Macaroni Kid

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on May 13, 2021, by Cindy Mailhot, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine. 

Question: My daughter was touched sexually without consent by a classmate last year. She has not had in-person classes with the student this year due to mostly remote classes. She has lately been expressing a lot of anxiousness about seeing him in person when classes resume to normal. How can she best prepare for seeing him again and feeling safe? (The school is aware and spoke to the boy and his parents when this happened. He received a school suspension.)

Answer: I can just imagine how stressful this situation has been for your daughter and for you as a parent. You are doing an amazing job as a parent in supporting your daughter and working with the school to ensure her safety and sense of safety with the world around her.

Not knowing the age of your daughter, here are some suggestions for a variety of ages:

  • Work with the school to determine a schedule and plan that involves minimal interactions with this other student and a plan for when interaction may happen.
  • Sit down with your daughter and review the potential spaces and places she expects to see this other student in school–in the classroom, in the halls, at lunch. Explore the possible interactions she can imagine (good and bad) and brainstorm how she might manage in different situations–walk away, go to the principal or guidance counselor’s office, find her friend group, calmly but firmly say “leave me alone.”
  • Try to understand her “ideal” situation and brainstorm how that might be able to happen.
  • Remind her that the other student might be feeling awkward and uncomfortable, too, and may also be worried about seeing her.
  • Find out what the return to the classroom will look like and perhaps try a trial run rather than going back full-speed immediately.
  • Find out who her supports would be in the school if she’s having a difficult time and work on familiarizing her with these supports (if she isn’t already familiar with them) so she might feel more comfortable seeking help if needed.
  • Explore who the safe people are to talk to if something were to happen that she is uncomfortable with.
  • Stay hopeful. Try something on this list each day. Dwell on thoughts of when the pandemic ends and of all the things you will want to do and explore with your child. Do not hesitate to reach out for help.
  • Find one friend that can be her “buddy” for the first few days or weeks, so she won’t feel alone as she gets a feel for the situation.
  • A transition object from home that she can keep in her pocket that reminds her of your unconditional love and support throughout her day may ease the transition.
  • Provide plenty of opportunities to discuss her worries and concerns with you and anyone else she might feel comfortable with.

To know if she’s adjusting well, keep the lines of communication open. Check-in with her regularly and ask how she’s feeling, if the plans that were made are working and if anything needs to change. I also recommend that you watch for behavior changes. If you notice anything concerning (you know your daughter best), reach out to a mental health specialist for assistance. Behavior changes could include a change in social activities, isolation, sadness, anger, acting out, or essentially any behavior that is outside the norm for your child.

 

Cindy Mailhot, LCSW, CCS is a clinical social worker and the Assistant Director of Outpatient Therapy at Health Affiliates Maine.

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This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on March 25, 2021, by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine.  

Question: I am absolutely fed up with my mother-in-law. She has spent pretty much my entire marriage to her son criticizing me as a wife and mother. My husband used to defend me more but has given up saying his mom won’t change her ways so it’s not worth the fight. Recently she called me a “lazy mom” in front of our ten-year-old. Our daughter cried on the way home and said she doesn’t want to see grandma anymore. My husband brushed it off. I’m furious as my daughter deserves to see him stick up for me (and her) and should not be exposed to that. I want to have a discussion with my husband but see red every time I start to gear up for it. How can I discuss this without making matters worse?

Answer: This is an important question to which so many can relate. You would like to not be criticized by your mother-in-law. You would like to be supported by your husband when there are problems between your mother-in-law and yourself. And you want healthy behavior about relationships and respect, to be modeled for your daughter.

Relationships with in-laws and parents are so significant. When troubled, they can be like a tormenting drip, drip, drip of a faucet or they may be like walking through a field with dangerous mines all around, always waiting for an explosion. The criticism can be at the table for every family gathering. When good, however, they can add richness to your life and the lives of your children. All your family relationships can be impacted by this difficulty with your mother-in-law. It can be helpful to see a counselor, a neutral party, to help you sort it out.

“Seeing red” when you want to talk with your husband is not getting the problem solved. Keep in mind that your goal is to help him understand what you need from him. If you go about this angrily or in an accusatory fashion, he will stop listening. Also, remember that he is in the middle. His mother may have been critical all his life, and he may feel powerless to think she can change. He will need some tools to be able to help and counseling may help the two of you stand together to resolve this.

Learning about setting boundaries is one way of making improvements. I encourage you to get a book or do an internet study on how to set boundaries or ask the counselor to help you with this. Learning to set boundaries helps you know what to do when you are not respected. The result of healthy boundaries is that slowly you will begin to gain respect. One of my favorite sayings about boundaries is “people use the people they can use and respect the people they cannot use.” If your mother-in-law can get you upset, cause you to storm out, and leave you hurting then she is the one who is in control. You can say to your mother-in-law, “I value our relationship and your time with your granddaughter, but I cannot allow you to speak to me in that way especially in front of her. Please speak to me with respect or we will need to leave.” If she continues and you allow it, she remains in control. Instead, quietly gather your things and your daughter and let her know you are leaving. No drama, no tears, just leave.

This learning process also includes evaluating those areas in which you may be contributing to the discord between the two of you. You cannot ask to be spoken to with respect unless you also speak and treat her with respect. Most often in these situations, everyone needs to do better.

Lastly, it may sound odd, but try to ignite feelings of love and kindness towards her. You can do this by looking at her life. Is she lonely, hurt, depressed; does she have needs that are not met, or were never met? People often push away the people they need most by the things they say and the things they do. Creating kind thoughts for her may help you connect with her in a more meaningful way. This takes practice, but modeling this for your daughter can have a big payoff for everyone.

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine.

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This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on February 23, 2021, by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine.  

Question: My son has battled depression and anxiety since late elementary school. He is 16 now. We have tried multiple medications for him, and he sees a therapist regularly. He seems to have gotten worse in the last six months which is no surprise given the difficulties of the past year. I am frustrated because I don’t feel like the meds he is on do enough. It feels like we have tried them all. Any advice would be appreciated.

Answer: Whatever you do, keep trying. I can just imagine how frustrated and hopeless you and he feel—you are doing the right things, and you are not seeing any change. Do not give up.

I hope I can give you some things to think about that might provide ways to further explore and treat his depression. Some people have what is called “treatment-resistant depression.” It means they are not responding as expected to the usual methods of treatment. That means it is necessary for everyone, both professionals and family, to look at other interventions. These are things which need to be considered:

Is the diagnosis correct? There are different kinds of depression which require different kinds of treatment. Since your son’s depression has gone on for this long, he should be treated by a psychiatrist and not a primary care physician.

Is the dose correct? Many psychiatrists are like artists and chemists, in a sense, adding some of this and tweaking some of that, until they get just the right combination. It can take time to find just the right formula of medications. Every person is unique and responds to medications differently.

Are there other mental health conditions complicating treatment? For example, if your son has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), he could be having trouble both socially and academically, which may contribute to him feeling bad about himself. Treating the ADHD could help with this.

Are there other medical conditions complicating treatment? Medical conditions such as thyroid disorders, mononucleosis, iron deficiency anemia and other vitamin deficiencies like Vitamin D, B2, B6, or folate (Treatment-Resistant Depression in Adolescents, David Brent, MD) can all contribute to depression. Lab work can help assess for these.

How well is your son sleeping? Adolescents are known to spend late night hours on screens and devices; this can interfere with a normal sleep cycle and greatly impact his mood. Medication is not a substitute for lifestyle deficits. Sleep, exercise, good nutrition, and social interactions make life better.

Is your son taking his medication regularly and as prescribed? Missing doses, for example, greatly reduces a medication’s effectiveness.

Is there depression in the family? Is there a family member’s depression, particularly a parent’s, which is not being treated or fully treated? This has a significant influence on how a child views the world.

Is your son currently experiencing bullying, or does he have a history of trauma or abuse? Medication does not treat these issues; however, they have a profound effect on mood. If he has these issues, is he working on them in therapy? Does he need additional assistance from parents, school officials or other professionals with these situations?

Is your son struggling with his sexuality or gender identity? Sexuality and gender identity are big and confusing to adolescents. Could his sexuality or gender identity lead him to family rejection or bullying by peers?

Is your son using substances like alcohol, marijuana or other drugs? Is there alcohol or drug abuse in the family? Using these substances or being affected by someone else’s use of substances alters normal emotional coping.

Is your son thinking about suicide or self-harm? This is so important. Ask him. Educate him that these choices are sometimes the result of feeling very depressed and hopeless. Help him know that there is hope, that as a family you will keep trying to help him feel better. Do not hesitate to take him to the hospital if he is doing things or saying things that make you think he is suicidal. He may be angry, but it is the safest thing to do. If you need help getting him there, do not hesitate to call 911.

Does he have a good relationship with his therapist? Not every therapist is right for every person. Check-in and make sure that he feels connected with and heard by his therapist.

It is very hard to have a child with prolonged depression. Parents feel hopeless and lost. Sometimes parents of depressed children need to talk to someone about it. Call a counselor to help you. Thank you for asking this question. You are not alone.

This and other helpful information on Treatment-Resistant Depression in Adolescents can be found here.

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine.

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This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on January 20, 2021, by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine.  

Question: I am a new mom and COVID has been very difficult. My husband works out of the home and I feel very isolated. We are not seeing my parents right now even though they live close because they are high risk. I so appreciate Macaroni Kid as a resource but am missing in-person events and the ability to mingle with other moms. Can you share ideas for trying to stay connected and beat the heavy feeling of isolation? I am particularly worried with winter here that it will just get worse.

Answer: I can just imagine how badly you are missing in-person events and the ability to mingle with family and other moms. You are missing the fun of showing off your new baby to the world, and especially enjoying seeing your parents with their grandchild. This pandemic has really emphasized for all of us what really matters and the things we took for granted. New parenting should be a well-supported endeavor, and it’s not meant to be done alone.  

There are many things to do to take care of a new baby. I am going to add one more important job to your list and that is to take care of yourself. This is so important when you are feeling isolated. You will have to work to stay connected and fight the feelings of sadness that can often do just the reverse—cause you to withdraw.  

Not knowing your parents’ conditions, I am not sure if this can apply to your circumstance, but as long as you wear a mask and stay six feet apart, there are some activities you can do together. Outdoor activities are best. 

Here are a few ways to stay connected with loved ones, other parents, and your community: 

  • Bundle up the baby for brief porch visits. Let folks know you are coming so they can bundle up, too!
  • Try “car talk.” Park next to each other in opposite directions and talk for as long as you can handle the open window temperatures. Enjoy a hot drink while you chat.
  • Text pictures of the little one daily to your parents and in-laws. They will love it since they are probably feeling isolated and alone, too. Everyone will feel more engaged. 
  • Should baby nap long enough, bake something for your parents and make a delivery so they can get a quick peek at the little one.
  • There are many online groups. Try one on Facebook specifically for those who welcomed a baby during COVID called “COVID-19 Baby Parents Group.” These types of groups are just a chat forum to support one another and share ideas and resources.
  • Make sure you are letting your husband know how isolated you feel. He may be doing it already, but if not, ask that your husband check in on you during his work breaks.
  • Make a list of those friends and family for whom you can have regular contact whether by phone, Skype, Facetime, email, or car talk. Ask them for regular virtual or phone visits. Most importantly, let them know how you are feeling. You will find others feel as you do. 
  • Don’t let cold weather keep you from attending outdoor events. Most town recreation centers have developed “safe” family or kid activities to do which can connect and get families out of the house. Some are ongoing weekly events like skating, snowshoeing, or winter walks. One mom told me that she has enjoyed this so much. She bundles up her daughter and puts her in the sled at the event. It is a great place to meet other moms. The fresh, cool air can invigorate both mom and baby, giving you energy.
  • Some local farms are allowing families to visit the animals in the barns. Call ahead and ask. The sights, sounds, and smells of the working farm can make for a wonderful adventure.
  • Reach out to other new moms you may know. Share with them how you are feeling.  
  • Think of someone in your circle of acquaintances who might also be feeling isolated. In helping others, we often help ourselves.
  • Connect to a counselor via teletherapy. Most insurances will pay for this. There are many uncertainties in being a new mom even in times when accessing regular supports is easy. It is common for new parents to experience stress, anxiety, and some experience postpartum depression. The challenges of new parenting are emphasized during a pandemic. Asking for help is the act of a healthy person. 

Stay hopeful! Try something on this list each day. Dwell on thoughts when the pandemic will end and of all things you will want to do and explore with your child. Do not hesitate to reach out for help. We will get through this.

 

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine.

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This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on December 17, 2020, by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine.  

Question: I am a bi-sexual woman married to a woman. My daughter will be starting school next year and we hope to do some preschool programs this year if possible. My daughter has a biological dad she doesn’t see often. I know questions will arise for her during the school years on having two moms. My wife and I have open conversations with our daughter and want to help prepare her for questions and how she can best handle them. Do you have suggestions on where to start?

Answer: It is so good that you are thinking ahead to help your daughter with complicated moments. We can’t be there all the time, but sometimes we can give our children tools to help them navigate. 

Like all the kinds of diversity that she will experience, your family situation of having two moms sets her apart. Diversity is about differences. The place to start is by helping her embrace all the beauty of diversity, the positive benefits diversity brings to our world. Has she tried foods like Chinese, Thai, or Italian? Does she know anyone whose family immigrated to our country? Does she have questions about how Somali women dress? Does she have questions about disabled (I like “otherly-abled”) people? Talking openly about these groups as well as gay and lesbian families will provide comfort, confidence, and information when these subjects come up at school.

Here is an example of just one of the many conversations to broaden her world of acceptance. When you enter a store together with automatic doors, explain that the doors were made that way so someone using a wheelchair can roll in easily and that the slopes at the end of a sidewalk mean everyone can get around easily. This normalizes these differences and shows how everyone is important. 

Having toys and books that celebrate differences, including having two moms, can be helpful and can provide opportunities for larger conversations. I’ve included some examples and urge you to explore the many fine options:

  • Matching Game: I Never Forget a Face by the EEBOO Corporation
  • Crayons: People Color Crayons by Lake Shore Learning
  • Book: Mommy, Mama and Me by Leslea Newman
  • Book: My Two Moms and Me by Michael Joosten
  • Book: Love Makes a Family by Sophia Beer

In your open conversations with her, talk about why she has two moms. Without knowing what questions will arise, increasing her knowledge and understanding of your relationship may give her the words she needs. In language, a child will understand, explain about love (“People are like peanut butter and jelly, meant to be together”). Let her know that sometimes people might not understand because they’ve never seen it before, and sometimes people are unkind about things they don’t understand. Invite her to always bring their questions to you and to talk about how she’s feeling.

Some families have two parents of different races. Some only have one parent, while some are being raised by grandparents. Your daughter is different. Your daughter is special—she has two moms.  

 

 

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine.

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This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on October 21, 2020, by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine. 

Question:  My son is 11 and has some significant behavioral issues including outbursts of anger, aggression, and yelling. We have been working hard with him on coping skills when he feels angry and this has helped some. He has been asking for a dog for a couple of years now. My husband thinks it could be a good time to get one and have our son work toward a dog by showing good behavior. I’m on the fence. Though I think it could be a motivator, I worry he would digress after we got a dog. If I am honest, I also am a little wary that he could show aggression toward the dog. He does now with my husband and me. I would appreciate some advice.

Answer: Both you and your husband have made some good points. Under any circumstances, adding a pet to the home takes a family commitment of time, energy, money, and affection. This is a long-term commitment that can pay off in lots of shared joy. 

A dog could be very therapeutic for your son. Pets love and accept us, without judgment, unconditionally; they are reliable and loyal. Pets can teach children many great and valuable lessons. Your son can learn responsibility to provide for the dog’s needs of food, water, exercise, play, and grooming in turn for endless love and affection. Pets help a child experience caring for another, a lifelong lesson in empathy.   

Before any of this happens, however, you and your husband need to come together to work on communication and an agreement about behavioral expectations, rewards, and consequences, both for current behavior and for future behavior with the dog. A dog is not going to immediately solve the aggressive behaviors you are currently seeing. As you alluded to, some children can turn that aggression on a pet. This can be serious and needs professional attention if it occurs.

Anger, aggression, and yelling is concerning, and it is also concerning that he is acting out aggressively toward you. Finding the source of his anger and frustration is extremely important. As with the check engine light on the dashboard of your car, his behavior is signaling unmet needs or underlying emotions that he is having trouble expressing in healthy ways. I am glad that you are helping him with coping skills. Seeking counseling for your son can be another way to help him learn to express and deal with distress before it turns aggressive. A counselor can also help him talk about what might be making him angry and afraid (fear is often covered up by anger). Family counseling can also give you and your husband tools to help you help your son so he can grow up happy with his dog.

 

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine.

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This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on September 16, 2020, by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine 

Question: My kids suffered greatly when their schools went remote last spring due to COVID-19. I am trying hard to prepare as best I can for a potentially rocky school year. What are the best ways to prep for that now for both me and my kids? They are 9 and 16. 

Answer: By now you probably know your kids’ school schedules, but we can talk about how you and your children can cope with change and uncertainty, which is a constant part of life and so very important now. At this point, we do not know if school will be successful with the new models or if more change will happen again.

The whole school situation is very difficult and complicated. Everyone involved has great concerns for safety while at the same time everyone wants what is best for the kids. We are all needing to adopt a very flexible outlook and parents need to present the attitude of “we can do this!”  

Resilience will be key. Resilience is a term for describing the ability to overcome adversity and challenge. It is about bouncing back. Imagine pushing a beach ball under the water. It can momentarily be overcome by the water and disappear from plain view only to launch itself right out of the water pushing against the challenge to come out on top. This image is something your 9 and 16-year-olds can visualize. This pandemic may make disruptions and changes in their lives, but they can end up on top and have a story to tell.

Though kids are known for being resilient, they do not have a long list of experiences from which to draw only remembering school a certain way. It is helpful to remind them of when they overcame other difficult times like a pet dying, a friend moving away, passing a difficult exam, or trying out for a team. They can learn to draw on other experiences to help them now. Whether there was disappointment, sadness, or success, they managed. Things may have returned to normal or they adjusted and went on to have other adventures and challenges. 

Some pandemic examples of resilience are:

  • Restaurants that managed to keep going, by offering outdoor dining and take out.
  • Graduates who managed to celebrate their graduations with socially-distant drive-by celebrations including yard signs and online parties.
  • Game nights and hiking as a family drawing everyone together.
  • People who starting cooking more, trying new recipes, canning vegetables, and organizing their drawers.
  • Kids who have discovered ways to help others by fundraising for a cause.

Things that will help both you and them as you get back to the school routine (as un-routine as it may seem) are:

  • Take time together to talk about how the day went, specifically asking about the masks, the social distance, online challenges, how they are connecting with friends and taking time together to problem-solve issues and celebrate successes.
  • Make a practice of regularly reaching out to others in the same situation for support and ideas. 
  • Remind yourself and each other to take one day at a time. This means watching when the things causing worries are out of your control and changing the focus to the here and now avoiding “what ifs.”
  • Review the expectations of each class and teacher regularly.
  • Keep the teachers informed of difficulties and confusion.
  • Take time to play outside as often as possible. Laughter lightens every load.

With your involvement, encouragement, and positive attitude your kids will not feel as overwhelmed and you will all get through it together.

For some, resilience is not easy. Children who struggle with school and relationships or have a history of trauma could experience additional challenges during these trying times. The isolation and uncertainty can be distressing. Children with mental illnesses might also struggle more than usual. It is very important to assist them in connecting with a counselor, case manager, or physician. These types of professionals may make an important difference in how these children and parents cope. I wish you and your family a positive and successful school year!

 

 

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine.

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This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on May 21, 2020, by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine 

Question: Our 11-year old daughter overheard my husband and I discussing finances and is asking some tough questions. My husband was furloughed from his job and we don’t know when he will be back. Unemployment is helping but is nowhere near the same amount he was making. There is also uncertainty around my job and I am fearful I could get laid off soon. As it is, my hours are reduced. Obviously, we have been worried and our daughter overheard some of those worries. How do we discuss this in an honest way while keeping her concerns at bay?

Answer: These are indeed tough times and are indeed difficult for so many people. Financial insecurity and uncertainty is an all-consuming problem. You are managing a lot. I truly hope everything with your job and finances improve.

It is very important to know that your daughter is watching you and listening to you always. Just in your day-to-day parenting, you are modeling and teaching your daughter about life—the good and the not so good. Our desire to shelter our children from things which are difficult and uncertain is not always the best plan. Right now, in the loving protection of her family, she can experience adversity while you and your husband show her healthy ways to cope by problem-solving together and maintaining optimism. 

At the same time, certain conversations and differences between parents should be taken out of the view and earshot of their children. Young children are just beginning to make correct judgments and can often misread circumstances. For example, she might one day hear the two of you arguing and mistakenly think you are going to get a divorce. Children also take the blame for discord between parents that they don’t understand. This can be very detrimental to their self-esteem and creates unnecessary anxiety. In those cases when your daughter overhears a difficult discussion, take time to give her reassurance that you are handling it.

I like your desire to want to discuss it with your daughter, in an honest way, while keeping her concerns at bay. Tell your daughter that life is not always easy, and that sometimes there are a lot of problems at once. It’s like when the car is driving on a smooth road and suddenly there are bumps and potholes. These are difficult times, but difficult times often pass and the road smooths out again. Reassure her that you and her father are working together to find ways that will make the situation better. This is a parent problem to solve and you are taking steps to do that.

 

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine.

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This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on June 15, 2020, by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine. 

Question:  My 19-year-old just finished his first year in college–remotely most of this last semester, of course. He suffers from depression and anxiety and the change in being back home, schooling remotely (with dropping grades), and not seeing his friends regularly has his depression and anxiety creeping up. He pulls a lot of all-nighters and insists it’s the only way to stay connected to friends after the “school day.” I don’t think the lack of sleep helps. Since he is officially an adult, I don’t feel like I have a lot of say. How can I approach him in a place of love and help?

Answer:  You are asking how to share your concern, and maybe guidance, without resistance on the part of your son. You answered your question yourself; you approach him from a place of love and help. At 19 he still needs your caring influence. It sounds like he needs it now more than ever. In my view, our kids never stop needing us, it is just the way they need us that grows and changes. Whenever any of our loved ones suffer from an episode of mental or emotional distress, it is a signal that help may be needed, no matter what age. Decisions or lack of decisions they make for themselves may not be in their best interest. There are times we may have to temporarily step in, in a more assertive way, to make decisions for them. Keeping them safe is the primary concern.

Here are some things to try to open him up so he can hear what you are saying.

Schedule the discussion:  “I would like to set aside some time later this afternoon to talk about all the challenges you are faced with right now.” It is like a road sign that says “Rest stop ahead”. It helps lay the groundwork for him to hear what you have to say. 

Recognize his discomfort:  “I have realized that you are not yourself lately, and who could blame you, with things being awful right now.” He probably can’t argue with that.

Share your feelings:  “I feel really concerned when I see your depression and anxiety creeping up. It is very apparent. I know it must be hard for you. I would feel happier if we could talk about a plan so you can start feeling better.” This will change the focus to you, which might be more comfortable for him.

Do your homework:  Have some reputable sites available to refer to regarding the discussion of anxiety and depression. Ask him to agree to also visit these sites on his own. You are right about the lack of sleep. One of the first things addressed in the treatment of depression is clearing up the sleep issue.

Be prepared to get help.  If your son has been treated before for the issues with depression and anxiety, it is definitely time for a check-up. Connecting with a counselor may be a key in helping him face the uncertainty and make decisions. At this age, it is good to encourage him to solve this with a counselor, which fits better in his developmental task of growing independent of you.

Allow him to choose:  If you can get him to agree to get counseling assistance, have him read about individual counselors on agency websites or on the Psychology Today website. He should pick one that feels like a good fit. Many counselors provide telehealth services and/or in-person sessions.

Don’t hesitate to get help: There are rare occasions when a loved one is so depressed or ill that they are a threat to themselves or someone else. In these serious times, you might need to make tough decisions about getting help for your loved one without their consent, by taking them to the emergency department or by calling 911 for assistance. Know that they will be angry, but after getting help are most often understanding of your action. 

These uncertain times are tough on us all, but especially for young high school graduates and college students.  Your son is fortunate to have a parent like you looking out for him.

Note to parents:  Students in their first year of college sometimes struggle with adapting. Leaving home for college is a transitional leap for which some students are unprepared emotionally.  Living away from home, having a roommate, experimenting with substance use, and the independent learning expectations can be overwhelming for some. A year back home, with counseling help, and perhaps a job can be all they need to successfully try again.

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine. 

 

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This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on May 21, 2020, by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question:  Phew. I am having a hard enough time getting through remote schooling with my kids these past months and now I am hearing concerns that kids may not be back in school this fall or, if they are, they will be wearing masks, distancing, and maybe even going only a few days a week. My kids want to be back to school in the fall. They are hearing the rumors too. They are asking questions. How do I address these with them–not knowing what the new school year will bring? I don’t want to say they will be back when they may not be. I also don’t want to have them fearing the worst all summer. What’s the best way to approach this uncertainty?

Answer: Although our children think we do, we do not have any control over what will happen in the future. We cannot make it all better or promise that life will return to normal. Uncertainty is hard for all of us. Take heart.  Although this is a very difficult experience, there are real-life lessons here for all of our kids, which will serve them well throughout adulthood. Remember the saying, “It is not the number of times you get knocked down that is important, it the number of times you get back up.”  Life is full of uncertainty and change. Helping your kids learn to accept this with grace (as much as that is possible in children) is so important.  

Here is what might help: 

Offer HOPE: Let your kids know that it is the job of the schools, communities and our government to figure out how to get the students back to school safely. Many people are working on it. It may look different, but a plan will be made. They will soon know what it will look like, and together you will all work on making it work.

Offer VALIDATION: We know that being with friends is a really important part of school. Acknowledge for them that you understand it is hard not to know, and that it is also hard for you. Encourage them to talk about their fears and worries. Talk about this together. This is a way to validate what they are feeling and that you are hearing them, you understand and are feeling it, too. This amazingly lightens the mood.

REFRAME: If you can, reframe the way they, and you, are thinking about this. They are experiencing something extraordinary right now. We are all learning more about science, technology, our interconnectedness and our own ability to be resilient. Because of this pandemic, they are going to be part of a generation that takes big leaps forward in their ability to problem-solve and adapt. As horrible as this virus has been, we have learned so much about ourselves. Encourage them to think about what they are missing and why is it important to them. It can offer a new appreciation.

REDIRECT: Encourage them to take another path in action and thinking. When the worries start to take over, have them focus just on today—what can make today a good day, like building a fairy house or making things from found objects, for example. Check out websites for these kinds of activities together. Foster their compassion. Focusing on the needs of others and getting out of our own heads is the best way to feel better (packing boxes at a food bank, walking the neighbor’s dog, saving the Earth by picking up litter or planting a tree, or reaching out to Facetime with a grandparent).

Try this “formula” I have given you (hope, validation, reframe, and redirect). Hopefully, you will soon have clearer answers to give. Try this on yourself, too. 

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine.

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