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Tips for Common Issues

Friendship

Making and keeping friends is an important skill that we all need to have. If your child is having trouble making friends, here are a few tips:

How to Make Friends:
  1. Smile a lot.
  2. Look people in their eyes when they are talking.
  3. Use a friendly voice.
  4. Use an inside voice.
  5. Join games and let others join, too. Use some of these words:
    "May I play, too?"
    "When you have finished this game, may I play, too?"
    "What would you like to play?"
    "I'll share with you."
    "Would you like a turn?"
    "Congratulations on winning!"
  6. Say nice things to other people about how well they did something or how nice they look. Use some of these words:
    "I like your haircut."
    "You did a great job on the spelling test."
    "You are really good at playing basketball. Good shot!"
    "I like your shoes. They are really cool."
    "I like you because you always play fair."
  7. Treat other people just like you want them to treat you!

How to Keep Your Friends:

  1. Smile a lot.
  2. Say only nice things about your friends. Never say mean things to them.
  3. All friends argue once in a while. Don't stop being someone's friend just because you disagree about something.
  4. Never say mean things about your friend to others because what you say will always get back to your friend.
  5. Let your friend have other friends. You do not own your friends. You share your friends.
  6. Tell your friend that even if you argue, you still like him/her.
  7. Don't ever tell other people whom to play with. That is their business, not yours.
  8. Take turns picking a game and take turns going first.
  9. Don't ever boss your friend around. You wouldn't want them to do that to you.
  10. TREAT OTHER PEOPLE JUST LIKE YOU WANT THEM TO TREAT YOU!
Resource: Schmidt, Rebecca. Counselors' Pages. 2006 MAR*CO PRODUCTS, INC.

Grief

Grief is a hard thing to help children or adults with because we naturally want to make the situation better, but the grieving person needs to be allowed to be sad and process his/her thoughts and feelings. We all feel sad at some time in our lives, and children need to know that it is okay for them to feel sadness. It is also important for children to see adults express sadness; this helps them to know that it is completely normal.

There are several myths that our society often tells us about grieving that are not helpful:
  1. "Don't feel bad" - This statement is not okay because they do feel bad and telling them to feel different than they actually feel often causes children to think that it is not okay to be sad.
  2. "Replace the loss" - Trying to help the grieving person, we often try to replace the loss; such as, "Your dog died; we'll buy you a new one on Saturday." The problem with this line of thinking is that every relationship is unique; there can never be another relationship that is exactly the same as the one that was lost, whether that relationship was with a person, animal, place, or thing.
  3. "Grieve alone" - When children are grieving, they need to know that caring adults are there for them. Children dealing with grief need to have adults that they can talk with about their feelings, wishes, concerns, and memories.
  4. "Be Strong" - We send our children the message that they need to be strong, "don't cry," or move on. We often send our children this message, by "being strong for them." They need to see that we feel sad and how we appropriately deal with it. 
  5. "Time heals all wounds" - While it does take time to process and work through a loss, just ignoring the loss for an extended period of time will not make the pain go away. Children (and adults) need to be able to talk about the loss and communicate their feelings with a trusted adult.
  6. "Keep busy" - When a loss has been experienced, we may be tempted to keep ourselves and our children so busy that we do not have time to think about the loss. The problem with this idea is that the pain does not go away until we have dealt with it. Keeping busy just keeps us from thinking about it until we eventually have to slow down, and then the pain is still there.
Children experience many losses, and they can experience grief with each one. We should never compare losses because we "experience each loss at 100%." Each loss is unique, and we should never minimize a person's feelings about a loss. Some common losses that children experience are:
  • Death of a pet
  • Death of a grandparent
  • Moving
  • Death of a parent
  • Parents' divorce
  • Changing schools
  • Parent incarcerated 
  • Friend moving away
  • Serious illness of a family member
These are just a few of the losses that children may experience during childhood. If your children have experienced one or more of these losses, allow them to feel sad, express that you are sorry for their loss, and allow them to talk about what they wish had been different or memories that they have. It also may be helpful for children to write a "completion letter," which is a letter written to the person or pet that is gone, expressing apology, forgiveness, wishes, or feelings. This allows children to "say" anything that was left unsaid to the person or pet who is gone. After writing the letter, children should be encouraged to read their letter out loud to a trusted adult.

*These thoughts about grief came from the book "When Children Grieve: For Adults to Help Children Deal with Death, Divorce, Pet Loss, Moving, and Other Losses," by John James & Russell Friedman

Communication

Communication is an essential part of our lives, and without good communication skills, we will most likely have trouble in our relationships and dealings with other people.
One key component of good communication is Listening. We can talk to one another without listening, but we cannot effectively communicate without taking time to listen to what the other person has to say. The steps to listening are the following:
  • Look at the person who is talking
  • Don't talk while the person is talking
  • Have your body facing the person talking and lean in so he/she knows that you are listening
  • Keep your body still
  • Think about what the person is saying instead of thinking about what you are going to say in response
Ask questions about what the person said to show that you were paying attentionAnother important part of good communication is using "I" statements. When communicating your feelings, it is more effective to state how you are feeling instead of accusing the other person of doing something wrong. If a child feels angry that his sister will not share, it would be more effective to say, "I feel angry when you won't share with me because it looks like you are having so much fun," instead of saying, "You never share with me, and it's not fair." An "I" statement puts the focus on how you are feeling, whereas using the word "you" comes across as accusatory.

Anger Management

Anger is a feeling that everyone experiences at some point in their lives. Anger is not a "bad" feeling, but many people handle their angry feelings in inappropriate ways. There are many appropriate ways to deal with anger for adults and for children. Not every anger management technique will work for every person, but it is important to try different ones until you find one that works for you. The following are healthy ways to deal with angry feelings:

  • Talk to someone that you trust about your feelings
  • Write/draw/color about your feelings
  • Walk away from the situation/person that is making you angry until you can calm down
  • Listen to calming music
  • Take deep breaths
  • Exercise
  • Take a time out/rest
  • Do something creative
  • Play with a pet
  • Do something fun/play
Many times when children are angry, they do not know what to do with their feelings. If you notice that they are starting to get angry, it may be effective to tell them, "I can tell that you are getting angry, why don't you try _________ to help you calm down." 

Sadness

Unfortunately sadness is a part of life. Things happen in our lives that are hurtful or disappointing, and they create sadness for us and our children. One of the most important things that you can do for your children if they are sad is to be there for them. Allow them to tell you about what is causing them to feel sad; even if what is causing their sadness seems silly, remember that it most likely seems very big to them. The following are some suggestions for helping you or your children deal with sadness:
  • Talk to someone that you trust
  • Write/draw/color about your feelings
  • Do something that makes you laugh 
  • Do something fun/play (children work through life's issues through play)
  • Hug/play with a pet
  • Create a memory box if the sadness is in relation to a loss
  • Listen to uplifting music
  • Be outside in the sunshine
  • Do something creative
  • Focus on the positives/try to look at the situation in a positive way
  • Exercise

Bullying

What should you do if your child tells you that he/she is being bullied? One of the first things to do is to listen to your child and help him/her determine if he/she is being bullied or having a conflict with another student. A conflict is when two individuals are not getting along, fighting, disagreeing, or arguing with one another. Bullying is when one individual who has more power or strength then another is intentionally being mean to the other person, even though unprovoked. If your child is being bullied, the following are some things that you can do:
  • Be supportive and listen to your child
  • Encourage your child to assertively tell the bully to "Leave me alone, or I will tell a teacher."
  • Encourage your child to tell whatever adult is on duty
  • Encourage your child to stay with groups of friends (bullies are less likely to pick on a group of children)
Even if your child has never been bullied, it is important to encourage our children to look for students that may be being bullied and stand up for them in an appropriate way and befriend them.