A Parent’s Guide to Childhood Depression

The CDC reports that suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth.  Increasing stories in the news are bringing to our awareness the seriousness of childhood depression.

Many parents feel overwhelmed, frustrated or frightened by the topic.  It’s important to shed some light on the issue so that we can recognize the signs and understand strategies for helping.

What is childhood depression?

Depression may be present when your child…
• Has an irritable or sad mood for most of the day. Your child may say they feel sad or angry or may look more tearful or cranky.
• No longer enjoys what used to make him happy.
• Has drastic weight or eating changes.
• Has a big change in sleep patterns (too much or too little)
• No longer wanting to be with family or friends.
• Is no longer able to do simple tasks because of lack of energy
• Has low Self-esteem. Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
• Is unable to make choices or has trouble focusing.
• Has little or no care about what happens in the future.
• Experiences aches and pains when nothing is really wrong.
• Has started self-harming (cutting) or having frequent thoughts of death or suicide.
Any of these signs can occur in children who are not depressed, but when seen together, nearly every day, they are red flags for depression.

“Normal” teen behavior vs. Depression

The teen years are hallmarked by change and independence.  Hormones are going crazy, the pleasure center of the brain is magnified while the frontal lobe (decision-making) is muted. Normal teens are: moody, challenging, affectionate one day and a jerk the next.  Sigh.

But every child is different and so knowing your particular child or teen is essential so that you can recognize when BIG shifts occur in personality, behavior or habits.

Red Flags

Any actions of self-harm or talk of suicide should be taken seriously as well as major shifts in the symptoms listed above.   You can also take the PHQ-9 assessment: Depression Screener PHQ-9_English

What should I do if I think my child is depressed?

Pay attention, validate emotions and encourage your child to engage with others.  One-on-one time with parents, pointing out strengths build the parent-child bond.
Tend to physiological needs– sleep, hydration, nutrition, medication.  The basics for good mental health include a healthy diet, enough sleep, exercise, and positive connections with other people at home and at school.
• Tell your child’s doctor. Some medical problems can cause depression. Your child’s doctor may recommend counseling or medication.
Limit screen time, monitor use of electronics and encourage physical activity and connections with others.
Talk about bullying.  Being the victim of bullying is a major cause of mental health problems in children.
Consider getting professional counseling support, where they can risk assess and develop a plan, help your child process emotions, build coping tools and strengthen tolerance of distress.
Support healthy coping skills for your child:  Find relaxing ways to deal with stress, talk and listen with love and support, help your child learn to describe their feelings, break down big tasks into smaller steps, focus on seeing things in a positive light.

When Safety is a Concern

• Treat any thoughts of suicide as an emergency.
• Weapons, medicines and alcohol should be locked up.
• Follow your child’s medical/mental healthy treatment plan. Make sure your child attends therapy and takes any medicine as directed.
• Develop a list of people to call when feelings get worse.
• Watch for risk factors, which includes talking about suicide in person or on the internet, giving away belongings, increased thoughts about death, and substance abuse.
Suicide and Crisis Resources: 
• Bluebonnet Trails Community Services: http://bbtrails.org/ 1-800-841-1255
• Suicide hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE, 1-800-799-4889 (for deaf or hard of hearing)

Have Questions?  Want to Start Counseling?
Contact us for a free phone consult.

 

We’re here to help!

Jenna

Jenna Fleming, LPC, NCCJenna Fleming is a licensed professional counselor serving kids, teens, and parents in Georgetown, TX.   Her group practice offers counseling servicescourses and classes to support families in getting on track and staying that way.

10 Tips to Help with Your Child’s Anxiety (in difficult times)

Anxiety is an unpleasant and a real emotion.   Life has ups and downs and at some level, we all experience anxiety from time to time.

Amplified Anxiety

A tendency of people who feel anxious is to be attracted to behaviors that worsen the anxiety.  Behaviors such as over-thinking, excessive media watching or withdrawal from others tend to make anxiety worse.

We’re all seeking comfort and security.  Those times when anxiety increases, we need to be on ‘top of our game’ with self-care, boundaries, and tools to prevent anxiety from spiraling.

Common Triggers

Periods of transition such as the start of the school year, a move or changes in home life can create feelings of uncertainty and increase anxiety.  Our environment plays a big role as well.  A high pressure, tense environment increases stress.  And community tragedies- as we are experiencing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey- impacts even those who are not directly touched by it.

If your heart pours out (as does mine) toward our brothers and sisters impacted by the recent events in the news, please channel your energy into action while also being mindful of boundaries and your self-care.

10 Tips for Helping Kids

Children are impacted by changes, environment, and the turbulence in the world.  Below are 10 tips for helping your anxious child and preventing anxiety from snowballing.

  • Respect and validate your child’s feelings.  Remind your child that all feelings will eventually pass and encourage him to use words to express his feelings and needs. Ex. “I feel___.  I need ___.”
  • Teach your child deep, slow, belly breathing.  Don’t underestimate its effectiveness because it’s simple. This very portable skill can manually regulate and calm the body.  Try “Box Breathing”- Breathe in for 4, hold for 4, out for 4 and hold for 4 (repeat).  Try a whole song’s worth in the car.
  • Filter and place limits on technology and news media. The messages that come through technology can cause disturbing mental images and confuse the brain, making symptoms of anxiety worse- and often causes additional issues.
  • Soothe the senses. Engaging in the senses helps to ‘ground’ a person who feels ‘swept away’ by emotion.   Try: calm music, diffuse lavender, fidgets (things to do with our hands), chamomile tea, lower lighting before bed and avoiding caffeine.
  • Listen to your child and ask “Tell me what you are thinking?”  This will help to reveal scary thoughts and scenes that build up in your child’s mind.
  • Rather than swooping to reassure, ask your child “How likely is (that thing you’re afraid of) to happen?” You’ll be teaching him to challenge his anxious thinking.
  • Prompt your child with “Tell me some things you can do to handle this situation” and help her to brainstorm, rather than just giving her solutions.  She’ll feel empowered.
  • Let go of “mental health days” “skip days” or other ways of avoiding feared situations.  This tends to make the anxiety stick more firmly and leads to further avoidance and regression.
  • Recognize when you are anxious and say aloud what you can do to calm down and solve the situation.  Avoid over thinking, catastrophizing or perseverating on stressful topics. You’ll be modeling boundaries and coping for your child.  Modeling is the most powerful way to teach. 
  • Celebrate every small step and have a playful, light heart!  You got this!

The world is full of uncertainty, but I am certain about one thing- LOVE always wins.  Make small steps toward healthy habits and stay grounded in LOVE.  This is the path of healing.

I wish you a calm spirit, a peaceful home…

…and may God shine His Grace and Blessings upon Texas.

With great hope and love,

Jenna

Jenna Fleming, LPC, NCCJenna Fleming is a licensed professional counselor serving kids, teens, and parents in Georgetown, TX.   She offers counseling servicescourses and classes to support families in getting on track and staying that way.

5 Tips for Happy Family Trips

Family Trips

Ever grabbed chocolate from a box, expecting your favorite caramel square…only to find it was loaded with that weird cherry goo?  Ugh!

That taste just doesn’t go away easily!

What a waste!  All that anticipation just to get a disappointed.

(sorry, cherry lovers)

In all seriousness- lots of folks plan months in advance for the perfect family vacation expecting one thing and getting another.

You spend hours booking flights, finding that right place to stay and packing bags.  Vacationing takes time, money and energy.  Of course, you want it to be enjoyed!

But sometimes when it comes to actually taking the trip-  it can end up feeling like anything but a vacation.

The kids are whining, parents are stressed and everyone’s frustrated.

(That cherry goo doesn’t sound so bad now, huh?!)

Listen…vacationing doesn’t need to be so aggravating.

Having some fun with the whole family can be within reach.  It just takes a little planning ahead and getting into the right mindset.

Here are some Tips:

 1.  Define your desired outcomes– We all want enjoyable vacations, but what that means can be very different for each person.

The number one reason for conflicts in families is communication issues.  Ask your family what their expectations are.  For one person it may mean going on new adventures, for another, it could be to relax.   Those are very different expectations!  Get clear on what everyone wants so that you can avoid catastrophe.  Not everyone will get their exact ‘made-to-order’ vacation and that’s okay.  The act of clearing up communication alone can stave off a lot of frustrated, invalidated and unhappy moments.

2.  Decide what’ll get you there-  Knowing what is the first step, planning how is next.

Don’t fret if family members have different expectations.  It’s really common for one partner to want a relaxing vacation, another to want an adventurous one and the kids just want to play!  Ask your tribe “What will help us have the vacation we want?” You may be surprised how much there is in common.  For instance- whether a person wants an adventurous, relaxing or fun-filled vacation, it’s likely they want the family to be able to get along.  Talk about these things.  It really helps by creating awareness and ownership of everyone’s part in the family experience.

3.  Plan for the tough moments-  Think about what may block the good times from rolling.

Fights, excessive tattling, begging Mom/Dad to buy something or bedtime battles can turn Paradise Island into the Island of Aggravation.   Does your son need a special blanket to sleep well?  Could your kids earn spending money before the trip?  Do you know your daughter misbehaves when parents are stressed?  Do you get stressed if you don’t have an itinerary- or just the opposite?  Know thyself!  Know thy family!  Plan accordingly.

4.  Take proactive measures–  The best way to deal with difficult behavior is to prevent it.

Having the knowledge of what makes a great vacation is wonderful, but insight is almost useless without action.   Decide what’s in your control, what predicts the outcome you want and what’s the best leverage to get you there? How can you best plan for the bumps so they don’t send the whole family off track?  Start verberizing what you know will help.  Then use the Nike method- just do it!

5.  Have the right attitude– Vacationing is a great time to unplug from our familiar world and dive into something new.

The change of pace can be refreshing, exciting and sometimes unpredictable. The only guarantee is that things won’t always go exactly as expected.  And that’s okay- Life’s really about moving with the flow, not against it.  These summer days won’t last forever and this time with your family is precious.  Having the right attitude helps with your own stress and it spills out into your whole family, making it enjoyable for everyone else, too.  Be present, laugh and enjoy the little moments.   If you get caught up in a moment of stress (as we all do), breathe, smile, and ask yourself “What’s the worst possible outcome?“.  Often it’s not so bad.

The best adventures are colorful ones filled with highs, lows and wild times!

And there is no such thing as a perfect path- just enjoy the one you’re on.

Family life is quite the adventure.  A little planning and having the right attitude can help us to relax and enjoy a bit more of the vacation we all want!

And you may want to even grab a few chocolates for the road (btw…the cherry ones actually aren’t so bad once you have a few…it’s mostly the shock factor that gets ya).

I wish you the very best adventures ahead…

Jenna

Jenna Fleming, LPC, NCCJenna Fleming is a licensed professional counselor serving kids, teens, and parents in Georgetown, TX.   She offers counseling servicescourses and classes to help families enjoy life more fully and get to a smoother, healthier path.

3 Things You Can Do Now- to help with your child’s behavior

3 Things You Can Do For Child's Behavior

Ever feel like your end results aren’t anything like what you really wanted for your family or for your child?

For instance- you want your child to do well in school and so you’ve set homework as a priority.  You have the time carved out and the homework area set- but at the end of ‘homework time’, things end with you being frustrated and your child crying and saying she hates school.

Not cool, fun or effective- for anyone!

Listen, you aren’t alone!  Most parents want good things for their children.  But good intentions does not always equal good results.

The following are a few shifts in thinking, responding and questioning to make powerful change for actually GETTING more of that outcome you want.

And bonus…every single shift can be immediately implemented!

1.  Turn Down the ‘Shark Music’.

“Here we go again…”,  “She always has to have it her way”, “He can’t take no for an answer”…

Da dum, Da dum, Dadumdadumdadum (my attempt at the Jaws music)

We all do it- give into doom and gloom thoughts that keep us trapped in our fears about the future or stuck on what’s happened in the past (aka “shark music”).

The key is not getting stuck there- and choosing a better soundtrack!

This type of thinking predicts negative outcomes and leaves us feeling totally powerless.  Parenting with ‘shark music’ looming in the background leads us to react and not respond with calm, thoughtful intention.

And worse- our kids feel this and that translates to them generally feeling fearful, frustrated, shut down and trapped.

Notice your background music and what’s not helpful.  Turn the volume down on the negatives by giving your valuable attention to thoughts that are actually helpful and truthful.  Here are a few to try on for size:

  • “Change is possible.”
  • “Mistakes happen.”
  • “How else can we handle the situation.”
  • “We can do this!”

2.  Become More Self-Aware.

Positive thinking is great, but you can’t just think yourself into better outcomes- you behave your way into them.  Notice your typical reactions to tough behaviors and be open to doing something different.  I bet you have certain ‘buttons’ and some general reactions.

Think about the times you’re most likely to be reactive or to have that ‘button’ pushed.

For instance the dreaded homework time or when your child talks back.

What’s your typical reaction at those times?

Do you yell, stonewall, or overly punish?  Maybe your reaction is just to give in- that seems so much easier at the moment.

Now ask yourself- are these the responses you want and more importantly, are they helpful?  Stay rooted in your values and the positive outcomes you want.

Jot down things you can do to bring yourself to a more thoughtful place- breathe, limit your distractions, focus on solutions.  These things can help you parent more responsively (vs reactively).

3. Ask Better Questions.

When your child consistently shows up with behaviors you don’t want, get out of the autopilot reactions that aren’t working.

Quit asking “What’s wrong with my kid?” and start asking these three questions.  They’ll help you figure out what is going on, what you want your child to learn and how to do that more effectively.

Question #1: Why did my child act this way?  Behavior is simply another form of communication.  Use that to your advantage and listen to what it tells you.  Could your child be telling you she needs help organizing herself at school?  Is your child telling you he is overwhelmed?  Is your child seeking attention, boundaries or control?

Question #2: What do I want my child to learn?  The goal of discipline isn’t about punishing. The goal is for your child to learn.  Dealing with tough behaviors is an opportunity for you to teach.  Get rooted in your values and decide what life-skills may need strengthening- responsibility, focus, respect, self-control, appropriate ways to express big feelings…

Question #3: How can I best teach that?  Considering your child’s age, stage and their emotional, physical and developmental needs, make an informed decision on what your child needs to learn the lesson you very wonderfully want him to learn.   A natural or logical consequence may be the right prescription for learning- or perhaps an opportunity to re-do the behavior is what’s best.  Sometimes a chart or checklist is the solution- every situation is different and this is your opportunity to get creative.

Go for progress.

Simple solutions aren’t always simple in application, but you CAN do this!

If you’re looking for more help on handling tough behaviors and helpful information for happy families, join my free monthly newsletter that has exclusive content, helpful tips, and updates.   You can join by adding your name and email to the form below or to the side of this page.  As a gift for signing up, you’ll gain instant access to my free download “Handling Difficult Behaviors” complete with video and behavior planner.

If you want to dig even further into this topic, I highly recommend Dr. Dan Siegel’s book, No-Drama Discipline or the other awesome books I know, use and love on my resources page.

Just remember that parenting is a journey- and it’s important to focus on progress, not perfection. 

With encouragement along the road…

Jenna

Jenna Fleming is a licensed professional counselor serving kids, teens, and parents in Georgetown, TX.   She offers counseling services, courses and classes to help families enjoy life more fully and get to a smoother, healthier path.

 

Improve Communication with Your Teen

Improve communication with your teen

The one thing that sets the teen years apart from no other is incredibly rapid change! Parents wake up one day and their “little baby” is suddenly a teenager. The rules of the game have changed and parents don’t know how to “play” anymore. Suddenly there’s distance and now communicating with your teen seems impossible.

If you feel this way, you are not alone! Most parents struggle at some level when it comes to communicating with their teenager. With a few adjustments in your “game strategy”, you and your teen can begin moving forward with better communication in this new phase of life.

Get Clear on Your Family Values

Parents are constantly making decisions and correcting course to keep their family “on track”. For most situations, in-the-moment decisions are fairly obvious. But when kids leap into this stage of massive change, there can be a new group of friends, interests, and activities. Parents can have trouble finding their bearings.

Re-center yourself by connecting to your personal values. What’s important to you? What are you okay or not okay with?  This is different for every family. Getting very clear on this will help you make better in-the-moment decisions based on values and not on emotion (like frustration), which will tend to build up communication barriers.  For additional support with this, I recommend downloading my FREE guide for Handling Difficult Behaviors when you sign up for my newsletter.

Understand There’s More Than Meets the Eye

In the teenage years, things are happening ‘under the current’ at an incredibly rapid rate. The brain is going through massive changes and growth- second only to the first years of life and social life has taken on a new form of its own.

Understand that your teen’s behavior may seem to come from out of nowhere to you, but to them, something huge in their world may be happening. It could be a crush they’ve had has suddenly rejected them and now your teen just wants to retreat and hang out in their room. It could also be something bigger that involves safety or a value issue. Have regular check-in’s with your teen to stay on top of what’s happening in their world and to keep communication open and regular.

Talk Less, Listen More

Parents just don’t understand — that was sort of the teenage motto when I was coming of age and it’s great at capturing the feelings many teens have. Practice the art of active listening, which temporarily setting aside any agenda to understand your teen.  Yes, you do have your values (which are really important), but the goal is not to teach or to lecture but to understand and open back up communication. After which, your teen will be more receptive to what you have to say or teach.

Use non-judgement and open offers for communication like: “Looks like English class is pretty overwhelming. Want to talk?” or “Anyway I can help?” or maybe something like “Sound like there’s trouble between you and David. I’m a pretty good ear for listening.” Your teen may grunt and turn away, but you may also be surprised at how softening your approach and taking judgment out will drop defensiveness and open lines for communication. As your teen opens up, really try to listen to their words and feelings. Offer back ideas as you understand them. This helps to confirm you ‘get it’ and lets your teen see that you really care.

The Best Days are Still Ahead…

Don’t think that game’s over just because your teen seems to be shutting you out. Just like before puberty hit, your teen still needs your support and your guidance in their life. Things look different and that’s natural. What should stay consistent is your love and support. It will make a huge difference in your growing relationship.

Sometimes it helps to have some added support during these transitions.  Through coaching and counseling, I help families sort through overwhelming issues of communication and change to achieve stronger relationships. You can also grab my free download “Handling Difficult Behaviors” by signing up on this page or check out my Family Reboot eCourse.  Both tools are designed to help families break down these big issues into simplified tasks for healthy, lasting change.

I have great hope that your best days are ahead…

 

Jenna Fleming is a licensed professional counselor serving kids, teens, and parents in Georgetown, TX.   She offers counseling services, courses and classes to help families enjoy life more fully and get to a smoother, healthier path.

 

Jenna’s article was originally published on PsychCentral.com’s World of Psychology Blog.

The 4 Habits of Parents and Kids Who Don’t Have Anxiety Problems

flowers 4 habits of anxiety

You set clothes out the night before.  Kids went to bed at a decent hour.  You did everything you know to be right.

But it happened again.

Anxiety consumed the morning.

“No- I don’t want to go!  I hate school!  Can’t you just let me stay at home!?” 

Oh, those dreaded cries!  It sucks your energy and gets the day started in the exact opposite tone that you had hoped.

Flooded with doubt you start comparing yourself to other families.  You wonder what everyone else seems to know that you don’t and it feels like anxiety is taking over your family’s joy.

You are not alone!  Tons of families struggle with anxiety problems.  If you or your child experience excessive anxiety, that does not mean there is something wrong. It just means that something you are doing is not working.

There are some key things that people who do not struggle with anxiety do differently.

And here’s the good news…you can do them too and you can model and teach your child as well.  As you learn and handle anxiety better yourself, it will give you the tools for helping your child through this, too.

There are no big secrets or magic tricks here. These are all straightforward habits that you can get into, starting right now.

In the long run, your anxiety will only change if you change your behavior. And even though you can’t control the anxiety, you definitely CAN control what you do and guide your child to do the same.

Habit #1: Don’t put up a fight.

The most basic, most important thing to know about anxiety is that avoidance does not work.  What you resist will persist!

The harder you try to not feel anxious, the more anxious you will feel. This is why anxiety does not get better on its own.

So, the only choice is to accept: instead of fighting the anxiety, simply allow the anxiety to be there. This might sound crazy at first, but it really does work.

People who don’t have an anxiety problem DO still have some anxiety…it’s a normal part of life.  But anxiety feeds off of you fighting with it; so if you fight it, it only gets worse.  Parents, show loving care and help when needed, but please don’t ‘feed’ into your child’s anxiety too much.  Without time and attention, the anxiety eventually backs down without having to do anything about it.

Habit #2: Be okay with uncertainty.

In some way, almost all forms of anxiety stem from fear of uncertainty. Anxious folks really struggle with tolerating the unknown. They feel like they MUST know things and be in control of every situation. But this is never possible…life always involves some uncertainty.

Because of this reason, tools like calendars, schedules, and predictability can help to ease some symptoms with kids or adults.  In fact, I use those tools myself.    Realize, however, that those are tools and that life always involves some uncertainty.  People who do not struggle with anxiety problems know and accept this.

Let go of the excessive lengths to mentally analyze situations or excessively plan for every possible outcome.  Focus on what’s happening in the present moment (life is so much more fun that way).

Habit #3: Let go of the expectations. 

Children and adults with anxiety problems put demands on their feelings. They believe there is a right way and a wrong way to feel for certain situations. For instance, one might think that it’s okay to feel anxious before a test, but it’s not okay to feel panicky for seemingly no reason.

Here’s the truth- you are who you are and you feel the way you feel.  There is not a right or wrong way that someone ‘should’ feel in a given situation.  Feelings come and go. They happen to you and they do not identify you or your child.

It’s for this reason that I highly recommend avoiding terms like “I am anxious” or “I am sad”.  You may feel anxious or you may feel sad in the moment, but all feelings are passing and NOT who you are.  Notice and accept that.

People who don’t have an anxiety problem don’t overidentify with emotions or set unrealistic expectations that they should feel calm all the time. So when anxiety hits, it’s no big deal.  They let themselves feel whatever they feel and move on with their day.

Habit #4: Just Keep Swimming!

My favorite fish, Dory, lived in uncertainty and unknown to the extreme (short term memory issues, if you don’t recall).  Faced with the fear of all fears, fighting for life, her motto ‘Just keep swimming!’ gives light to the power of movement forward and of not becoming frozen in fear.

Listen, you are a courageous and amazing being.  Let that sink in.

Life is filled with highs and lows.  People who don’t have anxiety problems feel anxious (and sad, depressed and lonely)- but they don’t let it stop them from moving ahead.  They keep right on going, in spite of the anxiety. They accept that some anxiety is a normal part of life.  They may even reframe that energy as excitement and simply keep moving.  By not letting it change how they spend their time, they prevent it from becoming a persistent problem.

This is one of the most important habits to know- stay actively moving and looking forward.

Anxiety can seem big, but you are bigger and stronger and I know you can handle this.

If you consistently apply these habits, you will no longer be doing the things that fuel the anxiety and you will begin to see things move in a more positive direction.

There are so many treatment methods, tools and ways to help with managing anxiety.  I wrote a post on this topic, “Helping Children With Anxiety“, which has lots of helpful things to try.

Developing new habits takes courage, effort and time.  But you CAN train yourself to become aware and to make these shifts.  Write down the top 2 habits you’d especially like to focus on.  It’s about progress, not perfection.

Having someone to talk to can really help- an encouraging spouse, parent, friend or counselor can make a big difference.

Need more help? – I have a FREE download to give you support!  Grab it on the sidebar or at the bottom of this page.  You can also contact me for a free counseling/coaching phone consult.

Parenting can be easier- You got this!

Jenna Fleming, LPC, NCCJenna Fleming is a licensed professional counselor serving kids, teens, and parents in Georgetown, TX.   She offers counseling services, courses and classes to help families enjoy life more fully and get to a smoother, healthier path.