Pressuring Kids to Grow Up Too Soon

April 3, 2013

I have had several realizations over the past few weeks that have led me to the conclusion that as a society we are pressuring our children to grow up too fast, beginning sometimes before they are even born. During pregnancy women count down the days to their Estimated Due Date and become anxious as it approaches, and impatient as it sometimes passes by, looking for ways to induce their own labor through several different methods including one as vile as drinking castor oil. Once our children are born we can’t wait for the time when they are awake more, when they begin to sit up, crawl, and walk. We try to help them with this process by propping them up in the sitting position before their muscles have developed enough to sustain their weight, by using chairs that claim they help develop these muscles, and standing them on their feet before they have the strength to do so as well. As they become toddlers we begin thinking about how much easier it will be when they can talk, and understand more of what we are saying to them and actually listen and follow our commands. We try to get them to conform to what we want them to do, use words and concepts outside of their intellectual ability and discipline/punish them when they do not meet our exceedingly high and unrealistic expectations.

So what is the problem with giving our children a boost or head start? Isn’t it a positive thing to want them to succeed in life and do what we can to help them be successful? Well, it depends on how you do it. Although some of these behaviors mentioned above may not have a long term affect on your child, many of these behaviors are setting you up to establish a long running pattern of pressuring your child to be something they are not, creating a relationship in which your children feel that your love is conditional instead of unconditional. This type of relationship leaves children and teenagers feeling as though they do not have their parents support and that they are disconnected from them. It has been found that teenagers that experience this type of relationship with their parents have much higher levels of depression, anxiety, self-injurious behaviors, eating disorders, and other emotional disorders and symptoms associated with them. Let’s think about something as simple as potty training. Start too early before your child is physically and mentally ready and you will begin engaging in a power struggle with them, frustrated over every accident, and the process will be long enduring. As you become more frustrated you start using negative tactics such as telling them how disappointed and sad you are that they had an accident. What’s worse is your frustration with them will not only be in potty training situations but will spill over to other situations. The more frustrated and hard on your child that you become, the more the cycle endures, possibly leading to negative labels on the child and a relationship pattern that will continue.

Parents have been recently outraged due to companies such as Victoria’s Secrets launching provocative lines of clothing aimed at young girls and I fully agree with the inappropriateness of this and the irresponsibility of the companies. It is humbling to hear that parents have been making a difference in this and therefore I don’t want to say that we as individuals do not have any control over what these companies are doing but I think that we do need to start looking at our own behaviors that are causing our children to grow up earlier than they should be as well. We may not be directly putting our children in provocative clothing, handing them alcohol or cigarettes, or teaching them other behaviors we believe should be reserved for adults but our parenting style is indirectly leading them to this as they begin to feel older than they truly are. Don’t get me wrong, society in general also plays a part but if we can all look at our parenting behaviors and how they contribute, we may be able to help support our children instead of forcing them to grow up too soon.

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Minors, Abuse, and Confidentiality

February 26, 2013

Today’s post may come off as more of a rant and I’m sorry if it does. I have just had some frustrating experiences lately working with teenagers and possible abuse situations. In the State of Florida, (it may be the same in other states and/or countries-I know I have several subscribers outside of the U.S.- but I don’t want to make any assumptions and am choosing not to do the research here) as a counselor I am mandated to make a report to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) with the state when I have reason to suspect that a child, elderly person, or disabled person is being abused in some way. It is not our job to investigate, but just to report our suspicions and DCF is in charge of investigating. This is one of the few exceptions to confidentiality and this is the first thing I tell clients when I am seeing them for the first time.

The purpose of making counselors (and other professionals such as teachers) mandated reporters is that often times we are trusted individuals in the eyes of children and seen as a person that can be helpful to them. Many times when other people become aware of abuse they do not realize that they can make a report, who to make a report to, or if they do, there is a sense of diminished responsibility to do so as they are sure someone else has done so. Minors are also not able to make an informed decision for themselves on whether they want the information reported because they are vulnerable to pressures of outside people such as the perpetrator. The law is in effect to protect children from abuse. All of this I understand and agree with.

My frustrations, however, stem from the fact that this law often times stands in the way of individuals getting the mental health help that they need. Many times minors are afraid to tell someone, specifically a counselor, about the abuse because of the fear of it being reported. In fact, I have recently had the experience of losing clients who had reason to be in counseling because of their fear of me having to make a report to the hotline, or because we had to make a report to DCF. You may wonder why a minor may fear their abuse being reported when they should be happy to be taken out of that situation, and there are several reasons that I have heard. Minors are often afraid of the experience itself, of having to go to trial, being questioned, not being believed, and even about other people knowing about the abuse and formulating judgments about them based on the abuse. They are worried about the disruption to their life. They worry about the abuse intensifying or even being pulled out of their home. Again, you may wonder why being pulled out of their home would be a negative thing, but some fear going to a foster home that may be worse or just the fear of the change, and for others the abuse may have occurred a long time before and they no longer see themselves as in danger and may even have many other positives that out weigh the negatives in their eyes currently or in the past.

Some of these worries may be founded while others cannot be verified and may even be concluded on the fantasy of childhood. The problem is that we do not typically even get a chance to discuss these worries with the children and attempt to relieve some of these fears as they do not disclose the abuse to begin with, or do not return to counseling if they have and know that an abuse report has been made due to their fears. If a client never walks through my door or only does so once due to their fears, this obviously prevents me from helping them. And this is what is heart breaking to me.

I see the system as being broken due to the fact that it prevents these individuals from getting the help that they need and therefore they are set up to experience more abuse in the future. I guess the flip side is that if a DCF report is made and the allegations are founded, they will likely set up counseling as part of the case management. Unfortunately, however, at this point the client is often so distrustful of counselors that it becomes even harder to intervene and make a difference. I write all this because part of my role as a counselor is advocacy. I do not have answers to this problem thus far, but would love to hear other people’s views on the subject and ideas.


An Outside Perspective

February 5, 2013

As I was looking to a friend yesterday for advice on a situation that she had more experience with both professionally and personally I began to develop a new view of counseling. A few of you may have found this site by the link on my psychology today profile but I’m sure most of you did not. One of my quotes on that page is “I believe you already have the tools and knowledge necessary to improve your life and relationships, but just need assistance in utilizing them. I am able to help you through this process by looking at how you may be able to change your thoughts and behaviors for increased success.” My newest client did find me through that page and she has told me that it was that line that really drew her in. This is not the case in all counseling as some situations are more severe and need more specialized help but I am finding joy in looking at counseling in this way.

We all have strengths and weaknesses. Even when we are dealing with a situation that allows us to utilize our strengths, many times our emotions and beliefs can cloud our judgment. Counseling can be helpful as the counselor is able to give an unbiased outside perspective on your situation that you may not have been able to see without someone else’s help. You may think, “well if this is all counseling is then why pay someone so much money when I can go talk to a friend?” There are a couple of reasons. First, a friend or family member is not truly unbiased as they have their own agendas and preconceived beliefs based on what they have been told in the past. Also, they are not trained to help with situations that may be more complex. Even if they have good advice, many times, people are unable to deliver it in a beneficial manner. Plus, this is not all that counseling is, it is just part of the helping equation.

Realizing this has made me really see the benefit of getting an outside perspective when I am having a difficult time with a personal situation. The situation I was getting advice on yesterday was potty training my toddler. Although I do have training in behavior modification as a therapist and really work on using my own mommy intuition, I figured my friend the certified behavior analyst was even more equipped with knowledge in this area and would be helpful to point out things that I hadn’t thought about or noticed myself. I have to admit that her words of encouragement and extra tips were what was needed to continue the process in a beneficial manner.

As for what I do for my clients, I am able to help them see their situation from different perspectives and more clearly. I am able to help them set up goals and a plan to achieve those goals. I hold them accountable for their actions. I am also able to teach new skills for communicating, dealing with depression and anxiety as well as skills necessary to deal with other mental health and relationship issues, and other life skills necessary. There is a stigma attached to seeking counseling still but I believe there should be no more stigma than there is for asking a plumber to come snake your toilet and complete other care on your house.


Is It Really Optional?

January 29, 2013

 

I was out at a science museum the other day with my little one and some other family members. I wasn’t feel all that well so I decided to hang back a bit while my hubby and his mom kept an eye on my son. Several times as I was sitting back, I decided to engage in one of America’s favorite pastimes, people watching. I know in one of my last posts I talked about not being so harsh on parents in the limelight as it puts more pressure on parents in general to try to be perfect. I am not retracting that at all but I was amazed at how some of the parents I saw allowed their children to walk all over them and everyone else around them. It made me realize the importance of what you say to your children and how you say it, as well as brought to my attention more how parents start the friend role with their children versus a parenting/teaching role even from an early age. Therefore I wanted to spend a little time today to talk about how to phrase your requests to your young children.

Making appropriate requests

One of the situations I witnessed was a father with a son approximately 4 years old. The boy was playing with something for a good amount of time while other children were waiting for their turn. The lady in charge was asking the child to let the next child have a turn while he essentially ignored her. The father stated to his child “Are you ready to let the next kid have a turn?” Can you imagine his response? I believe the child ignored his father too but if he were to answer him, the answer would have been a resounding “NO!” I am all about giving children options when it is appropriate but in this case whether he stops playing was not an option, and the father phrased it as if it were. It would have been more effective to first get down on the boy’s level and tell him what needs to be done in this situation such as “It is time to give the next child a turn, you need to hand the controller over now.” Since options are very effective with children when used properly the father could have even added an option to get back in line to play again or to find a new exhibit to check out.

This is a very common problem with parents, I even catch my husband giving our son an option to do something that really is not optional and not getting the result that he desires. Here are some tips on how to get the response you would like.

1. When requesting behaviors from a young child or toddler you need to determine if it is optional or not. In most cases you wouldn’t be saying it if it was optional, so make sure to phrase it so they understand that there is not a lot of wiggle room for getting out of it.
2. Make sure to be reasonable with your request. It needs to be age appropriate, and think about what your child is doing and how they typically respond. You may need to give them a time limit and remind them several times. You can’t expect a two or three year old (or even a lot of older kids) to drop what they are doing and immediately do what you ask but stay on them, repeating what they need to do.
3. You can also make it sound more fun by asking them to hop over to their laundry basket and put their clothes away or give them an option of how they do the task (notice not if they do the task but how they do it).

Good luck in rephrasing how you talk to the little ones in your life in order to get better results!


Hurried Holidays

December 11, 2012

1203011923There is so much to do this time of year. Not that we don’t have full schedules already throughout the year but boy do we pack even more onto our plates during the holidays. School programs, crafts, holiday parties, baking, big meals, holiday cards, shopping, wrapping, decorating, the list goes on. Not only do we put all of this on ourselves but we also feel the pressure for all of it to be perfect, or as close to perfect as we can get. In all of the hustle and bustle, we forget the true meaning of the holidays. I won’t get into any religious meanings here because everyone has different beliefs, and I’m not here to discuss religion. To me, the purpose of the holidays is being with our loved ones, cherishing them, appreciating them, and showing them that we care.

Of course there are some things that we just can’t get away from and others that we truly enjoy and don’t want to give up. My challenge to you, however, is to find just 1-2 (or more if your calendar is especially packed) “chores” or invitations that you can cross off your list this year. Really look at your priorities and decide what is most important in your life. I can’t say that I’m not guilty of trying to do too much either, but I am proud to say that I decided this year I’m not going to worry about doing Christmas cards for my friends and family (sorry everyone!) and I had to decline an invitations for a giant cookie exchange. As fun as both of those activities would have been, I had to think about what would give me the most joy while also giving me time to appreciate this time of year and the people I’m choosing to spend it with. I know everyone will be looking to make new years resolutions soon, but why not make an end of the year resolution now to be more in the present and mindful instead of rushing around being a human “doing” instead of a human “being”. For those of you that don’t know much about mindfulness and staying present, I posted Discovery Institute’s December newsletter that talks about that subject last week. You can find it here.


The Power of Gratitude

November 20, 2012

I was working with a couple recently in which one of the partners is currently experiencing depression. As I was listening to this person talk about work and life it became obvious that thought patterns were contributing to the depression. Everything was horrible and he didn’t seem to be able to identify anything that was going well, even though as an outsider I found it quite easy to notice the silver lining. There was no gratitude for what he does have going on in his life. With Thanksgiving coming up it seemed only natural for me to give an assignment relating to gratitude.

It can be so easy sometimes to get caught up in focusing on what we have to do, what is going wrong, and the things we don’t like about our life. We all have things that aren’t going “right” or as we would like, and there are two options you have. You can change or at least attempt to change your situation or look at it differently. Unfortunately we don’t always have complete control over all aspects of our life. Don’t like your job? Start looking for another one and putting in applications other places. With the economy as it is, however, it may be easier said than done to actually make a job or career change. So this is when changing your thoughts and being more grateful come into play. You mean you have a job? In this economy? You are able to provide for your family? Look at all the great experience you are getting by having to deal with difficult people. Sure makes you happy to get to go home at the end of the day right? There have to be things that you can find that are not so bad about your job that you can focus on. Perhaps you have a good supervisor or really like your coworkers or even the difference you make in people’s lives. You may not like everything, but focus on what you do like.

This can be applied to the home you live in, your children’s behavior, or anything else. The more you focus on the positives, the better you will feel. Your thoughts influence your feelings which influence your behaviors. The areas in which you put the most energy will seem larger. I’m sure you have heard the saying about making a mountain out of a mole hill, well this is only a bad thing when that mole hill was negative to begin with. Focus on the positive mole hills in your life and they will begin to feel like wonderful, miraculous mountains that you are grateful for having.

I hope everyone has a great and grateful Thanksgiving this week!


Miracle Making You Miserable? Mental Health During Pregnancy

October 23, 2012

It used to be believed that pregnancy would protect women from mental health problems and immediately made them happy and even ecstatic. Luckily for those who don’t experience this, we now know that this isn’t true. Although being pregnant is a wonderful blessing for many, the hormone changes, symptoms of discomfort, and reality of how life will be changing can make this time fraught with stress, guilt, depression, anxiety, and mood swings as well.

Women are more likely to experience a  mood or anxiety disorder than men, and even more so during the childbearing years. You may be wondering why this is so, and there are a couple of answers for this. The first is that hormone changes can be abrupt and drastic. Just as hormones can affect women during their menstrual cycle, they can affect women emotionally and psychologically during pregnancy. Although I’m not going to go into detail, basically the changes also effects the neurotransmitters in the brain that regulate mood. Although all pregnant women experience the hormone changes, not all develop anxiety, mood disorders, or other mental health issues. It is believed that a person is more likely to experience a mental health disorder if they are predisposed to it, meaning they have the gene. If a person is predisposed, they still need something to happen to switch the gene from inactive to active, and the hormone changes of pregnancy is likely to do that. In addition, for those who have already experienced problems with mood and anxiety, the hormone changes may be enough to activate another episode.

Other reasons that women are more likely to experience these issues during pregnancy is due to insecurities over changes that are ocurring during pregnancy or about their own capabilities as a parent as well as their own situation not being seen as ideal. Some women have a difficult time adjusting to the weight changes and may begin eating disorderly in order to compensate while others use it as an excuse to binge on food as they are now “eating for two”.  Knowing that you will now be completely responsibile for another human being can be anxiety provoking. Other women feel as though they were not ready to be having a baby (or another baby) and may be less than thrilled about their living situation, financial status, and other relationships.

Now that you have a greater understanding of why women are likely to experience some of these issues during and after pregnancy, next week we will talk about how to prevent them from happening to you and what to do if you do begin to experience symptoms.