Competition can be extremely stressful, especially for children and teenagers. They can feel so much pressure that they will literally worry themselves sick. Kids will oftentimes try to prove their worth to themselves, their coaches, their peers, and their families through winning. Anxiety and the fear of failure affect their performance—which makes them even more fearful. It becomes a vicious cycle!
I recently wrote an article in conjunction with renowned PGA Tour Golf Instructor, Boyd Summerhays, on ways to best help Junior Golfers. After completing the article, it dawned on me that the information would be beneficial to all junior athletes and their families. Obviously, the intricate details about golf in the article are unique to golfers, but the same concepts (bolded section headings) can definitely be applied to any sport or competition that your child is engaging in:
As a child therapist, there is one thing I know about exceptionally intelligent kids: they are often misunderstood, and for good reason. Gifted children possess an inner world so rich and complex, that quite frankly, others just don’t get them. We tend to view gifted and talented kids narrowly, in terms of their performance: “Wow, Landon has a huge vocabulary. Jane made a fully functioning robot. Sam reads all day.” This is where we sometimes miss the mark. Yes, gifted kids think more, know more, create more, but to truly understand them, is to see how uniquely they experience the world. If the young gifted child could teach us, this is what she might say:
“My feelings are bigger and different than everybody else’s.”
Super Sensitivity and Emotional Intensity: Just as gifted kids’ thinking is more complex, so is their feeling. Teachers, friends, and parents often see their emotional eruptions as a sign of instability, when actually their ability to sense and feel on such a deep level is one of their greatest strengths.
“I don’t feel my age.”
Uneven Development: Gifted children’s intellect, social skills, and emotional self-control can progress at different rates. If you can imagine a child housed in an eight-year-old body, with the mind of a thirteen-year-old, and the social skills of a six-year-old, then you can begin to comprehend how complicated daily life can get for these kids.
“People don’t make sense and I’m the only one who cares.”
Deep Social Concerns: Gifted kids are often highly troubled by issues of suffering, injustice, and hypocrisy. As such, they can react intensely when such things directly affect them or they observe this is the larger world. Most people will understand how an adult approaching mid-life could worry about the meaning of life, death, pain, and the injustice of the world, but when the 5th grader is crying about such issues during recess, it leaves most people rather confused and even uncomfortable.
“There is no one in the whole world like me.”
Profound Sense of Loneliness: A keen self-awareness accompanied by the feeling of being different can leave gifted kids feeling like aliens––it doesn’t help that their passionate curiosity and interests often do not match those of their classmates. Because of these difficulties, the school experience for gifted kids can be sometimes one of painful rejection.
Despite their many differences, gifted children have the same basic emotional needs of every other kid: they long to be accepted and understood. As parents, educators, and mental health professionals, we can help by simply listening when they try to show us that being exceptional does NOT always feel like a “gift.”
As we enter into summer, one question I am frequently asked by parents is : ‘What can I be working on so that my child continues to progress over the summer?’ If your child has had a difficult school year, having two full months with no formal academic activities can certainly cause worry. Looking for answers, and at times not finding much, it can seem like there’s not much for parents to do but enroll kids in tutoring, or if possible a skill building workshop or class, or resort to working with their kids on their own with worksheets and materials from their child’s teachers – not always a fun endeavor when kids want to be outside with peers or doing something non-academic related.
My number one recommendation to these types of requests (while keeping in mind that every child is an individual and will require individualized recommendations)? READING. Yes. Regardless of your child’s age, reading ability, level, and grade, the more time your child reads, the better. Reading, and if your child is struggling with reading, reading with your child, is simply the strongest recommendation I can offer to help your child succeed academically. 20 minutes every day. That’s the recommendation. Not a workbook. Not a program, not a technique, not a workshop. Read with your child. 20 minutes, everyday. You don’t need to learn ‘how to teach your child to read’. You don’t even need really great reading skills ! Just read with your kids. 20 minutes. Everyday. Here’s why:
In the world of education, 20 minutes a day is a magic number regarding reading. This is connected to a famous study conducted in 1987 by Nagy and Herman. The study examined how much time students spent reading, how many words read, and then performance on standardized tests measuring reading achievement. I probably don’t need to tell you; students who spend 20 minutes a day reading scored at the 90th percentile on tests measuring reading achievement. Those in the study that spent 5 minutes reading? Scored in the 5oth percentile. That’s a big difference.
Thanks to Pinterest and the internet, type in ‘why your child can’t skip reading tonight’ and the visuals that accompany this statistic will astound. But here is the logic: one student, Amy, reads 20 minutes a night, 5 nights a week. In one week, that’s 100 minutes of reading; in one month, 400 minutes; one school year, 3600 minutes; and by the end of the sixth grade – 21,600 minutes of reading! Her friend, Mark, reads only 4 minutes a night, or not at all. In one week, that’s 20 minutes of reading; in one month, 80 minutes; one school year, 720 minutes; and by the end of the sixth grade – 4320 minutes of reading.
Is your child more of an Amy (by the end of the sixth grade, has read 21,600 minutes or 60 days) or more of a Mark (by the end of the sixth grade, 4320 minutes or 12 school days)? Given that the fluency (how fast or slow a student reads) can vary, the number words read might be somewhat different, but it’s estimated that Amy would have read 1.8 million words, and Mark over 282,00o words.
It’s such a dramatic difference, I myself had to look at that math twice just to be sure it wasn’t a trick.
Now ask yourself, who is the better reader? Who would you expect to know more? And so on…..
So this summer, let yourself and your student truly relax and enjoy some reading! In the long run, it might be the best thing you can do to help your child’s school achievement for next year.
Clair Mellenthin visited Fresh Living to talk about what you should do in that situation. She says it’s important to trust yourself as a parent, and when you are needing advice, seek out information from trusted sources.
5 Way to Deal With “Advice”
Smile, and say “Thank you” then walk away (and then choose to either toss it to the wind or think about it later)
Ask how this advice has worked with their own child
You have permission to just say, “You know, its a bad day today” and not justify your or your child’s behaviors to others
Say “Parenting is a tough job some days. Its lucky I love this little guy”
Set a boundary- if someone is overstepping their role in your or your child’s life, it is okay to set a limit and tell them no (wait! This is parenting right?!)
Mindfulness is a topic that has received a lot of attention from psychology and wellness gurus in recent years. It refers to being present in the moment and cultivating an awareness, non-judgment, and acceptance of one’s feelings, thoughts, and body. There are numerous benefits of mindfulness; those who regularly engage in meditative mindfulness practices report reduced stress, better sleep, improved productivity, lower levels of stress and bodily discomfort and pain, and even weight loss. dWith all the perks of mindfulness, it only makes sense to introduce this concept and practice to young people, particularly because adolescence can be an anxious and uncomfortable experience for many children and teenagers (this idea seems to be catching on; some are even introducing mindfulness into school curriculums, and certain gyms offer classes of yoga specifically for children!) dBy teaching them how to get in touch with their feelings, we can help them prepare for a lifetime of mental and emotional wellness. Here are some ideas to help children practice mindfulness on a daily basis: dMore
When working with a discouraged child, work to see them as a discouraged individual. Feeling discouraged isn’t just an emotion experienced by children, it is a very relatable feeling that adults often experience as well. Children, while developmentally less mature, are not experiencing something you lack the ability to empathize with. So lets start there! Empathy can soften even the most escalated situations. Now that we are going into this situation with empathy, explore how the four tips below could be implemented when you encounter a situation with your child who may be experiencing a moment of discouragement
1. How would you want someone to react to you if you were discouraged? Think back to a time when you last felt discouraged. How would you have like a loved one to respond to you? What would have felt good, comforting and supportive? Begin to respond to your child in a similar fashion.
2. How can you encourage the child to self-soothe and problem solve independently? Encourage your child to identify the state of discouragement and empower them to problem solve to help themselves to find relief and solutions.
3. Offer yourself as a resource but don’t insist on being one. When a child is discouraged it may be nice to know they are not alone and that you are there as a resource in their life to offer support when they feel they need it. You might say something like. “I can see you are discouraged right now. I know you are a great problem solver but if you need any help problem solving or if you just need a hug, I am here for you”
4. Acknowledge, validate and commend your child for overcoming a challenging emotional experience. When you see your child may be de-escalating, has successfully problem solved, or is just finding their way through feeling discouraged, acknowledge them and their emotional work. That might look something like this. “Wow, I could see that you were really discouraged and I bet that was tough, but you really handled that nicely and found a way to help yourself through it and/or coped with that discouragement really well. I am happy you are starting to feel better”
If you identify that you may have a child struggling beyond your and their ability to cope with everyday emotions it may be a great time to explore the idea of seeking professional support. A licensed therapist can support you and your child in exploring ways to cope with difficult emotions and emotional reactions. Connecting with a therapist during hard times can aid in coping strategies and building family skills!
Melanie works closely with children, teens and parents to develop healthy and positive coping strategies. If you would like to schedule a session with Melanie D. Davis, CMHC, NCC contact Wasatch Family Therapy at 801-944-4555
It’s Parent-Teacher conference time for many local school districts, and making those brief meetings as productive as possible is on everybody’s mind. Most likely, your child’s teacher is prepared with a specific list of items to discuss and that’s a good thing! It’s a clear indication of a teacher who’s prepared a plan to guide your child’s instruction and who can speak specifically to where your child ‘is’ in terms of her progress.
Does that mean parents should be passive during conferences? No – and most likely teachers would enjoy more of an exchange anyway. While it can often feel a bit rushed and there can be a lot of information to choose from to discuss during a conference, theses four areas may help you organize exactly what questions are important to ask during your child’s parent teacher conference this spring.
Homework. While homework is not ‘class work’ or even necessarily an emphasis of school work, it does speak to ‘soft skills’ related to school functioning. For example, how well a student is able to keep organized, work independently, follow-through with assignments, and so on. Some questions to consider as a parent might be are: is my child turning in assignments on time? Is the work completed in an acceptable manner?
Class participation. Get feedback from your child’s teacher regarding her observations of your child’s engagement in classroom. Do they appear prepared? Do they listen and follow directions? Cooperate? A student’s functioning regarding following the structure and routine of the class is important, and sometimes is hard for parents to pick up on if not asked directly.
Social-emotional observations and/or feedback. Hopefully you have a good sense of your child’s relationship with his teacher. However, you may want to consider getting direct feedback. Asking for direct feedback regarding your child’s relationship(s) with the teacher, other adults, and/or other students may be helpful. Does your child get along well with other students? Manage frustration well? Social-emotional functioning in school is a significant factor regarding how well a student well perform.
Academics. Not just grades and progress on standardized tests, but is your child able and comfortable asking for help? Does she preserver regardless of task difficulty? Is this a strength, weakness, something to work on?
At best, your relationship with your child’s teacher is positive and open communication has already been established. If not, through considering these types of questions, your child’s teacher is aware that you’ve given careful thought and consideration to aspects of learning that occur both in and out of the classroom. Of course, you’re asking these in the spirit of wanting to work together to build on your child’s strengths in order to improve on weaker areas. These kinds of questions – hopefully – send a signal to your child’s teacher that you want their feedback and that you are ready and willing to help.
Need help having conversations with your child’s teachers?
Consider talking to your child’s school psychologist.
Most of us struggle in knowing how to give comfort to an adult who is experiencing a loss or death of a loved one, let alone a child. We often struggle with understanding death as adults and attempt to protect children from having to experience this same mess of emotions as we are. Many adults are uncomfortable discussing death and dying and use phrases that may be misunderstood by children. At times however, our well-intentioned messages do the complete opposite of giving comfort! Here are the top five to avoid!
1- “He/She is in a better place now”
This can be such a confusing statement to a child (or anyone struggling). What could be better than being here alive with me?? This type of a message can unintentionally cause the child to internalize a belief that “I must have done something bad” or “I must be bad” if being dead is better than being alive and spending time together. A better thing to say is, “Your Mom can’t feel any more pain or suffering now because she has died and her body isn’t able to feel these things now”.
2- “We lost your Grandpa”
A young child is going to be very confused by this. They may wonder “Did Grandpa run away?” or “What?! Grandpa is lost? Let’s go find him!”. The child may worry about their loved ones health and feel anxious if they are safe or being taken care of by someone nice. They may worry about them being alone and scared, which is exactly how a child would feel if they were lost too! A better thing to say is “Grandpa died last night” and answer what questions your child may have about his death.
3- “He/She has gone to sleep and won’t ever wake up”
Young children may become very scared to go to sleep after hearing this, after all, if this happened to Aunt Thelma, then it could happen to them also if they go to sleep! Many children struggle with sleeping in their own beds following the death of a loved one, as nighttime and being alone in their bed is a perfect combination for their worries and imagination to take hold and create very scary possibilities. It is normal for a child to experience some regression during this time, they may begin bedwetting, climbing into the parent’s bed, struggling with falling and staying asleep, as well as refusal to be alone.
4- “He/She has passed away”
This is a typical phrase we use culturally to describe the death of someone. However, most children do not know the definition of “passed away” is actual death. A better way to describe death to a child is to say, “Uncle Joe died today. This means that his heart is no longer beating, his mind isn’t thinking, his lungs no longer work and he has stopped breathing. His body can’t feel any pain or cold or discomfort”. Some adults feel uncomfortable about being this upfront or frank about death, but this is actually a really important lesson every single human needs to learn. Every single person will both live and die at some point. It is okay to talk about this openly and honestly.
5- “You should feel happy now that they are in heaven”
Who has ever felt happy when someone has died?? You may feel peace or tenderness or even relief, but most humans do not experience feelings of happiness and joy as part of their grieving process. When we say statements like this to kids (or adults) we unintentionally are shaming them for feeling otherwise. Happy may be the very last emotion they are feeling at this point in time. There are no “shoulds” in grief, especially in childhood grief. A better way to say this is, “Its okay to feel sad and mad and any other feeling you may feel right now”.