Our Future: The Strong-Willed Kid

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“I like my pants dirty.”
“I don’t care what you like, you aren’t going to wear grass-stained pants to dinner!”
“It isn’t grass, it’s marker!”
“I don’t care what it is! Change your pants!”
“No. I’m not hungry anyways.”

Ah, strong-willed kids.

If you have, or have been around, a strong-willed kid then you know exactly what I am talking about. The next few posts will be geared towards parenting these talented children. These kids are our most promising leaders. They are my absolute favorite group to work with.

For those of you who have never heard this term – a strong-willed kid is a child that refuses to be told what to do, demands to be heard and embraces debating. They can be exhausting to parent, because they can, and will, argue every step of the way. I mean

every

step

of

the

way.

I don’t think I can empathize enough their uncanny ability to debate. They know exactly how to pull adults in to their devious arguments, and oh that laugh they do when you show them your frustration. That laugh is priceless. Or maybe it’s just a smile, a glint in their eyes they get when they know they got to you.

 

You know that look I’m talking about. The one that makes you feel like an utter failure at adulting.

 

These kids are also highly dedicated to what they are passionate about though. When they have a brilliant idea there is absolutely no stopping them. The amount of energy they are willing to put into getting what they want is awe-inspiring. Unfortunately, their defiant streak can quickly lead them down a destructive path.

Fear-based tactics tend to escalate these kids. They will gladly suffer the consequences to prove a point. Often times, their point is that you can’t control them.

 

 

These kids existed 50 years ago as well so please don’t tell me how it’s because modern parents are soft. These kids were the rebels; the high school drop-outs; the runaways and the juvenile delinquents. I guarantee Fonzie from Happy Days was a strong-willed kiddo. But, if you remember, Fonzie had a good heart and was loyal to his friends. So are these kids. These kids will go to bat for what they believe is right.

 

Parenting them is about shaping and molding these strengths into behaviors that are more productive than arguing over what the stain on their pants is from. Sometimes parents describe these strategies as “manipulation”. I prefer the terms: shape, or mold – words that thesauras.com describes as synonyms to “manipulate”. But yes, ultimately, the strategies are to manipulate kids into doing what you want them to do. This is no different than using coercive, punitive tactics that are fear-based forms of manipulating; either way, your goal is to get your child to do something.

The difference is in the end result. Subtle, positive reinforcement based strategies tend to result in win-wins, while punitive measures always result in someone experiencing a negative emotion. Often times, both walk away upset. Think about the last time you got into a power struggle with your child – afterwards, did you really feel accomplished? Or were you still ruminating about the argument, even if you had “won”?
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Literally, differences exist between handstands and standing on your hands

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Would you rather is another question game, similar to The Question Game I previously wrote about. While I’ve never played it according to the rules and regulations, it’s another fun way I garner crumbs of information and laughs with kids.

 

Quite simply, you ask a question and supply two options (forced choices).

 

Would you rather be a superhero or a villain?

 

Would you rather eat chocolate covered grasshoppers or ants?

 

Would you rather be able to fly or breathe underwater?

 

…..and why? Again, that judgmental little why question – and yes, it means they have to defend their answer.

 

I was playing this game yesterday and asked “Would you rather stand on your head or your hands?”

 

The response was – “My hands, of course.”

 

The of course intrigued me – see, for me, either one would be an impossibility at this point in my life – if I flipped on accident I might break my back so really, I wouldn’t want to do either one but if I had to choose (as is the purpose of the game), I would have to say headstand…my head seems sturdier than my hands. Maybe all my curls are tricking me into believing that.

 

His matter-of-fact response of his hands of course made me curious.

 

So – why?

 

“Because my hands would be easier to cut off.” He said this smugly; like I should inherently have known.

 

I had to pause, giving my classic blank face.

 

Oh, that’s right… kids are literal thinkers. Which means, when I used the phrase “stand on” instead of “headstand” they literally interpreted it as stand on your head…like the way you might stand on a basketball.

 

Like this:

 

 

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But what was most hilarious was 1) how quickly he responded, and 2) that the first thing he thought was that I would be suggesting he chop either limb off…in order to stand on it. When I demonstrated what I was talking about (through pictures, not by doing a hand or headstand, again, I might break my back!) we got quite a chuckle from it and I gained a very nice reminder on how messages can be misinterpreted.

 

The purpose of these kinds of activities are about bonding and relationship building – it encourages critical thinking, decision making, creativity and communication. They create a safe, judgment free zone – kids can say outrageous things without us responding critically – the purpose of the game is to come up with the most outrageous question! It’s about thinking outside of the box.

 

I’m a huge advocate for role-modeling – everyone wants their children to self-regulate their emotions, but often we don’t allow them to see us regulating our own. Ask your son/daughter how they know when you are frustrated. Go ahead, ask them…I’ll wait…

 

Did they say something along the lines of, “You don’t get frustrated” or “You yell”. It’s usually not until we have blown our tops that kids pick up on our frustration – but typically, they see it as we are “angry” or “mad” (higher forms of frustration). They miss the minor nuances and subtle cues.

 

Not everything we do has to be about a life lesson or teaching skills – sometimes the best gift we can give is allowing people to simply be themselves. The kooky, funny, outrageous self that we learn to lock away in order to fit in. Engaging in these moments with your child role-models for them that it’s okay to be silly – they probably don’t see us in that role too often. When was the last time you were just downright kooky? Sometimes, kids can role-model for us how to really and truly just relax and have fun.

 

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via Daily Prompt: Crumb

Radical Acceptance: Embracing reality

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Every day, there are a million things that could potentially stress us out. Right now, write out a list of your top 5.

Now, take a look at your own list. How many of them do you have control over in this moment?

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In a previous post, radical acceptance was mentioned; or “it is what it is”, in passing.

Radical acceptance is about accepting reality – not necessarily agreeing with reality, or being thrilled about reality but simply accepting that whatever has happened has happened (or is happening).  Why? Because when we fight reality we always lose. Remember that Frozen song? The one that repeats “let it gooooo” a zillion times? While annoying, it’s a genius song and a great message for children to learn early on. When we accept things in our reality that we cannot change – we then have to practice LETTING IT GO.

Radical acceptance is a skill often taught during DBT (dialectical behavior therapy), which is a specific form of cognitive behavioral therapy developed by Marsha Linehan; DBT is a very in-depth treatment that focuses on skill building, tolerating distress and interpersonal relationships. For an overview of DBT, check out this post on Psych Central.

Radical acceptance is one of those coping skills, however, that can be beneficial to nearly all of us. We often try to push against and fight uncomfortable feelings, which usually increases our frustration and negative emotions in the long term. Negative thoughts fuel negative thoughts.

Traffic jams are a great example of people not accepting their reality. Horns are honked, profanity is shouted; it’s not fair to be stuck in traffic because of someone else’s accident. Honking the horn doesn’t get anyone closer to the front of the line. What it does successfully do is show annoy everyone nearby and demonstrate frustration. Congrats! The person behind us, in front of us, and beside us is also unhappy and frustrated as well. And look, now that guy next to us is lifting his middle finger to show us how frustrating our behavior is for him.

After stubbing a toe, the first reaction for many is to hit something: our toe hurts, dammit, and we are going to show that corner who is boss! It’s not fair! It sucks! I just can’t stand it! Reality – the pain will pass, eventually, and hitting the wall is not going to resolve it any quicker.

Wanting to lash back when hurting may be a normal human reaction, however, it’s not our rational brain working; it’s our biological processes of chemicals and nerve endings. Our rational brain recognizes that indeed, there is nothing that can be done.

Reality is a beautiful kaleidoscope of perceptions – our own perceptions and others – mixed together to create a “truth”. Radical acceptance involves accepting life on life’s terms, without judgement; it’s recognizing the things that we have control over (and ultimately doing something to fix those) and recognizing those aspects of life controlled by external forces.

Acceptance doesn’t mean that we believe the things that we fight against are “good” or “fair”. There are many things that have happened to us that were unfair, not just and overall awful. We have all been victims at one point or another but continuing to replay them in our minds, continuing to elicit those painful and uncomfortable emotions as we go over and over in our heads what we wish had gone differently – does nothing. We cannot change the past, we cannot control factors beyond our control and our penchant for trying to control every aspect of life is futile.

Radical acceptance takes a lot of practice – what seems like an easy concept goes against our biological response to pain. But by starting with more minor annoyances (like drizzle compared to a hurricane) it does become easier. You forgot your umbrella? That’s awful! Your hair will get wet, your make up may run – but you will live and there is nothing you can do unless you are a magician who can make an umbrella appear.

If you didn’t really write out a list of your stressors, I encourage you to do it now. Which ones do you have control over and which ones can you practice acceptance with?

For some further reading, check out these links:

What it really means to practice radical acceptance – Psych Central

Radical Acceptance – Psychology Today

Marsha Linehan video on Radical Acceptance

What are some acceptance statements that you use for your daily annoyances?

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via Daily Prompt: Penchant

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Vitamin Deficiencies

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Last week, I wrote about a recent study conducted by Florida University on the effects of early medication use on young children for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). If you missed it, you can check it out here.

The topic of vitamin deficiencies arose in the comments and it made me start thinking about the anecdotal evidence I’ve heard of restrictive diets having some benefits in ADHD treatment. I wasn’t able to find much research to back up restrictive diets, however there has been quite a bit of research done on vitamins’ roles in ADHD!

 With just a quick search of the literature, I’ve found:

It is pretty undeniable at this point that ADHD is a neurobiological condition (meaning, the brain develops differently). That said, the specific mechanisms of this are unclear indicating there are genetic and environmental factors at play as well; the specific cause and development for ADHD has not been found, nor has there been a specific genetic component identified despite the consistency of research showing a hereditary link. (Cortese 2012).

Vitamin deficiencies are common in people diagnosed with ADHD; both children and adults. So far, I’ve found research linking Vitamins B2, B6, B9 and Omega-3 fatty acids. What is unclear is whether those vitamin deficiencies effect brain development or if abnormal brain development results in vitamin deficiencies (Landaas et al 2016; Boggis et al 2014; Sonuga-Barke et al 2013; Hawkey & Nigg 2014).

Some research has shown promising results that taking vitamins improves functioning in adults with ADHD symptoms (Boggis et al 2014; Sonuga-Barke et al 2013; Hawkey & Nigg 2014).

 

Taking a daily vitamin is a small lifestyle change that could benefit all of us regardless of symptoms. I used to have an amazing holistic doctor who kept telling me to take vitamins, and while I tried to heed his advice, I had a hard time memorizing a new step in my daily routine until I started feeling sick (more on that in my next post) and found it absolutely necessary.

 

Considering how poor our nutrition is in general these days, it makes logical sense to me that all children should be taking multivitamins daily; yet, I know this often isn’t the case. Vitamins are fairly expensive and then we hear on the news how the cheaper ones aren’t all that helpful. But, there is a reason that Medicaid (in the United States) covers prenatal vitamins for pregnant women – it is recognized that we do not get adequate amounts through our food and, from a healthcare perspective, treating birth defects is much more expensive than providing women with prenatal vitamins.

 

I think this holds true for any illness – treating an illness that may be preventable through increasing our vitamin intake is more expensive than buying those daily vitamins. The expenses of illness go far beyond financial.

 

I plan on starting a series on various vitamins effects on our mental health. I really want for this to become an interactive blog, so I’m asking for reader assistance on identifying topics here. So please take a minute and give me your suggestions on the topic!

 

Works Cited:

Boggis, A., Frampton, C., Gorman, B., & Rucklidge, J. (2014). Vitamin-mineral treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in adults: double-blind randomised placebo-controlled trial. The British Journal of Psychiatry. 204(4). 306-315. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.113.132126

Cortese, S. (2012). The Neurobiology and Genetics of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: What every clinician should know. European Journal of Paediatric Neurology. 16(5). 422-433.

Landaas, E. T., Aarsland, T. I. M., Ulvik, A., Halmøy, A., Ueland, P. M., & Haavik, J. (2016). Vitamin levels in adults with ADHD. British Journal of Psychiatry Open2(6), 377-384.

Hawkey, E., & Nigg, J. T. (2014). Omega− 3 fatty acid and ADHD: Blood level analysis and meta-analytic extension of supplementation trials. Clinical psychology review34(6), 496-505.

Sonuga-Barke, E. J., Brandeis, D., Cortese, S., Daley, D., Ferrin, M., Holtmann, M., … & Dittmann, R. W. (2013). Nonpharmacological interventions for ADHD: systematic review and meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials of dietary and psychological treatments. American Journal of Psychiatry170(3), 275-289.

via Daily Prompt: Memorize

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Nature and our well-being

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I’ve learned that if I spend a day outside; whether that’s at the beach or walking around town, I tend to feel more relaxed and upbeat by the end of the day. We spend so much of our day within closed walls, which from an evolutionary and biological standpoint goes against nature. We are meant to be outside – in wide open areas with fresh air.

I just found an interesting article on National Geographic that goes into more detail about the research that’s been done and what strategies cities and countries are coming up with to improve citizens well being.

I’ve read previous research that looks at the impact of the environment we inhabit and our mental health; and a link has been found between nature and positive feelings. I’ve tried to incorporate this into my home environment in several ways – potted plants, nature images on the walls (mainly of animals and Savannah landscapes because I find them relaxing), cut flowers on my table and natural scents such as jasmine. I’m interested if anyone else has noticed this? Do you incorporate nature in your work or home environment, and how so? Share some of your ideas!

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via Daily Prompt: Inhabit

Artificial Intelligence and Mental Health

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Do you remember AOL chat rooms? Remember chat bots?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has come a long way in recent years and seems to be the talk of the technology world. Frankly, it’s a bit disconcerting to me but it’s out of my control so I shall try to come to grips with it. I think there are pros and cons to any new advances we make, so as long as the robots don’t start overthrowing humans I’m good.

Has anyone else heard of Woebot? According to their website, Woebot is an “artificial conversational agent that helps you monitor mood and learn about yourself” that runs through Facebook messenger. The website touts scientific evidence, citing this study, but I’m a bit hesitant on the strength of the research considering it was only a sample size of 70 people with only 34 people assigned to using Woebot.

 

Woebot, again according to their website, was designed to help college students experiencing anxiety and depression symptoms; it works by providing information, cognitive-behavioral techniques and data collection on your mood and thoughts. It also appears to be financially feasible for many who would not be able to afford psychotherapy or medication management services.

I have not used Woebot so I’m not going to provide a review or endorsement of it in any way; I caution anyone who does use it to be aware. I have no idea what the privacy is on using Woebot or whether your information would remain confidential. That said, I have seen a surge in online based programs being advertised and people appear to be utilizing them so I think it’s an important topic to discuss.

Here are some benefits I see to technology being incorporated into mental health services:

  • Affordability – many people don’t seek counseling services because they are unable to afford such services.

 

  • Data collection – Tracking your mood and activities is a huge proponent of behavioral treatments and can provide significant insight into patterns. I’ve often had clients set daily alarms on their cellphones (the one thing we always seem to have with us) to remind them to record their mood and activity ratings throughout the day. I strongly advocate for data collection in the moment because we tend to forget the nuances of the day. Apps and programs that would remind and check in with us could potentially increase adherence and follow through. I think that web based or downloadable apps have the potential to help synchronize counseling homework assignments and follow through between sessions.

 

  • 24/7 availability – Counselors are not available 24/7, in most cases. Crisis lines exist and can be lifesaving; but, as we become more and more focused on texting and online communication, utilizing these measures to increase availability for more people is important (in my opinion). People may be afraid to call a crisis line but more apt to use an online chat program.

 

  • Educational Resources – If these bots really are providing tailored evidence-based educational tools (videos, pamphlets, handouts) based off of mood ratings then this may help reduce feelings of being overwhelmed from the vast amount of information that would be turned up through a search engine.

Potential pitfalls that I foresee would be:

  • Privacy and confidentiality

 

  • Understanding of educational material – Having a human counselor could assist with gaining understanding of the concepts being taught. I’m not sure how a robot would ensure understanding of the materials.

 

  • Mismatched problem and treatment – Different treatments are recommended for different problems. Programs such as Woebot would only provide certain services which may not be best suited to the individual. Without human involvement, I’m not sure how that would be determined.

 

  • No interpersonal practice – Therapeutic alliance is a large part of why therapy works. Having someone that you trust, can confide in, and who is supportive of your efforts can be a completely novel experience for people. While robots may be able to mimic this through text conversations, it does not help people practice new relationship building skills with an actual person.

With regards to Woebot, I strongly believe that more scientific backing needs to be assured before I would advocate for its use. But I’m very interested in others thoughts on this.

What are your thoughts on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the delivery of mental health services? Have you had any experience with these services or know someone who has?

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via the Daily Prompt: Synchronize

Pay attention to me! Attention seeking behaviors and maladaptive patterns

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Remember, there are 5 functions of behavior:

  1. Escape or avoidance
  2. To gain something
  3. Attention Seeking – Today’s topic
  4. Signs of Damage
  5. Self-stimulation

 

“I’ve been so tired lately from working overtime. It’s ridiculous that they haven’t hired anyone yet.”

“Oh, you think a week of overtime is bad? You have no idea! I’ve had insomnia for the past year; I never get any sleep!”

 

Or

 

“I was running last week and I pulled a muscle. Nothing has been helping with the pain.”

“Oh pain is horrible. My lower back has been throbbing every day for the past month. I’ve tried everything; creams, painkillers, physical therapy. Nothing helps. I don’t know what to do anymore.”

 

This is excessive attention seeking behavior; and it tends to turn people away. Often this type of attention seeking stems from low self-esteem and low self-confidence. While these individuals are hurting deeply and in need of sympathy and understanding; this pattern of “one-upping” serves, in the long-term, to further isolate, increase loneliness and reduce support from others.

 

Attention seeking is another function of behavior that is fairly easy for us to understand. In our daily conversations, we tend to promote a negative connotation to attention seeking behaviors; however, attention seeking is not inherently negative. In fact, humans are social creatures and hardwired to seek attention.

 

Every Facebook post, Instagram post, blog, text message, phone call, wave, greeting; all of these are attention-seeking behavior.

 

Maladaptive attention seeking however, can have an extremely negative impact on our lives. This can occur in several ways; for example excessive sympathy seeking, sexual provocativeness, and aggressiveness. When attention seeking becomes maladaptive, people tend to avoid interacting with you.

 

We often consider attention being negative or positive; but attention is attention. We consider negative attention the “wrong kind of attention”. “Negative attention” is often more easily attained. Think about it: how many times a day do you do positive things that go unrecognized?

 

It’s 10:00 a.m. and already I have:

Woken up on time,

Eaten breakfast,

Taken a shower

Gotten some paperwork done, and

Am getting my car worked on at the moment.

 

Not once today has anyone recognized that I accomplished these things on a Monday morning. However, on my way to the mechanic while driving on a donut tire; two people honked at me for driving below the speed limit. We can do everything right, and still get more negative than positive attention. People don’t tend to recognize things that are already expected of us.

 

This plays a huge role in our relationships. As relationships progress, we stop acknowledging the thoughtful/loving gestures our partners do because we begin to simply expect them… until they don’t do it. Then, we pointedly tell them how they never do anything nice for us anymore. Or, vice versa: we start to believe that we are putting more into the relationship than our partners because they aren’t acknowledging our gestures the way they did 2 years ago.

 

Various research has proposed that we need more positive attention to negative in order to feel good about ourselves. The ratios have varied from 20:1, 10:1, 3:1. Regardless of the exact ratio; we need more positive than negative in our lives in order to be healthy.

 

While we cannot control what anyone else in our lives is doing, we can control how we respond to it and how we interact in the world. If you find yourself noticing that you are getting more negative feedback than positive; take a real look at your own patterns. Is your way of gaining attention turning people away? How often in your conversations are you focusing on the negatives?

 

Again, each and every one of us seeks attention in our own way; there is nothing wrong with attention-seeking itself. It’s when our ways of obtaining attention become maladaptive that we can experience negative consequences in our lives.

 

Please take the time to share your thoughts. Have you ever met someone with a maladaptive attention seeking style?

 

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