Make Sure Your Therapist is Current
January 12, 2010 · Posted in Education, EMDR, Media, Mental Health · Permalink · Comments (1)

ocean-current-1Judith Warner’s Sunday Times, Op-Ed The Wrong Story about Depression is the perfect response to the recent hoopla over the study on the effectiveness of antidepressants. A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that a placebo is just as likely to help mild depression as popular antidepressant drugs. The media picked up, simplified and amplified that little piece of information and left out the much more important facts about depression in America.

Warner writes, “Antidepressants do work for very severely depressed people, as well as for those whose mild depression is chronic. However, the researchers found, the pills don’t work for people who aren’t really depressed — people with short-term, minor depression whose problems tend to get better on their own. For many of them, it’s often been observed, merely participating in a drug trial (with its accompanying conversation, education and emphasis on self-care) can be anti-depressant enough.” Quite a different message than, “Antidepressants are no better than sugar pills!”

But then Warner takes it further when she talks about the death of mental health professionals who are skilled in using proven and effective methods of alleviating depression.

“In 2008, a team of psychologists brought this point home in blunt terms in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest. “Despite the availability of highly effective interventions,” they wrote, “relatively few psychologists learn or practice these interventions.” This is the big picture of mental health care in America: not perfectly healthy people popping pills for no reason, but people with real illnesses lacking access to care; facing barriers like ignorance, stigma and high prices; or finding care that is ineffective.”

We can’t agree more. Treatments like EMDR and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and mindfulness based treatments are researched approaches and techniques that are proven to help with anxiety and depression. While it would be difficult for a therapist to be intensively trained in all these approaches, they should, at the very least, know about them and at best be skilled in one or more. Therapists need to be perpetual students and keep up with new developments in the field. Clients as consumers need to ask what recent training the person has. The combination of being seasoned by experience and current by education makes a worthy therapist.

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Talking to Kids about the Foiled Terrorist Attack
January 5, 2010 · Posted in Communication, K-5 Kids, Media, Mental Health, Parenting, Preschoolers, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments Off on Talking to Kids about the Foiled Terrorist Attack

6a00e5517d263f8833010536b401ba970b-800wiMany of the families we have worked with lived through 9/11 and therefore don’t have to start from scratch when it comes to explaining this frightening event. They have a framework to discuss terrorism in general, and this failed terrorist attack in particular. Those children already know the cold hard fact that bad things don’t just happen in remote places-things happen in America as well.

Parents with children who were born more recently have a new and difficult task added to their job description; talking to kids about terrorism. The first most important thing to remember is that it is almost impossible to shield children from hearing about it. If they have not already seen it on the news, heard grownups talk, or read headlines and pictures on the newspapers, then the first day back at school will change all that.

Parents are often surprised to learn that children as young as three and four years old will inevitably be exposed to some aspect of this news story.  Best for you to be their main source of information and reassurance rather than hearing bits and pieces or distortions of the truth when they are not with you. Look for an opening in their play. They could be crashing cars and “killing” someone, they could be drawing a picture of a plane. Or watch your child for symptoms of anxiety–nail biting, more agression than usual, worry about being alone.  It could start out as simple and straightforward for young children (3-6 years) as, “A bad man tried to hurt a plane and the people on it, but all the people jumped on him and the plane and all the people are safe. The man is in jail.” Talking with tweens and teenagers about the Taliban, suicide bombers and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will be more complicated.

Then be prepared for questions. For all children their first worries will be about themselves and their own family’s immediate safety.  Just like with 9/11, it will be important to focus on the heroic measures that real people took in combating the violence.  This is when you say, “All the police, and fire fighters and soldiers and President Obama are working very hard to make sure this does not happen again.” If you are actually flying in the next few days and your children are nervous (or you are!) point out all the security measures at the airport to check for dangerous materials or people on the plane. Try to keep a calm and positive demeanor.

No matter what your particular political beliefs are, this is not the time to undermine your child’s sense of confidence in our country’s leadership.   What you can tell them is that hurting people is wrong and that this man was caught and put in jail. That is reassuring to children. What is  not reassuring to your children is venting your own anger at either jihadists, or the incompetence of our own government.

The hard thing is that this terrorist attempt, bungled as it was, really reminds us that this violence is very likely to become more common here. The safety we felt as kids, at least about war here on our own soil, is over. We do have to remember that most children in the world live with fear and violence as an everyday reality.  We can help our children tolerate their fear if we make sure we are not in denial about how much they know and help them make sense of this frightening reality.

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It’s Really Outer-Parenting vs. Inner Parenting
November 26, 2009 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Media, Mental Health, Parenting, Preschoolers, Pressure on Children, Spoiling · Permalink · Comments (1)

1101091130_400Over-parenting has made it to the cover of Time Magazine! An easy read, the article outlines how an over-investment in childrens’ “success” coupled with exaggerated worries about safety has lead to an odd combination of pressure and coddling.

What is really fascinating is that at the same time the American Psychological Association has released Stress in America 2009,  showing that parents are very out of touch with their children’s anxiety. Distracted by the focus on achievement and sheltering children from pain, parents are missing the point.  Children are capable of more independence and very much need our emotional support for their inner lives.

Since no parent wants to be unaware of their child’s emotional life this is a great wake up call. A reorienting of our values toward the inner life rather than the outer trappings will help children feel a real sense of protection and support.

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Weight and See
November 10, 2009 · Posted in Adult Children, Feeding, K-5 Kids, Media, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments (3)

Pair of big heavy dumbbells over white backgroundBody image, weight, eating habits and health is now a thoroughly unavoidable minefield for ourselves and our children.  The culture is now poly-partially-nonhydrogenatedly saturated in intensity about our bodies. Perfectly healthy girls and boys as young as four worry about being fat while a vast number of people in our country overeat to the point of morbid obesity.  There is pressure for women to be sexy and slim (except their ‘bump’) during pregnancy and a culture that orders in, dines out and watches Food Network 24/7. Oye!

It is all very confusing and daunting. If it were as easy as modeling good habits for our children many of us would fare well. But what about the inner negative thoughts that most women and many men have when we are even a few pounds overweight? Pretty hard to get rid of those. The bottom line is that this struggle between the love of food and the pressure to be thin is just a fact of life. The problems of our food system and the media influence are here to stay.

So what to do? One thing is to not buy into the fact that there are choices you can make to fully protect your children from weight issues or body image issues.  You can set a pretty good example and have a pretty decent balance between discipline and indulgence and still have children who struggle with weight or thoughts about weight. There is no one rule like “no junk in the house”, or “don’t prohibit or your kids will seek it elsewhere in spades” that ensures anything.  We need to admit that the forces are greater than any one rule or philosophy so we don’t carry all the responsibility on our shoulders.

Try to stay in the middle path is the best we can suggest. Model moderation, exercise and encourage physical activity. Have swimming, hiking, skiing or bike riding be family activities, not just activities that you sign your children up for–they imitate you more than anything. Have family meals. Teach your children about advertising early on — show them how billboards and commercials trick you into wanting more and more and subtly convince you that you are not good enough as you are.  Once kids understand how advertising works it provides a bit of protection against the media and gives a sense of empowerment.

Most of all try and accept the fluctuations in your child’s weight and work on accepting their body type as you work on accepting yours. This is very hard work for most people, no matter what they weigh, or how they eat, so know you are in good company.

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Where The Wild Truths Are
October 29, 2009 · Posted in Media, Parenting, Relationships, Separation/Divorce · Permalink · Comments (4)

header_main_wild_thingsJean and I went to see “Where the Wild Things Are” in all its glory on the IMAX screen. Our reactions and thoughts about the film were IMAX in their magnitude, as well. The film addresses the most complex existential questions in family life.

Here’s the story in a nutshell. The screenplay takes Sendak’s short book and places it in the context of a family in the aftermath of a divorce. Max, an adorable, angry, physical and creative boy, lives with his mother and sister. He has huge temper tantrum as his family is about to sit down to dinner with his mother’s new boyfriend. As his mother, with her mixture of embarrassment, anger and exhaustion tries to discipline him, they tangle in a screaming physical battle.  He bites her and runs out the house. The rest of the movie takes us into Max’s inner world.  His imaginative adventures unfold as he tries to come to grips with the reality that life, and family life in particular, will always contain measures of brutality and disappointment along with deep, deep connection and wonder.

His anger and rebellion stem from the desperate desire to know “How can I make everyone OK?” He longs for the magical power to banish hurt and loneliness, and to keep the closest relationships conflict free.  Max, his mother and his “wild things” are all of us as children and parents. The child hopes and demands that his all-powerful parents will protect him and guarantee happiness.  Watching the collision between that wish, and the disappointing truth that parents can’t excise all pain is life-altering. For parents, the movie captures that overwhelming desire to give pure, love-driven perfection to your own children. The sense of failure and helplessness when acknowledging that fantasy is not possible is devastating.

And then, for Max, for us, the rebirth and resolution as the perfect dialectic of pain and pleasure reveals itself. That we are all at once wild, destructive, and needy, creative, forcefully playful and giving– and the love that connects us as family trumps everything. No one can make everyone fine. And that is OK.

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The Baby Einstein Theory of Relativity
October 27, 2009 · Posted in Communication, Education, K-5 Kids, Media, Parenting, Preschoolers, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments (1)

76121091We hate to say we told you so, but in truth there was much “high-five-ing” after reading the New York Times article No Einstein in Your Crib? Get a Refund.   Apparently Disney, the owner of Baby Einstein, is refunding parents due to their false claims of intellectual enhancement for infants. We have watched the growth of the “educational” DVD market for infants balloon over the last decade in spite of recommendations from the APA about the negative consequences of television watching for infants and toddlers. TV for infants is seductive. Babies are riveted, they seem excited, and if that is so then the guilt you feel can be assuaged.  Let’s face it — underneath any parents glowing reports of the fabulousness of Baby Einstein etc. is a lurking knowledge that this isn’t really a good thing to do.

These manufacturers cashed in on the vulnerability of parents wanting to give their children every educational opportunity possible. Parents overrode their common sense time and again in the service of raising a smarter kid. That there is no educational benefit to these products is now well documented, and other research indicates that even background television diminishes vocalizations and conversational turn taking in infants and toddlers.

ParenTalk’s TakeAway: Parents of infants and toddlers should acknowledge that TV is an electronic babysitter. Go take a shower, return a phone call, cook dinner — but do so sparingly and remember that the simple acts of singing, playing and talking are really what a baby needs to thrive.

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Michael Jackson: A Cautionary Tale
June 30, 2009 · Posted in Child Abuse, Media, Parenting · Permalink · Comments (3)

michael-jacksonAs the days go by since Michael Jackson’s death I find myself feeling sadder and sadder rather than more settled.  I am one year younger than Michael, so moved through the decades with him from preteen crush, to his music flowing inside like blood, crazy on the dance floor fun, to watching his desperate descent.

The train wreck that became Michael Jackson as a fun house mirror reflection of our culture of celebrity makes me sad too. But I find my heart connecting to little Michael, 6 years old, ten years old, 14 years old. Feeling pressured and pushed by his father in particular–ridiculed, idolized, humiliated, worshipped– where fame and the exterior became the shell outside a very ill, sad, and lonely little boy.  Michael Jackson as an adult is the the poster child for child abuse.  His image is the outward projection of the inside of a victim of abuse. Distorted, stuck at different ages, part boy, part girl, man, woman, predator, victim, monster, fragile being.

If there is a cautionary tale here for us mortals it is to check our desires to push our children and to use them to fulfill our desires for validation, attention, self worth. Get help if your temper, anxiety or depression is mounting.  Think hard about the criticisms that can fly  when we as parents are feeling anxious or angry or overwhelmed. Keep the fight up against the cultural pull toward perfection, financial success, fame, and beauty being the goals for happiness.

I hope he is peaceful now.

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