Earlier this week, I had an article published in my professional newsletter for the Maryland National Association of Social Workers. Below is a copy of the article:
by Kate Oliver, LCSW-C
As Social Workers we have an ethical obligation to support and advocate for the families and children we work with. As someone who both works with and grew up in a family headed by gay parents, and as a former board member of COLAGE (a national organization which is designed to support the millions of children with LGBT parents in the United States), I was excited at the prospect of writing an article in support of the upcoming chance to vote FOR Question 6. In Maryland, voting FOR Question 6 maintains the right for gay and lesbian Marylanders to have legally recognized marriages. NASW has long supported the notion that fairness and equality for all is an essential component in helping our clients. Voting FOR Question 6 supports this notion, that everyone is entitled to equal treatment under the law. In a report released last year titled, “All Children Matter: How Legal and Social Inequalities Hurt LGBT Families,” research conducted with the help of The Movement Advancement Project, The Family Equality Council, and the Center for American Progress showed that among other issues:
While overall children in LGBT families have the same incidence of mental health issues as other children, they are more likely to have a mental health issue in states where their families are not equally recognized.
Children in LGBT families have more fear than other children that their families will be broken up.
Children with LGBT parents are more likely to be denied adequate assistance from the state, since their entire family is not legally recognized; the state does not always take all family members into account when providing assistance and may give families headed by LGBT couples less financial help.
Children with LGBT parents are not financially protected when a non-legally recognized parent is injured or killed.
Having gay parents has also exposed me to witnessing the added concerns my father and his husband have had when estate planning, obtaining health care, and worrying about having access to each other if one of them is in the hospital. Non biological parents of children born in an unrecognized union have the added stress of worrying whether they will have access to the children should the couple split.
In Maryland, we have the opportunity to become the first state ever to pass a law approving marriage equality by popular vote. We all know that marriage makes stronger families and all families ensure that everyone has a fair shot in these tough economic times. While some people worry that Question 6 will change religious freedoms or the educational curriculum in schools, Question 6 is being supported by many religious leaders and was actually designed with some of the strongest religious protections in the country, ensuring that no clergy would ever be forced to perform any ceremony for a couple they were not comfortable joining in marriage. Additionally, there are no changes suggested to any school curriculum, nor do schools tend to teach about families or family structure anyway. As Social Workers, we cannot deny that LGBT families are here. In order to protect and advocate for all families in Maryland, voting FOR Question 6 is the only way to go. To find out more about Question 6, you can go to:
and to join Social Workers for Question 6, visit:
Kate Oliver, LCSW-C is the co-owner of A Healing Place, a private practice in Columbia, Maryland. She specializes in working with children and their families where there is a history of trauma or attachment disorders.
Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
This week we are focusing on the second of the parenting characteristics detailed in the PLACE attitude, loving. While it may seem simple to say we must always strive to parent with love, as parents we know that can be hard at times. I find the matter to be simplified if I focus on the true intent behind my interactions with my children, without being side-tracked by the other details.
Take chores as an example, yes, I do want my children to help with the dishes but what is behind that desire? Sometimes the desire we are most connected to when we ask is the desire not to do the dishes ourselves, but we also know that there are times we ask our children to do a chore that we could easily do in less time, with less effort for the child, and less effort for us. So why bother to ask children to do chores at all? Of course we do it because we want them to grow up to be contributing members of society and to any relationship with others. Why do we care about that? Because we love them and want our children to be happy and proud of themselves as they grow into adults. Boiled down to its most essential qualities, our direction toward our children comes, for most parents, from a place of love because we care about them and their happiness.
There are ways to phrase requests or instructions that help our children to know that we are coming from a place of love. One of these ways I detailed in my post, End the Hassle! Tell Kids What They Deserve, in which I describe how to tell kids they deserve a clean room, safety, a healthy body, less stress about school (i.e.- do your homework), etc. Some other statements that put love first with your children:
I love you too much to argue with you about this.
I love you more than I care about what you accidentally broke/spilled/ruined.
I don’t want you to feel any worse than you are going to feel about talking to me this way, let’s both cool off in a separate room…
I love you.
You are special to me.
I was thinking about you today.
I think you get the picture. This weeks affirmation is:
I am loving and loveable and I honor my love for my children by showing them with my words and actions.
Remember, the more you say the affirmation, the truer it becomes for you. If you find yourself slipping, remind yourself that is how you used to talk to your kids before you figured out this way of talking. Forgive yourself, because you probably learned how to talk to yourself and your children the other way from your parents, who learned it from their parents, and so on. Congratulate yourself on trying something new. Good luck!
Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
Last week, I wrote about the PLACE Parenting attitude, as taught by Dr. Dan Hughes. For the next few weeks, I want to focus on each of the different parts of the PLACE attitude.
Our first attribute of this attitude is playful. I have to admit that as a parent, this is actually the most difficult part for me, which is actually pretty funny considering I started my career as a therapist as a “play therapist.” However, while my husband is pretty good at finding a silly answer to my children when they are grumbling about something, I’m too busy trying to figure out how to “fix” what I think is going wrong. Well, last week, I had a little breakthrough and I thought I might share it with you to show you what I mean about being playful.
My oldest daughter likes shopping for clothes almost as much as she liked getting a root canal last year. Actually, I heard less grumbling during the root canal. I’ve bought enough clothes that have disappeared into her drawers never to be seen again, or just to be outright rejected to know that I’m not spending money on clothes she has not picked. As a result, she and I have had a building issue about clothes shopping such that I myself have imagined the welcome relief of giving a cat a bath rather than taking her shopping. Long story short, what we were doing was not working despite my trying to process each interaction that went poorly when it came to clothes shopping. Recently, I decided to get playful.
If you haven’t heard of the gangnam style of dancing, you might want to check it out on Youtube (the dance starts around 30 seconds in). Let me give a brief descriptor: the gangnam dance is a sort of galloping style where sometimes you put one hand over your head like you are going to rope cattle at a rodeo. I downloaded the song on itunes and put it on my cell phone. Before leaving to go get winter pants with my darling eldest, I pulled her aside and said to her that I wanted things to go well. I put my arm around her and smiled while I told her that I had a plan for what to do if she got snippy or sassy with me. I proceeded to turn on the song and, to her horror, starting dancing/galloping around the living room. We both laughed pretty hard, but I ended by suggesting that if she found it so funny, she might like to see it in public as well.
And so it happened. Right there in JCPenny’s, going up the escalator my normally sweet, but now snarly girl said something about me being fat- I’ve already forgotten what it was but it wasn’t nice. I took a breath, asked her in a serious tone if she knew what I had to do now, then, again, to her horror, I turned on that song. Right. There. In. JCPenny. (So sorry if you were there and happened to see that! It was necessary.) We both ended up laughing- I probably laughed hardest. And, we moved on. I didn’t hiss at her in the dressing room to get back at her. I didn’t feel the need to “make her pay” further. She apologized, sincerely almost as soon as the words came out of her mouth, but you know I still had to dance anyway.
When you can, if you can, be playful with your children. Find a way to make them, or at least yourself, smile. Show them how to rise above a nasty comment with a laugh and a grin. Show them how we, as adults, are able to stop taking ourselves so darn seriously all the time! With that being said, here is the affirmation this week:
I find ways to be funny and playful with my children. I welcome moments of unexpected silliness.
- Parent Affirmation Monday- Respect- 10/15/2012 (help4yourfamily.com)
- Teaching Children to Use Affirmations (help4yourfamily.com)
- Parent Affirmation Monday- Being a Learner 9/24/2012 (help4yourfamily.com)
written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
Most families have gone through, or will go through some type of unique life circumstances at some point. Some families seem to have nothing but unique life circumstances! Whether your child is adopted, was born via a surrogate, has an absent parent, has a parent with a life-threatening illness or drug addiction, an ill or unique sibling, or something else, it is important for them to have a narrative (story) to explain their experiences.
While it may seem commonplace to us, as adults, we can forget that children do not have the knowledge we do about certain life experiences, and, in case you have not noticed, they can be pretty self-centered folks. What happens when those two characteristics combine are some pretty interesting situations, like the mother who brought her daughter to me because she had been acting rotten to her sister in a way that was completely out of character for her. Upon further exploration, I came to learn that this child’s younger sister had recently been diagnosed with ADHD and my client (9 years-old) thought she might catch ADHD. She was irritated with her sister for getting it and bringing it into the house. If you think about it, it makes sense. My client saw her sister taking medicine, just like you have to when you are sick, and had most likely been told it was because her sister had ADHD. Why would a 9 year-old believe that ADHD is any different than the flu? Similarly, a child with say a drug or alcohol addicted parent will come up with a compelling story about the why’s of the way things are and, typically, it has to do with them doing something wrong or being bad.
To avoid misunderstandings for children when there are difficult and/or unique life circumstances, it is important to give them a good narrative to explain what has happened. To guide you in this endeavor, here are some tips for you as you create your narrative:
1. Tell the truth. While it may feel easier to tell kids that mommy is sick and she is going to get all better, if you don’t really know she is going to get better, don’t include that in what you say. Just like if you were taking your child to the doctor to get a shot, you would not want to tell them it’s not going to hurt at all (then you would be a liar), you want to say, “It’s going to pinch for a minute but then you will be fine.” If your child cannot trust you to tell them the truth, who can they trust?
2. Know the developmental age of your child. You want to make sure you are speaking at their developmental level or you will just sound like the adults from a Charlie Brown cartoon. Think of the words that you use and whether they are words your child will understand.
3. Keep your story as simple and to the point as possible. I am thinking of one mom in particular who wanted to explain to her daughter about being adopted from China. She found an opportunity while her child was playing to use dolls, and one of her son’s toy planes. The mom said to her daughter, “One day a lady had you in her tummy. She couldn’t take care of you so you went to live at the orphanage with other kids in China. Mommy and Daddy wanted to have a daughter. We went to China in the plane to find a daughter. We met you and we were so happy! We brought you home on the plane to live with us forever.” The little girl re-told the story, and asked her mom to retell the story many, many times. As she has gotten older, her mother has added more details at her daughters request however, starting this as a simple story, and telling it at a time when her daughter was open and attentive to hearing it was key.
4. Tell the story when it is a good time for your child. You know your child. Some kids listen best in the car. Some only listen when they have asked the question rather than you bringing up the subject. Others want to talk at bedtime or in the morning when they are fresh. Pick a time that works for your child.
5. Watch your tone of voice! Think matter-of-fact, not gloom and doom when you are talking to your child. They will take their cues about how to feel about this story from you, and if your tone suggests it is a horrible story or circumstance, then that is what they will believe about it.
6. Avoid harsh, shaming words for any of the people in the story. To be more specific, I have heard adoptive parents describe a birth parent as a “druggie” and a “loser.” Keep in mind that the people in this narrative may be very important to your child, and they may identify strongly with them. So, for example, in this instance rather than saying “druggie and loser” you might say, “Your birth mom was addicted to drugs when you were young and she made a lot of poor choices because of that.”
7. Include any evidence that points to it not being the child’s fault that people are sick, parents got divorced, they were adopted, abused, etc. and be sure to include any evidence that shows they are loved and lovable. Examples of this could be, “When parents have an addiction, it is never a child’s fault. Usually, it is a problem they had since before their child was born.” or, “Even though your birth mom was not able to take care of it’s clear she loved you because she wanted you to have the best opportunity to have a good life.”
8. Check in with your child after you have told them the story to see what they heard. Many times children will nod along then, when you ask them if they understand, they will say yes. I would encourage you to gently ask something like, “Can you tell me what you just heard me say?” For some kids you will need to tell them they are not required to say your words back verbatim, they only need to give you a summary (like a quick report at school) of what you just said. This is an important thing to do for two reasons: 1. Sometimes kids didn’t get what you said, or interpreted what you said differently than you thought. You can only correct this if you know it happened. 2. Sometimes as we ask children what we just said, we can realize that we just used a ton of words and we may need to edit this story for simplicity.
9. Keep the lines of communication open with your child after you have introduced the narrative to them. The kinds of issues I am talking about in the post typically are issues that last a lifetime and as such will need to be revisited multiple times throughout a child’s life and, while they will start simple when a child is young, they will grow in complexity as a child ages.
10. If there is something a child can do to help be clear about that, however, be careful that your child does not then take on that duty as a life or death responsibility. For example, telling a child who has a mother who has cancer that it one way she can help mom is to make sure she is helping around the house makes perfect sense. Remember, however, that children, even adolescents can have some of what we call magical thinking, and, whereas you and I get that not doing your chores will not make mom sicker, should mom get sicker, you are going to want to make sure your daughter knows it is not because she stopped doing the dishes and sassed her mother last week.
What are some circumstances you have had to explain to your children? How did it go?
- Teaching Children to Use Affirmations (help4yourfamily.com)
Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
All my regular readers know I am a fan of affirmations. I use them for parents all the time. I also find them to be very useful with children, especially for children who have a history of trauma or neglect. For these kids, and other children, teaching them the use of affirmations is another tool in their coping skills tool kit and can teach children who may never have learned to regulate their emotions a new way to self-soothe.
An affirmation is something you say to yourself. Positive thoughts affirm positive feelings. Negative thoughts affirm negative feelings. Both are affirmations. The trick is to decide what it is that you choose to affirm.
When teaching children about affirmations, I typically go through the following process.
1. I pick something a child is talking to me about that bothers them, say a friend who is being mean to them, and have them practice two different types of statements they might say to themselves about the friend while noticing how they feel after saying the statement a few times. For example, we might say, “She’s mad at me for no reason!” a few times. We talk about how the child’s body feels as she says that statement a few times. Then we try an alternate statement, “I have many friends who love me. I deserve loving friends.” We notice what happens in our bodies after saying this statement as well. I teach children that the statements we just learned are called affirmations.
2. I read children the book, “I Think, I Am!” by Louise Hayand Kristina Tracy to further introduce the concept of affirmations and show examples. I have never read this book to a child who did not love it and want their own copy.*
3. We practice together with creating affirmations and pick one or two for kids to work on that week.
Do’s and Don’ts for helping children create affirmations
1. One major pitfall I see parents fall into when they help children create affirmations happens when they place an expectation on a child that might not be realistic or does not align with the child’s goals. “I can get an A on that Math test!” is a surefire way for a child struggling in math to feel like affirmation’s fail. A more general, “I am always learning and growing.” works much better since it is true and does not lead to the argument, “But I’ll never get an A in math!”
2. Be careful about believing there is only one positive way for things to turn out. It may be best for this friendship to end. Not making the team may open up a child to a new experience with a different sport they never would have tried otherwise. You can avoid this mistake by gearing affirmations toward a positive belief system ( I like Louise Hay’s, “Everything is always working toward my greater good.” or “The universe (God, spirit) has wonderful plans in store for me.”) rather than a specific outcome.
3. Allow children to come up with affirmations that work for them. Keep it simple. I remember my daughter telling her nose, “I’m ready to be healthy now.” when she was four. That was a message she wanted to give her body and she got better the next day. I do not mean to minimize any illness, but I do want to highlight that by telling our bodies what we want, we are programming them. Think of the difference between saying, “I’m fighting a cold.” and “I’m returning to health.” One tells your body to fight, the other tells your body to return to its natural, healthy state. If you do not believe that your body responds to your thoughts, I like Cheryl Richardson’s way of saying explaining this. She asks whether you have ever had a sexual fantasy and noticed a difference in your body. Hmmm? The more we research this, the more we learn about the connection between thoughts and physical health. Still don’t believe me? You might want to read this article from the Mayo Clinic.
4. Use affirmations yourself! When kids see you use them, they follow suit, it’s as simple as that. You know there are times when you hear your words come out of your children’s mouths. Sometimes it feels good to hear it, sometimes it’s not so good. Using affirmations yourself gives you more of the good ones.
5. Beware of glossing over negative feelings. Affirmations help us to see the positive in negative situations, but that does not mean that we pretend there are no negative feelings involved. It is important to still acknowledge the negative feelings i.e. “I’m disappointed I didn’t make the team!” but to then use affirmations to chose a way to self-soothe by choosing what you are going to believe about not making the team. “I’m disappointed I didn’t make the team, but I know I can still find other ways to have fun.”
Have you used affirmations with your children? What’s your favorite affirmation to use with your child?
*If you want your own copy, you can easily purchase this book by clicking on the Amazon widgets link at the top right on my webpage. Please see the disclaimer page before doing so.
- This is your brain on attachment
- Last Chance for Two Great Opportunities
- Mother’s Retreat Weekend- It’s Really Happening!
- Stopping the Parent Shame and Blame Game
- Making Peace With Your Inner Critic
- Putting together something fun for you!
- Quick Jobs for Kids
- Staying Strong as a Couple
- Letting Go of the Parent You Thought You Would Be
- Add a Little Awe to Your Life
- Upcoming Trainings
- Older Kids with Bathroom Issues: Why Does it Happen? How Can You Help? Part 2