Finding Purpose in the Pain

If you haven’t figured it out already, life is not all rainbows and butterflies. It hurts. It stings. It changes constantly. It is unpredictable. As a psychotherapist, my job is to guide clients to find purpose in their pain, to put meaning towards their experiences, and utilize them as a catalyst for growth instead of allowing these experiences to defeat us.

Here are 3 reasons that pain is necessary for growth on your journey:

1) To Learn Healthy Coping Skills

A diamond does not start out as the rock we know it as. It begins its journey as a piece of coal, and with pressure and time it becomes the lustrous rock we lust over. Humans are similar in the sense that without painful experiences many life lessons cannot be learned. Think back to your childhood and adolescent years, you likely have many memories that stand out. Some may be happy, and some may be not so happy, but they have molded you into the individual you have become today. Whether you accept it or not, more adversity will come your way. You have learned a specific way to cope with this adversity. If you don’t like the way you are coping, it may be time to change your habits.

2) To Connect You to Others

As humans, we are social beings. We need human connection to thrive, to be successful, and to grow in our life. We are not isolated in our journey. As we navigate through painful experiences, we are able to empathize and understand others in a way we may not be able to do without personal experience. Great wisdom comes from becoming resilient to the ever changing tides of our lives. The ability to be able to connect to universal human feelings such as sadness, rage, loneliness, and fear is something unique to human beings. Our connection is what isolates us from the rest of the mammal population. Your pain will shape your human connection.

3) To Prove, “You Got This!”

Whether you like it or not, at this point you are winning in your life. That’s right! You’re winning! You may not feel like it, but you are attracting what you are bringing into your life! Really think about the mindset and goals you have for yourself. You may be holding yourself back from growing from your experiences due to your self-talk and inner chatter. If you tell yourself, “I just need to make it through today” then you will do exactly that, but if you change the script to saying “Today I will find purpose and meaning in the painful moments” you are more clear in your intention.

If you are going through life transitions and are interested in allowing a psychotherapist to help guide you to finding your purpose contact me at 405-323-1786 to see if I would be the right fit for you.

Wishing you purpose, passion, and positive mental health!

Michelle Smith

MS, RMHCI

Individual, Couple, & Family Psychotherapist

(405) 323-1786

4 Tips for Talking with Children and Teens After a School Shooting

Following the events at Santa Fe High School that occurred last week, parents are curious about what to say or how to address this tragedy with their children and teens. As a school counselor and psychotherapist, I know firsthand the amount of emotional turmoil these events can reek havoc on the family and school settings.

There is much advice on the internet about how to address this; however, if you keep these tips in mind you will be able to navigate through this conversation in an effective manner:

1.       Ask Questions and Discuss What Your Child is Seeing on Social Media

Most children and teens utilize smartphones to access the majority of their information regarding current events. As an adult, it is easier to decipher between “fake news” and evidence based information regarding the tragedy. If you have not already, sit down with your child or teen and ask what type of information they have gathered regarding the shooting and ask them to show you where the found it. Ask them how they know the information is credible. If they struggle to understand, take this as a teachable moment and show your son or daughter how to look up news articles, teaching them which resources are most credible and which ones are not (think Wikipedia, friends sharing social media posts). As a rule of thumb, if it didn’t come from a news source it’s important to fact check.

2.  Don’t Tell Someone in an Emotional State “Just Calm Down”

It can be challenging figuring out how to help your child or teen emotionally regulate after a traumatic event. Many times our own distress and frustration can get in the way of helping us information gather, rather than put a band aid on the presenting problem. How many times as parents have we used the overstated, “Just calm down already!” in high emotional situations. This statement invalidates the feelings your child is experiencing. Instead try something like “Yes, this is a scary situation and I understand your emotion. How can I help you through these feelings right now?”

3.       Don’t Sugar Coat It

A majority of advice I see on the internet states the importance of reiterating the safety in our schools and enforcing that the likelihood of a shooting happening in THEIR school is minimal. I tend to discourage sugar coating this issue. The reality is school shootings are becoming a “new normal” for this generation. Students in school today have more active shooter drills than fire drills, and are very aware that there is a possibility a shooting can occur. Instead normalize their feelings of fear and anxiety, discuss safeguards in place at their specific school, and rehearse the plan provided by your child or teens school.

4.       Assess for PTSD Symptoms Early

Sometime after the trauma has occurred, it is important to assess exactly what your child experienced especially if they were a victim or in the school during the time of the shooting. When your child is ready, ask them what they saw, experienced, and their involvement with the incident. If you notice symptoms such as avoiding school, recurrent distressing dreams, or persistent negative emotional states that last for more than a month than it is time to seek treatment. Your child may have early signs of PTSD which is a mental illness that cannot resolve itself without mental health professional intervention.

If you or someone you love is looking for therapeutic services in the Palm Beach Gardens area contact Michelle Smith, MS, RMHCI at 405-323-1786 for a free 30 minute phone consultation to see if I would be the right fit for you today!

The Importance of Mothers (and Other Parental Figures)

This weekend we celebrated all the hard-working, dedicated, and loving mothers and mother figures for Mother’s Day. This week’s blog post is dedicated to all the wonderful mothers (and parental figures) out there!

Harry Harlow, a psychologist in the 1960’s understood the importance of parental figures to the social-emotional development of humans. Prior to his study with monkeys, many people believed babies and children depended on their mother’s due to their need for a food source and survival.

Harlow thought different, he felt the comfort provided by caretakers was also a factor to development, and he was right!

Harlow studied the effect of monkeys on two different types of “mother figures”. One “mother figure” made of wire only had the monkey food, the other had no monkey food but was covered in a comforting terry cloth. Harlow was fascinated when he noticed the monkeys would spend the majority of time with the terry cloth mother, running only to the wire mother just long enough to fill up on milk. Harlow founded the importance of love, compassion, and validation to our development thanks to this intriguing psychological study.

For humans, the same is true. It has been proven time and time again that children with secure attachments to their parental figures have the best chances at healthy physical, emotional, intellectual, and social development. Love, encouragement, and compassion given by parental figures is vital to effective growth and sends the message that our children can trust in us to meet their needs.

A recent study even linked parent-child communication to children’s successes. The study founded that quality conversations were a key factor in successful development. These imperative interactions foster connectedness to our families. Warm and positive communication with purpose help children more accurately understand family values, morals, appropriate communication skills, and increases confidence and self-esteem.

If you’re having trouble finding time to have conversations with your child, take the car ride to and from school or doctor’s appointments as an opportunity. Ask your child or teen open ended questions to get them talking about their feelings and day. Instead of “What did you do at school today?” Try something like “What was your favorite part of your day?” This question warrants a little more pondering and also cannot be answered with the overused “It was good, Mom!”. Not only will it help foster your child’s development, but it will increase the quality of your parent-child relationship and encourage healthy relationships in your child’s future.

Whether you are a mother, father, or parental figure you are appreciated! No one works longer, more strenuous hours, or a more important job than parents!

If you or someone you know is struggling with parent-child communication, self-care and work/life balance, or other mental health issues and would like to set up an appointment for psychotherapy please contact Michelle Smith, RMHCI, MS at 405-323-1786 for a FREE 15 phone consultation!

Understanding Anxiety

Anxiety. We all know the feeling. An all-encompassing emotional response to a real or perceived threat. Right now with FSA testing happening in school districts across the state, anxiety levels are sky-rocketed for students, parents, and teachers alike. During times of increased stress you may notice changes in your child’s behavior such as irritability, rigidity, outbursts, and attempting to gain control of the world around them. Although anxiety is a normal emotional response, it can become detrimental especially if ruminating thoughts regarding what “might” happen take over.

During high emotional times such as state testing, you may notice your own anxiety increasing more than normal. Anxiety, like many emotions, is contagious and just being in a setting with high anxiety can increase another’s feelings of anxiety. So how can parents “weather the storm” of testing anxiety season and support and also encourage our students to be the best they can be?

Encourage and Validate

Parents, teachers, and adults sometimes struggle to validate children who are dealing with anxiety because it may not make any rational sense. For instance, maybe you have an honor role student who consistently performs well on standardized tests; however, they are feeling an overwhelming sense of dread the morning of the test. You may feel challenged to validate your child without agreeing or dismissing their feelings. Validate and encourage your child or teen’s feelings anyways, note how difficult it must be to feel so out of control at times. Use statements like these below:

“It makes sense that you are nervous about your test, and I know you will do your best and make it through anyways!”

“I can tell you are worried about the test coming up, especially because you have been picking your nails more lately. Is there anything we can do to help you feel better about it?”

When validating remember anxiety feels REAL whether it is a perceived or imaginable threat. Try to take a trip down memory lane to your middle school or high school years and connect to your experience with anxiety. Allow your child to vent if necessary, and reward them for taking steps towards their future.

Model Healthy Coping Strategies

The history of anxiety comes from our caveman ancestors who were driven by fear to escape life threatening situations such as being chased by a bear. In 2018, anxiety comes from worry thoughts that trigger the same “fight or flight response”. The problem comes when there is nothing to run away from, then you or your child can be left with symptoms such as rapid breathing, increased heartbeat, sweating, or trembling. You can help encourage your teen to begin utilizing healthy coping strategies in times without high emotion, so it is easier for them to practice the skills during anxiety.

Breathing Exercises

Teaching simple 4 count breathing in through the nose, and out through the nose is a wonderful tool to teach children at a young age. When our mind is on overdrive, we can calm the body which sends a message to calm the mind. Deep breathing helps bring our body to a relaxed state and out of the “fight or flight” response. Bring your teen or child to a free community yoga or meditation class, make a date of it to tune in and focus on your breathe.

Get Into Logical Mind

Many times when anxiety becomes paralyzing, we can make a shift in mood by engaging our logical mind, or the part of the mind that focuses on logic versus emotion. To engage this part of the brain help your child focus on a number game, count backwards, or engage in a writing exercise. This takes attention off the emotion and brings the body back to an equilibrium state. Sudoku, meditative coloring, even math problems can help in times of intense emotion. Engage with your child and model these behaviors for most effective practices.

Acceptance

Although your child or teens emotions may be more intense in the next couple weeks than normal, it’s important to remember anxiety is a part of life that your child can and will learn to manage to live a fulfilled life.

It may be easier to minimize or dismiss your child’s anxiety, taking the time to acknowledge it may be the difference between learning how to cope and manage these feelings or burning out. And remember… testing season will pass!

 

For more information on anxiety, mental health services for your child or teen, or psychoeducation for families contact Michelle Smith, MS, RMHCI and Middle School Guidance Counselor at 405-323-1786 for a consultation.

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