Archive for March, 2013

Helping Children With Monster Fear

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

This article can be found at: http://www.lucydanielscenter.org/page/helping-children-with-monster-fears

Young children frequently develop fears of monsters. Children don’t think about monsters in the same way that adults do. To a child, a monster is a real something, whether person or creature, that i

ntends to harm that child or other family members. Children as young as two years of age may develop monster fears. Parents are often baffled as to the origin of these monster fears as well as by the relative ineffectiveness of their reassurances that monsters are pretend and the child is safe. Why does child after child fear terrible creatures? And what do these monsters mean to children?

Why monsters?: Children create monsters because all children have personal experiences that convince them that people can behave destructively toward other people. There are two kinds of experiences that bring this lesson to young children. The first type, which only some children have, is the direct observation that people can be overtly hurtful. Perhaps a child witnesses or is the recipient of physical or hurtful verbal aggression. It is important to keep in mind that children may interpret parental aggression to mean that adults can be destructive even if the adults are not intentionally hurtful or cruel. For example, some children may experience corporal punishment to mean that their kind parents have the potential to turn into scary and dangerous people. (This is one reason that we recommend against using corporal punishment.) As another illustration, because children age five and under do not fully understand the distinction between pretend and reality, they may respond to dangerous villains in a video as if they were real. Young children’s successful emotional development will be supported – and monster fears minimized – if they are protected as much as possible from exposure to overt aggression or hurting.

The second type of experience, occurring for every child, takes place whenever a child observes angry feelings inside himself or herself. Sometimes a child’s anger can be quite intense – temper tantrums illustrate just how strong these feelings can become. All children experience angry feelings because anger and aggressive thoughts are a basic psychological response to any distress or painful situation such as disappointment, frustration, loneliness, boredom, physical pain, and anxiety.

Young children are often frightened by their anger. They are scared that they might lose control of that anger and hurt loved ones and/or get punished. Furthermore, because young children often believe that parents can read their minds, children worry about how their parents would react if they knew about their aggressive and angry thoughts.

These fears strongly motivate children to achieve control over their anger and corresponding aggression. One important way that children develop this self-control is through using the emotionally self-protective mechanism known as “externalization.” Externalization refers the remarkable and normal capacity of children (and adults) to create the illusion that their own unwanted feelings belong to something else rather than themselves.

Externalization of aggression helps children feel more comfortable with themselves, because they feel as if they are free of the aggression. The disadvantage of externalization is that the aggression does not really go away. Children become afraid of the aggression and destruction that now seems to lurk around them: There are suddenly monsters out there! Therefore, children’s fear of monsters is fueled by an entirely appropriate fear of their own aggression, and, in some cases, may be reinforced by scary life experiences.

Children’s externalization of aggression provides them with a respite during which they can develop the confidence and tools to control, channel, and tame their aggression. Children who develop such mastery of their aggression tend to feel the least like monsters, have the fewest fears, and are most able to channel their aggression to achieve constructive goals.

Here are some ways parents can help their child feel stronger than the monsters. The single most important way is for parents to demonstrate that they feel stronger than the monsters! A parent’s secure calmness and lovingness will convey more than specific words could ever convey. Parents should also communicate their belief that their child can also be stronger than the monsters. Parents can do this by encouraging their child to actively fight the monsters. A child’s active participation will support his or her mastery. Perhaps a parent can have an air spray that makes monsters disappear; children can use the monster spray at bedtime during a monster hunt. Other helpful strategies include:

·    Monster stop signs around the room made by a child;

·    Lights on (because monsters hate light!);

·    Mommy’s mean face at the monsters;

·    Practice during the day calling Mommy for help during the night if he or she becomes too afraid.

Why now? Although it is common for a child to develop fears of monsters, it may be helpful to understand why the fear has emerged at a particular point. If such an understanding can be achieved, parents may be able to change a situation or provide some specific support that will decrease the extent of children’s externalized anger and thereby decrease the strength of their fear of monsters. Children may benefit from such support because they are either experiencing greater anger or a diminished ability to cope with their anger. Children’s level of anger increases, as previously mentioned, in response to emotional or physical pain or distress. Such distressing events include the arrival of a new sibling, a move to a new house, a parent who is feeling blue, a parent who is away on a trip, a grandparent who is sick or dying, an increase in childcare hours beyond the child’s current capacity to tolerate comfortably, or a particularly frightening experience. Children’s ability to cope with anger may diminish when their resources are already being taxed for other reasons, such as because they are tired, ill, or confronting new challenges such as beginning school.

A parent’s understanding of the basis of their child’s fears, their provision of protection against the experience of excessive aggression, and their support of the child’s active mastery will assist their child to master aggression and to develop healthy self-esteem and self-reliance.

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Children Need Moms and Dads: The Involved Father

Saturday, March 16th, 2013

The Involved Father by Glenn Stanton

Fathers are just as essential to healthy child development as mothers. Psychology Today explained, “Fatherhood turns out to be a complex and unique phenomenon with huge consequences for the emotional and intellectual growth of children.”1

Erik Erikson, a pioneer in the world of child psychology, asserts that a father’s love and a mother’s love are qualitatively different. Fathers “love more dangerously” because their love is more “expectant, more instrumental” than a mother’s love.2 A father brings unique contributions to the job of parenting a child that no one else can replicate. Following are some of the most compelling ways that a father’s involvement makes a positive difference in a child’s life.

Fathers parent differently.

Fathering expert Dr. Kyle Pruett explains that fathers have a distinct style of communication and interaction with children. By eight weeks of age, infants can tell the difference between their mother’s and father’s interaction with them.

This diversity, in itself, provides children with a broader, richer experience of contrasting relational interactions. Whether they realize it or not, children are learning, by sheer experience, that men and women are different and have different ways of dealing with life, other adults and children. This understanding is critical for their development.

Fathers play differently.

Fathers tickle more, they wrestle, and they throw their children in the air (while mother says . . . “Not so high!”). Fathers chase their children, sometimes as playful, scary “monsters.”

Fathering expert John Snarey explains that children who roughhouse with their fathers learn that biting, kicking and other forms of physical violence are not acceptable.3 They learn self-control by being told when “enough is enough” and when to settle down. Girls and boys both learn a healthy balance between timidity and aggression.

Fathers build confidence.

Go to any playground and listen to the parents. Who is encouraging kids to swing or climb just a little higher, ride their bike just a little faster, throw just a little harder? Who is encouraging kids to be careful? Mothers protect and dads encourage kids to push the limits.

Either of these parenting styles by themselves can be unhealthy. One can tend toward encouraging risk without consideration of consequences. The other tends to avoid risk, which can fail to build independence and confidence. Together, they help children remain safe while expanding their experiences and increasing their confidence.

Fathers communicate differently.

A major study showed that when speaking to children, mothers and fathers are different. Mothers will simplify their words and speak on the child’s level. Men are not as inclined to modify their language for the child. The mother’s way facilitates immediate communication; the father’s way challenges the child to expand her vocabulary and linguistic skills — an important building block of academic success.

Fathers discipline differently.

Educational psychologist Carol Gilligan tells us that fathers stress justice, fairness and duty (based on rules), while mothers stress sympathy, care and help (based on relationships). Fathers tend to observe and enforce rules systematically and sternly, teaching children the consequences of right and wrong. Mothers tend toward grace and sympathy, providing a sense of hopefulness. Again, either of these disciplinary approaches by themselves is not good, but together, they create a healthy, proper balance.

Fathers prepare children for the real world.

Involved dads help children see that attitudes and behaviors have consequences. For instance, fathers are more likely than mothers to tell their children that if they are not nice to others, kids will not want to play with them. Or, if they don’t do well in school, they will not get into a good college or secure a desirable job. Fathers help children prepare for the reality and harshness of the world.

Fathers provide a look at the world of men.

Men and women are different. They eat differently. They dress differently. They cope with life differently. Girls and boys who grow up with a father are more familiar and secure with the curious world of men.

Girls with involved, married fathers are more likely to have healthier relationships with the opposite sex because they learn from their fathers how proper men act toward women. They know which behaviors are inappropriate.

They also have a healthy familiarity with the world of men — they don’t wonder how a man’s facial stubble feels or what it’s like to be hugged by strong arms. This knowledge builds emotional security and safety from the exploitation of predatory males.

Boys who grow up with dads are less likely to be violent. They have their masculinity affirmed and learn from their fathers how to channel their masculinity and strength in positive ways. Fathers help sons understand proper male sexuality, hygiene and behavior in age-appropriate ways. As noted sociologist David Popenoe explains, “Fathers are far more than just ‘second adults’ in the home. Involved fathers — especially biological fathers — bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring.”4


Helping families thrive with the support of friends like you.


Copyright © 2004 Glenn T. Stanton. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

1“Shuttle Diplomacy,” Psychology Today, July/August 1993, p. 15.
2As cited in Kyle D. Pruett, The Nurturing Father, (New York: Warner Books, 1987), p. 49.
3John Snarey, How Fathers Care for the Next Generation: A Four Decade Study (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), p. 35-36.
4David Popenoe, Life Without Father (New York: The Free Press, 1996), p. 163.

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Rachel Talamantez, MA, LMFT, provides psychotherapy, parenting support and reflective practice in Santa Clara County, California where she sees children, couples and adults. She is endorsed in California as an Infant-Family and Early Childhood Mental Health Specialist and a Reflective Practice Facilitator Mentor. She holds a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology and is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Visit Rachel’s website at www.nurturing-relationships.com

Nurturing your Relationship: Couples Relationship Meetings

Friday, March 15th, 2013

All couples need the opportunity to openly discuss their relationship with one another in a calm manner that promotes connection and honesty. During this meeting feelings can be honestly discussed as a strategy to keep anger and bitterness away from your relationship. During this relationship meeting couples can focus on increasing their awareness of their own behaviors, communicate in ways that enhances connection, with the ultimate goal of supporting your relationship in being deeper and more satisfying.

In his book Emotional Fitness for Couples, Dr. Barton Goldsmith recommends some strategies to get started. He encourages couples to adjust the guidelines and be creative:

  • Connect with your partner. Do this by holding hands and looking into each other’s eyes. Verbally thank each other for participating in this process. This lets your partner know that you are present emotionally as well as physically. Ask each other how you are feeling right now.
  • Keep it upbeat. Begin by acknowledging what the two of you have done well over the past week. You can start the discussion by talking about the nicest things that happened. Encourage each other to talk about feelings, not just tasks. This will make it easier to make changes.
  • Make the commitment to have this meeting every week (or even twice a week). Consistency is the key to making this process and your relationship work. In a short time, you will enjoy the focused attention and look forward to this time together.
  • Remember the basic rules of communication. There is a speaker and a listener; the speaker speaks while the listener listens without getting defensive or accusatory. Start by each of you taking three minutes to say what’s on your mind.
  • Talk about things that matter. Don’t hold on to feelings that are making you uncomfortable. This is the time to present your issues in a calm and constructive way. In areas where there have been difficulties, point them out gently and don’t be punitive.
  • Help each other heal old issues. Is there anything that is still unresolved? Did you both keep your commitments? Make sure you follow up on past decisions so that you keep the trust in each other and the process. Once you agree that an issue is resolved, there is no need to rehash it.
  • Discuss the future plans. Talk about the calendar for the coming week and the future, both near and far. Happiness comes from moving toward what you want, so make sure you always have goals and dreams.
  • Fun of some kind should follow each meeting. Some couples make this their weekly date night, and others cook together or get takeout and a DVD movie. Whatever works for you both is fine, as long as you’re having some fun.
  • Work toward comprise and consensus. Win-lose is the same as lose-lose. Avoid this situation by talking until you both agree or at least agree to disagree. Remember that the purpose here is to bring you closer together. Encourage one another to participate fully in the meeting.
  • When the discussion ends, consolidate the gains you have made and share the vision and the goals of your relationship. It may be helpful to write down your decisions. Be sure to acknowledge each other for participating in this process.
Rachel Talamantez, MA, LMFT, provides psychotherapy, parenting support and reflective practice in Santa Clara County, California where she sees children, couples and adults. She is endorsed in California as an Infant-Family and Early Childhood Mental Health Specialist and a Reflective Practice Facilitator Mentor. She holds a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology and is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Visit Rachel’s website at www.nurturing-relationships.com