Understanding Self-Injury: What Parents Need to Know

It can be very confusing and scary to find out that your child is engaging in self-injury. It can also be very overwhelming to try to make sense of this as a parent: Is this a suicide attempt? What is self-injury and what does it mean? Why would my child intentionally hurt himself/herself? Know that whatever feelings you may have are valid feelings and I hope that this post may help to navigate through these questions.

What is self-injury?
Non-suicidal self-injury is when a person injures themselves without the desire or intent to kill themselves. Therefore, it is very important to try to understand the “why” behind the self-injury. Although self-injury is separate from suicide and suicide attempts, it does significantly increase risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

There are many forms of self-injury, however, the most common are cutting, burning, banging or punching objects and embedding objects under the skin.

Self-injury is used as a coping strategy, even though it is an unhealthy one and is followed by negative consequences. Adolescents often use self-injury as a way of handling or responding to distress (e.g. anxiety, symptoms of depression, low self-esteem, etc.). I most often hear two main statements from adolescents who self-injure: 1. They are trying to deal with pain or 2. They feel numb and want to feel more. It is also reported that self-injury occurs when the individual is expressing negative feelings toward self. However, it is important to understand your child’s own reasons for his/her self-injury behaviors.

Is my child self-injuring?
One of the things that I always tell parents and teachers when talking about warning signs that something may be going on in a child’s life is to notice changes in behavior. You know your child best; trust your intuition.
Here are some warning signs that could indicate behaviors of self-injury:
• Isolating/withdrawing from family/friends
• Cuts, burns or marks on forearms, legs, and abdomen
• Hidden razors, blades, knives or other sharp objects
• Spending a lot of time alone in the bathroom or bedroom
• Wearing long sleeves or pants in hot weather

How can I help my child?
First, it is important that you do recognize your own feelings during this time. You want to try your best to process your own hurt and pain before you address your concerns with your child, but you do want to address it with your child as soon as possible. Try to talk to your child about their behavior, ask questions, validate your child’s feelings and show your child your concern for their wellbeing. Try to avoid yelling, lecturing and punishments.
Continue to help your child by allowing an environment for open communication, modeling healthy coping strategies, set aside family time, set appropriate rules and expectations, and ask your child how you can best help.

Finding treatment:
Remember that self-injury is a behavior that occurs when a child is in distress and could possibly benefit from counseling. Here are some ways you can find a counselor in your area:
Check in with your school counselor. They are often aware of the best resources available in your area for teens. They can also give insight into how your child is doing at school and may even be able to provide additional strategies to use.
Make an appointment with your pediatrician. Your pediatrician will also be able to give you referrals for resources in your area.
Speak with a Licensed Counselor who specializes in teens. To find a list of counselors in your area, try PsychologyToday.Com

For more information on self-injury, here are some additional resources:
http://www.selfinjury.bctr.cornell.edu
https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Related-Conditions/Self-harm
http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/self-injury

Feel free to leave comments or questions!

Heather

 

Photo Credit: Lucas Pimenta

***Blog disclaimer: This blog is for informational and educational purposes only. No therapist-client relationship arises. The information provided and any comments or opinions expressed are intended for general discussion and educational purposes only. They should not be relied upon for decision-making in any specific case. There is no substitute for consultation with a qualified mental health professional who could best evaluate and advice based on a careful evaluation. It is understood that no guarantee or warranty arises from the information provided or discussed on this blog.

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What I learned about Wholehearted Living

I recently had the amazing opportunity to attend The Daring Way Certification program for clinicians, which is based on the work of Brene Brown. Through this training and the Daring Way curriculum, I have learned the qualities of wholehearted living and have already been able to apply these in my own life.

If you don’t know about Brene Brown, check out her TED talk (Listening to Shame) here: https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame

Or read one of her NY Times bestselling books: Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, The Gifts of Imperfection

Wholehearted living defined:

“Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid but that doesn’t change the truth that I am worthy of love and belonging.” – Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

 

How do you live wholeheartedly?

Brene goes on to identify ten qualities people living a wholehearted life have in common. They are:

  1. Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think
  2. Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism
  3. Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness
  4. Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark
  5. Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty
  6. Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison
  7. Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self‐Worth
  8. Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle
  9. Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting Go of Self‐Doubt and “Supposed To
  10. Cultivating Laughter, Song, and Dance: Letting Go of Being Cool and “Always in Control”

 

I hope to take a more in-depth look at each of the guideposts over the next few weeks, so stay tuned!

Do you want to know more about how to cultivate these principals in your own life? Look for one of my upcoming Daring Way Groups!

Heather

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Trauma & Children. What is it? How Do I Help?

Trauma and Children

What is trauma? Often times, when we hear the word trauma, we think trauma with a capital T. Our mind goes to big traumatic events such as natural disasters, school shootings, violence and physical trauma. However, when we look at childhood trauma, we know that it can encompass more. Trauma is much more about how the child perceives the event than the actual event itself. An adult may not consider an event to be traumatic but a child could respond differently. Trauma can impact how a child views themselves and the world around them and can also impact emotions, behaviors, learning, and the ability to interact with others. The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children (TLC) defines trauma as “any experience that leaves a person feeling hopeless, helpless, fearing for their life/survival, their safety. This experience can be REAL or PERCEIVED.” An example of this could be a family who loses their home to a fire. The parents may be able to move forward by working with their insurance company and moving into a new home but the child may be stuck worrying about their toys and possessions they lost that were important and made them feel safe. Other examples of trauma may include: accidents, illness (self or family), bullying, separation or loss, divorce, abuse, neglect, and exposure to violence (even through the news, tv or movies, or video games).

So how do you know if your child is traumatized? A significant amount of children are exposed to traumatic events in the US, however, not all children are traumatized or react the same way. When a child has experienced trauma, it can be difficult for that child to verbalize their trauma experience so they might not be able to say that something is wrong. The best way to know if your child may be struggling with trauma is if you have noticed any change in behavior. You know your child best, and if there is something that worries you, ask for help. Possible symptoms of trauma include:  flashbacks, changes in sleep, physical complaints, avoidance, detachment, hyper-vigilance, inattentiveness, irritability, anger outbursts, impulsiveness and difficulty concentrating.  Unfortunately, these symptoms of trauma can look identical to symptoms of ADHD, therefore, it is important to be aware of trauma experiences.

How do you get your child help? The good news is the majority of children who experience a traumatic event are able to cope. However, if you feel your child is struggling following a trauma, reaching out for additional support can help. Trauma intervention is an essential part of helping your child. Here are some ways to find resources for your child:

  • Search Psychology Today for therapists who specializes in trauma psychologytoday.com
  • Meet with your school counselor and ask for tips and resources
  • Make an appointment with your pediatrician

 

Upcoming Trauma Groups: I have two upcoming groups that will be beginning June 15th for children and teens who have experienced trauma. These groups will help children and teens of trauma process their difficult trauma experiences.  Children are assisted in developing a sense of safety from their trauma and a sense of control over their reactions. We will engage in processes that help them cope with past traumas and develop resiliency. This trauma intervention program was developed by the National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children.

I FEEL BETTER NOW! COPING WITH TRAUMA – Group Therapy for Children (ages 8-10)

I FEEL BETTER NOW! COPING WITH TRAUMA – Group Therapy for Teens (ages 12-14)

Dates: 6 week program dates – June 15th, June 22nd, June 29th, July 13th, July 20th, July 27th

 

Contact me today if you would like to register your child or teen for group. Deadline for registration is June 1st.  Spots are limited.

 

Heather

 

 

 

***Blog disclaimer: This blog is for informational and educational purposes only. No therapist-client relationship arises. The information provided and any comments or opinions expressed are intended for general discussion and educational purposes only. They should not be relied upon for decision-making in any specific case. There is no substitute for consultation with a qualified mental health professional who could best evaluate and advise based on a careful evaluation. It is understood that no guarantee or warranty arises from the information provided or discussed on this blog.

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5 Ways to Help With Teen Depression

Are you worried that your teen may be dealing with symptoms of depression? Here are 5 ways you can help!

  1. Know the signs and symptoms of depression. I have parents ask me all the time, “is my child really dealing with depression, or is this just teenage stuff?” I understand how confusing this may be for parents. Your teenager is changing physically, socially and emotionally. So how do you know if it is more than just teenage hormones? Here is a list of common symptoms of teen depression.
    • Change in behavior. The easiest way to recognize that something may be going on with your teen is when there is a significant change in behavior. This can be a change in any type of arena, such as, a sudden disinterest in school, friends, or extra curricular activities, a sudden change in sleeping or eating habits or a change in overall behavior and attitude.
    • Feeling down. This can exhibit as hopelessness, sadness, tearfulness or frequent crying.
    • Anger outburst Oftentimes, depression can also present as irritability, outbursts or hostility.
  1. Communicate & Listen. As a parent, it can become natural to want to fix whatever problem your child is dealing with. Unfortunately, with depression, or any mental illness, it isn’t that easy. There is not magic wand that can immediately change how your child feels or thinks, and that can be painful. So what can you do to help? You can listen in a nonjudgmental and supportive way. Try to empathize with your child’s experience. You may know what our child does everyday; go to school, practice, home, we eat dinner, etc., but you can’t ever fully understand the experience of their world unless you ask. Here are some ideas for starting the conversation:
    • I notice that you have seemed down lately, can you tell me about how you are doing?”
    • “I see that you have been upset lately, and I want you to know I am here for you when you are ready to talk”
    • “I want to help you feel better, can we talk about how I might could do that?”
  2. Support Connection. Brene Brown defines connection as, “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and whey they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” Depressed teens tend to withdraw from their peers and family and begin to isolate themselves. Support your child by encouraging connection with family and with their friends.
    • Spend time together. One easy way to do this is family dinners, which can encourage conversation.
    • Encourage your teen to spend time with friends outside of school.
    • Help your teen connect and get involved in the community (e.g. a church youth group, volunteering)
  1. Address Physical Health. As I mentioned, changes in sleeping and eating can be a sign of depression. Teens often give excuses for not eating such as, “I don’t wake up early enough to eat breakfast,” “I don’t like the cafeteria food,” or “I just don’t like eating around other people.” These are often easy statements to believe, but it is important to realize that there might be more going on. One of the things I am constantly telling teens is that if your body can’t function, then your mind isn’t going to be able to function either. When we aren’t eating and sleeping regularly, symptoms of depression can be exacerbated. Here are some ideas to help support your child’s physical health:
    • Provide balanced meals and education about the importance of eating. Help your teen wake up early enough to eat breakfast before going to school.
    • Encourage a bed time and a night time routine. Limit time spent on devices before bed.
    • Encourage physical activity. Physical activity can naturally lift your mood!
  2. Ask for help. If you suspect that your child is depressed or suicidal, please reach out to a mental health professional.  This can often be the hardest part. You know your child best, and if you are concerned about depression it is best to reach out for help. Concerned about where to start? Try these options first:
    • Check in with your school counselor. They are often aware of the best resources available in your area for teens. They can also give insight into how your child is doing at school and may even be able to provide additional strategies to use.
    • Make an appointment with your pediatrician. Your pediatrician will also be able to give you referrals for resources in your area.
    • Speak with a Licensed Counselor who specializes in teens. Counseling can be a great option for a teen struggling with depression. To find a list of counselors in your area, try PsychologyToday.Com

If you or your child need immediate help:

  • Call 911 or visit your local ER
  • call your local crisis response unit
  • call the national suicide hotline 1-800-273-TALK

 

 

I hope this post was helpful. Feel free to email me if you have any additional questions.

 

Heather

 

***Blog disclaimer: This blog is for informational and educational purposes only. No therapist-client relationship arises. The information provided and any comments or opinions expressed are intended for general discussion and educational purposes only. They should not be relied upon for decision-making in any specific case. There is no substitute for consultation with a qualified mental health professional who could best evaluate and advise based on a careful evaluation. It is understood that no guarantee or warranty arises from the information provided or discussed on this blog.

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Dealing with Test Anxiety

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We are making our way through the Spring Semester. We have less than 50 days left in the school year. Even though this is often an exciting time of year for our students, it also brings about a very stressful one. This week we begin another week of STAAR testing and the end of the year brings final exams.

While anxiety is a normal human emotion and in test situations can actually be helpful and can facilitate the performance of some students; more often it is disruptive and can lead to poor academic performance. Graduation has come to depend on passing standardized tests. As a consequence, more students are likely to have anxiety when taking these tests, which could cause some students to
 fail parts of these exams despite knowing the material (Hubert, 2009).

My hope with this post is to help shed some light on test anxiety, and also identify some tools that can be easily used to help calm some of this anxiety.

What does test anxiety look like?

Anxiety can be visible in how a person thinks, how they behave, and also through physical symptoms. Teenagers will more likely try to avoid what is causing them anxiety, but in some instances, may become disruptive and act out as a way of avoiding the risk of failing or becoming embarrassed. Physical symptoms of anxiety include things such as sweating, racing heart and breathing, muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, headaches or stomachaches, and difficulty recalling the test material.

What are the major sources of test anxiety?

As I previously mentioned, standardized tests are an important part of being able to graduate, which most definitely creates an immense amount of pressure on kids. This pressure, along with other fear regarding negative future consequences can create this anxiety. Other sources of anxiety are also thoughts and concerns about failure as well as having a negative self-belief, which may be associating self-worth with grades or test performance.

Ways to reduce test anxiety:

The good news is there are ways to help reduce test anxiety.

  • Try relaxation techniques. Take deep controlled breaths in and deep controlled breaths out. Do this all week leading up to the test, before you begin the test and throughout the test as needed.
  • Try using positive self-talk to calm your nerves. ( I have done the best I can to prepare for this test, I know the material…)
  • Visualize the test day ahead of time. Visualize walking into the room, sitting at the desk, taking deep breaths and feeling relaxed as you take the exam.
  • Do your best to feel prepared for test. Study ahead of time, go to tutorials or ask for extra help if needed.
  • Keep things in perspective! Yes, this test is important, but it does not define you or your future. There are plenty of opportunities for retaking the exam if you have to.
  • Make time for self-care. Make sure you are eating and sleeping. Remember, our mind cannot function if are bodies are not functioning.
  • Take breaks when you need to. If you notice that you are feeling anxious or your mind is racing and you can’t concentrate, take a bathroom break or go get a drink of water.
  • If you know that you struggle with test anxiety, reach out to your school counselor for additional strategies or just to have someone to share your concerns with.

What can parents do to help reduce anxiety?

  • Take your child’s anxiety seriously and know that you can have an important role in helping them deal with it.
  • Help your child with anxiety reducing techniques (as listed above) and practice this together.
  • Praise your child and reinforce effort, even if the result isn’t what you were expecting.
  • Maintain realistic and attainable goals and be flexible with these goals as needed.
  • Be patient and listen.
  • Seek out additional help if your child’s anxiety continues or begins to interfere with daily functioning.

What can teachers to do help reduce anxiety?

  • Teachers have such an important role in helping identify the students who may be struggling with test anxiety. Therefore, teachers can help by keeping an eye out for student’s exhibiting signs of anxiety leading up to test day.
  • If you notice a student exhibiting signs of anxiety, have a conversation about anxiety and suggest the student visit the school counselor.
  • Teach your class and your testing room a one minute breathing exercise prior to the test. It only takes one minute and can have such a positive impact!
  • Provide reassurance and emotional support.

I hope this information has been helpful, but feel free to reach out or comment if you have additional thoughts or questions!

 

Heather

 

Resources:

Pekrun, R., & Schutz, P. A. (2007). Emotion in education. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Hubert, T. J. (september 2009). Test and performance anxiety. Principal Leaderships, 12-16. Retrieved March 25, 2017, from

 

 

***Blog disclaimer: This blog is for informational and educational purposes only. No therapist-client relationship arises. The information provided and any comments or opinions expressed are intended for general discussion and educational purposes only. They should not be relied upon for decision-making in any specific case. There is no substitute for consultation with a qualified mental health professional who could best evaluate and advise based on a careful evaluation. It is understood that no guarantee or warranty arises from the information provided or discussed on this blog.

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