Inspiration/Advice

I have gained valuable experience and knowledge through my clinical and forensic practice, as well as through my role as a mother of three children, a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a friend. I enjoy writing and sharing that knowledge.

Mental Health Goal Setting

When setting goals for 2017, don’t forget about your emotional and mental health! Make your/your family members’ mental health a priority. Set some concrete goals where your whole family can benefit. Some ideas include:

1. More family dinners. Studies demonstrate that children who have regular family dinners have improved mental health  (they also have improved grades and make better decisions regarding risky behavior).  Here are some additional suggestions regarding making the most of family dinners.  http://drpeggydelong.com/ten-ideas-to-make-the-most-of-family-dinners/

2. Less technology and social media. Studies demonstrate a correlation between depression and the amount of time that teens (and adults!) spend on social media. Keep personal devices out of bedrooms, off the dinner table, and avoid use in the morning before school/work.  Here are some additional suggestions regarding limiting screen time.  http://drpeggydelong.com/six-suggestions-for-limiting-screen-time/

3. Get outside, and better yet, with others! Research demonstrated that walks in nature with others were associated with decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety, and an overall enhanced sense of well-being. Here is a relevant study – http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/10/18/ease-stress-and-improve-mental-health-with-group-nature-walks/

4. Express appreciation every day. This can be formally, through a Gratitude Journal, or simply by telling others that you appreciate them, and what you appreciate about them. One study found that a simple way to improve a relationship was to express appreciation for that person.  Here is an article about expressing appreciation in a relationship http://drpeggydelong.com/one-simple-way-to-improve-a-relationship/

and another article about ways of practicing gratitude http://drpeggydelong.com/one-simple-thing/

5. Don’t be afraid to seek professional support!  A recent study found that one in five children has or has had a debilitating mental health disorder.  But you/your child do not need to have a mental health “problem” to seek support and advice.  Just like we take our children for annual physical check-ups, mental health check-ups and check-ins are helpful as well, and sometimes can make all the difference in the world in a child’s overall sense of well-being.  http://drpeggydelong.com/some-guidance-regarding-when-to-seek-mental-health-services/

What are some of your ideas?

http://www.reviewjournal.com/life/health/don-t-forget-about-setting-mental-and-emotional-health-goals-2017

One Simple Thing

Would you believe me if I told you that there was one simple thing that you could do to make yourself happier, make you more likable, make you more physically healthy, boost your career, strengthen your emotions, develop your personality, make you more optimistic, decrease materialism, increase spiritualism, increase self-esteem, make you less self-centered, improve sleep, increase longevity, increase your energy level, make you more likely to exercise, make you more resilient, make you feel good, decrease envy, help you relax, make your memories happier, make you friendlier, help your marriage, make you more socially attractive, help you to make friends, deepen your friendships, help you network, increase goal achievement, improve decision making, and increase productivity??? It’s pretty amazing, and I must admit, unbelievable, to think that doing one thing could achieve all of these results. As a psychologist, I don’t waste my clients’ time or money suggesting anything that is not backed by research. Anyone who has ever worked with me individually or in a group knows that I stand by this simple idea. It’s not new by any means. Can you guess what it is? Ready? It is Practicing Gratitude.

Here is a great article that lists 31 benefits of gratitude, along with the research to support the findings http://happierhuman.com/benefits-of-gratitude/

This is why I started every session of the MotherDaughter Connection with an exercise in gratitude, and why I now incorporate this into the Coping with Loss Support Group that I facilitate. Simply because it is effective, and it feels good. This is something that you can practice on your own, with a partner, and/or with your children.

Practicing Gratitude is one of the simplest ways to improve your mood in the moment, decrease depression and anxiety, as well as elevate overall life satisfaction.  The great part is that you can do these exercises anywhere, anytime! It all starts with your thoughts. Our thoughts are extremely powerful in creating our own destinies. There is much to be said about The Law of Attraction, the power of positive thinking, and quantum physics. The beauty of it all – YOU hold the power. Here are a few simple ideas to get you started. For maximum results, practice these five simple exercises every day. I am keeping them simple so that you are more likely to stick to them.

  1. Begin your day with an exercise in gratitude. Think about three things, experiences, people, situations, etc. for which you are grateful. These need not be elaborate, but they should be specific. For example, instead of thinking, “I am grateful for my mother”, think about something specific about your mother for which you are grateful, such as, “I am grateful for my mother’s hugs.” Also, make a point to think about different things every day. This helps to train the brain and scan your environment and life, looking for the positive. Over time, this will become more natural, not just doing this exercise, but as you live your life.
  2. Keep a symbol of gratitude with you throughout the day. Then when you feel it or see it, let that serve as a reminder to spend a moment in gratitude. I was introduced to this idea by Megan McDowell, Founder of Heartworks. She passed out gratitude stones at the beginning of the meetings. These were simply small river stones to be taken home as a physical reminder to practice gratitude. This also inspired me to make Gratitude Bracelets with Swarovski pearls. With each bracelet comes a card that says, “Wear this Gratitude Bracelet, and every time you look at the sparkly bead, spend a moment in gratitude. Think of one or two people, events, experiences, or things for which you are grateful. Take this a step further and write your thoughts in a Gratitude Journal. The more grateful you are, the more goodness and blessings you attract into your life. With regular practice, you will soon begin to feel elevations in your energy and mood.” I am so grateful for the level of interest in these bracelets. I donate $1 of every Gratitude Bracelet sold directly from me to various non-profit organizations, changing every month. Please visit http://drpeggydelong.com/product/gratitude-bracelets/ or contact me if you are interested in purchasing one
  3. When you find yourself during the day feeling lonely, frustrated, angry, broke, sad, or jealous, let that emotion be a trigger to focus on one small thing for which you are grateful. I am not suggesting ignoring the negative feeling. That may require your attention and time to work through. However, in addition to that, in order to help shift your energy and not dwell in the negative, think about one thing, person, or situation for which you are grateful. Are you feeling rejected and lonely due to not being invited to a party you saw on Facebook? Think about one friend for which you are truly grateful. Are uncomfortable feelings of envy creeping in that others seem to have more than you? Focus on the roof over your head, food in your pantry, and love in your life. And even if that is not at the level that you would like, focus on being grateful for what you HAVE rather than thinking about what you do not have. The beauty of The Law of Attraction and practicing gratitude is that we attract more into our lives of what we are truly grateful for.
  4. Be grateful for the simple and the ordinary. On an ordinary day, this can simply be being grateful for being able to wrap your hands around a mug of your favorite beverage. On the worst of days, you can find comfort in the simplest object, situation, or person. I learned this exercise in gratitude simply because I had to. Back in 1992 when my fiancé was sick with cancer, he and the experiences during that time taught me to be grateful for the smallest, seemingly insignificant things. While he was sick and at the hospital the last 42 days of his life, I was so grateful for the hazelnut coffee served in the cafeteria. Yes, hazelnut coffee. I never knew what condition he was going to be in, whether he would be able to talk or even open his eyes and look at me, or what nurses and doctors would be working that day. In addition to the love in the room, the one thing that was consistent was my cup of hazelnut coffee. The smell seemed to permeate his hospital room and make it less sterile. I was comforted by the warmth from the cup. It gave me simple pleasure through its taste, but even more so its predictable availability, in those days that were so full of the anxiety-provoking unpredictable. He knew how much that cup of coffee meant to me, and he encouraged me to stretch my legs and go down the several flights to the cafeteria to get it, or to ask someone to get it for me when he did not want me to leave his side. We were both grateful for the simple pleasure of that predictable hazelnut coffee that kept me company when I was feeling so alone and scared. I am grateful for this life lesson that there is something to be grateful for, even on the very worst of days.
  5. Express appreciation for the people in your life. Don’t keep these nice thoughts to yourself! Share them! Research demonstrates that one way to improve a relationship is to express appreciation. Doing so not only improves the relationship, but also helps combat depression. We are social beings, and reaching out to another to express appreciation helps to strengthen social relationships. Research demonstrate that social connectedness is a crucial component in preventing and decreasing symptoms of depression. So make a phone call, send a text, or send an old-fashioned snail mail letter expressing your appreciation for someone in your life every day.

 

I will be conducting a Gratitude Workshop on Tuesday, January 31st from 7:00-8:30. We will be going over these five ideas, as well as many more, to help you find creative and fun ways to incorporate gratitude into your life. You will leave with concrete materials to help you get started the next day. Let’s get started together!

Community Services

 

Ways of Staying Connected With Your Teen/Tween

It is not unusual for teenagers and their parents to have periods of difficulty getting along, when they previously enjoyed positive relationships. While nothing may have been “wrong” with the parent or child, they were having trouble adjusting to the natural, normal, and healthy changes that children go through as they work toward the developmental task of independence during adolescence. As I often address this issue in my work with families, I am interested in what can be done to protect the parent-child relationship. In my research as well as in my forensic and clinical practice, three findings came up repeatedly: 1) The relationship that a teen has with a parent can serve as a protective factor and help them to make healthy decisions, particularly in risky situations, 2) parents sometimes need help in connecting with their children during these changes, 3) ongoing communication is extremely important to maintain a positive relationship. This article focuses on ways of fostering the two factors that help tweens and teens thrive: the parent-child relationship, and communication.

 

Make a point to connect every day.

Families are so busy these days. With sports, Scouts, employment, homework, PTA meetings, etc. it is difficult to find the time to spend together. A solution is to the make the most of what is already occurring in our lives.

  • Make the most of family dinners. Studies have demonstrated a correlation between family dinners and mental and physical health in children, improved social skills, improved grades, and the avoidance of engaging in teen risky behavior, including substance use. Here are some suggestions for making the most of family dinners. http://drpeggydelong.com/ten-ideas-to-make-the-most-of-family-dinners/
  • Get the most out of travel time. You could make a family rule that electronics and ear phones are not used for short car rides. These are the times when we can learn about our children’s days and their thoughts. Also, just being together, even in the absence of words, is an opportunity to connect. These are missed opportunities when our children are plugged in and tuned out on their devices. To get the conversation going, you could purchase a conversation starter to keep in the car, such as “Tabletopics Family: Questions to Start Great Conversations, which can be purchased on Amazon.
  • Limit screen time and time on devices. Screen time, whether it is on a computer, smartphone, or tablet, can be addictive. For both parents and adults, this can not only take away from family time, but studies have also linked screen time with depression and anxiety. Resist the temptation to whip out the device during down time. We have small periods of down time during the day, and we have become so accustomed to being entertained and processing information that we feel the need to fill a void when nothing is happening. We need that down time to unwind, think, process emotions and thoughts, or just be. We need that down time to connect with our children or just BE together in the absence of distraction.
  • Check-in with your child 5-10 minutes every day at bedtime. Bedtime is a great time to check-in with our children because it is a quiet time without distractions. This could be a time to talk about your child’s day, or just lay down next to your child and be together. At bedtime, children are tired, their defenses are down, and they are more emotionally vulnerable. This can be a time for poignant connecting on an emotional level.

 

Methods of bonding and strengthening the relationship

 In order to keep relationships strong, we need to pay attention to them and spend time together. Here are some suggestions for connecting.

  • Find a shared interest. Activities bring people together, and keep them together. There may be times when it feels awkward to just “hang out” with your teen, and finding a shared interest gives you something to do together. This could involve signing up for a class together, or engaging in an activity in the home or outside together. Having a shared interest or activity provides you and your child with an opportunity to connect for a lifetime. (Cook, bake, craft, bike, walk, etc.).
  • Make mother and child bracelets. Visit a local craft store and buy elastic and glass beads in a variety of colors. The mother and child each make a bracelet for each other. Each color bead on the bracelet represents a quality in the mother or daughter that is appreciated, a memory, or favorite activity. For example, purple could represent, “I love when we walk together”, pink could represent, “I love you”. Each color and related sentiment is then written down on a card and given to the other person along with the bracelet.
  • Play board/card games. Pictionary, Taboo, and Apples to Apples are some great family games.
  • Give to others. This could be volunteering together at a soup kitchen or food pantry, or working together to collect donations for a homeless shelter, domestic violence shelter, or children in foster care.
  • Start or continue a family ritual. Read more about the importance of family rituals at: http://drpeggydelong.com/the-importance-of-family-rituals/

 

Use humor.Humor simply makes life more enjoyable, makes problems feel less daunting, and is another way to connect. So watch comedies together, purchase a joke book, or take out the old Mad Libs!

 

Show love. Find verbal and non-verbal ways of communicating your love to your child. Here are some suggestions. http://drpeggydelong.com/five-simple-things-to-do-today-and-every-day-to-show-love-for-your-children/

 

Communication.Ongoing communication is so important. When you keep the lines of communication open for the small stuff and really pay attention to your child, your child is more likely to come to you with the big stuff.

  • Keep a Mother/Child Journal. This journal is for mother and child to write back and forth to each other. Sometimes it is easier to write something than to say it, and this could help get the conversation going. Some ideas include: sneak the notebook under your child’s pillow and write a little love note, leave the notebook out with a drawing for your child for when he/she wakes up, for mother and child to let the other know that they want to start a difficult conversation, to apologize and then start a conversation, to write down a worry, and/or write your hopes for your relationship.
  • Ask interesting questions! Would you like to hear more than a one word answer from your child about his or her school day? To help get the conversation going, make your questions interesting, silly, and fun! Here are a few suggestions for when your child comes home from school. You could write these down on slips of paper and put them in a jar, and then take one or two out a day! http://drpeggydelong.com/30-questions-to-ask-your-child-at-the-end-of-the-school-day/

 

The importance of physical touch.

As your child becomes a tween/teen, there is less physical affection than the preschool years! Your daughter may not be eagerly holding your hand like she did when she was four years old. Your son may not want to cuddle like he enjoyed when he was younger. Your child is not sitting on your lap, and you no longer have a person attached to your hip! This is all part of normal development. However, as humans, we still have a need for physical affection with our loved ones. Physical affection provides a connection, and this can be particularly useful when the words are not there. There may be times when your teen/tween comes home from school, seems upset, and does not want to talk about it. There may be times when you want to express your love for your child, but the words do not come easily. These are times when physical affection can go a long way. Yet as children get older, they become less comfortable asking for the physical affection from parents that can be so comforting. And parents need the affection too! We all need physical affection in varying degrees, and sometimes it is hard for both children and adults to ask for it. Making and using a “Hug Jar” can make it fun. Here are some suggestions to write down on a piece of paper and put into a “hug jar”. Make a point to pull one out a day. http://drpeggydelong.com/the-hug-jar/

Here is a great article if you are interested in reading more about the power of physical touch http://www.heysigmund.com/the-remarkable-power-of-touch/

 

Make a point to talk about difficult topics.

Teens these days are faced with more issues and stressors than ever. In order to best help them, it is important to do regular “check-ins” to see how things are going, particularly about the use of social media. Studies show that the greatest protection against the potential harmful effects of social media is open communication with a parent (rather than parental controls or tracking systems). Talk about difficult topics on a regular basis. This makes the situation less uncomfortable when your child has an issue that they would like to discuss. So talk about friendships, bullying, social media, sex, substance use. This is one of the reasons I started The MotherDaughter Connection. These topics are difficult to bring up, and the sessions help to get the conversation going, and keep it going!

 

Allow privacy.

Your child likely has an increased need for privacy and personal space. Allow that, while at the same time, being careful for withdrawal. It is important for children to know that they have private physical space and belongings. So if your daughter has her door closed, knock before entering. If she has a private journal, do not read it. At the same time, monitor the amount of time that your child spends alone in his/her bedroom, as withdrawing and isolation are not the same thing as allowing privacy, and if left unchecked, can be harmful.

 

Foster independence and choices.

Resist the temptation to comment on choice of clothes or music. Resist commenting on his/her appearance. As long as your child is not engaging in dangerous behavior, or if you do not have a concern about a related mental health concern, resist the temptation to comment as your child tries out new interests and styles.

 

Get adequate sleep

Teens need about nine or more hours of sleep in order to function at their optimal levels, and hardly any teens are receiving this much sleep. Adequate sleep is so important to function at school and in all of their interests. Lack of adequate sleep contributes to irritability, anxiety, and depression.

 

Protect your child from social media

  • It is so important to protect our children from the potential harmful impact of social media. Social media use is related to anxiety/stress, pressure to be perfect, feeling left out, feeling not good enough, distraction from school work and responsibilities, and missing out on the “good stuff” in life. One study found that 92% of teenagers went on-line daily, and 25% reported being on-line almost constantly. Teens experience various kinds of “digital distress”, including impersonation, public shaming, mean and harassing personal attacks, breaking and entering, pressure to comply, smothering, and lurking (Pew Research Center Cyberbullying 2010: What the Research Tells Us, by Amanda Lambert).
  • Develop a contract for the use of social media
  • Check in daily with your child regarding social media use and the impact on him/her
  • Stress the importance of in-person human interactions

 

Express gratitude and appreciation.

We begin every MotherDaughter Connection session with an exercise in gratitude. Each mother and daughter thinks about one aspect of their mother or daughter for which they are grateful, or an aspect of the mother/daughter relationship for which they grateful. Then they privately share with each other. This is one way to help foster the mother-child bond.

  • It is also important to express appreciation. Yes, your daughter is SUPPOSED to do her homework. Yes, your son is SUPPOSED to take out the trash. Yes, your children are SUPPOSED to put away their laundry. Being thanked and shown appreciation, even for the expected, can help strengthen a relationship.
  • Appreciation and gratitude go a long way. Not only do they create a positive feeling in the moment, but they helps to nurture a relationship. They serve as a buffer in times of conflict by creating a sense of closeness and deeper connection. We behave our best and treat people nicely when we feel an emotional connection with them. Expressing gratitude for the person or the relationship can help foster that connection. Test it out today. What might you take for granted and not express thanks for? What small act can you express appreciation and thanks for today within your family? Take a moment to think about it, and then make a point to express it.

 

Help manage feelings.

  • Sometimes your daughter’s emotions may be running so high, that the best thing to do in the moment is to let her take a break from the conversation. You may feel calm and able to communicate clearly, but she may not be able to do so. Trying to communicate with someone under those circumstances may do more damage than good. Give your daughter some cooling off time, while communicating to her that she is not off the hook. Make a plan to talk later. You can also be proactive and be mindful of the times when your daughter may be too exhausted to discuss a meaningful issue, and avoid bringing up difficult topics during those times.
  • Sometimes the tween/teen behaviors and emotions can feel so out of control to your daughter that she says things she regrets, and behaves in ways that cause her to experience guilt and shame. When you may be feeling the most frustrated with her behavior is when she needs to feel your love the most. Her own behavior may be causing her to dislike herself and feel unlovable, and she needs you to show her that she is loved.
  • Set the example. Emotions feed off of emotions, and emotions are running high during the tween/teen years. This is completely normal! The trick is to stay calm. Guaranteed, if you react, your child will only meet that level, and then some! This is your opportunity to teach her to remain calm when trying to get her point across. Be mindful of your attitude and tone. Eventually, she will recognize the discrepancy between your calmness and her lack of calmness, and she will slowly begin to match your level.
  • Here are some more suggestions for getting through times of high emotion and/or conflict. http://drpeggydelong.com/supporting-your-child-during-times-of-high-conflict/

 

Have your child use an alarm clock 

  • Your child’s independence is budding. Responsibility is increasing. It is developmentally appropriate for your child to set his or her own alarm clock to get up in the morning by the time he/she enters middle school.
  • If your child has difficulty waking in the morning, or is not in the best of moods, the use of an alarm clock has the added benefit of your child not becoming angry with YOU for waking him or her. When that happens on a repeated daily basis, that can be damaging to the relationship.

 

Expect unpredictability and change!

During the teen and tween years, children are discovering themselves. They are discovering their interests, and testing things out on a daily basis. This is normal and healthy. If you expect it, you may be less surprised by it, and less likely to comment on it. Give your child the time and space to explore without verbal or non-verbal judgment.

 

Avoid criticism.

The quickest way to destroy a relationship is to criticize. This is not to say that you cannot address your child’s grades if they are not up to ability, or address any other concerns. However, it can be done without using words that are perceived as critical. Remember that how you speak to your children becomes their inner voice, a favorite quote of mine from Peggy O’Mara. If you would like to read a great article on the subtleties of critical words, read this. http://www.handsfreemama.com/2015/11/03/bridging-the-gap-created-by-waves-of-criticism/

And after that, here are some suggestions for positive words of encouragement: http://drpeggydelong.com/encouraging-words-to-use-with-children/

 

Nip disrespectful behavior in the bud.

Nothing can be more damaging to a relationship than disrespectful behavior. Ever hear the saying, “We teach people how to treat us”? Well, it is true, and there will be times when you need to teach your daughter that disrespect will not be tolerated. Everyone has his or her own perception and definition of what constitutes disrespectful behavior. If it feels disrespectful to you, do not let it go. Stop the conversation, point out the behavior and how it made you feel, and firmly tell your daughter that disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated. This is so important, because once you allow it, it will happen again, and over time, it can intensify.

 

Don’t take things personally.

Your child is developing new interests of her own, and this may include a new interest that does not have anything to do with you anymore! It may also interfere with a time when you are used to being together. It is normal and healthy for children to be focused on peer relationships and spending time with friends. Try not to take her interest in other things as rejection. Once we begin to take things personally, we feel hurt. In return, as parents, we may consciously or unconsciously pull back and create more space in the relationship than is healthy. A result is that we may be emotionally unavailable to our children when they need it the most. Remember that during times of difficulty and when she may seem to be rejecting you, she needs her mother more than ever, not less.

 

Develop your own interests.

As your child is developing his own interests separate from you, this can be a time for you to develop your own interests. Maybe take that photography or pottery class that you’ve been interested in. Get back in to a hobby or craft that has been neglected. Join a book club or walking group. If you live in the area and would like to join my weekly women’s walking group, please sign up through my website to learn of the day and location of our walks. http://drpeggydelong.com/services/community-services/

 

Share ideas with a trusted friend or professional.

  • Regularly check in with a trusted friend who has children of similar ages. While not violating your child’s privacy, you can discuss general parenting issues and learn that you are not alone in the challenges of parenting a teen or tween. Make a point to spend time with a friend who leaves you feeling good and uplifted after spending time together, and not one who leaves you questioning yourself or feeling “less than”.
  • Check in with a professional. Mental health professionals are available for time-limited parent consultation. You do not need to make a commitment to long-term psychotherapy or have a mental health problem in order to seek the support and guidance of a mental health professional. We all need support in parenting, and sometimes a neutral person who is not a family member or friend can be most helpful.

Six Suggestions for Limiting Screen Time

Managing children’s use of technology/social media/screen time is an ongoing battle. Studies have demonstrated that the use of technology affects the reward center of the brain. When children receive “likes” on social media, this reward center is activated.  http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/12/health/social-media-brain/ So it is no wonder that children (and adults) become addicted. Children simply need adult guidance and limit setting when it comes to electronics use. Unfortunately, that often leads to parent-child conflict, less satisfaction in parenting, and tired and weary parents!

Here are six simple ways to limit screen time without the need to micromanage your child. When these become “family rules” that all must follow, it takes the pressure off of you. If it helps, create a visual list and post them around the house as reminders.

 

1.During dinner time, keep electronics off of the table. In addition, wherever the electronics are, turn them to silent mode. Nothing can zap your child’s attention than hearing the notification that a text or message came through. And nothing makes children feel less important than work when a parent checks work emails during dinner time. It can all wait until after the family meal. Finding the time to get the whole family to sit down for a meal together is hard enough! Don’t miss out on the opportunity for family interaction. For some additional ideas to make the most out of family dinners http://drpeggydelong.com/ten-ideas-to-make-the-most-of-family-dinners/

 

2. Avoid using electronics in the morning before work/school. The morning routine of getting the children ready for school and ready for work should be focused on family. Using technology involves intrusion – intrusion of responsibilities, to-do lists, social problems, scheduling problems, and problems of the world – into your sacred family time. When parents reach for the smartphone or other electronic device in the morning, they are no longer being present with their children. Parents and children can be having a peaceful morning with family, then see something upsetting in an email or post on social media, and immediately the mood in the home is negatively impacted. Here is a wonderful article by HandsFreeMama that beautifully describes the transformation when families make a conscious effort not to go on their devices in the morning. http://www.handsfreemama.com/2015/10/07/break-this-habit-to-create-more-time-goodness-in-your-day/

 

3. No screen time an hour before bedtime. Instead of screen time before bed, instill some family rituals. Keep them simple and short in time, so that you are more likely to stick to them. (Read a book together, do MadLibs, play a quick card game, etc.). If you are still not convinced that this is important, here is a great article discussing the negative impact of the use of technology on children’s sleep. http://qz.com/823439/british-researchers-confirm-that-screens-are-seriously-messing-with-your-kids-sleep-jama-pediatrics-meta-analysis-shows/

 

4. Keep technology out of the bedroom, for children and adults. Just as technology affects relationships in the morning, it affects relationships at night. A smartphone has no place when a couple desires quiet time and intimacy. When parents keep smartphones out of bedrooms, they set a positive example for children to follow. This is particularly important for children, as they need as much sleep as they can get. One study found that that 23% of children reported that they “almost always” wake up in the night to check or post on social media. There was a significant correlation with feeling tired, and this affects children’s overall sense of well-being. In addition to disrupting sleep, this can lead to mental health issues, as excessive social media use has been associated with mental health problems in children. You could have a family electronics charging spot for all devices in your kitchen. If your child uses the reason that he or she needs the device as an alarm to wake up in the morning, go out and buy an old-fashioned alarm clock! For more on why not to have devices in bedrooms http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/parents-kids-smartphones_us_5600226fe4b0fde8b0cef8f3

 

5. Resist the urge to use technology during “down” time. We have small periods of down time during the day, and we have become so accustomed to being entertained and processing information that we feel the need to fill a void when nothing is happening. We need that down time to unwind, think, process emotions and thoughts, or just be. We need that down time to connect with our children and just BE together in the absence of distraction. So resist the temptation to whip out the smartphone while in the waiting room at the doctor’s office or while on line at the grocery store.

 

6. Get the most out of travel time. You could make a family rule that electronics and ear phones are not used for short car rides and other modes of transportation. These are the times when we can learn about our children’s days and their thoughts. Also, just being together, even in the absence of words, is an opportunity to connect – maybe just sing to the radio together! These are missed opportunities for connection if our children are plugged in and tuned out on their devices. Also, remember that it is not going to harm them, but it is important for children to feel “bored”. In the absence of conversation and electronics, your child may complain about feeling bored. This is a good thing! Boredom allows the mind to wander and fosters daydreaming. Some of children’s best thinking occurs when they allow their minds to wander. We deprive them of this opportunity when we allow them to constantly fill down time with an electronic device. For a list of some interesting conversation starters to keep in your car, or make up your own… http://drpeggydelong.com/30-questions-to-ask-your-child-at-the-end-of-the-school-day/

 

Supporting Your Child Through Times of Conflict

The tween and teen years include times of high conflict. Children are still learning to manage their emotions and behaviors. Their brains are still growing, and they often act impulsively, often without consideration of others’ feelings and the consequences. This is all part of normal development. How you respond to this has an impact on the parent-child relationship. The following suggestions are being made to help you maintain a positive relationship and connection with your child, particularly during the most difficult and trying times.

 

Be Mindful of Your Attitude and Tone

When you use a calm tone with a non-judgmental tone, you are less likely to be perceived as a threat. Let’s say your daughter is asking you to go to a party at a new friend’s house, and she is asking to stay out later than usual. If you ask, “Who is this girl, anyway? I’ve never even heard you talk about her before. Why do you want to stay out so late?” you will likely be met with resistance. Your daughter will likely perceive you as a threat to her wishes, and that you do not trust her. Instead try, “I’m happy you have a new friend. Tell me about her and what you like about her. What do you think is a reasonable time to come home that we can both agree on?”

 

Set the Example

Emotions feed off of emotions, and emotions are running high during the tween/teen years. This is completely normal! The trick is to stay calm. Guaranteed, if you react, your child will only meet that level, and then some! This is your opportunity to teach her to remain calm when trying to get her point across. Eventually, she will recognize the discrepancy between your calmness and her lack of calmness, and she will slowly begin to match your level.

 

Nip Disrespectful Behavior in the Bud

Nothing can be more damaging to a relationship than disrespectful behavior. Ever hear the saying, “We teach people how to treat us?” Well, it is true, and there will be times when you need to teach your daughter that disrespect will not be tolerated. Everyone has his or her own perception and definition of what constitutes disrespectful behavior. If it feels disrespectful to you, do not let it go. Stop the conversation, point out the behavior and how it made you feel, and firmly tell your daughter that disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated. This is so important, because once you allow it, it will happen again, and over time, it can intensify.

 

Show Respect

In order to receive respect, we must show it. Yes, our children deserve our respect too. We cannot expect them to show us respect when they do not know what respectful behavior looks like, especially during times of conflict. So respect her feelings, ideas, and when appropriate, her privacy and personal space.

 

Apologize

Pay attention to when you have let your emotions get the best of you, and you have behaved in a way that leaves you feeling badly. Apologizing to your daughter when you have “lost your cool” teaches her that her feelings matter to you, and teaches her to have the courage to apologize. Your apologies will also provide her with a model for words and behavior when she needs to apologize.

 

Be Patient

Sometimes your daughter’s emotions may be running so high, that the best thing to do in the moment is to let her take a break from the conversation. You may feel calm and able to communicate clearly, but she may not be able to do so. Trying to communicate with someone under those circumstances may do more damage than good. Give your daughter some cooling off time, while communicating to her that she is not off the hook. Make a plan to talk later. You can also be proactive and be mindful of the times when your daughter may be too exhausted to discuss a meaningful issue, and avoid bringing up difficult topics during those times

 

Communicate Love

Sometimes the tween/teen behaviors and emotions can feel so out of control to your daughter that she says things she regrets, and behaves in ways that cause her to experience guilt and shame. When you may be feeling the most frustrated with her behavior is when she needs to feel your love the most. Her own behavior may be causing her to dislike herself and feel unlovable, and she needs you to show her that she is loved.

 

Listen

There will be times of high conflict where there simply is no immediate resolution. Emotions will need time to calm down, or maybe some research into the problem needs to be done, or your daughter may not even want a solution but rather to be hears. This is especially true in this day and age when there are so many digital distractions. So delay making dinner, put down the phone, stop folding laundry. Look your daughter in her beautiful eyes and really listen to her. When you listen attentively to the small stuff, she will be more likely to come to you with the big stuff.

 

Physical Touch

Physical touch is so important for connecting with others. Physical closeness can help daughters manage emotional stress (1). Also, when conflict levels become high, physical touch, through a hug, the stroke of an arm, can help repair emotional damage and increase feelings of connection. See my website for creative and silly ways of giving and receiving hugs. http://drpeggydelong.com/the-hug-jar/

 

Avoid Criticism

The way we speak to our children becomes the way that they see themselves. Out of everyone in the world, the one person whose approval means the most to her, even if she does not show it, is her mother. Avoid commenting on her hair, clothes or make-up, her choice of music, her body, her weight. The world can sometimes be a cruel place with others making comments about your daughter’s appearance and interests. If she has a problem that she is working on, such as her weight or biting her finger nails, avoid pointing it out, and instead let her come to you for support and guidance.

 

Get Enough Sleep

We all have decreased impulse control and less ability to manage emotions when we do not get enough sleep, and teenagers need more sleep than adults. Sufficient sleep will help her to problem solve, see another person’s point of view, and be better able to manage her thoughts, feelings, and words during times of conflict.

 

  1. Sharing the Burden: The Interpersonal Regulation of Emotional Arousal in Mother-Daughter Dyads. Emotion.

Parents, Remember to Take Care of Yourselves :)

Yes, we are parents, and our goal is to love and care for our children to the best of our abilities. But so often we forget that in order to do that, we need to take care of ourselves! This essay is less about parenting, and more about YOU.

Make lists. Sometimes parenting can feel overwhelming. It is helpful to break down what you need to accomplish into lists. I suggest making three lists. One list is what you absolutely must accomplish today. The second list is what can wait, but still needs to be accomplished within a week or two. The third list contains your long-term goals. Organizing your tasks into lists helps organize them in your mind, makes them appear less daunting and overwhelming, and the best part – provides a sense of accomplishment when you can cross them off!

Accept help. Ask for help. Sometimes parents decline offers for help because they do not want to appear as though they do not have it all together. Get over this thought! If someone offers to drive your child to an event, accept the help! It does not mean that you are any less interested in your child or less organized, or whatever thought you might be telling yourself that is preventing you from accepting help. For many, it is even more difficult to ASK for help. When you feel yourself inclined to decline help or reluctant to ask for help, think about what thoughts you are having. Likely, they are thoughts of self-judgment. Accepting and asking for help does not make you any less of the strong, loving parent you are. On the contrary, recognizing when you could benefit from help is a strength. It may be helpful to remember that we cannot truly give of ourselves to others without judgment if we cannot receive help without judging ourselves.

Get hugs. Hugs are a form of non-verbal communication of care and compassion. Hugs strengthen connections. Hugs send the message, “I love you”, “I care about you”, “You are not alone”, “I know this is hard”. With touch, we feel more connected, more understood. Hugs come with a physiological response to stress. Physical contact has been demonstrated to increase oxytocin. Oxytocin reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and improves mood. People who hug often and receive warm physical contact have the highest levels of oxytocin. So hug away. And if you are looking for a creative, silly way to incorporate hugs into your family relationships, create a hug jar http://drpeggydelong.com/the-hug-jar/

Be/do for others what you want/need from others. If you are feeling lonely and would like some attention, give attention. If you are in need of a friend, be a friend. If you want a hug, give a hug. If you want/need love, give love. When we give what we want/need to others, paradoxically, we receive.

Be kind to yourself when dealing with guilt. Guilt can serve a positive function to keep us on our toes and help us to give our best effort. But guilt is counterproductive when it leads to feelings of self-doubt, and constant self-criticism and self-judgment. It is natural for parents to experience some guilt. We want to do the best for our children and for them to be happy. To help cope with guilt, remind yourself that it is not healthy to try to make sure that your child is ALWAYS happy. This will deprive your child of developing his or her own coping skills. Also, when experiencing guilt, you can ask yourself a few questions.

  • Did you try hard? If the answer is yes, make a conscious effort to let the guilt GO! If the answer is no, this uncomfortable feeling can serve as a motivator to deal with the issue differently next time, or to serve as a motivator to seek any help that you may need now.
  • Was your heart in the right place? If so, let it GO! We cannot always control outcomes, even with our very best intentions.
  • Is the situation out of your control? We often have guilty feelings for situations that are completely out of our control. This is sometimes the case when parents are temporarily or chronically ill. In addition to feeling crummy due to being ill, parents add unnecessary guilt to the feeling crummy by all of the things that they THINK they should be doing. If the situation is out of your control, let it GO! If it is uncomfortable yet within your control, acknowledge the guilt, let it serve as a motivator to address the problem, make a list of simple ideas to address the problem, act on them, and let it GO!

Friends! It is so important to have social outlets and experience deep connection with other men and women. Fostering friendships can be difficult when we are busy raising children and taking care of the home. But it is so important to create the time and energy for friendships. Friends listen, empathize, provide comfort, and show compassion. We need opportunities to express ourselves, to share our thoughts, concerns, frustrations, and to laugh! Men and women sharing and expressing themselves with others produces oxytocin, resulting in reduced stress and improved mood. So if you already have close friends, make TIME for them. If you do not have the friend support you would like, you could begin to address this by joining a local moms group, book club, church group, local women’s group or men’s group, or sport.

Share experiences with others with common interest or concern. Parenting is challenging enough, but when we have a child with special needs, or are struggling with an issue or concern, it can be helpful to be a part of a group. This provides the opportunity to seek and share ideas, resources, and information. This also provides the opportunity to receive support from others who share a common issue, concern, or perspective. This group may or may not include your close friends, as this group provides a different kind of support.

Seek professional help if necessary. Sometimes, people view seeking professional help as a sign of weakness, when it really is a strength. Truly, it is a strength to acknowledge that help is needed, and then to seek that help. This is another time when self-judgment can prevent you from obtaining the help you need and being more fulfilled in parenting. So if your child is struggling with academics and homework is affecting your relationship, find a tutor. There are inexpensive alternatives, including high school students. If your child is struggling with anxiety or depression, or social issues, seek mental health support. Here is some guidance regarding when to seek mental health support. http://drpeggydelong.com/some-guidance-regarding-when-to-seek-mental-health-services/

Know where to go for help with school. We encourage our children to get the help that they need in school and to know who to go to for that help. As parents, we also need to know where to go for help. So check in with your child’s guidance counselor/school counselor and see what specific help and support is available within the school setting. Your child may not necessarily need that help, but knowing that it is available and how to access the help can be comforting.

Self-Care. As parents, we sometimes lose a sense of ourselves. It is important to find, foster, or create what makes us unique, and what feeds our soul. It is not selfish to pursue your interests. On the contrary, doing so will help you to feel more fulfilled as a PERSON, which in turn helps with more loving, caring, and patient parenting. If you do not have a passion, think about your interests and find/discover/create one. If you already have a passion, do not feel guilty about engaging in your passion. If you have an old, neglected passion, give it life again! Hobbies and leisure activities reduce stress, enhance the immune system, improve self-esteem, elevate mood, improve sleep, and improve physical health. Some ideas include yoga, bicycling, pottery, painting, dancing, meditation, walking, music (sing in choir or play in a band), gardening, martial arts, reading, knitting, golf, needlepoint, glasswork, writing, swimming, scrapbooking, cooking, baking, sewing, beading – just to name a few!

Breathe. It is important to SLOW DOWN, be still, and just breathe. If your mind is racing, the to-do list seems overwhelming, the tasks seem daunting, the problems seem unsurmountable – these are all indications that it is just time to take a break and a moment for yourself and just breathe! It sounds so simple, as we breathe without even trying or noticing! But when we take a moment to focus on deep breathing, we experience physical and mental health benefits. Focused deep breathing increases oxygen, slows heartbeat, and lowers blood pressure. Deep breathing helps to achieve the “relaxation response”. In addition to the physiological benefits, the relaxation response helps to decrease stress and anxiety. So put on some soothing music, sit in a comfortable chair, and just breathe! Deep, focused, intentional breathing. Sometimes it is the most simple act that can have powerful results.

When Positive Affirmations Don’t Work: What You Can Do Instead

We hear so much about the power of positive affirmations. Yes, positive affirmations and positive thinking can really be helpful for some, if not most people. But for others, repeating positive affirmations can backfire, especially for people who may need it the most!

One study published in the Journal of Psychological Science found that people with low self-esteem actually felt worse after statements such as, “I am a lovable person” and “I am intelligent.” On the other hand, when allowed to consider the negative thoughts about themselves, they were in a better mood!

For some, when the positive affirmation contradicts their negative self-perception, they negative self-perception become stronger rather than weaker. In other words, saying a positive affirmation when they really don’t believe it only strengthens their negative view of themselves. This is not to say that positive affirmations are useless for these individuals, but they are best utilized with a professional who is trained and skilled in cognitive psychotherapy. But even within that context, they simply are not useful for all people. There is nothing wrong if this is you! You simply need a different approach!

So, what to do….

One alternative is to acknowledge the negative thought instead of fighting it and challenging it, because for some, fighting it only gives it more power and strength. Identify it and acknowledge it, and then behaviorally commit to goals and values. In other words, engage in positive behaviors that go against the negative thought that are more in line with what one wants out of life.

So, how….

A large part of this is mindfulness. What is mindfulness? It is a state of openness and focus. A focus on the experience in the moment. And don’t worry – mindfulness need not be meditation! Many people have difficulty with meditation. There are so many fun and creative ways to practice mindful living without meditation.

Mindfulness is incorporated into a type of professional treatment called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). With ACT, mindfulness can be broken down into different areas. This includes:

  1. “Cognitive Defusion”. This involves a letting go. A letting go of unhelpful and unwanted memories, thoughts, beliefs.
  2. “Acceptance”. Accepting that these negative thoughts and feelings will exist, and allow them to come and go without giving them much attention or energy.
  3. “Being Present”. Being engaged in the present moment. Live in the here and now with openness, and without judgment.
  4. “Values.” ACT involves being in tune with what values are important to you. Some questions include, “What do you want others to remember you for?” “What really matters to you?” “What makes you feel alive?” “How do you want to spend your limited free time?”
  5. “Committed Action”. Then… act on those values! How are you going to get there? What steps can you take? The mindfulness skills learned in ACT can have a powerful influence on individuals’ lives. Painful memories, negative self-statements, and unhelpful thoughts have much less power and influence. They can be used to treat anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress, chronic pain, and substance abuse, among other issues.

In addition to reducing problematic symptoms and improving life satisfaction, mindfulness:

  1. Reduces judgment of self and others
  2. Increases self-awareness
  3. Creates emotional stability
  4. Fosters self-compassion and compassion for others
  5. Produces a sense of calmness and peace
  6. Helps to be more connected to self, people, and the world
  7. Reduces reactivity to unpleasant experiences.

Fortunately, there are many ways that you can practice mindfulness, and the methods are varied so that you are likely to find some that suit your interests, time constraints, and daily schedule. So if positive affirmations and other methods of positive psychology have not worked for you, incorporating mindfulness into your life may be a different approach that suits you.If this sounds like something you would like to pursue, I am offering two workshops to help you get started. One is on Monday, October 24th, and is dedicated to “Fostering Gratitude”. There are so many ways of practicing gratitude for more mindful living, that this deserved its own workshop. The other is on Tuesday November 15th, “Beyond Meditation: Creative Mindfulness Exercised for Adults and Children”. Information and registration at http://drpeggydelong.com/services/community-services/

gratitude

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Wood, J., Elaine Perunovic, W., & Lee, J. (2009). Positive Self-Statements: Power for Some, Peril for Others, Psychological Science, 20 (7), 860-866.

The Clown Wig

THE CLOWN WIG

The Clown Wig. When I was in high school, my father used to wear this goofy multi-colored clown wig. Back then, I was mortified when he would wear it around me, especially in public, and ever more so when my friends were around. I never imagined that this silly clown wig would teach me so many life lessons. Since my father’s passing in 1994, this clown wig has unexpectedly become special and significant. These are the lessons I know my father would want me to have. Although he is no longer physically with me, his life lessons live on. I keep a photo of him wearing this clown wig in my wallet as reminder to live by these lessons in order to help me to have my most fulfilling life, and to pass these lessons on to my children.

  1. Self-Care. My father wore this wig during times when he was taking care of himself. He received much attention and many laughs when he wore it during the crowded 80s ski weekends. But he also wore it when he skied in solitude on the empty trails at Jack Frost on Wednesdays. He took every winter Wednesday off and headed to the mountains to ski, regardless of the weather. He had an emotionally draining job as a psychiatrist, and he needed this time to refuel and feed his soul. He always took care of his family and his patients, but he also made self-care a priority. The mountains provided this for him, and his goofy clown wig accompanied him. He told me before he died that he felt most at peace when he was on a chairlift, breathing in the cool mountain air. Two weeks later after he told me this, he had a sudden heart attack on a chairlift. Although he was not wearing the clown wig when he passed away on that chairlift, my family was comforted knowing that this is where he felt most at peace.
  2. Be goofy. I learned through my father wearing this silly clown wig not to take life too seriously. Not to take myself too seriously. My father was the goofiest person I have ever known, and it is this characteristic that my family misses dearly. He was known for his goofiness and putting others at ease. He didn’t need a clown wig to make you feel comfortable, important, and loved. However, the clown wig was an extension of his personality that was just so fitting, and you could not help but smile around him.
  3. Do not care what others think. I’m still working on this one, but each day, I get a little closer to living my life this way. To me, not caring about what others think is true freedom. When my father wore the wig, he did not care about being judged. In fact, when he wore it, it was almost as if he were professing this. I think you get to an age where you learn that other people’s opinion of you really does not matter, as long as you are not hurting anyone. My father certainly reached that point, and each day I am getting closer. I keep the photo in my wallet to remind me to get to that point sooner!
  4. My teenagers will survive my embarrassing behavior. When I was a teenager, I waited on long lift lines at Big Boulder ski area with my ski friends hundreds of times, and my father was either on line in front of me, or behind me. The lift lines were so long back in the 80s. Hardly anyone was on the slope, because everyone was on the lift line! So several times I day, I had to pretend that I did not know the crazy man wearing the clown wig! However, that was unsuccessful, because everyone knew my dad, and they knew I was his daughter. I was so embarrassed by that wig! And he would sometimes wear it while he was jogging around my high school track on his Wednesdays off, during the school day! Despite my embarrassment, I survived. I don’t think that I do anything quite as embarrassing for my children. So I know that they too will survive whatever silly, embarrassing behavior I engage in. Funny thing is, this very “embarrassing” behavior is what others still remember about my father, 22 years after his passing. Yet it is not with sympathy for me that I had a father whose behavior embarrassed me, but rather with fondness and endearment.
  5. Enjoy life. In addition to being goofy, the clown wig reminds me to slow down a bit and enjoy life. To make the most out of every moment, whether I am standing on line at the grocery store, or carrying out mundane tasks such as doing the dishes or doing the laundry. Wearing the clown wig is one way that my father made the most out of life. Although with his winning personality he did not need any help, the clown wig often instigated smiles from others and resulted in conversations with strangers.
  6. Life has beautiful twists and turns. I never imagined that this clown wig would be what made me realize that my husband and my father met, long before I met my husband. After my fiancé died, my mother’s and father’s presence and comforting conversations were a huge comfort to me. My father helped me to process my grief, and he also tried desperately to convince me that one day, when I was ready, I would find love again. I was saddened that my father was not alive to witness when this did indeed happen, and that he was not alive to walk me down the aisle when I got married. However, I was so comforted to learn that my husband had the opportunity to meet and know my father before he passed away. When my husband and I first started dating, he noticed that the clown wig was in the dining room of my childhood home. He asked about it, and I informed him that this was the crazy clown wig that my father would wear on Wednesdays while skiing at Jack Frost, and on weekends at Big Boulder. While Jack Frost and Big Boulder are “sister” mountains, I did not know my husband back then because I was at Big Boulder on weekends, while my husband was at Jack Frost. During that time, my husband was a ski instructor at Jack Frost, and he was also there on Wednesdays. So like other regulars, he spoke to the man in the clown wig and shared pleasantries and laughs. My husband did not know that the clown wig skier had a daughter, and he never imagined that years later, he would be marrying her. I am so grateful that because of this silly wig, I know with certainty that my husband and late father spoke to each other. If not for this wig, they may have never conversed with each other, and if they by chance had, I would not have any definitive way of knowing. Looking at the clown wig, I am amazed at its powerful emotional significance, as well as how life has beautiful twists and turns that we simply cannot understand or predict.

Thank you, silly, goofy, profound, exquisite clown wig. Thank you, Dad.

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