children

The Danger Your Kids Need You Notice

by Courtney Hollingsworth, LPC

We protect our kids from germs, strangers, bullies, curse words, sunburns, violent movies, car accidents, trips and falls, traumatic news stories, mosquitos, too much sugar, a chill in the air. We go to great lengths to keep them safe. And yet many of us are overlooking an ever present danger. In fact, we are handing it to them.

Would you let your kid wander around an adult video or book store? Of course not! The impact could cause a great deal of harm to such a young, impressionable mind. It certainly would not be the way you’d like your child introduced to sexuality or be educated on what mature naked bodies look like or on how babies are made.

That is essentially what you are doing when you give your child a phone, tablet, or any other device that has access to a search engine without any filters or parental controls.

You may think this is an exaggeration, and perhaps it is, though not a big one. The generation raising kids at this moment in history did not grow up with the world at our fingertips, which is quite literally the reality for kids today. With a few simple taps of their fingers kids can see images, videos, and words of pretty much anything in the world. Anything. And kids know it. Curious about something? Overhear other kids talking about something you don’t know about? Have a question you don’t want to ask an adult? Google it! Kids are curious by nature and they have easy and immediate access to more information than probably all the generations before them combined!

 Unlike the web search history on a browser, you cannot erase the images from your child’s mind they will readily find.

The vast amount of sexual material readily available on the internet is astounding. Kids are more and more, younger and younger, stumbling across pornography without even know what it is. They simply take their curiosity to the place they’ve already learned holds all the answers, the internet. Unfortunately, the internet does not provide child appropriate, parent approved, or even accurate images and information for their curiosity.

If you wait until your child comes to you asking about sex, pornography, girls and boys kissing, girls and girls kissing, boys and boys kissing, where babies come from, the sexual anatomy of the opposite sex, or any other sexually related thing they may be curious about or have overheard, it will be too late. If you wait until you catch them looking at sexually explicit images or videos on the internet, it is too late. Talk to them BEFORE this happens. Add filters and parental controls BEFORE this happens. Protect your kids from the stuff that isn’t good for them BEFORE they find it without even knowing what they’re doing.

The next blog will introduce some resources that might be helpful with regards to these topics.

 

 

When We Lie to Our Kids

by Courtney Hollingsworth, LPC

There are many reasons why adults lie to kids. Kids are gullible. It’s in their best interest. It’s to protect them. They wouldn’t understand the truth. It’s easier. It’s just a little white lie.

Once you begin to erode your kid’s trust in your word, it’s a very slippery slope.

One that is much more difficult to climb back up than the discomfort or inconvenience that sometimes accompanies telling the truth. Even “small” lies can cause severe damage. A tornado can destroy a house, but so can termites.

Here’s the truth: Kids know. Maybe not every time. Maybe not very early on. But soon enough, they know more than we adults realize, and by the time we do, we’ve already damaged their trust in us. Researchers at MIT have confirmed this truth. Think about when you were a kid and you were internally questioning something an adult told you. I bet a specific scenario or a specific person readily popped into your head.

Kids inherently and subconsciously know they are dependent on adults to survive. This is why a child going out the front door and walking wherever they please is a rare event. It is what causes that brief panic in a store when a kid feels lost. Many children are not even willing to go into the basement alone. Their security is in their attachment to a more competent and trustworthy individual, an adult, because of their inherent knowledge that they are not competent to care for themselves in this world. There is a very healthy importance to this attachment, and in order for it to be healthy, it has to be one they can depend on. Lying and withholding information causes deep fractures to the security of this bond. More simply, it causes deep hurt to our children.

When kids are lied to, not only do they begin to question their trust in the person who’s lying, they also learn to mistrust themselves. When what they know or feel is true is being redefined for them as not true, they are learning self-doubt and a mistrust of the world. When a kid is told that what they know is true, is untrue, they are learning that they can’t trust themselves. This makes them susceptible to bullying, mean friends, sexual abuse, manipulation, abusive dating partners, and the list goes on.

So while a little white lie can feel harmless, it has the power to do far more damage than the truth.

Kids, Feelings, and Parents, Oh My!

by Mary Martha Abernathy, LPC

Inspired by How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk, by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish

Parenting is exhausting.  Taking part in relationships with adults who struggle to communicate their emotions is hard enough, but engaging with kids who don’t know what they are feeling or how to tell you their feelings is even harder!  Being in tune with our children’s emotions and experiences allows us to more naturally engage in our relationship with them.

Just because kids are “young, little, a baby” does not mean their emotional experiences are less real or matter less than our own experiences.

The author of How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk describes her experience of parenting and how she “could be accepting about most of the feelings [her] children had, but let one of them tell me something that made me angry or anxious and I’d instantly revert to my old way [of parenting]” (page 3).  Her old ways were when she would disregard, minimize, invalidate, avoid, or ignore another person’s experience.

How do we feel when someone disregards our feelings?  How do we feel when people pretend they didn’t hear what we said? Or, when people try to “help” or “fix” a situation when all we want is someone to listen.

When we feel listened to and understood it is easier for us to manage our emotional responses.  The same happens with our children.

When they feel listened to and understood, they are able to work through their emotional experiences and problem solve more clearly.   Often, children are just wanting someone to intently listen to them.  Our attunement to the conversation and small responses, like “uh-huh” allow our children to know we are paying attention.  This response only works if you are looking at them, not at a screen!

Children need help naming their emotions and giving words to their experience.

The naming of emotions acknowledges their experience and helps to increase their engagement in the relationship. It also helps to teach children about emotions.  It can be helpful to have an emotions chart on the refrigerator with faces on it, or for older kids a wheel of emotions.

Being in relationship with our kids is hard work. This hard work is laying the framework for better relationships as they age. We hope they have learned about their emotions and how to verbalize them and deal with them safely.   We are teaching something important to our children that they don’t yet know is important!

How a Children’s Book Made Me Think About Cultivating Emotional Intelligence

Smile, Pout-Pout Fish…Or Don’t: How a Children’s Book Made Me Think About Cultivating Emotional Intelligence

by Melinda Seley, PLPC

Do the books we read to our children cultivate emotional intelligence, or communicate subtle messages discouraging awareness and honest expression of feelings?

Smile, Mr. Fish! You look so down. With your glum-glum face and your pout-pout frown. No need to be worried. No need to be sad. No need to be scared. No need to be mad! How about a smooch? And a cheer-up wish? Now you look happy: what a smile, Mr. Fish!

Of all the books my little one loves, this one most often gets relentlessly stuck in my head! With its well-crafted rhyme and adorable pictures, it captivates its little (and big) audience quite well. But the subtle message of the book has always made me a bit uneasy: you shouldn’t be sad, worried, or scared; there, you’re happy, that’s acceptable and good.  I realize there is a strong possibility that I am over-analyzing the book, but at the same time, I think subtle messages like this are important to be mindful of – both that we have been taught and that we are passing along to our kids (or nieces/nephews, friends’ kids, etc.).

If taken too far, a child can internalize that the only acceptable emotion is to be happy…which will have great consequences in his or her ability cultivate emotional intelligence and to healthily navigate life.

Accordingly, I found this article, published by the Gottman Institute, to be very helpful in identifying the following three do’s and don’ts for developing a child’s emotional intelligence:

  • Do recognize negative emotions as an opportunity to connect. Don’t punish, dismiss, or scold your child for being emotional.

    Do help your child label their emotions. — Don’t convey judgment or frustration.

  • Do set limits and problem-solve. — Don’t underestimate your child’s ability to learn and grow.

 

Given these guides, perhaps a helpful re-write of the book might read like this:

Hey, Mr. Fish, you look so down. With your glum, glum face and your pout, pout frown. Come sit beside me, I see your broken toy has made you sad. I would be, too, if it was the favorite toy I had. It’s okay to cry, it’s okay to be mad. But we cannot hit and we cannot squeal. How else can you show the sadness you feel?

 

 

 

What does your Inner Voice tell you?

What does your Inner Voice tell you?

by: Courtney Hollingsworth, LPC

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“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” ― Peggy O’Mara

I came across this quote and was struck by its simple profundity. Such a sentiment can surely cause you to step back and reevaluate your typical interactions with the children in your life, which I do believe was the author’s intent. But we can also use this insight to look into the inner voice we each carry and what has informed it over the years. This inner voice has often been born within us from significant people around us as we were growing up and learning to make sense of the world.

I’m not talking about audible voices in our heads, I’m talking about the way we talk to ourselves inside ourselves. We tend to trust this voice; often to the extent that we don’t even notice it. It flows in and around us like the air we breathe. It feels true and informed. It feels like the one we can trust to keep us from believing we are capable, we can depend on others, and we are worth something.

I often find when talking with people that this voice is unkind, unforgiving, shaming, and critical. It’s cynicism feels trustworthy and it’s avoidance of hope or longing feels safe. And yet, it is all too holding us back from developing deep relationships, learning how to care for ourselves, striving to take risks in life, and hoping for something better.

Often, this voice is so embedded it can never be completely silenced. However, it can be identified, labeled untrustworthy, and we can learn to react differently to it. We can learn to tell it to be quiet, we can learn to ignore it, mistrust it, or even argue with it. We can learn to walk through our lives with a different narrator, one that is informed by the present, by reality, by trustworthy people. Counseling is a very effective way to begin to label that voice and learn new ways to talk to yourself.

Do you Love Me? From the Perspective of a Foster Kid

by: Lianne Johnson, LPC

Do you Love Me?

 

It is a question each of us longs to hear the answer to from those we care about most – Do you love me?

Mustering the courage to ask the question takes great risk, doesn’t it? Because once the question is asked, out loud, to the person we hope will say yes, all we can do is wait for their response. Those few seconds from the time the question is asked to the moment the person answers, feels like an eternity. We are, in that moment, at our most vulnerable place. Naked in our need to be loved. Hoping they will say yes. Hoping that our longing to know we matter in this world will be eased in their “yes.”

Some friends of mine became foster parents this past year. The wife of this couple started sharing some of her experiences on her website. I have valued her honesty and vulnerability. In my opinion, I think anyone who is a caring foster parent deserves many awards. Non-stop praise. They are courageous, vulnerable, giving, and brave. I have two images in my mind when I think of caring foster parents – a punching bag and bean bag. Their role requires them to absorb the “blows,” yet remain as welcoming as a bean bag. Hard stuff, people. Hard stuff.

In one of her recent posts titled Head and Heart, she shares about a time when one of her foster kids asked, in essence, “Do you love me?” She asked my friend if she loved her husband more than her. Whoa, that’s big time. I could imagine myself in that moment. Speechless. Knowing that however I would answer wouldn’t satiate this child’s longing to feel loved, as she lives in a world that causes her to wonder if she matters on a daily basis.

I have learned in my job and my life that sometimes what’s most important isn’t the question itself, but what the question reveals about the asker. When I hear the question being asked by this foster child, “do you love me more than your husband?” I don’t think she is looking for a yes or no answer. Actually, I don’t even think this is the true question of her heart. I hear her asking in that moment, “Do I matter? Am I loved?” Even though you are in the room with her, she feels alone in this world. Foster children live within a world that forces them to continually question their worth. She feels alone, disregarded, and confused. What she has been taught about love and loving another is most likely skewed and distorted.

At this point I think its important to note that ALL kids ask this question – foster, biological, or stepchildren. Kids are curious little creatures. Trying to make sense of what they see, feel, hear, and think. I also think its very important to take into account the child’s developmental level and how they intrinsically process input. All of these things matter in how we respond. A 5 year old asking this question is different than a 10 year old. The trauma in their life story is important. All of their uniqueness is important and needs to be taken into account.

I don’t think there is a perfect way to answer this question, and really, I don’t even think the question necessitates an answer. What I mean is we first must learn from the child a bit more about what is motivating them to ask the question. What longing are they thinking about? Are they trying to make sense of love and loving another? How do we figure out what’s really behind the question? Ask questions!

“Do I love you MORE THAN my husband? Hmmmm, good question! Well let’s talk about it! What made you think to ask that question? Is this something you’ve been thinking about for a while? What do you think love is? What do you think it means to love someone else? Do you think there is different kinds of love? When you think about love, do you love your brother like you do your friends at school?”

These questions will hopefully help reveal what’s truly on their mind. They will help you learn about how they think about love and relationships. Knowing these answers will better equip you to walk with them and talk to them about their wonderings and longings.

My Most Recent Parenting Blunder

My Most Recent Parenting Blunder

I just decided to look up the word “blunder” since it is the word that seems most appropriate for this parenting mishap, and according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, blunder means “a stupid or careless mistake.”  Yep, that captures this situation in a nutshell!

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About 2 weeks ago some friends and I were about to watch a movie called The Hunger Games.  Have you seen it?  If not go here to learn about the premise of the movie – basically, kids and teenagers have to kill each other to live.  These movies are very well done, but the storyline is a bit jarring.  So back to my blunder….my 8 year old son (almost 9…if that helps my case any?!?!) wanted to watch the movie with us.  He often loves to watch things with my friends and me.  I think he genuinely enjoys the shared experiences.  When he first asked to watch it with us I was hesitant.  I polled the room to see what others thought.  The overall consensus was that he would be okay, though I think we were all a little hesitant!  That still wasn’t enough for me.  Then I thought about other movies he’s seen – Harry Potter, Star Wars, Home Alone (does this even count among the other movies listed?), and I began to think he could handle it.  He and I talked briefly about the movie’s storyline and then jointly decided he could watch it with us.  He was ecstatic!

Can you guess what happened?  When the killing started it was too much for him.  He announced, “This is too much for me.  I’m gonna go to my room.”  And he walked into his room, shut the door, and about 2 seconds later the crying began.  Blunder.

He was very upset.  While crying he said, “How could people do that to each other?  How could the president guy get away with that?  I just want to go get him and kill him.  What he is doing is wrong.  The people need to get together and get rid of him (pretty amazing considering that is exactly what happens in the story!).”  He said many more statements like the ones I just wrote, and as I hugged him and listened I began to learn more about my son.  Here’s the first thing I learned:  My son loves justice and hates injustice.  Immediately many instances flooded my mind of times when this character trait showed itself in his words and actions.  It was a blessing to see this so clearly.

He also said this, “I am so mad at myself for choosing to watch that movie.  I should have known better.  It was too much for me.”  After he said this my heart broke a little.  I hated that he was taking responsibility for this decision when clearly I am the parent and I am the one who is in his life to protect him from making “blunder” types of decisions.  So I immediately set the record straight and told him, “You are not to blame for this, I am.  I am your mom.  I am here to protect you, and I didn’t do my job very well with this decision.  You are 8.  You aren’t supposed know how to make decisions like this yet.  But I am.  And I messed this one up.  Will you please forgive me?  Please don’t be mad at yourself.  If you need to be mad at anyone be mad at me.”  His whole demeanor shifted.  A weight had been lifted.  The shift was as clear as day.  He was relieved to be reminded about what is his responsibility and what is mine.  He was allowed to be 8, and this was good for his soul!

So here is the other thing I learned:  I will make blundering types of mistakes with my kids and its not the end of his world or mine.  The mistake isn’t the most important thing, but how it’s handled IS!

So I think I’ll wait a few more years before trying to watch The Hunger Games again with my oldest son, but I am thankful to have learned so much about him through my blunder!

 

by: Lianne Johnson, LPC

Abused Boys…

Abused Boys…

October is domestic abuse prevention month and it seems that for months leading up to it social media and various news media outlets have been awash reporting on the topic of abused boys, and, in some cases, men. Is this phenomenon — the reporting of abused boys in the context of sexual abuse, in particular — merely a documenting of the latest cause du jour; or, is the issue so prevalent we simply can no longer ignore the ugly truth? I think the answer is, “It’s both.”

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My desire in writing about this ugly truth is to initiate a safe and respectful “blogversation” (yeah, I coined that term) that will be ongoing and not just a one off blog article. This continuing conversation, I hope, will seek to educate in a non-salacious manner deconstructing fallacies that sexual abuse of boys is rare, or that the consequences are less serious than for girls. Additionally, that if you’re an adult survivor of childhood sex abuse (CSA) – particularly you men – you are NOT alone and you no longer need hide in the shadows silently carrying the burden of shame, guilt, confusion, humiliation, pain, and fear. Lastly, through reading this article and ones to follow you will be encouraged to come out of the shadows of this burden you’ve carried for too long and to find the care, counsel, and substantial healing you so richly deserve.

Sex abuse is “…any touch or other behavior between the child and the adult that must be kept secret will be considered abuse.”

As this blogversation unfolds it’s important that we arrive at a clear definition of what sexual abuse is. Because, after all, once we know what it is impacts how we react to it. Here I like the succinct definition provided by Dr. Mic Hunter: Sex abuse is “…any touch or other behavior between the child and the adult that must be kept secret will be considered abuse.” Regardless of the adult’s protestations and/or intentions, if harm was the result for the child, the adult is the responsible party. Sadly, I would also add that this definition applies to an older minor-aged child engaged similarly, beyond developmental curiosity, with a younger-aged child. The “Who is responsible?” portion here obviously presents a host of challenges for parents and or those who are “mandate reporters” who discover abusive behaviors between minors; increasingly, the courts are answering this question.

“So what are we talking about here, Frank?” Well, it’s not the scope of this or follow on entries to enumerate what is certainly an inexhaustible list of ways that adults and older-aged minors mistreat children. But what I do know from anecdotal reporting, my own research on the topic before us, and what I deal with therapeutically with male clients is:

  • Conservatively, 1 in 6 (16.66%) males have experienced some form of sex abuse prior to their 18th
  • Male survivors of CSA often time lack the recognition and/or vocabulary to name what in fact happened to them.
  • Over time, victim-survivors are at greater risk for developing maladaptive coping mechanisms and/or acting out behaviors which impact their health, relationships, and vocation.

Questions to help identify your thoughts and emotions (Hunter):

  • What has been your definition of sexual abuse or incest? After reading above do you feel it may be changing?
  • Does your working definition for sex abuse allow you to feel the weight of your own abuse or that of a loved one?
  • How common do you think sexual abuse is in your gender?

I hope this initial start to this blogversation has a struck a chord with you. If so, please add your thoughtful comments, questions here. If you wish to have a more confidential conversation on this or other topics or other issues impacting your life please give me or one of my colleagues a call here at Avenues Counseling Center.

Resources for your consideration and growth:

Books:

  • Abused Boys: The Neglected Victims of Sexual Abuse by Dr. Mic Hunter (Fawcett Books: 1990).
  • The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sex Abuse by Dr. Dan Allender (NavPress: 2008).

Online:

by:  Frank Theus, PLPC

Your Kids Don’t Need A Perfect Parent

Your Kids Don’t Need A Perfect Parent

I have good news: your kids don’t need a perfect parent.

You are not alone if you think parenting is hard.  It is.  It is a job that requires all of who I am, around the clock.  I can love my kids well and serve them well for a few hours or even a few days in a row.  I can be attentive to their needs, present, and engaged.  I think there are even times I am good at it.  But then there are days when caring for them feels like a cheese grater on my skin. It doesn’t come naturally and I have little desire to sacrifice on their behalf.

When you live with people, especially people dependent upon you for their every need, it is hard to hide the darker facets of your heart.  This part of parenting creates a lot of fear and anxiety for many parents (myself included).  When my kids get an angered response from me, or I thoughtlessly dismiss them, I can see the sadness on their face and sense confusion about why mommy is suddenly being unkind or impatient.  In this moment— this moment we all face— we have a choice.

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We can sail past it, pretending it didn’t happen.

We can grow defensive and justify our selfishness.

Or we can turn toward our child and ask forgiveness.

When we fail (which we all do!) the temptation to hide our imperfections, deny them, or simply disengage from our children grows stronger in our hearts.  When facing the upsetting truth of our imperfection, we feel vulnerable.  And that is scary.

I have found that owning my imperfections and asking for forgiveness–like the third option above–restores and enhances the relationship with my children.  The pressure to be perfect dissipates for both of us and the freedom to be authentic is more defining of our relationship.

In a world filled with pressure to look good, where appearances are everything and self-sufficiency is glorified, we have the power to give our kids the tools to engage honestly and find their identity in something beyond appearing perfect.  We can model and promote love and acceptance through being authentic amidst vulnerability, rather than doing everything “perfectly.”

So good news!  Your kids don’t need a perfect parent. They need a courageous parent, humble enough to to risk vulnerability after messing up. How you honestly handle your imperfection matters more than your imperfections themselves.

By: Kim Hammans, PLPC

8 Things I Learned about Parenting as a Stay-At-Home Dad

8 Things I Learned about Parenting as a Stay-At-Home Dad

One great thing about writing this blog is that I get to write about my family!  My wife, Hannah, is awesome and a full-time marketing force-of-nature. My daughter, Naomi, is also amazing and a full-time coloring expert. Because my wife has a terrific job that takes her on the road a lot, I get to split time working at Avenues Counseling and caring for our wonderful 2-year-old. It has been the best and most challenging experience of my life. I had no idea how hard it would be. So I wanted to pass on 8 of the things I’ve learned about parenting from this school of hard-knocks.

Avenues Counseling

 

  1. You’re not lazy. Parents are the busiest people on the planet; right up there with your friends when you need help moving a piano. So if you want to just read the bolded parts of this article (in between meltdowns and near death experiences), that’s okay. I get it. Give yourself a break. We are finite people, with a limited amount of time. The 24-hour day didn’t expand with your added children. You’re just not going to accomplish as much as you did before. That doesn’t mean you’re lazy.
  1. Comparing is counterproductive. Ignore all the amazing things your Facebook friends appear to be doing for their kids. What your kids need most is your love, reassurance, and calming presence. Competing for parent of the year will only make you both anxious. I’ve never had anyone come to counseling complaining about how their parents ‘messed them up’ by serving non-organic vegetables. Having a community that identifies with our missteps is more life-giving than comparing ‘highlight reels’ on social media.
  1. Take time for your relationships. Whether it’s your spouse or a close friend, spend quality time with people other than your children. Contrary to popular opinion, children do not always need to be the center of our lives. That’s a lot of pressure. They want to know that their behavior does not make or break us. You have a life beyond them, and that is good.
  1. Take time for yourself. Don’t neglect your hobbies and passions. Your children benefit from your happiness. Balance tedious tasks with activities that are enjoyable and meaningful to you. Not every activity has to revolve around your children.
  1. Have one goal for the day. Parenting does not always feel ‘rewarding.’ Though parenting is incredibly meaningful, you rarely see the results of your labor. And not seeing results from a day of backbreaking work can be very draining. That’s why I have one goal each day just for the ‘high’ of crossing it off my list. The goal can be as simple as reading a couple pages, doing a few pushups, or having lunch with a friend. Whatever it is, I’ve done something to improve my life today! I get to make a big red ‘X’ on the calendar. These little things add up and visible rewards are very energizing.
  1. Nurture who your child is. Even at a young age, I can tell that my daughter has her own unique personality. She is not me. Recently I took her outside to play soccer; she showed complete disgust for the ball and went straight to the garden. Now, I could try to shape her into my own idea of who she ‘should’ be to gain my approval, or I could embrace who she is and nurture and support her uniqueness. My job is to make her feel special about who she is, not tell her who to be.
  1. Have fun with it. Parenting is easier when you just embrace the chaos. It’s gonna get messy; just go with it! Clean up time can come later. Kids have endless energy. That’s a strength not something to be subdued; growing up takes lots of work. Turn into the curve, put down the phone, and be active with them. You’re not going to get much done any way. Embrace your inner kid and have fun. They’ll love it!
  1. Don’t put disposable diapers in the washing machine. That one just kind of speaks for itself. It doesn’t end well . . .

by:  Andy Gear, PLPC