A former teacher, Dr. Gail Gross is a nationally recognized expert, author and lecturer on child and juvenile education and development issues. Dr. Gross received a B.S. in education and psychology and an Ed.D. in education, curriculum and instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her master’s degree in secondary education with a focus in psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross is a former teacher in the Houston Independent School District.
By Dr. Gail Gross
As we approach the possibility of impending war, we are called upon as parents and caregivers to guide our children through the mind-fields of real and present danger. Never since Pearl Harbor have the children of America experienced an aggressive attack on our shores. On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, the United States of America took a direct attack on their way of life. The fear and emotional uncertainty that such an attack created, caused most adults and children to feel both anger and grief. This loss of stability threatened the very balance of our security.
Now once again, parents find themselves in a dilemma - how to face the challenge of explaining to their children that their country may be going to war. How can parents cope with their own anxieties while reassuring their children that they can protect them. None of us will ever forget the visceral image of jetliners deliberately crashing into the World Trade Center. A child's understanding of such a frightening event is personal. Children operate from the realm of their own experience and egocentricity. They feel particularly threatened believing that bombs could be dropped on them personally. Their vulnerability can, in fact, put them in a state of high anxiety and stress. For a child, the image of terrorism is very concrete and, therefore, young children especially, may show signs of worry. Media, as well as rumor, can be very real and frightening to children - not just for themselves but also in relation to their family and friends.
Young children may express fears of separation and attachment as anxiety mounts, whereas older children may become more aggressive and express anger as a way to control their feelings of fear and helplessness. Such confusion is very destabilizing, so it is important to restore a sense of normalcy as quickly as possible. It is very important for parents at this time to know their children's history and to reach out with both actions and words to make the children feel reconnected. The key to reconnecting, of course, is communication; and listening is the way we communicate. Furthermore it can be very helpful to children to hear parents describe feelings in a literal way, so that they can, in a sense, get their arms around their emotions. Sentences such as "I was so frightened that I felt like my stomach dropped, the way you feel in an elevator" help describe feelings literally. Children that have experienced trauma such as divorce or death in their history may become especially anxious at this time. They need extra reassurance both verbally and physically. Never discount your children's feelings and be very generous with your hugs.
Part of protecting your children is letting them know that they are being protected by their government since the president is the paternal symbol. Let your children know that they can trust their leaders, especially their president, to take care of their country so that they have a safe place in which to live. Children look to parents for protection and the parent that is dealing with their own anxiety must not burden their children with escalating scenarios. If necessary, the parents should reach out for professional help to guide and support them as well as their children.
In the meantime, there are very concrete things that we can do. Something as simple as a light in your child's room at night can be important. It is vital that parents are honest and authentic with their children about current information. However, it is equally important to give age-appropriate information. Put it in context and communicate with your child in a responsible way. By listening and talking, parents can diffuse rumors and share what children are hearing in school as well as in the media. Parents must parent, and this requires parents to monitor younger children in relation to their media exposure. Remember - young children may regress into separation and attachment-anxiety while older children may display aggressive behavior, all in an effort to lower their anxiety in relation to their stress. When children feel secure with an adult, they are more uninhibited and therefore may express their anger more freely. Parents must have a plan. In this way, they can give emotional support by reinstating a sense of stability and calm. Parents should be reliable and empathetic. Now is the time to act as an adult and be careful not to burden your children with your own fears.
A way to reestablish security and a sense of normalcy is to return to a normal routine as quickly as possible. Partner with your children when creating a strategy or plan for emergencies. If they feel involved they will feel empowered. After a plan is invoked, practice and rehearse it with your children through modeling and role-playing. An emergency scenario similar to the school air raids and fire drills of the 1950's can restore balance and control to a child's psyche.
Finally, it is important to pay attention to your child, know your child and watch for changes and signs of undue stress. Parents are entitled to parent. In the end they know what is best for their children. Children are very resilient and, when given the truth so that they know their options, they can rise to the occasion and cope. Therefore, parents and other adults should be trusted and counted on to explain pertinent information, grounded in a way that models responsible behavior in that context - and don't underestimate your children. Children feel vulnerable and they want to know that their parents and other important adults such as teachers and mentors can and will protect them. Therefore, at this time children might need extra support. Rehearse safety measures with them. Practice safety procedures and teach your children to go to responsible adults in case of an emergency. Also, remember your children's history and act accordingly. If your child has experienced trauma in the past, they may be more affected by a threatening event. Assure your children that their president and government is doing everything possible to successfully prevent terrorism and keep them safe in the event of war. And remember Aristotle's line: "Action makes one feel in control." So take positive action such as giving blood, writing letters, sending care packages to relief agencies such as the Red Cross. This gives children something constructive to do with their emotions - and that alone can lower their anxiety. Parents must meet their children's needs, nurture them, be empathetic and reliable. If your child needs extra security - be there. Focus your attention on your child; create child-centered activities such as reading and sharing time together. Don't worry about spoiling your children. You cannot spoil your children with love.
In the final analysis, this can be an opportunity to reconnect with the basic values of family, and in a sense, remind us of our roots, and what is really important in life - our relationships.
Auditory Processing Disorder
What It Is and How It Affects Our Children
© 2002 Karen J. Foli
When our son, Ben, was
three years old, my husband and I realized that Ben was severely delayed in his speech and
language skills. The experts performed their tests and words like autism and
mental retardation floated around us. We were desperate to unlock this puzzle.
Why wasnt our affectionate, bright child able to say his own name or engage with his
RESOURCES: For more information contact: The National Coalition of Auditory Processing Disorders (www.ncapd.org) The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (www.asha.org)
About the Author: Karen J. Foli is the author of LIKE SOUND THROUGH WATER: A Mothers Journey Through Auditory Processing Disorder (Pocket Books, February 2002). Find out more about this book and Karens background at www.karenfoli.com.
Autism Family and Sibling Issues, Tips from a Sibling
Bio: Lisa is the older sibling of a brother (36) with Autism. She received her BA in Special Ed. and a Masters in Social Work (Yeshiva University - Wurzweiler School of Social Work).
Overview: Im going to give you some information based on my education, experiences of growing up with an autistic brother, and from working as a professional in the field with families. Growing up, my parents kept my brother home and ignored what they were told which was to put him in an institution and get on with their lives. They did with him what we now do with children in early intervention programs. I remember having people in and out on a regular basis working with him. My parents always kept me involved and informed to the best they could for a young child. As I got older, I was kept more informed and got involved at a young age working with other children with disabilities. For the last 10 years Ive been working with families and their children ages birth to five. In my spare time I try to help others by sharing my knowledge and experiences. My thesis in school was autism and the family with a focus on sibling issues.
Sibling issues are an area that is fairly new to the field and there is not a lot of research in this area at the present time.
Attitudes toward the disabled child are a main factor in how efficient the family as a whole manages to deal with this stressful situation. The type of a relationship the normal siblings are able to have with their disabled sibling.
It is important
to realize that parents are not always aware the effect an autistic sibling has on
the other sibling(s). The parents may need to
give them some guidance in dealing with their issues.
Conflicts are resolved when parents reach an awareness of the social
implications the autistic sibling has on the rest of the children. The parents need to find a way to compensate for
the disadvantages the normal children my have. One
of two extremes can occur. The parents become
overprotective of the child and the other siblings become resentful, or the parents become
resentful and the sibling become very caring. The
family may become so dedicated to the autistic children that that they may forget to
develop a relationship with the other children. If
this happens, the normal sibling may become resentful because of added responsibilities
that may be placed on them, being treated as an adult before theyre ready. As they get older, they may be deprived of normal
activities and lack of social interactions with peers is very common. Parents may not be aware of this since the
siblings may not be aware of this them selves and just see what accepted because of their
autistic sibling. They may not even be aware
theyre doing this themselves. Growing
up, there were times I was resentful, embarrassed of my brother. I never realized this at the time until I started
looking back and realized these feelings were normal and it was all right to have them. I also never verbalized my feelings about my
brother to my parents. I guess I felt they
had enough to deal with and didnt want to bother them. Its important for parents to ask siblings
about their feelings, needs, and thoughts. Looking
back, I kept to myself and didnt bring many friends home that I socialized with at
school. The reason was I was fearful of their
reaction to my brother. First-born siblings
are more likely than younger siblings to praise, teach and display dominant behaviors with
their autistic sibling. More positive
behaviors have been associated with siblings widely spaced in age. Those closer in age will sometimes display more
jealousy and aggression. It is normal that
the sibling wants there own life, not be a babysitter or helper. They may move out before theyre ready or
retaliate against their parents in any number of ways.
Its more difficult when theres a stepparent involved.
scenario I mentioned, when the parents become resentful, and the siblings become caring. The parents are not uncaring, but may be
neglectful at times of learning to help the child. This
can take place in many ways and leaves the non-disabled sibling in charge. This happens when the parents feel over burdened
due to the special responsibility the autistic child requires on top of their regular
everyday responsibilities. When this happens,
caring siblings take on the parental role and pick up the slack. This needs to be questioned especially when
its the younger sibling taking over. The
caring sibling begins to get more responsibility from the parents and accepts the role
with little or no question. They think
its just normal and part of growing up, is to take on more to help the sibling
whos not able to. When this occurs,
siblings still go though periods of resentment at some time. It may even happen more. The parents also sometimes have increased
expectations of the normal sibling and may not even be aware of this. Parents feel it makes up for the deficits of the
disabled sibling. As a result, most siblings
feel more unspoken pressure to succeed in life and do this at the unrealized expense of
other areas like socializing with friends. Cultural
issues also play a role in the family.
It is important to have good communication within the family and keep the normal siblings up to date and involved in decisions as much as possible. My parents always explained things and kept me involved in what was going on with my brother. Another area is feelings. Feelings vary in intensity and its important for families to help the children deal with them in an open, honest fashion. Negative feelings are also normal and due to a variety of reasons and need to be acknowledged and discussed as well. It may be hard for the child to even realize or admit their feelings and some times parents just have to be aware of whats going on and try to engage the child to be open with you and whatever they are feeling is normal and alright.
With older siblings, parents sometimes expect them to care for their disabled sibling. This is something I cannot stress enough that needs to be discussed. This can be a very hard burden that puts a strain on the siblings present and future relationships. It needs to be discussed early and openly. It is important to peak to your family lawyer about estate planning.
Frustration and embarrassment are very common feelings felt by siblings. They may be fearful as they get older that friends dont accept them because of their disabled sibling. This sometimes continues throughout their entire life and they may wonder if theyll ever get married or have a family of their own. It is normal that siblings may feel the same ambivalent feelings as their parents. This includes rejection, doubt, anger, fear, embarrassment, confusion and jealousy just to name a few. I feel it is very important to keep the entire family involved as much as age appropriate with the ongoing information and decision-making process. In my own experience my parents included me in as much decision making as possible, and because of this I am grateful.
We live in a
time of escalating insecurity.
Susan Jeffers Ph.D.:
Bio: "Susan went back to school when her children were young, much to the shock of her mother and others who felt a woman's place was definitely in the home. She felt this was true only for women who wanted to be there...and not true for those who didn't! So she persevered and attained her BA, Masters Degree, and Doctorate in Psychology." "Fate stepped in upon graduation and offered her the opportunity to become Executive Director of The Floating Hospital, New York's Ship of Health." Susan Jeffers, Ph.D. is the author of many books including the international best-seller"Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway", and the award-winning "Embracing Uncertainty". Her most recent book, "I Can Handle It!" (co-authored with Donna Gradstein) was written to build confidence in young children.
Overview: From Susan Jeffers, author of: Embracing Uncertainty Breakthrough Methods for Achieving Peace of Mind When Facing the Unknown By Susan Jeffers, Ph.D Published by St. Martin's Press March 2003; $24.95US/$36.95CAN; 0-312-30955-4
What Do We Tell The Children?
We live in a time of escalating insecurity. No doubt about it. I wrote EMBRACING UNCERTAINTY to help people throughout the world calm their troubled minds and develop the trust that they can handle whatever life hands them. In my travels, I am frequently asked, "What do I tell my children when they express concerns about what is happening in the world?" A very good question. Certainly, in our role as parents, teachers, or care-givers, we watch as our children are shaken up by the inescapable barrage of scary news involving death, bombs, enemies, and the like. They are frightened and confused as they ask questions such as: "Am I safe?" "Will the bombs come here?" "Why do people kill each other?" Even if we choose to keep our television sets turned off, a sense of fear and unrest seems to be hovering in the air. So what do you tell the children to comfort them as they ask many of the same questions that you, at times, have asked yourself? Here are a few "embracing uncertainty" suggestions...
You can tell them: "It's okay to be afraid. Everyone has times when they are afraid, even me. But our fears need not stop us from acting in ways that are powerful and loving. Our fears need not stop us from becoming the best we can be. Our fears need not stop us from reaching out and helping others. And as we act in ways that are powerful and loving, and as we try to become the best we can be, and as we reach out and help others, guess what happens...our fears get smaller and smaller and smaller. Let's work on this together."
All that is happening in the world offers you and your children a great opportunity to talk, learn, share, imagine, plan, and open up to each other. Use it all...the good and the bad...to make the connection between you grow in a healthy and enduring way.
You can tell them... "None of us knows what the future holds, but I do know that whatever happens, you will handle it. You may not know it yet, but you have a HUGE amount of strength within you that will allow you to handle anything that happens. So whenever your head is filled with bad thoughts about the future, just keep repeating over and over again... No matter what happens, I can handle it! No matter what happens, I can handle it! No matter what happens, I can handle it! No matter what happens, I can handle it! No matter what happens, I can handle it! Let's practice this together."
It is clear to me that the frequent repetition of this wonderful affirmation can eventually quiet the "what if's" in your children's minds that make them feel insecure, frightened and weak. Because I believe that this is such a valuable affirmation for children to learn, I created, with my friend Donna Gradstein, a book for young children entitled "I CAN HANDLE IT!"*. It contains many stories of children handling all sorts of things, each in their own way...and gaining a greater sense of confidence in the process. So when your children express any fears about the future, just remind them to say over and over again, "Whatever happens, I'll handle it!" I suggest you say it right along with them. Young or old, knowing we can handle all that happens in our lives gives us a wonderful sense of comfort.
You can tell them... "I know you are confused by people angrily arguing with each other about many things involving the war. You are wondering who is right? And who is wrong? In this very complicated world, I don't believe anybody can know for sure. I believe that most people truly want the very same things...peace and love in this world. They just see different ways of finding peace and love. What we need to do is to stop arguing and start listening carefully to each other. Maybe we won't change our minds about what we believe, but with open ears and an open heart, we truly can learn a lot." I see this as a wonderful opportunity to teach your children that we all need to open our hearts and minds to those who believe differently than we do. You need to explain that if we walked in someone else's shoes, perhaps we would see many things their way instead of our way. In truth, we live in a "maybe" world. Maybe we're right; maybe we're wrong. Nobody knows the "Grand Design," the bigger picture that none of us can see. Given that, as we unblock our ears, we might learn a lot and develop a warmer feeling towards those who have a reason to think differently than we do. That's a very good reason for unblocking our ears!
You can tell them: "I know the news is very scary. But there are also good things happening all around us. Let's create a list of all the good things that are happening and, every day, add to the list. I think that our list will get very...very...very long! In fact, let's see how long a list of good things we can make." We live in a "bad news world", no doubt about it. We see and hear bad news everywhere we turn. But you can work with your children to create a "good news world".
Certainly the above challenge of seeing how long a list of good things they can make is a great way to begin. On this list could be all the good things they see people doing for others. Also on the list could be all the good things your children experience in their lives...food on the table, a wonderful hot bath, people who care about them, toys, friends, teachers, and on and on and on. As you can see, this is a wonderful opportunity to create a joyful inner life of abundance for your children. It stands to reason that as children focus on the good, by definition, they will have much less time to focus on the bad, thereby seeing the world in a less frightening way.
You can tell them... "We can all do our part in making this a more loving world. Why don't we each think of ten things we can do to spread our love around...and then let's do them...one at a time. I bet when we finish, we will want to think of ten more things we can do. It feels so good when we do our part in making this a more loving world." Positive action is a great confidence builder and there are many ways that children can get involved in making this a more loving world. After the attack on the World Trade Center, I remember seeing children raising money for the needy with their lemonade stands, writing letters to children who had lost someone they loved, and so on. There are also ways that children can be more loving in terms of their own behavior... thereby bringing more love into the family, their school, their community, and into the world.
You can tell them what Stewart, one of the I CAN HANDLE IT! kids, has to say about it: I don't understand why wars happen. I just don't understand it at all. But, I CAN HANDLE IT... Maybe there isn't enough love in the world and that's why people fight with each other. Maybe I don't act loving some of the time. In fact, a lot of the time! When I am being mean to my sister, I am not being loving. When I am fighting with my brother, I am not being loving. When I want more Christmas presents than everyone else, I am not being loving. When I say, "I hate you" to someone, I am not being loving. Maybe I have to start being more loving. If EVERYONE acted more loving, maybe there wouldn't be any more wars. You know what? I think everyone's love counts. Even mine...and yours!
See...WE CAN HANDLE IT! NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS, WE CAN HANDLE IT!
Oh, if all our children learned the lesson that Stewart teaches, we would have a lot more happy children...and parents! All of the above are just suggestions as to what you can begin to tell your children. Of course, you will want to adapt these ideas to your own situation, your own beliefs, and your own children. None of us wants a world filled with conflict. But, that is what the world is handing us right now. And we would be wise to find ways of creating something positive and enriching out of it all. Certainly one way of doing this is to show your children...how they can lessen their fears...how they can be more loving...and how they can truly make a difference in this world. The good news is that as we teach our children these valuable lessons, we teach ourselves as well. © 2003 Susan Jeffers, Ph.D.
An Essay on Parenting by Judith Wright, Author of the acclaimed book:
There Must Be More Than This
Finding More Life, Love, and Meaning By Overcoming Your Soft Addictions
By Judith Wright
Published by Broadway March 2003
We are raising a generation of little addicts, and most parents dont realize the scope of the problem or how theyre contributing to it. Im not suggesting that most of our children are becoming drug addicts or alcoholics. Instead, theyre falling into "soft addiction" routines that rob them of the time and energy to pursue more meaningful activities.
Soft addictions involve any habitual, mindless behavior or mood. The most obvious ones are television watching, overeating, Internet surfing and video game playing, but numerous other possibilities existgossiping, fantasizing, exercising, feeling sorry for oneself, shopping and so on. Most parents arent alarmed by these behaviors, assuming correctly that theyre "normal". They become abnormal and detract from a childs development, however, when they settle into routines, robbing children of the time, energy and initiative to pursue more meaningful activities.
Children need alone time to reflect and explore. They require the space to contemplate whats important in their lives and to master knowledge and skills that will allow them to achieve their goals. Soft addictions are enemies of reflection, exploration and skill development.
The epidemic spread of soft addictions has been documented by the media. Report after report indicates that children are spending more time than ever before in front of computers, televisions and game screens. Other studies reveal an alarming percentage of children who are overweight, softly addicted to junk food and fast food restaurants, obsessed with celebrity worship and dedicated to shopping for just the right clothes is also increasing.
Parents can have perspective and need to take responsibility for helping their children manage these soft addictions. Too often, they often model behaviors that encourage kids to fall into soft addiction routines instead. For instance, many parents come home from work and spend the majority of post-dinner hours slumped in front of the television. overeat or even work out compulsively, unwilling to take a day off from their exercise routine no matter what else is happening in their lives. Other parents model gossiping behaviors, spending hours each week e-mailing and phoning friends about who is fooling around with whom.
Im not suggesting that parents or their children go "cold turkey" an quit all soft addictions. As human beings, most of us have some soft addictions. We can still live a full, meaningful existence if these activities are part of our lives. But they need to be a minor rather than a major part. We work with many adultsprofessionally successful people who are also parentswho say the same thing about their lives: "There must be more than this."
There is, but they wont find it unless they redirect their time and energy to more conscious, fulfilling endeavors. This doesnt mean they have to try and save the earth and work in soup kitchens to feed the hungry (though these arent bad ideas). Rediscovering the fine art of conversation, visiting friends, going for walks in the woods, expressing their feelings to people they care about, listening to inspirational musicall this can add meaning.
Just as important, it can provide a healthy behavioral model for their children. Consciously or not, kids are great imitators, and softly-addicted parents tend to produce softly-addicted kids. Its very difficult for parents to tell kids to stop watching so much television when theyre guilty of the same type of mindless, habitual behaviors. Parents will find, however, that if they learn to spend their time more meaningfully, not only will their lives be more satisfying but theyll help create more satisfying lives for their children.
Judith Wrightis an internationally recognized author, speaker, educator, life coach, and seminar leader. She founded the Wright Institute for Lifelong Learning, Inc., with her husband, Bob, after twenty years of developing innovative, inspirational education and personal growth programs at the university and private levels. The Chicago-based Wright Institute helps people fulfill their potential in the areas of Work, Relationship, Self, and Spirit through seminars, coaching, and in-depth training programs. Judith has taught workshops on overcoming soft addictions and creating More for twelve years. You may contact her through her Web site at www.theremustbemore.com.
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