Develop a Self-Care Practice To Improve Your Relationships

Let’s begin by nixing the notion that self-care equates to selfishness. How difficult is that for you to do? Depending upon your upbringing, socioeconomic status, cultural beliefs, etc, it’s no surprise that attending to and meeting your own needs can feel like a self-indulgent luxury for some, and a foreign language to others. Consider, just for a few minutes, how your belief system about taking care of yourself is serving or harming your quality of life. What about the lives of those around you? I purport that developing a self-care practice is actually the antidote to selfishness. What’s more, developing a self-care practice could improve two very important relationships in your life and lead to a host of other benefits as well.

The What and Why of Self-Care

“Self-care,” has admittedly become a buzzword in today’s culture. I like to think of self-care as any activity that a person intentionally does in an effort to take care of their mental, emotional, and physical health. Research suggests that if you engage in self-care activities, you can expect to boost your mood and decrease anxiety. Not a bad trade-off.

The Message of Work and Rest

In my work as a therapist I provide psychoeducation to my clients about the pedagogy of rest. Beginning a self-care practice is not a choice praised by the mainstream, in fact the general pulse of our culture has strong opinions when it comes to productivity levels versus resting. Our society promotes business as a currency and loves to attach our worthiness to how much we produce (and how quickly we produce it). It connotes “rest” as an activity for the unmotivated and the weak. How alarmingly advantageous of our capitalistic market to promote such a message! I advocate that a person hold a dialectic of both rest and work in their life. Working is important and gives us some purpose. Some of us must work more than others, due to life circumstances, but I still hold that everyone would benefit from developing a self-care practice of their own.

Self-Care to Improve your Relationships

I invite you to get curious about your personal values, and the messages you tell yourself. You (not society) get to decide where you find your worth. Do you like the kind of parent you are? The kind of friend you are? How’s your family’s work-life balance? If any part of you feels inclined to create a little more space in your life to develop habits that promote your values, consider the following reasons why developing a self-care practice could be helpful to improve your relationships with yourself and others:

  1. When we learn how to take care of ourselves, we teach others how to take care of us,too. Remembering that sometimes we are the ones to console, but other times we need to be consoled, and that’s okay! When we allow others to help us, we build them up, too. Everyone likes to be needed! Feeling needed feels good.
  2. There’s wisdom behind the “put on your mask first” colloquial. We can’t give from an empty cup. Moreover, tuning into our needs builds trust with ourselves while simultaneously improving the relationship that we have with ourselves. This occurs, most notably, when we respect what our minds, hearts, and bodies are asking of us.
  3. Self-care lowers our stress levels. When we are less stressed we can access our healthy coping skills and find it all around easier to be more patient, understanding, and generous with those that surround us. Our attitude trickles down to those around us whether we like it or not. When we take care of ourselves, it’s easier to take care of others.
  4. We have the opportunity to set a powerful example with our children and spouses. One day our children will reflect back to how their parents took care of themselves as a measure of how they should be taking care of themselves. We are their first teachers. Was I a parent that was always working late? Was I easily “set off?” At the end of a long day, how did I relax? They notice our habits. We can foster the development of their healthy coping skills through our example.

 

Self-care to improve your relationships is not about just strictly eating chocolate and taking bubble baths (though I hope you consider adding those elements to your well-rounded self-care routine!) There are both blessings and burdens that come along with taking care of yourself. My hope for you is that you advocate for yourself so that you can be the best version of yourself. Watch your relationships improve and enjoy the added mood benefits as well! Self-care is a creative way to express yourself. Consider reading this article written by Dori Mages, for practical ideas on how to incorporate self-care into your lifestyle.

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How to Recognize the Signs of Suicide

Did you know that suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, teens, and young adults? According to the U.S Center for Disease Control and Prevention, kids as young as 5 years old, all the way up to 24 fall into that category. Those numbers are alarming, yet there is still such a stigma around not only the topic of mental health, but particularly suicide. Is it that we do not know how to start up the conversations? Are we afraid of what our kids will tell us? Are we ignoring the signs of suicide? A big part of my job as a mental health professional is to educate not only the kids experiencing these types of thoughts and feelings, but also for the parents so that they know the signs of suicide, the steps to take if they feel there kid is unsafe, and ways to support their children. Learn how to recognize the signs and what steps to take if your child is at risk.

Suicide Risk Factors and Protective Factors

There are several risk factors when it comes to suicide. What does that mean? The way that the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention explains risk factors is that they are characteristics or conditions that increase the chance that a person may try to take their life. Do these risk factors mean your child will become suicidal? No, but they are important to keep in mind, particularly when there are limited protective factors. Protective factors are those skills and strengths that help people get through tough times. They are characteristics or attributes that reduce the likelihood of suicidal behaviors. Some examples of protective factors can be having supportive family and friends, effective coping skills to manage stress, being hopeful about the future, having a strong sense of self, good problem-solving and decision-making skills, pets, religion/spirituality, and a sense of belonging. Increasing protective factors can decrease suicide risk.

Below are some suicide risk factors:

  1. Family history of suicide
  2. Family history of mental illness
  3. A previous suicide attempt
  4. A psychological disorder, especially depression, bipolar, psychotic disorders, substance use problems
  5. Bullying
  6. Impulsivity
  7. Exposure to violence
  8. Family conflict
  9. Feeling hopeless
  10. Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
  11. Stressful life events
  12. LGBTQ (suicide rates are higher for LGBTQ youth, particularly those who have limited supports in place)

Suicide Warning Signs

 There are several warning signs that may be present in your child if they are suicidal. There are more obvious signs such as a child making a verbal statement such as, “I don’t want to live anymore,” or “I wish I was dead,” or “I want to die.” There are also less obvious signs such as changes with sleeping habits – sleeping too little or too much. Knowing the warning signs of suicide and noticing any recent changes in your child’s behavior is very important. This is a time where professional help can be helpful, even if you do not fully understand what is going on. Often times, I hear parents say they feel that their child or teen just wants attention when they start throwing around the word suicide. Ignoring the signs of suicide can increase negative thoughts and feelings, which can make things worse instead of better. Knowing the signs of suicide, risk factors, and any recent changes in your kids’ behavior can save their life.

Here are some warning signs to look out for:

  1. Suicidal statements or talking about suicide in general
  2. Changes in eating and/or sleeping habits
  3. Isolative behaviors (staying in their bedroom more often, staying to themselves and no longer hanging with friends)
  4. Loss of interest in pleasurable activities (i.e. sports, clubs, socializing)
  5. Grades start to slip
  6. Ignoring or unable to identify anything positive, and seeing everything as negative
  7. Trouble concentrating
  8. Giving away treasured possessions
  9. Increased use of alcohol or drugs, or engagement in other risk taking behaviors
  10. Increased irritability, aggression, sadness, guilt, or shame

How to Help When You See Signs of Suicide

 If you notice any changes in your child’s behavior, you can start by asking various open and closed-ended questions to gather additional information such as, “tell me more about how you’ve been feelings lately,” or “are you feeling depressed?” or “are you thinking about hurting or killing yourself?” Some kids and teens may verbalize what they are feeling, while others may internalize their feelings. Keep the lines of communication open so that you can express your love and support when things are going well, and when there are concerns. If you feel that your child is having a hard time opening up to you and would prefer someone more neutral, it may be a good idea to set him or her up with a mental health professional. At North Shore Family Services our therapists’ work with children, teens, young adults, and adults who experience suicidal feelings. A mental health professional can help come up with an individualized treatment plan that can reduce their suicidal thinking and uncover the root of their problems.

 

Err on the side of caution and get your child or teen help right away if you are concerned. If there is an immediate concern and you feel your child is unsafe, you should take them to the nearest Emergency Department to be evaluated immediately. They can help guide your family in the right direction and direct you on what to do next. For more information on suicide, you can go to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s website , and you can also visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-TALK

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Feeling Unappreciated on Thanksgiving: A Parent’s Memoir

Are All Kids Ungrateful?

For many families, Thanksgiving is a time of year where we emphasize the importance of being grateful and thankful for the people and opportunities in our lives. However, as a parent, there are plenty of times where we feel unappreciated by our family members, specifically our children. It is very easy for us to acknowledge and know all that we do for our children, and the sacrifices we make. However, it feels as if it is not as obvious to our kids! This can leave parents feeling unappreciated, ignored, and disrespected. We feel as if we get no recognition for our efforts and hard work, which can lead to anger and resentment. I am here to remind you how magnificent you are, and to help you cope with feeling unappreciated.

Being a parent is a difficult job. One that, despite all the self-help books, doesn’t come with a manual that has all the right answers. Everyone needs validation to feel better about themselves, and have motivation to continue on with their efforts and hard work. As parents, we can forget that our children are just that, children! At times we feel our children should be more grateful for what we, and others, do for them. Below are some tips on how to cope with ungratefulness from our children, and help us teach them how to be more in tune with others and grateful.

Use positive self-talk

Remind yourself that you are doing your best! Focus on the positive things you do- even if that is not yelling when your child is throwing a tantrum. Remind yourself that you will never be the perfect parent, because simply that doesn’t exist. Speak to yourself with kindness. Acknowledge your mistakes, and focus on the lessons learned rather than the mistake itself. We cannot control our children being grateful towards us, but we can control us being grateful and appreciative towards ourselves. Give yourself recognition, even when others do not.

Focus on what you can control- you!

When we focus on attempting to make our child more grateful, we tend to end up feeling angrier and disappointed because we cannot control them. When your child is being ungrateful for a meal that you cooked, is telling them “You’re lucky I cooked anything at all!” helpful? The answer is simply, no. Trying to force our children to be grateful in these moments isn’t effective, but teaching them how to be grateful is. Use these moments as teaching and learning experiences. This way, when you do not get what you want (a thank you), you will not feel disappointed. Rather, when you teach your child that this is a moment where they could work on being grateful, you will feel accomplished, successful, and increase your chances of them being grateful towards you in the future.

Teach by example

When you have moments where you can be grateful, use them! A lot of the time we do not thank our children for things they “should” do. For example, if you asked your child to pick up his/her toys, and they do it, thank them afterwards. You are teaching your children to be grateful for others doing things for them, even if they feel others should be doing these things (like cooking dinner). Treating your children with the respect and gratefulness that you would like to receive will help them reciprocate that back to you. Treating others in this manner in front of your children will help them connect that this is an appropriate way to act towards others.

Remember that they are children

It is helpful to remind ourselves that our kids do not see the world the same way we do; their brains are not as developed as ours. Depending on their age, kids tend to be more egocentric and self-involved. They need to be taught empathy and how to consider others, and what better way to learn than from you! It is helpful to reminds ourselves they are not intentionally being ungrateful, rather they might not know how. Your child isn’t going to understand that you left work early to make their play, or that you skipped your self-care or alone time to take them to practice. We do not want children to walk around worrying about adult things, but we do want to teach them to acknowledge others and their efforts. Try to put yourself in their shoes.

Remind yourself that you most likely weren’t considering how your life was affecting your parents’ when you were younger either. Allow them to be children that do not have to worry about adult responsibilities, but teach them how to be considerate of others. Teach them through reminders, i.e. “It is still important to say thank you and acknowledgement someone if they give you a gift, even if you didn’t like the gift”.

Seek validation from your support systems

It is important to seek validation from your support systems- your partner, friends, or family members. Let them ensure that you are doing a good job. Let them remind you that you are appreciated, and that they care deeply about you. Relate to other parents who feel unappreciated to help you feel as if you are not alone, and it is only your child who is ungrateful. Our children cannot always vocalize and give us the desired responses and appreciation we would like, but adults can. Allow them to help you feel appreciated.

 

Lastly, remind yourself that you are very important to your children. They love and adore you, even if their actions and words do not match that all the time. Focus on the positive moments as well- the “I love you” that you receive at bedtime, or the “thank you” you receive after getting their toy for them. The more you teach your child how to be grateful, the better you will feel! Go be the amazing parent you are, and spread & feel gratitude this holiday season.

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Create a Daily Routine for Success for Your Family

The word “routine” often gets a bad reputation. It’s common to think of a routine as sterile, dull, or somehow lacking spontaneity. However, deep down we know that establishing and utilizing a daily routine for success has the potential to make life a lot easier, thus leading to a more productive and positive day. Many parents struggle with developing a routine that will work well for their families’ demanding schedule, as well as each family member’s individual needs. Our days are bombarded by a list of to-dos. Work. School. Zooming kids to extracurricular activities…the list goes on and on. It can become overwhelming. Sometimes it may feel easier to “just go with the flow”; particularly, when there are children throwing tantrums, adolescents giving attitudes, or just the daily demand to stretch yourself thin. Developing and sticking to a daily routine can lead to success, and I have five tips that can help you get your family on the fast track to success.

Fueling Up to Start the Day

Our cars need fuel to get us where we need to be; why wouldn’t our bodies? This tip may seem elementary, but many families do not start the day off with breakfast (let alone a healthy meal). Making time to eat breakfast can increase brain function and positively impact mood and energy.  This translates to less stress and more focus.

Make a Family Calendar (Organization and Executive Functioning Skills)

To avoid hiccups and unnecessary stress, creating a family calendar that can be viewed by the whole family can keep everyone on the same page. This calendar can include expected activities, such as: extracurricular activities, meetings, holidays, family plans, homework, etc. See more on school success here. The major benefit of having a family calendar is that it reduces stress for everyone by eliminating confusion. Including your children in the process of creating the calendar can also be a fun family activity!

Create a Space to Communicate as a Family

Busy schedules can impede on family time and negatively impact healthy communication. Having regular family check-ins built into your routine for daily success can be helpful with increasing communication and keep parents informed about their kids’ lives. This may look like talking about positives from the day while around the dinner table, before bed, or while in route to a scheduled activity.

Intentional Mindful Breaks

Scheduling a time for a personal check-in should be a part of your regular routine. Mindfulness has become very popular, and for good reason! It is a time for us to take an intentional pause and take stock of our thoughts and feelings, without judgment. I suggest scheduling several ‘breaks’ in the middle of your day. This check-in will prove helpful in building self-awareness and allow you (the parent) to address any thoughts or feelings that may impact how you interact with your family.

Establish Bedtime Routines

This tip honestly should be number one. How often do we burn the midnight oil getting trying to get things done? I know I have! Life can be demanding and it seems the 24-hours that we are given to complete our daily tasks is just not enough; however, stealing time from rest is not usually helpful. Just as we need fuel (food) to keep going, we need rest. This is important to everyone in the family. Kids of course need rest to grow and avoid those troublesome cranky tantrums. Adults need the same thing. Having an established routine before bedtime, including a scheduled time for bed, can help recharge us, decompress us from the stressors of the day, and directly impacts our mood and productivity for the following day. Setting appropriate bedtimes for each family member (e.g. 7:00 PM for elementary school-aged children) will lead to less fuss in the morning.

 

Here’s something really important to remember: what works for someone else, might not work for you. Our child and family therapists can work with you to identify what your family may need to include in your daily routine for success. The key is to create regular and consistent daily routine that will help your family achieve success

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Help An Older Sibling Cope With A New Baby

Your family is expanding! Congratulations! Bringing home a new baby can bring lots of exciting feelings. Yet any type of change brings uncertainty, and with uncertainty often comes uncomfortable feelings. Siblings especially are vulnerable to an array of feelings, and don’t always quite know how to manage their new experiences. Whether you are a family of 3 or a family of 7, bringing home a new baby impacts all members of the family. With intention and support, you can help an older sibling cope with a new baby, and you’ll bring a little bit ease for all children involved.

Your family has been functioning in a predictable way that your child is used to. Bringing home a new baby is going to shift family dynamics, schedules, energy levels, availability and all sorts of nuanced experiences you may not be aware your child is having. Here are some ways to support the older sibling:

Talk with your child!

It is easy to dismiss the fact that children have the same emotional experiences we do. It is easy to forget their emotional range due to their inability to communicate how they are feeling. Keep in mind just as adults experience fear, embarrassment, worry, shame, guilt, loneliness, helplessness, and more, children do too. Regardless of your child’s age, talk with them about their feelings. CSEFEL is a resource geared for early childhood emotional development, and Kids Matter is a resource for supporting older children’s emotional development.  Learn some new language and skills for talking to your child about their feelings.

Read with your child!

There are many wonderful children’s books out there to help your child understand the change they are about to embark on, as well as finding characters they can relate to who may share their same thoughts and feelings. Providing intentional time to read to your child will strengthen your relationship with each other, as well as build a foundation for learning how to navigate change together. Call your local library and see what they can provide!

Prepare your child!

Talk with your child often about how special your current lifestyle is, and talk about the changes that are ahead. Children love crafts and visuals. Using pictures you can create what your daily schedules look like now, what you hope it will look like in the future, and how you think it will actually play out. This can help children understand that your time together will shift, another person’s needs will be added to the daily schedule, and that change is inevitable. Talk about how fun and different change can be. Add lots of new adventures to your future schedule!

Play with your child!

One of the most challenging shifts for an older sibling is losing the attention they once had. One of the reasons we see children acting out is due to a need for more attention. This is normal! Help prevent misbehavior by giving your child some extra attention. Engage in activities they enjoy playing, let them choose the games you play together, and offer some creative relationship building activities!

Have some fun! North Shore Family Services encourages play, fun, and games as effective learning tools for life skills. Read this blog for some additional tips and ideas.

 

Life is change, and learning how to prepare and embrace change is a lifelong skill your child is developing. Help an older sibling cope with a new baby. Support them (and yourself) by planning ahead and preparing for the positive changes that are coming your way. North Shore Family Services is here to support you too. If you would like a little extra guidance and care for your family as you make this transition, please reach out and schedule a therapy appointment today!

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Relationship Stress: Connecting With Your Teen

What happened to the sweet innocent child that wanted your attention all the time? They couldn’t wait to tell you about their day! Teenage years can be a difficult time for you and your teen and make relationships stressful! They will push limits, may seem moody, and can be the Kings and Queens of one word answers.  Connecting and building healthy boundaries can be challenging, but not impossible. Creating healthy boundaries and a healthy relationship can help your teen gain independence, feel safe, and make good decisions. Boundaries can be important for parents to have a sense of control, let them know they are cared for, while giving the teen their own autonomy.  How to deal with stress in your relationship and connect with your teen? There are factors to keep in mind while connecting with your teenager and keeping healthy boundaries.

Connect and Empathize

Spend time with your child to connect with him or her. Find an activity that you both enjoy and keep asking until they accept the invitation. Teens may be hesitant, but this one-on-one interaction is important for maintaining healthy relationships.  Make it a time for positive conversations, not a time for addressing concerns or problems. Creating an environment for open communication will help build mutual trust and respect. Set aside time with no electronics or distractions and be present with each other. Listen before responding and respond instead of reacting. Resist the urge to fix things and just be there to listen and validate.

Many times parents shrug off their teen’s stress as no big deal and don’t take them seriously. Remember how it was to be a teen. Think about your own barriers you had to telling your parents about personal things. Empathize how complicated life can be and validate their feelings. Stay away from saying, “I know how you feel”, imply that their feelings don’t matter, or that they will just change.  Acknowledge their feelings and needs and actively listen before sharing your own thoughts.

Natural Consequences

Problem solving is an important life skill that requires practice. If your teen is bailed out of every mistake, they miss out on the opportunity to practice. Let your teen face natural consequences as a result of their actions. Sometimes the natural consequences of their action are more of a learning moment then taking away the electronics. This will also help deter any power struggles that might come about when assigning consequences and make the relationship less stressful for both.

You are still the Parent

As we know, teens consistently push the boundaries that are set. This is the normal process of striving to be independent and there are still rules that need to be consistently applied. However, boundaries and rules can change in time or as trust and independence increases. Remember that you are the parent and they still need you. Even in the hardest days of crying and screaming, they will need to know you love them unconditionally and to feel your support and approval. Boundaries allow for structure and safety and remind the teen that they have your unconditional love. Try not to yell or scream, especially in front of their friends. Use set consequences infrequently and use rewards instead.  Figure out consequences and incentives together before any incidents happen. This way, they have a part in the discussion and have a “buy-in” to respecting the boundaries.  Teens look up to their parents. Research shows that parents have great influence on adolescent choices, including risk-taking choices like smoking or drug use.

Respect each other

Respect is another important factor in any relationship. Teens will more likely respect others when they feel they are respected. Even though teens may be dramatic and act silly, it is important to take their concerns seriously. Don’t belittle or dismiss them when they share a problem that seems trivial to you. Validate their feelings and let them know that you get it. You won’t always agree with them, but hold your compassion and respect for them as you disagree. Get to know your teen’s friends while not putting a negative label on them. Respect your teen’s privacy yet keep an eye on what is going on. Acknowledge your teen’s strengths and build them on. Let them know what you need from them, instead of what you don’t want your teen to do.

The Don’ts

We are all human with emotions that might take us to places we didn’t want to go. We want to show teens that emotional management is possible and can be done with healthy coping skills. We don’t want to show them disrespect by letting our emotions get the best of us. It is normal to get angry and frustrated and when this happens, respond instead of reacting and try not to yell and scream, especially in front of their friends. Setting up consequences is important, but don’t rely on just consequences. Use rewards and build on their strengths.  When you feel your emotions getting high, walk away. Model how to manage high emotions in a healthy way.

 

Stress in your relationship with your teen can be stressful at times! Teens can be moody, dramatic, and sometimes make poor choices, but they are just striving for independence, self-awareness, and figuring out how to navigate life. They need direction, support, and boundaries to feel safe and find the ability to make sound decisions. Listen, learn, and connect with your teen and build the relationship by listening and validating, not just trying to solve their problems. Have positive interactions with them, not just the negative interactions. Remember, it takes 5 positive interactions to balance out every negative interaction.

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When I Don’t Like My Child- A Letter to Mamas

Tears streaming down her face, she looked up at me pleadingly ‘I don’t like my child- help me. I am terrible’.

Hey Mamas- let’s talk. Real talk. Let’s talk about the moments no one prepared you for, the moments when you no longer recognize yourself, the moments you think ‘I have failed- I don’t like my child’.

Everyone’s story is different; some are full of tears for the first few weeks of infanthood, others feel the burden set in later. There are those who seem to parent effortlessly without failing, without fear, but I’d like to remind you, and encourage you that life and your child-, they are both full of different seasons and stages.

Do you remember when you first got married? No amount of books could prepare you for physically living with this particular person; the amount of dirty laundry left on the bathroom floor, the dishes left in the sink. Some fall into the pattern of cohabitation easily, others find it harder- but the truth is that it is an adjustment for all, and it gets easier.

The day you brought home your first puppy. He was scared. You were scared. After a few days of puppy bliss, you began to face the reality that your puppy missed his mother; he hated to be alone, his teeth hurt, he wasn’t house broken, and he peed everywhere. Now look at him, standing guard and keeping your family safe.

Then come the babies. The perfect little bundles of joy that were wished for, longed for, prayed for. The sweet angel adorned with love, kisses and the perfectly fitting name upon her arrival. Fast forward to sleep regression, sleep training and the IV of coffee in your arm. Was this what you signed up for?

Oh wait, this little person calls you “Mama!”. He dances when you come through the door. Long forgotten are the sleepless nights of infanthood. We are now into the ‘terrible twos’ the ‘I-do-it-myself-threes’ and here you are, a puddle of tears on the bathroom floor. No matter, pour yourself a glass, call a friend, dry your tears, and remind yourself tomorrow is another day.

Kindergarten; new friends, new rules, no nap. Crying for Mommy. (For help on separation anxiety, click here)

You get through it. You stand back and give your son a hug so tight you can still feel it when you close your eyes. Battle of the wills; who is this child? I don’t recognize him. I don’t like him. But you love him. And before you know it, its middle school, high school and college.

Mama, parenthood is hard. Every time you master a new stage, your child is on to the next one. Some days its lunch money, and other days you pat yourself on the back for packing lunches the night before! Infanthood is hard, but it does not last long. Pre-school may be full of tantrums, but it doesn’t last long.  (For help on taming tantrums, click here). You love your job, but somedays are harder than others. You love your children, but some days, you are lacking in the liking them department.

Please know that you are not alone; please call a friend and let them tell you their own horror stories until tears of laughter stream down your cheeks. Please reach out to the brand-new mama struggling with diaper rash, bottles and sleeping. If you are struggling day after day, and would like professional help, please check out the knowledgeable therapists at North Shore Family Services, and their blogs.

You can’t be a pro all the time; you are allowed to have days that feel too hard. But at the end of the day, remember to tell your children ‘I love you’. Today, this week, this season is hard- but I promise it won’t last forever.

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But It’s Just Weed! Teen Drug Use Today

Smoking trends are changing at a rapid pace, especially among the teen population. Even though smoking and teen drug use looks a little different these days, the risks are still there. I often work with teens who seem to think these new devices are better than smoking an actual cigarette, but is that true? “It doesn’t smell, it tastes good and smells good, it’s better for you, it’s electronic so it doesn’t go to your lungs.” Those are some of the phrases I often hear. To take this e-cigarette trend a step further, they are now being filled with marijuana. What does all of this mean? Here’s some information that may be helpful in terms of understanding “vape talk,” and knowing how to talk to your teen about this phenomenon.

Vape Talk

E-cigarettes

E-cigarettes are also often referred to as “vapes,” “vape pens,” “hookahs,” “e-cigs,” and “Juuls.” They are battery-operated devices that deliver nicotine and other additives through inhaling. There are now increased reports that teens are vaping marijuana through these devices as well. Vaping THC oil (THC is the chemical in marijuana that gives the mind-altering effects) is odorless, which is very different from smoking marijuana through a joint, pipe, or blunt.

Juuls

“Juuling” came from the Juul electronic cigarette company. Juuls look just like a USB flash drive, and there’s cartridges called pods that go into them that contain liquid nicotine. Since 2015, these have become the most popular way to vape. They can be charged like a phone or laptop, and teens are now switching out the liquid nicotine for liquid marijuana. They are often so small that they fit in the palm of your hand, so kids often hold them in their sleeves, tuck it in their backpacks, and take “bathroom breaks” at school during classes.

Liquid Juice

This refers to the liquid nicotine that can come in a variety of flavors (some of the flavors literally sound like ice cream flavors – bubble gum, chocolate, vanilla, and more!). There’s actually over 500 flavors available!

What We Know

  1. There’s been an upward trend of vaping for ages 12-17 since 2011.
  2. According to the US surgeon general, there has been a 900% increase in e-cigarette use by high school students from 2001-2015, and the numbers are continuing to rise.
  3. Nicotine is addictive and bad for your health. The earlier kids start using, the harder it is to stop.
  4. The brain is continually developing and maturing during the adolescent years, and nicotine negatively alters that development.
  5. Cravings occur almost immediately when nicotine reaches the brain and gets the pleasure and reward centers very excited, which can result in addiction.
  6. When teen drug use involves vaping marijuana, there tends to be a higher consumption of THC, especially for inexperienced smokers, so the “high” is intensified.
  7. According to the Centers for Disease Control, marijuana use interferes with brain development and can cause slower learning, short-term memory loss, and lung damage.
  8. There are aerosol components, more than forty-two chemicals reported to be found in the vaping products, which is the piece that is reported to be most harmful.
  9. Even though federal regulations make it illegal for kids under the age of 18 to be able to purchase e-cigarettes, they can be purchased online, which makes it easier for under-aged kids to get these products.
  10. Second hand smoke from vaping exists.

What We Don’t Know

  1. We still do not know the long term health effects of e-cigarettes, but there is an increase in research studies being conducted. To read about some of the recent studies that are available regarding the current trends of teen drug use and vaping, you can go the American Medical Association’s website to access online journals.
  2. When using THC in e-cigarettes, it is unknown as to how much THC is being consumed.
  3. Much of the research available on the cognitive effects of marijuana tend to focus on heavy users, so it is still unclear as to whether or not there is long-term brain damage, and if there’s a level of usage that is considered to be safe.
  4. Many people say that e-cigarettes are a safer way to smoke, and that it even helps people stop smoking cigarettes. Again, there is not enough information available to confirm or deny this, but from what’s currently available, it is said to be that they aren’t as harmful, but still harmful.

Tips for Parents

  1. Educate yourself and do the research to know and understand what information is available about vaping. Hopefully this blog will be a great start and guide you in the right direction. For more information, you can access the website mentioned above by the American Medical Association, or go to the Surgeon General’s website.
  2. Learn about the side effects of marijuana since there has been an increase in vaping THC oil in vape pens. If you suspect that your teen is using marijuana and also recognizing some of the common side effects in your teen, it may be time to have a talk.
  3. When talking to your teen about teen drug use and vaping, avoid lecturing and work towards an open dialogue where you are patient and ready to listen without criticism. Keep the lines of communication open and work towards talking “with” your teen and not “at” your teen.
  4. If you are unsure on whether or not your teen is vaping, approach them with curiosity. “What’s your take on vaping?” or “Do a lot of kids at your school vape?” or “How are teens even getting vape pens being underage?”
  5. If you are the type of parent who feels that there needs to be set rules and consequences around vaping, let them know that it is their choice, but that there will be consequences for their choices.

 

If you are concerned that your teen may be struggling with addiction, reach out for help. You can start with contacting your child’s pediatrician, or go directly to an addiction specialist. You can also contact SAMHSA’s (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357).​

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Couples Communication Tips

One of the biggest complaints I hear from couples is that the communication in their relationship is in dire need of fixing. I am often told from my couples that it seems as if their partner no longer “gets them” and they feel as if daily arguments have become the new norm that they cannot figure out how to overcome. These couples come to therapy desperately seeking more effective ways to resolve conflict and reconnect with their partner. Whether it is miscommunication, lack of communication, or simply not understanding how to talk about the “tough stuff” in the relationship, practicing the following couples communication guidelines can drastically change and improve the interactions with your spouse or partner.

Timing is everything when discussing difficult issues

 While this is not new, couples often overlook this crucial detail in their communication dynamic.

  • While it may seem difficult, giving one another some space to calm down, regroup, and return to the conversation at a later point in time is beneficial when discussing “hot” or difficult issues.  I tell my couples that if they feel they are ramping up and losing their temper, call for a break, walk away, and come back at a designated time.
  • I recommend that couples take no longer than 24 hours to return from their break.
  • The partner who called the time-out must be the one to re-initiate the conversation.
  • The partner who did not ask for a break must respect the other partner’s wish to step away, knowing that if the conversation continues in a heated moment, their communication will only deteriorate more rapidly and most likely cause more damage.
  • Regularly scheduled check-in (at least once each week) can also be a great way to structure more difficult issues and allow some space and time before discussing them.

Feelings First

When feelings aren’t addressed first, couples communication can suffer. It is imperative to:

  • understand your significant other’s feelings
  • validate their feelings
  • utilize active listening skills
  • Go one step further than simply saying “I understand.”
  • Be specific as to how you understand their feelings. If you have felt a similar way or have had a similar experience, you can relay your understanding and care for your partner’s feelings.  Saying something like, “I completely understand feeling unappreciated by my boss at work and I never want to make you feel that way in our relationship,” can demonstrate that feelings are heard and understood.

When both parties feel that they are heard and their feelings are tended to, much of the tension can be defused and resolution can be achieved more effectively.

Pay Attention to Your Tone and Language

A conversation can drastically change if the tone of your voice is unpleasant.  The tone of voice you choose can either communicate care and concern, or it can communicate resentment and bitterness.  So often couples communication is derailed because the “tone” of the conversation is negative.  Negative tone causes important messages to slip through the cracks and leads to misinterpretation of information.

The language you choose to use is just as important as using a calm tone of voice. I recommend eliminating these three communication styles from your interactions with your partner. Ditch:

  • All name calling from your vocabulary with one another
  • Any language that belittles or undermines your partner.
  • Yelling and screaming as a means to get your point across.

Sticking to these three rules of tone and language promotes understanding and decreases distress and defensiveness. This might be difficult to do in the heat of the moment, which is why it is so important to time your conversations at appropriate times.

Communication is More than Words

Communicating your love and care through your actions is vital and is just as important as the words you choose in your relationship.  While communicating in a calm and open manner during difficult times is extremely important, so is showing your love on a regular basis.

  • Give your partner small gestures to demonstrate that you notice and appreciate them. Perhaps a note in your partner’s lunch, a meaningful playlist of your favorite songs, planning a date, or tackling a household task that they have wanted to accomplish.
  • Be specific in your compliments to your partner. Let them know what specifically you love about them: their enthusiasm, their thoughtfulness, their charisma; it will communicate that you are invested in them and in your relationship!
  • Learn about your own and your partner’s love languages and demonstrate your love how your partner feels loved and ask for what you need.

 

Remember, your nonverbal communication is just as vital as the verbal.  Actions often speak louder than words.

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The Custody Agreement: 4 Tips to Make Co-Parenting Easier

Where am I sleeping tonight? Whose picking me up from practice? You’re ruining my life! Do these sound familiar to you? If you are a parent in the middle of a custody agreement or divorce, chances are you have heard these statements before. As a therapist, I have guided parents through this difficult time and made it a priority to focus on the kids’ needs first.

 

Kids Needs

Although it may be a very emotional and stressful time for a parent, children have described feeling scared, confused, sad, angry, and guilty when their parents tell them that they are getting a divorce. Developmentally, kids are not able to process the information the same as adults. At the beginning, it is important to remember to eliminate any negative feelings towards the other parent when talking to your children. Children are a product of both parents and have described feeling personally attacked when parents talk bad about one another. The goal during this time is to make the difficult transition as smooth as possible and cause the least amount of harm to your child. Below are 4 tips to make co-parenting easier during both custody agreements and the divorce.

 

Open and Honest Communication

When you tell your children that you are getting a divorce, it is important to have open and honest communication with them. Questions about why it is happening and statements about trying again are common phrases that are used. As parents, sit down prior to talking with your children and discuss a plan about how you will answer the “why” question and what the conversation will look like. You want to present a united front and show support of one another (even if feelings are not mutual). Again this time is about putting your child first. It is important not to lie and rather phrase the truth in a kid friendly way. For example, if you are getting a divorce based on years of arguing, you may find yourself telling the children that “Mom and Dad struggled with communication.”

 

Validate Emotions

Although your first instinct might be to tell your children “I know how hard this is for you,” this phrase can often make children more upset. In the moment, you can’t understand how your child is exactly feeling in that specific situation. In order to validate their emotions and promote more open communication of emotion, parents can use a different phrase when discussing the divorce. Instead of saying “I know,” you can say, “I can’t imagine how you are feeling” or “Can you tell me the emotions you are feeling?” Children will feel more validated, supported, and connected to their parents when these phrases are used.

 

Educate

Children don’t always understand all the “adult words” when it comes to a custody agreement or divorce. There are several questions about where they are sleeping or how many days they will be with their parents. Remember to educate them on terms that you use rather than assuming they know. As parents, you have the opportunity to define custody agreement or divorce agreement for them rather than them assuming or hearing from their peers or TV shows. Be specific and provide details so they can concretely think about what is to come. If children are younger (2-6 yrs old), use stuffed animals or toys to describe what is happening).

 

Calendars and Visuals

Reducing any anxiety is key to ensure that your child’s needs come first. There is a lot of “unknown” when children are going through a custody agreement or a divorce. They communicate their fears and worries, but don’t know how to get rid of them. Calendars and visuals are a great way to reduce stress and anxiety about the confusion and provide them with more control. I have recommended having a family app for both the parents and children to see. Our Family Wizard is one that I have recommended in the past and have seen successfully used. Google calendars or phone calendars can work as well. If children are younger (2-6 yrs old), use a visual calendar in their room and have a symbol for Mom or Dad. These will not only be successful tools for co-parenting, but also provide your child with peace.

 

Now, you can move forward and have a confident approach to answering and responding to these questions. Remember the kids do come first and their needs are the most important to address. If you need more guidance, our team of therapists are all trained to be a support during this process.

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