by Dr. Jan | Jan 12, 2020 | Social Issues, Parenting Difficulties, Communication, Transitions, Stress, Teen Issues, General, Depression-Bipolar, Anxiety, Anger, School Issues
Building Resiliency in Ourselves
I don’t know about you, but as the school year ramps up, my overall stress has also been ramped up. It’s just a lot to manage, both as a parent and as a young person. We are all feeling the stress of transition. And then we add in all of the other fear and uncertainty going on in the world and it is hard to find any peace in our systems. We can’t control everything going on around us and we can’t control everything that our kids are going through, but we can build our own ability to cope and be resilient in the face of it all. As our nervous systems become more regulated, we are better able to stay calm, think more clearly, and move through stressful situations with more ease. Additionally, if we are regulated, then it is more likely that those around us (kids, partners, co-workers) will also be able to feel more regulated too.
So, when you notice your shoulders tensing and thoughts racing and your irritation growing, take a moment to breath by focusing on your breath coming in and out of the area around your heart at a count of 5 on the inhale and 5 on the exhale. As you do this, focus on a feeling of love or ease and let this feeling wash over you for a few minutes. Practice regulating your nervous system by calming your breathing a few times a day and notice if you start to feel a increased overall sense of calm or at least, the ability to calm down more easily.
Written by Harmony Barrett Isaacs, LPC
by Dr. Jan | Jan 12, 2020 | Anxiety, School Issues, Social Issues, Communication, Stress, Teen Issues, General
Keeping Life Skills the Focus for Young Adults
This is the season that high school seniors and their parents are entrenched in the process of completing college applications. And while this process is undeniably important and the gateway to the next phase of life for our young people, it is also important to keep in perspective for parents and students alike that this decision is more about taking a step towards an independent life. Whether your student ends up at a 4 year college, community college, takes a gap year, or gets a job, there are a number of life skills that are important to reinforce as they move towards successful independent living.
- How to ask for help. Too often, young adults feel the pressure to step into independent life seamlessly, with the expectation that they already know how to do everything. Please remind your students that life, and especially the newness of this stage, is about trying new things, making mistakes, getting some help, and then trying again. Remind your student that you won’t be disappointed in them if they don’t get something right. This is especially important when it comes to transitioning from high school to college academics (where old study strategies often fall short for the college work load) and mental health issues (especially anxiety and depression), which can emerge or exacerbate when away from home for the first time. Also, if you student chooses to experiment with alcohol or recreational drugs, make it clear to them that they can come to you for help if needed, whether or not you agree with the choice.
- Balancing flexibility with discipline. Sometimes, the best laid plan changes. Or the needs of the students change. Parents and students both need to embark on this phase with equal parts flexibility and discipline. College level academics require sustained discipline over the semester and pushing through some very challenging times to complete the classes. Help your student remember to pace them self and that they are working towards a larger goal. But sometimes the chosen path is not the right fit. Whether it is the wrong major, the school is not a good fit, or realizing that your student really does need to take a break in order to figure out what they want. Sometimes students need time to mature a bit or have some real life experiences before they can commit to the demands of college. Changing coarse is part of the life path and it is not the end of the world nor the end of their higher education if they take a break.
- Life skills don’t automatically happen at age 18. Tangible life skills related to cleaning, laundry, money management, cooking, and bill paying have to be taught. Do not assume that your student knows how to do these things just because it seems basic to you. Give them the basic knowledge to survive in the adult world.
The transition from adolescence to young adulthood is a dynamic and complicated one. Hold on to the perspective that foundation is being laid for adulthood during this time, but that this is not a permanent state, so enjoy this time of newness and exploration!
Written by Harmony Barrett Isaacs, LPC
by Dr. Jan | Jan 12, 2020 | General, LGBTQ, Social Issues, Communication, Intimacy Issues, Domestic Violence, Stress, Teen Issues
Talking About Sexual Consent
Parents, it’s time to get ready to have THE talk. Given the events of the past year and the rise of the #metoo movement, the talk about sex must now also include discussing sexual consent. The point of opening up this conversation with your young person is to start to honestly explore and ask questions about experiences, uncertainties, and gray areas, so that when they are with potential sexual partners, they can more effectively have the conversation. Of course there are some absolutes when it comes to this topic, like when someone is too intoxicated to speak coherently, than they are too intoxicated to give consent and this is an automatic “NO”. And, when someone says “No” to something having to do with sex, that is the answer. Consider including the following discussion items:
- What they are and are not comfortable doing;
- That it is fine to change your mind about whether you want to do something, and the partner has to respect this;
- Consenting to one kind of sexual activity doesn’t mean you have consented to everything;
- Consenting one time doesn’t mean that you have consented forever;
- Learning to read body language that indicates that someone feels uncomfortable and how to ask partners if they feel uncomfortable;
- How to set boundaries and say “no”;
- Clarify within themselves about what they want to say “yes” to.
We are moving into long overdue new territory with the conversation about sexual consent. This is a conversation that everyone needs to get (un)comfortable having, so that it becomes the norm. This can be vulnerable territory for everyone (parents included), but there is no shame in asking questions, clarifying what is ok and what is not ok, and learning how to have this conversation. Thirty years ago, the conversation was about how not to get pregnant or contract an STD (STI), then it evolved to preparing young women (and men) to keep themselves safe from sexual assault, and now the conversation has evolved into a more nuanced one about shared responsibility and understanding consent and boundaries. And while parents are a key player in initiating this conversation, I recently heard a story about 4 cis-male college roommates who called a house meeting amongst themselves to make sure they all understood what sexual consent was. These young men exemplify this evolution.
Written by Harmony Barrett Isaacs, LPC
by Dr. Jan | Jan 12, 2020 | Intimacy Issues, Teen Issues, General, Social Issues, Communication
Reader Question: Why is it Important to Validate Feelings?
“Do you really have to always validate other people’s feelings? What if they are just plain wrong?” Natalie, Lafayette, CO
Validation (of feelings) is a buzz word used frequently in parenting books and relationship self help. But what does it actually mean to validate someone’s feelings and why is in important? Often time, validation is confused with agreeing with what the person is saying or their perspective. Validation is not about agreeing with the other person’s thoughts, but it is about understanding how someone might be feeling. It requires using empathy, or putting yourself in that other person’s shoes. If you have ever been in an argument with someone and you take the approach of trying to change their mind and convince them that their facts are wrong, you have most likely found yourself in a debate or a power struggle, where anger and defensiveness takes over, and where no one actually wins or feels better. This is also true when someone is very anxious and you try to fix the problem before you validate the feeling.
On the other hand, validating feelings diffuses the emotion of the situation by acknowledging the feelings first and not getting into the facts until both parties are calmer. This may sound something like this “Ok, I see how upset you are. I can understand that you are feeling overwhelmed and like you have no power in this situation.” When someone is upset, they are operating from their emotions and the rational part of their brain is offline, therefore, if you pause and help to address and validate their emotions first, then the rational part of the brain (pre-frontal lobe) is more easily accessed.
Next time you find yourself in a heated moment with someone, remember this mantra: Diffuse, don’t Debate.
Written by Harmony Barrett Isaacs, LPC
by Jan Hittelman | Nov 30, 2015 | LGBTQ, Social Issues, Communication
By: Dr. Jan Hittelman
Whether we realize it or not, we are all prejudiced. That’s because our brains are wired to categorize and think in stereotypes based upon our experiences and perceptions. If we have limited experience interacting with individuals who are different than us in some way, we have to base our expectations on other information, like what we see in print and on television. That’s why the portrayal of various groups in the media is so important because it can shape our attitudes and biases. Similarly, we are all vulnerable to “Us and Them” thinking. That’s why we have gridlock in Washington, D.C. and ongoing international clashes throughout the world. Regardless of our ethnic, racial, or political views, most of us would agree that mutual understanding, respect, and world peace are important and admirable goals.
While Boulder is often viewed as a progressive, liberal bastion, the truth is that we have a long way to go in terms of our own understanding, respect, and perceptions of people who are different than us. Just ask a member of any minority group in our community about how they feel perceived by others when walking down the street or going into a store. Think about how most adult Caucasians might feel walking down an alley at night and coming upon a group African American teens. While we may not like to admit it to ourselves, all of us our vulnerable to prejudice and “Us and Them” thinking.
The solution starts with acknowledgement of the problem. Once we are aware of our prejudices we can change them by learning more truths about others to replace stereotypes, which are based on limited, distorted information. The best thing you can do for your children is to seek out diverse social opportunities for them so that they can have real experiences with folks that are different from them. Let’s shift from distrust, based on lack of knowledge and experience, to inclusion and acceptance. That way we all benefit.
by Jan Hittelman | Nov 30, 2015 | School Issues, Social Issues, Parenting Difficulties, Stress, Anxiety, Early Childhood
By: Dr. Jan Hittelman
There’s a big difference between skills and abilities. While we are born with certain natural abilities, skills are learned and require practice to develop. It is important to remember that our children are not born with good social skills, but learn these skills through modeling and practice. There are numerous research studies that highlight the importance of healthy social skill development and their impact on academic development, school success, as well as success later in life. Conversely, children with poor social skills are at increased risk of difficulties in interpersonal relationships, peer rejection, poor academic performance, signs of depression/aggression/anxiety, and are at higher risk of involvement in the criminal justice system as adults. Social skill deficits can also impact school safety and have been a factor in the recent rash of school shootings.
In addition to focusing on developing good academic skills, we must also prioritize our children’s development of healthy social behaviors. Important components of good social skills include: nonverbal communication skills, empathy, problem solving skills, and conflict resolution skills. Here are some strategies parents can use to promote healthy social skill development:
- Importance of good role models: A lot of what your child knows regarding social interaction is learned at home, not just from parents but also from siblings. Making conscious efforts to discuss, practice, and reinforce prosocial skills can make a huge difference.
- Provide opportunities for social interaction: Ensure that your child has plenty of unstructured time to play and interact with others, as well as involvement in structured afterschool activities, will provide them with the critical opportunities for practice.
- Teach Problem Solving Skills: Help your child develop problem solving skills by following these simple steps: Identify the problem, brainstorm possible solutions, predict the probable outcome for each solution, and choose the one that has the highest probability of success; if it fails choose another solution.
- If needed, consider enrolling your child in an effective social skills group: Find a licensed therapist in the community who offers structured social skills training for your child’s age group.
Perhaps we need to start thinking about the four “Rs” in education: Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic, and Relationships. I’ve never met an elementary student who didn’t feel that recess was too short or a secondary student who didn’t wish that they had less homework in order to socialize more with friends. Maybe they’re onto something.