Search This Blog

Thursday, December 15, 2011

In Vivo Exposure, In Vivo Learning (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

     As parents, we try to anticipate problems that may occur in public with our kids so that we can problem solve appropriately.  By problem solve, I do mean avoid uncomfortable, stress-inducing situations. For instance, going to the grocery store with a child can be challenging.  Kids may want all of the junk food they see, whine about how long it is taking to buy things, throw tantrums so they can get what they want, etc. To problem solve this, parents may leave the kids at home, some may go around the perimeter of the store so as to avoid the aisles with sugary cereals, give in to their tantrums incorrectly thinking this will work, etc.  Well, last week when my family and I went holiday shopping at the mall, I totally did not anticipate what unfolded and boy was I in for a surprise!

     It was the four of us: my husband, six year old son, two year old daughter, and me at a department store.  The plan was for me to go clothes shopping while my husband took the kids around the store.  Just as I was about to enter the ladies fitting room, my family spotted me.  Now the plan changed slightly. The three of them were to wait outside the fitting room while I tried on my outfits at lightning speed.  I should have known better at that moment.  As soon as I entered the stall, my kids wandered into the fitting room looking for me.  My very sweet, innocent daughter looked under one of the stalls while calling mommy.   Immediately a very loud and angry voice yelled “GET OUT!” twice to her. Instantly, I internally experienced very uncomfortable feelings that might have included some expletives. Having enough composure and dignity, I first apologized to the angry woman for my two year old daughter’s inappropriate, albeit innocent behavior.  No response from the angry lady. 

     Now, I must attend to my son’s near traumatic reaction. My husband was comforting him to no avail. Interestingly, it did not really phase my daughter. I would have thought she would have reacted more frantically given that she wears hearing aids that would amplify the yelling. My son was very keen on making this very point later on. But for now, he is crying “I don’t want to go to jail!” For awhile, I did not understand the connection between what had just happened and going to jail. Now, I get it. In a six year old mind, if you do something bad, you go to jail.  For few days, I was scratching my heads over this.  I digress. Anyhow, while walking towards my family I’m trying to figure how to best handle this melodrama.  I sense this is a crucial teachable moment. At first, I thought I’ll just explain to my son by saying that some people get crazy during the holidays. Then, I thought that would only teach him that you do not have to take responsibility for your actions and you are off the hook by blaming it on something or someone else. This is completely the opposite of what I hold true so scratched that off immediately. Instead, I put on my mother and therapist hats on at the same time.

     I first hugged him and said it will be ok.  Then, I explained to him that some people get angry easily and that we cannot control how other people feel or behave.  We can only control our own and being upset over this is not worth it. I said this loudly enough so that the woman could hear me. I got this strange feeling that people were watching me. Sure enough, a woman in her sixties who looked like she could be a school principal smiles to me and walks over to us.  She whispers to me: “She was just being mean. What did she teach anyways?” I just smiled back and shrugged my shoulders as if to say “I agree, but you shouldn’t play with fire.”

     In retrospect, I probably would have handled it a tad bit differently. I would have validated my son’s feelings little bit more by saying something like: “I know honey, it really feels horrible when someone yells at you.”  In therapy, there is a technique called in vivo exposure where you have your patient face their fears to treat their specific anxiety (elevator, heights, etc.).  For us, this was a different kind of in vivo exposure, but nonetheless a rich learning experience.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Using the Holidays to Strengthen the Parent-Child Relationship (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

     We know that during the holidays, children are out of school and more at home.  We also know that holidays can make many go insane with all of the demands that are placed on us. So why not channel that energy into one that matters most to parents? That is, having a good, close relationship with our children. Positive relationships with our children reaps great rewards such as better academic performance, fewer discipline problems, knowledge about how to lead productive and safer lives, and many more.  Holiday time is a perfect opportunity to strengthen the parent-child relationship!

     Spending quality time is key in building a stronger relationship with our children. It is not only about having fun with them, but also taking the time to really express and exemplify what family values are important to us.  Maintaining a strong relationship with your child takes lot of time and effort, but it is also a fun, learning process! Below are five concrete ways to strengthen that bond.

Five Ways to Strengthen the Parent-Child Relationship during the Holidays:

1.    Play with your child. It does not matter what you play, but simply have fun with whatever you are doing with them. This can include a whole host of activities like dancing, singing, playing make believe, board games, card games, peek-a-boo, hide and go seek, etc. There has been tons of research supporting that playing with your child from very early on helps strengthen the bonding process. 

2.    Be flexible with schedules. During the holidays, sticking to a routine can be challenging. Grandparents, aunts and uncles come to visit or you visit them and they want to “spoil” your child with later bedtimes, extra treats, etc. It is important to set limits and structures, but you do not have to be rigid about implementing them during the holidays. Have you noticed that the more you try to impose your rules about these kinds of things, it makes you and your child more stressed, and possibly others around you?  For example, if 8pm is normal bed time, then 10pm is okay, but 2am is not acceptable. Otherwise, the next day will be a nightmare for everyone if your kids have sugar overload and not enough sleep. Being flexible is part of maintaining balance in parenting, especially during the holidays.

3.    Engage in activities that encourage giving to others. In today’s commercialized holiday seasons, it is easy to forget how important it is to give back to the community.  Buying canned goods and other food items to donate to local food banks is an easy thing we can all do with our children. Many schools and churches collect the goods, so this makes the giving process even easier!  When my son was younger, I used to do this on my own. Now that he is 6 years old and can understand the concept of giving, I have included him in the process. This is a great opportunity not only to talk about the importance of giving and taking care of each other in the community, but also to remember how grateful we are for the things we have and do not have to worry about like food, shelter, clothing, families and friends. 

    I am reminded of an episode of 60 Minutes I recently watched where families have become homeless and are living in their cars due to current, hard economic times.  According to the show, America’s homeless children have risen to 25%, which really struck me. With older children, watching programs like these with them, coming up with solutions, and implementing them would be a great way to give back and take care of each other. Encouraging giving to others can be simpler like helping a neighbor with raking their leaves, picking up neighborhood litter, holding the door at a store for someone, etc. Giving to others not only feels good, but helps build communities, our children become productive citizens and our parent-child relationship becomes deeper as a result!

4.    Make time for just listening. Listening is a skill that takes lot of practice! Listening does not mean you have to oblige to your child’s wishes. Listening is about respecting others. Especially if you have teenagers, listening and respecting, become two important ways of connecting with your emerging adult child. When I was going through my clinical training as a therapist at Johns Hopkins, one of my clinical supervisors used to say “just be with the client.” I did not quite understand what he meant by that at the time and might have facetiously thought “of course I am with the client, he is in my office.” Over the years, I have had many opportunities to practice listening and now I completely get it. It goes beyond just physically being there. It involves putting your needs aside and just being with the person both physically and emotionally. Good eye contact. No interruptions. No judgments. No need to top it off with your own stories or other needs. Now I would like to pass on that wisdom by saying “just be with your child.”

5.    Practice the gift of acceptance. This is really about what psychologists refer to as “unconditional positive regard” or unconditional love in laymen’s terms. Every child wants to feel loved no matter how terrible their behaviors may be. Every time a child hears something along these lines: “What is wrong with you?” or “Why can’t you do anything right?” or “What has gotten into you?” takes away from feeling that unconditional love and weakens the parent-child relationship. This can easily happen during the holidays as things get a little crazy and people are in frenzy. Instead, let your child know whichever way you can that you love them no matter what. Feeling accepted means knowing that the love you receive is not dependent on behaving well, getting good grades, obliging to every demand, etc. Just to be clear, accepting our children for who they are does not mean parents should adopt a laissez faire attitude in parenting.  It simply means that when a parent’s love for a child is not dependent on “something” then a stronger parent-child relationship evolves over time. 

        Happy parenting during the holidays!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Managing Holiday Stress (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

     It’s that time of the year. Holidays!  As a Nepali Hindu, my holiday season started at the beginning of October with Dasain and we finished the fifth and final day of Tihar on October 28th.  It is also called Bhai Tika, a day when sisters celebrate brothers for their long life, prosperity, and all things good.  For others, Eid al-adha was on November 6, 2011 and soon to follow will be Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa.  Many cultures celebrate with festivities including great feasts, gift giving, visiting places of worships, holiday parties, and other traditions.  It is a time to celebrate and rejoice with family and friends.  Unfortunately for many, it is also a time to endure lot of stress. As parents, managing our stress levels not only benefits us, but it also benefits our children.  There is this vicious, circular pattern that happens when we experience stress.  If parents are stressed, then our children will be stressed and vice versa.  Getting a good understanding of how our stress develops and perpetuate is crucial in relieving our stress and improving our quality of life.    

     There are two types of stress: the good and the bad. Think of it as similar to good cholesterol and bad cholesterol in our body. The good stress is called eustress, which is minor anxiety that ignites us to perform better, experience feelings of fulfillment and other positive feelings.  For example, your child may be anxious about an upcoming Math test and to prepare for it she studies effectively and the end result is that she earns a good grade on the test. On the other hand, bad stress is called distress, where we become very anxious and do not feel too good. A whole host of things may be negatively affected by distress. Staying with the same example of the Math test, let’s say your child is very anxious about the test and does not feel good, may have stomach aches, thinks of how a bad grade will ruin her life, etc. Due to these uncomfortable side effects, she decides she cannot handle it so ends up either not studying at all or studies too hard to the point that anxiety overwhelms her and she does not perform well on the test. The latter type is the focus here because this is the kind that drives us crazy during the holidays!

     During the holidays, the triggers of stress tend to be finances, physical demands, and relationships.  Understanding these common holiday triggers can help in preventing holiday meltdowns.  If you are someone like me who embraces multicultural holidays, then your stress triggers can be complicated further.  But that is a whole another topic altogether. Taking a closer look at how each of these triggers play out in our holiday routine is imperative in combating holiday stress. 

     Financially, the whole world is suffering more than it has in the recent past.  There is so much economic uncertainty today that people are already feeling anxious. Then you consider high unemployment and inflation impacting our daily lives, the anxiety increases manifold.  And then you consider the added expenses of gifts, travel, food, and entertainment, no wonder people’s stress level skyrocket during the holidays. Evidence can be found when you see people running around like chickens with their heads cut off in the malls, supermarkets, schools, in their homes, and wherever else they may be. 

     As if financial difficulties were not enough, now we consider the physical demands that contribute to stress levels. Even the most uber holiday enthusiast will admit that the extra shopping and socializing can be draining. When we experience exhaustion, our body releases stress hormones that make us more susceptible to illnesses like the common cold and other unwanted medical problems.  There just is not enough time in a day to get all we need to accomplish during the holidays so we start cutting corners.  Ironically, sleep and exercise, which releases hormones that help to reduce stress, are usually compromised to deal with the physical demands. You can see how this perpetuates a vicious cycle. 

     Another interesting dynamic that occurs during the holidays involve our loved ones.  As a child, I had bought into the idea that holidays were created so family and friends can spend more time together and enjoy each other’s company.  As an adult, the sparkles of the holidays fade away as we encounter family conflicts and misunderstandings.  On top of it, we attempt to make everyone happy. Instead, everyone seems to be getting on each other’s nerves and wishing they were somewhere else- “anywhere else besides here!”  It happens to the best of us, doesn’t it? Don’t worry; there are strategies to counteract these dreadful experiences and in the process, set good examples for your children so they learn to regulate their emotions effectively.

10 Tips on Managing Holiday Stress:

1.    Prioritize. Plan ahead and make a list of all the things you want to accomplish this holiday season. Now put them into 3 categories (Very Important, Somewhat Important, Not too important) and allocate your time, resources, and energy accordingly.

2.    Feel comfortable saying “no.” It is completely ok to say no. There is no rule in life that says you have to attend every holiday party you are invited to, buy gifts for everyone you consider friends and/or family, buy gifts that are on your kids’ wish list, etc. 

3.    Set limits.  Limits can be set by creating a budget for gifts (and sticking to it!), on your time, how much food you’ll make, etc. People who genuinely care about you will understand or get over it, including your children.  If they don’t, then you may have to rethink how the relationship can change to reduce your stress.

4.    Cut corners.  “Baked goods” does not have to mean “home baked goods.”  Sure it tastes better and is more meaningful, but if you have hundred other things you have to take care of then it is ok that baking doesn’t make the priority list. Besides, not everyone is a baker. Another way to cut corners is to send holiday cards only to those you have regular contact with. Further cut corners by writing personal notes to few who have been there for you through thick and thin.

5.    Maintain your healthy habits. Eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep are not negotiable. Additionally, attending to medical needs and maintaining a positive attitude are paramount in staying healthy during the holidays.

6.    Take a breather. Schedule it if you have to! Take 15-20 minutes a day to have time to meditate, listen to music, read, or whatever you enjoy doing. Self-care is mandatory to have a stress free holiday season.

7.    Let it go (aka L.I.G.).  This is especially true when we hit bumps in our relationships. Family members get into arguments, which in the big scheme of things, are about things that do not really matter. So learning to forgive and move on is important to maintain positive, healthy relationships.

8.    Seek professional help if necessary. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, it is hard to escape the “blues” and severe anxiety. Some people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder during the holidays or certain time of the year, and if you suspect you are one of these people then please seek help.  Remember that seeking help is a sign of strength rather than weakness.

9.    Keep your kids busy. Boredom leads to trouble. Keeping the kids entertained with board games, books, writing stories, arts and crafts, coloring, outside play, limited tv/computer/video game time, naps, music, dancing, having them help you in cooking, cleaning, etc. is key in maintaining your and the kids’ sanity.  Besides, keeping the kids engaged is good for their brain plasticity, the brain’s ability to learn from experiences and make them smarter!  

10.    Have fun! Enjoy the moments and be grateful for all the wonderful people, things, and experiences you have in your life. Love, live, and laugh this holiday season!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Social Comparison: Is It Effective? (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

    This piece is a follow-up to the last blog post: “Everyone Can’t Be No. 1.” 
It seems as though parents are wired to make social comparison when it comes to their children.  In fact, do we not cultivate this process when the babies are in the womb by comparing one pregnancy to the next?  Later on, it becomes how one child is doing academically and/or behaviorally versus another. More importantly, what impact does this have on our children? Let’s take a quick look at the history of social comparison theory to better understand what is involved in the process.  As always, once we begin to understand ourselves better, only then do we begin to understand others.  In this case, others happen to be our precious kids!

    Leon Festinger coined the term “social comparison” in 1954, which states that people tend to evaluate themselves, including their opinions and desires, by comparing themselves to others.  The process includes two types of social comparison: upward and downward.  Upward social comparison occurs when someone compares themselves to someone who is better off (intellectually, financially, physically, etc.) in an effort to be part of the elite and have a more positive view of themselves.

    In contrast, downward social comparison is when you compare yourself to someone who is worse off than you to make yourself feel happier.  For example, a diabetic patient who only needs medication for treatment may see himself better off than another diabetic patient who has lost vision due to diabetes.  The result of this downward social comparison makes one happier. This process seems pretty natural and harmless right?

    Now consider this. A parent continually resorts to upward social comparison as a way to motivate their child to do better (academics, sports, arts, etc.).  This comparison occurs very often between siblings, other relatives, and peers.  A crude example may sound something like this: “John is always getting straight A’s. Why can’t you be more like him?”  A sneakier example may go like this: “Mary is so talented. She is going to be somebody very important.”  The parent says such things to the child who they are trying to motivate into doing better.  Although this appears to be a fairly, common parenting tactic, it can be counterproductive.  The child on the receiving end of this message is hearing that he or she is not good enough for their parents’ approval. Over time, this will likely result in an inferiority complex and self-esteem issues.  This is an emotionally painful experience for any child to go through and it can be easily avoided. 
    Conversely, when parents practice downward social comparison as a strategy to make a child feel better, it can result in illusory superiority complex. The child goes on to believe that they are better than the next person. As a therapist in the schools, I often heard parents say to their child: “Those kids are being mean to you because they are jealous of you.” Instead of addressing what the real issue may be (e.g. bullying), the parent could be reinforcing many unhealthy behaviors (e.g. not taking responsibility). 

    I am reminded of this one case when I worked as a therapist in the schools. There was a 10 year old girl who was regarded by her parents and other relatives as an “iconoclast” (family member’s own word) and that’s why her peers have been picking on her. When in reality this girl was the source of many nasty rumors that started in the 5th grade.  Because this girl would constantly hear that others were jealous of her and that’s why she gets trapped in the rumor mill, this girl really felt she was superior than her peers and above the school regulations.  Blaming others became second nature to her than taking responsibility. She started out as a very popular girl at the beginning of the year, but her social circle shrunk by the end of the year.  She actually engaged in very harmful behaviors to gain attention.  You can see from this example how human relations can be negatively impacted when people feel they are superior to others. 
    Actually, both upward and downward social comparisons affect human relations negatively, but in different ways.  The take home message is for parents not to engage in social comparisons as a means of motivating their children. The kids do not like it when parents make comparisons and it is not effective in getting them to do what you want them to do. In fact, for many families, it does the opposite.  It is called rebellion. Children will engage in social comparisons on their own naturally and parents should discourage this rather than add fuel to the fire.    

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Everyone Can’t be No. 1 (Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

    I cringe every time I hear a parent encouraging their child to be the number one in whatever.  I have seen parents get very upset because their five year old child could not score the winning goal in soccer.  I have seen parents encourage their child to be the first one done when eating with peers.  Or how about the child whose parents have decided that their five year old will be the number one student in his kindergarten class?  How about the parents who have decided that their child will be a doctor, an engineer, or scientist when they grow up?  The examples go on and on.  These examples illustrate how we, as parents, program our kids very early on to believe that we should settle for nothing less than being number one. 

    It is very true that we live in a very competitive world and we need to prepare our children for it.  What makes it worse is that today our world no longer consists only of the people in our microcosm.  It literally includes the whole world with the availability of technology and being a global market.  So, it is very natural for parents to feel anxious about how their child will compete in this global, competitive world.  The problem is that it is risky business when parents put this kind of pressure on their children day in and day out. 

    At first, this kind of pressure doesn’t seem to be a problem because when children are very young they want to please their parents, teachers, grandparents, aunts and uncles…basically any adult who plays a significant role in their lives.  Therefore, young children happily go along with their parents’ plans until they start thinking for themselves.  For some, this independent thinking happens early on and for others it doesn’t happen until adulthood.  Yet for some, it never happens. This is most worrisome. 

    I see this kind of pressure as risky business because the costs are high for our children.  One of three outcomes will occur for children.  Outcome 1 is that both the parents and the child’s wishes match and everyone is happy. This result is probably less likely than one would hope.  Outcome 2 is that the child will reject the parents’ wishes and pursue their own dreams. Rifts may occur in the family, but ultimately the parents get over it and the child is happy. This is healthy. Outcome 3 is that the child goes along with their parents’ wishes when they do not want to from the bottom of their hearts, but they do not communicate this to their parents in fear of disappointing them.  This is probably more common than one would think.  I know I have observed this quite a bit in my own Nepalese culture where parents are revered and children constantly try to meet their expectations even though they really do not want to. 

  The costs of Outcome 3 can range anywhere from feeling anxious over the smallest things in life to severe depression leading to suicide.  Little bit of anxiety can actually be healthy. For instance, getting anxious over an upcoming Math test and studying for it is a good thing. However, unhealthy anxiety can have the opposite effect of what parents want for their child.  When children feel that pressure that they have to excel in order to gain approval then their self-esteem and confidence are compromised.  They will constantly compare themselves to others as a way of measuring their self-worth. This is not healthy. A perfectly competent person can do very poorly under this kind of pressure.  Over time, this anxiety can lead to depression and take a major hit on their self-worth.  Professional help is warranted at this time.   

   So, what should well-meaning parents do to avoid the risks? The answer is pretty simple, but harder to balance. Parents need to relieve this pressure and instead encourage their child to do their best rather than being the best.  I am not suggesting that parents encourage mediocrity rather that they encourage their child to reach his or her own potential wherever that may be for that child.  When the pressure is lifted, children will be at ease, perform better, and be happier. Less pressure equals better product.      

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Implications of Positive Thinking (Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

So we all know the message behind whether you see the glass half-empty or half-full.  However, I would guess that many do not understand the implications of these ways of thinking or many do not give it enough serious thought to practice positive thinking on a regular basis.  There is much research to suggest that those who see the glass being half-full tend to experience positive health benefits and tend to be happier.
Health implications from positive thinking include (Mayo Clinic, 2011):
·         Increased life span
·         Lower rates of depression
·         Lower levels of distress
·         Greater resistance to the common cold
·         Better psychological and physical well-being
·         Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
·         Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress

There are many theories to explain why positive thinking people have healthier and happier lives.  It could be that having positive outlook on life enables a person to cope better during stressful times. Or that positive thinkers tend to exercise more, eat well, and do not smoke or drink in excess.  Whatever the reasons may be, the benefits alone should make one to consider this approach in life.  Moreover, when children witness their parents practice positive thinking then they are more likely to learn this habit.  By the same token, if children observe their parents practice negative thinking then they will adopt these maladaptive behaviors. For example, if a child attempts tasks (cleaning up, dressing themselves, etc.) at home and they constantly hear from their parents that they are not doing the task at hand well, then that child has inadvertently been exposed to negative thinking. Likewise, imagine the impact if a child constantly hears their parent complain about every little thing in life.  Our environment and experiences shape who we become as adults. 
As parents, we have the power to influence whether our children become positive or negative people.  Below you will common types of negative thinking that people engage in. Identifying these is important in order to understand and convert our negative thinking into positive ones.
Common Examples of Negative Thinking
Personalizing: When something goes wrong, you automatically blame yourself. For example, some plans with friends get canceled and you automatically assume it’s because they did not want to be around you.    
Filtering: You only fish out the negative aspects of an overall positive situation.   A classic example, you set out to complete ten tasks on a given day, but you end up not finishing one.  Guess which one a negative thinker would focus on? Positive thinkers congratulate themselves for completing the nine tasks while negative thinkers harp on the one they did not get to.
Overgeneralizing: This is when you automatically anticipate the worst when something rather minor occurs.  Let’s say, you are running late to work and get stuck in traffic, and then you expect the day to be the worst day ever.  And guess what, it does become a pretty horrible day. People tend to use words such as “always” or “never.”  Another example, your child doesn’t get invited to a birthday party and you or your child concludes that he will be loner for life.
Dichotomous Thinking: This is the all or none thinking. Thinking things in black and white terms.  Extremes without room for negotiations.  For example, if things are not done perfectly then not bothering to do it at all.  A child may refuse to do her homework on a regular basis because she does not want to make mistakes so she figures it is best left undone.  Perfectionists often tend to think this way.
Catastrophizing: Overestimating the chance of a disaster happening.  Let’s say your child has to speak in front of the class and he becomes fearful of this, mainly because he has ingrained in himself that he will be laughed at and his peers will make fun of him.  Or, you think you left the stove on before leaving the house and now the whole house will burn down.  Think of this type as “the world will end” perspective on life.
            Now that you have a sense of the different types of negative thinking, so how does one combat pessimistic way of thinking? It is simple to say “just think of this in a positive way,” but when in fact, this is a very difficult thing to do, especially if you have been exposed to this way of approaching life for a long time.  Unlearning a bad habit and replacing it with a good habit is a difficult task, but it can be done with practice and will!
Strategies for Positive Thinking
Positive Self-talk. You have heard of people chanting to themselves positive statements such as “I am a good person,” “I am intelligent/beautiful,” etc. However, this in of itself is not enough to feel better about oneself.  In fact, some people may argue that this could make some negative thinking people feel worse about themselves.  The key is to replace a negative self-statement with a positive one that you believe in.  For example, if you do not believe that you are beautiful with your big ears then simply saying “I am beautiful” may not be enough to boost your self-esteem.  Rather, focusing on your other positive physical attributes such as your long, shiny hair or beautiful, big eyes will benefit you than ruminating about your big ears. Using positive self-talk takes time and practice for you to feel comfortable with and for it to become a habit. Remember that we tend to be our own worst critic, and very critical of the outside world.  When people lighten up on themselves and over time, they will notice that the world seems a better, friendlier place.
Be Open to Humor.  It’s true that many times laughter is the best medicine.  Especially during tough times, give yourself permission to smile or laugh at everyday things.  When we laugh, we are less stressed. 
Take Action.  If there are things about your life you do not like, then approach it in a positive way in small steps.  It could be about work, daily commute, relationships, finances, etc.   Managing and problem solving small areas is much more feasible than trying to fix everything at once.  
Catch Yourself.  Throughout the day, stop and evaluate your thoughts. If you stop on a negative thought then approach it from a positive angle (also called positive reframing).  You can pretty much positively reframe anything negative.  If you do not believe this, then next time listen to a politician giving a speech. 
Surround Yourself with Positive People.  Think of negativity and positivity like magnets. Negative people attract other negative people and positive people attract other positive people.  You might be thinking, well there is a problem here if positive people only like to hang out with positive people. Here is the caveat, just like saying empty positive self-statements by themselves will not change things for the better nor will just hanging out with positive folks. It’s true that positive people like to shoo away negativity, but they also enjoy sharing their positive energy.  Being around people who give good advice and provide support is important to boost positive thinking.

Mayo Clinic (5/28/2011).  Stress Management.  Retrieved on 8/18/2011 from


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Resisting the Urges in Grandparenting (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

In our society, grandparenting seems synonymous with the guiding principle of love them, spoil them, and then send them home. If only it were that simple. Just like parenting, grandparenting comes with its joys and its challenges.  Health, finance, job situation, retirement plans, and family dynamics complicate matters in grandparenting. To foster a healthy and positive grandparenting experience, the following tips are adapted from AARP (Goyer, 2010).

5 Tips to Preserve the Special Bond in Grandparenting:
1. Resist the urge to offer parenting advice to your adult children. Criticizing or offering unsolicited parenting advice can really negatively impact the family dynamics. Nobody likes to be judged, especially in parenting when parents are often unsure of their parenting style. The best thing to do is not offer advice unless you have been asked.

2.  Resist the urge to say "yes" when you want to say "no." Many grandparents feel the need to say "yes" to help their adult children or grandchildren.  Whether it is saying yes to every babysitting request that is made, helping out in financial binds, or buying gifts that they cannot afford, grandparents need to consider their own health concerns, financial security, and desire to live their own lives. Instead, leading a balanced lifestyle with good communication with their adult children, grandparents will be a great role model for their children and grandchildren.

3. Resist the urge to compete. Many grandparents fall into this unhealthy place of wanting to win the "best grandma or grandpa" award. Today, families have all kinds of varied relationships, which may result in multiple grandparents. Competing with other grandparents can create a very uncomfortable dynamic between parents with their adult children and grandchildren. One grandparent may have money whereas another may have time. Yet another may be a great cook whereas another may be an outdoor enthusiast. Competing with one another can create tension and alienate the adult children and grandchildren, whereas embracing the differences and enjoying the commonalities will benefit everyone.

4. Resist the urge to disregard parental rules. When it comes to discipline, snack foods, and TV time; every parent has different ideas about where to draw the line. Grandparents who want to please their grandchildren and end up disregarding the parents’ rules will be in hot waters with their adult children. This can really put a strain in the relationship. When parents and grandparents work together to set boundaries, children are more likely to follow them and harmony between the grandparents and their children will be maintained. Good communication and working as a team is essential in maintaining healthy relations in this special bond between grandparents and grandchildren.

5. Resist the urge to be too pushy. If a grandparent insists on spending a lot of time with their grandchildren, then they may be in shock to learn that they will not always be top priority for their grandkids. Even if you are a grandparent who loves them unconditionally and spoils them rotten, every grandchild go through development differently. Some may want to spend more time with their friends while others need that personal space to recharge. Being pushy with time, attention, and whatever else is the worst approach. Instead, letting your grandchildren and your kids know your availability, listening rather than lecturing, and being positive will win the grandparents lot of brownie points.


Goyer, A. (2010, November 9).  5 Dont’s of Grandparenting, Retrieved June 16, 2011 from (

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Alleviating the Fear of the Unknown (Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

    My family and I recently attended The 22nd Biennial American Society for Deaf Children Conference (June 22-June 26, 2011) in Frederick, MD.  We are a new family to the deaf community and this was the first time we attended this conference. It was a wonderful experience where we learned a lot about the deaf culture through research findings and shared experiences. We left the conference feeling warm and fuzzy, albeit very exhausted by the 4th day. What really touched me was the impact it had on my 6 year old son, Ajay. 
    While the parents attended workshops, the children attended day camp full of fun activities.  The first night, kids and parents were together so nothing major occurred. On the first day, the kids attended day camp and Ajay was excited since he did not know what to expect, but only knew there would be many fun activities to do. On our way home that day, he stated he had fun but felt left out because he did not know sign language. He felt uncomfortable to communicate with others even though there were hearing people around. Ajay could not tell who was deaf and who was hearing.
     The morning of the second day of camp, he insisted he did not want to go because he could not sign and was feeling uncomfortable.  I tried reassuring him that there would be plenty of nice people at the camp to help him. I also took this as an opportunity to teach him about tolerance and embracing the deaf culture by learning sign language.  Furthermore, explained to him that his younger sister needed us to learn sign language so we can communicate with her. At which point he said: “Can’t we just teach her to talk so she doesn’t have to learn sign language?”  All the explaining was of no avail, and he continued to whine, and whine, and whine some more. 
     He reluctantly followed us to the car and during our drive to the conference; I even created a story about a fictitious family who had a deaf child and who was like everybody except that she needed sign language to help her communicate with her family and friends.  He listened to the story and made parallels to our own reality. Given all of the drama at the house earlier, I was pleasantly surprised the car ride was fairly calm.
     We arrived at the conference camp, and I explained to the camp leader that my son was having a hard time since he did not know sign language and would be greatly appreciated if they could keep an eye on him.  The camp counselors were very understanding and reassured him that he could go to any of them if he needed help.  At this moment, I could see it in his face that the fears were alleviated and he happily joined his group.
     At pick-up, he was his normal highly energetic self and reported he had a great day. He relayed everything that he did in camp on our ride back home. He reported that more people were talking today and he even learned a few signs! On the third day of camp, he excitedly joined the camp with many deaf and hard of hearing children and adults.
     This positive exposure carried on to the next few days where he showed an immense interest in learning sign language by watching videos, practicing signs, and even searched on the Internet his favorite Signing Time videos.  He stumbled across interviews with the Signing Time child actors (Alex and Leah) and he was really engaged in what they had to say!  I know this is a start of a beautiful, lifelong journey of embracing the deaf culture and learning American Sign Language for our family. Kudos to all of the wonderful people who made this conference happen!   

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Impact of Fathers (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

    It is no doubt that mothers get lot of attention in our society.  You have to look no further than the advertisements leading up to Mother’s Day and compare it to the ones leading up to Father’s Day.  Does it feel like Father’s Day seems to “sneak up on you?”  If it does, then you are not alone.  The fact that I’m writing this after Father’s Day, and not on or before, speaks to my guilt as well.  Perhaps, a subconscious part of me did this intentionally to prove a point. That is, fathers are way undervalued in our society and do not get the credit they deserve. 
    An involved father makes significant, positive impact in their children’s lives in terms of psychological well-being, academic achievement, cognitive abilities, and social behavior (Rosenberg & Wilcox, 2006).  This is true for both sons and daughters, although the father-daughter relationship differs from the father-son relationship.  Consider the following findings, some may surprise you.

Fathers and Daughters (
•    Fathers tend to have more impact than mothers in these areas with their daughters:
(1) achieving academic and career success—especially in math and science
(2) creating a loving, trusting relationship with a man
(3) dealing well with people in authority—especially men
(4) being self-confident and self-reliant
(5) willing to try new things and to accept challenges
(6) maintaining good mental health
(7) Expressing anger comfortably and appropriately—especially with men
•    After their fathers’ deaths, many daughters regret not knowing their fathers well when alive.
•    Daughters who are raised by single fathers are just as well adjusted and as happy as daughters raised by single mothers.
•    Fathers and daughters are usually closer when the mother works full time outside the home while the children are growing up.
•    Most fathers want to spend more time with their children, but can’t because of their jobs. Just imagine the amount of stress this creates for the father.
Realities: (1) Eighty percent of the fathers in our country earn most of the money for their families. (2) Counting the time spent commuting, working, doing house and yard work, and being with the kids, the average father has 5 hours less free time each week than the average employed mother. (3) On average, employed fathers work 10 more hours a week than employed mothers.
•    Many fathers believe that their wives and daughters’ feelings for them are partly—or sometimes largely—based on money.
•    A father usually has a closer relationship with his kids when the mother lets everyone in the family know how much she appreciates his ways of parenting—especially if his way of relating to the kids isn’t exactly like hers.
•    A daughter has a better relationship with her father when her mother does not rely on her for advice or comfort on adult issues—especially issues involving the parents’ relationship with each other.
•    When parents are unhappily married, most children side with their mother against their father.
•    Sadly, there are mothers who feel uncomfortable or jealous with the idea that their daughter might share as much time or as much personal information with her father as she does with her mother.

Fathers and Sons (
     Fathers and sons have an interesting relationship pattern that Dr. Williams explains with the acronym IDEAL.  The circle of father-son relationship goes as follows.

I= Idolize. This happens when sons as children feel their dads can do no wrong. They imitate the father’s behaviors by walking like him, talking like him, etc.  The need to please and gain approval and acceptance is very strong at this stage.
D= Discord. Conflict seems to be the central theme in the teenage years. Sons often reject their fathers’ expectations and values, rather taking on non-traditional philosophies and often creating tension between the father and son. This may carry on to the early twenties.
E= Evolving. There may still be emotional distance, but also the need to please and gain approval continues.  It may seem like the son is in competition with the father.  At some point in their twenties, the tide moves in the positive direction.
A= Acceptance.  As adults in their 30’s and 40’s, sons start to accept their fathers for who they are, recognize their strengths, forgive, and even admire their fathers’ qualities that once repulsed them.  Fathers and sons may even become friends during this time sharing common interests and expressing opinions without all of the drama of the earlier years. This is also the time when the sons have sons of their own and the tables have turned.
L= Legacy. In their 50’s, sons become a legacy of their father’s influence for better and worse. Time has eased the pain of earlier years full of contention and has been replaced with respect and appreciation for the difficult job fathering entails. Those older adult sons who have not resolved their issues with their fathers, tend to have similar conflicts replayed with their own teenage or young adult sons.  If elderly fathers are still living, a role reversal occurs where the older adult sons are now taking care of their aging fathers.


Nielson, L.  Fathers and Daughters: Eye Opening Facts. Retrieved 6/20/2011, from

Rosenberg, J. & Wilcox, W.B. (2006). The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children.  Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, US. Children’s Bureau. Retrieved 6/22/2011, from (  

Williams, D.C.  The Life Cycle of Father-Son Relationships. Retrieved 6/22/2011, from (

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Managing Sibling Bickering (Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

     Sibling bickering is a form of sibling rivalry that has been in existence since families with multiple children have been around.  Any household with siblings is sure to encounter any or more of these:  “It’s his fault!”, “He’s teasing me!” , “She keeps bothering me!”, “Stop it!”,  “Leave me alone!”, “Mom, she keeps looking at me!”, etc.  I am sure you can provide more creative examples than these.  Eradicating sibling bickering is wishful thinking, so do not attempt it.  It is a natural part of growing up with ample opportunities for learning (problem solving skills, negotiating, assertiveness skills, etc.).  However, if it happen more often than not and annoys you badly, then there are some behavioral things parents can do to reduce bickering at home. 
     Here are some key principles to consider first.  Bickering is a negative behavior, so approaching it from this perspective and laying a strong foundation for discipline is key in decreasing it.  Furthermore, consistency between parents is vital to reduce any negative behavior, including sibling bickering.  A team approach to tackling this issue will be easier and will yield better results. Lastly, children learn what they see, so parents modeling good ways to communicate with each other is one of the most important ingredient in fostering harmonious family interactions.  Having said that, here are five behavioral strategies to consider in managing sibling bickering.    

5 Tips to Manage Sibling Bickering:

1. Do NOT ask the two infamous questions: “What happened?” or “Who started it?” The only time you need to ask is when someone is physically harmed.  Seriously, which kid is going to say “I’m sorry Mom, I was the one who started it all.  I’m the one who should be punished.”  Even with a honest child, this is an unrealistic expectation.  If you’re not convinced, then think of it as a survival mode reaction to avoid punishment. Also, when you ask these questions you are encouraging tattling behavior.  Instead, if they come tattling to you, then tell them firmly you are not interested in knowing who started it or what happened, but that you have full confidence that they will resolve it on their own. 
2. Do NOT take sides.  The two main reasons not to do this.  First,  children need to learn how to problem solve on their own and if the parent keeps rescuing them, then they do not get the learning opportunity to practice this life skill.  Second, no parent wants to be put in a position where they appear to love one child more than the other.  I believe children are very intuitive  people and they will use the guilt trip to capitalize on this.  It may present something like this: “It’s not fair, you love him more than me!” or  “You always take her side! I hate you! I hate her!” 

3. Ignore it.  Ignoring is a powerful tool that many people do not give credit to and is one of the most effect way to reduce behavior.  Some behavioral psychologists would go far as to say that ignoring makes any behavior extinct.  Of course, if it’s something that causes physical harm then you should attend to it immediately.

4. Put “Stop tattling” as a house rule.  Tattlers are annoying to parents and others.  It is not a desirable social skill that will attract friends in the playground.  Again, it is an ineffective way to problem solve.

5. Spend quality time with each child.  Children need lot of attention, and if they feel they are not getting it then they will engage in negative behaviors to get it.  Any attention is better than no attention.  Making special time on a weekly basis is a good way to give positive attention to each child.  For example, Tuesdays can be “Mommy and Me” time while Thursdays are “Daddy and Me” time.  Individual families know how it works best for their family.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Internet Safety for Children (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

     The Internet can be a wonderful resource for children.   It can be used by them to research school reports, communicate with teachers and peers, and play interactive, educational games. Any child who is old enough to punch in a few letters on the keyboard can literally access the entire world in the comfort of their home. While the Internet is a wonderful resource for learning, it is also full of dangers ranging from inappropriate content to cyber-stalkers lurking in chat rooms or social networking sites. The Internet  presents with many challenging issues that parents never had to grapple with before.

     For parents, supervising your kids on the Internet is a delicate and necessary task. The Internet has become a blessing and a curse, if you will. On one hand, you want to encourage your children to use the Internet to develop, communicate, and recreate all the while shielding them from very real dangers it comes with. The danger can range from cyber to physical and needs to be monitored carefully.  For parents who may not be tech savvy, it can be a daunting task to supervise and provide appropriate guidance for kids. To make matters worse, children these days use the Internet as if it were a simple toy.  It comes effortlessly to them, and this dumbfounds the parents and results in lack of adequate monitoring. Prince Basnyat, an Information Technology (IT) professional and university professor in the IT field, states that parents need to be able to navigate effortlessly, understand totally, and deal effectively all the contours, challenges, and peril that the entire package of Internet brings for their kids. It is in the parents’ control to make sure the good outweighs the bad when it comes to Internet safety for their children. 

     Although monitoring children’s Internet usage can seem overwhelming to a parent who lacks technology skills; however, it can be achieved with some willingness and diligence. The first step is for parents to become educated about the Internet.  Prince Basnyat outlines three broad categories that the dangers fall into.  They are referred as the 3 C’s: Content (pornography, racist content, inaccurate information), Contact (threatening e-mails and other cyberbullying, strangers in chat rooms, social networking sites like Facebook), and Commerce (the blur between advertising & legitimate content, invasions of privacy & SPAM). 

     The second step is for parents to understand the different ways children use the Internet.  Parents typically use it for e-mails and web for research whereas young people use it to interactively chat, Instant Messaging (IM), music, games, tv shows, and movies.  It is important to be involved in our children’s online activities, validate their skills, and learn from them. One common way parents and children seem to use the Internet today is using social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Friendster, etc.  This avenue allows for people to stay connected with their loved ones, but also poses safety risks when people share information that may seem harmless until predators get hold of it (e.g. vacation time & spots, kids’ pictures, venting about the workplace, political views, etc). I am reminded of one incident someone shared with me about a couple they knew who posted their vacation time on a social networking site and their babysitter, who was supposedly a “friend” of theirs, arranged a robbery of their home while they were vacationing.  It is one of those things in life you can not imagine happening to you until it does.

     The third step is for parents to understand and explain the difference between knowledge and wisdom to their children.  Knowledge refers to when children pick up technology quickly, but wisdom comes from understanding how to behave in a virtual world.  Helping your children understand the context is key when technology is constantly bombarding us with new, important safety issues which children may not see.  Above all, parents modeling for their children the appropriate usage behaviors can play a pivotal role in sending home the message.  Parents are the most important and influential people (for better or worse) in a child’s life so using this power wisely will go a long way!

Tips to avoid potential pitfalls:

●    Place the computer in a common area (e.g. family room) so parents can easily monitor
●    Choose products with parental controls (e.g. games with recommended age)
●    Each IM product asks you to fill out a profile of yourself. Be sure not to include private information such as phone number and address or school name.
●    Never click on unknown or suspicious hyperlinks
●    Never accept files (via e-mails, IM, downloading, etc.), or send them to people that you don’t know
●    Never open any e-mails that look suspicious such as not knowing who the sender is
●    Keep IM address secret in chat rooms
●    Monitor your child’s Internet browsing habits regularly
●    Never provide personal information in social networking sites such as date of births, social security    numbers, phone numbers, home address, etc.
●    Refrain from posting information that seem harmless, but can be used against you in some way or another (political views, negative comments about the workplace, vacation time and spots, children’s pictures, etc.)
●    Be selective in who you allow to be your “friends” in social networking sites
●    Remember always that every one of us is vulnerable in cyberspace, so take precaution and then enjoy technology!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Multicultural Parenting (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

Today, many people are raising children in a multicultural home. Multicultural homes can have many different forms. It can be an immigrant family struggling to negotiate between their native and adopted cultures, or each parent having different ethnicity, but raising kids in a new culture, or adopting children from different cultures, or parents and children being in the same culture, but now have to deal with a new situation that exposes them to a different culture, etc.  In our evolving world, the different types of multicultural families are endless and the challenges this presents in parenting are significant.  
Having migrated to the US from Nepal as a child with my family, I know firsthand the struggle we went through not only to understand the American culture, but also to negotiate between the Nepali and American cultures.  We were building the plane and flying it at the same time, so to speak! These two cultures are so different from one another in terms of their values, social norms, parenting strategies, etc. that it was a major transition for us all.  For example, maintaining harmony in social interactions is a major guiding principle in the Nepali culture whereas sincerity is valued in an American culture. Therefore, children are encouraged to suppress their feelings in order to avoid conflicts and maintain harmony in familial relationships in the Nepali culture.  However, in the American culture children are encouraged to be open and share their feelings with parents, especially during conflicts.  If children were to do this in a Nepali culture, they would be seen as being disrespectful to their elders and potentially selfish for putting their needs above their parents’ or family’s needs.  While the Nepalese parents are thinking this, their children may be thinking that their parents are being unreasonable and inconsiderate themselves.  You can see how this would create tension when parents are trying to reconcile the two opposing values from two very different cultures.
In the simplest form, I believe these conflicts are the result of a major cultural gap compounded by a generational gap.  If both the parents and children understand this dynamic, then they will be in a better position in resolving their differences.  So, the big question is: how do we resolve the differences between two cultures?  As a person who was raised in a multicultural home and now practicing multicultural parenting myself, here are some practices I feel are important.

5 Strategies in Multicultural Parenting

1. Take the best of both worlds approach. Every culture has its positives and negatives, and choosing to incorporate the positives into our parenting have been key.  

2.  Do not pit the native culture against the adopted culture. When parents insist that their native culture is superior to the adopted culture, then they are just asking for trouble (a.k.a. Rebellion, Rebellion, Rebellion!).  It is a very tough place for a child to choose between their parents’ wishes and all of the great things the new culture has to offer.   So, why should they have to choose? As parents, we can not afford to feel threatened, but instead have confidence in ourselves that we are doing what is in the best interest for our children and family regardless of the societal pressure that may be pulling us in different directions.

3.   Engage your children in learning about your native culture in fun and meaningful ways.  Introducing them to native music, food, books, clothing, people, and arts are some great ways parents can communicate pride about the native culture and encourage children to embrace it in a positive way.

4.  Do not force the native culture on your child. Like many things with children, they will resist if they feel parents are forcing it on them.  I have heard it too many times from adults that they would have pursued something if their parents had not encroached it upon them. Sure, some kids may appear to embrace their native culture because of parental pressure and do whatever is being asked of them, but at some point in their lives they are likely to rebel against this.  Just imagine all of the hard work that went into instilling the native values only to find later that your child rebels and rejects your native culture. This is heartbreaking, so use your parental authority wisely.  

5. Embrace the adopted culture. Parents are the most influential people in a child’s life so why not provide good modeling by engaging in the adopted culture in a positive and meaningful way. When children see the parents accept the adopted culture’s people, music, arts, food, etc. then they too, will feel comfortable doing it.  Children will be pulled to the positive side of the new culture if the positive side is exposed to them.  If such exposure does not occur, then parents and children both are likely to have anxieties about the adopted culture. The fear of the unknown is a powerful force, do not let it pull you!

Monday, May 23, 2011

How Technology has Influenced Our Parenting (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

    Everywhere you turn, someone is talking about the latest and the greatest technology that are available today.  Whether it is the iPad2, gaming systems like the Wii, smart phones, or social networking sites like Facebook, we are constantly bombarded with advanced technology. Furthermore, our children navigate them like a toy.  I am not tech savvy, but my husband and 6 year old son have a natural knack for it.  So, when the two of them teamed up and convinced me that we absolutely needed the Wii in our home to exercise and play educational kids’ games,  it got me thinking…how has today’s technology influenced our parenting?
    The approach I was taking about technology and parenting was that it is one more thing I have to monitor and worry about.  My fear was that our son will become a couch potato who embraces a sedentary lifestyle and the kind of things he would be exposed to just created anxiety in me.  According to our son, his teacher stated that he is the first kid she knew who did not have a video game.  When I responded that he has a Leapster, he basically told me that it does not count and he started naming the gaming systems  like the Wii, Xbox/Kinect, etc. that are out there today.  This gave me more energy to stick to my guns.
    Well, I lost this fight a week ago when my neighbor shared with me how her mother never exercised until she bought the Wii Fit.  As soon as I left my neighbor’s house, my husband called and said someone is selling the Wii Fit at work and whether we should buy it. I succumbed to the coincidental “signs” and gave him the go ahead.  I mean, if a Higher Being wants us to have the Wii Fit then maybe we should get the Wii Fit.  A week ago, I surrendered and my approach to technology and parenting changed.  It went from not wanting it to be one more thing I had to worry about in parenting to I now have one more thing I can use as leverage when parenting.  So, the Wii now goes on a long list of things I can take away when disciplining our son. If used wisely, technology can be a beautiful thing in parenting.
    Now, onto the specifics of how technology has influenced our parenting.  To get a better understanding of where I am coming from, let me first share three values I hold dearly when it comes to technology and parenting.  First, we do not want our young children being exposed to inappropriate content (violence, drugs, sex, and other adult content).  There is a plethora of research to support how such exposure can negatively impact children’s physical and psychological well-being.  The second value that is important to us is that we want our children to be active and enjoy the outdoors as well as stay intellectually stimulated. 
    Lastly, we want our children to learn to delay gratification and learn that patience is a virtue.  This last concept has gotten lot of press lately because of the Millennium generation entering the workforce with a sense of entitlement and wanting their wishes granted immediately.  Growing up with on-demand and dvr features on our tv/cable system, in addition to other advanced technology and coddling parents, I’m sure did not help the matter. We have combatted this in our home by limiting access to on-demand/dvr features only on the weekends.  We have also set limits on how much and what our kids are exposed to in the technological era.  Using the rating codes on television programs and video games have been helpful. It seems to be a good balance of utilizing technology wisely without being consumed by it. So, how has technology influenced your parenting?  

Monday, May 16, 2011

Psychosocial Development (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

    Many social scientists have attempted to explain the stages of psychosocial development, but I feel Erik Erikson explained it the best.  He was a Danish-German-American developmental psychologist who was influenced by the works of Sigmund and Anna Freud, but unlike Freud’s stages of development, Erikson’s stages cover the lifespan and therefore more comprehensive. I will not bore you with the history of his work, but will explain my interpretation of his theory of development so it is user friendly when it comes to your child’s personality development.  Without understanding “normal” development, it is hard to have realistic expectations from our own children.
    The basic premise of Erikson’s stages is that our personality is developed based on our social interactions while growing up, especially with our caretakers.  There will always be a conflict between two opposing concepts in each stage.  Favorable or unfavorable outcomes are dependent on how this conflict is resolved. Each stage builds on the previous ones in order to lead to favorable outcomes.  If one stage does not resolve favorably then emotional issues are likely to arise.  Some may describe this as being emotionally “stuck.” Please see below for a general overview of Erikson’s developmental stages.

1.    Trust vs. Mistrust (Infancy: 0-18 months)- At this early stage in life, the baby is entirely dependent on the caretakers, usually the parents.  If parents provide basic needs, love, consistency, and secure emotional attachment then the outcome is favorable and the baby will trust parents and others and feel the world is generally a predictable and safe place. However, if this is lacking then the baby will mistrust people and develop fear of their world. An example of this is separation anxiety felt when the child is left in the care of someone else.  Separation anxiety lessens as the child learns that the parent will return and hence, feel more secure.
2.    Autonomy vs. Shame/Doubt (Early childhood: 18 months-3 years)- The focus of this stage is on the child developing a greater sense of personal control. The most important process here is toilet training. When children master this, they feel very proud of themselves and independence is encouraged. This is why there is so much fuss about how a parent toilet trains their child.  Forcing toilet training or starting it too early can cause emotional issues for the child. Other important happenings at this time involve gaining greater independence over food choice, toys preferences, and clothing selection. When parents encourage children to seek independence in a loving and encouraging way, the kids feel secure and confident. If this does not occur, then they will feel inadequate and will develop shame and self-doubt. 

3.    Initiative vs. Guilt (Preschool age: 3-5 years)- Here, children explore and assert power and control of their world through play and other social interactions. Those who are successful at this stage feel capable and able to lead others.  Conversely, if they do not successfully acquire these skills then they feel guilt, self-doubt, and lack initiative. 

4.    Industry vs. Inferiority (School age: 5- 12 years)- Now the child’s world has expanded to include the school and neighborhood although parents are still the most important figures in their lives. Through these various social interactions, children are learning new skills and gaining sense of pride with their accomplishments. Parents, teachers, and other adults who provide positive reinforcement encourage children to feel a sense of industry.  However, if the important adults in their lives constantly focus on the child’s negative qualities then they will feel inadequate among their peers. Over time, this will result in an inferiority complex and poor self-esteem. 

5.    Identity vs. Role Confusion (Adolescence: 12 -18 years)- Parents probably fear this stage of development more than any other.  It is a time when their child is no longer a “child” nor an adult. The teenager is trying to define who they are and how they fit into the world. This is the time when they start developing philosophical beliefs although it tends to be more idealistic than realistic.  Peers are now more important than ever. However, parents should take comfort in the fact that although peers play an increasing role in your teenager’s life, the parents are still the most important influences.  Peers have an impact when it comes to things like clothing and music, but parents still hold the cards when it comes to values such as education, self-discipline, drugs, sex, and faith.  I should add that if parents have not built this strong foundation of values up to this point, then they do run the risk of their teenagers being influenced by peers in these areas.  If parents have set up a strong foundation, then it may just be a matter of “riding out the storm” in many cases.    

6.    Intimacy and Solidarity vs. Isolation (Young adulthood: 18-35 years)- This is the time when people are exploring and developing strong personal relationships. This includes both romantic relationships and friendships.  If people are seeking personal relationships, but do not succeed then they may feel isolated and can lead to emotional problems such as depression. Keep in mind that the skills learned in previous stages impacts later ones. For instance, not having a strong identity can have negative impact on personal relationships.   

7.    Generativity vs. Stagnation (Middle adulthood: 35-65 years)- As adults, we continue to build our lives with our family, friends, and career.  People who are successful at this stage feel they have made positive contributions to the world through their interactions in their homes and communities.  Those who do not feel this way, experience stagnation.

8.    Integrity vs. Despair (Late adulthood: 65 years- death)- This is when our lives take a full circle when we start reflecting on how we have lived our lives.  Do we have integrity about how we navigated life and gained wisdom through our experiences or do we have regrets and feel despair? 


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Self-care in Mothering (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

                Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers around the globe!  As a toast to mothers everywhere, I would like to talk about an important topic in mothering: self-care.  Self-care is when you attend to your own physical and emotional needs to maintain a healthy lifestyle.  Mothers are constantly bombarded with parental responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning, shuttling kids back and forth between extracurricular activities, attending school programs, providing care during illnesses, etc.  This is compounded by other non-parental  responsibilities such as taking care of one’s spouse or partner, finances, social obligations, your own aging parents, etc.  Finally, add the infamous feeling of guilt to the mix and self-care goes way back in the back burner of mothers’ "to do list."
                Having children and parenting brings with it pride, joy, personal growth, and is a rewarding and unique experience. However, it also puts you at risk for emotional problems such as anxiety and depression.  A recent study shows that parents, regardless of gender, are at higher risk of getting depression than non-parents (Evenson & Simon, 2005) .  I feel it is important than ever before to practice self-care because of the constant demands placed on us from our rapidly changing world.  Striking a balance is key in self-care. 
                If you're not convinced thus far, then consider this classic scenario: when you are in an airplane, in case of emergency, parents are instructed to first put on their oxygen mask before their child’s.  If this sounds selfish, then imagine you decide to first put it on your child and in the process you lose oxygen and fall out. This is not good for you or your child. You often hear mothers saying, “I just don’t have the time.”  I say, “You matter, and value yourself to set aside the time, guilt-free.” A happy mother is a great mother!

 10 Ways to Self-care:
1.    Stay connected with your social network (personally, not just in Facebook, Twitter,…!).
2.    Pamper yourself within your means.
3.    Prioritize your values and responsibilities.
4.    Get comfortable with saying “No” to things that are not priority.
5.    Make time for exercise and good nutrition.
6.    Try to find shortcuts to manage time effectively.
7.    Get organized and remove clutter from your life.
8.    Set aside regular time for your hobby.
9.    Cut down on self-doubt and rumination.
10.  Stay physically and emotionally connected with your spouse/partner.

Evenson RJ, Simon RW. Clarifying the Relationship Between Parenthood and Depression. Journal of Health and Social Behavior. December 2005.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Your Child’s Third Parent (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

            So you didn’t know that your child has a third parent huh? Their name collectively is The Teacher.  This week is National Teacher Appreciation Week across the United States and I wanted to focus on this subject in honor of these special people in our lives.  The Teacher is arguably the second most important person in a child’s life (parents being first).  It makes sense when you consider the amount of time a child spends at school. Having worked in the schools for many years in various roles, I have learned how paramount the teacher’s role is.  The Teacher teaches not only the academic subjects and manages every child’s unique behaviors, but also teaches pro-social behaviors such as manners, public speaking skills, assertiveness skills, conflict resolution, and the list goes on and on.  My respect for this profession has multiplied exponentially after working in the schools.  In fact, I feel we should consider The Teacher as our child’s Third Parent and cultivate this relationship accordingly.  We know that a positive parent-teacher relationship contributes to our child’s school success, so why not do everything we can to nurture this?

            The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) states:  
Recent studies show that when families are involved in their children’s education in positive ways, the children achieve higher grades and test scores, have better attendance at school, complete more homework, and demonstrate more positive attitudes and behavior.  Reports also indicate that families who receive frequent and positive messages from teachers tend to become more involved in their children’s education than do parents who do not receive this kind of communication (

10 Ways to Foster a Positive Parent-Teacher Relationship:
1.       Good Communication (via Emails, notes, etc.)
2.       Approach the relationship as a collaborative effort
3.       Let your child and teacher develop their own relationship
4.       Reflect on your own relationship with your teacher while growing up and leave any emotional baggage at the door
5.       Find the right time to communicate with The Teacher
6.       Get to the heart of the matter because The Teacher's time is premium
7.       Attend parent-teacher conferences
8.       Come prepared to parent-teacher conferences
9.       Ask how you can support your child at home
10.   Give The Teacher power in your home

Please allow me to elaborate on the last point. My son’s Teacher has lot of power in our home and I have told her this. This way our son knows that his Teacher and we are on the same page and The Teacher knows your support is there.  This speaks to the consistency issue that I have covered in past blog posts.   

Here are some of the ways we accomplish this in our home. One way is that his Teacher would let our son know that she will be contacting me for his negative behaviors. Our son gets home and reports this will happen.  Sure enough, an email would arrive that same day or the next day explaining the situation.  My husband and I address it with our son together and follow-up with his Teacher. At the beginning of the school year we were doing quite a bit of this until we resolved it.   

Giving The Teacher power in the home also comes in handy when our son does something inappropriate at home like talk very loudly and I ask him if he does that at school. He says “no” and I tell him "good" and that he shouldn’t be doing it at home either. This works too, although he may throw in a grunt at times!    

Or, when our son wants to sleep in our bed at night for no good reason, I may say: “Hmm, I wonder what Ms. R. would say about a big boy like you wanting to sleep with his parents?” He smiles and doesn’t further pursue the matter. I should add that I use this last strategy sparingly so as not to shift the power balance in our home.  After all, we are the parents and we do assume most of the responsibility for our kid. Anyhow, I stumbled across this tactic one day, and it works like magic!