Six things all children need

When I was in school, I had many professors teach about Abraham Maslow. He had a huge impact on psychology and many of his theories and studies have become the foundation for much of the work that we do with clients. One of his theories on motivation stated that we, as humans, are motivated not just by rewards or unconscious desires. He stated that we are motivated to achieve certain needs. What came of this idea was dubbed the hierarchy of needs. It’s basically a food group triangle but instead of grains, vegetables, and fruits, we have biological/physiological needs, safety needs, and love/belongingness needs among others. This makes a lot of sense to me seeing as how it would be difficult for a person to achieve intimacy with a friend or loved one if that same person is hungry (actually hungry- not skipped lunch hungry) or hadn’t slept in 2 weeks. Children operate much in the same way I think. The only difference is, children require care; they don’t come out of the womb ready to survive and take on the world all by themselves. After the bottom tier of the needs hierarchy is “achieved” (being fed, clothed, and kept warm), the 6 things that all children need sort of get all mashed together into one, large tier until they grow up.

The first thing all children need is acceptance. Acceptance by parents is the basis for forming a positive relationship from which they are able to learn to like and accept themselves. You can show acceptance through simple gestures that may seem mundane but often have a significant impact on children. For example, separate the deed from the doer. Looks like this: instead of “you are a bad kid”, go for “you made a bad decision”. See the difference?

Next may seem a bit obvious- Attention and love. Attention, along with acceptance, is what a child needs to feel loved, and is what is important for developing rapport with your children and positive feelings about self. As most of you parents may know, children WILL get attention- whether good or bad, they’ll get it. Their style of seeking attention and learning what gets them that attention will become a part of their self-image. Spend time with your child. It’s about quality, not quantity. Try this: ignore the unwanted behavior and praise, praise, praise the wanted behavior. I know, I know- you can’t ignore a kid taking a Sharpie to the wall. But take time to notice the little things your child does. Think about it. Nobody really pays a whole lot of attention to the child who’s sitting quietly, playing nicely, or uses good manners. It’s the kid who’s rowdy, out of control, or talks back who gets the attention. Tell your kid how awesome it is when they say “thank you” or “yes ma’am/yes sir”!

Next is security and safety. Yes, this is on Maslow’s original hierarchy of needs, but it looks a bit different with children. Assuming that the child already has “safety”- as in a roof over their head, no tigers chasing them, and not living in the streets of a post-apocalyptic city- boundaries and clear expectations are what we’re talking about here. Children need to know where you draw the line. Now, it is completely developmentally appropriate for children to push those boundaries- it’s what they are supposed to do! But parents, it is SO important for you to stand firm. The second that you allow a behavior that was once against the rules, your child now knows that you can be pushed past that old boundary. And trust me, it’ll only get worse from there. If your child doesn’t know where a boundary is, then there’s really no point of it being set. Make your expectations clear and consistent!

The forth thing all children need is understanding. Communicate. Listen. Get on their level and demonstrate interest and mutual respect- this encourages each of you to express your feelings and opinions openly and without fear of rejection. This includes problem-solving with your child. If your child comes home from school sad and looking dejected, your first instinct might be to call the mother of whomever did this and chew her out. But sometimes all kids need is your presence. Sit down next to your child and let them know simply that you care- “Oh man Sarah that must’ve really hurt your feelings. I’m so sorry honey.” You may sit in silence for the next 30 minutes but YOU ARE PRESENT. And that’s what is important.

Next is discipline. Create structure in your home by determining appropriate expectations. Much of what goes into discipline aligns with providing safety and security. Make sure the punishment fits the crime and stay consistent; not only with the punishments, but also between parents. Easiest and most common way to manipulate parents? Figure out which one will let you get away with the most and only ever ask that parent for permission. Your children can put a wedge between you and your spouse very quickly- unwittingly, of course.

Finally, children need values. Values are one of those subjects that are not easily taught in a lecture type setting. Can you imagine sitting your child down with a Power Point behind you and saying “Today I am going to teach you about kindness.” No! Values are best taught through what we call experiential learning. Your children watch what you do. So next time you’ve dragged little Billy to the dry cleaners with you and they have lost all of your clothes, try your hardest not to snap completely. Instead, opt for calm, cool communication to resolve the matter- your little Billy will learn that biting the dry cleaner’s head off in a fit of rage doesn’t get your clothes back. But being polite and respectful might get you a refund and payment for the amount of what your clothing costs. When it comes to teaching our children values, actions often speak louder than words.

3 things every parent of a teenager needs to know

If you have ever looked at your teenager and thought (or even said out loud) “what the heck were you thinking?” then you know how utterly bewildering it can be to get on the same wavelength as your child. We all know that teenagers can speak an entirely different language than adults (think “bae”, “basic”, “yolo”, and “I can’t even”) and it’s completely normal to have difficulties communicating with your teen, much less understanding them. So, in attempt to alleviate some of these difficulties, I have come up with a few tips and guidelines to surviving your child’s teenaged years.

  1. You don’t always have to be the fixer. I realize that for most of you, this goes against every fiber of your being. You want to help your child. You want to save them and shield them from the evils and hurts of this world. You want to call that mean girl’s mother and chew her out. But the bottom line is this: unless the problem is a legal one or involves the safety of someone, then you don’t always have to fix it. Sometimes all your teen needs is a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. If your teenaged daughter comes home after being dumped by her boyfriend who is now dating her ex-best friend, you’d be shocked to realize the power of simply sitting down next to her and hugging her tight. I can almost 100% assure you that she doesn’t want you calling his parents, talking to her ex-best friend’s parents, or telling her what you think she should do. There is power in simply saying “I’m so sorry that happened to you. That must’ve hurt so much.” And sometimes that’s all they need.
  2. Empathize! Think back to when you were a teenager… would you ever want to go back to that time? Most of us wouldn’t! Yes, there are probably a lot of great memories from that age, but mostly it consisted of drama. Friends who backstab, heart-wrenching break-ups, prepping for try-outs, stress over grades and sports and homecoming and prom dates and cotillion and pimples and college applications and SAT’s… get my drift?? Every so often, it may be helpful for you to put yourself in your teenager’s shoes to get some perspective. You may not be able to understand why your teenager locks himself in his room after school until it’s time to eat but when you were 17, did you want to hang out with your mom or dad while they helped with little sister’s homework? That’s not to say spending time together as a family isn’t important- just be thoughtful when picking your battles.
  3. The harder you try to control your teen, the more push-back you’ll get. Parenting is a constant trial and error game of kite flying. My dad eloquently perfected this analogy. When you let a bit of string out, it may take a moment for the kite to stabilize before getting straightened up and flying strong. Sometimes, you have to reel the line back in a bit (or a lot) for the kite to catch wind and show you that it’s ready for more line. Get it? In reality, you have never truly controlled your child. If you had then there would’ve been no sleepless nights, no tantrums in the middle of Bering’s, and no arguments over when she gets the car. Ultimately, your teen is going to make his own choices. You can control the encouragement, consequences, love, support, and guidance that you give your teen. Keep your expectations crystal clear and there will be no room for “how was I supposed to know that?!” or “but you didn’t tell me that!”

Identifying Passions, Behaviors, Motivations and Interests

The holiday season is typically NOT a time where we allow ourselves the “space” to sit back and think. Why do we do the things we do?  What makes my child behave that way? What motivates my colleague? What interests me enough to pursue it as a hobby, college major, or job. NOPE. It’s the time where we push all  of these questions to the back burner of our minds and think, “I’ll deal with that when I have time.”  Newsflash: two weeks off from school, a couple days away from work, and a more flexible schedule (that is, when you’re not traveling!) is exactly the time to consider these things.  This year, I’m offering some office hours for feedback sessions during the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s  to accommodate people who’d like to come in to receive their feedback while they’re away from work or school.

It may seem like a daunting task to approach questions like those above.  Five years ago, I was faced with some tough questions regarding myself: where to work, who to marry, and how to interact with my family.  Then the Birkman…

Oh, the Birkman (short for Birkman Method assessment).  It’s a  298 question (250 true-false, 48 multi-choice) that you take online whenever you’d like (home, office, vacation, etc) and should take about 30 minutes to complete. The results available immediately after completion and are then sent to me for report preparation. The questionnaire is translated into over 20 languages and, yes, we offer Skype sessions for feedback. There are dozens of report formats for individuals, pairs, and groups. These options make the Birkman a great tool for exploring a college major, switching careers, pre-marital or marital counseling, family counseling, and “figuring out” what makes your relationship with your teenager or spouse thrive or plumit.

What I once thought was just a couple of pieces of paper telling me more about my personality has turned out to be so much more.  I’ve utilized my own results to land a stable career at Heritage Behavioral Health Consultants, marry a man who I can communicate and be vulnerable with, and connect with my sister in a way I never thought possible. If you’re willing to make the time to invest in this tool, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Call us today (713-365-9015) to receive a quote for your assessment and schedule a feedback session. Spots for the holiday weeks are limited.

Couples Therapy 101: Staying jolly through the holiday season

Let’s face it-the holidays can be very overwhelming once you become an adult. Gone are the carefree days waiting for Santa the night before Christmas, now you worry about how you are going to pay for all of it. Christmas is now filled with finances, time crunches, crazy holiday shoppers, and for some the worst – the in-laws are coming to stay over! The holidays are filled with extended family and extended family can be a touchy and emotionally charged subject for many couples. Hey, you may LOVE your family to pieces and cannot wait to spend the holiday with them, but your spouse…not so much. You may LOVE your spouse’s family but an extended amount of time with them can drive you to madness. It can be difficult to determine the best way to deal with your frustrations around the relatives and many times those frustrations can be projected onto your spouse. This can put an additional strain on your relationship at a time when stress levels are already high. So, what are the best ways to stay jolly through the holiday visitors and ensure you are able to enjoy your spouse during the season? Try these tips to ease the holiday stress and make sure the memories from this season are the best yet!

  • Give them a break: If your relatives are the ones visiting make sure you are communicating in advance about all the details of the visit. If you have activities you would like to enjoy while your family is in town let your spouse know. Be specific about the activities that are most important for you to enjoy with your spouse and give them a break on some of the ones that are not. If you enjoy shopping with your parents and you know your spouse hates it—give them the day off. Suggest he or she do something they enjoy doing. This will take the pressure off of you to enjoy shopping and your spouse will come back renewed after enjoying a break.
  • Change your expectations: Your partner’s family is likely not going to change. If you’re expecting that one of these years a family much like your own will walk through the door, you are setting unrealistic expectations. Embrace them for who they are and hold on to the fact that they created the person you spend your life with – they have done something right!
  • Set boundaries: Discuss what has been a touchy area in previous visits and find a middle ground. You are a team so you need to present a united front. Respect your partner’s boundaries and understand that this may be a difficult time for them.
  • Remember it’s temporary: This is just a short season and they will be gone before you know it. Soon enough you will be free to enjoy your home and your spouse again. Dwelling on the negative will only make the time go by slower.
  • Have FUN and share it: So you love to play golf and your father-in-law has never tried it. Set up a tee time with him. It’s a lot harder to be unhappy when you are doing something you love. People appreciate it when you take the time to share with them something that you enjoy and even if he is not into it – you’re still on the course! Enjoy! He may just enjoy it too.
  • Fight Fair: So you are trying your best but something a relative did has you all worked up. Remember to communicate this with your spouse without attacking their character or family. Attacking their family can be just as bad as attacking them directly. Voice your opinion about the direct behavior that is bothering you. Behavior can be changed but character is much more difficult and words are not easily taken back. Don’t let this one holiday set you up for a disastrous year!
  • Catch the holiday spirit: Be thankful for family-there are many out there that wish they could have one more holiday with their annoying cousin, hyperactive nephew or weird uncle. Life is short-make memories that will last.

Disciplining Your Child: The importance of presenting a united front

As a parent, how many times have you heard the phrase “But Mom/Dad said I could” after telling your child “no”? Adolescents and teens alike are suspiciously well-adept at the art of manipulation. No, that doesn’t mean that your child is some kind of sociopath- it’s what they are supposed to do!

Children develop healthy identities and values by pushing the limits; this enables them to identify and distinguish between right and wrong. That being said, witnessing your child test the waters can be infuriating. Not to mention the sinking feeling of wondering if your spouse is even on the same planet as you are when it comes to discipline. Presenting a united front is one of the most important lessons to learn when disciplining your child, especially when they are young.

Because little ones are typically black-and-white thinkers, children around the age of six and under are easily confused when only one parent enforces the rules or if consequences differ between each parent. Six year olds do not do well with mixed messages! This black-and-white thinking leads them to the conclusion that one parent is “right/good” and the other is “wrong/bad”. In a home where children constantly hear the phrase “just wait until your father gets home”, who do you think the bad guy is? What about a home where Dad is only about playtime and Mom is the only one to enforce rules or consequences? No parent wishes their child to favor one parent over the other, but it’s only natural for a little one to pick playtime parent over time-out parent. Think about it- if a two year old can figure out that screaming in public can get her that giant cookie, then you can bet a six year old knows which parent will be more likely to give her what she wants, when she wants it. Fortunately for me, my parents learned this lesson pretty quickly… my attempts at pitting my parents against one another in order to get what I wanted worked for about a week before they put an end to it.

As for older children, the importance of being a team in the discipline arena becomes less about presenting a united front and more about modeling appropriate ways to handle disagreements. Imagine this scenario:

Teenaged daughter: “Mom can I go to the party at Sarah’s tonight?”

Mom: “Sure honey.”

Dad (simultaneously with mom): “No way.”

What typically happens next? Mom and Dad erupt at each other in front of the daughter? Daughter begins frantically negotiating? Mom and daughter team up against Dad? If this all sounds familiar, here’s what I have to say: Do NOT miss this opportunity! This is your chance to show your child that you two are a team- teammates may disagree but they strive to work together for the win.

By presenting a united front when it comes to discipline, you’re one step closer to ensuring that your child will not only grow up knowing that Mom and Dad can’t be manipulated, but also being witness to healthy communication habits. The last thing the two of you need is a six year old who’s scared of the one parent who enforces consequences or a teenager who knows (or thinks he knows) how to work the system.

Peaceful (School) Mornings…

Did you read the title of this and chuckle to yourself thinking…

  • “Yeah, right. She’s probably writing this from a beach chair in Tahiti.” (I wish!!!)
  • “She should try living in my house. We live in the real world.”
  • “She probably doesn’t even have school-age children.” (I do- 2 of them.   And 2 dogs. And a cat. And a tortoise. And a husband. But I digress…)

Your kiddos have likely been in school for about a month. If mornings in your house are anything but peaceful, hang on!! There is help and there is hope. Let’s reclaim peace- even on school mornings.

I like lists, so I’m going to give you a handy dandy, practical list of tips get your (school) day off to a great start.

  1. Understand that “leave time” and “load time” are two entirely different times. Read that again and really think about it. It differs for each family depending on the age/stage of each child, but typically “load time” is 5-7 minutes earlier than “leave time.” Give this a shot- it’s a game-changer, I promise!
  2. Eliminate morning clothing drama. This applies to uniform and non-uniform wearing children. The night before school, work with your child to lay out everything he/she will need for the next day. This includes all clothing, accessories, special sports/band equipment, shoes, etc. that they will need the next day. A plastic tub at the foot of the bed or in the closet works well for storing all of the morning necessities. And…the golden rule: NO mind-changing the next day!
  3. Think about food. Have your child decide what he/she will eat for breakfast the next day. Set out the dishes, cereal, etc. Have the milk/juice poured in cups in the fridge. Have lunch boxes pre-packed the night before with perishables ready to add from the fridge in the morning.
  4. Get backpacks loaded and ready to go the night before. Check with each child to be sure that all homework is finished and in the proper place in the binder. Check for any notes or forms that need to be signed and returned, locate library books and any “special” items that need to go to school the next day…you know, “special” things like four items that begin with the letter Q and fit into a brown paper lunch bag, the class pet, show and tell items, the science project with jars of growing mold,etc.
  5. Gather everything that will need to go into the car (backpacks, sports equipment/uniforms, gym bags, snacks, cell phone, purse, car keys, work bag, etc.) and put it in a central location (at my house this is usually on top of the kitchen table because a) it is big enough for all of our junk and b) the puppy hasn’t figured out how to pull stuff off the table and eat it…yet!).

A few final tips and tricks to restore peace to your rushed mornings:

  • Stay off all electronics in the morning (parents too!)
  • Plan to arrive 5-10 minutes early and use the extra time to play a game of I Spy, listen to a favorite song, ask Siri some goofy question, etc. This sure beats shoving the kiddos out of car and telling them to run to beat the tardy bell!

Remember that you are very likely dealing with “morning people” and “night owls” living in the same house. Be sensitive to personal preferences in the morning…and please don’t try to talk to me before I’ve even poured my first cup of coffee!

10 Ways to slow down and tell your children, “I Love You”

It is crazy how quickly the lazy days of summer can turn into the mad rush of summer camps, play dates, and activities. Since children spell love T-I-M-E, here is a list of things you can do to slow down and say, “I love you.”

  1. Pull out an old photo album and tell the kids funny stories about when they were little.
  2. Have a water balloon fight.
  3. Play a board game.
  4. When you are having a conversation, put down your phone and really listen.
  5. Lay in the grass and find animals in the clouds.
  6. Turn on some music and have a dance party.
  7. Turn off the screens (tv, phone, computer, tablets, etc.) for a set amount of time.
  8. Run through the water sprinklers.
  9. Have a make-your-own mini-pizza night. Everyone will be in the kitchen together while making their own dinner.
  10. Laugh with your kids.

These ideas might be simple, but these are the type of things that your children will remember when they grow up. In fact, this blog entry is rather simple and short because I was too busy laughing and spending quality time with my children. And that’s a good thing.

The Anxious Athlete: Practical Techniques to Help Alleviate Your Child’s Fear

Every parent of a child who competes in any sporting event has most likely witnessed some level of pre-game jitters. Sports anxiety isn’t just for the professional athletes, especially considering the emphasis that our culture places on success and competition. That’s right, kids are more than just a little susceptible to pre-game pressure. This nervousness can either be channeled as a driving force of motivation or as a paralyzing numbness they can’t seem to shake. It’s important to remember that at least some degree of nervousness before and during a sporting event is completely normal. But, if the anxiety gets out of hand, there are a few strategies that may be helpful to alleviate the stress. Three of the simplest exercises associated with sports related performance anxiety are visualization, mindfulness, and breathing.

We’ll start with the easiest of the three- breathing. I know this sounds like a suspiciously simple solution, but when you help your player learn how to exhale effectively, you may be surprised at the outcome. Sports psychologists call this “performance exhaling”. Teach your child to experience the relaxation response that accompanies an intentional exhale. This technique can be useful in situations both on and off the field and can be practiced nearly every day. Once your child is able to associate the intentional exhale with relaxation, he or she can apply it during a game as a part of settling into the batter’s box or while approaching the free throw line.

This next technique involves visualization. Have you even been lining up a putt while thinking “don’t hit it left, you hit it left last time, don’t hit it left”? Chances are good that you ended up hitting it left. Think about it- the only information your brain was getting was left, left, left. Teach your child to 180o those thoughts and visualize what they DO want to do, instead of what they don’t want to do. When the night before the big game comes, encourage them to focus on and actively visualize not just hitting line drives, but the specifics of what goes into hitting that line drive: where the ball hits the bat, head down, elbow in, and “squishing” the bug with their back toe. Encouraging your child to visualize the positives, or what they would like to happen, also offers them that mental training that no amount of time in the cages can accomplish.

The third technique for reducing your child’s pre-game anxiety is mindfulness. I realize this concept sounds a bit “new age-y” or possibly too advanced for a younger child. I assure you- helping your child develop mindfulness in age-appropriate ways is an excellent strategy for regulating any emotion, including pre-game jitters. For most of the older kids, the act of being mindful involves not just intentional breathing and visualization, but being actively aware of these experiences. Encourage your child to pick a moment before a sporting event. This can be breakfast the morning of a big game, loading up on the bus before heading to the stadium, or crossing the white line while running out onto the field. This is the moment that all the tension, all the anxieties, all the fears get put on the back burner and focus is turned onto the task at hand. The act of narrowing down the field of focus can result in your child reaching a peak-performance state, or what pros call “the zone”.

Helping to ease your child’s sports related anxiety can be achieved in a lot of ways. Sometimes, a child may only need a reassuring smile to feel better before the big game, and the best way to get to know the needs of your child is by creating and maintaining open communication. Whether you’re raising a 6 year old athlete or a 16 year old athlete, helping to reduce the pre-game jitters using these techniques will instill in them personal coping skills that will last a lifetime.

The “Yes, please” marriage

Back in college I overheard a friend say, “Can you pass me that?” to her new boyfriend. His response changed my life for the better. He told my friend that his parents had a wonderfully loving and respectful relationship until the day his father died. His mother and father always said “please” and “thank you,” even for the little things. His parents knew that their efforts were not taken for granted – they knew that they were a team working together – and this was the foundation for solving disagreements in a loving marriage. My friend’s boyfriend then said that he would always say please and thank you to the woman he chose to date and ultimately marry. Then, he asked my friend if she was willing to do the same for him? She said yes.

I was raised to say please, thank you, and all the other polite southern niceties. But this was a whole different way of thinking about it! I was completely taken aback by the concept of moving “please” and “thank you” from a polite custom to a demonstration of true appreciation. I thought about how we are so good at being polite with our acquaintances and co-workers, but often forget about the people we choose to have in our lives – our close friends and family, significant others, or spouses. At that moment, I decided that I would incorporate this into all of my relationships. I decided that I would be mindful of expressing my appreciation each and every day to the most important people in my life.

I added this into my life and got wonderfully positive results – demonstrating appreciation is contagious! People love to hear that you appreciate their efforts and often respond by passing it on to others. Years later, I began dating my husband, and I know that my marriage is considerably stronger because I overheard this conversation.

Note to the friends I overheard: Thank you for affecting my life and marriage in such a positive way. I appreciate you and your friendship. I hope y’all have a wonderful 16th wedding anniversary!

Strike Outs, Air Balls, and Dropped Passes: How to Help Your Kids Fail Successfully

These days organized sports are everywhere you turn – especially if you are a parent. Citing a study by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, ESPN has reported that over 21 million kids between the ages of 6 and 17 participate in league sports.  That’s a huge number! And the actual number is probably much larger when you consider kids under the age of 6 and those participating in unreported leagues. Given those numbers, it’s a safe bet that your children participate, to some degree, in organized sports – and that’s great! What’s not great is that helpless, gut-wrenching feeling you get when your child buries his face in his glove after letting a ground ball roll between his legs, watches the third strike fly by, or kicks what could be the game winning field goal only to have the ball sail wide left by inches. Think about how you feel when you see this happen. Is your child going to feel 100 times worse? Is it going to phase your child at all? Failure is an inevitable part of any sport- it’s what you do with your child’s failure that matters.

Every child will react differently to failure. Knowing your child’s temperament is the first step to helping her fail successfully. Some kids step off the field after playing a terrible game and their only thought is “Should I get a purple or a blue snow-cone?” Others will harp over mistakes for days. Although it is important to let your child know that you’re there to support and encourage her (win or lose), a kid who takes failure really hard may need more than that.

If you really want your child to be successful both on and off the field, teach him how to fail in a positive way. This means channeling that failure in positive directions so that it is seen as motivation and feedback rather than as a source of shame and doubt. Even as adults, we know that the fear of failure can be paralyzing. If a child is obsessing over “not messing up” while she’s at the free throw line, her mind is in the wrong place. If your son stands at the plate worried about striking out, the chances are great that he will.

Many children involved in competitive sports place high expectations on themselves.  They daydream about hitting the game winning homerun, throwing the game winning touchdown, or dunking on their weary opponent. When children don’t actually meet their expectations, they come down hard on themselves and lose confidence pretty quickly. Sound familiar?? Teaching these kids to view failure in a different light can vastly improve their sense of self. After all, mistakes are just learning opportunities in disguise. Once your child learns to accept that mistakes happen even on good days and to great players, she will be more able to stay composed and “shake it off” without feeling beat up by the failure.