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Posts in Coping
Helping your Tween or Teen Navigate Social Conflict

In the article “How to Help Tweens and Teens Manage Social Conflict,” author Lisa Damour describes the difference between a conflict and what is defined as bullying. She suggests multiple ways parents can address these problems. Also in her book “Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls,” she references how you as a parent can deal with stress and anxiety from experiencing a conflict with your child and another tween or teen. 

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To begin with, Damour illustrates that middle school and high school are the prime times for bullying and conflict to occur. In school, “social friction and hurt feelings often come with the territory, with the risk of causing intense emotional stress both for the tweens and teenagers themselves...” (Damour).

“Conflict is unavoidable and can be a point of growth,” says Andrea Shaffer, a teacher and coach for conflict cases at the private preschool-grade 12 Chicago Waldorf Schools. Although conflict can be very mentally draining, once teens work out their conflicts, it is very rewarding. With friendship comes conflict. Each friendship endures a hardship that tests their friendship. As a teenager conflict is very hard to deal with alone. It is in these situations when parents are recommended to step in. Not only will parents help diffuse the situation, but also through the process, children will learn how to communicate clearly and express how they are feeling about the situation in a calm, non-blaming tone of voice. 

Parents are most helpful to their children when they take conflict seriously and “have strategies to coach them along as they work to resolve things on their own” according to Damour.

Don’t Confuse Conflict With Bullying

Damour alludes that “when our [a] child suffers a social injury, it’s easy to conclude that he or she has been bullied.” However, experts suggest that this word is commonly misconceived. Bullying is a term that is used frequently when aggression is in the eye. 

Social discord “rarely involves bullying,” explains Phyllis Fagell, a counselor at the Sheridan School, in Washington, D.C., and the author of the forthcoming book “Middle School Matters.” “Most commonly, conflict stems from anything ranging from a misunderstood comment to a spilled secret, to a lopsided friendship.”

When this occurs, it is difficult for many to diagnose when to intervene. Sometimes teenagers just need to work it out, while other times require adult, teacher, coach or counselor supervision. In either of these situations, it is important to remember that each child is emotional. Although one may be the main cause of the problem (the bully), they should both be treated fairly. As a parent, Damour explains that “you’ll want to take a measured, evidence-based approach to the problem” if your child is being bullied. This way you can develop strategies to help manage the situation such as sitting down and having a conversation, separating the two who are in the conflict, or taking it up to a more authoritative figure at the school.

Teach Healthy Conflict

In order to diffuse conflict, parents should coach and practice what their teen should say and do. From there, teens and tweens can decide their next move based on how comfortable they feel with the whole thing. It is dire to measure how serious the situation is. Either way, it is important “to stand up for yourself while being respectful of others” (Damour).

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At any age, most people go directly to an unhealthy response and source of action when it comes to being upset with someone. Damour suggests that when “advising adolescents on how they might handle a disagreement, I first teach them about reactions to conflict and allow them to daydream their way through a bulldozer, doormat or doormat-with-spikes response.”

Most people want to get back at the person who caused them pain. Some people verbally rake someone while others post an unflattering image of the “friend” on social media and write a nasty comment about them. With this being done, the “friend” might respond. There is no telling how or in what tone they will respond in, but the whole goal of the picture on social media is to get a reaction out of the other person. By doing this, the two friends are forced to talk because one caused a commotion that needs to be dealt with. 

“Kids may need to be reminded,” says Ms. Fagell, “to keep arguments offline. Because once they’ve waged war in a group chat at one in the morning, it becomes much harder to achieve a peaceful resolution.”

Let Them Pick Their Battles

When it comes to two teens who are in an argument, it is best to either decide to guide your child in the right direction by diffusing the situation in a civil way or deciding not to engage at all. Although you may feel the urge to help your child or tell them what to do every step of the way, “conflict, even when handled well, takes time and tremendous mental energy” (Damour). In these types of situations, it is best to help your child weigh out the costs and benefits of engaging in conflict. Damour states that it is important to ask you and your child questions that will help them determine their next step: “Do they care about the relationship enough to want to work on it? Do they expect their pillar overture to meet with a similar response?”

“Contrary to conventional wisdom,” adds Ms. Fagell, “kids aren’t always looking to restore friendships. They may need permission to move on or need help creating a more comfortable, if distant, interpersonal dynamic.” They just need to find some closure.

Teaching your child to pick their battles is a risky step. In detail, they could go the easy way and just cut off their “friend” or they could do everything to hurt that “friend.” Either way, most tweens and teens will want to emotionally hurt the other person and make them feel the burden that they felt. But that’s not the goal. As Ms. Shaffer notes, “we don’t have emotional Bubble Wrap for children, but we do have ways to help them develop the emotional agility to navigate through difficult situations.”

For more information on friendships, teens, and tweens and conflict resolution, please contact us. To learn how we can help you or your child who may be struggling with being successful managing the social world, contact us or visit our website. For more information on therapy, visit Hilber Psychological Services.

- Written by Lily Schmitt and Tanya L. Hilber, PsyD

References

Damour, Lisa. (2019, Jan 16). How to Help Tweens and Teens Manage Social Conflict. The NY Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/16/well/family/how-to-help-tweens-and-teens-manage-social-conflict.html.

Damour, Lisa. (2017). Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

Damout, Lisa. (2019). Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

Parental Therapy for Children who have Anxiety

In the article, “New Childhood Anxiety Treatment Focuses on the Parents,” author Matt Kristoffersen discusses how Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions (SPACE) is an alternative to behavioral therapy used to treat childhood anxiety. He acknowledges that it all starts with the parents and how they perceive their child’s anxiety in the given situation.

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Stated by the National Institute of Mental Health, “nearly one in three American children will experience at least some kind of anxiety disorder before reaching adulthood.” Although drugs and therapy techniques have shown to be proven successful in the past years, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, promulgates a new technique developed for the parents.

A team of Yale researchers randomly selected 124 children with anxiety and assigned them to a therapy-based group or a parent-only group for 12 weeks. In these meetings they were divided into two groups, one in cognitive behavioral therapy and one in SPACE therapy. They learned how to control their symptoms and confront their fears through therapeutic exposure. The researchers observed that children in the first group never spoke to a therapist about their specific anxiety during the trial. The researchers suggested that parents should support their child in a sense of letting them figure out how to cope with anxiety on their own, by using the SPACE treatment, rather than continuing to oblige to their child’s behavior. For example, “if a child gets anxious when there are guests in the house, parents may stop inviting people over. However, according to the study, children can grow accustomed to these accommodations over time, which can lead to greater difficulty with anxiety later in life.” In this case, parents should take a step back and “replace accommodation with words of support and with expressions of confidence in their children’s abilities to deal with anxiety on their own.”

In the first study administered in 2013, author Lebowitz prompted parents to follow a script of ways to be supportive and reassuring in order to reduce accommodations for their child with anxiety:

We understand it makes you feel really anxious or afraid,” the script said. “We want you to know that this is perfectly natural and everyone feels afraid some of the time. But we also want you to know that it is our job as your parents to help you get better at things that are hard for you, and we have decided to do exactly that. We are going to be working on this for a while and we know it will probably take time, but we love you too much not to help you when you need help.”

Through SPACE therapy, parents were able to form a much closer relationship with their children than those of the children in the cognitive therapy-based group and help them work on their anxiety problem. Because of this study, “SPACE will provide an alternative for children with anxiety who may not respond well to traditional therapy or who refuse to participate.”

For more information on therapy for anxiety with the parents or the children, or any other therapy, please contact us at Hilber Psychological Services.

-Written by Lily Schmitt and Tanya L. Hilber, PsyD

Reference

Kristoffersen, Matt.New Childhood Anxiety Treatment Focuses on the Parents.” Yale News. Scitech. Web. 26 March 2019. https://yaledailynews.com/blog/2019/03/26/new-childhood-anxiety-treatment-focuses-on-the-parents/?fbclid=IwAR1_yDjSIF9njsJ6ATplIrWwivPIqbj-OgqtehNYIxvfE85vrVkfTFoOj7k

Help your Child become Resilient

In the article “Resilient Kids Come From Parents Who Do These 8 Things,” Lizzy Francis recognizes what it takes for children to learn how to be resilient when their parents do the following eight things.

When your child gets frustrated, whether it’s because he or she can’t put together LEGO pieces or does not yet understand a math problem, this is the time to teach your child how to bounce back from being discouraged and how to overcome their struggles. If taught properly, children will understand how to overcome their struggles and how to better handle their stress. When resilience is learned from a young age through numerous lessons, children will be able to manage their stressors better as adults.

According to Amy Morin, LCSW, a psychotherapist and the author of “13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do”, she explains in detail of eight common ways parents can raise their children to become resilient.

1. Let Your Child Struggle

As a parent, it is your job to provide a guide for your child to navigate through life. However, this guide will only get them so far in life. It is up to them to take the skills and knowledge that you have taught them into their own hands to practice and be okay with making mistakes along the way. Francis notes that the parents who teach their child that hard work is important and that it may also be difficult to practice are those who raised a well-adjusted child. If they are more well adjusted then they will understand how to cope with stress and persevere through their struggles.

2. Let Your Child Experience Rejection

It is essential for your child to understand the word “no” and what it entails. No matter how much your child may want something or need someone to rely on, it is your job to stick to your word and not give in. Francis insinuates that failure can be one of the greatest life lessons that a child can understand.

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3. Don’t condone a Fixed Mentality

It is important for you, as a parent, to not give in to your child’s helplessness. For example, if your child gets a bad grade on a test it is not the teachers fault for not explaining the material well enough, but your child’s responsibility to ask for help if they don’t understand. As much as you would like to take your child’s side, it is important to teach your child that things don’t always work out the way they think they will: that life isn’t fair. This idea will spur their sense of responsibility in order to not be in this situation again. No matter how easy it may be to advocate for your child, it is important to encourage the idea that life isn’t fair and that they are able to advocate for themselves. Don’t condone to letting your child put the blame on someone else.

4. Do More Than Tell Them to ‘Buck Up’ When Struggles Occur

Instead of putting the emotional strain on your child by telling them to just “deal with it,” validate their emotions first and then give them advice on how to get through their struggles. Tell them that you understand where they are coming from to empathize and validate the feelings. If they open up about their feelings to you now, then later in life they will have the confidence to communicate how they feel because they were validated when they were younger.

5. Help your Kids Learn How to Label Their Feelings and Emotions

Help your child feel comfortable expressing their feelings out loud. If they acknowledge their emotions out loud, then they are less likely to act upon them or “show” their feelings. For example, if your child says “I’m mad,” they are less likely to scream at you because words are more powerful communication.

6. Give Your Kids The Tools to Self Soothe

Although coloring books, play-doh, and lotions that smell good may calm some children down, they do not act as stress relievers for everyone. As long as you provide your child with an outlet, such as a sport, active task, or a musical instrument, your child will receive the skills it takes to calm themselves down. Then remind your child that these are helpful when they want to feel better. Not only will they learn how to take responsibility for their feelings, but how to cope with them in the future.

7. Admit Your Mistakes. And Then They Fix Them

Utilize your own mistakes to teach your child how to respond to failures. This will show that even parents make mistakes and that not everyone is perfect. Kids tend to forget this idea and put so much pressure to be as perfect as their parents. But in fact, even the most well-rounded parents tend to mess up sometimes. The important thing to note is that one should own up to their mistakes in front of their child so that they see that you are acknowledging the mistake and then going to fix it.

8. Always Connect Your Kid’s Self Worth to Their Level of Effort

When there is a common outcome that students strive to succeed, some may cheat their way up to the top in order to get that A. The idea is to teach your child that through hard work, practice, and honesty, they will get to the top instead of faking it until they make it. Morin states that “the kid who grows up knowing that it’s all about their effort, rather than their outcome, is going to be more resilient when they fail or when they get rejected.” These children who will grow up to be resilient are not the ones who received the stereotypical feedback of doing a good job because they are a girl or a boy but because they had an awesome support system cheering them on to go the extra length.

Whether your child is a boy or a girl, it is not only what you say to them (for a girl: good job because you studied hard & for a boy: good job because you are smart) it is also how you communicate your feelings in a certain tone and at the right time.

For more information on how to help your children increase their resilience or how to put these above steps into action, please contact us. For more information on therapy, visit FAQ at Hilber Psychological Services.

-Written by Lily Schmitt and Tanya L. Hilber, PsyD

References

Francis, Lizzy. “Resilient Kids Come From Parents Who Do These 8 Things.” Love and Money. Fatherly. Web. 26 Nov. 2018. https://www.fatherly.com/love-money/build-resilient-kids-prepared-for-life/
Morin, A. (2017). 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don't Do: Raising Self-Assured Children and Training Their Brains for a Life of Happiness, Meaning, and Success. New York, NY: William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins.

Parent's Perspective of the Tween's brain

In the article, “This mother's description of her tween son's brain is a must-read for all parents,” Annie Reneau described an example of good parenting. There is no true definition of great parenting, but one that comes close to that is someone who is willing to take the time to talk to their child. In order to gain a better perspective of what is going through your child’s mind, both you and your child should both take the time to respectfully listen to each other. This is the time to acknowledge that your child is going through a stage, called puberty, where it is very difficult for your child to control their emotions. This is not a time to yell at your child for being moody, but an instance where you can help your child understand why they are moody in the first place. Maybe they don’t even know what or why they are saying something in a specific tone in the first place.

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All mothers have to raise their child into the teen years, so why not treat the scenario the best you can? A mother of an 11-year-old boy asked a question about parenting on Quora: “How do I tell my wonderful 11 year old son, (in a way that won’t tear him down), that the way he has started talking to me (disrespectfully) makes me not want to be around him (I’ve already told him the bad attitude is unacceptable)?”

Reneau interviewed Jo Eberhardt, a mother of two, who replied with a solid answer to the common question “how do I talk to my child about their emotions and their attitude towards me when they are experiencing puberty without pushing them away?” Eberhardt recounts a discussion that she had with her 11 ½-year-old son who was experiencing what every tween child goes through, the terrible twos all over again...puberty.

Instead of Eberhardt telling her son you did this because or you did that because, she remembered that is was not her son who purposefully talked to her rudely, but his brain. We forget that it is our brain that is controlling our emotions and changing as we grow and age. She stated that “Not only is your body being transformed from a child’s body to an adult’s body, your brain has to be completely rewritten from a child's brain to an adult’s brain” because at age 5 or 6 it was fully developed for a child but not yet ready to fit an adult body. Puberty is the training process for your brain to get used to your new body and fully develop a sense of who you are.

Certain parts of the brain such as the amygdala, a part of the brain that controls your emotions, also control how much sleep one gets and how cranky one may be in the morning. Eberhardt’s son began to understand how his moodiness could come off frustrating to his mother. Not only did he come to a consensus, but so did his mother who also realized how unmanageable it may be for an adult-sized amygdala hitting all your emotion buttons at once.

This is the time when one needs to raise their child's spirit and be careful not to break it. Admit to your child that it is not their fault for not having a fully developed amygdala and frontal cortex, but instead, praise them for seeing that their bodies are changing and the hormone changes that come with it.

By explaining the physiological reasons behind their changing bodies, children may begin to understand that it is puberty’s fault that their brain is working the way it does. Eberhardt stated that it is still your responsibility to take ownership of your actions and recognize what is going on and choose another way: “You get to choose what you do with your feelings. And, when you make a mistake, you get to choose to apologize for that mistake and make amends.”

Keep empathizing and communicating with your child. This way “when we let one’s kids know that we're going through these various phases together, it's easier to work with them instead of against them” (Ebehardt). As their adult brain is developing, they need to realize that their hormones are ranging and how to control them. At least now they know it is not their fault for being moody and why. Every child goes through this treacherous stage in life, so give them some slack because you went through it too.

Contact us for more information on how to communicate with your child and how your family can function best throughout puberty. For more information on therapy, visit FAQ at Hilber Psychological Services.

-Written by Lily Schmitt and Tanya L. Hilber, PsyD

References

Reneau, Annie. “This mother's description of her tween son's brain is a must-read for all parents.” UpWorthy. Web. 4 Jan. 2019. https://www.upworthy.com/this-mother-s-description-of-her-tween-son-s-brain-is-a-must-read-for-all-parents