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How to talk to your child about mental health

I’ve got one of those good news-bad news scenarios to share.

The good news: there is hope that the pandemic will end soon with a vaccine now available.

The bad news: the pandemic has produced a second wave casualty–the silent and invisible plague of mental health issues.

There isn’t a quick and easy vaccine for this kind of illness. People around the world have suffered jobs loss, loss of friendship and celebrations, lost opportunities, uncertainty about the most basics of everyday living, anxiety about the future, and feelings of frustration vented onto family members crowded together in chaotic living arrangements.

The cumulative effect of stress suppressed in the body can turn into feelings of chronic depression or anxiety.

Wearing masks have shielded us from the virus. But what about the other masks we wear? The ones that lie and tell everyone that we are “doing fine” and “hanging in there” but hide the real emotion. We mask what is going on behind closed doors. According to the CDC, the social effects of the coronavirus has been associated with increased mental health challenges and anxiety and depression reports have risen during the past year. Forbes magazine also reports increased stress due to Covid-19 and a reluctance for adults to talk about how that stress affects their mental state.

So this leads me to the important question. What does a parent do when he or she is battling mental illness brought on by this pandemic, or from any other reason? How do you talk to your child if you are experiencing depression? Kids have it tough enough without having to worry about their parent.

Now’s the time to open up, take off the mask of shame, fear, guilt, doubt, and denial. Let’s replace it with safety, connection, vulnerability (which is an act of courage), honesty, and hope. Now’s the time to talk openly about mental illness.

One of the best ways to talk about difficult subjects with kids is through children’s literature…”bibliotherapy” so to speak. You learn about how other people are suffering and experiencing a wide range of emotions through fictional or nonfictional stories. It’s an indirect way to broach the topic which for many, makes it easier. Reading these books aloud with your kids will make it “safe” to talk about since it’s in a storybook format with captivating pictures.

Then, as you read each page, you can open up and talk about how you feel similar to the character in the book. Ask your child if they notice when you are in a depressed state and how it affects them. It also sparks questions such as, “Is depression contagious,” “What are my triggers?” and that it is a normal thing we are going through. The books also give ways the main character gets help from others and learns to cope, which you can discuss with your child. What a relief that will feel! No one is powerless; there is always help. Talk to them about how you are getting help (or plan to) and learning how to manage. These books can be read again and again to help your kids process their situation. Each time, you can ask different questions that are sparked from the story.

The following list are for the topic of depression. There is an equally wonderful selection of books on other topics related to mental health.

Can I Catch It Like a Cold? Coping With a Parent’s Depression
Written by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, illustrated by Joe Weissmann

Synopsis: Alex’s dad doesn’t work anymore and just wants to sleep all the time. When Alex finds out why — that he’s suffering from depression — he confides in his friend Anna. She tells him that her mom has depression too, and she sees a therapist to help her feel better. “I like that it promotes the benefits of therapy for the entire family,” says an expert at the Child Mind Institute. Ages 7-12. Published by Tundra Books.

Although this next story is about PTSD, a parent suffering from depression may identify that their depression is triggered by past experiences, smells, sights, etc. like the girl in this story. They could read it and talk about how he/she feels similarly anxious and depressed by life’s challenges.

The War That Saved My Life
By Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Synopsis: During World War II, 10-year-old Ava escapes her traumatic life with her mom and goes to the countryside, where she learns to ride a pony and read. But in the country she is still struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder; for instance, going into a bomb shelter reminds her of being locked in a kitchen cabinet in her mom’s apartment. Because of some mature language and themes, it’s better read with your child. Ages 9-12. Published by Puffin Books.

Here are four more books that are sensitively illustrated and written. Choose what targets your child’s age and appropriate developmental understanding.

Meh by Deborah Malcolm (depression) (for children ages 6-10)
(https://www.amazon.com/Meh-Story-Depression-Deborah-Malcolm/dp/163411003X)

Michael Rosen’s Sad Book by Michael Rosen (for ages 6-pre-teens)
(https://www.amazon.com/Michael-Rosens-Boston-Globe-Horn-Honors/dp/0763625973)

The Princess and the Fog by Lloyd Jones (depression) (for ages 5-7)
(https://www.amazon.com/Princess-Fog-Story-Children-Depression/dp/1849056552

Why Are You So Sad: A Child’s Book about Parental Depression (Kindergarten to Grade 3)
by Andrews, Beth, and Wong, Nicole

Now, another good resource to open up discussion with your children is short videos. This one has great animation, information, and very helpful for children. I’d suggest watching it first, then viewing it with your kids and talking about the message. It’s terrific!

Finally, this video talks about signs of depression that would be great for older kids and teens. Not only to talk about how they see your signs, but also to become aware of their own mental health as well as their friends.

Let’s mask up for the virus but unmask when talking about mental health. It’s one less thing that doesn’t have to become a casualty of our current health crisis.

Managing Expectations in Marriage…

…or in any relationship. Between two business partners, a parent and child, siblings, or best friends. This topic is for everyone. Even between a pet owner and his furry little animal.

Think about it. When do you NOT have expectations on a daily basis? Nearly every thing we do is laden with an expectation whether we are aware of it or not. Managing finances, raising children, doing chores around the house, maintaining a car and home, communication styles, and on and on. Every interaction involves two people who expect the outcome to be one way or another and for each person to act in a certain way.

In any disagreement on any topic, I assert that is has everything to do with unmet expectations. If you are angry, frustrated, disappointed, or just plain ticked off, just fill in the blank: “I expected that you would…”

Because expectations are part of everything we do and the source of unhappiness, I chose this topic when I was asked to be interviewed for The Growth Marriage.

Enjoy!

What you water grows: Part 2

In my last post I shared a gardening/relationship 80/20 principle. In a marriage, this can be applied by following these steps for happiness:

  • A happy marriage is like committing to tending a garden.
  • Going out every day to tend it requires time and patience.
  • Every garden contains beauty but also weeds and pests. Marriage is the same.
  • Be proactive: pull out weeds when they’re small, fertilize, water, spray for pests.
  • Occasional neglect can usually be reversed, but it requires more effort than if it had been consistent.
  • Prolonged neglect will lead to the plant’s demise.
  • Hard work is extremely gratifying.
  • If tended, the results are beautiful and ongoing.
  • Look for the beauty and you’ll find it everywhere. Dig deeper and you’ll find pests.
  • Happy people do not succumb to little things. They step back and focus on the 80% of beauty to gain a better perspective rather than nit-picking at the thorns (20%).

It’s the same thing for parenting. You can easily find negativity and crassness about raising kids. I don’t want to water those weeds.

Today, I’d like to add another voice from a facebook post by Tiffani Harker. She shares 10 uplifting thoughts about the joys and positive perspectives of parenting. With her permission, here it is:

We have 6 kids (19, almost 18, almost 16, 9, 7, and 5) so we’re still in the thick of raising kids, but through the years, I’ve learned to relax, and not to sweat the small stuff. Our almost 16 year old was born with Spina Bifida, and I’ll tell you right now that boy has taught our family more about love and perseverance than I ever knew was possible. He made me a better mother, and the lessons I’ve learned along the way have shaped the woman that I am. To you mamas, I’d love to tell you:

1. It’s okay. It’s going to be okay! I know some days feel totally overwhelming and exhausting, and you often feel like you’re messing up. Mama, you’re doing so much better than you think you are. A bad day does not a bad mother make! You are the absolute world to your children, and I promise you they don’t see you in any other way than the best mom in the world. Take a time out for yourself when you need it, and tell that negative voice in your head to shut it. Those thoughts don’t come from above, so don’t you dwell on them. You’ve got this!

2. Your babies are going to be just fine. You will always worry about them, I don’t think that goes away. But you’re doing your best and you want what’s best for them, and because of that, your babies are in the very best hands.

3. Let them fall and fail occasionally so they can learn and grow. Be there to catch them when they fall or when they mess up. Don’t fix their mistakes for them, no matter how tempting. Love them and listen to them, support them and correct them when it needs to happen. Pray, and pray some more, and know that they’re going to get through it.

4. Set your expectations high, but keep them realistic. Kids will rise to the occasion and are so much more capable than they’re given credit for. They are smart and resilient, and their hearts are literally pure. Show them the way, and help them course correct when they need it.

5. Grades are important, but they aren’t everything! Encourage and require them to do their best, but more important than anything, teach them how to treat others well. All the A’s, scholarships, top notch college degrees, and high powered jobs don’t mean a dang thing if they don’t know how to love people. I would rather know my children are kind and caring human beings than them being millionaires.

6. Teenagers aren’t as scary as you think! I was terrified of having teens, but oh my word what a lovely surprise it has been! They’re so fun to talk to, have their own opinions, and holy cats they are funny! I think the secret to raising teens is to listen, listen, listen! Listen more than you speak. They just need you to be there. They will ask you their questions, as they know they can trust you, then you will have the opportunity to really share your thoughts with them. Don’t be afraid to be silly with them, and heck…take every opportunity to embarrass them a little. (Within reason, of course) Sing and dance in the living room with their friends, and open your home to all the loud and sometimes smelly teenage boys. Love those kiddos and be a safe landing place for them. You’ll never regret it!

7. Just love your babes. The dishes, laundry, and cleaning will always be there, but babies don’t keep.

8. You will mess up. It’s okay! Apologize to your children when you need to, and move forward. Do not beat yourself up! Find support, whether it’s another mom friend, your own mom, or a group like this. You’re not alone and you don’t have to go through this journey all on your own.

9. If you need to eat some chocolate to get through the day, eat the dang chocolate, girl!!!

10. Remember who those babies belong to, and go to Him for guidance. He will lead you if you let Him.

What you water grows: Part 1

You can find plenty of parents out there on social media who gripe about being parents. Sure, being a mom or dad is hard. If you’re a stay-at-home parent who has these little critters 27/4, the messy days, lack of sleep, and wearing down of nerves is a real thing. I’ve been there. I get it.

However, as a social scientist and family studies expert, I also believe in the power of “what you water grows.” It’s a scientifically proven principal, and as a lover of gardening, it’s a law of nature I can count on as well. What this means is:

  • Every interaction or relationship has an 80/20 ratio.
  • About 80% of that person is what you love and, in the case of your spouse, the reason why you married them. Then there’s the 20% of what you don’t love so much, perhaps is even a bit annoying, and is a reminder that no none’s perfect (including the 20% in ourselves, mind you!).
  • What you focus on gets more of your attention. I can see the roses or the thorns…it’s my choice.
  • What gets more of your attention is reinforced in your mind, as well as in the other person or thing.
  • If I see the rose, I find beauty and am filled with gratitude, love, and appreciation.
  • If I look for and find the best in the other person, I will find it. If I look for and find the weaker parts, or thorns, in the other person, I will find that too.
  • If I continue to look for and reinforce the weaknesses in another person, the 20% in them inflates to eventually becoming the 80% and I feel completely justified in hating them, being dissatisfied, disgusted, or feeling justified in my removal of love (water) and acceptance of them.

Children and their parents have about an 80/20 relationship principle as well.  I can tell you from raising five babies to teenagers, that they stink, are moody, or contrary at least 20% of the time. But if you can look beyond the crazy hairstyles, acne, and sullenness, you’l find pretty remarkable, talented, loving, funny, smart, social, delightful human beings. I’ve enjoyed every stage of life with them. Each is my favorite.

Click on this image and say aloud what is the first thing you see.

Because of the darker images, usually our eyes are drawn to the bats or demons, as the artist Escher wanted. But look at it again, and stare for a while at the white spaces. Coming into focus, when we really concentrate, are angels.

In every person, there is both, good and bad, light and dark. It’s our choice to look past the things that are of no lasting consequence in our children and spouses and quiet down that voice that wants to criticize. Instead, sit still. Be calm. Focus on the light and the white spaces between. See what angels are brilliantly waiting to emerge and for us to embrace them.

And then water, water, water.

 

 

 

Flawed Parenting is Best

The longer I’ve lived, the more I’ve realized we are all connected. There are no insignificant people in our lives. No throw-away humans. We should treat every living soul as if our lives depending on them. And they do!

Who knows if that obnoxious kid you sat next to in junior high math class will grow up to be your own kid’s kind-hearted pediatrician?

Who knows if that neighbor who was hard to get to know might open up one day and become your best friend?

Who knows if your child’s friend, to whom you generously gave milk and cookies for after school snacks, will grow up to be a lawyer who will do you a favor and represent you to save you tons of money and heartache one day?

I’ve had enough recurring experiences with people throughout my life to treasure each human as the most important person…because they may well become that one day.

And even if they just become a more valued friend…that’s worth it.

One such lady was an acquaintance through my children’s elementary school years. We didn’t do anything directly together, just had kids in the same classes once in a while and they took piano lessons from the same teacher. Stuff like that.

I grew up to teach at the local university and one of her daughters came to me, all grown up, asking for an exception to register late for my class. Since I knew her family, and that they were all stellar students, I granted that, of course.

Later that year, her other daughter, a graduate in the same field as mine, asked me to contribute to a wonderful blog called, “The Healthy Humans Project.” I really admire her work and was delighted to contribute. What an honor. The article I wrote is called, “Flawed Parents are the Best Tutors for Children.” 

I’ll leave you with this quote that sums it up for me. We all matter. Treat everyone as if they really do. Because they do.

1683007-Yelena-Bonner-Quote-Just-as-there-are-no-little-people-or

 

 

The Anatomy of Trust

 

I show the following video of a talk on trust by Brene Brown to a class I teach on relationships at Utah Valley University. It’s dripping with insights. So much meat to chew on! There aren’t enough metaphors to convey my enthusiasm for what she shares! Here is the radio program interview I gave if you want to listen.

Here are some jump start questions to guide your thoughts as you watch:

  1. What is the definition of “trust” and “distrust”?
  2. What is “marble jar” friends?
  3. What does the acronym “BRAVING” stand for?
  4. What is “hot wiring connections” or “Common Enemy Intimacy”?
  5. How does trust involve integrity:Choosing Courage over Comfort

    Choosing what’s right over what’s fun, fast or easy

    Practicing Values, not just Professing them.

  6. What are “sliding door” moments?
  7. Why does trusting ourselves begin before trusting others?
  8. Where do you want to improve in building trust?

How To Raise Compassionate Children

Kid-DonatingI am interviewed twice a month (usually the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays) on BYU radio. This week was about “How to Raise Compassionate Children.” The one this week, on Tuesday, September 6th was responding to Hurricane Harvey that devastated Texas, as well as other natural disasters. Many compassionate people have come forward to help and have reminded us that the power of compassion is always greater than the power of any disaster.

If you want to listen to the interview, here is a link. Here are the main points I discussed.

  1. Expose children to a variety of experiences. “Compassionate” is to be open-hearted and open-minded, to feel confident in talking with people who are different. Children need direction and opportunities to get out of their comfort zone and see the wide world around them. In doing so, they will be more aware of the needs of others and respond more compassionately. How do we expose them to different experiences? Travel within your community to see places that reflect a variety of lifestyles and perspectives. Then go beyond your borders into other regions, and even countries. Don’t just stick to the touristy spots and resort strips; drive to where the “real” people live and shop and worship. Stop and talk to strangers to hear their stories. Be interested in others and model to your children how to see into the hearts of others by listening and asking questions. Our children have enjoyed hosting international students from time to time. We’ve also benefited from reading books together at bedtime to learn from the lives of characters very different from us. As you read, ask questions such as, “How do you think that person feels right now? How did that make you feel? How does this character inspire you? What would you do in this situation?” Help to process their feelings and evoke the compassion within them.
  2. Use the technique of “induction.” This parenting strategy teaches children to become aware of the consequences of their actions. It helps develop empathy for others. Rather than stating, “You’d better invite Sarah to your birthday party or she’ll feel left out,” help her to discover that for herself. Don’t TELL a child how to feel but let her feel it herself. “How do you think Sarah will feel if you don’t invite her to your birthday party?” or “How would you feel if you weren’t invited to a party?” Other inductive phrases sound like: “What did grandma’s face look like when you gave her the flowers?” “If you practice the piano, how do you think the people will feel when they hear such beautiful music?” “What do you think will happen when you are honest about returning that money?” “If you share your markers, don’t you think Sammy will want to share his with you?”
  3. Involve children in humanitarian and service opportunities. This can start on the micro level, within the family. Have family members draw names and do secret acts of service for each other. This is a popular “pixie” activity around Christmas time but can be done throughout the year. Ask your children to look for ways the family can serve others: “Who can we serve this week, or this month?” Many families encourage compassionate acts by asking their children at the end of each day, “Who did you serve today?” or “What was one nice thing you did for someone today?” And be sure to tell them what you did as well. If you do this on a regular basis, your children will learn that the question will be coming and they will dial into service opportunities. Soon, it will happen naturally. Be sure to ask the follow up reflection question: “How did you feel when you did that nice thing for another person?” It’s great to do service for others anonymously. Kids love the mystery of it all. It’s also fun to involve the family in projects with others so join clubs or others organizations to mobilize great efforts and outcomes. Finally, when the time is right and you are able, send your children (or go as a family) to do a major humanitarian project. My oldest child went to China as a volunteer to teach English after graduating from high school. Another child went with the Rotary Club in her junior year to build a house in Mexico. Another child volunteered at an orphanage in Quito, Ecuador the summer before her senior year. These are life-changing and eye-opening experiences.
  4.  Discuss community and world events in natural conversations. Because of the nature of disasters like Hurricane Harvey, too much information delivered in an anxious tone can overwhelm and worry children. So as you talk about world events, be sure to keep a positive tone. I love the quote by Fred Rogers who said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” So focus on the helpers when talking about unfortunate circumstances and how you can be helpers, too. Rather than feeling like the world is out of control, doing service helps a child to take control and empowers them to make a difference.