THRIVE AS A FAMILY

January is the month we celebrate families of all kinds. This is a day to celebrate peace and sharing.

Families can come in many forms
Photo by Daniel Cheung on Unsplash

Often when we think of families the picture of two parents and their children come to mind. However, our understanding of the meaning of family has expanded through different generations and encompasses a wide variety of families.

Each family can be be different varying in gender, culture, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, dynamics and structure.

We can see “traditional families” consisting of a mom, a dad, and kids. Families are formed by LGBT couples and kids, married couples without kids, cohabitating partners, family units including extended family such as grandparents, uncles, aunts, nices, nephews, etc.

Although families are usually related by blood or marriage, this doesn’t have to be the case for every family. A family unit can be created by any group of individuals that love, protect, teach, and help each other. The main purpose of a family is the well-being of its members and society.

It is important to keep in mind any relationship takes work and patience. Every family will experience happy moments and rocky situations where disagreements or misunderstandings happen.

The value of family is to know how to love each other in spite of our differences. Maintaining healthy family relationships can be vital to healthy and positive mental health. Healthy communication skills are key to create a loving and safe environment for everyone at home.

When communicating with others, it is important to be conscious about what we really think/feel, how we express those thoughts/emotions, and how this can be perceived by the other person. Some helpful skills include,

  • Active listening: Sincerely try to understand what the person is saying instead of using this time to think about what to say next. Don’t let a conversation or discussion turn into a competition
  • Stay focused: Work in solving CURRENT issues. Trying to bring up past hurts or other topics can confuse everyone involved without a resolution. Keep your feelings and solutions in the present and what can you all do now.
  • Use “I” statements: These statements help you express what you need, think, and feel. And allow you to take responsibility for the issue at hand. “You” statements can sound accusatory and make others fell attacked or become defensive. Statements such as: “I feel…”, “I need…”, “I did…”
  • Look for compromise: Compromising takes work for both parties where both aim to look for a solution and are willing to give up something and gain something positive. A compromise should always be a two-way street and not a single person’s effort.
  • Take a time-out: When a discussion gets too heated, our feelings can get the best of us. It is best to cool off and come back to the discussion with a calm attitude to reach a solution. This time out must not be used to avoid discussions and never return to them. It is best when we can solve problems instead of leaving them unresolved.
  • Ask for help: If communication is too hard and it often ends in no resolution and hurt, you might need an objective third party that can help. Couples counseling or family therapy can provide help with altercations and teach skills to resolve future conflict. If your partner doesn’t want to go, you can still often benefit from going alone.
  • Source: https://www.verywellmind.com/managing-conflict-in-relationships-communication-tips-3144967

Family relationships can be a great protective factor. Protective factors are conditions and attributes that help individuals cope with stressful events and mitigate mental health risks. Individuals suffering from depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, personality disorders, etc can benefit from a healthy family environment including strong emotional support, increased self-esteem, positive thinking, goal making, reduced risk for suicide, strong social connections, accepting and forgiving, role models, parenting skills, etc.

Treasure your family and work to better your relationship with each member. Every healthy family takes effort and love from every member. Although families can be difficult sometimes, they can be a group of people that will always have your back and accompany you through life in your best and worst moments.

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash
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Teaching Emotional Intelligence to Children

One might think that most of us should be experts at having emotional intelligence. It does seem common sense to be able to identify and understand what emotions are and what they look like in ourselves and others.

Psychology Today describes emotional intelligence as:

“… At least three skills: emotional awareness, or the ability to identify and name one’s own emotions; the ability to harness those emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving; and the ability to manage emotions, which includes both regulating one’s own emotions when necessary and cheering up or calming down other people.”

Emotional regulation goes beyond just being able to label and identify emotions. It also includes being able to feel an emotion, but still be able to think logically. It is learning coping skills to help manage the emotions that you and those around you feel so that you can calm down and move past the emotion.

If you are anything like me, then you may have had times where you lost control of your temper and lashed out at a loved one or were so sad that you ate the whole Ben and Jerry’s carton to emotionally eat. Sound familiar?

If you can relate, then it’s proof that one, we’re human and two, that it is a hard skill to master. It is one that MANY adults still struggle with.

This is why teaching our children emotional intelligence at a young age can be a game changer.

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5 STEPS OF EMOTION COACHING YOUR CHILD

Step 1: Be Aware of your child’s emotions.

Kids many times do not know how to express how they feel. To help emotion coach your child you must be aware and sensitive to your child’s feelings.

Pay attention to your child’s posture and their tone of voice. Is their head down? Are their fists clenched? What are they saying with their tone of voice?

All of these are insights into what your child is feeling and can help you understand them better.

Step 2: Recognize emotion as an opportunity for connection or teaching.

Once you have recognized your child’s emotion you are then able to use it as a teaching moment. You may have to use some of your own emotional regulation when teaching an angry or upset child, especially starting out.

Recognize that your child’s emotions are not a challenge or inconvenience. They are facing something that upsets them and they have not learned how to deal with the emotions they are feeling. This is why they act out or have tantrums.

Step 3: Help your child verbally label their emotions.

Next, ask your child how they feel. Allow them to express in words the emotions they are feeling and the reason they are feeling that way.

This is a teaching opportunity to help your child develop an awareness and a new vocabulary for the way they feel.

Step 4: Communicate empathy and understanding.

State back to your child what they said to make sure you understand how they feel. Understanding your child and listening to them will make them feel loved, heard, and important.

As you speak with your child make sure to make eye-contact and encourage them to use eye-contact as well. Eye-contact helps build a connection between people and helps them feel heard.

This will create an opportunity to connect with your child and teach them that it’s okay to express how they feel and learn to work through challenging emotions. Your listening to them will help soothe them as they work through their emotions and will help them develop the ability to self-soothe as they grow.

Step 5: Set limits and problem solve.
Teach your child that it is okay to feel angry, sad, annoyed, happy, anxious, etc, but that not all behaviors are acceptable. This will help your child learn appropriate ways to cope with their emotions and problem solve. Limit their expression to appropriate behaviors.

Be patient with your child. Remember, adults still struggle to mange their own emotions and emotional intelligence. children are learning this skill for the first time and will need more time to develop this skill. Also, remember that each child is unique and may take more or less time than one of their siblings.

Focus on connecting with your child and building that loving, safe, and open relationship. Your patience and consistency will help them develop this vital skill.

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Signs of a Toxic Relationship

If you think you or someone you know might be in a toxic relationship, you need to know the signs of a toxic relationship. Of course, if your partner or someone you know shows one sign of toxicity, then it doesn’t automatically mean that person is toxic. But perhaps it’s a good thing to address before it negatively affects your relationship.

If you’re in a toxic relationship, it’s very possible that the other person isn’t aware that they are toxic. And they probably aren’t googling “signs of a toxic relationship.” People can develop these toxic behaviors from poor decisions and unhealthy learned behaviors. But even if they have developed these behaviors from unfortunate life circumstances, it doesn’t make their behavior excusable. They still don’t have the right to treat others poorly.

The Signs of a Toxic Relationship

Here are signs of a toxic relationship and what you can do if you’re in a toxic relationship:

Blaming Others

If your partner or friend or family member is constantly blaming others for things that go wrong and can’t take responsibility, that a sign of a toxic behavior. And if you find yourself making excuses for your partner/friend/family member’s bad behavior, then you are enabling their toxic behavior.

Refusing to Acknowledge a Problem

If someone is shutting you down when you bring up a problem you want to address, that’s a sign of a toxic relationship. It’s important to talk about problems and address them.  In a healthy relationship, both parties should be able to take feedback and adjust.

Draining

A toxic relationship will leave you feeling drained. If you start to notice you’re constantly stressed out by a relationship, it might be a toxic one. It can literally take a toll on your body, leaving you tired and drained.

Controlling

Another sign of a toxic relationship includes controlling behavior under the guise of trying to “help.” If someone is pushy with their opinions, especially when you haven’t asked for their opinions, you may be in a toxic relationship.

Taking Advantage

A toxic relationship will include someone who routinely takes advantage of you and your time, may constantly forget what you have to do, and ask for favors when you told them you’re swamped.

Putting Others Down

In a healthy relationship, both parties feel safe and loved. In a toxic relationship, one or both parties will try to make the other feel bad about themselves. This is a toxic behavior.

Manipulating

In a toxic relationship, you’ll notice your partner/friend/family member tries to manipulate you or try to make you believe something that may not be true. Make sure you have other people in your life who can keep you grounded and help you avoid believing the manipulation.

Threatening

If someone is threatening to leave the relationship as a means to get their way, this is a sure sign of a toxic relationship.

Signs of a Toxic Relationship: What Do I Do?

Now that you know the signs of a toxic relationship, what can you do? You might be thinking that it’s time to break it off with the toxic relationship, but you might also be wondering how you can make things work. If your plan is to break it off with the toxic relationship, then break it off and don’t do the on-again-off-again thing, because that can be toxic too. Instead, do what you can to remove yourself from the toxic relationship and remind yourself of the reasons why it’s unhealthy for you.

If you need, find a friend or a family member who can support you in your decision and help remind you why you broke off the relationship. If after reading the signs of a toxic relationship, you think you might be the toxic one in the relationship, don’t think there’s no chance for you! A therapist can help you work through your unhealthy behaviors so you can have happy, healthy relationships.

If you feel like you need to maintain the relationship, first start by finding a good therapist to help you through the process. Chances are your toxic relationship isn’t going to like that you’re going to be making some changes to the relationship, and a therapist can help you through the transition. Remember that a healthy relationship is about both parties doing their part to make the relationship work. You might want to try bringing your significant other to meet with the therapist as well.

Here are some things your therapist will help you learn and practice:

Making Decisions

Take control of your life and try making your own decisions. Don’t let the toxic relationship dictate your every choice. Start by making small decisions. When you do this, you start to feel like you’re gaining control over your life again.

Establishing Boundaries

It’s important to create healthy boundaries with your toxic relationships. Be clear about what you are willing to do and what you aren’t willing to take. There will be push-back against the boundaries you try to create because your toxic partner/friend/family member isn’t used to you sticking up for yourself. Be firm and repeat your boundaries as necessary.

Learning to Communicate

Learn healthy communication skills. If you need to, take a course or meet with a therapist who will help guide you and your partner through positive communication skills.

Separating

If you find that there’s no way the two of you can cooperate to create a healthy, non-toxic relationship, sometimes the best choice is to separate.

For a more comprehensive list of signs of a toxic relationship, read this article on Psychology Today.