Category Archives: Reflection

Unlocking Parental Intelligence (Dr. Laurie Hollman)

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Dr. Laurie Hollman explains the principles and benefits of implementing Parental Intelligence in this excellent interview from our archives.

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The behavior of a child or teen sometimes can stump adults completely, leaving many more questions than answers:

Why do youngsters do what they do?

What are they thinking?

How can we better know their inner world?

Unlocking Parental Intelligence, Dr. Laurie HollmanThere’s little doubt that, on occasion, a child or teen’s behavior can frustrate and even infuriate a parent (or teacher). But, without insight, a parent’s response to the behavior often will be less than ideal. In fact, as many of us know from experience, some responses can make things even worse.

Bottom line: Behavior contains meanings, often multiple meanings. Reading these meanings effectively not only helps solve behavioral problems, it can lead to deeper, more fulfilling relationships with those we love most.

Our guest on this program, psychoanalyst and author Dr. Laurie Hollman, suggests that, when parents learn to extract the meaning from their child’s behavior and resolve problems using that insight and sensitivity, they are exercising a perspective and process she calls “Parental Intelligence.” In this program, Dr. Hollman will take us through the five steps of Parental Intelligence, sharing plenty of examples along the way.

Unlocking Parental Intelligence, Dr. Laurie Hollman

Laurie Hollman is an experienced psychoanalyst who has written extensively for many publications. She writes a popular column on Parental Intelligence for Mom’s Magazine and is a contributing blogger for the Huffington Post. Dr. Hollman’s faculty positions have included New York University and The Society for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. She is the author of the book we are featuring on this program, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior. (28:45)

http://www.lauriehollmanphd.com

 

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Teaching Impulse Control (Christy Monson)

Issues of impulse control in children can create problems that only worsen over time. Quality of life can be seriously affected. Former therapist, Christy Monson, offers doable techniques and tips for helping youngsters manage frustration make better decisions regarding behavior.

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Teaching Impulse Control, Christy MonsonMany articles and research studies have been done concerning impulse control in children. But what about adults that have poor impulse control?

My husband and I are giving service at an inner-city retirement high-rise. Many of these people have never learned to control their behaviors. Some led professional lives, but because of impulsive decisions, lost their businesses and their money. Others have drug and alcohol problem because of their lack of control. They trade drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and money back and forth, according to the impulse of the moment.

Love Hugs and Hope, Christy MonsonI am teaching an addictions class right now and have found limited success with a modified group of behavioral expectations that I used with children in my counseling practice. Because of the struggle many of these people have, and because of the poor quality of life they now participate in, I implore everyone I come in contact with to teach impulse control to their children and grandchildren.

Here are a few of the techniques that have been effective in my class.

1. Look for the primary emotion underneath the anger, fear, eating, or whatever the impulsive behavior is. Discuss it with your child.

2. Set a pattern: STOP, THINK, CHOOSE. Make a visual and talk about this thinking process.

3. Develop clear expectations.

4. Have a daily report in place.

5. Use positive incentives, like a token economy. (Every time a positive behavior happens, put a bean in a jar. As soon as the jar is full, have a party.)

6. Give predictable consequences.

7. Always PRAISE THE POSITIVE

 

Enjoy your children. Raise them according to your standards and beliefs, BUT teach them to control themselves so that they will become healthy adults who are able to enjoy a quality retirement in their later years.###

 

Christy Monson has an M.S. in Counseling Psychology and Marriage & Family Therapy from University of Nevada at Las Vegas, and established a successful counseling practice in Las Vegas, Nevada. Check out her informative website [link].

 

 

Answers to Parents’ Questions About Raising Teens (Dr. Thomas W. Phelan)

Understanding why teens behave the way they do can help parents implement better responses and interventions. Psychologist and author, Dr. Thomas W. Phelan, offers his experience and insights on raising teens. And, as usual, what he shares makes a LOT of sense.
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Answers to Parents' Questions About Raising Teens, Dr. Thomas PhelanWhat does it mean to set limits with your teenager?

To begin with, setting limits means having what we call “House Rules.” These are agreed upon (and sometimes written) rules regarding issues such as hours, use of the car, alcohol and drugs, studying and grades. Parents can also have an understanding with their teens regarding work, money management, family outings, and even dating and friends. Setting limits can also include agreements about how to handle violations of the contracts that have been made.

Why is setting limits with your teenager such a crucial thing for parents to do? Why is setting limits such an important concept these days? What happens to teenagers who don’t respect limits? What are they like as adults?

Limits are important for two reasons. First, limits and rules are a part of life. In a sense, they are also a prescription for how to live a good life. Being able to put up with reasonable restrictions and guidelines is part of what is known as “high frustration tolerance” (HFT). HFT is a critical skill for adult success no matter what one chooses to do.

Second, reasonable limits keep teens safer. Parents are acutely aware of the Big Four adolescent risks: driving, drugs and alcohol, sex and romance, and technology. Teens and adults who don’t like rules and limits have a harder time getting along with teachers, employers, friends and romantic partners. They also get hurt more often by means of traffic accidents, drug use, unwanted pregnancy and STDs, and internet predation.

What happened to teenagers simply having respect for their elders?

Good question! Part of the answer lies in human history. Adolescence—and the mistrust/dislike of adults that often accompanies it—is a relatively recent phenomenon. Just a few hundred years ago, adolescence probably did not exist. You were a child, and then, Bam!—you were an adult. There was no in between. Adolescence is largely a function of industrialized countries in which education became more and more important for job success. Education, in turn, delayed “growing up” because kids had to remain in school. In the U.S. today, the delay from onset of puberty to leaving home and hitting the job market can be 7-10 years or more. Teenagers really want to be adults, but today they have to sit around and wait for that. Can’t blame them for not liking the long and somewhat nebulous interval. In our culture, I don’t think we do a good job of helping kids make this intermediate existence meaningful.

Why do so many parents fall into the “I want to be a friend, not a parent” trap?

Good parents, research shows frequently, are both warm (friendly) as well as demanding (I expect something from you). Some of us adults, however, are better at the warm part and some are better at the demanding part. Warm-only moms and dads—sometimes known as permissive or pushover parents—are uncomfortable with the demanding role, and so they focus primarily on trying to be a friend to their kids. These children are more likely to develop “low frustration tolerance” (LFT). These kids often develop a sense of entitlement and they have trouble sticking with difficult tasks.

Why is it important for teenagers to be able to make some of their own decisions? How can parents set limits with their teens while still encouraging independent decision-making?

Like it or not, your teens ultimate goal is to get rid of you! You don’t want them living at home forever. You do want them to become competent adults who are financially independent, have their own friends, start their own families, and know how to enjoy life on a daily basis. This goal means your current strategy is to wean you children from your oversight. You want them to make more and more of their own decisions. Another way of saying this is you must avoid chronic and unnecessary parental supervision—otherwise known as overparenting.

In other words, set up your house rules, maintain a good relationship with your kids, and then get out of their way!

There is so much that parents have to guard against these days – social media, a lax culture, politics, etc. – how do parents make the tough decisions they have to enforce with teens today?

First, nail down your house rules. Keep them minimal, firm and fair. Second, stay in touch. Discuss social media, sex, lax culture, politics and drugs with your kids. This does not mean lecture them! Allow for differences of opinion and be respectful.

How do parents stay firm with their kids but not mean or angry? How do you say no to your teen and really mean it? How does a parent stay firm but fair?

Mean or angry is no way to discuss or enforce limits. Whatever comes out of a parent’s mouth during a parental temper tantrum automatically becomes silly and useless—even if the words themselves might look reasonable if they were written down on paper. Parents often feel anxious and sometimes even guilty when they explain a rule or a consequence to a disgruntled-looking adolescent. One important parenting skill is knowing when to stop talking! In many situations, the more you talk the less sure of yourself you look.

Surviving Your Adolescents, Dr. Thomas W. PhalenWhat’s your best advice to a parent who wants to raise an independent teen? What kind of practical advice and real examples do you have to offer?

When they are concerned about a possible problem, parents of teens need to think a bit before they intervene. In fact, there are four possible intervention roles moms and dads can consider. Choosing the best role depends on several things: the child’s safety, the parent/child relationship, and the goal of increasing a teen’s independence.

Role 1: Observer. In this role, a parent really does nothing other than watch what’s happening for a while. Maybe your son has a new friend you’re not sure about. Sit tight for a bit and see how the new relationship develops.

Role 2: Advisor. Your daughter who normally maintains a B average, is getting a D in science this semester. You might ask her what’s up, listen attentively, then suggest she try talking things over with her teacher. Keep in mind, though, that when you are in the Advisor role, your child does not have to accept your advice. Tell them you’ll trust them to work things out. That’s respecting independence.

Role 3: Negotiator. Something is bugging you and you do not feel your adolescent is handling it well. Your next possible intervention role is to negotiate. You first set up an appointment—spontaneous problem discussions are dangerous and volatile. You might say something like, “When’s a good time for you and me to talk about the leftover food in your room? It’s starting to smell up there.”

Role 4: Director. Your 17-year-old son broke up with his girlfriend two months ago. His grades have dropped, he’s lost weight, and he seems always crabby. You think he’s depressed, so your going to gently-but-firmly insist he see a counselor. Listen sympathetically first, then make your suggestion and ask him to think about it. But it’s not going to be negotiable.

What do you think it means to really parent today?

Parenting teens can be tough. As a mom or dad, you can often feel you are being torn into many pieces. It’s important to have a good job description. Here’s one we like:

1. Don’t take it personally. Your teens will be pulling away from you, even snubbing you at times (“How was your day?” “Fine.” “What did you do?” “Nothin’.”) This kind of interaction is normal. Nobody—neither you nor your teen—did anything wrong.

2. Manage AND let go. Respect and maintain your house rules while you increasingly allow more and more independence for your teenagers.

3. Stay in touch with the kids. Maintaining a good relationship with a teen is critical. Use business-like praise, talking about yourself, sympathetic listening, and regular one-on-one (not always family!) fun to keep in contact.

4. Take care of yourself. If you’re old enough to be a parent of a teen, you’re probably a mid-lifer! Not an easy task. Take care of yourself so you don’t take out your troubles on a sometimes irritating and distant kid.

5. Relax and enjoy the movie. Your kids only grow up once. Try to enjoy the show!

Dr. Thomas W. Phelan is an internationally renowned expert, author, and lecturer on child discipline and attention deficit disorder. For years, millions of parents from all over the world have used the award-winning 1-2-3 Magic program to help them raise happier, healthier families and put the fun back into parenting. A registered PhD clinical psychologist, Dr. Phelan appears frequently on radio and TV. He practices and works in the western suburbs of Chicago. Website: 123magic.com

Should I Talk to My Children about My Mistakes? (Dr. Richard C. Horowitz)

It can be tough talking to our children about the mistakes we made growing up, especially when a direct question deserves an honest and authentic answer. Dr. Richard Horowitz offers some excellent insights and tips on how to handle situations like these.

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Should I Talk to My Children About My Mistakes, Dr. Richard HorowitzDoes talking about the mistakes I make and have made in my life weaken me as an authority figure to my children?

This question speaks to the core issue of modeling. That is acting in a manner we wish our children to act. On one hand, as role models for children, parents want to present themselves as being pretty terrific people. When children look up to us it meets our needs for love and belonging. When children are obedient and follow parental advice the adult’s need for power is met. We associate these interactions with highly positive words like respect and admiration.

However, sometimes being on a pedestal can be a precarious place. We might want to mask our frailties in order to preserve our image of perfection. The fear that our children might lose respect for us if we admit weakness can lead to a loss of ourselves and a model that our children just might perceive as unattainable. A child who feels s/he can never equal his/her perfect parent loses self-esteem and will often give up trying. This is the downside of being the perfect role model. This is especially true for younger children who tend to aggrandize the power of adults in general and their parents in particular.

Adolescents by the very nature of this stage of development are far more prone to question the capabilities and judgment of parents. Parents with adolescents who are dealing with the “hot topics” are especially vulnerable to questions about what they did when they were teenagers. As long as it isn’t overdone, most parents find that their children enjoy hearing stories about what it was like when they grew up. Consequently, our children want to know how we handled the challenges of personal freedom, partying and dating. The challenge is to respond in a way that is authentic and validates the concern of the child without giving them the message that since their parents pushed the envelope and wound up alright, they too can indulge in these behaviors.

Below are some suggested ways to respond. However, remember that the parental response should be sincere and be the product of some adult reflection about our true beliefs and values on these topics. Teenagers have a good sense of what is “real” to them and if we sound too perfect or preachy they will shut us off.

What I did and the mistakes that I made should not be an excuse for your decision-making.

The legal consequences for some of the behaviors I indulged in were not as severe as they are today. (This is especially true for possession of controlled substances.)

A lot more is known today about the physical harm done to our bodies due to tobacco, alcohol, and drugs.

The consequences of unprotected sexual activity can be deadly.

If I knew then what I know now I would have behaved differently.

The price I paid for my excesses were ……………………….

What we really must focus on is how to get your needs for freedom and fun met with few negative consequences.

 

The other side of the coin is the parent who constantly gives voice to his/her own shortcomings. Either through blaming others and/or themselves for things not working out as planned they model a victim or helpless role. This extreme can create a sense of anxiety in a child. The message they receive from the helpless parent is that the world is a scary place with little ability to control what is happening in life.

Family Centered Parenting, Dr. Richard HorowitzThe middle ground is what we should be striving for. Our children need, for their sense of well being, to experience their parents as sufficiently masterful to create a safe place for them. Young children, as mentioned, will naturally view their parents as powerful figures so we really don’t have to stretch the issue with excessive self-praise. However, children do need to develop resiliency – the ability to bounce back from adversity. We learn how to be resilient through modeling and experience. Parents who acknowledge an error or problem then take responsibility for its solution are demonstrating resilience to their children. They have not attempted to hold the impossible standard of perfection as an indicator of self-worth but have modeled the reality that things do go wrong and mistakes happen. The key is not indulging in self-pity and, after acknowledging the fact that something has gone wrong, acting in a way to make things better.

A related issue is how we deal with our mistakes when it specifically regards an action we took with our children.

An illustration might be useful.

Martha came home from work at her usual 6:00 p.m. time only to find that her 12 year-old-son Ron was not at home. There is a standing rule in the family that if Ron is playing at a friend’s house after school he is to be home by 6:00.

 

Martha is annoyed and starting to get a bit worried about Ron. At 6:30 she starts calling Ron’s friends. On the fourth call she reaches his friend Wayne’s mother. She says that Ron is with Wayne and they are working on something in the garage and she will go get him. Martha is really angry now that her fear has subsided. She tells Ron to get home immediately and that she will deal with him when he arrives at home.

 

When Ron comes in, Martha immediately tells him that the rules in the house, which he agreed to, required him to be home at 6:00. She is quite direct and tells him, “Go to your room until dinner. After dinner we will process what went on.” Ron protests, “You are unfair, I didn’t do anything wrong.” Martha replies, “Get to your room, you are on Shut Down until after dinner.” Ron is obviously furious but complies.

 

After a rather unpleasant dinner, Martha says she is ready to talk. Ron tells his mother that two days ago he had told her about working on the school project with Wayne until 7:00. He reminds her that she was talking on the phone and he came into the room and said excuse me and asked permission to go to Wayne’s the day after tomorrow to finish a science project. He said that she nodded her approval.

 

Martha listens and does remember the incident. She was on the telephone talking to her sister about a relationship issue and was quite absorbed in the conversation. She vaguely remembers Ron saying something about a science project but she thought he said that he had to call Wayne to discuss it. Martha now has a choice. She can stonewall her son with comments like. “See what happens when you interrupt me when I am on the telephone” or she can admit that she misunderstood him and ask for his suggestions on how this type of situation can be avoided in the future.

 

Certainly the admission that an error was made and that she is sorry that she assumed that he had broken a rule instead of first asking for an explanation will serve several purposes. First, Martha models for her son that people make honest mistakes and when they realize it, they will take responsibility for correcting them. Second, the dialogue between Martha and Ron is now problem solving oriented, involves Ron in decision-making, and shows how feedback can be used to make improve a family practice or system. Martha’s admission and willingness to communicate is a good example of putting Family Centered Parenting into practice. ###

 

Dr. Richard Horowitz is better known as “Dr. H,” The Family Centered Parenting Coach. His book is entitled, Family Centered Parenting: Your Guide for Growing Great Families. [website]

 

Helping Your Children Become Kidpreneurs (Peggy Caruso)

Youngsters can develop and display excellent entrepreneurial skills; we see it often in the news. Life coach and author, Peggy Caruso, shares some on-target tips for helping our children become game-changing kidpreneurs!

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Helping Your Children Become Kidpreneurs, Peggy CarusoDiscovering the true talents and abilities within our children will prepare them for this unpredictable world by teaching them how to adapt to any situation. Instilling entrepreneurial ideas in children will help them become successful adults and it will create independence within them.

They need to learn how to manage their own strengths and weaknesses. Many children are afraid to fail because they feel they are letting the parents down. Failure is good – encourage it. It is just feedback letting you know how to modify your plan. It is stepping-stones to success. It can only be failure if you don’t get back up and try again. All of the successful people in history have had many failures before reaching success.

As children grow they need to learn how to deal with change. Changes in circumstances, cultures, and religions help our children to adapt in society. We can’t give our children a blueprint in life, but we can teach them coping skills. Your children’s skills and abilities will be their most valuable asset throughout their lives.

Skills are behaviors in which we increase our knowledge; abilities are natural talents. Understanding what skills and abilities they have and what they need to reach their dreams is an important component in your child’s career development.

From childhood, your child will develop skills that will be transferred as an adult. Emotional skills such as self esteem, sociability, integrity and empathy, integrated with the educational skills of reading, writing, mathematics, speaking, creativity and decision making will prepare them for adaptability within the corporate world. Many studies have supported the fact that the faster children develop skills, the better they do with testing.

Once you discover what their true talents and passions are it is easy to get them started on building a business. There are many businesses suitable for children. Educating children and teens about employment or entrepreneurship has astounding effects. It teaches them time management, assists them in learning how to follow directions, and provides team and leadership skills. Studies show discouraged teens often grow up to become discouraged adults. This affects their confidence level in the workforce.

In teaching children entrepreneurial skills, they need to learn effective ways to communicate. In today’s society technology has limited our children in verbal communication. One area to enhance communication is to teach masterminding. This is very effective and utilized by many adults; therefore it can be effectively implemented with children.

Revolutionize Your Child's Life, Peggy CarusoMasterminding involves placing a group of 5 or 6 like-minded children together to meet once bi-weekly for one hour. Meeting places can vary between houses. They begin by each taking one-minute to say their ‘win for the week’ and then they move on to challenges. Each child presents a challenge they are facing and the remainder of the group assists by providing feedback. Someone needs to be a time-keeper so the meeting does not exceed one hour and each child has their turn.

This assists the children with problem-solving and holding one another accountable. It reinforces communication and interpersonal relations. Masterminding enhances friendships and helps them balance the highs and lows. It assists with creativity and establishes motivation and persistence. It also teaches them how to set and reach goals which is imperative in promoting entrepreneurism within children.

Teaching them to be persistent requires that they will be definite in their decisions, and that requires courage. It is a state of mind; therefore, it can be cultivated, and with persistence comes success. When we talk of success, most people think of adults. But if you begin applying the success principles when your children are young and impressionable, you teach them how to realize failure is good.

Persistent action comes from persistent vision. When you define your goal and your vision remains exact, you will be more consistent and persistent in your actions. That consistent action will produce consistent results.

Remember to teach your children the difference between the person who fails and the one who succeeds is the perception they have. It is seizing an opportunity and acting upon it, unlike the person who allows fear to dominate his abilities.

In teaching your child how to become a ‘kid-preneur’ they learn:

• Talents, abilities and passions;
• Setting and reaching goals;
• Gratitude and developing solid friendships;
• Persistence and motivation;
• Creativity and visualization;
• Communication, problem solving and interpersonal relations;
• Intuition;
• Entrepreneurial skills;

They learn their true potential!! ###

Peggy Caruso can be reached at pcaruso@lifecoaching.comcastbiz.net
For more information, go to www.lifecoachingandbeyond.com

 

Changing Pain Management into Joy Management (Michelle Cohen)

Michelle Cohen suggests that a simple redirection of our thoughts and energy from “What’s WRONG?” to “What’s RIGHT?” can create dramatic improvement in our lifestyles and in our families. She offers three areas of focus in this article entitled, “Changing Pain Management into Joy Management.”

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Changing Pain Management into Joy Management, Michelle CohenHow much time do most people spend in the day looking at what is going wrong? Can you imagine what life would be like if we all spent more of it contemplating what is going RIGHT?

Scientifically, it is proven that what we focus on grows. So if we are focusing on our pain, problems or issues, it stands to reason that they are not necessarily going to go away. If we instead spend most of our time noticing everything that is going well, there is a greater opportunity to live a positive, forward-moving, happy existence. Imagine modeling that possibility to those around you – especially children.

In general, kids are really good at staying in the “What’s RIGHT?” category. They seem to begin in joy management, but then learn that pain management is the more-used quality, so they copy it. Giving yourself and them a different outlook on life – spending the day looking at and for the joy instead of at and for the pain – is a life well-managed.

Balance what is wrong with what is right

This doesn’t mean don’t pay attention to a message either from your body or your life that something isn’t going well. But it does mean spend an equal if not bigger amount of time paying attention to the messages of health, prosperity, happiness, and contentment happening around you as well.

When something goes right, how long do you dwell on that victory? Is it one high five or a toast and then on to the next problem at hand? What if you or whomever you are celebrating took time to check into your body and notice how great it feels because something went well? And just sit in that victory for awhile. This signals your body and the universe that you want more of that. Now you are focusing on results you want and taking the time for gratitude and, more importantly, to just relish and enjoy the win!

Actually There Is Something Under The Bed, Michelle CohenGet the right measurement

When little kids falls down and come running to me in pain, I always ask “But how is your elbow?” This tends to stop them in their tracks. They stop crying for a moment, actually check their elbow, realize it is fine and let me know that. So, when we go back to the skinned knee or stubbed toe, it is now more properly indicating how much pain the child is actually in as opposed to the fear, shock and initial ‘ow’ the fall generated.

Equally significant, they just got shown that the rest of their body is in complete wellness so that he or she can be reassured. They now know that for the most part, they are continuing in their joyous little bodies and for a teensy part there needs to be repair. That’s a VERY different general percentage than how most of us tend to assess damage.

Add a Joy Job

Imagine if our real jobs in the day were assessing, growing and managing our joy. Everyone has pockets of it in them, but we don’t tend to it, water it or give it sunshine on a daily basis. Most seem to let it show up when it shows up and don’t necessarily assume it is theirs for the picking at any moment.

There is something really powerful about waking up in the morning and starting the day with, “How can I manage all of the joy in my life?” Try it and surprise yourself with what kind of day it brings forth for you and those you love. ###

 

Author Michelle Cohen and her projects have been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, MTV, NPR’s “All Things Considered”, and in People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, and the Washington Post. Michelle has given thousands of private intuitive guidance sessions, exponentially changing the way her clients perceive themselves in positive and permanent ways. [website].

 

7 Ways Childhood Adversity Can Change Your Brain (Donna Jackson Nakazawa)

According to science journalist and author, Donna Jackson Nakazawa, early emotional trauma changes who we are, but we can do something about it. This article, reprinted here with the author’s permission, first appeared in a Psychology Today blog of August 7, 2015.
(Donna wrote this as Part I; Part II offers science-based methods for reversing the changes related to ACEs. Part II can be accessed through a link at the bottom of this article.)

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7 Ways Childhood Adversity Can Change Your Brain, Donna Jackson NakazawaIf you’ve ever wondered why you’ve been struggling a little too hard for a little too long with chronic emotional and physical health conditions that just won’t abate, feeling as if you’ve been swimming against some invisible current that never ceases, a new field of scientific research may offer hope, answers, and healing insights.

In 1995, physicians Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda launched a large-scale epidemiological study that probed the child and adolescent histories of 17,000 subjects, comparing their childhood experiences to their later adult health records. The results were shocking: Nearly two-thirds of individuals had encountered one or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)—a term Felitti and Anda coined to encompass the chronic, unpredictable, and stress-inducing events that some children face. These included growing up with a depressed or alcoholic parent; losing a parent to divorce or other causes; or enduring chronic humiliation, emotional neglect, or sexual or physical abuse. These forms of emotional trauma went beyond the typical, everyday challenges of growing up. (For stories of those who faced childhood adversity, see these videos on Laura and John, two patients featured in my newest book, Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal.)

The number of Adverse Childhood Experiences an individual had had predicted the amount of medical care she’d require as an adult with surprising accuracy:

• Individuals who had faced 4 or more categories of ACEs were twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer as individuals who hadn’t experienced childhood adversity.
• For each ACE Score a woman had, her risk of being hospitalized with an autoimmune disease rose by 20 percent.
• Someone with an ACE Score of 4 was 460 percent more likely to suffer from depression than someone with an ACE Score of 0.
• An ACE Score greater than or equal to 6 shortened an individual’s lifespan by almost 20 years.

Childhood Disrupted, Donna Jackson NakazawaThe ACE Study tells us that experiencing chronic, unpredictable toxic stress in childhood predisposes us to a constellation of chronic conditions in adulthood. But why? Today, in labs across the country, neuroscientists are peering into the once inscrutable brain-body connection, and breaking down, on a biochemical level, exactly how the stress we face when we’re young catches up with us when we’re adults, altering our bodies, our cells, and even our DNA. What they’ve found may surprise you.

Some of these scientific findings can be a little overwhelming to contemplate. They compel us to take a new look at how emotional and physical pain are intertwined. (For more on why I wrote about how ACEs can change the way we see illness and how we do medicine, see this video.)

[In Part I of this article, we’ll talk about the science of early adversity and how it changes us. In Part II, we’ll talk about all the science-based ways in which we can reverse these changes, and get back to who it is we hope to be, so stay tuned for the good news.]

1. Epigenetic Shifts

When we’re thrust over and over again into stress-inducing situations during childhood or adolescence, our physiological stress response shifts into overdrive, and we lose the ability to respond appropriately and effectively to future stressors—10, 20, even 30 years later. This happens due to a process known as gene methylation, in which small chemical markers, or methyl groups, adhere to the genes involved in regulating the stress response, and prevent these genes from doing their jobs. As the function of these genes is altered, the stress response becomes re-set on “high” for life, promoting inflammation and disease.
This can make us more likely to over-react to the everyday stressors we meet in our adult life—an unexpected bill, a disagreement with a spouse, or a car that swerves in front of us on the highway, creating more inflammation. This, in turn, predisposes us to a host of chronic conditions, including autoimmune disease, heart disease, cancer, and depression.

Indeed, Yale researchers recently found that children who’d faced chronic, toxic stress showed changes “across the entire genome,” in genes that not only oversee the stress response, but also in genes implicated in a wide array of adult diseases. This new research on early emotional trauma, epigenetic changes, and adult physical disease breaks down longstanding delineations between what the medical community has long seen as “physical” disease versus what is “mental” or “emotional.”

2. Size and Shape of the Brain

Scientists have found that when the developing brain is chronically stressed, it releases a hormone that actually shrinks the size of the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible of processing emotion and memory and managing stress. Recent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies suggest that the higher an individual’s ACE Score, the less gray matter he or she has in other key areas of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex, an area related to decision-making and self-regulatory skills, and the amygdala, or fear-processing center. Kids whose brains have been changed by their Adverse Childhood Experiences are more likely to become adults who find themselves over-reacting to even minor stressors.

3. Neural Pruning

Children have an overabundance of neurons and synaptic connections; their brains are hard at work, trying to make sense of the world around them. Until recently, scientists believed that the pruning of excess neurons and connections was achieved solely in a “use-it-or-lose-it” manner, but a surprising new player in brain development has appeared on the scene: non-neuronal brain cells—known as microglia, which make up one-tenth of all the cells in the brain, and are actually part of the immune system—participate in the pruning process. These cells prune synapses like a gardener prunes a hedge. They also engulf and digest entire cells and cellular debris, thereby playing an essential housekeeping role.

But when a child faces unpredictable, chronic stress of Adverse Childhood Experiences, microglial cells “can get really worked up and crank out neurochemicals that lead to neuroinflammation,” says Margaret McCarthy, PhD, whose research team at the University of Maryland Medical Center studies the developing brain. “This below-the-radar state of chronic neuroinflammation can lead to changes that reset the tone of the brain for life.”

That means that kids who come into adolescence with a history of adversity and lack the presence of a consistent, loving adult to help them through it may become more likely to develop mood disorders or have poor executive functioning and decision-making skills.

4. Telomeres

Early trauma can make children seem “older,” emotionally speaking, than their peers. Now, scientists at Duke University; the University of California, San Francisco; and Brown University have discovered that Adverse Childhood Experiences may prematurely age children on a cellular level as well. Adults who’d faced early trauma show greater erosion in what are known as telomeres—the protective caps that sit on the ends of DNA strands, like the caps on shoelaces, to keep the genome healthy and intact. As our telomeres erode, we’re more likely to develop disease, and our cells age faster.

5. Default Mode Network

Inside each of our brains, a network of neurocircuitry, known as the “default mode network,” quietly hums along, like a car idling in a driveway. It unites areas of the brain associated with memory and thought integration, and it’s always on stand-by, ready to help us to figure out what we need to do next. “The dense connectivity in these areas of the brain help us to determine what’s relevant or not relevant, so that we can be ready for whatever our environment is going to ask of us,” explains Ruth Lanius, neuroscientist, professor of psychiatry, and director of the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Research Unit at the University of Ontario.

But when children face early adversity and are routinely thrust into a state of fight-or-flight, the default mode network starts to go offline; it’s no longer helping them to figure out what’s relevant, or what they need to do next. According to Lanius, kids who’ve faced early trauma have less connectivity in the default mode network—even decades after the trauma occurred. Their brains don’t seem to enter that healthy idling position—and so they may have trouble reacting appropriately to the world around them.

6. Brain-Body Pathway

Until recently, it’s been scientifically accepted that the brain is “immune-privileged,” or cut off from the body’s immune system. But that turns out not to be the case, according to a groundbreaking study conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Researchers found that an elusive pathway travels between the brain and the immune system via lymphatic vessels. The lymphatic system, which is part of the circulatory system, carries lymph—a liquid that helps to eliminate toxins, and moves immune cells from one part of the body to another. Now we know that the immune system pathway includes the brain.

The results of this study have profound implications for ACE research. For a child who’s experienced adversity, the relationship between mental and physical suffering is strong: the inflammatory chemicals that flood a child’s body when she’s chronically stressed aren’t confined to the body alone; they’re shuttled from head to toe.

7. Brain Connectivity

Ryan Herringa, neuropsychiatrist and assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin, found that children and teens who’d experienced chronic childhood adversity showed weaker neural connections between the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. Girls also displayed weaker connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. The prefrontal-cortex-amygdala relationship plays an essential role in determining how emotionally reactive we’re likely to be to the things that happen to us in our day-to-day life, and how likely we are to perceive these events as stressful or dangerous.

According to Herringa:

If you are a girl who has had Adverse Childhood Experiences and these brain connections are weaker, you might expect that in just about any stressful situation you encounter as life goes on, you may experience a greater level of fear and anxiety.

Girls with these weakened neural connections, Herringa found, stood at a higher risk for developing anxiety and depression by the time they reached late adolescence. This may, in part, explain why females are nearly twice as likely as males to suffer from later mood disorders.

This science can be overwhelming, especially to those of us who are parents. So, what can you do if you or a child you love has been affected by early adversity? The good news is that, just as our scientific understanding of how adversity affects the developing brain is growing, so is our scientific insight into how we can offer the children we love resilient parenting, and how we can all take small steps to heal body and brain. Just as physical wounds and bruises heal, just as we can regain our muscle tone, we can recover function in under-connected areas of the brain. The brain and body are never static; they are always in the process of becoming and changing. ###

For Part II, “8 Ways People Recover From Post Childhood Adversity Syndrome,” CLICK HERE.

 

Donna Jackson Nakazawa is an award-winning science journalist interested in exploring the intersection between neuroscience, immunology, and the deepest inner workings of the human heart. In addition to this book, Childhood Disrupted, she has authored The Autoimmune Epidemic and The Last Best Cure. For more information on Donna and her work, visit her website.

 

 

Life Lessons Learned in a Texas Oil Field (Dr. James Sutton)

Thoughts of Fathers Day (2017) still bring back memories of how my dad once helped me manage a frightening and emotionally extreme situation. Although he was not a professional educator, my father still stands as one of the best teachers I ever had. –JDS

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Life Lessons Learned in a Texas Oilfield, Dr. James SuttonMy first driving lesson came close to killing me and my father.

In late junior high and early high school, I had a summer job of working with my father in the oilfields south of San Antonio. On a slow day, we piled into Dad’s company vehicle (a Dodge) for my very first driving lesson.

Collision Course

I lost control of the clutch, and we lurched into a collision course with a battery of oil storage tanks. As I panicked, my right leg stiffened; my foot jammed the accelerator to the floor.

It was all over; there wasn’t a shred of doubt in my mind about it.

But Dad didn’t panic. He quickly cut the ignition and turned the wheel just enough to avoid hitting the tanks. We plowed safely into the soft, sandy bank of a water pit.

He was not upset; I WAS. I vowed I would never, never, ever again occupy the driver’s seat. I was done … finished!

Life Lessons Learned in a South Texas Oil Field“Jimmy, what’s this car doing right at this moment?’ he asked patiently, certainly sensing my panic.

“Well, uh, well … nothing, Dad. The car’s not doing anything right now.”

“That’s right. And it’s NOT going to do anything. Unless you make something happen, this car simply will sit here until it’s a pile of rust.”

Lessons Learned

We continued the lesson. I learned to drive that day, but I also learned two things that would follow me for life. I learned that Fred Sutton, although not a professional educator, was an excellent teacher. I also learned that knowledge, confidence in one’s skills, and meaningful relationships (certainly including spiritual relationships) are powerful antidotes for whatever the world might throw at any of us.

I’ve often thought how easy it would be for a parent to scream out or yell at a son or daughter caught up in such a situation, especially when that parent is also frightened. Who could blame them; most of us have “been there.” It would be a pretty natural response.

Life Lessons Learned in a South Texas Oilfield, Dr. James SuttonI believe Dad intuitively knew that lecturing me about my driving mistakes would have served no real purpose. True to that thought, he never said another word about it to me. If he figured I had learned that lesson well enough with no need for additional reminders, he was correct.

Over the years, I have tried to follow his example, but not perfectly, by any means. Put another way, here’s what I believe it means:

It’s easy to be part of the problem, but it’s so much better to be part of the solution.

Dad passed away in 1998 after a gallant struggle with cancer. Since then, there have been many times when I wished I could climb back into that old Dodge for just one more lesson from a great teacher.

 

A nationally recognized (and now mostly retired) child and adolescent psychologist, author and speaker, Dr. James Sutton is the founder and host of The Changing Behavior Network.

 

 

The Power of 30 “No Matter What!” Minutes (Melissa Groman, LCSW)

As author and psychotherapist, Melissa Groman, points out, the acting on one’s perceptions can spell trouble when those perceptions aren’t based on real events or circumstances. Simply waiting can be a handy rule to follow, a rule that can offer dramatically improved outcomes.

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The Power of 30 No Matter What Minutes, Melissa GromanA teacher walks into his classroom of third graders; he’s a few minutes late. He’s already in a bit of a mood, feeling annoyed with himself that he’s late. He wants to get the class going. As he’s walking in, one of his students holds his left arm straight up. With the index finger of the other hand, he’s pointing to his wristwatch as he stares straight at the teacher.

Fuming, the teacher goes to the front of the classroom; steam is coming out his ears. He is not interested in rebuke from this kid, and he’s certainly not interested in having his lateness pointed out.

He is going to pull this kid out, he thinks. He is going to yank him out of the classroom, let him know who should be doing the reprimanding, give him a good loud message that everyone will hear, and then send him to the principal’s office. He will not put up with this kind of blatant disrespect from a student. Things today have gone too far this morning … way too far.

The 30-Minute Rule

Better is Not So Far Away, Melissa GromanHe then remembers his own private rule. It’s a rule he has promised himself to follow, no matter what. He will wait. He will wait 30 minutes … no matter what … in any given situation short of a fire or similar emergency. He will not react or respond to anything or anyone when he is in this state; no words or actions for 30 minutes … no matter what.

As he works to ignore the offending student, the teacher opens his lesson book and tells the students to get out their math books. He teaches the lesson, gives the kids a short break, and then turns his attention to the boy with the watch, who is now running up to his desk. Before he can get a word out, the boy says with utter sincerity and a shinning face:

Look, Mr. Adams, my father got me a new watch for my birthday! I couldn’t wait to show it to you!

Willing to wait?

Sometimes what we think, what we believe to be true in the moment, and what we see with our own eyes, is not what is really happening. What a different world we might live in if with we were more open to this notion, open to working with our minds and paying attention to our thoughts and perceptions. We really don’t know sometimes what is actually going on. Even when we are calm, even when we are sure, are we always certain? It’s not that we can’t trust ourselves; it’s that we have to know ourselves and know how thought works.

We have to be willing to wait. We need the assistance of time to consider the power of thought, of perception, of speech, and of our actions.

So much of our suffering is based on perception, yet our perception can be reworked. Yes, we need to honor all of our thoughts and feelings, and use them as guideposts to our needs and our desires as they propel us forward. But if we don’t slow down and sort out some of that thinking, if we get too wrapped up in what we think we know, we may be missing out on a whole new world both inside and out. In doing so, we could act on our old stories, follow through on our unexamined perceptions and, unfortunately, set into motion so many unintended events.

We hear so much these days about mindfulness and meditation and awareness, but are we willing to be curious about how our minds work and to more fully understand how what we think has the power to create or to destroy, to stir or to calm?

There is natural human flow of thought through us at all times. Perhaps we have little say in how many of those thoughts come to us, but we do have a say in how we examine them, and if we believe them or not. We have a say if we act on them or not. We have a say regarding how conscious and aware we are willing to be.

 

Melissa Groman’s trademark warmth, sensitivity and profound understanding of human nature permeate her work. She has more than 25 years of experience helping people live healthy, satisfying lives. Although she maintains a busy private practice, Melissa writes regularly for a number of magazines, websites and blogs. [website]

 

Stepfamilies: Blessing the Blending (Guest: Valerie J. Lewis Coleman)

Stepfamilies often face challenges, but, according to author and family expert, Valerie J. Lewis Coleman, efforts spent in resolving the issues can make a big difference in blended families.
This interview comes from our archives. It was first aired in August of 2014.

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Stepfamilies: Blessing the Blending (Guest: Valerie J. Lewis Coleman)Anyone, parent, child or teen, who has ever been part of a blended family knows there often are difficulties and obstacles to making a stepfamily work as as it should. Discouragement mingled with frustration shouldn’t be the name of the game, but often it is. The job of drawing together a family across multiple households is a challenge not suited to the weak of heart or spirit.

But it CAN be done, according to our guest on this program, Valerie J. Lewis Coleman. She has, as they say, “Been there!” Faced with the struggle to parent five children from three different households, Valerie was often overwhelmed, almost to the point of giving up.

Blended Families An Anthology, Valerie J. Lewis ColemanLooking back on those struggles, Valerie shares how her experiences of heartaches, frustrations and sleepless nights were but the labor pangs required to birth her passion to help others stop what she calls the “Stepfamily Maddness.” From her own journey, plus the experiences and contributions of others going through similar circumstances, Valerie compiled and edited a book, Blended Families: An Anthology. This work, and the wisdom gleaned from its pages, well-represent this topic of blended families.

With over 20 years of experience in families and relationships, Valerie has given advice on varying stepfamily issues, including Baby-Mamma Drama, defiant children and a really tough one: disapproving in-laws. Also, as an established author in her own right, Valerie encourages and trains new authors through her publishing company, Pen of the Writer. (25:26)

www.PenoftheWriter.net

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