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Social Media and Me

Everyone once in a while I remove Facebook from my phone. Not because of any privacy concerns, or for some major protest over over-sharing and globalization, but because my kids accuse me of looking down too much. So I remove it, and find myself scrolling through my phone purposefully but fruitlessly.  I get off social media for a while, and then find myself going back on for work, or to search out information. Inevitably, I find myself scrolling through old posts and the more I scroll, the worse I feel. Every post, every flip of my finger, I feel worse and worse. Watching all the smiling faces, all the parties, all the happy children and parents. Sometimes I feel like it’s me drowning, watching everyone else party on the inside, and my imperfect life, family, children, social life pale in comparison. The more I scrolled, the worse I felt. Until I finally stopped. And walked away from the social media platform. Because it was making me feel bad. The medium isn’t bad, it’s just how I feel when I’m on it. And I am learning to walk away from things that make me feel bad. I know that what’s presented on social media is filtered: everybody posts what they want others to see; the life they want to present to the world. It’s not real. And that’s ok. But I don’t have to engage in things that make me feel bad. I think I need to learn how to moderate. Look a little, notice myself and my feelings, and leave when I start feeling down. Or when my inner voice starts making me feel bad. Because social media isn’t gong anywhere. And my behavior teaches my kids how to use social media responsibly. Not just when to look at it, but when to notice it affects my feeling and my behavior, it’s time to take a break.

My Child Plays Sports

I woke up last night in the middle of a panic attack. It’s not the first time, either. Heart pounding, sweating, mind racing. I have two son who are competitive gymnasts.  We travel all over for meets. Both go to the same gym but compete at different levels. My younger son enjoys the comradery, but he’d much rather sing, ride his bike around the neighborhood, and hang out with his friends. For some kids, being part of a team is about learning to lose gracefully and putting effort and pride into everything they do. And that’s such an important lesson. My older son, however, lives and breathes gymnastics. This is what he wants to do. He has big dreams and plans, and works hours a day on achieving his goals. I’ve read a lot of blogs. They all say, “You are doing a good thing; you’re teaching them about perseverance and how to lose gracefully”. Occasionally, people will recognize the time, money, and energy parents put into their children’s sports. Sometimes this is to fulfill the parents’ desires for greatness through their kids. Sometimes it’s the athletes drive and motivation. My sons call me a “gymnastics mom”. They make fun of me when I remind them to point their toes or get out of their heads and into the back tuck.  Which brings me back to my panic attack.  Am I pushing too hard? Am I giving him my all so they can give theirs? Should I leave it alone? Most of all, am I the cause of their stress or lack of effort? How do I stop getting tense in the middle of the night, meet, or practice? As anyone who’s ever experienced a panic attack knows, they aren’t so easy to stop. And one leads into another into the next. In the moment it’s hard to remember to breath, unclench your jaw, or count backwards from 10,000. Sometimes a podcast helps as a distraction; meditation to remind me to get into my breath and get out of my thoughts.  It’s hardest to remember not to try too hard. Just to let it go. And that’s the best thing I can for my kids: to learn to chill, take it as it comes, accept what is and trust in myself as a parent, as a chauffeur, as a psychologist, and as a back-seat coach and cheering squad. It’s hard not to take their scores and effort, or lack thereof, personally; to equate my blood, sweat, and tears with how they perform, or don’t. And I guess that the point. My sons’ gymnastics (or any other) experiences aren’t in my control. The decisions I make for them, and the emotions and drive I try to instill are done in good faith, with love and knowledge. And that’s where it must end: faith in myself and faith in my kids. I can only do so much. And I have to be ok with that, and let the rest be.

Resilience

Last night was not my best parenting moment. After a long week, topped by an even longer weekend, we offered for friends to stay over with their children for dinner. The boys were torturing the girls, who were crying and running to us for support; water was spilled ALL over the table; and the dog was in the middle, chasing and being chased. My dearest daughter, who deserves an Oscar for tears-on-command, looked at me soulfully and asked for help cleaning up her spill. And I couldn’t. I wiped her tears and told her to get it done herself. I didn’t yell, I scream, or lose my cool. But I just couldn’t do it. Resilience is our ability to bounce back from what we perceive as adversity, as hits to our self-image and esteem. Some people believe we are born with this ability to bounce back; that it’s innate, and can’t be taught. Others believe that it can be taught: that there are skills that help build reliance. One of these skills is emotional regulation. We’ve found that among youth who report high reliance, believe they can adapt in stressful and risky situations. A significant predictor of resilience in adolescents is emotional regulation. Teaching emotional regulation, and bolstering that skills, can help prevent risky and irrational behaviors.  And can help us deal better with screaming crying children and flying pizza and puppies. We feel better when we are in control; we are able to think and respond, instead of react on a whim. Our resilience, and our emotional regulation helps keeps us in control. And when we are in control we are better parents. And our kids learn how to respond to stress. And their brothers and sisters.

How to Deal with Those Who Hate

It seems that we can’t escape the news, no matter where we hide. Our social media pages, televisions, and conversations are peppered with messages of intolerance, and hate. Pictures flash through our screens of people screaming, swatsikas and flags proudly displayed, torches and angry faces. As adults we have difficulty processing these strong emotions; how to we help our children understand this world? It’s important, if we are asked, to be honest and open. We share information only to the extent that the child understands: Who are these people? Americans who are unhappy. Where is this occurring? Today, Virginia. What is happening? People are angry and upset about their vision of the country. Am I safe? Yes. What can I do? Love others. Know that what makes this country great is that we can have differing viewpoints, and in this country we don’t get in trouble for respectfully and calmly stating them. Violence is never ok. Inciting fear and bullying is never acceptable. But listening is. Loving others is. Knowing that talking with people is good, especially those who don’t agree with you. Really listening, and trying to understand other people leads to acceptance and tolerance. It’s important that we give our children and ourselves a sense of peace and stability; that we assure them that the helpers are still there: their parents, teachers, doctors, and those who help keep our communities safe. For ourselves, we should remember that strong emotions are best countered with a calm demeanor and tone. Listening with an open mind and heart, not to answer, but to understand, is key. That’s how we bridge divides; that’s how we change our world. We show our children that we don’t stand up to bullies with more pitchforks and torches, but with love and a willingness to hear. And when all else fails, we understand that what makes this country great is our freedoms: of speech, of thought, of peaceful assembly. And in the end, none of us HAVE to listen. We can leave: shut off our televisions, put down our phones, not engage in social media or disturbing dialogue.  Knowing how to turn the negativity off, how to find the helpers and self soothe, allows our children and ourselves to heal. Listening and loving helps our community, and our country, grow.

"Self-Care"

I think the buzz-phrase for a while has been “self-care”. Recently we have been bombarded with messages of how we need to take care of ourselves; how important it is to make sure we don’t burn out; how if we aren’t ok, we won’t be able to take care of anyone else. I think in the current climate, the notion of “self-care” is more important than ever. We are being bombarded with news and feelings from all sides: our friends, our family, the news. Even our recent diversions don’t allow us to escape: Facebook and Twitter are rife with political and emotional messages. We need to stop. We need to take care of ourselves. Burnout has never been so close as it is now. We need to take care of bodies and our minds, because if we aren’t ok, we can’t be effective friends, spouses, parents. Here are my suggestions: Disconnect from all social media. Listen to audiobooks in the car. Meditate, color, knit, run. When you find yourself becoming upset, drawn in to a thought or argument that will raise your hackles and blood pressure, walk away. Think about your breath coming in and out of your body. Remember you don’t have to pay attention to those pesky notions running through your mind. The world has changed. But our role in it has not. We need to be there for those who rely on us.  We are the helpers and the healers. But this time, more than ever, it’s important to take care of ourselves.  We are worthy people, too. Self-care is more than just a buzz-phrase today. It’s a lifestyle.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Parenting

When my son was diagnosed with ADHD, I thought, as a psychologist, I was prepared for the continuing challenges of parenting. But I was wrong. All my knowledge went out the window as I attempted to plead, cajole, beg, bribe, yell my way through parenting my son.  Those early childhood years of his life were increasingly tough. There were many moments I wished that there could have been a support group, a therapist, someone, who knew what I was going through. So that all of these increasingly difficult behaviors weren’t on mine and my husband’s shoulders alone. We were very lucky. We had friends and family, and a WONDERFUL therapist who helped us through it all. And even with all the support, we felt isolated from our parent-peers.  There are many parents out there who don’t have the support base we had. And it’s not just parents of children with ADHD that experience this burn out. One population of parents in particular has an exceptionally high rate of anxiety and depression. Parents and primary caregivers of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have significantly high rates of depression and anxiety (50% and 40% respectively).  Despite this, very few seek treatment for themselves. We know that if treatment is received, we can decrease these rates of anxiety and depression, thereby increasing satisfaction and effective parenting techniques, and decreasing alienation and loneliness. A recent study by Lushin and O’Brien (2016) has found that using the Early Intervention Program to provide treatment to parents, either in a home-based or clinic-based setting (where their child receives services) helps reduce the symptoms and severity of the depression and anxiety related to parenting s child with ASD. Receiving treatment for their depression and anxiety helps them parent effectively, which in turn helps their children. The Early Intervention Program seems like a perfect vehicle to provide these services. And we know that the early the effective services are provided to the child (and that includes appropriate parenting), the better the child is in the long term. And the better we all are. Lushin, V., & O’Brien, K.H. (2016) Parental Mental Health: Addressing the unmet needs of caregivers for children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 55, 1013-1015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2016.09.507

How to Talk to Children about Traumatic Events

I was at a function on 9-11, with parents and children all under the age of 13. In respect to the day, a 9-11 tribute was planned. One parent walked away, visibly upset. Understandably. We have lived through this day, and the following weeks: in real time, in our minds, in our waking and dreaming hours. But our children haven’t. They have only known a world where we don’t wear shoes on the security line in the airport, and metal detectors are common place. How do explain 9-11 to our children? At what age do we start? It’s important to be able to talk about scary events to our kids. Bad things happen. And we need to be able to speak to our children about them, in an understandable and relatable manner. If we can start speaking to our children when they are young, it will be easier for us (as parents) to talk to about, and for them (as growing minds) to process.
  1. Don’t shy away from the truth, but give it to a child in a developmentally appropriate way: Young children don’t need to know that planes struck two iconic buildings in Lower Manhattan. But they do need to know that something bad happened.
  2. Stick to the facts: It’s so easy to add commentary. Don’t. This is true in any tough situation. It muddies the waters and doesn’t help young children process what occurred. You can simply say, "Some people wanted to hurt America." If the child is older and prepared to hear more facts, give them slowly. Remember that what you say will inform how they react and think in the future.
  3. Try to give hope: Even when things are hopeless. Children look towards the adult in their life to guide them. Even when we don’t have answers ourselves. It’s important to remember what we are doing to keep people safe, and how those actions, in turn, are keeping our children safe. We might find the lines in the airport long and cumbersome, but they help ensure that everyone flying that day is safe and secure. Present the positive to the child.

Sometimes, in the moment, we don’t know what to say. If that’s the case, it’s ok to say “I don’t know. Let me get back to you.” Seek out a pediatric psychologist or other qualified mental health professional to sort through the information and help you come up with plan of what to say. When you have a plan, you’ll be calmer and be able to talk to your child in a clear manner.

Talking to kids about scary times is tough. But it’s important we build that foundation for children. Because our children deserve to know how to process both positive and negative events in their lives. And it’s our job as parents to guide them.

Social Anxiety in Young Children

Sometimes, walking into kindergarten can be super scary; new children, new teacher, no mommy. It may take a few days or weeks for some children to warm up and be comfortable. Those who don’t warm up, who continue to cry and have difficulty adjusting to novel social situations may be suffering from Social Anxiety. Social Anxiety doesn’t end in kindergarten, but may continue throughout a person’s lifespan. In young children, parents and caregivers are more likely to schedule social interactions, which help young children become less socially anxious. A recent study by Hoff et al (2015) found that older children who suffered from social anxiety had greater difficulty in social, academic, and overall functioning as they aged, even when home and family problems decreased. Interestingly, these social and academic problems were greater among children who suffered from social anxiety than those who suffered from other types of anxiety. It’s possible that socially anxious adolescents are more able to avoid social situations, whereas younger children’s social calendar is controlled by their parents. Whatever the cause, early intervention for social anxiety might prevent socially anxious younger children from becoming socially anxious adolescents and adults. Hoff, A.L., Kendall, P.C., Langley, A., Ginsburg, G., Keeton, C., Compton, S., … Piacentini, J. (2015) Developmental differences in functioning in youth with social phobia. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15374416.2015.1079779

Chocolate Chips

I just finished a bag of chocolate chips. To be fair, I had been slowly working through the bag for six months. But this morning, I finished the whole bag. By 9:30 in the morning. Getting all four kids off to school by myself wasn’t as difficult, or fraught with stress, as it could have been. But it’s wearing. And I know I’m not the only one. I’m not writing this to give myself, or you, a pep talk; I’m not looking for pity either. Just to say, sometimes, you have those days. Sometimes, my children are wonderful. They can be kind, and warm, and loving. They can be compassionate and conscientious. But most of the time, they aren’t. They yell at each other; they yell at their parents. They try to reinvent the wheel when it comes to homework and projects (“I don’t need to study”, or, “I kinda know it, it’ll be fine”). They don’t do their chores. Their rooms are a mess. And we, as parents, try to compensate. We say “It’s not a big deal, I can empty this dishwasher.” Or, “It was his first failure/suspension/whatever,” or, “Give him another chance.” Sometimes we just do it ourselves because it’s easier. And that’s exhausting. Raising children is mentally exhausting. Letting our kids make their own mistakes and missteps, while providing love and supervision is hard. Letting them know when they can try on their own (i.e. studying), and when the rules need to be obeyed (i.e. sitting down to a meal with the entire family), is tough. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Even the most oppositional child learns, eventually, what the family considers truly important. And the lessons they learn through their own trial and error make a greater impact than any amount of yelling or bribery we can offer. And so, go enjoy that occasional bag of chocolate chips. You earned it.

Top Three Tips to Help Your Child Build Better Friendships

As parents, we want the best for our children. We want the best education, the best toys, the best friends etc. However, what happens when we can’t give them that, when we can’t dictate their friendships or even help our kids to keep their friendships healthy and thriving? It’s the hardest thing to watch your child try and fail, or not try at all. Yet, there are things you can do and ways to help your child succeed in their friendships. I hope my top three tips prove useful to you and your child. 1. Check your ego at the proverbial door. It’s not about you. Sometimes we want our children to like whom we like, or be friends with the type of kids we weren’t able to build friendships with when we were younger. This isn’t about that, after all, they have their own needs and wants. Our job is to steer them into making healthy decisions. They don’t need to gravitate to the richest or the most popular kids, and that’s hard for some parents to understand. True, healthy, thriving friendships should always be the goal that every parent seeks for their child. Sometimes our children choose to engage in friendships that we think are not the best options for them. Step back, encourage and support them; let them know that you’re there. The friendship may continue for a long time or it may abruptly fail. It will be difficult to see your child hurt but this real life experience helps them learn best. As long as they are safe, let them engage in that opportunity to gain experience and learn more about healthy friendships with the group they have chosen to be with. 2. Find their group where they are at. If your child gets along better with younger children, so be it. The friendship skills are similar. Getting them comfortable in their own skin, with their own developmental peers, is more important. Remember, it’s best for your child to have one or two good friends than to continually try to break into many other unhealthy friendship groups. 3. Find their passion. This is often harder, because it may change monthly, or daily. So don’t go spending tons of money on hockey equipment at first, try to rent or find some used. Expose your kids to many different types of activities and know that something will stick. It may not happen today, it may not happen in a year and that’s ok. The more exposure to various activities, the better rounded your child will become. The wonderful added bonus in this approach is that it gives your child even more exposure to different peer groups and a greater chance for them to find their niche. Remember, above all, a calm, loving and supportive parent is most important. Everything else will come in time.
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