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How to help your child get through the loss of a beloved companion

Boy and turtle

There comes a time when most parents must deal with the inevitable - the death of a beloved family pet. This occurrence is even more painful when the pet is the particular companion of a young child. Your son or daughter likely grew very attached to its turtle, gerbil, cat or dog and now the beloved pet is gone - a harsh reality for a young mind.

When this very real part of childhood occurs, it’s best to be prepared, so that you as the parent are able to calm and comfort your child while they go through the grieving process. While this is a difficult time, it is possible to get through it with your son or daughter understanding and accepting this very real part of life.

Following are five tips for parents on how to help their child manage the death of a pet.

When Your Child’s Pet Dies - Top 5 Tips For Parents

1) Acknowledge the Loss - It hurts. The death of a child’s pet is a painful experience and is one that often comes as a shock to those unaccustomed to the reality of death. As this is likely the first instance in his or her experience of losing something he/she loves, the reality of what has occurred will hit hard. For a child that has lost its animal companion, it can be all-consuming as well as confusing. Recognizing and acknowledging the pain that your son or daughter is experiencing, and providing comfort while they grieve is one of the first steps towards helping your child through this difficult time. Being there and recognizing your child’s feelings will help them get through it.

2) Leave Time For Grief - Just as with people, pets can’t be replaced. Sure, you can get a new dog, cat or gerbil, but a new animal can never take the place of the one that’s died. For this reason, it’s important to take some time for your child to grieve and reflect on the loss of the pet. While the impulse may be there to soothe your child’s pain, don’t jump in and get another pet right away. Kids need to be allowed to mourn the loss of their pet and realize that while their companion can’t be exactly replaced, a new pet can still bring joy - in time.

3) Give it a Proper Send-Off -  The rituals attached to death shouldn’t end with humans. Ceremonies are important, even if they’re small. Whether it’s a fish, a hamster or a larger pet, giving it a proper goodbye will allow your child to understand that the ritual involved is all part of the process and can often help with healing.

4) Talk Honestly About Death - While it’s a difficult time for your child, the death of a beloved companion can also provide parents with the opportunity to talk about the reality that all living things eventually die. Teaching a child that this sad occurrence is a normal part of life may be hard, but it’s an experience that we all have to deal with at some time in our lives. The loss of a pet can open the door to a difficult topic of discussion but one that is needed and necessary. Answering questions about death can give your child a greater understanding about this reality as well as an opportunity to calm his or her fears.

5) Create Memories With Child - “Gone but not forgotten.” While death is a difficult lesson to learn, children can also be taught that the loss of a loved one - pet or otherwise -  doesn’t mean that the loved one will be forgotten. Memories live on, an important lesson to teach your child in the face of their loss. Help them honour their beloved pet by putting together a scrapbook, photo album, or other memento that represents a permanent tribute to their companion.

How have you dealt with the death of a family pet? What additional tips would you provide to parents who are going through this with their children? Leave me your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Image courtesy of http://www.everydayfamily.com

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How much freedom should a child be given, and at what age?

Where do we draw the line?

Where do a parent’s right to making a decision about their child or children end and the rest of the world’s responsibilities begin?

Working from the assumption that most of us have the best interest of children in mind, does that give us the right to butt in where we don’t belong?

I wish the answer to this question was simple but recent headlines and a growing trend towards “Helicopter Parenting” doesn’t give me much hope.

You may have heard about this story:

Maryland Family Under Investigation For Letting Their Children Walk Home Alone

The crime? Maryland parents Danielle and Alexander Meitiv allowed their children, aged 6 and 10, to walk home alone from a playground, not far from their home, in the middle of the afternoon one recent Saturday.

 child walking home

For many who subscribe to the philosophy of “Free-Range Parenting,”  it was seen as the most normal thing in the world: an opportunity for these parents to teach their children a bit of independence and self-reliance in what they felt was a safe scenario. For others, many whom may be considered “Helicopter Parents,” it was cause for considerable alarm and for some, enough for them to call the police and child protective services.

Both camps believe that they’re in the right - and that the other is woefully misguided. Each camp believes that the other is doing irreparable harm to the children due to the choices of the children’s parents. Sadly, the kids are often the ones who suffer as they are either monitored so closely that they never gain the confidence required for true independence, or they are left to their own devices - too much so - which in itself may lead to trouble.

Is it okay to let a child walk to the park and home alone, or with a younger sibling? How old is it when it becomes okay? What age is too young?

For the record, I think that the treatment of these parents is beyond harsh and alarming. If anything, they are doing what we all try to do as parents - teach their children to have confidence in their decisions, to be fearless and to be independent. Isn’t that what we all want for our kids?

Now, perhaps my perspective is coloured by the fact that I was also raised by “Free-Range Parents,” except they didn’t know that that’s what they were doing.

As a child of the ’70’s, I spent many a day, evening and summer vacation going to the park by myself or with friends, walking to the corner store alone, riding my bicycle without a helmet (no one else wore helmets, either) and coming home after school alone, with a key to let myself in. Yes, I was alone, in my home and no, I wasn’t a teen yet. I had to call my mother (who was at work), from our landline (there were no cell phones, email, texting or Google then and we all managed to survive) and I watched the Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island until my parents got home from work. I even made myself snacks and used the stove. I was a responsible kid and my parents trusted me. Oh - and all of my friends were “Free-Range Kids” as well, as raised by their parents. The “Helicopter Parents” of later decades had not yet made their mark.

Nowadays, I’m sure my loving parents would be reported as being negligent, and perhaps be arrested for their perceived neglect. Yet they were anything but. They loved and cared about me and were able to gauge my maturity level as they meted out a bit more responsibility and independence to me every time I proved that I was worthy of their trust. They provided me with the tools, skills and independence I needed to become a fairly confident and well-balanced adult. This type of parenting isn’t neglectful; if anything it shows a keen desire to help a child to gain the skills that they will need as an adult.

Yet we are now in a different era and parents like Danielle and Alexander Meitiv are under the spotlight for their perceived neglect.

I had the pleasure of participating in a Huffington Post Live segment on this very topic that featured Ms. Meitiv herself, along with Julie Gunlock and Lisa LaGrou, both moms who, like me, were united in our thoughts surrounding how Ms. Meitiv is being treated regarding her decision.

You can watch the full Huffington Post Live segment below.

Huffington Post Live - Under Arrest For Letting Your Kids Be Independent?

What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you believe in “Free-Range Parenting?” Was it necessary to call in the authorities on this parent regarding her decision to let her children walk home alone? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Image courtesy of http://www.telegraph.co.uk

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Top 5 Tips to Help You Send Your Child Off to School For the First Time

first day of school

For parents whose kids are entering Kindergarten for the first time, the stakes are high. Not necessarily for the child but oftentimes more so for the parents. Having been home with their son or daughter for a number of years makes the prospect of sending them off to school particularly anxiety-inducing. Though their kids may have gone to selected preschool classes, play groups or similar social situations, Kindergarten signifies “the big leagues.”

For first-time parents, there is often anxiety, fear and stress felt by the prospect being away from their child and relinquishing responsibility to someone other than themselves. The unknown - in this case a classroom, other kids and a new teacher - can feel particularly daunting.

I’ve written about the first day of school before from the perspective of the child but realize that oftentimes, it’s the parents who need some support and encouragement. Below are some simple tips for those who are facing the prospect of sending their child or children off to school for the first time.

Sending Your Child to School For the First Time - Top 5 Tips For Parents

1) Your Kids Will Be Fine - Kids are a lot more resilient than we think. Surprisingly, they often step up to the challenge and thrive when they’re beyond the protective gaze of their parents. Have faith in both your child and the teachers who understand the anxiety felt by both parents and children. They’ve been there before, and know how to support your child in feeling comfortable, safe and ultimately excited about being in school. By the end of the day, they’ll have stories to tell, artwork to show you and introductions to their new friends (to you!) to make.

2) Tears Are Normal - Yes, they may flow at the prospect of leaving you. Take that as a given. Also realize that the tears will stop as soon as your child enters the classroom and sees the whole new world that is opened up to them at school. Art, reading, writing and toys await and you will be but a distant memory (in a good way of course) while your child ventures into the (relatively) grown-up world of Kindergarten.

3) A Blankie or Teddy Goes a Long Way - Yes, you’ve been your child’s security blanket for so long but when they start school, they’ll need something to keep them going during the day. Don’t underestimate the importance of your child having their favourite special item, whether it’s a blanket, sleep toy or doll. Having such an item with them during their first venture into the school environment will make their day so much easier.

4) Independence is a Good Thing - This is a first step for your child towards independence. And while it may be a difficult one for both of you, it’s an important and positive milestone in their life. Being able to separate from their parents is key to gaining a strong sense of ability as well as self-confidence. And as much as it may be difficult to push them out of the proverbial nest, it’s ultimately in their best interest. Today, Kindergarten, tomorrow - the world!

5) Get Educated - Fear of the unknown often adds to our stress and anxiety and sending our kids off into “The Great Unknown” - in this case, school - is no different. Assuage your fears about the first day of school through your own education of what will occur. Just as your child will be learning in the classroom, you too can learn everything you need to know about your child’s curriculum before they begin the formal learning process. Where possible, contact the school, meet and/or speak with your child’s new teacher(s) and familiarize yourself with the class schedule. You’l feel better and more confident about your child’s new adventure once you have all of your questions answered.

Are you feeling stressed about sending your child to school for the first time? Or, do you have any additional tips that can make the transition smoother? Tell me about them in the comments section below.

 Image courtesy of www.chfi.com

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Kids: It’s Okay To Give Up

by Samantha on March 27, 2014

i give up
We all know the story of the little engine who thought he could.

“I think I can, I think I can” he repeated until, overcoming a great obstacle, he did. The moral of the story? That positive thinking and a will to succeed is all that is needed to achieve a goal.

While this may indeed be the case much of the time, there is an equally compelling perspective that supports an opposing ideology: that it’s okay to think you can’t do something and, accordingly, it’s okay to give up.

Gasp.

A radical thought for any of us who have grown up with the increasingly popular and optimistic perspective that a person - a child in particular - can do whatever they set out their minds to do.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m certainly no pessimist and for the most part, subscribe to the tenets of positive thinking, supportive parenting and the belief that “mind over matter” can overcome the most challenging of scenarios. That being said, I’m also a realist and have wondered how much collective harm we are doing to our kids by telling them that they can succeed at whatever they set their minds to achieving. After all, by the time most people have reached adulthood, they are keenly aware that they can’t do everything that they set out to do - and oftentimes, it’s not the smartest decision to even attempt trying.

As parents, we’re often scared that the decisions that we make on behalf of our children will be bad ones - that we’ll mess them up by not supporting everything that they desire and want, in spite of themselves. We quote proverbs such as “if first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” all the while knowing in our heart of hearts - sadly - that our kids will likely fail at a the particular task at hand. Yet we continue to ease them along, saying “you can do it!” and similar supportive words. Sometimes they do do it and exceed our wildest expectations. Oftentimes, however, they don’t, which should give us pause that we wasted their time and ours on what we knew was an impossible or highly improbable task at hand. Was it better that we showed them our support even though we knew the probable outcome, or would it have been a more prudent decision to have been honest with them from the outset, saving them from wasting time and worse - the inevitable disappointment of failure?

A difficult question for sure, but most of us know the answer. Realistically, it makes a lot of sense to teach our kids the importance of “cutting one’s losses” when need be as opposed to supporting their ride on a continual treadmill with no end or success in sight. There are certainly lessons to be learned about perseverance and tenacity but aren’t lessons about knowing when to call it a day and not wasting one’s time equally important?

With our collective guilt being the determining factor for our silence, we’re doing our children more harm than good. After all - there will come a time when our kids are no longer in our purview and will have to deal with the spectre of failure outside the loving support system offered by their parents. Sometimes, such lessons are even more painful in the stark light of day in full view of those who may not be as tactful in addressing such failures.

Being a good parent isn’t always about supporting your child in their endeavours no matter what. Being a good parent is about teaching your child the importance of good judgement and more importantly about having realistic expectations about what one can likely and realistically achieve. For these and many other reasons, don’t feel guilty next time you want to tell your child to throw in the towel.

To read this article on HUFFINGTON POST, click here

 


Image courtesy of http://www.radicallychristian.com/

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CBC RADIO INTERVIEW: Back to School Stress

by Samantha on September 10, 2013

back to school stress

The lazy,  hazy days of summer have passed and the kids have returned to school.

It may be “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” for parents but for kids, this is not necessarily the case.

More often than not, back to school signals the beginning of a very stressful time.

Regardless of age or grade, returning to school can be anxiety-causing, to say the least. Between homework, bullies and the fear of not succeeding in class, is it any wonder that our kids are stressed-out? And don’t fool yourselves: this anxiety is not only the domain of the young. Older kids - teens and university or college-bound students - have their fair share of worry about what the coming semester will bring as well. For those going off to university and living in residence for the first time, “back to school” is a whole other ball of wax, and a stressful one at that.

I returned to CBC’s studios to discuss this subject and provide some simple advice and tips for parents and kids who are dealing with back to school stress. Following is the audio of the full interview as well as some of the questions and answers that were discussed (click to listen).

Back to School Stress - How to Help Kids Deal With Anxiety

1) What are some of the key causes of back-to-school stress for kids?

There are many but some of the ones that seem to cause the most stress are the spectre of homework and studying, bullies/bullying, separation anxiety for younger kids and for middle school and high school kids, peer pressure and popularity.

2) Things move fast in this day and age—do you think today’s kids are more stressed than in previous years?

I think that kids today have a lot more on their plates. We live in an information age and as a result, they have information coming to them from a multitude of different sources. In some ways this can add fuel to the fire as they have more input on how things may or may not work out well, regardless of whether or not it’s true. Add to this the very real problem of cyberbullying by school peers and it’s no wonder that some kids are stressed.

3) How does back to school anxiety and stress manifest itself for kids of different ages and grades?

There are many factors that add to kids stress, and they’re different for each age and grade. For elementary school kids, some of their primary fears are separation anxiety (kindergarten and first-graders), homework, studying, fear of the unknown, and having to deal with the structure of a full day of school. Gone are the lazy dog days of summer and that’s a hard lesson to experience for some kids. For middle and high school students, cyberbullying is unfortunately a very real problem, as the Internet, digital communication and social media makes it very easy to bully and tease certain classmates. Older kids also worry about their grades, making the track or soccer team or other extra-curricular activities that are important to them. One other issue is sleep - older kids often have difficulty getting back into a scheduled routine where they have to get up early and head out the door for school. Ironically, worrying about sleep often results in not being able to sleep.

4. You’re a mother yourself…how challenging is it to get your kids to TALK to you about their school-related anxieties?

It’s challenging, alright. My twin boys are 4 and just started Kindergarten, so my husband and I had a good talk with them about what to expect. We toured the classroom before they started last week, so they were pretty prepared. As well, they’ve been in daycare so they’re not completely immune to the whole “structured” environment of school. My nine-year-old daughter was feeling somewhat anxious, more about being prepared for the first day, not knowing who her teacher was or classmates were, that type of thing. Again, I found that being open and creating an environment where she could voice her stresses was really helpful. We talked through all of the various things that were on her mind well before school started so by the time the first day back rolled around, she was excited, not scared.

5) What can parents do to alleviate some of the anxiety and stresses associated with going back to school?

There are a number of things that parents can do. Firstly, parents of stressed kids should talk to their children and make themselves available to hear their children’s concerns and fears. Sometimes just knowing that your parent is taking the time to listen can be a huge help to kids. As well, parents can take some concrete steps to alleviate fear of the unknown - for younger kids, taking the kids to school and speaking to the teacher about what’s on the curriculum agenda for the school year can help. Parents can then discuss homework or class work plans and expectations and listen to their kids concerns, perhaps offering solutions in the process. Preparing your kids for their days in school, whether that means helping them stock their knapsack, planning their wardrobe or helping them with homework - all of these actions show the child that their parents care and that they’re there for their kids during this stressful time. Finally, teaching a child to trust their own abilities and to be confident in who they are - this is key to kids ultimately being able to handle any situation that’s put in front of them. Learning how to mitigate feelings of stress and anxiety through active mindfulness - whether it’s meditation in the classical sense, or just supporting the child having some quiet “down time” will do wonders for the child’s overall sense of well-being, regardless of their age. Recent studies in the U.K. have shown that teaching kids mindfulness techniques to be used in the classroom have been successful in addressing kids’ anxiety and stress.

6) How about teachers? What are their responsibilities in alleviating their students’ stress?

Most teachers want to have a classroom full of anxiety-free kids, so I know that they do their part to make it as comfortable as possible. Similar to what parents are doing, teachers can create an open and welcoming environment in the classroom that encourages kids to discuss their feelings and concerns. As well, teachers can facilitate a classroom where two-way communication and interactivity amongst students and with the teacher is the standard. Doing so will go a long way in making the kids feel comfortable and less anxious.

7. We haven’t talked about the stress that college and university students can face…especially first year students. They’re often some distance from home. Any thoughts on how parents can help in these situations?

Again - fear is of the unknown is often the reason behind feelings of anxiety and stress. Not unlike the strategies used with younger kids, older students can benefit from having discussions with their parents as well. If first-year students are in residence and living away from home for the first time, make yourself available to them - perhaps more available than you usually would. They may already be in their new dorm room and feeling stress, so keep those lines of communication open. Skype, Google Hangouts, Face Time - these are all technological tools that allow parents and kids to remain connected over distance. As well, help your child research their support options at their actual school. These may include guidance counsellors, peer or student groups or similar community resources. A lot of colleges and universities set up student support groups and assign student leaders to shepherd the new students through the first few weeks. Help your child find these resources and always let them know that you’re there for them, in spite of the distance.
What strategies do you recommend for alleviating back to school stress with your kids? What works best? Provide your suggestions in the comments section below.

 Image courtesy of www.cbc.ca

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Courtesy and Kindess Are Currently Unavailable

September 17, 2012

If you have kids and have gone through potty training, then you know that even when they’re more or less on the other side of the Pull-Up spectrum, you’re not completely out of the woods for some time. Kids aged three to five have remarkably small bladders and an even smaller window of time between […]

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How to Get Your Child to Do Their Homework - Top 6 Tips

September 10, 2012

Okay, so now that we’ve gotten past the “first day of school” jitters and “back to school shopping” it’s time to pull up our bootstraps, buckle down and get going with the school year. Your child has settled into some semblance of a routine even if you haven’t, and it’s quite likely that they’re now […]

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Preparing Your Child For the First Day of School - Top 7 Tips

August 24, 2012

Ease your child’s back to school anxiety with these simple tips The first day of school is just around the corner and parents and children everywhere are preparing anxiously for their big moment. This is especially the case for children who are going to school for the first time. The thought of school with “big […]

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The Unkindess of Strangers

June 27, 2012

Whatever happened to the kindness of strangers? She was about 25, 5’3 and stout. She had three boys, approximately aged six, four and three. She was stressed. Could you blame her? Standing in the checkout line at Walmart recently, my heart went out to this woman who could have been me. Or you. Her kids […]

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To Pee or Not To Pee: That is the Question

August 15, 2011

My modern-day homage to William Shakespeare. If you are a literary purist, my sincere apologies in advance. Image courtesy of http://shakespeare.mit.edu/ To Pee or Not To Pee: That is the Question To pee, or not to pee, that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The puddles and poops of outrageous fortune, […]

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