College Kids Are Struggling. How Can We Help?
February 22, 2011 · Posted in Mental Health, Parenting, Pressure on Children, Teens · Permalink · Comments Off on College Kids Are Struggling. How Can We Help?

A study of the mental health of college freshman shows record low levels of mental health and record high levels of stress. In “The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2010,” involving more than 200,000 incoming full-time students at four-year colleges, the percentage of students rating themselves as “below average” in emotional health rose. Meanwhile, the percentage of students who said their emotional health was above average fell to 52 percent. It was 64 percent in 1985.

” The study also reports that our children are coming into college already struggling. This jives with anecocdotal reports from college guidance counselors. While the economy may account for some of this stress, the demands of college admission and the drive for achievement is taking a toll. “The share of students who said on the survey that they had been frequently overwhelmed by all they had to do during their senior year of high school rose to 29 percent from 27 percent last year.”

The positive take away from this is that parents of middle and high schoolers can actively comfort and reassure children that their worth is not equal to their achievement. Parents need to counter the prevailing cultural ethos, and even maybe their own beliefs, that academic achievement is the road to happiness. The trends are clear, the mental health of our children is declining and anxiety and depression are on the rise. While as parents we can only control so much, one thing we can do is not add to the stresses of modern life. We can consistently remind our kids, in word and deed, that there are many ways to a fulfilling life. We can give them a healthy does of skepticism about the “succeed at all costs” messages that bombard them. If they can internalize these values they can use them to counteract pressure they face.

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What Should A Four Year Old Know?
February 10, 2011 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Mental Health, Parenting, Play, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments Off on What Should A Four Year Old Know?

A recent post on the blog A Magical Childhood gives a touching account of what a young child really needs to feel safe and content. Here is a lightly edited version:

What a 4-year old should know:

  1. She should know that she is loved wholly and unconditionally, all of the time.
  2. He should know that he is safe and he should know how to keep himself safe in public, with others, and in varied situations. He should know that he can trust his instincts about people and that he never has to do something that doesn’t feel right, no matter who is asking. He should know his personal rights and that his family will back them up.
  3. She should know how to laugh, act silly, be goofy and use her imagination. She should know that it is always okay to paint the sky orange and give cats 6 legs.
  4. He should know his own interests and be encouraged to follow them. If he could care less about learning his numbers, his parents should realize he’ll learn them accidentally soon enough and let him immerse himself instead in rocket ships, drawing, dinosaurs or playing in the mud.
  5. She should know that the world is magical and that so is she. She should know that she’s wonderful, brilliant, creative, compassionate and marvelous. She should know that it’s just as worthy to spend the day outside making daisy chains, mud pies and fairy houses as it is to practice phonics. Scratch that– way more worthy.

But more importantly, here’s what parents need to know:

  1. That every child learns to walk, talk, read and do algebra at his own pace. That pace will have no bearing on how well he walks, talks, reads or does algebra. The single biggest predictor of high academic achievement and high ACT scores is reading to children. Not flash cards, not workbooks, not fancy preschools, not blinking toys or computers.
  2. That being the smartest or most accomplished kid in class has never had any bearing on being the happiest. We are so caught up in trying to give our children “advantages” that we’re giving them lives as multi-tasked and stressful as our own. One of the biggest advantages we can give our children is a simple, carefree childhood.
  3. That our children deserve to be surrounded by books, nature, art supplies and the freedom to explore them. Most of us could get rid of 90% of our children’s toys and they wouldn’t be missed. If you keep the legos and blocks, all types of art materials, musical instruments, dress up clothes and books, they will have all they need.
  4. That our children need more of us. Our children don’t need Nintendos, computers, after school activities, ballet lessons, play groups and soccer practice nearly as much as they need US. Children’s healthy and loving relationships with their parents will give them everything they need to know.
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Yoga Is A Natural Antidepressant
January 20, 2011 · Posted in Buddhism/Parenting, Mental Health · Permalink · Comments (2)

It’s always wonderful to see empirical evidence to support things you know in your gut.  Yoga, the practice of postures and breathing, is an ancient healing tool. Anecdotally, anyone who practices yoga regularly will attest to its value in regulating mood, increasing feelings of well-being and that the effects transfer off the mat into regular life.

Research into mood and anxiety disorders has identified the neurotransmitter GABA (γ-Aminobutyric acid) is important in mood and anxiety levels. γ-Aminobutyric acid (GABA)-ergic activity is reduced in mood and anxiety disorders. The practice of yoga postures is associated with increased brain GABA levels. In a study reported by The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine researchers studied the difference between walking and yoga and it’s impact on mood and GABA levels in the brain.

The Study:

“Healthy subjects with no significant medical/psychiatric disorders were randomized to yoga or a metabolically matched walking intervention for 60 minutes 3 times a week for 12 weeks. Mood and anxiety scales were taken at weeks 0, 4, 8, 12, and magnetic resonance spectroscopy scans were administered as well.

The yoga subjects reported greater improvement in moodand greater decreases in anxiety than the walking group. There were positive correlations between improved mood and decreased anxiety and thalamic GABA levels. The yoga group had positive correlations between changes in mood scales and changes in GABA levels.

The moral of this story is that yoga is the bang for the buck, all purpose exercise. Strength, grace, and an anti-depressant in one. Om shanti!

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Get To Know Your Inner Critic
January 11, 2011 · Posted in Adult Children, Anger, Mental Health, Therapy · Permalink · Comments Off on Get To Know Your Inner Critic

You know that voice inside? The one with the viscous tongue that criticizes your weight, the kind of mother you think you are, how lazy, spoiled or stupid you are? Yes, that one. These voices are called Inner Critics and we all have them. They keep us in line in a funny kind of way. Getting to know, and yes, love your Inner Critics settles them down. Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS), a compassionate, healing modality created by Dick Schwartz, Ph.D. teaches you how to connect to your inner parts that seem to be sabotaging you but in fact are just trying to help in their own funny way. Jay Early and Bonnie Weiss, IFS therapists and writers have translated IFS to user-friendly, common sense ideas and exercises that are extremely helpful. Here is an article by Bonnie Weiss that teaches how to befriend your Inner Critic. Hope you find it useful!

Taming Your Inner Critic

Bonnie Weiss, LCSW

Marlene is overdue for a promotion. She knows that she should talk to her boss, but can’t get up the courage. A voice inside her head keeps reminding her of her failings and limitations; it tells her that the discussion will end with her being chided and shamed.

Jamie is obsessed with men who reject her. She spends her evenings waiting by the phone for George to call even though she knows he isn’t a good match for her. She hopes that he will accept her and this will quiet her self-hatred.

We are all aware of that nattering little voice inside that tells us we are deficient and reminds us of our failures. Sometimes we hear a voice that warns us not to think too big, reach too high, or be too confident. The Inner Critic subpersonality is a result of our experience and conditioning. It holds the remnants of our parent’s hopes and fears for us and for themselves, our school history, our religious upbringing, and the competitive culture that we live in.

When you get to know your Inner Critic from an open, curious place, you will be amazed to find out that its underlying motivation is actually to protect you. It feels so awful to hear those negative words and those constraining warnings that this may be hard to believe. Yet it is trying to protect fragile parts of your personality that have been injured in the past. At the core of this yammering is a wish for you to be safe and free of disappointment and humiliation.

The Critic has old ideas about you, and carries antiquated images of who you are and the capacities you have. Like an adult going to work in a toddler’s jumper, its view of you is outdated and doesn’t fit your current life situation, skills, or experience. So its efforts to protect you cause you to doubt yourself and feel deflated and deficient.

Here is a three step process for handling your Inner Critic:

Step 1: Separate. It’s just a part.
It’s a big step to realize that this voice is just a part of you that has its own motivations and world view. That means that you can separate from that part and get some distance from it. You can choose to listen or not listen. You can take control by telling it to “back off” or by deciding to be interested in its underlying intent, rather than being intimidated by its negative prattling. Separation means being grounded in your higher Self. This process is supported by meditative and spiritual practices and good self care.

Step 2: Update. Bring the part into this century.
Once you make contact with this critical part and begin a dialogue with it, you can ask it how old it thinks you are. Most often you will discover that this part still thinks you are a small child in a challenging situation. Its vehement efforts to protect you from re-injury and repeated humiliation are bound by beliefs that were developed at that time. By showing this part who you actually are today, the capacities you have developed, the experience you have gained, and the freedom you enjoy, it is more able to let go of its outmoded  fears and concerns.

Step 3:  Mentor. Develop an Inner Champion.
You can create a positive, supportive aspect of yourself which I call the Inner Champion. It will guide you in your work with your Inner Critic and develop your positive capacities in your life. Itcan be drawn from positive experiences and reflections you have had in the past or inspiration from mythology, literature or modern culture. Mine has qualities of Katharine Hepburn, Margaret Mead, Jean Houston and Quan Yin. The role of the Inner Champion is to bolster your strength. It is there to love and support as you move toward your personal goals.

The Inner Champion:

  1. Sounds like the voice of a good mom that reminds you of your value and capabilities. It encourages you to take reasonable risks to gain what you desire and deserve.
  2. Has the courage to take a stand when necessary with the Inner Critic and tell it to leave you alone. When my Critic bugs me, my Inner Mentor can look it in the eye and say. “That is NOT helpful!.” or “This is not a good time!”.
  3. Helps you develop a step-by-step plan for achieving what you want.
  • Provides nurturance and care for the fragile parts of us that are ultimately being protected by the Inner Critic.
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    If Boys Will be Boys, They Need More Help
    December 7, 2010 · Posted in Communication, Discipline, Education, K-5 Kids, Mental Health, Parenting · Permalink · Comments Off on If Boys Will be Boys, They Need More Help

    A study 0f 43,000 American High School students by the Josephson Insititute, a non-partisan, non-sectarian, organization, whose mission is “to improve the ethical quality of society by changing personal and organizational decision making and behavior”, is a treasure trove of information. I want to focus on gender differences regarding bullying and intolerance.

    Here are some specific findings:

    Is it sometimes OK to to hit or threaten a person who makes me angry?

    Boys 36.7 %      Girls 19.1%

    I am prejudiced against certain groups.

    Boys 28.2%    Girls 17.5%

    In the past year I bullied, taunted or mistreated someone.

    Boys 32.7%   GIrls 20.6%

    In the past year I bullied someone because they belong to a different group.

    Boys 14.7% GIrls 6.6%

    In the past years I used racial slurs or insults.

    Boys 37.2 %   Girls 19.4%

    The differential between boys and girls is dramatic. As parents, we need to pay particular attention to helping boys manage negative emotions, giving clear limits about aggressive behavior and not succumbing to the “Boys will be Boys” excuse.

    Helping our boys to be tolerant and kind will change society!

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    The Marshmallow Test
    December 7, 2010 · Posted in Discipline, Education, K-5 Kids, Mental Health, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments Off on The Marshmallow Test
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    Dr. Walter Mischel’s study of impulse control in the 1960’s and 1970’s using a marshmallow and the directive to wait-and-you-will-get-two has turned out to have incredible predictive ability and teaches an important lesson to parents. The ability to delay gratification at age four predicts higher SAT scores, school success, and successes in life such as relationships, employment and healthier weight.

    Making children wait, helping to handle not getting what they want and delaying gratification has profound positive effects. So go ahead, just say no!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    Adolescent Mental Health By The Numbers
    November 18, 2010 · Posted in Adult Children, Mental Health · Permalink · Comments Off on Adolescent Mental Health By The Numbers

    The National Comorbidity Survey (NCS) attempts to assess the levels of psychiatric illness in American children ages 13 to 18 years old.  The most recent study of approximately 10,000 children showed that close to 50% of teens would meet the diagnostic criteria for a psychiatric illness at some time during adolescence. According to researcher Nestor Lopez-Duran, PhD,

    “At first this sounds like an alarming number that could not possibly be true. However, remember that this refers to “life time prevalence.”  The number does not suggest that 50% of 18 year olds have or even received a psychiatric diagnosis, but that 50% experienced enough symptoms sometime in the past to meet the diagnostic criteria for at least 1 psychiatric diagnosis.”

    “The table below presents the “life time prevalence” by age 18 of each disorder for females, males, and the entire sample. The life time prevalence means the percentage of adolescents that meet the diagnostic criteria for each disorder sometime during their lives by the age of 18.”

    Life time prevalence of psychiatric disorder by age 18

    Diagnosis Females Males Everyone
    Any 1 Disorder 51 48.1 49.5
    Depression 15.9 7.7 11.7
    Bi-Polar 3.3 2.6 2.9
    Anxiety (GAD) 3 1.5 2.2
    Social Phobia 11.2 7 9.1
    Specific Phobia 22.1 16.7 19.3
    Panic Disorder 2.6 2 2.3
    PTSD 8 2.3 5
    ADHD 4.2 13 8.7
    ODD 11.3 13.9 12.6
    Conduct Disorder 5.8 7.9 6.8
    Alcohol Abuse/Dep 5.8 7 6.4
    Drug Abuse/Dep 8 9.8 8.9
    Eating Disorders 3.8 1.5 2.7

    We need to be attentive to the mental health needs of our children and not just write off lasting symptoms to phases. For a host of reasons many of our children have or will suffer with some form of psychiatric illness. Early intervention, family support, therapy and medicine can make a huge difference and help a child stabilize and get back on track.

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    We All Have Little Mean Girls Inside
    October 12, 2010 · Posted in Bullying, Communication, Discipline, Education, K-5 Kids, Mental Health, Parenting, Preschoolers, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments Off on We All Have Little Mean Girls Inside

    Mean girl bullying is showing up in younger and younger age groups. An article by Pamela Paul, in Sunday’s New York Times tackles this complex topic. Let’s look at some of the key issues. First, is the labeling of “mean girls”.

    Paul writes,

    A kindergarten teacher at one of New York City’s top private all-girls schools observed, “The mean girls are often from mean moms.”

    Now that is a pretty big statement. Mean girls, mean moms. Nice girls, nice moms.  Seems too broad and more importantly, what do we do with that?

    Who of us has not made many a snarky comment about how someone looks or acts? Or not had zillions of mean thoughts about someone?  Not you, not me. All of us have a mean part. Too often we label the whole person by looking at just one of their characteristics. No one is defined by one quality- we are all made up of a multitude of parts. A care-taking part of our personality, a sad part, a courageous part, and a part that lashes out.  This mean part develops to protect us- to make us feel better and to shield us from feeling shame, rejection, or loneliness.

    Take this scenario: You show up at the park with your kids and see two mothers from school sitting together on the bench talking. You automatically feel nervous because you are a lone adult and would love some company. In a nano second the following inner experience takes place: You wonder if you should approach the two mothers. You think one of the women sees you but turns away. Immediately, the mean part jumps out to protect you by thinking, “They are such snobs, and their kids are out of control. At least I pay attention to my kids in the park!” You walk to the other end of the park.

    When looking at it closer, that mean part just doesn’t want you to experience those uncomfortable feelings. It wants you to feel strong, better in fact. The same is true with children. Imagine the same scenario at the writing center at school. The mean part in a little kid is just as protecting as an adult, and an intimidated child will likely have the same reaction.

    Talking to kids about their mean parts -not telling them that they are mean- will help them to stop bullying.

    But here’s the really tough part.

    “The mean girls are often from mean moms.”

    Parents of kids that bully or condescend to others need to hold up a mirror to their own behavior. One-upsmanship, criticizing others for not being as smart, as rich, as pretty, as athletic, etc. in an ongoing way will create children who feel they have the freedom to do the same. Parents that have a strong mean part will most likely have kids that develop one too. So the first step in combatting relational bullying is to shine a light on your own need to put others down. Take that mean part in hand, recognize that it is protecting you and help that part of you to stop hurting other people.  This is the key to making our children safe psychologically, emotionally and physically.

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    Should We Cut The i-Embilical Cord?
    September 23, 2010 · Posted in Adult Children, Communication, Mental Health, Parenting, Technology, Teens · Permalink · Comments Off on Should We Cut The i-Embilical Cord?

    Technology has given us many ways to stay connected to our children: text, ichat, skype, email and cell phone. They keep us feeling in touch even when kids are off to summer camp or college. A new book entitled The iConnected Parent: Staying Close to Your Kids in College (and Beyond) While Letting Them Grow Up by Barbara K. Hofer and Abigail Sullivan Moore challenges parents to think carefully about the benefits of  pulling the plug on these means of communication. The book looks at the downside of parents being over involved in the day to day, or many times a day, lives of their college age children. Children who were in such close contact were less able to problem solve on their own and were less competent in caring for themselves.

    Hofer is not suggesting that parents cut contact with their kids but she does illustrate the benefit of the kind of independence and separateness we had from parents when we were in college.  She points out that less contact does not mean less close and that sometimes we can inadvertently undermine the young adult development that is so important by being overly connected.

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    Depression In Preschoolers
    September 7, 2010 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Mental Health, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments Off on Depression In Preschoolers


    The New York Times Sunday Magazine ran an article entitled  Can Preschoolers Be Depressed? by Pamela Paul on August 29th.  In this piece Paul, author of Parenting Inc., thoughtfully explores the prevalence of mood disorders in children. While there is controversy and difference of opinion about the treatment of these children, there is widespread agreement that dperession in young children exists, and that many adult with depression can trace their depression to youth. The article is hopeful in that it reminds us how malleable and plastic the child brain is in childhood and the benefits of early intervention. The entire range of developmental difficulties including autism and behavioral issues are helped immensely by early recognition and treatment.

    If your child has prolonged lethargy, lack of interest in play, a consistently pessimistic outlook, chronic complaints about unhappiness or negative beliefs about themselves, don’t necessarily chalk it up to a stage. You know your child and if you have a feeling that something is not right speak to the preschool teacher or pediatrician and ask for a referral to a child specialist. There is no harm in looking carefully at your child’s mood. Many children feel a great sense of relief when their parents take steps to address their sadness and worries.

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