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5 Fun and Engaging Ways to Boost Your Child’s Confidence

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Every parent dreams of having a child who is brimming with confidence and healthy self-esteem. While some children just seem to have a natural born confidence, most of them need a little boost and parents can and should be the number one confidence booster.  However, how do you do that in such a way that kids really absorb the messages?  Here are five fun and engaging ways to boost your child’s confidence without crossing the line into too cheesy or having that fake, disingenuous feeling.

Strengths Wall.  One of my favorite ways to boost a child’s confidence is to make a visual for how they can see their strengths and successes.  For many of us, out of sight is also out of mind.  It’s far too easy to forget what we’ve done well when all we do is focus on the negative and many kids tend to do just that.  So why not make their successes as visual as possible.  The simplest way to do this is to pick a spot on a wall in their room, get a pack of post its (in their favorite color), and start putting one post it on the wall per day with something they did well that day.  Before you know it, they will have a wall full of things they were great at.  When the space becomes too full, take them down, put them in their nightstand, and start again.

Mirror Self Talk. It’s one thing to try to pump ourselves up in our own heads.  It’s a whole other thing to say those statements out loud.  When I’m working with a child who is struggling with low confidence or even anxiety, I will often have them stand in front of a mirror and we will practice brave talk while watching ourselves.  Most kids start out with small and mousy voices but after a few tries, the tiny voice gets louder and louder and they start standing taller and taller.  This can easily be done at home in front of the bathroom mirror.  Don’t just encourage them to talk positively to themselves.  Get more active with it. Stand in front of the mirror with them and take turns speaking as boldly and confidently as possible about how great they are or how brave they are going to be.  And be specific!  If they are lacking confidence about auditioning for a school play, have them practice saying “I will remember my lines” or “I will stand up tall when I am on stage.”  The more specific the better.

Hidden Messages. Another fun way to boost your child’s confidence is to leave secret messages for around the house, in their bookbag or even in their lunch. Tuck a note under their pillow before they go to bed telling them something great they did that day.  Draw a picture on the napkin you put in their lunch box with an ”I love you” written on it.  Best of all, write them a postcard and mail it to them.  Kids love getting something in the mail with their name on it.

Find an activity you can do together. Whether it’s boy scouts or taking a cooking class together, finding an activity that you can learn together is a great way to enhance the bond between parent and child.  Nothing boosts a child’s self-esteem and self-worth more than having a parent who wants to spend quality one on one time together. I can be as simple as playing basketball in the driveway or as complicated as finding a new activity to learn together.  If you’re not sure where to begin, observe your kid for a few days and see what they are interested in.  Join them there first and show interest with them. That will open the door for many more activities to do together.

Encourage the effort and the details.  Last but certainly not least, one of the most effective ways to boost a child’s confidence is to encourage their efforts.  Most adults focus on praising a child’s success.  Encouragement focuses on the effort they are making.  Praise focuses on the end result whereas encouragement focused on the process and the details.  When we notice how hard a child is working on their homework or all the different color details they are drawing in a picture, they begin to recognize their own achievements and are built up from the inside out.  Confidence does not come naturally to all of us.  However, when parents start early, they can go a long way in creating a strong confident foundation for their children to grow from.

 

Teen Interest

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Boy teenager at a psychologistWatching your teenager struggle with life’s difficulties can be challenging.  Not knowing how to help can prove to be even harder.  If your teenager is having difficulty in school or extra-curricular activities, or is struggling in relationships, therapy might be the place for them to work it out.  Here are a few ways to spark their interest in this life-giving experience.

How to get your teen invested in therapy:

  1. Normalize the Experience of Therapy: Not everyone in your community sees a therapist, but more people do than you realize. Therapy can be helpful for everyone throughout different seasons of life.  We don’t always need it, but we all could use it at some point.
  2. Attend Counseling Yourself: Teens, much like the rest of us, do not like to be singled out. Therapy is helpful for the individual.  However, just like in a marriage, when the entire system is investing in change, there is a greater chance for improvement.
  3. Discuss Ownership of Privacy: This can be a scary concept for parents and yet an exciting one for your teen. Much like an adult, teenagers also have a right to their privacy.  In therapy, this means that whatever they say is kept confidential between therapist and client.  The only time this confidentiality is broken is if the teen has communicated that they are of harm to themselves or to someone else (as well as if they have been physically and/or sexually abused).  At this point, precautions are taken, and the guardian is notified via the client and therapist together.  Having someone to talk to that is unrelated to family and outside their social network can be a huge advantage. (Just as a side note: your child’s safety is our number one concern. If we are worried about it, you will know.)
  4. Talk about the BENEFITS:
    1. Investing in yourself is always worth it. Teens invest in friends, extra-curricular activities, social media, summer jobs, hobbies, and family (when they’re lucky!)  All of which are great things to invest in.  However, investing in yourself is investing in the one relationship you are GUARANTEED to have your ENTIRE life.  Making sure you are healthy and happy is well worth the investment.
    2. You learn new ways of dealing with old and new problems. Believe it or not, teenagers pick up on their parents coping skills.  This means that if you feel like you don’t handle stress well, they likely agree, and will typically handle it similarly.  So, discussing this with them might look like…”I see that you’ve been overwhelmed lately, and I know what that is like.  Sometimes when I am overwhelmed I don’t handle it the best that I could.  Talking with a therapist could give you new ways to cope with your stress that look different than mine.  They could help me as well…”
    3. Therapy with teenagers is often different from therapy with adults. Sharing can be combined with music, sports, creativity, games, and more.  It can be fun and something they begin to look forward to.
    4. You gain an advocate. Some things are just hard to say.  Through therapy, you can learn new ways to communicate what you need and want.  Your therapist is there to listen, validate, teach, and assist.

To Trust or Not To Trust…That is the Question

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Have you ever passed up potential friendships and opportunities to be part of a group because you were afraid you wouldn’t be accepted, or you would wind up getting hurt?  Have you ever trusted someone too quickly only to be disappointed or hurt by them?  Most of us have experienced both situations at one time or another.

Although we may find it hard to risk vulnerability to form new relationships, many of us would agree that having close friendships is important to us. Research has recently discovered a positive correlation between life satisfaction and connectedness to others.  Quality relationships are now seen as one of the important ways we cultivate joy in our lives.

Relationships are built on trust and are created when we risk becoming vulnerable with another person.  Too often in my practice, I hear the statement, “You can’t trust anyone nowadays.”   When someone we trusted hurts or disappoints us it reinforces the message that it is not safe to be vulnerable and to trust others.  However, if we operate under the assumption that everyone is untrustworthy we diminish our ability to form important and fulfilling relationships.  On the other hand, if we trust too quickly or put our trust in people who have not earned our trust we will often experience pain and feel unsuccessful in establishing fulfilling friendships.   If only there was a way for us to mitigate our risks and increase our chances of success in cultivating quality friendships, joy and increased life satisfaction.

Brene Brown, a well-known author and researcher out of the University of Houston has developed a way to help mitigate the risk associated with trusting others.  She created an acronym that can be used to assess with whom and where we can appropriately place our trust.  The acronym is BRAVING.

Boundaries: Before I place my trust is another person and share with them things about myself that would make me feel vulnerable I first ask myself if this person respects my boundaries.  Do they ask if something is okay and do they accept “no” for an answer or are they often pushing me to do things their way?

Reliability: Does this person consistently follow through with commitments they make to me.  Can I count on them or do they often overpromise and then disappoint?

Accountability: Does this person hold themselves accountable for their choices and mistakes?  Are they willing to apologize, accept consequences and make amends when appropriate?

Vault: Does this person share information and secrets that are not theirs to share?  Can I count on them to hold my confidences?  Observing how they handle the confidences of others can give you an idea of their abilities in this area.

Integrity:  Does this person choose living in their values over rolling wherever the tide takes them?  Do they make the hard choices and stick by them or do they take the easy way out?

Non-Judgment: Can this person be honest about their needs and beliefs and at the same time accept that my needs and beliefs may be different?

Generosity: Does this person give me the benefit of the doubt or do they assume the worst about my words and actions?

The beauty of this acronym is that it can be applied to trusting others and it can be applied to self-trust.  Think of someone with whom you are having trust issues.  Apply the BRAVING questions to explore why trust has become a problem with this individual.  Then apply the question to yourself in a situation where you are having a hard time trusting your decisions.  Clarity on where trust is being challenged will help you address the problem areas to increase trust in the future.

The Courage of Therapy

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Therapy is hard. If you’ve ever taken those first steps through a therapist’s doors, then you know how heavy those steps can feel. Stepping through those doors means that you’re being willing to say that something in your life isn’t working. You are saying, “I need help”; a transformative and counter-cultural statement in a society that tells all of us that we must be enough all on our own.

Starting therapy takes courage. It takes courage to sit with a therapist and let them hold a mirror up to your life. It takes courage to look at the things you don’t want to. It takes courage to be willing to acknowledge that you, like all of us, are human and imperfect.

As a therapist, I never take for granted the courage and resiliency that it takes for someone to step into my office. Every time I see someone walk in it gives me hope for the journey they are on. Starting therapy, whether for the first time or picking it again, shows me that someone is saying that they are worth being brave for. That they are worth working to create positive change. That they believe in hope and, ultimately, that they believe in themselves.

Therapy is hard, but it’s worth it. When you can be vulnerable and take that first step it opens you up to deeper healing, self-awareness, acceptance, and meaning. It starts the journey from “I’m not enough” to “I’m doing the best I can and that’s ok”.

I’m honored to partner with people on that journey and learn so much from the people I walk alongside.

If you feel like you’re at the point where therapy is something you’re thinking about, then we are here to walk with you and honor your courage. Please call our front office at 678-893-5300 if you have any questions about what that might look like or to set up an appointment with one of our therapists.

The Power of Mindfulness

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Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of the present moment. This practice allows people to become aware of thoughts, emotions, and body sensations from moment to moment. Mindfulness practice also involves doing one thing at a time. Because most of us are conditioned to doing several things at a time, we often do not notice the impact multitasking or mindlessness can have on us. While we pay attention to several different tasks, we often miss what is happening around us or inside of us. We can become accustomed to drowning out our internal or external experience while we multitask which can make it more challenging to experience things in our present moment. Increasing mindfulness in our lives helps us connect more with others, our surroundings, and ourselves. Interested in practicing mindfulness? Try these helpful tips!

  1. Increase your awareness by keeping a daily gratitude journal or list. This practice increases your awareness of what you are grateful for in the moment which reduces suffering when negative experiences occur.
  2. Take 5 minutes each day to sit quietly and focus on your breathing. This practice can help you stay in the present moment without getting distracted by thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, or external things.
  3. Set a reminder on your phone to check in and ask yourself “what am I feeling?” Try to name the emotion. This practice can help you get in touch with your feelings by noticing and name the emotion.
  4. Try a mindful body scan before bed. While lying in bed, take a few deep breaths and start to scan your body for any sensations. Start with your toes and work your way up to your head. Try not to hang on to any sensation, but instead, try to allow the sensation to come into your attention and move out of your attention freely.
  5. Practice mindfulness with imagery. Try sitting quietly and becoming aware of any thoughts that arise. Imagine each thought as a cloud that is drifting through the sky. This practice can help you notice thoughts without attaching to them which can reduce the likelihood of overthinking, rumination, and suffering.

Mindfulness is a core component of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). By learning mindfulness, you can begin to implement other coping strategies to manage your emotions, tolerate painful emotions and experiences, and maintain healthy relationships. Interested in learning more about mindfulness or DBT? Contact The Summit Counseling Center by calling 678-893-5300 to schedule an appointment with an Intensively Trained DBT therapist or visit our website to learn more about our DBT program http://summitcounseling.org/dbt-program/

How to Encourage Social Skills with your Children

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The phrase “social skills” describes interactions a person has in relationships that are used to communicate our thoughts and feelings through both verbal or nonverbal. A child’s verbal expression could be a statement of “I don’t care” or constant talking about a subject without asking the listener their opinion. A nonverbal expression could be a child having little eye contact or turning his or her back on the listener. It is important to develop healthy social skills during childhood as it is a sensitive time to build communication between caregivers and friends.

What are signs that social skills may need to be encouraged with a child?

These are a few signs that social skills may be more of a challenge to your child. If these signs sound like familiar behaviors, it does not mean your child has a definite problem. These are just guidelines to seek additional help. Signs to look for are if a child:

  • Avoids eye contact (except when culturally appropriate)
  • Isolation from others
  • Does not attach emotion to relationships
    • For example: A child uses an adult for a functional purpose instead of a comforting purpose.
  • Often appears to be withdrawn or in his or her “own world”
  • In general, seems emotionally detached
  • Has little empathy towards others
  • Displays signs of extreme anxiety or sadness in difficult social situations
  • Has difficulty with transitions or changing topics
  • Thinks in “black or white” and appears rigid
  • Appears to have little friends, even if attempts are made to be social
  • Has difficulty interacting with peers of the same age
  • Tries to gain friends through fundamental ways that could be below developmental levels, such as asking a friend “Do you want to be friends?”
  • Has experienced bullying

What can caregivers do to help?

As a caregiver, you are a secure base for your child to connect to and at the same time feel comfortable to explore the world around them. Therefore, modeling healthy social skills to children is one of the best ways for them to learn these skills. Here are a few skills to encourage at home:

  • Encourage eye contact and open body language during conversations
  • Encourage the child to ask his or her peers questions during conversations and be flexible in subjects they talk about
  • Promote empathy and respect while talking together
  • Seek extra help or support as needed

How NOT to Empathetically Listen

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Most of us want to be there for the people in our lives. We want to take care of them when they hurt and support them when they struggle. In these good intentions and attempts to help, most of us (myself included!) have a hard time empathetically listening. Here are some common mistakes:

  1. Say “I know how you feel.” Every person’s story and perspective is different. As much as we want to believe we can completely understand, the truth is we can’t fully feel how another person feels. Sometimes saying that we get it can take away the person’s chance to share and it also means we are making assumptions about their feelings.
  2. Try to fix it. Hearing about people going through something difficult can be extremely disarming and scary. It feels threatening at times and we want to help them stop feeling that way because it hurts to hear about it. Trying to fix the situation by saying, “Well have you tried…?” Or “Maybe you should…” Often makes us feel better but usually doesn’t help the person we are trying to listen to. Those statements can tend to take away from their experience and keeps us from really hearing where they are at/ what they need.
  3. Making meaning for them. When we hear someone’s pain we want to help them make sense of it by inserting things that make sense for us. Sometimes I hear myself or others say to those grieving, “Well God needed another angel” after losing a child or “There’s a reason that you lost him/her at that time”. While those statements might be helpful or meaningful to the person saying them, they often are told to someone when they are not ready to make meaning or try to understand the reason of their loss. Usually, when someone is grieving or in pain, they just want to be heard.

Empathy means “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” It isn’t about looking at the person from our perspective, it’s about trying to step into their shoes and imagine how they feel. It’s about saying “I don’t really know how you feel but I’m here and this is hard.” It’s about acknowledging the darkness and grey without trying to flood in light. It’s about being willing to be uncomfortable with someone.

Empathy means you don’t have to make it better for someone, you can just be with them.

If you need someone to listen to you or help working through something in your life, we are here for you. Please call Summit at 678-893-5300 if you have any questions about starting therapy.

Finding the “We” by Holding onto Hope

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Sometimes it can feel as though we live in a country that is becoming more and more divided. Turning on the news comes with an emotional assault and reminder that there is always an “us” and a “them”. More and more people are feeling burdened by the state of our disunity. There are more reports of people sharing feeling alone, disheartened, or terrified when reading about how one side responded to another.

With messages that one side is right and reminders that the world is always unsafe, as a community we experience a sense of trauma. We feel numb amongst messages that everything is going wrong. It can be hard to fight against the communal trauma response and hold on to the hope that things can be good; that people can see one another across the aisle, pew, and classroom.  How do we find the “we” again?

Research on cultural diversity recommends that the best way to dispel feelings of “otherness” is to sit with and walk alongside someone from another group, background, and perspective. When we take time to be humans with each other, we can find a space of common ground. I’m often amazed when hearing people share about the moments of connection they can find with others when they are willing to be themselves around someone they would have thought of as “other”.

Looking towards instead of blocking off can bring healing. Commenting on the way that our current news environment impacts increased stress levels, lack of sleep, hygiene, and heightened fear psychology today recommends people only spend 15-30 minutes listening or watching the news every day. Perhaps another way to find and persevere in hope is to limit the messages of hopelessness we hear.

If you find yourself feeling hopeless or afraid, you are not alone. You are also not alone in wanting to find hope and wanting to connect with others. I hope you can take a moment to find a “we” and dispel the idea that it is always “us” and “them”.

Executive Function and the Regulation of Emotion in Development

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Mastery of the regulation of one’s emotions is a life-long process.  Psychiatrist Erik Erikson (1959) posited that humans must go through eight stages of social-emotional development as they mature into early adulthood and then on to later adulthood.1  Each stage involves a “crisis” of development, which is typically both cognitive and emotional in nature.  For example, during the first two years of life, a young child learns to trust others through attachment to caregivers or to develop a sense of mistrust of others when observing how his or her needs get met.  Emotional satisfaction of feeding and physical touch, in other words, goes hand-in-hand with cognitive awareness of one’s basic needs being met.

Erikson postulated that the successful resolution of crises at each stage of development is critical for healthy social-emotional development.  Conversely, emotional problems may persist and become exacerbated by a lack of resolution or poor resolution of crises in these developmental stages.  From the ages of 3½ to about 6 years, children in Erikson’s stage of “Initiative versus Guilt” learn to become independent in their play and to cooperate with others.  When the critical learning of this stage goes awry, guilt, shame, and fear may predominate a child’s emotional life.

Erikson’s theory is one of many theories of social-emotional development.  His theory is especially helpful when reflecting on the cognitive control associated with healthy emotional and behavioral regulation.   Multiple methods of psychotherapy are based on the close connection observed between thought and emotional life.  One’s beliefs about himself or herself, and one’s belief’s about the perspectives of another, are often critical to the quality of his or her social-emotional interactions.

Most of the cognitive skills associated with the development of emotional regulation are those typically classified under the umbrella term of Executive Function.  These skills include inferential reasoning, sequencing information, perspective-taking, and inhibiting automatic responses (whether cognitive, behavioral, or emotional in nature) and replacing them with more adaptive ones.  Children who have difficulty with executive function skills are more likely than others to have one or more problems with behavioral control, academic achievement, and/or emotional stability.

Emotional health has a significant impact on a child’s academic and daily life.   At the Summit Counseling Center, we provide screening assessments for attention, academic, and emotional problems, as well as comprehensive evaluations for specific learning disabilities.  Through these evaluations, we identify how children may achieve their full potential.  Please contact psychologist Rebecca L. Marshall, Ph.D., at the Summit Counseling Center (678-893-5300) for more information.

 

1 Erikson, E. (1959).  Identity and the Life Cycle.  Psychological Issues Monograph 1.  New York: International Universities Press.

“Empty Nest” Transition – What’s Next?

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The transition to an “empty nest” from a full one is a big one, to say the least.  While parents know the end goal is to help support their children become independent adults, the experience of their leaving home can be painful. Are they prepared? Are they strong enough? What was not taught that should have been? What is our role now that they are gone? Having them entrusted to us as their providers and protectors since day one makes It is hard to let go even when we know our job is done (mostly J).

One reason this transition is so difficult is that the family has changed and we were happy and comfortable with what it was.  Roles have changed, and we are not really sure what they are. Also, we miss being a part of our children’s daily lives and miss their companionship. We may even begin questioning – If they are not home to take care of, then who am I?

Adding to the stress of this time period are the other life-shaking events that may be occurring at the same time – parents are getting older and require care, careers are changing, or retirement is approaching, financial security is uncertain, health issues are appearing and so on. The culmination of all these events may cause feelings of being overwhelmed.  Loss, grief, and insecurity about the future may occur. Fortunately, people do find a way through this period and are able to find joy-filled lives that just looks a little different than before.

Helpful to moving forward during this transition is giving yourself plenty of time to step outside the chaos of life to reflect on the past and decide what is next.  This can be done for a small amount of time each day, or you can go away for a few days. Keep a journal. Pray or meditate. Celebrate your life-to-date, applaud yourself for what you think you’ve done well, grieve what has changed or for what you see as mistakes and then begin developing a new, exciting normal. Listed below are some prompts that may be helpful in your exploration –

  • Values – What is most important to me in life? What do I believe in? Once you can identify your values, you can determine what really matters to you and make moves in that direction.
  • Time – How do I want to spend my time? Look at how you are using your time now and find ways to create a more purposeful and enjoyable life. What do I add? What to take away?
  • Goals – It is easy to fill our time with whatever comes next and other people’s priorities. What is something you have you always had a desire to do but never had the time to do?
  • Relationships – Who do I need in my life that will support and encourage me? Who do I need to reconnect with? Disconnect from? Your relationship with your partner is changing, what does this new relationship look like?
  • Joy – What are the things that bring me joy? How can I add this into my life? (and no, you cannot move into the dorm!)

If you find yourself struggling with the empty nest transition and would like to talk with someone, consider contacting the Summit Counseling Center to make an appointment with a therapist who can help. Call 678-893-5300 to schedule your appointment today.

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