brain

ParentTip: Division of Responsibility (Or How to Do Less So Your Kid Does More)

Photo by  Toa Heftiba  on  Unsplash

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

I was having this conversation with a parent the other day about how our role changes pretty much continuously as our kids develop, and how much we have to shift the division of responsibility as they grow up. If you think about it like a big, messy pie, our share of responsibility goes from the whole dang thing as caregivers to infants to a big thick slice in the middle school years to a thin and very delicate sliver as our teens get ready to launch. The way we adapt to the shifts in the division of responsibility can influence how our kids develop the skills needed for living independently, how much we experience power struggles in our relationships with our kids, and how prepared we are for the inevitable letting go that occurs inch by inch as our kids get older.

Like development in general, changing the division of responsibility is not a linear process. It can ebb and flow along with each child's unique ability to manage increasing responsibility, and as they experience the inevitable mistakes, backslides and missteps that mark the process. How we adapt the division of responsibility is also dependent on our own willingness and ability to step back, let go, and create space for our kids to try new things that they will have to mess up a little along the way. This can be uncomfortable, anxiety-provoking, confusing and scary for parents. It also means that we're constantly having to reassess our own readiness and our kid's readiness for taking over a larger piece of the pie. 

In early childhood, we can get in a routine of "doing for" our kids in big and small ways, and it can be tough to know when the right time is to give them a little more autonomy. How much do we manage *for* our kids and how much do we manage *with* our kids? How do we get comfortable with all the discomfort this messy process uncovers? Part of what makes this so challenging is that there's no way to change up the division of responsibility without experiencing some failures and some heartaches. This is the hardest work of parenting, learning how to manage our own fears and pain as we give our kids room to skin their knees, experience loss, and get their hearts broken along the way.

Think about a time your young child made a mistake. How much did you step in to correct course for them? How much did you have to guide, manage, advise, and direct this process? Now what about with your teen? How different does it need to look in order for your teen to develop the necessary skills for living independently from you? The teen brain is wired for novelty-seeking and  risk-taking, but it's also wired for resilience and growth. The most effective way to nurture our teen's developing frontal lobe (home of all the critical thinking and executive functioning skills) is to give them plenty of room to practice, practice, practice their increasing responsibility to directly manage their own lives, and to learn how to parent from a place of collaboration & compassion as they grow. This isn't about turning our backs on them, or shutting them out, or leaving them to fend for themselves. It's about moving from the position of leading them by the hand (sometimes dragging them kicking and screaming) to walking behind them with a gentle hand raised in readiness to help steady them when they stumble. Because how will we, but more importantly they, ever know what they're really capable of until we give them room to try?

Need some guidance or support with navigating the tricky teen years? We've got you. Check out Blake & Tracy's TeenWise® Parent Coaching or our Therapy Services to find out more about how we can help. You don"t have to parent alone. 

ProTip: "Should I Work With a Male Therapist?"

Empty Chair.jpg

I want to let you in on a little not-so-secret reality: in the therapy world, male therapists are a bit of a minority.  As a member of this smaller group, I’m often asked if it would be appropriate or effective for a female to work with a male therapist or even why someone, male or female, would choose to work with a man.  Although we are trained to be able to work with all individuals regardless of gender and sex identification, I’ve come to understand that some individuals have trepidation in working with a male therapist, and wonder how I could possibly understand/help/connect with a female client or if I will be as “nurturing” as a female therapist.  There are some preconceived notions about working with a man that can be helpful to unpack and I thought this would be a good opportunity to get some of these concerns and feelings out in the open and talk about them, which is just what therapy is all about after all:

  • “As a woman, I would be more comfortable talking to another woman about my issues.”  While I appreciate and respect the desire and perspective that speaking with a counselor of the same sex provides comfort and safety, I’ve found that many female clients find great solace working with a male therapist.  Some women haven’t been afforded the opportunity to engage in and experience a healthy relationship with a man, or have had negative experiences with men in their lives. Through the positive experience of working with a male therapist, some women are able to experience a totally new way of relating to men and having the healing power of a therapeutic alliance with a man.
  • “I think I’d rather my teenage daughter work with a woman.”  Some parents feel worried about their daughters engaging in a therapeutic relationship with a man, either because they are fearful that she won’t relate to a man or that it will limit what she is able to talk about with me.  My experience, though, has been that many teenage girls find safety and comfort in working with a male therapist.  In seeing a male therapist who is healthy, establishes appropriate boundaries, in tune with his feelings, compassionate, and attentive, adolescent girls often report feelings of empowerment and a great appreciation in being able to challenge their perceptions of men and to get to experience a male role model who they can really be themselves with and feel safe.
  • “Although I’m a guy, I really think I want to work with a woman.  Other guys don’t really know how to talk about this stuff.”  I get it.  Society has taught us that men aren’t supposed to talk about their feelings nor be able to express empathy and understanding to others. Through the effective modeling and authenticity of a strong relationship with a male therapist, men are able to experience a healthy and mature way of interacting with other men. This often plays in stark contrast to the Hollywood depiction of how guys interact with each other which often provides men with a new appreciation and bolstered comfort in engaging with other men outside the therapy room.

Making the decision to reach out to someone for therapy can be scary and makes us feel extremely vulnerable.  With this, it is absolutely understandable that we all want to feel as safe and secure as we possibly can throughout this process, and part of my job is working with all my clients in creating this felt sense of safety and connection. So if you’re wondering what it would be like to work with a male therapist, reach out to me and let’s explore how I can support you in your journey.

Justin works with all ages and genders and currently facilitates a teen Identity and Relationship group for all genders as well as GirlTalk Therapy groups for teen girls. Learn more about Justin here!

ParentTip: Is Playing Important to Survival?

Photo by  Robert Collins  on  Unsplash

As a therapist who works with children, as well as a preschool teacher, I am fascinated by the way children interact with their environment. I love the way children can spend an hour watching a bug walk across a leaf, and in the next moment pretend they are dinosaurs riding on a magic carpet. Watching children play in groups adds another layer, with social rules and norms that are often unspoken but somehow always understood among the children interacting together.

In a recent Ted Talk that I watched, a researcher and expert on play in all forms named Dr. Stuart Brown talks about why play is so vitally important to human development, and even to survival. Lack of opportunity to play has been shown to have far-reaching consequences, even later in life, his research has shown.

Dr. Brown examines play in nature– he shows animals at play that look like they are fighting and how innate it is in all of us.  He argues that children should be allowed to roughhouse– “dive, hit, whistle, scream, be chaotic”– to find their own limits, and learn the boundaries of how far their wildness can go. Dr. Brown says that kids learn social cues, emotion regulation and that they develop cognitively and physically through these experiences.  

Another idea mentioned in the talk is the connection between play and joyfulness later in life. Think back to the experiences in your childhood that were fun, and really resonated with you: did you love playing teacher? Did you love animals and pretend to play zoo? Did you build things again and again? Did you love to dance?  It’s so important to think about how those experiences connect with us today, because it can provide you with a new way of envisioning your life- as not just living day to day in a job that you may have just fallen into, but perhaps finding your way back to a career or a hobby that you really connect with! Additionally, if you are a parent, helping your child remain connected to the things they loved to be around as a child can be a great way to help them hone in on their passions and dreams later in life.

Dr. Brown is a proponent of allowing children to play without interjections, without guidance, or redirection. He says they know what to do and how to do it. Those that don’t know innately, simply haven’t been given the opportunity to do what they are meant to do. It is vitally important that we allow kids to play, unencumbered by us.  And, maybe if we offer ourselves the same playful opportunities, we can see how positively affects the rest of our lives.

LifeTip: Can Taking the Time to Be Mindful Actually Free Up Time?

Photo by  Harry Sandhu  on  Unsplash

Photo by Harry Sandhu on Unsplash

Mindfulness is the intentional and active state of being aware and present – basically it’s getting out of your head and into the moment.  It’s about connecting to yourself, others, and the world around you. At heart it’s about cultivating consciousness through the use of the very thing that keeps us alive, the breath. I avoided it for years, thinking I had to be Buddha like to succeed! The very notion of mindfulness sounded not only impossible but also grueling and certainly I didn’t have the time for it. What I discovered, though, is that mindfulness can be done anywhere, in your car, on the bus, on your daily run or walk, even while eating or talking with a friend. And, it can look however you want it to look, eyes open or closed, standing, moving, or sitting in lotus position cross-legged on a mat . . . your choice. The idea is to begin in a way that is comfortable for you, just not so comfortable that you fall asleep!  

While the formal practice of mindfulness, mindfulness meditation with eyes closed in lotus position, is considered the optimal posture it can be excruciating and intolerable for some, so much so that one might quit before ever really starting. In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Mindfulness is not about getting anywhere else — it’s about being where you are and knowing it.” So why not set yourself up for success and do what works for you by starting right where you are.  It does take practice and time but let’s look at that a little more closely.  You might just find that it’s worth your time.

So, what’s the big deal? Why practice mindfulness, you may ask? You may resist, like I did. But here’s the bottom line - it’s a paradox - taking time to be mindful can actually free up time. Absurd, right? How can adding something to your already overscheduled day create that illusive thing we all yearn for, more time?  It makes sense, though, when you consider what neuroscience tells us about mindfulness and the brain. What studies show is that mindfulness literally rewires the brain. And, it rewires it in a way that improves focus, memory, clarity of thinking, and the ability to manage emotions. It has the capacity to decrease stress, anxiety, and depression. Even more compelling is that findings show mindfulness can enhance happiness and overall well-being, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

So, imagine just for a moment how much time you might free up if you were less stressed, anxious, and/or engulfed by the blues.  Imagine, too, how your use of time might look were you focused and better able to regulate the ups and downs of life. Study after study shows that the health benefits gained from mindfulness abound. Perhaps more time, not to mention quality time, is yet another reward?

Curious to know more? Check out these videos. Be ‘mindful’ of the fact that there really is no one definition or one way to cultivate mindfulness.  See what resonates with you in this very moment!

The powerful secret of your breath -- Romila “Dr. Romie” Mushtaq, MD

Dan Harris: Hack Your Brain's Default Mode with Meditation

Meditation 101: A Beginner's Guide Animation

Pico Iyer, The Art of Stillness

Andy Puddicombe, All it takes is 10 mindful minutes

For practical steps check out Mayo Clinic’s guide to simple meditation here.

 

LifeTip: You Get Better - The Power of Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is a phrase used to describe the changeable (or plastic) nature of our brains.  Because our brains are designed to constantly navigate new experiences in the world around them, they are prepared to learn and adapt accordingly.  Research on neuroplasticity indicates that through the power of new experiences and repetition we can train our brains to move in the directions we choose, even when we are facing obstacles.

On a practical level, this means that we have an incredibly hard time staying bad at something!  We are biologically wired to get better at what we practice.  Neuroplasticity allows us to master a task or situation, develop a healthier way of thinking, or a kinder way of interacting with others.

We might be able to create a few absolutely terrible watercolor paintings, but our plastic brains will learn through experience and repetition and prevent us from making 100 equally bad paintings.  Paintings number 90-100 might even end up being frameable! Often the biggest hurdles to our success is giving up before we’ve fully gotten our first (and usually worst) attempts out of the way.


Interested in learning more about neuroplasticity?  Below is a video about the neuroplasticity research:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=share&v=bFCOm1P_cQQ

 

LifeTip: Learn to acknowledge progress - even when it doesn’t feel fast enough

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters by Portia Nelson succinctly communicates a truth that many of us can only see once we’ve reached the other side of a “problem” - that frustration and mistakes (even repeated ones!) are an essential part of the change we want to create.

Often, upon finding ourselves in a familiar and disappointing situation, our instinct is to respond with anger or shame or guilt.  As if berating ourselves is the surest way to encourage movement towards our goals.  Thoughts like, “How could I let this happen again?!” are quicker to pop up than internal praise for recognizing a mistake sooner than the last time, or remembering what worked in the past.  Human brains (I’m guessing you have one!) thrive on opportunities to practice and master tasks and situations.  Mindful efforts to identify progress, even when we’re disappointed with it’s pace, don’t mean we’re letting ourselves off the hook.  Rather, truly seeing and appreciating small steps forward can help us make corrections faster the next time we fall into an all too familiar hole. 

ParentTip: Flipping Your Lid!

Most parents are all too familiar with the phrase “flipping your lid”... you know the feeling; that blood boiling, steam-coming-out-of-your-ears sensation right before you completely lose your cool.  But guess what? You’re not alone! We all experience this, and believe it or not, the concept is rooted in interpersonal neurobiology. Today’s video gives you a quick explanation (that you can also share with your kids, yay!) on what’s actually happening in the brain right before you ‘flip your lid.’

Many people experience times in their lives when they feel overwhelmed and need clarity. Our mission is to provide the highest quality psychological care by honoring the integrity of individuals and families who seek our services. We strive to communicate understanding, instill hope and provide direction for change and wellness.

Let's Get Cooking!

Summer might just be the perfect time to explore new foods, new restaurants and new recipes! With all that extra time (and rain and humidity keeping us indoors), it allows us the opportunity to be adventurous and fearless chefs! But wait! We aren't suggesting parents be the ones in the kitchen (you're not? thank goodness!). This post is for our tween and teen friends out there.

First, check out Instacart! This easy-to-use app and website lets the groceries come to you. So, if mom or dad can't make a run to the grocery story, you can shop online for a quick delivery to your door. (Remember to ALWAYS get permission from mom and dad first!) Another great thing about Instacart is that you can look up recipes through the app or website and then put the ingredients needed in your cart right then and there. Easy as pie!....mmmmm...pie! :) Also check out this site for recipe inspiration. 

Second, there's a lot of great research linking health and nutrition as a way to boost and improve your mood. Look back at this post on "super foods" that nurture your body and mind! And, here are 6 ways that food affect your mental health. Moderation is key so let there be some fun and flavor in your life, too!

Third, take your new found love of the kitchen a step further and try out a local camp or class. Patricia's Table still has openings for summer camps. Foodie Kids and Kids Kitchen also offer camps and classes year round.

Lastly, enjoy the fruits of your labor! (Pun intended!)

Reframing Adolescence

"Raging hormones! Terrible judgment! Crazy mood swings!" How many times have you heard these terms used to describe teenagers? As a culture, we have a lot of negative perceptions of adolescence and all the challenges that the teen years can bring for both parents and teens themselves. What we don't hear as often is how incredibly rich and rewarding the teen years can be, including for the adults who love them. We get caught up in the frustration, the mistakes made, the seemingly unpredictable inconsistencies in mood, behavior and choices.

There are a lot of reasons for the risk-taking, reward-seeking behavior we tend to see in adolescents. Teenagers' brains are, in fact, different from adult brains in how they process information, respond to perceived risks and rewards, and manage emotional cues. But part of what makes the teenage years so full of wonder are these differences we, as adults, are so quick to malign. What if we paid attention to the upside as much as, or even more than, the potential downside?

Mary Elizabeth Williams, author and mom of tween and teen girls, recently wrote:

Teens can be the most amazing, interesting, curious, weird, hilarious, original, enthusiastic and challenging in the good way human beings you will ever meet. My life is exponentially richer and more rewarding because of the high schoolers in it. Teenagers write songs and design clothes and do volunteer work and have really good ideas. Also, they can do their own laundry and make their own lunch.

We couldn't agree more. The words we use have real power to shape the world around us. Imagine the impact we could have on teens' self-image, as well as parents' confidence in their teens, if we took care to use our words wisely. 

Reminder: Dan Siegel on the Teen Brain This Friday!

Dr. Dan SiegelWe've written about the groundbreaking work of Dan Siegel before, and want to highlight this opportunity for parents to attend a public lecture by the renowned speaker. This Friday, Dr. Siegel will speak on "The Inside-Out Guide to the Emerging Adolescent Brain."

The talk will cover material recently explored in Dr. Siegel's book Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain. We have integrated many concepts from Dr. Siegel's work in our group and family therapy, and often receive glowing feedback from parents on how the concepts he's explored have helped them reduce conflict with their tween or teen, understand their inner world better, and feel more connected to each other, as well as better able to regulate their emotions when confronted with a parenting challenge. 

You'll learn about whole brain integration (getting the left & right brains to work together, along with the "upstairs" prefrontal cortex to work in concert with the "downstairs" limbic system for emotion regulation). You'll also learn about the ways in which the teenage brain are uniquely suited to help your teen develop empathy, insight and a sense of purpose, as well as how to harness the adolescent brain's novelty-seeking and risk-taking to encourage healthy and adaptive growth. 

We encourage all who are able to consider attending. We'll be there, eager to soak up more innovations from one of the leading experts on the teenage brain!