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4 Ways To Improve Communication With Your Child and Help Strengthen Their Mental Health

Parenting is one of the hardest but most important jobs in the world. How you choose to communicate with your child or children shapes how they will choose to communicate with others. If you yell at your child when they are misbehaving or aren’t listening, they will also yell when others aren’t doing what they want them to do. If you don’t acknowledge what they are feeling, they won’t acknowledge what others are feeling. Children mimic behavior and are sponges so it is especially important that you as parents model the communication you are looking for from your child. Easier said than done right? I am a father of four young daughters so I understand how challenging it can be to practice what you preach! Here are four ways that may help you model the communication you would like to see in your child. These strategies will also help strengthen your child’s overall mental health.

1. Check In With Yourself

Stressors may feel like they are at an all time high between work, bills, and not enough balance in your life to do the things you want to do. After a long day, your child just wants to spend time with you, but maybe you don’t have the bandwidth to give them the attention they need. As a result, they may start to misbehave to get your attention. You ask them to clean up a mess they made or to do their homework but they don’t listen to you. You find yourself getting frustrated and begin to yell at your child only to escalate the situation. Before you even go down this path, check in with yourself. You may even need to remove yourself and self-isolate for a few minutes. Take some slow, deep breaths and ask yourself what you are feeling and what outcome you are looking for. By identifying your own emotions and focusing on the end results you are looking for, you will have a better time communicating with your child and other family members which will result in a more productive conversation. If your mood is elevated and you are having a difficult time identifying or coping with strong emotions, now may not be the best time to engage with others. Be sure to let your family know that you just need some time to decompress and/or meditate. Encourage your child to check in with his or her self as well during times of distress and follow the same course of action.

2. Listen First

Whether your child is expressing a need or emotion in a rational way or they are misbehaving because they are having a difficult time communicating a need or emotion, be there to listen first. Ask open ended questions and let your child talk. Try to acknowledge their perspective and validate what they are feeling. It is okay if you disagree with something they say or have a different opinion. If this is the case, you can problem solve and brainstorm solutions that work for both you and your child. Simply letting them know that their perspective and feelings matter shows your child that you value them. It also models healthy communication, relationships, and problem solving/conflict resolution skills. This requires patience. You may need to take a few deep breaths should your child’s mood become elevated if they are having a difficult time expressing what they are feeling to you. Keep in mind, if you remain calm and continue to listen, you will help your child express their need and emotions. You will also prevent things from escalating further which can lead to more time and energy invested in resolving whatever the issue is. If your child is not able to effectively communicate or is not ready to talk, let them know that you are ready to listen when they are ready to talk. Give them time to calm down and be available when they are ready to talk to you.

3. Spend time connecting with your child

You are your child’s hero and they just need your time. Sometimes it may feel difficult to consistently give your time to your child with all of the other responsibilities that parents have to manage. Try to incorporate some time each day even if it is just 10-20 minutes. Maybe it means having a catch outside or playing house or a board game. If possible, try to also make time to spend one on one time if you have multiple children as this really increases bonding and connection with each child. Try to connect at least once per month if possible even if just for an hour or two. Go to the boardwalk/beach, take a hike and fish together, go for a bike ride and picnic, or come up with a new, creative idea you haven’t done yet. By taking the time to bond and remain connected, your child is much more likely to look to you as you continue to model positive communication for them. Having healthy relationships with your children will have a positive impact on your mental health as well as theirs.

4. Normalize negative feelings

Humans are emotional beings. How we act and communicate is a direct result of what we are feeling. The same goes for children. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone was happy all the time? Your children always got along and everyone listened all the time and followed through with chores and responsibilities. Adults have their fair share of struggles with emotion regulation between work, home, and other stressors. Don’t forget that children and adolescent brains look completely different than adult brains as the part of the brain that helps to control emotion regulation is not completely developed yet. As a result, your child, who is experiencing all sorts of heavy emotions, doesn’t know what to do with them! It is important that you as the parents provide a safe place for your child to express their feelings even if they are negative. Be the calm in your child’s storm and let them know it is okay to not be okay. Reassure them that all emotions eventually pass but do not try to fix what they are feeling. Simply being present, patient, and ready to listen and provide support will affirm that you care and that it is okay that your child is experiencing a negative feeling. Should your child’s negative emotions be persistent or should they struggle with emotion regulation regularly, it may be helpful to find healthy ways for them to cope including exercise, playing an instrument, or going outside and connecting with friends. If you find that nothing seems to be working, it may also be helpful to reach out to a professional as having an outside counselor can be a great outlet for anyone.

3 Ways to Effectively De-Escalate Negative Behaviors and Improve Your Relationships

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“Beneath every behavior, there is a feeling. And beneath each feeling is a need. And when we meet that need rather than focus on the behavior, we begin to deal with the cause, not the symptom.”

Have your feelings ever been hurt by a parent, spouse, coworker, friend or someone else in your life? The answer is obviously yes. You might lash out at that person or withdraw because you are feeling sad. Your aggressive behavior may trigger the other person and now you find yourself in an argument or conflict. The argument or conflict creates more sadness for you leading to more aggressive behavior. When people are experiencing a strong feeling, they may not immediately be able to identify what that feeling is. As a result, they aren’t able to communicate effectively with others what it is they are feeling and why they are feeling that way. Rather, they may act out aggressively or become withdrawn. This makes it challenging for the other person to fully understand what is going on which is why the situation typically leads to a conflict or argument. This can happen often in marriages, relationships, and especially with children and adolescents. Since the part of the brain that controls emotion regulation does not fully develop until your mid to late twenties, children and adolescents have a difficult time expressing what they are feeling which makes it difficult for parents to navigate through.

3 STRATEGIES That will help de-escalate negative behaviors

SHOW COMPASSION AND EMPATHY

If a child or partner is acting out aggressively or is withdrawing, you may be inclined to get angry and frustrated as well. Take a deep breath and remember that beneath the surface of the behavior is an emotional need. Offer support (a hug, being present, going for a walk together, etc.) and show compassion. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes so you have a better understanding of what it is they are experiencing. Did they transition back to school and may be overwhelmed and anxious? Maybe your coworker just lost a friend or relative and are grieving. Whatever the case is, if you show compassion and empathy rather than anger and frustration, you will help de-escalate negative behaviors. It is also more likely that the other person will begin talking about whatever it is they are experiencing and feeling rather than getting more aggressive and defensive.

ASK CLARIFYING QUESTIONS

When a person is showing aggression or withdrawing, it is challenging to maintain your composure. You may be confused why they are being aggressive or withdrawing and may even take their behavior personally. After all, their behavior is communicating with you that they are angry, not that they are feeling sad or something else. You may feel the urge to defend yourself, but make sure to resist from doing so as this will only escalate the situation. Rather, try to understand what is going on from the other’s perspective. Begin to ask questions to help you learn more about what the emotional need is. The more open ended questions you ask, the more the other person will continue to open up. Keep in mind, the goal is to show the person that you genuinely want to understand more about what is going on beneath the surface. If your questions are genuine and reflect compassion and empathy, the other person will let you in more. Otherwise, their walls will remain shut. Once you learn more about what the emotional need is, you can determine what you are able to do within your control to help.

ACKNOWLEDGE AND VALIDATE

Once you are able to identify what is going on from the other person’s perspective, make sure to acknowledge and validate what was said and what they are feeling. Whether you agree or disagree with the perspective, acknowledging another’s point of view and validating their emotions will help de-escalate negative behaviors. It will also help to build trust as you will become a safe place for the person to become vulnerable with. The more often you are able to implement these strategies, the more likely it is that the other person will open up more to you in the future as opposed to acting aggressively or withdrawing.

10 Ways to Recognize and Regulate Stress in Your Life

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You may see me write a lot about life being challenging and full of stressors.  Work, relationships, financial burdens, and other responsibilities may all be stressors in life.  However, there is no escaping them.  In order to manage stress that you may be encountering, it may be helpful to first recognize the issue.

How Much Does a Cup of Water Weigh?

Many years back, I was in a workshop and the speaker asked the audience how much a cup of water weighs.  It was 7:30 in the morning so few hands were up.  However, one person responded, “I don’t know, how much water is in the glass?”  Another replied, “1/2 pound?”  The speaker’s answer was, “It depends how long you hold onto the glass for.”  For instance, if you hold onto a glass of water for 30 seconds, it doesn’t weigh very much.  If you hold onto it for 30 minutes, it gets significantly heavier.  Should you carry a glass of water for 30 days, it will most likely, at some point, drop.  The glass will shatter, there will be a big mess, and you will need to spend some time cleaning it up.  The presenter continued, “This is the same as stress.  The longer you hold onto it, the heavier it becomes.”  If you don’t recognize, regulate, and remove stress, it will only continue to weigh on you.  This will take a toll on your mental health and subsequently your relationship with yourself and others.

Manage Your Balloon

When I meet with clients, I often tell them that all humans carry around a balloon with them.  Each person’s balloon is a different size.  The size of the balloon depends on the energy level of the person.  The larger the balloon, the more stress a person is able to handle.  You can refer back to the following blogs in order to learn ways to increase your energy level so you can handle more stressors:

4 Ways to Maximize Energy

4 Ways to Maximize Energy: Part 2

4 Ways to Maximize Energy: Part 3

4 Ways to Maximize Energy: Part 4

Throughout the day, you may come across things that cause you stress.  Each of these things add some air to your balloon.  The larger the stressor, the more air enters your balloon.  Eventually, if you don’t let air out, your balloon will pop.  Again, like the glass of water analogy, this will take a toll on your mental health and subsequently your relationship with yourself and others.

Recognize Your Stressors

First, recognize what causes you stress.  Create a list of stressors to help you identify what is inflating your balloon and causing your glass of water to get heavier.  Once you identify your stressors and recognize when your balloon is inflating and your glass of water is getting heavier, you will know it may be time to put the glass down or let some air out of your balloon.  Is it a busy and stressful time of year at work?  Did you just get hit with an unforeseeable expense at home and you and your partner have been arguing about finances as a result?  Whatever the stressor is, identify it.

Regulate Your Stressors

Now that you identified what is causing you stress, determine if it is time to put your glass down or let some air out of your balloon.  You don’t need to put your glass down and let air out of your balloon every time you feel stress, but it can be helpful to keep tabs of the weight of the glass and how much air is in your balloon.

Ways to Let Air Out or Put Your Glass Down

  1. Go for a hike (Hike, Connect with Nature, & Break From Anxiety)
  2. Breathe & Meditate
  3. Take a yoga class
  4. Spend time alone or with friends & family
  5. Participate in a hobby
  6. Engage in a mindful activity (Anxiety & the Here & Now)
  7. Exercise
  8. Take a short nap, but make sure not to interfere with your sleep schedule!
  9. Disconnect from technology and spend some time outside (Disconnect from Technology: Wait, Hear Me Out!)
  10. Take time to organize your life.  I will spend more time in an upcoming blog focusing on this topic.

Mental Health: How to Navigate Through the Levels of Therapy Services That Are Available

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It can be somewhat overwhelming and confusing navigating through mental health treatment if you are unfamiliar with the levels of care that are available.  Whether you are a parent of a child in need of mental health services or an adult who is struggling with mental health issues, you may be unaware of where to begin.  The following guide can hopefully be a starting point for you.

Inpatient Services

Inpatient treatment is typically meant for individuals who are in need of a high level of care.  Children, adolescents, and adults who are having active suicidal thoughts may end up either admitting themselves into an inpatient facility or may be referred through a mental health professional after a psychological screening is conducted.  For example, if a child or adolescent discloses to a school counselor that they are having active suicidal thoughts and there is a psychiatric emergency, they may be referred immediately to a local hospital where a psychiatric screening will occur.  Depending on the results of the screening, it may be recommended that the child or adolescent be admitted into an inpatient facility for treatment.

What happens at an inpatient facility?

Inpatient facilities provide a variety of mental health services.  These services may include group counseling, individual counseling, family counseling, substance abuse counseling, and more.  A psychiatrist is on staff and can provide medication monitoring and a therapist is assigned to provide case management and mental health treatment.  A typical length of stay is three to seven days depending on how severe the issue is.

Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)

A PHP is one step down from inpatient.  At a PHP, similar services are provided as at an inpatient facility.  However, treatment at a PHP program only occurs during the day, whereas at an inpatient program, beds and rooms are provided for your stay.  The hours of treatment are typically from 9-3.  During this time, mostly group counseling is conducted.  Depending on the facility, a multitude of treatment methods may be provided including DBT, CBT, etc.  A client is assigned a therapist/case manager and medication monitoring is provided if a psychiatrist is on staff.

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

An IOP is one step down from a PHP.  At an IOP, services are provided a few times per week and are typically conducted during after school hours.  If treatment is being provided for an adolescent, busing is sometimes provided from schools to the program.  Mostly group counseling is provided at an IOP.  A therapist/case manager along with medication monitoring can be provided through an IOP.

Outpatient Therapy Services

Outpatient services are one step down from an IOP.  Typically, treatment is provided once per week to start and may gradually spread out over time depending on the progress of the client.  Main Street Counseling is an example of outpatient treatment.  At outpatient therapy services, a client is connected with a therapist who provides counseling services.  It may be difficult to find the right fit for you when searching for a therapist.  To learn more information and get more tips on how to find the right therapist for you, please read my blog, How to Find the Right Therapist for You & Your Family: 5 Tips for Individuals and Families New to the Process!

If you have questions or are unsure what to do, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Look to Gratitude to Help You Cope With Loss and Depression

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“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” – Mr. Rogers

Gratitude. What a powerful concept. This word has never been more meaningful and important than now. This global pandemic has crippled the mental health of millions of individuals and families as many have slipped into a deep depression. Panic attacks and anxiety has taken over making it nearly impossible to manage daily life. People are dealing with so much loss. They are experiencing the loss of loved ones, the loss of interpersonal relationships and affection, the loss of their employment or business, the loss of normalcy, and more. You never thought these would be things of the past. Shaking someone’s hand or giving a friend a hug when greeting them are such simple things you may have taken for granted and not thought to appreciate or be grateful for. You never know when these sorts of things will be taken from you. Now that they have been for many as you are being cautious due to the pandemic, you are grieving these losses. You are feeling sad. You are feeling anxious. You feel like your body is heavy and you are dragging each day. You are worried about the unknowns of tomorrow and when these losses will return again. This is where your mindset is. However, although you may be experiencing a good amount of loss, now is the time to be grateful as gratitude is what will be your strength to work through these moments of hardship.

Mr. Rogers indicated that his mother told him to look for the helpers in times of crisis as “You will always find people who are helping.” When you look for the helpers, you will find hope. You will recognize the good in the world. You will feel strength. This is similar to gratitude. During moments of loss and crisis, there are always things to be grateful for. 9 months ago, you may have been focusing on other things that caused stress, sadness, or anxiety as opposed to focusing on gratitude. If you knew then what you know now, you may have focused your energy a bit differently. You may have focused strongly on the moments of affection with family and friends and embraced the beauty of a large gathering or celebration when many of the people you love most were in the same room together. You may have practiced mindfulness at your favorite restaurant more regularly as you enjoyed dining indoors. Now that these things have been taken from you, your focus may be on grieving. Although it is normal and necessary to grieve, it is important to find balance between grieving and gratitude. In moments of sadness, despair and loss, find the positive. Find what to be grateful for as you never know when more things you love and value may be stripped and taken from you.

Gratitude goes hand in hand with mindfulness. To help you enhance your feelings of gratitude, focus on present moments. You may feel the loss of something that you had yesterday or be worried that you may lose something tomorrow. Just bring your attention back to the here and now. Be attentive to what you have today. To help you with this process, read our previous blog, Anxiety & the Here & Now. If you are having a difficult time finding something to be grateful for, use the list below as a starting point.

  1. Hugs and affection from your immediate family (your child, spouse, or partner)
  2. Your basic needs (i.e.: food, shelter, water)
  3. Your health
  4. Walks, hikes, playing outside
  5. Seeing and spending time with loved ones, even if it is outside or wearing a mask
  6. Doing things that bring you joy (i.e.: playing music, gardening, knitting, watching movies, exercising, watching or playing sports)
  7. Eating delicious and nutritious food
  8. Reading a good book
  9. Working from home and sleeping in for now (if you can)
  10. Being able to wear comfortable clothes if you are working from home during the pandemic
  11. Beautiful sunrises and sunsets
  12. Bicycle rides