TWEEN SENSE

“Oh… I really hate middle school.” I can’t tell you how many times I hear this from parents. Why such strong feelings? If you have a middle schooler at home, you probably know why. The mean kids, the hormones, the changes…the list goes on and on. In the tender tween age of 11 to 14, middle schoolers are probably the most confused age group on Earth. Just like toddlers, until you understand their psyche, you cannot get through to them. So, how can you help? Just understand them.

1. Know that they are going to be more and more self-centered. They cannot help it. Preoccupation with the mirror, their clothes, their friends, and their things is the norm now. Parents, try to find subtle ways to discuss inner beauty with them. When it comes to body image, use words like “healthy,” not pretty or skinny. Help them understand that many children do not have the advantages they have. Perhaps they can volunteer with friends for a local charity.

2. Gone are the days when you were the “cool” mom and dad. Now, you are just barely acceptable. Accept it. You don’t need to be their best friend anymore. That’s fine, but perhaps you can subtly direct them to friends who would be a good influence.

3. They blow things up (in their mind). A run-of-the-mill comment or situation can magnify and become a big deal to them. Their emotions are not in their control. Step into their shoes, understand the breadth of their feelings, and teach them coping skills for the kind of situations they deal with socially.

4. They are dreamers. They are doodlers. Their head is in the clouds. That’s understandable, since they are trying to figure out who they are. Parents, encourage their imagination and creativity. Let them dream big.

Finally, understand that this is a stage of life. With time, their thought process and mind will mature and become more reasonable. In fact, in a few years, you will have a good laugh about all their middle school drama. So parents, don’t hate middle school. Be ready for it.

STRANGER ANXIETY: It’s my party and I’ll cry if you don’t hold me!!

Full of giddy anticipation, my parents flew across the continent. Delayed flight.. Bad food.. Fear of flying.. they did not care. They were seeing their grandchild and it was her first birthday.

Upon their arrival, the birthday girl took one look at them, her lower lip curled, eyes welled up with tears, and she began to bawl. It did not get any better during the two weeks they spent with me. I could sense their disappointment, but they kept saying, “Don’t worry. That happens.” She spent most of her birthday clinging to my leg and avoiding all of the guests. Birthday cake …forget about it..she wanted nothing to do with it.

I knew she was at the peak of stranger anxiety and there was no way around it. During this phase, a kid feels that mom and dad (especially mom) are their safety net. Anybody else, she feels, is someone who can take their parents away from them. From a child development perspective, stranger anxiety signals the beginning a basic understanding of relationships and family. The more she sees someone on a regular basis, like a nanny or grandparents, the less anxiety she will have to them.

But what do you do when family members visit? Or at birthday parties? The key is to understand the child’s plight. You are her safety net. So reassure her that you will hold on to her until she feels safe. Ask your family members to not talk or smile or gesture to the child, until she is ready to look and talk to them.

If you are always entertaining people at your home or meeting friends for playdates with your child, she will probably develop less stranger anxiety. Having bad stranger anxiety does not mean your child will be an introvert for life. Lastly, remember, this phase will go away around age two on its own. All she needs is reassurance of your presence and your love.

Did your little one have any stranger anxiety? And what did you do about it?

Photo courtesy of: Freedigitalphotos.net

TODDLERS AND TANTRUMS

They are cute. They are fast. They only want what they want. Yes… I am talking about toddlers.

You may have noticed that your toddler is very quick on his feet. He is also very quick on the uptake. Unnoticed to you, he makes many connections in his mind. He realizes that when he climbs the fireplace or the stairs, you stop what you are doing, run to him, and pick him up. When he throws all the shoes off the shelf in the shoe store, he gets you to stop eyeing all the pretty shoes and look at him instead. If he bites you or hits his head on the wall, he gets even more attention including some “Noo!! Don’t that” type of reaction.

Needless-to-say, toddlers are attention-seeking smart-alecs who can’t express themselves. They define all attention as good attention, even if it means you are angry. They can’t communicate well enough, so they throw themselves backwards or stiffen up their body or cry interminably. Always remember that this is normal behavior for toddlers. They don’t call it “Terrible two” for nothing.

Your understanding of toddler psychology will make the terrible two easier for you and set your child up for good behavior for the rest of his life. Next time a tantrum is about to unfold, this is what you can do.
1. First, make sure he is safe.
2. Second, don’t turn around from what you are doing or frown or yell “No.” Act like you don’t care about what he is doing. Without looking at him, use a soft voice and say “We don’t do that.”
3. Next, distract him and take him to a different location or to a favorite toy or picture. If you are in a store, then leave the store. If you are driving, then you can pull over safely into a parking lot.

Ignoring undesirable behavior will not work unless desirable behavior is rewarded. The reward in this age group is attention. When he listens well and does not throw a tantrum, he is giving you a golden opportunity. This is your cue to reinforce his good behavior. Give him a ton of attention, lot of praise, and playtime with you. His toddler brain will quickly make connection that “Mommy plays with me when I listen to her.” Wouldn’t that be serendipitous?

Photo courtesy of: FreeDigitalphotos.net