Depression in Teenagers

The teenage years are known to be emotionally challenging. Kids are going through so many transitions and are experiencing so many pressures at this time. Aside from the physical changes of puberty and their effect on body image and personal confidence,  there’s also adjustments to high school and dating and new challenges in the realms of alcohol, drugs, sexuality and the virtual social universe. For the most part, adolescents negotiate all of this without too much trouble. However, a percentage of teenagers will struggle with addictions and mental health challenges. Adolescence is the time when many people first experience panic attacks, eating disorders and mood episodes.

Teenage depression is one mood disorder that is fairly common, affecting around 20% of teenagers. Some forms of depression are comparatively mild while others can be so intense that they are life-threatening. In all cases, adolescent depression must be taken seriously. Parents need to know about depression and what they can do to help their kids.

What is Depression?
Depression is a mood disorder characterized by low mood (which, in teenagers, is most often expressed as irritability or “moodiness,” but can also be expressed as sadness), hopelessness, trouble making decisions, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, weight gain or weight loss and sleeping problems (most commonly, waking up around 2 or 3 a.m. or getting up way too early).  Unlike episodic sadness, depression is stronger and seems harder to manage. A person who is depressed cannot simply “shake the blues away” or decide to cheer up. In fact, they feel flat, like there is nothing that can make them happy or give them pleasure. When this state of mind is so intense that it interferes with a child’s social functioning (i.e. she is withdrawing from her friends) and/or academic functioning (i.e. she can’t concentrate, can’t study, is doing poorly in her schoolwork and grades are slipping) and it has occurred pretty consistently for a two week period, it may be an episode of “Major Depressive Disorder.” When the state of mind is less intense (does not interfere with social or academic functioning) and chronic (lasting for at least 2 years fairly consistently), then it may be a form of depression called “Dysthymia.” Of course, diagnoses of either of these disorders occurs when the mood disorder is NOT being caused by something else (like withdrawal from drugs or use of alcohol or a traumatic experience, etc.). The only real way to know if a child is depressed is to have her assessed by a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist. The child’s symptoms may indicate another disorder entirely or the child may be “normal” – just going through a rough time. However, it’s crucial that parents don’t try to diagnose their child themselves. Clinical depression can lead to suicide in teenagers.

Experts believe that depression has a biological origin. While a family history of depression doesn’t automatically condemn a teen to get the disease, it increases the likelihood of depression when other risks factors are present in the child’s life. Risk factors for teen depression include a history of childhood depression (chronic unhappiness in childhood), instability in the family, troubled or weak relationship with parents, poor emotional management skills (too much anger, moodiness or anxiety), lack of social support (good friends and/or loving relationships) and stressful life events like loss (of a significant relationship) or failure (to make the team, or get desired grades, etc.).

How can Parents Help a Teenager with Depression?
It’s ideal if you can establish an open relationship with your child before depression strikes. This way, she is more likely to come to you for help when what she is feeling becomes too overwhelming to ignore. You can help by listening. In fact, it is more important to listen than to talk. A depressed child does not need a pep talk. She needs professional care. Let her talk about her feelings without offering her advice or easy solutions. Instead, use emotional coaching (name her feelings). For instance, you can say things like, “That sounds really hard,” or “I can see how much that’s bothering you” or “I hear how hopeless you feel.” Follow such remarks with, “I think the best help for these kinds of feelings is professional help. A psychologist who works with teenagers knows all about this stuff and knows how to help kids feel so much better. These are such important issues and they deserve the best help that we can find. How would you feel if I asked Dr. Green (the child’s pediatrician) for a referral to a good psychologist?” If the child doesn’t want to accept help, wait a couple of days and raise the subject again. The best help you can give your child is to get her to a mental health professional. If firmness is required, then use it. Do whatever you would do if you suspected that your child had diabetes. (You would do whatever was necessary to get your child to a doctor; do the same thing for this condition). Your child will thank you once she is experiencing an improved mood!

Treatment for Depression

Contrary to popular belief, depression isn’t  simply a case of “bad attitude.” Someone suffering from depression can’t just talk him or herself out of it or cheer him or herself up with a good movie or a round of exercise. Depression is a serious mental illness, whether it comes in the form of severe sporadic episodes (major depressive episode) or whether it is a chronic state that affects overall functioning (dysthymia).  If you’ve suffered from depression yourself, you know that the sadness and lethargy that comes with the condition can be debilitating. But while depression can be overwhelming, it’s also a mental health condition that is very treatable. Many people recover even from severe depression, and many treatment options are known to be effective.

The following are some of the  ways a person can cope with depression:

Work with a Qualified Mental Health Practitioner
Seek a highly trained psychologist or psychiatrist to help you overcome depression. While social workers, psychotherapists and counselors may be trained in general counseling techniques, they are not necessarily trained in the treatment of serious mental health conditions. You have a right to know what kind of training your practitioner has in the condition that you are suffering from. Just ask. Clinical psychologists and psychiatrists have training in the diagnosis and treatment of depression. Psychologists provide therapy such as CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy), Mindfulness Psychotherapy for Depression, Interpersonal Therapy, Experiential Therapy,  and many other treatments. Psychiatrists may or may not have training in psychological treatments for depression, but they DO have the appropriate training in the biological aspects of the disorder and can provide appropriate medication and other biological treatments. If you suffer from mild depression that doesn’t interfere with your ability to function, you may benefit from the services of any therapist who works with mood issues (as opposed to clinical depression).

Consider Alternative Therapies
Some people don’t need or don’t want psychotropic medication for their depressive symptoms. There are many excellent alternative therapies that can contribute to the relief of mood issues. Herbal medicine, homeopathy, Bach Flower Therapy, acupuncture, nutritional therapies and more, are all available to address symptoms of depression. You can find more information about these therapies in books or online.

Additional Aids in Fighting Depression
The following may also prove useful to you in reducing symptoms of depression:

  • Following a structured exercise program (look for a qualified fitness trainer to guide you), yoga or martial arts program may provide a chemical boost that reduces the symptoms of depression.
  • Some hospital programs for depression offer 8 or 12 week courses in mindfulness meditation to reduce depression. Ask your doctor about these, or find a private program in your area.
  • Support groups may prove effective in reducing depression symptoms. These can be done in person, but there are also online support groups available. Look for one in your area or speak to your doctor to get reccomendations.

Self-Help
There are many excellent books and on-line resources for depression. Take advantage of them! You can also find CD’s with guided imagery for depression, affirmations, hypnotic suggestions and more. There are emotional-relief strategies that you can learn on-line as well such as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) – an effective tool for combating mood symptoms. Do research and learn what’s out there. It may not all be for you, but there will be something that you can benefit from.

Symptoms of Depression

Depression is the most common complaint presented to mental health practitioners. This is not surprising; almost all of us have experienced sadness at some point in our lives, with some episodes being quite intense. However, clinical depression is not just sadness. It is a multifaceted illness that affects every aspect of a person’s functioning. It causes major distress and disrupts the sufferer’s ability to carry on with work, school, or other responsibilities. The illness can occur among the young and old, the rich and poor, the educated and the uneducated, and it can come at any point in a person’s lifetime. The good news is: depression is treatable. When sufferers are trained to spot the early symptoms, the onset of depression can be managed and relapses can be avoided.

What are the Symptoms of Depression?
Symptoms of depression can be classified into four categories: emotional, mental, behavioral and physiological symptoms. Let’s take a closer look at each one:

Emotional Symptoms of Depression
Mood disturbance is the most significant among the symptoms of depression. An individual with depression may be prone to feelings of sadness, emptiness, dejection, helplessness, hopelessness and lack of self-worth. Episodes of crying, irritability and/or of anger are also common. A marked loss of interest in work, relationships and self-care may also be seen.

Mental Symptoms of Depression
There are also cognitive symptoms associated with depression. Psychologist Beck believes that people with depression are tortured by what he calls the cognitive triad: a negative view of one’s self, a negative view of the world and a pessimistic view of the future.

Self-accusation and mental anguish are typical, especially when the obsessions start to come. For instance, a depressed individual may constantly tell himself that he is ugly, incompetent or unwanted; that others do not care about his welfare; and that tomorrow will offer no relief. It is this cognitive triad that keeps a depressed person stuck in the rut, unless some form of therapy is conducted to correct and heal the debilitating thoughts.

Depression can also cause a person to have difficulty making decisions or concentrating on tasks.

Behavioral Symptoms of Depression
Depression may be about an internal state, but symptoms of depression can be objective and observable. In many cases, physical appearance already provides a clue regarding the depressed person’s mental health. People with severe depression may not care much about their appearance or even their hygiene. They may gain or lose significant amounts of weight. Their movements may be slower or faster than those of the average person, and there may be a delay in their communication. They may have difficulty in accomplishing their job or otherwise carrying on their normal tasks. They may withdraw from others.

Physiological Symptoms of Depression 
Depression is an illness that affects the entire person — his or her physicality and biological processes included. People with depression suffer from disturbed patterns of eating and sleeping. They can have loss of appetite or an increase in appetite (what is called emotional eating). They can suffer with various forms of insomnia (trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up in the wee hours, etc. Or, they can end up sleeping much longer than the average person. They may be more prone to ailments such as heart conditions, stomach disturbances, infections, unexplained pain and vague disorders.

If you or loved one has symptoms like those above, consult a doctor or mental health practitioner. Treatment not only provides more rapid relief than “waiting it out,” but also helps prevent recurrences of the disorder.

Parent Has Depression

Clinical depression is a debilitating disease. It significantly affects a person’s internal life, ability to work and accomplish things, and relationship with loved ones and friends. When a person is depressed, his or her whole world is affected.

How Does Parental Depression Affect Children?
Parents who are depressed have a hard enough time coping with their emotional pain – it can be overwhelming to also have to worry about the feelings of spouse and children. The tendency is to hope that at least the kids don’t notice their parent’s emotional distress – the hope provides some relief and comfort. Unfortunately, scientific research does not substantiate the hope; it turns out that it’s almost impossible to hide a parent’s depression from children. Studies show that even infants can tell if their mother is depressed; infants with depressed mothers tend to display more symptoms of insecure attachment than infants whose mothers have no depression. Some get more anxious than other infants their age when separated from mothers, while some show signs of unusual indifference to separation. In either case, they relate differently to their depressed parent, indicating that they are sensitive to the mother’s mood and affect.

If infants can sense depression in their parents, imagine how much more easily the condition is recognized by children and teenagers. While it is tempting to believe that older kids are too busy with their own lives to really notice what’s going on with parents, nothing can be farther from the truth. In fact, children are sensitive to all the emotions and feelings happening in the household— whether spoken or unspoken. They may not always talk about what they experience, however. In fact, sometimes the only way a parent can tell that the child has noticed that something is wrong is through the youngster’s misbehavior. Misbehavior – often referred to as “acting out” – can be a child’s way of asking for help. He or she may not be able to articulate the source of the problem, but when invited to sit down and talk about what’s going on, may suddenly blurt out a pile of fears, concerns, worries and upsets. A depressed parent and/or his or her spouse, can help children understand what is going on and thereby help prevent pain and confusion from building up and spilling over into behavior problems (see strategies below).

Being proactive in reaching out to children can help reduce the chances that the children will suffer depression themselves. Although there are biological factors that predispose one to depression, these are open to influence by environmental factors: in other words, parents can make a difference. A study released by Beardslee and colleagues, found that a child whose parent has a mood disorder, is about 40% more likely than other children to develop major depression before they turn 20 years old. There are different possible reasons for this: vulnerability to depression is likely passed on through the genes; it may be that a depressed parent is unable to give as much attention to the emotional needs of his or her children, increasing the chances that their emotional health may be compromised; it may also be possible that the children lack a model of good emotional health (particularly if growing up in a single-parent home with a depressed parent or if living with more than one parent with a mental health issue). Whatever the reason, ensuring that the children are educated about depression and are receiving appropriate intervention (see below) can help them be more resilient.

Seek the Best Possible Care
An accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan can help alleviate the symptoms of depression and speed recovery. The earlier one seeks treatment, the better. However, any time is a good time for assessment and professional support. Too many people try to tough it out on their own, failing to realize that there are some very good treatments for depression nowadays. There are both medical and alternative treatments, medications and therapies. Most people who experience depression can be helped back to a life of joy and productivity once they’ve received the help they need. Seek that help for your sake AND the sake of your children!

Explain the Situation
It’s best to explain to your children what is happening, rather than leave things up to their imagination. When children don’t have the facts, they can concoct the strangest explanations for events. For instance, they may think that a depressed parent who is in bed a lot of the time is lazy, or is dying or doesn’t love them enough to get up. Or, they may think that it’s THEIR fault that Mom or Dad isn’t happy a lot of the time. They may feel that they are bad and that is why Daddy is always irritable or Mommy is always crying. As you can see, their explanations tend to be destructive and unhealthy. Just tell them the truth: Mommy or Daddy has an illness that makes them feel (list symptoms such as tired, nervous, grumpy, sad, etc.). Tell them that the doctor is helping and hopefully Mommy or Daddy will feel better soon.

Be Real
There is no need to try to pretend that everything is fine and in fact, doing so might cause confusion for the kids. Acting super-happy one minute and dissolving into tears the next may cause the children to feel that they’re living in an unstable environment! Nor should the healthy spouse work too hard to overcompensate for the depressed partner. Being too happy is also unreal and therefore destabilizing to kids. Everyone should just be what they normally are while being aware of their need to be as respectful, loving and attentive to the kids as possible. Not all depression is the same; some people can actually carry on with their careers while being depressed while others are housebound. Those who can get dressed and take care of the kids should continue to do so as much as possible. Those who are too ill to do this are simply too ill to do this and others must take over.

There is one caveat, however: showing children strong negative emotions or destructive behavior can have devastating effects. For instance, children will inevitably be overwhelmed by watching a parent harm herself, fly into out-of-control rages or engage in screaming or crying spells. Finding a parent in the midst of a suicide attempt is one of the most traumatizing experiences a child can ever have – second only to discovering a successful suicide. However, any form of parental breakdown will usually scare – even traumatize – young children who can’t yet fully grasp the nature of the illness. If you feel that you are on the verge of a breakdown, ask someone to take you somewhere private, or somewhere that you can rest for awhile or, if appropriate, to an emergency medical center.

Help Your Children Understand What is Happening
Keep the doors of communication open. You may be able to find some children’s books on depression or parents with depression – reading them to your young kids can be helpful and spark questions and dialogue. Ask your local librarian for help. Alternatively, search out the internet for resources. Allow kids to express their frustration and anger – greet their feelings with Emotional Coaching (see “Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice”  for details). That is, accept their feelings without trying to change them. When a child angrily shouts to a depressed parent, “YOU’RE ALWAYS TOO TIRED. YOU NEVER TAKE US ANYWHERE!” the parent can actually respond with Emotional Coaching: “I know you’re upset. You have a right to be. It’s frustrating and maddening that I can’t take you on outings like everyone else. It doesn’t feel fair. Why should you have to have a mother who suffers from depression? Why can’t we be like all your friends?”  Interestingly, when the parent responds with acceptance, understanding, compassion and validation, the child almost always changes his mind – if not right in the moment, then perhaps a few minutes or hours later. “I’m sorry Mom. I know it’s not your fault. I just feel sad about not being able to go out with you.”

Kids Need to be Kids
Although children can certainly cheer their parents up, they cannot handle the responsibility of making parents happy. Children who need to be too quiet, too “good” or too anything so that their parents won’t be too stressed, too challenged or too depressed, inevitably suffer. Kids need to be kids. It’s their turn to be looked after. Although they will certainly be willing to try, there is no way they can look after their adult parents. If your illness renders you vulnerable, weak and/or needy, turn to other sources of support besides your kids. Don’t share too many thoughts or feelings with them; use family, friends and therapists for that. You may not always have the energy you need to be “present” for your kids – that’s just part of the illness. If possible, see that others can step in to provide much needed attention and positive feedback. Your spouse, your parents or siblings, your friends and neighbors as well as the children’s teachers, coaches, babysitters and other helpers may all be able to step up to the plate. Ask for them for their help. Taking the time you need to fully recover is the best thing you can do for your kids. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle afterward in order to prevent relapse is equally important. Take good care of yourself because your kids are dependent on your well-being.

Provide Professional Support
When possible, help your children by providing professional counseling for them. Although it’s not your fault at all, your (or your spouse’s) depression presents a developmental challenge for your kids. Counseling can help children grow and thrive through this challenge. There may be children’s groups for family members of depressed people in your area.  Check with your doctor. Also, see if there are other friends, neighbors, relatives or volunteers who might be able to take the kids out or give them extra time and attention inside the house. This helps them get their own needs met when u are in stages of deep recovery.

How to Raise Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (E.Q.) refers to “people smarts.” A person with high emotional intelligence understands both himself and others. Not only does the person understand people, but he also knows how to make them feel comfortable – he knows how to bring out the best in others. As a result, the person with high E.Q. experiences more success in relationships and at work. Kids with high E.Q. have better relationships at home and at school, with kids and with adults. Moreover, high E.Q.in children and teens is associated with better academic performance, better physical health, better emotional health and better behavior. In adults, high E.Q. is associated with better performance in every area of life.

What can you do to help foster your child’s emotional intelligence? In this article we will discuss ways one can boost their child’s emotional intelligence.

Adapt an Authoritative, Not an Autocratic Parenting Style
Parenting style has a huge influence on children’s emotional intelligence. When parents can guide their children while still being sensitive to their feelings, children have higher E.Q. Authorative parents are warm, but consistent in setting appropriate limits and boundaries. They will use discipline, but not at the expense of respectful communication and care. Their children will learn how to be sensitive to others and they will also learn how to “talk to themselves” compassionately, modelling after their parents. This gentle self-talk becomes a major aspect of their emotional intelligence, a tool they can use to reduce their stress in a healthy way.

Autocratic parents, on the other hand, don’t care that much about the child’s feelings. Instead, they focus on the rules of the household, what is allowed and what is prohibited, what the child may and may not do. Sensitivity to the child’s inner world is missing. In this case, children fail to experience parental empathy and as a result, fail to learn how to soothe their own upset emotions. They may attempt to relieve their discomfort by becoming aggressive, acting out their feelings. Eventually they may turn to comforts outside of themselves such as addictions (to food, alcohol, drugs, etc.). Acting out and addictive behavior reflects lower E.Q.

The more feeling words used by parents and educators, the more sensitive a child becomes to his inner reality. Most of us tend to use few emotion words in our dealings with children, and when we do, we often use the same few tired ones over and over.  It is important that we move beyond “mad,” “sad,” “glad,” and “scared.”  Shades of feeling are most helpful and can be used when describing our own feelings or the child’s feelings. Words like irritated, annoyed, frustrated, anxious, worried, terrified, alarmed, disappointed, hurt, insulted, embarrassed, uncomfortable, unsure, curious, interested, hopeful, concerned, shocked, elated, excited, enthusiastic, let down, abandoned, deserted, mellow, calm, peaceful, relaxed, bored, withdrawn, furious, enraged, frightened, panicked, and proud can be used DAILY to help provide an emotional education in the home or classroom. These are the regular feelings that children have in facing life, stimulated by everyday experiences, dreams, movies and even novels. Identifying a youngster’s emotional reaction and feeding it back to him, helps him to become aware of his inner processing. This information then forms the core of his emotional intelligence, providing an accurate barometer of his response to his world. From this place of inner certainty, a child is well-equipped to navigate life, knowing what he feels, what he is searching for and when he has attained it. His familiarity with the world of feelings allows him to connect accurately and sensitively with others. This prevents him from hurting other people’s feelings with words and further, permits him to achieve great kindness and sensitivity in his interpersonal transactions.

Here are some practical steps you can take to bring feelings into focus:

  1. Respond to your child. From the time your child is a crying infant to the time she is a young adult, be sure to be responsive. This means that you take her communications seriously. If she cries, try to come (instead of making her cry it out.). If she asks for something, try to answer her promptly. If she talks, you listen and respond appropriately. All of this responsiveness builds emotional intelligence because you are giving your youngster valuable relationship feedback. In the opposite scenario, in which a parent either fails to respond or responds only after a long waiting period, the child learns that people tune each other out. This causes the child to shut down. She assumes that her feelings aren’t that important based on lack of parental responsiveness and from this concludes that people’s feelings aren’t that important – the very OPPOSITE of the conclusions made by emotionally intelligent people. Quick responsiveness gives the message that people’s feelings matter. This is a prerequisite concept for emotional intelligence.
  2. Use a FEELING vocabulary. Pepper your daily conversation with “feeling” words. You can name your own feelings. Let your child know that you feel excited or dismayed or discouraged or resentful or whatever. This gives your child the vital information that everyone – including parents – has feelings and an inner life. Some people do this naturally, of course, but many do not. For instance, when a child is making too much noise, a parent may just say something like, “Can you please quiet down?” However, the Emotional Coach would say something like, “I’m starting to feel overwhelmed with all this noise going on. Can you please quiet down?” Similarly, a regular parent might give positive feedback to a child in this way, “I like the way you waited patiently in line with me at the bank today.” An Emotional Coach, on the other hand, might say something like, “I felt very relaxed with you in the bank today because you were waiting so patiently.” In other words, the Emotional Coach looks for opportunities to describe his or her inner experience. It is this description that helps the child begin to build an emotional vocabularly that will open the doors to Emotional Intelligence.
  3. Name your child’s feelings. Children feel feelings all day long but not all parents comment on them. In fact, many parents are more practical, focusing on solutions to problems. For instance, if a child is upset because there are no more of his favorite cookies left in the jar, the typical parent might say, “I’ll pick up some more for you when I go shopping this week.” While that solves the problem, it doesn’t build emotional intelligence. An Emotional Coach might say, “Oh, that’s so disappointing! You really love those cookies! I’ll pick some up for you when I go shopping this week.” The extra few words acknowledging the child’s inner world (“Oh that’s so disappointing”) make all the difference when it comes to building Emotional Intelligence. Similarly, parents often try to get kids to STOP their feelings or at least SHRINK their feelings by saying things like, “Just calm down – it’s not such a big deal” or “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” of “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.” The Emotional Coach, on the other hand, accepts all the child’s feelings, giving the child the name for what is going on inside. “I can see how upset you are,” or “You’re really scared about this,” or “It so important to you,” and so on. By accepting all feelings as they are, the Emotional Coach teaches kids not to be afraid of or overwhelmed by feelings. This is a very important part of becoming emotionally intelligent.
  4. Teach your child how to express emotions appropriately. While all feelings are acceptable, all BEHAVIORS are not. It is not O.K. to hit and scream just because you feel angry. It is not O.K. to cry for an hour at the top of your lungs just because you are disappointed. Parents must teach children – by their example and by their interventions – the appropriate behavioral expression of emotions. For instance, parents can teach children to express their anger in a respectful way by saying things like, “When you are mad at your brother for touching your puzzle, just tell him ‘I don’t want you to touch my puzzle. I’m working hard on it and it bothers me when you move the piece around.’ Don’t slap his hand!” Parents will have to use the normal techniques of positive attention, encouragement and discipline to get the lessons across. It is, of course, essential, that parents are respectful themselves in the way they express their upset, fear and disappointment. See “The Relationship Rule” in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for details on how to teach the proper way to express negative emotions.
  5. Let them experience failure and disappointment. It’s understandable that parents want to protect their children from disappointment. But know that rescuing children from pain, to the point that they never get to experience life, will backfire in the long run. Children need to know how to bounce back from adversity — resilience muscles need training too! And children won’t know how it is to rebound from disappointment if they aren’t allowed to experience it to begin with. When your child gets a poor mark on a project, don’t rush to the teacher to get the mark raised; instead, use emotional coaching with your child (that is, NAME her feelings). “This mark is so disappointing! You tried really hard and the teacher didn’t appreciate it. That is frustrating!” By naming feelings, you actually help shrink them down to size. Feeling words act as “containers” for feelings. It’s O.K. for the child to be upset, or even to cry. After awhile, she’ll calm down. And this is the important part – learning that calm follows a storm. Everything in life doesn’t need to be perfect. There is such a thing as recovery. “There will be more projects, more chances to get a good grade.” You want to show the child that you yourself aren’t afraid of negative experiences or emotions. This model that life is “survivable” can really help a child cope when the going gets rough.
  6. Expand their social network. Few parents think of other people as possible teaching instruments in promoting emotional intelligence. But kids can learn more from interesting personalities and other people’s life experiences than they can from a classroom lecture. Having to adapt well to different types of people — quiet, assertive, annoying, fun-loving — can teach a child how to regulate their behavior based on the demands of an interaction. The challenges other people go through can also provide insight on how to manage one’s own trials in life. Learning vicariously through the success and failure of other people is a good way to raise a child’s E.Q. So if you can, go ahead and enroll your child in various clubs or organizations. When they’re a bit older, encourage them to volunteer in community service. Send them on mission trips. Let them talk with grandpa or grandma. Every person has a lesson to impart to a child.

Child Doesn’t Eat Enough

Eating problems are common among people of all ages. One concern that a parent may have is that his or her child is not eating enough food. Let’s look at the reasons behind lack of appetite and learn what parents can do to help.

If your child doesn’t seem to be eating enough food, consider the following tips:

It May be a Matter of Perception
Sometimes the child’s food intake is actually fine, despite appearances to the contrary. In fact, sometimes parents argue over whether there is or isn’t an actual problem. The best way to clarify the issue is to seek a medical opinion. Your pediatrician will compare your child’s weight gain against those of his peers and also against his own developmental curve. Let the doctor know exactly what the child eats (and doesn’t eat). She’ll put all the facts together to determine whether the child is ingesting sufficient calories and nutrients. and to see whether further investigation is warranted.

Consider Possible Medical Causes
A consultation with a doctor is important because, in addition to ascertaining the existence and severity of an eating problem, the doctor can diagnose underlying medical causes.  For example, certain intestinal bacteria might be at the root of the problem. Thyroid conditions and other metabolic problems might exist, making it seem that the child is eating less than he or she actually is. Food sensitivities, mood issues, anxiety and other emotional problems can also play a role in low appetite.

Of course, it might turn out that there are no medical reasons for the lack of interest in food. Sometimes a child just doesn’t enjoy food all that much. In that case, the doctor can speak to the child about the importance of eating breakfast and/or other meals, or eating larger quantities of food or making higher calorie food choices – whatever needs to be addressed. Kids are much more likely to take the doctor seriously than to listen to Mom or Dad on this subject. Many doctors will also refer a child to a nutritionist for specific instruction and support. Nutritionists and dietitians can help design an individualized child-friendly menu plan that provides adequate nutrients and calories.

Consider Alternative Treatment
If the doctor gives the “all clear” parents may still want to enlist the help of an alternative health practitioner. Naturopaths, homeopaths, herbalists and other alternative healers have different methods of assessment and treatment. They may uncover a biological process that the regular doctor doesn’t consider. They also have their own methods of intervention. Sometimes this route can make a positive difference.

Make More Child-Friendly Meals
Even if the doctor doesn’t follow up with professional intervention around menu planning, it may be important for the parent to consider the role of food preferences in the child’s eating problem. Sometimes the child doesn’t like the menu offerings.  Maybe he’d be happy to eat brown-sugar maple-flavored oatmeal for breakfast, but Mom is serving the “healthier” plain oats with a bit of salt added. Or, he might be interested in french fries and burgers, but Dad is making baked potatoes and meatloaf. Let’s face it – almost all children enjoy a different menu than their parents do. If a parent makes sure to offer the kind of food that a child likes – he or she will eat more of it! That doesn’t  mean go ahead and serve generous helpings of junk food! Instead, try using spices and flavoring to make food more enticing. Parents can enlist the help of a dietitian themselves, in order to get ideas on how to make healthy food that kids will actually eat.

Minimize Attention to Eating Patterns
Although parents can make a “mental note” about their child’s eating habits, it’s usually not a good idea to let the child know that you have serious concerns in this area until AFTER a doctor has also expressed such concerns. When arranging for a medical consult for an older child or teen, a parent can just say something like, “I don’t know if it’s me or you – but I’m wondering if your eating patterns are O.K. We’ll let Dr. Smith decide. I’ve made an appointment for Tuesday at 4 p.m. ” Before Dr. Smith’s announces a problem, the parent can just keep records of the child’s eating habits without saying much to the child about it. Children don’t tend to respond positively to parental urges to eat more or differently.

Consider Other Lifestyle Issues
The less your child exercises, the less he needs to eat in order to maintain his weight. The truth is that your child will be more interested in food if he gets out to play some sports, go for a regular walk, ride a bike or otherwise move around at least 30 minutes a day. Turn off the T.V. and computers for a half hour each day and show your child where the skateboard is!

Consider Psychological Causes
If you suspect that your child doesn’t eat enough in order to round up some concern and attention from you, then experiment with giving that youngster more attention. However, give him or her attention for everything under the sun – except for not eating enough. (As mentioned above, be careful NOT to talk to the child about eating more. When you see him not taking food or not finishing food on his plate, DON’T encourage him to eat just a little more or clean his plate. You are accidentally reinforcing inappropriate behavior when you attend to it.)

Some psychological issues go far deeper than behavioral problems. If your simple behavioral interventions fail to have a positive impact, there may be something else going on. In this case, a mental health professional such as a child psychologist or a child psychiatrist is the best one to diagnose and treat the problem.

Keep in mind too, that all children’s problems are worsened by conflict at home. See if you can “de-stress” your marriage (or divorce) with or without professional help. Also check your parenting skills – if you know that you are expressing excessive anger, take serious steps to address that problem; anger doesn’t cause any one specific developmental problem but certainly contributes to every one. Children can have mental health problems for purely biological reasons, but the emotional environment at home can affect the intensity and course of the problem.

Dawdlers

Some kids take forever to get moving. They take their sweet time getting up in the morning and must be reminded ten times before completing any given task. They take an hour or so getting a small sandwich down! And just when you think that they’re dressed and ready to go, they’re glued to the TV screen, wearing no shirt and only one sock on, begging for 5 more minutes. Dawdlers drive their parents mad. Unfortunately, the morning rush just won’t wait – school starts at 9. The evening schedule presents its own demands and deadlines – homework, dinner, bath & bed. . Yet dawdlers are oblivious, taking their own sweet time, moving in their own little universe. What can parents do to decrease dawdler-induced stress?

If you have a child who drags his or her feet in the morning or at other times, consider the following tips:

Helping Your Dawdler
Particularly, with young dawdlers, it’s fine for parents to gently move the child along – hand the child his shirt, point him toward the kitchen table and so on. Younger children might respond to incentives or races. Some dawdlers are “spacey” (and might benefit from an assessment to make sure that ADD or some other type of challenge, isn’t at play). If the child is otherwise healthy, the Bach Flower Remedy Clematis can help increase focus and decrease spaciness, leading to a reduction in dawdling behaviors. If the child is easily distracted from his focus, the Bach Remedy Chestnut Bud can be helpful. (You can learn more about Bach Flowers online or throughout this site). If you need to insist on performance (for instance, the carpool ride is coming and the child MUST be ready on time), use a fair form of quiet discipline such as the 2X-Rule (see below and in more detail in the book Raise  Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe).

Use Positive Strategies
Instead of nagging and yelling, parents can use positive strategies to help their slow-poke youngsters. While nagging and yelling can greatly harm the parent-child relationship and even increase mental health problems for kids, good-feeling techniques can strengthen the parent-child bond and facilitate healthy development while encouraging more appropriate, timely behavior.

Positive attention itself is one such strategy. As a child is moving (ever so slowly), a parent can NOTICE and ACKNOWLEDGE progress. For instance, the parent can say, “I see you’ve got one sock on. That’s a great start.” Every time the child completes a step of his morning routine, the parent can give this sort of positive attention. On the other hand, the parent should refrain from talking to the child about his slow behavior. For instance, when the child is moving slowly, the parent should NOT say, “Hurry up – you’re moving too slowly.” Rather, the parent should wait until he or she can make a positive comment.

Positive reinforcement can also be used. If the child happens to have completed a step in a timely fashion, the parent can offer a concrete reward. “I see you’ve finished brushing your teeth before 7:30 – that means there’s time for me to give you that special breakfast treat I bought for you.” Of course, any reward can be offered, such as an extra few minutes to watch T.V., a story, a game, a kiss or any privilege. When rewarding a timely step, the parent needs to ignore other aspects of dawdling. This means that the child might still be running late but has received a reward for being on time in the early part of the schedule. The trick here is to ignore slow and late behavior and only give attention and rewards to timely and prompt behavior.

The CLeaR Method (Comment, Label, Reward) can be very helpful as well. For instance: when your child is on task, make a positive comment (“I see you’re getting dressed!”). Then offer a positive label for the behavior (“You’re a fast mover this morning!”). Finally, offer a small reward (“I think you deserve an extra treat in your lunch.”). The label “fast mover” can be very helpful in building a healthier concept of your child as a person who CAN move efficiently. Be sure to NEVER use negative labels such as “slow poke,” “dawdler,” and so on. In fact, don’t talk about “dawdling” at all – never use the words “dawdle,” “dawdler,” or “dawdling.” The CLeaR Method is explained in full in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.

Use Consequences
Setting time limits can help reduce dawdling behavior. Limit setting can be accomplished with the ‘“2X Rule.” The first step of this rule is to give the time limit: “You have until 7:45 to brush your own hair.” Then, just before the deadline, repeat the limit and name the consequence: “It’s almost 7:45 sweetie – if your hair isn’t brushed in another minute, I’ll have to come and give it a quick brush for you.”  Even if the child would be angry, the parent would gently, kindly but quickly brush the hair if necessary. A steady rule can also be employed such as “From now on, if your hair isn’t brushed by 7:45, I’ll have to come in and give it a quick brush.” Such a rule can be employed for any deadline, varying the consequences: toothbrushing, bedmaking, eating, being at the door in time. The consequences must be delivered quietly, without any fuss, anger or upset. “You haven’t got any more time to make your bed, so I’ll be making it this morning and you’ll lose your T.V. show tonight (or whatever consequence you have pre-arranged with the child). When first introducing consequences to a dawdler, only concentrate on one deadline. After it is established, you can pick a second on and so on. The key to using consequences effectively is to let the consequence teach  the lesson, rather than using anger, lecturing and so forth (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for a detailed explanation on the constructive use of consequences using the 2X Rule).

Consider Possible Reasons for Lethargy
If your child has a tendency to move too slowly on a regular basis, not just during the morning rush, then consider possible medical and psychological reasons for lethargic behavior. For example, your child may lack energy and needs a carbohydrate boost. Or your child might be suffering from depression. Sometimes apparent dawdlers are really obsessors and ritualizers. If your child is taking too long because she does things over and over again to get them “just right” then a professional assessment can help you determine whether anxiety might be the culprit. If so, there are good treatments that can help put an end to the problem. If you suspect that your child’s dawdling is due to more than a bad habit, do consult your pediatrician or a child psychologist.

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.

Help Your Child Deal with Rejection

Louise worked so hard on her speech; she wanted to be the school’s representative in the annual public speaking contest. Unfortunately, she didn’t pass the auditions. She was so disappointed.

It took awhile for Tommy to ask Jerry and his friends if he could join them in their game of softball.  After one week of mustering the courage to ask, Tommy had to deal with Jerry’s hurtful answer: a “no.” 

Nobody wants to be rejected. It’s painful and humiliating and at times extremely frustrating. It can also make a person question his or her self-worth. If you’re always rejected, it’s not unusual to ask: “Can something be wrong with me?”

To avoid feeling defeated by rejection, it’s important to develop one’s coping muscles. It’s unreasonable to expect that we will be accepted all time; in life, there will always be moments of rejection. What’s important is that we gain control of the setback, so that it doesn’t debilitate us.

The following are some of the ways parents can help their child deal with rejection:

Raise Your Child’s Self-Esteem
Parents can help bolster their’ child’s self-esteem in three important ways:

  1. By giving generous positive feedback
  2. By limiting and softening necessary criticism
  3. By giving children ample opportunity  to experience success through their own activities

When a child has a positive view of self, he or she has a strong shield against the sting of rejection. Rejection becomes situational instead of personal, with the pain temporary instead of permanent. When you know deep down that you’re a person of worth, you’re willing to risk trying again, because you know the problem is not inherent in you.

Allow Your Child to Feel Disappointment
Welcome, name and accept all of your child’s feelings, including the sad ones. Avoid the rule: “You must always feel happy!” This rule stunts children’s emotional growth and makes it very difficult for them to ride through inevitable negative feelings and life experiences. Disappointment is just part of life. When you use “emotional coaching” (the calm naming of a child’s feelings) you demonstrate that YOU aren’t frightened by the child’s temporary distress. YOU can handle it! This gives the child courage to handle it too. Remember, you don’t have to force your child to cheer up every time he or she gets rejected. In fact, the best thing you can do is to give them time to feel sad about their situation! You can say something like, “Gosh, I guess that’s pretty disappointing.” Don’t look like you’re going to cry! Have confidence in your child’s ability to face life. In fact, the more you are able to comfortably name the child’s feelings, the more the child will be able to manage moments of distress. Remember that no matter what has happened, the sadness will pass and the child will be able to get on with life.

Help Your Child Figure Out How to Do Better
Rejection is an excellent motivator, and parents can take the opportunity to teach their child how to channel their disappointment into inspiration. Help your child figure out the reason why they got rejected. Perhaps they didn’t try hard enough; perhaps they were the wrong fit with the crowd. Whatever the reason is, there are always ways to do better the next time around. Effective problem-solving can lead to greater success.

Identify to Your Child the Areas Outside of His or Her Control
Sometimes the rejection is unfair and arbitrary. Sometimes rejection is the result of large numbers and insufficient placements. There may be a time when your child is subject to some form of bullying that leads to exclusion. Or your child could lose out on a great opportunity because someone forgot to file his or her application form. When these situations happen, it’s important to teach kids that sometimes it’s just unfortunate circumstances, or “not meant to be.” Not everything is within our control, and when we face something we can’t influence, the best approach is to simply let go. Those with a strong religious faith can draw on their belief that the rejection is not an accident and it is meant for one’s best development.

Understanding Self-Harm

Hurting oneself on purpose seems to be an odd thing to do, yet the practice is growing in popularity among today’s teens. There is a reason for this: self-harm is a “harmless” way to reduce feelings of anxiety and angst. Due to the ease of modern communication among teenagers, word has caught on that this strategy works. It is cheap, easy and always available – unlike other methods of stress relief like drinking alcohol, taking drugs or even accessing counseling services! As a result, this disorder is highly influenced by peer behavior; when children learn that others they know are hurting themselves, they often experiment with this stress relief strategy themselves. Unfortunately, self-harm is a very dysfunctional behavior that often causes feelings of deep shame, helplessness and inadequacy in much the same way as other addictive behaviors do. For instance, bingeing and purging (overeating large amounts of food and then vomitting or using laxatives) also temporarily dispels anxiety but then causes those same painful emotions of shame, helplessness and inadequacy. Some people feel that self-harm is a cry for attention or help. Parents are naturally distressed to learn that their child has been hurting him or herself. Nonetheless, there is some comfort in knowing that self-harming actions are not necessarily related to suicidality. The goal of sufferers is to inflict minor pain, release endorphins and communicate to family members. Suicidal teenagers don’t practice self-harm; they practice killing themselves and sometimes succeed.

What is Self-Harm?
Self-harm is any action taken to cause oneself pain. Some people hit themselves – slapping their head, their face, their limbs or their body. Some people burn themselves. Some bite their skin or pick at it till it bleeds. Some use a sharp object to make small cuts on themselves – most commonly on their arms but also on other parts of the body.

Understanding the Paradox: Why Do People Do It?
When we are pain, such as when we experience a cut or burn, our brain releases natural pain relievers – endorphins – into the body. The chemicals associated with pain relief are also managers of mood. Hence, cutting and other methods of self-harm does bring some form of temporary relief to a person in distress. This temporary relief can get so addictive, that self-harm becomes a person’s first line of defense against emotions he or she can’t handle.

Experts also believe that there are psychological reasons why self-harm makes sense to the people who do it. Many times, cutting becomes some form of displacement. When emotional pain is too much to bear, “transforming” the emotional pain to physical pain makes it more manageable. Engaging in self-harm is also a way of validating that the pain one feels is real. There’s no evidence of inner distress, but seeing scars and burns are an acknowledgment that one is suffering.

In some cases, people engage in self-harm as an unconscious way of punishing themselves or a cry for attention. There are also situations when self-harm is an attempt to “feel something”; too much pain or trauma can numb one’s self. For people who engage in self-injury, self harm is better than feeling nothing.

Is Self-Harm a Suicide Attempt?
Not usually. However, people who self-harm are at additional risk for becoming suicidal. Therefore, parents need to take self-harming behaviors seriously.

While many who engage in self-harm report that they have no plans to kill themselves (they just want the temporary relief self-harm brings), they are always mentally unhealthy. Healthy people don’t hurt themselves. The mental health conditions typically associated with suicide attempts (e.g. clinical depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, severe anxiety) are often the same conditions that trigger self-harm. It is possible that self-harm activities are not suicidal in and of themselves, but if people are left alone to wallow in progressive mental illness, self-harming tendencies can progress to actual suicidality. Parents and mental health professionals are therefore recommended to take the cautious view and always treat the underlying emotions and mental health conditions of those who engage in self-harm.

What can Parents Do to Help a Child Who Engages in Self-Harm?
First off, be alert. Children and teens who self-harms take extra pains to hide what they are doing; you need to be a conscious and attentive parent to spot what’s going on. Symptoms of self-harm includes persistent wearing of clothing that hide common targets of self-harm such as the wrist, the upper arms and the chest; frequent “accidents” that explains injuries, a high need for privacy, implements like cutters, ropes or lighters in the bedroom, and symptoms of depression.

When you’ve confirmed that your child does engage in self-harm, it’s important that you raise the issue with him or her instead of hoping the behavior will go away on its own. Provide unconditional acceptance and a listening ear. And most importantly, arrange an appointment with a licensed mental health professional.