Archive of ‘Connection’ category

Building A Better Mental Health Future for Our Children

We are living in an unprecedented time – not only are we facing a global pandemic that is having a profound effect on millions of people around the world, but we are also simultaneously navigating difficult issues like climate change, natural disaster, racial injustice, gender equality, political polarization, economic turbulence, war, etc.  All these factors have taken a toll on our mental health.  Mental health disorders can affect anyone; they do not discriminate based on gender, race, age, ethnicity, occupation, religion, economic class, or ethnic background.  It is very likely that each of us knows someone with a mental health challenge or has one ourselves. 

Our children have been hit particularly hard during this challenging time, with us seeing a mental health crisis in children like never before.  Mental health is just as important as physical health, which is an essential part of children’s overall health and well-being. As a therapist, I am seeing an increasing number of parents reaching out for help with their children’s mental health.  Anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, self-harming, internet addictions and truancy are just some of the conditions that are prevailing in young people during this mental health crisis.  Putting the well-being of our children as top priority is paramount now.  Whether you are a parent, caregiver, educator, coach, counselor or anyone who interacts with children and is genuinely interested in their overall wellness, you have the ability to influence them in a positive way. You can make a difference in their lives.

I would like to share with you five things with the acronym, “CARES”, that I believe our children really need.  With those, we can help nurture their mental health:

1. Connection with compassion

We are all social beings that have the innate need to connect.  The social distancing/isolation during the pandemic has made it very hard for us to connect with each other.  Most of our kids today connect with their phones and computers more than they connect with human beings. Research shows that this disconnection has detrimental effects on the mental health of our children.  Dr. Bruce Perry believes that connectedness has the power to counterbalance adversity:

“Human beings are social creatures, and because of that, we are neurologically designed to be in relationships with other people. When you see another person and they send a signal that you belong, or they smile and give you a gentle touch, that literally changes the physiology of your brain and body in ways that lead to a more regulated stress response system, healthier heart, healthier lungs, and literally it will influence your physical and mental health.” 

Let’s focus on building true connections with our children.  When was the last time you sat down with them to have a deep conversation that made them feel seen and heard?  When was the last time you played or created something together?  Giving our children undivided attention and being attuned is connecting with them.  Being curious and asking questions to genuinely get inside your child’s world is connecting with them.  When we connect through compassion, we begin to see things from their perspective without judgement.  Dr. Brené Brown defines connection as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” 

2. Acceptance and authenticity

Dr. Alfred Adler teaches us that a human being has an instinctive need to belong and feel significant.  Dr. Abraham Maslow places belongingness as the next most important need just above the physiological and safety needs in his hierarchy of needs model.  Many kids nowadays are not getting this basic need met.  As a result, they become people pleasers and do things to please others to seek approval.  They rely on external factors to define themselves.  They also act out and become defiant to get adult attention. 

So why do kids do these things?  Because they are not being accepted for who they are.  Their most important need is not being met – the need to belong.  Children need to know that they are accepted for who they are.  When children are accepted, they will have a sense of belonging which will allow them to be their authentic self.  They will see their self-worth, which then leads them to a more meaningful and fulfilled life.  Truly accepting a child means to let go of our own expectations of who we want the child to be and embrace who the child really is. 

3. Resilience and responsibility

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks or failures.  It is a skill that can be learned and practiced.  Many parents like to teach their kids how to win, but I think it is more important to teach them how to fail and get back up.  Allowing our kids to accept failure as part of learning and growing is one way to teach them resilience.  Do not rush to rescue them from moments of struggle or you will deprive them of opportunity to build their resilience muscles.  Another way to help kids develop resilience is by teaching them responsibility and allowing them to contribute to the family and society.  This not only allows them to have a sense of significance, but also allows them to see how capable they are.  

4. Encouragement and empathy

Oftentimes, we tend to criticize our children and focus on the negatives rather than the positives.  When all our children hear from us is how incapable they are and how much they are doing things incorrectly, they will feel discouraged.  It is important for children to know that we all make mistakes.  Let’s model self-acceptance and self-love even when we make mistakes.  Being encouraged and supported builds self-worth and self-confidence.  Alongside encouragement is empathy. Children need to hear encouraging words that come from a place of empathy. 

“Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.”

– Dr. Alfred Adler.

5. Safety and support

Providing a secure environment for children to grow and develop is very important for both their physical and mental health.   According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety is one of the most basic human needs for motivation.  Safety does not only refer to physical safety but emotional safety as well.  We want to provide a safe environment for our children to freely express their emotions.  It is important for parents to talk to their children about feelings.  Dr. Daniel Seigel said:

“Parents who speak with their children about their feelings have children who develop emotional intelligence and can understand their own and other people’s feelings more fully.”  

Our goal is to be their anchor so that they feel safe to come to us when the outside world appears to be scary and unsafe to them.  When children have a secure base, they will be more likely to have the courage to explore the world. 

Life is full of unpredictable challenges.  Let’s prepare our kids for whatever lies ahead by fostering their mental health and well-being.  Now more than ever, our children need our support.  Let’s focus on building a better mental health future for our children. 

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

– C.S. Lewis

Ways to Helps Your Child Navigate Friendships  

A common question I receive when working with parents is how to offer support when witnessing their child having friendship dilemmas. Friendships are a significant developmental milestone for your child, and it can be tricky to know what to say or how to provide help without causing a rupture in your relationship with them. Here are three ways to help you connect with your child and support them through this challenging phase. 

1. Listen

Friendships are a personal territory often associated with self-consciousness or insecurity, but when children gain the courage to come to you for support, the most helpful thing you can do is listen. Stop whatever you are doing and give them your undivided attention. Thoughtfully listening to your child is key in making them feel not only heard verbally, but also seen in a way that affirms themselves and their experience.

2. Refrain From Giving Advice (At First) 

When your child comes to you and is asking about how to handle a friendship situation, the immediate response may be to fix, solve, or rescue. Resist the temptation to do so. Often times when children go to you for help, what they really want is to be heard. Giving advice can emphasize problem solving rather than focusing on what your child is experiencing. However, sometimes your child may only desire advice. In that case, use bullet point # 3 to try to gauge if there may be any reasons for them not wanting to explore the situation deeply. Some reasons could be avoiding feelings around the friendship or desiring you to intervene and fix the situation. If none of those apply to your child and their situation, then advice giving could be helpful. 

3. Reflecting and Asking Curiosity Questions 

Two things that can help your child navigate friendships are reflecting and asking curiosity questions. Reflecting not only shows that you are listening to what is being said, but it also allows your child to hear how you may be experiencing their thoughts and feelings. Asking your child open ended questions can foster connection and prompts them to explore their situation more deeply. Below are some examples of how you could use reflection and curiosity questions.

Examples of Reflecting: 

  • You seem to be struggling (e.g. angry, frustrated, annoyed) with this situation. 
  • I hear that this friendship is making you question some things. 
  • You sound really concerned (e.g. hurt by, worried, upset with, excited) about your friend. 
  • I appreciate you coming to me and telling me about this. 

Examples of Curiosity Questions:

  • What is this making you feel? 
  • How can I help? 
  • What happened? 
  • Would you like for me to give advice or listen?

These three methods can help you approach this important phase in your child’s life with kindness and empathy, both of which are critical to building a greater connection with them.  If you have any questions for me or would like more information on helping your child through challenging experiences, please reach out to set up a session. 


3 Strategies to Setting Clear and Effective Boundaries

1. Keep it short and simple

When setting boundaries for kids and teenagers, you want to make it easy to remember, easy to reference and repeat. “Please be home by 9pm” or “No friends allowed at home if we aren’t home”, instead of “It probably makes sense that you don’t have anyone over for tonight, we are going to be gone until 10pm and there won’t be anyone here to supervise you and your friends”. We often fall victim to explaining the boundary as we are stating it. Explaining why the boundary exists is a valuable conversation to have, just make sure you separate that conversation from the rule/boundary being stated. The more information or discussion being had while setting the boundary, the higher chance for loopholes, exceptions, or power struggles to follow. When you keep it short and simple, you can reference the boundary easier as well, it is easier to remember for the child/teen and less ambiguity.

2. If “this happens”, then “this is the consequence”

If/then statements are much clearer and easier to understand for a child/teenager. For example, “When homework is done, then you can hangout with your friends” or “If you are late for curfew, then you lose your Xbox for tomorrow”. The limit is clear, if a certain behavior is done, then the consequence is clear, whether it be positive or negative. These statements can be quite helpful in avoiding power struggles as well. If you find yourself getting into a power struggle, you can just take a pause and come back to the original limit set, if “x”, then “y”, end of story. Just as important as the content of the limit, it is even more crucial how you say it. Say it with confidence, keeping it short and simple and in a matter of fact way. The stronger you sound when you state a boundary, the less likely there is pushback.

3. Recognize power struggle attempts and repeat the limit

It would be wonderful if there was never any pushback on a boundary or limit set but that is not the world we live in. If you keep getting pushback, that is okay, just stay consistent and maintain your boundary. The minute you start back peddling on a boundary, you are setting yourself up for them to not believe in future limits set or feel they can wiggle out of them. They might even get upset that you are not budging or that you keep having to repeat the limit, that is okay, this is partly why you are reading this, because holding boundaries is not always easy, it takes consistency and is especially difficult if holding firmer boundaries is a new practice. Remember this: each time you set and hold that boundary is an investment, an investment into future limits set, into your child learning that when a limit is set, it matters and an investment into furthering mutual trust between you and your child. 


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