Helping Children Thrive: Dealing with Divorce
In today's world, many families have been affected by divorce in some way. Parents often wonder if a divorce will negatively affect their children's mental health, and well it can, it doesn't have to. One of the best ways to prevent mental health issues in children of divorce is for all parties involved to focus on putting their children's best interests first, and continue to work together as co-parents. This can be difficult as the reasons for divorce are many and varied, and obviously greatly affect the relationship between the co-parents. Issues such as infidelity, conflicts about money, and even conflicts about parenting should be dealt with by the adults in private, so that they can continue to work as a team to parent their shared children. The parents may need to attend therapy to work out a co-parenting agreement and to work on redefining their relationship. Modeling mutual respect and creative problem solving will help children adjust to the divorce and the many changes that may come with it. Trying to minimize other changes that are happening at the same time can be helpful, this is not the time to get a new dog or introduce a parent's boyfriend or girlfriend into their lives for the first time.
Even when parents do all that they can, a child may still struggle with their parents' divorce. In this case, individual therapy might be helpful to assist them in working through any negative feelings, normalize their experiences, and discuss how the child might cope with the many changes in their life. Children with ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder and other developmental concerns might be especially impacted by the transitions that come with a divorce. Special attention should also be given to symptoms of depression and anxiety at this time, such as withdrawal, tearfulness, anger, avoidance and defiance.
Helping Children Thrive: Discipline
When people think of discipline, they often focus exclusively on punishment. However, discipline should also encompass the use of positive rewards, the teaching of pro-social behaviors, and the use of natural and logical consequences. With children, our first course of action should always be to “catch them being good.” We should encourage positive behavior through the use of behavior charts focusing on good choices and the use of praise. We can work collaboratively with children to come up with the types of behavior we would like to encourage, and then create positive consequences for those behaviors. Be creative! Positive consequences don’t have to cost money or be complicated. Children are often happy with extra time outside, electronics time, or a special family night. Children love to feel as if they have earned something, and sometimes even a sticker or a special stamp can encourage positive behaviors.We often forget that children need to be taught the right thing to do in many situations. We cannot assume that children or adolescents always know the right choice to make in new situations. This is why teach pro-social behaviors is important. There are many ways that we can teach positive behaviors. Some of the most effective ways are through modeling these behaviors in our own lives (ie. Healthy lifestyles, respect, listening to others) or through telling stories highlighting the positive consequences of making good choices. We can also role play or act out new situations. Lastly, we can talk to older children and adolescents about our expectations. We can explain how those expectations fit with our values as a family. Many families also choose to use religion as way to guide children in making good decisions.Lastly, the use of natural or logical consequences can help parents provide appropriate discipline for their children. A natural consequence means allowing the child to experience the positive or negative consequences that stem from their behaviors. For example, it may mean that they have a toy that they left on the floor broken because someone stepped on it, or that they fail a test because they did not study. A logical consequence is a consequence where the “punishment fits the crime.” For example, if a child breaks a lamp, they need to pay to replace it or if they make a mess, they need to clean it up. These types of consequences help children learn from their mistakes and hopefully make better choices with the situation arises again.Good discipline takes time, energy and commitment from parents. It requires that parents deal with their own baggage surrounding what “discipline” means, and cope with their own strong negative emotions surrounding their children’s negative behaviors. However, good discipline, like a good routine, helps to make our homes and lives run more smoothly and helps our children grow into productive, happy adults.
should also encompass the use of positive rewards, the teaching of
Many people believe that being brave means not being afraid. This can be a paralyzing prospect for individuals who suffer from anxiety disorders. The mistaken belief that an individual must be free from fear before they do something causes many of those with anxiety to stay frozen in place. For those with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, phobias, Social Anxiety disorder, panic disorder and agoraphobia, this can cause them to avoid exposure to their fears, and inadverterly increase the amount of anxiety they experience in relation to them. For example, fear of a panic attack can lead many people to avoid any and all situations in which they might experience one. Fear of flying can lead people to chose not to fly even when they are missing out on something important, such as visiting a loved one.
The key with anxiety disorders can be to realize that we can do things even when we are afraid of them. We learn that we can master our fears and use relaxation techniques and mindfulness to cope with any symptoms of anxiety we might experience. Therapy can help with this process by helping us reframe our anxiety as something that we can overcome, learn coping skils such as deep breathing, relaxation exercises and mindfulness exercises, and learn to be confident in our ability to see our fears and truly face them. By labeling our anxiety, we begin to help our body to master it through a process called "name it to tame it." The simple act of talking, writing or even drawing about our fears can help our brain to begin to process them and allow our logical brain to step in and help us identify and cope with the problem.
A good resource for those with anxiety disorders is The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, by Edmund Bourne. It is one of the many resources that we use here at Healing Connections Counseling, PC to help individuals diagnosed with anxiety disorders to take back their lives. If you or your children suffer from anxiety, please feel free to give us a call to schedule an appointment for an initial intake assessment, 815-676-6811.
"Beliefs have the power to create and the power to destroy. Human beings have the awesome ability to take any experience and create a meaning that disempowers them or one that can literally save their lives." -Anthony Robbins
What is CBT?
People who are looking for counseling services often see the acroynm "CBT." CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and it is a type of therapy often used for those suffering from depression and anxiety, as well as other mental illness. But what is Cogntive Behavioral Therapy? How can it help someone who is struggling with a mental illness?
CBT examines the connections between our thoughts, feelings and actions and focuses on ways to identify distorted thinking, modify our beliefs about ourselves and the world, and change our behaviors. Distorted thinking (for example, "I am a failure" "I can't accomplish my goals") is often at the root of people feeling badly about themselves. For most people, these thoughts may go unquestioned or may even be reinforced by the person experiencing them. CBT teaches that this negative thinking is a symptom of depression and should be handled differently, using techniques such as mindfulness, negative thought replacement, and reframing. The key to CBT, as with any psychotherapy, is a positive relationship with a trusted therapist. At Healing Connections Counseling, that relationship is at the root of everything that we do, and we work in collaboration with clients to formulate a treatment plan that addresses their concerns for themselves or their children.
CBT can also be used with children, but it looks a little different. Children are often resistant to speaking directly about their problems or have a hard time articulating their negative thoughts. Play therapy is a way for therapists to engage with the child, model positive thinking, reframing and mindfulness for them. As therapist can also teach skills in a playful way that engages the child such as using blowing bubbles for teaching deep breathing. Children also often need a trusted adult who can stay calm when they are learning how to cope with big, negative emotions. Therapy with small children should also include helping their parents become "emotion coaches," who encourage their child to share their big feelings and use empathy, as well as encouraging parents to model positive thinking and mindfulness.
CBT has been proven to be an effective way to help individual cope with symptoms of depression and anxiety. It requires the client to engage fully in the process of therapy, commit to attending weekly sessions, and to practice skills during the week between sessions. CBT often includes "homework" to be completed by the client, and this can be an important part of the therapy process. If you are ready to start the process of feeling better and learning skills for coping with your depression or anxiety, please contact us at 815-676-6811.
Back to School Anxiety
Back to school can be an exciting and nerve-racking time of year for both parents and children. It is often filled with new experiences and new people, which can be overwhelming for some children. Many school-age children may experience "first day jitters" or take a few days to adjust to a new schedule. However, for some children, the experience of going back to school can cause more severe anxiety symptoms. Because children are less able to talk about their feelings, these symptoms may first appear as physical complaints (headaches and stomaches are common), school-refusal, or even out right defiant behavior either at school or at home. For children with learning difficulties, ADHD, or spectrum disorders, anxiety may be linked to feeling pressured academically or not receiving the proper accommodations in the classroom for their disability. For some students, social situations with peers may be stressful, causing them to avoid social interactions or behave inappropriately around other children. In addition, there may be a conflict between the student and his or her teacher, causing the child to try and avoid school or have anxiety symptoms while at school.
The good news is that anxiety is treatable. The appropriate treatment for your child will be based on the reasons behind your child's anxiety. Play therapy can be effective in helping children to work out their feelings of anxiety and learn new ways to cope with negative feelings. Children with social skills issues can be taught positive ways to interact with peers and adults in individual and group therapy. Parenting skills training can help parents learn effective ways to help their child cope with anxiety. If the anxiety is being caused or exacerbated by the school environment, parents may need to work with the school to make sure that the child is receiving appropriate accomodations and support in the classroom setting. For some children with severe symptoms of anxiety, medication may play a key role in helping the child's body regulate the neurotransmitters that cause anxiety. If you suspect that your child may have anxiety regarding school, it is important to see a therapist who specializes in children and can help to pinpoint potential causes and solutions to help your child thrive at school.
Written by Paula Sejut-Dvorak, MA, LCPC
Why Social Skills groups?
At HCC, we offer social skills groups for a variety of different ages. As a parent, you may wonder if a social skills group would be beneficial for your child and how they are structured. Social Skills groups can be helpful for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, anxiety and depression, as well as sensory issues and non-verbal learning disabilities. At HCC, we encourage parents to bring their child in for an individual assessment with a therapist so that the parents and therapist can collaboratively decide whether a social skills group is an appropriate part of their child’s treatment plan. These groups can be especially helpful for children with anxiety in large groups, and children who struggle to generalize the skills learned in individual therapy. The groups consist of no more then six children and 45-50 minutes in length. They are often covered by insurance, and HCC can check your benefits for you as a courtesy.
Social Skills groups at HCC generally focus on two areas. The first is the structured learning of skills that are helpful in social situations such as understanding your own and others’ emotions, reading nonverbal cues, and conflict resolution skills. This learning is done through age appropriate social skills curriculum often using a workbook and reinforced through homework. The second part is structured activities facilitated by the therapists, such as board games or other age appropriate play. During this play, the therapists focus on helping the children apply the skills they have learned and help them participate appropriately in the group setting. Groups are generally facilitated by two licensed therapists with extensive experience in social skills training. For the fall, our K-2nd group will be at 5:00PM on Thursdays, our 3rd-5th grade group will be on Mondays at 6:00PM and our middle school group will be biweekly on Thursdays at 6:00PM. Please contact the office for further information and to schedule an individual assessment for your child.
The practice of gratitude
"Trade your expectation for appreciation and your world changes instantly." -Tony Robbins
Practicing gratitude is a simple but powerful way to highlight the positive things in your life and cope with negative thinking. When we are depressed or anxious, our brain begins to focus on the negative things in our lives and the world as a whole. However, the practice of gratitude helps to consciously bring our focus onto the good things in our lives. Often, the events that cause our negative thinking are things that are out of our control, the actions of others, illness, accidents, or a genetic and biological predisposition to depression and anxiety. Having gratitude is entirely under our control, and when we practice gratitude continously it becomes a habit. In a world of 24 hour news where we are constantly exposed to the negative things happening far and near, taking stock of the postive aspects of our own lives and the world at large can help us put things into perspective.
So what does the practice of gratitude look like? How can we incorporate into our daily lives? Many people choose to keep "gratitude journal," writing down each day the events, people, and places that they are thankful for in their lives. Some people view gratitude as a religious practice, using prayer or mediation as a time to express gratitude. Others see it as a self-care ritual that helps "fill their cup" at the end of a long day. There are apps for our smartphones that will remind us to practice gratitude, give us a place to record those things, and even allow us to take pictures to remind us of the small blessings. As a therapist, I often ask clients to simply jot down three things that they are grateful for each day. In the beginning, especially if someone is suffering from anxiety or depression, it can be difficult to come up with three things. However, as we learn to focus on the little things in our lives, we are able to see that even those things deserve our gratitude, flowers blooming in the yard, a kiss from a smal child, a moment of peace in the middle of a hectic day.
It is important that if you think you are suffering from anxiety and/or depression to be screened by a mental health professional. Having the support of a trained professional can be invaluable in helping bring the focus back to the positive things in your life and helping you overcome your mental illness.