Keeping Your Personal Power

1409846027000-186534921The other day I was listening to Joel Osteen and he was talking about not giving up your power. It reminded me of a group lesson I used to teach my high school students a couple of years ago about not giving their power away. In this sense, many of the high school kids I was working with were labeled “troubled kids”, and while many of them had various problems, one main issue they had was allowing other people to push their buttons, causing them to react and get into trouble over and over again. They were allowing other students in essence to control them.

What exactly does it mean to not give your power away?

It means to not allow other people or even events that happen throughout the day, to steal your joy, your positivity, your happiness. It also means to not allow other people to control your emotions or cause you to act out.

It’s really easy in life to be reactive. We could be having a good day and all it takes is for someone to  make a rude remark or throw some other negative event into our day and then we are no longer having a good day. We are no longer happy and smiling, but instead we are fixated on that one negative event. We have let someone or something take our power away. Our power to be happy, our power to be the master of our emotions, actions and therefore consequences.

Many of us give our power away all the time without even realizing it. We think something or someone else made us mad, sad or ruined our day without realizing that we gave them the power to do so. Our emotions can be so overpowering that we don’t realize the thoughts that actually caused us to have those negative feelings and it’s those thoughts that we have power over if not anything else.

Our thoughts are one of the first places most of us give our power away.

We have negative self-talk that many of us just except as being true when in reality, it’s often just garbage. We tell ourselves we’re not good enough, we’re too ugly, too fat, weren’t born with the right genes, we’ll never be happy… the list can go on and on. First of all, if you believe all the negative self-talk, they tend to come true and become self-fulfilling prophecies. Second, they make us feel like crap and rob us of our natural power to feel good and be awesome people. Third and perhaps most importantly, they usually aren’t true. We have to challenge those negative thoughts instead of just accepting them. When you catch yourself having negative self-talk, ask yourself is it true? How do I know it is true? Negative thoughts and negative self-talk will do nothing but rob you of your power to control your life and have the life you want and deserve.

Another way we give away our power is through our actions or lack of actions.

Sometimes we are too afraid of making a decision, too afraid of change.  We don’t set goals. We sabotage ourselves. Sometimes we are waiting for something or someone instead of going out and doing it ourselves. I used to have a friend who was very educated, but he had trouble finding a job because he was always waiting for someone (usually family and friends) to find a job for him. He wanted them to find a place that was hiring, find out about the job, sometimes even get him the application. Needless to say he was unemployed for a very long time because he was waiting on someone else to do the things he could do for himself. He was giving away his power to be employed.

Lastly, perception is a major way many of us give away our power.

We give away our power by the way we look at things and perceive the world.  Many people see themselves as victims and that things are always done to them, that other people are in control of their lives, holding them back, causing their problems. If you perceive the world in this way then you are giving away your power and not taking personal responsibility for your life. Many people don’t understand that we choose how we perceive the world and we can look at it from different angles and viewpoints. Many of us have a default way that we perceive the world, but if that default way is holding us back and robbing us of our personal power, then we need to try a different perspective.

Take for example, if I go for a job interview and I don’t get the job, my default perspective might be “The guy interviewing me just didn’t like me. If I were a woman he would have probably hired me.” That’s giving away my power and making me feel like crap. I can change that perspective to something good and say, “I didn’t get the job, but at least I got an interview and I did my best, next time I’m sure I’ll get the job.” Or it could be a little more indifferent such as, “I didn’t get the job, guess it wasn’t meant for me. I’ll keep applying for other positions.”

The outcome doesn’t change. I didn’t get the job. However, my perspective changed and therefore how I felt about it changed from crappy, to positive, to indifferent. When I gave away my power with a negative perspective I felt worst then when I kept my power with good or indifferent perspectives.

There’s a saying that says, if you can’t change something then change the way you think about it. I have subscribed to that philosophy for a long time and trust me when I say it’s helped me stay positive and stay in control of my thoughts, feelings and actions.

When we give our power away we are allowing other people, events, circumstances, etc. to control how we feel and react. We are the captain of our ships and therefore are more control of our lives than we sometimes realize.  When we take our personal power back we get out of the passenger seat and back in the drivers seat of our lives.

Social-Emotional Development in Children Zero to Five: Part 1

My 7 month old son Kaiden
My 7 month old son Kaiden

Over the next few weeks, I will be covering some information on social-emotional development and mental health for children 0 to 5 years of age. The reason for this is not only because I have my own seven month old son, but because of my new position as a children therapist.

In the last month or so in my new position, I have come across a handful of patients aged 2 to 4 and have had some difficulty trying to figure out the best way to treat them. It’s one thing to work with children, it’s another thing to work with the smallest of children who generally have no idea what they are doing and why they are doing it and their parents have already given up on them.

I’ve seen parents with 2 year old children, reporting signs of hyperactivity, inattention, defiance, aggression, you name it. They insisted that their child was different then all other children, out of control and demanded medication. And I’ve seen these kids, 2 to 5 year old kids who definitely were expressing signs and symptoms not typical of the average child.

In many of these cases, it ends up being the parent that needs the most help, either counseling themselves or parent skill training to learn how to deal with their children and curve unwanted behaviors. Still, in a few of these cases, it was obvious that there had been some type of trauma in the very early years of these kids lives. Trauma that remained unprocessed and so the child was dealing with the trauma in the best way they knew how, acting out.

Most of the time, finding out this information is not easy because the parents either don’t tell you the information or they didn’t even recognize that the traumatic event was actually traumatic for the child. Many parents believe that children 0 to 5 aren’t affected by certain events, especially younger children 0 to 2. In reality, even in utero, children can be affected by stressors their mom goes through.

For instance, when I talk to the moms of many of the children I work with who are 0 to 5, I find out that many of them were in abusive relationships during their pregnancy and afterwards. Many of them got abused regularly in front of their infants and young children, not thinking this would have an affect on them. Many of them yelled and screamed with their partners or other family members regularly with their child in their arms.

These things can have a really big affect on their child which is why I suspect, at least in part, is why their children now are “out of control”. They have experienced a lot of stuff, emotions, things that may not seem like trauma to us adults, but can be traumatic experiences to the child, and they don’t know what to do with it. They lack the ability to communicate like adults so they internalize it and express it the best way they know how which can look like disruptive behavior.

Another two year old I saw, his mom had no idea why he was so “wired” and screamed all the time. She pretty much said he was born that way, but I knew that wasn’t likely the case. After much probing and counseling, I eventually found out that this mom too had been in an abusive relationship throughout her whole pregnancy and afterwards. As a matter of fact, her baby was in a car seat when the father was driving and beating on her at the same time. They ended up getting into a bad car accident where the baby somehow ended up flying unto the floor and stuck under the passenger seat of the car for nearly half an hour until he was freed by firefighters. If that wasn’t traumatic enough, he ended up spending 3 months in the hospital recovering from his broken bones and internal injuries. Yet, this mother didn’t think that this had any affect on her 2 year old childs’ current behavior until I brought this to her attention.

Without going into the neuroscience behind it (at least not at the moment), the brain is always changing and young brains are changing and developing the most. Experiences are the one of the  things that change the brain the most, causing the actual brain structure to change.

Everything we experience from sights, to sounds, the people we love, the emotions we feel, event the music we listen to and the books we read, affect the way our brain develops and this is especially true in children 0 to 5.In the next part of this series we will continue to explore behavior, parenting and early social and emotional development  and ways parents can nurture social and emotional skills in children 0 to 5.

The School To Prison Pipeline

91051924

The school-to-prison pipeline is a widespread pattern across the United States that pushes students, particularly disadvantaged students, out of schools and into the criminal justice system.

This is largely due to public institutions not properly addressing  the needs of individual students who may need extra help educationally and socially. This is often because of financial and staffing shortages.

This results in students being poorly educated, dropping out or getting kicked out of school, often resulting in arrests that develop into a cycle of continued arrests and crime which plaque not only that individual, but their community and ultimately, our society as a whole.

Hundreds Of Thousands Of Students Arrested At School Yearly

Each year across the nation, thousands of students are handcuffed in front of their classmates and taken to jail for behavioral problems that used to just result in a student being sent to the principal’s office or suspended.

A large majority of the students being arrested aren’t committing criminal acts, but displaying bad behavior. They are being arrested for misdemeanors such as “disorderly conduct”, which includes infractions such as refusing to give up their cellphone in schools with no cellphone policies and classroom disruptions. A relatively small percentage are arrests for weapons charges.

I personally have seen students arrested who had been suspended or put into an alternative school program, but came back to school either thinking their suspension was up or without truly understanding the terms and conditions of their suspension. Granted, when asked to leave campus these kids were defiant and thus arrested for trespassing, and while some were given warnings to leave campus, others weren’t given a warning at all and were simply arrested in front of their classmates.

There are definitely times and instances when students need to be arrested and detained for their own safety and/or the safety of others, but I think far too often, students are needlessly being arrested, taken down to the juvenile detention center and exposed to the criminal justice system.

An arrest record can stay with these students for the rest of their lives, even when the charges are dropped. When applying for jobs or to colleges and asked, “Have you ever been arrested”, they will will have to check “yes”.

Last week I watched as a group of girls had a verbal altercation on campus, that looked like it may erupt into something physical. As far as I could see, no one was physically being assaulted, but one of the school resource officers responding to the disruption, grabbed a girl, threw her to the ground and placed handcuffs on her. Despite everyone screaming that she wasn’t doing anything wrong, she was still detained. I believe she was eventually released to the custody of her parents and suspended, but  it was obvious by the look on her face and everyone around her, that it was a traumatizing experience.

Not only is being arrested traumatizing and embarrassing, it interrupts a students educational process and can create distrust in the school system and the law. I think far too often, arrests are made in cases such as a petty fight, minor vandalism, trespassing and minor theft, things that used to send a kid home for ten days, but now may get them arrested. I’ve even seen students tazed by officers during school fights, when they used to be broken up by teachers.

Granted, often students who get arrested have ignored warnings and instructions given by the police officer.

I wouldn’t dare want to interfere with law enforcement’s ability to do their job, especially in light of  the Sandy Hook shootings, but when police officers are on campus, the number of student arrests for minor infractions increases, many of which seem petty and unproductive.

For example, here in Florida a teen was arrested for trespassing because during her suspension she returned to school to take her final exams, and students involved in fights are often charged with battery against each other.

Disabled and Black Students Are Disproportionately Arrested

Students with various disabilities and black students are arrested more compared to their percentage of the student population. Even in schools for students with severe emotional problems, students are getting arrested for things like hitting, kicking and throwing objects, behavior that seems more related to their disabilities than to criminal acts.

While black students are more likely to be arrested than white students, it’s not because black students are misbehaving more, but historically and presently they seem to be punished more severely for less serious infractions, according to a study done by The Equity Project at Indiana University. Black males tend to be arrested more for “disorderly conduct” while white males are more likely to be arrested for drug charges. Black students are also more likely to have their cases dismissed than white students.

We can’t criminalize children for being and acting like children. Most of the students who get arrested already have had discipline or absenteeism problems before the arrest and could have benefited from an in school psychologically based program, such as the one I work for. It helps students with anger, academic, emotional, substance and behavior problems, and we even advocate for them during times when they are on the verge of getting arrested or expelled.

Unfortunately, many schools don’t have this type of program, nor the funds and staff to conduct the social services needed.

The Basics of Behavior Modification Techniques

Behavior modification techniques have at times been controversial.

Many people believe that they don’t work in the long run, but I know when done correctly, they can be an effective tool to curve undesired behavior and increase desired ones.

A Very Brief History

Behavior modification is largely derived from tenets of a psychological approach known as operant conditioning created by B.F. Skinner, which proposes that behavior can be shaped by reinforcement or lack of reinforcement.

Behavior modification techniques have been used successfully with adults and children to help with conditions such as attention-deficit/hyper-activity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), pervasive developmental disorders, phobias, and many others.

Reinforcing Positive Behavior 

Reinforcing consequences are anything a person receives as a result of their behavior, that increases the likelihood of that behavior occurring again.

For example, if a child gets a laugh from a parent when they swear, they are more likely to do it again. Or if they get praise for bringing home good grades, they are more likely to continue trying to bring home good grades.

Reinforcers, as the name suggest, reinforce behavior. Some good behaviors, some bad behaviors.

We use reinforcers all the time, often without realizing it. As the saying goes, we teach people how to treat us, because we often reinforce their behavior towards us, good or bad.

When people, especially children hear the word consequence, they usually assume that it is something negative, but consequences can also be positive.

Positive reinforcers are consequences a person wants to receive. They are used in behavior modification to increase desired behavior, usually through a reward system.

Behavioral contracts can be used to outline details of the reward system. As an example, a reward could be one hour of video games per day if all homework assignments for that day are complete, or all chores are done.

Sometimes negative behavior is also unintentionally rewarded. As an example, if a child yells enough and the parents gets annoyed and gives in to the child’s demands, that child is being reinforced to yell whenever he/she doesn’t get their way.

In these cases, the unwanted behavior needs to be stopped through what is called “extinction”.

Extinction

Extinction is basically stopping an undesired behavior by removing it’s rewards. Examples of rewards for undesired behavior include getting what they want after:

  • pleading
  • crying
  • throwing a tantrum
  • yelling
  • withdrawing

Time-out is one of many effective techniques used to extinguish undesired behaviors by removing the person from any rewards.

As I stated before, the saying “we teach people how to treat us” comes back to this, even as adults.

In a relationship, if our partner is being insensitive to our needs, yet we cling to them more and shower them with attention, then we are rewarding their behavior.

Negative Consequences for Behavior

Penalties, punishment and negative reinforcement are all forms of negative consequences.

Penalties are when someone loses something as a result of a behavior, such as the removal of a favorite toy or a privilege.

A punishment is when someone receives a consequence for a behavior that they don’t want, such as a spanking.

Negative reinforcers include the withdrawal of a privilege or addition of extra chores/assignments.

Differences Between Negative Reinforcement and Positive Reinforcement

Punishment, penalty and negative reinforcement usually result in minimal effort on part of the person to achieve the desired behavior.

Positive reinforcement is the only method that will encourage people to give voluntary, extra, enthusiastic effort to achieve the desired behavior.

The key to behavior modification is to use negative consequences as necessary, but to focus more on positive reinforcements.

The Five B’s of Effective Parenting

Lastly, the five B’s are very important when it comes to using behavior modification techniques with effective parenting:

  1. Be positive– try using positive consequences more than negative
  2. Be specific– be specific what behaviors are being punished or rewarded
  3. Be certain– your child should know without a doubt what to expect from you        based on their behavior.
  4. Be consistent– if you don’t apply rules consistently, your child can never be certain of what to expect
  5. Be immediate– act immediately when your child deserves a positive or negative reinforcer.

When used correctly, behavior modification techniques are positive tools and great ways for kids to learn in a rather safe environment about consequences.

They learn that in life, often there are no right or wrong decisions, but they have to be able to deal with the consequences (positive or negative) of their decisions.

Preteen Sex: Do We Really Need To Have This Conversation?

A lot of times we like to think that sexual activity and behavior doesn’t become a topic for discussion until kids reach their teenage years.

As a matter of fact, I found it frustratingly difficult while doing research on this topic, to find good scholarly information, demonstrating the lack of attention this topic receives.

However, from personal experience as a counselor, I know that preteens as early as 9 years of age are engaging in sexual or precursors to sexual behavior in ways that either often go unnoticed or are overlooked as normal play and socialization.

Preteens at times can be just as curious to what it means to be in a relationship, mature, or desired, as their older peers.

They are often exposed to a host of sexual behaviors either through watching their parents, older siblings, older teens or of course, the media and unfortunately, sexual molestation, usually at the hands of a family member, older teen or adult.

They are often curious about themselves and each other, especially the opposite sex. They often sit, fondle or cuddle in ways that may seem harmless, but are at times precursors to future sexual behaviors.

A lot of preteens I’ve worked with are already “making out” with boys and sexting, two very good predictors to early sexual activity. I’ve met preteens that have already voluntarily engaged in oral and even vaginal sex by the time they were 12 years of age.

Early dating, overly strict parenting as well as lack of parenting are all predictors of early sexual behavior.

Here’s another tip: preteen girls who have a lot of male friends are more likely to be exposed to drugs and alcohol and are much more likely to engage in sexual behaviors.

Also, men 18 and over are responsible for 50% of the babies born to girls 17 and under.

Sure many of these teens grow up in unstable houses, have poor self esteem and are looking for acceptance when they stumble into the world of sexual behavior, but many of them also are just curious, precocious children that have no clue what they are really doing.

Preteens, just like teens, are much more likely to not use any type of sexual protection, so they are at higher risks of being exposed to STDs and pregnancy.

Yes, some preteens can get pregnant. Puberty can happen as early as 9 in “normal” girls and as early as 6 in girls born with abnormalities that cause them to go through puberty extremely early.  In my research, girls as young as 6, 7, 8 and 9 have given birth to children, usually after being molested by a family member.

Parents of preteens and teens need to be proactive and honest with their children about sex. Educate your child and take the mystery out of sex, puberty and love.

Having this sort of talk with your preteen may be uncomfortable, but it’s better to have this educational, proactive talk now than to have it when it’s a little too late and you discover that your child is either pregnant, has an STD or is engaged in sexual behavior, much earlier than you ever expected.

Try to be the type of parent that gives your children all the answers they could ever ask, as detailed and as often as needed, so that they will always get the best advice (at least as much as you have educated yourself) and they don’t have to learn it from their peers or by making huge mistakes.

No parent is perfect, and neither is either child, but through communication you’ll be more likely to help your child make wise and healthy decisions today and for the rest of their lives.

 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, A Brief Primer Part 1: Automatic Thoughts, Assumptions and Personal Schemas

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most popular forms of therapy used in the Western world. The premise behind CBT is that stressful states such as depression, anxiety and anger are often maintain or exacerbated by exaggerated or biased ways of thinking. The role of the therapist is to help the patient recognize his or her idiosyncratic style of thinking and modify it through the application of evidence and logic.

One of the key components of CBT is getting the person to start recognizing their automatic thoughts which usually serve to maintain their undesired state.

Automatic thoughts come spontaneously, so much so that we often give no thought to them, and they appear to be true even when distorted, which often lead to problematic behaviors and disturbing emotions.

Some forms of automatic thoughts include fortune tellingdichotomous (all or nothing thinking), catastrophizing, personalizing, mind-reading and labeling.

Automatic thoughts could be true or false. For example, someone may have the mind-reading thought that “My boss doesn’t like me” and that could be true. However, the problem is that without sufficient evidence, we usually believe our automatic thoughts to be totally accurate, even when they aren’t. Combine this with the other underlying assumptions and rules that we all have, which tend to be rigid, over-inclusive, almost impossible to attain and ascribe vulnerability into the future, and we have a recipe for repeated disappointment, anger, depression, anxiety and a host of other unhealthy feelings and thoughts (Leah, 2003).

For example, if the person who has the automatic thought “My boss doesn’t like me”, also has the underlying rule that “Everyone must like me or I am a bad person”, will be deeply upset over the thought that his/her boss doesn’t like them. The same is true with rejection which partially explains why some people do not take rejection as well as others. One person can ask someone out on a date and if that person politely says “no”, that person goes on with their day, giving little thought to the rejection. But if another person has the rule and automatic thought “If she rejects me, that means I am undesirable to all women and will spend the rest of my life alone”, they will handle the rejection totally differently.

Underlying assumptions are deeply linked to personal schemas. Personal schemas are basically the core beliefs of what we belief about ourselves. We all have personal schemas, some positive and some negative, which influence the way we interpret information filtered through our automatic thoughts.

Back to our example. If someone has the personal schemas, “I am undesirable”, “I am worthless”, “I am unattractive”, they will have selective attention and memory as they look to validate their core beliefs about themselves and thus their automatic thoughts will also work to validate their core beliefs. So if the person already has the personal schema “I am undesirable”, and the automatic thought “this person will probably reject me” (mind reading), if they get rejected it will validate their personal schema and thus send them into a tail spin of self-pity, depression and anxiety, building on the strength of their erroneous thinking, assumptions, and schema.

(The ego always wants to be in balance with you and wants to make you happy. “The ego’s mission is to take the beliefs of the self and turn them into the experiences of the self.” – Falco, 2010)

This person, like many people with depression or anxiety, will filter out any information that contradicts their negative personal schemas and assumptions. For example, they may not notice the cute guy that flirts with them, but will fall to pieces at the person who makes a disapproving comment about her hair or her dress.

The goal of a CBT therapist would be to get the person to start recognizing all of these erroneous patterns of thinking, unravel them and replace them with more accurate forms of thinking.

We will discuss in a later post how thoughts create feelings.

Acting Out in School as a Way of Hiding a Learning Disability

There are variety of reasons kids act out in school, but they all usually act out to either hide something or as a way of expressing something they don’t know how to express in a more appropriate manner.

Earlier this week I sat in on an executive board meeting with various members of the Department of Juvenile Justice in the state of Florida and was reminded of Dexter Manley’s incredible story. 

Dexter Manley was an American professional football player who liked to give back to his inner-city community. Often he would go to various schools and speak to children about the importance of an education. Well one day after he had gotten through giving an inspiring speech to a group of elementary school kids, he was asked to read to them from an elementary level book. Dexter tried to get out of the situation, but he was cornered and eventually broke down crying. He had been hiding a secret that he was terrified would be exposed. He couldn’t read. Here was a man who had not only graduated from high school, but had also went to college and yet wasn’t able to read beyond a second grade reading level.

In elementary school Dexter realized in the second grade he had learning issues (poor auditory memory) and was often teased by other students. In return he started acting out in class, becoming a “troubled student” and even once pushed one of his teachers against the wall. He was passed on from class to class and grade to grade until he eventually graduated high school with only a second grade reading level. He had become a master at hiding his learning disability so well that he made it through college and much of his adult life without even his children and wife knowing he could barely read or write, but it all started in elementary school where he learned that acting out in class got him out of having to reveal that he was having trouble reading, writing or understanding material his peers were grasping. 

That got me to thinking about the many “troubled” teens I work with and I noticed before that most of them also had failing grades and very poor reading and writing skills, but I had been under the impression that it was mostly due to their lack of participation in class, lack of concentration, attention and motivation. It wasn’t until recently that I started realizing that many of them act out to hide the fact that they are suffering from one learning disability or the other. Now when I am referred a kid by a teacher or guidance counselor for “behavior issues” I also check their academics and their grades usually are very poor. Eventually I usually learn that their reading and writing skills are also extremely poor and I say “eventually” because it is usually hard to get them to write or read anything, they are usually master manipulators and will either change the subject, get angry or deviant. One kid in particular walked around with a stack of books, about five books checked out from the library in her arms at all times. I always thought she was an avid reader, but one day when I called her in my office and she came with her books, I asked her about each book and realized she hadn’t read any of them. When I tried to coach her into reading one to me, she struggled through a line or two and then became very angry and deviant. She stopped reading. She could barely read and she was a 17 year old high school junior.

Although I believe the practice of just passing troubled kids through school to get rid of them is less common today in the age of standardized testing, I am all too aware of many recent and not so recent high school graduates who read and write on elementary grade levels and seem to have slipped through the cracks of our educational system. Often times teachers send me kids they have kicked out of their class for “acting out”, and these kids are usually failing that class and have learned very quickly that if they act out, they will either get left alone or removed from the situation they don’t want to be in anyway. Up until recently, the real situation wasn’t getting dealt with as I had ignored the possible learning issues going on and went straight to trying to solve the cognitive and behavioral problems as I’ve been trained to do. 

Without help, these kids who manage to skate through high school will find that functioning in the real world is much harder. Many of the manipulation, distracting and defense mechanisms that worked in high school will not work in society and may actually get them hurt, arrested or worse. Unlike Dexter Manley who was a star football player and had the athletic talent and financial resources to hide his issues (at least for awhile), most of these young people will be unable to get or keep jobs and will most likely turn to drugs, alcohol, and criminal activities as ways of trying to cope. Ignoring the problem now will only cost everyone more later when these young people are carjacking us, or we are using our tax payers money to feed them in jail.  

If you have or are a parent of a child with a learning disability I would love to hear from you.

If you are a parent and have a child that is acting out and also struggling in school, it would be a good idea to have him or her tested for a learning disability. I think often learning disabilities go undiagnosed because parents are unwilling to have their kids tested. No one wants to have a child with a learning disability, but having that disability identified and attended to will allow that child to learn how to adjust and succeed. Not giving your child that opportunity out of fear of labeling could be detrimental to his/her future.

To read more about Dexter Manley you can click on this link http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1077/is_n12_v44/ai_8010811/?tag=content;col1