8 Easy Ways to Reconnect with Your Teen

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

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The teen years are a developmental time when children begin to distance themselves from their parents and families.

This is necessary and healthy.

But sometimes the emotional distance can become too extreme and you will feel the need to reconnect.

Your job as a parent parent is not an easy one: to allow your child to grow an independent sense of self, yet remain close enough to provide support and guidance when needed.

As your teen grows in maturity and independence, keep 8 these ideas in mind to help you reconnect when the distance grows too great.

  1. Encourage appropriate independence. Teens are searching to find their own identity. This may mean making choices that you find strange or shocking, or it can mean changing rules to fit their growing autonomy. It’s importance to balance independence with behavioral expectations to keep your teen safe. A teenager’s frontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps them make decisions and allows for impulse control, is not fully formed until the age of 25, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, so try and help them when they are making dangerous choices, but allow them freedom when it’s appropriate.
  2. Recognize when your teen needs you to be closer. The teenage years can feel like an emotional roller coaster. Some days your child wants nothing to do with you, other days they talk your ear off and you feel like you can’t get a moment’s peace. When they are seeking connection, do your best to provide it, and if they withdraw again, realize that this is all part of the process of growing up.
  3. Lay off the lectures. Sometimes the fewer words that are spoken, the better. At this age, consequences speak volumes. If your teen knows she broke curfew and knows the consequences that are in place, she doesn’t need a lecture. If the problem is serious and needs to be addressed with a conversation, it helps if everyone involved is calm. Allow your teen to be part of the discussion. Even if you as the parent have the final word, teens need to feel like they are heard.
  4. Be positive, in both actions and words. When the day has ended, it should be a goal of yours to have said more affirmative words and engaged in more uplifting and positive experiences than negative ones. This is great advice not only for your teens but for other members of your family as well.
  5. Listen without judgement. It’s tempting to want to give advice or express your negative thoughts, but when your teen comes to you and wants to talk, your job is simply to listen at that moment. You’ll be amazed at how much more your child will say when you say less.
  6. Choose your battles wisely. You cannot and should not make every disagreement into an argument or fight. It is perfectly fine and healthy to change the rules as your child gets older and to reconsider some ideas of yours, and to talk with your teen about disagreements. Like in many other relationships, compromise is often appropriate.
  7. Don’t forget the power of touch. A hug or a hand on the shoulder can be a very positive way to connect with your child.
  8. Have fun and enjoy one another in ways that are meaningful to both of you.

Connecting with a teenager can be difficult; they experience the world in a different way and have a unique outlook on life. Embrace the journey, with all of its ups, downs, and crazy turns.

Keep your sense of humor and remember that, above everything else, it is the connection with your teenager that matters most in the end.

 

photo from Shutterstock



Can an App Save Your Marriage?

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

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There are apps for everything these days.

There is an app that makes fake working noises so you can secretly nap.

There’s an app to translate your baby’s cries.

One app wants you to pay $.99 to have a staring contest with a poorly drawn cartoon monkey.

Apps can help you run a marathon, stick to a diet, learn tai chi.

But can an app help or even save your marriage?

Continue reading… »



When a Pet Dies: Helping Your Young Child Grieve

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

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When your child’s pet dies, it can be a stressful and confusing time. He or she may not behave in a way that seems normal or natural, or their sadness may seem to linger for an extended period of time.

For many kids, the death of a beloved pet can bring nights of sobbing and tearful questions.

Even if the pet seems insignificant to adults, like a goldfish won at a fair, a child may feel as if their world is falling apart and mourn deeply.

On the other hand, some children appear nonchalant and unfazed about the death of a pet cat or dog. They may talk about the death in a matter of fact way and become focused on getting a new animal.

Parents may be struck by their child’s lack of intense feelings and worry that he or she isn’t crying or appearing to mourn. This can be especially true if the parents feel the animal’s loss deeply and are grieving.

Just like adults, no one child grieves in the same way as another. So whether your child reacts with nights of sobbing, pictures drawn, and an  elaborate funeral complete with a decorated box and flowers, or if he or she shows very little outward sorrow, your role as a parent is to help your child through their loss at their pace and in their unique way.

Here are some suggestions to help your child when they are grieving the loss  of a pet.

Continue reading… »



10 Simple Ways to Beat the Blues

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

shutterstock_158743448There are some days you just feel down. Sometimes you know why: a fight with a friend or spouse, financial troubles, difficulty with your kids. Other times a low mood can come out of nowhere.

But however or whenever these blue days come, it can make the entire day seem like one big long struggle to get through.

You may find yourself watching the clock, just hoping to get done with work or school, or waiting for your kids to go to bed, or waiting for your partner to come home. Time seems to drag on and on. Your energy may be lagging. It’s not depression as much as just feeling out of sorts.

There are countless ways to break out of that blue space. We’ve chosen 10 of our favorites.

The next time you have difficulty getting out of bed or you feel blah and low, try a couple of them out. We’d love to hear what you think.

  1. Reach out. When you feel low, it can seem like no one cares. That’s not necessarily true. When you feel out of sorts, it can change how you perceive others in your life. Take a moment to reach out to two or three people. Walk over to a coworker and ask how his weekend was. Call your sister up. Even say hello to the cashier at the grocery store. When you interact with people, you will feel less alone and less down.
  2. Take stock of your life. By this we mean think through what is going right and what you want to do differently. Think about positive relationships in your life. Make plans to take a class or trip. Allow yourself to dream about the future. When something negative comes to mind, acknowledge it and move on to something more positive.
  3. Do something good for your body. This could be eating a healthy meal, doing a few minutes of yoga, taking a walk or run, riding your bike, or drinking some water. Getting a massage is also a good option. Also see #9.
  4. Express yourself. Write a journal entry or a poem. Sketch. Paint. Color in a coloring book. Dance. Write a song. Sing a song! Allow your emotions and feelings to come out in any way you wish. Keep it private if you wish, or share it. Be silly or serious. Just be real and be yourself.
  5. Distraction. Sometimes one of the best things you can do to get out of a bad mood is to get involved in something that takes all of your attention. Go to a movie. Research the strange trend of coloring dogs. Find the answer to a question that’s always bothered you.
  6. Get outside. Being out in the air and sun/rain/snow/fog has an energizing effect. Try and use all your senses to experience where you are. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you feel? What do you taste?
  7. Take a shower or a bath. There is something about being clean that feels amazing. Take a long shower and enjoy how the water feels on your skin and how the soap smells. Stay in until your fingers get wrinkly if you want. If you’re a parent and have small kids around, this might need to wait until someone else can watch the kids. Having to hop out of the bath every 2 minutes to break up a fight or get a glass of milk is not relaxing.
  8. Fake a laugh. This is especially effective when doing it alongside children. In most cases, faking a laugh will turn into a true laugh. If this is too difficult, find a comedian on YouTube and laugh for real.
  9. Stretch for 3 minutes. Starting at your toes, slowly stretch every part of your body, working up towards your head. Take deep breaths. Enjoy the sensation of your body tensing and relaxing. Appreciate your skin and muscles and bones.
  10. Remember the last time you felt wonderful. Close your eyes and think about the last time you felt great. Where were you? Who was with you? What were you doing? Put as much detail into your memory as you can, including what you felt, tasted, heard, smelled, and saw. Take a few minutes to enjoy that memory.

Everyone feels down now and then, but you don’t have to stay feeling blue. Sometimes the first thing you try may work perfectly; other times it may take 3 or 4 things to begin to feel better.

If your low mood continues past a couple of days, it may be time to contact your physician to rule out a more serious illness like hypothyroidism, depression or dysthymia.

 

Photo from Shutterstock



Free Yourself Free From Anger, Hurt and Resentment

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

There’s an old parable large__12801641634about how to catch a monkey.

The story goes that if you want to catch a monkey, you put a hole in a coconut, and inside the hole you put some nuts or fruit. You tie the coconut to a tree and wait.

A hungry monkey will put his hand down the hole and grab the fruit or nuts in his fist. When he attempts to take his fist out of the hole, he finds that his fist is too big.

The legend states that the monkey becomes trapped, not because of the coconut, but because of his unwillingness to let go.

The metaphorical coconut trap is something that everyone deals with.

Do you hold on to times people have hurt you in the past? Are your feelings still hurt from painful words that were said to you? Or do you continue to agonize over times when you have messed up? Is letting go of your own mistakes difficult?

There are two people in a row boat, each one with an oar. One person feels hurt or angry, and they stop a rowing, while their partner keeps at it.

The boat moves in a circle, going nowhere.

The anger, frustration, and pain people experience keeps them from working together to move forward.

These tightly kept feelings don’t do any good. They don’t change the past, and when acted upon they do not change anyone else.

They merely keep you stuck.

Another trap that keeps people from feeling free is regret over what they did or didn’t do in life.

It’s like a cage, where they feel like they’re interacting with the world, but they’re being held back. It may feel safe to hide under anger or resentment. But the reality is that this cage keeps a person from  participating in and enjoying life.

Most people don’t even realize what it is that’s keeping them from moving forward.

They may blame their unhappiness on their bad luck or how other people treated them. Or perhaps they may understand their own role in the situation. They understand by holding on to their anger and hurt is like poison. They know they’re trapped by it, but they feel powerless. They hold on to their hurt and pain as if it’s the most important thing in the world.

For some people, holding on to their anger or pain becomes the center of their lives. It becomes the scapegoat for everything wrong, for all the missed opportunities in their life.

Most people greatly underestimate the amount of control they have over themselves. When children are young, they have a very difficult time managing their feelings. However, as people  mature, they gain the ability to recognize their feelings and decide what to do with them.

If you are holding on to a deep sense of anger, what can you do to find reconciliation?

The first step is to realize that what you’re holding on to is not helpful and is something you want to change. Then you can begin to figure out how you can get to a place of peace.

Do you need to talk your feelings out with a friend or therapist? Do you need to write a letter or have a conversation? Is it enough to decide in your mind that you don’t want to hang on to the negativity, or do you need to do something physical?

Once you are able to let go of these emotions, once you let go of the fruit or open up the cage door, you will have a sense of freedom that you never imagined.

 

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How Memorized Words Improve Your Life

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

shutterstock_154578533I was always the kid who memorized things.

When I was younger, it was the poems of Robert Louis Stevenson that I cherished. I would spend many afternoons swinging and reciting The Swing.

More often than not I would have one poem or another running through my head as I played in the woods or the creek or climbed trees. Children’s poems have a wonderful sense of rhythm and rhyme that made them easy to learn and entertaining to recite.

As I grew older my memory engulfed songs and lyrics. I always had words floating around in my head. The lyrics were a constant commentary to what was happening. If you were to ask me what music was playing in my mind, you would learn how I was feeling, what I was thinking about.

In Jr. High we had to memorize Shakespeare. Soon, quotes from Romeo and Juliet were jumping off my lips with a wonderful frequency. I challenged myself to learn Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven.

As an adult, nearly all those poems, songs, and quotes are still there. When my best friend died while she was in college, my mind went to the words of sorrow and grief, and provided me a focus for my mourning. As I put my young daughter to sleep, I sing songs I learned as a child from my mother.

I can look up a quote in seconds on my phone. Endless literature is at my fingertips 24 hours a day. It may seem as if memorization has no place in our day and age.

But I’ve found that when I’m in the midst of grief or sorrow, or trying to calm a tired child, or even trying to get my mind out of a sad or angry place, that my mind turns to the words I know by heart. Like a psalm or mantra, they center me.

The phrases that I’ve deliberately filed away in my head are always there. I use them to focus, to be distracted, to find peace and to laugh.

My mind struggles with some types of memory; I have difficulty remembering faces and names. I may be the only adult who has still not memorized the times tables. I’ve had to have gym locks cut off because I forgot their combination in less than an hour. But words…words stick with me. Words have transform me.

My memories are recorded on Facebook and thousands of unprinted photos on my Mac. But what I’ve memorized stands on its own. It lends a cadence to my life.

Memorize what you love, be it songs or poetry or a loved one’s words.

Learning things ‘by heart’ still matters, because while your smart phone may get dropped in the bathtub, or your computer might crash, what you have placed in the vast vaults of your mind will not fail you.

photo from Shutterstock

 

 

 

 



Talking With Children About Death

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

shutterstock_167842937A close friend of your child dies unexpectedly in a horrific car crash. An aunt loses her battle with cancer. The beloved cat has to be put to sleep. A parent is diagnosed with a terminal disease.

All these are examples of ways children can encounter death for the first time.

A child’s first experience of death often comes when a pet dies. For many children, losing a beloved animal can be the most intense sadness they have felt. It’s important for parents to take a child’s feelings on this seriously, and allow them to grieve how they need to.

Depending on your child’s age, experts suggest different ways of talking about death with your child.

For the very youngest of children, from infancy up to around three years old, kids cannot understand what it means to die, but they still feel the loss. For this age, focus on providing safety and comfort and love. Use simple terms to explain the death.

Preschool children may act out their emotions. Some kids become withdrawn. Others act out and become angry or destructive, or have mood swings. Children might have stomach aches or not feel good. Again, provide support and love. Encourage your child to talk about their feelings if they are able to. At this age, children may begin to draw about their emotions.

School age children have a better understanding of death. You want to be as honest as you can. If you have a belief in the afterlife, your child may find it comforting to think that their friend who died is in heaven. If the idea of life after death is not something you believe in, it’s fine to say that we just don’t know what happens after we die or that we simply don’t exist anymore. Help them find comfort in remembering their friend or loved one. Some kids find it helpful to plant a flower or tree as a reminder of the person who died.

Teenagers may react in both childish ways and adult ways. If your teen processes things verbally, he or she may need to discuss the death over and over again. Listen to them without judgement. Others may withdraw to their rooms, play loud music, or become unusually angry. As with younger kids, encourage them to verbalize what they’re feeling.

As a parent, you want to protect your children from difficult feelings and experiences. It can feel awful to watch your child grieve someone he or she loved. As someone to whom your child looks up to, you have the ability to gently guide them through this experience.

Each person grieves in their own way. Try and give your child the freedom to express their feelings of loss, but also a space for silence. It’s okay if they don’t want to talk right away. Let them know that you are ready to hear when they want to share.

If you are grieving yourself, consider reaching out to others for support, for both you and your child. Often children slip into the role of emotional caregiver. This role reversal can be detrimental to a child’s well-being. And if, at any time, you’re concerned about your child’s grief, seek help from a therapist or counselor. They can advise you on what is normal and what may need to be looked at more closely.

Talking with a child through their first experience with mourning can be challenging. You won’t have all the answers.

The most important thing you as a parent can do is to be present for your child. They will find comfort knowing that you are there to listen, to explain, and to validate their feelings.

This blog provishutterstock_11952625des a broad overview of this subject, and there are numerous excellent resources available on helping children grieve. Here are two of them.

http://www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/griefwar.pdf

http://www.pdhealth.mil/wot/downloads/helping%20a%20child%20cope%20with%20loss%20and%20grief.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

photo from Shutterstock

photo from Shutterstock



Transform Your Inner Critic

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

shutterstock_133427858Your inner critic.

Everyone has one.

Most people want to shut up, destroy, annihilate, or otherwise quiet that voice in their head that says things like, that was a stupid thing to say, or you look so fat today, you’re dumb, you’ll never get anywhere in life. I’m sure you can add your own.

Your inner critic is the voice that monitors your every act, word, and thought.

When it’s out of control, your inner critic can rule your life and ruin your self esteem. It can fill your mind with fears and worse case scenarios.

But what would happen if instead of trying to shut your inner critic up, you would listen to it? I don’t mean listen as in taking its words as true. I mean listen as hear what it’s saying, think about it, and then make your own decision whether or not to believe it.

What would it be like if you viewed your inner critic not in the sense of negative critical messages that should be dismissed, but as a cautious voice that can be helpful if its understood?

How it works is this; your inner critic makes a remark like, “You’re going to mess up this presentation.” So instead of just dwelling on the negative thinking and giving it power, you spend a couple of minutes critically thinking about it. How would I mess up the performance? Is that something that could realistically happen? If so, what can I do to fix it?

You can view your inner critic as  a negative force weighing down on you, or it can be a tool that you use to discern your strengths and weaknesses.

There are two crucial points here.

The first is that your inner critic is neither good nor bad. It points out your insecurities, strengths, and weaknesses. It’s kind of like a coach. Sometimes it can have valid points, and sometimes it makes mountains out of mole hills.

The second is that the more thought and attention you give to a particular idea or internal message, the more power you imbue it with. Dwelling or ruminating on fears is draining and can make you paralyzed with fear.

People often want to categorize their inner voice as a bad thing or a good thing. It’s like the image of an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. Fortunately, this is not the case.

The voice in our head that monitors what we’re doing is not good or bad. It’s  just a very observant piece of ourselves whose power is determined on what we listen to and dwell on.

As you listen to your inner critic today, try and hear what it’s really saying. Where is the truth? What is coming out of a place of fear or insecurity? How can you use it to grow?

One thing I’ve learned over the years as a therapist is that the world is anything but black and white. Often the things we run away from are the very things that can teach us the most.

 

Photo from Shutterstock



When Your Teen is Being Bullied: 5 Things Parents Need to Know

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

shutterstock_74330686No parent wants to find out that their child is being bullied. Yet this is a situation in which many parents find themselves, and it can be incredibly scary and confusing.

Teens are bullied over the same thing generation after generation: physical differences such as weight, acne and facial features, speech differences, mental abilities/disabilities.

Teens get bullied verbally, physically (tripping down the hall, book bumping), and through writing.

One significant difference that teens face now is the vast amount of technology available, which has changed the dynamic of bullying behavior.

Teens are attacked through social media such as Facebook, text messages are sent, photos are sent and become viral in seconds. Sexting is not uncommon.

When you were a teenager, pictures were physical. Notes were on paper. And while rumors could get around quickly, they were not recorded forever on the world wide web.

As a parent of a teen, you can make a difference when your child is being bullied.

Here are 5 things that all parents of teens need to know.

  1. When your child says they are being picked on or bullied, believe them. Your teen may act confident and happy while in your presence, but at school she may behave differently.
  2. Take action. This may be meeting with school administrators and being an advocate for your child. It may be getting him counseling. It may be brainstorming with him about ways to stand up to others if he feels comfortable with this.
  3. Know your school’s policy, and hold them to it. More than once I’ve had to write or meet with school administrators to advocate for a student. It is not your child’s job to ignore the bullies; gaining strength to deal with bullying behaviors may be something to be worked on but the school has a duty to protect your teen and make school a safe place. This could mean changing schedules, having a teen who is hurting your son or daughter attend counseling sessions, or discipline for them.
  4. Talk to your child about how she feels. Does she think about dying? Is she hurting herself? Who are her friends?
  5. Bullying can be a very serious problem for teens. A teenager’s brain is not fully developed, and what is happening now seems like it will happen forever. They feel as if the strong emotions they feel now will always be there. It is hard, if not impossible, for them to imagine a different way of being. So when they feel like they have no friends and people are spreading horrible rumors about them, they can’t believe an adult life where this is not true. So when they say they feel like their life is over, listen to them. Get them professional help.

Being a teenager has never been easy, but teens today have a set of struggles that are unique to their generation. Trying to explain to a 10 year old that a picture he posts on the internet may never ever go away is difficult. It’s our job as parents to do what we can to help them make it through these years.

We can’t protect our children from everything, but what we can do is be aware, be available, and be an advocate for them in these tumultuous years.

 

Photo from Shutterstock

 



Making the Most of Marriage/Relationship Counseling

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

shutterstock_151609376People seek marriage or relationship therapy for many reasons.

For some people, it’s because of a crisis, such as infidelity, job loss, illness or accidents.

Others come in because they feel distant and want to grow closer, or they seek counseling before they marry to sort out any difficulties and ensure that they’re ready for life together.

Some couples simply know that something feels wrong but they don’t know what, and they want to fix it.

But once you and your partner have decided to seek counseling, how do you make the most of it? Here are six things to consider.

Continue reading… »



 
 

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