Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Fighting Mad

The more I learn about the brain the more I question our innate responses to conflict.  It just doesn’t make sense the way we try to do things and the way our brain actually works.  For example, we try to explain ourselves when the other person is angry, or we ask questions when the other person is angry, or we try to teach better responses when the other person is angry… doesn’t work but we keep doing it. 

Let me try to explain this simply….basically your brains primary goal is to keep you alive, it is it’s main purpose.  So when something happens that your brain perceives as a threat to safety it responds by fighting back or running away.  This is known as the fight, flight response.  And this response is instinctual, preprogramed for everyone, and you naturally do one or the other.  So when a person, regardless of age or developmental stage, feels threatened they respond in an attempt to protect themselves. 

Let me give an illustration to help with this explanation.  Your child wants ice cream for snack, but it is getting really close to dinner time, and ice cream is not necessarily as nutritious as the planned meal.  So you tell your child “No, it is too close to dinner but maybe for dessert if you eat a good dinner.” Nice long logical explanation, and to a rational brain it makes sense.  But unfortunately your child hears “NO!” which causes their brain to feel threatened.  It is threatening because they are hungry, a basic need, and if they do not get said food they will DIE. Which causes the brain to panic and become defensive, and they go into a temper tantrum.  Now what typically happens is we as parents try to logic with them, we try to convince them, we try to control them.  But the real problem is logic and facts are accessed in the upstairs part of the brain- the lobes, and temper tantrums and fear are located in downstairs part of the brain- the brain stem.  Then when logic does not work and our child continues to tantrum our mirror neurons kick in and we imitate the child by yelling at them.  Now we too are in our downstairs brain and no one is able to be logical.  This can continue as long as we allow it, which depending on your adrenaline levels could be anywhere from minutes to hours.  And this is the cycle, every day, or every week, or every year.  It repeats itself over and over because we are not using our brain well, we are just imitating parenting techniques that were used with us.

So I am proposing a new idea. When someone in a situation gets angry just be present.  Don’t try to control or solve the situation, just be present.  Let them expel their adrenaline, then acknowledge their interpretation or experience, and let them get it all out.  Then just sit a few moments.  When they seem calmer identify or summarize what you heard them say and then just wait again.  If they are able to get up in to the top part of their brain they might say why they are really upset, typically it is an unmet expectation or a faulty belief.  And then you can adjust the expectations accordingly.  The teaching moment for children comes later, usually at bed time.  This is a good time to calmly review what happened, what was learned, and what might work better next time.  This is a time they can access their logical brain and we can all learn something.  But not when they are mad.  Not when we are mad.

The main idea here is : for too long we have tried to teach and direct our children when they are angry and acting out.  It doesn’t work, because the brain can’t think when it feels threatened, it is designed to survive. And because the brain is not designed to be logical when it is upset nothing positive is accomplished. The really interesting thing is this applies to anyone in conflict, regardless of age.  So maybe try it with your teenager, or your spouse, or a coworker.  Rule of thumb is, never get mad too, someone has to be thinking or something really bad could happen.  You can’t logic with a person that is mad, it just doesn’t work- believe me, I’ve tried it.   

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

What are we doing wrong?????

It’s an epidemic of monstrous proportions! It may impact your life in the most negative way possible and if it does there is little you can do to change it after the fact.  You will know someone that is directly affected by it eventually. Got your attention? Now how do I keep it long enough for you to read this entire post? How about guilt? If you love your child, have spent thousands of dollars and hours to keep them healthy and happy, have grown too many grey hairs to count, and have spent endless hours awake worrying about their future- then you need to read this post to the very end.  And then APPLY IT!

I confess I am tired.  I work a highly stressful job.  I presently know 80 or more individual clients deeply, and care about them.  And the level of suicidal ideation is rising quickly and getting younger.  And I am tired of feeling like I cannot do anything about it.  So as always, when I am plagued by a problem I don’t feel I can solve, I go to my best sources of information- my clients.  This last week we had yet another teenager who decided suicide was the best solution, and it directly impacted a client.  And historically, after the grieving has subsided a bit, another group of people are going to try to figure out how we can benefit from such a tragedy.  This usually involves some sort of outreach to teenagers, giving them resources to call when they are feeling overwhelmed by it all, or training people what to do for someone that expresses a desire to kill themselves.  And as I listened to this grieving teenager, I posed a question:  If the resources worked, wouldn’t we see less of a problem? But the statistics are going up instead of down- so what are we doing wrong?” And what I learned is the resources are nice, but this client is staying alive because of what it would do to her mother if she killed herself. This answer began my research for the week. 

I asked several teenagers that have been suicidal in the past. Teenagers that ended up in treatment before I met them who were truly suicidal and had a plan, thus a pretty reliable source of information.  I asked them how the relationship with their parents was when they were suicidal.  ALL said poor, or non- existent.  Okay, so did you just hear what  they said? My previously suicidal clients felt they had a poor relationship with their parent/parents before their attempt or hospitalization.  And now it is better, and they would not kill themselves because of what it would do to their parent/parents. ALL of them.  Now this is where I pat my own back in self-congratulatory ways….I am a family systems therapist so one of my main goals is helping the relationships within the system, and these clients say their relationship is better with their parents.  So I fixed it! NO, I cannot take credit for the change of relationship, frankly I did nothing…’s all about the people in the system.  They did it. Which leads me to what we are doing wrong.

We are focusing on the adult perceived solution for the problem of suicidal ideation- throw them resources (in other words pass it off on someone that is trained and hope it is what they need.) But what we need to focus on, from the perspective of my teenage clients, is the familial relationships.  This starts the day they are born.  We make them our top priority and teach them the things they need to survive.  We are there spending time, making them a priority, making them feel wanted, and we stick with it.  We also do this with the other relationships in the family- especially our spouse.  A strong marital relationship positively influences a teenagers choices. So elementary years are easy, they still need rides to get places, the schools are using parent volunteers, and their hobbies and sports are usually lead by parents.  Then comes middle school and they begin focusing more outwardly.  They start to worry about fitting in,  they want to spend more time with their friends than their parents, and they start retreating to their bedrooms.  Parents usually wait for them to re-emerge, in hopes to connect then but it doesn’t seem to work.  A wise teen once told me “We act like we don’t want our parents in our lives, but when they give up we are hurt. I guess we really want them in our lives, intruding.” I don’t think we have to be intrusive but we do have to be pursue-sive. We have to convey we want them.  All the time.  Non-stop.  We must develop a relationship early, and stick with it.

Ways to be in our kids lives could involve-  Family traditions, maybe a road trip every year or ski trips on the weekend, special restaurants- time away together. Talk to them, tell them how much you love or enjoy them.  Listen to them without solving the problems or judging them.  Be available when they do try to connect, put down what you are doing and make eye contact.  Discover something new together, facts on the computer, places to eat, games to play- but do it together.  Attend as many school, sport, or club activities as absolutely possible, no matter how disinterested you are.  Have time together before they or you go to sleep, many kids spill their guts at bedtime because they are too tired to hide things, or they are stalling. Invite them to come along, shopping, running errands, picking up siblings, and use the time to chat or catch up. Have family time, they will definitely moan and groan but make it a requirement, maybe it is simply eating a meal together or watching a movie together.  Let them introduce you to their life- watch their you tubes, learn their favorite game, drink their favorite coffee, do something they want to do.

The answer to the problem of suicide is making sure our kids know they are wanted by you their parent.  No matter how busy life gets, or how hard situations become, we love and want them.  Maybe that would help our kids stay alive, a loving relationship.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

What Was I Thinking?

The day has been hell, your SWC won more than you did, several noses are running, the dog escaped, and your husband is find yourself asking "What did I get myself in to???" Of course we did not sit down and really consider the consequences of one night of passion before hand, we were in love and we thought we wanted to share the ultimate intimacy - children.  And now we realize that there is so little intimacy when you have children.  But consider for one moment how intimacy with your spouse and intimacy with your child is similar:

1. Physical infatuation: The first time they kicked inside your body, feeling like butterflies caressing the inside of your soul, you were smitten. Then the moment they were born, looking a bit like a raisin, you thought they were the most beautiful thing you had ever seen. You wanted to touch, smell, look, and check if they had all the necessary body parts.  You couldn't take your eyes off of them. You were infatuated.

2. Soul mates: The first time you looked into their eyes and waited to see who would be the first to look away. Those little dark eyes that seem to bore a hole right to the center of your heart. You knew at that moment that this was a forever deal, no backing down, no turning back.  You were meant for each other.

3. Reward well-sought: When you coaxed that first smile off their little lips. Some call it a response to visual stimuli or imitation. But we know better because they smile so differently for us than for strangers. The smile leads to squirms and wiggles, whole body happiness. And this is just the beginning - it lasts until the day we die.

4. Time alone: Late night and early morning feedings. The whole world sleeps as you alone have time with your baby. No phone calls, no interruptions, just you and your baby. It is found in the bathroom as you potty train your toddler, no one else has the patience to sit there for 30 minutes at a time, so you have time alone as you wait for success.

5. Shared interests: All you want is to love them to a healthy happy adult. No addictions; no short-falls; no big mistakes. All your baby wants is to be loved to healthy adulthood, no disappointing their parents or themselves.

6. 100% invested effort: Unfortunately this is not mutual at first. Your child relies completely on you for their every need physically and emotionally. Some day there will be a pay-off when they finally say “I love you” and you know they mean it. Until then it is a one sided effort with little equality. But it can be the most rewarding effort you will ever make.

In the day to day hassles, fights, punishments, and rewards it is important to remember that magic moment when you first decided to start a family. To create something as a couple unlike any other creation. Completely unique and totally brand new. Full of promise and love. The only holy creation that God needs our help with. But the most important decision that will cause us to cling tightly to God’s wisdom and direction to raise them until they no longer need us as parents but want us as friends. 

Sometimes it is important to keep our perspective on what is truly valuable and lasting – our relationship with our children.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Super Confused

I primarily work with anxious and depressed teenagers right now. And in many of my sessions an interesting theme seems to be repeated.  The proper use of the terminology – depressed and anxious.  When I say I work with anxious and depressed teenagers it may actually be an understatement- I work with chronically depressed individuals and panic disordered people.  And yes there is a need to be specific, at least according to my clients. In todays culture, with the desire to educate people on mental disabilities, the terms depressed and anxious get thrown around a lot, especially with the todays teens.  My clients report that they are finding they feel a need to educate their friends on what depression and anxiety actually is and isn’t- but often they are too overwhelmed by life to do so.  So here I share with you the work of several brilliant but “disabled” teenagers.
Depression: Is not feeling sad because you got in a fight with someone, and then being able to go off happily on your way a short time later.  Depressed is not being upset because things did not go your way.  Or simply a good way to get out of doing something unpleasant, like staying in class or doing homework.  Depression is an overwhelming physical and emotional sense of continuous hopelessness even when you are doing something you like.  It is the actual inability to physically get out of bed and put your clothes on.  It is being in a situation but not experiencing any of it, at all.
Anxiety: Is not nervousness about doing something undesirable, but being able to complete it no matter how uncomfortable you feel.  It is not butterflies in your tummy. It is not dread for getting caught breaking a rule.  Anxiety is a physical and mental inability to do something simple, that everyone else seems able to do with no problem- like ordering food in a restaurant.  Anxiety is a shaking of the legs, a racing of the heart, an inability to actually catch your breath or just breath for no apparent reason.  It is not necessarily caused by true danger in the environment but a constant fear that the environment will some how kill you.  Anxiety feeds on itself, because you can get anxiety from the fear of being anxious.  When you are experiencing panic you can’t talk because you can’t breath, you can’t text a friend because you can’t focus on anything but the feeling you are about to die.  It is an endless string of negative “what if’s” that can’t be calmed or ignored, and are always present. In a true panic attack you won’t text or call a friend because you can’t think enough to do it.
Requests from these teenagers:  Please stop texting me and telling my you are having a panic attack, because you are not.  Please stop posting that you are so depressed, because truly depressed teens don’t tell people, sometimes not even their own counselor.  It is our little secret that keeps us from being real teenagers, we smile and laugh and act like we are fine, but if you look in our eyes – really look- you will know we are hiding something.  Our fear.
After hearing these words I wonder what other terms we casually fling around with little true understanding. Maybe I will keep asking them.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Holidays for Little Hands

Oh, the sweet little hands that must touch to see properly. Our children’s little fingers and palms have the need to fully experience (which means see, taste, smell and - oh yes - touch) their environment to learn from it. So, it would only seem logical to plan our holiday around this very need. Christmas is not to be only seen but to be fully experienced…beginning with the fingers and hands. When my children were young the preschool teacher in me was the happiest. Every moment was a learning opportunity in my mind, so I did not want to be running behind my children saying “No. No. Don’t touch that. Put that down. Give me that.” Instead I chose to spend my time giving them opportunities to fully experience Christmas. And in my HGTV decorating scheme I focused it all around the kids. For example - when my youngest was a baby, we put the Christmas tree in the play pen. The next year it graduated to the corner of the room unprotected but with the light cord inaccessible and the decorations completely accessible. I refused to put breakable decorations on the tree until mid-elementary years. I encouraged the kids to decorate and re-decorate the tree all they wanted. This left the bottom half of the tree rather clumpy looking and the upper part, my eye height, nicely distributed. Just enough order to make the mommy in me comfortable (which is always a good goal), and kid-friendly enough to allow them to experience Christmas tree decorating. So here is a list of child-friendly Christmas ideas for your perusal.

DECORATING: Christmas stuffed toys replaced the wrapped packages below the tree until Christmas morning except for one specially wrapped box - you know the kind you can take the lid on and off of without hurting the wrapping - that sat below the tree the entire season. On the box was a simple note: “To everyone, open any time”; inside the box was a blanket-clad baby Jesus surrounded by gold tinsel. The children loved to open the box daily, and were often caught playing the parts of Mary and Joseph. The other decorating highlight was the manger scene - completely safe to play with, always displayed on the coffee table, just right for little hands and eyes to see and reach. We had containers of brightly colored beads with string to make necklaces instead of candy dishes. There were also toy trains, holiday dress-ups, soft pillows and blankets on the floor to cuddle by the light of the Christmas tree.

DAILY ACTIVITIES: All children love to count down to Christmas Day. This helps with many academic skills but it also assists Mommy with the never-ending question “How many more days?” We used an advent calendar that had a Christmas Tree as it’s center piece and added a new symbolic decoration every day. Each decoration was accompanied by an explanation of its importance and a bible verse. (When I was a child, every Sunday night we did an advent wreath for the four weeks prior to Christmas that focused on the celebration of advent in the church.) Every night the kids got to pick out a story from the many Christmas books we collected. We never refused to read the kids a book any time of day, but especially at bed time. We also had a tradition of driving through neighborhoods looking for Christmas lights, a tradition my adult children still beg for when they are home for the holidays.

FUN TIME ACTIVITIES: There are many activity books (check the local library) with plenty of crafty ideas for all ages. Ginger Bread houses out of graham crackers; paper chains; hand wreaths; or frosting Christmas cookies - just to mention a few. (However, I still frost more than my adult son - he always starts with one and promptly eats it, losing interest after the third cookie because he only gets to eat one!) Making edible treats for neighbors and the local wildlife is a good way to teach the idea of sharing for young children. Please keep in mind that although you may think every child needs a holiday picture with Santa the majority of our children truly fear this brightly dressed stranger. (Take all the screaming children on his lap at the mall as an example) So if you have an opportunity to visit Santa at a children’s party consider it in place of the mall trip. When given the opportunity to warm up to a stranger, children will handle the stress much better than in an over-stimulating environment like a mall.

So while you have children at home keep in mind: There will plenty of years that you will get to produce a professionally decorated look in your home, but only a few years that your children will be tactually experiencing Christmas. Don’t rush through these years…instead relish every moment, seeing the holiday through the eyes of a child. So if they can’t touch, smell, or taste it, don’t put it out this year. There will be plenty of years ahead when they won’t care anymore.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Unplugging- who suffers?

I just completed reading a book “Glow Kids” by Nicholas Kardras, and I was both enraged and scared to death.  If you are going to allow your child of any age to  access or utilize electronic devices  this is a must read.  I have been reading research about the effects of electronics on the brain for the past fifteen years at least, and this book succinctly gathers all that research together for one easy resource to parents and professionals alike. It may even be on tape for all I know, but regardless of how you use this resource it is a must for ALL parents. 

Now why was I both enraged and scared by a book that I am highly recommending.  Because there is scientific proof of what the effects of electronics does to humans and we don’t either know it, or we are ignoring it. We have been hearing for years that electronics look like cocaine in all brain scan techniques.  In a SPECT image it looks like actual holes in the brain, which indicates there is no brain activity at all. A healthy brain has no holes, it is a beautiful piece of art, full of color and connectivity.  But a brain on electronics has gaps in areas we don’t want gaps. This causes lacks in judgement, emotions, and responses.  So if you want to impress your friends, boss, and child’s teachers read this book and start quoting it randomly- you may not be popular, but you will look passionate about the brain.

So now for the lecture. I have been seeing children and adolescents for 20 years in a clinical setting.  Over the years I have seen the deterioration of first person communication skills: eye contact, focus on the speaker, responding appropriately to the conversation, etc. And in response I have become more animated with my clients, especially teens, to get my point understood.  The kids might even notice that I seem boring when their parents come into a session because their parents don’t necessarily need this level of communication. I have seen depression and anxiety rise so much that sometimes it is the only diagnosis I see in a ten hour day.  I have had more teens hospitalized for suicidal ideation since January than I saw in  2009, 2010, or 2011.  We have had more mass murders, and random acts of violence by teenagers then we want to admit.  All this points to the theory that we are doing something wrong as a culture and our kids are paying the price.   So what is it we are doing wrong? Research is indicating electronic addiction. For girls it is more social media related, and for boys it is first person shooter games. There are many options we can narrow in on in these arenas, but I want to focus on only one game because it has been in my cross hairs a lot lately.  Fort Night.  At first blush it is a fun action packed first person shooter game with good enough graphics and perfect marketing.  But it is also the first game where I have had several elementary aged children expressing homicidal thoughts.  One even said in my office “when my mom tells me NO, I think in my head. I could kill you. I could slit your throat.  I could do it when you sleep and you couldn’t stop me.”  To say the least the boy was in tears when he told me these very scary thoughts. Luckily mom knew about it, and got into someone to help immediately. 

For a ten year old to think such dark thoughts there has to be a problem.  The problem we found, was he played Fort Night, and loved it.  And most kids do love Fort Night.  It was designed specifically for that, to be loved, and addictive. Which seems to be the goal of the gaming industry.  If we look at their fiscal increases we would probably conclude that it is working, the industry continues to grow and become more and more lucrative.  Brain Hacking is  such a lucrative industry that creators can take classes through Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University in Palo Alto California. Persuasive technology is a discipline in which the science behind brain addiction is developed and perfected.  This technology works by creating digital environments that access human drive of socialization and goal attainment. Then it is developed and marketed to children.  I wish I could say that we are all too smart for this, but numbers don’t lie.  In my small practice I have had stories of minors spending near $2,000 a piece for something intangible.  If the creators of Fort Night unplugged the program one night, those kids would have nothing to show for their financial investment. My next question to gaming kids is “What else could you have bought with the money? A skate board,  a puppy, a bike?” And they get the point.  But do we get the point as parents?

As a parent am I responsible for my child’s addiction?  Let us suppose for a moment,  my Little Guy comes home from school and is really, really excited. Being the attentive parent I start a conversation to figure out what is exactly so much fun at school.  Little Guy tells me he just found out about a “really fun” game on the bus home.  It’s called Fort Night and it is really the coolest game ever invented, and everyone is playing it.  I am not real fond of electronic games, and am not real happy about going out and buying one more game for the collection.  But then I find out it is free.  So no real investment in time or money to get my little guy happy, so I do it.  Now my kiddo plays for a couple of days and he loves the game, he is quiet and out of the way so I love the game too. He finds me happily busy in my own life and he gives me those adorable pleading eyes with an announcement of electronic success.  He has gotten to a level he gets to buy a skin, the ability to do more in the game, but the skins are only available for 24 hours so he has to act fast.  Now of course the site does not take cash so he needs mommy to put in her credit card, to pay for it.  Well the game was free so what the heck.  Little Guy is happy and makes me feel like a good parent.  So the pattern continues for some time, and Little Guy never sees another allowance because it is spent before it is earned.  Because he is getting his allowance in advance, he has no motivation to do chores, and can’t stop playing the game to do the chores or he loses out on his levels.  Now Little Guy is on line playing non-stop on my dime, and I am tired of it.  So I threaten to take away the game if he does not do his responsibilities, but this causes an atomic explosion and we both end up madder than hell.  I hate fighting with Little Guy so I justify not asking him to stop. And the addiction continues.  Great story, repeated in many homes in America today. Now let’s put the word cocaine in instead of electronics- well, why not?  The brain looks exactly the same, so from a neurological perspective if I give my kid game time I am giving Little Guy cocaine.  Is your pulse up yet? Am I actually calling you a drug dealer to your own child? To your child’s brain, yes.  And honestly,  am I too causing a problem if I don’t educate people about the truth? We are losing our kids, and we are the dealers by allowing and enabling them to play electronic games.

Many parents are getting the idea this is dangerous.  Silicon Valley, yes the actual creators of electronic gaming,  now has parents banning  their kids from  electronics until they are twelve years of age.  They are advocating to get computers out of the classroom, and paper back in.  In Kansas, a movement of parents are joining together and banning all electronic devices for their kids.  As a group they know they have more power, because it is not just one lone voice opposing the electronic addictions.  Yes, there is motion, movement to save the brains and lives of our kids.  Please pay attention. Do your research. Protect your child’s precious brain, the most important organ in their body.  Please.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

What if they involved us more?

Our girls are targets.  At a very vulnerable age, our girls are being targeted sometimes by males they consider friends.
Many sessions I hear about unsolicited nude photos sent to teenage girl phones.  Now maybe a very small percentage find this sort of text enjoyable, but all of my clients find it repulsive.  These are girls.  Girls have a hard time looking at themselves naked much less male genitals. So they typically scream, feel nauseous, or act like it never happened as they push delete. My response is text the boy back and tell him the security officer at the school will find it entertaining.  Or better yet give the phone to their dad and let him deal with it. But unfortunately they don’t typically  involve their parents.
Another issue that comes up with my older adolescents is sexual texts that they don’t know how to respond to. For example it will be sliced into the conversation when they are joking around, and will read something like “suck my ____”. Most girls respond “LOL” or “Haha”.  But recently it has become suspiciously clear that this may be a way of the male deciding if they can sexually assault the girl and then claim they thought they wanted it because of the gutter talk. So the best response is to say “NO THANKYOU!” and block their number with no opportunity for future contact.
My least favorite is the bar check.  It has been reported that the grabbing of the ass or a serious brush across the chest is very common in many of the college bars.  If the girl does not respond negatively to the gesture they are identified as a possible target for assault in the parking lot. Best response is a physical response, slapping, kneeing, saying “Don’t touch me” loudly.  But a physical response sends a clear message.
How about the controlling boyfriend? You know the type, the ones that seem so perfect at first but then start showing their insecurities around interactions with others.  They cajole our girls into behaviors they are not comfortable with by saying sweet words, wearing them down through begging, or angry responses.  And our girls don’t tell their parents because they don’t fully realize they are being emotionally abused.
Now that I have you all freaked out, and you have decided being locked in their bedroom with a chastity belt is our only choice, let me give a few suggestions that have worked in my office.  We as adults need to be involved in our kids lives.  We need to make a home environment inviting enough that teenagers want to hang out, but with supervision nearby.  Get to know their friends, give them rides, open your house to small get togethers, have conversations with them at school functions.  The key to talking to teens is have fun listening. Many adults actually seem afraid of talking to teenagers and they sense it, so realize they are just big kids that want to talk. So give them the opportunity. Secondly, we need to monitor our kids electronics in some manner, whether it is taking them at a designated time at night or having access to their communications randomly.  (If you take the phone please put it somewhere they cannot sneak and get it as you sleep, because many of them will take them back and you will not know.) But they need to know there is accountability with their phones.  Most of the problems around electronics could be solved if we taught them to use them wisely, and educated them on the true effect of electronics on their brains. Third, get your daughter self defense classes.  This will give them a sense of strength, an ability to recognize threat, and learn behaviors that decrease becoming a target.  Fourth, together read “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin DeBecker, it teaches protection from many kinds of violence against women. Finally, treat your girl and other women the way you want her to be treated by others.  If you want her to be treated with respect, then model it.  If you want her to feel she is valuable, then value her.  But most importantly realize that women are targeted in our society and we can make a difference starting in our own homes.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

What Does the Future Hold?

Because I work with children and adolescents I realize how few teens today have any idea of what their future could hold.  I was a teen that thought I wanted to be an attorney, simply because I loved to argue and wanted to make a ton of money.  But luckily, I had a loving mother that helped me  realize my passion, one that does not make a ton of money, but one I have loved my entire career.  And as an adult I see how unusual that is, many of my friends had no guidance and ended in places they did not really want, or plan, to be.  And it surprises me how many of today’s teens have absolutely no idea whatsoever what they might want to do in the area of education and employment, even after they have chosen a college. Now I don’t know if this is because school guidance counselors are not being utilized for college guidance anymore, or if parents are failing in this area because no one did it with them, or maybe because teenagers have a reputation for not listening to these sets of adults.   But since I work with adolescents I am getting plenty of opportunities to help teens figure out their possibilities with a little more direction (or at least that is what I tell myself at night to help me sleep.) So in an attempt to help you with this discussion I will give you a few guidelines.
First, we need to look at what were the things your kids played when they were little.  Before they started organized sports and school clubs.  What did they play at home during the preschool and elementary years?  Typically, it is something that interested them, or they enjoyed.  At the younger ages no one is telling us what we are good at, or planning our team activities, so this is a good time to see where the natural interests may lay.
Next, we need to look at what characteristic is common in the things we enjoyed later in life.  If you played a sport, had a job, had a hobby, or joined a club, what is the predominant characteristic that all the activities might have in common.  For example: it was with a group or individua; it was creative or logical; it made an impact on others. 
Then we brainstorm- and I mean crazy brainstorming, not the predictable jobs but the out of the box and ridiculous ideas too. You then can narrow it down and look at what training is necessary for such a job.  Not everyone in the world has to go to college, and not every job needs to be a career.  Some people work in jobs that are their life, and others work jobs that support their life. I have found that some people want to love their job and others want to make tons of money.  It seems you have to choose one or the other, but there are many people that got both. It just depends on the individual.
The last step is the most important.  Remind your teen that most people change jobs/careers several times in their adult years, so nothing is in concrete and you can always change your mind. If you have a plan hold it loosely and adjust accordingly.
Now for you parents, get to know your kids.  Notice their talents, their interests, their passion.  If passion is a difficult idea to you I suggest you listen to conversations in which they get energy behind what they are saying.  It might be something they get fired up about, or something they get mad about. It might be something they always have the energy to do.  But it may not be their special talent or skill.  It is what they love. Passion can lead to a career, we just need to help them see that it is another possibility. I think the biggest mistake we may make is to not help our kids know themselves.  Help them to see their strengths and weaknesses.  To help them get an accurate picture of who they are, and put our own agendas on hold.  I have had many years of clients that are in a sport all their lives, and then get to the college level and hate it, because it is all they have ever done.  But mom and dad saw it as college funding and can’t give up on them playing that sport.  Not many kids end up professional athletes, and the ones that do need to be passionate about it, not just paying for school. So we need to not live vicariously through our kids, but let them follow their passion not ours for their lives.  Lovingly gently lead.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Anxiety in Children


1.      Anxiety-a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Synonymsworry, concern, apprehension, apprehensiveness, uneasiness, unease, fearfulness, fear, disquiet, disquietude, inquietude, perturbation, agitation, angst, misgiving, nervousness, nerves, tension, tenseness, heebie-jeebies, butterflies (in one's stomach), jitteriness, the jitters, twitchiness -worry, concern, apprehension, apprehensiveness, uneasiness, unease, fearfulness, fear, disquiet, disquietude, inquietude, perturbation, agitation, angst, misgiving, nervousness, nerves, tension, tenseness, heebie-jeebies, butterflies (in one's stomach), jitteriness, the jitters, twitchiness. Webster’s Dictionary

DSM 5- Excessive anxiety and worry, occurring more days than not for at least 6 months, about a number of events or activities.  The individual finds it difficult to control the worry. The anxiety and worry are associated with three or more of the following six symptoms- restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge; being easily fatigued; difficulty concentrating or mind going blank; irritability; muscle tension; sleep disturbance.  The symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

We are seeing an increase clinically of anxiety, with typically two types of anxiety- environmental and chemical.  Environmental anxiety is anxiety caused by the individuals environment and their neurological response to it.  Chemical is typically chemical in origin and can be genetically linked.  If I see an anxious child I usually can trace it to their parents, but does that indicate it is genetics or learned from the environment? Many children that have clinically anxious parents are familiar with the term so use it as an adjective, not a diagnosis. When this happens the parents then respond to it as a genetic disorder and respond accordingly- but many of these kids just lack other words for what they are trying to say.   So is it genetics or a learned response? Chemical anxiety can be evaluated by a counselor or a physician of some sort, who have the training to determine if it is genetic.  If it is a learned response, then I need to teach the parents how to deal with it along with their child. I am a family systems therapist, so I see the benefit in teaching the parent along side the child, but I am sure there are other approaches that are just as effective- so don’t go firing your therapist yet.  From a system approach I check on what are the stressors to the individuals in the system- parents first, then kids. I start with the parents because children are typically wired responsively, this ensures survival- “if my adult is upset there must be a good reason so I need to be more alert and cautious.  If my adult is calm than I can be curious and go explore the world safely because their calm indicates environmental safety.”

 When we look at stressors we need to identify the ones we can control and the ones we cannot.  If I can control it, I need a plan of action that will positively affect the stressor, either eliminating it or decreasing its negative impact. If I cannot control the stressor then I need a skill to handle it or a plan to change the environment, so the stressor no longer is stressful. I know this sounds like I am minimizing the stressors in your life, and don’t see the significance of your stress, but 10 years from now many of our stressors will be unimportant.  Sometimes we must look at the big picture to put things into perspective.  Twenty-seven years ago, my husband and I relocated to Denver from Los Angeles with our eight-week-old baby for a job.  Because we are Colorado natives we had a support system that we were moving to, which can be a blessing and a curse.  We had a rental lined up but when we got in town found out the current tenants decided not to move and had to be evicted.  So we moved all our stuff into my parents family room. No real problem because we were going to buy a house, so we started looking.  We found a bank repo and made an offer that was accepted BUT the bank did not see us as a priority since they weren’t really going to make any money from us -so they conveniently forgot about our closing.  Here we are, a young couple living with a small baby in a not too big house, with my parents.  And my dad, could be a problem, so my stress level began to rise.  No big surprise, my daughters stress level started to rise, and my husbands stress level started to rise.  And at lunch with my daughter and husband one day I realized that in the big picture this would be a blip.  We would eventually close on our house and move out of my parent’s home. So why all the tears and heartache???? Because my perspective was off, and my expectations were being ruined.  But my response affected others that I loved, and that was a big problem.  If you look back on your own life you may see many similar stories, and in the end, you survived. 

So how do we teach this to our children? We have conversations around them about the stressors in our lives (not the major divorce kind of stressors of course, but the smaller ones). We model the ability to put things in perspective.  We talk about the worries we have had and the outcomes that happened. We teach them to breath deep and sleep on it.  We discuss support systems and how to use them. We keep our total freak outs behind closed doors, so they don’t have to see us over-react, but we can talk about it later when we are under control. It is okay to discuss having fears, and letting our kids see we are human, but age appropriate communication is a must. As a counselor I teach the child client about their brain and how it can respond to stress as though it is a life or death situation, causing anxiety within their system.  I then teach the child to respond to the system and help the brain to decrease its anxious responses. Education is often the most important piece to learning coping skills because understanding helps us realize we are not crazy.  You can teach problem solving skills by playing What If Games when they are not feeling anxious-  What if I am late picking you up from school? What if you misplace me in a grocery store? What if we are at the park and it starts to rain? What if your best friend wants to play with someone else on the playground? Another technique is watching a movie or show, and stopping it right where the character needs to have a response to a problem, and asking “What would you do?” or “What do you think they should do next?” You can easily do this with books too.  You can pretend to get lost when taking a drive in the car and see if your child can figure out a solution.  I would suggest you read “The Whole Brain Child”, by Daniel Siegel to get a better understanding of how the brain functions and how to explain it to your child. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Have You Hugged A Kid Today?

Have You Hugged A Kid Today?

Is this truly a problem with gun control or is this more an issue of how we are raising our kids today? We have a generation of hurting teenagers that are trying to get our attention. Are we listening yet? If you are focusing on gun control I might guess you are still missing the point. We have a generation killing themselves and others- why?
Let’s look to the beginning of their young lives, 15 to 20 years ago.  They were the very beginning of the attachment parenting trend in the early 2000’s so they probably got a lot of early contact.  But they were also born into a time when electronic access was a top money maker for corporate America and plenty of marketing was focused on the purchasing habits of this generations parents.  The adults bought in and found the pay off was quiet busy kids, so they could do what they wanted without much guilt.  We go from human contact during infancy, to introduction of electronics at toddlers and preschool, which decreased the human interactions. Human interactions help create self-regulatory capacities - self control among other things. When the smart phone was introduced in 2005,  this generation often received phones from their parents in elementary school or middle school- and they continued their electronic connection. With the development of the adolescent brain the natural weaknesses in the brain stem and limbic system cause emotional over reaction to perceived rejection.  And electronic media became an anonymous platform to cruelty, a means to guarantee they were not the weakest link by creating and focusing on other weaker links.  So we have a generation that is more connected to their electronics than to others, their parents and other safe adults, and don’t have the neurological capacity to realize what they are doing to others or believing about themselves.  All they are really focusing on is what others think of them, what others are saying about them, and how they can change it. And we wonder why we have a problem. 
So we have kids that are physically isolated, with low self regulatory skills, who are perseverated on social image.  Plus they are disconnected from healthy adult and other connection.  Think of the Russian orphanages of the past, infants left in cribs untouched.  What has been the outcome for many of those children? Deep psychological disturbances. Think of nursing care facilities that lack enough man power, what is the outcome of the patients? Physical deterioration. Humans need humans- physically.
I saw an interview by a local news show hosted by Kyle Clark.  He did an interview with a man that was reflecting on his difficult adolescence and his bottom line statement that I came away with was: We Need To Love. So I repeat myself: Have you hugged A kid today? It may be that simple.
Please spread the idea, social media is this generations connection.  If we start hugging them, and they start hugging others, maybe that lonely hurting child that has harmful plans will see they have value and this is just a small period of their life.