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(Former) Primary School Counselor 
Vivian Huijzinga answers your questions about raising healthy, happy kids

    Ask Vivian

Vivian was at BBIS until July 2019, and we thought that parents would like the chance to read her insights on these important topics.

My child is obsessed with her weight. She is slightly larger than other kids but nothing to be concerned about. Are there some good resources you could recommend for body positivity? 

Children and adults are self conscious about body image, beauty, clothes, strength and more from time to time. Being obsessed, especially to the point where it begins to have secondary effects such as not seeing friends, school attendance, and sleep, is a serious concern. 

Unfortunately, weight is one of our culture's issues and the media preference and focus on being thin demonstrates this. Peer pressure affects all of us and how we develop the inner strengths to manage this and maintain a sense of personal freedom is key. 

Young adults and teens have barely begun the process of finding ways to deal with peer pressures. We all know it gets better as we get older but the teen years are particularly sensitive anyway given their neurology and early level of experience. An early obsession may lead to entrenched focus. It is warming to see normal weight push in the media to counterbalance the thin image in movie stars and models. 

Instead of focusing on weight (body positivity is still about weight) focusing on and strengthening other areas such as character, willingness to work hard, kindness and talents for music, stamina, fashion, animals and friendships will offset the more vulnerable areas. 

For an analogy, watering the plants that are weeds gives them more chance to grow, water instead the plants that are flowers. Focusing our energy on healthy areas naturally increase their power over time. 

My child is one of the few kids in her class without an iphone or other expensive gadgets. I am not opposed to kids owning these items but our family can’t afford it. How to I explain life is not fair to a 13-year-old who wants so desperately to be cool? 

This is a difficult problem. I remember the pain. I was the only one in class (or the school) without a TV. I was out of the loop with what felt like every conversation. It was humiliating and sent my already weak self esteem even further into dismal despair. 

First of all, understanding that pain and letting your children know you hear them is foremost. Just that sincere thoughtful quiet moment without a response, processing and hearing what your child is going through is the best first aid.  Next, or much later, sharing jokes or solutions to cope with the situation may be helpful. Of course nothing replaces the loss of social connections made while everyone is talking about who did and said what. It is like being the only one who was not at the party -- but everyday!  

Talk about other ways to be cool. Of course this is not often wanted when your child is so sore and hurt about the situation. Yes an iphone is a big deal but it is not everything. In fact, it may save some hurtful unwanted news as well. A child's character does more for friendships than phones will ever do. Kindness and compassion, resilience and self-confidence boost trust and acceptance. Being able to deal with not having a iphone will also build strength of character and resilience.    

There are also other children who do not have iphones for various reasons and are also in the same boat. Know any? Think about others in similar straits who are also suffering and then your child may not feel so totally alone.  If the problem is being brought up regularly, avoid getting into the same discussion and quietly let it go. The quietness allows for a child to process alternatives. This builds resilience. 

How do I talk to my older children about stressful issues happening in our home country? Should I avoid talking about it since we live in Berlin and don’t experience it first-hand? Should I wait until they see it on the news and ask questions or is it better to be proactive about teaching them about what is going on?

The news, world issues, injustices, and politics are heavy topics for any individual. For those of us who are sensitive, this can be additionally demanding. Developing children and adolescents make sense of the world around them with what resiliencies they already have and will develop. This process happens on it’s own through daily events, media, friends, family, class discussions and books. What to add as a parent is up to you. 

 

The circumstances of your family’s political point of view, the news, your children’s stress levels and personal interest may be factors in your decision. If an English newspaper from your home country were left lying around, would your son or daughter be inclined or interested in reading it?  Is there any harm in not discussing the events? What is your gut feeling? Question yourself whether you are informing or sharing stress. What good can come out of it? Maybe lots! A commitment to help others is one. 

My daughter and her friends seem to be fighting every single day at school. Nothing serious, but feelings are getting hurt. How do I know if this squabbling is just normal or a real issue? At what point do I get involved? Should I contact the other parents or her teacher first? 

Excellent and prevalent topic! This is a developmental passage for some girls. Children are working out their social skills, their needs, loyalties, flexing their leadership and negotiation skills within a group setting. A perfect time to support them. Please note that a nasty issue can turn around in a day. Girls in particular are more prone to use social aggression as they struggle. They use exclusion, refusing to share friends, sarcasm, gossip, laughing at someone or putting others down. These are painful. How vulnerable girls are to these tactics also tell us something.  

To intervene or not intervene? 

In general parents’ interventions give daughters the message that they are not capable of solving their own issues. Parental interventions often make things worse for the child as the others see her as weak. Parental emotional reactions also affect the child’s stability. 

 

What all children in pain do need is a parent who listens without judgement and reaction. That is the hardest part but a critical one. The message you are trying to give is 1) I hear your pain. (No advice) 2) The greater world is OK (Our family is stable and here for you) 3) There is a way to work through this (solutions best come from the child or it undermines self-confidence. Be approving of all efforts to resolve a problem on her own-even if you do not agree. Do not take away her valuable efforts and learning.) TRUST they can solve this. 

 

  • Recognise the feelings. Know when it is experienced. For example, “I feel uncomfortable with what is going on with my friends but I cannot even say why.” 

  • Make friends with anger-“Hey I do not like the way I am treated. I am hurt by what they do to me. I will not accept being treated this way. I deserve comfortable and fun relationships!” 

  • Show strengths-Stand up for yourselves.” I can choose and handle being alone for a few days. I can choose others to play with. I am a strong person. I am a flower. I prefer being in sunshine than cold wind. I will go where it is warm.”  Keep your child involved in other social groups, neighbours, sports to have friends outside of school.  

 

This will lend itself to life long ability to soothe oneself. A hallmark of good mental health. At school, groups of girls are welcome to sign up for poster making at outdoor play times to work together on empathy building and strategies for friendship problems.

In the age of #metoo, how can I teach my son about consent?

We teach our children more my example than by words. Your actions of respect within the family are the strongest teacher. These behaviours naturally filter into your children’s personal relationships. You are their model as to how to operate in close relationships. 

General manners that you would use for your friends can be a measure of how to talk to your family. Do you treat family members like you would treat a friend? 

 

Asking others if they are comfortable in difficult situations shows children you are conscientious of others’ feelings. Do you mind if..? Asking permission to enter the room, to interrupt, to get up from the table or to use another’s computer all signal respect of another. 

 

Sensitivity to how others may feel can be taught incidentally. “That guy looks really upset. I wonder why?” Focus on expressing and recognizing feelings in situations around you to the children. These are the seeds of empathy building. 

 

Children brought up in a dominating environment understand that this is the way the world works. They may have no idea it hurts others. It may feel normal to feel like a victim and normal to abuse others. The way you speak to your children becomes their inner voice. Children who are brought up in an environment of personal respect do not force their will onto another person. Consent is then automatic for both in any relationship; work, friendship, family and intimate

How can I get my middle school student to stop telling lies to our family and to his friends? We consistently ground him when he gets caught, but the lies continue. I am worried he will get a reputation that will be hard to shake later.

Lying is an interesting tale. Most kids lie out of a desperate need to not disappoint parents with the truth. A look at the situations surrounding the events can help relieve the child of the need to be in such a state. Getting grounded is even worth it. Your approval is worth more than gold. Working from this angle may open doors. 

 

- Do not over react to lying.

 

- Do not take it personally.

 

Children lie for different reasons, to protect a friend, avoid trouble, to avoid talking about painful experiences. Perhaps to appear powerful when feeling inadequate. Risky behaviours such as illegal or dangerous activities need to be dealt with head on. A calm fashion is more effective. Give yourself time to reflect and deal with this in a reasoned manner. You will be more respected.   

 

Talk about how telling the truth can be scary. Being an emotional coach instead of disciplinarian can soften the fears. It is a process and takes time to shift this behaviour. Change does not happen over night. Kids need to feel safe and comfortable to tell the truth and be honest. A calm approach from you will open up more hearts than a worried face, threats, punishments, and the much feared disappointment. Start with a gentle voice. Stay calm. Expect some shrugs and let it go. Developing honesty is worth waiting for.