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Play Therapy: How to Play With Kids and Be More Present

Nathan Watkins, LMFT was on The Right Fit podcast with Michelle Pomeroy, talking about play therapy. Please click here to listen and learn!

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Give the Gift of Love

Do my kids know I love them? Should I tell my children everyday that I love them? Is it enough to give them hugs and kisses or should I be doing more to show my love? What else can I do to connect emotionally to my kids? These are just some of the numerous questions I get asked by parents. If you’ve asked these questions, or ones along the same lines, you are not alone! While there are many parenting books, there is not one way to parent a child. Children are unique, and therefore, need to be parented in different ways. What works for you may not work for your sister or your neighbor. 

That being said, there is one thing that all children need: love. A healthy attachment to parents, and an underlying feeling that they are loved and supported, are fabulous stepping stones for a successful future. Many parents question how to adequately show love for their children in such a busy and screen filled world. The best way to show love for your children is to find out how they feel loved. 

Gary Chapman is the author of the book “The Five Love Languages.” This book is about the love languages that couples feel and how to use those to connect in  your relationship. His book “5 Love Languages of Children” is a fantastic tool for any parent who is wondering how to effectively show love to their child. It talks about ways to identify your child’s love language, how to then show it, and discipline through that love language.  There is power in realizing the specific way that your child needs to feel love. If you don’t know what category they fall into simply ask them! Opening up that line of communication can be a great way to get to know your child. 

Another great book about identifying and talking about emotions is John Gottman’s book “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.”  In this book parents are coached through different ways to talk to their child about emotion and then how to regulate said emotion. It is a fantastic read for any parent who wants to know more about emotion and how to teach their child about that. 

Many times an inability to talk about emotion stems from the way you were taught to talk about and process emotions growing up. We know from years of research that creating a loving relationship at home is one of the best indicators of future success. If you are struggling with identifying your own emotion, and unpacking that is difficult, coaching your child through difficult emotions may be too hard. Therapy is always a great place to learn tools that will emotionally strengthen you, and will allow you to then strengthen your relationships with your children and spouse. 

Now get out there! Tell your kids you love them. Give them a hug. Make their bed for them. Buy them a candy bar. Go for a walk with them. Find the specific way they feel loved and show it to them in that specific way. It will be a great exercise for both of you. 

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“You’re So Strong!”

Few phrases will cause such an immediate, intense, almost visceral reaction from me as, “You’re so strong!” It’s a phrase that I have heard countless times over the last few years. On the surface, it sounds like a compliment that I possess the ability to hold and manage more than you would expect, and I work to receive this message as the one the sender is trying to convey. What it feels like the person is saying is that they are unable to deal with my sadness, grief, frustration, anger, or whatever emotion, and they need me to be strong because the emotions make them uncomfortable. I’m left feeling alone and dismissed.

In the early days of grief, the feelings of being overwhelmed with the “business” of death can feel paralyzing. Often, there are seemingly endless tasks that need to be completed within a very short amount of time. Sadly, most of these tasks require the next of kin, so that leaves the people that are in the midst of intense shock, grief, disbelief, anger, frustration, or whatever mishmash of emotions to navigate yet another emotional load; it can feel like too much.

The feeling of being alone is scary. Navigating really strong emotions without support and guidance is treacherous, we might make decisions or take actions that are counter to our actual needs because of the disorientation that strong emotions can evoke. So what can we do, as the person in the midst of a seemingly never ending emotional storm and as the person watching someone we care about struggle to fight the onslaught of emotional waves? Be there, be present, and be willing to listen. You can’t take away their pain for them, you can be that safe place where they don’t have to pretend to be “ok” or “fine”.

Providing people with the chance to not be strong, to be authentic and genuine with the feelings they are experiencing, no matter what those may be, can be just the thing that we all need to do truly develop that strength. If you are struggling finding that internal strength to deal with loss or grief, or just need that safe place to discover your strength consider reaching out to a therapist. You are strong! We can help you think it, feel it, and believe it!

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MINDFULNESS

What comes to mind when we hear this word? 

For centuries, people have applied mindfulness to everyday life as a way to  enhance clarity and focus. Today, we can apply this tool to better relate and  respond to our busy minds, that are sometimes too full to interact or even  function. 

Simply put, mindfulness is awareness. Awareness of our current, present  experience and not that of past (regrets, sadness, loss) nor future (worries,  fears, anxieties). 

When we find ways to better respond and relate to our overwhelmed minds,  do we really ‘fix’ the problems holding us back? 

Not exactly ~ like many other worthwhile aspects of life, this is a practice, and that involves repetition. It includes the recognition that life involves suffering. This is not about pushing away these anxieties, worries, losses,  regrets and sadness, but finding a way to make room for them all.  

How can we do this? Invite ourselves into this moment. 

The past has passed. 

The future is not yet here. 

All we have is the present, which can bring us some peace ~ perhaps in  forgiveness (past) or calm (redirecting from future worries). This is mindfulness. 

By identifying these very elements (anxiety, regret, anger, panic) as they  approach, and without their attached story, we are already giving ourselves room to return to the present. We do it with softness, kindness and without  judgment. 

This is mindfulness. 

We can mindfully wash the dishes, brush our teeth or take a walk. Keeping  our awareness on what we can see, touch, hear and experience. This is mindfulness. 

Life is never still ~ the mind is never still. Awareness is always still.

Settling into the present may liberate us from the busy mind (perhaps taking  us into the past or future). 

“Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help  the lotus flower of happiness grow. There can be no lotus flower without the mud.”  

~ Thich Nhat Hanh 

Most of us are forgetful ~ we are not really here a lot of the time. Our  minds are caught up in worries, fears, anger, regrets and not mindful of  being here. We are caught up in the past or in the future, which sadly  results in us not living our lives fully in the present moment. 

It is human nature for our minds to wander ~ it’s just what it does with  thoughts and the stories that accompany them. When we recognize that our  mind has wandered, we can access mindfulness to bring ourselves back ~  without judgement or criticism and stories; just accepting we are back and  have the opportunity to start again.

We bring ourselves back by opening our eyes to what is in front of us, our  ears to what we can hear and allowing our minds to experience this. 

Think for a moment about all of the birds outside our window that we may  have silenced by the active mind, or the sunsets and sunrises missed when  worries flooded our minds. 

If we mindfully return to the present, even for a moment, we have stopped  talking (not only the outside conversation, but the inside talking, our mental  discourse). 

Then, we can fully awaken to what is in front of us while, even briefly, the  rest seems to settle. We become aware of something, such as a flower, and  we can be liberated from the anger, despair, worries and fears that  previously took us away. 

This is mindfulness. 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS With gratitude, I respectfully mention Howard Cohn, Oren Jay Sofer © Orenjaysofer.com, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Martin Aylward, whose teachings have influenced my practice and work.

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Tips for Parents of LGBTQIA Youth

LGBTQIA youth face unique mental health challenges as they struggle to reconcile their faith, sexual identity, or gender identity. If you are a parent of an LGBTQIA youth moving towards accepting your child’s identity, I would like to share a few thoughts. In this blog post, I will discuss the importance of familial support to LGBTQIA youth. Then, I will share simple, practical actions to support your child through this moment.


LGBTQIA youth who question their identity hide who they truly are for fear of being rejected by their families. LGBTQIA youth worry about hurting their parents and family members who believe that being gay is immoral and sinful. But when LGBTQIA youth hide their identities, they pay a high cost. It undermines their self-esteem and self-worth. New research shows that families and caregivers significantly influence their LGBTQIA youth’s risk and well-being. The Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition reports that LGBTQIA teens who experience family rejection are eight times more likely to die by suicide than LGBTQIA teens accepted by family. Data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) shows that LGBTQIA teens who are rejected by their families are six times more likely to have high levels of
depression, three times more likely to use illegal drugs, and three times more likely to be at increased risk for HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases.


Conversely, studies show that LGBTQIA youth who are accepted by their families experience overall physical and emotional health. It also helps them to develop higher self-esteem and value their inherent sense of worthiness. Furthermore, LGBTQIA youth accepted by their families are less likely to be depressed, use illegal drugs, or attempt suicide. Family acceptance also helps LGBTQIA youth create healthy beliefs about their life outcome. They believe that they will be happy, productive, and have a good life with family support. If you are motivated to support your child through this acceptance journey, but unsure what to do, you are not alone.


Finally, parents, you may be struggling with your emotions, and that’s ok and normal. However, it is critical to emphasize that parents’ or caregivers’ actions and words have a powerful impact on their children’s well-being. If you’d like to foster a more supportive environment for a LGBTQIA child or teen, here are a few things you can do.

  1. Show love and affection.
    LGBTQIA youth worry about being loved by their parents or caregivers. The question that they may be asking themselves is, “Am I loved? Am I lovable?” Don’t hesitate to tell your child, “I love you.” Also, show your child displays of physical affection. These actions will promote a secure attachment between you and your child.
  2. Reach out and listen
    Your child may interpret long periods of silence as a sign of anger. It will feel uncomfortable to talk about your teens’ sexual orientation or sexual identity but reach out to talk to them about their experiences. Listen to what they have to say and respond with empathy.
  3. Happy future
    Parents, accepting your LGBTQIA youth allow them to envision a happy future as an LGBTQIA adult. A positive narrative about the future is essential to counteract isolation, hopelessness, risky behaviors, and suicide ideation.
  4. Stand up for your child.
    Remember, as a parent, your words are powerful. Through your journey and your child’s journey, you may hear some negative comments from families and friends. When you hear these negative comments, it is an opportunity to practice courage and let others know that you will not
    accept insults, teasing, or discrimination against your child. Insist that family members and friends treat your child with respect or rethink the very definition of family and friends.
  5. When you know better, do better.
    As human beings, we are always evolving and growing. As parents, we also make mistakes. Do not try to be perfect but try to be human. American poet Dr. Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Parents, your LGBTQIA child needs your love. They are afraid and worried that you might never love them. They need a secure attachment bond to become physically and emotionally healthy adults.

References:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, June 21). LGBT Youth. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth.htm. 

Sanders, R., & Fields, E. L. Tips for Parents of LGBTQ Youth. Johns Hopkins Medicine.
https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/tips-for-parents-of-
lgbtq-youth. 

Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition. (2017). Utah Suicide Prevention Plan 2017-2021.
https://www.health.utah.gov/vipp/pdf/Suicide/SuicidePreventionCoalitionPlan2017-
2021.pdf. 

Resources:
Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
https://pflag.org/chapter/pflag-salt-lake-city

Utah Pride Center
https://www.utahpridecenter.org

Equality Utah
https://www.equalityutah.org/mission

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Common Unhealthy Family Dynamics

In my own experience, I have become aware that I spend a lot of time avoiding a normal and healthy human experience – having emotions. As a therapist, I encourage my clients to connect to their emotions. I am a firm believer that you cannot give away what you do not have. With that being said, I am on my own journey to connect with myself and others more deeply. Learning to manage emotions, vulnerability, and honesty are essential skills learned at home. Growing up, I was not taught these skills. I have spent my adult years learning how to experience and process emotions with healthy expression. There are many different ways one can learn to manage emotions and identify feelings.

Family therapy is an excellent approach. It is common for families to fall into dysfunctional communication patterns with each other. Typically, people fall into these traps to avoid feeling. This can feel more comfortable in the moment; however, it is not beneficial to the person or the family in the long run. Facing emotions and connecting with others can feel scary and uncomfortable. It does not always look pretty and can be messy. Having a therapist guide the process can make it more tolerable and give family members greater insight into what is not working and to what is working in the family system. 

Below are examples of dysfunctional communication techniques that families fall into instead of being honest with one another. All of these communication techniques are ways to avoid emotions and confrontation. When I learned to identify these patterns, I discovered I was also missing out on connection, love, and intimacy with my family members and other loved ones. This awareness has helped improve my relationship with myself and others. As you read through these examples, I encourage you to ask yourself if you identify with any of these patterns. If so, then ask yourself, “what am I missing out on in my relationships?”. When a therapist asked me these questions, it struck a chord within me, and I realized some things needed to change. I hope this can be a good start for whoever needs to read this, as it was to me.  

  1. The Blame Game   

Failure to take accountability for one’s actions and emotions leading to the inability to validate another person’s experience. 

Example:

Sister: “My feelings were hurt when you yelled at me”  

Brother: “I reacted like that because you egged me on”

  1. Being Right

 Defending oneself instead of finding a middle ground.

Example:

Partner (1): “I do not like the way you made our bed. It needs to be done this way.”

Partner (2): “I was trying to help; I knew you would be busy this morning”.

Partner (1): “Thanks, but it’s not done the way I like it.” 

  1. Changing the Game  

Deflecting from the issue or question.

Caregiver: “I told you that your room needs to be cleaned before you can go to the movies with your friends”

 Child: “Jane hasn’t cleaned her room and she is out with her friends”

  1. Playing the nice guy

Making other people feel comfortable at the risk of your own beliefs, values, and/or needs.

Example:

An example of this would be a mom that confided her young adult child about her fight with his dad. The child listens and comforts his mom even though he feels uncomfortable and now feels pressured to take sides. 

  1. Gossip 

Talking about someone when they are not present instead of direct confrontation.

Example:

Brother: “Mary is always fighting with mom and getting her way because mom is scared of her”.

Sister: “Yeah, it’s annoying and mom just lets it slide”.

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Rethinking Porn Addiction

Whether unwanted pornography use has impacted you directly or not, this series of youtube videos hosted by Nate Bagley, with Kristin Hodson, LCSW, and Doug Braun-Harvey, MFT, CGP, is a must watch.  They’re looking to change the conversation surrounding porn to decrease shame and increase the ability for individuals who need help, to get it.  


In the first video, Doug states that under the current treatment model, people have to hurt those they care about before they get help.  Having more open conversations is one way to change that.  If you are struggling with unwanted pornography use or feel you might have an addiction, set up a session with Alice by calling 801-944-4555.

Enjoy!
https://youtu.be/GjevzF3QJ4I

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Tips & Ideas to Help Your Child Navigate Difficult Times

2020 has been filled with unpredictable outcomes and unknowns. Covid-19 has changed the way we live, work, and go to school. Stressful times can be challenging to navigate, and children do not always have the words to express their feelings. Children are prone to demonstrate maladaptive behaviors during hard times; regression is a normal part of development. Regression can look like increased separation anxiety, withdrawal, tantrums, potty accidents, disrupted sleep, and more. Children are perceptive, and they feel the effects of change. Here are some ways to help your child navigate these difficult times.

Validation  

Children do not always know what they are feeling or how to communicate it. This is an excellent opportunity for parents to teach them. First, reflect their feeling to them and validate their emotion. “You look sad” or “It feels upsetting when you fight with your brother.” These are excellent ways to open up communication, and they know that you are there.

3 Check-ins per day

Setting aside a few minutes three times a day can be helpful for yourself and your child. This short time to connect can help create a stronger bond with your child. This time will teach them how to slow down their day and connect to themselves. During these moments, you can breathe together, tell each other how you feel, or use grounding exercises to become aware of the present moment.

Model Behavior 

Modeling behavior is one of the best ways to teach children healthy coping skills – parents/caregivers, take care of yourself! Be aware of how you are feeling and determine what you need. Take care of your own needs and demonstrate healthy habits to your kids.

Routines 

Routines create predictability- which makes an environment feel safe for a child. Routines also help decrease negative behaviors. Together, come up with routines in the morning or at night that your child can look forward to, like reading a book before bed or taking a walk at the same time each day.

Resource:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4578899/#:~:text=Regression%20is%20typical%20in%20normal,usually%20corrects%20the%20regressive%20behavior.

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Eve Unleashed with Special Guest, Kathleen Baxter

Join Kathleen Baxter on the Eve Unleashed Podcast to talk about sex. Kathleen discusses the difficulties of navigating sex conversations in the home with spouses and children. Join through this link and wherever podcasts are streamed.


http://eveunleashed.buzzsprout.com/1365421/5712997-lets-talk-about-sex-with-special-guest-kathleen-baxter-lmft

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