With so much talk nowadays about food, diets, shape, and weight, it can be confusing as a parent to know how to help your child develop positive feelings about their body, no matter what size they are. Body image disturbances can begin as early as preschool, and can have lasting impacts. Why is it so important for children and teens to have a positive image of their body? Because young people with a positive body image are more self-confident in general and are less likely to develop eating disorders or weight-related problems such as obesity, or other emotional problems like anxiety or depression. While body image in children and teens is influenced by many different sources – including family, friends, and the media – parents play a pivotal role in helping to promote positive body image at an early age.
In my clinical practice, I often see children whose parents are either separated, in the process of divorcing, or divorced (and sometimes for many years). In some cases, the conflict between the parents can be very intense and heated, and the children feel they have to choose sides. Unfortunately, these are the children who suffer the most and have a hard time coping with all the changes that occur as a result of their parents’ decision to divorce. In contrast, when the fighting between the parents subsides after the separation, the majority of children adjust to their new reality within two years. Of course, every situation is different.
Anger is a difficult emotion for many children and adults to understand and to manage. While anger is a normal emotional reaction to a perceived or real threat, it can get too big and out of control very quickly. And among other things, anger can leave us feeling overwhelmed, confused, tired, empty, and lonely.
It’s that time of the year already when summer has come to an end and the new school year is about to or has already begun. That means getting back into the daily routine and to busy schedules, back to studying, homework, and extra-curricular activities, back to traffic, long days at work, and seemingly endless household chores. Along with the change in routine from summer to fall comes shorter days, less time for fun and leisure, greater demands and deadlines to meet, and unfortunately, more stress (which can be both good and bad). Sometimes it may seem as if there is so much happening and at such a fast pace that one barely has a free moment to slow down and just BE.
It seems to me that the term “depressed” is often loosely used to describe an intense feeling of sadness. Sometimes teenage clients will say “I feel depressed” to express that they feel down, blue, lonely, discouraged, disappointed, or very sad. While sadness is certainly a normal feeling generally experienced in response to some kind of loss or rejection, chronic feelings of sadness over an extended period of time (and often accompanied by other problems) can become a genuine concern. It is understandable then that parents, who see changes in their child’s mood and behaviour, may wonder whether their child or teenager can be suffering from depression. Indeed, children and teenagers can be diagnosed with depression (also known as a Major Depressive Disorder)
When do you traditionally pull out the thermometer to take your child’s temperature? Perhaps when your child does not seem to be behaving like themselves, such as when they are more lethargic, irritable, or when your child feels hot to the touch, looks pale, or when they express they are not feeling well.
Depending on what the thermometer reads, your reaction will likely be different, right? Suppose you find your child has a high fever. As a parent, you may decide to immediately call the doctor, give medicine to lower the temperature, have your child take a cool bath, and rest. If the temperature is ‘slightly above normal,’ you may monitor the situation and take the temperature again. You may still keep your child home and give medicine but you may not feel it is necessary to call the doctor. Finally, if your child’s temperature is ‘normal,’ you may decide to simply continue with your child’s regular daily routine and reassess later in the day.
It is clear that the thermometer is a useful tool that tells us important information about your child’s current physical health. So now imagine applying this tool to measure your child’s feelings or current mental health state.
In a previous post Help for the Anxious Child, Anxious Teen, and Anxious Parent, I shared the importance of building your own toolkit and your child’s toolkit for coping with anxiety. The focus of that post was on learning how to calm down the body by changing your breathing.
In another earlier post, I shared one of my favourite techniques for containing and placing a time limit on worries and anxiety, entitled The Worry Jar Technique: Help Your Child Overcome Worries and Anxiety. While this strategy is very helpful for children, it can also be adapted for parents and teens by for instance, writing anxious thoughts and worries in a journal.
So now that you have a good foundation, let’s add some more helpful strategies to your toolkits.
The teenage years have forever been characterized as a time of turmoil and change. It is during adolescence that youth are trying to discover who they are, where they belong, their likes and dislikes, and what they want for their futures. In order to exert their increased independence and to help prepare adolescents for adulthood, teens will pull away from their parents and move towards their peer groups. Indeed, the majority of the adolescents I have worked with are incredibly loyal to and protective of their friends (sometimes caring more about their buddies than about themselves).
An aspect of adolescence that is often concerning to parents (and to adults in general) is teenagers’ tendency to engage in experimentation and risky behaviours as part of this self-discovery process.
Teachers and school administrators often ask parents to have their child psychologically tested because of questions and concerns they have about a child in the classroom, such as distractibility, poor attention, behavioral problems, hyperactivity, learning difficulties, and social or emotional problems. While parents may also share similar concerns about their child, it can seem overwhelming for a parent to be asked to pursue formal psychological testing. Understandably, parents want to know what exactly does testing entail and whether it is necessary.
In a previous post entitled, Does My Child Have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?, I mentioned that a comprehensive evaluation for ADHD includes psychological testing in order to determine a proper diagnosis and to come up with a treatment plan specific to your child’s needs.
In this post, I will explain what is involved in psychological testing (also known as a psychological assessment).
In my clinical work with troubled teenagers, it is often the case that there is a real communication breakdown between these adolescents and their parents. These teens often feel that their parents do not understand or respect them, do not listen to what they have to say, and cannot relate to their experiences. They may report feeling isolated and closed off from their families, rejected, hurt, angry, anxious, sad, and lonely. In general, these adolescents have built up a “protective wall” between them and their parents (and sometimes the rest of the adult world) behind which they retreat. Because of problems with trust, these teens do not easily let their walls come down or let others see their vulnerabilities and insecurities.
It is important for you, as a parent, to keep the communication doors open with your teen. There are steps you can take to help maintain open communication.