One of the most disturbing things I hear from children and adolescents is that they are upset because their separated or divorced parents talk in a rude or disrespectful way about each other to the children or in their presence. This experience is so damaging to the child and can greatly hinder their adjustment to the divorce. Divorce is difficult for everyone. And maintaining cordial relationships with a divorced partner can be very challenging. However, to the degree that couples are able to do so, their children will benefit enormously. Children whose parents are divorcing deserve to be able to have healthy relationships with both their parents. This is in the child’s emotional best interest even if it may feel threatening to the parents. Often parents who are divorcing, play a game trying to be the favored parent by sending subtle or overt messages to the children that the other parent is bad or at fault. This puts the child in the middle and forces him/her to make an unfair choice between parents. One of the ways parents do this is by making rude or disrespectful comments about their ex spouse to the children, or in the presence of the children. Sometimes other family members or friends of the parents will do this as well. It is up to the parents to insist that this not happen. Talk to your family members and friends and ask them not to to make any disparaging comments about your ex spouse in the presence of the children. And no matter how much resentment you may have toward your ex do not speak rudely of him or her to your children. You will all reap the benefits of a healthier adjustment.
One of the most frequent concerns I hear from parents is that their children struggle with low self esteem. We ‘re all worried that our kids don’t feel good enough about themselves. It seems to me that this is a generational issue. If we asked our grandparents if they worried about building self-esteem in their children they’d probably give you a strange look! That was not something that they were concerned about. They were more concerned with raising good citizens and perhaps that’s what we should be concerned about as well. Maybe if we focused on that, the self-esteem would take care of itself. But here we are in 2015 with lots of ideas floating around about how to build a positive self image in our kids. This is what I have learned over the past 30 years in my practice. Families that have kids with a positive self-image are good at the these things:
- Self esteem is gained by trying things and being successful. So allow your kids to have responsibilities in the home early so they can learn to feel good about their abilities and their contributions in the family.
- Encourage independence early. Don’t do for your kids what they can do for themselves. This builds confidence. Whether it’s dressing themselves, tying their shoes, or doing their term paper. Let them struggle a bit and figure it out on their own before you step in to give unnecessary help. Previous generations were much better at having higher expectations of their kids than is the current generation. We jump in and rescue too early, depriving our kids of the satisfaction gained from figuring it out on their own.
- Allow your kids to explore hobbies, interests, sports and find their talents and gifts. Allow them to go with those interests even if they’re not your interests. Don’t push them to do one thing if they really show an interest in another. If they hate soccer but really show an interest in music, allow them to explore that, even if you love sports!
- Expose them to many different opportunities and see what they’re drawn to.
- Have reasonably high expectations for behavior and performance. Kids will often rise to the level that you expect.
- Encourage healthy social contact. Friendships are very important in building a positive self image. Help young kids learn how to be a good friend. Kids who are shy may need help developing friendships. If you notice your child being drawn to another child invite that him or her over for a play date or arrange an activity for them to do together. Having a feeling of belonging is essential to building healthy self esteem.
Do you have other ideas about raising kids with a positive self image? If so, I’d love to hear them!
One of the most difficult life experiences for a child is having their parents separate or divorce. Most children want their parents to stay married. And that is true even if the marriage has been unhappy. Divorce is extremely difficult for children and I believe parents owe it to their children to do everything they can to salvage the marriage if at all possible. If that is not possible, providing them as much security as you can is imperative. Part of doing so is telling them about the separation and/or divorce in the healthiest way possible. Here are a few tips to help guide you through that process:
- If at all possible tell the children before you separate. For children under 5, tell them 1-2 days ahead. For slightly older children about a week ahead and for teenagers about 2 weeks ahead.
- Both parents should make a plan together for when, where, and how to talk to the children and both parents should be present.
- Tell the children together as a family, preferably at home.
- Pick an appropriate time over a weekend or when they will have time to adjust. Preferably not on a school day or prior to a big event.
- Tell them you are separating/divorcing with an age appropriate explanation. Tell them how hard you tried to make it work. Do not give intimate details and do not blame each other.
- Tell them that when you married you loved each other and planned to stay together forever. You want them to feel they were wanted and born into a loving family.
- Reassure them that both parents still and will always love them and that will never change, and that both parents will stay involved with them.
- Reassure them that the cause of the divorce had nothing to do with them or anything they have done.
- Tell them that you understand that they are sad, as are you. That is natural and it will get easier with time.
- Be clear about how the separation will affect them–living arrangements, school, sports, etc.
- Allow them to express all their feelings.
- Spend time close by afterwards in case they have questions or feelings come up later.
- Do not mention any other people who may be involved, such as boyfriends, etc.
This may be a conversation that they will remember all their lives and it can frame the way the family will handle the rest of the divorce experience. Plan it well and work together as best you can for the best interest of the children. Remember reassurance is key.
Next time we will look at how to tell if your children may need professional help in dealing with the divorce.
One of the most difficult times to parent is when one is experiencing a breakup of the parental relationship. Parenting requires such physical and emotional energy and when a parent is depleted of both, due to their own emotional turmoil, grief, and loss, it is extremely difficult to continuously put the needs of the children first. However, to the extent that parents are able to do so, children will benefit by experiencing reduced stress and trauma as the family moves through the transition. Over the next month I will offer some insight into handling this transition in the easiest way for the children. There is no painless way to handle a separation or divorce and the newest research supports the idea that even low conflict divorces can be very stressful on children of all ages. The feelings and attitude that the parents have about each other will have the greatest impact on how the children deal with the divorce. As difficult as the physical separation from one parent is, it is the conflict between the parents that causes the children the most stress. The higher the parental conflict, the more traumatic for the children.
Here are a few guidelines to consider:
- Keep children out of the middle of the parental relationship.
- Do not argue in their presence or where they can hear you. Be mindful of how you handle telephone conversations!
- Be mindful of the tone of voice you use with the other parent. Children will pick up on the slightest hint of contempt.
- Allow them to have a relationship with both parents without feeling guilty. In fact, do all you can to encourage it. This is essential to their emotional development.
- Do not put down the other parent or call them names. Be careful of how you speak about the other parent to your friends or family in the presence of the children.
- Do not discuss legal issues or finances with the children.
- Do not send messages through the children.
- Do not force them to choose sides or choose where to live.
- Use other adults or professionals for support. Do not lean on the children for emotional support even if they are teenagers.
- Keep transitions between homes stress free. Let the children know you want them to enjoy being with the other parent and that you will be fine while they are away.
- Don’t quiz them when they return from the other parent’s home.
- Work on forgiving the other parent.
- Concentrate on changing your own behavior. Behave well no matter what the other parent does.
- Don’t introduce new partners too soon after the separation. At least six months is a good rule of thumb.
- Take care of yourself. Get the support you need to move through the transition in a healthy way, such as professional help, a support group, or spiritual guidance.
Next time we will focus on the best way to tell the children about the separation or divorce.
I love this video! Parenthood is too difficult a job to be in competition with each other. We need one another. We’re all in this together.
Here in Charlotte we’re now about a month into summer. Perhaps it’s time to think about how you are using the extra time and freedom from strict school, work, and sports schedules. During the school year parents are usually very focused on their kid’s classroom achievement and activities. Summer brings the opportunity for extra time together and conversations about things that often don’t get enough attention during the school year. Take advantage of this extra time together and use it to really connect with your kids. The time in the car driving to your vacation spot, or sitting on the beach, or taking a hike can be valuable time to reconnect. Put down the cell phones and the computers. Turn off the book that you downloaded and talk to each other! What can you talk about? Here are a few conversation starters:
- What were the best and worst experiences of the past school year?
- What is your favorite place visited so far and where do you dream of going?
- What’s your favorite book or movie?
- What’s your favorite music right now? Take turns playing your favorite song to each other. No criticism allowed!
- Who do you consider your best friend right now? Why? How do you choose a best friend? What qualities make a good friend?
- What or who are you most concerned about right now?
Be sure to really listen. Withhold judgement. The point is to really connect with each other… To hear and be heard. Who knows what you might learn?
What is the most challenging part of your day as the parent of a young child? If you said the evening hours, you are not alone. Most parents of young children say that the hours from around 5:00 to 8:30 p.m. can be some of the most challenging. Often children and parents are returning home after a long day of activities that may include, work, school, daycare, and sports. Everyone is tired, hungry and perhaps a bit impatient. And there is still much to be done, including dinner, baths, and hopefully quiet time together. Parents often ask me for help in handling bedtime. They want to be able to enjoy spending time with their children and have the kids in bed on time without tears and tantrums. They want their kids to sleep in their own bed! And they don’t want to have to lie down with them to get them to stay in their beds. While an occasional difficult evening is normal, there are some general guidelines that may make the evening hours easier for everyone in the family.
- First of all establish a nighttime routine that includes everything you want to accomplish during those hours and stick to it. Kids like routine and you can include them in the planning of what that routine will look like. For example, your routine may include dinner, bath, reading together, a song, prayers, hugs and kisses and lights out. Include what is important to your family.
- Make your expectations clear. Discuss the new routine with the child and let them know how the plan will go. Be specific. If you plan to read only one story let them know that ahead of time and stick to it. As in most things related to parenting, consistency is key.
- Put them in their own bed. It’s important for them to learn how to relax and allow themselves to fall asleep in their own space.
- Eliminate all technology at bedtime such as computers, Ipads, video games and television. There’s all kinds of research that supports the idea that the brain stimulation from a screen is problematic for sleep. Do not allow your child to get into the habit of falling asleep with the television on. (In fact, I think televisions should not be in a child’s bedroom, but that’s a discussion for another day!)
- Take care of all their personal needs before they get in bed. No more going to the bathroom or getting water after they’re in bed! In fact, no getting out of bed unless it’s a true emergency. That means no coming back into the family room or the parent’s bedrooms once you’ve said goodnight.
If you’ve been lying with the child until he falls asleep you’ll have a habit to break. Explain to him that he is old enough now to be able to fall asleep without you and that from now on you will leave the room after you’ve said good night. If he is upset, tell him you will come back and check on him every 5 minutes until he falls asleep. When you go back in 5 minutes chances are he will already be asleep! If not, just stand in the doorway briefly and tell him good night again and return every 5 mins until he is asleep. You can gradually increase to every 10 minutes if necessary. Do not stay long and do not lie down with him.
If your child continues to get up out of bed and leave her room, calmly walk her back to bed with no discussion of whatever it is she is asking for. No more water, or books, or hugs, or whatever. Tell her you will not discuss what ever it is until morning. Remember consistency is key! Soon your evening will run much more smoothly.
The winter months can sometimes be difficult ones for folks who struggle with depression. The shorter days with reduced sunlight, imbalances in melatonin and seratonin, and decreased opportunities for social contact may all play a role along with our genetic predisposition to mood disorders. Some deal with serious issues related to the change in seasons and suffer with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that may require care from a physician and/or a mental health provider. Folks with SAD deal with significant symptoms at about the same time every year, with no other explanation for the change in their mood. Other folks may find themselves just feeling a little more blue than usual.
Here is a list of some of the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD):
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Loss of energy
- Social Withdrawal
- Significant changes in sleep or appetite
While it’s normal for us to feel blue occasionally, if these symptoms persist or you’re having thoughts of suicide see your doctor or mental health provider right away. If your symptoms are not this serious but you are feeling a bit blue, try these things to lift your mood:
- Increase your exposure to sunlight… Raise your blinds. Bundle up and sit out in the sun. Take a walk on a sunny day.
- Increase your exercise. Even 15-20 minutes may boost your mood.
- Increase your social contact. Call a friend and go for a walk!
- Eat a healthy diet with plenty of protein and fresh vegetables.
- Engage in mind-body therapies such as yoga, meditation, prayer, massage.
The challenge is that when we feel blue our tendency is to hibernate and do less. But that is exactly the opposite of what improves our mood! Withdrawing usually makes us feel worse. So if you can get up and get started with any of these activities you have a better chance to improve your mood.