I have gained valuable experience and knowledge through my clinical and forensic practice, as well as through my role as a mother of three children, a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a friend. I enjoy writing and sharing that knowledge.
As children get older, it is natural for friendships to change. Children develop socially at different rates, and interests and activities change. Associated changes include who they spend time with, and who they prefer to be around. As a result, they experience the loss of friendships, and this can be painful whether your child is the one changing, or her best friend is changing. For children, this loss can feel profound because they can spend hours on end in person or communicating with a friend, and then be suddenly cut off. Also, children tend to think in extremes. They catastrophize, and they feel like whatever problem they are going through is forever, or that the intentions of one person extend to an entire social group. In addition, children often lack coping skills to deal with these difficult situations. They are learning, and it is these experiences that will help them later in life. However, their skills are still developing, and they need support.
Here are 12 suggestions for assisting your child through these transitions.
Your child may not readily come to you with a problem with friendships. Sometimes children are reluctant to let their parents know when they are experiencing emotional pain. Other times, they have difficulty identifying the source and articulating the pain. Pay attention and notice any changes in your child’s mood or behavior, and make a point to “check in” and see how things are going with friends. If you are concerned about getting one-word answers, you may wish to make it more playful by putting questions onto slips of paper into a jar, and then pulling the questions out of the jar. And your child gets to ask you questions too!
2. Be available
Your child may not want to discuss an issue when you bring it up or “check-in”. He or she may wait until the most inopportune time to bring it up. This could be as you are speeding out the door to run some errands, at 11:00 when you are brushing your teeth at bedtime when your child wakes up after sleeping, or while you are in the middle of making dinner. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to listen to your child. Sometimes children pick these times to test our commitment. There will be times when it is simply not possible to stop what you are doing. In these instances, set aside a specific time that day to discuss your child’s concern, communicate that time to your child, and make sure to stick to it. Have your child write down the time on a piece of paper, and a short phrase or sentence that is on your child’s mind to help her start the conversation at a later time.
Being available also involves being proactive. It is important to find ways to stay connected to your tween/teen on a daily basis. Here are some creative and fun suggestions to accomplish that: http://drpeggydelong.com/ways-of-staying-connected-with-your-tweenteen/
Sometimes children do not want a parent to solve a problem. They are simply looking for someone to listen, empathize, and communicate understanding. Resist the urge to solve the problem or provide suggestions, unless your child specifically asks for that. You can also communicate understanding by providing an example of a similar situation from your own life. Feeling understood, and feeling not alone can go a long way. Sometimes your child may simply want to feel understood and less lonely in their feelings, rather than a solution.
4. Help your child develop a variety of interests
Friendships often change as children’s interests and activities change. Your child may experience a loss of a friendship because she is no longer interested in cheerleading, yet her close friends remain on the team. Help your child to develop relationships in a variety of settings. This way, when your child experiences the loss of a friendship, he or she will have other people to spend time with and feel less alone. If the friend from a former activity is very important to your child outside of the activity, and the feeling is mutual, help your child to find opportunities to interact with that friend in person.
5. Help child understand that relationships change
Help your child to understand the natural flow of life, including the coming and going of people. The loss of a friend does not have to mean that there is something “wrong” with your child or the other child, or that it is anyone’s fault. Often it is simply a reflection of interests and convenience. It is natural to form closer relationships with those we spend more time with. Also, children often change as they develop, and this impacts the child’s relationships. Some may grow and change similarly with the child, fostering the continuation of the friendship, while others may change and become different in a way that does not help to maintain the friendship. While this loss may feel painful for your child, help your child to see it as a natural flow of life, and not that your child did anything wrong.
6. Understand that it hurts
The loss of a friendship is painful. Avoid minimizing the emotional impact on your child. Acknowledge the loss. While it is helpful to have other friends, communicate that this is not a replacement for the missed friendship. People simply do not replace people. Provide opportunities for your child to talk about what the loss of the friendship means to your child, and how your child feels.
7. Teach your child to be an includer
Unfortunately, tweens and teens can often feel purposefully excluded. Your child may not only be feeling the loss of a friendship, but may be feeling unliked, and also that the former friend is influencing others and excluding your child. As we cannot force people to include our children, this can be an opportunity to teach your child about inclusion. Sometimes it helps to provide the very thing that we are looking for to others. For example, if your child is seeking support from peers, he might feel better by providing support to a peer.
8. Remember that your child’s on-line life is important
Keep in mind that we cannot always see the loss of a friendship. More and more, children are feeling losses and feeling excluded through on-line behavior. Pay attention to your child’s facial expressions while looking at social media. Maybe your child saw photos of a friend’s party, yet he or she was not invited. In addition, children often make more hurtful comments on-line than they would say to someone in person. Make a point to check-in with your child regarding his or her friendship experience on-line. In addition, be mindful that excessive use of social media has been associated with increased levels of depression and anxiety. Here is an article regarding managing children’s use of technology and social media: http://drpeggydelong.com/some-suggestions-regarding-managing-childrens-use-of-technology/
9. Resist temptation to speak badly of your child’s former friends
Your child is feeling hurt, and it is hard not to react with anger toward the former friend, especially if your child confides that the former friend has made hurtful comments. Keep in mind that your child may suddenly be friends with this person again. Friendships change, and children can be resilient and forgiving. You may then find yourself in an awkward situation if in your attempt to comfort your child, you insulted or spoke badly of the other child. Instead, listen to and support your child, and help your child find ways to remain cordial. If the former friend continues to make hurtful comments toward your child, help your child problem solve and role play what your child could say or do to help diffuse the conflict.
10. Teach your child about qualities of a good friendship
The loss of a friend can provide the opportunity for a valuable discussion about qualities of a good friendship. What did your child value about that friendship that he may wish to find in another friend? What made your child feel good when interacting with the former friend that he can look to experience in other current and future friendships? Sometimes the loss of a friend can be an experience for your child to reflect upon what he or she wants out of existing and future friendships.
11. Help your child enjoy being by herself
While friendships are important, it is also an important developmental task for your child to enjoy being by herself. This may be an excellent time for her to discover solitary interests and hobbies. Enjoying being by oneself is an experience that has life-long positive benefits.
12. Show love
Your child is likely feeling vulnerable, and this is a wonderful time to shower your child with love. This can be done through words, non-verbal communication, and/or physical touch in the absence of words. Here are some very simple ways to show your child love: http://drpeggydelong.com/five-simple-things-to-do-today-and-every-day-to-show-love-for-your-children/
Remember that physical touch is powerful and can be very healing. When your child does not feel like talking or the words are simply not there, physical touch can be a wonderful way of connecting while also providing emotional support for your child. A hug can go a long way. Here are some silly and fun suggestions to incorporate hugs: http://drpeggydelong.com/the-hug-jar/
Starting a new school can be both exciting, and a bit scary. Children are leaving behind the familiar, and entering new territory. While they may be developmentally ready and prepared with all necessary school supplies, it is not uncommon for children to experience uncertainty and anxiety. Here are some tips for parents in assisting their children with the transition.
- Whether your child is entering middle school or high school, it is likely that many of your child’s worries are social worries. Questions may be running through your child’s mind, such as “Who am I going to eat lunch with?” “Will I see any of my old friends?” “Will the other kids like me?” “What if I have nothing to say?” Help your child to identify and verbalize these concerns. Your child may also be comforted in knowing that other children have these same concerns. Also, if your child is feeling shy and/or does not feel that she has something to contribute to a conversation, remind her that a simple smile and eye contact go a long way. You could also encourage her to ask a question to demonstrate interest.
- If your child has academic concerns, try to avoid saying, “Do your best.” First of all, this is a vague statement, and the ambiguity may leave your child feeling uncertain, wondering exactly what his “best” is. In addition, if he feels that he has done his “best”, but the outcome is less than desired, he may feel an intense sense of failure and hopelessness that his “best” is not good enough, and then project into the future that he will never be good enough because it was his “best”. A more helpful strategy is to identify specific tasks that can help your child achieve a goal. For example, your child can study a spelling list until all words are spelled correctly.
- Help your child to anticipate changes. School transitions are filled with changes. Your child will likely experiences changes such as different friends, increased responsibilities, and new interests. While this is positive and part of growth, your child may feel some uneasiness, especially if many changes are happening all at once. Your child is more likely to be accepting of these changes if he has an understanding that these changes are natural and healthy, even if they feel uncomfortable at times. Keep the lines of communication open, and check in with him about these issues.
- Resist the temptation to solve your child’s problems. It is natural to want to help your child out when she encounters problems at school, whether they be social or academic. It may seem like it is not a big deal to solve a small problem your child is having, but it is these very problems that are small that are the practice for the bigger problems. Solving small problems for your child deprives him of the opportunity to learn from mistakes, and to gain confidence from success. Instead of stepping in and solving the problem for your child, be a sounding board for your child. Talk about possible solutions and outcomes, and then encourage your child to take the necessary steps. (Of course step in if a problem becomes too big for your child to handle on his own).
- Identify a trusted adult in the school setting. This could be a special teacher, guidance counselor, or administrator. Help your child to identify who this person is, and how to access this person during the school day.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Sleep is essential to proper functioning, including academic, emotional, and social functioning. Limit screen time before bed, and keep electronics out of your child’s bedroom. Studies show that when devices are left in bedrooms, children check them in the middle of the night if they wake up, and this affects both quality and quantity of sleep. Most children need more sleep than they are getting.
- Show confidence. Remember the quote by Peggy O’Mara – “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” Your child is more likely to believe in herself when you show that you believe in her, and when you use words that support that. Here is a link to some encouraging words to use with children. http://drpeggydelong.com/encouraging-words-to-use-with-children/
- Prepare, prepare, prepare. Help your child anticipate what is needed for the next day, and complete as much as possible in the evening for a smoother morning. Encourage your child to pick out her outfit the night before, make sure she knows where her shoes are, and have lunch ready. Get up earlier than you think is necessary. Your child will have a much smoother start of the school day when the morning is not rushed and chaotic.
- Positive affirmations. Studies demonstrate that positive affirmations help improve mood, increase confidence, and achieve goals. Keep affirmations written down on pieces of paper in your child’s bedroom. Keep affirmations in the present tense, not something that your child wants to achieve in the future. For example, instead of “I will make friends”, the affirmation should be “I make friends easily.” Positive affirmations are so important because they help children maintain positive thoughts and create a positive belief system, which serves as the foundation for their lives (adults too)! Here is a link to positive affirmations for teens http://7mindsets.com/affirmations-for-teens/ and one for younger children http://www.evelynlim.com/101-affirmations-for-children/
- Love. Show love. Talk love. In any way you can, show love for your child. Surprise your child with a special note. Sneak a love note in your child’s lunch or school folder. Or leave it on your child’s pillow. Yep, even for your teenager. Especially your teenager. Here is a link to some simple things to do today and every day to show love for your child. http://drpeggydelong.com/five-simple-things-to-do-today-and-every-day-to-show-love-for-your-children/
What is happiness anyway??
A friend once challenged me, resisting my suggestions for re-training negative thinking into positive thinking to help her get out of her rut. She seemed to be of the belief that it was “easy” for me to suggest certain ideas because I was a “happy” person, with the assumption that this came naturally, was easy, or that I was simply lucky. Far from the truth. Her comments inspired me to really think about what I do to be fulfilled. I would also like to say that I do not believe that happiness is the goal. What is happiness anyway?? Happiness is elusive, and when we spend our time chasing it, we lose out on getting the most out of our days. For me, the goal is to live a more fulfilling life every day, even on the unhappiest of days.
Here is what I came up with.
- “Life is not fair.” The sooner you can accept this, the happier you will be. My father used to say this all the time. Not in a cold “get over it” kind of way, but in a lovingly, teaching me the reality of life kind of way. Yes, bad things happen to good people. Sometimes really bad things. I remember attending a standing-room only seminar by Bernie Siegel, MD, author of “Love, Medicine, and Miracles.” He asked the people in the room to raise their hand if they felt that life was not fair. As my fiancé had just been diagnosed with cancer at age 27, my hand went right up! And so did the hands of everyone in the room. His point – we are ALL dealt with rough times, so it can be viewed as fair. We can live more fulfilling lives when we accept that it simply is not fair and not dwell on how unfair it is.
- Do not compare yourself to others. Comparing yourself to others is the quickest way to zap your happiness. You may be so happy with your belongings, your achievements, your successes, and as soon as you compare yourself to someone you perceive as having/being/doing more, your joy is zapped. In an instant. Just like that. Gone.
- Smile. I love the saying, “The greatest accessory you can wear every day is your smile.” Smile when you don’t feel like smiling. I’m not suggesting ignoring or suppressing your feelings. I’m just suggesting that smiling gets more of a positive reaction out of others when you might be feeling crummy and need it most.
- Don’t take things personally. Yeah, much easier said than done! But trust me, if you can work toward this, you will be much more fulfilled in everyday living. People’s reaction to you is really not about you. It is about THEM. Each person has their own history, experiences, hurts. When they behave, they are behaving based on their own histories, their own hurts. Not you. If you need some work in this area, read, “The Four Agreements.”
- Be goofy. This is the best. Dance as if no one is watching. Sing as if no one is listening. My dad used to run around my high school track, and I remember being SO embarrassed. Not because of his running, but because of everything else he was doing besides running! Dancing, spinning, punching like a boxer. And he skied the same way. Goofy. With his arms outstretched, wearing his multi-colored clown wig, listening to his Walkman that was duct-taped to his chest. I keep a photo of him skiing in his clown wig in my wallet to remind myself every day to be a little goofy.
- Be around people who make you feel good. Ever notice how you feel differently depending on your company? Make a point to spend time with the people who make you feel good about yourself, and less time with the people who bring you down.
- Exercise. This is probably the most effective way of elevating mood. There are countless studies demonstrating the proven mental health benefits of exercise. Find something you enjoy doing, and make the time in your day to do it. The simplest is walking. For an instant mood boost, go for a walk in nature, and better yet, with a friend. Studies demonstrate that walking in nature with others is associated with less perceived stress and improved overall emotional well-being.
- Remember that the toughest days are not forever, and they will pass. You may have to repeat this to yourself all day, “This will pass. Tomorrow is a new day.”
- Keep a gratitude journal. All you need to do is spend two to three minutes a day thinking about new things you are grateful for in order to benefit from this exercise. Try to do this for a month, making sure that the list is different every day. Be specific. For example, instead of writing that you are grateful for your spouse, write about something specific that your spouse does for you for which you are grateful. Writing something different and specific every day is effective and powerful because it helps train the brain to see the world differently, and to look for the positive.
- Accept help. You do not need to be Super Woman or Super Man, or Super Mom or Super Dad. If someone offers to help in some way, whether it be a ride for a child, or a meal if you are struggling, accept the help. We cannot truly give to others without judgment if we judge ourselves for accepting help. Allow others the opportunity to give to you, and receive the help with grace.
- Be still. This is especially important in today’s world of multi-tasking, activities, electronics, and stimulation of our senses coming from all directions. We need to take a moment out of our lives to simply be still. Sit in your favorite chair, turn off distractions, and just close your eyes, but not with the intention to fall asleep. You can listen to music and/or light a candle. Notice how you feel after even just five minutes of being still.
- Give to others. One of the best ways to feel better is to give to others. The benefit is twofold. Someone is benefiting from your kindness, time, and/or generosity, and you are left feeling better. In addition, doing for others helps take the focus off of our own sorrows. I don’t see this as “charity”, but rather an understanding that we all have struggles, and to give when you can to help make someone else’s day a little brighter. Your day will be brighter too. There are so many wonderful ways to give to others, but an organization that has a very special place in my heart is Heartworks.
- Say thank you. How many times a day do you silently think about something that someone has done for you? It could have been an hour ago, yesterday, or 20 years ago. It could have been something very small, such as picking up your child when you were stuck in traffic, or huge, such as successfully performing surgery on you! Who has had a positive impact on your life? Thinking about that person and what he/she has done for you is one way to elevate mood. But take it a step further and take the time to write a thank you note. Or go out of your way to thank someone in person.
14. Look people in the eye. I don’t mean this in a creepy way. I’ve just noticed that people don’t really LOOK at each other anymore. We are social beings, and we are losing connection with each other. We’re busy multi-tasking, looking at our phones, being distracted by to-do lists. I believe that this lack of connection is leading to a feeling of budding emptiness, or for some, full-blown emptiness. So look your child or partner in the eye when he/she is talking to you, and look the Shop Rite cashier in the eye when she asks you how you are doing.
15. Give compliments. Giving someone a genuine heartfelt compliment raises the positive energy level of the interaction. If you find yourself having a positive thought about someone during an interaction, why keep it to yourself? Share it, and you will both benefit emotionally.
16. Maintain perspective. Throughout our days, we can become stressed or upset about so many different things! If something is bothering you, ask yourself, “Does this really matter?” and “At the end of the day, does this really have an impact on my life or the lives of the ones I love.” Most often, the answer will be no. And if the answer is not no, then you know that it is something that deserves your energy and attention.
17. Focus on how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go. Whatever goal you are striving for, try not to get caught up in how far you have to go. When it feels overwhelming, feels like it is taking too long, and/or feels like too much effort, focus on how far you have come. Also enjoy the moment and where you are on your journey toward achieving your goal. While reaching your goal might be the ultimate reward, the path that got you there is also worthy of celebrating each step of the way.
18. Allow yourself to feel. Even if it is yucky, feel it. Allow yourself to experience grief, anger, frustration, or sadness. Give yourself permission to fully experience your feelings and own it. When we shut ourselves off to our negative feelings, we are unwittingly also shutting ourselves off from fully experiencing our positive emotions.
19. Forgive. When you hold on to grudges and hold on to the wrongdoing of others, this ultimately only hurts you by carrying that negative energy. I love the saying, “Hanging on to resentment is letting someone live rent-free in your head.” When you allow yourself to forgive others who have wronged you and hurt you, you are allowing yourself to heal. It is not easy to do, so consider it a strength and a gift to yourself.
20. Say the Serenity Prayer a couple times a day! “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” It is important to recognize and accept the things we cannot change. Why spend your energy worrying about or trying to fix the things you simply cannot change? Being able to recognize this will leave you with more energy for what you can change.
21. Get outside in nature!! Find some time every day to get outside, even it if it just for five minutes, and especially if you are stuck in an office all day. It is really hard to stay angry or frustrated when you are outside in natural beauty.
22. Use your imagination. Visualize a positive experience. This could be a favorite place or favorite activity. Think about each detail that you can remember, and try to involve as many senses as possible. What did you see, hear, feel, taste, smell? Using this method is also an effective way of reducing physical pain.
23. Ask for help. We simply cannot do everything we need to do and get through this thing called life without help. Some people view asking for help as a sign of weakness, or worry that it will be perceived by others as weakness. Get over it! You will be much more fulfilled in your daily life if you ask for help when you need it.
24. It’s OK to ask for what you want out of life! So ask God, the Universe, whatever you believe in. If there is something specific missing from your life, ask for it, and visualize it. You can get really creative with this! A great book to get started is “Creative Visualizations” by Shakti Gawain.
25. Be creative. This could take on so many different forms. Make play dough. Write in a journal. Make music. Make art. Write a poem. Color. I recently read an article about the mental health benefits that adults can obtain from the simple act of coloring with markers or crayons!
26. Read. Reading is such a wonderful escape. A distraction from the demands of daily living. So take time out to read whatever helps you to escape. This could be romance, suspense, science fiction, classic literature, or a book of inspirations.
27. Listen to music. If you feel that you need to de-stress, listen to some soothing music. If you need to be energized or a quick mood boost, listen to some energizing music. If you need a laugh, turn on some old classics from the 80’s and go back in time.
28. Sing or whistle. It’s really hard to stay in a bad mood while you’re singing or even better yet, whistling.
29. Hope. When all else fails, hope. And there will be days when hope is all you have left. Hope for better days ahead, hope for less emotional or physical pain, hope after lost love. I love the saying, When the world says, “Give up”, Hope whispers, “Try one more time.”
Many children have heard about and/or viewed images of acts of violence and acts of terrorism. Here are some suggestions regarding addressing your child’s needs and questions.
- Consider your child’s developmental level. Children have their own individual responses to images they may see on television or accounts of terrorism that they may hear based on their age and developmental level. Preschoolers may be the most disturbed by violent sights and sounds because they do not have the cognitive ability to fully distinguish between what is real and what is fantasy. In addition, they may become easily overwhelmed by exposure because they are not able to stop their distressing thoughts. Even older children may have difficulty understanding that a single event that is rebroadcast is not happening over and over. In addition, even when violence has occurred hundreds of miles away, children of all ages may feel as though the violence is close to home. Their concerns are, “Am I safe?” “Is my family safe?” For all of these reasons, it would be wise to limit and closely monitor what your child is exposed to via the media.
- Consider your child’s temperament. A sensitive child, or a child who is more prone to anxiety is more prone to experience distress. These children may be more likely to experience nightmares, have difficulty concentrating, and have concerns about the safety of loved ones and themselves. It is important to limit exposure to the media. Also monitor your child’s distress. If your child demonstrates a change in eating and sleep habits, demonstrates excessive worries, suffers from nightmares, and/or loses interest in formerly enjoyable activities, your child may benefit from professional help.
- Reassure your child’s sense of safety. Some experts believe that it is OK to make promises that you may not be able to keep, such as “Nothing is going to happen to our family”. That may not always be the best approach, especially if you do not feel comfortable making such a promise. In that case, your child will pick up your cues of discomfort and receive mixed messages leading to confusion. You may feel more comfortable saying that leaders are doing all they can to keep us safe, and you are doing everything to keep your child and family safe.
- Talk to children about their fears. Some parents may think that bringing up the subjects of violence and terrorism and asking children what they think and feel may heighten their fears, when having children keep their thoughts and fears to themselves is actually more detrimental. It is helpful for parents to begin the conversation. Parents may begin by simply asking children what they have seen or heard on the TV or radio, and what they think about it. However, it is important not to pressure a child who is not ready to speak about it. The problem will not be resolved in one session. Keep open the lines of communication for ongoing dialogue. Remember that it is important to listen to whatever your child has to say. Provide opportunities for discussion, such as returning home from school or at the dinner table. Do not dismiss or try to minimize any expressed fear or anxiety. Simply listen to your child, communicate that you understand, and provide comfort.
- Stick to routines, or create new ones if you do not have a routine. This is helpful around mealtimes, bedtimes, activities, etc. Routines and knowing what to expect help provide children with a sense of security and familiarity, especially during times of stress.
- Monitor what your child views through the media. Young children may actually think that the attacks are happening again, and this can re-traumatize older children. Even if you think that your child is too young to comprehend words and images from TV, your child can pick up on your emotional reaction and be affected. You are better off to watching the news while your child is not around to hear or see it.
- Provide physical comfort and extra nurturance. Hugs, saying “I love you”, or an unexpected note in the lunch box can help a child to feel safe and cared for. Even teenagers, who may shrug your attempts of affection, need to be comforted.
- Be mindful of possible stress reactions. This includes regressing to previous behaviors, such as thumb sucking and bed wetting. Do not bring much attention or embarrass your child regarding these regressions. Also, address any misperceptions that you may see in your child’s play or conversations.
- Be prepared to answer questions. Prepare an answer to what your child might ask you so that you are better equipped to respond. You may want to consult with your partner and other important people in your child’s life for consistency in responding. These may include questions about death, why bad things happened, will anything happen to them or someone they love, etc.
- If possible, avoid major changes, major decision making, and separation from important caregivers during this time.
- Engage in an act of kindness. While we cannot take away the pain and suffering of others affected by the violence and/or terrorism, doing something positive to help others can alleviate some of the feelings of sorrow and helplessness.
- Incorporate soothing and relaxing activities into your child’s schedule. This may include exercise such as biking or walking together, or quiet times such as listening to music, coloring, and reading books together.Remember that adults are affected emotionally as well by acts of violence and terrorism in the world, and we may experience a heightened concern about the safety of our family and our loved ones. The better you are able to take care of your own needs and feelings, the better you will be able to meet the needs of your child. Take care of yourself.
I have had the privilege of counseling tweens and teens for 20 years. The tween and teen years are filled with ups and downs and hormonal changes. Within a day, or even an hour, you can experience fluctuating excitement and dread, confidence and self-doubt, and anxiety and wonder, all while trying to find your way. Keeping a few ideas in mind can help you not only survive, but THRIVE through these years. Here are 12 simple ideas.
- Take your time
When someone asks you how old you are, how often do you start with, “I am going to be…”? It is natural for kids to look in to the future and wonder what is next, or to watch older siblings go through milestones with excitement. But when you are constantly focused on the future, you miss out on what you are going through RIGHT NOW. Yes, certain privileges come with age, and you WILL get there. But what you cannot do is go back in time. So focus your energy instead on enjoying right where you are.
2. Chin up, shoulders back, and smile
The way you carry yourself can really have an impact on how you feel. Smile when you don’t feel like smiling. I’m not suggesting ignoring or suppressing your feelings. I’m just suggesting that smiling gets more of a positive reaction out of others when you might be feeling crummy and need it most. So if you’re having a bad day or just feeling sad, instead of walking with your head down, try lifting your chin up, and smiling at others. A simple smile back from a friend may make you feel better, and be just the shift you need to have a better day.
3. Maintain a sense of humor
Humor simply makes life more enjoyable, makes problems feel less daunting, and is another way to connect with people. Try to remember that the situations and moments that are embarrassing and feel terribly awkward today will be the very moments you look back on and laugh at.
4. Remember that you are not alone
Part of why children can feel terrible is because they feel like they are the only one feeling a certain way. The only one who has self-doubt. The only one who did not do well on a test. The only one not invited to a party. The only one who does not have it all together. Remember that everyone has doubts and insecurities, but kids simply do not want to share their insecurities with others and make themselves vulnerable. Trust that you are NOT alone in your struggles. Truly believing this can make you feel less alone.
5. Popularity does not translate to success or happiness
If your goal is to be popular, this can lead to not being true to yourself. When you are consumed by the pressure to be liked, this guides your decisions and actions, rather than being true to yourself. This can easily lead to unhappiness. When popularity is the goal, you can miss out on wonderful things. You may miss out on meeting new and different people and developing your own interests. In addition, you may get yourself into risky situations and make impulsive decisions in order to go with the crowd in an attempt to be liked.
6. Instead of having a goal to be popular, have a goal of being your best self
Resist conformity. Reflect on your former passions. Is there anything that you love that you gave up in order to conform? Being yourself will attract the right people into your life. Remember that it is your individuality that makes you unique and interesting.
7. No one is “better” than you, and don’t let anyone make you think differently!
You have probably heard this before, and there is a reason why the adults in your life tell you this! It’s because it’s true! Some kids feel badly about themselves and find that the only way to make themselves feel better is to put others down. So they make fun of what you are wearing. They may say you’re not good at something that they know means a lot to you. You do something well, and they say they can do it better. Typically, the children who try to put you down are the children who feel most insecure. Remember that children who feel good about themselves simply do not need to put others down. Do not let others who insult you make you feel that they are better than you.
8. Be mindful of your use of social media.
Did you know that scientists have discovered that increased use of social media and technology is associated with increased levels of depression and anxiety? That the use of social media and technology is affecting your brain??? These are good reasons to be mindful of the amount of time that you spend using technology. And when you do use social media, try not to react to what you see. Remember that people are less polite and more aggressive on-line than they are in person. Remember that there is no privacy with technology. You may think you are sending a private text or message, but anyone can take a screenshot and forward to others. Remember that nothing is private, and everything lasts. Avoid dealing with conflict on-line, either publicly or privately, and instead talk to someone on the phone or in person. If you see something on-line that is upsetting to you, resist responding. Don’t just take time to “cool off”, but rather make it your personal rule not to engage in any negativity on-line. Nothing good comes out of it, period.
9. Be around people who make you feel good
Remember that the company you keep has an impact on the situations you find yourself in. Kids often do not engage in risky behavior alone, but they try to get someone to do it with them! So if you find that spending time with a particular person leaves you feeling uneasy or uncomfortable, listen to your gut – it is trying to tell you something! Remember that good friends make you feel good, just by being with them. Pay attention to how you feel during and after spending time with someone.
But the reality is, you cannot always control who you are around, but you can control who you let affect you. Develop a strong filter. Ignore feedback from those who do not have your best interest in mind, or who want to bring you down. Imagine those words being blown away on a cloud and gone for good! At the same time, be open to accepting constructive criticism from those whose opinions you value and respect. Sometimes the people who care the most might have something to say in your best interest that you do not want to hear. Most of all, remember the saying, “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice” – a quote by Peggy O’Mara. This is true whether the words come from a parent or a peer. So keep it constructive so that the voice in your head helps you to remain confident, positive, and true to yourself.
10. Resist the pressure to have your life all figured out
It is acceptable and normal not to know what you want to do. And when you think you know, it changes, and that is OK too! Sometimes you have to try things out in order to figure things out, and sometimes figuring things out means that something is NOT for you. Do not compare yourself to someone you think has life all figured out, as that person’s path may change, and that is OK too! Remember that this is a time of exploration and discovery, and that even adults change their paths.
11. Be careful not to base too much of your identity as being part of a group
Yes, it feels good to be part of a group. Everyone longs to belong to something. However, group membership can change without notice or warning. One powerful person can influence a group, even if unfair and unwarranted, and out you go! Being cut from a team or having an injury can change group status overnight. While it feels good to be part of something and “belong”, be mindful not to make this the basis of your identity or your self-worth.
12. Always have a trusted adult you can turn to.
This is a time of undiscovered territory and unanswered questions. At times, this can feel scary! While it is great to receive support from peers, your friends do not always have the answers, may be just as scared as you, and sometimes can unwittingly guide you in the wrong direction based on false information. It is important to identify a trusted adult you can turn to. Ideally this would be a parent, but if not a parent, identify someone else you can turn to. Adults know more than your peers, have more wisdom and factual knowledge, keep your secrets, love you and care for you, and you do not need to worry about your “status” or impressing them. Turning to an adult when needed can help prevent a temporary problem from becoming an issue with long-term consequences.
HELPING CHILDREN COPE WITH RELATIONAL AGGRESSION
What is relational aggression?
Relational aggression can take several forms. Here are a few of some of the most common.
Insults and put-downs. This could be blatant insults in front of others, such as making fun of someone’s appearance. This can also be more subtle, so that if the victim reacts, the perpetrator says that he/she was “just joking”, or says, “You can’t take a joke”, or “You’re being too sensitive.”
Gossiping. Talking about a person behind his/her back is a form of relational aggression. It does not matter if the information is true or false. If it is negative information, it is hurtful, and it is aggression. This can be so damaging because children typically care a great deal what their peers think of them.
Being left out. It is not reasonable, expected, or even healthy to be invited to everything.
But relational aggression involves the kind of exclusion that is deliberate, planned, and meant to hurt. An example would be a girl having a gathering of friends over, and then whispering about it in front of a girl who would have expected to be included but was not, or talking afterwards about how fun it was in front of her. With social media, this is taken to another level through posts of photos of gatherings with friends. This can also be a subtle glance of “you’re not welcome at this table” in the school cafeteria.
Being ignored. Everyone wants to matter, to be heard. Boys and girls who engage in relational aggression capitalize on this, and hit where it hurts. An example might be blatantly talking over someone at the lunch table. Once again, unfortunately social media provides a method to ignore. A girl may tag everyone in a photo except the girl she intends to hurt. A girl may also decide to suddenly stop talking to someone and give them the “silent treatment”, not responding to a text, a Snap Chat streak, or an Instgram direct message. This leaves the girl wondering what she did to cause the other person to be upset and ignore her, when the reality is that she has done nothing wrong.
What is going on with “frenemy” behavior or relational aggression is emotionally painful and harmful. In fact, if done by a parent to a child, it would be labeled “psychological maltreatment” and be considered abuse. Relational aggression is a form of emotional assault.
Relational aggression has very little to do with a friendship, by the true definition of a friendship. Relational aggression, or “frenemy” behavior has more to do with power and control, and trying to earn social status through power. Unfortunately, that power is often achieved through exclusion and knocking others down. What is disturbing is that even “nice” children do not have the courage or confidence to speak up. In addition, they witness the ostracism and pain that it causes and will do almost anything to avoid feeling that, and they attempt to please or “win over” the perpetrator. This is also particularly difficult for children because it is unpredictable and baseless. A child can be excluded simply because the ring leader decided it’s that person’s turn. The memory of the emotional pain of feeling excluded or made fun of, or witnessing someone be excluded or made fun of leads to fear of becoming the next victim. And it is this fear that perpetuates the awful “mean” behavior.
The trouble with social aggression.
Social aggression can be so troublesome for kids because when they call out others behavior, there are often negative consequences. Kids are then told that they are being too sensitive, or that they are exaggerating. The perpetrator then knows that it is bothering the teen and may then cruelly do it even more. And the victim does not speak up because nothing was done about it in the past, and it only led to negative social consequences for the victim.
Social aggression is also troublesome because it is hidden. The perpetrator becomes skilled at concealing the behavior from adults. This can happen right under the watchful eye of adults because it can be so subtle.
It is also troublesome because it is difficult to prove someone’s malicious intention. For example, a perpetrator may try to make a teen feel badly by being excluded and not “tagging” the person in a photo where everyone else is tagged. When confronted, the perpetrator can say that he or she simply “forgot” to tag the person, and there is no way of proving that the omission was intentional. A perpetrator may also post an unflattering picture of a teen on social media, and then when confronted, give the impression of being kind by stating that he or she actually thought that it was a flattering picture of the person.
How parents can help.
Parents can help by speaking with a guidance counselor, student assistance counselor, or mental health professional within the school setting. This can be done proactively, or when a student, teacher, or parent points out what is occurring within a group. The goal is to discuss what is happening and the strong negative impact that it has on the victim. The facilitator can set the tone, making it “uncool” behavior to engage in, and “cool” to step in and call someone out when it is occurring. One tricky part is to make sure that the tables are not turned. In others words, the goal is not to shame the perpetrators or turn the tables on them so that they become the victims. The goal is simply to make the behavior stop so that there are no more victims.
Parents can also help address relational aggression by teaching accountability and responsibility. If you suspect that your own child is engaging in this behavior, make a point to discuss it with your child, without shaming. Talk with your child about the negative emotional impact that this has on others. Also encourage your child to talk about his/her feelings and why he/she would engage in this behavior. Were his/her feelings hurt by someone and this is a form of retaliation? How has he/she felt when excluded? What is motivating his/her behavior? Insecurity? Retaliation? Poor coping skills? Attempt to uncover why he/she would behave this way, and help him/her to find healthy alternatives. For example, if your child is behaving this way because he/she feels insecure and/or excluded herself and is attempting to gain social status and power, encourage your child to pick a friend he/she feels close to, and facilitate a social outing with that friend. Then encourage them NOT to post their get together on social media.
Parents can also help address relational aggression by developing empathy. A parent can point it out when he/she sees it on television or in real life. Ask your child, “How do you think that child felt when he/she was excluded?” “Have you ever found out about a party that you were not invited to, and how did you feel?” “What do you think can be done to stop mean behavior?” “Have you ever felt compelled to behave badly due to your own hurt feelings?”
Monitor your child’s on-line behavior. This includes not just your child’s posts, but his/her friends’ posts. I work with several teens and tweens in my private practice, and I have the privilege of hearing about their emotional wounds. I am finding that more and more, children are hurt emotionally about what is being posted on social media, in addition to what is happening in real life. Children are using social media more than ever as a form of relational aggression, and often this is what is causing significant emotional pain, rather than what is happening in real life. One way that I have seen and heard about is for a girl/boy to post a random photo on Instagram, and then in the comments, complain about being mistreated by someone without naming that person. The poster then receives support from her “followers”, often calling the other person names and making severe insults, because they do not even know who they are writing about. They think they are simply supporting their friend, that they are innocent, and that it is harmless to say such cruel things because the person they are writing about is not named. They do not think about the harm being done simply because the person is not named. On the other hand, if another girl knows who the post is about, and she has an issue with that girl as well, she may say even more cruel things. Most often, the person being written about knows that it is him/her, and this is extremely emotionally damaging to see a “friend” write something terrible about him/her, but then all of the other “friends” write about how horrible he/she is, sometimes even with foul language and threats of physical harm. And even if he/she does not know for sure that the vague post is about him/her, it can lead to anxiety and wondering that may be so intense as to interfere with daily functioning. It is therefore important to not only monitor and ask your child about his/her posts, but to talk with your child about any of his/her friends’ posts that you find troubling or stirring up drama.
Parents can also protect their children by enforcing device-free zones, and device-free times. Children simply need a break from friendships at times. These days with their devices, they do not get a break. Notifications are constantly streaming in from Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook, musical.ly, and group texts. Teenagers’ brains are at a developmental stage such that they are lured into wanting more and more, making it difficult for them to set limits themselves and stick to them. And brain studies have demonstrated that it actually becomes an addiction, as it stimulates the pleasure center of the brain. They simply need parents to set limits for them.
Parents are also a powerful influence in combating relational aggression by being a role model. Be mindful of being a positive role model for the wonderful aspects of a healthy friendship. If you are going out to dinner with girlfriends, mention to your daughter how great it is that the dinner conversation does not include any gossip. Talk about how you love spending time with this group of women because they do not put others down, so you know they are not putting you down when you are not with them. Talk with your son about how great it feels to have the confidence to speak up for someone who is being mistreated, and how important it is to build people up rather than knocking them down.
Probably the most difficult part of helping your child to address relationship aggression is to teach him/her ways of stepping in when he/she witnesses it. The most difficult way is to be an “upstander”. This is difficult, because then he/she risks retaliation from the perpetrator and being left out herself. If your child is bothered by watching a perpetrator repeatedly single someone out, you could help your child by providing him/her with words to use, and then role playing the intervention. We would think that the more people that are watching someone being mistreated, the more likely for someone to step up and intervene. Unfortunately, this is not the case. What happens instead is the “bystander effect”. The presence of others actually decreases the likelihood that someone will step in and help the victim. One reason that this happens is called “diffusion of responsibility”, or believing/hoping someone else will intervene. Teach your child about the bystander effect, as he/she may then feel more personally responsible and be more likely to intervene.
A way that parents can help their children combat social aggression when they do not feel strong enough to be an “upstander” is to be a supporter. If your child witnesses unfair or cruel treatment, he/she can make a positive impact on the victim by being a supporter. One simple way to support the victim is to make eye contact while the act is occurring, with a look of concern. This sends the message to the victim, “I see you, you are not alone, I care about you.” Then encourage your child to make a point to talk to the victim to follow up on that support.
Unfortunately, relational aggression is likely a part of the life of a teen/tween. The more that you keep an open dialogue with your child about it, the more likely he/she will be able to address it, choose friends who do not engage in it, not engage in it himself/herself, and have the preparation, courage, and sense of responsibility to intervene when your child sees it happening.
Parents, educators, mental health professionals, and teens and tweens are talking about/watching the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why”. A friend brought this series to my attention. If your child has expressed interest in watching it, I would recommend watching the series yourself, and decide whether or not you want your child to see it. While I am not one to tell people what to do, I need to point out that mental health professionals have serious and valid concerns about this series, particularly for children who are struggling. (See below for articles – “Resources Specifically Related to the Netflix Series). If you decide to allow your child to watch it, I suggest watching it together (after you have watched it by yourself first), and using it as an opportunity for discussion about a very difficult topic – suicide.
The benefit of this series is that it is bringing greater awareness to the difficult topic of suicide, as well as all of the painful experiences that teens/tweens experience. However, what it does not do is provide suggestions and methods of coping and getting help. I believe every episode should have had a list of resources, as well as some suggested questions/topics for parent/child discussion. Communication and getting help are two protective factors in helping to prevent suicide, and it is an unfortunate missed opportunity that the series did not offer this at the end of every episode. They did make one episode called: “13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons”. It would have been more helpful to have some of that information incorporated into every episode.
Even if you decide not to allow your child to watch this series, it is helpful to know what the series is all about, as kids are now “playing” SnapChat and Instagram “games” related to the series.
HERE ARE SOME RESOURCES ABOUT SUICIDE PREVENTION:
www.afsp.org (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)
http://www.sprc.org/ (Suicide Prevention Resource Center)
http://www.suicidology.org/ (American Association of Suicidology)
Another article for parents at:
IMMEDIATE HELP FOR SOMEONE FEELING SUICIDAL:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386.
Lifeline Crisis Chat at www.crisischat.org.
RESOURCES FOR HELPING CHILDREN COPE WHEN SOMEONE THEY KNOW COMMITS SUICIDE:
www.save.org at the bottom – For Survivors, Resources to Help Cope.
There is also a book, Suicide: Survivors, A Guide for Those Left Behind.”
www.afsp.org American Foundation for Suicide Prevention under “Find Support”, and then clicking on “I’ve Lost Someone”.
RESOURCES SPECIFICALLY RELATED TO THE NETFLIX SERIES:
RESOURCES FOR GETTING COUNSELING
1. Ask your child’s guidance counselor or pediatrician for a list of referrals.
2. Go to https://www.psychologytoday.com/ and key in your zip code under (Find a Therapist). However, this is not a complete list of therapists in your area. Not all therapists choose to be listed.
3. Google – using your town name and “psychologist” – local psychologists’ websites will come up.
4. New Jersey Psychological Association referral service – http://www.psychologynj.org/find-a-psychologist#/ (not all psychologists choose to be listed)
Parents, educators, and mental health professionals have seen an alarming rise in anxiety. You may have felt it yourself. As many know I am a psychologist, I am often asked for my opinion regarding why this is so. I have shared my opinion, but really, it’s not just my opinion. The research helps shed some light on why this is happening. We are losing what makes us human, and that is the connection we feel during REAL LIFE human social interactions.
A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that the more time people spend on the sites that were meant to help them feel more connected actually makes them feel more alone! Psychologists have several theories to explain why. One is that social media use simply takes the place of authentic, real-life experiences because the more time a person spends on social media, the less time that person has left for real-life human social interactions. Another is that seeing pictures of friends spending time at an event to which you were not invited encourages feelings of exclusion and loneliness. Also, being exposed to others’ idealized representations of themselves makes others feel that their own life does not quite measure up (social comparison theory). This is not rocket science. This is common sense, but real science is demonstrating that the negative impact is real. People are feeling more and more lonely and isolated. This contributes to a decline in mental health.
It’s all about balance. Social media is not going away, and in some ways, it does help us form connections. But the key is not to let it replace real life interactions.
So what to do about it… CONNECT
- Make a plan to walk with a friend.
- Call an old friend.
- Hire a babysitter and go out on “date night”, or Girls or Guys Night Out.
- Make a schedule to get together with friends on a regular basis for a coffee meet up.
- Get involved in a group sport, activity, or hobby. Even people who engage in what are typically “individual” hobbies, such as knitting or beading, can get together in groups for social connection.
I would love to hear some of your ideas to remain connected. What can you commit to doing today, or this week?
I have not written an article this week, but I wanted to share some research I came across. This is relevant to parents of teens and tweens.
- Another reason to keep tweens’/teens’ personal electronic devices out of their bedrooms. This study found that one in five children lose sleep over social media. A quote from the article: “This night-time activity is making teenagers three times more likely to feel constantly tired at school than their peers who do not log on at night, and could be affecting their happiness and wellbeing.” You may find the full article at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13676261.2016.1273522
- In addition to the obvious benefits for physical health, moderate to vigorous activity was associated with less symptoms of depression in middle childhood – another reason to encourage your child to be physically active! https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2017/01/05/peds.2016-1711