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Cold Dark Season Has Reader Depressed

Winter is here and it is a difficult time for me. Between the cold, the dark, and the lack of outdoor time, I get really depressed. I know about SAD and have tried light therapy. I think it helps some but not enough. What other things can I try?

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on February 13, 2019 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question: 

Winter is here and it is a difficult time for me. Between the cold, the dark, and the lack of outdoor time, I get really depressed. I know about SAD and have tried light therapy. I think it helps some but not enough. What other things can I try?

Answer: 

Winter is a difficult time for many.  Some people enjoy winter because they have sports like skiing or snowmobiling, which causes them to look forward to it.  For many of us, winter is to be tolerated.  Some, like you, have the added difficulty where seasonal circumstances, like the lack of light, which affects your mood and leads to depression.  For some, the difficult months come on in February and March due to an accumulated effect of reduced daylight.  You mentioned SAD, which stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder.  SAD can cause depressed mood, social withdrawal, and mental health problems like increased anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts.  

Here are some interventions that can help:

Preplan winter.  As the winter season approaches each year, fill your calendar with activities both social and physical.  Schedule lunch with friends, movie nights, family game and puzzle challenges.  Have a lot of interactions with people you care about.  Social supports and things to look forward to can make the winter seem to go faster.

Bundle up and get out!   Plan to be outside in the morning or the middle of the day whether it is cloudy or sunny.  Daylight helps; try to get out whenever you can.  Some sufferers like to wear yellow lenses which reduce blue light and make everything brighter.

Buddy up with another that may also be troubled by the difficult winter.  You can help motivate each other with physical activity and healthy eating.

Boost up the self-care.  This is the time to focus on your own needs.  Do an inventory of the physical, social, emotional, and spiritual areas of your life.  Are there any needing attention or outlet?  What can you add to bring life into balance? Counselors can help with this.

Use your light therapy every day. Think of it as a daily medication. Start in the fall as the daylight first starts to shorten. Place the light in front of you every morning for a half hour.  Eat breakfast by it or read.  Do it every day.

Plan a winter getaway.  If you have the means, taking a vacation to a sunny climate during winter months can be a real lift.

Check with your doctor.  This problem is likely to come back every year, as long as you live where the days are shorter in the winter.  If you haven’t already, see your doctor for medication, It is best to do this in the early fall so the medication will be at therapeutic levels come the dark months. This will help with the hormone imbalance caused by the lack of light.

Consider vitamin D.  Ask your doctor about this.  People who live in wintery climates often have low levels of vitamin D.  This is the vitamin that is produced in our odies by sunlight interacting with our skin and has many healthful purposes, including treating and preventing depression.

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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Health Scare Calls for Self Care

I recently had a health scare. While I am okay, my doctor has urged me to take better care of myself, in particular, carving out time for reducing stress...

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on January 16, 2019 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question: I recently had a health scare. While I am okay, my doctor has urged me to take better care of myself, in particular, carving out time for reducing stress. I have been successful in making some changes to diet and increasing my exercise but I really struggle with finding ways to relax and unwind. I’m not the bubble bath taking or knitting type. I think a lot of people struggle with this so I hope my question is helpful to others as well: What activities can help me reduce stress?

Answer: 

I am glad you are okay.  Stress is a killer, and we all need to realize the immediate and lifelong need to take better care of ourselves.  You are already making positive changes and I hope that you keep moving forward with making diet and exercise changes. Small changes can lead to big improvement if you resolve to make it important.

Stress can be self-induced or can have external causes.  Self-induced stress can come from negative self-talk and unrealistic expectations. To illustrate this, think of a picture you may have in your head about how your day/life should be going.  When our reality doesn’t match that picture, we have stress.  External stress can be caused by others, events or circumstances for which we have little or no control.  During external stress, self-care is very important. Take some time to understand where your stress originates.  Understanding this can lead you to ways to manage it.  Here are some ways to reduce or manage stress for both mind and body: 

Vigorous vs calming activities:  Instead of bubble baths and knitting, how about tennis, biking or boxing (weather permitting, of course)?

Take mini breath breaks—Do this while sitting at a stop light, while waiting for the microwave to finish, or while having a quiet moment.  Relax your shoulders, and take in your breath deep into your diaphragm, three times or more.  Be careful that you are breathing deeply and slowly (causing your belly to move in and out); not at the top of your lungs.  These two ways of breathing stimulate the nervous system in different ways, and breathing low in your diaphragm triggers a relaxation response. Explore meditation skills to reduce stress. There are several helpful online resources.

Narrow your focus– If stressful events/tasks have you feeling anxious or worried, switch your focus to the here and now.  Here is an exercise to help illustrate this:  If you are drinking a coffee or tea, stop for a moment and feel the warmth of the mug in your hand.  Stop and recognize the aroma and  the taste on your tongue.  Breathe in deeply and take a moment of gratitude for the pleasure it brings.  Spending time being mindful of your coffee is so much better than suddenly finding it gone.

Get grounded—Grounding techniques can be helpful when things feel particularly out of control.  Stop and notice parts of your body that touch the chair, the floor.  Listen to the world around you and think about what you notice.  This is called “grounding” and can be incredibly calming.

Manage expectations and perfectionism—Work on accepting that you will never be perfect, or do things perfectly or have a perfect family; these expectations of yourself and others are not worth the risk of adding lethal stress to your life.  A good book is When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough by Martin M. Antony, PhD and Richard P. Swanson, MD.  Talking with a counselor can also help you with this.  

Schedule self-care – Your doctor asked you to “carve out time” to reduce stress.  You may have to schedule it.  I have co-workers who use their 10-minute breaks to walk the parking lot for exercise and a social connection.  We reduce stress by briefly escaping or by talking about it with someone who can help us process it. Lastly, many of us wear many hats and are really good at taking care of others.  This “health scare” is a signal it is time to care for YOU. 

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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How Do I Feel Better? Recovery After Complex Traumatic Stress, Violence & AbusePresented by Julie Colpitts, LCSW. 6 Contact Hours

Clients come to us to heal from complex traumatic stress and the associated health, substance, mental health and social problems...

PortlandFri, March 1, 2019 from 8:30am – 4:00pm
Italian Heritage Center
40 Westland Ave
Portland, ME
Register
LewistonFri, March 8, 2019 from 8:30am – 4:00pm
Franco Center
46 Cedar Street
Lewiston, ME
Register
OronoFri, March 15, 2019 from 8:30am – 4:00pm
Black Bear Inn
4 Godfrey Drive
Orono, ME
Register

About the Program

Clients come to us to heal from complex traumatic stress and the associated health, substance, mental health and social problems. Emerging treatment models have improved our response to complex trauma. However, these models need accommodations when exposure to interpersonal violence and abuse is a factor.

This workshop views healing from traumatic stress through the lens of an integrated body-mind response, with strategies for physiological healing, improved emotional regulation and structural cognitive change. We will review violence-informed accommodations recommended for our usual treatment models, such as CBT. We will also expand our focus to share a mindful exploration of pathways toward calm and joy.

Exposure to violence and abuse also has implications for the healers including safety concerns and compassion fatigue. We will consider personal and systemic support for professional resiliency.

At the end of the day, participants will have strategies to address these questions:

  • Mind: What accommodations are recommended for cognitive treatment models for complex trauma when exposure to interpersonal violence exists?
  • Body: How do we integrate physiological healing into our work, using options other than meditation to build a mindful awareness of trauma-driven response patterns and promote a joyful presence in the moment?
  • Self care: How do we create trauma-informed self care: not what we do after work, but how we do the work itself?
  • Systems and safety: How do we move toward a trauma informed, safe, healing system that emphasizes strength and resilience for client and caregiver?

This workshop is appropriate for clinicians who have a basic understanding of the dynamics of intimate partner violence and are interested in deepening their clinical skills.This workshop has content relevant for clinicians who are preparing to meet Maine licensing requirements for family and intimate partner violence education.

Format: The presenter will use video, presentations, small group sessions, with questions and answer discussion embedded through this 6-hour workshop.

About the Presenter

Julie Colpitts, LCSW

Julie provides trainings nationally on responses to domestic violence, on healing for traumatized organizations and individuals, and is on faculty at Simmons University Graduate School of Social Work. She has been a deputy director at the National Network to End Domestic Violence and the Executive Director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. She chaired the Maine Commission on Domestic and Sexual Abuse, sat on the Maine Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel and the Justice Advisory Council, the national IPV Prevention Council and the White House Task force for Open Data Policing. Prior to her anti-violence work, Julie developed behavioral health systems of care for adolescents, children and families experiencing traumatic stress.

Agenda

8:00 – 8:30 Continental Breakfast and Registration
8:30 – 10:30 Setting the Frame: Dynamics and ethical, effective responses to complex trauma when violence and abuse are present (activities 1-3)
10:30 – 10:45 Break
10:45 – 12:00 Mind: Accommodations to cognitive behavioral treatment models when treating complex trauma, abuse and ambiguous loss.
12:00 – 1:00 Lunch and networking discussions.
1:00 – 1:30 Defining the scope of practice: Risk Assessment and safety strategies.
1:30 – 2:45 Body: Integrating physiological healing into our work (activity 5)
3:00 – 3:45 Self Care: Moving toward a trauma informed, safe, healing system that emphasizes strength and resilience for client and caregiver.
3:45 – 4:00 Conference Summary and Certificate Distribution.

PortlandFri, March 1, 2019 from 8:30am – 4:00pm
Italian Heritage Center
40 Westland Ave
Portland, ME
Register
LewistonFri, March 8, 2019 from 8:30am – 4:00pm
Franco Center
46 Cedar Street
Lewiston, ME
Register
OronoFri, March 15, 2019 from 8:30am – 4:00pm
Black Bear Inn
4 Godfrey Drive
Orono, ME
Register

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Mom Is Uncomfortable with Dad’s Honesty

My husband tends to tell our kids way more information than I am comfortable sharing. For instance, he will discuss with them his holiday bonus and how it's because he works so hard that we can go on family vacations.

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

Question: My husband tends to tell our kids way more information than I am comfortable sharing. For instance, he will discuss with them his holiday bonus and how it’s because he works so hard that we can go on family vacations. Or tell them about his uncle being in prison for drug use–as a cautionary tale. Recently, he encouraged me to tell my kids that I attend Al-Anon. He feels it’s important that they understand my family’s history with alcoholism and that I serve as a good role model by seeking help. It just seems like there are certain things that need not be shared with kids. For reference, our kids are 11 and 13. Thanks for your advice!

Answer: I like your question. I can see both sides of this dilemma. Your husband has the right intention to want your children to learn that unhealthy decisions (like alcohol and drug use) can lead to a really difficult life. He also really wants them to understand that hard work has its rewards, like family vacations and other pleasant things. 

It is difficult to answer your question not knowing how the family’s stories are presented to the kids, which may help explain your concern. Honesty is actually really healthy, and if presented correctly these stories can do a lot to prepare kids for life.  Using a personal story complete with the negative consequences that went along can be a powerful teaching tool. There should be no glamorizing of the event in the telling of it.  Your children are ages 11 and 13. It is the time when they are beginning to make choices that can impact their lives and they need guidance. There is also a genetic aspect to addiction for which your children will need to be aware.  

On the other hand, your attendance at Al-Anon is private for you. The philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous and its offshoot AlAnon (for people affected by someone else’s use of substances) and Alateen (for teenagers) is based on anonymity which encourages people to seek the help and support without shame or stigma; whether or not you share this with them is up to you.  

Lastly, here is something you might think about: Many alcoholic families work very hard to keep the family drinking problem and other behaviors secret with rules like “what happens in the family stays in the family.” Children of alcoholics learn very early that it is not good/safe to share publicly or even talk about problems. On the outside, many alcoholic families look perfect.  Some of your reluctance about your husband’s “honesty” may be rooted in this old pattern.

You can be proud to be considered a “role model” by your husband. It is not easy to find your way, after growing up in an alcoholic family. It is called alcoholic family because even if it may have only one alcoholic, the whole family suffers as a result. You are doing well.

To my readers:  If you struggle with substances or have been impacted by someone else’s use and abuse of substances, a counselor can help you sort it out. It’s a healthy thing to do.

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 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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