Sullen and/or Uncommunicative

Kids – and especially teenage kids – can sometimes withdraw from family communication and particularly from communication with their parents. They may retreat in different ways. Sometimes they sulk around the house saying very little to anyone including family, friends and others. Sometimes they don’t say much to their parents while they maintain contact with other family members and/or they talk non-stop on the phone to their friends, text madly away or chat avidly online. Sometimes their mood is morose for just a few hours and then they’re “suddenly” all happy again. But sometimes they withdraw for weeks or months on end. These silent and sullen periods are confusing for parents; how can parents tell if their child needs professional help or if he or she is just being a kid who needs space?

If you are dealing with a sullen or uncommunicative youngster, consider the following tips:

No One is Happy and “On” All the Time
Neither children nor adults experience constant positive moods. It’s normal for all of us to feel stressed or low, off and on throughout a day. Circadian rhythms alone (our biological clocks) affect our moods and energy levels, as does our diet, our exercise (or lack of it) and the various life stressors that each day brings. It’s important to give kids space to be a little irritable or quiet; they – like the rest of us – may need recovery time. Therefore, there’s no need to panic when you see that your child is in a mood. Instead, note the child’s mood and ask if there’s anything you can offer. For instance, you might say something like, “You seem a little down. Do you want to talk or do you need a little neck rub?” If the child declines on both counts, you just say “O.K.” and move on. You have shown an appropriate level of interest and concern without being intrusive or annoying. However, if the child is normally pretty balanced and then enters into an unremitting low, sad-looking mood for two weeks straight, you should express more concern. “Honey, I’m getting concerned. You’ve looked really sad for two weeks now and this isn’t like you. Is there something going on that is hard for you to deal with or are you feeling sad for no reason in particular? I don’t mind if you don’t want to talk to me about it – maybe I’m not the right person. But if you’re having trouble getting into a happier place, I want you to know that Dr. So & So is very nice to talk to and she might be able to help.”

Normal Needs for Privacy
Mood issues aren’t the only reason that kids withdraw from communication with their parents. Sometimes they are just expressing a normal need for privacy. No one likes their life to be a completely open book. You don’t share everything with your child and your child doesn’t need to share everything with you. If you don’t give enough privacy voluntarily, then a child may take it by refusing to open up. One way to offer privacy is to avoid intensive questioning. For instance, don’t ask your child detailed questions like “Who did you talk to today? What did you talk about? What is Bobby doing this weekend? Were you invited? Why not? Have you spoken to Carey lately? Don’t you think you should?” and so on. Children subjected to such inquisitions often learn to give very little information about anything. However, even when parents don’t ask much, teenagers are notorious for wanting to keep a private life. They may have no noteworthy secrets; being quiet doesn’t always mean that the youngster is engaging in suspicious activities. It may just be a case of privacy for privacy’s sake (i.e. “I don’t tell my mom who I see on the weekend not because I have something to hide, but just because I don’t feel like telling her.”). Sometimes, of course, excessive secrecy does indicate a problem behavior. However, usually there are other behavioral clues that contribute to a suspicious picture (for instance: a sudden drop in school marks, red eyes, unusual irritability, strange behavior, a change in behavior and so on). A lack of open communication by itself, is not necessarily cause for concern and in fact, is considered to be pretty normal in adolescents.

Set Appropriate Boundaries
If your child is otherwise happy and well, it is fine to set boundaries for the expression of sullen and uncommunicative behavior. For instance, if your kid is able to talk nicely to his or her friends and others, then go ahead and ask him or her to speak nicely to the folks at home as well. Make sure, however, that you are being mostly positive and pleasant yourself – check your communication ratio. Are you 90% positive and only 10% in the criticism-instruction-discipline section with your teenager (80-20 with your younger child)? If not improve your own pleasant behavior first and then ask your child to do the same. There is no need to allow rude behavior in the home and doing so gives your child the wrong message that family members aren’t real people with real feelings. It’s fine to say something like, “You don’t have to have a long conversation with me if you you’re not in the mood, but when I greet you please just look up for a moment and say ‘hi.’ It’s not acceptable to completely ignore a person who is talking to you and especially,  your parent.” If the child continues to ignore you after you’ve provided this information, something deeper may be going on – perhaps there are parent-child relationship issues, discipline issues or mood issues that would be best treated with professional help.

More Serious Mood Issues
When a previously happy child suddenly becomes sullen and/or uncommunicative for an extended period of time, he or she might be suffering from an internal or external stress. Internal stresses include mental health issues like social anxiety or depression. External stress includes life events like marital breakdown, failing grades or bullying at school. In children and adolescents, depression often shows up as irritable mood rather than sad mood, and is accompanied by other behaviors like changes in eating and sleeping patterns, a tendency to isolate from people, excessive low self-esteem or insecurity, changes in energy and other symptoms. If you are concerned about whether your child’s behavior requires professional intervention, ask your doctor for a referral to a child and adolescent mental health professional with whom you can discuss the issue.

Worry about the World Situation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experiences Frequent Headaches

Recurring headaches are common in both children and adults. Headaches, although uncomfortable and annoying, are most often transient and harmless on the physical level. Usually headaches are a bodily response to emotional stress; once the stress is properly addressed, the headaches will decrease or even disappear. Sometimes headaches are caused by external physical factors (see examples below). Of course, there are also rare occasions when headaches are an actual sign of disease or injury. It always pays to be cautious when kids complain about frequent pain of any kind. A trip to the doctor can not only help rule out health issues but can also provide information on controlling the frequency, duration and intensity of headaches and migraines. Similarly, a trip to a naturopath, osteopath, or cranial sacral specialist may be able to provide assessment and treatment interventions that can help.

If your child has  frequent headaches consider the following tips:

Stress  
Life is actually not a bowl of cherries for children – it is stressful! Kids and teens have social challenges, academic problems, sibling issues, issues with their parents, step parents, other family, and many other issues as well. They feel pressure and stress just like adults do. Stress can cause many bodily symptoms, including stomach aches, anxiety, depression, illness and of course, headaches. If your child tends to complain about frequent headaches, try to address stress factors first. Perhaps she has too much on her plate. More rest, improved nutrition,  increased support and a more balanced schedule will usually help reduce anyone’s stress-related headaches. Or, perhaps there is something going on in your child’s life that is overwhelming, frightening or otherwise disturbing. Try asking your child about this possibility. If you use Emotional Coaching (naming and accepting feelings without offering education, judgment or criticism of any kind), your child may open up to you. Sometimes just talking things through can relieve significant amounts of stress. Also teach your child that everyone needs to talk to someone – having a friend, a school counselor, a parent or a professional to talk to can really keep stress in its place and prevent it from wreaking physical or emotional havoc.

If you do suspect that stress is the culprit behind the headaches, you might also teach your child specific stress-management self-help strategies. HeartMath is a simple, child-friendly program for stress reduction that helps reduce stress and manage pain. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is another one that kids and teen can use to help calm upset and troubled emotions. There are many books on emotional regulation and stress-management geared specifically to children and teens – bring them home from the library; your kids will have a chance to learn strategies for releasing stressful feelings. This is especially important for those kids who just don’t “open up” – the exact kids who are most prone to physical manifestations of stress.

Stress that doesn’t completely resolve with self-help home measures is best addressed by a mental health professional.

Vision Issues
Headaches, especially those symptomized by a throbbing pain near the nape, can be a sign that a child is experiencing vision problems. The strain of reading the blackboard when one’s vision is less than 20/20 can cause frequent headaches. The same goes with spending long periods in front of TV screens and computer monitors. In all cases of regular and frequent headaches, a trip to an ophthalmologist is recommended. Very often, a child doesn’t realize that he or she is not seeing properly or has other eye-related issues.

Nutritional Factors
Missing meals can cause a cascade of chemical effects leading to headaches. For instance, skipping a meal lowers blood sugar, which in turn increases blood pressure which can cause headaches. Dehydration is also a possible cause of frequent headaches in children. Not having enough fluids in the body can cause the constriction of tissues in the brain and the spinal cord, leading to headaches.

Sensory Overstimulation
In today’s age of iPods and mp3 players, kids’ ears often get abused. In fact, a very recent study released by BMC Neurology has revealed that cranking up the music for even just an hour or two is associated with pounding headaches among teenagers. (In addition, long-term exposure to loud music using earphones can result into tinnitus, the perception of sound, e.g. ringing or buzzing, when none exists.)

Viral Infections
Headaches have been known to be associated with various viral infections. This is because issues with the nasal pathway as well as the throat can cause constrictions in the blood vessels in our head. When the infection is treated, the headache disappears. Fortunately, bed rest and a diet rich in fluids and vitamin C can usually address symptoms associated with the common cold, cough or flu. There are also many over-the-counter medications, herbal products, essential oils and other medical and natural interventions that address the whole umbrella of symptoms associated with viral infections.

Sensitivities and Allergies
If your child’s headache tend to occur after exposure to a particular food, pollutant or situation, then consider the possibility of an allergy or sensitivity-related headache. Eating foods rich in soy sauce, for example, has been known to trigger mild to severe migraine in some children. However, any food sensitivity can trigger frequent headaches and a child may be sensitive to any food group. For instance, many children have been found to be sensitive to wheat, gluten, milk, sugar and/or eggs. In order to rule out allergies and sensitivities,  consult an immunologist or an allergy specialist. Many naturopathic practitioners also test for food insensitivities.

A Final Thought
It is not only unpleasant, but it is also uncomfortable and draining to suffer from routine headaches. You may have to use a multifaceted assessment and treatment process in your attempts to relieve your child’s pain. However, when people are willing to pursue all avenues, they almost always find a measure of relief from pain.

Helping Teens Survive Heartbreak

First love is a wonderful experience, but also a risky one. Most “first” relationships end at some point and with the ending often comes a crushing heartbreak. How can parents help their child through the feelings of tremendous pain, shock and grief that can accompany heartbreak?

Consider the following tips:

Use Emotional Coaching
Listening is one way of providing essential emotional support. Listen for feelings and name them back to the child without trying to cheer up the teenager. For example, “It really hurts.” or “It’s quite a loss.” Be careful not to use the word “but” when listening – as in “Yes it hurts but you’ll soon meet someone even better.”  This too-quick attempt to make the pain go away only tends to prolong the agony.

Share Your Own Experiences
If you’ve had the experience of heartbreak, go ahead and share a little of it. Don’t take front and center – it’s not about you right now. Nonetheless, sharing your feelings can be therapeutic. Your child will feel somewhat better knowing that you suffered a broken heart and lived to tell the tale. He or she can see that you survived and went on to love again (hopefully); this can help ease some of the desperation he or she might be feeling right now.

Refrain from Diminishing the “Ex”
Although the relationship seems to have ended, you never know for sure – the two may get back together at some future date – weeks, months or even years in the future. This is true even if you think it shouldn’t happen. Therefore, don’t say anything that may come back to haunt you. Also remember that your grieving youngster may still have strong positive feelings for the young man or lady. Your insults are not likely to be well-received. Instead of talking about the ex-girlfriend or boyfriend, just support your child through the feelings of pain and loss by listening sympathetically. You don’t have to share all the thoughts that you have!

Suggest “Rescue Remedy”
Grieving heals with a listening ear and time. However, many people find that the Bach Flower preparation called “Rescue Remedy” can also help calm feelings of desperation, hysteria, panic, loss, confusion and overwhelming pain. Rescue Remedy is available online and at health food stores and some pharmacies. It is harmless enough to be used safely by infants and pregnant women and does not interact with other medicines, foods or treatments. However, if you have special health needs or any concerns about it at all, do ask your doctor before suggesting it to your child. Rescue Remedy is available in liquid form as well as candy and chewing gum varieties.

Consider Professional Help
If you are noticing signs of depression, hopelessness, addictive behavior, or loss of interest in friends and school, then consider taking your child to a mental health professional. Teenagers do not always handle heartbreak well; in some cases, it is the trigger for a suicide attempt or an actual suicide. Keep the doors of communication open and if your child tells you that life isn’t worth living anymore, acknowledge the pain and say something like, “I know it can hurt so much that it doesn’t even seem like there’s a future after something like this. But there are professionals who can help people climb out of the dark hole and into the light again and I’d like you to talk with someone like that. There’s no need to try to get through this all on your own.”

Fakes Illness

Children often complain of stomach aches and vague symptoms like “not feeling well.” When there isn’t a fever, a rash, an x-ray or other “evidence” of illness, parents often feel confused. Is the child really sick of just “faking it?” Should the parent allow the child to stay home from school or send him off whining and crying?

What would cause a child to “fake illness?” While some parents may feel that laziness, lack of motivation or some other attitude problem may be the culprit, in fact there are often more serious reasons lurking beneath the surface.

If your child frequently complains of illness that the doctor cannot substantiate, consider the following tips:

Social Problems
Some children feel unsafe or uncomfortable at school. The discomfort can be triggered by the teacher, classmates or children in the schoolyard. How does a parent find out if the child is feeling frightened? Try not to ask directly. For instance, try not to ask, “Is someone frightening you?” Instead, use bibliotherapy – the reading of stories (or telling stories) about kids who are having trouble with friends, bullies or teachers. As you are reading, share some of your own memories of difficult times in your own childhood school days. In that context, you can ask the child “did something like this ever happen to you?”  This approach eases the child, allowing the youngster to learn first that social difficulties are normal and common. This helps him to relax, talk and listen better, giving you more opportunity to be helpful.

If the child does end up sharing a social problem, try to stay very calm and quiet no matter what you are hearing. This helps the child feel safe enough to tell you the whole story and to continue to share with you. If the child needs your help or intervention, do all problem-solving calmly and slowly. Take time to seek advice from your spouse, the teacher or a professional – whoever is appropriate. Work out a plan with the child and/or with a professional. Sometimes a formal plan isn’t necessary – just giving the child the opportunity to talk about his problem can be helpful. Often the child can work out his own solutions when a parent just listens compassionately, without jumping in with advice.

Academic Issues
If you have an exceptionally bright child, then he or she may not be interested with the current lessons and is painfully bored at school. On the other hand, school can sometimes be too challenging for a child, leaving the youngster feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Sometimes a child just needs a day off – a mental health day – after a period of hard work, academic stress or general life pressure. In such a case, just give your child an occasional day off and tell him directly that he doesn’t need to be sick. Just arrange a break once every couple of months or so. If you’re not sure whether schoolwork is the issue, a psycho-educational assessment can pinpoint the problem and offer solutions. Sometimes, it’s as simple as ordering glasses for a child who can’t see the board or read the instructions.

Family Problems
Sometimes a child is emotionally distressed by stress in the home. The child wants to stay home either because he is too distressed and distracted by what’s happening in the family (conflict, violence, separation, divorce, illness, dying, etc.), or because he wants to keep the home safe himself by “holding down the fort.” Sometimes the child is trying to divert attention from a family crisis by being “sick” and needy; if everyone has to take care of him, then they won’t be able to die/fight/dissolve or otherwise engage in some destructive process.

If you suspect that the child is reacting to family problems, make sure you are addressing the family problems. Enlist the help of a professional family therapist – your child’s behavior is a real cry for help. Make sure that the adults get the help they need and that the child has someone to talk to.

Hidden Health Problems
Just because the family doctor can’t find a problem, doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. Consider consulting a naturopath or alternative health practitioner to explore the aches and pains more fully. There are many different paradigms and healing options out there – you might discover one that really helps. Especially when stomach problems are reported, keep in mind that stress is NOT always the problem. Hidden food intolerances can cause lots of physical, emotional and even behavioral issues.

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!

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.