“You should really make sure your kid is wearing a hat, it’s windy out there…”
“You and (your partner) really should start having a family soon or it may be too late.”
“I can’t believe you bought a new car, don’t you know that used cars are a much better deal?”
“That’s why you shouldn’t bring tired kids to the grocery store. They should be in bed.”
“You seem stressed, maybe you need a massage. Here is a card for a guy who is really great.”
Isn’t it frustrating when an in-law, a stranger at the grocery store, or even your partner offers you advice on how to handle a problem that you felt you: a) had under control b) wanted to handle by yourself, or c) didn’t think was a problem at all?
Unsolicited advice can be particularly challenging when the advice-giver is someone you know and will have to encounter again—you worry your response could be taken the wrong way, that they’ll judge your character, or talk behind your back if they disapprove.
Maybe the advice came after you began to vent about a challenging situation in your life and you just wanted someone to listen. Or, perhaps you weren’t even discussing a problem and someone felt the need to chime in with their observation and two cents about what you should do. You’re feeling annoyed and irritated and your gut reaction may be to tell the person how unhelpful they are and that you have it all under control. This certainly won’t help you achieve a more favorable opinion from the advice-giver. Another common response is to engage in the conversation by explaining why you handled the situation in the way that you did, and before you know it, you’re defending yourself, giving more negative energy to a situation that is not going to be helpful to you.
What can you do to respond in a way that is both assertive and respectful? Here are a few ideas:
While I am not one for promoting movies, I have to tell you that I watched Inside Out at the theater over the weekend and was pleased to see a movie free of violence that introduces children to the important role that emotions play in our lives. Those of you who watched understand that the movie goes beyond an introduction to primary emotions and illustrates the influence of thoughts, experiences, and emotions on behavior. Children and teens often have the belief that only positive emotions are acceptable, when all emotions play an important role in shaping experiences and getting our needs met. As with most media content, I suggest you help your children process what they are seeing. If you watched this movie with your children, I encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to connect with your kids and discuss their perception.
Here a few discussion questions you could use with your children after viewing the movie:
Those of you who are parents can all think of many times your children really pushed your buttons. You set rules, you do your best to enforce them, and work hard to instill good values and morals. Yet, your kids still reliably find ways to break the rules. Why is this happening?
I believe that all behavior has a function or purpose. It can be helpful for parents to pause and reflect on why their child may be breaking the rules. There are different reasons why kids break the rules. Here are some of the reasons I see most often:
Children are still developing and often do not know what they should/shouldn’t be doing. Children’s cognitive, moral and social-emotional development occurs well into adolescence. Children need to be taught. They learn from your direct lessons and they learn from what is modeled for them. If the house rule is “No shouting” please do your best to model this. If you tell your children to “Use their words” they will need your help to describe their experiences and feelings. You can teach this by helping your child narrate their experience and giving them feeling words to help describe what they are experiencing. For example, “You’re sad because Johnny took the toy that you wanted to play with. I wonder if we can talk with Johnny about that,” instead of “Why are you crying? If you can’t play nicely then you’ll have to go to your room.” Try to catch the teachable opportunities.
Kids act out when they are feeling unsafe and when things are unpredictable.
Children thrive when they have a sense of predictability and structure. They feel safe when they know what is going to happen and what is expected of them. Consistent routines and rules/limits set by you help them know that an adult is in charge and is there to keep them safe and well. Establish a household routine, especially if you have young children. Do your best to maintain this routine and discuss changes to the routine (such as on weekends or school breaks) with your children so they know what to anticipate. Have consistent, clear rules and consequences for misbehavior. Children are figuring out what is expected of them and will naturally test limits and boundaries. They will be more likely to push your limits if your response often varies, or if you and your co-parent are not on the same page.
They want your attention.
This one is simple to understand, and yet it can be challenging to implement with all of the demands parents are trying to balance. You can all probably recall a time when your child misbehaved in an attempt to get your attention. This doesn’t make your child a “bad” kid. Your children want quality time with you. They want you to get down on the floor and play with them. When your children are feeling connected and engaged with you, they are much less likely to demonstrate behavioral problems. Challenge yourself to spend 5-10 minutes per day giving your children undivided attention. Put the cell phone down, turn the TV off, ask your partner to respond to the other children, and take a break from household chores. Focus entirely on your child for this short amount of time. Allow your child to direct your play together while you join his/her experience and follow their lead. Some great ideas for this type of play include: art work, Legos, block building, doll house play, dress up, imaginary play, and getting outside together.
Children want your positive attention. In addition to offering more quality time with your child, remember to praise their positive behaviors. Children will be more motivated to repeat behaviors that result in praise or positive reinforcement from adults.
Your partner shows love for you by cooking dinner on weeknights, while all you want is for him/her to tell you that you’re such a great parent. You buy your partner flowers, when he/she would rather spend an afternoon with you. Most of us don’t spend time thinking about how we all have different preferences for how we receive signs of love and affection from those we care about most.
Gary Chapman identified 5 Love Languages and argues that we all have a preference for how we would like our significant others to show their love for us. Not only can you learn how you prefer your partner to show signs of affection, you can also consider how to best show your love for them. Having increased understanding about preferences for both you and your partner sets you on a path for increased connection in your relationship.
Here are the 5 Love Languages, according to Gary Chapman:
Words of Affirmation: words of support, encouragement (e.g. “You’re such a strong person, you mean the world to me”)
Acts of Service: helping your partner out by doing things for them (e.g. changing the oil in your partner’s car, running an extra errand for your partner)
Receiving Gifts: purchasing something special for your partner (e.g. flowers, a new shirt)
Quality Time: spending meaningful time with your partner connecting and doing enjoyable activities (e.g. date nights, cooking a meal together)
Physical Touch: physical contact with each other (e.g. holding hands, hugging, kissing, back rubs, sex)
Which best describes you? Your partner? If you’re not sure, read the book, or complete the quiz on their website: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/couples/. Then, sit down and have a conversation with your partner about both of your preferences and how you can best show your love for that special person in your life.
Why So Many Teens Tell Me They Can’t Talk to Their Parents-- How You Can Improve Communication with Your Teen
I often have parents come into my office and say, “My teen won’t talk to me.” I meet with the parent(s) and they discuss their concern about their child not opening up to them. They talk about the teen’s tendency to withdraw, and they wonder what is going on. I later meet with the teen alone and the teen says something like, “I can’t talk with my parents…they just don’t understand me.” This can be a frightening experience for parents. Their child hits adolescence and suddenly (or so it seems) they feel distant from their child.
Adolescence is such an exciting time. Teens are figuring out who they are, forming their own opinions, using critical thinking skills, and exploring new relationships. While allowing for increased independence during adolescence is important, parents should continue to play an active role in the lives of their teens throughout the adolescent years. Parental monitoring is essential for supporting teens with making safe choices, reducing risky behavior, and providing guidance and support that teens will need as they begin to prepare for adulthood. Parents who are good listeners are going to be able to connect with their teens most effectively. Teens who feel connected to their parents are more likely to go to their parents when they really need help and support (e.g. teens will follow through with calling Mom or Dad if they drink at a party and need a safe ride). Listening well to your teen’s perspective before analyzing or offering advice will promote good connection and will allow your teen to be more receptive to your coaching and guidance.
With the best of intentions, many parents are quick to give advice, judge, interrupt with their own thoughts, and lecture their teens instead of truly listening and trying to understand their perspective. When this happens, teens do not continue to talk and explain their point of view. Rather, they shut down and think to themselves “They just don’t get it.” For example, your teenage daughter comes home from school in tears, and through the tears she manages to tell you that she had a fight with her best friend after the friend told a popular boy that she had a crush on him in front of five other people. Your daughter tells you they’ll never be friends again, she now hates her friend and she will never be able to walk past this boy in the hallway at school again because she was humiliated. She also said she wants to quit the track team because she thinks the coach is out to get her.
Oh my. Sound dramatic? Maybe so, and you probably know that your daughter and this girl will be best friends again by the end of the week, that she is one of the better athletes on the track team, and all your child needs to do is take a deep breath (see previous post) and view tomorrow as a new day. You are probably right. However, in the moment, your daughter is not going to listen if you tell her that this will all blow over, she will make up with her best friend soon, she always makes a big deal out of nothing, and she is definitely not quitting the track team. In fact, she’ll probably become more upset and think that you just don’t understand how awful things were for her today.
Instead, your teen wants to know that you get how hurt and upset they are. Think about how your teen’s reaction would be different if you responded with, “Oh wow, Sweetie, that is really tough. You are embarrassed that your friend said that. What happened next?” They are going to keep talking, giving you more information about their day, and they will walk away from the conversation thinking that you are supportive.
Here are some tips for good communication with your children:
Side note: This works for communication with your partner too!
I often hear people complaining about difficulty with sleep or still feeling tired when they wake in the morning. While a number of factors can contribute to sleeplessness (e.g. stress, trauma, depression, and shift work, to name a few), one thing you may not have considered is the impact that your screen time has on the quality of your sleep. Hopefully you’re not reading this blog in bed right before you try to sleep! Most of us are guilty of reading one last email, checking social media, texting, or even playing computer/video games in the hour leading up to bed. So, what’s the big deal?
Recent research suggests the use of screens 1 hour before bed is associated with taking longer to fall asleep, decreased melatonin secretion, having less REM sleep, and feeling more sleepy the next morning (Chang, Aeschbach, Duffy, & Czeisler, 2015). Further, another study suggests the use of multiple devices and interactive or stimulating technology use before bed intensifies difficulty with falling asleep. This is concerning since 90 percent of us are using technology within 60 minutes of going to sleep (Gradisar, et al., 2013).
Since we know sleep affects our mood, productivity, and is essential for our health, consider changing your media use before bed.
Here are some ways you can make changes:
See the citations below to read the studies yourself.
Chang, A.M., Aeschbach, D., Duffy, J.F., Czeisler, C.A. (2015). Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness. PNAS, 112(4). Retrieved from http://www.pnas.org/content/112/4/1232.abstract
Gradisar, M., Wolfson, A.R., Harvey, A.G., Hale, L., Rosenberg, R., Czeisler, C.A. (2013). The sleep and technology use of Americans: Findings from the National Sleep Foundation’s 2011 Sleep in America Poll. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 9 (12). Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24340291
We’ve all heard it. That advice you don’t always want to hear when you’re stressed out, panicking, tense, angry, and worked up. Someone nearby tells you to “Take a breath.”
Relationship between Stress and Breathing
There is a good reason for this old and common piece of advice. When we become stressed, we begin to take shorter, faster breaths, and this intensifies our stress and anxiety. When we experience anxiety, stress, trauma, or panic, we shift in to a reactive and protective fight or flight survival response. The simple act of deep, controlled breathing allows our breath to move beyond our chest and into our diaphragm to bring in more oxygen to waken the parasympathetic nervous system to calm the body. Some of the many benefits of deep breathing include lowered heart rates and blood pressure. Relaxation allows for clear thinking and buys time to use logic and reason for responding thoughtfully to the stressful situation at hand rather than reacting based on emotion. People who practice deep breathing regularly will find that they are able to manage day-to-day stress more effectively.
I suggest practicing first thing when you wake in the morning to start your day off right, and practicing again at the end of the day to relax before sleep.
So how can you practice deep breathing?
Generally, it is recommended to practice deep breathing by inhaling through your nose and slowly exhaling through your mouth. See if your exhale can last longer than your inhale. You might try counting as you practice this technique. One technique I often teach people (both children and adults) is the 4-7-8 breath. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and exhale for the count of 8. Repeat. It may take some practice before you are able to exhale for 8 full seconds, and that’s okay!
More creative strategies for kids:
Practice blowing bubbles
Teach your child to pretend they are blowing out candles
Have your child lie down and place an object on their belly button, such as a beloved stuffed animal. Ask them to watch the object move up and down with each breath.
Sara Kind-Michels, MS, LPC, LMFT
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