Blog, Kids, Mental Health Resources, Parenting

Perfectionism

How Do I Help My Perfectionist Child?

Over the past month there are two age categories of kids that I have been seeing that are on stress overload…eighth and twelfth graders! Some 8th graders are applying to schools of choice. That may be public schools of choice out of their district, charter schools, performing arts programs, or private schools that require testing, transcripts and essays to be considered for admission. Seniors in high school are applying to gap year programs, college, auditioning for higher education arts and sciences programs or trying to figure out “what to do with their lives.” All of it amounts to high levels of pressure and stress. And if your kid had pre-existing anxiety or a tendency toward perfectionism, this time of year may be especially difficult. Two weeks ago on Dr. Sheryl’s PodCouch, I interviewed two college admissions coaches who were filled with great wisdom and sage advice. If you missed it, go and listen to it now! And this week I interviewed recovering perfectionist and burnout expert, Khara Croswaite Brindle on workaholism and perfectionism, if that sounds like you or someone you love take a listen.

Can you really be high achieving without being a perfectionist?

I get asked this question a lot in many different forms. Sometimes people tell me that were it not for being a perfectionist they wouldn’t achieve so highly. Or other people tell me that it’s just a part of their OCD personality. I hear different things about this tendency to not want to make mistakes, errors or to fail. And while some people view this as a badge of honor, my experience says that it is highly linked to anxiety and when times of high pressure arise, perfectionists get overwhelmed with stress. When people stress they fight (stay up all night re-writing and checking our work), flight (just don’t do it all, avoid, say they are sick and can’t go to school) or freeze (can’t get started or procrastinate). 

The tough part about perfectionism is that there is a fine line between wanting to perform your best and not feeling worthy if you are anything but perfect. Much of this character trait is driven by internal pressure and has only become more prevalent over the past several decades. While it mainly entails putting extreme pressure on oneself, it can also manifest as perceiving unrealistic standards from others and placing unrealistic expectations onto others. 

Besides the obvious potential negative effects of perfectionism of no one being able to be perfect, there is rigid all or nothing thinking that can evolve. Creativity, relaxation, and healthy risk taking are all impacted by perfectionism. Low self-esteem, poor relationships, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders are all common mental health issues that can arise. 

Some ways to begin to address perfectionism include practicing mindfulness and mindset. It won’t change overnight but focusing on the present moment and things that you can actually control in real time are a healthy place to start. Challenging yourself to shift your mindset to include tasks or challenges that are within your boundaries and outside of them that are likely to have elements of failure are a great way to start shifting mindset. It will begin with intention. You or your child have to assess that the current perfectionist mindset isn’t healthy and then start with small steps toward ideas around good enough and failure as opportunity. 

This takes some practice but with a clear path toward a new goal it is possible and creates space for greater risk taking, self esteem and regulation. 

Happy Parenting!

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Blog, FAQs, Kids, Moms, Parenting, Parents

How To Teach Kids To Be Better Listeners

How To Teach Kids To Learn To Listen

If I had to share one of the most common questions that I get about parenting it is, “How do I get my kids to listen?” That is followed by struggles around creating consequences outside of taking screen time away. This week I was inspired by reviewing behavioral strategies in psychology. Today, I will share what decades of research on rats and cats teaches us about raising humans.

Reward or Punishment?

Much of what social science knows about the acquisition, maintenance and cessation of voluntary behaviors comes from principles in operant conditioning. Simply put, The Law of Effect states that behaviors that are followed by satisfying consequences are more likely to be repeated. A child’s behavior will only change because of the consequences that occur after the behavior occurs. 

As time and knowledge has progressed, we have learned to distinguish between positive and negative reinforcement and positive and negative punishment. These concepts are often confused so let me explain to you how they work.

Positive reinforcement is applying a reward (dessert) after a desired behavior (eating vegetables). Negative reinforcement is when a child doesn’t want to eat their vegetables so they have a tantrum until you remove them away from them so they no longer have to eat them. By taking away the veggies you removed the screaming and therefore provided everyone with relief. Reinforcement is used when you want to increase a behavior. In this latter case, the child is training the parent (this is very common)!

In punishment, you as the parent want to decrease a behavior. You can do that by adding something such as spanking (not advised) or taking something away that leaves the child having lost something such as a time-out (loss of play time).

When teaching a child something new such as a chore or trying to get them to stay off of their phone, parents need to be consistent with the prompts (how you state what you want them to do or not do) and the consequences. Learning a skill such as picking up clothes off the floor takes practice. This practice should occur when they are calm, when not much resistance is happening and when you are also regulated.

Too often I hear stories of parents trying to get their kids to do something at what seems like a random time with a frustrated parent. This is a set up for failure. For example, you come home from work and there is a pile of dishes in the sink. If you had a tough day at work you may yell, get frustrated and insist that your teenager load the dishwasher right away. Your teenager may be confused, thinking to themselves that many times when you come home from work you don’t care this much that there are dishes in the sink. This lack of clear expectations, consistency and consequences (when it’s done and not done) are a recipe for noncompliance.

When attempting to shape the behavior of your child, you need to consider what is reinforcing for them. Sometimes parents make assumptions about what will be motivating for the child and don’t check in with the child about that. Often kids are able to tell you what they think would be motivating and what they think their consequence should be if they don’t do what you have asked. This helps to keep them engaged in the process and avoids the “it’s not fair” protest that so many parents receive.

With intention, clarity and a plan you really can have kids who listen on the first (or second) ask. And when they don’t (because they are human and are learning) you will have clear consequences to turn to. Just remember to have both reinforcers and punishments.

Happy Parenting!

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Blog, Kids, Parenting, Social Media, Internet, Technology

FOMO

What is FOMO?

Over the past week many parents have been paying attention to the testimony on Capitol Hill that accuses Facebook and Instagram leaders of knowing that their social media platforms were detrimental to the mental health and wellbeing of children and teens but concealed their own research findings. This is something that for years now mental and physical health professionals have been warning about. The dramatic increase in increased suicidal thoughts, depression and anxiety coincides with the smartphone and has been exacerbated by social media. I have the great privilege to work with teens every day and so this past week I asked them what compelled them most to be so attached to their phones. All roads seemed to lead back to FOMO. So, today I will share with you what this means and why it’s so important to teens. 

Why is it important to talk to kids about FOMO?

FOMO stands for Fear Of Missing Out. You may think that sounds funny, or that you can relate, or that this is just a teen thing that is novel to this generation. But actually it’s a symptom on the continuum of anxiety. This anxiety is triggered when a person believes that a person or group of people are having a good time and making memories without them. It challenges their security as a person who thinks they belong to a certain group and questions their standing with the members of that group.

In my last notes from the couch newsletter I talked about teens under pressure. This constant pressure extends to being “always on” and accessible. It affects their sleep as many teens are compelled to stay up late on their phones for fear of missing something or not wanting to get off a group chat. It also affects their safety while driving as the compulsion to check their phone and respond to every alert can cause distracted driving. Being available at any time, sharing locations, and responding within a minute of receiving an alert have become the new digital peer pressure. The message is if you snooze you lose.

This cultural nuance and pressure doesn’t just come from your child’s friends, they also come from advertisers. Advertisers know that if they can make a person feel like they may be missing out on something they can get them to keep coming back- and so that is exactly what they do. And with so much known now about the role that dopamine plays in addictive and compulsive behavior, I hear every day about how parents fear losing their child to a screen.

As much as we tell teens that what they are seeing is by and large a highlight reel and that no one’s life is perfect and happy all the time, it is hard not to believe it when they stare at images for hours each day that slowly make them feel badly about themselves and feeding into poor body image, low self esteem and disordered eating. 

So what’s a parent to do? First, make sure you are overtly having these conversations with your tween and teen often- like nearly daily! Repetition is the key and even if they don’t seem to be listening we know that they are so keep the messages going. 

Next, set boundaries. When they first get a phone, create a contract, review it every month, and give them feedback on times they are managing screen time well. When you notice excessive screen usage and a change in their mood, appetite or energy, impose a break. They need you to do this for them, they are not likely to do that for themselves. It would be biologically and socially very difficult for them to stop using their phones or get off social media without a parent leading the way.

Last, watch your own social media and screen time habits. Ask yourself what you are modeling and how your own use may be feeding into addictive type behaviors or experiencing FOMO yourself. Adults are vulnerable to FOMO too. I have had countless parents and friends share that they feel badly about their own lives sometimes when they get off Instagram. It just usually has to do with houses, boats, vacations, cars and careers. 

If last week’s testimony proved anything it is that there are a lot of factors at play making it more challenging to manage the mental health and development of today’s children. But one thing remains constant and that is the need for parent’s leadership in their children’s lives. Don’t be afraid to do a family digital detox. Don’t be scared to set limits. And know that teaching boundaries in one area will teach your teen to set them in other areas when they need it.

Happy Parenting!

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Blog, Kids, Mental Health Resources, Parenting

Handling Teens Under Pressure

The last time I wrote a session note for this blog/newsletter was in May so I am happy to be back and sharing with you what I am seeing on my private practice couch so that we can all learn together. This month I am seeing lots of teens under pressure! Whether it’s because of feeling behind in school, college applications, mask wearing, vaccinating, auditions and tryouts… kids are stressed

How Can I Help My Teen Feel Less Pressured?

Teens are feeling under pressure more so right now, maybe more than ever. Research shows that increases in reported pressure have been on the rise in day to day activities as well as the intense focus on the future. Teens say that in middle school the focus is on preparing for high school. In high school the focus is on college and in college the focus is on the rest of your life! 

I have wondered about this for many years now why we do this. It really starts in Pre-K- even the fact that we call it Pre-K alludes to that you are preparing for Kindergarten at age 4! I don’t remember this pressure as a child myself and given the rise in depression and anxiety it is clear that the focus on some metrics of success have driven us all to focus way too much on the future.

In a recent Pew research study, seven out of ten teens reported that depression and anxiety are a “major problem” in teens whether they felt personally affected by it or not. And when it came to the sources of pressure that teens feel #1 on that list are Academic Stressors, meaning getting good grades and getting into a “good” school. 

After academic pressures, fitting in socially, looking good and doing well in sports and activities rounds out the list of stressors for teens. Sadly, the teens who report that they want to go to college most especially feel the pressure to do well in school. These kids stack up AP classes, stay up late nights studying and walk around sleep deprived and hopped up on Starbucks. 

We also see gender differences in feeling pressure. Girls are significantly more likely to report anxiety as compared to boys. Girls’ anxiety ratings have been on the rise while boys’ reports have remained the same. One major factor in this is thought to be the negative impact that social media has on girls’ self esteem, body image, and perceived attractiveness and popularity.

So, as one parent bluntly asked me last week, what are parents supposed to do about this? It feels bigger than us…. I say actively think about how you are going to teach your teen to manage pressure. Add it to the conversations that need to be ongoing and need to be a part of your rotation of topics to discuss. In the car, at the dinner table, or at bedtime, find the time to connect and talk about these things. 

And when you do talk about consider these three tips:

  1. Check yourself – what are the messages that you are sending to your teen? Are you placing pressure on them? If so, is it undue pressure? Are you balancing setting high expectations (which is okay) with unrealistic demands (not so okay)?
  2. What do they want? – Do you actively talk to your teen about what their hopes and dreams are? Do you ask if they are still enjoying the activities and sports that they are in? Do you talk to them about their expectations of themselves?
  3. Focus on the present – support and encourage your child to act their age! I say there is no need to rush them, no need for them to always “get ahead.” There is much good that is done for a child, tween or teen who gets to be in the moment.

When I think about this pressure problem, I see kids who are simultaneously being pushed beyond reasonable limits paired with being protected so as to not get hurt or have to deal with adversity. I see how this problem started, (I believe with good parenting intentions), but is now a part of a serious mental health epidemic of teens with escalating levels of depression, anxiety and suicide. We can all play a role in shifting this value system that we have created into one that values mental wellness, childhood, play, and adversity as opportunity. 

Happy Parenting!

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The Kathie J Show: Bullying

November 10th, 2021

Bullying is a huge issue right now. Child & Family Therapist, Dr. Sheryl Ziegler breaks down why bullying happens and how to deal with these situations when they come up.

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Read, Featured, Local, Media

Pandemic Impacts on Mental Health: Uncertainty & Isolation Are Tough on Kids

By Mary Jo Brooks

Jenna Glover doesn’t mince words. She says the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a full-blown mental health crisis in children and teens, especially with issues of depression and anxiety. “I’m seeing double the rates I saw pre-pandemic. I’ve never seen a jump like that in terms of acute mental health problems in my entire career.” Glover trains and supervises therapists at Children’s Hospital Colorado and is also a clinical psychologist. For years she has led a support group for kids with depression and suicidal thoughts. Before the pandemic, there were about 25 kids on her waitlist. Now that number is 80.

Lowry therapist Sheryl Ziegler has seen a similar increase. “The level of need for mental health services is unprecedented. Parents are so frustrated when they call my office and I have to tell them there’s a 3-4 month wait list.” Ziegler, who is also the author of “Mommy Burnout,” thinks the root of the mental health crisis was the uncertainty and social isolation caused by the pandemic. “Kids are social learners who need routines. The pandemic disrupted all of that with remote learning which led to social isolation and anxiety.” And although students are now back in the classroom, she says the mental health impacts are likely to last for some time.

While both Glover and Ziegler say parents shouldn’t be expected to take the place of mental health providers, there are some things parents can do to help kids stabilize. Glover says just getting children and teens back into good routines—where they get enough sleep, nutritious food, and plenty of hydration—can help. “It sounds simple but those really are the foundations for both physical and mental health. It’s a foundation for resiliency,” says Glover. She also says there are ways to build resiliency with structured family activities—and the more that those activities are outside the better. She suggests finding new playgrounds for younger children, regular walks or bike rides, a family movie night, or a campout. “Anything where you can help your kids have positive interactions where they’re feeling joy, excitement, or delight.”

The pandemic also brought new concerns for some parents about how much time kids have been spending on screens, especially on social media accounts such as Instagram, Snapchat, or TikTok. Clare Chavez is the mother of 8 kids, ranging from 22 to 5. “Screens have an addictive quality and so when in-person activities get cancelled, it calls to them to distract them and entertain them.” Chavez says she and her husband have always had strict limits about screen time. They wait until their children are 14 or 15 years old before giving them a phone—and then it’s a flip-phone, not a smart phone. “We try to introduce phone use gradually and show them it’s a tool that can be beneficial or detrimental.” They’ve established digital-free zones: no phones are allowed at the dinner table or in bedrooms, and no phone use after 10pm. “We haven’t gotten much pushback, especially once they see that we’re not trying to punish them, but we’re looking out for what’s best for them,” says Chavez.

Therapist Ziegler agrees that there should be some limits to screen time, but she says she doesn’t see social media as the cause of all evil as she maybe once did. “During the pandemic lockdown, social media was a lifeline for some kids. I think it helped them keep connections with others when they couldn’t see them in person.” She recommends that parents and children sign a digital contract to navigate issues. Common Sense Media offers such contracts for free and Ziegler, a mother of three, says she uses them with her own kids. “They’re so helpful. It provides a nice neutral way to talk about these issues and it prompts you to review the terms of the contract every 30 or 60 days.”

Glover says the recent news reports that Facebook conducted internal research showing that Instagram was unhealthy for teen girls didn’t come as a surprise. “We as researchers have known for a long time that social media has the potential to cause higher rates of depression and anxiety. The hard thing is that people want to say that all social media is bad, and that’s just not true,” says Glover. She argues that social media can be healthy and likens online content to consuming calories. “Not all digital calories are equal. Some are positive and nourish you and some don’t do good things for you. The nourishing content allows kids to express themselves or interact with others. The unhealthy content is passive, where you aren’t interacting with others. Passive is watching Tik Tok for 4 hours, not talking to anyone.”

In addition to signing a digital contract and having digital-free zones in your house, Glover recommends that parents regularly sit next to their child and ask them about what they’re watching, talk about what it means to be a good digital citizen, and discuss privacy and security concerns. She also advises parents to limit kids to just one social media account. “There is research that the larger the number of social media accounts, the greater the increase in depression or anxiety. With multiple accounts, kids have to spend so much time monitoring and curating their digital identity.” She says by limiting kids to one account, it takes the burden off the kids and it’s easier for parents to check what they’re posting. “Some parents want to say all social media is bad. The reality is that it’s here, it’s part of our lives. So how can we use it in a healthy, effective way?”

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Podcast

Episode 048: Navigating the Insane College Admission Process with Dana Ponsky and Whitney Fisch

Dana Ponsky (pictured) began her career in education and advocacy more than 20 years ago. Her first professional experiences were at the University of Michigan, the University of Miami, and Barry University as a career counselor and then as an assistant director and director of orientation, leadership, and first-year programming. After working with first-year college students, Dana began to wonder how students were being supported in their high schools and what they were doing to be prepared for college. After realizing to be successful in college, students need excellent guidance while in high school, Dana transitioned to work as a school-based college counselor. She has served as a high school director of college counseling and has volunteered for nationally-recognized college access programs. You can find her at her website ConsultWithDana.com.

Whitney Fisch, MSW started her career working on college campuses as the Jewish Student Life Director at Hillel at the University of Georgia and now as the Executive Director of the Hillel at Miami University in Ohio. She graduated from The University of Michigan School of Social Work and spent the next decade as a school counselor and Director of Counseling working in partnership with teens, families, and administration all in advocacy of the student. Now, she uses her years of training as a counselor and student advocate to help schools + other youth-focused community organizations to build comprehensive health + wellness programs, parent education, as well as helping families successfully navigate the college process from beginning to end making sure the student’s needs never get lost in the process. You can find her at her website WhitneyFisch.com.

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Pediatric Organizations Declare National Emergency Over Mental Health Crisis Among Children

By Cassandra Fairbanks
Guest Jounalist

NATIONAL — The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Children’s Hospital Association declared a national emergency for mental health among children and adolescents last week. 

In a letter released on Tuesday, Oct. 19, the organizations said that the pandemic and “struggle for racial justice” have accelerated mental health problems in children.

“This worsening crisis in child and adolescent mental health is inextricably tied to the stress brought on by COVID-19 and the ongoing struggle for racial justice and represents an acceleration of trends observed prior to 2020,” the declaration said.

NPR reported this week that the isolation has especially impacted young girls. The report states that from February to March of this year, emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts were up 51 percent for girls ages 12 to 17, compared with the same period in 2019, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We’ve seen an increase across the board for all of our services,” Dr. Ron-Li Liaw, chair of the pediatric mental health institute at Children’s Hospital Colorado, told KDVR. “The demand has completely surpassed the access and the capacity of our children’s mental health system. I don’t mean just at Children’s—I mean across the entire state of Colorado.”

According to the report, “from January to May, the Children’s Hospital Colorado pediatric system saw a 73 percent increase in behavioral health visits to the emergency department compared to the same timeframe in 2019. The Pediatric Mental Health Institute continues to see two to three times more patients reporting increased anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation and social disconnectedness.”

Dr. Sheryl Ziegler, a child and family therapist, told the station that a majority of the issues that they are seeing stem from the pandemic.

“There’s still a great deal of fear, and parents’ lives might not be the same, or they might still be trying to work from home or juggle things differently,” said Ziegler.

Ziegler added that many of the children seem to be suffering from loneliness.

“We always knew social connection was incredibly important for your physical and mental health. However, this pandemic really emphasized that.”

If you are concerned about your child’s mental health, or contact:

Originally published on Oct. 22 on Timccast.com 

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