How to have that conversation about middle school girls, helping a grieving child after losing a family pet, and teaching your kids how to embrace their new community after a big move.
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“It’s important for a child to develop resilience and the way that happens is through meeting and solving problems.”
"I’m already anxious for this next school year. My daughter is starting middle school. I know what middle school girls are like—I was once one myself long ago! How do I talk to my daughter about how different middle school will be compared to elementary school? How do I do so without causing her any anxiety too?"
I understand your concern about your daughter starting middle school this Fall. I too remember how the social aspects of those years were difficult to navigate. There are books written about the “Mean Girls” phenomenon that begins during those years. There is a tendency to project your anxiety onto your daughter and to forewarn and protect her. You are, after all, a “mother bear’. It was wise to say that you did not want to increase her anxiety. She’s probably already anxious about the new school and the new environment. But I question the wisdom of forewarning her. It’s important for a child to develop resilience and the way that happens is through meeting and solving problems. She’ll need you to be there for her as situations arise and as she struggles with ways to respond. I question whether it’s even possible to warn someone about pitfalls without causing unnecessary anxiety. Learning about human relationships in the real world is an invaluable experience that bolsters self esteem and reinforces resilience, the ability to bounce back from trauma and adversity. Being forewarned denies us the chance to confront problems in our own way.
"We recently lost our 12-year-old dog and our whole family has been in mourning. My wife and I got Rico when he was a puppy and he was there for the birth of our two kids, who are now 6 and 8. My 8-year-old is taking it especially hard. I don’t think she remembers life without Rico. Any advice on how to help navigate a grieving kid?"
Grief is a burden, lighter when shared. The death of a family dog is universally difficult. Learning how to confront dying and death and grief is an important life experience and life skill. Encourage your daughter to talk about how she’s feeling. Tell her that grief comes in waves and that those waves will decrease in both severity and frequency over time. I’m glad that she’s not repressing those feelings and “getting over it”. Don’t hide your own sadness from your child. It’s important for her to know that she’s not alone and that others feel sad as well. When you talk about your grief or reminisce about the dog, you are setting an example for your daughter to mirror. Is it ok to cry? Is it ok to want another dog? Remember to talk about the dog and share stories, even if it might cause tears. The subject should not be hidden or repressed. And don’t forget the importance of ritual. Bury him in the back yard or spread his ashes on his favorite walking trail. It’s an important part of the grieving process.
"My family just moved to Boulder from the East Coast. It was a hard and lonely move in the middle of the pandemic, and so it was difficult for my kids to feel at home and make friends. I worry they’ve given up hope on Boulder and are shutting themselves off from any chances at making new friends. How can I help teach them to be optimistic and outgoing and embrace a new community?"
The move to Boulder sounds like it was difficult for the whole family. Relocating is hard under normal circumstances and even more during a pandemic lockdown. Do you know what “mirror neurons” are? They are the brain cells that respond when we see someone doing something or acting in a certain way which then influences our subsequent behavior.
With that in mind, how are you doing? Are you “optimistic and outgoing and embracing your new community”? Your behavior as parents will have a great and long-lasting effect on your children’s behavior. You can reinforce that with words, of course, but the words must reflect your actions. Teaching resilience, the ability to recover when things are difficult, to be strong on the inside and to do your best, whatever happens, depends on your grasp of these concepts as well. Having a positive and welcoming attitude toward life in general and leading with an expectation of acceptance, you can show your children how to be by being that way yourself.
-Romona Scholder, M.A., RNCS, Psychotherapist