Habits and Nervous Behavior

Everyone has some bad habits. And everyone engages in their bad habits more often when they are feeling tense or nervous. For instance, a teenager or adult may have taken up the “bad habit” of smoking cigarettes. The smoker will almost always be smoking more often when feeling anxious. Younger children can have habits like picking their nose, biting their nails, or twirling their hair. (You can learn more about these bad habits and how to help them by reading articles under the category Nervous Habits on this site). Some kids crack their knuckles, chew their pencils, or nibble on their shirt cuffs. Some rock back and forth in their chairs. In fact, there is hardly a limit to the type of bad habit that a child can “invent!”

If your child has some bad habits or nervous behaviors, consider the following tips:

Nervous Behavior Means the Child is Nervous!
Whether it is pacing back and forth, pulling out hairs, or shaking one’s leg, the purpose of a habit is to release some nervous tension. If you can address the tension directly, the habit will most likely go away (or at least diminish) all by itself. Instead of telling your youngster to stop shaking his leg, offer him something for his “nerves.” Now this doesn’t mean that you should offer him a stiff drink! (That’s a bad habit that a lot of adults are into!). There are plenty of healthy, child-safe “stress busters” that you can offer your child. For instance, your child might be calmed by the right herbal tea. A herbalist or naturopath might be able to prescribe a herbal mixture that reduces your child’s overall level of tension or “nerves.” Herbs can be prepared as bedtime tea’s or they can be taken as syrups or even lollipops when they are made by a professional herbalist. Some herbs are available in tincture or tablet form from your local healthfood store. All herbs are medicinal so make sure that you consult a professional before giving your child herbal medicine. Less medicinal than herbs are essential oils. These, too, are available at healthfood stores. Aromatherapy – the use of essential oils to calm nervous tension – is less medicinal than herbal medicine, but still a little medicinal (for example, some oils need to be avoided in pregnancy or when someone has epilepsy). Therefore, it is adviseable to check with a professional aromatherapist before preparing oils for your child. However, once you learn which oils are safe and how you can prepare them for your child, you will find essential oils to be a delightful way to calm your child’s stress, help him sleep and reduce his nervous habits. A calming treatment that is not medicinal in any way is Bach Flower Therapy. The Bach Flower remedies are essentially water. They do not affect the body – rather, they affect the emotions. They help a child feel less upset, worried, angry or sad. They can help with excess nervous energy, anxious feelings or other “nervous” symptoms. You can read descriptions of the remedies on-line and choose the ones you think are most appropriate for your child or you can consult a professional Bach Flower Therapist. Always include Agrimony in your Bach Remedy mixture when you want to treat a nervous habit; Agrimony is the remedy that helps reduce nervous behaviors. In addition to natural therapies (and these are only a few of the treatments that are available), you may find that psychological counseling can help reduce your child’s anxiety and stress. Obviously this intervention is most important when your child is really stressed and nervous. However, your child who is just “the nervous type” (not very, very anxious), may benefit from psychological interventions as well. Most appropriate for the average child is EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), mindfulness meditation for children, CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) self-help workbooks and other psychoeducational tools. Exercise is another great way to reduce nervous energy: enroll your child in active sports, gymnastics, yoga, swimming – make sure your child is physically active daily!

Refrain from Telling Your Child to Stop His Habit
Telling a child to stop doing whatever he’s doing not only DOESN’T help, but it also hurts. Your child isn’t trying to be “bad” when engaging in a nervous habit. It’s almost like it is happening outside of his conscious awareness. Rather than telling him to stop, simply re-direct him to another activity. Interrupting habits helps to break up the strong neural pathway that is beginning to develop. For instance, suppose your child is sitting in a chair wildly kicking one leg back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Don’t tell the child to stop! Instead, ask him to please fetch you something from another part of the house. This will interrupt his habit and anything you can do to interrupt the pattern will be quite helpful.

Never Humiliate or Mock Your Child for His Nervous Habit
Some people try to “shame” their child out of their nervous habit. Even if you manage to cure a child this way, the cost is way too great. Don’t do it. There are better ways to cure a habit. For instance, if your child has a habit of nose-picking, DO NOT tell him he is disgusting! Instead, follow the steps you’ll find in the “Nose-Picking” article on this site.

Get Your Doctor’s Advice if a Habit is Persistent
Pediatricians have seen it all. Ask your child’s pediatrician for advice on how to help your child with his nervous habit.

Try to Reduce Stressful Events in Your Child’s Life
This can be a hard one. You might really WANT that divorce, even if it causes your child to become unravelled. However, do what you can to limit the stress your child is exposed to on a daily basis and you’ll find that his nervous habits diminish. Refrain from yelling at anyone or engaging in any kind of conflict. In fact, try to stay in a good mood when your child is around.  Nurture your own mental health by taking good care of yourself. This will help you be happier and calmer and this will only be good for your child. Getting help for yourself or your marriage or even your divorce, can be an important step in calming your household and supporting your child’s mental health.

Mood and Food

Are certain foods able to change your body’s chemistry enough to make you feel consistently calm, relaxed and even happy all day? The answer is a resounding yes!

Parents should know that managing their own or their child’s mood and conduct can be done not just through behavioral techniques, but also through a well-planned diet. Indeed, we can literally be what we eat!

How it Works
Mood and behavior have a biological basis; they’re usually attributed to the adequate presence of particular chemicals in the brain. Three neurotransmitters are believed to be critical to emotional well-being: dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin.

The exact mechanism of these 3 brain chemicals is still unknown, but having low levels of each has been associated with various psychological issues. These issues include increased susceptibility to stress, anxiety, depression, aggression, hyperactivity and attention-deficit problems.

Although we don’t yet completely understand the mechanism of the chemical-mood connection, the currently accepted medical thinking is that neurotransmitters help regulate a person’s emotions. Therefore, it is not surprising that taking neurotransmitters in pill form (in antidepressant medication, for example), can improve mood and reduce anxiety. Pills can’t keep a person from being sad or disappointed, angry or upset – but they can stop people’s emotions from going to abnormal highs and lows. They are can also provide pain and tension-relief as the body no longer has to carry and adapt to the effects of chronic negative emotions. Serotonin, in particular, is critical to the body’s ability to self-heal.

More recent research highlights the help of dopamine and norepinephrine in increasing one’s alertness. They can help one feel energized as well as attentive and focused. Increased ability to perform causes an increase in self-esteem that leads to an increase in positive mood. All of this protects against stress and stress-related conditions. Children, as well as adults, can get on the cycle of increasing wellness by attending to their brain chemistry. Parents can help by giving their youngsters a daily dose of healthy brain chemicals in the form ofnutritional supplements and foods.

What to Eat
The following are just some of the foods known to help manage mood and behavior:

  • Foods rich in Omega 3 Fatty Acids. Fatty acids are the building blocks of protein. They are also the building blocks of many of our body’s hormones, the three mentioned neurotransmitters included. Taking adequate amounts of food with Omega 3s in the diet, helps adults and children stock up on these natural mood regulators. Foods rich in Omega 3s include oily fishes such as tuna, salmon and mackerel, nuts like walnuts and flaxseeds.
  • Foods rich in Vitamin B12. In general, the B group of vitamins is important in regulating mood. In fact, many sufferers of mood disorders are advised to take vitamin B supplements to help manage the fluctuations in their feelings. Vitamin B12 and folate, in particular, are known for helping increase the amount of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Foods rich in folate and B12 include green, leafy vegetables, legumes, bananas and oranges.
  • Lots of water! While not related to neurotransmitters, water is an excellent mood regulator — for many reasons! In fact, drinking a glass of water is an acceptable form of stress management and anxiety relief. Water detoxifies the system, helping get rid of pollutants in the body that cause irritability and unease. Water also regulates blood sugar. High sugar content in the blood is a culprit for symptoms of attention deficit and hyperactivity.

Foods to Avoid
To increase feelings of calm and relaxation, one needs to limit one’s intake of central nervous system stimulants – like coffee, tea, cola and other caffeinated foods and beverages. While the occasional boost of a stimulant can help increase temporary alertness and productivity, over time stimulants can create stress for the nervous system. Sensitive people may suffer increased nervousness, hypervigilance,and/or palpitations, as well as digestive symptoms. In some people, caffeine can increase depressive symptoms.  However, it is important to note that children with ADHD (and some teens and adults with this condition as well), can actually benefit from a regular dose of caffeine! In this population, the stimulant results in greater calm and focus and increased positive mood – just the opposite of what many non-ADHD people report. So if your child does better with an occasional soda or piece of chocolate, give it to him! And if he does worse – you know what you need to do.

Unsettled After Death, Divorce or Other Trauma

Although most of us wish that children could be sheltered from the pain in life, the reality is that many youngsters endure real trauma during their developmental years. One of the more common forms of modern trauma is the breakup of the family. Divorce is certainly hard for the adults who go through it but it can actually be traumatic for children – because of the loss of contact with a beloved parent, because of conflict that accompanies it, or because of life changes such as moving away from friends and family, acquiring a “step family” and so on. Death of a parent is another, usually traumatizing, experience that many children endure. But many children endure all kinds of other traumas that are less spoken about such as the serious illness and/or death of a sibling, family violence or chronic, intense conflict, addictions or mental illness within the family and much, much more. Children react to these kinds of intense stresses differently from adults. In fact, parents may not even realize that the child is suffering, since one of the common ways that kids handle overwhelming stress is to “act normal!”

If there has been intense stress in your child’s life, consider the following tips:

No Reaction is a Reaction
Suppose your friend was a passenger in a car that experienced a serious collision. The driver and two other passengers were instantly killed. The car was demolished, blood was everywhere, four firetrucks, 3 ambulances and 5 police vehicles were on the scene within minutes. Your friend miraculously escaped unharmed. Over the next days, weeks and months, this friend went about his or her business as if nothing at all had happened. He or she ate well, continued to joke around and enjoy life, never spoke about the accident and just went on very much “as normal.” Wouldn’t you find that a bit strange?

This is exactly the way many children respond to traumatic events in their lives. Instead of registering the pain and acting it out, they appear on the outside to be completely fine. What has probably happened, however, is that the overwhelming pain has been dissociated – cut off from the child’s conscious awareness. It is stored somewhere where the child can’t feel it just yet. It may surface years or even decades later, as more life stress builds up and eventually triggers it. Sometimes, it remains mentally dissociated for a lifetime, but expresses itself through the body in various forms of physical disease. The reason that children dissociate in this way is that they don’t have the emotional or intellectual resources to assimilate the experience. In other words, they just can’t handle it at the time it is happening.

If it appears that your child is not affected by a traumatic event, in reality he is quite likely affected! However, you can help. First of all, make sure that YOU are talking about the events. Some parents think, “why rock the boat? If my kid isn’t bothered by the tragedy, I’m sure not going to mention it!” Or, parents think to themselves, “the child is too young to understand or care about what is happening. There is no need to discuss it with him or her.” This is exactly the opposite of a helpful response. The child is likely to assume that the incident or events CANNOT be spoken about because they are way too terrible. On the other hand, when parents talk about what is happening and name their own feelings about it, they help children to take in the experience as a legitimate part of life and they help the child learn that his or her feelings about it are normal, expected, healthy and welcome. For instance, suppose a family suffers a crib death of their new baby. The mother can approach their children aged 4 and 6 and say something like, “It is so sad for all of us that our baby died. Daddy and I are so sad right now. You might be feeling that way too. We’re also confused. It’s hard to understand how this happened so suddenly; the baby was healthy just yesterday! You must also be feeling confused. We will all be thinking about this for quite awhile. Eventually, the pain will go away and we’ll all be happy again.” Parents can include any spiritual beliefs that they hold and want to provide their kids with at times of tremendous stress and upheaval.

Physical Reactions
While children may not be able to express their shock and pain in words, they may be able to feel it in their bodies. Headaches, tummy aches, colds and flu’s can all increase as an aftermath of intense stress. Play therapy can help children who are “somatizing” (sending emotions through their physical bodies) and talking therapies can help older kids and teens in the same way. Once emotions are acknowledged, physical complaints often subside.

Sleep Issues May be a Reaction
A child may have trouble sleeping through the night or sleeping alone in his or her bed. Or, the child may have trouble falling asleep or may suffer from nightmares. This may be part of a larger syndrome of Acute Stress Disorder (that happens as a trauma is occurring or within the month following) or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (that happens more than a month after traumatic events have ended) or Chronic Stress Disorder (the effects of ongoing stress such as living with family violence or addiction or other deeply disturbing issues).

Psychotherapy will help the child clear out the feelings of stress. This will allow him or her to have restful, normal sleep.

Anxiety and Mood Issues may be a Reaction
A child or teen may experience panic attacks, separation anxiety (always wanting to be in the presence of loved ones), increased irritability or chronic sadness. Again, when parents are able to talk about what is happening in the family, children experience fewer emotional symptoms. Sometimes, however, the child or teen may benefit most from personal counseling in order to process the events and lift the burden of stress from the mind oand body.

Misbehavior or “Acting Out” may be a Reaction
Sometimes children become rebellious, disrespectful, impulsive or otherwise poorly behaved at home and/or school in response to stress that is happening at home. Particularly if the poor behavior is a change from previous functioning, parents should consider the possibility of this being a reaction to stress. Counseling for the parents may help reduce the stress in the home and the child’s behavior may simply improve by itself as a consequence. However, some of the stress that may trigger poor behavior are not remediable by parent counseling (for instance, the death of a family member). Nonetheless, parents may benefit from counseling that can address specific behavior and emotional interventions that THEY can provide for their child at home. If these are insufficient, the child him or herself, may need some sort of counseling or behavior therapy.

Teaching Your Kids How to Express Themselves

Communication occurs on two levels: verbal and non-verbal. Verbal communication consists of our words. Non-verbal communication consists of facial expression, tone of voice, gestures and actions. Both verbal and non-verbal messages are important in successful communication, however, some experts believe that non-verbal communication is actually the more important of the two.

Children start out as non-verbal communicators; parents interpret their needs as they are expressed through crying, fidgeting, moving their bodies and their hands. Although this method works fairly well, it can be frustrating for both parent and child. Often, it is impossible to decipher the baby’s message! Parents are naturally eager to teach their children how to become better communicators. Fortunately, babies are very interested in learning to speak and many will acquire some language as early as one year of age. Others will first talk only after their second birthday. Whenever language appears on the scene, parents can help their kids learn to use it effectively by encouraging verbal communication skills.

Here are three ways that parents can help their toddlers communicate better:

Spend Time Translating Non-Verbal Communication into Words
Instead of responding immediately to a non-verbal request, invest time teaching your child the verbal alternative of what they are trying to say. For example, if they point to a glass of juice to communicate that they’d like a sip, you can say “You want juice? Okay. Can you say ‘I want juice?” Or if they are whining or moaning because they want to go home, encourage them to say “I want to go home.” Whenever a child relies on body language instead of using his words, simply remind him to use his words. Give him the actual words to say (this makes it easier for him at first). Reinforce his efforts by responding to his words immediately. You can also offer praise. For instance, if the child says “I want juice,” the parent can say “Good talking! Here is some delicious juice for you!”

Mirror Back their Feelings
An area where reading a child’s non-verbal communication is helpful is in the identification of feelings. The ability to know what one is feeling is an important skill for children to learn, and is considered as the foundation of emotional intelligence. Kids can’t always tell what they are feeling so it’s up to parents to teach them about feelings and how to identify them.

One way parents can help their children identify their feelings is by a processes called mirroring or reflecting. In this process, parents simply present back to the child the feelings that they read in their actions or facial expressions. For example, a child who comes home and slams the door is probably feeling angry. Parents can say “You seem angry” as acknowledgment of the feeling observed (only AFTER naming the feeling and addressing it, would the parent begin to teach the child that slamming a door is not an acceptable way of expressing that feeling). Or a child who falls into tears after saying that her playmate just moved away can be told “I can see how sad you are that she moved away.” While the intervention seems minor, it can teach children on how to be more self-aware when it comes to their emotions. The naming of feelings is called “emotional coaching.” It is a skill that has very powerful, positive effects on child development, especially in helping to raise a child’s emotional intelligence (E.Q.).

Encourage Deliberate Non-Verbal Communication
Sometimes words are really not enough. There are many messages, both positive and negative, that can be communicated better through non-verbal methods. The key is in communicating non-verbally effectively and intentionally, instead of using non-verbal communication as a substitute for verbal messages.

One way to encourage appropriate non-verbal communication is to model it. When you verbally tell a child, “I love you so much!” add a physical gesture of love such as a big hug or a kiss. Encourage your child to let a sibling experience his or her love in a similar fashion (“tell the baby how much you like her and give her a big kiss on her head to show her”).  Teach kids to back up their words with actions: “Let’s make Daddy a birthday card and we’ll go to buy him a gift. We’ll say Happy Birthday and give him his card and his gift after supper tomorrow night.” Teach children to show interest by looking at a speaker. Teach them how to express anger in safe and acceptable ways (i.e. “When you are mad at your brother you can use your words to tell him and you can speak in a firm voice. You cannot go and break his puzzle.”) Sometimes we have to teach older children how NOT to show their feelings: for instance, it may be important for a 12 year-old girl to learn NOT to cry whenever she feels insecure or sad. Teach her to use her words (“I’m afraid you’ll be mad at me”) and how to control her facial expression and body. This will take practice and may benefit from professional intervention. However, by teaching the child to use age-appropriate communication strategies, you are actually helping her to be more socially appropriate. This will help her with her social skills and lead to more success and self-esteem.

When Your Child is Rude or Disrespectful

There is a saying: “sticks and stone can break your bones but names will never hurt you.” How wrong that is! Verbal abuse can truly hurt – not only in the short term but also for extended periods of time, sometimes even a lifetime! Inappropriate verbal behavior in the form of verbal abuse is common in family members: sarcasm, name-calling, insulting, yelling, swearing and many other forms of hurtful and diminishing communications. Children and teens sometimes learn this kind of behavior from their parents, but just as often they pick it up in the schoolyard or on the block. They can also learn it online and through social media. Even television, movies and songs can teach kids how to use language inappropriately.

In order to help children stop engaging inappropriate verbal behavior, consider the following tips:

The Parental Model is Important
Children and teens will learn that people of all ages communicate very poorly at times. Their friends, neighbors and relatives will provide live demonstrations of inappropriate verbal behavior. Parents are always the most powerful teachers, however, so it is crucial that YOU model appropriate verbal behavior for your child. Even when you are frustrated, tired, irritable, sick, stressed or enraged, always speak in a respectful manner. If you give in to shouting and cursing, chances are very high that your kids will learn to express strong emotion that way too.

Appropriate verbal behavior is more than controlled anger. It is also behavior that shows the correct respect to others in all circumstances. For instance, children need to show an extra level of respect toward parents, grandparents, teachers and elders. Again, your own model of appropriate verbal behavior to this class of people will be important. Be aware of how you sound on the phone when talking to your parents, and watch yourself when you are speaking to them in person – no matter how frustrated you may feel at a given moment. Your child is listening and learning.

Your Home is a Training Ground
Don’t allow your child to practice verbal abuse. The more your child whines, yells, snarls or otherwise communicates inappropriately, the more likely it is that he or she will continue in that way throughout life. The more someone does something, the easier it is to do again. This is due to practice and the fact that more neural pathways are produced for repeitive behaviors. People don’t just wake up one day when they’re 30 years old and start yelling and swearing; this is something that they’ve learned in their formative years. Therefore, help your child to STOP inappropriate verbal behavior as soon as you see it. Use the full gamut of parenting techniques to encourage appropriate verbal behavior and discourage inappropriate verbal behavior (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for a complete program). Whether your child is rude to you or to a babysitter, relative or sibling – get to work on it right away and nip it in the bud! If it has already been going on for a decade, you can still address it starting today. You need a zero tolerance policy for inappropriate verbal behavior. Any behavior that others would consider obnoxious or any behavior that would harm your child’s relationships should be targeted. This can include not only direct verbal abuse as described above, but also mumbling, repeating oneself, talking on and on and on without regard to the listener’s attention span, speaking too loudly and speaking too quietly.  All inappropriate verbal behaviors can cause your child pain in his or her own social world, therefore it is important not to ignore them and just hope that they will clear up by themselves. Do what you can do to help your child and when you’ve exhausted your own ideas, call upon professional help.

Keep the Bigger Picture in Mind
Inappropriate verbal behaviors may reflect emotional issues that require attention. A child who expresses anger through inappropriate verbal behavior may need to learn better communication techniques but he or she may also need help to address the underlying anger itself. A child who mumbles or speaks too quietly may need to learn how to express him or herself in more attractive and age-appropriate ways, but he or she may also need help in addressing social anxiety or insecurity. In other words, both the behavior and the emotions often need to be addressed. Professional help can often help in the deepest, most thorough and quickest way, so ask your doctor for a referral if you have any concerns whatsoever about your child’s feelings.

Children’s Emotions After Divorce or Separation

Parental divorce or separation is a painful process — for everyone concerned. No amount of careful preparation, heart-to-heart talk, and therapy can make it less agonizing— just more manageable. After all, a loved one is technically saying goodbye. Even if everyone remains be a part of each other’s lives after the marital dissolution, the reality is: nothing will ever be the same.

In order to help children deal with the impact of divorce or separation, it’s important that parents know the roller-coaster of emotions kids go through during the process. The following are some of what children feel after divorce or separation:

Shock
“I knew the situation was bad, but I wasn’t aware it was that bad.”

Kids are often blindsided by their parent’s decision to divorce or separate. To protect children from family problems, parents tend to keep their kids out of the loop. Consequently, the news of finally ending the marriage comes as a big shock. And even if some outward sign of fighting exists, kids being naturally optimistic often think that the fighting is temporary and can be resolved. Even in homes where divorce is threatened openly and frequently, children often “get used” to the threat as just a common part of fighting – they can still be shocked when parents finally act on their words. Children who may not be so shocked are those who have experienced parental divorce before, and have some idea of what is going on.

Anger
Anger is a normal emotion felt by children undergoing parental divorce and separation. The anger can be directed towards one particular parent, the parent whom the child feels is to blame for the marriage not working out. The anger can also be directed to both parents; kids may feel that mom and dad didn’t try hard enough to save their family. In some cases, children may just be angry at the situation. They empathize with their parents well enough, but they would understandably rather that they don’t suffer such a major loss.

Self-blame
Children do blame themselves for parental divorce or separation. Because of the old philosophy of “staying married for the children’s sake,” kids may have the idea that parental love of kids should be enough to keep a couple together. Thus, when a marriage breaks down, kids feel like they failed in providing their parents a reason to try harder. Older children may blame themselves for not doing enough to save the marriage — maybe they’ve already noticed that something is wrong but didn’t say anything about it. Younger children may think that the divorce or separation is directly or indirectly caused by their behavior. It’s not unusual, for example, for a pre-schooler to irrationally conclude that the divorce or separation pushed through because parents are always fighting about their performance in school.

Fear
The source of security in a family is the parents’ stable marriage. A divorce or separation, therefore, can be quite unsettling for a child. Where would the family live? How will they earn enough income to support everyone? Would we have to live with somebody new? And are there any more jarring changes coming our way? There are so many question marks after a divorce or separation that being afraid is just an expected reaction.

Sadness
And of course, kids feel sadness and even depression during this stressful time. There are many losses that come after a divorce or separation, some of which can never be recovered. Understandably a new living arrangement has to be negotiated, and it’s possible that a child will have to give up proximity to a parent once all the legalities are finalized. Siblings may even end up living in different residences. There are also intangible losses, like the loss of dreams about the family. Sadness is a natural part of grieving for a loss, and is a normal reaction among children during parental divorce or separation.

Dealing with Children’s Feelings
The key to helping children with their feelings about divorce is to let them have their feelings. Don’t try to cheer them up or talk them out of their negative emotions. Doing so may cause the feelings to go underground where they might fester, show up as depression or anxiety later, re-route to physical aches and pains or manifest in various types of behavioral challenges. Letting kids be appropriately upset is the healthiest way to help them feel better faster. This is NOT the time to show sympathy by letting them know that YOU also feel scared, mad and sad. Save your feelings for your meeting with your therapist or for discussion with your adult friends. Your kids have already lost one parent; they must not lose another. They really need you now and even though you yourself may be going through intense emotional challenges, it is unfair to unload that onto your children. They will feel that they have to be strong and help YOU or they will feel that they don’t want to add to your burdens by sharing their real misery. What they need from you now is a listening ear and a good model of coping. When they see that you are NOT falling apart, it will give them hope that they will get through this too. If you are, in fact, having a very hard time, seeking professional counseling will help both you and your kids.

Refuses to Go to a Mental Health Professional

In an ideal world, consulting a mental health professional would be as easy as consulting a medical doctor – and as stigma-free. Unfortunately, many people still feel an element of shame, embarrassment or other type of awkwardness about going to a psychological professional. Some people still think that mental health professionals only deal with people who are “crazy” and understandably don’t want to be an identified member of such a population. In fact, in the “olden days” mental illness was poorly understood and derogatory terms such as “crazy” were used to describe people who we know know were suffering from various biological disorders such as schizophrenia, manic-depressive disorder or delusional disorders. Psychiatrists and clinical psychologists can now help mentally ill people feel and function better than ever before. Moreover, modern mental health professionals assist not only those who are suffering from true mental illness, but also those who are completely mentally healthy. They help almost everyone to function in less stressful, more productive and happier ways, helping  them achieve their full potential in every area. People who access mental health services in order to feel and achieve their best, tend to be more emotionally sophisticated, open-minded and growth-oriented than those who do not. In other words, it is often the most mentally healthy people who consult mental health pofessionals today.

Although YOU may know all this, your child may not. In fact, your child may have the old misconception that going to a mental health professional means that there is something wrong with you. As a result, he or she may not want to see a mental health professional, even though you know that this is exactly what is needed.

If your child refuses to go to a mental health professional, consider the following tips:

Explain to your Child what Mental Health is and what Mental Health Professionals Do
As previously mentioned, there are many misconceptions that float around regarding the mental health profession — and even young children could have heard of them through playmates and peers. It’s important then that you explain carefully that mental health is just one aspect of our health. Emphasize that healthy people access mental health services in order to learn new skills, improve relationships, reduce stress and emotional discomfort, feel better physically, and achieve more in school or life. Be specific too – talk about the various tasks that mental health professionals perform such as psycho-educational assessments, mental health assessments, family counseling (to reduce conflict or help cope with stress), remove and/or manage fear, anger or sadness, and much more.

Your child may not recognize or agree that he or she has an issue that requires intervention. As a parent, you are in charge of your child’s well-being. If your child had an infection, you would insist on medical attention. Similarly, if your child needs help for an emotional problem, it is up to you to arrange it. If the child in question is a teenager, you might have to deal with resistance – be prepared. First try to motivate the youngster with reason – explain the possible benefits of assessment and treatment. If the child still refuses to cooperate, let him or her know that, privileges will be removed. For example, “No you don’t have to go to see Dr. Haber, but if you decide not to come, you will  not have the use of my car until you change your mind.” Think of whatever consequences might help motivate your adolescent to cooperate.

Tell children what to expect at their first session. If there will be art or music or toys, let your child know that the session should be very enjoyable, even while the therapist is learning about the child’s issues and learning how to be help. If it will be a talking therapy, tell the child how the therapist might open the conversation, what sort of questions might be asked and how the child might approach the conversation. Tell the child how to handle tricky situations like not wanting to talk or open up too much or feeling not understood or being fearful. In other words, prepare for everything!

Gently but Clearly Explain Why you are Referring Them to a Mental Health Practitioner
Tell your child why you have scheduled a mental health consultation. Explain that the consultation is meant to help the child and is not some sort of negative consequence! Kids who are caught breaking the law, or even family rules, are often scheduled for counseling in order to find out the reason for the misbehavior. Children who do not do well in school are referred to educational psychologists for assessment of learning disorders or other causes. Depressed or anxious teens may be sent to psychiatrists or psychologists for treatment. If you are having relationship difficulties with your youngster, make sure to participate in the counseling process in some way, either having joint sessions with the child or having individuals sessions just like the child is having, or both.

Negotiate Confidentiality Boundaries Beforehand
A tricky issue for children in therapy is confidentiality. It’s common for some kids to have hesitation talking to a mental health professional. For them, counselors are just their parents’ spies — a way parents can gather information about them. It’s important that parents (and maybe the mental health professional him or herself) clarify beforehand that all issues discussed within sessions are confidential, and that only the generic nature of issues discussed would be revealed to parents. Similarly, the mental health practitioner can specify what will remain confidential and what sorts of information cannot remain confidential, giving the child the opportunity to share or withhold information knowing the limits of confidentiality.

Tell your Kids that They can Terminate a Consultation Anytime
It’s important that kids actually enjoy their therapy experiences. Negative therapy experiences may affect them negatively throughout life as they refuse to get much needed help because of traumatic memories of therapy in childhood! Therefore, make sure that your child LIKES going to therapy or change the therapist, or the type of therapy, or even consider stopping therapy for the time being and trying again later. Usually, mental health professionals are good at establishing rapport with their clients and child and adolescent specialists are particularly skilled at making kids feel comfortable. Nonetheless, if your child remains uncomfortable after a couple of meetings, end the therapy. Adults also need to feel comfortable in therapy in order to benefit and they, too, have the right to “shop around” for a compatible therapist or therapy approach. Since there are so many different types of treatments and so many therapists, there; they will do their best to get your child feeling at ease before they start an actual intervention. But many factors can cause your child to be uncomfortable with a mental health professional. It’s helpful then that your child knows that you are at least willing to consider enlisting a different professional, or terminating sessions if there are significant concerns.

Morning Routine

What’s it like in your house in the morning? If someone was observing from outside your window, ask what would they see? Laughter and warmth? Irritation and impatience? Conflict, site screaming, viagra 60mg arguing? Or a mixture of everything?

What would you want them to see? Or, more to the point, what do you want your kids to see? Your morning routine sends your kids out the door and into the world, carrying with them the experiences, messages and emotions of the 7a.m. rush. This period, for school age kids, is one of the two main “quality time” parenting periods of their school years – the other being the “after school crunch.”

Teaching Life Lessons
From the time kids wake up till the time they walk out the door, parents are teaching valuable life lessons. Parents are teaching kids how to manage time. Do you get out of bed early enough to get it all done in the morning? Do you teach your kids how to do the same? Parents are demonstrating how to handle pressure – the deadline of the morning rush. Do you dissolve under pressure, becoming nasty, irritable, panicked or otherwise unpleasant? Or do you model self-control and restraint when your blood is boiling and the clock is ticking? Parents teach kids how to convey love – from the first gentle wake-up tickle of the toes to the tender kiss good-bye. Compliments and jokes and other forms of friendly banter show the kids that they are loved. Do you have the patience and good humor it takes to be loving at 7:30 in the morning? Or is it all about “hurry up, hurry up, carpool is coming!”

Morning Challenges
Children can be morning-challenged in a variety of ways. Let’s look at some typical challenges of the kindergarten to sixth grade set.

  • Dawdlers: This group of slow pokes can really unravel a rushing Mom. It’s important to avoid labeling them as “dawdlers” since you don’t want to reinforce this self-concept. It’s also important to avoid nagging them – that is, employing repetitive requests that will ultimately lead to parental anger. Instead, reinforce quicker behavior by using the CLeaR Method (comment on appropriate speed, label it as “quick moving”, reward it with a kiss or a treat). Also, use the 2X-Rule for limits. For instance, you can say “If you haven’t finished brushing your hair by 7:40, I’ll have to finish brushing it for you.” “If you haven’t finished eating by 8:05, I’ll have to remove your plate.” (You can find more information on the CLeaR Method and the 2X-Rule in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.)
  • Distracted Kids: these kids have trouble staying on task at home or at school. Supplementing their diet with Essential Fatty Acids can sometimes help improve their concentration. In addition, use the CLeaR Method to give positive attention whenever on-task behavior is occurring and use the 2X-Rule to set consequences for failing to have certain tasks performed by certain deadlines.
  • Sensory Issue Kids: These kids struggle with the way things feel to them. Clothes that you pick out may not feel “right” causing a delay around getting dressed. Try picking out the clothes the night before, with the child’s involvement. If the child wants to wear the same thing over and over, let her – it’s not dangerous and not worth fighting about every day. Try washing the clothes after she takes them off at night. When it’s impossible to get her the clothes she wants, use Emotional Coaching – naming and accepting her feelings sympathetically. Lectures and criticism are unhelpful and destructive so don’t go there!
  • Non-Compliant Kids: These kids simply don’t listen. They may be strong-willed or just plain uncooperative. They complain about their clothes, the weather, the breakfast and the lunch snacks. They are irritable and demanding. They may benefit from Essential Fatty Acids, Bach Flower Therapy or other alternative interventions as well as Emotional Coaching. Try offering this kind of child choices about clothing and food, preferably the night before. The challenge is not to get “hooked” – these kids are not happy campers. They don’t need your anger to top it all off.
  • Others: Some kids are disorganized and need lots of extra help and structure from the parent. This is a brain challenge – not “bad” behavior. Therefore, patience and assistance are in order. Some kids can’t wake up easily and require modification of their bedtime and help with their wake-up routine. And some MOMS are disorganized and have trouble getting it altogether. However, sitting down and thinking about each child’s morning style, your own style and some small interventions may be all that is necessary to ensure that you have consistently good mornings in your household!

Bad Moods

Some people are always in a good mood. The moody child isn’t one of them. He’s known for his frown, his complaints and his tantrums that occur frequently enough that his parents call him “moody.” Some moody kids are actually in a bad mood from the time they get up in the morning till the time they go to sleep at night. Their glass is always half empty; nothing is ever just right. They feel sad, hurt, angry, neglected, abandoned, mistreated, and generally unhappy. They feel this way even when their parents are normal, kind people trying their best.

Some moody kids have alterations in their emotional states, moving from miserable to content off and on throughout the day. They may be happy as long as things are going their way, but then, blow up when there is a hitch (when Mom says “no” or anticipated plans fail, for example). Some moody kids actually travel daily across a spectrum of emotional states ranging from lows to highs: from grumpy to delightful to enraged to ecstatic to grief stricken to full of joy.

Why are Kids Moody?
Children and adults can experience temporary moodiness that is out of their normal stable character. This occurs when people haven’t eaten well or haven’t slept enough or when they’re coming down with an illness. It can occur also when there is an unusual amount of stress or pressure or chaos. For instance, in the days before “moving day” a family may find itself living in a house that is full of boxes, unable to locate needed clothing or pots or what have you, living without the comforts of home for some days before and after the actual move. During this period the whole family may be in a bad mood. However, once they are settled, the mood will also settle and the family members will return to their normal pleasant states.

People who have experienced a trauma may suffer a number of symptoms such as trouble sleeping, panic attacks and uncharacteristic irritability. Once the trauma is treated, the bad mood will lift. Living in a chronically stressful situation can also affect mood in otherwise normal kids and grownups. Going through a difficult, drawn-out divorce, for example, can put everyone in a bad mood for some years.

Some people have bad moods because of their diet. Excess sugar and caffeine can negatively affect mood in anyone; after chocolate milk and cookies kids can become grumpy, angry and sour. Some kids have sensitivities to ingredients in foods or they have allergies or food intolerances. These can all cause irritability and bad mood. Once the diet is adjusted, the mood will improve.

However, chronic bad mood, including the alternating moods described above, that are not explained by temporary circumstances or health issues may better be explained by inherited characteristics. Irritable mood in children can be a precursor of adult depression. In adults depression manifests as sadness with other physical and emotional symptoms. However, in children, depression is expressed as irritability and regular bad mood. Adults may treat their depressions with therapy and/or medication. These treatments are rarely employed in the treatment of children’s mood issues, reserved for particularly severe cases of emotional dysfunction. However, there are many alternative treatments for children’s mood issues that can be very effective.

Helping Heal Bad Moods
Naturopathic treatments can be quite helpful. Bach Flower Therapy, for example, is a form of vibrational medicine that is harmless and yet powerful. Like beautiful music (another form of “vibrational medicine”), Bach Flowers lift mood gently. This form of treatment can decrease negativity, tantrums, discouragement, jealousy, anger, rigidity and other low-mood characteristics. You can learn more about Bach Flower Therapy online and/or find a Bach Flower Practitioner to further guide you.

There are many other naturopathic and alternative treatments for children’s mood issues. Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) supplementation and other nutritional support can be very therapeutic for all mood issues and particularly in the treatment of alternating high and low moods. A nutritionist experienced in the treatment of children’s mood disorders can design a therapeutic diet for your child. Homeopathic treatment, cranial sacral work, acupuncture and other treatments all have been found to be helpful and safe in the treatment of mood issues. Although some research and experimentation may be necessary until the right treatment is found for your youngster, it is worth the trouble. Helping a child grow up more happily not only brings him (and you!) more happiness, it also affects his developing brain for the future.

Behavioral treatment of mood disorders can be carried out by you in your home. It is helpful to use “emotional coaching” in response to a child’s expressions of unhappiness. This involves naming and accepting his feeling. “Yes, I see you’re upset,” or “Yes, it’s very disappointing,” or “You’re really mad about this” are simple statements that you can make to your disgruntled youngster. What should NOT be said is, “You’re never happy about anything!” or “I’m tired of your complaints” or “There’s no reason for you to be so unhappy.” A parent’s irritation only makes matters worse. Emotional coaching, on the other hand, has been shown to help children become more emotionally intelligent over time, better able to remain calm and emotionally stable, perform better in school, do better socially, emotionally and even physically. Emotional coaching—the naming and welcoming of all feelings—eventually helps children suffer less frequent and less intense negative emotion.

It isn’t necessary to try to make a moody child happy. And it isn’t really possible. Rather, focus on accepting that the child is in pain. Moody kids don’t want to be grumpy and unhappy. They are victims of their genes and inborn temperaments. They deserve your sympathy, support and compassion. Showing your child you care about his or her mood issues by seeking out treatment is a powerful message in itself.

It is hard to parent children with chronically bad moods. Be sure to take care of yourself: manage your stress, exercise, socialize, take breaks and laugh. Your moody child needs you to be in a good mood!

How to Soothe Your Cranky Baby

Babies have very clear personalities that are evident from the moment of birth. Some are so calm and easy-going. Some look and sound mad. Some look worried. It’s possible that their individual journeys down the birth canal have affected their mood and disposition but their genes also play a major role. Psychologists now say that at least 50% of personality is present before parents have a chance to have an impact on their kids. As any parent of more than one child knows, each child is different.

Babies Impact on Their Caregivers
Babies have a strong impact on their parents. A relaxed and placid, cooperative baby makes the parent feel the same way. Such a baby inspires parental confidence even if this is the first child. Parents of easy-going, content babies feel successful as parents and this makes them actually like their baby even more.

Tense, irritable, crabby babies make their parents feel that way too! They make their parents feel helpless, inept and inadequate. This causes them to be somewhat aversive to their parents – after all, we tend to shrink away from people who make us feel like failures. Although it’s not the baby’s fault, parents can’t help but feel resentful toward an infant that refuses to be soothed or comforted. They try everything they possibly can, but still the baby remains unsettled and unhappy. After months of this kind of cycle, parents can feel distressed, burnt-out and detached from their infant.

Loving Difficult Babies
There is no trick to loving a cooperative baby. There is a BIG trick to loving a more challenging infant. With non-responsive babies, parents must remind themselves that gentle handling and patient care-giving DOES make a difference to the child. Difficult babies are stressed from the inside. When parents provide a soothing, confident handling from the outside, the experience does impact on the child’s nervous system. Agitated handling creates more agitation for the infant; calm handling gets recorded in the infants brain and its impact accumulates over time, helping the child to develop in an optimal way. Since parents cannot get immediate feedback from the baby him or herself, they must give THEMSELVES positive feedback instead. Every time you hold your difficult infant, actually tell yourself “I am doing therapeutic parenting. It is so good for my baby. It will help him/her in the long run.” By rewarding yourself verbally (and in any other way you want to!) you can help your own body and mind resist the stress of a (temporarily) thankless child.

In addition, make sure to engage in other activities that DO give positive feedback. Take breaks from your baby in order to do what you enjoy doing and what you feel successful at. Use a babysitter frequently in order to give yourself time to replenish your energy so that you can continue to give love to this baby without exhaustion, resentment and strain.

Seek social support, therapy, alternative stress relief and any other intervention that can help strengthen and nurture you because your baby needs you. You must undo the effects that the baby can have on your nervous system and continuously restore and re-balance your system.

By looking after yourself, you’ll be doing the very best for your baby. This is true for every parent and all the more so for parents of challenging babies.