How to Raise A Child Who Cares
Ever worry that your kid is a jerk? Or wish they’d send a thank-you note without your forcing them to do it? This article is an easy read and helps parents and educators to think about how to develop and encourage empathy in young children.
How to Raise A Child Who Cares
Planning and conversation will ease your tween's anxiety about meeting the new, complex demands of middle school.
Ah, middle school. Though your child may barely be entering puberty and may still be a pre-teen, the transition to middle school is a big step on the road to maturity. A big, scary step. Regardless of what specific grade marks the beginning of junior high or middle school in your community, your child will be both excited and afraid. Researchers have found that students anticipating the move to middle school worry about three aspects of the change: logistical, social, and academic. Your child with learning or attention difficulties shares the same worries as their peers, and may be afraid the change will be even harder for them.
While you won’t be able to calm your child’s fears completely, with some advance planning and open discussions you can substantially ease their mind. The first step is understanding what may worry your child.
When researchers asked kids what aspect of moving to middle school most concerned them, the top answers related to how things at the new school worked (Akos, 2002). How would they find the right classroom? What happened if they were tardy? Where was the cafeteria? What about the bathrooms?
Middle school is a much more complex environment than grade school. The campus is larger, there are more students, and instead of one teacher and one classroom, your child will have a separate instructor and classroom, for each subject or block of subjects (e.g., language arts/social studies or math/science). It’s no wonder kids worry about finding their way in this new world.
For your student with learning or attention problems, understanding the rules and procedures of the new school may be even more important. The challenge of navigating multiple transitions between classes and organizing books and materials for every subject may be all she can handle in the first few weeks.
Here are some strategies for helping your child make a smoother transition to middle school:
Another area of worry for students moving to middle school is the social scene. Will I see anyone I know? Will it be hard to make friends? Will I have to eat lunch alone? Are the older kids bullies?
Your child is moving from the top of the elementary school heap to the bottom rung of the middle school social ladder. They may have heard that the older students tease or bully the younger ones. They know for sure that they and their best friends are unlikely to be in every single class together, and, even worse, there may be classes where they don’t know anyone at all on the first day. And if your child with learning or attention problems struggles to make friends anyway, then this all adds up to a potential social nightmare.
Remember that, in addition to changing schools, your child is entering adolescence, a stage when kids start to rely much more on peers and pull away from parents. This is a time when being part of a group is very important and being perceived as different can be devastating. It’s not surprising that finding friends in the new school is a top priority.
The good news is that the more varied social environment also offers many opportunities to meet people. Being in multiple classes each day means your student is surrounded by more potential friends. The better news is that, once students are settled into middle school, they report that friendships and the social scene are among the best things about school (Akos, 2002: Forgan, 2000).
Some things that you can do to ease the social transition:
Though most students worry more about the logistical and social aspects of middle school before they get there, once settled in, academic concerns rise to the surface. Will the classes be too difficult? Will there be too much homework? Are the teachers hard graders?
It’s quite typical for students’ academic performance to drop upon entering middle school. Along with everything else that’s going on – roller coaster emotions, physical changes, and social upheaval – your child is also coping with harder classes, more homework, and a whole new set of academic expectations. Middle school teachers don’t form the close bonds with students that your child enjoyed in grade school. There is less small group and personalized instruction. Teachers expect students to take charge of assignments and projects with less day-to-day guidance.
For a student with learning or attention difficulties, these changes can come as quite a shock. Teachers may vary in their willingness to understand and accommodate your child’s learning needs. Organization and time management demands rise to a new level. Though it can seem overwhelming, keep reminding your child that they can manage these changes successfully, though it will take time and practice.
Some tips to help ease their academic concerns:
The best way to help your child through this transition is to keep a positive attitude about middle school. You may remember how clueless, awkward, and self-conscious you felt at that age. Empathize with your child and normalize their experience. Reassure them that they will become more comfortable and confident with time. Remind your child that the school and the teachers want them to be successful and that they have what it takes to make it all work.
Most students make the adjustment to the routines and demands of middle school within a couple months. If your child is still struggling as fall gives way to winter, then a meeting with their counselor may be in order. Together, you, your student and the counselor can pinpoint specific trouble spots and brainstorm ways to get things on track.
Try to give your tween plenty of information about how things will work in middle school, but be careful not to overload them. Be proactive in sharing information with them while also encouraging them to ask questions. The more they know up front, the more comfortable they will be on the first day, and beyond.
When one child in a family has difficulties that consume a lot of the family's attention, restrict family activities, or generate great concern, other children in the family may not get the attention that they deserve. Siblings in families with special needs may feel a myriad of emotions such as sadness, disappointment, anger, or stress. Some siblings take care of themselves so that they are less of a burden to their family.
Here are some articles on ways to help support a sibling in a special needs family.
1. 5 Ways to Support Siblings in Special Needs Families
2. 12 Ways to Support Siblings of Children with Disabilities
3. 10 Great Books if You Have Sibling with Special Needs
4. Supporting the Siblings of Special Needs Kids
We have all see and heard of the helicopter parent. The parent who hovers and makes most all decisions for their child. This article sheds light on why helicopter parenting is detrimental to your child and what you can actually do to foster independence and responsibility.
These TedTalks are a collection of talks to enjoy before welcoming a new little life into the world.
Parents are often hungry for advice on how to raise their children, seeking guidance on how to prompt kids to follow through with such everyday responsibilities such as doing chores and completing their homework, as well as insights on the best ways to help them stave off unhealthy behaviors, such as too much screen time and substance use.
These scientifically supported sites and programs are among psychology's best for helping parents raise their kids.
This website is a clearinghouse of behavioral science on children and adolescents, developed by the Consortium of Science-Based Information on Children, Youth, and Families. Geared towards parents, educators, and behavioral health specialists, the site covers common parenting concerns, such as difficulties, drug and alcohol use, puberty, and much more. Every resource has been vetted by psychologists to ensure its advice is based on solid research and is bias-free.
Perhaps most useful of all, the site can help parents determine for themselves which childhood behaviors are part of normal development and which might need a psychologist's attention.
This website offers information on the symptoms of and treatment for behavioral and mental health problems in children and adolescents. In addition, Effective Child Therapy showcases the strong science behind today's successful treatments.
3. Act Raising Safe Kids Program
Developed by APA's Violence Prevention Office, this eight-week class teaches positive parenting skills to parents of young children to foster safe, stable, and healthy environments and relationships that prevent children's exposure to abuse and adversities. Parents can also find tips on how to handle typical situations that they may encounter with their children such as bullying and tantrums.
4. Effective Parenting: The ABC's of Child Rearing
This free online parenting course was devloped by Alan E. Kazdin, Ph.D, former APA President and Director of the Yale Parenting Center. This course provides 20 how-to videos explaining parenting techniques that address problem behaviors at both home and school. Kazdin instructs parents on the importance of speaking to their children in a calm or playful tone and allowing kids to make choices whenever possible. Scores of studies back these approaches.
5. Resilience Booster: Parent Tip Tool
Developed by APA's Children, Youth, and Families Office and its Office on Socioeconomic Status, this site provides parents and caregivers with tips on how to boost children's resilience in the face of adverse experiences. This site is organized around the various places where children spend their time and outlines how each environment can help build resilience among children living in poverty.
Psychologists and child development experts suggest that not over-scheduling your child over the summer is beneficial and can help them to develop their own interests and passions. Read this short article to learn more and a specific strategy to help with the "I'm bored. What can I do?" questions.
Most everyone loves to travel. Getting away and making trips to your favorite vacation spot for a weekend with your family is a great way to escape the stress of everyday life. However, for families who have children or teenagers with autism or Asperger's, the thought of a vacation may evoke feelings of anxiety and fear.
Traveling with children with autism may seem difficult, but when you plan your vacations ahead of time and with care, they can be an absolute treat and a great way to strengthen familial bonds.
Here are a few tips to make your vacation a pleasurable one for your child and the entire family.
Choose an ideal destination for your child
Encourage your children to participate actively in the planning process and evaluate their current interests, attention span, sensory processing/information-processing abilities, and relate it to your upcoming trip. Choose a place where your child would still get to do activities that they typically enjoy. For example, if your child loves amusement parks, try taking them to Disneyland, if your child loves playing with water, consider planning a beach vacation. Make sure you’re not overwhelming your child by involving them in too many activities, as this would result in stressing out not just your child, but the rest of the family as well.
Arrange proper identification for your child
Parents of children with autism often struggle to manage their child’s wandering during vacations. Nearly half of children with autism tend to wander or run off, causing tremendous concern and anxiety to parents.
Here are a few identification tools you can use
Predict your child’s needs
Parents can typically anticipate their child’s needs. However, this becomes even more necessary with the child with autism. This is because children with autism typically struggle to accept changes in their routine, and a vacation requires a divergence from their usual schedule. This could lead to meltdowns and anxiety attacks. To reduce such incidents from happening when traveling, here are some ideas. Call the airline in advance to check for delays. This gives you enough time to make special accommodations. Work with your child on the need for patience for TSA lines at the airport as well as amusement park rides. Use social stories to help prepare your child for the trip including ordering food in restaurants, sleeping in a new bed in the hotel or resort, and tolerating long car rides.
Prepare a checklist of essentials
Prepare a checklist so you leave behind nothing that is important to your child. Always have reinforcements handy to reward your child for their good behavior. You can use soothers such as MP3 players a piece of cloth, string, or a toy to help keep your child calm. Pack their favorite snacks, toys, stuffed animals, books and assistive communication tools. Enlist your child's help so they can add necessary items or alert you if something is missing.
Enact vacation scenarios with your child
Preparations for an upcoming trip should start well in advance of the trip. It is recommended to start your groundwork at least 2-3 months before the vacation. Talk about the trip with your child every day by creating sequential picture stories of planned events and provide simple captions for each picture. Role-playing is one of the best ways to help children understand what they can expect to see while on vacation. Having meaningful conversations about the trip with your child or teenager will help to relieve stress and reduce problematic behaviors during the vacation.
If you are a parent or work with children in any capacity, you have probably heard of Dr. Carol Dweck. She is a professor of psychology at Stanford University. Among her many professional accomplishments, she has written a best-selling book called Mindset.
Many people assume that superior intelligence or ability is a key to success. But more than 30 years of research has shown that an overemphasis on intellect or talent, and the implication that these traits are fixed or innate, leaves people feeling vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges, and unmotivated to learn. Teaching people to have "a growth mindset" encourages a focus on the process, rather than talent or intelligence and produces high achievers in school, work, and life.
Parents and teachers can help teach a "growth mindset" in children by praising them for their persistence or strategies, rather than the child's intellect or talent. The key is to provide the child with specific praise versus generic praise. For example, telling a child "You are a good athlete," may actually undermine their abilities in the long run, but noting to that same child that "I liked how much you practice free throws to get better" demonstrates more specific praise on their effort, rather than the child's talent.
Here are some other examples:
Invaluable praise like this can foster motivation and confidence in children and teens by helping them to focus on their specific actions that led to their success.
Recently, I received an email from a reader of this blog who provided resources that they have found useful in helping parents of children with special needs. I appreciate their generosity in sharing these sites with me, and with their permission, I am sharing them with you. I hope that these resources are helpful to any parent, caregiver, or professional who works with or raises a child with special needs.
1. Understanding Dyslexia and How to Help Children Who Have It
2. The Importance of Self-Esteem for Kids With Learning and Attention Issues
3. Parenting Tips for ADHD: Do’s and Don’ts
4. How to Create an Autism-Friendly Environment for Kids
5. How to Discuss Puberty with Your Child Who Has Special Needs
6. Creating the Optimal Environment for a Kid with ADHD
7. Teens with ADHD: Recognizing Signs of Depression
8. ADHD and Addiction - What is the Risk?
9. Teaching the Person with Autism How to Drive
10. How to Prepare Your Child with Special Needs for the Back-to-School Transition
Miranda J. Gabriel, Psy.D.
A licensed clinical psychologist providing psychotherapy to children, teens, and adults in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Information and opinions found on this website
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