Category Archives: Mental Health

How to Talk to Your Kids About the Hard Stuff
Dad and Son Talking

After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, I wrote an article called Look for the Helpers inspired by Fred Rogers. I am redoing it with the same basic
message—sadly because so much more has happened. Not only has gun violence increased, but our democracy and our climate are threatened. Whatever side of the political spectrum you fall, the recent overturn of Roe vs. Wade by the Supreme Court requires discussions with your children. How do you assure their safety at school? How do you tell them that the highest court in our nation has undermined the liberty of women?

My son just gave the commencement address at the high school where he teaches.
He too was inspired by Fred Rogers’ words:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother
would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are
helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my
mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still
so many helpers—so

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Want to Know the Secret to Supporting Your Perfectionist Child?
Anxious little girl

Q. My daughter freezes when she is asked a question on the spot or during exams because she is fearful of being wrong, not knowing the answers or not being able to complete the entire tests. What advice should I give her to help her overcome this fear?

A. Of course you want to help her deal with her fears. Most parents, I find, live by the myth that you can help your child by telling them what you have learned as more experienced human. Makes sense. You want to tell her something that will make her see the light and stop being fearful of getting it wrong. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Advice rarely helps unsolicited.

Your daughter was likely born with sensitivities for self-awareness, a desire for approval, as well as strong capabilities. This can underscore any ideas she has of how important those capabilities are to gain the approval she wants.

As parents, most of us are unaware of how our expectations of our children effect their behavior. Of course, we want our children to do

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Feb ’22 Q&A Hitting a Wall? (Revising a conversation from May ’20)
Emotional Exhaustion

Q. I’m utterly overwhelmed. I’m resentful of those who have support from a partner and grandparents and guilty for feeling resentful. Frustrated that there’s no end in sight. Exhausted, emotionally and physically. Sad. I miss my family and friends. Lonely. 3 kids 1, 4 and 8 entirely on my own. Working 60 hours a week. Trying to be grateful I’m employed but there is no balance possible when you have 3 kids in tow. I don’t bathe or sleep without them and if I try, they scream or immediately ‘need’ me for something which is their anxiety showing up. It’s endless. How do I stay sane?

A. We’re on year three of a global pandemic and all of us, especially parents with young unvaccinated children or families with unpredictable child education schedules due to positive COVID cases, are still very much in the throes of it. If we thought we were exhausted in May, 2020, it’s certainly not gotten better for a lot of people. Maybe we’ve become more accustomed to our reality, but emotional stress among our hardworking families

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Jan ’22 Q&A – The Rise in Suicide Since COVID-19: Can strong boundaries make a difference? (Revising a conversation from Oct ‘19)

Young Teen in Despair

Q. There were recently two child suicides in neighboring towns to us in less than two weeks, one of them a 13 year old. How does this happen? How can I protect my tween from a similar fate? I am at a loss. What is happening in the world??

A. Too many children all over the country seem to be feeling so forsaken that ending their lives is the only answer. How does anyone, much less a child, come to this conclusion? I cannot presume to have the answer. What we are left with is the question: How do we protect our children from such devastating despair?

According to U.S. News, over the last two years, there has been a steep increase in teen suicide attempts. From February 2020 to March 2021 "emergency rooms visits for suspected suicide attempts were over 50% higher among girls aged 12–17 than during the same period in 2019, according to the study" they referenced.

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Connecting with a Child’s Negative Self-Talk

Sad child sitting on windowsill

Q. My son will make a negative statement about anything and then immediately follow it by a more extreme version, e.g. “I want to die…I have wanted to die since I was born!” OR “No, I don’t know that you love me…I have NEVER known that you love me.” I don’t know how to react to these statements – they take me by surprise. Is it just his way of expressing the magnitude of his feelings?

A. Yes—and his words are also telling you that you are not listening to him.

The words of a child tend to get louder and more dramatic when certain needs (they have no idea what) are not getting attended to. This is one reason parenting is the hardest job on the planet—we have to interpret words and behaviors of our kids; not take them at face value but dig into the emotional state that prompted them. Your son most likely does not mean he wants to die. But he could mean that he doesn’t feel acceptable or good enough or heard, and so life

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Stress Management Needed? Look for the Triggers

With Covid stretching all of us thin, families are experiencing more emotional upheavals than ever—kids and parents, alike. The #1 step to managing anger and stress is to give yourself and your kids a break and keep it present—stop catastrophizing fears into the future—easier said than done. Covid adds enormous stress to an already stressful life. Don’t try to make life the same as before. You will only come out feeling like a failure—more stress.

When you see anger and physical aggression in your kids, it’s easy to panic and think there’s something wrong. You can also look at it differently and think, it’s wonderful that my kids feel safe to express their anger in our home. Did you? If not, then your child’s anger triggers a danger signal in your brain, which likely leads you into fight, flight or freeze mode. Helpful responses rarely follow.

Author, Rachel Simmons says we tend toward either a positive or negative “stress mindset”. With a positive mindset, you experience the fullness of your emotions and feel the stress, but you know you will

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10 Ways to Deal with Fear and Anger

Q. I just completed chapter 7, Don’t Take It Personally, in your Buttons book. Holy cow, that is my life right now! Things have been tough on-and-off for the last 4 years, but with being stuck at home, resistance to distance learning, working as a single mom, and feeling isolated with no break from each other, I have hit an all-time low in my parenting. My son is off the charts angry (hitting me and swearing at me non-stop), disruptive, destructive, and disrespectful. I’m exhausted and handling all of it terribly. As I listen to your book, I’m seeing how my controlling-mom agenda and my own anger issues (never allowed when I was growing up) mean I just give in to stop the anger—both causing our relationship to spiral.

A. These are hard times. The only consolation is knowing you’re not alone. Many families have more resources and a two-parent household with help from family or tutors. But many are in your boat. I can’t stress enough how important it is to give yourself and your kids a break from

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When You Think Your Teen May Be Depressed

Q. My concern is that my teenage son who has been struggling with remote learning and isolation, is of a generation that grew up having to be worried about school shootings, climate, higher levels of political divide, protests and rioting, and now a pandemic. I’m wondering if I should have an in-depth conversation with him about anxiety and depression in relation to the fact that he has grown up with these things and therefore is at greater risk. On the other hand, am I sending him the message that you should be anxious because you’ve grown up with these things? His symptoms are not what I would consider to be serious, but I’d like to prevent them from becoming serious. I’d appreciate any feedback or suggestions. 

A. Your question about sending him the message that perhaps he should be anxious because of these world events is a perceptive one. Yes, he has so much to contend with in his young life, but I do believe that every generation has its worries. I grew up with the threat of nuclear bombs

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Oct ’19 Q&A – The Rise in Suicide: Can strong boundaries make a difference?

Q. There were recently two child suicides in neighboring towns to us in less than two weeks, one of them a 13 year old. How does this happen? How can I protect my tween from a similar fate? I am at a loss. What is happening in the world??

A. Too many children all over the country seem to be feeling so forsaken that ending their lives is the only answer. How does anyone, much less a child, come to this conclusion? I cannot presume to have the answer. What we are left with is the question: How do we protect our children from such devastating despair?

In 2017, the suicide rate for 15-19 year olds was up 47% from 2000, the highest level in two decades. This doesn’t include 13 year olds. Much of the rise has to do with increased drug use and the effects of social media. But the question must address more fundamental layers. Many young people can resist drug use or moderate it. All are subject to social media. Some have addictive tendencies that are

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8 Suggestions for Teaching Mindfulness to Children

By Aimee Laurence

Mindfulness is good for all of us. It helps us be present as parents, choosing better responses instead of going with the first thing that comes to mind. It’s also good for children because it helps them pay attention, stay calm when they feel upset, and improves their decision making. In order to teach these skills to your children, you need to first establish your own practice so you can teach what you know. You also want to keep it simple so your children can understand that at its core, it means being aware of your thoughts, feelings, and what’s happening around you.

The purpose of teaching mindfulness to your children is to allow them to gain better awareness of their experiences, both inner and outer, to understand their thoughts and emotions, and to be better at controlling impulses. With that being said, you need to manage your own expectations, because it’s impossible that you’ll eliminate tantrums, or completely calm down your child – they are kids and it’s normal for them to be loud and exuberant.

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