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Talking with Children? One Quick, Must-Have Technique Every Parent and Teacher Needs to Know

bigstock-daughter-playing-with-cell-pho-83568338-450x300Many parents and teachers comment to me that when they are speaking to children or teens, they don’t listen! Does this sound like you? After repeated attempts to get them to put away toys or books, shut off the Ipad, get their jacket or eat breakfast, adults admit that they get so frustrated that they begin to yell, bark orders and take offending items out of the children’s hands to get them to focus.

Yup. I get it. I’ve done it too! It can be so irritating and infuriating to be ignored. You deserve respect after all you do! But what if our children weren’t consciously ignoring us but actually were just not really hearing us?

When we yell from the top of the stairs or call out across a room, I call this “back-of-the-head parenting” or “back-of-the-head teaching.” Some kids can respond to it but many don’t tune in when only one sense is being used to get their attention—especially when it’s not a primary one.

Many children, particularly ones that have trouble in the area of focus or have ADHD, have many radio stations playing at once in their brains. And guess what? You’re often NOT the loudest one. In fact, when they are watching TV, digging in the dirt outside, or even sitting in class, they may have multiple stations going on in their heads that has gripped their attention over yours. That spider they are watching? Rock and Roll. You? Easy Listening. Or worse. Muzak. (No Offense.)

So when speaking to children, engage more than one sense. That means talking to them and engaging their eyes and their ears. That turns your station on a little louder.

bigstock-young-dad-with-her-son-106991234-450x300Of course, for many children—this is still not enough! I often use a three-sensory approach with my own kids. Crouching down, I look them in the eyes, use my voice to convey what I need them to know and rest my hands softly on their shoulders or arms to ensure full focus.

“Noah; we are leaving in 5 minutes. We need to be on time because your friend is waiting and it shows kindness to be on time. Could you please get your shoes and socks on and meet me at the car so we can leave? Thank you. This is going to be fun!”

You are now the loudest radio station! No yelling required.

Speaking of yelling, there may be a time or place for that—but when it’s overused, as one of my best friends, child psychiatrist, Dr. Dehra Harris, says, “it’s like using the emergency break over and over again. It may work…but at what cost to the overall health of the machine?” Every parent gets exasperated sometimes (yes, me included), so we have to find other ways to address our children so that we can get their attention without hijacking it with screaming each time.

Believe me, I wish my kids would just listen the first time when I called down to them from the top of the stairs. I do! Life doesn’t always work the way we wish it did. We don’t always have the kind of children we imagined we would before we had them in our lives! It’s okay.

Instead of making ourselves crazy, try using this multi-sensory approach. It works, it’s easy and you can do it now. While it takes extra effort and work (I know, annoying- who needs more work??? BUT…) I think you will see that there will be a lot less frustration and a lot more listening, understanding and peace in your home, school, camp or wherever you may be today.

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The Courage to Try: 7 Vital Tips to Help Your Kids Try New Things Even if They Are Scared

It was my 7-year-old daughter’s very first camp overnight. She was nervous, scared, excited and anxious.

Each night, before bed, she would start a looping monologue.

“I’m really scared about the sleepover…I’m going to miss you…what if I want to go home…what if I have to go to the bathroom…what if I’m scared?”

“Do you want to go on this sleepover?”

“Yes. But I’m really scared about the sleepover…”

This was getting us nowhere. Have you ever felt like that?

The truth was, we hadn’t had a great track record. Her first sleepover at Grammie’s last year ended abruptly with an ear infection and a fever. The second one took two takes—she came home before sleeping and after a pep talk about fear, she went back but I was there to tuck her in and sing her goodnight. And last weekend, her sweet friend from camp came over to our house to do a practice sleepover and wound up going home at 12:45am because she missed her mom and had a tummy ache. Sleepovers had not been the picture of success.

It’s hard when we want our child to try new things but fear has taken hold and won’t let go. So how can we help our children help themselves when trying constructive, new things that excite but scare them?

  • Note the time: If your child is extremely tired, this might not be the best time to have a serious conversation about fear. Brains are exhausted from a full day of work, play, school, camp, friends and activities by the time nighttime rolls around. You can say; “I know you are nervous about X and I’m happy to talk about it with you. Right now it’s very late. How about we talk about it in the morning when your brain is fresh and you’ve had a good night’s sleep?” Of course, if your child is staying up nights thinking about what it making him or her nervous, you may need to talk about it a bit. Often though, simply saying; “Your feelings are important. We will figure this out together. Let’s talk about it tomorrow when exhaustion is not in the driver’s seat of your brain” can be enough.
  • Help your child realize that s/he is in the driver’s seat: I love what Elizabeth Gilbert said in her “Letter to Fear.” “Dearest Fear: I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still – your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps; you’re not allowed to suggest detours; you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.” It’s vital that our children feel a sense of ownership when it comes to their feelings and their choices. I told my own daughter a rendition of this letter, changing it to fit a child’s language and development. It gave her the words as well as a specific mantra. Now she echoes back to me; “Mommy! I didn’t allow fear to drive my bus!”
  • Ask; what will make you feel more calm and less scared? When you ask this question, it allows your child to be talliesleepovernote-450x338proactive about what will help them rather than focus on the problems. This was the key to the overnight experience for us. Tallie decided that sleeping next to one of her counselors would help. I wrote a note to one of the staff members that said; “Tallie has a question for Amanda” but did not provide the question itself. I had told my daughter; “I will send the reminder but you need to ask the question. I won’t do it for you. I believe that you can do it yourself.” It’s important for children to learn to speak up for themselves even if they need a reminder or encouragement to do so. There is something empowering about saying the words yourself and hearing the answer with your own ears. When Tallie came home, she was happy to announce that she would be sleeping next to Amanda.
  • Have your child write down his/her questions—and ask them:Still, Tallie was nervous. She was filled with Tallie_sleepoverquestions1questions. What if she needed to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night? Would there be a nightlight? And the most looming concern– What if sleeping next to her counselor didn’t help? I had her take out a piece of paper and write down her questions. She penned them out herself right at our kitchen table, we put them in an envelope and she brought them in on the day of the big overnight meeting with her group and counselors. That afternoon, I got this email from her division head: “Tallie was so articulate at our meeting about the overnight tomorrow. She asked all of her questions clearly and followed the directions of waiting until the end of the meeting for the Q & A part before raising her hand. I was so very impressed and told her so!” Tallie came home feeling knowledgeable and certain about what to expect on her overnight. She was learning a valuable lesson—she could ask questions, get answers and ease her fears with the knowledge she gained.
  • Calm your own nerves: It’s normal to feel nervous about your child’s firsts—especially when your child is nervous too! I couldn’t help but wonder what I was going to do if the camp called at night telling me I needed to pick up my petrified child given that my husband was on a business trip and my son would be sleeping. So, I called in the reinforcements: my neighbor and two friends. If I needed to pick up my daughter, one of them would come over and sit in the house until I came back. Aside from that, I spoke to my friends about my concerns. It’s important to talk it out with those you trust so that you feel comforted and your fears don’t come out while encouraging your child. Talk, exercise, have lunch with a friend, do yoga. Calming your own nerves is vital if you are to calm someone else’s at the same time!
  • Realize the preparation and the problem-solving is part of the win: While we all want our children to have the win of actually facing their fear and seeing the end of their journey, there are plenty of wins to celebrate before the end. The process of facing your fear instead of simply turning your back and saying “I won’t do it” is a great exercise—and it’s progress! My daughter went from declaring “I won’t go on the overnight” to “I want to go but I’m scared.” That’s a win! She went from “I’m scared” to “I’ll ask my questions and ask for what I need to feel more calm and less scared.” That’s a win! Even if she didn’t sleep over in the end, she had made progress.
  • Celebrate the wins and connect it to your child’s character: Who had your child needed to “be” in order to face his or her fears and come out on top? Whether they took a few steps forward or they went all the way through the fear and came out the other side, this took courage. You can say, for example; “One thing I know about you now is that you have the courage to look fear in the face, ask the questions you needed to, make sound decisions based on what you heard and get out of your comfort zone. I am proud of you—but I hope that you are proud of yourself. I believe in you but more importantly, I hope you now see that you can believe in yourself. You are courageous and strong and you showed incredible gumption. Way to go!”
  • As it turns out, my daughter made it! I received an email from the person in charge who said;

    “You can be very proud of your daughter. She was a total super star on the overnight. She was an excellent listener and was very respectful when we said it was time to turn out the lights and get into sleeping bags. She has a blast swimming in the lake and jumping on the water tramp and was very excited about the ice cream bar! She did it!!”

tallie_sleepoverYes she did. She worked the plan and she did it. And this experience will become evidence that she can do many other nerve-wracking but exciting firsts in her life. Of course, it wasn’t perfect. I mean, this proud, grimy, totally exhausted girl came off the bus wearing an enormous t-shirt saying “I survived the sleepover” as she alternated between smiles and tears. But fighting fears is messy. It’s not perfect. It can take everything out of you just as it builds you up. And all of it sure is tiring.

When we give children the tools to empower themselves, they can do much more than they ever thought they could—and perhaps more than you thought they could too.

Here’s to many more courageous acts and exciting firsts!

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Dr. Robyn Silverman introduces the Powerful Word Accountability

The powerful word of the month is accountability! Accountability is all about keeping our promises and commitments while also taking care of our mistakes.  It’s important to allow our children and teens to be accountable for themselves (while still being age appropriate) so that they learn (1) Making mistakes is not the end of the world; (2) When you make a “mess,” clean it up; (3) Ask for help when you need it; (4) healthy promises and commitments are something that should be kept; (5) Accountability is a crucial part of goal setting and goal getting as well as a vital part of being a good friend, student, employee, and family member.

While it may be tempting to jump in and “do it for them” when we see a child/teen challenged by a mistake s/he made (i.e. forgot his homework, lost a book) or a promise he no longer wants to keep (i.e. wants to quit a sport, doesn’t want to go to the birthday party she said she would attend), learning accountability at a young age is a great life lesson.

Children may need support or assistance at times but at others, we need to step back and allow them to take the lead.  Encourage them to tell the librarian that they lost a book and want to pay for it with their allowance.  Teach your children that once they make a commitment to a friend, it’s important that they keep that promise.  Show them that when they make a mistake, they need to admit it, apologize for it and help make it right. If they can learn this when stakes are low during childhood, they will be able to apply these life lessons to their life when stakes are higher during adulthood.

Enjoy this month’s Powerful Word! How are YOU teaching accountability in your home?

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Ask Dr. Robyn: How Can I Help My Child Show More Courage?

silverman_headshotCourage is the Powerful Word of the Month! How do we encourage our children to try new things? Meet new people? Stand up for what they believe in?  Dr. Robyn Silverman, child and teen development specialist, answers one reader’s question about developing courage in her child. Several tips are provided– which ones resonate with you?

 

 

What will you try with your children this month? How have you helped your children to show more courage?  Please share here or on our Facebook page— We’d love to hear from you!