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.


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.

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.

Postpartum Depression

October 9, 2012

First, let me get this out of the way. There is technically no disorder called Postpartum Depression, at least in the DSM which is the manual used to diagnose mental health disorders. It is actually Major Depressive Disorde with Postpartum Onset, but since that is long and everyone knows it by Postpartum Depression, I will be using that or PPD for short.

PPD is a mental health disorder in which a woman becomes clinically depressed within one year of childbirth. It may be hard for some people to tell the difference at first between typical baby blues and PPD. PPD is characterized by feelings of sadness, loneliness, depression, helplessness, hopelessness, mood swings, changes in appetite and sleeping, loss of interests and loss of energy. You may also experience anxiety, tearfulness, feelings of vulnerability, irritability, and feel disconnected from your baby but these are also symptoms of the baby blues.  You do not have to have all symptoms but would need to be experiencing some of these symptoms and they must last for over 3 weeks.  Some of the differences are that the baby blues will start a few days to one month after childbirth instead of anytime during the first year, and will last less than 3 weeks. There is also differences in severity, the first list of symptoms are not as likely with the baby blues.

Women who have a history of depression, meaning that they have already experienced a depressive episode in the past are much more likely to experience PPD. Other factors that could increase your risk of PPD are low self-esteem, history of anxiety, lack of social support, history of eating disorders, and a family history of depression. If you have experienced any of these you may want to look into taking precautions to reduce your risk of PPD. I will provide a list in upcoming blog entries with things you can do to reduce your risk but one thing that I have already mentioned is increasing your support such as through a group as the pregnancy support group that I started.

Some of the possible effects of experiencing PPD for mom and the baby include a feeling of detachment and being disconnected as mom is not as interested in taking care of the baby and may shy away from her responsibilities or just be unable to perform them during this time. This can effect the bond of mom and baby, although it can always be recovered later. It will also increase the amount of stress and anxiety the baby feels, will increase crying, will make it more difficult for the baby to self-regulate and self-soothe themselves, and they are likely to show signs of decreased social engagement. A woman’s milk supply can also be effected negatively. As I stated already, once a person experiences depression they are more likely to have another episode in the future and this applies to when a woman experiences PPD.

If you are experiencing PPD, there are two therapies available, medication and counseling/therapy. I’m no expert on medication so you would need to weigh the pros and cons out with your doctor and decide on an individual basis about whether medication will be right for you. Whether you take medication or not, however, counseling is a good idea. A therapist can help you identify thinking patterns and behaviors that might be able to be changed in order to alleviate the symptoms of your depression and end the depressive episode.

Reconnecting with Your Spouse Through Communication

June 25, 2012

It happens so easily if you aren’t paying attention, life sneaks up on you and you no longer feel like you know the person who is sitting across the table at you at dinner, if you are lucky enough to even be sitting at the table together. Hint- It’s your spouse! With technology our life is supposed to be easier, but this just isn’t the case as we pile on more obligations and take on more than our counterparts did 30 years ago. In many families, both spouses work, they have children, the children are involved with several after school activities, we feel like we have to be super parents and home makers- baking, cleaning, etc. In our free time we tend to veg in front of the TV, computer, or gaming device. The one thing that you don’t notice here is communicating with your partner and actually making your relationship a priority.

My first rule for reconnecting with your spouse is to increase the amount of positive communication between the two of you.  Another hint, in order for this to happen you may very well need to turn off the computer, cell phone, TV, gaming device, or any other electronic that commands your attention on a regular basis. It amazes me how many couples sit on the couch and watch TV every night, do not communicate, but expect that because they are sitting next to each other watching the same show they should feel connected. Don’t get me wrong, this is fine to do on occasion and even a few nights a week especially if you are physical people who enjoy cuddling with one another, but will not be helpful if it is most nights.

So what should you do if you are not watching TV or using other electronics? Talk! Communicate! Share with one another! I usually advise my couples to pick a night of the week that is good for them and to create a ritual around it. So it may be that you decide that every Friday night is your date night and you will have wine and cheese after you put the kids to bed and sit and talk with one another. Another couple I see reported that they would pick a different country each week and cook a dish from that country together. Some choose to go for regular walks around the block after dinner or to do more physical activities which they can still talk to one another. The options are endless. As John Gottman, a well known figure in couples counseling, has stated- you need 5 positives to cancel out a negative. So the point of this is to increase the positive communication before or at the same time you try to change the negative.

I like having a day scheduled since it is more likely to be remembered and held as a priority. Of course things come up and in that case, if you are still only having alone time once per week then it is best to reschedule it to another day. If you have incorporated multiple activities throughout the week it is okay to agree to miss one when something comes up. After doing it week after week it becomes something that you look forward to as it becomes more familiar and represents who you are as a couple. When you first start out, it is important to keep the conversation positive by steering away from high conflict areas of conversation.

I hope you enjoy finding your own way of incorporating this idea into your marriage. Please feel free to share your ideas of rituals that you like or use.

12 Alternatives to a Gratitude Journal

December 5, 2011

Focusing on Gratitude can have a big impact on your level of happiness. As I talked about in my post last week, 2-3 weeks of journaling about what you are thankful for can increase your happiness by 25%. Journaling is not for everyone though, in fact I think most people get bored just thinking about the idea of journaling (if you are a fan, more power to you though!) For those of you who would like to reap the benefits of keeping a gratitude journal without journaling, here are some other ideas.

1. Make a collage with pictures of people, things, and experiences that you are thankful for.

2. Write post-it notes with the things you love and post them in different places around the house.

3. Thank your higher power for those things while you are praying.

4. Write cards to friends and family thanking them for the ways they make your life better. Your choice whether you send them or not.

5. Carry something small with you, it may have a special meaning to you or could just be something smooth or pretty, that can remind you to think about what you are grateful for when you touch or see it.

6. Make a habit of thinking about one thing you are grateful for each day at the same time each day. For instance, make it the first thing you think about when you get up for bed, or each time you begin a meal.

7. Give some one a free or inexpensive gift to show them you care.

8. Make a list of the things someone has done for you that you are grateful for, again your choice if you give it to them or not.

9. Really mean it when you say thank you to someone.

10. Acknowledge any ungrateful thoughts you may have and find a way to find something you are grateful for in that situation.

11. Talk to your spouse, a friend, or a family member about what you are grateful for instead of always using them as a listening ear to complain and vent to.

12. Find other ways to express your gratitude through art, whether it be song, creative writing, painting, or any other way you can think of.

This is just a list to get you to start thinking. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could think of many more ways you can show and focus on what you are grateful for each day or week in order to begin feeling happier for those things you do have in your life. Let us know what other things you have thought about!

3 Ways to Conquer Life Transitions

October 10, 2011

In the past few weeks I have been talking about life transitions. As a quick reminder (for more information you can go to the past entries), I discussed how both positive and challenging transitions can cause stress, that this stress can lead to symptoms that look like other mental health problems, and that you need to take care of yourself on a regular basis in order to be ready to deal with stresses and changes when they do occur. Today I want to give you three ways that you can problem solve to conquer any problems that you may encounter due to life transitions (or for any problems for that matter).

There are three fundamental ways that you can attempt to fix a situation you are in. You can change the way you think about it, change the way you feel, or you can change your actions. These are the only things that are within our power to make our situation better.

Thoughts. We have them all the time, even though many times we aren’t even aware of what they are. You may not even realize that they influence your feelings. Try it, think about a situation you have been in that could be interpreted in more than one way, you’ll feel differently about the situation depending on how you think about it. For instance, a friend gives you a compliment that sounds sarcastic, you can either choose to believe she is being sarcastic and feel hurt, mad at her, and insecure, or you can tell yourself that you misinterpreted her tone and be happy about the compliment and feel good about yourself and your relationship. This can be hard for people sometimes because our thoughts are so automatic as I said before. When you find yourself feeling negatively, however, take a look at those thougthts and work to make them more positive. Although it can also be difficult for some people to find that silver lining, with work it will begin to come more easily! There are also different theories of thoughts and how they have a greater impact on your life such as the law of attraction. If you are interested, there are several books out on the topic, but even if you don’t subscribe to those beliefs, they are powerful enough to make you feel better!  Here are a few examples:

After experiencing a death:

-He is in a better place.

-He is no longer suffering.

-It was his time, he was ready to go.

Feelings. I often times hear people saying “I can’t help how I feel”. Although this makes sense at first, there are things that you can do to change how you feel. You can first start with your thoughts like we already discussed, but there is more that you can do to either change or deal with your emotions. First let me state that emotions are not the enemy. In fact, they are very important because they give us information, help us regulate the way we act, and even they motivate us, among other things. That being said, the goal is not to ignore or suppress your feelings, but to listen to them, act accordingly, and then to deal with them so they do not add to your anguish and stress. There are many ways that you can tackle your emotions, and I’ll give you a few examples but just keep in mind that this is not a thorough list. At times you may need to engage in some catharsis by talking to someone about how you are feeling, writing a letter to someone (even if you don’t send it), journaling, praying or by crying. You may choose to do something that brightens your spirit such as going for a walk outside and noticing what a beautiful day it is, paying attention to what you are thankful for and counting your blessings, or fake a smile until you feel better. Or you may need to engage in stress relief in order to feel like a stronger person.

Behaviors. Some people are thinkers, some are feelers, and others are doers. For those of you who are action oriented, you may find that trying to do things to change your situation may be more comfortable. You can focus on what you are doing in a situation and how you influence other people in order to figure out how you can change your own behaviors and hopefully change the relationship or situation for the better.

Now, I am not a religious counselor by any means but I believe the message behind the serenity prayer is wonderful and the message is important in this discussion. For those of you who are not familiar with the serenity prayer, it states “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The important thing here is that you cannot change everything and it is a waste of time and energy to either dwell on those things or to spend your time trying to change them. So the first step is really taking a good luck at your situation and determining if it is something that can be changed. You can’t change the fact that someone has died, but you can deal with your thoughts or feelings regarding the death. You can however change the way you act in your marriage so you can make it a stronger relationship. These three methods all overlap as well.  For instance, you always feel bad after talking to your mother because she makes you feel like a child. You cannot directly change her or the way that she acts but you can prepare yourself mentally by remind yourself that this is the way that she is because you will always be her baby to her, and talking to her more like a grown-up may change the way she talks to you, and you may end up going for a walk afterward to deal with any left over emotions.