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The Best Thing a Parent Can do for a Highly Emotional Child.

The Best Thing a Parent Can do for a Highly Emotional Child.

As a therapist I see many kids and teens who experience extreme emotions. Some have mental health conditions such as depression or another mood disorder, and some do not. In either case, many parents want to know, “What causes my child to feel so sad, lonely, depleted, apathetic, or angry?!” and some parents even go on to add, “I give her everything. She has a great life. There is no reason for her to feel this way.” (Yes, the “I give her everything” statement is the one I hear most often.)

The Possible 3 Causes of Mood Disturbances

Questions like the previously mentioned are my cue to meet that parent’s fears and pain by gently explaining some of the theories of the causes of mood disturbances. Basically, there are lots of fancy names for the theories, but the causes are typically a number of the following factors working in combination:

1. Biological factors: neurotransmitters, hormones, neurological differences, etc

2. Environmental stresses: Hopeless, painful, overwhelming, and lonely scenarios and an invalidating environment

3. Individual temperament: the child’s ways of thinking, threshold of tolerance for emotional discomfort, etc.

Nowhere in that explanation does it imply that a child’s depression is caused by its parents not giving it enough.

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I often see extreme emotions and/or mood disorders as being a result of a combination of all three of the causes listed above.

So how are each of these causes addressed? If necessary, a pediatric psychiatrist or family physician may address the biological components of extreme moods and behaviors. An individual therapist can work with the child to increase her personal distress tolerance and coping skills and shift her ways of thinking to be less problematic. And parents can work to address environmental factors. This is why parental consultation and often family therapy is very helpful for the child’s emotional well-being.

Creating a validating environment

But what is the most important thing that a parent can do for a highly emotional child?

The best way for parents to address environmental factors is to create what is called a “validating environment.” This means hearing and honoring the perspective of the child and who the child is even when the perspectives of the child are not pleasant, are hard to hear, or are inconsistent with what the parents want. In other words, letting the child know that her feelings are understandable, and that it’s okay to be yourself.

4 Examples of Invalidation vs. Validation

Some examples of validation vs. invalidation are as follows:

1. Invalidation: “Just relax. It’s not that bad.”

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Validation: “I can see how that would be upsetting.”

2. Invalidation: “You didn’t really mean that.”

Validation: “Tell me more about that.”

3. Invalidation: “Stop getting so angry.”

Validation: “It’s okay to feel angry, and I can see why you’d be angry, but it’s not okay to hit the wall.”

4. Invalidation: “How could you be so selfish!?”

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Validation: “I could see how you would be compelled to do that, but we need to talk about a way to make everyone happy, not just you.”

3 Reasons Why Invalidation arises

Often barriers which prevent validating environments occur because of one of these 3 reasons:

1. Parents really don’t relate to their child being so upset.

They legitimately cannot understand why or how a child could be so emotional, and commonly get annoyed or dismissive with the child’s feelings. In this case, it is sometimes helpful to think of your child as a “highly sensitive person” (See “The Highly Sensitive Child” by Elaine Aron) instead of flawed and problematic. Think about what it must be like to go through life as such a highly sensitive person and begin to appreciate your child for who it is.

2. Parents’ own anxieties are triggered when their child has difficult or extreme emotions.

Sometimes their anger or fears of inadequacy are triggered when they are unable to “cure” or “change” their child, so they try to talk the child out of their feelings, deny the reality of the child’s perspective, or ignore the child’s feelings.

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3. The parents’ sense of “right and wrong” conflict with who the child is.

Sometimes parents have learned that some very basic and healthy aspects of human nature are “wrong.” Often a child’s anger or sadness or pride or selfish impulse is seen with invalidation or disgust instead of being seen as natural and making sense given the situation and human nature. Kids in shame-filled, overly-controlled, or strictly dogmatic environments are often given messages that their anger, emptiness, unhappiness, sadness, sexuality, or pride are “wrong”.

So why am I making such a big deal about the importance of creating a validating environment for a kid? Because one in five kids are estimated to be highly sensitive, and emotional sensitivity plus invalidating environment is the perfect recipe for a child to end up on my therapy couch. And in a weird way, less business for me is a good thing for the world.

For more information on the importance of validating children, check out the book “The Power of Validation” by Karyn D. Hall.

Featured photo credit: grietgriet via mrg.bz

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have

    Why You Need a Vision

    Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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    How to Create Your Life Vision

    Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

    What Do You Want?

    The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

    It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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    Some tips to guide you:

    • Remember to ask why you want certain things
    • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
    • Give yourself permission to dream.
    • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
    • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

    Some questions to start your exploration:

    • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
    • What would you like to have more of in your life?
    • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
    • What are your secret passions and dreams?
    • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
    • What do you want your relationships to be like?
    • What qualities would you like to develop?
    • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
    • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
    • What would you most like to accomplish?
    • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

    It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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    What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

    Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

    A few prompts to get you started:

    • What will you have accomplished already?
    • How will you feel about yourself?
    • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
    • What does your ideal day look like?
    • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
    • What would you be doing?
    • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
    • How are you dressed?
    • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
    • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
    • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

    It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next stepGive yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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    Plan Backwards

    It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

    • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
    • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
    • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
    • What important actions would you have had to take?
    • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
    • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
    • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
    • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
    • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

    Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

    It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

    Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

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