March 27, 2017

A DAY IN THE ADHD LIFE: SCENES FROM A JAKE’S WAYBACK BURGER

True confessions time.  I have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.  To my friends and family, I am sure this does not come as much of a surprise.  I am 46 and grew up in a place (Texas, then New Jersey) and a time (the 1970’s and 1980’s) where ADHD wasn’t as well-known as it is now.  Basically, I grew up undiagnosed until well into adulthood.  This is why I like working with kids and families dealing with adhd…it’s something with which I’m intimately familiar with.  Today, I describe a recent event in my life where my adhd brain got the better of me.  I’m hoping this will both amuse and educate you guys about what it’s like to live with this condition.

Let’s set the wayback machine for two weeks ago.  My fiancée and I were out shopping, running some wedding errands, etc.  Truth be told, I’m not huge shopping fan so my interest level wasn’t at 100% (though getting these errands done was important).  Furthermore, I’d not slept well the night before and was not my best mentally.  I could tell it was a bad adhd day.  My mind was bouncing from thought to thought like an overly eager and friendly Labrador retriever.  What I’m saying is from an attention management perspective, I was nowhere near the top of my game.

During our outing, it occurred to us we should eat food.  We decided to treat ourselves by stopping in a Jake’s Wayback Burger.  For those of you not in the know, this place sells incredibly great burgers and awesome shakes.  They’re a little pricey, but very tasty.  Inside, my labrador mind immediately noticed the cool posters in the place.  Each poster represented a decade (from the 30’s to the 80’s) and I found that I had to put a lot of effort and energy to keep my eyes from wandering from my fiancée (who is a lovely woman) to studying the posters.

To make matters worse, the two guys at the table next to us were having a loud, weird and interesting conversation.  Near as I can tell, one guy was starting some sort go video game start up.  He actually said “we’re going to be the next Nintendo.”  He was selling hard to someone who appeared to be associated with some sort of community access cable channel.  They were talking very loudly and the selling was hard.  My fiancée and I both were giving each other silent looks regarding what we were both hearing. We weren’t sure if it was a business meeting or a date. Anyway, this was another thing drawing my attention away from my fiancée and our conversation.

The proverbial camel breaking straw came partway through our meal when from behind me, someone in the kitchen yelled something to someone else in the kitchen.  I had no idea what they said.  I was caught utterly and completely by surprise.  That it happened behind me in my blind spot didn’t help.  Immediately, my attention was pulled behind me.  The Labrador in my head went “HUH??!?!”  I was powerless to stop it for a good couple of seconds.

The result was that I totally didn’t hear what my fiancée said.  As she is an intelligent and observant woman, she totally noticed my attention shift and knew in that moment I didn’t hear her.  I knew that she knew I wasn’t paying attention.  The Labrador tucked his tail between his legs and started to whimper.  I felt terrible because it was clear her feelings were hurt.  This wedding stuff is important and its important I be a part of it.  In that moment, even though I’m totally invested in the wedding and the planning, that’s not how it looked.  Once again, I let someone I cared about down and there was nothing I could have done to avoid it.  Somedays, this adhd thing really sucks.

She called me out on my lack of attention.  I tried to be cool about it at first, but ultimately had to own up to the fact that I missed some of what she said.  Explaining what happened and apologizing, I did the only thing I could do.  Ask her to repeat herself. As her feelings were hurt, she did not want to at first.

We talked some more about what adhd is like for me.  I suspect many of you have had similar conversations with parents, partners and friends.  The neurotypical folks in our lives don’t understand the struggle of how easily our attention gets split.  They don’t see all the ways we must compensate for adhd mind.  They do, however, see the frequent lapses in attention.  When it gets personalized, they get hurt…we in turn, often get defensive.

If you love someone with adhd, understand these important points:

  • ADHD is forever. Don’t confuse an apparent lack of symptoms for a lack of ADHD.  Your loved one has probably learned to cope better.
  • Coping skills only go so far. Lack of sleep, environmental attention grabbers, etc. impact our ability to attend.  If stressors exceed coping, our attention will go bye bye.   Don’t take that personally.  Not to be cliché, but it’s not you, its us.
  • Know that we really want to pay better attention and most of us are trying really hard to stay engaged and attentive.
  • Help us by calling us out on our lack of attention to get us to re-attend. But do so without judgment or ire.  We may need the help, but the other stuff just gets us resentful and defensive.

For those of you, like me, who have adhd, try the following:

  • Be aware of how good or bad your attention might be. Be honest with your loved ones about when you might be struggling.   Help them understand.  Help them to help you.
  • Be honest with yourself when your attention is weak and try to implement appropriate coping skills.
  • When things go awry, don’t personalize it or get down on yourself. Apologize, reset, refocus.  It’s ok.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We tend to be the kind of people that don’t ask for help or assistance.  We’re often tired of being “failures”.  Failure only happens when you don’t get the support you need.  Doing yourself will ultimately end in the failure you’re trying to avoid.

I hope you found this article helpful.  Please share this with everyone you know.  Spread the positivity!

If you would like to work with me on dealing with your adhd symptoms or the adhd symptoms of a loved one, then call 484-693-0582 or go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com to schedule a consultation.

©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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FOUR SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY TO BE A BETTER YOU IN THE NEW YEAR LESSON TWO

Let’s continue our quest for self-improvement.  The last article, which you can read HERE, focused on the difference between struggle and suffering and how to think about those things in a more positive manner.  As we go through these lessons, you may notice a theme developing.  Each lesson is not a big huge behavioral change requiring a lot of effort to do.  Instead, these lessons are small changes in how we think and look at situations.  These small changes in thought can really add up and lead to more permanent change.  The next article in our four-part series comes to us from the wisdom of Yoda.

Lesson #2:  Do or do not, there is no try

A parent said to me recently “if all you ever do is try to feed the dog, the dog will starve.”  Not only is this hilarious, but its completely true.  I hear “I’ll try” from clients all the time when we talk about change.  Hell, I’m guilty of saying it myself.  The thing is, people who say to me “I’ll do it” are more likely to follow through than the ones who say “I’ll try.”  I know for this is true for me.

What is it about saying try that seems to muck up the works?  I know that sometimes when people use the word try that they often are sincere in their desire to change.  Other times, try is simply a way to look willing to change while avoiding it all together.  It’s a polite way to say “Aw, hell no!”  In either case, “try” thinking seems to interfere with are ability to move forward and actually do stuff.

There is a lot of research done around motivation.  One of the things researchers have found is that when people announce their plans to others they are less likely to follow through and do what they said they’d do.  For instance, you tell all your friends that you are going to start going to the gym 4 times a week and work out for an hour.  You tell them so that they can hold you accountable and keep you honest.  What happens?  In many cases, the gym trips start out fine but then gradually drop off.

Saying “I’ll try” is very like telling our friends our plans.  It tricks our brain into thinking about what would happen.  We imagine the outcome and our brain (which doesn’t do a good job of distinguishing between what we think and what happens) into experiencing completeness.  This experience then gives us the illusion on some level that we already did what we said we were going to do….and then we don’t actually do it.  This phenomenon has been documented in research going back to the turn of the last century.

So, what’s the solution?  How do we not try?  Simple…listen to Nike and JUST DO IT.  Don’t tell everybody your plans, just start working your plans.  Hold yourself accountable.  If you don’t want to do something…be honest and say so.  If you do want to do something…DO IT.  The hardest thing about this is typically getting through the mental/emotional resistance.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve procrastinated, worries, and stressed out about something and once I finally started felt “that wasn’t so hard.”  Has that happened to you?  Probably.  So, remember that.  Remember the feeling of getting stuff done.  Stop getting in your own way and applying the brakes to yourself and start doing the stuff you want and need to do.

I hope you found this article helpful.  Please share this with everyone you know.  Spread the positivity!

If you would like to work with me on getting stuff done and getting out of your own way, then call 484-693-0582 or go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com to schedule a consultation.

Find part one of this series here.

Find part three of this series here.

Find part four of this series here.

©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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FOUR SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY TO BE A BETTER YOU IN THE NEW YEAR: LESSON ONE

The old year has come to an end and a new year is upon us.  According to most of the social media I’ve been reading, this last year was bad.  I’m talking the fifth season of Night Court bad.  We all seem to be hanging our hopes that this new year will bring us some much-needed relief.  Despite the challenges the previous year presented us, we can’t lose sight of all the positive things that happened in the last year.  It wasn’t all doom and gloom.  I learned some very powerful lessons that have changed my life in positive ways.    These lessons have helped in my personal and professional growth.

I don’t generally subscribe to the idea of making new year’s resolutions.  If you want to change, then you should do that regardless of the time of year.  However, any chance I get to get out of my own way and become happier, healthier and less stressed I jump on it.  Over the course of the next four articles, I will share these ideas with you in hopes that you can be a better, more positive you in 2017.

 

Lesson #1:  Struggle in life is inevitable, suffering is optional

That phrase is purportedly something that stems from Buddhist philosophy.  While I can’t speak to the origins of that phrase, I find it to be profound and moving.  Struggle IS inevitable.  This is a fact that we can do nothing about.  No matter how we try hard times are going to happen to us.  We don’t need to pile on.  Yet, we do this to ourselves all the time.

We fear the struggle and go out of our way to avoid (a futile act) and then beat ourselves of with our thoughts and our behaviors when the struggle inevitably occurs.  If a boxer got into the ring and started to punch himself in the face, we’d think he was crazy.  Yet, we do similar things to ourselves all the time.  We judge, blame, shame, assume, exaggerate, downplay, and twist our experiences in such a way as to add suffering to our experience and those around us.

With a true understanding of this, we can make some profound changes that can bring peace and happiness to ourselves and our loved ones.

  • If struggle is inevitable, then change must therefore be inevitable as well. So, when we are in difficult times (struggle), we can hold on to the fact that the difficulty is temporary and good times are coming our way.  All we need do is take care of business without beating ourselves up physically, mentally or emotionally.  We should also avoid creating suffering for others.  Just try to stay calm and deal with what we can change when we can change it and nothing more.  It is the essence of the Serenity Prayer.

  • Conversely, when we are in good times, then we should appreciate and savor them because eventually, struggle will return. Be mindful and appreciate the blessings and the wonders that the good times afford us.  It’s like Ferris Beuller said, ”Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

I hope you found this article helpful.  Please share this with everyone you know.  Spread the positivity!

If you would like to work with me on increasing your positivity practice or reducing stress then call 484-693-0582 or go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com to schedule a consultation.

Find part two of this series here.

Find part three of this series here.

Find part four of this series here.

©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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3 simple things you can do today for a happier family

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3 SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY FOR A HAPPIER FAMILY

I see a lot of families in my practice. They are all different…different struggles, different needs, different backgrounds…and what seems to unify them all is their desire to simply be happier. Isn’t that what we all want on some level? This article will present 3 simple things that you can do today that will help your family function better and thus be less stressed.

Less Stress = More Happiness!

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TIP #1: MAKE AND POST HOUSE RULES
It seems obvious to this, yet I’m amazed at how often families neglect to do this. Sure, there are usually house rules. They are verbally taught to the children. What doesn’t happen is that the rules get posted up for everyone to see.  Here’s the thing. Kids are great. They’re funny, loving, and we as parents adore them to death. They are terrible at remembering stuff (especially when it’s stuff that might keep them from getting or doing what they want)!  Parents often tell me how they’ve taught the rules to their kids. They fail to realize that in the moment where they want their kid to follow the rules the drive to do whatever it is that the child wants to do might drive rules knowledge right out of their little brains.

A picture is worth 1000 words and kids remember what they see better than what they hear!

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Here are the guidelines for rules:
• Keep them few in number (I try to do no more than five)
• The rules apply to everyone in the house
• State them positively (they should tell you what to do instead of what not to do)
• They should cover about 85 to 90% of what might happen (imagine how great life would be if 85% of the time these rules were followed!)
TIP#2: MAKE A FAMILY MISSION STATEMENT
I got this from the book “The Secrets of Happy Families” by Bruce Feiler and I’ve used it with my family as well as families with whom I’ve worked. How often do families take stock of who they are and then discuss and write it down? Not very often. Having this discussion can really clarify moral and ethical beliefs of your family and negate assumptions and faulty beliefs.
Take a page from the corporate world and have a sit down meeting with everyone in the family. Discuss what you guys, as a family, are all about. What things are important to all of you? What traits define you? Write it up in two or three simple paragraphs.
Once that’s done, post it right next to the rules. Use this document as a teaching tool. Let’s say someone does something that isn’t captured in the rules? Refer to the mission statement and have a discussion as to how what happened did or did not fit in with the mission statement. Instead of a failure you get instant teaching moment.

TIP #3: MAKE A FAMILY MOTTO
This is related to tip #2. Distill the rules and the mission statement down into a simple family motto. For my family, when I did this, our motto became “We take in strays. No one is turned away.” This was based on the fact that we had fostered and adopted kids in the family and every single pet we owned was a rescue. It really summed up what we were about.

You can do these three things in a day or so. Once done, you can do things like tie reinforcement/reward strategies to them. You can know that with these things posted, you don’t have to keep repeating yourself…just point at the posters. This saves argument and aggravation. It decreases miscommunication and misunderstandings.  Besides, these activities can also be really fun.  It’ll help put everybody on the same page as to expectations and help everyone to feel more a part of things.
I hope you found these tips helpful. Please share in the comments section other exercises you have used to help increase your families’ happiness.
If you want to get access to more tips like this and worksheets to help do these exercises, consider joining my Super Parents Team. Go to www.erikyoungcounseling .com/superparent-team to sign up.
If you would like to work with me then call 484-693-0582 or go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com to schedule a consultation.
©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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The Punishment Spiral (and how to get out of it)

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courtesy of freedigitalphoto.com

How it starts… a familiar story?

Your child does something you’ve told him not to do. In fact, you’ve him not to do this thing many times before.  Frustrated, you snap at your child “how many times do I have to tell you?!  Cut that out!!”  Maybe you ground them for a year… because time out and losing video game privileges hasn’t helped.  Maybe you start ranting like a crazy person about how the child is irresponsible, disrespectful, etc.  Maybe you even engage in corporal punishment with a spanking.  Then, you look at yourself and how you are acting.  You realize that should things go any further, there’s going to be a visit from child protective services in your near future.  Your kid is in all likelihood experiencing a full on meltdown by this stage.  You are too.  You feel helpless to get your child to listen and you don’t know what else to do.

Welcome to the punishment spiral.  As a parent, I’ve been there…. more than once.  In fact, it’s at this stage that many parents seek out my counseling services.  They’ve gotten stuck in a repeating cycle of punishing “bad behaviors”, the child getting “used” to the punishment, and then having to escalate the punishments to maintain their effectiveness.  The end result, like those Bugs Bunny cartoons where he and Marvin Martian get bigger and bigger weapons until they are ready to blow up the moon with their planet busting bombs, is that things get quickly out of control.  Thankfully, with a little knowledge and planning, this situation can be changed for the better.

Punishment vs reinforcement

First off, it’s important to note the difference between punishment and reinforcement.  From a technical point of view, punishment is anything that happens after a behavior that decreases the chances of seeing that behavior in the future.  Reinforcement is anything that happens after a behavior that increases the chances of seeing that behavior in the future.  Thus, for practical purposes, when you deliver a consequence with the goal of trying to get your child to stop or decrease a behavior you are technically punishing him.  This also means that your intent is less important than the outcome.  You might intend something to be reinforcing or but unless it increases the behavior it is not a reinforce.  Also, if it goes so far as to decrease a behavior, your reinforcer is actually a punisher.

Here’s the thing bout punishment.

  • It works, and it tends to work fast.
  •  It’s also the cultural norm in western society.

However, there is a cost to using punishers.

  • They tend to leave both the person delivering the punishment and the person receiving it feeling poorly.
  • Over use of punishers strains and damages relationships.
  • They only teach a child what not to do in a specific situation…. thus you need to punish every possible behavior that you don’t want to see if you go strictly with punishment as a consequence.
  • Punishment only works when the threat of punishment is imminent (the child knows they will get caught right then).
  •  Finally, kids tend to get used to punishment so they lose effectiveness over time.  This leads to the need to escalate punishments. Over time, this can quickly get out of hand, leading to a punishment spiral.

Personally, I tend to prefer using reinforcement strategies when I deliver consequences.

  • Reinforcers really teach your child what you want them to do and thus eliminate most other possible outcomes you don’t want to see.
  •  For example, I can punish my child every time he hits.  He might stop hitting, but he can kick,he can bite, etc.  If I teach my child to use gentle hands and feet or something along those lines…I’m focusing on rewarding the behavior I want to see and this basically gives no incentive to engage in all those other negative behaviors.
  •  Giving rewards ends to make the recipients feel more kindly and connected to you.
  • The downside with reinforcement strategies is that they often take a little bit longer and require a little more finesse.  You might have to teach a behavior or skill as you start to reinforce it.
  • You have to stop reinforcing the negative behaviors… and this might mean changing parenting tactics.

 

Also, a lot of parents often feel that reinforcement strategies look a lot like bribery.  The thing is, bribery is a money given to someone as an incentive to engage in illegal or illicit behavior.  It’s given BEFORE the behavior (so is not reinforcement) and I don’t know about you, but I’m not rewarding my kids for doing illegal and illicit things. Just keep the big picture in mind.  We want our kids to learn how to behave “properly.”  If a system of rewards will help them be motivated to behave, then that’s a good thing.  Over time, extrinsic rewards (money, toys, food, etc.) give way to intrinsic rewards (praise, doing it because it’s the right thing to do and it feels good) as the child grows and matures.

Break the cycle… Competency Based Parenting

What to do if you find yourself in a punishment spiral with your kids?  How do you get them to listen without killing a child?  First, take a deep breath.  Second, it’s simply time for a reset.  Look at the behavior and try to figure out what your child is getting from it.  Whatever that is, we need to provide that to your child, but only for displaying the behavior you want to see.  Once you’ve figured that out, you need to set the stage to elicit and reward those desired behaviors.

There are some assumptions that go along with this.

  • First, if your child is struggling with behaviors around certain items or activities (I often hear this in reference to computers and video games) then he is not competent or ready to handle the responsibility and privilege for access to that item or activity.  Access needs to be eliminated or cut back to something more manageable until your child has demonstrated the skills and competency to handle that situation.

 

  • The next assumption is that you, as a parent, have everything that the child wants and the child has absolutely nothing you want (thank you to Terry Levy and Michael Orlans for that concept!).  This means that everything you child takes as a given (video games, TV, etc..) is a privilege you ALLOW them.  That xbox isn’t your child’s…you paid for it.  You paid for the electricity to run it.  You pay for the wifi for it to connect to the internet.  When your child gets to play it… it’s because you are choosing to let them do it.

 

  • Your child should only have access to privileges that they have demonstrated the ability to manage.  So, if your child won’t do their chores because they are busy playing video games or get irritable or angry and act out around access to video games, then they are clearly not ready to handle the responsibility of video games.

 

So, to avoid going into a punishment spiral (which often starts with taking away “stuff” after kid acts out), we simply restrict access to activities to only those things the child can manage.  Give the child access to a limited number of activities and then as the child demonstrates responsible behavior over time (weeks and months… not hours and days), gradually add more privileges.

  • Add privileges slowly.  For example, don’t just give free access to the video games.  Maybe give them 10 minutes a day to a select few games (if they do their chores and get homework done).
  • Do not add privileges until you, as a parent, are dead certain your child will be able to manage it responsibly.
  • Don’t let your child guilt you with the “my friends get to do it” card. Your child is not his or her friends.
  • Your child will hate this at first, but will generally show improved behaviors very quickly under these boundaries.
  • By focusing on earning privileges for demonstrating positive behaviors and adding privileges slowly… you focus on looking for positive behaviors, rewarding instead of punishing, and you are teaching your child what to do (rather than what not to do).

I hope these tips help you live more harmoniously with your kids.  If you have further questions or would like to schedule a consultation, please feel free to contact me at erikyounglpc@verizon.net or call me at 484-693-0582.

Copyright 2014 Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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Want your child to listen better? Try the prompting hierarchy

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       I.            Does this sound familiar?

“Johnny, put on your shoes.”

“Put on your shoes Johnny.”

“Johnny!  Pay attention!  Put on our shoes!”

“Put on your shoes!”

“ARRRGGGHHH!!!”  (parent loses mind… Johnny is still shoeless)

If you have kids then you’ve probably had this interaction (or one like it).  Repeating the same command over and over as your child blissfully ignores you until you lose your mind.  Why does this happen?  They say that the definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior over and over expecting the same results.  So, parents MUST be crazy because we insist on repeating ourselves to our kids ad nauseum hoping they will suddenly listen to us.

Ok, so we aren’t crazy even if our kids sometimes make us look that way.  There must be a solution to though to what to do to get kids to listen when we want them to do something.  One answer is using prompts.  Prompts are assists that help someone to display a behavior we want to see. For example, demonstrating a behavior for your child and then having them copy you would be an example of a modeling prompt (you modeled the behavior).  If you make your prompts progressively more assistive, you can ultimately guarantee your child will do what you want.  More importantly, this makes sure that the child receives praise and reinforcement  from you for displaying the behaviors YOU want to see.

     II.            The different kinds of basic prompts

There are four basic kinds of prompts I like to use with my kids:

Gesture – some sort of non-verbal movement that will elicit the desired behavior. In the above shoe example, pointing the shoes could be a gesture prompt.

Verbal – a brief verbal statement meant to bring about the behavior. That’s all that was used in he above example.

Model – demonstrating the desired behavior.  In the above example, I might pick up the shoe and then put it down while saying “Like this, now you try.”

Physical – helping the child to physically do the behavior. So, hand over hand helping the child pick up his shoes and put them on.

  III.            Putting the prompts to use

Putting everything together is pretty simple.  After the child is told to do something, you wait a bit for them to process and comply.  Then, if they don’t do what you want, you give them a prompt.  Personally,  like to start with the gesture prompt as it is the least intrusive.  Wait a bit, then go to the next level of prompt (verbal) if the behavior doesn’t happen.  Keep working up the hierarchy until you get the behavior you were looking for.  As soon as the behavior occurs, make sure to deliver reinforcement in the form of praise.  With this system, you guarantee you don’t repeat yourself forever trying to get your child to listen,  Also, you guarantee that the child gets praised for doing the behavior.  Finally, you only give as much help as the child needs to do what you want.  So, you might start out having to physically assist but over time that will naturally fade to verbal, gesture and hopefully with no prompts (child does the behavior when first directed to do so).

If you wish to learn more about prompting strategies or to schedule a free consultation with me, call 484-693-0582 email erikyounglpc@verizon.net or press the schedule appointment button to the right.

©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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New Year’s Resolutions versus The Stages of Change

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The Christmas holiday is over.  Surrounded by the carnage of torn wrapping paper and mangled boxes, we look to the future.  Soon, it will be New Year’s eve.  Maybe because it’s a “natural” transition…or maybe because it’s tradition, we tend to start thinking about the past and looking to the future.  From this has arisen the idea of the New Year’s resolution…the promise of change that we make to ourselves to hopefully make the next year a little better than the one that just passed us by.

Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of the resolution.  Well, that’s not true…I’m all about making resolutions and change for the better.  I just don’t see why we should only do it once a year.  I figure if you need to change…then change.  Don’t wait for an arbitrary date to do so.  However, that’s not the point of this article.  No…I want to speak to you about HOW to change…not when or why.

I.                   Ever struggled with making changes?

If you answered “no” to that question, you are either the luckiest, most enlightened person in the universe…or a total liar.  Everyone struggles with change.  Change is difficult.  It’s stressful.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve decided to make a change in my life.  Committed to the process…only to fall on my butt.  Sometimes it’s because life got in the way.  Other times I wasn’t really ready.  Still other times I changed, but it just didn’t “stick”

I tell you this now because I often reflect on how ironic it is that I as a mental health professional whose job it is to facilitate change in others struggle personally with making changes myself.  In fact, all my colleagues seem to have the same dilemma.  However, in my studies I have learned a thing or two about change…things that have helped me personally and certainly helped my clients to change.  So, in the spirit of making changes for the new year, I offer you this look into the theory of “stages of change.”

II.                 Prochaska and DiClemente — Stages of change

I came across this change model while I was finishing up my degree.  I’ve found it to be incredibly helpful in my own efforts at change as well as those of many of my clients.  Here it is in a nutshell:

  1. “I don’t have a problem…YOU have a problem”– (Precontemplation) – Not considering change.  Doesn’t recognize there’s a problem.  “Ignorance is bliss.”  You probably won’t recognize if you are in this stage…but you will know if a loved one is here.  If your child, spouse, friend, etc is here, then your goal is to raise awareness.  Make connections between the person’s behaviors and the problem at hand.  I often find myself saying “How’s that working for you?” to clients stuck at this stage.
  2. “I know I have a problem, but what can I do about it?”—(Contemplation) – Recognizes there may be a problem or a need to change, but doesn’t know what to do about it.  Most of us become aware at this stage.  We often try to force a change here but this is a mistake.  Because we don’t know everything about the problem any solution we come up with is liable to be inadequate. It’s like trying to bake cookies without reading or understanding the recipe.  The goal here is to be patient and really understand the problem thoroughly.  Once you understand it, then you can change it.
  3. 3.       “I know what’s wrong, just need to figure out what to do about it.” – (Preparation) – Recognizes a need for change and is starting to explore the problem and come up with a plan to address it.  Here we start putting together a plan for change.  We draw on all our resources to get ready to change. 
  4. 4.       “I’m working my plan!” – (Action) –  Recognizes a need for change.  Understands what needs to be done, has a plan and is “working” that plan.  Pretty straight forward.  This is where most of want to be but try to get here too soon.
  5. 5.       Maintenance – Has achieved the desired change and is now actively maintaining that change for the long haul.
  6. 6.       Relapse – Due to unforeseen circumstances, has reverted to old patterns of behaviors and regressed.

It is important to note, while most people go through the stages in order, one does not have to go through ALL the stages.  One might go from precontemplation to action in a short period of time if a plan comes together.  One might also move backwards through the stages if bad things happen.  Also, one can be in different stages of change with different problems all at the same time.  The bottom line is, change can be complicated and messy (no surprise there, right?).

III.              Match the intervention to the stage

What does this have to do with you and your New Year’s resolution?  Everything!  If what you are trying to change does not match up with your readiness to change (the stage you are in) then you are most likely doomed to fail from the get go.  So, take a good long look at what you are planning to do.  Examine where you are at…be honest with yourself.  What stage are you at?  Once you figure out that, then the next steps become easier to figure out.  Match what you are going to do with the stage you are in and work towards the next stage your chances for success are increased.

So, let’s say you are in the contemplative stage.  You know that you need to change but are not sure what to do.  Your task then is to understand the whats, whys and wherefores of your desired change.  How did the problem come about?  What are the resources you bring to bear?  Once you gain enough understanding, then you can move towards preparation and make a plan.

Let’s say you are at the action stage.  Great!  Work your plan…but how are you going to maintain the change?  What are you going to do if things go off the rails?  Figuring that stuff out ahead f time can increase your chances of success.

What if you are in maintenance?  You’ve made that change and are successful?  What happens if you relapse?  How are you going to view yourself?  Do you have a plan to get back on track? If you do, then your chances of overcoming a setback are much greater.

I hope you’ve found this information helpful.  If you want help in navigating a life change, then please contact me for a free consultation. erikyounglpc@verizon.net  or 484-693-0582

 

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ADHD: DISORDER OR SUPER POWER? Part one

       I.            A confession

My name is Erik and I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.  Like many people my age (the “wrong” side of forty) I wasn’t ever diagnosed as a child and never received treatment.  As a child I was always on the go.  I learned to run before I could walk… I even have a small calcium deposit bump on my forehead from falling on my face so much during that time.  I had a terrible anger from being hypersensitive.  The most mild name calling would send me into full-out temper tantrums.  By the time I was in middle school, my straight A grades started to suffer due to poor organization, an overwhelming sense of boredom and my insistence that I read my favorite books rather than what my teachers wanted me to read.  I was the poster boy for “he can do the work…”

It wasn’t until I was well into my adulthood and was struggling to make sense of life, the universe, and everything that I finally figured out what was “wrong” with me.  Soon after, I realized that NOTHING was wrong with meI was simply wired a certain way and as long as I was aware of that and made the appropriate adjustmentslife could be amazing.  As a result, I am well-educated, successful and reasonably happy.  In fact, I attribute much of my success to my ADHD.  For me, today, life IS amazing.  I am so blessed.  Let me tell you why…

Go to Part Two

To schedule a free session, call 484-693-0582 or press the “schedule appointment” button to the right.

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Dealing with Homework Battles

 homework battles

School is back in session.  This means the return of homework.  Does your child hate to do homework?  Does homework time come with crying, arguing and tantrummingDoes 30 minutes of homework consume a couple of hours of your life every night? If you said yes to any of these questions, then I’m betting you hate homework even more than your child!

In my experience, there is nothing a parent hates more than feeling helpless to help their child.  If this sense of helplessness is accompanied by regular irritation (such as was described in the previous paragraph) the pain is that much worse.  Why do some kids struggle with homework?  For some it’s anxiety for others it’s boredom or even not understanding how to do the work.  Homework problems are commonly seen in children with ADHD, autism, anxiety issuesalthough they are not uncommon to the “neurotypical” child.

What’s a parent to do?  Here are some tips that will hopefully reduce or eliminate homework battles.  Using these tips I’ve helped my own and other kids get a better handle on homework time.

 

confused-elephant425

How do you eat an elephant?

This was a question my mother used to pose to me when I was struggling with big problems.  It is a question I often pose to my clients.  So, I ask the question.  The first answer usually is something like “I don’t want to eat an elephant.”  To this I reply, “Just pretend you are super hungry and all you have to eat is a whole elephant.  How would you eat it?”  At this point they usually shrug and look at me like I’m pretty crazy.

So, what’s the answer?   (It’s ok… I will wait while you cogitate.)  The answer is “ONE BITE AT A TIME.”  When you have a big problem to tackle (like a lot of homework) just start by doing the first bit, then the next bitwash, rinse, repeat until you’re done.  Basically, instead of doing one big bit, do lots of little bits.

  • Break up the homework into smaller sections (little bits).
  • Keep the sections limited to what your child can do without getting too upset.  If they can only do 10 minutes at a time, then limit the “bits” to 10 minute sections.
  • In between sections, take a few minutes break to do something fun and relaxing to allow your child to calm down.

By doing this, you keep homework relatively easy.  You are less likely to have your child go over the precipice into anxiety or tantrum.  When this happens, their ability to learn and think is compromised. By keeping away from the “hot  head” zone and in the “cool head zone” you maximize your child’s ability to think and process information.  This should lead to better results with the homework.

I first discovered this technique when I was in music school.  I had three part-time jobs, a full college class load.  I did not have much time to practice.  As a result I had to jump on a piano whenever there was one available for 10 minutes or so.  I had to focus my practice sessions.  I’d work on scales one time, then on a difficult part of a song at another time.  What I found is that I made better progress with these little sessions than with the longer marathon sessions.  Later, I found the same success with homework.  Doing lots of little bits with a clear head and focused effort gets more done than trying to “eat the elephant” in one big bite.  In some cases, I’ve had clients get twice as much done in three or four 10-15 minute mini-sessions than in 2 hours of cramming.  Also, because the work is done with a clear and focused mind, the information tends to stick better and get processed more.  I know, for me, when I crammed for tests, I very quickly forgot the information and would have to re-study it later.

The parent as coach rather than disciplinarian

Maximizing success with the lots of little bits homework strategy requires a shifting in your role as parent. You need to move away from just being the disciplinarian into a coaching role.  Instead of standing over your child, cracking the proverbial whip to keep them on task and getting the work done (with the rending of clothes and the gnashing of teeth), you need to take a less authoritarian and more authoritative role.

First, stay positive.  Praise your child for all attempts to get the work done, staying on task and staying calm.  Watch your child as he/she works.  Look for the warning signs of agitation or getting overwhelmed.  If a chunk of time is not done, but your child is starting to get frustrated.  Prompt them to check in and take a break.   (Remember, the idea is to keep your child in a relaxed calm state as much as possible).  If your child is on a roll and calm, maybe extend a segment.  Also look at using environmental controls to set limits.  A timer to show how long the child has to do work or has left of a rest period is great for example.  Designating  a homework area and restricting work and breaks in that area (to decrease distractions)is another great way to set limits without having to totally police your child.

When it is time to take a break, your job is to keep things structured.  Do not just hand your child the video game remote (you will never get your child’s attention back).  Do something WITH your child.  It should be fun, silly, and relaxing.  After a few minutes, prompt them back to the next segment of work.  Keep at it until homework is done.  When there is resistance, take a break, stay positive and upbeat, but also don’t let the child totally escape from the work until it is completed to your satisfaction.  In time, you may find that your child can tolerate longer and longer periods of work before needing a break.  You should also notice a decrease in the frequency and intensity of conflict.  I find it helpful to use a timer to set limits to how long the break is. Use lots of praise when your child complies and follows directions.

Good head “Coolers”

Here is a quick list of little games you can use during homework breaks to help your child relax an regain focus.

  • Bubbles – Children and teens of all ages respond to bubbles.  Bust out a bottle of bubbles and they can’t resist popping them. Have them practice blowing bubble slow and fast to teach breath control and reduce stress.
  • Beanie Baby Drop — Put a beanie baby on your head and then let it drop into the child’s hands.  Put it on his/her head and then let them drop it into your hands.  Add a countdown to practice self-regulation and reduce impulsivity.  Great with younger kids, but older kids respond too.
  • Cotton Ball Blow – Put some cotton balls on the table and then blow them back and forth with a straw. Can be a competitive or cooperative game. Try to see who can blow a cotton ball to the end of the table without blowing it off with one breath.
  • Back Letters —   write a letter on your child’s back with your finger.  Let them guess what letter it is. Have them do the same to you. Promotes touch and relaxation.
  • Knock Knock Jokes – tell each other knock knock joke… the sillier the better.
  • Name that tune – Play a snippet of a song on your computer or mp3 player. Have your child guess the tune.  Take turns.  Great with older kids to connect and engage.

I hope you find these tips helpful and that they reduce conflicts with your child over homework.  Please post any head cooling ideas or other homework tips in the comments section below.  If you want a free consultation about homework issues, then click on the schedule appointment button to your right.  Remember, BREATHE, you got this.

Copyright 2013 Erik Young,M.Ed., LPC

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What is your life worth? The importance of connections

connections_A1

I.                   Actuarial tables and a radio program

The other day, I was listening to a radio program on NPR (a therapist who listens to NPR I hear you say?  Shocking!).  I forget which program, but the host described going to see a person who did actuarial work for insurance companies.  This person’s job was to figure out how much a life was worth so if they were injured or killed the insured parties would be properly compensated.  Pretty cold, I know…but it’s a real thing.  In any case, the guy doing the piece was shocked to find he was only worth about $35,000.  The piece went on to talk about how people with families and kids tend to be worth more, because they are connected to and valued by others.

 

II.                 Let me google that for you…

This radio piece got me thinking.  On the one hand, life is priceless.  The whole actuarial process is pretty cold and ruthless.  Then again, the idea that one’s connections to others adds value to ones life is a profound and fascinating truth.  I decided to explore the idea further.

The first thing I did was go to google and type in the search “how much is my life worth.”  Go ahead…try it.  What I found was mostly fun, time-waster sites (although there were a couple of insurance sites that came up in my search).  They all let me take little surveys that purportedly placed some sort of value on my life.  I spent some time playing with these.  I know the results aren’t remotely valid or scientific, but is was interesting.  One thing I did was enter in data as a single man (keeping age, income and health stats constant) and then as my true self as a married father of 5 kids.  As a single man, I was worth about $50,000 but as my true married self, I was worth anywhere from 1.5 to 1.8 million dollars.  Quite a difference, eh?

What does this mean?  My life is enhanced by being married to my wife.  My life as further enhanced by the birth of my two children.  When Lorrie and I set about doing foster care, my life was enhanced further.  Everytime I make a new friend or help out someone else, it leaves me feeling good and thus enhances my life.  There’s something to the idea of being connected to others adding value to one’s life.  How much is it worth when I help one of my clients resolve some personal issue and live a happier, healthy life?  That person now interacts more positively with their friends and loved ones.  How much is all that worth?  How much does a teacher helping a student discover their passion and talents add value to that student’s life?  How much does that student then add to others as they pursue their talents as a functioning adult?

golden gate bridge

III.              The story of a bridge

If you are still not convinced of the importance of the connection to others, then let’s talk about suicide.  It’s one of my areas of specialty interest.  When I was a young therapist doing his internship at the Lehigh University counseling center, the director of the center told me that to save a the life of a person who was suicidal you needed to get them connected to at least one person.  He felt that single connection would often be enough to keep the suicidal individual from going from ideation to attempt or completion.  Later on, as  Devereux clinician, I became a gatekeeper instructor in the QPR suicide intervention system by Dr. Paul Quinnet (http://www.qprinstitute.com/).  As part of the training that I received (and the training I give on this topic), we tell the story of a bridge.  Here is a condensed version of that story.

There is a bridge in a major western city (it’s the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco).  This bridge is a magnet for people who are suicidal.  They come from miles around to leap from this bridge.  It’s a pretty long fall that is almost always fatal.  However, every once in a while someone leaps from the bridge but does not die.  In all the years the bridge has been in existence, never has a person who survived the jump climbed onto shore, gone back up the bridge and tried to jump again.  Some researchers were examining this phenomenon came up with an elegant intervention.  They met with all the people involved in the upkeep and maintenance of the bridge.  All the workers, security, administration, etc.  They trained these people to be on the look out for people who might be suicidal (lone people hanging around the edge of the bridge, people looking forlorn and sad, etc.)  They then tasked everyone who worked on the bridge to approach anyone acting suspiciously and ask them if they were ok.  They were to offer their help and listen to them…no threat, no intimidation. In short, they were to connect with these people.

The results of this intervention were surprising to say the least…incidents of suicide attempts on the bridge were reduced by something like 40% (I’m not sure of the exact results as I don’t have my training materials at hand right now).  Just think about that for a second…by simply asking people if they were ok and offering to listen to  them, there was a dramatic reduction is suicide attempts.  How many lives were spared by the mere act of connection?   How much value is added by that?

IV.             Ways to connect

I want you to add some value to your life.  Go out there and make some connections with people.  You could go out and make new connections.  You could also go out and re-connect with someone with whom you’ve lost touch.  In either event, add some value to your life (and their life) by making those connections.  Still not sure how to do that?  Here are a few simple tips to grease the wheels of connectivity.

A.                The 8-5 rule

I learned about this while researching ways to teach my Asperger’s clients how to socialize more comfortably with others.  In a book by Craig Kendall, he discussed the 8-5 rule. The 8-5 rule is used by high-end hotels. These hotels instruct all their staff to smile at customers when they are 8 feet away from them.  When they get within 5 feet, they are to say “hello.”  A nice simple guideline to give a friendly greeting.  I‘ve found that not only is this a good tool to teach my Asperger’s clients how to greet  others, but a handy way to be more warm and friendly towards others in my own life.  Try this out for yourself and see if you don’t make those connections a little easier.

B.                 Two ears, one mouth – listen

It has been said that we are gifted with two ears and one mouth…and we should use them proportionally.  We should listen twice as much as we talk. People like to feel they are being heard.  When you spend the time to listen to them, they feel like you care about them.  This increases your connection.

C.                 Ask lots of questions

Finally, when you do speak to someone with whom you are trying to connect, ask questions.  Asking questions shows that you are interested in them and what they have to say.  It encourages them to give you more information that you can use to deepen your connection to them.  I guarantee that if you listen more than you talk and that if you ask questions when you do talk that you will find yourself easily connecting with others and thus adding life value to you both.

As always, I hope you’ve found this information entertaining and useful.  I welcome your stories and tips on how to connect. You can post them in the comments section below.  Also, please feel free to share this or any of my articles with others.  If you are interested in working with me to learn more about how to connect with others then contact me at erikyounglpc@vrizon.net to schedule a free consultation.

©Erik Young, M.E., LPC 2013

 

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