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OCD: Intrusive Thought or Realistic Thought?

I once had an OCD client who had a teacher yell at her. She became fearful of this teacher and started having obsessive thoughts he would pull her out of class to threaten or scold her. Because he had yelled at her once, her obsession was based on a good-sized kernel of truth. However, as often happens to people suffering with OCD, the obsession was a gross exaggeration of the realistic risk. She struggled immensely with discerning what was realistic and what was intrusive. How does one begin to tell the difference?

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Helping Teens Cope with Academic School Stress

Academics overwhelm every teenager at some point. Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Academics overwhelm every teenager at some point.
Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One thing all adolescents have in common is that at some point or another school stresses them out.  They are given an assignment that really stretches them, or have to make a certain grade on a final exam to get a passing grade in a class.  Every kid runs up against a class where they don’t understand the material and feels completely lost.  Middle school and high school can be a huge challenge for your kids.

 

Here are 5 tips to help your teenager cope with school stress:

  1. Help them keep the big picture in mind.  A high school grade or class doesn’t in any way define who they are as a person.  The effort they make, and the ability to cope with challenges does define them.  That’s where your focus needs to be as a parent.
  2. Give them guidance on how to seek out the help they need.  As your teenager gets older and older, you should do less and less of the actual calling/emailing teachers and tutors for them.  Help them find the information they need to seek out help, but get them to do it themselves because that also builds character.
  3. Help them learn to break problems into small pieces.  If your teen is given a 10 page research paper, then it’s your job to help them learn to break it down.  Help them make a check-list of steps that get the paper done.  Kids who learn to patiently outline papers, research carefully, write a draft, edit their draft, and then turn in their papers get better grades.  They also learn huge life skills about time management and planning.
  4. Help your teenagers learn to pace themselves slowly.  A teen who studies consistently for a couple hours per day is a better student than one who studies in spurts.  It’s hard for teens to learn that there are days when they have no homework assignments, but they should still be working on school.  If they take the time to work when there’s no work assigned, then they can stay ahead a little bit.  This reduces future stress.
  5. Learn to study in groups.  It makes it more fun, and it makes it easier to stick with it for longer.  If your child is stressed about how to handle a difficult class, one of the best things they can do is get together with a few of their friends who also have the class.  Different students understand different parts of the material.  If they work together they can help each other learn.

 

The bottom line is that school is overwhelming sometimes.  It gets to every student from the 2.0 student to the 4.0 student.  One of the best things you can do is to help your adolescent have a strategy.  Recognize that teenagers aren’t always great at carrying out their strategies, so you will have to gently help them stay on track.  It’s also important for you to recognize the limits of your child’s abilities.  If your teen is working as hard as they can and getting a 2.5 GPA, then don’t push them to be a 3.5 student; they will start to feel like you are never satisfied with them.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Starting School During a Pandemic

It’s confusing. Life is not making sense the way it normally does because none of us knows what’s coming. We have no idea when things will return to normal, or if the normal we’re used to will even exist again. Here’s a 1 minute video of how to cope with the uncertainty.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Contentedness and the High Achiever

Being a contented teen is a learned skill. Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Being a contented teen is a learned skill.
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Do you have a high achieving teen?  Awesome!  It’s so nice for those of you who parent teenagers that compulsively do all their homework, keep up in sports or other extra-curricular activities, and generally try to do the right thing.

These are also usually the kids who have a touch more anxiety than their peers.  Sometimes they have quite a bit more anxiety.  Teaching them to be content (but not complacent) is a tough task.

Contentedness means having gratitude for the gifts God has given you.  It means being thankful for the body you have, your status in life, the family you have, and the friends you’ve made.  It means knowing where you are naturally more talented, and not being mired in disappointment over the areas where you’re not.  If you are a great athlete, but struggle in school, you embrace this.  It doesn’t mean you quit trying in school, it just means you accept that it’s tough for you.  It means you seek extra help when needed.  It also means you don’t resent people that find school easy.

For the parent of a high achiever, you have a huge challenge.  If your adolescent is the “typical” high achiever, then he or she expects to be the best at everything.  Your son expects to be the best athlete, student, more popular, etc.  Your daughter expects to be in the best shape, get accepted to the best college, and have straight A’s.  Anything less causes your teenager to feel inadequate and frustrated.

Help your teen know their strengths.  Help them develop those strengths.  Help your teen accept natural weaknesses.  Teach your teen over and over again that most people are good at a few things, bad at a few things, and average at everything else.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

When I see teenage clients in therapy who are struggling with anxiety, the first thing I assess is how well they are functioning in life.  If they are accomplishing a lot, but still not happy, we begin to work on gratitude and contentment.  I use the counseling process to help them continue to cultivate their drive for success, but with a different motive.  Instead of comparing to others and then feeling less than, I want the teen to appreciate their exceptional abilities, average abilities and weaknesses.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Catch Your Teen Being Good

Catch your kid being good instead of only when they do wrong. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Catch your kid being good in order to improve the relationship.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I was an intern my supervisor used to tell me one of her favorite pieces of advice to give parents was to, “Catch your kid being good.”  She’d say that so often by the time a parent brings their child into counseling, they are at their wits end with their child.  She’d say exasperated parents make impatient parents; impatient parents make parents who are overly focused on the negative; parents who are overly focused on the negative make critical parents; critical parents make irritable children.

I see this in my counseling office on a pretty regular basis.  It’s not that the parents who are coming in are bad parents, or are unloving to their teenagers.  Most of the time they love their teens tremendously, but are just overwhelmed with how to help them stay on track.  Some resort to the tactic of trying to correct things as they see them.  This is fine when the relationship is in a good place.  However, if the relationship is strained then it doesn’t tend to work very well.

If you are wondering whether you might be in this cycle with your adolescent, try something different for a week and see if it helps.  As my former supervisor, Leslie Gustafson used to say, “Catch your kid being good.”

What does that mean?  We are quick to comment on, and punish our kids for doing bad.  If they score a low grade on a test, tell a lie, sneak, sass, etc., we feel we must do something about it.  When our kids are respectful, do their chores on time, are honest, etc. we think that should be status quo.  We tend to say nothing much about it because we think that’s how it should be anyway.  We save the praise for A’s on tests, going above and beyond around the house, or when our kids randomly show us extra appreciation.

For this week, try making affirming comments when you see your child just doing the status quo.  When you notice your teenager doing anything small that is the “right” thing to do, praise them.  Maybe you came home from work and noticed they had started their homework on their own.  Instead of saying, “See, isn’t it easier when you start your homework early?” which comes across as a little condescending, say, “That’s awesome that you take initiative to get your work done!”  If your teenager clears their dish after dinner, thank them.  Try to resist the urge to then remind them they also need to wipe down the table.

You have the power to change the interaction with your teenager, and the power to influence their attitude.  All it takes is a few words of praise when they are doing the small things right.  You will be kinder to them because chances are, there are parts of them that are a really good kid.  There’s also a good chance they will enjoy the praise, and want to keep doing that thing you commented on in order to get more praise from you.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT