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Check Out My Posts on Psychology Today

I realize I've neglected my blog for a couple of months. I'm sorry to anyone that has missed new content. I just posted a piece on tips for managing a listserv (see below) and I promise to add more of my usual material on various counseling and psychology topics. To let you know, I'll also be focusing on evolution trends to correspond with my new venture, Keys to Evolution. If you have any requests for content, please don't hesitate to contact me at Kimberly@EncompassWF.com.

If you're wondering what you're missing on my Psychology Today blog, entitled "Counseling Keys," here's a peek. Please visit it and be sure to check back here soon. Thanks and Happy 2011!

Children’s Expectations: What Your Child Would Tell You if They Could

President Barack Obama says to live up to our children's expectations. Learn the top three myths about children and what they really expect--if they could tell you.

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December 13, 2010

In Defense of Marriage

 

Examining why 50% of people stay married and what they get out of their lifetime commitment.

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October is National Bullying Prevention Month – “Take Your Power Back” Bullying Prevention Seminar this Saturday, October 16 Downtown Austin (4-5:30PM)

Bullying is pervasive. It happens in schools, workplaces, in neighborhoods—and even in your home. Bullying spans across the ages as it occurs among children, in dating and intimate relationships, between siblings, with parents, against the eldery, and the ill. Cyberbulling (using text messages, social networking sites and the internet) has created another level to bullying, making its deleterious effects lasting and almost inescapable. Cyberbullying has become so bad that iSafe foundation statistics have shown that ONE in THREE adolescents have been threatened online.

In response to Bullying Prevention Month and the alarming trend of bullying, Keys to Evolution is holding its first seminar focusing on how to protect yourself from bullying. We’ll look at the evolutionary trait of equity and fairness and discuss what prompts people to bully (the lure of power and control) and what you can do to empower yourself in abusive and bullying situations. We’ll also discuss what you can do to help others that have been impacted by damaging bullying behavior.  You’ll receive practical tips to help you heal, survive, and thrive from bullying experiences. You’ll also learn proactive steps to prevent bullying. You’ll learn how to spot an abuser before they bully and the secret manipulative tricks they use to bully people and how to deal with cyberbullying. You’ll receive strategies for dealing with various bullying situations along with things you can do to help your community. 

This seminar is for anyone that has ever experienced bullying or anyone that wants to learn what to do prevent it from happening in the first place.

The Keys to Evolution – Bullying Prevention Seminar “Take Your Power Back from Bullies” will be held this Saturday, October 16 from 4-5:30 PM at the Austin History Center meeting room on 810 Guadalupe. (Come downtown, get empowered and enjoy a nice dinner downtown afterward.) The cost is $49 per person with a percentage of the proceeds going to iSafe Foundation. Participants will also receive a copy of my book, "Ten Keys to Staying Empowered  in a Power Struggle." To register, see http://nomorebullying.eventbrite.com/.

 


First I Ate Chocolate Cake, Then I Ate Pasta - Reflections of an Empty Nester One Year Later

What happens when a single mother becomes an empty nester? I shared what I was experiencing before it happened in a post on  May 28, 2009 (Adapting to an Empty Nest and Sharing Parenting Pearls Learned Along the Way).  In the post, I described that I might have been feeding a few of my feelings with homemade chocolate cake. Today’s post shares reflections of my first year as an empty nester and a few things I learned about grieving, finding yourself, loving from a distance, and letting your children soar when they leave the nest.

Anyone who knows me knows that my daughter is the most important person in my life. We’re extremely close. I feel so lucky to be her Mom. She is my sun and fills me with meaning and purpose for living. My whole adult life has been spent making decisions around her. (What is the best food she can eat?  Do I let her watch TV or do I ban TV? What school is best for her? Which neighborhood is safest for her? What job can I take that provides me with benefits, security and time for her? What can I do to be a good role model? How can I be the best parent ever and not pass on dysfunctions from previous generations…etc., etc.).

You can imagine it was a little painful to see her go – especially when she was moving half a country away. Not so easy to jump in a car and make weekend trips.  Consequently, I felt grief and sadness. I also found myself at a loss for what I wanted in life. Sure, it was easy to fantasize and dream about things I could do in the future while living a practical life today that focused on being a good Mom (which admittedly brought me more joy than anything else I could do in life). Yet, now that “someday in the future” was here and I didn’t know what to do. I also felt too sad and numb to just immediately jump on the “pursue your dreams” train.

As a healthy response to this new phase in my life (after all I’m a counseling psychotherapist and surely know the best things to do in these kinds of situations), I decided to commit to doing everything the same for one year. In other words, I wouldn’t make any drastic changes. I’d allow the internal changes to naturally surface instead. I’d give myself time to grieve or do whatever I needed to do. I would not commit to anything that resulted in an external change as it might disrupt my full healing. It takes a baby 10 months to grow in the womb. Surely, it would take some time for me to grow into this new life phase.

The Change

It did take time to adjust. I kept focusing on seeing my daughter, planning for our visits, and was pretty certain that I hadn’t been impacted by her departure at all. I felt absolutely fine. Normal. Life hadn’t changed. She and I were just experiencing longer trips away from each other.

Denial. It’s a powerful psychological defense.

She and I were both changing. She was finding friends and learning how to adjust. She was blossoming and coming into her own. Her adjustment appeared smooth. Our first visits with each other involved big hugs and extreme joy followed by bickering followed by tears followed by long talks of processing some of the changes that were taking place. We were still extremely close, yet we were on these new journeys that included diverging paths.

I tried to remain busy. I felt like I was living life as I had when she was home. It wasn’t until five months after she left that I realized I wasn’t cooking like I used to cook (I love to cook, so this was a big deal). I was on the phone with my sister one day when I informed her that I was finally cooking. Then I looked down at the saucepan filled with homemade pasta sauce and realized I had only cooked pasta for the past four months, except this time I was making homemade sauce instead of getting it from a jar.

Those are the kind of realizations that shatter denial like a bullet to a windshield. Tears that wouldn’t come before finally drenched my cheeks. I sobbed and realized life had changed. She wasn’t going to come back and be my little girl that I would get to take care of every day. I had to stand up and take care of me now – and let her be the amazing young adult woman she was becoming. 

What I learned

In reality, she and I were both coming into our own. She’s pursuing her passion in school and loving it. I’ve received calls where she excitedly gushes, “Mom, I feel like I was made for this.” There’s nothing that makes a parent feel any better than hearing that kind of enthusiasm from their grown child. In addition, she has inspired me to revisit my own hidden passions and dreams. 

One year later, rather than clinging to the days of yesteryear, I am settled into the now.  The lessons I’ve learned to date are these:

·          Parenthood doesn’t stop, it just changes – and you have to change with it.

·          Dreams don’t die, some dreams just get started later in life.

·          A critical part of parenting means being the positive support to your children’s passion – the world is full of no’s and negativity, so provide the YES in their lives and be their ray of light.

·          Be real, truthful and vulnerable with your children and they’ll be the same way with you.

·          Set healthy boundaries that are consistent and firm and you’ll give your children a foundation stronger than the Rock of Gibraltar.

·          Love heals all wounds and patience is a necessity.

·          Change is part of life – responding to change from the inside results in growth.

·          What you eat can reveal a lot abut what what you’re feeling. 

 


When Things Go Wrong - Travel!

Have you ever noticed that summer comes at just the right time? Exhaustion from life’s demands seems particularly high around this time. It’s as if mental burnout rises alongside the rising seasonal temperatures (as experienced here in the U.S and definitely in Texas).  If you can relate, traveling is your antidote.

In today’s economy, vacations at home (“staycations”) have become popular. The downside to a staycation, however, (and, no, this is not a paid endorsement from a travel agency) is that you may miss something critical that a travel experience provides you—fresh perspective.

We get so wrapped up in daily rituals that we end up getting stuck in a box and then we feel overwhelmed with life. Tunnel vision is the result.

The solution to tunnel vision is getting out of the box of your everyday experiences and changing your surroundings. This allows you to see things from a different point of view and to gain a fresh perspective. You can discover alternative solutions that you would have never dreamed possible. Traveling is the best way to achieve it, as Kent Nerburn points out in his book, “Simple Truths.”

Travel, no matter how humble, will etch new elements in your character. You will know the cutting moments of life where fear meets adventure and loneliness meets exhilaration. You will know what it means to push forward when you want to turn back…you will understand that there are a thousand, million ways to live, and that your life will go on to something new and different and every bit as worthy as the life you are leaving behind.

Whether you’re leaving a piece of life behind or an old way of seeing a situation, travel can have a profound affect on you. It can reinforce deep bonds with your family and loved ones. It can open your heart and mind to possibilities. It can connect you to your inner passions and dreams. It can uplift your spirit and restore your energy. It can also serve to foster brotherhood with all of mankind.

Whatever is happening in your life right now—deadlines, relationship troubles, career challenges, grief, money troubles, parenting issues, crisis of faith, general malaise—go out and discover your personal solutions by traveling. Make plans for a real vacation. Leave for a weekend getaway. Learn new cultures. Go explore. Have an adventure. Then drop me a line (KimberlyATencompasswf.com) and tell me how it changed your life.

Bon voyage !


How to Raise Your Child to Survive in Today’s Chaotic World

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If you are a parent or have ever felt that emotions were something that could be destructive, please read on. This is perhaps the most important information I can share.

I received a comment about yesterday’s blog post, which triggered this response.  I addressed the concept of “fearmines” (fear buttons that trigger hidden emotional landmines). It may have been a bit oversimplified, but it was also right on target. Today, I’m going to get a little deeper and describe why hidden emotional landmines are actually at the heart of most of our problems today (crime, risky youth behaviors, depression, unemployment, divorce, greed, war) and how it all ties back into our emotional regulation system that was developed in infancy.  I’m also going to share what you can do to help your child develop a healthy emotional regulation system so that they can survive in today’s chaotic world.

Infants (and children) have brains and body systems that are not fully developed (e.g., nervous system, hormones, etc.). Because these systems are still in development, infants and children are extremely vulnerable and highly dependent. As such, babies and children rely on their parent/caregiver as an external system to regulate their care. In other words, imagine having half of a heart, half of a lung, half of a liver, half of a kidney, etc., etc, and needing another human being to compensate and basically act as the missing parts of the heart, liver, kidney, etc., etc. It’s more than co-dependence and completely needed for the child’s healthy growth. Just as the baby depended on the mother in the womb for survival and development, the infant and child STILL depends on the mother/caregiver after birth.

The emotional regulation system becomes disrupted when adequate care is not given to an infant and child. This includes ignoring a baby’s cries, telling them to shut up, or confusing their cries with something else (like shoving a pacifier in their mouth when they want their diaper changed). While we never respond to a baby perfectly 100% of the time, if the number of inadequate responses exceeds the adequate responses, then the baby forms a maladjusted emotional regulation system. This is also preverbal, so later in life some external stimuli can elicit an internal anxiety response that was felt as a baby but now doesn’t make sense for the grown adult to understand. Instead, they feel like something else takes over them (sometimes referred to as an emotional hijacking).

To recognize the symptoms of this disruption in an adult (or yourself) includes common responses like these: 

·                *Feeling like you can’t trust your emotions and that they can get out of control

·                *Denying that you have troublesome feelings

·                *Believing that relationships are not important or, conversely, never being able to be alone

·                *Always trying to be an ideal person that someone (or your parent) will love and finally approve

·                *Cutting off from others

·                *Constant relocating and/or job changes

·                *Battling or overpowering others and/or using others for your own gain

·                *Escaping through drinking, drug use, sexual addictions, food addictions, etc.

The challenge as parents is that we tend to fall back on our own unconscious learning and repeat the same behaviors with our children—which is how such patterns repeat themselves through the generations (generational transmission).

Not surprisingly these symptoms show up in society. Societal symptoms of maladjusted emotional systems form when enough people grow up without healthy emotional regulation systems (reinforcing the problem). Such societal symptoms may include:

·                *Focusing on external productivity over internal emotional states and healthy relationships (like over-focusing on what the child wants to be when they grow up; over-focusing on child’s grades in school; over-focusing on how much money someone makes, what kind of car they drive, etc., etc.)

·                *Chronic relationship disruption and emotional illness (which can be seen in rising divorce rates, escalating depression and other mental health related illnesses, increased crime, increased bullying behaviors, increased self-centeredness, decreased compassion and tolerance for emotion in others) 

A solution to this problem is to work on ourselves and form a new healthy emotional regulation system. Oftentimes, therapy does this because the therapist can sit with the person and affirm their feelings, allowing the person to fully feel their own feelings and then safely respond to them without judgment. This process helps to develop new neural networks of self-care (new emotional regulation systems). In addition, people can do this same thing for loved ones, join support groups, journal about feelings, obtain spiritual support, and do things that provide safe love and emotional healing. 

When the person is able to form a new healthy emotional regulation system, they are able to sit with their feelings (even the uncomfortable ones) and are more able to tolerate other people’s emotions. When that happens, they can also sit with their needy infants and children and better respond to their needs without anxiety, frustration or panic. 

Another symptom of a healthy emotional regulation system is relationship repair. Accepting that no one is perfect and conflict will arise is important to remember. The key is to be able to effectively repair your relationships after a disruption. The more immediate the repair, the more neural networks are formed in the healthy emotional regulation system.

As parents and people, it is critical to comprehend the extent that infants and children are dependent on us. We need to make them a priority and attend to them. This does not mean spoiling them with toys—it means being there, loving them, empathizing with their needs, and helping them to understand and attend to their emotions.

Children become out of control when we ignore them and get angry—putting them in time-outs when they aren’t developed enough to understand consequences. We also run into the trap of referring to punishment as “tough love” when we take away a privilege without taking the time to process our children’s feelings and fears and understanding what motivates them to engage in behaviors that may scare us.   

Finally, understanding that our societal values of productivity over relationships may actually be a symptom of inadequate infant/child care can help us to change the narratives that perpetuate infant/child/human emotional abuse. We are making strides in addressing emotional care as a society, but we’re not there yet. Perhaps the current economic problems, rising unemployment rates, risky behaviors in children (increasingly younger sexual promiscuity in children, “hook-ups”, self-abuse like cutting, bullying, school shootings, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide) will wake us up to the real war that we’re in—the war with ourselves and our own internal emotional regulation systems. Focusing on healing our internal war through love, compassion, empathy, healing, tolerance, awareness, and helping each other as a larger family (instead of isolated individuals in big houses) will surely help the next generations to develop healthy emotional regulation systems. Perhaps when that happens, global harmony (aka world peace) can actually be obtainable.


How the Hidden Blueprint of Childhood Directs Your Career

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How can a damaged upbringing hurl you into career greatness?

You’ve probably heard of numerous examples where people have beaten all odds and succeeded in accomplishing their dreams. The subtle message in these cases seems to suggest that rough beginnings and hardships are the secret ingredients to success. That’s why I laughed and laughed when I heard the line “Don’t fix your Daddy issues!” on Samantha Who?, a former ABC sitcom starring Christina Applegate as an amnesiac who finds herself in a successful job but learns she wasn’t a very nice person to many people. The friend that cautioned her from getting to know her father better said that those initial family problems were exactly why she was so good in her job. (Clearly this advice isn’t so good for my job. But if you watch the show, you’ll learn she’s a much happier person by reuniting with her emotions and changing her former greed at all costs approach to life.)

Similarly, I’m often asked how our childhoods can affect our jobs—especially the risk-taking nature of an entrepreneur. It’s highly individual of course, but here’s a theory that can satiate your curiosity a bit. See if you can identify yourself in any of the following categories and learn how it impacts you, your loved ones and your career and  business ventures.

The attachment theory is one of my favorites and a lot of empirical research has given it more validity over the years. The simple description of attachment theory is how you initially bonded with your primary caregiver (Mother? Father? Adopted parent?) forms the basis of how you will interact (or attach) to everything else in your life. This can be a relationship, hobby, home, career and/or your business venture. 

Secure Attachment – The person who has a secure attachment received the perfect balance of love and nurturing from their parent. The parent was attentive to their needs and empathetic (could feel their feelings). The parent was not intrusive (bugging the baby even if the baby expressed displeasure) or neglectful (not paying attention to the baby). The securely attached person grows up with a sense of confidence, trust, and wisdom. They do not stay in situations that do not work. For example, they would move on if a relationship or venture showed clear signs of failure. Conversely, they would not just give up either. They would make the appropriate amount of effort. (Not everyone has this attachment style, but it’s something we can all learn to cultivate in life.

Avoidant Attachment – The avoidant person had a parent that was more neglectful. The parent could not empathize or was just so busy that they could not be as responsive to their child. Consequently, the child learned that being alone was normal. The avoidant adult is not as good with empathy. Moreover, they do not handle intimacy very well as it can feel suffocating and provoke anxiety. They prefer to keep a distance. This can translate into getting into relationships but not being very close (perhaps traveling or working a lot to maintain adequate distance). It can also mean growing tired of ventures and needing new things to do more frequently.

Insecure Attachment – An insecure attachment simply means that the parent swung from being available to not being available, leaving the baby confused and feeling more anxious about losing and/or attracting the parent. The insecure adult brings this underlying anxiety into their relationships and constantly battles with the fear of losing relationships and the desire to have distance. This person most experiences the tension of the togetherness and separateness continuum. In their venture, they may vacillate about what to do as a consequence.

Paying attention to your anxiety is key to healing the wound if you find yourself identifying with the latter two styles. Re-nurturing yourself can help shift you into a more secure attachment style. You can also go to a counselor or coach as this is one of the secret reasons such processes work. The bond you develop with your therapist or coach can form a new attachment style when your interactions are trusting, open and positive. 

(Stay tuned for the next blog post as it will discuss ways you can self-nurture and self-heal.)


Adapting to an Empty Nest and Sharing Parenting Pearls Learned Along the Way

I ate chocolate cake for breakfast today. I fed my sadness. I’m not proud of it (although it was an exceptionally delectable piece of my homemade specialty). Yes, I break down and succumb to unhealthy measures to escape my feelings from time to time. As a counseling psychology professional, I’m just a little more aware of the implications when I do it. The trouble today? Looming empty-nest syndrome brought on by my daughter’s impending graduation.

My daughter and I are extremely close and I’m profoundly proud of her. I knew one day she would grow and flee the nest, but even now it’s surreal to me. We’ll get through it and I’ll be strong. I owe her that. She’s going off to college to pursue her dreams and I can only imagine how frightening it is for her to move away.

That’s where I draw my strength. Being strong and reassuring will help her when she’s feeling homesick. I say this because I know there are other mothers out there who are feeling just as crushed as I feel. I’m also a single mom of an only child, so I deeply understand the secret desire to hold on. Don’t. Let them fly and be proud. If you’re struggling, find support with other moms (in fact, feel free to contact me and let’s start a support group together!).

Having stated that, I want to take a moment to share some parenting pearls that have worked wonders for me these past 18 years. These pearls haven’t always been supported by my colleagues, but I felt convicted about how I was raising my daughter and followed my heart and instincts. Seeing her success and emotional maturity today confirms my choices.

1.             Love your child unconditionally.

Some professionals have suggested that I have loved/love my daughter too much. NEVER. I believe you can NEVER love your child ENOUGH. It is not enmeshment; it is a parental duty to put your child above and beyond everything else. Choices and decisions you make should be carefully weighed against their impact on your children.

Sidney Poitier brilliantly describes such sentiment in a scene from the 1967 drama, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” when his father complains about the sacrifices he made for him and Poitier’s character retorts that it was his job as a father to work so hard for his kids and family.

2.             Kids are spoiled by things, not your love.

Children become demanding when things (toys, money, monster-sized lonely houses, overstuffed playrooms, etc.) are thrown at them in place of the love and nurturing they need. Happy Meals have taught kids that they need to be entertained and given toys with each meal. You can teach them the opposite.

A trick I tried that seemed effective was when visiting a fast food restaurant (only on rare occasions did we go to such places), I’d share a burger with my daughter. No Happy Meal with toys and games. We’d get one burger and enjoy it under a tree at some park. She’d learn to share, spend quality time with me, and to not expect some flimsy toy with each meal. To this day, she still raves about our memories of getting a “big, juicy burger.” 

We also have formal dinners every night (most nights) and cook together. Lighting a candle at dinner makes it extra special. Such routines inspire joy, gratitude and reverence for life’s gifts.

3.             Consistency is critical when raising children.

Kids will naturally manipulate if they experience inconsistency. However, what most people don’t realize is that children actually feel insecure when rules are slippery. Therefore, reinforcing and being consistent with your rules helps to make your children feel safe and secure. They might still test your rules to see what they can get away with, but that’s just to know that they can count on you and a safe world.

Similarly, they need your yeses to be consistent too. Love and praise them and don’t back off of the good things you’ve promised them. Don’t say you’ll go to their game and not show up. Don’t promise to take them to the movies and then not go. Doing so shows slippery rules and you’ll teach them to be just as slippery and noncompliant (along with feeling heartbroken).

4.             TRUST your kids - even your teens.

If you’ve raised your children in a manner of loving consistency and not spoiling them, you’ve raised emotionally mature kids. As teens, you need to listen to their feelings and create empathy. Sure, they’ll go through emotional up and downs. Who doesn’t when one’s body is rapidly changing and hormones are fluctuating beyond belief? Love, support and listen to them.

If you distrust everything they say and set up a power struggle, you are sure to have a rough ride. Too many parents expect the worst and also expect their kids to be perfect. They see emotional reactivity as noncompliance when most of the time, kids really just need a hug and some reassurance to get through the changing chaos of their growth. My daughter’s and my conflicts have just melted away when we stop, hug each other, and mutually share what we’re really experiencing. After all, trust is a two-way street and empathy is the only bridge to peace and healing.

Writing this has been therapeutic for me as it allows me to look back on my daughter’s life, smiling and remembering all of it. Like eating the chocolate cake this morning, I haven’t been a perfect parent. I’ve been inconsistent at times and have definitely engaged in some battles of will. Overall, however, it’s been absolutely amazing. My daughter is the joy of my life and I know I did right by making decisions around her best wellbeing. She’s given back 1,000-fold too.

My best presents, my best memories, and my best accomplishments have been with and because her. Some might argue it’s enmeshment and I disagree.  It’s parenthood - the most important job I, and you, will ever have. My daughter is strong, loving, compassionate, communicative, mature, independent, and confident. She is also quite talented and creative. She needed love to feel safe. She needed trust to trust her own internal guidance. She needed freedom to learn independence. She needed consistency to learn self-discipline. She needed gratitude to grow spiritually and fuel her creative gifts. She is ready to flee the nest and achieve her dreams. So am I—with a deep breath, a broad smile, unshakable support, gigantic applause, and maybe a couple extra pounds.


What You Can Do to End School Violence

The recent shooting and killing of 15 people by a teenager in Germany this week brought back haunting memories of the infamous gun shootings at school campuses here in the U.S. Like so many who were alive to experience President Kennedyʼs assassination or the horrifying terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, I have vivid recollections of my exact whereabouts when I learned about the shocking school shootings at Columbine, San Diego, and Virginia Tech to name a few of the bigger ones. Living in Austin, I also shudder at the recollections of the 1966 shooting from the University of Texasʼ tower. Then I read a National Crime Survey that reported a whopping three million crimes occur at or near school campuses in the U.S. every year. Two million of these crimes involve violence.
 
What can be done?
 
I believe the answer is three-part - It includes biology, family and community.
 
It has been reported that many of the assailants suffered from some sort of mental health issue. For instance, the teenager in Germany was said to have been treated for depression. While some mental health issue may exist, I want to make note that there is danger in blaming biology as the primary cause for violence. First, it can falsely imply that people who are being treated for a mental health issues like depression or schizophrenia are violent. That is generally not the case in these specific conditions. There are other mental health diagnoses that reveal more anger and violent tendencies, but those werenʼt reported in the media. The key is to get an accurate assessment and proper treatment. Having stated that, while an underlying genetic predisposition can exist, such conditions flourish in certain environments - which brings me to family and community (and what you and I can do).
 
As parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, we are all modeling behavior in front of children. Children thrive when we listen to their feelings and when we praise them for what they are doing right. One bad apple spoils the barrel and many adults are guilty of heaping a barrel of bad apples onto kids. Try to put your noʼs in check and treat children like you want to be treated. Respect their feelings, their boundaries and try showing more empathy. Be sure to do this with the rest of the family as well because kids will imitate your behavior. Parents that fight, ignore, belittle, and/or treat each other with anything less than love and respect are basically telling kids to treat people the same way (remember - action speaks louder than words).
 
The reality is we could all do a much better job. When I see rising divorce rates (50% for 1st marriages, 64% for 2nd marriages, and 73% for third or more marriages) along with ugly custody battles and endless blame-gaming between parents, I canʼt help but wonder about the connection to this alarming research finding among high school boys - many boys thought it was okay to hit their girlfriend if she angered him.
 
Have we just stopped teaching our children about the basics of life? Do we send them off to school, buy them toys and gadgets, plop them in front of televisions and computers, and ignore their basic needs of love and affection? Have we stopped playing and sent them into competitive sports instead? Do we hound them about grades and getting ahead? Have we forgotten the simple pleasures and larger priorities?
 
We set the priorities at the family and community level. Right now we are undergoing economic turmoil. People have lost jobs, retirement, and savings. Thereʼs a shuffle to figure out what to do. This is an opportunity to readjust our values and priorities. If you are a parent that has been living in the rat race, stop now. Look at your kids. Find a way to focus on their basic needs first. I guarantee that your time and love is far greater that any toy or material item that you could buy them. Perhaps losing a rat race job could be the biggest blessing to rediscovering a real life with your family and finding work that matters. Maybe if you do this, there will be less angst in the world and more peace and love in our childrenʼs schools.

Motivation

363834a_b~Freshly-Hatched-Baby-Chick-with-Broken-Egg-Posters Family psychotherapists have long known that a person will underfunction if the other person overfunctions. The same holds true in business. To illustrate, did you know you would kill a baby chick if you helped it crack its shell while it was trying to break free? The baby chick needs the muscle development from cracking its shell to survive and thrive in the world. Life experience and failures create that same thriving muscle in humans. Kids need to be able to fall in order to learn. Employees need to be free to fail in order to succeed. Simply put, failure leads to success.
If you’re experiencing a little failure right now, take comfort that goodness can come out of it. Hang in there and keep cracking that shell because there’s an exciting world on the other side.
If you’re watching someone failing and feeling a little anxious because you want to help them out of their struggle, find strength in knowing they might just be developing some great success muscles without your intervention. However, you can offer them your support, caring and then cheer them on when they succeed.

Benefits of "Back to School" Buzz

School bus 2 What is it about going back to school that creates so much excitement in the air? Is it the new school supplies? New clothes? New school year? New teachers? New classes? New opportunity to start over, make new friends, learn new things, and improve one’s grade point average? Or is that everything is simply NEW?
If you feel like you’ve been in a rut, take a lesson from the students and make a NEW start in your life. Every day is an opportunity to start over. Look for the new and feel the excitement that life is truly pregnant with opportunity and hidden surprises. Take a new route to work. Try something different on the menu from your lunch spot. Smile and say hello to a stranger. Look around and take note of the changes and let them inspire adaptations in your own soul.
If you feel like you’re suffering from too much change, seek the comfort from tradition. Think of favorite routines from the past and rekindle them. Or start new traditions. Monday morning breakfast treats. Tuesday after work walks. Wednesday afternoon tea break. Thursday massage. The key is to partake in fun little rituals that can provide comfort, routine and provide you with a sense of security because you can count of their return.
Of course, you know my preference for the BOTH-AND in life if you’re a long-time blog reader. The best formula we can learn from that “Back to School” buzz involves BOTH cultivating new activities and discoveries in life AND obtaining comfort from the rich recurring rituals that feed our soul.

Children from Mobile Families Have an Edge

I grew up a military brat, so I'm always interested in research that discusses the impact on children from frequent mobility or "rootlessness". Most of it tends to be quite positive. I also conducted a number of studies in school that revealed strong resilience factors in children of mobile families. These results echoed research conducted back in 1972 by Phillip Mann that showed college students from mobile families actually displayed more cognitive complexity, flexibility, autonomy AND less anxiety. So, for all of you parents out there that are worried that a move might disrupt your children's lives and scar them forever, please consider the benefits. They just might thrive and discover internal adaptive strengths (resilience) they might not otherwise have developed.


Emotional Closeness Key to Raising Daughters

Another study reveals differences exist in men and women. This one, published in The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, looks at family factors that contribute to social self-esteem in young college women. Kelly Gorbett and Theresa Kruczek from Ball State University examined several influencers (family adaptability, amount of time left in care of others, birth order, siblings, gender, and family cohesion) and discovered that family cohesion and healthy sibling relationships fostered later social self-esteem--a critical component of mental health and achievement.

What's interesting about this research is that it pokes a hole in the theory that cautions families against enmeshment, or being too close. Instead, this research finds that the close bond with daughters actually helps the daughters even more. Perhaps part of it is due to the fact that women's oxytocin levels increase (the bonding hormone) when they share secrets and are close. In contrast, men's oxytocin levels increases after sex--which may explain why men tend to run when women talk about problems. Women are seeking to bond and men may not understand that. Nonetheless, with a little patience and understanding men can increase their oxytocin levels by engaging in supportive and nurturing communication with their female loved ones. Men can also help by supporting and encouraging that close talk among the women in their lives. Women, take this as reassurance that all of that sharing and closeness that feels good with your daughters really is good for them.


The #1 Relationship Tool

Dale Carnegie was brilliant. In 1935, he published the international best-seller, “How to Win Friends & Influence People.” The book is filled with golden nuggets about how to connect with others. He emphasizes that people must be “sincere”, “genuine”, engage in “honest appreciation”, “show respect” and “Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.” He is essentially teaching empathy to people, but appeals to their egos with a punchy title that sells power. Would it have been as successful if it were titled, “How to Listen & Care About People”?

Perhaps Carnegie’s title was so successful because it addresses a human fundamental need—to be understood. If a person can “win” a friend, then that friend might understand them. The chances increase exponentially if the friend can be influenced to understand. But, sly Carnegie demonstrates that it is first in understanding the other person that you get the opportunity to be understood. Simply put, people listen better when they feel heard. Moreover, people connect better when they feel felt.

Feeling felt is a deeper form of communication. UCLA Medical Doctor Daniel Siegel refers to it as collaborative communication in his book, “The Developing Mind.” It occurs when people experience momentary states of alignment. This critical form of preverbal communication is formed in infancy when the infant and caregiver are attuned to each other’s feelings and needs. Siegel points out that adult’s verbal communication can “feel quite empty if it is devoid of the more primary aspects of each person’s internal states.”

Including primary aspects of your internal state means you must listen AND feel the other person. But how? Start by suspending yourself for a moment. Empty the mind and listen to the other person, but also try to intuitively feel what they are feeling. Part of your brain will be working to understand their perspective based on your mutual experience with each other. You might also take their age, gender, culture, current stress level, emotional state, and environment into consideration. To connect internally, allow your heart and gut to simultaneously sense what the other person is experiencing. Connecting at this deeper level allows you to empathize.

Remember these are only momentary states of alignment. The other person should take part in doing the same for you. You will also need to take a proper amount of space to allow for self-care and regeneration. But, finding those states of alignment should allow for deeper connection and the greatest feeling ever—being truly understood and felt. It can be excellent for calming someone down, connecting with a loved one, responding to your child, improving morale at work, and increasing your sales. Can ya feel me now?


Essential Parenting Advice: What Your Child Needs You to Know

Whether you're going through a high-conflict divorce; raising your child(ren) as a single parent; adopting a child; parenting as a step-parent; parenting after a relocation; (all of these previous examples indicate added stressors) or parenting in the most secure and healthy situation, here is critical information that EVERY parent must know. Please share this with a parent that you know if you don't have children. They'll appreciate it.

"A Memorandum from a Child"

Don't spoil me.
I know quite well that I ought not to have all that I ask for. I am only testing you.

Don't be afraid to be firm with me.
I prefer it. It let's me know where I stand.

Don't be inconsistent.
That confuses me and makes me try harder to get away with everything I can.

Don't make promises; you may not be able to keep them.
That will discourage my trust in you.

Don't fall for my provocations when I say "I hate you."
I don't mean it, but I want you to feel sorry for what you have done to me.

Don't make me feel smaller than I am.
I will make up for it by behaving like a "big shot".

Don't do things for me that I can do myself.
It makes me feel like a baby, and I may continue to put you in my service.

Don't let my "bad habits" get me a lot of your attention.
It only encourages me to continue them.

Don't correct me in front of people.
I'll take much more notice if you talk quietly with me in private.

Don't try to discuss my behavior in the heat of conflict.
For some reason my hearing is not very good at this time and my cooperation is even worse. It is all right to take action required, but let's not talk about it until later.

Don't try to preach to me.
You'd be surprised how well I know what's right and wrong.

Don't make me feel that my mistakes are sins.
I have to learn to make mistakes without feeling that I am no good.

Don't nag.
If you do, I shall have to protect myself by appearing deaf.

Don't demand explanations for my wrong behavior.
Sometimes I really don't know why I did it.

Don't tax my honesty too much.
I am easily frightened into telling lies.

Don't forget that I love to experiment.
I learn from it, so please put up with it.

Don't protect me from consequences.
I need to learn from experience.

Don't take too much notice of my small ailments.
I may learn to enjoy poor health if it gets me extra attention.

Don't answer "silly" or meaningless questions.
I just want you to keep busy with me.

Don't put me off when I ask HONEST questions.
If you do, you will find that I stop asking and seek my information elsewhere.

Don't ever think that it is beneath your dignity to apologize to me.
An honest apology makes me feel surprisingly warm toward you.

Don't ever suggest that you are perfect or infallible.
It gives me too much to live up to.

Don't worry about the little amount of time we spend together.
It is how we spend it that counts.

Don't let my fears arouse your anxiety.
Then I will become more afraid. Show me courage.

Don't forget that I can't thrive without lots of understanding and encouragement,
but complimentary approval when honestly earned is sometimes forgotten when it seems like a scolding never is.

Treat me the way you treat friends, then I will be your friend too.
Remember, I learn more from a model than a critic.

(adapted from Dr. Glasser's Schools without Failure)

I'll add these for children of divorce...

Don't insult my other parent.
It makes me feel unsafe and fear that you don't like me because I am half of them.

Don't make me choose between you and my other parent.
It tears me up inside and makes me feel like I'm in a war that I cannot win. I'm here because of both you. Choosing may force me to lie and manipulate in order to survive.

Take extra care of me through change.
I thrive with consistency. Disruptions and continued change cause harm to me, making it difficult for me to thrive and grow.

Please remember all the changes I am going through and take care of me without expecting me to take care of you.
I am constantly growing and having body aches. My brain is on overdrive as I learn at school and in everyday activities. These changes are happening so rapidly that I can get exhausted, leaving me little energy or know-how to parent you, so please parent me.

Don't fight and battle with my other parent.
Nonstop battles scare me and lead me to regress, get depressed, withdrawal or act, out and give me lasting wounds that are similar to a soldier at battle...especially because I'm not grown up enough to understand it or take care of myself through it. I need both of you to focus on me, not your resentments toward each other.


The #1 Reason Relationships Succeed

The hidden secret to building a good relationship with anyone (children, co-workers and loved ones) is listening. Hence the expression: "You're made with two ears and one mouth for a reason." However, in our fast-paced, technology-supported lives, real listening has become a lost art. It also explains why so many people feel hurt and defensive. People don’t feel heard and understood which can cause even simple communication to disrupt into a full-blown battle...or prolonged silence. We are all guilty of poor listening skills from time to time--interrupting, assuming what someone really means, or zoning out altogether when someone else is speaking--but we can do something about it and improve our relations with people. The key is to make a genuine connection with someone and really focus on what the other person is saying. Notice their facial expressions and listen for their feelings. You’re less apt to interrupt or think about your own response when you’re completely focused on what they’re saying and how they’re feeling. Doing this is called focused listening. I like to think of it as listening with both of your ears and your heart...which might explain why "ear" is in heart.


Commenting on Family Policy Needs

We seem to have forgotten about the importance of childhood, play, and each other's feelings in our fast-paced, goal-oriented society and, unfortunately, it's had serious consequences. Divorce rates, crime rates, mental health diagnoses, and more can be directly tied to this mentality. As an example, an enormous amount of research has come out in the past two decades that explains the impact childcare has on an infant's nervous system and emotional regulation (which translates into behavioral patterns later in life--think crime and depression). Thus, focusing on INFANT care and promoting LONGER maternity AND paternity leave, improved childcare education, and helping to reestablish the family/childhood as a priority is key.


When Sacrificing for Career & Children Hurts

When reading the news, I can always count on seeing a story that revisits some enduring debate. What diet is truly healthy? How much television is okay for children? Should Mom or Dad quit their jobs and stay home to raise the kids? The latest instigator to the last question is Leslie Bennetts, author of "The Feminine Mistake."

Bennetts asserts that leaving your job (regardless of gender) may hurt your career in the long run...and thus your family. One of the increasingly common scenarios she points to is when a middle-aged stay-at-home woman (or man) finds herself (or himself) divorced and suffering from decreased income potential that tends to result from a career hiatus taken to raise the kids.

What's interesting (and less discussed) is the parallel situation when a man (or woman) has dedicated his/her career to a company (sacrificing time with family, taking on health risks from chronic stress, making necessary moves for the job, etc.) and then gets laid off. A similar shock-grief-identity crisis takes place that can also impact income potential.

The reality is that men and women in both scenarios are dealing with valid dependency and identity issues that are made worse by their sacrifices. The real solution is getting congruent with one's values, having a sense of self that's outside of marriage, career and parenthood, and then making an investment of time and energy in each aspect of one's life--self, family, career, community...and spirit. My personal view is that it's a human mistake when any of these areas in our lives are sacrificed. We are role models for our children and what are we ultimately teaching them when we perpetuate the work OR family myth? It's about both work AND family (with self in tact). Perhaps more workplaces would provide better flex time if we, as a culture, embraced a commitment to work AND family AND self and stopped expecting the old paradigm of one breadwinner and one caretaker.


Finding Meaning through Erikson's Life Stages

The meaning of life is a giant topic--one that has preoccupied theologians, philosophers, scholars, and humankind throughout time. All kinds of theories have been posited, but have you ever noticed that your own personal viewpoint has changed over the years? For instance, your 5 year-old self might have said that the meaning of life is about learning the alphabet in order to have recess while your 19 year-old self may have suggested that meaning is about finding love. Whatever the answers, it does seem to change over one's lifetime. That's why Erik H. Erickson was pretty brilliant when he suggested in the late 1950's that people experience specific "psychosocial stages" during their life. Some of these stages borrow (but slightly differ) from Sigmund Freud, while others are added to address all of one's living years. Many lifestage theories have come about since Erikson, but you'll find strong similarities. This post is dedicated to Erikson and remembers his original stages. Take a look at them and think about how they match up to your life experiences.

0-18 months
Trust vs. Mistrust

Does infant have enough loving and nurturing to develop a sense of trust or does infant become distrustful when not consistently nurtured or heard? According to John Bowlby's Attachment Theory, this is where a secure, avoidant or anxious attachment comes into play.

18 months-2 or 3 years
Autonomy vs. Shame or Doubt

This is where the child begins to recognize their independence. A parent's reaction to this stage can create feelings of autonomy and self-esteem or, it is suggested, that an over-bearing and punishing parent can make child feel doubt, shame and lead to lower self-esteem throughout life.

2 or 3-6 years
Initiative vs. Guilt

This is an extension of the previous stage where a child recognizes independence and takes initiative through individual acts. Child begins to develop a sense of responsibility over their own actions. Again, it is suggested that a parent's reaction will result in a child feeling guilty about this expression of independence or validated to take initiative.

6-11 years
Industry vs. Inferiority

Typically, a child at age 4 will begin to play with (interactively) other children. Similarly this stage involves a child developing a sense of self-worth via interactions with peers. In addition, teachers and the educational environment play a critical role in helping the child to feel encouraged and industrious or insecure and inferior.

11 years-teen years
Identity vs. Identity Diffusion

Not surprisingly, this is the most well-known stage of identity development. The teenager develops an identity by literally trying out different "selves" and finding one that fits. Peers, role models and social pressure play a part in this developmental stage.

Late Teen-Early Adulthood
Intimacy vs. Isolation

The preoccupation with this stage is developing close relationships and achieving intimacy. Think marriage, partnership, family, religious commitment, career achievement...and fear of being isolated and not obtaining goals.

Middle Adulthood
Generativity vs. Self-Absorbtion

Assuming intimacy has been achieved, generativity now takes hold. How can one give back to their community and feel their contributions are worthwhile? The other side of the struggle is that one does not give back and remains self-absorbed.

Late Adulthood-End of Life
Integrity vs. Despair

This last stage is about looking back at one's life, facing death and overcoming despair. Integrity is about integrating the experiences of one's life and finding a sense of satisfaction and meaning.



In Honor of Fathers on Father's Day

I am a mother, so I confess that I'm a little biased about the importance of a mother in a child's life. ;) Nonetheless, fathers play a critical role as well...

For instance, did you know that a father's raucous horseplay with children has a powerful influence on child development? It teaches a child to regulate emotions as they learn to cue in to another's emotional state and when/how to calm down after intense experiences. Of course, there is a healthy and unhealthy way of fathering. A healthy father is in in tune with their child's emotions and limits. A healthy father is also aware of the details in a child's life, such as knowing their friend's names, favorite hobby or toy, etc., which in turn helps him to offer better emotional support and guidance. Here are some other examples from John Gottman, et al's "Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child."

Effects of a healthy father in a boy's life:

> Boys develop better social skills and peer relationships

> Boys are better able to find balance between masculine assertiveness & self-restraint


Effects of a healthy father in a girl's life:

> Girls will less likely become sexually promiscuous at a younger age

> Girls will more likely develop healthy relationships with men as adults


What kids develop from a healthy fathers' presence in their lives:

> Increased empathy and compassion

> Better social relationships

> Longer, happier marriages

> Having their own kids

> Engaging in healthy recreational activities with nonfamily members

> Better academic success

> Better career satisfaction


Children & War

Memorial Day, the day to remember those who have lost their lives in military service, touches every person--especially in a war that seems senseless to so many. Perhaps no where is the loss of a cherished life more felt than by the child of war. This post is dedicated to the children (worldwide) that are victims of war.

Did you know?
• About 700,000 children in the U.S. have at least one parent deployed overseas for military duty (APA Task Force, 2007)
• More than 2,733 of U.S. children have lost a parent in the Gulf War (APA Task Froce, 2007)
• Families have one year to move off the base when the military member is killed, resulting in children losing their home, military resources, and sometimes school and friends (APA Task Force, 2007)
• Internationally, 250,000 children have been placed in militia, rebel forces and other armed groups (UN Report)
• There are about 13.5 million refugee children and 15 million internationally displaced children—many are unaccompanied as they’ve lost their families (UN Report)


Talking to Children about School Shootings

The Virginia Tech shooting is devastating. As such, it will fill the air waves this week. Reports of prior shootings will also be discussed and our fear will be heightened. It’s important to remember that these stories are even more alarming and frightening for our children, so here are some tips from the American Psychological Association (APA) on talking to your children about school shooting tragedies.

Talking to your children about the recent spate of school shootings

Few events hit home for children and families like a school shooting. When children see such an event on television or on Web-based news flashes, it is natural for them to worry about their own school and their own safety, particularly if the violence occurred nearby or in a neighboring city or state.

Talk to your children
Psychologists who work in the area of trauma and recovery advise parents to use the troubling news of school shootings as an opportunity to talk and listen to their children. It is important, say these psychologists, to be honest. Parents should acknowledge to children that bad things do happen, but also reassure them with the information that many people are working to keep them safe, including their parents, teachers, and local police.

Young children may communicate their fears through play or drawings. Elementary school children will use a combination of play and talking to express themselves. Adolescents are more likely to have the skills to communicate their feelings and fears verbally. Adults should be attentive to a child's concerns, but also try to help the children put their fears into proportion to the real risk. Again, it is important to reassure children that the adults in their lives are doing everything they can to make their environment—school, home, and neighborhood—safe for them.

Parents, teachers, and school administrators also need to communicate with one another not only about how to keep kids safe, but about which children might need more reassurance and the best way to give it to them.

Limit exposure to news coverage
Parents should also monitor how much exposure a child has to news reports of traumatic events, including these recent school shootings. Research has shown that some young children believe that the events are reoccurring each time they see a television replay of the news footage.

Know the warning signs
Most children are quite resilient and will return to their normal activities and personality relatively quickly, but parents should be alert to any signs of anxiety that might suggest that a child or teenager might need more assistance. Such indicators could be a change in the child's school performance, changes in relationships with peers and teachers, excessive worry, school refusal, sleeplessness, nightmares, headaches or stomachaches, or loss of interest in activities that the child used to enjoy. Also remember that every child will respond to trauma differently. Some will have no ill effects; others may suffer an immediate and acute effect. Still others may not show signs of stress until sometime after the event.