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Sunday
May262013

Final's Week Prep

www.freedigitalphotos.com by Stuart MilesIt is hard to believe another school year is winding down. The week that separates the end of the year and beginning of summer fun may feel more like a chasm than a span of a few short days. Even the best of students start to stress at the idea of cramming a whole term and for many a whole year’s worth of work into a few short days of exams. The last chance; the grades that can make you or break you; just thinking about the week ahead can feel overwhelming and perhaps unbearable.

Maybe, your tween or teen is not the studious type. As a parent your child’s failure to show any signs of stress about finals week may signal impending doom. Maybe you are besot with thoughts such as: “Shouldn’t she care more; doesn’t he understand the importance; oh my goodness, he is going to fail;” for what’s it’s worth, you are not alone.

Final’s Week takes preparation. Your involvement in the prep process will depend on both your child’s age and natural affinity for organization. If for example this is your Middle School tween’s first experience with Final’s Week, she may need more guidance than you both realize. What follows are a few quick tips to prepare both you and your student for the grueling week ahead.

 

1.)  Create a realistic study schedule. A study plan can help create organization and focus while a haphazard approach to studying can create confusion and chaos. Encourage your tween or teen to develop a plan based on his testing schedule as well as his familiarity with each subject. If for example, his English exam will focus on several books he feels he knows pretty well, less time will be needed to study. If however, his history exam covers a large volume of facts that he does not feel he knows as well, he should be sure to include enough time to cover all the material.

Study schedules should also include breaks for meals, snacks and rest. Keeping to the plan will help create focus. If the original plan he has created is causing him conflict encourage him to re-write the schedule.

Maybe for example, he has blocked out too much time for one subject and not enough for another, or, he realizes he needs to study for shorter blocks of time and take more frequent breaks to remain productive.

2.)  She should study what she does not know first and last. There is a common inclination to study what we know first. This approach can create confidence, a sense that she already knows the material. In reality however, cognitive research reminds us that due to a phenomenon known as the “recency effect” she is best served studying the material with which she is not as familiar first and last. This approach can initially be confusing. She may be pulled to study the material in order. Remind her that if she really focuses more on the material she does not know first and last, her ability to concentrate and learn this information will increase.

3.) Switch it up when studying.  Have you recently taken a peek into his room while he is studying, and sworn that although his notebook is in front of him, he looks like he is staring off into to space? The fact remains that the best way to learn material is to take a more active approach. Writing material down while studying can be very helpful. Encourage him to take notes, outline material, and make flash cards. Studying she be a multisensory process. Encourage him to repeat the information out loud or suggest that you test him. The more active he makes the process of studying the more likely he is to learn the material. In order to ensure that he really has the material down suggest that he test himself (or ask you to test him) in different ways. If for example, he is studying vocabulary words, test him by both giving him the word and asking for the definition, and by giving him the definition and asking for the word. This will ensure that he truly knows the material backwards and forwards.

4.)  Encourage her to focus on what she can do, not on what she can’t. Finals week is synonymous with end of the year stress. Your tween or teen may feel overwhelmed especially if she believes that so much is riding on her performance on one exam. If she is especially concerned because she has been struggling in a particular class, remind her that worrying will get her nowhere. You can help her by taking a more active role in helping her study. Test her frequently on the material. Encourage her to create strategies which will reinforce her learning. Mnemonic devices such as acronyms or rhymes are often helpful. Remind her she can only do what she can do which is to try her hardest and give it her all. Be sure to frequently validate her efforts.

5.)  You can’t do it for him. As a parent it can be frustrating to watch your tween prepare for finals. Perhaps you don’t agree with his approach to studying. Maybe you think he is not giving it his all. You can guide him by helping him get organized and actively reviewing with him. In the end however, he will have to step up and do the actual studying himself. Sure it might be easier if you were taking the test for him. Even if you feel that the writing is on the wall, that he is only fooling himself, there comes a time when you have to take a step back and let him try. Remember, some of the best lessons we learn in life are through experience. Who knows, he may actually surprise you!

 

Sunday
May192013

From Tween to Teen: A Parent's Guide to Surviving the Transition

www.freedigital.comYes you will survive 13!

“He’s so snarky at home; she’s so rude; he’s an angel in the outside world, a real good kid; why is she so mean to me?” These real quotes from parents of 13 yr olds hit home for so many parents. As a parent dealing with a tween turned teen it can be a relief to know you are not alone; there is truly solace in numbers.

So why is it that so many new teens can seem insolent and even rude or mean at home toward their parents and siblings? How is it that in the world at large they are cooperative and kind?

Of course there are no simple answers to these questions. It is best to think of this age as the ‘perfect storm.’ There are a host of factors that contribute to early teen mean. First and foremost perhaps are the biological changes your teen is experiencing. The change in hormone levels can contribute to shifts in mood. It is not uncommon to detect flashes of irritability, frustration, sadness, and even anger that seem to cycle quickly. Their increased cognitive abilities (aka brain functioning) also contributes to their predisposition. As their ability to acknowledge and understand the world around them broadens, so does their desire to control it. A few years ago for example, your child would have probably barely acknowledged let alone understood a major national or world event. Today however, he may not only have an awareness but an understanding of the more global impact it has on the world outside. This is because ‘his world’ no longer just encompasses life at home and school, he now sees himself as part of a greater picture. With knowledge there is power. This is one reason why he may have an attitude with you. Now that his eyes have been opened, he believes he knows as much if not more than you do. The technological advances that have been made over the last several decades including the internet and cell phone connectivity increase his access to information and contribute to this point of view.

So understanding why your early teen acts as if he is the devil incarnate is great, but what do you do?

1.)  Work with her to set clear expectations and boundaries. If you give most early teens an inch, they will take a yard. If for example you tell her she can stay out at a friend’s house until 10pm don’t be surprised if she pushes for 11pm. It may often feel as if no matter what boundary or guideline is set she is always pushing for more. Rest assured, it is not your imagination. Early teens are looking to be in control so they will continue to try to push the limits. Your job is to clearly define what those limits are.

2.)  Be consistent. Yes, he can be relentless when he wants something or at least something more. Your job is to hold the line. If you give just a little, he will try to get more. This is why it is important to be clear in your mind about where the line is. I is also important to consistently follow through. Bottom line: say what you mean and mean what you say. 

3.)  Try not to take an attitude personally. Your early teen works so hard to keep her anxiety and concerns about what others are thinking and saying about her under wraps during the day. She sees home as her sanctuary. This is one reason why she may be short and testy with you; she feels comfortable enough to let go all the stress of negotiating the outside world. Unfortunately this often means that you bare the brunt. That being said, it is important to address your concerns about a negative or nasty attitude. Create rules and consequences that focus on remediating this issue if it begins to become a real concern.

4.)   Take emotion out of the equation. The urge to yell back when your early teen is giving attitude can indeed be overwhelming. In reality, anger and frustration only beget anger and frustration. Yes, having a good yell may serve as a momentary release, but in the end it solves nothing. Do what you have to in order to keep calm. Take a deep breath, walk away, at all costs DO NOT ENGAGE! Even if it sometimes feels like you have lost all influence over your teen, in reality you are his role model. When you respond to his negative emotions with calm and caring you are teaching him an important lesson about how to respond to adversity. As an aside, if you do lose it and yell; give yourself a break, after all you are human. An apology to your teen for this reaction at time when things are calmer sends an important message to her. It tells her that you are able to own inappropriate reactions. It also suggests that you respect her enough to acknowledge your wrong doing toward her.

5.)  Savor the moments of serenity. Life at home may often feel like a battlefield. It is important to enjoy the time you have with your teen. Seek out opportunities to spend time with her even if this means watching a TV show of which you are not too fond or listening to music you believe sounds more like noise. Although at times you may feel reticent about seeking her out because you are unsure of what mood or attitude you will have to deal with, in the end she really needs your support and input, even when she swears up and down that she knows better. 

Turning 13 is a milestone in your child’s life. As he enters the next phase of development his mind and body will change and grow right before your eyes. The early teen years are often fraught with challenges for parents and teens. As your teen continues to grow and learn you will be privy to an incredible transformation. Once he hits adulthood you are likely to look back longingly. For now try to enjoy your time with him even on days when his company may be far from enchanting.

Saturday
May112013

All Stressed Out, Helping Your Tweens & Teens Manage Anxiety

Our tweens and teens live in a world that offers them an array of options to keep themselves active. In addition to the typical stress often related to school, today’s tweens and teens also experience the stress of managing a multitude of responsibilities and recreational activities. Whether your child is into sports, the creative artists, intellectual pursuits such as science and math, there is probably a team, club or outside activity available for him in which to participate.

All this activity is certainly great, however, juggling both academic and extracurricular responsibilities can be overwhelming to even the calmest of customer.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) over a quarter of kids aged 13-18 suffer from anxiety at some point in their lives.

If your tween or teen is especially prone to feeling overwhelmed and anxious just getting through the day can be a challenge. What follows are some key tips and tools to help your child manage even when the mayhem is at it’s peak. 

1.)  Reduce the doubt, plan it out. With so much going on in your tween or teen’s life it is important that you and your child create a schedule or calendar to which you both can refer. Just knowing what comes next can cut down on a lot of stress and anxiety. Whether you decide to use a virtual calendar stored on a cell phone, tablet, or computer, or an actual paper calendar that hangs in the kitchen, his bedroom or family room, having a visual aid to know what comes next is of high importance. Encourage your child to write out the schedule himself. This will help him feel more in control of his life.

2.)  Structure and predictability are premier. Putting everything on a calendar is a good first step, creating an actual schedule is also important. Encourage your child to sit down and create an hour-by-hour plan that includes study time and meals. She should also be sure to incorporate short study breaks.

3.)   Multitasking causes mayhem. With so many gadgets available it is easy for your tween or teen to get distracted. Encourage your child to take on one task at a time. Trying to do too much at once creates stress and anxiety. It usually makes getting anything done difficult.

4.)  Tell your tween or teen to focus on what he can do, not on what he can’t. In a perfect world, all would go the way it was intended. Useless stress and worry about things that your child cannot control can lead him to feel overwhelmed. Remind him to put his energy into the things that he can control. If for example, his coach has decided to play him in a position that he does not feel shows off his best skills, stressing or complaining will not do any good. Encourage him to focus on improving his ability in the position his coach has chosen for him.

5.)  Coping skills can calm her down. Coach your tween or teen to try out different coping skills to manage unwanted anxiety. Some ideas on what she can do to de-stress: take deep breaths and count to ten, keep a favorite picture with her that she can look out when she is feeling overwhelmed; for some folks, music can be magical, encourage her to turn on the tunes when she needs to calm down. Another quick calming activity is to pick out a color and then look around the room and find all the objects that have this color. This will momentarily take her mind off her worries and give her an opportunity to recompose. Have her write down a list of helpful coping skills on an index card that she can literally keep in her pocket for easy review when she is feeling stressed. She may not have to take the card out to feel calmer, sometimes, just knowing that she has a list is enough to help her push through the stress. For other kids doodling or journaling can be a calming experience. Squishing a foam or soft rubber ball (a stress ball) in her hand is also can good way to relieve stress. Finally, some people find making lists of favorites (favorite foods, favorite musicians, favorite actors, etc.) to be a good way to take the mind away from worries.  Encourage her to try different things out until she finds a few that work for her.

6.)  Establish a daily ‘worry time’ for your tween or teen. Tweens and teens tend to be quite resilient. It is not uncommon for kids struggling with anxiety to make it through their day just fine. They work hard to keep it together, but when they come home they are anxious and stressed. This can sometimes result in an irritable seemingly angry and unhappy child. As we all know, home represents comfort. Home is the one place we can let it all hang out and be who we really are. In order to help your tween or teen manage all that bottled up stress and anxiety effectively, it is important that he has a place to put it. Suggest that he allow himself about fifteen to twenty minutes everyday when he is ‘allowed’ to worry. Whenever his worries pop into his head during the day, tell him to remind himself that he has to wait to think about them until the appointed time. During this time, he should write down all his worries. Once the time is up, encourage him to crumple up the piece of paper and throw it away. While this exercise will probably not result in the immediate washing away of all his fears and anxiety, it is a symbolic act that can result in a lot of relief. This exercise will also encourage and empower him because it demonstrates that he is in control, of his worries and anxieties, not the other way around.

7.)  Create a calm and comforting home environment. Even if your tween or teen’s room is a disorganized disaster zone, it is important for her to create a space that is calming and comforting; a corner amongst the chaos will do just fine. Cool colors such as mint green, sky blue, and lavender have been proven to promote serenity. Sweet smells such as cinnamon and vanilla also encourage calm. Make sure your tween has a comfy chair she can retreat to when she is feeling particularly overwhelmed. If she prefers to lie down, pleasant posters on the ceiling can promote calm as well.

8.)  Anxiety begets anxiety. Your job as a parent is to keep as calm as possible especially when your tween or teen is struggling with stress and anxiety. Remember, your kids take their cues from you. If you are a stressed out mess it important for you too to take a time out. Calmness can be catchy. When you are relaxed you are ready to help him.

9.)  Talking troubles out with an outsider can be calming. Although you may have a great relationship with your tween or teen, you may not be the best person to hear him out. Kids overwhelmed by anxiety often find relief by working with an outside professional. If you feel that your child is truly suffering, it may be time to seek the help of a professional.  A counselor can help your child build skills to better manage his stress and anxiety. It is natural for kids to try to protect their parents. This means that in an effort to shield you from his suffering, your tween or teen may be less than upfront about his struggles. Talking to an outside professional will not only build mastery, it will help him find much needed relief. Look to your child’ behavior to determine if outside help is warranted. If he is so overwhelmed by stress and anxiety that it seems to be affecting his ability to follow through on his daily responsibilities, such as school, activities, and/or chores seeking an outside consultation is suggested.

As a parent it can be painful to watch your child suffer, overwhelmed by stress and anxiety. Thankfully a little bit of intervention can bring great relief to your tween or teen. We live in a complicated, chaotic world.  By keeping it calm and consistent,  you offer your child the greatest opportunity to push forward and carry on.

 

Thursday
Mar282013

Laughter to the Rescue

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Parenting a tween is hard work. Because development is so individual as a parent it is not uncommon to query whether your child is old enough to do this or that. All this contemplation and concern can indeed be stressful! If you find yourself having conversations in your head about what to do, do not distress, this is all part of parenting a tween.

In an effort to ‘get it right’ with your tween situations can sometimes become heated and tense. You can feel your body become rigid and your face feels the heat. Take a deep breath before you say anything. Try to keep calm. Instead of yelling or screaming walk away for a moment. Better yet, if appropriate, try laughing it off. “Laugh,” you may question. Yes, laugh. At the tenses moments laughter can be the best icebreaker. It sure beats crying!

The tween years come and go in a flash. Talk to your tween about how he feels and the word ‘awkward’ may just come to mind. The tween years are full of indecision for both you and your tween. Indecision can easily lead to feelings of insecurity, which in turn can cause frustration and even fury. It is difficult to feel as if you are supposed to have all the answers especially when you don’t.

Your tween looks to you for guidance even though she may act as if she always knows better. This can be quite confusing at times.  A parent’s confusion can quickly turn to frustration and even anger. If you feel as if you are always redirecting your tween you are not alone. Your tween is too old to be treated like a tot, yet too young to be considered a teen. Striking the parenting balance with your tween can certainly be tricky.

So much stress and indecision can lead a parent to take too many things too seriously all the time. This is when laughter can truly be a wonderful relief. Take a breath, step back. One of the wonderful things about your tween is that she is old enough to understand things in a more abstract manner. This allows her to see situations from different perspectives. As her concrete thinking expands, so does her ability to see the nuances around her. Translation, she can now see more of the ambiguities in life.  She can now laugh with you more often.

Unlike teens, tweens rely predominantly on their parents. While your tween may have started to pull away, chances are he is still open to a hug or two. He probably still thrives on your attention. Take the time to cuddle with him. Enjoy a good laugh as often as you can. Laughter can easily defuse the stress. There are so many more memories to be made with your child.

When faced with a choice between annoyance or acceptance, shake it off, choose acceptance with a side of laughter. Of course the goal is to laugh with your tween not at her. Remember as she begins her search for identity her ego and self-confidence are vulnerable. If she makes a mistake or uses bad judgment, discuss it with her.

Look at the situation, infuse a little laughter, this approach will go much further and hopefully have a greater impact on her than a straight lecture. Use her newfound ability to use perspective taking to your advantage. Help her see situations through different eyes. A calm, caring and even comedic tone will go a long way with her. Yelling and screaming can take so much energy and honestly, after a screaming match with your tween can you honestly say you feel good. 

Not every situation will warrant laughter however, when faced with the choice, comedy always trumps tragedy. After all, who doesn’t like a happy ending especially when it comes to teaching a lesson to your tween?

Laugh loud, laugh often, the comic relief it will bring to both you and your tween is priceless. The tween years may not always be easy. When you negotiate the trials and tribulations through laughter it can make for a much smoother ride with your tween. 

Tuesday
Mar262013

Haggling Over Hair: Is it Worth the Battle?

Image courtesy of Dundee Photographics / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You may have memories of your tween as a young child who ran far and fast from the hairbrush. Inevitably, you had to plead and beg to get him to allow you to comb that tuft of hair. Perhaps, you gave up the fight early on and put up with the comments from friends and relatives regarding her head of hair. You knew what they were implying but there comes a time when you just let it go. After all, the battles were just too tiresome. If you were lucky she let you at least put her hair in a ponytail.

If however, hair was never a topic of contention when she was a tot, you may be scratching your head when the battle begins in her tween years. Maybe he refuses to get his hair cut. This would be fine if he had the kind of hair that grew straight and long, his hair however grows straight out. Maybe she wants to dye her hair, as she tells you everyone is doing it. Honestly, I made this mistake with my own tween. She swore it was temporary dye and that the plan was to color the tips red. Well, her friend ran out of red so she dyed it blue, and I am did not realize that ‘temporary’ meant until it grows out or gets cut off!

Who could imagine hair could become such an issue? Believe me, I appreciate hair. When I lost mine for a year due to chemo, I was quite excited when it finally grew back in. I never imagined however that haggling over hair could take so much time and energy.  What’s a parent to do? Hmm, no easy answer here or should I say, hair.

Control over his hair may be the first (and perhaps the only) sign of a typical tween power struggle you experience. Hair however, is a very personal issue. When your child reaches tweenhood, he is at a point when he wants to begin feeling more in control of his life. As a child, he depended totally on you to make decisions. You dictated what he wore, who he hung out with, and probably how his hair was groomed. Now that he is more aware of the world around him, he wants to make some decisions of his own; hair is a good place to start.

You have to decide if this is a battle you are willing to wage. My mother always says ‘everything in moderation,’ when it comes to haggling over hair, this translates into meeting somewhere in the middle. If he wants to avoid haircuts, set some rules, which satisfy you both. If for example, there is a major family function coming up for which you want him to cut his hair, cut a deal. Allow him to keep it long until the event. Agree to let him grow it again after the event. 

If your daughter wants to dye her hair and you are on the fence about this. Let her use a temporary spray that easily washes out. Avoid the mistake I made, verify that it is indeed temporary! When it comes to hair dying issues, you should also explain your concern that over dyed hair can become damaged and dry. It can even become burnt out and break. You should set rules about which colors are approved as well as product choice. If you really want to have more control, you may want to insist that color is done only by a professional or do it for her. It can be a great way to bond, and you are both bound to have fun.

The good news about hair is that it does grow back. It is for this reason you may want to give a little. Forget trying to understand why he wants his hair in an Afro so high he resembles a clown, or bangs so long they cover his eyes, hair preference is truly personal. 

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