On any given day kids and teens may feel joy, wonder, disappointment, rage, jealousy, and endless other feelings. Yet, many kids will inevitably learn from parents or peers that “happy” is the only emotion acceptable to express or even experience. “Happiness” in our culture tends to reign supreme as the highest aspiration – the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It is what we are taught to aim for – what we all deserve.
I commonly hear parents say to their kids:
I just want you to be happy.
“How can you be so down? Just look at all you have to be happy about.”
“Just focus on the positive. You’re dragging everyone down.”
Though these parents have good intentions, their statements might imply that if kids are not contented, they are somehow failing, or that happiness is the only feeling others are comfortable with. Children may respond to these messages by feigning a cheerful disposition and generally suppressing negative feelings to please parents. Unfortunately, suppressing feelings can compromise a child’s psychological well-being and fuel unhealthy behaviors.
Pain is a critical part of the human experience and in most cases, it is healthiest to confront it head on. Encourage children to acknowledge and accept emotions such as anger or hurt by using mindfulness meditation strategies. If your child seems overwhelmed by her emotions, encourage her to find a way to express them: talk to someone she trusts, write in a journal, create a work of art, or see a mental health therapist. Let us teach children that no one’s life is solely full of sunshine and that to live fully, we must stand in the occasional rainstorm.
In the musical Fiddler on the Roof, the main character Tevye poses the question: “How do we keep our balance?” He replies to his own question with, “Tradition!” After bursting into song with the entire town he then explains, “Without tradition, we are no safer than a fiddler on the roof!” Tevye was a smart man! He’s right, tradition is important to family development and a sense of personal well-being!
Tradition, however, does not necessarily need to be related to big family celebrations, holidays, or life events. Routine rituals have quite a bit of power in creating “balance” within the family.
Summertime is a great time to begin new family rituals! These may include everyday things that involve roles, chores, rules, and family living.
Why do rituals hold so much weight in family life? Because of the feelings they create! Children who participate in family rituals experience buckets of benefits!
A sense of belonging
Better academic success
Understanding of Roles
Feelings of family identity
With the school year wrapping up, why not start some new family rituals today?
Dinnertime: Dinnertime is one of the best ways to form new memories, integrate family values and social rules, add a chore, and create connectedness. Allow each member to have a job in the meal prep. Setting the table, filling the drink glasses, clean up, or choosing a dessert (my personal favorite). This is a time for parents to get tabs on the kid’s day. Play the game: “A Rose and a Thorn” by having each member share one good thing that happened, and one negative thing, opens up opportunities for gratitude, listening and feedback, and validation.
Child Date Nights: Choose one night a week to do something special with your child. This can be a fun way to get to know what your child enjoys, or would like to try! While filling their bucket with one-on-one time. Fun activities like put-put, painting parlors, splash pads, a trip to the zoo, a bike ride, or a concert. Remember, put the distractions away, pay attention, and let your child take the lead!
Library Lolligag: Take a stroll through your local library on a regular basis. Plan on spending time reading together, talking about topics, and slowing down. Even big kids have topics and books they enjoy! Try checking out the same book your teen does! You may find you have something in common!
Game Night: Frequent game nights teach children competence in disappointment, competition, and winning. Some games offer critical thinking, planning ahead, keeping a “good” secret-to win, and seeing what comes next. Playing together teaches appropriate modeling when the game doesn’t go as planned.
Saying “Goodbye” and “Hello”: Little routines of saying “goodbye” and “hello” opens doorways to connection, disconnection, and re-connection. Think of something that is special to you and your child that is a signature sediment. A hug, a kiss on the forehead, a fist pump (for the tough guys), or even “See you Later Alligator.”
Coming of Age Celebration: Growing up can be tough! A Coming of Age celebration gives permission for change. Allows an embrace of growth. Perhaps, even some discussion of family values, expectations, and personal precautions. A small trip with Mom and/or Dad, can be defining in developing a life-map, of sorts. Where the focus is not on physical maturation, but life goals. Considering dating, college, careers, and even hopes of marriage and partnerships.
Saturday Morning Breakfast: A happy morning wake up call to breakfast in bed and watching a favorite kid show, may not be so bad. Perhaps, that’s not your style, but a bowl of a favorite cereal in PJ’s and a morning bike ride, might feel more like it. Or maybe choosing a favorite breakfast spot, where everyone can pick what they like and then get on with weekend commitments.
No matter what summer ritual you decide to pick up–Remember, it’s about dropping the distractions and filling our Summer buckets with memories and connection.
For more insights into creating family cohesion and decreasing family stressors, visit our website at www.wasatchfamilytherapy.com/blog.
By now many of us have become aware of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, which is a series depicting the experience of a young teenager who commits suicide. Throughout the series the main character shares the various hurts and traumas she has gone through that leads to her decision to end her life. For many people this has been a troubling show to watch due to its graphic content, which includes a detailed depiction of sexual assault and the process of a completed suicide including the detailed depiction of the character dying through suicide.
Multiple media outlets have highlighted the creators intent to open dialogue surrounding suicide and not to glamorize the process of dying by way of suicide. However, for many the interpretation and impact of the visual content has had varying responses. For some it has been highly triggering and has increased suicidal ideation. For others it has created curiosity and the desire to open communication about suicide.
For all parents even those with the best filters or rules about viewing mature content, chances are your tween or teenager will be exposed to this show in some fashion. Whether viewing it themselves or through interactions with friends and social media, 13 Reasons Why isn’t going away and here are five questions to support you in starting this necessary conversation with your teen or tween.
What do you understand about the show?
Were there aspects of the show that you personally related to?
Is there anything I can do to help support you in understanding the realities of suicide?
Have you ever had thoughts like this yourself? Can you help me understand them?
Is there anything I can do for you?
If you discover your child has struggled with suicidal thoughts or is currently having them, it is important to not dismiss the seriousness of their experiences and these thoughts and to seek out help from licensed professional immediately. Below are resources for parents and children who may be in crisis.
If you feel your child could benefit from further professional help Wasatch Family Therapy is here to serve you.
National Suicide Prevention Life Line 1-800-273-TALK
I recently read an article entitled “Time for a Spring cleaning of the mind” by Jeannette Bessinger.
Because I have never been interested in Spring cleaning my home, I paid close attention to the tips that were given on how to “declutter my emotional space.”
I share these tasks with you along with some ideas of my own, and encourage you to join with me in asking yourself these questions, and reflecting on how you can work towards clearing the emotional junk from your mind.
Mind your own business. Most of us have enough business of our own to tend to. Ask yourself, “If it’s not my business, why am I in it?”
Let go of the need to be right. Ask yourself, Is it more important for me to love and be loved or to be right? Who do you play the right wrong game with? Make a commitment to eliminate the need to play this game with others.
Stop blaming, shaming and complaining. All three behaviors are negative and do not bring joy to your life. Ask yourself, Does my behavior of blaming, shaming and or complaining assist me and others to feel joy and happiness? Continue to remind yourself that these behaviors are toxic and will not improve your relationships and sense of well being.
Stop trying to impress and please everyone. Ask yourself, Will I die if someone disapproves of something that I think, do, or say? Remember you don’t have to do everything and be everything for everyone else. Make a list of 10 things that you can do for yourself and select one to do TODAY. Make yourself a priority. Put yourself on your “To do” list.
Clean up unfinished business. Ask yourself, If not now when will I begin? Pick a task that you have been procrastinating to complete and DO IT TODAY! Eckert Tolle stated, “That which stands in the was IS the way. Beginning is usually the hardest part of the task. Just Begin.
Forgive someone. Ask yourself, Who am I holding a grudge against? Am I being unforgiving as a way to punish them? Remember forgiving others is a gift you give to yourself.
If you’re in the wrong, Make it right. Ask yourself, Have I committed a wrong that I can make right? Follow this admonition,” When you do something wrong, tell the truth, apologize and right the wrong if you possibly can. Owning up means it won’t own you.”
Let go of self limiting beliefs. Ask yourself, Do I believe everything I think? Work towards eliminating the negative self talk you engage in. Use positive affirmations to rid yourself of stinking thinking, such as, I am capable of achieving that which I believe. I am capable of achieving the task at hand.
Let go of perfectionism. Adopt the belief that, “Nothing in life is perfect.” Stop comparing yourself to others and remind yourself that, “It is what it is, and it’s all good.”
Stop mismanaging your emotions. Ask yourself, Am I stuffing my unpleasant feelings down with too much food, or shopping. Remember, that “feelings are like the weather, natural and ever changing.” It is important to take time to acknowledge them, feel them and release them through healthy coping skills.
Only you know which task will be the most beneficial for you to complete. I challenge you to choose a task and begin to work towards clearing the emotional junk from your life. Begin now to “Spruce up your life,” YOU DESERVE IT!
Most parents may notice that kids have worries, at one time or another. Even beginning at very young ages, carrying into middle school or high school. The picture book You’ve Got Dragons, written by Kathryn Cave, helps children and parents understand the language of worries, or “dragons.” How they grow, hide, and what they feel like inside. Sometimes it’s hard to talk about, when you have “dragons.” Sometimes parents don’t know how to help, or what to look for. The illustrations and humor will let your child escape into a world where worries become “dragons,” while getting good advice on how to take care of them.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions effectively and positively. Kids who understand their emotions, can name them, and can manage them are better able to cope with stress, manage relationships with others, and communicate more effectively.
There are four main characteristics of emotional intelligence.
Emotionally intelligent people are self aware. They recognize their own emotions.
Emotionally intelligent people can self-regulate. They can control how they react to their emotions instead of letting their emotions control them.
Emotionally intelligent people are empathetic. They understand other people’s emotions.
Emotionally intelligent people have social skills. They can build connections with others.
The best way to teach children emotional intelligence is through modeling. Parents who take time to develop these characteristics in themselves will gain the benefits of emotional intelligence in their own lives, but will also pass these traits on to their children. To help learn these skills AND pass them on to your child here are some activities to do together:
1. In order to be aware of emotions children need to be able to name them. Younger children can look at flash cards depicting various feelings and copy the faces as parents tell them the name for that emotion. Older children can identify times they felt that emotion and what they did about it. (Flash cards can be found by googling “emotion flash cards”, or you can make your own.)
2. Using an emotion thermometer (again, google is your friend), you can teach children how to recognize what it feels like when they are experiencing strong emotions, and provide them tools for “cooling down the thermometer”. These skills can include: talking to a friend or adult, asking for help, counting to ten, taking five deep breaths, or practicing some mindfulness. There are lots of mindfulness for kids clips on youtube or available as apps on a smart phone.
3. One great way to instill empathy in children is to get them involved in regular acts of service. Afterward, listen to your child share with you how the act of service made them feel? Discuss how the service made the recipient feel.
4. Social skills are best developed by lots of practice. Create plenty of opportunities for your child to interact with other children. Go to parks or children’s museums, set up play dates, get to know the kids in the neighborhood. Give your child space to explore and interact with other children. Give them opportunities to work out problems themselves, and step in with guidance when they need it. If your child needs extra help developing social skills, contact our office at (801) 944-4555 for information on the next available social skills group for kids.
There are lots of ways to develop theses characteristics, the important thing is to regularly incorporate these kinds of activities into your child’s life. Doing so will help them (and you) manage stress and anxiety, communicate more effectively, and build stronger relationships with those around them.
Sharing diversity with children can have a woven like presence in the basic fabric of your life if you allow it. It is not a particular or singular act. I have found that there is somewhat of an approach or framework to how families can successfully embrace diversity and cultural competence as a family. These are ideas I share with clients as well as use with my own children and family.
Exposure: As a family embrace the diverse world around you. Spend time in various environments that host various ethnicities. Enjoy and participate in various events throughout the community and celebrate exploring these varying cultures as a family. Select and enjoy books, music and shows in your home that introduces various ethnic backgrounds and their customs.
Inclusion: Embracing others ethnic backgrounds goes well beyond talking about ethnicity and cultural differences. Go out of our way to spend time in places and spaces that welcome diversity and display inclusiveness and cohesion amongst varying cultures. Build friendships organically with all types of families from various backgrounds.
Modeling: By way of language, dialogue and behaviors. Children do as we do not as we say. Walk the walk of inclusion, acceptance and welcome open dialogue about ethnicity and diversity related topics in your home. Create an open fluid dialogue about current events, differences in lifestyles, ethnicity and customs within your home and family.
As our society evolves into a very polarized place remember that you have the power to create and set the tone for the environment in your home. Breathe love, acceptance and tolerance into your world and the world of your children.