by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMarch 14, 2021 child counseling, child therapy, family counseling, family counseling during corona virus, parenting, Parenting and Families0 comments
Whether you’re a parent or caregiver, weathering the pandemic with children has probably felt like a pressure cooker at times. Boredom, turmoil, and anxiety arise when faced with remote school days or filling long afternoons sans extracurriculars.
Kids look to the adults in their lives to help them cope with this complex, global situation. How can we make strong mental health choices to protect them?
Start By Helping Yourself
It’s difficult to support others when you feel unsupported. Take some moments at the beginning of each day to center yourself. You could wake up a little early to do a 20-minute yoga class. Perhaps digest the headlines over a quiet cup of coffee. Even stopping to breathe deeply for one minute can make a difference.
Now that you are calm, transmit that to your children. Start with basic facts about COVID-19. Dispel any scary rumors that may be circulating. Especially be aware of internet and TV messages. Assure them that, although we do need to take it seriously, adults are working to keep everyone as safe as possible.
When your child has a question about the coronavirus or lockdown life, take the time to listen. Give them space to air out their concerns. It may help to provide multiple modes of expression, like drawing, playing, and talking.
Measures of Control
We all like to feel some control of our lives, however small. The same goes for young people. Fortunately, the safety guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 translate into simple activities. Guide kids to wash their hands, wear a mask in public, and stay at least 6 feet away from anyone outside their pod.
Lighten the mood when you can. Hand-washing can be made into a fun game with songs. Mask crafts add color and art to something obligatory.
Social distancing may especially distress kids who miss their friends. Take some extra time to emphasize why it’s important to keep distance. Explain that the infection spreads when people are in close contact with each other. Assure them that it’s temporary, and they will see their friends again. Meanwhile, engage in remote or outdoor socializing when possible.
Middle schoolers and high schoolers may benefit from graphics that demonstrate how “flattening the curve” works. This helps them understand the bigger picture and empower them to be part of the solution.
Come Up With Fun Distractions
On the bright side of lockdown, we have so many opportunities to spend quality time with our kids. When we’re safe at home, there’s no need to ruminate on pandemic worries. Have a family meeting where everyone lists a hobby or interest they want to grow during quarantine: puzzles, art, reading, writing, music, gymnastics, bird-watching… Maybe you all make a pact to work on doing the splits by the end of quarantine. Maybe you remodel a room and turn it into an art studio or sublime reading nook.
Most of us have some kind of dream home project that’s been sitting on the shelf. Time to get into it! The antidote to worry is action.
We Can Pull Through This
If the stress of the pandemic seems to be wearing on you and your children, make the wise choice: seek counseling. Zoom makes family therapy readily available, and it’s just as effective.
It’s true that we’re all in this together – if your family feels overwhelmed, you don’t have to tough it out alone.
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghNovember 23, 2020 children mental health, wellness for kids0 comments
How to Praise Your Child
Kids are constantly begging for attention from parents. How you respond to their accomplishments and their success has a big impact on their emotional development and self esteem. Praising children through verbal encouragement and recognition can be one of the most effective approaches to teaching your child to develop good habits. It is one of the best tools you can use as a parent to ensure your kids learn important life lessons and learn healthy habits of success! Giving children praise is an important part of their development and will increase their wellness, but not all praise is created equal. In fact, some types of praise can backfire! There is a large and continually growing body of psychological research that has found that how you praise your child can have a significant effect on their sense of self-esteem and their psychological well-being! Perhaps most importantly, this research has found that certain praise can actually be harmful for your child! See what family therapists say is the best approach to raising emotionally resilient kids!
Not all Praise is Created Equal
Praise is the primary way that we reward children when they exhibit good behavior. When children demonstrate good behavior, rewarding them increases the likelihood that they will repeat that good behavior again in the future. This type of learning is based on the idea of positive reinforcement. We praise successes, both big and small, and try to build a sense of achievement and confidence in our children. Many parents hope that giving children frequent recognition and approval will build healthy habits as well as boost self-esteem. This is all done with good intentions, and may appear to make sense, but there is more to the picture of praise then you might realize! When we praise children, we are not just encouraging them, we are teaching them lifelong lessons about their own capacity for growth and development. If we believe that all praise is the same, we will likely fall victim to a simple mistake that can have lasting effects on our children and their development. All praise is not created equal.
Person-Praise vs. Process-Praise
Praise that focuses on the fixed traits or characteristics of a child is known as person-praise. The name is pretty straight forward; person-praise means that when children are successful, we praise their personal traits. An example of person-praise would be saying, “You are such a good student” when a child gets an A on an assignment. The second type of praise is called process-praise. When using process-praise, the praise focuses on recognizing the process the child carried out that led to their success. Rather than focusing on being a “good student,” which is a fixed trait, you would praise the process of work and dedication the child exhibited. An example of process-praise would be, “The time and effort you have been putting into to your school work has been awesome, and it really paid off on your test!” Process-praise teaches children that they have ownership and responsibility for their success. When your child succeeds, praise the process, not the person. Research has found that process-praise is one of the most effective and healthy ways to encourage your child, build resilience, and instill a strong sense of self-esteem.
When we praise our children, we are not just recognizing and encouraging successful habits. When we praise children, we are teaching them why they were successful. We either teach them that their success happened because of traits they have, or we teach them that they earned their success! Praising the child’s fixed abilities actually undermines their confidence and self-esteem. Often, as adults, we do not realize this, and we end up overemphasizing traits of the child rather than the things the child actually did to reach that success. We say things like, “You are so smart!” instead of saying “Wow, you have been working so hard at your school!” Praising the resilience and dedication that was part of the process of success is the key to fostering a healthy growth mindset and building a true sense of self-confidence in your child.
“Person-praise,” is the tendency to praise the fixed traits that a child possesses. Praising things like being pretty, smart, talented, good at math, intelligent, or a natural athlete are all examples of person-praise. When we praise these traits, we foster unhealthy beliefs about both success, and their personal worth. When we say things like “You are so smart,” or “You are such a good painter,” we are teaching children that they are praiseworthy because of fixed qualities that they possess. When a child is successful, and we praise their traits, we are telling them that their success is due to the traits that they have. This teaches them that the praise they receive is based on the qualities and characteristics they have, rather than the things they do. Research findings consistently demonstrate that person-praise reduces motivation, focuses students on their performance, and encourages them to compare their performance with that of others.
Praising these fixed traits influences the way children view themselves and their ability to change. Whether we realize it or not, we are teaching children to use all-or-nothing thinking, and to judge themselves and their abilities on fixed traits. This creates a “fixed mindset” and makes children more likely to limit their own potential and be harder on themselves when they fail. The lesson that they learn is, “I am successful because of the traits that I have and I can’t do much about it.” In praising the traits of the child, we teach them that success is something that happens to them, rather than something they can achieve. Instead of building self-confidence, we teach children to think with an all-or-nothing mindset.
Children learn to value the qualities that adults praise. In using praise that focuses on fixed trait’s, children learn that it is those fixed traits that adults’ value. In turn, they may come to believe that their value is fixed, based on the praiseworthy qualities that they do or do not possess. Rather than learning how to value themselves, children learn to evaluate themselves. Children learn to base their personal value on the number of good and praiseworthy traits they have and beat themselves up if they don’t measure up! Even though we are trying to build a sense of confidence by telling them how great they are, we teach children that their worth and success is based on a fixed set of characteristics that they cannot control. Ultimately receiving person-praise teaches the child all-or-nothing thinking and fosters an internal dialogue of comparison and self-criticism. In trying to build self-esteem, we destroy it. We teach children that their value, like their success, is based on their fixed traits.
When you focus on praising the process of success you emphasize the effort, dedication, and problem solving that the child used to succeed. Process-praise also includes recognizing and praising when a child asks for help in appropriate situations. Recognizing and praising the process, teaches your child that they have the ability to determine their own success and get through difficult situations. Process-praise teaches the child that they have self-control, and they have the ability within themselves to improve. It focuses on the good things the child does, rather than what qualities the child has. Focusing on things like effort, the investment of time, creative problem solving, persistence, and dedication are all ways to give process-praise.
As a parent, pointing out the free choices your child made gives them the opportunity to take ownership of those choices, and take ownership of their success! Praising the process of success teaches children that they achieved success through their problem solving, effort, and asking for help when necessary. This builds a true sense of accomplishment, fosters accurate self-confidence based on their experience, and develops a sense of self-determination. Children learn that their brains are flexible, and their abilities can be developed. Success becomes something children can achieve through hard work, diligence and practice, rather than something that happens to them. Process-praise creates a “growth mindset” which instills a sense of hope for the future and also teaches responsibility for actions. Praising things such as effort, problem solving, dedication, thinking creatively, and appropriately asking for help teaches the child that their worth does not depend on their traits or characteristics, or the approval of other people. It teaches them those habits are valuable and good, but success or fixed traits are not what give them value.
The idea of using process praise instead of person praise has been applied in schools and classrooms, but it is especially applicable now as many parents find themselves working as teachers aids in the “virtual classroom,” aka the living room! With some extra mental effort, you can learn to reframe unhealthy person-praise, to be focused on effort, dedication, and problem solving. Learning this type of approach can be difficult at first, so here are a couple of examples to illustrate the difference between person-praise & process-praise.
The Way You Praise Success Matters Most When Children Fail
Shortcomings and failures are an inevitable aspect of being human. We all experience failure in large and small ways, and our children do too! Whether we use process-praise, or person-praise has a tremendous impact on our children’s thinking when they experience these failures. If we teach our children to have a fixed mindset by telling them things like “You are so good at Math, good job!” then when they don’t do well they will assume it is because of their traits, rather than a lack of effort or dedication. Person-praise fails to teach children that they could improve through effort and dedication and they can learn better at math skills! When children experience continual person-praise, failure decreases motivation due to faulty beliefs about the reason for their failure. If they learn that success is due to personal traits, then failure is also due to fixed traits and there is nothing you can do about it. This ultimately results in children being less likely to apply themselves in classes, or areas where they struggle. Person-praise undermines self-control. Instead of realizing that they need to put more effort and time into math they label themselves saying, “I’m just not a math person.” or “My brain just doesn’t work that way.” Failure, like success, is falsely believed to be determined by personal traits, rather than effort.
Person-praise teaches children that if they fail, it is because they lack some quality or trait. In reality, it is due to the lack of a skill, lack of dedication, or poor problem solving. Skill, dedication, and problem solving are all flexible traits and can be developed and improved! Process-Praise teaches children that if they fail it is because of what they did or didn’t do, and that gives them the opportunity to adjust their approach. When we use process-praise we teach children that they can learn from failure and mistakes. Children learn that they have the control to adapt and learn based on their experiences of failure. Failure becomes an opportunity for growth, rather than a reason for harsh personal judgement.
Praise the Process, Not the Person
Remembering to praise the process can have a very beneficial effect on your children from infancy to young adulthood! It instills an attitude of growth and development. It also teaches them a valuable lesson about their own ability to overcome difficult situations through problem solving, dedication or asking for help when necessary. Praising the process of success in children creates a foundation for a sense of self determination, and healthy independence in adulthood. When praising your child, try to remember to focus on what your child did that made them successful, or their effort that helped them act in a praiseworthy way. Look for things like dedication, or creative problem solving, and encourage your child to continue working on those flexible abilities! By doing this, you can teach your child about their capacity for development and success, and you instill a healthy growth mindset! Just remember, praise the process, not the person.
Bayat, M. (2011). Clarifying Issues Regarding the Use of Praise with Young Children. Topics in Special Education, 31(2), 121-128.
Dweck, C. (2017). Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential. London: Robinson.
Henderlong, J. & Lepper, M. (2002). The Effects of Praise on Children’s Intrinsic Motivation: A Review and Synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 774-795.
Maclellan, E. (2005). Academic achievement: the role of praise in motivating students. Active Learning in Higher Education, 6(3), 194-206.
Master, A. (2015, August). Praise That Makes Learners More Resilient. Retrieved from http://mindsetscholarsnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Praise-That-Makes-Learners-More-Reslient.pdf
How to Detox Co-Parenting Conversations
Co-parenting is hard, there is no doubt about that, but it doesn’t have to be toxic! It is impossible to completely eliminate disagreements between two people trying to work together in any situation, but disagreement should not always lead to disaster. The key to co-parenting is learning to have healthy, respectful and productive conflict discussions. Today we are going to talk about how you and your co-parent can learn to detoxify conflict and have healthy conversations by removing the four most destructive conversation patterns.
Not all disagreements are equal
There are certain types of negativity that are so toxic that they bring chaos and frustration to all parties involved. This post is not about how to avoid fighting & disagreement; it is about learning how to fight in a healthy way! John Gottman is a family and marriage therapy expert and one of the leading researchers in studying what makes communication patterns healthy or unhealthy in relationships. Although his focus has been on committed relationships, his findings from over 40 years of research have been successfully applied to parenting, co-parenting, leadership and management. John Gottman discovered that there are four patterns of communication that destroy healthy, and productive conflict discussions. He called these the “Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.” It is nearly impossible to completely eliminate the Four Horsemen, but by learning to identify these toxic patterns of communication you’ll be better able to avoid unhealthy arguments and implement healthy and productive conversation alternatives.
One of the hardest things to remember in the midst of a co-parenting disagreement is that ultimately the disagreement is not about you and it is not about who is right or wrong. It is about your child (or children). When you don’t have healthy communication with your co-parent, your child is the one who is hurt the most. Learning how to healthily approach disagreements and disputes with your co-parent directly benefits your child! Not only do they learn that they are loved, but they will also learn that adults can have disagreements and still be civil and respectful. When disagreements between co-parents get out of hand, your child loses every time! Learning to be a better co-parent is about helping your child (or children) and providing them with a safe and nurturing environment. Now let’s get into the nuts and bolts of healthy and unhealthy conflict discussions.
What are the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse? The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are patterns that lead to unproductive conflict management, they are Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling. Learning to identify each Horsemen means you’ll be able to avoid them and replace them with healthy antidotes! John Gottman has produced some the best resources on conflict management. We have adapted one of his guides to be relevant to you as a co-parent! It is important to be on the same page as each other, so after reading this guide, consider sharing it with your co-parent to establish the same ground rules for conversations.
Horseman No. 1: CRITICISM
Criticism involves bringing up an issue in a way that focuses on your co-parent’s character or personality flaws rather than on what you need them to do differently. Criticism implies there is something wrong with your co-parent, that he or she is defective or broken. The problem with this approach is that if you treat them like they are defective or broken, there is no room for growth as co-parents. Criticism may include blame, name-calling and a general character assassination. Criticizing your co-parent is different from offering a critique or voicing a complaint. Remember, a criticism is an attack.
Here is an example to help you distinguish between the two:
Criticism: “You never think about how your behavior is affecting other people. You’re just selfish!”
Complaint: “I was frustrated when you were running late for our drop off and didn’t call me. We had agreed that we would communicate if one of us got held up.”
Antidote to Criticism: Use a Soft Start-up and Ask for Specific Behavior Change
The antidote to criticism is to use a soft start-up to ask your co-parent to change their behavior in some specific way.
Steps for a Gentle Start Up
- I Feel…
Begin statements with “I” instead of “You” to avoid blame. State how you feel.
Example: “I feel frustrated . . .”
- About What…
Describe the situation and not your co-parent.
Example: “I feel frustrated that you put our son into a sports league that plays on my weekdays without asking me about it.”
- I Need…
Let your co-parent know what you want (versus what you don’t want.) If you could wave a magic wand and get what you need, what would things be like? Instead of hoping your co-parent will guess what you need, or read your mind, tell him or her specifically what you would like.
Example: “I feel frustrated that you put our son into a sports league that plays on my weekdays without asking me about it. I would appreciate it if you would please communicate with me about activities that will affect my time before you commit to them.”
- Be Civil
Make requests civilly, adding phrases such as “I would appreciate it if…”
- Give appreciations for Parenting.
Notice what your co-parent is doing right and tell him or her. If your co-parent has done what you wanted in the past, state that you appreciated it and ask if he or she would be willing to do it again.
Examples of Criticism:
“You’re such an idiot.”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“You are so selfish!”
Antidote: “I was proud of us as co-parents at our child’s baseball game last weekend and I would really appreciate it if you would please communicate with me in advance about the commitments you are making so that we can continue to both show our child our support.”
Horseman No. 2: DEFENSIVENESS
Defensiveness is an attempt to protect yourself, to defend your innocence, and to ward off a perceived attack. Many people become defensive when they are being criticized. Research shows that defensiveness rarely has the desired effect of improving the situation. This is because defensiveness is really a way of blaming your co-parent. You’re saying, in effect, “The problem isn’t me, it’s you.” Defensiveness just escalates the conflict, which is why it’s so destructive. There are two ways to be defensive: to counterattack or to whine (playing the innocent victim). Some people can do both at the same time.
Antidote to Defensiveness: Take Responsibility
The antidote to defensiveness is to take some responsibility for even a small part of the problem. By doing this, you can quickly reduce tension and prevent conflict from escalating. This helps your co-parent believe they are heard and understood.
Examples of Defensiveness: Your co-parent complains that you are often late to pick-up’s.
Criticism: “I am really tired of you losing track of time and being late to our pick-ups. You’re always late and I have other things I need to do!”
Defensive Counter-attack: “Can’t you get over it?! You always find something to be mad about. I’m never that late. Besides, you were the one who was late last time.”
Defensive Innocent Victim: “I wasn’t late on purpose. I had a meeting that ran over. You’re always picking out every mistake I make. No matter when I get there, it’s never early enough. I can’t do anything right.”
Antidote: “You’re right, I’m sorry for being late to the pick-up. I’ll try harder to be more aware of the time.”
Horseman No. 3: CONTEMPT
To be contemptuous is to put your co-parent down or to speak with scorn. It happens when you feel and act superior. It’s putting oneself on a higher plane, looking down from a position of authority with an attitude of, “I’m better/smarter/neater/cleaner/ more punctual, etc. than you.”
Contempt stems from a negative habit of mind, in which you scan the environment looking for your co-parent’s mistakes, rather than what you can appreciate about him or her as a parent. Sarcasm and cynicism are types of contempt, and so is name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. In whatever form, contempt is the most damaging of the Four Horsemen and is poisonous to a co-parenting relationship. It is virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your co-parent is getting the message that you’re disgusted with him or her as a parent. Inevitably, contempt leads to more conflict. Contempt is the single best predictor of unproductive disagreements and relationship toxicity.
Antidote to Contempt: Describe Your Feelings and Needs & Build a Culture of Parenting Appreciation
Underneath contempt is a need or want. In any type of teamwork, if these needs are not met over time it will become contemptuous. The antidote to contempt is to describe your own feelings and needs by using “I” statements. For examples, see “Steps for a Soft Start Up” in the Criticism section “I Feel….”, “About What…”, “I Need…”!
Building a culture of parenting appreciation is the all-encompassing antidote to contempt. When you feel valued and appreciated as a parent you are able to access positive feelings for your co-parent and are less likely to act contemptuous when you have a difference of opinion.
Building a Culture of Appreciation Includes:
- Expressing Appreciation: “I appreciate you taking the time to communicate about our child’s issues on the bus.”
- Expressing Thanks: “Thank you for making time to discuss how we can communicate better as co-parents.”
- Expressing Respect for Co-Parenting skills: “Even though we disagree I know that you want what is best for our child, and I respect your dedication to becoming better co-parents.”
Contempt Example: Your co-parent criticizes that you don’t compromise enough.
Contempt: “You never compromise with me about anything! I’ve made so many sacrifices for our son even so that he can spend time with your family! I moved my vacation around so that he would be able to visit with your family when they came into town! Now when I ask to change a weekend you won’t budge! All you think about is yourself!”
Antidote: “I feel frustrated about how we have tried to come to compromises in the past. I would like to take some time to talk about finding a better way to compromise. I want to be able to be more flexible, and trust that you will be willing to be flexible too.”
Horseman No. 4: STONEWALLING
Stonewalling occurs when you withdraw from the interaction while staying physically present. Essentially, this means not giving cues that you’re listening or paying attention; for instance, by avoiding eye contact and crossing your arms.
The pattern goes like this: The more you feel criticized, the more you turn away. The more you turn away (give cues to the speaker that you are not paying attention), the more your co-parent attacks. You feel your heart rate climbing and you’re afraid to say anything for fear of making things worse; however, by withdrawing and turning away from your co-parent you perpetuate a negative spiral in your communication and the issue remains unresolved.
In addition, research shows that stonewalling elevates your heart rate and releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. When this happens, it is nearly impossible to listen, think creatively and solve the problem constructively.
Antidote to Stonewalling: Self-Soothing Break, Then Re-connect
The antidote to stonewalling is to take a self-soothing break for at least 20 minutes and then re-engage with your co-parent when you feel calmer and are able to constructively express your views.
Imagine arriving to pick up your child and being met with a barrage of critical statements and demands such as, “You’re late again” and, “Why isn’t our daughter dressed appropriately for the weather, where is her jacked?!” You think to yourself, “This is never going to end. I don’t need this. If I tell her what I think, she’ll really explode. It’s not worth it. If I say anything it will just make it worse. Just keep your mouth shut.”
Self-soothe. You recognize that you can’t think clearly, are getting stressed, and you need to calm down. You tell your co-parent that you hear his frustration, but you need a break and will be available later in the day to return to the issue. After taking a break in which, you avoid negative thoughts and do something stress-reducing, like taking a walk or playing your favorite music, return to the conversation (or call) and listen to your co-parent’s concerns. This time, your co-parent is careful to bring up the topic in a soft way and you engage in a constructive discussion.
When taking a break, it is important that you communicate that you need to take a break and that you would like to return to the conversation. Try to let the break be at least 20 minutes, but not longer than 2 days. This gives your mind and body a chance to calm down. It is essential to communicate and follow through with a commitment to finish the conversation at a later time or day! If not, issues will go unresolved and will be more likely to pile on to a disagreement later on.
Remember your Co-Parent is Just your Co-parent
The Four Horseman have been consistently shown by research to destroy relationships. While it might not matter to you if you get along with your co-parent or not, it does matter to your child (or children)! Your ability or inability to have healthy disagreements with your co-parent has a direct result on your child whether you realize it or not! By learning to recognize the Four Horseman you can avoid their toxicity and embrace healthy substitutes! In order to employ the conversation techniques, we have just mentioned the first step is to ensure that your focus is on parenting. It is all too easy to become emotionally reactive and get drawn in by memories, past hurts, and frustrations, especially if you have had any type of extended history with your co-parent. If this happens you will lose focus and get pulled into the past. Remember that your conversations should not be about you or your co-parent as a people in general, they should be about you both as co-parents! Co-parenting conversations should be focused on the present issues and the future needs of your child! A helpful way to learn this approach is to reframe your perspective on how you view your co-parent. Try to look at them as just a parent, rather than an ex or someone with whom you’ve had a history. This is extremely difficult to do, but also extremely productive. Try to remind yourself a few times in your head before your conversations, “This is just my co-parent, the focus of our conversation should be on parenting.” Finally, one of the most important and difficult attitudes to embrace is that people can change. You can change, they can change, and your communication patterns can change! It may take time, and perhaps even some co-parenting therapy, but by applying these techniques and consistently remembering that your focus should be on parenting you can learn to be more balanced and have healthier and more productive interactions.
*The information in this post has been adapted from “Avoid the Four Horsemen” a handout created by The Gottman Institute*
By: John Paul Dombrowski Counseling Intern and Therapist at Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh in Canonsburg
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMay 11, 2020 corona virus and shared custody, family counseling during corona virus0 comments
Tips for Co-Parenting during Quarantine Coronavirus
It is always important for parents to be on the same page when it comes to their children, perhaps it is even more important that parents take the time create an atmosphere of predictability and consistency in shared custody and co-parenting family dynamics. The family counseling community has seen many examples of damaging dynamics from families during quarantine COVID times. From parents who are unable to agree on whether their children will be able to see in person health care providers, to parents who attempt to withhold visitations under the guise of COVID, it is the children who stand in the middle to lose much needed contact with their loving parents and caregivers. Here are some child therapist and family counseling verified tips to help you and your child’s other parent get on the same page. Remember, it is pretty likely that you and your former partner share the goal of helping your children adapt during these difficult times.
The courts have not waived parents’ rights to visitations due to COVID. That means your normal custody arrangement remains in full effect during this period, even if you have concerns over how your child’s other parent is enacting social distancing or who they are coming into contact with while they are having their visits, you still have a legal obligation to uphold the legal arrangement. Of course, if you feel that their other parent or family members are behaving in a dangerous way you should speak to your legal counsel but in most every instance the courts have not interfered with custody arrangements over COVID family concerns.
What is really best for the kids. The impact of this virus is even more difficult for small children as they do not have the rationale to understand the purpose of limitations on their behavior. This makes it even more important that we follow up as caretakers with consistency in the rest of the routine. Routine has an effect of soothing fear and anxiety, seeing the same family members and important people in kids lives are a big part of what makes their life feel predictable and manageable.
Parents will need to communicate, with each other! There are a lot of instances of parents using others as a ‘go between.’ From asking young children to relay messages to asking receptionists, and therapists, teachers and doctors to tell their former partner what is happening with their child, this is not a good idea. First, it is outside of the role of any child or provider/professional person to manage the communication between you are your child’s other parent. If you feel unable to manage basic communication with your child’s other parent for any reason, you should enter co-parenting family counseling immediately.
Remember that there are things outside of your control. COVID is a massive reminder that there are so many things outside of our control, while we should always act in our own and our loved ones best interest, there are still so many variables that we can not influence. Your child’s other parent may be to some degree, one of those situations that makes your feel helpless. We know that in the face helplessness and uncertainty most people feel a large measure of anxiety. Acknowledge your anxiety and spending some time assessing whether it is rational or irrational. You will likely need to have a moderate degree of flexibility in allowing your children to have a slightly different experience in their other parents home versus your own. These personality differences may have led to the demise of your relationship with your former partner and they will likely make co-parenting with them tricky but not impossible. Try to start with the points where your agree, maybe as simple as ‘we both love the kids.’
With COVID, there are a few categories of people and they are reacting to Corona differently. Some of concerned for their health and the health of others and are closely monitoring the CDC guidelines for managing COVID. Others are concerned about their loss of freedom and autonomy. Others are concerned about the financial impact of COVID closures. All of these are perspectives that come from a place of caring about the well-being of our society and others albeit in different ways. If your child’s other parent has a perspective very different from your own, you should attempt to find some compassion for them and really hone in to be sure that any concerns you have for your children to assess that they are well founded concerns and rational. One of the most important things that you can do for your children right now is to care for your own stress and manage it effectively so that you can be the best version of yourself during the challenges that we are all facing.
Check out the link by World Health Organization for tips on parenting during quarantine!
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghNovember 18, 2019 family estrangement, family loss, holiday traditions0 comments
1o Ways to Enjoy The Holidays if You Experience Family Estrangement or Loss
Holidays are extremely triggering and difficult for those who have suffered family loss/grief or estrangement, there are reasons that mental health related hospital admisssions and therapy visits for anxiety and depression increase during this time of year. Most people who are in therapy to deal with family conflict or estrangement will spend some time forming a plan for how they will manage the holidays in anticipation of the challenges that they present. There is a hallmark sentiment that everyone else has it all together and is rejoicing in love with their near and dear and for those who do not have healthy or connected relationships with their families, they may notice the added burden of shame for this reality. The truth is family conflict and tension is very common and family estrangement is too, according to research published by Psychology Today, as many as 7-27% of parents and children report not having contact with each other. That means that 1 in 10 or 20 people you know can relate to the feeling of family estrangement. Additionally, if you reason suffered a loss or divorce, the mourning will likely increase this time of the year. Toxic relationships are a common reason for family estrangement, if your family members, have tried family counseling and still can not relate to you in a healthy way then there may be no choice but to limit contact or go no contact. Things like a history of abuse, lying, deception, emotional or physical attacking are healthy reasons to put safe distance and plenty of boundaries between yourself and family members.
Holidays are steeped in traditions that are centered around the family. During the rest of the year, it may be easier to cope with the reality of no or low contact, but the social implication that other people are connecting with family spending days and weeks off of work to gather around the table and reconnect, may make a person who is excluded from such family gatherings melancholy or wishful for something else that doesn’t exist. Here are expert verified ways to help;
- Ramp up your self care, practice more meditation, mindfulness, get appointments scheduled with your therapist.
- There is a stigma attached to being isolated and cast out from your family, that makes it less likely that those who are not in touch with relatives will talk about it and seek the support that they will need. Help starts when we break that stigma and open up to some close friends or coworkers about what you are experiencing.
- It is likely that there are people who will be excited to share this time of year with you, reach out to them and share your thoughts about feeling alone.
- Look at what traditions you can create for yourself?
- Can you organize a toy drive, or a food drive?
- Can you volunteer to visit a long-term care home?
- Can you volunteer at a soup kitchen?
- Can you mentor children?
- Can you organize a baking party with friends?
- Have you thought of taking a trip like a tropical vacation?
You will notice that many of these suggestions highlight being of service to others, this really is one of the best ways to lift yourself up. No matter what you decide, the holidays become a blank canvas for you to create whatever you might envision upon it. Only you can decide what is the best direction for you to maintain peace, mental wellness, and happiness during the holidays and the rest of the year and it is your sole job to protect your peace and wellbeing.Learn More
When individuals experience trauma or toxic stress it is not uncommon to need therapeutic support and guidance. Samantha Ricci, MS, LPC is passionate about helping to create a safe and effective space for individuals to explore emotions and traumatic/ stressful experiences. To help her clients, who include children, adults, couples, and families who are experiencing emotional or relationship distress. Samantha’s therapeutic approach is devoted to help her clients create healthy perceptions of themselves, to strengthen their relationships, to promote balanced and strong attachments, full and rich emotional bonds. Samantha is trained to help you experience change, through these systematic and evidence based strategies her clients reports that their innate capacity for trust, empathy, and compassion emerges to greater joy. Samantha’s area of clinical expertise include helping her clients recover from Stress/Anxiety, Mood Disorders, Adjustment disorders, Trauma focused care, Attachment disorders, Child Therapy, and Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.
Samantha’s clinical focus is on treatment that utilizes an attachment informed lens and trauma focused care with children, adults, couples, and families. Specifically, Samantha is rostered in Child-Parent Psychotherapy (CPP) is an empirically-supported treatment model which is scientifically shown to enhance the emotional health of young children from infancy through seven years old. CPP is a unique and specific relationship-based therapy in which the clinician collaboratively engages in play and treatment with the child and caregivers. CPP positively impacts children’s behavioral and mental health outcomes while promoting protective factors and strengths, such as stable, warm relationships with parents and caregivers.
Samantha’s educational background includes a Master of Science in Counseling Psychology and a graduate Certificate in Infant Mental Health from Chatham University, Pittsburgh, PA. She has a Dual Degree, Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation and Human Services as well as Communication Science and Disorders from The Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA. In addition to Samanthas work with Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh, she also works with UPMC in their Mathilda Theiss center where she specializes in pediatric and family counseling. In her free time, Samantha enjoys exploring new restaurants in the city of Pittsburgh, traveling, spending time with family and friends, and being a dog mom to her well loved frenchie/pug, Luna. Samantha also has a fervent passion for Pittsburgh and local sports and enthusiastically spends her Saturdays watching Penn State Football games with her fiance.Learn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJuly 16, 2018 anxiety during pregnancy, depression in pregnancy, postpartum, stress pregnancy0 comments
Anxiety and Depression During Pregnancy, ‘Wellness For People Like Me.’
Writer, blogger, and art therapy graduate Angela Grace Wilt shares some of her experiences in recovering positive coping and mental health including ways to manage anxiety and depression during pregnancy. This is a part of the ‘People Like Me’ Series of our wellness blog, real people, real stories, real ways to incorporate wellness into stages and experiences of everyday normal life.
Being a woman comes with a lot of ups and downs. Women are prone to anxiety and it can be very hard to to admit. For example, women are closely tied to the monthly cycles that their body experiences. Things such as menstruation cause anxiety, depression, mood swings, and intense bodily urges with cravings. Men never will get us or grasp what we go through. We are just that unique. For as long as I could remember, I have felt that as a woman I am special and cursed all at once.
Then of course recently, as I have taken this jump into parenthood with the amazing biological potential of my body, quickly I have learned that while things like premenstrual dysphoria, and the normal anxieties and depression of menstruation are challenging, pregnancy holds a whole long list of unique and larger fears and physical difficulties. In fact, this is true for all women, and according to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), between 14-23% of women will struggle with some symptoms of anxiety or depression during pregnancy. The shift in mental health have multiple sources, think about it, there is insomnia because our body is changing so fast that some women can be prone to rapid heartbeat, which makes it harder to fall asleep. There is also the whole list of ‘what ifs.’ Will my baby and I make it to full term? Will my baby be healthy? I can no longer drink alcohol, ride adrenaline driven roller coasters, lift heavy weights, or really take any chances of too adventurous tasks. With each decision I make, I consider the question ‘what will makes my little bump, a healthy or not so healthy baby.’
Physical and emotional changes are also thread within social fears and adjustments, I sometimes wonder, have I planned enough for this pregnancy that has in many ways, just happened. The truth is, I am not some 30 something who has been charting my cycle for 6 months to achieve conception, I didn’t plan to get pregnant just yet. I thought about it sure, but just like most couples we wanted to walk down the aisle with a white dress of lace and flowers all the scenery of our closest friends and family shouting us on, it was always my dream of being that princess and marrying my soul mate! We still will have that for our future, but it will be after we get through the current stresses. In addition to the changes in my timeline, I also care about what our parents think about our having a baby right now. Having a baby out before marriage can be shocking for some religious and cultural values. We were lucky because my family is just fine with it, and with a little time to adjust, my better half’s is now happy about the news.
The list of anxieties and real practical matters which accelerate my concerns are aplenty, even small things have caused me stress, I have had to shop for insurance as a pregnant women, because I am twenty-six, pregnant, and didn’t have any. Finally, babies are expensive, health insurance is also expensive, we have stresses of finding better jobs, I have to go on insurance yet because I am twenty-six and don’t have any. We are cleaning house and making a baby room. When all of these real life stresses start to mount very high, I can feel my heart beating faster, I try to stop and think of the things that we do have, I try to re-frame my anxieties and depressed thoughts in a positive light, I pause and I say to myself, ‘I have my boyfriend, our love together, and I have a supportive family. I have myself and my strengths, and I am strong and able.’That always seems to calm me down and help me to remember that there is much to be excited about as we move forward together as a young family.
With all of these anxious and depressed thoughts swirling in my mind, I have taken the time to put together a small list of ways that I manage and support my emotional health during my pregnancy. Of course if you are struggling with mental health during or after your pregnancy, talk to you PCP or Mental Health provider, get a screening for Postpartum or Baby Blues, every year women die or don’t bond with their babies due to maternal mental health factors. If you are like me and relatively healthy but feeling a little anxious or blue, then read on because these tips may help you as much as they helped me.
Use positive self talk, be your own biggest fan and encourage yourself like you would a friend
I say nice things to myself, I write little notes and post them through out the house, simple thoughts like,’ Rome was built in a day’ ‘We will get everything done in time.’ We’re already almost half way there at twelve weeks. It’s just a wild ride. My body is going through so many beautiful changes. Tune in, all of my emotions are heightened. Hunger is giving me nourishment now. Sleep is always appreciated. Sex is fierce and always wanted. Sadness and anger are intense. I have energy that comes out of nowhere. Its ok if sometimes I can’t stop crying. I love my baby and baby’s daddy and not want anything more than to be with just them and them alone. I want the best by our new child. I want to give it proper nutrition and a good home life. I want to be a good parent and my baby to grow in a family where love is the answer and anger is dealt with in a healthy supportive manner. I will protect this baby with all that I have. This child’s needs and wants are now first. I am ready to teach this baby proper education, morals, respect, and spirituality.
Its normal to be overwhelmed, life is now changing!
Anxiety,stress, and fear are the norm when we are overcoming big changes. ways just important to remember that having a baby is a life changing experience. Normalizing the emotions that I am experiencing helps me by making me not feel the guilty, ashamed, or odd for having these dips and emotional shifts.
Reach for your Tribe!
Please remember, you are not alone. You are a powerhouse and you have many people who will listen and talk. Make a list of 5, if you can not list at least 5 people who will pick up the phone for you, see a therapist and talk about the feelings of isolation and loneliness. Mom, dad, best friends, siblings, make a list and think about who is the best person to talk with through the things that come up. It will likely be a different person for each of situations that one may encounter on the pregnancy journey.
Use your breath
The body and its breathing are powerful, breathing can be used to energize and manage our response to stress. Take some deeps breaths every day.
Make a Wellness Routine
Do calming relaxing type activities like yoga, walking in nature or just walking, stretch, journal, and keep time for yourself to collect your thought and consider the daily experiences that you are managing. Essential oils can help ease the mind and emotions and of course be sure to choose blends that are safe to use during pregnancy.
Bond with your baby
Talk to your baby while its in the womb, there will likely be a time after your baby is born that you are longing to be so closely connected to him or her again, try to cherish these moments and zoom out towards the big picture where you are nurturing a sacred bond right now in your womb. Being a woman is very special, and this connection, with baby snugly centered in my sacral area, right as my mother and my mothers mother have always done, this is something that men can not understand, but I am ok with that.
We are powerful, we are able to make changes that influence the outcomes of our life. Pregnancy like all things, is what you make of it. Do your best to stay positive by thinking of the new exciting things that can be done all in great fun with your new family together. Your love of baby and yourself will take you far. Be gentle with yourself when you notice the stress, anxiety, and fear of the 9 months ahead. This is a special time that can be used to get really healthy and in tune with your bodies needs. As always, seek medical help from a PCP, Gynecologist, or Licensed Professional Counselor if you have concerns about your mental health.
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghDecember 28, 2017 co-parenting, counseling, couples counseling, couples therapy, divorce, educational, marriage counseling, meditation, mental health, parenting, psychology, psychotherapy, therapist, therapists, therapy, Uncategorized, wellness0 comments
Our licensed professional counselors are here for the community offering evidence-based therapy, marriage counseling, family counseling, child therapy, art therapy, premarital counseling, all by top rated clinicians. Our team of therapists has over 150 years of experience between us, we offer therapy to heal from Depression, Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and our Couples Therapists can treat a full range of relationship issues from conflict communication, to intimacy enhancement, and parenting concerns. In all of our centers, we also provide a menu of comprehensive wellness services. We offer wellness support including health treatment options from our certified nutritionist, kinesiologist, clinical herbalist who specialize in offering the people of The Greater Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania communities providing wellness solutions for mind, body, and spirit. Be well with us!
Contact us at our Pittsburgh location 830 Western Avenue Pittsburgh Pa, 15233 Our Pittsburgh center is located in the northshore of the downtown Pittsburgh. Therapy near Northside, Southside, Brighton heights, Lawrenceville, Shadyside, Bloomfield, Strip District, and Mt. Washington. Our hours are from 7-am-8 pm Monday through Sunday. We accept UPMC, Highmark, Blue Cross Blue Shield, United, Magellan, Aetna, and Comp Psych as well as Out of Network, Self Pay, and Sliding Scale options.
For a therapist near you – Call us at 412-322-2129Learn More
by Stephanie McCrackenMarch 19, 2014 counseling, couples counseling, couples therapy, marriage counseling, sexuality, Uncategorized0 comments
As a psychotherapist who offers marriage counseling, affairs and their aftermath are sometimes ironed out amidst my office couch. Both parts of the couple struggle to make sense of the betrayal and its costs, they often seek a professional to find the answers to questions such as; should we stay together, should we separate, will our relationship ever be “normal,” (whatever version that may be for you), again. For both of the lovers there are painful truths to identify, the person who was cheating must come to terms with his or her guilt and the person who was victimized by the cheating may wonder if it is acceptable to forgive or if this somehow means that they are weak or foolish. While the answers to all of the many questions are highly complex, completely personal, and entirely up to you, if the affair has been ended and both lovers actively choose to stay there are abundant ways that you will both be able to enjoy the effects of an enhanced love bond! Here are some of the reasons why your love can rebound from an affair and be even closer and more intimate than before, provided that you both are willing and able to put in the time and work to make some big changes through the healing process.
- The affair itself is a symptom of a greater and deeper underlying problem. That problem could be anything from one of the partners acting upon impulses from narcissism, entitlement, and or sex addiction, or that there are some deficits in the relational component. For example, when the relationship is stuck in a pattern of withholding, and or criticism, when it is lacking in warmth, passion, communication and sometimes this causes one of the parties to conclude that she or he should look outside of the commitment to fill certain interpersonal needs. The affair must be understood as a symptom but also, if it addressed successfully, within every problem is an opportunity for the solution to be uncovered. Now you are free to explore the solution to the underlying issue.
- The time after the affair has been disclosed or discovered will be hallmarked by raw and real interaction, this kind of communication facilitates rebuilding. Obviously there will be a serious mourning phase caused by shattered trust and therefor many questions about who, what, when, where, and why. You both must be honest about what exactly is transpiring during this time. As the anguish ebbs allow the new to emerge. This honest and direct communication will feel refreshing as most often during an affair the communication had been stifled, the newfound open honesty will feel refreshing and serve as a great reminder to understand all of the ways that each partner was turning away from true intimate interaction previously.
- Your relationship will never be the same again and that very well could be a good thing considering the path to the affair is likely paved by anguish and deceit. Like a home that is being rebuilt there will be new walls and windows for the relationship, walls between the person who was conducting the affair and the man or woman who was facilitating the cheating, as well as shiny and new windows of transparency between the love partners. The windows should be framed in the light of honesty, openness, you may even want to place a chair nearby for reflective time, and renovations take time, work, and are not for the faint of heart!
To close and to be repetitive, the person who was having the affair must be completely honest and know that trust may not be given immediately or for a very long time to come. A message for the person who suffered the betrayal- recognize that you are healing within the cycle of grief. From anguish, anger, disbelief and all the way around you must place your long term intentions upon your healing and forgiveness for the cheating spouse. Keep your eyes on the prize however as if it is in your will, you both will eventually move beyond this troubling time and into a better relationship which will someday be capable of casting meaning upon this day when you are suffering the effect of the human misgivings of betrayal.
Sharing in happiness and love,
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Reviving Minds Therapy
1010 Western Avenue Pittsburgh
Pa 15233 Suite 100
by Stephanie McCrackenMarch 4, 2014 counseling, couples counseling, couples therapy, marriage counseling, Uncategorized0 comments
Some incredible orator stated “Two broken wings won’t fly.” A healthy relationship or marriage is explicitly the product of the intentional and harmonious blending of two actualized psyches. True love and true life require wholeness and awareness. Self-help, self-talk, self-betterment, are all words of our time and just about everyone seems to be on the journey of self and relational growth, yet when it comes to the loves process we may be wondering what the notion of wholeness means. This may be particularly relevant when tracing the route through past relationships and recognizing that there is some naggingly similar quality to those in the rearview. Similarly, you may be married or in a relationship and wondering why you notice a certain je ne cest quoi ebbing into ether, placing you onto the familiar path of conflict speckled by a pervading sense of loneliness. Perhaps you are unattached but when your gaze falls upon the rearview you see lovers left to the wayside like mile markers off of the highway. All in all, its a fine moment to reflect upon wholeness. Not that the act of loving requires any encouragement to unfold, there is an powerful drive or instinct to experiencing love. The manner in which humans repeatedly attempt and often fail to sustain love is evidence of the intensity of this instinct, wanting to share our lives within the context of a meaningful and rich romantic bond. The heartfelt sensations which are a product of engaging in loves virtues and risks are certainly the most ebullient, ecstatic, soothing, and dually frustrating and disappointing! To love is a process by which the culmination of all of these sensations is inevitable, to love is a spiritual and complete act, yet it is also a specific skill set. If you sincerely believe that you have worked towards the mindset which embodies your best current version of you then you may be prepared to enter into a dance of this ancient and sacred heart song.
Step it on out of yourself! A loving relationship requires that we step out of ourselves to meet the needs of our beloved. Loving is most certainly not all about you! To love we must see beyond our own sore spots and insecurities to be present, empathetic, and understanding to the emotional, physical, and spiritual parts of those who are loving. This is no small feat, given the myriad of questions and concerns which arise as a part of a loving relationship or marriage. Often we will need to reflect upon our entire selfhood in relation to another and assess those things which the relationship, like a mirror, may show to us, this is at times startling to a psyche both well developed and those egos which may be in the midst of crumbling.
Love Song Birds Being whole requires attunement to the abundant social cues which are promenaded upon the faces of our fellow humans. Many people are perfectly competent to sustain friendships but when entering the unique atmosphere of romance our sore spots become stimulated by our mate’s. Our lover with their wants and needs and the intimate fact that to understand and accept, this is love in action. Why these sore spots? Remembering our first example of how to give and receive love and attention began as early as infancy. Messages internalized by the way that our mother or primary caretaker mirrored our expressions and responded to our cries, setting up and ever solidifying the evolving pattern of our being within the world. When your lover comes to you to say that she or he has had a terrible day, in that moment do you respond with equal concern and inquisitiveness? Do you launch into problem solving mode, speaking at length about how you can relate? Do you immediately become frustrated that you are stuck in dealing with their feelings or do you feel bad about yourself because you can’t fix it all for your love? So many highly personal responses to one elegantly poised prompt. Most often and simply when a lover comes to us in distress they are only seeking the opportunity to be heard and understood. In the very powerful act of giving that distraction free moment or ten we are filling our lover with the hypnotic sound of our loving song.
A touch of authenticity– It takes courage to be authentic especially with the person we love, it can be frightening to imagine their perceived judgment and fear. Psychological theorist Fritz Perl’s states that psychological distress stems from the proportion that a person lives inauthentically. All of those moments that you squash your verbal impulse to stay with the crowd or forgo offending your lover’s sensitivities certainly take an undeniable toll! Agree to attend the theater or the football game even though you loath it? Or perhaps you lie by omission in order to avoid a conflict? No matter the justification, being inauthentic stink the rot of decay. As Perls would say, you are being “phony” and it incurs a psychological cost, while it’s certainly important to make social trades and compromise its best to enjoy relationships which do not tax your dislikes too often and also make room for us to be authentic in representing our likes, values etc. Being phony runs the risk fanning the flames of eating the fiery venom resentment or making one into an inauthentic drone. One should also examine the part of his or her self which would continually betray one’s own essence for another person’s approval. Simultaneously if you are actually in a relationship with one who would sincerely limit or judge your solo activities then there may be even more questions which you could explore. In life and love must choose and act wisely. “Keep it real” express, fears, taboo, passions, with astonishing honesty and gusto.
Express Vulnerabilities – Love requires that we examine ourselves, own our emotional baggage and then we must feel safe to lay it upon the feet of our beloved, trusting that he or she will respond with tenderness and empathetic care. This can be a mountainous task for those who keep the pain of early or recent betrayals, trauma, heartbreak, or even for those who have never enjoyed the luxury of an open environment which lavished empathy and compassion upon pains. Lovers who were initially able to bask in the trusting atmosphere of a mutually nurturing atmosphere will still sometimes notice things falling off the tracks and wrecking into a place where less productive interpersonal patterns evolve. In this damaged place the expression of vulnerabilities becomes forbidden and is often replaced by defensiveness. This being said it is by allowing our lover into the areas of tenderness and softness that we develop trust and warmth the compassionate comfort which can only be produced by lovers who have navigated through many storms and basked through many summer suns together.
How can you apply these basics to your own love, if you are saying that you can’t really apply any of this they I would imagine that you may not be completely honest with yourself. The act of loving is one which is ever co-evolving and no matter how well or not so well we are doing it, there are ways which we can improve it.
In love and kindness,
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Offering Psychotherapy and Relationship Counseling
Reviving Minds Therapy
1010 Western Ave Pittsburgh Pa 15233Learn More