Doing Life Together

Doing Life Together

7 Tips to Help Your Child With Nightmares

posted by Linda Mintle

A number of parents email me concerned about their children having nightmares and want to know how to help. Sometimes the cure is obvious. Take the case of my neighbor who, during a family movie night, selected a movie that appeared to be family friendly but had a disturbing ending. Her two youngest children were so bothered by the misfortune of the main character that they could not sleep and had bad dreams. In this case, the movie’s story was too much for those young minds. It is not just violence, language and sex that adults must screen for before choosing a movie. Sometimes the themes are too adult and disturbing for children to handle. Nightmares can result.

Between the ages of three and six, nightmares occur for two developmental reasons: 1) Fears begin to develop 2) A child’s imagination is very active. Being overly tired, getting irregular sleep, dealing with stress and anxiety all increase the possibility of nightmares. In rare cases, nightmares can be caused by genetic factors so always check with your pediatrician before assuming cause.

A study published in the journal Sleep found three common traits in children with nightmares. These traits were noticed as early as five months of age. According to the study, children who tended to have nightmares had difficult temperaments (based on ratings by mothers), were restless during the day and were anxious and difficult to calm down

Nightmares are often a way for children to cope with unpleasant events or change in their lives like divorce, a death, beginning school, moving, etc. So if you have a child experiencing nightmares, think about his or her daily life and see if you can identify reasons for him or her to feel anxious or out of control.  Make sure the culprit isn’t  watching scary media. It took me years to get over the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz!

Here are 7 tips to help a child with nightmares:

1)    Add a nightlight to the bedroom.

2)    Keep the bedroom door open.

3)    Briefly check under the bed and in the closet for “monsters.”

4)    Offer lots of physical reassurance when a child wakes up scared.

5)    Give the child a special blanket or toy to keep him or her company.

6)    Make sure the child is following a regular sleep routine. Keep the routine upbeat and soothing.

7)    Pray with your child before he or she goes to bed and ask God to give him or her sweet dreams. Remind your child that angels watch over him or her.

School Casino Night: Harmless Fun or Risk for Addiction?

posted by Linda Mintle

It’s “Casino Night” at the local high school. The flyer sent home reads, “Bring your family for a night of food and fun and raise money for our school.” But is exposing kids to the real world of gambling and betting a good way to fund raise? Isn’t this just harmless fun?

Walk the halls of most high schools and you’ll find teens gambling before, during and after school. It is estimated that 4-6% of all adolescents are pathological gamblers and even more gamble occasionally. Whether it is playing craps, cards, football pools, sports betting, lottery, dice or pool, it all begins as harmless fun. But what may surprise you is that teens are more susceptible to gambling than adults. This is due to their impulsivity, peer pressure influences, emerging egos, desire to win, lack of understanding the consequences of gambling and feelings of invincibility.

Gambling has gone mainstream in American culture and has desensitized our kids to the problem of addiction and financial ruin that pathological gambling bring. From an early age, kids learn that winning is what counts. During adolescence, that competitive spirit coupled with fragile identity, ego formation and little fear of the consequences of behavior can lead to risk-taking behavior. Gambling represents quick money, a quick fix and a way to be “in” with those who see no harm in such activities. Every “win” reinforces the activity. For those at risk for addiction, “harmless fun” ends in bondage.

Usually those who become addicted are intelligent, risk-takers, perfectionists, impulsive, high energy, good students and possibly involved in drugs and alcohol. Parents are often unaware of the problem because these teens appear to have their act together. But the signs of a gambling problem are identifiable. They are: 1) Preoccupation with gambling. 2) More money is needed to achieve the excitement of gambling. 3) Efforts to stop, cut back or control gambling are unsuccessful. 4) Gambling is used to escape and avoid life problems. 5) Gambling continues even though money is lost. 6) The extent of the problem is denied and lied about to others. 6) Financing the habit may involve illegal activities. 7) Relationships, jobs, educational or career opportunities are lost because of gambling. 8) Desperation leads to asking for money.

Ultimately, the spiritual state of the teen must be addressed as he/she realizes that indulging in impulsive acts always has consequences and “luck” is not a biblical concept. Our lives are purposeful, planned and directed by God. Surrender is the key. As we surrender to His higher purposes and take responsibility for our behavior, He guides and directs our lives. Psalm 37:23 reminds us that chance isn’t a part of the Christian life, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, And He delights in His way.”

There are no quick fixes or short cuts to the refining God wants to do when forming our character and development. When we realize that only the things of God can satisfy the deep yearnings of the heart, we are less inclined to turn to other things that promise success but don’t deliver. Taking a chance with God is no gamble at all. There are no losers in God’s family. In other words, life with God is a win-win! And that’s a truth you can count on!

Parenting a Biting Toddler: What to Do

posted by Linda Mintle

People leave churches for all kinds of reasons. But when Jimmy bit Chelsea during the praise and worship time, Chelea’s family neeeded a little more grace and a better understanding of child development.

Biting and hitting, though never acceptable behaviors, are normal behaviors for children between the ages of one and two. Developmentally, toddlers are exploring their world through the mouth, a source of pleasure and power. They also may be teething (biting feels good on swollen gums), needing attention  (negative attention is attention) or imitating others. Biting and hitting are ways to express emotions and relieve immediate frustration, anger or other uncomfortable feelings. And biting and hitting are also ways of coping with an environment that is too stimulating or overcrowded and isn’t working for the child.

In order to help a toddler stop hitting or biting, adults must understand these behaviors from the perspective of the child. Toddlers are impulsive and lack self-control. They are easily frustrated or upset and do not talk about their feelings. They simply react. They are not trying to purposely hurt another child, but use sounds and actions to communicate how they feel, express autonomy and to control others. And because of their age, they don’t fully understand the concept of hurting another child.  So when a child takes a toy, pushes, or refuses to cooperate, the toddler may hit or bite that child. That’s when adults should intervene and teach toddlers how to better handle their frustrations and prevent hurtful behavior.

To do so, one must figure out when, why and with whom the biting occurs. For example, if a nursery is overcrowded and toys must be shared, this could trigger biting or hitting. Intervening would require keeping a watchful eye on the play, reminding children not to bite, and praising cooperative behavior. Teaching children to share what is available would also be important. In other cases, simple fixes like giving a child a teething ring, a needed nap, snacks for hunger and teaching him or her to say “Mine” or “No” during play can prevent biting and hitting. No matter the trigger, the best approach is to stay calm, stop the behavior and direct attention to the hurt child.

Finally, be clear in a group setting and in your family as to how biting and hitting will be handled before these behaviors occur. If biting and hitting do not improve within a few days or weeks of intervention, then these behaviors could signal a more serious issue that may need additional intervention by a mental health or health provider.  Most often, these behaviors will pass as the child grows and is positively guided by loving adults.

 

5 Step Parenting Tips to Make It All Work

posted by Linda Mintle

Terry slouched on my therapy couch and mumbled, “My mom has a new husband. She wants me to be nice to him but I don’t feel like being nice.  I’m sick and tired of not seeing my dad. I don’t like this strange guy walking around my house and telling me he’s my friend. He’s not my friend. He’s a stranger. I want my dad back.”

The challenge of living with a stepparent requires time and patience from all family members. Suddenly there is a stranger sharing the bathroom, giving directions and checking your homework. Mom or dad is no longer exclusively yours. One parent’s daily presence is lost. Holidays become complicated. And what do you call this new person who shows up at the breakfast table with habits that annoy you?

From the child’s point of view, his/her family has been torn apart and replaced with another. This loss and new arrangement were not by choice. Feelings of anger linger long after the parents’ divorce is final. If the child hasn’t openly worked through anger and unforgiveness towards the original parents, these feelings carry over to the blended family as well.

In the best of situations, stepchildren struggle to find ways to honor stepparents without dishonoring biological parents. They experience a constant division of loyalties that evidences in even the smallest of issues. It is this division of loyalties that resurfaces throughout the new marriage and serves as an unpleasant reminder of the price children pay for divorce.

So what can parents do to help children adjust to newly formed families?

First, they must ask God for wisdom to discern the needs of their children.  The remarried couple is delighted to put their former marriages behind them and is hopeful about the future. Children of divorce are not in the same place. Often their feelings of rejection intensify when strangers enter the family. Remarried adults must constantly ask, “What are the needs of the children?”

Second, blended families should not pretend to be a replacement family for children.  The reality is that children lose a parent and parents gain a new partner. You must continually talk about this fact.  Encourage emotional expression. Reassure the children that no matter what they feel, you can handle it and will deal with it.

Third, be patient. While stepchildren need to be helped through the transition of blending a family, don’t force closeness.  It takes time for a child to get to know a new adult and feel comfortable having him or her in the house.  It is normal for a child to want the original family back so he/she doesn’t have to divide loyalties, visitation and important dates.

Fourth, be careful to give children privacy when it comes to their physical bodies.  As stepparents, you did not change their diapers, tuck them into bed every night and you are not biologically related. Therefore you must be extra sensitive to appropriate physical boundaries.

Finally, keep God the center of family life. He is your constant source of strength and healing. Be a family who prays and commits to working through even the toughest emotions and disappointments.

 

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