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Adolescents/Teens

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Parents of Teens with Executive Function Deficiencies: How to Find Balance

By Adolescents/Teens, Executive Functioning No Comments

Parenting is a roller coaster ride for anyone, but especially if you parent a child or teenager with executive function deficiencies. There are days with the thrill of victory and days with the agony of defeat, and many days with a bit of both. Every parent desperately wants to succeed, and to guide their children toward success too. Often, the result becomes trying too hard, which seems counter-intuitive.

In her work, The Disintegrating Student: Super Smart and Falling Apart, psychologist Jeannine Jannot, cites several categories of “parental influences,” where parents have good intentions, but which can backfire when applied too intensely in the life of the family. Here are some of them:

1. Too Much Praise

Kids understand when they receive lavish, unearned, overused, or inappropriate praise. This can have a negative impact on their performance as the value of the praise becomes watered-down because kids know it has diminished value. Kids understand when they have received a participation trophy, when they didn’t do anything all that special. Rather, encourage effort and determination in tackling difficult tasks, as this will foster self-confidence as challenges will be seen as fun and exciting rather than frustrating and threatening.

2.Protect, Shield, and Shelter

Parents who rush to their child’s defense every time something goes wrong in their life, don’t allow them learn to stand up for themselves and solve their own problems. Plus, it can create a sense of entitlement and dependency on other people to intercede for them. When a negative situation arises in your child’s life, whenever possible, sleep on it, talk to a trusted friend, or write your thoughts down in a journal, in order to get your emotions centered.

3. Alleviate Stress

Many parents cannot handle it emotionally when their children are stressed or uncomfortable, even in minor ways. A common response is for the adult to alleviate the stress for their teenager, because that is what a loving parent does, as the rationalization goes.

But stress is a natural part of life and designed to aid in survival, when properly managed. From a biological perspective, the body’s stress response is quite complex. The brain and adrenal glands release the hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and epinephrine, which gives a burst of energy. The liver delivers sugar and fat into the bloodstream, then non-essential systems such as digestion and the immune system slow down, and smaller blood vessels constrict to limit blood flow in case of an injury. These are natural and healthy responses in the animal kingdom and with humankind as well.

Parents who are tempted to alleviate stress, even when the kids don’t need it or want it, can hinder their child’s physical and emotional development. They can even unintentionally sow seeds of doubt about their own abilities to handle hard situations.

4. Indulge

Parents should provide children with the things they need, such as food, shelter, clothing, and education. And they ought to try and provide children with things they want up to a reasonable point. But children who are given everything do not appreciate the amount of hard work their parents exert to achieve success in life. When something is given and not earned, there will likely be skewed expectations and disappointments as they get older.

Parents have a duty to say “no” to their child once in a while. And in the context of the family, when the kids become prioritized over everything else in life, something loses out. It might be one’s job, marriage, or even one’s own mental and emotional health.

5. Responsibilities and Expectations

If kids and teenagers don’t have chores and responsibilities around the house, then assign them. It doesn’t need to be done with a parental lecture on the philosophy of hard work attached, but just an expectation moving forward. The good habits will form quickly.

Teenagers and young adults who have little to no household responsibility may have a difficult time transitioning to living outside their parents’ home. No one wants to be the roommate of someone who refuses to take out the trash.

In her summary conclusion with regard to parental influences and styles, Dr. Jannot writes, “Decades of research support the finding that the best outcomes for our children are associated with being raised by authoritative parents who offer unconditional love” (Disintegrating, p. 98). Love isn’t base on performance, especially comparing performance to others. Nor is love without boundaries and expectations. Finding the right balance in these areas listed above is different from child to child, and will require never-ending reflection and wisdom as we raise our kids and teenagers the best we know how.

From the perspective of how our executive function coaches work with teenagers, keep the focus upon improvement, rather than perfection; reaching one’s own potential, rather than comparison toward others. And one day, hopefully, our children have grown to become independent, confident adults, content with who they are and who they are not.

Photo by Andrik Langfield on Unsplash

Screens, Teens, and Automobiles

By Adolescents/Teens, Executive Functioning No Comments

The explosion of cutting-edge technology has exponentially increased in the power of computer processing, software, and phone apps, and over the past several decades has improved life overall.  But these powerful tools must be handled with caution.  
 
Compare the technological advancement of computers and phones to the automobile.  The invention of the automobile was a revolutionary technological advancement, but placed in the hands of teenagers, an automobile can be a deadly weapon.  Statistical analysis shows that an inordinate amount of car accidents, injuries and deaths are attributed to drivers between the ages of 16 and 25 years old.  You can’t even rent a car until you are 25!  No one would throw the keys to the car at their 16-year old without specific training and licensing.  Kids and teenagers using cutting-edge technology requires similar protocol as driving an automobile; students need to be taught how to use technology responsibly so they are not hampered academically, emotionally, socially, and physically.
 
Here are some examples of the collateral damage related to the overuse of screens by teens and their effects upon the executive functioning of the brain:
 
1.     Wasted time.  Students who get lost into a gaming world, watching videos, or just reading comments on Instagram lose track of time and can waste hours in a single day.  Time management, initiating tasks, and understanding how much time is needed to finish a project are a few executive function skills with which every teenager naturally struggles.  
 
2.     Sleep problems.  According to research conducted by the Harvard Medical School, the blue light emitted from screens such as smartphones and TV monitors can interfere with natural sleep patterns because it suppresses the secretion of the hormone melatonin.  Sleep deprivation leads to a myriad of executive function problems.
 
3.     Short-term memory loss.  This is directly connected to sleep deprivation, as deep REM sleep is crucial for brain development, and for processing and storing information, even from the day before.  Focus, concentration, staying on task, and recalling important information are executive function areas that are affected here.
 
4.     Lack of exercise.  The allure of screens, which often involves sitting for long periods of time is one major factor that can cause the bodies of teenagers to atrophy, leading to obesity and other side-effects such as diabetes.  Students need exercise to keep their metabolism up, maintain strong muscles, and to relieve stress.  It is highly recommended that students take periodic breaks from studying, but then get a quick burst of exercise; even a short, brisk walk can settle and refocus the mind.
 
5.     Addiction.  Viewing screens can be highly addictive.  Numerous university studies have determined that the brain interacting with a smartphone is similar to a brain on cocaine.  In both cases we get a “high” every time a notification pops up or we get likes on our last Instagram post.  Physiologically, it’s the dopamine, the “feel-good” chemical in our brains that is released whenever we experience something enjoyable.  This is primarily connected to “time wasted” above.  But in this case, students haven’t lost track of time, rather they intentionally choose not to transition to homework or other responsibility not as “fun” as screen time.
 
For teenagers who already struggle with executive function skills, the distraction from the screens on their phones and other devices can be crippling to the more important tasks they need to accomplish on a daily basis.  Screens can be a serious obstacle to motivation, organization, time management, initiating tasks, concentration, short-term memory, and other executive function skills that kids and teenagers must sharpen in order to become successful adults.  The Dayspring Executive Function coaches will work with parents to help equip and monitor this aspect of a student’s daily life.  Managing this powerful tool successfully can be a pathway to help each student reach his or her full potential.  

How to Help Your Child Athlete Through a Loss

By Adolescents/Teens, Children, School & Academics, Sports / Exercise No Comments

Kids love playing sports. And parents love that their kids can get all of that excess energy out while learning the benefits of hard work and comradery.

But with the thrill of competition comes the hard reality: that sometimes you lose. Some children are barely affected by a loss. They are truly happy just running around on the field or court with their friends. Other children, however, can be almost devastated by a loss.

There are a few things you can do if your child seems to struggle after losing a game:

Listen

Don’t assume you know exactly what is bothering your child. Before you provide any advice, listen to how and what they are feeling so you know how best to address the issue.

Ask Questions

Some kids, especially very young ones, may have a hard time processing their feelings. They know they feel bad, but they can’t express exactly what it is that is bothering them. Consider asking questions like:

• What part of the game was the most and least fun for you?
• Were you satisfied with your efforts?
• What did you think you did well, and what could you work on for the next game?
• What was something important you learned from today’s game?

Don’t Deny Reality

There is no point in telling your child that it doesn’t matter (when it does to them) or that they did great (if they didn’t). They know the truth and if you’re denying it, they’ll have a hard time believing anything you say in the future.

Instead of denying reality, be open with your child while gently guiding the conversation toward future strategies for positive outcomes.

Don’t Try to Protect Your Child

Many parents try to shield their child from feeling any negative emotions. While you may think you are protecting your child, the fact is, disappointment and loss is a part of life. Losing a game is actually a pretty good life lesson.

Disappointment and sadness feel bad, but you don’t want to teach your child to avoid bad feelings. These feelings play a key role in your child’s emotional, intellectual and social development. It is important for your child to learn to deal with setbacks now so they don’t derail them as adults.

Avoid your instinct to “protect” your child from disappoint. Instead, guide them through their emotions and help them learn to cope.

 

If your child has a particularly hard time dealing with loss and disappointment and you would like to have them talk to someone, please be in touch. I’d be happy to discuss treatment options.

How to Boost Your Self-Esteem

By Adolescents/Teens, Depression, Self-Esteem No Comments

What does it mean to have a healthy self-esteem?

Some people think it means you are okay with how you look. Other people think you must accomplish something big in your life to have a good self-esteem.

But the reality is, having a healthy self-esteem means you like and appreciate yourself faults and all. A good self-esteem can be the difference between being a happy, resilient individual, able to face life’s challenges head on, and someone who suffers from depression and anxiety and is often overwhelmed with life.

If you have struggled in the past with self-esteem issues, there are some things you can do to give it a much-needed boost:

Face the REAL Reality

Are you someone that generalizes your lack of self-esteem? By that I mean, do you make generalities about yourself such as, “I’m an idiot,” “I’m not pretty enough or smart enough?” The truth is, we all act like idiots from time-to-time, and most human beings on this planet can find someone who is smarter and more attractive than they are.

If you’re going to work on your self-esteem, you need to first recognize that you often lie to yourself with these generalities. It may be a very convincing lie from your point of view, but it’s still a lie.

To become familiar with reality, make a list of 10 of your strengths and 10 weaknesses. If you have a hard time coming up with your strengths, think about what others have said about you: you’re a good listener, you are thoughtful, you cook a mean burger.

When you’re done making this list, you’ll see there are plenty of things you are really good at. And, some of the weaknesses may be things you can absolutely change over time and with some effort.

Forget About Perfection

Perfection doesn’t exist. Now you may think all of those Hollywood A-listers that are on the cover of magazines are the epitome of perfection, but even they are air-brushed, photoshopped and have a team of people following them around so their hair is never out of place.

Stop spending your energy trying to have the perfect face, body, bank account, career, children or relationships. None of that exists. Focus your energy on achieving attainable goals like obtaining your degree and enjoying hobbies.

Get to Know Your Authentic Self

We spend so much of our lives comparing ourselves to others that we don’t really take the time to get to know ourselves. Beyond strengths and weaknesses, who are you as a person? What makes you happy or excites you? What hobbies do you enjoy? What kind of brother or sister are you?

The more you know about yourself, the more chances that you’ll find things out you really like.

If you would like to speak to someone about your self-esteem issues, please be in touch with me. I’d be happy to discuss how I may be able to help.

How Learning Disabilities Affect a Child’s Mental Health

By Adolescents/Teens, Children, School & Academics No Comments

For many children and teens, learning disabilities are a frustrating part of life. Learning disabilities not only bring a sense of shame and isolation, but they can also lead to mental health issues in some children.

What Are Learning Disabilities?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a learning disability is any disorder of the fundamental psychological processes involved in understanding or using language. These can ultimately result in difficulties thinking, listening, reading, writing, math, and spelling.

Learning disabilities are quite common among young children and teens. According to the NCES, of the 7 million students who receive special education services in the country’s public school system, 33% have at least one learning disability. Common learning disabilities children deal with are ADHD, dyscalculia (trouble with counting and numbers), dyslexia, and others.

Learning Disabilities and Mental Health Issues in Children and Teens

While a learning disability isn’t a mental health issue in and of itself, both are closely related. When children and teens have a delay in learning, they can feel as if their academic efforts aren’t paying off. They can feel like a failure and, if their classmates aren’t sensitive, they can also feel like the butt of many jokes. This puts children and teens with learning disabilities at a higher risk of developing anxiety and depression.

It’s important that parents and teachers of students with learning disabilities look for any signs of anxiety or depression. These may include:

  • Sudden fear
  • Worrying
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Anger issues
  • Feelings of sadness and/or hopelessness
  • Changes in social behaviors (not spending time with friends)
  • Changes in appetite
  • Thoughts of harming themselves

Once any signs are noticed, parents should bring their child to a qualified mental health therapist. This professional will help the child manage their symptoms so they can better function at home and at school. Some sessions may include the parents while in other sessions, the therapist may want to work one-on-one with the child.

Many child psychologists use cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) to help children become aware of their own thoughts and feelings and then change their thoughts, emotions, and reactions to challenges at home and at school. CBT helps a child become independent and evaluate whether their thoughts and feelings or logical or distorted.

Does your child or teen have a learning disability? Do you believe this disability has caused them to develop depression or anxiety? If so, and you’d like to explore treatment options, please get in touch with me. I would be happy to speak with you to see if I might be able to help.

 

SOURCES:

5 Ways to Get Your Teenager to Talk to You

By Adolescents/Teens No Comments

It’s tough trying to get your teen to talk. Science has shown that the teenager’s brain has yet to fully develop the frontal cortex, which is the area that controls our ability to reason, and to think before we act. As your teen’s brain develops, they’re also learning new things about themselves and their surrounding world; simultaneously, they’re dealing with hormonal changes out of their control.

For all of these reasons and more, it can be difficult to find ways to talk to your teen, or to get them to talk to you. Although it’s difficult, it’s not impossible; read on to find five ways to get your teenager to talk to you.

Learn to Listen

Take the time to listen to your teenager when they want to talk. Instead of saying you’ll talk to them later, step away from what you’re doing and listen to what they have to say. Don’t talk, interrupt or be quick to offer advice; just listen. Kids have thoughts and experiences that their parents don’t know about, and the best time to listen to them is when they’re asking to talk to you.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

As you listen to your teen, your knee jerk response may be to quickly resolve their issue, offer advice or maybe even dismiss their complaints or opinions. Put yourself in your teen’s shoes; think about how you would feel if your spouse responded to you the way you respond to them.

Watch for Signs

Everyone has a desire to be heard and understood. As you talk to your teen, mirror back to them what you hear them saying. Watch for signs that they’re not being heard or understood by you. They might roll their eyes, shake their head, wave their hand at you or interrupt. When they’re nodding and/or silent, you’ll know you’ve understood.

Ask Specific Questions

Ask your teen specific questions rather than general “how was your day?” questions. Ask questions about a friend you know by name. Ask about a sport they participate in or a teacher they like. Ask open ended questions such as, “What was Mr. Burton’s class like today?”, or “What was the best thing that happened today? What was the worst thing?”

Location, Location, Location

When and where you try to talk to your teen matters. One of the worst times to talk to kids is after school. Just like you do after work, they need wind-down time. Instead, ask questions around the dinner table. It’s casual, and there’s no pressure for eye contact. The car is another great place to talk to your teen (unless their friends are in the back seat); they feel more comfortable because you’re not looking at them.

If you’re having difficulty communicating with your teenager and need some help and guidance, a licensed mental health professional can help. Call my office today and let’s set up a time to talk.

Teaching Kids Mindfulness: The Benefits and Easiest Ways to Do It!

By Adolescents/Teens, Children No Comments

“Pay attention!”

It’s a phrase that is uttered dozens of times a week (if not more) in households where children between the ages of two and 18 reside. How is it that when they WANT to, oh say when they are playing video games or watching cartoons, kids can have a tremendous attention span. But at any other time, getting them to be present is harder than getting them to close the refrigerator door!

While getting kids to pay attention can seem frustrating, there is an answer to the madness: mindfulness.

Mindful Kids are Happier Kids

Several studies have shown that kids who participate in mindfulness programs are happier. And the sooner you get kids started with mindfulness, the easier it becomes for them to develop a capacity to become calm and centered when life throws them stressful situations.

What does this look like in real life?

Well, picture how a normal 7-year old responds to a situation that is scary, overwhelming, and generally unpleasant. Say they are getting ready to take a hard test or going to the dentist. Most will become so fearful and anxious that they have a hard time being calmed by a parent or other guardian.

The 7-year old who practices mindfulness meditation knows to stop, closed their eyes, and breathe deeply to get themselves calm and focused.

The two outcomes are vastly different. That’s because meditation and deep breathing exercises actually change the physiology of the brain, according to scientists. Instead of kids reacting emotionally to a charged situation (being controlled by their emotions), children can control their impulses and reactions to that situation.

OK, but how do you get kids to practice mindfulness when it’s difficult to get them to do pretty much anything, let alone meditate!  Here are some ways you can help your kids become more mindful:

1. Help them discover their inner experience.

Spend time helping kids understand what is happening to their bodies during stressful and calm situations. Ask them to explore their emotions. The more insight they have into their inner experience, the better able they will be to control their responses to external experiences.

2. Breathe with Them

Practice deep breathing with your child. You can do it while driving or before putting them to bed at night. Share with them how to relax, slowly breathe in deeply and exhale. Invite them to feel any tension melt away.

3. Be a Good Example

Your child will not even want to try and be mindful and in control when they see you out of control. Are you one to yell at other drivers? Do you get far too angry when your dog tracks mud in the house? Does a telemarketer at dinner send you through the roof? If so, it’s time to try deep breathing and meditation yourself. Be an example. If your child sees mommy or daddy handling stress in healthier ways, they will be far more likely to give it a go.

While it will take some effort to get your kid to commit to practicing mindfulness, the results that it will bring to their life are completely worth it.

 

SOURCES:

Finding the Sweet Spot: Is Your Child Over-Scheduled?

By Adolescents/Teens, Children No Comments

Families are busy these days. Between a parent’s busy home and work life, and kids in school with after school activities, it can be hard to figure out a balance. Certainly activities outside of school will enrich your child’s life, but at what point is it adding value, and when is it pushing your family over the edge?

 

Lack of Sleep

It’s important to make sure your child is getting enough sleep. After they’re done with school and their extracurricular activity, they should have enough time to do homework, eat dinner, and get at least eight hours of sleep. If you have trouble getting them out of bed in the morning, if they’re lethargic all day or sleeping in class, your child may be over-scheduled because they’re not getting enough sleep.

 

Lack of Down Time

Kids benefit from unstructured time. Unstructured time helps them relax and decompress. It’s important to note however that screen time is not unstructured time. Time spent using electronics doesn’t relax them or help them decompress from the day. It doesn’t add stress, but it doesn’t take it away, either.

 

Your Child Acts Out When They Get Home

One of the biggest signs that your child is over-scheduled is if they come home from school and have a meltdown. When kids are at school, there’s much that’s expected from them. They have to have self-control all day, and a lack of unstructured time over the week can make them feel like they can’t take it anymore.

 

Finding a Balance

It can be difficult to find that sweet spot between a healthy number of activities for your kids, without your family having to sacrifice in other areas. First, evaluate how much time you’re spending on an activity. Include time spent at the activity, the time preparing, time spent at practice and driving to and from. Research shows that eight hours a week works best for children. Five to seven activities over the course of a year is at the top end of the “sweet spot” before extra activities start to have a negative impact.

 

Make a conscious decision to have some down time over the course of a year. Maybe pick a season not to have any activities scheduled for your children, so you can all enjoy some structured family life. Things like doing chores, helping with dinner, etc. is a boon to both children and families. Everyone benefits from family engagement.

If you’re a parent and you’re struggling or just need some support, call my office today and let’s schedule a time to talk.

Is Social Media Bad for Your Mental Health?

By Addiction, Adolescents/Teens, Depression No Comments

Have you been feeling a bit low lately, but you can’t quite put your finger on why? It may have something to do with your social media habits. According to a recent study, social media use can increase depression and loneliness.

For years people have suspected that social media use might have an ability to negatively impact our mental well-being. After all, it’s hard not to feel inadequate or jealous when looking at photos of people whose lives seem so much more perfect than ours. But now research is actually making a definitive link between spending time on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and a sense of loneliness and isolation.

It May be Time for a Social Media Detox

I encourage my clients to take a social media detox every now and then to gain a more positive sense of reality. They often report back to me that the detox offered some amazing and unexpected benefits such as:

Improved Self-Esteem

When you take a break from comparing yourself to other people, you can start to look at how great you and your own life really are.

New Interests and Hobbies

When you spend less time trying to get that social approval in the form of ‘likes’, ‘retweets’, and ‘upvotes’, you suddenly find you have a lot of time on your hands for other things.

Improves Your Mood

Trading in online friendships for real face-to-face ones makes us feel more grounded and connected to people. This can drastically improve our mood and sense of well-being.

Better Sleep

Many people are on their mobile phone in bed, checking their social media accounts. The blue light from these devices disrupts our sleep pattern. When we put these devices away, we inevitably sleep better.

Able to Enjoy the Moment More

I am a big proponent of daily mindfulness. By being present in our lives, we feel an increased sense of peace and joy. That’s priceless.

So how do you perform a social media detox?

Follow these 4 steps:

  1. Temporarily deactivate your accounts. Don’t worry, you can reactivate them again in the future should you choose.
  2. Remove all Social Media Apps and notification pathways from your devices.
  3. Use a web filtering tool to block social media sites. (Why tempt yourself?)
  4. Be prepared for some withdrawal symptoms and have other activities ready to replace the void.

If you follow these steps and take a break from social media, chances are you will find you feel a whole lot better!