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This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on November 26, 2018 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question:  My relationship with my brother growing up was pretty toxic. While it has improved with age, I have recently realized it has stuck with me more than I first thought. I notice that I let my baggage with my brother affect my parenting. Every little fight the kids have I assume will turn into something much bigger and scarier (my brother was verbally and physically abusive to me). How do I tame the thoughts in my head and not let my baggage affect my parenting?

Answer:  You are wise to recognize that this toxic relationship from your past is interfering with the way you parent your children today. Many people miss this important insight and can overreact, overprotect, or live in a state of depression and anxiety. Right up front, I want to say to you, and to any other reader, that processing the adverse events of one’s childhood as an adult can help change the way we view those events and they will not have the same power over our lives. The feelings from this physical and verbal abuse in your past are triggered by hearing your children fighting. That triggering can exaggerate your perception of their fighting making it seem many times worse. Please go see a counselor to talk about what you experienced when you were young. Your work with a professional counselor will give you power over those thoughts that need taming. 

When you hear your children fighting, remember that your brother is not in the mix. He is not in the room; he is in your head. Your children and their circumstances are different. Some sibling fighting is normal and helps teach them skills to navigate the disagreements they have as an adult.

I can tell from your question that you seem to be paying attention to what your children are doing. That is important. At every opportunity, teach love, respect, and empathy through activities and family events. Have family rules about acceptable behavior toward one another with consequences for fighting, poking, hurting, and teasing. These behaviors all need to be addressed when they happen in a serious but calm and straightforward way.  

Here is a review of the main points that may help:

  1. See a counselor so your past experiences do not keep interfering in the here and now.
  2. Remind yourself that just because your children are fighting, they are not in the same situation as your brother and you.  
  3. Remember, some fighting is normal.
  4. Continue to pay attention to what your children are doing. Often childhood trauma happens when no one is paying attention.
  5. Teach and model love, respect, and empathy through your words, behavior, and activities that you and your family engage in.  
  6. All family members should show respect for each other, including saying “please” and “thank you” and apologizing when they hurt each other.  
  7. Have family rules for behavior toward each other.

It is tough to have grown up with a toxic abusive relationship. I hope that through counseling you can learn how to leave that ‘baggage’ behind.

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine, a mental health and substance abuse treatment agency serving adults, adolescents, children and families. For more information or if you or someone you know needs help, call us at 877-888-4304 or visit our website www.healthaffiliatesmaine.com and click on “Referrals.”

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Parents of teens understand there is a certain degree of moodiness that comes with the age. After all, it is a perfectly normal developmental stage for teens to grow away from their parents and want to try out all kinds of independence. 

Sometimes for parents, this moodiness can look dark and scary. Just remember that emotionally, there is a push and pull happening inside young people. They are attracted to the changes that come with getting older, but apprehensive of their growing independence. 

In most cases, the highs and lows, moodiness, and (sometimes) surliness are normal for a teen. But how do you know if what you are seeing is within the range of normal development? When does a parent need to be concerned that teenage moodiness might be a sign of a bigger problem?

Teenage “red flags” that can signal to parents it’s time to reach out for help:

  • Lack of interest in activities that usually bring enjoyment
  • Withdrawal from family and friends 
  • Isolating
  • Changes in their normal appetite and sleep habits
  • Seemingly tired all the time with difficulty concentrating
  • Not seeming to care about things which are usually important to them
  • Failing at school and/or school refusal
  • References to drugs and alcohol, drug paraphernalia
  • Unusually reckless behavior
  • Changes in friends or their normal crowd stops coming around
  • References or threats of suicide
  • Unusually dark depressed mood (can include absorption in music and art with references to death, blood, rage, etc.)
  • Cutting self
  • Unexplained pain or stomach problems
  • Unusual lack of self-care

Other behaviors and feelings that can signal deeper problems:

  • Fear and anxiety and generally overwhelmed by life
  • An unusual episode of elevated mood and speech followed by a depressed mood
  • Behaviors such as unusual drumming, tapping, interrupting, and pressured speech can indicate other mood disorders, which should be addressed with the primary care provider

Contributing factors which can predispose some teens to problems with moodiness:

  • History of traumatic adverse childhood events (abuse, neglect, sexual trauma, etc.)
  • Divorce
  • Family history of depression and/or addiction
  • Death or loss of a loved one
  • Incarceration of a parent
  • Bullying (cyber or otherwise)

The key for parents is to evaluate what is unusual for your teen and if these behaviors are prolonged or causing problems at home or at school. If your child is exhibiting multiple “red flags” from the checklist above, it might indicate it is worth talking to your doctor and a counselor.

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a licensed counselor with Health Affiliates Maine

This information is not a substitute for a doctor’s or counselor’s advice.

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This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on October 25, 2018 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question:  Just found Macaroni Kid through a friend and am so excited for this resource. I am a “new” mom at age 37! No, I am not expecting, but am marrying a man with 3 children whom he has part-time custody of. It is both exciting and scary. I have never been a mom before and don’t want to replace the kids’ mom. I am looking for all the resources I can on how to balance all of that, along with the newness of marriage. I look forward to your advice.

Answer:  Congratulations!  You have lots of new and wonderful additions to your life! I wish you all the best! You are wise to want to find balance in everything and to be careful with the feelings of others. These are good signs for success.

My first bit of advice is one I give to all parents and step-parents. That is: take care of your marriage. Children benefit and thrive when a marriage is healthy and it is a good model of a healthy relationship. How well the children adjust and accept you will depend a lot on what they observe, perceive, and learn from the relationship you have with their father. Make your new marriage a priority.

That being said, you will need to move slowly to give the children time to get to know you. Try to develop a unique relationship with each child that is separate from their father. Find a way to have fun together and start to make memories. Memories mean you have a history together, and the kids will begin to feel like you belong. Be prepared that one child may accept you more easily than another, but keep trying.  

Always be respectful towards the children’s mother, even when this is hard. Anger and disagreements should be taken up with your husband when you can speak in private. Your rejection of their mother will only make them defensive and want to protect her. Remember that you not only married into a family but you also gained the children’s mother in the mix. If possible, try to develop a positive relationship with her. As you defer some decisions to her, this will put her at ease, so she knows you are not trying to take her place. One mother I spoke with has had a 15-year history with her stepson. She shared that she always made a point to ask him how his mom was doing. She felt this allowed him to feel comfortable talking about her, and her comfortable hearing about her.  

In most things, defer to dad and encourage him to continue to set the parental tone; once discipline or other consequences are decided, always have a unified front. If circumstances allow, encourage him to have a healthy co-parenting relationship with his ex.  

I also want to share a bit of wisdom from a co-worker who was a stepchild. He said, “I always had ‘step-parents’ and ‘half-brother’, and didn’t realize how much this diminished my relationship with them until (when I was a young adult) my ‘step-father’ stopped calling me his step-son and started calling me his SON. When that happened, I was overwhelmed with the feeling of pride, appreciation and respect.”  

I share his comments because we often don’t fully understand how a child perceives love and acceptance. I wish you many opportunities to talk about feelings with your new children and to share lots of love.  

Being a stepparent or a parent that has to share custody of children is not an easy situation. Counselors can help parents, children and families navigate co-parenting and these relationships that can be ripe with emotion. Seeking help can make healthy families.   

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine, a mental health and substance abuse treatment agency serving adults, adolescents, children and families. For more information or if you or someone you know needs help, call us at 877-888-4304 or visit our website www.healthaffiliatesmaine.com and click on “Referrals.”

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Presented by: Jeri Stevens, PhD., LCPC and Steven Johnson, MA, JD. 6 Contact Hours

BangorMon, November 5, 2018 from 8:00am – 4:30pm
Spectacular Event Center
395 Griffin Road
Bangor, ME
Register
LewistonFri, November 9, 2018 from 8:00am – 4:30pm
Franco Center
46 Cedar Street
Lewiston, ME
Register
PortlandFri, November 16, 2018 from 8:00am – 4:30pm
Italian Heritage Center
40 Westland Ave
Portland, ME
Register

About the Program

Ethics and law often intersect in the mental health and substance abuse professions, yet can leave counselors who just want to do the right thing stymied. Intended specifically for licensed therapists and alcohol and drug counselors, this program will cover ethical and legal issues surrounding:

  • Informed consent for clients of counseling professionals
  • Healthcare confidentiality and privacy requirements and exceptions
  • How to respond to a subpoena, court order and search warrant
  • How to respond to a professional licensure complaint from a client or a colleague
  • Ethical and legal issues related to providing counseling and services to minors
  • Telehealth technology and issues surrounding social media
  • Mandatory reporting obligations
  • Ethical decision making (including principle of care responsibility)

Application for 6 continuing education hours has been made with the Maine State Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Counselors.

About the Presenters

Steven L. Johnson, MA, JD

An attorney at Kozak & Gayer P.A. in Augusta, Steven L. Johnson, MA, JD specializes in the practice of health law. Steve has deep experience handling matters such as regulatory compliance, HIPAA privacy and security, informed consent and confidentiality, healthcare employment law, and professional licensure.

Before law, Steve was a clinical bioethicist at Carle Foundation Hospital and Carle Clinic Association in Urbana, Illinois. In Maine, Steve has taught graduate level courses in bioethics and health law at the Muskie School of Public Service and St. Joseph’s College.

Jeri W. Stevens, PhD, LCPC, CCS

Owner of Chandler Bay Resources, Jeri W. Stevens, PhD, LCPC, CCS is a psychotherapist, clinical supervisor and counselor educator. Beyond her 40 years as a psychotherapist, Jeri is an assistant professor in the Counselor Education and Human Relations Department at Husson University, provides clinical supervision for mental health clinicians, facilitates ethics trainings, provides stress resilience training and coaching and engages in organizational leadership consulting and training.

BangorMon, November 5, 2018 from 8:00am – 4:30pm
Spectacular Event Center
395 Griffin Road
Bangor, ME
Register
LewistonFri, November 9, 2018 from 8:00am – 4:30pm
Franco Center
46 Cedar Street
Lewiston, ME
Register
PortlandFri, November 16, 2018 from 8:00am – 4:30pm
Italian Heritage Center
40 Westland Ave
Portland, ME
Register

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This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on September 13, 2018 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question:  Everything with my four-year-old is a battle. From brushing teeth to getting dressed, to choosing what she wants to eat–every discussion seems to turn into a battle. I have tried being patient, I have tried giving choices; I have tried time-outs. Nothing seems to work. I’m pulling my hair out here! How can I decrease the battles?

Answer: “There was never a child so lovely but his mother was glad to get him to sleep.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is a good question and one about which many parents can relate.  Kids like decisive, strong characters, like superheroes. They like the fantasy that a larger-than-life figure will step in and make everything right (not to mention the superpowers, lighting bolts, and power rings)! Parents need to think of themselves as the superheroes, the “Deciders.” If your choice is for your daughter to go outside to play, then don’t give her the chance to negotiate. Initially, there will be battles, but adopting an attitude of the one in charge will pay off. First, let’s start with your approach. Instead of asking, “Do you want to go outside?” change it to an upbeat, “Here are your shoes; put them on. We are going outside!”  

The fewer choices you offer her at this age the better. There are times we give kids choices and times we just need them to do what we ask. On a busy road, you don’t want to have a discussion or battle about whether they should venture out. There are times when they just need to listen. Choices are for when there are equally acceptable outcomes, you are not up against a time crunch, or the choice of healthy vs. unhealthy eating.

After having weathered a lot of battles it is easy to get off track. The threat of the battle can make a parent give in inappropriately, which ends up making the battle a tool in the four-year- old’s toolbox. If they find they get away with not doing what they are told, with no consequence, the behavior will continue. For example, when you tell the child that you are not buying anything extra on a shopping trip, and then they are whining and nagging for you to buy them something, the worst thing you can do is to give in and buy it. That will pretty much confirm that the child is in control. It will happen again and again.  

When children continually argue and battle with you, step back to look at the big picture. Children’s behaviors happen for a reason. What is your daughter trying to tell you? Is there a new baby in the house or another child that demands more time or has greater needs? This can cause a child to feel like they need to exert themselves and regain some of that attention. Take time out with her, and explore what might be going on. Evaluate for yourself if there is some emotional reason behind the battle. Provide some one-on-one attention, on her level, eye-to-eye. Let her know that it is hard to do things you don’t want to do and that sometimes parents feel that way, too.  

Giving advance notice of pending bedtimes or other events can help eliminate the resistance and help the child prepare psychologically. Kids need some transition time. That is especially important if your child has any developmental delays. A gentle reminder that in 10 minutes the TV will be turned-off can make it go more smoothly. Have her get ready for bed early, before the last activity of the evening to prevent needing to get her to comply when she is over-tired.

It is not always easy for busy parents to make an activity fun but, when possible, it can help. Teeth brushing can be done together. One mother told me she encourages her son to brush out the “sugar bugs” which he likes, and another challenges her child to try to sing while brushing and they laugh together at the silly results. Daniel Tiger, a favorite character, encourages positive behavior in a book about teeth brushing.  Playfulness on your part can make complying easier.

The big key is consistency. Be firm about your rules. Ultimately, this makes children feel secure by making their world predictable. Like a superhero, parents need to follow through and mean what they say. If you set consequences for not behaving, make sure the consequences happen. Consistency pays off because your kids learn that you are to be taken seriously. The result is that there ends up being no need to battle because the outcome is already decided.

Lastly, catch them doing well. Make a big deal of the one time there was no “battle” and tell them they made this day special because they cooperated. Provide incentives like stickers or treats to celebrate their good choice of NO BATTLE.

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine, a mental health and substance abuse treatment agency serving adults, adolescents, children and families. For more information or if you or someone you know needs help, call us at 877-888-4304 or visit our website www.healthaffiliatesmaine.com and click on “Referrals.”

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This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on August 22, 2018 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question:  The transition from summer to back-to-school is always a difficult one in our household. I do a terrible job enforcing a schedule in the summer. (I am a teacher so I am home with the kids for most of the summer.) Other than shifting to regular school-year bedtimes and schedules closer to school starting, what are other ways in which I can help make the transition easier?

Enforcing a schedule in the summer is not easy and not expected; even a teacher can get away with that!  The lack of routine and not having to be at school at a certain time makes summer special and fun.   But as summer wears on, many of us (students and parents) secretly yearn for the normalcy and routine that back-to-school brings.  

Here are some ideas which others have used:

–Begin talking about going back to school early and often.

–Get organized.  Get out old clothes and see what fits.  Plan a shopping trip for a few new items. This will get them started thinking about school.  For me this was a special event that included lunch out with mom (a big deal) and new school shoes.

–New school supplies are definitely a reminder.  A clean, blank notebook holds a lot of promise. 

–Invite some school friends over who they don’t usually see during the summer.  It’s an icebreaker of sorts. 

–Talk to the kids about what might make it easier to get back into routine. Including them helps to foster the desired change. 

–Let them practice setting and getting up using an alarm clock; it’s a grown up thing to do.

–Slowly start rolling back bedtimes and wake times, and start “predicting” by saying things like, “This time next week you’ll be riding the bus/meeting your new teacher”.

–Once it is open again, make a trip to the school to see the classroom or visit the playground.  This allows the kids to get that school feeling again and lessens anxiety.

–Try developing a new tradition of the “back to school dinner” with tacos or pizza, where the talk is all about the new school year.  Give it a good build up by talking about it days ahead.  Ask questions such as: Who are they looking forward to seeing?  What do they want to get better at doing?  Can they set a goal?

–Pick out a first-day-of-school outfit a few days before school starts.

–Make a chart for the things that need to get done or behaviors that are desired as the school year starts, which could earn an ice cream outing if progress is made.  The kids should help decide what goes on the chart.  The chart might also include things like “Snuggle with Mommy” if awake by 7:00.  The chart can reflect each child’s morning needs but sets it on a timeframe to allow for getting ready.

–Remember that TV and other screens can be a huge distraction from the task to get ready in the morning.  Even if it is a network morning show which you like, it will distract everyone.  Then it leads to yelling about getting ready and finding things.  Talk ahead of time about how you will handle requested screen time on school mornings.  Lively music might be a better choice.

–Lastly, start to plan what you need to do to take care of yourself this school year.  Do you need to get up before the kids, to have that much needed alone/coffee time?  What will help you be your best-self for facing the day?  What are things that were difficult during the last school year for which it might be best to do some advance planning?  Getting school days started as stress-free as possible is good for you and for them.

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine, a mental health and substance abuse treatment agency serving adults, adolescents, children and families. For more information or if you or someone you know needs help, call us at 877-888-4304 or visit our website www.healthaffiliatesmaine.com and click on “Referrals.”

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Hilton Garden Inn Freeport Downtown
5 Park Street
Freeport, ME 04032

About the Program

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a treatment developed by Marsha Linehan, Ph.D., In this program, DBT skills for adults will be presented, including core mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation. and interpersonal effectiveness. The presenters will show how they organized their DBT skills book for adult groups and in therapy sessions, as well as how they teach the modules. Twenty DBT skills will be taught over the course of the two-day training. The training is worth 12 Contact Hours.

In advance of the training participants are required to purchase and bring to the training, the Second Edition DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets. Available at guilford.com/books/DBT-Skills-Training-Handouts-and-Worksheets/Marsha-Linehan/9781572307810

The Hilton Garden in Freeport, Maine has allotted for a limited time a block of rooms at a discounted rate of $185.00 plus 9% state tax, for the night of September 24, 2018 ONLY. This discount is ONLY available until August 24, 2018. If you interested in these accommodations, call the Hilton Garden, in Freeport at (207) 865-1433 and mention you are attending a training provided by Health Affiliates Maine. Please note that there is a cancellation policy of 3-day prior to the event. If you have questions concerning this please refer to the Hilton Garden in Freeport.

About the Presenters

Monika Moroz-Bourque, LCSW

Monika Moroz-Bourque has worked as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the State of Maine since 1991, treating clients in private practice and community clinic settings. Monika has extensive training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and DBT. She has been utilizing the DBT modality to treat mood disorders, OCD, eating disorders, substance abuse and personality disorders. For several years she led a DBT adolescent and teen program involving family systems to support positive changes.

Debbie Papps, LCSW

An experienced Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Debbie Papps specializes in working with adults struggling with depression, anxiety, and borderline personality disorder, including suicidal behavior and self-injury. She trained for the MATCH therapy certification at the Judge Baker Children’s Center and completed an intensive DBT training course with Cynthia Sanderson, PhD and Kate Comtois, PhD. For 15 years, Debbie worked with Counseling Services Inc/Maine Behavioral Healthcare leading the DBT consultation team. In 2012, she opened her own practice and began collaborating with the Maine DBT Center in Saco. She co-leads one of the DBT adult skill groups and provides individual DBT therapy.


Hilton Garden Inn Freeport Downtown
5 Park Street
Freeport, ME 04032

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This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on July 16, 2018 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

QUESTION: We have two children 7 years apart in age. They do not have much in common and it seems the older they get, the less they like each other. How can I help them see each other as siblings rather than strangers?

ANSWER: It is a challenge to have children who have such age differences.  Kids can easily go their own way causing them to interact less and less. Changing this dynamic takes effort from the parents to create activities and opportunities for bonding. Family relationships form our early experiences of our sense of belonging. It is important to foster that sense in our daily interactions by insisting on kind, and fun ways to communicate. When we feel we belong, and home is a warm and safe place, we set out in life secure in ourselves. That sense of security is at the root of a child’s self-esteem and promotes skills that help with success in life. That is why sibling relationships can be significant for development.

Shared experiences are very important ways to make family memories which include both children together. Family hikes, a day of playing in a natural waterfall, art projects, games and cooking projects, are examples of opportunities to make memories. When making family memories it is important not to always include friends, then the siblings are forced to interact with each other.  

Creating an opportunity for mentoring, where the older sibling teaches and guides the younger one for example, learning to tie knots or solve a problem, can help the older sibling realize that they have an important role. When children have a younger sibling it helps to encourage an active role in soothing an upset toddler or providing kisses for boo boos, and giving hugs at bedtime.  

Most importantly, don’t allow teasing. Teasing is a form of bullying that interferes with helping home be a safe and secure place. When left unchecked, teasing/bullying can drive a wedge in sibling relationships; bullying at home can leave adult siblings distant for life. This is when it is important for the parent to intercede firmly and repeatedly until it stops.  

As parents, we have so much to do just to keep everyone fed, clothed and up and ready when everyone has to get out of the house. Yet, fostering family togetherness and bonding is essential, the effects of which can last a lifetime. It is good that you are identifying a possible problem. I wish you all the best in your efforts.

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine, a mental health and substance abuse treatment agency serving adults, adolescents, children and families. For more information or if you or someone you know needs help, call us at 877-888-4304 or visit our website www.healthaffiliatesmaine.com and click on “Referrals.”

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This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on June 19, 2018 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question:  My wife and I are split.  She is a teacher and will spend much of the summer with her family out of state.  Our kids are going with her.  I’ve been getting great ideas for things to do with my kids from Macaroni Kid.  I am at a loss as to how to stay in touch and stay close to them when they are away though.  Can you share some ideas?

Answer: You already sound like a good dad, because this is important to you.  It is difficult being separated. Your efforts to stay connected with your kids will be meaningful and leave a lasting impression. Things will pick right back up when they get home. Did you ever meet an old friend whom you had lost touch with and feel as if no time had passed at all? Your bond with your kids is even greater than that. Military families go through some of these feelings and there have been inspirational products developed to help address it. One that I like is a recordable book called “Under the Same Moon.” If your children are of storybook age, they will enjoy the book again and again as they listen with your recorded voice reading to them. The premise is that your children can look up at the moon and know that you are looking at the same moon. It gives that feeling of connection. If they are young ones, there are recordable stuffed animals that allow you to wish them goodnight when they press the belly.

I solicited ideas from officemates, many of whom are parents and divorced parents, some with the same concerns. One father shared that he would really struggle if he couldn’t have regular contact with his kids. You are not alone. Many of them thought that children love to get mail and that sending notes, stickers, pages to color, postcards, pictures of you and the like, would give them delight and let them know that each time a letter arrives, that you are thinking about them. Once as a child, I received a letter from a family member and it had a stick of gum enclosed; a sweet surprise! Online or in craft stores you can purchase blank puzzles that you can write on. Your children will have to put together the puzzle before they read the note or see the picture. It doubles the fun and pleasure.  

Facetime and Skype are wonderful tools. One person said that her dad set a regular time for their weekly call, and she looked forward to it. Remember that kids don’t always know what to say, clamming-up with a phone in their hands. Have a knock-knock joke, story or other questions to help them open up to be ready to share their days with you. Ask about cousins, animals, and be supportive of things their mom and grandparents are having them do. You could also have a project in mind that you are planning on working on together which you can talk about; perhaps a video you want to make, or a rocket to build, once they are home. Keep your calls short but regular. If there is discord between you and their mother, remember that this situation places your children in the middle, so navigate carefully. It is not their job to stand up for, protect the feelings of, or keep secrets from the other parent. One dad who had experienced divorce and separation cautioned to stay away from ostentatious or expensive gifts, as those can be interpreted as competition with mom. He shared that your efforts for connection and knowing that dad cares is worth it in the long run. I hope this helps and this time of separation goes by quickly.

For any reader that may have difficulty with divorce and co-parenting or have children who are affected by this situation, counseling can help.

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine, a mental health and substance abuse treatment agency serving adults, adolescents, children and families. For more information or if you or someone you know needs help, call us at 877-888-4304 or visit our website www.healthaffiliatesmaine.com and click on “Referrals.”

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Ask the Experts: Addiction in the Family Worries Mom

My ex-husband is an alcoholic. My kids have a good relationship with their dad and see him regularly. Their dad refuses to admit he is an alcoholic or seek help...

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on May 30, 2018 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question:  My ex-husband is an alcoholic. My kids have a good relationship with their dad and see him regularly. Their dad refuses to admit he is an alcoholic or seek help (part of why our marriage ended).  Alcoholism runs in his family and I know it’s important to have conversation with my kids about that before they get to an age where they might be tempted to drink.  How early do I start those conversations and how do I do it without undermining their dad or having them think differently about him?

Answer:  I have to congratulate you on your careful question and your concern to not undermine the children’s father in light of his drinking, which contributed to end of the marriage. You are right, it is very important to talk with your children about drinking and the possible genetic history of alcoholism in the family, before they decide to drink. Best case scenario they never even take a first drink.  

Ways to go about talking with your kids about this subject does depend on their ages. The beginnings of the conversation can start with other inherited traits like eye, hair and skin color which are prevalent in the family. It will be helpful for them to know that some traits and genetic leanings are good, and some, not so good. Every family has both. Education about other predisposed conditions in the family, such as diabetes, should be discussed, as well as the possibility of the disease of addiction. With teens, a good activity is a family internet research session together, where you can help with some guided exploring on the subject. 

If questions come up about their father you can explain that addiction is a tricky disease that tells an individual that they don’t have it. You can explain that you and their father disagree about whether he has a problem, but that you feel it is important they be aware of the risks.  

Revisit this conversation often, perhaps if it comes up in a TV show or news clip; turn the conversation back to your family.   Stress repeatedly in a variety of ways that living with addiction is no way for them to live. Addiction hurts lives; it affects an individual’s thinking and health. It can cause job loss and end relationships. Always include that no one sets out to get addicted, but addiction starts out like a fun friend that you allow to live in your home, who ends up robbing you. Encourage them to talk with you about drinking and drug use when they feel challenged or have questions. Set firm boundaries about drug and alcohol use as they move into teenage years, and talk with them often. Remind them that rules mean that you love them enough to care that they turn out healthy and well.

Everyone needs to know that the genetic link with substance abuse disorders is not the only thing to consider. Parents who use substances may make choices that are not in the best interest of their children. Questions to consider are: Does he/she drink or use drugs when around the children? Have they seen him/her drunk? Does he/she drive when using alcohol and drugs, with the children in the car? Are the children put in the position of covering for, cleaning up after, or lying, in order to rescue the addicted parent, or, are older children inappropriately stepping in the role of “parent” when the adult is using? People who are in a relationship with a person with addiction are affected by that person’s use in very serious ways.  Counseling and groups like Al-Anon or Al-ateen are amazingly helpful to family members.

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine, a mental health and substance abuse treatment agency serving adults, adolescents, children and families. For more information or if you or someone you know needs help, call us at 877-888-4304 or visit our website www.healthaffiliatesmaine.com and click on “Referrals.”

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