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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 March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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