Strategies and parenting tips for managing children’s behavioural and emotional problems

Can Parents be too Careful?

 kids fun without parentsOne of the things that really concerns me about the way children are being raised is the degree to which they are wrapped in cotton wool. Children of today are almost constantly supervised by parents and other adults. They rarely get a chance to take physical risks. They don’t get enough exercise. They don’t learn to climb, balance or fall. They are not allowed to use building tools. They are not given the opportunity to problem-solve and make choices concerning their safety. We adults have taken these basic rights away from them.

Think Back

When I was a child most children were able to play unsupervised from a young age. We walked to our friends’ houses or to creeks several blocks away. We walked or rode to school. We climbed trees and fences. We built and played in tree houses. We challenged each other to jump off shed rooves while holding onto an umbrella like Mary Poppins. We had fun! I used to feel quite sorry for a couple of friends back then who had overprotective parents who would not allow them out and about in the same way. They always seemed a little sad, nervous and bored to me, even as a seven year old.

But now, sadly, the whole western world has become like those families. Children are driven everywhere, and have adults restricting and supervising their every move. They are not allowed to take risks.

Health and Safety Madness

I worked in a children’s mental health in schools project a few years ago and was horrified by the health and safety restrictions that were stifling the opportunity for fun and adventure. We did manage to get permission to take a few children fishing in a highly structured and supervised specialised fishing activity centre, but the health and safety paperwork would have filled two shoe boxes, and going anywhere near the ocean was out of the question, even though we were in a seaside town. Schools and councils of today are terrified of law suits, while parents fear being judged as irresponsible. Parents are also scared, of course, that their children will be injured or abducted, but the risks of this have to be balanced against benefits of a more relaxed approach.

What Might be the Consequences of our Risk Intolerance?

Apart from the obvious effects that the lack of exercise and gross motor skill practice can have on the child’s physical development, the psychological consequences of an overprotected childhood can be really dangerous. The world is a risky place, so children need to learn how to manage risk themselves: to assess risk and make good decisions based on likely consequences. By not allowing them to practice these basic skills, we are stifling their cognitive development in this area and are likely to be creating adults who take stupid risks, or anxious people who see their world as a terrifying place to live in.

Parents Teach Children to be Calm or Fearful

Children learn a great deal about the world and themselves from their parents. If their parents tell them with words or actions that the world is a dangerous place that can’t be trusted, and if they are told that they can’t be trusted as people, then they are likely to learn to be fearful and doubt themselves.

When a child is climbing a fence, it is common for parents to shout, ‘Don’t fall!’ or, ‘Get down, you are going to fall!’ The problem is that these comments create that outcome in the child’s mind, so they increase the chances of the child falling. Children are naturally good climbers with a great sense of balance, and practice makes perfect. In most situations it would be better for a parent to calmly say, ‘Good climbing. You are balancing/holding on really well.’

Murderers and Paedophiles

Parents of today fear murderers and paedophiles more than our parents did. But the reality is that the rates of child abduction, which are infinitesimally low if you omit abductions by parents, have not risen over the decades. Paedophile stories are in every newspaper nowadays, and the law is prosecuting more, often retrospectively, but that does not mean that there are more dangerous paedophiles out there. I remember our neighbourhood paedophiles when I was a child. They were the men I, personally, stayed away from, because of my well developed sense of risk. And, of course, there is a certain irony in the fact that by keeping children at home to enhance their physically safety, we are actually exposing them more to paedophiles via the internet.

The Future Meets the Past

I read a great article recently about an innovative playground project that allows children to play in the mud with old tyres, timber and broken chairs, slide down a hill in a bin, and even light fires. Although adults are present, their intervention is very minimal. This gives the children the opportunity to play, problem solve, take risks, experience the consequences first hand, create and explore, while interacting healthily with each other.

What a healthy, happy, fun idea. Let’s allow our kids to do more of this. Let’s allow them to have childhoods worth remembering. Let’s allow them to develop their minds and bodies in ways that help them to face to world, and all its future risks, wisely, competently and calmly, with healthy bodies, smiles on their faces, and twinkles in their eyes.

The Challenge of the Autistic Child

angry autistic boy ASD

I sometimes try to imagine what it would like to be a child with an Autistism Spectrum Disorder [ASD]. To the child with autism the world can often be incredibly irritating, loud, uncomfortable, scary and confusing.

Imagine being in a crowded space, with lots of bright, flashing lights; loud, piercing noises; people crowding in, yelling at you and each other in a language you can’t understand; horrid, overpowering smells; and, amidst it all, someone beside you screams piercingly in your ear. [That actually sounds like places I have paid money to get into!! :-)]

Then imagine you try to get someone to help you to escape, but they don’t understand you or won’t listen. You are powerless and frustrated and scared. You try harder to get your wishes met, you shout, you scream; your terror and frustration rising.

Welcome to the world of the autistic child.

 

Environmental Triggers

It is not always as bad as this. Often the autistic child is quite relaxed and happy. It all depends on the place, the child’s  personality, their  emotional state at the time, and precursors or triggers that might have contributed to their  sense of frustration or fear. These factors can increase the charge in the child’s already over sensitive nervous system, making even the mildest sensory experience, or smallest fear or frustration, seem unbearable.

Each child will have different things that set them off. The variety is unlimited, but triggers can include sounds, lights, smells, crowds, pain, uncomfortable clothes or shoes, hunger, perceived abandonment, a judgemental look, a hurtful comment, a confusing social interaction or instruction, a nightmare, an unplanned event, or, very commonly, not being able to have or do what they want to.

“The autistic child is often operating just below the red zone.”

These sorts of things can stress us all out, and all of us are capable of losing the plot at times, but the autistic child is often operating just below the red zone, so it doesn’t take much to tip them way over the edge. And triggers can impact abruptly, or build up gradually and cumulatively, until the child can suddenly no longer cope.

The autistic child’s angry and/or frightened reactions can be very confusing and frustrating for the child’s family, friends and teachers. I have heard many parents describe their autistic child as like Jekyll and Hyde. One minute they seem relaxed and happy, the next, World War Three strikes.  And this can happen in the most embarrassing places, such as in a shopping centre or at a social gathering, which adds to the parent’s horror and frustration.

Variation in the Autistic Spectrum

Not all autistic children are equal in their levels of sensitivity, or in their reactions to discomfort or frustration. It depends on each child’s own unique neurological peculiarities, as well as their personality and experiences. The autistic spectrum incorporates a huge range of function, anxiety, sensory sensitivity, communication skills, and emotional regulation.

Also, like all children, children on the Autism Spectrum usually get better at managing their emotions as they get older, with the exception of the hormonal pubescent years, which can decrease frustration tolerance and increase the intensity of emotional responses, as is typical in any adolescent child, although sometimes more so for the ASD child. Some ASD adolescents can be very aggressive and difficult to manage, particularly as they grow in physical strength and stature, whilst some have no bigger emotional meltdowns than non ASD young people. Others tend to internalise their responses, or avoid uncomfortable situations, becoming increasingly withdrawn and moody, again, like a lot of teenagers, only more so.

Communication Problems

ASD children can vary enormously in their communication skills, from having almost no language, to appearing to be very competent communicators. However, even those children at the top end of the communication spectrum, often fail to get the subtle messages and social nuances that non-autistic children instinctively understand.

Obsessive Thinking

Another difference is that autistic children can be more rigid and obsessive in their thinking. They often insist on things being done a certain way and they can find it harder to let go of issues. Thoughts and feelings that would come and go in the normal child get lodged in the ASD mind, and, like an uncomfortable stone in a shoe, they can be very difficult to ignore, creating increasing pain and distress. Sometimes these thoughts and feelings can be about external factors, including other people, and sometimes they can be about the child himself.

Aggression and Self Harm

In an attempt to release and manage this intense psychological tension, some ASD children will become aggressive, or even violent, while some stressed ASD children resort to hurting themselves physically. These self administered ‘treatments’ can include banging their head, pulling their hair, punching walls, picking their skin, or even cutting their arms and legs.

How to Help an Autistic Child

For all these reasons and more, caring for a child with an ASD can be very challenging. However, there are certain things parents and teachers can do to reduce the chances of overload, depending on the particular difficulties and age of the child.

  • Stay calm and cool, no matter what. [Easier said than done, I know, but stress is contagious and good role modelling is vital.]
  • Remember you are in charge, not the child. Be calm and loving, but strong and assertive.
  • Keep a record of situations leading up to a meltdown to determine the child’s triggers.
  • Ask the child about possible precursors, once they are calm, but don’t press them if they don’t know.
  • Encourage the child to engage in enjoyable physical activities to release tension.
  • Build the child’s self esteem.
  • Use positive labels when talking about the child.
  • Plant the idea that the child is getting better at managing their emotions and responses as they are getting older.
  • Increase attention and rewards for desirable behaviour, or when the child has managed their reactions, even is tiny ways.
  • Decrease attention for unwanted behaviour.
  • Help other children to understand and cope with the child’s behaviours, but, if the ASD child has been violent, focus on the comforting the hurt child.
  • Have clear, manageable consequences for unacceptable behaviour, as close as possible to the event.
  • Avoid taking the child to uncomfortable places, such as big noisy shopping centres.
  • Let the child know in advance of planned activities.
  • Break instructions down into small steps.
  • Create laminated task sheets with pictures for routine activities, such as getting ready for school.
  • Provide colour coded time-sheets and maps at school.
  • Provide one to one help in the classroom to help the child understand lessons and relax.
  • Calm, comfort and distract the distressed child.
  • Experiment with ways to help the child feel contained, such as hugging, wrapping tightly, or weighting down with a heavy pillow or weighted clothing.
  • Encourage the child to earth or ground themselves, such as by taking their shoes off on grass, touching trees or plants, gardening without gloves, or immersing part of their body in water.
  • Get some support for yourself and the child as required.

Look After Yourself

The bottom line is that the parent or teacher of the autistic child has to do all the things that the parent or teacher of the non-autistic child has to do, only more so. They have to be more than good parents and teachers; they must be super parents and teachers.  Most need a great deal of support, education, and understanding, as well as outlets for emotional release, such as talking and exercise, in order to cope with challenges they face; much like their ASD child does.

How to Protect Your Children from Family Depression and Anxiety

Depression and anxiety can spread through families like contagious diseases, and children are the most vulnerable to contamination.

Sure, genetic predisposition plays a part too, but a lot of it has to do with what we are exposed to as children. That means you can influence how much your children are affected.

How Depression is Spread

Partners of people with depression often complain of feeling as if they are living near a black hole which is draining their life force. They gradually lose energy and enthusiasm, their lives become restricted, and their home becomes a dark and dreary place.

Children of depressed parents can be even more affected. On top of this ‘black hole effect’, children learn how to interact with the world largely by observing other people, especially their parents. So if a child witnesses a parent consistently looking glum, or repeatedly talking negatively about problems, they are likely to copy that behaviour. Our behaviour affects the way we feel, so children of depressed people are at risk of internalising their parents’ view that the world is a negative place that holds little joy.

Depressed people have a tendency to withdraw from others, so they sometimes find it difficult to listen to their children and to respond consistently and positively to their emotional and psychological needs. This can lead to the children feeling confused and unloved, and can in turn impact on their self esteem and happiness.

All of this is a recipe for… you got it… another generation of depression.

How Anxiety is Spread

Anxiety can also be passed on through families. Children are programmed to learn what to be afraid of from parents in order to survive. A highly anxious parent typically sees the world as a scary place that cannot be trusted. They may well pass on their fears to their children as warnings, and become over-protective in an attempt to keep them safe. This can lead to the children internalising their parent’s fears and becoming overly anxious.

Also, remember that children mimic their parents, so a parent who is tense and easily stressed, is likely to inadvertently teach their children to behave in the same way.

How to Break the Cycle

You can take steps to protect your children from the negative effects of your anxiety and depression. Here are a few simple ways to start…..

  • Be aware of what you teach your children about the world. Do you paint a scary or dark picture? Try to relax, lighten up, and look on the bright side.
  • Think about how your children witness you interacting with others and them? If you want your children to be calm and positive, make sure you are a calm and positive role model.
  • Make an effort to connect with your children in a consistent way. Get interested in their thoughts and feelings. Listen well, and try to respond in compassionate and positive ways to their problems.
  • Be affectionate and warm, and praise your children liberally.
  • Make the effort to enjoy fun interactions with your children. Family games can be great bonders, and laughter is a wonderful antidote for depression and anxiety.
  • Exercise is also a natural antidote; so, even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing, try to do something regularly as a family that involves physical activity. Fun outdoor activities improve mood, and getting everyone out in the world can help you all combat fears.

Get Help ASAP

It is important that you take steps to deal with your own depression or anxiety. Focusing on helping your children should have the added bonus of helping you, but you might need to do a bit more to move into a consistently healthy state.  There is plenty of useful information out there in books and on the internet, but if depression or anxiety is continuing to limit your life, please make sure you get some good professional help without delay, for your children’s sake.


Child Behaviour Strategies: Focus on What You Want

When parents come to me for help with a child, they naturally start by telling me what is wrong with their child and what behaviours or emotional responses they would like to get rid of or change.  That is totally understandable.

If a child is frequently acting in a way that is inappropriate, unacceptable, annoying, or worrying, it is reasonable that the parents would focus on those bad behaviours and reactions in an attempt to stop or modify them; especially if the parents have got to the stage of seeking help from a psychologist. By that time they are usually tearing their hair out with frustration and losing sleep.

When I observe these parents and children together, I notice that the concerned parents often spend a great deal of time and energy giving negative attention to the children’s unwanted behaviours in an attempt to stop them. Again, this is totally natural and understandable.

Attention Encourages Behaviour

The problem is that every time the parents focus their attention on unwanted behaviours, they inadvertently encourage those behaviours, particularly if the child is hungry for attention. Some children need an enormous amount of attention, and they can unconsciously develop a taste for bad attention if that becomes their main source.

A powerful strategy when you are dealing with an attention seeking child, is to pay more attention to the behaviours and reactions that you want, and less attention to the behaviours and reactions that you don’t want.

Focus on What You Want

If you focus on desirable behaviours and give them your love and positive attention, you will nurture and encourage those positive behaviours. It’s a bit like watering, fertilising and protecting flowers in a garden, and allowing the weeds to wilt and be trampled in a natural way.

It is sometimes difficult to see the positive in a child who has driven you crazy with their disobedience, or laziness, or inability to listen and follow instructions , or silly behaviour, or rudeness, or dangerous antics, or anxiety, or aggression, or temper tantrums.  Many parents of challenging children find it very hard to find anything they feel worthy of positive attention.

Start with Small Seeds

But remember, beautiful flowers grow from small seeds. You have to make a conscious effort to turn your habitual attention giving around, so that you notice and acknowledge positive behaviours, even if only tiny things.

Try to notice and acknowledge when your attention seeking child plays quietly by himself for even a minute. Smile and give a thumbs up when your argumentative children agree over which TV program to watch. Praise your dreamy child when she manages to follow  a small instruction. High five your angry child when he gets through a short shopping expedition without a tantrum.

Gradually Expect More

Make sure the praise and attention suit the age, personality and maturity of the child. As your child gets better at taking these small steps, you can reduce the frequency of your praise and raise the bar slowly, and as they mature acknowledge this with the expectation that things will keep improving. ‘You are getting better and better at staying calm as you get older. Well done.”

Want More Help?

If you are interested in other parenting tips, get a copy of my free twelve part e-book, ‘12 Super Child Training Secrets’. Or, if you are after a much more comprehensive and intensive training that you could do at home in your own time and pace, check out my parent training package, ‘How to Manage Your 3 to 10 Year Old Child’.  The links to both are on www.Psychology ThroughTheInternet.com, on the right hand side of the page.

Happy parenting.

Lorri Craig

Free Help for Parents

For all their lovability, children can be extremely frustrating and worrying people; especially from the perspective of their parents.

As a practicing psychologist, I have worked with literally thousands of frustrated and anxious parents struggling to manage the behavioural and emotional responses of their children. Coincidentally the children’s presenting problems usually fell into one or both of two categories: frustrated and anxious.

SIMPLE STRATEGIES THAT WORK

Over the years I often found myself saying the same stuff repeatedly to parents. Simple stuff like: give more attention to the behaviours and responses you want, and less attention to the behaviours and responses you don’t want. Or, reward your child for good behaviour by playing with them in a fun way, because this encourages good behaviour AND improves your relationship with them. Or, be conscious of modelling good behaviour and appropriate emotional responses to your children, because they are likely to copy you.  Simple but crucial stuff.

12 SUPER CHILD TRAINING SECRETS

So, working within my philosophy of helping more people by providing more affordable, accessible psychology services across the globe via the Internet, I have put my top twelve strategies together into a twelve part ebook. And I have decided to GIVE IT AWAY FOR FREE to anyone who wants it.

The free ebook is called 12 SUPER CHILD TRAINING SECRETS. It comes in 12 parts, and the first part is now up for grabs.  You can get hold of your free copy through here at www.PsychologyThroughTheInternet.com Simply leave your email in the box, and I’ll send you a link to your copy.

HOW TO MANAGE YOUR 3 TO 10 YEAR OLD CHILD

If you are after a more comprehensive package, with 3 hours of interactive video training packed full of ideas and strategies, you might like to check out my new Parent Training DVD Course called HOW TO MANAGE YOUR 3 TO 10 YEAR OLD CHILD.  This package has even more stuff than the ebook and, because the main part is in MP4 format, it is all instantly available and downloadable and easy to digest. The package includes workbooks [so you can practice applying the strategies to your children], along with loads of other goodies.

Although this Parent Training DVD Package is not absolutely free, I have managed to keep the price ridiculously low, so that most parents can afford it.   Which means it’s a fraction of the cost of even one therapy session with me, and far more affordable than most group parent training programs. It’s also much more convenient than going to see a psychologist or attending a parent training group program, because you can do it at your own pace, any time of day or night, in the comfort of your own home or office.  And for most busy parents, that’s a big plus.

If you are really quick you might catch HOW TO MANAGE YOUR 3 TO 10 YEAR OLD CHILD at a ridiculously low sale price. Check it out at www.ParentTrainingCourses.com.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you.

Happy parenting,

Lorri Craig

Can a Difficult Birth Create Psychological Problems Later?

It is well known that psychological trauma of any sort can have a lasting, damaging effect on human beings. The earlier the trauma, the more profound the effect, so the impact of a difficult birth on the infant as he develops  into a child and adult can be especially significant.

The Birth Experience

Imagine being a fetus. Imagine floating comfortably in the warm, soft, dark, fluid space of your mother’s womb, drifting in and out of sleep, surrounded by muffled sounds and heartbeats.

Then imagine the sudden shock of being awakened, and pushed and squeezed into the harsh, stark, and noisy outside world, amid your mother’s pained shrieks, racing heart, and adrenalin charged system.

Add to that the strain of an unusually long labour, painful forced delivery, or a life threatening situation, such as being strangled by the umbilical cord, and you have a major traumatic event. Then add the inevitable distress of the mother, to whom the baby is psychologically and energetically linked, and you have a super trauma.

And try to imagine, on top of all that, the added distress on the newborn infant of being removed from the mother for emergency treatment: the infant’s or hers.

What an incredibly cruel, loveless, unpredictable and scary place the world would seem to the distressed newborn.

That is the experience and sensation that is imprinted onto the traumatised neonate’s untainted mind.  A newborn’s immature nervous system is purely unconscious mind, combined with life or death driven emotion, so it does not have the cognitive capacity to be able to sort experiences and make sense of the world in a logical, conscious way. Its mind is like a blank sheet on which is printed the first experiences. And this imprint becomes the blueprint on which the child’s life and future experiences are fashioned.

Long Term Psychological Effects

Children who have had traumatic births are more likely to be anxious or aggressive than their easy-birth counterparts. Of course genetics and many other factors come into the equation too, but, if all else was equal, the child who was traumatised at birth would be more vulnerable to psychological problems.

Separation from the mother at birth, as well as the mother’s own post-trauma stress response, can affect the early bonding between the mother and child, which is another major factor in the child’s psychological development.

As a clinician, whenever I am presented with a highly anxious, angry, or oppositional child, I always ask the parents about the child’s trauma history, including their birth experience.  Actually I do this with my adult clients too. And very often the links are obvious.

Effective New Treatment

Modern psychological treatment can help to correct the psychological damage of a traumatic birth. Therapies such as EMDR [Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing], EFT [Emotional Freedom Technique], and AIT [Advanced Integrative Therapy] are particularly powerful.

I mainly use AIT in my practice today, and find that it is incredibly effective for dealing with the effects of early trauma. AIT uses kinesiology, or muscle testing, to help the clinician and the client communicate with the client’s unconscious, to determine which early traumas might be affecting them in the present. I find that traumatic births are indicated quite often.

The really good news is that clearing the birth trauma with AIT is quite simple and straightforward, and once the early traumas and their links to presenting problems are cleared, and the blueprint is recreated with a clear, conscious mind, the client is able to let go of lifelong symptoms, such as excessive anxiety, fear of abandonment, anger and control issues.  This is incredibly exciting stuff.

Lorri Craig practices AIT in her own private practice in Brighton and Hove, UK, and internationally by phone or Skype. To find out more about AIT go to the article on this site: WHAT IS ADVANCED INTEGRATED THERAPY?

Image thanks to arztsamui at freedigitalphotos.net