* Talking to Your Child About Scary News

By Sarah Laury, LCSW, Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017 –

If you find it difficult to talk to your children about the scary things happening in our world today, you are not alone.  What is the best way to address tragic events they may see and hear about on the news?

Start by asking your child questions.  Find out what they already know.

As parents it’s natural to want to shield your child from scary stories on the news, but this is not always possible.  In addition to radio and television, they may overhear conversations at restaurants or doctor’s offices or even hear about things from other kids at school.

It’s important to find out what they already know so you can help them process it and answer any questions they may have.  Your child may ask you why something such as an act of violence happened.

As parents, it’s natural to want to be able to answer all of our children’s questions.  But remember that we don’t have all the answers either.  It’s okay to be honest and tell our children if we don’t know the answer.

Don’t promise your child that they will be safe or that nothing bad will ever happen to them.  Instead, tell them what is being done to help those affected by the tragedy.  As Fred Rogers once said, “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.’”

Point out emergency personnel and how they are assisting the victims.  Help your child understand what steps are being put into place to help the victims of a tragedy and to avoid future tragedies.

Avoid graphic details or images if possible.  Start by turning off the TV.  When a disaster or tragedy strikes, the news tends to play the same graphic footage over and over again.

Dr. David Schonfeld, MD, FAAP, Director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, recommends that if you decide to watch the news with an older child, it is helpful to record it and watch it by yourself first.  This way you can screen the content first, and recording it will also give you an opportunity later to pause and talk with your child about what you’re seeing.

Children process their feelings in different ways than adults.  Simply asking your child about their feelings about a traumatic event might not be enough.  Children do not always know how to put their feelings into words.  Sitting with your child and drawing a picture or playing with toys might allow another outlet for exploration of feelings.

Validate their feelings by letting them know it’s okay to feel sad, scared or angry.  Resist the urge to argue with your child about his or her feelings.  Instead of saying, “Don’t be scared,” try asking your child what their specific fears are.  If you are scared, be honest and let your child know that you are scared too.  Explain what you are doing to cope with the fear.  Assure your child you are doing everything you can to keep them safe.  Let your child know the ways in which you and other entities such as the government, police, etc. are taking steps to ensure their safety.

Some signs that your child may not coping well with a disaster/tragedy:  Change in sleeping patterns; change in appetite; physical complaints such as stomachache, headache, or irritability; changes in behavior such as suddenly becoming more demanding or clingy; suddenly becoming anxious when separated from parents.

If you have any concerns about how your child is coping, talk to their pediatrician or school social worker about your concerns.

* What Teens Want Parents to Know

By Teresa Mercer, LCSW, LCAC, January 2, 2018 –

As a social worker and therapist, I have the pleasure working with teens.  I have worked in a variety of settings with them:  inpatient, outpatient, substance abuse treatment, in-home therapy and currently a school setting.

Although they all have their own unique personalities and styles, teens are all similar in several ways.  They all experience moods but are not always sure how to express their feelings. They are all attempting to figure out life and how they might fit in.

They all seem to fight for their independence while sometimes rebelling against our suggestions and advice.  They all want to feel safe, loved and needed.  They all want to be heard, even if we don’t agree.  They all want to be respected.

Through my years in working with them, I’ve heard the same concerns from many of them.  It doesn’t matter where they live, which school they attend, their socio-economic status, their grades, etc.  Most have expressed they do not feel understood by their parents, guardians, or most adults in general.

They complain that they are treated like children.  They are upset that some adults think they are irresponsible and not “ready for the real world.”  They are tired of having their ideas and thoughts not heard or appreciated, and yet they are expected to be responsible.

Now I do know adolescents can be challenging. Some of the things they choose to do are beyond words.  Many times while talking with them I ask them to explain their thought process, because I really need to understand what made them choose to do or NOT do something!

However, they are still a fascinating population to work with and I love every day I am with them.

I decided to collect responses from a number of teens.  My intention is to let adults know that our youth do give some thought to their decisions, they are aware of what’s important and they are capable of making good choices.

But most importantly, the group in this survey wants us to understand some things about them.

Below are the 3 questions I asked and a sampling of their answers.

  1. What are one or two things you would really like for your parents/guardians or other adults to understand about you?
  • School is stressful and they really do try their best.
  • They have busy schedules with sports, other activities and school.
  • Talk with them and listen to them instead of lecturing and/or yelling.
  • Sometimes expectations are overwhelming. Please be understanding when they can’t meet all the expectations.
  • Sometimes what they want for their life is different from what their parents want for them.
  • School and friends are important to them.
  • Pay more attention to their sad moods.
  • Understand they need privacy and time to themselves.
  • Realize they get just as stressed out as adults do.
  • They are capable of making good decisions.
  • Don’t compare them to siblings.

 

  1. What is one thing you would like to see different in the United States, such as what would make our lives better (this includes everyone, not just you or your family) or make the country better?
  • Teens overwhelming said more kindness, acceptance, tolerance and understanding of people (too much hatred in the world).

 

  1. What is one thing your family can start or stop doing that would improve family connectedness? If your family is already doing things that are going well, please share.
  • Eating a meal together
  • More activities/outings
  • Less arguing
  • More talking things out
  • Having less electronics at the table when eating

Whether or not you live with a teenager, I hope this brings some understanding.  Sometimes we can get so busy with life that we don’t acknowledge teens for “being teens” with ideas, perspectives, thoughts and feelings.

* Approaching the New Year With Gratitude

By Laura Keys – Courier & Press – December 19, 2017 –

Have you ever noticed that no matter what happens in some people’s lives, they are able to maintain a relatively positive attitude and see the silver lining in each situation?

They see the opportunity in a challenging dilemma, and they appreciate what they have, even in the face of loss. That doesn’t happen by accident.

Fortunately, a positive attitude can be developed with a little practice. The brain is a muscle, and you can strengthen your mind’s natural tendency toward optimism if you work at it.

This is not just good practice for our mental health but for our spiritual health as well. Many different faiths emphasize the importance of thankfulness, especially as a form of prayer. Eckhart Toelle said, “If the only prayer you ever say is ‘Thank You,’ that will be enough.”

Thankfulness doesn’t always come easily, but it is at those times that we need to seek out gratitude the most.

One of the ways we can train our brain in thankfulness is keeping a gratitude journal. In one study, psychologist Jeffrey Froh at Hofstra University asked students to write in gratitude journals each day for two weeks.

Students were asked to write down things they felt thankful for on a daily basis. Three weeks later, the students who counted their blessings reported feeling more optimistic, more satisfied with their lives and had more school satisfaction.

Froh explained the results this way: “It’s beyond feeling good, and beyond happiness… we found that grateful kids tend to report less physical complaints; but also in the adult literature they found that grateful people who counted blessings were more likely to exercise, more likely to report better sleep, less likely to report these physical complaints.”

 Researchers Robert Emmons and Michael McCollough also found many positive effects of keeping gratitude journals. Among the benefits were:

  • Being more likely to make progress on personal goals
  • Higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm and energy
  • Reporting having helped someone else or offered emotional support
  • Children reporting more positive attitudes toward school and their families
  • Adults with neuromuscular disease felt more optimistic about life and slept better

Twenty-one days is the time it takes to form a new habit. Now is an ideal time, as we prepare for the coming year and celebrate the holidays. It is a time to take stock of how we want our new year to unfold, and it’s a time to make promises to ourselves about improvement and renewal.

A different new year challenge than working on our outsides (gym memberships, new diets) would be to start with our insides (our hearts and minds). A gratitude journal could be just the thing to increase our compassion, optimism and humility.

Make this a part of your new year’s renewal. Select a special logbook that can be written in each day. At the beginning or end of the day, write down five things that make you feel grateful and thankful. You may feel like drawing a picture or attaching photos that mean something special to you. In any case, write down five items each day for three weeks.

If you have trouble getting started, think about simple or even obvious things like running water, your favorite song, coffee, that it snowed (or didn’t) today or experiencing another sunrise.

Once the list gets started, it’s easy to add items. At the end of three weeks, spend some time reflecting on the material you gathered. Meet a friend for lunch or coffee, and share your gratitude.

For more information on the benefits of gratitude see   happierhuman.com/benefits-of-gratitude/.

* Is Your Mind Full? Try Mindfulness

By Callie Sanders, LSW – December 12, 2017 –

With the demands of 21st century life – work, parenting, endless emails, texts, social media, etc. – people wear overstimulation like a badge of honor.

There seems to be a kind of confusion in our culture where people feel the need to be anxious and always “on the go” to be effective.  I’m just as guilty.

With that being said, we find ourselves in a mindfulness revolution.  It’s prominent everywhere.   From hospitals to corporations, 33% of Americans said they had used alternative health practices, including meditation (National Institutes of Health).

Mindfulness practice embraces the beauty of monotasking.  The way I describe mindfulness to the students I work with is simply “paying attention on purpose.”

By incorporating mindfulness practice at my schools this year, the students that are willing to give it a try leave my office feeling less stressed.  Most ask to repeat the practice during additional visits.  Let’s face it, kids are stressed out too.

There aren’t any prizes handed out for being the greatest at mindfulness. It is about connecting to our experiences in a different way and giving ourselves a chance to pay attention in the present without adding more stuff to our plate.

If you’ve used phrases like, “My mind just works too fast” or “I’ve tried it and failed,” or my favorite, “I don’t have time for that,” you’re exactly the kind of person that needs mindfulness most.  Mindfulness is a lifelong journey, not an all-or-nothing mentality, and it’s free.

According to a study conducted in 2013 by the University of Southern California, most Americans spend 13-plus hours a day consumed by media.  No wonder everyone is stressed out.

I was skeptical when the term mindfulness was first introduced to me.  But when I decided to give it a chance, I was surprised how simple it was and what I felt.

Practicing mindfulness can happen anywhere.  I like to practice in my vegetable garden or out in my yard.  When I take a second to sniff a fresh tomato after I pull it off the vine or listen to the birds singing in the background, I feel better.

For just that one second I was present; I noticed nature.  What a powerful feeling!  I encourage you to try this with your family at home.  After you take a second for yourself and enjoy nature, be grateful.

Lastly, I want to leave you with some tips for your workday, especially in the afternoon when the “two o’clock yawns” kick in.

When you can take a break, don’t go straight to your phone for at least one of the breaks.  A 2014 study found that being able to see a cellphone hinders the ability to focus on tough tasks.

If you can, go for a short walk and try not to ruminate on work.  I realize this can be difficult, but don’t be afraid to give it a try.  Ignoring your phone is a great way to practice mindfulness during the walk.

Also, do someone a favor.  Not only does this help you connect to others, it aids in recovering from stress.

Most importantly, start small.  Remember, no rewards are given for being the best at mindfulness.  I encourage you to put your phone down during dinner this evening and engage in conversation.  You will feel better being present.

* Agree to Disagree in a Respectful Manner

By Dawn Tedrow, LCSW, Dec. 5, 2017 –

There are a lot of things to be unhappy about in our world today.  Everyone has their own opinion when it comes to politics and current affairs, and many are not shy about expressing their feelings. If you open up your social media news feed and read through the comments, you will see a lot of negativity.

What about you? Have you taken a look at your own attitude and behavior lately?

We try to raise our children to be well rounded individuals, to know the difference between right and wrong and to handle conflict appropriately.

Sometimes things are said just for the sake of stirring up an argument with someone who posted their opinion.  We feel hurt by things people post, and want them to know they have offended us.  But what is the right way to handle this conflict?

We must remember that our children are observing our reactions to these situations and they are often mirroring our behavior.

As a parent, I am entitled to my own beliefs that influence how I raise my child.  However, I am also responsible for ensuring they conduct themselves in a way that is respectful.  Perhaps it is time to review the idea that we can “agree to disagree.”

Be mindful of how you respond to situations you disagree with.  I am also guilty of uttering something under my breath about the latest news.  What I would like my child to take away from the moment is that I don’t agree with what is being said or done.  But your child is also hearing the words you are saying and thinking of how to apply it to situations in their young life.

Unfortunately, our bad behaviors may teach our children to handle a situation in an inappropriate way and they may ultimately be punished for it.  We are setting our children up for failure by not keeping our own reactions in check.

The next time you are watching the news and disagree with what is being reported, take a moment to think about how you should respond.  What do you want your child to learn from your reaction?  How would you like them to react to a difficult situation at school when you are not present?

The first step in expressing yourself in a positive manner is by starting with “I feel.”  Surprisingly, many children don’t know how to describe their feelings, so it might be helpful to have a list of feelings available for them to look at while instructing them in this skill.  “I feel angry” and “I feel sad” are some examples.

Once the child understands how to identify their feelings, you can begin teaching them to identify what is making them have this feeling. For example, “I feel angry when you tell me to pick up my toys.”

Practice modeling this behavior around your children and continue to encourage them to use their words instead of acting out inappropriately.  As always, be sure to praise them for using their words in a respectful and appropriate manner.