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"So, How Was School?"

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Does that question make your kids clam up?  Instead of asking a blanket question like this, try asking about a specific class, for example, or what they did during recess.  Even that can make some kids feel put on the spot, though, so another angle to try is simply to talk about your own day and start a conversation.  Getting the conversation flowing by sharing things that happened to you, and dropping the questions to them, is a great way to help your kids open up and talk about what happened during their own days.

(Tried the ol’ “So, what did you do today?  What did you do in math?  How was recess?” and still getting nothing?  Don’t despair, the Huffington Post has you covered.  Here’s a list of 25 conversation starters that you can use with your kids to find out a bit more about their days!)

Privacy Policy

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Just a quick note that I have updated Oakville Family Institute's privacy policy.  No major changes, mostly just wording updated to reflect the creation of the College Of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario - but if you would like to see a copy of the policy, just ask and I would be happy to provide you with one.

When Big Kids Cry Easily

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Some kids are just very sensitive.  They cry easily and often, even over situations that others might not feel are such a big deal, and even as they pass the age where we might expect it.  Instead of rolling your eyes and groaning when your tween bursts into tears, as we parents can do, here are some ideas to keep in mind to help soothe the bruised heart.

Some kids are just naturally more sensitive.  (Interested in learning more about high sensitivity?  It’s also called Sensory-Processing Sensitivity, and Elaine Aron is one of the best researchers on the topic.  Check out her book, The Highly Sensitive Child if you think the check list on her web page sounds a lot like your child.)

What does it mean to be highly sensitive?  Is it something you as a parent should be worried about?  Not at all.  It simply describes about 15-20% of the population who tend to be more sensitive to subtleties in their environment, as well as responding to information and emotions a bit differently than everyone else.  If this is your child, there’s no amount of “toughening up” that will change who they are, because this kind of sensitivity is an innate trait.

Having said that, not all kids who cry easily and often are highly sensitive.  Start by asking yourself if your child could be overtired.  The symptoms of fatigue might have been easy to spot when your kid was younger, but chronic fatigue can chip away at an older child’s resilience too.  Speaking of resilience, ask yourself if there have been any major changes or stressors in your child’s life.  Perhaps she’s handling school stress well while she’s there, but then comes home and cries when she sees what’s for dinner.  And when talking about tweens, hormones must always be considered.

How can you help your child when he or she is feeling teary?

Don’t shame or ridicule him for his tears; instead, acknowledge the intensity of his feelings (“I can see that you’re really disappointed that we aren’t going to Grandma’s this weekend after all.”)  Reassure him that it’s completely healthy and normal to cry, and adults do it, too.

Chat about what he could do in those moments when his feelings begin to overwhelm him and he thinks he might cry.  Perhaps deep breathing might help, or counting to 10 to give himself some space between the situation and his response. 

Maybe distraction might help, either physical distraction (leaving the room for a short time out, squeezing a stress ball) or a mental one (focusing on something positive, or repeating a mantra such as “I can handle this, I’m not going to cry” over and over to himself).

Let your child know that there’s nothing wrong with crying or crying more than others.  But at the same time, there’s a balance to be had.  Being around someone who cries all the time is something of a turnoff for peers.

If the crying is not the only concern, something else may be happening.  Extreme moodiness or mood swings lasting for longer than two weeks, changes in habits, hygiene, friends, or grades, trouble sleeping, and withdrawing from social events could could be signs of depression.  Take your child to a doctor or psychotherapist to discuss your concerns.

Job Description: Parent

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Many years ago, a colleague forwarded this to me, and it's too funny (in a sad-but-true!) way not to share.  I’d happily credit the author for this little laugh, if only I knew who s/he is!

Mom, Mommy, Mama, Ma
Dad, Daddy, Dada, Pa, Pop

Long term, team players needed, for challenging, permanent work in an often chaotic environment. Candidates must possess excellent communication and organizational skills and be willing to work variable hours, which will include evenings and weekends and frequent 24 hour shifts on call. Some overnight travel required, including trips to primitive camping sites on rainy weekends and endless sports tournaments in far away cities! Travel expenses not reimbursed. Extensive courier duties also required.

The rest of your life. Must be willing to be hated, at least temporarily, until someone needs $5. Must be willing to bite tongue repeatedly. Also, must possess the physical stamina of a pack mule and be able to go from zero to 60 mph in three seconds flat in case, this time, the screams from the backyard are not someone just crying wolf.  Must be willing to face stimulating technical challenges, such as small gadget repair, mysteriously sluggish toilets and stuck zippers. Must screen phone calls, maintain calendars and coordinate production of multiple homework projects.  Must have ability to plan and organize social gatherings for clients of all ages and mental outlooks.  Must be willing to be indispensable one minute, an embarrassment the next.  Must handle assembly and product safety testing of a half million cheap, plastic toys, and battery operated devices.  Must always hope for the best but be prepared for the worst.  Must assume final, complete accountability for the quality of the end product.  Responsibilities also include floor maintenance and janitorial work throughout the facility.

Your job is to remain in the same position for years, without complaining, constantly retraining and updating your skills, so that those in your charge can ultimately surpass you.

None required unfortunately.
On-the-job training offered on a continually exhausting basis.

Get this!   You pay them!
Offering frequent raises and bonuses.  A balloon payment is due when they turn 18 because of the assumption that college will help them become financially independent.  When you die, you give them whatever is left.  The oddest thing about this reverse-salary scheme is that you actually enjoy it and wish you could only do more.

While no health or dental insurance, no pension, no tuition reimbursement, no paid holidays and no stock options are offered, this job supplies limitless opportunities for personal growth, unconditional love, and free hugs and kisses for life if you play your cards right.

How Much Privacy Should We Give Our Kids – Is Snooping Ever Ok?

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Snooping on our kids – teens in particular – is a bit of a gray area for many parents.  Some feel as the owners of the home and the heads of the household, they have a right or even an obligation to check up on their kids.  Others feel they have to promote trust with their kids and are adamant that snooping isn’t something they want to do at all, ever.  Balancing the need for trust and independence with the need for safety and instruction is a tricky thing.

There are some situations that require more hands-on supervision, and those should be discussed openly.  Especially when kids are younger, let them know that you have a moral and legal obligation to keep them safe, which includes monitoring their online presence and knowing where they are at all times.  Be upfront with the fact that you have their online passwords and that you’ll be checking social media accounts and cell phone use.  It’s not snooping when you have let your kids know that you’ll be monitoring their actions this way. 

As your children age into teens, you might find that you feel the need to monitor less.  That’s ok; this is an exercise in trust and building skills in decision-making.  We would hope that as kids gain more experience in these areas, they would be able to make good choices for themselves because it’s the right thing to do, not just because they know someone is looking over their shoulders.

But what about if you’re worried about your child’s behaviour or are concerned that he’s in some trouble?  Resist the urge to snoop, even then.  Anything you learn through snooping becomes difficult to discuss with your child without having to admit how you found out.  He’ll know you’ve been snooping through his things, which is hardly the best start to this kind of conversation.  All he’s going to hear is, “Mom rooted through my room.” 

If you have a reason for concern, use that as a springboard for a conversation with your child.  There must be some reason you’re worried about drugs, or smoking, or shoplifting, or anything else that causes you to panic.  Just talk directly to your child, using whatever you’ve noticed as a conversation starter, and reassure him that what matters most to you is his health and safety.  Maybe he’ll come clean.  Maybe he won’t.  Be open and patient, and let him know you’re always available and you’ll wait until he’s ready to talk.

You can’t make a child come to you with a problem, but you can create an environment between the two of you that makes it really easy for him to.  In the meantime, having the space as a teen to make some mistakes and figure things out on your own is an important part of transitioning from child to adult, and as a parent, you want to be there to provide guidance whenever it’s called for.  Snooping works against the trust that’s needed for that openness to flourish.

Back in Black

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, January 26, 2016

When I was in high school, the cafeteria was unofficially sectioned off into groups, with members of a certain group sitting in the same area or at the same table every day.  One of those groups where the Goths, or kids who dressed in black, had an interest in things like Satanism, the occult, or vampires, and who generally tried to look threatening and intimidating, even if they weren't actually unfriendly all the time. 

If this describes your teen, should you be worried?  This kind of behaviour can alarm parents to no end.  The good news is that even when kids start dying their hair black, tossing any clothes that aren't black, and invite their friends over to use the Ouija board, generally, the kids are all right.  This is just another example of trying on a new persona to see if it fits.  If your child starts to show signs of depression or a major shift in mood, changes his or her group of friends radically, or becomes very secretive about what s/he's doing with friends, those are signs for concern.

Black hair, black clothes, annoying music, an interest in vampires?  Not necessarily a sign of impending problems.  Just keep the conversation open with your kids, particularly about what and whom they may be talking to on the Internet as they search for more information about their new hobby -- some of the people online who are involved in these sorts of activities can be pretty dark and have been known to urge kids to do things that aren’t in their best interest.  These are sites are not necessarily a great place for teenagers to spend time, but your best approach is to talk with your teens about your concerns and make sure that you continue to be nonjudgmental, open to talking, and interested in their opinions.

If things are generally ok at home, your teen is generally doing well at school, continues to socialize and bring friends around, and your instinct is telling you that it's just a (annoying, perhaps) phase, then trust that.  Hair will grow back, new clothes can be bought, and taste in music and books can evolve.  It's just another way for kids to assert their growing autonomy...with the added bonus of driving their parents crazy at the same time.

Meeting New Friends

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Switching schools or classes in the middle of the school year can be hard for younger kids, especially when they don't know anyone in the new place yet. 

Work with the teacher to find out if there are any kids in the class who might be a good fit as a friend for your child, even if they haven't really spent much time playing together yet.  Invite the classmate over for a play date, then have some fun and interactive activities planned for them.  Avoid watching tv or a movie, because there's little time spent interacting while glued to the tube; aim for activities like crafts, games, or other structured activities that you can guide them through at first,then let them take over from there as they begin to hit their stride.

Consider registering your child for an activity or camp that fosters interaction, like Guides or Scouts, or a team sport.  (An added bonus might be that you can increase your own social network, too -- a friend commented that the best thing they had ever done for their social life as adults was sign their kids up for soccer, because now all of their friends were parents of kids on the team!)  Don't forget family activities and family friends who are the same age as your child, as an opportunity for your son or daughter to develop a sense of confidence when dealing with peers, that they can then take with them to the schoolyard.

Sometimes, there will be periods when your child doesn't have anyone else to play with.  For those in-between times, by spending time with your child yourself, you're sending a clear message that s/he is definitely still someone worth being around.  That's also a critical booster for a young one's self image and self esteem.

Beating The Winter Blues

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Don’t let winter get you down.

Many people find this time of year tough – the excitement of the holidays has passed, the bills have started to arrive, and the lack of sunlight coupled with the chilly temps can make even the sunniest personality a little blue.  Seasonal Affective Disorder is when a person experiences symptoms of depression only in the winter (or summer) but has normal mental health the rest of the year.  If the winter chill and short days get you down, take charge of your mental health this winter, and coast through the next few months feeling more like yourself.

Your body will find it difficult to overcome other imbalances if the following four areas are out of whack too, so start here (these are the same things I suggest starting with when I’m working with Oakville clients in counselling services):

  1. Eat right.  Let’s hope your doing this all year round, but the concept of “comfort food” strikes a chord because so many of us would like to just hunker down and macaroni-and-cheese our way through the winter.  Don’t let yourself do that.  Continue to eat a healthy diet, and pay special attention to the mindless snacking that comes with “I’m stuck inside” boredom.
  2. Get enough sleep.  While we live in a society that doesn’t always value the importance of sleep, you can buck the trend by instituting a great sleep habit over the next few months.  It may not seem exciting, but good sleep habits such as going to bed and getting up at essentially the same time every day, creating a relaxing wind-down routine that you follow every night, avoiding screens in the last hour or two before bed, and making sure that you’re getting enough sleep, will all help to improve your mood.
  3. Get some exercise.  I know, I know, the last thing you feel like doing is getting up while it’s still dark to exercise, of all things.  But trust me, your mind and your body will thank you for it.  Exercise is one of the most potent anti-depressants out there, so just jump right in and get your heart pumping, whatever you choose to do.
  4. Get out and socialize.  Being isolated is one of the risk factors for depression, so make a point of seeing some friends or family, and doing something fun.  The short days and lack of sunshine will be much more tolerable if you have something to look forward to.  Being with friends boosts our mood and strengthens our sense of connection, so don’t let the winter chill get in your way.

And perhaps this may seem counter-intuitive, but get outside!  Bundle up and head out to breathe the fresh air.  Sunlight is great for your mood, and accepting the weather for what it is and looking for the fun will pump you up even further.  Going for a walk, or building a snowman, or getting your heart going with an activity like skiing or sledding will revitalize you.  And when you come home, strip off your snow-dusted winter gear and whip up a hot chocolate, you’ll feel better for having done something good for yourself!

Happy Holidays

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Friday, December 25, 2015

Wishing all of our Friends and Family the Happiest of Holidays and Joy and Prosperity in the New Year!

What's Your Style?

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Dr. Michael Popkin is a parenting expert who also uses the Adlerian "Democratic Parenting" model in his work.  He has a quiz on his web site called What's Your Parenting Style?  that I thought I'd mention, in case you wanted to learn more about yourself and perhaps your partner.  Feel free to post your thoughts after taking the quiz!

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Andrea Ramsay Speers • Psychotherapist & Parent Coach • Oakville Family Institute • 175 Glenashton Dr., Oakville ON • Tel.: 905-491-6949

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