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What Every Parent Should Know About “Happily Ever After”

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On any given day, kids and teens may feel joy, wonder, disappointment, rage, jealousy, and endless other emotions. 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:

  1. I just want you to be happy.
  1. “How can you be so down? Just look at all you have to be happy about.”
  1. 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.

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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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Ask a Therapist: I’m a Fatso in a World of Barbie Dolls


A couple of years ago, I lost about 40 pounds due mostly to a supplement I was taking. I quit taking the supplement about a year ago, because info I read led me to believe it might not be safe. I have gained back most of the weight and I’m mad at myself and feel that the people who had admired me for my previous weight loss are now disappointed in me. Ironically–since I made up my mind that I was going to try again to lose the weight–I am actually thinking about food more, craving high calorie food more, and recently have started binging. I almost gag when I try on clothes or look at my body in the mirror. I’ve already been through counseling for other issues, and feel like a failure going back again. I can’t afford exercise classes o gym or weight-loss group memberships. My boss has paid for me to go to a conference this summer, but am considering backing out of going because i don’t want to deal with adorable petite colleagues, feeling self-conscious and guilty about what I’m eating, and seeing the disappointment of people that thought I was doing so well with my weight, and clothes that don’t fit right. What am I supposed to do–I’m about to give up and accept that I’m an undisciplined fatso in a world made for petite Barbie dolls.

A:  Thank you so much for writing in. So many people struggle to manage a healthy weight.  I understand the social pressure to look and appear a certain way, but you seem to be equating your weight loss and gaining it back with your worth. Just because your weight loss wasn’t successful doesn’t mean that you are a failure. Watch the video for the rest of the answer.

Take good care of yourself!

Julie Hanks, LCSW

 

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Cut Down On Family Drama During The Holidays: Studio 5

My own personal experience coupled with my professional experience working with families for nearly 20 years, I’ve learned a few helpful strategies for navigating those occasional stressful situations that come whenever families gather.

It’s not your job to make everyone happy
Even though ideal holiday celebrations are associated with happiness, remember that it’s not your job to make everyone happy. Someone will inevitably be disappointed because they didn’t get a gift they were hoping for or because you spent more time with your partner’s family than with them. I worked with a woman in my clinical practice who worked so hard to make sure that everyone was delighted with the holiday gifts and family celebrations that she ended up exacerbating her existing physical health problems and had to spend most of the holiday in bed. We worked together to help her let others have the “privilege” of learning how to deal with disappointment and upset.

Start a different tradition
One of the beauties of being an adult is that you get to choose what you want to do. Family traditions are meant to promote family bonding, not family “bondage.” If you are feeling like you don’t have a choice in how you celebrate the holidays, it may be time to start a tradition of your own and opt out of another tradition.

It’s particularly difficult when there are strong extended family ties to break away and start your own traditions. I know of a family who decided to try leaving town to spend Christmas with an extended family member in another state. This helped establish them as “grown-ups” and sent a clear message that they are going to select which extended family traditions they will participate in.

Act like a grownup, even when you don’t feel like one
Have you ever noticed how family gatherings have a tendency to bring out old patterns and roles? A 50-year-old man can magically transform back into that older teenage brother who used to tease you mercilessly. Or that little sister can shift from a respected adult into a spoiled little girl. If old family patterns resurface, leaving you feeling like (or acting like) a child, remind yourself that you can choose not to revert back to playing your childhood role.

I worked with a man who had taken on the role of “the responsible child” early on in his life. He grew up worrying about finances and caring for younger siblings needs. As an adult, his family continued to look to him to host and foot the bill for parties, gifts, and travel expenses for family gatherings. We worked together to help him step out of his childhood role by allowing his family of origin (now all adults) to make their own travel arrangements, participate in planning and bring food to family gatherings.

Assume that others have good intentions
Even if you are well prepared to handle family drama; it may sneak up on you without warning. An offhanded comment about your parenting skills (or lack thereof) or a sister-in-law forgetting to buy a gift for your family may catch you off guard.

To fend off potential drama, I’ve found it helpful to make up a story in my mind that makes another person’s potentially hurtful behavior make sense. Thinking, “Oh, I know she’s had a difficult time caring for a sick mom” helps me to not take offense and get sucked into family drama. Assuming others’ missteps are underscored by good intentions will help you have a happier holiday.

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