Tapping into Our Best Adult Selves: A Short Breathing Practice
June 10, 2014 · Posted in Mental Health, Parenting, Therapy · Permalink · Comments Off on Tapping into Our Best Adult Selves: A Short Breathing Practice

Here are the core emotional qualities of our best adult selves.

Calm, Compassionate, Curious, Connected, Confident, Creative, Courageous, Clear, Patience, Perspective, Perseverance, Presence

When we can lead our lives from this essential self we have healthier relationships, make better choices, and feel more flexible and calm while we ride the waves of life. These qualities make a great leader, and what is a parent, if not a leader?

Though we are rarely in a state of feeling all of the above qualities, we do our best job as parents when we have a combo of at least a few. Cultivating and strengthening  these feelings helps when daily tangles with children leave you frustrated, helpless or angry.

Here is an exercise to develop these emotional states:

Take a full ten minutes when you won’t be interrupted, shut off your phone, and get in a comfortable position. Notice your breath. Is it shallow, or fast, or deep or jagged? Then take 25 inhales and exhales and try to even out the rhythm. Scan your body from head to toe. Notice every sensation. Tension in your jaw? A rumbling stomach? Tightness in your lower back? Imagine sending breath to that area. Consciously try to release tension in any tight area. When you realize that your mind has gone on a tangent — planning, worrying or problem solving, just take note and try to gently come back to your breath. You may notice a sense of lightness, or relaxation. Check and see if you have access to a deeper sense of calm, patience, and compassion for yourself. Even if it only lasts a moment, this more spacious place is where our best parenting flows. Memorize the feeling in your body. You can actually call it up at other times when you feel more riled or triggered. The ups and downs of parenting can be brutal – being able to tap into a more balanced state is a is like a built in oasis. Try it!

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Rescuing Adult Siblings
April 21, 2011 · Posted in Adult Children, Communication, Therapy · Permalink · Comments (1)

By Lisa Merlo Booth

It seems as if countless people have troubled siblings.  One person’s sibling is struggling with addiction, another’s with bi-polar syndrome, and another’s with depression, still another’s is in a violent relationship and yet another’s is just plain mean and reactive, and on and on.  The possibilities are endless, yet the problem is always the same: How do I help my troubled sibling?

Regardless of whether the issue is substance abuse, depression or reactivity, the key is to not work harder than your sibling is working for himself or herself.  Too often we are so anxious to help them that we end up spinning ourselves into a state of frenzy while they sit back and complain…but take no action.  Stop your frenzy.  Be willing to help if they ask, but don’t pursue.  It is even okay to offer to help…and then wait until they take you up on your offer.  And…don’t pursue.

Often people in trouble need to feel the pain of their struggles before they’re willing to do anything about them.  Make sure you are not protecting your sibling from that pain.  Do not save them, rescue them or minimize the consequences of their behavior.  Saving them from feeling the way their actions hit is called enabling.  When you soften the consequences, you enable the destructive behavior to continue.  Don’t do that.  Enabling makes matters worse.

It’s also important to make a distinction between behaviors that are hurtful to your siblings (e.g. depression or a violent relationship) and behaviors that are hurtful to you (reactive or emotionally abusive).  With behaviors that are self destructive, you offer help and then pull back until they are willing to accept the help.  Behaviors that are abusive to you require self care on your end.  It’s one thing to enable drinking, it’s another thing to throw yourself under the bus by being an emotional punching bag.  Do not be empathetic to a sibling who is abusing you – be loving and firm.  Love your sibling while setting a limit on their toxic behavior.

Too often we allow our love for our siblings to get in the way of doing what’s best…for our sibling and ourselves.  Stay level-headed.  Your goal is to be effective and compassionate—not enabling or rescuing.  You cannot save your sibling from himself or herself, only your sibling can do that.  You can be a resource and a friend, not a savior.  If you think they have a problem, speak to them about it honestly.  Don’t minimize it, avoid it or think it’s none of your business—be straightforward, compassionate and honest.  Set limits to protect yourself, help where you can and leave the onus for change on them.

Remember that loving someone sometimes requires tough limits.  Don’t work harder for someone than they are willing to work for themselves.  Offer assistance without doing all their work.  And don’t ever allow yourself to take a hit from someone because you have pity for them.  Have empathy for you and take care of yourself while feeling compassion for them.

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We’re Much Nicer to Others Than We Are to Ourselves
March 8, 2011 · Posted in Mental Health, Parenting, Therapy · Permalink · Comments Off on We’re Much Nicer to Others Than We Are to Ourselves
If we really listen to our internal dialogue most of us will hear things that if said to others, would make our hair stand on end.
“You’re fat and lazy.”
“You are the worst mother in the world.”
“Who do you think you are??!!”

Tara Parker Pope highlights the need to calm the harsh inner world in her most recent article in her NYT blog Well, entitled “Go Easy On Yourself, a New Wave Of Research Urges”.  She cites research by Dr. Kristin Neff at the University of Texas at Austin that shows people with higher levels of self-compassion have less depression and anxiety. Why the internal battlefield? Neff states, “I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent.  They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line. Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be.”
So the “inner critics” are keeping us in line, so they think, but really hurting us in the long run. There are a number of ways to approach these inner critics to calm and heal them. One is Internal Family Systems therapy, another is meditation and mindfulness. What we do learn when we take the time to get to know these inner critics is that they are protecting us from, we think, worse pain: shame, sadness, and fear to name a few. When we get to the deeper pain and not only survive, but thrive, the critics soften or even become supportive.

So if you have relentless critics, don’t shy away from the hard work. It pays off for us and our children.
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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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    Language Delays
    January 4, 2011 · Posted in Communication, Parenting, Therapy, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments Off on Language Delays

    by Melissa Krantz

    Melissa Krantz is a speech therapist with over 14 years of experience.  She is a partner at Language Lab, a private speech therapy practice on the Upper West Side.

    Does this sound familiar? Every week when you take your two year old son to music class, you notice that the other children are talking much more.  Not only do they seem to have more words in their arsenal, but they are also putting words together to make short phrases like, “Mommy look!” or “More push.”  Your son, on the other hand, uses about five words and many hand gestures to communicate.  You find yourself feeling more and more anxious that something is wrong. Many parents of toddlers are confused about what constitutes normal language development.

    Here are some general guidelines to find out whether your child falls within normal limits or if this would be a good time to get professional input.

    Typically your 18 to 24 months old should be able to:

    • Name common objects: BallDoggy, ‘BaBa
    • Use simple pronouns: me, it, I
    • Use two or three prepositions: on, in, under
    • Say social words: bye bye, hi
    • Use two-word phrases consistently: “No night night!”, “More cracker!”, “Want juice!”
    • Has a vocabulary of 100+ words
    • Asks questions:“What’s that?”, “Where’s duckie?”

    In addition, a familiar listener (caregiver, sibling) should be able to understand 50% – 75% of the child’s speech.

    If your child’s ability to communicate is very different than the capacity listed, it may be helpful to have an evaluation by a speech language pathologist.

    There are various ways to seek assistance. You might decide to get help from your state or city early intervention program. Here is the link to New York State’s site. If your child qualifies, based on the extent of the delay, services are often provided free of charge. The second suggestion would be to contact a speech and language graduate program at the closest university to your home. Another option would be to ask for a recommendation for a private practitioner from your pediatrician or toddler/preschool program.

    Whichever option you choose, the evaluation itself should involve very similar procedures. The therapist will rely upon both caregiver report and professional observation.  Activities might include both pretend and structured play, reading books and completion of standardized testing.  Examination of your child’s mouth, including his tongue, lips and teeth help to inform the therapist of any structural issues that might be inhibiting your child’s speech development.  Regardless of the setting, the evaluation should be fun and engaging for your child.

    At the end of the session, the speech therapist may discuss overall impressions with you, but be prepared to wait a week or more for a formal written report which should include goals and therapy recommendations.

    Remember, you are the ultimate authority on your child. If you disagree with the evaluation of your child it is important to feel comfortable seeking a second opinion.

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    Letting Go Of The Rage
    December 14, 2010 · Posted in Anger, Communication, Parenting, Teens, Therapy · Permalink · Comments (4)

    By Kim C. Flodin

    Kim Flodin has been part of the Soho Parenting community 20 years, is a writer and mother of two daughters. Her work has been featured in Newsweek and New York Times, among other publications, and you can read more from her on her blog – http://blogsgotnotitle.blogspot.com/.

    After a lifetime of even-temperedness, becoming a parent struck a chord that released both a passionate, besides-myself love, as well as an intense anger when things got tough.  My rage kicked off in my first-born’s toddler years; it intensified during my daughters’ teen years, especially my second child’s adolescence, which has been stormy.  If she yelled, I yelled louder.  If she got snarky, I replied in kind.  If she threw something, I threw two things.  It wasn’t pretty.

    With my elder girl wrapping up her teen years and my “baby” half-way through them, I can report that things have been better, a lot better.  For months now.  And not by magic.  To help turn the tide, I had to learn that:

    * I needed help.  Last year, my husband and I enrolled in a six-week, one-on-one immersion in counseling specifically to learn new skills and new ways of doing things, all the while going to half a year of monthly parenting coaching sessions.  I kept (and keep) up my individual therapy.  I mean, really, I can be taught.

    * My home is refuge for my children from a sometimes-scary world, and if I infect this refuge with more scariness, where can they turn to?

    * This is not about me and my hurts and my pain.  I have other places to bring that to and other people to whom I turn for help.  I have to be bigger than that for my girls.

    * My hurts and pain, and even my rage, are real and deserve honor and attention in appropriate settings.

    * It’s important to sometimes shut up and stop teaching, guiding, critiquing, limiting, punishing, expressing disappointment and dismay, and instead paint our nails or play ping-pong.

    * I can still be mad, piping mad, but there is a line between anger and rage that I wish to respect always.

    * I don’t have to make my kids admit that they understand my every opinion or decision and that they have become so won over by my exquisite reasoning and persuasiveness that they express, “Aha, mama, I see the light,” and willingly accept my every limit, conclusion or judgment gladly and with grateful hearts.  Sometimes, it’s enough to just say, “It is so.  I’ve explained why.  You don’t have to like it; it is still so.”

    * It’s ok for my kids to be angry with me.  Their anger can work itself out without my responding every single time in kind.

    * It’s overwhelming to them and to me to vent all my collected frustration at their every mishap in any given moment.  “What!  You didn’t clean your room again?  You never clean your room, and you don’t go to bed on time, and you are always behind in your assignments, and you need a haircut, and you were late coming home from that party, and and and.”  As one wise counselor advised, “Don’t kitchen-sink it.

    * Taking breaks really helps in the moment of anger (walk away, mama), and in the bigger picture (a date night out, a few days away).

    * “We are all doing the best we can.  We can all do better.”  More wise words from the wise counselor.

    * We are all destined to follow our own paths and sometimes those paths are mysterious and winding and all the amount of guidance and “whoah, Betsy’s” that I extend can’t always change a child’s individual journey.  Or at least not now in the moment and maybe never, as hard as that it is to accept.

    * I do love my children unconditionally.  If they take a million years to figure things out, make terrible mistakes, and maybe never get their act together—these things won’t matter more to me than that I love them above and beyond anything in this world.  Period.  End.  Stop.

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    Divorce Mediation at Soho Parenting
    May 25, 2010 · Posted in Communication, Mental Health, Parenting, Separation/Divorce, Therapy · Permalink · Comments Off on Divorce Mediation at Soho Parenting

    Parents know their children best. That is why in the case of a divorce, the working out of a parenting arrangement and schedule is best left to parents – not courts or litigating lawyers. Even when the hurt, animosity, and fear involved in divorce feel overwhelming, many parents can come together and make decisions about how to set up the post-separation life of their children.

    Ruth Bettelheim, a marriage and family therapist suggests a simple change in the law would have a huge positive impact on families. She writes in the New York Times Op-Ed, No Fault of Their Own, family law could “defuse tension by requiring parents to enter mediation to find a custody solution that best meets the needs of all concerned…In an adversarial custody battle, no one wins, but children are the biggest losers of all. Intelligent legislation could promote the one thing that children of divorce need most: peace between their parents.”

    For years, divorcing families have come to Soho Parenting to talk about their conflicts and to find solutions to questions about their children. Even in the most contentious situations, it is amazing to see that parents can pull together and talk through, negotiate and decide on arrangements. When you step out of the archaic divorce court system and away from the sometimes combative advice of lawyers, parents do a great job agreeing about their kids with a strong but supportive mediator in the room.

    Now we will be able to offer Divorce Mediation services at Soho Parenting in a more formal way.  The process includes helping couples to decide on financial matters and parenting arrangements. The completion of an agreement becomes a binding legal document. In addition to mediation, couples can meet with a child development specialist, individual therapists if needed.  Our goal, as always, is to support parents through the transitions in family life with complete regard for the care of the emotional needs of their children. Mediation provides an opportunity for parents to rise up to their best selves to make good choices for their families.

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    The Honor of Being a Therapist
    May 20, 2010 · Posted in Communication, Mental Health, Parenting, Therapy · Permalink · Comments (2)

    2008_05_iStock_000003796974Medium-325x494-1People ask all the time, “How can you sit there hour after hour listening to people’s problems?” Here’s how. Imagine that you get to spend an hour or two a week with someone who has entrusted you with their most delicate, personal and honest thoughts. You learn the story of their lives. You know what hurt them, you know what they wish for. You figure out together what trips them up, what keeps them from enjoying what they have, or from doing something new. And in those hours you get to put your heads together and work to help them know themselves more deeply, challenge themselves and change things for the better.

    Some are issues you have dealt with or are working on in your own life. Other issues are new and different from your own experience or training so it inspires you to read more and push yourself to change your way of thinking. You get to learn about the intricacies of many different kinds of careers–things you will never study but are fascinating, from writing poetry and design, to finance and surgery.   To understand how each individual takes their talents and struggles and turns them into their life’s work.

    As a therapist, you get to watch a family grow, especially if you bring in other family members which is a part of our approach. You get to go through losses and celebrations, glitches and breakthroughs. You watch people unfold and become strong.

    Sounds like a good job? All in all it is an honor.

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    When You Can’t Send Them Back
    April 29, 2010 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Mental Health, Parenting, Therapy · Permalink · Comments Off on When You Can’t Send Them Back

    The story of the adopted eight year-old boy who was sent back to Russia evokes a lot of  judgment towards his adoptive mother. The New York Times Style Section, oddly enough, covers this story in the article In Some Adoptions Love Does Not Conquer All. The piece explores the perspective of other adoptive parents whose children have severe psychiatric problems due to trauma early in life.  Many parents had torturous experiences trying to love, heal and raise their children.  Ellen McDaniels’ struggle is one such experience:

    Finally, two months ago, after what Ms. McDaniels described as nine years of frightening, exhausting and heartbreaking efforts to cope with her daughter’s behavioral problems — including, she said, her sexually abusing and threatening other children, threatening to burn down the house, hiding knives in her trundle bed, refusing to take medication and running away — she terminated her parental rights.

    Just so painful. But what of the parents whose biological children have serious illnesses like the children in the story?  They have the added guilt and worry that they caused the disorder through bad parenting or genetics.  They can’t send them back. Imagine terminating rights to your biological child. The reality is that any parent, adoptive or biological, whose child is suffering so greatly and is out of control, is in desperate need of help. These families need comprehensive medical, psychological and educational support in raising their children and keeping everyone in their family safe. Only the richest in our society can afford the therapeutic schooling and wilderness programs that address these children’s issues.  Even then it is hit or miss in terms of the quality of care.

    Maybe if enough of us pay attention to this serious crisis it will be “in style” to have comprehensive psychiatric care for troubled children.




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    Bring Your Context Into Therapy
    April 27, 2010 · Posted in Communication, Mental Health, Parenting, Therapy · Permalink · Comments Off on Bring Your Context Into Therapy

    chp_cell_phoneThe recent essay  In Therapy Cell Phones Ring True by psychiatrist Barbara Schildkrout talks of the snippets of context she gets as her clients take short cell phone calls in her office.

    “A mother receives a call from her teenage daughter. One theme of our sessions has been how to deal with the daughter’s “demanding behavior.” The volume is up; I hear both sides. The daughter is insistent about something trivial; mother is endlessly patient, even solicitous. Now I see that this child hasn’t been getting consistent feedback that her behavior is problematic. Guilt has driven my patient to conceal her anger. She is surprised to learn from me how successful she has become at this deception and how counterproductive it is…When another patient’s husband calls to learn the results of her medical tests, I sense his tenderness; this counterbalances my knowledge of their sexual difficulties…A calliope blares from the coat pocket of another patient, a young man. “I bet a hundred dollars it’s my sister!” he says. Clearly she calls him a lot, and he kind of loves it. Oddly, he rarely mentions her in therapy. Now I learn why. He had been afraid to disrupt the sweetness of his sibling relationship by uncovering its competitive core…In trying to grasp the infinite complexity of an individual’s mind, it helps to narrow the focus by closing out the world and creating a place of privacy. But, for understanding the context — the life a patient inhabits outside the office — it helps to let in some of the sights and sounds.”

    Schildkrout is on to something – the importance of understanding a person’s outside world to really help them make progress. So why are we protecting the sanctity of the one-on-one therapist client relationship when it obscures so much crucial information? Loyalty to theory? Narrow mindedness on the part of the therapist? Fear on the part of the client? While there is certainly a place and time for individual work, we feel that bringing in the spouse, children, sister, mother of the client -in an ongoing way or even just for sessions here and there- provides critical insight that speeds the therapeutic process and makes therapy much more honest and useful. Though the essay is funny and sweet I wonder why Dr. Schildkrout would just wait for the cell phone snippets– expedite the process and invite those people into the room. You will be much more helpful to your clients!

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