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February 15th, 2011

Valentine's Day - are your children in love?

It is Valentine’s day and of course our thoughts turn to love – but what if the love we’re pondering is our children’s love …and it’s not ourselves that are the object of their affection but some spotty youth! When our children fall in love what’s the parent’s role, or do we even have one? Have we been totally eclipsed, put out to pasture, past our use-by date? Ok, all clichés to one side, I suppose it depends when your child is smitten with Eros’s arrow. If your ‘child’ is of an age that you think is too young for love, and for fathers of daughters this may be any age up to about 30, then what? When is too young for love and what does love mean at different ages? A 7 year old child may declare themselves to be in love or to have a girlfriend and when questioned this turns out to mean that they are prepared to swap sandwiches at lunchtime . A ten year old may be very keen on a member of the opposite sex and this manifests itself by them calling the object of their affection names and tweaking their hair. By 13 your child may have reached such heights of sophistication that they are now prepared to acknowledge that there is a point to girls/boys and they may really fancy one, but would rather die than admit it to the other. Or you may find that the child who has come over for a ‘playdate’ is making you question what sort of play they had in mind! If you think your child is too young for an exclusive relationship then tell them so without making them wrong or making fun of them and encourage them to be friends with lots of people.

We might think the idea of our children being in love is cute until we see them holding hands or sneaking a kiss and then we decide we need to have some boundaries! Where each parent draws a boundary will depend on their own value system and upbringing and it is worth discussing the rules with them when the other young person is not present. I remember being mortified by my grandfather insisting that my bedroom door had to be kept open when my boyfriend came over. In a household of 7 people there was nowhere else but my room to go for any peace and quiet. Some of the guidelines they may need are about how to behave with integrity and respect towards the opposite sex.

And what if said spotty youth seems totally unsuitable? Just as we can’t choose our children’s friends we certainly can’t choose their boyfriends and girlfriends and we risk alienating them if we try. Assuming we’re talking about a teenager now they are in the process of working out their identity and choosing their friends is an important part of that. You can and should have rules about how they conduct themselves in your house but you can’t dictate who they decide to give their affections to. Trust that the values you’ve been passing on to them since they were small have been taken on board. You may not share their taste and you may question their judgment but a parent’s role at this point is a more backseat one. There is no doubt that the first boyfriend/girlfriend can make a parent question their own relationship with their child. They have moved on to the next phase of their lives –friendships have taken on a different meaning and a parent may feel a bit usurped. It’s important not to take this as a rejection –they still need you.

And what of unrequited love or some other kind of hurt? What do you do when your precious child has been dumped by text message or on facebook?  A common phenomenon in these  days of social networking. Just as when they were being teased as a small child your first instinct may be to rush in and try to sort things out for them but we need to put the brakes on and work out how to support them more subtly. They need us above all to be there for them, to listen and to comfort. They do not need to be told there are plenty of other fish in the sea and how you didn’t like him anyway or how he could do better than that girl. Try to remember what it feels like to be hurt in love – but don’t tell them about all your experiences –just empathise. They will need to know that they are worthwhile but not by telling them that there’s nothing wrong with them (apart from their taste in girls/boys) and the only way they will believe any words of encouragement from a parent at this point is if those words are completely believable –that means sincere and descriptive.

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February 09th, 2011

Bed Time Fears

Bedtime fears

Sometimes small children get very fearful of monsters (although Mike and Sully might have helped with that), things under the bed, dragons, dinosaurs and ‘bad’ guys. The fears all come out at bedtime and just when everyone’s got few energy reserves to call on we need to find ways of reassuring the little darlings so that they’ll GO TO SLEEP so we can have (finally) have some adult time.

These are the years when a child’s powers of imagination are exploding, which means that now she can imagine new and scary things to be afraid of. And because she spends a good portion of her day immersed in fantasy play (in the company of dragons and dinosaurs and bad guys), or listening to stories, it can be hard for her to shut off her imagination at bedtime and go to sleep. Thoughts of monsters can also reflect whatever the child is going through at that age, whether it’s struggles with aggressive feelings, independence, or fears of separation. The cast of characters might include monsters, bad guys, animals, imaginary creatures, or familiar people, places, and events combined in unusual ways.

It’s really important that parents don’t dismiss these fears in our attempts to reassure. When we deny our child’s fears we teach them not to trust their inner experiences and that we don’t take them seriously. They learn not to trust us and we lose an opportunity to connect with them. It is important to talk about the monsters so you can understand what is happening beneath the image and it won’t make it any worse to talk about it. The ideas are already in her head. Perhaps even more than she is letting on.  You can’t put them there or make them bigger. By bringing them out into the ‘daylight,’ you help her to manage them.

What to do:
o    Establish a peaceful evening routine that includes, for example, a warm bath, maybe a milky drink, a gentle story, a quiet song, and a few minutes of you sitting quietly by his bed while he settles. A night light might help.

o    Talk to him about the monsters and his fears away from bedtime if you can. What do they look like?  Can you compare them to creatures he doesn’t find scary – Shrek? Sully from Monsters Inc, The Gruffalo? Perhaps you could make a story about them.  Where do they live?  Do they fall in love and have babies?  Can you use fantasy to make them friendly and fun?

Name it to tame it

Name and tame

o    If he’s really fearful acknowledge the fear. The more you talk about it the more you normalise their experience.If the adults don’t want to talk about it, it must be really scary. Labelling the emotion makes it manageable. “Are those scary monsters here tonight? That is so mean of them to scare you and keep you up all night. Why don’t you draw a picture of them so that I know what they look like so that I can keep an eye out for them? Now why don’t we draw what you would look like if you could be a scary monster, then we can scare them away!”

o    “I can see how frightened it has made you feel.  The fact that you’re crying lets me know that it was a really frightening experience for you.  Was the monster this big to you or this big to you?  Use hands to find out how big it seemed, then say, wow that is big, no wonder you felt as frightened as you did? What else did it make you feel?”  Sometimes it can work to then shrink the monster or give him a funny face.

o    Use fantasy and maybe humour (without minimising her fears) to deal with those pesky monsters – the magical powers of your love and protection can work wonders. You might be able to make the pretend monsters disappear with a dose of pretend monster spray. Some families work with magic ‘talismans’ that can ‘magic’ away monsters –these can be any object that can be invested with magic properties.

Stone

I have found a courage stone to be very useful. Find a nice smooth stone and put it in the child’s hands. Ask them to recall a time when they were brave. Recreate that memory vividly with sounds, visuals and smells. Ask the child to think about how they felt and what they did that was brave. The stone is now invested with the quality of courage. Now whenever the child needs to feel brave he can touch the stone.

 

o    You’re validating her feelings, not necessarily confirming the reality of monsters. You could say something like “even though monsters aren’t real they can feel very real in the middle of the night.” This won’t dismiss her feelings but nor does it suggest that there is actually something for her to be afraid of.

o    Can you make a plan for what she can do next time she thinks about monsters at night? Could she call out to them?  Could she listen to music or read a book for a few minutes?  Brainstorm ways to manage her fear of monsters.

 

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February 09th, 2011

Bedtime Battles?

Bedtime routines with kids

Do you as a parent have the experience of getting your children into bed and then keeping them there throughout the night as a regular waking nightmare! For many parents preventing their children from waking up and disturbing their own sleep or the sleep of siblings can be a huge problem…..when your kids are teens then this ceases to be a problem as they will then struggle to get out of bed. Such is the developmental pattern of behaviour – life is cruel!

Children and parents need their sleep and we also need to have some time to ourselves in the evening if we are to ensure we are not functioning purely as a C.R.U….. a child rearing unit with no time to nurture adult relationships.

Why do parents experience the issue with bed hopping and bedtime battles? The answer often lies with us, as we as parents can often be so inconsistent that inadvertently our children end up training us to reward the behaviour we don’t want e.g. by  allowing them into our bed in the middle of the night. There of course may be other practical issues such as needing the toilet; being scared of the dark; finding it hard to settle in the evening and putting  themselves to sleep.

The solutions are plentiful:

  • Decide with your partner or if a single parent with anyone who is regularly involved with putting the kids to bed, what your values are around bedtime; create rules and ensure there are meaningful rewards and consequences attached
  • Establish your evening routine so that it is conducive to the kids winding down; sitting in bed for stories; playing a quiet game after bath; PJ’s and teeth brushing routine. Make the whole routine positive using masses of descriptive praise and no criticising; nagging or shouting. Try not to encourage rough and tumble at this time of day as this can make some children more excitable
  • Alternate which parent puts the children to bed, otherwise they become dependent on one parent and start calling the shots!
  • Ensure your bedtime rules are as detailed as possible – “Going to bed nicely” is too general. Ask the question what does this look like and make it detailed. Each of these below amounts to a rule around bedtime:
    • Have 2 stories
    • Do a wee if need to
    • Get into your own bed
    • Kiss mummy and /or Daddy goodnight
    • Say everything you need to say…have your bedtime chat and may need a time limit for this
    • Turn out the light and say “ goodnight, see you in the morning”
    • Don’t stay in the room till your child falls asleep, or he will not be able to sleep without your presence and inadvertently you have created a dependency.
    • If your child is scared, don’t tell her not to be afraid or that she’s too big to be worrying about monsters and the like. Really listen to her feelings and empathise….and try and help her understand what she is feeling. “It can be scary if you wake up in the night and everyone else is asleep. Maybe you feel lonely”. Once our children feel that we are listening and understand they are much more able/willing to listen to solutions.
    • A great Health Visitor friend of mine recommends introducing your child to an anchor which they can reach out and use if indeed they are scared of monsters in the dark. Arm them with an empty plastic pump spray bottle armed with imaginary “anti – monster juice” so they can reach out in the middle of the night and zap the monster away.
    • Discuss with your children strategies they can use if indeed they wake during the night to help them get back to sleep. Have reward stickers that build up around the head board of the bed or on a sticker chart so she can earn rewards for each stage of the “going to bed” proceedings. Gives her the message she is being successful and is capable
    • The sleep fairy is also a lovely idea….she fills during the day a favourite teddy bear with all the sleep needed to ensure the child has the tools to sleep at night. If progress has been made and he only got out of bed twice compared to 6 times the previous night the sleep fairy will visit in the night and leave a small note or token of how happy she is the child is making progress and getting into better bedtime habits. This token can be anything that tickles you child from a special stone; a pretty flower; a piece of lego; a conker? You are the experts in your children and what motivates them but the sleep fairy does not spend any money and uses her creativity and imagination to reward.
    • In the early days of training your child into better bed time habits, it is much better to go back into the room and praise them, rather than wait till you are downstairs cooking supper and they call you back or come out of their rooms. We always recommend that in order to create a new habit you have to be there as the trainer. This may mean sitting outside the child’s bedroom reading a paper or book for 20 minutes or so, but it means you are far less resentful then having to leave the kitchen and head back upstairs  and have your buttons pressed
    • Training into new habits takes time…don’t expect perfection after just a few nights and do praise for any progress made
    • Never use bed as a punishment/consequence
    • Remember to recharge your own batteries- think of yourself as a chequeing account – once overdrawn it is not easy to be an effective parent.

If you like this blog and want to see more examples of Descriptive Praise for bedtimes, take a look at our Bedtime Battle publication which you can download from the website:

http://www.theparentpractice.com/publications-download/36-avoiding-bedtime-battles.html

Here’s to sweet dreams and quality sleep.

 

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