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It’s election season. Unless you live under a rock, you already know that because it’s pretty much impossible to escape the endless ads everywhere you look reminding us who to vote for.

Now imagine election season through the eyes of a child. They’re taking in the information they hear at home, possibly at their grandparents’ house, on social media, and from friends. But do they really understand what’s happening?

You might wonder if they even care. But if you’re talking about it, they’re probably at least interested in what is happening. They may feel the stress and anxiety of it all but have no idea what’s really going on. The good news is, you can guide your child through election season.

This is a great opportunity to teach your child:

How our country operates

Talk about the different political parties, what they represent and what their history is. Look at each party’s website and ask your child what the differences are in each party’s perspective. Explain how people can become candidates and what is required of them. Discuss how the people in this country get to choose their leadership and how that differs from other countries.

Ask them what it means that we are called “the United States of America.”

Talk about the Electoral College and the role it plays in the election process. You can even get them to research why some people want to make changes in the Electoral College.

How to get accurate information

With all of the talking heads giving their opinions about candidates, this is the perfect opportunity to teach your children how to educate themselves about the candidates and the issues versus taking all information at face value. Show them how to search for the facts concerning the issues. Talk about the dangers of believing every headline.

How to talk about the different issues with people even when you disagree

This right here might be one of the most important skills you can teach your children through the election process. It seems as though the art of civil discourse has been tossed to the curb in our society. Model for your children how to disagree without being disagreeable. 

Possibly one of the greatest things about our country is, people are allowed to not only have an opinion, but they are also allowed to openly state that opinion without fear of being killed for it by the government. That’s not the case in many other countries where dictatorships exist. 

Modeling how to respectfully have a conversation with someone who has differing opinions will show your children not only that it’s possible, but that it’s educational. Show them how to ask questions and to be curious about why someone believes what they believe. Let them see you listening to the person’s perspective and even saying things like, “I appreciate your thoughts on that. I’m not sure I agree with them, but I appreciate your perspective.” 

While you may not want your children to watch the debates live, you can watch it with them later. Doing so and asking them what they see, how people treated each other when they disagreed, what they learned about the issues, how they know what is true, etc., is a great educational experience. 

Most children, until the middle or high school years, are likely to parrot their parent’s opinion. Start early teaching them why it’s important to decide what you believe. Let them know it’s also important to have people in your life who don’t necessarily see things exactly the way you do. Having people in your life who have differing opinions makes your life richer. 

What it means to have the right and privilege to vote, and why it matters

The freedom to vote has been a long road for many people and there are still struggles today. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 61.4 percent of Americans eligible to vote actually did so in the 2016 presidential election. The irony of this is that voting is actually how you have a real voice in the process of selecting our leaders. Even if your candidate doesn’t win, you still have a say.

Last, but not least, let’s talk about relationships as you guide your child through election season.

The way you engage with the people you love matters and can impact whether they feel safe and secure in their relationship with you. As many are experiencing right now, even family members don’t necessarily agree about who to vote for, and that’s ok. 

Sometimes this can make family life really stressful, especially for children. At the end of the day, remember, relationships are more important and long-lasting than your political perspective. When your children see you respectfully disagree, share your own opinions, listen objectively to other points of view with extended family members, friends or even your spouse, they’re learning what it means to have civil discourse about elections at a moment in time when everybody believes there is a lot at stake for the future of our country.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

How to Help My Child Handle Anxiety

Help guide kids through worry and fear with these easy suggestions.

As a parent, it never ceases to amaze me that I feel a piece of the hurt that my child experiences—whether it be a skinned knee, a disappointment, or hurt feelings. I’m sure you feel the same way. And unfortunately, anxiety does not discriminate by age. Helping your 8- to 12-year-old child through anxiety is no piece of cake. Many parents are left in the dark as to how to nurture their child through worry, fear, and panic.  

When your tween-ager becomes anxious, how do you help them handle their anxiety? 

Worries and fears are normal for kids, whether it’s being nervous about an upcoming test, a friendship, or feeling uncertainty over a move to a new house. These feelings typically work themselves out in a short amount of time, and life moves on. However, anxiety can become problematic in tweens when it persists and interferes with everyday life. 

Not all kids experience anxiety the same way, and the source of one kid’s anxiety might be different from another’s. According to the National Health Service of the UK, some children simply have a hard time with change, such as attending a different school or moving to a new town. Distressing or traumatic experiences such as a house fire, change in family structure, or the death of someone close to them can certainly spark anxiety. Also, family conflict and arguments can heighten anxiety in children, especially if they experience it often. 

According to the National Institutes of Health, the CDC, and the AACAP, there are some typical signs to look for to indicate that your child may be experiencing anxiety:

  • Anger or irritability.
  • Constant worry, negative thoughts, the nagging thought that bad things are going to happen.
  • Trouble sleeping at night.
  • Bad dreams.
  • Headaches or stomach aches.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Feeling tense or fidgety.
  • Trouble concentrating on schoolwork or other tasks.
  • Avoidance of social gatherings or everyday activities.
  • Lack of confidence to try new things.

Keep in mind that many of these symptoms can be normal in 8- to 12-year-olds from time to time; all kids have a nightmare or show some fidgetiness now and then. However, if you see these symptoms crop up repeatedly, this may be an indication that your child is experiencing some anxiety and needs some help to cope. 

So, what can you do as a parent to help your child during these times? Here are some steps to help your child walk through worry, fear, and anxiety. 

Help your child talk through and name their feelings.

Emotion Wheel

Many kids don’t know how to articulate what it is they are feeling. Putting a label on what your child is feeling gives them a certain power over their anxiety, what some psychologists call a “name it, tame it” philosophy. Tools such as the emotion wheel below can help kids choose words to describe what they’re feeling.

Another side of the “name it, tame it” idea is to help your child give a literal name to the feeling of anxiety. This helps them to call the anxiety out and put it in its place. For instance, they might say, Well,Bruce” is showing up again, making me feel worried about this test. Bruce, you need to go away so I can get on with my class! This may feel a little “lame” to older kids, but it gives them a vocal power over their negative feelings and helps them to regulate tense emotions. 

Teach them to recognize their own signs of anxiety as they begin to arise.

(Such as heart beating fast, trouble thinking straight, sweaty palms, etc.). Anxiety is usually something that shows up progressively before it reaches full tilt, sometimes described as a wave that builds up and then ebbs away. The more your child can anticipate the wave coming, the better they can head it off at the pass with some coping skills. 

Teach your child some simple mindfulness and relaxation techniques for when they feel anxiety coming on.

For instance, they can take three deep breaths, inhaling through the nose on a three-count and exhaling through the mouth on a three-count. Deep breathing helps to slow a person’s heart rate and the amount of stress hormones that get squirted in the brain in a nerve-racking situation. Other very simple relaxation techniques can be found online. 

Help your child talk through what can be and what can’t be controlled in a certain situation.

For example, the fact that they will be attending a new school or that they won’t know anyone the first day or so cannot be controlled. However, they can control whether they open up and get to know other students. They can control whether they ask a teacher for help with finding their way. And they can control the knowledge that they will be coming home after school and can relax better. Direct your tween to make a two-column list, spelling out what can and cannot be controlled in their situation

Encourage your child to keep a “worry journal,” recording what it is that has them anxious and what they are feeling.

Another great version of this technique comes from Young Minds and is called the “worry box.” Kids can take a decorated box and, as they experience worry or anxiety over situations, record what they are worried about on slips of paper and put them into the box. At the end of the week, go through the slips of paper together with your child; have them determine which pieces of paper were worth worrying over (which is usually none of them), and have them tear that piece of paper up and throw it away. This is a great symbolic way of your child showing power over their anxiety

Coach your child to eat a healthy diet and get plenty of physical activity.

(At least 60 minutes a day, according to the CDC). And be sure they get the recommended amount of sleep at night for their age. Our physical health and our mental health are connected.

Avoid “pre-purchasing” anxiety for your child.

In other words, if you are feeling anxious over a certain situation your child is facing, your child will read you and follow suit. Also, avoid persistent family arguments and unhealthy conflict in the house. An environment filled with conflict only serves to increase the anxiety your child will feel at any given time. 

☆ If your child’s anxiety persists or increases despite these measures, be sure to pay a visit to their primary doctor with these concerns. 

Anxiety happens, and you want your child to learn how to read their own anxiety and develop coping skills. Keep in mind that anxiety is something to be worked through. And everyone needs someone else to walk with them through it—especially children. A key concept that 8- to 12-year-olds can begin to grasp is the idea that you have the power to not let anxiety get the best of you. And kids this age can begin implementing coping tools to demonstrate that power over their anxiety. 

Above all, be patient with them. Let them know you are there to walk with them without judging or shaming them for their feelings. A strong, caring relationship with your kids is the biggest weapon you can give them to build the inner strengths to handle anxiety. 

Image from Pexels.com

Feeling some disconnect? Is there underlying family tension? Is the management of household chores lacking? Are big changes coming to the family? How is everyone handling what life is throwing their way? Do we only talk to each other to discuss the next day’s plans?

Or maybe you want to prevent your household from going in 1,000 different directions and losing touch with one another.

You need a family meeting.

The Benefits of a Family Meeting:

  • Pause to connect. There’s a lot that may be going on individually. Work, school, friends, extracurriculars, health, the list goes on. It’s easy to disengage and disconnect with one another even though you live in the same home.
  • Be on the same page. Meetings ensure that everyone understands the direction the family is moving in. They also help to eliminate misunderstandings and miscommunication
  • Not leave anything to chance. Meetings erase the need for assumptions and statements like, “I thought you were going to do…
  • Coordinate schedules. As families move from season to season, coming together to talk about plans and schedules for an upcoming season can prevent being overextended.
  • Children’s Self-Esteem. Meetings make sure that everyone in the family knows they are important. They let every family member know there’s a space for them to be heard.
  • Mental and Emotional Check-In. Meetings are an opportunity to observe and share how family members are doing.
  • Problem-Solving Skills. Family members learn and practice ways to solve problems together as they see what is modeled in family meetings.
  • Sees interconnectedness of family. Meetings allow everyone to see how each person works with and depends on each other.

The Step-By-Step

Pre-meeting Setup

  1. If married, talk with your spouse about the need for a family meeting. Tell them what you’d like to discuss.
  2. Set a time that’s going to work for everyone. Don’t try to squeeze it in 30 minutes before a ballgame. If you have older kids, give a day or two’s notice, but not more. It helps them coordinate with their robust calendar.
  3. Set a place for the meeting. You may have them all in your living room. You may change it up and have it outside by a fire, at a local ice cream shop, or during a family meal.

The Family Meeting

  1. Introduce the reason for the meeting.
  2. Have a Brief Activity such as pulling a question from a question jar. There’s value in getting everyone involved, laughing, and talking at the very beginning. You can find great family questions here and here.
  3. Introduce topic. Be mindful of how you approach the topic. Is this a topic for discussion, disseminating information, and making decisions? Is it about solving problems or hearing everyone’s thoughts? Whatever the topic, try not to lecture.
  4. Leave room for questions and feedback. Be sure to give everyone an opportunity to share their feelings about the matter and its conclusion.
  5. End with something fun. (Game, movie, ice cream, karaoke, etc.)

The Follow-Up

  1. Over the next couple of days, ask family members individually what they thought of the family meeting. (They may have more thoughts they didn’t express during the meeting.)
  2. Proactively address any action items that result from the meeting.

Reasons to Call a Meeting

  • Family Conflict. Siblings aren’t getting along (more than usual).
  • Celebrate. A family or individual milestone, an accomplishment, demonstration of a family value, paying off a loan, etc. (Don’t use family meetings for birthdays or holidays.)
  • Transition. New home, new job, new schools, new person moving in or coming to visit.
  • Changes in family routines and schedules. New season of gymnastics, scouts, soccer, and piano lessons. Discuss meal and night routines when everyone will be getting home later.
  • Check in emotionally and mentally. (Your kids may “show” more than “tell.”)
  • Family values. Introducing values, noticing behavior that isn’t consistent with family values.
  • Family Lifestyle Changes. Moving to healthier eating habits, money-saving practices, altering rules about electronics.
  • New family initiatives. Eating meals together, being more generous as a family, implementing a movie night, game night, etc.
  • Family Rally for Support/Encouragement. Supporting a family member dealing with health issues, job or school stresses, or working to accomplish a difficult task such as running a long distance race, etc.

Rules & Tips

  • Be Purposeful. Have specific topics for family meetings that are important to the entire family. Do not over schedule family meetings. Some things are one-on-one conversations. Others don’t require much conversation.
  • Quiet children may need a prompt to share. If someone isn’t talking at all, ask them, “What are you thinking?” or “What do you think is best?
  • Meeting Length: 20-30 minutes for families with children under 12. Can extend to 45 minutes with teens if they are engaged and are keeping the conversation going.
  • Family meetings often start the conversation. Children may think about it more later and share in the days after. Be open and sensitive to opportunities to listen to their thoughts after the meeting.
  • No electronics during the meeting—phones away!
  • Calm tone by the parent. (Kids take their emotional cues from their parents). Display the emotions that you want your kids to have about given topics.
  • Don’t use this time to single out a child’s negative behavior. (They’ll begin to dread family meetings if you do.)
  • Teach and practice listening without interrupting. If you model it as a parent, you can set the tone to help your children follow the same practice.
  • Don’t let the family meetings get into a rut. (Change location. Keep it fresh. Call a meeting simply to celebrate an accomplishment.)
  • Look for opportunities to allow your child to lead a family meeting, too. (And discuss with them the end goal and then give them freedom to lead responsibly. Teaches them healthy communication, leadership, empathy, and problem-solving skills.)

Your family meetings may initially get resistance from your children and maybe even your spouse. That’s ok.

People often don’t see the value in them until they experience the unity, increased communication, and connectedness that result from them. The meetings can help your family navigate through challenging situations. Additionally, they can provide anticipation for celebrating unique accomplishments. They can become a family staple that provides your children with some predictability in an extremely unpredictable world.

Image from Pexels.com

Steps to Help Your Kids Handle Conflict

You need these tips in your parenting toolbox!

ConflictJust saying the word makes some people break out in a sweat while others want to run for the hills. Surprisingly, some people enjoy engaging in conflict, although most people prefer to avoid it at all costs. While many think that conflict is bad, it’s actually neither good nor bad; it’s what you do with it that can create either a negative or positive experience. The reality is, conflict is part of life. And your kids need to know how to handle conflict, too. The good news is, engaging conflict properly can lead to some really powerful outcomes.

Life can be stressful for sure. We often face complicated situations that require navigating differences of opinion, problem-solving and sometimes, agreeing to disagree. One of the greatest things parents can teach their children is the art of managing and/or resolving conflict at home, at school, in the community or on the job.

If you are a parent, consider how you and your kids currently handle conflict.

You’ve probably heard that it’s always best if your kids don’t witness an argument, but taking your disagreements behind closed doors all the time isn’t necessarily helpful. It’s a learning experience when young people see their parents disagree, work it through and make up. That’s the first step in helping children prepare for dealing with conflict in their own life, especially in those moments when you aren’t around.

It’s also helpful if you don’t step in every time your child disagrees with someone.

Instead, ask your child about the issue at hand so they learn to identify what they are irritated or angry about. Then ask what they think their next best step might be. This will help them learn how to think critically and brainstorm potential next steps. It may be tempting to just point things out to them, especially if you are in a hurry, but it’s far more helpful in the long run to teach them how to do this for themselves.

Ask your child about their role in the conflict.

It’s easy to assume it is totally the other person’s fault when both parties may have contributed to the situation at hand. Helping your young person understand how they may have contributed to the issue could give them some insight into their own behavior and how they might want to handle things differently in the future.

Before deciding what happens next, it is wise to address the feelings connected to the offense.

Stuffing those feelings doesn’t help, but neither is physically attacking someone or doing something else to get back at them. Teaching children how to constructively handle their emotions will serve them well for the rest of their lives. Sometimes the best lesson is experiencing how it feels to be treated a certain way. As a result, they will know how not to treat people in the future.

Finally, it’s time for your young person to decide their best next move and take action. 

They might want to rehearse a conversation with you before facing the other party. Writing out their plan might be beneficial. If you’re hoping for a constructive outcome, perhaps both parties could respectfully share their perspective of the situation. Even if nothing gets resolved at this point, they are making progress. 

Throughout this process, your child learns how to handle conflict themselves, which is a major confidence-builder. They will also learn how to slow down long enough to identify their feelings, brainstorm the possibilities when it comes to managing or resolving the conflict, and come up with a constructive way to move forward. These tools can’t be purchased at the hardware store, but they are certainly valuable ones to have in their toolbox.

Image from Unsplash.com

Give Kids Hope After Tragedy

You can help them process what's going on and guide them along the way.

When tragedy strikes, it seems to bring out the best and the worst in people. One tragedy after another has left people reeling in pain and raw with emotion.

While some experience personal loss and/or injury, traumatic events can impact everyone in some way. In most cases, adults have words and the mental ability to process what just happened, but it is a different story for children.

“Children watch their parents’ or caregivers’ response,” says psychologist Dr. Gary Oliver with the Center for Healthy Relationships. “Even if their parents didn’t say a word about the anxiety they felt, their children could feel it. Anxiety and fear are contagious. Children are very good at reading facial expressions and noticing a change in the tone of voice used by their parents.”

Situations like this are an opportunity for parents to teach their children how to handle tragedy. 

What do you do in the midst of crisis? How do you practice good self-care? How do you move forward even when it’s painful?

“In many instances adults can make a difficult situation worse by our own lack of self-awareness,” Oliver says. “Thinking about your own fears is important. Listening to your children and what they are thinking can be very helpful.  Tragedies like the bus accident, a death in the family or the loss of a home can become a great opportunity to build trust and communication, and to increase a child’s sense of security, continuity and stability.”

Oliver has these suggestions for walking through tragedy with your children:

  • Listen to your kids. Let them talk. Don’t feel like you have to have all the answers. Extroverted children will usually tell you what they are thinking.  Introverted children probably won’t, so it is important for you to understand the nuances of your child’s personality. Help them to share their thoughts by sharing your own thoughts and feelings appropriately. Comfort them and remind them that they are safe, secure and loved.
  • Be honest. For example, it is okay to say something like, “I’m not sure where we are going to live for a while.” Or, “Our lifestyle is going to change a bit.” Being honest can be very healing and therapeutic.
  • Seek to respond with patience instead of react. Children may ask lots of questions and become clingy. Model the steps that will move them toward hope and recovery. Reacting creates panic, often results in poor decision-making and tends to make things worse over time. Responding is more of a process where you acknowledge that what is happening is awful. In other words, you feel the loss, but have hope for tomorrow.
  • Focus on what you can do. In the midst of the greatest tragedy, we always have choices. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are a part of the grieving and rebuilding process, but remember that the process is unique for everyone. Don’t be afraid to seek help for you and/or your children when you feel it is necessary.

In demonstrating these steps for your children, you will give them skills for the future. Instead of feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed in the midst of tragedy, chaos or uncertainty, your example can guide them to keep perspective and continue to put one foot in front of the other with hope for the future.

How to Talk to Your Children When Bad Things Happen

Here's help when you have to navigate some really hard conversations with your child.

One of the biggest challenges of parenthood is explaining to your children about bad things that happen in our world. How do you talk with children about violence, death and other issues that are often difficult for even adults to handle?

Examine your own feelings first. It is difficult to talk with your children if you have not evaluated your feelings about what has happened.

For example, talking about death makes many people uncomfortable. Our first inclination is just not to talk about it. Somehow we believe that not talking about it will protect our children. The truth is, instead of protecting, we may cause more concern. It is our responsibility as parents to teach our children constructive ways to deal with tough situations.

Bad things happen and parents need to be armed with appropriate ways to deal with the bad things that happen as well as the feelings that accompany the situation. Children need information, comfort and understanding to help them process different experiences. Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers.

Is Silence Really the Answer?

While your first inclination may be not to talk about what has happened, often the best thing you can do for your child is to engage them in conversation. You don’t have to say everything at once about a topic. It is best if you don’t because children are easily overwhelmed.

When trying to talk with children about bad things:

  • First, listen carefully to your child.

  • Try to clarify exactly what your child wants to know – sometimes we make assumptions and give far more information than the child needed.

  • Keep your answers simple and brief.

  • Be honest.

  • Be sensitive to their need to talk about the issue – not talking about it can make children more anxious.

What if I blow it?

Sometimes parents choose not to talk about a subject because they think they are going to blow it and saying the wrong thing will harm their child for life. The truth is, sometimes we do blow it as parents and that is okay. It is rare that one conversation will cause irreparable harm.

Tell the truth

Honesty is the best policy. This does not mean that you tell a child everything about a situation. There are some things that a child does not need to know. You should share enough information to help them understand what is happening and to help them deal with their feelings. Whatever you do, do not be dishonest.

Teaching children about feelings

One of the most important aspects of helping children understand bad things is helping them identify and deal with their feelings. Feelings are not good or bad, they just are, but how we choose to deal with those feelings is significant. Children can often sense when something isn’t right. This can produce anxious feelings for a child.

Children seem to intuitively know when something is not right. Children want their world to be neat and ordered. When something seems out of kilter, children tend to react out of fear and anxiety. Parents can help ease some of these feelings by talking about the situation and helping children identify their feelings. This exercise gives children valuable information they can use for the rest of their life. Children need a strong vocabulary of feeling words (afraid, anxious, scared, sad, mad, happy, excited) to attach to what is happening inside. To say, “This is a sad thing,” or “This is scary,” helps children to understand that feelings are natural and normal. This is all part of life.

In this process, the message you’ll want to send your child is, “We can find ways to deal with this.”

To quote Mister Rogers, “Whatever is mentionable is manageable.” Asking questions such as, “When you are scared, what makes you feel better?” helps children begin to process and feel like they have some control over the situation at hand.

There are no cookie-cutter approaches.

Finally, experts caution that each child will respond differently to bad situations. Some children will become very quiet while others will become very active and loud. Don’t be afraid to trust your intuition. You know your child better than anybody else. As a parent, your job will be to stand by your child and guide them as they deal with their grief, anger, pain, feelings of uncertainty and sadness in their own way. Our world is a changing place. We can help our children feel safe and more in control by helping them to talk about these issues. Through this process, your child will learn one of the basic rules of life that with time healing can take place and things often get better.

Experts suggest that you:

  • Listen carefully to what your child says.

  • Try to clarify exactly what your child wants to know – sometimes we make assumptions and give far more information than the child needs.

  • Keep your answers simple and brief.

  • Be honest.

  • Be sensitive to their need to talk about the issue – not talking about it can make children more anxious.

Needs of a Grieving Child (taken from Hospice.net)

  • Information that is clear and understandable at their development level.

  • Reassurance that their basic needs will be met.

  • Involvement in planning for the funeral and anniversary.

  • Reassurance when grieving by adults is intense.

  • Help with exploring fantasies about death, afterlife and related issues.

  • Ability to have and express their own thoughts and behaviors, especially when different from significant adults.

  • To maintain age-appropriate activities and interests.

  • Getting help with “magical thinking.”

  • Being able to say goodbye to the deceased.

  • To memorialize the deceased.

Help Your Child Build a Strong Feelings Vocabulary

Happy

Proud

Strong

Important

Cared for

Appreciate

Respected

Honored

Cheerful

Liked

Courageous

Hopeful

Pleased

Excited

Smart

Gloomy

Impatient

Unhappy

Disappointed

Helpless

Uncomfortable

Resentful

Bitter

Sad

Hopeless

Guilty

Unloved

Hurt

Angry

Abandoned