Thursday, July 30, 2009

Talking To Children About Death

Recently, the world was shocked to hear reports that the King Of Pop, Michael Jackson, had died. Like the rest of the world, I, too, was glued to the television as they showed the retrospective of his career. My eyes filled with tears as I watched videos of the Jackson 5 singing “I’ll be There” and “I want you back.” In fact, I was so moved that I failed to immediately notice that my 8-year-old son appeared grief stricken as well. Puzzled by this, I thought “He didn’t even know who Michael was.” However, this truly did not matter because the issue was far deeper.

Many parents simply don't know how to explain death to their children. It is, indeed, hard to find the appropriate words and the right answers to all of the questions they will have about death. However, from a professional standpoint, I encourage all parents to discuss this issue early on instead of waiting until a tragedy occurs. This can be done by using common experiences like falling leaves, a funeral procession, or a dead animal or insect to bring up and discuss the subject of death.

Here are some things to consider when discussing this subject after a death has occurred:

Talk to children soon after a death occurs
Although we often think that by not discussing an issue, children will not be aware of the truth. However, this is almost always not the case. Speaking with children quickly also ensures that parents will be the ones discussing the death with their children, instead of someone else.

Define death in clear and simple terms
Parents should try not to use fantasy terms when describing what it means to die. Being honest is the best way to limit fears and confusion. Also, avoid casualizing or minimizing the true impact of death. For example, saying that Grand Pa just went to sleep can insight fear that they might not wake up after falling asleep.

Children should be allowed to grieve in their own way
Sometimes children's reactions to death don't meet their parents' expectations. It is contraindicated to insist that children display sorrow, or, on the other hand, that they be brave. Parents should instead encourage their children to express their feelings in their own unique way. If you feel that your son or daughter is suppressing their true feelings, you can encourage them to express themselves through activities like drawing and journaling. You might be surprised by how much emotion that they share through such art forms.

Be Reassuring
It is very scary to children when they confront death for the first time, as it conjures up questions about their own mortality. Reassure them that you understand their fears, and although no one truly knows when they will die, you expect that both of you will be around for a long time!

At some point, your child will be faced with a loss, and they will need help understanding their feelings about it. How much they understand, and how you talk about it depends largely on your child’s age and emotional development. Regardless of how you choose to broach the conversation, make sure to do so. Arming them with knowledge is always the best way to go.

Happy Parenting,

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Advice For Mommies

I recently met with a client who had come to me for counseling. She stated that her husband encouraged her to come in because he had concerns about her emotional stability. In listening to her describe her weekly routine, it became clear that this young woman spent all of her waking hours taking care of her two young children and husband. She typically did not go to bed at night until three in the morning because she would do housework after her children had gone to bed. I asked her if she ever spent time with friends, or by herself out of the house. She reflected momentarily, but eventually responded in a soft voice, “no.” In fact, she was unable to share what her favorite pastime is.

Remembering who you are is something that all parents have to remember. I have found, both personally and professionally, that women seem to have more difficulty with this concept. Our personal goals, interests, and passions are frequently halted once we have children. We immerse ourselves in being mommy, and taking care of all of those around us. It is critically important that we nurture our children by being present emotionally, spiritually, and physically. However, we simply have to remember to nurture ourselves as well. Sometimes we feel guilty or selfish if we say that we need time apart from our children or spouse. But guess what? That individual time may very well help you maintain your sanity. Whether its fifteen minutes a day, or two hours a week…make sure to take your me time. Do the things you once enjoyed like painting, socializing, playing an instrument, and going to the movies or plays. This will help you to feel more fulfilled, and will ultimately help you to be an even better parent!

Happy Parenting,
Gaétane Borders, MA, ABD


Do you ever wonder why children seem to be miniature portraits of their parents? Sometimes I laugh aloud when I watch my son walking because he has the exact same gait and swagger that my husband has. The only problem is that my husband walks the way that he does because he has a bad back and knees from the wear and tear over the years. So why then does our eight-year-old’s walk mirror his father’s? Surely he doesn’t have pre-arthritic symptoms! The answer is pretty clear…he has adopted his juvenile swagger due to the phenomenon known as modeling.

While there is no harm in a child copying his daddy’s walking pattern, this mimicking can pose a problem when it relates to emotional issues. How we cope, how we express our emotions, and how we demonstrate love and admiration are all things that we pass on to our children. Oftentimes I can tell what parents are like before meeting them just by the way their children act. For example, kids who are unduly aggressive or who use profane language are usually in an environment where they see and hear such behaviors. Sure, behavior and temperament do have a genetic component as well. But remember that children learn largely by watching what we adults do and how we react.

A national study was done recently in which it reported that 1 out of 4 adults is clinically depressed. Suicide is on the rise, particularly among African American men. Other studies show that 1 out of 3 girls are molested before the age of 18, and 1 out of 5 boys report having been molested during this same time frame. The emotional baggage that this sort of trauma creates is extensive, and without the needed therapy can have lasting debilitating effects. Moreover, it can negatively impact future relationships and how one relates to others.

It is so important to the success of our families that we, as adults, heal ourselves so that we can be fully functional, happy, and effective parents. Our children are watching, learning, and imitating our behaviors, and your baggage can ultimately become their baggage. If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms related to depression or anxiety, please consult with a counseling professional. It will not only make a difference in your life, it will make a difference in your child’s life as well.

Happy Parenting,
Gaetane Borders, MA, ABD

Why Children Don't Tell

Sexual abuse is a pervasive issue across the nation. One in four girls report being sexually molested before the age of eighteen, and one in six boys report the same. Therefore, the reality is that more than 25% of you who are reading this article have been sexually abused. Another reality is that only a small percentage of you disclosed this to your parents. So why don't children tell? One would think that they would run, yell and scream to their parents if someone had touched them inappropriately. However, this is generally not the case. Here's why...
Most pedophiles are known to their victims, and are very slick and manipulative in their approach. They "groom" the child into thinking that they are trustworthy, and gradually involve children in inappropriate acts. Later they often threaten to harm the child or their family members if they do disclose. Victimized children often won't tell because they are afraid that they will not be believed, or feel guilty that they may have, in some way, been responsible for the abuse. Now, all of this is compounded with the fact that more often than not, it is a parent who is committing the abuse. In this case, a child may not want to tattle.
So what can you do as a parent? Be attuned to any changes in your child's behavior because this will tell you a lot! Young children will often regress by wetting the bed, sucking their fingers, or not eating. Elementary school age kids often demonstrate excessive fear of certain people, masturbate excessively, have nightmares, or will withdraw from people. In the teen years, kids may become promiscuous, experiment with drugs, be depressed, and may also have suicidal thoughts. You should be concerned if you see any of these behaviors, and begin asking questions.
If your son or daughter tells you that they have been abused, BELIEVE THEM! It is extremely rare for a child to lie about this. Keep in mind that the way that you react to this will help determine how your child will heal. Tell them that you are proud that they had the courage to tell you, and that it was not their fault. They really do need to hear this! In addition, make sure that they receive counseling to address their trauma because it will have life long ramifications if not treated.
If you were abused, and are finding it difficult to find inner peace... just remember that you do not have to let your trauma define who you are. Despite what happened to you, it is possible to live and love without pain. Your healing process may be difficult, but happiness is attainable.

Happy Parenting,
Gaétane F. Borders, M.A., A.B.D

Parenting Tips For The Busy Parent

As parents, sometimes we forget just how great an impact we make in our children’s lives. It’s rarely what you say, but rather what you do that makes a lasting impression on your offspring. The truth, though, is that no matter what we do, our children still love us. It seems as though they are pre-wired to believe that we are the smartest, most beautiful, and amazing person that exists. So it would seem fair that we make the feel the same in return!So how is that done exactly? By nurturing the whole child! Eye contact, touching, and focused attention are what builds a child's self-esteem. Effective parenting involves making sure that children feel loved and understood. These are fundamentals to a happy, well-adjusted child. In order to achieve this, we have to spend quality time with our kids. Let’s face it, in today’s economic crisis, many of us are working long hours just to make ends meet. Although the quantity of time may diminish, the quality can remain the same... and even increase. Since we constantly have to multi-task, why not incorporate our kids in our day-to-day activities? Use this time to talk to them and understand their inner thoughts. Kids are more introspective than what adults think! Here are some suggestions of some activities you can do with your children:

1. Make food shopping a learning experience. Instead of stopping by the grocery before picking up the kids, plan to occasionally get them first.

2. Involve young children in food preparation. Even toddlers can set the table and measure simple ingredients. Preschoolers can learn food terms like stir, beat, sift, and pour.

3. Make laundry and housekeeping a task that involves the whole family.

4. Don’t just sit them in front of the TV. Watch television with your children, and talk with them about the show. Ask them, "What happen first, next, and last? What was your favorite part? Did you like the way the story ended? Could we have a different ending?" Also have them relate the show to their personal experiences.

5. Have dinner together as a family. You can learn a lot about your child during meal times. Model to them proper communication skills like listening, and reflection.

Just try these suggestions for a few days! You may find that it really works, and that your day does not seem as hectic and disjointed.

Happy Parenting,
Gaétane Borders, MA, ABD