine self-care strategies such as progressive relaxation techniques or guided positive imagery as well as non-traditional activities including taking long walks, quieting the mind with a good book, getting more sleep, enjoying the arts, eating healthier or spending more time with a beloved pet. Options are as varied as your interests and willingness to explore allow.

In terms of direct intervention for your child you must find a professional you trust to give you advice. Non-pharmacologic behavioral interventions for your child can be beneficial. Psychotherapy that is insight directed and based on cognitive and behavioral principles should be considered and pursued as appropriate. You may also find family directed services that alter the way you interpret and respond to your child’s behavior are not only reasonable but effective. Some children due to their age or temperament have patterns of self-regulation, reactivity and flexibility that lead to explosive patterns of behavior including aggression. These patterns make it hard for you to be attuned to their needs with the sensitivity, attention and responsivity needed. For these children changing the way you understand, relate and respond can bring dramatic positive results.

If pharmacologic intervention is determined to be necessary then the medication should be evidence based and chosen to target and treat the underlying condition. Be clear about what behaviors you have targeted and monitor these patterns before and after the medication is initiated. Some medications require time to build up in the blood stream so discuss the response profile of the medication with the physician who prescribes the medication. It is important your expectations match the bioavailability profile for the specific medication. Since children are not the same size appropriate dosages must be prescribed and at all times an understanding and awareness of possible side-effects identified, explained and discussed. Multiple drugs should be avoided due to potential interaction issues as well as increasing the difficulty of interpreting responses.