Bullying is not a new phenomenon, but advances in technology have made it far too easy for kids and teens to use social media and texting to create drama, stir up conflict, and inflict emotional pain.
As a parent, it can be exhausting to stay up to date with all the technological aspects of your tween or teen's world while maintaining an open dialogue about bullying and socially responsible behavior.
To help make your job easier, here are 5 ways to make sure your child steers clear of both ends of cyber-bullying...because you don't want to be raising a bully and you don't want your child to be a target or suffer in silence.
1. Know the different types of cyber-bullying that exist.
It's hard to monitor something that you're not intimately familiar with, so be on the lookout for the types of cyber-bullying outlined below and make sure your child knows how to spot them as well:
2. Make sure your child never shares passwords.
One of the most common ways cyber-bullying spreads is when a child uses a peer's phone to send inappropriate texts or pictures. The sender is, in essence, invisible and the child who owns the phone is left accountable for whatever content was spread.
No one wants their child left holding the hot potato, especially if he or she truly had no knowledge of the situation. The best way to prevent this is to help your child understand that sharing passwords, even with best friends, is not a wise choice.
As a safeguard, make it a standard practice to help your child reset his or her password every few weeks.
3. Encourage your child to come to you with concerns...and listen!
Recognize that it may be hard for your child to resist the urge to respond to negative texts or posts, and let your child know he or she can come to you with any concerns about being bullied, observing bullying, or even having participated in it.
If and when your child does come to you, it's important to stop and listen. Instead of dismissing concerns, overreacting, quickly trying to make your child feel better, or jumping in with judgement, ask for details and listen to your child's perspective and feelings.
Even if you might disagree or think there's a misconception, listening is a critical step to keeping lines of communication open. After you've heard and validated your child's point of view, you can move on to provide advice and support. Once you've laid this groundwork, the bonus is that your sage words are less likely to fall on deaf ears.
4. Be active on your child's social media accounts and monitor text conversations.
Knowing what your child does when he or she uses a smart phone or other device is important, and using software (we use Net Nanny in our home) to help is always a plus. As an added safeguard, check things out first hand to help support your child and nip cyber-bullying in the bud.
If your child is inadvertently (or even knowingly) doing or saying things that are hurtful to others, you can help put a stop to it. On the other hand, if your child is on the receiving end of upsetting or malicious comments, you will be able to step in and offer support before things escalate.
Here, the focus should be on having a meaningful discussion with your child or teen about what you're seeing rather than trying to catch him or her doing something wrong.
The latter approach will teach your child to hide their digital footprints from you while an open, non-judgemental conversation designates you as the go-to person your child will seek out for support (which is exactly the position you want to be in).
5. Model respect in your home.
Making respect the norm in your household is the most powerful thing you can do as a parent to prevent cyber-bullying, and all forms of bullying. When you set the precedent that all family members are expected to act and speak respectfully, positive habits are established.
Your kids will continue to conduct themselves respectfully at home, at school, and in the digital world. Beyond that, they will be quick to identify when someone is treating them or others inappropriately.
The home-grown chain of respect starts at the top with parental modeling and coaching (think: no name-calling, raging, or embarrassing/making fun of kids). If siblings start to do these things to each other, which often happens, step in calmly and focus on what you want to see change.
Avoid the common parent trap of yelling, "Stop Yelling!" at your kids, and try the approach of, "Please say that again respectfully." With repetition your kids will know you're serious and will learn that respect is non-negotiable.
If your child is sensitive to changes in plans or situations, you might find yourself walking on eggshells trying to prevent things from going off course or becoming anxious that your child will struggle when an inevitable change takes place.
This is a stressful pattern for you and your child since the world is generally unpredictable. Teachers and coaches make decisions that you have little control over, friends and peers have opinions and preferences that fluctuate, and even simple things like the weather can throw a wrench in plans.
If you find yourself dreading the unknown or working overtime to compensate for changes because you feel your child won't be able to cope, here are 5 things to keep in mind to get things back on track:
1. Avoid absolutes
Kids who like predictability or who are sensitive to change will often seek out reassurance and try to lock you into a response or commitment. It's hard not to promise or say that something different will never happen, especially when you know those small words may buy you a few minutes of peace and calm. But, because there has to be a but, using absolutes makes it harder for your child (and, by proxy you) to cope when things do change.
Here's your out. Instead of saying, "I promise," try, "I know it would feel great if I promised, but I can't. I can tell you that the plans are set for right now, but if something changes I'll let you know and we will deal with it."
2. Support but don't rescue
When faced with change, your child may feel angry, anxious, or some other form of distress, and probably most of all he or she feels out of control. There's no way for you to fix this situation, and even if there were, doing so means your child is reliant on you for emotional protection. In the long run, this is a huge disadvantage because the real world is far more unforgiving than whatever challenge your child is facing today and you won't always be there to jump in and save the day.
So, next time you feel the urge to rescue your child, try to pull back and play the role of supporter. This means you can offer a few words of empathy and validation ("I know this is hard" or "This is tough") and wait until your child is calm enough to have a conversation or brainstorm possible ways to move forward.
3. Instill resilience
When kids struggle to cope with and accept change, it's easy for them to feel overly sensitive and a bit incapable of dealing with things. Here, it's important to focus on when your child is able to pull through and consistently send the message, "I know you can handle this." Many parents say it seems disingenuous to say this to a child, especially if you are 100% certain he or she is about to have a melt-down because a play-date was just cancelled or dinner plans changed. I hear you, but if we really look at the statement, "I know you can handle this," you're not lying.
Even if it's not pretty, your child handles changes and setbacks. So, you're not being dishonest, you're just drawing attention to the fact that ultimately, you child will get through the temporary distress of change and walk away remembering that you said he or she could handle it. Those words are far more productive than your child reflecting back on statements like, "You're overreacting again!" or, "You always freak out for no reason!" You want more "handling" of things, so focus on that to install resilience.
4. Accept that your child may struggle (and know it's worth it)
It's hard to see your child struggle. Emotionally, it's heart-breaking to watch your son or daughter struggle when you want nothing more than for him or her to be happy and comfortable. Practically, it can be stressful and overwhelming to have a child or teen who is throwing the equivalent of a temper tantrum due to a change in plans or new scenario that was not expected.
Reacting emotionally will add fuel to the fire and help the situation escalate until someone winds up in tears or says something hurtful and regretful. The best way to make sure that person is not you is to expect a big, emotional reaction and remind yourself that it's ok for your child to be struggling. It won't last forever.
5. Practice flexibility
The best way to get better at dealing with change is to practice flexibility...sort of like mental and emotional yoga. Choose a calm time to start, because you know that trying anything new in a moment (or hour) when your child is already upset won't be productive. For younger kids and tweens, you can do flexibility exercises that are game-like. My favorite is "10 ways to use a _____," filling in the blank with common objects like an orange, pencil, or cup of water.
For older kids and teens, you can take a different approach by thinking of a situation (walking into a surprise party, getting an F on a test, or being left out of a social event) and then predicting how different people might react. You can pull from real life but have fun by including characters from books, movies, and even pop culture.
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Clutter creates stress.
Why? Because having unnecessary items floating around your home, car, or personal space creates a general feeling of chaos and disorganization...both of which feel overwhelming and stressful!
The issue of managing clutter becomes even more complicated when you have kids. Kids of all ages have an uncanny ability to collect things that move well beyond the regular day-to-day clutter of the adult world.
Toddlers are magnets for stickers, game pieces, and seemingly useless possessions that suddenly become emotional attachments. School-age children collect all sorts of scraps of paper, artwork, and goodie-bag swag, and tweens and teens are hard-pressed to throw anything away!
And just wait until the school year starts again when endless sheets of paper find their way home to settle into a pile, drawer, or stuffed backpack.
I'm stressed out just writing about this!
So, how can you help your kids de-clutter ASAP so your entire family can de-stress a little? Here are 5 great ways to start:
1. Sort on your way in.
Keep a trash and/or recycling bag right outside the door you usually use to enter your home (for us, it's the interior garage door). This way you can coach your kids to sort through belongings in the car before entering the house. What never makes it in the door never has a chance to become clutter in the first place!
2. Give your child a space that's his or her own.
Choose a drawer, basket, or bin and allow your child to use that as a place to store items that might not have a specific "home" yet. This prevents things from accumulating on counter-tops and allows your child one catch-all place to store things until they're ready to use them or part with them.
3. One in, two out.
This is a great rule to of thumb that keeps the flow of "stuff" from outgrowing your physical space...for each new item that makes its way into your child's life, ask him or her to donate two similar items. This concept helps kids pause and reflect before asking for a new possession and offsets the all-too-common consumer mindset of more-more-more!
4. Stay positive.
De-cluttering isn't a punishment and judging your child's desire to keep every single gum wrapper from the past school year probably won't help you streamline your family's organizational systems. Remember to validate the fact that getting rid of things is hard and communicate that while you understand it may be boring or annoying to de-clutter, it's important to do anyway.
5. Make donations a way of life.
The act of giving to others is a fantastic practice to instill in your child. Once every few weeks give your kids a bag and encourage them to fill it with toys, clothes and personal items that they've outgrown or no longer use. Having your child accompany you to donate the items makes the act more personal and will hopefully encourage more giving (and less clutter) in the future.
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Sharing practical strategies that help parents rediscover joy in their children (even when someone's crying, the phone is ringing, and it smells like the house may be burning down)