Archive for July, 2009

PostHeaderIcon When Parents Don’t Agree Over Discipline

What do you do as a parent when your child is resistant to discipline and  your spouse will not stand behind you and enforce the rules.  As a therapist, I see this all the time.  One parent is the “good guy” and the other one who disciplines and enforces the rules is the “bad guy”.  No two parents agree all the time about discipline/boundaries and will parent the same, however some parents just don’t want to discipline at all and want their children to be their “friend”.  Children and parents are NOT friends, your child needs a parent, their friends are at school.  This is a serious problem as it puts one parent against the other and of course the child will play one parent against the other in order to get their way.  So what can you do if you are the parent that is the “bad guy” and your spouse will not help you with discipline. 

First of all, as the “bad guy” you need to address this with your spouse.    Most likely you are saying that you already have and it fell on deaf ears and your spouse did nothing about changing their way of disciplining.  If your spouse will not change than from now on they need to be held responsible for the consequences of not enforcing discipline in the home.  For example, if your spouse will not make your child clean up their room, then your spouse should have to clean up the child’s room.  You are not to go behind your child and go into their room and clean it up.  If your child has been told to take out the trash and they have not, even after you told them, then your spouse is to take out the trash.  Most likely, if the resistance of a spouse to change their behavior and discipline strategies is very severe, this is probably a marital issue and not a parenting issue.  Marital counseling may be needed in order to address a “marriage issue.”  Individuals understand consequences for behavior, whether it is an adult or a child.  Make the parent who does not want to discipline or enforce appropriate boundaries reap the consequences for doing nothing.

PostHeaderIcon How do we stop bullying in schools?

Absolutely, the best way to stop bullying in schools is for parents to change the way they parent their children at home.  Of course, this is much easier said than done and everyone parents their children differently.  Bullies, however come from homes where physical punishment is used and children have been taught that physical violence is the way to handle problems and “get their way.”  In addition, bullies usually come from homes where the parents are often fighting with each other and violence has been modeled for them.  The involvement of the parents is often lacking in the bullies’ life and their seems to be little warmth.  With all of that said, how can we ”fix” the bullying problem at school.  Early intervention and effective discipline/boundaries is truly the best way to stop bullying, but we as parents of the victims or as therapists can not change the bullies home environment.  What can be done about bullying at the school level:

1.) Most school programs that address bullying use a multi-faceted approach to the problem and this usually involves counseling of some sort either by peers, a school counselor, teachers, or the principal.

2.) A good place to start in a school in trying to address a bullying problem, which seems to have become increasingly prevalent, is to hand out questionnaires to all of the students and teachers discussing if bullying is occurring as well as defining exactly what constitutes bullying in the school environment.  The questionnaire is a wonderful tool that allows the school to see exactly the extent of bullying occurring and what types of bullying are occuring.  It serves a good benchmark of where to start to address the problem.

3.) Get the children’s parents involved in a bullying program.  If parents of the bullies and the victims are not aware of what is going on at school, then the whole bullying program will not be effective.  Stopping bullying in school takes a team and concentrated effort on everyone’s parts.  Bullying should also be discussed during parent-teacher conferences as well as PTA meetings.  Parental awareness is key.

4.) In the classroom setting, all teachers should work with the students on bullying.  Often times even the teacher is being bullied in the classroom and a program should be set up that implements teaching about bullying.  Children understand modeling behaviors and role-play and acting out bullying situations is a very effective tool that can be used.  Have students ”act” out a bullying situation.   Also, rules that involve bullying behaviors should be clearly posted.  Schools could also utilize the services of mental health professionals in their area to come in and speak to the students about bullying behaviors and how it directly affects the victims.

5.) Lastly, schools need to look at where bullying is usually occurring from the questionnaire that students/teachers filled out.  Look at the school environment and make sure their is enough adult supervision at school in order to lessen and prevent child bullying at school.  

A child that has to endure bullying behaviors usually suffers from low self-esteem and their ability to learn and be successful at school is dramatically lessened.  By implementing a good anti-bullying program, schools will be able to see a drastic reduction of bullying in their schools.  For parents, education of bullying behaviors as well as talking to your children about bullying will help all children have a better school environment and allow children to feel safe and secure at school.  Children that are bullies need to be taught empathy for others’ feelings in order to change their behaviors and a zero tolerance policy for bullying needs to be the “attitude” of everyone at the school.

PostHeaderIcon How to Treat a Specific Phobia

Most children go through different phases in which they are scared of different things when they are young.  However, a child can develop a specific phobia to different things in which their fears are excessive or unreasonable.  Now, you may say that everyone is scared of something at one time or another.  However, children that have specific phobias become extremely fearful or terrified when a parent or adult even exposes them to the specific thing they are scared of.  Children most often develop specific phobias to the following things:  being in the dark, water, animals, going to the doctor or the dentist, and lastly thunderstorms or bad weather. 

Children may display their fear or anxiety of a particular stimulus (ie… a dog) if the child is scared of dogs in a variety of ways.  Children will typically display their anxiety or fear over their specific phobia by having a temper tantrum, clinging to their parents, crying, or they freeze and will not move. 

How can a child’s specific phobia be treated?  Most commonly, parents will bring their children in for treatment when the child’s phobia has become so excessive that it is interfering with the child’s day to day life.  A common phobia for children is a fear of dogs.  The steps that must be taken to treat a specific phobia are slow and methodical and exposure to the stimulus which the child is scared of (ie… dogs) should be done with the assistance of a therapist or mental health professional.  Parents/caregivers should never attempt to treat a specific phobia without the help of someone who understands phobias and the treatment thereof.  The therapeutic method or approach that is used to treat specific phobias is called systematic desensitization or in other words, the therapist slowly exposes the child to stimulus’ related to their child’s phobia.  In the case of treating the specific phobia to dogs, here are steps that could be taken by the therapist:

1.) Expose the child to something about dogs.  A good exercise would be for the child and therapist to cut out pictures of dogs from a magazine while in the treatment session.

2.) Read stories to the child about different dogs, such as Clifford the Big Red Dog, Lassie, Snoopy, or stories about Scooby-Doo.  The idea here is to not flood the child with too much about dogs, but work up slowly so as to not overwhelm them.

3.)  Have the child when they are ready sleep with a dog stuffed animal.

4.)  Have the parents post pictures of dogs on the refrigerator that they have cut out of magazines as a family activity

5.) Watch videos or a movie about dogs when the child feels they are ready.  The emotional and psychological status of the child in regards as to whether they are ready to be exposed to the stimulus (ie.. dogs) is in the clinical judgment of the therapist with input from the child and his/her parents

6.) Have the parents take the child somewhere in which dogs will be present, ie… park, but keep the child at a distance for the dog/dogs.  Over a period of time usually weeks, the parent with the help of the child’s therapist will decrease the distance in which the child is in the proximity of the dog until the child is able to stand next to a dog.  The child does not have to pet the dog unless he/she feels comfortable in doing so.

The steps outlined in treating a specific phobia, in this case dogs, can be used with any type of specific phobia that a child is experiencing.  What is being exposed of course will be different depending on the nature of the specific phobia.  Treatment of a specific phobia should be done slowly; cautiously in order to not overexpose children to the stimulus and traumatize them even further to what they are scared of.  We call this flooding.  Consult a mental health professional in order to treat a specific phobia.

PostHeaderIcon No Quick Fix for Anxiety Sufferers

This is something we hear as therapists all the time, “can you fix me really quick.”  Or, “do you have a magic wand to just fix me.”  Whether the sufferer of anxiety is a child, an adolescent, or an adult, there is NO “quick fix” for anxiety.  The problem that we as therapists often run into, is that patients want to be “fixed”, however they are not patient in the amount of time it takes to start to improve and the other “biggie” is that patients do very little of the prescribed treatment in order to get better. 

For parents that have children that suffer with anxiety,  a large part of anxiety is fear based as well as personal concerns that the child has.  There is really no one “right treatment” that works for every child and as a parent or caregiver you need to be patient with your child.  Most parents if they have a child that suffers with anxiety symptoms are often very fearful themselves as well as reacting to their child’s anxiety with anger, fear, frustration, etc…  The best way to help your child to get through their anxiety for the long-term is to first let them work through some of their anxiety themselves.  Do not “fix” everything for them.  A child first has to recognize their anxiety and try to problem-solve for themselves.  If they are unable to do this, then be patient and help them through their anxiety.  A thoughtful; well thought out approach with the assistance of a therapist is a really good place to start.  Help your child work through their fears and anxieties, but do not take over out of your own fear and do things for them.  There are a few treatments out there that are a “quick fix” such as an anti-anxiety medication, however medications “mask” the symptoms of anxiety and do help, but they will not “fix” the problem.

PostHeaderIcon How to Raise Active, Not Passive Children

Passivity in children is often seen in a clinical setting, as it is often a symptom of an emotional problem.  Some children that have depression or anxiety are very passive and they withdraw and do not cope well with their own pain.  As teenagers, passive children often use drugs or alcohol to deal with their issues.  How do we as parents raise children that are active participants in their own life and destiny as well as children that have strength in their convictions.  Passivity is not necessarily a bad thing, however passive children are often very entitled and feel that their parents and those around them should “wait” on them and do everything for them.  Passive children feel that by simply being born and being a child or teenager that they deserve to have others do everything for them.  Do not fall into this trap parents!  Here are the ways we can develop an active child instead of a passive child:

1.) Take an active role in your child’s life.  Make your child do things for themselves.  If you are a parent that has been used to do everything for your child while they do very little, they are certainly going to fight you in the beginning. 

2.)  Be a good role model for them.  Our lives as parents are not centered around our children to the exclusion of everything else in our lives.  Life is about a balance between our children, families, work, friendships, health.  The parent that centers their entire existence around their children is influencing their children to think that life is about only being a parent or that you as a parent will be serving and catering to them forever.  The healthiest parents are those that have relationships of their own that don’t involve their children.  Take up your own interests and you as a parent will be healthier and you will have a better relationship with your child.

3.) Don’t avoid setting limits with your child.  Remember, passive children just sit and let everyone do everything for them.  Discuss problems with your child and do not avoid conflict with them, just because you don’t want them “to like you.”  We are not our children’s friends, we are their parents.  We must set limits in all areas and give them responsibilities if we are going to move them towards personal growth and autonomy. 

4.) Children by their very nature will let you as a parent do everything for them.  Parents tend to want to try to “fix” everything and “do things” for their children to the exclusion of having their children do very little for themselves.  I have seen so many exhausted; harried parents that are running around doing everything for their children, meanwhile their children have no household chores and have no responsibilities.  Wrong!  If you do all of the work for your child, then it is your fault that they have not learned how to be responsible.  Start by saying to your child, “I am sorry, but cleaning up your room is your responsiblity.”  Or, “Sorry I am late again, what are you going to get me for dinner?”  Your response of course will be, “you know when you are supposed to be home, now you have to get yourself something to eat.”  Do not wait on your child, as you just reinforced their being late coming home. 

Help your child take initiative to solve their own problems and be responsible in their actions and choices and you will have a child that matures and has personal strength.  When parents are overly active in doing everything for their children, the child then becomes overly passive and expects everything to be done for them including someone solving their problems.  The key to raising strong; healthy children is to teach them to be responsible and to be active participants in their life.  Remember passive children often avoid relationships in general as they do not have enough strength of character to take the initiative in a relationship or they are fearful of doing things on their own.

PostHeaderIcon How to Talk to Your Child about a Mental Health Disorder

What do you do as a parent when your child has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder?  This is a question that has been posed to me countless times as a therapist.  Do I tell him what is wrong or not??  Whether you as a parent have been told that your child has ADHD, Clinical Depression, an Anxiety Disorder, Aspergers, or whatever it is, your child definitely needs to be told about the diagnosis.  In addition, the symptoms of the disorder should also be explained to them.

Talking to your child about the disorder helps to remove the mystery surrounding the problem and it will also help them if you explain the symptoms to them.  In having done so, you as a parent are given them back some measure of control to your child.  I mean, if you really think about it, is whatever you are telling them really that bad?? 

Alot of parents/caregivers feel a sense of relief when they are told what particular problem their child has, however they then feel it necessary to “hide” the diagnosis from their child.  Believe me, children know that their is a problem or something “different” about them and explaining the diagnosis will help alleviate some of their distress and then both you and your child can work towards coping with the situation.  Awareness is the key towards better mental health.