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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Allowances: Should We or Shouldn’t We? (Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

     The great allowance debate is still unresolved in our home. I, with a psychology background, say it is unnecessary and my husband, with his business background, says it is a great way to teach kids about money management.  For me, it is not even about how much a child should get for allowance. Together, we can come up with an easy formula. However, should the allowance be linked with chores is another story. Some people give allowance without it being linked to chores, which seems like free money to me, but what do I know...I only have a psychology degree! Here are three reasons why I am opposed to giving an allowance to children.

     Argument one: I strongly believe that as a member of a family, everyone needs to do their share. This is about working as a team in a family.  Of course, parents need to keep in mind that chores have to be age-appropriate. It is appropriate for a 5 year old to make his own bed, set the table, feed the pet, etc. It is not okay for a 5 year old to be cooking, ironing, taking out the trash, etc.  There are certain chores that kids should be doing without getting paid.  

     Argument two: I strongly believe children want to do well intrinsically and feel empowered when they make valuable contributions to the family. Chores teach kids responsibility, life skills, good citizenship, etc. Paying them to do these chores not only devalues these life lessons, but also complicates matter. Now, the parent has added an extrinsic motivator. Are the kids doing the chores because they want to or because they just want to get paid? Do you withhold allowance if they misbehave in situations that are not chores-related? What kind of rules do you set about how to spend the money they have earned?  For example, is it ok to blow their money on a pair of shoes that cost $100? These are tricky things a parent has to be able to work around so we do not inadvertently send the "wrong" message. In other words, the parent has good intentions and is trying to teach their child the value of money, but only to have their child waste it on something that is not worthwhile. What kind of money lessons do the kids end up learning?  

     Argument three: I strongly believe that children can learn money management or financial literacy without getting allowances.  We have not implemented allowance with our 7 year old son, and probably will not in the future. My husband seems to be seeing things my way at this time (wink).  However, our son already learned some key money management skills such as understanding the difference between a “want” and a “need” and he has been practicing spend, save, and share (the 3S’s of money management).  Most recently, he seems to be understanding the meaning of an “interest” like in banking.  For example, I recently was low in cash and had to send some money to his school. Discovered this the morning of, so no time to run to the ATM. I told him I’ll have to take a small loan out of his piggy bank and to this he very casually replied “Ok, but you have to put back more money than you took out.” Surprised by this I said “What?!” and to this, he nonchalantly added “That’s my rule or you can go to B’s (little sister) piggy bank to get it.”  Now, can someone honestly tell me that this kid does not understand money management?

I would love to hear your thoughts on whether you feel giving an allowance is a good or bad idea.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Talking to Our Young Kids about Good Touch, Bad Touch (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

      This is a concerning topic for many parents with young children.  The two most common questions that come to parents’ mind are probably: “When do we talk about this?” and “How do we talk about this?”  We, as parents, get anxious even when we think about talking about good touch and bad touch.  Why is this so?

     Some of the contributing factors  to our uneasiness may be the following. First, our culture views sex has a taboo subject to talk about even with adults, and certainly a no, no with kids. One of the underlying anxiety behind this may be that we, as parents, do not want to give our kids “any ideas” about sex in hopes that they will not engage in it early on. Well, we know how this is not an effective strategy if you simply look at the statistics surrounding teen pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and physical and sexual abuse toward children.

     Second, we get anxious because we do not how talk about it. Things like what kind of language to use so our kids can understand what we are trying to say, how to determine if it is the right time, and how to answer their questions adequately may be some of the worries.  Lastly, some parents do not want to talk about it because they do not feel it is necessary or want to instill fear in their child. Parents may have concerns about their child “losing their innocence” simply by talking about it.  

     Whatever the case may be, it is very important to talk about it especially with technological advances making it easier to access our kids. Just consider the GPS feature that is activated on our mobile devices that can pinpoint your exact location at any given time.  This is a safety issue just like stranger danger and fire safety. Not talking about it can be detrimental.  When to talk about it is easy: as soon as they have language skills.  How to talk about it is a whole new ball game! Here are some tips that may be helpful in talking to your kids.

5 Tips When Talking about Good Touch, Bad Touch:

1.     Empower them. Make sure they know that they are in charge of their body. Use a powerful message like “I am the boss of my body!” This is also important so they understand that they need to care of their body to keep it healthy.

2.    Teach Functions of Body Parts. Talking about what feet, hands, mouth, etc. are used for is a good starting point with toddlers. For example, feet are for walking not for kicking, or hands are for playing/hugging not hitting. You can play a game about the functions where you say “A hand is for _____” and then you pause so they fill in the blank. A simple question/answer game would be appropriate too.

3.    Talk about Feelings. As a therapist, how can I exclude this part? Introduce to your child simple feelings like happy, excited, sad, anger, embarrassed, and ashamed. Again, play games to help them understand the different feelings.  You can show pictures, act out feelings, etc. Just use your imagination so your child understands the different feelings people have in different situations.

4.    Link the Touch with Feelings. Okay, because we are talking about very young children, this is the only time I would categorize feelings as “good” or “bad.”  Otherwise, feelings are either “comfortable” or “uncomfortable.”  Since this is an abstract concept, let us make it easier on our kids and ourselves in talking about these complex issues.  For example, when someone uses their hands to hug us, does it feel “good” or “bad?”  “How does it feel when someone uses their hands to hit us?”

     Furthermore, you would want to add the component of stranger versus someone we know doing the touching like hugging, kissing on cheek/forehead, etc.  Likewise, you would want to talk about how nobody is allowed to touch the private parts unless mommy or daddy is helping you wash up or change diapers. Again, reminding them that they are the boss of their own body is important to do even when it comes to people we know. Sadly, sex offenders tend to be people we know. Take a look at your state’s Sex Offender Registry and you will be shocked with what you find!

5.    Keep the communication path open. This refers to all communications, not just about touch. Your child needs to know that they can come to you if they are ever victimized or just have questions about touch.  Ignoring or discounting their concerns and feelings is detrimental to their mental well-being for a very long time. Along the same lines, never, ever, ever, blame the victim!  When you have a strong foundation for communication, your child will come to you when they need you. As a parent, it is in our hands to help or hinder this communication.     

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Handling Our Kids’ Craze with Brand Names (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

     This is a conversation that is long overdue! I am writing this post at 1:00 am Saturday morning because I couldn’t fall asleep as I lay in bed reflecting on this topic. Feel free to take it as evidence of how committed I am to my mission to empower parents everywhere. Moreover, it seems this has been the topic of conversation everywhere I go this week!

     On Monday, I am doing a presentation at my daughter’s school and this was a hot topic. Tuesday, I’m teaching a class at a nonprofit organization on bullying prevention and intervention, again this is becomes a lively discussion. Between Wednesday and Thursday, I cannot tell you how many times I turned on the radio or television, and it’s on my face. Lastly, on Friday I’m at a friend’s house for dinner and again, another engaging conversation ensues.  If you have tweens and teens, this is an issue facing everyone regardless of gender, socioeconomic status, or culture.  People have been asking my opinion about this issue and so here it goes.

     Our children, particularly our tweens and teens, are encountering this craze in the schools. In turn, this is causing a very different kind of craze in their homes. Both the kids and parents are placed in a very tough situation, especially for those families who are having difficulty making ends meet.  Kids are begging their parents to buy the $100 pair of sneakers, $200 UGG boots, $200 iPhone, or whatever.  In response, parents are giving in, trying every trick they can think of to resist this madness, or contemplating whether they ought to just buy it for their thirteen year old kid.  So, how did we get to this point?

     We, as a society, created this social issue. At the risk of sounding hypocritical, I will just put it out there that, yes, I do enjoy my iPad 2 and iPhone. However, as a professional adult, I feel I have earned the privilege to own these products to carry out my professional and adult daily responsibilities. A thirteen year old has not. By the same token, I do not feel the child asking for these things is being a spoiled brat. My humble opinion points to three contributing factors: consumerism, branding, and social modeling.

     We are bombarded with consumerism. Buy,buy, buy. Bigger is better. Retail therapy. These are the messages, we as consumers, get when we turn on the television, radio, or surf the Internet. Shopping has become our favorite pastime.  Every time I go to the mall, seeing the parking lots full and a mob of people everywhere, I think to myself: “Are we really in an economic downfall?” In 2010, I returned to the States having lived in Australia for one year and I remember the first day I visited the Giant supermarket like it was yesterday. It was an incredibly, overwhelming experience because of all the choices we had. There, if I wanted to buy orange juice, just walked into Woolies or Coles and picked one from a few selections. Here, there are atleast ten different kinds of orange juice on the shelf! We will not even get into the “middle aisles.”

     Branding has infiltrated our children’s minds.  Please do not get me wrong. I have nothing against brand names, except when it breaks the bank and does something rather puzzling to our children’s brains.  For this reason alone, I love using the “On Demand” and “DVR” features with my kids. We can fast forward the commercials to minimize branding. This possibly creates another problem, immediate gratification, but we will talk about that another time.

     Lastly, social modeling is when our children witness the adults they love and admire so much become obsessed with brand names themselves. This will impact our kids in ways that we do not want them to.  This does not mean we should not purchase brand names. Rather, use caution and consider what messages we may be sending to our kids. If I can get an Adidas outfit for my son for only ten bucks at Costco, you bet I’ll grab it!  Model smart shopping habits and your child will learn smart shopping habits.
Feel free to share this post up to this point with your tween or teen. Do not share the strategies below.  

Cautionary note: Do not use them all at the same time unless you absolutely have to. Listen to what is the root issue your child is dealing with and use the Talk that would best support your argument.  
5 Strategies to Handle Brand Names Craze:

1.    The Self-esteem Talk. Cultivating a healthy self-esteem is at the core of diminishing the the obsession with brand names. Brand names symbolize importance and power. Talk to them about what is in the inside is more important than what is in the outside.  Tweens and teens who have high self-esteem are better equipped to ward off these peer pressures.

2.    The True Friends Talk. If your child worries that he or she will not be liked because they don’t wear brand names then you need to have this talk. It may go something like this: “Honey, you are a great person and I love you no matter what. If your friends do not like you for who you are then you might want to reconsider whether you want them as friends. It is their loss, not yours.”

3.    The Financial Talk. Our culture has encouraged spending beyond our means mindset for too long. We have to take ownership and be responsible in changing this dangerous way of thinking. Suze Orman, a financial guru you may have heard of, has recently changed her motto from "staying within your means" to "staying below your means" in money management. If you cannot afford whatever your child wants, then research together how much it would cost to get that item.  Then explain to them that the family budget does not allow this expense. Additionally, I strongly believe in the principle “Just because you can doesn’t mean you have to.”  

4.    The Need vs. Want Talk. As a parent, you need to provide shoes for your child, but not a pair that costs $100.  Openly talk about what we need versus what we want in our lives. By all means, have this self-talk when you get the urge to splurge.

5.    The It’s Not Going to Happen Talk. If all else fails, and your child will not let up then you just have to hold your ground. Be firm and let them know it just is not going to happen. If you cave in, not only is your credibility at stake, but their demands will get bigger and bigger.  If you happen to give in, don’t fret because another opportunity will arise for you to stand your ground. If your child argues that you bought it last time, then you simply say that “it was a mistake then and it will not happen this time.” This is an opportunity to teach a very valuable lesson about money management and that we do not always get what we want in life. Entitlement is not a healthy trait!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

10 Things You Need to Know about Stress Management: Part III (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

     On the last post, the role of self-talk was extensively discussed.  Here, the remaining six strategies will be covered:

5.    The empowerment of Choice. Choice is the idea that we all have options in how we respond to situations. Every morning we wake up, we have a choice in how we will handle life. This is empowering. If you have ever heard your child say “I couldn’t help it.” or “I had no choice!” then this is not empowering. It puts you in a victim role. A person does not feel like he or she has control over one’s life. Over time, this is going to cause much distress and lead to somatic and mental health problems. 

It is true that often times in life we are confronted with situations that are beyond our control, but we can always choose our responses to those circumstances.  The choices may not be the ones we would prefer, but we do have them. For example, let’s say you are stuck in a traffic jam. Some of the choices you have in responding may be that you can honk your horn to let everyone know you are upset and all the while you may be cursing obscenities at nobody and at everybody.  OR you can choose to listen to the music on the radio and enjoy some “down” time.  The choice is ours to make.  Just like the choice will be our child’s to make in school, neighborhood, park, etc.  This way of thinking is called choice-response. It fosters responsibility and self-control, which are essential life skills. It is a healthy mindset to have in reducing distress.

6.    Reflect, not Ruminate. Reflection is a skill of asking self-evaluative questions in an effort to improve things. It is a great teaching and learning strategy that is often neglected.  Rumination, on the other hand, is a process where you repeatedly focus on the negative parts as a way of dealing with distress. This is unhealthy and perpetuates the vicious stress cycle. Some of the questions a parent may ask their child or ask themselves in reflection include: “What did I learn today? What could I have done differently? What can you do to accomplish this goal?” Reflection speaks to taking ownership of a situation or problem, which is a key in making change, such as reducing stress.

7.    Good relationships.  Social isolation is a risk factor for emotional problems such as depression. Surrounding yourself with positive, supportive people is a protective factor in reducing stress.  It is not about the quantity of friends you have rather the quality that makes the difference.  While good relationships mitigate distress, bad ones augment it.

8.    Be assertive. Are you a passive, aggressive, or assertive communicator? Assertive people speak up for their rights without hurting others. They are comfortable saying “No” when necessary.  Also, assertive people are good listeners and are very specific in communicating their needs and wants.  This kind of communicator will experience distress at a lower rate than passive or aggressive communicators.  One cautionary note: some cultures do not advocate assertive communication so taking one’s cultural background would be important, otherwise this may open doors to other stressful situations.

9.    Get organized. Clutter in the home, office, and car is stressful. De-cluttering is empowering and freeing.  The first time I came back from a visit to Australia really made an impact in terms of clutter. There, I noticed that people lived very simply and were happy.  This was also the first time I fully understood when my mother used to say “Simple living, high thinking” when growing up. After this visit, we got rid of “stuff” we collected over the years and boy was it ever freeing!  Although I am fairly an organized person to begin with; however, this de-cluttering amplified the empowerment and significantly reduced distress!

Additionally, an organizational skill is another life skill that will be necessary to function well in our home, job, school, relationships, etc. Early organizational skills we can teach our children include: having materials ready for school, list making, using calendars, categorizing toys, etc.  Go through your closets, pantries, papers, basically the stuff you do not need or use AND give them away, throw away, or donate. Remember that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” If you do this, please come back to this post and comment on what that experience was like!

10.       Self-care.  I am sure you know how important this last concept is. Self-care includes healthy habits and leisure activities. Some examples include: exercise, good nutrition, no smoking, alcohol, and drugs, yoga, meditation, reading, deep breathing, etc.  Picture the safety videos on an airplane where they emphasize that the parent wear the oxygen mask before applying it to the child. In other words, we have to first take care of ourselves before we can take care of others!

                                                      Happy De-stressing!!!!

Monday, May 7, 2012

10 Things You Need to Know about Stress Management: Part II (Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

     Welcome back to Part II of the stress management series! Here, we will discuss the role of self-talk in our stress process. This concept is so important that only this topic will be covered at this time. If you understand this concept and have faith in it, you will have the secret to significantly reducing stress in almost any situation!

     In our last point in the previous post, we understood how stress develops in our body according to the A-B-C Model.  In particular, the critical role our belief system plays in perpetuating the stress cycle. When we talk about our beliefs, we are basically referring to what is called self-talk.  Yes, we all practice self-talk and No, we are not crazy for doing so! Everybody does this, whether it is silently or aloud. There two kinds of self-talk: positive and negative. For example, let’s say your child is trying out for a sports team. Your child can either engage in a positive self-talk like “I can do this” or a negative one such as “I can’t do this.”  Which do you think will result in better outcomes?

     Going back to the A-B-C model, when our beliefs (B) consist of positive self-talk, the consequence (C) is a positive outcome.  Conversely, when we practice negative self-talk, the consequence is a negative outcome (e.g. distress, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, etc.).  The good news is that we have control over our self-talk! If someone practices negative self-talk on a regular basis, they can learn to reprogram themselves to use positive self-talk to yield positive results.  It is not an easy task at first, but with practice it will become second nature.  The first step is to identify what kind of negative self-talk is the culprit.  There are four main types: the worrier, the critic, the victim, and the perfectionist.

      The Worrier constantly worries and imagines the worst-case scenario. You can spot a worrier because they often use “What if...?" self-talk. This way of thinking promotes anxiety.  The Critic focuses on the negative qualities of self and others. Mistakes often mean failure, which promotes low self-esteem.  The Victim often feels helpless or hopeless and perceives obstacles get in the way of achieving a goal. Understandably, this fuels depression.

     Lastly, ah The Perfectionist! For many reasons I cannot get into here, this is my favorite one so will devote two, whole paragraphs on this type.  Many people strive to be one, but cannot be! Our society seems to admire and cultivate this type of thinkers, but what they do not realize is that not only is this an unhealthy goal, but unattainable as well. Simply because no-one-is-perfect! This type of negative self-talker pushes and provokes self to do better. Sure, wanting to do better is a good thing, but when it crosses that line and drives you to the point where you cannot function in your daily routines effectively then it becomes unhealthy. You can easily recognize The Perfectionist because they often use words like “should, have to, must, etc.!” 

     Additionally, The Perfectionist tries to convince his or herself that their self-worth is based on external factors such as money, social status, designer clothing, acceptance by others, etc.  This undoubtedly promotes chronic distress and burnout. Furthermore, when someone becomes that stressed out, their performance will be negatively impacted. This is why schools recommend that you get plenty of rest and good nutrition rather than studying hard the night just before the big test. It is a close cousin of The Critic, but not as concerned with putting themselves down. Don’t lose hope because it is possible to learn alternative ways of believing!

     Negative self-talk is a behavior. Like any behavior, you can unlearn and replace with new ones.  Countering is a therapeutic technique used in cognitive-behavioral therapy to challenge your negative self-talk.  You basically ask questions such as: “What is the evidence for this?” “Is this always true?” “Am I being fully objective?” After you pose countering questions, you then would use counterstatements to replace your negative self-talk. 

     Counterstatements are positive statements in your belief system to replace negative self-talk. This is why the power of positivity is so important to understand and practice.  At the end of the day, the validity of negative self-talk has nothing to do with how attached you are to them or how ingrained they might be (Bourne, 2000).  In other words, just because you say the negative things over and over, does not make them true!  Rather, the validity depends on whether they hold true under careful, objective scrutiny. This is a powerful way of thinking! 

     There are some things to consider when you use counterstatements. These are The Rules:

1.    Avoid negatives.
DO: “I am confident and calm about taking the test.”
DON’T: “I’m not going to panic when I take the test.”

2.    Keep them in the present tense.
DO: “I can breathe and let these feelings pass.”
DON’T: “I will feel better in a few minutes.”

3.    Whenever possible, keep it in the first person.
DO: “I can do this.”
DON’T: “You can do this.”

4.    Have some belief in your positive self-talk or it’s not effective. Simply replacing a negative self-talk with a positive one just because it is positive is not going to work.  We all have to first believe that we can do it before we can actually do it.  Okay, since I am not a huge fan of telling someone not do something without providing alternatives, here are some examples of counterstatements to get you started!

Examples of Counterstatements
So what, I can handle this.
I’ll get used to this with practice.
This may be scary, but I can tolerate a little stress.
This too shall pass.
I can retreat if necessary.
I’m O.K. the way I am.
I’m a unique and creative person.
I deserve the good things in life as much as anyone else.
I am worthy of the respect of others.
I don’t have to be all better tomorrow.
I can continue to make progress one step at a time.
I gave it my best efforts.
It’s O.K. to make mistakes.
I am a good parent/daughter/son/husband/wife/etc.
Change can be good.
It’s never too late to change.
I'm taking deep breaths to calm down.
I accept and believe in myself.

Bourne, E.J. (2000). The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook (Third Ed.) Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

10 Things You Need to Know about Stress Management: Part I (Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

    This is one of three parts to the stress management series. Since stress management is such a vast area of discussion, writing it in one post would result in a very lengthy article.  Understanding that verbosity can lose an audience, will chunk it. Main focus here will be on the two types of stress, the power of positivity, and the A-B-C theory of how stress develops.  When people usually talk about stress management, they seem to automatically talk about good nutrition and exercise. Although these practices are important in reducing stress, the objective here is to give you a different perspective on how to understand and manage stress. By the end of the series, you will know ten things about managing stress!

1.    There are two types of stress. For simplicity sake, eustress is the “good” kind whereas distress is the “bad” kind.  Sort of like good and bad cholesterol. This does not represent stressor types, but rather our perception about the stressor that determines whether it is good or bad for us.  Therefore, a stressor can result in both eustress and distress. It pretty much depends on how the individual perceives the stressor to be. A positive challenge or a negative threat?

     For example, getting a new job is a stressor.  John may view this as an exciting opportunity to learn new things and be challenged in which case this would be considered eustress. Joe, on the other hand, may perceive the new job as a negative threat where he will have to get out of his comfort zone and learn new things...argh! This creates anxiety for Joe, so this same stressor, would now be considered distress.  As you see from this example, how the same stressor has different effects on two different people depending on one's perception. 

2.    The power of positivity.  When we feel better, we do better.  Positive attitude reduces stress and improves relationships. When we send positive messages to our children, it elevates, encourages, and fosters growth.  Conversely, negative messages eat away at their self-worth. 

     Imagine that you are a child for a minute, and your parent wants you to first finish your homework before going outside.  Your parent either says “You can’t go outside unless you finish your homework,” or “When you finish your homework, you can go outside.” Which sounds better? The underlying message is the same, but one presents it in a negative fashion and the other in a positive way.  Regardless of age, presenting things with positivity will be less threatening and likely to yield better results.

     Another power of positivity is this idea called the law of attraction. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, is a book that later inspired a movie, is based on this principle. It derives from physics which basically states that people are like magnets. They are attracted to positive forces.  If you know of anyone who attracts a lot of people in their lives, then they are probably operating under this principle. They tend to be positive people and people want to be around them. The flip side being is that negative people ward off people.  I'm sure you know some of those folks too! This has implications for reducing stress as it will be discussed later.  When it comes to our children, they just need to understand that positivity wins more friends and results in better outcomes in many situations.

     Lastly, another concept related to positivity is what is called in psychology as a self-fulfilling prophecy. This basically means that our beliefs about our self and others will determine our actions towards self and others. In other words, we live up to whatever is expected of us.  A classic example of this would be when a teacher hears negative or positive things about an incoming student from a past teacher, then the new teacher’s expectations for that student will be influenced by that information.  Hence, the student will live up to those expectations, negative or positive. As parents, it becomes key to communicate the positive qualities about our children to their teachers along with qualities they may need to improve.  When I worked as a school-based clinician, I heard too many times from parents that they cannot think of a single, positive quality about their child.  This speaks volumes. The more we practice positive attitudes and behaviors, the quicker we can draw them from our memory!

3.    A-B-C Theory of Stress. Below is a pictorial representation of how stress develops. In any situation (A=Activators) a person has certain beliefs (B=Beliefs) about that situation. Depending on those beliefs, the person will either feel eustress or distress (C=Consequence).  The good news is that we have control over our beliefs! Understanding this process will help us to better manage our stress. This will be a good segue into the second part of the stress management series.
            A > B > C

A= Activators (any situation)
B= Beliefs (positive/negative self-talk)
C= Consequences (positive/negative outcome)