An excellent resource for both children and parents!
Like so much of the nation, we are caught in “Downton Abbey’s” thrall. Sunday evenings have been transformed from the dreaded night when preparation for the following week begins to Downton Night, a blissful evening of mindless, Edwardian fun. But is it mindless? Layered into Julian Fellowes’ crackling dialogue are some of the best parenting lessons of the last 90 years. Looking on from our American 21st-century vantage point we feel that Lord and Lady Grantham and their brood have taught us a few things. [Watch out — spoilers below!]
1. Grandparents have a crucial role to play in any family as dispensers of wisdom and healers of souls. No one can put a situation into perspective better than someone who has seen seven decades pass. In times of pain and panic, it is the Dowager who is needed most.
2. If we do not change with the times and listen to those much younger than ourselves — our children in particular, even when they seem callow and naive — we will soon become obsolete. The world is spinning on and we must listen to the young or risk forever being a prisoner of 1923 or 2013. Even without a sneak peak of Episode Six, it is clear that Robert better start listening to Matthew.
3. We mustn’t wait until caught in the grips of grieving to tell our siblings how much they mean to us. The sibling relationship is life’s longest, and we would be fools take it for granted.
4. A home is truly only a building, even if it is Downton Abbey. Losing it or any other possessions matters little compared to losing those we love. We did not shed a tear when we thought the family would lose their beloved Downton; the same cannot be said of Sybil’s passing.
5. If our child finds true love (or friendship), whether or not the object of that love is someone we would have selected, we must rejoice for them. A seeming gentleman might jilt our daughter at the altar, but a good man will love her until her last breath. One need only look at the sad episode of Edith and Anthony versus the true love shared by Sybil and Tom.
6. Our children need and deserve our understanding and forgiveness — true forgiveness, even when they have done wrong. We love them and that love must transcend their mistakes. Mary’s painful transgression with Kemal Pamuk did not deprive her of her father’s love.
7. Never underestimate the power of a well-chosen few words. Speaking softly but strongly can have amazing results. The Dowager and Dr. Clarkson chose their words judiciously so that even though Cora’s heart was breaking, she was not alone.
8. People can reinvent themselves — just give them a chance to prove that they’ve changed, and avoid being judgmental and closed-minded, as the family was with Ethel.
9. When our deepest gut feeling tells us that there is something wrong with our child, even when experts may not agree, we need to follow our gut. Watching our child for a lifetime, through all of its up and downs, makes us an expert. No one knew Sybil better than her own mother.
10. Turning on those we love at life’s worst moments — although perhaps understandable in our rage — will only magnify our grief. True consolation and understanding come from those we love the most, as Robert and Cora learn.
11. If someone truly cares for us, we should give them the chance to show how much. It is amazing what good things happen when we let love into our lives, as Daisy did with Mr. Mason.
12. When things are difficult, it helps to have someone to talk to honestly. True friendships are one of life’s greatest gifts. We must not keep our problems bottled up inside. Where would Mrs. Hughes be without the loyal Mrs. Patmore?
13. We should teach our children to have faith in the people they love, even at the worst of times, like Anna and Mr. Bates.
14. If we have different rules and standards for our sons and daughters, things will not go well. If Mary could have inherited Downton Abbey, the show might have ended after the first season.
15. We must teach our children to be careful with their trust and alliances. Some who appear to be their friends will betray them. It is hard to know if someone is an O’Brien or a Thomas.
16. The loyalty and love of our children is one of life’s greatest blessings, never to be taken lightly. Mary’s loyalty to her father, when he is right and even when he is wrong, is a source of comfort and strength.
17. We don’t need to like or even approve of everything our children do, but we can still offer encouragement. When our children’s passions emerge and they show real enterprise, they need us as their supporters. It is hard not to imagine that someday Robert will be proud of a daughter who is a successful journalist.
This is actually some good advice, LOL.
Is your child a warrior, or a worrier?
That cute — and memorable — phrasing comes from “Why Can Some Kids Handle Pressure While Others Fall Apart?” by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman (famous for “Nurture Shock” and now the authors of “Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing”) in The Times Magazine. It’s shorthand for a problem most of us are familiar with: some people seem born to take tests or compete. For others, the whisper of pressure can trigger the seeming disappearance of everything we ever learned.
In their magazine piece, the authors look at what lies under that difference: “how we were raised, our skills and experience, the hormones that we marinated in as fetuses.”
But while understanding the causes may help promote eventual changes in standardized testing, there’s no way to entirely avoid the need to perform under pressure — and no way to avoid it on behalf of our children.
For the parents of worriers, one question hovers over the topic: how can we help our children learn to both perform better, and feel that stress just a little less? I asked the magazine piece’s authors to help me pull out what they learned in researching their article, and to share some other ideas and background that might help.
Embrace the anxiety. Students who read a statement declaring that recent research suggests “people who feel anxious during a test might actually do better” did, in fact, do better on tests, in the lab and outside.
Find competition that’s fun. Spelling bees, chess teams, sports, science fairs: when the pressure is predictable and comes with friends and excitement, even worriers build up their tolerance for the stress that doesn’t include those benefits (like the SAT exams). These competitions “give kids the chance to make that connection between feeling a little anxious and performing at their best,” Mr. Bronson said.
Emphasize success. Even when competition is fun, getting through it is a victory for a “worrier.” Help your child focus on the ebbs and flows of the competitive anxiety, and then remind him to celebrate the accomplishment — and think back to it the next time that anxiety rears its head. Parents comfort children when they feel insecure, but we also need to foster exploratory behavior. “By destabilizing children, pushing them, we help children be brave in unfamiliar situations, stand up for themselves, and learn to take risks.”
Watch for when “stress” turns into “distress.” For many children, short-term stress can be energizing. But when it goes beyond the short term into a larger problem, “parents need to try to find the triggers that change test taking from a challenge state to a threat state.” The child who lost sleep for a month over standardized testing (described in the article) had heard from teachers that school funding and teacher pay is partly tied to these tests now, so he felt an enormous burden to score super high on the standardized tests, to help buoy the school’s averages.
Change the story. “Right now, the story is that college spots are really hard to get,” Mr. Bronson wrote in an e-mail. “Cary Roseth, assistant professor of education at Michigan State University, classifies the race to college as a ‘scramble competition,’ like a huge game of musical chairs – except with too few chairs. This is somewhat of an illusion. Every year, U.C.L.A. runs a national survey of incoming college freshmen; last year, they collected data from over 204,000 frosh who attend 270 different bachelor’s colleges. 83 percent of them were attending their first or second choice college. U.C.L.A., all by itself, admitted almost 16,000 applicants. Over 10,000 of them turned U.C.L.A. down. Nationally, 59 percent of all admittances are turned down by the students. So who is rejecting who here? Maybe we all need to hold our tongues when we’re tempted to scare the kids, ‘You know, you have to study harder if you want to get into a U.C.’ And maybe when we say, reassuringly, ‘There’s a good college for everyone,’ we have to convince ourselves first.”
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“Dad’s an addict.” “Mom’s going to rehab.” These are not easy conversations to have with a child, even one that has long been aware that there’s a problem.
More than 28 million Americans are children of alcoholics, yet addiction isn’t being talked about in most homes. Instead, children grow up facing a lifetime of issues other kids don’t have to manage. They tend to have more emotional, behavioral and academic problems than other kids, and are four times more likely to become addicts themselves. They are also at greater risk of abuse and neglect, witnessing domestic violence, and marrying an addict later in life.
As children learn to fend for themselves to survive, unpredictability and chaos become the norm in addicted homes. Lack of consistent discipline can produce deficits in self-control and personal responsibility, or conversely, over-control or hyper-vigilance. Children may even feel that their parent’s drug problem — and the subsequent breakup of the family or removal of the child from the home that sometimes ensues — is their fault.
Their emotions run a confusing gamut. At once resentful of and loyal to their addicted parent, children are reluctant to open up and share long-held family secrets, even if they desperately want the support. They may have a strong self-preservation instinct, but at the same time, they’re not sure if they deserve to take care of their own needs when their parent is spiraling out of control. The conflicting feelings continue as children get a glimmer of hope when their parent promises to quit even though they’ve been disappointed repeatedly.
In this impossible situation, what can parents, caretakers or other adults say to their children? How do they explain the wreckage of addiction to someone who, at a young age, has already been overexposed to some of the darkest potentialities of life?
Time the Conversation. A conversation about a parent’s addiction is best had when there are no distractions and the situation is relatively calm. If possible, bring it up when there is a plan in place to get help for the addicted parent. Explain that there’s a problem and you’re taking steps to improve the situation. Talk about what will change (e.g., Mom or Dad will go to rehab, or one parent may move out if separating or divorcing). Repeat the conversation as often as needed so that the child feels comfortable having an ongoing dialogue.
Keep It Age-Appropriate. The language you use and the level of detail you provide depend on the age and maturity of the child. Break the issues down as simply and directly as possible, and finish with a message of hope.
Tell the Truth. Although you’ll need to use different terms depending on the age of the child, you should always be honest about the problem. Children have an innate ability to read when adults are lying. Explain that addiction is a disease caused by a number of factors, including genetics, environment and past trauma. Similar to people with diabetes and heart disease, their parent is sick and needs treatment to feel better.
Get Educated. Educate yourself about the disease of addiction so you are in a position to answer any questions the child may have. If you don’t know the answer, work on finding one together.
Acknowledge the Impact. Rather than skirt around the impact a parent’s addiction has had, validate the child’s experience. Apologize for the pain inflicted on the child and ask open-ended questions about how they’ve been feeling.
Release the Shame. One of the most important things for children to understand is that addiction is not their fault. They didn’t cause their parent to abuse drugs or alcohol and they cannot cure or control it. This can be hard for children to understand, especially if the addicted parent blamed their drug abuse on a child’s behavior (e.g., “I wouldn’t need to drink if you’d do your chores.”). Children need help to understand that what the addict says and does under the influence isn’t really who they are or how they feel. Addiction hijacks the brain and just as the child is powerless to stop it, the parent is out of control as well.
Put Things Into Perspective. Children from addicted homes tend to idealize other families without realizing they have struggles of their own. Help them understand that they are not alone; in fact, millions of children are in the same situation. They are normal kids thrust into an unhealthy home environment who are doing their best to cope with an extremely stressful situation.
Invite Dialogue. After being disconnected from themselves and others, it may take practice for the child of an addict to be able to identify and process their emotions. To combat the secretiveness, fear and loneliness addiction brings, encourage them to talk about their feelings without criticism or judgment.
Teach the Seven Cs. According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, children need to know the “Seven Cs of Addiction”:
- I didn’t Cause it.
I can’t Cure it. I can’t Control it. I can Care for myself By Communicating my feelings, Making healthy Choices, and By Celebrating myself.
Find Additional Sources of Support. Just as the addicted parent needs treatment and support to get well, children need to know there are resources available to help them process their emotions. If they don’t feel comfortable talking with a parent or relative, they can reach out to a teacher, counselor, child or family therapist, religious leader or support group such as Alateen.
The toughest topics are often the most important to broach with children. For each day that a child lives with an addict, damage is being done. And while not every child will fall prey to addiction or other emotional or behavioral disorders, they need honest discussion and support in order to beat the odds.
David Sack, M.D., is board certified in psychiatry, addiction psychiatry and addiction medicine. He is CEO of Elements Behavioral Health, a network of mental health and addiction treatment centers that includes the Promises Malibu rehab centers, The Ranch, Right Step, and Spirit Lodge.
For more by David Sack, M.D., click here.
For more on addiction and recovery, click here.
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Forcing children to clear their plates could lead to eating disorders
by DANIEL MARTIN
Parents who force fussy toddlers to clear their plates could make them more likely to grow up suffering from anorexia, bulimia or obesity.
A study suggests that meal-time battles between pushy parents and picky children could be linked to a range of eating disorders later in life.
Making children eat what they do not want to makes them resentful of not being in control of their eating habits, the research claims.
It also means they do not learn to properly regulate their eating - making them more likely to over- or under-eat when they grow up.
Research leader Dr Linda Gilmore. said: “Parents should not turn mealtime into a struggle for control because some evidence suggests that eating disorders such as anorexia stem from a desire to take control over one’s own body.
“If children are forced to ‘sit at the table until they eat it’ this turns into a struggle for who has power over the child’s eating habits which could well set the scene for later eating problems.”
Dr Gilmore said the dinner-table power struggle could also lead to obesity because that condition is related to the inability to self-regulate.
“If children aren’t allowed some control over what they eat, they cannot learn to develop good self-regulation,” he said. “Ultimately children must learn to manage their own behaviour and to do that, they must be allowed to choose.”
She said many parents were harsh on “fussy” eaters because they thought the problem was much less common that it was.
“Some parents take their child’s refusal to eat food they have prepared as personal rejection or think the child is just being really naughty,” she said.
“But my research suggests that eating difficulties are relatively common in early childhood. Some children simply don’t like the taste or the texture, even the colour of certain foods.
“Likes and dislikes may change from week to week but it’s important to recognise this is fairly normal behaviour and not to turn it into a really big problem that interferes with the parent-child relationship.”
Dr Gilmore, a psychologist at Queensland University of Technology, combined her research on 304 families with children aged two to four, with another study of children aged seven to nine.
She said parents had fewer children in modern times, meaning parents knew more about the details of the child’s behaviour, “sometimes to the point of worrying obsessively and responding in ways that escalate a small difficulty into a much bigger problem.”
But Susan Ringwood, chief executive of the Eating Disorders Association, said the study wasn’t large-scale enough to draw any firm conclusions.
“There’s a chicken and egg situation here,” she said.
“We don’t know if the battle at the dinner table leads to the eating disorder, or whether it is the other way round; that the tendencies towards eating disorder are present first.”
She said there was growing research which indicated that eating disorders were often the result of genetic factors coming out in a child’s personality and the desire for self-control.
“So the genetic and personality make-up of the child, which make the child want more self-control, would have come out in the food anyway.
“We don’t believe it’s the food that triggers eating disorders - it’s the struggle for control that does that.”
But Dr Frankie Phillips, a dietician at the British Dietetic Association, said: “If there is a culture of having to eat everything on your plate I can see how that could lead to obesity later in life.
“It says you are not controlled by your appetite, you are controlled by what’s on your plate. That might mean that when you go to a restaurant you might eat too much.”
Tam Fry of the National Obesiry Forum said: “It is so important for a child at an early age to regulate their own intake.
“No child will willingly starve itself so force feeding should never be contemplated.”
Dr Anna Denny, nutritional scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, said she agreed with the findings of the study.
“It backs up previous research showing that the Victorian attitude of telling children they must eat everything on their plate is not the way forward,” she said.
“We suggest children should be given small protions of nutritious food regularly, and should not be expected to eat massive plates of food.”
Dr Denny said young children should have a varied diet including proteins such as meat, vegetables and carbohydrates such as potatoes or wholemeal bread.
They should also have plenty of fat until they are about 10 because of the energy required to grow. They need whole milk not skimmed, she said.
Around one million people in the UK are estimated to have an eating disorder. Anorexia is the loss of apetite causing low body weight, while bulimia manifests itself in people who binge eat and then vomit it up.
The average age at which eating disorders develop is 14. Eighty per cent of new cases are between eight and 20.
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When attempting to build your dream family it is tempting to focus on right circumstances over right responses.
In your mind, when you imagine your dream family, life is happy and warm. What do you do in the meantime when things are hard and cold relationally?
The answer is you concentrate on how you respond to others as if the reality of your new family has already taken place until it actually does. Take the vision of who you want your family to be and hold on to that as you begin acting in a manner congruent to it. It won’t fit the situation but you are working to transform your family from the inside out to get real, lasting change not just outward compliance.
Take a moment to picture what would be different in your dream family? Allow yourself to imagine how YOU would be reacting to others in your home. Start that behavior today…
We are not super parents and can’t mange every behavioral issue. Pick one that has the most serious consequence and work on it and then focus on the next one and so forth.
A common conflict comes when a behavior issue impacts school. Often it is better to focus on the behavior and not worry about the grad point average. That will work itself out after you gain success with the behaviors.
Try this for two weeks and let us know how it goes.
Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, are what Dr. Phil calls a “silent epidemic.” In the beginning, girls ” and boys too ” may choose to restrict their diets or to purge for one reason, but they end up continuing to do so because it becomes an addiction. Early intervention is crucial because once an eating disorder gets a grip on someone, it’s far more difficult to treat.
When it comes to grandkids, grandparents can tend to undermine you and spoil the kids rotten without a second though. Although your in-laws may drive you up the wall, try and broach the topic calmly and with solutions in mind.
Criticism about parenting
There are no set rules for parenting, but when it comes to the way your partner changes a diaper or the fact that you rock junior to sleep on occasion, it seems like parents are quick to criticize one another. Before you voice your opinion on why feeding your little one like an airplane is better than a choo choo, remind yourself that your way isn’t better than his. Unless health or safety is concerned, and choose your battles.
» Check out Grandparents: What parents really want from you and pass on tips to your parents.
Escaping for “me” time
A major parenting issue is the loss of “me” time, which can lead to frequent “I’ll be right back” moments that stretch on for hours. To help address this need, communicate with your partner and establish ample alone time away for each of you.
» Discover how to find me time.
Dividing household and baby duties
Before you expanded your family, the division of household chores was clear cut. But with kids comes additional responsibilities, so set up time to divide up household and baby duties so there is no confusion or resentment and avoid this issue that parents commonly fight about.
How to discipline your children
There are thousands of tips for parents on how to discipline your children, but when it comes to doling out punishment, parents often find themselves on different pages. When you find yourselves butting heads over how your kids should be disciplined, set time aside away from little ears and discuss how you’d like to discipline your children.
» Avoid the 3 discipline mistakes parents make.
Deciding who gets up with the kids
Having kids usually means getting a lot less sleep. Whether it’s getting up with the baby in the middle of the night or getting up with the kids at the crack of dawn, agree on a schedule to cut out any bitterness or feelings that your partner is getting more sleep than you.
One of the most important tips for parents is this: The best way to parent is to parent together. “Remember: parenting is a team effort. A team is a group of people with different skills and different ways of doing things,” says Neil Mcnerney, LPC. “Being a parent team is more about supporting each other’s leadership and less about trying to parent identically.” Once you open up the lines of communication and focus on supporting one another, you may find that you share more opinions on parenting than you realize and can avoid some of the top six parenting issues.
Read more about co-parenting
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