Nathan Watkins, LMFT was on The Right Fit podcast with Michelle Pomeroy, talking about play therapy. Please click here to listen and learn!More
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.More
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition. (2017). Utah Suicide Prevention Plan 2017-2021.
Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
Utah Pride Center
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.
- The Blame Game
Failure to take accountability for one’s actions and emotions leading to the inability to validate another person’s experience.
Sister: “My feelings were hurt when you yelled at me”
Brother: “I reacted like that because you egged me on”
- Being Right
Defending oneself instead of finding a middle ground.
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.”
- 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”
- Playing the nice guy
Making other people feel comfortable at the risk of your own beliefs, values, and/or needs.
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.
Talking about someone when they are not present instead of direct confrontation.
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”.More
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.
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.
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 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.
We live in a world where we are being fed a constant stream of information at, seemingly, every turn. It can be easy to get lost in all the noise, and disconnect from our core sense of self, worth, and values. When that happens, one might experience depression, anxiety, feeling untethered, resentment, and unhealthy relationships, among others. One of my greatest steps in my own journey was learning how to come out of the self-betrayal that had become familiar and comfortable.
What is self betrayal? Self betrayal can manifest in many different ways. It can be sacrificing your own values and boundaries to maintain a relationship, saying “yes” when you actually want to say “no,” people pleasing, perfectionist tendencies in an effort to feel, or be seen as, “enough,” or living in a cycle of shame from not understanding the wounds that drive behavior. In a sense,
it is disconnecting from that voice of truth within.
Learning to connect to your most authentic self can be scary and liberating, all in the same breath. Some tools to help you connect to this authentic self can be:
-Meditation and mindfulness exercises
-Truth and distortion journaling prompts
-Future self authoring exercises
-EMDR, and other somatic work to process past trauma
-Inner child work and attachment healing
As you learn to connect and find belonging to your truest self, you will find deeper and more meaningful connections in your relationships, as they are no longer responsible for filling your cup of worth. If you have experienced self betrayal in your life, and are wanting to find healing, know that you have all the tools of healing within you to begin this journey. An experienced counselor can help you unlock those tools when you find yourself feeling stuck.More
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.More
Scary title huh? We don’t want to think about kids and pornography in the same vein regardless of context. Unfortunately, the reality is that first pornography exposure happens often during early adolescence or even childhood. You read correctly, childhood. I’m talking about playground and recess aged kids here. As parents in the digital age, I think most of us are aware that our teenagers have access to inappropriate content at their fingertips; however, we are less aware of the proliferation of it targeting younger children. As a result, we are often caught off guard about how to talk about pornography with young children. Sadly, being unprepared can often lead to some instinctual reactions, that while quite normal, can have unintended consequences in the messaging that kids receive. Mainly, that they did something wrong and that makes them “bad”; shame is not productive nor helpful for healthy sexual development.
Shame, as a parenting strategy, is not effective at creating healthy change in behaviors (notice the bolded…healthy). In fact, it is just the opposite. While shame may enact change in behaviors, it does so by undermining self-worth and value. Often with the universal emotion, shame, we feel like we are fundamentally flawed as human beings and irrevocably broken. Now with the parents I’ve worked, this isn’t the message that they are trying to instill in their children; assuredly, they are trying to empower and support their children. This is the reason why I think it’s imperative that parents be prepared with the messaging and a script, of sorts, for these conversations. Here are some of the most common questions that I get asked about dealing with pornography exposure and young children aged 6-12 years old:
When should I talk to my child about pornography?
If your child is using the internet then you need to start having age and developmentally appropriate conversations about pornography. Yes, if your 5 year old is watching videos or playing games then they can come across it, even with filters and other safeguards.
Example: Sometimes adults put stuff on the internet that looks like it’s for kids, like cartoons that show body parts that we’ve talked about being private like a penis or breasts. It isn’t appropriate for kids and it can be really confusing. We want to you show us if you see something that feels confusing, like it might be for adults, but you aren’t sure. We won’t be angry or mad, we love you and want to be able to play your games safely.
How did my child start looking at pornography?
Typically, a child’s first exposure to pornography happens in one of two ways: they either accidentally click on a link that takes them to a porn site or a friend shows them. Kids are curious and they tend to share their curiosity with their peers. Sadly, kids can be labeled as “bad” or being a “bad influence” when a child reports that their friend Timmy showed them a picture, video, or link that includes pornographic images. This sends the same messaging that was discussed above, that being curious about sexual imagery, sexual acts, or sexuality in general is “bad” or “off limits”. If we want our children to learn about sex from us, their parents, then we need to take ownership of having the conversations.
Thus, talk to your child about their curiosity. Work to normalize their curiosity about sex and the feelings that they experienced. Create an environment that is safe, even if you or they are uncomfortable, to discuss sex and pornography and your beliefs and values regarding them. They will get their sexual education from other sources regardless if we abdicate this role in our children’s development.
Example: Joey, thank you for telling us when you clicked on that link; you did exactly what we’d talked about you doing. We’ve talked about how sex and sexual feelings are normal and healthy, I wonder if you’re curious about any of the images that you saw? What did you feel when you looked at the images? Sometimes it feels really exciting to see things that we don’t know a lot about, like naked body parts or sexual acts, these feelings are normal and nothing to feel ashamed about. We value sexuality and feel that explicit sexual images are harmful to that development because they can portray sex in a way that isn’t realistic or healthy.
How do I teach my child that porn isn’t realistic?
For very young children, framing it as the actors are playing pretend puts the concept into a form that they understand as they often engage in pretending. Keep it simple, short and provide an opportunity to ask questions if they remain curious.
Example: Joey, you and your friends love to play superheroes right? Sometimes you even dress up as your favorites superheroes and pretend to save the world. The movie that you saw, the people are actors and are playing and pretending too. They were playing, sex is a way that adults play, but they were playing pretend in that movie.
Older children typically can conceptualize the difference between real and pretend without the fantastical examples; however, as pornography depicts real acts it can sometimes be difficult for them to understand how it isn’t real. I like to use an example of something that is also real but exaggerate like driving in the Fast and Furious movies. Go on YouTube and find a driving scene and watch it together and discuss how, while some of the basic concepts are real, the actual movie isn’t. For example, it was filmed on a sound stage or movie lot with a professional driver doing the stunt maneuvers. Adult films are also filmed as a movie production with actors, the maneuvers are scripted and practiced, the vocalizations and facials are exaggerated, etc. So, while the act itself is real, the depiction of the act isn’t.
While I just skimmed the surface, I hope this gives parents some ideas to start the conversation. This subject is scary and can be very intimidating for parents to explore with children, especially young children. However, parents have the opportunity to influence the narrative that children are exposed to in a way that creates a safe environment for healthy sexual development without shame.More
Sexuality is a charged topic for both adults and some children. Messages about what behaviors are appropriate and inappropriate are woven into the fabric of our cultural traditions, moral codes of conduct, and family systems. Negative messages cause a great deal of harm, mainly when the message contains sexual shaming. Masturbation is one of these topics.
Masturbation is extremely common, yet because it is private, we don’t talk about it with our children or a spouse. According to research, self-stimulation is a normal activity experienced by nearly all people starting at very young ages and can be observed in utero (Yang et al., 2005). Masturbation (like any behavior) can be both healthy and problematic; it is also experienced differently based on age. It well understood that nearly all males and most females will, at some point in their lifetime, masturbate.
When is it Healthy?
Nearly all professionals agree age-appropriate stages of self-stimulation is healthy. For example, exploring one’s body and how it responds sexually is a beneficial aspect of maturation. Men and women can learn what an orgasm is, so they are better equipped to educate their spouse on what types of sexual touch they enjoy. Also, individuals can use masturbation to self-sooth as a coping mechanism for mood regulation. For many people who (for whatever reason) are not in an intimate relationship, masturbation can be a healthy outlet to release sexual tension. Many relationships do not have an equal balance of libido. For some “higher libido” partners, masturbation can offer a method to balance sexual needs.
When is it Not Healthy?
Behaviors become problematic when they negatively impact, work, school, or one’s social life. Like all sexual behaviors, masturbation may conflict with religious values. In a recent study from students at Brigham Young University, researchers reported the perception of pornography (a common corollary with masturbation) is the primary predictor of negative outcomes, not the pornography use itself (Leonhardt, Willoughby, Young-Peterse, 2018). It is important to inventory what our values are and why we have them. It can be helpful to challenge what we believe, while still honoring our values and the values of others. In many situations, individuals with strict religious tenets regarding masturbation find themselves in harmful shame cycles leading to increased rates of depression, compulsivity, or suicidal ideation (Beagan & Hattie, 2015). Researchers don’t diminish the value of traditional moral values. However, they do suggest creating a healthy relationship with our values within the normal range of human experiences.
Myths about Masturbation
We tell stories and create myths to justify attitudes about sexuality. Some common myths include masturbation causes homosexuality, is an addiction, leads to infidelity, will lower sexual desire, create hypersexuality, may cause you to go blind, and causes cancer in men. These things are not true. However, there are things that do occur. For example, a partner may feel betrayed when they learn their spouse masturbates. Couples can contract what cheating is, and what betrayal is. Feelings of betrayal are especially common when erotic material is involved. People engage in negatively impacting habit-forming behaviors with all sorts of things, including masturbation. Also, some coping mechanisms prevent healthy attachment in relationships.
Talking about Masturbation to our Children
It’s helpful for parents to have discussions with their children about masturbation in age-appropriate ways. For example, 5-year-old children don’t typically need to learn about orgasm mechanics, but talking about what “feels good” is more appropriate. Also, shaming a child by saying, “don’t touch that,” could be replaced with useful comments such as “that feels good, maybe you should do that in private.”. Children without parental guidance will learn about masturbation from friends or erotic material. Pornography doesn’t typically represent healthy sexual education. It is also beneficial to create safety for children, so as they begin to explore their sexuality (in person or with others), they feel safe to engage a parent about their experiences. Normalizing sexual desire, response, and anxieties create wellbeing for developing children. Lastly, it’s helpful to remember that not all children have the same sexual interests, levels of desire, or attractions at the same age as other children. It’s important to meet our children where they are at.
Talking about Masturbation to a Partner
An important aspect of contracting between couples includes the topic of masturbation. As a part of healthy sexual practices, discussing what is acceptable (or not) is essential. While there are many options, some couples will incorporate self-pleasuring behaviors into their relationship as a method to balance sex-drive differences. Often one partner may feel betrayal if they learn their spouse masturbates. When couples talk openly with each other about their feelings and attitudes regarding sexuality, it usually removes the stress in these situations. A good place to start is becoming aware of your own sexual biases and perspectives. Some couples find it helpful to discuss these feelings with a competent therapist. It’s important to remember masturbation doesn’t constitute cheating. Marriage isn’t the antidote for fulfilling all sexual needs. Many married people masturbate. Much of the time, masturbation creates better sexual experiences for couples.
Talking about Masturbation to Church Leaders
In many faith traditions, ecclesiastical leaders counsel parishioners regarding sexual behavior. Not all religions have sex-positive perspectives. In many cases, such leaders have no training regarding sexuality, trauma, or psychological situations. A lack of training can be problematic. This doesn’t suggest the support of an ecclesiastical leader cannot be helpful. Individuals seeking counsel from their church leader should remember boundaries are essential. It’s okay to tell a church leader what questions or statements are inappropriate or feel uncomfortable. This is especially true for parents whose children may be questioned regarding their sexual behavior, to communicate what forms of communication are acceptable and what is not.
Leonhardt, N. D., Willoughby, B. J., & Young-Petersen, B. (2018). Damaged goods: Perception of pornography addiction as a mediator between religiosity and relationship anxiety surrounding pornography use. The Journal of Sex Research, 55(3), 357-368.
Beagan, B. L., & Hattie, B. (2015). Religion, spirituality, and LGBTQ identity integration. Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling, 9(2), 92-117.Yang, M. L., Fullwood, E., Goldstein, J., & Mink, J. W. (2005). Masturbation in infancy and early childhood presenting as a movement disorder: 12 cases and a review of the literature. Pediatrics, 116(6), 1427-1432.More
Do Implement a Good-Bye Ritual
Brainstorm with your child a short ritual you will both perform every time you say goodbye. This could be a secret handshake, a special song, a mantra you say together or a combination of words and touch. Anything that is meaningful for both you and your child will work.
Don’t Use Tough Love as a Go To
Karen Young of Hey Sigmund explains how fighting against our natural fight or flight instincts is a losing battle.
“We humans are wired towards keeping ourselves safe above everything else. It’s instinctive, automatic, and powerful. This is why tough love, punishment or negotiation just won’t work. If you were in quicksand, no amount of any of that would keep you there while you got sucked under. You’d fight for your life at any cost. School is less dramatic than quicksand but to a brain and a body in fight or flight, it feels the same.
Instead, empower your children by teaching them how this primitive part of our brain works and breathing exercises they can employ to combat them.
Do Encourage Your Child To Express Feelings Through Art
One of the most therapeutic and helpful things your child can do to understand and combat their anxiety is to explore their fears and experiences through art. A study conducted by Khadar et al. (2013) showed that the boys with separation anxiety developed more adaptive behaviors and emotions, and the children tended to share more feelings and improved their communication skills. This particular study used the medium of paint, but drawing, sculpting or any other medium that appeals to your child can be used.
Don’t Teach Your Child to Fight Their Anxiety
Instead, teach your child to recognize and verbally point out what they are feeling and where in their body they are feeling it as an outside observer. Have your child thank their anxiety for doing its best to keep them safe. But use their thinking brain to then tell the anxiety that they are safe and that they’ve got this.
Do Externalize the Anxiety
Have your child describe their anxiety—what it feels like, what it says and what it looks like. Then have your child design a creature that embodies anxiety. Have your child name the object and talk through the aspects of the creature your child creates. This gives you and your child a way to visualize, separate their feelings from who they are and a new language to speak about their anxiety.
If your child is experiencing separation anxiety that is concerning you, please schedule an appointment with me by calling 801.944.4555More