How to Help A Child Who is Struggling To Make Friends

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Too Much Instruction is a Dangerous Thing

Here she is, entering eleventh grade, and her father interrogates her weekly, “…so what do you want to major in and where are you thinking of going to college?”

We have moved ahead these last years.  She no longer requires a winter temperature of 70 degrees as a college selection criterion.  Her father has reduced his home lecture schedule on the importance of choosing a major by fifth grade and determining promising career paths.  Some progress, at least.

But what is there to tell a son or daughter about the future, based on our own experience?  Is any of that personal, bloody, often boring learning time relevant to the offspring? 

Let’s see, what wisdom should I impart in my note in her lunch bag for the first day of college?

Dear Elizabeth,

First of all, it is okay to admit that higher education is often drier education.  Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers are not retiring to deliver any monologues in the classes you’ll be taking.  There will be a few teachers who touch the soul, but many are on automatic pilot.  So find the professors by the student grapevine that knows what they are doing and like doing it. 

Get the classes you need to qualify for what you are generally aiming for.  There is a great debate between education and vocational training, between learning to think and learning a skill.  Both are necessary.  Knowing computer programs and your way around the internet makes self-expression a whole lot easier.  Using a computer makes writing a lot less laborious.  At a more advanced level, keep checking to be sure you have the courses necessary to qualify for admission to the next level of study or the certificate and/or diploma required for practiced in the field of choice.

There is rarely enough said for steady persistence.  Expect that a few people or committees will decide you don’t have “the right stuff.”  Rejection hurts, but it doesn’t kill.  Learn what you can from the disappointment.  Even though your heart says no, share it with friends and family; it normalizes the experience and everyone has been rejected at one point or another in their lives.  Remember, too, the length of this game is a lifetime and, if you’re going to play, it’s never too late to score.

Look at what works for you.  Find your groove – it may take 25 years.  There needs to be a match between what you do well (talent) and what you love to do (desire).  Once you own that connection, good things will happen.

Finally, take the above and mix it with your own experience.  Use what works and discard the rest.

Love,

Dad

Well, that is what I would put in the note for my daughter’s first day of college lunch bag; but what would you tell her?  If you drop me an email, tell me your age so I can see if wisdom alters over time. 

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The Best Way to Fight With Your Teenager

As children and teens and college students are home from school this summer, conflicts and bending and challenging the rules is more apparent. No parent looks forward to fighting with his or her teenage child. But the friction that comes with raising adolescents might be easier to take when we see it as an opening, not an obstacle.

No matter how good your overall family relationship is, fighting with your teens is a constant battle of wills.  How disagreements are handled at home actually shapes both adolescent mental health and the overall quality of the parent-teenager relationship.  Also, the nature of family quarrels can also drive how adolescents manage their relationships with people beyond the house.  So how do we raise teenagers who see disagreements as a challenge to be resolved?

Research that suggested teenagers approach disputes in four distinct ways:  Attacking, Withdrawing, Complying and Problem Solving.

Adolescents who favor either of the first two routes — escalating fights or stubbornly refusing to engage in them — are the ones most likely to be or become depressed, anxious or delinquent.  But even those teenagers who take the third route and comply, simply yielding to their parents’ wishes, suffer from high rates of mood disorders. Further, teenagers who cannot resolve arguments at home often have similar troubles in their friendships and love lives.

In contrast, teenagers who use problem solving to address disputes with their parents present a vastly different picture. They tend to enjoy the sturdiest psychological health and the happiest relationships everywhere they go, two outcomes that would top every parent’s wish list.

So how do we raise teenagers who see disagreements as challenges to be resolved?

Compelling new research suggests that constructive conflict between parent and teenager hinges on the adolescent’s readiness to see beyond his or her own perspective. In other words, good fights happen when teenagers consider arguments from both sides, and bad fights happen when they don’t.

Conveniently, the intellectual ability to consider multiple outlooks blossoms in the teenage years. While younger children lack the neurological capacity to fully understand someone else’s point of view, adolescence sparks rapid development in the parts of the brain associated with abstract reasoning. This leads to dramatic gains in the ability to regard situations from competing viewpoints. There is also evidence that parents can make the most of their teenagers’ evolving neurobiology by being good role models for taking another person’s perspective. Adults who are willing to walk around in their teenagers’ mental shoes tend to raise teenagers who return the favor.

While all this is good information, research findings rarely translate cleanly to the realities of family life. Conflict comes with heat, and we can only contemplate another person’s viewpoint when heads are cool. Imagine an adolescent announcing his plan to spend Saturday night with a former friend known for serious wrongdoing. Any reasonable parent might respond “Absolutely not!” and trigger an eruption, retreat or gloomy submission in a normally developing teenager.

An interaction that ends here is an opportunity lost. But hard starts can be salvaged and first reactions can give way to second ones. The parent in this scenario might soon find a way to say, “I’m sorry that got ugly. I need you to help me understand why you want to spend time with Mike when you don’t even like him that much. And can you put words to why I’m so uncomfortable with the idea of you hanging out with him?”

No parent or teenager can, or needs to, turn every dispute into a thoughtful consideration of opposing outlooks. And some families weather toxic battles that go far beyond the squabbles inherent in raising adolescents. Still, the balance of research suggests that garden-variety disagreements offer the opportunity to help young people better understand themselves and others, building in them the lifelong skill of finding room for civility in the midst of discord.

(Information in this article is attributed to The New York Times “Well Section” March 16, 2016)

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I Am Not Rain Man

Children with autism spectrum disorder and Asperger’s struggle for years to meet other people’s expectations of “suitable behavior.”

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Why Can’t My Child Make Friends?

A pretty 10-year-old girl sat across from me in the office tearfully struggling, “I don’t understand why I don’t have friends. Amanda’s (another girl in her class) teeth stick out like mine, but the kids will play with her, so it isn’t that. I am smart like Brad (another boy in her class) and he has friends, so it isn’t that. I just don’t know?”

Why can’t some children make friends? This can be a difficult question to ask yourself, but if your child rarely gets invited on play dates and spends most of his time alone at home, it can be hard not to wonder—and worry.

For kids of all ages, friendships offer the acceptance, approval and sense of belonging they crave. If your child struggles to connect with other kids and form friendships, it can be a blow to his self-esteem. It can leave him feeling alone and frustrated.

What Can Cause Trouble With Making Friends

If your child has a hard time making friends, it may have nothing to do with his personality. Trouble with forming friendships can be the result of learning and attention issues. Sometimes communication skills or listening comprehension skills are lacking, which can make conversation difficult and sometimes there are a variety of other behaviors that can get in the way of making friends.

ADHD: Kids with ADHD may lack self-control, be overactive, talk too much, talk without thinking or not pay attention to what other people are saying.

Executive functioning issues: Children with executive functioning issues may have trouble sharing, taking turns, controlling emotions and accepting other viewpoints.

Nonverbal learning disabilities (NVLD): Kids with nonverbal learning disabilities may miss social cues like body language, expression and tone of voice. They may not understand humor or sarcasm and may take what others say too literally.

Language disorders: Children with language disorders may not understand the rules of conversation or may have trouble finding the right words. They may avoid talking when around other kids.

Auditory processing disorder (APD): Kids with Auditory Processing Disorder may miss the point of what others are saying, miss words in conversation or have trouble following the directions in games.

Trouble Making Friends: A Common Problem

Not all kids with learning and attention issues struggle to make friends. For some kids, social skills are their strength! But if it’s a trouble spot for your child, he’s not alone. Kids with learning and attention issues often face social challenges. When compared with their peers, studies have shown they’re more likely to be:

  • Poorly accepted by their peers
  • Socially alienated from teachers and classmates
  • Viewed by teachers as lacking social skills
  • Not chosen to play or join in group activities
  • Willing to conform to peer pressure

Kids can feel that they don’t “fit in” at school or at outside activities. They may even feel that way at home with siblings.

It’s a very real issue because many kids with learning and attention issues do stand out sometimes. They may require additional time and attention from teachers, parents and others. They may call negative attention to themselves by asking inappropriate questions, seeming uninterested in other kids’ conversations, and interrupting or moving around a lot at the wrong times. Other kids may react badly or turn away.

How Friend Troubles Can Impact Your Child

Your child may be resilient and bounce back from social setbacks. Or he may enjoy spending a lot of time alone. But for many kids, difficulty making friends can have negative effects. It can hurt their self-esteem, wear down their confidence and keep them from trying new activities. They may feel self-conscious, sad, angry, helpless or hopeless.

It can be hard for kids to manage these intense feelings and find ways to cope. Encouraging your child to talk about his feelings can help him feel better about himself. Just knowing he can come to you for support and comfort can make a big difference.

Ways You Can Help

If your child feels his learning and attention issues are making him stand out, there are ways you can help.

  1. Talking to your child’s teacher is a good first step. The teacher may be able to find ways to put your child in positive group experiences or match him up with classmates who are more accepting and share his interests.
  1. At home, you can work on changing the dynamic between your child and his siblings. You can also try to change the way you respond so your child isn’t singled out as much. And you can take steps to make social events like play dates, sleepovers and birthday parties more successful for your child.
  1. If you see that your child is struggling with his emotions, you might want to consider counseling. Counseling can help your child build communication skills, improve social cues and become more resilient. Strengthening those skills may give him the confidence to try new ways to connect with other kids.
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Parenting and Passing On Life Experience

If there were a contest for the one activity on the planet that parents try most often and fail at most regularly, I’d vote for “passing on life experience.”  With all the research drug companies do, you would think they would come up with a pill, maybe an injection directly into the head, that would stifle the urge to give advice based on experience to the next generation.  Now before I get mail on what Santayana said about “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” let’s at least question whether his strategy worked with his own kids.  Nobody reports whether Santy, Jr. had a more productive life because he listened to the old man; of course, I would sure like to believe the kid did.  Some distinctions would help.

First, I think parents can learn a great deal talking with other parents in their own generation.  When people speak from their own experience to others in their own age group, credibility rises since the expectations and personal meaning are easier to understand.  As worthy and helpful as this dialogue can be, most parents are reluctant to share with others for the essential reason that such disclosure is emotionally risky.  One needs only to be zapped once by another’s judgmental remark to learn never to open up that way again.

Second, the very withdrawal parents do when hurt by a jerk’s comment is the principle to remember when speaking to our children.  Life is tough enough without feeling Mike Ditka is providing color commentary on one’s choices.  Most people nod to the truism that experience is the best teacher.  I am beginning to think that experience is the ONLY teacher.  The task for parents is to set up the conditions where the lessons taught by making mistakes are not catastrophically expensive for the child.

Third, parents can profit by occasionally examining what leads them to “hover.”  The desire to protect the young is a fortunate human trait.  Overprotection, though, can be as disabling as abandonment.  Perhaps, it is a need to shield ourselves from loss that prompts us to overstep the bounds of helpfulness.  One does not have to read the newspaper very much to see the heartache life dishes out.  It is better, though, to take our own responsibility for healing and own our anxieties than to minimize our children’s opportunities for growth.

Fourth, I believe the best parents can hope for in raising the family is that the encouragement is present for both generations to talk about their concerns.  The way for that kind of communication to happen is for the adults to take the initiative in talking about the feelings present in the urge to give advice.  Specifically, I mean talking about those brief, meaningful events in our own life and what those experiences came to represent for us, whether or not the child feels these experiences have relevance for them.  This kind of disclosure invites sharing and it is the sharing, I think, more than the lessons that matter in the long run of life.

Fifth, parents need to be gentle with themselves.  This parental job requires making mistakes in order to find out what works for our children.  In fact, living would be a mighty dreadful and dull event if everything we needed to know we knew when we were born.  That is the charm of growing up for children and parents:  learning what works.

If you need help implementing these suggestions or with other parenting concerns, please give us a call.

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Happiness, addictions and letting go

I hope this time of year finds you and your family happy. I want to share some thoughts on this topic of happiness and also to inform you of developments in the office since our last blog.

One happy note since then, Dr. Kevin Cubala has joined our practice with a particular specialty with children and adolescents. He also sees adults and has worked with a geriatric population. He has an added clinical focus as a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor. I have long thought that much of the unrecognized distress in individuals and families is how to deal with addictions in ways that promote early focus on problem solving.

Regarding the area of happiness, there is a psychological concept called Affective Forecasting. The main idea behind this research by Dan Gilbert (Harvard) and Tim Wilson (University of Virginia) is that we have a bias when we predict future affect states in relation to positive or negative events. As it turns out, we are terrible at predicting how we will feel in the future. Our feelings in the present blind us to how we will make decisions in the future when we might be feeling differently, e.g., will that new car make you happy for as long as you imagine, will a job failure be as crushing as you assume, will the death in your family leave you bereft for year upon year, forever and ever?

I want to share with you a personal story. More than a few years ago, my wife and I drove our 18-year-old son off to college.  Michael had not said much about his upcoming college adventure to either of us. I suppose one might expect a psychologist’s son to be a little more chatty, but he takes after the dairy farmer side of my family: work hard, observe, and let your actions speak for you. So, figuring that no news is, of course, trustworthy, I was prepared to say good-bye to Michael and deal with my own grief of letting go. This adult strategy crashed completely with Michael’s tear constrained voice saying he was scared as we were driving toward the first campus meeting. I felt powerless to protect the one I loved from the fear of leaving home. I tried some fatherly advice that felt hollow. I talked with my wife who was feeling equally distressed, teary, and frustrated at comforting and leaving this man-child. Overall, I was miserable; he was miserable; we were all miserable. My wife wondered if we should not have let him choose a school so far away and was this a terrible mistake? Not a Kodak moment.

Blessedly, the next day we attended several orientation sessions that blunted a chunk of this heartache.  As we prepared to drive home, Michael did not want a long good-bye. He gave us all a hug, told us he loved us, and walked off to his dorm with his younger sister, Elizabeth, walking beside him for their final words. I will never forget this picture of my son walking away from us and towards his future. Shortly, my daughter returned to the van and we all climbed in and cried.

Two weeks later…as you might expect, with the passage of 14 days, my head, my heart, and my son were all at different spots. Michael regularly e-mailed and called us since the college launch. We provided regular advice that he continued to discount as typical parent advice and out of touch. I was glad to see, however, that he was reluctant to spend his own money on entertainment because “…things cost so much.” Was this be the beginning of financial wisdom. . .not quite?

So you can see, Michael was now at a better place and so were we. It is seductive to say the crucial difference is the passage of time, but I think not. Michael’s regular communication from the front made the difference.  Also, once again and not for all time, I learned that both sadness passes and the micromanagement of children, even 18 year olds, is not for the manager or one being managed. Life and separation from my son felt better, not perfect though.

The enduring principle is that happiness or sadness cannot be held onto with a conclusive grip. We falter when it comes to imagining how we will feel about something in the future. It isn’t that we get the big things wrong; but we overestimate the intensity and the duration of our emotional reactions to future events.  Happiness is related to the process of letting go. Bad events prove less intense and more transient than you will predict and good events prove less intense and briefer, as well.

There is wisdom in working on letting go in several areas including:

  1. The need to control others and nature (I like the latter area, as I have labored long and hard trying to control my lawn and garden).
  2. The need to be right.

Experiment with the notion of letting go and see if practicing release does something positive to your heart.

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Too Much Instruction is a Dangerous Thing

Here she is, entering eleventh grade, and her father interrogates her weekly, “…so what do you want to major in and whereabouts are you thinking of college?”

We have moved ahead these last years.  She no longer requires a winter temperature of 70 degrees as a college selection criterion.  Her father has reduced his home lecture schedule on the importance of choosing a major by fifth grade and determining promising career paths after the year 2016.  Some progress, at least.

But what is there to tell a son or daughter about the future, based on our own experience?  Is any of that personal, bloody, often boring learning time relevant to the offspring?

Let’s see, what wisdom should I impart in my note in her lunch bag for the first day of college?

First of all, it is okay to admit that higher education is often drier education.  Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O’Brien are not retiring to deliver any monologues in the classes you’ll be taking.  There will be a few teachers who touch the soul, but many are on automatic pilot.  So find the professors by the student grapevine that knows what they are doing and like doing it.

Get the classes you need to qualify for what you are generally aiming for.  There is a great debate between education and vocational training, between learning to think and learning a skill.  Both are necessary.  Knowing how to type makes self-expression a whole lot easier.  Using a computer makes writing a lot less laborious.  At a more advanced level, keep checking to be sure you have the courses necessary to qualify for admission to the next level of study or the certificate and/or diploma required for practiced in the field of choice.

There is rarely enough said for steady persistence.  Expect that a few people or committees will decide you don’t have “the right stuff.”  Rejection hurts, but it doesn’t kill.  Learn what you can from the disappointment.  Even though your heart says no, share it with friends and family.  Remember, too, the length of this game is a lifetime and, if you’re going to play, it’s never too late to score.

Look at what works for you.  Find your groove – it may take 25 years.  There needs to be a match between what you do well (talent) and what you love to do (desire).  Once you own that connection, good things will happen.

Finally, take the above and mix it with your own experience.  Use what works and discard the rest.

Well, that is what I would put in the note for my daughter’s first day of college lunch bag; but what would you tell her?  If you drop me a note, tell me your age so I can see if wisdom alters over time.

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Your Guide to a Peaceful Household

Let’s face it. Conflicts are inevitable.

Kids have different ideas, different solutions, and different ways to approach problems. Because of this, resolving conflicts peacefully is a key skill that kids need to succeed (1). It’s also one of the 40 Developmental Assets (2). As kids grow up, it’s important that they learn how to resolve conflicts peacefully, without giving in, and how to get along well with others.

Did You Know?

  • The number one way young people resolve conflicts is by fighting (3). Most kids say that if someone hit or pushed them for no reason, they’d hit or push right back (4).
  • Teenage guys are twice as likely as teenage girls to say they would try to hurt someone worse than that person had hurt them (5).
  • Kids who bully others tend to have difficulties in their relationships with parents and friends (6).
  • Younger teens (those in sixth grade) are almost four times as likely as twelfth graders to talk to a teacher or another adult if they’re having trouble resolving a conflict (7).
  • High-school seniors are almost twice as likely as seventh graders to talk to the person they’re in conflict with and try to work out their differences (8).

Conflict resolution skills are gained by experience and practice—so help your child start building these crucial abilities by engaging in peaceful conflict resolution at home. If your child is able to work through problems well at home, she will have an advantage when it comes to conflicts at school and beyond.


References

  1. Peter Benson, All Kids Are Our Kids: What Communities Must Do to Raise Caring and Responsible Children and Adolescents (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006), 55.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Search Institute, Developmental Assets: A Profile of Your Youth, Executive Summary, (Minneapolis: Search Institute, 2005), unpublished report, Appendix A-18.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. ScienceDaily, “Children Who Bully Also Have Problems with Other Relationships,” ScienceDaily, March 26, 2008.
  7. Search Institute, ibid.
  8. Ibid.
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Helping blended marriages succeed

One of the benefits of a mobile and Internet savvy society is that information is easily shared. Today, we are learning and sharing new data and new techniques that ultimately help families survive as a single healthy and happy unit. However, we still see a large number of relationships fail.  As a consequence, blended marriages have become part of the norm. They bring with them a mountain of problems and can be the hardest to maintain, especially without outside assistance.

While two adults may come together and share a common bond, that doesn’t mean their children will as well. Some blended marriages work brilliantly and these are serving as great guides when it comes to teaching others about how to embark on a similar path. This is where the sharing of techniques and ideas has been such a bonus. We now know that when two parents are considering a blended arrangement, their first steps should be to seek counseling.

Unfortunately, most people rush in where others would fear to tread. In a blended relationship, the consequences can be pretty harsh where even the smallest things get on people’s nerves. By participating in several family-based counseling sessions before coming together as a single family unit, expectations and fears can be discussed. One of the most important outcomes from these sessions. is that each member of the new family now has a firm idea of the fears and expectations of everyone else. They can also learn better communication tactics and techniques for dealing with problems when they arise.

Family counseling can be undertaken after an event, but keep in mind, this is like trying to treat a problem. By undertaking counseling prior to committing to a full time relationship, you are essentially vaccinating the family against future problems. There are no guarantees and members of blended families do have to work harder to make them succeed. Early counseling sessions are one valuable tool that should not be dismissed too lightly.

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