Overcoming First Day Jitters

How to help your child through the first day of school.

Whether it’s the first day at kindergarten, junior high, or high school — or if it’s a new school — children get excited but they also get nervous. These are milestones in your child’s life, and how your child adapts may determine how he or she adjusts to other “firsts” later in life.

“Kids who are fearful early on may be the ones who have a harder transition in other aspects of life,” says Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University and chief psychologist at Grady Health System, both in Atlanta. Inherently, “some children are just more flexible, more adaptable and these firsts don’t seem to be that big a deal for them. For other kids, any transition is very disruptive. It takes them longer to make the transition.”

Every little positive experience helps children adapt to all the “firsts” of their lives, Kaslow tells WebMD. “The more you prepare a kid the better, especially if your child is sensitive.”

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Helping Adult Children Through Rough Times

Whether it’s money or relationships, it’s always hard to watch an adult child struggle. What do you do when an adult child is going through rough times? How do you nurture without rescuing? Encourage without diminishing their problem-solving skills? Help without hindering growth?


Sometimes your adult child, more than anything, needs to vent. As you listen to this venting, you may hear clues to your child’s own problem-solving ideas or desires and will be able to make appropriate suggestions. And as he or she vents, your son or daughter may find the beginnings of his or her own solutions.

Encourage a young adult to fight his or her own battles with your support. 

By stepping in and taking over, you are taking away a valuable chance for your child to grow in competence. It is much more useful to listen and discuss your child’s difficulties — whether with a college class, a boss or co-worker or a troubled relationship — and to share some ideas or strategies for dealing with these difficulties. Then step back and let your adult child handle the situation. Learning to face challenges and conflict, do the hard things in life (from asking for help to apologizing) and work through worries and anxieties are all important steps toward full, functional adulthood.

Give loving support but stay out of marital troubles. 

It may be more helpful to say something like “I’m so concerned for you and hope however you work this out, it will be for the best.” Taking sides could come back to haunt you when or if the young couple decides to reconcile. Instead, encourage careful thought before acting. Encourage marriage counseling. Encourage communication. Share your thoughts about all marriages having ups and downs, times of closeness and times of distance and caution your child not to panic at the first signs of trouble, but to see difficulties as a sign that some change needs to happen.

If your child is in danger from an abusive spouse or boyfriend, offer love and safety.

If your adult child is being physically or emotionally abused, letting her know that she has your support may be vital to her finding a way to leave.  Do some research into local organizations for victims of spousal abuse and their support services and shelters.  Give her a brochure outlining the signs of abuse so the information isn’t simply coming from you.

If your adult child has a substance abuse problem, offer love and support for sobriety, but stop rescuing him or her.

A drug or drinking problem can, sadly, defy logic and the best of efforts to help. Let your child know that he or she is dearly loved and that you emotionally support his or her sobriety. But bailing him out of trouble again and again may delay recovery. As difficult as “rock bottom” may seem, often it has to happen before the goal of recovery can be realized. It may mean withdrawing all financial support or not allowing your child to move back home (and steal from you to support a habit). It is agonizing to stand back and watch addiction spiral out of control, but especially if rehab has been a revolving door, sobriety lost and found countless times, there may be little you can do except to set firm rules, stop decreasing the uncomfortable consequences of maintaining a habit, and express your unwavering love and your hope that your son or daughter can and will get clean and sober.

If your child has ongoing financial problems, don’t automatically run to the rescue.

Financial discussions, trouble-shooting and help in planning can be better than constantly funneling money in your adult child’s direction.

If your child has problem finding himself career-wise, set rules and talk options.

Finding one’s own path can be a life-long pursuit and we can learn a great deal from work experiences, career detours, mistakes and small victories along the way.

If you are willing and able to offer your young adult child a place to live while he or she is job-hunting after graduation or after a layoff or other unpromising job start, that’s terrific. But it’s important that this safe haven not be without limits. Loving your child can also mean making your expectations clear: he or she must get a job. That first job may not be the job of his dreams but it is a start.

Encouraging your child to get out into the world and start on this winding path to full adulthood can be a great gift.  On the other hand, sheltering him or her as your adult child waits for the perfect job opportunity can be crippling.

If you have an adult child who is struggling to find a career direction, listening and discussing the options can be one of the best things you can do. Community colleges often have career centers offering aptitude testing — and this may be a place to start. If your adult child has completed college, gone in a career direction that once seemed like a good idea but is now an emotional dead-end, career counseling may help. Your encouragement to consider his or her passions and how to turn these into a new career can be helpful as well.

It can be incredibly difficult, as a parent, to watch an adult child go through rough times, but in those challenges, setbacks and disappointments, growth can happen, Think back on your own tough times and what it meant to overcome these. Loving support without rescue, listening without rushing in with a solution, encouraging your adult child to find a workable plan to overcome a difficulty…all of these are ways to nurture your adult child while encouraging him or her to find his own solutions and plans for the future and, eventually, to thrive.

When adult children struggle with divorce, substance abuse, or similar life problems, it can have a major impact on their parents’ mental health and satisfaction.   Parents of adult children may find they need support for themselves.  Support groups, counseling, or self-help books can be useful tools to assist parents of adult children who are struggling.

Teen Driving

Teen driving- it’s one of the few rites of passage in the American culture: a time of exhilaration for teens, a mixture of relief and dread for parents. And no matter how intense the anticipation or anxiety, it is an inevitable step for both parents and teens.

While many teenagers can’t wait to sit behind a steering wheel signifying more independence, many parents try to delay handing the car keys to their son or daughter. This step is fraught with emotions and can quickly become a less than positive experience for both parents and teens.

While nothing will solve all the issues or salve all the emotions related to teen driving, some common sense approaches by parents can help assure their children’s safe transition through this period. Whether your children are toddlers or teens, consider the following ideas:

  • Decide on your approach to teen driving and talk about it with your children long before they reach permit age. This enables parents to set the limits without the pressure of having to make quick decisions, and the children to know what their limits will be once they begin to drive.
  • Model good driving habits daily. Children, young and old, imitate their parents’ behavior-good and bad.
  • Try not to tie the driving permit stage to reward or punishment. A driving permit is for the purpose of training and learning what will help teens become better drivers. Restricting that time, or cutting it short, as punishment may get your child’s attention, but it will also cut short his or her opportunity to learn safe driving habits with another adult-usually you-sitting beside them.
  • Pay attention to studies that offer guidance for teen driving limits. Research shows that the following factors are keys to teen road safety:
  • Driving at night puts inexperienced drivers at risk. Teen accident rates increase after 10 p.m., and even more dramatically after midnight.
  • The more passengers in the car, the greater the risks for the young driver. The likelihood of a 16-year-old carrying one passenger being killed because of an accident are 39 percent higher than those driving alone; 86 percent higher for those carrying two passengers and 282 percent greater for those with three or more passengers. Results were similar for 17-year-old drivers.
  • Younger drivers are more likely than more mature drivers to drive when drowsy.
  • Learn the laws in your state, but beyond that base the limits you set on your teen’s driving on expert advice and common sense, not what other parents are doing.
  • More than 20 states have enacted a graduated licensing system that begins with a learner’s permit at age 16, through a provisional permit and license with restrictions, to an unrestricted license at age 18 based on the youth’s meeting all the test, supervised driving, and other requirements.
  • At least 10 states restrict the number or age of passengers who can ride with new teen drivers.
  • At least 28 states have driving curfews, most beginning at midnight.
  • Underage drinking is a problem common to all areas of the country, as is substance abuse. Explain as often as necessary how your zero tolerance plan works. There is no such thing as a teenage “designated driver.” Not only should your teen not get near alcohol, but neither should anyone who rides in their car.
  • Parents who take the time to thoughtfully prepare for this important stage of their children’s lives, will help ensure that their young people not only understand the rules of the road, but they are also ready for the road.

Tips for After School Safety

As children return to school, many of them will find themselves home alone for a few hours after school until parents are home from work. The American Red Cross encourages parents and children to discuss safety tips to make after-school hours safer and less stressful. If your child is mature enough and comfortable with being home alone, include the kids in designing a family home safety plan.

Letting an adult know students have arrived home is a first step. It’s a good idea to have your child call you at work to check in when they get home.  With an older child, additional ground rules such as whether other kids can come over when you’re absent and if they can leave the house may be needed. Cooking is another point of concern.  Discuss if they are ready to use the oven, stove or microwave and if they understand how to be fire safe.

Follow these recommended safety steps to add to the adult’s and child’s peace of mind and preparedness:

  • Posting an emergency phone list where children can see it. Include 9-1-1, parent’s work and cell numbers and the numbers for anyone else who is close and trusted such as a neighbor or friend.
  • Identify neighbors whose home your child can go to in case of an emergency that requires them to leave home. Let the neighbor know the child is home alone and may call if needed.
  • Practice emergency plans with your kids so they know what to do in the event of fire, injury, or other events. Write the plan down and make sure the child knows where it is.
  • Make sure the first aid kit is stocked and stored where your children can find it; keep it out of reach of young children.
  • Let children know where the flashlights are. Make sure that the batteries are fresh, and that the child knows how to use them.
  • Remove or safely store in locked areas dangerous items like guns, ammunition, knives, hand tools, power tools, razor blades, scissors, and other objects that can cause injury.
  • Make sure potential poisons like detergents, polishes, pesticides, care-care fluids, lighter fluid and lamp oils are stored in locked cabinets or out of the reach of children.
  • Make sure medicine is kept in a locked storage place or out of the reach of children.
  • Install safety covers on all unused electrical outlets.
  • Make sure at least one approved smoke alarm is installed and operating on each level of the home.
  • Never schedule appointments for service representatives, such as a TV cable installer, without an adult being present.


Safety Steps for Children

When talking to kids about being at home alone, parents should stress the following steps, and post them to remind the child what they should or shouldn’t, do until you’re home:

  • Lock the door and make sure all the windows are closed and locked.
  • If the home has an electronic security system, children should learn how to turn it on and have it on when home alone.
  • Never open the door to strangers.
  • Only open the door for people you have permission to let in the house. Always check the peephole or window before opening the door. If unsure, contact your caregiver.
  • Never open the door to delivery people or service representatives. Ask delivery people to leave the package at the door or tell them to come back at another time.
  • Never tell someone on the telephone that your parents or guardian is not at home. Say something like “He or she is busy right now. Can I take a message?”
  • Do not talk about being home alone when on the internet. Kids should not share information about their location when using chat rooms or posting on social networks.
  • Never leave the house without permission. If permission has been given, call your parents and tell them you are leaving the house, where you’re headed and when you will return.
  • Do not go outside to check out an unusual noise. If the noise worries you, call an adult, a neighbor, or 9-1-1.  Let the 9-1-1 operator know you’re home alone.
  • If you smell smoke or hear the fire or smoke alarm, get outside quickly and ask a neighbor to call the fire department.



Talking with Kids About Alcohol & Drugs

The issue of drugs can be very confusing to young children. If drugs are so dangerous, then why is the family medicine cabinet full of them? And why do TV, movies, music and advertising often make drug and alcohol use look so cool?

We need to help our kids to distinguish fact from fiction. And it’s not too soon to begin. National studies show that the average age when a child first tries alcohol is 11; for marijuana, it’s 12. And many kids start becoming curious about these substances even sooner. So let’s get started!


Listen Carefully

Student surveys reveal that when parents listen to their children’s feelings and concerns, their kids feel comfortable talking with them and are more likely to stay drug-free.


Role Play How to Say “No”

Role play ways in which your child can refuse to go along with his friends without becoming a social outcast. Try something like this, “Let’s play a game. Suppose you and your friends are at Andy’s house after school and they find some beer in the refrigerator and ask you to join them in drinking it. The rule in our family is that children are not allowed to drink alcohol. So what could you say?”

If your child comes up with a good response, praise him. If he doesn’t, offer a few suggestions like, “No, thanks. Let’s play with this video game instead,” or “No thanks. I don’t drink beer. I need to keep in shape for basketball.”


Encourage Choice

Allow your child plenty of opportunity to become a confident decision-maker. An 8-year-old is capable of deciding if she wants to invite lots of friends to her birthday party or just a close pal or two. A 12-year-old can choose whether she wants to go out for chorus or join the school band. As your child becomes more skilled at making all kinds of good choices, both you and she will feel more secure in her ability to make the right decision concerning alcohol and drugs if and when the time arrives.


Provide Age-appropriate Information

Make sure the information that you offer fits the child’s age and stage. When your 6 or 7-year-old is brushing his teeth, you can say, “There are lots of things we do to keep our bodies healthy, like brushing our teeth. But there are also things we shouldn’t do because they hurt our bodies, like smoking or taking medicines when we are not sick.”

If you are watching TV with your 8 year-old and marijuana is mentioned on a program, you can say, “Do you know what marijuana is? It’s a bad drug that can hurt your body.” If your child has more questions, answer them. If not, let it go. Short, simple comments said and repeated often enough will get the message across.

You can offer your older child the same message, but add more drug-specific information. For example, you might explain to your 12-year-old what marijuana and crack look like, their street names and how they can affect his body.





Establish a Clear Family Position on Drugs

It’s okay to say, “We don’t allow any drug use and children in this family are not allowed to drink alcohol. The only time that you can take any drugs is when the doctor or Mom or Dad gives you medicine when you’re sick. We made this rule because we love you very much and we know that drugs can hurt your body and make you very sick; some may even kill you. Do you have any questions?”


Be a Good Example

Children will do what you do much more readily than what you say. So try not to reach for a beer the minute you come home after a tough day; it sends the message that drinking is the best way to unwind. Offer dinner guests non-alcoholic drinks in addition to wine and spirits. And take care not to pop pills, even over-the-counter remedies, indiscriminately. Your behavior needs to reflect your beliefs.


Discuss What Makes a Good Friend

Since peer pressure is so important when it comes to kids’ involvement with drugs and alcohol, it makes good sense to talk with your children about what makes a good friend. To an 8-year-old you might say, “A good friend is someone who enjoys the same games and activities that you do and who is fun to be around.” 11 to 12-year-olds can understand that a friend is someone who shares their values and experiences, respects their decisions and listens to their feelings. Once you’ve gotten these concepts across, your children will understand that “friends” who pressure them to drink or smoke pot aren’t friends at all. Additionally, encouraging skills like sharing and cooperation—and strong involvement in fun, healthful activities (such as team sports or scouting)—will help your children make and maintain good friendships and increase the chance they’ll remain drug-free.


Build Self-esteem

Kids who feel good about themselves are much less likely than other kids to turn to illegal substances to get high. As parents, we can do many things to enhance our children’s self-image. Here are some pointers:

  • Offer lots of praise for any job well done.
  • If you need to criticize your child, talk about the action, not the person. If your son gets a math problem wrong, it’s better to say, “I think you added wrong. Let’s try again.”
  • Assign do-able chores. A 6-year-old can bring her plate over to the sink after dinner; a 12-year-old can feed and walk the dog after school. Performing such duties and being praised for them helps your child feel good.
  • Spend one-on-one time with your youngster. Setting aside at least 15 uninterrupted minutes per child per day to talk, play a game, or take a walk together, lets her know you care.
  • Say, “I love you.” Nothing will make your child feel better.


Repeat the Message

Information and lessons about drugs are important enough to repeat frequently. So be sure to answer your children’s questions as often as they ask them to initiate conversation whenever the opportunity arises.


If You Suspect a Problem, Seek Help

While kids under age 12 rarely develop a substance problem, it can—and does—happen. If your child becomes withdrawn, loses weight, starts doing poorly in school, turns extremely moody, has glassy eyes—or if the drugs in your medicine cabinet seem to be disappearing too quickly—talk with your child and reach out for professional assistance. You’ll be helping your youngster to a healthier, happier future.

Helping Children Cope with Loss

The death of a loved one is always difficult. In cases where the death results from a disaster, it can be even more troubling given the suddenness and violent nature of the event. For children, the loss of a parent, sibling, relative or friend can affect their sense of security. Helping children cope with their loss will be crucial in enabling them to resume their lives more fully at home and school.

Responses to Loss

Children deal with death in many different ways, and not necessarily in the same manner as adults. Here are some common ways children might respond to a death:

  • Sadness
  • Denial, shock and confusion
  • Anger and irritability
  • Inability to sleep
  • Nightmares
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fear of being alone
  • Physical complaints such as stomachaches and headaches
  • Loss of concentration
  • Guilt over failure to prevent the loss
  • Depression or a loss of interest in daily activities and events
  • Acting much younger for an extended period or reverting to earlier behaviors (e.g., bedwetting, baby talk or thumb-sucking)
  • Boisterous play
  • Withdrawal from friends
  • Sharp drop in school performance or refusal to attend school
  • Excessively imitating or asking questions about the deceased or making repeated statements of wanting to join the deceased
  • Inventing games about dying
  • Profound emotional reactions (e.g., anxiety attacks, chronic fatigue or thoughts of suicide)

Tips for Helping Children and Adolescents Grieve

Children will express their grief in a variety of ways and may appear to be unaffected by the death. Pre-schoolers have difficulty understanding that death is not temporary; children between the ages of five and nine begin to experience grief more like adults.

Don’t push children to talk about their feelings. Children, like adults, need time to grieve and be upset. Let them know you are ready to listen, and provide reassurance and validation of their feelings when they express them.

Here are some issues to consider when helping a child overcome loss:

  • Children are concrete in their thinking. To lessen confusion, avoid expressions such as passed on or went to sleep. Answer their questions about death simply and honestly. Only offer details that they can absorb. Don’t overload them with information.
  • Children are physical in their grief. Watch their bodies, and understand and support their play and actions as their language of grief. Offer reassurance.
  • Children can be fearful about death and the future. Give them a chance to talk about their fears and validate their feelings. Share happy memories about the person who died. Offer a simple expression of sorrow and take time to listen.
  • Children need choices. Whenever possible, offer choices in what they do or don’t do to memorialize the deceased and ways to express their feelings about the death. Help the child plant a tree or dedicate a place in memory of the person who died.
  • Children grieve as part of a family. Children grieve the person and the changed behavior and environment of family and friends. Keep regular routines as much as possible.
  • Children are repetitive in their grief. Respond patiently to their uncertainty and concerns. It can take a long time to recover from a loss. Expect their grief to revisit in cycles throughout their childhood or adolescence. A strong reminder, such as the anniversary of a death, may reawaken grief. Make yourself available to talk.