Teen Obesity: How Involved Should I Get In Tackling My Child’s Weight?

Teen Obesity: How Involved Should I Get In Tackling My Child’s Weight?

As an eating disorder therapist, I work with a lot of teenagers who struggle with body image and mental health issues related to food and eating. I’ve blogged about my own struggles with an eating disorder as well as factors that can contribute to disordered eating, like anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. A related topic that I feel isn’t talked about as much as it should be, however, is teen obesity. The scary truth is that teen obesity is up 28% since 1999 and is still on the rise. The reason this is such a severe problem is that teenagers who struggle with obesity also deal with a whole host of other health risk factors, like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as well as mental health risk factors.

As a parent, it’s difficult to know when to get involved and what the best way is to support your teenager who is struggling with weight. Sometimes it can feel like there’s a fine line between teaching your child to love their body and have self-acceptance while also emphasizing the importance of healthy eating habits. Talking to your child about their weight or their eating habits isn’t easy, but turning a blind eye could lead to severe long-term mental and physical health consequences. If this is something you are struggling with as a parent, know that you aren’t alone in this and there are a variety of resources that can help your entire family. For starters, nutritional counseling can go a long way. Sometimes it takes a certified expert — someone other than their parents — to get a teenager to open up and be receptive.

Another place you can turn is a wellness camp. Many people are turned off by the idea of sending their kid to a camp they believe is simply a “weight loss camp,” but I did a lot of research on the subject and have talked to a lot of people who have experienced firsthand how life-changing a wellness camp can be. Specifically, I was able to tour and meet with Tony and Dale Sparber, who founded Camp Pocono Trails, a New Image Camp. I actually first heard about the camp from my sister, who sent two of her children there who were struggling with weight, and they had an incredible experience. When I toured the camp, I was beyond impressed, and not just with the incredible facilities and program, but with the passion the staff had for what they do.

Wellness Camp for Teens, walking together to the campsite on the lake

A wellness camp like Camp Pocono Trails provides fun, engaging summertime activities while simultaneous teaching teenagers lifelong and transformative healthy habits. It’s important to find a camp that has a good balance of promoting health and wellness, instilling knowledge and letting teens have a social and rewarding summer experience. In terms of their health promotion, I was happy to learn that the camp steers completely away from diets or any kind of food deprivation that’s designed with strict weight loss goals in mind. Instead, campers learn how to lead a healthier life by making smart choices when it comes to food, understanding portion control and engaging in physical activity — while enjoying a spectacular private camp setting.

If you are looking for something transformative and know that your teenager needs to take a big step in jumpstarting a healthier lifestyle, I’d encourage you to check out a wellness camp for the summer. LW Wellness has decided to collaborate with Pocono Trails specifically, so that we can offer after-camp care to ensure consistency and maintenance of the new skills that are learned during the program. Remember that health is a lifelong journey that requires constant attention and reexamining as your lifestyle changes. Having the support of professionals, not just in the nutrition and fitness space, but also mental health counselors to guide your teen on their journey is incredibly vital.

Are you interested in continuing the conversation about teen obesity? We’d love to hear from you and answer any questions you might have about the best program or plan for your child who is struggling with weight. All teenagers are different and finding the right fit means everything to us at LW Wellness.

Back to School: How To Get Rid Of Student Apathy

This week’s blog is written by J. Cohen, the Director of Educational Coaching for LW Wellness.

Before we know it, school will be starting again. For some kids, the start of school brings excitement. But for others, it brings dread. If your child dreads school, or simply is bored by it, that makes your job as a parent that much harder.

Student apathy is one of the most common complaints from parents and teachers alike. For parents, it creates stress about student behavior, homework, and grades. For teachers – let’s face it – it makes their job almost impossible. Yes, teachers should motivate kids! It’s their job to model a love of learning and to help instill and cultivate that in their students. However, if students enter the classroom lacking motivation, or an understanding that education – as a process – is important, teachers are certainly doomed to fail.

You can’t make your child like school, but there are several things you can do as a parent to help change your child’s mindset about education. How can parents work together with teachers to impress upon kids the importance of education? And, perhaps more importantly, what can parents do before their child ever enters a classroom? Like all tough parenting issues, this one is tricky and takes intention on the part of parents. In education, parents lay the groundwork and then teachers build from there. To extend the metaphor, you’re the architect, teachers are the builders, electricians, painters, etc. The jobs of parents and educators are inextricably linked – no one can succeed without the other. Sure, it happens, but I’ll attribute those outliers to mere luck.

Below are some ways that parents can help frame education so that children view it as a necessary and valuable process. Will they enjoy every moment? Will they like every teacher? No! I don’t know an adult that likes every moment of their job, or every boss they have ever had. However, as a parent, you have the ability to help shape the way your child views his or her “job.”

  1. Always speak positively about your own educational experiences. No, I’m not suggesting that parents lie. But, selective non-disclosure is a tactic to be employed here. The more positive things kids hear about their parents’ own education, the more excited they will be to embark on their own educational journey.
  2. Show a genuine interest in your child’s day and leaning. And, no, this doesn’t mean that you have to actually understand anything they tell you. When parents ask pointed questions about children’s’ school work, it communicates to kids that their work is important, valued, and interesting. The more parents communicate these messages, the more kids will internalize them. After all, how miserable would it be, if your partner never showed any interest in your work? Kids spend about six hours of their day at school, that’s one-fourth of their day and likely one-half of their waking hours. School is a big deal to them!
  3. Reward and incentivize long-term accomplishments and successes. Homework, like any job responsibility, shouldn’t be rewarded or incentivized with external prizes. However, like in the real work word, long-term goals and performance can and should be handsomely rewarded. Yes, an educator, just gave you permission to bribe your children.
  4. And, most importantly, reach out for help if your child is struggling. A well-qualified tutor can help your child reach their academic goals, maximize their potential and effectively navigate their weaknesses. Homework can be stressful – for parents and kids. An objective and impartial third party can also eliminate any unnecessary stress caused by homework. It’s a win-win.

If you’re looking for guidance or additional help, our Educational Coaching services include Academic Coaches (Tutors); Private School Consulting, Essay Writing and Hebrew Language tutors. Check out our services at http://lwwellness.com/services/educational-coaching/. 

How To Tap Into Your Mommy Intuition And Why It’s So Important


Happy Mother’s Day!

In honor of this special holiday honoring moms, I wanted to blog about something that is often uniquely associated with mothers: intuition.

As moms, we often talk about intuition and wonder what specifically that means. We know intuition is something that’s important for us to be in touch with, but when it comes to dealing with that in actuality it seems to be a very challenging task.

How can we become more aware of our intuition? How can we teach our children that when they feel something they shouldn’t ignore it?

I have a great example. I was standing in the elevator with my 7-year-old daughter. On the sixth floor, an older man walked on and my daughter looked at the guy, made a strange face and whispered to me, “He is strange…”

My first response was to scold her for being disrespectful and tell her that she needs to be nice to everyone, but then I looked at her kind, innocent face and I realized…. She felt something that wasn’t right about this strange man. Weather it was right wasn’t the point. The point is that when your child or anyone you know for that matter tells you about how he or she feels about someone else it is important to be aware of those feelings and to take them into consideration.

Especially when it comes to our children, we want to teach them to be aware of their feelings because intuition can help get them out of dangerous situations. Children are often better than adults at listening to their intuition. They tend to make decisions off how they feel and don’t worry as much about how they will be perceived.

Intuition is the ability to understand something immediately without the need for conscious reasoning. Mother’s intuition has actually been well-documented by research. It makes sense. You are the expert when it comes to your child so your “gut feelings” are going to be more accurate than someone who has only known your child for a brief time. Children, in particular, often aren’t good at expressing how they are feeling, but as a mom, you learn to read their cues. You know their faces, their moods, and their body language. Therefore, you can probably sense when your child isn’t feeling well before he or she is even showing physical symptoms of being sick.

It’s productive for mothers, and really all people, to learn to become more connected to their intuition. Of course, we have to be careful to not let fear guide our actions. There are several things you can do to become more connected with your intuition – and a big one is meditation. Taking time to sit still, breathe, and be in the moment allows all the clutter to leave our minds. The more present and focused you are, the more you will be able to listen to your heart so to speak.

Another suggestion is to pay attention to your dreams. This doesn’t mean you need to analyze every dream you have, but if you are having recurrent nightmares about something there’s a good change your subconscious is uneasy about something. Also, pay attention to your body. What is it telling you? Like my daughter in the elevator, if someone or something makes you feel uneasy you should be responsive to that feeling and take the time to identify why you are feeling that way. Most adults have learned to shut down a lot of their anxiety because they believe it’s a hindrance to their daily life. It’s important to remember that we shouldn’t ignore our feelings because they can be helpful.

For more ways to tap into your intuition, check out this list.

The Power Of A Mother’s Words

Happy woman talking to her teenage daughter at home

I woke up this morning to the sound of the ring of one of the most influential women in my life calling me: my mom.

We spoke about the upcoming Bat-Mitvah of my older daughter and about other things. And at some point, my mom told me how proud she was of me, that despite my history I was able to overcome many obstacles and help others who are struggling.

Long story short, my childhood was marked with struggles and lack of a strong mother figure– not because she didn’t want to be there for my siblings and I, but because she was in an abusive controlling relationship, to name just one of many reasons. She didn’t know that not giving us what we needed was instrumental to our developmental both mentally and physically. She simply couldn’t provide us all that we needed — the love, the care, the few words that could have changed a lot for a little child. 

My childhood was an extreme case, but the truth is, we often forget the power we have as moms. The question becomes what can we do as parents to help encourage and support our children so that they don’t grow up feeling a void. Here are 10 things that I think we can all strive to do as parents that will have both short-term and long-term positive effects on our children.

  1. Love your child unconditionally. This sounds simple, but saying it out loud is helpful. This is the most basic thing a parent can do, but it’s something you have to do actively, every single day.
  2. Listen to your child without judgment. Sometimes this is harder than others, but the first thing you should do when your child is speaking is to listen and ask yourself if you are truly listening and being open to what they are actually saying.
  3. Give your child words of encouragement often. This doesn’t mean you have to compliment your child on every tiny thing that is done. However, it is so important to continually give words of support, encouragement, and affirmation in their daily life.
  4. Let you child know that you trust that they will be able to make the right decision —  even if you are not sure. Trust is so important to a child. If you don’t trust your child to make a decision, this breeds indecision, self-consciousness, and insecurity in later years.
  5. Tell your child that you are proud of them — even when they don’t get an A on their test. If your child thinks they are letting you down, it will affect them negatively. You don’t need to praise your child for failing a test, but your child should know that even if they don’t make great grades, you are proud of them as a person.
  6. Pay attention to your child and know what really makes them happy (not what makes you happy). Give special attention to the time you spend with your child. Are you really paying attention or are you on your phone? Figure out what gives them joy during the day. 
  7. When you are going through an emotional event or a trying period, be mindful when you are around your child, and don’t project your thoughts and feelings onto your kid.  If you are feeling emotionally unstable it’s hard to be a strong support system for your kid, but projecting insecurity, fear, anger, and other emotions onto your child can be so damaging. Try to separate your daily life events from your ability to support your child with words of encouragement.
  8. Enjoy as much time as you can with your children when they are young. You will not get these moments back. 
  9. Ask your child how they are feeling and really listen. Don’t wait until your child is much older to have deep conversations about your relationship. If you feel at any point that your relationship with your child is going off course, simply asking your child to talk to you about how they are feeling can go a long way. Ask them what they need from you as a parent. Young children will have trouble articulating their feelings, but as your child gets older they will be able to give you glimpses into what they want you to say — what they need you to say.
  10. Let your child feel emotions. Sometimes as parents, especially if we’ve gone through something difficult, it’s easy to tell our kids they need to be strong. Kids are more fragile than adults. Don’t dismiss any emotion your child is feeling. If they are feeling nervous, anxious, angry, sad, for frustrated, encourage them to talk about it and really identify why they are feeling that way. Don’t encourage your child to cover up their feelings, instead, allow them to open up to you.
Here’s another great website that has “101 words of affirmation that every child wants to hear.” Let’s all take a look at the list and see how many we are incorporating into our daily lives with our kids and make an effort to use more.

The Tyranny Of Perfection And How New Mothers Can Avoid It

Never fake yourself just to look perfect because perfection is never real and reality is never perfect.

As parents and child care providers we often attempt to be as perfect or as close to perfect as possible.

When I had my first child, I forced myself to breastfeed her for as long as I could because A) my grandma from Israel told me that I had to and B) I believed it was the best for my child.

I also had my mom who came from Israel helping me, and she too wanted to make sure I breastfed my daughter. When things didn’t go the way I planned and I ended up with sores on my nipples and severe pain, I thought I had no choice but to continue to be as perfect as I thought I could be.

As my daughter grew I read every possible book about child development and spent hours and hours searching the internet to make sure I knew whatever it is that I had to know in order to best understand my daughter and her needs. Of course, being a nanny for almost 10 years provided me with a lot of experience, but having your own child and having to take care of her 24 hours a day is a whole different story. 

Very soon I realized I allowed everything I read and heard to affect me, and without even being aware, I found myself comparing myself to other moms and comparing my daughter and her development to other kids her age.

As the months went by, and especially when my daughter entered pre-school, I realized that I had allowed myself to be all consumed by this idea of perfection.

What does it even mean to be a perfect mom? Is there such a thing? I wondered. While the answer is loud and clear — NO — it wasn’t as loud and clear to me as a new mom. I was surrounded by incredible moms who devoted many hours to perfecting this idea of motherhood. 

New moms are often guilty of asking other moms questions about parenthood. While it’s great to have a network and learn from one another, what I found as a new mom was that we often spend so much time comparing ourselves to other moms, it turns into a competition of who we think is doing “the best job.” Some of the questions that I remember plaguing me back then were, “How long did you breastfeed?” “How soon after giving birth did you go back to work?” “Did you have a baby nurse?” “Which company did you use?” “How old was your son before he was potty trained?” “What pre-school did your daughter go?”

Striving to be the perfect mom can be very stressful and anxiety provoking.

What would it be like if you were just trying to be a mom? Not a perfect mom and not even close to perfect. Just being a mom to your child and embracing who you are while enjoying every moment with your child. What would it be like if moms stopped judging themselves and their imperfections? What if we got rid of the self-inflicted guilt? 

Here are four simple suggestions that I wish someone had given me when I first had my daughter:

  1. Don’t try to be perfect. In fact, expect to not be perfect and to make mistakes. 
  2. Enjoy being a mom and don’t allow whatever you are reading or whatever you hear from other people to affect how you raise your kids unless, of course, you believe in whatever it is you read or heard.
  3. Accept yourself as a parent with a unique style of parenting and always listen to your own intuition. Also, accept your child for the person he or she is.
  4. When you find yourself judging or comparing yourself to other moms, know that you DO have the power to redirect your thoughts and tell yourself that it’s ok to be just where you are — and that where you are at this moment is exactly where you are supposed to be.

You will soon find that when you do the above you will be less stressed and anxious and you will enjoy motherhood in a whole different way. 

On The Anniversary Of My Eating Disorder Diagnosis…

Since yesterday was the anniversary of my eating disorder diagnosis (26 years ago!!), I got to thinking about how grateful I am for everything I’ve been through and where I am now as a mother of three. I thought it would be a good idea to blog about motherhood, gratitude and ways that we, as parents, can help prevent eating disorders/ways for us parents to promote wellness and prevent mental illness.
My anorexia arrived when I was 14 years old and stuck with me for about a year and a half. I then, secretly, became bulimic for the next 8.5 years, and as crazy as this sounds, I considered myself to be the best bulimic ever. It was all about secrecy.  Without getting into too much of the horrifying details, I can tell you that it was a terrible disease that affected all parts of my life, and thankfully, I was finally able to overcome it at the age of 24.
Now at age 41 and as a mother of three girls ages 6, 9 and 12, I have a new understanding of my mental illness at that age and why I was particularly vulnerable.
I look at my 12-year-old who is kind, happy and confident, and I think of myself as a 12-year-old. I was a neglected, abused teen whose parents couldn’t afford to keep her and was sent to live with a foster family. Yes, in hindsight this was the best thing for me, but as a 12-year-old, it felt like the end of the world. I spent many nights crying myself to sleep as a teenager.
While instilling confidence in a child and providing a safe, loving home goes a long way, I also know that eating disorders affect people regardless of upbringing. As someone who lived with the illness and understands the mindset behind it, I know that it is one of my top priorities to prevent eating disorders in young people.
So, as a parent, what can you do?

My Top 5 Tips:

  1. Teach your kids to be grateful. Gratitude is one of the biggest mindsets I have taken away from my struggle with eating disorders. It’s something that affects your whole outlook on life and allows you to stop focusing on what you don’t have and what you can’t control (both of which fuel negative eating habits). Of course, you don’t want to be one of these annoying parents who constantly nag your kids and tell them how lucky they have it (Yes, I have been guilty of this a few times), but REMEMBER that while you think your kids “struggle” if you don’t give them a lot of “stuff,” in the end it’s our job to breed gratitude in our kids.
  2. Practice mindful eating and MUTE the media. I can’t tell you how important it is to practice eating mindfully. In today’s world where everything is electronic and our kids grow up with exposure to SO much, it is essential to keep the important moments of mealtime as mindful as possible. Specific guidelines that we have created in my family include: Enjoy the food by paying attention to what you are eating and using all your senses; Talk about the good parts of your day and the least favorite part of your day. (Talking as a family and making mealtime an activity and not something your kids dread will help everyone focus on the moment); Lastly, no electronics at the table while eating.
  3. Be a role model. Model healthy eating and healthy body talk when your kids are around. I once saw my 6-year-old  getting herself on the scale and when I asked her why she was doing that she said that “daddy gets on the scale every day…”  As adults, a lot of us are guilty of this, but who is around to see it? We are also all guilty of making various comments to friends or family related to food or weight and we don’t always pay attention to who is listening. Think about what you are saying, especially when you are around your kids. “Fat talk” is so popular, especially among women, once you start the trend of NO FAT TALK, I promise your friends will follow and you will find that you are leading a healthier lifestyle!!! Make it a blanket rule that you do not discuss diets or weight in front of your children.
  4. Educate yourself and your child. Educate yourself about the various eating disorder. 10-15% of Americans suffer from some kind of eating disorder. A new study estimates that about half million teens suffer from eating disorder or disordered eating. It’s important to recognize the signs of a developing eating disorder and know that they manifest in a ton of different ways. It’s not always that you are starving yourself…
  5. Build your child’s self-esteem. You can do that by giving them choices, let them know no one is perfect, don’t draw comparisons between children, encourage independence, assign age-appropriate household chore and spend special time with your child, focusing on his or her unique qualities and gifts.
Most importantly, if you think your child has an eating disorder or even if you suspect one may be developing, seek help as soon as you can, there are a lot of free resources out there. In addition, LW Wellness partners with Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists. You can find out more here.
If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert therapists or dietitians, contact me or book an appointment with me. I look forward to hearing from you


3 Quick Tips For A Less Stressful Week

With Halloween weekend and trick-or-treating last night, I’m sure many moms are feeling exhausted. When any kind of holiday throws off the routine, it affects children even more than parents. It makes getting everyone off to school and to do things like homework way more stressful when you are dealing with exhausted kids (who have probably had quite a lot of sugar).

Over the past weekend, I was talking to a mom who called me in a panic. She said her 3-year-old was driving her crazy. After venting for 15 minutes, she told me she felt terrible because she felt like she sounded just like her own mom, and that made her upset. She didn’t want to always feel so annoyed.

Together, we came up with a list of three action steps she could take to alleviate her stress and turn her interactions with her daughter into more positive ones. I think these are particularly relevant for any parent who is feeling extra exhausted or on-edge, especially when maybe your kids have been particularly busy or are acting out.

  1. Don’t take things personally. In general, people who don’t take things personally are more easy-going and less stressed as they don’t let situations affect them. Especially when it comes to being a parent, you can’t take your kids’ actions personally. If they are exhausted and yelling at you, this is not a reflection on you as a parent. Kids’ emotions and temperaments can be so fragile. Keeping this in mind and not blaming yourself as a parent will help you stay calm.
  2. Forget about perfection. As parents we often expect our kids to look and act “perfect,” whatever that means to each parent. When we stress out over the fact that our children don’t want to wear the outfits we picked out for them or stayed up past their bedtime or perhaps the house hasn’t been cleaned – we aren’t forgiving ourselves for being human. Keep in mind that there is no such thing as a perfect parent.
  3. HAVE FUN! We often forget that it is ok for parents to also have fun and enjoy parenting. If you think about what you do as a parent and review the past week in interacting with your children, your list will be similar to most parents I work with. When I have parents list it out, their interactions are basically a series of commands to their kids. Particularly on a fun week like this one, where there is a holiday and our kids are dressing up and acting fun, remember to take part in that joy with them. Experiencing the joy simultaneously will not only be a bonding experience, but it will help you keep focused on what’s really important.

Stress-Free Parenting Part 5: Connecting With Your Kids

I’ve been blogging the past month about stress-free parenting. This week, I’d like to focus on ways you can actively engage with your children when you don’t let stress get in your way.

We are all busy parents and also have many  other responsibilities and stresses, which we tend to believe prevent us from spending quality time with our precious children.

I think it’s important to look at the time you are spending with your kids. When you’re together, what do you do with them? What are you saying?

My girls are currently 6,9, and 12. I find that before school every morning, I’m mostly giving directions: “Get dressed, brush your teeth, put your pjs away, eat your breakfast, we’re going to be late, etc.” Then, when they get home, it’s, “How was your day? Are you hungry? Pick up your room, please.” At that point, I start cleaning up, making dinner, and then eventually catch up on emails when I can escape to my office.

In 2010, a study showed that the average mother spent 13.7 hours a week with her children (less than two hours a day). Part of the problem is parents often feel guilty about how much time they are spending with their kids, so they stress about its significance or let their guilt affect the way they parent. However, research has gone on to show that it’s not the amount of time you spend with your children that matters — it’s the quality of that time.

Reading that most parents spend so little time with their children made me sad. Our kids are so special — each and every one of them. I know that despite being busy and stressed with life, we can find more than just 10 minutes a day to actually enjoy our kids and appreciate the beauty of childhood.

One of the most profound quotes regarding childhood and our role as parents is, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” — Frederick Douglass

Creating strong, lasting relationships with our children has such a strong and long-lasting impact. You can’t go back and do parenthood over again with your children. Mental health prevention starts when your children are young. So many problems with young adults today stem from childhood experiences and habits. The more you know your children and work on your relationship now, the easier it will be as they get older.

The other morning, my 6-year-old came to me while I was working, saying, “Mommy mommy… Look at the new dance move I learned.” She was so excited to share her dance with me and while I make a big effort to play with her and listen to her I was in the middle of working on something important that was time sensitive. 

“I will be with you in few minutes,” I responded to her. I went back to finish what I was doing and a few seconds later I glanced toward her sweet little face — that a minute earlier was smiley and excited — and what I saw was her disappointed and sad face. 

I couldn’t resist and gave her a big hug and apologized. Yes, I know about delayed gratification and the importance of teaching children to learn how to be patient and wait, but it seems that many of us do that to our children way too often.

So I got up from my computer, sat on the floor, and asked her to show me her dance. Two minutes later I asked if she wanted me to find the song she was playing called “Sugar.” I blasted the song and for five minutes we danced and acted as silly as we could.

I hugged my daughter and told her how much I loved her. She gave me a big kiss. Then I told her that I had to finish working on something important, and she went back to her room to play.

I felt so happy and more motivated than before to do whatever I was doing. I connected with my 6-year-old and all she needed from me was a few moments of my time to know that she was loved and that I was attentive to her. She felt validated and important and I got the chance to spend a few minutes doing something fun and rewarding for me. 

What is my point? Yes, we are all busy people and there are things we have to get done as adults with many responsibilities. But if we pause to enjoy these small precious moments with our little ones, even if it means that we are doing something ridiculous or listening to something that we don’t care for, we’re sending such a strong message to our kids.

Try to spend whatever time you have and can with your children and make it quality time. You will discover a whole new world… 

When you are actively engaged with your child, the experience is so much more rewarding for both you and your child than if you are simply present with them physically. Make an effort to just be there and listen. Don’t judge or discourage your child… Practice being positive and just be. 

It’s a lot to think about when you are trying to always make everyone happy (including yourself). So here are a few guiding principles I like to think about:

  1. Practice mindfulness (whether you are at work or spending time with your kids, you should be mindful of that time)
  2. Don’t judge yourself
  3. Carve out time each week for special quality time with each one of your kids.

Stress-Free Parenting Part 4: Taking Control Of Bedtime

For many of you, this might make a lot of sense. For others, like my client Joana, bedtime is the most stressful time of the day for her and her family.

When I walked into Joana’s apt, she welcomed me with a big hug and said, “I hope that you can help me with putting my kids to sleep… last night I was screaming so loud both my kids and my next door neighbors must have thought I lost my mind…”

Joana has a daughter who is 6 and an older son who is 10. After talking to Johanna for 15 minutes, it was obvious that the stress she experienced at bedtime wasn’t just about her kids.

I knew that while she wasn’t looking for therapy, she needed some guidance and coaching not just with putting her kids to sleep.

I was honest with Johana and told her that since she asked for help with putting her kids to sleep, I would start with helping her in that area, but I also suggested we work on helping her deal with other stresses. 

As a first step I told Joana she needed to understand the following:

  1. She is 100% responsible for her emotions.
  2. She has the ability to control her thoughts. 

She, as many of my clients, looked at me like I was an alien, which I expected. But when I told her with confidence that thousands of my clients thought the same and changed their mind, she was open to the idea that maybe there is hope for her.

The following are the four tips that I gave her regarding reducing stress at bedtime. Since Joana was a pessimist by nature, I suggested  she recite to herself (and to me) that it is possible to have a less stressful bedtime routine.

When she first did it, she felt ridiculous and convinced me that it could never happen — but after reciting it three or four times she started laughing and I could see she was changing her mind. She also asked me if I was willing to come one night to observe her while she’s putting her kids to sleep and I agreed. I gave her the following as homework to practice before our following meeting and she promised to document her progress.

  1. Create a bedtime routine that kids will follow every night.
  2. No electronics after 7pm
  3. No sugar after 6:30 (for more about foods to avoid before bedtime, click here)
  4. Play slow music or sounds to create a relaxing environment. Some parents prefer books on tape, which is also a good alternative.

Joana worked on these four steps consistently and started making progress. Once she realized there were concrete things she could do about relieving stress surrounding bedtime, she stopped fearing it so much.

Stress Free Parenting Part 3 – How To Cope With The Big and Small Things

Rona was a client I worked with for two years. She has twin girls, who she tried to conceive for four years. As you can imagine, the whole process of trying to get pregnant will create an enormous level of stress for anyone, but for Rona who is the also the Chief Medical Advisor for a big medical practice, it was a particularly great stress.

She sought help only after her husband left her for another woman, when her twin girls were 6 months old. When Rona called me, her twins were 3 years old, and one of them had been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). People with ASD tend to have communication deficit, such as responding inappropriately in conversations, misreading nonverbal interactions, or having difficulty building friendships appropriate to their age. People with ADS can get highly dependent on routines, extremely sensitive to changes in their environment, or intensely focused on odd items. As you can imagine, Rona’s life became a lot more stressful after she found this out.

For those of you unfamiliar, or for those of you who are dealing with a very similar situation, I’ll give you a brief overview of some of the behaviors your child with ADS will exhibit.

In order to be considered ASD, there are two main areas where people must show persistent deficits:

  1. Social communication and social interaction
  2. Restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior

To put this in perspective, the CDC said in 2014, 1 in 68 American children fall on the Autism spectrum – which is a huge increase from previous years. Autism is way more prevalent in boys than girls. While no one really knows why, increased diagnosis and various environmental factors are believed to be part of the uptick.

So Rona asked me to help her come up with some simple strategies to alleviate the overwhelming feelings of stress she was dealing with, and upon further review, I found that these strategies aren’t all that specific to just Rona. Most parents can use these strategies to help them deal with their specific problems and stressful moments.

Here are four strategies that I encourage you to try this week:

  1. Find support from other parents with similar situations. Whether your child is diagnosed with Autism, or you are having trouble conceiving, or you are simply having difficulty finding a compatible nanny or getting your child into a particular school, support is extremely important as one can share information, get advice, and offer an ear of understanding when it comes to personal and professional situations. Knowing you aren’t alone in a situation is proven to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
  2. Remember to stop and look after yourself. As parents of children with or without special needs, we often forget to find time for ourselves. Finding 10-20 minutes a day to relax, read a book or paint your nails – something that is completely for yourself – will give you a new energy to be the parent you need to be for your children.
  3. Accept that as a parent you will experience stress, and when you experience stressful situations, remind yourself that it is normal to feel this way. Maybe you can even become creative and call feeling stressed something else? How about, “I am feeling excited!” I tried this a few times, and it would always make me laugh when I labeled my stress in some other way. Instead of defining yourself as the “always stressed out” parent, try to come up with a different way of perceiving yourself, even if it is silly and only serves to make you smile.
  4. Be realistic with the demands you put on yourself. I remember when I went back to work, I thought that I had more time than I actually had; I had very high expectations of myself. I found myself disappointed over and over again. When I changed my expectations and committed myself to complete at least one task a day, I found that I was completing more tasks than expected. Don’t make to do lists a mile long and chastise yourself for not finishing everything. Instead learn to prioritize. What is really important? If you are getting your children fed and to school and they are healthy, does it really matter that you didn’t get to organizing your closet like you had wanted to?

I’ve worked with clients who have dealt with everything from incredibly unique diagnoses to everyday parenting worries, but the common thread is parents of every walk of life feel stressed out from time to time. Reaching out to find specific support and coming up with strategies that you can employ regularly will give you confidence and the ability to work through taxing situations.