October 20, 2017

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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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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ADHD: DISORDER OR SUPER POWER? Part two

       II.            The problems with the diagnosis

The DSM-V is the official manual of mental disorders.  If you have a formal diagnosis of ADHD (or any other mental health disorder), then it should flow from the criteria laid out in that book.  Here is what the DSM-V says about ADHD.

DSM-5 Criteria for ADHD

People with ADHD show a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development:

  1. Inattention: Six or more symptoms of inattention for children up to age 16, or five or more for adolescents 17 and older and adults; symptoms of inattention have been present for at least 6 months, and they are inappropriate for developmental level:
  • Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities.
  • Often has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities.
  • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
  • Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., loses focus, side-tracked).
  • Often has trouble organizing tasks and activities.
  • Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
  • Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities (e.g. school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, mobile telephones).
  • Is often easily distracted
  • Is often forgetful in daily activities.
  1. Hyperactivity and Impulsivity: Six or more symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity for children up to age 16, or five or more for adolescents 17 and older and adults; symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity have been present for at least 6 months to an extent that is disruptive and inappropriate for the person’s developmental level:
  • Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in seat.
  • Often leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected.
  • Often runs about or climbs in situations where it is not appropriate (adolescents or adults may be limited to feeling restless).
  • Often unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly.
  • Is often “on the go” acting as if “driven by a motor”.
  • Often talks excessively.
  • Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed.
  • Often has trouble waiting his/her turn.
  • Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games)

In addition, the following conditions must be met:

  • Several inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms were present before age 12 years.
  • Several symptoms are present in two or more setting, (e.g., at home, school or work; with friends or relatives; in other activities).
  • There is clear evidence that the symptoms interfere with, or reduce the quality of, social, school, or work functioning.
  • The symptoms do not happen only during the course of schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder. The symptoms are not better explained by another mental disorder (e.g. Mood Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Dissociative Disorder, or a Personality Disorder).

Just take a look at that.  Pretty dismal huh?  Can’t sit still.  Can’t pay attention.  Can’t control oneself.  Totally out of control.  What a mess!  This is the only picture the mental health community uses to diagnosebut it is a very incomplete picture.  The diagnostic criteria focus on the “negative” aspects of ADHDwhich really revolve around the struggles with school and “typical” work environments (where sitting still and doing seat work are prized).  The definition neglects to look at the positives of being wired for ADHD.  It totally misses the amazing strengths we have.  Thus, we are pathologized and often made to feel inferior when we are simply different.  Allow us to capitalize on our strengths and we can do amazing things and be very successful.

Go to Part Three.

If you would like to schedule a free consultation, please call 484-693-0582 or press the “schedule appointment” button to the right.

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