When Your Child is Sad

Dealing with sadness effectively is a skill that will serve a child all throughout his or her life. After all, loss is an inevitable experience in this world – whether it is the loss of a favorite sweater, a cherished pet or beloved family member. Sadness is the appropriate response to loss. It is an emotional signal that says, “something is missing.” We feel sad until we have somehow reorganized our inner world to sew up the gaping hole left by the loss.

Parents can help children move through sadness. Moving through this feeling is important because failing to do so – staying stuck in sadness – can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety and panic, among other reactions. Unresolved sadness can also manifest as bodily pain and/or illness. For instance, unexplained tummy aches and headaches can be fueled by unresolved feelings of sadness. Parental support and guidance can help move sadness through and out of the child’s heart.

If your child is feeling sad, consider the following tips:

Let Your Child Know That’s It’s Okay to Feel Sad
Many parents are so distressed at seeing their kids upset that they want to cheer them up, reassure them and if possible, replace their loss, immediately. However, this approach only teaches children that sadness is an intolerable emotion. Unfortunately, such a message not only fails to teach a child how to handle feelings of sadness, but also increases the likelihood that kids will eventually run to escape measures like addictions when sadness threatens. Therefore, the first and most important step for parents to take is to calmly and compassionately welcome feelings of sadness. A simple acknowledgement of sadness can suffice, as in “you must feel so sad about that.” A period and a pause is necessary in order to convey acceptance, before continuing to speak. Avoid the word “but” since that word rushes too quickly to “fix” the sad feeling without processing it (see below for more about this). Allowing a child to feel sad also means letting him or her become temporarily withdrawn, unhappy and moody when suffering a loss. Refrain from trying to distract a sad child and from telling him or her to “cheer up.”

Provide Emotional Coaching
Dr. John Gottman, author of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child explains that naming and accepting a child’s feelings helps the child to both manage and release painful emotion. Just saying something like, “that must make you feel sad,” or “it really hurts” or “that’s very painful” or “I know it’s very upsetting” can give a child a channel for acknowledging difficult feelings inside of himself.  When the child can acknowledge the feeling, half of it disappears immediately. The other half will slowly melt out of the child’s heart with the continued support of the parent. All that is required is to let the feeling be, without  minimizing it or trying to change it in any way. For instance, suppose a child is very sad because his best friend is changing schools. The parent is tempted to say things like, “don’t worry – you can still visit him and have a friendship over the computer and the telephone.” However, the parent who offers Emotional Coaching says things like, “Wow, that’s hard. It’s sad to lose a best friend. I bet you’re pretty upset.” The parent accepts whatever the child says, naming the feelings that seem to be present. Emotional Coaching often allows a child to go even deeper into the bad feeling before resurfacing with a positive emotional resolution. Perhaps the child in our example might say something like  “Yes I am upset! I’ll never have another friend like him! I hate everyone else at school. There’s no one I’ll be able to be friends with!” If this happens, the parent just affirms how awful all that must feel (“It’s such a disappointment that he’s leaving, especially when there’s no one else to take his place and you’re going to be all alone.”) Once the child hears his feelings being spoken out-loud, he usually self-corrects and starts to cheer himself up (“well, maybe I’ll spend more time with Josh Lankin”). If the child doesn’t pull himself out of the sad feeling, the parent who has provided emotional acknowledgement is now in a good position to help the youngster think things through: advice that is offered AFTER Emotional Coaching is often much more likely to be accepted. You can learn more about Emotional Coaching in the book Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.

Provide Perspective
Parents can provide education and guidance AFTER providing Emotional Coaching. Trying to do it beforehand often backfires, as the youngster feels that the parent just doesn’t understand the pain he or she is experiencing. Without understanding, the parent has “no right” to start offering advice. After Emotional Coaching, on the other hand, the child knows that the parent really understands and accepts the feelings of sadness. Now the parent “has the right” to try to provide information or perspective on the matter. In a study of children with depression, it’s been found that optimism is one of the factors that help protect children from the effect of overwhelming sadness. Kids who experience intense feelings of sadness (e.g. the sadness that comes after parents’ divorce or separation), but remain resilient are those who believe that the sadness is temporary — and that tomorrow will bring better days. If you can teach your children to look at the next day as having the potential to bring a new beginning, then you can help your child manage sadness better. Some parents will be able to draw on a strong religious faith to bring this notion forward and some will draw it out from their own bright view of life. If you have neither, however, try looking at the writings of Norman Vincent Peale – the father of “positive thinking.” Peale wrote dozens of books on the subject of maintaining an optimistic outlook, but even a quick perusal of his famous “The Power of Positive Thinking” will fill you with a rich reservoir of ideas to share with your children.

Encourage Your Child to Seek Social Support
Friends are handy in all moments of grief! As kids grow older, they can look to friends as people they can trust with their innermost thoughts and feelings. Studies among children and adults confirm the value of social support when handling difficult situations in life. Encourage your child to always maintain a couple of close friendships and a couple of casual friends. Close friends can provide valuable emotional support through sad and troubled times and casual friends can provide welcome distractions. Model this practice in your own life.

Consider Bach Flower Therapy
Bach Flower Remedies provide emotional relief in the form of a harmless water-based tincture. A few drops of remedy in liquid (water, tea, milk, juice, coffee, soda, etc.) several times a day can help feelings resolve more rapidly. Star of Bethlehem is one of the 38 Bach Flower Remedies – it helps heal feelings of shock and grief. It can help kids deal with death, divorce, loss of a good friend and other serious losses. Walnut can help kids move more gracefully through changing circumstances. Gorse can help lift depressed feelings. Mustard can help with sadness that comes for biological reasons like shifting hormones, grey skies and genetic predisposition to low moods. Larch can help with sadness that is caused by insecurity and Oak can be used when excessive strain and effort leads to unhappiness. There are other Bach Remedies that can help as well, depending on how the child is experiencing sadness. Consult a Bach Flower Practitioner or read up on the remedies. You can purchase them at most health food stores and online.

Consider Professional Help
If your child is “stuck” in sadness and can’t get out of it despite your interventions, do consult a pediatric psychologist or psychiatrist. A mental health professional is highly trained to help kids move through sadness and get on with a happy, productive life!

Anger and Conflict During Discipline

Discipline is hard for parents and kids alike. Tempers can flare on both sides. Angry kids are challenging to deal with, but angry parents can actually cause trauma in their children. Indeed, much accidental psychological damage is done during disciplinary episodes. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s look at what causes anger during discipline and see what we can do to prevent it.

Discipline is Education
Offering children guidance and a good parental model is very important. For instance, telling children that they need to refrain from talking with their mouth full of food and also showing them through the parental model that this is how people conduct themselves is the best way to begin to the education process. However, this “one-two punch” is not always completely sufficient to get the point across. For instance, you may be a very responsible person who always comes home on time or at least calls to say when you’ll be late. The fact that you behave this way AND that you’ve explained to your 16 year old daughter how important it is to conduct oneself this way, does not guarantee that your daughter will conduct herself that way. You may have to do more to get the lesson across in a way that affects her behavior. Sometimes “more” involves giving positive attention or even positive rewards for appropriate behavior in order to reinforce that behavior. However, sometimes “more” involves giving negative consequences in order to discourage unacceptable or inappropriate behavior. Negative consequences are TOOLS in a system of discipline.

Discipline is related to the word “disciple” – student. When the parent offers discipline to the child, it is a form of education. As such, it has nothing to do with emotions like anger or behaviors like yelling. A good disciplinarian is simply a good teacher.

The Teaching Moment
Since discipline is nothing more than teaching, it is important to choose an appropriate time and place for any lesson that you wish to impart. This is called “the teaching moment.” A teaching moment is usually fairly private (never in front of guests). It is a moment in which the child is calm. It is also a moment in which the parent is calm. If these conditions are not met, the parent should wait before attempting to discipline. A parent has about 20 years to raise a child – there is no “emergency” (unless the child is standing in traffic). In general, wait until you are both calm and you have an appropriate location in which you can speak. If either of you is upset, just wait longer. It is fine to wait hours, days, or sometimes even longer (the older the child the longer it’s possible to wait).

Most of what goes wrong during discipline happens because the parent did not choose a “teaching moment.” Instead, the parent felt upset and punished the child while still angry. This causes the parent to use emotion instead of appropriate negative consequences, to try to teach the lesson. Since the parent is upset, his or her ability to choose an appropriate negative consequence is severely compromised. Angry feels can seriously interfere with the thinking process.  In anger, the parent might choose a negative consequence that is too harsh, too long or otherwise too unreasonable. Moreover, the chances of the parent being able to explain what he or she wants and doesn’t want from the child are fairly slim, due to the parent’s intense upset. Instead of communicating in such a way that the child would be able to hear or want to hear, the parent is likely to communicate in a way that infuriates the child or shuts him down. The parent may use escalatory language and say hurtful things. This, of course, makes the child very upset and he may then lash out in kind or more so. When the parent “loses it” the child is much more inclined to lose it as well. Now we have a shouting match instead of “discipline.”

Arguments and Conflict
A cycle occurs: the child’s upset triggers parental upset that triggers more upset in the child and so on. As the child gets more and more out of control, he is likely to show less and less respect to the parent. The child’s rudeness causes the parent to become more and more offended, insulted, enraged and punitive, which causes the child to feel more offended, insulted, enraged and vengeful.

The one to break the cycle of anger and conflict during discipline is the PARENT. No matter how rude, wild or out-of-control the child is, the parent must stay calm, collected and adult throughout any communication. The parent can use the Two Times Rule – 2X Rule – to carry out discipline (see the full explanation of the 2X Rule in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice, by Sarah Chana Radcliffe). The parent says something once, says it again with a warning of a consequence, and then gives the consequence if necessary. The parent stays calm and quiet throughout. The consequence has been chosen earlier, when the parent was thinking about the child’s behavioral lapses. If the child argues, a similar structure of communication is used to stop it: the parent follows the “I-Do-Not-Argue-With-You” rule (also described in full in Raising Your Kids without Raising Your Voice).

When children see that their parents can actually stay perfectly calm, respectful, caring and reasonable during moments of intense stress, they will use the model as one of the valuable tools they’ll have for learning how it is done. Moreover, parents can use discipline itself to help teach children that it is fine to feel anger, but it is not fine to just express it without regard to people’s feelings. The Relationship Rule is a step-by-step process for teaching children how to express themselves politely, even when feeling upset. The consistent parental model is very, very important in making the lessons stick!

Professional Resources
If children or parents get so out of control during episodes of discipline that they have trouble calming themselves down, professional help can be enlisted to help restore a sense of control and inner discipline. Mental health professionals can offer strategies and interventions that can directly target upset and angry feelings, helping parent and/or child to feel calmer and happier in general, as well as during moments of discipline!

Child Gets Angry During Discipline

Parenting experts agree that the goal of discipline is not reprimand or punish, but to help children learn what is expected of them with regards to healthy, safe, and socially and morally appropriate behavior. This is the reason why anger really has no place in discipline; anger has nothing to do with teaching. But what if it’s your child who can’t control his or her anger during moments of discipline? Even a calm and patient parent will often be challenged by a child seething with rage.

If your child tends to get very angry when you discipline him or her, consider the following tips:

Call For a Time-Out
There is no law that discipline must happen in the moment of misbehavior – in fact, when a child is too upset to be receptive, discipline can be counterproductive – not only useless, but possibly even destructive. It is essential that neither parent nor child be upset at the time of discipline. Instead, let the discipline wait until an appropriate “teaching moment” – a time when everyone is calm. It doesn’t matter if this teaching moment occurs minutes or hours or even days after the original misconduct. Your goal is to be effective, not prompt.

If you sense that your child is too angry to listen to anything that you have to say, or too emotional to process his or her own behavior, you can call for a time out. “I can see that you are very upset right now. Why don’t we take a break to calm down? We can talk about this tomorrow.”  Waiting can be a wiser choice that forcing an issue right away. Who knows, your child’s perspective about an event can change with a good night’s rest! He might wake up in the morning seeing it YOUR way even before you approach him.

Practice De-Escalation Techniques
In some cases, you will be able to help your child de-escalate in the upset moment. There are many calming techniques that parents can use in situations when kids become very angry. One way is to use “emotional coaching” – name and accept the child’s anger, and open the floor for venting. Consider the following:

Child: You never let me have any fun! Other kids get to go to the playground today. You’re the only one who said no. You’re so mean!

Parent: I can see that you’re very angry about this. And I understand – it’s very upsetting if you think everyone is going to the park except you. You’re mad at Mommy.

Allowing kids to have their feelings is a good way to help them process and release anger before trying to talk about misbehavior. Another de-escalation technique is to speak slowly in a soft and gentle tone, helping to draw the child’s emotional wavelength to a quieter, calmer place. A different kind of de-escalation technique altogether is to use the Bach Flower mixture called Rescue Remedy (you can find more information about Bach Flower Remedies and Rescue Remedy online and throughout this site). When a child is out-of-control with rage, spraying a bit of Rescue Remedy every couple of minutes on his arm or even right into his mouth can rapidly help restore him to calm. If you decide to use Rescue Remedy, only employ it if you have already explained its use to your child in a calm moment so that it won’t feel like some sort of “attack!”  If you want, you can also experiment with a technique that some parents have found helpful – use this one only if you and your child are used to joking around in better times – throw yourself down on the floor and do a good imitation of what the child is doing; many children will stop their tantrum and laugh at the antics of the parent.

Know Your Child’s Triggers
Sometimes a parent’s behavior actually TRIGGERS a child’s rage. It might be worthwhile to consider your own words and actions during moments of discipline. For instance, your own shouting might trigger a disrespectful comeback from the child. Perhaps your words are taunting or provocative. Perhaps you are steamrolling – frustrating and overwhelming your youngster with your verbiage. Maybe you are being stubborn, close-minded or unreasonable. Maybe your punishments are unfair or outrageous. Ask your spouse, other kids or a professional to help you figure this out.

Teach Your Child How to Express Upset Properly
Keep in mind that a child is entitled to feel unhappy during discipline. What’s important is that he or she knows how to express upset and anger appropriately – safely and respectfully. You can permit your child to express frustration and upset – just be sure to teach him or her how to do it. Teach your child what you expect of him or her, following the steps outlined in “The Relationship Rule” in the book Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.

Marijuana Use

According to recent reports, erectile one in fifteen teenagers is using marijuana on a daily basis. More 10th graders smoke marijuana than cigarettes. On the other hand, order other forms of substance abuse are declining among this group – including alcohol use and other drugs.

What are the Immediate Effects of Marijuana?
Short term cannabis use (marijuana/weed/hemp/pot/grass and other slang names) often stimulates feelings of relaxation and elevated mood.  Appreciation for art and music may be enhanced or at least artistic appreciation might feel enhanced! Ideas can flow rapidly and the user may become quite talkative as well. In fact, pilule cannabis users may experience a variety of effects upon intoxication, including becoming hungry, having the giggles, experiencing hallucinations, experiencing increased  anxiety, suffering impaired motor coordination, experiencing increased fatigue and lowered motivation. However, a user will usually appear more or less normal to outside observers, even when he or she is highly intoxicated.

What are the Effects of Cannabis Intoxication?
Intoxication (getting “high”) is a disturbed state that often begins with symptoms of mild anxiety that can later progress to feelings of panic and might also include distortions in time perception, impaired judgment, impaired learning and problem-solving, euphoria, social withdrawal and motor impairment. Marijuana can also increase feelings of depression. Marijuana’s negative impact on memory and learning can last for days or even weeks after intoxication. Regular users may therefore be in a state of continuous lowered intellectual functioning. Those driving cars while intoxicated on marijuana have slower reaction times, impaired judgment, and impaired response to signals and sounds. Impulsivity increases, as does risk taking behavior. Physical symptoms can include dry mouth, rapid heart rate, red eyes and increased appetite.

The most common untoward reaction to cannabis is the development of an anxiety disorder, but use of the drug can also lead to serious psychotic disorders in those who are vulnerable. Vulnerability is associated with early use of marijuana (prior to age 18)  – in which case users have 2 to 4 times the frequency of psychotic illness occurring by young adulthood.  Also, those who start taking marijuana before age 18 have a much higher incidence of becoming addicted to the drug. Lastly, it appears that adolescent users are susceptible to drug induced permanent brain changes that affect memory and cognitive functioning.

What are the Effects of Cannabis Withdrawal?
When addicted users go off marijuana, they experience unpleasant symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, cravings for the drug, sleeplessness and decreased appetite. The symptoms are unpleasant enough to make abstinence challenging. They peak at 2-3 days off the drug and then subside within a couple of weeks. The most likely people to become addicted to marijuana are those who have started its use while in their teens and those who use the drug daily. Addiction is characterized in part by continued use of the substance despite negative effects on relationships, work or school performance or  other aspects of functioning.

Treatment for Cannabis Intoxication
Treatment can range from in-patient hospitalization, drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities, to various outpatient programs and individual drug therapy counselling. Narcotics Anonymous (twelve-step programs) and other such group support programs are also helpful treatment options.

The Role of Parents
There’s much that parents can do to help their children avoid experimenting with or seriously using marijuana. Here are some ideas:

  • Bring home education books from your public library and leave them lying around with other books. Alternatively, leave them in the bathroom for “reading material.” Books written for young people on this subject are appealing to the age group with lots of simple information, pictures and user-friendly guidance.
  • Talk about drugs and alcohol at your dinner table. Give your opinions and share your knowledge.
  • LISTEN to what your kids are saying – without criticism, negative feedback or judgment. You don’t want them to shut down and keep their thoughts (and actions) to themselves. Instead, show thoughtful interest and curiosity and try to relate what they are saying to your own adolescent and current life experience.
  • Teach your kids healthy ways of managing stress – don’t assume they know how to process hurt, anger or fear. Bring home books on stress management and emotional awareness and talk about these things at your table.
  • Offer your kids professional counseling when they seem to have too much stress or when they are withdrawing, very anxious, suffering from insomnia, seem to be in low mood or otherwise seem emotionally off balance. You don’t want them to discover the pleasure of “self-medicating” through drugs!
  • Strengthen the emotional stability of your family, the health of your marriage and the happiness of your home through education and counseling as necessary – a happier home environment is preventative as far as heavy drug use goes.
  • Use an authoritative style of parenting – have some rules and boundaries but emphasize warmth (see “Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice” for a balanced parenting strategy). Refrain from using too many rules, too much criticism or too much anger.

How to Discipline without Anger

Parents frequently feel angry at their kids – especially when those kids engage in behavior that is destructive, dangerous, mean, foolish, messy, illegal, immoral, thoughtless, selfish and otherwise… childish.  But given that unrestrained displays of anger can traumatize children, parents have to learn how to discipline without rage, upset or even irritation. While anger is an emotion, it is NOT a parenting tool. Discipline is a parenting tool and it has nothing to do with anger. In fact, discipline is related to the word “disciple” – student. When the parent offers discipline to the child, it is nothing more than a form of teaching. As such, it should have nothing to do with emotions like anger or behaviors like yelling. A good disciplinarian is simply a good teacher.

The following are some tips on how parents can keep the big A in check during discipline:

Don’t Discipline “In the Moment”
There is no reason to discipline the moment some inappropriate behavior occurs. Both you and your child must be in a calm frame of mind in order for discipline to be effective. Therefore, step back and allow YOURSELF to calm down (this also gives your child time to re-boot!). Start thinking about what the child did incorrectly and what you want him or her to do instead in the future. Do some research, if necessary” talk about your child’s behavior to your spouse, a friend or a professional counselor. Take the time to think things through and make a plan to prevent misbehavior in the future. Check out parenting resources on the internet and in books in order to see how others have dealt with similar situations. Taking the time to do your homework will pay off in the long term. Instead of quickly releasing destructive anger, you’ll be able to develop a constructive, effective intervention.

The Teaching Moment
Since discipline is nothing more than teaching, it is important to choose an appropriate time and place for any lesson that you wish to impart. This is called “the teaching moment.” A teaching moment is usually fairly private (never in front of guests). It is a moment in which the child is calm. It is also a moment in which the parent is calm. If these conditions are not met, the parent should wait before attempting to discipline. We have about 20 years to raise a child – there is no “emergency” (unless the child is standing in traffic). In general, wait until you are both calm and you have an appropriate location in which you can speak. If either of you is upset, just wait longer. Hours, days, or in very rare cases – even longer – are fine.

Most of what goes wrong during discipline happens because the parent did not choose a “teaching moment.” Instead, the parent felt upset and punished the child while still angry. This causes the parent to use emotion instead of appropriate negative consequences, to try to teach the lesson. Since the parent is upset, his or her ability to choose an appropriate negative consequence is severely compromised. In anger, the parent might choose something too harsh, too long or otherwise too unreasonable. Moreover, the chances of the parent being able to explain what he or she wants and doesn’t want from the child are fairly slim, due to the parent’s intense upset. Instead of communicating in such a way that the child would be able to hear or want to hear, the parent communicates in a way that infuriates the child or shuts him down. The parent may use escalatory language and say hurtful things. This, of course, makes the child very upset and he may then lash out in kind or more so. When the parent “loses it” the child is much more inclined to lose it as well. Now we have a shouting match instead of “discipline.”

Follow a Structure for Discipline
No matter how rude, wild or out-of-control the child is, the parent must stay calm, collected and adult throughout any communication. The parent can use the Two Times Rule – 2X Rule – to carry out discipline (see details in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice, by Sarah Chana Radcliffe). The parent says something once, says it again with a warning of a consequence, and then gives the consequence if necessary. The parent stays calm and quiet throughout. The consequence has been chosen earlier, when the parent was thinking about the child’s behavioral lapses. If the child argues, a similar structure of communication is used to stop it: the parent follows the “I-Do-Not-Argue-With-You” rule as described in the book.

Speak Softly and Slowly
A simple way to reduce anger during discipline is to force ourselves to speak in a low, quiet, even tone. Use non-inflammatory language: talk about the behavior but NOT about your child’s character traits! Refrain from using any negative label, even if the label fits perfectly (i.e. don’t call your child a “liar” even if he clearly is one!). Instead, just talk about the fact that he sometimes lies. If speaking in a normal tone of voice is too difficult at the moment, then it’s time to take a break. Rule of thumb: it’s better to say nothing at all than to say something hurtful.

Provide a Model of Self-Control
When children see that their parents can actually stay perfectly calm, respectful, caring and reasonable during moments of intense stress, they will use the model as one of the valuable tools they’ll have for learning how it is done. Moreover, parents can use discipline itself to help teach children that it is fine to feel anger, but it is not fine to just express it any old way, without regard to people’s feelings. The Relationship Rule is a step-by-step process for teaching kids how to express themselves politely, even when feeling upset (like in a moment of discipline!). The consistent parental model is very, very important in making lessons stick!

Take Specific Steps to Calm Yourself Down
If you notice that you are feeling very angry at any point in the discipline process, take specific steps to calm down your nervous system. For instance, take a break – tell the child that you are feeling too upset to continue and that you’re going to go calm yourself down. The child will have a chance to SEE how a person is supposed to manage angry feelings. Take some space. SIT DOWN and DRINK WATER SLOWLY. Or, like Grandma said, take 10 slow, deep breaths. This will help you turn off adrenaline. Learn EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique – a form of acupressure that can turn your anger off in a couple of minutes. Try Rescue Remedy (a Bach Flower Remedy used to help turn off adrenaline, panic and rage – available online and at health food stores everywhere) – put a few drops in water or drop it straight on your pulse points.

Discipline YOURSELF for Losing Control
Wanting to not use anger is a good beginning, but not enough. Follow up your good intentions with actual negative consequences for “losing it.” For instance, if you express anger, send a certain amount of money to charity (make it large enough to discourage future blow-ups). Or, discipline yourself by having to write out an essay after an explosion, outlining the extremely destructive effects of parental rage. Or, make yourself do a large number of push-ups or other physically taxing exercise. Ask a family member to video you in the midst of your rage and then sit down and watch it over and over again – you’re not going to like what you see. If these measures don’t completely cure your tendency to express anger in the home after a three month period, get professional help. Your children deserve it. Plus, you’ll be happier as well!

Use Stress Management Tools Regularly
Parenting is hard and frustrating work. Most parents experience plenty of stress, anger and rage along the way. However, when parents have a good support system, a stress-reduction routine, a balanced lifestyle and a terrific sense of humor, they survive it all in good health. Do what you can to stress-proof your life. Be nice to yourself every single day. Try to get the right amount of sleep, exercise, quality nutrition, fun and other mood-boosters that can help you take parenting in stride. Consider giving yourself little breaks throughout the day.

Use Anger-Management Strategies
If you’re a person who is prone to anger, whether at home or at work, perhaps it’s best to look inwards first. Your children aren’t the cause of your anger; they simply trigger the anger that is always close to the surface. Use self-help and/or professional help to reduce your own build up of stress and anger. Techniques and interventions like psychotherapy, EFT (emotional freedom technique), Bach Flower Remedies, anger management courses, psychotropic (antidepressant) medication and bi-lateral stimulation tapes are all effective ways to help reduce chronic irritability, negativity and rage.

Tourette’s Syndrome

Perhaps you’ve noticed that your child is blinking excessively, clearing his throat or twitching – or all three. You wonder – is he stressed, nervous or troubled? Does he need therapy? Or perhaps you suspect that he’s just developed a bad habit. Maybe you’ve been nagging him to stop doing it – all to no avail. But here’s the more realistic possibility – your child has a tic disorder. A tic disorder is a repetitive sound and/or movement that is performed compulsively without a person’s conscious intention. If a person makes a sound (like throat clearing or coughing), the action is called a tic disorder. Similarly, if a person makes a movement (like shrugging his shoulders or turning his head to the right), it is also called a tic disorder. However, if a person make both repetitive sounds and movements, then it is called Tourette’s Disorder.

What is Tourette’s Syndrome?

Also called GTS (Gilles de la Tourette’s Syndrome, named after the French doctor who first described the condition), Tourette’s Syndrome is a kind of tic disorder. Tics are involuntary, repetitive and usually non-rhythmic movements or vocalizations. Persons with Tourette’s suffer from frequent and unintentional motor actions, such as blinking, nodding, shrugging or head jerking and they are also prone to unintentional productions of sounds such as barking, sniffing, grunting, or the repetition of particular words or phrases (including, in some cases, vulgar expressions – see below).

In some cases, Tourette’s Syndrome causes coprolalia — a compulsion to shout obscenities. There are also occasions when persons with Tourette’s engage in movements that may cause harm to their selves, such as involuntary slapping or punching of one’s own face.

Is Tourette’s Syndrome Common?
Tourette’s Syndrome, and tics in general, are more common than most people realize. It is estimated that 15 to 23 % of children have single or transient tics (tics that last a year or so and then stop), although not all cases progress to Tourette’s Syndrome. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about as many as 200,000 Americans have the severe form of Tourette’s, while as many as 1 in every 100 experience more mild symptoms.

Tourette’s usually begins in childhood, with onset between the ages of 2 to 14 years-old. Episodes of Tourette’s wax and wane, and patients may experience long periods of time when they don’t have active symptoms. In general, symptoms are worse during late adolescence, and then gradually taper off towards adulthood.

Tourette’s is often found along with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and/or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

What Causes Tourette’s Syndrome? 
The exact cause of Tourette’s Syndrome is not yet identified, but it’s worth noting that the condition tends to run in families. This implies that Tourette’s may be organic in origin, although environmental causes are not being discounted. The roots are traced to some abnormality in the brain structure as well as the production of brain chemicals that regulate voluntary motor behavior. Tourette’s syndrome also seems to be affected by stress, worsening during periods of stress and improving during vacations and other low stress periods.

What is the Treatment for Tourette’s Syndrome?
As with many conditions, prognosis is best when one employs a multi-disciplinary approach. Because of the link of symptoms with stress, training in stress management, as well as counseling and therapy is a good start for people with the condition. Some people have found alternative treatments helpful as well, such as Bach Flower Therapy, herbal supplements, and nutritional supplements. Any therapy that helps foster relaxation and well-being may be helpful or at least supportive in this condition. Support groups, for those with the condition, as well as their loved ones, are also helpful. When symptoms are severe, or if they cause the individual significant distress, there are psychoactive medications that can help manage Tourette’s symptoms.

For a professional diagnosis and treatment plan, it’s best to consult a neurologist, psychiatrist, and/or a clinical psychologist.

Worries

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

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

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

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

How to Stop Your Own Worry Habit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motor Tics (Twitches and Jerks)

Motor tics are repetitive, involuntary movements. They are like an itch that just must be scratched – a person may wait or delay the urge to tic, but in the end, just has to do it. A tic can manifest as eye-blinking, shoulder shrugging, head bobbing, upper body jerks, knee bending and any other repetitive movement. Some include head-banging and picking at one’s skin in this category as well, although these behaviors are technically disorders in their own right.

If the tics last less than a year and cause distress during that time, they may be diagnosed as “transient tic disorder.” If they last more than a year and are never absent for more than three consecutive months, and they cause some distress, they may be diagnosed as “chronic tic disorder.”

If motor tics occur along with vocal tics (grunts, barks, coughs, words, mental words and so on), causing significant distress, then “Tourette’s Syndrome” might be diagnosed. Only a doctor or clinical psychologist can provide an accurate diagnosis. All tics are thought to have a biological basis and some medications can “unmask” (trigger) a latent tic condition. Medications for ADD/ADHD, for instance, have been known to trigger tic disorders in vulnerable individuals. The term “nervous tic” does not pertain to motor tic disorder. One needn’t be nervous at all to have a tic disorder. In fact, tic disorders are thought to be inherited and related to other brain disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and ADHD. Indeed, many kids have all three disorders together.

Helping Your Child with Motor Tics
Although “causing distress” is part of the diagnostic criteria of a motor tic disorder, it is a fact that PARENTS might be more distressed by the child’s movements than is the child him or herself. In fact, the  parent may feel anxious or very annoyed by them. There can be a definite urge to scream “STOP DOING THAT!”  However, tic movements are outside both the realm of the parent’s control and the child’s control. This lack of control can  also cause distress to the child. Children may find their movements to be embarrassing in public situations. For this reason, they may strive to hold back an urge to tic while out of the house, only to “let loose” once in the privacy of home, “tic’ing” with a vengeance. It’s like having an itch that you stall until you get home and then you scratch madly to address the build-up of the tension.

Asking the child to refrain from doing his or her tic DOES NOT WORK and may even lead to an  increase in  tic activity because of the stress that the demand induces. When children feel watched or rejected for making movements, they’ll actually make MORE movements!

Although chronic tic disorders are considered to be really chronic –  lasting a lifetime –  many people do experience spontaneous remission. That is, the tics just disappear on their own at some point. Sometimes neurological or psychotropic medications can help and may be an appropriate intervention when motor tics are severe and having a negative impact in the child’s life.  Speak to your doctor about these possibilities. Sometimes behavioral therapies can help (find a psychologist who is experienced in the treatment of tic disorders). Bach Flower Remedies have helped many people with tic disorders (consult a practitioner for an individualized, appropriate formula for your child) and some people have benefited from homeopathic treatment and other alternative treatments. EFT (emotional freedom technique) may help some people with tic disorders. In fact, any form of alternative medicine that reduces physical and mental stress, may have a beneficial effect on the course of a tic disorder – one must experiment in order to find out if a particular treatment will help his or her child. And, as stated previously, some children and teens just “grow out of them” over time.

Vocal Tics (Sounds and Noises)

Some children (and adults) make repetitive sounds that serve no communicative or health purpose. These sounds are called “vocal tics.” A vocal tic can be a cough, much like the cough one has when one has a cold, except that in the case of a tic – there is no cold and consequently no need to clear the passages of mucous! Sometimes the doctor will mistake this kind of cough for post-nasal drip – a small irritant in the throat. However, a true vocal tic is more like a bodily habit without a physical cause; there is no post-nasal drip. In addition, the cough does not stem from “nerves” or nervousness and therefore, it is also inaccurate to call it a “nervous habit.” A vocal tic is a biological disorder that is usually inherited. Calm people can have tics just as easily as anxious people. Nonetheless, stress does tend to aggravate tics, resulting in a temporary increase in symptoms.

Coughs are only one kind of vocal tic. A person can make any sound, including words. There are barks, hisses, grunts, sniffles, clicks and other noises. There are words or phrases that are repeated and in one kind of vocal tic (corprolalia), there are expletives (swear words) or “dirty words” that seem to jump out of nowhere.

If a child has both vocal tics and motor tics (repetitive, non-purposeful movements like jerking, bobbing, twitching and so on), he may have Tourette’s Syndrome. If he has only one kind of tic for less than a year, he may have transient tic disorder. Chronic Tic Disorder is the name given to tics that last longer than one year. Some children with tic disorders also have other disorders such as ADHD, OCD, mood disorders, anxiety disorders and conduct disorders. Many children, however, have simple tic disorders that improve with treatment or even on their own over time.

What Causes Tics?
Brain abnormalities can cause tics. Both structural changes in the brain and biochemical changes have been found in those who have tic disorders. Tic disorders run in family trees. Tic disorders commence before the age of 18. Sometimes they begin after taking a medicine (i.e. Ritalin, antidepressant medication, Cylert and Cocaine can all trigger tics in sensitive individuals). Sometimes tics may begin after a strep infection (in a similar way to PANDAS – the post-viral form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder). Sometimes injuries or other health conditions (even a common cold) can trigger the development of a tic. In all cases, the environment is thought to trigger a gene that is present in the child.

Although more tics occur when a child is feeling stressed or anxious, neither stress nor anxiety cause tics. Emotional distress worsens or aggravates a tic disorder temporarily. Stress reduction techniques bring tics back under control. The condition waxes and wanes – sometimes throughout life, but very commonly only until the end of adolescence when the tics may just disappear by themselves.

What Helps Tics?
Some medications can be helpful for tics – speak to your doctor or psychiatrist about this approach. Behavioral therapy can also be very helpful in reducing the tendency to tic. A psychologist can create the proper intervention for this kind of therapy. In addition, some alternative treatments have been found to be helpful in treating tics. For instance, nutritional interventions such as abstaining from coffee, pesticides, certain chemicals and so on, can sometimes help. Bach Flower Therapy (especially the remedy called Agrimony) has been very helpful for some children and teens with tics – consult a Bach Flower Practitioner for best results. Homeopathy and acupuncture might also be helpful. In fact, any intervention that helps reduce stress can help reduce the tendency to tic. Experimenting with several different healing modalities will help parents assess which one or ones have a positive effect on the course of the disorder.

Asking a child to stop making noises is NOT helpful and in fact, may lead to more tic behavior as the request itself induces stress. Tics are not done on purpose and they CANNOT be resisted. A child can delay a tic, but not stop it. Therefore, the youngster needs parental understanding and tolerance. The tic is not the child’s fault; rather, he or she is suffering from a disorder of the brain. Fortunately, tic disorders can be relatively mild, they can remit spontaneously and even when they do persist, they do not tend to interfere with academic performance or other normal functioning.

Helping Kids Through Trauma and PTSD

We all deal with stress everyday. Rushing to get to school in time, making ends meet during a recession, dealing with a particularly annoying in-law — stress is a part of life. And in most occasions, the stress we face is manageable.

But some sources of stress can be incredibly intense, overwhelming and beyond our physical and/or emotional resources to deal with. When this happens, the stressful event is said to be traumatic. All parents want to protect their children from things that can unsettle or harm them. But sadly, there are many things in life that even the most conscientious of parents can’t control. Our children may witness or experience traumatic events despite our best efforts to shield them. When this happens, they may have difficulty bouncing back. Sleep disturbances, sadness, anger and fear may plague a traumatized child long after the traumatic event has ended.

What is a Trauma?
Trauma is a psychological reaction to highly stressful events, particularly those that threaten life or safety. When an experience is considered traumatic, it means that the coping resources of the person witnessing or experiencing it are not enough to deal with the impact of the event, and some degree of psychological shock or breakdown occurs. Events that most people consider traumatic include vehicular accidents, crimes, natural disasters and physical or sexual abuse. Although parents may think that trauma results only from catastrophic events like war or rape, it can actually occur as a result of more normal and common events. For instance, a child can be traumatized by being chased by a dog, by a harsh reprimand from a teacher, from a threatening bully, or from being laughed at while giving an oral report. What makes an event traumatic differs from person to person, as individual coping abilities must be taken into account. Personality factors, psychological profile and past history all play a role in producing a traumatic reaction.

A trauma response often includes symptoms like reliving the event over and over again (by obsessing about it; experiencing intrusive thoughts that interrupt thoughts and activities), panic attacks, nightmares, numbness & fog responses, avoiding people, places and things that trigger a memory of the event, depressed and/or angry mood and increased nervousness (startle response).

Trauma can initiate a syndrome that shows up long after the traumatic event or events have ended. Like an initial trauma response, it affects physical and emotional functioning causing nightmares, hypervigilance, panic attacks, intrusive memories, numbness and other symptoms; the syndrome is called PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It can occur weeks, years or decades after the traumatic events have passed.

Those who have some level of anxiety to begin with and those who have suffered several previous traumatic incidents are more likely to develop PTSD than other people. Lack of a support system or lack of adequate emotional support right after a trauma, also increases the chances of developing PTSD later on.

What is the Best Way to Handle PTSD?
PTSD is a mental health disorder that can be effectively treated. Self-help is part of the process for teens and adults, including finding support groups, reading up on PTSD, engaging in effective stress-management routines (including regular exercise, relaxation techniques and routines for self-care), utilizing alternative treatments to strengthen the nervous system (such as herbal remedies, Bach Flower Therapy, Aromatherapy, homeopathy, accupuncture and so forth). Parents can help incorporate calming strategies into a child’s routines.

Parental support is critical when a child is dealing with trauma. Unlike adults, younger children don’t yet have the ability to understand what they are going through. Not only is the original event traumatic, but their trauma symptoms too, can be traumatic. For instance, physical symptoms like tremors and nightmares, mental symptoms like obsessions and hallucinations, and emotional symptoms like fear and anxiety can be overwhelming for a child to be experiencing.

The first line of business is to help children manage their emotions. Encourage them to talk about their feelings. A traumatized child may talk about the same thing over and over again, and this is okay. The content of the sharing is less important than the process of getting things out. If a child finds difficulty in expressing what he is going through verbally, either because of age or because of the trauma, then consider non-verbal ways of venting emotions. Letting it all out can also be done using drawings and pictures, clay sculptures and toys, play-acting, and storytelling.

Second, give your child a rational explanation of the traumatic event, that is appropriate to his or her age. The more information the child has, the less he or she is likely to generalize the event to other situations. For instance, knowing that a car crashed because it skidded on the snow can help a child feel safe in cars with good snow tires and in cars driving on dry roads. Without this information, the child may conclude that all cars are dangerous at all times. (While this is in fact true, the healthy state of mind is one of sufficient denial that a person can comfortably drive and be driven at all times. Phobic and traumatized people, on the other hand, over-exaggerate the likelihood of a catastrophic event occurring again, such that they can’t live in a normal way.)

When a child is suffering rather mild symptoms, parents may find that self-help interventions are sufficient. For instance, learning how to do EFT (emotional freedom technique) with the child may complete calm the youngster’s nervous system. However, parents may prefer to take their child to a child psychologist who practices EFT or EMDR. Both of these techniques are used to rapidly heal the trauma of one-time events. If the child is experiencing many symptoms of trauma, it is essential that parents DO NOT try the self-help approach. Instead, they should take their child to a mental health professional who is specifically trained in the treatment of PTSD.

The Bach Flower Remedy called “Rescue Remedy” can help reduce temporary and chronic symptoms of trauma and is especially effective for home-management of symptoms in between psychotherapy sessions. If you are aware that the child has just suffered a traumatic event (like watching someone get badly injured or being personally assaulted, injured or threatened), offer Rescue Remedy immediately. It may help prevent a traumatic reaction from setting in.

However, the fastest and most effective way to end the debilitating symptoms of PTSD is to get the proper professional help. Not all mental health professionals are equally trained in the treatment of PTSD. Make sure that your practitioner is! Therapeutic interventions include EMDR (Eye Movement, Desensitization and Reprocessing), EFT and other forms of Energy Psychology, TIR (Traumatic Incident Reduction),  and other specific tools for the treatment of trauma.

The good news is that children respond well to treatment of trauma. They can experience a complete healing of their symptoms and a return to “normalcy.” In fact, child are often even happier, calmer and more mature after trauma therapy than they were before the traumatic event(s) occurred.