Saturday, January 05, 2013

Help Your Daughter Cope When She is Left Out

Next week my daughter returns to school to start the home stretch of finishing sixth grade. Where we live, this is the end of elementary school and she will transition to a junior high or middle school.

I know the next six months will fly by. She will be prepping for Softball Season - yes, this is an official season at our house - and she will be making plans for grade six camp in June. We have decisions to make about schools and applications to submit.  Before long, I will be standing in the mall vetoing potential “grad” outfits. In the meantime, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the girl dynamics, friendship groups, and cliques that are becoming a more visible part of my daughter’s life. I know that many changes are ahead.  She has had the privilege of having a consistent, reliable, local friendship group for many years but everything will be different next fall.

My friends talk about the girl drama that goes on among their daughter’s friends. Who is “in” or “out” seems to change week to week and parents find their daughter coming home in tears over some real or imagined exclusion that may not be easily resolved.

Most of us experienced the power and complexity of cliques in middle school or high school but it can be shocking to watch these same dramas unfolding for much younger girls today. Social networking also adds another layer to experiences of inclusion and exclusion.  

Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography
 Creative Common License

Acceptance by a group is important to everyone, but some degree of exclusion is also normal at times; it is critical that children develop resilience and ways to cope with these exclusions . How girls handle these shifting group dynamics can be influenced by parents and other trusted adults. 
No matter how many friends she has, there will be a birthday party she is not invited to or a day when she feels all alone at school. I prepared some tips a few years back for my Dove Self-Esteem
Fund Ask Lisa Column… and they feel more timely than ever to me now so I’ve adapted and added to them here.

Tips to help her cope with exclusion

  • Acknowledge her sadness, disappointment and feelings of loss. Her feelings matter and her peer group is not a trivial part of her life.. some days it may feel like the most important part.  
  • Explain that friendships ebb and flow over time and that occasional rejection is a normal part of life. Perhaps you can share stories of friendships that changed for you over time. 
  • Help her notice her own growth and changing interests.  When kids are little they play with who is there... friends are whoever sits near them in the classroom, or the child next door.  However, as they grow they began to develop their own interests and attractions to specific personalities Just as some of her old friends may be making different friendship choices today, she too likely has been drawn to new people and that is a normal part of development that she may need help to recognize and appreciate.  
  • Exclusion from an event may have no meanness or ill intent attached to it... kids are generally given limits for numbers of friends to include or are starting to pay more attention to the group dynamic as a whole and issuing invitations that take that in to account rather than inviting everyone they think of as a friend.  Help your daughter remember when she had to make similar tough choices. 
  • If she is left out of a birthday party or other big group activity, help her make her own fun with a different friend who is also not included. This is an important act of self-care and helps her develop a coping skill for the future.  She certainly doesn't have to stay home alone feeling like she is missing out!
  • Diversify her friendship groups. This can offer a safety net so that one group is not “all or nothing” in her world. Her sense of belonging will increase through friendships formed at camps, church,  school clubs, sports teams or through her other interests such as Girl Guides or a local knitting or biking club. 
  • Teach your child to be a self-esteem role model. If she demonstrates empathy, respect and loyalty she may influence the dynamics of her social group. 
  • Be a good role model yourself. Gossip and put-downs are just as harmful when you're an adult, and children learn what is acceptable by observing your relationships with others.  They also notice if you know how to have fun on your own and can choose widely from different friends with different interests. 
  • If cliques or exclusion are a serious problem, become an advocate and work with other families and school personnel to initiate solutions.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Good Intentions: Making New Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year!

I've never been fully comfortable with New Year's Resolutions... probably because those hopes and dreams always fell quickly to the wayside and were forgotten as soon as real life kicked back in after the holiday season.  I've been talking to my clients this season about how New Year's resolutions can play into "all or nothing" thought patterns. There is that time "before" and then the time "after" when everything is supposed to be completely different.  When you wake up the next morning and promise to be kinder to everyone, to drink less, to eat less sugar or to spend less.  The first time you don't keep the resolution. you feel like a failure and the idea is dropped... only to be picked up again a year later.. each year making you feel a little more shame and a little less confidence in your ability to make positive changes.

Yet there is something compelling about hanging a blank wall calendar or turning the first page of your new day timer. The fresh new year ahead often fills us with hope and a sense of possibility.  It seems natural to begin making plans, setting goals and trying to do some things differently this year; especially if you weren't happy with how aspects of your life were going last year.

Over the past few years I've been moving more towards the idea of "setting intentions"... a phrase I picked up from practicing yoga.  Setting intentions is actually a Buddhist practice and is more about how you live in the present rather than the end result.  When you sent an intention, the focus is on trying and being not on an eventual outcome. 

My intention for the year ahead is to dwell in joy a little bit more.  Between the shocking and painful stories in the daily news, the burdens of others that I help to carry in my work as a counsellor, and the inevitable challenges of life that many of my loved ones are experiencing in health and other areas... it is sometimes hard to really stay mindful and appreciative of the joy, love, beauty and good news that surround me every day.

I am taking two steps towards living this intention.  The first is to subscribe to The Good News Network. I read the news on line every day and I think this will offer a good balance to my daily dose of local and international news sources.   The other is to increase joyful movement in my life.  For me that includes Yoga for Every Body classes with the gifted and lovely yogi Sheryl.  Yoga is something I have not been able to fit in to my schedule since last winter but have now created time for in the year ahead. 

Some of you may be more excited about goal setting at this time of year.  Goals are definitely about the end result and being able to work towards them effectively.  Making a promise to oneself just because the clock ticked over to another day but doing nothing concrete towards achieving the goal can lead to self-doubt and disappointment.  

If New Year's resolutions are a tradition you value, you can use this opportunity to help your kids boost their self-esteem by achieving something important to them or living in a more positive way.

Here are some ideas to get started:

  • Explain that a resolution is a promise to one's self and therefore the resolution should be something that is truly important to your child, not something she thinks someone else wants her to do.
  • Help her set achievable goals. She will experience more success with several small but realistic resolutions rather than one that is out of reach.
  • Teach your children to have patience and compassion with themselves; change does not come overnight and if you fail at your goal it is a temporary setback... if you just start again. 
  • Help them celebrate the small steps along the way that carry them towards successful change.
Perhaps the most common resolution that gets made at this time of year is "to lose weight". Your kids will have seen many ads this week promoting weight loss as the most important goal for the year ahead.  Last night was the first time we allowed our 11 year old to stay up to ring in the new year and for the a few minutes before and after midnight we had the TV tuned in to a public celebration... all of us were angry and sad to hear the host promoting a specific diet program as part of her commentary on the new year just before bending down to ask some small young children how they were feeling about the excitement of the moment.  

Research shows that girls who diet often struggle with low self-esteem and put their health at risk.  If your young child or teen talks about going on a diet as part of her new year's resolutions this is something to address. 

  • Discuss why she wants to lose weight. Does she feel it would help her make more friends? Is she experiencing pressure in a sport or coping with difficult feelings by fixating on her weight?  A goal and action plan related to the real problem may impact her life more meaningfully.
  •  If the resolution is really about health then help her set specific and achievable goals. She could commit to eating  one more fruit or vegetable each day, limiting sugary drinks or finding creative ways to get more daily activity. These goals take the focus off of the scale and are reasonable resolutions for anyone regardless of size or shape.
  • If her resolution is really about her role with peers, fitting in or having more friends, then help her set goals or begin to live with intention in a way that will improve her relationships.  Does she need help to be a better friend?  Could she meet new kids by joining a different school club or trying out for a different sport or a school play? 
  • Your own goals for the new year may be focused on your body and on your health.  I encourage you to focus on health behaviours (i.e. more daily activity, not skipping meals, getting enough sleep) rather than the number on the scale as an indicator of your success.  Read my earlier post about the impact on kids when parents have poor body image.
On a final note regarding intentions and goals... I want to thank you who have been reading my blog in 2012.   This started as both an experiment and a personal challenge.  With only 20 posts in the first year, I didn't quite fulfil my own goals but I want to celebrate that I have started and maintained this project.  I've added a Facebook page and have used Twitter to promote the blog - all huge new steps for me.  Two of my posts were reprinted on the Girl Guides of Canada website and the National Eating Disorder Information Centre invited me to write a guest post for their blog.  For a new blogger, it has been a good year!  I am excited about some of my topic ideas for the year ahead and about the challenge of maintaining this as a long term project.   I hope you keep reading and talking about these ideas and I wish you all the best in the year ahead.