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Body & Cyber Safety: How to Pre-arm and Protect Your Children

In the past week I’ve been contacted by several parents. They’ve asked a number of questions, all along the same lines*:

I discovered yesterday that my 5 year-old daughter has been sexually touched (quite horribly) by an older boy at her school. We have talked about being safe so many times. I thought we had it covered. And yet this has occurred. Turns out the older boys have been exposed to porn and said they wanted to do what they saw in the video. I’m devastated.

And this one:

I need to know how to handle this. You have visited our school and talked with students and parents about technology, sexting, and pornography. My 13 year-old daughter has had all the talks. She knows that NO MATTER WHAT, she should NOT get involved. Well guess what? It’s happened. She did it. A boy has been pressuring her for weeks, in person and on Instagram and Snapchat, and she finally succumbed. We know the boy and his family and I contacted them. My daughter is not the first girl he has done he has done this to. What do I do?

The past week is not particularly different to other weeks when these kinds of emails land on my Facebook page or in my inbox. Other emails included one from a mother whose 8 year-old son was shown pornographic content in the school playground, and another from a parent whose 9 year-old child was approached via Instagram for explicit images.

While very different, each situation contains a number of important similarities:

First, these children are young. It is common for primary school-aged children to be involved in these circumstances.

Second, in almost all cases, it is a girl who is being harassed or harmed in a sexual way by a boy.

Third, social media is implicated consistently.

Fourth, young people are being harmed by what they are seeing or what they are doing, with pornography acting as a potential influence in too many cases.

There are three things I want to highlight for every parent to teach their children about: social media, body safety, and pornography.

Social Media

(It’s worth noting that the central – perhaps the only – reason that children have to be 13 is because of US laws that prohibit the collection of personal information on children under that age. It has nothing to do with the emotional and psychological readiness of the children to maturely navigate the online/social world.)

Parents must understand that Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter are hotbeds of danger.

While it is true that many children use these sites every day without harm, there are significant risks associated with these platforms. Adult grooming is one, but so too is the exposure to explicit content, and the harassment from peers that occurs all-too-often.

Wellbeing vs Screentime graphAdditionally, recent research from the UK indicates that using these platforms is associated with reduced wellbeing and increased risk of depression, stress, and anxiety. And Australian studies with adolescents show that as time on screens (gaming and social media) increase, so too does psychological ill-health.

If your children want to be on screens, ensure they are old enough for the accounts that they want – and note that being 13 doesn’t mean they’re old enough. They should be able to maturely utilise the platforms and not become a servant to them (and we all know some adults who still can’t do that). Talk with them about the risks. Invite them to share how they’ll respond to dangerous situations. Keep screens in public spaces. And know what they’re doing, who they’re “friending” and connecting with, and what they’re viewing.

Many parents tell me that they’ve installed software to keep their kids safe online and to monitor what they’re doing. This may offer some modest protection while your child is using devices protected by the software. However, this seems to be the equivalent of fencing our swimming pool. It provides a level of safety that is important.

But we can’t fence the ocean.

Once our children are out of our home or using another person’s device, our protections are unhelpful. We need more than software to protect our kids. We need to talk with them and teach them how to use social media safely, how to respond to inappropriate requests, and what to say to someone who is pressuring them to do something they know is wrong.

Body Safety

Our children, no matter how well protected we keep them, will come into contact with others who have not necessarily received the same level of protection we have provided. Some of those children may have been exposed to pornographic content online, or have experienced inappropriate sexual touching. It is vital that our children know how to be body safe, and know how to resist the pressure that others may place upon them.

Teach young children (from the age of 2) that no one should ever look at or touch – or ask to look at or touch – any part of their body that is covered by their swimwear or underpants. A parent might wash these private parts for a child in the bath, or a doctor might need to view these parts with permission, but that is the only time these body parts should be looked at or touched. Our children need to know the difference between “good” touching and “bad” touching. And it is up to us to have the conversations with them about it. (Some useful resources are here.)

Teach older children that it is not ok to use digital media for looking at, or showing, those private parts. And then invite them to discuss why that might be the case. Help them to understand that sharing images might lead to long-term consequences, and that others might also see what has been shared.

Body safety means we teach our children how to keep their body safe. It is up to parents to ensure these conversations happen consistently.

Pornography

Liz Walker, founder of “Porn Harms Kids” explains that exposure of children to pornography has reached critical levels. A major study from Sydney Uni indicated that 45% of adult males were first exposed to pornographic content between ages 11 and 13. In a 2010 survey of English 14-16 year-olds, nearly one-third claimed that their first exposure to pornography was at 10 years or younger. A 2015 survey in the UK showed that 1 in 5 twelve to thirteen year-olds believed that watching porn is “normal behaviour”.

Unwanted exposure to pornography among minors is increasing, with the number of 10-12 year-olds accidentally seeing porn rising from 9% to 19% between 2000 and 2005, and from 28% to 35% for 13-15 year-olds. In another study of 16-17 year-olds, a large number of both males (84%) and females (60%) had experienced unwanted exposure to pornography while online.

Now… take a look at the dates. The data are old. We’re back at 2005 before iPhones and 3G wireless Internet. Or we’re back at 2010 Why? We can’t ethically ask young children about their pornography exposure. We have to wait until they’re older and ask them to retrospectively recall when they saw what they saw.

Our best guess is that kids are, on average, seeing pornography at around age 9 or 10 today because of wireless, portable tech. And there is consensus that about 99% of boys and around 70% of girls have been exposed to pornography by the age of 15. Parents are consistently describing incidents like those above where pornography has impacted their children’s lives – always with negative consequences.

Research is highlighting that children’s exposure to pornography increases the risk that they may act on what they’ve seen. Too often, this occurs with another vulnerable young person. NSW Police report that child-on-child sexual assault is at an all-time high, with the proliferation of pornography via screens being the most often-blamed reason.

What do we do?
As the first generation of parents to deal with these challenges, we are facing some tricky times. No matter how well we parent our children, they will be affected and influenced by others who may not have had the same level of parental involvement. Sometimes they will be harmed by those children.

Parents can best protect their children by:

Cocooning

Don’t let young children near social media. Minimise screen time. Ensure they are taught about body safety.

Pre-arming

At some point, cocooning children will not be enough. This is when we must pre-arm them. The most effective pre-arming occurs when our children trust us and our relationships with them are close and loving.

We want to be having daily involvement and connection with them about the little things so that when the big things arise we have the relationship foundation in place to guide them.

The best pre-arming conversations are not lectures. We ask questions and listen to how our children feel about the issues we are discussing, and invite their ideas for how they would respond in tricky situations.

Setting Limits

Our children need us to be parents. They need us to lead. This might mean things can be uncomfortable from time to time. But they need to know what our limits are and why. We should only allow social media with appropriate protections and at the right age.

Parenting may never have been more challenging. It may also never have been more important.

* Details changed to preserve anonymity

For help talking to your children about body safety, respect and consent, check out these great resources…

Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept - body safety book by Jayneen SandersNo Means No - by Jayneen SandersBody Safety Education by Jayneen Sanders

 

 

The post Body & Cyber Safety: How to Pre-arm and Protect Your Children appeared first on Dr Justin Coulson's Happy Families.

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Navigating Your Teen’s Quest For Independence

Dear Dr Justin,

My daughter started high school and already there are parties and outings organised where no parents are allowed. She’s only 12 and I think too young to go unsupervised. Am I being unfair?

The teen years are a glorious time for our kids. It is a time of freedom; our kids are doing things for themselves and by themselves, figuring themselves out, and experiencing life like never before. And, of course, it’s a time when parties, outings and other social events are on the rise.

For many parents, our teen’s time of excitement is our time of fear! We want to know our children are safe, and making healthy, wise decisions.

So, how much independence is the right amount?

Unfortunately, the answer is… it depends. At 12 perhaps going to the local pool in the afternoon with a group of friends might feel okay, but going to a party on a Saturday night may not. Perhaps meeting up in the city for a movie with some girlfriends might also be okay, but going with just one boy might not be something you feel so good about.

It is up to each family to find the ‘right’ amount of independence for their child. However, it’s vital that our teens participate in determining where that line is, with us.

Having control in their lives is important for our teens. Research shows that autonomy is one of the most important contributors to success and happiness. It is a predictor for almost all the positive outcomes that we want for our kids – better wellbeing, lower stress, better health, increased longevity, greater career success and even lower use of drugs and alcohol. Kids with parents who encourage autonomy do better at school, have better friends, and are generally happier.

Handing over the decision-making power (within limits!)

So, the best thing we can do for our teens is to give them some decision making power in their own lives. This doesn’t mean becoming permissive or disengaged. Instead, we should involve our teens in establishing the family rules, and negotiate individual circumstances with them as necessary.

If this seems like a lot of work, you’re right, it is! But it is also do-able by utilising the three Es of Effective Discipline – explain, explore and empower.

First, explore the issue with your child. If she feels strongly that she is ready for something, listen as she explains her reasons. Try to understand her feelings. This is the time for empathy and perspective.

Second, explain the risks and consequences of the choices, such as unsupervised parties, to your teen. Discuss some of the things you feel she is ready for, such as going alone to a café with a friend, and some of the things she is not. Let her tell you how she feels as well. The more clearly you explain, and the more input you receive, the more chance that you will get understanding and cooperation from your teen.

Third, empower her by working together to find solutions. What should the family rules be when it comes to parties? What about outings? If there is a party she can’t attend, can she organise another outing that is acceptable? Brainstorm solutions that don’t put her at risk, feel age-appropriate and work within the rules your family has set.

A note about parties

When it comes to teens’ parties, there are some very important considerations you might discuss. For example, parties where no parent is present are, in my mind, a no-go. If, during a party, there is underage drinking, or illegal drug use, or sexual activities, or if one of the kids is hurt, the parent could be at risk for legal action. And if a minor teen gives another minor alcohol, they are breaking the law. Remember, too, that sex is more likely when there’s alcohol.

These risks are serious. Various states even have laws about parties.

For Victoria, see here
For NSW, see here
For QLD, see here
For SA, see here
For WA, see here
For Tassie, see here
For the ACT, see here
And for the NT, take a peek here

If there’s a law, it becomes a non-negotiable rule. Otherwise, it is up to us to use our most powerful parenting tool – communication – to navigate our teen’s growing need for social independence. But by explaining, exploring and empowering we can work together to establish appropriate guidelines for social outings and help our teens make well-informed, age-appropriate choices, to ensure they have a great future.

Check out Dr Justin Coulson’s popular webinar: What Your Teenage Daughter Wants To Tell You But Can’t. Available in the Happy Families Online Shop

The post Navigating Your Teen’s Quest For Independence appeared first on Dr Justin Coulson's Happy Families.

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14 Pumpkin Crafts and Activities for Kids

Fall is officially here! We went to the pumpkin patch last weekend and now it’s time for some fall crafting. These pumpkin crafts and activities are great for kids of all ages. Don’t forget to have some healthy pumpkin snacks while you’re enjoying these fall crafts!

Pumpkin Crafts

#1 – Shiny Happy Pumpkins by Sweet Silly Sara
These are an easy fun pumpkin craft idea for younger kids.

#2 – Tin Can Pumpkins by Kennary
These are adorable and are the perfect way to hand out Halloween treats at class parties or for trick-or-treat!

#3 – Book Page Pumpkins by Creations by Kara

Pumpkin Crafts

#4 – Painted Rock Pumpkins by Make Life Lovely
We love rock painting and can’t wait to make some pumpkin rocks!

#5 – Styrofoam Cup Pumpkins by Mom Endeavors
This is another great idea for younger kids!

#6 – Color Mixing Pumpkins by Messy Little Monster

Pumpkin Crafts

#7 – Hand Print Keepsake Pumpkins by Kori at Home
I am a huge fan of hand print crafts, and these would be perfect to remember your little one’s first Halloween!

#8 – Button Pumpkins by Sugar Bee Crafts

#9 – Pony Bead Pumpkins by Cutesy Crafts

Pumpkin Crafts

#10 – Paper Plate Pumpkins by The Best Ideas for Kids
These are a simple, quick idea. You won’t need any special supplies.

#11 – Folded Paper Pumpkins by Pint Sized Treasures

#12 – Craft Stick Pumpkins by You Brew Tea

Pumpkin Face Printable

#13 – Pumpkin Face Printable Activity
We created this activity a few years ago, and it is requested every Halloween!

#14 – Mason Jar Lid Pumpkins by Crafts by Amanda
These are fun for older kids or adults!

Pumpkin Crafts and Activities for Kids

Pumpkin Crafts and Activities for Kids

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What to do when your child is fearless!

My childhood friend Joel was fearless.

When he was about six, Joel’s parents installed a balcony on the back of their pole home. For some reason, the builder couldn’t install the safety railing straight away. The fall from the balcony to the ground was at least 6 metres.

Joel would ride his bike full tilt along the balcony, then execute a perfect skid. His mission? Get as close to the edge as possible. He never did go over, though his bike did at least once!

Some kids are thrill-seekers. While their friends stay away from heights, roads, stovetops, and other dangers, the Joels of the world get a buzz out of risky business. Maybe you have that two-year-old that tries to ‘fly’ off the back of the couch, the three-year-old who cleverly picks the childproof lock on the cupboard of poisonous cleaning supplies or the four-year-old who lets himself out the front door to take the dog for a walk.

These kids are independent, spirited, goal-oriented and resourceful – but parenting a fearless child can be a daunting and stressful task.

Between the ages of about one and five, your child develops new abilities and starts to crave independence. This is healthy. Independence contributes to feelings of wellbeing, a sense of identity and helps promote self-esteem.

In some ways our young children are similar to teenagers. In both stages our kids are in the process of ‘individuation’ – they are learning about difference, separation and self-assertion, and they have an absolutely unshakeable belief in their own invincibility. But unlike a teen, your young child can’t foresee the consequences of his actions. (Some of us would recognise that even teens struggle with this skill at times too.)

So, there are dangers inherent in having a risk-taking child. A fearless, intense, highly motivated child can be difficult to keep safe. Our job as parents is to find a way to keep our fearless kids safe while still allowing them to explore the world.

What do we do?
First, try a reframe of the situation.

There are benefits to having a fearless child. You might change your language from ‘stubborn’ to ‘persistent’, or ‘reckless’ to ‘goal-oriented’. Perhaps your child is ‘optimistic’! This reframe emphasises your child’s strengths. Our children internalise our language about them. And so do we. Choose positive words to describe your child’s spirited ways.

Next, modify the environment for safety.

Sometimes things are just not going to be safe, and you’ll need to find an innovative solution. I know one family whose two-year-old was intent on climbing the cable railing on their deck. They installed pieces of Perspex to stop him. Another mother learned to keep her car keys hung from a nail high up on the wall.

Remember however, that kids have been navigating risks for millennia. They don’t need to be bubble-wrapped.

And finally…

Encourage them to take risks in ways you can feel good about. Bike slides beside a rail-free balcony may be a bit much, and we want to minimise true danger, but giving kids freedom to explore and take risks is good for them. Evidence shows they become wiser when we allow them to engage in risky play.

Joel survived. So did the kid who let himself out the front door to walk the dog and the child who learned to fly from the back of the couch. They all survived.

Of course we need to keep our fearless kids safe, but what a shame it would be if in doing so we also kept all the adventure from their lives (and ours)! Embrace their intense spirits, their clever problem solving and their focused goal-setting… just be sure to keep the car keys out of reach.

 

For related products, check out the Happy Families online shop

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How to tell your friend what their teen is doing on Instagram

Dear Dr Justin,

My husband and I have some family friends. Their daughter is friends with our daughter. I recently heard their daughter telling my daughter about her ‘private’ Instagram account. My daughter has told me that her friend is sharing sexual images, and images with alcohol and cigarettes on that account. Her parents (my friends) would be mortified. Do I tell them?

Telling your friends their daughter is making unwise, unhealthy, unsafe decisions – and probably lying to them – is awkward. It’s almost certain that they’ll feel hurt. And telling them what you have discovered will probably cause conflict in their home too if they confront their daughter.

What should you say? Or is it better to stay quiet and let them find out in their own time?

My primary advice is this:

ALWAYS share if there is ANY risk to the teen.

If you have information that makes you worried for the teen’s safety in ANY way, contact the parents immediately. Things like suicide, self-injury, bullying or eating disorders are too serious to even debate the issue. Tell them. Now. Their daughter’s safety matters more than judgment, embarrassment, or reputations. In fact, it matters even more than your relationship with them.

What constitutes risk?

Perhaps the real challenge is knowing whether something is unsafe or unhealthy. As an example, in spite of the dangers, alcohol is still the most widely consumed drug for Aussie teens. Does drinking put a 14 year-old at risk when so many teens are doing it? After all, everyone else is doing it.

There are countless nude (or suggestive) images sent around the Internet every hour. Does posting these kinds of images put a teenager at risk when so many others are doing it?

Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s safe, healthy, or positive.

So tell the parents! If they don’t see it as a big deal, at least you’ve told them. It’s up to them to decide what to do next.

If she is not at risk, consider the factors…

You’ve indicated you’re worried about some of her decisions. But let’s just say she wasn’t actually doing anything unsafe or unhealthy. She was just ‘posing’ with the alcohol, for example, and the biggest issue is that she’s lying to her parents about having the secret account.

Here are some additional factors to consider:

  • What is she doing in the images on the account?
  • What do you know about the family and their values?
  • Would you want to know if it was your child?
  • Does it feel right to pass that information on?
  • Will telling the parents help?

Sometimes telling people about this kind of thing can make it worse rather than better. And issues around sex and morality are especially tricky. Things such as modesty (wearing little/no clothing), alcohol or tobacco use will be different for different families. You mightn’t think a teen should post a photo of herself nursing a beer, but her parents might not think it’s a big deal. Use your best judgement in these situations.

The reality is that a huge amount of teens have fake accounts. In my own recent research with close to 400 Aussie teens, a significant percentage admitted they have extra accounts which they hide from their parents. Again, just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s safe. Teens hide things because they know they’re wrong – or at least against the parent’s wishes. I still maintain that a quiet word with the parents is probably in order in most circumstances.

 

For more information on parenting teens, visit the Happy Families Online Shop

 

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What To Do When Your Child Lies To You

You enter the kitchen. Your child looks at you like she’s hiding something. You see cake crumbs on the counter and the tips of her fingers.
‘Did you eat the chocolate cake?’
Your child smiles up at you, chocolate stuck in her teeth, and innocently replies, ‘No.’
You know your child is lying. The evidence is everywhere! And in that moment it makes you mad. How could they lie to you? And so blatantly!
So, what do you do?

Lying is normal

First of all, let’s recognise that lying is a normal part of growing up. Studies show that beginning at about the age of three, kids begin lying to conceal things they have done wrong. From the age of four, the majority of kids (even up to 80%) will readily lie to avoid punishment.
Let me highlight that last statement. Kids lie to avoid punishment. They’ve done something we disagree with, and they want to cover it up.
Lying, therefore, is logical and tactical… and it’s also a sign of intelligence.
But lying is also a sign that our kids are afraid of us. Let’s tackle these issues briefly.

Lying is a sign of intelligence

Studies show that lying is a sign of intelligence in children. In fact, in one study kids who lied about peeking at a toy had a higher verbal I.Q. (by almost 10 points) than the kids who didn’t lie. This is because lying takes more mental acuity and cognitive development than truth-telling.
But don’t go celebrating how smart your child is because they’re lying! We still want to teach our kids to be honest. So, what should we do when our kids lie to us?
If we get this right, we can reduce the likelihood that our children will be afraid.

5 Strategies to deal with lying

1. Remember, it’s normal. Catching your child in a lie can be frustrating but remembering that it’s a normal part of growing up can help us keep calm. We aren’t raising sociopaths! Just little ones whose motivation is to avoid punishment.

2. Don’t ask questions that you already know the answer to. If your son is smeared in chocolate cake, don’t say, ‘did you eat the chocolate cake?’ Of course he’ll lie! Instead say, ‘I can see you ate some chocolate cake. You must have been hungry huh?’ Then pause and ask, ‘Do you think I’m pleased or upset? Why? What should we do next time?’

3. Celebrate honesty. When your child is honest, even if they’ve done something wrong, acknowledge their truthfulness. Say, ‘I really appreciate that you’ve told me about what has gone wrong.’ Help them fix it and then talk about how to do better in the future. And don’t punish them or threaten to punish them for lying. Research shows this will cause more lying in the future. They’ll be afraid of you.

4. Extract a simple promise. Studies show that children are less likely to lie once they have promised to tell the truth. But be gentle. If they tell you the truth, and then you punish them severely, they will be less likely to tell the truth in the future, promise or not.

5. Model good behaviour. As adults we are all guilty of social ‘white’ lies. Telling a friend that you have an appointment when you simply don’t want to go to their get together, for example. Our kids are looking to us to learn how to behave. Little white lies show them it’s okay to bend the truth.

Honesty takes time and maturity to learn, especially in the face of the clearly tactical advantages of lying. As parents, nurture honesty in kids by celebrating and rewarding it. And remember, our kids are pretty smart – they’ll get it eventually. In the meantime, hide the chocolate cake!

 

Visit the Happy Families Shop for more parenting resources.

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What To Do When Your Child Lashes Out

Dear Dr Justin,
My 9-year-old son lashes out at his younger siblings when they bother him and often ends up hurting them. He feels terrible afterwards, but he can’t seem to get his anger or his reactions under control. What should I do?

Lashing out in anger is something that can easily turn into a habit for our children – and for us as adults. Anger, however, is not a “primary” emotion. Anger is usually based on a strong sense of fear or sadness.
What’s really happening when a child is lashing out in anger is that their emotional brain becomes overwhelmed, takes control, and reacts to the big emotions it’s processing.
This can be distressing for us, for them, and for the sibling or friend affected by their outburst. First, we need to work on managing the aggressive behaviour. Then we need to find its root cause. Finally, our focus should be on shifting the habit.

Avoid the situation where possible

Our first step is to try to stop a recurrence of the violent behaviour. You can do this by watching out for, and avoiding when you can, triggering situations. If you see that your son is becoming overwhelmed or upset, or if everyone is overtired or hungry, separate your kids or find something else for the others to do. It won’t fix everything, but avoidance and distraction can be handy strategies at times.

Tend to your hurt child

If your son lashes out again and hurts another child, your immediate attention should be on the hurt child. Let the aggressor know you’ll chat with him soon and encourage him to find some space to cool down.
This will be hard! You will want to express your righteous anger! You will want to set your kid straight! But just like our kids need to learn to control their reactions, we do too.

Emotions up, intelligence down

When we are angry our thought processes aren’t so clear. Kids catch our cranky. But they’ll also catch our calm. To diffuse anger in someone else, we have to be calm ourselves. It helps to remember that something has happened inside of our child to stop him from being able to regulate his emotions. There is a root cause to his aggression. And without a doubt, he is in distress. He needs your help too. You can only do that when you are calm.

Respond to your angry child

So, what do we do? Time out? Loss of screen time? Spanking? No, no and (definitely) no. Punishments after the fact don’t work. When a child becomes enraged, his brain stops working. He literally cannot remember any punishments (or lessons from those punishments). Punishing him may make us feel better, but it won’t help him learn to control his aggression.
Aggression is a red flag. It tells you that your child is hurting. The best way to help your son is to dig down to the root cause of that anger. Look him in the eye, and say, ‘You hurt your little brother. He is really scared. You must be feeling really bad to hurt your brother like that. What is going on?’
Studies show that empathy from parents leads to reduced risk for aggression in their kids. Stay compassionate while you work through the issues. Give cuddles and comfort.
And when your child is calm, help him brainstorm better ways to respond (calling out for help, walking away, speaking firmly). Help him practice those responses so that they become easy to implement before he loses control.

Show him you love him.

Finally, show him love – kids need to know that their parent’s love for them is unconditional even when they’ve misbehaved. There’s no need to worry that you are somehow reinforcing his bad behaviour by showing love. The reality is, you’re giving a hurting child exactly what he needs.

Lashing out or acting up are not attention-seeking behaviours. They’re connection-seeking behaviours.

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Helping Our Kids Feel Good By Doing Good

We all want our kids to feel good. Ice cream. Cake. Beach days. Playdates. These are all great for bringing joy. But typically, these good feelings don’t last. Once the ice cream is gone, or the playdate is over, our kids often lose the zest and pep they were feeling.

So, how do make and keep the feel-good feelings?

Feeling Good versus Doing Good

Ice cream, cake, beach days and playdates all ‘feel good’ but they don’t help us to have lasting happiness. Instead, feel-good pursuits give us an immediate rush of euphoria, but leave us craving for more.

And this can lead to an addictive cycle known as ‘the hedonic treadmill’. In that case, one cookie won’t be enough to give us good feelings, we’ll need two. And maybe the next week, we’ll need three. (Until we have so many that we feel bad. Really bad!)

Doing good, however, is the key to living a more meaningful and happier existence. The ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle knew it was true, and modern research bears it out – altruistic behaviours are associated with greater wellbeing, health and longevity. In short, we feel good when we do good.

And interestingly, people who feel good are more creative, more open to learning, have better psychological and physical resilience, less stress, anger, anxiety and depression, and more gratitude, empathy and compassion. It might sound trite and cheesy, but the happiness that comes from doing good for others seems to last longer and feel deeper.

Kind Kids

Every parent wants happy kids. It’s the most common answer I receive to the question, “What do you want most for your children?”

But how many of us knew that if you want kids to be happy, you should teach them to be kind?

Moreover, studies highlight that our kids actually want to be kind. They know it makes them happy! Research shows that from as young as 14 months old, kids consistently want to help others achieve individual goals and cooperate with others to achieve shared goals. This desire to help is something they’re born with – even that child of yours who doesn’t seem to want to help anyone!

In fact, a recent landmark study shows even very young kids find helpful and kind acts to be intrinsically rewarding. In this study, toddlers under the age of two exhibited greater happiness when they gave treats to others, compared to when they received treats themselves.

In other words, they want to help because they feel good when they do.

Teaching Our Kids to Do Good

Bottom line, kids want to help, and it makes them feel great. So, it’s our job to help fulfill this natural inclination by guiding them to age-appropriate opportunities to do so.

Here are 5 ways to do just that:

  1. Be a good role model. Kids learn to be helpful and kind from you.
  2. Perform small acts of kindness. You don’t have to run out and paint someone’s house or mow their lawn for a year – although you can. Being kind, saying something nice, helping tidy up; these small acts are just as powerful and effective.
  3. Make helping a family project. Get your kids involved when you take a meal to a family who have just had a new baby or visit a sick friend in the hospital.
  4. Be a good neighbour. In other words, help your kids learn to keep an eye on others, whether it really is your neighbour, or a boy on the soccer team. Teaching your kids to notice what’s going on in the lives of people in their community teaches awareness and empathy.
  5. Be grateful. Expressing gratitude is one of the best ways to do good. In fact, nothing can improve your life (and the life of others) like gratitude.
The Takeaway

Doing good is what makes us human. It lifts the burdens from others and lifts us by activating the joyful part of the brain. And teaching our kids to do good is the best way to help them have lasting ‘feel good’ feelings. Of course, you should eat cake too. But sharing it with a friend is even better.

 

 

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The Case Against Boredom

Recently there has been a groundswell of popular opinion extolling the value of letting our kids be bored. A recent New York Times article argued, ‘Boredom teaches us that life isn’t a parade of amusements. More important, it spawns creativity and self-sufficiency.’

The “experts” say: kids are over-scheduled these days; life is too busy; it’s not your job to entertain your children, so let them be bored. It’s good for them.

It’s tempting to jump on the boredom bandwagon and encourage everyone to stop stimulating their kids with so many opportunities, gizmos and classes.  But I can’t. It’s bad advice, and the research bears that out.

 

Boredom Makes Us Feel Bad

While these self-proclaimed experts claim that being bored will teach our kids to figure out how to amuse themselves and be creative, there isn’t any actual evidence to support that idea. In fact, I haven’t found a single study where boredom in our kids was studied at all.

Wherever these experts are getting their data from, it doesn’t seem to be science.

What limited data does exist comes from adult or young adult studies. And they support the opposite conclusion – that boredom is unpleasant, unsatisfying and leaves those suffering it with a craving for relief.

In fact, boredom is so powerful that in one study participants who were forced to spend time alone only with their thoughts chose to self-administer electric shocks rather than deal with being bored. Pain was preferable to boredom.

Boredom is Associated with Negative Outcomes

Boredom is also associated with negative outcomes and wellbeing, and can lead to unhealthy and unsafe choices.

Research indicates that students who are bored perform poorly at school, put in less effort, and have an increased likelihood of quitting school altogether.

Teens who are often bored are also 50% more likely than their peers to take up smoking, drinking and illegal drugs. And it’s a frequent trigger for binge eating. It also leads to an increased risk of depression and anxiety, and a diminished sense of life satisfaction and purpose.

Being bored is NOT good for our health.

The Argument: Boredom leads to Creativity

Some limited research does show how boredom can lead to creativity. And anecdotally parents know this is true. Think about a bored five-year-old who fancies a mohawk on his little sister or a bored 15-year-old who thinks he could probably manage to drive the car down the driveway.

Being bored leads to creative outcomes. But while people with high levels of self-control may motivate themselves to find positive, safe and healthy creative outlets for their boredom, not everyone responds to boredom wisely. I got up to more mischief as a teen when I was bored than I ever did when I was occupied.

Should We Let Them Be Bored?

It seems that whenever we have an issue, opinions become polarised. On one side are the ‘uber-parents’ that over-stimulate and over-schedule their kids. On the other side are those that believe children need to be bored.

I suggest a more moderate approach. Evidence supports providing enriching activities for our children. They offer opportunities to explore and expand interests and relationships and build confidence and competence.

And parents should be encouraging ‘down-time’, where activities are not scheduled and device usage is reduced. This is not boredom but a time when children can autonomously choose how to re-create themselves. We can help by having play dates, setting up a table for painting or providing a smorgasbord of books.

This gives them the space, time and opportunity to develop the emotional and cognitive resources that will enable them to pursue their own creative interests in a safe and beneficial way.

Let’s stop pushing our kids too hard or giving them something to swipe or stare at every time they complain that they lack stimulation. But let’s also stop encouraging boredom. There’s no evidence to support it. And what evidence does exist suggests it’s harmful.

 

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