Noelle Swan

Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

Sibling bullying: How to be sure normal tangles are not actually damaging

In Uncategorized on July 1, 2013 at 9:12 am

This article first appeared online as a guest post for The Christian Science Monitor blog Modern Parenthood on Friday, June 28, 2013.

Photo Credit Ken Wilcox

Photo Credit Ken Wilcox

There’s a common parental refrain, “If you’re not bleeding, I don’t want to hear it! Figure out how to work it out!”

Siblings fight. It’s part of how kids learn to resolve conflict. Parents expect it, shrug it off, and tell their kids that, one day, they will be best friends.

However, aggressive behavior between siblings can have an impact on kids’ mental health, says a new study from the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center, published in the July issue of the medical journal “Pediatrics.”

Study authors indicated that victimization among siblings could be just as harmful as peer bullying.

This is startling news for parents, who see the sibling dynamic as the ideal relationship for practicing independent conflict resolution.

How can parents set the stage for this kind of learning without opening the door for one sibling to victimize the other?

Parents should start while the kids are young, suggests Lauren Bondy, a licensed social worker and founder of Parenting Perspectives, an Illinois consulting agency offering workshops, courses, and counseling services to families.

“Parents can do a lot of things when kids are younger than four to teach them the skills to work conflict out on their own,” Ms. Bondy says.

Young children need to be taught about the effects of their behavior in firm but kind ways, she says. She cautions parents to avoid making young children feel bad about their actions because they are still learning how to deal with their own emotions and how to interpret others’ feelings.

Bondy encourages parents to “respond in a loving, teaching way” and to remember that “harshness breeds harshness.”

As children grow older, parents can talk with kids during calm, neutral moments about ways to resolve conflicts, including walking away, ignoring unwanted behavior, and establishing a compromise.

Once kids have these tools, parents should allow them to freely explore them, because jumping into conflicts and resolving them for kids can actually promote a bully-victim dynamic, Bondy says.

“Frequently parents jump in with their own perception of who is right or wrong and lecture and punish them.

They often expect more from the older child and feel they need to rescue the other one. In actuality, this is setting up a victim mentality; the older child feels bad about who he is and the younger child ends up feeling incapable,” Bondy says.

Parents do need to intervene if a child loses control and begins to hysterically kick, scream, and throw things, she says. In that state, she says kids are not capable of hearing anything. The only thing to do is remove the child somewhere she cannot harm herself or anyone else and let her calm down. Teaching kids self-calming strategies can facilitate this process.

Parents also need to be on the lookout for intentional, repeated victimization between siblings, Bondy says.

While conflict is developmentally appropriate, an imbalance of power in the relationship can be harmful.

While many siblings have aggressive relationships and feel that it is a fair fight, the difference in ages can set the stage for an imbalance of power, says Timothy Davis, a Massachusetts child and family psychotherapist and author of “Challenging Boys.”

“Aggression between siblings, especially younger ones, is normal, but some measure of it, particularly if there is an element of fear and intimidation or harassment, becomes really worrisome,” Dr. Davis says.

Parents should pay close attention to signs that one child is feeling frightened or intimidated, Davis says.

“I think the main clues about bullying are anxiety and regression in functioning of the kid who is the victim,” he said.

While Davis cautions against taking sides in sibling conflict, he encourages parents to focus their attention on supporting the victim rather than punishing the bully.

“If you focus on responding to the aggressor you reinforce the aggression. That might have even been part of the motivation for the aggression,” he said.

Parents should also be aware that a child who brings bullying into the home, might be experiencing bullying somewhere else or might need help dealing with stress, Davis says.

Parents don’t have to have all of the answers. Parenting programs and counseling can be a useful forum for parents to explore ways to support their children.


How to talk about obesity and weight loss with your teen

In Healthcare on June 25, 2013 at 8:25 pm

This article was first appeared as a guest post for The Christian Science Monitor blog Modern Parenthood.

Photo Credit: Peggy Greb, US Department of Agriculture

Photo Credit: Peggy Greb, US Department of Agriculture

Wondering how to talk to your teen about weight? Tread carefully, suggests a new study from the University of Minnesota published this week in the medical journal “Pediatrics.”

Talking about weight loss and obesity might do more harm than good, the researchers found.

A survey of more than 2,000 adolescents and their parents revealed that while discussions of healthy eating and lifestyle can promote healthy choices, talking about it in terms of weight loss and obesity can drive kids to try dangerous methods of weight control, including diet pills, laxatives, fasting, and purging.

Adolescence is marked by intense peer pressure, and can involve anxiety over self-image and emotional extremes. As tough and independent as teens may insist they are, their self-esteem can be fragile. Many endure bullying from peers about their weight. All are bombarded by an onslaught of images depicting the “perfect body” in magazines, billboards, advertisements, and on television. If parents jump into the fray with even gentle cajoling about their waistline, or nagging about their weight, they run the risk of pushing teens to explore extreme methods of weight control.

That does not mean that parents should avoid the subject entirely. With teen obesity rates at 18 percent, nearly three times the rates seen 30 years ago, promoting healthy eating may be more important now than ever.

The good news is that opening up the dialogue with teens about healthy eating practices can have a positive impact “regardless of the size of your adolescent,” says study author Jerica Berge, a professor of family and community medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

So how can parents spark conversations about healthy eating without pushing kids to a dangerous extreme?

“The more positive the message the better,” Ms. Berge says.

As every parent knows, very few things are more enticing to teenagers than the things they have been told to avoid. Instead of focusing on what they shouldnot be eating, parents can talk about how fruits and vegetables will make their teens strong and healthy.

There are many advertising campaigns out there promoting foods that can lead to weight gain. The more messages teens receive from adults in their life promoting healthier foods, the better, Berge says. The study found that for teens living in two-parent families, hearing about healthy eating from both parents had a more positive impact than in families where one parent remained silent on the issue.

Parents can turn to pediatricians for additional support in having these conversations. While health care providers probably already are tuned into this issue and most often include discussion of weight and body mass index (BMI) as a routine part of office visits, Berge says that calling pediatricians before the appointment and mentioning that they would like some help discussing healthy eating could be helpful.

Regardless of when parents bring up the topic, Berge emphasizes that parents frame the discussion in as positive a way as possible.

Winter storm Nemo: Take the kids out, charge their creativity

In Science Education on February 8, 2013 at 5:07 pm

This blog post was first published on Modern Parenthood, a CS Monitor blog on February 8, 2013.

file0001668013836Winter storm Nemo threatens to bury the Northeast in two feet of snow this weekend, initiating the obligatory pre-blizzard blitz on the grocery store as families scramble to stock up on cases of toilet paper, gallons of milk, and snacking provisions before schools close on Friday. The storm is likely to shut down much of New England, however for families, being snowed in does not have to mean the family has to be trapped inside.

It may seem like a distant memory for many New Englanders, but walking in a winter wonderland is what the Northeast is all about. So this weekend, as the snow piles up, bundle up the family, head outside and have a snowball fight, build a snowman, or just take a walk and enjoy the hush that freshly fallen snow brings. The kids may grumble at first, but in the end, you will all be surprised at how much fun they have. Beyond that, recent studies suggest they will learn a lot too.

In December, researchers from the University of Utahoffered up a study that says spending time in nature and away from electronic tethers to the civilized world actually boosts people’s ability to solve problems creatively.

The study’s psychologists took adults backpacking into the Utah canyons for four days without their electronics. At the end of the trip, the participants actually scored higher on tests designed to measure their creative problem solving skills than they did before starting their hike. While this study focused on adults, there is good reason to believe that quality time outside could provide a similar benefit to children.

In the age of electronics, kids have access to more information than ever before. They can look up photos, articles, and videos about any topic that interests them. However, this often obsessive pursuit takes away much of the need for creative thinking. Want to build a fort? No problem. Google will readily supply tried and true schematics. Want to tweak the flavor of a recipe? No problem. Extensive recipe sites offer endless variations

These vast stores of information can be extremely valuable. On the other hand, such access reduces the need for creative problem solving. Why try to work out a solution by trial and error when you can just look up the answer?

In the non-virtual world (aka the real world!)  kids are likely to face many problems that don’t have concrete answers. Navigating the complex social tangles of adolescence while juggling academic and extracurricular responsibilities requires a strong set of creative problem solving skills.

So how does spending time in nature help?

A big part of the equation is likely removing the distractions of smartphones, electronic tablets, and televisions.

But there’s probably more to it than that.

Study authors speculate that the effect may be linked to attention restoration theory, the idea that spending time away from the noisy distractions of everyday life and experiencing nature. Spending time away from the noise of traffic and the bustling pace of everyday life promotes a sense of calm and mindfulness.

Families do not have to completely disconnect themselves from civilization for days at a time to benefit from experiencing nature. Spending an hour strolling along a river’s edge, an afternoon hiking through the woods, or even a few minutes playing tag in a field may help families to connect with each other and the natural world.

Holiday feasts: A time for families to talk about reducing food waste

In Food Security on December 18, 2012 at 5:51 pm


This blog post first was published by The Christian Science Monitor as part of the blog, Modern Parenthood on December 18, 2012.

6394414243_8c65d5467b_zFamilies are finalizing plans for December holiday celebrations, even as kids are scraping the very bottom of their Halloween candy buckets and last month’s Thanksgiving turkey has roosted on parents’ backsides. And this is only the beginning.

The month of December is often a blur of latke platters,Christmas cookies, and endless feasting. While many families stuff themselves until they cannot eat another bite, others struggle to put food on the table.

While the disparities of those with excess and those in need becomes more pronounced during the holidays, the problems of hunger and waste are systemic and persist throughout the year.

On average, American families throw away a quarter of the food they purchase, 50 percent more than their 1970’s counterparts. For a family of four, that can mean that $2,000 worth of food ends up in the trash every year.

According to a recent study from the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) , 40 percent of food produced in America never makes it to the table. At the same time, 47 million Americans depend on government assistance to put food on the table, according to August data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As the NRDC report points out, agriculture and food production are resource-intensive enterprises, taking up half of all US land, accounting for 80 percent of the nation’s freshwater consumption, and representing 10 percent of the country’s entire energy budget.

Food lost at the consumer level represents an even greater waste of energy resources because it has been through all the links of the food chain from field, to processing facility, to truck, to store, to family minivan, burning through fossil fuels at every step of the way.

Families interested in reducing their waste stream can examine their shopping, cooking, and eating habits. Some families purchase more than they can eat and it spoils before cooking. Others pile too much food on their plates and scrape leftovers down the garbage disposal. Most families likely fall into both categories.

Once families start to pay attention when they waste food, they can make small changes in their habits that can lead to less waste in the trashcan and more money in the bank.

Getting kids on board, however, can take some careful planning.

With produce racks overflowing with food, and grocery aisles filled with disposable versions of pretty much all household goods, it can be difficult for kids to comprehend the value of food.

By starting a discussion about waste, parents can help to place value on food and start to provide some context for understanding hunger.

Many parents remember staying behind at their childhood dinner table until they had cleaned their plates because, “there are children starving in China that would be glad to eat that food.”

Today, parents are more likely to encourage children to listen to their bodies and avoid overeating. That’s an important message, especially in the midst of the current obesity epidemic. However, on its own, it can inadvertently promote food waste.

Parents can encourage children to start with smaller servings and assure them that if they want more they can come back for more. Some parents may find it useful to resurrect the clean plate rule, but with the message that kids should eat what they take, rather than eat everything parents serve up.

Taking the kids to hand out bowls at a soup kitchen or deliver food to a food pantry can help give the idea of hunger some context.