Helping Our Kids with Friendship Challenges

How to Help Our Children with Social and Friendship Challenges

BY LIZ HAYMAN

It is normal and expected that as children mature and develop, they run into difficulties in friendships and social dynamics. Sometimes kids can be excluded or sometimes they can be the ones doing the excluding. It is very important that kids have support and guidance as they navigate the increasing complexity of relationships and friendships as they grow up. Learning skills of assertive and direct communication, self esteem, and self awareness take years to build, and are skills all of us as adults navigate and can struggle with at times. Here are some ideas for ways to help your child manage their social world.

Listen and Empathize

The first place to start when your child comes home upset is with listening and empathy. Of course, it is never easy to see your child sad or in pain, but if you can pause to really listen, your child will feel seen, heard, validated, and valued. This will also help them gain the ability to empathize with others, which will take them very far in social situations. What your child may need to hear initially is something like- "Wow, it sounds like you've had a really tough day, and you're feeling upset and sad. I can see how you might feel that way from what you're sharing with me."

Model Social Skills

Think about what your children might be picking up on from how you show up in your own friendships. It may be easy to talk badly about a friend or text them something that is probably better said in person. Kids watch this and take cues from you on how to be in friendships. Also, be careful of bad mouthing the other children that may be a part of their social challenges. This sends them the message that is it okay to talk badly about others rather than looking at a situation from multiple perspectives or working toward a win-win solution. Your children do not have to like or get along perfectly with every other child or classmate, but they do need to learn how to contribute to a respectful and harmonious community.

Role Play- Watch the Desire to "Fix"

It is so important that children feel empowered to address social struggles on their own. One way we as adults can support kids behind the scenes is to role play situations with them. You might pretend to be the challenging friend and have your child practice how they could try to assertively say something like, "Please stop that, it’s hurting my feelings." If as adults, we immediately go into "fix it" mode, children can get the message that they are not capable of working through these issues on their own, and they may avoid coming to us in the future with their struggles.

Encourage Multiple Friendships and Social Contexts

Whether or not in-school friendships are going well, kids need a variety of types of friendships and social situations. School social dynamics can sometimes begin to feel like a bit of a bubble, so it’s very helpful if your child has some social contact and opportunities to build friendships in places outside of school whether in groups, clubs, classes, or with local neighborhood friends. This can help build self esteem, especially in times when things at school are tough. Help encourage your child to think about branching out, including others, and practice interacting with a variety of children.

Here are a few other articles on this topic. Please feel free to reach out to me to talk about friendship challenges.

http://www.pbs.org/parents/expert-tips-advice/2018/11/5-strategies-to-help-kids-resolve-conflict/

http://www.pbs.org/parents/expert-tips-advice/2016/06/be-an-includer/

https://www.verywellfamily.com/help-your-child-deal-with-being-ostracized-460790


Tips for Helping Your Kids Navigate the World of Fortnite

BY LIZ HAYMAN

It will come as no surprise that games like Fortnite are here to stay. This game, as well as others, are extremely popular and are a major part of what it means to be a kid today. Despite having a Common Sense Media rating for ages 13 and up, we know that kids of many ages are playing this game. Every family has to make their own decisions about what is right for them in terms of how and when their kids play these types of games. Many parents find themselves in a dilemma with Fortnite because they don’t want their children to feel left out of what is such a cultural norm for kids right now, but also feel as though they may want to limit or prohibit use of this game. I’ve included an article at the end with one parent’s process of decision-making around this. Here are some of my thoughts and ideas about how parents can approach this topic with their children. 

Healthy Boundaries and Limits

Just like with the use of any technology, every family has to decide what the boundaries, expectations, and norms are for its use with their children. Games like Fortnite are highly engrossing and stimulating for kids, making it possible for them to be absorbed and entertained by it for long periods of time. This makes setting boundaries and limits absolutely necessary. It is so much easier to set boundaries on the front end rather than trying to put them in place once bad habits and patterns of excessive use have already been established. Talk with your children about when and how long they are allowed to play certain games and set screen-free times. Some families have a rule that the WiFi gets turned off at a certain time or have rules for weekday use. There are many options with this – feel free to reach out to me if you need help coming up with ideas on how to set these boundaries.

Reality versus Fantasy

Depending on many factors such as a child's age and development, the lines between fantasy and reality can become blurred for some children. Fortnite depicts gun violence, but not with the level of gore of other games intended for older children. For some kids, this could portray the idea that gun violence in real life is cartoon-like and inconsequential. The game also features a component of gloating through funny dances when you win the game. Make sure to have conversations with your kids about what might be happening in the game versus what is realistic and what is appropriate behavior in real life and that these two things are likely different. 

Be mindful of the good and bad aspects of social media like quality

Part of what kids love about Fortnite is the social component. They can play with their friends and also chat with them while playing. This can be a fun way of connecting if face to face interaction is not available. With this chat feature, there is the possibility of kids’ exposure to communication with strangers in an unmonitored and unmoderated way. This can be a potential safety issue with kids and something to be aware of in terms of what information your children are sharing while playing and with whom.

Remember that these games are designed to be addictive

There is a great deal of research out now about the high levels of smart phone/technology addiction. I imagine the majority of adults struggle with this on some level. As adults, we are generally intellectually aware of the issues that come as a result of being on our phones/screens/technology too much, and we still often have a hard time keeping this under control. Imagine how much more difficult this is for a child without the help and guidance of adults around them. Fortnite is designed to keep you playing and to keep you wanting more. I encourage you to find ways to help your child find balance and remember that this is only one small part of life that is fun and engaging. It is our job as the adults supporting these kids to ensure that they develop into balanced learners and people and that they have the ability to connect on many different levels.

Here are some other articles to explore on this topic:

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/parents-ultimate-guide-to-fortnite

https://www.understood.org/en/community-events/blogs/my-parent-journey/2019/01/04/why-im-torn-about-letting-my-son-with-adhd-play-video-games-like-fortnite

https://www.understood.org/en/community-events/blogs/expert-corner/2018/07/17/7-things-i-tell-parents-of-kids-with-adhd-or-social-skills-issues-about-fortnite

https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/add-adhd/at-a-glance-helping-kids-with-adhd-manage-screen-time

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/as-fortnite-blows-up-parents-need-to-up-their-game

 As always, feel free to reach out to me to talk further about any of this.

Bedtime Routines and Worry

BY LIZ HAYMAN

For both children and adults, good sleep is absolutely essential for navigating our day to day lives. As we all know, without adequate sleep, our ability to function in our lives is greatly impaired. Worry is often something that can get in the way of sleep for many reasons but one of them being that worry can show up most powerfully just as we are trying to get to sleep. One of the ways to combat this, especially with kids, is with a soothing bedtime routine. It is important that kids feel they have a space for their worry and for the adults around them to help them find ways for their bodies and minds to relax, so they are able to rest and sleep. Here are some ideas for creating a bedtime routine:

1) Have a routine!
It's important that bedtime be relatively predictable (without being rigid, of course). Set a general time that your child will go to bed. Check with your doctor about how many hours of sleep your child needs for their age. Create a general step by step nighttime routine, that is age appropriate, for what bedtime entails (read a story, brush teeth, turn out lights, etc.).

2) Create a “worry time”/ have a worry journal.
Often, when we lay our head on the pillow, our worries come rushing in, especially if we feel that there hasn't been time or space for them in our waking hours. Set a time to have a brief worry conversation with your child before bed or have your child keep a journal by his or her bed to write out worries before going to sleep. This helps kids to know that their worries will be attended to, so they can put them down to be able to sleep.

3) Try out some different soothing things as a part of a bedtime routine.
This is a place to get creative with your child about what can feel relaxing to start winding down before bed. This can look many different ways- an aromatherapy pillow spray, a cup of tea, a guided relaxation tape, calming music, etc. It helps to have something that cues the body that it is time to start to relax.

4) Wrap up stimulating activities in advance of going to sleep.
Things like watching TV, being on iPads/computers, and high energy play are stimulating activities. Try to wrap up these types of activities with some time before actual bedtime to help kids start to unwind. Replace this with some low energy activities and paper books, and be mindful that the books are relatively calming (Many kids like to read Harry Potter before bed- this is a pretty stimulating book!).

Feel free to reach out to me if you have questions about brainstorming ideas for bedtime routines.


The Power of Modeling

BY LIZ HAYMAN

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving break! The year is flying by here at MTS, and I can't believe we are already done with one trimester. I have really enjoyed getting to meet more of you, and I hope to get the chance to meet even more of you at upcoming parent coffees throughout the year. The first one will be next Tuesday, December 4th for parents of Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd graders about anxiety in young children.

Parents often ask me things like "How should I respond when my child does…? What should I say to my child about...? Of course, there are valuable thoughts, sets of guidance, and resources for these questions. The most powerful chance you have as a parent, however, to send the loudest, clearest message to your kids is what you yourself do, not what you say. I know this can be a hard message to hear because none of us is perfect or capable of modeling appropriate behavior all of the time. There is, however, opportunity in this imperfection, to model taking ownership of our mistakes and shortcomings. As you have probably heard many times, your kids are watching and learning how to navigate the world by how they see you navigate the world. There is tremendous opportunity and possibility in this. This gives you the ability to help your kids develop strong coping skills, cultivate close friendship connections where there is kindness and respect, and learn ways of taking care of themselves. Here are a few examples of how this might look:

  • Take deep breaths when you are stressed or overwhelmed, and tell your child that is what you are doing.

  • Strive to show kindness to strangers, as well as close friends and family, and handle conflict directly and respectfully.

  • When you make a misstep, talk your child through your process (in an age appropriate way). For example- "Wow, I just got frustrated and spoke in an unkind way to that cashier. That wasn't the best way of handling my emotions."

This article, Role Model the Behavior You Want to See From Your Kids, goes into more detail on this.

Also, a book I often recommend about this is called: Parenting from the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help you Raise Children Who Thrive.

I would be happy to talk further with any of you about this —  feel free to reach out. Happy December!


Introversion versus Social Anxiety

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BY LIZ HAYMAN

In recent years, there has been an increase in acknowledgment and awareness of what it means to be an introvert, especially in a world that tends to be inherently extroverted. In general, I think this increased understanding and recognition is wonderful as roughly half of the population is comprised of people who are introverts. I have noticed, however, that with this, there are some teens and young people who can be quick to proclaim themselves introverts as an explanation for certain challenges. Introversion may in fact be the case but there may be something like social anxiety happening as well that could be causing distress and the tendency to isolate. Here are some ways to distinguish introversion from social anxiety.

Both introverts and extroverts can be very social.

A common misconception about introverts versus extroverts is that extroverts are outgoing and social and introverts are not. Many introverts can be outgoing as well but the main difference between extroverts and introverts is where people get their energy. Extroverts feel energized by interacting with others whereas introverts get their energy and are able to recharge by quality alone time. It's important to understand if that alone time is for the purpose of recharging or if it is more about isolation and avoidance. Both extroverts and introverts need connection and friendship, but it will look different for each of these types. Introverts are likely to be drawn to fewer friendships but those friendships tend to be quite deep and close whereas extroverts are likely to enjoy many friendships, some of which may exist on a more acquaintance level. The thing to be mindful of with kids and teens is if they are isolating from all types of connection and social situations.

Both introverts and extroverts can have all types of anxiety.

Introversion and extroversion tend to be core personality traits that are a part of each of us from a very young age. Anxiety, on the other hand, can come and go throughout the life span based on many factors one of which is circumstances. If you notice a drastic change in your child where social avoidance or isolation is happening, this could be the result of an increased anxiety of some kind.

Introversion is about preference. Social anxiety is driven by extreme self consciousness.

Social anxiety is characterized by high levels of self consciousness, and fear and avoidance of social situations. People who struggle with social anxiety tend to also have challenges with self esteem and their sense of self. They can be quick to imagine that others are judging or making fun of them and can believe that all eyes are on them in a hypercritical way. In contrast, pure introversion includes the ability to navigate and enjoy social situations, but with a preference for smaller group or individual interaction as well as down time alone to recharge.

If you suspect your child may be struggling with some social anxiety or with how to navigate being an introvert, let's find a time to chat and talk further. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions. A wonderful book that I recommend is "Thriving with Social Anxiety: Daily Strategies for Overcoming Anxiety and Building Self Confidence" by Hattie C. Cooper.


Managing Anxiety and Pink Elephants

Hello parents and community of MTS,

We're off to a great school year and September has flown by. This month I thought I would send out a tidbit on how to help kids with worry and self-criticism. I have often seen in the course of my work over the last few years that worry, anxiety, and negative thinking are on the rise in kids and young adults. Developmentally, this can be a critical time for establishing good coping skills in order to combat the stress and pressure this can create. It can be difficult for kids to grasp the idea that they do in fact have control over their thoughts and that they are capable of shifting their thoughts to something more positive and beneficial.

Here is a fun exercise (it includes pink elephants!) you can do with your kids to give them an experience of their ability to change their thoughts. I'd love to hear how this goes if you try it out with your kids at home and as always feel free to reach out to me with any questions or concerns.

Link to Article: Don’t Think of Pink Elephants! – The Secret to Replacing Negative Thinking With Brave Thinking

Liz Hayman
School Counselor

Introducing Liz Hayman, School Counselor

Hello parents and families,

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My name is Liz Hayman, and I am thrilled to introduce myself as the new school counselor here at MTS. I'm very much looking forward to getting to know all of you and to being part of, and a support to, this community.

I wanted to share a little bit about me and my hopes and goals for this position. I am a licensed marriage and family therapist and have been working as a therapist around the Bay Area for the last nine years. I have been in many settings including hospitals, schools, and health clinics and have worked with all ages from toddlers to end-of-life care in hospice settings. I am also certified in Parent Child Interaction Therapy, which is a model that helps coach parents on how to increase positive interactions with their children. I am very passionate about supporting families in what is undoubtedly the hardest job in the world, parenting. I also run my own private practice in San Francisco seeing children, adult individuals, families, and couples.

I hope to be a proactive presence and a resource for the MTS community. To that end, I look forward to scheduling grade-level based parent meetings and providing other communication throughout the year. I can be reached by email- lhayman@mttam.org or by phone- 415-383-9434 extension 201, and I will be on campus all day Tuesdays, from 10-2 on Wednesdays, and 10:30-1:30 on Thursdays.

I look forward to meeting all of you and to a great year! Thank you!

Liz Hayman
School Counselor