* The Challenges of Parenting Tweens

By Heather Miller, LCSW, Courier & Press, Oct. 17, 2017 –

“Why did Jack score two goals and I didn’t score any?”  “I’m terrible at soccer.  I should just quit.”  “Everyone else in my class knows how to do this math problem but me.  I’m awful at it.”  “You just don’t understand.”

And so it begins… I have a tween.  With this new label comes a noticeable change in my once easy-going, happy, confident child.  New emotions have set in as well as constant comparisons between my tween and classmates, teammates, and friends.

Miriam-Webster Dictionary defines a tween as a boy or girl who is 11 or 12 years old.  The tween years serve as the transitional years between being a child and becoming a teenager.

With this transition comes uncertainty as to what defines the tween.  This uncertainty manifests in various ways such as tears, angry outbursts, and more seriously, depression and anxiety.

Parents and caregivers are often caught off-guard as to how to help their tween navigate this stage of life.  Following are some tips for helping parents and tweens not only survive these years, but to use them to strengthen relationships.

 First, remember to validate and acknowledge the tween’s feelings.  Give permission for your tween to be sad or angry.

This will assist the tween in feeling comfortable with sharing various emotions with adults.  Additionally, this simple acknowledgement will help the tween trust the adult by knowing their feelings will not be laughed at or dismissed.

During this stage, tweens are attempting to define themselves.  Often this is done by ranking their abilities compared to others.  No matter what the tween is comparing, he or she will always find someone who is better than them.

Adults can help by directing praise and compliments toward character traits rather than abilities or accomplishments.  Praising a tween for getting a B in math will likely be followed by the response, “but so and so got an A.”

Focusing on the traits that resulted in the tween earning the B will assist the tween with recognizing the positive traits he or she possesses.  In this situation, stating, “You showed a lot of patience when learning the new material in math.  It would have been easy to give up, but you continually gave it your all,” will bring the focus to the traits of patience and perseverance rather than a letter grade, which serves as a ranking system.

The most important factor in helping your tween is to be available.  According to World of Psychology, it is imperative to give your tween options to communicate their feelings to you.  Allowing your child to choose whether to talk face-to-face, by text, or by calling you about emotions and situations will increase the likelihood of your tween coming to you with concerns and for support.

If you find that your tween is experiencing more serious emotional outbursts or is becoming increasingly withdrawn and isolated, additional assistance may be needed.

Contacting your school’s Youth First Social Worker with these concerns can result in early intervention.   Early intervention by a professional is beneficial to help tweens learn coping skills before the emotions become too intense and overwhelming.

* Dealing With Anxiety

By Amber Russell, Courier & Press, Oct. 3, 2017 –

Thump, Thump, Thump.  Everything feels like it’s going in slow motion.  All I can hear is my heart beating, which feels like it is going to beat right out of my chest.

I can’t breathe.  I can’t think. I’m starting to sweat.  Thoughts begin swirling in my head.  “It is so crowded.”  “Everyone is looking at me.”  “I am in the way.”  “I am taking too long.”  Tears start to well up in my eyes as I think, “Please don’t let me see anyone I know.”

Sound familiar?  This is how I feel sometimes in a crowd or even at the grocery store.  Forty million adults (18 percent of the population) in the U.S. suffer from some form of anxiety disorder.

I am very familiar with anxiety and what helps me cope.  What works for me, however, might not work for someone else experiencing similar symptoms.

There isn’t one single coping mechanism that will magically make your symptoms go away, but there are lots of things aside from medication and therapy you can try.  To get started you may want to try talking with someone you trust, focusing on things you can control, finding a place you feel comfortable and safe, and doing something physical such as going for a walk.

Here are a few other suggestions to try when symptoms surface:

1. Know what triggers your anxiety.  Is it work, school, crowded places, a specific person? Do you feel overwhelmed or something else more specific?  What are your symptoms?  They may include racing heart, sweating, trembling, nervousness, rapid breathing, constant worrying, restless sleep, inability to focus, intense fear or embarrassment.

Keep a journal to track when you have panic attacks or strong symptoms.  Note the date, time, what was going on at the time of the attack, what you were thinking about beforehand, how long the symptoms lasted, and what made them go away.  Once you have more information about symptoms and causes, the anxiety is easier to control.  I get very anxious in crowds, especially while shopping.  From tracking triggers and symptoms I know that while I obviously can’t avoid shopping altogether, I should not shop on super busy Sunday afternoons.

2. Try deep breathing.  When we are stressed, our breathing becomes shallow.  We feel like we can’t breathe, so we try to breathe fast by taking in quick short breaths through the mouth.  This can actually cause hyperventilation.  Try the 4-7-8 method instead:

  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of 4.
  • Hold breath for a mental count of 7.
  • Exhale completely and slowly through your mouth, making a swoosh sound to a mental count of

Repeat these three steps at least 2 times.  It may seem awkward at first, but it really helps to focus on breathing.  Slow it down, breathe in through the nose, hold the breath, and slowly exhale through your mouth.

3. Try grounding techniques, which help put your mind in the “here and now” instead of focusing on how stressed and anxious you are.  The more you focus on how stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed you are, the more stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed you become.  Try the 5-4-3-2-1 game.  Look around the room and mentally describe 5 things (poster, clock, lamp, etc).  Name 4 things you can feel (hair touching your shoulders, the breeze of a fan).  Name 3 things you can hear (the air conditioning unit, the click of a pen).  Name 2 things you can smell or smells that you like.  Name 1 good quality about yourself. Repeat with different items if needed.

If you or your child suffers from an anxiety disorder, take steps to manage it.  Start with the coping techniques mentioned above, and seek professional help if anxiety is interfering with daily life.

* The Wonderful Truth About Cats and Dogs

By Lori Powell, LCSW, Courier & Press, September 26, 2017 –

I have always loved animals, especially cats.  Throughout my professional life I have noticed that sharing photos of my cats and keeping small stuffed animals in my office has helped initiate and continue conversations with children and adults, helping me build trusting relationships.

As a result, when I began my employment at Vogel Elementary School as a Youth First Social Worker, I began to carry a stuffed animal with me to help children transition into school in the mornings.  If I’m not at the door when children enter the area, some will ask, “Where is the lady with the cat?”

Some children smile and ask to pet the stuffed animal I’m carrying with me, which is usually a cat of various colors.  As a result, I am not surprised by the following statement from Rose M. Barlow, of the Department of Psychology at Boise State University in Idaho: “Animals, (real or toys,) can help children and adults to experience and express emotions, a feeling of unconditional support, and grounding.”

According to the Academy of Anxiety and Depression, anxiety disorders affect 1 in 8 children.  Rose Barlow also states that animals can help reduce anxiety, stress, and sadness that adults or children might be experiencing.  There are many people that need help meeting their emotional needs to feel safe, loved, and appreciated.

I’ve listed five essential needs that pets can provide to adults and children:

  • A constant companionship can be formed that teaches the individual how to provide unconditional love and affection appropriately.
  • A structured schedule for waking up in the mornings, bedtimes, and meal times can be developed.
  • A positive coping skill can be developed, because it is very difficult to play with a dog or cat without smiling or laughing.
  • Self-esteem can be increased by allowing the child to feel comfortable in building friendships.
  • Physical comfort can be obtained by touching, holding, and petting your animal.

When choosing a pet, please make sure they are friendly and want the extra attention a child will give.  Otherwise, the essential needs of the individual and the pet will not be met. Also, it’s important to be thoughtful about the care and responsibility that any animal requires, including obtaining appropriate vaccinations for all pets in the home.

If you are unable to afford care for the animal and must return it to the original owner, this could create additional trauma for children and adults who have become attached to their new pet.  But don’t give up on the possibility of animal-assisted therapy.  There is always the option to use toy stuffed animals or visit the animals at the zoo to help children and adults reduce or alleviate feelings of stress, anxiety, and sadness.

* Reducing Meltdowns

By Laura Keys, LCSW, Courier & Press, Sept. 19, 2017 –

If you are the parent or caregiver of a young child, you have most likely experienced the dreaded meltdown or temper tantrum.  You also know it is  not  a  delightful experience  for you or your child.

Children do not like to feel out of control or unsafe, which is often what is occurring during a meltdown.  If you are new to the game of parenting or caregiving, these meltdowns or tantrums do not magically end when kids leave the “terrible twos” and turn three.  In some cases, they can continue through a child’s early elementary years.

However, for most kids and their parents or caregivers there is relief.  There are a few things you can do to help speed or at least ease the process and build your child’s self-esteem at the same time.

One of my favorite books to recommend to parents is  “No More Meltdowns,”  by Jed Baker, Ph.D.   I like this book because he uses examples where he, as both a therapist and parent, has sometimes struggled or had to try different approaches before finding the right one for his client or his own child.   In both cases, he keeps trying until he finds success.

 This is a reminder that no one is perfect.  Each child is different, and what works for one child may not work for the next child.  He also gives practical, common-sense advice.

For example, see if there is a time pattern or specific trigger before a meltdown occurs.  Is your child hungry or tired because of a missed snack or nap?  Are they off their normal routine for some reason?  Does your child always have a tantrum when you buy a birthday present for another child?

Once you identify the problem you can avoid the trigger in the future.  As your child becomes older and more communicative these will become teachable moments.  Not only will you be trying to avoid uncomfortable tantrums for you and your child, you will be teaching them the beginning steps of self-problem solving.

If a slightly older child has issues with homework such as math, always start with a few problems they can work successfully.  This will give them confidence before moving on to problems they are struggling with.  Always praise their efforts.

Yes, you want them to develop their skills, but if they feel they are mentally or emotionally defeated before they even get started on a task, it increases the likelihood they will get frustrated, give up, shut down or turn the situation into a power struggle.  Power struggles can cause a meltdown for both you and your child.

Trying to reason with a child during a meltdown does not usually work.  The child’s reasoning capabilities are most likely not engaged at this point.  The goal at this point is to soothe and comfort.   This does not mean giving in; it means keeping the child from hurting himself or others.  Remember that children with certain conditions will be more difficult to help through tantrums than others.

In emergency situations, Dr. Baker recommends distraction.  However, he cautions not to use this all the time as the child will learn this as their primary coping skill.  As they get older they may learn that distraction is a way to avoid doing what they don’t want to do, (i.e. math problems).

Hopefully, this article is a reminder to parents that you are not alone; there are resources available if you are interested or feel you need assistance.  Dr. Baker’s book is just the tip of the iceberg.

Also, remember, throwing a good tantrum is part of a toddler’s job and a parent’s rite-of-passage.  And yes, despite everyone’s best efforts, sometimes you buy the toy and leave the store or exit the restaurant as quickly as possible.

 

* Live a Little and Laugh a Lot

 

By Emily Sommers, MSW, Courier & Press, Sept. 12, 2017 –

A few weeks ago Dan, my significant other, came home and was in an upbeat mood and chiming, “Hee, Hee, Hee, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ho, Ho, Ho.”  The whole family ended up joining in at some point, and this activity created a lot of fun for us all to engage in.

Dan had been to his weekly Optimist meeting, and they had a guest speaker, Dr. Amodio, who taught laughter yoga.  Thank you for filling our home with another skill to use when we fall too seriously into daily life and demands, Dr. Amodio!

Dan described the activity they engaged in, all pretending to be on their cell phones and having a conversation with someone on the other end, walking in a circle around the room chiming, “Hee, Hee, Hee, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ho, Ho, Ho,” while embellishing the facial expression of each sound.  He really enjoyed it and was glad to share what he had learned!

 Laughter is being called the “new meditation” by a recent article in Times magazine.  Laughter has many emotional, mental and physical health benefits.

Time Health indicated studies that have shown laughter can act as an antidepressant, reduce the risk of heart disease and help reduce the body’s inflammatory response.  Sounds exactly like what the doctor might order!

Here is a list of some ways to use and apply laughter.  See if you might be inspired to add to the list…

  • Engage and play with your pet.  Animals can make us laugh and are usually loyally waiting if we let them!
  • Follow a comic strip daily, and better yet, picture that character when you make a mistake in an effort to not take yourself so seriously.  My favorite is “Blondie.”
  • Come up with a “Joke of the Day” theme in your home.
  • There are some great apps to download on your phone that can provide funny motivation, inspiration and daily chuckles.  These should be parent approved, of course.
  • If you usually watch a drama or suspense movie, treat yourself to a great comedy that can provide some laughs.
  • We all have that great friend who can bring us up when we are down or remind us to not take life too seriously.  Pick up the phone and give them a call…it will brighten and lighten the day for both of you.
  • Parents, play with your kids.  Kids, play with your parents.
  • Try karaoke.  We enjoyed this on a recent family vacation and it taps into the fun and creative sides of everyone involved.

Hopefully, this short list has gotten your wheels turning and inspired ways you can find more opportunities for laughter in your individual and family lives.  Have fun with it and, remember, practice makes permanent.