The words punishment and discipline seem to have become synonyms these days, but it wasn’t always this way. The word discipline comes from the Latin word disciplina which means to teach or instruct. However, nowadays, most people associate punishment or consequences with the word discipline. Let’s take a minute to differentiate discipline from punishment.
When your child misbehaves, what do you want to accomplish? Are consequences your ultimate goal? Is your objective to punish? Of course not. But, as parents, we’re still human! When we’re frustrated or angry, we may feel like we want to punish our child. When we are stressed, overwhelmed, frustrated or feeling at our wits end, we can feel like punishing. It’s totally understandable – even common.
Let’s face it, it’s what our parents likely would have done, so it’s what we know. But once we’ve calmed down, we know that punishing doesn’t feel good for either of us (parent or child) nor is it our ultimate goal. What we really want is for the behaviour that got us into this situation to stop.
Our children need to learn skills like inhibiting impulses, managing big feelings and considering the impact of their behaviour on others. Learning these essentials of life and relationships helps them, helps us, and helps their larger community. We know these are the basis for emotional intelligence and the foundation for being happy and successful adults. What a gift! But how do we teach our children these life skills without punishment?
Positive Discipline helps us teach our children how to control themselves, respect others, participate in deep relationships, and live moral and ethical lives. It teaches important social and life skills in a manner that is deeply respectful and encouraging for both children and adults.
Connection Before Correction is one of my all-time favourite Parenting with Positive Discipline mantras. I believe that these are words to live by both in the moment of dissatisfying behaviour and in the long run as a foundation for any relationship.
Brain science tells us that when we are emotionally overwhelmed we cannot access the parts of our brains that allow us to think logistically or learn. So, there is really no point in trying to teach a lesson or talk through a problem when a child (or adult) is in a state of being emotionally overwhelmed.
Emotional overwhelm often triggers unacceptable behaviour. We do and say things that we wouldn’t normally because the parts of our brain in charge of impulse control, reasoning, problem solving and language are off-line.
Connecting is one of the fastest ways to reduce emotional overwhelm and to get those off-line parts of the brain back online.
Connection before correction also helps us parents stay calm and not say or do things that don’t align with our parenting goals. We get emotionally overwhelmed too! The most common parenting techniques used during parental emotional overwhelm are yelling, threats, punishment and spanking. When we move into emotional overwhelm we often forget our kind and firm tools, utilizing anything we can to make those feelings stop.
Research has clearly shown that physical punishment and shaming are detrimental to relationships, mental health and self-concept. Recent research has suggested that the ability to experience shame develops as early as the age of 3. Children develop an image of self by using evaluative feedback from others, especially authority figures and those they love. Particularly important are findings that high levels of shame were related to the onset of depression. Research has suggested thathumiliationis especially damaging when inflicted by anattachmentfigure, such as a parent or primarycaregiver.
By connecting before correcting we have a chance to build stronger relationships, focus on solving the problem, and correcting behaviour all while building resilience, self-reflection and strengthening self-image and mental health.
Along with my colleagues at Alongside You, I truly believe learning the principles of Positive Discipline can radically change our interactions with our kids and our relationships, and achieve the outcomes we’re looking for. If you’re looking for ways to connect with your kids, help them manage their emotions and behaviour, and set them up for success in their relationships with their friends and family, and their lives at school and beyond, I hope you’ll join us at our training in May! Click here for more information.
“It’s time to lie down and rest,” I say to a 5-year old student of mine with autism.
As I say that, my student gets ready to lie down and tells me where to place my weighted bean bags to help her relax. She lies there for a whole 10 minutes barely moving. I watch as her belly rises and falls as she focuses on her breathing.
In recent years, yoga has gained in popularity. Kids are now doing yoga in the community and in their schools. But for kids with special needs and autism, I’ve witnessed what an amazing difference it can make in their lives. Today, I want to share five benefits yoga has for children with special needs.
Yoga can reduce anxiety.
Many children with special needs and on the autism spectrum are in a constant heightened state. This is the body’s response to stress and sleep disruptions, which can be exacerbated into full-blown anxiety. This can be seen physically through their breathing. You can see them chest breathing or hyperventilating, which can worsen the anxiety symptoms. The yogic practice of breathing exercises, poses and guided imagery helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, an activity also known as “rest, relax and digest.”
Yoga can provide consistency.
The daily practice at home and weekly sessions in a group or privately can help provide consistency and an order. In a class for children with special needs, a visual schedule is generally used to ease anxiety about class but also provide consistency. Students learn yoga sequences that are performed in the same order and open and close a class in the same order. This supports their need for consistency. However, students can expect different poses or modified sequences to challenge them as well.
Yoga can increase self-awareness and improves motor skills.
As children practice mindful movement in various yoga poses and learn to identify body parts, they can develop a greater sense of self and their body. Practicing poses on both sides of the body, the students cross the midline. Poses such as tree, airplane (warrior 3) and seated twists can increase body awareness and develops gross motor skills.
Yoga can help with emotional regulation.
Children with ASD can have difficulty expressing their emotions and communicating in social settings. At this time, this can be seen in unexpected outbursts or inappropriate ways of communicating. Through the combination of movement, music and breathing exercises, the brain’s emotional region is activated. This encourages children to develop emotional awareness. Also, yoga teaches children that it is okay to feel emotions both positive and negative and how to express their emotions in a healthy manner.
Yoga can help improve confidence.
Sometimes, children with special needs have low-esteem due to being teased for not being able to move and behave like other children in school and social settings. By learning self-calming techniques through mindful breathing, movement and meditation, children are able to regulate their emotions and can become more confident in social settings. Especially in a group class, they’ll be able to learn how to work together in a safe space and learn how to interact with one another. Through movement and the development of motor skills, children grow more confident in being able to move comfortably in their bodies.
Join me in my upcoming classes in January 2019 for children with special needs. I’m also available for 1 vs 1 private session. This can be especially helpful for children that have not been to a yoga class before or those who need extra support.
Normally we publish articles every Thursday, pretty much like clockwork. We write articles that we hope are helpful to readers, often sharing information on different aspects of mental health, physical health, treatments, services, and more. We do this to be helpful to the community, to educate and increase awareness on different topics and clinical treatments and let’s face it, as a part of our content marketing and search engine optimization plan to make sure people know who we are and how we can help.
This isn’t one of those weeks. On Tuesday evening, I drove downtown for a meeting with Fred from 140 Sports and Connie from Movement With A Message. We had a wonderful time sharing dinner, brainstorming ideas, and finding ways for us to work together to do some good in the community around youth mental health and resilience. I came away excited and encouraged. I love what both of these organizations are doing, and I’m excited to partner with them going forward because I think we can do a lot of good together.
And then I received an email that broke my heart, again. Another youth in our community took his life. It never gets easier hearing the news. In our professional training as a Registered Clinical Counsellor, we hear over and over the importance of “keeping a professional distance,” and “not taking work home.” While I think this is an important principle, it’s also ridiculous to think that we can do this much of the time. I certainly couldn’t with this news. I sat down multiple times on Wednesday and yesterday to write an article, and I couldn’t find the words. I couldn’t decide on a topic. I couldn’t get past the first sentence.
The sorrow and heartache involved in losing a youth to suicide affect me deeply, even if I’ve not had any contact with the person. In a recent workshop, I stole the slogan from Point Roberts, WA to explain why I and many of my colleagues are in the field – that is, “We’re all here because we’re not all there.” I became a Registered Clinical Counsellor because I know what it’s like first hand to struggle with mental health. I also know what it’s like first hand to struggling with suicidal thoughts and wanting out.
This is why I can’t just keep a professional distance when I hear that yet again, we’ve lost someone in our community to mental health and ultimately, suicide. There are no perfect solutions, there is no magic pill, and no 5-step plan to prevent this. It simply isn’t that easy.
When I went to bed last night, still struggling to make sense of this awful situation, the words, “Parents, hold on to your kids,” came to me, and I wrote them down. Now, I’m not sure if it’s because Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Dr. Gabor Maté wrote a book together with this title, or because as a parent, I’m very aware of the important role we play in our kids’ lives. But it stuck. And this is what I want to focus on today.
Parents, we need to hold onto our kids. The struggle is real, and it’s not because there’s something wrong with this generation. It’s not because they don’t care, it’s not because the schools aren’t doing their jobs, it’s not because we’re terrible parents. It is, however, because the world has changed, the demands are higher, the expectations are higher, and our youth are struggling big time.
The truth is that there isn’t a single form of therapy, a pill, a school program, or otherwise that can replace the need for attachment between a parent and a child. This isn’t about parent blaming, or shaming, it’s about understanding the importance of our role as parents, and the powerful effect we have on our kids. Parenting is difficult. The demands on our time, our money, our energy, and more, are huge. With the housing market being what it is, most families need both parents working outside the house Monday to Friday to make ends meet. This is our reality.
Somehow, however, we need to make sure we find the time to invest in the attachment with our kids. Our kids will not feel safe enough to talk to us when they’re struggling if the relationship isn’t there, and to be perfectly blunt, we can’t rely on our schools, the public mental health system, or any other service to monitor our kids for us. We have to do it ourselves.
I get it. It’s daunting. It’s scary. We don’t feel equipped. Now, I suspect some of you may be thinking, “He doesn’t get it – he’s a mental health professional who has the education and background to make sense of this,” but I assure you, while in some areas this may help, in other areas, it’s actually worse. I may be more equipped in some instances to help my kids, but I’m also more likely to feel like a failure. If my kid is struggling, the first thought in my head is, “I’m a Registered Clinical Counsellor, with over a decade of experience and training, and I can’t help my kid.” Let me tell you, that’s not a good feeling. That’s when the helplessness sets in, which I think most of us parents have as a shared experience at one time or another.
But here’s the beauty of it. We don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to know it all. We don’t have to fix it. We can’t. I remember when I was a teen, at the worst of my depression, I was sitting on the end of my driveway in California crying my eyes out. I still remember, it was 10 pm and everything was dark. And then my father walked out, lifted me up, and held me. For an hour. Not saying a word. I imagine, mainly because he didn’t know what to say and probably felt completely helpless.
It’s exactly what I needed. There’s a reason I still remember that night over 15 years later. The truth was that my father couldn’t fix. There were no words that were going to make it better. There really was not anything he was going to do to “fix” my depression or the suicidal thoughts I had daily at that time. What both he and my mother did, and did well, was making sure I knew that they were there to talk to me anytime, even if they didn’t understand. They were there to hold me when there were no words to say, nothing that would make it better. The truth is, they didn’t even know how bad it was because I didn’t tell anyone and I didn’t ask for help.
This is why I do what I do, and why Alongside You exists. I was that kid who didn’t ask for help, and I had every advantage in the world growing up. I had two parents who loved me deeply, I had teachers who mentored me and cared for me, I played sports my entire school career, and I had music that is still one of the main things to keep me steady in life. Looking back, it would have been immensely valuable for me to see a counsellor, probably take some medication, and so many more things, but I didn’t. Not because I couldn’t have, but because I didn’t ask, and I had a very low barrier to ask for help.
You know what did help? My parents. They weren’t perfect, because none of us are, but they were the best parents I could have ever asked for because they tried. Because they did the best they could with what they had, and when they didn’t know, they looked to resources to find out. I still remember my Mom bringing me to a workshop by Dr. Gordon Neufeld on parenting and attachment when I was a kid. They knew how important their relationship with me was, and they were intentional about it.
This is something all of us can do as parents. When you look at the research, what it will tell you is that it’s not the amount of time we spend with our kids that matters, it’s the quality of the time that matters. So, if you’re having to work 60 or more hours a week, or you’re travelling a lot for work, or you’re separated or divorced and you don’t get access to your kid as much as you’d like, don’t lose hope. As far as outcomes, it doesn’t matter that you’re not with your kid as much as you think you should be. It matters how you make that time count. Be intentional, and when you’re with them, focus on them and build the relationship and the attachment.
As I write this, it’s Friday and the end of a long week for many of us. I hope that what I’ve written is encouraging to you as a parent – that is most certainly the intent. What you do matters, and what you do can make a difference. Be intentional this weekend about being with your kid. Spend time with them, share in their enjoyment in what they’re doing, cheer them on as they play their sports (and stop yelling at them, the coaches, and the referee), listen to their music with them no matter how awful it sounds to you. Love them, and connect with them on their terms. Put away the work, the devices, and the stress you’re carrying from the week, and be with your kids. This is the single most preventative thing you can do when it comes to their mental health, and only you can do it.
If you’re struggling as a parent, reach out for help for yourself. If you don’t know how to connect with your kid, or you don’t understand mental health, or you feel helpless, please ask someone for help. There are a number of resources in the community that I’ll list below, and we are certainly here for you at Alongside You. This is why we exist – to help you do your best with your kids because even if we get to work with them, we probably get an hour a week with them if we’re lucky. If we can help you do your best when you’re with them, it’ll be far more effective and powerful.
Remember, we don’t have to be perfect. We just have to care and do the best we can with what we have. We don’t have to be perfect parents, we just have to be good enough.
An interesting piece about “The big myth about teenage anxiety” ran in the New York Times this week, authored by a fairly prominent psychiatrist – which you can find here.
The essence of Dr. Friedman’s editorial is that much of the research showing a rise in teen anxiety is not conclusive, which from a scientific perspective is unsurprising. Many of these studies rely on self-reports, which, though scientifically imperfect, offer an important window into human experience – something we as mental health professionals consider of paramount importance. A better understanding of what we deal with internally and externally on a daily basis (and the meaning we make of it) is essential to better understanding ourselves. Dr. Friedman also encourages readers to remember that phones are not necessarily to blame for anxiety, as much as it may seem that way. He points out that anxiety is normal, and that our brains are quite well-equipped to handle it.
The article is nuanced, and while I would hesitate to back up many of the things Dr. Friedman says, one important distinction he makes is between actual anxiety disorders and day-to-day anxiety and worry – something most teens are virtually guaranteed to experience. Social media and the internet have indeed made the social world more complex for teens to navigate – as many have noted, there is no “escape” from the reach of the internet anymore, and it is more than understandable that teens are often glued to their phones. Teens are under a lot of stress developmentally, socially and physically, and Dr. Friedman is careful to point out that there will and should be plenty of anxiety in teenage life.
The crux of the matter then is not eliminating or avoiding anxiety (avoidance, of course, will actually make the anxiety seem stronger than it is), but focusing on what we can learn to do in the face of anxiety. Teens can learn that anxiety is normal, learn to notice bodily sensations that arise, learn to stay grounded, and even learn to appreciate their anxiety for protecting them.
Many parents are highly distressed when they learn their teen or child is struggling with anxiety, and I would encourage those parents to remember how normal that is. Your job is not to eliminate or protect from that anxiety, but rather to be with your child as far as they will let you, and creating as best you can a space of rest from it. There are many anxiety management techniques that can be learned to reduce day-to-day anxiety, but one of the best things to have is a secure relationship within which you do not need to be anxious. I can’t stress enough the impact of having someone with whom you feel safe to just be you, warts and all.
It’s no secret that I (along with many others here at Alongside You) am a big fan of attachment parenting, an idea propagated by Dr. Gordon Neufeld and brain researcher Daniel Siegel, among many others. I am also a big fan of parents taking care of themselves before they worry too much about taking care of their children, for several reasons. So I should mention that your anxiety about your kids’ anxiety is incredibly valuable: it tells you how important it is to you that your kids are safe and happy. This is wonderful, and you also should get to know that perfectly normal anxiety really well within your own safe relationships, because your kids will use you as a compass point to manage their own anxiety. If you have a good relationship with your anxieties, you will be very much ahead of the game in helping your child or teen with theirs. Normalizing our own experience of anxiety reduces it in our kids, and also shows them that they’re not alone.
Parenting is a tough job, and if you’re reading this, one that I imagine you take seriously. Best of luck, and as always, feel free to ask lots of questions and seek lots of support. If we can be a support to you, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re all in this together.
It’s that time of year again; the time of year where summer ends, and kids are going back to school. I find that this time of year brings one of two primary reactions from parents:
“Hallelujah! They’re back in school and I can finally get things done around the house or at work again!”
“Oh no, my babies are gone back to school! Are they going to be ok? How are they going to survive? What if they [insert any number of parental fears here]….”
Sometimes I wonder who has more anxiety during the return to school period – the kids, or the parents? Counselling for children during this time period can be very helpful, as can counselling for parents. What else is helpful as we prepare our kids for school?
One thing that’s clear, both in my personal experience (clinically, and with my own kids) is that our own emotional climate has a great effect on our kids’ emotional well-being as they return to school. If we are feeling anxious, chances are they’re going to pick up on it and join the anxiety party. If we’re calm, they may not join that party, but at least we’ll be in a position to help.
I get it. I hear your fears and anxieties as parents of young children. It’s normal to be anxious about this time of the year. So, what can we do to help our kids during this important transition? I’d like to offer four questions that we can ask our kids to open a conversation with them as they go back to school. I believe this dialogue will not only help their anxiety (which it will), but it will also build up the reservoir of empathy that is so needed, and strengthen your relationship with them.
1. How are you feeling about going back to school?
What is your greatest fear, and what are you most excited about? With this question, we’re inviting our children to share their emotional world with us, and at the same time, we’re making it explicit that it’s ok to have fears and it’s ok to be excited. We’re also introducing the idea that it’s possible to have both excitement and fear all at the same time! The psychobabble word for this validation.
By validating their excitement and their fears, we’re helping them feel known, accepted, and heard. This is the very basis of empathy, the greatest antidote to stress and existential anxiety. It’s the greatest tool we have with our children and their fight against their anxiety.
2. How do you feel when you’re in school?
What helps you enjoy the great parts and manage the hard parts? This question helps our child explore how they are doing during the school day when we’re not there. Research out of Yale University shows the importance of helping children have a “mood meter” throughout the day at school. It helps them understand their world as well as regulate their emotions. While specific techniques to manage mood are great, their research shows that simply paying attention to our emotions in a validating environment produces emotional benefits and helps students manage their emotions better in school and at home, all while reducing overall stress.
3. How do you feel during recess and lunch?
What are you looking forward to, and what might be more difficult? This question is a sneaky one. This is how we find out about their relationships at school and how they are doing with their peers. I don’t know about you, but if I ask my kids directly, “How are your relationships with your friends,” I’ll invariably receive an answer along the lines of, “Fine.” Or sometimes it’s, “I don’t know,” and finally, if I’m really lucky, I just get, “Dad! Stop butting in!”
If, however, we ask our kids how they are feeling during the times where they’re interacting socially with their peers, we’ll get a glimpse into their relationships. If they’re connecting well with other students we’ll likely get positive reports; if not, we might hear things like, “I’m bored,” or, “I’m lonely,” or, “I hate lunch.” This provides us with an opportunity to ask further questions, but now with a reason that the child has provided themselves. We can ask, “Wow, I’m sorry to hear you hate lunch and I’m curious what it is about lunch that isn’t going well?”
Sometimes, no matter how we ask, our children may not tell us what’s going on. If that’s the case, we can still get a win. Even if we can’t address that problem directly, at least we can provide empathy. If all else fails, we can still respond with, “Wow, I’m sorry to hear you’re having a tough time at lunch. I’m not sure how I can help, but I’m glad you told me.”
4. How do you feel when you get home?
What do you need after a day at school? This final question gives us a window into what our kids need after a long day of school, and believe me, the school day is long for our kids. Each kid is unique, however, and their needs after a day of school are wide and varied. Some kids need to run, some need a nap, some need a hug, some need…well, we’re not sure what. This is our chance to give our kids the opportunity to tell us what they need so we can help them get their need met.
It also provides us with a unique opportunity to connect in a meaningful way with our kids after their day and show that we’re interested in their world. It keeps us from simply yelling, “Don’t drop your jacket on the floor! Put your bag away! Take your shoes off, etc., etc.,” as our main way of connecting when they get in the door.
As parents, we can’t fix everything for our kids. We can’t solve all of their problems, but in this one question, we can at least begin to learn what they need after school so that we can help meet that need. If we can do this, we’ll help reduce their stress, which has many, many benefits for the kids.
It also has the net benefit that if we reduce their stress, give them opportunities to connect, our time with them will be less stressful, and they may actually be less likely to fling their backpacks across the room in frustration as soon as they open the door after school.
Our greatest job as parents
I hope this article is helpful as we all prepare for next week and the return to school. We all love our kids and we often feel like our job is to fix everything. I want to encourage us to focus on accepting our child’s answers to these questions and not let our own anxiety put us into “make it better mode.” If we fall prey to this, we do the opposite of what our kids need. Our kids need validation and empathy. The great thing is that in order to do this, all we need to do is listen and be with our kids. We don’t have to make it all better, because most of the time, the reality is that we can’t.
Need some help?
Parenting is tough, and this is a tough time of the year for everyone involved. If we can be of any help, please give us a call. This is the time of year is when counselling for children can be extremely helpful. We have a team of counsellors who love working with parents and kids and we’d love to be a resource for you.
One of the most exciting uses for neurofeedback therapy is in children struggling with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). ADHD can be one of the more difficult issues to treat and it causes a great deal of distress to many children, their parents, and school staff. We use neurofeedback (also called EEG Biofeedback) here at the clinic to help these kids reduce their symptoms and improve their functioning.
You might wonder, why would we use neurofeedback for ADHD? There are a few reasons we like it and they correspond to the results we see with the children we work with. I hope it helps explain the usefulness of neurofeedback for ADHD in children.
We often don’t notice the effects of poor sleep when we are children, but as a parent, I can definitely notice when my kids don’t sleep well. Further, now as an adult, I’ve become keenly aware of how lack of sleep affects my functioning. Neurofeedback can help the brain recalibrate and improve its function so that sleep improves, which in turn, improves attention, focus, and motivation – some of the core areas affected by ADHD.
Improved Attention and Focus
I have a number of clients with ADHD, and they know that my brain sometimes does the same things as theirs, and so if there’s a loss of focus in session, invariably one of us will turn our head and exclaim, “Ooh, squirrel!” This usually leads to a great deal of laughter and a refocusing in our session. Attention and focus are hallmark symptoms of ADHD, and neurofeedback can help with this by training the brain to function more optimally. Contrary to popular belief, children with ADHD aren’t overstimulated, they’re chronically under-stimulated. Because of this, their brain will find ways to stimulate itself, which usually means hyperactivity or fidgeting. Neurofeedback can help recalibrate and rewire the brain on this level and reduce the need for stimulation, improving these symptoms.
Neurofeedback Targets Brains At The Biological Level Without Medication
One of the most common interventions for ADHD is medication. Now, just to be clear, I am not anti-medication at all. It is a very useful tool and has its place in treatment. Medications, however, don’t always work, sometimes they have side effects that are worse than the condition being treated, and sometimes clients don’t want to be on medications.
Neurofeedback is another way of getting at the brain biology and rewiring it to improve functioning. It can also potentially augment the effects of medication if the medications are not working as well as they could. Sometimes neurofeedback can potentiate medications and lead to less medication being needed, or the ability to stop the medication altogether. Finally, if a client and or family does not wish to use medications, neurofeedback can do many of the same things medication can in helping the brain function better.
Neurofeedback Is Easy
Every parent knows that getting children to participate in treatment can be difficult, especially a child with problems with focus and attention and impulse control. This is one of the benefits of neurofeedback therapy – if a child can sit in a chair and look at a screen and listen to an audio, they can do neurofeedback. We can even show movies through our equipment to keep them engaged when necessary. We can also pair the neurofeedback with creating art, reading a book, or other activities to keep the child engaged.
Neurofeedback is flexible, straightforward, and easy for clients to participate in. We can adapt the environment and treatment to fit client needs and comfort. We can also tailor the treatment frequency to suit client availability and financial resources.
Neurofeedback Is Accessible
We know our clients lead busy lives, particularly when it comes to children and their activities. This is why we use equipment that we can send home with clients on a monthly rental basis. This has a number of advantages: accessibility, efficiency, and affordability. By doing home rentals, you can do neurofeedback in the comfort of your own home, on your own schedule. You can do training sessions as often as you like, which can help speed up the process and the results. It also makes things more affordable – for one monthly fee you can do as many sessions as you like, and you can even train the whole family for the same price!
Are You Curious About Neurofeedback?
I hope so! If you have any further questions, please give us a call and we’ll be happy to answer them. We can provide neurofeedback in our clinic, or we can send a rental unit home with you if it seems to be the best solution for you and your family. We love using neurofeedback to help children with ADHD, because we know it works, and we know kids love it. We love it because we see the results and the changed lives!