SOS! December is here… (how to help your children stay grounded)

By Jet Sichterman

You may have noticed by the cold weather outside, by the frosting on your car in the morning, by the full trains or extensive traffic jams in rush hour, by the advertisements in your mailbox or by the big to do list waiting for you at home and at work. Or, you may have noticed by the volume of your children’s voices as they are busy doing anything they are not supposed to do while you frantically try to set things straight but they simply won’t let you.

Yes, indeed, December is here.

December seems to have a special influence on children. All that was normal is suddenly not so normal. All that was routine suddenly does not apply or has been forgotten. Anticipation and nerves are building up for the holidays… And while you have no tools at your disposal to contain or express these emotions in appropriate, adult ways, this is exactly what the adults around you appear to be expecting of you.  All of this can lead to more loud, active and possibly oppositional behavior (and the flu!) in the weeks before the New Year.

So what does your child really need from you in this time?

Your child needs you to:
– Stick as much as possible to the normal rules and routines:
The more ‘normal’ things can stay, the more normal your child will be able to go through the month of December. Of course it is often hard to stay on track with regular routines with holidays here and there, events for you at work or with your friend group, you needing to do Christmas shopping, etc.

When things cannot remain the same, it will help your child to stick (as much as possible) to regular bed times and routines during the week so they can be well rested. It will also help them to know that exceptions are going to be made; your child wants to know how, when and why these exceptions are taking place.

– Be proactive
Instead of waiting for the trouble to start, your child needs you to be proactive about things. Provide for extra preparation and support for usual and not-so-usual tasks, allow extra time for usual tasks and routines to be completed, or actively decide to let some of the demands placed on your child go – and get back to them in January.

– Create a safe space when your child is experiencing a meltdown
Your child needs you to understand and accept that he/she feels emotions more intensely this season than others. He/she needs you to allow him/her to express these emotions now and then, and to be there for him/her when this happens.

Your child also very much needs you to understand that your own emotions might be more intense too, or that you might feel more stressed than usual. Your emotional experience directly and indirectly influences your child’s emotions.

Your child also needs you to remember that experiencing emotions is part of being human.

– Stay patient and calm, if you can
This might be the hardest step of all, but it will certainly help.

For example, parents who feel stressed about everything they still need to do before Christmas are likely to respond less patient when their child misbehave. And when this happens, the child who resonates with the parent’s feelings will be more likely to show oppositional behavior. It then becomes very easy for the child and the parent to enter a negative spiral from which a small thing eventually ends up in a big shouting match.

Remember, it will only be one month before things start getting back to normal!

Expat Child Psychology wishes you a happy holiday season
and best wishes for 2017!


 

Are you ready for a good start of the New Year? Our parent support sessions can help you set up to succeed!
Get in touch to explore the options!

Four Tips on Stimulating Emotional Development

We all want our children to grow up to be healthy, well-adjusted adults. The ability to understand their own emotions and to express them in accordance with the local culture and social norms is an important step towards becoming that. We know that young children need our help to express and manage their emotions.  Yet when children grow older we sometimes expect them to ‘behave’ and tend to forget that learning how to manage our emotions is a life-long process, something not even all adults have mastered well.

Emotional Development - Expat Child PsychologySo what can you do to make sure you won’t expect more of your children than they can offer in the heat of the moment? Here are four suggestions that will help you stimulate your child’s emotional development:

1) Name the feeling
The first step of managing emotions is to identify the emotions. Your child may be experiencing all kinds of bodily sensations without knowing where they come from or what they mean. As a parent, you will often know that the situation your child is facing would lead to an angry feeling, a happy, a sad or a scary one, or perhaps even a combination of several feelings at once (it does require a bit of perspective-taking from your end). By naming those feelings your child will learn which bodily sensation and type of situation corresponds to which emotion.

Instead of:
‘STOP! NAGGING! You are NOT getting another cookie!’

Say:
‘I see that you are very disappointed about not getting another cookie.’

2) Validate the feeling
Let your child know you understand they feel this way, for example by mirroring the facial expression and using a soothing tone of voice. This validation of the emotion will help your child feel understood and gain some control over their sensations. It also tells your child that it is okay to experience (this) emotion.

Instead of:
‘There is no need to cry!’

Say:
‘I understand you feel this way, I would be so sad too if I could not get what I wanted.’

3) Give feedback on negative behaviors
Even though your child may not yet have learned how to control their emotions or how to express them appropriately, some expressions are simply harmful or unacceptable. You have to tell your child about this.

Instead of:
‘Stop screaming!’

Say:
‘It is not helpful to scream so loud, it hurts my ears and it hurts your voice.’

4) Provide alternative ways to express
Now that your child knows it is okay to experience the emotion and that it is not okay to express those emotions in specific ways. However, your child does not know what to do instead. Therefore, it is helpful to provide an alternative.

Instead of:
‘Stop screaming!

Say:
‘Instead of screaming, you could try ….’

Alternative options (depending on the age & your own preference):
– A verbal response: saying ‘I don’t like this’ or ‘It makes me feel angry’, etc.
– A physical response: punching a boxing ball or pillow, running a distance, squeezing a stress ball, etc.
– A cognitive response: count to 10, distract yourself, etc.

Getting back to Normal

Getting back to normal - family routine

The last months of the year can be a bit overwhelming for parents and children alike. There is so much to do, so much to see, hear and experience. First came fall break. Then Halloween. If you’re living in the north of the Netherlands you may have celebrated Sint Maarten, and less than a few days later Sinterklaas arrived. He barely got back to Spain before your child’s classroom was decorated for the Christmas celebrations. Then winter break came all it’s festivities…

A time which can be unsettling; the normal routines become more flexible, both in school and at home. Children can become more restless, jumpy and disobedient. And nervous; ‘what presents will I get this year?’.

Getting back to Normal - New Year 2016
But now it’s all passed us, and it will take almost 5 weeks before the next festivity. Phew! Time to get back to normal!

 

Here are some suggestions that may help you getting back to normal:

  • Review the rules and routines in your home; are they still relevant in the New Year? Is there still a good reason for having the rule or routine the way it is? Does your partner agree with you?
    When you have a good reason for having a rule or routine, it will be easier to convince yourself and your child to stick to it.
  • Reflect on the last year, what went well – parenting wise – and what would you like to change?
    If you have made any parenting resolutions for the New Year, ask yourself if you can implement the change in the form of a routine or rule – that way it will be easier to remember them, preventing them from becoming a resolution again next year.

    When implementing a new rule or routine, be clear to your child about your new expectations and consider using visuals to remind yourself and your child. Visual methods have the extra benefit of not being personal – so you cannot be blamed for being a strict / stupid / boring / etc. parent if it is not you but the visual that reminds your child to do something.
  • Take it easy
    It is still winter time, it is dark early and you do not feel like going out in the cold anymore. Neither does your child. After all the excitement and stress of the last months, it is ok to slow down and spend more time at home the first month of the year. And it will help you get back to normal!
  • Expect some pushback
    After all these fun times with more flexible routines; staying up later than normal, getting presents, not having to go to school or elsewhere, and enjoying time with family, getting back into the routines of daily life can be disappointing and is certainly less fun than not having the routines. As a result, there may (will) be some pushback when you first start to reinstall normal life. Remember that in the end, ‘normal’ will be better for your child’s development and overall wellbeing, their feeling of safety, and – not unimportantly – your own sanity.

Need some help getting back to normal? Let us know if you just want to talk things over or if you would like to get some in debt suggestions!

Can’t you two just get along?

Guestpost by Sara Mansson

Last time, we talked about some day to day examples of things you can do to help your children learn good negotiation skills. One thing that helps children learn this is experiencing problems that need solving. One of our tips then was to wait and step back when your child lands in a discussion to allow them to solve it by themselves. But sometimes heated arguments break out even amongst the most skilled negotiators and when strong emotions, shouting and aggression start to play a role it might be better to step in. How can you help your children in the heat of the moment?

Upset negotiation fightCool down. When you notice the emotions running high and want to prevent a full escalation, or when a fight is already taking place, ask your children to take some time to breathe in and out, cool down, and count to ten. Following this, you can let each child state their points in a calm manner while the other has to listen.

Remind. When a negotiation involves an emotionally laden topic, emotions can run high, which in turn means negotiation skills drop. It can then be helpful to ask your children to take a step back and reflect on what their goal of the negotiation is, and reminding them to keep the tone of their voice as calm as possible when they have decided what to say. You can then give your child reminders on the tips you previously discussed regarding the mastering of their new negotiation skills.

Siblings negotiateSuggest. Sometimes children do not know how to solve the problem, which options other than ‘my way’ or ‘their way’ are available? Usually there are three more options: a mix of the two (first this, then the other), something else entirely (not A or B, but C) or nothing at all (agreeing to disagree, not playing with each other for now).

Obtaining the ability to successfully negotiate is a very important life skill for your children. Not only will it give you a calmer home environment, but it will also give your child insight into how to make their own wishes heard in a composed, mature manner but also how to listen to and consider their siblings’ views. Successful negotiation in which both parties are happy will leave your children feeling independent and confident.


 

Expat Child Psychology offers Social Skills 4 Kids group courses for children aged 9 to 12 which helps, among other things, to improve their problem solving skills.

Teaching your Child the Art of Negotiation

Guestpost by Sara Mansson

Sometimes arguments break out between our children and we wish we knew how to prevent them. Can’t they just listen to each other and compromise? The art of successful negotiation is a skill which is important to social situations throughout life; going far beyond agreeing on a movie to watch with the whole family. Negotiation involves abilities such as listening to others, expressing empathy, and to coming to a good compromise. Children practice these skills early in life such as by deciding what game to play with their friends or by coming to an agreement with their sibling about who should get to play with which new toy. Oftentimes this practicing is accompanied by loud arguments and even aggression between siblings or peers. How can you help them to learn peaceful negotiation skills?

Involve. The easiest way to introduce correct negotiation techniques to your child is to involve them. Good moments to involve your child in a negotiation could be when discussing what activities you should do for your family outing the upcoming weekend, or when discussing the family schedule to see if it is possible for your child to start karate classes like they asked to. The more exposure your child receives to useful methods, the more likely they are to remember and use them in the future! Involve your children in role-playing; allowing them to try debating from both sides of the negotiation.

Slower or faster - negotiation skillsExplain. When your child is involved in a family debate or is trying to reach a compromise with a sibling, it’s important that they are able to listen to the other’s point of view. Explain to your child that it is important to show that they have listened to and understood the other sibling. Give your child examples of how they can show this, such as by summarizing what the other has said or by asking relevant questions.

Agreeing vs. Arguing. Another point which is important to keep in mind about negotiation is teaching your child that they are trying to find common ground to agree on. This means that it is not a matter of winning or losing a battle – it’s a matter of bargaining and hearing both sides.

Parents fighting not negotiatingSet a good example. Examples are much more important for the learning of social skills than any of our best teaching methods will ever be. As a parent, you have to negotiate too sometimes. Perhaps with your children, but maybe with others; teachers, grandparents, shop keepers, your boss… When your child is near, they will observe and take in ‘how it is done’. Show your children how to negotiate by setting the right example for them.

Wait. While your children or your child and their friends start negotiating, try to step back and allow them to try and solve the problem amongst themselves. We all learn by trial and error, stepping in too soon might prevent your child from learning important lessons.

So what can you do when things do start getting out of hand? Read about it in our next blog!


 

Expat Child Psychology offers Social Skills 4 Kids group courses for children aged 9 to 12 which helps, among other things, to improve their problem solving skills.

Play & Education

Before, in the blog ‘About Toys’ I already said it: play is one of the most important means of child development. Children learn and develop through their exploration of toys and games, their language, physical abilities, social skills, cultural awareness, every part of development can be addressed by play. As Paula Vergunst & I will be giving a workshop (08/11/2013) exactly on this topic, here’s a little warming up in advance.

Someone who has done a lot of research on the topics of play, child development and education is Peter Gray. Peter Gray is an evolutionary psychologist, associated with Boston College. I have met with Peter Gray on a few occasions and his knowledge about playfulness and education always impress me.  Currently I am reading his newest book called‘Free to Learn, why unleashing the instinct to play will make our children happier, more self-reliant, and better students for life’. 

As a result of his own research and personal experiences with his own son, Gray became increasingly concerned about the amount of time children spent playing nowadays and the quality of that play. He spent years of his career studying childhood, childhood education and child development from an evolutionary perspective. Evolutionary psychologists look at why certain psychological concepts and behaviors have occurred in terms of evolution & natural selection – similar to a biologists view on the physical characteristics of species. Gray used reports from anthropologists and knowledge from history to view how children were education in different times and cultures. The results of his study are very interesting and show that our society’s view on education is by far not the most natural or pleasant option for educating children.  In fact it shows that children can – and will, if allowed to – do most of their education themselves.

SAM_0466In short, Gray saw that children in (present day) hunter gatherer societies all over the world got lots of time for free play. In fact – even adults had lots of time for free play because hunting and gathering were not as time consuming as farming (though more of a risk, you never knew if you would find food). It is assumed that hunter-gatherer societies of our ancestors were quite similar to the ones that are still around today. Which means that before agricultural periods there was no formal way of educating children and most of their education came from within; kids desire to be similar to their mums and dads. They play and act out scenes they have seen or heard of, such as how to hunt and how to take care of kids. They learn from older kids who have played it many times before. They play it so often that they know how it works halfway in puberty when they are allowed to participate in the real thing – still in a playful manner. And gradually play becomes the real thing.

Over time, perceptions of child play and education changed together with other major changes in society. Agriculture was hard work, children in these societies often needed to work too and there was not much time for play. Industrialization came with education the way we know it now, but based on strict religious beliefs that the main thing children were supposed to learn was obedience to their superiors; harsh methods were used to educate children.

© Kutt Niinepuu | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Since the early twentieth century when education became mandatory in most Western countries, more and more demands are made of the education of our children; more hours at school, more homework… Next to that, children are very busy these days; going to daycare (still an adult-supervised situation) or sports (yet another one). Time for free unsupervised play is becoming more and more limited. This is one of Gray’s biggest concerns; his research shows that children educate (=learn everything there is to learn in order to be a successful person in society) themselves and adults are not supposed to interfere unless asked.

Looking back at our own childhoods, aren’t the moments of free play the moments we remember best? Aren’t these the moments we may remember as the most enjoyable, but also the moments we learned our most valued lessons?

This post was originally published on my old website on September 16th, 2013.

Of course this blog only gives a very limited view of the findings of Peter Gray, considering he wrote a whole book about it. If you’re interested, you can order his book online or in the Netherlands at the American Book Center (The Hague / Amsterdam).

Interested in the Play & Parenting Workshop? Click here to see whether it is scheduled again or ask us to present for your group/company.

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