“When a child misbehaves, remember—kids are havinga problem, they’re not beinga problem.”
At this week’s Allies in Prevention Coalition meeting, SCAN hosted 30 local child welfare professionals to hear from parenting expert Rachel Bailey as she shared insight from her work coaching parents in hundreds of local families. Why do children throw tantrums, hit a sibling, refuse to do chores, and so many more things that challenge parents? And how can parents respond in healthy ways? The group discussed these questions and more—leaving the meeting with some excellent tools and ideas to share with the parents in their communities, including:
WHY? “Many behaviors are the result of kids’ missing tools,” shared Rachel. This includes missing tools like impulse control, handling monotony, transitioning effectively, and problem solving. Negative behaviors can also be caused by a child’s “level of yuck,” as Rachel calls it. If a child is tired, hungry, sick, scared, or in any other form of discomfort (afraid or frustrated or overwhelmed) the brain interprets it as a threat. This fight-or-flight response is meant to protect us, but it can make kids (and adults) impulsive, self-centered, and narrowly focused. A prime opportunity for “bad” or unwanted behavior to happen!
WHEN? Bad behaviors often happen when a child’s needs aren’t being met. This includes biological needs like sleep, food, and a safe environment as well as emotional needs. Children long for connection, they want to know they matter, they want to have the tools they need to be successful, they want to have a voice, and they want to know that they are safe. Rachel reminded the group that reasons for behavior are not excuses—in fact, they are crucial to helping parents understand a particular behavior and help their child change their behavior.
HOW? A child’s bad behavior presents in three ways: They might “turn the ‘yuck’ out” on others (being aggressive, disrespectful or defiant); they might turn it in on themselves (feeling anxious, lacking self-esteem or low motivation); or they try to “numb the yuck” with things like electronics, food, etc. Thinking of these three categories of unhealthy behavior is a great way to better understand the specific behavior in question and how parents can best respond.
WHAT NEXT? Parenting is not about making kids feel good all the time—that’s not realistic! Instead, Rachel encourages parents to “make deposits” in their kids as a response to the many withdrawals taken from them each day. Parents can deposit into their children’s “toolboxes,” teaching them skills to do things like clean up their toys, focus on homework, etc. Or they can deposit into their needs—mentioned earlier—by doing things like making sure their children are getting enough sleep (biological) or asking for their opinion on an important decision (emotional).
“Yes, we’ll make withdrawals from our children,” acknowledged Rachel, like navigating a conflict with a sibling or telling them to finish their homework or manage a busy schedule, “but they’ll have this reserve to pull from when bad things happens—this is the core of resilience.”
For SCAN’s new fact sheets on Children’s Behavior, click here. You can also download an image of our Parenting Can Be Tough “diaper bag tags” that remind parents about some of the biological and emotional causes of behavior and help younger children communicate their feelings.
July 10, 2018–The Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth has awarded a three-year, $150,000 grant to SCAN of Northern Virginia to support parent education and engagement that facilitates youth tobacco use prevention in the city. SCAN of Northern Virginia, Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) and Alexandria Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS) will work together over the next three years to provide a series of Strengthening Familiestrainings in ACPS schools, Healthy Conversation forums for parents, and a variety of other public education and outreach events.
“We are thrilled that VFHY is continuing to support our work educating families about more effective parenting and the role it plays in reducing risk factors, as well as directly educating students about the dangers of tobacco and drug use,” said Marisol Morales, Parent Education Program Manager at SCAN of Northern Virginia. SCAN received a similar grant from VFHY in 2015 to launch the program. During the first three years of the grant, SCAN reached 205 youth and 152 families with 12 series in both elementary and secondary schools throughout ACPS.
The Family and Community Engagement Center (FACE) at Alexandria City Public Schools will once again provide access to schools and outreach to parents in the district, as well as staff support during trainings. Alexandria DCHS will be responsible for implementing community awareness initiatives that build a school environment against youth tobacco use.
“Working with community partners like ACPS and DCHS, we have seen how our coordinated work can have an even greater impact on families in our community,” said Morales. “This grant is a valuable opportunity to reach students—where they are—as well as parents and other adults in the community who can connect with kids to make a difference.”
About SCAN of Northern Virginia Stop Child Abuse Now (SCAN) of Northern Virginia is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote the well-being of children, improve parent-child relations and prevent child abuse and neglect. Our vision is that every child in Northern Virginia will grow up in a safe, stable, nurturing family, with the supports they need to contribute to stronger communities today and as adults tomorrow. We EDUCATE the community about the scope, nature and consequences of child abuse and neglect and the importance of positive, nurturing parenting; PROVIDE direct parent education; and ADVOCATE for children in the community, the legislature and the courts. Learn more about SCAN at www.scanva.org @scanofnova
About the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth (VFHY) Established by the Virginia General Assembly in 1999, the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth is responsible for statewide efforts to prevent and reduce youth tobacco use, childhood obesity and substance use. Since the Foundation began its work in 2001, youth smoking in Virginia has been cut more than 75 percent! VFHY directly reaches about 50,000 children each year through classroom-based prevention programs in public schools, after-school programs, community centers, daycares and other youth centers across the state. VFHY’s award-winning marketing campaign delivers prevention messages to more than 450,000 children annually. For more information about the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth, please visit https://www.vfhy.org/.
On March 8th, SCAN’s Allies in Prevention Coalition hosted its quarterly meeting with a focus on the Importance of Routines for Children. Dr. Amy Parks from The Wise Family and Dr. Kelly Henderson from Formed Families Forward joined us to lead a fantastic discussion about why routines are important, how they affect children, and how parents—no matter where they are on the parenting journey—can use routines to support their children and strengthen their families.
Here are 5 keys ideas we took away from the discussion:
1. There are 3 key ingredients to building routines in the home:
• Consistency – doing the same thing every time
• Predictability – expecting or knowing what will happen
• Follow-through – following through with consequences
2. Creating new habits can take a long time – 66 days on average!
Plan on 8 weeks of consistent repetition and active learning for the brain to “myelinate” (when brain neurons connect and actions become habit.) Remember that the brain is “neutral” so this happens with both good and bad habits. This is especially important for parents to understand:
“The brain of a child has no filter for good and bad,” noted Dr. Parks. “As the adult you have to be their filter, helping children make meaning and build habits through explicit instruction.”
3. Different kids (and adults!) learn in different ways.
For some, positive reinforcement is a good way to encourage repetition of new habits. For others, visual reminders like a chart or auditory reminders like a song are more helpful. If a child has a disability or other challenge, it often requires more support, encouragement and tools to build a routine.
4. Every family is different, too.
If a family is in crisis, even the smallest routine—like getting everyone ready to leave the house on time—can be a huge challenge. Many Coalition members are working with families where children are living in poverty, where parents work shift hours with constantly changing schedules, or where a parent is deployed in the military. Even the most high-functioning family can find it nearly impossible to have a family meal together every night. That’s okay! It can be helpful to take a step back and figure out what current routines are in place, good or bad. Then the first step might be “extinguishing” unhealthy routines before adding new routines, or replacing them with simple, healthier steps.
5. Routines can do so much to address a child’s stress levels!
“When things outside of a child’s immediate world raise concerns, a routine can provide security and comfort,” noted Dr. Henderson.
Stress is really a physiological function of the body. Every child and adult has a reaction to stress–fight, flight, freeze, or appease. When our brain has to handle stress, it “turns off” the thinking part of our brain. If our children’s brains can rely on healthy routines and habits they’ve learned, then they can continue to take care of themselves (eat, sleep, communicate) even when they are under stress. The same goes for adults and our routines!
Explore SCAN’s resources on “The Importance of Routines” on the Parent Resource Centerhere. You can also check out some of the videos Dr. Parks and Dr. Henderson shared during their presentation:
“Our family is facing financial issues at home, discipline issues with our middle child at school, and an overwhelming schedule. It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. What can I do?”*
SCAN’s Parent Education team hears a lot of questions from local parents in our classes, support groups and workshops. They send a great monthly email to parents to respond to those concerns, and now we’re sharing them here on the blog, too!
Every family goes through hard times; resilient families are able to bounce back after those hard times. Resilience is defined as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress.” It’s about how you handle negative feelings and move forward in a healthy, positive manner.
It is important to remember that resilience is something that is developed over time through thoughts, behaviors, and actions. Some steps families can take to become more resilient: create a strengths family tree, practice optimist, and rejuvenate regularly. For more concrete steps to take as a family to increase your resiliency, click here (English) or click here (Spanish).
(Learn more about SCAN’s Parent Education Program here.)
Since the launch of the Parenting Can Be Tough campaign, we continue to consider this theme through the eyes of different parents in our communities. The challenges of parenting can be universal—consider topics like discipline, behavior, stress management—but they can also be unique for different groups of families. This month, we invited a panel of experts to our Allies in Prevention Coalition meeting to help us consider the distinct challenges and needs of parents and children with special needs.
The group included Cheryl Johnson from NAMI, as well as Erin Croyle, Amel Ibrahim and Irene Schmalz from the Center for Family Involvement Partnership for People with Disabilities. They shared both personal and professional experiences from a wide range of parenting perspectives–including having or raising children with autism, hearing loss, refugee status, mental health diagnoses, and many more circumstances that might fall under “special needs”. And yet, there was a common refrain for all instances when it came to best serving these parents:
1. ADVOCATE FOR THESE FAMILIES. And help parents learn how to advocate for themselves. It can be challenging for parents to understand how their family will fit into an existing system, noted Amel. “How will I get social services for my son with autism?,” she asked herself when they first came to the U.S. There was no simple answer. The same goes for school systems, medical systems, and anywhere else a family will engage with established procedures organizations. (Facing language, communication and knowledge barriers can exacerbate this problem.) Often, parents need to know they even have rights or the opportunity to ask questions.“Press the systems you interact with,” encouraged Erin. “Tell parents to push. Help them advocate for their kids and themselves.”
2. CONSIDER THE IMPACT ON PARENTS. Practice empathy—ask a parent to share how their family’s specific needs have affected them, on a personal level.“It’s easy to make assumptions about a parent,” cautioned Irene, “but that’s not always the whole truth.” Parents need someone whom they can talk to openly about raw emotions (anger, jealousy, fear, exhaustion) associated with their situation. It’s critical that they learn how to process negative emotions associated with their children and family.“As a parent of a child with a disability, it can feel like being hit by a bus,” shared Erin. “It’s good to be honest about the emotions that come with it. It’s always hard. Any sense of normalcy is gone…It affects every single part of your life. Marriage. Family. School. It even affects having a coffee.”While all parents may have struggles navigating systems, special needs can make navigation much more complicated. Panelists noted that having other adults to talk to—who can truly relate to their circumstances—can be invaluable. Which brings us to…
3. BUILD CONNECTIONS FOR PARENTS. When trusting relationships are built, it can open up doors for families. While you can provide empathy and some support depending on your role in a family’s life, help them find other sources of information and support. Panelists and AIPC members mentioned the following helpful resources as a great place to start:
“The only label a kid should have is their name,” noted Irene. And yet, we know that is not always the case in the systems we navigate. But it can be helpful to offer a gentle reminder to parents from time to time. A diagnosis—or even just a label—living with some special set of circumstances—can certainly change a family’s life. But parents should always be guided and encouraged in simply enjoying their child.
“Sometimes,” shared Erin, “the best thing a child can have is a parent who is happy and enjoying them.”
As children head back to school, some of their biggest concerns often involve making friends, “fitting in” and navigating relationships. But when a child has good, healthy friendships, the benefits can include increased self-esteem and appropriate emotional growth.
So how can parents better understand social development and its impact on their children? There’s a fact sheet for that! Our “Making Friends” and “Formando Amistades” fact sheets are a great tool to share as students return to the classroom. They include 4 simple questions to ask kids as they begin to build new friendships this year:
“Who do you know that likes to do the same things you do?”
“What makes someone a good friend? How do they make you feel?”
“What is one kind thing you did for someone today?”
When something negative happens with a friend, ask your child, “What can you do differently next time? How do you think your friend is feeling?”
Working with parents and children on making connections and building good relationships? You might also be interested in our Parent Resource Center fact sheets on:
For those of us who work with children and families, summer can bring fun — but also a lot of season-specific challenges. Families are on unusual schedules, parents are juggling the demands of new childcare arrangements and children are spending more time alone / on-screen or online / with new adults / outdoors and in pools. This week, we’ve gathered some of the questions we hear from parents and the resources we share most during the summer:
Is it okay to leave my child home alone? There is no easy answer, so we’ve compiled some good questions for parents and linked to all of the local jurisdictions in Northern Virginia for their “official” supervision guidelines and information.
Can I leave my child in the car if I’m just running a quick errand? We all know this answer – NO! Give parents our 5 Tips “Keep Kids Safe in Cars” fact sheet, which includes helpful reminders and simple steps parents can take when they’re in the car to prevent a tragic mistake. We also recommend the resources from Kids and Cars.
My child is around water and outside a lot this summer — what should I know? Check out the Summer Safety page on SCAN’s Parent Resource Center for helpful reminders on everything from sunscreen and water safety to reading and monitoring your teens’ summer activities. Share the fact sheets for parents to post and refer to all season long.
There are a lot of new adults (like camp counselors and coaches) around my child this summer — what can I do to make sure my child is safe and not at risk for sexual abuse? Parents (as well as everyone working with children!) should educate themselves about how to recognize, react and respond to the threat of child sexual abuse. Through its partnership with Darkness to Light, SCAN works with many local agencies and organizations to train groups of adults in its Stewards of Children curriculum. A good place for parents to start is the Learn about Child Sexual Abuse page on our website, and then explore the Prevent Child Sexual Abuse and Take Action pages as well. (If you’re a child welfare professional, be sure to download our Northern Virginia Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Resource List in English and Spanish, too.)
Do you have more summer questions from parents in your community? How can we help?
(And don’t forget to download the FREE Parent Resource Center app from SCAN! It gives parents on-the-go access to every topic on SCAN’s Parent Resource Center from your Apple or Android device.)
Many parents in our community face the normal, daily challenges of being immigrants raising children in the United States. Cultural and linguistic barriers can be difficult to navigate. Dealing with family reunification is never easy. But recently, an intense national conversation about immigration and immigrants has added a brand new layer of stress and fear to these parents’ ongoing work to raise their children and keep them safe.
While Immigration law in the United States has not changed; what has changed is the enforcement of immigration law. Under the previous administration, convicted felons were a priority for deportation. Now, under the current administration, all undocumented immigrants are a priority. After a series of community events, SCAN recently developed some helpful guidelines for parents (see below) as well as recorded a new Parenting Today segment on the topic with special guest Erin McKenney, Executive Director of Just Neighbors.
We hope you’ll share these timely resources with parents in your own communities, and continue to encourage at-risk families to build connections and ask for help:
SCAN is pleased to be partnering with Smart Beginnings Prince William County to offer valuable Workshops on Safe Sleep to the Greater Prince William community. The first workshop will be offered on Tuesday, February 21st at 4 pm at the Hylton Education Center at Sentara Hospital.
The FREE workshop is ideal for service providers, health care providers, parents, expecting parents, caregivers, childcare providers and anyone interested in helping spread awareness and information about safe sleep.
Tracy Leonard, SCAN’s Public Education Manager, will present the workshops using materials and information we have compiled through our Operation Safe Babies Program. Those attending will:
Ruling out genetics and specific pathologies related to mental health and suicide, there still remains something incredibly wrong with the picture and we need to take a closer environmental and internal look at what might be the cause – because the two are closely linked.
The first thing we need to get familiar with is how the brain and mind operate. It’s hard to develop assets when we don’t know how our internal technologies or assets actually work. You can’t fly a plane if you don’t know how the equipment functions. You’ll crash and burn…and that’s what we’re seeing with our young people.
Education about how the brain and mind work shouldn’t be dreaded or feared. This is the very attitude that pushed us away from the golden key of our own empowerment. Our brain and mind belong to us and it’s high time we learn how to use it, regulate it and build it for our advantage… rather than letting our environment craft it for us.
The mind is one of our virtual technologies, so to speak. You can’t touch it, yet there’s something within you doing the thinking and imagining. It can be focused and directed, it can wander off, or it can work on autopilot i.e., think in a reactive and unregulated way. The brain is the organ that simply responds to what your mind is thinking. It computes the information and programs itself, the nervous system and the body according to the quality of the data it receives – good or bad.
If children learned at an early age some basics about how to regulate their own mind and how to build healthier neuro patterns in their brain, they’d develop greater abilities in self-regulation, reflection (instead of reactivity), healing, discernment and even…. emotional regulation. Shouldn’t this be part of our fundamental human education?
To gain a better understanding, here are some simple basics about how the brain works.
Amygdala One of its major functions is the flight or flight response, meaning it perceives threat. It protected us from lions, tigers and bears. However, we don’t have these primitive challenges anymore. So what did we do? We made a habit of inventing all sorts of harmful fear-based and stress-filled thoughts that cause a vicious cycle of unnecessary revving up and over stimulation of the amygdala! This part of our brain is very important and necessary when we have a true emergency. However, a majority of the time we aren’t in a life or death threat….and our amygdala doesn’t know the difference. You see, it can’t distinguish what is a real threat and what is not! It just fires regardless.
Any time you build neural pathways in the brain you are “imprinting,” which is like programming or hardwiring the brain to think, react and believe in a certain way. The brain then directs the body to react, feel, and heal or breakdown according to the input. And worst of all, when over-stimulated and unregulated the amygdala (in a metaphorical sense) hijacks the electrical activity of the rest of the brain which keeps you from more effectively accessing the highest “thinking centers” of the brain (prefrontal cortex) responsible for reflection, integration and…. higher happier emotions. When a person is chronically thinking and feeling fear, powerlessness, self-hate and despair, these trigger the amygdala.
Hippocampus The hippocampus is located deep in the center of the brain near the amygdala. It’s the part of the brain that is responsible for holding and storing long-term information. You don’t relearn how to walk and talk each day, or ride a bike or drive a car. It’s “automatic” and the hippocampus is responsible for this programming function and storage. Think of it as the region of the brain that turns everything on “auto pilot.” If you had to relearn everything every day, life would be impossible. You can also think of it like the hard drive on your computer. It simply stores information and waits for commands from YOU to perform a specific function or task without thinking about it. Sometimes this is beneficial and sometimes not. In regards to our less desirable or fear-based stress-filled behavior patterns and programmed thoughts, it is not.
Most people are unaware of stored familial or other learning patterns that they were taught. Have you ever noticed how some families are really happy, forgiving or funny and others are pessimistic, stubborn or easily angered? More often than not, these patterns were shown to them between 0-7 years and then stored in the hippocampus as automatic “reactions.”
When a person is chronically thinking about and feeling fear, powerlessness, self-hate and/or despair, the brain builds the neuro circuitry to match the input…and these become the automatic “auto pilot” behaviors and emotions. The more you think it, the more you build it.
The good news is, our brain has “neuroplasticity”, meaning we can reshape it’s neuro-programming at any time.
Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) The PFC, located in the top forehead region of the brain, is the highest thinking center of the brain responsible for some of the highest human emotions and abilities such as inspiration, compassion, joy, love and play. This is the area of the brain that you want to activate, stimulate (light-up the electrical flow) and build up neuroplasticity in as much as possible! This brain center is responsible for creativity, problem solving, discernment and inspiration. When the amygdala is over stimulated, electrical flow to this area is impeded – which is the exact opposite of what you need to calmly create solutions and regulate your emotional responses. Teen PFCs are most electrically stimulated when they are engaged in meaningful, inspiring work…or when they are feeling gratitude and compassion.
We all have a responsibility to use this information to correct the way we parent, educate our kids in schools and choose the things we give our attention to within our environments. Whether it’s domestic violence within the home or the aggression, fear and violence we see on drama/reality shows, movies, TV, video games and the evening news, each of these are over stimulating the reactivity of the human amygdala in unhelpful ways, while at the same time shutting off access to the PFC.
Many children do not have a stable home environment, but if caregivers and teachers readily taught this information, kids would be greater equipped with tools and the ability to regulate their own emotions and outcomes to a greater degree than what is currently happening.
Things you can do to promote daily stability, feelings of happiness and well-being and PFC access (while quieting the amygdala):
Deep purposeful breathing – Quiet the amygdala and open the pathways to the PFC.
Nourishing your physical body – Engage in regular physical activity and healthy eating; stimulants, sugar, refined products, alcohol, preservatives and artificial colors can affect emotional and behavioural stability.
Understand the basics about your own brain – How does it work? How can you train and build it to perform the functions that you want?
Practice mindful awareness techniques or MBSR (mindful based stress reduction) – Help calm the mind and build positive neuro patterns within the brain.
Practice saying, feeling and expressing love and gratitude to yourself and the world around you – Science has proven that expressing gratitude lights up the PFC to a high degree, while building positive neuro patterns within the brain.
We can be successful at building our brain to express habitual joy, gratitude, optimism and love, just as certain as we can build it to be successful at fear, powerlessness and unworthiness.