When Your Child Comes Home Drunk

It is well-known that teenagers are in a stage of experimentation – they are exploring the world around them, the world of relationships and their own inner landscape. What feels right? What creates pleasure? What is meaningful? What relieves stress? What brings social, academic and personal success?

Somewhere along the way, most teens will encounter alcohol. Some will like what they find, indulging the substance more and more in order to gain social acceptance or psychic relief or both. Others will find that they don’t like the feeling that alcohol gives them and will move away from it toward other, healthier forms of stress relief and happiness. And some will find a small place in their lives in which to place consumption of alcoholic beverages – certain social situations like celebrations and other special gatherings. No matter what kids ultimately decide to do with alcohol, however, many will get drunk at least one time.  Some will do so accidentally, simply not knowing their limits. Others will do so intentionally. No matter how it happens, however, parents have to know how to handle the situation.

Below are some tips in handling a teenager who comes home drunk:

Stay Calm
There is such a thing as a “teaching moment.” This is a moment in which the child is calm and coherent and a moment in which the parent is also calm and coherent.  When either child or parent is not fully present due to overwhelming emotions (like anger, grief or fear) or impaired consciousness (i.e. not fully awake, drunk or stoned) no learning will occur.  In fact, talking to a drunken person is futile; alcohol significantly impairs comprehension and inhibition — your drunk teen doesn’t have the mental capacity to process your message, nor the ability to explain things properly. Therefore, when your child comes home drunk, wait until he or she sobers up before you try to deal with the issue. Let the child sleep it off – the best time to talk is likely to be the day after the incident.

Take the intervening time to settle your own nerves. You might be feeling alarmed, enraged, disappointed or otherwise extremely upset. Emotion, especially of an intense, hysterical or dramatic kind, will work against your goals. Remember – you shouldn’t be addressing the issue at all until you are calm enough for your child to be able to take you very seriously. This talk will be an important one – you don’t want to appear off-balance while you are trying to make important, life-impacting remarks. Staying calm, you help give your teen someone to take seriously, look up to and respect. You increase your power to provide education and guidance when you come across as a loving, concerned, firm, clear, knowledgeable and trustworthy adult. Try to get into that state before you hold a meeting with your teen!

Emergency Intervention
Do call your local emergency medical information line if your child’s state concerns you. You can describe your child’s behavior in the intoxicated state and if there is a concern, an ambulance will be sent out. It’s always better to err on the side of caution – there is no reason NOT to call and describe symptoms unless the symptoms are barely noticeable. However, sometimes a child is barely conscious. Sometimes he can’t stop vomiting. Sometimes he is experiencing alcohol poisoning. Unless you already know what to look for, make the call.

Appropriate Response
Even if you think it’s kind of “cute” or funny the first time your child comes home drunk, you should consider the importance of refraining from showing any kind of pride or pleasure in this behavior. Remind yourself that teens are very easily addicted and that addiction will bring them much suffering. Their careers, their relationships and their health can suffer serious negative consequences. Their drunken state can lead to their own or someone else’s death or permanent disability. A teenager may misread your cues, thinking that you are encouraging self-destructive behavior. Be careful to respond seriously and responsibly. Your child’s future is at risk. Everything you say and do at this critical time can have a life-long impact. Refrain from helping your child avoid current consequences of this particular episode – do not cover up. Help him to learn that there CAN be negative consequences. If nothing bad happened during this episode, then make sure you discuss with him at some point, what CAN happen when a person is drunk.

Know Where You Stand
Different parents have different rules on drinking; some demand total abstinence from alcohol, others allow drinking in moderation. Regardless of where you stand on the drinking issue, it’s important you address the situation of your teen coming home intoxicated. Alcohol is an easy drug to abuse. As previously stated, it can also be a dangerous drug leading to life-threatening accidents, legal problems and health problems. You might want to do some research to find out more about alcohol, the state of intoxication, addiction and other issues so that you can talk knowledgeably to your child. Inviting your child to do research WITH you might be even better! It’s best to create rules and guidelines that make sense in the light of the information you have about alcohol – such rules are more likely to be taken seriously by your child. Rules that “make no sense” tend to be defied by older kids. If you and your child do research together, you two can also formulate reasonable guidelines.

First Time Only
If this is the first time your child has come home drunk, education is the correct intervention. Punishment should be avoided. In fact, don’t mention negative consequences at all. If it happens again, however, make a rule that there will always be severe consequences for this in the future. The first two episodes are for education only – not punishment. All other episodes require heavy negative consequences (see the 2X Rule in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe).

Seek Professional Help if Necessary
If you think your child is already abusing alcohol habitually, or is at risk of becoming an alcoholic, contract a substance abuse counselor. Alcoholism is an incurable, progressive and fatal disease – it’s best  to intervene as soon as possible.

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.

What is an Eating Disorder?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eats Too Much

The epidemic of obesity and weight-related issues among young people has reached alarming heights. Around 25 million children below the age of seven are believed to be overweight. Experts blame the modern lifestyle of fast food and computer games for the phenomenon, alongside the phenomenon of overworked parents who lack the time and energy to pay close attention to the food they are serving their kids, or those who simply cannot afford to do so. No matter what lifestyle factors are at play, the bottom line is that when kids eat more than they can properly burn off, they will weigh more than they should.

Obesity
Eating too much can lead to being a little overweight or significantly overweight. The term “obese” normally refers to a person who possesses a gross excess of fat in the body. Obese children often suffer harassment at the hands of their peers who may mock or tease them. This experience alone can leave emotional lasting scars. However, obesity also puts youngsters at risk for many serious and even potentially fatal diseases. According to the World Health Organization, childhood obesity increases the likelihood of premature death and disability during adulthood. Obese people are more likely than normal weight people to suffer heart attack, stroke, liver problems, diabetes, osteoarthritis and even cancer. Obesity is also linked to mental health issues, such as low self-esteem, depression and anxiety disorders.

What can Parents Do?
Some children are food addicts. Despite their parents’ best efforts, the children eat too much and too often – with weight issues being the result. Nagging children does not cure their addiction – it just annoys them and makes them feel shame and guilt. Criticizing your child for his or her eating habits will likely just be a waste of time and can even damage the parent-child relationship. So what can parents do?

Avoid Strict Diets
Efforts to strictly limit caloric intake can backfire, turning kids into food thieves and/or rebellious eaters. It’s better to help kids learn to enjoy the right foods in the right amounts. Parents can refrain from serving foods that are rich in fat and sugar such as french fries, fatty cuts of meat, cakes and sodas and other white flour and white sugar products, replacing them with delicious foods that are healthier and less calorie dense. In fact, parents can offer vegetables, fruits, nuts, lean meat, dairy products, legumes and grains – but only when they are prepared in such a way that the kids will actually enjoy them. Foods that are real foods are much more difficult to consume in excessive quantities: they are naturally satisfying and filling. It is far easier to eat too many potato chips than it is to eat too many roasted baby carrots!

Many parents have discovered the secret power of spices: children will actually enjoy healthy foods when they are skillfully spiced; it’s the bland foods that lack appeal. Many international cuisines use spices that may not currently be in your cupboard but that are easily available in your local supermarket. Home-made desserts can be made with nut flours and coconut flours – products that are so nutritionally enriched that they actually reduce cravings. Borrow a few cookbooks from your neighborhood library, look online to get some new ideas for enhancing the flavor of your foods or take a cooking class – do whatever you need to do to introduce your children to nutritious AND delicious foods. If you are short on time (and who isn’t?), you can find amazing food that takes only a couple of ingredients and a couple of minutes to make. You can prepare meals in a crockpot that will cook throughout the day and be ready when you come home from work. The health food store may also carry some ready-made foods – but do read the ingredients; being sold in a health food store does not guarantee that the product is calorie wise or even nutritious.

Everything in the Right Time
In addition, try serving your children junk foods and sugary treats (pastries, sugar cereals and candies) in small quantities and ONLY on specific regular occasions (i.e the weekend or better yet, only on one day of the weekend!). Allowing kids to have a little bit of these treats helps reduce feelings of deprivation. No child should have to feel that any one food or one kind of food is too “fattening” to enjoy on occasion in small portions. Remember: feelings of deprivation tend to sabotage any healthy eating plan,leading to eventual weight gain.

Offer Them a Drink Before Meals
One way to get a child to eat a little less during meal time is to give him a tall glass of water five minutes before eating. The extra fluid can make him feel fuller even before he takes a bite. You may also consider giving a healthy snack before bigger meals in order to lessen your child’s appetite.

Serve Smaller Portions
Although there is no need to have your child track his or her calories, there is also no need to serve enormous quantities of food to your family. Kids get used to whatever their parents provide. Try shifting from the buffet, help-yourself style to fixed servings, preparing small portions already set for each member of the family. Or, go with the buffet style but encourage your child to notice how many servings he has had and how large they are. You can say things like, “You can have as much as you want, but just notice how many helpings you’ve taken,” or “Take as big a serving as you like, but just notice how much of your plate it covers – 1/4 or 1/2 or almost all of it.” Asking the child to notice what he is doing gives him the beginning of inner control. Often “mindless eating” – that is, not noticing – is the culprit behind unwanted extra pounds. You may also encourage your child to chew slower and take his time eating. Research has shown that it takes a while for the “stomach is full” message to reach our brains, so chewing slowly can help this message get to the brain before a person takes the next spoonful. Pausing between bites and waiting a bit between courses also allows the “full” message to get to the brain in time to stop a person from grabbing more food.

Exercise and Movement is Also Important
Try to get the family moving. If possible, enroll the kids in physical activities after school – swimming, karate, gymnastics, dance class, hockey and so on. Or, take them to the park to run around and play. Walk around the block with them if possible; walk wherever you can with them instead of driving. Don’t let them just sit in front of a screen all day. Provide a model for them as well: let them see you doing your stretches and exercises in your home. Remember – don’t nag your child or fight with him or her as this can lead to stress – which in turn leads to over-eating. Try to make physical activity fun and normal rather than some sort of punishment for a child who needs to lose some weight.

Consider Mood and Anxiety Issues
Is the increased appetite new for your child? If so, consider the possibility that your child is using food as a way to manage emotional issues. Perhaps the child is going through a stressful transition. Or perhaps she feels insecure about something. Understanding emotional triggers to eating can help parents manage their child’s eating habits by addressing the root causes. In some cases, psychological counseling may be more appropriate than a diet.

Get a Physical Check-up
Increased appetite can be a sign of an underlying medical condition; perhaps the body is starving for a particular vitamin or mineral. Consider taking your child to both a medical doctor and a naturopath for a thorough assessment. Dealing  with physical triggers to excess eating as early as possible may  help prevent more serious health issues from developing.

Your Child Needs Your Help
Kids cannot solve their overeating problems on their own. Their parents must help them – not only because the children may already be “food addicts” overwhelmed by their own cravings, but also because they lack skills, knowledge and ability to manage their own weight loss program. It is up to parents to become knowledgeable – whether that is through self-education or through the assistance of weight loss professionals like pediatric specialists or obesity specialists. You are also the one to see to it that your child gets the help he or she may need. If your own interventions are not helping, try to get your child professional help. Possible sources of help include your child’s doctor, a dietician, a nutritionist, a child psychologist or weight-loss clinic that treats kids and teens.

Kleptomania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Natural Treatment for Stress Relief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over and Over Again

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

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

Habits

What’s the difference between a bad habit, a nervous habit and a compulsive habit? When should a parent be concerned about a child’s habit?

Bad Habits
Everyone has bad habits. Leaving one’s dish on the table is a bad habit – one that many kids (and adults!) have. Calling a sibling “stupid” or some other insulting name can be a bad habit. Slamming the car door too hard can also be a bad habit. A bad habit is any repetitive behavior that needs improvement. That behavior can be a small, annoying behavior or it can be a more serious problematic behavior. For instance, a teen might have a bad habit of calling home past midnight to say that he’ll be out later than expected, or, he might have a really bad habit of forgetting to call home at all and just showing up at 3 in the morning.

Parents can help their children overcome bad habits by using normal parenting techniques like teaching, rewarding and disciplining. If the child’s bad habit is interfering with his health or functioning, however, then professional intervention is a good idea. For instance, a child who is chronically sleep-deprived due to going to bed too late or who is doing poorly in school due to chronically getting up too late, may benefit from counseling or other appropriate therapy.

Nervous Habits
Nervous habits are bodily behaviors that aim to discharge stress or tension. Twirling one’s hair, biting one’s nails, rocking back and forth, shaking one’s feet while seated – all these actions are examples of nervous habits. Talking rapidly, running to the bathroom urgently, gulping down food, giggling inappropriately – these, too, can be nervous habits.

If a child has a nervous habit he or she may benefit from learning better techniques for stress reduction. There are children’s classes and groups for yoga and mindfulness meditation that can be helpful. Alternative therapies can also help. For instance, herbal medicine can come the system down and Bach Flower Therapy can relieve stress and tension. Parental nagging to stop the nervous habit, on the other hand, does not help at all – if anything, it might increase the nervous habit. If the habit is bothering the child or parent, a consultation with a mental health professional may be helpful.

Compulsive Habits
While bad habits and nervous habits occur to some extent in almost everyone, compulsive habits occur only in those who have various mental health disorders. Eating disorders often involve compulsive activities like weighing oneself or cutting food into tiny bits. Certain kinds of psychotic disorders also have compulsive symptoms.

Compulsive habits are most characteristic of the anxiety disorder called obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This sort of habit is more ritualistic than the habits we’ve discussed so far. For instance, someone with a “nervous” habit might tap her feet while waiting in a long line. However, someone with a compulsive habit might tap her feet exactly 13 times – not because she is tense, but because she is attempting to reduce truly anxious, troubling feelings. Tapping exactly 13 times – not one less or one more -is a compulsion. A compulsion is a specific action whose purpose is to calm the anxiety associated with troubling obsessions (thoughts or sensations). There are many, many types of compulsive habits. Washing one’s hands a certain number of times is a common compulsive habit that often results in red, chapped, even bleeding skin. Counting steps, saying certain words or numbers, checking things repeatedly, praying in a specified way not characteristic for others who practice the same religion – all of these can be compulsive habits. The child who engages in these or other compulsive habits is a slave to the habit – he or she MUST perform the action or else suffers overwhelming anxiety.

Compulsive habits do not tend to go away by themselves. Instead, they get worse and worse over time and spread into more and more styles of compulsive habits. The sooner a child receives professional treatment for compulsive habits, the sooner the child will be able to lead a normal, healthy, compulsion-free life. If you think that your child’s habits may be compulsive in nature, arrange for an assessment with a mental health professional (psychologist or psychiatrist). Treatment can help!

Head-Banging

Seeing one’s child banging his or her head against the wall or a wooden bed is alarming for parents, especially if the child is a baby or toddler. Parents are not only concerned about the possible pain and injury that may result from such an activity – they are also worried about the child’s psychological well-being. “Is something wrong with my baby?” is a reasonable question for parents to ask when their child deliberately harms himself.

In fact, in most cases, a child’s head-banging is caused by a normal desire for stimulation or soothing (as we will discuss below) — not by underlying mental health issues. Additionally, young kids rarely hurt themselves during head banging enough to cause considerable pain or head damage. Head-banging may also occur in certain developmental syndromes such as autism. In these cases, there will be other neurological and behavioral symptoms besides head banging. In an otherwise healthy child, head-banging is not a matter for intense concern.

What’s Behind Head-Banging?
Head banging can be a way for kids to get stimulation. The habit can relieve the discomfort of boredom or stress. Remember that during the toddler years, kids are in the process of understanding and appreciating different body sensations such as sights, sounds and  even feelings of pain and discomfort. The sensation that comes when we bang our heads against a hard surface is new and foreign to a child, and understandably, the child is curious about it. Thus he may repeat head-banging so that he can explore the sensation better.

It’s also possible for children to head-bang in order to soothe themselves when they are anxious, in discomfort or otherwise distressed. In these cases, head banging is no different from thumb sucking or nail biting. It’s ironic, but it’s possible that children find the pain of head banging a distraction for their current discomfort or unease. Some kids may also find the rhythm of soft head banging comforting, in the same way that a slow and steady drum beat can be soothing, rhythmic head banging can be reassuring to a child.

What can Parents Do?
Safety is always a primary concern. Even if head-banging is usually harmless, there’s nothing wrong with taking a few extra precautions. As much as possible, keep young children away from hard surfaces like walls or bed posts. If there’s a risk that they will run into a hard surface, protect your child by putting a soft pillow or foam padding as insulation. If you can make it impossible for your child to head-bang against something hard, then you can worry less about head-banging behavior.

It may also help to provide your child with stimulation and soothing when you feel that he or she needs it. Toys of different shapes and colors, as well as materials of varying comfortable textures and temperatures can provide stimulation to a child. Rocking, singing a lullaby or a soft massage are also positive ways to provide soothing.

When parents suspect that unease, discomfort or stress is causing the head-banging behavior, they can offer their child the Bach Flower Remedy Agrimony. Two drops in liquid four times a day can be used until the banging diminishes. Or, for a more complete treatment, call a Bach Flower Practitioner. You can find more information about the Bach Remedies online and throughout this site.

Older children who are banging their heads may need more than Bach Remedies (although these should be tried first). Stress reduction through professional psychological counseling may be very helpful. If very young children are stressed, family counseling may be preferable. Parents may be able to make environmental changes that put the child more at ease.

When Should Parents be Concerned?
While head-banging is generally normal and harmless, there are occasions of head-banging behavior when parents need to provide their children with stronger interventions and/or professional help.

One situation is when kids use head banging as a way to get negative attention, punish themselves or release anger and frustration. When head banging is a deliberate action to achieve an end, parents should arrange a consultation with a child psychologist. The psychologist may help the parents intervene in more appropriate ways or he or she may work with the child directly in order to reduce underlying tensions.

But a second situation is when parents suspect an underlying medical or psychological condition behind the head banging behavior. If head banging is seen alongside symptoms of social withdrawal, delayed speech and motor development, and inability to empathize, parents should consider consult their pediatrician. A referral to a mental health professional for assessment can confirm or rule out a diagnosis of autism or pervasive developmental disorder. Head banging that seems beyond a child’s control may be a symptom of Tourette’s Syndrome. Various seizure disorders may also account for head banging behavior. To be certain, it’s best to get a child diagnosed by the appropriate medical or mental health professional.

Picking at Skin

There are different ways to pick at one’s skin.  Some people, including children and teens, pick at the skin around the nails of the hand. Others pick at little scabs or sores that may be anywhere on the body (such as insect bites, blemishes, or injuries). Some create little sores by scratching themselves or irritating normal surface “bumps” on the skin and then, they pick at the newly formed sore. Some pick at their scalp. “Dermatillomania” is one name for this condition, although each type of picking has its own distinct name.

Lack of Control
Picking at the skin is an impulse control disorder. It has been compared to trichotillomania – a condition in which one pulls out one’s own hair from the eyebrows, or the eyelashes or from the scalp. It has also been likened to OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), a disorder in which a person performs ritualistic behaviors in order to reduce anxiety. Dermatillomania has also been considered to be a sub-category of Tourette’s Syndrome – a condition in which a person has compulsive tics (movements and sounds that just MUST be made, even though they serve no constructive purpose. No matter which way we categorize skin picking, it is always seen as a behavior that is related to tension release.

Stress and Dermatillomania
Skin picking occurs more frequently when a person feels stressed. It also decreases when a person is feeling more relaxed and in-control of their lives. Therefore, treatments aim to reduce tension and build emotional stability. Skin pickers often do not have healthy ways of handling their stressful emotions. Psychotherapy may be helpful – especially with teens and adults. Children may benefit from art therapy. Techniques like EFT (emotional freedom technique) can sometimes be helpful. Meditation and relaxation training, as well as hypnosis, have all been helpful in addressing this disorder. For adolescents and adults, there are also support groups that can be helpful. The workbook “The Habit Change Workbook” by Claiborn and Pedrick, takes a cognitive behavioral self-help approach that can also make a positive difference. Psychotropic medications like anti-depressants are sometimes used as part of the treatment. Each person who picks at his or skin has different psychological needs and therefore treatment is individualized to address those needs.

Getting Help
Skin picking can make a person feel out-of-control and ashamed. It is often done in hiding and it is rarely spoken about. People are embarrassed and therefore don’t even talk to their doctor about it. Therefore, people don’t get the help that is available for this highly treatable disorder. If you think that your child may have this disorder, or even if you are just concerned about seeing picking behaviors on occasion, do consider arranging for a mental health assessment. A professional will let you know whether treatment is necessary or not and if so, help design a treatment program that can help way beyond stopping this symptom.