Teenagers in Counseling

More and more teenagers are asking to go to counseling! It makes a huge difference when a teen is ready to go to counseling. It can be a challenge to make a teen do something they don’t want to- let alone go talk to a stranger about their feelings!

So when a teen is asking to go see a counselor, it may be a good idea to listen. Teenagers have to face a huge amount of stress these days. Managing self-esteem, healthy friends, to online drama or even bullying. It’s overwhelming. So by having a neutral place to come process through their day, you can find that teens are less likely to act out.

The biggest topic of conversation seems to be boundary setting. Teens are notoriously either pushing boundaries or dealing with struggling to set boundaries with peers that are pushing boundaries. (Did your head spin around?) It’s one of the first times in their lives that they get to make decisions for themselves. It can be difficult to say they are uncomfortable with doing something if everyone in their peer group is doing it. If we can learn to set boundaries early in life, imagine the strength and confidence that will follow.

Of course, depression and anxiety are a major issues for this age. While it may be easy to see a teenager as “being dramatic”, if your teen is dealing with self-harm or depression it’s important to reach out to a therapist as soon as possible. These are serious concerns and need to be helped out by a professional.

Think back to when you were a teenager. Wouldn’t have been nice to talk to someone neutral and unbiased?

Counseling Kids with Asperger’s

So, yes, technically Asperger’s doesn’t exist anymore. The latest DSM now classifies this under the Autism spectrum as high functioning autism. However, parents of this awesome group of kids still often refer to it as Asperger’s.

Why these kids are great:

Working with this group of kids is delightful for about a billion reasons. They are crazy smart, often passionate about something so interesting, and can be extremely witty More often than not, they will often give a non-nonsense, “tell it how it is”, kind of perspective. Generally, they see the world a bit differently which is refreshing and honest.

The challenges:

Like all of us, we want to be accepted. However, often times, kids with Asperger’s struggle socially. Many teens have described it as though they were “missing something” when with a group of people. Sarcasm is hard to understand and this leave these kids feeling left out. Similarly, kids with Asperger’s are subject to bullying. This, in return, can put their defenses up high. When over-stimulated by sounds, pressure or bullying, these kids can be quick to lash out- screaming, fighting, name-calling. The behavioral issues that can come up are extremely difficult for parents to manage.

When the stress of social pressure gets to be too much, this kids often retreat and isolate themselves. They can spend hours on the computer and it can even be difficult to get these kids out of their room. They often choose to stay in their comfort zone, making it difficult to family and school to motivate them into doing anything else.

How Counseling Helps:

Typically, parents bring their kids with Asperger’s to counseling hoping for behavioral management. They are hoping for less melt-downs or outbursts, better control of their anger and to be more respectful when ask to do chores or homework. Counseling can help with that. First, however, there must be a connection piece where a therapeutic relationship is built. Until the kids can feel like they can trust their counselor, very little behavior change will happen. It’s absolutely critical to look at the loneliness and isolation that is happening that makes them act with certain behaviors. Then we can start discussed different pieces that may be holding them back socially. Counselors can gently point out when a story is going on for too long- in a way that peers (or even family) may react cruelly. Counselors can give immediate feedback on social cues these kids may miss. Therapists can also walk through ways to manage anxiety or anger, and give them tangible coping skills.

There is so much incredible counseling work that can be done with this population. Finding the right counselor- one with patience, kindness and knowledge on autism is absolutely critical. Once you find the right fit, the change can be meaningful and help the entire family.

What To Do When…Your Kid Won’t Stop Lying

Nothing seems to provoke anger quicker in a parent than when is kid straight-up lying. Kids will also lie about the weirdest stuff. I once had a little kid try to convince me that he had built a mansion for himself. What? Where did that come from? Also, can I get one? Who was your contractor?

I’ve had to do a lot of research on this topic because it was stumping me as well. I did not want to embarrass the kid by calling him out because there must be a reason he feels the need to lie. However, I don’t want him to think that it’s okay to lie or damage trust in our relationship.  So let me share what all the experts say!

  1. An adult’s reaction to the Lie is critical. In the book NatureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, they suggest to not threaten kids about getting in trouble if they are lying.  “It turns out that increasing the threat of punishment only turns kids into better and more frequent liars,” Bronson says.  So I guess when you yell, “You’re going to get a spanking if you’re lying!” doesn’t make kids want to tell the truth. 
  2. Never ask a question to a child if you already know the answer. For example, if you saw you child hit their sibling and you ask, “Did you just hit your sister?!” and they say, “I didn’t!!” Now the kid is in trouble for hitting and for lying to you about it, plus they got a lot of attention from you. According to Dr. Gary Landreth, play-therapy guru, you’re setting your kid up for failure and escalating the situation because your own anger is heightened and the kids is even more desperate to save himself.
  3. An increase in lying is a important to notice!  “Any sudden spate of lying, or dramatic increase in lying, is a sign that something has changed in that child’s life, in a way that troubles him: “Lying is a symptom — often of a bigger problem behavior,” explained Dr. Victoria Talwar. “It’s a strategy to keep themselves afloat.”( Nutureshock, Bronson & Merryman)
  4. Fall back on good-ole President George Washington. They did a study on The Boy That Cried Wolf vs George Washing and the Cherry Tree. Turns out, The Boy That Cried Wolf led to an INCREASE in lying (because it was punishment based). Meanwhile, hearing George Washington and the Cherry Tree reduced lying a whopping 75% in boys, and 50% in girls. ( Nutureshock, Bronson & Merryman)
  5. Encourage Truth-telling. What really works is to tell the child, “I will not be upset with you if you lied, and if you tell the truth, I will be really happy.” This is an offer of both immunity and a clear route back to good standing. Talwar explained this latest finding: “Young kids are lying to make you happy — trying to please you.” So telling kids that the truth will make a parent happy challenges the kid’s original thought that hearing good news — not the truth — is what will please the parent.” ( Nutureshock, Bronson & Merryman) It’s not so much as “catching the lie” and more about correcting the behavior to telling the truth.
  6. It’s really important that adults aren’t lying! Kids learn from what they hear and see! If there is one thing I know FOR SURE from being a child counselor is that parents underestimate 1) how much their kids know and 2) how much their kids hear. They know when you’re lying. There’s no hiding. They are always watching…always listening….
  7. Spend some quality time, one on one, with your kid. Listen to what’s going on in their life and work on building a stronger relationship. It’s easier to talk to someone you are close with and feel will listen to you.

Good luck out there and give it some time! Kids respond well when they don’t feel cornered. I’m not lying! …sorry, I had to 🙂

Until next time, xoxo Kristen


Here’s where I got a lot of the info, as well as consulting with other counselors. 

Play Therapy, The Art of the Relationship by Gary Landreth 

NutureShock by Po Bronson and Ashlee Merryman 

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112292248

*** I cannot figure out how to underline text using WordPress. I know the books should be underlined….so if someone could help a new clueless blogger out, that would be lovely. xoxo

Your Kid Has Been Cutting Themselves

Cutting and self-harm seems to be popping up more and more in my practice. Cutting is such a difficult thing for parents to wrap their head around. “Why would you hurt yourself to feel better? How is this going to impact your future? ”

I have found that parents often feel completely caught off guard when they discover their kid has been cutting themselves. Most of the time they feel like they have failed their kid because they “missed the signs”. It’s heartbreaking to talk to these parents because sadness and shame are palpable in the room! The interesting thing is when I meet with parents individually there is so much sadness and helplessness. When I meet with the child and parents together, parents often are angry! They are frustrated that their kid won’t stop or won’t talk to them.

I wish I could push pause before parents start to react like this. I know that it is only coming from a place of fear, but their kid really doesn’t see it that way. The kid feels like it’s another way they are disappointing their parents or they can’t do anything right.

Parents! It’s okay to be vulnerable with your kids! It teaches them that they can be vulnerable too!

Here are tips when you find out that your kid has been cutting or self-harming themselves.

  1. React with love, not fear. It’s scary to see your kid is doing this to themselves. Yelling at your kid, or demanding answers will not help. Take a deep breath and proceed lightly. Gently point out that you’ve seen the cuts and that you’re worried. Your kid might feel embarrassed or defensive. That’s okay! Let them know that you aren’t mad, you are just concerned.
  2. This is not the time to go down your down shame-spiral. Parent often start this downpour of, “What did I do wrong?” or “Why did you feel like you couldn’t come talk to me?”. Those questions are totally normal, but this is not the right time to talk to your kid. This is about them, not you. Stay focused on what’s going on in their life currently.
  3. If you feel like your kid wants to kill themselves, take them to the Emergency Room. Check out this post on what to do.
  4. Find a counselor. Self-harm doesn’t just go away. Your kid needs to learn different coping skills and it takes time. Typically when cutting behaviors go away, the child is left to deal with the issues that led them to self-harm. It’s a painful and lonely place to be, so they need as much support and new coping skills as possible.
  5. You can try to lock up whatever they used for cutting, but when there’s a will- there’s a way. It’s natural to demand them to give up their razors or whatever they were using. But until the reasons they started cutting are addressed, kids will keep cutting.
  6. Do not make your child feel guilty. After cutting, there is normally a huge tidal waves of shame, regret, fear, self-loathing that happens. You kid is beating themselves up enough. They don’t need a lecture on how this will impact their future. They need love, support and safe place to come talk to you.
  7. Don’t force them to try to heal the scars. This goes back to parenting out of fear- fear of how this will impact bullies at school, or future job interviews. Part of cutting can be holding on to the scars. While this may not make sense to you, it does to your kid. Respect that and know they will let go of the scares when they are ready.
  8. Be patient. When your kid cuts, they are getting a rush of endorphins to their brain. So for a moment, this helps them feel better. This is also what makes it harder to quit. So, be patient with your kid.

As always, spend more time with your kid. Little stuff can make a big difference. When kids feel safe and supported, good things happen!

Until next time! Xoxo- Kristen

How To Talk To Your Kid About 13 Reasons Why

 

13 Reasons Why has just come out with its second season and it was a doozy. I thought season 1 was rough, but I left season 2 feeling completely hopeless and sad and like a big pile of garbage. Mental Health Counselors came together from all over the world to voice their fears on the dangers of this show.

Here’s the thing. Yes, it is “just” a TV show and made for entertainment only. However, when you show, in graphic detail, teenagers committing suicide, self-harming, using drugs, sexual assaults and trying to shoot up a school, with NO healthy alternatives or support systems- we have a major issue.

When I finished the season feeling like “what’s the point of anything?”, I immediately started to worry about my kid clients struggling with these exact issues. I had to discuss this show with every single client to address the triggers in the show. Talking to an 11 year old about watching a scene with sodomy is NOT something I wanted I get into in my career, but here we are!

So, it’s absolutely critical for parents to be checking in with their kids about this show. They will probably roll their eyes and tell you they are fine, but you need to get in there! Everyone has an opinion on this show, including your kid.

Here are some key questions to start a dialogue with your kid:

  1. What did you think of the show?
  2. What do your friends think about the show? Have any of your friends ever said anything that made you worry about them?
  3. A lot of characters were very lonely and felt misunderstood. Have you ever felt like any of the characters?
  4. Have you ever tried to cut yourself or attempt suicide? What was going on?
  5. The rape scenes were graphic in the show. Has anyone ever tried to force you to do something sexually that you did not want to do?
  6. Has anyone ever bullied you at school? How did you handle it? Is the bullying still going on right now?
  7. I want you to feel like you can come talk to me about anything. Was there a reason you didn’t feel like you could come to me when you were feeling ______.
  8. What was it like watching the scene where Hannah kills herself? Talking about suicide can be scary or embarrassing, but there is always another way to find help. There is always another person or support to find.
  9. What was it like watching the scene where Tyler gets sodomized then tries to shoot up the school?
  10. If you feel like you cannot come to me, do you know healthy adults you can go talk to if you ever start feeling lonely or hopeless?

It’s important to listen without judgement. It can be difficult for anyone to be vulnerable with their feelings, even if it is just you and your kid. If your kid opens up and tells you something serious- don’t panic! Just listen and then hop online and find a counselor. If your kid says they are currently feeling suicidal, check out this blog post.

Finally, even if you throw a couple of these questions out there and don’t get any meaningful response, you have at least communicated with your kid that you are open to talking. That alone can be a game-changer in a relationship. Both the first and second season of the show left with no real resources for kids to turn to when they are struggling. Communicating support and comfort to your children will let them know you are a safe person to talk to, and they will come when they need you.

It might “just” be a TV show, but how mental health is portrayed in media is important! Young kids about 10-11 years old are watching this show! I agree with showing reality but lets also show the reality of a HEALTHY individual and finding the right support system.

 

On that note, I have an exciting new podcast project coming up that I will announce shortly! Stay tuned!

xoxo Kristen