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How to Find a Good Counselor for Your Child

You're the best person to find a good match for your child's needs.

Imagine being an 8-year-old and dealing with all the stuff they are dealing with today. As a parent, you can see something’s just off with your child. Maybe your kid’s teacher, guidance counselor, or some other adult in their life has noticed it. And now you’ve decided to take the brave step of finding a counselor for your child. Because you care so much, not just any counselor or therapist will do: you want to find a good one.

Here are some tips on finding a good counselor.

Don’t be shy to ask your network of people you know.

Ask your child’s pediatrician and talk to the school guidance counselor. Mention it to church youth workers. Definitely ask your friends. You may find out that more people have experience with child counselors than you thought. However, when you ask, be sure to ask what makes their recommended counselor good. I mean, just because they know the counselor doesn’t mean they are a good counselor. Or that he or she is the right one for your child.

Dr. Christina McCroskey says she and other pediatricians often hear from parents about which counselors are effective. Your child’s doctor may also have a better idea of what type of care your child may need.

Figure out all the letters.

MD, Ph.D., LMFT, LCSW, MSW, LPC. You’ve heard the terms psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, family counselors, therapists, etc. It can be overwhelming when you’re starting from scratch. Here’s a good list of different designations for mental health professionals. Like I said, your pediatrician can help you choose what your child needs. That’s a great place to start.

Gather your thoughts and be specific.

Whether someone recommended counseling or you’ve decided to go this route on your own, take some time to write down your concerns about your child and any potential triggers. It’s easy to get nervous on the spot and forget critical details. Writing it down can help you accurately communicate your concerns.

Research.

Ask around about counselors. Get on the internet and read their credentials, articles, or blogs they may have written. Check out their social media accounts. Find out how much experience they have. Learn what their areas of concentration are. You want someone who’s experienced working with children, not just counseling people in general.

Interview Potential Counselors One-On-One.

Good counselors should be used to being vetted to determine if they’re the best fit. You can do this in person or by phone, and maybe even through Zoom. If they are resistant and try to rush you to an appointment, move on to another counselor. 

When you talk to them, ask…

  • About their experience working with children.
  • What methods they have used with children in their practice.
  • How the parents are included in the process.
  • How they differentiate between medical conditions and behavior issues.
  • If they have a particular specialty.
  • What they do to stay current in their practice.

Questions to ask yourself afterward:

  • How did I feel after talking to them? Did I feel inspired, hopeful, and encouraged? You can speak to some counselors and feel like they are life-giving while others are so heavy and gloomy. 
  • Did I feel heard and understood? Were they genuinely listening to me or quick to diagnose and tell me what we needed? 
  • Were they empathetic?
  • How would my child receive them? You know your child well. There’s a good chance that if you didn’t feel like they connected well, they might not connect well with your child.
  • Is this person truly an advocate for the family?

Listen to your gut.

It’s ok for you to talk to multiple counselors until you find one that just feels right. I wouldn’t introduce the child to the counselor until you’ve chosen one.

Schedule a consultation.

Many counselors will schedule a one-hour consultation with new clients before asking you to commit your hard-earned dollars to their practice. If so, use this opportunity to learn more before you make a choice.

“As adults, it’s important not to assume that our youth can handle emotions. If we as adults struggle (with a fully developed brain), imagine the difficulty our youth are having with a developing brain and body,” says psychiatrist Dr. Cassandra Simms:  

By taking your time, practicing patience, and showing due diligence, you are the best person to identify who can best help your child. Demonstrating your strong love by getting your child the help they need will be something that will pay off for years to come.

Other helpful blogs:

How To Make Sure Your Child Knows You Love Them

Is Your Child Depressed?

How to Prevent Depression from Affecting Your Child

How to Help My Child Handle Anxiety

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6 Things You Can Do to Help a Child Who Is Grieving the Death of a Parent

Adults in the child's life are essential to help them grieve in a healthy way.

Death is often a difficult topic to discuss. It’s even more challenging to consider how you can help a child through the death of a parent. No matter what age, the death of a parent shifts your foundation. Therefore, it’s even more critical to find ways to support and help a child grieving the death of a parent. 

Parents provide safety and security for their children. After a parent dies, the child’s needs may vary according to their age, maturity, and personality. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to grief. These children have unique needs that should be met. 

Here are 6 things you can do to help a child who is grieving the death of a parent:

1. Be aware of your own grief and emotions.

It’s not easy to help a child through grief if you don’t acknowledge and work through your own. Grief is the process through which you deal with a loss. In this case, a friend or loved one died and left a child or children behind. Recognizing this allows you to process your grief so you don’t unintentionally make this loss only about you. 

2. Be careful how you communicate with the child.

Because people tend to be uncomfortable talking about death, they often use well-intentioned phrases that do more harm than good. Sayings like:

 “They are in a better place.”

“They just went to sleep.”

“One day, you will get over this.”

While you may mean well, think carefully about saying something just to say something. You may even need to listen more than you talk.

3. Be prepared for the child to express a variety of behaviors.

Children can display so many emotions after their parent dies, including fear, sadness, or anger. They may experience separation anxiety when away from the surviving parent or caregivers. Additionally, they may experience the following regressive behaviors, including using baby talk, bedwetting, or waking in the middle of the night. Stomachaches may become common complaints. Eating habits may change also. It’s essential to be aware of the frequency and intensity of any behavioral changes. 

4. Be age-appropriately honest with them.

Children often have questions after the death of a parent. How did it happen? Is it gonna happen to you? Is it gonna happen to them? First, talk with their surviving parent to find out what they shared with the child. That can prepare you to answer questions within the framework they’ve established. Honesty is vital. Your honest answers help rebuild trust and security. In your desire to help, consistency and reliability are essential, too. You want to under-promise and over-deliver rather than over-promise and underdeliver. Do everything you can to follow through with what you say you will do.

5. Be award that grief is an ongoing process.

Many people come around in the immediate aftermath. However, the kids will need you for the long haul. The hard truth is that a child never gets over the death of a parent or stops grieving their loss, though the experience of grief may morph over time. Kids may seem to bounce back from the loss. As a result, we want to believe that children are resilient and won’t be affected long-term. As comforting as this might sound, unfortunately, it’s not true. The intensity may lessen over time, but the parent they lost won’t be there for life milestones (i.e., Birthdays, Holidays, Proms, Graduations, Weddings).  

6. Be proactive in helping the child find ways to remember their parent.

Some people think that remembering a parent who died causes children pain. Attempting to minimize the pain, people often decide to remove photos or rarely mention or discuss the parent. On the contrary, remembering helps with the grieving process. Memories give a child a picture of who their parent was, what they liked, and how they lived. 

Losing a parent can be one of the most challenging things a child (or even an adult) can experience. The adults in the child’s life are essential to help them grieve in a healthy way. As you journey with them, be a listening ear, a safe place to land, and a consistent presence in their lives.

Other helpful resources:

How to Prevent Depression from Affecting Your Child

Equip your child to handle their feelings with these tips.

I was a depressed child. 

It’s sort of a long story. But that part of my life prompted me to better understand mental health and how to prevent issues with depression, especially when it came to my own kids. 

Because let’s face it—when our children hurt, we hurt. 

And there’s a certain balance we have to strike as parents: we have to understand there is always the possibility for depression to rear its ugly head in our kids, while at the same time remembering there are practical ways to decrease the likelihood that it will. 

I want to give you three skills you can teach your children.  

Skill #1: Know Thyself. 

As parents, it’s good to understand some of the risk factors involved with depression in children:  

  • There is a history of depression or other emotional struggles in the immediate family.
  • The child experienced any earlier traumas or chronic illness.
  • There is substance or alcohol abuse in the family.

These factors increase the chances that a child could experience struggles with depression. 

No need to freak out here. Nor is there reason to try and diagnose anything. We simply need to be aware of the possibility and let that motivate our diligence to maintain good mental health in both our kids and us. 

It’s good for younger kids to begin to understand their feelings. Help your child put a name to their emotions. Feelings are still a new thing for kids. I don’t know how many times I’ve sat with my own children, talking out just what it was they were feeling inside: I’m not mad, maybe a little sad, kind of embarrassed, but I’m not sure. 

When your child can name feelings, they can begin to manage them. 

Skill #2: Care for yourself. 

The Big-3 of self-care practices are sleep, exercise, and diet

Be sure your kids are getting plenty of rest at night. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 9-11 hours of sleep each night for 6 to 13-year-olds. 

Kids also need plenty of physical activity and outside time. This is important for physical and brain development that directly affects emotional regulation. Sunshine boosts serotonin in the brain, which counteracts depressive states. 

Avoiding processed sugars and having a cleaner diet also helps kids regulate their moods while improving sleep quality and activity levels.

Skill #3: Connect with those who love you. 

The CDC says connection is a key to protecting the mental health of kids. Do what you can to keep your relationship strong. (Here are some conversation starters to help you connect!)

Be sure you are spending plenty of quality and quantity time with your child. Engage with them in meaningful conversation. Include them in your world. Remind them every day how much you love them and that you’ll be there for them, no matter what. Encourage them to come to you when they need you. When they know you are on their side, your child will be much more empowered to manage strong emotions like depression. 

One last thing: your kids need your example. You want your child to have confidence that they can work through emotional struggle. This is difficult for a kid to come by if you don’t regulate your own emotions, care for yourself, and seek help when you need it. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help for yourself or any family member who can’t seem to shake depression; we all need help like this at times. 

You know what it’s like to struggle with your emotions. We know our kids will wrestle with theirs at some point. It’s part of life. Let’s be sure our kids are equipped to handle their feelings, so their feelings don’t handle them. Begin some skill-building this week and keep it going. And don’t forget to stay connected! 

Let me set the scene for you. I’m working from home because of COVID-19 and sitting in quarantine at my computer trying to crank out a report and meet a deadline in an hour. 

The following sequence of events happens:

  • My 9-year-old son goes running down the hall and slides on the floor into the door as if he were sliding into 2nd base. (I guess he misses baseball.)
  • I calmly stand up and say, “Are you crazy? Don’t do that anymore.” (50– Nice and cool.)
  • Next, my 11-year-old son breaks a glass bowl in the kitchen.
  • I, truly irritated, go to the kitchen to investigate and help clean up the mess. (100– Hot, but bearable.)
  • Then my 2-year-old is yelling at my 4-year-old, “Let me have it. It’s mine. Let me have it!” as tears are flowing down his face. Of course, he gets louder and louder each time.
  • I put my referee suit on and very frustratingly resolve the issue. (150– Feels like I’m in the desert with no water.)
  • And then my 13-year-old daughter innocently enough walks in and asks me to set up Zoom on the iPad so she can get on a video with her friends.
  • And now, I’m ready to lose it. My very first thought, (picture blood vessels bursting out of my forehead, “Leave me the -beep- alone!(212– Water’s boiling point.)

I’ve gone from calm, to irritated, to frustrated, to downright angry because no one will let me get my work done. Don’t they know the pressures that we are under right now?! Don’t they know that if I don’t get these reports completed, I could be the next one to be laid off or have his salary reduced?!

There are 2 distinct doors to choose at this moment: 

  • Behind Door #1: Blow up and let my 13-year-old and all the other kids have it. Check out the blog, How Your Emotions Affect Your Child to learn more about what else is potentially behind door #1.
  • Behind Door #2: Take a timeout.

The timeout is an extremely useful tool that has helped me with my own children. It is so important because when I reached the boiling point, my body had literally undergone a chemical transformation as adrenaline and cortisol was now rushing to my defense. I was not capable of thinking rationally because my brain was out of balance at that moment.

The timeout becomes vital to provide an opportunity to literally calm your nerves. It can be made to be real dramatic which helps to get the focus onto the issue and off the person. 

Some creative ways to take a timeout and not blow up on your kids.

Throw a flag.

(Stole this one from the NFL) When a team commits a foul. One referee throws a flag. Then all the referees huddle to discuss the foul and make sure there’s agreement on the consequences (e.g. 15 yard penalty). Play doesn’t resume until the foul was acknowledged by the referee and the consequence was administered. And then it’s on to the next play. (The referees are always calm, direct and clear when they discuss the foul that was committed and the penalty.)  If one of them has committed a foul that’s about to cause you to blow up on your kids, have a makeshift flag (i.e., bandana, handkerchief, napkin, old rag) and throw it to the spot of the foul. And if your spouse is available, discuss the foul with them. Sometimes the referee picks up the flag and says that no foul was committed. Sometimes your kids didn’t do anything wrong, the stress of life just got to you. Don’t be too proud to pick up your flag and say no foul was committed.

Hit the Pause Button.

(Thank Hal Runkel, marriage and family therapist and author of ScreamFree Parenting for this one.) When we pause, everything freezes. Time stops. We don’t yet act on the next thought that comes to mind. We’re giving ourselves time for the adrenaline to settle down. Hal Runkel says, “Kids don’t want cool parents. They want parents that keep their cool.” Hitting the pause button helps you keep your cool. Make your pause button noisy. It can be a buzzer like the one that comes with board games like Taboo or a little wheezy toy. This draws attention to the fact that there is an issue that makes me want to explode and we need to deal. These are drastic times which call for drastic measures. Let your drastic measure be hitting the pause button.

Set a 90-second timer.

Use your phone, microwave timer, watch, or just count. Did you know that we only stay mad (chemically) for 90 seconds? According to Jill Bolte Taylor, brain researcher and author of A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, anger triggers a chemical reaction within the brain that lasts for 90 seconds. After that, we either turn our attention elsewhere or replay the story and reignite the anger.  You’re about to lose your mind at the expense of your kids. You can often sense when that 90-second count starts. Stop, take a deep breath and set a timer. 

Simply call a timeout.

Form a “T” with your hands and say, “Timeout.” Doesn’t get more straightforward than that.

If you start to blow up on your kids or even get a few moments into your blow-up and then catch yourself and recognize the need for a timeout (this happens to me a lot), that’s ok. All isn’t lost.

Take a timeout the moment you recognize you need it. Take it from my experience; don’t start to blow up on your kids, realize that you’re blowing up, know that you should take a timeout, but since you’ve already started, choose to keep blowing up. Don’t do that!

If you do, you’re essentially saying, “I know that I’m not thinking rationally, that my adrenaline has thrown off my thought process, and that I’m in the middle of reacting, but I’m going to stay on that path anyway.” Pride or stubbornness should not get in the way of a timeout.

The best time to come up with a plan is before you need it.

Have an age-appropriate conversation with your kids. Discuss the timeout, its purpose and implementation. Then use it

Not only are you protecting your children and yourself, you’re also modeling self-control and teaching them how to regulate their emotions. And in the process, you’ve put yourself in a better position to get the results you really want: a family that is considerate, loving and respectful of one another. That beats fewer broken dishes any day.

Image from Pexels.com

Of the 76 million children living in the United States, a staggering 60 percent (46 million) of them will experience violence, abuse, crime and psychological trauma before they turn 18. That’s according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Believe it or not, home life plays a huge part in these statistics. Specifically, children from single-parent homes seem to be at higher risk for adverse childhood experiences than those who live with both parents.

The National Survey of Children’s Health asked parents of 95,677 children under 18 if their kids had ever seen or heard “any parents, guardians or any other adults in the home slap, hit, kick, punch or beat each other up.” Nineteen of every 1,000 children living with their two married biological parents experienced that type of behavior. Sadly, the exposure rate was seven times higher (144 children per 1,000) in homes with a divorced or separated mother. These comparisons are adjusted for differences across age, sex, race, family income, poverty status and parent’s education level.

In an Institute for Family Studies article, Nicholas Zill, a psychologist and child and family well-being researcher with more than 40 years of experience, writes:

“Experiencing family violence is stressful for children, undercuts their respect and admiration for parents who engage in abusive behavior, and is associated with increased rates of emotional and behavioral problems at home and in school. For children of never-married mothers who witnessed family violence, 58 percent had conduct or academic problems. Among children of divorced or separated mothers, nearly half of those exposed to family violence, 48 percent, had had conduct or academic problems at school.”

So, how do adverse childhood experiences affect children long-term? Do they set the stage for greater difficulty later in life? Are children resilient?

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studied more than 17,000 adults to find out. It examined the links between traumatic childhood experiences (abuse, neglect and family dysfunction including divorce, incarceration, substance abuse and mental health issues) and current adult health and well-being.

According to that study, exposure to adverse childhood experiences hinders the ability to form stable and healthy adult relationships. Plus, those experiences increase risk for:

  • Experiencing substance abuse;
  • Depression;
  • Cardiovascular disease;
  • Diabetes;
  • Cancer; and
  • Premature death.

In contrast, healthy relationships at home, school and in the community can nurture a child’s physical and emotional growth. Children need these types of relationships from birth forward in order to thrive and grow into productive adults.

What can you do?

  • Create a safe and stable home for your kids.
  • Actively engage in your child’s life.
  • Learn skills to help you manage and resolve conflict.
  • Take parenting classes for various ages and stages.
  • Make sure your neighborhood is a safe place.

Safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments are among the most powerful and protective forces in a child’s life. So in order to promote healthy child development, we must be diligent to create those safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments. As a community, we all share responsibility for the well-being of our children.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Many children are exposed to abuse, neglect and family dysfunction which experts often refer to as toxic stress. But why can some kids who encounter toxic stress move beyond it and lead a healthy life while others cannot?

That’s the question researchers set out to answer in one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and well-being. The study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente, is called the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study.

Originally, the study included more than 17,000 Health Maintenance Organization members from Southern California who received physical exams. The members completed confidential surveys regarding their childhood experiences (abuse, neglect and family dysfunction including divorce, incarceration, substance abuse and mental health issues) and current health status and behaviors.

Researchers found that exposure to adverse childhood experiences hinders the formation of stable and healthy adult relationships. Plus, those experiences increase risk for:

  •  Experiencing substance abuse;
  •  Depression;
  •  Cardiovascular disease;
  •  Diabetes;
  •  Cancer; and
  •  Premature death.

Conversely, healthy relationships in the home, school and community nurture a child’s physical and emotional growth. In short, children need these types of relationships from birth forward in order to thrive and become productive adults.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a staggering 50 percent of the 73 million children living in the United States will experience violence, abuse, crime and psychological trauma before they turn 18.

The National Survey of Children’s Health, conducted by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, surveyed parents of 95,677 children age 17 and under. It asked whether their child had ever seen or heard “any parents, guardians or any other adults in the home slap, hit, kick, punch or beat each other up.” The exposure rate for children living with their two married biological parents was 19 out of every 1,000 children. For children living with a divorced or separated mother, the rate of exposure was seven times higher (144 children per 1,000). These comparisons are adjusted for differences across age, sex, race, family income, poverty status and parent’s education level.

In 2012, Tennessee conducted its own ACEs survey through the CDC to see how adverse childhood experiences affected the state’s general population. It found that about 42 percent of residents experienced two or more ACEs. And, 1 in 5 Tennesseeans has experienced at least three categories of ACEs. Emotional abuse, substance abuse and parental separation or divorce are the most common adverse experiences statewide.

There are many opportunities to learn about adverse childhood experiences, their impact on education, the workplace and throughout our community. In addition to learning how to help create safe and stable homes for children and recognize the signs of ACEs in adults, it’s crucial to discover how to promote healing for those who have been exposed to toxic stress.

Tennessee is launching one of the first comprehensive public policy shifts focused on prevention because preventing ACEs in young children before they experience ongoing “toxic stress” can actually lower taxpayer and community costs. Learning about the impact of ACEs can greatly benefit families, companies, nonprofits, agencies and other community and religious organizations.

Since we are all responsible for the well-being of our community’s children, we can promote healthy child development together. For starters, we can help to create safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments that kids need.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on April 23, 2017.