When Your Anxious Child Rejects Your Help, Try This

be the calm
The worry begins as a trickle in his mind. It develops momentum and drops into his body causing his palms to sweat, heart to race, and tummy to ache. Finally, your child’s worry erupts:

“Mommy, what if I have a new teacher in school?”

“Daddy, what if I can’t find someone to play with?”

The words hit you. You, too, begin to worry both vicariously for him and about your ability to quell the worry. No matter what your past experience, you give it your best shot.

You try reassurance: “Honey, everything is going to be OK, I promise.”

You invoke logic: “It wasn’t so bad last time, remember? That means this time it will be even easier.”

You lend strength: “You’re strong and brave. You have it in you to do this. I believe in you.”

You teach coping skills: “Take some deep breaths. Deep breathing will really help.”

The result? Your child still worries.

And you? You begin to feel exasperated, exhausted, helpless, and perhaps even hopeless.

If this is how you feel as the parent or caretaker of an anxious child, you are not alone. Do not give up hope, do not give up trying–you can and will find a way to reach your child.

Instead of focusing on the end goal of reducing the anxiety, begin with a powerful baby step. Build an empathetic connection with your child.

Note: If you’re feeling tired or even angry as a result of your recent experiences trying to help an anxious child, please do this before using any of the techniques below. Take out a sheet of paper and write down three of your child’s greatest strengths. Think of three examples where your child recently used his or her strengths. Keep this paper with you.

Next time your child comes to you feeling anxious, adopt one of these strategies:

  1. Use the Fast-Food Rule.

This simple rule was developed by author Harvey Karp. Karp reminds us that when we go to a fast food restaurant and order something through the drive through (e.g., “Can I have a burger and fries please?”) they always repeat back the order (e.g., “So you’d like a burger and fries, correct?”). Repeating back to someone what they are saying makes them feel heard and respected. What’s more is it builds an immediate connection.

Before you kick into problem-solving mode with an anxious child, repeat back to them with complete sincerity what they are expressing to you. Master this technique to validate their feelings and help them feel understood.

  1. Tell a story about yourself.

When your child comes to you with a worry (however irrational it may seem), close your eyes and draw out a past experience or feeling of your own that resembles what they are going through. When you open your eyes, say these three words: “I get it.” Then tell them your story and why you understand what they are feeling.

  1. Be the calm you want to see in your child.

Make a decision that you are going to respond to your child instead of reacting to them. A powerful way to respond is by listening intently and silently. After they are done explaining their worry (even if the explanation comes in the form of screaming), maintain your silence.

When the time is right, you can say, “I hear you and I’m here for you.” You can then invite them into your silence by holding hands, hugging, or leaning in. Children are very intuitive and can mimic the energy you exude. Do not underestimate the ripple effect these micromoments of calm can have on your child’s well-being. In silence, you can deliberately cultivate a contagion of peace.

  1. Remix the coping skill.

When you feel your child is receptive to learning a coping skill, remix the ordinary into something fun. Instead of deep breathing, for example, maybe your child wants to try breathing like Darth Vader. If your child is young, perhaps they want to take in a deep breath and blow out birthday candles.

-Renee Jain, MAPP

Learn How to Let Go of Shame and Forgive Yourself

“Stop beating yourself up. You are a work in progress; which means you get there a little at a time, not all at once.” — Unknown

I haven’t always been the woman I am today.

I used to be scared. Of everything. And everyone. Painfully shy and insecure, I saw myself as a victim of my circumstances, and was always waiting, on guard, for the next rejection. I masked my insecurity in a blanket of perfectionism, and worked hard to put forth the image that I had everything together and had it all figured out.

I did a good job looking the part. On the outside most people just saw an attractive, intelligent, successful woman, and had very little awareness or understanding of the pain and fear that was living inside.

To further protect myself, I often took advantage of knowing that others believed my facade.

I believed myself to be unworthy of love or loving, and there were times when the only way I knew to feel good about myself was to treat others harshly, often by knowing I could intimidate them just by being my “perfect” self.

I had split the world into people that I was either better than or less than.

It’s been said that someone once asked the Buddha whether it is possible to be critical and judgmental of other people and not treat oneself the same way. He said that if one is critical and judgmental of others, it is impossible not to treat oneself the same. And that while at times it appears that people can be judgmental toward others, but seem completely satisfied themselves, this is just not possible.

How we treat others is how we treat ourselves, and vice versa

I’ve spent the last four years working on finding compassion for myself and those who I blamed for my pain, embracing the concept of self-love so that I could find a sense of peace within. I’m proud of myself for how far I’ve come and the life that I lead today.

However, it was recently brought to my attention that, despite the hard work I’ve done and the large shifts I’ve made, there are still some people who have a negative perception of me, and some hurtful words were used to describe my qualities and attributes.

When I learned this, I immediately felt the stinging pain of rejection and my automatic response was to go to shame. I felt really bad about myself.

Aside from the fact that I don’t think it ever feels good to hear that someone doesn’t like you, I’ve spent a long time working to heal these very wounded parts of myself, and in a moment they were all brought back to the surface in a very painful way.

When memories arise of behaviors and situations we’re not proud of, it can be easy to turn to shame. However, shame has very little usefulness, as it often times serves to shut us down, isolate, and close ourselves off from others and our own healing.

Seeing my reaction was an indication that there was work I needed to do, something within that I needed to address.

This situation showed me that I have spent years turning my back on this former image of myself, striving to be better, but what was still lacking was compassion and forgiveness.

Pema Chodron describes emotional upheaval, feelings of distress, embarrassment, or anger that we assume is a spiritual faux pas, as actually being the place where the warrior learns compassion.

When we learn to stop struggling with ourselves and dwell in the places that scare us, we are able to see and accept ourselves and others exactly as we are, complete with imperfections.

We all act unconsciously and without consideration for others at times. When we allow ourselves to be honest about these behaviors, without the judgment of shame, we are left with remorse, which is a quality we are actually quite fortunate exists.

Remorse can help us refine our actions and to live a more authentic life. It does not mean that we are useless and unworthy or that we made some horrible mistake beyond repair. It simply means that we are human, and that like all humans, we are in a learning process.

Remorse can be a sign that we are becoming more aware and that what was previously unconscious is coming into consciousness.

However, if we move into shame and beating ourselves up, we stop ourselves in our tracks, get stuck and likely remain in the mistake, and deprive ourselves of a lesson learned and opportunity to do things differently moving forward.

In order to keep moving forward in the face of remorse, we need to be able to find compassion and forgiveness for ourselves. We all know, however, that forgiveness cannot be forced. But if we can find the courage to open our hearts to ourselves, forgiveness will slowly emerge.

The simplest way I know to do this is to, in the face of painful feelings, start by just forgiving myself for being human. This can be done with a simple breath practice.

By bringing awareness to our experiences and acknowledging our feelings, we can then start to breathe these feelings into our hearts, allowing our breath to slowly open it up as wide as possible. And then from this place, with our breath, we can send ourselves forgiveness.

And then, in the spirit of not dwelling, we let it go. Breathe it out and make a fresh start.

This practice of acknowledge, forgive, and start anew doesn’t magically heal our wounds overnight and it’s not a linear process.

I find that forgiveness is a state that we move in and out of, and will continue to revisit, often times, for many years, oscillating between shame (or anger, resentment, fear, etc) and compassion. Ideally though, with practice and patience the time spent in shame will become shorter and farther between.

If we practice this way, continuing to acknowledge, forgive, and let go, we will learn to make peace with the feelings of remorse and regret for having hurt ourselves and others. We will learn self-forgiveness and eventually, we will learn to forgive those who have harmed us too.

-Jennifer Chrisman, Tiny Buddha

Molecule May Improve Dopamine Function in Parkinson’s

Patients with Parkinson’s disease who supplement with n-acetylcysteine (NAC), a natural molecule with strong antioxidant effects, experience notable improvements in dopamine function, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

NAC is an oral supplement that can be found at most nutrition and health food stores. In a medical setting, NAC has been used intravenously to protect the livers of patients who have overdosed on acetaminophen.

Doctors from the Departments of Integrative Medicine, Neurology and Radiology at Thomas Jefferson University show that patients receiving NAC experience improvements in two measures: the observable physical symptoms of the disease as well as in levels of dopamine (the lack of which is thought to contribute to Parkinson’s disease) as shown by brain imaging tests.

Currently, treatments for Parkinson’s disease are limited to those that temporarily replace dopamine in the brain or try to slow the progression of the disease process. Recently, however, researchers have discovered that oxidative stress in the brain may play a vital role in the disease process, and that this stress also lowers levels of glutathione, a chemical produced by the brain to counteract oxidative stress.

Research has shown that NAC helps reduce oxidative damage to brain cells by helping restore the levels of the antioxidant glutathione.

“This study reveals a potentially new avenue for managing Parkinson’s patients and shows that n-acetylcysteine may have a unique physiological effect that alters the disease process and enables dopamine neurons to recover some function,” said senior author Daniel Monti, M.D., M.B.A. Monti is director of the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University.

For the study, Parkinson’s patients who continued their current standard of care treatment, were placed into two groups: The first group received a combination of oral and intravenous (IV) NAC for three months. These patients received 50mg/kg NAC intravenously once per week and 600mg NAC orally twice per day on the non IV days. The second group of patients acted as a control group and received only their standard Parkinson’s treatment.

Patients were evaluated before starting NAC and then after three months of receiving NAC. Control patients were evaluated before the study and then three months later.

The evaluation involved standard clinical measures, including the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS), a survey administered by doctors to help determine the stage of disease. The patients also underwent a brain scan via DaTscan SPECT imaging, which measures the amount of dopamine transporter in the basal ganglia, the area most affected by the Parkinson’s disease process.

The findings show that the patients receiving NAC had improvements of four to nine percent in dopamine transporter binding and also had improvements in their UPDRS score of about 13 percent, compared to controls.

“We have not previously seen an intervention for Parkinson’s disease have this kind of effect on the brain,” said first author and neuroimaging expert Andrew Newberg, M.D., professor at the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Jefferson and Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine.

The researchers hope the new findings will open up new avenues of treatment for Parkinson’s disease patients.

Source: Thomas Jefferson University

3 Tips to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great

Good marriages are healthy marriages. They’re built on a foundation of love, trust, safety, commitment and respect. Great marriages have these elements, too. But they go further.

Below, John Harrison, LPCC, a counselor and coach who specializes in working with couples, shares three ways to transform a good marriage into a great one. His tips are simple and straightforward. But these are not quick, empty fixes. Instead, they are steps we must take on a regular basis to enhance our relationship and connect on a deeper, truer level with our one and only. 

Challenge each other

According to Harrison, good marriages have good communication. “They are polite, amiable, respectful and assertive.” These, of course, are important ingredients for healthy relationships. Couples in great marriages, however, keep moving: They challenge each other. They call each other out on their “stuff,” he said. That is, when one spouse is acting in an offensive, passive-aggressive, or all-around unloving way, the other partner points it out (in a compassionate way).

Harrison suggested couples have a conversation about how each partner behaves when the other is relating dysfunctionally. This should come from a place of compassion and love. It is about growing and nurturing the relationship. It’s not about criticizing, blaming, or shaming your partner. So these talks are without resentment and eye rolls. “Emphasize that you are both in the marriage to help one another grow as individual people,” he said. 

Hold each other accountable

In good marriages when things don’t go as planned, couples understand and accept the circumstances. However, in great marriages partners hold each other accountable and “make things happen,” Harrison said.

To do that, prioritize your time together. Put it on the calendar. This is just as important as any meeting (likely even more so). Harrison suggested making plans for face-to-face activities, not side-by-side. For instance, go to dinner (versus seeing a movie). Instead of spending time with friends, take a walk. Even schedule time for sex, he said.

“Each partner has a responsibility in making sure that the other is keeping to their promise to make ‘face-to-face’ time a top priority.”

Keep dreaming — and doing

Couples in good marriages accept the current state of their relationship, Harrison said. Couples in great marriages are grateful for their relationship, too. But they also encourage their partners to dream — both for themselves and for the relationship. “A great marriage allows each partner to find ways to make their life as fulfilling as possible with both people wanting the same for the other.”

For instance, don’t make all your discussions with your spouse about money, the kids, routines and other family matters, he said. Instead, make time to talk about your dreams. Talk about “what your dream life scenarios would be like.” Then actually plan out how you’ll manifest these dreams. Would you like a new job or a new home? Would you like a longer vacation? Do you want to explore a new passion? How will you make this happen?

“Whatever it is, allow each other to be creative and imaginative and challenge one another to make those fulfilling dreams a reality.”

Great marriages are supportive and intimate. They provide a space for both spouses to be themselves and to flourish. They provide a space for wishing and for these wishes to come true. Great marriages are constantly growing with spouses who genuinely enjoy each other and have fun together — and prioritize their relationship.

The Surprising Role of Nutrition in Mental Health

If you’ve been reading my blog for a month or more, you know that I have found nutrition to be a powerful force in my recovery from depression. Since 2008, I haven’t responded to medications or have had only a minimal, partial response, so I have been on a mission — for myself and for the millions of other people with treatment-resistant depression — to find other, drug-free ways to lift debilitating depression.

Recently I have been following the research of Julia J. Rucklidge, PhD, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, who conducts compelling studies using micronutrients — vitamins and minerals in small quantities — to treat depression and other serious mood disorders.

You can check out Dr. Rucklidge’s research as part of the work conducted by the Mental Health and Nutrition Research Group, and the blog that she writes with Bonnie J. Kaplan, PhD, for Mad in America. Rucklidge recently delivered a fascinating TEDx talk about the role of nutrition in treating mental illness. I interview her here so that she can share her research with you.

Therese Borchard: Your research is fascinating. I couldn’t stop reading. If you had to pick two breakthrough studies that you would like everyone who has ever been depressed or has been a loved one of someone depressed read, which studies would you choose?

Julia Rucklidge: The study by Felice Jacka and others published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2010 had a tremendous impact when it was published. The study demonstrated an association between habitual diet quality and the high prevalence of mental disorders.

I conducted a study in 2012 showing a simple intervention of micronutrients following a natural disaster reduced stress and anxiety and improved mood over just a four-week period. The ADHD randomized clinical trial showed that for those who entered the trial depressed, twice as many went into remission in their depression for those taking the micronutrients compared with those taking placebo.

TB: You said something in your TED talk that intrigued me. You said medications work better initially than they do over time, that drugs save lives, but they often fail to work on a long-term basis. Can you say more about that, and point us to the studies that you mentioned as part of your talk?

JR: We all know of people who have benefited from medications and who would swear that the medication saved them. These reports are really important and there are people who benefit in the long-term. I am sure every psychiatrist has patients like that. But if we look at the data and the published literature, the situation is more uncomfortable.

Stimulants. Most people know that Ritalin is a drug prescribed to treat ADHD. It is typically viewed as the most efficacious drug in child psychiatry because it works quickly. Parents and teachers alike often report a dramatic change in a child who begins taking it. It has been used to treat hyperactivity for almost 80 years but surprisingly, only in the last decade are we learning about the long-term outcomes of people treated with it.

In the United States, there is large clinical trial that has followed 579 ADHD children who were initially randomized for 14 months to receiving various treatments, including medications and psychological treatments. In the first 14 months, those on medications did the best and this reinforced the perception that medications should be the primary way to treat ADHD. But at the end of 36 months, medication use was a significant marker not of beneficial outcome, but of deterioration. That is, participants using medication in the 24-to-36 month period following randomization actually showed increased ADHD symptoms during that interval relative to those not taking medication. Medicated children were also slightly smaller and had higher delinquency scores. At the end of six years, medication use was “associated with worse hyperactivity-impulsivity and oppositional defiant disorder symptoms,” and with greater “overall functional impairment.”

Similarly, in Canada, the Quebec Naturalistic Study found that medicated ADHD girls are more likely to be depressed compared with those not medicated, and boys who are medicated are more likely to drop out of school than those unmedicated. In other words, both of these studies show that while kids do well in the short-term on these medications, in the long-term they do worse.

Antidepressants. In 2012, about half a million New Zealanders were taking an antidepressant, a rate 38 percent higher than five years previously. But despite this increasing reliance on these drugs, outcomes for depressed people can be worse than they were before the advent of antidepressants. In 2014, a paper in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry compared the outcomes of people who were depressed prior to the advent of antidepressants with the outcomes of people who were depressed since the widespread use of antidepressants. If the drugs are working, then the recovery rates and relapse rates should be better now than 50 years ago. They aren’t. This review provided no support for the belief that pharmacological treatments have resulted in an improvement in the long-term outcome of patients with mood disorders.

Other research shows that in some cases, antidepressants have altered the course of disease in negative ways. For example, young people prescribed antidepressants are more likely to convert to bipolar illness than those not medicated. A study in 2004 in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine showed that those people with anxiety and depression who were treated with antidepressants converted to bipolar illness at a rate of 7.7 percent per year, three times the rate for those not exposed to the drugs, with pre-pubertal children at highest risk for conversion. These means antidepressants are a risk factor for developing another psychiatric illness, bipolar disorder.

Antipsychotics. Similar to prescription trends around the world, prescription rates for antipsychotics more than doubled in this country from 2006 to 2011. But are these medications helping patients in the long-term? Aside from the serious side effects such as weight gain and increased risk for diabetes, a study that came out last year in JAMA Psychiatry should make us seriously consider whether long-term use of these drugs is doing more harm than good. The study was a seven year follow up of a randomized controlled trial and demonstrated that those people with schizophrenia who were randomized to dose reduction or discontinuation of drugs were twice as likely to recover as those who remained at their original dose of medications. Again, we see that medications are increasing relapse rates in the long-term.

TB: You presented at the last American Psychiatric Association conference about using micronutrient to treat depression and said the reception among psychiatrists was better than previous years. Do you think that the more data we have to support the use of micronutrients, the more doctors will introduce this concept? Or will the information not get through because the profit margins aren’t the same as with pharmaceutical medication?

JR: I think there are a lot of challenges to this work becoming mainstream and for physicians to start suggesting it in their mainstream practices. There will be concerns about it not being evidence-based or that they may be liable if something goes wrong. There is also the challenge of which formula to recommend? Which blend of nutrients? However, given that there are quite a few people writing about psychiatry under the influence of drug companies, maybe there will be a change in behavior. Perhaps if there could be independent reviews of whether what we currently do is working people might pay attention to the fact that we have a seriously comprised system for treating people with mental health issues.

TB: What else would you like people to know about treating depression and other mood disorders with micronutrients?

JR: I think it is worth giving it a go first to seriously change diet and if necessary, try a broad spectrum micronutrient supplement, and if that approach doesn’t work, then there is always medication to fall back on.

Tell Me More About These “Coping Skills” of which You Speak

Ask any kiddo who’s ever been in inpatient or outpatient mental health treatment, especially the ones still in single digit ages, what they should do when they feel (insert unhealthy emotion here), and you’ll get a pretty ubiquitous response: “Use my coping skills!” Well, my little friends, you’d be fantastically right. But, what are coping skills? The youngest ones remember the words but sometimes struggle to actually articulate a useful skill when asked. It is, frankly, adorable.

Coping skills are certainly helpful for youngsters who struggle keeping their hands to themselves and their words in check when upset, but the need for skills doesn’t go away once one graduates high school. Because, while it was inappropriate to bite the girl next to you at your 3rd grade desk clump because you thought she stole your pencil, it’s even worse to do it to your boss when she tells you you’re late to submit a report.

So, young or old(er), in school or working, or whatever your circumstance is, what are helpful ways to deal with the unhappinesses life is certain to throw your way? I’m so glad you asked. As a social worker, it is my deepest joy to explain oh so frequently what coping skills are and why/when you need to use them.

Distraction Techniques
Sometimes, you’re so overwhelmed by the moment, you just want to forget about it for a while until you can come back to it and process it more healthfully. Good call! These are called, “distraction techniques.”

Examples: chat with a friend, watch a tv show, listen to music, knit or crochet, get in the dirt in your garden and dig, straighten up your home, read a book, get on YouTube, Call of Duty, I’m told is a blast. You get the point.

Positives: Distracting yourself gets you away from the issue for a moment. Bring down that heart rate, slow down the mouse on the wheel that is your brain. It’ll get you through the crisis and give you a moment for a quick breather.

Less than positives: This doesn’t actually solve anything. Ignoring a problem for too long is clearly counterproductive. Distraction allows you to calm yourself to a more rational mindset, but totally ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.

Seeking Your Higher Self
Believe in a Higher Power? Awesome. Don’t? Also fantastic. “Higher Self” doesn’t have to mean spirituality, though it can if you want it to.

Examples: Volunteer, pray, give back, be nice to the check out clerk, help someone, pay for the Starbucks of the person in line behind you in the drive thru, join a cause you’re passionate about, go to your local animal shelter and cuddle with the dogs.

Positives: Seeking your higher self, in whatever capacity you choose, helps us remember the value in everyone and everything in our lives. Everything has a purpose, so take a moment to find it, not matter big or small.

Less than positives: If you’re only focusing on others, when will you make time to focus on you? A number of my clients love to “fix” everyone else’s problems so they can distract themselves from their own issues. Be mindful of how much time you exert on others!

Emotional Release
Examples: Scream it out! Go for a run! Yell into your pillow! Take a cold shower, find your favorite funny show on Hulu and really laugh it out. Allow yourself to get in a good cry. Pop a balloon (not me, I’m afraid of popping balloons), join an exercise class or a Krav Maga gym, dance and sing out loud to the music overhead in Home Depot!

Positives: Useful in letting out anger and fear. In perfect James Brown style, it helps you to try to release that pressure!

Less than positives: Emotional release doesn’t always work in every situation. Some people may feel kind of foolish singing and dancing to overhead music in a public place, and others may give you strange looks.

Grounding
Utilizing your senses and your physical body.

Examples: Smell the roses, pay attention to what your food tastes like, check what color the sky is, walk barefoot in the sand or grass, play with PlayDoh, meditate, hit the gym or go for a run/walk, give yoga a try.

Positives: Helps bring you back from that “out of body experience” feeling, where you feel disconnected from yourself or even that you might be dying. Decreases the physical symptoms of anxiety.

Less than positives: Your body dissociates when you are in severe psychological trouble, like in an abusive situation. This is to protect your mind from what’s happening.

Thought Challenge
Are you sure you’re thinking clearly? Have you weighed all the options using your wise mind?

Examples: Use a thought record to write down your negative thoughts. Pay attention to what evidence you have for and against those thoughts. What would you tell your best friend if he or she was telling you the same problems?

Positives: Practicing using thought records and checking your negative thoughts can actually help to change the way you think in the long run. Practice makes progress! Utilizing a wise mind (rational mind + emotional mind) can help with future reactions, causing a decrease in emotional stress!

Less than positives: It can be so difficult to get yourself into a clear mental space right away, especially if it’s what you’ve grown accustomed to. We revert to what we know in crisis! The stronger the negative emotion, the more difficult it can be to appropriately weigh the truths and falsities.

Love Yourself
Do something good for you! Self-care is important!

Examples: Get a massage, get a manicure or a pedicure, indulge in a modest splurge, take a bubble bath or a long, warm shower, go out or make a nice meal.

Positives: You must love yourself in order to give the best love to others, so practice being kind to yourself! You deserve to be taken care of. As I mentioned in Thought Challenge, what would you encourage your friends to do to take care of themselves? So, why wouldn’t you also deserve that same self-attention?!

Less than positives: Some people truly struggle to focus on themselves. It takes practice to allow yourself to spend money and/or time on yourself.

*It is important to note that, just because I might benefit from challenging my thoughts by reasoning out what might really be going on, that might have absolutely no benefit to you. If you find yourself feeling stumped or unphased by one, mosey along, partner, and try the next!

Minimizing Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is like brain washing in that it systematically wears away at the victim’s self-confidence, sense of self-worth, trust in their own perceptions, and self-concept. Whether it is done by constant berating and belittling, by intimidation, or under the guise of “guidance,” “teaching”, or “advice,” the results are similar. Eventually, the recipient of the abuse loses all sense of self and remnants of personal value. Emotional abuse cuts to the very core of a person, creating scars that may be far deeper and more lasting that physical ones. What are your thoughts about how serious you consider the signs of emotional abuse within your relationship?

-Regina Tate, LPC

What to Do About Your Teenager’s “Eye-roll”

Teenagers are geniuses at doing things they know will irritate you

What to Do About Your Teenager’s “Eye-roll”

If you are or have been the parent of a teenager, or have ever spent more than a few hours with a teenager, especially when they are around their friends or parents, you are unfortunately familiar with the disdainful eye-roll. It is often associated with a dramatic sigh or utterances of perturbation. Often it comes after such parental comments as, “Don’t you think that skirt is too short?” or “Are your boxer shorts supposed to show above your pants?”

I believe the eye-roll the equivalent of a door slam, either when there is no door available or because they have too many clothes piled on their bedroom floors to get the adequate propulsion needed for a dramatically reverberating doorway.

Teen Rebellion

When you get together with other parents of teenagers, you inevitably compare war stories. Teenagers are geniuses at doing things they know will irritate you. For example, if you like exercise, they lay around in bed. If you are hoping for a calm family dinner, they will grimace and drum their fingers while complaining about the meal. If you try to predict their mood and act accordingly, they will shift moods. If they do agree to your requests, they forget (their term) or ignore (your term) their promises.

Teenagers resent unsolicited attention and advice. They strive to appear grown-up, independent, and self-sufficient. They need to feel capable of finding their way without parental direction. Help is perceived as interference, concern as babying, and advice as bossing.

Teens challenge rules and values to establish their own identity. Teenage rebellion, be it in the form of objectionable hair styles, clothing, or music, messy rooms, or even drinking alcohol and telling lies, is their attempt to initiate separation. You loved your child all of his or her life, but most teens are so vulnerable that they repeatedly test you to prove your love.

Dr. Anna Freud said that these teen behaviors are in their developmental “program” as they seek to free themselves from childhood ties with parents, establish new identifications with peers, and find their own identities. THEY must make the successful transition from kids to young adults, but because along the way they will face life-and-death decisions,

YOU must remain their guardian angel.

         Why All The Turmoil?

“It is normal for an adolescent to behave in an inconsistent and unpredictable manner. He can be more idealistic, artistic, generous, and unselfish than he will ever be again, but also the opposite: self-centered, egoistic, calculating.” Anna Freud wrote this in 1958 and the words remain true today. Teenagers of each generation need to experiment with different identities before settling into their own adult personality.

Living day-in-and-day-out with teenagers in the midst of their identity search is one of the greatest challenges you will confront. Yet endure it you must because it is this process of conflict and confrontation that enables them to move to their next stage of life. It is a great help if you understand that there is a purpose for all the turmoil. Defiance, in your teenager’s mind and challenges to your love is their bumpy pathway to autonomy.

Don’t Let Their Behaviors Push You Away

What you can’t do is to allow these behaviors to push you away. Tolerate restlessness, respect loneliness, and accept the discontent as part of the natural, but tumultuous, progression from child to adult. Let your child feel sure of your affection and respect. Be there in the background showing your confidence. By serving as an example while spending time with them will, your teens know you love them and that they are worthwhile.

If you don’t allow your children to express their anger, frustration, and depression these emotions can come out unconsciously as attempts to get back at you though failing in school, drinking, or other dangerous behavior. If you instead show that you respect them, you will prevent a rupture that can occur in your relationship at a time when maintaining connections is vital to the years immediately ahead.

During this time of natural disorganization and hormonal upheaval, your teens are individuating from the family and developing their own values. Preservation of your own values and demonstration of your faith in their ability will provide tools for their success. If you choose your battles carefully and maintain your child’s respect for your important rules of sobriety and safety and for the values you have embraced throughout their lives, you’ll keep them on track.

Listen Supportively – Don’t Solve

It is around the teen years when children stop asking the questions that were so abundant when they were younger starting with, “Where does the sun go at night?” Actually, they stop asking questions and volunteering much when we ask about their day at school or their social events, because they perceive that we are not really listening.

The multitasking we did when they were younger, such as pay bills or fold laundry when they were asking questions or telling us all the details of their day, is ultimately interpreted as us not really listening…or caring about their questions or answers. By the time they are teens most of their voluntary conversation seems to be complaints.

Sometimes silence about what is going on in their lives may be your teens’ way of protecting you from anxieties they feel you cannot handle. It is up to you to assure them that you are willing to talk, not just at them, but with them in a realistic manner.

When your teen does open up to you with a problem, she will feel dismissed if you try to simplify her complex feelings and conflicts in your terms or with your experiences. Instead of giving what seems to you as understanding and relating, resist saying, “I know exactly how you feel, I felt that way too at your age.”

Whether it is about her terrible best friend, the small size of her room, or the assignment of chores, rather than agree with, minimize, or attempt to solve the situation, resist that instinct. Simply listen attentively, sympathetically, and uncritically.

Active Listening Acknowledges Their Words and Feelings

First wait until they are finished speaking and then, before responding, repeat back what you believe they said…without emotion or judgment in your tone. “Okay, I think you are saying…” By repeating the gist of their statements you show you have listened well and you help them identify their feelings.

Wait a bit, so they can confirm or correct your perception of their words. You can then offer you honest commiseration and understanding. If you don’t agree with her opinion or plans, you can keep communication open (and keep doors from slamming) if you acknowledge and reflect your teen’s feelings about something even without agreeing with her point of view. Influence her, not by telling her how she should be or act, but by encouraging her to develop self-reflection, morals, and values of her own. You’ll be demonstrating your respect while encouraging her to think further and find her own solutions.

Be Direct – Don’t Manipulate

Because most parental criticism creates anger and resentment, be direct and avoid sarcasm. If your son does a poor job at washing the shared family car, you might be tempted to say, “I didn’t know we had such hard water. I know you washed the car and it’s still dirty.”

Consider that helpful criticism does not attack the person and arouse defiance; it deals with the difficult event. The direct alternative could be, “I appreciate your effort so far, but the car still needs more work, especially on the top and left side. When can you do it?” This will be more likely to elicit a less emotionally reactive, more positive response.

Choose Your Battles: Be Flexible When You Can, but Consistent the Limits You Set

As an adult your responsibility is to set standards and demonstrate values. Teenagers need to know what you respect and what you expect. Most teenagers, while demanding more independence, are at least in part, begging for structure. They rely on parents to set limits, especially to contain their more reckless impulses. Your goal is not to be your teenager’s pal but rather his or her friendly guardian, concerned and strong enough to endure temporary animosity when you uphold standards and values that are in their best interests.

Don’t be frustrated when your child opposes your standards, resists your rules, and tests your limits. Part of developing one’s identity is testing limits. They should not be expected to like your prohibitions. Since you are better able to control your emotions, anticipate you teen’s resentment of rules. Limits should be set in a manner that preserves your teenager’s self-respect. When your limits are neither arbitrary nor capricious, and are anchored in values aimed at character building, your child will eventually recognize that you had his best interests in mind.

It will also reduce resistance if you distinguish between your teen’s feeling and actions. As with the active listening, be permissive when dealing with your child’s feelings and wishes. Then, when you are strict in dealing with unacceptable behavior and enforcing limits, you have shown that you respect his opinions and attitudes, acknowledged his dreams and desires, but reserved the right to stop and redirect some of his actions.

As teens seek more privileges, freedom, money, or privacy parents, ever vigilant, worry about the possibility of falling grades, substance abuse, or increased sexual activity that could potentially follow if they acquiesce to these requests. Rather than let your anxieties force you to become overly restrictive, be flexible when you can. By giving teenagers choices you make them more aware of their power AND responsibility. In turn, the sense of control they feel over part of their destiny gives them more opportunities to consider alternatives and build self-confidence.

For example, if you are open to some of their unusual choices in clothes, teens will be that much less likely to get into power struggles over the big-ticket items such as drugs and alcohol. The more control you allow your teens over their choices, the more likely they are to become confident adults who, when they run into a problem will see what their options are and make a decision based on what they think is best.

Give teens responsibilities to also let them know that adult privileges are earned by taking part in the daily functioning of the family (chores). Be specific about the phone, car, and money, being a result of these contributions. Find ways to allow for them to make choices within certain parameters. For example, dishes need to be done by 8pm. They can be done earlier. However, if they are not done by that time, the privilege of phone conversation will be revoked for the remainder of that evening.

Be ready to react neutrally to cries of ‘injustice’ when your child suffers the inevitable consequences you have described to him. Maintain a matter-of-fact tone and your stance that it is not a punishment, but a consequence of his choice. The message you’ll be sending is that he is part of a family with certain required responsibilities. During the teenage developmental stage of self-engrossment, establishing areas of responsibility helps them learn that freedom is grounded in accountability.

 Bring Out Your Teen’s Best for Now and Later

I once was told by a professor that, “A teenager learns what he lives, and becomes what she experiences.” When you are an active listener and limit your preaching and passing of judgments, you’ll elicit conversations where your teen shares her opinions and emotions and become more self-reflective. When you allow your teens to make some decisions you know aren’t great, but that won’t be dangerous or hurtful, you build their self-awareness. They will learn from their mistakes and take ownership of their successes.

When you model the values you hope for in your children, respond with more positive and direct responses, and avoid sarcasm, you’ll be promoting their positivity and commendable values of their own.

When you provide opportunities for challenge with the support they need to learn from setbacks, teens build confidence to develop self-esteem from successes. Help your teenagers build resilience and perseverance and they will leave home with the power to transform obstacles into opportunities for growth and learning.

Schools Out, But the Same Rules Apply!

Tips for preventing summer weight gain in children

Some may blame the school lunch food and lack of recess during the year for the increased rates of overweight and obesity during childhood. With many budget cuts, gym classes are one of the first classes to get the boot. Children end up being sedentary most of the day during school- except when they change classes and go to lunch. Sadly, this sedentary behavior often continues on after school, when many kids go home to play video games or watch TV for most of the night. So now that school is basically out for the summer, kids should not gain excess weight- right? Wrong! Many studies show that kids actually gain more weight in the summer than they do during the school year . So what can be done to prevent excessive weight gain during the summer?

Serve appropriate portions:

Don’t worry- measuring food is not necessary. Measuring food is not realistic in the long term for adults, and it’s definitely not realistic for kids (nor should it be!) and measuring in of it self doesn’t teach kids WHAT foods are healthy. Instead, a good method is to serve children’s food on a 9-inch plate. From there, use the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) MyPlate as a guide to what a balanced meal should look like. Trying to eat based on the MyPlate guide is an easy way to ensure the intake of adequate nutrients and eating healthfully, without being so concerned with measuring and weighing.

Treat treats like treats:

Although treats like ice cream and frozen fruit bars are delicious in the summer, remember to keep these high calorie foods as “treats” and not an everyday available snack. Since kids are home during the day, their meal pattern will likely be different than when in school, but this doesn’t mean that all rules go out the window. As the parent or caregiver, you decide the “WHAT”. That means WHAT foods are available for your child to eat during the day is up to you. By having mainly nutrient dense foods around the house during the summer months will help establish healthy eating habits all year round. Limit the amount of calorically dense snacks in the house, but be sure to keep healthier snacks on hand as an alternate. Fresh cold fruit is a delicious summer-time snack, as well as raw veggies with different flavorful dips. Don’t purchase sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas, powdered ice teas or lemonades- instead try some citrus or watermelon infused waters. Brewing some homemade iced tea on your own is another good idea- this will drastically cut down on the added sugar –because remember- just one already prepared 20 oz. ice tea may have the equivalent of 16 packets of sugar!

Go outside:

stock.tookapic/pexels
Source: stock.tookapic/pexels

The summer months in North America are typically warm and humid. Yes, this weather is great if there is a pool or beach around, but if there’s no source of relief from the heat, staying indoors is appealing for many kids. A decrease in physical activity during the summer months is likely a contributor to weight gain.  Plus, increased screen time- TV, tablet or phones is very common, and often the hobby of choice for many. Although the America Academy of Pediatrics recommends NO screen time for any child under 2, and less than 2 hours per day for kids older than 2, it is quite obvious that many toddlers start watching TV at a young age, and most kids exceed this recommendation. But, physical activity is a recommended for weight maintenance in kids (as well as adults), so make sure you encourage your kids to stay active. Since children and teens should participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity activity on most days, try to have some ideas planned to make kids want to leave their video games behind- swimming, playing tag, jumping rope, soccer and bike riding are fun ways to meet the recommendations. It is also important to lead as an example. If kids see that their caregiver sits around and watches TV all night and rarely engages in exercise, kids will think this is normal. Having activities planned in advance as a family is a great way to get everyone involved- plus it’s an added calorie burner for adults and likely more fun than going to the gym. Adults know that physical activity is associated with many health benefits like lower rates of cancer and improved heart health, but making the benefits clear to kids is also important. Instead of focusing on weight control and heart disease, make the benefits more relevant to them- building strong bones, getting better at sports, increasing self- esteem, improving mood and decreasing stress are just a few!

Breakfast and Sleep- Don’t skimp on them because it’s summer!

Just because it’s summer vacation, doesn’t mean that kids can’t have some type of schedule. Yes, it’s great to relax and enjoy the summer, but it’s also important to make sure they have some type of routine so that meals aren’t skipped, sleep is not erratic and physical activities don’t disappear.

skeeze/pixabay
Source: skeeze/pixabay

Make sure children eat breakfast! Research has shown time and time again that eating breakfast plays a protective role against excessive adiposity in childhood and adolescence. Further, a recent study found that the odds of being obese increase in children who skip breakfast. Besides the relationship between a healthy weight and eating breakfast, eating breakfast is also associated with improved cognition and attention. So, make sure your kids start the day off eating. Some easy and tasty breakfast ideas (besides cereal) include Greek yogurt with sliced seasonal peaches, a whole-wheat waffle with fruit, or reduced fat cream cheese on a whole grain toasted bagel. Busy summer mornings? Make breakfast smoothies the night before with low fat dairy, frozen banana and a scoop of PB for extra protein, or bake eggs in little muffin trays with veggies and cheese- and then just reheat on your way out the door.

In addition to the many benefits of breakfast, adequate sleep is also important. Going to bed very late may be tempting during the summer months, but it does more harm than good. Improving a child’s sleep may also be a strategy employed to mitigate the rise of pediatric obesity. Depending on the age, recommendations for sleep can reach up to 13 hours per day, but most kids don’t reach their recommended amount. Why is sleep so important? Many studies show that the less sleep a child gets, the higher his or her risk is for obesity. Children with less sleep also report increased cravings for calorically dense foods. Further, inadequate sleep is associated with higher consumption of pizza and refined sugars, which we know are not healthy.

In summary, try to stick to a routine and keep a set bedtime schedule. Use MyPlate as a guide for healthy eating and look up local outdoor activities for your child to participate in. These small summer adjustments can help prevent excessive weight gain during these upcoming months!

References:

1.                  Nestle M. School meals: a starting point for countering childhood obesity. JAMA pediatrics. 2013;167(6):584-585.

2.                  Moreno JP, Johnston CA, Chen TA, et al. Seasonal variability in weight change during elementary school. Obesity. 2015;23(2):422-428.

3.                  Hart CN, Cairns A, Jelalian E. Sleep and obesity in children and adolescents. Pediatr. Clin. North Am. 2011;58(3):715-733.

Appreciation is extended to Kristen Criscitelli for drafting this post

The Surprising Benefits of the “Bromance”

Male bonding can make guys healthier, happier, and better dads as well.

Whether it’s a movie starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, or it’s Joey and Chandler from Friends, Hollywood tends to portray male friendships in a comedic light. But a good “bromance” makes for more than just bachelor parties and fist bumps.

The Health Benefits of Male Friendship

A new study which appeared in Neuropsychopharmacology highlights the benefits of male friendship. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, studied how friendship affects male rats. When housed together, male rats frequently displayed aggression toward one another. They often fought over food and water. After experiencing mild stress, however, the rats became more cooperative and increasingly social. They stopped fighting and they treated each other in a much more civil manner. They huddled together and sought comfort from one another. Huddling with the other rates led to increased oxytocin in the brain. Oxytocin, also known as the “feel-good hormone,” appeared to help the rats cope with stress.

The researchers concluded that a good bromance will release oxytocin in the human brain as well—and increased oxytocin can help men live longer, healthier lives. (Although some also refer to oxytocin as “the love hormone,” emotionally intense platonic relationships also increase oxytocin.)

Here are just a few benefits men gain from increased oxytocin in the brain:

  • Pain relief. Oxytocin has been associated with decreased pain and improved healing speed. Studies show it can even raise your pain threshold.
  • Lower cortisol levels. Cortisol, the stress hormone, can have harmful effects on your body, ranging from increased abdominal fat to decreased immunity. Studies show oxytocin reduces the amount of cortisol that releases in response to stressful situations.
  • Increased generosity. Oxytocin has been shown to boost altruism. In one study, participants who received oxytocin were 80% more generous than others who received a placebo.

Why Women Should Encourage Bromance

Some wives and girlfriends may be tempted to complain about the amount of time a man spends with his friends, but a partner’s bromances could actually lead to an improved romantic relationship: The oxytocin which releases when a man spends time with friends promotes social bonding with anyone perceived to be in the individual’s “inner circle.”

A 2012 study in Biological Psychiatry found that oxytocin could help fathers bond more with their babies: Dads who got a boost of oxytocin via a nasal spray played more closely with their babies than dads who didn’t get the spray.

Oxytocin may also help men stay faithful to their partners. One study found that oxytocin led men in monogamous relationships to keep a greater distance between themselves and an attractive woman during an initial encounter. Researchers suspect this may be to avoid signaling romantic interest toward other women.

Male friendship won’t just improve the quality of a man’s life—it just might impact the length of it.

-Amy Morin, LCSW, What Mentally Strong People Don’t Do