Eight Truths About Therapy You Might Not Know

Many people claim that they are “aware” about the use of therapy for mental illnesses. In fact, on both the big and small screens, characters are often shown visiting a therapist to assist them with their mental or emotional issues.

Unfortunately, this “awareness” of theirs leads to the conclusion that only those in dire straits, those with no one else to talk to, or only those with the means can avail of such help. Sadly, this prevents many people from availing of needed help until it is too late, which should NOT be the case.

There is still much to clarify about therapy in this modern age.

Some Important Clarifications about Therapy

1. Therapy IS meant for all.

Aside from worries about the cost, there really is a stigma attached to the idea of therapy. People just don’t want themselves, or their loved ones, to be labelled as “crazy,” particularly in this age of social media where news can spread instantly.

Although self-respect is important, too much pride – either for oneself or for one’s family – becomes a big hindrance. Without professional help, a person suffering from mental or emotional issues has a slimmer chance of getting better and a higher chance of life becoming more difficult.

Mental and emotional problems interfere with many aspects of life, lowering the possibility of success at school, work, or at home. So the earlier a person is properly treated, the better for everyone involved.

2. Therapists are NOT there to judge their clients. They just educate impartially.

The idea of sharing one’s deepest fears and secrets can be very frightening. This is why many choose to stay quiet about such, even if a close loved one is asking.

Therapy, however, is meant to be a venue where a person CAN share these inner thoughts, fears, and desires without being judged, ridiculed, or exposed. Professional therapists know this and approach each situation with an open mind, giving unbiased advice on what to do. As they are not personally involved, it is sometimes even easier for them to notice things that family members and friends cannot see; or share the advice that loved ones with vested interests do not want to say.

When many people are involved, group therapy can become a way for all parties to share their side with an unbiased therapist managing the conversation so that negative emotions are handled well. In such a neutral environment, rocky relationships have a better chance of mending, giving hope to all concerned.

3. Therapy takes time.

Unfortunately, many try therapy thinking it will be a quick fix. But after a few sessions, they decide to opt out because it is seemingly taking too much time.

Just like many other medical conditions or emotional setbacks, therapy requires time for things to sort themselves out. Years of abuse, anger issues, low self-esteem, or addictions cannot be overcome in a week’s or even a month’s time. Sufficient time is needed for the therapist to help sort through the underlying issues, and time is necessary for the person’s heart and mind to finally accept what has happened and move forward in life.

4. Full participation is necessary.

Every person’s circumstance is different, which means the therapist has to consider what approach will work best. This is why there may be different suggestions or assignments for the person to try. If they do not work out, then something else may be suggested in the next session.

Things, however, become difficult when the client does not fully participate. Because of doubts, busyness, or pride, some clients do not accomplish their assignments, making it hard for the therapist to do their job. Full participation is a must for therapy to work well.

5. The client is in control.

Most people are not happy about always being told what to do, especially when one has invested much time and money into something. This is another reason why some shun the idea of therapy as they believe that in therapy they will simply follow someone else’s regimen, not theirs. Such thinking, however, is far from the truth.

While there are protocols that therapists follow, each therapist knows that healing cannot occur if the client is not comfortable with the process. So while there will be suggestions to follow and assignments to do, everything begins with what the person needs as communicated in the sessions. Therapists understand this and are willing to adjust according to what works best for each client.

6. Sometimes the situation may get worse before it gets better.

Since mental issues are very complex, it is often necessary to revisit painful experiences or discuss shameful thoughts or desires. Doing so, however, usually elicits negative emotions which can make the counseling process more difficult to bear. In fact, many clients feel like quitting as they wrongly believe the therapist is adding to their mental burden rather than alleviating it.

But as stated earlier, therapy takes time and requires full participation. And if there are many layers of pain that have caused the present situation, each layer needs to be addressed lest they return to haunt the client in the future. Hence, each client needs to stay the course, knowing that sometimes things have to get worse before changes can begin.

7. Therapists CAN understand what the client is going through.

Some people are hesitant to continue therapy, or even start it, because they believe that their situation is much too difficult for someone else to handle, regardless of their expertise. They think what they are going through is “too crazy” for anyone else to understand, so they opt to deal with it on their own.

Professional therapists, however, have already learned, seen, and experienced much in their training and practice. While each person’s situation is truly unique, there are still many similar emotions and desires that each client feels. So therapists CAN understand what the client is feeling, no matter how grave their circumstances. This is why they are able to help those who seek their assistance.

8. Therapy requires the right therapist.

Unlike other physical ailments, there is no single solution to each mental health problem. Every client’s background and personality have to be taken into consideration before the right steps can be made. This is why it is important that both the client and therapist are able to work well with one another.

While it may seem strange that a trained professional cannot help their client, such an occurrence happens regularly in many fields that require close communication like teaching, coaching, and even wedding planning. Sometimes particular personalities and styles fit; while other times they clash, preventing positive gains. Thus, it pays to put some effort into the search.

One good way is to ask friends for referrals as they may have had firsthand experience. It also pays to search online as many counseling websites post the expertise of their therapists. But in many instances, the “right fit” won’t be gauged until client and therapist have sat down and begun their discussions. Fortunately, therapists are aware of the need for a “good fit” so they are not hurt when a client opts to continue elsewhere.

Christian Counseling as a Better Option

Mental and emotional issues take a heavy toll on both the mind and body. But one other aspect they also hurt is the spirit. This is why even though the person may seem to be on the road to recovery, there may be inner spiritual turmoil that causes them to regress later on. So though secular therapy can be helpful to an extent, it is always better to seek Christian counseling.

Similar to secular therapy, in Christian counseling the latest therapeutic techniques will also be used to discuss and resolve the client’s mental and emotional issues. But most importantly, the faith-based counselor will introduce the client to the love and mercy of God through a relationship with Jesus Christ. With prayer and meditation on God’s Word, the client’s spiritual needs will be addressed leading to a more complete recovery.

If you or a friend is suffering from a mental or emotional issue, do not hesitate anymore to seek professional help from a Christian counselor. Complete healing can only begin with the right assistance.

Photos:
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Therapeutic Activities for Children You Can Do at Home

The brokenness of life affects everyone, including children. But since children’s brains aren’t fully developed, sometimes we struggle to help them cope with difficulty or trauma. If you have a toolbox of techniques and activities for children, you can consider which one(s) might help an individual child in their situation.

Since you care about your child, you form a big piece of the puzzle to help them through their struggle. Let’s discuss some therapeutic activities for children that you can use at home with your child.

Therapeutic Activities for Children

These activities can help both children and adults, but let’s talk about them in the context of helping a child who needs therapy. You can use them at home as a parent, and they can also be used in a school or child care setting.

Drawing/Artwork

Children don’t have the cognitive or verbal capacity to fully express what’s going on inside. Even as adults, we sometimes struggle to explain what we’re thinking or feeling.

As the adult, when you want to help a child who’s struggling, it can be really demoralizing when you realize you can’t pick their brain. How are you supposed to help them if you don’t know what’s really going on?

And expressing internal thoughts isn’t just important so we can get help, it’s important because outwardly processing our experiences and feelings helps us heal. For children, art can unlock their self-expression and provide healing.

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Drawing utensils (crayons, colored pencils, chalk, etc.)
  • Drawing surface (paper, chalkboard, etc.)

You can proactively implement art in your daily routine, even if your child doesn’t need therapy at this time. The routine of drawing, coloring, or painting will become a familiar ritual. If and when your child does need a therapeutic activity, she’ll already possess the tools and habits to express herself.

Journaling

Journaling and therapy often go hand in hand. Some experts believe that journaling can benefit your mental health just as much as traditional therapy. If your child is old enough to write easily, he might enjoy journaling as a way to get thoughts of his brain and onto paper. Later, he can look back and see how he’s changed.

Healing often happens when we self-reflect, and it’s no different for children. A journal doesn’t have to be a traditional diary with a lock and key, full of pages of longhand introspection. It’s not meant to be another homework assignment; the child can decide when, where, and how he would like to journal.

If he would enjoy it, he can incorporate art – drawing, painting, adding found paper or ephemera, creating word clouds, etc.

You can also provide prompts to help your child briefly focus on a specific topic, such as:

  • What is one thing you would like to teach someone else?
  • What do you hope will happen this week?
  • Did you get to relax today? What did you do?
  • What was the weather like today?
  • Who did you enjoy talking to today?
  • What did you enjoy doing today?
  • What emotion are you most aware of right now?
  • What do you do when you’re afraid?
  • What did you think your day would be like when you woke up this morning?
  • What is your favorite scent? What does it make you think of?
  • If you could spend time every day with a particular friend, who would it be?
  • What is something you disliked about today?

If you think your child would enjoy journaling but is too young to write anything longform, you can serve as the scribe while he plays the narrator. You can even “interview” them using journaling prompts and write down their answers.

The older the child is, the more he’ll need to be confident in his journal’s privacy. If you are concerned about unsafe behaviors, you might need to have a conversation with your child about sharing thoughts they’re having with an adult they trust (preferably you). Make sure to set privacy boundaries with your child based on their age and level of maturity.

An older child or teen may want to use a digital platform or app for journaling. No matter how he chooses to do it, writing out his thoughts can help your child therapeutically. You can set an example by keeping a journal yourself.

Role Playing

You can use imaginary scenarios between you and your child to help them develop social skills and learn how to interact with others. Practice makes perfect in so many areas of life, and role-playing various scenarios can increase a child’s confidence so she’s able to use those skills in real-life situations.

Here are some areas where you could use role-playing to help a child overcome specific struggles:

  • Grow confidence to overcome shyness.
  • Learn to resolve conflict and ask for help when experiencing bullying.
  • Manage anxiety on a day-to-day basis.
  • Say no to peer pressure.

If you’re going to use role-playing, it’s important to find out as much as you can about what the child is going through. The more realistic you can act, the easier it will be for her to do the same. Change up your expressions and tone of voice so she can develop confidence as she responds naturally.

Prayer or Meditation

Everyone can benefit from speaking quietly to the Lord or learning to calm their thoughts and direct them to pleasant topics. Prayer and meditation have healing potential for children as well as adults.

In the beginning, a child might listen to you pray, but eventually, he might be willing to pray on his own, whether alone or with you there.

Meditation can sometimes include secular or religious concepts that don’t fit into a Biblical worldview, but when used properly, it can provide a sense of calm and allow the mind to focus on that which is good, true, and beautiful, including (but not limited to) the words of Scripture.

Scripture is replete with examples of prayer and meditation that you can use as you teach your child how to practice these disciplines:

Therapeutic Prayers

Now hear my prayer, listen to my cry. – Psalm 88:2

Listen to my prayer; rescue me as you promised. – Psalm 119:170

Bend down, O Lord, and hear my prayer; answer me, for I need your help. – Psalm 86:1

So today when I came to the spring, I prayed this prayer: ‘O Lord, God of my master, Abraham, please give me success on this mission. – Genesis 24:42

O Lord, hear my plea for justice. Listen to my cry for help. Pay attention to my prayer, for it comes from honest lips. – Psalm 17:1

Listen to my prayer for mercy as I cry out to you for help, as I lift my hands toward your holy sanctuary. – Psalm 28:2

Now, a child may not be able to completely understand all of these verses, so if you can, have a conversation with him. You can tell him that:

  • Peace and healing come from God.
  • God always hears our prayers through His Son Jesus.
  • These prayers can apply to our specific needs today.

As mentioned, meditation offers another approach to achieving a calm, peaceful state of mind. This particular idea allows the child to stay engaged during the meditation exercise:

Simple Meditation Idea

  1. Find a quiet place free from noise and distractions.
  2. Explain that the purpose of meditation is quieting our thoughts so we can focus on God, His Word, and the beautiful world He has created. Emphasize that the child can choose whether and how to participate.
  3. Suggest that your child can close her eyes if she wants to. Ask her to join you in breathing slowly and deeply.
  4. If your child is younger, use the word “fun” and ask her where she likes to go to have fun. If she is older, you can use the word “relax.”
  5. Ask her to picture that place and go there in her imagination. What does she see? What smells can she identify? What sounds does she hear?
  6. Suggest that the child think about her emotions when she pictures that place. Don’t push her to share her emotions; just offer the thought as a suggestion for her to reflect.
  7. Ask her to take another deep breath, and let her know she can open her eyes if she wants to.
  8. Ask her about her experience during the meditation.

Self-Care

Do you ever feel completely overwhelmed and exhausted, like you just want to check out of life?

Kids feel that way, too! But they might not be able to express it in a helpful or pro-social way. Instead, they might have a meltdown or get really whiny or demanding, or beg for treats, or any number of other behaviors that can grate on parents’ or caregivers’ nerves.

Part of helping kids learn to self-regulate is teaching them self-care skills. When a child learns to identify what they’re feeling and what would make them feel better, they can manage those negative emotions a little bit better.

When does your child need a break? When are they headed toward a crisis? Even at a young age, kids can learn to be intentional with their time and to figure out which activities bring them joy.

Here a few ideas to start with when teaching your child how to engage in self-care:

Daily Self-Care for Children

  • Use the ideas listed above: prayer, meditation, journaling, or artwork.
  • Play a board or card game.
  • Take a relaxing bubble bath.
  • Take a nap.
  • Put together a puzzle.
  • Read a book.
  • Paint your nails.
  • Go for a walk in the neighborhood (obviously, with another person if the child is too young to go alone).
  • Go outside just to enjoy nature.
  • Cook or bake something (with help if needed).
  • Go swimming or do something else that’s active.
  • Turn on music and dance or sing along.
  • Play an instrument.

Consider helping your child develop non-digital ways to relax. Screens actually stimulate children’s minds more than we might realize, making it harder for them to be calm and rejuvenate. You can help them by setting an example of putting the devices down and spending time together as a family on interesting activities or hobbies.

The younger children are when they develop self-care habits, the more naturally they’ll be able to self-regulate and destress as they get older.

And as an adult, please don’t forget to practice self-care for yourself! Sometimes we struggle to support the kids in our lives emotionally because we feel like we’re barely surviving ourselves.

You don’t have to view the self-care ideas as a list of ways to entertain your child; many of them can be done independently. You can also help your child come up with their own list of ideas they might enjoy. Self-care for children and adults can have long-lasting positive effects.

Should Your Child See a Therapist?

These therapeutic activities can be a great beginning towards helping your child manage stress in their life. But sometimes at-home care isn’t quite enough. In that case, having your child come in for a few sessions with a Christian counselor may be just what they need to find healing and emotional health during a difficult season in their life.

Your child’s therapist can work with you to help you continue what you’re doing at home and find new ways of achieving wellness together.

Photos:
“Young and Sweet”, Courtesy of Jordan Ropwland, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Child of Light,” courtesy of Matheus Bertelli, pexels.com, CC0 License; “Dear Jesus,” courtesy of David Beale, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Smug,” courtesy of vborodinova, unsplash.com, CC0 License

OCD in Children: What Parents Need to Know

When someone seems overly concerned about being clean, others might call them “obsessive.” When a person insists on specific behaviors or requires a certain order of things, words or actions, people may say they’re “compulsive”.

People may use the term “OCD” in an almost light-hearted manner to justify behaviors or rules which they themselves practice. But for anyone diagnosed with real Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), there is nothing light-hearted about their struggles. For them, the condition often brings distress and places limits on their every day lives to varying degrees.

According to information released by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the best estimates are that about 1.2% of the American population struggles with OCD. It occurs in adults, teens, and children and it is likely that at least a million U.S. children wrestle with OCD symptoms (OCFMC, 2006).

Other studies predict that one child or teenager out of every 200 will develop OCD (AACAP, 2013). The average age when OCD begins is 19-1/2 years old, and 1/4 of all people who were diagnosed with OCD had developed obvious symptoms by the age of 14 (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Parents are overwhelmed and confused when one of their children develops the symptoms or begins to live under the dark cloud of the fears that are a part of OCD.

It’s difficult to know what to do when a child has an emotional meltdown or battles with someone who has (probably without realizing it) interfered with a “necessary” order of items and actions.

It should be good news to know that effective treatment is available. Parents should begin by learning all that they can about OCD with the goal of becoming better able to understand what a child with OCD is facing and how and where to find the right help.

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

OCD is a mental health issue that is diagnosed by looking for genuine obsessions and/or compulsions.

Obsession: Obsessions may be defined as urges, thoughts, or images that intrude on a person’s mind and life in a way that becomes difficult or impossible to ignore (APA, 2013). For example, someone can become a germophobe. A child may become driven to seek perfection. Another lives with the constant fear of harming themselves or others.

Compulsion: Compulsions, on the other hand, are behaviors or mental acts that a person is driven to repeat again and again. Compulsions may grow out of obsessions (APA, 2013). People with OCD find themselves compelled to continually wash their hands, perform special rituals, engage in what is known as “checking” behaviors, count things, or even pray because they believe they must.

When a person suffers from OCD, they carry out certain acts (compulsions) to try to relieve anxiety or tension (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Often the anxiety for which the person desperately wants relief is driven by an obsession. The compulsive behavior brings a measure of relief but it’s only temporary, so when the anxiety returns, the person must perform the action again to get relief. This develops into a cycle where relief from the anxiety reinforces the need to repeat the compulsive behavior in order to experience another brief period of relief.

The obsessions and compulsions are often connected, such as germophobia and washing one’s hands. Or, a student is so afraid of failing that he or she keeps on checking and checking his or her test answers even to the point of missing recess or lunch.

In other cases, the obsessions and compulsions may not seem to be related. Think, for example, of a child who counts a certain number of cracks in a sidewalk thinking it will keep his mother from being hurt. So, a diagnosis of OCD does not always mean that the obsessions and compulsions are related. A child may have one without the other.

How OCD develops and manifests itself can also vary. Also, the focus of obsessions and compulsions shift over time. For some people, obsessions and compulsion come out more obviously and intensely when they are under stress (APA, 2013). Those same people may experience fewer or less intense symptoms in situations where stress levels are low. And often, when one obsession or compulsion is eliminated, others may change.

True OCD symptoms are not simply small irritations. They consume a major portion of the time in a child’s day. Further, they may increase a child’s level of stress, bringing layers of problems.

For example, a germophobic child may wash their hands to the point that they become dry and cracked, and may even start to bleed. Then, he or she may also become terrified of being around sick people or having physical contact with someone who has even been close to a sick person.

This can disrupt relationships, or bring on peer harassment if the fears or behaviors become known. Brothers and sisters may feel rejected by the child who struggles with germophobia because he or she may avoid giving hugs or express fear which the siblings may take personally.

OCD not only affects the person who struggles with the obsessions and compulsions, but also impacts their family and friendships. Then the OCD sufferer feels shame over their compulsive behaviors. A child’s need to carry out these compulsions often builds more shame. The emotional distress that often comes with OCD can become so heavy that depression also develops.

OCD in Children: Catching it Early

Early warnings of OCD in children may go unnoticed. Children may find certain behaviors embarrassing and may try to hide them. But parents who observe some of the following in their child’s life may have reason to seek further assistance in checking out the possibility of OCD (OCFMC, 2006; AACAP, 2013):

1. Repetitive behaviors (washing their hands over and over, touching things in a specific order, anxiously rechecking school work, or repeatedly checking doors, etc.

2. Continuous fears that become extreme (such as unusual fears surrounding germs or dirt, or anxiety about the well being of the family).

3. Often repeated statements that go beyond reasonable concern and obsessively express worry outcomes that do not necessarily follow. “I must touch [this object] 10 times so that my sister will still like me” or “When I fail to pray a certain way, our team loses.”

4. Habits and behaviors beginning to get in the way of normal life or friendships.

5. Needing reassurance too much and too often (“will I be okay if…?”; “will it be okay…?”).

6. Constantly compulsion to carry out an action until everything feels “correct.”

7. Often driven to confess bad thoughts, like sexual imagery or thinking unkind thoughts about other people.

8. Avoiding more and more activities not connected to obsessions or compulsions

9. Always seeming to be behind (because obsessions and/or compulsions demand time).

10. Increased physical symptoms of anxiety, such as headaches and stomach aches.

What Causes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

As is typical of much of the world of mental illness, the exact causes of OCD are still largely a mystery. In fact, a number of different factors acting in combination, including environmental and biological factors, may be behind a child’s OCD.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), states that for those individuals who have a member of their immediate family that has OCD there is a 200% greater likelihood that they will develop OCD over those whose first-degree relatives are not OCD (APA, 2013).

What’s more, they also found that when the immediate family member has experienced childhood-onset OCD, the likelihood of developing OCD increases by 1000%. Other possible causes of OCD include significant life transitions (divorce, changing schools, etc), abuse, and loss (AACAP, 2013; APA, 2013).

Whatever the cause may be in a given instance, it has become clear that OCD has a significant effect on the brain. Brain scans have shown differences in brain activity between people who have OCD and those who do not (Scharwtz, 2016).

OCD may also have physical causes, so an evaluation by a medical professional is always a good idea. Physical causes may be addressed to help reduce contributing factors. For example, Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal (PANDAS) can trigger a sudden and severe onset of OCD or tic disorder symptoms (National Institute of Mental Health, 2016). In these cases, the streptococcal infection would require medical treatment.

Helping Your Child

If your child exhibits symptoms of OCD, there are a number of ways to find help and give good support.

  • Get immediate professional help and counsel. There is no reason for you to try to handle this alone!
  • Don’t fall into the trap of merely using reassurance as your tool to try to calm your child. This is not an effective way to reduce the symptoms nor does it teach your child to fight and manage them.
  • Don’t try to avoid everything that your child fears or is obsessed by since this only tends to reinforce their symptoms.
  • Give your healthy coping skills, like memorizing relevant Bible verses, relaxation techniques, evaluating the rationality of their thoughts, soothing activities, and learning to live in the moment. Stress tends to trigger and magnify symptoms, so being able to use effective stress management tools makes a real difference.
  • Demonstrate how to set proper boundaries. These can help your child handle stress.
  • Teach your child how to take care of themselves, like eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep,
  • Teach your child to recognize their obsessions and compulsions. Knowledge is a power.
  • Do not shame! There may be no logic behind OCD symptoms, but they are quite real and your child is not to blame.
  • Provide a time and place for your child to express and process negative feelings, like embarrassment and shame, that go along with OCD symptoms.
  • Find support for yourself and a place to process your own feelings about your child’s OCD symptoms. You may experience frustration and fear, along with any number of other difficult but typical emotions. Learn to take care of yourself so that you can take care of your child.

Treatment for OCD in Children

To confirm a diagnosis of OCD in children, parents should seek an evaluation by an experienced mental health professional. The DSM-5 states that OCD left untreated unlikely to go away and the symptoms will fluctuate as time goes on (APA, 2013).

Several different therapies exist for treating OCD in children. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most recommended. One kind of CBT applied quite often is known as Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP).

Much like it sounds, ERP is a type of therapy where a patient is taught not to act on any compulsion in order to ease their anxiety. Counselors will then teach a child various tools to deal with the difficult emotions.

Though the idea of asking a child not to use his or her compulsive behaviors in the face of anxiety may sound frightening, therapy can be paced so that anxiety does not become unmanageable.

Other methods of CBT, include “imagined exposure” and learning to overcome negative and illogical thinking patterns. For some children, play therapy may be a part of treatment.

Along with counseling medical, evaluation is crucial. A medical professional can help determine whether medication might help.

It may also be necessary to ask your child’s school for any help or support they may be equipped to offer. You should talk to your counselor about this.

Remember, you need not try to parent your OCD child alone! Reach out to a counselor today to ask questions and discuss the many options available.

There is hope and healing!

Photos:
“Jenga,” courtesy of Michel Parzuchowski, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Brain”, Courtesy of GDJ, Pixabay.com; CC0 License; “Tablet Time”, Courtesy of Annie Spratt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Knowledge is Power”, Courtesy of Geralt, Pixabay.com, CC0 License;

How to Find the Right Family Therapist for You

Could your family benefit from getting counseling together? If so, how do you find a family therapist that’s right for you? It’s normal to feel hesitant about finding a good match for your family. A therapist can make or break the entire counseling process.

By reading this article you’re taking the first step in what can be a journey of healing and hope. We’ll discuss different types of family counselors, how to select one who’s right for you, and how to budget for counseling. Take the time to consider each point in the selection process, and you’ll be equipped to make an informed decision.

Does My Family Need Therapy?

Just as with physical illness, early treatment for family issues can prevent many problems later on. Unfortunately, many of us don’t seek relational help until we are at our wits’ end.

You’ve probably made several attempts to heal the brokenness in your family. Maybe you feel like you’re in crisis mode now. Counseling becomes the last resort when you’ve done everything else. If you’re at this point, there is hope.

Secrecy empowers sin and strife. As painful as it can be to talk about what’s going on, verbalizing the issues can offer massive relief and help you figure out what to do next.

If you’re not in crisis yet, be encouraged. It’s wonderful to seek help early. Your problems are not too small; rather, they have huge potential for healing when they’re brought out into the open before they’ve taken over and destroyed lives.

What is the first thing to consider in your search for a counselor? Take a step back and assess your family’s most pressing needs. Although not everyone will immediately let their guard down in counseling, each member of the family should feel emotionally safe and honored in therapy.

What Are Your Family’s Specific Needs?

Do your best to nail down your family’s specific counseling needs, because some family counselors specialize in specific areas of treatment.

What areas of your family life need the most help? Many families seek help for their children in a group setting to offer their support. Sometimes couples need help with communication issues, or parents feel overwhelmed and want to set new and healthier patterns.

Read through the following types of therapy and think about which one(s) may meet your needs:

Couples Therapy

Counseling for couples can really run the gamut from neutral to desperate situations, but it’s not just for the desperate situations, even though many people associate marriage counseling with imminent divorce.

Couples therapy can apply to you if you are in a relationship or engaged or married. Maybe you’re in a destructive conflict cycle, or you just need help communicating effectively, or you want to strengthen your relationship even though you’re not having any major issues now.

Behavior Intervention

Behavior intervention applies to children who are struggling with problem behaviors, or to adults who are behaving inappropriately either in public or at home. In the family therapy setting, parents and the child will work with the counselor to identify unacceptable behaviors, set boundaries, and create rewards systems, along with other helpful skills.

This type of therapy really thrives on parental involvement. The parents can witness the tools the therapist uses during sessions, and then practice applying those skills at home with their child.

Behavior intervention for children usually starts with a conversation between the therapist and the parents. The therapist usually asks about three components of problem behaviors:

  • What happens before?
  • What happens during?
  • What happens after?

Once the parents explain how these situations normally transpire, the therapist will work with them and their child to change everyone’s behavior in all three areas by using education and practical skill development.

Parent Coaching

Behavior intervention focuses on both parents and children, but parent coaching focuses on the parents and how they can improve their skills. Children may be present for sessions, but the therapy won’t focus primarily on their behavior.

As opposed to an interventional approach, coaching helps parents develop positive skills to become more effective in nurturing their child(ren)’s physical, emotional, and social wellbeing. Coaching will address discipline, helping children to listen and obey, and setting appropriate boundaries for each member of the family.

Parent/Child Issues

Do you feel that your relationship with your child has had a breakdown, and you’re not sure where to turn to fix the damage? Family therapy can help rebuild your relationship and find the right parenting method for this particular child.

Children going through puberty or experiencing life stress or mental health issues may struggle to have a good relationship with their parents. They may exhibit disrespect and dislike. Parents also deal with life stressors, mental health issues, and other factors that can make positive parenting difficult.

Counseling can help stop unhealthy patterns and replace them with healthy habits that will facilitate a thriving relationship between parent and child.

Navigating Systems Involvement

Child Protective Services, law enforcement, or the schools may involve themselves in family life for a number of different reasons. Families in crisis often have experienced intervention in one or more of these areas. How do you navigate these systems? A clinical social worker can provide advocacy and therapeutic support.

What’s Most Important in a Family Therapist?

In large part, the success of your counseling experience depends on your comfort level with your chosen therapist. Therapists have different beliefs, skills, and temperaments. Some use tough love, while others have a gentler approach. Not everyone’s personalities will mesh well together, so it’s important that yours is a good fit with your counselor’s.

It’s not unusual to meet with a couple of therapists before you find the best one for you. Remember, you can interview them by asking questions about their practice and what the process usually looks like.

Before you even meet with them, you can screen out potential problems online by reading about their practice and any articles or blogs they’ve written. Finding the right personality and specialization will help you get the most out of therapy.

What kind of practice does your potential therapist work in? What are their specializations? Maybe you have young children, but your potential therapist is most experienced in working with adult children and parents. A therapist with child-specific experience may be skilled in using play therapy in the family counseling setting.

If you are looking for a faith-based counselor, you’ll want to carefully screen therapists to make sure you won’t be working from conflicting worldviews.

Other Considerations

Budgeting for therapy can concern potential clients quite a bit, so it’s important to discuss this practical side of seeking counseling.

First, consider the value you place on therapy and the perspective that it can preventative medicine for your family relationships. Yes, therapy is expensive, but as counselors, we truly believe it’s worth it.

Next, sit down and figure out exactly what you can afford to spend. When a therapist bills insurance directly, they are considered an in-network-provider. These providers will take payment from you and bill your insurance for you.

Some therapists will directly bill your insurance, making them an in-network provider. But many therapists don’t take insurance due to high operating costs; instead, they operate as out-of-network providers.

With an out-of-network provider, you will pay a fee for each session and receive a receipt. You can give the receipt to your insurance provider, and they may reimburse you for some or all of the fee.

Before you attend your first session, please call your insurance provider to find out if they will reimburse you for any counseling services rendered.

What if you don’t have insurance, or your insurance won’t cover counseling? You can choose to pay out-of-pocket for each session, most of which run between $150 and $200 each. Some therapists may have different fees or operate on a sliding scale based on income.

Both fees and sliding scales vary widely among individual therapists and practices, based on operating costs, client income, practice size, etc., so don’t hesitate to look in several places to find an option that meets your family’s needs.

If you don’t think you’ll be able to make private therapy work for your family, you may be able to find a non-profit provider who takes state insurance or a local clinic that offers inexpensive therapy. Some people are able to meet with counseling interns who are in the process of receiving their master’s degree or licensure and can offer therapy at a reduced rate.

Where Can I Find a Family Therapist Near Me?

Now that you’ve considered some of the most important factors of finding the right family therapist for your needs, a good first step is to call your insurance company to discuss in-network providers who will bill sessions to them.

If you are looking for Christian counseling, you may be interested in our practice at Newport Beach Christian Counseling. We are one of the largest faith-based counseling practices, offering skilled, compassionate therapy for families, couples, and individuals. Visit our website to find a family therapist near you.

Photos:
“Family”, Courtesy of Laurel Harvey, Flickr.com, CC BY 2.0 License; “Resting”, Courtesy of Ardanea, Morguefile.com, CC 2.0 License, “Her own girl”, Courtesy of Ian Dooley, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “FlattopFamilyTime,” Courtesy of Flattop341, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)

Child Behavior: Ten Issues Parents Need to Address

Problematic behavior is not uncommon; everyone exhibits it at some time, for example in excessive reactions to something someone says, or in unhealthy coping mechanisms such as comfort eating. Problematic child behavior is even more common, as their developing brain only reaches maturity in adulthood.

In addition, children may be able to exert more control over their behavior in some kinds of circumstances rather than in others, particularly when emotions are running high. While parents find this understandably exasperating, it is normal.

That being said, there are some problematic behaviors in children that parents must not ignore. This is especially true when these behaviors happen frequently and have a detrimental impact on a child’s life and relationships.

When this happens, it is definitely time to take action. Responding quickly increases the chance of putting a stop to the behavior before it intensifies and/or has serious ramifications.

Whatever the behavioral challenges you are facing with your children, do not despair. Because a child’s brain is still developing it has an outstanding capability to change. Caregivers and other adults can assist a child in building appropriate coping skills and emotional-regulation techniques that will help to address challenging behavior.

As we explore various child behavior problems, it is important to consider the reasons behind the child’s behavior, which Daniel Siegel, M.D. And Tina Payne Bryson, PhD., in their book No Drama Discipline (2014) call “chasing the why”.

Instead of assuming the reason for the behavior, which we tend to base on our own reactions, it is crucial to investigate what may be causing it.

10 Child Behavior Issues

1. Lying

It is probably fair to say that most, if not all, people have told lies, whether big or small, so it is not unusual for children to also do so. However, there is a point at which lying reaches problem status – when lying becomes a regular occurrence or a habit. Children may have various motivations for lying.

A child may resort to lies when they feel afraid and worried; in this case, lying may be a means of avoidance or management of an object or situation they are afraid of. Issues of self-esteem may also result in lying; in this instance to project a different self-image to their peers. A child who feels ashamed after being reprimanded or having scored badly on a test may lie as a result of a poor self-confidence.

Additionally, Carol Brady, Ph.D., suggests that children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may lie because of impulse-control difficulties. (ADDitude Magazine). That is, they do not think before they speak.

2. Stealing

As with telling lies, many children will, at some point, try stealing. Most of them, however, will rapidly realize that stealing is an unacceptable behavior. For those children who continue to steal and do not recognize it as unacceptable, stealing becomes a problem behavior.

There may be various explanations for why a child steals. It may be that the act of stealing is exhilarating to a child, or perhaps because it enables them to somehow feel in control. It is important to question a child’s motivation to get to the bottom of the behavior.

3. Violence Toward Self, Others, or Property

A more serious behavioral problem concerns children who threaten to hurt themselves or other persons. It is vital that these threats are not dismissed or ignored. Similarly, children who engage in self-injury (e.g. cutting or scratching) or who exhibit bullying behaviors towards others must be taken seriously.

Such distressing behaviors can be warning signs that the child is struggling with deep-rooted emotional issues, such as depression. Self-injury, for example, is a coping mechanism that some people use when they experience emotions that are too intense for them to regulate. It is crucial to get professional help as a matter of urgency when a child speaks of suicide, self-harm or makes threats towards themselves or other people.

4. Temper Tantrums

It is not unusual for children to have temper tantrums when they are beginning to learn how to self-regulate their emotions. An inability to regulate emotions leads to a tantrum. Factors such as a child’s brain maturity and their surroundings (e.g. school, stressful environments) can have a significant impact on a child’s emotional regulation.

It has been well documented that children who might be described as of a sensitive disposition (e.g. children who have strong emotional reactions and who struggle to return to an equilibrium) can take longer to establish the emotional regulation techniques that they need to have in order to avoid having meltdowns as they experience feelings of being out-of-control.

Parents and caregivers can build skills that allow them to have a soothing effect on a child who is having a tantrum, and avoid doing things which make the tantrum worse. In addition, children can learn techniques to implement once they begin to feel overwhelmed, so as to not “freak out”. Dealing with tantrums requires a large dose of patience and a collaborative approach.

Children who have an excessive amount of tantrums that last significantly longer than other children’s tantrums, or who become violent (to others or themselves) during tantrums likely need professional help. Likewise, parents who feel overwhelmed by their child’s tantrums might benefit from outside help. Counselors can help both parents and children to develop coping skills and emotion regulation techniques.

5. Argumentative/Disrespectful Attitude

Children who unexpectedly start being belligerent and discourteous toward authority are likely to be finding it difficult to cope with their emotions. It may be that the child feels unsettled or unbalanced, and their behavior is a means of exerting some kind of control.

Another reason for this type of behavior may be that the child is experiencing depression or anxiety. It can also be a case of pushing the limits or tying in impress friends.

6. Ignoring Others

Whilst in some cases ignoring people can be attributed to belligerence, this behavior may also suggest that there is a deeper lying cause. For instance, a sign of inattentive ADHD is not listening; instead of focusing on what is being said to them, a child with ADHD may experience wandering thoughts.

The child may have an active imagination and find it hard to stay present, getting lost in their imaginings. If ADHD is the cause of the problem of ignoring others, it is possible for children to be taught ways of managing their difficulties with concentration.

A child that suddenly starts to ignore others, preferring to lose themselves in their own world, may be experiencing overwhelming emotions. They may find it difficult or even impossible to explain their feelings, and it becomes easier to withdraw into themselves.

Regardless of the cause, it is advisable to ask for help when a child’s ignoring behavior becomes a habit.

7. School Refusal

It is wrong to assume that when a child refuses to go to school it is because of a simple dislike of school or education. This may indeed be the case, but school refusal can also be an indicator that something more serious is at work, particularly if the child suddenly begins to refuse to go to school, has uncharacteristic meltdowns before school, or starts complaining about physical symptoms such as stomach aches or headaches.

It is a good idea to ask yourself what the child’s behavior is telling you. Children may be apprehensive about school for a number of reasons. Some children have anxieties related to being separated from their caregiver or fear that their caregiver will die or in some other way abandon them.

In other cases, children may fear school because they are being bullied, or because they have a learning disability or processing disorder that makes learning a stressful and anxiety-provoking challenge.

Children who suffer from depression and anxiety also struggle with school and may refuse to go to school. It is advisable to seek help from a counselor who can help to get to the root of the school refusal and equip the child with skills to overcome the problem.

8. Lack of Motivation

It is unfair to dismiss children who struggle with motivation as being ‘lazy’. These children may have underlying issues that are affecting them on a number of levels. For instance, poor levels of motivation is a common sign of depression. It may well be that the child is afraid of failure, or not meeting up to standards (e.g. those set by an older sibling). Anxiety may also cause difficulties with motivation.

9. Substance Use

Because substance use is both obvious and problematic, it is not something that should be ignored. Although substance use is traditionally considered to be an adult or teenage problem, it can start in childhood.

It is important to uncover the underlying reasons why a child feels the need to use substances – for example, is it as a means of coping? Or is it because of peer pressure from friends?

Whatever the reason behind the substance use, it is vital that there is intervention before there are serious and negative consequences.

10. Early Sexualized Behavior

Children who start to exhibit sexualized behavior before puberty are showing indicators of something more serious underlying the behavior. It is necessary to investigate the causes of the behavior and to evaluate the kinds of sexual materials that they may have had access to. Specially trained professionals can help to deal with this kind of behavior.

What to Do About Child Behavior Problems

To address problematic behaviors, you need to understand the root cause. Only then are you able to intervene in a way that will allow the child to develop healthy coping mechanisms. It is important to remember that every problem behavior has a cause rather than simply focusing on the behavior as a problem.

The starting point for addressing the behavior is to look beyond the surface and ask yourself questions that will help you uncover the root cause. For example, “What is this behavior really about? Is my daughter anxious because of difficulties with her friends? Is my son acting out because of the atmosphere at home? Does my child have issues with regulating overwhelming emotions?”

Remember that what we class as problem behavior can be classed as an adaptive reaction in children when they simply do not know how to deal with a difficult situation (Siegel & Bryson, 2014).

Take this example: a child pretends to be in pain because she has a test that she is sure she will fail. Her anxiety about the situation leaves her unable to cope with the intense feelings, and avoidance seems her only option. The more she relies on avoidance, the bigger her anxiety and the bigger the problem. She avoids school out of fear, not out of laziness.

If, as adults, we sometimes resort to dysfunctional coping mechanisms such as over-eating when upset or over-reacting to someone’s comment, then it stands to reason that children, who have neither the brain maturity nor coping resources that adults have, will also exhibit problem behaviors.

It would be wrong for adults to expect children to be able to cope with all situations and not resort to problematic behaviors. Even so, problem behaviors should not be ignored. Instead, find out what skills the child needs to develop and teach them the techniques.

It is helpful to evaluate what purpose the behavior serves for the child. This facilitates an understanding of what is really happening, rather than simply seeing the negatives. A counselor with an understanding of child brain development can teach both you and your child the skills necessary to promote healthy emotion regulation.

When to Seek Help

It is important to seek professional advice when a child conveys a desire to hurt himself or herself or someone else. Similarly, the help of a counselor should be sought when a behavioral problem is having a consistently negative impact on a child’s grades or friendships, or when there is a consistent increase in the problematic behavior.

It is not unusual for parents and caregivers to be overwhelmed by their child’s problem behaviors. It can be beneficial to gain an understanding of new or different techniques to help both you and your child. Help is just an email or a call away.

Resources

Huebner, D., & Matthews, B. What to do when you worry too much: A kids’ guide to overcoming problems with anxiety. Washington, D.C.: Magination Press, 2005.

Huebner, D., & Matthews, B. What to do when your temper flares: A kids’ guide to overcoming problems with anger. Washington, D.C.: Magination Press, 2007.

Siegel, D. J., & Bryson, T. P. The whole-brain child: 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind. New York: Delacorte Press, 2011.

Siegel, D.J., & Bryson, T.P. The yes brain: How to cultivate courage, curiosity, and resilience in your child. New York: Bantam Books, 2014.

References

Siegel, D.J., & Bryson, T.P. No-drama discipline: The whole-brain way to calm the chaos and nurture your child’s developing mind. New York: Bantam Books, 2014.

Brady, Carol, PhD., The Truth About Your Child’s Lies. https://www.additudemag.com/slideshows/what-to-do-when-your-child-lies/, Retrieved 9/9/18.

Photos:
“Pouting,” courtesy of martakoton, pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Egg Stealer”, Courtesy of Andrew Poynton, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Child with Arms Crossed”, Courtesy of Chinh Le Duc, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Smoke with Me”, Courtesy of Smoke & Vibe, Unsplash.com; CC0 License

Teen Issues: Practical Tips for Families

As the parent of a teenager, you might feel alone as you struggle to orient yourself to this new reality of raising an adolescent. It might feel like just yesterday that your child was a cute, precocious toddler, and now suddenly you’re being barraged by one expression of independence after another.

Your son or daughter might be struggling with serious teen issues such as depression, anxiety, or bullying, and you want to know how you can support them through this time.

Or maybe you have more than one teenager at home and you feel like you’re in a battle zone. You just want to have dinner together as a family without any drama once in awhile!

No matter what your specific circumstances are, raising a teenager is a uniquely difficult stage of life. But rest assured that this is normal, and it will pass. In the meantime, there are things you can do to facilitate the process of growth for your child and for your family as a whole.

First, let’s spend some time considering:

“What is a teenager?”

It’s important to define our terms before we start talking about practical tips. A teenager is generally considered to be someone between the ages of 13 and 19. However, the stage of adolescence seems to be lengthening in our culture, in both directions.

Young adults in their twenties are often relying on their parents financially for a long period of time, while preteenagers are exposed to “older” behavior through social media and seem to turn into adolescents younger than they should.

In a sense, adolescence has its own culture, and teens interact in a way that’s different from both children and adults. The ambiguity of these years seems to leave kids without clear expectations of how they should behave; sometimes, they’re expected to take on adult responsibilities, while also expected to respect authority and behave like children.

Cognitively, teens are forming their own individual identity at this stage and along with the pressures of their family and culture, they may find the ambiguity of their life stage to be anxiety-producing.

Also, teenagers, themselves, are constantly changing, as secondary sex characteristics appear and growth spurts take place. They may seem obsessed with their appearances, but they’re exploring uncharted territory. This is the root of adolescence; it’s self-discovery of one’s internal, external, and social realities.

Navigating and Addressing Teen Issues

It’s no wonder that the adolescent years are often full of complicated issues that affect teens’ well-being. Parents can be a great source of support and security during this time. Here are some ways you can help your child navigate these years productively:

1. Recognize differences and remember similarities

Our culture today is much different than it was even a decade ago, and it’s certainly changed from when we were teenagers ourselves. Social media and smartphones have completely altered the social landscape, in both positive and negative ways.

Regardless of your views on the relative benefits and drawbacks of social media, it’s important to acknowledge that most adolescents stay connected to their peers 24/7. News and gossip travel quickly. An embarrassing moment that happened on a Friday night might be all over town by the next morning. It’s hard for kids to avoid gossip.

Social media can also tend to be a highlight reel of our finest moments, which makes it difficult for teens who struggle to compare their everyday mundane life with their peers’ achievements. This can complicate insecurities, self-image problems, etc.

Mixed messages abound online. We often hear of how the media portrays women in unrealistic ways, but this is true of men also; they’re portrayed as strong, successful, and well-dressed, with nary a patchy beard to be seen. A man who’s slightly overweight will probably end up being a comedic punchline rather than the hero of the story.

To boys, this sends the message that if they can’t live up to the perfect hero standard, they might as well find their value in being funny. Kindness, respect, and intelligence are thrown to the wayside.

These issues exist for girls too, and often there’s an even smaller margin for error. High school is an unforgiving social crucible where kids manifest their own insecurities as they bully others and tear each other down. And this bullying can follow everyone around on social media. Before the days of the Internet, you could get away from your bully by going home. Now your bully is always with you.

Not everything has changed, though; some aspects of the teen years are still the same. You were a teenager once yourself, and you can remember your body changing and maybe the cruelty of some of your peers. Even though your teenager may think you can’t relate, you can remind them that your emotions were similar, even if your experiences were different.

You probably experienced conflict with your parents during your teen years, maybe feeling misunderstood, which is a common generational disconnect. Calling these struggles to mind will help you empathize with what your teenager is experiencing now.

2. Open communication

Even though smartphones seem to keep us constantly connecting, texting your child isn’t the same as having a face-to-face conversation. We often have a sense that we are closer than we are, simply because we’re digitally connected.

Just because you can track your child’s every move doesn’t mean you really know him or her. You might know their location and activity, but you don’t know what they’re feeling. That can only come through the face-to-face connection.

Often, parents feel like their teenagers won’t communicate with them. You have to set the example for initiating conversation. Don’t expect much in return. If your relationship has become strained over the years, your child might not feel emotionally safe enough to share things with you. It’s important for you to be proactive in regaining their trust.

Honesty goes both ways, so open up and share your own feelings and perspectives on life. This isn’t to say you should turn your child’s role into that of the parent and expect them to help you with your problems or be a counselor. The goal is simply to have open communication so your child can see your humanness and your willingness to admit that you too have weakness, struggles, and feelings.

3. Be consistent

This can be challenging. Consistency is one of the hardest disciplines for us as humans. We are affected by our moods, fatigue, health issues, the weather, work, and more. Some days you might be able to naturally tolerate your child’s behavior better than others.

Let it reassure you that even though teenagers might proclaim their need for freedom, they often really crave structure and boundaries. They also want to be able to depend on their parents. If you promise to attend an event, be there.

The more consistent you are, the stronger your relationship will be, and the more your child will rely on you. This means that when they have a problem, they’ll be more likely to bring it to you rather than to someone less dependable.

If your child wants to go see a concert they’ve been saving up for, but they’ll have to stay out a little past curfew, you might consider bending the rules and letting them do so if you believe they’re responsible enough. Help them remember to check in with you, but be willing to have discussions and be flexible with certain rules. You want to be firm but not unbendable.

4. Get to know their friends

Adolescents are quick to take their problems to their peers. Even though you might want them to bring issues to you first, that may not always happen. That’s why getting to know their friends can give you a little more peace of mind.

You can do this by opening up your home and providing a comfortable place for teens to hang out. Be present, but don’t hover or be intrusive. You might want to provide a snack and greet them, possibly have some small talk, without injecting yourself into every conversation.

If you gain the trust and respect of your child’s friends, they’re more likely to encourage your teenager to take his or her issues to you for help.

It’s inevitable that some friends will be a bad influence. This is another reason why getting to know their friends is helpful; you’ll be able to identify which ones are troublesome. Be careful starting conversations about friends who are poor influences; make sure you’ve created an environment of open communication and emotional safety, so your child will be more likely to listen to you when you have something less positive to share.

5. Cultivate support

This is possibly the most important tip of all, and a summary of all the ones that have come before. You might feel like you’re ill-equipped to deal with raising an adolescent, especially if your child is acting out in any way or struggling with depression or anxiety.

The most important facet of parenting a teenager is to cultivate support for them and you. Surrounding them with a supportive network including you and their friends will help them get through this challenging stage of life.

There are times when professional support is warranted as well. Many times, teenagers feel validated when discussing issues with a non-parental adult; this helps them feel like they’re being treated with respect, and they might respond better to advice that isn’t coming from a parent. Both individual and family counseling can be beneficial if you’re going through a particularly tough time.

Family counseling provides a setting to have difficult conversations with a neutral, educated moderator. Many teenagers find counseling to be a constructive way to work through issues that have caused arguments and tension at home.

Raising a teenager may be one of the most difficult things you’ll ever do, but learning some helpful ways to frame your approach can help you set yourself up for success. If you’re working to provide emotional support and a consistent structure, you’re already helping your child. Don’t hesitate to reach out for more help if you need to. This can be a big step towards growth for you, your child, and your family.

Photos:
“Her own girl”, Courtesy of Ian Dooley, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Attitude”, Courtesy of Augusto Lotti, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “The Defiant One”, Courtesy of Matheus Ferrero, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Personality”, Courtesy of Eric Nopanen, Unsplash.com, CC0 License 

Child Therapy for Behavior Issues

When kids struggle to communicate their negative emotions verbally, they often resort to acting out or arguing to demonstrate how they’re feeling. They might throw a tantrum, yell, or scream to communicate their anger instead of being able to explain the source of their frustration.

Parents who think they’ve made a reasonable request might not know how to react when their children respond in anger.

For example, imagine you’re cooking dinner and you hear your kids arguing in the next room. You feel frustrated because you’re thinking about all of the times you’ve lectured them to get along.

You may place the blame on your children for acting this way; after all, you’ve told them over and over how they should act. A more helpful focus would be to consider whether your expectations are as clear as they should be, and how consistent you’re being with communication and follow-through.

No matter what struggles you might be having in communication or consistency, you can always adjust your approach in order to see benefits.

Part one of this series discussed reflective listening as a tool to make children feel heard. Reflective learning helps the speaker feel that they’re understood and can connect a child to his or her emotions, as well as coach them to comply with your instructions. In this article, we’ll discuss therapeutic limit-setting.

Therapeutic Tips for Parents

As a therapist, some of my unchanging standards are unconditional positive regard, a belief that the client has the inner ability to change, and empathy.

Ensure that you are approaching your child with unconditional positive regard by not allowing their behavior to lead you to judgment or condemnation of who your child is as a person. This will create an environment of safety and security that allows your child to feel protected.

It’s important to remind yourself that your child is the only one who possesses the ability to change his or her behavior.

This means you’re not responsible to make your child learn or understand; you can only do the best you can to communicate while encouraging your child to grow in confidence that he or she is able to overcome difficulties.

Empathy involves valuing your child’s emotions and experiencing and honoring them as an individual, as well as honoring your own individuality. This makes your child feel known and seen as a worthwhile person.

How to Set Limits for Your Children

Using these standards as a foundation, we can apply the following model to set limits for our children’s behavior. This model is based on Garry Landreth’s teaching on how to set limits in child-centered play therapy. It’s called the ACT model of limit setting.

The ACT model is comprised of three components: acknowledge your child’s feelings, communicate the limit, and target the alternatives.

Step One: Acknowledge Your Child’s Feelings

We introduced this topic in our discussion on reflective listening. Acknowledging a child’s feelings means you verbally reflect what you think their current thoughts and emotions are. Pay attention to facial expressions, body language, and both verbal and nonverbal cues.

Acknowledging your child’s feelings makes them feel understood and helps them connect emotions with how they’re acting.

Example: “I know you are feeling very angry with me right now. So angry you want to hit me.”

Step Two: Communicate the Limit

You set a boundary that does not allow your child’s behavior outside of certain limits. This won’t stop a child from feeling upset or angry. Instead, they’re used to stop hurtful, destructive, or disrespectful behavior.

“… but you may not hit me.”

Step Three: Target Alternatives

Once you’ve set a limit on a certain behavior, tell your child how you expect them to behave instead. Let them know how they can express their emotions in a safe and responsible way.

“You may choose to hit your pillow or you may choose to hit a beanbag.”

Limit-setting isn’t just a way to give your child options, even though choices are a part of the model. We use choices in order to acknowledge that children have the ability to control their own behavior.

This helps to teach them the difference between impulse and action, and it is an empowering way to give them the tools to learn self-control.

This model is helpful for parents as well. You no longer feel like you have to control your child’s every move, or that your authority is dependent on whether your child feels like listening to you.

Instead, you’re placing the responsibility for obedience on your child, while focusing on your own responsibility to set expectations and follow through with appropriate consequences when those expectations are not met.

Consequences can be used as Step 4 of the ACT model. A child who has chosen to hit their parent instead of using an acceptable way of expressing their emotions should experience a consequence for their behavior:

“When you chose to hit me, you chose to lose all of your TV time this week.”

Speaking this way might not come naturally in the beginning, but it eventually becomes intuitive and helps both you and your child know what to expect.

This tool is something that is used daily in child therapy settings, and it is highly beneficial. It gives children structure and consistency and teaches them emotional self-regulation, allowing them to grow and flourish.

Photos
“Reconciled,” courtesy of Eye for Ebony, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Girl,” courtesy of Patrick Fore, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Pout,” courtesy of martakoton, pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “Parenting,” courtesy of marcisim, pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain License

How to Navigate the Five Primary Grief Stages

Grief is an incredibly difficult thing to go through. At some point, we are all likely to experience it in some form – whether through the loss of a loved one, the breakdown of a relationship, or even a personal failure. You may have heard of the “stages” of grief.

These are often used to try and define the different coping mechanisms we employ in response to grief, as we come to terms with loss and heartache. But they are by no means one-size-fits-all – people will experience grief in very individual ways.

Simply put, there is no one right path of grief, and you should never feel under pressure to conform to one particular way. David Kessler, an expert on grief, writes that the stages of grief “are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling.”

He suggests that they are not merely some sort of “stations of the cross” to be performed in order. In fact, not everyone experiences every one of them, or if they do, it is not in a set order. He hopes the stages of grief will provide a knowledge of the landscape of grief, better helping us to handle the loss. Grief will be as unique as the individual experiencing it.

Grief can be incredibly lonely. Despite your best efforts, you may not be able to fully explain how you feel, making it an extraordinarily isolated place to be. That said, there are some recognizable elements of the grieving process that can be common to many people.

Indeed, it is important to become familiar with these, so that you are prepared for when they hit. Again, it is vital to stress that there is no “right” way to grieve, and each person will develop their own individual methods of coping.

Christian Hope for the Grieving

While it might feel as if no one truly understands what you are going through, the Lord knows everything there is to know about it. Indeed, not only does God promise to come close to us in our pain and heartache, but he also declares, in Revelation 21:4, that “He will wipe every tear from [your] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.”

Christ knew the depths of earthly grief and can identify with our deepest pain. At the grave of Lazarus, the Bible says that “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Of course, Jesus went on to resurrect Lazarus, demonstrating his ultimate power over the “final enemy” of death.

The Longterm Process of Grief

Grief is a process and should be viewed in the long-term. Too often, we look for a “quick fix” or the ability to rush through the prescribed “stages of grief,” failing to give ourselves ample time. It is important to note, however, that even with all the time in the world, the pain may never fully leave you.

Grief can be a long process, and though the pain may ease over time and as you deal with it alongside friends, family and a trained counselor, it may always be with you.

It is worth looking at the latest version of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), which is used by mental health professionals to analyze and diagnose their patients. In the part about depressive disorders, it has a caveat that demonstrates how important it is to distinguish between grief and actual mental disorders:

“Careful consideration is given to the delineation of normal sadness and grief from a major depressive episode. Bereavement may induce great suffering, but it does not typically induce an episode of major depressive disorder.”

Death is an Amputation

So, with this in mind, it is important to point out that there should never be an “end goal” for grief – it is a process that must be managed carefully and sensitively. A trained counselor will assist you to move forward in your life while always honoring the person lost.

Theologian and writer C.S. Lewis, who lost his beloved wife, wrote that “the death of a beloved is an amputation.” He also wrote of how no-one ever truly “gets over” a loss like that, but that they learn to adapt to their new life without having the person around.

In his book, A Grief Observed, Lewis wrote: “He will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones, and he will always be a one-legged man. There will be hardly any moment when he forgets it. Bathing, dressing, sitting down and getting up again, even lying in bed, will all be different. His whole way of life will be changed. All sorts of pleasures and activities that he once took for granted will have to be simply written off.”

Grief and love are intimately related. You only grieve someone so much because you loved them so much.

Grief is Not Just About Death

When we think of grief, our minds often jump to the aching loss of someone we love. But as we mentioned earlier, there are plenty of other life events that can cause you to experience a season of grieving.

Examples could include:

  • Loss of a pet
  • Loss of employment
  • Loss of physical or mental capabilities
  • Separation from someone you love
  • End of a friendship or relationship
  • Infidelity
  • Divorce

These are highly emotional events and may evoke a reaction of grief similar to the death of someone close to you.

The Five Grief Stages

With that being said, it is worth looking at a few of the more prominent aspects of grief to gain a more general understanding of the grieving process and what it usually looks like.

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of death from her book “Of Death and Dying serves as the most significant work in this area. Though somewhat trivialized through the years, these aspects are still incredibly helpful to understand when exploring the topic of grief. She defined the five grief stages as:

1. Denial

Denial is a typical reaction to the immediate shock that hits you when something emotionally devastating occurs. It can be a way of coping that can help us to get through a loss during those painful and traumatic moments.

2. Anger

Though it may seem counterintuitive, anger may at times be helpful because it helps us release our emotions, instead of merely turning numb. Though the anger may be directed at any number of different things, it is always rooted in pain.

3. Bargaining

This reaction is likely to be an initial attempt to rationalize what has happened. Of course, that is impossible to do – what has happened cannot be undone. Nevertheless, our human nature will try its very best to do something to rectify the situation. We cling to any hope that tells us the situation could possibly be reversed.

4. Depression

When some time has passed, depression often sets in. The initial shock has worn off, and you are left feeling bewildered, sad and hopeless at the devastating loss.

5. Acceptance

Acceptance doesn’t mean that we have forgotten about what happened and have totally moved on with our lives. Instead, acceptance comes when we face the stark reality of the loss and figure out how to live with what happened.

Focusing on the Four Tasks of Mourning

Another helpful model for understanding grief stages comes from William J. Worden. In his Four Tasks of Mourning, he sees a more active role for the person who is grieving, rather than merely floating passively through the grief process.

This model can assist people in moving beyond the denial that is frequently experienced in the immediate aftermath of the death of a loved one. Worden believes that intentionally trying to work through the four tasks is absolutely essential in order for “equilibrium to be reestablished.”

The four key tasks are:

1. Accepting the reality of the loss

2. Working through the pain of the grief

3. Adjusting to life without the deceased

4. Finding a lasting connection to the deceased while also moving on with your life

Getting Help

If you or someone you know is facing grief, contact a Christian counselor guidance, support, and reassurance as you process your pain. Counseling is a protected and confidential space in which you can express your grief whatever way you feel. A good counselor will both honor the profound depth of your grief while also providing support as your process your loss.

Photos
“A Private Grief”, Courtesy of Nicholas Bui, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “The Road Ahead”, Courtesy of Johannes Plenio, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Grieving Man”, Courtesy of Tom Pumford, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Lightning Storm”, Courtesy of Jeremy Bishop, Unsplash.com; CC0 License

How to Help Your Child Overcome Symptoms of Anxiety

When we imagine childhood, often thoughts of being carefree and happy flash across our minds. We hope for the same things for our children, yet more kids are showing symptoms of anxiety.

Unfortunately, they aren’t immune to anxiety. They enter this big, scary world and face many mountains of their own. Think about moving towns, changing schools or even having to participate in a spelling bee when there’s a learning or attention issue. Anxiety can be crippling at any age.

What Do Symptoms of Anxiety Look Like in Children?

All children get stressed at some point in life. They might have a test coming up or a tryout for a sport that turns their tummy into knots. If that’s the case, how do you know if your child is overly anxious? Children struggling with anxiety may have frequent stomach aches, headaches, completely stop eating and stop playing with other friends.

If your child is worried about an activity months or weeks in the future, this is a major indicator anxiety is consuming him. Children can also worry about catastrophes that are unlikely to happen and ask many ‘what if’ questions like, “What if our house catches on fire during the night?”

A child’s anxiety can extend beyond himself and affect his family. Some parents plan their vacations around finding a place that won’t disturb their child and trigger anxiety.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel helpless when your child is facing anxiety, but when you remain steadfast and calm you can be fully present to guide your child through their everyday anxiety.

To help a child overcome anxiety, it’s important to first understand what’s going on in their mind. Children form anxious thoughts after sensing a threat and lacking the ability to cope. It derails them from daily activities when they get stuck in this pattern of thinking. The things that cause your child anxiety might not appear major, but it’s crucial to understand and empathize with your child’s struggle.

How to Keep Your Child From Worrying

Make sure your children feel heard and understood when they begin to worry. Don’t dismiss or minimize their feelings. To them, the feelings and thoughts are as real as you are and they need your reassurance. Next, teach them about two different paths the mind can take. Your anxious child automatically goes down the worry path without realizing that another option exists.

Help your child understand how the body changes when experiencing fear and anxiety, so he can begin to recognize the signs. Teach your child to talk back to their worries and fears. Imagine worry as a big bully or monster that can be conquered by telling why it isn’t welcome in your world.

The worry bully exists to keep everybody from enjoying life. Parents and siblings can even gang up on the worry bully together so that one child doesn’t feel isolated in this. The worry bully is an enemy we all must face together.

Show your child how he has the power to change his thinking. Give an example of a situation that could potentially cause anxiety for your child. Maybe even the thought of riding a school bus without you would cause him anxiety. The thoughts and feelings might range from, “What if nobody sits by me? What if the bus driver leaves me somewhere wrong? What if I get picked on? The bus is scary.”

Instead, you can think of it this way, “The bus driver is a professional and cares about the kids. My classmates show up every day to school without getting left somewhere else. My good friend Robby would sit with me if I asked him. My classmates even talk about how much fun it is to ride a bus.” The thoughts slowly shift to ones of excitement and confidence.

Don’t Give Up

Rewiring the brain to externalize anxiety takes time. If the family continues to focus on working together as a team to fight the worry bully, your child will experience different ways to overcome those anxious thoughts and not allow worry to wear him down. Talking with a counselor can help the family navigate through anxiety and brainstorm strategies for overcoming its influence.

Photos:
“Girl,” Courtesy of greekfood-tamystika, pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Worried,” Courtesy of Eneas De Troya, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Afraid,” Courtesy of Joseph Gonzalez, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Plea”, Courtesy of Bkrmadtya Karki, Pixabay.com, CC0 License

The Benefits of Seeing a Family Counselor

Information overload – two words that describe today’s world, with all the available resources online on just about anything under the sun.

Want to learn how to be a better Christian? Or how to improve your marriage? Want to be more productive at school/work? There’s a flurry of articles, websites, and experts available within arm’s reach that can get quite overwhelming.

While this information age is a great thing for this generation, the negative side is that it also brings about an unrealistic amount of pressure to produce the perfect kids. We know that this is literally impossible, but it’s still easy to get sucked into the idea that somehow it’s attainable. This creates big problems.

Priorities: Balancing Family Roles, Demands, and Contentment

How do you solve this crisis then? How do you find that delicate balance for all the various roles you play, remain content and grounded, with all the conflicting messages you are subject to? You need to prioritize.

God. He needs to be the number one priority in your life. Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” It’s important to stay grounded in Christ first and foremost. This will keep your feet on the right path. Make your relationship with Him a top priority and let your children see this so that they, too, may take after you in prioritizing a godly life.

Marriage. It is often said that the most important decision you’ll ever make in your life, second only to surrendering your life to Christ, is the choice of a spouse. Choosing a godly spouse will enable you to raise your children in the way of the Lord and leave them a godly heritage.

This, in turn, encourages them to do the same for their own children. In effect, a stable, loving, godly relationship with your spouse has the power to influence multiple generations. So after prioritizing God the need to prioritize your spouse comes next.

This means putting your spouse before your children. If that means taking a break regularly from your parenting duties, go ahead. Make sure your children see you modeling a healthy marriage relationship early on. Here are a few ways to do that:

  1. Set aside some time daily one-on-one time with your spouse and teach your children that this is your special time together and should not be interrupted.
  2. Intentionally schedule date nights – away from the kids.
  3. Plan a romantic weekend getaway with your spouse every once in a while. Arrange childcare with family or friends who may be able to care for the kids in your absence.

Boundaries

Boundaries are important. They provide guardrails for you and your family to know when it’s okay to relax and let loose, and when you’re dangerously close to crossing a line. Boundaries are essential for you as a person, as a spouse, and as a parent. It helps you protect what you value.

Set boundaries by taking care of yourself. You won’t be able to handle all the demands that life throws your way if you don’t prioritize your self-care. Your children need to see you taking care of yourself.

Whether it’s a healthy diet, exercise, deepening your relationship with God, spending time with friends, with your husband or precious time alone, let them see that you take care of you too.

Set boundaries with technology and social media use for yourself and your family. Advancements in technology have enabled people to be more productive and organized.

But if misused, it also has the power to drive a wedge between family members as you focus on your things and forget to enjoy each other’s company. So put limits where necessary in order to maintain healthy relationships. Have designated tech-free times to just enjoy one another.

Social media has many great uses – it helps you connect with people you may not get to see regularly and helps builds relationships; it also has its negative aspects- it can lead to unhealthy comparisons between your own life and what others project of their own lives.

Social media boundaries are necessary to strengthen trust, so it is important to establish guidelines with your spouse regarding what’s appropriate and acceptable when it comes to interacting with others on social media.

Children need to be aware of such boundaries as well, young and easily impressionable as they are. Talk to them about appropriate social media use so they will learn to use it in a way that benefits them, and avoid its pitfalls.

As a parent, you already know how important boundaries are for children. One mistake that some parents tend to make is not setting boundaries for activities and overstimulating their children, for example, swimming practice early in the morning, squeeze in a second language class after class right before violin practice, tennis early morning the next day, a third language class and drum lessons before dinner. That’s just too much.

Decide with your spouse how many activities you will allow your children to be in. Let the child choose for him/herself within the boundaries that you’ve set. When they know they have the freedom to move within these boundaries, they are able to relax and become less anxious. It’s important to remember that it’s actually okay for children to be bored at times, so don’t overschedule your kids.

Helicopter Parenting

Helicopter parenting, a term coined for the style of parenting where parents are overly focused on their kids, can cause children to be anxious. Focusing too much on them may also mean that other areas of your life, like your relationship with your spouse, with God and self-care, are prone to suffer.

Here are five signs of helicopter parenting as identified by author Meg Meeker, M.D.:

  1. Whenever there’s a problem, your child calls you. Every single time.
  2. Your child has a difficult time handling disappoint.
  3. Your child does not appreciate the value of hard work and tends to look for shortcuts.
  4. When your child has homework, you end up doing it. You also have a tendency to advocate on her behalf when you call the teacher.
  5. You spend a lot of time researching the best everything for your child – best preschool, best vitamins, best organic food.

Hal Runkel, the author of Scream Free Parenting, suggests that parents allow their children to experience natural consequences of their mistakes. Don’t always come to their rescue so they will learn to avoid these mistakes in the future.

It’s easier said than done though, as it can be instinctual for a parent to want to spare their children from pain. As someone once said, “Good decisions come from experience, experience comes from making bad decisions.”

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” This verse teaches that parents should begin teaching their children the right way as early as possible, and not wait until they’re older when habits would’ve already been formed. You need to be consistent in the way you raise your young kids for them to catch what you’re teaching.

Allow them room to discover their own abilities and make mistakes. Don’t do anything for them that they can already do for themselves, lest you communicate lack of trust in their abilities.

For instance, if you tell your child to pick up after himself, but he doesn’t obey even after repeatedly telling him, you may have the urge to clean up after him. However, this teaches him that if he delays following you or doing his chores, you will end up doing it for him. So as long as it is possible, hold yourself back. Remember that delayed obedience is disobedience.

Some families still wake up their high school-age children to go to school. These kids were not trained early on to wake up by themselves, and so they face the consequences of not doing so.

One mom was even monitoring her collegiate child’s schedules, assignments and deadlines online, devising a plan on how the child should study and meet all these deadlines. In both scenarios, the children have not been taught nor encouraged to do things independently, and this presents a big problem for both the parents and the children.

If this sounds familiar to you, you need to take a step back. Calm your own anxieties. Teach your child well, and then trust his/her child’s ability to take care of him/herself. By doing so, you are showing your child that you have confidence in him/her, thereby giving him/her room to mature into a fully-functioning adult.

Right now you might be wondering why or how parents end up over-parenting. One major cause is comparison with other children. With the widespread use of social media and technology, it’s very easy for parents to compare their children with the parenting style and children of other parents.

This can lead to a tremendous amount of guilt, discontent, and anxiety. You begin to feel that you’re not good enough, you’re not doing it right, or that your kids would be better off with this or that. It’s not easy to overcome this kind of parenting guilt. But here are four ways, according to Christy Wright of Business Boutique:

  1. Remember that you are not responsible for everything, so don’t be a martyr. Let the pieces fall where they may.
  2. Give yourself some much-needed affirmation. How you spend your time – at work, with your spouse, with your child, are all important. But the most critical time you could spend is with God.
  3. Keep in mind that you are not perfect, and a perfect parent is not what your kids need. Kids need parents who are present emotionally and physically. To be this for them, you need to give yourself grace. Take time out if necessary, and enjoy your marriage with your spouse.
  4. Let your kids see that you are taking care of yourself. Let them see that you enjoy life as a parent, a spouse, a whole person. Make sure that you reflect the truth of God’s word in Psalm 127:3, “Children are a blessing from the Lord, and the fruit of the womb is His reward.”

How a Family Counselor Can Help

It is definitely easier said than done. It’s no small feat to get out of this cycle, particularly if this has been a long-time struggle for you and your family. If that’s the case, a professional Christian family counselor can help you get back on the right track.

There is absolutely no shame in seeking the services of a family counselor if it will better your family. Seeking professional help may be one of the best things you can do, as it will enable you to become not just a better parent, but a better spouse and follower of Jesus too.

Reaching out is a sign of strength, not weakness. If you think you could benefit from this kind of help, reach out today. We would love to have the opportunity to work with you in helping you and your family work through the issues that keep you from living the abundant life God has promised.

Photos
“Digital life”, Courtesy of Ewan Robertson, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Pause,” courtesy of Charles Nadeau, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Helicopter”, Courtesy of Marc Wieland, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Shame”, Courtesy of Sevenheads, Pixabay.com, CC0 License