Q+A

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on October 1, 2021, by Mary Gagnon, LMFT, and Clinical Development and Training Specialist for Health Affiliates Maine. 

Question: I have three children ages 4, 3, and 6 months. How do I get my 4- and 3-year-olds to listen without raising my voice and losing my temper? My 4-year-old is sensitive and doesn’t respond well to anger.

Answer: Ah, those early years are certainly a challenge! So much growth, so little attention span and capacity for self-regulation.

You’re off to a great start. Self-awareness is one of the most important tools in your parenting toolbox. An awareness of your child’s unique personality traits and tolerances is another. And, of course, most people don’t respond well to anger, nor do you want to spend your time with your children feeling angry. So, what else can you do?

Let’s start with you. Are you taking care of yourself? Having three children under five is a great deal of work, and it absorbs a lot of your time and energy. Make sure that you’re meeting some basic self-care needs: nutrition, exercise, sleep (a tough one with young children, I know), time with family and friends, engagement in meaningful activities (paid or unpaid, hobbies, spiritual fulfillment, etc.), whatever you think you need to feel whole and healthy. You may need to ask for help in getting your needs met. You may feel selfish or like you don’t want to “burden” anyone else, but time for yourself helps you to be a better parent, friend, partner, and so on. It’s a win for everyone.

Envisioning and setting intentions for the day can be very helpful. Knowing what you want out of the day and how you want to be as a parent that day helps your mind walk that path. So, for example, you can say to yourself at the beginning of the day, “Today I want to show my children that they are loved. I’m going to make cookies with them.” If things go awry, remind yourself that plans don’t always work out as you hope, and grant yourself and your children grace and the benefit of the doubt, and that even if the cookies don’t get made, there are many ways to show your children that they are loved.

Now, about your children. They’re in exciting times in their development. The world is a big place, an interesting place, an unknown and sometimes even scary place. They’re newbies in this world, newbies even to their own bodies and minds, and they don’t know how to read the map. It’s our job as parents to help them navigate this brave new world, to help them feel secure enough to explore. If we’re doing our job, then they’ll do just that…and sometimes they’ll go too far and we must pull them in. They won’t always like it (just as we don’t like it when our desires are thwarted), and we’ll have to endure the inevitable challenges to our limit-setting—tantrums. Young children have less experience in the world, less understanding and control of their emotions and bodies, and though we may not appreciate their outbursts, they’re perfectly normal.

Young children, too, aren’t known for their high attention spans. Developmentally, their brains are absorbing many, many things, and they don’t know what to pay attention to. It’s a parent’s job to help them learn what to pay attention to and how to act, physically and emotionally, in the world.

So, how do you do that? Here are a few concrete tips:

  • Speak to them at their level. This is both physical and mental. Get down onto your knees when you talk to them, so that you are eye-to-eye with them. Use words that they understand. Use short sentences that don’t have multiple commands in them (“You need to get dressed, pick up your toys, and eat your breakfast” is a lot for a young brain to process).
  • Use a firm but loving voice. Your voice should be calm and loving, but also confident and firm. You’re their teacher, and you’re teaching them how to act.
  • Touch (or not). Some children find touch comforting and grounding, others find it overstimulating. Look for clues that tell you how your child feels about touch.
  • Warn them of consequences. Tell them what behavior you don’t like and warn them that if the behavior continues, what consequence will occur as a result. Consequences should relate to the behavior when possible (“If you keep pulling the dog’s fur, you won’t be allowed to pat the dog anymore. Use gentle hands, please. Let’s do it together.”).
  • Calmly follow through with consequences. Again, you’re teaching them. Their education should be calm and matter-of-fact.
  • Talk about it later. None of us can talk about an issue when we’re still overly emotional about it. When everyone has calmed down and is more focused, that’s the time to review what happened. Keep it simple (“You pulled the dog’s fur again, and that hurts the dog, so you couldn’t pat the dog anymore. Next time, please use gentle hands with the dog so you don’t hurt him.”)
  • Repetition is your friend. Kids (and adults, too) don’t typically learn something the very first time. They need lots of practice and repetition. This might be a bit tiring for parents, but it’s vitally important to understand that they’re not trying to upset you; they just need more time to learn what you’re trying to teach them.

Remember that everyone has a bad day, children and parents alike. If you do end up raising your voice and losing your temper, take time to apologize to your child and speak calmly about what happened. They may not understand everything you’re saying, but they’ll remember how it felt to have their parent speak to them kindly and acknowledge their mistakes. It’s a wonderful lesson for when they make their own mistakes, giving them both the blueprint for how to handle those situations and a safe space with you to admit them and try again.

Raising children is a marathon, not a sprint, and you’re bound to get a charley horse or two along the way. What’s most important is that your children know how much you love them. Best of luck to you!

Mary Gagnon is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Clinical Development and Training Specialist at Health Affiliates Maine.

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This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on June 10, 2021, by Marylena Chaisson, LCPC, Case Management Clinical Supervisor, Health Affiliates Maine. 

Question: My son is a senior and will be going out of state for college next year. He has fairly high anxiety and lacks executive functioning skills. I am feeling very anxious about him being far from home. How do we both prepare for this big change?

Answer: Big changes ahead! Let me tell you that you’re already doing great just by thinking about these challenges ahead of time and acknowledging there might be a couple of bumps here and there for both of you, so first off, please give yourself a pat on the back for being a caring and nurturing parent! Changes like this can be stressful for the whole family. Please remember to take care of yourself and attend to your own anxiety and stress over this change by seeking the support of a counselor, even if just for a few short-term, solution-focused sessions. 

Here are some specific thoughts about your son and his transition to college life:

  • I would encourage him (maybe with a little support from you) to reach out to the college’s student counseling staff right away–even this summer. This could be something you can support him with. Counseling staff at college are well-versed in the array of transitional struggles that frequently occur with this population of young adults and can better support new college students if they know ahead of time what challenges might surface. I will be surprised if the college does not have a counseling option for their students. If they don’t, reaching out to the Dean for guidance towards locally available counselors might be the next thing I’d try.
  • Review with your young adult the various strategies that you’ve both been implementing already for him to keep up with his high school classes and helping out around the house–if he’s passed high school and been accepted to college, that tells me he has some capacity for executive functioning as long as there are some supports in place. Is he a list-maker? Does he use a planner? Does he have a calendar on his phone? Do you use a weekly chore chart in the house? Every family and every individual is different, and it’s very common for most of us to use one or more helpful strategies or tools to stay on track. You will want to encourage him to replicate these same tools/strategies in his new college environment as soon as he moves out of the house. 
  • Begin the transition to more independence early.  Sit down with your young adult and discuss what activities he will need to accomplish independently when at college–doing laundry, making it to the cafeteria during mealtime, waking up to an alarm so he can make it to his classes on time, being responsible about bedtime–and think of ways you can start promoting independence on these things this summer. Follow through with natural consequences. If he commits to waking up by himself to an alarm to get to a summer job, and then sleeps through the alarm and ends up getting in trouble at work–that’s a natural consequence that he might need to experience and learn from. It can be very hard as a parent of a transitional-age youth to avoid jumping in and “rescuing” them from poor decision-making or low responsibility, but that is part of your work as a parent right now to assure a smoother transition to independent living.
  • Look at the college schedule for the academic year and plan ahead about staying connected during the week through video chats or phone calls, and make a plan for his trips home so you both know what to expect. For the extended times he plans to remain on campus, make sure you come up with some fun activities to keep yourself occupied–have there been hobbies or activities you’ve been wanting to get back into or try that you haven’t had time for? This can be a great time of personal growth for you, too!

Remember that times like this are a great opportunity for growth for everyone in your family. Sometimes growth doesn’t feel good at first (remember growing pains as a kid?), but a little bit of discomfort isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Open and honest communication and great boundaries are some of the biggest stepping stones towards this transition being as smooth as possible!  I’m excited for you!

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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 April 29, 2021, by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine.  

Question: I recently found out my 17-year-old is smoking marijuana. He said he does it to help with anxiety and that he finds a lot of relief in it. I don’t love the idea at all, but I also feel powerless to stop him. How can I talk to him about the risks but also be supportive if I lose this battle?

Answer: This is a difficult time for parents. At 17, your son is on the cusp of becoming a legal adult. This can give teens a feeling of not needing guidance or permission. Passing the milestone of 18 will not suddenly make him mature enough to all make decisions that are in his best interest. However, if your son is just starting to use at 17, studies show he is less at risk than a teen who starts at a young age, who smokes/vapes for years. A University of Montreal study says that the more teenagers delay smoking marijuana (cannabis) until they are older, the better it is for their brains, but there may be little ill effect if they start after age 17. That may give you some comfort. However, the human brain takes 26 years to reach full development so introducing substances does have risks when it comes to full potential.

That being said, I find a troubling issue in your question. What is causing the anxiety at age 17 for him to self-medicate with marijuana to relieve it? Many people have found cannabis calming, yet at seventeen or any age really, understanding the underlying cause of the anxiety is key. There are many non-drug ways of treating anxiety worth exploring.

Teens have lots of reasons to feel anxious and the pandemic has increased this anxiety. Life looks uncertain, relationships and future plans may be on hold, decreased social activity can add to general unsettledness and hopelessness. Under normal times, this age is challenging—adult responsibilities and major life decisions loom and teens question themselves. They are also developmentally pulling away from parental influences which can sometimes cause problems at home.

I commend you for wanting to address his marijuana use, but an overall conversation needs to include healthy coping and understanding of what is contributing to his anxiety. Living with anxiety can be a lifelong struggle and he should seek help at an early age to prevent this. Assure him that he does not have to talk to you about it, but a counselor might be a great help to him. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based successful treatment for anxiety which many therapists use in their work.

I urge you to do more research to give you what you need for the discussion. For parents with younger children, talking about marijuana and substance abuse needs to happen before they start using and should be an ongoing conversation. Here are some talking points (taken from the references below) for you and other parents to begin a conversation about marijuana use.

Marijuana can affect driving. It is extremely important that teens who drive understand how dangerous driving under the influence of marijuana can be. Reaction time and judgment can be impaired coupled with inexperience behind the wheel.

Importantly, marijuana is illegal. The fact that many states have legalized recreational marijuana has given a lot of young people the idea that it is legal and okay for them to use. It is not. Recreational marijuana is only legal for adults age 21 and older. Legal trouble can be incurred by a teen for possession and/or dealing.

Marijuana is not good for teen brains. Studies have shown that early marijuana use (16 and younger) causes problems with judgment, planning, and decision-making that may lead to risky behaviors. Some studies show problems with memory, motivation, and academic performance. Not the best situation with which to step into adulthood. The teens who may have a predisposition (possible family history) to mental illness and/or addiction may find themselves struggling with depression, psychosis, or further substance use.

There are very real health reasons not to smoke/vape cannabis. A 2017 study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine states that teens who vape are twice as likely to experience respiratory problems along with coughs, bronchitis, congestion, and phlegm than peers who do not vape.

Lastly, I like that you want to have a conversation with your son about marijuana. This is hard for parents who are often confused themselves or have mixed messages on the subject. I also like that you want to be supportive no matter the outcome. It is a conversation worth having and it will show your love for him.

Here is further information about cannabis use in teens and about anxiety:

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/emotional-problems/Pages/Anxiety-Disorders.aspx
https://www.verywellmind.com/marijuana-use-by-teens-statistics-2610207
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170125214606.htm#:~:text=2,Delaying%20marijuana%20smoking%20to%20age%2017%20cuts,teens’%20brains%2C%20new%20study%20suggests&text=Summary%3A,they’re%20less%20at%20risk.

Click to access evidence-brief-youth-13-17-e.pdf

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 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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Q: Why do you do this work?
A: I do this work because I wish I had had someone who helped me when my child was young. It is hard to parent a child who struggles, it can be isolating. To have had someone who understood the types of things that I was going through would have been invaluable. As a parent of a child with special needs, I did not have a lot of natural supports, and I want to be able to fill this need for others.

Q: What can you bring to clients/families that is unique to you?
A: I can bring a different level of empathy because I have been there before. It’s one thing to give advice and connect someone with resources, but it’s another thing altogether to be able to connect based on shared experience. I can also give a behind the scenes look at services and options because I have accessed many of them myself.

“I can bring a different level of empathy because I have been there before.” – Julie P.

Q: What is one thing you want clients/families to know about your role?
A: My role is unique. I can do more to support and educate parents from a perspective of someone who has faced similar challenges. As a parent, the struggle continues even though my daughter is now over 18 years old.

Q: What are some examples of things you would do with a client/family during a typical meeting?
A: I am lucky to be able to do a wide variety of things in this role. For example, I spend a lot of time helping families prepare for meetings like IEPs or Family Team Meetings. I help families learn what to expect when interacting with the different systems like the courts, Child Protective Services, schools, and evaluations.

I role model parenting skills and can help talk parents through difficult situations. I also work with families to explore and encourage self-care. As caregivers, we are always thinking about what is best for those in our care and sometimes we forget to care for ourselves. I even practice self-care with clients by having a cup of tea and just talking.

Q: What is your favorite part about being in this role?
A: By far my favorite part is seeing those lightbulb moments. Those moments of growth when a person makes a new connection or sees a new truth. I love when a caregiver is able to see the impact of their behaviors and can successfully use their own behaviors and reactions to change the child’s behavior.

Q: If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?
A: I am a bit of a sci-fi geek so I would love to be able to travel to other dimensions. It would be interesting to see and learn to understand a world in a different way.

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