RelateKC Blog

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  • Teaching Realistic Thinking

    You can teach realistic thinking to your child, call it “detective thinking”.

    Most people think that events happening outside of themselves cause feelings. However, outside events cannot be fully responsible for your feelings. Two people can experience exactly the same event and feel differently about it. The same person can also experience the same event at different times and feel quite differently about it at each time. Why is this? Your feelings depend on what you are telling yourself about an event. Although it is tempting to believe that an event itself determines the way in which we react to it, in actual fact, our beliefs and thoughts based on our interpretations of that event directly determine how we react. As you and your child work through his/her anxiety with your therapist, try to remind yourself that our emotions are not directly caused by the things that go on around us. Instead, our feelings and emotions are the direct result of the way that we think about or interpret events and situations.

    No one can control their thoughts and beliefs 100% of the time and so no one is going to be able to control their feelings 100%. The answer to reducing extreme e anxiety is to learn how you might change your beliefs from extreme ones to less extreme ones. The key to changing emotions is in the belief. Usually the less extreme belief is the more realistic one. Most people, and kids are no exception, who are anxious tend to think in unrealistic ways. By learning to think more realistically they can learn to control their anxiety. The goal is not to try to teach your child to never be anxious. Rather you can teach your child ways of managing anxiety when that anxiety is excessive and out of proportion to the situation. We do this by looking at the actual evidence.

    Every time you find that you are stressed, anxious or worried you need to ask yourself, “What is the negative thing that I am expecting?” and “What do I think is going to go wrong here?” The answer to these questions will give you your negative thought or belief.  

    Julia Harkleroad, MS, LMFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in Prairie Village, KS. She can be contacted at julia@relatekc.com or 913.638.4791

  • Basics of Anxiety

    Once a child is anxious and has a “sensitive style” the ways that he or she thinks and behaves play an extremely important part in keeping the anxiety going. Anxious children mentally focus on any possible danger in the world. And they remember all of the bad things, forgetting the good. Anxious children avoid things. They run away. This might include obvious avoidance like not wanting to go to school or to a party, or it might include less obvious avoidance, such as working really hard on their homework so they never make a mistake or taking ages to decide what to wear so they don’t look bad. But avoiding, whether it is obvious or subtle, is the key to keeping anxiety alive. Avoiding prevents children from learning that those thoughts are not true. They are not able to learn positive lessons such as “I can cope” and “It’s not that bad”.

    The way you react to or handle your child’s fears might also play some part in maintaining the anxiety. Parents love their children and so when faced with a child who is scared, vulnerable and worried, parents only too naturally rush to his or her aid. But in some cases this helping behavior allows the child to avoid. If this pattern becomes established the child is not forced to face his or her fears and as a result may begin to learn that “the world really is dangerous” and “I cannot handle myself”.

    The very fears and worries that anxious children have can often lead to more stress in their lives and this can increase their anxiety. An anxious child may have some unusual behaviors that, in turn, lead other children to tease him or her. Or an anxious child may stop his or her parents from going out at night, which may increase pressure on the parents and then lead to more tension in the family. This is the “cycle” of anxiety or a “self-fulfilling prophecy”.

    Children often copy their parents’ ways of coping with the world. If a parent is anxious and copes by avoiding, the child may learn that this is the way to handle fears. This is not to say that a parent is entirely responsible for his or her child’s anxiety; there is no way that modeling could explain even the majority of anxious behavior. But if the child already lies on the anxious side of the continuum and either parent is anxious or avoidant, the child may pick up a few of these behaviors and this may strengthen his or her already anxious nature.

    Julia Harkleroad, MS, LMFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in Prairie Village, KS. She can be contacted at julia@relatekc.com or 913.638.4791

  • Birth Order Matters

    Birth order matters: Implications of Sibling Position for Millenials

    Birth Order Theory has been researched for decades; the very premise of which is sibling position and its effects on personality and differentiation in childhood development. Studies have shown that in general, first born children tend to be more “A” typical; focused on perfection, authoritarian in relationships and risk adverse. Middle born children are far less egocentric, more artistic and social. Youngest born children tend to be endearing, pampered and protected from adversity and therefore struggle to launch as independent adults. Coping skills are pivotal to successful launching and those are hard earned through trial and error. This requires that parents allow a child to fail and suffer consequences and then try again, all free of shame. Herein lies the problem of birth order.

    Sibling position is the first role children learned in life and provides a template for how to interact in other relationships. Siblings tend to assume the same roles in relationships outside of family life. So, if a younger sibling is used to being sheltered from adversity both by parents and an older sibling, launching without the coddling and clean-up of either can be rather difficult.

    Most first-borns struggle through some hardships together with their parents. Both learn how to navigate the parent/child relationship by trial and error. By child number two or three, parents, despite their best intentions, are more cavalier, spread thin by life and responsibilities. And, despite their best intentions, parents are quite incapable of raising multiple children exactly the same. Research shows that siblings are actually quite aware of this partiality in light of parental efforts to minimize the disparity by making sure all children feel “equally” loved.          

     

    There is often a triangular relationship between siblings and their parents. Parents will often qualm their anxiety about one child by lassoing the other child into the situation. Often the older sibling will engross the parent system in conversation or agreement about the pathological nature of the younger, less independent sibling. This can look like a behavioral grade report when a parent gets home from work. These experiences are often internalized as a lack of confidence which limits the younger child’s ability to build intrinsic motivation, spark creative problems solving and develop a belief in self-improvement. The more individuated sibling, often the oldest child, has learned to be self-supporting while the less individuated child, often the youngest, becomes more emotionally entangled with the parent and less able to differentiate and develop a clear, confident sense of self.

    So how is birth order related to the recent research on Millennials? According to a New York Times article published in 2010, Millennials are behind in all five milestones of adulthood including: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having children. Does it make sense why Millennials can’t seem to grow up?

    The 2010 Census offered some sobering statistics on the difficulty of launching in the 21st Century. Only 50% of Americans currently in their mid-20’s are financially independent which was defined as earning enough to support themselves and a family. Not to mention, 63% of men and 52% of women between 18-24 years live at home with their parents. While a Newsweek poll from 1993 found that 80% of parents interviewed believed their children should be financially independent by 22 years, a similar pole today found that parents have raised that expectation to 25 years or more. Call them shallow. Call them self-absorbed. But millennials might actually just be suffering from younger sibling syndrome. Maybe parents today are less inclined to deal with their own fear and anxiety and more likely to use their children as a distraction, excuse or mediator in some pretty challenging times.

    Millennials are struggling to learn resilience. When their parents and older siblings step in to prevent danger and difficulty, millennials are blocked from real self-discovery. It also sparks jealousy and conflict in sibling dyads. Both resilience and self-actualization are paramount for successful launching.

     

     

    Julia Harkleroad, MS, LMFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in Prairie Village, KS. Julia serves children and families and runs groups on launching children for both the parents and their children. She can be contacted at julia.harkleroad@gmail.com or 913.638.4791

     

  • 3 Principles for Making Weight Loss Last

    I recently asked a group of women to complete an online, anonymous survey, about weight management and body image. In total, 69 women responded with nearly 50% between 25-34 years old. The results indicated that nearly half of women were unsure of whether or not they had the power to change the shape of their own bodies. Interestingly enough, 80% of the women surveyed also considered their weight loss journey a “success” based on the amount of validation they received from other people. There’s a theme here. Other people matter. We don’t want them to sometimes. Often we wish we could escape their criticism, our dependence on them, and the marketing campaigns so successful at selling us on a particular size and shape. If we could just achieve (fill in the number) life would be better, fuller and happier.

    Many of the women I’ve counseled on body image and weight management express exhaustion and exasperation over the perpetual fluctuation; the loss and gain of weight over a lifetime. It is constantly something we use to shame ourselves; to “hate ourselves thin” according to authors Lillis, Dahl and Weineland of The Diet Trap. If we had only done better, tried harder, were somehow different then we wouldn’t be a size (fill in the blank) today. For some reason we are always looking for proof of our inadequacy. And therefore, we can’t and we don’t ever relax. 50% of the women surveyed multitask during at least one meal a day. 30% multitask at every single meal. As Tara Brach, a respected psychologist and teacher of mindfulness states in her book Radical Acceptance: “[w]e each develop a particular blend of strategies to hide our flaws and compensate for what we believe is wrong with us”. In this case, we diet, we exercise, we shop, we wear make-up, we work a lot, we become supermoms, we consume alcohol and we avoid the gym and the sweaty mess that will remind us of how far we still have to go to be acceptable, worthy, beautiful and “right”.

    97% of the women who took my survey have tried changing their diet to change the shape of their bodies. 91% have tried exercise; over and over again. So why isn’t it working? Or, rather, why isn’t it lasting? Why do we lose weight during boot camp and then gain it back immediately? Why won’t the effects last? In my experience and from the experiences of my clients, I believe it’s because we ignore, repeatedly and unintentionally, three basic principles to lasting body change based on mindset.

    1) Mindset Matters

    We can’t expect our bodies to change, and stay that way, without changing our minds. How we talk to ourselves. How we talk to others. Self-hate or hating ourselves into thinness only breeds insecurity, shame and guilt. It might help in the short term to get us out of bed and to the gym in the morning but shaming ourselves into exercise and a healthy diet only motivates us until the next brownie sundae.

    2) Imperfection is Normal

    Imperfection isn’t our personal problem. It is a natural part of our existence and we share it with every single human being. When we hate on ourselves we also isolate ourselves. We make ourselves the enemy and also those people who appear to be “in shape” or the size we expect ourselves to be.

    3) External Motivations Set Us Up for Failure

    We use external motivations to turn us into the person (size/weight/shape) we expect ourselves to be. “If I lose weight I will finally get the (fill in the blank) I have always wanted!” What happens if we don’t lose all of that weight right away? Are the rest of our dreams on hold until we look a certain way? Are we unlovable and unworthy until we reach that certain size? We are missing out on so much by putting it all on hold for that perfect body.

    So what am I suggesting?

    1) Think Broadly

    Rather than looking at weight loss or a particular size as a narrow goal, consider it more broadly. How does it fit in to the larger picture of the life you want to be living?

    2) Replace Self-Hate with Self-Compassion.

    It seems counterintuitive but until we can accept ourselves, empathize with the thoughts and feelings that are a natural part of our make-up as human beings, we will not be able to accept our size even when we reach what we think is that “magic” number. Offer yourself the same level of compassion and understanding that you would offer your child, your friend or your spouse. The longest relationship you will have in your life is with yourself. How are you in relationship with yourself?

    3) Relationships Matter

    How we see ourselves is deeply influenced by our relationships. The people around you matter. How are they influencing you? How are you influencing them? Are you choosing to bring people into your life that will bring you closer to the life you want to live? Perhaps it’s time to include your family in your weight loss journey. We tend to mirror what our partner does. If our partner doesn’t prioritize active living or is perpetually stressed, it makes perfect sense for this to be our experience too. Many times counseling is necessary for sustainable change. Restructuring the boundaries of your relationships, the roles and rules you live by and the foundation of your marriage or partnership is imperative to long term body change.      

     

    Recommended Books:

    The Diet Trap by Jason Lillis, Joanne Dahl and Sandra Weineland

    Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach

     

    Julia Harkleroad, MS, LMFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in Prairie Village, KS. Julia serves children and families and runs groups on weight loss and body image in conjunction with a personal or group training regime. She can be contacted at julia@relatekc.com or 913.638.4791

  • 5 Principles for Launching Your Child

    Do this now. Thank yourself later.

    The transition we all made from adolescence to young adulthood was probably one of the most challenging. Half in and half out of childhood. It can be the gateway to long-term success as an adult or the kickstart of pathology, where our lack of coping skills finally catches up with us as we are thrown into the rush of life as a small fish in a very big sea. Fears of incompetence, unworthiness and reluctance creep in and we flip through our memory bank for exceptions to our fears, times when we exemplified resilience and overcame great challenge.

    My work with parents of both small children and “adultescents” (a.k.a. adult children) leads me to believe that preparation for a successful launch at 18 years begins at birth. Increasing your child’s tolerance, slowly, over time, for ambiguity, transitions, and yes, even for failure, means they will be more capable at 18 years to withstand adversity. And let’s face it, there’s plenty of adversity for young adults these days. The 2010 Census offered some sobering statistics on the difficulty of launching in the 21st century. Only 50% of Americans in their mid-20’s consider themselves financially independent and earn enough to support themselves and a family. Yikes. Not to mention, 63% of men and 52% of women between 18-24 years live at home with their parents.  

    Herein, the true value of chickenpox. And you thought it was just a viral infection! Chickenpox (a.k.a. adversity) builds immunity. Used as a metaphor for life, it is important and valuable for your children to “catch” failure, difficulty and adversity early in life so that they are better prepared to handle it, be “immune”, as young adults. Adversity increases coping capacity, encourages the practice of asking for help, develops a sense of mastery over challenge, shapes confidence and creates stories of perseverance to fall back on in future difficult times.

    With just five basic principles you can better position your children (and yourself) for a successful and sustainable launch at 18 years. Exposing your children to infection early can be beneficial in more ways than one!

     

    1) Allow your child’s success to be real and uninfluenced (at least to some degree) by you. What I mean is, allow your children to really “feel” their strengths and therefore ownership over their successes. When we praise our children for every single thing they do, they don’t learn resilience. When we step in to prevent danger and difficulty at every encounter, we block real self-discovery. Both resiliency and self-discovery are paramount to successful launching.

     

    2) Place value on internal performance vs. external performance. Unless success is experienced to a large degree, internally, then your child will always be looking for gratification and satisfaction outside of him/herself. Later in life this can look like sore losing, an inability to self-soothe, blaming, obsession with perfection and at its worst, eating disorders, depression, anxiety and addiction (drugs, gambling, eating, shopping).

     

    3) Tolerate their independence. Children are born not knowing the distinction between “me” and their attachment figures, particularly “mom”. They are essentially one in the same. But, over time, it is a natural human progression to begin to separate and increasing identify oneself as unique and distinct from another. Allowing this process to begin earlier will help it to be more tolerable later when your child leaves you for life on his/her own.

     

    4) Keep your own identity. Remember who you were before you had children and who you are now. Your own journey as a human being doesn’t end because you become a parent. Continue learning new things about yourself. Change. Evolve. So that your child can too.

     

    5) Disperse your time and resources. All humans, including you, the parent, are deserving of independence, self-interest and indulgence to some degree. The sun may rise and shine on your child in your home but it won’t when he/she steps outside into the world at large. Help your child to be ready. Entitlement grows in the dark corners of parental sacrifice. Have you abandoned yourself or your marriage for your child? Ask yourself when the last time was that you and your partner went out without the kid/s? When was the last time you allowed your child to be responsible for his/her own behavior, even if it meant allowing for failure?

     

    Letting go is hard but at its core, parenthood is about loss. We raise children to lose them to their own journey. I am reminded of a poem by Kahil Gibran called On Children. In it he states,

    [Your children are not your children…And though they are with you yet they belong not to you. You may give them your life but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.]

    Sometimes the only way around is through. What are you teaching your children about tolerating discomfort? How are you raising them to be successful without you? A successful, fruitful existence long after you are gone, is, after all, the greatest gift you can give them.

     

     

    Julia Harkleroad, MS, LMFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in Prairie Village, KS. She can be contacted at julia@relatekc.com or 913.638.4791