Who Gets the Kids for the Summer?

School is out and now the summer fun begins. But if the kids have two homes, it might not be so much fun. There may be family vacations and family reunions and softball/baseball games and 4-H events and camps and – well you get the idea.

So who decides where the kids will be? Last weekend I was at a baseball game and heard a dad talking about vacations. His family, with kids from different marriages, had a summer trip planned. Then he found out one child’s mom had other plans and her wishes ruled. This sounded like the beginning of vacation wars and not the fun that all had in mind.

Well parents, it’s time to revisit the concept of co-parenting. Now is the time to sit down and talk with your child’s other parent about summer plans. Get out the calendar and pencil in all the events that involve your child. Go into the conversation with the idea of making this work. Share any “absolute” dates and explain why you want your child for that time. Be willing to compromise and not insist on your way for everything. Offer to take your child more frequently or be the “taxi” on occasion.

I know you’re probably thinking – “but you don’t know my ex.” And I don’t! But I do know that kids want to enjoy the summer. They want to spend time with both parents and the extended families. They want to hang out with their friends. They want to just “be” and not find themselves in the middle of arguments over who gets them when.

How do you plan summer schedules when two households are involved? What’s worked for your family?

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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The Other Parent

When I was growing up, I don’t remember hearing much about divorce. I had one friend in high school whose parents were divorced, but it was never mentioned. Fast forward to years later and you guessed it – I married a divorced man with three young children. So I’ve had the first hand opportunity to see the “after divorce” world from both a personal and professional perspective.

The podcast started with the statement about divorce not being one point in time, but is ongoing. And I say, no truer words could be said. When children are involved, the divorce may end the marriage but the relationships and interactions continue literally for a lifetime.

If you’re a parent in the midst of a divorce, or are raising children after a divorce, how do you make it work? I latched on to the phrase – paths to healthy outcomes – and how there are two that work. Most everything else leads to negative outcomes. Those paths are divorced parents working together as warm co-parents or as professional co-parents.

Here’s my take on how professional co-parents work. The adults don’t’ have to be friends but their priority is to do what is best for the kids. They may not agree on how to raise their kids, but they manage to keep conflict under control. These parents try to share decisions and child rearing tasks. Although there is a custody agreement, the parents apply some flexibility and common sense. The professional co-parents see that both parents have a relationship with their kids.

As I look back, I realize our family functioned with professional co-parents (most of the time). No one will tell you it is an easy way to parent. However, the payoff for the kids is tremendous. The stress of the divorce is reduced; children have fewer long-term problems; and they can develop close relationships with both parents and extended family members.

Anyone want to share ideas that work for professional co-parents?

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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I Need It!

Or is it – I WANT it? For many of us, spending is the fun part of having money. Sometimes we do a good job of making spending decisions and other times, we probably could do better.

Our kids are no different. It’s hard for them to understand what you’re talking about when you start sharing ideas about making decisions. But what they will catch on to is how you make your choices.

So – listen to yourself. How often do you say, “I need this _____” when really you are saying, “I want ________”? All of us have lots of needs and wants. And young kids are apt to think they need everything and want it right now.

Here are a couple simple definitions for needs and wants.

  • Want – something you wish for very much but could live without
  • Need – something you have to have to live every day

Usually kids (and us adults) have more wants than needs. Here are four questions I used with my daughters when they wanted to spend money.

  • Do I really want it?
  • But, do I really need it?
  • Can I get along without it?
  • How can I pay for it?

Try using these questions when you want to spend money. See if you’re spending your hard earned money on needs or wants. Remember, your child will learn the most by simply watching how you spend your money.

How are you teaching your child the difference between needs and wants?

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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Did My Parents Teach Me Right?

I grew up as a Missouri farm kid. There wasn’t much money but lots of chores – both inside and outside the home – and certainly no allowance. I had a piggy bank for small savings. And yes, my dad gave me a dollar for each “A” on a report card.

Did my parents teach me the right things about money? As an adult do I have a healthy relationship with money? Did I teach my daughters what they needed to know about money?

These are pretty weighty questions and ones that can cause a little guilt. So I was excited to hear the experts share the research results and their interpretations. The bad news is that the research isn’t conclusive and the good news is that the research isn’t conclusive. I also heard the experts share differing opinions. Whew – don’t need to feel guilty.

What I did learn is that parents don’t have to try to do everything a particular way. Many everyday mundane tasks involve money. Children learn from how they see their parents handle the family funds.  We are back to that role model concept that keeps coming up on most any topic.

So let me give you some questions to ponder.

  • What are you teaching when you pay for items with a credit card?
  • What are you teaching when you balance a check book or reconcile a bank account online?
  • What are you teaching when you give to your church or a local community project?
  • What are you teaching when you save for a new computer or flat screen TV?
  • What are you teaching when you complain about paying bills?

The list could go on and on. I just wanted to get you thinking about how what you do is always teaching. Anyone want to share a good story about a time when you taught your child a lesson about money by your behavior?

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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You Want Me To Do What?

During all my years of working with parents I have been asked repeatedly, “What can I do to get the kids to help out more around home?” And I think we all can see ourselves at Lori’s house with the laundry issue.

Many changes have taken place in homes since we were kids. The days of being able to depend on Mom to do it all are changing. So having your kids help with things around the house is a good idea.

When everyone pitches in, you have more time to enjoy each other as a family. The kids learn skills that will carry over into school, relationships, and adult life. They also learn they are an important part of the family.

The best time to teach your kids is when they are young. Even toddlers can help by picking up toys or carrying their plates to the dishwasher after meals. But don’t give up if you have an older child who doesn’t help – it’s never too late.

Here are three steps I found really helpful when getting our daughters to help out at home.

1. Notice good behavior. We had a “chore chart” posted on the kitchen door. The girls got to put stars on the chart when chores were completed. They really worked for those stars and when they earned a certain number, we would do something special together.

2. Show how to do a particular task. Your child is more likely to carry out a job if he knows exactly what you expect. Don’t expect him to get it “right” the first time. If also helps to tell him why you are doing things a certain way.

3. Have your child check back with you after she is done with the tasks. That way you will know the job is done and done right. It also gives you a chance to compliment and praise her on a job well done.

Household chores are not going to go away no matter how much we wish they would. You can be a martyr and try to do it all yourself. And you  probably won’t be the happiest Mom or Dad to be around. Or, you can spend the time to involve your children.

How do you handle household chores at your house? Any good suggestions on how to get the kids on board?

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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Pitching a Fit in the Grocery Store

Do you remember a time when your child pitched a fit in the grocery store? It’s one thing to handle a temper tantrum at home. But when it’s in public – like at the grocery store with everyone watching – that’s enough to test everything you know. Some people may give you that “why don’t you do something with your kid” look while others shoot you a sympathizing “I’ve been there” look. Either way you are probably embarrassed or frustrated or tired or just ready to throw up your hands.

We are most apt to have shopping disasters when we make those stops at the grocery store at the end of a busy day. Are you and your child too tired or hungry to shop? If so, a major tantrum is a high possibility. Children usually behave better when everyone is more relaxed and happy so plan the best time for the shopping trip. Be clear about expectations before you go in the store – stay in the cart, hold my hand, use indoor voice. Also decide together what will happen if your child behaves at the store. Keep it simple. Perhaps you stop for an ice cream cone on the way home or promise to play a favorite game when you get home.

Once you’re in the store, make a game of the shopping. Or give your child some choices (this or that cereal, red or yellow apples). Give him a responsibility like holding the bread or steering the cart. Praise him often to reinforce good behavior. “You are really helping Mommy by putting the cans in the cart.”

Okay, so even though we’ve done all the planning and talking, we can still end up with an out-of-control child. If that happens, take her to the restroom or out of the store away from other people and distractions. Tell her that her behavior is not acceptable and then wait – wait for her to calm down. If she is ready to try it again, go for it. If not, go home. And don’t go back in and buy her a treat where she just pitched a fit!!

What do you do when your child throws a tantrum in the grocery store? Any tips on calming down both parent and child?

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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I Want It Right Now!

And I want it my way. As an adult I can use words to communicate feelings. But try to remember what it is like to be a small child. Most toddlers still don’t talk too much or know how to express feelings. They aren’t very good at solving problems either. So when you think about it, having a tantrum almost makes sense.  During the podcast the guys talked about the two emotions that are central to tantrums – anger and sadness. I found it interesting that anger peaks about 1/3 of the way through the tantrum and then declines while sadness remains a constant steady background. I also tuned in to the conversation about how temperament figures into kids and tantrums. Do you see how last month’s podcast and this one tie together?

When a child gets angry it is soooo easy to respond with anger. In fact we were told that was a natural reaction. We were also warned about the anger trap. If everyone gets angry, then things can escalate and nothing gets resolved. Staying calm and in control of your own emotions is important. So is pausing for a few seconds before you respond. Doesn’t sound like too much to ask, but in the midst of a major meltdown it can be difficult. If you can remain calm and reasonably collected, you will be showing your child how to handle frustration and you will also have a better chance of figuring out the best way to deal with the tantrum.

The Temper tantrums publication suggest four possible ways to deal with a tantrum. Some are more suitable to different aged children. Check it out. Do you have a tantrum thrower in your family? What do you find helps dissolve the anger and comfort the child?

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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I Need a Nap

Last night I went to bed late and woke up early, refreshed. Another night I may go to bed at a decent time and still have trouble dragging myself out of bed. Sound familiar? And I do know the importance of a regular sleep routine. I feel better and function better when I have enough sleep.

We adults can manage some deviation from getting enough sleep. But it is not realistic to expect that kids can do the same. When I listened to the podcast, I really zoned in on the conversation about how the spirited kids suffer more from not getting enough sleep. Then I add to that the hectic schedules many families keep, plus the availability of tech devices in kids’ bedrooms, and OH MY!

Remember how excited you were as a parent when your baby starting sleeping through the night? Then later on when your little one starts fighting the naps, it seems like we can easily forget how important sleep is for her. It’s easy enough to find out how many hours of sleep children need each night. Check out the Children and Sleep publication mentioned on the main page this month. As a good rule of thumb, choose a bedtime that is about 10-12 hours before your child needs to get up. Then stick with it. Even if your child doesn’t fall right to sleep, at least he is resting.

And just one more thought – don’t have lots of exciting and interesting things going on in the house when it is bedtime. No one wants to miss out. So turn off the TV and computer, put on your pjs, and bring the day to a quiet close. Raising a spirited child can be a challenge. So why add to everyone’s stress level by operating on too little sleep. That is one aspect you, as the parent, can control.

Now about that nap …..

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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Will She Ever Stop?

Raising Your Spirited Child has been on my bookshelf for years. I helped raise three daughters and now watch them parent my seven grandchildren. As I listened to the podcast I immediately realized how my perspective has changed from kids to grandkids. Out of the three daughters, we got to parent one spirited one. I remember the intensity so well and admit I did not always see the traits in a positive way. We were just trying to get through the days without damage!

Then the grandkids started arriving. And you guessed it – the spirited daughter ended up with a spirited daughter. So did a daughter who wasn’t expecting it. But now when I’m a step removed (and know more about raising spirited kids), it is easier for me to celebrate the specialness of these kids who live so intensely.

I find myself helping the parents attach positive labels to their kids. I try to be specific. For example I might say, “She may be driving you nuts with all this energy and passion. I know it would be nice to have a quiet and peaceful house once in a while. But just think how great she will be as an employee or parent someday. She’s like that bunny with the batteries that never runs down.”

I also work with the grandkids in learning ways they can manage their intensity. One granddaughter is quick to voice her opinion on how people treat her. She is sensitive and perceptive – that is awesome. But she needs help in understanding when and where it is appropriate to share her feelings. And I celebrate the wonder of this child who will not let people treat her badly. I say, “You go girl.”

Mary Sheedy Kurcinka talked a lot about the importance of sleep. She said spirited kids suffer more from inadequate sleep and are prone to meltdowns. I remember the Christmas when the two spirited granddaughters, operating on too little sleep for too many days, had meltdowns at the same time. In fact I’m sure the whole family remembers that year. If nothing else we are fast learners, so we approached subsequent holidays and special events with attention to reasonable schedules.

We know the reactive, arousal system is biological so I’m guessing someday I may be playing with a spirited great-grandchild. I’ll be ready and smiling!

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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I’m Bored

It took a long time but winter finally arrived. Snow and cold are a combination that makes many of us want to hibernate. And it seems like the perfect excuse for kids of all ages (and parents too) to spend even more time using all the technology. But even that can get boring.

What can “pull” a tween away from his iPad or get a teenager to quit texting? Perhaps it is an invitation to join you in the kitchen as you make homemade pizza. As you make and bake in the cozy kitchen, an hour may turn into an evening laced with laughter and talking.

Or maybe you ask for their help in scanning old family pictures to put into an electronic photo album. Each photo is a chance to share family stories. Everyone has fun reminiscing and you get to pass along a bit of family history. Some of the old photos could end up as electronic screensavers or wallpaper.

Let the kids plan a party for their friends. Pick out a holiday or maybe it’s just a “mid-winter” celebration.  Join them in coming up with inexpensive and creative ideas for invitations, food, and entertainment. Even better – make it a family party and invite both adults and kids.

With the next snowfall, dare the kids to follow you outside for a walk (with camera or smartphone in hand). See who can take the most interesting photo of Mother Nature’s winter handiwork. And if a good-natured snowball fight happens, all the better.

Actually, the list is endless of what we can do as families during winter weather. Have the whole family brainstorm a list of indoor activities and outdoors activities that they like to do. Be daring and add a few new ideas to the list. The biggest challenge is to not let it be a time of inactivity and boredom just waiting for spring.

What does your family like to do during the winter months? Is there something new you’d like to pursue?

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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Turn That Darn Thing Off!!

During the recent holidays I spent three days with my kids and grandkids. Every single person arrived with their smartphone and a laptop or tablet/notebook. While we watched movies and football games, people multitasked – taking and sending photos, texting, checking email, playing games, etc. And yes, I was doing the same.

So I was eager to listen to this month’s podcast on Using Technology to Help with Parenting. An important distinction made early in the podcast was the difference between what and how adults use devices and programs and how parents use them.

I learned in the podcast that technology allows parents to be multi-functional. They use technology for information and communication and for emotional support from other parents.  The digital divide is closing with age being a minor predictor. That’s good news for grandparents like me who use technology constantly at work and at home! And people are using Facebook to keep connected with people they don’t see often.

So what does this mean for you as a parent or grandparent? If you are using technology to communicate with your child, that can be a good thing for checking in, sending reminders, etc. But there is a flipside.  Be careful not to micro-manage your child’s life or allow them to become too dependent on your constant presence. Children need to learn responsibility and problem solving and how to be independent.  Also balance these quick exchanges with the face-to-face interactions that are vital to relationships. Insist on some technology-free time. For example, during our long weekend together meals were “no tech” times. We enjoyed both the food and conversation without the interruptions of tech devices. Of course the rules applied to both adults and kids.

If you are using technology to get information about parenting, there is more out there than we can begin to comprehend. A search on any parenting topic results in endless options. I usually restrict my sources to the educational sites and I am going to add the Tufts University Child and Family Web Guide to my favorites list.

How do you use technology as a parent? And how do you filter the endless possibilities for information via technology?

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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Holiday Tears and Tantrums

During the holiday season, watch for signs of stress in your children.  It can be a time of too little sleep and quiet moments and too much excitement, activity, and food. Is it any wonder the tears and tantrums come easily? No, I’m not talking about you – I’m thinking about the children. So here are five things I’ve found that children need during the holidays.

Children need consistency. Keep bedtime rituals like stories and games. Spend time cuddling on the couch. Extra hugs are in order. If you are away from home during the holidays, pack a special blankie, pillow, or stuffed toy that is a visible reminder of sameness. Children may have trouble sleeping after a big day so having a little gift or treat can help ease them into bedtime.

Children like to be part of what is happening. The “getting to help” is more important than the end product. Remind yourself everything doesn’t have to be perfect.  Look for things the children can do and don’t get uptight about messy packages or frosting on everything but the cookies.

Children want to know what is going on. Tell them where the family is going, who will be there, what will happen.  Take time to talk with them about the holiday rituals your family observes and why these are special to your family.

Children need their space. Too many people can result in overstimulation. That’s when the tears and tantrums start in. The children may not be used to having lots of extra people around or sharing their bedroom with three cousins. Try involving the children in smaller groups of friends or relatives.

Children need some quiet time. Alternate quiet activities with active ones. You can tell when the children are getting too excited, bored, or tired. Then it is time for a story, nap, or just a few minutes together with you in another room.

Now that I read back through what the children need, I’m thinking maybe it does apply to us adults too! How do you help your children enjoy the holidays in a nonstressful way?

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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Sticks and stones can break my bones …

The birthday party invitation that never arrived, the whispers by the hallway lockers, the cruel words written on Facebook – it has happened to us and it happens to our children. We know it hurts to be talked about or excluded from groups or activities. Now after listening to the December podcast I have a name to put with this – relational aggression.

Sarah Coyne defines relational aggression as any kind of mean behavior that aims to harm a relationship or the social structure of a group. This includes gossip, spreading rumors, exclusion and so forth. Do you remember the chant – sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never harm me? Well, wrong! Relational aggression can be just as harmful as physical aggression. The pain can linger and even last for years. I can remember incidents from my teen and college years and suspect you can also.

I think a place for parents to start is by being proactive. You don’t want your child to be aggressive in this way and you don’t want your child to be hurt by relational aggression.  Sarah talked about three things that parents need to address – and you may not like these.

Really pay attention to what you and your child watch on TV. Reality shows are popular but research points to the relational aggression that is so common. Being mean is shown in a glamorous way for someone to “win” or become popular.

Next take a look at yourself. How do you interact with other adults in your home? What does your child hear and see? Does she hear you talking “mean” to each other? Does he hear you gossiping or making snide remarks about people? Children model what they see in the home.

Then tune in to your child’s group of friends. Is it a group of kids that practice relational aggression? Are they children with low self-esteem or do they think they are “hot stuff”? Either way, help your child learn how to stand up to the mean behavior.

Ok – I realize I just gave you three things to give your attention to and none are easy. But we are talking about the pain that results from girls and boys being mean to each other. It is worth the effort to help children learn a better way of treating people. I, for one, would like to live in a world with a few less relational aggressive adults!

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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Why did you do that? I don’t know.

I could not begin to guess how many times I’ve asked one of my children or grandchildren “Why did you do that?” And the usual answer is “I don’t know.” While that may push one of my buttons, it is likely a truthful answer.

I learned a new phrase when listening to the podcast – executive functioning. That is the part of the brain last to develop and it has to do with reasoning, decision making, and assessing risks. Executive functioning is not well developed in preteens and teens. Well, that may not be “new” news to you but now you know the” why” behind some of your child’s behavior.

Don’t we all remember some of the stupid and dangerous things we did as preteens and teens? And do you cringe to think your child might be making some of the same choices? As parents we don’t have to just wait it out with fingers crossed until the teens grow up and the brains are more fully developed.

The experts in the podcast have two suggestions on how we can be engaged parents and help our children.

  1. If you are present and involved prior to your child making a decision, you can help her stop and think through the consequences. What will happen if I do this? What will happen if I do that?
  2. If you become involved after the fact, there is still an opportunity for learning. Talk with your child about the consequences of his action and why this perhaps wasn’t the best decision.

In simple words – we have multiple teaching and learning opportunities.  Do you have examples to share from your youth or with your child that show undeveloped executive functioning? How did you help turn it into a learning situation?

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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I’m Scared

Lori’s daughter was scared of costumed characters. I’m not fond of heights or water. Halloween costumes, TV characters, new experiences, the unknown. Any or all of these can scare a child. Being scared or having fears does not magically disappear as children grow into their teen years. And as adults we still have our share of fears.

However, children think differently from adults. Preschoolers and younger little ones can’t separate fantasy from the real world. School-agers can distinguish between fantasy and reality but may have trouble interpreting more subtle messages. Adults “get” the difference but that doesn’t always help.

So what to do – how do we help our children (and maybe each other) handle fears. Well to begin with, our fears depend on past experiences, imagination, and our general level of anxiety.

Don’t make fun of your child’s fears and try not to give lectures. Telling me there’s no reason to be scared of heights doesn’t make me feel any better. I still don’t like them. Accept fears as valid. Be supportive of your child with a matter-of-fact attitude and reassuring words. As a child gets older she will have a better understanding of cause and effect, reality and fantasy. And she is likely to have more experience with whatever is causing the fear. For example I’ve had many years of coming across heights and don’t get nearly as anxious.

Help your child learn some coping skills. In my case, I know to take deep breaths when I get into situations involving heights. Sometimes I can avoid the issue altogether. That’s an ok way to cope. So is picturing myself confidently crossing a tall bridge. Forcing your child into whatever scares him is probably not a good idea. That may just make things worse.

Comfort and common sense are two tools to put to use when dealing with fears – for children of all ages and adults too!

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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