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Divorce & Teens

I had the pleasure today of being interviewed by my friend and colleague Barb Steinberg.  She’s a teen life coach, and asked me to speak with her about parenting teens through divorce.  You can watch the interview (just 25 minutes) below.  We talk about some of the ways that teens might react to divorce, what parents should know to look for as a sign that their child is having a really hard time with the divorce, signs about when to speak to a professional, how to talk with kids about divorce, and more.

 

And if you haven’t already seen these–there are several more helpful blog posts related to Parenting through Divorce on this website–see them here.

Divorce-related resources on this blog

There are several articles, a video, and a webinar on this blog, created specifically to help parents through the divorce process.  They are collected below for easy access.

Please feel free to email me with questions or to set up an appointment for parent coaching around divorce, co-parenting, or however you think I can help.

Note: This was originally published in 2012, but every time I add to this, I repost it with the current date, just to make it a little easier for myself & others to find the post again!

Up & Moving: Parenting Hacks that Work

photo: kajsa cc

It’s late January, and the outside temperature at 6:30 this morning was in the 30s.  Our thermostat inside says the house is 71 degrees, but even I didn’t think that getting out from under the covers sounded like a good idea this morning.  My kids?  They were even less interested in getting up, getting ready, and going outside to go to school.  Mornings are such a hard sell, especially on school days, especially when it’s cold & dark, especially when we didn’t go to bed on time the night before.  Just, yuck.

My clients often talk about the stress they feel related to getting out the door on time on weekdays.  There is so much that needs to be done, the timeline is usually tight, it’s a “pinch point” in a family’s day that often leads to stress, conflict, and bad feelings.  (not to mention tardy slips.)

There are a few really effective and good-feeling tools at improving this daily routine that I’ve discovered over the years, and I’d like to share them with you.  Join me for a FREE and short webinar where I’ll share parenting hacks for getting your kids awake, up, moving, and out the door… with 57% less* unhappiness.

Wednesday, January 30, 12 noon.

Register here.

(*) I made that number up.   The hacks are good ones, though.  :^)

Don’t try this one:

photo: Dave Austria cc

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sex Ed is a Human Right

I discovered on the World Health Organization’s website some years ago a page that (broadly) included Sex Ed as a human right.  The idea makes absolute sense to me, and I’ve said that phrase many times ever since.  Recently I needed to find the citation… and it took me for-ev-er.  So, for my future self or anyone else… here’s a link to the WHO’s “working definition” about sexual health and sexual rights.  They say:

“The fulfilment of sexual health is tied to the extent to which human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled. Sexual rights embrace certain human rights that are already recognized in international and regional human rights documents and other consensus documents and in national laws.”

and they list things critical to the realization of sexual health, including

“The rights to information, as well as education.”

So, it’s still just a “working definition” and not something that’s been fully ratified or whatever political process needs to happen for it to be an “official definition” but I’m putting it here so I can find it again the next time I need it!  (and to share it with you, too, of course.)  :^)

The International Women’s Health Coalition lists “comprehensive sex education” as part of their definition of sexual rights here.

In 1994 the United Nations convened the “International Conference on Population and Development” which also addressed sexual rights, and specifically the right to sexuality education.  Wikipedia entry here.

National Sexuality Education Standards are here.

Finding and Choosing a Therapist for Yourself or Your Child

Haystacks! photo: John Pavelka cc

Finding and Choosing a Therapist for Yourself or your Child: Way More than You Ever Wanted to Know

Finding a good therapist who is a match for you and your particular needs can be frustratingly difficult.  I often help people find therapists, and have found that most have similar questions about the process.  This post is an FAQ for anyone considering, or already looking for a therapist for themself or someone they love.  Keep reading for a brief explanation of different types of therapists, finding a therapist with or without insurance, how to choose the right therapist for you, and a couple of other pieces of advice from the perspective of someone in the business.  Let’s start with:

Who’s who?  There are several credentials that you’ll find in the (Texas) therapist community. A brief list:

  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker-Supervisor (LCSW-S)
  • Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
  • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)

These four all have Master’s degrees, years of supervision working under a more experienced therapist, and are licensed by the state.  These therapists might be in a clinic, a non-profit, or in private practice.  This is the bulk of who provides therapy in the state of Texas.  Other states have similar providers but might use different credentials.  The difference between an LCSW and an LCSW-S is that the LCSW-S has taken additional training  in order to officially supervise LMSWs towards their clinical licensure.

  • Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)

A psychiatric nurse practitioner has a Master’s degree in nursing, and might offer therapy and/or medication management. They may be supervised by a psychiatrist.

  • Psychologist (Phd or PsyD)

Psychologists typically have a doctorate and are licensed.  Some psychologists do therapy and some do testing, and some do both.  A full psychological assessment is both very handy and resource-intensive (time and money) but can make a very positive difference in complicated or unusual situations, or where treatment isn’t producing the expected results.  That said, you don’t need a psychological assessment before starting therapy—all therapists do some level of assessment before starting therapy.  People often keep their same therapist but see someone else for assessment—the assessing psychologist typically writes a report and consults with the treating therapist to maximize the usefulness of the assessment.

  • Psychiatrist (MD, DO)

A psychiatrist is a licensed medical doctor with a specialty in mental health issues and medication.  It’s unlikely that you’d see a psychiatrist for therapy, although some do.  Typically people see a psychiatrist for an initial assessment and then much shorter “med checks” every few weeks or months.

  • LPC-Intern/LMFT-A/LMSW/Coaches & unlicensed providers

LPC-Intern: Licensed Professional Counselor-Intern.  (sometimes inappropriately abbreviated LPC-I.) They are not fully licensed and are typically just a year or two out of grad school.  Pros: they are likely cheaper and have more availability.  Cons: lack of experience and everything that goes with that.  That being said, everyone was new once.

LMFT-A: Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist-Associate.  This is similar to an LPC-Intern but with a few administrative differences.

LMSW: Licensed Master Social Worker.  This is a fully licensed social worker, but they aren’t clinically licensed—this means that to provide therapy they must be under someone’s supervision, and this should be clearly noted.  These are often also early career professionals.

Coaching, or anyone without a license, is a completely ungoverned profession.  You may end up with someone who is a fantastic provider (I know some,) but you can just as easily end up with someone who was in a different profession yesterday, hung out their shingle today, and thinks that a romantic relationship is an appropriate outcome for services.  Buyer beware.

Other letters!?!  (SEP, EMDR, LPC-S, PACT, LSOTP, RPT, etc)

With any primary professional therapy credential, you’ll find therapists who have additional certifications, trainings, modalities, and extra letters behind their name.  Many have the word “supervisor” or “-S” somewhere, which means that they are certified to be supervisors of early-career therapists in their field.  All therapists are required to take “continuing education” every year, and some participate in trainings that are more intense and offer an additional credential at their conclusion.  This can be helpful to look for IF you already know that a particular modality is important to you, but it is worth mentioning that research shows that the quality of the therapeutic relationship is THE most important factor in determining the success of that intervention (ie, more so than the modality used by the therapist.)

Finding potential therapists–insurance

If you have & want to use your health insurance, start there. Call their customer service and ask for a list of mental health providers at both masters’ and doctorate level.  If you can filter that list, ask for therapists who specialize in kids (if that’s what you want) or geographic convenience.  Do not start by calling therapists and asking if they take your insurance–that’s going about it backwards, trust me.  There are way more therapists than there are therapists who take your insurance.  (Side note about geography: therapy is a weekly or bi-weekly commitment for weeks/months/years… ideally the fewer obstacles to keeping those appointments, the better.  If you need a specialist you may have to cross town, but at least start by looking in convenient geographic places.)

Finding potential therapists–private pay

If you can pay full fee, you are in the fortunate position of having far more options.  You can ask others for referrals, or you can look on online directories like the NASW’s Help Starts Here, Psychology Today, Good Therapy, Network Therapy, etc.  Some of the online directories will allow you to apply different filters in your search–very helpful.  You can also just Google; try searching for “therapist” and your zip code or city and state.

Interview potential therapists!

Once you have found a few potential therapists, it’s time for a pre-interview.  This step is important. Call 3 or more and have a 10-15 minute conversation with each before scheduling an initial appointment. In this brief call:

  • Clarify deal-breaker issues that you couldn’t determine online like: are they accepting new clients, fee, location, insurance, hours, etc. Do this before going in to your personal details.
  • Share a little about why you are seeking counseling and what you are looking for.
  • Ask the therapist a few questions about their practice, too. Does that therapist think you sound like a match for them and their practice?  Does the therapist have experience with your situation/problem/lifestyle/age/etc?  If you have any super-important beliefs or preferences, mention that and ask if the therapist is very comfortable working with that thing.  Your therapist doesn’t necessarily need to live/believe as you do, but being able to resonate with you despite not being “same” does matter.  Does the therapist use a directive or non-directive approach—ie, who leads the session?  (this is a question for both adult and child therapists, and there isn’t a right or wrong answer really—it’s personal preference.)
  • Feel free to say that you are talking to a few therapists before you schedule, and that you’ll circle back if/when you want to make an appointment.  This will not hurt the therapist’s feelings–a good therapist recognizes this as appropriate due diligence.
  • After you get off the calls, ask yourself how the call felt. Did conversation flow?  Was it easy or hard to talk with this therapist?  How well did they ‘establish rapport’ with you?  This matters a lot.
  • It’s also the reason I recommend calling several potential therapists—you’ll be able to compare/contrast that rapport much better after having had essentially the same conversation with 3 different people.

A few more random thoughts

I hate to say it but: some therapists are bad. There are therapists out there who probably shouldn’t be practicing. You can sometimes avoid them by getting recommendations from people you trust, so consider asking around if you haven’t already. (doctor, friends, co-workers , family, neighbors, lawyer, guidance counselor—lots of people might be a source of referral.) If you do use someone’s referral, they probably would appreciate hearing back from you later with your feedback on that referral (I definitely do.)

Even if a therapist is a great therapist, it doesn’t mean that they are a great therapist for you.  If you come in for a first appointment with someone and it doesn’t feel right, it might indeed be that they aren’t actually a match for you.  It’s ideal to tell them that in session; they ought to process it with you and give you referrals who are likely to be a better match.  (And if you find yourself rejecting multiple therapists, by the way, it might not be the therapist.  Just sayin’.)

There are a lot of different kinds of therapy, and FYI if you’re looking to do deep work, the intake, assessment, and initial relationship-building process will take multiple sessions.  (which means that evaluating whether the therapist is right for you might need more than an initial session, too.)

A person who is a good therapist may not be a good businessperson/practice manager. The skill set is very different. You might encounter great therapists who are a little slow to return calls (sorry) and who don’t have nice websites… or even any website at all!

Couple of thoughts about insurance: It might be helpful to know that insurance companies pay therapists a contracted rate that varies between companies, and if you are having a hard time finding someone on your insurance, it may be that their reimbursement rate is so low that experienced therapists aren’t willing to work with that plan.  Additionally, ask your insurance if they offer “out of network benefits.”  If they do, you might be able to see a therapist not on their list and file yourself with the insurance company for partial reimbursement. Know, too, that the insurance company may only reimburse for particular diagnoses (and a diagnoses is required) and may also limit the number and frequency of sessions.

One note regarding therapy for kids: kids don’t typically do “talk therapy” until around adolescence–most therapy for kids is play therapy. There are different kinds of play therapy, too, including both directive and non-directive types. (Picking the ‘right type’ of therapy for kids is its own post for another day.) It often takes longer for kids to move in to the “working phase” of a therapeutic relationship. Expect sessions where “all” your kid does is play (board games, with toys, throw a football, etc.) Trust that the therapist wants therapeutic growth for your child and is working to make that happen in the way that they believe is most effective.

So. More than you ever wanted to know about how to choose a therapist. Let me know if it’s helpful and/or if there’s something good to add to this!

The Arc of the Tantrum–resources

Imagine that we can plot a tantrum on a graph…

The “y-axis” is “level of tantrum” and the “x-axis” is “time.”  The tantrum shape is a bell curve, divided into stages.  The first stage: there’s no tantrum, but then there’s some sort of trigger, after which behavior begins to worsen.  It escalates to its worst level (dysregulation zone) and after time begins to reduce, eventually coming back to ‘zero.’

The place where parents are most motivated to intervene in their child’s behavior?

That top (orange) area.

The place where interventions are LEAST likely to do any good?

Also that top (orange) area.       (Aha.)

Flip the illustration over (or look at the bottom half) and you’ll see the bell curve shape reproduced, with 5 differently colored columns.  These columns coordinate with the stages of the tantrum, and include advice on best techniques for managing behaviors during that phase.

Parents, this is a cheat-sheet!  A short-cut to understanding and better responding to behavior.  Use this to pick effective interventions based on your child’s brain functioning at any given moment.

To say it another way–this helps make sense of your child’s tantrums, explains why some things you do just make things worse, and gives a parent guidance for what TO do instead.

This is the concept that parents, over and over, have told me has been most helpful for them, in understanding and managing behavior.   

(PS.  “Tantrums” aren’t just for toddlers!  Teenagers and you and me–we all have a version of tantrums, too!)

 

Want more?  There are lots of resources for parents on this website related to the concept “The Arc of the Tantrum.”  Here’s a list:

Screen time rules are really hard

Screen time rules are really hard.

On the one hand, there is a growing body of research telling parents that too much screen time is clearly associated with a variety of problems, including lower grades, anxiety, loneliness, and sleep problems.  (citations below)  On the other hand, those devices sure are fun and our kids love them and it creates conflict when we try to limit their use.  What is a parent to do?!

As in all things parenting, the answer depends.  (and on a lot of factors, too.)  In the interests of keeping this article less than 15 pages, we’ll just discuss a few, and include a couple of other great resources at the bottom.

Let’s start with your screen use.  Your personal screen use (for entertainment) will influence your child’s screen use.  If your actions consistently demonstrate that going outside or reading or spending time with friends is important, then your family baseline for screen use is going to be naturally lower.  If you notice that you are both using screens more than you’d like, start with your own role modeling and see if you can subsequently invite your child to join you in whatever fun activity you switch to.  (This works better with younger kids, but can be effective with any age if you choose carefully and pitch it well.)

The youngest children really shouldn’t have any screen time (the AAP recommends zero screen time for under 18 months, and no more than 1 hour per day for under 5s).

School aged kids can indeed gain skills and content from age-appropriate apps, games, shows, etc, and this can be part of a well-balanced life that also includes even larger amounts of exercise, interpersonal interaction, and outdoor time.

By adolescence, if not before, many schools expect children to use screens in school or at home, and it can be a functional part of a well-balanced life.  BUT, as your child approaches adolescence, developmental factors make finding that balance very, very difficult because your child wants/fights to have more control over their screen use, and they won’t always make good decisions about it.

Side bar about that last sentence: timeless adolescent parenting challenge: when you give your child control over a thing, your child will, at some time:

  • Do the thing poorly (ie, not do the thing as well as you would have)
  • Do the wrong thing.
  • Do nothing (ie, not even agree with you that something needs doing.)

What really sucks about that is that even though those 3 things are true, it’s still best to look for ways to ongoingly increase over time how much control you give your kids.  This applies to screen time, homework, food, friends, and pretty much everything else.  (*)  So instead of managing them so that mistakes don’t happen, we let adolescents increasingly be in control, and then look for ways to help them learn and grow from their mistakes.  This provides opportunities to grow critical skills like independence, resilience, risk-taking, critical thinking, and more.

Another, perhaps better way to look at this is to instead consider how we can best help our children use screens in a healthy way.  (IE, instead of focusing on limits, focus on healthy balance.)  A few tips:

  • Role model healthy screen use (worth repeating)
  • Create screen-free times and places, eg: dinner time, an hour before bed, driving, bedrooms, etc.
  • Offer to watch some shows together, or play games together
  • Prioritize (or encourage the prioritization of) screen use that is age-appropriate and fosters creativity, connection, or problem-solving.
  • Offer & support opportunities for your child to be creative, learning, connected, or joyful doing activities that have nothing to do with screens.

So, to sum it all up: the younger they are, the less they should have.  Focus on creating fun and inviting family activities that can compete (and win!) against the screen.  Use a perspective and language that identifies health and balance as a motivator for limiting screens.  And remember, the older our kids are are, the more we need to relinquish control and focus instead of helping them identify, recover, and learn from mistakes, so that they can grow in to adults who can manage these temptations successfully on their own.

 

(*) No, I did not say ALL the control. And, I’m talking about control over their lives, not yours!

 

A couple of good resources: 

American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for screen use 5-18

AAP tool to make a media plan for your family

Some interesting recent studies:

A recent study of 1100 American college students found a negative relationship between current grades and previous screen time rules, particularly when parents had said those limits were for homework reasons.  ie–the most controlling parents did not have kids with higher GPAs in college.  (Gotta let them develop their own screen management skills!)

Increased cell phone use associated with lower GPA, higher anxiety, lower life satisfaction

Another about phones & anxiety

Screen use before bed is associated with less sleep & delayed falling asleep

Higher cell phone use associated with lower physical fitness

Mommy, did you ever get segregation when you were a kid?

photo: mikedish CC

My 7 year old asked me this question not too long ago.  It took me a minute to understand what she was saying—her pronunciation was ‘creative,’ plus the topic took me by surprise.  But once I figured it out, I was both sad and grateful to her for asking the question.

I told her that yes, I had seen segregation as a child.  I grew up in rural Louisiana, which in the 80s was very segregated.  I told her my strongest childhood memory of segregation—how the doctor’s office that we went to had two waiting rooms, but patients separated by race instead of sick & well.  Sadly, I had many more stories of segregated spaces to share: my high school lunch room, every church I’ve ever been in, and every neighborhood I’ve ever lived in.

Like most of the white progressive families I know, my unconscious default is to not talk about race.  I was certainly brought up to believe that doing so is extremely impolite.  It’s really only in the last few years that I’ve begun to challenge that for myself and with my family. As I see it now, though, it’s not impolite, it is crucial.

Research over the years has demonstrated clearly that even very young children notice racial differences, and all humans are susceptible to what’s known as “in group bias.”  In-group bias is that hard-wired tendency to prefer people who are like us in some way, and to make decisions and value judgements based on whether someone is in our group or not.  I think these two findings make a very, very strong case for the importance of talking with kids about race.

So how do you do that?

Well, sometimes your kid makes it easy and asks a question, or, less comfortably, you might also hear your child saying something that reflects bias.  Either of those two situations is a perfect “talkable” moment for conversation.  You can prompt good conversations, too—using daily life situations to point out issues related to race and social justice.  For example, when you spot (or suspect) white privilege moments, observed segregation, or stereotypes in the media.

It’s also important for parents (especially white parents) to do their own work here.  How can/should we grow personally in our own awareness of (and work against) racial injustice?  How segregated is your daily life?  Can you change that?  Watch your inner voice and reactions through a racial filter—can you catch yourself (even inadvertently) revisiting old racist stereotypes?  Can you self-talk out of some of those reactions?

The thing I keep coming back to is the reminder that we DO need to talk about race with our kids.  We need to help our kids be aware that racism is both “out there” and “in here.”  We need to expand our relationships and experiences to include increasing diversity.  We need to role model and encourage empathy and critical thinking, and the kind of moral development that is always working towards equality and justice.

We can and should do this work.

 

If you’re interested in learning more about talking with kids about race, including what sorts of conversation and lessons are appropriate for which ages, consider joining the webinar I’m co-presenting this Friday.

 

Recommended books for talking with kids about sex

Recommended books about sex for kids

In my workshops, I love to recommend books.  I also frequently get emails asking for book recommendations–both for kids and parents.  If I had to pare down the options to just 5, this is what I would choose.

 

What’s the Big Secret is my recommendation for any age.  It talks about pregnancy, sex, relationships, good touch, and privacy.  Toddlers in the potty-training years especially find the page with the boy & girl peeing quite interesting.

 

It’s So Amazing is my recommendation for an older child, one who already knows some information and is now ready for more depth.  The reading level in this book is upper elementary.

 

My favorite puberty book for girls is “The Care and Keeping of You.”  This is part of the American Girl series, and there’s a second Care and Keeping of You, a Feelings book, and several more.  They are all good.  The first “Care and Keeping of You” has great information about puberty, but does not include any information about reproduction.

 

A good puberty book for boys is “The Boys Body Book.”  One note about this book–it does use heteronormative language to talk about romantic feelings/attraction.  (ie, it tells boys you might find yourself looking at girls a little differently.)  That’s exclusive language and it’s my one big complaint about this book.

 

And for parents, I recommend 
From Diapers to Dating
. It’s a reference source and guide for all sorts of information about children and sexuality and development. The author is a minister, interestingly, and does address how to share your family values about sexuality with your kids as well.

 

There are many other good books, but these are my favorites. Happy Reading!

This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive compensation if you click the links and then buy. (and if you do, thanks!)