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.

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