Helping Kids Through Trauma and PTSD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Harassment via Social Media

Our children may be spending considerable time each day logging on to social networking sites. But just because your child is surfing from the comfort of home doesn’t mean his or her safety is guaranteed. In fact, there is one serious threat to children online that must be given particular attention by parents: sexual harassment via social media.

The anonymity of the internet can easily make people do things they wouldn’t normally do in real life. Inhibitions, after all, can dissolve when you can’t see the person on the other end of the line. Add to this is the difficulty in policing people online, and the lack of anti-cyber crime laws in many countries and states. The reality is: the internet is ripe for committing sexual harassment.

Many cases of sexual harassment online have resulted in tragic consequences; from the teenage girl who developed an eating disorder because of the barrage of negative comments about her figure, to the gay teen who committed suicide because a video of him kissing another man was uploaded by a roommate. Sexual harassment, whether face to face or online, can result in psychological trauma and severe mental anguish.

The following are some tips in helping protect your child against sexual harassment online:

Educate Your Child
The first thing you need to do is to increase your child’s awareness of what sexual harassment is. Many children today are already getting sexually harassed but don’t know it, simply because the internet is filled with ideas presented in all extremes. For example, not all kids know that demeaning comments about one’s gender and/or one’s gender preference is a form of sexual harassment. The same goes with unwanted sexual comments or innuendos. Your child may already be suffering the ill effects of sexual harassment, and yet not know that they are being victimized.  Talk about the issue comfortably so that your children will feel comfortable coming to you when they have concerns or need your help. The last thing you want to do is make your child afraid to come to you when he or she needs you most. Avoid heavy-handed threats and tacticts. The internet is here to stay; help your child learn to use it safely and learn to use YOU as a safe resource.

Protect When Possible
Using child protection software may be helpful. Keeping your computer in a public area or just doing random checks can help your children and younger teens stay on a proper path and not deviate off to more suspicious communications online. Let your child know that you have reporting software and that you are checking regularly. Older teens want and need more privacy. With this group, make sure you keep your communication lines open; keep a warm and friendly relationship with them so that they’ll feel comfortable asking you for help when they need it. Also, as mentioned above, talk openly about your concerns and the dangers that some innocent kids have fallen into.

Never Release Private Information Online
Tell your child that he or she must always be careful what kind of information to release online — even to friends! Never give out contact details aside from email addresses; you can always give this information face to face. Similarly, never release information that can be used to track you, such as school ID number or a parent’s social security number, especially when commenting on pages accessible to the general public. A social networking site may claim to have privacy settings that protect members, but at the end of the day, you don’t really know when your private information will be hacked by someone with malicious intent.

Don’t Engage the Harasser
Teach your child that if you’re the victim of sexual harassment on social networking sites, the first thing you must do is to disengage — whether the other person is someone you know or is a stranger. Don’t argue or fight with your harasser; it will only lengthen the ordeal and encourage further contact. Instead, collect documentation, e.g. screenshots of what they said with timestamps, copies of their emails and IMs, and all information about them that you have. Then block your victimizer from your list of friends immediately and/or change your account, password and/or username.

Report Harassment to the Authorities
Tell your child the following: They should tell you and other adults what is going on. Let the right authority deal with your harasser. If he or she is someone from your school, then do report their action to the school principal or prefect of discipline. For people you don’t know, and for serious cases, report the crime to the police. You should also send the management of the social networking site a copy of your documentation so that they can permanently remove that person’s account.

Stalking

Have you ever been so enamored of a celebrity that you wanted to know what they were doing every single minute of the day? Or did you ever have an ex in your life that you couldn’t let go of, and you hungered to know details of what he or she was doing in life after your relationship ended? Intense curiosity about others is a normal phenomenon experienced by millions of people every day. Usually, people don’t act on their feeling of “wanting to know,” but sometimes they do. When someone closely tracks another person’s activities it is called “stalking.”

Young people are just as capable of stalking as adults. What can you do if you discover that your own child is involved in this activity?

What is Stalking?
Stalking refers to tracking the behaviors of another person in such a way that the person feels harassed and violated.  Stalking, an invasion of another person’s privacy, can take many forms. For instance, stalking behaviors  include spying on someone’s private mail or phone conversations, following a person wherever they go, watching a person’s comings and goings, sending unwanted correspondence or gifts, forcing unwanted relationships, and even threatening and attacking the object of one’s obsession. Very recently a new brand of stalking has surfaced — cyberstalking — which is stalking behavior conducted over the internet.

Stalking is a criminal offense punishable by law.

How Do Kids and Teenagers Engage in Stalking Behavior?
Stalking behaviors can range from mild to severe. In some cases, kids and teens don’t even realize that what they are doing may be considered stalking. In other cases, they may be fully aware that their behavior is unacceptable, harmful,  and even illegal but they continue to do it nonetheless.

Obsessing about and following celebrities is the more common type of stalking behavior among young people. Teens can get so attached to a matinee idol or rock band, for example, that they devise creative means to find out where their favorite stars hang out, and sneak inside the hotel they are staying in or the restaurant where they’re eating. This kind of behavior in young people may or may not be considered a criminal offense; some celebrities do encourage these accidental “spottings” (even announcing it on their microblogging sites!) for the sake of publicity. But in any event, any excessive adoration is unhealthy, and can cause significant problems at home or at school.

But there is also the more serious type of stalking behavior happening among young people today, one that is more malicious and ill-intentioned. With the ease of modern  communication and networking, young people can easily find ways to attack someone that they have issues with, or force embarrassing public confrontations. Pervasive harassment through sms, emails, blogs and social networking sites, for example, are fairly common among young people. Worse, some kids and teens are unaware of how they are actually victimizing other people with their actions. They underestimate the destructive impact of their behavior.

What can Parents Do?
Stalking behavior should be treated as a serious matter. Not only can stalking cause severe problems in relating and working, stalking is a criminal offense that can result in arrest and/or commitment to a juvenile facility. Children and teens must know when to draw a line between acceptable ways of relating and violation of other people’s rights. Remember, even if a fixation or obsession is manageable at the moment, it can easily turn unhealthy.

If you’re a parent whose child engages in stalking behavior, consider the following tips:

Evaluate the Gravity of the Situation
As mentioned, stalking behavior exists in a range; with some behaviors more understandable and acceptable than others. Find out where your child is in the stalking spectrum so that you may know if guidance and education is sufficient, or stronger interventions are necessary (such as assessment and treatment by a mental health professional). Signs of seriousness include the presence of delusions (e.g. the belief that the other person is in love with the stalker), lack of empathy for the other person’s feelings, severe anxiety if stalking behavior is not fulfilled, and intrusions of the obsessions into everyday living causing problems at home and/or school.

Explain to Your Child Why Stalking is Wrong
Perhaps your child is simply unaware that what they are doing is wrong. Educate your child about the impact of stalking behavior on not just the stalker, but also on the target. Psychologists have conceptualized stalking as a form of mental and emotional assault (sometimes even physical), that can be traumatic to its victim. But even if the target of the stalking is unaware that he or she is being followed or watched, common courtesy and ethics demand that stalking be stopped. Moreover, obsessing, even without stalking, is an unhealthy habit for a person and should be replaced with more wholesome activities. If your child seems fixated on someone to the extent that other activities are being neglected, try to arrange a consultation with a mental health professional to help address the problem.

Make Them Aware of the Risks of Stalking
Aside, from getting arrested, stalking can also put a person at risk for various negative consequences. Following celebrities around, for example, can result in being crushed in a throng of people, especially if the celebrity sighting is accompanied by fan hysteria. A person also does not know how a victim of stalking will react to finding out that they are being followed; stalking also puts person at risk for being victims of assault.

Give Them Sensitivity Training on Issues of Privacy and Boundaries
At the end of the day, what you want is to enhance your child’s sensitivity to the basic rights of other people. Take all opportunities to teach your child about the importance of boundaries and private spaces. Differentiate between information that should be kept to one’s self, and information that should be kept in private. Tell your children that in the same way they don’t want to have their secrets broadcast to strangers, they also don’t want to intrude on another person’s private correspondence and activities. Let them also understand the line between being friendly and being creepy. Training in social skills can help eliminate stalking behavior.

Deal with the Feelings Behind the Stalking Behavior
Obsessively following or communicating with another person can be a dysfunctional way of coping with unpleasant emotions. For example, the inability to let go of a lost relationship can cause a person to obsess on an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend. Boredom over one’s plain and unexciting life can cause teenagers to want to follow celebrities around. If you can teach your child to better manage their negative emotions, you can give them more functional coping strategies than stalking. Again, treatment by a mental health professional can be the most effective way to help your child if he or she is obsessing or stalking. Keep in mind, too, that stalking and obsessing may be symptoms of a mental health disorder. A psychologist or psychiatrist can help.

Understanding Self-Harm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helping Your Child Cope with Traumatic Events

All parents want to protect their children from things that can unsettle or harm them. But sadly, there are many things in life that even the most conscientious of parents can’t control. Our children may witness or experience traumatic events despite our best efforts to shield them. When this happens, they may have difficulty bouncing back. Sleep disturbances, sadness, anger, fear, or other symptoms of trauma may plague a traumatized child long after the traumatic event has ended.

What is a Trauma?
Trauma is a psychological reaction to highly stressful events, particularly those that threaten life or safety. When an experience is considered traumatic, it means that the coping resources of the person witnessing or experiencing it are not enough to deal with the impact of the event, and some degree of psychological shock or breakdown occurs. Events that most people consider traumatic include vehicular accidents, crimes, natural disasters and physical or sexual abuse.  Although parents may think that trauma results only from catastrophic events like war or rape, it can actually occur as a result of more normal and common events. For instance, a child can be traumatized by being chased by a dog, by a harsh reprimand from a teacher, from a threatening bully, or from being laughed at while giving an oral report. What makes an event traumatic differs from person to person, as individual coping abilities must be taken into account. Personality factors, psychological profile and past history all play a role in producing a traumatic reaction. A trauma response often includes symptoms like reliving the event over and over again (obsessing about it; experiencing intrusive thoughts), panic attacks, nightmares, numbing and fog responses, avoiding people, places and things that trigger a memory of the event, depressed and/or angry mood and increased nervousness (startle response).

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

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

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

When a child is suffering rather mild symptoms, parents may find that self-help interventions are sufficient. For instance, learning how to do EFT (emotional freedom technique) with the child may complete calm the youngster’s nervous system. However, parents may prefer to take their child to a child psychologist who practices EFT or EMDR. Both of these techniques are used to rapidly heal the trauma of one-time events. If the child is experiencing many symptoms of trauma, it is essential that parents DO NOT try the self-help approach. Instead, they should take their child to a mental health professional who is specifically trained in the treatment of post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD). PTSD is the name for the cluster of symptoms that occur in reaction to a traumatic event. The “p” in this label for “post traumatic” points to the fact that trauma symptoms can suddenly occur months, years or even decades after the original traumatic event(s). The mind/body seems to wait for the “right time” to release the memory of the event(s).

Technqiues like EFT and EMDR can also be used as part of a longer therapy addressing more chronic forms of trauma (such as being subjected to chronic bullying, physical abuse or incest). These and other interventions are specifically designed to heal both the memories and the bodily reactions and return the child to his normal state. In addition, the Bach Flower Remedy called “Rescue Remedy” can help reduce temporary and chronic symptoms of trauma and is especially effective for home-management of symptoms inbetween psychotherapy sessions.

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

Refuses to Go to a Mental Health Professional

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Help for Angry Parents

Grownups sometimes act like children. This is great when they’re playing with their kids – it can make for a rollicking good time. However, it’s not at all great when the child-like behavior consists of having tantrums, slamming doors, calling names, making mean faces or otherwise acting like an out-of-control pre-schooler. While such behavior in a youngster is completely unacceptable and requires remediation, it is so much worse when it occurs in a parent. It upsets the whole household –  disturbing, frightening and sometimes even physically harming family members. Despite the harm that parental anger can cause, it is a fact that normal parents get mad. What can parents do, then, to minimize the harmful effects of their own rage, irritation, resentment and other forms of anger?

Anger in the Home
Anger, itself, is a feeling – an emotion. It is experienced physically as a tightening of muscles, a holding of breath and/or a rush of adrenalin. Anger is not a behavior. A person behaves a certain way when angry. The behavior that occurs depends on the person’s inborn nature, upbringing, education, training and personal development. Some people choose to “act out” their anger, actually demonstrating what they are experiencing inside. They are so upset that they feel like screaming – and they do. They are so upset that they feel like kicking someone or something – and they do. They are so upset that they feel like saying terrible things – and they do.

Other people choose to put a lid on their anger and withdraw until the mood passes. They, too, are so upset that they feel like screaming – but they don’t. They, too, feel like kicking, throwing or smashing something or someone – but they don’t. They feel like saying all sorts of terrible things but they refrain. Instead, they remove themselves from the scene that is triggering all the upset and take themselves to a place where they can let the energy move through and out of their body and mind. If knowledgeable and skilled, they may even speed that process along by using a technique or strategy that helps them to rapidly process their anger and completely resolve it. Otherwise, they may do the best they can on their own and finish the job up later with the help of the offending party and/or a third party.

Consequences of Parental Anger
Many people fall somewhere in the middle of these two styles – showing some anger and also showing some restraint. Obviously, showing less anger will cause less damage to all concerned. However, it is unfortunately true that ANY amount of visible and/or audible anger causes SOME amount of harm. Minor anger causes temporary hurt, moderate anger has stronger negative effects on children and intense anger tends to have intensely negative effects. We wish it wasn’t so because, as I suggested earlier, we all get mad sometimes. We wish that we could “get away” with expressing some of that anger since it often feels so good to move it through our body, our mouth and our muscles.  Unfortunately, when a person expresses rage, someone else experiences abuse (mistreatment, disrespect, emotional and/or physical harm). In other words, it is as if the angry person spews out his or her venom, literally vomiting bad energy onto whoever he or she is yelling at. The recipient of the anger feels soiled and damaged. Frequent exposure to this sort of toxic energy actually damages developing human beings.

The Parental Model
In addition, parental expression of anger is also a teaching tool. Adults show their kids how anger is expressed. Screamers all too often raise screamers (by showing their kids a destructive technique) and always leave their children deprived of a healthy model (by failing to show them a constructive way to negotiate strong emotion). Although a child can overcome his parents’ anger style, it is a challenge we don’t really want to present to our youngsters. Parental impulsiveness, lack of maturity, lack of skill and lack of self-control not only hurts children in the moment, it also hurts them for a lifetime as they either mimic the destructive behavior in their own families or they struggle against its effects inside themselves.

Choosing Healthy Ways to Express Angry Feelings
Feelings and behaviors are two different things. We will all feel angry at times because it is one of the emotions that is there for our own protection. However, none of us needs to act badly when we’re angry. We can tell a spouse or child that we are upset; there is no need to shout. We can impose negative consequences on children; there is no need for insult or other hurtful words or actions. We can always be mindful of our own dignity and the dignity of others even when we’re frustrated, hurt, insulted, exhausted, troubled or otherwise emotionally challenged. But we can’t choose these healthy communication tools while adrenalin – the fight-or-flight chemical – is coursing through our brains and body.

The trick, then, is to find effective ways to turn off anger CHEMISTRY so that rational and healthy choices can be made in the moment. The calm brain can make good choices, but the agitated brain just reacts however it wants to in the moment, without regard to the long term consequences of those actions.

The ability to turn off the chemistry of anger is a learned skill. It involves any technique that calms the body down. Slowing the breathing is one such technique. When a parent is feeling upset, he or she can purposely start to breathe more slowly and evenly. It will take a number of minutes before anger chemistry stops flowing, so patience is required. Leaving the conversation, drinking a tall glass of water, walking around the block – all these activities can help the brain recover. But the most valuable action even after one has left the conversation, is to slow the breathing more and more. The heart will also slow down, the muscles will relax and the brain will finally work again!

Removing feelings of helplessness is another important tool to help prevent and reduce anger. Parenting books, anger management books, classes,online resources, counseling, social support, spiritual guidance and a host of other resources are available to help provide tools, options and techniques to handle complex parenting situations. Being prepared and having a clear philosophy in advance can definitely help prevent rage attacks. If someone has tried all of these approaches and still gets angry easily, then adding several physical tools can help too: daily exercise, herbs, acupuncture, homeopathy, Bach Flower Therapy, essential oils and psychotropic medications can all help soothe the easily agitated psyche.

Anyone who cares enough about his or her family to learn how to eradicate anger-induced bad behavior can succeed. We can all be well-behaved parents – if we really want to be.

When Mother is Emotionally Unstable

Borderline mothers are people with Borderline Personality Disorder. This disorder is characterized by the following traits and symptoms:

  • an intense fear of abandonment
  • intense anger
  • alternating between seeing people as all wonderful or all evil
  • self-destructive behavior
  • unstable relationships
  • unstable self-image
  • may have suicidality

Many people with Borderline Personality Disorder were severely abused as children. Often, they were raised by parents who had the same disorder and were not able to parent in a reasonable, stable manner. Sometimes the Borderline adult has been the victim of sexual abuse, incest or other severe childhood traumas.

Living with a Borderline Mom
A mother with Borderline Personality Disorder can be very emotional and at times, quite out of control. A child’s fairly normal misbehavior or mistake can trigger an intense temper tantrum. Verbal and physical abuse may replace appropriate discipline strategies. Drama, hysteria and crisis erupt where calm, thoughtful parenting should have prevailed. After episodes of abusive parenting, the Borderline mother may feel intense remorse and fear of losing the child’s love. Acting more like a lost child than a parent, the mother may then beg the child for forgiveness or cry in front of the child about what a terrible parent she has been.

The child who lives with a Borderline parent can become hypervigilant – always on guard for signs that Mom will become enraged. The child also becomes confused, never knowing whether he is a “good” or a “bad” boy because the mother’s opinion swings wildly from one pole to the other. Because severe punishment can be meted out at any time for any infraction, the child may feel that he can never succeed in being good enough. The child may also end up parenting the mother, offering reassurances of love when the mother expresses fear of abandonment.

A Life-Long Struggle
Eventually children of borderline mothers grow up and leave home. However, the mother-child dynamic does not end. The grown up child still may feel insecure and may still try to please the mother or at least avoid upsetting the mother. The grown child may not yet realize that, in fact, his or her parent is ill. Instead, the child may still be engaged in frequent fighting, arguing, disconnecting and reconnecting for many years into adulthood or middle age before some therapist finally identifies the issue.

It is important for people to realize that intense drama in interpersonal relationships and particularly the parent-child relationship, is never normal. Some sort of pathology is always at play. Instead of caring feelings of inadequacy, helplessness, guilt and anger, children of Borderlines can heal and find their own healthy centers. Usually professional assistance is required for this journey. However, once healing occurs, the relationship with the older Borderline parent can be renegotiated to protect the child better. Although the Borderline mother may never heal, the child certainly can. Seeking professional help is the quickest way to do so.

Parenting After Divorce

Mothers and fathers often disagree on matters pertaining to parenting. It happens when the parents are operating within the context of an intact family home and it also happens when parents have gone their separate ways through separation or divorce. However, dosage unlike their married counterparts, order divorced couples lack the trust and friendliness that is  at the foundation of marriage.

Power Plays
Let’s take an example. Nine year old Liam is terrific at karate. He’s been active in this sport for several years already and has won competitions and prizes along the way. The recently divorced parents differ on their view of this activity. Mom thinks karate is fantastic and encourages their son to practice frequently and reach for the top. Dad thinks that Liam should put his energy into league sports (as he himself did at that age): hockey, baseball, soccer, basketball and so on. In order to encourage Liam in this direction, Dad tells him that “karate is for sissies; only weirdo’s do it.” Liam, not wanting to be a sissy or a weirdo,tells Mom that he wants to quite his lessons and do team sports.

Mom is furious. She thinks Dad is playing “team sports” with her, trying his hardest to win Liam over to his side. “If he was really thinking about Liam’s welfare, he’d let our son continue doing what he’s good at. Why does he have to make Liam feel bad for doing something that he clearly loves?” For his part, Dad claims sincere best interests for his son’s welfare. “Boys have to be on teams,” he says. “I don’t want my kid being a social misfit. He’s gonna need that karate just to beat up the kids who make fun of him.”

Working Together
As previously mentioned this sort of dispute can happen just as easily within marriage as without. How would happily married folks solve the dilemma?

First of all, there would probably be a conversation between the partners. Ideally, Mom would express her view and Dad would listen and ask lots of questions about it. Then Dad would express his view and Mom would listen and ask lots of questions about it. This “listening and questioning” technique would likely uncover some common ground, such as wanting their child to be successful, happy, accepted, busy, productive and so on. Because the conversation would be mutually respectful, good will would prevail. The good will would allow for some sort of reasonable compromise. “Why don’t we continue to let him do karate, but cut down his lessons once or twice a week, and sign him up for basketball on the other nights. He could try both activities and either pursue both indefinitely or choose his own favorite.”

The very best thing for divorced families to do is to imitate the processes found in happy intact homes. The parents don’t have to love each other in order to conduct respectful conversations for the wellbeing of their kids. They just have to care enough about their kids to do it.

The Divorced Child
When one or both parties cannot or will not communicate respectfully, it is the child who is at risk. Let’s say that in our current example, neither parent is willing to change their point of view. Mom is the one who has been taking Liam to karate – should she continue doing so or stop?

Mom needs to ask herself which action on her part will contribute most to her son’s mental health. If she battles it out with Dad because she so firmly believes that karate is the best choice of leisure activity, then Liam suffers from witnessing yet more parental conflict. Moreover, if he sees that Mom is vehemently pro-karate while Dad is vehemently anti-karate, he will be torn down the middle, wanting Mom’s approval, wanting Dad’s approval and knowing that he cannot have both. In addition, both parents will be modeling a strong case for stubborn behavior, something that they will not be happy to see in Liam later on. Taking the issue to court would be costly and traumatic to the family and by the time it was settled, Liam would probably be an adult! In this scenario, Mom may choose to lose the karate battle for the sake of her child’s wellbeing. Now that Liam feels self-conscious about karate, she can empathize with his feelings using emotional coaching: “It makes sense that you wouldn’t want to do a sport that’s for sissies Liam. If you feel you’ve had enough of karate for now and want to try something different, that’s fine. It’s good to have variety and try different things.” In this way, Liam’s passion for karate is sacrificed for the sake of his overall mental health and development. He gets to feel good about himself and safe in his little divorced world. When he gets a little older, something may rekindle his interest in karate and he may decide to pursue it at that time. Whether this happens or not, however, his mom will have done the very best for him by reducing conflict and divided loyalties.

Divorced parenting involves many such sacrifices. The big picture must always take priority over the particular small issue. This requires tremendous maturity and self-control on the part of divorced parents. It hurts to feel cornered, trapped and powerless in one’s parenting. Despite the pain, wise divorced parents put their child’s needs FIRST. They do what’s best for the child. Supportive counseling can help divorced parents work through their own feelings of frustration, anger and loss that inevitably occur during parenting conflicts.