Saturday, April 26, 2014

Coping Strategies for Teens and Tweens

Kids killing each other because they got turned down for prom. . .kids shooting up a school because they have been bullied. . .kids killing themselves because they feel isolated and alone. . .where do these strong feelings come from and how do we as parents see the warning signs or help create an environment where our children can cope with life's disappointments and discouragements without the sudden and devastating lashing out?

I have one child who tends to react quickly to emotion. She might explode when angry or frustrated but then five minutes later is over it and happy. My other child is the opposite. I can only usually get to her emotions and feelings after prying and questioning and she tends to hold onto her feelings longer.  We have taught them the basic, immediate coping skills of stopping and thinking before reacting, of counting to 10, of hitting a pillow instead of someone else, and breathing in the good energy and out the bad. Sometimes they work, but I find some of these other global coping strategies we use on a daily basis to get our kids to appreciate and interact positively with the world around them are just as useful. 

1. Talking with an older adult (other than your parents). It is such an important skill to be able to carry on a conversation with someone in a different generation. I work with the elderly on a daily basis and have learned something from just about each and every one of them. I hear their joys, their regrets, their life lessons they like to share. I see them in all aspects. From the well-loved and happy retired couple who spends time with their grandchildren and has their son in law mowing their lawn for them, to the isolated and alone widower who has no one to even give her a ride to a doctor's appointment. I hear how they got to where they are in life. I hear why they might be lost and forgotten. They give amazing perspective to the different ways we lead our lives and the attitudes that go into getting us where we want to go. Teaching our kids to reach out to them whether it be through church, through the neighborhood, or even in our own families is an important skill. Have them sit and have a conversation. A conversation where they are not just answering their questions, but also asking their own. "What was your favorite age? Where was the best place you ever traveled? What is the best book you ever read?" They will be enthralled with all the information they can learn with just a few simple questions. And then have them do something for them. . .offer to rake their lawn, bring them a meal, brighten their day with flowers for their kitchen table. 

2. Have a positive attitude. This seems so simple. Just don't let those negative thoughts permeate and ruin your day. I see how attitude affects people so strongly in their recovery from illness or injury. Those patients of mine who think positively and greet therapy with enthusiasm recover much quicker than those who let the negativity and anxiety take over. I once had a patient whose blood pressure was extremely high that day and found out that he was still reeling from spilling his coffee earlier that day. Another patient would spend 20-30 minutes of each therapy session venting about one irritation or another she had encountered that day from a phone call from a telemarketer to not hearing back from a doctor about her hundredth question that week. Redirecting her to what was important.  . .her therapy was nearly impossible. These types of patients take twice as long to accomplish their goals because we just simply can't get to them when they have difficulty dealing with the little things that overwhelm them. How we deal with these little hiccups truly does affect our overall health and ability to accomplish any other things in life. Another patient's wife was complaining how last year on her birthday her husband was near death in the hospital and this year he spent the day at doctor's appointments and with therapists. I told her that it certainly is a step in the right direction. She looked at me with contempt and said, "Do they teach you to put a positive spin on everything?" No one taught me. . .I just choose to, I told her. I can't change the way people think. But I can change myself and I can pass on lessons to my kids. When they get off the bus with the day's difficulties spilling from their mouths we try to find the good parts of the day as well but also try to sort out the problems one by one and turn them into learning moments. Look at why you got that bad grade. Look at how others did. Maybe it wasn't a valid measure of your knowledge. Maybe you messed up and studied the wrong information. Maybe you forgot to study. What can you learn from it and how can you improve for next time? So many kids just think that string of bad grades means they are a failure and start to give up. We can learn from each and every failure. What if a boy/girl you like doesn't like you back? It's only a brief moment in your long life. Soon you will like someone else. You are at an age where you are learning what type of person you fit with and that includes what type of person meshes with you as well as you mesh with them. A crush might just be based on a cute face or they way someone is liked by everyone else but might not be a right fit for you once you get to know them. Remembering that this is just one learning experience in a lifetime is a way to keep perspective and stay positive. The best is yet to come. 

3. Have faith. This is so important on so many levels. Believe in something bigger than yourself. So many people have fallen out of a church life because of the stigma associated with religions. True religion teaches love, respect, humility, selflessness, kindness. Find a comfortable fit with a church. You don't need to stay at a church that makes you feel guilty or uncomfortable…or that teaches judgmental attitudes. There are so many choices out there and the rewards of a church family are immeasurable. The loving embrace of Sunday School teachers, ministers, youth group leaders will help kids to have someone to turn to and mentor them through tough times. They will share life's joys and concerns with them and help them to have strength and forbearance to get through some of the toughest years of their lives. Opportunities to give back to the community and volunteer are innumerable in church as well. . .from babysitting in the nursery to serving meals to the homeless, to traveling across the country to build houses for those who have nothing. . .all can be accomplished in almost any church. 

4. Count your blessings. When the kids do volunteer and see a glimpse of those down on their luck, they are reminded of how lucky they are. Even if they don't get the latest iPad or Xbox or Uggs, they can learn to appreciate the fact that they have a roof over their head, meals on the table, clothes to wear, a family who loves them, friends who care about them. They have what matters the most. The rest is gravy. 

5. Keep perspective. The kids think I'm cheesy because I tend to throw out these cliches. As Scarlett O'Hara says, "Tomorrow is another day." Annie says, "The sun will come out tomorrow." The Jewish adage, "This too shall pass." After I had my car accident as a teenager and was dealing with the following emotion, my grandmother hugged me and said to me, "It will all come out in the wash." When as a teenager and having a heart to heart with my father who had heard of a recent suicide he told me, "Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem."  The latest devastation in their lives is just a temporary set back. Live is beautiful and long. Live it with joy and abandon.

6. Others don't judge you nearly as much as you judge yourself. Do you care how big your friend's thighs are? Do you care if the girl sitting next to you is wearing the latest fashion? I hope not. . .and I guarantee you that others are not thinking about you as much as you think they are. Why? Because they are just as self-conscious and self absorbed as you are. If they see you wearing a bathing suit without a care in the world, they will respect you more than if you are hiding behind 2 or 3 layers. Because then your self-consciousness becomes obvious and they have something to focus on. Teens like to feel better about themselves by relishing in other's discomfort. Sad but true! Be confident, be self-assured and no one has any reason to look twice other than out of respect. 

7. Speak up to a bully. If someone is being intentionally mean, tell them. Simply say, "that was a mean thing to say." And walk away. Then forget about it. That person is trying to feel better about themselves. Distance yourself from these people and wait for their mean phase to pass. Don't necessarily count them out as future friends. They are growing and learning too. After they have experimented with trying to have power over others, they may mature and realize it is more isolating and lonely than just being kind to one another and you may find a good friend in them sometime in your future. Holding on to anger and negativity toward them for something they did to you in the 3rd grade serves no purpose and keeps unnecessary negativity a part of your life. 

8. Learn to take care of another living thing. Whether it be a plant, a guinea pig, fish or puppy. . .focusing your energy on making sure something else is cared for and stays alive is an important skill to have. It reduces your inner focus and makes you fall in love with something. It makes you have empathy and compassion for a living object and you are rewarded with they grow, thrive and learn in response to your care. 

9. Read an inspiring book. We can't experience the entire world and the way they live but we can understand so much more about the history of our trials and tribulations through books and movies. Whether it be about slavery, the holocaust or modern day human trafficking. there is so much going on in the world that will shock you, but inspire at the same time. It will open your eyes to how safe and secure you are in your corner and hopefully provide that sense of perspective that your life is pretty amazing and special. 

10. Smile. Every day. Just do it.

These are just some strategies I try to teach my kids and use myself to maintain a positive attitude. I'm sure there are thousands of others. Please share what coping skills you use in your family and maybe I'll make a future blog post with your ideas! 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

This is 40. . .and a half

On my 40th birthday last July, a dear friend of mine pulled me aside and gave me a quiet tidbit of advice. She said that 40 isn't really any different than 39 or 45, but what is different is the moment that you learn to stop caring about what others think. For her that happened sometime between 40 and 50.

I nodded at that moment, thinking, I don't really care what others think now.

Or do I?

Since then I have been paying attention and have realized that I do care. Or at least I did. In the past 6 months or so I have felt tremendous personal growth and realization. Is it because of the age? Or the life experience? Or does that all coincide together? Suddenly I am more comfortable, happy, secure, peaceful. And I think largely because I've just stopped worrying so much about other people.

Some of the changes I have felt gradually. . .not intentional changes necessarily. . .but changes that I see in our lives versus where we were a year ago.

1. I don't feel it is necessary to accept every invitation. We won't be left out the next time just because we said no this time. Sometimes missing the party and staying home for a family movie night is the best place in the world to be.

2. I've stopped venting. . .as much. But aren't you supposed to vent when something is bothering you to get it off your chest? I've learned sometimes venting makes it worse. Because in my attempt to portray the situation to a friend or to my husband, I have elevated it to another level. But if I shrug it off and let it stew a day or two, I find the issue tends to go away on its own. Whereas if I have brought someone else into it, it will linger and sometimes is compounded by their reaction or attempt to give advice that may or may not make it worse. If after a few days, the issue is still bothering me, then yes. . .time to share with those I trust.

3. I hold secrets closely. I saw an episode of a sitcom recently where the father was enjoying laughs by sharing stories about his kids. He didn't realize that the kids were mortified by what he was saying and learned by the end of the episode to keep the stories to himself. But found himself at a loss for words in some awkward social moments and had to just smile and nod along. So, I don't think I have ever totally humiliated my kids with stories about them, but have I over-shared? Have there been things I have told friends about them that would embarrass them if they were in the same room? Oh definitely. We all do it. But why do we do it? For a laugh? For support? To make the friend feel less alone by letting them know it happens to us too? Recently I have found myself about to share a funny tale or a story my kids told me...but I have stopped myself and wondered if my child would be giving me permission or not to share it. If I want them to continue to trust me and tell me what's going on in their lives and what's on their mind, I have to keep their confidences. Believe me, this has been very hard. Just smile and nod. . .smile and nod. . .

4. I need people less.  I used to be a member of Mamapedia, the local moms club and other various on-line parenting groups. I would frequently ask advice and exchange ideas on parenting. Slowly over time I have let these memberships lapse, finding that the solutions or advice I would get would usually not work for our situation and what we would come up with as a family would end up working out best.  And when it comes to connecting with others through text and Facebook, I have found I am doing that less as well. My group of friends is a god-send and I couldn't ask for a better community. But lately I have been just at peace on my own with a good book or taking some quiet time by myself. I don't need to be texting or checking Facebook or calling someone or be in touch with another person every minute of everyday.  I found that the phone sometimes, now is in the next room, forgotten. I don't NEED that connection as much. I have me. It's a great feeling. And when I'm with my family I am devoting my full attention to them, not trying to have a conversation via text with a friend at the same time that I am talking to them.

5. I will continue to stand up for what's right. I tend to know a lot about what goes on around me; more than I would like to know sometimes. Sometimes in the past I have been afraid to speak up because of repercussions. Or maybe I have spoken up, but then retracted because the fallout wasn't worth it. It's scary to be the whistle blower because ultimately there is someone who is on the other side of the situation who will not like what I have to say. But if it is the right thing and I feel passionately about it, I won't sit by and I won't be afraid of the outcome. There is a lot to be said about flying under the radar too. It has to be a delicate balance. This is an area I think I will forever be struggling with.

6. It's ok to be late. I have always been on time to everything. Even early most of the time; until I had kids with other ideas. These are our most stressful moments - trying to get out to the door to make it on time somewhere. I've stopped worrying about it so much. I'm not talking about a disrespectful lateness to things but if making to to dance class right at 4:00 means that we have to scream and yell and rush around, it's not worth it. Get what we need to get done, get in the car and go. Ever since I have relaxed on this in our house, I've found that even with extra feet dragging and difficulty getting that bun in the hair just right, we are never more than 4 or 5 minutes late. Sorry to the teachers. . .but life is much nicer to not be so stuck on leaving at that exact minute we need to. And there is always someone still getting there after us. This doesn't work for the bus because it doesn't wait. But I have found that we rush, rush to get to the bus stop on time only to usually find out IT's 10 minutes late. If we miss it, I drive them. Whatever.

7. And obviously I don't care about what others think if I can still show my face in public after my husband's recent karaoke and blizzard videos. Lol. . .He stopped caring about others judging him a long time ago and just lives his life the way he wants. He's happy! Used to be that kind of stuff would  embarrass the heck out of me. Now I just roll my eyes and laugh with him. But he couldn't talk me into being on camera with him, so maybe I still care a little. . .

I have the benefit of being one of the youngest of my group of friends and I learn so much from the wisdom of the strong, beautiful women around me. I'm sure I will continue to make mistakes. I will continue to learn and grow. I might read this a year from now and think. ..Oh, I was so naive. I was such a silly 40 year old. But for now, these philosophies have come about out of necessity and maturity. They are me. And I am happy and fulfilled.

For now.

Welcome to 40 and a half.