Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope

Listen to my radio interview reflecting on the documentary “Resilience”, the Adverse Childhood Experiences study (ACES), and my thoughts on how to heal from trauma and child abuse.

Click here: http://kcbx.org/post/resilience

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“The child may not remember, but the body remembers.” Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope is a one-hour documentary that delves into the science of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the birth of a new movement to treat and prevent Toxic Stress. While the original research was controversial, experts now consider the findings to have revealed one of the most important public health findings of a generation. Understood to be one of the leading causes of everything from heart disease and cancer to substance abuse and depression, extremely stressful experiences in childhood can alter brain development and have lifelong effects on health and behavior.

Join host Kris Kington-Barker as she speaks with guests Nisha AbdulCadar, an M.D., F.A.A.P. and Pediatrician with Martha’s Place Children’s Assessment Center and Ron Huxley a LMFT who provides faith-based, trauma-informed therapy for individuals and families about the upcoming movie screening and research behind “Resilience,” a powerful documentary film by James Redford and Karen Pritzker that reveals, toxic stress can trigger hormones that wreak havoc on the brains and bodies of children which can put them at a an increased risk for disease, homelessness, prison time, and even early death. Join the conversation and listen to how trailblazers like these in pediatrics, education, and social welfare are using cutting-edge science and field-tested therapies to fight back against the effects of toxic stress and greatly improve the health of our future generations.

Central Coast Voices is sponsored by ACTION for Healthy Communities in collaboration with KCBX and made possible through underwriting by Joan Gellert-Sargen.

Depression and Parental Insightfulness

Research articles often have a “duh” factor when it comes to outcomes in various studies. After you read them you think “I could have told you that!” The up side of academic studies is that they point a laser light of attention on areas of life that need attention. Society seems more willing to spend money and time on correcting problems when we draw a big circle around a social problem in the lab.

This was true, for me, of a study on the level of parental insightfulness and maternal depression (see clip below). The findings of the study was that mom’s (why do we always study moms!) who were depressed are less likely to be able to see life from the vantage point of their children. This results in less emotional attachment and parenting effectiveness. The obviousness of this research is that mom’s or dad’s that are depressed are less likely to see much of anything outside of their own internal pain. This isn’t a slam on depressed parents. I have experienced it and it isn’t purposeful. Depression is usually due to a chemical imbalance and requires professional interventions that may or may not involve medications.

I mention this study on the blog because I want draw a big circle around this issue and say that the long-term effects of a poor attachment between parent and child can have some serious effects on self-esteem and future relationships. I guess this is a call to action for anyone who feels they are depressed, even occasionally. Help yourself and your child by getting some help. There is plenty of help available, from changing diets to clinical therapy. I have found that playing with my child lifts my mood even when I was tired and emotionally down.

“Insightfulness is seen as the mental capacity that provides the context for a secure child–parent attachment. It involves the ability to see things from the child’s perspective and is based on insight into the child’s motives, a complex view of the child and openness to new information about the child. To test our hypothesis that maternal insightfulness is related to maternal depression, we utilized the Insightfulness Assessment (IA) developed by Oppenheim and Koren-Karie to conduct and analyse interviews in which mothers discussed their perceptions of video segments of their interactions with their children. We compared the results of a control group of 30 mothers without a diagnosis of depression with a sample of 23 mothers diagnosed with depression (International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision). As expected, depression was negatively related to maternal insightfulness.”

Source: onlinelibrary.wiley.com Share what you have done to increase your mood and deal with depression by leaving a comment below or posting on our Facebook ParentingToolbox Page.

Using Your E.A.R.S. to Help Children Problem-Solve

Someone once joked that God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we could listen twice as much as we talked. Not bad advice actually. Many parents would do well to heed that advice. This doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t talk to their children. It’s just that they shouldn’t be so quick to give advice or lecture of the right and wrongs of a problem. Listen first, then talk. Better yet, ask questions to get at the solutions to children’s problems. This causes them to feel as if they came up with the answer and take more ownership for the problem. E.A.R.S. is a helpful acronym for parents who want to improve their problem-solving skills with their children.

E = Elicit

The starting point for problem-solving with children is to elicit possible solutions that already exist in the child’s repertoire. Ask questions such as, “What would you think would make the situation better?” This implies that there is a solution and that the child has the ability to utilize it. If they don’t have an answer to this question, try this one: “What would your _______ (supply a relevant name here) say you are doing about the situation?”

This implies that the child is already solving his problem. The fact of the matter is that every response to a problem is a solution to a problem. Only some responses are better than others and have fewer severe consequences. The job of parents is to acknowledge children’s efforts and then direct them to use better responses.

If the child persists that there wasn’t anything good about what he did in the situation, then ask, “What was the part of the situation that was better than the other parts?” And if the child does recite some ‘better than other parts’ of the situation, ask, “How did you do that?” This encourages the child to learn from their own behaviors and increase positive responses.

If the child suffered severe consequences for his response to the situation, ask, “What did you learn from the situation?” Most successes are the result of trial and error and determining what doesn’t work.

A = Amplify

Amplify refers to the use of questions to get more details about any positive efforts toward problem-solving. Use who, what, where, when, and how questions. For example, “Who noticed you do that?” or “When did you decide to do that?” or “How did they respond to your solution?” Never use why questions. Why is a very judgemental word and will stop all attempts to help the child problem-solving because he feels bad about his efforts. Over time this can develop into a pattern of behavior where the child never tries anything new because he is afraid of failing. If he doesn’t try, he doesn’t fail. At least that is the rationale.

R = Reinforce

Years of behavioral change research have taught us that there are two ways to create change in others. Reward desired behaviors and ignore or mildly punish undesirable behavior. So be sure to reinforce any effort to solving a problem. Even failed attempts are worthy of acknowledgment. The child must want and value positive change. Reinforcement will be the motivating force for this value. Be sure, though, that you use verbal or social reinforcement. Don’t give in to bribes (candy, toys, and money) to reinforce the child. This will reinforce dependent and manipulative behavior and decrease independent problem-solution. The best reinforcers are a surprise. When children do not know when to expect a reinforcer (a compliment or public acknowledgment) they will be more motivated, ready for reinforcement at any moment in time.

S = Start again

Learning to problem-solving and listening to our children to help them, is a process. It can’t be done once and then left alone. It must be done over and over again. Repetition is a fundamental principle of learning. The more you do something the better you get at it. And now that the child has found a solution to a problem, plan for the next one. Most problems pop up again in life. Brainstorm solutions for the next time. And finally, treat every problem as an experiment where new and clever solutions can be tested. So use those two ears to listen more then you talk but when you do talk, ask solution-focused questions to help children problem-solve.

17 Hugs A Day

My wife and I have a joke that we tell each other and family members: It takes a minimum of 17 hugs a day to feel normal. I will confess that there is no scientific research that supports 17 hugs per day therapy…at least not yet. Nevertheless, we have come to recognize that need for touch and have adopted the idea that hugs, at least 17 is what gets us through the daily life hassles.

At a recent conference on Attachment Theory, where there was some real scientific data, a presenter on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder stated that data suggests that the little stressors of everyday living can add up to the same effects of someone who has undergone a single, major life trauma, like a robbery or death of a loved one or car accident. We let these little incidents of life go by without any real concern. Perhaps we feel embarrassed to admit how much a poor marriage or teenager defiance or even workplace stress really does affect us.

Can parents acts as prevention specialists for our children. As adults, we need 17 hugs just to maintain normal living. Our children need them to counter the cumulative effects of stress on their lives to avoid PTCS – Post Traumatic Childhood Stress. If you don’t believe there is a such a thing, just observe children interacting on a play ground. There are some mean things thrown back and forth on the jungle gym, let me tell you! Add to that some homework pressures and the constant media bombardment of negative words and images and what child wouldn’t feel slightly traumatized? As parents, the least we can do is give some touch therapy with a few hugs a day.

John Bowlby, the great attachment theorist, stated that attachment is essential to normal development (see my blog post on this here). Guardians are supposed to be our safe haven from life. Home should be a place of refuge from the constant stress of school and work. Granted, there are chores and homework to be done but how can you carve our 30 minutes a day for some connection. Parents are quick to use Time-Out, how about some Time-In? It might be good for mom and dad too.

Starting today, give a few more hugs than usual. It is OK to start slow and work your way up. And yes, teenagers love them too. You just have to be a little more crafty in your approach.

 

Depressed Teenagers: The Problem, Risks, Signs, and Solutions

Is your child sad or appear to have no affect at all? Is your
child preoccupied with the topic of death or other morbid
topics? Has your son or daughter expressed suicidal
thoughts or ideas? Are they extremely moody or irritable
beyond the normal hormonal twists and turns of childhood?
Has there been a drastic change in your child’s eating or
sleeping patterns? If you answered yes to any of these
questions, your child may be suffering from a common but
devastating mental health disorder, called depression.

The Problem:

Depression occurs in 8 percent of all adolescent lives.
Research indicates that children, in general, are becoming
depressed earlier in live. The implications of this is that the
earlier the onset of the illness the longer and more chronic
the problem. Studies suggest that depression often
persists, recurs, and continues into adulthood, and
indicates that depression in youth may also predict more
severe illness in adult life. Depression in young people
often co-occurs with other mental disorders, most
commonly anxiety, disruptive behavior, or substance abuse
disorders, and with physical illnesses, such as diabetes.

The Risks:

Teenagers often turn to substances to “self-medicate” the
feelings of depression. They reject prescribed medications
because of the way it makes them feel and because of the
negative social implications of being labeled as depressed.
Drinking alcohol and using other substances may make
teenagers feel better for a short period of time but the need
to continually use these substances to feel “high” creates
dependence and poses a serious health risk. Depression
in adolescence is also associated with an increased risk
of suicidal behavior. Suicide is the third leading cause of
death for 10 to 24-year-olds and as much as 7 percent of
all depressed teens will make a suicide attempt.

The Signs:

Signs that frequently accompany depression in
adolescence include: • Frequent vague, non-specific
physical complaints such as headaches, muscle aches,
stomachaches or tiredness • Frequent absences from
school or poor school performance • Talk of or efforts to
run away from home • Outbursts of shouting, complaining,
unexplained irritability, or crying • Being bored • Lack of
interest in playing with friends • Alcohol or substance abuse
• Social isolation, poor communication • Fear of death •
Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure • Increased
irritability, anger, or hostility • Reckless behavior • Difficulty
with relationships

Parents often witness these warning signs but fail to act on
them. Why? Because some teens hide the symptoms from
their parents or parents chalk it up to a stage or
moodiness. Many teenagers go through a time of dark
looking/acting behavior with all black clothing and bizarre
hair arrangements. This can throw a parent off of the trail of
depression by the bewilderment of teen actions and
behaviors. In addition, many teens react aggressively when
confronted about possible depression by their parents
causing mom and dad to back off.

The Solutions:

When dealing with teen depression, it is always better to
“be safe than sorry.” Coping with an adolescent’s anger is
much easier to deal with then handling his or her successful
suicide or overdose. When parents first notice the signs of
depression, it is important to sit down with their teen and
ask them, gently but firmly, if they are feeling depressed or
suicidal. Contrary to popular belief, asking a child if he or
she has had any thoughts of hurting or killing themselves
does not cause them to act on that subject. If the teen
rejects the idea that they are depressed and continues to
show warning signs, it will be necessary to seek
professional help.

If the child acknowledges that he or she is depressed,
immediately contact your physician and seek the assistance
of a mental health professional that works with children and
adolescents. In addition, parents can help their teen by
confronting self-defeating behaviors and thoughts by
pointing out their positive attributes and value. Parents may
need to prompt their teen to eat, sleep, exercise, and
perform basic hygiene tasks on a daily basis. Doing these
daily routines can dramatically help improve mood. Try to
direct the teen to hang out with positive peers. Steer them
away from other depressed adolescents. Explore
underlying feelings of anger, hurt, and loss. Even the
smallest loss of a friend or pet can intensify feelings of
sadness. Allow the teen to talk, draw, or journal about their
feelings without judgment. And for suicidal teens, make a
“no-harm” contract for 24 to 48 hours at a time when they
will not hurt themselves.

With proper care and treatment, depression can be
alleviated and suicidal behaviors prevented. Parents and
teen may even find a new, deeper relationship developing
between them as they work through the dark feelings of
depression.

Reference:

National Institute of Mental Health Web Site. “Children and
Depression: A Fact Sheet for Physicians.”
http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/depchildresfact.cfm

Parenting Guilt is a Waste of Time

It was one of those lazy Sunday afternoons and the sky was beautiful blue. White, billowy clouds were floating by as I sat and watched them on my front porch. The only problem with this day was I felt guilty about not being more productive. I felt like I “should” be doing something. Pulling weeds, reading some important journal paper or updating my blog. I remember this feeling as a parent too. There always seem like there is so much to do and I was always so far behind on something. Shouldn’t I be doing laundry instead of playing catch in the backyard with my kids or working on some craft? There were many times my guilt drove me to try and do household chores and play with the kids at the same time. Let’s just say, it wasn’t very effective in either area.

Many of us NEED to listen to that inner voice. That bathroom really does need some more attention but for the majority of parents, guilt is a constant critic. It is driven by the need for perfection. It fears what others will think of us. It causes us to forget that our children are more important than a clean dish put away into the dishwasher.

As a grandparent, you realize that the moments slip away into days into years into decades and then there are gone. When you realize all the magical moments missed with your child because you just had to prune the rose bush or scrub the shower (or for you working parents, work an extra hour or two in your home office), that is when the real guilt settles in. It is for what you could have done with your child if I wasn’t just so tightly wound up over the little things.

Here’s my parenting expert, grandfatherly advice:  Spend an entire weekend just interacting with your children and let guilt go for two entire days! Just two days mind you. That means the beds don’t get made, the dishes may stay in the sink (OK, you can put them away after they go to bed) and the home office door stays shut. Oh yeah, and the electronic devices are off. Yes, off!

Tell me how the experience goes by posting a comment here or sharing on twitter or facebook.

Attachment Disordered Children – Radio Show Interview with Ron Huxley

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If you didn’t catch my radio show interview this morning you can listen to the archived mp3 at http://toginet.com/shows/theparentsplate/articles/1314 Brenda Nixon, host of the Parents Plate radio show, invited me to chat about the controversial diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and the current state of mental health treatment of traumatized children today. I shared some great ideas in our hour long discussion that you will want to listen in on…everything from how children are diagnosed to attachment neuroscience to practical parenting tools. I even shared on why children with attachment impairments “Monster Up!” – a phrase I coined. Take a moment to download or stream the show at http://toginet.com/shows/theparentsplate/articles/1314

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