Tax Day Stress? Thoughts and Behaviors for De-stressing.

money pushed up a hillAs a recent national survey from the American Psychological Association indicated, a great number of us are under significant stress, and not dealing well with it. With tax day stress looming here are some strategies for taking the edge off.

Using Coping Thoughts

Just like we can swap out an uncomfortable pair of jeans for a comfortable pair, we can swap out a painful thought (that is usually untrue), that is serving no good purpose, for one that is more adaptive (that is usually true). Here are some to try. You should only use those that you believe to be true

woman pointing• Quoting Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert in the movie Happiness: “The difference in happiness between a person making $5,000 and $50,000 is dramatic. However, the difference in happiness between a person making $50,000 and $50,000,000 is not dramatic.”

• “I work my butt off. That’s all anyone can do at the end of the day.”

• “I can control taxes about as much as I can control dust mites. I’ve done the basic management strategies that I can so now it’s time to let it go.”

• My blessings are…(usually pretty impressive and important)

Using Behavioral Choices

• If you’re in a financial hole, seek out an expert. This might be an money expert who can help you to develop a plan for a flat fee. If you have a spending pattern you can’t control, then seek out a qualified mental health professional.

• Make sure to have fun and relax each week. Many believe they can’t make the time to do this because they have too much to get done. But, that’s like someone running a race with a ball and chain attached to the ankle. When someone hollers to them a willingness to cut it off they yell back “I can’t. I’ll lose ground in yogathe race!” If you want to maximize the benefit from your fun make it social, novel (i.e., stuff you wouldn’t normally do) and physically active, at least to a degree that is healthy for you.

• Your wellness is stacked on top of a tripod, the legs of which are sleep, physical activity and nutrition. If one or more of those are problematic, prioritize fixing that. Experts are available to help with each of these.

• There are a number of strategies from the field of positive psychology that can help. Here are three to get you going: writing gratitude letters, performing acts of kindness and taking mini vacations.

Good luck and, in your worse moments, comfort yourself with the knowledge that there are many, many of us in the same boat!

Tips for Avoiding Triangulation

alienated dadOne of the side effects of being stressed out is that parents can enable, or even cause, triangulation with their children. Triangulating takes many forms. It can be one parent criticizing the other parent to children, forming a bond with the children against the other parent. It can be a child trying to subvert the authority of one parent by going to the other parent for a different ruling. These exchanges can be subtle (e.g., one parent remaining silent while a child criticizes another parent) or overt (e.g., telling a child that s/he doesn’t need to listen to another parent’s directive). No matter the form, however, they are usually harmful to all relationships involved, even though it can seem like two people are drawing closer because of a shared put down. Here are some tips to try to deal adaptively with the underlying issues:

• Be open with the other parent about what you believe s/he is doing well together with any concerns that you have. Do the former as often as you can, including in front of your kids. Do the latter sparingly, and never in front of the kids.

• Don’t let your child slam the other parent to you, even if you believe your child family stressis correct. Instead, encourage your child to take his or her concern(s) to the other parent or another helpful adult (e.g., a therapist). This is done mostly for your child’s sake.

• Affirm the other parent’s motivations and goals with your child (most of the time these are pretty good—differences usually occur regarding the methods, not the goals and intentions). Providing empathy for the other parent can be another helpful thing to do. This one goes hand-in-hand with the previous recommendation.

• Assuming you are still together, make sure to spend one-on-one time with the other parent doing something fun each week. Don’t thing of “finding” the time for this. “Make” the time for this, knowing that this often means that something else that is important, but less important, is set aside. Your relationship with your partner is an orchid. And, of course, if an orchid is treated like a cactus it wilts. (You can search this blog or my parenting book for a variety of strategies for couple care.)

throw away • If your child comes to you for permission or a ruling on something, ask if the other parent has been consulted yet. If yes, defer to the other parent’s decision (only very serious circumstances would usually contradict this approach). A child lying about this should subsequently be given a proportionate punishment. If you disagree with the other parent’s decision, talk to him or her privately about that, if the issue is important enough that is.

• If your child comes to you for permission or a ruling on something, and you’re the first parent being consulted, and there is some chance that the other parent would have a problem with your leaning, try to create a pause and consult with the other parent first. I know that sometimes this isn’t possible. But, when it is possible it’s often worth doing the extra leg work to spare everyone the drama.

• If you and the other parent disagree about how to respond to your child’s request, try using the problem solving technique to see if that might get you on the same page.

• Express casual physical affection towards the other parent on some kind of a couple happyregular basis. This helps to model adaptive relationships and also communicates that you are united.

• If significant triangulation seems unavoidable please consider seeking out the services of a qualified mental health professional. For a referral click here.

Good luck!

 

Nine Tips for Deciding Among College Offers

college student in garbThis entry is written for parents of college seniors considering which college offer to take. However, it can be extrapolated to similar situations.

First of all, congrats: your child got into not only one somewhere but–an assumption I’m making because you’re reading this entry–multiple somewheres! Remember how anxious you felt about that? How uncertain? (The metaphor I used with friends was that I felt like an abandoned toddler in a wet diaper, in down town Manhattan.) So, yes, s/he will not have to manufacture meth in a van down by the river in order to survive. Given that, here are some principles for guiding the decision making process the rest of the way.

#1: Take the time and energy to celebrate! It’s so easy to rush and to move on to the next hurdle. As the hurdles never end, take a break from the race and savor. Your baby did it!!

#2: Decide what money you are prepared to offer to fund your child’s college. Perhaps you are willing to fund any of the choices. If not, front load this in the conversation: “Becky, as we consider our choices, lets keep in mind that we (parent, parents, grandparent, etc) can fund X a year. So, if your choice’s tuition is over that we (as in Becky also) would have to have a viable plan in place for making up the difference before sending in a deposit.” Your prospective college student may still be thinking like a child: this is mom and dad’s problem to solve. If so, you may need to grow him or her up quickly in this regard.

#3: Don’t be shy about being in touch with the financial aide office of the money held by handinstitution(s) for help if what they are offering is short of what you can afford, especially if you have cause to believe that they look upon your child as a desirable applicant. They can also be a wonderful source of information regarding private scholarships and other sorts of funding options that may be available, as can your child’s high school guidance office.

#4: Listen and provide empathy before sharing your perspective. For the rest of your child’s life, this will usually be an ideal opening position. And, don’t rush getting to your perspective, even over the course of days or weeks. Of course, don’t avoid getting there either. (Don’t worry too much if you falter with this sometimes It’s more about the earnest effort to pull it off more than it is about batting 1.000.)

#5: Consider another visit to your child’s top choices. You’ve likely already been to the campuses but a re-visit, from the lens of this decision, can be very helpful. Try on this visit to have a deeper experience (e.g., attending a lecture in the planned major or in a required course, arranging for your child to stay overnight). Many institutions have such days planned for those students to whom they’ve made an offer. If your institutions doesn’t, ask. And, don’t be shy about asking if they’d be willing to cover your costs as well (some even offer this up front).

character checking off checkboxes#6: Search for information from people in the know about the institutions your considering.

#7: There are almost an endless stream of data points to consider (e.g., who has the better library, the better athletic facilities, the number of faculty with this or that distinction) and families vary wildly in terms of who prioritizes what. However, one stat out there that can be helpful in this context is the freshman retention rate. This statistic regards the number of freshman who become sophomores at that institution, which is a general measure of student/family satisfaction and institutional effectiveness. While this number generally looks high across institutions, the ones you are considering may have some notable differences in this statistic. (You can find this statistic and US News and World Reports’ website that ranks colleges.)

#8: If you’re “lucky” (I think it was Thomas Jefferson who first noted the connection between working hard and luck), the decision-makes will ultimately all have the same opinion about which offer to accept. If not, things can get very tricky. My default suggestion would be to defer to your child’s decision. S/he either is a legal adult or is about to become a legal adult (I know, a tough idea to wrap your mind around…or at least it is for this dad), so s/he will the one to experience the good, the bad and the indifferent consequences of this decision. It seems to me that it wouldn’t be fair for him or her to be in the position to experience any potential qualified or poor outcomes based on someone else’s perspective, no matter how well reasoned and intended. Keep in mind that this recommendation supposes two things are true: you’ve made all of the relevant data available to your child, including the opinions and reasoning of adults involved, and you are respecting your own boundaries regarding how much money you will be investing.

#9: Once the deposit has been sent in, and the decision made, try to avoid mentorsecond-guessing…forever, even in your own mind. Second guessing with your child risks generating significant tension between the two of you. Second-guessing in your mind is like chewing on glass. You did due diligence. You put all the resources you could into the decision. That’s all anyone can do. So, either enjoy your wisdom (i.e., evidence that the right choice was made) or practice the Serenity Prayer and let it go.

My first-born daughter is a senior who got offers from several institutions that she adores. So, I’m living with this issue these days as well and know it ain’t easy!

By the way, are any of you, who are also parents of first-born seniors, also wondering how the heck you’re going to get through having your baby move out? We all need a support group!

 

 

What is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy?

stressed boyCognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is often the talking treatment of choice for juvenile anxiety, depression, and various kinds of problems that result from poor stress coping. The word “cognitive” refers to strategies that deal with thoughts and thinking. The word “behavior” refers to strategies that deal with behavioral choices. This blog entry will review some of the major strategies that often comprise CBT.

Externalizing the problem: kids and teens develop a name for their anxiety, depression, or the primary problem area. As Stephen King once wrote: “Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win..” Youth are taught that their symptoms of anxiety and depression no more constitute their personhood than symptoms of diabetes or asthma define the personhood of someone suffering from those conditions. Moreover, youth are taught to recognize how their internal enemy attacks them and what specific and effective countermeasures they can deploy.

Behavioral activation: this strategy involves arranging to do fun things on a regular basis. When youth are depressed or stressed out they often get into a rut where they wait for a good mood to do something fun. This CBT strategy teaches a youth that s/he can manipulate his or her mood by forcing himself or herself to do something that stands to be pleasurable. Youth are also taught that fun activities that are novel, social and involve physical activity tend to be the most effective (e.g., to avoid getting into a rut with fun activities as well).

√ Physiological calming: this is a term for learning how to relax muscles in theboys praying back to back body and to belly breath. Most youth overestimate their ability to relax their bodies. In CBT they learn strategies for becoming super relaxed. Moreover, they learn that a relaxed body and anxiety are like oil and water: they just don’t mix. Some practitioners also employ methods for measuring a youth’s success (e.g., through the use of biofeedback).

√ Coping or happy thoughts: this strategy involves developing a list of true and adaptive thoughts that promote positive feelings. Kids are taught that they can swap out uncomfortable thoughts just like they can swap out uncomfortable jeans.

√ Thought testing: this is a strategy for determining whether a painful thought is true or not. Anxiety and depression attack thinking and cause a youth to believe painful thoughts that are not true. This technique is very helpful for helping youth to determine what painful thoughts are real (and which can be subject to problem solving) and which represent their internal enemy’s lie (and are to be disempowered).

Teen girl√ Problem solving: this strategy is useful when a problem is distressing a kid or teen. When suffering from anxiety or depression problems can become super magnified and overwhelming. This very powerful strategy disempowers over reactions and produces adaptive coping responses.

√ Exposures: this strategy involves having anxious youth deliberately put themselves into developmentally appropriate situations that make them anxious, in a measured and gradual way, so that they can use their CBT tools to accomplish mastery and to dominate their internal enemy.

It’s common for parents to be taught how to coach and reinforce the CBT techniques. Moreover, multiple strategies can be done together as a family (e.g., physiological calming, problem solving). The CBT might also include other techniques for specific problems affiliated with anxiety or depression (e.g., response prevention for OCD). Moreover, sets of related strategies than be imported into the CBT depending on the problem(s) the youth has. For instance, social skills training can be used for youth who struggle making and maintaining friends, behaviorally oriented family therapy can be used for defiant youth who refuse to practice their CBT techniques and strategies from positive psychology can be used to produce experiences of happiness and meaning (e.g., the use of gratitude, personal strengths, acts of kindness).

The research supporting the efficacy of CBT is well developed and suggests that mom and daughterparents would do well to consider making this treatment available for any child or teen who suffers from anxiety,  depression or an assortment of problems involving poor stress coping. To find a qualified provider near you click here.

Treating Anxiety in Youth: CBT, Medication or Both?

anxious teenAnxiety disorders in youth are common; between one fourth and one third of teens develop one by the end of adolescence. Examining treatment issues with this population, the landmark Child/Adolescent Anxiety Multimodal Study (CAMS) just published its 24 and 36 week outcomes (i.e., article dated 3/2014). This multisite study, that included 488 children aged 7 to 17 (average age of 10), compared cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT; a talking therapy) to sertraline (SRT; an SSRI medication), to both together (COMB), to pill placebo in the treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Phobia and Separation Anxiety Disorder. (Youth with other anxiety disorders, or with co-occurring problems such as depression or pervasive developmental disorders, were not included.) I will first review some key findings and then suggest some take home points for clinical practice.

• At 12 weeks, or the immediate conclusion of the study, this is the percentage of children who were rated to have a positive treatment response across the four conditions: COMB: 81%, CBT: 60%, SRT: 55% and pill placebo: 28%. At that point in time the combined treatment was determined to be moderately superior to the other three conditions.

• At no point in the study were there statistically significant differences between the CBT and medication treatment conditions.

• At week 24, the superiority of combined condition over medication alone and anxious childCBT shrank (COMB: 81%, CBT: 69% and SRT: 68%).

• At week 36, the superiority of the combined condition over medication alone and CBT shrank further (COMB: 83%, CBT: 72% and SRT: 70%).

• For both of the preceding two points, the magnitude of the differences at week 36 varied across the various outcome measurements.

• Quoting the authors: “…only 5% of youth receiving COMB and only 15% to 16% of those receiving monotherapy failed to achieve responder status at any point during study participation.” And, “although COMB appears best for prompt benefit, all 3 treatment conditions appear beneficial at 6 months.”

Take home points for clinical practice

therapy etchingThese results support what I, and many of my child clinician colleagues, have tended to recommend in the treatment of youth suffering from one of the aforementioned anxiety disorders. These recommendations are as follows:

• If wanting the most aggressive approach, consider medication therapy and CBT.

• If concerned about adding a psychoactive agent to a developing brain when there may be viable alternatives, consider starting with CBT alone unless the anxiety symptoms are in a severe range (e.g,, a child cannot get to school), to see if the talking treatment will be sufficiently effective.

• If a child is taking a medication, consult with the prescriber about the possibility of tapering off the medication once the CBT skills have been learned.

• It would usually not make clinical sense to treat a child with medication alone, though unusual circumstances could suggest otherwise (e.g., CBT is refused or not available).

• The CBT protocol used in this study was the “Coping Cat” program. However, other established CBT programs for children would likely also have value.

• The authors note that their results are similar to the results found in treatment therapy with teenstudies of juvenile depression. This suggests that similar clinical guidelines may also apply in the treatment of youth suffering from juvenile depression.

To read the abstract for this study, click here.

For a referral for mental health care, click here.

For an article on affording mental health care, click here.

I’d like to offer a closing thought for those parents who have a child or teen suffering from an anxiety disorder: in my clinical experience this is one of the most treatable kinds of problems that a kid can have. So, I strongly encourage you to take your child or teen to a mental health professional who can delivery quality care (for a more thorough review of what good mental health care looks like, please see Chapter 10 of my parenting book). After all, why have your baby suffer needlessly?

Tune in next week when I will post an article that describes cognitive behavioral therapy.

Eight Tips for Responding to Bedwetting

enuresis2Bedwetting, or nocturnal enuresis, is very common in children. Indeed, it isn’t diagnosed by the International Classification of Diseases until age 5 and witnessed in about 12% of kids even by age six. Here are eight tips for when it has become a problem for you and/or your child:

• The most important thing is to stay calm. It’s almost for certain that the bedwetting is not under your child’s control (e.g., in my 20+ years of practice I’ve never seen a kid who was wetting the bed on purpose). The shame that children sometimes feel over bedwetting can be intense (e.g., Google the story of John Curtis, an Olympian who got his start in running because of shame over enuresis). If you remain proportionally calm and reassuring you reduce the odds that your child will feel shame. (Also remember that excessive reassurances can be problematic as they suggests that you are freaked out.)

• Let your kid know that this is very common and that he or she will grow out of it. Kids tend to think that they are freaks unless someone normalizes this for them.

• Have your pediatrician rule out medical causes. While medical problems are indicated in only about 3% of these cases, you’d hate to miss one if it’s there.

• Have your child either help you change the sheets or have him or her do so on enuresishis or her own (this depends upon your child’s age). This should be done as soon as you learn that the bed is wet, even if it’s in the middle of the night. This mild inconvenience, that doesn’t promote shame if done calmly, helps to program your child’s body to wake up before wetting the bed.

• Establish a star chart for having a dry bed. A dry bed earns a star and praise. A wet bed earns either no response, or a comment like “don’t worry about it,” or “lots of kids go through this” or “it’s okay, we’ll try again tonight” or “hey, no one gets a hit every trip to the plate.” Establish a reward after a certain number of stars have been earned (e.g., 7 might earn going to the movies, 14 might earn a video game). In no way shape or form should there be any punishment or restriction of privileges secondary to your child’s performance with the star chart.

• Restricting fluids before bedtime is sometimes recommended but I would only do this in the short-run as part of the goal here is to mature your child’s bladder capacity. I also wouldn’t deny a small dose of water to a child who is begging for a drink.

375px-DRIsleeper-Wireless-Alarm• A bell and pad alarm system can be very helpful (these are easily found online). The alarm sounds when a tiny bit of moisture is registered. The idea is to condition your child’s body to wake up. Make sure your child goes to the bathroom when the alarm sounds, as some sleep so deeply that the alarm will not wake them. If the problem persists create a word of the day and make your child wake up enough to state it. (Again, it’s important that you try to stay calm, which I know can be a challenge in the wee hours of the morning.)

• If these simple remedies do not work, consider taking your child to a child psychologist who can offer “Full Spectrum Treatment.” FST is a more elaborate, research supported, behavioral treatment for enuresis. For a referral click here.

Good luck!

To Fathers: A Caution about Surrendering Too Much Child Care

dad with son on shoulderThe research makes it clear that kids who have an effective relationship with both of their birth parents fare better. This isn’t to say that kids of single parents, or other situations, are doomed. It is to say that effective parenting, in two parent households, is an advantage for kids.

However, what I see happening often is that dad focuses on earning money, taking care of the home and vehicles, and maybe even managing the family’s finances while the mom does the yeoman’s share of the childcare and housework. In dad’s mind, he’s pitching in evenly. And, in terms of overall effort he may be correct. However, by excessively relegating feeding, bathing, supervising homework and other parenting tasks to mom, he may be losing opportunities to bond with his children, and to be as close to them as their mother as they age. The eight tips below are designed for dad’s who may be falling prey to this vulnerability:

• Have a discussion with your partner about what childcare tasks can be either exclusively or primarily yours. Your partner may tell you it’s okay as s/he recognizes that you work hard in other ways. But, lovingly insist, maybe sending her the link to this blog entry.

• Be sure to participate actively in daily (e.g., a family meal), weekly (e.g., family charactersreligious services), seasonal (e.g., your kid’s soccer games) and special occasion (e.g., birthdays) family rituals. Work may call out for you to miss many of these, and you may be tempted to tell yourself that there is always tomorrow, but try to realize that our cumulative walk communicates more about how we prioritize than our cumulative talk. Ask yourself, “when I’m on my deathbed, thinking back about my life, what decision would I have wanted to made in this situation?” No one bats a 1.000 in these matters, but we can achieve a respectable average if we make our decisions with intention.

• And now for today’s broken record point (at least for those who read this blog regularly): do special time with each of your children each week.

• Video tape some of these childcare moments with your children. This is like minting money, except you’re minting a precious historical record.

family stress• Don’t punish yourself too much if you’re grouchy or don’t do it well or otherwise screw up. That’s built in. Like a good baseball player who has struck out, spend a few moments thinking about how to improve your game, plan to do so next time and then let yourself off the hook. Being in the game, with good effort, counts a ton and makes a male a man.

• Don’t expect but offer gratitude. Your partner and your children are likely to take your efforts for granted; that’s just the way it is in family life. If you get too upset by this you may fall prey to anger and resentment. If you’re a spiritual person, tapping into your prayer life can be helpful (e.g., what would a loving God have you do?). It can also be helpful to avoid taking your family members for granted and offering them the gratitude they deserve (but be careful to not do it with the expectation of a return). If you need to vent about being taken for granted, do so with your boys (see below) or when your by yourself (I tend to chuckle when I see a man talking to himself, and apparently upset, when driving. I imagine that he is a likewise married/committed, working dad).

• Promote self and relationship care. In my parenting book, I focus on the 10 parenting practices that, IMHO, our science suggests promotes resilience in children. One of the chapters pertains to this practice. It is so important to be well, as parenting from the cross is a poor strategy. I know and live how hard this is (e.g., consistently getting some time with your friends and a date night with your partner takes tremendous commitment, creativity and persistence), but who said parenting is easy?!

• Compare notes with other dads. One of the projects I sometimes envision is father son showing musclesforming a support group for working, married/committed dads with children living at home—it’s remarkable to me how positive and passionate the responses are when I suggest this to other dads. It’s very, very tough to pull off this role well. And, we often find ourselves in double binds. So, just leaning on your boys by comparing notes–as long as you don’t pitch your tent on the dark side–can be therapeutic.

I hope this helps my brothers. Keep up the good work!

Regarding Stress and Stress Coping: Adults and Teens Look A Lot Alike

teen girl pushing hand to headThe American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey came out this week. Since 2007, APA has conducted a national survey of the stress American’s experience. This year’s survey places a special focus on teenagers. The full report can be found here. Below are some key assertions and the data points within the survey that support them.

Like adults, teens feel overwhelmed by stress

• On a 10-point scale, teens report that ≤ 3.9 is a healthy amount of stress. However, they rate their stress to be a 5.8 during the school year and a 4.6 during the summer.

• The following is true of 1 out of 3 teens: they report that their stress has increased in the past year, they expect their stress will increase in the next year and they feel overwhelmed.

• Teens reported that one out of four of them feel stress at the highest levels (an 8, 9 or a 10 on the 10 point scale) during the school year.

• Adults report that ≤ 3.6, on the same 10-point scale, represents a healthy level of stress. However, they report their stress averages a 5.1. Moreover, 37% of adults report feeling overwhelmed in the past month, 1 out of 3 believe that stress is having a strong impact on their physical and mental health and 84% report that their stress stayed the same or increased in the past year.

Teens worry about the same sorts of things as adultscharacter burdoned by books

Both teens and adults report worrying the most about their vocational lives and financial matters. For example, these are the top stresses reported by teens: high school (83%), life after high school (69%), and their family having enough money (65%). For adults the top three stresses are money (71%), work (69%) and the economy (59%). (By the way, the fourth rated stress among teens is balancing their time, at 59%)

Teens experience similar symptoms of stress as adults

• Only 41% of teens report that they handle stress well, compared to 35% of adults.

• The top symptoms teens report experiencing secondary to stress are irritability (40%), anxiety (36%), fatigue (36%) and insomnia (35%). This is very similar to the profile reported by adults: irritability (41%), lack of energy or motivation (39%), anxiety (37%) and feeling overwhelmed (37%). (It’s also telling that 51% percent of teens report that someone tells them they seem stressed on at least a monthly basis.)

Teens commonly use the same poor coping strategies as adults

teen video game playing•The following are some of the top strategies for responding to stress that are traditionally ill advised, at least if used as a lead strategy: playing video games (46%), going online (43%), and watching TV or movies (36%).

• Teens report some behavioral responses to stress that also increase the risk of poor stress coping: eating unhealthy foods (26%), skipping meals (23%) and neglecting school (21%). Moreover, half of teens who report being under high levels of stress indicate that they don’t get enough sleep.

Tell me how teens’ potentially maladaptive responses to stress compare to adults’ (i.e., what follows in the next four lines are adult numbers):

√ 62% use screen time to manage stress (42% watch ≥ 2 hours a day of TV)

√ 17% exercise daily; 39% skipped physical activity because of stress

√ 38% have overeaten to manage stress; 30% skipped a meal because of stress

√ average 6.7 hours sleep/night; 20% report that their sleep is sound

• Moreover, these trends seem to be even more true among parents. That is parents, as compared to non-parents, report higher rates of eating unhealthy foods due to stress and sleep disturbance.

Stress management strategies work!

• Teens who are physically active report lower levels of stress (i.e., those who soccer character, coolexercise ≥ 1/week report at average stress level of 4.4–on the 10 point scale mentioned above– compared to 5.1 for those who don’t engage in that much physical activity).

• Teens whose body size is within expected ranges report lower levels of stress (i.e., those with a BMI of 18-24 report a 4.4 stress level, while those with a BMI ≥ 25 report a 5.2.).

• Teens who get healthier doses of sleep report lower levels of stress (i.e., those who sleep ≥ 8 hours a night report being at a 5.2 while those who sleep less indicate they are at a 6.5).

• Teens who report higher stress levels also report engaging in more sedentary behaviors than those who report lower levels of stress (e.g., 54% versus 24% surf the net to manage stress).

Take home messages

I have three take home messages this week:

missing puzzle piece#1: Parenting from the cross sucks. When our kids show needs (and when don’t they?), we tend to act like we have none; over time, this reeks havoc on us and them. (This is why self and relationship care is one of the 10 science-based parenting strategies I stress in my parenting book).

#2: There are plenty of things we parent-lunatics can do to promote stress management in our teens. For my top nine, see the blog entry I guest wrote on APA’s blog.

#3: Why suffer needlessly? Let’s treat ours and our kid’s mental health as we do ours and our kids’ dental health whenever there is a complication: see a pro. For a list of referral databases, click here.

Disciplining a College Student Who Comes Home

attractive college student sittingA reader suggested this topic (I love such requests). Before I get to some suggestions, let me say that I’m basing this column exclusively on my clinical experience and intuition. With that caveat in mind, here are 10 suggestions to consider in regards to disciplining your college student who has come home for a visit.

  1. Figure out what is not okay with you and let your college student know about that before he or she arrives home (e.g., having a love interest share his or her bedroom, anything that’s illegal).
  2. With the exception of matters reviewed in the previous tip, try to not legislate behaviors that you can’t legislate while your college student is away (e.g., how much s/he studies, whether or not s/he goes to religious services, how much exercise s/he gets, what s/he eats). At this point in the game it’s unlikely your efforts will influence your college student’s attitude or behaviors very much; it’s more likely that you’ll create tension between you. Plus, I bet your college student would score high on a multiple-choice test regarding your attitudes on such topics.
  3. If you have to make points that might not be welcomed, try to do so by asking questions instead of making statements. For example, “I know you said you haven’t been doing well in math. What do you think the pros and cons would be of going to talk to the professor during office hours?”
  4. Try not to get your feelings hurt when your college student prioritizes 2 happy teens, african-americanhanging out with friends over spending time with you. It’s normative for him or her to want to do that. (If you have some special event you want him or her to attend, provide as much advance notice as possible.)
  5. When you are communicating focus on listening, providing empathy and offering specific and proportionate positive feedback. S/he may act like this doesn’t matter, but it usually matters a lot.
  6. Ask for your college student’s advice and opinions and be open to his or her wisdom.
  7. lesbian couple27. Let your young adult know that you’re available to talk about anything and that you don’t plan to be intrusive or nosy.
  8. 8. This goes for year round: take advantage of texting. Your college student may be more use to communicating through this method than others. Many parents of teens and young adults report that their progeny seem more open when texting than when communicating through other venues.
  9. The only reasonable punishments you probably have available to you involve not allowing access to those luxuries, services or resources that you provide (e.g., your car, the cell phone plan you pay for, a stipend you provide). If you believe your teen is at risk for violating the primary rules you’ve established in #1 above, let him or her know that access to such and so is contingent upon his or her compliance with this or that (e.g., access to your vehicle during week #2 is contingent upon using it responsibly during week #1). It’s important to establish this up front with a young adult (i.e., imagine how you’d want to be treated, and not treated, by a boss).
  10. If conflict between you and your adult child has become a regular part mom and kidof your relationship (e.g., s/he is squandering tuition monies by dialing it in at school), use the time at home to schedule a consultation with a skilled family therapist. For a referral click here.

In closing I’ll share links to two related blog entries: strategies for when your adult child moves back in with you and an entry on helping college students to get the most out of the academic experience at college.

Good luck!

10 Important Considerations When Disciplining a Teen

angry male hand upThe first thing to keep in mind about this topic is that all of us who parent teens (and I parent 3.0 of them as I type this) get confused and feel unsure about how to respond to certain situations that arise. Everything about our teens, at least if they are mentally healthy, screams “independence!” And, we want for them to learn to be independent. However, we also want them to be safe, to relate well to others and to be strong in their ability to do important things when they don’t feel like it. So, this is complicated stuff. For this reason we all do well to not bully ourselves for our inevitable confusion and mistakes. That said, here are 10 considerations to keep in mind.

  1. The etymology of the word “discipline” is to teach, not to kick butt. Effective discipline means that your intention is not to be punitive or to vent. Your intention is to increase your teen’s success and effectiveness.
  2. Discipline works best when it is proactive instead of reactive. You do well to think ahead and try to rework situations so that your teen’s risk of showing defiance is lessened.
  3. Spending an hour a week doing special time with your teen will be a teenandmomhuge support to your discipline plan.
  4. Without surrendering your ultimate authoring, try to collaborate with your teen about his or her responsibilities as well as what pleasures you’ll provide (e.g., a cell phone, video games).
  5. Try to give your teen advance notice of what chores you expect to be completed when. It’s also a good idea to find that middle ground between having no chores and having a number of chores that interfere with more important agenda (e.g., getting enough sleep and physical activity, doing well in school and doing well with potentially impactful extracurricular commitments).
  6. Ensure that your teen is investing an adequate amount of time on homework each school night. As a rough guide for a floor commitment, multiple 10 minutes times the grade s/he’s in (e.g., 100 minutes for a teen in 10th grade). I would insist on this floor even if your teen gets good grades doing less; the reason for this is so that your teen develops the skill set of doing academic work when s/he doesn’t feel like it. While this skill set may not be needed now, it will be needed when the difficulty level of his or her course of study catches up with his or her IQ.
  7. resistant motherMake sure you have a good monitoring plan. This includes explicitly establishing that sex and substance use are not okay. See my blog article on this topic for more.
  8. If your teen gives you a hard time about chores or academic work, consider setting up a contract: doing “x” (e.g., homework without a hassle) earns your teen “y” (e.g., access to a cell phone); moreover, doing everything expected in a given day earns your teen a set amount of money towards a weekly allowance. This way your teen either earns or doesn’t earn pleasures that are important to him or her, placing more responsibility on his or her shoulders and less on yours.
  9. If your teen defies you, or commits a significant infraction, use grounding. Grounding means that s/he cannot use the pleasures you provide (e.g., cell phone, TV), or leave the house for pleasure, for some period of time between two hours and two days. The length of the grounding would normally depend upon the seriousness of the infraction. Also, make sure your articulate what kinds of circumstances will cause a grounding in advance. This website sells gear that can help you enforce restrictions on electronic devices.
  10. If these strategies don’t work, or your teen does something serious therapy with teen(e.g., arrested for DUI), consider seeking out the services of a child psychologist. To access data bases of child mental health professionals, click here.
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