teens

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

There is still this vast difference between our comfort levels of talking about physical health vs. mental health. If you are on a weight loss plan, you’re telling everyone because a) you are proud of this lifestyle change, b) to help hold you accountable, or c) a combination of both. People are posting and talking about the latest cookbooks, workout venues, and weight loss regimens and yet we talk very little about how we are supporting our mental health.

So, how are you supporting your mental health? Do you get outside regularly? Do you have a group of friends that you talk to face-to-face about what’s bothering you? Do you have a counselor? Do you get enough sleep? Do you allow yourself to feel all your emotions and not label any of them as “bad?”

There’s the fascinating documentary called “Like” by IndieFlix which talks about the effects of social media. There are many poignant points that resonated with me as a child and teen counselor but one of the most important is this idea of selective posting and how it doesn’t replicate reality. Teens and adults look at social media posts and often think “that person has it all together” or “i’m the only one who _______” which can lead to further isolation. I hope you realize that people are selective in what they post and that their posts show only a snippet of who they really are.

Along the lines of social media is this idea that we, as a society, are connecting less face-to-face. So what’s the big deal? We can Face Time with our friends and family across the country and world? And yes while it’s great to see my mom’s face instead of just hearing her voice, it still doesn’t replicate the nonverbal communication that would be present in-person. I could notice if she’s fidgeting with her hands or even more important if she’s upset I could put my arm around her or give her a hug. How often do you have the opportunity to connect with someone face-to-face and feel heard? Do you have one friend, two friends, a partner, a neighbor who would sit with you and be present? I often think the urge to use social media is because we don’t know how to sit in stillness anymore with uncomfortable feelings so when we are felling sad, lonely, frustrated we mute those feelings and reach for the phone instead.

If you are looking for a counselor and don’t know where to look here are some ideas. Goodtherapy.org and Psychology Today are usually good places to start. You can narrow your focus to counselors by a zip code, speciality, insurance, etc. From there spend some time reading their bios to see if their approach would be a good fit and even better if they offer a free in-person intake. I do this as a counselor. I feel that if counseling is really going to work then both myself and my client need to feel comfortable. I invite new clients in for a 30 minute free intake so they can meet me face-to-face and learn more about my personality and approach. I would encourage you to find a counselor in your area who would do the same.

And finally, I keep coming back to that Brene Brown video on Empathy vs. Sympathy. Often if someone shares something troubling there aren’t words that will fix it and it’s not about “fixing” but rather about being seen. So next time a friend/partner/family member shares something vulnerable with you consider saying something like “I just don’t really know what to say right now but I’m so glad you told me” or “That sounds hard and I’m here if you need someone to talk to.”

My Letter to College Admissions Officers

The recent college admissions scandal has generated lots of discussion. I chose to focus on the point that I know best as a mental health counselor- this process is taking a toll on students’ mental health.

Dear College Admissions Officers:

I write this letter from the perspective of someone who works with lots of high school students and sees how your acceptance process leaves students perplexed at best and suicidal at worst. I started undergrad 18 years ago and sure there were times when I felt frustrated during the process but I still got to be a teenager. In my downtime I’d listen to Jewel’s latest album, go to movies with my friends, and watch Dawson’s Creek. My admissions experience was quite a simple one because of the privilege I was afforded. So why am I concerned?

I am concerned for the mental health of our students. Do you know that the prefrontal cortex, responsible for decision making, planning, and judgement, starts developing at age twelve and isn’t fully formed until mid-late twenties? The excessive scheduling of sports, music lessons, and tutoring means either a still-functioning teenage brain has to manage that OR a parent steps in. When I was in high school, the “talk” was to find something you’re good at. I liked writing so I did that and I also liked helping people so I volunteered at the hospital after school. Now, it’s simply not good enough to have one thing you’re good at, you must have many. You must be popular but kind, athletic but well-rounded, make good grades but also volunteer and if you’ve already founded your own nonprofit or learned four languages then WOW! Is that picture that I just described really attainable? Where is there time in that picture for self-care? For the recommended 8-9 hours of sleep? For time to connect with friends and family that doesn’t involve a screen? 

I don’t know if you realize this but the competitive nature of college admissions means that students now associate asking for help with failure and struggling with a mental illness as a sign of weakness. When I missed school because I was sick, I’d call up my friend on her land line and asked her if I could I borrow the notes that I missed in class. During 11th grade, two of my closest friends tutored me in calculus because I was so confused. Do you think that same mentality happens now? Sometimes yes, but I think you would be shocked to hear that students don’t share their notes now because “tough luck that person was sick. They should’ve stuck it out like I did.” Can you imagine how it feels to be struggling with depression and feel totally alone because society tells you it’s a weakness? Don’t you think that everyone would benefit if there wasn’t this mentality of “taking away from me in order to give to someone else?” 

Not that you’ve asked but I’d love to offer you some possible essay topics for those applications of yours. 

·     What do you do for self-care?

·     What would you give up for someone else?

·     If a camera crew followed you around all day, would they see that you are the bully, the bullied, or a bystander? If you are a bystander, would they see you stand up for the kid who’s bullied or turn away and act as if nothing happened because it doesn’t affect you directly?

If you ever want to trade places for a day, give me a call. I think you’ll find the issues facing teens today very eye opening.

Teaching about Mistakes

I often have parents of young children ask me how to talk about mistakes in a way that is developmentally appropriate. I wanted to share two of my favorite children’s books.

First up- Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg. This creative board book helps children see that a bent piece of paper can be something to celebrate because the bent corner is actually the beak of a penguin. It’s colorful design and three-dimensional aspect makes it a fun book to explore with children.

Then there’s The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken which looks at how an artistic imperfection can spark inspiration. It’s beautifully illustrated and will resonate with any child (or parent) who has experienced a meltdown when drawing. “I didn’t want that circle to look that way,” can lead to tears but Luyken helps kids understand that the circle can be easily turned into something different.

And finally a great read for supportive adults is The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey. Her book encourages parents to let their children experience failure so then they can problem solve for themselves solutions. Here’s an article about Lahey’s book written by Julie Lythcott-Haims author of How to Raise an Adult:

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/23/books/review/the-gift-of-failure-by-jessica-lahey.html

Setting Intentions instead of Resolutions

As 2018 comes to a close, I’ve heard people buzzing about their New Year’s Resolutions- sleep more, take more vacation days, lose weight, use social media less, etc. I’m not against making resolutions or setting goals but I’d like to reframe the way we talk about resolutions. In my mind, resolutions are lofty, abstract goals that are often hard to follow through with and leave people feeling bad about themselves. What’s fun in that?

I once had a student who came back from winter break and said, “I’ve made a resolution not to gossip anymore.” My response went something like this, “Wow, it sounds like you have a desire to be more mindful of how you talk about others. I wonder what your ‘no gossip’ resolution looks like. What’s your first step towards that resolution?” This student just sat and stared at me. I think she was hoping I’d say, “Congrats, what a great resolution.”

Why setting an intention is different? An intention encompasses many different situations and I think doesn’t leave someone feeling “less than” if their goal is not achieved. For example, let’s say your intention for 2019 is to be more present. Some days you might focus your intention to be more present at work, other days it might be with your family or yourself. You can also notice when you forget about your intention. “Man, I really zoned out at that parent meeting today. Next time I need to jot down more notes to help keep my mind from wandering.” I also like using the word “intention” because it’s flexible and adaptable and I think that’s important. No one can predict what 2019 might hold so by setting an intention you allow yourself that flexibility to accept what you cannot control.

Here’s to wishing you a healthy and happy 2019 and may your intentions for the year guide you to take care of yourself and others.

The Pressure of Being a College Athlete

Recently I read the book What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan that recounts the life and suicide of college athlete, Madison Holleran. I found it fascinating and couldn’t put the book down. Many of the comments that Maddy made throughout the book were reminiscent of what I’ve heard as a high school counselor- the pressure to perform, the allure of a name brand school, feeling trapped and unable to quit something that you don’t love doing anymore, etc. Reading this prompted me to dig deeper into research done specifically on perfectionism and college athletes.

Elison and Partridge (2012) published an article in the Journal of Sport Behavior that looked at the relationships of shame-coping, fear of failure, and perfectionism in college athletes. Their study found that female athletes tend to employ internalizing forms of shame coping (attacking self and withdrawal) more than males. One of the key highlights of this article for me was when the researchers said, “if shame is elicited by devaluation then shame and fear of failure can be lessened by reducing athletes’ perceptions that their shortcomings make them less worthy as a person” (2012). This got me to thinking how relatable that statement is to what I often see in terms of grades and personal value. Many students attach their self-worth to their grades. “If I get a B or a C, I am not a good person or unworthy” is often the negative self-talk going on inside their heads.

So how do we as parents and educators help? First, consider how you viewed your own success and failure? Did you tie your grades or success to your self-worth? If not, it’s important to share that with your child. You might say, “you know what I got lots of B’s or lots of C’s and while I might have wished they would’ve been A’s I also knew I tried my hardest.” You might also engage in a deeper discussion about personal values and how sometimes values aren’t measured by grades or trophies; they’re measured by how we treat people.

Know of a child or teen struggling with perfectionism or negative self-talk? I’d be happy to help!

An Attitude of Gratitude

Having “an attitude of gratitude” is a theme in the Girls on the Run curriculum. I have the wonderful opportunity to serve on the Board of the local Girls on the Run chapter. There are many themes throughout the Girls on the Run curriculum that I think can be applied to adults, children, and teens but certainly an attitude of gratitude is one of them.

A few years ago, I began a Gratitude Jar that I made myself using some ribbon, a mason jar, and cut-up pieces of card stock. Each day I wrote down one thing I was grateful for. One of the best aspects of this practice is seeing the jar filled with many things; some of them were repeated but after 6 months I opened the jar and went through everything I felt grateful for. Some of the tiny cards brought up memories that I had forgotten- a sunny day in February. I encourage you to try it out as a family; your children can even help in decorating the jar. It can become a bedtime ritual or a dinner conversation.

One of the many things that I’m grateful for is my work with children and adolescents. I’m grateful for the families who seek out my help and expertise and I’m grateful for the children and adolescents who trust me and open up to me. My work as a counselor is truly rewarding and I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with so many families over the years and in the future too.

Let us express gratitude to each other in whatever way feels most authentic.

Written by Kathleen Goodman

Written by Kathleen Goodman

What is Self-Compassion?

There’s this misconception that exists lumping self-esteem and self-compassion as one in the same. Self-esteem is often labeled as how we think about ourselves (often in comparison to others) and self-compassion is different; it’s how we treat ourselves. We might feel good about ourselves but what happens when you make a mistake? Think about a lofty goal you set for yourself recently. Did you reach it? If not, what was the language you used in your head? How did you treat yourself? For example, let’s say you’re a runner and your goal was to beat your time on an upcoming race. Race day comes and you don’t beat your time; in fact, it’s slower than you’ve ever run. In that moment, the wheel of negative thoughts might be circling in your head: “I failed,” “I knew I couldn’t do it,” “I’m too old/slow/fat, etc.”

Recently I listened to this TedTalk by Kristin Neff: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvtZBUSplr4 where she talks about the three core components to self-compassion. Those components are self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. When I think about self-compassion for myself and for the adolescents I work with this idea of common humanity really stands out. Common humanity is essentially the principle of knowing you are not alone. You are not the only one with anxiety, depression, frustration, hurt, disappointment.

In stark contrast, self-criticism does two things (among others). First, self-criticism releases high levels of cortisol to make you feel stressed and second, self-criticism leads to isolation. Self-criticism makes you believe that you don’t deserve to be around others and thus does the opposite of what is most needed in that moment. Self-criticism fuels one of the most vulnerable human emotions which is shame.

So what can be done to help our children and ourselves? I think the first step is to think about self-kindness being the words you would use to talk to a close friend. If your friend didn’t beat her goal time in the race, would you say to her “I knew you couldn’t do it.” No you wouldn’t. You’d probably sense her feelings of disappointment and might say something along these lines, “It sounds like you’re feeling disappointed about your time but think about all the ways you prioritized your training runs and what an accomplishment that was.”

Particularly for adolescents who developmentally are so focused on peer relations, teaching self-kindness through the mindset of “what would you tell a friend” can have a huge impact in shifting their negative thoughts away from self-criticism and more towards self-compassion. Rachel Simmons offers some valuable insights about how teaching self-compassion can help stressed out teens in her article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/20/well/family/self-compassion-stressed-out-teens.html

Know of a teen struggling with self-criticism? I’d be happy to help!

Written by Kathleen Goodman

Written by Kathleen Goodman



Combatting Perfectionism

Let’s talk for a moment about perfectionism and the rise of perfectionism in our society today. What exactly is perfectionism? The simplest definition is the fear of making mistakes or the belief that making mistakes is unacceptable. Perfectionists also tend to be procrastinators- why is that you ask? Well if you have to make sure it’s perfect, then you might avoid the task altogether.

Having spent ten years in a school, I heard over and over again students who would re-write essays two, three times before turning it in because they had to make sure it was perfect. These students turned assignments in late because their first one or two attempts weren’t good enough. This example also demonstrates how perfectionists internalize feedback and how a grade less than an A signals a value judgement made about them. More often than not, if a perfectionist receives a “C” on an assignment, she’ll say “I’m not smart” or “I’ll never succeed” whereas a healthy response to receiving a “C” would say “I should ask my teacher where I could improve for the next time.”

What I’ve noticed over the years is that anxiety and perfectionism go hand in hand. A perfectionist has “what if” statements that control his mind. “What if I fail this class?” “What if I fail all my classes?” “What if I don’t graduate?” “What if I don’t get into college?” These thought processes create a spiraling effect where a student goes from fearing failing a test to that one test suddenly affecting the rest of his life.

So how can we as educators and parents help?

  • First, take a moment to notice in yourself if you are okay with making mistakes. When you make a mistake at home or at work, how do you handle it? Do you internalize it and allow it to make a value judgement? Model for yourself and for your children that making mistakes is okay. This is HARD work especially in a society that celebrates curated social media profiles and says, “Look everyone else is doing it so much better/easier/faster.”

  • Second, poke holes in the “all or nothing” thinking. If your child says, “if I fail this test I’ll never get into college,” poke holes in those fear statements. “I’m hearing you say that you are afraid this one test will affect your future and I’m wondering about the other assessments in your class that provide opportunities for you to show your knowledge in other ways.” You might also offer a moment of perspective taking and ask, “can you think of a time when you were afraid to take a risk? how did that work out for you?”

  • Third, adopt a growth mindset. Carol Dweck’s work talks about fixed versus growth mindset. What is a fixed mindset? Perfectionism is a fixed mindset. A growth mindset says, “this feedback will help me improve in the future” rather than “mistakes are to be feared.” Growth mindset encourages us to take feedback and apply it to what was presented/turned in versus internalizing feedback as a judgement on ourselves.

Interested in learning more about how changing thought patterns can affect perfectionism? I’d be happy to help!

Written by Kathleen Goodman

Written by Kathleen Goodman

Learning to Play Again

Play is a child’s natural mode of expression. Think back to when you were a child- how did you play? Perhaps there was a creek in your backyard or you built a fort with kids in your neighborhood? For me, play meant dressing up my dog and cat and in the summer catching lightening bugs. I asked a high school student once, “when was the last time you played?” She looked at me like I had three heads. “What do you mean ‘play’ she asked? She then went on to respond that she “plays” with her phone and “plays” sports.

When I think of play, I think of unstructured time and yet I wonder where does that actually exist for students nowadays? Students’ days are highly structured from the time they wake up to the time they go to sleep. Their days are spent at school, in clubs, at sports, perhaps lessons or tutoring, homework, on social media, worrying about school/friends, etc. I know of educators who actually have played a student for a day meaning that they’ve woken up, done the commute, run through a whole day of classes, then gone to sports practice before coming home to piles of homework. Those educators that “played” students for a day said it was one of the most exhausting experiences they’ve ever been through.

I came across an article about one school in Minnesota that is doing something really neat. LEAP is an hour during the school day when students choose how to spend their time. Perhaps take a nap, lift weights, or play drums; either way Centennial High School in Circle Pines, MN is giving students a chance to have unstructured time OR if they want more structure, then they get to create it for themselves. Read more here: https://www.kare11.com/article/entertainment/television/programs/kare-11-sunrise/big-kid-recess-reduces-stress-at-centennial-hs/89-434278170

Written by Kathleen Goodman

Written by Kathleen Goodman


Back-to-School Tips

It’s that time of year- back to school! You can always tell when the stores and commercials are filled with advertisements for lunch boxes, backpacks, and school supplies. Going back to school can be met with both worry and excitement from students AND parents. Below are some helpful tips:

At Home

·     At least one week before school starts, adjust wake times to be consistent with school. This is particularly important for older students whose summer wake time is far later than for school.

·     Find a place where all school items will be housed. For example, is there a crate by the backdoor where your child can put her backpack, gym bag, and violin case so she knows where to find it each morning?

·     Do a trial run of what a typical school morning looks like. This is important for both you and your child to figure out how much time is needed. If your child walks to the bus stop, practice doing that. If your teenager is driving to school, practice the route.

·     Display a monthly calendar that lists various events. If you have younger students, you’ll most likely make note of things like Back to School Night or PTA meetings. If you have older students, coach them to add important events to the calendar like games, practices, etc. As students get older it’s also important to coach them to consult the family calendar when there are events that might mean they need to manage their homework load. For example, your 10th grader has a chemistry test on Thursday but your family is celebrating Grandma’s 80th on Wednesday night. That is an important lesson for your student to learn he’ll need to do more studying earlier in the week and not rely solely on the night before.

At School

·     For younger children who might experience separation anxiety, talk ahead of time with the classroom teacher. Most of the time the initial separation worries can be quickly solved if the student has a morning routine when she walks into the classroom. If there is a stuffed animal or other soothing object (photo, book, etc.) be sure to let the teacher know.

·     Do a practice run. Many schools, particularly elementary schools, give students the opportunity to meet their teachers and see their rooms ahead of time. Make sure to include other areas of interest as well. When the bus drops off your child where does he go? If you pick up your child, where should she meet you? What does the art room, library, and gym look like?

·     For older students, accompanying them on a tour may be the last thing they want but they might have some worries if new to their school. If their locker has a combination lock, practice using one at home. If there are opportunities to get involved before school starts, encourage that. Often high school sports practices and even some drama productions start weeks ahead of time. For older students, it’s more about connection. 

When to Worry

·     Whether it’s starting school or a new job, it can take a while to adjust. Help model patience for your child. There will be good days and bad days. When phone calls home or tearful mornings become the norm rather than the exception, it might be time to seek additional support.

·     If you don’t hear your child bring up other kids in their class, probe a little further by asking: “tell me what lunch looks like” or “who do you sit beside in art class?” It’s important for students to find peer connections.

Where to Go for Help

·     Start with the source- your child. You might say, “Each year you seem excited for school and it’s normal to feel nervous but this year I actually observe you feeling scared. Tell me more about that.”

·     Consult with your child’s teacher, especially if your child has one primary teacher. You are the expert on your child but the teacher is the expert on kindergartners and might reaffirm that your child’s behavior is totally normal and developmentally appropriate.

·     Collaborate with your child’s school counselor or outside mental health counselor if there are underlying social-emotional concerns.

Interested in counseling services for your child? I can help! I've worked with lots of students around transitions particularly the middle to high school and high school to college transitions.

Written by Kathleen Goodman

Written by Kathleen Goodman