LISTENING TO YOUR CHILD WITH AN OPEN HEART, PART 4: EARLY ADOLESCENCE AND TRANSITIONING TO MIDDLE SCHOOL
As a Super Parent, you are a natural teacher. But even Super Parents don’t have all the answers. How can you help your children avoid the abuse of drugs and alcohol? How can you encourage your children to express their natural emotions in healthy ways?
By the staff of West Valley Counseling Center
For the past several months we’ve been discussing with you, the parents, how to help your children grow in healthy, positive ways and avoid using drugs as a coping mechanism for the emotions and events that affect their lives.
In our last blog, WVCC staff member Bennett Goldberg, M.A., wrote:
On the average, children who learn how to establish meaningful relationships as toddlers, small children, and adolescents are unlikely to get involved in substance abuse, violence, unprotected sex, or other maladaptive behaviors.
In this blog, we’ll flip through Dr. Stanley Greenspan’s book Playground Politics: Understanding the Emotional Life of Your School-Age Child. We’ll take a look at emotions and thoughts your children deal with as they head toward middle school (ages 10 to 13, approximately).
Who Am I, and What Do I Want to Be?
According to Greenspan, from ages 10 to 12, children develop a sense of their inner selves, and their self-esteem becomes more stable. Children also:
• Develop a set of internal values ("I want to be a good student" or "I shouldn't be mean")
• Begin to be able to think about the future ("I want to be a fireman" or " I want to be a teacher someday")
What Do I Value? What’s Important to Me?
Greenspan recommends three ways for parents to help their kids nurture self-esteem and feel genuinely good about themselves:
1. Value your child’s uniqueness: Reinforcing self-esteem isn’t about what parents say, notes Greenspan, but in the way that parents listen, empathize, and relate to their children.
2. Value your children for qualities that they value in themselves: A child must be successful in his own eyes in order to feel good about himself. “Self-esteem is an inner feeling,” writes Greenspan. “Helping a child foster a sense of self-worth means having respect for the child’s inner world. What does he value? What’s important to him?”
3. Foster initiative and assertiveness: Initiative and assertiveness come from having a connection to the “deep, inner core sense of who they are,” says Greenspan. Parents can encourage and support their children’s interests and values.
From a Black-and-White World to a World of Gray
As your children move through elementary school (grades 1-5) and middle school (grades 6-8), their viewpoint becomes more sophisticated.
• In kindergarten and first grade, children "tend to have a stark, all-or-nothing outlook," notes Greenspan.
• In later grades, children gain flexibility and the ability to reason, which allow them to "gather and process information more accurately."
How do your children grow a more sophisticated view of the world? It happens as they continue to learn and to socialize in their daily lives.
Role Models and Mixed Feelings
As children begin to mature sexually, they may develop an increased interest in role models and (for a while, at least) a closer relationship with the same-sex parent.
During this stage, says Greenspan, parents can focus on building strong relationships. A father can nurture his relationship with his son, and a mother can nurture her relationship with her daughter. What about friends, relatives, peers, teachers, and other parents? Greenspan notes that children need to learn to be confident in their ability to like, and be liked, by other people.
This involves balancing the pleasure of relationships with the inevitable loss, disappointment, and frustration that relationships bring.
By learning that relationships can be warm, fun, and intimate but also involve power struggles, sharing, and fights, children can realize that mixed feelings toward a friend or a parent are okay. In other words, children learn that having more than one emotion at the same time is perfectly normal.
Together Down the Road
By guiding your child through this period in his or her life, when sense of self becomes more developed and viewpoints become more sophisticated, you can continue nurturing your child in a healthy, positive life.
By listening to your child about how he or she is feeling, you can help your child deal with emotions and reactions that may be unfamiliar or confusing. When you do this—as we mentioned in an earlier blog—you help your child to learn how to “self-soothe.” And by learning how to deal with his or her emotions, your child is less likely to turn to drugs or other external helpmates that can get them in trouble.
The staff at West Valley Counseling Center provides therapy and family counseling to dozens of clients every day. In this blog series our therapists will explore how to create “valuing relationships” throughout your child’s life. We will go step by step through a child’s emotional development, giving clear descriptions with real-world examples of how to foster strong emotional relationships and help our children deal with the ups and downs of life. Look for our next blog coming soon.
Bookmark this blog, and visit us soon for “Listening to Your Child with an Open Heart, Part 6: High School and Beyond.”