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By Vicki Kirkman, LCSW, LCAC, Nov. 15, 2018 –

Imagine the following scene: There are bright balloons, a delicious cake and a room full of happy friends celebrating your child’s birthday.  As each of the birthday gifts is unwrapped, you hold your breath and wait for your child to say, “Thank you!”

It can be so disheartening when those words aren’t said without a reminder or “the look” from mom or dad.

Expressing gratitude doesn’t necessarily come naturally to young children.  It is normal and developmentally appropriate for younger children to be focused on themselves during their early years.

However, as children grow and their world becomes bigger, their ability to appreciate others and show gratitude becomes larger. Parents can help build their children’s awareness of gratefulness and teach them to demonstrate a grateful attitude. Listed below are some helpful tips.

  • Teach your child the simple but important practice of saying “please” and “thank you.”
  • Don’t miss an opportunity to catch your child doing something thoughtful! Acknowledge and praise what they did. Your kind words will set a good example for your child to use toward someone else.
  • Model your own gratefulness. Children will notice when their parent is grateful for a beautiful day, a door being held open, or a thoughtful gift from a friend.
  • Make it a daily or weekly habit to discuss what you are grateful for as a family. During dinner, in the car or before bed are great times to talk. Have each family member share one or two things they are thankful for and why. To begin the conversation it might be helpful to say, “What or who are you thankful for at home, school, or in the community?”
  • Foster experiences that allow children to help others. Volunteering at a food bank or animal shelter are great opportunities. Developing a list of random acts of kindness to check off together would be a fun way to teach children how good it feels to help others. Encourage your kids to identify the emotions they experience (happy, proud, helpful, nice, etc.).
  • Identify “helpers” with your child. Talk about the role of police, firefighters, military, teachers, and doctors. Discuss how each helper is valuable and do something to show gratitude toward them.  A simple note of appreciation or delivering cookies is a great way to say thank you!
  • Focus on sharing experiences instead of buying materialistic items. Leave the phone on the charger, turn off the television and enjoy the company of family. Use compliments and praise the strengths of each family member.
  • Get children involved in purchases. When your child wants the newest toy or electronic item, offer the opportunity to earn it by completing more chores or saving money to go toward the purchase.  The memory of working for it will hopefully create better maintenance of the item and a sense of ownership.
  • Engage older teens in discussions about world events. They are old enough to have their own thoughts and opinions about big issues that are happening. Talking about what is important to them and how it shapes their view on the world can be a great lesson in gratitude.

Start early and offer many opportunities to help children express and practice gratitude.  Teaching children how to express gratitude is a skill that will help them throughout their life!

By Vicki Kirkman, LCSW, LCAC – February 21, 2017 – Courier & Press –

Stress is a natural part of life and something everyone experiences.  It can be positive or negative and affect your daily life greatly if not managed appropriately.

In some situations, stress can motivate us to do better or work toward hard-to-reach goals.  Other circumstances can leave someone feeling overwhelmed, anxious and out of control.

Children and teens are affected by stress in several ways.  Parents need to remember that all children respond to situations differently.  What causes stress for one child or teen might not affect another one.

However, some stressors are common for children and teens.  These stressors include pressure at school, being involved in too many after-school activities, or conflict with friends and family.

Other big and complicated issues like divorce, death of a loved one, drug use, and financial problems at home contribute to stress.  Medical illnesses and world events like natural disasters or war can also be sources of stress.

It’s important for parents to recognize signs of stress in their children and help them manage it in a healthy manner.  Young children who are stressed out may complain of stomach aches, headaches or say they don’t feel well.  At school, they may visit the school nurse frequently or try to avoid attending school.  They may also be more tearful than normal, have trouble sleeping, wet the bed or not eat as much at meals.  Some children experience nightmares or have acting-out behavior such as outbursts and tantrums.

Teenagers can experience many physical reactions to stress.  Digestive problems and headaches, tense muscles, racing heart, frequent colds and feeling fatigued are all signs of stress.  Teens might also feel overly emotional, irritable, depressed and experience mood swings.

Mentally, teens with stress overload may feel forgetful, lack concentration and have a negative attitude.  Both children and teens often withdraw from activities they enjoy and isolate themselves from friends if they experience too much stress.

Parents can play a key role in helping their children and teens manage stress.  Most importantly, parents can model good coping skills and stress management in their own lives.  If children see their parents deal with stress in a healthy and positive manner, they are more likely to apply that to their own life.

Other ways parents can help their children are listed below.

  • Teach your kids how to identify their body’s cues for stress overload.  Pay attention to headaches, upset stomach, tearfulness or tense muscles.
  • Limit extra-curricular activities. Too many evenings participating in sports, extra lessons or just running errands can cause kids and teens to become tired and pressed for time to do homework or just relax.
  • Prepare ahead of time to avoid extra hassles. Lay out the next day’s clothes, pack lunches, put homework and bags in an easy place to grab, etc.
  • Monitor and limit exposure to television, social media and cell phone use. Phones should be put away at night so kids can sleep and not be tempted to text friends or surf the internet.
  • Encourage relaxation and leisurely activities with friends and family.
  • Get plenty of rest and eat a healthy diet.
  • Teach communication skills like problem-solving, good decision making and sharing feelings and thoughts with others.
  • Recognize when stress is too big of an issue to tackle alone. Don’t hesitate to speak to a counselor, social worker or doctor for extra support and help.

Stress management is crucial in life and best handled with the guidance of parents and supportive adults. By helping children and teens manage stress, they can be better prepared for life’s challenges.