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 PittsburghAugust 4, 2020 bowens system theory, triangulation, what is triangulation0 comments
The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family. (2020, August 3). Theory. The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family. https://thebowencenter.org/
You may have heard the latest celebrity gossip regarding Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s relationship drama. If not, let me catch you up to speed – Jada openly admitted to having an ‘entanglement’ with a much younger man without Will’s consent or knowledge. This abruptly caused a firestorm across the internet with questions and jokes about ‘entanglements’ and what this all really means. Underlying this drama is an important lesson about relationships and specifically, ‘triangulation’ within relationships. An ‘entanglement’ is a form of ‘triangulation’. Triangulation occurs in a relationship when something or someone disrupts the flow of communication or emotions between the couple. Triangulation could be a manipulation tactic by one person in the relationship, but quite often triangulation happens when a relationship is struggling and without people even realizing it is happening or that they are facilitating it. In Will and Jada’s case, her ‘entanglement’ with a third person may have served to evoke strong emotions or bring previous relationship issues to the surface, forcing communication. However, it certainly doesn’t take an affair or an ‘entanglement’ for triangulation to occur.
What is triangulation? Originally, the concept of triangulation came out of Bowen’s Systems Theory which is a theoretical model used by some therapists to understand and explain family dynamics. In families, triangulation occurs when one or both members of a couple pull a child in to be the third point in the triangle. In this scenario, the child absorbs some of the stress of the relationship or acts as a communication device between the couple. This can occur in relationships where the parents are still together, but struggling in the marriage, or when the parents are separated but do not take the necessary steps to communicate while continuing to co-parent. At any rate, triangulation within a family system puts the child in an extremely difficult position.
More recently people have noticed another kind of triangulation within their relationships. Within the context of family and marriage therapy, we see many forms of triangulation, even where the third point isn’t a person at all, but rather technology, and most often a cell phone. Quite often, one or both members of a couple may avoid in-person, direct communication about difficult or sensitive topics and instead rely on technology to do the communicating. For example, one member of the couple may post or interact on social media to passively communicate with their partner. One or both members of a couple may utilize their cell phones as either a conscious or an unconscious distraction device. Or, one or both members of the couple may seek comfort from their cell phone rather than their partner, avoid intimacy to be on their cell phone, or just generally not be emotionally available because they’re on their device instead of present in the relationship. Some studies have shown that just the mere presence of a mobile device, even when it isn’t being used, can detract from face-to-face interactions. Effective communication is essential for a positive relationship and while triangulation doesn’t signify the end of a relationship, it is likely to lead to significant problems.
By: Lauren Aikin-Smith
Audrey Juhasz & Kay Bradford (2016) Mobile Phone Use in Romantic Relationships, Marriage & Family Review, 52:8, 707-721, DOI: 10.1080/01494929.2016.1157123
The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family. (2020, August 3). Theory. The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family. https://thebowencenter.org/
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!
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 Stephanie McCrackenJune 3, 2014 counseling, couples counseling, marriage counseling, Uncategorized0 comments
Dishes and Dustpans, Couples Therapy in the 21st Century
Sweeping, chopping, dusting, mopping. It sure does take an obscene number of passes with the Swiffer to maintain gleamingly clean floors, not to mention streak free stainless steel and mirrored surfaces! Churning out all of that elbow grease but to be honest, how much time does one have left to maintain a vague notion of assembly on the home front? Considerations become compounded when we note that most families utilize some form of a two person income. Divide that amongst X number of young ones and suddenly you are welcome to an insurmountable heap of work and the typical affair of most Middle American families, in case you haven’t already encountered this nuance of cohabitation, division of household duties is an increasingly common source of marital strife. I assure you that more squabbles are provoked by who does the majority of toiling and bills than issues such as extra marital affairs or other relationship traumas. Division of labor is the kind of long standing issue which if not properly mediated, can and will chip away at the bond.
Lately have you been noticing that you’re feeling like some frazzled version of Cinderella or a haggard snow white minus all of those helpful dwarfs? Maybe your mate is beginning to remind you of that slovenly beast or some other godless tyrannical archetype? While such fairy tales speak to the deepest reaches of our consciousness because they are relatable, however when your life and relationship is out of balance these polarized versions of identity may feel even more relatable. Relationship erosion occurs with each member of the relationship becoming polarized on opposing ends of the spectrum.
When it comes to domestic chores in many homes there may be the expectation that the female gender take care of the cleaning and cooking. Superficially, perhaps even the woman herself having watched her mother and grandmother sew and cook and care for the sick and in her eagerness to live up to these ideals she goes beyond her own capacity gritting her teeth, smiling yet feels suffocated by the weight of responsibly. Growing children or not, piling heaps of dishes in the sink, those near and dear not quick to offer help in distributing an equality to household work, in homes such as this the sentiment for the domestic caretakers may be over worked and undervalued. Or perhaps you are a part of a family where both lovers do chip in and do their fair share of dishes and laundry it may not be without some ambivalence. For instance one gentleman who I know is easily able to incur the expenses of weekly made service in the family home, yet felt intensely confused about whether this was as ok as his wife was a stay at home mom, he was left wondering if this detracted from her worth as a caretaker. Still others who performing manual labor by their own toil, may wonder “Should I do these kinds of chores?” “I didn’t do them as a child and my mother is infuriated by my wife’s suggestion that I should lift a finger to pick up a mop or wipe a countertop!” The wealthy, the just scraping by, and indeed same sex marriages must contend with the distribution of household labors, gay and lesbian couples assign the role of which partner will do which tasks when it comes to cleaning, cooking, tending the yard, mending the broken cabinet handle and on and on. The problem comes into effect when the opportunity for productive conversations is not taken and one of the partners is unwelcomingly thrown into role of caretaking for all of the home, the mounting efforts may be taken for granted and the laboring partner feels that their values are not noted or received with gratitude.
Still another curveball is when inevitable change occurs, perhaps one of the spouses enters the workforce and is suddenly less willing to maintain the same level of responsibility which will be a time of renegotiating terms within the home. The opportunity is within the risk, these are all such productive considerations for the ever evolving family unit. As a psychotherapist however even when it comes to such tangible responsibilities the issue is seldom the issue, quaking under the veneer of dishes and dustpans are vast and bold themes of division of power, respect, communication, and even the unwelcome embodiment of bold archetypes, like some matronly version of Cinderella.
There is no one sized response which will or abolish these issues for the marriage or couple, the welcomed news is that by duly and mindfully approaching such sensitive topics more fair and logical distribution of domestic duties can be achieved. Even more importantly, a growing understanding of the self and opportunity to redefine the relationship is possible but only when taking the risk to assess both your and your partner’s deepest intimate selves. If you are too often gauging that mounting resentment within yourself for the unnoticed or barely noticed efforts which dominate your to-do list each day, perhaps feeling that familiar sensation of sadness or frustration maybe it’s time to try something different such as Couples Psychotherapy or Marriage Counseling.
In good health,
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Offering Psychotherapy and Marriage Counseling
Reviving Minds Therapy
1010 Western Avenue Pittsburgh Pa 15233
by Stephanie McCrackenMarch 24, 2014 counseling, mindfulness, personal growth, psychology, psychotherapy, Uncategorized0 comments
At long last spring is finally before us, warming sun beams serve as a reminder that winters darkness is ebbing, unfolding to a new time of the year. Before we can finish with a blink of an eye the landscape will be blushing a cool green, the growth of all that only a month ago, was cloaked in hardened winter, a stern remembrance of the branches and twigs formerly befallen with the chilled stagnation of ice and snow. Even the icebergs which were suffocating the rivers and ponds eternal flow have graciously thawed just as do our hearts, mind, beingness—that is if we remain afloat in the process of growing. With springs return we may feel lighter, more content, responding to greater amounts sunlight and warmth, with each day we move further from the Vernal Equinox our knowingness is assured, spring is here. Motivation energizes the spirit which wants to follow the pristine example of the landscape by becoming something even greater, brighter, and more beautiful, on the inside. Some of us create grand plans to dig out our dust pans and mops, rearrange the furniture, switch out our fall and winter wardrobe for the pastels of the season, go all out and do a round of spring cleaning. Like our mothers or fathers and their grandparents before them making use of this special transition to arrange our world into a cleaner and more comfortable environment in preparation for springs blossoming. Perhaps you turn to the instructional mechanisms of Feng shui or some other method to order your environment. Yet the outside, well that has always been the easiest part to wield ones growing sense of mastery, if you really want to challenge your springs cleaning efforts this year, you may want to assess the mechanisms which sustain your internal world by utilizing psychotherapy. All of those thoughts, emotions turned behaviors, reaching their roots as far back as you can recall into the very earliest memories that thought can conjure. I beg you to ask, in what areas do you aim to grow this spring?
This winter has beckoned me to consider the effects of ferocity and holding on far too long. What are some things which you are holding within, exuding to the external? Is there a pattern which you use to shape your interactions with others, can you see it, are you ready to examine this tender area or is it still more safe and familiar to linger in blaming and projections of fears and anxiety? Is there a relationship which you should fix or let go in order to best serve your growth? If you’re imaging that the answer is “yes” then consider a step further, what lessons does this negative interaction hold for you and about you? When you scrape the dust from the long ago blurry mirror and examine your very own image, perhaps you notice a stark face returning your gaze, but what do you really see my friend? Who hides in your shadows?
The earth makes its revolution, revolving 1 time in every 24 hours, our planet is ever in orbit, a seasonal change impending, we feel it, and we must consider how should we change too? Nature is an insistent instructor forever whispering her lessons of change. It is very sad to see those who are ever seeking to remain the same, not recognizing the stages and changes in life, in a solemn and straight trajectory they insist that yesterday should indicate the forecast for tomorrow—yet the best leaders and most well adapted humans accept and thrive through change, allowing it to shape and mold their actions and using it as fuel for their becoming. Ones best course of action through time of change is to examine and then create ones intentions, a typical effort within counseling and therapy. Allow change to unfold by clearing out mental and physical space for spring’s shiny new growth to blossom. Use your mental broom to push stagnant thoughts and behaviors back into the muddy earth and replace them with those which sustain the tender budding life, the new growth, both within and without. Bloom Bright and Blossom Beauty!
In Loving Encouragement,
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Reviving Minds Therapy
1010 Western Avenue Pittsburgh Pa
15233 Suite 100
by Stephanie McCrackenJanuary 21, 2014 counseling, mindfulness, personal growth, psychotherapy, Uncategorized0 comments
It’s the time of the year for chills up and down the back, and not the kind that are associated with pleasure unless of course you are polar bear, seal pup, or avid skier! All of us here in the blustery northern hemisphere are struggling to maintain some semblance of energy and optimism yet we may find ourselves faltering with the realities of cabin fevers’ stillness upon us. In fact, according to a mental health organization in the UK this is quantifiably the most depressing portion of the year. The formula calculates: weather=W, debt=d, time since Christmas=T, time since failing our new year’s resolutions=Q, low motivational levels=M and the feeling of a need to take action=Na. The date usually falls within the second or third week of January highlighting the worst of the winter blues.
Arctic air, decreased sunlight , wind advisories and slightly lower energy levels all work together to compel a human version of hibernation. Sometimes so much stillness induces feelings of boredom and restlessness known as cabin fever and other all too familiar notions such as the winter blues, a very mild form of depression. A subtle difference in energy can be expected but if you are experiencing a more dramatic and sudden change in mood or energy, beyond what is normal or even a mild change for an extended period of time, you should talk with a mental health or medical professional. For those of us who have had it with sluggishness and staring at the same four walls please enjoy the enclosed suggestions which are sure to offer some reprieve to the winter doldrums. Before sharing some tips, I will ask you a reflective question; what can be learned from the quiet and stillness which is upon us? There is indeed something balanced in the calm of the winters freeze, all of life seems to slow and with the quiet one may even be able to discern the hushed sound of each of the individual snowflakes falling. What wisdom are you able to obtain in this year’s winter reflection?
Enjoy the freeze my friends and here are some of my favorite ways to keep your mind, body, and spirit warm and well during this year’s frost!
*Eating seasonable local vegetables will vitalize your body. There is wisdom in syncing up with the earths offerings such as beets, root vegetables, cabbages, coniferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower are all a bit higher in sugar which will give you a boost of natural energy that your body is likely craving!
*Don’t like veggies? I bet you like ice cream—there are multiple creative options to enjoy the snow, just stay away from the yellow kind! Find yourself a pristine patch of freshly fallen flakes and follow the link for recipes including more obvious treats such as snow cones, ice cream, and even pancakes! These are also great activities to enjoy with the kids! http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/food/index.ssf/2014/01/try_these_snow-based_recipes.html
*If you can’t beat them, join them! Merge with the cool air by taking advantage of outdoor activities such as skiing, snow-tubing, and ice skating. With the proper cold weather apparel you will welcome some time outside of the home!
*I have written about sun gazing before and it is indeed a highly effective mood and energy booster, with the wind and cold air advisories you still may be able to take advantage of some solar meditation through a window. If that isn’t possible or for an alternate exercise, try to meditate upon a candle flame, breathing fully and with your wide-eyed gazing upon its mini solar radiance spindling about.
*My own favorite cold weather activity is hot yoga which allows me to bask as though I reside in the tropics! If you are less than athletic, take advantage of a sauna, many of the local gyms and spas feature them and will typically allow you to purchase a day pass.
*Unleash your inner nerd by utilizing boric acid to create of rainbow burning pine cones for the fireplace or even light bulbs made of snow! Follow the link for instruction. http://www.dvice.com/2013-1-29/14-geeky-and-unusual-winter-activities-fun-cold
*With all of this time indoors be sure your furnaces filter is changed the recommended 3-6months. Your lungs will thank you and also keep in mind that you still need extra hydration! The heated air tends to be very drying and your body will require much more water than you typically consume.
If you have a favorite cold weather activity or suggestion, please feel free to share!
Sending warm wishes for health and wellness,
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Reviving Minds Therapy
Offering Psychotherapy and Marriage Counseling
1010 Western Ave
Pittsburgh Pa 15233
“A New Year, A New You!” and many other such positive affirmations are floating about the cool air, sentiments which promote longed for change during this momentous time of the year. This is indeed a very appropriate time for consideration and setting action to goals with no task being too great or too small for one’s devotion! Following are some tips and suggestions which I have compiled throughout the year and I offer them to you in an earnest hope that you all may enjoy the contentment and good health to which you aspire.
Enjoy Sex, Wine, and Rock&Roll! A unit or two of alcohol enjoyed in good company and without the prohibitive factor of having to operate a motor vehicle or heavy machinery is one of many in the myriad of great ways to unwind from time to time! Most of us work hard and if you want to drink a little, why then you very well should! While you are at it, make sure to enjoy some time blissfully frolicking in the abundant pleasures of your physical and sensual body, to be performed safely, and consensually at all times! Music, well that should need no greater explanation—the pleasure we are able to feel from hearing a favorite melody or band may very well be evidence of the divine’s love for humanity!
Everything in moderation including moderation! Rigidity exerts deleterious effects upon the spirit, make room in your life for some indulgence! Want a second piece of pie or to sleep in an extra hour-we must allow ourselves the occasional enjoyment of such niceties!
Take a multi-vitamin! Many of you may have been hearing this since you were very small but more and more scientific evidence is mounting to suggest that in some instances anxiety, depression, and even symptoms similar to schizophrenia can be invoked from the long term effects of being vitamin and mineral deficient! A vitamin is a simple fix which offers infinite protection to your whole physical and ultimately emotional system!
Eat well, rest well, be well! Yes, and yes again! Fruits, veggies and plenty of rest are the corner stones of a strong physical self. With these factors alone you will be well on your way to the best version of you! If you are mentally or physically having a hard time resting, examine this closely and seek to lay to rest that which is preventing you from rest!
Cultivate greater love for yourself! Whether you are in love with what you see when you close your eyes and look inside or when replaying the life and web of relationships that center you or even when simply looking in the mirror. Work on respecting yourself inside and outside! It is important to engage in positive dialogue with yourself and to keep in mind that we will most always be striving for some hallmark beyond the present but it is essential to remain aware and poised in the infinite now!
Lay the past to rest! It is indeed a time to put to rest all that it is no longer serving us, what will best serve you by remaining but a memory for contemplation as we forge the New Year 2014? Allow your heart, intuition, and logic to guide you towards your personal answer to this wizened question and then enjoy the lightness and freedom which comes from the necessary shedding of the old skin. Traveling towards the future untethered from burdens is certainly an act which will serve all of your tomorrows!
Open yourself to new experiences! Step fearlessly into the unknown, nothing stays the same forever and the more that we make room in our lives for the new, the greater our potential for transformation. Whether you are one who revels in novelty or feebly attempts to maintain the familiar it is always invigorating to see or feel something new!
Seek your inner opposite! It is in fact an ever evolving, life-long process to know yourself. I will still encourage you to undergo inner examination and then look for what hidden characteristics remain unexpressed by your current manner of being. We often find our best balance by merging in such a way!
Fall passionately in love! Life becomes simply sensational when we uncover room for passion, whether that is in the form of an idea, theory, project or a person, the thrill of exhilarated and focused attention will be the feeling which sets your sails in full motion adding meaning and bliss to your life!
Choose compassion over being right So many relationships suffer because our egos become gridlocked in the pattern of trying to be correct instead of being understanding and loving towards our partners and loved ones! Keep this in mind and always remember it is our kindness and care which nurtures those that surround us!
Nurture the buds and blossoms- The buds and blossoms are the yearnings of light and intention in your spirit as well as a relationship to the natural universe. The earth and greater universe support and sustain all animal life and we are always benefited by admiring and relating to it!
A wish for a happy healthy and well balanced new year to all of you out there in cyberspace!
Stephanie McCracken MS, LPC, NBCC
The Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
Offering Psychotherapy and Marriage Counseling
830 Western Avenue Pittsburgh Pa 15233
by Stephanie McCrackenOctober 23, 2013 counseling, couples counseling, couples therapy, marriage counseling, Uncategorized0 comments
The pattern of mounting resentment is sometimes evidenced in romantic love. As a psychotherapist offering marriage counseling I see couples approaching the proverbial office with a mile high and well-worn list of “crimes,” the accumulated wrongs etched in the heart and mind perpetrated by the accused, their wife/husband/girlfriend/ boyfriend/partner. The end result is two confused, hurt, and angry lovers, each defensively pointing a hostile finger at the other. What all of the old and played out arguments rarely touch upon is the vulnerability, the intense need and longing that each partner has covered up out of complete terror. According to some relationship theorists such as Dr. Sue Johnson, the terror strikes upon some of the basic and human fears that many healthy and unhealthy couples carry very deep within them, and mostly they mimic the very same needs of an infant and the way that the small baby communicates with their caregiver. Most of them sound something like this “Will you come when I cry out?” “Do I matter?” “Is it safe and stable to show my love with you?” Reflect for a moment on the difference between an infant that is picked up and nurtured when it cries versus the one who is left to bemoan itself when it is upset. One learns that its needs matter, will be attended to and the other works itself into an even greater frenzy before quieting out of complete exhaustion. It is true that most adult romantic love, often mimics these very basic and fundamental efforts to gain the love and attention of our hearts caregivers. It takes practice, and often times even professional interventions to hear the layers that exist under the arguments about who will do the dishes and take out the trash, the electric bill and groceries, which family we will spend Christmas with, who is initiating and receptive to sexual contact.
The couple enters treatment terrified that they will not receive the love for which their misled attempts are begging. After so much time in the vicious and bleak stalemate, their hopeless perpetual deadlock, both parts of the couple sigh, and enter the therapist’s office wanting to know why they spend more of their time fighting than loving. If this sounds like you, a couple’s therapist may make a vast improvement upon the quality of your relationship.
Following, you will find some key points for deescalating those hot topics and some basics leads to communicate more effectively with your partner. Hostile words may wage wars, angry verbiage may even win some battles but it is kind speech that will heave the proverbial mountain from the blocked impasse. Empathetically spoken syllables will turn a foe into a friend.
- When speaking with your partner it will best serve you and the relationship if you are able to control strong feelings and to talk in a calm and constructive manner. In other words if you are extremely angry, sad, hurt, be aware of your strong feeling state and momentarily consider what this is contributing to your words. Some speakers speak kind words but in a tone, speed or decibel which comes off as angry, beware of that. Your tone, words, and speed of speech should all communicate the same thing. It may help to momentarily close your eyes, and take in a few extended inhales in an effort to find your center. By interacting from your inner source of wisdom you increase the likelihood that you will move beyond those points which have kept your relationship stuck.
- Consider some of the words and phrases which litter those stilted efforts of communication. Below are some of the common phrases that we hear uttered in the midst of arguments along with alternative phrases which may create new possibilities for empathetic expression between you and your partner. When you keep in mind that human interaction is somewhat similar to the “choose your own adventure novels” that you may have enjoyed reading as a child. Each variance in the verbal exchange is an opportunity to move the conversation in a new direction.
OLD COMMUNCATION NEW COMMUNCATION
“You always do (insert XYZ)” —— It seems that I am noticing a pattern, I wonder what that is all about?
“You never do (XYZ)”—- I really wish that we could spend more time doing___________.
“I am so sick of (XYZ)”—– I really wish that we could start doing things like____________.
- Genuinely attempt to hear something different! When your partner is replying, be receptive to what they are saying and really take the time to hear them! Sometimes these hot topics put love on a battlefield and voices raise, tempers flare as each person struggles to be heard. The old game is to fling your next arrow at your opponent while they are finishing their words. Instead, try to hear them, think for a moment about what fear your partner may be communicating under his or her words, and try to repeat your partner’s statement back to them in your own words. It can be a monumental moment of change when a person feels that you took the time to hear them.
It is empowering to consider that there is a range of opportunity to experience positive hope with varying emotional reactions and verbal responses which are elicited by taking a less threatening stance in communication. It is true that it is challenging to alter responses and reactions when you are navigating a hot topic. It is also true that some individuals are more challenged than others when making the effort to stay calm. Either because you are becoming highly angry or withdrawing, I recommend that if it is proving to be highly difficult for you to keep your cool in conversation, you may benefit from professional input. Coping mechanisms to deescalate ourselves when feeling particularly hyper-aroused are learned skills that can be acquired. Also, it is certainly worth mentioning that any pattern of very strong reaction is likely our emotive spirits method of indicating a very important message to our thinking. Attempt a deeper look, try to focus past the growing frustration with your former inability to resolve those points which have you and your partner stuck. It is my belief that no matter how deadlocked the pattern of communication may be in your relationship, it is never too late to make positive changes in the right direction towards the warm and loving bond that you deeply long to achieve!
Love Happiness and Health,
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Offering Psychotherapy and Marriage Counseling
Reviving Minds Therapy
1010 Western Ave Pittsburgh Pa 15233