June 26, 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 FOUR

This last lesson is one that is very familiar to those of you who have personally worked with me.  It came from a very difficult and dark time in my life.  I was miserable.  I realized that if I didn’t do something to inject some positivity in my life that some bad things were bound to happen. Furthermore, no one wants to work with a miserable and depressed therapist.  After much research, soul searching, and personal therapy, I figured this out:

Lesson #4:  Happiness is a Skill, Practice it

We often confuse skills and traits.  A trait is something that a person has that either is or isn’t.  Eye color, height, and the like are examples of traits.  Conversely, any quality of a person that can be changed or altered with effort and practice is a skill.

We often attribute traits to things that are skills.  Happiness is one of those things.  We say that so and so is a happy person or a not happy person like happiness is a something that is or isn’t.  Happiness is something that we have and that we can grow and cultivate.  It is an endeavor that is worth investing time in I assure you.

Happiness practice is important.  We humans are wired for negativity.  When something nice happens, we tend to enjoy and reflect on it for about 30 seconds or so.  When something negative happens, we can dwell on it for hours, day or even weeks.  The result is that the neurons in our brain associated with negative thinking tend to get more of a workout than the neurons associated with positive thoughts.  Practicing happiness is a way to give the positive neurons more of a workout and make them stronger.  It’s a way to balance our thinking.

How can we practice happiness?  Here are a few simple things to try:

  • Start a happiness journal. Get a notebook.  Once or twice a day, stop and reflect on your day to that point.  Pick out something positive that happened and write down what, when, where, who and why of what happened.  This should take about 5 minutes.  The positive events don’t have to be big events (I once journaled about buying a fancy cup of coffee when it was cold out and how good the warm cup felt and how nice it smelled).  If you can’t think of something positive that day, reread the journal and reflect on past positive events.
  • Set an intention to smile more that day.  Smiling is associated with happiness and the physical act of happiness will stimulate and connect with the pats of your brain associated with happiness.  Smiling purposefully, even if you don’t feel happy, can make you feel happier over time.
  • Give up self-criticism and self-judgement. Instead of calling yourself names or putting yourself down, rather, be your own best cheerleader. Talk yourself up.  Focus on things you are doing (as opposed to not doing) and give yourself credit for those positive things you are doing.
  • Take time out to play. Have fun.
  • Watch a funny movie.

There are many more ways to practice happiness.  The only limit is your imagination.

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 practicing happiness and reducing stress, then call 484-693-0582 or go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com to schedule a consultation.

Find part one of this series here.

Find part two of this series here.

Find part three 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 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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Moving to new digs!

Starting Tuesday, November 1, my offices will be at a new location:

101 Manor Ave

Downingtown, PA 19335

With more space (two larger rooms than my current location) I will be looking to add new services including groups and therapeutic martial arts.

I’m very excited about the opportunities this new space may open up.  I look forward to seeing you all there!

 

Peace,

Erik

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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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STRESS BUSTER’S PART 2: HOW TO EAT THE ELEPHANT AND OTHER MINDFULNESS TRICKS

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       I.            Introduction

In the last article we discussed how to manage stress by recognizing that things change and bad times don’t last forever.  To do this we used a combination of linguistic awareness (“estar”) and awareness and focus on the now. The second trick is what we will explore today.  When we focus and stay aware of the now we are engaging in mindfulness.

A quick internet search on the definition of mindfulness reveals this: a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

When one is able to achieve this state, stress and it’s associated symptoms pretty much go away.  It’s a wonderful feeling…especially compared to how crappy it feels to be stressed out, anxious and/or depressed.  This article will discuss some simple ways to help you and your kids to be more mindful.

     II.            How do you eat an elephant?

“Why would I want to eat an elephant?”  I hear you say.  Just roll with me on this one.  Imagine you are REALLY hungry.  Someone brings you a delicious whole roast elephant (perhaps Fred Flintstone style) and it is now your chance to dine.  How would you go about doing it?  Trunk first?  Tail?

I often pose this question to my clients…and they usually look at me like I’m out of my mind (kind of like I’m imagining you’re looking now.  It’s ok.  There’s a method to my madness).  The answer to this question is simple:  One bite at a time.  That’s it.  If you were to try to eat an emephant….as long as you take one bite at time, the elephant would be consumed by you.  Sure, take a break when you get full….we’ll assue you have elephant sized Tupperware for easy and convenient storage.  When it’s time to eat again, just keep taking more bites.  Eventually, you will run all out of elephant.

The elephant represents any large, seemingly overwhelming task.  It’s easy to look at something like a big project, a pile of bills, tons of homework, etc. and just see how big it is.  This gets your brain thinking “It’s too much!  I can’t do it!” and that trips your coping skills associated with avoidance.  However, if you stop looking at the whole and focus on the basic manageable parts (like a single bite, one problem, one bill, etc.) then you will notice that it’s all quite manageable.  If you just take each little manageable part as it comes and do that…then eventually the task will get finished.  Focus on the moment, focus on what you CAN do.  Stop worrying about how big, how long, how hard…all of that is illusion and just serves to hold you back and keep you stressed out.  This is a coping skill of approach which is what one often needs to get through difficult tasks.  Keep it easy and you’ll cruise through it.

  III.            No matter where you go…

…There you are.  (Thanks Buckaroo Bonzai!) You can only exist where you’re at.  You can only control yourself and your choices at this moment.  Energy spent crying over the past is energy wasted (the past can’t be changed).  Worry (anxiety projected into the future) is energy wasted as you can’t do much about the future until it becomes the present.  So, when you find yourself worrying and anxious, take a moment to ground yourself and focus on where you are.  (This is exactly what Yoda said Luke needed to do more of.  I’m reasonably confident that if Yoda thinks it’s a good idea then it probably is.)

There are lots of ways to ground yourself in the present.  I like doing the color game.  It works great for both children and adults.  Take a few deep breaths to calm that sympathetic nervous system…then pick your favorite color.  Look around you and find five things that are that color.  Next, look for four things that are your next favorite color.  Then find three things of another color. Two things, One thing.  DONE!  It’s shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.  You should notice an immediate reduction in your anxiety and emotional activation.  I call this the brain cooling effect.  A cooler brain allows you to think more clearly and hopefully cope with whatever is going on for you at the present moment (where you can actually do something about it).

 IV.            The mind’s eye

This last exercise is less about being mindful of where you are so much as being mindful of who you are and how you are connected to others.  Close your eyes.  Now picture the most important person in your life.  It could be a partner, friend, child….anyone to whom you feel close.  Now imagine sitting across from that person and looking deeply into their eyes.  Feel the love and connection with that person.  Feel their acceptance of you.  Feel safe in knowing they love you and you love them.  Try to hold onto this feeling for as long as can.

    V.            Conclusion

I hope you found something in this article that helped you get rid of some stress.  Please forward this on to anyone you know who might also benefit from a little mindful stress reduction.  I invite you to share and comment on your experiences with mindfulness (I love learning new mindfulness exercises!). If you wish to work with me directly then please call 484-693-0582 or email me at erik@erikyoungcounseling.com to set up a session.

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Stress Busters Part 1 – The Power of “Estar”

 

Stress Busters Part 1

The Power of “Estar”

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I.                   So, this one time in the emergency room…

About a year ago, I found myself in the emergency room with my daughter.  She was really ill…the last time this happened she ended up  hospitalized for the better part of three months (the year prior).  I could tell my daughter was really nervous…it was palpable.  Truth be told, I was equally scared.  It’s a terrible feeling when your kid is hurting and you can’t make it better.  All I could do was try to ease her anxiety.  I remember looking at her and saying “It’ll be ok.  This is just temporary.  We’ll get through this and be back on track befor you know it.”  It wasn’t exactly stirring speech I know, but it was pretty much all I had at the time.  After I said that, she looked at me, she smiled, and then she said the most remarkable thing.

“It’s ok Dad.  We’ll just use Estar from now on.”

Estar?  Huh?  What’s that?  That’s pretty much what I said to her.  She went on to explain that in the Spanish Language (did I mention my daughter has been taking Spanish classes since she was in Kindergarten and is very much in love with the language?) the verb “To Be” can be expressed in two different ways.  “Ser” which is for things that are permamanent and aren’t expected to change and “Estar” which refers to things that are going to and are expected to change.  As I never really studied Spanish (and posess a miserable facility for learning languages) this was a revelation to me.  What a marvelous concept…a language that has a verb to address things that are changeable!  What a help for situations like the one we were in….if we think of it as not changeable (Ser) then we’re stuck.  What’s the point of fighting on?  It’s not going to get better.  Sounds like the thought processes of somebody stuck in depression or overwhelmed by stress and anxiety.  On the otherhand, by labeling it as temporary (Estar) it has to change…get better….automatically, with this one linguistic shift, there is hope.  It’s optimism at it’s finest.  Also…props to my daughter…that was a fine bit of wisdom on her part.

The days and months that were to follow that moment in the emergency room were tough to say the least.  Crazy highs and lows.  Unexpected twists and turns.  However, no matter how tough things were…my daughter and I could look at each other and just say “Estar” and we’d feel better.  Over time, things DID get better.  Now, when we look back a year ago it seems a lifetime.  So much has changed, so much is better….but it was hard to see the way out back then.  We needed a little faith and we prompted that faith by remembering “Estar”.  By a little creative use of language, we’d found a great way to manage stress.

II.                 Everything is temporary

A.                Bad times end eventually

Everything is temporary.  Nothing lasts forever.  So, when you are going through hard times.  It helps to think “Estar.”  Eventually, the hard times will ease up and end.  Sadly, it is often very hard to see how things will change and get better.  In fact, the more your resources are consumed by stress the harder it is to see past one’s expectations.  It’s a weird kind of tunnel vision that makes it more likely for you to focus on all the stuff that is overwhelming you today.  It obscures and hides options.  This can lead to a feeling of helplessness that feeds hopelessness.  In short, it sucks.

So, by adopting this language of “Estar” you can remind yourself that everything is temporary.  Then, you can hold onto the idea that even though you might not be able to see a way out or see the end of the hard times….the hard times willI end.  Solutions will present themselves.  By adjusting your thinking slightly you can give yourself a little bit of positive energy and keep hope alive.  This energy can help you deal with those things in your bad situation that you can manage.

B.                 Good times don’t go on forever

So, if the bad times don’t last forever then it stands to reason the good times don’t last either.  “That’s terrible Erik!  Why would you bring me down like that?” I hear you say.  Well, it means that you need to cherish the good times when they are happening.  Don’t take them for granted.  No mater how small the positive moment may seem….enjoy it to its fullest.  When you are feeling bad, take time out to remember and savor the good moments.  In this way you cultivate happiness within yourself and inoculate yourself against negativity.  Use the good times while they last to buffer and prepare yourself for the hard times.

C.                 All you have is this moment (the art of Mindfulness)

To do that, practice mindfulness.  Simply put, be in the moment.  Don’t spend energy worrying about what may come (that’s just anxiety projected into the future where you can’t do anything about it) or staying stuck in the past (the past can’t be changed).  Be in the moment.  I will talk more about mindfulness and discuss some ways to practice it and use it manage stress in future articles.

III.              How to model/teach this to your children

For you parents out there, you can teach your kids how to think like “Estar.”  This is especially important for children on the spectrum or with ADHD who tend to be more ridged in their thinking and see situations as being more permanent than they really are.

A.                Talk it out

Talk to your kids.  When you notice they are getting stuck…tell them about and encourage them to see the temporariness of bad situations and to appreciate the good things when they have them.  Better yet, talk out loud about ways you might be using this for yourself in your life.

B.                 Act it out

Walk the walk,  Don’t just say it but do it.  When your kids see you doing the same things you tell them to do that means more to them. They are more likely to internalize things they experience than things that are seem more hypothetical.

C.                 Reward and praise it

Make a point of commenting on, praising and rewarding your child for their efforts to be mindful, appreciate the good things and accept the bad things as temporary.  Children really respond to things that they experience and then are rewarded for doing.

 

I hope this article has been helpful.  The way we use words influences the way we think.  Language and thinking style are your biggest assets in managing stress.  I would love to hear about ways you have used tricks like this to manage your stress.  Also, if you would like a stress consultation, please call (484-693-0582) or email (erik@erikyoungcounseling.com) to schedule an appointment.

 

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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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A Love Letter to my Autistic Boys

A Love Letter to my Autistic Boys

I remember when a colleague, a psychiatrist no less, asked me if  loved my autistic foster boys as much as my biological children.  When I said, “absolutely!” he looked at me skeptically and said “there’s no way…it’s got to be different.”  At that moment, two things happened, I lost a little respect for this guy and I KNEW deep into my soul that I loved you both with all my heart.

It’s a love that some people struggle to understand.  Some look at us and say “Erik, what you do for those boys…you’re a saint!”  I hate that.  I’m no saint.  Don’t put what we have up on some pedestal.  It’s just farther for us to fall.  I’m just being a Dad.  A Dad loves his kids. Kids love their Dad.  It really is that simple.  Nothing saintly about it.  Others just shake their heads and wonder why I would take on the stress and craziness that can come with parenting autistic boys.  Again, they just don’t get it.  Why WOULDN’T I?  Sure, it gets crazy…but is wonderful too.  Jeremy and his belly laughs and shares his secret smile. Julian with his hugs and giggle fits.  These are the gifts that make it all worth it.

As much as people say I’ve done for you boys…you’ve done so much more for me.  Every day you teach me.  Every day you help me to grow even as I help you.  When I look upon my success both personally and professionally, you two are very much at the heart of it.  I’m the luckiest Dad ever.

 

Happy Valentines Day Jeremy and Julian.

 

Love,

Your Dad

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