Parenting in a Wired World

Many of this generation of parents can still remember the first computer we got, video games like “Pac Man”, and what life was like before e-mail, let alone Facebook and Twitter.  But our children are growing up in a wired world, where they have unprecedented access to any kind of information, both enriching and dangerous.  They can connect with their friends, via their cell phones, at any hour of the day or night.  And it is difficult for us, as parents, to know everything they are getting up to when they switch on that screen.

Thankfully, there are experts who can help us make sense of the digital world.  Here in Mission, BC, on Tuesday, April 23, Merlyn Horton of Safe Online Outreach Society is presenting for those of us who are living with, caring for or working with children and youth on:  Social Media and Bullying: How to Parent a “Wired” Kid.  The talk is at the Clarke Theatre (33700 Prentis Ave).  Doors open at 6:45, the talk is from 7-8:30, and not only is it free with a donation to the food bank, but child-minding is also available! A great opportunity for those of us who want to understand more about how to help our kids navigate the social media realm.

Here is another great website I was recently shown which can give you a quick lesson in digital literacy.

 

 

 

Supporting Parents

Sometimes I wonder about nature’s design for us humans.  We are created these blank slates; vulnerable, alien, insatiably needy for patient, loving, reliable caring.  Those first six years of our lives, especially, are so critical to our brain development, our sense of trust in the world, our physical health.  This is the time that really shapes who we will become, and what we will may have to overcome, in so many ways. There is a lot of scientific research that shows us this.

So why, then, were babies and small kids designed to challenge their parents’ resources so?  As adults, we become responsible for this most vulnerable being through a life-altering transitional period that leaves us in the dust, sleep-deprived, bodies aching, flooded with emotions.  We make our way on these limited reserves for years, slowly gaining confidence and skills.  We are busier than we have ever been trying to support extra people financially, emotionally, physically.

On top of that, we often confront the demons of our own childhood over again as parents, and try valiantly not to repeat the mistakes that were made on us. This can be triggering,  confusing and painful at times.  There are days when we feel on our last nerve from the screaming, mess, emotion, and power struggle it can all be.  And yet, this is a time when we are having the most critical impact on our children.

What parents need most of all is support.  Support to be able to get that sleep, to get away from that noise, get to that doctor appointment, or just listen as they sort it all out.  Support to deal with the rest of what life throws at them.  Support to come to the surface and breathe. Support to find balance.

We need other people who care about us and our children.  Our children need that too.  But too often, for multiple reasons, parents and children don’t have the support that support in their lives.   Then, the stress of caring for small children can be intense, and parents struggle to give their children what they need.  Building a community that supports you can be one of the most critical things you do as a parent.

If you lack support, where do you turn?  The first step is to get out there and start meeting people.  In most communities, there are places parents can go to be with other moms while their kids play, or get professional advice on parenting problems.  It can take some time to build up a community of support, but it can have a great impact on your own health and the health of your child.

Here in Mission, BC, (and throughout BC) one great place to go is your local Strong Start program. Strong Start helps your child (0-6 years old) get used to a school setting and gives you a chance to share a cup of coffee with other parents.  Our local Aboriginal Friendship Centre, and Mission Community Services, run “Family Place’s” which provide a variety of programs for families in the community.  If you have a child with special needs, you can find support at the Mission Association for Community Living.

Those are just a few of the resources in our community, and I hope to be able to share more resources as we go along on this blog.   If you need support with a specific parenting issue, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Calming Down

There is a piece of advice that is always offered to new couples; “Never go to sleep angry.”  But the truth is, sometimes going to bed angry may be the best move we can make.   When you and your partner are too angry and hurt, one or both of you can start to feel what prominent marriage researcher John Gottman calls “emotional flooding”.

When emotional flooding is occurring your heart starts beating faster, you may feel constricted in your chest or short of breath, sweaty or hot.  Your body is responding to what feels like a threat, and has gone into “fight, flight or freeze” mode.  The calm, rational mind has shut down, replaced by the more “animal” parts of our brain.  This is when the argument may escalate into yelling and name calling, or even physical violence.  You are no longer able to really listen to your partner, and nothing will be resolved if one person is in this state of mind.  Gottman’s research revealed that successfully married couples are usually able to stop an argument before it gets to this point, and take a break to calm down.

If you and your partner are experiencing conflicts that go into the “flooding” zone, it can help to discuss how you can support each other to take a break rather than allow the argument to get out of control.  When you are both calm, you can come up with a signal that you will use in an argument to let the other person know you are flooded and need a break.  It can be as simple as “I’ve had it, I’m out!” or a hand up in the stop position.  Agree that when one person signals, you will both take a break and resume the discussion when you have had time to cool down.

Keep in mind that men are more easily flooded than women and take longer to cool down as well.   Women can generally cool down in half an hour, but it is a safe bet to give yourselves at least an hour or more before getting back to the conversation.  Try to really do something that calms you and helps you think clearly, such as writing, exercising, napping, talking to a friend, meditating, or whatever works for you.  When you come back to the discussion, you may have a new perspective that can help move things forward.

Whatever you do, don’t feel you have to follow the old advice and spend the whole night arguing yourselves deeper and deeper into sleep deprivation and exhaustion.  It is OK to go to bed angry.  Remember that other old advice, “Why don’t you sleep on it?”  Much better.

 

 

Preventing Child Sexual Abuse

I was recently asked to put together some information on how to prevent sexual abuse of children.  As I mentioned in a previous post, prevention of some of the childhood issues that bring people to therapy is something I feel strongly about.  Childhood sexual abuse, and the secrecy, betrayal and confusion that surrounds it, can often leave wounds that persist deep into adulthood.  No parent wants their child to be abused, and there are things we can do to help prevent it.  I hope sharing this information may help:

  • Parents often fear strangers hurting their child, but the fact is, 90% of abusers target children they know well.  Gaining the trust of the child and their parents is essential to enabling the abuse, because they need to be able to get the child alone, and convince him/her to keep secrets.  Be aware of every adult that spends alone time with your child.  Watch for adults that have inappropriate boundaries with your children, such as making sexual jokes, exposing them to adult information, or allowing them to do things children shouldn’t do or you don’t want them to do.  Also, be wary of people who don’t respect limits set by your child.  An example would be someone who insists on tickling, wrestling or hugging even when your child is uncomfortable with the attention.  Finally, take notice if someone seems overly interested in your child, giving them gifts, luring them to their home with toys and video games, or offering to take them on special outings.  Sometimes, if people seem to good to be true, they are! Trust your gut, and don’t be afraid to set limits and confront people with questions.
  • Have open, honest, close and frequent communication with your children.  Encourage them to talk to you even if what they have done is against your rules.  Reassure them that you love them no matter what they have done, and don’t punish them for admitting wrongdoing.
  • Have a “no secrets” rule in your home and don’t ask your children to keep secrets for you (ie, “Let’s not tell Mommy about this slurpee, she won’t like it.”).  Of course you will have some things that you keep private, but try to be honest and forthright with your children in an age appropriate way if they ask questions.  Christmas presents and surprise parties can be framed as “surprises” rather than secrets. Let people in your life know you have a “no secrets” rule.   This may deter potential abusers.
  • Educate children about their private areas—usually described as any part that is covered by a swimsuit, but also teach them the names for specific parts. Explain that these areas are not to be touched by anyone except a trusted parent, teacher or family member for purposes of hygiene, or someone providing medical care in case of injury. Encourage them to tell you if somebody has touched their private areas.
  • Make it clear to children that they can say no to unwanted touch, even if it is a kiss from Grandma, or a hug from a friend. It may feel awkward and impolite, but remember the message you are sending: you don’t have to let them touch you just because they are a grown up. Your body is your own.
  • Don’t give children the impression that they always have to do what they are told by a grown-up. Role model for them that you are willing to listen to their feelings and respect their boundaries, and they have a right to say no.
  • Develop a code word with your child which you would give to someone if you needed them to pick up your child unexpectedly—the child should only go with the person if they know the code word.
  • Only use babysitters you know well or childcare centers that have your child cared for with more than one caregiver and other children (ie, no alone access to your child).  Check with your child after you use a caregiver: How was it? What did they do? Did y they feel comfortable with the caregiver?
  • Use software that blocks inappropriate websites, and be able to use a computer as well as your child can so you can understand how they are using it.  Monitor computer use, keep computers in a common area in the house. Educate your children about the dangers of chatting with strangers on the internet, posting photos of themselves on the internet, and meeting anyone they have met on the internet.
  • Teach your teens about rape and date rape, about setting boundaries and saying no to
    unwanted sexual advances, avoiding losing control with drugs and alcohol, and always
    having as friend as their safety person at parties and outings.  Let them know they and their friends can always call you for a pick-up, anywhere, anytime, no matter what they have done.

References:

http://www.leighbaker.com/child_sexual_abuse.htm
http://www.childmolestationprevention.org
http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/region/primer-how-to-recognize-the-serial-childmolester-223746/
http://shine.yahoo.com/parenting/the-stranger-you-know-how-to-spot-a-child-molesters-tricks-1354894.html
http://www.parentsformeganslaw.org/public/prevention_childSexualAbuse.html
http://findatherapist.wordpress.com/2010/01/15/recognizing-child-sexual-predators-protectingyour-children/

 

What You Did, Not What You Are

I believe that words are important.  I was an English/Creative Writing major, what can I say?  I try to be conscious of the words that come out of my mouth, especially with my children, though I am well aware that I often fail at that in the heat of the moment.

But one thing I do pretty well is telling my kids what I don’t like about their behavior, rather than about them as a person.  There is a difference between saying, “You’re so greedy. Give your sister that toy.” and “It is greedy to keep that toy from your sister when you are not playing with it.”  Or, “You’re so annoying,” instead of, “That shrieking sound you are making is so annoying.” (Oh, how my son loves to shriek.)

Brene Brown put it so well in her blog post about the difference between guilt and shame, where she quotes from her book, Daring Greatly.  Brene Brown has looked into the research on shame, guilt, and vulnerability and found that shameful feelings underlie a host of mental health issues, including aggression, depression, addiction, and suicide.

“We need to separate our children from their behaviors.  As it turns out, there’s a significant difference between you are bad and you did something bad.  And no, it’s not just semantics.  Shame corrodes the part of us that believes we can do and be better.  When we shame and label our children we take away their opportunity to grow and try on new behaviors.  If a child tells a lie, she can change that behavior–if a child is a liar, where’s the potential for change in that?”

It’s a simple shift, really, and it can make a big difference.  It helps kids, too, to hear the specific behavior that is a problem, so that they know what needs changing.   And it doesn’t just work well with kids, any relationship could benefit from us speaking specifically about what behavior we don’t like: “You’re such a slob,” vs. “You left a big mess in the kitchen.”

In fact, for many of us, the best place to change this simple wording is probably within our own heads.  We can sometimes talk to ourselves more harshly than anyone.  How about “Oh, I forgot the shopping list again!” rather than, “I’m such an idiot!”  It’s OK to point out problems, but let’s give ourselves, and others, the opportunity to change.

I encourage you to check out Brene Browns entire blog post here.

Free Workshops on Chronic Conditions Self-Management

I had such a positive experience a the Mission Leisure Center’s “Back to Health” fair on Saturday meeting all the people that work in our community to help us live healthier lives.   Over some time here in the blog I will share information about the different services and resources I learned about at the event.

One amazing service I discovered was FREE six-week (2.5 hrs/week) interactive self-management workshops in chronic disease, chronic pain, and diabetes.  This is a program to help people who are living with chronic health conditions.   The workshops are for people 19 years of age and older, and family members, friends and/or caregivers are encouraged to attend.  All participants receive an excellent resource book ‘Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions”.

The self-management programs were developed by Stanford University and are supported by the Ministry of Health.  To learn more about the self-management programs, you can check out their website www.selfmanagementbc.ca.  If you are living with a chronic health condition, this could be a great place to get support and learn new skills to manage your illness.

An Ounce of Prevention

When I was studying counselling my teachers emphasized that a good counsellor wants to get rid of their clients.  Their point that was our job was to get people to a place where they could end the counselling relationship, because they had developed the skills and supports they needed to cope with their problems or changed the troubling situation they were in.  That may take a few sessions, or a few years, depending on the depth of issues the person has.

Sometimes, I wish I could put myself right out of business by working to eliminate some of the societal ills that bring people to therapy.  So many people arrive in a counsellor’s office because of trauma that was inflicted upon them, with no fault of their own.  Sexual, physical, and emotional abuse in childhood can create long-term challenges for many individuals, and working with survivors of these traumas has made me committed to doing work that prevents these problems in the first place.  Eliminating abuse is a job I’d never be able to do on my own, but I can play a part in speaking out against abuse and educating people regarding prevention of abuse.

I am also passionate about working with parents of young children, because so often parenting brings up those unresolved issues from our own childhood.  When we are tired, stressed out, and in an intense emotional situation (all things parenting brings us daily), it is easy and normal to fall back on old habits, even if we know that is not how we want to parent.  It is the hardest part of parenting, in my experience, to come to terms with our own shortcomings and try to do better for the sake of our children.

The cycle can be broken.  It is important to forgive ourselves, and also to talk about it and seek support in coming up with new ways to discipline and interact with our children.  If I can help parents become the parents they want to be, I know I am also helping the next generation, and the one after that.   That’s the kind of prevention I want to be part of.

 

Mission Back to Health Fair

The Mission Leisure Centre is holding their third annual “Back to Health” fair this Saturday from 11am to 3pm.  Their theme this year is “Reaching Your Potential.”  The Leisure Centre will be offering free skating, swimming, and weight room access that day as well as many other demonstrations and services.  Local Olympic medalist Brent Hayden will even be there, talking about “personal excellence.”  For more details, see the Mission City Record’s article about the fair.

“Reaching your potential” sometimes sounds like a lofty goal.  Isn’t potential never-ending? Can we ever really “reach” it?  I prefer to think of it as “reaching towards” our potential.  Each step leads to the next, moving ever forward towards what we hope to become.  You may not always feel you are where you want to be, or even know where that is.  But you can usually reach out just little bit towards a better place.  Every reach brings you that much closer to what you want.

I am looking forward to attending the fair and learning more about some of the health services offered in our community, and meeting the people that offer them.  Mental health is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to “reaching towards” our potential. Making one small change in any area (eating, relationships, sleep habits, self-care) can lead to positive changes in other areas.  What do you want to reach for this year?

 

 

Welcome

Before I studied counselling, I obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts in creative writing.  I think counselling and writing drew me for the same reasons; they were both a place where people could share from the heart, and talk about their inner lives, and the struggles and questions they may not reveal in day to day conversation.  I have written in some form since I was 9 years old and started my first journal.

Here on my blog, I hope to share information that I hope will be useful to you, food for thought, and words of hope and comfort. I am not sure yet what form it will take, but I look forward to seeing it evolve, and I hope you enjoy it too.  Thanks for stopping by.