Archive for October, 2012

Are You a Good Loser?

Monday, October 29th, 2012

“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.”  -Vince Lombardi

A week from tomorrow, on Election Day in America, there will winners and losers galore. Many people will be happy but just as many will be disappointed and upset. The same thing happens over and over (although certainly not with the same price tag) every day, every week. Countless contests flood the television channels, and prizes are awarded in our schools, in athletic events, in the arts world, and on the world stage, each declaring someone a winner and someone a loser. What values do you hold about competition? What lessons are we teaching our children, consciously or not, about how to interact with others when they are on the “other” side?

More than four decades after his death, the famous Green Bay Packer coach, Vince Lombardi, is one of America’s most recognized and remembered sports figures. I have been pondering the question of just how well are we doing at living up to his most famous credo–the one that says it’s not so important whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.

In my work with couples and families, no subject is out of bounds. Last week, I spoke to a family where the teenager stopped speaking to his parents because of what happened when they were watching one of the presidential debates. The mother, a staunch believer in her particular political party, was yelling at the television. She was calling one person a liar, a cheat and a scumbag. Her son asked the mom to be quiet so he could listen. A huge fight ensued that left everyone upset.                      

Does this sound familiar? How many households witnessed the same fireworks, or worse? Or perhaps during the World Series or the Super Bowl? It is one thing to be passionate …

10 Tips to Help My Child Overcome Fears and Phobias

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”                             -Eleanor Roosevelt

We know from the previous blog that a certain amount of anxiety is a necessary part of life, but what do we do when fear begins to rule someone’s life? And especially if that someone is our child?

Short of getting professional help or using medication, what tools can help build more strength and resiliency to face common fears and phobias? What’s the best way to help our children move forward in a world that will always have dangers?

My Child Is Afraid of the Dark–Is That Normal?

Monday, October 15th, 2012

“Men fear death as children fear to go in the dark; and as that natural fear in children is increased by tales, so is the other.”  –Francis Bacon

Young and old, child or adult, fear is one of our companions in life, and we should be glad that it is. Our brains are hard-wired to notice signs of danger and to alert us to take protective action. A certain amount of anxiety can actually enhance our performance in stressful situations. Certain fears go hand in hand with childhood. Others don’t.

Key #1: Know what is normal given your child’s age.

There are a lot of fears that are part of the normal process of child development. Most come and eventually go away on their own as kids get older. For example, babies startle at loud noises and are afraid of large unfamiliar objects. At around six months, your formerly easy-going baby will suddenly be afraid of strangers–which can unfortunately include grandparents if they don’t see them much. Stranger anxiety often peaks, then will seem to disappear, only to reappear again and again over the course of the next year.

Separation anxiety is another normal developmental milestone that can appear suddenly at around eight months. It is a good sign that your baby is smart enough to realize that his or her survival depends on you, which is why the baby screams like crazy when you try to leave them with a babysitter. Although stressful for parents, babies naturally move through this stage by having the painful experience–and the reassurance of you and other caregiving adults–of how you come and go and come back again. Practice and repetition is how we learn to confront our fears.

Preschool kids, aged 3 to 6, are typically afraid of the dark and often worry about monsters, ghosts or wild animals. They hear noises in the night and want to sleep near or with their parents to feel safe and protected from these imaginary beasts.

As kids get older, they typically develop more realistic fears such as anxiety about being sick or injured, or the …

Lessons from Lars and the Real Girl for World Mental Health Day

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

I was thinking about how to celebrate World Mental Health Day today. If I could make a wish that might make the world better for people suffering from mental illness, what would my wish be?

I’m not sure why but my thoughts landed on the ways that mental illness has been portrayed in TV and film. What if we could spread the word about the lessons from the 2007 film, Lars and the Real Girl

For those of you who don’t know, this sweet, quirky film is the story of a young man suffering from some obvious yet undiagnosed type of psychological disorder that gets in the way of his forming relationships with his peers. He still has all the normal desires of anyone his age but can’t muster up the courage to ask someone for a date. Instead, he orders an anatomically correct sex doll named Bianca and introduces her as his girlfriend to the puzzled community.

I don’t want to spoil the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it. What is touching about the film–and what could inspire people to see beyond a person’s apparent disabilities–is how the whole town treats Lars with gentleness and loving kindness, welcoming Bianca into the community with open arms as though she were a real girl. In order to love and support Lars just as he is, the townspeople generously include her in their daily lives and activities.

Little by little, by being accepted rather than ridiculed or shunned, Lars begins interacting more with people. Not surprisingly, he begins to join the real world of the community. Just as Hillary Clinton raised the notion that it takes a whole village to raise a child, it takes a loving community to support those among us who need extra love and understanding. That is my wish for today.

Loving Families Practice Compassion: Here’s How…

Monday, October 8th, 2012

“Your task is not to seek for Love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”  -Rumi

Everyone makes mistakes. Lots of them, big and small. Even the people you love and look up to. In healthy, loving families, parents teach kids to learn from  mistakes and keep moving forward. Unfortunately, many of us were punished or ridiculed for mistakes. We came to believe that being self-critical might help us do better the next time. This often backfires. We feel ashamed of ourselves and our self-despair and negative opinion of ourselves only grows bigger.

A growing body of research about the effectiveness of practicing self-compassion brings new light to this dark landscape. But how exactly can someone learn how to be more loving towards themselves? If you are a parent and you want to give your child the gift of self-compassion, the first step is to learn how to be more kind and gentle with yourself first. Here are some ways to practice.

First, begin by noticing the times you are most self-critical. Each of us has a voice inside that says negative things to and about us. What does yours sound like? What does it get on your back about? Does it say things like: You are so stupid. How could you have done that! You are mean and selfish and no one really likes you. You will never amount to anything. You are too fat. You are too skinny. You are lazy. You are always so insensitive. Get the idea?

It helps to write down what the inner critic says about you. It is usually a very black and white perspective. Since very few people are always selfish and never kind, it paints a one-dimensional picture of you. Sometimes just taking this first step is a big eye-opener. I have had clients come back after one week of listening to their critical voice and exclaim to me, “I would never talk to my greatest enemy that way!” or “I realized that I was telling myself …

Are You Gentle WIth Yourself? The Case for Self-Compassion in Families

Monday, October 1st, 2012

“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”   -Buddha

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”   -The Gospel of Mark

Compassion, or the deep awareness of the suffering of others coupled with the desire to alleviate it, is in our nature. It is hard-wired into the brain so that we tend to our babies when they cry, or help an elderly person cross the street, or feel sad when our family members have a bad day. It is also something that can be consciously developed. All the world religions encourage us to be more loving–even to our enemies–and to practice kindness through acts of service.

Most of us have been taught far less about the importance of having compassion for ourselves. A newly emerging set of research studies have demonstrated that having self-compassion has many benefits. These include reducing self-criticism, lowering stress hormones, increasing our capacity to comfort ourselves, increasing our resiliency in the face of life’s challenges, and helping us heal from difficult childhoods.

A person high in self-compassion sees his or her problems, weaknesses, and shortcomings accurately, yet reacts with kindness and compassion rather than with harsh judgment. What exactly is self-compassion and how is it different from self-esteem?

First, in order to have self-compassion, you need to start with self-awareness. Self-awareness is the ability to see yourself clearly. Are you aware of what you are thinking, feeling and doing at any given time? Do you know what your strengths and weaknesses are? Do you know how others see you and would describe you? People with high levels of self-compassion are not full of themselves. They are aware of the parts of themselves that they value as well as the parts of themselves that they don’t like as much.

Self-compassion is not simply high self-esteem and, in fact, has some crucial differences. The field of psychology has recently awakened to the realization that simply increasing our kids self-esteem through constant praise has actually created some serious problems in our culture.

Baumeister and colleagues summarized what are now considered the myths of self-esteem’s benefits. …

How's Your Family Really Doing?
Don MacMannis, Ph.D. & Debra Machester MacMannis, MSW are the author of How's Your Family Really Doing?.

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