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Raising Resilient Kids

APT Play Therapy Training

Click on the link below to see what Clair Mellenthin, LCSW has to say about raising resilient kids.

http://kutv.com/features/fresh-living/wasatch-family-therapy-raising-resilient-kids

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Who Has Dragons? You’ve Got Dragons

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You’ve got Dragons

By: Kathryn Cave

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.

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Teaching Kids Emotional Intelligence

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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.

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Three Great Ways to Explore and Embrace Diversity with Children…

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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.
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How to Immunize Your Kids against “Millennial-itis”

canstockphoto29041841The word “Millennial” is rarely used in a positive way. How is it that an entire generation has become the punchline of society’s best joke? Perhaps we use humor to ease the sense that something is terribly wrong and we feel helpless to change it. College counseling centers are bursting at the seams with newly hatched “grown-ups,” depressed, anxious, legitimately struggling to make it. Others, who may fare better emotionally, seem to possess an unparalleled sense of entitlement. There are endless ideas about what has gone wrong. Among those most commonly put on trial are “spare the rod” and “everybody gets a trophy.” While it is beyond the scope of this article to examine those theories, there are a few generally accepted approaches that can help parents get on the right track toward raising responsible, well-adjusted children in these rapidly changing times.

Parents can help kids form realistic expectations about life in the adult world. They can also provide the opportunity and support for children to practice valuable coping skills. To achieve these goals, parents should allow their children to routinely experience three normal life experiences and then teach them how to manage the resulting emotions:

1.Disappointment   

Children need love and affection from parents to become healthy adults. They do not, however, need to always get their way. In fact, if a child learns to expect that their every desire will be continually fulfilled at home, it sets them up for future high conflict relationships and dissatisfaction in general. Parents should allow kids to regularly experience disappointment and teach them how to cope with the related difficult feelings. These childhood lessons can minimize grownup tantrums, the kind that occur when adults melt down because they did not get their way or things did not turn out as planned.

2.Natural Consequences

Children can learn valuable lessons from painful mistakes. However, when parents frequently rush to rescue their child, they teach the kid to expect that others will take ownership for their errors and thus share responsibility to solve their problems. Many parents do not want their children to experience sadness or failure so they come running to save the day. If this scenario becomes common, the older teen and adult may come to expect that employers, college professors or friends should sacrifice to solve their problems. Parents can prevent this sense of entitlement and instead promote self-confidence and problem solving skills by resisting the temptation to helicopter parent. This is not a heartless approach. Parents should offer support in the difficult growing process; a healthy dose of empathy can help kids learn to manage the emotional bumps and bruises that naturally accompany their missteps.

3.Housework

Nagging kids to do chores is no fun; however, requiring them to frequently complete these household duties has big payoffs. It teaches them that people must fulfill certain obligations to be part of a group. Children who learn this lesson from a young age tend to be more successful in relationships, academics, and career. When children are required to contribute to the family, it prepares them to live in a world where others will expect them to do their share.

Parents do their children a disservice when they shield them from the natural growing pains of life. So, the next time you are tempted to write the teacher a note because your teen failed an exam, or put your 9-year-old’s laundry away for the third day in a row, take pause, and ask yourself this question: What does this teach my child to expect from others? That they can always get their way, or that someone else should clean up their messes in life? If so, you may want to consider changing your course of action. After all, today’s children are tomorrow’s adults and all of us would like to live in a world where grownups are prepared to manage disappointment, take responsibility, and pull their own weight.

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Bring the Joy Back to Parenting in 5 Minutes Per Day

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Raising a child in today’s world can be like running in a hamster wheel. Tie shoes. Pull on backpacks. Pack lunch. Drive to school, work, lesson, practice, home. Squeeze in homework, story time, and don’t forget to floss. Repeat. Parents and children sweat on this daily journey, hoping to reach some final destination called success. After all, we live in a competitive world. For Jane to attend Harvard on a full-scholarship, slide into her desk 10 minutes early, organic lunch in tow, she’s going to need a lot of help and support along the way. It takes a lot of doing to raise this child.

Contrast this image with my experience in the play therapy room, where my primary purpose is to be with the child:

“My racing mind slows down. The run forward, look back halts to a peaceful stop and I am here. In that middle space called now. My eyes soak in the brown curl hovering over his left eye. A pale, freckled arm stretches long to reach the top shelf. Blue eyes with long lashes gaze as he tugs on the truck. The sand feels cool. We sift and pour, moving our toys in and out, over and under it. I smell the playground dirt on her socks. Our stomachs flip and flop as we feel her worries. Time is up. The door opens. Shuts. I sit, alone, on the tiny red chair, my knees higher than the table. The colors in the room are more vivid. I feel connected, grateful, alive.”

Experiences like this are common for me in the play therapy room. Why do I rarely feel this sense of well-being at home, with my own children? The answer is simple: I am too busy trying to hold the juicebox just right so it will not spill when I pass it over the back seat. You know the struggle. We can become so preoccupied with providing for physical needs, intellectual stimulation and talent development, we forget to give our children and ourselves one of the greatest gifts we can offer: our full presence.

To do this, carve out space every day to be with your child. We’re talking 5 minutes to start, nothing too ambitious. During this time, notice your child’s physical features, his rate of breathing, how she moves and smells. Hear the intonation of her speech. Soak her in, non-judgmentally, using all your senses. Does this sound odd? It may be helpful to think back to when your child was an infant. It may feel more natural to fully notice a newborn baby’s sound, appearance, smell, because you were seeing her for the first time. Why must we stop feeling that joy when our child is older?   Give it a try tonight between teeth brushing and bedtime or while you wait for little sister at dance. The time of day does not matter. No special handbook or instruction manual required. 5 minutes is enough to start. All you need to be fully present with your child is the one thing he wants most: you.

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How to Best Help Your Junior Athlete

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Competition can be extremely stressful, especially for children and teenagers. They can feel so much pressure that they will literally worry themselves sick. Kids will oftentimes try to prove their worth to themselves, their coaches, their peers, and their families through winning. Anxiety and the fear of failure affect their performance—which makes them even more fearful. It becomes a vicious cycle!

I recently wrote an article in conjunction with renowned PGA Tour Golf Instructor, Boyd Summerhays, on ways to best help Junior Golfers. After completing the article, it dawned on me that the information would be beneficial to all junior athletes and their families. Obviously, the intricate details about golf in the article are unique to golfers, but the same concepts (bolded section headings) can definitely be applied to any sport or competition that your child is engaging in:

The 8 Best Ways To Help Your Junior Golfer

Good luck to you and your family! I hope you can find joy, fulfillment, learning, and bonding through the competition (and not just stress!).

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30 Day Challenge for Overscheduled / Overstressed Adults

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Much publicity has been made in recent years about the dangers of overscheduling (and the resulting overstressing) of our children. Books such as “The Over-Scheduled Child” (2001) by Dr. Alvin Rosenfield, MD, child and adolescent psychiatrist and former Head of Child Psychiatry at Stanford University; “The Pressured Child” (2005) by Dr. Michael Thompson, clinical psychologist; and “The Hurried Child” (2001) written by David Elkind, PhD, professor of Child Development at Tufts University, all document the issues surrounding the phenomenon of this generation of parents and their children who have become “more frenzied than ever”, so much so that some areas of the country are now offering Yoga classes and structured stress-reduction classes for children as young as three (3) years old to help them deal with all their stress from their crazy schedules! (Kirchheimer, 2004)
If it’s bad for our children, it cannot be good for us adults! In her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection” (2010), Brene’ Brown states, “We are a nation of exhausted and over stress adults raising over-scheduled children.” We use our spare time to desperately search for joy and meaning in our lives. We think accomplishments and acquisitions will bring joy and meaning, but that pursuit could be the very thing that’s keeping us so tired and afraid to slow down”. Many even wear their busyness like a badge of honor, you probably know someone like this: who has-to-tell-you-everything-they-have-to-do-today-and-how-important-it-is-and-how-exhausted-they-are-and-how-late-they-have-to-work-after-all-the-important-errands-they-will-run-and-they-are-soooo-tired and then, add a big yawn for emphasis at the end of their monologue.
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Emotional Intelligence as a Back to School Skill

unnamed-1One of the things I spend time doing, explaining and reiterating with myself, as well as my clients with and without children, is emotional intelligence.  If there’s anything that gets in the way of living a full, rich, and meaningful life, it’s our experience with our emotions. The ability to gain emotional intelligence is a key skill in allowing us to truly understand ourselves and our reactions to events around us, because those are the only things we can really control – ourselves and our reactions.  As we enter a new school year and support the children in our lives with the changes that inevitably come with it, I am sharing a few key concepts related to emotional intelligence as a starting point for a successful year.

Emotional Intelligence is briefly discussed here by its popular advocate and author – Dr. Daniel Goleman. One of the first things he says is that Emotional Intelligence is that it is how we handle ourselves in our relationships.

Then, he lists 4 domains that create emotional intelligence:

  1. Self awareness – knowing what we’re feeling and why we’re feeling it.
  2. Self management – handling distressing emotions in an effective way so that they don’t cripple you & tuning into them for what they can teach you  – because even though they aren’t fun, they still serve a purpose and it’s okay to explore what that purpose is.
  3. Empathy – knowing what someone else is feeling.
  4. Social Interaction Skills – Putting it all together as a skill in significant relationships.

He then talks about how the part of our brain that allows us to do this is the part that grows the slowest – chronologically and developmentally – in our brains. He then goes on to talk about neuroplasticity which is basically the flexible nature of the brain as an organ. He mentions that our brains develop based on repeated experiences and he uses that as the foundation to encourage us to talk about self-awareness, self-management, empathy, and social skills with kids at early ages and in systematic ways.

There are a number of books that have helped revolutionize parenting in this respect and they have been really helpful to me, personally and professionally. One of the struggles in parenting that I have seen with other parents and caregivers is the habit we have of associating our ability to make sense of the world to our children’s abilities to do the same thing in the same way. On our lesser days, it can be frustrating when they don’t act like the little adults that many of us may have been raised to be when we were kids!  Yet, when we remember Goleman’s words, we can remind ourselves that neurotypical children’s brains are not developmentally capable of verbally articulating the four concepts outlined above if they aren’t taught to recognize what the 4 concepts feel like and helped to identify when they are feeling any of the four concepts. That is our job as the adult in a child’s life.

The important thing that has helped me, the parents, and caregivers that I work with has been to understand that our kids feel  a lot of things – good and bad – that they struggle to explain to us in words.  Again, our job as parents, is to help them gain the vocabulary to do so. However, we can’t teach them what we don’t know or haven’t personally experienced, so it’s important that we practice becoming aware of our own emotional experiences, managing them, practicing empathy, and enhancing our social skills in the relationships that matter most to us, especially with the people who depend on us for guidance and support.

Emotional intelligence is probably the coolest thing to have in our backpacks as we head into the new school year! Find ways that you can sharpen your skillset and pass your understanding on to your kids by modeling healthy steps towards emotional intelligence.

 

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When Being a “Gifted” Child Doesn’t Feel Like A Gift

SCHOOL KID ANXIETYAs a child therapist, there is one thing I know about exceptionally intelligent kids: they are often misunderstood, and for good reason. Gifted children possess an inner world so rich and complex, that quite frankly, others just don’t get them. We tend to view gifted and talented kids narrowly, in terms of their performance: “Wow, Landon has a huge vocabulary. Jane made a fully functioning robot. Sam reads all day.” This is where we sometimes miss the mark. Yes, gifted kids think more, know more, create more, but to truly understand them, is to see how uniquely they experience the world. If the young gifted child could teach us, this is what she might say:

 

  1. “My feelings are bigger and different than everybody else’s.”

 

Super Sensitivity and Emotional Intensity: Just as gifted kids’ thinking is more complex, so is their feeling. Teachers, friends, and parents often see their emotional eruptions as a sign of instability, when actually their ability to sense and feel on such a deep level is one of their greatest strengths.

 

  1. “I don’t feel my age.”

 

Uneven Development: Gifted children’s intellect, social skills, and emotional self-control can progress at different rates. If you can imagine a child housed in an eight-year-old body, with the mind of a thirteen-year-old, and the social skills of a six-year-old, then you can begin to comprehend how complicated daily life can get for these kids.

 

  1. “People don’t make sense and I’m the only one who cares.”

 

Deep Social Concerns: Gifted kids are often highly troubled by issues of suffering, injustice, and hypocrisy. As such, they can react intensely when such things directly affect them or they observe this is the larger world. Most people will understand how an adult approaching mid-life could worry about the meaning of life, death, pain, and the injustice of the world, but when the 5th grader is crying about such issues during recess, it leaves most people rather confused and even uncomfortable.

 

  1. “There is no one in the whole world like me.”

 

Profound Sense of Loneliness: A keen self-awareness accompanied by the feeling of being different can leave gifted kids feeling like aliens––it doesn’t help that their passionate curiosity and interests often do not match those of their classmates. Because of these difficulties, the school experience for gifted kids can be sometimes one of painful rejection.

 

Despite their many differences, gifted children have the same basic emotional needs of every other kid: they long to be accepted and understood. As parents, educators, and mental health professionals, we can help by simply listening when they try to show us that being exceptional does NOT always feel like a “gift.”

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