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7 Tips to Make Life Less Fearful

FEAR- its a big topic these days. I'm seeing so many children, teens, and adults impacted by fear. Whether it is fear from a weak economy, fear from not doing things good enough, fear of embarrassment, or fear of spooky things in the closet, fear impacts everyone. With Halloween right around the corner you may want to use this as an opportunity to explore your (and your children's) fears.

All the Halloween decorations are a great opportunities to talk about things that are scary. Create open opportunities to explore what things you or your children are afraid of. By gently asking what kind of things are you scared of you may
uncover some areas you can grow more. The creative tips below will help you create emotional safety as you explore your (and your children's) fears.

7 Tips to Make Life Less Fearful

Fear has rippled through the economy and impacted daily choices. How has it impacted the average household and what are some creative ways to reduce stress for the whole family?

As much as you would like to belive that adult worries do not impact your whole family, it's just not true. Children are tuned into their parents moods and actions. This occurs from the attachment bonds as babies and continues throughout the parent child relationship. When there is uncertainty in the household it impacts the whole family and creates a sense of feeling psychologically unsafe. You can use some of these tips to help create a feeling of safety and consistency even during fearful times.

1. Keep a schedule:
I can't stress this one enough. I know that life is filled with unexpected events that can change a schedule at any moment: however creating a schedule and doing your best to maintain it provides consistency and safety.

2. Follow through with meaningful rituals:
When families face crisis there is a tendency to isolate from others and most rituals and celebrations are diminished. It is important to honor celebrations, even at times when things are difficult. The celebration does not need to be "fake" or pretending things are fine if they are not. Instead find a way to honor the person or situation in a respectful and loving way.

3. Stay connected:
Fear, loss, and embarrassment often leads to withdrawal from others. Stay open and connected to others even in time of great difficulty. This is a powerful opportunity to allow others to support you and will deepen the relationship.

4. Do not impose adult problems on your children:
You child does not need to know the specifics about the stress you may be encountering. It is not helpful for you to share with your child your financial worries or job worries. You do not need to share specific details with your children. For instance if they ask for something you cannot afford you can answer with,
"We are choosing not to buy that right now", rather than, "We can't afford that, you know things are really hard right now and we do not have extra money for you to get whatever you want".

5. Be open without being fearful:
You can model open communication with your family without giving a message of fear. If you are talking about the state of the economy or about someone who lost their house or job you can clarify how your family is safe. For example, "That happened, but we have a savings account, a good job, our home, and each other".

6. Listen and normalize:
Sometimes listening is enough, without trying to problem solve. You can normalize feelings by letting your child know that adults have feelings like worry, fear, sadness, anger too. Talk about how it is normal to have these feelings and different ways they can express these feelings, such as journal writing, talking to a friend, petting the dog, going for a walk, etc.

7. Do something:
Cognitive behavior therapy suggests that doing something different or thinking something different will influence how you feel. If you want to reduce the worries and fear it's time to take action. Turn off the bleak news and do something pleasurable. Have an art night scheduled where everybody in the family makes something together. This is a great way to build relationships, have fun, while doing something emotionally positive and teaching valuable self-soothing skills.

Ten Tips to Help Your Children Transition Through Divorce'

I keep hearing from families, "what can I do to improve my child's self-esteem so they feel better about themselves"? This is an important topic because a sense of self impacts your child's daily choices and perception of themselves. This will show up in your child's life in dilemmas such as who will I sit with at lunch, can I speak up when I feel someone is being rude, can I disagree with someone I like and still be friends, if they don't like me will that mean I am unlovable, if I make a mistake am I stupid? The power of these thoughts impact your child's self-concept. I see many adults who still struggle with these thoughts because their sense of self is dependent upon how others respond to them.

You can help your child develop their self-esteem not by excessive praise and overcompensation, but by providing them with opportunities for learning and mastery of new thoughts and actions. Mastery builds self-confidence and self discipline, these are the foundations for a positive sense of self.

If you would like to help your child learn these valuable skills sign up here for our Social Skill Building Art Group.

Feature Article: "Ten Tips to Help Your Children Transition Through Divorce"

I realize this article may not apply to all those who read my blog, yet it may be quite applicable for those families that have experienced any type of big stressors such as a family move, loss of job, loss of important friends, family illness or death, or other changes that impact the household.

Each year, more than 1 million children experience the divorce of their parents. Divorce rates peaked in 1979–1981 at 5.3 per 1000 persons and decreased by 1995 to 4.4 per 1000 persons. Approximately 50% of first marriages and 60% of second marriages end in divorce (Cohen, American Academy of Pediatrics). Moreover, the American Psychological Association notes that children of stepfamilies face higher risks of emotional and behavioral problems. Scary statistics, however, there are things you can do to help your children during a time of transition. It is important to use age appropriate explanations. Children often believe they are the cause of divorce or they can fix it. These ten tips will help your children adjust:

1. Never force your child to take sides or involve your child in an argument.

2. Don't criticize or fight with you ex in front of your child. If your child overhears you arguing explain that sometimes people say hurtful things when they are upset, however there are better ways to communicate your feelings. Discuss your concerns with your ex when your child is not present. It is not helpful to bring them into your arguments or adult discussions.

3. Respect the relationship they have with the other parent. It is important to let your children show their love to both parents and spend time with each without feeling guilty. Provide your child with reassurance that both their parents still love them even though they may only be living with one parent at a time.

4. You children know more than you think they know- so talk with them early on and often.

5. Create safety by listening and trying to understand their point of view. Don't try to rescue, overcompensate (by doing or giving them things), or problem solve. The best thing you can to is listen as they express their feelings, without judgment.

6. Be open about what is happening without giving too much unnecessary information. For example, "Your father and I are having problems and we need to separate because we cannot get along with each other".

7.Let you child know that it is not their fault and they cannot fix the problem.

8. Do not blame your ex-spouse. This creates a problem with alliances. Your child needs you to model healthy boundaries so they do not become co-dependent, feeling like they need to be responsible for another's well being.

9. Create a schedule. Children crave consistency; it is the way that they feel psychologically and physically safe. Keep a routine, even amongst the transitioning between households.

10. Let them know they are loved and you are willing to listen and try your best to answer questions they have.

Click here for more information from the AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS.
Impacts of Divorce Throughout the Developmental Stages

Art Therapy and Social and Emotional Management

Lack of self-worth, social anxiety, personal boundary issues, and social inhibition have been linked to poor social competency. What other attachment factors influence psychosocial development?

Bacon and Richardson (2001) suggest that the impact of physical and sexual abuse effects a child’s development of secure attachments and may lead to insecure anxious attachment, dissociation, antisocial or offending behavior, disorganized attachment, or intergenerational cycles of insecure attachments. There is a suggestion that children who have suffered from traumatic experiences lack reflexivity and are unable to develop an understanding of their and other’s mental states. Therefore, it is suggested they do not develop a “theory of the mind” and lack the ability to understand social-emotional needs in themselves and others.

Moreover, it is suggested that a theory of the mind, an understanding of another’s thoughts and feelings, is necessary to develop social competence (Villianueva Badenes, Clemente Estevan, Garcia Bacete, 2000). A child who processes social information such as reading body language, other’s intentions, emotions, and cues are believed to be more socially adaptable. It is believed that exposure to sociocultural activities and experiences with peers and family helps the child develop a theory of mind. Arranz, Artamendi, Olabarrieta, & Martin (2002) suggest a multicausal developmental approach to explain family influence on theory of the mind development. Consideration of family factors such as siblings, birth order, family size, attachment to caregiver may influence theory of mind development. Arranz et al. ( 2002) suggest the influence of family context on cognitive development. This is based upon Vigotsky’s work linking social interactions with cognitive development.

Azar (2002) suggests the research on pretend play is associated with social development. It has been theorized that children develop a theory of mind between ages of three and five and creative play may assist child in understanding that thoughts influence actions and emotions. Does pretend play support thinking as another would before a child fully comprehends another’s thoughts? The use of playing roles allows a child to emulate what they see others do. For example playing mother to a doll the child may respond to the hungry baby by feeding it. This type of creative play allows children to put themselves in another person’s situation and respond as they would, suggesting a development of theory of the mind. Can a child utilize the creative art process to strengthen the understanding of social interactions? From the work I’ve done with children, especially those who exhibit inflexibility, poor relationship skills, and language delays I have noted the use of building and playing with clay characters allow for an increase in social interactions. Perhaps it allows for a psychological safety of playing out behaviors with a character, rather than self? Perhaps this is linked to pretend play, whereby a child may be open to a repertoire of responses that they are emulating and might not otherwise express? It is often via the use of creative play that these children increase flexibility and develop relationship skills.