Managing Anxiety in Children

Dr. Elizabeth McQuaid, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Donegal Psychology Department

Anxiety is a normal part of being human and can occur in adults and children. Some level of anxiety is perfectly normal and can actually help us to try new things or to perform better at activities. Anxiety is considered to be a problem when the level of anxiety is out of proportion to the stressful situation or when the feeling of anxiety continues after a stressful situation is over. It is also considered to be outside of the typical range if it appears for no apparent reason or if it significantly affects a child’s quality of life.

Symptoms of anxiety in children include frequent tummy aches or headaches, excessive shyness, difficulty taking part in activities and wanting to avoid situations. Anxiety may also make it difficult for children to be away from their caregivers and they may be clingy, cry or have tantrums on separation.

Parenting an anxious child can be really tough as caregivers are often unsure what to do or say. There are a few key points to remember when children are anxious:

  1. Anxiety in children is experienced by them as very real. It is not ‘attention seeking’ or ‘bad behaviour’.
  2. Anxiety can be even harder for children to deal with because their brains are still developing and they don’t, as yet, have the words or problem solving skills to cope.
  3. It is important that we don’t dismiss children’s worries or tell them that they’re being silly.
  4. It’s important that they can talk to those they love about what is bothering them.
  5. Relaxation, mindfulness & yoga for children have been shown by research to help anxiety. Groups are available locally.
  6. Boosting confidence by encouraging children to participate in other activities that they can do well can also help. Martial arts, scouting groups, music, art classes and non-team sports may be easier for the anxious child.
  7. It is important for caregivers to manage their own stress levels. If we are stressed, our children will also be stressed. It is important that children get to spend quality, fun time with the people they love. Stress management groups for adults are run, free of charge, locally by the HSE and are available to all.
  8. Many great books have been written on helping children cope with anxiety. The names of some of these can be found on the Parent Hub website and many are available in the local library.
Helpful Anxiety books for Children and Teenagers.

Helping Your anxious Child: A Step-by-Step Guide. R. Rappe, A. Wignall & S. Spence.

What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kids Guide to Anxiety. Dawn Heubner.

When My Worries get Too Big: A Relaxation Book for Children. Kari Dunn Baron.

The Whole Brain Child.  Daniel Siegel & Tina Bryson.

Parenting from the Inside Out. Daniel Siegel & Tina Bryson.

Raising a Secure Child.  K. Hoffman, G. Cooper & B. Powell.

Sitting Like a Frog: Mindfulness for Children. Eline Snell

The Huge Bag of Worries. Virginia Ironside

Morris and the Bundle of Worries. Jill Seeney

Hold On to Your Kids.  Gabor Mate & Gordon Neufield.

When Someone Very Special Dies: Children can Learn to Cope with Grief. Marge Heegaard.

Helping your Anxious Teen. Sheila Josephs.

The Anxiety Book for Teens . Lisa Schab.

 

Helpful Apps on Anxiety for children and Teenagers.

Stop, Breathe and think Kids: Age 5+

Well Beyond Meditation for kids:  Age 9-11(Apple Store only)

Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame Street: Age 6+

Smiling Mind: Age 4 +

Headspace: Mindfulness:  Age 9+

Mind Yeti:  Age 5-12 (Apple Store only)

Mindshift  CBT : Age 12 +

Superstretch Yoga:  Age 5-11

 

 

It takes a HERO to be the BAD GUY

Great advice from SafeFood about how to help our children eat more healthily

10 steps to reducing children’s treats

On average, about 20% of what children now eat is treat foods. Crisps, biscuits, chocolate and sweets are high in sugar, fat and salt and provide next to nothing in the way of nutrition.

Image of a Mom satisfied that she has not given in to her son's demands for treats.

When children fill up on treats, they don’t have room for more nourishing foods. An unhealthy diet like this will affect their health – from dental problems in the short-term, to serious health issues when they are older.

We all know that children should be eating fewer treats, but cutting down is a real challenge. Our children get treats for lots of reasons – to reward or bribe them; to get them to behave; to make them feel better (and to make us feel better too). Maybe it’s a habit, or because they’re there. And sometimes, it’s because we want a treat ourselves.

No matter the reason, with the help of health experts including nutritionists, parenting experts and parents themselves, we’ve got the support and advice you need to make “treats” just that – a treat again.

 

1. Look around – treats are everywhere

 

At first, don’t make any changes! Take a day or two to become more aware of when and where you and your children see treats each day.

A bag of sweets on a shop counter

Does your child come with you to the supermarket or local shop? Do they see treats on TV or on social media? Do your family, friends and neighbours give them treats?

Once you start noticing that treats are everywhere, you might see that your children see and get more of them than you realised. It’s no surprise that treats are now “everyday” foods. We need to help our children understand that treats are just that – “treats” – something special to be enjoyed occasionally.

2. It takes a hero to be the bad guy

Reducing treats can be really challenging. They’re all around us and you’re going to be tempted by them when you’re out and about, and when you’re at home because that’s now the norm.

A poster which says "It takes a hero to be the bad guy"

No parent wants to say no to their child, but in these situations our kids need to be protected against the onslaught of treats.

So be a hero and say no.

Because it takes a hero to be the bad guy.

3. Start with a plan – and stick with it

It all starts with a plan. Health experts recommend that children should only eat treats in small amounts and not every day.

For some families, this might mean only having treats at the weekend. For others who might be eating treats every day, that could be aiming for a treat-free day. Or cutting down at one part of the day – for example, not having treats after school.

However you start your plan, aim to set a goal of reducing treats that is realistic for you.   You could also think about why your kids eat more treats than you might want them to. Do they ask for them? Does someone else give them? Are you using treats to reward good behaviours or prevent bad ones?  Where are they eating these treats?

Thinking about these might help you to understand some of the triggers. Once you’ve set a goal, you’ll need to work with your family to agree this. Everybody has to be in this together if it’s going to work.

4. Helping you when you need to say “No” to treats

There are going to be lots of different times when you might need help with saying “No” to treats.

A young boy pleading with his Mom for treats

 

Q: “If my child is hungry and asks for a treat, what do I do?”

A: If your child is really hungry, let them have a healthy snack. Here are some options that are quick, easy and tasty. 

5. Looking for help? We’ve got your back

When you’re trying to cut down on treats, you’re probably going to need some help. Let’s be honest, parents aren’t the only ones who give children treats.

A grandmother offering a chocolate bar

So speak to your family, friends and neighbours.

You might also need to discuss this with other clubs and groups that your children are be involved with. Maybe treats shouldn’t be a regular feature of activities?

Join our Make A Start Facebook Group where other parents are discussing their successes (and struggles) when it comes to cutting down on treats.

You might pick up some useful tips or  get support from other parents if things aren’t going great.

6. Out of sight out of mind – avoid triggers

Since treats are all around us, the next step is to try and change that. The two key places that we can control are when food shopping and in our own homes.

Little hands reach for the cookie jar

If you are out shopping in the supermarket, try to stay out of the treats aisles. Try to ignore the special offers on treats at the ends of aisles. If you really don’t want them or need them, they’re not a bargain.

Let’s face it – most of us have a “treats press”, so for younger kids, try to make sure it”s out of reach and that they’re not allowed to take things from it freely.

On a positive note, you can leave healthier foods in easy reach, like a fruit bowl on your counter. That way, children are tempted by these when they’re hungry.

7. You can do this!

If you set a realistic goal, then you know you can do this. And keep telling yourself that you can.

A healthy young girl takes a banana from a fruit bowl

Think about those days that went well and how you managed them.

And if you do have a bad day, just park it, move on and remember the good ones.

8. Give real treats, not treat foods

Sometimes, we want to give our children treats and make them feel special. And it’s important that we continue to do that. But we’re relying more and more on treats and need to think about some healthier options. Many kids really just want a bit more of your time and attention.

A Dad playing football with his son and daughter

Alternative treats could be a trip to your favourite place – the park, the woods, a playground, a beach or library. Whatever is near where you live and brings some enjoyment to you all. You could play a game with them, indoors or outside.

And for those little ones at home, even a hug and kiss can sometimes be the thing to boost everyone’s spirits.

9. Keep an eye on how you are doing

Changing how many treats your children have will take time. On average, it takes about two months to change a habit, or start a new one. 

It can really help if you take a few minutes each week to think about how you are doing and maybe even write down and keep track of when your children had treats. You might not have time for this, but if you do, there’s a treats diary you can print out and use. If things haven’t gone so well, ask yourself a few questions. Are you getting the help you asked for?

Thumbnail image of a printable treats diary for the family

Print the treats diary

Are there still places or times when treats are a particular challenge? Do you need to review the advice on how to say no? If things have gone well, thing about making another small change and make sure you celebrate your success.

10. Celebrate success

When you achieve your goal, no matter how big or small, take a moment to appreciate what you have achieved.

Reducing the amount of treats your children have is a real challenge and you deserve to feel like a hero. Your efforts are helping to set them up for a healthier life both now and the rest of their lives.

 

A Mom and son with text that says "Say no to treats and start your kids on the way to a healthier life"

Fifty Key Messages – parents need good social networks and self care

Connecting with other parents

Connecting with parents similar to your self can be a great support.

Here are some things you can do to connect with people and groups in your community:

School’s Parents’ Association

Get in touch with your teenager’s school’s parents’ association and think about getting involved.  It is a great way to meet other parents.  Also, getting involved in your child’s school is a good message to your teenager that you are interested in them and their education.  We know that when parents get more involved in their child’s education, they will do better in school.

If there is no parents’ association in your teenager’s school you might consider setting one up yourself with a group of parents.

For more information see National Parents’ Council Post Primary website.

Here are some tips from Dr John Sharry of Parents Plus

Parent Mental Health – looking after yourself for the kids’ sake

Though becoming a parent brings many joys and satisfactions, it is inherently stressful and demanding and can take its toll on parents mental health. Parents can easily put all their energies into caring for and attending to their children, and sacrifice their own personal needs and self-care.

Juggling the many demands placed on them, it is easy for parents to cut off from their natural supports or sources of rest or recreation, and over time become depleted stressed and burnt out. This is especially the case if parents are dealing with extra challenges such as a child with special needs, stressful work, and/or family losses or crises.

Further, in the modern world, many parents suffer from a constant guilt – a guilt that they are not doing enough or they are not doing it right and this all adds to the pressure.

For some parents becoming a parent is not how they anticipated and instead of the joyful feelings of love for their child, they can experience a sense of loss for their former life and experience their child as a burden. These negative feelings (though part and parcel of being a parent) can lead to extra guilt and can become repressed leading to further stress or depression – such feelings are often the basis of post natal depression.

Though many parents sacrifice attending to their own needs and mental health for the sake of their children, ironically in the long term this does not serve their children’s needs. If you become stressed, burnt out, or depressed as a parent then you can no longer be there for your children.

When your mental health suffers you can become negative, inconsistent and resentful or neglectful in your parenting. As a result, it is important for parents to prioritise their own welfare and mental health, as well as caring for their children. This is a crucial balance to achieve as much for your children’s sake as your own.

Children need cared-for parents as much as they need parents to care for them. It is a bit like the safety notice on planes which says that though your inclination is the reverse, you should first put your own oxygen mask on before helping your child with his.

This is why when making crucial parenting decisions you should take into account your own mental health needs as a parent as well as those of your children. For example:

– when deciding how to approach a baby not sleeping through the night, some parents opt for letting the child co-sleep with them in their bed for a period and others work hard at getting the child to settle in his room. The decision should be as much about what is least disruptive and most restful for the parent as what works for the child.

– with a toddler you might feel under pressure to start toilet training with your child, but because you are going through a difficult period in work, it might be a better idea to defer the training until you have more time.

– with older children, you might become stressed, ferrying them to all their extra-curricular activities when you it would be better for your own mental health to reduce these activities drastically or make other arrangements for your children travelling there.

In my own clinical practice, many of the parents come to the service looking for strategies to deal with their children’s behavioural problems. However, frequently they are so stressed or overwhelmed by the problems that they are not even in a position to reflect about how they are reacting let alone implement a behaviour management plan.

The first step to help them take a step back and to build plans around their self-care and support. No progress can be made with their child until they feel more secure and centred as parents. Frequently, my advice to parents is to redirect some of the time and energy that they have being putting into caring for their children towards caring for themselves.

Taking this step back and shifting perspective can make a big difference. Once a parent feels more relaxed and secure, they can begin to understand their own reactions and to separatetheir own needs from those of their children. From that position, you can begin to make choices in how you parent and tackle any problems that arise.

Though parenting is about relationships with your children, good parenting starts with your relationship with yourself. The more you can understand the sources of your own reactions and attend to your own needs, the more you will be able to understand and respond to your children’s individual needs.

This means you must learn to prioritise your own mental health as well supporting your children’s well being.

In the long term, practising self-care as a parent has benefits for your children as well as yourself. Not only will you feel more secure, content and fulfilled as a person, but your children will have access to more available, attentive and consistent parents.

PARENTAL SELF-CARE
Practice daily self care
Try and have a daily relaxation time for yourself that you keep sacrosanct, This could be a short daily walk, or doing yoga, or 15 minutes reading before bed or simply having a cup of tea listening to the radio. Find something that works for you.

Have a weekly review time
Have a weekly review time, when you take time to review the important priorities in your life. Are you getting the right balance between your work and personal life, and between parenting your children and attending to your needs as a individual. Take time to understand your own needs and wishes as person as well as all the demands that are put on you as parent,
worker, spouse etc.

Take action if you feel you are getting over stressed
Notice the early warning signals of your stress levels rising ( such as irritation, tiredness or even physical sickness). Take early action to address things such as seeking support, changing routines, saying no to less important demands etc. Though this might be extra work in the short-term ( e.g. setting up a more relaxing routine/ arranging day care) this will benefit you in the long term.

Prof. John Sharry, Irish Times, October 2010.  John writes in the Irish Times Health Plus every Tuesday.
Autumn 2018 courses for parents with John Sharry in Dublin, Cork and Galway. Bookings and info: see www.solutiontalk.ie

If you want to explore more Key Messages to support your parenting see https://www.tusla.ie/parenting-24-seven/12-years/

Fifty Key Messages – when your child or teenager won’t go to school

Sometimes young people refuse to attend school despite the best wishes of their parents. There are often underlying reasons behind the young person’s decision not to attend school and parents often feel powerless to help their child.

If your child is refusing to attend school and you need support, contact us and an Educational Welfare Officer will get in touch with you.

Can I be taken to court if my child doesn’t attend school?

If you are a parent or guardian of a child aged between 6 and 16 you have a central role to play in ensuring that your child does not miss out on his or her education. Under Irish law you must ensure that your child attends school or otherwise receives an education.

For more information, see: ‘Don’t let your child miss out’

Click here for the PDF Dont let your child miss out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click here for the PDF Ná bíodh do leanbhsa thíos leis

See also: School Attendance – what every parent needs to know

If you want to explore more Key Messages to support your parenting see https://www.tusla.ie/parenting-24-seven/12-years/

Fifty Key Messages – talking about anxiety

It is normal for our bodies to prepare us for challenges by giving us an increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, muscle tension, sweats, shakes and a feeling of butterflies in the stomach (this often happens when making a speech or doing an interview), this is anxiety. Anxiety is worry. It is an emotion that we all feel when we are faced with challenges. Anxiety, at times, can be useful as it helps us prepare for and perform tasks. However, when anxiety becomes an illness it is called an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders are even more common than depression with roughly 25% of young people aged 12 to 25 experiencing anxiety (Kessler et al 2005). 

Anxiety disorders occur when the anxiety becomes intense, causes distress, lasts a certain amount of time (not just a few days) and affects day to day living. People with anxiety disorders can experience these physical sensations often or can have repeated occurrences, called panic attacks.

There are a number of different types of anxiety disorders, to find out more about them go to www.yourmentalhealth.ie and www.reachout.com

Adapted from Foroige’s Mental Health Resource

You might be concerned you’re your teenager has an anxiety disorder, remember there is help out there for you and your family: www.tusla.ie www.hse.ie

If you want to explore more of the Key Messages to support your parenting see https://www.tusla.ie/parenting-24-seven/12-years/

Fifty Key Messages – tips if you suspect your child is being bullied or is a bully

Tips if you suspect your child is being bullied or is a bully.

Unfortunately, bullying isn’t uncommon, and in some surveys up to 40 per cent of children report experiencing or being involved in bullying at school. Many children who are targeted are already marginalised or struggling. Up to half of those who are bullied suffer in silence and don’t tell their parents or teachers what is going on.

Bullying behaviours can be physical and direct, such as slagging, intimidation and aggression, or more subtle and relational such as exclusion, talking negatively about a child to others, or the silent treatment.

The growth of social media, texting and online communication has provided new ways to harass others, and, given the public nature of these forums, they can be more devastating for children and teenagers.

Bullying is also a complex group phenomenon, which is reinforced by an audience and supported by the silence of bystanders. Many children who engage in it are not aware of its impact on the victim or may have been victims themselves. All cases require a sensitive response.

How can you tell if your child is being bullied? Though some children are reluctant to tell, there are many indicators that your child might be being bullied or that s/he is coping with some other problem: unexplained cuts or bruises, sudden lack of confidence; anxiety about going to school; poor school performance; privacy about online communications.

WHAT CAN YOU DO IF YOU SUSPECT YOUR CHILD IS BEING BULLIED?

The first thing is to help your child to talk about what is happening. Being specific about your worries can help a reluctant child to open up. You can say, “I notice you have been very unhappy going to school the last few days. Is there anything or anyone bothering you there?”

Listen to your child’s feelings about what has happened and support them emotionally. Remember this is as important as taking action to stop the bullying. Crucially, reassure your child that he or she is not at fault and does not deserve to be targeted.

Be careful about over-reacting to what your child discloses by becoming very upset yourself or by immediately rushing in a rage to the school to demand action. Impulsive actions can make matters worse and can make your child reluctant to talk to you.

Make a plan of action to deal with it, such as meeting the school or contacting the website host. Seek professional support and guidance as necessary.

Depending on your child’s age, talk through with them what actions they can take to protect themselves or to stop the bullying, such as keeping away from their tormentors, being assertive in response to taunts or talking to teachers. Be wary of thinking children can solve the problem themselves. Most children need the support of an adult.

Remember to support the child’s friendship with children who are kind to them. Encourge their involvement in healthy, enjoyable pursuits that provide respite and another source of support to them.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU SUSPECT YOUR CHILD IS A BULLY

Take a report that your child might be bullying seriously. Don’t under-react by dismissing the suggestion – “my child would never do such a thing” – nor over-react by being very punitive towards your child. The key is to intervene early to stop the pattern and to help your child to learn better ways to communicate or to fit in with a group.

Present the information directly to your child and listen carefully to their account of what is happening as well as their feelings.

Focus on the alleged behaviour you want to stop and not your child’s “being a bully”. Help him or her to think of the impact of the behaviour on the other child and to imagine how he or she might feel in the same situation. Emphasise the importance of respecting, accepting and including others.

Explore actions your child can take to move forward, such as apologising if appropriate, or communication skills he or she can use to stop the bullying. For example, if it occurs in a group, explore what your child might say or do to stop it, for example by addressing the person who is starting it with, “Come on, don’t be stupid, leave John alone.”

Hold them accountable for their behaviour and warn them of consequences, such as loss of privileges, if they don’t stop.

Monitor the situation carefully and make sure to check with your child how things are going. Work co-operatively with the school or whoever made the report to sort things out.

HOW SCHOOLS CAN HELP

Schools have a particular responsibility to address bullying by having proactive positive-behaviour and anti-bullying policies, with a preventative component such as educating children about the dangers of bullying, and teaching face to face and social media communication skills.

The silence surrounding bullying means schools need to encourage children to report bullying incidents. Some schools are creative, conducting frequent anonymous surveys with pupils about bullying incidents and, most importantly, following these up.

Schools need to act quickly following reports, including skilled interviewing of the alleged bully (see above), school sanctions and skilled classroom interventions.

John Sharry, Irish Times Newspaper, November 3rd 2012

Source: Solution Talk

More information available from Tusla.

If you want to explore more Key Messages to support your parenting see https://www.tusla.ie/parenting-24-seven/12-years/

Fifty Key Messages – talking to your teenager about a problem

Talking is healing: 

Your older child might be happy to talk to you about things that are bothering them.  However, sometimes they feel unable to talk to their parents.  Encourage them to talk to someone they trust.

Emotional Well-being:

How a young person deals with the ups and downs of everyday life can have an impact on their emotional well- being. Here are some important things for both parents and young people to know and understand:

  • Encourage your young people to talk about how they are feeling.
  • Everyone deals with issues or concerns in a different manner. What seems like a big deal to one teenager may not be to another.
  • A young person should appreciate the importance of ‘time out’ and relaxation to promote positive emotional well-being.
  • Be familiar with local, specialised services.

If you want to explore more Key Messages to support your parenting see https://www.tusla.ie/parenting-24-seven/12-years/

Fifty Key Messages – do you know who your teenager’s role model is?

Do you know who your teenager admires, who their role model is?

Do they emulate their behaviour in any way, and how do you feel about that person’s behaviour and values?

Teenagers select role models, whether good or bad, to emulate. As they strive to develop a sense of identity and purpose, role models become important in helping a young person identify the behaviours, attitudes and qualities they need to succeed in life.

As celebrities are constantly in the media, they have become role models for many teenagers and young adults, influencing their attitudes and behaviours. Unfortunately many of the role models for today’s teens are size zero superstar singers or movie stars shooting machine guns, with less coverage being given to those who project positive messages.

As role models can have such a huge influence on young people, it is important for parents to keep the lines of communication open with their teenagers, to help them work out if a celebrity or person is a worthy role model. The following can help get the conversation started:

  • Casually talk to your teenager about who their favourite celebrities are and what it is they admire about the person. Find out more about the celebrity; watch an episode of a show they are in with your teen or read up on them,
  • Ask them for their opinion of the actions or lifestyle choices of the celebrities they admire and offer your own opinion on these different celebrities. When discussing their role models with them, it is important to remember that with your help and guidance, young people can still admire the talents and skills of celebrities while also recognising the mistakes or bad choices that person is making in their personal lives,
  • Ask them if they have any other role models, aside from celebrities. Role models don’t have to be famous or popular, they come from all walks of life; family members, teachers, coaches and many others in a community who demonstrate positive qualities and make responsible decisions that your teenager can look up to.

As well as talking to your teenager about who they admire, it’s important to remember that you as their parent are still a powerful role model for them; your behaviours also offer them a road map to follow in life. Young people respect adults who walk their talk, so rather than telling them what to do or what not to do, model the behaviours you want to see in them. ‘Seeing is believing’, what young people see and believe they become!

Clare Crowley Collier, Therapist, Educator & Facilitator for Teenagers and Parents

Source:  Family Matters

If you want to explore more Key Messages to support your parenting see https://www.tusla.ie/parenting-24-seven/12-years/

Fifty Key Messages – children, teenagers and self harm

It can be a very worrying time for you as a parent when you suspect that your child or teenager is harming themselves.  Self-harm means harming yourself as a way of dealing with emotional distress. Sometimes distressing problems may feel like they will never go away. It can seem that things will never get better. This can be a lonely place to be. Some people use self-harm as a way to try to escape from or deal with pain or stress that they find difficult to tolerate in their lives.

If self-harm is something you use as a way of dealing with emotional pain, there is support available to help you find other ways of coping.

If you have a child who you suspect has self-harmed or you believe they are thinking of self-harming, you can get help from:

  • General Practitioner (GP)

Find a local family doctor (GP) or health centre by visiting the HSE.ie online service finder. If it’s late in the evening, night time or the weekend, contact a G.P. Out of Hours Service.  G.P.s are also listed under ‘General Practitioners’ in the Golden Pages. Find out how a G.P. can offer support for mental health problems.

  • Hospital services

Go to or contact the Emergency Department of your nearest general hospital if you have a child or teenager who has self harmed and needs medical attention. Hospitals are listed on the HSE.ie online service finder. You can also contact the emergency services by calling 999 or 112.

  • HSE Mental health services 

If your child or teenager has been (or is currently) supported by a mental health team, go to the Emergency Department or contact the service you are attending and ask for an appointment as soon as possible.

  • Counselling 

Pieta House offer support and counselling. A G.P. can recommend counselling services in your area. These might include free, low cost or private options.

  • Listening service

Parentline.ie is a resource for parents who are experiencing difficulties, contact them on LoCall 1890 927277 or 01 8733500.

Samaritans is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for anyone struggling to cope. For confidential, non-judgemental support please free call 116 123 in the Republic of Ireland or 08457 90 90 90 in Northern Ireland, email jo@samaritans.org, or visit www.samaritans.ie for details of the nearest branch.

To explore more Key Messages to support your parenting see https://www.tusla.ie/parenting-24-seven/12-years/

Fifty Key Messages – Safety first, let’s talk about sexual health

Sexual Health:

Talk about sexual health with your teenager. Remember sexual health isn’t only about having safe sex, it is also about how your teenager feels about their developing body, their understanding of being attracted to somebody and being intimate and developing and maintaining respectful relationships. It is important that we enable our teenagers to make responsible choices with regards their sexual health.

Here are some important things for young people to know and understand:

  • All young people are different and therefore grow and develop at different times,
  • In relation to any intimate activity all young people need to always negotiate consent. That means both giving and getting consent,
    • The right to say ‘no’. Every person has the right to control what happens to their body. Your child should never feel pressured into doing anything that doesn’t feel right. Talk with your child about recognising what feels comfortable and safe, rather than doing what their friends are doing,
    • What ‘safe sex’ means, and how to protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections,
    • The laws that apply to sex and sexual touching,
  • How, when and where to get advice on any issue related to sexuality: GP, school/college counsellor, community health services, online sources.

For more information:

I’m worried my 16 year old is having sex

Q. My 16-year-old son has his first serious girlfriend who is the same age. They seem to be “madly in love” and want to spend every waking hour with each other. This is fine, to a degree, and I remember being in love as a teenager myself, but I am worried that it is all a bit too serious. I am particularly worried that they might have sex and I find myself supervising or chaperoning them when they are in the house to the point that it must be annoying. I have had the conversation with him about him being too young to have sex and he has been told about birth control and safe sex. Each time we have a conversation like this he gets embarrassed and fobs me off. My husband thinks I am over reacting, that he is a sensible kid and I should back off a bit. They will both be 17 at the end of the year but even so I am not sure about them having sex at that age. My main worry is that she will become pregnant. Any advice is welcome

A. The prospect of their teenagers becoming sexually active is generally an uncomfortable subject for most parents. Many parents have strong beliefs and values as to when their teenagers are ready to have sex and even parents with more liberal views who accept their teenagers having sex may find it hard to accept that this might be happening under their own roof. As you have discovered, it can also be an embarrassing subject to raise directly with your teenager and, as a result, it is easily avoided or discussed only indirectly or with vague warnings about consequences and dangers. However, I would suggest that it is important for you and your husband to confront the issue head on and to find ways to discuss the issues frankly with your son. Below are some guidelines.

Think through your own values

The first thing to do is to think through your own values and what is at issue for you. It is perfectly reasonable for you not to want your son to start a sexual relationship until he at least reaches the age of consent, especially given the legal implications of this. You are also entitled to share your values with him about sex and relationships and to state a preference that he might wait until he is older or is more secure in the relationship or until he has completed his Leaving Cert, or whatever else is important to you. It is also reasonable that there should be some element of chaperoning and supervision when he is with his girlfriend now and even beyond the age of 17. You should also take into account what his girlfriend’s parents might feel about the situation. They may also not like the idea of their daughter being unsupervised or involved in a sexual relationship at a young age.

Be realistic

However, you also need to be realistic and accept that your son and his girlfriend may choose to have sex despite how you feel about this. Even if you could supervise and chaperone your son all the time, this may not be desirable as it does not teach your son about being responsible and making his own decisions. Also, if you are too “controlling”, this could backfire and it could push him to defy you or to hide things from you and to not tell you when he is seeing his girlfriend. For this reason, as well as stating your values, it is important to make sure that your son understands contraception and is prepared to use it. It is important to warn him about the power of sexual attraction and how many young people can have sex in an unplanned way in the heat of the moment and this is when they are most at risk of pregnancy, and so on. You need to make sure he understands that it’s up to both partners to think about using condoms and contraception.

Having the conversation

Though it can be an awkward conversation, it is important to confront these issues head on and to raise the concerns in a matter-of-fact way. Picking a good time to talk is a crucial first step, for example when you have time alone together such as on a walk or in the car. It can be a good idea to start gently and positively by making positive comments such as “Things seem to be going well with N” or “N seems like a lovely girl” or by asking open questions “How are things going with N?” Encourage him to talk about the relationship and listen carefully to his feelings. Accepting his relationship and what it means to him is important and will reduce his defensiveness.

In raising the issue of sex, a good strategy is to be matter of fact and to ask him what he thinks as well as stating your own views. For example, you could say “As your parent, you should know I think you should wait until you are older before you have sex . . . What do you think?” If he is embarrassed or finds it hard to answer, acknowledge this is a difficult conversation but that as a parent you need to talk to him to ensure he knows the facts and is well prepared. It could be helpful if both you and your husband have these conversations with him at different times so he gets access to both the male and female viewpoint as well as the support of his mother and father.

Trust your son

Bringing up teenagers is a delicate balance of setting rules and guiding them as well as backing off and trusting them to make their own decisions. Expressing a belief in your son that he can make good decisions – “I know you are sensible” – can help him believe in himself. Above all, keep the channels of communication open between you so you can be there to support him along the way. There are some great resources and downloadable booklets on talking to teenagers about sex and sexuality on www.crisispregnancy.ie.

John Sharry, Irish Times, May 2013.

Source:  Solution Talk 

To explore more Key Messages to support your parenting see https://www.tusla.ie/parenting-24-seven/12-years/