Category Archives: Anxiety

Ten Ways to Work with the Highly Sensitive Client

By Ted Zeff, Ph.D.

Approximately 20% of the population or 50 million Americans have trouble screening out stimuli and can be easily overwhelmed by noise, crowds and time pressure. The HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) tends to be very sensitive to pain, the effect of caffeine and violent movies. Highly sensitive people may also feel uncomfortable by bright lights, strong smells and changes in their lives.

HSPs experience a depth of processing stimuli, are easily over aroused and over stimulated, have stronger emotional reactions and are aware of subtle stimuli. Sensory processing sensitivity is not a disorder, but a normal trait. HSPs are found in equal numbers in both males and females, 30% are extraverts and some HSPs can be high sensation seekers.

Why HSPs may be the majority of clients

HSPs are more affected by an adverse childhood; stressed by trying to live like a non-HSP, enjoy depth of conversation, and gain more than non-HSPs from interventions (due to their conscientiousness). According to Dr. Elaine Aron, author of “The Highly Sensitive Person,” up to 50% of all clients may be HSP.

Why it’s important for therapists to know about the trait

As a therapist, you will not expect HSPs to become like the other 80% of people in society, letting HSPs know there is nothing inherently wrong with them.

Guidelines to working with HSPs

  1. Be careful to reduce overstimulation in your office. Become aware of subtleties in your office, such as noise, your voice, lighting, dress, etc.
  2. Let your sensitive client know their trait is real.
  3. Help your client design a life that is compatible with the trait.
  4. Have your client reframe their past in light of their sensitivity.
  5. Teach your client methods of self-soothing and how to eliminate extraneous stimuli, such as regular meditation breaks, taking naps, and receiving a massage.
  6. To calm their nervous system, show your HSP client how to focus on what is familiar to them.
  7. Help your client pace themselves rather than trying to keep up with non-HSPs.
  8. Encourage your client to receive support and interact with other HSPs as well as not to compare themself with non-HSPs.
  9. Encourage your client to read about the trait of high sensitivity, visit HSP web sites, join HSP discussion groups and watch the movie “Sensitive” (sensitivethemovie.com).
  10. Discuss the many benefits of being an HSP and show your admiration for their sensitivity.

Ted Zeff, Ph.D. is the author of The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide, The Highly Sensitive Person’s CompanionThe Strong Sensitive Boy, Raise an Emotionally Healthy Boy and The Power of Sensitivity. Dr. Zeff offers consultations to professionals on how to work with the sensitive child and adult.

 

Anger Management For Kids: Tips For Dealing With Explosive Children

Most parents are equipped to get through the inevitable tantrums and meltdowns of little kids. As children grow they gain patience, develop more skills, learn problem solving and then low and behold the tantrums subside. Or they don’t.

For some children the anger or explosiveness only gets worse as they age. It was one thing when they were 30 pounds and stomping their feet, but now they are big and can hurl a chair across the family room.

There seems to be real rage in their bellies. Scratch the surface and BOOM -– they go off. The frequency, intensity and duration of these episodes goes beyond the explanation that your kid is simply having a bad day.

If you have a child who is destroying property, physically attacking others or repeatedly berating themselves, take matters seriously. Here are some ways you can deal with the situation.

Educate Yourself About Anger 
Anger is called “the fighting emotion.” We activate our anger when we want to go to battle to fight and win. The fight, flight, freeze (F3) response in our nervous system kicks in, which increases our heart rate, sends blood to the muscles so they are stronger and accelerates our breathing so we are good and oxygenated.

These massive bodily sensations are enough to overwhelm a child. It’s a big biological event that can even feel scary -– like they are out of control.

Anger is actually a secondary emotion. Your child feels another emotion first, which is the primary emotion. And that is the one you need to discover and learn from. It’s likely one of these five triggers:

1. Threats to self-esteem (rejection, victimization, rights removed or infringed on) that come from these common childhood experiences:

• The feeling a sibling is preferred
• Inconsistent enforcement of rules (this is not fair!)
• Public correction that embarrassed or humiliated them
• Offering help or instruction when it wasn’t needed (micro-management)
• Seeing an injustice done to another
• Loss of sense of control or a sense of autonomy
• Lack of understanding of others (low empathy)
• Others reject or deny what the child is genuinely feeling (misunderstood)

2. Biology: hunger, low blood sugar, tired, in pain

3. Stress/Anxiety (illness, impending divorce, moving schools, new caregiver, upcoming test)

4. Sadness (due to death or big change in their life)

5. Frustration (communication problems, lack of dexterity or knowledge, perfectionism and hatred of mistakes, believing that asking for help is failure or inadequacy)

If you can identify and solve the primary feeling, your child’s need to fight with anger would not be necessary.

Basic Health Check
Double check your child is eating well, sleeping sufficiently (Do she snore? Could it be undiagnosed sleep apnea?) and reduce their stress.

Is he over-scheduled? Is he feeling undue pressure to excel? Parents are notoriously blind at seeing childhood stressors but they abound.

During a Blow Up, Be Calm and Empathetic
It’s very easy to get pulled into a child’s state. Instead, you have to act in calming ways to help her de-escalate.

It’s very easy to look fed-up and roll your eyes. You are so tired of their antics. But a cold, terse composure that is meant to brace yourself for the storm only adds fuel to her fire.

Instead, communicate calm, loving support. Watch your body language. Keep your tone sweet and quiet. Your facial expression should be one of empathy and compassion.

If he will allow you to offer comfort touches (rubbing his back or a hug), do it. Show that you understand he must be deeply upset to be this angered, but keep your words sparse. Give him space and time to re-group.

Keep a Log Book 
Write a log after each blow up. Record the events leading up to the angry outburst and how it finally resolved. Be sure to record not only what your child did — but also what you and others did.

Assign an intensity rating from 0 to 10. Watch the clock to see how long the blow up lasted and record that, too. After a week or a month, can you see a theme?

As you embark on making changes, you’ll want to know things are improving. The blow-ups won’t go away over night, but if they are less frequent, less intense and shorter then you are making headway! Don’t give up too soon.

Talk About Triggers In A Time Of Calm
When children are angry, it is not a good time for productive discussions. You’re best to save your talks for a time when she is calm. Re-visit the incident that made her so mad and ask her to help you understand what was so distasteful that got her so angry. Then listen.

Listen with a goal of understanding your child and her perspective. Don’t defend or correct.

For example, if your child shares: “You let Bella go on the iPad first. She always gets to go first”. Instead of correcting and defending yourself with “that is not true, you went first last time” simply acknowledge her feelings and beliefs.

“So you feel you get passed over for your sister all the time? That I give her more privileges than you? Like going first on the iPad yesterday? Is that right? Well that would not feel very good at all! If I thought that, I would be hurt and hopping mad too!”

Proper Modelling 
Children need to learn that using aggression is not the best way to resolve issues. If you use anger as a means to get your child to listen or behave, stop immediately. You are modelling this behaviour and he is imitating you.

Teach Problem Solving
Teach your child how to solve the problems he is having through positive means. “Besides getting mad, how else could you share that you feel unfairly treated, and how else could we assure that each child gets their turn going first on the iPad?”

Try to generate a few solutions: alternating days, mark turns on the calendar, leave a sticky note on the iPad saying whose turn is next, rock paper scissors, roll dice, etc. Decide on one solution to try for a week and see if things improve. If they don’t, try another solution.

They Have Control Over Their Anger -– It’s A Choice.
Children believe that other people make them angry and that they are just innocent victims of these strong emotions that take over their bodies. Teach your child about the fight, freeze, flight response so they can recognize when they are getting triggered.

Teach her relaxation techniques: breathing exercises, taking a warm shower, going for a walk around the block, listening to calming music, tensing and releasing their muscles.

Challenge Rigid Black-And-White Thinking 
In a time of calm, help your child to challenge his own rigid thinking. Young children often see the world in black and white with no grey scale. Things are right or wrong, good or bad, always or never. It’s part of growing up to see more sides to things and add complexity to our beliefs.

“You are not either a good boy or a bad boy — you are just lovable you, wonderful the way you are.”

“Instead of rigidly thinking your sister is always beating you, you can choose to think an alternate softer thought: many times my sister gets her way, but sometimes I do, too.”

Encouragement 
Children who get angry are discouraged and we need to help fill their bucket so they feel good about themselves and improve their relationships with others in the family.

Look for their strengths and share your appreciation for what they bring to the clan. Increase your positive interactions and have fun together. Notice their gentle side.

If things don’t improve, seek out the help of a family counsellor. You’d be amazed what a few sessions can do to improve matters.

5 Things Confident Women Do Differently

We all know those women — the ones who stride with an air of grace into a room. They’re not always the thinnest, prettiest, or smartest. They’re not arrogant. They’re the ones who make you want to be around them.Growing up, all I seemed to do was make people run the other direction. My fears, neuroses, and quirks kept me hating myself. They also threw me into bouts of depression, eating disorders, and codependency.

Why can’t I be thinner? Prettier? Smarter? I continually asked. Then I changed the questions: What creates this aura, this vibe of confidence? What do these women do that I don’t?

Soon enough, I received an answer and I felt my vibe shift. My newfound confidence shifted my world — my career, my relationships, and my health.

After much study, discussion, and practice, I realized these five things are what confident women do differently than women who lack confidence. These have become my must-do’s for confidence:

1. They live their purpose.

Your purpose is to be authentically you. No more, no less. When you applaud your fears, neuroses, and quirks, suddenly these qualities become your assets.

Insecure about your body? So are millions of other women — embrace your goods and teach others to embrace theirs! Shameful of your intelligence? Forget the degrees and do what makes you feel like a genius! When you’re living your truth, you’re unstoppable.

2. They practice their unique ___ (Fill in: calming, uplifting, etc.) ritual.

Some of the greatest thinkers, artists, speakers, lawyers, and performers of our time have a preperformance ritual that gets them revved for show time. While a unique ritual is about doing, it’s also about feeling. A ritual creates the feeling you desire before you actually get to the doing.

For example, if I want to have rockin’ confidence before a date, I’ll strut around my apartment in high heels. If I want to feel calm, I’ll focus on my exhale breaths. We all have rituals that calm our nerves, get us in the game, or prepare our mindset for focused action. Know yourself and what you need to get in the zone.

3. They spend (and love) time alone.

A drop in confidence can come when plans aren’t made or fall through and you’re left with time alone. How empowering is it when this time comes as a gift?!

There’s nothing that revives my confidence more than time alone. Wait, let me clarify: time alone that I occupy with self-love. If I spend my alone time wallowing in misery, I perpetuate my insecurities. When I shower myself with love, in the form of a bubble bath, rest, or yoga, I realign with my core values.

Know what you need to make this precious time with yourself the best time. There is nothing sexier than a woman who ADORES her own company.

4. They take nothing (or very little) personally.

Do you know any confident woman who takes everything personally? Those with true confidence know that any perceived ego blow is more a reflection of the speaker than of them.

When you’re able to hear criticism and not take it personally, your reactions change. You’re able to feel compassion and love for all, regardless of how they treated you. Life isn’t as much of a drama. Confidence emerges naturally with life-love.

5. They ask empowering questions.

We’re constantly making evaluations for what things mean and what we should do. Such neural associations are initiated by questions. Simply, the more empowering questions we ask ourselves, the more confident we will be.

If you ask disempowering questions like, “Why does this always happen to me?” your mind will come up with an answer. In contrast, ask, “What am I happy about now? What could I be happy about if I wanted to?” Or if there is a problem, ask, “What is great about this problem? What can I feel grateful for?” Then you can shift into the confidence required to solve it.

When empowering questions become second nature, you have no choice but to find confidence-inducing answers.

HOW WATCHING PORN CHANGES YOUR BRAIN

A young man walks into the desolate desert

For many people, watching porn is something they think they can separate from the rest of their life. It may seem like someone’s porn-watching life and real-world life are isolated from each other, but that’s not exactly how it works. Our brain doesn’t compartmentalize what we like to watch online with what we like in real interactions, because it’s all interconnected.

Neurons that fire together, wire together. Just like other addictive substances, porn floods the brain with dopamine. That rush of brain chemicals happening over and over again rewires the brain’s reward pathway ultimately changing the make up of the viewer’s brain. This can result in an increased appetite for porn.

Yep, you read that right. Porn physically changes your brain.

One of the most exciting developments in our understanding of the brain in the last two decades is the discovery of something called neuroplasticity, “neuro” meaning brain and “plasticity” meaning changeability. In other words, scientists have discovered that your brain is a lot like a never-ending game of Tetris, constantly laying down new pathways based on your experiences. [1]

To explain how it works, brain scientists have a saying: Neurons that fire together, wire together. [2]

If you’re wondering what a neuron is and why it’s on fire, here’s what that means. A neuron is a brain cell, and when brain cells get activated at the same time by something you see or hear or smell or whatever, they release chemicals that help strengthen the connection between those neurons. [3] For example, when you eat something delicious, your brain releases dopamine, a chemical that makes you feel good. [4] Or if you hold hands with someone you care about, your brain releases a chemical called oxytocin, which helps you bond with people. [5]

So if every time you went to visit your Uncle Carl he gave you a big hug and then took you out for ice cream, you’d probably start feeling pretty great about Uncle Carl, since your brain would build pathways connecting Uncle Carl with feeling happy and loved. You have these kinds of brain pathways for all sorts of things: riding a bike, eating a sandwich, and walking the dog. And when a person looks at porn, their brain creates new pathways for that, too. [6]

Just like other addictive substances, porn floods the brain with dopamine. [7] But since the brain gets overwhelmed by the constant overload of chemicals that comes with consistent porn use, it fights back by taking away some of its dopamine receptors [8]—which are like tiny ears on the end of a neuron that hear dopamine’s message.

With fewer receptors, even if the brain is putting off the same levels of dopamine in response to porn, the user can’t feel dopamine’s effect as much. [9] As a result, the porn they were looking at doesn’t seem as arousing or exciting, and many porn users go hunting for more porn or more hardcore porn to get the effect the old porn used to offer. [10]

As a frequent porn user’s brain acclimates to the new levels of dopamine flooding through it, regular activities that would normally set off a burst of dopamine and make the person feel happy aren’t strong enough to register much anymore, leaving the user feeling down or uneasy whenever they go for a while without looking at porn. [11] That’s one reason why pornography can be so addictive. [12]

Once addiction sets in, the user has a whole new set of problems, because addiction damages the part of the brain that helps you think things through to make good choices—the brain’s limit setting system. [13] For more than 10 years, studies have shown that drug addictions can cause the brain’s frontal lobes to start shrinking. [14] While “frontal lobe” sounds really technical, basically it’s the part of the brain that controls logical problem solving and decision making. [15] But recent studies have found that it’s not just drugs that cause that kind of damage—the same problems show up with other kinds of addictions, such as overeating, Internet addictions, and sexual compulsion. [16]

And here’s the really scary part: the more porn a person looks at, the more severe the damage to their brain becomes and the more difficult it is to break free. [17] But there’s good news too: neuroplasticity works both ways. That means that the damage to the brain can be undone when someone gets away from unhealthy behaviors.

A porn viewer’s brain can return back to normal after some time and effort. If we eliminate porn as our main source of these chemical releases, our brain will start looking for new ones. We need start to connecting to positive things in our life that will actually support our physical, emotional, mental and social health. These connections might start off small, but they will grow and eventually replace the old neural pathways. [18]

Porn can alter the brain and desensitize it to be okay with unhealthy behaviors. Unlike real, meaningful relationships, porn never satisfies; it only increases the appetite for more porn. Bottom line—watching porn isn’t a harmless activity. It has the potential to lead a viewer down a path they never intended to go.

brain-ping_v-e1408373613515

[1] Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books, preface.
[2] Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books, 63.
[3] Bostwick, J. M. and Bucci, J. E. (2008). Internet Sex Addiction Treated with Naltrexone. Mayo Clinic Proceedings 83, 2: 226–230; Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books, 63.
[4] Hilton, D. L., and Watts, C. (2011). Pornography Addiction: A Neuroscience Perspective. Surgical Neurology International, 2: 19; (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3050060/) Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books, 107; Paul, P. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. New York: Henry Hold and Co., 75; Nestler, E. J. (2005). Is There a Common Molecular Pathway for Addiction? Nature Neuroscience 9, 11: 1445–1449.
[5] Schneiderman, I., Zagoory-Sharon, O., Leckman, J., and Feldman, R. (2012). Oxytocin During the Initial Stages of Romantic Attachment: Relations to Couples’ Interactive Reciprocity. Psychoneuroendocrinology 37:1277-1285.
[6] Hilton, D. L. (2013). Pornography Addiction—A Supranormal Stimulus Considered in the Context of Neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology 3:20767; Angres, D. H. and Bettinardi-Angres, K. (2008). The Disease of Addiction: Origins, Treatment, and Recovery. Disease-a-Month 54: 696–721.  Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books, 108.
[7] Hilton, D. L. (2013). Pornography Addiction—A Supranormal Stimulus Considered in the Context of Neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology 3:20767; Georgiadis, J. R. (2006). Regional Cerebral Blood Flow Changes Associated with Clitorally Induced Orgasm in Healthy Women. European Journal of Neuroscience 24, 11: 3305–3316.
[8] Hilton, D. L., and Watts, C. (2011). Pornography Addiction: A Neuroscience Perspective. Surgical Neurology International, 2: 19; (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3050060/) Angres, D. H. and Bettinardi-Angres, K. (2008). The Disease of Addiction: Origins, Treatment, and Recovery. Disease-a-Month 54: 696–721; Mick, T. M. and Hollander, E. (2006). Impulsive-Compulsive Sexual Behavior. CNS Spectrums, 11(12):944-955; Nestler, E. J. (2005). Is There a Common Molecular Pathway for Addiction? Nature Neuroscience 9, 11: 1445–1449.
[9] Hilton, D. L., and Watts, C. (2011). Pornography Addiction: A Neuroscience Perspective. Surgical Neurology International, 2: 19; (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3050060/) Angres, D. H. and Bettinardi-Angres, K. (2008). The Disease of Addiction: Origins, Treatment, and Recovery. Disease-a-Month 54: 696–721; Mick, T. M. and Hollander, E. (2006). Impulsive-Compulsive Sexual Behavior. CNS Spectrums, 11(12):944-955.
[10] Angres, D. H. and Bettinardi-Angres, K. (2008). The Disease of Addiction: Origins, Treatment, and Recovery. Disease-a-Month 54: 696–721; Zillmann, D. (2000). Influence of Unrestrained Access to Erotica on Adolescents’ and Young Adults’ Dispositions Toward Sexuality. Journal of Adolescent Health 27, 2: 41–44.
[11] Paul, P. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. New York: Henry Hold and Co., 90.; Berridge, K. C. and Robinson, T. E. (2002). The Mind of an Addicted Brain: Neural Sensitization of Wanting Versus Liking. In J. T. Cacioppo, G. G. Bernston, R. Adolphs, et al. (Eds.) Foundations in Social Neuroscience (pp. 565–72). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.  
[12] Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books, 107; Berridge, K. C. and Robinson, T. E. (2002). The Mind of an Addicted Brain: Neural Sensitization of Wanting Versus Liking. In J. T. Cacioppo, G. G. Bernston, R. Adolphs, et al. (Eds.) Foundations in Social Neuroscience (pp. 565–72). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.  
[13] Hilton, D. L., and Watts, C. (2011). Pornography Addiction: A Neuroscience Perspective. Surgical Neurology International, 2: 19; (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3050060/) Leshner, A. (1997). Addiction Is a Brain Disease and It Matters. Science 278: 45–7.
[14] Lyoo, K., Pollack, M. H., Silveri, M. M., Ahn, K. H., Diaz, C. I., Hwang, J., et al. (2005). Prefrontal and Temporal Gray Matter Density Decreases in Opiate Dependence. Psychopharmacology 184, 2: 139–144; Thompson, P. M., Hayashi, K. M., Simon, S. L., Geaga, J. A., Hong, M. S., Sui, Y., et al. (2004). Structural Abnormalities in the Brains of Human Subjects Who Use Methamphetamine. Journal of Neuroscience 24, 26: 6028–6036; Franklin, T. E., Acton, P. D., Maldjian, J. A., Gray, J. D., Croft, J. R., Dackis, C. A., et al. (2002). Decreased Gray Matter Concentration in the Insular, Orbitofrontal, Cingulate, and Temporal Cortices of Cocaine Patients. Biological Psychiatry 51, 2: 134–142.
[15] Hilton, D. L. (2013). Pornography Addiction—A Supranormal Stimulus Considered in the Context of Neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology 3:20767.
[16] Yuan, K., Quin, W., Lui, Y., and Tian, J. (2011). Internet Addiction: Neuroimaging Findings. Communicative & Integrative Biology 4, 6: 637–639; Zhou, Y., Lin, F., Du, Y., Qin, L., Zhao, Z., Xu, J., et al. (2011). Gray Matter Abnormalities in Internet Addiction: A Voxel-Based Morphometry Study. European Journal of Radiology 79, 1: 92–95; Miner, M. H., Raymond, N., Mueller, B. A., Lloyd, M., Lim, K. O. (2009). Preliminary Investigation of the Impulsive and Neuroanatomical Characteristics of Compulsive Sexual Behavior. Psychiatry Research 174: 146–51; Schiffer, B., Peschel, T., Paul, T., Gizewshi, E., Forshing, M., Leygraf, N., et al. (2007). Structural Brain Abnormalities in the Frontostriatal System and Cerebellum in Pedophilia. Journal of Psychiatric Research 41, 9: 754–762; Pannacciulli, N., Del Parigi, A., Chen, K., Le, D. S. N. T., Reiman, R. M., and Tataranni, P. A. (2006). Brain Abnormalities in Human Obesity: A Voxel-Based Morphometry Study. NeuroImage 31, 4: 1419–1425.
[17] Angres, D. H. and Bettinardi-Angres, K. (2008). The Disease of Addiction: Origins, Treatment, and Recovery. Disease-a-Month 54: 696–721.
[18] Lisle, Douglas and Alan Goldhamer. The Pleasure Trap. Summertown, TN: Healthy Living Publications.

Anxious Children

5 Tips for Supporting Anxious Children

Amber McKenzie  

Upset problem child with head in hands sitting on staircase concept for bullying, depression stress or frustration

Pax woke up each morning to his father calling his name from the hall. Pax often woke breathless, unsure about what. They had visited the family physician, who could not find a cause for Pax waking this way. Pax would sit in bed paralyzed and could not move, despite wanting to. He knew his parents would be upset with him in a few short minutes.

Each morning his father would repeatedly call to him and, exasperated, would call Pax’s mother to go into his room and get him ready for school. His mother was also consistently frustrated and would plead with him to get up, or try to bribe him out of bed.

Pax could not contain his tears at the mention of getting out of bed to get ready for school. He tried every excuse to get out of it: strep throat, headaches and stomach aches. Pax tried to explain the dread to his mother, and how his heart seemed to thump so loudly that all the other children looked at him.

Each morning, Pax’s mother felt her palms get sweaty and her mind begin to race as she contemplated how to get him out of bed.  She thought she had failed him and was not fulfilling her roles as mother and wife. She felt powerless about how to help her little boy. It seemed that each morning, as she became more frustrated with him, he cried harder, making her feel worse and more confused.

Children experience anxiety in a number of different ways. A child might explain it as a feeling of dread, panic, sadness or fear. They might talk about it in terms of physical symptoms like sweaty palms, trembling, butterflies in their tummy or a fast heartbeat.

Children’s anxiety can manifest as a limitation in their ability to concentrate, experiencing “clamming up” or “going blank.” Some children may get caught in worry, or say the same thing over and over. Other children may experience somatic complaints such as a headache or tummy ache.

Some children will have no language to described their symptoms, and their anxiety may show up through refusing to go to school or not wanting to play with their friends. They may follow the parent around like a shadow, watch too much television or use electronics to excess.

Here are some strategies to work with children who are facing anxiety.

1. Manage Your Own Anxiety First

Anxiety is almost contagious. If you are anxious, and supporting an anxious child, your lack of anxiety regulation can influence the child’s anxiety, making it worse. It is important to work on your own ability to calm down.

2. Create Emotional Safety with the Child

Emotional safety in a child’s brain is the foundation for emotional regulation. When a child feels safe with the person supporting them, they create a story in their brain that tells them they can feel good about themselves, they can connect with others, and their needs will be met.

To do this the supporter needs to make the child feel seen, safe, and soothed. Emotional safety needs to start with the supporter being predictable and consistent in the child’s life. It is critical that the child knows what to expect from the supporter, as this predictability make the world increasingly secure. Another thing the supporter can do is to engage the child in affectionate and nurturing play.

3. Give Anxiety a Language

When we recognize our feelings, we can develop the ability to accept them, learn about them and conquer them. When we do not understand a problem, we cannot solve it.

Therefore, we need to help the child understand the problem. We could say “When you are feeling your heart thud quickly in your chest and your hands are shaking, this is called anxiety,” or “Oh, you blanked out on your math test? Anxiety must have hijacked your memory.”

Often the act of giving anxiety a name can calm anxiety down.

4. Acknowledge the Struggle

Validate the difficulty the child is having. Do not pretend the problem does not exist. When we ignore the anxiety in hopes to make it go away, this usually fuels the anxiety and makes it stronger.

You could say things like “I know it’s overwhelming to go to dance today,” “You are trembling; come here, I’ll hug you,” or “Going to birthday parties with new kids can be really scary. You can do it, I believe in you.”

5. Practice Coping

Practice, practice, practice. The person supporting the child with anxiety is like the coach in anxiety regulation. It is the coach’s job to practice, practice, practice with the child. The more times you practice a coping technique with a child, the more you are reinforcing a new brain pathway. Be a broken record and practice over and over again.

Some practical strategies could involve deep breathing, tensing and relaxing muscles, wrapping yourself in a blanket or hugging a loved one.

It is possible to help a child overcome their anxious patterns. With patience, practice, and persistence, change is possible.

Amber McKenzie, MSc., R.Psych
Trainer, Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute Inc.
www.ctrinstitute.com
Content of this blog may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute Inc.

 

References
Knapp, S.E., & Jongsma, A.E. (2005). The parenting skills treatment planner. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Siegel, D.J. (2013). Brainstorm. New York: Penguin.
Siegler, A.L. (1997). The essential guide to the new adolescence. New York: Penguin Group.

The Connection Between Childhood Experiences And Adult Problems

by Marcia Sirota       Author, speaker, coach and MD
SAD CHILD

As an adult psychiatrist, I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about childhood, and there’s a good reason for this. It’s become abundantly clear over the past 20-plus years of doing psychotherapy that childhood experiences are at the root of adult problems.

Every person who’s walked through my office door suffering from depression, anxiety, relationship or work problems, low self-esteem or addiction has a history of some type of adversity in their childhood. It’s become clear to me by listening to their stories that were it not for these painful events, the person wouldn’t be struggling as much as they are, today.

When we look at a young child who’s beginning to show signs of emotional disturbance or behavioural issues, what we’re seeing is that something has happened to them, or something is happening, that is causing them the beginnings of a problem.

If we’re to do the best for our children, we have to understand the basic emotional necessities of childhood and the types of events that are likely to cause a child difficulties, now and in the future.

Whether we’re dealing with a child who seems mostly well-adjusted in the moment, or one who’s begun to exhibit signs of more significant dysfunction, those of us in the helping fields want to do everything we can to optimize the child’s emotional and psychological well-being so as to prevent future problems.

If we’re to do the best for our children, we have to understand the basic emotional necessities of childhood and the types of events that are likely to cause a child difficulties, now and in the future.

When it comes to the necessities of childhood, we have to remember that perfect parenting is neither necessary nor possible. A child just needs, as the British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott so aptly put it, “good enough parenting.”

Good enough parenting means that the child is loved and valued for who they are, not for how they behave, and the child is nurtured, cared for and protected, but not coddled. In fact, the “good enough” parent allows the child to be disappointed and frustrated at times, so that they learn to tolerate and cope with these types of experiences in adulthood.

And interestingly, “good enough parenting” also applies to the other adults in a child’s life; the adults who teach, guide and support the child. Each one of these adults has an important role to play in the child’s development and emotional well-being.

When we think about the experiences that lead to difficulties in childhood and beyond, there are two distinct types: the absence of certain necessities or the presence of hurtful events.

Children need to feel important, but not so important that their agenda supersedes that of the parent. Overly-permissive parents who indulge their children are depriving them of the guidance and limits they need in order to develop appropriately and function optimally as adults.

Love, affirmation, guidance, protection and limits: these are the necessities of childhood. When a child is raised with all of these things, they’re far more likely to grow into high-functioning adults with good confidence and self worth, who have constructive coping strategies in difficult times.

When we think about the experiences that lead to difficulties in childhood and beyond, there are two distinct types: the absence of certain necessities or the presence of hurtful events.

If a child is neglected; if they’re not praised enough — perhaps from a parent’s misguided notion that this will give them a “swelled head” — or if they’re not encouraged to do things, the child will grow up with a lack of confidence and self-worth.

Children take things personally, so what they experience informs their identity. 

If part of the neglect includes a lack of protection from hurtful experiences, the child will grow up feeling helpless, worthless — because they’ll start to see themselves as not entitled to protection — and perhaps even deserving of harm. Children take things personally, so what they experience informs their identity. Love them, and they feel good about themselves; neglect them, and they feel bad.

In terms of adverse events that happen to a child, these experiences can take many forms: a child can be emotionally hurt or abused through harsh criticism, shaming, blaming or the instilling of guilt; they can be physically assaulted via overly harsh corporal punishment or beatings with fists, belts or other objects, or they can be sexually abused.

The child can have an overly-controlling or perfectionist parent; a narcissistic parent who expects the child to excel so that the parent can feel good about themselves, or a parent who competes with their child because they’re threatened by the child’s youth and promise.

A child can be picked on, bullied, made fun of or taken advantage of. They can be ostracized and isolated by those around them, and made to feel worthless and useless.

These experiences can occur at home, at school, during extra-curricular activities or in play-time. Parents, siblings, relatives, friends, teachers, coaches, even members of the clergy can be responsible for hurting a child. Sometimes, more than one person is doing so, which of course adds to the child’s current and future emotional difficulties.

There’s another, more subtle way a child can be hurt, and this is when one or both parents make the child responsible for tasks that they’re too young to manage. This makes the child feel incompetent and inadequate and often filled with shame for “failing” at tasks that developmentally, they’re not expected to know how to accomplish.

These types of tasks can include being made to care for younger siblings or managing the household at a very young age; being put in the role of parental confidante; being thrust into the position of mediator between fighting parents; being responsible for the family’s finances, or being pressured to perform at school, in their hobbies (for example, performing arts, spelling bees or math competitions) or in individual or team sports at a level that is beyond them, or not what they themselves want to do.

Sometimes, it’s not the parents who expect too much from a child; it can be a teacher, a coach or anyone else who is pushing a child beyond the limits of their ability. There’s a fine line between encouraging a child to do their best and making a child feel oppressed by adult expectations. Encouragement and support will most likely bring out the best in a child, but pushing them too hard could cause them to have emotional problems.

If we want to protect our children from harm and prevent current and future difficulties, we need to be aware of the ways in which a child’s self-confidence, self-worth, sense of optimism and ability to function can be compromised.

Some hurtful experiences come from other types of family stressors; for example, when one of the parents or a sibling becomes ill or dies; when one or both parents are very young and ill-equipped to handle being a parent; when a parent is suffering from mental illness and their symptoms are expressed in bizarre or unpredictable behaviour toward their children; when parents are dealing with other difficulties such as work stress, financial problems, crises in the extended family, serious addictions or a troubled marriage.

All of the above are experiences which will have a negative impact on a developing child. If we want to protect our children from harm and prevent current and future difficulties, we need to be aware of the ways in which a child’s self-confidence, self-worth, sense of optimism and ability to function can be compromised.

When we see signs of dysfunction or disturbance in a young child, such as excessive anger, sleep refusal, acting out, defiance, compulsive behaviours, destructive behaviour toward themselves or others, truancy, school failure, agitation or moodiness, we need to search carefully for the roots of this behaviour and as much as possible, address the problem immediately, so as to improve things for the child, now and for the future.

Young Minds Matter is a new series designed to lead the conversation with children about mental and emotional health, so youngsters feel loved, valued and understood. 

Helicopter Parenting

How to Stop Helicopter Parenting

Learn how to raise independent kids and stop micromanaging their every move    By Deborah Skolnik

Little Child Playing Airplane Pilot Kid Traveler Flying in Aviator Helmet on Travel Suitcase Vacation Trip Concept over Blue Sky Clouds
You finish your child’s puzzles. You solve his spats. Heck, you’d cut his applesauce if he asked. It’s time to stop being a micromanaging mom. Help has arrived…It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, wait… it’s you, the Helicopter Parent. That shadow over your kid? It’s yours—as you nervously bend over him in his bed, making sure his chest is still rising and falling. That droning noise? It isn’t chopper blades, it’s you again, on the phone to his preschool teacher, complaining that he said some kid cut him in line. Before that, you were busy wiping his butt, even though he does it on his own at Grandma’s house.

Sound familiar? You’ve got tons of company. Like, for instance, Joy Schoffler of Austin, TX. “My three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Isabella, will ask to be carried down the stairs,” she admits. “She sees me holding her brother and wants to be picked up, too. Of course, Tyler is ten months and can’t walk, and Isabella can. But if I’m running out the door late, picking her up is easier than stopping and saying no.” Schoffler needs to start an online support group with Robin Parker of Atlanta, mother of 2 ½-year-old Thomas: “He’s learned to bring his dad or me any challenging task because we’ll do it for him,” she says.

Why do so many of us wait on our kids hand and foot, or micromanage their lives to jaw-dropping extremes? Are we trying to elevate troubleshooting to an Olympic sport (or land our own reality show)? There’s plenty of evidence that this coddling is as unhealthy for them as it is exhausting for us. So you’ve gotta stop. But how? Read on for some insights, plus advice that’ll help you land your crazy copter.

What the Heli Is Going on?

Think back to your own childhood: Your folks probably didn’t hover nearly as much as you do. Chances are, you got to play in the yard unattended, or even made your own snacks. Turns out some pretty powerful technological, economic, and social factors have turned us into a generation of over-zealous moms and dads, experts say.

For starters, there’s the explosion of cyberspace, and media in general: “Parenting information is available twenty-four-seven,” observes Christie Barnes, author of The Paranoid Parents Guide: Worry Less, Parent Better, and Raise a Resilient Child. “You can go online and find out every scary thing that could happen to your child. You can also investigate every illness. So there’s endless opportunity for fear.” At the same time, the rules for setting your little one on the path to lifelong success have become murkier than ever, adds Margaret Nelson, a professor of sociology at Middlebury College, in Vermont, and author of Parenting Out of Control: Anxious Parents in Uncertain Times. “Even if you’ve managed to be financially comfortable and happy, you’re aware your child may not be able to duplicate what you’ve accomplished, even if he does exactly what you did,” she explains. “So you ask yourself ‘What should I provide him with?’ Without an answer, you start trying to provide absolutely everything you possibly can, including too much help.”Kids with overbearing moms may have more anxiety and depression.

Time to Back Off

Once you’ve gotten used to being The Parent from Heli, it’s hard to give up your pilot’s license. There’s even a social element to it, notes Barnes: “So many times, our worries about our kids are what we talk about with other moms,” she says. “There’s almost a feeling that if you’re not worrying enough, there must be something wrong with you. Worrying feels like love.” But a growing body of evidence indicates that being a (s)mother or a super-protective dad can backfire, badly. Among the latest studies is one from North Carolina State University, in which researchers studied kids and their parents in 20 parks over a two-month period. They found that children whose folks hovered and fretted were far less apt to engage in spontaneous play and missed out on some much-needed exercise.

It’s not just kids’ little bodies that suffer when you hover; their psyches can pay the price, too. Psychologists at the University of Washington studied more than 200 kids and their moms for three years, and found that when a child already had pretty good judgment and self-control, having a heli-mom who provided too much guidance and not enough independence raised his risk of becoming anxious or depressed. The kids in the study were mostly a little older (9 on average at the study’s start), but it’s easy to see how a micromanaging mom could frustrate a child of any age.

And what’s all this doing to you? Probably nothing good either. One study showed that parents who judge their own self-worth by their children’s accomplishments report sadness and diminished contentment with life in general. They appear to have less happy marriages, too, says Nelson, who interviewed approximately 100 parents and found that as the amount of time they spend on childcare rises, “personal relationships seem to be the first thing to go.” So don’t go there! Keep reading for great ways to let go of your helicopter parenting ways.

Researchers studied kids and their parents in 20 parks over a two-month period. They found that children whose folks hovered and fretted were far less apt to engage in spontaneous play and missed out on some much-needed exercise.It’s not just kids’ little bodies that suffer when you hover; their psyches can pay the price, too. Psychologists at the University of Washington studied more than 200 kids and their moms for three years, and found that when a child already had pretty good judgment and self-control, having a heli-mom who provided too much guidance and not enough independence raised his risk of becoming anxious or depressed. The kids in the study were mostly a little older (9 on average at the study’s start), but it’s easy to see how a micromanaging mom could frustrate a child of any age. And what’s all this doing to you? Probably nothing good either. One study showed that parents who judge their own self-worth by their children’s accomplishments report sadness and diminished contentment with life in general. They appear to have less happy marriages, too, says Nelson, who interviewed approximately 100 parents and found that as the amount of time they spend on childcare rises, “personal relationships seem to be the first thing to go.” So don’t go there! Keep reading for great ways to…Get a GripOK, so now we’ve (hopefully!) convinced you that quality parenting doesn’t mean constant hovering. But how do you start to ease up? Sounds tough, but it can be done. Here, advice from the trenches—including both pros and real parents! Be a submarine mom or dad instead, says Silvana Clark, author of Fun-Filled Parenting: A Guide to Laughing More and Yelling Less. “Instead of hovering around your child, stay close by—in case of real danger—but mostly out of sight, so he gets out of the habit of running to you for every problem.”Ask your child’s other care-givers what tasks he does when you’re not around, then hold him to that standard at home, says Natalie Caine of Empty Nest Support Services, in Los Angeles, who frequently leads parenting groups that include helicopter moms. Does he put on his own rainboots at preschool but whine for you to do it on weekends? Insist you cut the crusts on his sandwiches, even though he’ll eat crusts at your sister-in-law’s house? Don’t give in.Make your kid a résumé, says Clark. “Take a piece of paper and write ‘Sally is three. Here are some cool things Sally can do by herself.’ Then list some of her abilities, like clearing her plate and putting her stuff ed animals on her bed, and put a star next to each. Every time your child masters a new task, add it to the list, with the star. She’ll be much less apt to ask you to wait on her, since she’ll be so proud.” And as you look at the growing list, you’ll have evidence that you don’t need to provide concierge service after all. “There’s almost a feeling that if you don’t worry enough, something’s wrong with you,” says Barnes. Practice some basic playground skills with your child, says Paranoid Parents author Christie Barnes. “Show him how to kick a ball, climb on the mini-monkey bars, or even just go down the slide. If you see he can do these things safely, you’ll feel more comfortable sitting back on the bench during his next park playdate,” she says. Sit down and have a cup of coffee. Make a brief time every day when your butt’s in a chair and your metaphorical copter is on the landing pad, too. “If your child calls for you and it isn’t an emergency, say ‘I am drinking coffee right now,’” advises Caine. “If he really needs you, he’ll come to you, and if you do this enough, he may stop asking for help with every little thing so often.”Help your hich researchers studied kids and their parents in 20 parks over a two-month period. They found that children whose folks hovered and fretted were far less apt to engage in spontaneous play and missed out on some much-needed exercise.It’s not just kids’ little bodies that suffer when you hover; their psyches can pay the price, too. Psychologists at the University of Washington studied more than 200 kids and their moms for three years, and found that when a child already had pretty good judgment and self-control, having a heli-mom who provided too much guidance and not enough independence raised his risk of becoming anxious or depressed. The kids in the study were mostly a little older (9 on average at the study’s start), but it’s easy to see how a micromanaging mom could frustrate a child of any age. And what’s all this doing to you? Probably nothing good either. One study showed that parents who judge their own self-worth by their children’s accomplishments report sadness and diminished contentment with life in general. They appear to have less happy marriages, too, says Nelson, who interviewed approximately 100 parents and found that as the amount of time they spend on childcare rises, “personal relationships seem to be the first thing to go.” So don’t go there! Keep reading for great ways to…
Get a Grip

OK, so now we’ve (hopefully!) convinced you that quality parenting doesn’t mean constant hovering. But how do you start to ease up? Sounds tough, but it can be done. Here, advice from the trenches—including both pros and real parents!

Be a submarine mom or dad instead, says Silvana Clark, author of Fun-Filled Parenting: A Guide to Laughing More and Yelling Less. “Instead of hovering around your child, stay close by—in case of real danger—but mostly out of sight, so he gets out of the habit of running to you for every problem.”

Ask your child’s other care-givers what tasks he does when you’re not around, then hold him to that standard at home, says Natalie Caine of Empty Nest Support Services, in Los Angeles, who frequently leads parenting groups that include helicopter moms. Does he put on his own rainboots at preschool but whine for you to do it on weekends? Insist you cut the crusts on his sandwiches, even though he’ll eat crusts at your sister-in-law’s house? Don’t give in.

Make your kid a résumé, says Clark. “Take a piece of paper and write ‘Sally is three. Here are some cool things Sally can do by herself.’ Then list some of her abilities, like clearing her plate and putting her stuffed animals on her bed, and put a star next to each. Every time your child masters a new task, add it to the list, with the star. She’ll be much less apt to ask you to wait on her, since she’ll be so proud.” And as you look at the growing list, you’ll have evidence that you don’t need to provide concierge service after all. “There’s almost a feeling that if you don’t worry enough, something’s wrong with you,” says Barnes.

Practice some basic playground skills with your child, says Paranoid Parents author Christie Barnes. “Show him how to kick a ball, climb on the mini-monkey bars, or even just go down the slide. If you see he can do these things safely, you’ll feel more comfortable sitting back on the bench during his next park playdate,” she says.

Sit down and have a cup of coffee. Make a brief time every day when your butt’s in a chair and your metaphorical copter is on the landing pad, too. “If your child calls for you and it isn’t an emergency, say ‘I am drinking coffee right now,’” advises Caine. “If he really needs you, he’ll come to you, and if you do this enough, he may stop asking for help with every little thing so often.”

Help your child get the picture. “I found myself being a helicopter mom and knew I needed to change,” says Dawn Arnold of Mazon, IL, mother of a 5-year-old. “I filled a small photo album with pictures of my daughter doing all the things she needs to do in the morning before school, after school, and before bed. Now she follows along every day. It lets her be independent, but the things that I think are important are still getting done.”

Count to ten before liftoff. “You know how people always say that you should count to ten before you lose your temper?” says Clark. “I tell parents, as long as their child’s not in danger, to count to ten before answering his cry of ‘Help me! or ‘I can’t!’ In that time, you may realize it’s not necessary to rush in after all…or your child may decide he can actually do whatever it is that needs to be done all by himself.”

The Way We Whirrr

For the helicopter parent, these things really get their choppers going…

Trifling toy traumas

Little Thomas Parker has a train set, and sometimes the tracks jiggle apart. “I’ll stand there and watch him trying to fix it for a minute, but I don’t like to see him struggle. Before he reaches the breaking point, we step in,” his mom, Robin, confesses.

School snafus

Paranoid Parents author Christie Barnes heard of one mom who called school to complain that a kid had stared at her son. It turned out he’d stared because her son had drawn a flower on his nose.

Sticky Social Situations

“We took our three-year-old son, Jackson, to our friends’ house for their kids’ Halloween party,” says Chasity O’Steen. “Jackson didn’t really know their kids, let alone their kids’ friends. I kept wanting to walk across the room and help him enter the group.”

Clothes Calls

Hair and makeup artist Candice Isaac, of Baltimore, still selects her 4-year-old daughter Sierra’s clothes. “Sierra would pick five options and stand there trying to choose, and I have to get out of the house to meet clients,” she says.

Surprise! Stuff Your Kid Can Do on His Own

So what is your kid capable of? These are all tasks he can start to learn as he moves past toddlerhood:

1. Zip his pants

2. Put on a belt

3. Make an easy sandwich, like cream cheese and jelly, using a dull knife. (Hint: Toast the bread, so it’s a little easier to handle.)

4. Sort socks

5. Fold towels

6. Help set the table

7. Put clothes in the laundry basket

Kids and Boundaries

Teaching Kids How To Set & Protect Their Boundaries (And Keep Toxic People Out)

Teaching Kids How to Set Boundaries and Keep Toxic People OutPart of helping our kids to be the best they can be sometimes means pointing out things they can do differently. They might not always be happy to receive the information – they’re no different to the rest of us like that. There’s a difference though – a big difference – between feedback that’s given with generous intent and that which fractures the child’s self-concept or self-esteem. Anything that causes shame, humiliation or the ‘shrinking’ of a child is toxic.

We’re here to grow our kids, to help them find flight, and to help them navigate around anything that might lead them to believe those wings of theirs are broken. Their wings are never broken, but the people who touch their lives sometimes are.

It’s not always easy to withdraw a child from a toxic adult, particularly if that adult is a teacher or a parent, but there are things we can do to strengthen the shield around them and teach them the skills that will protect them for life – because let’s be honest, toxic people will come and go throughout the healthiest of lives and it’s not unusual for them to latch on to people who are kind, generous or open.

Strength of character seems to be no barrier to their poison. Sometimes we won’t see them coming and the first we’ll know is that day we wake up and the world feels a little blacker.

Strength and courage come in at the point of closing down to the influence of somebody who’s toxic. It’s in all of us to do this, and it’s up to us to give our kids a lamplight to find theirs, permission to use it, and modeling to show them how.

Here’s how to protect the little humans in your life (and you) from the people who might shrink them now, and against the toxic ones who might come later.

  1. First things first – is it really toxic?

    Rule out other explanations for how your child is feeling. Is your child struggling with work and misreading the teacher’s response? Is your child sensitive to an adult’s tone or volume or abrasive manner? If the adult is like this with everyone, the behaviour is not necessarily toxic. It might not be friendly, but it’s not toxic.

    Also rule out that your child is not doing anything that keeps them under the spotlight. Is is a true case of being targeted by an adult, or is your child consistently talking or interrupting the class, the lesson, the training. How does the adult respond? The response should never be shaming or humiliating. Check this out by chatting with your child and the adult. Then keep an eye on things. Remember that one of the tools of the trade for toxic people is to blame other people for their own messed up behaviour.

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  2. Does the person involved have all the information?

    Does the adult have all the information he or she needs to best look after your child? For example, are there things happening at home that might be affecting your child’s behaviour? Is your child a little bit anxious and prone to being sensitive to behaviour which would be inoffensive to most? Give the adult the benefit of the information. Most people will be pleased to receive the information as the last thing a non-toxic person would want to do is to unknowingly cause distress.

    If you’ve established that it’s not an oversensitivity or anything the child is doing …

  3. Withdraw support for the adult.

    We’re constantly told as parents to support the teacher, the other parent, the coach, and this is true but as with everything else, there’s a limit. When supporting the adult becomes supporting his or her toxic behaviour (the contamination of the child’s self-esteem, confidence or self-concept), it’s time to withdraw support. Let your child know that you don’t agree with the adult – whether it’s a teacher, coach or whoever, and that whatever was said or done should not have happened.

  4. Now for how to set boundaries.

    We hear the word ‘boundary’ a lot but what is it actually? A boundary is the line between what is me and what is not me; between what they think and what I think. With a strong boundary, there’s an acceptance that just because they think it/ feel it/ say it/ do it/ doesn’t mean I have to as well. Here are a few ideas for the words:

    ‘We all have a thing around us called a boundary, which is a line between ourselves and other people. You can’t see it but it’s there. It’s kind of like an invisible forcefield and it’s there to protect each of us from the people who feel bad to be around – not the ones who feel good to be around most of the time but sometimes get cranky or cross, but the ones who say mean things or do mean things that you just don’t deserve.

    You are completely in charge of that forcefield around you. You can decide when it goes up and when it comes down. You can decide what’s allowed in and what has to stay out. You’re the boss and you’ll always be the boss.

    Now, it’s still important to listen and learn from people when they remind you about things you need to do differently – it’s the secret of being awesome. Sometimes though, there might be people who do or say mean things so often that you never feel good when you’re around them. That’s when it’s okay to put your forcefield up. In fact, it’s one of the bravest things you can do. It’s important to respect other people, but it’s even more important to respect yourself first – and putting up your forcefield is one of the ways you can do this.

    We can’t control other people but we can control whether we let the mean things they say or do come close enough to hurt us. Being a kid is hard work – and you’re awesome at it. Everyone is responsible for how they treat other people, including grownups and you, but the person you have to treat the very best is yourself. Sometimes that means not listening to what other people might say about you.

    Sometimes you have to be your own hero and protect yourself from being hurt by people who don’t know the rules about being kind and respectful. This is important because you’re awesome – you’re clever, kind, funny brave and strong – and the world needs every bit of you.’

  5. ‘Did you know ….?’

    Toxic behaviour is often automatic. People do it without thinking about it or considering that there’s a better way to be. That’s not an excuse – not an all – but it can be an important way for your child to further take on the truth that the way someone is treating them actually has nothing to do with them at all.

    Kids will often tend to assume that adults know what they’re doing. Let them know that nobody is perfect – and that when it comes to how to ‘be’ with people, some adults don’t know what they’re doing at all.

    Here’s how to start the chat:

    ‘Did you know that a lot of the things we do are automatic? A lot of time, people just do things because it’s what they’ve always done. They don’t even think about it.

    What this means is that when people are mean and do things that feel bad for you, they haven’t stopped to think that there might be a better way to do it. Sometimes it’s because they haven’t had any adults in their lives to teach them when they were kids, so they grow up doing things that aren’t that great. The habit part of their brain does things before the kind part of their brain can say, ‘Hang on a second. You’ll hurt someone if you do that to them.’

    Our behaviour depends on many different parts of our brain working together and sometimes, they don’t work together that well. It’s important to know that people’s brains can change. Just because someone is mean to you now, doesn’t mean that person will always be mean to you – but you don’t have to wait for that to put your forcefield up. Nope. Not at all.’

  6. ‘No!’ It’s the best word in the universe when you use it the right way.

    ‘For such a little word, saying ‘no’ can feel really hard sometimes but the thing is, it can be the bravest, most powerful word in the universe. It can take strength and courage to say but you have plenty of that. If somebody is asking you to do something that feels bad, wrong, or embarrassing, it’s always okay to say, ‘No’. It can be a hard word to say because you might worry about what people will think of you if you say it, but if they’re asking you to do something that feels bad, then what they think of you already doesn’t matter. Listen to that little voice inside you. If it’s telling you something doesn’t feel right, then listen. I’ll always back you up on that because I trust that little voice of yours, and you need to trust it too.’

  7. Don’t let them change you.

    Help your kids to see the importance of preserving their own character and the great things about them in the face of the things that might change them.

    ‘There’s a bully and a hero in all of us and it’s important not to become a bully when you’re dealing with bullies. This isn’t always easy. You might feel sad or angry or scared and want to hurt the person who has hurt you – but you’re better than that. Respecting yourself doesn’t mean disrespecting other people. Be kind. Be caring. Be strong. But that doesn’t mean you have to like them.

    It’s completely okay to forgive people who are mean. In fact, it’s a very strong thing to do, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept these people back if you don’t think they deserve you. Just understand that there are so many reasons that people do mean things, and none of them are because of the person you are. You’re awesome. We already know that. Mean people weren’t born mean. Something happened to change them that way. Probably something pretty awful. Just don’t let that happen to you.’

  8. Your happiness doesn’t depend on what someone else thinks of you.

    ‘The truth is, nobody will ever know everything about you. If it’s someone who says mean things and who feels bad to be around, that sort of person will really never know the best of you and actually, they don’t deserve to. They’ll never know how funny you are, how kind you are, the amazing way you think about things, how brave, smart and strong you are and how crazy good you are to be around when you trust the people you’re with.’

  9. Stay calm.

    Your child needs to know that you’ve got this. The worst thing you can do is anything that will cause them to regret telling you. You’ll probably feel angry and upset – that’s completely understandable! – but just don’t get angry and upset in front of them. It’s so important not to do anything that might cause them to feel as though they need to look after you.

  10. Be their voice.

    Sometimes we have to be the voice for our children, particularly in relationships where theirs is the quieter, softer and less powerful. When it’s time to talk to the adult involved, start by being curious and open: ‘Is there something my child is doing that he or she needs to improve on?’ Then, keep emotion out of it and stick to specific data, ‘I’d like to talk to you about something you might not be aware of …’

    You’ll have more chance of being effective if you can limit the likelihood of a defensive reaction. That means not going on the attack. You’ll want to, but don’t. Stick to the facts. Share the information you have about how the behaviour is effecting your child or their capacity to work, train, be: ‘When you do [ … ], [ … ] happens. I understand that you might not mean anything by it and you might not even realising it’s happening, but it’s just not getting the best result.’

    Ask how the person plans to address things for the future. If they aren’t prepared to do anything, go to someone higher up than them or, if you can, take your child out of their hands – they don’t deserve the influence. No adult has to like your child but if they don’t, they need to keep that to themselves and not let the child know. And that’s a big ‘Don’t argue’ to the adult. No child should have to manage the feelings of an adult.

  11. And When It’s Peer Friendships …

    Learning that it’s okay to let go of relationships is such an important part of full living. Too often we hold on to people who don’t deserve us or who are ready to move in a different direction. Not everyone who comes into our lives is meant to stay and if we can have our children start to think about this when they’re young, they’ll be so much more empowered and deliberate in their relationships when they’re older.

‘Sometimes people just aren’t able to be the way you would like them to be. It’s okay – really okay – to leave friendships that feel bad more than they feel good. In fact, it’s important. There are people out there who will love you so much and love being with you just the way you are, and letting go of the people who feel bad to be around will make room for the ones who feel good to be with.

Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that how awesome you are depends on the number of friends you have. It doesn’t. Not at all. Sometimes people with less friends are the most amazing people you could ever meet – it’s just that they’re waiting for the right people to find them. And that’s completely okay. Being on your own doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you – it certainly doesn’t mean that! It means that you know what’s right for you and you know you deserve someone who who has make the effort to find out the wonderful things about you – and that is totally awesome.

There are plenty of people who will love your socks off when they get to know you and who will want to be around you. They just have to find you, and you them, which you will. But the most important things is not to stay with people who are mean because you’re scared of being on your own. Being on your own can feel lonely, but being around the wrong sort of people feels even lonelier, and completely awful.

Kids are clever. They know what’s going on and they’re intuitive. When they say something is off, it usually is. Ask them for information. Ask them for their opinion. Ask them what they think you should do and let them know that you understand. Kids just want to be our heroes too.

What Drives Self-Injury…

… and How to Treat It

Understanding is the first step.

Rachel Ehmke

Senior Writer
CHILD MIND INSTITUTE

There are few things more disturbing for moms and dads than finding out that your child is intentionally hurting herself. Unfortunately, it’s very common, especially among girls. Experts call it “self-injury,” and as many as a quarter of all teenagers do it.

The most common form of self-injury is cutting or scratching the skin with anything that can draw blood, such as razors or even paperclips and pen caps, but people also self-injure by burning themselves, picking at skin and wounds, or hitting themselves. They often start around puberty.

When a girl develops a habit of cutting her arms it might look like suicidal behavior, but it actually isn’t. People who self-injure aren’t trying to kill themselves, they are trying to alleviate some emotional distress they are feeling. However, the behavior indicates a depth of psychic pain that could lead to a suicide attempt. The behavior is also inherently dangerous because people who self-injure may hurt themselves more seriously than intended or develop infections or other medical complications.

Understanding the drive

It’s hard to understand why anyone would want to intentionally hurt herself, or why that injury would come as a relief, as many self-injurers describe it. Some people report that it serves as a distraction from some other intense emotional pain, says Ron Steingard, MD, a psychiatrist at the Child Mind Institute.

 

A treatment for teenagers with serious trouble managing emotions, including self-harm and suicidal thoughts or attempts. Others self-harm because they feel deadened inside. “They’ve locked down so tightly because of whatever’s going on in their lives that they feel they’re incapable of feeling anything at all,” says Dr. Steingard. “So they hurt themselves in order to feel something.”

In some cases self-injury can also become a way of communicating. When a girl is found to be cutting, it’s likely to elicit empathy and concern from parents and other adults. Next time she is feeling desperate, she might use it as a way to communicate her feelings.

A way to cope

But self-injury isn’t always a form of communication. Some kids are very secretive about the habit, and are focused only on ameliorating their own pain, not sharing it. It’s what clinicians call a maladaptive coping tool: Even though self-injury isn’t the best way to manage a problem, it might bring temporary relief.

Unfortunately that relief makes self-injurious behavior very reinforcing, so kids come to rely upon it as a way to deal with their painful feelings. And the longer they practice self-injury the more reinforcing it becomes.

Red flags for cutting

If you suspect that your daughter may be hurting herself but you’re not sure, look for these signs:

  • Talking about self-injury
  • Suspicious-looking scars
  • Wounds that don’t heal or get worse
  • Cuts on the same place
  • Increased isolation
  • Collecting sharp tools such as shards of glass, safety pins, nail scissors, etc.
  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts in warm weather
  • Avoiding social activities
  • Wearing a lot of band aids
  • Refusing to go into the locker room or change clothes in school

Triggers

The impulse a teenager feels to harm herself is almost always triggered by a specific event in her life. The most common “trigger” for cutting is feeling rejected: by a boyfriend, her close friends, or by a general feeling of being left out or criticized.

Cutting can also be copy-cat behavior inspired by YouTube videos that show other girls cutting. These videos have the effect of making self-injuring behavior seem normal and therefore encouraging it.  

Getting help

If you discover that a child has been hurting herself, even if she says it was a one-time thing, it’s important to get help. It’s true that kids might experiment with self-injury, especially if they have friends who are doing it, but it’s a serious and dangerous behavior, and you don’t want to ignore what might be a real mental health issue.

  • Evaluation: To begin with, you should have your daughter evaluated by an experienced mental health professional to find out what her reasons for hurting herself are and what emotional difficulties she’s experiencing.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): One highly recommended treatment is DBT, in which a psychologist works with your child to help her learn how to tolerate uncomfortable feelings anger, anxiety and rejection without resorting to cutting.
  • Cognitive Behavioral therapy (CBT): In CBT, a psychologist teaches your child to challenge negative, distressing thoughts, to recognize the pattern and train herself to think outside it. In many cases, particularly with teenagers, this treatment is very successful.
  • Family Therapy: If there are things going on at home-fighting, job loss, a death-that could be the source of your daughter’s emotional troubles, family therapy is a good way to begin treatment.
  • Medication: Often if there is another disorder involved, a doctor will prescribe medication to treat that condition. The combination of medication and psychotherapy is very successful at treating kids who self-harm.

Finally, Dr. Steingard recommends that families try to be open and supportive. “This is a behavior that’s very hard for people to get inside and empathize with. But it isn’t something that a person can just stop; it’s something that needs to be understood.”

Ease Travel Anxiety During the Holiday Season

4 Ways to Ease Travel Anxiety During the Holiday Season

Stressed woman in the airportFall and winter bring the holidays and, for some of us, the dreaded burden of having to travel. Although I enjoy this time of year, the stress of having to get somewhere that my two feet cannot take me can rob me of some of my holiday joy. For some, it may completely overshadow holiday plans. If you are like me and have family far from home, the prospect of having to deal with the airport and get on a crowded plane is almost enough to settle for a family reunion via Skype.

So, fellow anxious travelers, this is for you. Here are some tips on how to address travel anxiety—no matter your mode of travel or how far you’re going.

1. Identify and Dispel Negative or Unhelpful Thoughts

Our minds are tricky! Thoughts pop up whether we want them to or not. If you are not aware of what’s happening, you may find yourself in a downward spiral of thinking patterns that trigger and exacerbate negative emotions. Being able to identify and dispel these thoughts can go a long way toward helping you gain control over your behaviors.

A common thought trap is putting unhelpful pressure and judgment on yourself. You feel anxious about driving and then suddenly the thought “I shouldn’t feel anxious about driving; I’m so stupid!” pops into your head. It’s a thought trap! You’ve just judged your own anxiety, which creates another layer of negative thought and emotion. Try acknowledging that you do feel this way—without judgment—and then decide how you want to tackle it.

Another thought trap is filtering out information. You might think, “Accidents happen every second!” only to soon find yourself counting all the ways the trip may end in disaster. Do accidents happen every second? In the world, perhaps, but is it a helpful thought to you in the moment? Probably not. There are positive events that happen every second, too, like a child being born or someone saying “I love you.” Remove the negative filter and try to disengage from unhelpful thoughts by literally telling yourself to stop.

2. Set Reasonable Mini-Milestones

Rather than looking at the trip as an epic three-, five-, or seven-hour journey, set smaller milestones that let you know you are making progress. Driving? Set your mini-milestone for a gas station or use your GPS to determine a good break point.

When I’m flying, my mini-milestone combines a healthy distraction and a milestone. I typically bring a book and set the bookmark to a random page. When I reach that point in the book, I’m allowed a break.

Not only do mini-milestones give you a sense of movement and accomplishment, but they help break a journey into manageable chunks. You can also build in other “rewards” for yourself for reaching milestones. Do what you need to do to keep yourself positive and steering clear of thought traps.

3. Use Healthy Distractions

The less you allow your mind to wander into thought traps, the less anxiety you may experience.

The less you allow your mind to wander into thought traps, the less anxiety you may experience.

A healthy distraction is one that keeps you present and out of your head. If you’re driving, try queuing up that audiobook you never had a chance to listen to or play one of your favorite playlists. If you are lucky enough to be on a plane that offers in-flight entertainment, try watching a movie. It’s also a great time to practice mindfulness exercises.

If a negative thought comes up, let it come and go and gently redirect yourself back to what’s happening in front of you.

4. Breathe, Stretch, and Let It Go

Make a point to practice even breathing throughout your journey and, when possible, take time to do light stretching and focused deep breathing. This will help your body and mind relax.

If you are driving, take time at a rest stop to release stress from your body and re-center yourself before getting back on the road. In a plane or train, try walking the aisle to give your legs a chance to stretch. If the idea of walking around the train or plane is too stressful, try engaging in seated activities such as progressive muscle relaxation or small stretches with your ankles, wrists, arms, shoulders, and neck. Small stretches will help release any built-up tension without disturbing your neighbor.

Integrating some of these practices may lead to a smoother and less stressful trip so that you can spend your energy on the things and people that matter to you. Safe travels, and happy holidays!

© Copyright 2015 by Deanna Richards, LMHC, therapist in New York, NY. All Rights Reserved.

Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org. The preceding article was solely written by the author name above. The view and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org.