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Cutting – A Way that Adolescents Cope with Anxiety & Depression & What to do as a Parent

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Perhaps you have noticed that teens today are more stressed than they were 20 years ago.  The academic and social pressure along with a schedule full of activities that would be overwhelming for most adults combined with the inability to cope has turned into a perfect storm for disaster for many teens.  They go to sleep late and are up early which is resulting in sleep deprivation.  This is due to the amount of homework and studying they are doing at night combined with social media and technology distractions that are keeping them up late.  Sleep deprivation only enhances their mood making it more difficult for teens to cope.  Some adolescents have figured out methods of coping to help balance and manage their stress.  Others turn to unhealthy ways of coping including non suicidal self-injury (NSSI).  In this blog, we are going to focus on cutting, which is a method of NSSI.

What is cutting?

Cutting is an act of self-injury in which a person purposely cuts themselves.  Usually, this is done with a knife, razor blade, scissors, or any other sharp object.  The purpose of cutting is to cope with emotional pain.  Although adolescents do not intend to kill themselves through cutting, teens who cut themselves are more at risk for suicide.  When teenagers cut themselves, endorphins are released in their brain, which eases pain.  Cutting works, which is why adolescents continue to engage in it.

What to do as a parent

As a parent, it is unfathomable to think that your child would participate in cutting.  Intentionally hurting themselves with a sharp object is the last thing you would think they would do to cope with stress.  As a school counselor, over the years I have had numerous students disclose that they are cutting themselves and are terrified to let their parents know.  “They would yell at me and overreact,” I was told.  “I don’t want to upset them or make them worry.”

Children may not immediately share with you that they are cutting themselves.  Pay attention to warning signs and check in with your teen to see how they are feeling.  The following are some things to look for:

  1. Your child is wearing long sleeves when it is hot outside.
  2. Your child is covering up their wrist(s) with several bracelets or something else.
  3. Your child’s behavior has changed and they seem disaffected and may be isolating themselves more.
  4. You see cut marks on their arms or inner thighs.

If your child opens up to you, make sure that you just listen.  Do not overreact and try not to get upset in front of them.  Don’t forget, if they are coming to talk to you, it is because they are looking for your support.  Do not try to fix it.  Just.  Listen.  Let your child know that you are there for them and they can come to you if they are sad, anxious, or depressed.  However, it is also important that you understand that you are a parent and not a professional.  If your child continues to struggle with emotion regulation and finding alternatives ways to cope with stress, immediately seek help.  Reach out to a therapist.  Also, make sure to hide or lock up sharp objects including pencil sharpeners, shavers, and knives.  Teens mostly cut late at night when nobody is around so make sure your child knows they can come to you if they are having an urge late at night while you are asleep.  The more support a child has, the more likely they will overcome these urges.

4 Parenting Strategies to Get Your Children to Open Up & Talk to You About Their Feelings

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Getting children to open up and talk about their emotions is no easy task.  As a parent, you may find yourself feeling frustrated because you’re not really sure what is going on inside their minds.  You may experience conflicts with them when they are aggressive or you may rarely see them as they come home from school, go to their room, shut the door, and sit on their phone until you call them down for dinner.  You’re not sure if they are just being a normal teenager or if there might be something else going on.  Regardless, the following parenting strategies can help your child open up a bit more so you can understand what is going on in their world.

  1. Create consistent time with your child.

Although adolescents want to be independent, they still need you and your time.  Make sure to set aside time even if it is just once a week.  Go for a walk or hike, hang out in the park and have a catch, or stop off in a local bakery or coffee shop for a pastry and hot drink.  Keep it predictable.  If your child expects time with you every Friday, it is much more likely that they will look forward to it as opposed to resisting it.  During these moments, encourage your child to fill you in on what is going on in their life.  Adolescents are much more likely to give you more details about what is going on below the surface if you are doing something with them as opposed to just sitting at the dinner table or in the car driving to or from an activity.

2.  Ask open ended questions, reflect how you think they are feeling, & then just listen!

Once your child is ready to talk, continue to ask open ended questions that require more than just a yes or no response.  Try to read their body language and facial expressions and then take a guess what you think they may be feeling.  “That must make you feel sad,” or “You look pretty overwhelmed.  What is making you feel this way?” are two examples of ways you may reflect what your child is feeling.  If you are correct, they should start talking.  If you are incorrect, they may correct you and let you know what they are really feeling.  Regardless, if your child begins talking to you, just listen!  Do not judge and do not give your opinion.  This will cause your child to clam up and stop talking.  Just keep saying, “What else,” or “Tell me more” until they get everything out.  Try to validate what they are feeling the best you can.  Afterwards, you can tell them that you love them and thank your teen for feeling comfortable enough to open up to you.

3.  Give your child space and time if this is what they need.

If your child is having a strong emotion and they do not want to talk about it, do not pressure them.  Keep in mind, your child’s brain is still developing so their emotions are much more intense in the moment.  If they are having a tantrum or meltdown, do not engage.  If they tell you to “get out” or to leave them alone, just walk away.  It may be helpful for you to let them know that you are here for them whenever they are ready to talk.  Eventually when your child calms down, they may be ready to talk.  Again, it is more likely that this will occur if you are out doing an activity (ie: having a catch, going for a hike, etc.) than if you are home in their room or sitting down for dinner.  Timing is everything!

4.  Set rules, boundaries, and limitations especially with technology.

Whether you are home playing a family game, driving your child to or from school, or sitting down for a meal, they are much more likely to talk if they aren’t distracted by technology.  If you want to create more times of the day that your child is talking, it is important that they are aware of the times of the day that technology is off and put away.  If you are not clear with your expectations, your child will take advantage and be on their phone as often if not more than you!  They may not be as engaged in a conversation with you if their friends are snap chatting or texting them.  Although they may be resistant to the rules at first or they may sneak from time to time and break the rules, it is much more likely that your child will talk to you if they are not distracted by technology.  It is super important that you mode the rules and put your phone away.  Over time, this will improve your connection with your child as they will open up to you more frequently.

Raise Your Child to Overcome Obstacles by Developing Perseverance & Grit

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“If the plan doesn’t work, change the PLAN but never the goal.”

In my opinion, perseverance and grit are two of the most important attributes to obtain in order to be successful.  Although success is relative and may differ from person to person, in order to accomplish one’s goals, it is necessary to possess these two things.

  1. Perseverence

When you establish a goal for yourself, it is helpful to create a roadmap or plan that consists of specific steps you need to take in order to get there.  This may act as a guide to keep you on track of where you are and where you want to go.  As you take steps towards your goal, you are going to run into obstacles along the way.  Whether it is your family and/or friends trying to convince you that your plan or goal is not realistic or it is something else standing in your way, at some point you are going to run into what feels like a roadblock.  Although this may take the wind out of your sails and you may feel deflated and like a failure, this does not mean that you need to change your goal.  It may just mean it is time to adjust your plan!  Remember, the most successful people in this world fail the most.  This is because they take the most amount of risks and have the desire, motivation, and energy to overcome obstacles and challenges in order to reach success.

  1. Grit

Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania defines grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”  She indicates that grit is a better indicator of future success and happiness than IQ or talent.  I agree with her.  If people do not possess this trait, it is more likely that they will give up after they fail once or twice.  However, a person that develops grit will continue to persevere and find ways to reach their goals.  Developing grit takes time and resilience.  It is similar to the process of learning the guitar.  For example, when you first pick up a guitar, it can be somewhat painful to play, as the steel strings are hard on your fingers.  It is easy to just give up and tell yourself that the guitar is not for you.  However, over time, if you continue to play the guitar, embrace the pain, and persevere, your fingers will develop callouses and playing will be less painful.  This process is similar when working towards goals.  You have to work through the kinks, mistakes and failures, and pain in order to reach the prize.

Teach your kids to develop grit and perseverance

It is difficult as parents to watch your kids struggle and fail.  It can be painful to see them discouraged, frustrated, or sad and disappointed.  However, it is important to help them process these emotions and learn from them as opposed to plow their way through life.  If you pave the way for your children by problem solving and doing the work for them or provide a safety net for them should they fall, they will never fully experience what it means to develop grit or perseverance.  They will also fear failure, which will prevent them from taking risks and pushing through challenging obstacles.  It is the grit, perseverance, and independent accomplishments that will help your child establish confidence and a stronger self-esteem so take some deep breaths and take a step back before you have the inclination to catch your child if you see they are falling.  It will really pay off in the end!

4 Parenting Strategies to Help Reinforce Social & Emotional Learning (SEL) for Children

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If you have not heard of social and emotional learning (SEL), you most likely will soon.  School districts across the country have been adopting social and emotional learning into their curriculum, as it is an integral part of education and the development of kids.  According to CASEL’s framework of SEL, it is “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

The 5 Competencies

Education is typically content driven as teacher tend to focus more on the subject they are teaching as opposed to focusing on skill building so that children are prepared to be successful and well-adjusted adults.  Although the teaching of content still exists and will continue to be taught in classrooms across the country, teachers are now being instructed to implement skill based teachings into their lessons.  The 5 competencies of CASEL’s SEL framework that are now being embedded in classroom lessons are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making.  In addition to walking away with content knowledge, students are now developing skills including the ability to identify emotions, control impulses, manage stress, set goals, and strengthen communication, collaboration, and problem solving skills.  The thought behind this model is that kids will need these skills in life as much as if not more than the content they are being taught in school.  I could not agree more.

What you can do at home to reinforce SEL

  1. Model the 5 competencies at home for your kids.  Show your child that you are able to identify and manage your own emotions.  By using language that is explicit, articulate, and easy to understand, your children will develop more self-awareness, be able to identify their own emotions, and will have the language to communicate with you how they are feeling.
  2. Help your child develop healthy ways of coping with stress.  In today’s day, life is full of activities and rushing from obligation to obligation.  Children are getting burnt out as are you!  Take time for breaks and provide opportunities for you and your child to slow down, enjoy a moment, and breath.
  3. Children are often very egocentric and focused on themselves.  Help your child to be a bit more observant of what is going on around them and what their peers are thinking and feeling.  Teach them ways to express empathy and show kindness for others.  This will help them develop stronger social interactions and relationships.
  4. Parents often make decisions for kids that they think is in their best interests.  Rather than doing this, be a facilitator and walk your child through the process of making decisions.  Ask them to define the problem, come up with a few options, evaluate the pros, cons, and risks for each option, and then make a decision.  This will help your child develop stronger decision making skills.

Why Adolescents Behave the Way They Do: 3 Strategies to Help Parent Teenagers

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In our last blog, Why Teens Behave the Way They Do: 3 Things You Should Know About Adolescent Brain Development, we talked about adolescent brain development and the impacts it has on their behavior.  Now that you have a better understanding of why adolescents behave the way they do, the following are 3 strategies that can be helpful when parenting teenagers.

  1. Acknowledge and validate their emotions

Remember, teenagers are mainly thinking with their emotions since their brains are still developing.  Although, they may come across as irrational at times, in order to have a productive conversation with adolescents, it is helpful to first acknowledge and validate their perspective and emotions.  This will lessen the intensity of whatever it is they are feeling and they will be more likely to listen to your perspective.  Try not to react negatively or feed into their emotions.  Your child needs you to remain calm even if they can’t.

  1. Follow the 80/20 rule

Although your child is seeking independence at this age, they still need you now more than ever.  80% of the time, it is important that you focus on relationship building.  For example, spending one on one time playing a game, going for a hike, or going to a fun event (ie: sporting event, concert, etc.) will really help to establish a strong bond between you and your child.  Be a cheerleader at one of their activities and make sure you are present in their life as often as you can be.  Investing 80% of your interactions on relationship building will really help impact the remaining 20% of the time that you are disciplining them .  Although discipline is necessary to assist teens in developing strong values and learn right from wrong, it is important that they still feel loved.  Continuing to focus on your bond will help with this.

  1. Foster healthy risk taking by connecting them to an activity

As indicated in our last blog, adolescents tend to be risk takers since the emotional side of their brain controls a lot of the decisions they make.  Unfortunately, some of these risks are unhealthy and dangerous.  In order to help teens make safer and smarter choices and to foster healthy risk taking, try connecting them to an activity.  A competitive sport or a class that can introduce them to a hobby (ie: photography, art, an instrument, etc.) are two examples of activities that can ground teenagers.  Through these experiences, teens will develop more confidence in themselves, have a positive connection with their peers, and develop stronger decision making skills.

Raising a teenager can be challenging and is a work in progress.  You are going to have good days and difficult days depending on their mood.  Please don’t hesitate to reach out to a counselor if you need any help.  Sometimes, getting an outsider’s perspective can be valuable and having another positive adult role model in your child’s life can go a long way.