Category Archives: troubled children

Helping your troubled teen after they turn 18

Helping your troubled teen after they turn 18
3 votes

Most young people aren’t ready for adulthood by 18 years of age, but your troubled teen is especially unprepared. By 18, their legal status instantly changes to “adult” and they are free to fail at life’s countless tests. Your hands are tied and you can’t keep your son or daughter safe from themselves any more.

Pace yourself for a marathon

Your job as parent is far from over.  Not surprisingly, parenting an 18+ year old will feel the same as when they were 17 years 11 months old.  They’ve been behind their peers for a long time–emotionally or socially or academically. You’ve done everything possible to get them ready for adulthood, but they simply aren’t!  For troubled teens, the teen years last into the mid-20’s or longer. And this is really scary; suicide rates across all age groups are highest for people aged 16-24.  It’s the period of greatest stress, whether the person is suicidal or not.

Many people with disorders aren’t able to take full responsibility for themselves until their early 30’s.

Over the past 16 years, I’ve asked this question of people with mental health disorders, their parents and siblings and children, and their friends:  “At what age did (you, your loved one) make the conscious choice to take responsibility for themselves: treatment, income or job, living on their own, choosing to associate with healthy people. I asked dozens and dozens of people. Their answer? Every single one told me they or their loved one didn’t turn things around until they were between the ages of 29 – 34.

True story: a co-worker once shared about his bipolar disorder and his years of substance abuse and hardships. I would never had guessed this grounded stable person had a troubled past. I asked when he turned his life around; it was 30. I asked what motivated him.  His answer? “I couldn’t avoid it anymore. I ran out of excuses. I hit rock bottom too many times.”

The questions to ponder are how much to sacrifice and how much to let go.  There needs to be a balance.

Parents have a tendency to rescue their adult son or daughter when a crisis befalls because  it’s so hard for the child to recover from set-backs.  But rescuing too much makes them more dependent on the parents (or adult siblings).  Pressuring a troubled teen to be an “adult” when they are not ready may lead to their dependence on others who might make their lives worse.  Or they’ll cope with drugs or alcohol, or risky choices, or give up.

I know of a couple in their 70’s who’d rescued their troubled 34-year-old daughter her entire life, and faced cutting her off because they couldn’t manage anymore.  They were heartbroken to let her go, painfully afraid she would become homeless or suicidal, and deeply regretful they unwittingly undermined her capacity for independence.  Don’t let this happen to you.

The first challenge is deciding where they’ll live.

As with any troubled teen, they must become independent eventually.  It may be a tough call for you:  bear the stress if they live with you? or worry when they leave your protection, possibly forever?  Ironically, your adult child must be better than ‘normal’ young people at managing life because they have so much more to worry about.  Besides the usual adult responsibilities, add self-monitoring for mental and emotional stability, taking meds or obtaining therapy, and disciplining themselves to stick with dozens of choices that support their well-being (diet, exercise, healthy friendships, education or work, financial stability…).

If your troubled teen of 18 must live at home full or part-time, change your rules and expectations. Rules can include a requirement for ongoing mental health care. Your troubled teen must transition to becoming your guest who stays at your invitation and a renter who contributes to the household and follows the landlord’s rules.  You’ll need discipline to step back and respect their privacy and (reasonable) choices and activities.  This may not be easy to achieve–you’ll make many compromises.

In the eyes of the law, you are not responsible for them anymore.

You really aren’t.  In fact, you have the right to banish your 18-year-old from your home and change the locks on the doors.  The parents who do this are usually in fear for their physical and emotional safety–not because they don’t care.  If this describes you, it’s understandable and forgivable if you feel forced into this step.  But know this, things change.  Your adult child will change; banishment is not forever.

There’s good news. Adults have more options for support.

Ironically, your troubled teen, by 18, will have more access to services than ever, and you’ll both get the support you’ve desperately needed.

  • In the U.S., people with mental health problems are protected from job/housing/educational discrimination by laws that protect the disabled.
  • insurers are required to provide mental health care on par with all other treatments and services.
  • Mental health advocacy groups support adults by offering support groups, referrals to safe housing or appropriate job opportunities, social connections with safe accepting peers, and legal and legislative advocacy.
  • Educational institutions have special departments solely for supporting students with disabilities, and that includes troubled young adults.

This is what your troubled teen needs to function after 18, listed in order of value:

  1. A constant, supportive family (that sets boundaries and asserts high-as-possible expectations)
  2. Support from peers and mentors or counselors
  3. A job or continuing education
  4. Ongoing mental health care
  5. A safe living situation

Adjust your expectations for how quickly they’ll progress.

Parents with ‘normal’ 18 year olds gradually revise their relationship with them, becoming a mentor and peer rather than a parent.  You can’t do that yet; your challenge is to flow between the role of parent, disciplinarian, social worker, and therapist until they are ready.

You can do this.  Stay patient.  Keep a bridge built.  They’ll eventually grow up.

–Margaret

 

Please rate this post and comment.  Your thoughts and experiences will help others who read this article.

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Filed under adult, mental illness, parent rights, parenting, suicide, teenagers, teens, troubled children

Calming room ideas to prevent tantrums for kids with autism or other disorders

Calming room ideas to prevent tantrums for kids with autism or other disorders
11 votes

calmroom1For those with an autistic child, it is a parent’s nightmare to face a tantrum with no way to calm them down.  That is why it is important to have a calming room or area set aside for your child that helps ease distress before a tantrum starts, or to send them to in order to ease the distress. Here are three versions of a calming room you can create to help when your child is about to have a tantrum.

The HUG room

calmroom6The hug room is popular for calming any child down, especially one on the spectrum. The hug room needs to have calming items that provide a sense of security and warmth, and a cocoon-like hug.  In this room, provide a weighted blanket or snug embracing vest (in case your child won’t lay down). Both of these are like bear hugs, which can be comforting and calming for children with autism.  Another great item to have in this space is a crash pad (used by many therapists and parents in combination with a weighted blanket), or a large or stuffed animal or pillow that the child can hold on to or hug.  You want to make sure the animal or pillow does not have parts that can be ripped off and chewed on or cause damage in another way.  You’ll also want all other items to be soft and safe to throw to protect the room or others in case your child does have a full-blown tantrum.

The SOOTHING SOUNDS & SCENTS room

calmroom4One thing that can work very well for some children, especially with tantrums brought on by overstimulation, is a room with soothing sensory experiences. In this room, block or mute outside sounds–TVs, stereos, and people walking or talking near the room so it’s as quiet as possible.  Once your child is in the soothing sounds room, you’ll need to have a place for them to relax or lay down.  You can use a bed, a crash mat, or something else they can fall asleep on or even just sit on with their eyes closed.  Silence or a soft gentle background ‘hum’  or soothing sound helps, such as  from meditation CDs, music or birds or flowing water.

calmroom3You can also try products like the Twilight Turtle which has soothing sounds and even includes a light show of constellations (also perfect for the 3rd room, below).  Noise blocking earmuffs and headphones make great additions for this room if your child needs to be removed from all noises.  These also provide a kind if ‘hug.’  You can combine them with a scent or scented toy or stuffed animals to calm your child.  Think about little pillows stuffed with lavender flowers, or an air freshener they like.

The VISUALLY CALMING room

calmroom7

  • For a visually calming room, remove overly bright colors and small points like those from a static night-light that plugs into the wall.  Instead, find something like the Tranquil Turtle above or even liquid motion lamps or light projectors with calming colors and patterns. You can also try adding black out curtains on the windows to block bright sunlight–the point is to make light easy on their eyes. Darkness may help the lights do a better job.

calmroom2

The most important thing when creating a calming room is to make sure it meets the needs of your child. Include features that are most effective for him or her. Don’t forget to exclude or remove anything that is easily thrown or could hurt your child or others or cause damage to your house.

–This article was provided by Ryan Novas on behalf of National Autism Resources.

Addendum, some other things that calm children (and adults) who are easily overstimulated:

A bubbling aquarium, or a virtual aquarium on a computer monitor

An image of a fire or the rippling surface of water, available as a CD or on a monitor

A mobile or motion toy powered by a solar cell

A clock with a pendulum

Have you discovered something that works for your child?  Please share.

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Filed under anxiety, autism, mental illness, stress, therapy, troubled children, troubled children

How to help your child cope with anxiety

How to help your child cope with anxiety
7 votes

anxiety2We all get anxious, but it becomes a “disorder” when it prevents a person from normal functioning. Anxiety and panic are very real, whether triggered by life in general or certain things such as phobias. Take it serious–it’s not something an extremely anxious child can “get over”.  Willpower alone does not work.

Anxiety disorders are also one of the most common psychiatric conditions in children and adolescents, but often go undetected and untreated. Early, effective treatment can reduce the negative impacts on academic and social functioning.

Excessive worry or anxiety about multiple issues, which lingers six months or more, can indicate an anxiety disorder. 

anxiety3Anxiety is often expressed in physical symptoms:

  • Anxious mood: excessive worry, anticipating the worst
  • Tension: startles or cries easily, restlessness, trembling
  • Phobias: fear of the dark, fear of strangers, fear of being alone, fear of animals, etc.
  • Insomnia: difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, nightmares
  • Intellectual difficulties: poor concentration, memory impairment
  • Depression: decreased interest in activities, inability to feel happy
  • Somatic complaints (muscular): muscle aches or pains, teeth grinding
  • Somatic complaints (sensory): ringing in the ears, blurred vision
  • Cardiovascular symptoms: tachycardia, palpitations, chest pain, feeling faint
  • Respiratory symptoms: chest pressure, choking sensation, shortness of breath
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms: difficulty swallowing, nausea or vomiting, constipation, weight loss, abdominal fullness
  • Genitourinary symptoms: frequent or urgent urination, painful menstruation
  • Autonomic symptoms: dry mouth, flushing, pallor, sweating
  • Physical behavior: fidgeting, tremors, pacing
  • Other: risk of abusing alcohol in adolescence, cutting and other self-injury (not suicidal)

Cutting

Physical pain reduces psychological pain by shocking a person’s attention into the here-and-now.  Like a glass of water thrown into someone’s face when they are upset, the shock overrides inner turmoil, and releases adrenalin and endorphins.  It’s stimulating, even energizing.  According to statistics from research, cutting becomes addictive after about 14 episodes.

anxiety6True story: Laurel, age 14, cut herself regularly on her fingers, preferring to cut under her fingernails.  She hid the cuts and scabs with nail polish.  Her father eventually learned about this and asked her why: “I feel more calm because the sting feels good and distracts me.” A therapist recommended that Laurel draw “cuts” on herself with a red pen instead of a knife, and also wear a rubber band on her wrist or fingers and snap it when she wanted to feel a sting.

It is common for cutters to hide their scars or scabs under clothing if they think you will try to stop them, or they will cut in a place you won’t see unless they are unclothed.  They may also make an excuse about an injury if you do see visible cuts.  You can look for unexplained blood on clothing.  Don’t be afraid to ask if they are cutting; many young people have freely ‘confessed’ when asked.

Treatment for anxiety

anxiety5anxiety4A child or teen will often be diagnosed with more than one type of anxiety disorder, in addition to a psychiatric disorder–30% of all anxiety cases include a diagnosis of depression and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), in combination with antidepressant medications “have consistently shown efficacy for anxiety disorders in children and adolescents.” Many anti-anxiety medications on the market are addictive, so a doctor or psychiatrist will be very cautious about prescribing them except on an as-needed basis. Treatment must also include parent involvement, especially if the parents are also anxious. In the case of cutting, allow your child to cause themselves pain that is harmless, for example:  hold tightly onto ice as long as they can, smell vinegar, taste hot pepper.  These may sound strange, but they are effective techniques used in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) to help an anxious person tolerate stress.  You find out more about CBT and DBT here:  Therapy types explained – DBT, CBT, CPS, and others

How you can help

  • Validate or affirm your child’s feelings. If he or she is worried, fearful, upset, or distraught, don’t insist they should not have their feelings, regardless of the reason. You can let your child know that feelings are normal and it’s OK to have a little fear at times.
  • Reduce their dependence on you. Help them learn to cope by offering less reassurance, which can undermine their commitment and skills for coping. Messages that “everything will turn out OK” teaches them that you will help them through all fears, but they need to learn that they can get through fear on their own.
  • Avoid helping too much. If you try to protect your child from all harm, it prevents them from becoming independent and keeps them socially immature; traits they need to learn in their teens. Learning and maturing require that kids handle challenges on their own by confronting small anxiety hurdles along the way.
  • Model how to cope*. A parent’s anxiety greatly aggravates their child’s anxiety.  If you are anxious, tell your child how you plan to cope with it. For example, “Sometimes I feel nervous when I have to climb a ladder, but I just need to take a deep breath, be careful, and do it. If I get too nervous, I can always climb back down, and try it again later.”

* Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D. “Anxiety: Three Messages to Avoid Giving Kids”

anxiety1Escape plans

If your child is in a situation where they are experiencing severe distress, always have an escape plan or an “out” so your child can leave the situation as quickly as possible. Prepare yourself ahead of time so you won’t feel inconvenienced when it happens, and accept this as part of their treatment needs.

  • This reduces anticipatory anxiety when they are exposed to stress, and teaches them how they can manage themselves on their own. This is also a teachable moment when you reinforce self-calming skills.
  • This builds trust in you and a willingness to listen to your guidance. (When I did this consistently, my child grew more comfortable in similar stressful situations.)

Don’t forget to take care of YOU and your foundation

Keep your energy in balance so you can maintain your family's foundation.  Too much spent on your child affects everything else your family needs to survive.

Keep your energy in balance so you can maintain your family’s foundation. Too much spent on your child affects everything else your family needs to survive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’ve found ways to reduce your child’s anxiety, share them in the Comments section for others to consider.

–Margaret

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Filed under anxiety, cutting, mental illness, parenting, stress, therapy, troubled children, troubled children

Gun Control versus Mental Health: the Debate from a Parent’s Perspective

Gun Control versus Mental Health: the Debate from a Parent’s Perspective
5 votes

Shortly after the tragic massacre of children in Connecticut, I wrote the following Letter to the Editor to the Oregonian, Portland’s main newspaper:

normal-murderer“Tragic shootings always raise the question, “Why?”, and the response often jumps to guns. Yet guns are tangential to the problem. Those of us with a mentally ill person in our families can answer “why.” We’ve witnessed the behaviors leading to a mental health crisis. There are always signs, but many don’t interpret or take them seriously until it’s too late.

“If you have a loved one at risk of harming themselves or others, but aren’t sure if it’s serious or real, trust your gut. Look for behavior changes that are abrupt or steadily worsen over time. Listen for statements that seem out of character Pay attention to significant overreactions to events or ideas. Never be afraid to ask directly, “Are you OK?” Don’t hesitate to seek help from mental health advocacy or support groups. Whatever the cause, mental illness is treatable; there is hope, and people who can help.”

gun in knotsA couple of weeks later, a reporter from the Oregonian contacted me to help with a story on mental illness in children.  She said she wanted this important longstanding issue brought back into the national discussion.

Perhaps we have finally reached a turning point?

 

gun deaths per 100,000

Sandra Spencer, Executive Director for the National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, met at the White House with Vice President Biden’s task force on gun control to ensure that the issue goes beyond just gun control.  The following is an excerpt:

“We must deal with the real issue that children do have mental health challenges and parents don’t have support or access to services without fear of losing their children to public scrutiny, bullying, discrimination and even institutionalization. …These children, youth, and families need to know where to go, which treatment is best, and how to access community support.

“The isolation parents feel because of their children’s behavior, due to mental illness, keeps them from reaching out or even knowing who to trust for help.  There should be national outrage at the number of young people who die each year by suicide and drug abuse, or the number of children with a mental health diagnosis that go untreated, and the lengths parents go to just trying to keep their children safe and out of trouble.  This has to change in our nation before we can adequately address the need for an improved children’s mental health care system”

brain-green backgroundThe issue of gun control is important to work through, but not at the expense of mental health and the millions who continue to struggle—the families and their loved ones.  Not again.

 

Your comments are strongly encouraged.  What do other parents think?

–Margaret

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Is my teen ‘normal’ crazy or seriously troubled?

Is my teen ‘normal’ crazy or seriously troubled?
19 votes

photo8A high percentage of teenagers go through a rebellious or irrational phase that is quite normal for their age and brain development.  The difference between normal teen craziness and abnormal behavior is when the teenager falls behind his or her peers in multiple key areas.  At a bare minimum, a normal teen should be able to do the following:

  • Attend school and do most school work if they want to;
  • Have and keep a friend or friends their own age who also attend school;
  • Have a maturity level roughly the same as his or her peers;
  • Exercise self-control when he or she wants to;
  • Have basic survival instincts and avoid doing serious harm to themselves, others, or property.

photo5It is normal for teens to be inconsistent, irrational, insensitive to others, self-centered, and childish.  Screaming, for example, is normal–regard this the same as a toddler temper tantrum.  It is a phase that most teens grow out of unless something else is holding them back.

This is your challenge:  even teens with mental disorders have some normal teenage behavior traits like those listed above.  How do you tell which is which so you can get help?  Look for pervasive patterns of social and behavioral problems that are more serious, and in almost all settings.  The patterns repeat and the outcomes are increasingly worse.

photo2

Some signs of abnormal unsafe* behavior

*Unsafe” means:  there’s a danger of harm to themselves or others, property loss or damage, running away, seeking experiences with significant risk (or easily lured into them), abusing substances, and physical or emotional abuse of others.

  • If a troubled teenager does something unsafe to themselves or others, it is not on impulse or an experiment, but is intentional and planned.
  • They have a prior history of intentional unsafe activities.
  • They have or seek the means to do unsafe activities.
  • They talk about or threaten unsafe behavior.
  • There are others who believe there is something abnormal or unsafe about your child.  (e.g., your child’s friend comes forward, their teacher calls, other parents keep their children from your child, or someone checks to see if you’re aware of the nature of his or her behaviors).


photo7How psychologists measure the severity of a child’s behavior 

“Normal” is defined with textual descriptions of behaviors, and these are placed on a spectrum from normal to abnormal (“severe emotional disturbance”).  Below are a few examples of a range of behaviors in different settings.  These descriptions are generalizations and should not be used to predict your child’s treatment needs, but they do offer insight into severity and the need for mental health treatment.

School behaviors

Not serious – This child has occasional problems with a teacher or classmate that are eventually worked out, and usually don’t happen again.

Mildly serious – This child often disobeys school rules but doesn’t harm anyone or property.  Compared to their classmates, they are troublesome or concerning, but not unusually badly behaved.  They are intelligent, but don’t work hard enough to have better grades.

Serious – This child disobeys rules repeatedly, or skips school, or is known to disobey rules outside of school.  They stand out as having chronic behavior problems compared to other students and their grades are always poor.

Very serious – This child cannot be in school or they are dangerous in school.  They cannot follow rules or function, even in a special classroom, or they may threaten or hurt others or damage property.  It is feared they will have a difficult future, perhaps ending up in jail or having lifetime problems.

photo6Home behaviors

Not serious – This child is well-behaved most of the time but has occasional problems, which are usually worked out.

Mildly serious – This child has to be watched and reminded often, and needs pushing to follow rules or do chores or homework.  They don’t seem to learn their lessons and are endlessly frustrating.  They can be defiant or manipulative, but their actions aren’t serious.

Serious – This child does not want to follow rules, even reasonable rules.  They take no responsibility for their behavior, which can include swearing and damage to the home or property.  They will do and say anything to get their way.

Very serious – The stress caused by this child means the family cannot manage normally at home even if they work together.  Running away, damaging property, threats of suicide or violence to others, and other behaviors require daily sacrifices from all.

photo9Relationship behaviors

Not serious – The child has and keeps friends their own age, and has healthy friendships with people of different ages, such as with a grandparent or younger neighbor.

Mildly serious – The child often aggravates others by arguing, teasing, bullying or other immature behaviors, and friends often avoid them.  They are quick to have temper tantrums and childish responses to stress.  Or they have no friends their age, or risky friends.

Serious – The child is frequently mean or angry to people and animals, and can be manipulative or threatening, or damage others’ property.  They have poor judgment and take dangerous risks with themselves or others.

Very serious – The child’s behavior is so aggressive verbally or physically that they are almost always overwhelming to be around.  The behaviors are repeated and deliberate, and can lead to verbal or physical violence against others or themselves.

photo1If your child’s behavior falls along the spectrum encompassing Serious to Very Serious behavior, get good mental health treatment for them now and spare them a difficult future.

Pay attention to your gut feelings.

If you’ve been searching for answers and selected this article to read, your suspicions are probably true.  Most parents have good intuition about their child.  If you’re looking for ways to “fix” or change your child… all I can say is that this approach will probably not work.  You may need to work on yourself; you may need to change how you relate to your child or picture your situation.  Regardless, seek help.

photo4Early treatment, while your troubled teenager is young, can prevent a lifetime of problems.  Find a professional who will take time to get to know your situation, and who will listen to what you have to say–a teacher, doctor, therapist, or psychiatrist.
–Margaret

Your comments are welcome.

(Tell me how I’m doing. Please rate this article above, thank you kindly.)

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Filed under ADHD, anger, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, defiant, defiant children, discipline, mental illness, oppositional defiant disorder, parenting, Screaming, stress, teenagers, troubled children

52 votes

PRACTICAL Advice & INFO for Parents
You are not alone; all families go through the same struggles.
You are not guilty or a failure, and neither is your child.
You can help your troubled child
and family; others have done this.
You can start now whether or not there is a diagnosis or treatment.

Get personalized professional help that’s tailored to your situation.
Contact me
if you are interested in contributing an article.

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Animals that make good therapy pets

Animals that make good therapy pets
17 votes

Dogs, cats, and “pocket pets” like ferrets, birds, or lizards are therapeutic for children who struggle with any disability: physical, behavioral and developmental. A calm smiling dog, an affectionate cat, or a small pet they can hold is a great therapist. The right animal offers unconditional love and affection, and the right animal makes your child feel special. If you are considering animal therapy or a pet for your child, strategically pick the right animal. Measurable benefits have been seen with many creatures “ranging from dogs, cats, birds, and fish to goats and snakes.”

When finding a pet, monitor your child’s interactions when they are first introduced to the creature. Be honest with yourself, the animal you like may not be the best for your child. Hyperactive and barking dogs, biting cats, fearful hamsters, and noisy birds don’t work and can be outright stressful. Pay attention—people are often unaware how much stress fussy pets generate and how distracting and chaotic they can be.

What is the right animal?

  • The animal’s natural manner fits your child’s emotional needs.
    • Quiet–if child easily experience sensory overload;
    • Soft, active, or affectionate–traits that help a withdrawn or anxious child;
    • Interactive–if your child needs to maintain interest or needs attention: a bird that speaks, or a dog that follows instructions;
  • The animal likes to be with your child for long periods. The animal has a preference for your child.
  • Your child is able to treat the pet humanely. (Animals can be abused consciously or unconsciously by troubled children.)
  • You appreciate the animal too and aren’t concerned about mess, smell, hair, or feathers in your home. You should consider yourself the one responsible for its care. This pet is a therapist first, and not a lesson in responsibility for your child. They can learn responsibility later.
  • The child’s pet should still be welcome and cared for if it doesn’t work out for your child. If it’s not wanted, consider a rescue shelter or humane society that can find another caring owner.

Dogs

Most people are familiar with therapy dogs. Their natural affinity with humans is the reason why dogs are the most popular of pets.  And research shows dogs reduce depression and anxiety.  If you are interested in getting a puppy to train as a therapy dog, you can find instructions on how to train certified therapy dogs, and modify them to fit your home. Certified dogs need significantly more training because they can be used in nursing homes, hospitals, and schools. “How to train a therapy dog”

Birds

The parrots and parrot-like or hooked beak birds have marvelous personalities and will bond with their owner for life. These colorful birds love to perch on a finger or shoulder and spend time with people, other birds, even dogs and cats! The best low-cost option is a parakeet, which is low maintenance, happily chirpy, easily tamed, and easily trained to talk.

“Patients hold and stroke cockatiels so tame that they often fall asleep in a human lap.” Maureen Horton, the founder of “On a Wing and a Prayer” tells of “non-responsive patients in wheelchairs who suddenly begin speaking again while petting a cockatiel as their relatives weep at the transformation.” She described bringing her birds to visit a group of violent teenage delinquents who clamored to touch a cockatoo named Bela. “For a few minutes,” Horton says, “these hardened criminals became children again.”
— “On a Wing and a Prayer,” a pet-assisted therapy program, uses birds to visit patients.” Connie Cronley, Tulsapeople.com

Fish

Fish can’t be held, but few things beat the visual delight and serenity of a beautiful aquarium. Fish do have personalities and form interactive communities in a tank, which are fun to watch, and individuals are fun to name. There is a reason aquariums are common in waiting rooms and clinics, lobbies, and hospitals.  They help people relax and calmly pass the time.

“Pocket pets”

These are usually mammals that like to be cuddled and carried around, often in pockets: ferrets, mice, rats, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, and very small dogs. It is best to select a young animal that is calm and won’t bite, and handle it gently and often so that it becomes accustomed to being held. Challenges with many pocket pets include running away or escaping their enclosures, urine smell, and unwanted breeding. As the main caretaker, you will want to be comfortable with their needs.

Reptiles

Lizards are also excellent pets and demand little attention, and they are readily accepted by children. My bearded dragon, Spike, comes with me to my support groups. Dragons are a very docile species–safe with young children and popular with teens and parents. Other good species are iguanas, and geckos.

“I’d have to say my Leopard Gecko Mindy is very much therapy for me. She really is my therapy lizard, she wants to sit with me when I’m upset and tolerates me, which even my two dogs and cat won’t. She’ll just find a place on me and curl up and be like “I’m here, I won’t leave you.””
–User name “Midori”, Herp Center Network

Horses

Properly trained horses are extraordinarily healing. certified horse therapy programs are considered medically effective treatment and often covered by health insurance. Horses benefit disabled children and teens across the board: those with physical disabilities such as paralysis and loss of limbs, mental/cognitive disabilities such as development disabilities and retardation, and children with mental and behavioral disorders. The horses are selected for their demeanor and trained to reliably respond appropriately to children who may misbehave. Therapists are specially trained also to collaborate with the horse as a team. Horses have a “large” serenity and a lack of concern with the child’s behavior. They are also intelligent and interactive like dogs, provide a warm soft hide to lean on, and they empower their riders. A child on a horse will connect with the animal’s rhythmic bodily movement, which stimulates the physical senses and keeps the child physically and mentally balanced. According to parents and children in these programs, horses change lives.  New research proves horses are genuinely effective:  Study Suggests That Equine Therapy is Effective.

–Margaret

How has your child’s pet improved mental health?
Your comments help others who read this article.


The science behind animal therapy

Are dogs man’s best therapist?
Psychiatric Times. H. Steven Moffic, MD. February 29, 2012

Note: this is an excellent article by a psychiatrist who moved from disbelief to belief that dogs have a genuine therapeutic value, healing some of the most psychiatrically challenging children. http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/blog/moffic/content/article/10168/2040421

Children’s best friend, dogs help autistic children adapt (summary)
Journal: Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2011, Universite de Montreal

Dogs may not only be man’s best friend, they may also have a special role in the lives of children with special needs. According to a new study, specifically trained service dogs can help reduce the anxiety and enhance the socialization skills of children with Autism Syndrome Disorders (ASDs). The findings may lead to a relatively simple solution to help affected children and their families cope with these challenging disorders.

“Our findings showed that the dogs had a clear impact on the children’s stress hormone levels,” says Sonia Lupien, senior researcher and a professor at the Université de Montréal Department of Psychiatry and Director of the Centre for Studies on Human Stress at Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital, “I have not seen such a dramatic effect before.”

http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/03/09/146583986/pet-therapy-how-animals-and-humans-heal-each-other?ps=sh_stcathdl

Pet therapy: how animals and humans heal each other. (summary)
by Julie Rovner, March 5, 2012, National Public Radio

“A growing body of scientific research is showing that our pets can make us healthy, or healthier. “That helps explain the increasing use of animals — dogs and cats mostly, but also birds, fish and even horses — in settings ranging from hospitals and nursing homes to schools, jails and mental institutions.”

“In the late 1970s that researchers started to uncover the scientific underpinnings animal therapy. One of the earliest studies, published in 1980, found that heart attack patients who owned pets lived longer than those who didn’t. Another early study found that petting one’s own dog could reduce blood pressure.

“More recently, says Rebecca Johnson, a nurse who heads the Research Center for Human/Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, studies have been focusing on the fact that interacting with animals can increase people’s level of the hormone oxytocin. “That is very beneficial for us,” says Johnson. “Oxytocin helps us feel happy and trusting.” Which, Johnson says, may be one of the ways that humans bond with their animals over time.”

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Five-minute wisdom for parenting troubled children and teens

Five-minute wisdom for parenting troubled children and teens
6 votes

From many years of  counseling parents with difficult children, I’ve found the following wisdom helps clarify one’s priorities, improve understanding, and help take the next steps.

You are not alone. All families experience the same fears no matter what the child’s challenges: guilt, anger, frustration, failure, and mental and physical exhaustion.

There is a way. The steps to finding peace in the home are the same for all families.

You can start now. You can improve behavior without having a diagnosis, and the techniques work for the majority of difficult children.

There is reason for HOPE. They have the capacity to do better. With support and treatment, difficult children improve.

Have realistic expectations: They may not be ready for adulthood, and may need extra support into their 20’s… but that’s OK. There’s time to catch up with their peers.

Plan ahead for a crisis, brainstorm options for an effective response and create a checklist. We can’t think clearly in a tension-filled moment.

GOOD Things to do for Your CHILD or TEEN

Pay attention to STRENGTHS not weaknesses. Always find something great about them.

Guide them to their gifts. Give them ample opportunity to do what they are already good at.

GOOD Things to do for YOU

o Be your own cheerleader. Silently think, “I can handle this;” “I’m the one in control.

o Regularly talk through your feelings with others who understand and won’t judge.

o Get a life, maintain personal interests, and set thoughts of the child aside without guilt.

o Commit to doing the best you can, and own that this enough – plan to let go someday.

You’ve done a good job when they are able to take responsibility for their own care. This is a monumental personal achievement!

KEYS to CALM

In a neutral patient voice, give directions or requests . You will need to repeat yourself, calmly, several times. Your voice should not communicate strong emotions. Tone of voice, not words or volume, is what creates a bad response.

Don’t rush calm. Give the child plenty of time to unwind and settle. Calm is more important than quick.

Ensure there’s a calm place to go – a time-out space, even for you.

Get an appropriate therapy animal – a calm and durable creature unlikely to be harmed.

Reduce chaos in your home: noise, disorder, family emotional upheavals, the intrusive stimulation of an always-on TV, etc.

Ideas for MANAGING resistance

You want your child to be resistant to the negative things they’ll face in life. It represents willpower, and is a strength to cultivate.

o Be quiet and LISTEN. If you respond, address how they feel, not what they say.

o Use reverse psychology-ask them to do something you don’t want them to do, so they can defy you and do the opposite.

o Choose your battles. Let them think they’ve won on occasion.

o For an ODD child, give multiple instructions at once, including things they do and don’t want to do. It becomes too much work to sort out what to defy.

o Actively ignore – Stay in the vicinity but don’t respond, look away, act like you can’t hear. They eventually give up. Works best for ages 2 – 12.

o Mix it up – Be unpredictable. Give a reward sometimes but not all the time. Try new ways to use incentives or set boundaries and structure.

Nine COMMON Parenting MISTAKES

1. Treat your home like a democracy, let your child have an equal say in decisions.

2. Find fault with them and tell them about it repeatedly. If they do something positive, it’s not good enough.

3. Pretend your child has no reason for their behavior. Ignore his or her needs or challenges. Are they being bullied? Are they having a hard time sleeping? Is your home too chaotic?

4. Make rules and only enforce them once in a while, or have consequence come later.

5. Don’t treat your child appropriately for his or her age. Make long explanations to a 3-year-old about your reasoning. Assume a teen wants to be just like you.

6. Expect common sense from children who are too young (5), or from young adults with a long track record of not showing common sense.

7. Keep trying the same things that still don’t work. Repeat yourself, scream, show how frustrated you are with them.

8. Jump to conclusions that demonize the child. “You are manipulative and deceitful,” “You don’t listen to me on purpose,” “I’m tired of your selfishness…”

9. Make your child responsible for your feelings. If you lose your cool, insist they apologize.

Problem SYMPTOMS, not problem children

– Does not show common sense and is not influenced by reason and logic;

– Has no instincts for self-preservation, and poor personal boundaries;

– Has no well-adjusted friends; has friends who are risky or troublesome;

– Doesn’t respond to rewards and consequences;

– Has limited character strengths: honesty, tolerance, respect for others, self-control;

– Does not make plans they can realistically achieve, hangs on to fantasies;

– Acts younger than their peers. Will not be ready for adulthood by 18;

– Lives in the here and now; doesn’t think about the past or future;

– Does not notice their effect on others.

Your PRIORITIES in Order

1. You and your primary relationship(s)

2. Basic needs and responsibilities: housing, clothing, food, income, health

3. Your challenged child or teen.

Keep your energy in balance so you can maintain your family's foundation. Too much spent on your child affects everything else your family needs to survive.

Keep your energy in balance so you can maintain your family’s foundation. Too much spent on your child affects everything else your family needs to survive.

 

 

 

 

 

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Bullying and how to stop it – for parents and teachers

Bullying and how to stop it – for parents and teachers
4 votes

Most of us have bullied someone and have been bullied at some time in our lives. We have an aggressive trait that helps us stand up to a threat. We are emboldened to fight when we fear for ourselves or family, or simply when we’re “not going to take this anymore!” Mature people don’t do this without cause, but children and teens lack maturity and can engage in bullying throughout their school years. (Even the nicest children can bully another person.) Victims of bullying usually don’t have the power and skills to prevent it or to protect themselves.

“This is a huge problem in the schools… it’s particularly common in grades 6 through 10, when as many as 30 percent of students report they’ve had moderate or frequent involvement in bullying.”
–Dr. Joyce Nolan Harrison, assistant professor of psychiatry, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Bullying occurs when others aren’t paying attention… or when there is an audience
In schools, bullies target victims where and when authorities can’t see, isolated but in crowds: hallways, the school lunch room, the playground or gym, and the bathroom or dressing room, not in plain sight of others who might report an incident. Or they have an audience that supports the bully or ignores the situation and doesn’t want to get involved… or tell.

Bullies target those they consider “weak” or simply “different”
What makes a target child “weak” could be so many things. Bullies seize on anything: a physical, emotional, or mental vulnerability–children with learning disabilities or autism spectrum disorders are often targets. But any “different” child is at risk: a child from another culture is different, a boy who seems effeminate or a girl who seems masculine. The list of reasons children are bullied is so long that it is impossible to proactively avoid attracting the attention of a motivated bully or bullies: physical features, small stature, younger age, shy or meek personalities, bad fashion sense (or perfect fashion sense), even being a Straight “A” student is cause for being victimized. A child’s family member might be perceived as an embarrassment that elicits bullying (a brother is in prison, a father lost his job). Or a child might be a member of a group that’s hated by the parents, who teach their child to hate the group. Some victims are chosen simply because they are at the wrong place at the wrong time:

A teen walks his usual route home from school. He is reasonably well liked but doesn’t stand out. Ahead are three troublesome youth he doesn’t know. No one is around. He’s still at a distance, but starts to feel uncomfortable. They stand side-by-side on the walk ahead of him and stare.

What would a street-wise kid do?

He crosses the street without breaking stride, but also watches them—they have to know he sees them. If he pretended to ignore them it could inflame their anger. They start taunting. Meanwhile, the teen has been thinking of ways to protect himself just in case: there’s a store is nearby or within running distance, there’s a neighbor who’s usually at home. If he has a phone, he pulls it out and is ready to dial 911. He stays alert and looks confident, and they eventually drop the effort and let him move on.

Bullies punish kids who try to stop the bullying

Those who “snitch.” Victims who ask for help are often targeted by the bully more intensely, and often joined by associates who simply jump the bandwagon (curious behavior described as “the madness of crowds”). The culture of tweens and teens has low tolerance for those who tell on others. Those who join the bullying episode against the victim can do it without thinking, or perhaps they feel empowered to vent anger on someone, or just want to fit in.

Those who try to stop them. A heroic bystander steps in to stop a bullying episode and becomes the target themselves.

Those who want to leave the bullying group. Some kids have second thoughts and feel uncomfortable about the bullying and try to leave, but they can’t. Leaving attracts intense, relentless bullying for “voting with their feet”—this is a hallmark of gang behavior

Sadly, some children appear to “set themselves up” for bullying. This victim is a child with a fatalistic attitude and low self-esteem, who doesn’t recognize when others take advantage of them. They feel they must endure and don’t take steps to protect themselves out of excessive fear of drawing retribution. These are the kind of children who can become victims of physical or emotional domestic violence as adults.

Parents

If your child is a victim, be aware that they live between a rock and a hard place. Be careful that your involvement doesn’t make things worse for them

Armor your child with multiple skills
There is no one way to handle every bully situation so flexibility is key. Together, develop a list of multiple options:

  • Ask friends to accompany them
  • Go to a place where people are and find an adult to help. Walk the other way, walk down different hall, walk to other side of street, use a different bathroom.
  • Request loudly “LEAVE ME ALONE” when there’s an audience to witness the bullying, such as on a bus or standing in line.
  • Use body language to project a firm stance. This can be the way your child stands or the loudness of their voice when the bully is present to show confidence, alertness, and empowerment.
  • Let your child know you take them seriously and will do something about it. Give them emotional support.
  • Let your child know you will back them up by working with the school.
  • Use the situation as a learning opportunity to help your child develop a backbone and inner strength. Even with your support, this will not be easy for your child to handle. Be a model of strength and resolve rather than of vengeance or anger.
  • Consider mental health issues that might be making things worse for your child: ADHD, ODD, depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, chaos and stress at home, PTSD, substance abuse, and others.

Help the bullied kids find each other. If there are a bunch of them together, they can stand the bully down. They don’t have to beat the bully up. They just have to say, ‘Why are you treating my friend this way?’ The bully will often move on… Parents can appropriately take matters into their own hands. You need to enlist the help of all the other parents of bullied children… Parents have to work as a group. One parent is a pain in the [butt]. A group of parents can be an educational experience for school authorities.”
–William Pollack, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

Don’t

  • Don’t tell your child to “let it go, ”or “it’s no big deal,” or “it happens, deal with it.”
  • Don’t tell your child to be tough. What does “tough” mean? What do you want them to do?
  • Don’t punish or dismiss a child who complains too much, or blame him/her for setting themselves up and asking for it. Ironically, a victim is sometimes treated as the problem child.
  • Don’t bully your child at home! Are you doing this? Think. Your child learns to accept the inevitability of bullying because he or she is accustomed to it at home.

How things can go wrong: A boy is in the shower after PE class and gets slapped on the butt most days. He is too proud/embarrassed to tell his parents, or he tells and they react poorly. Perhaps he’s blamed for not standing up for himself, or a parent shows up outraged at school and yells at the bully or school staff. Now the boy’s parent is the problem and may be suspected of bullying their child. Or school staff overreact with swift punitive actions to the bully. Time passes and the bully starts up again bit by bit, only much more subtly. The boy is afraid to report it again because the encounters are more secretive. The bully denies his behavior and recruits others to advocate for him. They jump on the bandwagon because they don’t know the history, and the boy doesn’t want to tell everyone he is being sexually harassed. It’s a vicious cycle.

Teachers and schools

“You can’t learn if you’re being bullied, if every day you’re frightened of how you’re going to be treated.”
–William Pollack, cited above

Teachers, pay attention to signs that there’s a skilled, secretive bully at the school.

  • Notice who others avoid.
  • Notice a child coming into the class who’s upset and ask them about it later, promise you’ll protect their anonymity if you can get them to reveal a bully, but don’t pressure them.
  • Observe the problem kid and their subtle interactions with others.
  • Allow a victim(s) to have distance from bully, permission to use a different bathroom, to have their desk placed farther apart, to have a locker farther apart, or even a different class if possible.
  • Inform the parents of your concerns in addition to the principle and school counselor.
  • Focus your behavioral interventions on the bully (not the victims)

Avoid diagnosing the situation. You are not the expert. You don’t know why a bully is a bully, or why a victim is a victim, or anything about their parents. Ensure a school counselor is involved in any discussion about how to manage a bully problem in the school.

Avoid jumping to conclusions! Your actions can unintentionally undermine or harm either the child or their parents. You don’t know until you know.

“Bullies are like the lion looking for a deer that’s left the herd,” says Patrick Tolan, director of the Institute for Juvenile Research at the University of Illinois. “They try to single out the weakest kid. The best way to stop this is to work on increasing inclusion by helping the bullied kids with social skills.”

Bullies are usually bullied themselves (see another article Bullies like their victims, are also at risk). Only very small percentage are sociopathic, or who are intrinsically cruel and without empathy, perhaps 1 in a 100. How do you tell? If someone sets a clear boundary with punitive consequences, the disturbed bully will relentlessly target a victim regardless of how much trouble they get in.

I wish to personally thank Barry Diggs, probation and parole officer for the Oregon Youth Authority, for his insights into bullying behavior, which helped me develop this article. Margaret

If you have helped a child effectively cope with bullying, please share your story in the Comments below so others can learn from your story.


Research

Bullying Linked to Violence at Home
April 2011

Bullying is pervasive among middle school and high school students in Massachusetts and may be linked to family violence, a new study finds. In a survey of 5,807 middle-school and high-school students from almost 138 Massachusetts public schools, researchers from the Massachusetts Department of Health and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that those involved in bullying in any way are more likely to contemplate suicide and engage in self-harm compared to other students. Those involved in bullying were also more likely to have certain risk factors, including suffering abuse from a family member or witnessing violence at home, compared to people who were neither bullies nor victims.

Cyberbullying (this is a superb and comprehensive article by an expert on cyberbullying)

http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/display/article/10168/1336550?GUID=32E9A484-0468-4B38-8A03-0EE478D3256C&rememberme=1

Survey: Half of High Schoolers Report Bullying or Teasing Someone
“Ethics of American Youth Survey”, Josephson Institute of Ethics

Half of U.S. high schoolers say they have bullied or teased someone at least once in the past year, a new survey finds. The study also found that nearly half say they have been bullied during that time. The study surveyed 43,321 teens ages 15 to 18, from 78 public and 22 private schools. It found 50 percent had “bullied, teased or taunted someone at least once,” and 47 percent had been “bullied, teased or taunted in a way that seriously upset me at least once.” The survey asked about bullying in the past 12 months: 52% of students have hit someone in anger. 28% (37% of boys, 19% of girls) say it’s OK to hit or threaten a person who angers them. “There’s a tremendous amount of anger out there,” Michael Josephson says. (Founder of the Institute of Ethics)

Victims of Cyberbullying More Likely to Suffer Depression than Perpetrators:
ScienceDaily, September 2010

Young victims of cyber bullying, which occurs online or through cell phones, are more likely to suffer from depression than their tormentors, a new study finds. Researchers at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child and Human Health Development in the US looked at survey results on bullying behavior and signs of depression in 7,313 students in grades six through 10. Victims reported higher depression than cyber bullies or bully-victims, which was not found in any other form of bullying. Researchers say it unclear whether depressed kids have lower self-esteem and so are more easily bullied or the other way around.

Cyberbullying Teens and Victims More Likely to Have Psychiatric Troubles
Archives of General Psychiatry, July 2010

Teens who cyberbully others through the Internet or cell phones are more likely to have both physical and psychiatric problems, and their victims are at heightened risk for behavioral difficulties, a new study finds. Researchers collected data on 2,215 Finnish teens 13 to 16 years old. The survey found that teens who were victims of cyberbullying were more likely to come from broken homes and have emotional, concentration and behavior problems. In addition, they were prone to headaches, abdominal pain, sleeping problems and not feeling safe at school, the researchers found. Cyberbullies were also more prone to suffer from emotional and behavior problems, according to the survey.

Bullying And Being Bullied Linked To Suicide In Children
International Journal of Adolescent Medical Health; July 2008

Being a victim or perpetrator of school bullying, the most common type of school violence, has been frequently associated with a broad spectrum of behavioral, emotional, and social problems. According to international studies, bullying is common, and affects up to 54 percent of children. Researchers at Yale School of Medicine reviewed studies from 13 different countries and found signs of a connection between bullying, being bullied. and suicide in children. Suicide is third leading cause of mortality in children and adolescents. Lead author of this report, Young-Shin Kim, M.D. said “the perpetrators who are the bullies also have an increased risk for suicidal behaviors.”

Kids with ADHD more likely to bully
Linda Carroll, MSNBC, reporting on the Journal of Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, February 2008

A new study shows that children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are almost four times as likely as others to be bullies. And, in an intriguing corollary, the children with ADHD symptoms were almost 10 times as likely as others to have been regular targets of bullies prior to the onset of those symptoms.

A study followed 577 children for a year. After collecting data on bullies and victims and identifying those children ADHD, there was a corollary between ADHD and bullying. Study co-author Dr. Anders Hjern, a professor in pediatric epidemiology at the University of Uppsala in Stockholm said “These kids might be making life miserable for their fellow students. Or it might turn out that the attention problems they’re exhibiting could be related to the stress of being bullied.”

Unfortunately, treating ADHD won’t remedy the bullying because drugs for the condition impact a child’s ability to focus, but not the aggression that leads to bullying, says Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry and director of the Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic at Yale University, and president of the American Psychological Association.

Bullying Tied to Sleep Problems
Sleep Medicine, June 2011

Children who are aggressive and disruptive in class are more likely to have sleep-disordered breathing than well-behaved children, according to new research. Conduct problems, parent-reported bullying, and school disciplinary problems were all associated with higher scores on a measure of sleep-related breathing disorders, according to researchers. The study collected data from parents on each child’s sleep habits and asked both parents and teachers to assess behavioral concerns. The findings suggest that bullying may be prevented by paying attention to some of the unique health issues associated with aggressive behavior.

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The 12 Commandments for Parents of Children with Behavioral Disorders

The 12 Commandments for Parents of Children with Behavioral Disorders
3 votes

  1. Thou art thy child’s best and most consistent advocate.
  2. Thou hast valuable information about your child. Professionals need your input.
  3. Thou shalt put it in writing and keep a copy.
  4. Thou shalt not hesitate to contact a higher authority if you can’t get the help you need.
  5. Thou shalt keep records.
  6. Thou shalt seek out information on your child’s condition.
  7. Thou shalt have permission to be less than perfect.
  8. Thou shalt not become a martyr, thus, thou shalt take a break now and then.
  9. Thou shalt maintain a sense of humor.
  10. Thou shalt always remember to tell people when they are doing a good job.
  11. Thou shalt encourage thy child to make decisions, because one day, he or she will need to do so on their own.
  12. Thou shalt love thy child, even when they don’t seem lovable.

– – – – – – – This is a revised version of “The 12 Commandments…” published by the Pacer Center (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights) for children with physical and medical disabilities. www.pacer.org.

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