Toddlers and Self-Control: A Survival Guide for Parents

Picking up the remote after you’ve told your child not to touch it five times in 10 minutes. Slapping a friend who took the last train off the table at child care—right after she agreed with you that ‘hands are not for hitting.’ Running directly into the ocean after you’ve clearly explained that he can’t go in the water without an adult. These are typical toddler moments that all come down to one thing: self-control, and the lack of it.

Why do young children have so little self-control? The part of the brain responsible for exerting control over the emotional, impulsive part of the brain is not well-developed in children under 3. This is why toddlers are much more likely to act on their desires, such as yanking a toy out of a friend’s hand, rather than saying to themselves, “I really want that toy, but it’s not right to grab, so I am going to go find myself another toy.”

In fact, Tuning In, ZERO TO THREE’s national Parent Survey, found that parents’ expectations of their toddlers often outpace what toddlers are actually able to do when it comes to self-control. When parents were asked at what age children have the ability to resist doing something that parents have forbidden:

  • 56 percent of parents said children could do this before age three (including 18 percent of parents who believed children possessed this ability by six months of age)
  • 44 percent of parents said children could do this at age three years or older

Children don’t actually develop this kind of self-control until 3.5 to 4 years of age, and even then they still need a lot of help managing their emotions and impulses.

It’s not surprising so many parents have an ‘expectation gap,’ especially with so many 2-year-olds who are so verbal and able to repeat many of the rules parents have laid out. It can be very confusing. But being able to repeat a rule or expectation is not the same as being able to follow it.

Life with your little one will be (hopefully) much less maddening when your expectations for her are in line with her abilities. It can be a relief to know that your child is acting his age; that he needs help to learn to manage his impulses, and that he is not “misbehaving,” or purposefully trying to drive you crazy, as much as it feels that way. Here are some ideas for nurturing self-control:

1. Recognize that it’s not easy being a toddler.

There are an awful lot of things toddlers need to do that they don’t want to do, like getting in the car seat, stopping play to take a nap when they are NOT tired, or sharing their treasures. Let your child know you understand: “You are really disappointed that we can’t go to the playground today.” “You are mad that I won’t let you have ice cream before dinner. I totally get that.” “You are so frustrated with that train—it is so hard to make it stay on the track.” Giving your child the words to describe his feelings is the first step toward helping him manage his emotions and develop self-control.

2. Play games that require impulse control.

Color one side of a paper plate red and the other green, and play some “stop and go” games. For example, when you are outside playing, your child runs toward you until you put up the red sign. Then she runs again when the sign is green. Play “freeze dance” with music. When the music is on, your child dances; when you stop it, she has to freeze. Read books about children who get angry or have tantrums, and talk about how to handle these big feelings. Use your child’s pretend play as an opportunity to teach self-control. When a stuffed animal gets really mad or does something it shouldn’t, problem-solve how ‘Mr. Bear’ might deal with the challenge he’s facing.

3. Make a plan for how to help your child cope with experiences that are especially hard for your child.

Some toddlers have a hard time with transitions, while others have a hard time at birthday parties or adjusting to large group experiences. Think about what situations tend to trigger challenging behavior from your child. Making small adjustments to family routines (like re-thinking taking your toddler to the toy store after a bad night’s sleep) can help to reduce challenging behaviors, with more ‘Yesses’ and fewer ‘Nos’.

4. Set appropriate limits with natural consequences.

Even though your child may not be able to follow a rule yet, it is still important to set expectations. The key is to take a teaching and guiding approach with clear and natural consequences. Stay calm and explain the rule (“No throwing toys. If you throw the truck, I will have to put it away for 5 minutes”). If your child tests the limit, which is to be expected, calmly implement the consequence. Through everyday interactions like these, children develop the brain connections they need to master the skill of self-control.

5. Take your own temperature.

As a parent, you have a lot of power. Your child is taking his cues from you when it comes to managing emotions. Learning to manage and make sense of your own feelings—and getting help when you need it (and we all do)—is the best way to help your child develop self-control. Responding thoughtfully, rather than reacting, is one important way that parents make the difference in how their young children are learning and growing.

https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/1603-toddlers-and-self-control-a-survival-guide-for-parents

How not to say the wrong thing

By: Susan Silk and Barry Goldman

 

When Susan had breast cancer, we heard a lot of lame remarks, but our favorite came from one of Susan’s colleagues. She wanted, she needed, to visit Susan after the surgery, but Susan didn’t feel like having visitors, and she said so. Her colleague’s response? “This isn’t just about you.”

“It’s not?” Susan wondered. “My breast cancer is not about me? It’s about you?”

The same theme came up again when our friend Katie had a brain aneurysm. She was in intensive care for a long time and finally got out and into a step-down unit. She was no longer covered with tubes and lines and monitors, but she was still in rough shape. A friend came and saw her and then stepped into the hall with Katie’s husband, Pat. “I wasn’t prepared for this,” she told him. “I don’t know if I can handle it.”

This woman loves Katie, and she said what she did because the sight of Katie in this condition moved her so deeply. But it was the wrong thing to say. And it was wrong in the same way Susan’s colleague’s remark was wrong.

Susan has since developed a simple technique to help people avoid this mistake. It works for all kinds of crises: medical, legal, financial, romantic, even existential. She calls it the Ring Theory.

Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. For Katie’s aneurysm, that’s Katie. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. In the case of Katie’s aneurysm, that was Katie’s husband, Pat. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order. One of Susan’s patients found it useful to tape it to her refrigerator.

Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you’re going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn’t, don’t say it. Don’t, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don’t need advice. They need comfort and support. So say, “I’m sorry” or “This must really be hard for you” or “Can I bring you a pot roast?” Don’t say, “You should hear what happened to me” or “Here’s what I would do if I were you.” And don’t say, “This is really bringing me down.”

If you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are or how icky you feel, or whine about how it reminds you of all the terrible things that have happened to you lately, that’s fine. It’s a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring.

Comfort IN, dump OUT.

There was nothing wrong with Katie’s friend saying she was not prepared for how horrible Katie looked, or even that she didn’t think she could handle it. The mistake was that she said those things to Pat. She dumped IN.

Complaining to someone in a smaller ring than yours doesn’t do either of you any good. On the other hand, being supportive to her principal caregiver may be the best thing you can do for the patient.

Most of us know this. Almost nobody would complain to the patient about how rotten she looks. Almost no one would say that looking at her makes them think of the fragility of life and their own closeness to death. In other words, we know enough not to dump into the center ring. Ring Theory merely expands that intuition and makes it more concrete: Don’t just avoid dumping into the center ring, avoid dumping into any ring smaller than your own.

Remember, you can say whatever you want if you just wait until you’re talking to someone in a larger ring than yours.

And don’t worry. You’ll get your turn in the center ring. You can count on that.

Susan Silk is a clinical psychologist. Barry Goldman is an arbitrator and mediator and the author of “The Science of Settlement: Ideas for Negotiators.”

http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/07/opinion/la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407

Why Don’t Teachers Get Training On Mental Health Disorders?

Why Don’t Teachers Get Training On Mental Health Disorders?

Teaching may be one of the most difficult jobs in the world, with expectations and demands coming from all sides. Teachers juggle content standards, the social and emotional needs of students, behavior, and often trauma, but they also are the first line of defense when students have mental health problems. Paying attention to all these elements helps create a well-run, high functioning classroom, but dealing with all of them well — often in overcrowded classrooms — can feel completely overwhelming.

To make it worse, most teachers are given very little training on how to detect mental health disorders in students. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one in five children has or will have a severe mental health disorder, so the lack of training is a huge disservice to teachers who are likely to encounter these issues in their students.

In an article published by The Atlantic, Jessica Lahey combines her personal experience dealing with mental health issues in the classroom with research on how teachers might be better prepared. She points out that often teachers aren’t even aware of mental health practices used by other staff in the building where they work. She writes:

As an increasing number of schools roll out evidence-based mental-health programs such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), teaching that promotes appropriate student behavior by proactively defining, teaching, and supporting positive student conduct, and Trauma-Sensitive Schools, programs aimed at reducing the effects of trauma on children’s emotional and academic well-being, educators need to be at least minimally conversant in the terminology, methods, and thinking behind these strategies. These programs provide strategies that can be highly effective, but only if the teachers tasked with implementing them are sufficiently trained in the basics of mental-health interventions and treatment.

Some teachers may feel this type of preparation is not their job, but it is easy to confuse the symptoms of a mental health disorder with run-of-the-mill misbehavior, and how a teacher handles those situations affects the learning of every child in the classroom. If the teacher’s job is to teach the whole child, mental well-being and support is part of the description.

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/10/the-failing-first-line-of-defense/504485/

40 Date Night Questions

Forgo the dinner and a movie and go straight to really connecting with your spouse.

Love is not self-sustaining but requires constant maintenance. We can often get stuck on surface-y conversations but need to work hard at diving deep in to heart level conversations. Don’t talk about this kids soccer schedules, your crazy boss, or your never ending to do list. Instead take these questions with you on your next date night and take turns answering them. Spend the time listening to your spouse’s heart and soul.

  • What is your favorite memory as a child?
  • What’s my best physical feature?
  • If you could change one thing about your looks, what would it be?
  • What is your favorite memory of us dating?
  • Which of your parents are you most like?
  • What are your top 3 strengths?
  • What’s a new hobby you’d like to try?
  • How often do you prefer sex?
  • What was the first thing you thought of me?
  • If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you would do?
  • What do you like most that I do in bed?
  • How would you describe an ideal day?
  • What is something I can do to make us feel connected even more?
  • What do you think we need to work on the most in our relationship?
  • What can I do to make sure you feel safe with me?
  • What’s the happiest you’ve ever felt?
  • What do you want to do when you retire?
  • For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
  • If you could meet one famous person, who would it be?
  • What’s another career that you think you’d love?
  • If you could go back in time, what age would you be?
  • Are you an optimist, pessimist or realist?
  • What was your favorite date night you’ve ever had with me?
  • What can I do that best says, “I love you.”?
  • In what areas are we the same?
  • Tell me a time when you felt really close to me?
  • How are we different?
  • Who do you know that has the best marriage? And what can we do to get there?
  • What’s your biggest regret in life?
  • If you bought a boat, what would you name it?
  • When did you first know you loved me?
  • How have I succeeded in our marriage this week?
  • What fears do you have?
  • What brings you the most joy?
  • How can I show you love this week?
  • If you gave money to charity, which one would you pick and why?
  • What turns you on?
  • If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
  • What things do I do for you that refresh you the most?
  • What’s a question you’ve never asked me?

 

https://www.marriage365.org/blog/40-date-night-questions

What Really Happens in a Therapy Session

When you take your car to the car mechanic, you know what’s going to happen: Your car will get repaired.

When you break a bone and visit your doctor, you know what’s going to happen: Your bone will be set in a splint or cast and eventually heal.

But when you make an appointment to see a therapist, do you know what’s going to happen? Many people aren’t quite certain. Will you just talk? Will you have to discuss your childhood? Will you be “hypnotized?” And what’s the “point” of seeing a therapist, anyway? Why not just talk to a friend?

There is a great deal of uncertainty in our society about what actually happens during a therapy session, what types of issues and problems are suitable for therapy, and what benefits a therapy session can provide. I’d like to address a few typical questions—and misconceptions—about what therapy is, what it isn’t, and how it really works.

Q: Do I have to be “sick” or “disturbed” to go see a therapist?
A: No. Thinking that one has to be “seriously disturbed” in order to see a therapist is a myth.

While some therapists do specialize in severe emotional disturbances—including schizophrenia or suicidal thoughts—many focus on simply helping clients work through far more typical, everyday challenges like mapping out a career change, improving parenting skills, strengthening stressmanagement skills, or navigating a divorce. Just as some physicians specialize in curing life-threatening illnesses, while others treat “everyday” illnesses like flus, coughs, and colds, psychotherapists can serve a wide range of clients with a range of needs and goals, too.

In fact, most of my clients are successful, high-achieving people who are quite healthy, overall. Most are challenged by a specific, personal goal—like losing weight, creating more work-life balance, finding ways to parent more effectively, or feeling anxious about dating again after a rough break up.

Q: How can I choose the right therapist for my goal/situation?
A: Choosing a therapist is like choosing any other service provider—it’s a good idea to visit the practitioner’s website, and read client testimonials or reviews (if they have any—many do not, for confidentiality reasons). It’s also good to ask friends and family members, or your physician, for referrals (and of course, check to see who is covered in your health insurance network).

If you are hoping to work on a specific issue—overeating, smoking, making a career change—try to find a therapist with expertise in that area. Many list their specialties or areas of focus on their websites. There are therapists who specialize in relationship issues, parenting issues, anger management, weight issues, or sexuality—pretty much any issue, goal, or situation you can imagine. If you’re not sure about someone’s expertise, just call them and ask. If they can’t be of assistance with your issue, they may be able to refer you to someone who can.

Q: What actually happens during a therapy session?
A: Each session is, essentially, a problem-solving session. You describe your current situation, and your feelings about it, and then the therapist uses their expertise to assist you in trying to resolve that problem so you can move closer to having the life you wish to have.

At the beginning of a session, the therapist typically invites you to share what’s been going on in your life, what’s on your mind, what’s bothering you, or whether there are any goals you’d like to discuss. You’ll be invited to speak openly. The therapist will listen and may take notes as you speak; some, like myself, take notes after a session. You won’t be criticized, interrupted or judged as you speak. Your conversation will be kept in the strictest confidentiality. This is a special, unique type of conversation in which you can say exactly what you feel—total honesty—without worrying that you’re going to hurt someone’s feelings, damage a relationship, or be penalized in any way. Anything you want—or need—to say is OK.

Some therapists (like myself) may give clients some homework to complete after a session. That homework might be to set up an online dating profile and reach out for a first date, or to exercise three times a week. It may be to spend some time each day pounding a pillow to safely release pent-up emotions, make a nightly journal entry, or any number of “steps” and “challenges” relevant to your goals. During your next session, you might share your progress and address any areas where you got frustrated, stuck, or off-track.

Of course, every therapist is different, every client is unique, and every therapist-client relationship is distinct as well—which means that there is nouniversal description of a therapy session. Some therapists employ dream interpretation in their work. Others bring music or art therapy into their work. Others incorporate hypnotherapy, life coachingmeditationvisualization, or role-playing exercises to “rehearse” challenging conversations. The list goes on and on. Ultimately, regardless of their approach, a therapist will listen without judgment and help clients try to find solutions to the challenges they face.

Q: Will I have to talk about my childhood?
A: Not necessarily. Many people think that visiting a therapist means digging up old skeletons from your childhood, or talking about how awful your mother was, etc. That is a myth. What you talk about during a therapy session will largely depend on your unique situation and goals. And depending on your goals, you may not actually talk about your past that much. The focus of your therapy is as likely to be your present-day reality and the future that you wish to create.

That being said, if you REALLY do NOT want to discuss your childhood, the intensity of your desire NOT to talk about it might suggest that you should! When people have strong negative emotions—about their childhood or any other topic—it’s typically worth doing some excavating to figure out why that is. Whatever is causing them to feel such strong emotions about the past is more than likely impacting their present-day life in some way, too.

Q: How long will I have to go to therapy?
A: This varies from person to person. I’ve had clients who booked one session, we worked out their issue(s), and they were all set: They marched out and didn’t need a follow-up session. Sometimes, one brave, honest conversation is really all you need.

Other clients have booked sessions with me over a period of several weeks or months, focusing on one issue, resolving that issue, then perhaps moving on to a different challenge. Then there are other clients who I’ve been working with for some time—they appreciate having a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly “check-in.” They may share their feelings, sharpen their life skills as needed, or perhaps enjoy a deeply nourishing guided meditation or hypnotherapy experience to de-stress. As one client put it, “Every two weeks when I meet with you, I leave your office feeling like you pressed my reset button.”

Therapy is really about whatever a client needs—a one-time conversation, a temporary source of support during a life transition, or an ongoing experience to optimize health physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.


Q: Is meeting with a therapist over the phone—or through video chat—just as effective as meeting in person?
A: That depends on your personality and preferences. In the state of Hawaii, where I live, at least one insurer that I know of covers doing therapy virtually via video chat (like Skype or Facetime). This makes it a convenient option for people. Many of my clients do enjoy having some, or all, of their sessions via video chat because it means they don’t have to take time out of their busy schedules to drive, park, and so on. They can just close their bedroom or office door, pick up the phone or log in, and away we go—very convenient.

Where feasible, I suggest trying out both ways—do a traditional, in-person therapy session and then try a video session—and see which format is the best fit for you.

Q: Why see a therapist? Why not just talk to a friend or someone in my family?
A: If you are blessed with caring, supportive family members and friends, by all means, share your feelings, goals, and dreams with those people. They are a big part of your support network, and their insights and encouragement can be very helpful. However, people who already know you might not always be completely objective when listening to you. For example, you may want to change your career, and you confess this dream to your wife. She may want to support you 100%, and try her very best to do so, but she may also be dealing with emotions of her own—such as anxietyabout how a career shift will change your lives, not to mention your income. These emotions could make it difficult for her to listen and support you objectively.

This is why working with a therapist can be so valuable. It’s a unique opportunity to share everything you’re feeling, and everything you want to create, without anyone interrupting you, imposing his or her own anxieties onto the conversation, or telling you that you’re “wrong” or that you “can’t.”

A therapy session is a space where you don’t have to worry about hurting anyone else’s feelings—you can be totally honest. It also means you have the potential to solve problems faster and with greater success. In the long run, that’s better for you and everyone else involved in your life, too.

To sum it up:
Therapy is a valuable tool that can help you to solve problems, set and achieve goals, improve your communication skills, or teach you new ways to track your emotions and keep your stress levels in check. It can help you to build the life, career, and relationship that you want. Does everybody needit? No. But if you are curious about working with a therapist, that curiosity is worth pursuing. Consider setting up one or two sessions, keep an open mind, and see how things unfold. You have very little to lose and, potentially, a lot of clarity, self-understanding, and long-lasting happiness to gain.

Suzanne Gelb, Ph.D., J.D, is a clinical psychologist and life coach. She believes that it is never too late to become the person you want to be: Strong. Confident. Calm. Creative. Free of all of the burdens that have held you back—no matter what has happened in the past. Her insights on personal growth have been featured on more than 200 radio programs, 200 TV interviews and online at TimeForbesNewsweekThe Huffington PostNBC‘s TodayThe Daily LovePositively Positive, and much more. Step into her virtual office, explore her blog, book a session, or sign up to receive a free meditation and her writings on health, happiness and self-respect.

When Teens Bully Themselves

Teens have long used phones and the internet to tease and even torture one another, but research increasingly reveals that a surprising number use social media to post, send, or share demeaning messages about themselves.

In a sample of more than 5,000 American students between the ages of 12 and 17, about 6 percent said they had anonymously posted something “mean” about themselves online, according to a report in the Journal of Adolescent Health by cyberbullying researchers Justin Patchin and Sameer Hinduja. This behavior correlates with depression, identification as a sexual minority, previous exposure to bullying, and with physical self-harm.

Like other forms of self-harm, deriding oneself online is a way to vent and relieve negative emotions, says Ellen Selkie, a specialist in adolescent medicine at the University of Michigan. Yet digital self-harm is often quite public, and the survey study found that seeking attention or a reaction were among the reasons participants gave for such message sharing. Adolescence is a time when peers become particularly important, Selkie explains, and posting self-critical content could be a way for teens to see whether others stand up for them or endorse the cruel comments.

How should adults respond? “There is no silver bullet, and each child and family and situation is different,” explains Diana Divecha, a developmental psychologist at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. Get emergency help if harm to a child seems imminent, she advises. Mental-health professionals can screen for mood disorders and seek to uncover the motivation behind the behavior.

Otherwise, parents might initiate a conversation by mentioning what they noticed of the behavior and using gentle prompts to gather a sense of what happened. Empathy and careful listening—even a brief story of a time when the parent felt similarly—can help move the conversation forward.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201803/when-teens-bully-themselves

20 Enjoyable End-of-Year Review Questions

By: Alice Boyes, Ph.D.,

When life is busy and demanding, it’s easy to overlook small ways you’ve improved yourself and your circumstances. This is particularly the case if you’re self-critical and tend to most easily see and recall what you’re doing wrong.

The theme of most of these self-reflection questions is to learn from your successes.  You don’t have to answer all the questions.  Answer as many as would be enjoyable for you. For example, if you’d prefer just to do ten, you could pick either the odd or even numbers.  Even choosing five to answer is fine if you’re pushed for time (Try #1, #8, #10, #13, and #18).

Try:  Any of these can be used as a conversation starter with your partner, sibling, or a close friend.

End of Year Self-Reflection Questions

  1. What was a new discovery you made this year?  What did you discover that you loved?  Your answer could be anything like a new recipe, a podcast, or you joined a gym and found you really liked it.
  2. What was one of the biggest pleasant surprises you experienced during the year? For instance, you were able to pick up a skill that you doubted your ability to master, you were dreading going to a conference but it was really good, or you were sad when your boss left for a new job but their replacement turned out to be great.
  3. What achievement are you most proud of from this year?  (If you find it hard to recall, try thinking back to each season of the year. For instance, what did you achieve during spring, summer, fall?  You can go with your first instinct rather than attempting to recall the perfect answer.)
  4. What was your favorite purchase of the year and why?  Mine was my robot vacuum cleaner!
  5. What was a new habit or routine you created this year that has improved your efficiency at home or work?  This can be really small.  For example, I got into a good habit of charging my laptop at night and every time I go out so that, whenever I’m using it, I don’t need to be attached to the cord.
  6. What did you face head on this year rather than avoiding, such as you dealt with credit card debt or a difficult conversation?  Again, your example could be something very small.
  7. What did you ask for help with this year where you’re glad you did?
  8. What relationship was the biggest positive surprise to you this year?  For example, you developed a closer relationship with a colleague you hadn’t previously been close to, or a cousin you don’t know well was at your family thanksgiving and you really enjoyed talking to them.  Perhaps someone you don’t know very well was very supportive or encouraging of you, even if they might not even be aware their actions were important to you.
  9. Who do you need to thank for their role in your life this year?
  10. What’s an aspect of self-regulation you’ve gotten better at this year?  Your answer could be anything from going to bed earlier, using moisturizer, putting your appointments on your calendar so you don’t forget, or eating more vegetables.
  11. What’s a goal you gave up on this year, and you’re glad you did that because objectively it wasn’t your highest priority.
  12. What’s a skill you have gained confidence with this year?  Your answer could be related to technology, home maintenance, cooking, work, or anything you want.
  13. What simple pleasures have you especially enjoyed this year?
  14. What was a goal for the year that you followed through on, or partially followed through on?
  15. What’s a type of technology you’ve integrated into your life this year and it’s working out well for you?  You might feel that technology doesn’t always benefit you, but try learning from your successes.  Use this self-knowledge to give you the confidence to curb ways in which technology isn’t serving you in your life.
  16. What did you change your mind about this year?
  17. What did you try that didn’t work out, but the process of trying it moved your thinking forward in a helpful way?
  18. How did your self-perception change this year?  In what ways have you started to see yourself more positively than you did previously?  For example, you’ve realized you’ve got inner strength or a capacity to cope that you didn’t realize you had.
  19. What’s a thinking bias you’ve become aware of this year?  For instance, you’ve become aware that you overcomplicate decisions, and this self-knowledge has been helpful.
  20. How has what you enjoy shifted this year?  For instance, you’re enjoying staying home more and going out or traveling less.

Summing Up

If you’re self-critical, you might be thinking about things you wish you’d accomplished this year but didn’t. Hopefully these questions have prompted you to see achievements and personal successes you’ve been overlooking.  I hope these questions have also helped you see the year less in terms of just checking off goals, and to think more broadly about how you’re evolving as a person. If you’d like to tweet me (@DrAliceBoyes), I’ve love to hear your answers to any of these questions!

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-practice/201812/20-enjoyable-end-year-review-questions

Raising Children With Mental Illness

By Melinda Cook | Oct. 05, 2018

 

My kids are all adopted from foster care. I got my girls when they were five and six, and my son came when he was seven. They all came from abusive or neglectful pasts and have struggled with their mental health since before they first stood on my doorstep. And before you ask: Yes, I had been fully prepped on their family histories before I adopted them.

My son’s official diagnosis is Disruptive and Dysregulated Mood Disorder with PTSD flashbacks. He has a family history of schizophrenia and had been severely abused by his birth family. Last year, a prank pulled on him by another boy triggered horrible memories that my son’s mind had locked away. Now, he hallucinates. He dissociates. He hears voices.

I remember sitting in a counselor’s office, staring intently at a picture on the wall as my son told the counselor about the voices he heard and the things he saw that I knew didn’t exist. My son talked about a hand that came over our car and a shadow that came out of his bedroom wall. I tried so hard to concentrate on the picture so I wouldn’t cry. It didn’t work. When the tears began to roll down my face, I was careful not to make a sound. The counselor noticed, so he spoke reassuringly to me, “A lot of things can make a person see things that are not there.”

My son explained how hard it is for him to determine that these things aren’t real, because they feel real to him. He just wanted them to stop. The counselor thanked my son for telling him about what happened and told him he believed him. We went from the counselor’s office to the psychiatrist’s office, where my son had to tell the story again. I never realized how tired you can get from just listening. I was exhausted, and nothing was even happening to me.

Sometimes, I try to imagine what my son is going through, and I wonder if I could get up the next day if I were him. I honestly don’t know. My children are the strongest people I know. They keep going, despite anything and everything that tries to stop them. And I do my very best to help as their mother.

Lessons To Follow

Raising children with mental health conditions is challenging. Patience can wear thin, because you want your child to do the things you need them to do. Frustration can leak into your communication. Walls can go up. Instead of loving each other, you feel like you’re at war.

When I really examined my frustrations, I noticed a lot of my anger came from a place of shame. I wanted my kids to act “appropriately” in public. When they didn’t, I would get frustrated. I cared more about what others thought of me than what my children thought of me—but that was getting my family nowhere. It especially wasn’t helping my children and their recovery.

If you’re a parent raising children with mental illness, I want more than anything for you not to make the same mistakes I made. So here are some of the most crucial lessons I’ve learned about supporting a child experiencing mental illness:

• A diagnosis provides a roadmap to recovery. How can you start on a journey if you don’t know your first step? Understanding your child’s diagnosis is critical. This knowledge can help you find ways to cope. For example, my son went through psychological testing after his

first suicide attempt. His symptoms had impaired his thinking so much that he lost three grade levels of reading comprehension. That was crushing to hear, since we had spent several years working to overcome his reading disability. But having him tested gave us a game plan.

• Open communication is key.  Make sure you’re not shutting off communication before you give your child a chance to explain how they feel. Don’t come to any conversation with the idea that you already know all the answers or how to fix everything. If we took all the energy we initially spend as parents trying to “fix” our children who live with mental illness and instead focused that energy on understanding them, we would get them the right help faster. It’s amazing the answers you can get and the solutions you can come up with together if you first start conversations with respect and empathy.

• Care for yourself, too.  It’s called self-care. When I first heard about it, I laughed. When do I have time for that? I’m a single parent. I work all day and then my kids need me. But what kind of “me” do they need? A healthy one, a happy one, a supportive one. So, plan time for yourself. Find an outlet. Find support. I love walking, blasting music when I drive by myself, writing, painting, gardening and anything that reminds me I am alive. I now know that the best parents are like flight attendants: If we hit rough patch and the oxygen masks drop, put your own mask on first before you help anyone else.

• A family crisis plan is crucial.  I learned in NAMI Family-to-Family that a mental health crisis plan needs to be in place before your family is in crisis. So, on a calm day, I asked each of my kids what we should we do if we have another mental health crisis. Their responses, to this day, are some of the most insightful and caring suggestions I have ever heard. My oldest daughter wanted consequences for someone not following family rules or hurting others. My middle daughter wanted us to “talk things out if things get bad.” My son’s contribution was that he wanted everyone to be kind. It’s funny; as parents, we have the answers if we just ask questions and listen.

Be The Reason Your Child Gets Help

Acceptance is the first step for a person’s mental health recovery. Self-acceptance is important, but just as important is receiving acceptance from loved ones. Accepting your child’s condition doesn’t mean that you aren’t scared. It just means that you see the problem for what it is—not the person as being the problem. We must accept and believe our loved ones to start getting them help. If we don’t, we run the risk of being the reason they don’t get help.

We can’t discount or ignore our loved ones’ thoughts, feelings and behaviors just because we don’t understand them or wish they were different. We have to do better than that. We need to seek to understand their reality. We need to truly listen to what they say. Do not listen to speak or refute, but listen to understand.

As parents, we must be open. We must be open to all there is to learn—even when something scares us. If we are open, then those living with mental illness (including our own children) have a chance. How many people are out there right now feeling alone, struggling with the fear of rejection from the ones they love because they hear voices or see hallucinations? How many are alone and feeling lost, but are more afraid of losing the ones they love than dealing with their mental anguish?

I remember thinking how simple and matter-of-fact my son’s counselor was when he said those three simple words, “I believe you.” I also remember how relieved my son seemed after he heard them. Odds are, your children won’t go to a counselor when they first feel something isn’t quite right. They’ll come to you. So please, stay open and believe them. Believe them so they don’t have to be alone. Believe them so they can get help. Believing may save their lives.

 

Melinda Cook is a 43-year-old single parent of three. Before she became a foster mother, she worked for a shelter for abused women and children. She is now a Certified Family Support Partner through the Department of Health and Welfare for The Family Resource Center in Idaho Falls, Idaho, a local counseling company. She began writing about her son’s experiences to help others and writes a blog at myfamilyunbottled.weebly.com.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/October-2018/Raising-Children-with-Mental-Illness

We Want You Here

By Laura Greenstein | Sep. 24, 2018

 

Sometimes life can feel like a burden. It can feel like each day is a challenge. As if making it to your bed at the end of the day is like reaching the finish line of a long race. It can feel as if each interaction is a struggle. As if you only have a limited amount of oxygen, and each word you speak is a drain on your supply.

For those of you who have ever thought about suicide, you know this feeling all too well.

But you should know that you are so strong.

You’re strong for still being here even when your thoughts tell you that being alive isn’t worth the pain. You are strong for carrying the weight of it all on your shoulders for so long. For carrying it by yourself even while thinking you were alone in the way you feel—even while believing that no one and nothing out there could take off some of the weight.

But you should know that you are not alone.

We are a whole community of people who understand what you’re facing. And more than anything, we want to help you. You don’t have to go through this alone. We want you to ask us for help. We want to help you carry that heavy weight because we understand what it’s like to burden it alone. We may not know exactly what you’re facing, but we understand what it’s like to feel hopeless.

But you should know that there is hope.

There are resources. There is help. There is support. There is time. Time that forces everything to change. You may not feel okay today, but that is okay. The awful way you feel is not permanent. You may feel like you can’t bear the pain any longer, you may feel like you don’t have it in you to reach out for help, but you are stronger than you know, and we believe in you.

And you should know that you are worth it.

You are worthy. You are important. Your life is important. You deserve a place on this planet, and we deserve to have you with us.

And you should know that you are an inspiration. 

You have faced more than many can fathom and yet here you stand. Your strength is a source of hope for those who feel the same as you do. Not only should you feel comfortable telling us about your darkest moments, but we want to hear it.

And you should know there is no shame in your story.

To feel shame is, unfortunately, part of our experience. But it is not fair. It is not fair to yourself. Because the way you feel is not your fault. You should never blame yourself for your darkness. Your darkness if a part of your story, and we accept you.

More than anything, you should know that we want you here.

 

Laura Greenstein is communications manager at NAMI. 

 

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/September-2018/We-Want-You-Here

The Power To Create Change Comes From Within

By Katherine Ponte, BA, JD, MBA, NYCPS-P, CPRP | Oct. 24, 2018

 

Stigma is a shield created by society, made up of misunderstanding and fear of mental illness. When we look away from someone behaving erratically or “strangely” on the street, that’s the fear society ingrains in us. Perhaps we’re scared to consider the possibility that the same could happen to us; that we might be shunned by society, too.

The shield of stigma also stops us from seeking help for our own mental health. When faced with a stressful life event or emotional challenges, we might carry the hurt or confusion inside. Perhaps we avoid facing a potential diagnosis, so our illness only grows worse. Stigma facilitates mental illness turning into the “monster” it doesn’t have to be.

Social perceptions need to change. However, stigma is so deeply rooted in societal norms that it can take a long time to eradicate. And people like me, people living with mental illness, can’t wait on society to change. We need to live now. In fact, we need to be pioneers.

Our Experience Combats Stigma

First, we need to overcome our own belief in society’s fears. This requires finding hope, and specifically recognizing the possibility of recovery. Recovery from mental illness is living a full and productive life with mental illness. With this mindset, we can take ownership of our condition and live a fulfilling life. This can be one of the most powerful forces for change.

Stories of living fully with mental illness can help reshape society’s bias. They also provide inspiration and guidance for other people living with mental illness. This is the power of peer support and sharing lived experience. It creates a cycle of more people finding recovery, and then in turn, society seeing more positive examples of people living well with mental illness. Society needs to see what life with mental illness can and should be—a life of possibility, not a life sentence.

Our Experience Inspires Others

When people share their mental health journeys, it also helps set our own expectations. Recovery is hard and there is no smooth path to get there. It’s also not a cure, it requires continuous patience, discipline and determination. There will be stumbles and uncertainties along the way. This is the reality of mental illness. That’s why relatable, real-life examples are so valuable.

Knowing that others are going through similar challenges can help us build resilience. The result is self-empowerment by the example of others. We, the mental health community, rely less on the image society projects upon us, and instead focus on the image reflected to us by our peers. This is the power from within ourselves and our community.

I believe that this type of person-driven recovery has been overlooked as a way to combat social stigma. It’s become so ingrained that not even people with mental illness think recovery is possible. Too many of us allow society’s fears to become our own. Together, we can reverse the vicious cycle of stigma and instead, power the virtuous cycle of hope and recovery.

 

Katherine Ponte is a Mental Health Advocate and Entrepreneur. She is the founder of ForLikeMinds, the first online peer-based support community dedicated to people living with or supporting someone with mental illness and is in recovery from Bipolar I Disorder. She is on the NAMI New York City Board of Directors.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/October-2018/The-Power-to-Create-Change-Comes-from-Within