PostHeaderIcon When parents are friends with their kids

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.

PostHeaderIcon Therapist’s role with kids of divorce

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.

PostHeaderIcon How can we help inattentive children focus?

Whether a child suffers from ADHD, Inattentive Type or simply struggles with sustaining attention at school, these children will appear very disorganized, uninterested in class, spacey, and absent minded. Parents and teachers alike are often frustrated with inattentive children, because they appear to be completely detached and uninterested in school. These children are often very intelligent, however teachers and parents often feel that they are simply “lazy” and do not want to do their work. Fortunately, there are a number of very ineffective interventions that can help the inattentive child and it is usually the case that these children are simply overlooked in the classroom because they are not disruptive in the classroom setting.

Here are a list of interventions that can help for inattention whether at school or at home:
Make the child is aware when all assignments are due at school
Establish eye contact with the child when speaking to them whether at home or school
Redirect when the child becomes disengaged
Give clear; concise directions
Make sure the child sits in front when in class; too many distractions in the back of the classroom
Teachers should make sure that a classroom schedule of when assignments are due is conveyed to the child’s parents
Should your child how to effectively take notes in class to help with study habits
Have a reward system in place for when assignments and homework are done effectively
Make sure the child loses privileges when assignments are not completed
Keep all homework assignments in one folder and make sure their backpack is organized and not in disarray
Teachers and parents should check to make sure assignments are written down and they should have a homework folder

Make sure everyone works together on keeping the inattentive child focused. If everyone, including the child does not do their part, then the child is being set up to fail. Children that are inattentive should always have a regular routine, know what is expected of them and receive feedback when they have succeeded and when they have failed. Above all else, minimize distractions for the inattentive child! We do not watch television or listen to music while we are completing homework and a quiet place to complete homework should be designated. The end result will be a child who is much happier and will be more successful in the classroom setting as well as listen better at home.

PostHeaderIcon How does play therapy help children

Let’s first start by defining what play therapy is exactly. Play therapy is a projective technique in which your child’s conflicts are revealed through his/her play and in their interaction with his/her therapist. Many parents feel that when their child comes in and they tell them at the end of their session that they “played games” with their therapist that the session was just fun and games. Nothing could be further from the truth. Play therapy truly is the mode of therapy that is typically used for children under the age of 10-11 years old due to children that age being less verbal in therapy. As kids mature, their ability to think about how and why they think a particular way inproves and “talk therapy” becomes the mode of treatment for older children. It is important to understand that guided play in a therapy session is completely different than the play you observe your child in at home or with their friends.
Play therapists work under the basic premise that the symbols your child uses in his/her play are actually symbolic of how they interact with others, their fears, desires, and what motivates them in particular ways. In play therapy, a child expresses themselves in various ways and comes to understand why they act how they do and begin to have awareness. It is through this awareness or understanding of how they act/play that they are able to begin to learn about themselves. The therapist is a tool for the child in getting the child to become more aware of themselves and when a child feels understood he/she is more likely to trust that they are able to get control over their feelings/emotions.
When a child expresses themselves through play, a natural emotional response or catharsis occurs. This response or catharsis is what uncovers emotions. A good example of this is when the therapist has the child use role play in re-enacting a fight he/she had with their mother or father. The child usually feels relief or anger from the role play, but there is an awareness and the therapist helps them work through their feelings as well as helping them understand their part (awareness) in what occurred.

PostHeaderIcon What exactly is Separation Anxiety Disorder?

When children are scared of new places or people, this is completely normal. However, if a child continues to have intense fears that something is going to happen to themselves or to their loved ones and they can not participate in normal childhood activities, this is usually an indication that there is a problem. Separation anxiety disorder affects approximately 4% of children between the ages of six and twelve years old. A child’s temperament or personality is a factor that contributes to separation anxiety and children that are in a close-knit family, are extremely shy, children that are very passive, and kids who have parents that are very insecure as parents are alll contributing factors to Separation Anxiety Disorder.

Normal separation anxiety occurs between eight months and one year old and may occur later between eighteeen months and two years. In some children, it may never be experienced. Remember, that some degree of separation anxiety is normal and is a sign that your child has formed a health attachment to you.
Separation anxiety has a variety of physical and behavioral signs and to qualify for a diagnosis of Separation Anxiety Disorder, your child’s doctor or therapist will look for at least three or more of the following symptoms that occur to your child before the age of eighteen years. Also, the symptoms must be present for more than four weeks and interfere with your child’s social and/or academic functioning.

The symptoms are:
Worry about losing you or harm coming to you
Excessive distress when separated from you
Worry that some terrible event such as being kidnapped will come between you and your child
Reluctance to go anywhere even outside to play or be with his/her friends
Reluctance to go to sleep at night, especially alone
Repeated physical complaints, such as stomach ache or headaches
Ongoing distress about being alone at home or outside of the home, especially without you

Symptoms of separation anxiety may begin to occur as a result of a scary experience or something that your child has heard about that is scary to them. In order for a child to resolve these feelings of separation anxiety it is of utmost importance that they are able to develop a feeling of safety in the world, trust in themselves and their parents, and understand that their parents are coming back even though they are apart from them for a period of time. Treatment of separation anxiety disorder usually includes psychological intervention that includes individual and/or family counseling. Techniques in therapy usually include making the child feel safe and systematically having the child spend time away from their parents in increasing increments with incentives for time spent alone in activities.

PostHeaderIcon How do kids know if they are stressed?

Children, whether they are young children, older kids, or teenagers, all worry about a number of things. Children when they are younger often worry about going to bed alone and being in the dark or of going to school and leaving their parents. As children get older, they worry more about being popular, being rejected by other kids, death, leaving home when they are done with school, finding a job, or what is going on in the world. Worries and fears can be very frightening and confusing for children, however the good part is that by noticing and understanding your fears and worries, you can learn to handle them.

Fears or worries may be big or small, but some common fears for children/teens are as follows: nightmares, bugs, violence, meeting new people, talking in front of other kids, getting laughed at, strangers, storms, doctors or dentists, failing grades, being liked by others, loud noises, or something bad happening to them.
There are a number of different anxiety disorders, however the main symptoms that they seem to have in common that can let a child know that they are probably having anxiety are:

You feel fidgety or restless
You get easily tired and do not seem to have alot of energy
You can not seem to focus or concentrate in school
You are grumpy or irritable for really no reason
Your heart is racing or beating fast for no reason
Your muscles are tight; tense and you hurt all over and can not seem to relax
You feel lightheaded, dizzy, sweaty alot, or have dry mouth
You seem to have alot of stomach pain or headaches for no reason
Lastly, you feel like you are going crazy or are about to die if you can not “escape” immediately.

The best advice that I can give grown-ups and kids that have anxiety is to find support immediately. A good counselor can help you work through these anxieties and can give examples to kids on how to handle situations with extreme anxiety. In extreme cases, medications to help control anxiety may be needed.

PostHeaderIcon Who actually self-mutilates?

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.

PostHeaderIcon How do we bring out the best in our kids?

Parents often wonder how to bring out the best in their children in order to produce the best possible child that they can. While consistent parenting, discipline, and communication are all keys to this, here are a few tips on bringing out the best possible child that you can.

1.) Have regular family meetings, dinners, or family game night with your child/children. We have all seen the commercials on T.V. about the importance of family dinners or having a family game night. Well folks, this time that we spend with our kids is really that important. Here is your chance to show an interest in what your child is doing and to ask questions about what is going on in their life. Ask about their friends and what is going on at school. By doing so, parents can often avoid their child later on turning into the quiet; withdrawn or surly teenager that tells their parents virtually NOTHING about what is going on in their life. This usually is not a good thing for parents or the teen!!
2.) Monitor the television shows that your child is watching. Reduce the amount of T.V. and watch for shows that have alot of violent content in them. Set a curfew for your child and always know where and with whom your child currently is. Trouble usually occurs when parents do not know where their child is and with whom.
3.) If you see that your child is struggling with self-control or anger problems, then by all means enroll them in a class on anger management, social skills, or how to make friends. These groups are usually available through schools, churches, or the local YMCA. Anger that is left untreated children, almost always becomes a bigger problem later on.
4.) Try to do things together with your child that your child enjoys. Praise your child as often as possible and by all means encourage your child to talk about their feelings. Ask them how their day went at school. Communication on your child’s developmental level goes a very long way with letting your child know that you take an interest in them. (even when your child tells you that they did nothing all day long at school!)
5.) If you find out that your child is having problems at school in getting along with other kids or in bullying others, then by all means talk to your child and your child’s teacher about their behaviors. Communication and dealing with issues as they come up is the key in avoiding problems later on down the road. And of course, implement reasonable and age-appropriate consequences for behavior as discipline problems come up.

PostHeaderIcon What kids can do to stop self-mutilation

Kids/Teens inflict injury upon themselves for a variety of reasons. I often hear parents tell me that they have no idea why their teen is cutting themselves and are in disbelief that he/she is doing this to themself.

The reasons that a teen cuts themselves are as follows:
They cut in order to regain control because physical pain is much easier to control than emotional/mental pain.
Cutting reduces tension in their body and mind.
They cut in order to punish themselves as they most likely feel bad, sad, angry, ugly, fat, stupid, etc… (this is about the teen perceives themself not how others may actually perceive them).
To express anger or rape when words may be too painful for them to express.
To feel pain, as many teens will tell me that it is better to feel something than nothing. This makes them feel alive as many teens say that they feel “invisible” at home or at school.

What can teens do to help themselves stop cutting? First of all, self-mutilation is a very negative way of coping with life stressors and the first step for any kid/teen is to first acknowledge that they have a problem. Teens that cut are hurting on the inside and professional help is almost always needed in order to stop this behavior. Cutting is like any other addiction, it is very difficult to stop once you start doing it. Secondly, the teen with the help of a professional needs to realize that they are not a bad person because they cut. Cutting is a “bad behavior”, it does NOT mean that the teen is a bad person. Cutting is about finding a way to deal with your feelings, albeit a negative one. Thirdly, to deal with cutting behaviors, a teen must talk to someone about their feelings. Finding someone to trust in order to deal with your feelings is crucial to working through this addiction. With the help of a counselor, you and your therapist together can determine what triggers your cutting behavior. In other words, we have to identify what things to avoid that make you want to cut and address them.
Recognizing that hurting oneself is really a way for a teenager to self-soothe helps in the recovery process. A professional will help in developing more effective ways in calming you down as well as soothing yourself when you become upset. Lastly, it is very important to figure out what purpose cutting yourself serves you. In order to stop cutting, the act of injuring oneself must be replaced with a more effective way to handle feelings of unhappiness and anger.

Qualified professional help is almost always required in order to stop this addictive behavior. Find a therapist that understands this behavior and knows the steps in order to deal with this type of problem.

PostHeaderIcon Are you a bully??

Bullies are not necessarily just children. Adolescents and adults alike can also be bullies. Bullying behaviors can be detrimental to those around us, as bullying really does have long-term effects on children and on adults. Here are a few quick questions to consider in determining whether or not you are a bully. Of course, no one ever wants to think that they are a bully, but answer the following questions to see.

1.) Do you like to tease or taunt those around you?
2.) Do you pick on animals or kids/adults that are smaller than you or that you have power over?
3.) If you do tease people, do you enjoy seeing them upset?
4.) Do you tend to blame others for things that seem to go wrong in your life?
5.) Do you get angry alot and stay angry for long periods of time?
6.) Do you get jealous or mad when those around you succeed at something?
7.) Do you laugh and think it is funny when people around you make mistakes?
8.) Do you like to destroy other people’s possessions?
9.) If you play a game do you have to win?
10.)If you lose at something, do you worry about what others will think of you?
11.) Do you want others to think that you are toughest or best at everything?
12. Do you take revenge on people that hurt you?

If you answered yes to one or two of these questions, then you may be on your way to becoming a bully. If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, then you probably are already a bully and need to find a way to change the way you are acting. Bullies can deal with their feelings and work through these behaviors. Remember, no one likes a bully really and most people go out of their way to avoid them at all costs. If you need help in changing your behavior, there are alot of people out there that can help you and are available to help you change if you want to!!

Adapted from Bullies are a Pain in the Brain, copyright 1997 by Trevor Romain.