Language of Love

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner which means never ending advertisements to buy more chocolates, diamonds, roses, and expensive getaways to show the one you love how much you care.

Are these advertisements even factual? Is the only way to express your admiration by spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars? Psychology disagrees.

Gary Chapman, a leader in couple and relationship research, has founded one of the key factors to successful marriages and relationships around the world is to understand a person’s love language.

Just like each person is individual in their likes, dislikes, thinking patterns, habits, and cultural background, we also are unique in the way we best receive love.

Chapman identifies The 5 Love Languages that bring insight into the best way to approach emotional intimacy with our partner.

Words of Affirmation: Feeling wanted, valued, and positively praised in a relationship is a priority for a WOA partner.

  • If you love language is WOA, you probably enjoy when your partner compliments you and genuinely shares with their words how much they care through conversation, writing, notes, etc.
  • TIP: If your lover’s primary love language is words of affirmation, try purchasing a dry erase board specifically to write quick love notes back and forth in the midst of the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Quality Time: Spending uninterrupted, engaged, and focused time with your partner. This does NOT include sitting in the same living room working simultaneously.

  • If your love language is Quality Time, you probably enjoy exploring new experiences with your partner, whether it’s taking a pottery class or going on a road trip, you know your partner cares when they take the time from their busy schedule to spend with you.
  • TIP: If your lover’s primary love language is quality time, try planning an adventurous date idea for V-day and surprise your partner. Participating in new experiences with your loved one is a wonderful way to increase your emotional connection.

Physical Touch: is not just about sex, but all forms of physical intimacy.

  • If your love language is physical touch, you feel loved when your partner shows their love physically by holding you hand, rubbing your scalp in bed, or massages your feet.
  • TIP: If your lover’s primary love language in physical touch, try increasing the amount of playful touch during your date night to increase affection or plan a date that includes massage such as a luxurious spa day away from the kids.

Acts of Service: includes helping with any task that will take stress off of our partner such as taking out the trash, cooking dinner, paying a bill that is late etc.

  • If your primary love language is acts of service, you feel appreciated when your partner takes the time to notice you could use help and does the task at hand to support the family system continuing to function optimally.
  • TIP: If your lover’s primary love language is acts of service, try tackling a project that you struggle to get around too due to time to surprise your partner. The mental stress of the “to-do” list can many times get in the way of intimacy.

Gifts: includes receiving mementos that show genuine value and love towards the other person.

  • If your primary love language is acts of service, you feel appreciated when your partner brings a token or memento to show they were thinking about you.
  • TIP: If your lover’s primary love language is gifts, try picking up simple trinkets for your loved one when you travel for work without them to show you thought of them during your experience. The physical item will hold a feeling of gratitude for your partner, no matter the amount spent.

Many times the way we best show admiration, does not align with our partners authentic love language.

If you are struggling to increase intimacy in your relationship understanding your partner in a more in depth manner may be key!

Wishing you an abundance of loving energy Valentines Day!

Michelle Smith

LMHC, MS

(305) 204-6378

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Why Knowing Your Child’s School Counselor Is So Important

Let’s face it. School brings out another side of our children that maybe parents do not get to see at home. Our children spend the majority of the hours in the day at school. Children spend more time at school than they do spending time with family, participating in extracurricular activities, and even sleeping! As a middle school counselor, I have had the privilege of serving over 500 middle school students this past school year, and I would encourage each and every parent to establish a close relationship with your child’s school counselor. Here’s why:

Not All Counselors are Created Equal

School counselors wear many hats in school. Likely they are the ones encouraging your child’s academic success, helping students apply for high school and college, and providing social-emotional support as well as juggling other administrative tasks. My personal background is mental health focused. My goal this year was to increase student’s understanding of self, and increase their coping skills to navigate life challenges academically, socially, and emotionally. At my school, both guidance counselors have a mental health lens and provide support to the entire school from this perspective. I believe this is vital for many students and families.

It may surprise you that many school counselors have no or little understanding of counseling whatsoever. Some school counselors hold teaching certifications and were “promoted” to this role through effective work in the classroom. Unfortunately effective classroom management does not mean this individual is ready to handle the reality of the real life issues that come about in the guidance offices such as suicidal ideations, family conflict, low-self-esteem, broken families, poverty and more. I have seen many school counselors push these extremely important issues to the side, just because they were not trained on how to effectively provide support to a student or family.

School Counselors Are Busy

Establishing a good rapport with your child’s counselor opens the door for future communication regarding your child’s academic success, behavior, and changes that are noticed in the school. Working in a smaller charter school, I have been blessed with the opportunity to get to know my students on a very personal level. In larger schools, counselors may not have the time or ability to do this. A recent study by the American School Counselor’s Association (ASCA), suggests that the average guidance counselor spends about 38 minutes with your student in an entire school year! If you are present and send the message you are engaged in your child’s schooling, the counselor may be more likely to give you vital information happening at school such as conflict between peers or teachers, concerning drawings or messages, or just a sudden change in mood or affect. This is important information parents need to know so that you can follow up at home and to create a bridge between school and home life. If you haven’t yet, make an appointment with your child’s guidance counselor to introduce yourself. Face to face communication goes a long way!

Teamwork Between Families and School

Many times when I contact families to provide referral for therapy, resources for food or clothing donations, or insight into their child’s behavior I receive resistance. One thing parents and guardians need to know is that school administration wants to work as a team with you and your family. When school administration contacts you with information regarding your child, it is for your benefit and understanding. The intention is never to place blame, but to work as a team to provide consistency throughout the child’s life at school and at home. Remember that school is a whole different setting for your child, and it may bring out another side you have not seen yet. Trust in your school administration that they have your best interest at heart!

Michelle Smith

RMHCI, MS

Middle School Counselor

Are You Holding on to Resentment?

Resentment. We all have experienced the feeling of struggling to let go of anger towards ourselves or another person in our life. Buddha once said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot goal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned”.

While this may be true, it can be a very difficult process to let go and allow acceptance to happen in your life. Anger is a valid emotion, its function is to take back power and be strong after we feel an injustice has occurred. If anger is consistent and not acknowledged we can become aggressive, self-shaming, provocative, aggressive, or even vengeful.

Before you understand the process of forgiveness. Let’s discuss the myths of what forgiveness is and is not. Many people believe forgiveness means reconciling a relationship. This is a myth. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean moving forward with the relationship in which you felt wronged by. Maybe it looks like setting a clear boundary with said person, or dissolving the relationship all together. Another myth I hear often in my practice is “If I forgive this person, I’m condoning the injustice and allowing the person to treat me this way in the future”. This is also a myth. By forgiving it is not granting mercy to the perpetrator, but allowing peace to and compassion towards yourself and the other person.

On the other side of the spectrum, sometimes we believe we have forgiven by saying “I’m sorry” or giving an apology, but we still are holding onto anger and resentment. Forgiveness can occur without ever speaking to the perpetrator, for instance clients with sexual abuse working towards forgiving their abusers or themselves in therapy settings. Forgiveness is an emotional change that starts a chain reaction of changed behaviors to increase quality of life for clients.

So how do you know if you are holding onto resentment? Some warning signs include:

-Ruminating thoughts of the injustice

-Fantasies of revenge

-Self-shaming

-Looking for evidence that your anger is valid and linking it to past incidents or behavior

The nature of resentment is that it is never only one incident. Resentment always extends into the past, and in severe cases carries into the future for instance if your extremely resentful you might say something like, “We’re doing OK now, but my birthday is coming up I know he/she will find something to screw it up then”.

If you’re holding onto that hot coal wishing for it to burn someone else, it may be time to put it down and acknowledge and validate your anger by talking to a professional. Forgiveness starts with you.

Contact Michelle Smith at 405-323-1786 for a free consultation for therapeutic services.

5 Phrases Your Child Says That Are Red Flags

“You don’t listen to me”

“You don’t understand me”

“You never hear me”

“You don’t know me”

“You don’t care”

Ouch! As a parent, these phrases are extremely hard and painful to hear from our children. We dedicate our lives to school pickups and drop-offs, chauffeuring to extracurricular activities, providing healthy lunches and dinners, making time for homework and projects, and much more. Hearing these phrases can be a huge damper, and they also may be necessary to examine to see if your child is crying out for more validation in their home environment.

I read a quote the other day that resonated with me it said, “Students who are loved at home come to school to learn, and students who aren’t come to school to be loved”. I have seen this testimony play out in a number of ways in my experience working with children, teens, and their families. Parents have the best of intentions to provide support, encouragement, and validation to their child, and it can also be one of the first things that falls to the wayside in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Validation is defined as, “recognition or affirmation that another’s feelings or opinion are worthwhile”. Note that validation is NOT defined as agreeing with, concurring too, or even encouraging the feelings or behavior of another. I’ve had many parents tell me that they are worried validation will create entitlement in their children. It actually is the exact opposite. Children who are not validated look for validation in negative places such as toxic relationships, substances, and negative friendships. You do not have to agree with your child to validate them. Validation is not encouraging those behavior and feelings, it is simply acknowledging that they are present.

So now that we know what validation is and is not, let’s think about what it looks like in the family. Children and teens are craving positive adult attention. If your child is saying the phrases above, they may not be getting the attention they are asking for and are acting out to gain any type of attention. After all, negative attention is better than no attention, right? As a parent is our responsibility to let our children know their voice matters, and we do that by validating their feelings, thoughts, and opinions.

A common way we invalidate our children is by forgetting to be present in moments which your child is reaching out for validation. Picture this. Your child comes home and begins to share about a kid in their class who is mean to them. You are in the middle of a very important email from work and decide not to look up from the computer, half listening to their story adding in “uh-huhs” and “oh really?” every once in a while. You may not be saying it or even mean it, but the message you are sending is “What you’re saying is less important than what I’m doing”. This message, if received often, can seriously affect your children’s emotional and mental well-being. I’ve had children and teens in my office or in session state that they would rather hold important information from their parents than share due to feeling a “burden” because of the lack of validation they receive at home, which is heartbreaking.

Another way validation is commonly missed is parents attempting to “fix” or “solve” all their children’s problems. When our children come to us with news it is the natural mother or fatherly response to want provide a solution. Although you are coming from a place of good intention, this can send the message that you have all the answers and you don’t want to listen to their feelings and opinions on the matter but put a Band-Aid on the issue. One way to help combat this is ask your child or teen, “Are you looking for my advice, or do you just want to vent right now?” This sends a clear message that your listening, present, and willing to provide whatever support your child is asking for in that particular moment.

Parents are rockstars in 2018. We do now more than ever to make sure our children are physically, emotionally, and mentally safe in our homes. It is easy to miss opportunities to validate your child, but with awareness and some attention we can utilize everyday moments to send the message our children’s voices and opinions matter by using these tools. Validating your child will increase your child’s self-esteem, awareness of self, emotional maturity, and decrease the likelihood for your child to engage in unsafe activities such as consuming violent media, substance use, and illegal activities as a teenager.

For more information on how you can validate your children contact:

Michelle Smith RMHCI, MS

3 Ways to Combat the “Post Break Blues”

Happy Wednesday families,

For many of you, another spring break has come and gone about as quickly as snowbirds flock back North once the summer heat returns in South Florida.

Your family may be experiencing some post break blues, and getting back into the school and work routine can be challenging for you and your tween or teen. The good news is there are some simple steps to make this process less painful all while encouraging your child’s development in skills like personal responsibility, consistency, and healthy thinking patterns.

1. Encourage time for reflection

The eb and flow of life is something that your children are learning to become familiar with and understand during their growing years. During the first week back to school, take time to sit down and reflect with your children on their feelings and thoughts regarding their break and stepping forward into finishing the school year. You can try this by playing the “roses and thorns” game in the car ride to or from school, or during dinner time this week. Ask each member of your family to reflect on the highs (roses) and lows (thorns) over their break. You may be surprised that some of your child’s most memorable moments were simply eating breakfast with you, or laughing at a funny video on YouTube. This also sends the message to your child that their input matters, and they are being heard. Win win!

2. Slowly adjust back into routine

Even for parents, it’s hard to keep the school, work, and home, life running like a well oiled machine. For teens and tweens, sticking to a consistent schedule can be a very difficult yet effective task to build responsible and healthy patterns. Be aware that changes in schedules can increase anxiety in your children. Although they may not admit it, youth THRIVE on structured schedules. In their day to day lives in school, every second is structured from arrival to dismissal. Consistency in your routine will help your child have a smooth transition back to their schedule. This week put some extra attention on those little details in routine, your child will notice and will model your behavior of slipping back into your schedule.

3. Stay Future Oriented

In case your counting it won’t be too long before summer vacation is here and schedules will yet be changing again. (70 days if your curious). Post vacation blues can produce more intense feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and lack of future thinking for you and your children. It can be helpful to have a goal or event to look forward to after a major shift in routine. Sit down this week with your child to discuss something coming up for your family in the future such as their school spelling bee, chess club competition, or Easter service participation. Encourage them to look forward to this event and prevent them from maintaining a “stuck” mindset. Children learn that everything is temporary, the good and bad times will come and go. How you as a parent model this transition is imperative in your child’s understanding of how to navigate inevitable changes in schedule and routine.

No matter what your feelings about going back to the grind, remember that your children are learning by watching and looking up to how you handle change! Have a wonderful week families!

Michelle Smith MS, RMHCI

(405) 323-1786

Raising Millennials: A New Generation of Parenting

A recent study stated that full time parenting is the equivalent of working 2.5 full time jobs. It’s true, parents are doing now more than ever to protect and encourage proper physical, mental, social, and emotional health for their children. Everyday parents are looking for new strategies to combat violence, social media, teenage angst, and family conflict. Millennial parents are truly deserving for praise for navigating the trial and error to understand parenting in the modern day.

Because being a parent is one of the most demanding and at times least appreciated job, it’s time to take a look at your own parenting regiment and make some changes for a happy and healthy spring ahead!

1. Take Time for Yourself

You’ve heard the saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup”. As cliche as it may sound, it’s so important that as a parent with multiple responsibilities you are building regular consistent time in your schedule for self-care. Self-care is vital to being able to provide the best you possibly can to your family and loved ones. Figure out what revitalizes you and stick to it! Try taking a local donation yoga class, or sign up for a monthly massage membership! Many parents feel guilty taking time for themselves because they feel they may be “taking away” from time they could be spending with their families. Truth is, if we don’t take well deserved “me time” we loose the potential to be our very best at any given moment. Take time away to be a better you and leave the guilt at home!

2. Be Consistent with Family Guidelines

In my last post, we discussed the reality many millennial parents are facing protecting their children from the dangers of social media. It is important that as a family the messages regarding social media guidelines, usage, and rules you decide is best for your family remains consistent. Encourage your child to be a part of the conversation and support their understanding of the boundaries and reasons behind them. Give your child a safe place to be able to voice their opinion. Allow room for validation of feelings, and then encourage your child to let go of the emotion in a healthy way. By using this strategy, your family can avoid the teenage power struggle that many families find engaging in over and over to the point of exhaustion! Keep it consistent for less troubles down the road!

3. Get Involved

As busy schedules, life transition, and chaos can get in the way of doing as much as we would like to or feel we should be doing, and if you have the opportunity to be involved in your child’s life make it a priority! School line pick up, parent teacher conference nights, school performances, clubs and auditions. All of these are opportunities to send the message “You are Important!” something so many children, tweens, and teens so desperately need to hear from a safe and caring adult. Involved parents are informed parents. Getting involved and staying consistent are wonderful ways to be proactive to stay involved in your child’s life!

If your looking for fun and free spring break activities in Palm Beach County during Spring Break click here!

If you or someone you know is looking for tips on increasing communication skills and family bond with your child or teen contact Michelle Smith, MS, RMHCI at 405-323-1786 for a consultation for individual, couple, or family therapy services

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What Parents Need to Know About the Social Media Children and Teens are Consuming

It would be an understatement to say that social media govern the lives of our youth at any given moment. A recent study reports that tweens ages 8-12 spend an average of 6 hours in front of a screen a day, for teenagers 13 and above that number increases to 9 hours a day. Our youth are spending more time online than they are sleeping, in school, or doing any other activity.  As a parent, it can be confusing and concerning navigating the waves of the technological boom and deciphering an appropriate boundary when it comes to social media.

The internet is a vast plethora of 7.4 million people’s imaginations. The information shared can be dangerous, violent, sexually exploited and worse. Our children’s minds are not fully developed to consume this content and distinguish the validity or even make decisions about it. Even adults at times have trouble distinguishing this content, can we expect our children and teens to be able to decipher it without support or knowledge from a caring adult?

You may be thinking “Well my child is advanced enough to understand it”. Unfortunately, science says otherwise. The prefrontal cortex, the area which covers the front part of the brain, controls planning, complex thoughts and behaviors, decision making, personality expression, and moderates our social behavior. Essentially, it governs our executive functioning. Because the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until age 25, many of our children do not have the ability YET to carry out the critical thinking necessary to be safe online.

In addition, studies have also shown that social media can be addicting. In fact, app developers are actually working to make these apps addicting so they increase their revenues, spending thousands of dollars on studies of the brain to market and reel in our vulnerable youth. Scientists have found that teenagers can even experience withdrawal symptoms from social media. You may have seen witnessed some of these in your own children such as panic attacks when electronics get taken away, anxiety about being away from electronics or wifi, anger, and temper tantrums. We wonder why our children’s attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. The media they are consuming is a large contribution.

Consistent social media usage also leads to low self esteem, cyber bullying, and can increase suicidal ideations for teenagers already struggling with depression. Bullying no longer stops when your child gets in the car to go home from school. Now harassment follows them home on their devices, preventing the opportunity for children to recharge and engage in self care.

If you haven’t downloaded and looked at some of the things your child is consuming online, you are living in parenting La La Land. Teens post nude photos, suicide ideas and plans, gang related or violent material, and drugs and alcohol. 30% of teens have reported in a recent study that they believe their parents know “nothing” or “a little” about what they do online.

Last week I spent a lot of my time providing support to a family who recently found out their 14 year old son was sending sexually explicit content and sharing homicidal ideations with an active plan to friends on an app called Hangouts.  This app is accessed through Gmail accounts, and friends can message back and forth in group chats. It broke my heart to watch a loving and caring mother begin to see the reality of what is happening on her child’s social media. For this family, early intervention is no longer an option. They are now playing catch up trying to provide the support needed for this young man.

Be proactive when it comes to restricting media content from your children. Taking away electronics if they have already had unlimited access will be harder than setting firm and clear boundaries in the beginning. Provide regular restrictions on the amount of time your child spends in front of a screen. Encourage them to engage in their own imagination and be mindful in the moment instead of SnapChatting it. Look for signs of social media addiction such as anger and anxiety from being away from electronics, being up all day/night in front of a screen, and being secretive regarding their social media usage. Make sure you know your teen’s phone and computer passwords, Apple ID, and the multiple accounts they may have.

Parents are responsible to protect their children. Social media provides a false security because we do not see the danger in the moment. It is our responsibility to research and discuss the dangers of social media with our children. Provide incentives for them to be without social media until 16 years old, when the brain is more capable to consume such confusing messages. When you do allow social media, track it on a regular basis using apps like Onward, Onpact, and Life360. There is an effective way to parent in the world of technology and social media!

If your teen is engaging in alarming content or you see signs of internet addiction it may be time to talk to a professional. For a free consultation for therapeutic services contact Michelle Smith RMHCI, MS at 405-323-1786

When Distance Becomes a Warning Sign

If you have spent any amount of time around teenagers you know eye rolling, sarcasm, and distance are a part of the package deal. Many of these signs are very common; however, with the recent tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School and the national attention on mental health, people are becoming more aware now than ever before. Many parents are concerned and questioning when does isolation become a warning sign that greater issues may be on the horizon, and when is the appropriate time to reach out to a professional.

To understand adolescence fully we need to take a trip back a couple thousands of years to the prehistoric era. Adolescence historically was a necessary part of survival. Lifespans were much quicker, puberty brought the ability for women to reproduce, and the important task for men to learn how to hunt and feed their families. Early civilization encouraged distance from the family system to increase social interaction with other humans their age to learn important survival techniques.

Fast forward a couple thousand years to 2018. Teenagers are growing up in a completely different world than our prehistoric ancestors. Technology, social media, and instant gratification rule the minds of our teens. Adolescents are distancing themselves quicker and quicker from family. So how can we truly know if this distance is normal or something to question? As a parent, it’s important to put some precautionary measures in place so that early intervention can happen if necessary.

Encourage Consistent Communication with Your Teen

This may be the most important step to make sure the distance does not turn into isolation. Distance is normal; however, consistent isolation can be a warning sign that there are deeper concerns happening with your teenager. As a family, it is important to have time scheduled where family engagement is required. Make a weekly date to put the phones, TV’s computers, and emails aside and talk to your children. Not only does this increase positive social skills, but it provides an opportunity for the family to discuss thoughts, emotions, and bring up concerns. As a teenage parent, you want to encourage your teen to be as open as possible with you. You may be thinking, “But I don’t WANT to know everything that is happening inside the mind of my teenager”. While this may be true, it is important that they have an opportunity to share with you. If your teenager is not sharing their feelings with you, they are sharing with someone else, and that someone else may be someone dangerous! Set a weekly day that family engagement is required. Keep your child accountable. If your child cannot attend, they need to inform the family in the same manner they would calling out sick from their job or a prior commitment. This will encourage social skills, responsibility, and give an opportunity for your child to know it is a safe place to share inside the family.

Monitor Your Child’s Electronics

Many children being born today will be more technologically advanced than we can even imagine. From the beginning of the lifespan, we are utilizing electronics now than ever before. It is common to see 7 even 8 year olds with their own cell phone, iPad, Snap Chat, and Instagram. Technology is not a bad thing, but it is a very powerful thing. A piece of technology in your child’s hands means your child has access to limitless information which may be dangerous. Since you know your child better than anyone, you have to assess when you feel your child is mature enough to handle this enormous responsibility. It may be that one sibling is more equip to handle the responsibility than another. You as the parent have the power! Don’t give in to pressure because all their friends have a device. If you are concerned about the safety of your child not having a device but feel they are not ready for a smartphone, purchase a flip phone without internet and wifi to call and text one number only. Prior to purchasing a device for your teen, have a sit down conversation about the rules and guidelines that come along with the device. Monitor your child’s device usage, go through your child’s phone with their consent and create a consistent time to do so. Discuss the benefits and concerns with the use of technology, and encourage your teen to continue to talk to you if they see concerning or questionable things on their device.

Make sure that you allow opportunities for your teen to gain more and more freedom with their device as they consistently demonstrate responsible technology usage. For instance, maybe for the first 6 months of having the device they are only allowed 2 social media apps and the phone has to be turned in at 9PM each evening. After 6 months, sit down and provide evaluation on how well your child did with the guidelines, than provide opportunity negotiate a little more freedom such as adding a new app or increasing usage time by 1 hour.

Reach Out to a Professional

You may follow all the guidelines provided and still find your teen distant and defiant. If so, this is OK. Do not stress, simply begin by stating that you are aware of your child’s behavior and you would like to provide a solution for them to connect with someone trustworthy. Utilize your insurance, recommendations from friends and family, and set up an appointment for your teen to talk to a mental health professional. Your teen will have the safety of confidentiality, but due to their age you will also be notified regarding any suicidal or homicidal ideations, danger concerns, and can request treatment updates from the therapist.

If you or someone you love could utilize a consultation for therapeutic services in the Palm Beach area contact Michelle Smith at 405-323-1786

The Secrets Emotionally Strong Families Know

You know those families, the ones who seem to have it all together. Close bonds, loving relationships, and appropriate conflict resolution (well, at least most of the time!) Maybe it’s your neighbor or the lady on the soccer field, but we all know a stable family that make us curious and motivated. So what’s the secret?

My experience working as a family therapist helping to restore families has uncovered some common themes of families who seem to have deep, personal, and loving connections. Families who create and sustain loving bonds, appropriate boundaries, and value each member’s unique contribution to the family system are most likely to raise emotionally and mentally strong children and teens.  With all the information on different parenting strategies, cultural accommodations, and always changing technology, these themes remain consistent across generations of emotionally strong family systems:

Validation

Family is our first introduction to language, social interaction, and our first lifeline to begin deciphering the world that we are living in. As a parent, it is our job to guide and protect our children into becoming the individual they are meant to be; however, our never ending to do lists, busy work schedules, and lack of energy and sleep can frequently get in the way. To build emotionally strong children, parents need to send the message children are heard, understood, and also have a place in the hierarchy of the family system. Parents have a daunting task of balancing the role between authority and love, compassion and compromise.

Emotionally strong families have parents who validate their children. That means putting down the cell phone or email to listen about the mundane details of their day and “showing up” for the little moments of life. Many parents tend to confuse validation with encouraging our children’s every decision. Validation does not mean that you are agreeing with your child’s point of view, it simply sends the message “I hear you, and what you’re saying is important to me”. To add some validation to your family communication patterns, be mindful when your children may be looking for encouragement or acknowledgement. Spend time without phones and send the message that you are ready to listen if/when they are ready. 5 Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman is a great resource to identify the way your child best receives validation. Children require love and validation in different ways, and siblings likely have differing love languages. Getting to know your child’s unique needs and sending a message of inclusion is a key part of an emotionally strong family.

Clear Boundaries

Emotionally strong families have a unique balance between togetherness and separation that provides the boundaries necessary for a well-adjusted family system. One way to combat confusion is setting family guidelines or expectations. Notice I did not utilize the word “rules” because a guideline is something different. Guidelines, unlike rules, are created and enforced by the entire family system. For instance togetherness is an important part of keeping a family bond strong, but how you spend that time is unique to your family’s needs, schedules, and interests. Sit down with your family and discuss the feelings about your boundaries, allow each member to share their feelings on the time spent with family. You may be surprised the amount of insight your child or teen has into the communication patterns and their ideas. An example of a guideline may be every Sunday the entire family comes together for pasta night, or the last Tuesday of the month the boys get to decide the next family outing. This provides an opportunity for your children or teen to have some power in decision making, while also providing structure to their requests.

Don’t Treat Your Children as Fragile

Today our society is very focused on inclusion of all people, which is wonderful; however, it has created a fear of rejection that is becoming overwhelming to some degree. We are overly concerned if our children are fitting in, being treated fairly, and constantly making sure to catch them before they fail to a point of no return.  Although by doing this we may feel that we are protecting our children, we are actually hindering their ability to overcome adversity. Children are EXTREMELY resilient as these experiences of being the last to be picked on the soccer team, having an unfair detention or consequence at school, or struggling to create friendships shape them into empathetic, understanding and well-adjusted adults. Always coming to the rescue for your child will hurt in the long run, as you foster dependence and send the message that your child cannot effectively overcome adversity without your help. Inform your child it’s OK to fail, it’s OK to be angry, and it’s OK to have bad days. Talk about it, and teach coping strategies to let it go. Encouraging your child’s independence is an important strategy for emotionally stable families.

Parenting is one of the most difficult and least rewarded jobs in the world. There is no manual to becoming perfect family because guess what, there is no perfect family! Take the tips above and see how you can incorporate them into your unique family needs.

Michelle Smith MS, RMHCI

Self Care and Work/Life Balance

Do you find yourself feeling tired, sluggish, pessimistic about your job? Have you felt “the grind” doing wear and tear on your relationships, mood, and social interaction? Have you lost the motivation and drive you once had when you began? If so, you may be missing a key aspect of work/life balance called self-care.

We are always being torn from one responsibility to another, whether it be home, work, or family life, to-do lists are always overflowing. It’s easy to allow this to become an anxiety provoking and create stress in your own life that translates outside of the workplace. Companies and organizations are always demanding more of your time, your energy, and your brain power to work for their own benefits. It’s time to stop and ask yourself, what have I done to protect my own well-being recently?

As a middle school guidance counselor, I provide support and encouragement to the entire school community. Frequently this includes helping our teaching staff becoming non-reactive with students, and understanding thoughts, emotions, and actions that are leading to conflict in student-teacher relationships. Speaking with my colleague the other day I realized many professionals struggle tremendously with creating healthy boundaries at work. We feel obligated to say “yes” anytime an opportunity is presented our way. Whether we believe this will be the next step to that promotion, or increase our annual performance evaluation we justify that it is, “the right thing to do” to be a yes person. I’m here to dispute this myth. Always saying “yes” when you feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and are in need of some serious self-care can do more harm than good. Although you may feel you are doing a service for your company, if you are not in the right mindset you may actually be hindering the goals you are working towards instead of helping them.

During my guidance lessons, I speak tremendously about boundaries. Working with the middle school population, this is a very foreign idea for many of my students. I notice this is also foreign in the American workplace. Instead of giving ourselves time to reboot, recharge, and refuel, we stretch ourselves to the point of no return which eventually can lead to professional burnout. You may be burnt out if you feel apathetic at work, sluggish. and overall lost a sense of joy waking up to do what you love in the morning.

Luckily there is some simple steps you can do to stop being the “yes” person and begin being a contentious employee who sets clear and concise boundaries:

1. Make a list of one thing you are doing for yourself each day

It can be a large or small thing such as drinking your favorite tea, having a conversation with a friend, or treating yourself to a manicure. Everyday it is important to embrace the little moments we have for self care. Try to incorporate one each day, and transition to incorporating these moments throughout your work day. I enjoy beginning my day listening to an audio book on my drive to work, this gets me in a positive mindset. I create short “Brain Breaks” for myself such as 10 am coffee, a walk around the building, etc. to make sure I’m making the little moments count! Find what works for you a stick to it!

2. Say “No” more often

This may be the hardest step of self-care. As humans, we are created to be social beings. We care tremendously about relationships, our reputation, and how others perceive us. As you begin to set boundaries in your life and say “no” to working that third weekend this month you may feel a sense of guilt. Acknowledge this feeling by stating to yourself “I am feeling guilty right now, AND I am doing this to better myself to be a better employee overall”. Allow yourself to feel your guilt for a short period of time and then move on. Guilt can only be helpful to a certain extent before it can lead to anxiety and self-shame.

3. If you find yourself still struggling, think about talking to a professional

Sometimes an outside observer who is not personally invested in your journey can provide depth and understanding to certain situations. If you find yourself still struggling contacting a therapist is a wonderful step towards gaining your independence and vigor for life back! If you’re in a field that is no longer bringing you happiness, it’s OK to have a fresh start! After all, we spend most of our lives in our workplace! Make sure it’s a positive place that is fostering growth in your life instead of sucking you dry of your energy and happiness.
When you follow these steps, it may be shocking at first for your administration or supervisor at first to accept this transition. One piece of advice as you move towards creating healthy boundaries to remember is the word “No” is a full sentence. When we say “no”, we feel the need to justify or over explain the reasoning, when in reality we do not owe this to anyone. The feeling of guilt is designed to help us reflect and problem solve; however, when it becomes obsessive we tend to self-shame, become overwhelmed, and avoid the real problems. If your mind, body, and soul is craving some “me” time listen! At the end of the day, you are doing a service to yourself and your company to take a step back and preventing long-term career burnout.

If you are struggling with career burnout, work/life balance, and setting boundaries contact me at 405-323-1786 For a FREE consultation.

Michelle Smith, MS, RMHCI