Category Archives: 4. The Growing Child

From age 4 to age 9.

Medical Reasons for Fear of the Dark

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Being scared of the dark is a widespread nighttime issue for young children, and in the great majority of the time, the root of this fear is grounded in a very active imagination with only a budding, limited ability to reason. But, in some occurrences, the fear of the dark can actually point to a more serious, chronic medical reason requiring the attention of a health professional.

Medically significant sleep disorders in preschool and school-age children, and teens, include:

  • Earaches – Sleeping is uncomfortable with an ear infection because the change in position creates increased pressure.
  • Asthma – A nighttime cough is a common symptom of asthma, as is if your child wakes up crying and unable to breathe normally.
  • Parasites – Pinworms, which are tiny and thread-like worms on the bottom, are active at night and cause itchiness.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea – Sometimes, enlarged tonsils or adenoids in the throat partially obstruct the airway, causing the child to stop breathing temporarily.
  • Bed-wetting – Children as old as 12 can have difficulty not wetting the bed at night, due to physical development of the bladder and bladder muscles as well as immaturity in the part of the brain that communicates when it’s time to empty the bladder.
  • Restless legs syndrome – “Creepy,” crawling sensations may affect the legs or the arms.
  • Periodic limb movement disorder – Usually affecting the legs, there is an overwhelming feeling that the limbs must be moved several times throughout the night, as often as every 30 seconds.
  • Stationary night blindness – An inability to see at all in the dark, the eyes never actually adjust to the dark.

AP Teaches Assertiveness

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Most parents who practice Attachment Parenting (AP) aren’t concerned about their children becoming bullies. After all, the goal of AP is to teach children empathy, compassionate, and respect for others – qualities not usually afforded to bullies. But some AP parents may be concerned that their child could become the target of a bully.

In the Spring 2008 issue of Attachment Parenting International’s The Journal of API, in the “Ask the Founders” feature, API Co-founder Lysa Parker answered a question from a parent about her three-year-old son being the target of bullying by his playmates. This mother’s concern was that his friends were mistaking her son’s kindness and sensitivity for weakness. Parker recommended that the mother use the situation to teach her son and his friends about friendship and how their actions can be hurtful. Parker also said, at this age, talking with the bullies’ parents would be appropriate.

As this boy grows older, the mother does need to teach him how to deal with bullying, Parker said – which can start now: “When your son runs to you for help, he is communicating his need for support, but he also needs to be empowered by learning the words to say to express his feelings.”

This advice is right on target, according to a 1997 article from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, “Teaching Children Not to Be, or Be Victims of, Bullies,” reprinted on the Focus Adolescent Services website www.focusas.com: “The key to promoting positive interactions among young children is teaching them to assert themselves effectively. Children who express their feelings and needs, while respecting those of others will be neither victims nor aggressors.”

AP Prevents Bullying

AP parents, while they may be concerned, are a step ahead of non-AP parents in preventing bullying. As outlined in API’s Eight Principles of Parenting, responding with sensitivity is a critical component of AP. By responding to our infants’ cries, we teach them to trust us as their caregivers and to trust themselves as communicators of their needs.

As children grow, we gradually learn how to let our children become more independent, at their own pace, by watching for their cues. We can encourage them to make their own choices, and therefore learn to become confident in themselves and their abilities, by beginning to allow toddlers to choose what they wear, what game or activity to play next, and so on.

With older children and teens, we can help them discover their talent and develop skills in an area of interest, and let them begin to make larger decisions for themselves, both of which add to a healthy self esteem.

In all of these ways, parents provide their children with tools to thwart bullying incidents.

“Adults must show children that they have the right to make choices – in which toys they play with, or what they wear and what they eat,” according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children article. “The more children trust and value their own feelings, the more likely they will be to resist peer pressure, to respect warm and caring adults, and to be successful in achieving their personal goals.”

How to Teach Assertiveness

The best way to teach assertiveness is by modeling it and accepting it from your children. Parents need to remember that assertiveness is not the same thing as aggression. Instead, as outlined in The-Self-Improvement-Zone’s article “Teach Your Children to Be Assertive” on www.improvementtower.com, assertive behaviors communicate:

  • No one has the right to make me feel guilty, foolish, or ignorant.
  • I do not need to make excuses for everything I do, although I do need to be accountable to my immediate family and close relatives and myself.
  • I am allowed to change my mind, and not feel bad about it.
  • It is not necessarily my fault if things go wrong.
  • I do not have to know everything, it is OK to say “I don’t know,” and I shouldn’t feel inferior because of that.
  • No one is perfect, and it is not the end of the world if I make a mistake.
  • Not everyone has to be my friend, and there is nothing wrong with me if someone doesn’t like me.
  • If I don’t understand something, it’s OK and I shouldn’t feel inferior.
  • I don’t have to prove myself to anyone else.
  • I don’t need to be perfect, rather I should strive to just be myself.

Social Skills are Key

Besides teaching these attitudes to their children, parents can also help their children improve their social skills through role-playing to practice social conversation and teach children how to initiate and sustain conversation through both asking and responding to questions and careful listening.

“Teaching them social skills is the first step to making them more comfortable in just about any given situation,” according The-Self-Improvement-Zone. “The more comfortable they feel in these situations, the easier they will learn how to be assertive. The better they understand themselves, the more they will know and articulate their needs.”

Learning How to Handle Frustration Important, Too

Another area where children may need help is in learning how to handle frustration. Parents should teach their children not to use anger as a tool for asserting themselves, as anger creates negative reactions in other people and contributes to communication breakdown. Parents themselves – especially in response to tantrums, hitting, and breaking toys – should never use yelling and punishment as forms of discipline. Instead of anger, parents can teach children how to work out a win-win compromise when appropriate, and when not appropriate, how to relax and let the situation bother them less.

“Keep in mind that the only way you will be able to teach your children how to assert themselves is by learning how to be assertive yourself,” according The-Self-Improvement-Zone. “It is up to you, as the adult, to set the example for your child. No means no. You do not need to become a doormat to ensure that your child becomes assertive. Be a good role model for your children. Children learn what they see and experience. If you are assertive and fair, they will learn to become one, too.”

The best way to teach assertiveness is by modeling it and accepting it from your children.

Discouraging School-Age Children and Teens from Junk Food

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Sadly, the challenge of encouraging your child to eat nutritiously doesn’t get any easier as he grows. As they become more independent thinkers, school-aged children and teens are exposed to more people modeling unhealthy behaviors: their peers and friends, other adults in the community, television commercials, even school vending machines promoting quick, easy, and tasty sweets and fatty foods.

Role models don’t have to openly discourage eating nutritiously; ignoring healthy options and choosing junk food first is powerful persuasion.

As children grow, eventually what peers teach begins to compete with the importance of parental guidance. But, in a family that values strong parent-child attachments, the parent will continue to be the top role model. So, even if your teen’s friends are choosing candy bars and pop over healthy snacks and beverages, she’s still learning most of her life lessons from what’s going on at home.

Here are a few ways parents can positively influence their children’s food choices:

  • Lead by example – Your child, even a teen, is learning how to live life by watching what you do and doing it, so if you’re snacking on chips and candy, your child will be, too. Also, actions speak louder than words. Your child learns more from watching what you eat than by listening to you advocate for the apple while you’re munching on a cookie.
  • Cheer up! – Many people, children and adults, learn to eat when they’re unhappy. Help your child find other ways to work through their feelings, such as talking with you or a friend.
  • Beat the boredom – Some children eat when they’re bored, especially while watching television. Turn off the TV and turn on family time with games, outings, or other activities together. In addition to discouraging your child from eating while viewing, turning off the television will reduce the time your child is exposed to junk food advertisers.
  • Moderation is the key – An occasional sweet is OK, but limiting the portion is a must. Teach your child to limit junk food by eating chips only with healthy meals and only offering one or two cookies during one snack time. Be consistent and resilient against protests, especially if you’re starting to change your child’s eating habits.
  • Make your own “junk food” – Bypass the store-bought processed foods by making your own candy, ice cream, sweet breads, and chips. Learn ways to make recipes healthier, such as using skim milk instead of whole milk and using applesauce instead of sugar.
  • Prepare quick foods for your busy teen – Many older children and teens have extremely full schedules, running from sports practice to dance class to church activities before coming home to do schoolwork and getting ready for bed. Junk food is notoriously easy for them to get quick energy, even if it’s not healthy energy. Encourage your child to eat well when they’re looking for quick meals by preparing healthy, tasty snacks for them. Cheese and crackers, a banana, celery sticks with peanut butter are all easy to pack together and don’t have to be refrigerated.

There will still be times when your child or teen opts for a bag of chips and pop instead of a healthier choice, but the goal is to teach her to make the right choice from how you model what to eat. And be creative! Healthy food choices can compete with the sugar- and fat-packed junk food. Find recipes that appeal to your child’s sweet tooth but still give her some nutrition, like a fruit-nut trail mix or multi-grain cookies.

Beyond Babies…Promoting Attachment Through Feeding of Older Children

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting calls parents to feed their children with love and respect. With infants, this easily translates into breastfeeding or “bottle nursing.”

But what does this mean once children transition to solid foods? How do parents continue AP as their children grow?

An Act of Love

First, parents need to remember that providing food to their children, no matter the age, is an act of love and a way to strengthen their emotional bond. By feeding them, parents are fulfilling a vital physical need. When children’s needs are met, they feel closer to their parents. This doesn’t change as babies grow into toddlers and toddlers into older children.

More than simply offering food, parents reveal how much they care for their children by offering healthy foods and modeling healthy food selection. This may mean that parents, themselves, have to change their eating habits, which can be difficult. This may also mean disagreements between parents and their children as they grow and are exposed to more models of unhealthy habits, especially as teens when peer influence begins to compete with the parental attachment.

Not Always Easy, But Worth the Work

Feeding with love and respect may seem to be one of the easier Attachment Parenting tools offered by Attachment Parenting International – that is, until the first time a weaned toddler decides to refuse all solid foods offered, except graham crackers, for a week. It’s the first sign of independence in the feeding department, and it can make parents worry about whether their child is getting all the nutrients he needs to thrive.

The advice for these parents, in dealing with challenges in feeding their children, is to explore strategies that are attachment-friendly. Forcing a child to eat a food she doesn’t want to eat doesn’t promote attachment; encouraging her to be a picky eater by not offering a variety of foods is unhealthy. Parents often have to be creative in coming up with AP solutions and may have to try several ideas before finding one or a couple that work.

Be Creative in Problem-Solving

It’s important to remember that one size does not fit all, and what may work for one parent may not work for another. Some parents say to simply not worry about a picky eater, that the child is eating as much as he needs and will eat more if he needs to; others find that if they don’t encourage their child to eat more foods that she consistently refuses to try new foods. Some parents trust their teens to make healthy food choices when they’re with their friends; other parents find that talking to their teens about the potential medical consequences of unhealthy food choices what works best.

No one knows a child, and what strategies will work to encourage healthy eating, better than her parent.

The advice for these parents, in dealing with challenges in feeding their children, is to explore strategies that are attachment-friendly.