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4 Tips to Help Your Child Adjust to Their New School

If you have just moved to a different place and want to help your child adapt to their new school environment, well, this article is for you! Leaving a familiar environment along with their good friends, teachers, and neighbors is a stressful experience for both younger children and (especially so) teenagers. [3] Here are a few tips that might make the whole experience easier and even exciting!

Meet the New Neighborhood

As a grownup, you’ve probably already dealt with moving in one way or another – maybe you did so at college, or for work, or after you got married. But for your kids, it’s a completely new and scary experience. We all have our own favorite little places in a town. For your kids, those might be the local park, schoolground, ice cream shop… So try to find something similar in your new neighborhood that could make them feel more at home.

Go for a walk with them and ask them which of the places you’re passing by they like. You can purposely stop and spend some time getting more acquainted with these places. This will increase their comfort level and sense of familiarity with their new surroundings.

Meet the Kids

Woah, that subtitle really looks like the name of some talent show, doesn’t it? What it means, though, is that your child left some good friends in the other town, and they’ll need to start from scratch and make some new ones. And if they try doing that on the first day at their new school, they’ll be experiencing all kinds of stresses all at once: new building, new rules, and on top of that – alone amongst their peers who are already friends amongst themselves? It can be overwhelming.

That’s why it’s a good idea to try to meet some of their peers prior to their first day of school. [3] You and your child together can visit your new neighbors to introduce yourselves. You might even want to take them a treat. Try to learn something about them and the other neighbors. If they have kids the similar age as yours – bingo! And if not, ask them about the other neighbors’ kids (make sure to explain your concerns and the reasons behind your questions, though: otherwise it might come out a little strange!). You can even arrange a small gathering for all the neighbors and ask them to bring their families along. Some of those will probably end up being your child’s new classmates, and they can get to know them and become friends in a more informal way.

Get to Know the School

Even before they attend their first classes, you can contact your child’s new school and arrange a meeting with an administrator. Talk to them about how things work there, and if you can, discuss which teacher would be a good fit for your student. Ask them if it would be okay to take a walk through the halls and classrooms. That way, it will all seem much more familiar to your child on their first day; they’ll have no trouble finding their locker, classroom, bathroom, or the cafeteria. Doing these things will reduce a great deal of stress for the child on their first day at the new school. [1]

Find A New Routine

Another thing we all leave behind when we move is the routines we’ve developed. This time around, it might take longer to get to school, which means waking up earlier. Instead of walking, it could mean getting on the bus. So try to stick to the parts of your previous routine that don’t need to be changed. If you’re used to having breakfast together, do it, even if it means waking up an extra half hour earlier. Make sure that your child goes to bed relatively early and wakes up early enough as well, so they can get sufficient rest and have enough time for everything the next morning. Packing in a matter of seconds, not getting to finish breakfast, and overall rushing can just add  to the already existing stress, so try to avoid it as best as you can. [1]

Bonus Advice

If you haven’t already (and even if you have), watch the animated movie called Inside Out – together. It’s told from the point of view of a teenage girl who had to move to a new place, new school, and make new friends. It will not only give you all some adjustment tips, but it will also tell you that feeling nervous and even sad is completely normal and should be talked about. [2] Don’t be overly enthusiastic and diminish your child’s feelings, but do try to inspire them to look at the positives as well. Above all, have patience. Reassure your child that it will take some time to get used to the new places and new people and to feel at home. Finally, let them know you’ll be there for them every step of the way. That way, adapting to changes will be a much smoother process.

References:

  1. https://www.theclassroom.com/adapt-new-school-16096.html
  2. https://www.schoolchoiceintl.com/how-students-can-adjust-to-a-new-school/
  3. https://www.thespruce.com/help-your-kid-adjust-new-school-2435862

 

 

Good Parenting without Overmonitoring – Yes, It’s Possible!

Have you ever been tempted to read your teen’s diary or check their Facebook messages? Have you ever made a social media profile so you could spy on their online activities? Do you make very strict rules for your teen without allowing them to question them and invite you to a debate?

If the answer to some or all of these is YES – then this is just the article for you, because we’ll explain how you can navigate the continuum of monitoring your teen in a healthy way that maintains communication, trust, and your overall relationship.

We Know You Are Worried!

You hear of all these terrible things on the news, or even in your own neighborhood – underage drinking, drugs, accidents… So it’s perfectly normal to be worried that, with the right combination of circumstances, your teen might become susceptible to some of these high-risk behaviors. With that in mind, knowing where your child is and who their friends are – that is to say, a little bit of monitoring – is not a bad thing. [1] The thing that damages parent-teen relationships is extreme monitoring. [3] It’s when parents, in an attempt to calm themselves down and protect their child, resort to what teens would call “extreme measures” or strict parenting: being home by a certain time and not one minute later, always volunteering to chaperone or attend their social events so you can see who they are with and what they’re doing, asking (or trying) to see their instant messages so you can be certain there is no mention of unwanted activities in there.

So after you’ve done this, you feel calmer and believe you now know everything there is to know about your teen. Meanwhile, a young person with the need for psychological and physical autonomy is ignoring you, answering all your questions with one-syllable words, and spending more and more time outside the house, or in their own room. You will have inevitably hurt your relationship with your child in an attempt to keep them safe.

But what if we told you that over-monitoring is exactly what might cause them to engage in some of those unwanted things you were trying to prevent? Moreover, what if we showed you that creating a warm but firm relationship that still allows them some freedom will lead to them being much more open to you and you knowing much more about them and the way they spend their time?

Why Extreme Monitoring Does not Work

Just because you have established some hard rules and checked their messages does not necessarily mean you now have full control over their comings and goings. Much of the conflict between parents and teens could be avoided with some honest talk. In fact, much of the rebelling and rule-breaking happens as a response of teens who feel like they have no control over their own lives. [2] So in an attempt to both gain some control and get back at their parents, they may intentionally act in the very way you were trying to prevent.

For example, you have a rule that you always drop them off when they go to a friend’s house, so you know who they’ll be with and where. But as soon as your car turns the corner, they might leave with that friend, meet with some different people and go to a different place. And whether you come to know about it or not, they’ll be happy. If you don’t find out, that means they’re getting away with it. If you do, they’ll feel like they’re getting back at you for the lack of autonomy.

Similarly, if you ask to read their texts, they might find their way around that as well. They could buy another phone you don’t know about, or have a profile on some social network hidden from you. What we want to say is this: prying and asking to have complete control over someone, even if they are your child and still live under your roof will only succeed in making you feel better temporarily. In the long run, it might lead to the exact opposite of what you’re trying to accomplish, and it will definitely affect your relationship with them. Your alleged selfless act of overprotecting through extreme monitoring is actually quite self-regarding in that it only relieves your worry in the short-term while increasing the odds of your teen feeling resentment towards you.

Full Disclosure is the Only True Knowledge

Research shows that when parents know about their child’s real whereabouts, it comes from the child themselves, and their decision to be honest, rather than through extreme monitoring. [3] In order to create a positive atmosphere that will allow them to open themselves to you, no matter how scared or embarrassed they feel, you might want to give authoritative parenting a chance. [2] A parent who nurtures this style is warm but firm, and they give their child the freedom to choose their own beliefs and make their own choices. A lot of research has shown that this way of parenting leads to the healthiest, happiest, and academically most successful children. [2]

So how would an authoritative parent handle potential conflicts?

For one, they would still be interested in their child’s life, but in a warm, healthy way. They wouldn’t ask questions like “How many people will there be? What will you be doing?” or mandate a curfew time. Instead, they would simply ask – “So what is this party about?”, and allow their child to tell them everything they want to disclose. If they want to warn them, they won’t do it through harsh words and placing blame, automatically not trusting their teen to make a wise choice. Instead, they would say “I hope you understand that I’m a little bit worried that there will be alcohol there, but I will trust you not to drink.” This way, the child won’t feel threatened. They’ll just feel guilty at the thought of disappointing you, and that has proven to be a much better prevention technique.

However, an authoritative parent still needs to set some rules – but they’ll do so with the help of the child. If you’re deciding on a curfew and believe 11 pm is late enough, consult with your teen and listen to their opinions. If they tell you that everyone else can return by midnight, that they’ll have friends to accompany them on their way home instead of going alone, and that they’ll be responsible, maybe think about giving them the benefit of the doubt – especially if they’ve never given you a reason to doubt them before. Making parenting decisions based on trust will help them make choices to keep that trust.

If the trust is weakened through a broken rule, the consequences need to be just as clear and reasonable for the type of rule that was broken.

Tell them, for example, that they can be home by midnight, but if they are even a minute late, they won’t be getting that late a curfew any time soon. As much as an authoritative parent wants to give their child freedom, they still need a firm set of rules that they decide on together with their child. Setting rules is a positive thing, and it leads to much better decisions than monitoring and blocking someone’s psychological development. It will also teach them responsibility and independence much better than you going everywhere with them and checking their every move.

Some Final Words of Wisdom

Imagine a line with “no monitoring” on one side and “extreme monitoring” on the other side. People are most comfortable in their working environments and in relationships in the middle of that line. At work, you probably don’t like being micromanaged and having to account for each and every move you make, but you thrive when your work is being noticed and your superiors care about the circumstances of your work and the outcomes of your efforts. Teens are similar – they want their parents to care about them and have clear expectations and limits, but are also seeking autonomy in order to build their identities. Parents may feel a sense of security through extreme monitoring; however, it may cause more damage than the effort intends.

You’ve heard that adolescence is often accompanied by a great deal of conflict, but the thing is, it only happens if parents’ and teens’ views on autonomy are completely different. Everyone wants to feel like they have control over their own life, while parents find it hard to watch their child separate themselves and spend less and less time with their family. The best way to get through this is to start treating them more like an adult and less like a child, as long as they keep proving they can be responsible for themselves. This kind of atmosphere will allow them to tell you everything, as they won’t fear your judgment. The possibility to negotiate future rules and consequences that impact their choices, all while building their understanding that you want to keep them both happy and safe, will lead to them being much happier and more open. You’ll have peace of mind and your teen will have the comfort of a healthy, trusting, and supportive relationship with their parents.

References:

  1. Dishon, T. (1998). Parental Monitoring and the Prevention of Child and Adolescent Problem Behavior: A Conceptual and Empirical Formulation. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, Vol.1, No. 1, pp. 61-73.
  2. Steinberg, L. (2001). Parental Monitoring and the Prevention of Child and Adolescent Problem Behavior: A Conceptual and Empirical Formulation. Journal of Research on Adolescence, Vol.11, No.1, pp. 1-19.
  3. Stattin, H. (2000). What Parents Know, How They Know It, and Several Forms of Adolescent Adjustment: Further Support for a Reinterpretation of Monitoring. Developmental Psychology, Vol.36, No. 3, pp. 366-380.

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Bullying: How to Recognize it and Build Resilience

Bullying is a very emotional topic for kids and parents alike. Unfortunately, we are used to hearing about bullying incidents that mostly happen during middle and high school, due to the biological, social, and emotional changes adolescents undergo during this period. [3] That being said, it’s important to emphasize that while bullying tends to be more noticed during those years, for some children it can start as early as preschool.

If you’re not certain whether something constitutes bullying or not, ask yourself these questions: Is there a power imbalance?, Is the negative behavior intentional?, and, finally, Was it a single incident or is it ongoing? 

A power imbalance makes bullying easier. The bully can be physically stronger than the victim, but that doesn’t have to be the case. These days, being popular creates the biggest power imbalance in schools and often allows spreading rumors and name-calling to be perpetrated with no repercussions.

Also, bullying is an intentional infliction of harm. Bad things can happen accidentally – if a bad message goes to the wrong number by accident, it’s not bullying. But if it’s sent with full intent, then whoever sent it could be considered a bully – if it’s not a single incident. A single bad action cannot be viewed as bullying, though it should be dealt with firmly. Bullying implies the incidents are being repeated, creating a vicious pattern. [4]

Types of bullying

Many people tend to think of bullying specifically as physical abuse. A physical act of bullying can be any situation in which the student’s physical integrity is under attack – pushing, kicking, hitting… However, it’s not the most common form of bullying today.

The two most common are verbal and relational bullying, and a very specific form that’s being practiced more frequently – cyberbullying. [3]

Verbal bullying is very common and it mostly revolves around name-calling. Relational bullying doesn’t necessarily involve face-to-face contact between the bully and the victim. Any form of social exclusion (not allowing someone into a peer group, denying them access to social activities on purpose) or rumor-spreading falls under relational bullying. Another form of relational bullying is issuing orders and ultimatums to peers in order to command more power in social circles, for example, “you can’t hang out with that person and still be part of our group ”.

Cyberbullying is a growing problem for many reasons. For one, access to technology has never been easier, and with a growing number of platforms where someone can express their opinion by sending and receiving messages, the proportion of cyberbullies is growing as well.  Instant messaging allows perpetrators to “hide behind a screen”, which instills a lot of anxiety in the victim, given that the identity of the bully is often not known. [5]

Recognizing bullying is the first step in tackling an issue that’s been going on for a very long time. However, recognizing a child who’s being bullied is just as important.

Signs that a child is being bullied

It’s not easy to recognize that a child is the victim of bullying, but you should be able to notice that something is wrong. The best thing you can do is create a loving, positive, and safe atmosphere in which your child feels comfortable enough to tell you they’re being bullied.

Bullying can have many consequences, from emotional distress to lower grades.

Behaviors resembling depression or anxiety are very common indicators that a child is being bullied. You may notice that they have trouble sleeping (insomnia, nightmares) and they look sad and worried. Consequently, their desire to go to school, as well as their grades, might be plummeting. It’s difficult for a student to concentrate on studying and paying attention in class if they’re afraid of what’s going to happen after class is out. [7] If they look fearful and anxious before going to school, or they’re constantly making up excuses to avoid going, the best thing to do is talk to them about it.

If you notice that they look nervous after interacting with technology, it could be a sign of cyberbullying. Some children will become socially isolated due to rumors being spread or name-calling, so they might not be hanging out with friends as much as they used to. [4]

In extreme cases, the child might resort to self-harm as a way to cope with stress and fear. If you notice any cuts or bruises they try to hide, you should talk to them about it. They could also start acting out in an unusual way – they could become aggressive verbally or even physically towards others, both as an outlet for frustration and out of the belief that aggression should be battled with aggression. [4]

As we mentioned before, these are some of the signs that could help you notice something’s off, but it’s difficult to know for sure unless they tell you themselves or a teacher reports it.  Remind your children often to let you know if they’re being bullied – anywhere!  Assure them that you will not overreact, but instead, will assist them in dealing with it themselves.

Why do they hide it?

The solution to this problem would be easier if all the victims of bullying came forward. Unfortunately, many students do not do so. One reason is that they don’t want to seem”weak“ in front of their peers, so they choose to take it silently rather than admit to it.  Another possibility is fear of retaliation once the bully is punished for their behavior. Last, but not least, they sometimes think their parents will want them to change schools, and they don’t want to leave their classmates and friends behind. Starting over can be very difficult, especially in adolescent years.

Because of this, we need to create a safe environment that clearly condemns bullying; we need to tackle it systematically. However, parents can do their part as well, and to help with that we’ve prepared some advice.

Building resilience

Often, we tend to (wrongly) assume that if we remove the bully, we stop the bullying. This might be the case for some children, but for most, bullying is an ongoing process that has to do with their vulnerability. And while no child is to blame for being bullied, there are some characteristics that make them susceptible to bullies, and that parents can help them strengthen.

By achieving resilience, children start feeling:

• in control of their lives

• strong enough to battle this issue

• confident that they have enough strength and outside support to do it, and

•able to communicate their problems and expect a positive outcome.

One of the characteristics that might make them vulnerable is solving problems by internalizing them. They feel anxious and depressed when dealing with stressful events, they have trouble telling anyone about it, and aren’t assertive enough. Kids like these may be perceived as easy targets who won’t retaliate if attacked. [4]

Alternatively, if children tend to externalize their problems, dealing with them by showing aggression (yelling, breaking things), their peers might not accept them, leaving them without social support and vulnerable to bullies. [4]

Once we have this in mind, we can work on strengthening the characteristics important for resilience.

1. “This is my fault”. Victims of bullying often feel they’ve done something to deserve it. Parents and teachers alike have the responsibility to talk to children and let them know that nobody deserves to be bullied. However, this might make them feel there’s nothing to be done about it; if it’s not about them, how can they change something and stop it?

It’s of the utmost importance to help children understand that bullies come after those whom they think either won’t defend themselves or appear to believe they have no one to defend them. This is what makes confidence, sense of self-efficacy and assertiveness pivotal to resilience. [2]

2. Confidence and self-efficacy. Children who have experienced bullying often don’t have a lot of confidence, and don’t perceive themselves as being in control of their lives. They don’t think they’re able to change anything, and that leaves them vulnerable. [2]

In order to be able to solve problems and acquire confidence, children need to be given two things: autonomy and support. You should encourage them, from an early age, to try and tackle the obstacles they face. If they see you believe that they’re strong enough to solve something on their own, they’ll eventually start believing it themselves. [1]

However, you should also be there for them as a safety net. They need to know that should a problem prove to be too big to solve alone, they can always confide in you and receive support and help.

3. Being assertive. When faced with bullying, vulnerable children often try to deal with it in one of two ways: they either hide and take it silently or they try to battle aggression with aggression. Neither of these options is beneficial; they should instead be taught to be assertive. This means they learn to express their emotions and thoughts, letting the bully know how they feel – that the behavior is wrong and punishable. If that doesn’t prove to be enough, assertiveness also means they can confide in their parents, friends, and teachers and expect that the problem will eventually be solved. [4]

4. Standing up against bullying. Even if your child is not the one being bullied, standing by as some other child is being abused makes an audience out of them, and that audience is often what reinforces further bullying. They should understand from a young age why bullying is wrong and, if they see it happen, they should support the child being attacked and help them report it. It’s also important to know that children who have close friends (particularly at school) have less chance of being bullied than children who have no peers to protect them. By becoming part of a peer group ready to protect their members against bullying, they are well on their way to becoming more resilient. [6]

5. Dealing with stress and emotions. The cornerstone of resilience is being able to deal with stress without being overwhelmed by anxiety. A positive reaction to stress means being able to keep a clear head and think of different ways to solve a problem. Of course, feeling sad or angry is a normal reaction to negative events, but the important thing is to not internalize or externalize.  Keeping problems and emotions to ourselves even as they overwhelm us is a mistake, but so is acting out.

A healthy reaction to stress consists of confidence in our strength to solve a problem as well as the belief that there are people in our lives who will help us if it becomes too much to handle. If you can instill that way of thinking and feeling in your child, they’ll be much more protected against any type of bullying. [4]

What can you do?

Dealing with bullying is not an easy task, and the solution is not a simple one. And as with any other problem, mistakes are always a possibility. So to help you be there for your child in the best way possible, we’ll list some of the things you shouldn’t do, and advise you on what to do instead.

Taking away their phones/computers. If your child is being cyberbullied, taking the technology away from them doesn’t solve the problem; if anything, it creates a bigger one. Many children won’t admit to being bullied because of this exact reason – fear that their parents will take their computers away from them. Instead… 

…Build resilience. Try to find out who the bully is, talk to teachers and other school staff. Taking the phone away doesn’t mean that the bullying won’t continue in “real life”. [5]

Overreacting. Similarly, you might want to change schools as soon as you hear about bullying. But what if there’s another bully in the next school? Running away from a problem doesn’t help solve it. Alternatively, some parents tell their kids to just stay put and they’ll take care of things. But solving the problem while keeping them excluded could lead the child to think they’re not strong enough to solve their own problems. So if a similar situation comes up later on, they might react even more negatively than the first time. Instead… 

…You should work on it together and discuss every possible solution with them. Once included, their confidence and perceived sense of control will grow. [1]

Telling them it’s all a part of growing up. Sure, kids can be mean,  but a joke is only a joke if both parties understand it as such. If your child is feeling negatively towards being called names or pushed around, telling them it’s all normal and that “boys will be boys” won’t help them build resilience. If anything, it will teach them that being aggressive and not respecting others’ emotions is okay. Instead…

…You should show empathy and understanding towards their feelings and work on the best possible solution – together.

by Jelena Jegdić

References:

  1. Grotberg, E. (1995). A guide to promoting resilience in children: strengthening the human spirit. Early Childhood Development: Practice and Reflections Number 8
  2. Narayanan A. & Betts, L.R. (2014). Bullying Behaviors and Victimization Experiences Among Adolescent Students: The Role of Resilience. The Journal of Genetic Psychology Vol. 175 , Iss. 2,2014
  3. Wang, J., Iannotti, R.J., & Nansel, T.R. (2009). School Bullying Among U.S. Adolescents: Physical, Verbal, Relational and Cyber. J Adolesc Health 45(4): 368–375.
  4. Arseneault L., Bowes L. & Shakoor S. (2010). Bullying victimization in youths and mental health problems: ‘Much ado about nothing’? Psychological Medicine / Volume 40 / Issue 05/ pp 717 729
  5. https://pro.psychcentral.com/cyber-bullying-recognizing-and-treating-victim-and-aggressor/00112.html
  6. Craig, W.M., Pepler D., & Atlas, R. (2000). Observations of Bullying in the Playground and in the Classroom. School Psychology International, Vol. 21(1)
  7. Juvonen, J., Wang, Z., & Espinoza, G. (2011). Bullying Experiences and Compromised Academic Performance Across Middle School Grades. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 31: 152

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