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By Brenna at The Kid Counsellor

I recently have had an influx of adolescents in my office and I have learned some valuable lessons about how to approach them in the most effective ways. Teenagers have very distinct needs and do not really fit into either the almost-adult or still-a-child category. This can sometimes create difficulties when parents feel that therapy is necessary.

Many parents would like to see their adolescent children well-adjusted, happy, successful and social. That is a tall order for teens who are dealing with peer pressure, hormonal changes, academic expectations, parental ideals and their own self-discovery process, all simultaneously. When parents are interested in therapy for their teens to provide a neutral, objective party to help, it can be difficult to decide who can best deal with teen issues. Many children’s therapists will not treat adolescents (they are too old and unmoldable) and many adult therapists will not either (they are too young and volatile). What does that mean for a parent trying to find a good-fit therapist for their teenager?

I work with teenagers up to age 16 at my office and have noticed some interesting trends in their needs and wants. I have had to modify my treatment to best serve them, but with positive outcomes.

Teens want to talk about themselves. Human beings love to be the center of attention. If given the right environment and a trustworthy recipient, teens enjoy discussing their lives. As an addendum, teens like talking about what THEY like. Talking about their family arguments or school problems does not interest them. Their friends, their dreams and goals, their feelings, and their frustrations are the favorite topics for discussion.

Teens also like more structured activities. They do not feel comfortable with open-ended questions or nebulous hypotheticals (“What do you think about that”?) Teens do well with specific directives where they are able to complete a given task and then discuss it. I often use worksheets and creative projects to deal with emotions, family, friends and more.

Teens are very easily embarassed. Even more so that adults. They are at a sensitive age where their self-esteem and confidence is developing or sometimes non-existent. Any questions or activities that put them in a threatened position will yield defensive postures and difficult progress. They need to feel respected and valued for it to work.

The confidentiality of therapy is integral to success with teenagers. Many teens who have refused to continue therapy with other counselors felt that the therapist and parents were on a “team”, inevitably competing against them. Parents and counselors should NEVER discuss the teen in front of him or her, and it should be clear that the allegiance is between the teen and therapist, no where else.

There are many more issues when working with teenagers, but those are the most important ones through my experience. Generally, if the teen feels important and it is clear that the therapist does not have an ulterior motive for meeting with him or her (I am going to “fix” you), it will be helpful and well-received.

Remember, teens cannot be forced to get into a car and go to therapy. So, if they agree to go on the first visit, begrudgingly or not, consider it a success. If they go back again, it was widely successful. “This is a waste of time” or “I think this is stupid” is perfectly fine, as long as they continue to go. Adolescent rebellion and indifference is a part of life, but their actions will always speak louder than their words.

Nothing beats a super easy and healthy fun treat!

All you need is: 

·         Granny Smith Apples

·         Toothpicks

·         Jumbo Marshmallows

·         Food Writer Pens

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I often wonder what my son thinks about what I tell him about himself. In other words, he develops an understanding of who he is and what he is capable of through what others communicate to him. In the course I teach at the University of South Florida, I spend a large portion of the semester teaching college students about how their self-concept is created. The number one influence is other people sharing their perspective of who they are with them – basically holding up a mirror for someone so that they become aware of their personality, their actions, their successes, their thoughts. So, in that line of thinking, I want to be purposeful in talking to my son about who I believe he is, and let him process that in time. I have written an article on self-esteem and answered a question from a parent aboutcultivating self-esteem, but I want to give five practical and easy ways to do that in this article.

1. Encourage Interests

It is sometimes easy to want certain activities to become important to your kids, if they are important to you. (I love baseball and I want my child to play on a team.) There can also be an unspoken expectation that you do not want certain interests to become part of your child’s life. (I do not want my child to become a cheerleader.) In order to allow your child to develop passion and drive for something, as little rules for what is acceptable as possible should be the goal. This includes gender role rules – girls can’t play football and boys can’t be a dancer. The more a child embraces something, the more they learn who they can be and what they want to accomplish. The more they understand themselves, the more they learn about how capable they are.

2. Demonstrate Respect

If your child hears you criticizing or judging others for their behaviors, actions or attitudes, it makes a child more wary of showing vulnerability and honesty in front of you for fear of the same. A child needs to have respect and understanding modeled as a way of observing the world around them – then they learn to form impressions based on neutrality. The same applies for when they struggle with something; it is not a problem, but something to figure out based on looking at the situation objectively. Once they conquer it, it boosts their self-confidence.

3. Teach Skills

On one hand, allowing a child to figure something out for him/herself is a major self-confidence booster. However, the more exposure a child has to learning new skills, the more he or she feels capable and confident that anything that comes in the future can be handled effectively. I grew up with a Dad who could fix anything (“Handy Randy”), and he let me watch and help him whenever he was working on something. I was always very proud (and still am!) that I know how to caulk baseboards, wire lighting fixtures, cut in with a paint brush, patch drywall, etc. There is an innate sense of accomplishment when you know that you have been taught to do something well.

4. Be Involved

There is little more powerful to a child’s confidence and self-esteem than knowing that a parent is always involved and invested in whatever matters to him or her. Whether that means sitting on the sidelines at games, cheering as a child finishes a puzzle, or watching a child figure out how to ride a bike for the first time, your time and attention is so valuable. It not only increases your bond, but it teaches your child that they can believe in themselves because they have someone who already does.

5. Demonstrate Self-Esteem

The strongest relationship influence in a child’s life is a parent. It seems that peers have more impact, but studies show that parents have the greatest and longest lasting influence. So, if you are critical of yourself or demonstrate disbelief in your abilities in front of your kids, it is likely that they will adopt a similar opinion of themselves. The more you show that you can accept your weaknesses and celebrate your strengths, the more you will encourage self-esteem in your kids to do the same.

Self-esteem and confidence are learned characteristics and traits, and children need opportunities to develop them. With encouragement, time and attention they can learn to embrace their capabilities and challenge their weaknesses. Regardless of how much or little they currently possess, there is always more to be gained with the right experiences. May your confidence in your parenting grow as you encourage confidence in your children!

The Kid Counsellor

Dear Parent

Wouldn’t it be nice if our kids got to a certain age and just knew what they wanted to do with their lives?

In reality, this dream isn’t all that unattainable. Through personality-based assessments, it is actually possible for our kids to figure out exactly what kind of career they would be best suited to.

In high school, I was told that I had an aptitude for graphic design, and I pursued that for 3 years. Unfortunately, aptitude has very little to do with interest and I was very unhappy with my chosen path. I wish I had realised much earlier my fascination with psychology and my passion for helping kids.

Society seems to think that your career should be based on ability and this is why the school has probably already administered some kind of aptitude test of your child. I find that this test alone present you with such limited information to make such a big life decision. My unique battery of tests recognises that each student is an individual with their own strengths, weaknesses, world-view and attitude. On completing this assessment, students will have a better understanding of their own personalities, values, interests and emotional space and be able to confidently decide on their subject choice and career path.

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Due to the work I do with parents I find that people often look to me as an example of a perfect mom. Am I? Well what is your definition of a perfect mom? If it is someone who never loses her temper, never says something inappropriate, never needs a holiday from her kids, never hides from them, is always fully present and patient and understanding and oozes love every moment of the day and never sits crying in a heap on the kitchen floor, then no.

By Brenna at The Kid Counsellor

The differences between encouragement and praise have become more widely noted in recent years, and studies have shown there is a long-lasting effect of each/ This article contains examples and information to expand your understanding of the topic, why encouragement is more helpful, and how to put it into practice in your homes.
It is human nature to want to be supportive of those we love. Naturally, that is also true of the parent-child relationship. Many studies have shown that children who receive encouragement during the formative years are more successful later in life. However, there is a growing amount of research indicating that consistent praise can be harmful. (http://www.noogenesis.com/malama/encouragement.html)

If we always reward a child with praise after a task is completed, then the child comes to expect it. However, if praise is not forthcoming, then its absence may be interpreted by the child as failure. (Aldort, 2000). In an effort to find a balance, many clinicians have begun to encourage children in lieu of providing praise.

One of the main differences between praise and encouragement is that praise often comes paired with a judgment or evaluation, such as “best” or “good”. Evaluative praise creates anxiety, invites dependency, and evokes defensiveness. It is non-conducive to self-reliance, self-direction and self-control (Ginott, 1965). Encouragement, on the other hand, allows children to become self-motivated, faithful to themselves, and focused on following their own interests (Grille, 2005).

While praise has long been recommended as an effective tool for parents to build self-esteem in their children, it has become somewhat counter-productive as children learn to “perform” for what they think others expect of them, rather than for their own satisfaction.

Although praising others has become second nature to most of us, learning to encourage forms bonds, understanding and acceptance that is needed for healthy and happy children. While one has to think more, it may be better to use “descriptive recognition,” giving a more precise description of what you wish to encourage, rather than praising.

Here are some specific examples of the differences between the two:

Praise: you are the best student, you are always on time, you did great!, I am so proud of you, you’re a good helper, your picture is so pretty…

Encouragement: any teacher would appreciate you, you tried very hard to be on time, you did it!, you should be proud of yourself, you straightened all the bookshelves, you used all those different colours…

Here is a short list indicating the common results of praise and encouragement:

Praise: stimulates rivalry and competition, focuses on quality of performance, evaluative and judgmental  fosters selfishness at the expense of others, emphasis on global evaluations of the person, creates quitters, fosters fear of failure, fosters dependence.

Encouragement: stimulates cooperation and contribution for the good of all, focuses on amount of effort and joy, little or no evalution of person or act, fosters self-interest which does not hurt others, emphasis on specific contributions, creates triers, fosters acceptance of being imperfect, fosters self-sufficiency and independence.

This is certainly a challenge, when it is so easy to say “Good job!” and mean it. However, if we can become encouragers, it not only benefits the children who are quickly growing into adults, but us too.

Information taken from http://www.noogenesis.com/malama/encouragement.html

By Brenna at The Kid Counsellor

Children often struggle with explaining their feelings, and therefore act out inappropriately. Until children reach the age of about 12, they do not have the cognitive reasoning skills required to recognize and verbally discuss what they feel.

A very simple and practical way to assist your child in communicating what they are feeling is a Feelings Chart. A Feelings Chart shows different feelings that your child may feel throughout the day and the days of the week. It can be made on posterboard or cardboard with markers, colored pencils or crayons. The faces can be hand drawn on construction paper or you can use garage sale pricing stickers for ease of sticking them on the chart.

A Feelings Chart can be created with the child to reflect his/her personality and interests. Encourage your child to be involved in the design process and ask what feelings should be included. Allow the child to decorate the chart as they wish- it is their feeling chart!

After the chart is completed, hang it in the child’s room and decide when you are going to review your child’s chart with him/her. Many find that right before bed is a nice close to the day and allows bonding between you and the child each night. Explain that at any time throughout the day, your child can choose to put a face on the chart describing how he/she feels.

Your child may only choose one face during the day or may choose many. The key is not in how many feelings are expressed, but rather that the child learns to associate feelings with words. Your role as a parent going over the feelings of the day is not to change the way they felt about a situation or try to pacify their emotions. Instead, practice reflecting their feelings back to them and validating their emotions. An example is “You were really angry about that” or “That made you very excited!”. Try to match your tone to their feeling. Another way to process their feelings can also be “I wonder what would have made that less scary” (or hurtful, etc.) or “I wonder what feelings go with the one you felt” (happy with excited, angry with sad, etc.).

Here are some examples and links that may help you further understand how a Feelings Chart works:

www.bridges4kids.org/pdf/ArthurFeelings.pdf

A Feelings Chart is helpful to you and your child in many ways, but creating a special time with him/her to debrief about the day is useful for communication, bonding and mutual understanding. Feel free to share your own feelings throughout the day with your child… maybe you can both learn to recognize and acknowledge feelings together!

By Brenna at The Kid Counsellor

I recently have had an influx of adolescents in my office and I have learned some valuable lessons about how to approach them in the most effective ways. Teenagers have very distinct needs and do not really fit into either the almost-adult or still-a-child category. This can sometimes create difficulties when parents feel that therapy is necessary.

Many parents would like to see their adolescent children well-adjusted, happy, successful and social. That is a tall order for teens who are dealing with peer pressure, hormonal changes, academic expectations, parental ideals and their own self-discovery process, all simultaneously. When parents are interested in therapy for their teens to provide a neutral, objective party to help, it can be difficult to decide who can best deal with teen issues. Many children’s therapists will not treat adolescents (they are too old and unmoldable) and many adult therapists will not either (they are too young and volatile). What does that mean for a parent trying to find a good-fit therapist for their teenager?

I work with teenagers up to age 16 at my office and have noticed some interesting trends in their needs and wants. I have had to modify my treatment to best serve them, but with positive outcomes.

Teens want to talk about themselves. Human beings love to be the center of attention. If given the right environment and a trustworthy recipient, teens enjoy discussing their lives. As an addendum, teens like talking about what THEY like. Talking about their family arguments or school problems does not interest them. Their friends, their dreams and goals, their feelings, and their frustrations are the favorite topics for discussion.

Teens also like more structured activities. They do not feel comfortable with open-ended questions or nebulous hypotheticals (“What do you think about that”?) Teens do well with specific directives where they are able to complete a given task and then discuss it. I often use worksheets and creative projects to deal with emotions, family, friends and more.

Teens are very easily embarrassed. Even more so that adults. They are at a sensitive age where their self-esteem and confidence is developing or sometimes non-existent. Any questions or activities that put them in a threatened position will yield defensive postures and difficult progress. They need to feel respected and valued for it to work.

The confidentiality of therapy is integral to success with teenagers. Many teens who have refused to continue therapy with other counselors felt that the therapist and parents were on a “team”, inevitably competing against them. Parents and counselors should NEVER discuss the teen in front of him or her, and it should be clear that the allegiance is between the teen and therapist, no where else.

There are many more issues when working with teenagers, but those are the most important ones through my experience. Generally, if the teen feels important and it is clear that the therapist does not have an ulterior motive for meeting with him or her (I am going to “fix” you), it will be helpful and well-received.

Remember, teens cannot be forced to get into a car and go to therapy. So, if they agree to go on the first visit, begrudgingly or not, consider it a success. If they go back again, it was widely successful. “This is a waste of time” or “I think this is stupid” is perfectly fine, as long as they continue to go. Adolescent rebellion and indifference is a part of life, but their actions will always speak louder than their words.

By Brenna at The Kid Counsellor

I love “people-watching”. I go to malls, grocery stores, parks, etc. and watch how people think, behave and speak. Sometimes this is enlightening for me, and I am able to understand certain things about families. I suppose because I am trained in recognizing patterns and behaviors in children, I frequently observe children acting out and have identified what I believe to be three common threads.

I stress with the parents that I train in Child-Parent Relationship Therapy to home in on the specific issues and reasons for problem behaviors, rather than just respond to such behaviors. There is always a reason why a child acts out, positive or negative. Discovering the root of the behaviors can be a way to understand and prevent them.

Hunger 

One of the things that I have observed, especially around meal times, is that children act out when they are hungry. Parents need to eat less frequently than children, since age slows down metabolism in the body. Children also burn more calories than most adults with their activity levels being higher. This can often be overlooked if the parent is busy and is not hungry themself.

This is a significant topic for me, as I have low blood sugar. I need to eat something every few hours. Children should be on the same schedule throughout the day, with small snacks in between the three main meals. One of the things that strikes me is I often hear children crying, screaming or throwing tantrums when families first come into restaurants, but rarely at the end when the child has been fed.

Fatigue 

Another issue that I observe when children are acting out in public is that they are tired and need to sleep. Children until the age of about 6 should have solid nap times during the day. Each child will require different amounts of rest, but keeping a child out on a parents’ busy day of errands and obligations keeps children from recooperative and restorative sleep.

I observed this a few weeks ago on vacation. Our flight from Detroit into Traverse City, MI left at 10:35pm. There were two mothers with children under the age of five, and both children were screaming and crying, inconsolable and defiant during boarding. One mother recognized her son was exhausted and tried to be understanding by holding him. The other kept insisting her child behave and punished him for acting out, which made the tantrum worse. Both boys were exhausted and up far too late. Once the boys slept on the plane, de-boarding went off without a hitch.

Boredom 

The final common thread I observe in negative behaviors in children is being ignored. Most children are not able to sit still with no stimulation until age 10 or so, some later. I often observe parents at a restaurant or store carrying on with adult conversations or responsibilities and the child is ignored. Bored children will create something to keep themselves occupied!

Parents can not expect young children to keep themselves interested in adult things. This can be seen most often in restaurants. After the child finishes eating, the parents continue talking and finishing their meals. The child starts getting fussy, playing with silverware, straws, spilling drinks, throwing things on the floor, etc. They have nothing to do, so they “act out”.

Now that we have identified some of the typical causes of misbehavior in children, let’s look at how to prevent those issues. Hungry children present the least of the problems. Always have small snacks with you, such as goldfish, grapes, cheerios, etc. and try that first. If a child is hungry, eating should stop the behavioral issues quickly. Try to avoid sodas and sweet snacks. This will give a rush of energy from the sugar and then cause a blood sugar crash, which puts you back at square one.

Keep an awareness on body language of children. If they are rubbing their eyes, dropping their heads, become more clingy, stop being as active, or get very sensitive, these are indicators that they need to rest. Overstimulation is one of the most overlooked but common issues with children. Be ready to take them home and give them a nap, even if it means postponing errands until later.

Finally, children can be stimulated and kept occupied in most settings. Some locations will be more difficult to provide activities, but keeping crayons, paper, books, games, etc. with you will give you a break and the child something to do at a dinner table, church service, waiting room, and other places where bad behaviors can be frustrating and challenging to control.

The more aware and prepared you can be, the better for you and the child!

The power of the spoken word is incredible. That is why motivational speakers and self-help books encourage positive self-talk and speaking what you want into your life. With this understanding in mind, I try to be very purposeful in my language and my conversations with and around my son.

One of the most important things I have learned in my experience working with children and having one of my own is that they absorb much more than one might think. They hear, process, and internalize conversations around them, especially when the topic relates to them. They are often aware and listening even when adults think that they are unaware, playing or distracted. It is important to recognize the impact of statements made in front of kids.

In order to understand what negative statements are made often without parents’ awareness, I want to share some examples that I have heard recently. However, to focus on play therapy principles and why it would have been more appropriate in these situations, I will also include what could have been said instead.

NEGATIVE STATEMENT #1

We were recently at a playground and several of the kids were meeting each other for the first time. After being prompted, a few of the kids said hi to each other. One two year old girl did not want to say hello, even after her mom tried to push the issue. She shook her head for the last time, and her mom said, “No, you are going to be the rude one and not say hello to anyone.”

PLAY THERAPY RESPONSE

Self-responsibility is developed by being given the opportunity to make choices and accept consequences for actions. If the girl did not want to say hello (out of fear, shyness, discomfort), the play therapy response would have been to reflect her feeling and acknowledge her choice. “You are choosing not to say hello” or “You do not want to say hi right now.”

NEGATIVE STATEMENT #2

My husband and I know a couple who has three kids, and they struggle with their middle child’s behavior. When the mom talks about their middle son, she continually refers to him as their “devil child”, “devil’s spawn”, or “satan”. While in some circumstances, these comments gather laughter from parents who relate, when these comments are made in front of the child, he snickers.

PLAY THERAPY RESPONSE

Behavior is largely cultivated based on self-awareness. The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy has been proven again and again, where what a child is told about himself, he becomes and believes. If this child tests limits and pushes buttons, he needs to hear his strengths and positive traits more than negative ones. The more he absorbs appropriate behavior recognition and realizes that he has good qualities, the more he will act like that in the future. Play therapy is rooted in the idea that you focus on the child, not the problem.

NEGATIVE STATEMENT #3

We were at a park a few weeks ago and a mom was pushing a younger child in a swing while her older daughter was playing a few yards away. The older child came up to her mom whimpering about hurting her leg. Her mom responded, “Geez, it is always something with you. You get hurt everywhere we go.”

PLAY THERAPY RESPONSE

Pointing out flaws in a child, in this case clumsiness, not only makes a child feel bad about herself, but also discourages development of self-esteem and confidence. Responding in a neutral manner allows the child to feel heard, while allowing her to process what happened on her own, without judgment. “You hurt your leg, wow!” or “Oh my, you got hurt again.” would have been appropriate.

NEGATIVE STATEMENT #4

We were at the play area at the mall, and a dad was watching his son like a hawk while his son played with other children. The boy seemed to be somewhat aggressive with other kids, and soon a mom came in and set a baby in a carseat on the floor next to her. Soon after, the boy went over a tried to hit the baby. The dad told him no and to be nice. He tried to hit the baby again, and the dad smacked his hand (quite counterproductive, but that is for another article). When he tried to hit the baby a third time, the dad picked him up and said, “You are such a brat.”

PLAY THERAPY RESPONSE

Limits are only needed when they are necessary and this is one of those instances. When the child needed to have behavior redirected, play therapy principles would include, “Babies are not for hitting. You can choose to go play.” By setting the expectation that babies require gentle touches, and by giving him an alternative, it teaches self-responsibility and allows the child to make the decision to obey or break the limit. Telling him he acts in the way that you do not want (bratty), he is encouraged to continue that behavior rather than make other choices.

Words spoken in front of kids, especially about them, make lasting impressions. If you talk about being worried about finances, they learn to worry. If they hear you argue, they learn negative conflict. If they hear you say they are mean, lazy, rude, or a troublemaker (either directly or to someone else), they begin to assume they need to act that way because the expectation has been set.

By using play therapy principles, you can promote positive beliefs, behaviors, and responses in your kids. When kids hear that they are helpful, kind, smart and loving, they tend to inhabit those characteristics. Once again, play therapy focuses on the child and the relationship, not the problem. What does your child need to hear from you today?