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Overcoming Simple Phobias

I have dealt with two simple phobias in my lifetime, and both terrified me enough to significantly alter my behavior and well-being. One was a fear of sleeping at other people’s houses and one was a fear of vomiting. I will share about the fear of staying at other people’s houses because it’s a little bit more common for kids and teens.

When I was 8 I used to spend the night at Tracy Hall’s house. She was my best friend at the time. We spent hours imagining games, creating “newspapers,” and torturing our parents with plays we had written and acted in. One night I couldn’t fall asleep. Tracy always left Nickolodean on her TV throughout the night. I watched show after show. I saw reruns of all kinds of old programs where gak (sp?) was being dropped on families, Lucy and Desi were arguing, and whatever else you can think of. Eventually this not sleeping was making me anxious. I could’ve slept if the TV were off, but I was afraid to turn it off because Tracy (very bossy) had told me I wasn’t allowed to turn it off or she couldn’t sleep. When I went home the next morning I was an exhausted, emotional wreck.

The following weekend when I tried to sleep at Tracy’s I ended up calling my parents to go home. From then on it started happening no matter where I slept if they weren’t there too. It grew into an uncomfortable separation anxiety that was only quelled if I KNEW I could be home and in bed by 8:30pm.

There are two ways to overcome a simpe phobia. One is to rip off the band-aid, feel a flood of anxiety, and stick it out until the anxiety finally passes. The other is to face it gradually. I wish my parents had known about the gradual approach but after a few years of this fear, we went at it 100%. They told me when I decided to spend the night there would be no coming home no matter what. They made arrangements with a good family friend and sent me over. I cried, panicked, and had one of the worst nights of my life. Eventually morning dawned and I still remember how proud I was, “I’m over my fear of spending the night!”

How surprised I was when I went to stay at another friend’s house and I was afraid all over again. I couldn’t believe it! I was incredibly frustrated. My parents didn’t let me come home and I found it was a little easier to cope. It ultimately took 11 nights at other people’s houses before I didn’t experience anxiety any longer. If I went too long between sleep-overs the anxiety would start to creep in again. I had to inoculate myself by spending the night somewhere about once per month.

What I hope you can see from this post is that overcoming a simple phobia isn’t simple. I actually hate that term. It prevented me from staying at birthday sleepovers, sports team sleepovers, going to friends’ houses late in the evening, and prevented me from ever enjoying summer camp (although I still went).

When you or your child begins the process of facing a simple phobia you must be dogged about not backing down once you start the process. You have to be consistent and you have to do it many more times than you think. In this post I have given you the flooding approach, which is terrifying but effective. In the next post I will explain the gradual approach, which is much more gentle.

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

Teen Depression

Hi everyone, I have been receiving a lot of calls from parents worried their teenagers have depression. It is common during this pandemic and time of great uncertainty.

Teenagers who are facing depression can show it in a variety of ways. Your teenager might be irritable. While he used to like to come hang around you, now he only stays in his room. If you ask him to come out he expresses disgust and frustration that you would dare interrupt whatever he’s doing.

Your teenager might be sleeping poorly. Poor sleep can be too much sleep or too little sleep. Some depressed teens sleep all night and then take naps as well. Other depressed teens deal with insomnia or frequent waking at night.

You might notice your teen is no longer socially active. She used to see friends a lot and was always on her phone. Now your daughter is saying things like, “Nobody goes out because of COVID,” or “There’s nothing to do now because everything is closed.” Your teenager might be feeling as thought she doesn’t fit with anyone anymore. She also could be telling you that everyone is just shallow or stupid.

Of course one of the most glaring signs of teen depression is thoughts of suicide. If your teenager is texting about it to friends, writing about it in a journal, or talking about it then it’s serious. It’s tempting to assume it’s an attention grab; it very well might be but it’s the wrong way to get attention. If your teen is talking about suicide they need a professional evaluation imminently.

Our staff here at Teen Therapy OC has seen a huge increase in depression in teens since March. We believe the shut-down has been hard on them. While they might not have loved school, most of them miss the social aspects and having a clear purpose each day. Teenagers languish without direction. We adults also speak with so much uncertainty and negativity about everything happening right now that it leaves many of our teens extremely fearful for their future. They don’t have as much perspective as we do because they haven’t been through as many ups and downs in life. They’re too young to remember the Great Recession of 2008 so this feels like the first real crisis they’ve ever faced. It’s disheartening to them.

Please reach out and ask for help if you suspect your teenager is facing depression. We can help you sort out whether it’s clinical depression and in need of professional treatment.

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

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

Thank You Teenagers

Sometimes you teach me. You have been incredible throughout quarantine. Teenagers, you’ve been honest with your disappointment, loneliness and sadness, but you’ve also been amazingly resilient. Every one of you I’ve seen in therapy in the last two months have expressed reasons you’re thankful. You’ve all been thoughtful and you have all tolerated this with less complaining than the adults I know!

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

5 Things That Raise Your Teen’s Anxiety

Being too busy is overwhelming and causes anxiety. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Stress is overwhelming for teens.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

These are in random order:

1. The news:  Your teenagers are susceptible to the scare tactics used by the media just as much as everyone else.  What I mean by scare tactics is that bad news and anxiety cause people to  continue watching the news.  In my office I have worked with many a terrified teenager after they read about a school shooting thousands of miles away, or the war on terror, etc.  The 24 hour news cycle about COVID-19 is sending many of your kids into panic.

2. Problems with friends:  Friends are your teenager’s world.  As a parent you likely have enough perspective to realize things will iron out.  However, for your adolescent, when things are off balance with friends their whole world seems upside down.

3. Pressure to get good grades:  This is a constant source of anxiety for just about every teenager I see in my office.  Most teenagers feel they need to do better than they are doing, even when they have a 3.5 or 4.0 GPA.  Help your teen set reasonable goals and then be satisfied when these are reached.  Help them remember there’s only one valedictorian each year.

4. Parents expressing disappointment:  Your teenager might act as though he or she doesn’t care that you are disappointed in something they did.  This couldn’t be father from the truth.  Every teenager I’ve ever worked with wants their parents to approve of him or her.  However, if they don’t know how to get this approval, or if they perceive you as being regularly critical, they are more stressed.

5. Dating:  Navigating the world of dating and sexuality is very challenging for a teenager.  Whether they are painfully shy and hardly allow themselves to have a crush, or are dating constantly and sexually active, this causes stress for adolescents.  It’s really important to help your teen make wise dating choices during their adolescence.  Keep in mind that if they aren’t getting help from you, they’re getting it from other teenagers.  Who is more likely to give good advice?  So, please don’t put your head in the sand and please don’t forbid dating.  That only causes your teenagers to sneak.  Instead put good boundaries around dating and monitor it as best you can.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

COVID-19: Don’t Languish or Be Anxious

“I can’t stand this anymore! I’m bored and I’m anxious. When will it end?” One of my clients was lamenting to me yesterday about living through this COVID-19 crisis. His feelings pretty much sum up all our sentiments. Because we all wish for a sense of control, and some of us are languishing on our couches without routine, here’s a quick video that might help a little.

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

Teaching Teens to be Thankful

Teaching your teenagers to be thankful helps in for the rest of their lives. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Teaching your teenagers to be thankful helps in for the rest of their lives.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Considering we’re all stuck at home during this COVID-19 crisis, posting about thankfulness feels important.  Without thankfulness each of us will spend our time wishing for things to be normal.  Since this day only happens once, there’s no sense in focusing on what you don’t have.  Gratitude is one of the best ways to feel happy, have others love being around you, and enjoy your life.  If you can teach your children how to feel grateful, they will enjoy their days far more than someone who is entitled.

 

The first thing you must do is teach them to work.  Teenagers who understand that work equals getting things they want/need actually have much higher self-esteem.  It seems backwards.  It’s easy to understand how a lot of parents believe if their teenager is provided every opportunity that they as parents had to struggle for, their teenagers will go father than them in life.  It’s a baffling experience for a lot of parents when they discover all their good intentions had the reverse effect.  Teenagers who learn that they get a cell phone when they pay a piece of the bill, or have their parents fill their gas tank after they wash mom or dad’s car, are extremely grateful kids.  They don’t assume their parents owe them things just because that’s what other kids have.  Instead, they are overjoyed when their parents do help them out, but also very proud of themselves for earning their way.  During COVID-19 this looks like teens making a significant contribution to the household chores.

 

Concepts are caught, not taught.  You must model gratitude.  If you are someone who complains about your situation all the time, there’s a good chance you make little comments in front of your kids.  On the other hand, if you constantly mention the ways you know you’re blessed, your children learn to be thankful in all things.  For example, let’s say you’re struggling with money.  You could complain about all the things you don’t have, or worse still, make embittered comments about people you envy.  Or, you could point out the things you do have while also talking about the hope you have for a better future.  Your children will internalize your attitude and live it out.

 

Lastly, don’t compare.  It doesn’t matter who you are, someone has it better than you do.  That’s because exactly ZERO people have a perfect life.  Only God is perfection.  The rest of us are flawed.  When imperfect people work to create a life, there will be imperfections in the results.  Please don’t begrudge this.  It leads to the comparison trap.  We don’t need to be complacent, which means that we’ve stopped striving for better, but we do need to be content.  Content people are happy people; people who compare are miserable.

 

My hope is that you have a thankful attitude even through COVID-19.  I also hope you use this time to teach your kids how to be grateful in everything they go through in life.  Be very clear that as Pastor Rick Warren would say, nobody should be thankful FOR all things (You don’t need to be thankful for cancer).  However, you do need to be thankful IN all things because there is always a blessing, not matter how small.

 

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

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