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All families have their share of problems and unfortunately during a crisis, family members panic. There can be any number of things that constitute a crisis for a family and some of the biggies are: using drugs, depression, self-mutilation, your child has thoughts of hurting themselves, staying out all night, sexting, death of a family member or loved one, having committed a crime, gang activity, or having underage sex. What constitutes a crisis for one family might not necessarily be a crisis for another family. So what do we do as a family to work through a crisis situation without completely having the family unit fall apart.
First of all, we should be prepared as a family before a crisis strikes. Parents should be alert to the early warning signs of the crisis. Watch for odd or unusual behaviors, lying, or in other words if your child/teen begins to act differently.
Stay calm. Losing your cool will not reassure or instill confidence in the rest of the members of the family. Yelling and screaming has never solved a single, solitary problem.
If your child or another family member is in danger then the danger must be removed immediately. This often means that the police have to be called if the situation has escalated to this point.
Work through a particular problem and do not focus on the person. Attacking or pointing the finger at a person during a family crisis is also not helpful. This just puts the person on the defensive and will most likely escalate the problem. Put your energy into solving the problem and not blaming and criticizine a person.
During a crisis, try to keep a normal routine. This is hard to do but this has a stabilizing and calming effect on all of the members of the family.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. This is a key to working through any type of family crisis. If family members shut down and don’t talk to each other than nothing ever gets solved. Give each other your undivided attention. If your child/teen needs to talk about something, then let them talk. Convey to them that you are their for him/her no matter what.
Utilize any and all resources at your disposal to work through the crisis. This could be a pastor, a therapist, other family members, support groups, friends, or your community mental health center. Work through the problem, no matter what it is with your child. Children/teens need reassurance that they are safe and loved, no matter what has happened or what they did.
One of the greatest struggles that all of us experience in our life is how to get along and interact with those around us. For young people and teens, problems in this area leave them with deficits in functioning with others. What happens in this case is that children are unable to make themselves feel understood, feelings of hostility or anger, and a sense of unimportance. If children do not learn these social skills as children what they are left with as adults is the inability to function in their life and in their workplace. None of us lives in a box without having to relate and interact with those around us. Unfortunately, much of the decline in social skills stems from the decline of interaction between family members as a result of time children spend playing video games, listening to music, and watching television. These particular activities that children engage in does NOT require social interaction. If social skills are not practiced then they can not be adequately developed.
The skills necessary for effective social interaction between children are the following abilities: listening, cooperating, communicating, sharing, empathasizing, and negotiating. The very foundation of these skills is listening to one another. This means the ability to initiate and maintain a meaningful exchange of perceptions. In other words, we need to teach our children what others are saying from their point of view. What inhibits the development of these skills is a lack of respect for others perceptions and feelings.
The keys to success for developing interpersonal skills in children are the following:
1. Practice dialogue with them that is respectful and considers other’s feelings.
2. Teach children to become skillful in listening, empathizing, and negotiating/sharing with others.
3. Practice different social situations with them and practice over and over to make sure they are interacting with other children appropriately in different situations. Their efforts will be successful and unsuccessful but continue to encourage them.
The best practice by far to teach children appropriate and effective social skills is to have meaningful interactions and family time when they are at home after school. If their entire evening is spent in front of the television set or playing video games, these necessary skills will never become part of their everday life.
Should parents be friends with their children? As a therapist, I see parents all the time that make their children their “buddies” and inevitably when they bring their children in for treatment their are behavioral problems. The reason that we do NOT make our children are friends is that it is very difficult later on to enforce rules and establish boundaries. Research shows that kids/teens do better when their parents who show them affection and enforce age-appropriate limits on their children’s behavior. “Friendship” with your children also causes problems if it means for the parent/s that they are treating their child as an adult confident. This is something that we see in therapy all the time. Parents that tell their children all of their marital issues, financial worries, and personal issues. This does not mean that you are closer to your child, it actually brings about worry and anxiety in children.
First and foremost, we need to be parents to our children. This means that we treat children as individuals with minds of their own, we talk to our children about THEIR hopes and dreams, we share information at a minimum of our own personal issues so as to not distress our children, and we respect and trust each other.
The kind of friendship that I am talking about here forms a secure attachment and bond with our children while at the same time establishes that the relationship is not an equal one and their are clear cut boundaries. If we treat our children as “equals” then it is going to be really hard to get them to follow our rules and regulations.
All of this becomes even more true when our children reach adolescence. We think that now they are older that we can let them make their own decisions and choices. NO! As your child’s parent, you can offer him/her valuable advice and guidance and set up boundaries that they can use for their future.
Typically when mom, dad, or both parents bring their child/children in for counseling due to their divorce, everyone is in great turmoil. Mom and Dad are often fighting over rules in each other’s homes, who is picking up the children at what time and where, and who is right and who is wrong in all of this. Usually lawyer’s and sometimes the judge is involved if everyone is not in agreement and the detrimental part of this is that the children are greatly affected by all of the chaos that ensues when parent’s divorce.
So what is the role of the therapist when they work with children in counseling and what exactly are their goals. First of all, psychotherapists that work individually with divorcing parents need to understand what is at stake or in other words the importance of both mom and dad’s role in parenting their children. Therapists will not be looking simply at the immediate complaint of the mother or father (ie… Ashley gets away with everything over at her mom’s house or Ashley’s dad says bad things about me in front of Ashley) rather they are looking systemically at the problem. The therapist looks at the choices made by both parents and how this affects the overall dynamic in the family. The therapist will also educate the parents on what divorce looks like for the child after they get a divorce. Most children, whether the parents believe it or not, want both mom and dad in their life. The biggest value in therapy is the therapist explaining a very realistic picture of what divorce looks like for a child, the likely sources of conflict that will ensue, the loneliness that is often felt by everyone, and of course that the parents must continue to parent together. This is the value of the therapist in the life of kids of divorce and it can contribute to everyone’s well-being in the years that lie ahead for everyone involved.
Most people up until about five years ago had never even heard of “cutters” or “emo”. However, the lingo always changes as do the behaviors of kids/teens and how they express themselves. Truly the number of young people (preteens and teens) that are the group that primarily cut themselves is growing by leaps and bounds. Self-harm is rarely an act of suicide, however it is a cry for help for the person that is abusing themselves by cutting. Teens that self-mutilate usually either cut themselves, burn themselves, pick at their skin, or pull their hair out (this is called trichotillomania). Approximately two million people in the United States are injuring themselves right now and are doing so as a way to cope with an overwhelming situation or feelings that they are not quite sure what to do with. Unfortunately, injuring yourself becomes quite addicting and professional help is often needed in order to stop engaging in this very addictive behavior.
People that injure themselves have some very common traits with each other:
they typically have a co-existing disorder such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, an eating disorder, or a substance abuse problem.
they usually have a support group that is limited or non-existent and have no one to talk to about what is going on in their life. In other words, they feel isolated.
they typically have not been allowed in their life to express themselves, whether it is with anger or crying and have bottled up all of their feelings.
they have poor coping skills and when times get tough, they do not have the tools necessary to deal with the crisis or stressor.
The truth is that people that self-harm scare the people around them and their family/friends are usually at a loss of what to do or say to them. I have found that parents/caregivers do not understand why their loved one would actually harm themselves. The key to helping them is to: encourage them to find a professional counselor or psychologist, let them know that you care and are there for them, encourage them to express themselves openly and honestly, and don’t tell them to stop the behavior (this only reinforces their feelings of helplessness.) Remember, self-injury is addicting and is not so easy to “just stop.” For the person that is self-injuring, the very first step is to acknowledge that their is a problem and this is not about being a “bad person”, this is about getting the help you need in order to learn to cope with stressors more effectively.
A common question asked of parents when their children are little is, “when should my child by speaking where I can understand him?” Parents are often concerned when their child does not seem to be at the same developmental level as other children and are unsure of what they should be able to do at what age. Here are some hard and fast rules that can be used as a guide for a child’s speech/language development. As always, if you believe your child’s development is delayed or you have a concern, consult your child’s pediatrician. A referral may be needed for speech/language therapy to help with development.
At the age of 12 months a child can normally:
Make cooing sounds
Respond to the word “no” and mimic your sounds
Say 10-50 words
Follow simple commands such as “show me” or “give me”
At the age of 24 months a child normally can:
Say 50-300 words
Identify parts of their body
Follow 1-2 step commands
Say a 3-word sentence
Follow commands that include prepositions
At the age of 36 months a child can usually:
Say 300-500 words
Use pronouns and prepositions
Understand prepositions, adjectives, and pronouns
Answer questions logically when a parent asks them
At the age of 48 months a child can usually:
Speak in multiple sentences with each sentence clearly connected and in order
If their is concern that your child is delayed in their language development, then speech/language therapy may be needed in order to help with expressive and receptive language or articulation difficulties.
You might be saying, what in the world is an IEP. Parents with kids that have special needs need to know about an IEP or an Individual Education Plan. An initial IEP meeting is a time and place to develop a document with your child’s educators at school in order to develop a learning plan for your child. Children with special needs usually require having a modified curriculum (ie… allow additional time to complete assignments, reducing distractions in the classroom to learning, visual vs. auditory learning assignments depending on the child’s learning style) that is tailored to how they learn and the necessary changes made in order to accomodate their special needs.
An IEP meeting includes your child’s educators as well as the parents and parents or guardians should participate in developing any special needs or considerations that need to be made for your child. A list of your child’s strengths and weaknesses should be addressed as well as a list of your child’s needs and how to address them. The IEP meeting should not be a time where everyone in the meeting discussing a child’s behavioral or emotional problems, rather this meeting is a time to focus on the issues that your child is having whether they are academic, behavioral, etc.. and how they need to be addressed in school.
The next step to having an IEP is to develop goals that are specific to your child’s strengths an needs in order to be able to track your child’s academic progress in the school environment. Goals should always be realistic and be able to be achieved by your child. If the goals are not realistic, then your child will be discouraged and this will not encourage them to learn and they will become more frustrated. IEP goals should be specific to your child and should be identified in a sequence. For example, if a child with Asperger’s has a specific goal at school of mastering the computer than a sequence may look like this:
1.) the child will learn how to turn on the computer, sign into the internet, learn all the functions of a computer, how to use the keyboard, etc…
2.) the student will learn higher functions of a computer such as how to create documents and save information in the computer
3.) the student will learn how to use their e-mail or different programs such as Excel, Word, etc… on the computer.
The goal here is to have specific steps for your child to reach the goal which are achieveable and a date of completion should be included on the IEP document. The IEP includes the projected date for implementing the services, the duration of the services, and any revision dates. The document should also include how the school plans to report IEP goal progress. Lastly, an IEP should address how the current IEP represents that least restrictive environment as opposed to having your child have an alternative placement elsewhere.
A significant amount of research has been done in the area of whether or not a child’s IQ can be raised. Traditionally, researchers believed that the intellectual level that you were born with remains the same throughout a lifetime. However, research now shows that mental processes can be improved by a number of very simple tasks. One of the most effective ways to stimulate a child’s mental processes is by using a technique called controlled breathing. This is also an exercise that therapists use to help patients control anxiety. Research shows that school-aged children can increase their grades simply by doing breathing exercises prior to assignments or when they take tests. In essence what occurs is that controlled breathing increased oxygen flow going to the brain and a result memory and problem-solving abilities are increased.
A very simple breathing exercise goes as follows:
Teach your child to count to five when breathing in and five again when breathing out. Repeat this exercise about six times and the entire exercise usually takes less than a minute. Your child should complete this exercise before tests or any type of assignment that requires alot of brain power activity. This breathing exercise should be taught several times to your child to make sure they have it right. A very important key is to breathe in for the same amount of time that a child is breathing out.
Another important component to increase your child’s brain power is simply by playing games that improve brain power. Some of these games are checkers, soduku, crossword puzzles, chess, word jumples, and by solving different types of mathematical puzzles. Remember parents, television and video games do very little to improve a child’s brain power.
Lastly, having a conversation no matter what their age improves vocabulary and verbal skills. Studies are now showing that kids with talkative parents have a larger vocabulary and better overall language skills. Make conversations about their interests such as family, school, friends, clothes, etc… part of your everyday routine. The result will be a child/teen that feels valued and more intelligent.
As parents and caregivers we often are uncertain of what to look for when a child has been sexually abused. The thought or possibility that our child has been abused in any way is a parent’s biggest fear and often times a parent does not want to believe anything has occurred and overlooks the signs. Some behaviors that children exhibit may signal sexual abuse, however they also might just be a child having seen an adult movie or something they watched on television that has adult content. Try to remain calm but also look for the following signs that your child has been abused. These are some indicators, however it does not mean for sure that your child has been abused and a pediatrician or a mental health professional should be contacted in order to make an evaluation. Always better to err on the side of caution and be sure that your child is alright:
The signs of sexual abuse are the following:
Unusual discharge from the vagina or penis. Somtimes in kids this is a reaction to a change in laundry soap or their soap, however a pedicatrician should be contacted to be sure.
When your child is repeatedly touching themselves, whether this is at home in their bedroom or bathroom or when they are out in public. This does not mean when they casually touch themselves, all children will do this, I mean when they are compulsively touching themselves and they appear very anxious when they are doing so.
Stimulating themselves or having contact sexually with pets.
Repeatedly and compulsively drawing pictures of genitalia.
Playing with their feces. Children, especially preschoolers and very young children find this fascinating, however beyond this age it is not a fascination. It usually signals anger or having went though a traumatic event.
Engaging in oral sex, fondling, or sexual contact with another child. Sexual contact with a child much older or much younger is usually a sign for alarm, however when children “play doctor” or engage in “you show me mine and I will show me yours” is not usually a sign of sexual abuse. Most children are curious and will engage in trying to “play doctor” at some point. Stop this behavior and look carefully for any signs of abuse that may have occurred.
Lastly, when a child has significant anxiety around certain people they encounter or places that they have to go. Their fears or their anxieties should be discussed with them to try and ascertain exactly what is wrong. Don’t ask over and over repeatedly, this will cause them even more anxiety.
What should be done by a parent that is uncertain as to whether or not their child has been abused is to err on the side of caution. If you are just not sure that your child has been abused and you can not get a straight answer from your child, then ask your child’s pediatrician for an evaluation. If abuse is involved, contact a mental health professional for individual and family counseling immediately.