First Monday of 2016!

My school district is back to the classroom today.

Now that I’m officially into the swing of things for the new year of 2016, I’m going to begin my 153Promise list of the different ways to give your 153 Kisses-a-Day in the form of some positive parenting choices to foster good emotional and mental health.

Race, Children, Competition, SpeedIf your kids went back to school today, what was the scene?  Was it calm and relaxed, or was there a bunch of yelling, scrambling and stress?  What did they eat for breakfast?  DID they eat breakfast?  What’s on the schedule for after school?  When did they go to bed last night, and what time to they plan to go to bed tonight?  What’s for dinner?  Is there a plan to all sit down together, or is it catch as catch can?

As you go through (or went through, depending upon when you read this), your day today, think about the above questions and be mindful of all the decisions you make as a family that contributes to the overall atmosphere of your home life.

Make the 153 Promise every day to contribute to a peaceful household.

The first step to making these positive choices is to recognize when you are doing things that are NOT getting you the desired reactions you desire.

Make today’s 153 Promise to evaluate the climate of your family.

Tomorrow, I will begin to make posts about what you can do on a daily basis to bring some calm to the daily routines so your family can begin to enjoy more peaceful family moments.

Kisses! XxXx

We Have Physicals; Why Not Mentals?

Note: My vision of this blog is to be a resource for ways to give children positive messages to raise a emotionally healthy child.  Once 2016 begins, I intend to make my own 153Promise to make 153 blog entries on ways to “kiss” your child so they wind up with “On Million Kisses” by the time they turn 18.  Until then, I’m throwing out a bunch of content that’s been on my mind for quite some time.  This is one of those posts…

Every parent knows the “joys” of the yearly physical checkup at the pediatrician.  It’s usually scheduled at a sick visit when you child needs antibiotics for that horrible cough or ear ache.  The very nice physicians’ assistant (PA) helpfully suggests, “Would you like to schedule your yearly well visit at this time?”  This is usually in February and the calendar is booked well into July.  Still, you pick a random date towards the end of the summer and pray you don’t forget it.  Thankfully, the offices sends you a reminder call 48 hours in advance so you can cancel the plans you made in the meantime.

Your child gets weighed and measured.  Poked and prodded.  Not unlike picking the perfect melon for a picnic.  98.6?  Check.  Still ten fingers and toes?  Check.  Pooping?  Check.

All of this is important, just to make sure everything’s looking normal.  We trust the doctor to pick up anything unusual, and the doctor trusts us to divulge any concerns we may have.  It’s a system that’s been in place for ages.

Why not for mental health?

You may say that primary care physicians (PCPs) are trained for such screenings, but their training is limited.  Kind of like a plumber fixing your leaky sink and noting that the wiring may — or may not — be grounded right in your kitchen outlets.  You need to call an electrician to get a more educated opinion.

My wish is that EVERY child in the U. S. gets a yearly screening for any issues dealing with mental health.  It should be done by a highly trained, highly astute therapist who knows how to spot the markers for things like anxiety, depression, mood disorders…  There should be a very detailed pre-visit form to fill out.  Depending upon the age of the child, they should be part of that process, similar to the courts considering the child’s opinion in custody hearings.

A questionnaire with the Strongly Agree; Agree; Neutral; Disagree; Strongly Disagree should be filled out by both the caregiver and the child.  Part of HIPA, there should be parts of the form that can be voluntarily filled out by a PA without the parent present if the child needs help with the form and the parent gives consent in order to ensure that the child is forthcoming with the answers.

Questions like:

  • I am happy at school
  • I feel supported at home
  • I feel in control of my life
  • I go to sleep without fear
  • I make healthy choices about my body
  • My friendships add to my enjoyment of life
  • There is an adult I trust if I have problems
  • I do not feel like I am in danger in any way

Or for the more concerning:

  • My life feels out of control sometimes
  • I have thoughts of not wanting to be here anymore
  • There are some fears I can’t get out of my head
  • I fear some people in my life
  • I don’t enjoy activities I used to like
  • People don’t notice my problems

Even very young children could point to emojis or pick pictures to color to get an idea of how they view the world and their place in it.

I firmly believe that if we as a nation start focusing our attention on these types of issues at a very early age, we could see a huge turn around in how we treat children with regarding mental health issues.

If a child’s responses start showing a cause for concern, early interventions can be done.  Things as simple as recommending a support group for both the parents and child…  Recommending certain books or resources for the family… even a few intensive sessions with a therapist to teach coping mechanisms… for the entire family.

Will this cost money upfront?  Perhaps.  But imagine how much money would be saved by having a whole generation of more well adjusted people walking around.  Imagine crime rates going down.  Addiction being reduced.  Fewer suicides or mass shootings.

The real tragedy that occurs in horrible media events is when people are interviewed and say, “Yeah… there were some red flags.”

It’s my hope that 153Promise takes off and becomes a platform for sweeping mental health reform for children.

That’s my mission. Some may think I’m crazy, and I need to get my head examined.

Exactly.

 

 

 

 

When We Fail…

(Note: I am not finished with this post, but I wanted to push it out.  Please check back later on in the week for more content.)

Yes, this is a site that wants to focus on showing love and affection to our children.  I can practically smell the chocolate chip cookies and am blinded by all the shiny glitter.  But sometimes, it’s necessary to go a little Dark…

Yes, it’s the holiday season and all thoughts are on celebrating and happy times.  However, sometimes heightened emotions with all those expectations of recreating a Norman Rockwell moment can create a lot of pressure and ultimately backfire.  Especially if there’s been a little dipping into the giant punchbowl of “Holiday Cheer.”

So while everybody’s hyper-focused on trimming the tree, wrapping presents and forcing everybody to wear matching outfits for their yearly festive family photo that gets uploaded onto their Facebook page, please allow me to throw a little reality into the mix.

I thought it important to actually run down a list of  dysfunctional parenting techniques and their consequences.  Perhaps some of them may sound familiar because you grew up in this situation.  If so, then you may already have some insight and be making adjustments so you don’t repeat the cycle.  The also may strike a chord because you realize your child is already displaying certain behaviors listed below; in that case, you can look deep into yourself or any other authority figure in their lives to identify the source and then make adjustments accordingly.

We’re all human and flawed.  This list is not to name, blame, and shame.  It is to serve as a resource toward kinder, more loving choices.  Please take it in that spirit.

Also, I feel the need to make a disclaimer: I am NOT a licensed therapist.  My knowledge comes from years of teaching, extensive personal research from a variety of reliable sources, and my own life.  They are in my own words, from my own perspective.  I also cannot possibly list where I got my information, as it is common knowledge within the psychiatric community.  For more information, I suggest you consult the DSM5.org website.  Also realize that there are no physical tests for any psychological/psychiatric disorders- the only criteria is that enough boxes are checked in a list of symptoms.  This ambiguity causes much controversy, as one therapist may diagnose a patient with one disorder and another therapist may assess in a very different way.  Additionally, some people will want to label typical “normal” behavior as a disorder, while others may normalize, or downplay, toxic behaviors.  There is also a lot of “bleeding” from one disorder to another due to the similarity of conditions, either causes or effects.  Comorbidity, or multiple disorders, may also occur.  Furthermore, the DSM is constantly changing, expanding, or collapsing their conditions (presumably for insurance coding purposes or in response to political lobbying or legislative changes).  Finally, it is important to realize that there are some emotional/mental disorders that are physical (chemical) in nature not caused by any learned patterns and may require more extensive treatment.

Additionally, some patients seek out medication, while others only seek behavior modification or both.  This post is not meant to be a diagnostic tool.  Rather, it is meant to create awareness and mindfulness regarding healthy relationship decisions in the future to foster an affectionate environment, enabling children to thrive.

The following list is a general list of maladaptations that may be the result of dysfunctional parenting, in alphabetical order.  Check back from time to time, as I will update as I think of more and expand my descriptions.

Addictions (Compulsions)

Anxiety

*Attachment Disorder

*Borderline Personality (BPD) and its variations

Codependency

*Dependent Personality Disorder

Depression

****Dissociative Personality Disorder, fka, Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD)

Eating Disorders (Anorexia/Bulimia)

*Histrionic Personality

Love Avoidance

*Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

***Not Otherwise Specified (NOD)

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

**Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

*Reactive Personality Disorder

You may want to revisit this post from time to time as a gentle barometer to see if the behaviors of either you or people around you seem to be aligned with any of the above patterns.  If so (or even the need to re-read this list), you may want to seek out some professional support.

So when you find yourself getting caught up with the pressures of life — be it something like the holidays or just daily routine business — keep the 153Promise to yourself and your loved ones to be mindful and aware of the fact that everything you do has a ripple effect of reactions, and act only from a position of L.O.V.E.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Never Too Late: Part Two

So, how is it that I can now have a relationship with the same man — my father — who caused me so much pain that I had put a gun to my head?  The answer is in my acronym for LOVE.

He listened to how much pain I had been in.  He observed what I was doing with the rest of my life as an adult.  He validated my position by not making excuses, and he empathized by making a change in his behavior from my perspective.

That last step took several attempts, I gotta tell ya.  He had to say he was sorry several times until I actually believed him.  The reason being, he’d sometimes revert back to his behaviors when I was a kid.  As a child, I didn’t say anything.  But as an adult, it would HIGHLY trigger me and I’d blow up and estrange myself from him… for years.  I was not the most graceful about it and I’m sure I caused him pain, as well.  I will own that piece.  It’s not an excuse, but it is an explanation for my behavior when I say that I had developed CPTSD from my childhood so I had difficulty regulating my emotions… I still do.  But I’m much better with it today.

We’ve been okay for the past three years or so, and I think it’s pretty stable now.  I’ve learned; he’s learned, and we’ve moved from living in the past to trying to stay in the moment.  (He is a big worrier about the future.)  There was a big symbolic moment when I knew he had actually changed.  My son was two at the time.  He had picked up a candle.  I could tell it made my dad nervous: would my son break the candle?  Would he bang it on something and break that other thing?  I just held my breath as I looked to my dad and what he’d do…  He just looked at me, looked at my son, took a deep breath… and laughed!  He got it!!!  He understood the present moment and what was most important.  Not the candle, not the table or whatever… his daughter and his grandson.

So that’s how it can happen.  If you have a history of a strained relationship with someone due to unresolved tension in the past, go to that person.  Tell them you’re sorry.  List what you did so they know that you “get” it.  Then say that they deserve better and you are going to do better.  Admit that you need help in doing that by asking them what you can do from now on.  Then listen to them.  Don’t defend or excuse.  Observe what they do- not only what they say.  Validate their point of view.  And finally, empathize and make decisions from their perspective.  Ask yourself, “What would they want me to be doing right now so they know they are loved?”  Then do that thing.

Granted, this is NOT easy to do.  You have to put your heart on your sleeve.  They may not be ready because trust has been violated in the past.  But if you make the 153Promise to do things in a loving way, they’ll come around.  I did… because my dad did.

If you get rejected at first, make the 153Promise to love YOURSELF every day by working on improving your own life.  Do the work.  After a while, they’ll notice the change and they’ll come to trust it because they’ll see that you are doing it not to get anything from the deal, but because you realize it’s just the healthy, right thing to do.

You may need outside resources.  Seek out therapy.  If you can’t afford it, find group meetings in your area.  Research online.  Join an internet forum.  Get a self-help book on Amazon, or go to the local library and ask for a good book to check out.  I’ll even make a list of books/resources on a page here… I’ll update it as I get suggestions, so if you know of a great resource, email me at jennyontheshelf@gmail.com.

You’ll notice that I don’t mention my mother in part of this healing process.  That’s because even though she was not the active abuser, she’s always maintained that she was a good mom.  MY version of reality is that a good mother’s first job is to protect… and in that respect, she failed.  Cleaning up the mess after the damage does not win any awards in my book.  She’s failed to convince me that she’s really listened, observed, validated, or empathized.  I’ve heard the word “love” come out of her mouth countless times, but I’ve never felt it the way I need to in order to believe it.  It saddens me to say this, but she may not even be capable of that due to her own issues.  I’ve stopped interpreting this as my shortcoming, and I’m working on making my peace with this.  In that way, I’m making that 153Promise to her… to stop judging her for her inabilities.

It’s my wish for all of you reading this post that you are inspired to acknowledge the past to those you love, make positive choices in the present, and look toward the future with hope and optimism.  I sincerely believe that in taking this approach, we can heal a lot of our own wounds and help in repairing others’ we may have contributed in causing.

In doing this work, it’s not too late to attain “One Million Kisses” with those whom you want to show healthy love.  Who’s to say you can’t “kiss” retroactively???  Maybe taking that one step to make it right can get you half way there!  Maybe doing your work on the past while making changes today can double up your “Kissing Kounter!”

When I first thought about the possibility of literally kissing my child a million times, I thought it would be impossible; NOT SO!  The secret lies in taking one day at a time… it’s best way to live life, isn’t it?

Make that first step today…  It’s NEVER too late!

 

It’s Never Too Late! Part One

This is the companion post to “It’s Never Too Early.”

Yesterday, I had posted about making the commitment to love your child even before your child is born; you can begin to prepare to start the journey of “One Million Kisses” way before the birth of your child.  But what if that ship has said long ago and you already have a child- be it a toddler, teen or adult?  Today, I am focusing on how to start the “Kissing Kounter” TODAY and make the 153Promise to that person before you go to sleep tonight!

I’m not planning to use this site as a space to vent about my own personal issues, but this is a time where I think it’s important to use my life as an example: I grew up in dysfunction.  Granted, it wasn’t all bad- we had food and shelter.  We went to church on Sunday and out for dinner after.  My parents gave me music lessons and went to all of my concerts.  But I was not thriving.  I was not getting the kind of love I needed.  (I posted what my definition of love a few days ago… scroll down if you need.)

Here’s my childhood in a nutshell-

Mom and Dad constantly fought.  My dad was very demonstrative, and my mother was extremely submissive.  I’d witness him saying horrible things to her to the point where she’d cry.  When you are a little girl, your mother is your world.  You are an extension of her.  So if SHE’s crying, it’s like the universe is ending.

Once I got older, I became part of his wrath.  He’d work at his job (he never really told me what he did there), come home and go on a war path.  I remember hearing the gravel on the driveway pop underneath his tires and my mother saying to me, “Quick- your father’s home,” which basically meant “Don’t give your father a reason to yell.”  This meant scrambling to clean up the house in 30 seconds before he came though the door.  I have memories of my hair being yanked right out of my scalp as he led me around the house, rubbing my head in any items that were not put away.  Like a dog.  One image remains burned in my mind.  It was a wash cloth at the bottom of the shower.  I hadn’t wringed it up to dry.  I don’t know which was worse: my father bellowing my name as he shamed me, or my mother’s judgment when she said, “You think you’d learn by now.”

There’s many more instances I could site, but I think that’s enough to give you an idea of our home climate… And then I’d go to school…

Let’s just say that I was not one of the cool kids.  While my dad called me a jerk and a candy @$$ at home, my peers would bastardize my name so it had an unfortunate crude word in it.  My dad never bought me the cool clothes (a necessity in the yuppie 80s) and my mother used to cut my hair on the steps in the basement.  (Note to self- insert pictures of my awkward class pictures here.)  As a result of all of these social epic fails, I was at the bottom of the popularity food chain.  I was called “Freak.”  In fact, the greatest regret I have at that time period was the ONE time on the bus I was not the subject of teasing, I joined in on it.  So to the blonde-haired boy on the bus with me going to Fogelsville Elementary School in Orefield PA, I am sorry from the bottom of my heart.

My self esteem was on the floor.  All of this led to me being withdrawn.  It was a good day when I didn’t get noticed.  As a result, my grades began to suffer, despite me being in the “gifted/high potential” classes.  I was at the bottom of the top intellectually… It was a very weird experience.  I find myself wanting to chronicle all my pain, but I have to remember where all of this is going…

Cut to my senior year, right around this time- a few weeks before Christmas.  I had applied to college with no hopes of getting in.  (My father was a master at instilling fear.)  My 8 year old brother was also in the process of being diagnosed with leukemia- something I didn’t fully comprehend at the time.  At a result, I had a meltdown.  I had what can possibly be described as a temporary psychotic break.  I like to call it my “Freak of the Week.”  All my pent up anxiety came loose at once.  It’ll make for a great post one day!

A few months later, I was so depressed, I really didn’t care about living anymore.  I was in so much pain and I was so frustrated with my failed relationship with my parents, I just wanted to make some sort of statement to them.  I was angry, but I couldn’t possibly say anything because I had no voice at this point, so it had to be drastic.  I thought the best idea would be to kill myself so my suffering would be over, yet in a grand, poetic, ironic twist, their suffering would just begin.  My dad was a hunter, so he had guns.  I knew a shotgun would be clunky, so I went for the hand gun.  But before I actually went to do it, call it the Grace of God or just morbid curiosity, I went to the bathroom mirror just to see what my final moment of life would look like.

I realized that I looked REALLY stupid.  And then I realized that if I died, THEY would win.  I’d be dead, and they would survive.  So I made the decision that day to never give up on myself, even when the world certainly seemed to have given up on me.

Why am I telling you this?  Because despite ALL of that — plus more dramatic, dysfunctional crap I’ve had to deal with in my life — I have made peace with my father and we are okay.  We may not be super close, but we’re cool with each other.  Why?  Because it’s never too late.

*Next Post: How to start Day One of the 153Promise.