Blog Written By: Allie Haydon, LMFT, LPC, LCDC

Young People with Substance Abuse Issues During COVID-19 

Substance use is considered using any mind-altering chemicals such as alcohol, illicit drugs, over-the-counter (OTC) medications, and prescription drugs that are not prescribed to the user by a doctor or taken as prescribed by the user. There are many teen substance abuse issues parents need to have awareness of more than ever during the COVID-19 lockdowns to both help their young person get through withdrawal and prevent relapses. 

Boredom is the #1 Trigger for Substance Use 

Young people have a much lower threshold for boredom than an adult does. Their brain is constantly seeking stimulation and they are naturally more predisposed to risk taking behaviors and impulsivity than an adult. Since we are all cooped up inside together for an extended period of time, young people might consider using substances to make an otherwise mundane day a little more stimulating. 

Encourage and Engage Your Teen

Do the best that you can to encourage them to get out of their room and engage with the family or go outside for an hour or so each day. They will drag their feet and complain that they don’t “feel like it” and they “don’t want to,” but stay consistent in your request/command that they come out of their room and leave the phone behind for an hour or two a day. They don’t have to be happy about it, they just need to do it. 

You need to also engage with them. If they are expected to be outside for an hour with no screens, you need to do that preferably with them. Play video games with them. Make a TikTok video with them. Ask them what they would like to do and enthusiastically participate in their interests. 

Drug and Alcohol Cravings are Real

Drug and Alcohol Cravings are Real

Your teen has not only been ripped out of their daily routine of school, work, sports, etc. but they have also likely lost access to their source of drugs and alcohol. With this sudden change, cravings are likely to occur. 

Common Signs of Drug & Alcohol Cravings in Teens & Young Adults

When someone experiences cravings for certain substances they can seem preoccupied, irritable, short tempered, moody, lethargic, and perhaps engage in “shady” behavior trying to seek something to relieve them of the craving. They may stress eat and consume more sugar than usual, as sugar releases dopamine which gives them the feel-good feeling. 

How To Relieve Drug & Alcohol Cravings

If someone is coming off of drugs or alcohol, eating sugar can be helpful. Exercise, even just a brisk walk, can help stimulate dopamine production. Watching something funny and laughing helps stimulate dopamine production that can help cravings. 

Keep Your Teen Occupied To Reduce Cravings

Most important to note is that cravings typically last about 10-20 minutes then subside. If a young person can occupy themselves for that duration of time until the craving passes then they can lower their chance of a relapse. Cravings can and will happen throughout the day especially in early sobriety, so if they need to drop what they are doing to occupy themselves in a productive way, please support them. The one thing young people want their loved ones to know is that when they tell you they are experiencing a craving, this does not mean you should panic. By them acknowledging the craving they are being aware that it is happening and telling you so that their support system can know what is going on. This is a good thing! Ask your young person how you can support them. If it is just lending an ear and letting them take care of themselves then that is all that is needed. 

Remove Temptation and Lock Up Your Over-The-Counter Medications (and Prescriptions Medications)

During this lockdown your young person likely has lost access to their illicit substance of choice. In this case, they may turn to everyday substances found in the home to get them through. Over the counter medications have just as much potential for abuse as prescription drugs. 

OTC medications that can be abused and might be around your home include: 

  • Antihistamines such as Benedryl 
  • Cough medicine such as NyQuil, Mucinex 
  • Anti-diarrheal medications 

For more information on OTC medications that can be abused and their side effects please visit https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/over-counter-medicines

Prevent Teen Substance Abuse By Reducing Access

If you have a young person in the house that you suspect might be abusing OTC medications or could possibly try experimenting with medications, gather all medication in the house and put it away in a safe and hidden spot. Give out OTC meds when requested from your young person. 

Prescription medications can also be taken and abused by a non-prescribed member of the family. That bottle of codeine cough medicine your doctor gave you 3 months ago…lock it up. The pain prescription you got for your root canal last year….lock it up. 

Have a conversation with your young person, or give us a call to have a conversation with your young person, about using and abusing medications that are not prescribed to them. Do not give out prescription medication to people that have not been prescribed! You are not your family’s MD! There may be side effects or other drug interactions that you or your family members are not aware of. 

There Are Dangers of Withdrawing from Alcohol and/or Benzodiazepines (aka Xanax, Valium) 

If your young person has been drinking heavily, often and/or abusing the prescription drug Xanax (street name “bars,” “handlebars,” “benzos,” “school bus”) and suddenly they are unable to procure more of these substances, they could be at risk for a dangerous withdrawal. 

Alcohol and Benzodiazepines are the two substances that can cause seizures and death during the withdrawal process. They should be taken to a detox facility, rehab, or ER for medical assistance while detoxing from these substances. For more info on withdrawal symptoms click here https://americanaddictioncenters.org/withdrawal-timelines- treatments/risk-of-death

These two substances are frequently abused by young people and at times alcohol use is encouraged or provided by parents in a misconstrued attempt at “teaching” their young person how to drink safely. The fact of the matter is, there is NO way to teach a young person how to drink safely. Watch this video for more details https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flC30ZniwnM&fbclid=IwAR0tPMy1i_B_7Iefm5DUfQK saolzdXtDr5n04SvtWrCIFTOQUqJt1BEW06k

Adolescent’s brains are not fully formed and unable to push the “Stop” button when they consume alcohol. It is a dangerous misnomer that introducing alcohol at an early age can help them understand the dangers. In fact, alcohol addiction is MORE likely to occur when a young brain is introduced to it due to pleasure and reward centers in the brain carving out premature paths with alcohol use. Don’t believe me? Here are the facts: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/underage-drinking 

Signs of PAWS (Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome)

Look Out for Signs of PAWS (Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome) 

If your young person has recently stopped substance use, yes even marijuana, they will experience Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome or PAWS. PAWS is the second stage of the withdrawal process sometimes following weeks or even months after substance use has stopped. This is the brain’s way of attempting to straighten itself out and return to normal functioning. 

Symptoms of PAWS include: 

  • Sleep disturbances (hypersomnia or insomnia, appetite disturbances 
  • Mood swings 
  • Irritability 
  • Anhedonia (lack of pleasure in things that used to bring enjoyment) 
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety 
  • Cravings for substances 
  • Sensitivity to stress 
  • Lack of focus or initiative 
  • Trouble remembering things 

Don’t Jump To Conclusions

Unfortunately, a lot of these symptoms also look like regular teenage behavior at times. Be careful not to jump to conclusions that they had previously been using alcohol and/or drugs without a positive drug test. I always encourage parents to take their young person to a diagnostics lab for the first test as the at home tests are frequently unreliable and can easily be tampered with. 

There are a lot of emotions flying around right now as so many people are experiencing uncertainty, stress, anxiety, depression, boredom, and disrupted schedules. Adolescents are predisposed to feeling their emotions intensely, so I caution parents and guardians about labeling their young person’s moods and activities as drug related unless you have reasonable evidence that points you in that direction.  

Your teen has had their entire life turned upside down and now has no solid routine to fall back on. Teens with substance abuse issues may have more trouble than others with this. However, behaviors such as sleeping more than usual, or struggling to sleep, eating more than usual, or having appetite disruptions are normal reactions to this change in lifestyle. We are all coping with waves of emotions at different times as best we can. These behaviors alone do not point directly to your teen currently having substance abuse issues. 

You’re Not Alone in the Battle Against Young Adult Substance Abuse

If you think your young person might be experiencing PAWS, cravings, or withdrawal symptoms, please contact Malaty Therapy for a 20-minute phone consultation at 713-628-3966.

If you need more resources check out The Council on Recovery who can put you in contact with appropriate resources for you and your young person.

If you believe your young person is experiencing withdrawal from alcohol or benzodiazepines take them to the ER or a detox facility such as Memorial Hermann Prevention and Recovery Center (PaRC).

Blog Written By: Rebekah Wallace LCSWManaging Emotional Distress

The past month has been strange to say the very least. The normal day-to-day activities that we had grown so accustomed to, like attending school and work, grocery shopping, and meeting friends and loved ones for brunch or dinner has changed in ways we never could have imagined. For those of us who feel the most filled up on days when we have had the chance to hug our friends at the end of a challenging workweek, we’re really starting to feel the effects of social distancing. These times are weird and filled with emotional challenges, y’all, and it’s okay to acknowledge when you’re feeling the feels, whatever they might be. No one is immune to the effects COVID19 has had on our lives. But the good news is, managing emotional distress during this reprieve from normal life is possible. 

Take a Moment to be Mindful of Your Emotions 

Many of us have gotten so used to the fast-paced nature of our world that the past several weeks have really thrown us for a loop and maybe even caused some of us to ask some pretty tough questions about what our future holds. 

Just know that you are not alone, and that healing and connection can still come from asking tough questions like these in a nonjudgmental, supportive environment: 

  • How will we recover from this? 
  • When will things go back to “normal”? 
  • When will I get to have sushi in a restaurant again? (I feel this one in my soul!) 
  • How do I stay sane during this weird time? 
  • Is it okay for me to be enjoying this time with my family at home? 

Malaty Therapy Can Help You Through Emotional Distress & Uncertainty

We’re Here To Help You Through Emotional Distress & Uncertainty 

We don’t have all the answers, but we’re here to sit in the uncertainty with you and bring hope into each one of our sessions. In those moments when you begin to feel like you just hopped onto your own emotional rollercoaster brought on by judgments and catastrophic thoughts, take a moment to pause, acknowledge the emotions you are feeling, and let yourself know that it is okay and makes sense to feel overwhelmed, nervous, restless, uncertain, and even frustrated during this time. 

Be Mindful & Present in the Moment 

Often what gets us in trouble is our default mode of suppressing, ignoring or avoiding our emotional experiences. This is where mindfulness comes in. In its most basic form, mindfulness is simply noticing what’s happening in the present moment without judgment. 

Checking in on your emotional state and asking yourself questions like these is a great start: 

  • What emotions am I feeling in this very moment? How intensely am I feeling these emotions? 
  • Where do I feel this stress, tension and emotion in my body? 
  • What thoughts am I having that might be making me feel this way? 
  • How do I take care of myself in this moment? 
  • Who can I talk to if things get too heavy for me? 

Malaty Therapy Helps You Face Emotional Distress Head-On

Face Emotional Distress Head-On, Even When It’s Scary

Here’s the thing. Sometimes it can be scary to face our catastrophic thoughts and intense emotions head-on, and it might feel safer to ignore the way we have been emotionally impacted by the changes that have most recently taken place. What we know, though, is that when we ignore or push down our emotions, they tend to stick around and become more unmanageable as more and more thoughts and emotions are added to the pile of things not dealt with. Until we have identified what we are thinking and feeling, it’s hard to effectively find resolution. Sometimes just naming our emotions and thoughts and giving voice to them helps reduce the distress they cause and can bring us a bit of relief. 

“But I Don’t Have Time to Worry About My Emotional Stressors” 

Many of us are facing issues right now that we hadn’t prepared for or even considered. We get it. We understand that just because we’re all spending more time at home, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we all have loads of time and energy on our hands to dedicate hours of our day to things like meditation and spiritual practices. 

A Little Bit of Mindfulness Goes a Long Way…

The cool thing about mindfulness and meditative practices is that a little bit goes a long way. Taking just 5-10 minutes a day to simply pause, focus on your breathing and complete a check-in with yourself and your people makes all the difference. Whether things have slowed down for you as a result of the current state of our world or you’ve found that you’re busier now more than ever, know that sometimes simply just hitting the pause button for a short moment out of each day to check in with yourself and truly see how you are holding up makes all the difference! 

So just to make sure we’re all on the same page: 

  • Times are particularly weird right now. Taking the time to pause, take a few deep breaths and check-in with yourself and your loved ones is a beautiful first step in opening your heart up to the benefits of mindfulness. 
  • Be patient with yourself during this time and know that while we don’t have all the answers right now, we do know that things won’t always be this uncertain and challenging. 

Last But Not Least, Malaty Therapy Is Here For You 

If you notice that you’re experiencing some serious emotional distress and heavy emotions that have become too much to hold on your own, remember that you are not alone, and that we’re here to help! We’re still here Houston, and we are ready to support you and give you the space you need to figure these things out. 

Be Well Houston!

Blog Written By: Christina Levin, LMFT-Associate, LCDC-Intern, LPC-Intern

Distant Couple On Couch During COVID19 in Need of Relationship Therapy

We don’t need experts to tell us that post-COVID-19 reality will see a rise in both birth and divorce rates. While some relationships may blossom as a result of this ‘time out,” many will find it difficult and may feel trapped. As a Houston couple’s therapist, I am anticipating an even greater need for relationship therapy help from my clients due to the stresses of COVID-19. But for the time being, I’d like to offer some relationship therapy tips and advice to help you and your partner understand each other, and better communicate. 

Are You Feeling Trapped and Overwhelmed? 

Desire to flee the scene may be high during these times. Your home has turned into a mission control center and overlapping roles keep multiplying. Some of you may feel that chronic tension and disconnect between you and partner has only amplified. You are feeling trapped. Forget about sex. Not much emotional space is left to process the tragedy of it all, either. 

Appreciating The Pause and Connecting 

Maybe, you are someone on the opposite side of this reality, appreciating the pause, using the time for self-reflection and what a pleasant surprise – you found a human next to you on a couch. Turns out it is your partner! 

Intimacy Can Be Frightening 

Well, what do you do with each other in this vastness of time? Have you ever experimented sitting in silence for 5 minutes, looking at each other without any distractions, and realized you were close to having a panic attack? Yep, intimacy can be frightening. 

Wherever You are in the Adaptation Process to COVID-19 as a Couple, Here are Some Reminders and Tips to Consider: 

Relationship Triage Starts with Taking Vitals. 

I invite you to check in with yourself before reading further. What’s the speed that you are going with right now? Are you scrolling to get to the point? When was the last time you paid attention to your breathing? What’s going on in your body? Any tension? If you had to take a guess, what’s your pulse rate right now? When was the last time you checked in with yourself? 

If you were really honest with yourself, who do you track the most, yourself or your partner? Chances are that your most active internal monitor is turned on your partner. When we feel hijacked by irritation, anxiety or chronic upset, our knee jerk reaction is to find a scapegoat. And now s/he is in your face, 24/7! 

Let’s Remind Ourselves of Some Basics from Decades of Research on Relationship and Neurobehavioral Science. 

Reminder 1: Different not wrong. 

Implicit and explicit judgment is a silent killer of relationships.

Over 60% of marital and relationship upsets arise from conflicting values, priorities, beliefs, and personal tendencies for which there is no standard. 

If you think of yourself as more mature, caring, logical, stable, more [fill the blank] – you are on the high horse of contempt. No matter how strategic you are in hiding it, non-verbals will send the message to your partner loud and clear (they comprise 60% of our communication). Your partner, in turn, might start feeling inadequate, defensive, dismissive and will feel more distant or worse of all, vengeful. 

Admitting that you are part of the relationship problem is probably the hardest and most pivotal milestone in couples therapy. This life changing transformation moves the relationship out of the ER into the ICU and back home. 

Bottom line, people develop different styles of coping with stress. It’s essential to remember that one is not better than the other. Here are some examples: 

Independence First (I.F) vs. Togetherness First (T.F)

During stress, Independence First people don’t just want personal space they need it, otherwise they lose their emotional stability. I.F people prefer relationships where each assumes responsibility for self and prefer to rely on direct requests. They might blame T.F people for being selfishly needy. On the other hand, T.F want relationships in which each assumes responsibility for knowing and anticipating the needs of others. They think that mutual dependency is healthy, and see I.F people as selfishly self-absorbed

Invest in the Future (I.F) vs. Live for the Moment First (L.M.F)

I.F people delay enjoyment until they fulfill responsibilities, sacrificing the present for an anxiety free future. L.M people combine work and play, prioritize enjoyment, fear that life will pass them by while they prioritize routine. 

Predictability First (P.F) vs Spontaneity First (S.F)

P.F people need to minimize chaos, organize lives in predictable ways. Their dreams are around safety, protection. They might criticize S.F people’s way of living as irresponsible/inefficient. S.F thrive on the unexpected, dream of co-adventurers, are open exploration of life, and fear that life will become routine. 

Slow to Upset (S.U) vs Readily Upset (R.U)

R.U people experience upset feelings frequently, intensely and use them as agents of change. They value justice and quality over peace/harmony. They tend to criticize S.U people for covering up true feelings and being afraid of emotions. 

S.U people have mechanisms that diffuse upset quickly and value harmony and tolerance. They “don’t sweat the small stuff.” They fear if they become upset there would be no end to it. S.U people criticize R.U for being like children with tantrums, see them as negative people for whom nothing is good enough. 

Problem Solving First (P.S.F) vs Understanding First (U.F)

P.S.F people (usually also Slow to Upset people) don’t look for sympathy and validation but need concrete ways of action to stabilize. For U.F people understanding and validation comes first, plan for action next. They tend to fear that without understanding and validation from their partner life would feel lonely. 

Which are you in each of these? Ask your partner which person they feel they are. 

Reminder 2: Be flexible in changing leads. 

Forgo the myth of reciprocity. Research shows it’s a recipe for disaster. Assume your partner has your best interest, because s/he thinks you do too. 

Scale your anxiety, depression and energy level throughout a day. Ask yourself: “How grounded and present do I feel towards myself, to my partner and kids.” If you are feeling low, share with each other and come up with a plan for the day. Who picks up on what? What are you committed to doing today? If the day is not going as you hoped, check in with your partner, be transparent, renegotiate and modify the agreement. What are your non-negotiables and what are flexible areas where you can meet halfway? If both are low in energy, co-create your “let’s cut us some major slack” day. 

Reminder 3: Ground rules for conflict. 

Practice stepping back during heated moments when you are feeling flooded. Learn your emotional and physiological response pallet. Reassure your partner that you will return and will give your full attention to hear your partner’s reality/perspective and what’s at stake for her/him, even if you know you are about to slam the door. 

For more insights on fair fighting check out this worksheet. 

https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/fair-fighting-rules.pdf 

Reminder 4: Practice self-soothing.

Husband Practicing Self Care By Stretching During COVID19 as Suggested in Relationship Therapy

Have a safety plan when you feel you are about to lose it. 

Your Self-Soothing Safety Plan Might Include: 

  • Taking your fight/flight adrenaline out for a run or work out 
  • Calling a friend 
  • Breathing practice with focus on prolonging your exhales (for faster relaxation) 
  • Listening to music 
  • Taking a bath 
  • Mindfulness practice by engaging 5 senses (tuning in on sounds, things you see, smell, touch and taste) 
  • Yoga 
  • Writing it out 
  • Exploring apps for meditation and mindfulness 

Don’t Dismiss Important Sensations By Self-Medicating

If you notice the urge to self-medicate (with alcohol, nicotine, porn, comfort food, social media, etc) or with rage and aggression, these might be warning signs that some parts of you want to dismiss your body’s important sensations. 

Give yourself permission to feel the full range of emotions. Breathe through discomfort. It is temporary. The fear that these sensations and emotions will overwhelm your system and stay forever if you let them may pound in your head. Invite them, acknowledge, listen, try to understand what their job and fears are, validate, thank them. You’ll see that they step back, like difficult people do when we validate them. 

Reminder 5: Make effective repair. 

If you did lose it and said things you regret, acknowledge that your reaction was not warranted. Express genuine understanding about how your reaction might have impacted your partner. Share what you’ve learned about your triggers. Only talk about your reactions. Don’t feel obliged to agree with their perspective either. You can still disagree, but state that you wish you could have expressed it differently. 

Schedule time to re-create a better version of the same conversation. To get an understanding, give understanding. Ask open ended questions to genuinely understand what’s at stake for them. Validation is the most powerful elixir for any relationship repair, but probably the hardest to learn and embody in your way of relating. Practice meeting them half-way. Again, what are non-negotiables and flexible areas for creating a win-win agreement?

Use This Time To Deepen Your Bond 

Happy Couple Deepening Their Bond By Communicating as Suggested in Relationship Therapy

Intimate relationships hold an infinite opportunity for mastering our emotional intelligence if we stay open to explore our blind spots and continuously generate curiosity about each other. During this time of standstill, I hope you make it a point not only to make your fights fair but also carve out moments to slow down and deepen your bonds. More thoughts on how to look into your blind spots and strengthen your connection to come in Couple’s COVID-19 Triage Part 2 and 3. 

Book recommendations for couples: 

You Are The One You’ve Been Waiting For. Bringing courageous love to intimate relationships 

(Internal Family Systems) by Richard Schwartz. 

Eight Dates: Essential Conversations For a Life Time of Love by John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman. 

References: 

Emotional Intelligence in Couples Therapy, Advances from Neurobiology and the Science of Intimate Relationships,” Brent J. Atkinson. 

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Workby John Gottman and Nan Silver. 

During these times of trouble, you don’t need to struggle alone. Malaty Therapy can help you get through the challenges in your life, brought on by COVID19. If you’re worried, anxious, stressed, we’re here for you! Call us now at (713) 628-3966 to set up a phone, video therapy session today!

Written By: Sarah Henry, MA, LPC, LMFT

Ticket For Family Movie Night

This quarantine is rough, y’all. I know you already know that. It’s been a little over a month that I have been away from my career in family therapy and chosen to stay inside my home, isolated with just my dogs and my husband in Houston. (Let it be known, my husband is still alive.) This time inside has given me the wonderful opportunity to pour over all of my streaming devices’ libraries to find the best, most inspiring, and sometimes trashiest television and movies. While Netflix has typically been fairly good to me – I’m talkin to you “What’s New Scooby Doo?” and “Tiger King” – my daily go to streaming service is actually Disney+. I’ve watched all of my favorite Princess movies, all of the Marvel cinematic universe again, and peeked at the Mandalorian for a precious glimpse of Baby Yoda. I threw a party for the early release of Frozen 2 and Onward. It’s been a joy, honestly. As a family therapist, my time spent watching Disney + has opened my eyes to the opportunity we have for some truly valuable family time during this quarantine period. This unprecedented slow down from work, school, sports, and activities allows us to take a time out and focus on what’s important. We need to seize this opportunity to truly connect with our families. 

Movies Can Spark Important Conversations On Family Values 

Something hit me a little differently the other day when I was watching Coco. I’m not sure what it was because I was too blinded by my tears as Miguel sang to Mama Coco “Remember Me”, but I realized that if I had kids with me it would be such a great learning moment for them. I started to daydream about pausing the movie to sit and talk with them about the importance of family and how we can learn so much from our elders, even if it feels like they are a little distant. We could discuss the importance of family traditions, share family stories, and create these life long bonds together that would last even beyond this life. It made me hopeful for the end of this quarantine and the next chapter of my life as a mom one day. 

Into the Unknown: Movies Can Inspire Your Family 

Inspirational Words Written On White Stones

Cut to the next night when I was watching Frozen 2 with my dogs. I identify with Elsa feeling out of place and constantly wondering why. I get wanting to figure out where my place in this world is and constantly looking for external validation that I’m doing ok or I’m in the right spot. Her journey to Ahtohallan is so inspiring to me. She knows there’s something out there for her and she fights her way through the dangerous sea into the unknown (see what I did there?) to make it to this point where everything else is stripped away except for herself. She learns that she is the only person, the only thing, that can validate and encourage her to be all that she has the potential to be. She is the one she’s been waiting for. There I was again, crying, of course, imagining watching this with my own daughter someday telling her she can be anything she wants to be when she grows up. She doesn’t need to wait for someone to tell her she is enough. I pray my children will feel loved and confident in themselves to achieve whatever it is they feel called to do. 

Make Family Movie Time a Time to Connect

Family Watching Movie Together

And here’s my charge for you, quarantined friend. While watching movies seems pretty sloth-like and monotonous these days, I encourage you to take that family movie time and dig a little deeper. Maybe take some time to think of discussion questions for the movies you want to watch. Take time to pause and talk with your kids (or spouse) about what you could learn from Buzz and Woody, Moana, or Nemo. Use this precious free time away from the hustle and bustle of work to really dig into your core values as a family and build those connections we might have missed without this opportunity to slow down. It sounds cheesy, but honestly, most of the best things in life are! 

Watching movies together can be so therapeutic in a time like this. Being able to escape into a film can teach you how to express your fears, dreams, needs, and inspirations in ways you may not know otherwise. It lowers one’s defenses and allows new bonds to form. It can ease us into tough conversations and guide us towards a new appreciation of life. 

So, give it a go this week. Let everyone pick their own movie and think of some creative follow up, discussion questions. Good luck! Stay safe and enjoy the rest of your family time.  

During these days of isolation you don’t need to feel alone. Malaty Therapy can help you get through these strange times brought on by COVID19. If you’re worried, anxious, stressed we’re here for you! Call us now at (713) 628-3966 to set up a phone or video chat therapy session today! 

 

 

I’m not a poet and I pretty much hate rhyming, but this poured out of me last week as I sat thinking about the young people I get the honor of meeting in sessions. I won’t say much about it, as I think it speaks for itself. My hope is that you know that you are seen and you are not alone.

I came across this post and it perfectly summed up an idea I have had about parenting in a way I could never quite put my finger on. Frankly, this quote makes me feel super powerless as a parent…but let’s explore it some more.

Think about it, thousands of years ago it made perfect sense to parent your offspring the same way you were parented, because not much had changed. There were stone tools that you needed to learn how to hunt and fight with, and generally the technology changed very little over the generations.

Today, technology changes at warp speed (pun intended) which means that the values our parents were raised with are applied in a drastically different way today. If we generally parent how we were parented, but in a very new world, then we are kind of always chasing our tail as it were. The world we were prepared for in our formative years looks very different today and I think it’s safe to say that the world we are preparing our children for may change just as rapidly.

Therefore, the most helpful way we can parent our children today is by helping them learn to adapt to change and think critically for themselves.

 

This is a much higher level of brain functioning than we have been used to handing down to our kiddos at such an early age, especially given that executive functioning skills are developed in the late teens to mid-twenties. If you think I’m full of it, I highly suggest listening to some podcasts or looking into some articles about the future of jobs and applying that information to what type of skills our young people will need to have in their generation. Below is a graphic that explains what executive functioning skills are:           

 

In the future, creativity will have a much higher place among the skills required in social situations and employment opportunities than in the past. I believe the reason for this is the rapidly changing technology and our fascination with discovering the newest, most efficient technology for the future. Our children will need to learn to think outside the box and “dream big” in order to bring to their employer the next “new thing.”

What got me thinking though is how can we really ever fully prepare our children for what is to come when it is changing all so fast? And the only answer I can seem to come up with is that our children often know what’s best for them better than we do at times. They have power and information in a way that we just simply do not. I’ve always been a fan of young people because honestly, their capacity for flexibility (in mind and body) greatly surpasses an adult’s. Their creativity and solution finding skills are at an all time high because their brain is still developing connections at a rapid pace, whereas ours has slowed dramatically by the time we reach our 30’s.

My suggestion is to formulate a partnership with your child as best you can while keeping an open mind and asking more questions rather than giving direction. This not only balances the power differential, but also encourages critical thinking and executive functioning.

For example, my teen comes home the other night complaining about an argument she and a friend got into. I let her spill and ask her “How can I support you right now?” This question is meant to get her to pause, check in with herself and her emotions, and think about what she might need from this interaction. She then says to me, “I just want you to tell me what I should do.” Now, this is a tempting trap. I mean, who doesn’t like having all the answers right? AND its been solicited by my young teen! What a grand moment for my ego! However, I do not know the whole situation, I only know what she has told me, and I am also not her…so what I would do that feels really natural, might be a stretch for her. So instead I ask, “Well, how would you like to handle the situation?” She says, “I just need a break from her right now, I can’t talk to her anymore about it tonight.” I say, “Ok so how do you tell her that? Or do you? What can you handle and what is considerate to your friend?” She answered, “I will text her and tell her that I’m going to bed and we can talk about it tomorrow.” I reply, “That sounds fair, and look, you figured this out all on your own!”

My point is, rather than “lazy parenting” and telling them what you think they should do, or lecturing them while their eyes glaze over, or getting burned out by repeating yourself over and over again…why not ask more questions? Make them do the work of THINKING about it! They will not only be using THEIR energy, rather than burning up YOURS, but they will also be finding a solution that is right for them (which they are more likely to do anyway).

This is certainly a practice. If you have not been in the habit of asking questions rather than directing orders then it will take some time to get your mind used to approaching your kid that way. You may also feel this overwhelming urge to fall back into old patterns and “just do it” for them because its “quicker,” “easier,” and it will release the urge. DON’T! THAT’S LAZY PARENTING! In the end, you will struggle with a clueless, helpless teen and young adult who has a hard time thinking things through. They will NOT do it right every time. They WILL mess up. It WILL be hard to watch. BUT LET THEM DO IT!

When parents lack the respect of their teen it is palpable. Parent’s experience frustration, anger, powerlessness, feeling out of control, offended, scared, and resentful towards their teen.

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Respect is an interesting concept. It is not quite a feeling, but more of an idea. You know when you have it and you definitely know when you don’t. You don’t know how to put it into words, how to get it, or keep it. It’s an abstract idea to hold in your mind.

What is respect? When you think of someone your respect, you may think of someone you look up to, admire, and want to emulate. You may think of someone who regards the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others rather than trampling them or shutting them down.

Teenagers have a hard time understanding abstract ideas like respect because firstly, their frontal lobe development lacks ability to fully understand abstract thought and ideas. Teenagers are still more concrete thinkers, meaning, if they can see it and touch it, they know what it is and that it is there. Abstract thought happens in the frontal lobe of the brain which continues to develop until around the age of 25. The frontal lobe is what makes humans different from animals and gives us the ability to reflect on ourselves and understand abstract thought (an idea that is not seen or touched, but still understood). Secondly, research has shown that adolescents have a difficult time (as do some adults) with taking the perspective of another person (i.e. putting yourself in someone else’s shoes). This is a learned skill, not something you are born with. For more information on this research, enjoy the link to this TED Talk explaining adolescent brain development: https://www.ted.com/talks/sarah_jayne_blakemore_the_mysterious_workings_of_the_adolescent_brain?language=en

Respect might be an abstract concept, but we can teach our young people what respect looks like by showing them respect. Here are some helpful thoughts about how to cultivate respect with your young person:

  • Have a discussion about respect.
    Ask your teen what respect means to them. Ask them who they respect and get curious about what they see in that person that they respect. Ask them to describe how they know they respect someone and how they know they do not respect someone. Ask them what character traits they respect in a person and what character traits they do not respect in someone. Ask them how they know when they are respected by others and what others might respect in them. (Remember that fear is not respect, so if they give an answer like “They know I can kick their ass” that is not respect, that is fear, and probably some ego on the teen’s part.) Share your answers to those questions too. Don’t grill them, have a casual conversation where you share your thoughts and allow them to share their’s. Be careful not to scold, judge, or shut them down. They don’t have all these ideas fully formed and chances are, they might not have ever thought about it before. The point is that you are trying to understand how they understand respect and you are sharing your thoughts on it. This is not the time to preach or teach. If their eyes glaze over or they start giving you one-word answers, you’ve lost them. Shut up and start over another time. “I don’t know” is an answer, let them say it because they probably don’t know. Ask them to think about it and assure them there are no wrong answers, you are just curious what they think. If they still say “I don’t know” then that’s ok (frustrating, I know, but ok). The point is, you asked the question and whether or not you heard the answer, they probably started thinking about it.
  • Take the information you gained from that conversation and use it.
    Listen to the characteristics of people they respect and do a quick moral inventory of yourself (This is sometimes hard as it requires us to be rigorously honest with ourselves and is difficult to do when we cannot see our own blind spots). Ask a friend, spouse, therapist, or even your teen for help seeing your blind spots! Remember, try not to react offensively when given feedback, you asked for help! Take the feedback! You have room to grow! If they tell you something you disagree with, you do not have to respond, simply take note of it and see where they might be right. Sleep on it for a few days. Let it sink in. They shared their experience of you, so whether or not you can see it, there is some reason why they said it.
  • Make amends.
    Enough cannot be said about an adult’s ability to own their mistakes with their children. This is a powerful tool to use with your teens and is widely underrated and under-utilized. An amends is different than an apology. An apology is saying “I’m sorry” which loses it’s meaning after being said over and over again for the same behavior. An amends has got more “oomph” to it. An amends is stating that a behavior was wrong and owning that you were wrong for saying or acting a certain way. It is asking what you can do to make it right (that is reasonable, I definitely understand that a teen may take advantage of this). Then, it is stating how you would like to handle that type of situation in the future. What about this process facilitates respect? Some thoughts are: your ability to acknowledge your wrongs and handling it in a graceful, respectful way. It teaches them how they can make an amends when they mess up. Humility is a building block of respect (a whole blog post can be written about humility as well). To be humble means to accept that you have more to learn, that you are not so ridged as to think that you could not possibly be wrong. That characteristic commands respect and others will typically follow its example when given.
  • Respect is about trust.
    A wise 15 year old client taught me this when they discovered they had a very difficult time being respectful to their parent when they felt they could not trust them. Trust is another one of those tricky, abstract ideas that is difficult to explain, but yet you know when you have it and you know when you don’t. Ask your teen “Do you trust me?” This is a vulnerable question that you may not like the answer to. However, this will open a world of conversation that you have never had before. You might even ask them if they can trust you with some things but not others and get curious about what those things are that they trust/distrust you with. Trust is not simply about being able to “keep secrets,” it is about being able to be vulnerable and not fear they will be invalidated, scolded, or shut down when being vulnerable. (Again, a whole other blog can be written about trust alone). Make sure to share your thoughts with them as well, what you trust them with and what you do not. If they react defensively, try not to talk them out of their feelings. Simply state that you are sharing with them how you feel and acknowledge that you both probably have some work to do in this area with each other.
  • The 5 to 1 ratio.
    The Gottman Institute has been studying marriage for years and they have found a very important secret to happiness in marriage: for every one negative interaction, there should be five positive interactions. (Take a look at this post for more information https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-magic-relationship-ratio-according-science/ ). This ratio applies to more than just happy marriages, it also applies to all relationships! So, take a look at the negative to positive interactions you have with your teen. If you are only fighting, discussing grades, doling out consequences, and scolding them for choices they have made, then there will be less trust and less respect. One of the top 5 suggestions I give to parents in sessions is to go do something fun and light-hearted with your teen at least once a week. Ask them what they want to go do, go see a movie, a concert, hiking, riding a bike, fishing, an art class, go to a museum, art exhibit, skate park, Pokemon Go! Just go do something! Before you start your activity, preface to your teen that you will both stay off your phones and be present with each other and you both will keep the conversation light! Parents, you will not talk about school, grades, friends, sports, or any other controversial topic during the activity. If they mention it, great, nod your head and LISTEN only! Sometimes I suggest for a family to come up with a “code word” to quickly shift gears if someone starts to wander into emotionally triggering territory. Make it something neutral like “waffles” or “red light” then quickly change the subject. When you spend time with your teen having fun and just being a person with them, you will be surprised by what you learn about them and you will have added trust into your relationship.
  • Act with integrity.
    As an unruly teen myself, this was my biggest disrespect trigger. When adults said things like “Do what I say, not what I do” respect was lost completely. If they told me “because I said so” with no explanation, I lost respect. Imagine a co-worker, boss, or spouse saying this to you…condescending right? Well, teenagers are adults in the making and should be treated as such. If we are telling them to get off their phones and go be outside, we should be doing the same thing. If we are telling them to eat vegetables and not an entire bag of chips, we should be doing that too! So, if we want our teens to respect us, we must act respectfully towards them. That means taking the time to explain a decision. (If they “don’t get it” no matter how many times you explain, then its usually because there is no good enough reason for them to not get their way. Don’t waste your breath, state something like “I told you the reason, its ok if you don’t like it.”) Follow through with your word. When you set a boundary and a consequence and do not follow through with it, you have just lied to them. If you have done this repeatedly, then there is not trust there. They either react as if you are threatening them, or they don’t respect the boundary because you’ve taught them that it is not real. It means following our own advice and practicing what we preach. People watch what we do, not what we say. We teach people how to treat us by treating them the way we would like to be treated.
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  • Give them space to have their feelings.
    I feel like this comes up in sessions repeatedly. Parents often are appalled by their child’s reaction to a consequence or boundary (obviously there are some extreme cases, in which case you may want to seek family therapy for assistance). The parent either expects them to have some kind of reaction like “Thank you mother and father for your amazing boundary and your infinite wisdom. I appreciate you doing for me what I cannot do for myself right now.” Laughable right!? Most teens just are not going to respond that way. They will be angry, sad, shut down, irritable, etc. Then some parents want to keep talking to their kid to try to make them feel better about the consequence or boundary. This is called “talking someone out of their feelings,” and it usually doesn’t work and ends up in an argument. If you set a boundary like “You must pass all your classes to attend a concert at the end of the month” and they have not met that boundary and therefore cannot go to the concert, they are allowed to have their feelings about it. Set the boundary and follow through with the consequence then walk away. They are allowed to be disappointed and upset. This is learning that you really mean it. The boundary was real and so was the consequence. They may not like you right then, but they will respect it and you because you are being straight forward with them and letting them process it.

If you would like more information, learn how to apply these tips to your personal relationships, or need some assistance clearing out the resentment to get to a place to utilize these tips, then please give us a call! We have plenty of therapists that specialize in individual, couple, parent and co-parenting, and family sessions with adults, young adults, teens, tweens, and children of all ages. 713-628-3966. To learn more about us please visit https://malatytherapy.com

I hope my daughter knows struggle.

I hope she knows what defeat feels like.

I hope that she experiences striving for something she wants.

This may sound harsh or contrary to what many parents hope for their children, but if my daughter does not experience difficulty and failure at something, then she may never know the glorious feeling of triumph! She may never fully grasp the pride of finally accomplishing a goal. Of finishing a task. Of crossing the finish line. Of taking a bow at her play.

If she did not experience struggle, she may never know how to handle failure. A closed door. A missed opportunity. Or a chance to show good sportsmanship.

I want my daughter to have all the happiness in the world, but even if I could bottle it up and hand it to her, I would not rob her of the experience of striving for it.

I want to model grace and dignity when faced with defeat. I want the opportunity to guide her through the process of facing a loss, a failure, and delayed satisfaction. I want to teach her what acceptance looks like. I want to guide her in the process of picking herself back up and trying again. I want her to know how to persevere when presented with a challenge. And I want her to know how to problem solve when obstacles show up.

I will not shield her from these valuable experiences, for life is full of them. I will not cushion the blow, but allow her space to process and move forward. I will not find fault or blame, but ask what could be done next time if anything? I will encourage rather than do FOR her.

I TRUST in her ability to figure it out. I BELIEVE that she will overcome and grow from whatever experience she faces. I have FAITH in her ability to stand back up when she falls. Because I LOVE her.

I received such a nice call from a parent this morning calling me “The Teen Whisperer” and this is not the first time I’ve been given this honorable title! So firstly, I would like to say thank you so very much from the bottom of my heart for those kind words. Secondly, I want to say that I am nothing but honored and privileged to get to spend time hearing your teen’s and young adult’s stories!

With that said, here are some of the “prefaces” that I use with young people to establish a trusting relationship and give them room to open up. Hopefully, you can employ some of these in your own conversations with your young person:

  1. Let them know that you have no agenda other than your own personal wish for them to be happy and healthy, in whatever form that takes for them. When we show young people that we are letting go of expectations and we do not have “something we are getting at” then we can set them at ease. Most adults in teen’s lives are attempting to steer them a certain way and the teens know this! So they show up already armored and looking for “the angle.” We have to back those words up with action and make sure we are checking ourselves when we want to fall into “steering.” We can acknowledge falling into this by saying something like, “I find myself really wanting to tell you that I think that behavior is dangerous and it scares me” or “I must acknowledge the fact that when you talk about this relationship I can’t help but feel like you deserve more.” When we can openly tell them that we find our brain getting into “mom-mode” then we can still be honest with them while also acknowledging that we have an agenda peeking through. Image result for suspicious
  2. Go ahead an address some “unknowns.” Usually teens/young people are unsure what may come back later to “bite them in the ass” and will withhold information because they don’t want it to be used against them. When the adults in young people’s lives can go ahead and take the guess work out of future situations, they are much more comfortable (usually) with  proceeding honestly. Teens are still just kids in a lot of ways and they fear “getting into trouble.” When we can dispel HOW information is used and what will happen if/when something big does need to be discussed, then they have some clarity about the future of the relationship and can proceed in a more informed way. grayscale photo of man standing in front of stairs
  3. Do NOT ask questions you want a certain answer to. Ugh, even as an adult I find this so condescending when people do this! Let young people know right off the bat, when you ask a question it is SINCERELY because you are curious about THEIR answer. We need to let our young people know that we are not trying to trap them into a specific answer. This is where we get a whole bunch of “I don’t know’s” because they know they can’t give you the real answer because you’re poised ready to strike with a “HA! I told you so!” Or, they sit there terrified, searching their brain for the answer they think you want, but are so unsure of what it is and that you will be there ready and waiting with an eye roll and a condescending comment about how they should know the answer to this! Are you a mind reader? Well, they aren’t either. 
  4. We need to allow “I don’t know” to be the real answer. They simply may not know! They might not have ever thought about it before. Or, more than likely if it is a question about a bad judgement call “I don’t know” is code for, “I know that was dumb, I feel ashamed or guilty, I should have known better.” In the first case, we can help explore with them some thoughts by offering, “Ok well, let’s think about it. What are some possible thoughts about that?” THEN SHUT UP! Let them THINK! Don’t immediately offer them a multiple choice answer (i.e. “Well, was it because of ______, ________, or _______?) In the second circumstance, we can help them process through that “face palm” moment and talk about how they might have done it differently if given the chance. (If I am sitting with a young person whose response is “I don’t know” to everything, I jokingly tell them that they have three “I don’t knows” they can use for the session and the rest of the answers they have to think about and come up with something! We usually have a good laugh and they get the picture.)Image result for I don't know

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but perhaps “prefacing” your intentions can work both to help set you up for sticking to a new way to approach your young person, and open the door to a more honest conversation.

If you would like help with this, practice, or some mediated conversations, please contact me to schedule a session at allie@malatytherapy.com I would love to help! There is no greater joy than watching a family finally be able to communicate in an open, honest, loving way 🙂

This is a little piece of advice a dear friend gave me when I first started on my journey in recovery. She noticed that I would begin to “should” all over myself, “I should have a better job” “I should be living on my own” “I should know better” “ I should be making more money.” SHEESH! What a mess I just made!

 

Should means “ought to” or something that is expected. Should implies judgement. Y’all, we are all in the same race, but we have different starting points, different paths, different strengths, different abilities, and different obstacles and they come at different times. If you put a sprinter in a marathon race with mud and natural obstacles to climb over, chances are the sprinter won’t fair as well as the marathoner. However, if you put that same marathoner in a race with a sprinter, the sprinter is sure to whip past them! If someone is naturally inclined towards studying and school they will probably make decent grades. However, if you put that same person in a situation where they need to think on their feet and improvise, you might not get the same results. Are you picking up what I’m putting down?

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life thinking it is stupid. Albert Einstein

Now, if you’re anything like me, you might be saying “Yeah, yeah, but what about those people who just seem to be good at everything?” Surely you don’t know everything about their life and have no idea what struggles they may have already been through or are to come in their future. Everyone has a struggle. For some, it comes during childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, or for others middle age or later in life. If I am “should’ing” on myself because my obstacle came up quicker than your’s or perhaps I just can’t see your obstacle because you’re on a different path than me, then I am not honoring my own journey.

 

If you are “should’ing” on yourself, I wonder, what (and perhaps who) is behind those judgements? Where are they coming from? Are they coming from your family of origin? Your culture? The media? Yourself? Probably a mixture of all of those things.

 

I ask you to take a minute to locate where those “shoulds” are coming from and what do they say exactly? Then ask yourself, do those really apply to you? Do they apply to you right now? Would it be rational (not to mention fair) to apply them to you right now? Do you even agree with them? The tendency that happens when one wallows in “should” is that they get stuck in this negative pattern and have a harder time seeing their way out.

 

Enter, positive and creative solutions along with some compassion for yourself (and others)!

 

Have you considered the thought that maybe you’re not doing (fill in the blank) because it’s just not right for you? Have you thought about perhaps the reason (fill in the blank) isn’t working out is because it’s not supposed to? Is there another option you’re having trouble seeing? The door shut…now where’s that open window!?

 

We fall back on “should’s” because it’s easier than self discovery. It’s funny, so many times we want to stand out and be different, yet when we do for any reason we immediately compare ourselves to whatever is going on around us and shrink back. Not “should’ing” ourselves takes being brave, bold, and standing our ground when those around us want to push us into their “should.”

 

That reminds me, don’t “should” on other people either! Life is a process and a journey. One that unfolds lessons at different times for everyone. While one person learned a deep rooted lesson about selflessness, someone else might not get that lesson until later on. While that person really understands patience, you might still need some work in that arena.

 

Being kind and compassionate to yourself and others is way underrated. Honor your journey and the journey of others. The next time you’re standing in a pile of your own “should,” ask yourself where it came from and if you even care? Then notice the things you are doing well.

Peace be with you friend.