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Are Teens Disobedient?

Neurons in the brains of teens go through a process of major pruning during adolescence. They lose millions of neurons and new ones are formed.

Similar to the toddler phase their brain goes through very rapid growth.

5 Major areas of their lives become noticeably different and some challenging.

1. On the positive side they develop new thinking skills as they have greater processing power. They develop adult computational and decision making skills.

2.  Unfortunately their good adult rational thinking can be instantly overridden by emotional impulses driven from the maturing limbic part of the brain, the seat of emotion. Thus their impulsive and at times irrational tendencies.

Some more than others experience emotions very intensely and this mixed with increased hormones result in typical dramatic over reactive behavior: intense excitement, rages, fears, aggression, anxiety and sexual attraction.

It is very important to have many loving conversations with our teens so as to strengthen their rational thinking as rational thought is crucial at this time to overrule their impulsive over reactive tendencies.

3. At this time, as they attempt to process emotions they typically misread people, especially parents and teachers. Again calm communication especially on the part of the adult is essential for co operation. Shouting, nagging, demanding, commanding, criticising, threatening and lecturing simply adds fuel to a fire and results in a division in the relationship where they see that it is not safe to confide or consult the parent and thus become alienated from us, turning to peers for the much needed feeling of acceptance and importance.

4. Peer pleasure is of utmost importance. They tend to be very concerned about what others think of them. They will engage in risky behavior just to gain approval. For most this ranks as top priority.

5. Due to an abundance of Oxytocin hormone they also become very self conscious at this time.

In addition their higher thinking abilities start to question philosophical matters and they start to ask themselves for perhaps the first time: What kind of person do I want to be and what type of place do I want the world to be?

With all this and much more going on in their rapidly changing physical bodies, is it any wonder they get distracted, forgetful, rebellious and make mistakes?

We were not handed a parenting manual when they were born.

The modern teen has a lot more to contend with than in the past. Social media has added an entire new dimension to their mental/emotional health and so too to ours.

Let’s not hesitate to seek guidance and support on how to navigate the teen years with harmony and balance which will raise the odds for raising well adjusted, stable, resilient adults.

 

A Great Parenting Myth.

UnknownDid you ever stop to wonder how your own children are to be prepared for moving out into the real world?

In the raising of my 8 children, that thought never crossed my mind. I sure wish it had. I think as parents we assume they would just launch out and manage just fine.

There is a myth, a belief, that in order to be a good parent we must prevent and guard our kids from experiencing discomfort, struggle, challenges,  mistakes and pain.

The real world deals out challenges in working and living alongside disagreeable people, disappointments, disloyalty in relationships, negotiating conflicts, bills, mortgages, loans, recovering from mistakes, financial security, major responsibility as parents and not to mention suffering and pain from illness, accidents, trauma and raising a family.

Can we really prepare our children for this?

Yes, with awareness and determination and guts. It takes guts to develop grit in our children. Do we have the guts?

Grit is resilience, the fortitude to withstand tough situations.

Grit is developed by disciplined behavior and actually experiencing tough situations.

So the question is:

How can our children grow to be tough if we do not demand disciplined behavior from them? How can our children grow to be tough if we prevent them from falling and getting bruised and if we dash in to soothe them when they do fall?

How can our children become tough when we protect or rescue them from a little teasing, punishment or consequences at school?

How can they withstand failing or learn to recover quickly from mistakes if we hover so closely that we prevent them from making mistakes?

How can they learn to work alongside difficult personalities and resolve conflicts with peers, siblings and teachers if we intervene when they are in a disagreement?

How can they develop a high pain tolerance if we put numbing cream on skin before they get their shots and let them drop out of sports that require effort and demanding training schedules?

We have gone overboard with protecting our children from necessary struggle and discomfort and pain. We have grown helicopter blades and are hovering over them to rescue them from the harsh realities of life….to their demise.

We can start by demanding they perform certain orderly tasks daily as this builds discipline, be it making up ones bed daily, being orderly with clothes, personal belongings such as shoes, bags, sports equipment, cleaning up after oneself when utilizing common areas, like the kitchen or family space. This is actually also a way to show respect for others. The good ol virtue of fortitude is instilled in this way. If you read my other posts you would have learnt that an easy nag free way to get children to do tedious routine tasks and responsibilities is by using the enforceable statements:

“ I will be happy to do__________________ for you when you____________”

and “ You are welcome to ___________ when you ______________________”

By the way, a gentle reminder that these only work if you mean what you say and say what you mean. If you use the first one you must stick to the statement that you will not perform whatever favor or task for the child you said you would not do when they have not done what you needed them to do.

Helping too much with projects, homework and studying is depriving them of strengthening that independence muscle of doing it on their own.

Taking forgotten books, lunch kits, school supplies etc to school for them is lessons in forgetting, subconsciously the child is thinking:    “ Why should I remember to take my stuff? It’s ok mum or dad will bring it, I need not worry!”

Experiencing losing is such an important character builder, being a good sport, why would we deprive our children of this lesson and not insist they participate in sports day even though they will not win?

There is no doubt that challenging schoolwork, homework, lessons, training schedules and chores can be viewed as blessings to help develop grit in our kids. Let’s not shelter them from it.

PLEASE NOTE HOWEVER that the child who is clearly not keeping up with the curriculum is by no means to be placed in this category. When it comes to a developmental reading or learning delay, unreasonable academic demands can actually damage self-confidence and delay learning further. The child with special needs can actually thrive and grow resilience in the other ways through sports and off course chores.

Let’s form our children to be very employable or better yet who can run their own businesses. Put the helicopter blades to rest and be a consultant style parent. Love and Logic can help us greatly with this or keep tuned for my next post.

Are we putting our kids into too many structured activities?

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Are we being overly eager to see our children blossom? Are we adamant that they get exposed to a wide variety of sports and activities so as to discover where their gifts and talents lie? Or do we really need a place for them to be occupied while we work on afternoons and week ends or prefer to not have to entertain them ourselves?

Some of these are valid reasons for putting our children into too many extra curricular activities.

I just want to caution well intentioned parents that having our children involved in too many structured activities can be depriving them of good old genuine unstructured play time. Its also been concluded that too much involvement can lead to anxiety.

Research shows that children’s brains need down time, day dreaming time, time for their imaginations to spark, time for their brain to negotiate with play mates, time to create, explore, de-stress and process emotions and experiences. This special free time allows self-discovery to take place, discovery about their passions, the stirrings of their heart, their gifts, interests. They have time to become doers not just followers of instructions and restricted to rules of games and activities (which, don’t get me wrong is very important but within reason).

Everything created and invented was fist imagined. Creativity emerges from the imagination. There is no time to engage the imagination when from waking till sleeping their time is structured. Screen time is structured time by the way. The mind does not freely dream or imagine while engaged with a screen.

What do we do when they say they are bored?

We can start by giving them a hug and one to one time to connect and refuel their emotional buckets. When they feel satisfied they will most likely pull away to entertain themselves. If not, then you can offer to have them do a quiet activity near you or get involved with what you are doing. You can find hundreds of ideas to create a Boredom Buster Jar on the web or better yet have your kids create one with you, filling a jar with ideas of things to do when bored.

My favourite response to “I’m bored” is “Great I can find chores for you to do”.

A few things we can do to prepare our kids for the real world.

I allowed my children to spend their precious birthday money, sent faithfully every year by Granny who lived abroad, on things they wanted that I knew were a ‘waste’.

Why did I do this?

I wanted my kids to learn the value of money when they were very young and learn lessons like this when the price was small.

I love to recall the time when one of them (at age 8) spent his b-day money on a pack of imported strawberries (an item not in our regular grocery budget).

I enjoyed seeing him realize it was not at all worth it as, some were green and not tasty and he was compelled to share with his many siblings so he ended up with few. He certainly learnt a lesson and after that he choose more wisely how to spend his savings.

Another one was determined to buy herself a grown up ladies wallet, she was 7 yrs old. I did not stop her. She never used it and admitted a few years later when clearing out here room that it was a waste of money.

Can you imagine loaning them money and asking them for collateral? Why not?

Giving them an allowance and having them budget and manage their own bank account makes them feel so important and trusted. Not only is this preparing them well for the future but it also builds their selfconfidence.

Can our children get anywhere without selfconfidence? Not likely.

Wouldn’t it be awesome to see our teens doing their own laundry and occasionally be preparing their own meals? What a joy! They are more likely to be motivated to do this IF they grow up by our side helping us. When they leave home this will be familiar and therefore it will be one less thing to get used to since they would have practiced at home.

Remember Children learn what they live. When they see us contributing happily to our family needs doing chores: laundry, cleaning and cooking they will tend to be more eager to do the same.

Complain, rant and sulk to manage family household responsibilities and then don’t be surprised when they imitate you the parent and complain and sulk.

No doubt they are driving cars, acting like very responsible adults behind the wheel on the nation’s roads before they go off to tertiary education or the world of work. This responsible behaviour on the roads can certainly transfer into the home where they can sibling sit, house sit, take on responsibilities of running the home, yard, garden, vehicles, shopping errands.

Sounds like marriage preparation to me! How great is that?

We actually deprive and rob our adult children when we do too much for them and don’t expect them to contribute and help and do for themselves. Let’s give ourselves a break, share the burdens of running the home with our adult children and empower them in the process…to face the real world, competent and confident. Highly employable by the way.

 

Can toddlers and teens be anxious about returning to school?

Absolutely!

Most people prefer the familiar and shy away from the unfamiliar, so facing a new school or classroom space, new teacher, new classmates and higher level of work can be overwhelming for children of any age, including those going off to college.

Firstly be aware that unusual aggressive behavior or unusual isolation could be a red flag that they are having big feelings inside that they do not know how to name, identify or process.

Having loving conversations to listen to their concerns and offer reassurance is always the best place to start. Bombarding them with suggestions can sometimes add to the anxiety so its best to coach them by having them process whatever they are feeling.

A question to help them process feelings, after the feeling has been identified is: “ So what do you think would help you feel less scared, worried, anxious?” “ Is there anything I can do to help you feel less anxious? Think about it and let me know”.

This approach meets the child’s need to be heard and validated.

Older children could be lacking confidence, especially if they did not perform as well as they had hoped in the previous years academic measurements. Offering them private tutoring support is always an option. Finding retired teachers and mentors to assist in this in only a few phone calls away.

Avoid responding to children’s and to people’s feelings with comments such as “ Come on, get over it! Don’t take that on! Grow up! Don’t be so silly!” etc.

Many of us do this and we think it is being encouraging but the unspoken message here is that we think they “should” not feel the way they do.

Who are we to dictate how people “should” feel?

Many people eventually do not feel safe to express their feelings when they repeatedly experience having their feelings shut down. This approach leads to feelings being suppressed and suppressed emotions and feelings eventually lead to deep shame, fear, anger and all sorts of misbehavior and antisocial behavior.

Many people’s brain functioning is also deeply affected by suppressed feelings.

The ability to process language, calculate, comprehend, remember and think clearly can be affected by suppressed emotions.

If we want academic excellence from children providing a stable emotional atmosphere is ideal and when that is not possible they must at least have avenues to vent or process their feelings. Sports, dance and exercise are superb ways for people to release emotional energy.

Another caution re not acknowledging other’s feelings is that when we do not care to hear how others are feeling, they will seek out people who will listen and care. So the question becomes ‘Would you like to be your child’s confidant or are you happy for them to turn to peers who may offer them dangerous ways to cope with those feelings, namely alcohol and drugs or promiscuity?’

On a practical level how can we prepare and support young children?

  •  Facilitate them meeting or bonding with the teacher and visiting the venue or classroom before the first day where possible.
  • Facilitate them bonding with at least one classmate by arranging an outing with that classmate and parent before school opens or during the first few days.
  • Allow child to carry a small object of comfort with them to school. If their favorite small stuffed toy is not enough then maybe a family photo will do or a small item belonging to mum or dad.
  • Role playing at home with dolls or stuffed toys is always helpful, having child verbalize how they would prepare or encourage another child (teddy) who is scared.
  • Sharing personal stories or those of friends and relatives who struggled and devised their own coping strategies is often well received. People don’t particularly like advice but they are open to hearing about other’s challenges and success stories.
  • Visualizing and rehearsing the good bye at the school door or gate can be reassuring as well as assuring that you will be back at the pick up spot early.
  • Giving the teacher a heads up about the child’s emotional state can help and asking the teacher to assign your child a task as she arrives is a good distraction tactic, this removes the focus off the parent and onto the task to be done.
  • When preparing to leave home on a morning it’s very helpful to make time for light giggles, this discharges anxiety in people. A fun chase game, or tight hugging routine can be set up.

Dr Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting highly promotes helping our children transition through the various phases of the day with special connection routines 3 times per day.

This offers our children greater emotional stability and a chance to recalibrate feelings. She says they benefit from this upon going to bed at night, waking up and upon returning home from school.

It is simply a time to give them undivided attention, ask how they are feeling and validate their feelings.

How do we validate feelings? Similar to above, simply asking in a calm respectful way:

“How are you feeling?” “ I’m here if you want to chat about it or I can just listen.”

or

“Hmm, I notice you seem _____________(irritable, angry, annoyed, frustrated, exhausted, tired, weary, looking down, sad, lethargic), would you like to share with me about that?”  “Let me know if I can do anything to help, even just listen”.

8) Being organized with school and work clothes, lunches, books and briefcases etc from the night before so as to reduce morning scrambles is always beneficial to both parent and child and especially getting enough rest to face earlier rises. Leaving home extra early can provide a calm departure, journey and drop off time, all of which can reduce anxiety and make facing the unfamiliar scenes easier.

Feel free to share your strategies for reducing back to school anxiety in your kids.