Tuesday, December 16, 2014

If you’re not having a “great” day, is it your fault?

Can anyone identify when the seemingly standard farewell changed from “Have a nice day,” to “Have a great day?” And did people’s experiences of their day actually get better either during or after that transition?

Just recently I saw a Coca-Cola™ advertisement on a billboard with, of course, two young, active, incredibly good-looking people, obviously having a great day, that said, “Open happiness.” And I wondered, how many people actually feel happier after they open a Coke? Most importantly, however, I wondered if anyone felt worse because opening a Coke didn’t make them happier.

Now the reader may want to assure me that, of course, people are not really influenced to believe such magical cause-and-effect relationships as the world of advertising consistently tries to persuade us to believe; we know that opening up a bottle of Coke won’t actually lead to happiness. But, do we?

Consumer culture, which abuts nearly our every move, exhorts us constantly to do, eat, drink, bet, buy, or go, generally promising that to do so would make us somehow better off, happier, ensuring a better (now even, perhaps, “great”) day. My question is whether the underlying message leads us to question that, if we are not having a “great day,” is it our fault for not doing so?

Many people suggest that greetings and farewells are usually experienced as benign transactions. When our coworkers greet us in the morning with, “Hi, how are you?” they don’t really want to hear that we just learned that the sewer pipe needs to be replaced, do they? Or that our spouse ran through a list of irritations about us just before we left the house. The “How are you?”, “Fine” exchange doesn’t set up the expectation that we are doing “great,” however. “Fine” is a generally benign word; “great” tends to set up a different, hyperbolic expectation.

I wish to present some anecdotal evidence to support my concern about a possible unforeseen negative consequence of changing “Fine” to “Good,” to “Great.” Sometimes, when I hear that one of my clients is feeling down or depressed, I ask her if she can distinguish what percentage of her is just the feeling, and what percentage is feeling badly about having the feeling.

My experience is that, most of the time, she identifies a greater percentage of the latter than the former, sometimes with twice the percentage in the “feeling badly about feeling badly” portion of the equation. I then suggest that the portion that she probably has some immediate control over is the “feeling badly about feeling badly” portion. What if she just allowed herself to feel the feeling? To just feel sad, or lonely, or angry, and let go of the negative judgment for having such feelings?

The desire to avoid negative feelings is common, but the drive to avoid them all together is also, unfortunately, common. This drive sometimes leads to addictive behaviors (the kinds of behavior we are encouraged to engage in by consumerism--do, eat, drink, bet, buy, and go). If you are not feeling good (or better yet, great!), there is surely something you could be paying for that would change that.

Author Ann Wilson Schaef contemplated this connection in her 1987 book, When Society Becomes an Addict. Schaef observes the United States culture as a whole to be a breeding ground of addiction and describes the enormous challenge of trying to live a healthy and engaged life in a culture that promotes addiction (i.e. the pursuit of feeling “great”, often at the expense of reality).

So what is the cost of running from sadness, loneliness, anger, and other normal feelings while chasing that fun-filled, happy, “great-day” life? When people actively seek the avoidance of negative feelings, it can inadvertently lead to an even worse experience: clinical depression. Sadness and loneliness are a normal part of the experience of being human; depression need not be. The perennial exhortation to “Have a great day,” may unwittingly lead some people to feelings of self-doubt: “Why aren’t I having a great day?” and then, “What’s wrong with me for not having a great day?” and finally, possibly, “It’s my fault for not having a great day.”

So I’ll stick with “Have a nice day.” Although, come to think of it, I generally prefer people to have whatever kind of day they’re having anyway, without feeling badly about it.

By Lise Osvold, Ph.D; Psychologist at Grew, Morter & Hartye P.A. in Raleigh, NC. She works with adults and adolescents in individual, group and family therapy, and has special interest in working with people with eating disorders.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Self-Hypnosis Training Group for Cancer Patients

We are excited to announce that GMH staff member Deborah Planting is leading a Self-Hypnosis training group for cancer patients and their caregivers through her affiliation with Medical Hypnosis Consultants PLLC at Duke Raleigh Cancer Center.  

Learn how to use Self-Hypnosis to help in managing your illness and the symptoms, reducing pain and stress, controlling the side effects of medications and radiation therapies, and generally enhancing quality of life.
When:  Thursdays 5:30 – 7:00 PM, January 8 – January 29, 2015 (4 weeks)
Location: Duke Raleigh Cancer Center, Duke Raleigh Hospital, Medical Office Building #7,    Cancer Center Board Room, 3404 Wake Forest Road, Raleigh
Register: Leave a message at Duke Raleigh Cancer Center: (919) 862-5984.                                 Group is limited to 12 participants
Fee: Free to cancer patients; caregivers are welcome on a space-available basis 
Offered by: the Duke Raleigh Cancer Center                       
Taught by: Medical Hypnosis Consultants, PLLC
 Led by: Deborah Planting, M.A., L.P.A., Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

There is No Try

In the Star Wars movie The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda says, “There is no try.”

Try is such a strange word.   Try means to make an attempt or effort to do something.  In other words, “to try” something implies the possibility of failure.  And nobody wants to fail.

When I was 8 years old, I learned about the difference between “trying” and “doing.”  A part of the curriculum of my summer camp was to learn how to dive from a very high diving board.  I was petrified.  That first day, I slowly began to climb the long ladder up to the board.  At one point I was so scared that I told the counselor I couldn’t do it anymore.  He had told us previously that we should “Never say, ‘I can’t.’ Always say, ‘I’ll try.’” 

At that moment, he agreed that I could stop climbing because at least I “had tried.”   The next day I did the same.  I really “tried,” but felt I just couldn’t make it to the top.  And then I caught on.  As long as I “tried,” I would never have to actually jump off that scary diving board.  And guess what?  I never did.

If you “try” to change a habit, you either change it in a given moment or you don’t.  We sometimes attempt to create the perception of action by “talking about trying” but the truth is, it’s only once action has been taken that anything has been accomplished.

And thus, I agree with Yoda: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

By Deborah Planting, L.P.A. at Grew, Morter & Hartye in Raleigh, NC. She works with individuals using cognitive behavioral therapy and solution-focused techniques.  She is a certified Clinical Hypnotherapist and has received extensive training in Neurofeedback.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Mindfulness: Accepting the Present Moment

I recently attended the two-day workshop “The Power of Mindfulness: Mindfulness Inside and Outside the Therapy Hour” by Ronald Siegel, Psy.D.  I walked into this workshop knowing that mindfulness is the practice of present-moment awareness; however, I walked out of this workshop with a greater appreciation of the importance of accepting whatever it is that we find when we focus our awareness in this way.

Mindfulness is practiced by focusing one’s attention in an open-hearted and non-judgmental way.  Beginners (and non-beginners alike) will often focus attention on the breath—on the expansion and contraction of the belly, on the sensation of air moving in and out at the tip of the nose, or even on the subtle sounds that air makes as it moves up and down our throats.  The most important and powerful part of practicing mindfulness is gently nudging our attention back to the breath when we find that it has wandered (and it will wander a lot!).  Students of meditation will often worry that they “aren’t doing it right” if they notice a wandering mind.  But it is through the very act of catching our wandering minds and inviting our attention back to the breath that mindfulness skills are most powerfully developed.   

Practicing mindfulness can be done formally through sitting or walking meditations, or informally, as we move around through the day.  A great place to practice informal mindfulness is when we are completing the basic “chores” of life, such as laundry, cooking, cleaning or taking a shower.  These are the simple activities that we typically try to “rush through” as our minds become distracted by what’s happened in the past, or what might happen in the future.  We can practice mindfulness when, even for a few moments, we bring awareness to these simple activities; when we notice how our bodies feel, when we notice where our thoughts tend to go, and when we notice the automatic reactions we tend to have toward ourselves when we notice these things!  When we can practice noticing our judgmental thoughts without judgment (“Interesting, I just had the thought I’m no good at this…”), we are really on our way to deepening these skills.

After participating in Dr. Siegel’s workshop, it was clear to me how important it is to make mindfulness more of a priority in both my personal life as well as in my clinical practice. I came away from this workshop thinking about all of the roles that I play in my life including granddaughter, daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend, and psychologist as well as all of the activities that I participate in on a daily basis. It is often difficult to focus on each of these parts of my life independently; however, practicing mindfulness gives me a chance to do that, if only for a few moments.

If you are interested in additional information on mindfulness, or to obtain recordings of mindfulness practice instructions, please visit:

By Amy Quinn, Psy.D; Psychologist at Grew, Morter & Hartye, P.A. in Raleigh, NC.  She works with adults who are experiencing difficulties in a variety of areas including ADHD/ADD, anxiety, depression, grief and loss, and interpersonal relationships.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Helping Children Manage Their Worries

It is common for children to have worries.  Children can get nervous, fearful, or even “stressed out”—just as adults do.  Fears or worries may result from new experiences, such as moving to a new town, starting a new school, going to a first sleepover, or preparing for a new sibling.  Experiencing these feelings in response to new or challenging situations is typical and very appropriate for children.

However, when worries and fears occur on a more frequent basis, and, most importantly, if these feelings are significant enough to interfere with a child’s daily functioning, additional support may be warranted.

Recognizing a child is suffering from anxiety can be difficult.  Although some children are at the age and skill level to effectively express their tendencies to worry, others struggle to identify their feelings and/or communicate them clearly.  Signs of anxiety in children include separation anxiety, wanting to avoid school, social isolation, extreme sensitivity to rejection, and significant changes in eating and sleeping habits.

So what are parents to do if they note increased tendencies to worry in their children?  Children are often highly sensitive to their parents’ emotions, including parents’ own stress and anxiety.  By taking steps to manage their own level of stress, parents can help reduce their children’s anxiety.

Additionally, by modeling relaxation strategies (i.e. calm breathing, visualization, and meditation), talking through challenging feelings instead of internalizing them, allowing downtime with minimal stimulation, and simplifying daily schedules, parents can play a critical role in helping their children live effectively and fully, even with worries.

By Kate Dryden, Ph.D; Psychologist at Grew, Morter & Hartye in Raleigh, NC.  Dr. Dryden works with toddlers, children, and adolescents and specializes in the evaluation and treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Psychological Testing is to Psychology as Blood Work is to Medicine

You see your primary care physician because you are experiencing low energy, joint pain, and weight gain.  Your physician knows that these symptoms could be indicative of several medical diagnoses. And so to confirm a diagnosis, and to rule-out other diagnoses, your physician orders a series of tests, starting with blood work.  The results of the blood work not only clarify the problem, but ultimately direct the course of treatment.

This process is analogous to how psychologists approach the treatment of emotional difficulties.  After a careful screen of a person’s current symptoms, health history, and general functioning, psychologists conduct diagnostic testing to confirm the presence of a diagnosis, and to rule-out other diagnoses.  The results of these tests also highlight the optimal course of treatment, and assist the clinician and client in developing an individualized treatment plan that will be both efficient and effective.

In general, psychological testing examines aspects of personality, relationship functioning, information processing, and approaches toward coping.   When the client has educationally-related questions (such as the presence of ADHD or learning disabilities), additional testing may be warranted, including tests to assess working memory, intelligence, and academic achievement.

In general, psychological testing can be very much like a road map.  It gives you and your clinician a sense of your starting point, your ending point, and directions for how to most efficiently and effectively get to where you’re wanting to go!

By Amy Quinn, Psy.D; Psychologist at Grew, Morter, & Hartye, P.A.  in Raleigh, NC. She has been in practice since 2004 and conducts psychological testing and psychotherapy with individual adults.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Parents: It’s Not What You Say, but How You Say it

How you communicate with your child has a great impact on your child’s behavior.

I spent the first 11 years of parenting saying to my children, “If you don’t do this, then you can’t do that.” I was in the habit of focusing on negative behavior and potential punishment.  I lost a lot of battles because my children didn’t do what I asked, and then I had to try to uphold the punishment-- which was not always easy (or even realistic or possible)!  Like many generations before me, I often assumed if I threatened my children with a consequence, they would simply do what I wanted.  It didn’t work!

Somewhere in that 11th year, engaged in battle after battle with a particularly strong willed pre-teen, I read an article about re-framing your language. Simply put, instead of threatening a punishment for a negative behavior, the authors suggested stating everything in the positive. 

For example, instead of telling my children they could not have dessert if they did not eat their dinner, I was to say, “You can have dessert once you eat all of your dinner.”  Or instead of implying limitations like, “You can only watch one show and then that TV is off!” I was to say, “You may watch one show and then you may find something else that’s fun to do.”  On the surface, it seems like both statements say the same thing, right?  Skeptically, I tried it and have been amazed at the results ever since.  Two things happened: first my children seemed to be complying more.  The second change was in me.  The anger and guilt that usually came along with threatening punishment or attempting to enforce punishment was no longer there.

Making this change wasn’t easy.  I often had to stop myself mid-sentence and start over. Six years later I still sometimes have to do that.  But I know that when we state our expectations in positive language we are (1) focusing on the desired behavior, (2) clearly stating the positive consequence, and (3) giving our children control without giving up our authority.  I also know…it just feels better!

Amy Werner is a Certified Parent Coach in Raleigh NC. Through individual or couples Parent Coaching, Amy works with parents experiencing frustration with their current circumstances through a solution-focused coaching method. She can be reached at 919-274-0227.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Turn off your cell phone to sleep better!

It is not uncommon for people to struggle with sleep.  While some folks have difficulty falling asleep or difficulty with early waking, others will not feel rested, despite having slept through the previous night without apparent problem. 

When presented with this issue in the context of therapy, I begin with an assessment of sleep hygiene.  “Sleep hygiene?!” you say. “What in the world is sleep hygiene!?”  Just as there are more effective ways to keep your mouth healthy (i.e. oral hygiene), there are guidelines that can aid in getting the most from your sleeping hours (i.e. sleep hygiene).

Most people are familiar with “good sleep basics,” such as not eating too late at night, getting exercise during the day, limiting alcohol consumption, and staying away from caffeine.  However, one of the most powerful influences on sleep is exposure to ambient light.  Sitting in front of computers, TVs, tablets, and cell phones before going to sleep is an increasingly common habit.  It's also a habit that might be the biggest culprit in our poor sleep patterns. 

Exposure to light in the evening tends to delay the production of the hormone melatonin, a hormone that creates the sensation of sleepiness and a desire to go to bed.  Exposure to light in the middle of the night—even in small amounts—can also disrupt the sleep cycle, leading us to feel exhausted.  This seems to be the disruption of which people are most unaware—they will leave their cell phones on during the night and when someone contacts them, their phones chime, ring, and light-up their otherwise darkened room. 

One of the best things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep is to decrease the amount of light you experience after sundown.  Engaging in a quiet activity in low-light before bedtime, installing black-out shades to prevent the light from street lamps and street traffic from coming-in, covering illuminated clocks, and, yes, even turning off your cell phones, are all things you can do to sleep more soundly and ultimately, to feel more rested.

By Lia Pate-Carolan, Ph.D; Psychologist at Grew, Morter & Hartye, P.A. in Raleigh, N.C.  She works with college-age and adult clients using both cognitive behavioral therapy and psychodynamic approaches in the treatment of anxiety and depression.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Gift of the Parenting Struggle

It’s said that children are our best teachers, and I’ve found this to be the case in much of my work with parents and families.  What challenges us parents the most about our children is exactly the place where we would most benefit from our own growth.

Parents often have grand plans for passing on their wisdom, talents, and strengths to their children.  And while it is certainly true that our children may embody many of these positive traits, it is also true that they are likely to embody our weaknesses as well.  There is nothing like a pre-teen to mirror back to us those traits or habits we would so like to change!

The beauty of finding ourselves in this place of struggle is that we can take this as an opportunity to work on healing ourselves.  We may work on developing empathy (not only for others, but for ourselves), we may work on changing habits that we’ve just been “too busy” to change, or we may finally be motivated to face issues that have troubled us for a lifetime, such as anxiety, depression, or ADHD.  

One thing is true: even though our children are unique individuals, we cannot expect them to behave any differently than we do.  If we want our children to be less irritable, then we need to behave in ways that are more flexible and patient.  If we want our children to be more kind and generous, we must model this same behavior, even when it’s inconvenient.  And if we want our children to get away from their screens and engage, then so must we!
Continuing to seek answers to the inherent challenges of parenting can be such a gift, although one that, admittedly, does not come wrapped with a bow.  We know that by the time parents seek the support of a psychologist, they have often already read books, taken classes, and sought advice from friends, families, and teachers.  These are the parents that are deeply committed to their children and are willing to invest their resources to “grow” their child, and to continue to “grow” themselves. 

As parents, when we learn how to improve our self-care, develop greater emotional intelligence, and increase our self-compassion, we are able to make changes that can last for generations.

By Mary Anne Attwell Hartye, Ph.D; Psychologist at Grew, More & Hartye, P.A. in Raleigh, NC. She has been working with children, adolescents, and parents since 1974.  Dr. Hartye particularly enjoys helping clients explore the gifts and challenges of parenting.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Is Boredom a Reason to Overeat?

Many of the emotional eaters I work with tell me they eat when they’re not hungry because they get bored.  This initially puzzled me because boredom is a relatively mild experience in the overall world of feelings.  Boredom is defined as “the state of being weary and restless through lack of interest.”  I was first struck that the words “weary” and “restless” seem to contradict one another.  The “weary” part (depleted in energy) clearly indicates the need for down time or relaxation.  The “restless” part, however, indicates feeling fidgety, tense, or agitated.  What then is going on when these two seemingly disparate states collide and induce the emotional eater to eat when not hungry?

I suspect that boredom, more than just “weary” and “restless,” is a sense of foreboding about even more uncomfortable feelings that lurk beneath the surface, such as sadness, loneliness, fear, anxiety, and anger.

 Let’s imagine that “Mary” is going along through her day.  She is busy, occupied, and has no time to connect with herself, and thus isn’t paying any attention to her thoughts or feelings.  After the workday, she returns home feeling tired (“weary”) and restless (“agitated”).  She’s not hungry because she worked through her usual lunch hour, then overate around 4 p.m. because she began to get a headache and realized she hadn’t eaten anything since 10 o’clock that morning.

Mary is now too tired to pursue any meaningful activity that she would enjoy or that needs to be done at home, because this would take energy.  She is also, however, aware of a sense of dread about simply relaxing in front of the TV or with a book.  An emotionally healthier individual would be apt to appreciate this time, to allow herself to feel her tiredness, along with any other feeling that might arise; she might reflect on her day and decide she needs to regularly build more time into her day to relax and recuperate.  An emotional eater such as Mary, however, will want to repel any negative feelings that might arise. Additionally, she doesn’t have the experience of, or give herself permission for the self-care that would be most beneficial in this moment.   She recalls the ice cream in the freezer and, before she knows it, spoons out a large serving in a bowl, thinking she wants to relieve her “boredom.”  The following morning, when she realizes that the pants she’d planned to wear to work are too tight to button, she chastises herself for eating the ice cream the night before.

Emotional eating, for many people, leads to a level of self-hatred and self-loathing that causes tremendous pain.   Why then does Mary go for the ice cream when she’s not hungry? Can the state of boredom, alone, be sufficient to explain engaging in this type of sabotage?

My suggestion to Mary (and to others who might be confused about why they eat when they’re not hungry), is to sit with the boredom long enough to allow the emergence of whatever deeper, more informative feelings lie beneath it.  Whether that feeling is sadness, loneliness, hurt, or fear, that feeling is more likely to inform you about what may be lacking in your life than boredom ever will.  Boredom tends to lead to distraction, so acts as the protective layer that hides more painful feelings.  Overcoming overeating requires taking the time to acknowledge and, at least briefly, experience the feelings that we have.  Experiencing our feelings can help us take better care of ourselves and can inform us about ways of living that might be more helpful.  Putting extra food into our bodies because we feel bored will never help us do that. But putting our feet up and sitting with ourselves, without the ice cream, just might.

By Lise Osvold, Ph.D; Psychologist at Grew, Morter, and Hartye, P.A. in Raleigh, NC. She works with adolescents and adults and understands firsthand the powerful factors that can create a complex relationship with food. Her own personal journey of recovery from emotional eating helps guide her work with individuals who struggle with these same issues.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Anxiety: It’s all about the Breath

A few years ago I attended the yearly convention of the American Society for Clinical Hypnosis.  One of the presenters held a session on hypnosis and anxiety. To my surprise, the first words out of her mouth were, “anxiety disorders are breathing disorders.” Could it really be that simple?

After much more study on this issue, I’ve realized she was right.  We know that, despite the fact that the brain accounts for only 2% of our body mass, it needs 20% of the oxygen we take in to function properly.  When we get anxious, our breathing becomes shallow and we don’t get the same amount of oxygen as we do when we are calm and breathing deeply. 

The brain is all about survival and it wants you to live.  If it doesn’t get the amount of oxygen it needs, it responds by “shutting down” the functions it considers least important—this happens to be executive functions that enable us to plan, think logically, and cope effectively.   Once executive functioning is “off-line,” this leaves the primitive brain in charge—and it responds in the only way it knows how—fight or flight!  And this is anxiety.

So now when I work with clients who struggle with anxiety, I invariably incorporate breathing exercises to help them keep those executive functions engaged.  Here is a simple one that anyone can try when feeling particularly stressed or anxious:

  • You can lie on your back, sit, or stand up as straight as possible 
  • As you inhale, allow your belly to move outward while keeping your chest still
  • Inhale for a count of 2 
  • Hold the breath for 1 count 
  • Exhale for a count of 4
  • Rest for 1 count before inhaling again
  • The important thing to remember is to exhale about twice as long as you inhale and to breathe as deeply as possible

Practice this exercise regularly and notice how the tension decreases.  Your brain will no longer be in a state of alarm because it’s now getting sufficient oxygen.

Want more ideas on how to regulate your breathing and calm anxiety?  There are several apps you can download on your phone.  Just type in “breathing” and choose one that works best for you.

By Deborah Planting, L.P.A; Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist at Grew, Morter, and Hartye, P.A. in Raleigh, NC. She specializes in treating anxiety through psychotherapy, hypnosis, and neurofeedback.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Treating Symptoms of ADHD in Adults: What You Don’t Know May Hurt You

You tell your primary care physician or psychiatrist that you are having difficulty focusing and concentrating, struggling with chronic disorganization, and are easily distracted.  Your doctor says, “Well, you might have Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/ADD), but you have to see a psychologist to be evaluated.”  You may ask yourself, “If I’m experiencing the symptoms of ADHD/ADD, and my doctor acknowledges that, then why do I need an evaluation?”
It’s not uncommon for adults to struggle with attention, concentration, and motivation at some points in their lives; however, there are factors other than ADHD that can contribute to these experiences, including:

  • Lifestyle Habits— Chronic multi-tasking, overworking, and sleep deprivation can create problems with attention and concentration as they subtly change the way the brain operates.
  • Other Mental Health Issues— Anxiety disorders and depressive disorders can create, or exacerbate, symptoms associated with ADHD/ADD such as difficulty focusing and concentrating, memory impairment, irritability, and disorganization.
  • Unrealistic Expectations—Failure to perfectly meet the overwhelming demands of work and home can be due, in part, to unrealistic expectations.  These expectations are increasingly common as employees are asked to do more with less, and social media typically provides only “polished” glimpses of other people’s lives.

At present, there is no single test available to definitively diagnose ADHD/ADD.  However, a comprehensive psychological evaluation can help clarify ADHD/ADD symptoms associated with attention, concentration, mood, activation and memory—and rule-out other factors that may be contributing to these problems. 

Understanding causal factors is essential; it enables the psychologist to recommend the most helpful behavioral interventions, and it helps the physician to determine what, if any, medication could be useful.  Understanding causal factors can also help clients avoid temporarily worsening their symptoms (as is the case when stimulants are prescribed when, in actuality, an anxiety disorder is what’s driving the problem).

Most importantly, however, psychological evaluations can help people understand themselves better, and effectively address the multitude of factors impacting their lives.
By Amy Quinn, Psy.D; Psychologist at Grew, Morter and Hartye, P.A. in Raleigh, NC.  In addition to providing psychotherapy, Dr. Quinn conducts psychological and psychoeducational testing to assess for ADHD/ADD and learning disabilities.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Managing Children's Screen Time

Each generation of parents has a new set of struggles.  Today’s parents seem to be in a constant battle with electronics.  Almost every parent with whom I interact laments about the amount of time their children are engaged in “screen time.”  Aside from concerns about the time their children spend watching TV, playing video games, and trolling social media, parents are also concerned with how to keep tabs on the content of these pursuits.  Parents often say that it feels like monitoring their children’s electronics usage is a full time job.
Parents are not crazy; our children are really overly plugged-in. The American Academy of Pediatrics claims that children spend an average of seven hours per day engaged in electronics use, five hours more than the daily recommendation for children over the age of two. (Incidentally, the AAP recommends that children under the age of two avoid all media).

There is no magic formula for how parents can find the “right” balance for their children’s electronics usage. A few recommendations, however, can make the task feel less overwhelming:

1. Create parameters that align with your value system and your child’s maturity level. Make decisions about the devices and content your children have access to based-on what you think is best, not what “everyone else is doing.”

2. Be clear about when and where the electronics are allowed to be used.  Expectations might include, for example, between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., only on weekends, or never in the bedroom.

3. Have access to all device and social media passwords.  This gives you the opportunity to perform random checks and know what your child is experiencing.

4. View with your child.  Watch an episode of their favorite show, play or observe 15 minutes of their favorite video game, scroll through their social media sites with them.  Have discussions about what they are seeing.  Decide if the experiences are appropriate for them and discuss why or why not.

5. Reframe the issue.  Rather than simply conveying the message that children need to spend less time with electronics, parents can establish expectations around the need to spend more time on other activities—spending time outside and in nature, spending face-to-face time with friends and family, working on creative hobbies, providing help to those in need, and taking on new challenges.

Being clear about your expectations and staying connected with your children are the best methods for helping your children find the right balance in their “digital diet.”  And although staying on top of current trends in technology is no easy task, being intentional about talking with your children, their friends, and other parents will help you along the way.

Amy Werner is a Certified Parent Coach in Raleigh NC. Through individual or couples Parent Coaching, Amy works with parents experiencing frustration with their current circumstances through a solution-focused coaching method. She can be reached at 919-274-0227.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Navigating Difficult Conversations

Do you ever wish you could talk with your partner about something important to you, but decide against it?  Many people decide never to bring things up because they fear there is no way these conversations will go well.

What are we afraid of? Often, we believe the other person will feel attacked and will become defensive.  We may feel certain the other person will turn the conversation back onto us, and in the end, we will be blamed, criticized, or hurt.  Or we may anticipate the other person will “shut down” in response to the conversation we’ve initiated, leaving us feeling abandoned.

While we cannot control our loved one’s response, there are ways to improve the chances that our message will be heard and that we will feel understood.

These recommendations are based on the extensive research of relationship expert John Gottman, Ph.D. According to his research, criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling are four toxic elements in a couple’s communication that are predictive of divorce.  So how can we practice talking with our loved ones differently?

1. Gentle startup.  First, it’s important to realize that it is common for people to feel attacked when you have a complaint. Be careful not to lead with a criticism of the other person, but rather with your own feelings. Begin with the attitude that you are confiding in your loved one about your own feelings. You are sharing how his/her words or actions are bringing up feelings in you, and what you need instead.

2. Express a positive need.  Rather than focusing on what you don’t like and what you don’t need, share with the other person what you do like and what you do need. Give your loved one the recipe for success with you (i.e. “It would mean so much to me if you _____”)

3. Take a break.  If you find that either of you seem to be getting overwhelmed by the stress of the conversation, it is okay to take a break from it! Let your loved one know you do need to come back to the conversation, and take anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours to calm down before returning.

4. Take responsibility.  Keep your focus on your needs and feelings, rather than on your partner’s faults. Loved ones will be more interested in examining themselves if that is what you are doing. If you can understand where your partner might be coming from, share that. Take responsibility for any part of the conflict or problem that you realize you’ve contributed to.

Practicing these new skills takes time; there is no couple that does this perfectly!  Being mindful about how we communicate can help foster increased closeness and connection in our love relationships, and help sustain them over time.

By Natalie Van Dusen, Psy.D; psychologist at Grew, Morter, and Hartye, P.A. in Raleigh, NC.  She works with couples to help clients identify and change destructive patterns in their relationships.  

GMH Starts a New Chapter

Welcome!  We are pleased to announce the launch of our new website and blog. Here you will find information straight from our clinicians about topics that are important to you, including:
  • Relationships
  • Self Care
  • Parenting
  • Mental Health
  • Practice News such as staff additions, weather closings, community  events  and new services
  • Special Events such as workshops and groups
With decades of experience in a wide variety of therapeutic techniques and disciplines, we think our staff has a lot to share. We hope you find Gmhpsych.Com to be an interesting and informative site, and we look forward to being a part of your journey towards health and wellness.

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