written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
One super amazing thing about my job is that I get to see and learn so much from the parents that I work with. Even before my own children reach a particular age or stage, I have acquired knowledge about the issues that come with a particular time in a child’s life. Over the years I have amassed a wonderful body of learning which has helped me enormously in my own practice as well as with my own children. I feel blessed to have found the job that I have and from time to time, I would like to share some of the tips and understandings that I have come to which have created happier moments for me as a parent and for the parents I have worked with.
Tip number 1 is:
Give your child room to take ownership of their own responsibilities and accomplishments.
Here is a situation I am sure many of us can relate to:
It is time for school. You steel yourself for the daily battle of shoes, coats, and getting to the bus on time. Won’t your children ever learn how to tell time? Don’t they understand that the bus waits for no child and that you have to get to work on time? Within the first month of school you find yourself in the daily cycle of first gently reminding your children of the next step in the morning routine, then, getting firmer with your voice and using your best “I’m serious” tone to get them closer to the door, until you finally get tired of the games the children are playing and either start yelling or start resentfully doing activities they are more than capable of doing had they just managed their time in the ways you suggested.
This is an example of you caring more about your child getting to school than they do. And, really, if you are going to do something and take pride in it, you have to care. As adults we can see this when we go to a store with poor customer service. It is clear that the employees do not take ownership or pride in the running of the store most likely because they have not taken on the understanding that the quality of customer services reflects on them as well as the owners.
Of course it is important to remember your child’s age and developmental stage. For the example of going to school on time a kindergartener, will need much more help than a freshman in high school to get out the door. Also, if asked to in a respectful way, I am all for parents helping children in the morning just as you would want them to help you if you were running late as long as it is not a daily expectation.To illustrate ways you can help your child become more self-motivated rather than allowing you to carry all of the responsibility, you could say any of the following statements that you think would work for your child in a loving way that may cause your child to pause, think and re-prioritize. In the following suggestions I am focusing on elementary school, but they can work well for middle and high school as well although you can expect some verbal push-back.
- I’m not going to work harder to get you to school than you do anymore. You know what time you need to leave. It is up to you to get to the bus on time.
- I wonder what else you have to do to get ready for school? (they know the routine already, they have just been allowing you to do all the thinking for them thus far).
- If we are late, I hope I’m not asked to write a note to excuse you because I won’t be able to do that without telling them why. (You can feel free to fill in the blanks here: Suzie didn’t feel like getting out of bed, taking her shower, etc.) If your child is late after you say this you cannot write an excuse note and you must allow for an unexcused tardy. Otherwise they will know you care more about it than they do.
- I have had several parents who absolutely needed to get kids on the bus on time for work reasons in the morning who told the school that they were going to send their child in pajamas if they refused to get ready in the morning. These parents would pack an outfit for the child to put on at school. (hint: do not pack your child’s favorite clothes)
- If you end up driving a child to school, you can have them pay you back for your time later by saying, “I had to use my time to fix your mistake this morning. You owe me the ten minutes it took me to take you to school. Now I need you to….”
- Don’t forget that when a child has gotten themselves out the door on time, you want to point it out and ask them if they are happy with themselves. Reinforce the good feeling your child has about being on time and point out that there was no yelling, arguing or fussing.
While I know that everything can not be turned so that you help your child find their own initiative for making good decisions (I find it difficult to get children to understand that it benefits them to go to bed on time, for example), there are many times that I see parents, and I include myself in this group, taking on the emotional work for children. Many responsibility issues that cause conflict in families can be eased into in this way, grades, chores, clean rooms, curfews. Sometimes in the process of making our child’s life easier by doing things for them, we can forget that we may also be depriving them of important lessons about taking responsibility for themselves, and learning to manage success and learning opportunities with dignity and a forgiving heart. By stepping back and remembering why we care in the first place, we can realign our own priorities as parents. Ultimately, we want our children to do the things we ask because we love them and we want to learn responsibility etc. so they can have a happier adult life. The best way to do this is to help children see the ways in which taking responsibility is helpful to them, rather than telling them it is important.
What is something you could use help getting your child to take more responsibility for?
written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
This is the time of year when, like many clinicians, I see a spike in the number of people calling for first time appointments. One of the reasons for this is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD can impact both adults and children.
At it’s core, SAD is a kind of depression that occurs at a certain time of year. If you have ever heard people talk about the “winter blues,” they are typically referring to SAD. Two issues I see which keep people from seeking treatment for SAD is that they worry about being put on medication, and that they have normalized feeling blue at this time of year. If this is you, please allow me to educate you about some of your easy, quick, medication-free options that you might want to try.
1. In the United States, there is an epidemic of people who have lower than optimal Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is that essential nutrient we get from the sun that, among other benefits, helps us to regulate our moods. As people spend more time indoors, and get better about using sunblock and covering their skin in the sun, we also end up getting less Vitamin D in our system which impacts our mood. We are more prone to this in the winter months. Your Vitamin D level is a quick and easy thing to test. If you have a regular doctor, you can contact them and ask them to test you for your Vitamin D levels. If you do not have a doctor, there are in-home kits you can order off the internet.
2. Talk to your physician about a sun lamp. These are special lamps that produce light which mimics the sun and, for people impacted by a change in the seasons, they also help to even out your moods. You can even purchase them inexpensively online.
3. Take fish oil. Iceland, a nation where people experience shorter days and longer periods of darkness has one of the lowest levels of depression anywhere, why? The eat fish like it’s candy around there! Okay, maybe not like candy, but they do eat a lot of fish and fish oil specifically has been linked to reducing depression. Obviously, you want to check with your doctor before starting this, especially if you have any seafood allergies or if you have any blood related issues especially as fish oil can change the clotting of your blood.
4. Try therapy. You might not have SAD. Just because you experience depression around this time of year it does not necessarily mean you have SAD. I see many people who, around the anniversary of a specific trauma, experience some symptoms consistent with depression. If you have a loved one that passed away this time of year, you might be missing them more. Even if they didn’t pass away this time of year, if you have specific memories linked to this time of year (this happens a lot around holidays), you might be sad thinking about them. Death is not the only trigger, perhaps you experienced the loss of a job, a relationship, or something else around this time of year. If you have not resolved those losses to the point of acceptance, you may just be getting triggered to remember that particular feeling and your brain is giving you a chance to resolve the issue now. I find that seeing a good therapist is essential in this process and that some people who have told me they have SAD have actually, via therapy, addressed and resolved old issues that pop up around this time of year making it so that they did not experience SAD the following year.
For more about Seasonal Affective Disorder from the experts, please check out the link below from Everyday Health.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder Awareness Month (everydayhealth.com)
- How to Know When You or Your Child Need a Therapist (help4yourfamily.com)
- Finding the Right Therapist for You and Your Family (help4yourfamily.com)
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
Over the years, I have talked to many, many parents, partners, and spouses about what to do if you think someone you love might be suicidal. There are really two parts to figuring out about suicide, 1. determining whether someone is indeed suicidal, and 2. if the person is suicidal, figuring out the level of risk and making sure they are safe. I am going to tackle one section a week so stay tuned for next weeks post. I want to state at the beginning of this post that, of course, my advice here is general and should not be substituted for individualized mental health advice. If you absolutely know someone is suicidal, please take them to the nearest emergency room or contact your local mental health hotline. And, if you are reading this post because you have someone you are concerned about, even if they are not suicidal, please do your best to encourage and support them in seeking therapy as soon as possible. There are mental health services available to many in the United States even if you are under-insured or are not able to afford counseling.
Determining whether someone is suicidal
There are times when you absolutely know someone is suicidal, either you found a note, they told you they were, you find them in the process of attempting, etc. But other times it can be more difficult. Sometimes parents tell me they think their adolescent is saying they want to die in order to get attention. If this is happening, please stop for a moment to think how desperate you have to feel about getting attention in order to say this. I want to make sure that you know that, even with young children, any indication that someone is suicidal needs to be taken seriously. Even if you think they are trying to get attention, don’t you think it would be a good idea to give them some if things have gotten this extreme? I’ve actually come to know of quite a few people via the work that I do who have tried to “get attention” by attempting suicide in the hopes that someone would notice them. I wonder how many suicides are just that, someone thinking they are doing something to get attention but they actually end up dying. Pay attention! Here is what I recommend to all parents who tell me that their child is saying they are going to kill themselves for attention. Tell them you need to take any statement like that seriously and ask if they are serious. If they say that they are, take them to the hospital. Here’s the thing, I know you might say to yourself, “I don’t want to waste the time of the hospital personnel” or, “This kid is trying to waste my time.” Take them to the hospital. Tell them you love them and that you have to take this threat seriously. Sit with them for the hours it takes to be seen. If they are not suicidal, they will be so bored and so over it that by the time you have finished with it, they will never want to have to do that again. You will have nipped a nasty reaction in the bud. The alternative when you take them to the hospital is finding out that they were, in fact, serious and you took them right where they needed to be anyway.
Here’s the thing about the hospital. They are busy. They don’t want to take your child, your friend, spouse, etc. unless they think they need to. Just like they are not looking to keep people for any extra time after surgery, they are not looking to take in people who do not actually need to be there, so please do not worry, the person you take will not be admitted unless they need to be, in which case, you did the right thing.
Other times, you may have someone who you care about who you fear may be suicidal and not telling. Maybe they have had a series of unfortunate circumstances or are having a mental health issue, like a depressive episode. Here are some warning signs that a person is more likely to consider suicide as an option:
- They have had recent loss such as a death in the family, ending of a significant relationship or loss of a job.
- They have a history of depression. Depression is characterized in adolescents differently than it is in adults. Adults tend to have a loss of interest in their usual activities, difficulty attending to tasks, a sense of hopelessness. In children and adolescents, depression more often manifests as irritability and anger.
- They have friends or family members who have committed suicide.
- They have mentioned, even just in passing, that they should just kill themselves, or that they wish they could die. Sometimes they may talk about everyone being better off without them.
- They suddenly begin giving away important items you would not expect them to give away and seem to be suddenly peaceful after a period of difficulty.
- They begin to isolate themselves from friends and family members.
- They have increased alcohol or drug use and/or impulsive or reckless behaviors.
- They have previously attempted suicide in the past.
If you notice any of these symptoms, please take these next steps to ensure that your loved one is safe. Better safe than sorry, as they say. It is especially true in this case.
Stay tuned, next week I will write about what to do to support someone if you fear they are suicidal. In the meantime, here are a few resources.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
How to Know When You or Your Child Need a Therapist (help4yourfamily.com)
- Suicide Prevention: Determining if Someone is Suicidal (help4yourfamily.com)
Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
Based on a question I had from my parent affirmation about breathing last week, and because I teach people the mechanics of breathing several times a week, I decided to take a moment to really break this breathing thing down for everyone. Breathing is the first step in getting connected to our bodies and what our body is telling us. Before you think that you already know how to breathe, take a moment to ask yourself whether there were any times in the last week where you noticed you had been hungry and meaning to eat for several hours but did not get around to it. Or, alternately, did you find yourself mindlessly eating away at your child’s leftovers as you were doing the dishes? Maybe you realized you needed to go to the bathroom and just did not give yourself the time to take a quick break. If you did any of those, that indicates is that you, like most everyone else, have learned the art of neglecting your body. You or your child may have especially mastered this art if either of you has a history of abuse or neglect. In order to survive ongoing childhood trauma, people tend to cope by overriding their body’s system for communicating in order to survive the abuse. Anyone with a history of neglect, never learned to listen to their body in the first place. After all, babies learn to continue voicing discomfort because when they do someone responds with caring and, typically, an explanation. It usually sounds like, “Awww, what’s the matter? Are you hungry? Is your diaper wet?” Even before we understand this, we get the message that what we feel matters and that listening to our bodies is important. The attachment disturbed children I see have unlearned this lesson to the point that most of them have an issue with bed or daytime wetting, or soiling. They have learned to take on the neglect that was dealt to them in early childhood. The first step to getting reconnected to your body is paying attention to your breath.
Even if you do not have a history of trauma or neglect, I would argue that the vast majority of us have seen the art of listening to our bodies become devalued over the course of our lives. We are encouraged to “push through” pain, to “get over” discomfort, and to wait or delay gratification. These values all have their place. I’m certain Olympic athletes, world leaders, and good parents are required to do all of these things to one degree or another. Still, taking time to check in with the body that supports your ability to selectively push through, delay gratification, etc. is only fair, and in that spirit, I would like to teach you the art of breathing, which you may have forgotten since infancy.
In a recent training I went to with Pat Ogden, a well-known expert in somatic (body) psychotherapy, she said that our bodies predict what our brains think is going to happen next. Think about that for a moment. What does a child standing like this think is going to happen next?
How about these children?
Our breath predicts what we think is going to happen next as well. In fact, it gives our body a message about preparing for the next step. To get connected to your breathing, take a moment, without trying to change anything, to pay attention to your breathing. Which part of your body moves when you breathe? Is it your chest? Your shoulders? Your tummy? Your ribs? Most of the traumatized children I see are breathing from their shoulders. Whether or not you were breathing from your shoulders, take a moment to try it. How does it feel? When I say breathing from your shoulders, I mean that when you take the breath in, your shoulders rise. Some might also say it is breathing into your chest. You feel your chest expand, and your shoulders rise. Try that for a moment and see what emotions come up.
Now try this. When you breathe in, think about breathing all the way to your belly. In fact, put one or both hands on your belly. When you breathe in, think of filling your belly with air, like a balloon. When you breathe out, think of letting the air out of the balloon. This may feel awkward and take a moment if you are not used to it. Breathe in, fill the balloon. Breathe out, let the air out of the balloon. You may also feel your ribs expand a bit when you breathe this way. How do you feel now?
Why does the way you breathe matter? Just as the way you hold your body predicts the future, so does the way you breathe. When people breathe from their shoulders, it sends a signal to your body much closer to a fight/flight or freeze reaction. Think of how you would take in a breath just before a car hits your car, or how you breathe when you just went for a strenuous run. You breathe to your chest or shoulders. Your body is working hard to protect you at those times. Now think of how you breathe just before you are going to drift off to sleep. Or, if you have one handy, watch a relaxed baby. You will notice the breaths are belly/ rib cage breaths as opposed to shoulder/chest breaths. This signals to your body that you are calm, and that there is nothing to fear.
The first step to training your body into understanding that it is not under siege is paying attention to your breath. I teach my clients to do it. I encourage you to do it. I encourage you to teach your children to do it if you see they are struggling. I find simply noticing that a child needs to try a new way of breathing can help to ease anxiety. I introduce it by saying something like, “Can we try something?”or “I’m curious about something. Can we do an experiment?” Then I ask them to play around with their breathing, the same way I asked you to. It often changes the feelings in the room from tense to more relaxed. If the mood goes back to tense, I simply notice it out loud, “Wow, look, as soon as we started talking about that your breathing went back to the old way. What happened?” It gives me the opportunity to help a child or adult explore the feelings that go with the breathing and to teach a way to disconnect from the old intensity of the emotion that goes along with whatever they are remembering or anticipating.
Have you tried this exercise? How has it worked for you?
Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
It’s the middle of the summer. Schedules are out of whack and ever-changing. We have vacations and might be spending more meals on the go or out at restaurants. Summer can be brutal to a healthy diet, especially if we take the old approach of telling ourselves what not to eat, instead of focusing on what to eat. It might not seem like a big difference, but focusing on what to eat over what not to eat can make a big difference. Think of it as looking for abundance rather than deprivation. Which sounds better to you? Try this affirmation for the week to see about getting your health back on track or keeping it healthy.
I nourish myself by joyfully eating healthy foods and sharing them with my family.
What does this have to do with parenting? Two major things happen as a result of joyfully eating healthy foods. The first is, of course, setting a good example for your children. Then, when you talk to them about the importance of healthy eating, they are more likely to listen. I have picture up in my office that says:
Children often fail to do as we say but seldom fail to do as we do.
It is so true. Second, eating healthy foods is an important, and often overlooked part of regulating emotions. Have you ever noticed that you were in a foul mood because you were hungry or ate junk all day? Later this week, I will be posting about what to do when your child is acting just plain nasty and take a closer look at some of the ways food can play into foul moods.
One sticking point I know some parents will have with this affirmation is the feeling they have about children who refuse to try healthy food. I have one of these in my home. I am not asking you to pretend this is not a struggle. I am asking you to reframe this issue. Rather than focusing on what your child is not doing, I would encourage you to model what you are doing, eating healthy, feeling good, looking at healthy foods with excitement and savoring the way they taste. By doing this, you greatly increase the chances of your child following suit. If you do not feel excited about the healthy foods you are eating, perhaps you are eating the wrong healthy foods for you. While I am not a dietician, I do try to be aware to these things and I can tell you a simple rule I have learned: if it has been processed and comes in a package, it is not as healthy as something that was picked and sent right to your grocery store, roadside stand, or, best of all, came from your vegetable garden. One resource I have come to trust is the website Everyday Health. If you are looking for more information about making healthy food choices, I would suggest you check them out or go to your family physician for resources or referrals.
What healthy foods do you enjoy with your children? Please share any ways that you have been creative in finding healthy food choices for you and your family.
- Making Peace With Your Inner Critic
- Happy Parent Tip #1
- Why Sexual Abuse is Never a Child’s Fault…Not Even a Teenager
- Naming Patterns Changes Patterns
- 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