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Protecting the Child, Preserving the Family, and Honoring Life

Is your child afraid of the dark? 5 tricks to make bedtime sweet

Fear of the dark comes from a toddler’s active imagination– the trick is to help your child conquer fears without squashing their creative brain development. If your child is afraid of monsters in the closet, transformers under the bed, or things that might come in the window, it’s a sign that they have a healthy developing brain. Ages 3-5 is an incredible period of exploding creative brain development, and research continues to show that creative play is essential for social and intellectual development. But when that little brain is tired and the lights are turned out, that active imagination can create real fears. If your little one is afraid of the dark, here are five techniques to help you turn out the light without tears:

  • Teach reason while encouraging happy imagination: Open the closet and show there are no monsters, get a flashlight and shine it under the bed, and show your child how the windows are all locked. But remember that reason alone won’t fix your child’s fears because her imagination is still on high. So replace the fears with happy things to occupy your child’s imagination. Figure out what is on your child’s mind, and then turn those thoughts from scary to sweet. Try to fill her mind with positive imagination, and avoid scarey media during the day. Even cartoons like Scooby-Doo, Transformers, and princess movies can have very frightening parts.
  • Address real-life worries: Snuggle with your little one and try to figure out if there are real-life worries on his mind. Has he seen bad things on the news? Did he overhear a conversation you had about adult worries? Was he exposed to pornograpy or violence? Bedtime anxiety impairs sleep in 20-30% of school aged children.
  • Have a plan for what to do when your child doesn’t want to sleep alone: For example, walk her back to bad, spend 2-3 minutes taking about what’s on her mind while encouraging reason and positive imagination, give her an attachment item such as a blanket, stuffed animal, or doll, and turn on another night light. If necessary, tell her you will be back to check on her in 5 minutes. The next night make it 7 minutes, and then each night keep stretching out the time until you check on her. Avoid the temptation to let your child sleep with you on a regular basis–this teaches your child that he or she isn’t safe in their own bed. If your child is sick or truly terrified, it’s okay to make an exception and let them sleep with you for a while, but sleeping in your own bed is part of learning to conquer fears.
  • Get creative with your night lights: Too much light in the bedroom can impair melatonin release and make it hard for your child to fall asleep and stay asleep. Pick a nightlight that uses red light, or an LED night light that changes colors. Get creative– consider a string of LED holiday lights on the end of the bed, a star projector on the ceiling, or a “moon in my room” nightlight. The blue light emitted from iPads and TV screens is especially known for impairing melatonin release and inhibiting sleep, so avoid the temptation to give your child an iPad in bed.
  • Incorporate stress-management techniques into your bedtime routine: You know the bedtime drill– pajamas, brush teeth, read book, etc. Try incorporating some form of stress-management into your bedtime routine such as prayer, mindfulness, or meditation. Even children as young as age 2-3 can learn to relax their mind and give away their worries as part of a bedtime routine. Finally, spend some time cuddling and talking with your child but don’t give into the temptation to stay with him until he falls asleep. Tell your child you can’t stay with him too long, but that you have a few minutes to cuddle and talk. Ask about happy times and sad times during the day. Ask about happy thoughts and sad thoughts. Then listen. You might be surprised what you hear.

Have you tried melatonin supplements for kids? They do work, but they’re not a long term solution for bedtime fears. Although there are times when melatonin may be appropriate for children, melatonin supplements do have significant risks in children. Instead, teach your children healthy sleep routines that will last them a lifetime.

The above blog was taken with permission from ChildrensMD.org. These are the views of the author and we are not advising you on how to medically treat a child with severe night terrors or difficulty sleeping. If your child’s sleep issues are interfering with everyday life like socializing with others or performing well in school, please contact your pediatrician for advice.

Resources for Parents:


Image with mom and child borrowed from whattoexpect.com

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3 Ways Empathy Can Help Your Kids

Today, everything seems to be going right for once. You successfully gave your daughter a bath, you let her choose her favorite outfit, and you even got in some quality play-time! Things are looking pretty good.

But then, disaster strikes!

Or at least, that’s what your daughter seems to think. She’s perfectly happy one minute, and then the next minute she’s in full-blown pouting mode. And to you, it seems like there’s no good reason. You cry out in frustration, “Quit your whining! There’s nothing to cry about!”

When kids start getting fussy or feeling upset, it can be easy to dismiss their feelings — especially when it’s hard to understand why.

Unfortunately, this dismissal is the exact opposite of empathy. According to Merriam-Webster, empathy is “understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.” (1) While empathy may not always come naturally, it really is key to raising our kids right. As researcher Dr. John Gottman (2) wisely said,

Empathy not only matters; it is the foundation of effective parenting.

But just why is it that empathy is so important? And how can our empathy help our kids?

1. More Empathy Themselves

Kids are perhaps some of the best imitators on the planet. According to research by Andrew Meltzoff of the University of Washington, infants as young as two to three weeks old are already imitating simple things like sticking their tongues out. (3)

While imitation can help kids develop physically, children also can develop socially and morally through imitation. Our kids are watching us carefully to learn how to treat others. And if we want our kids to be kind and understanding, we must be empathetic ourselves. In fact, a 2013 study found that when children feel understood, they are much more likely to be empathetic. (4)

So next time you want to brush off your child’s emotions as ridiculous, pause for a second and think about what your example is teaching. The more empathetic you are, the more likely they will be to treat others with empathy too.

2. More Secure Parent-Child Attachment

Not only can your empathy help your child become empathetic, but it can also help your child feel more secure and connected. For example, one study found that parental empathy is strongly related to a more secure parent-child attachment, or a close and healthy emotional bond. (5)

As humans, we are wired to connect. And according to Bowlby’s attachment theory, a secure attachment is a vital part of children’s survival and development. (6) Without this secure attachment, children can have a harder time developing socially, emotionally, and even physically. (7)

As we respond to our children’s negative emotions, we should think carefully about our response. Are we providing the empathy necessary to help our kids feel secure?

3. Better Emotional Regulation

Negative emotions are a regular part of life, even for kids. These negative emotions may come from something as simple as the disappointment of not getting their way or the frustration of having to share. But no matter how small the problem seems, these emotions are real! And for kids, learning how to deal with these emotions is a key part of their development.

When those trying emotional times crop up for our kids, how do we as parents react? The way we choose to respond to our children’s negative emotions teaches them how to handle their own emotions. Once again, kids learn a lot from our example!

One article published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology explains that when we respond to our kids with empathy, their negative emotions appear more manageable. Kids then are “better able to allow and tolerate negative emotion” (p. 215). (8)

So when your child is upset about something seemingly small, responding with empathy makes a difference! Over time, your empathy can help your child learn to regulate these emotions on their own.

Keep On Trying

Now that you know some of the benefits of empathy, you may be thinking, “Great. I know what I should be doing, but it’s just so hard!” Choosing to respond with compassion and understanding may not always be easy. And even the best parents fall short sometimes!

But as you keep on trying to respond with empathy, you may be helping your kids more than you know. So next time disaster strikes and your daughter has a tantrum, take a deep breath. Then do the best you can to respond with empathy. Maybe the next disaster won’t be such a big disaster after all.

For more information


*Picture retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/bantam10/17919229369/in/photostream/

References

1. Empathy. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/empathy

2. Gottman, J. (1997). Raising an emotionally intelligent child: The heart of parenting. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

3. Meltzoff, Andrew. (1999). Born to learn: What infants learn from watching us. The Role of Early Experience in Infant Development.

4. Richaud de Minzi, M. C. (2013). Children’s perception of parental empathy as a precursor of children’s empathy in middle and late childhood. Journal of Psychology, 147(6), 563-576.

5. Stern, J. A., Borelli, J. L., & Smiley, P. A. (2015). Assessing parental empathy: A role for empathy in child attachment. Attachment and Human Development, 17(1), 1-22.

6. McLeod, S. (2009). Attachment theory. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/attachment.html

7. Brogaard, B. (2016, November 9). Parental attachment problems: Child neglect and its consequences. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-mysteries-love/201611/parental-attachment-problems

8. Paivio, S. C., & Laurent, C. (2001). Empathy and emotion regulation: Reprocessing memories of child abuse. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 57(2), 213-226.

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The Increase of Teenage Abstinence

One of the false but pervasive ideas that is often spread in our society by popular media is the idea that some harmful behaviors cannot be avoided, so we might as well do them. Often people have the same ideas about sexual activity. Some adults push for education that doesn’t endorse abstinence because they assume that most teenagers won’t be able to avoid it.

Valerie Huber, the president of Ascend (formerly called the Abstinence Education Association) explained how many people simply assume that most teenagers have sex. She reports how one blogger at Yale University’s School of Public Health casually declared, “Teens have sex. Deal with it.”

But surprisingly teens are less likely to have sex than they were 25 years ago. The 2015 Centers for Disease Control research update shows that 6 in 10 of teenagers have never had sex.  That shows an increase of 28% since 1991.  

The CDC study found in their 2010 study that, “the most common reason for not yet having [had sex] was that it was ‘against religion or morals,’’ which was also the most common reason in 2002. The second and third most common reasons for females were ‘‘don’t want to get pregnant’’ and ‘‘haven’t found the right person yet’.’’

The trends in teen sexual activity are important for teenagers and adults to know. Abstinence from sex before marriage is proven by research to be the path that is most likely to avoid the pitfalls of poverty, sexual diseases, emotional struggles that accompany sex without commitment, and single parenthood. Teenagers who choose to wait to have sex until marriage create a chance for a brighter future for themselves- and potentially their future children. (Wang & Wilcox).

Teenagers need to know that abstinence is possible. In a society, saturated with the message that cheap, casual sex is the norm, teens need support from peers who share their values.

Huber expresses in her article that this information is evidence of the success of the Sexual Risk Avoidance educational approach.  This approach is growing in popularity and has shown positive results for participants. This program focuses on risk avoidance and life planning with education about sex. The program sends the message that abstinence is the only sure way to eliminate all possible risks from early sexual behavior. It differs from the typical Sexual Risk Reduction of “Comprehensive” programs. The comprehensive programs do not encourage teens to avoid sex, but to reduce risks.

The American College of Pediatricians recognizes the health benefits of sexual risk avoidance (SRA – formerly known as ‘abstinence’) as the optimal lifestyle for all youth.

For practical strategies for teens to commit to abstinence and for parents to promote abstinence in the home, please view the following ACPeds patient information handouts:

For more information on SRA , please visit the ACPeds webpage Sexual Risk Avoidance (Abstinence) Education where you can find the following resources and more:

 


References

Huber, V. (Jun. 16, 2016). Number of teenagers having sex has dramatically declined. Retrieved from: http://dailysignal.com/2016/06/16/number-of-teenagers-having-sex-has-dramatically-declined/

Wang, W. & Wilcox, B., The Millennial success sequence: Marriage, kids, and the ‘success sequence’ among young adults. Retrieved from: http://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/IFS-MillennialSuccessSequence-Final.pdf

https://www.mercatornet.com/family_edge/view/if-you-want-teens-to-thrive-teach-them-to-avoid-sexual-risks/19845

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_23/sr23_030.pdf

https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/sexualbehaviors/index.htm

Image with the ring above taken from: http://www.wisconsinchristiannews.com/view.php?sid=5926

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