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Election Depression Is Real: How to deal with your feelings and talk to your kids

By Diana Garber, JD MSWdepression following 2016 election results

 

This article was going to be about sibling rivalry.  Last week, I sketched out my thoughts and multiple times, I sat down at a blank screen trying to write the words.  It didn’t happen.  Frankly, I just wasn’t there emotionally.  And, I can imagine that many of you feel the same way.

I know many are dealing with intense feelings, struggling to manage them while also being a parent.  I know many parents are wrestling with what to say to their children.  Here are my thoughts on how to do both:

  1. Your emotions are real. Many of my clients this week have shared feelings of loss akin to losing a loved one or being laid off.  Many have felt unheard, despondent and helpless.  Living in San Francisco, I have noticed these pervasive feelings among neighbors, colleagues and family.  Try to acknowledge these feelings.  Many people are afraid that when they admit a feeling, it will intensify it.  The opposite is actually true.  Giving words to your emotions can lead to a sense of relief because you aren’t ignoring that gnawing feeling and pushing sadness away.
  1. Laundry can wait. Many people who experience intense feelings try to jump right back into routine and push the feelings aside.  It is ok to have a quiet weekend–or two.  Grief and depression are a little like a hole in a dam.  If you acknowledge that the feelings are there and deal with the problem, the dam will be just as strong as before.  However, if you ignore the hole, at times, a crack or another hole can form, creating a bigger problem down the road.I know many feel that there is a lot to “do.”  Feeling your emotions and even slowing down your pace for a few days is not contrary to that.  I believe acknowledging feelings allows many to be more connected and eventually make more thoughtful and productive decisions.  So when you do act, it’s thought out and not reactive.
  1. Don’t neglect all aspects of your life. Many people struggle with acknowledging negative feelings because they are afraid those feelings will overtake them.  Remember, feeling a certain way is not being a certain way.  Most of the time, acknowledging and leaning into negative feelings for a short while will allow you to re-calibrate to your normal state more quickly.If you notice that you are neglecting your daily life for an extended period and continually feel overwhelmed, please reach out for additional support from friends, family or mental health professionals.
  1. Seek out small things that bring you happiness. This weekend my husband and I are pouring hot apple cider into giant mugs and carving pumpkins with our neighbors.  We knew that while we did not want to take on too much this weekend, we needed some event to let go of the heaviness of the week, if just for an hour or so.
  1. Focus on family and friends. Seek out people who you feel understand you, who can validate your feelings.  We generally feel stronger when we connect with others.  Spend quiet and quality time with the important people in your life.  The upcoming holidays can be a perfect time to recharge.

Understanding and processing personal emotions can allow parents to clearly express themselves to their children.  Here are some points to consider during those conversations:

  1. Explain your feelings to your children. Children from a young age are very perceptive.  They hear snippets of conversation whether it be from the news, other kids or adults.  Most importantly, children are attuned to their parents’ emotional states and can sense feelings of sadness or uncertainty.For that reason, it is important to acknowledge your feelings to your children.  Tell them a little of why you are having this reaction.  Acknowledging that you are having an emotional time teaches children that emotions are real, it is ok for you, and ergo them to have such reactions.
  1. Remind your children that they are safe.  Remind them that our basic liberties are secure.  Remind them that your job as a parent is to protect them.
  1. This can be a great opportunity to talk about your family values.  Many children, especially school age, have some awareness that the country has chosen a person who has said negative things about certain people or groups.  Their confusion is totally understandable.  Talk to them about what you believe in.  Reiterate that these core values haven’t changed.
  2. After the hard conversations, lighten the mood.  Take your children to the park, on a hike, out for ice cream.  Try to help them put this week’s events in context, especially after talking to them about safety and values.

And next month, I’ll share my thoughts on sibling rivalry.

 

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A Difference of Opinion: Supporting Individuation

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By Diana Garber, JD, MSW

This month, I wrote about individuation of toddlers and teenagers for the San Francisco Mom’s Blog.  This theory was first developed by Margaret Mahler and called Object Relations theory of Separation-Individuation. Individuation is the process of becoming aware of oneself.  While individuation occurs throughout most of childhood, it is most noticeable with toddlers and teenagers.  Both stages highlight children thinking for themselves, focusing on what they want and at times, rejecting their parent’s wishes.

For a parent, as much as you want to see your child blossom into her own person, new parenting obstacles arise.  Check out my blog post below to learn about things to keep in mind:

As infants become toddlers, children begin the process of individuating or separating from their parents.  This process, which starts around 15 months, continues through the teenage years and is critical for a child to eventually develop her own identity, will and individuality.   Individuation is the process of becoming aware of oneself, leading to an understanding of the difference between oneself and others. Since a toddler’s first “other” is you, her parent, basically, individuation is the development of a child’s understanding that her needs and wants are separate from yours.

As a therapist, I think one of the main tenants of parenting is to give children tools to ultimately develop their own identity.  Individuation as a toddler is the first step on this long journey and ultimately allows a child to recognize that not only can she separate from her parents but that her parents will love her unconditionally, no matter if parents agree with her decision to draw a purple sky not a pink one.

As parents, how to we support individuation?  As children begin to exert their will (read: temper tantrums) and state specific preferences, parents often struggle with how to set appropriate limits.  Since this process can strain a parents’ patience, it is easy to forget that the process of individuation is one of the greatest emotional developments children go through. When a child wades through this process, she is learning to have a strong sense-of-self.  As children gain more independence from their parents regarding decision making, children are learning about their likes and dislikes.  Learning to recognize these personal preferences allows a child to develop the beginnings of self-confidence.

How can we help?

  • It can be confusing to a child to recognize she feels differently from her parents but you can support her in the individuation process.  For example, if on a Sunday morning you plan an outing to the park but she balks, lying like spaghetti on the floor and screaming, “No, I want to stay here and color”, identify this, allow her to assert her preference and praise that decision. “Olivia, it looks like you want to color.  Last week, you drew me so many pictures of the sky—you have really loved coloring recently. When you are finished, I will hang this picture on the fridge.”  (Of course, if the temper tantrum comes before a planned event like a visit to grandparents, you can’t always be flexible and you can explain that to your child as well). This teaches your child in even the smallest way that you recognize her preferences and are supporting her, even if you can’t reroute your entire day.  When a child feels that, she is able to make more and more personal choices.
  • If a parent is critical of her child’s playtime choices (and later bigger ones), the child begins to rely on her parents to determine what is right for her. If you notice yourself constantly steering your child’s small choices (the swings not the sandbox) more than feels comfortable for you, stop for a minute and think about what it would feel like to be less directive. Allowing a child to make even these small decisions for herself can lead to a vast difference in a child’s belief that she can make the right decision!
  • Emotional developments in young children are sometimes far less celebrated by parents than first steps or first words.  The first little fit that turns into a hysterical tantrum is likely to leave both child and parent exhausted and overwhelmed.  As inopportune as your no-longer-a-baby’s tantrum is (sitting in a restaurant you swear typically only had other crying kids until today), this fiery protest is the beginning of the process of individuation.
  • Children who individuate from their parents have less anxiety about making life choices as teenagers and young adults.  Children who can recognize their desires at a young age (like the crayons example above) develop self-confidence.  It might not seem that these decisions are crucial, but choosing playtime activities is akin to a teenager choosing a college or a college freshman choosing a major.  All of these decisions are building blocks that create a foundation for a child to trust her choices as an adult.
  • Individuation is important for teenagers as well! The process actually looks similar — just on a much larger scale.   It can be hard for parents when teenagers begin expressing preferences that may be quite different from what a parent pictured for them (artist over business school, a gap year), but those individual choices are critical for them to become healthy, functional adults.
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How to Promote Emotional Development in Toddlers

 

Promoting Emotional Development in Toddlers

By Diana Garber JD, MSW

My recent blog post for San Francisco Mom’s Blog talks about how important emotional growth is for toddlers. However, emotional development often gets overlooked as children learn physical and verbal skills.  It is easy for parents to overlook how important it is for toddlers to try to solve and manage problems are important as children gain independence.  Learning how to regulate emotions and develop a sense of self starts at a young age.  My article talks about how parents can promote emotionally skills along with more traditional toddler growth:

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Last month I was lucky enough to spend a whole week with my 16-month-old niece. Besides taking credit for teaching Mallory the words “Di-Di” (a variation of my name that I pushed HARD) and “yes” (you can thank me later), I loved seeing how much she had grown since the winter.  Mallory had become much more mobile since I last saw her and was eager to show me how much she could do on her own.  For much of one afternoon, Mallory buoyantly pushed her shiny “Frozen” car from one side of the house to the other.  She was unstoppable—until she hit a literal and then figurative wall.

With the car wedged against the door, Mallory looked up at me with hope in her eyes and gestured for me to turn the car around.  Instead, I sat next to her and said, “this is so hard, isn’t it?  It seems that the car is stuck.”  And then I encouraged her to try to move the car.  My little niece looked annoyed (at the car, the wall and definitely me).  My response didn’t change and Mallory’s frustration became re-purposed into energy to experiment with different angles between the animate and inanimate object.  I saw the pure joy in her eyes when she realized the car could move backwards and she could continue driving without any physical help from me.

I was very tempted to relieve Mallory of her temporary distress and turn the car around myself.  However, as a therapist, I know how important it is for everybody, even toddlers, to learn to tolerate distress and soothe themselves when they feel sad or frustrated.  Many people who enter therapy as a teenager or young adult struggle to do so independently and (sometimes unwittingly) come to therapy to develop these emotional muscles.  There are many theories on parenting and how to nurture children from birth to college (and beyond) and those choices are personal decisions that all parents make for themselves.  However, from a therapeutic standpoint, allowing your child to experience small frustration can be a positive growth experience.  Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. It is ok to be frustrated.  Toddlers and little children are learning new skills every day.  It won’t all come easily and this would discourage anyone at any age.  When a child falls down trying to walk independently, she will inevitably be upset and cry out.  She might feel sad, frustrated or angry.  These feelings will pass and when a child is able to stand back up and try again, she begins to learn these feelings don’t last forever.
  2. Learning to tolerate emotions is just as important as learning how to crawl, walk or talk!  Emotions are new and can feel overwhelming to children.  When a child doesn’t get a new skill right away, she will unsurprisingly get upset just like my niece.  When that child tries again, she has grown emotionally.  She has learned that she can have negative emotions and that she can tolerate the distress they caused.  Negative emotions are a part of life. A child who gets the opportunity to practice emotional skills at a young age is well on her way to knowing she can handle bigger more frustrating events as she gets older, such as, not getting an A on a math test or getting the chorus instead of the lead in a school play.
  3.  If your child seems to be in real distress, be there for her.  Exploration is fun and teaches problem solving.  But knowing that you are there if she really struggles enforces the message to your child that she is safe and you can support her if she hit a literal or proverbial wall.

 

 

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No Body is Perfect

teenage body image

 

By Diana Garber JD, MSW

Back-to-School shopping can exacerbate negative teenage body image especially in adolescent girls.  Many parents find it hard to support their daughters during this stage without being shut out.  Check out my post at San Francisco Mom’s blog to discover ways to promote healthy body image during these critical years or read it below:

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In many households, the start of school means new clothes, however, back-to-school shopping can highlight negative body image for pre-teen and teen girls.  Returning to school can lead to feelings of insecurity and anxiety for girls as many teenagers anticipate that their classmates might notice differences in their appearance after the long summer break.

Moms want to encourage teens to feel good about themselves because positive body image helps develop a healthy sense of self.  So how do we encourage our daughters to not get hung up on numbers, to accept their bodies and not say mean things about their shapes?  If you are privileged enough that your daughter still lets you tag along on this yearly ritual, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Change negative self-talk. Being a little self-conscious during middle school and high school is normal. However if you are shopping with your daughter and she starts putting down her body or herself, it’s time to step in.  Trying to get your daughter to refocus can be tricky because you don’t want to tell her that her beliefs are “wrong” or “silly.” Instead focus on how her body supports or fuels her.  Does she love Field Hockey?  Point out how strong she is or how her body supports her athletic goals.
  2. Encourage her to pick clothes that she feels good in.  Your daughter is going to want to buy certain things that her friends are wearing—that’s what teens do. There will be small moments when your teen connects to her own unique interests—non-matching socks? Purple jeans?  Be supportive when she indicates a certain preference and encourage her when she does. This will promote the development of her own identity.
  3. Take a break.  Over lunch, discuss what she is interested in or enjoys doing.  Is she moving from JV to Varsity soccer? Now an editor on the school paper? This will subtly allow your daughter to think of herself as a whole person, not just focus on the clothes she didn’t like on her body.
  4. Be careful about negative comments about YOUR body.  I often hear mothers censure themselves for having extra weight around their middle or refusing to shop until they lose ten pounds.  When you criticize yourself, your children are listening and internalizing the notion that perhaps they would be more worthy if their bodies were more perfect.  Follow the same advice you gave your daughter. Focus on what your body does and what you want it to be healthy for (like an extra hour with her at the mall).

Remember, body image can be a reflection of how your teenager feels about themselves.  Struggling to accept her new body is a part of this age.  However if you notice a change of behavior (not participating in sports, not spending time with friends, odd conduct around meals) it is time to consult with a professional.

Happy shopping

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Millenials are not the Naughts

Millenials are not the Naughts

By: Diana Garber, JD, MSW
Millennials face real struggles when starting their career or when they find they are not on the right professional path as recently reported in the New York Times.  In my private practice, I often work with 20-somethings and 30-somethings that feel “stuck” but are unsure of their next move.  In our work together, we often uncover that strong environmental pressures –family, peer group and financial stressors—make it hard for people to discover what they want, what they love and what works for them.

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