Tag Archives: Fears

Talking Trauma With Kids

As human beings, it seems we want to put off having talks about uncomfortable subjects for as long as possible.

I’m not sure it’s possible to put off talking about Sandy Hook elementary school for much longer. When I was at Amazing Elementary School, where I work as a tutor, on Monday, there was a lot of talk about the appalling events of Friday, when a sick man walked into an elementary school and killed 20 students, six teachers and staff and then died himself. This after having already killed his mother in the Newtown, Connecticut home they share.

The talk I was hearing didn’t come only from the teachers, worried about their young charges. The students had also heard about what happened.

I was asked several times what I knew about the incident, as if because I was an adult, I would know all there was to know about, well, everything. Yeah, elementary schoolers are still in that trusting phase. Which makes what happened at Sandy Hook all the worse.

Still, dudes, I think it’s something we need to discuss with our young dudes and dudettes. I know I want my kids to hear about my interpretation of what happened.

These kinds of things, no matter horrific and terrible they are, really are rare. Not rare enough, of course, but they’re not something that happens very often.

I want my kids to know, in general, what they need to do if something like this happens in their school. Hiding or running away from the crazy with the gun is a much better idea than running toward.

It’s the talks like this with younger kids, though, that will take the most effort on the part of parents to make sure they understand. They’re going to be completely weirded out that someone would kill kids their own age. The most important thing you can do, according to experts, is remain calm.

If you’re freaking out about the whole thing, there’s no way the kid will hear anything but your fear.

“You want to do it in an open-ended calm way, ‘this happened,’ ” said psychiatrist and NBC TODAY contributor Dr. Gail Saltzon on Saturday. “But stay calm, because children take their cues from you. If you’re hysterical, they won’t even hear the information, they’ll hear your emotion. You want to be listening to what they are concerned about.”

Be honest, “but don’t over-inform about details.”

No one is expecting you to know everything or be able to guarantee your child perfect safety from the scum-sucking weasels of the world, but you can be there to listen to your child.

Talk to her, give him reassurance. You can offer them love and arms to hug. Give them information about what happened, but don’t put adult fear into young lives. They get enough of that from the real world already.

— Richard

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Playground Safety

by Richard

Let’s add this to the file of stuff that has something to do with the wussification of the country.

Or maybe something to do with a (well-reasoned) fear of getting sued.

Either way, there’s a very significant loss occurring for most of our little dudes and dudettes growing up right around now. What I’m talking about is the danger-downing of America’s playgrounds.

(S)ome researchers . . . question the value of safety-first playgrounds. Even if children do suffer fewer physical injuries — and the evidence for that is debatable — the critics say that these playgrounds may stunt emotional development, leaving children with anxieties and fears that are ultimately worse than a broken bone.

“Children need to encounter risks and overcome fears on the playground,” said Ellen Sandseter, a professor ofpsychology at Queen Maud University in Norway. “I think monkey bars and tall slides are great. As playgrounds become more and more boring, these are some of the few features that still can give children thrilling experiences with heights and high speed.”

It’s true, dudes. It really is. Playgrounds are turning from a place for adventure and (controlled) risk to places where marshmallow’s are considered too dangerous.

Seriously. When was the last time you saw a new playground with a tall slide? Or jungle gyms that actually went more than three feet off the ground? Or a climbing structure that actually let the young dudes, you know, climb?

People complain about how young dudes have low self-confidence and talk about how we need to help them with their self-image. The problem is, they want to do that by heaping unearned praise on their little heads. Then, the young dudes and dudettes learn only that praise is something that means nothing. They receive accolades, but didn’t have to work for them. That sort of thing will be generalized into the rest of their lives.

On playgrounds, these self-same young dudes and dudettes get a chance to stretch their boundaries. They try. They fail. They try again and they finally succeed. It’s that success after initial failure that leads to a justified increase in a young dude’s self-confidence and an improvement in their self image.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks that.

By gradually exposing themselves to more and more dangers on the playground, children are using the same habituation techniques developed by therapists to help adults conquerphobias, according to Dr. Sandseter and a fellow psychologist, Leif Kennair, of the Norwegian University for Science and Technology.

“Risky play mirrors effective cognitive behavioral therapy of anxiety,” they write in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, concluding that this “anti-phobic effect” helps explain the evolution of children’s fondness for thrill-seeking. While a youthful zest for exploring heights might not seem adaptive — why would natural selection favor children who risk death before they have a chance to reproduce? — the dangers seemed to be outweighed by the benefits of conquering fear and developing a sense of mastery.

“Paradoxically,” the psychologists write, “we posit that our fear of children being harmed by mostly harmless injuries may result in more fearful children and increased levels of psychopathology.”

So, here’s an idea. Let’s all go out and let the young dudes do something dangerous. Within reason, of course.

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Freaky Friday: Writing Away Your Fears

by Richard

There’s nothing worse for a student than studying hard, knowing you have a good grasp of the material, then walking in to take the test and choking like you’ve just tried to swallow an entire roast chicken, bones and all.

For a lot of students (and I include myself in that group. Well, when I was a student. . . ) that horrible anxiety of walking in to take a test can overwhelm all the studying and preparation, causing what should be a slam-dunk to end up as that horribly funny miss that keeps getting shown on ESPN highlights for the day.

There is, however, good news. Actual good news. Actual scientifically backed good news. Dudes, I’m telling you there is something you or any student can do that will help significantly decrease your test-taking anxiety and help boost the test score.

And it’s simple.

Students who quickly write down their fears and anxieties just before the test begins, actually score substantially better than those students who don’t write down their fears.

A new study suggests that students who write down their anxieties a few minutes before taking an exam are much less likely to choke on the test. University of Chicago psychologists Gerardo Ramirez and Sian Beilock ran one study for two years at a high school. Students who spent ten minutes writing about feelings and worries about the test scored six percent higher than those who wrote about non-“expressive” topics.

Just on the face of it, this really makes sense to me. I mean, the worry that hurts the most is the one you can’t really pin down. If you actually face your worries, face your fears, I know I can get a much better handle on them and that helps to squash them like the bugs they really are.

The researchers published their findings in the current issue of the journal, Science. Here’s something transcribed from the podcast:

Beilock: There’s work in clinical psychology showing that getting clinically depressed individuals to journal or write about emotional or traumatic experiences in their lives can help decrease rumination. And we have a lot of work in our lab showing that students worry in testing situations, and this is something that can really derail their ability to attend to and remember information they need for the test. So, we hypothesized that perhaps having students write about their thoughts and feelings about an upcoming test before they took the exam might, in a sense, allow them to deal with some of these worries, such that when they were in the actual exam situation they were less likely to pop up.

I’m going to start encouraging both Sarcasmo and Zippy the Monkey Boy to try this out. Sarcasmo especially, as he’s got some severe test worries before most exams. I’ll let you know if it works for them.

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