We Disagree. Now what?! (Part 2)

alienation, long termIn last week’s entry I discussed how parents who live together might handle parenting disputes. This week I’ll tackle the same issue for parents who live apart.

As I discussed last week, when parents who live together argue frequently about parenting it can be a sign that the relationship’s maintenance is poor. In the case of parents who don’t live together, frequent conflict with the other parent can be a sign that a peaceful co-existence, post separation or divorce, has not been established, or has been undone. For tips on how to establish this peace, please enter the search term “parenting through divorce” in the search bar above. Moreover, all of the tips from last week’s blog (i.e., Part 1) would be useful in this context as well.

Here are 10 additional suggestions:

  • Agree that when kids are at each residence, and assuming that significant risk of harm has been ruled out, each parent at that residence is in charge. It’s often best for the non-residential birth parent to just stay out of it.
  • Try to have a regular meeting with the other parent (e.g., coffee, lunch) where you review what’s going on with your kid(s). Open communication can stave off many kinds of problems.
  • Do everything you can to stay out of court. In my clinical experience, divorce graphic2everyone loses something when a gavel settles a parental dispute. (I’ve seen many instances when one parent was the official “winner” in court but didn’t factor in the ongoing costs of the other parent feeling resentful, anger or hurt secondary to the outcome.)
  • When asking for the other parent to contribute financially to something, and referencing matters that aren’t a part of the initial divorce decree, try to make it a request that isn’t, and doesn’t sound even remotely like, a demand or a manipulation. (And, even when it’s in the decree, niceness goes a long way.)
  • Try avoid getting into the “s/he was a jerk to me so I’m not going to be nice” spiral. High road life is hard enough without making residence embattled young couplethere dependent on someone else’s choices.
  • Avoid communicating when you are suffering from transient brain dysfunction (e.g., you’re angry, have consumed alcohol, are highly stressed). Moreover, avoid name-calling or bringing up old business. If in doubt about this, ask yourself how well these strategies have worked in the past.
  • Point out what you’re grateful for and suggest that your kids do the same.
  • Avoid letting your current significant other get into the mix, unless you’re very confident that s/he will only have a calming effect.
  • Unless you have a fabulously cooperative relationship with the other parent, try to avoid using the other parent as a messenger of some third party’s important communication regarding your child. When teachers, physicians, coaches and so forth have something important yes i canto share regarding your child, try to be a part of the original communication; if you can’t be, ask if that third party would be willing to speak with you also. Triangles tend to be fertile soil for misunderstandings and conflict.
  • Avoid texting when a communication has a chance of being misunderstood or causing tension. Pick up the phone or wait until the aforementioned coffee or lunch.

There are a bunch of experts available to help if this gets challenging. For a referral, click here.

We Disagree. Now What?! (Part 1)

couple alienatedIt can be fairly stressful when parents disagree about a parenting issue. This week I will address strategies for parents who are still living together. Next week, I will address families  in which the parenting occurs across two households.

The first thing to assess is how often these disagreements are occurring. If they seem to be occurring on a regular basis, I’d wonder whether this is a symptom of a poor maintenance schedule in your relationship. Couples who practice good maintenance regularly (1) have fun together, (2) have mutually enjoyed sex, (3) share what’s going on and (4) avoid going toxic in disputes. If one or more of those are off with in your relationship, consider addressing that less you continue to put out bush fires while the house is on fire.

Here are eight tips for managing the discussion once you sit down to resolve the parenting conflict:

  • Try to avoid having this discussion in front of your child or letting family stressyour child triangulate you (i.e., playing you off of each other).
  • Start out by recognizing the good goals that you both have for your child. No matter the context of the conflict, most parents want good things (e.g., for him to be sociable, for her to be physically fit, for him to be safe). It’s disagreement over the methods that causes the conflict. Starting out recognizing you’re on the same page regarding your goals can soften the tension and help you to understand each other better.
  • happy latino coupleTry stating your partner’s position back to him or her. You should do this from your partner’s perspective, not yours. Don’t include qualifiers, or breakdowns in your partner’s reasoning. Simply say back to your partner what you hear his or her position as being, in as kind and empathic as a form as you can. Letting your partner know that s/he is heard can promote functional next steps.
  • Acknowledge any mistakes you may have made up until this point in time. Try to do this in as open and non-defensive of a way as you can. This also can facilitate openness in your partner.
  • Endeavor to communicate well even if your partner doesn’t. So often when couples break down, it’s because of the tallying or counting that goes on (ie.g., “I admitted to my faults but all she did was agree without owning any of her faults”). It’s good for you and for the relationship if you can be empathic with your partner, and own your mistakes, even if your partner doesn’t reciprocate.problemsolving
  • Consider getting outside consultation when there is some expertise that might resolve the matter (e.g., what side effects are commonly found when a kid takes a medication, how a college might value a kid having attended a debate camp).
  • If you cannot get on the same page, and barring that significant neglect or abuse would occur or continue if you did nothing, a change from the current would not normal be made unless you both agree. Said another way, changes shouldn’t normally occur unless you are both on the same page. This can make it seem like the one who doesn’t want the change has more power. But, it’s more about respecting that you both should agree before the status quo can be modified.

blocking a processSix things I would usually suggest avoid doing.

  • Being secretive. Secret parenting suggests that there is a larger problem in the relationship.
  • Deciding what to do based only on what other parents are doing; this is a source of information, yes. But, the herd sometimes strolls through minefields.
  • Letting your kid beat you down from your agreed upon strategy with pestering. Want to experience more pestering? Just follow this strategy. (Note: this is different from when your child forwards new data that you and your partner hadn’t considered. In these instances, you might decide to reconvene and reconsider.)
  • Not stating what you think is advisable because you’re concerned about upsetting your partner. This also suggests that there is a larger problem in the relationship (e.g., codependency).
  • Bullying your partner into seeing it your way. This often comes with a long term price tag that can be most unpleasant and drastic.
  • Failing to get your kid’s full perspective before making the decision. This doesn’t mean that your kid is in the room when you and your spouse hash it out. But, knowing what your kid thinks about the issues can help you to empower him or her when it’s appropriate to do so.hope sign

Bogged down? Broken down on the highway of your family life? Well, call 9-1-1.

 

 

Communicating About Adoption With Your Child

asian boy looking up white backgroundOver two million kids in the United States are adopted; these kids come to that status from a variety of origins (e.g., foster care, over seas adoption). This entry is designed to offer some general guidance for communicating with your child, and other family members, about his or her adoptive status.

It’s generally a good idea to let your child know that s/he is adopted as young as possible.

Keeping the adoptive status a secret suggests that it is something wrong, harmful or shameful. Moreover, knowing the birth families medical and psychiatric history can be helpful (e.g., there is a family risk for breast cancer). The younger your child is when you discuss this, the less dramatic it will likely be. Kids’ language and cognitive skills can vary across the same age group, as can their vulnerabilities. But, generally speaking, a healthy 4-5 year old is probably ready to start this discussion.

As you affirm your love and commitment, don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”

Many adoptive kids fear that they are not with their birth parents because there is something wrong with them; kids often think in egocentric terms like this. So, it’s common to hear things like, “why didn’t they want me?” If you know the reason, you can offer an age-appropriate answer (e.g., “she wasn’t an adult yet and didn’t feel ready to be a mommy. It had nothing to do with how beautiful you are.”). But, if you don’t, it’s okay to say “I don’t know” perhaps followed up with something like, “sometimes adults feel sick and don’t feel well enough to take care of someone as beautiful as you.”

Eschew all implicit and explicit efforts to subordinate your child’s status in the black man with sonsfamily.

You may have birth children in the family. Or, you may have birth nieces and nephews. Or, there may be other circumstances when someone is disposed to demote your child as a function of his or her adoptive status. It’s important that all such efforts be resisted. For example, it should be made clear to birth children that no such language will be tolerated, not because it regards a sensitive truth (e.g., like mocking someone who is missing a limb) but because it is not accurate (that being an adoptive child means that someone is less important or less loved).

Accept your child’s curiosity about his or her birth family.

Whether or not to be in touch with the birth family is a complicated question that depends upon a myriad of factors (e.g., how easy it is to identify them, how well they are, how well your child is, how open they are to it, whether there are potential legal consequences), so there is no easy answer to that concern. However, it is important to let your child know that you are not threatened by curiosity about his or her birth family. The best way to communicate this is to openly and calmly discuss his or her questions. A good script for those discussions is to endorse your child’s curiosity, give empathy for whatever s/he is thinking or feeling and acknowledge what you know and what you don’t know.

Integrate relevant cultural experiences into your family.

line of kidsLet me suggest that all families, whether there are adoptive children or not, whether they are multicultural or not, do well to imbue a quest for multicultural exposure and dialogue into the family’s culture (enter the term “diversity” in the search engine above for a related discussion). That said, if your adoptive child comes from a different culture, and especially if that difference is visible to others, seek out opportunities to learn and to experience that culture as a family. Moreover, seek out mentors for your child from that same cultural background. As parents we often want to believe that we can offer everything our child needs. However, it really does take a village. And, a multicultural village.

Consider getting expert help if this seems very complicated or is interfering with the quality of anyone’s life

Blogs can only cover the most basic of generalities. When things become difficult or complicated, it’s best to seek out the services of a qualified child psychologist. For a referral, click here.

(Thanks to my student Rachel Kester for her help with developing this blog topic and article.)

National Depression Screening Day

October 9th is National Depression Screening Day. This means that just about anyone can receive a free, anonymous and confidential screen for a mood disorder. Some stats to keep in mind:

• About 21.5 million Americans suffer from depression.

• Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among youth aged 10-24.

• Depression has a higher mortality rate than cardiac disease.

• Depression causes more days off from work than any other medical disease.

• The large majority of people suffering from depression do not get effective care, even though evidence-based treatments often yield impressive results.

What would we conclude about our culture if the same statistics existed regarding our dental health? Would that not be intolerable?

Most typically, those attending a screening event can count on being greeted by warm and engaging person and asked to complete a form while being assigned a number. No identifying information is usually requested nor is a fee collected. Participants then fill out the form, wait a little (so the form can be reviewed), and then meet with a mental health professional in a confidential space. The primary goal is to figure out if further evaluation might be worthwhile. Typically, screening sites provide referral information and additional education materials.

Steven King has a relevant line: “Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us and sometimes they win.” Depression, and related mood disorders, are monsters that live within the minds of their victims. Depression tends to convince its prey that three lies are true: “Everything is terrible. It’s my fault. It can’t be changed.” But, on 10/9/14, an army of lean-mean-healing-machines will be available to help all those who may be so afflicted to begin to effectively combat this lying liar.

Please do yourself a favor, assuming you might be suffering in this way, and take the brave and wise step to get screened. And, if you know someone who might benefit, why not ask that person to keep you company as you get screened? The potential upside is remarkable while the potential downside is harder to imagine. To find a screening site in your location, click here.

For Readers That Enjoy Movies

moviesWhen I first launched this blog I intended to include lighthearted content as well. I’ve gotten away from that theme for a while. So, I’d like to return to it this week in sharing the top baker’s dozen (+1) movies that I recommend and have viewed repeatedly. In no particular order:

  1. Ordinary People
  2. Good Will Hunting
  3. The Color Purple
  4. Aliens
  5. The Big Lebowski
  6. The Godfather, 1 & 2
  7. It’s a Wonderful Life
  8. Unforgiven
  9. Rocky, 1 & 2
  10. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
  11. Kill Bill, 1 & 2
  12. The Breakfast Club
  13. I Am

Honorable mentions: Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Dirty Harry flicks, and Pulp Fiction.  What am I missing?

There are so many other possible lists: top TV shows, documentaries, comedies, and epic films to name a few. Encourage me and I’ll list these later ;-)

New Research: Outcomes When Teens Smoke Pot

teen girl pushing hand to headLongitudinal studies track people over long periods of time. The 9/14 edition of The Lancet Psychiatry includes an integration of three longitudinal studies regarding marijuana use among teens in Australia and New Zealand. Between 2,537 and 3,765 teens (depending on the outcome variable), who used varying degrees of marijuana (from none to daily) were tracked to age 30. Those teens who were daily users of marijuana before age 17 had much lower educational outcomes and had significantly higher rates of later substance abuse problems and suicide attempts. Quoting directly from the article: “…individuals who were daily users before age 17 years had odds of high-school completion and degree attainment that were 63% and 62% lower, respectively, than those who had never used cannabis; furthermore, daily users had odds of later cannabis dependence that were 18 times higher, odds of use of other illicit drugs that were eight times higher, and odds of suicide attempt that were seven times higher.” However, teens who smoked less were also negatively affected; the dose of the poor outcome was directly related to the dose of the marijuana use. The authors conclude as follows: “Study findings suggest that adolescent cannabis use is linked to difficulties in successfully completing the tasks that mark the transition to adulthood. Prevention or delay of cannabis use in adolescence is likely to have broad health and social benefits.”

The Lancet study brings to mind a report released by the National Institutes of addictionHealth in December of 2013. This report, which summarized the results of a large national survey, indicated that 6.5% of high school students reported smoking marijuana daily. Moreover, nearly one out of four seniors reported having smoked it in the preceding month, with only 39.5% of them viewing regular marijuana use as being harmful. Bolstered by movements in the U.S. to legalize marijuana, many teens may argue that marijuana use is harmless. The important research reported in the Lancet would suggest otherwise. Moreover:

• No state that has legalized marijuana use for adults has done so for minors. Teens who smoke pot risk facing legal consequences in every state. For instance, in Pennsylvania, teens caught with marijuana are at risk to loose their driver’s license, among other consequences.

teen "help me" sign• What’s legal ≠ what’s healthy.

• Human brains continue to develop into early to mid twenties. And, the part of the brain that develops last is responsible for the most sophisticated and higher order brain functions. I know of no reputable scientist or clinician who would argue that it is advisable to introduce any psychoactive agent into a developing brain unless there is a compelling and well thought out need to treat a well-diagnosed condition. Teen life is challenging and complex enough without adding such a wildcard.

• There is evidence that people with genetic predispositions to certain disorders can have them activated by significant marijuana abuse (e.g., schizophrenia).

I think we parents need to insist that marijuana use among our teens is NOT okay. Please see my blog articles on monitoring and discipline strategies for support. However, if your teen is abusing marijuana, or any substance, and you are finding you cannot change this, please seek out the services of a qualified mental health professional. For a referral click here.

Forgiveness: An Essential Ingredient for Healthy Family Life

forgivenessForgiveness is the triathlon of psychological work. When someone completes a triathlon we can fairly conclude that that person is in top physical condition. Likewise, if someone is adept at forgiveness that person likely travels on a high road often.

We families are so close to each other, it is inevitable that we will inflict wounds, whether accidental or intentional. Without forgiveness, such wounds, especially as they mount, can cause relationships to break or to exist across large chasms. For this reason it is difficult for a family to be healthy, over the long haul, without developing a sound forgiveness practice.

There are three sections to this entry: (1) a listing of what forgiveness isn’t, (2) a description of a three step forgiveness process and (3) a description of some behaviors that can augment and support forgiveness work.

What forgiveness isn’t

Forgiveness does not mean forgetting the offense. While the passage of time may cause a forgiven injustice to fall out of mind, forgiving someone does not require forgetting what happened.

Forgiveness does not equate with leaving oneself open to continued injustice. We can forgive another person without allowingfighting partents that person to hurt us again in the same way.

Forgiveness does not mean excusing, minimizing or justifying the injustice. We’ve been hurt. Acknowledging and being aware of the fullness of that is often part of a healthy forgiveness process.

Forgiveness does not require the offender’s participation. Resentment is a poison within us. Sure, if the perpetrator authentically and effectively asks for forgiveness, it is easier to remove the toxin. However, it’s best for us if we proceed even if that isn’t forthcoming. (Imagine a patient telling a doctor that they would only have the doctor remove the venom from a snake bite if the patient’s partner would first expresses a wish for that to happen. Sort of a silly image isn’t it?)

Forgiveness does not require communication with the offender. We may wish to let the offender know that we have forgiven him or her; and, in family life, this is can be a very helpful thing to do. However, there are instances when that could lead to other painful complications; in these instances, forgiveness can occur privately.

Forgiveness steps

The forgiveness process can proceed differently across people. However, if you’re looking for some guidance, I can suggest this tight summary:

spiritual man, african-americanStep 1: Let yourself become fully aware of how you’ve been hurt. Examining your wound(s) is often a part of good self-care.

Step 2: Try to empathize with the human condition in the offender that promoted the infraction against you. This is very, very hard to do (just like it can’t be easy to run a long distance after having swam a mile). But, even the most tragic of attacking behaviors has a human condition behind it with which we can empathize.

Step 3: Try to forgive the offender. If you are a spiritual person, taping into your Higher Power can be very helpful here. It can also help to imagine that you are cleansing yourself of a toxin (i.e., resentment).

How long these steps take will vary tremendously. And, there can be a looping back across them over time.

Augmenting behaviors

Forgiveness may be facilitated in families by the following activities:

• Appreciating that I’ve been an offender also and taking appropriate steps to seek forgiveness and make reparation as I become aware of such.

• Try to avoid aligning yourself with friends who would have you stay trapped in resentment. Instead, seek out those who will support your desire to live on a high road.

• Pointing out what the offender does well. (Search above for “gratitude letter” for a great exercise along these lines.)diverse happy parents copy

• Getting clarity on what my vow and commitment to my family members means to me (e.g., how much they are conditional and, if they are, under what terms).

• Having regular and enjoyable rituals with my family members.

• Using the problem solving exercise to get past problems and conflicts (use the search engine above or see my parenting book for a full description).

• Seeking out therapy when forgiveness work bogs down or seems impossible to do. For a referral click here.

Good luck! This ain’t easy, for sure.

How Can I Tell if My Kid is Depressed?

depressed stunningAccording to the National Institute of Mental Health 9% of teens suffer from depression each year while 11% of youth suffer a depressive disorder by age 18. Moreover, suicide is the third leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 24. This entry will describe common symptoms and signs of depression in youth. (Please keep in mind that depression runs on a continuum; a kid may be suffering from depression, and need treatment, but only have some of the symptoms indicated below.)

Mood disturbance: Kids who are depressed have impairing sadness and/or irritability that is persistent (i.e., two weeks or longer). When a kid’s depression is manifested as irritability, it is easy to mistakenly conclude that primary problem is defiance.

Sleep disturbance: Not being able to get enough sleep or oversleeping are both signs of depression. What can make this tricky for teens is that school and extracurricular commitments can make it so that the teen doesn’t get to bed late anyway. Moreover, parents may retire before their teen and may not realize that s/he is struggling with sleep. (For guidelines on how much sleep is recommended, across age groups, enter the word “sleep” in the search bar above).

Appetite disturbance: Like sleep disturbance, depressed kids will tend to either over or under eat. Changes in weight and waistline are common.

Poor motivation: Most kids need help learning to do things when they don’t feel like it. But, kids who are depressed experience a steeper climb up that mountain.

Anhedonia: This is the clinical word for not being able to experience joy when crying childengaging in activities that are typically pleasurable. This can be especially frustrating for parents who have endeavored to engineer a positive change in mood.

Concentration problems: Just about all kids who are depressed will experience some degree of concentration problem. (Sleep disturbance and concentration problems are to a child psychologist what fevers are to a pediatrician: there’s a problem there but it can be due to a number of different things.)

Suicidal thinking: This kind of thinking runs along a continuum. On the one end are having vague thoughts that it’d be okay to die without any specific plans or intent to take action. On the other end is generating a lethal, specific and doable suicide plan.

Here are two common myths about teen suicide: asking a kid whether s/he is having thoughts of self-harm promotes suicide (not true) and all kids who make a suicide attempt mean to die (not true also). For more information on suicide, and talking to a teen about this, use the search bar above.

Negative thinking: Youth who are depressed tend to think, “Everything sucks. It’s my fault and it can’t be changed.” This promotes what is called “learned helplessness,” meaning that a kid can become so overwhelmed that s/he won’t take obvious and straightforward steps to feel better. Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and guilt are also common in moderate to severe cases.

teenagainstwallVarious kinds of mental confusion: In addition to concentration problems, youth with severe depression can start confusing what is real and what is not. They can also start to form beliefs that are highly distorted.

Though not present on the diagnostic criteria there are a couple of other common indicators:

Parental burnout: Parenting a kid who is depressed can be exceptionally frustrating and difficult. Not only do intuitive interventions tend to not work (e.g., verbal reassurances), but they tend to make matters worse. This can cause a parent to feel helpless and incompetent.

Parental disputes: As most parents tend to have different parenting styles, it’s natural to believe that if only the other parent would do things differently, the kid’s depression would lift. For this reason, the youth’s depression takes a toll on the parents’ relationship. I’ve witnessed a number of marriages get better simply by effectively treating a kid’s mood disorder.

Running in the family: Depression typically results when stress activates a pre-existing genetic vulnerability. The more mood disorders run in the family, the less stress it may take to activate impairing symptoms.

Sadly, and sometimes tragically, most youth who are depressed do not get distressed teen girltreatment for it, even though effective treatments are available (e.g., cognitive-behavioral therapy). If you are in doubt about whether your child or teen is suffering from depression, by all means treat that situation as you would if you were in doubt about the presence of a cavity. For databases of treatment providers near you, click here. Also, and as is the case across all service professions, the quality of mental health care varies. Sometimes adequately credentialed therapists are not prepared to evaluate and to treat juvenile depression in a manner that is informed by contemporary research findings. For this reason, parents do well to be informed consumers. To learn more about what constitutes effective mental health care for youth, see Chapter 10 of my parenting book or search the pages of this blog.

 

 

 

 

Eight Tips for Transitioning Back to School

Well it’s that time of the parenting year when many of us start overseeing the transition back to school. Whether this is a purely joyful time for you or a time of ambivalence, here are eight tips to help.

Tip #1: Start transitioning your child’s sleep routine to approximate the school day. Many kids develop a vampire sleep schedule during the summer, especially teenagers. Getting your kid onto a sleep schedule that will approximate the school year, a week or two in advance, will ease everyone’s transition. (For guidelines on how much sleep your child needs, click here.)

Tip #2: Set as a goal an hour a day of sweating and breathing hard for your progeny. It can be less stressful to begin this widely recommended behavior now than once the craziness of the school year kicks in. (Hint: it’s a lot easier to establish routine physical activity if it’s fun and part of scheduled and structure commitments.)

Tip #3: I bet you see this next one coming: establish a balanced diet to give your child a wonderful gift. It is very easy to get free online help. (As a child psychologist, I wonder how many mental health problems in youth would go away if all kids got enough sleep, got a reasonable amount of physical activity and ate a balanced diet.)

Tip #4: Plan a fun activity for the family a week or two into the school year. This gives everyone something to look forward to, which can ease the transition back to school.

Tip #5: If your child has a history of struggles with his or her academics, establish a minimum amount of time to be spent on homework each school night. An evidence-based guideline is 10 minutes per grade (e.g., a 5th grader would spend 50 minutes). (If the amount of time your child needs to spend on homework each night far exceeds this 10-minute guideline, I would initiate a discussion with the teacher(s) or a good child psychologist regarding what might be going on.)

Tip #6: Discuss with your child the amount of extracurricular activities that you find to be adaptive. Having no extracurricular involvements can hamper opportunities for advancing important developmental outcomes. However, too much extracurricular activity can compromise academics or wellness. As is the case across parenting, the middle ground is usually in order.

Tip #7: Avoid stressing your finances needlessly with back-to-school expenses. There can be a conscious or unconscious pressure to doll our kids up with expensive new clothes and bountiful office supplies when such isn’t needed. If you have the money and inclination, go for it. But, I would try to avoid creating burdens on myself that will later tax my ability to parent with intention.

Tip #8: Don’t beat yourself up for unrealized summer dreams. In the spring many of we parents imagine spending the summer frolicking through fields of meaning and joy with our children. Of course, this never happens with the same breath and depth as we imagined in the spring (i.e., another version of the Clark Griswold syndrome). Try instead to give yourself credit for your efforts and what went well.

Good luck my parent colleague!

 

Geography of Happiness

happiness signA national survey study recently listed the region where I live, Northeastern PA, as the least happiest US metropolitan area among the 177 surveyed. In response to this article, and the dialogue it generated in my region, I wrote this op-ed for the Scranton Times-Tribune titled “The Geography of Happiness.” I thought I’d share it here as well. ;-)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,828 other followers

%d bloggers like this: