Monday, September 19, 2016

High Diving Board Syndrome

As I was completing my morning walk I came across a couple of elementary age boys with their bikes having an intense discussion with their Grandma. It seems they were being encouraged to ride their bikes to school, but they were a bit nervous to attempt this task. 

Riding from Grandma’s house they were merely a block from school in a safe neighborhood with many parents walking with their children. Grandma was getting ready to follow along in her car.

The boys looked to be about 6 and 8 years old. Why would they be so afraid to ride their bike one block to school? 

I don’t know their particular situation, but I do know that anxiety in children has increasingly become a factor in schools. Children refuse to come to school, older children suffer separation anxiety previously only seen in young children, teachers must teach calming techniques, and classrooms are outfitted with “calming corners” for children who are feeling stressed. This also makes me wonder how many more children are being medicated for anxiety at earlier ages.

First of all, I would like to say that this post is NOT for parents of children who are experiencing panic attacks. Children with intense anxiety issues will benefit from expert care that is far above my level of expertise. Furthermore, I do not wish to put guilt on parents that they are causing anxiety in children. But given the increase in anxiety, this is something we want to address.

When I taught kindergarten, it was not unusual for my class to include a child or two who was anxious at the kindergarten door. I learned to reassure parents that their child suffered from what I lovingly called “High Diving Board Syndrome.” I pointed out that a child climbing a ladder rarely thinks of the height of that ladder until he or she stands at the end of the diving board; then the panic sets in. Likewise, once the swimmer has made the jump, the anxiety is transformed into pure thrill. This is simply a description of initial anxiety. This kind of anxiety comes from the body pumping adrenaline in anticipation. For a brief moment, there is more adrenaline than what is being used. For most children we can talk them through it by pointing out they are safe, and by reminding them of how good it will feel to tackle this challenge.

Our children engage in quite a bit of passive entertainment. They have television, streamed movies on computer, and an infinite number of games on phones. The downside of too much of this activity is that children become comfortable with the peaceful feeling of passive entertainment. They rarely have to deal with initial anxiety. Then when they feel anxious about trying something new, they might pull back instead of learning that initial anxiety is temporary and is what makes us mentally sharp. 

Here are some things to remember when children are reluctant to try something that you are confident they are able to do:

1.     Name the anxiety for what it is. It is a state of alertness that God gives us when we try something new that helps us to pay better attention. It will go away once your child engages in the activity and uses the adrenaline that is pumping away.
2.     Empathize, but do not sympathize, with your child. Recognize the anxiety and help your child to focus on the feeling of accomplishment that will occur later.
3.     Remember that children develop self-confidence by accomplishing something difficult – even if mistakes and failures are involved.
4.     Do not emphasis performance. Instead remind them of accomplishment.
5.     At the dinner table, share stories of times when you were anxious about trying something new as a child. Let your child see how things worked out.
6.     Reduce the amount of time your child spends in passive entertainment and increase the amount of time spent in unstructured play outside with other children.  This kind of play involves many instances of small risks that children safely overcome and can build confidence.

In your family devotions, you can lift up your child’s anxieties to God in prayer. We do not have to tell children to ignore their anxiety. As Christian parents we can remind them that they are loved and cared for by parents and their Heavenly Father.

And by all means, seek help for children suffering from anxiety that has adversely impacted their lives. God has blessed us with many experts that help us to raise happy, healthy children.

The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:8

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Faith Resilience

This young man is both persistent and resilient. He is persistent in that he does not give up on moving a hay bale several times his size just because it doesn’t fly off the truck on the first push. He is resilient because he tries several different ways to tackle the problem, always noting his progress along the way. We can sense his satisfaction by the end of the clip.

It is easy to recognize that this is what we want for children. This young man will most likely grow up to be a happy, healthy, problem solver. This is why your teacher does not want you to prevent your child from experiencing any kind of struggle while learning. Struggle teaches lessons that last a life time – especially when children know they are loved and cared for.

We also want our children to have a resilient faith. The world in which they live is hard, selfish, and dangerous. We cannot include faith as a small part of our life and then hope for the best. Faith needs to BE your child’s life. When children are baptized they are brought into the family of God. The more time they spend with that family, in God’s word, the more their faith grows. The habits of praying before each meal, daily devotions, attending church activities, and actions of service toward others flow from a resilient faith.

A resilient faith is one that persists in the face of trouble and temptation. A resilient faith learns from struggle. A resilient faith rests easy in the love and care of God.

God provides us with so many ways to nurture the  faith of our children. Get started moving that hay bale. God is on your side.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Parenting: Children and Sleep

I have seen several versions of this chart on social media and thought I would do my part to help it go viral.

Children need sleep. They are growing and they tend to take each day going from 0 to 60 in 3.2 seconds. Both of these things require more sleep than adults typically need.

Also, children need sleep to be alert in school and to make sure that new things learned on one day survive to the next. Sleep time is heavy brain time. 

As adults we are used to working with less sleep than we need. I suspect this causes more trouble than we think but the biggest problem is when we lengthen our day and forget our children need their sleep.

Even if it means making some changes to schedules, make a commitment to a plan that provides your young learners with the sleep they need.  

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Parenting: Serve and Return

The church where I work is being patient with me and trying a new experiment for summer Sunday school. I have lessons in bags and families stop by, pick a bag and take it to a room to complete the activities with their children.

Each bag contains a Bible story and verse to memorize. Art activities, games, puzzles, and discussion questions give the families some choices that allow them to custom design the lesson for their children.

I sit in the entrance area for our Family Summer Sunday School and check families in and out. During that time I hear voices coming from the classrooms and what I hear warms my heart.

Curiosity abounds as bags are opened and Bible stories are read. There is laughter as activities are attempted and retried. Today one child smiled a mile wide as he told me he loved the finger traps. Another child kept at the marble paint activity until the blue and red made purple. Some families finish in 20 minutes and others have to be gently shooed out at the end of the hour. 

My favorite bits of conversation are something developmental psychologists call "serve and return." It is the interaction between parent and child. Serve and return begins in infancy when parents melt in front of their newborns to instinctively indulge in baby talk. Mom talks to baby and baby responds encouraging Mom to initiate more conversation. This continues as the child grows. A toddler asks Dad an obvious question and Dad responds serving a question of his own. To the casual observer the conversations barely seem useful, but for the child’s developing brain this type of interaction is pure gold. It allows them to test new information as they absorb information by learning patterns.

Babies are essentially born into an alien world. They know nothing, cannot speak the language, and are on a steep learning curve to get things figured out. Serve and return is a process that wires the child's brain creating and organizing important neural pathways that become the basis for all learning. Each child's brain must figure out its world and the serve and return process gives essential information allowing sense to be made of everyday happenings.

In addition to academic benefits, this process teaches language, social skills, and stress coping strategies. Furthermore, serve and return builds trust as children learn over and over again that their parent's response is dependable. The ability to trust is essential to learning as well as emotional health. There is a lot happening in this game of verbal tennis.

The best thing about the Family Summer Sunday School brand of serve and return is that it happens in the context of faith learning. Through the blessing and power of the Spirit, these parents are building the brains of their children with the bricks and mortar of faith.That faith will be a part of all future learning. 

That's pretty powerful stuff.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you  also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. 
Ephesians 2: 19-22, ESV

Friday, May 27, 2016

Children: Anxiety

While some children are more inclined to worry than others, almost all children experience anxiety at one time or another. 

Anxiety can be a good thing. It can make us pay closer attention to what is going on, it can help us to be better prepared, and the right amount of anxiety is necessary for best performance.

However, anxiety becomes a problem when it keeps a child from enjoying everyday things, or when it is hiding a problem that needs to be addressed.

When children indicate that they do not want to do something they are communicating what for them is a real concern. It is important to know what is behind the words of worry:

Is the child not ready for the activity? Some children want to watch before they try and others just need more time before launching into something new.

Does the child need some reassurance? If you feel your child is ready for the activity, then confidently assure him that things will be okay and that you (or the teacher, or other trusted adult) will be available to help. A child’s confidence about trying new things can be greatly improved when he or she successfully accomplish something that caused worry.

Is there something else going on? If a child suddenly is anxious about a previously enjoyed activity then a good conversation is in order. Your child might not realize that an incident with another child, some confusion with an adult, or a startling event, is the real cause for worry. Children cannot always process this information. On occasion their brains will simply cause them to fear the entire situation. 

Is your child defiantly refusing to obey? It is easy to assume that defiance is about disobedience rather than anxiety. We assume that anxiety will show itself in timid behaviors. Some children show their anxiety in defiance. It is good to explore this possibility, especially if the behavior is unusual for your child or if typical consequences aren’t working to change the behavior. 

Is your child tired? Being physically tired or mentally overstimulated will cause many children to become anxious. For them, it is the best way to give the message that they have had enough. 

Helping children to identify and cope with stress is a great way to build resilience. Children need ways to calm themselves, to know when and how to seek help, and to learn to use anxiety to their advantage. Such children will be good problem solvers and will face difficulty with confidence.

One of the reasons that faith development also promotes resilience is that  our faith reminds us that God is in control of our lives, our situation, and our anxiety. A gentle reminder of God’s promise of love and care is a beautiful way to share your faith with your children when helping them with anxiety.

It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. Deuteronomy 31:8