5 Common Problems at School That Lead to Counseling

Throughout the school year, I get quite a few calls from concerned parents about their child or teen. Sometimes, the issues are stemming from something at home, and other times, it may be stemming from issues at school. Either way, it makes sense that a lot of the behaviors and struggles are observed on school grounds first.

What school problems are most commonly reported when parents seek therapy?

1. Not paying attention in class.

When a child or teen is reported as not paying attention in class, parents often worry right away their child has ADHD. While this is certainly a possibility, inattention can also be a symptom of boredom, lack of sleep or adequate nutrition, or preoccupation with other problems. When inattention is such a problem that the child’s grades are suffering, or it is causing them emotional distress, it’s best to seek professional intervention.

2. Difficulty making friends.

In my experience, this is most common with kids in elementary school who are just getting started in the school social scene. The possibility of a disorder on the Autism spectrum is always looming when parents report social difficulties. While we want to look at all possibilities, this can also be a symptom of a child who is shy, inexperienced in social settings, or even suffering from a mild form of social phobia. If the teachers are reporting this is a problem, or the child is telling you they are worried, and the problem persists despite your greatest efforts, seek professional advisement.

3. Disruptive in class.

When a child or teen is disruptive in class, it is usually treated as strictly a behavior problem without considering all the potential reasons for their behavior. Many times, like most of these issues, there is an underlying reason. First, kids and teens are extremely vulnerable to the need for social acceptance. This need can drive them to behave in ways that will get them into trouble, or even put their safety at risk. They may also be disruptive because they are bored, cannot understand the teacher, cannot see the teacher, or not challenged. This child may also be struggling with the material and find they are so far behind that it “saves face” to look as if they are failing because they don’t care, rather than being unable to understand the material. Many, many possibilities!

4. Reports of aggressiveness or anger.

When children act aggressivetly towards others, or express such a high level of anger, it can be worrisome. It breaks my heart to see a young person feeling so negative. In my experience, these kids don’t want to feel this way. They are often angry about something going on a home, such as a divorce, or an issue at school, such as a bully. When a child is this angry, seek help from a professional so they can work through some of that anger, as well as learn some more positive coping skills.

5. Failing grades.

When kids fail their classes, it’s best to determine the reason as soon as possible. The longer the issue goes on, the more and more behind they will fall. Not only may they repeat a grade, but they can feel defeated and believe they are not smart. This is rarely the case. Talk to the teachers and the student to find out more about what subjects they are failing. Is it test grades or homework? These details can help you discover the possible root of the problem. Finally, talk with a professional about your next step. They may be a candidate for psychological testing or therapy.

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Recognizing Depression in Men

Men are often overlooked when it comes to the discussion of depression. As a wife, daughter, and therapist, it’s important to me that I am aware of the signs of depression in men and to spread education on the topic to my readers.

It’s a common belief that more women suffer from depression than men, but this is actually not the case. In fact, men commit suicide in far greater numbers than women. Why? Men often do not receive help for their depression and there are several possible reasons.

  • Failure to Recognize Symptoms. Men may exhibit some symptoms of depression differently than women, making it less recognizeable to family and friends, and even doctors.
  • Men Are Less Likely To Seek Help. There is still reluctance by many men to seek help for depression. This could be because they see it as a weakness, they are hesitant to admit they need help, or maybe they are reluctant to make the financial or time sacrifices it takes to commit to therapy.
  • Less Awareness. As I mentioned above, most people think of depression as a female problem and we are not educated on the symptoms and statistics of male depression.

So now that we’ve established there is a lack of awareness about male depression, what are the symptoms of depression in men? Men will often exhibit inappropriate anger, an increase in substance use, and will often spend a great deal of time away from home and family (escapist behaviors).

The Uplift Program has a comparison of the male and female symptoms of depression:

Blames others Tendency to self-blame
Anger, irritability, ego inflation Feels sad, apathetic, worthless
Feels suspicious, guarded Feels anxious, frightened
Creates conflict Avoids conflict
Restlessness and agitation Slows down, nervousness
Compulsiveness Procrastination
Sleeps too little Sleeps to much
Becomes controlling Difficulty maintaining boundaries
Shame (eg. sex performance) Guilt
Fear of failure Problems with success
Becomes over status-conscious Assumes low status
Self-medicates through alcohol Self-medicates through food
Over use of internet/TV/email Withdrawal

How To Help:

So what you do if you believe you are depressed (men and women)?

  1. Talk to your doctor. I always, always recommend talking to your doctor as soon as possible. Tell them your symptoms, how long you have had them, and how severe they are and have become.
  2. Exercise. Physical activity releases endorphins that improve mood and increase self-confidence. See how in this article.
  3. Eat well. Believe it or not, food plays a role in mood. It will not cure depression, but every positive life change helps!
  4. Seek counseling. Even if your doctor prescribes medication, studies show that medication combined with therapy will give the best results.
  5. Seek support from loved ones. When you are depressed, you can feel very much alone, defeated, hopeless, and fatigued so having a support system in place is key.


Mayo Clinic



Uplift Program

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What To Say To Someone Who Is Grieving

I talked with a friend recently who has experienced a personal loss. As a therapist, I know the best thing I can do is to  offer support and sympathy. As a friend, this was difficult because I wanted so badly to have the right words to “make them feel better” and even an urge to “fix” their problem. It got me to thinking about how difficult this situation is for many people. What do you say to someone grieving a deceased loved one, or to someone fighting a terminal illness? I am even referring to people experiencing difficult life struggles, such as the loss of a job, divorce, or finding out your child has a terminal illness or disability. These all entail grief in some way and are highly distressful.

The unfortunate news is that we all will be put in this position many times throughout our lives. The good news is that knowing what to say and do is actually pretty simple. Let them know you care. That’s all. You don’t have to have magic words, or a solution, or an explanation. Just tell them you care.

Examples of what to say:

These examples convey to the person that you are sympathetic to their personal sorrow and that you want to be supportive for their needs.

  • “I’m truly sorry for your loss.”
  • “I’m here whenever you need me.”
  • “Although I can’t know exactly how you feel, I understand how difficult this must be for you.”
  • “I’m off all week if you need me to come over. Just call me.”
  • “Let me know when you are ready to talk or have lunch. I’m here for you anytime.”
  • “Your ‘loved one’ was such an amazing person and my life was blessed by their friendship.”
  • No words- just a sincere and warm hug or touch will do.

Examples of what may NOT be the right words:

These examples can convey that you think you know exactly how they feel, are trying to fix their problem, trying to find some reason for what happened, or minimize the grief. As a grieving person, these comments don’t typically feel good at the moment. But remember, everything has a time and place too.

  • “It was their time.”
  • “Maybe God is trying to teach a lesson in all this.”
  • “I know how you feel.”
  • “You can always have another child.”
  • “At least you had 10 good years.”

In the past, I have said some things that were not the best, but they were all with a good heart. If you have said some things in the “not good” example list, please don’t beat yourself up. It’s most important that you cared enough to even be there any say something. For the next time you are confronted with a grieving friend, remember to keep it simple and just be there for your friend or family member.

Have you ever experienced a loss or gone through a difficult time? If so, what were some of the most comforting words or actions you received from others?


Supporting A Grieving Person

What Not To Say To A Grieving Person

Things To Say To A Grieving Person

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Possible Reasons Your Teen “Just Doesn’t Give A Care” Anymore

 If you are a parent of a teenager, you probably wonder what happened to your carefree, happy-g0-lucky kid. In exchange, you have what sometimes seems like a completely different person. Your little one is now no longer so little and extremely moody and doesn’t seem to care about much of anything anymore.
One of the most frustrating things about this stage is their “I don’t care” attitude- apathy. What exactly does this mean? Is your teenager depressed? Is this normal?
One mother on Depression Forums says “My teenage son (19 yrs old), since probably his Junior year in highschool has completely lost the motivation to do ANYTHING other than sleep and play video games. ” Like many other parents, she worries because he is very bright and has so much potential for his future.
Concerned parents are looking for answers to these discouraging changes in their adolescents. I found a great article on apathetic adolescents with good, thorough info on this very topic. An article by Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D, author of “The Connected Father,” sheds some light on why your once joyful andmotivated child is now an apathetic adolescent. He notes numerous causes for this apathy and some helpful ideas on how to identify which may be the case for your child. As always, if you have concerns, that nagging feeling something is not right, please seek help from a professional and talk to your pediatrician.
APATHY AS A PRETENSE. “I don’t care if you don’t like how I’m changing!” an eleven-year-old explodes as parents censor the new tough talk he has learned testing young manliness with male peers. But the parents stick to their standards: “How you talk with friends on the playground is your business; but how you talk at home is ours. None of that language here!”
It’s hard to be an early adolescent because what gains you points with peers can earn you demerits with parents. He still wants his parents’ good opinion, but to save face he pretends it doesn’t matter. His statement of apathy in this situation is really bravado speaking. What he actually feels is, “I care too much about what you think of the new me to let my caring show.”
Parents need to see the “I don’t care what you think” statement for what it is, and avoid strong statements of disapproval at this vulnerable age. Disagree with the young person’s choices when they feel they must, but don’t criticize his character when doing so.
APATHY AS BOREDOM. “There’s nothing I care to do!” moans the early adolescent (around ages 9 – 13) at a loss of how she can occupy herself. Having discarded childhood hobbies and possessions because she no longer wants to be defined and treated as a child, she doesn’t yet have older likes, interests, and activities to replace those that have been let go. When it comes to knowing how to meaningfully engage herself, for a while she is riding on empty.
While parents are often inclined to trivialize boredom in their adolescent, it is actually a very painful emotion. It is an expression of loneliness. The young person can’t find a satisfying way to connect with herself, other people, or the world. She feels disconnected, at loose ends. Although short term boredom creates the opportunity for the adolescent to develop her own resources and entertain herself, long term boredom should catch parental attention because it is often a staging area for impulse. The young person is willing to do something, anything, with friends to escape the emptiness they share. This is a time when parents need to keep their adolescent adequately busy so impulsiverisk-taking to cope with long term boredom is not allowed to rule.
APATHY AS DEFIANCE. “Who cares about grades?” protests the middle school student to parents, as academic performance falls from failing effort. “It should be good enough to just get by.” The formerly high performing young man is rejecting the importance of school achievement to which he was committed as a child and that his parents still are. By this expression of apathy he intends to show the adult world he is no longer wants to be wed to the values of childhood. Not caring about what mattered to the child and what matters to parents feels like an expression of adolescent independence.
But for his future sake at this disaffected time, the parents insist that all school work will be done, and apply their oversight to make it so. “Although we understand how school performance matters less to you at the moment, we still expect you to pay attention in class, complete all the homework, study for all the tests, and if you can’t make yourself do all this, we will give you our support of our supervision, even if that means showing up at school to help you take care of studies there.”
APATHY AS A DEFENSE. “I don’t care about serious dating anymore,” declares the high school junior who has just been jilted by her boyfriend of two years, with whom she had fallen in love, but who it turned out hadn’t been in lasting love with her. Now she discovers some painful lessons about love: love is not guaranteed to be forever; the one we love the most can hurt us the worst; our love for someone is not always the best measure of their love for us.
‘Caring takes daring’ is the lesson the young person has learned because when it comes to love, the risk of hurt is always there. Apathy at this juncture doesn’t heal the suffering, but it does defend against becoming enamored again anytime soon. Respecting this decision, parents can also help the young person appreciate good aspects of this last relationship that can strengthen the next loving attachment when she feels ready to try again.
APATHY AS INDIFFERENCE. Adolescence can be a very self-centered and socially limiting experience, in the extreme causing young people to lose empathy for others in their preoccupation with self-interest and confinement to their own small social circle of friends. In the first case, concern for others is sacrificed to caring only for self, ignoring the needs of those they live with. This is when parents complain: “He only thinks of himself!” In the second case, the high school student may be so committed to a social clique and sticking to her own kind that there is insensitivity and indifference to the welfare of others outside of her immediate associations. This is when the young person seems to think: “Who cares about them?”
Because healthy personal relationships must work two ways and not just one (the adolescent’s way), and because after leaving school the young person must be prepared to function in a larger and more diverse world, lack of empathy and range in personal relationships will not serve the growing adolescent well. Therefore parents need to insist on mutuality with them and do all they can to broaden experience and enlarge sense of social affiliation while she is still living at home.
APATHY ASCYNICISM. Fresh out on one’s own and facing a large impersonal world and job market that is inhospitable, the last stage adolescent finally secures an entry level job, earning just enough to move in with two similarly situated friends who need a third roommate to make rent on the one bedroom apartment they now all share. What a come-down from the comforts of living at home!
Because the present is discouraging and the future looks unpromising it’s tough to care about life when life doesn’t appear to care much about you. If you just graduated from college and there are not the opportunities you thought awaited someone with your advanced education, life can feel unfair. Add pessimism to apathy and cynicism can result, creating an outlook with little hope and a lot of disappointment and anger. True independence is a letdown when the world is revealed as the hard, impersonal place it is. Now the work of making one’s way begins.
Because cynicism makes it difficult to stay motivated, it can be the enemy of effort at a time when summoning the will to keep trying, to try even harder, is what is needed. Although parents should not spare the older adolescent this time of struggle, they can offer encouragement and also provide perspective by relating some of the trials they went through starting out in life many years ago.
APATHY FROM SUBSTANCE USE. At any stage of adolescence, when life gets hard to engage with, it’s tempting to escape from these demands, which is where a lot of substance use comes in. The escape is about freedom – freedom from worrisome or painful cares, freedom for unrestricted and uninhibited pleasure. The effect of substance use is an altered psychological state.
Depending on the dose and frequency, substance use can take the user from sober caring, to less caring, to acting carelessly, to becoming care-free, to not caring at all if intoxication or getting wasted occurs. When regular use of alcohol, marijuana, or other psychoactive drugs becomes established, a loss of normal caring can disable effort. Now apathy erodes ambition, motivation falls away, and healthy functioning is harder to maintain. Another impact of substance use on apathy is not caring about consequences and engaging in dangerous risk taking. In either case, parents should push for an assessment of use, and if advised see about getting substance use counseling, treatment, or support group help.
APATHY FROMDEPRESSION. “What differences does anything make?” exploded the high school senior. She just lost her best friend to a fatal car accident a month ago. “Nothing matters anymore!” That’s what her parents report in counseling, explaining how “our daughter’s just feeling really sad, but she’ll get past it. We just need to give time.” However, based on other data that they share, I disagree. “She’s showing signs that she needs help. She’s no longer striving on her own behalf. She doesn’t care about the future. She looks downcast all the time. She’s stopped socializing with friends and just stays by herself. She’s given up working out. She’s not interested in communicating and gets angry when you want to talk with her. I think she’s becoming seriously depressed. Significant loss of any kind always carries the risk of a depressive response.
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Add “Humor” To Your Life Survival Kit!

An unknown author is quoted as saying “Every survival kit should include a sense of humor.”

Free images from FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

What a great quote! I was reminded of this today when talking with someone getting ready to face an experience that, in the past, has proven to an absolute miserable time. Being the “helper type” I am, I automatically wanted to “talk about their feelings” and process all their worries about what might happen. Instead, I gave the reins of discussion over to the other person. I let them lead the topics and tone of conversation. I let them set the agenda for the next hour. Rather than talking about the issue, which was my initial desire, they decided to share something really funny with me. There was humor annd lighthearted joking throughout the hour. We laughed together!

From a counseling perspective, this can be viewed as avoidance or denial. Some may argue that I missed an opportunity to confront this person about their use of humor to avoid talking about their feelings. Maybe so… but we spent an hour the prior week talking about the heavy stuff. I honestly think what this person needed from me today was to let them laugh. Accept their lighter side. Maybe it is a defense mechanism. So what? I think it is a great one!

Don’t underestimate power of laughter to heal hurt and stress and fear and anger, even if just for the moment. Think about how good it feels to laugh with another person, especially when the laugh is so good it hurts!

I found an article on Psychcentral.com related to humor and it’s power to reduce stress and pain. The writer also left some good tips on adding humor to your every day life.

“Humor up” your work environment.Bring kids’ toys to work and keep them within reach. When you are stressed, take out a toy and play. That irate customer on the phone will have no idea that you are keeping your cool by playing with a Slinky. Place funny pictures of friends and loved ones around your office, including ones of you when you were a ridiculous-looking kid.

  • Create a humor file. Fill it with funny cartoons, sayings and jokes, as you run across them. When things are looking particularly grim, refer to your file. You’ll get a good laugh and be able to put things back in perspective in no time.
  • Create sitcom situations. When you find yourself in a nerve-wracking situation (such as locking your keys in the car), think of how Groucho or Lucy would handle it.
  • For recreation, do some of the things you did as a kid. Go to the zoo, an amusement park, bowling or swinging — the sky’s the limit! You’ll find that these activities completely take you away from all of that “heavy” stuff. And the escape will do wonders for your attitude.
  • Exaggerate a stressful situation. Take your situation and make it even bigger than it is. You might think this will cause more stress; however, blowing the problem up will allow you to see the absurdity of it, and afford you a great belly laugh.
  • Invite friends over for a “come as you are” party — and insist that they come as they are!
  • Host a slumber party. You’re never too old! Have friends bring pillows and blankets, eat junk food, and stay up all night telling scary stories. Trust me, this will provide you with a new perspective — a hysterically funny one.

So go out today and be silly, tell a corny joke, and make yourself and someone else laugh! You deserve the mental break! Need some help? Check out these Top 5 Funny Websites!

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Parents: Educate Yourself On Cyberbullying!

Bullying is not a new topic and one that has been pretty prominent in the news lately. We have all lived bullying, on one end or the other, but today’s bullying has a whole new form that we never had to worry about- online bullying. As a parent, I feel pretty confident about relating to my kids when they feel left out in the school lunch room or scared to run into a bully in the hallways, but not so much when it comes to the whole “online social life” of today’s adolescent.
An article  on ParentFuther.com tells us more about this topic. First, we learn how to recognize bullying as opposed to conflict between peers.
Recognizing Bullying
Bullying is a complex problem, but there are good tools and resources that can help parents, educators, and caring adults identify bullying behavior. Did you know that there are four, specific characteristics that can qualify a situation as bullying? The behavior has to be intentional, be repetitive, be hurtful, and involve an imbalance of power.
  • Intentional—Children can hurt other children by accident. Bullying, however, is always intentional and meant to cause some sort of harm, whether it is physical or verbal. This behavior may persist even after the victim has asked the bully to stop.
  • Repetitive—In most cases, bullying happens repeatedly. Bullies often target children who they know will not do anything about the behavior, so they can continue bullying as long as they like.
  • Hurtful—Bullying is a negative behavior that may include physical or verbal harm. The types of hurtful behavior that qualify as bullying are varied, but they all cause harm of some sort to the victim.
  • Imbalance of power—If two children hold an equal amount of power, one cannot bully the other. This imbalance of power can come from different sources, including age, size, strength, and social status.
And then we learn more about cyberbullying, or bullying online, and how it differs from the bullying most of us adults have experienced. I feel for these kids just reading about this stuff!
Characteristics of Cyberbullying:
  • First, cyberbullying can be anonymous: youth who are being cyberbullied may not even know who the bully is, or specifically why they are being targeted.
  • Second, the impact of cyberbullying can be wider-reaching than bullying done in person. The speed and breadth of the internet have permitted groups of youth to create websites just to make fun of other young people, to impersonate other teens on social media sites, and to circulate embarrassing photos, all within a matter of minutes.
  • Finally, cyberbullies can be teens who might not otherwise have engaged in bullying behaviors. It is often easier to be cruel when the bully is sheltered from their target’s responses which can over time include devastating consequences such as withdrawal from family and friends, depression, diminished performance in school and in the most severe cases, self-harming behavior and even suicide.
Online bullying is very real and parents will be wise to pay attention and get educated on the topic. If we are going to help our kids, we must learn to identify the problem and know resources and actions to help them. The impact and danger of being bullied online shouldn’t be dismissed.
More references you can check out on this topic:
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Boys And Aggression- When Is It Too Much?

Boys are known for being boisterous, active, and playful. They are also known for being more aggressive than girls.

How do you know if your boy is too aggressive? How can you tell when his rough and tumble behaviors cross the line?

“Cops and Robbers” Fantasy Play

Boys will often be found playing “cops and robbers” themed games, where they are the good guy taking on the bad guys and saving the world. I see this all the time in my play room. In fact, here is a picture of the most popular “bad guy” in my room. He has been kicked, beat, shot, burried, and thrown accross the room. Months ago, he lost his arm, but it did not hinder his popularity any. This week, he lost his leg, yet I’m sure he will go on playing his role as evil in the world. I’m actually very proud that these boys have mustered up courage to beat this bad guy and ensure that good resides over evil! 🙂

This type of play is normal for boys. PBS has a great article on this issue and a quote by teacher Jane Katch sums this up nicely:

 “If a boy is playing a game about super heroes, you might see it as violent.  But the way he sees it, he’s making the world safe from the bad guys. This is normal and doesn’t indicate that anything is wrong unless he repeatedly hurts or tries to dominate the friends he plays with.

When To Worry

I hear from quite a few parents that they, or the teachers, feel their son is aggressive. They are often coming to see me for concerns of hyperactivity, anger, or poor behaviors at school.

I don’t like to use words loosly when it comes to a person’s mental or behavioral health, so when I am told a child is being aggressive, I definitely want to investigate this further. I have a brief mental checklist I use to learn more.

If you have concerns about your son’s aggression, start by asking these 5 simple questions.

1. Is he intentionally causing harm to others?

If the answer to this question is yes, there is definite cause to address the issue immediately.

  • Empathy Training: It may be as simple as giving him some lessons on empathy to bring awareness of how it feels when they are hurtful towards others. For some exercises on empathy, check out this link.
  • Defensive Behaviors: Perhaps this child feels they must inflict harm as a defense towards physical or emotional bullying. Some adult intervention is needed asap. For some ideas on helping kids with bullies, visit this link.
  • Personal Gain or Pleasure: If the child is inflicting harm on others and feels pleasure from their pain, there are likely issues going on here that require help from a mental health professional. Talk to the child’s pediatrician regarding your concerns.

2. Is he aware that his behaviors are causing harm?

We often assume that kids or teens are aware of their surroundings, but it is quite often the opposite. Many times, I notice children flailing about, running wildly, without noticing they are in the way of other people or that their body is making contact with others. They run into others, step on their toys, etc. and adults often label this as “aggression.” I don’t consider this aggression. Behavioral training on self-awareness and impulsive control would be a good start to address the behaviors if this is the case.

3. Is this a hyperactive child?

The summary for this question is going to be similar to the one above. Hyperactive children are often energetic and impulsive. They may not be aware how their behaviors and energy affect others around them and come off as aggressive at times.

Children spend a lot of time indoors these days, but no matter how times change, they are still kids. They need to run, play, and be silly. Boys often need to be more physical than girls do. Make sure your child get time outdoors and is allowed time for physical activity every day! It’s important for their physical and emotional wellness and will provide an appropriate outlet for their energy.

4. Does this child have the ability or know the appropriate way to communicate his needs?

The ability to communicate needs and wants is a huge factor in assessing aggressive behaviors. If a person cannot communicate effectively, or their attempts are not noticed, they will become frustrated, angry, and feel there is a lack of options to get their needs met.

  • Speech or Language Issue: An inability to communicate may be an issue with their speech and language and an evaluation by a Speech Language Pathologist is recommended.
  • Education: The child may have the ability to communicate, but not the proper education. If children are not taught or modeled appropriate behavior, they will experiment. Sometimes they find they get their message across by using inappropriate means, but it works so they stick with it.

5. Does he have appropriate social skills?

I have found that boys are often aggressive towards others when they do not understand social cues or have poor social skills. For example, a boy in elementary school hit another little girl when he wanted her to play tag. Rather than asking first if she wanted to play, he hit her. Teaching him how to make friends would decrease these aggressive behaviors.

These 5 questions are a good place to start when assessing whether a boy is too aggressive. By the way, I googled “aggression” and here is the definition:


  1. Hostile or violent behavior or attitudes toward another; readiness to attack or confront.
  2. The action of attacking without provocation, esp. in beginning a quarrel or war:  “the dictator resorted to armed aggression”.

In summary, raising boys is an adventure, to say the least! They are full of adventure and curiosity. Try to find healthy outlets for your son’s energy and help him to channel this into good!


PBS Parents: Understanding and Raising Boys

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Exploring the Benefits of Unwanted Behaviors

“We often talk about the reasons for changing unhealthy behaviors, but rarely stop to consider, or admit to, how those behaviors are beneficial. How is that behavior working for you?”

A frustrated and tired woman sat in front of me not too long ago. She is admirably raising a teenager who is not her own with the heart and energy as if they were. These cases are often complex in that a child who suffered through an unhealthy and chaotic beginning with their biological family is now in a nurturing and loving home. Yet, the child’s behavior is persistently challenging and inappropriate. Positive reinforcement, verbal reasoning, empathy… nothing seems to break through to the child’s challenging behaviors.

During a recent session, I sat with this particular teenager discussing their behavior. “I want to change” and “I’m ready to change” were the talking points. “So, why haven’t you?” I challenged. The response was “I don’t know.”

Where do you go from there? Someone says they want to change, but they don’t. This is when the meat of real issues comes into play and self-discovery is key to moving forward. I get very excited to reach these points in therapy!!

In this particular situation, I had the client start a “Positive and Negative” list of their “bad” behaviors. In other words, what is the benefit for you to continue with your current choices? We often talk about the reasons for changing unhealthy behaviors, but rarely stop to consider, or admit to, how those behaviors are beneficial. How is that behavior working for you?

In my experience, there are several reasons people may not be making changes in their lives they know should, and can, be made.

Comfort Zones. People become comfortable with their current circumstances and taking steps towards change would require them to adjust to new circumstances. A woman who has an opportunity to leave a bad relationship, but doesn’t, could fall into this category. Some people even become comfortable with being in a bad mood. Have you ever realized you were being grumpy, but didn’t feel like getting un-grumpy? Imagine this as a lifestyle and you can see how difficult change can be for those individuals.

Fear. Not knowing anything different, or not knowing what things will be like if you do make a change, can keep people from taking steps towards change. In the situation above, I suspect this teen fears stability and happiness. They have never experienced a family life without discord. There may even be some fear they would mess it up if they actually succeeded in getting there in the first place. Fear is a powerful paralytic.

Need-to-please. The need to please others has stopped many people from making choices and taking steps for change. What will my friends think? How will they feel? “I must please everyone except myself” is a need-to-please self-talk that justifies staying the same.

Positive Reinforcements. Feedback in the form of praise, opinions, money, etc. can be a huge motivator for someone to continue down their current path. Kids and teens often fall into this category when it comes to behavior. Although they may get detention and nagging at home for skipping class, these kids are getting some serious positive reinforcement from their peers. They are “cool” or a “bad” kid. Image holds a lot of weight in their choices. Little kids often use negative behavior for attention. They will do anything to get you to look at them instead of your phone!

Coping Mechanism. We have all heard of good and bad coping mechanisms. Maybe the habit you are trying to break is one of your only coping skills? It’s really hard to give that up when you don’t have another coping outlet to use instead. Try finding another outlet for your stress, anxiety, anger, depression, and so on.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to why we don’t make changes we know are good for us. What are the benefits of your behavior? How do your “bad” choices work in your favor? If you have been meaning to make a change, such as leaving a bad relationship or stopping a bad habit, do some soul searching. Consider the benefits of the negative behaviors or choices first. You may be surprised at what you discover. Only then can you move forward in your decision to change or stay the same!

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Being Prepared for Postpartum Emotions (of Mom AND Dad)

The birth of a baby is no small event and can trigger significant and sometimes long-lasting mood changes, in both the mother and father. I think everyone has heard of postpartum depression at one time or another. Millions of new mommies experience deep feelings of sadness or persistent anxiety after the birth of their baby, which medical explanations attribute to the rapid decline in hormone levels after the baby is born. Fathers can also experience significant mood changes, including depression and anxiety. After all, his life has undergone drastic changes as well.

With a little one soon to arrive and a toddler at my feet, I easily recall those weeks and months after my first child was born. I remember the powerful wave of emotions that flooded my body and mind.  In fact, even with all I knew about the postpartum mood changes, I was shocked at how powerful they could be that first week. The birth of a child, and especially the first, is supposed to be joyous. So how is it that I could feel even the slightest bit of sadness?

There are many factors that can lead to the postpartum blues:

* Hormones: This goes for mom and dad! Yes, even dad experiences changes in testosterone levels after a baby is born. Here is a link that may interest you.

* Fatigue: In case you didn’t know yet, new babies are exhausting! They feed every 2-3 hours and may even wake up between that time for a multitude of other needs.

* New Responsibility: Holding your new baby brings up floods of joy, as well as an “Oh my goodness, this is a big responsibility” kind of feeling.

* Financial Strains: Babies are expensive… and so are kids and teens and college students. The financial burdens of a new child are significant and long-term. This places a lot of stress on new parents.

* Social Changes: The days of care-free living are over and new parents often have to find new social circles to join. In addition, at least one of the parents may be making changes in their job status or putting off career aspirations.

* New Identity: Having a baby also means being called “mom” or “dad” and owning this new identity, and all that comes with it, can take some time to adjust.

* Relationship Changes: A couple will need to make some adjustments to their relationship. With so much time and energy going to a baby, it will be important that they find creative ways to maintain a healthy relationship and find time to spend together.

With all these factor in place, it’s natural for new parents to experience changes in their emotions, from the good to the bad. No person is the same, so they can even come at varying times and in varying forms and severity.

So how do you deal with these emotional changes and when do you seek help?

* First of all, learn the symptoms of depression before baby arrives- sadness, tear fullness, hopelessness, lack of joy, fatigue, lack of motivation, changes in eating habits, and sometimes emotional numbness. Knowing these symptoms can help you to identify depression in yourself and in others if they should come. The Mayo Clinic website has more detailed information on these symptoms.

* Attempt to identify some of the greatest area of need for you at the moment. Sleep? Food? Time out of the house?

* Seek support from loved ones, such as your significant other, relatives, and friends. Be sure to let them know you really need help and if you know how they can help, communicate that clearly. Don’t expect people to guess what you need.

* Talk to your doctor a) if the depression and anxiety has been going on for more than 6 weeks, b) if you feel the emotions are too much to handle, c) your symptoms continue to get more severe, or d) anytime you are unsure what to do or what you are experiencing.

Please keep in mind, changes in emotions are normal for everyone. Having a baby is a wonderful, joyous occasion, but also a huge change! There is no shame in what you are experiencing and I can guarantee you that another mother or father out that has experienced something similar. Seek the advice of your doctor anytime you have concern.

Related links:

Mayo Clinic

Baby Center

Postpartum Men

Men’s Health article

Article: Men’s Testosterone Levels After Baby is Born

Childhood 101: 7 Reasons Not to Leave the Hospital with Baby Blues


The Postpartum Survival Guide

Postpartum Depression for Dummies

Postpartum Depression and Child Development

The Postpartum Husband: Practical Solutions for Living with Postpartum Depression

Goodtherapy.org: Number 1 Complication at Birth

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Five Qualities of a Good Child Therapist

I probably don’t have to tell you that finding the right therapist to work with  you and your child is key to their success in treatment. If you are seeking help for the first time, or had a negative experience in the past, finding the right professional can be daunting. As a child therapist, I have talked with many parents who have been satisfied or dissatisfied with prior therapists. Using their feedback, as well as my own beliefs about the therapeutic process for children, I feel there are 5 key elements of a child therapist.

1. Knowledgeable:

Your therapist should be knowledgeable in child development, as well as in the problems and concerns you present. Specialized training in working with children, such as a certification in play therapy, is also important. Children are a very special population and require a treatment approach geared towards their developmental level.

2. Loves Children

This sounds obvious, but it is too important not to include. A therapist who claims to work with children should love children! Trust me when I say that your child will know if their therapist is not enthusiastic about them or their play.

3. Parent Involvement

Your child’s therapist should show a willingness to communicate with you regularly. This communication can include feedback from the child’s treatment, parenting techniques, and suggestions for helping the child outside of the session. Parents should also feel open to asking the therapist questions and sharing regular updates on how things are going at home and at school.

4. Coordinates Care with Other Professionals

Children who attend school or daycare are likely exhibiting their behaviors in the classroom. In fact, many parents seek counseling because their teachers have expressed concerns and want help as well. It may also be important to communicate with your child’s pediatrician, especially if medication is involved. A willingness to collaborate with your child’s teachers, doctor, or other providers can further foster their success outside of the play room.

5. Establishes Good Rapport

Just like any other relationship, you will connect with some therapists and not with others. Especially in a field when you are trusting this professional with intimate details of yourself and your life, you want someone you are comfortable with and trust. Your child will feel the same in their sessions so be sure they enjoy being with that individual.

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