Remember, if you or your family are in immediate danger, please call 911.
A child’s behavioral problems can take a toll on everyone in the family or household. From isolating themselves to anger and violence to severe problems at school, these children are suffering as much as you are.
But how can you tell whether your child is in trouble or just experiencing normal childhood angst? The following are some questions and answers that might help.
Just like anything valuable, developing and maintaining relationships requires hard work. When children are young, emotional closeness is much easier because parents are involved in nearly all of their activities. Even when they are playing with friends or neighbors, you monitor what is going on and intervene and teach when necessary.
As children grow and become more independent, parents are less likely to be an active part of their day-to-day activities. The best you can do is keep up with what your teen is involved in. When you know what your child has struggled with in the past, you may be able to help prepare him/her to handle things in more successful ways, to empower your teen with more acceptable alternatives.
When you become aware that your teen is preparing for a new experience, let him/her know what to expect and what is expected socially. It sometimes helps to provide a reason to which teens can relate, as well as one that will help them see the benefit of doing it the way you recommend.
As children grow, their interests change. Try to keep up with your teen’s interests and work to gain knowledge about them. Read magazines or look on the Internet for information about the latest trends, fads, music groups, etc. that your teen likes.
Most parents like to know who their teens hang out with. There is no better way to learn about your teen’s friends than to invite them to your home. Make your home the meeting place for when your teen goes out with friends. Invite everyone to stop back at the end of the evening for a snack before going home.
Is all of this extra work? Yes, but it is worthwhile in the long run, and it will help you and your teen remain close.
Actually, all families are “blended” when it comes to parenting. We typically parent the way we were parented, so, even for a couple raising their first child, blending takes place.
In a family such as yours, however, you both have had parenting experience, and your children are accustomed to your individual styles. At least, your children are used to your style and your spouse’s children are used to his/hers. If you try to convince your spouse to give up his/her style and take on yours, it will most likely create tension between the two of you and confusion among your children.
We recommend keeping the individual styles you already have and adding some parenting skills that are new to both of you. Choose a parenting program that supports the theories you both believe in or are willing to agree to. Take a class as a couple to learn some new skills and incorporate them into your current styles.
This way of parenting is like each of you having a “parenting toolbox.” Some of your tools are the same, and others are new. Adding more tools will only strengthen your ability to address the various challenges families face.
Aggressive behavior in children can be problematic because these behaviors can begin as simple acts of disobedience and later manifest into destructive and physically harmful behaviors. These are difficult behaviors to handle as a parent, but there is good news: With some work these behaviors can usually be stopped.
As with any negative behavior you are trying to change, you must replace the bad behavior with a desirable behavior. Here are a few suggestions to begin correcting aggressive behavior in your child:
- Take a look at your child’s aggressive behaviors. Is there a pattern?
- Talk to your child about his/her feelings when things are calm, so you both understand your child’s triggers.
- Explore with your child coping tools to help manage these feelings, such as counting, walking away, etc.
- Determine the consequences for the next time aggressive behavior occurs and discuss them with your child during a neutral time.
- Role-play a realistic situation that previously would have resulted in your child behaving aggressively. Ask your child to practice using his/her coping tools instead. Praise and encourage your child each time he/she decreases aggression and uses a coping tool instead.
Parents should also model the behavior they expect from children. If your child sees you act aggressively, then you are reinforcing that such behavior is acceptable. Make sure your child sees you calm and using coping strategies similar to what you are teaching him/her. After a few weeks, if you don’t notice changes in your child’s behavior, seek out a trained professional.
When you discover that your child is cutting, you may initially experience feelings of disbelief, denial, fear and guilt. This is normal, but you must quickly move into parenting mode to help your child.
Teens often use cutting as a way to relieve or express emotions they are facing. Most who cut say that it makes them feel better; however, a serious risk is that the cutter slices too deep or cuts become infected. There are other ways to cope with these emotions, so it is important to help your child identify healthier ways to deal with his/her feelings.
Self-injury should not be ignored. Now that you are aware of it, you can help your child stop. Start by educating yourself about self-injury. Understanding such behavior can help you learn why your child is engaging in it. Prepare and educate yourself before discussing your concerns with your child. This will contribute to a more open conversation. Here are a few tips for talking to your child who is cutting:
- Talk with your teen about identifying why he/she is cutting (events or feelings that prompt cutting).
- Have your teen identify at least two people he/she can talk to before turning to cutting (friends, family, therapist, priest, etc.).
- Help your teen create a list of five to 10 activities he/she can engage in instead of cutting (journaling, playing with a pet, exercising, etc.).
Remember that this is a process and cutting will not stop overnight. Be patient with your child, and encourage him/her to be honest with you about cutting. If the behavior continues, then it is critical that you seek professional help, such as that of a therapist.
A number of simple things can help your child build positive self-esteem.
- Tap into their talents. Have your child identify what he/she is good at and devote time and energy to developing those talents.
- Form good habits. Tell your child to look in the mirror and say, "I’m going to do something about the way I feel." Then have your child follow through with an action plan.
- Set short-term goals. Remind your child to set up him/herself for success. Each time your child experiences success, he/she will feel better. Celebrate your child’s successes as a family.
- Have your child write down areas for improvement, then check each day to assess progress in this area. As your child becomes more confident and successful at making changes in his/her life, the opinion of him/herself will increase, boosting self-esteem.
When a child talks about suicide, the most important thing you can do as a parent is take your child’s talk or threats seriously.
- The first step is to talk to your child. Some parents fear talking about suicide because they are afraid that if their child wasn’t thinking about it before, then discussion will give him/her the idea.
- However, research shows that by talking about suicide, individuals are NOT more likely to attempt suicide. Hold an open and honest conversation with your child about his/her feelings and ask whether he/she is having suicidal thoughts. If your child tells you that he/she feels suicidal, then ask whether he/she has an immediate suicide plan. If your child tells you that he/she plans to hurt him/herself, you should immediately take him/her to the nearest emergency room for an evaluation.
- Any child experiencing suicidal thoughts needs help to work through these feelings, and this typically involves help from a mental health professional. For a referral to visit a licensed mental health professional in your area, please call the Nebraska Family Helpline at 1-888-866-8660. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Children struggle in school for a variety of reasons. They may be experiencing problems with peers. They might have trouble understanding the material. They could have difficulty getting along with the teacher. They might be bored with the subject material. They even could have trouble paying attention in class.
- Ask your child what he/she is specifically having trouble with.
- Ask if anything else is going on at school or home that may be causing poor performance at school.
- Speak to your child’s teachers to find out what behaviors your child exhibits in the classroom.
- Establish a specific study time without distractions each day.
- Spend quality time with your child, helping with material he/she is having difficulty understanding.
- Create a reward system for good grades.
If you feel you have tried everything but nothing is helping your child, then it may be time to make an appointment with your child’s school counselor or an outside therapist. Something else could be going on that your child is afraid to discuss with you and that is ultimately affecting his/her academic behavior. Your child could also be struggling with an undiagnosed learning disability.
For referrals, or to discuss your child’s situation, call the Nebraska Family Helpline at 1-888-866-8660. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to answer your questions and provide help and information.
Many approaches can be helpful when working with children diagnosed with ADD/ADHD.
- Establish a consistent and structured schedule around the house for your ADD/ADHD child.
- Because children with ADD/ADHD have difficulty focusing, you should obtain their full attention when speaking to them. In a pleasant tone of voice, simply ask your child to look at you when you are talking.
- If you are giving instructions to a child with ADD/ADHD, keep the instructions simple, as lengthy directives can sometimes become confusing to them. You may even ask your child to repeat back the instructions.
- Watch to see if your child’s behavior is better or worse at different times of the day. Is he/she getting enough sleep? Do specific foods seem to affect his/her behavior?
- Above all, patience is key. Try not to take the child’s behavior personally.
Some parents find it helpful to engage their child in an activity that focuses on self-control such as martial arts. Your local library or bookstore offers informative books about ADD/ADHD that can help you and your child with strategies, support and intervention techniques that can minimize the problems and optimize the success of children with ADD/ADHD.
Teenagers and young children usually attempt to avoid conflict, punishment or embarrassment, so they often have difficulty telling the truth. They also may not tell you the whole story in order to withhold information that could get them into trouble. Often, a lie is easier than admitting responsibility for their behavior.
- When talking to your child, keep your questions neutral. Don’t make accusations or interrogate your child, as this can cause him/her to resort to lying in order to avoid punishment. Set up children for success in telling the truth; don’t try to trap them.
- If you are not using negative consequences in your child’s discipline, then you should start doing so. Make sure the consequences are meaningful to your child, are issued immediately and are contingent on behavior. Using and enforcing consequences can help change behaviors, as well as teach your child to practice honesty.
- Negative consequences include a loss of privileges or an additional chore. Remember, this behavior will not change overnight. Don’t give up.
- If you are experiencing behavior problems with your child and have questions you need answered, call the Nebraska Family Helpline at 1-888-866-8660. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to answer your questions and provide help and information.
Worry is a normal part of life for every child and adolescent. They worry about what other people think of them, how they look and whether the kids they like will sit at the same lunch table as them. Certain amounts of worry and fear are normal. Rational fear is actually encouraged in some situations such as when you teach young children not to touch a hot stove or to be aware when a stranger tries to talk to them.
How much is too much worry or fear? Irrational fear is consistent fear or worry about something that doesn’t pose a genuine physical threat.
Some children and adolescents experience continued irrational fear. Here are a few questions to ask yourself if you think your child or adolescent might worry too much:
- What percentage of the day does your child spend worrying?
- Is your child worrying about things over which he/she has no control?
- Does your child worry about the same things time and again, even after you have comforted and reassured him/her?
- How often does your child worry about things that probably won’t ever happen?
If you suspect your child is experiencing continued, irrational fear, you can try a few things to help reduce worrying:
- Keep a worry journal. Sometimes it helps to externalize worries and write them down on paper.
- Give your child 10 minutes a day to talk about anything he/she is worried about. After that, if you notice further worrying, tell your child to write down his/her worries in the worry journal and you will talk about it tomorrow during your “worry time” tomorrow.
- Help your child identify two or three trusted adults he/she can talk to when feeling anxious. Hearing the same positive message from several different adults helps to reinforce non-worrying thoughts and behaviors.
- Remind your child that the things he/she is worried about may not be that big in the grand scheme of life.
- If you feel like you are not equipped to handle your child’s situation, try speaking to a family counselor. The counselor will assess whether your child’s fear is irrational or normal. Remember, you don’t have to deal with it all on your own.
Often, parents and children think of discipline as punishment. In reality, discipline is positive, something that is good for kids and families.
By definition, discipline is teaching, educating and instructing. We encourage parents to focus on the teaching aspect. After all, you are your child’s first and most important teacher.
Teaching clear expectations and reinforcing attempts at meeting those expectations is a positive and effective way to prepare children for success and strengthen your relationship with them.
Recognizing and reinforcing good behaviors as they occur increases the good things children do and teaches them the following:
- Right from wrong
- Your tolerances
- Socially acceptable behavior
If parents are willing to watch for the good things their children do and reinforce them, then they will spend much less time correcting problem behavior.
Bedtime can be a difficult time for everyone in the family. Parents are typically tired and ready for some downtime. Children are typically resistant to going to bed for a number of reasons. The goal is to establish a routine and some guidelines that will help this time of day go smoothly.
If your family includes children of a variety of ages, schedule earlier bedtimes for the younger children and individualize times as children develop and mature. If you are uncertain how many hours of sleep your child requires, consult your pediatrician or family doctor.
Plan manageable and consistent bedtime routines. Whether you or someone else is in charge, design bedtimes with consistency in mind.
The bedtime routine should include activities such as the following:
- Quiet time. Play a quiet, calming activity, reading a book or even watching a movie.
- Provide a snack if your child needs something in his/her stomach prior to bed.
- Help your child with a bath, shower or washing up; brushing teeth; and changing into pajamas.
- Prepare the room, which can include turning on a nightlight, playing a calming CD (perhaps nature sounds), and gathering stuffed animals, blankets or books that your child may want in bed. Give your child a drink of water.
- Help your child use the bathroom right before getting into bed.
- Once in bed, tell your child a story, pray or rub his/her back to calm and relax him/her.
When you as a parent determine the routine and when it will begin each night, let your children know ahead of time. Encourage children to ask questions or make suggestions of what to include in the routine. Adjust activities so they are age and developmentally appropriate. Recognize and praise children’s efforts to adhere to the new routine.
Try the routine for a couple of weeks before making adjustments.
For some young children, bedtime can be traumatic. They often don’t like to be alone, and they don’t want to miss out on anything that might be going on in other parts of the home. Sometimes they are scared of monsters or the noises the house makes.
Bedtime can be a challenge for parents, as well. It signals the end of the day, and often they are tired and out of energy.
Parents can try a number of things to help ease bedtime. First, decide what time you would like your child to be in bed for the night. Consider family activities, meal times and routines. Schedule a time when the bedtime routine will begin.
This routine should include activities that will occur consistently every night, so when they begin, your little one’s body will know it is time to prepare for sleep. Make sure the bedtime routine can be used consistently, even in your absence.
Young children respond more readily to sounds, smells and touch. The following are some suggested activities for the bedtime routine:
- Give your child a warm bath.
- Use the same body lotion after bath time.
- Read books to/with your child.
- Rock your child to calm and relax him/her.
- Sing songs with your child.
- Say prayers with your child.
- Snuggle with your child.
- Play soft music in your child’s room.
- Rub your child’s back.
When your child gets out of bed or cries for attention, respond each time with a calm, soft voice, repeating that it is time to go to sleep, Mommy/Daddy loves you, see you in the morning. Lay your child back down in bed, perhaps rub or pat his/her back briefly, and then walk out.
If “monsters” are a concern for your child, using Monster Spray around the room works wonders. Mix about an inch of cold water and a drop or two of lemon juice (monsters hate sour stuff) in a small spray bottle. Then, right before bed, allow your child, armed with the bottle, to make one spray to each space in the room where a monster may lurk. The bottle should be out of the child’s reach the rest of the time and reserved for bedtime use only.
Reserve a bit of energy from your day to put into the bedtime routine and brief follow-up and the routine will go smoother.
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