By: Dr. Jan Hittelman
There’s a big difference between skills and abilities. While we are born with certain natural abilities, skills are learned and require practice to develop. It is important to remember that our children are not born with good social skills, but learn these skills through modeling and practice. There are numerous research studies that highlight the importance of healthy social skill development and their impact on academic development, school success, as well as success later in life. Conversely, children with poor social skills are at increased risk of difficulties in interpersonal relationships, peer rejection, poor academic performance, signs of depression/aggression/anxiety, and are at higher risk of involvement in the criminal justice system as adults. Social skill deficits can also impact school safety and have been a factor in the recent rash of school shootings.
In addition to focusing on developing good academic skills, we must also prioritize our children’s development of healthy social behaviors. Important components of good social skills include: nonverbal communication skills, empathy, problem solving skills, and conflict resolution skills. Here are some strategies parents can use to promote healthy social skill development:
- Importance of good role models: A lot of what your child knows regarding social interaction is learned at home, not just from parents but also from siblings. Making conscious efforts to discuss, practice, and reinforce prosocial skills can make a huge difference.
- Provide opportunities for social interaction: Ensure that your child has plenty of unstructured time to play and interact with others, as well as involvement in structured afterschool activities, will provide them with the critical opportunities for practice.
- Teach Problem Solving Skills: Help your child develop problem solving skills by following these simple steps: Identify the problem, brainstorm possible solutions, predict the probable outcome for each solution, and choose the one that has the highest probability of success; if it fails choose another solution.
- If needed, consider enrolling your child in an effective social skills group: Find a licensed therapist in the community who offers structured social skills training for your child’s age group.
Perhaps we need to start thinking about the four “Rs” in education: Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic, and Relationships. I’ve never met an elementary student who didn’t feel that recess was too short or a secondary student who didn’t wish that they had less homework in order to socialize more with friends. Maybe they’re onto something.
This webinar entitled: “The Secrets to Effective Family Communication”, was originally aired on December 17, 2014. Click below to watch!
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By Jenny Key, LCSW
My earliest memories center on our lively, red-haired family member, Donovan. He was the star of our summer outings, ate too much birthday cake, and made holidays chaotic. He was my constant companion and first adventure buddy. I recall vividly, despite my young age of four, when I realized that Donavan was missing. I walked into my mom’s room as she was making her bed and asked where Donovan had gone. Like most moms, she struggled with how to tell her child the beloved family dog died.
Coping with pet loss can be a difficult, yet cathartic time for families. It is often a child’s first experience of death. Parents struggle with if, when, and how to involve children in this process. Instincts tell you to protect them from the pain of pet loss, while logic argues that they should understand that death is a part of life. The grieving process is unique for each family member, but when approached with openness and patience, it provides an opportunity to become closer.
There are many factors to consider when helping children cope with pet loss. First, remember that you are working through this together. As the parent, you are the guide and model, but it is okay to admit your own feelings of grief. Parents often want to hide their sadness in order to keep from burdening children. In most cases, being transparent with your emotions will give them permission to share theirs. Be mindful that your son or daughter may react differently to pet loss than you do, or even than other children of similar age.
Parents seek to understand age-appropriate ways to incorporate children in the illness and death process. Although developmental stages are helpful, your gut will tell you how much they are ready to know. Most children from the age of two will have a sense of grief that comes with pet loss. While they may not be able to comprehend death as a permanent state until after the age of seven, you should be transparent and truthful.
Most of you can recall a story like Donovan’s: mom panicked and said the pet went to live on a farm. Children sense that this explanation is not plausible, which causes them confusion or perhaps more distress. Because they are learning about the permanence of death, they wonder why a part of the family was taken away. They also may link their actions to the pet’s removal from the house. Reassure your children they were not the cause of the pet’s death. For younger ages, provide enough information so they understand their friend was sick. With older children, give more details as necessary.
Children often react in ways that seem idiosyncratic or inappropriate, but this is especially true for teens. Some may act out or express anger in situations not directly related to the loss. Parents want them to confront their feelings directly by talking about the death. If your child is not ready, offering patience with their emotional ups and downs will better serve them. Refrain from having a timeframe for grief resolution.
Create a Memorial
Make your home an accepting environment for all respectful reactions to grief. Some children may accept death readily, having no reaction. For others, reactions may come at a later time. Involving your children in a memorial can help them find peace. Ask them to do something in memory of the pet, like make a collage together or pick out picture frames for a pet corner in your home. Invite them to write a letter to your pet saying goodbye as a way of helping them express their feelings.
Finally, when your family has suffered a pet loss, allow for extra time together. Going for a drive, taking a walk, or similar activities promote conversation naturally. Respond to their thoughts with validation, seeking to know more. If they choose to be silent, soak up the extra moments with your family, feeling gratitude for the time shared. A pet enters into your life for a few precious moments and teaches your children about unconditional love, but their lessons stay in your family’s heart forever.
8 Common Anxiety Symptoms and a Few Ways to Begin to Cool Off
By Rachael Bonaiuto, LPC
When you have anxiety, it’s easy to feel like others don’t understand what you’re going through. Anxiety itself can make you feel as though you’re suffering from symptoms, worries and concerns that are not only pronounced – they also feel inherent. Despite how personal this anxiety is to you, the truth is that anxiety is surprisingly common. I witness anxiety symptoms in most people I encounter on a daily basis – clients, students, friends, and family – in the store, at the bank, even at a red light. Anxiety is uncomfortable at best, and can become paralyzing and defeating. And it is common…. so incredibly common.
You are at home, preparing to go to a dinner party with work colleagues. You don’t want to go, you dread it, you think of reasons not to go, fantasize about your favorite elastic-waisted pants and the flavor ice cream that would accompany the movie night you’d rather have. You finally surrender to going, but begin to notice tightness in your chest. As you stare, hot and bothered, at your closet of ‘not quite right’ clothes, your neck begins to hurt and the pain causes even more fear. You snap at your partner, who gently reminds you that you need to get going. You ignore the texts from co-workers asking you if you’ve left your house yet. You can barely breath and you are frozen. You are experiencing anxiety and it is profoundly challenging.
So, what are some common symptoms of anxiety? Below are eight typical symptoms of anxiety and a few ways to manage this persistent condition.
- You feel constantly worried, tense and on edge
- You are plagued by fears that you know are irrational but just can’t shake
- You avoid situations/activities because they cause you nervousness & stress
- You have difficulty thinking, speaking, and following conversations
- You experience pain, stiffness, tension, pressure, soreness, or immobility
- Your body temperature increases or decreases without external reason
- You feel chest tremors, pounding heart, and/or labored breathing
- You don’t feel like yourself, detached from loved ones, emotionally numb
Many common anxiety symptoms show up in your body. You may first experience a knot in your stomach, and then you realize you are totally freaked out about an upcoming presentation. You feel a rapid heartbeat and tightness in your chest and later notice that you are completely anxious to drive in snowy weather. Your jaw is clenched and your breath is constricted just before you unleash the pent up worry and resulting irritability toward your child. If you can begin to notice the signals from your body that suggest you are anxious, you may find opportunity to take pause, check in, and navigate what you need in the moment.
Here are a few body-oriented tips for how to deal with anxiety:
- Find pause through breath. Inhale. Exhale. Feel your belly rise and fall. Notice the air come in through your nostrils and exit out your lips.
- Find pause through your senses. Pause to notice what you see. What do you hear and smell? Can you feel your clothes against your body? Experience your feet in your shoes, on the floor. Can you taste the salt on your lips or the flavor from your most recent meal?
- Find pause through movement. Go for a walk. Put on your favorite song and dance. Shake it out. Stretch your arms wide. Spread your legs and feel your feet rooted into the earth. Put your hands on your heart or give yourself a massage.
2. Check In:
- Notice what is happening with your breath, senses, movements
- Notice, without judgment, what thoughts and feelings you have
- Simply observe what is happening in your inner landscape
- Scan your body for tension, tightness, fear, irritability, disorientation
3. Take care:
- Ask yourself what you need? Remind yourself (or have someone else remind you) that it is okay to have needs.
- If you are having trouble accessing what you need, take another pause, a longer pause, lie on the earth and feel it beneath you.
- If you are in need of support, ask for help – from a friend, a loved one or a professional.
Anxiety can negatively impact your quality of life – the way you show up for others and for yourself. Knowing the common symptoms of anxiety can help you recognize when you or a loved one is experiencing unease. When you realize you feel anxious, it can be so valuable to pause, check in and take care of yourself in the moment. Building a deeper understanding of the symptoms and an awareness of what is happening in your body can provide access to your available resources through breath, sensation and movement. When you have access to your internal resources, you can also appreciate more deeply when you need additional support and when you are able to navigate your internal terrain on your own. This self-awareness provides empowerment, freedom and a deeper sense of compassion for self and other. Most importantly, if you are experiencing significant anxiety, seek professional help. Psychotherapy can be very effective in providing relief from the debilitating symptoms of anxiety.
Book Review: The Whole Brain Child: 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your Child’s developing Mind (2011)
Authors: Daniel Siegel, MD and Tina Bryson, PhD
By Mia Bertram, LPC
The Whole Brain Child, is a must read for every parent and caregiver. This valuable resource offers easy ways to help nurture the parent child relationship while understanding ways to foster a child’s emotional development. Neuropsychiatrist, Doctor Bruce Perry and parent expert Doctor Tina Payne Bryson offer effective parenting strategies that are backed by cutting edge research on brain development and speak directly to the child’s brain. The author’s use of cartoons, personal stories, hands on techniques and strategies to help implement and understand what may feel like otherwise overwhelming material about the brain and neuroscience. They even offer quick reference sheets to put on the fridge for easy review as well as ways of helping teach children about their own brain that are fun and easily doable. By paying attention to the everyday moments with your children and practicing and integrating these strategies both within the good and tough times will help foster happy, successful children who feel good about themselves and enjoy their relationships.
Not only is having an understanding of the brain essential in your relationship with your child, but also the authors convey the importance of integrating the different parts of the brain and its impact on creating more balanced, meaningful and creative lives. Understanding the different parts of the brain- left, right, up and down creates a way for us to conceptualize where a child is coming from, what their perspective is, and how to work with these parts so integration, awareness and connection can take place. Such conceptualization allows us to have appropriate expectations, language and understanding during the challenging moments we have with our children. It helps, according to the authors, to move from surviving to thriving in our relationships and day-to-day functioning.
In times of challenge and struggle, Bryson and Siegel teach us to connect and redirect with our children. Appealing to both sides of the brain is important and there is a formula to follow so that integration and connection take place. In times of big upsets and emotional charge, initially responding to the emotional right side with empathy and understanding creates emotional connection. Once the big emotions have settled and the child is calm, the logical and linear left-brain can come on line. This is where redirection, and discipline can take place, helping the child form an understanding of their experience. Such connection and integration strengthens relationship, emotional development and the developing mind.
The authors provide 12 strategies to help nurture the child’s mind, create connection and promote healthy growth. Using the body and movement to help shift your child’s emotional stare is great in the “Move It to Lose It Strategy”, along with the “SIFT” game that helps bring awareness to sensations, images, feelings and thoughts within. Teaching children how to shift feeling stuck in emotional states in the “Let the Clouds of Emotions Roll by” helps children understand that feelings are simply states and not traits. The “Name it Tame it”, helps children work through taming intense feelings through storytelling. Additional strategies include helping to work through memories while exercising control, engaging in focused attention and “Engage Don’t Engage” which appeals to the logic and planning of the left-brain rather than the emotions.
I think every parent, caregiver, teacher, counselor, or anyone involved in the life of a child could benefit from reading and learning this valuable information. The whole brain approach to parenting creates deeper connections and greater understanding of our children. It is a resource that I offer and sometimes require in my practice. It normalizes our experiences and offers strategies on how to work with our children, creating moments of challenge into triumphs and mistakes into opportunities. The information presented within is user friendly, accessible and valuable. More importantly, if utilized and implemented can help create children who are more self aware, emotionally attuned, congruent, resilient, and evolved.