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Create the family you want to have

6 Tips for Connecting with Your Teenager

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Now that my children are in their teens, and I’m working with and talking to many parents of teens, I get asked a lot about how to connect with teenagers. While children growing up and building their own social networks is part of the normal developmental process, it can be hard when your once talkative, open, elementary-aged child begins to spend more and more time in their room, talking to friends, and we begin to feel like we are losing them to devices. Harder still is when you are parenting a child with trauma or abuse that you may not have had much connecting time with before they began the transformation into adolescence.

Fear not parents! Adolescence, while a challenging new time for you and your teenager, can also be a wonderful time of growth and new connections for you both. Even if you have had a rocky path thus far, it is not too late. Our latest scientific understanding about adolescence is that it is an excellent time to build new understandings about relationships and parents still have a very important role to play in this process. To that effect, here are a few ways you can build your connections with your teenager when the old ways don’t seem to work so well anymore.

1. Always remember, you are part of their team. Teens and parents can quickly fall into an us vs. them mentality. This does not have to be the case! After all, why are you trying to play detective to figure out their social media activity? Well, to make sure they are safe of course! Instead of “I caught you doing something you weren’t allowed to do!” consider addressing the issue from a place of concern. “I’m worried about the choices you’re making. You deserve to be safe from people that could be out to harm you and sharing personal information with someone you met online could make you vulnerable.”

This does not mean there are no consequences for breaking a rule. In the above example, it would make sense to follow up with, “I’m going to hold on to your phone until we have re-established the trust between us.” In essence, the message goes from the traditional “caught you being bad or sneaky” to “I know you slipped up and I’m going to be part of your team to help you make better choices.” In a “caught you being bad” scenario, it is easy for a youth to get side-tracked into being resentful about the consequence rather than thinking about what caused the consequence in the first place. I the “caught you” method is one you have been using, expect it to take some time before your child starts to see you as part of their team as they may have you pegged as the punisher.        

2. Be real. Adolescence is when we figure out our parents are not perfect. We already knew this about ourselves and it is time to own it! The more real you are about your imperfections (no I don’t mean your hips are too big, think character flaws like being a perfectionist, or messy) the more teens can talk to you about theirs. Own up to things you’d like to work on in yourself and invite conversations about this from your kids too. An example in my family is when I was reading the book “Smart but Scattered.” One of my kids asked about it and the whole family ended up sitting around and taking the executive functioning quizzes together at the start of the book and laughing about who had what things they do well or need help with. We then had a light-hearted conversation about what we would like to work on. These conversations can be fun! Even when it’s not light-hearted, it is important to be real. We teach people how to treat us, mostly by how we treat them. If your child accuses you of an attitude and you realize you actually had one, admit it! You will earn their respect for admitting it and pave the way for them to admit it when they have one as well.  In turn, expect them to reciprocate in relationships and be real with them if you think they are not. Frank conversations, without shaming them, will help their brain develop the understandings of what it takes to be in a reciprocal relationship.

3. Allow do-overs. Have you ever said something and immediately wished you could take it back? Have you ever had your intentions misunderstood? Of course you have! Teens are no different. In fact, they are developing the part of their brains that help them learn to reflect on their behaviors. It is our job as parents to help them reflect on their behaviors, not our responses. If we come at them with the attitude we think they have, even if they didn’t intend for it to come out that way, we will definitely get attitude back. A simple, “Are you asking for my help?” in response to a demand can give your adolescent a moment to think. If they say they are asking, give them a chance and say, “Can you ask me nicely? I’d love to help if I can.” While it may seem to go against what we have been taught, I know it certainly was for me, remember- your goal was for you to have them ask you nicely in the first place. If we give them space to do this, doesn’t that meet the goal you were seeking while keeping the two of you a team? Some quick and easy ways to signal the opportunity for a do-over for your teen (said with a playful smile if at all possible): Try it again nicely and you’ll get a better answer!  Are you asking or telling? I’d love to say yes- help me out. I know you can ask nicer than that, show me! Do this helps to avoid the shut down in conversations that can come with a more traditional approach where parents might respond to a demanding tone with an equally demanding tone to address it leading to anger and, again, a child who is focused on a parents response, rather than their actions.

4. Be the coach not the warden. Dr. Karyn Purvis, the mother of Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) tells us to be the coach not the warden of our teens. After all, the major brain development that is happening for our teens is the development of the frontal lobe, our problem-solving, time managing, multi-step process, self-reflective powerhouse. In order to build this part of our brains we need a lot of opportunities to reflect on what we would have done differently, problem-solve, mess up time management and multi-step processes so we can learn differently next time, etc. In order to do this we have to have a lot of trial and error along the way and MANY things to reflect upon. The best way parents can help to develop this frontal lobe is by coaching your child through it whenever possible rather than punishing for mistakes. Punishing stops the conversation, while coaching is a teaching moment.

Think of your best coaches. When I think of my best coaches, they often had their arm around my shoulders giving me ideas of how I could do it better next time, not taking something away or threatening me. Remember, the best coaches don’t go out on the field and do it for you, they give tips and pointers, they are happy for you when you succeed and, with care, they help you figure out what went wrong. I want to please my coach, while, if I had a warden, my focus would be more on staying out of trouble which would be more likely to mean deceiving them than actually sharing my struggles.

5. Be Playful. Teens and parents alike come into my office bewildered by the massive changes that can happen to a family in the span of just a couple of years. Kids get to high school and parents see how little time we actually have left to teach our children what they need to know to go out in the world just as we begin to see them less and less! It can be easy to forget that some of the same playfulness we had when they were younger is still important. Instead, we find ourselves directing them about what to do or feeling like we only have ten minutes so we better cram in some important knowledge or life skill. In studies about learning, one thing that is clear and that is that learning happens through play.

Playfulness with a teenager looks different (sometimes) than playfulness with a younger child, but it is still vital for keeping connections strong. It really does not take much time to do this and, by being playful, which can be as simple as keeping a lighter tone while talking to them, when it is important to talk about grades or to coach them through one of the harder lessons, you will have a stronger foundation which will make them more open to taking in what you have to say. Playfulness is especially important with a child with a traumatic history as it disarms the fight, flight, freeze, appease part of the brain that is more easily triggered even in teens without a history of trauma.  Dad jokes, sharing silly memes, playing cards or having a little friendly family competition to see who gets to decide where you get pizza from next time you order out are all great ways to keep playfulness in your life with a teenager. Don’t be put off by the rolling of their eyes when you do it.

6. Remember the main goal. In the end, what is our goal? I know mine is to raise adults who can take care of themselves, contribute to reciprocal relationships and seek help appropriately when needed. I want my kids to look at me and see they have a supporter but not an enabler who is friendly but not a friend. I want them to remember their mom had their backs, even if having their backs means helping them to see the ways they could have done things differently.

In the end, we want to stay connected with our adolescents and this is our chance to start building the relationship we would like to continue with them into adulthood. One where they can call you when they need guidance and find that what you have to say is helpful and meaningful. We all want our kids to know we have their backs!

What is discussed in this post gives a long-term view of what we need to do to be connected to our teens, look for my next post with ideas about how to do this on a day to day, practical basis with ideas for activities and check ins that can work with your adolescent!

Share how you connect with your teens, or your challenges in the comments…

April 11, 2019 Posted by | adolescence, attachment, child development, development, discipline, family, help for parents, Help for struggling parents, Parenting, teens, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Updates and New Content on the Way

A Quick Post to Say Hello 

Some of you may have noticed this blog has not been updated for the past five years! Where have I been? Well, honing my skills of course! In addition to working as a Training Manager and Supervisor for a Therapeutic Foster Care agency, and building new trainings for parents and mental health providers, while still seeing clients at my practice, I’ve been raising my own children who are now both teenagers! It is with the urging of my teens, that I have decided to start back up with writing and I look forward to bringing you more content. Let me know you are here and what you would like to learn more about! Stay tuned! 

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March 26, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Making Peace With Your Inner Critic

help4yourfamily

written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

motherhood

Today’s post is about making peace with your inner critic. You know, that little voice inside that says meaner things to you than you would ever say to anyone else. That voice that immobilizes you sometimes into inaction, emotional instability and self-doubt.

First lets lay the framework to help think about this issue from a different angle than you may be used to. Think about when you go to a restaurant. If it is a restaurant you have never been to, what do you do? Maybe take a peek at the menu? Ask your friend or a server what they recommend? Think about the multitude of internal suggestions that can come up just from looking at a menu. First you might ask yourself what you are in the mood for. Then you might look at the prices and have a conversation with yourself about that…

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May 20, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why Sexual Abuse is Never a Child’s Fault…Not Even a Teenager

written by, Kate Oliver, LCSW-C

English: Join the movement to end child abuse:...

English: Join the movement to end child abuse: http://www.1stand.org (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The news was atwitter this past week with the story of the judge, who has since apologized, sort of, for stating that the 14-year-old girl, Cherice Moralez, who killed herself after her teacher molested her was “older than her chronological age” and that “It’s not probably the kind of rape most people think about,”… “It was not a violent, forcible, beat-the-victim rape, like you see in the movies. But it was nonetheless a rape. It was a troubled young girl, and he was a teacher. And this should not have occurred.” (cnn.com) I do not know this case, or this girl. I am not going to comment on this family’s pain other than to try to use their situation to create better understanding of all children who have experienced sexual abuse.

I have worked with people who have been molested for quite a while now and while many people know the company line is to say that it is never the victim’s fault, I do find that as adults it can be difficult to understand why we say that. It is true that 2 out of 3 teen victims know their abusers. In cases where a child knows his or her abuser, it is much more often the case that a child or teen was tricked into performing sexual acts rather than, as this judge envisioned a “forcible attack.”

Child abuse is difficult to think about, so many of us, when given the option, simply choose not to. It is not until we have someone close to us that is affected that we begin to examine our own underlying belief about abuse. I am glad when adults share what they really believe about their child’s abuse with me so that we can address the questions about whether a child participated in his or her own molestation, rather than continuing to hold onto a belief that a child might have done so, a belief that can unknowingly be conveyed to the child through actions, body language and words. In this article, I would like to address some of the questions that survivors and parents of survivors have brought to me over the years which may be difficult to answer unless you have had some time to reflect upon it:

Why didn’t the child tell anyone that he/she was being abused? Doesn’t that mean she/he might have wanted it?”

Children do not tell about abuse for a variety of reasons. Most often an abuser is someone known to the child. The abuser often tells the child that they (the child and the abuser) will be in BIG trouble if the child tells anyone. Abusers are often very good about convincing children they are participating in the wrongful behavior, even when a child says they do not want to. Sometimes an abuser suggests or threatens that if a child tells they will be removed from their home, the abuser will be fired and will not be able to take care of his family, no one will believe the child didn’t want it, that the child misinterpreted the abusers actions, and on and on. It is not difficult to convince children, even teenagers, that they are in control of whether the abuser is in trouble or not. It is a normal part of development to believe that the world in some senses revolves around us so, when an abuser presents the case that his or her world, as well as the child’s parents world and even other relatives,  revolves around the teens choice to tell or keep quiet, it becomes easier to understand how a child, even a teen, especially a teen would keep quiet. Should a teen figure out he or she has been tricked, the shame of feeling tricked can keep them quiet as well.

Yes, but my child was a teenager when this happened, he/she should have known better.”

This is probably the most common issue I hear from parents, family and friends of teens, and even the teen themselves who are abused by adult caregivers. It can be difficult to understand how teenagers who have learned about abuse, and whose parents have told them since childhood to tell if someone is abusing them would still keep from telling. I have even had adolescents who have tried to convince me that they were a party to their own abuse and that they are guilty of participating. I understand how teens and their parents can feel this way and when they do here is what I say. “Think about you two years ago. Were you different?” If you take a moment to think about the difference between a fourteen and sixteen year old, anyone who has had a child either of those ages knows there is a difference. A sixteen year old will absolutely tell you they are different from how they were two years ago, they have different friends, they know more, they have different interests or have increased their skill in an ongoing interest. Then I ask, “Do you think in two years you might be different from the way you are now? If so, what will the differences be?” Of course we all know we will be different in two years. We will have two more years worth of experience and information. We will have two more years of practicing independence, understanding relationships, etc. Last, I point out the difference in age between the abused and the abuser, say it’s fifteen years and say, “So this person had fifteen more years than you to figure out the stuff you are figuring out now. They had fifteen years more experience in relationships and getting what you want in relationships. They had fifteen more years to figure out how to talk someone into giving them what they wanted. Oh yeah, and how many serious relationships have you had?” What people often fail to realize is that for the child, this is their very first introduction to sexual relationships and they are simply outmatched by someone who has honed their skills of manipulation to lure the child into believing that they are on even cognitive ground and therefore in an equal relationship. This cannot possibly be the case when you think about it. While some teens are very good at acting mature and responsible, they do not yet have the ability to determine who is and isn’t trying to trick them and they cannot possibly have the understanding of adult relationships that only comes with experience.

“She/he always seemed older in a sexual way.”

Yes, I hear this one too and my response to this is simple…how does a child come to seem older in a sexual way in the first place? Often it does not take much looking to see why this might seem true. Is this a child that was previously sexualized by another abuser? Is this a child that has been taught that her (could be a he but I find this argument most often to be about girls) looks and looking sexual is something that is rewarded in her family? Has this child been exposed to a lot of media that encourages young girls to act in sexual ways? Does this child live in a family where you do not get noticed unless you are acting out making it easier for her to get tricked by someone who treats her special? Were these circumstances also the child’s fault, or do these circumstances explain the ways in which this child was made into a target for a predator? Just because a child has learned to act in a certain way, or dress in a certain way, it does not mean that the child has the same cognitive abilities of an adult. It does however, give manipulative abusers a heads up that they are an easier target.

While we don’t like to think about these things, it is important before we make a statement that impacts an average of 1/3 of the people in the room, that we take the time to arm ourselves with knowledge. Yes, approximately 28% of the population in the United States will be sexually victimized by the age of 17. Knowledge is power and if you want more knowledge, try some of these links:

If you want to learn more about protecting your child from abuse try my posts:

It’s Not Just Strangers: Protecting Young Children From Abuse Part I

It’s Not Just Strangers: Spotting Potential Abusers Part II

Teaching Young Children about Stranger Danger

And, if you believe anyone you know is suicidal like Cherice Moralez, please look up my posts:

Suicide Prevention: Determining if Someone is Suicidal

5 Steps to Take if Someone is Suicidal

September 1, 2013 Posted by | child development, children, counseling, family, help for parents, keeping children safe, kids, mental health, parent support/ self improvement, Parenting, psychology, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

This is your brain on attachment

The Brain Limbic System

The Brain Limbic System (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the years, I have come to learn that the cure for any kind of burnout, life burnout, work burnout, parenting burnout is two-fold. One part is incorporating self-care into your everyday routine so that it is no longer a question of whether you have time for it, it is just something you do, just like you get dressed in the morning. The second part of burnout prevention and or recovery is training and education. Often we feel burnt out because we feel ineffective at what we do, we wonder if we are doing our job, whether it be our job as parents, as part of a couple, as part of our employment or something else, well.

Recently I was able to have a few days of burnout prevention when I went to two wonderful continuing education workshops as well as taught my own full day training to other professionals, and, every teacher knows, when you are teaching, you are also learning. It’s always with very cautious optimism that I enter a training day, especially with someone I have never learned from and even more so when it has to do with something I find incredibly intimidating…brain functioning. I’ve always hoped just to be able to send healing messages to the subconsious rather than figure out the in’s and out’s of the ways the brain works. It turns out though that with the right teachers this stuff is actually pretty fascinating and even someone who shys away from science can learn a lot. What I learned was the reasons why much of what we do in working with building secure attachments between parents and children is so important to overall healthy brain functioning and just how much children have to teach us about the ways we learn and grow best. In my two trainings, the first with Terry Levy and Mark Owen from the Evergreen Clinic in Colorado, I learned about healing adult attachment related issues. In the second training, with Daniel Hughes and John Baylin, I learned about using our knowledge of brain functioning to help children with early insecure attachment styles. And now, I’m going to share some of what they taught me with you. By no means am I giving you all the information these guys taught me and I would highly recommend you see them should they come to your town. They all do trainings for both professionals and for parents.

Don’t Flip Your Lid!

Hold your hand in front of you with your thumb tucked in

Curl your fingers down around your thumb.

You are looking at a rough replica of your brain. There are three basic parts: 1. The back of your hand to your wrist represents your brain stem, which is responsible mainly for your body’s basic functioning (breathing, circulation, etc.); 2. Your thumb, tucked there in the middle, represents your limbic system. I think of your limbic system as your “first responders.” If you have heard of people in the midst of a crisis or threat having a fight, flight or freeze reaction, this is coming from your limbic system. Your limbic system takes in and interprets information way faster than any other part of your brain and it does not, for example, think first then shoot later, it sees danger and responds to get you out of danger quickly. 3. Your fingers represent your frontal lobe. They are the part of the brain that develops last and give us the ability to reflect on our actions, make more complicated, thoughtful decisions and maintain self control. This part of the brain is still developing well into our twenties.

Obviously I have made this brain thing about as basic as it gets. If you would like a longer lesson, click here and watch Dan Seigal, neuroscientist extraordinaire explain it in more detail.

Now, if you still have your fingers curled around your thumb I want you to lift them up again, we’ll call your finger your “lid.” John Baylin taught us that in large part as children much of our growing up process involves learning not to “flip your lid” or, in other words, not to allow our limbic system to work in a state of constant response, but rather to keep our “lid” intact, using our frontal lobe to think in more complex ways and to reflect upon what we did, are doing and would like to do. This job is a task we all must work on and we certainly know (or are) adults that flip that lid quite a bit when presented with a stresser. The problem is that once our lid is flipped, we have to figure out how to put it back on, this is how we develop strong coping and problem solving skills.

Stay tuned for more posts explaining about the ways in which our brains function and how to help children with attachment disorders that have caused delayed brain development to rework those neural passage ways and literally rewrite your child’s attachment script.

Related Posts:

May 13, 2013 Posted by | attachment, child development, children, family, help for parents, parent support/ self improvement, Parenting, psychology, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Last Chance for Two Great Opportunities

I just wanted to send out a quick reminder that this weekend is the last chance to sign up for two great opportunities. One is the chance to participate in the first Mother’s Weekend Retreat. Saturday is the last day to register! Here is the information:

Moms Renewal Retreat 2013

The second is for mental health professionals to participate this coming Monday in a Continuing Education training where you will have a chance to learn about the importance of attachment and how to help clients who have developed an unhealthy attachment pattern. You can find the information for this training on this website. or by going to www.lisaferentz.com.

Please let me know if you have questions about either activity.

Thank you!

Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

April 25, 2013 Posted by | attachment, attachment disorder, counseling, family, Groups/ trainings, help for parents, mental health, parent support/ self improvement, Parenting, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mother’s Retreat Weekend- It’s Really Happening!

I am very excited to share the announcement of my first Mother’s Retreat Weekend  co-facilitated by me and Sharon Fuller, owner of The Attachment Place, especially for adoptive and foster mom’s with children with attachment related issues. If I am talking about you, please think about giving yourself the gift of 24 hours with other mom’s who can relate to what you are going through. If I am describing your wife or partner, this would be a perfect Mother’s Day gift! For more information, click the link below. We have a very limited number of people we can accommodate so please do not delay and sign up today! Feel free to contact me for more info or to sign up.

For mom’s that do not fit into this category, don’t worry, I’ve got something in the works for you too…

Below is a description of the retreat and beneath that is a link to the full announcement. I hope to see you there.

Ladies, give yourself a gift this Mother’s Day weekend. Join us for a time of renewal for your mind, body, and spirit. This retreat has been created with you in mind. It is just for mothers of adopted, and/or foster children, with attachment related issues. Come join a small group of women who are looking to practice some self-care techniques, learn about healthy food choices for themselves and their children, add a few new tools to their parenting toolkit, and meet other mothers who are dealing with the same issues you are. Learn about how to keep yourself from being triggered by your child(ren), who are experts at pushing your buttons. Revisit and adjust your parenting goals in light of what you learn, and leave feeling refreshed, and better equipped to parent your child with attachment challenges.

When: Friday, May 10, 2013, 4:00 PM – Saturday, May 11, 2013, 4:00 PM Where: The Attachment Place, LLC, located in Lothian, MD Cost: $375 per person, which includes your room, all food, including a gourmet meal, and materials. A massage therapist will be available on-site for an additional charge, if there is enough interest. Space is limited, so sign up today! A deposit of approximately one half of the cost ($188.00) is due by April 27, 2013. Pay via credit card or check. A convenience fee of 3% will be added to each credit card payment. Make checks payable to The Attachment Place, LLC. For our mailing address, please visit our website at: www.theattachmentplace.com

Moms Renewal Retreat 2013 (1)

April 16, 2013 Posted by | attachment disorder, children, family, help for parents, parent support/ self improvement, Parenting, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

   

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