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Archive for Empathy

Helping Kids Cope with “Failure”

children failure

Every child faces the disappointment of not doing as well as they hoped on a test or not placing in a competition. Some kids bounce back from these “failures” and even seem to learn something from them, while other kids become so down on themselves that they want to give up. How can help our own kids build resilience in the face of life’s little setbacks?

Coping with Failure and Stress by Ray Williams. This article looks at the research on which coping strategies are the most effective for dealing with failure. What’s NOT effective: venting, self-distraction, self-blame, and denial. (I found this interesting as I tend to vent! I’ll remember that next time I experience a failure.) What is MOST effective: reframing our failures, laughing about them, and accepting the failure rather than denying it.  So, we can help our kids reframe their failures by pointing out to them what they did accomplish and what they learned. We can help them not take things too seriously, and, by all means, we can avoid the pitfall of pretending that our child’s failure was somebody else’s fault.

Keeping Failure in Perspective on Aha Parenting. In this list of ways to build your child’s self-esteem, #3 is “empower your child by helping her keep her failures in perspective.” As in the above article, this blogger recommends “reframing”: help your child see that “any given setback is temporary AND she has some control over whether things will work out next time. . . Then, give your child as much support as necessary so that she can be successful — which is very different than doing it for her. Seeing that their actions have a big impact on their success helps kids try harder next time, instead of giving up on themselves.” I agree: rigging our child’s world so that she never experiences failure is so very tempting! But it will backfire in the long run. I think perspective is important because frequently kids lack perspective on what their failure means. Getting a mediocre grade on a test does not mean their lives are over. Getting 4th place in a gymnastics competition doesn’t mean they are a bad gymnast. And let’s not forget: tests and gymnastics are not as important as the quality of our child’s character and the depth of her faith. We can remind her of that.

Failure IS an Option by Aviva Patz. Failure can actually benefit kids! “Learning to deal with setbacks helps them develop key characteristics they’ll need to succeed, such as coping skills, emotional resilience, creative thinking, and the ability to collaborate.” The author recommends that parents 1) be a guide, not a savior (help him problem solve) 2) don’t over-praise your child and 3) encourage your child to try new things – not just things they’re good at.

Helping Kids Overcome a Fear of Failure by Vicky Zakrzewski is an article written for teachers, but it’s also useful information for parents. When it comes to failure, kids fall into four categories.

  • Success-oriented kids “love learning for the sake of learning and see failure as a way to improve their ability rather than a slight on their value as a human being.” This a very healthy response to failure.
  • Over-strivers are closet achievers. They “avoid failure by succeeding—but only with herculean effort motivated solely by the fear that even one failure will confirm their greatest fear: that they’re not perfect.” These kids tend to underplay the effort they’re putting into things. They tell their friends they didn’t study for a test or they never practice their instrument even though they prepare and practice a great deal – more than could be reasonably expected.
  • Failure-avoiders don’t try to succeed at all. They refuse to participate, make excuses or lie about not doing their homework, or they take on clearly impossible tasks that they will never finish. Deep down they fear they are incapable of doing well so they save face by not doing anything.
  • Failure-accepters believe deeply that they are unskilled, dumb, or incompetent. Any failure confirms their belief. Even when they do well, they will tend to attribute their success to somebody else.

Kids in the last two categories will tend to focus on areas they are very good at and avoid anything that is difficult, while success-oriented kids are willing to try things outside their comfort zone.  Parents in the last two categories tend to punish their kids for failure while the parents of success-oriented kids tend to praise success but don’t punish failure.

As Catholic parents, let’s remember, too, the grace of failure. When I look back on my own failures, I can see the hand of God at work. Failures help us look at ourselves honestly and help us accept our human limitations. Even when I’ve followed the will of God, I have sometimes failed. This might make me wonder why God would want me to try something if I was going to be hurt in the process. I’ve learned that God calls us to try, not necessarily succeed. But when we have been motivated by love for God and neighbor, we will always learn something from failure – about ourselves, the world, and our relationships.

Intentional Links: The Anxious Child

the anxious child

An increasing number of children and teens are being diagnosed with anxiety issues. What is the reason for this trend and what can do we do to protect our kids from it?

How Big a Problem Is Anxiety by Robert Leahy over at Psychology Today.  “The average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950’s. We are getting more anxious every decade.” Note the possible reasons he offers for this increase in anxiety: a decrease in “social connectedness — we tend to move more, change jobs, participate less in civic organizations, and we are less likely to participate in religious communities. People are far less likely to get married, more likely to delay getting married, and more likely to live alone. All of these factors can contribute to worry, uncertainty, anxiety and depression.”

Normal Anxiety on WorryWiseKids.org.  This website is a great source of information and tips. This article link explains clearly what normal anxiety looks like at each developmental stage of childhood. It points out that anxiety is actually a necessary part of growing up. Kids just need our support in confronting the source of the anxiety and learning to make sense of it. The article then distinguishes symptoms of problem anxiety: if your child is constantly “keyed up,” experiences physical suffering because of her anxiety (headaches, upset stomach, insomnia), or avoids stressful situations, then she may be experiencing a toxic level of anxiety.

Are We Modeling Anxiety?  “Children learn how to act and react significantly based on the “models” in their world (parents, teachers, peers, siblings, etc). Research has shown that some parents of anxious children, especially if they are anxious themselves, have an anxious interpretation of the world, or view it as frightening. When parents hold this view of the world as threatening, they likely will suggest that their children avoid situations rather than approach them. . . Many parents want to protect their child from anxiety, but then kids don’t have opportunities to learn new skills or practice them.”

Understanding Anxious AttachmentOne of the greatest sources of protection against chronic anxiety that we can give to our child is a secure attachment to us. The scientific literature shows a clear correlation between a weak parent-child attachment and increased anxiety. In particular, children who develop an anxious attachment style to their primary caregiver will tend to experience heightened social anxiety (fear of negative evaluation,  people pleasing, distress in new social situations). 

Tips for Parenting with Unconditional Love (Intentional Links)

toddler

Loving our children unconditionally is a lot easier when our day is going smoothly, our child is happy, and our head is set firmly on our shoulders. But what about bad days? How do we love our child unconditionally then?

5 Secrets to Love Your Child Unconditionally from Dr. Laura Markham. “Unconditional love isn’t just what we feel. It’s what the object of our love feels: love without strings attached. That means our child doesn’t have to be, or do, anything in particular to earn our love. We love her exactly as she is. A tall order, since most of us have a little list of things we want ‘fixed’ in our child.” She makes several great points, including: 1) often our child’s weaknesses are just the underside of his strengths, 2) a child’s misbehavior is an SOS; we are more likely to feel compassion for her when we try to see things from her perspective, and 3) you can accept a child’s anger without endorsing the way he handles his anger.

Unconditional Love Is a Muscle from Aha Parenting. 6 practical tips for treating others with compassion even when it’s very hard, including putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. I would prayer as the 7th and most important tip!

Unconditional Parental Love from The Catholic Spirit. This article is concerned about the problem of parents rejecting imperfect children by aborting them, but the points he makes are very powerful and relevant for every parent. Because every child is imperfect, and those imperfections force us to confront our own assumptions about what we “deserve”. “For many [parents], it has become merely quaint to think of each child as a unique gift of God; children are more like planned acquisitions in our culture, acquisitions which should fit into our expectations about how our lives should go, about the ease and enjoyments that should characterize our lifestyle.”

Intentional Links: How Do Kids Develop Self-Esteem?

self-esteem

What is self-esteem?  This article is a good introduction to the concept of self-esteem. Self-esteem is “a person’s overall sense of self-worth or personal value.” I like the definition in this article for high self-esteem: It’s a positive but realistic view of the self. Ideally when our child reaches adulthood, he will be aware of his limitations but also feel good about himself.

Too much self-esteem . . . ? Narcissism is real psychological disorder. I love how Dr. Laura Markham explains it clearly here, but cautions parents against an adolescent diagnosis of true narcissism. Basically all teens are a little narcissistic!

What contributes to low self-esteem: A good overview of common contribution factors to low self-esteem. In a nutshell: overly critical caregivers, uninvolved/preoccupied caregivers, parents fighting, bullying when parents aren’t helpful, parents not helping with academic challenges, when parents don’t help, belief systems that make you feel guilty or like you’re sinning all the time, unrealistic images in the media.

12 Ways to Raise a Confident Child by Dr. Sears. A GREAT list of reminders! I also love Dr. Sears’ book The Successful Child.  The book redefines success.

Image credit: tcj2020 (freedigitalphotos.com)

Intentional Links: infant crying and fussing: what parents need to know

crying babyI’m renaming my recurring links posts “intentional links” rather than “Wednesday links” so I can bless you with great links on any ol’ day. 🙂

In this edition: infant crying and fussing. Here I’m selecting links that help us understand unexplained crying (rather than cry-it-out sleep methods).

The Frenzied Cry: How to Calm Your Baby. A couple of interesting suggestions for reducing colicky crying when the usual stuff doesn’t work: eliminating foremilk in breastfeeding and adding pro-biotics to baby’s diet even when breastfed.

Infant Crying, Fussing, and Colic: A Thinking Parents Guide from Gwen Dewar has a great deal of insight about why babies cry and what you can do to calm them. She says babies are soothed by feeding (Shaw et al 2007), skin-to-skin contact (Gray et al 2000), and gentle touches that are combined with other forms of communication, like talk or eye contact (White-Traut et al 2009). Fascinating: in a study of 3 groups that included London parents, Copenhagen parents, and a group that practiced “proximal care” — holding baby 80 percent of the time, responding quickly to baby’s cries, and feeding frequently, “the London parents had the least amount of physical contact with their babies—50% less compared with the parents practicing proximal care. These parents also had the babies who cried the most.”

Simple Ways to Calm a Crying Baby by Darcia Narvaez.  This piece focuses on babies who fuss and cry a lot at night. Dr. Narvaez’s key points: 1) A parent’s presence helps to calm babies who awaken in an upset state, 2)  Calming infants helps infants learn to calm themselves.  She offers a list of methods for calming baby back to sleep including recreating the womb, relying on familiar sounds, and skin-to-skin contact.

Why Infant Carrying Soothes a Baby When Nothing Else Will from Dr. Greg.  Do you have a baby who fusses unless you are carrying him?  “It turns out that carrying an infant triggers a three-way mechanism in the brain that suppresses involuntary muscle movements & struggling while also dramatically reducing the infant’s heart rate.  These changes happen almost immediately.  In fact, this process is such an automatic response to being carried that it could almost be considered a previously undiscovered reflex.”

Image credit: Phaen Din (freedigitalphotos.com)

Wednesday Links: Bullying (What Every Parent Should Know)

bullying

Bullying 101

What is bullying? Here stopbullying.gov defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” This page also explains different types of bullying.

How to Bully-Proof Your Child. Why are some kids bullied while others aren’t?  In this article, I offer 3 tips for bully-proofing your child.

Is It Bullying or Ordinary Meanness? by Eileen Kennedy-Moore over at Psychology Today. What counts and doesn’t count as bullying and why it matters.

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying basics. Ah, yes, there’s a whole new mean in town. Cyberbullying “includes mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles.” Cyberbullying is becoming a huge problem especially among teenagers. This page gives parents basic information about how and why it happens and what they can do about it.

CDC “electronic aggression” tipsheet. A helpful pdf from the CDC explaining types of electronic aggression and what parents can do to prevent it or deal with it.

Sibling Bullying

5 Signs of Sibling Bullying.  Most siblings squabble, but generally this is pretty harmless when their is a tone of warmth in the relationship after these squabbles. Some behavior, though, rises to bullying and can lead to serious emotional harm to the weaker sibling. Here are 5 signs that sibling fighting might really be a bullying problem and 5 tips for addressing it.

Sibling Bullying Linked to Later Depression.  We don’t want to admit that one of our children might be bullying another, but it happens. In this study published by Pediatrics, children who were bullied by a sibling were far more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression in adulthood.  “Social learning and how to behave with peers starts at home, and when siblings are bullied it can have serious long-term consequences as we found in our study. It is important that parents set clear rules about what is allowed in conflicts and they should intervene consistently when their children maltreat each other repeatedly.”

Wednesday Links: Strength-Based Parenting

Here’s a good one.  Intentional Catholic parents may be interested in this recent study (published in Psychology) about the benefits of “strength-based parenting”:

“Children are more likely to use their strengths to effectively cope with minor stress in their life if they have parents who adopt a strength-based approach to parenting.  Strength-based parenting is an approach where parents deliberately identify and cultivate positive states, processes and qualities in their children. . . This style of parenting adds a ‘positive filter’ to the way a child reacts to stress. It also limits the likelihood of children using avoidance or aggressive coping responses.” 

What is meant by a positive filter? I believe it’s a parent’s loving verbal intervention when a child is in the early stages of distress or confronted with a demand on their time, abilities, or emotions — a demand that stretches them in some way.  If the child is upset or worried, we can coach our child in responding in a healthy way to their concern, in a manner that draws on their strengths.

This approach contrasts with a parent’s inclination to “fix” their child as if he’s broken or defective, and sending that message to our child even if we don’t intend to do so.

If you’re interested in identifying your child’s strengths more clearly, perhaps you’d enjoy this book by Jenifer Fox: Your Child’s Strengths.  I don’t usually recommend books that I have not read myself, but this seems to be a useful and engaging book about how to think about our children’s strengths.

Wednesday Links

Some new links and resources for your intentional Catholic parenting journey!

BREASTFEEDING

Extended breastfeeding linked to higher adult i.q. and earning ability.  A 30 year study following 3500 newborns found that “longer duration of breastfeeding is linked with increased intelligence in adulthood, longer schooling, and higher adult earnings, a study following a group of almost 3,500 newborns for 30 years.”

SLEEP ISSUES:

Bedtime problems in children: solutions for science-minded parents.  Gwen Dewar, PhD, updated this page with new resources for parents looking for answers to their child’s sleep issues.  Tons of tips.  Understand your child’s sleep problems, separation anxiety and nighttime fears, the wrong or irregular bedtimes, allergies, poor-timed naps, plus more.

Darcy Narvaez at Psychology Today offers parents this informative series on toddler sleep:

Why Your Toddler Isn’t Sleeping

The Signs of Tiredness in Your Toddler

Helping Your Toddler Prepare for Sleep

DISCIPLINE

Parental warmth does not remove anxiety following corporal punishment.   From Duke University, research reveals that “a loving mom can’t overcome the anxiety and aggression caused by corporal punishment, and her otherwise warm demeanor may make it worse . . . It’s far more effective and less risky to use nonphysical discipline . . . Discipline means ‘to teach,’ not ‘punishment.’ “

Wednesday Links

Intentional Basics

6 Things the Happiest Families Have in Common:  Well, we could squabble about this list, but I found it interesting and a great reminder about the importance of respectful communication, and playing and eating together!  Most interesting:  passing on a family history children.

Empathy

Tweens:  How Their Passions Change:  A great article from Dr. Jennifer Powell-Lunder explaining how a tween’s (ages 10-12) passions begin to narrow as she matures.

Teens:  Signs of Healthy Independence:  By yours truly, this piece explains the signs of healthy independence in teens, unhealthy dependence, and how to spot the difference.

Gentle Discipline

Silent Signals:  Jane Nelsen explains the concept of “silent signals” — a positive, gentle way to deal with a child who interrupts you.  I do this in my own home but didn’t know it had an official name!

Kind but Firm:  Another great post from Jane Nelsen about the importance of being both kind AND firm and the potential harm that results when possess only one of those qualities in our parenting.  I appreciated her insights about parents who are opposites — when one is kind but not firm, and the other is firm but not kind enough.

Wednesday Links

It’s been too long since I offered Wednesday Links!  Here are some great links for encouraging us to live with generous love in our families:

Love:

Raising a Baby Well Is Like Climbing Mount Everest:  Just like mountain climbing, wise parenting takes preparation, focus, and practice.

Tiger Moms and Her Critics Are Both Right:  Fascinating.  This article looks at research which suggests that whether or not “tiger mothering” (pushing, pressuring, even nagging a child in order to get her to succeed) is beneficial is dependent upon the child’s culture.  Children raised in an Asian culture where community-identity is valued do okay while Western kids where individuality is valued do poorly.  Note:  in neither Asian nor Western cultures did children do well in critical, authoritarian households.

Empathy:

Play Ball:  A young mother questions her own inclination to sign up her son for sports.  “While most of us engage in activities with an end goal in mind (a competition, a recital, a game), my son and my niece wanted to engage in something for the sheer love of doing it.  After that realization, I began to look at this rush to put our kids in organized activities in a whole new light. I wondered if, perhaps, we as parents might do our children a disservice by taking them out of the yard and putting them on the field too soon. Or by placing them in organized activities where they interact with peers and other adults instead of nurturing their love for an activity with us, their parents, the people they really want to share their love with the most.”

Gentle Discipline:

Raising a Moral Child:  If you want to raise a kind, helpful, compassionate child, this NY Times article argues that a parent should 1) avoid making the child feel like a bad person through shaming and 2) focus on the child’s good character rather than her actions.

Kids with Strong Bond to Parents Make Better Friends:  When kids enjoy a warm, loving relationship with their parents, they are more responsive and caring in their childhood friendships.

Play:

Outdoor Play More Important than Indoor Play for a Child’s Development:  In this article, Darcia Narvaez looks at research which suggests that outdoor play is imperative to a child’s mental and physical well-being — even more critical than indoor play.  I would be cautious about the suggestion that indoor play is “detrimental” for children.  Indoor play is very different from outdoor play.  The article cites the dangers of video games on a child’s development, but there are so many more ways our kids play inside.  Indoors a child can build wooden block castles, make forts with his siblings, and play board games with his parents.  This are wonderful play experiences. It’s the balance of these experiences that matter:  kids need both outdoor play and indoor play; they need both self-directed free play, and family play which might be more organized.

Why Play with Your Child?:  A superb overview of the benefits of parent-child shared play.

Radiant Faith

How to Be a Prayer Warrior While Fighting the Battle of Parenthood:  Great practical tips from Charisse Tierney for getting into a habit of daily prayer no  matter how busy you are with parenting little ones.

A Strong Marriage

The Spirituality of Sex:  A great article from Dr. Greg Popcak about the true Catholic view of sexuality.