Can a Parent Be Too Strict?

Parent disciplining child

By Jordan Beach, MSW, Courier & Press, August 30, 2016 –

Parenting is one of the most demanding and difficult jobs around. We are surrounded with conflicting opinions about parenting and what is best for our children.

You can find debates on any parenting subject — breastfeeding vs. bottle-feeding, co-sleeping vs. crib sleeping, allowing your child to have electronics vs. unplugging. The list goes on and on.

Another big debate is whether parents should adopt a strict parenting style as opposed to more permissive parenting.

The truth is, there is no definite right or wrong answer for any of these issues. Being a parent involves finding a way to walk the fine line that separates extreme forms of parenting styles.

A common term used for parents who are very strict is “helicopter parents.”  This basically means the parents are constantly hovering over the child, making sure their every move falls within the confines of what the parent deems appropriate.

Knowing where your kids are and what they’re doing is important, and ensuring they complete assignments is practical.  However, watching over their every move can often be detrimental in the long run. Children need to learn how to fall down and stand up again on their own.

Watching your child get hurt is never an easy thing to do. As parents, our natural instinct is to fix the problem, and if possible, prevent it from happening in the first place.

Many times this leads to parents arguing with teachers about grades or behavior, becoming involved in conflicts their child is having with peers or fighting to ensure their child never sits the bench.

Allowing your child to fail, though difficult to watch, is essential for growth and development. When your child suffers the consequences of failing to complete an assignment, it will help them learn the importance of time management.

There will be a time in your child’s life when they are expected to complete tasks independently. Help guide your child and teach them how to prioritize and complete tasks on their own. This will help them become self-reliant and lead to further success in school and future endeavors.

When your child fails to follow the rules at school and there are consequences, they  learn to respect authority. The desire to rescue your child when they are in trouble is normal. However, when you fight against an authority figure, you are teaching your child that the rules do not apply to them and they do not have to do what is asked of them.

When your child has a conflict with a peer, it is important to allow them to work it out on their own.  Allowing them to solve their own problems helps them learn conflict resolution skills, molding them into problem solvers and good communicators.

Watching your children struggle is never an easy thing to do. However, if you allow them to learn and grow by guiding them but ultimately allowing them to make their own decisions, they will be more independent later. The skills they learn as children will help them become more successful adults.

Help Children Manage Time, Lower Stress

Time management

By Alissa Eastham, LCSW, Courier & Press, August 23, 2016 –

Whether your child had a leisurely summer or the past few months have been filled with activities, it is often an adjustment for students and their parents when the first day of school arrives.

Some parents may be relieved that school is back in session, others are concerned or worried. Students may feel excited or anxious about seeing friends, meeting teachers, receiving homework and starting new activities.

Although stress can be beneficial (such as when it motivates us to complete tasks), it warrants our attention most when left unchecked. We can experience stress in a variety of ways, and stress may manifest itself differently in children and teens.

Physical symptoms of stress can include fatigue, difficulty sleeping, stomach ache, chest pain, muscle tension and pain, headaches, indigestion, nausea, increased sweating, weakened immune system and back and neck pain.

Emotional symptoms can include decreased motivation, increased irritability and anger, anxiety, depression or sadness, restlessness and inability to focus.

You may also notice behavioral changes as a result of stress, such as constant thoughts about stressors, eating too much or too little, social withdrawal, nail biting and drug or alcohol use.

The return of the school year can be an exciting and stressful time, and as it kicks into full gear, it can be helpful for both parents and students to manage their time in order to manage stress. The following tips can help.

Use a planner. This can be a hard copy or digital version on your phone or computer. Having a way to organize tasks and activities can help you remember what you need to get done. Most schools offer planners to students at a low cost.

Prioritize tasks. Using a planner will also help prioritize time, tasks and activities. Writing things down helps your child remember them. It also gives you and your child a list to help determine what is most important and what can be done quickest.

Break larger tasks into smaller ones. If students become overwhelmed with several assignments, it can be helpful to break down the homework into smaller, more manageable parts. This can reduce anxiety and give your child a starting point.

Limit distractions such as electronic devices. This will help your child focus on the task at hand. It is also helpful for students to have a dedicated study space where distractions are limited.

Schedule more time in between tasks.  Avoid rushing from point A to point B. By purposefully scheduling more time between tasks, you can reduce your stress when a meeting runs long or you find yourself stuck in traffic. Plan to arrive 15 minutes early.

Create boundaries. Students can be involved in too many activities, adding stress. Are they only getting involved because others expect it? Encourage them to decide what’s most important and consider cutting out unneeded tasks and activities.

Stress can be positive when it motivates students to study for tests or complete homework assignments, but we often don’t notice it until it’s caused a problem in our lives. Consider how you use your time and what can change so that your family will reap the benefits and have a less stressful school year.

Preparing for the Empty Nest

empty nest

By Laura Keys, LCSW, Courier & Press, August 16, 2016 –

Here’s a riddle: I have spent the last 12 years attending school events, PTA meetings and well child visits. I have spent the last four years paying for AP exams and ACT and SAT prep books. I have spent the last two years visiting colleges and researching the safety of each campus. I have spent the last year watching the mail for admittance and scholarship letters. I have spent the last three weeks shopping for sheets, shower caddies and collapsible laundry hampers. Can you guess who I am?

Yes, I am the parent of a child leaving home to attend college. I will soon be an empty nester, and I must say I am not very excited about it.  The closer the time comes for my child to leave, the louder the little voice in my head yells, “NOT YET!”

But being a “glass half full” kind of gal, I decided to focus on how I could handle this life-altering change in a way that is good for me and more importantly my child (who is actually pretty much a grownup).

While reading all I could about adjusting to an empty nest, I found some great truths that came up time and again. I will share some of the good ones, as I know many of my friends, family and co-workers are going through the same adjustment.

1.  Prepare yourself. Face the departure and look at it realistically. Remember how excited and ready you were to get out of your parents’ house.  It’s not as if you didn’t love your parents, and it’s not as if your own children don’t love you. But let’s be honest, you were ready to get the “heck out of dodge,” and you need to remember that feeling so you are not hurt when you see it in your own child’s eyes.

2.  Try not to catastrophize. Don’t spend the last precious days with your child running constantly down your top 10 list of things that could hurt them. Along with excitement, your child is also probably feeling a little anxiety about moving away from home, and the last thing they need to hear is a daily montage of what is scary in the world. Most college campuses put freshmen through safety protocol.  Give them a few gentle reminders and move on.

 
3.  Don’t expect your child to call every day. Think back to your first days on your own as a young adult in a new place. I don’t remember wanting to call my parents and chronicle every new experience. Much of the literature says it is good to set up a weekly call time and save communication by text or email for the rest of the week. I think I will utilize texting a lot at first so my daughter won’t be able to hear me cry after hearing her voice.

 
4.  Focus on the positives for you. As much as I will miss my child, her wet towels and dirty dishes will not be missed. There were nights that I would have liked to have gone to a 90-minute yoga class but instead did a 30-minute cardio workout so I could get home to see how everyone’s day went. Having sole rights to the TV or computer is another bonus.

The point is, find some freedoms in this change. They are there, but you may have to dig for them. I think Dr. Margaret Rutherford said it best:  “Your child’s life will be filled with fresh experiences. It’s good if yours is as well.”

Consider Timing of Text Message

Reading text message

By Dawn Tedrow, Courier & Press, August 9, 2016 –

Cell phones have become a constantly updated, active journal of our lives. They are filled with conversations texted between friends, complete with emojis  and acronyms. On social media we post pictures of ourselves — selfies — and tag pictures of friends and family.

I can look at my memories page on Facebook and tell you exactly what I was doing on this day three  years ago. Yes, technology is a wonderful way to quickly share information.

One of the many ways I help kids as a Youth First social worker is calming anxious or upset students. After filling the trash can with used tissues and consuming a piece of chocolate to calm the nerves, we get down to the nitty-gritty: “What upset you so much?”

Invariably, the cell phone is whipped out to recount text messages received during class. We untangle the web of text messages. I acknowledge the student’s feelings and discuss how to handle the situation.

What surprises me is the number of students who are upset following a text from their parent. I understand most parents send a text to their son or daughter intending for them to receive it at the end of the day.

Unfortunately, I find students super glued to their cell phones and iPads continuously during the school day. So the message informing them they are grounded after school for not doing the dishes has now disrupted the rest of their school day.

Perhaps we should stop and think about how we utilize our cell phones to convey messages. Is it possible we share too much through text? Is the timing appropriate?

Consider this scenario: Tom notices his cell phone vibrating, signaling a text message. It is from his mom saying, “Your dad just lost his job.”

Tom is no longer paying attention to his algebra teacher giving instruction; he begins to breathe quickly and feel ill. He requests to use the bathroom and leaves the classroom. On the way to the bathroom, he is wondering why his dad might have lost his job and worries how the family will make it financially.

Tom attempts to call his mom, but she is not answering her phone. She went next door to talk to a friend and left her phone on the kitchen table. Tom tries a few more times and returns to class. He is unable to focus on anything in class and thoughts are whirling around in his head.

Before sending a text to your son or daughter, consider the importance of the message. Is it necessary to send the message now? Perhaps you can wait and send it later or tell your child in person after school. Could the message be upsetting? If so, it might be best to wait to speak to the student in person.

Talk to your son or daughter about how they feel about receiving messages from you. Agree on how information should be delivered and what is appropriate to share via text or social media. Opening up the lines of communication will help reduce your son or daughter’s stress, but timing and method of delivery can make a huge difference.

Confidence is Key in Children’s Emotional Development

Confident child

By Laura Arrick, LCSW, Courier & Press, August 2, 2016 –

As a parent of two young girls, I have mixed emotions at the beginning of the school year.

It is exciting to get back in a routine and watch their educational growth each day.

The physical, educational, and social milestones seem to pass very quickly, and seeing your child on the right track brings joy and satisfaction.

This time of year can also bring feelings of nervousness and fear. As a Youth First school social worker, I see children growing into young adults every day. They begin to develop self-esteem, question confidence in their abilities and compare themselves to their peers. These internal milestones and changes may be difficult to see in some children who need help in these areas, however.

At Youth First we feel very strongly about prevention. We work with students and families to teach coping skills and empower youth to handle their problems and emotions in a healthy, positive way. We work to foster independence and build confidence to help kids handle whatever life throws their way.

Parents should instill these skills when children are young and developing their own identity. Here are some strategies to help parents build confidence and emotional skills in their children:

Help children become problem solvers and critical thinkers. As kids grow older, move away from fixing every problem and doing everything for them. Let them succeed and fail. This will build their independence, resilience and confidence in their own abilities.

If possible, let kids make their own choices. It can be scary giving them the reins to make decisions, but involving them will build confidence and give them a sense of freedom and independence.

Trust them with responsibilities. Take some time to research appropriate responsibilities for different age groups. There are countless articles and ideas for giving children suitable chores around the home. The younger they are when you introduce these concepts, the more buy-in you will get.

Encourage children to pursue their own interests. Spend time paying attention to their strengths and help them pursue those passions. Parents want children to be involved, and they often pick activities and sports for them. This is OK as they are growing, but as they start to have their own voice, they should have more input on what extracurricular activities make them happy.

Be a good role model. Take time to think about decisions you are making, and show your children it is OK to make mistakes. Being wrong or vulnerable is not necessarily a bad thing. Children are paying attention to your reactions and responses, however.

So with the new school year just around the corner, education and social development are definitely priorities. However, let us not forget that psychological and emotional learning are just as important in shaping children to be healthy adults.