The Picture of Happiness – The Pool

It’s The Picture of Happiness Month!

Today’s guest is life coach Erin McNeil, she says:

Ahhhh…the neighborhood lap pool.  It’s JUST about to open for the summer.  I wait until all the little ones are eating dinner with their families or getting ready for bed,  I leave my little ones to eat and get ready for bed with their Dad and I sneak on over for an hour.  It is bliss. And happiness.

The neighborhood pool = happiness for Erin McNeil

The neighborhood pool = happiness for Erin McNeil

 

Erin holds a Masters Degree in Social Psychology and has a private practice as a Certified Professional Life Coach.  She loves to swim laps, watch football, quote funny movies, eat candy, laugh with her children and travel.

Erin holds a Masters Degree in Social Psychology and has a private practice as a Certified Professional Life Coach. She loves to swim laps, watch football, quote funny movies, eat candy, laugh with her children and travel.

New dads and depression

We hear about postpartum depression in moms all the time.  We hear about it on the nightly news when things go really bad, we read about it in Us Weekly when a celebrity talks about her post-baby experiences, and good ob/gyns and pediatricians screen for it in new moms.  But where do the dads fit in?  Do they ever suffer from depression after their new little one arrives? You bet.

While the cause of new dad depression can’t be blamed on hormone swings and post-delivery discomfort, it still exists.   Just as moms struggle to get used to the challenges a baby brings, so do dads.  Over the years I have heard many concerns of new dads.  Some the same and some different from the concerns of new moms.  Some of the most common include:

  • How am I going to financially support my growing family?
  • How can I connect with my baby when he is being breastfed by his mom?  Where is my place with a newborn?
  • I find my baby boring, I thought being a dad would be more fun.
  • I miss my wife, she is so pre-occupied with the baby she doesn’t have time for me.
  • I don’t want to make the same parenting mistakes my dad and mom made.
  • I miss my freedom.  Will I ever get it back?
  • I am freaking exhausted!

So what can families do to help support new dads struggling with mood changes? Perhaps the most important thing is to find someone to talk to.  Another family member or friend who has been through the newborn baby stage might be a good bet.  If that doesn’t work, a few visits to a mental health professional may be helpful.   Pediatricians and primary care providers can often provide good referrals.

Just as with new moms, time away from dad and husband duties can be rejuvenating.  Reinstating “boys night out” or nightly weightlifting sessions can be good for the mind and body.  Talking openly with the baby’s mom about struggles and concerns is also advisable.  And as with postpartum depression in moms, dads with depression should be monitored for significant changes in mood or anxiety levels so that appropriate treatment can be undertaken.

New Baby and Post Partum Depression

I’m still here! Though it’s been a while since I have posted (2 weeks I think?) I am still around – just with an extra family member to care for. I’m happy to announce the birth of my beautiful son! Crazy! I never thought I would have a boy as we’ve only had girls in the family for as long as anyone can remember. I am so excited to learn all about boys and the challenges that come along with parenting them! (hints and tips welcome!)

As I get to know my new baby, deal with a post-pregnancy body, and continue to care for my other two children, I have been thinking a lot about moms who are affected by postpartum depression.  It’s such a serious and prevalent disorder, and one that can be hard to treat – often because moms don’t let providers, loved ones, or other support systems know they are struggling.  Some moms might feel embarrassed or ashamed to admit that welcoming a new baby is anything less than a wonderful experience.  But it can be hard – super hard – what with the crazy hormones, change in family dynamics, lack of sleep, pain from childbirth, trouble with feeding, etc.

I found this helpful article from the Mayo Clinic about postpartum depression – including warning signs and when to seek help:

Postpartum Depression: Signs & Treatment

 

Learning to Apologize

There are lots of reasons to apologize.  Mean words have been said, thoughtless actions have been taken, no action has been taken at all, the list could go on and on.  We’ve had an especially active week of apologizing at my house.  Perhaps it’s the lack of routine and structure that goes along with the holiday week, or maybe it’s just all the junk food that has been consumed.  Whatever the reason, we’ve had lots of practice apologizing this week.

So, how do we teach our kids to apologize.  What’s more, how do we work on the skill as adults?  It’s certainly something we all need to do from time to time.

Make it quick.  For apologies to be meaningful, they need to happen pretty quickly.  Not necessarily right away, as it’s good to think about what you want to say in your apology and actually feel genuine about it, but within a day or two for sure.

Make it brief.  There’s generally no need to go on and on with our apologies.  Short and sweet can be the most effective.  “I’m sorry.  I was wrong” can be very effective. Luckily short apologies tend to be easier to offer, too, especially for little ones.

Write it down.  One of my favorite ways to get kids to apologize and really focus on the meaning behind the apology is to write a letter.   If your family is extra creative, you can even include a hand drawn picture.  The other good thing about an apology letter is that it can be saved and used at a later time, as in: “Remember when you had to write this letter apologizing for having a bad attitude?  Do you really want to have to do that again?”

Say it often.  I have written many times about the importance of apologizing as a parent.  Giving our kids the opportunity to watch us apologize (to our partner, our neighbors, our friends, our children) demonstrates to them how to make a good apology happen.  I think it’s also true that the more we say “I’m sorry” the easier it becomes.

 

New Tips for Tantruming Toddlers

Image by origamidon

Have you heard about the new research out of Yale University suggesting that how many of us respond to our toddlers’ temper tantrums is all wrong?  If you haven’t read about Dr. Alan Kazdin and others’ research, check it out here.  Among other things, Dr. Kazdin encourages parents to pay attention to what’s happening before the tantrum (i.e., the child is hungry or tired) and do what you can to fix that situation before a meltdown occurs.  He also suggests we totally ignore the tantrum, but be effusive with our praise when our child behaves how we want them to (i.e., “Jill, I am so pleased that when I asked you to sit down at the table you did it right away. Nice job.”).

Dr. Michelle Borba (one of my favorite parenting experts) posted an article on her blog today chock full of tips for parents of toddlers.  Check it out here.  I don’t want to re-invent the wheel, and don’t feel I have a whole lot to add about how to deal with kids who are losing it.  I do, however, have some thoughts about how parents can manage their own emotions when their child is about to explode.

Your child doesn’t hate you.  While it may seem that your 3 year old loathes you and everything you stand for, it is extremely unlikely that that’s actually the case.  Tantrums don’t equal hate, they just equal a frustrated toddler with few communication skills trying to exert their independence.  It’s not personal.

You’re not a bad parent.  Tantrums are a good thing.  Seriously.  It means your child is developing normally and starting to exert her will in the world.  None of us want to raise a pushover, right?  While there are times when temper tantrums may signal a more serious problem, and there are certainly better ways for dealing with them than others, the fact that they exist doesn’t mean you’ve failed at parenting.

The tantrums will end.  Barring serious injury or disability, your child will stop having toddler-like tantrums, I promise.  While tweens and teens have super frustrating behaviors of their own (eye-rolling, anyone?) flailing on the floor and crying is rarely one of them.  Hang in there and it will improve.

Happy Parenting!

 

 

Responding to Kids’ Tough Questions

Image by: AphasiaFilms

As my children grow older, I notice that I am increasingly at a loss for words. Questions like “How did that baby get in your belly?” and “Why don’t you have a nose ring?” have me stymied. I want to be honest with my kids, but age appropriate too. In addition, I want them to learn tolerance and that different people believe and like different things and that’s OK. Put all these desires together, and it can be hard to answer the tough questions – especially on a moment’s notice.

So, how to respond in these moments without sounding preachy or like a total moron?  Here are some of my favorite parental comebacks. I have memorized these statements, and find them quite useful when no other words seem to suffice:

Wow, you worked really hard on that. This statement can be used when responding to an art project, a report on vampires, or a homemade birthday card gone awry. We don’t always need to praise our children for their work (i.e., “That is the most beautiful spider/pumpkin/race car I have ever seen.”) but it is important to acknowledge their effort – even when the outcome is questionable.

Why do you ask? This is a great comeback to all manner of questions related to sex, drugs, drinking, and other tough subjects. For example: “Mom, did you ever use drugs when you were younger?” Instead of panicking, then launching into an explanation as to why you did or didn’t, and how that relates to your children – try “Why do you ask?” instead. Not only will it buy you some time, it will also get to the heart of the issue (i.e., someone offered your child drugs, they saw a movie about drugs at school, etc).

That’s something! I am told I say this a lot.  I think I say it when I want to say something negative or punishing, but know that might not be in my, or the recipient’s, best interest. Here’s a – totally random of course – example. Young child writes “I LOVE YOU MOM” on their dining room chair – in permanent marker.

Work it out.  I say this one a lot, too. To my own kids, to neighborhood kids, to school friends. I find that it is generally not helpful to interfere in kids’ arguments. Not only is it good for them to learn to work things out on their own, they also have shorter memories and fewer hurt feelings than grown ups. Something that a 6 year old gets over in 2 minutes, might take me 2 years.

Do you have any favorite comebacks to the kids in your life?

Helping Families Learn from Penn State

As I sat glued to Sports Center last night listening to the news about Penn State, Joe Paterno, and the rioting student body I was horrified.  I know folks around the country share in my revulsion, disappointment, and grief over the events of the past week (and 15 years).  And it’s pretty clear the details of the abuse of young boys and the fallout for all involved are just beginning.

I am a firm believer that all things DON’T happen for a reason.  What reason could there possibly be for mass sexual assault on children?  However, I do believe that we can learn from most, if not all, experiences – even horrendous ones.  There’s a lot we can learn from the mess at Penn State, including:

It’s all of our jobs to protect the children in our midst.  It’s not enough to tell a supervisor or a colleague or a buddy when abuse is suspected.  Contacting the police or social services is essential – even if it feels awkward, or weird, or like a betrayal.

Stereotypes aren’t always accurate.  We all have stereotypes of what a child molester looks like, what a “pervert” looks like, and what a man sexually attracted to boys looks like.  The Penn State coach accused of abusing 8+ boys most likely didn’t fit any of our stereotypes.  Sometimes child abusers (and rapists, and murderers, and arsonists) look creepy and suspicious – sometimes they look just like us.

Parents have to talk to their children about abuse of all kinds.  I’m not sure a child is ever too young to begin talking about personal safety.  While conversations should be age-appropriate, the best way to get kids to understand the importance keeping safe and telling someone if they’re not, is talking about it early and often.  With the Penn State situation in the news, now is a perfect time to sit your kids down and talk about what abuse is, and what to do if they feel unsafe (tell you, a teacher, a principal, etc).

For more ideas about how to talk to kids about sexual abuse, click here here and here:

 

 

Glee, Twilight, Harry Potter and Stress Management

This week I have been talking about the chronic economic stress many of us have been under for the past 3+ years. Yesterday I wrote about the importance of taking action – actually doing something – as an essential part of maintaining mental health through tough times.  Today, I have another tip: maintain a rich fantasy life.  This may seem a little silly on the surface, but as you look around you will notice that many of us are already doing it.  Ever wonder why this story took the world by storm:

Image: Warner Bros Pictures

What about this one?

Image: Stephenie Meyer

It’s not just that J.K. Rowling is a brilliant storyteller, or that Edward Cullen is super-dreamy, it’s also that escaping our individual realities – whatever they may be – is a great way to manage stress.  And thanks to the internet, many of us have almost constant, immediate access to whichever fantasies make us forget the woes of the day.

Now, I’m not suggesting we should duck our responsibilities and spend our days obsessing over the new Twilight movie:

or memorizing the moves of a certain Glee star:

But what I am suggesting is that a little escapism can be good for the mind and body – particularly when the stressors in life become hard to bear.

So whether it’s:

or

Image: Magic the Gathering

Let your imagination run wild and know that it’s time well spent.

Managing Chronic Economic Stress

In yesterday’s post, I talked about the difference between acute and chronic economic stress.  I concluded that most of us are squarely in the “chronic stress” category when it comes to our financial lives.

One of the things that I mentioned were the dangers of feeling hopeless and helpless in terms of doing anything to change one’s circumstances.  It makes sense then, that Tip #1 for managing chronic economic stress is to DO SOMETHING.  Or at the very least, hitch yourself to someone else who is doing something.  Working on a political campaign you believe in, volunteering for an organization helping people even more hard hit than you, taking a class on managing personal finance – doing something always feels better than doing nothing. Not only that, it can help you maintain your mental health by warding off those hopeless/helpless feelings.

Need a jumpstart?  Check out Starbucks’ new initiative (which starts today, how perfect is that?):

Starbucks is donating five million dollars to seed a fund at the Opportunity Finance Network, which in turn will provide capital grants to select Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs). The CDFIs will provide loans to underserved community businesses, including: small business loans, community center financing, housing project financing and microfinance.

 

Stay tuned for more tips as the week goes on.

Chronic Economic Stress

Several years ago when the economy went downhill (yes, an understatement, I know) psychologists like me were getting lots of questions about how to cope with the stress.  I was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio, and the Philadelphia Inquirer – and every reporter had the same basic question: “How do we cope with financial strain and keep our mental health at the same time?”  Some of the tips I often gave were things like:

  • Turn off the TV/radio/computer so as not to be bombarded by the bad news
  • Take action by making small changes in your financial life
  • Don’t forget to keep up the healthy stress management strategies you already have in place (i.e., walking, talking with friends, going to church)

But here we are 3+ years down the road and things don’t seem to have gotten much better.  Sure the market may be up and interest rates may be down, but I still hear stories of layoffs, prolonged unemployment, and perpetual under-employment.  I’m not sure what the exact definition of “chronic” is when it comes to stress, but I am certain we are there.  The financial stressors we are facing have gone from acute to chronic – the difference may seem like semantics, but really it’s a whole different ballgame.

What makes chronic stress different than acute stress, particularly in regards to our economic lives?

Emotional health.  Most of us have the emotional and psychological resources to cope with stress on a short term basis (meaning several weeks to several months).  Prior to the onset of the acute stressor we were probably healthy, rested, and had at least one or two good coping strategies in place.  However, after an extended period of time (3 years, for example)  the chronic exposure to stress starts to take its toll on our emotional health.  What was once a few nights of poor sleep has become insomnia.  We’ve stopped engaging in healthy coping strategies (reading, praying, yoga) and taken on “easier,” less healthy habits (drinking too much, eating too little, watching more pornography).   Psychological health is a high maintenance thing – when we don’t care for it, it can deteriorate pretty quickly.  Increased anxiety, worsening mood, irritability – these can all be signs that our mental health is being negatively affected by chronic stress.

Physical health.  Did you know that chronic stress affects every system of the body?  Stomachaches, headaches, muscular pain, cardiovascular disease – chronic stress can play a part in all of these conditions.  Still not convinced?  Take a look at the American Psychological Association’s super cool mind/body health interactive tool and see for yourself just how destructive chronic stress can be.

Hopelessness/helplessness.  Researchers know that one of the most psychologically-damaging emotional states is when one feels hopeless and/or helpless about their situation in life.  It is no good when we feel as if we have no agency – or say – in our lives.  Unfortunately, that is exactly the feeling that this “financial downturn” has produced in many of us.  It’s not infrequent for me to hear people saying things like: “But I saved, and went to school, and spent money responsibly – how can it be that I am still broke and unemployed when I did all the right things?” or “It doesn’t seem to matter what I do or try, I can’t catch a break financially.”  I think it’s pretty obvious to see how this sort of thinking can be a precursor to depression.

A little bit of stress is OK, 3+ years of daily worry about money and employment can take its toll.  Check in tomorrow for some tips of how to manage chronic financial stress.