Worry about the World Situation

Reading the newspaper, listening to the news or watching the daily bulletin on TV can be a stressful exercise for anyone. Bad news in all its graphic detail is flashed before the viewer’s eyes: violent storms, terrorism, crime, fatal accidents, human rights abuses and more. Watching, hearing and reading this sort of content on a regular basis could cause anyone to worry about what’s going on in the world. However, children are particularly susceptible to negative impressions, tending to overvalue images and information not only because of emotional vulnerability, but also because of a lack of knowledge, experience and perspective. In addition, some children are particularly vulnerable to the impact of the media because they are natural born “worriers” to begin with. Once exposed to distressing information, these youngsters may run with it: “Will we die in a tornado?” “Are we going to have a war?” “Will the robbers come to our house?” “Professional worriers” can obsess about, talk about and even dream about world problems like  terrorism, war, famine and natural disasters. .

If  your child worries excessively about the world situation, consider the following tips:

Validate Feelings
Address the worry directly by inviting your child to tell you about it. Your child’s worry may be exaggerated, but very real and distressing for him or her to experience. You can help your youngster release some of this fear by welcoming his or her thoughts and feelings without judgment or correction. This form of listening is called Emotional Coaching. It consists of naming and accepting feelings, and summarizing what your child is saying. For instance, if your child says “I’m scared of the terrorists” you can say, “I’m glad you’re telling me. Yes, terrorists are scary because they hurt people.” Even though you are acknowledging your child’s fear – and his right to be afraid – , you will still be helping  him to calm down just by listening and naming his fear. Because you are not avoiding it or trying to talk him out of it in any way, the child experiences your lack of fear of his fear. This is what calms him down: your ability to name his feeling calmly. If the child asks questions like, “are terrorists going to come here?” you can name his feeling and speak the truth as you see it: “I know you’re scared that terrorists will come. I don’t know if they will or not but I hope they don’t. It’s really up to God. We will do the best we can in any situation in which we find ourselves.” In other words, you are not making false promises. If there is only a tiny chance statistically of certain kinds of disasters happening in your geographical location, it’s fine to say this as well. For instance, “I know you’re afraid of earthquakes. Our area is very unlikely to have one because it’s never had one yet. And there’s nothing we need to do to prepare for one. Therefore, when you find yourself thinking about earthquakes, you might be better off putting your attention on a happier thought or idea.”

Calm Anxieties
Children who worry obsessively (think too much about the world situation and its potential negative consequences) may benefit from the Bach Flower Remedy White Chestnut. This remedy helps to calm a noisy mind (in both children and adults). Two drops in any hot or cold liquid, 3 or 4 times a day, can be taken until the negative obsessing stops. If worries return, start taking the drops again.

You can also teach your child how to use EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) to put a stop to worrying. There are many online resources teaching EFT and there are also many therapists who can offer both treatment and training. EFT helps children of every age learn how to use acupressure to effectively eliminate all kinds of stress and anxiety, including worrying about the world situation.

Another technique to offer your child is to help your child refocus his or her attention when worries come up. Talk about the fact that worries don’t solve the world’s problems but they do cause personal stress. Explain that we can choose which thoughts and feelings we will pay attention to and that we don’t HAVE to pay attention to a thought that pops into our mind if that thought is not making us feel comfortable. Instead, we can put our attention on a completely different, very good feeling thought. For instance, instead of thinking about possible terrible events, one can think about one’s pet or one’s favorite ice cream cone! It’s important to focus attention on the better feeling thought for a number of moments.

Books and internet resources can also teach children and teens (and adults) techniques to help stop worrying.

If these self-help measures are insufficient to reduce your child’s worries, a mental health professional may be able to provide further help in relieving your child’s worry habit.

Activism vs. Helplessness
A child’s worry about world events is often wrapped in feelings of helpless and/or overwhelm. The feeling of being a potential victim is indeed disturbing. However, parents can help empower their kids through inculcating healthy attitudes toward factors outside of one’s control. Instead of just brushing off a child’s worry with  “we can’t do anything about those things, Honey”, or “we already have more problems than we can handle without having to worry about what’s going on halfway around the globe!”  parents can take the opportunity to instill in their kids social awareness and social concern. By teaching children that there ARE actions that they can take, parents give children a way to take some control of their lives and the world they are living in. This sense of control is, itself, an antidote to worry. There are lots of books in the public library about children who were able to make a difference in the political realm simply by raising money or writing letters. Parents can inspire their kids by reading these stories to them. Parents can actually teach children how to write a letter to government officials or how to give charity to help victims of terrorism or natural disasters. In other words, parents can convey the message that when there is a problem, people of all ages must step up to the plate to help solve it.

Worries

Worrying is a common human activity which everyone engages in. While children and teens have specific worries at various times – such as worry about school, doctors, robbers, dogs, or friendships – some children tend to worry about almost everything! When worry is frequent or across the board, it can become a serious source of distress in your child’s life. Moreover, your child’s intense worrying can also have an impact on you as you spend endless hours trying to offer reassurance and inspire greater confidence.

If your child worries a lot, consider the following tips:

Worry is a Form of Stress
In its mildest forms, worry is a stress-inducing activity. Worry involves thinking about stressful events like something bad happening, something going wrong or some disaster occuring. Such thoughts send stress chemistry through the body. Some people say they worry in order to prevent something bad from happening. Their logic is that it is not “safe” to be too sure of a positive outcome and believing that things will work out just fine can actually cause them to go awry. Interestingly, no spiritual or religious discipline advocates such an approach; on the contrary – every spiritually oriented philosophy encourages POSITIVE thinking in order to help positive events occur. Nonetheless, many people claim that worrying is somehow helpful to them. Some say that it prepares them in advance for disappointment so that they won’t be crushed if things do turn out badly. Like the superstitious philosophy above, this really makes no sense. Suffering in advance only ADDS a certain number of days or hours of pain to the pain of disappointment of something not turning out well. It would be better to be happy in advance and just feel badly at the time something actually goes wrong. Besides, most of the things that people worry about actually turn out O.K. which means that they have suffered many hours for no reason whatsoever! In short, there is really nothing that we can recommend about the habit of worrying. It is simply a bad habit that wears us down.

Because worrying is a habit, the more one does it, the more one will be doing it in the future. In this way, worrying is just like playing piano – practice and more practice makes it easier and faster to play the (worry) song. The worry habit builds up a strong neural pathway in the brain. However, once a person stops worrying, the neural pathway shrinks from lack of use and more productive thoughts will more easily and rapidly occur. But how can one stop worrying? And how can one help his or her child stop worrying?

How to Stop Your Own Worry Habit

  • As soon as you are aware that you are worrying, start thinking about something else – anything else. For instance, look at what is right in front of you and describe it. This breaks up the worry activity and interrupts the automatic habit, sort of “blowing up” the worry pathways in the brain.
  • Set aside 2 periods each day to specifically worry about a problem that you have. Allow five or ten minutes for each period and worry all you want. If you find yourself worrying at any other time of the day, STOP and remind yourself that it is not your worry period. Be sure to worry during your scheduled times.
  • Learn “mindfulness meditation.” This technique can help you release worries as well gently. (See more information about related techniques below).
  • Take the Bach Flower Remedy (see below) called “White Chestnut” for general worries (especially those that keep you awake at night) and “Red Chestnut” for worries about your close family members like parents, spouse and kids.

How to Help Your Child Stop the Worry Habit
When your child expresses a worry, name his feelings and don’t try to change them. For instance, if your child says, “I’m so afraid I’m going to fail my test.” you can say, “I understand Honey. You’re afraid you won’t pass.” Or, if your child says, “What if no one at the new school likes me?” you could say, “Yes, it’s scary to think that the kids won’t like you.”  The main part of this technique is NOT trying to talk the child out of his or her worry (i.e. “Oh don’t worry about it, you’ll be fine!”). If you refrain from offering reassurance, your child will begin to reassure HIMSELF! It’s not much fun worrying out loud when no one tries to reassure you. This discourages the child from thinking so negatively – or at least, cuts it very short. Also, by naming and accepting the worry WITHOUT trying to change it, your child learns to be less fearful of his or her own feelings. Rumination (worry) is much less likely once the original feeling has been acknowledged. When you are in the habit of acknowledging and accepting the child’s fear or concern, the child learns to accept his or her own feelings as well and this causes them to release quickly.

Help Your Child Access Positive Imagination
Children often have wild imaginations. This imagination is commonly used to conjure up thoughts of bad things happening (i.e. robbers breaking in, a dog attacking him/her, etc…). Teach your child how to imagine good things happening instead. Show him how to imagine guardians, angels, friendly lions or knights etc. Imagination can be a powerful tool. For a young child, make up stories that employ protective images. If you are raising children within a faith-based framework, draw on this resource. Consult the teachings of your faith and pass these on to your child. Research shows that people of all ages who draw on their faith actually do much better emotionally, suffering less worry and stress in the long run.

Techniques to Calm the Mind
Breathwork and other forms of meditation can help retrain and calm a worried mind. Teaching a child to focus on his breath for even three minutes a day is a very powerful way to introduce him to the idea that he has some control over his thought process. By paying attention to the “in” breath and the “out” breath for just a few minutes, the child can have a mini-vacation from worry. He can turn for that vacation as part of his daily routine AND whenever he is feeling stressed from his own worrying process.For instance, instruct your child to think the word “In” when he’s breathing in and to think the word “Out” when he’s breathing out. Focusing on the breath in this way for even three minutes, produces powerful anti-anxiety chemistry in the brain.

Refocus Attention
Worriers focus on the negative – all the things that can go wrong. The worrier eventually builds up a strong negative tendency in the brain, automatically looking for worst case scenarios at every opportunity. To help counter this brain development, teach your youngster  how to notice the good in his or her life. For instance, institute a dinner time or bedtime ritual that acknowledges all the things that are going right in life, all the ways things are good, all the prayers that have been answered, etc.  A few minutes of this practice each day can be enough to stimulate a new direction of neural development in the  brain. Self-help techniques like EFT (emotional freedom technique) can be very helpful for people who worry.

Use Bibliotherapy (read stories)
Ask your local librarian for suggestions for age-appropriate books and movies that highlight children’s abilities to courageously and effectively face challenges and solve problems. Such stories can help reduce a child’s sense of helplessness and vulnerability.

Talk about Resilience
If your child worries about terrorism, war and other threats to personal safety, address the worry directly. Keep in mind that with all the forms of media available today, it has become increasingly hard to shield a child from disturbing news and images. Therefore, trying to protect your child from such things should not be your goal. Instead, focus on giving your child the information he needs to feel reasonably safe and secure and then acknowledge that there is no absolute guarantees that bad things won’t happen. You can convey that people have always been able to “step up to the plate” and handle what comes their way. People can face adversity with courage. If you know some examples in your family life or in your community, share them with your child. You can also look to the larger world and select some heroes who have clearly demonstrated the human capacity to cope with challenge and difficulty. This approach is more helpful and calming than making false promises that nothing will ever go wrong in your child’s life.

Consider Bach Flower Therapy
Bach Flower Therapy is a harmless water-based naturopathic treatment that can ease emotional distress and even prevent it from occurring in the future. For worries, you can give your child the flower remedy called White Chestnut. White Chestnut helps calm a “noisy” brain. If your child experiences specific worries, such as a fear of that someone will get hurt or fear of illness, you can offer the remedy Mimulus. For vague or unclear fears (i.e. scared of the dark) you can use the remedy Aspen. Walnut is used for those who are strongly affected by learning about bad things happening in the media or other places. You can mix remedies together and take them at the same time. To do so, you fill a one-ounce Bach Mixing Bottle with water (a mixing bottle is an empty bottle with a glass dropper, sold in health food stores along with Bach Flower Remedies). Next, add two drops of each remedy that you want to use. Finally, add one teaspoon of brandy. The bottle is now ready to use. Give your child 4 drops of the mixture in any liquid (juice, water, milk, tea, etc.) four times a day (morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening). Remedies can be taken with or without food. Continue this treatment until the fear or worry has dissipated. Start treatment again, if the fear or worry returns. Eventually, the fear or worry should diminish completely.

Worry as an Anxiety Disorder
When a child’s worry does not respond to home treatment or when it is causing significant distress or interfering with the youngster’s functioning at home or school, assessment by a mental health professional is important.  The child may have a mental health disorder that can benefit from treatment. For instance, excessive and chronic worry is a symptom found in Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). In GAD, worry symptoms are often accompanied by a variety of physical symptoms, such as shortness of breath, fatigue, restlessness, and trouble sleeping. In other words, the worry habit can also make child feel physically unwell. A mental health professional can assess and effectively treat excessive worry, helping your child to enjoy a healthier, less stressful life.

What is an Eating Disorder?

Eating is a way to get nourishment and sustenance; it is, for the most part, a pleasant and fulfilling act. Sometimes, however, eating becomes part of a disabling or even life-threatening disorder.

What is an Eating Disorder? 
As the term implies, an eating disorder is a mental health condition that is characterized by dysfunctional eating patterns such as overeating, deliberate starvation, binging and purging. Eating disorders are associated with extreme concern or anxiety related to one’s body shape, size or weight. Some family therapists have conceptualized eating disorders as illnesses related to issues of control, like addictions or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Whatever the cause, an eating disorder is conceded as both a physiological and a psychological problem.

Who are at Risk? 
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, eating disorders occur frequently among adolescents and young adults, although there have been reported cases of childhood eating disorders and eating disorders that occur during late adulthood. The disorders are more prevalent among women than men, although in recent years, men are suffering in greater numbers.

What are the Types of Eating Disorders?
Types of eating disorders may include:

Anorexia NervosaAnorexia Nervosa is characterized by the relentless pursuit of thinness despite severe negative consequences. People with Anorexia Nervosa are convinced that they are too fat or too heavy, even if objectively they are already underweight. They may therefore engage in excessive dieting, self-induced vomiting, overexercising, the use of diuretics and laxatives, and abuse of weight management pills. Alarmingly, people with Anorexia Nervosa are ten times more likely to die from the condition than those without the disease.

Bulimia Nervosa. Bulimia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by repeated patterns of binging and purging. Binging refers to the consumption of large amounts of food in a short time, e.g. eating several plates of pasta in one sitting. Purging refers to the compensatory action to get rid of the food or calories consumed during the binge episode. Purging techniques include the ones people with Anorexia use to lose weight, e.g. self-induced vomiting, laxatives, diuretics and overexercising. Unlike sufferers of Anorexia, people with Bulimia may have normal body weight.

Obesity. Obesity is a condition of excess weight – essentially the result of consuming more calories than are needed for energy. It can affect a teenager’s self-image and self-confidence and it can also affect his or her health. For instance, obesity is sometimes associated with the development of insulin resistance – a sensitivity to sugars in the blood. This condition can be a precursor to a more serious condition such as diabetes.

How are Eating Disorders Treated?
There are three steps to treating eating disorders.

The first step is the physiological or medical intervention. Eating disorders may be classified under mental health issues, but they carry with them serious medical effects. People with Anorexia Nervosa, for example, can suffer from severe malnutrition that serious and irreversible damage to vital organs occur. Eating disorders may even be fatal if not arrested in time. Therefore the first order of business is to restore the patient to an ideal weight, address nutrient deficiency, and treat the medical side effects of the condition.

The second step to treating eating disorders is psychological assistance. Counseling and therapy must be employed to address the psychological reasons behind the dysfunctional eating patterns. Eating disorders are related to dysfunctions in perception of one’s weight or shape. Often, patients suffer from low self-esteem, obsession about body weight, and a sense of helplessness about their situation. It is also not unusual for other mental health issues to develop because of the eating disorder, such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

The last step is maintenance to prevent relapse. Like people with addictions, those with eating disorders must consistently monitor their behavior even after treatment to prevent symptoms from recurring. Joining support groups, on-going family therapy, and education about proper nutrition and weight management are ways to maintain progress in recovery from eating disorders.

How Can You Tell if Your Child is Suffering from an Eating Disorder?
You will not be ablet o diagnose an eating disorder on your own. However, what you CAN do is take your child to a doctor or psychologist for assessment if you suspect that something isn’t right. Most parents are able and willing to do this when they see that their child is overweight. However, kids suffering from bulimia may be a totally normal weight. Kids suffering from anorexia may gradually lose weight and cover it up with clothing (and excuses). However, there are some red flags that can alert a parent to the need to have the child assessed. For instance: consuming large amounts of food without gaining weight is a red flag for bulimia. Playing with food on the plate, cutting it into small bits and moving it around, becoming increasingly picky as to what is fit to eat and clearly not eating much, may be red flags for anorexia. Other symptomatic behaviors include being very cold, growing a thin layer of hair on the skin, engaging in excessive amounts of exercise, buying laxatives and vomiting without being ill. Don’t get into a conversation with your child about whether or not he or she has an eating disorder. Instead, tell your child that diagnosis will be left up to a professional.

Anorexia

The eating disorder known as “Anorexia” has become so common, that almost everyone now knows what it is. When we think of anorexia, we think of excessively skinny people – sometimes with a skeletal appearance of skin and bones – whose lives are at risk due to malnutrition. And this is exactly what the disorder leads to. Anorexia is a condition that causes people to starve themselves.

Anorexia Nervosa used to be a condition that was most commonly found in individuals whose professions demand subscription to particular “body image.” Models, actors and physical trainer, for instance, have long suffered from eating disorders because their jobs require them to look a certain way.

Unfortunately however, the incidence of Anorexia Nervosa is climbing among the general public, with highest rate found in adolescent girls. Furthermore, onset age of the disease get lower and lower each year, with girls now as young as 7 years old succumbing to the illness. It may be that the way the media portrays attractiveness, the decreased focus on healthy eating habits, and the decrease in parental guidance as dual-income families and divorcing couples increase, all contribute to the rise in adolescent anorexia.

What are the Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by an irrational obsession with having a thin body.  A person with Anorexia controls his or her body weight by limiting food intake and also by attempting to “un-do” eating by inducing vomiting, using laxatives or exercising excessively. When kids start restricting their diet to very low calorie foods, start obsessing about and avoiding “bad” foods like fats and carbs, cut up their food in small pieces and shuffle it around their plates, wear baggy clothing to hide protruding bones, claim they’ve eaten when they haven’t, exercise way too much, and so on, it’s time for parents to be concerned.

People with Anorexia suffer from a distorted body image. Regardless of their actual weight and height, or of their objective appearance in the mirror, they still feel that they are “too fat” and need to lose some weight.

Types of Anorexia Nervosa

There are two more common types of Anorexia Nervosa: a “restricting type” and a “binge-and-purge” type. Those who belong to the first type obsessively lose weight by fasting or eating extremely small portions. Those who belong to the second type alternate between binging (eating large quantities of food), and then later finding ways to remove the eaten food before the food is digested.

A Serious, Even Fatal Disorder 

Anorexia, like all eating disorders, must be taken seriously. It is not a “teenage fad,” but rather a serious health risk.  Aside from the psychological impact of the disease, Anorexia Nervosa can result to many serious physical conditions — even death. Starvation alone may result into cardiac arrhythmia, hypotension, gastric issues and low blood pressure — not to mention various complications resulting from many nutritional deficiencies. Anorexics may require hospitalization, and a full physiological therapy, before they can even start dealing with the emotional issues associated with the disease.

What Can Parents Do? 
Given the seriousness of this disease, what can parents do to protect their children?

Preventing Anorexia Nervosa in one’s home begins by promoting a healthy body image for the family. Contrary to what the media promotes, there is no one measure of attractiveness and beauty. Similarly, body size and shape doesn’t necessarily equate to health — ethnicity, bone/muscle mass and body structure must all be taken into account before one can be considered as underweight or overweight. While parents are recommended to be health and diet conscious in the home, they must also be affirming of their child’s natural beauty so as not to encourage a pre-occupation with body image. Neither parent should praise a child for being skinny. A thin body type is simply an inherited characteristic – as is a softer, bigger look. As long as your child is not eating poorly (i.e. living on a diet of coke and cookies, munching chips and ice cream instead of eating dinner), then just help him or her to learn the basics of dressing well. For instance, a “square” shaped child will look better in a certain type of sweater/pant or skirt combination than in a different kind of outfit – teach your adolescents about dressing to highlight their own good looks. Much can be accomplished with a few library books on the subject. If your child is actually eating poorly, encourage good eating habits without becoming so intense about it that the child swings the other way; many anorexics were once overweight and compensated by going too far in the other direction. When parents are too invested in the child’s “look” they may accidentally nurture the seeds of disease.

Even more important, however, is the emotional climate of the home. Kids act out their stress with eating disorders, so try to create and maintain a fairly low-stress environment. This means, work on your marriage (or even your divorce) so that there isn’t a lot of hostility being displayed, refrain from raising your voice or using very stringent punishments, keep demands light and reasonable considering the age of the child, bring laughter and love into everyday interactions EVERY day, and don’t get too stressed yourself. Although nothing a parent does can guarantee that a child won’t succumb to eating disorders, taking these steps can reduce the chances.

If you suspect that your child is developing symptoms of anorexia, then go with the child to a medical appointment to obtain a formal assessment. You can tell your child, “I’m not an expert. I don’t know if the way you are eating and the way you look is fine or not. I am, however, feeling concerned. So I’ve made an appointment for us to see Dr. So and So, who can tell me where things stand. If there’s no problem – great! I’ll leave you alone. But if there is any problem, then we can help you with it.” Such an appointment should never be optional. If you thought that your child’s lump on her skin was suspicious, you wouldn’t ask her to please come for a biopsy. You would TELL her that she needs to be seen by a medical professional. You would not allow your child to refuse to go, knowing that untreated cancer can be life-threatening. In the same way, you need to use all of your parenting power to get your child to a doctor when you suspect the life-threatening disorder of anorexia.

Asperger’s Syndrome

Named after Hans Asperger, the pediatrician who first described its symptoms, Asperger’s is a part of an umbrella of neurological and social conditions called “autism spectrum disorders.” Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is more difficult to identify and diagnose than many autism-related disorders, mostly because symptoms can be attributed to many other conditions. But the diagnosis of AS is usually empowering, as persons with Asperger’s typically have an easier time mainstreaming than those with other autism spectrum disorders.

The onset of the disease is usually at 3 to 5 years old.

What is Asperger’s Syndrome?
Asperger’s Syndrome (also called Asperger’s Disorder) is a neurological condition characterized by:

Severe Impairment in Social Interaction and Skills
People with Asperger’s tend to be self-focused (which is not to say they are self-centered). They prefer to be alone and have very little need for companionship. They are more interested in their inner musings, and are prone towards introspection and daydreaming. They can appear rude when spoken to, and may have difficulty following the subtext of a conversation (they can’t “read between the lines”). They can be very selective  when it comes to associating with peers or adults. Additionally, many kids and adults with AS are prone to random bursts of temper.

Limited Repetitive Behavior
People with Asperger’s are also prone to various obsessions and narrow interests. For instance, they might be interested in  parts of objects (like clocks) or they might like spinning things over and over and over. They flap their hands (particularly when excited).  Some children with Asperger’s are called “little professors,”  as they like to recite to others (as if teaching) whatever it is they are currently obsessing about.

Lack of Emotional Reciprocity
People with Asperger’s have difficulty identifying their own emotions as well as empathizing with other people. They can’t read non-verbal cues that communicate feelings, and may even appear cold and dismissive of other’s distress or pain. They are also poor at using non-verbal cues themselves such as maintaining eye contact, showing appropriate facial expressions or using gestures naturally. Not surprisingly, considering all this, people with AS have trouble making friends. However, they often don’t care so much about this as they are not all that interested in social relationships.

People with Asperger’s Syndrome tend to have excellent language and cognitive skills, and may even excel in areas they obsess on. Some may have motor problems and clumsiness.

What Can Parents Do?
If parents suspect that their child may have Asperger’s, the best thing to do is to get a diagnosis by a qualified mental health practitioner. Developmental psychologists, as well as psychiatrists, are generally competent at diagnosing autism spectrum disorders, but it’s always better to consult one who specializes in the disease. Because Asperger’s is primarily biological in origin (it is not caused by trauma nor by bad parenting), it has an early onset; symptoms that look like Asperger’s, but appear later in life, are unlikely to stem from Asperger’s Disorder.

Early intervention is critical in managing Asperger’s Syndrome. Currently, there are no cures for the illness, but medications and therapy can assist in managing symptoms. Many with AS are able to live highly functioning and productive lives. It does help for parents and other care-providers to be educated about their children’s particular needs. Training in social and communication skills, as well as occupational therapy can help with the various symptoms of AS.

Kleptomania

People often assume that a thief steals for a reason. However, link the truth is that stealing doesn’t always have a practical purpose and not everyone who steals is a “thief” in the true sense of that word. A child may be caught stealing something he doesn’t really want nor need, pharm something he already has, or something of very little value. A child may also steal for the sake of stealing, not because of a need for attention, a desire for revenge or a show of inadequacy. When someone steals without any obvious gain, it is possible that he or she is suffering from a mental health condition called kleptomania.

What is Kleptomania?
Kleptomania is a mental health condition characterized by a strong urge to steal, and a feeling of relief after stealing. It’s an impulse-control disorder, similar to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, where the patient suffers from persistent thoughts and repetitive patterns of behavior. Kleptomania usually has its onset in young adulthood, but there are cases of kids as young as 5 years old with Kleptomania.

Are Kleptomaniacs Criminals?
Kleptomania must be distinguished from the criminal act of stealing, or the willful and knowing theft of someone else’s property. People with Kleptomania steal not because they want to, but because they feel they have to. They experience extreme anxiety when they do not give in to the behavior of stealing, and stealing is the only way they can get relief. They know that what they do is wrong, but they can’t help it. In fact, many kleptomaniacs steal things that have little value, such as paper clips or tissue paper rolls. They may also return what they have stolen afterwards, as they are not particularly interested in the stolen object itself, but rather the act of stealing.

How is Kleptomania Treated?
The dynamics behind Kleptomania point to how the condition should be handled by parents, teachers and helping professionals.

It’s recommended that Kleptomaniacs (those who suffer from Kleptomania) not be punished for their stealing, as they have a mental health condition that needs help and healing – not punishment. In fact, many researchers argue that Kleptomania, like all impulse-control issues, may have a physiological origin. Abnormally low amounts of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain may be the cause of Kleptomania.

Counseling is an appropriate first response to a child with Kleptomania. Except for really young children, people with Kleptomania are aware that what they are doing is dysfunctional and they are often stressed, even depressed, about what they are going through. Helping a child vent his or her feelings over the inability to control impulses is a good start.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy has been known to assist children with Kleptomania in managing their urges and compulsion. Skills in stress and anxiety management are also helpful, as it is stress and anxiety that often compel a kleptomaniac to steal. Gradually sensitizing a child to the impact of stealing on other people can also be a way to help kids with Kleptomania manage their condition.

When therapy alone fails to cure the condition, psychotropic medicine of the type used for obsessive-compulsive disorder may be prescribed.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Parents may wonder if their child has OCD when they notice that the child seems overly occupied with worries and strange behaviors. If the parent has seen something similar in another family member who has already been diagnosed with OCD, he or she may suspect that this child may also have the disorder.  Other parents have no such frame of reference and are simply perplexed by their youngster’s behavior.

Small children are often anxious and ritualistic – they want their parents to give them 10 kisses at bedtime and stay with them the whole night! It’s very difficult for a parent to know whether such behavior is just normal childish behavior or something that requires professional attention. However, when a child starts demanding 24 kisses – exactly 12 on one cheek and 12 on the other – a parent may become suspicious. It doesn’t “feel” or “sound” right to him or her. The only way to know if the child’s feelings and actions are within the normal range is to obtain a proper assessment.

A  diagnosis  of OCD can only be confirmed or dis-confirmed by a qualified mental health professional. If you are concerned about your child, talk to your family doctor or pediatrician – this person can refer you to a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist for an assessment. OCD will not normally be diagnosed unless the symptoms are causing the child significant distress or unless they are affecting the child’s school life, social life or home life adversely. Even if the child is diagnosed with OCD, there is much to be hopeful about: there are excellent behavioral treatments for OCD. People who receive treatment have a good recovery rate.

What is OCD?
OCD involves obsessions and compulsions (also called “rituals”). Obsessions are “sticky” thoughts – thoughts that just won’t go away (at least not by themselves). A teenager might obsess about whether she remembered to lock the door. Instead of just leaving the house like others do, she thinks about that door, asking herself over and over again if she remembered to lock it. Obsessions can also be sensations – a type of feeling. For instance, a child might pull his sock up over and over again until it hits a spot on the leg that feels “just right.” His mother might say that he is obsessed with getting just the right spot and she would be correct – the youngster cannot tolerate the feeling of the sock being at the wrong spot. Compulsions are actions that a person does that either “undoes” an obsession or ends it in some way. Spending lots of time arranging the socks is a compulsion. The teenager who is obsessing about whether or not she remembered to lock the door, may go back to the house 2, 3, or more times “to make sure.” The ritual of checking is called a compulsion.

A common obsession has to do with the fear of becoming contaminated. This may involve a fear of germs. “I don’t want to touch the money because everyone else has touched the money and it probably is full of germs and germs are dangerous.” Equally common is the ritual of excessive washing in order to clean oneself of germs or contamination. “My daughter washes her hands until they bleed.” This is not normal washing that is meant to remove surface dirt; rather this is OCD washing that is meant to remove spiritual impurities that can harm a person. In fact, in order not to HAVE to wash oneself, OCD sufferers start to avoid being near problematic triggers. For instance, they might only handle money while wearing gloves (so their hands won’t touch the contaminated money and they will then not have to wash off the contamination). Or, they  may not open a door with their hand – they might use a foot or an elbow or ask someone else to open it. Avoidance actually contributes to the illness – the more a person avoids OCD triggers, the stronger the illness of OCD becomes. In fact, the major aspect of treating OCD involves teaching the sufferer to avoid avoidance! A child must be helped to confront and live with his or her worst fears.

Most obsessions center around issues of health, safety, goodness and cleanliness. As stated above, they can also center around certain “right” feelings (like the feeling of having a shoe lace tied up “just right”).

For instance, children and teens can obsess about the idea they have might have made a religious error. To “fix” it they might pray for hours on end (missing school in the process). Some people want to do things perfectly; a child may write something, erase it, write it again, erase it, write it again, over and over and over again – destroying the paper and taking hours to perform a task that other children are completing in minutes. Some people with OCD need to have everything in a certain order – for example, in order from biggest to smallest. Again, trying to get it that way can take painful hours; if the order is messed up by someone else, the person with OCD can become hysterical. These are just some of the common variations of OCD. There are many others and each person can have his or her own unique version of the disorder.

Treatment for a religious obsession might be insisting that the youngster DOES NOT pray for more than the normal few minutes that prayer takes a healthy person. In other words, the youngster must just live with the worry that perhaps she did something wrong. Instead of making that worry go away by praying excessively, she must just have the worry without doing anything to fix it or end it. This sort of treatment has the effect of stopping the worry altogether. Therefore, no more excessive praying is required. No obsession leads to no ritual which essentially is no OCD.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
People who suffer from OCD, even kids, usually know that their thoughts and actions are irrational, and they often feel distressed over their lack of control. The obsessions and compulsions, however, feel more powerful than a person’s will. The obsessive compulsive person is trapped in a vicious cycle; he or she needs to behave a certain way (perform a ritualistic behavior) to relive stress and anxiety, but the behavior itself creates more stress and anxiety. This can lead to intense attempts to avoid situations that will trigger the compulsion. For instance, if someone knows that touching a doorknob will create anxiety that can only be soothed by repeated washing of the hands, then he will try not to touch the doorknob. Instead, he might ask someone else to open the door, or he might open it with his elbow or he might wear gloves in order to open it. The time it takes to perform rituals can severely affect a person’s life and the difficulty of avoiding triggers can make a person function in a very odd way. OCD is thus very stressful. Attempts to manage OCD can sometimes lead to other mental health complications, such as clinical depression, other anxiety disorders, substance abuse and/or other impulse-control issues. OCD is sometimes found in people who have other clinical disorders like anorexia, Tourette’s Syndrome or ADD/ADHD.

What Causes  OCD?
Current thinking suggests that that OCD is a biologically- based condition, possibly the result of serotonin deficiency in the brain and other chemical conditions. It has been observed that OCD tends to run in families (that is, other family members have OCD or they may have other anxiety disorders) and therefore it is thought that a vulnerability for the condition is passed on through the genes.  OCD can also occur in a form called PANDAS  (pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder) – when it suddenly appears following a streptococcal infection like strep throat. In this case it is believed that OCD is triggered by the same bacteria that causes scarlet fever and strep throat. Again, it might be that a person must have the vulnerable genes in order for the bacteria to have this effect.

What is the Treatment for OCD?
OCD is best treated with CBT – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Although some teens and adults can relieve their own symptoms with self-help by reading books on OCD (see for instance, “Overcoming Compulsive Washing” or “Overcoming Compulsive Checking” by Dr. Munford), most people will have the best results by consulting a qualified mental health professional who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of OCD. Ask your doctor for a referral. Parents should read up on OCD and get professional counseling to know how to best help their child. Uninformed parents often accidently worsen OCD by helping the child AVOID triggers. As we saw above, EXPOSURE to the frightening element is curative – NOT avoidance! Parents need to know exactly how to help their child or teen in the home setting. The earlier OCD is treated, the easier it is to treat. On the other hand, the more one lets OCD fester, the more they will experience its symptoms. It is possible that intense stress causes certain physical conditions in the brain that then trigger the dynamics of OCD. Relieving stress may make it easier to treat the OCD. Therefore, psychotherapy may play a role in helping ease OCD by reducing overall stress and anxiety in the system (much like medication does) so that CBT can be effective.

Natural Treatment for Stress Relief

Bach Flower Remedies are one-ounce bottles of specially prepared water (see below for details). Although they are only water, they can affect the way people feel emotionally. In fact, they can help balance emotions so that a person can release stress, upset, hurt, anger, fear, sadness, irritation, jealousy, impatience  and any other distressed emotion. Indeed,  many people report that they have successfully used Bach Flower Remedies to feel calmer, sleep better, worry less, recover faster from upset and heartache, handle parenting stress and work stress better and so on. Many have also reported that they were able to see a reduction in their child’s tantrums, aggressive behaviors, moodiness  or fears because of the use of the remedies.

But the remedies can do even more than help a transitory bad feeling : they can also help correct the tendency to fall into those feelings in the first place. When the remedies are used to treat a chronic emotional issue (like a tendency to be stubborn or a tendency to be explosive), they might actually be assisting in a processes now referred to as  “epigentic healing” – the healing of the gene that leads one to experience chronically negative emotional states. We now know that genes can be turned on and off and this is what appears to be happening when someone takes a long course of Bach Flower Therapy. This means that a child who tends to be very shy can take the remedies over time to reduce the shy tendency altogether. The Bach Flowers do not change personality, however. What they do is enable a person to be their own best self. A very strong-willed, obstinate child will retain his strength of character but instead of just being difficult to live with he will be his best self: a born leader, a confident person, one who can take appropriate action. When the Flower Remedies help a childhood overcome chronic separation anxiety, they leave the child’s personality intact: it is the same youngster without debilitating fear blocking the expression of his true self.

It’s hard to believe that these little remedies can work and it’s best not to even TRY to believe that they will; rather, just try the remedies yourself and observe how you feel while taking them. Or, offer a remedy to your child and observe the child’s behavior over the next days and weeks to see if there is any difference. Bach Flowers sometimes seem to have a dramatically positive effect on both behavior and mood and other times seem to make little difference. (Of course, there is no medical or psychological treatment either that works equally well for every single person who employs it.) In the latter case, it might be that the wrong mix of remedies is being used, but it can also be that a longer period is necessary before change will occur or even that a particular person is not responsive to the remedies at the particular time that they are being offered (i.e. this could change in the future). It can also be that while the Bach Flowers are having some positive effect, a complete treatment  requires other interventions as well including strategies like nutritional support, exercise, psychotherapy and/or medicine.

How are Bach Flowers Prepared and Used?
Dr. Edward Bach, a prominent physician in Britain who died in 1935, was interested in preventative medicine. In his search for something that could boost the immune system to ward off disease or to help the body recover more quickly and thoroughly from illness, he discovered a water-based method of healing that became known as “Bach Flower Therapy.” Modern physicists use principles of quantum physics to explain how water remedies can affect human emotions. Dr. Bach, however, understood the remedies on a purely intuitive level. He felt their effects and he could see what they were able to do to effectively relieve stress and emotional distress.

Bach Flower Remedies are prepared by taking the head of a certain flowering plant and placing it in a clear bowl of pure water. The water is heated in sunlight or on a stove for several hours (depending on which flower is being used) and then the flower is removed. The water is the remedy. It is bottled (and preserved with a bit of grape alcholol) and – in our times – sold in health food stores throughout the world as well as on-line.

Bach Fower Remedies are a form of vibrational medicine, not herbal medicine. They are NOT medicinal. They do not act on the body at all. They don’t interact with other medicines or foods or health conditions or anything. They are the same as water is to the system. However, if someone cannot have even a minute amount of alcohol in their system, they should look for the newer remedies that are made using glycerin instead. In general, however, anyone can safely use Bach Flower Remedies – babies, children, teens and adults, pregnant women and elderly people. Even plants and animals respond well to the Bach Flowers!

How Does One Take Bach Flowers?
If a person is using only one of the 38 remedies, they can take 2 drops from the remedy bottle in a small amount of liquid. They should do so 4 times a day – morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening.

However, most people take anywhere from 2 to 7 remedies that have been mixed together in a “mixing bottle.” To prepare a mixing bottle, one places water in a glass bottle with a glass dropper – generally a  30 ml  (1oz.) amber bottle. (These bottles are sold wherever Bach Flower Remedies are sold and they are called Bach Mixing Bottles.) Then one adds 2 drops from each desired remedy bottle. If a person was using 7 remedies, they would be adding 14 Bach Remedy drops to their mixing bottle. To ensure that bacteria does not grow inside of the mixing bottle, a teaspoon of brandy or apple cider vinegar should be added to the bottle.

This Bach Flower Remedy Mixture is then taken, 4 drops at a time, in hot or cold liquid, with or without food. Ideally, these 4 drops are taken 4 times a day, for a total of 16 drops daily. A person takes them in the morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening.

Adults can put 4 drops of their Bach Flower mixture into coffee, tea, water, juice, soup or any other liquid. Children can take their drops in water, chocolate milk, juice, cereal or any other beverage.

A person takes their mixture until they start forgetting to take it and they no longer need it. (Or, parents give a mixture to a child until the child’s behavior or mood issues have resolved to the point where the parent is now forgetting to give it to the child)  If symptoms return (and they most likely will), the person starts taking the remedy again. In fact a person may end up using the remedy off and on for a year or two (less time in children) before the problematic tendency  disappears completely.

How Does One Know Which Remedies to Use?
Dr. Bach wanted to keep his healing method very simply. A person should be able to read the description of the 38 remedies and decide which ones he needs. Of course, some people feel that they need all 38! However, no more than 7 should be used at a time.

A person could pick up a book on Bach Flower Remedies and decide which flowers they need based on the description of who the remedy is for and what it can do. Also, most health food stores have a pamphlet that explain what the remedies can too. Alternatively, a person can make an appointment with a Bach Flower Practitioner who will be pleased to help them design a remedy for themselves or their child.

Arranging Everything Just So

Some children are fussy about their things. They like everything in it’s place. Others care so little about this that their parents struggle with them for two decades to clear a path to their beds! And yet, despite the obvious benefits of being very neat and organized, this trait can sometimes be problematic. The basic question is, when is it too much?

If your child has to have everything “just so,” consider the following tips:

Monkey See, Monkey Do
If you or your spouse also like everything “just so,” it may simply be that your child is copying your style. Sometimes, the child’s copy is more intense than the parent’s original, but if it is in the same department, it may be nothing more than a learned behavior. As long as none of  you gets overly distressed when something is out of place, there is nothing to be concerned about. However, if any of you become extremely agitated when something is missing or not in exactly the right position or angle, then things are not quite as they should be. In that case consider the information below.

Nervous Habits
Arranging things “just so” can help calm inner feelings of tension and mild anxiety. Tension might be barely perceptible, not even conscious. However, straightening things up can bring a pleasant sense of order to an inner chaotic state, even when the person is not even aware of the inner chaos. In other cases, the person IS aware of feeling uptight or bothered and knows full well that cleaning, straightening, organizing or adjusting things helps calm him or her down.  Even when it accomplishes this, however, the inner tension has not been properly dealt with. There are much better ways of handling stress, such as using mindfulness meditation to see what exactly the stress is and to clear it out of the system, or some other strategy like EFT (emotional freedom technique) or Focusing (a technique for paying direct attention to the stress in the body to ‘meet and greet’ it and release it).

Consider an Anxiety Disorder
An intense need to have everything “just so” can also be part of the anxiety disorder called “obsessive-compulsive disorder” (OCD). The same psychological dynamics are at play in OCD as described above for normal stress and tension. However, in the case of OCD, the brain itself gets “hooked” or addicted to the behavior that releases the stress (in this case, arranging things just so). Once the brain is hooked, failing to be able to arrange things just so can cause an intense withdrawal reaction, including feelings of panic, rage, overwhelm, extreme irritation, and more. OCD is a physical disorder, a condition of the brain itself. Fortunately, the brain can be rewired to become “un-addicted” – but this may take some professional cognitive-behavioral therapy (and in some rare cases, the help of medication). Parents need to know how to help their compulsive child because ignorance not only fails to help, but it can actually worsen the child’s brain condition. In other words, when parents respond appropriately to their child’s need to arrange things just so, they can help re-wire the child’s brain, but when they respond inappropriately, they can actually help wire it in the WRONG direction! Therefore, if you suspect that your child may be suffering from OCD or OCD-like behavior, arrange for a consultation with a child psychologist or other mental health professional for a proper assessment and, if necessary, treatment plan.

Over and Over Again

When a child or teen repeats actions for no obvious reason, there is often a reason! In fact, there are many reasons why young people might repeat movements or actions. Let’s look at the more common ones.

  • Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PPD): Some mental health disorders like autism, Asperger’s Disorder and PPDNOS (pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified) may have repetitive behaviors as part of their symptom picture. For instance, there may be rocking or rhythmic movements, hand flapping or twirling. Such behaviors in and of themselves do not indicate the presence of a pervasive developmental disorder – many other symptoms must be present for a diagnosis to be made. Behavioral Therapy may help reduce these kinds of repetitive behaviors.
  • Simple Nervous Habits. Some children kick their legs back and forth when seated or rock back and forth, or twirl their hair or even crack their knuckles.  This sort of repetitive behavior may just be a discharge of “nervous energy.” Unless these behaviors interfere with functioning or cause distress, there is no need to treat them. However, some people find that giving their children Bach Flower Remedies (try “Agrimony”) may help reduce nervous habits. Consult a Bach Flower Practitioner for an individually designed remedy most appropriate for your child’s needs.
  • Tourettes Syndrome. Tic disorders are, by definition, repetitive behaviors. SImple Tic Disorders such as Transient Tic Disorder (common in 7 – 9 year old children) may consist of one repetitive behavior such as blinking or twitching a shoulder or clearing the throat. In simple Tic disorders, the particular behavior may change from time to time, or, there may be more than one movement or sound involved. These sorts of tics usually disappear on their own within a year or so, although in some children they can last years or right into adulthood. In Tourette’s Syndrome, the child has BOTH repetitive movement and repetitive vocalization occuring, and there can be more than one of each kind. Bach Flower Remedies have helped people with Tic Disorders. There are also medications that your doctor can presecribe. In addition, there are behavioral therapies that can help bring tics under control.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)When a child feels compelled to repeat certain behaviors and very anxious if he is prevented from doing so, he may be suffering from OCD. OCD is an anxiety disorder that consists of worries (obsessions) and rituals (repeated behaviors). Sometimes the child is aware of the worry (i.e. he is afraid that someone in his family will become sick) and sometimes he just feels anxious without knowing why. In either case, he discovers a series of repetitive actions that makes him feel temporarily calmer. For instance, he may count numbers in his head, or take a certain number of steps forward and backward, or wash his hands a certain number of times or write and rewrite and rewrite his schoolwork. There are many variations of repetitive behaviors that those who have OCD may perform. If the child’s behavior interferes with his functioning at home or school or if he is very distressed by having to do them, it is highly possible that OCD is the culprit. However, only a professional child psychologist or psychiatrist can make an accurate diagnosis and prescribe an appropriate treatment plan (usually consisting of cognitive behavioral therapy -CBT and sometimes, medication as well).
  • Physical Disorders and Medications. Occasionally repetitive behaviors can be symptomatic of a medical condition or a reaction to medication. Your pediatrician or GP can do an assessment for you.