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1. Children like sameness
You might think that children like a challenge, that they get bored easily with the same old routine, same activities, same country to live in, but no!
Underneath it all, they thrive on things essentially staying the same. So when your home, your bedroom and your school are all constants, you can afford to be excited by novelty—say a summer trip to another country. You might see problems with this around times when things change, for example, the beginning and end of school terms, changes of teacher or having to move house. I call it “transition stress” and it’s safe to assume that it will be there in some form.
Watch out for changes and the effects they have, and when times are hard keep as much routine as possible. Use calendars with hand drawn stick figures for young children. Prepare them, give warnings about when change is coming, and keep them informed. Never think “it’s better if they don’t know.” When children are sad, fed up or stressed by something, offering new, “fun” exciting things isn’t necessarily the answer. They might feel a lot better just curling up on the sofa with a book or an old familiar DVD.
2. Happy kids don’t bully
Children who bully others are doing it for a variety of reasons—usually because they feel powerless themselves and take it out on children they perceive to be weaker. Some bullies feel threatened by difference or “outsiders” such as children who speak another language or whose appearance doesn’t fit in.
Research shows that children with good self-esteem and good relationships with their parents don’t need to push other kids around. This can help your child to understand why someone is bullying them, or, from the other side, might help you to see what has drawn your child into being a bully.
3. Don’t gloss over problems
Sometimes children seem to get overly upset about things that may seem relatively minor to us adults—breaking up with best friends, lost football matches or fears about school work.
Try to ban the phrase “Don’t worry” because your child IS worrying and can’t just snap out of it. Instead, have a go with “Oh dear, that’s really tough!” and then try to imagine just how dreadful the problem is for them.
Listening sympathetically is half the problem solved and a great parenting skill to develop.
4. Help your child to work it out
Help your child to rehearse thinking things through for themselves. So, rather than rushing in with an answer for a question, say “I wonder what you think?” This gives them the message that they do have reasoning abilities which can help in worry crises. They don’t always have to rely on a grown up to fix everything.
Key phrases when problems arise: “Why do you think Sophie said those mean things?” Or “Instead of hitting Theo, what else could you have done?”
5. Let them say the bad stuff first
This is my favourite, and the one thing I remind parents to do more than any other. Somehow, it is SO difficult to let children express their negative feelings. We always want to rush in to fix things for them, to prove that their worries are ill-founded, to get as fast as possible to the “cheer up” moment.
Linked to the “Don’t gloss over” tip, try to do three things when your child is upset:
When the bad stuff is out, there’s a space for the solution!
If you have specific questions about your children, send them by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Rachel will respond to as many as possible during the special “answers for parents” editions of Kids in Mind the last Friday of every month.