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Why Would She Do That?

Walk into any U.S. middle or high school, and every child there will know someone who cuts herself.

Although parents may not be aware of this cutting phenomenon, recent studies show that between six to ten percent of teens engage in some type of deliberate self-harm, which typically includes cutting or burning oneself. That is close to one of every 10 adolescents.

Typically these teens are girls, although cutting in boys is documented as well. Many times this self-harm is not suicidal in nature. It’s done to block emotions, cope with feelings or escape psychological pain. These teens are typically between the ages of 13 and 15. For many reasons, younger “tweens,” ages 9-12, are engaging in these behaviors at increasing rates.

Children and teens who cut tend to fly under their parents’ radar. They secretly cut or hurt themselves in places that are easily concealed, such as on their wrists or thighs. Signs to look for include frequent, small, linear cuts on the arms or thighs. These cuts can typically look like superficial scratches. Many times kids will state that their pet scratched them, providing parents with a plausible explanation. Other signs of things going awry include mood changes, a drop in school motivation or performance, or changes in family or social relationships.

The characteristics of kids who cut are varied, as some have an eating disorder, significant depression or a history of abuse. Some are a part of the “Goth” culture and see this as a way of expressing their identity. Many, however, are regular kids who are unhappy, sensitive, perfectionist and overachieving. If a child with a healthy sense of self cuts, they realize that this type of behavior is not for them and they stop immediately. If a teen with poor self-esteem or an unhealthy sense of self tries it, however, there can be a sense of relief and well-being. This can initiate a dependency on cutting to feel better. Many times self-injury starts as an impulsive action to deal with a relationship break-up or some other stressor common in teenage lives. It can also start out of curiosity.

Finding out that your daughter or son is self-harming is extremely frightening for parents. It’s very important to stop this behavior, as cutting can become progressively worse because the teen learns to rely on it to cope emotionally. Paradoxically, cuts to the skin produce a short-term painkiller effect, as endorphins are released to create a feel-good sensation. As a result, the teen feels better immediately after cutting. With continued cutting, however, the episodes become more frequent and more dangerous. More cutting is needed to obtain the same amount of relief. Once the behavior becomes addictive, teens do not know how to quit.

What should you do if you become aware of these behaviors? First, and most important, try to remain calm. Anger, punishment and hysterics will only worsen the situation. Communicate openly that you are aware of the situation, that you are very concerned and that your goal is to get help. If your son or daughter will not speak to you about cutting, find a psychologist who can work with your child. Assessment and treatment are imperative. It needs to be ascertained whether there is any accompanying suicidality with the self-injury.

Although many parents are tempted to take their child to an emergency room, ER physicians may not know how to assess whether the behavior is a type of suicidal presentation. For immediate assistance, it’s preferable to seek treatment at a crisis center for children and adolescents. Providers in this type of setting are more familiar with and adept at dealing with this behavior.

Finally, for many kids, self-injury is the result of a repressive home environment, where negative emotions are discouraged and where feelings aren't discussed. Many families unwittingly convey the message that you should not express sadness. Teens who cut are going to need resources. They need a broader support system. They need to want to stop cutting, and then need to learn healthier ways of managing sadness, anger, disappointment and rejection. Kids do not outgrow this behavior. As they become better aware of how to manage their emotions, thoughts and difficult situations in the world, however, they eventually – and thankfully – can let this behavior go.

By Maria Aranda, Ph.D.

Aranda is a licensed psychologist (#PY5983) who specializes in psychological assessments and child, adolescent, and adult therapy. More information about her can be found at http://www.helpingtampafamilies.com<./p>

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The Pitfalls of Being Amazing

An old saying holds that a person learns more from failure than from success.

Many American parents and grandparents alive today grew up in homes without a great deal of emotional support or parental involvement. This fend-for-yourself environment likely helped produce an explosion of self-help books promoting self-esteem over the last three decades. These adults then understandably decided they would raise their own children differently.

Recently, however, a slew of articles, blogs and papers have highlighted the fact that many of their children, now young adults, are struggling with depression, anxiety, and high levels of self-doubt as they navigate their early twenties. A surprising number of these individuals come from stable families that have provided their kids a wealth of opportunities.

What, therefore, might be the cause?

Many experts are suggesting the self-esteem pendulum may have swung too far to the opposite extreme. They are suggesting that many of these young adults have simply not learned to fail or to be ordinary. A popular phrase among researchers is that these young adults lack “grit.”

As children, they were too frequently told they were “amazing, smart, talented and creative” in almost everything they did or touched. Their well-intentioned parents even swooped in when they were struggling in order to protect them from feeling the pain of failure. What is flawed with this approach?

Most of us are good at some things and maybe great at one or two things – yet we’re less talented in many other things. And these other things require far greater commitment and tenacity from us if we are to succeed at them.

Consider math homework. Faced with challenging problems like those on Sunshine Math, many children immediately bring the homework to parents for assistance. If a parent makes the mistake of quickly bailing out their children a few times, suddenly they’re doing the Sunshine Math homework every week.

It’s better to let your child learn that a little struggle and squirming is perfectly OK. If quickly bailed out, how will they learn tenacity, commitment and independence?

When children also only hear that they possess personal qualities of near perfection, many things can go wrong. For one, when they encounter something difficult, they may interpret it as “something is wrong with me because I do not understand this.”

How does their logic proceed? “Since I am smart, then I should understand this and everything else.” They conclude, “If I don’t understand it, it must be because I am not smart.”

These kids then tend to give up more easily than children who have a history of being praised for effort, work and persistence. When children are praised for these other qualities, their logic has a different look: “If something is hard, then it can likely be solved if I work hard and do not give up.”

Another problem with failing to present children with a balanced view of self is that they do not then develop a balanced view of themselves. What does this mean? It’s simply not realistic for a child to think, “I am awesome at everything!”

A more realistic view of might be, “Art is easy for me but sports are a little harder, so I need to work more in this area.” Or “Reading comes naturally, but in math I have to focus more because it’s more difficult for me.” Or “I have a good memory and school is easy but meeting new people is a bit scarier for me.”

When children get the sense that their abilities will vary with different activities – and that this is a normal, human state for all of us – then the next time they encounter something hard, it will be less of a blow to their unrealistic, inflated sense of self. In this way, making mistakes, losing, not getting a trophy, receiving a poor grade, not being invited to a party – all can be worked through a bit more easily because their sense of self isn’t built upon the false premise that everything will and should be “amazing” for them.

If children can learn that is OK to take risks, to struggle, to fail and to lose – and their parents allow this to naturally happen, then the failures and obstacles of adulthood will not represent new, anxiety-provoking territory. 

Instead, teach your children that being “amazing” means accepting their strengths and weaknesses with grace, humility and humor.

So the next time your son comes in last place in a race, don’t tell him he was amazing. Tell him that the other kids were faster and he got beat – that it happens but he is still a good person with other fine qualities. The next time your daughter’s team comes in last place, don’t tell her they did amazing. Tell her they worked hard but the other team was better and remind her of her team’s other successes. And guide them in discovering how they can work to improve – if they stick with it.

Win or lose, tell your children you are proud of their effort.

In this way, you’ll help instill true grit.

By Maria Aranda, Ph.D.

Aranda is a licensed psychologist (#PY5983) who specializes in psychological assessments and child, adolescent, and adult therapy. More information about her can be found at http://www.helpingtampafamilies.com<./p>

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Four Steps to Coping with Ailing Parents

A good friend recently asked me about how to deal with her ailing in-laws.

Her husband and she face the predicament of caring for his elderly parents while also juggling work and child-rearing. Though this is increasingly common, we still don’t feel fully equipped to handle the inevitable role reversal involved in helping our elders navigate health issues, memory loss and the potential transition to assisted living.

How are we to cope?

Step One: Don’t go it alone. Enlist the support of friends and loved ones. If possible, collaborate with other siblings so that the work is divided. When possible, make use of each other’s strengths.

Step Two: Don’t get angry when others react or behave differently than you. Just like there are no identical snowflakes, each of us responds uniquely to the stress of aging parents. It’s not uncommon for adult children to cope differently, which may reflect personality differences and different skill sets.

Step Three: Don’t take out your stress or frustration on your elderly relatives; they are doing the best that they can and may be unaware of their own deficits. My friend’s mother-in-law became delirious (on top of her dementia) for a time, perhaps as a result of infection, dehydration and medications. It became difficult to converse with her due to her confused mental state. When she was asked mental status questions to gauge if she knew where she was, she would answer sweetly, “Sure. I am here with you.”

In this case it was unhelpful to press the issue and better to inform her gently where she was. When she repeatedly asked when she was going home, it was more effective to say something like “In a few days when the house is ready” until her delirium resolved and her agitation improved.

Step Four: Don’t forget to take a time out. Caregiving is a marathon not a sprint, so self-care and pacing oneself are keys. If my friend spent all her energy on caring for her in-laws, working and parenting, she would have little left to thrive, let alone survive. It’s important to carve out time to relax, exercise and socialize.

For more information, check out How to Care for Aging Parents by Virginia Morris.

By Andrea Friedman, Ph.D.

Friedman is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Florida Medical Psychology Associates, LLC, at http://www.flmedpsych.com<./p>

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Getting Your Child the Academic Help She Needs

Children with medical or psychological conditions often require academic or behavioral help in the classroom. What does this generally look like?

Such support or help can be delivered two different ways: through special educational services, known as Exceptional Student Educational (ESE) services or through the development of a 504 plan.

Different laws govern each of these. ESE services fall under the rules contained in the Individuals with Disabilities Educational ACT (IDEA). In contrast, 504 services fall under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  Both laws apply to institutions, like schools, that receive 504 plans. The main difference is federal funds are attached to ESE services, but none are attached to a 504 plan.

Under IDEA, a child must have a disability, such as autism, learning or emotional disabilities, blindness or deafness. As a result of the disability, the child must also need special educational services to help address academic shortfalls.  IDEA requires that a child demonstrate s/he is a grade or more behind their peers in order to qualify for ESE services. It can be challenging to meet this requirement, however. Some children have a diagnosis such as AD/HD, learning disabilities, or a medical condition but are not significantly lagging behind their peers academically. 

These children can then be considered for a 504 plan. These plans can also qualify them for academic accommodations and support that can help bolster academic progress. Eligibility for a 504 plan simply requires a diagnosis of a disability that “substantially limits various life activities.”  These include listening, learning, speaking, reading, writing and concentrating. 

Eligibility for a 504 plan ensures that the child can then receive academic accommodations or changes that will help address the disability’s effects.  For example, if a child has difficulties with consistently paying attention to class discussions, a reasonable accommodation is to be seated closer to his teacher.  Other accommodations can include extended time for tests, reduced assignments, the use of earplugs during tests to block out noisy distractions, an in-class note-taker, or an assigned reader for tests that aren’t testing reading skills. 

In order to receive any accommodations, good reasons for having them are required. For example, in order to get extended time for assignments or tests, your child’s slow ability to process information or his slow reading rate have to be documented. Parents who wish to pursue a 504 plan for their child first need to gather documentation from medical or psychological professionals that identifies the child’s diagnosis and shows how it substantially limits her various life activities.  This documentation then helps the school team develop the 504 plan.  For this meeting, it’s helpful to bring a list of requested accommodations. It’s very difficult for parents to think of what is needed while in the middle of a somewhat intimidating meeting with various school professionals. 

Individuals are entitled to a 504 plan in any public institution that receives federal funds. As a result, college-aged individuals are entitled to 504 plans in the public university system as well.  Additionally, private organizations, such as private colleges or private testing boards (such as those that administer the SAT or GRE) provide accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).The process for requesting accommodations under ADA is similar to the process for requesting accommodations under a 504 plan.

Parents are encouraged to research their rights under the various laws and advocate for their struggling child. Understanding what rights your child and you have under the law can help ensure a stronger, better future for those you love.

By Maria Aranda, Ph.D.

Aranda is a licensed psychologist (#PY5983) who specializes in psychological assessments and child, adolescent, and adult therapy. More information about her can be found at http://www.helpingtampafamilies.com<./p>

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Limiting Screen Time: Retrain the Brain

Limiting screens in the summer is a challenge. But are all those hours really that bad for them?

More and more in my practice I am encountering children who use technology and media up to five or six hours during a regular school day. In the summer, this increases to eight hours a day. The short, hard-to-hear answer is this: This constant exposure to screens, which many scientists believe rewires children’s brains for stimulus, is simply not good for them. While these devices are handy babysitters, too much screen time has been linked to obesity, difficulties falling asleep, behavioral and social difficulties and attention problems.

During the summer months, kids can easily spend their hours glued to screens, from televisions, computers and phones to iPods and video game systems. A 2010 study in the journal Pediatrics, however, found that increased use of television and video game was associated with subsequent attention problems in both schoolchildren and college undergraduates. Many parents believe that the good attention skills their child exhibits in front of a screen means that they could not possibly have attention problems elsewhere. In fact, a child’s ability to stay focused on a screen, though not anywhere else, is actually one characteristic of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Further, the attention skills needed for a video game or television program are of no real use in the actual world, where the pace is slower, the immediate rewards are fewer, and the graphics clearly not as entertaining. What is the child to do when their math teacher is trying to slowly explain a complicated math procedure? Tune out?

All those hours in front of an electronic device means less time socializing, playing, imagining, creating, drawing, building, reading, learning, and interacting with family members. When I ask my clients about their friends, I have learned that I have to differentiate between real and online friends, as many kids now believe that having 100 friends on Facebook is akin to having real friends. When I ask them about real friends, many struggle to simply name two people.

It’s a reinforcing cycle. If a child has difficulty making friends, they may be more likely to find refuge in a screen. Yet this deprives them of the opportunity to learn and practice social skills, thus widening the gap between those with good interpersonal skills and those without.

What is a parent to do? To start, log how much time your children spend with screens. You may be surprised how easily it gets away from you. Bring those hours into check again by keeping screens out of a child’s bedroom. (Are you truly able to keep track of whether they are sleeping at 1a.m. or posting on Instagram?) A good rule can be that all phones and electronic devices need to be on the kitchen table by a certain time each night. Set limits on screen time, from TVs and tablets to phones. After they reach their threshold, insist they find something else to do. Yes, they will protest, but they will stop. Learning to entertain oneself, either alone or with others, is a good skill for kids to develop. Last, pay attention to the content of games and shows, as watching and playing with violent content is associated with increased aggression.

Children who spend hours with screens often show vulnerabilities in academics, attention and overall health. As summer proceeds, parents of elementary and middle school children will benefit their kids greatly by planning healthier ways to pass the hours. So pull out that calendar and keep your kids engaged with camps, sleepovers, playdates, library trips and other scheduled activities.

By Maria Aranda, Ph.D.

Aranda is a licensed psychologist (#PY5983) who specializes in psychological assessments and child, adolescent, and adult therapy. More information about her can be found at http://www.helpingtampafamilies.com<./p>

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Everyday Mindfulness

Whether or not we take vacations, summer is an opportunity to slow down and feel the sand between our toes – even metaphorically.

We could use a break. We live in a highly scheduled society and we’ve have forgotten or never learned how to just sit and be. We are too plugged in, a blink away from an e-mail, text, tweet, game or video. Adults and children are pulled in multiple directions by responsibilities and commitments.

Mindfulness, in contrast, is the intentional, nonjudgmental awareness of moment-to-moment experience. The essence of mindfulness is the ability to pay attention fully – hard to do with all our distractions and responsibilities. In fact, research by Dr. Matt Killingsworth suggests we are happiest when we are in the moment and unhappiest when our mind wanders. His research reveals that 47 percent of the time people are thinking about something other than what they are doing. This is less likely when we are at the beach, breathing in synch with the waves and feeling the warm, salty breeze. The beach is a natural mindfulness enhancer. It automatically encourages us to dwell in the moment, follow our breath and accept whatever experience unfolds.

Even if we are not at the beach, we can cultivate mindfulness through yoga, tai chi, prayer and meditation. A common beginner’s mindfulness meditation is called Awareness of Breath. In it we notice our posture, use our breath to keep us in the present moment and observe our physical and emotional state without judgment. Countless other mindfulness exercises exist. Jan Chozen Bays’ How to Train a Wild Elephant explores how to be mindful by making small adjustments in our daily life, such as brushing our teeth with our non-dominant hand and not answering the phone on the first ring. Each of her experiments forces us to pay greater attention to what may seem mundane or unimportant.

Recently Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan also penned a book titled A Mindful Nation. In it he shows how greater mindfulness has changed his own life, helped children learn, patients cope with pain, veterans heal from trauma and CEOs become more inclusive, effective leaders.

To learn more about how you can create a quieter summer and build mindfulness, you can also visit http://www.mindful.org

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By Andrea Friedman, Ph.D.

Friedman is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Florida Medical Psychology Associates, LLC, at http://www.flmedpsych.com<./p>

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Enhancing Humor and Laughter at Home

Kids commonly struggle with a variety of problems at home and school and with family and friends.

While there are many interpersonal and communication strategies to help children work through their difficulties, an additional way to tackle problems is with laughter and a sense of humor.

Laughter can help with stress, provide a boost to the immune system and ease anxiety and fear by releasing endorphins, the brain’s natural antidepressant. In addition, laughter can help shift the perspective of a problem and perhaps offer solutions that were not previously considered. In short, a sense of humor can provide hope.

For some children, a positive disposition and a sense of humor comes naturally. An individual’s general mood, or the tendency towards a happy or unhappy demeanor, is considered one of nine inborn temperamental traits. It’s the trait most likely to predispose a person to laughter. A generally happy and positive child may therefore find that humor comes easily compared to children more predisposed to negative outlook. For these children, the ability to find humor in situations will need to be learned, developed and reinforced.

The most natural way for children to learn to use humor is by watching their parents. How can you help your kids learn to use laughter to their benefit?

Take yourself less seriously. Teaching a child that everyone (including adults) makes mistakes, is not perfect and can be goofy are important lessons to model. Being able to laugh at oneself and one’s foibles is also good for kids to see.

Smile. A smile is the beginning of a laugh. When you see something even mildly enjoyable, remember to smile!

Engage in playful banter, try to learn jokes, play games and enjoy childlike activities. Who says adults can’t play monster attack outside?

Count your blessings and keep things in perspective. Most problems are solvable and not catastrophic. Further, make a list of all the things for which you are grateful. This can help counter negative thoughts that pose barriers to laughter and humor.

Spend time with fun, playful individuals. Laughter is contagious.

This month, remember to enjoy a laugh. It will help your family and you more than you think!

By Maria Aranda, Ph.D.

Aranda is a licensed psychologist (#PY5983) who specializes in psychological assessments and child, adolescent, and adult therapy. More information about her can be found at http://www.helpingtampafamilies.com<./p>

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Everyone Cries

Taro Gomi’s fun children’s book, Everyone Poops, helps de-mystify a normal process for young children during potty training. 

Perhaps we’d equally benefit from a fun, illustrated book called Everyone Cries, and Everyone Knows Someone With a Mental Health Issue. While the title isn’t catchy, it’s true. 

The Oscar nominated film, Silver Linings Playbook, skillfully shows audiences what people struggling with bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and bereavement look like.  Its protagonist has bipolar disorder, which affects his whole family and shows us that individuals with mental health issues are part of our greater whole. We live, love and work with those who may be undiagnosed but whose lives are nevertheless affected. 

Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, our country is now discussing how much harder it is to procure mental health services than purchase a gun or car.  We are headed in the right direction. Congress passed and President Bush signed the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act in 2008, requiring group health plans to cover mental health and substance abuse the same way they would cover other physical health conditions. Unfortunately, the final regulations that would enforce that law have not been issued, so we are still dealing with confusion and inequity on mental health coverage and reimbursements. We can, however, still make a difference.

We can reduce the stigma and increase awareness of mental health issues by talking about it. Though we all strive to live healthy lives, we occasionally get sick with the cold or flu. At times we may also get depressed, feel anxious or experience a panic attack.  Like understanding the difference between a cold and the flu, we must understand the difference between feeling blue and major depression, dieting and an eating disorder, a shy child and one with Asperger’s. Just like there is no need to blame a person for catching a cold, there is absolutely no reason to blame a person for having a mental health condition. 

To learn more about common mental health conditions and treatments, visit the American Psychological Association’s Web site, http://www.apa.org.  Speak to your family, friends and coworkers about when you have felt anxious, depressed, needed help coping or sought professional help. You will inspire someone else to seek help, learn you are not alone and discover that everyone cries.

By Andrea Friedman, Ph.D.

Friedman is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Florida Medical Psychology Associates, LLC, at http://www.flmedpsych.com<./p>

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Helping Children Cope with Disasters and Traumatic Events

When families are faced with a personal tragedy or a traumatic event in the community, the first question many ask is how to help children whose lives it has touched.

Whether it is a vehicle accident, a death in the family, a natural disaster or a violent event in the community, parents often find it challenging to talk to, comfort and support young children and adolescents in its aftermath. As we were reminded by the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, it’s even difficult to shield our children from knowledge of horrific events. The media’s 24-hour news coverage, our society’s ubiquitous television and computer screens and even the presence of their peers at school make it virtually impossible for children to remain unaware of disasters or traumatic events that occur close or far away. Fortunately, due to their innate resiliency, most children will fare well in the face of adversity.

What follows, however, are common reactions that children may have when faced with disasters or trauma. In addition, I offer ways that caregivers can support them and signs that children may need additional support.

Children under 2-years-old usually cannot understand when trauma happens. They can, however, realize when their caregiver is upset. These children may shy away from their toys or increase their crying and clinginess if they perceive their parents to be distressed.

Children 3-5-years-old can understand in a limited manner that something has changed in their lives or families. They too may become more withdrawn or, alternatively, become more agitated in their behavior.

Children 6-10-years-old have a better understanding of disaster or trauma. As a result, they may fear going to school or being separated from their parents. They may become clingy, regress to more immature behavior or experience a decline in attention or learning. Others may become aggressive.

Finally, kids 11 through late adolescence often deny that they are feeling affected by a traumatic event. Similar to the other age groups, however, their behavior is what communicates their needs. Any changes in their typical mood, academic achievement, socialization or behavior may signify that all is not well.

It’s important to remember for all ages that these reactions are normal if they occur immediately after a traumatic event and last for one to two weeks. If these reactions last more than two to four weeks, or if they emerge months later, additional help may be needed.

So what is a parent to do in the meantime? Most important, parents should first listen to their children. This means finding time in their busy, daily schedule to talk about what has happened. First, ask what the child has heard or what the child knows about the event. This gives parents a sense of what accurate or inaccurate information the child has. It also enables parents to avoid accidentally offering additional, potentially troubling information that really is not needed.

Once parents know what their child knows, they can ask about feelings, thoughts, fears and reactions. If a child is not much of a talker, he or she can be encouraged to write, draw or role play with a stuffed animal. Additionally, listening means to accept the child’s feelings and letting them know it is OK to feel the way they do. Saying “don’t feel that way” or “you should not feel that way” is not communicating acceptance of feelings. Allowing the child to cry is one way to express sadness or grief. These types of conversations and interactions can happen over a course of days or in small increments at a time.

Parents can also talk about ways to help others that have been affected by the event. Children can feel empowered if they write cards or collect donations to help other people. Helping others is a powerful way for a child and even an adult to feel better. Last, parents can also model healthy ways of expressing and managing their own emotions. It’s completely appropriate to allow your child to see you cry or feel sad or frustrated, as long as the emotions being expressed are not overly intense. Sobbing uncontrollably, hitting or screaming can frighten a child of any age and can lead to further distress. Parents can show appropriate self-care, such as seeking out the support of friends or family, exercising, and taking time off for relaxation or meditation.

Most important, parents should demonstrate a sense of hope − that things will eventually get better, that the world is inherently safe, that people are good, and that tough times will pass. If done with love, all of this will prove an invaluable gift to all children.

By Maria Aranda, Ph.D.

Aranda is a licensed psychologist (#PY5983) who specializes in psychological assessments and child, adolescent, and adult therapy. More information about her can be found at http://www.helpingtampafamilies.com<./p>

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Mental Health Resolutions for 2013

The New Year is not just a chance to buy a fun, new calendar. It’s a time when we convince ourselves that we can and should do better.

We come up with a grand plan, like losing weight or drinking eight glasses of water a day, then abandon the idea before we’ve even flipped the calendar to February. So, this year, try something entirely different. Ask someone else to have a crack at it. Simply ask one of the following to help you achieve a happier, healthier and less stressful year!
Ask a pet, preferably a dog. If you don’t already have a pet, get one. If you do have one, pet him more often. Research consistently shows that pets are natural mood enhancers. After only a few minutes of being in the company of a dog or a cat (or even watching a fish swim), we feel less anxious and less stressed.

Pets are good for our heart, help lower cholesterol and help fight depression. In children with hypertension, petting their dog was associated with lowered blood pressure. Not surprisingly, people who own dogs tend to be more physically active. People with pets were also found to be closer to other important people in their lives and received more support from these people, not less. This has caused researchers to conclude that pets complement other forms of social support.

Ask your doctor. Mental health problems accounted for 156 million visits to doctors' offices, clinics and hospital outpatient departments in 2005. Dr. Katherine Nordal, of the American Psychological Association (APA), recently stated "APA is encouraging those with symptoms of depression or anxiety to ask their primary-care practitioners about psychotherapy as a first course of treatment. We want Americans to know that when it comes to treating depression and anxiety, they have choices about treatment, and psychotherapy is one of them. Psychotherapy helps people work through their problems, provides a safe and effective treatment with enduring effects that can result in improved mood, increased energy, better job performance, more satisfying relationships, and enhanced functioning in other areas of life that are negatively impacted by depression."

Just ask for help, bro. We use the Internet plenty, but forget that it can connect us with a growing number of helpful resources. For example, people aged 85 and older are the fastest-growing segment in the nation and family and friends provide 80 percent of their care. Since family caregivers of adults have higher levels of stress and poorer health than the average American, it is especially important for them to ask for help. AARP's new caregiving Web site, http://www.aarp.org/home-family/caregiving inclu,des information on how to find local resources (e.g., a database of agencies providing in-home care), how to manage finances, doctor appointments and medicines long-distance, and how to know if it's safe for elderly parents to live alone.

Since many caregivers are now men, the first online community for male caregivers has also been created: http://www.homewatchcaregivers.com The s.ite gives men an opportunity to meet other guys in similar situations, seek advice, share their experiences and provide peer support.

Knowing who and when to ask for a little help can make for a happier, healthier 2013.

By Andrea Friedman, Ph.D.

Friedman is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Florida Medical Psychology Associates, LLC, at http://www.flmedpsych.com<./p>

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What’s Best for Your Child?

It’s that hectic time of year. I don’t mean shopping and holiday baking. We’re talking open houses and picking the best school.

Choosing the best school can be a confusing and overwhelming process for children and parents alike. With so many different types of schools to choose from – public or private, magnet or charter, specialized schools versus neighborhood schools, it’s understandable why parents shudder at the search. Some suggestions, however, may help you weigh the variables.

Start by changing the question from “Which is the best school?” to “What school would provide the best fit for my child, given my family and child’s characteristics?”

That’s right. Don’t choose the best school. Pick the best fit. Visit the schools, speak to families and children who attend and then weigh the schools’ characteristics, your family’s needs and your child’s personality and interests. Finding the combination that works best for your child and family will more likely lead to a successful, happy outcome.

Consider various school characteristics before exploring schools’ scholastic focuses or extracurricular options. Do you prefer a private, religious or specialized setting? If it’s important that your child receives religious education, then you can narrow your subsequent scholastic search to those schools. In contrast, an overarching factor may simply be school size. Other families may need to narrow their search to specialized schools for learning challenges.

The second group of variables to consider relates to your specific family characteristics. These include financial issues, the availability of parental assistance or other academic help, the number of children and the availability of transportation. If your family truly cannot afford a school’s tuition and fees, sending a child there in hopes it will work out will create a whole different set of difficulties and stresses. Similarly, if a parent knows that the family’s schedule precludes a certain school (for example, some schools simply start too early for the family to get there in time), then that school may not be the best fit.

Last but most important, families need to consider the unique needs, interests and happiness of each child. Consider his or her learning styles, maturity, temperament, involvement in extracurricular activities and school preferences. If your child struggles with homework completion, a school with high homework demands may not be the best fit. If your child is shy, he may prefer to attend a smaller school. Alternatively, if a student has a particular interest or hobby, a school that helps that talent flourish should be given appropriate weight.

If parents simply impose their will, a child may take matters into his own hands to insure they’ll rue the decision.

Your main goal is to ensure that your children learn to the best of their abilities and enthusiastically invest themselves in the process. Doing so will ensure their contentment and satisfaction with school, leading to greater balance in their lives. Happier students are simply more likely to achieve their goals.

Finding the school with the best fit can make all the difference.

By Maria Aranda, Ph.D.

Aranda is a licensed psychologist (#PY5983) who specializes in psychological assessments and child, adolescent, and adult therapy. More information about her can be found at http://www.helpingtampafamilies.com<./p>

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Giving Thanks Reaps an Abundance of Benefits

Did you know being thankful can improve our lives at any age?

Robert Emmons, Ph.D., a leading scientific expert on gratitude, has been studying the effects of gratitude on physical health, psychological well-being and our relationships for more than a decade. He has studied more than 1,000 people, from ages 8 to 80, and found that those who consistently practice gratitude enjoy many benefits. Physically they have stronger immune systems; they are less bothered by aches and pains, have lower blood pressure, sleep better and feel more refreshed when they wake up. Psychologically they report more positive emotions; they are more alert and express more joy, pleasure, optimism and happiness. Socially they’re more helpful, generous, compassionate, forgiving and outgoing. They even feel less lonely and isolated.

Gratitude transforms people’s lives for the better by allowing them to celebrate the present. It reduces toxic, negative emotions such as envy, resentment and regret. It even helps people become more stress resistant and develop a higher sense of self worth. Although some people may naturally be better at this, gratitude can easily be cultivated by a number of steps.

First, keep a “gratitude journal” and count your blessings. Set aside time daily to recall moments of gratitude associated with ordinary events, personal challenges, pleasant surprises and valued people in your life.

Second, remember the hard times, and savor the good ones. When you remember how difficult life used to be and how far you’ve come, you create a contrast in your mind, which is fertile ground for gratitude.

Third, say it like you mean it. Grateful people use language that reflects gratitude – words like “gifts, blessed, fortunate, and abundance” – in their everyday speech. Additionally, try smiling more, saying thank you, and writing a gratitude letter to someone important in your life. It works every time.

Among other things, these techniques help us focus on what we have rather than on what we lack. To learn more, check out Dr. Emmons book: Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier.

By Andrea Friedman, Ph.D.

Friedman is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Florida Medical Psychology Associates, LLC, at http://www.flmedpsych.com<./p>

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Halloween Critters and Jitters

For kids Halloween signals the beginning of the holiday season and all the excitement that comes with the last quarter of the year.

For many children, however, Halloween can also trigger fears and anxieties that can keep them and their parents from enjoying the festivities.

During their lifespans, children and adolescents will experience many types of fear from lesser to more intense degrees. The nature of a child’s fear will also change as he or she grows. A child that was afraid of monsters at age 4 may end up enjoying spooky ghost stories at age 7. Yet he still may not be able to tolerate the sight of a spider.

It can be difficult to know when children’s fears represent typical childhood struggles or when fears might need to be addressed in more specific and formal ways. So what is typical?

Although infants and toddlers experience stranger anxiety in the presence of unfamiliar adults, a child’s preschool years are typically when he or she first display fears. Much of the time, these fears are centered on non-real or fantasy objects, such as ghosts, monsters or creatures living under their beds. During a child’s elementary school years, fears typically change to those centered on realistic events, such as injuries, separation from loved ones, death or natural disasters. During adolescence, fears may center on being picked on or rejected by peers.

Typically, simply listening to children and reassuring them will help alleviate and manage their fears. Similarly, helping them problem-solve or find ways to empower themselves in the face of a fear can also be effective.

How can a parent know when fears have become something that should be addressed in a more formal way? Fears that are extreme, out of proportion or persistent may be candidates. In extreme cases, fears can develop into phobias that have the potential to hinder a child’s everyday functioning. Parents should therefore look for patterns. If a child consistently avoids certain everyday activities because of a fear, then help may be warranted. For example, a child that refuses to go to birthday parties for fear of talking to others or a child that refuses to go on play dates for fear of dogs are examples of fears interfering with typical, daily activities.

While parents are often reluctant to cause their children emotional discomfort, when a child is allowed to avoid a fear, parents unwittingly send two messages. First, the parent communicates that they agree the avoided object should be feared. Second, the parents communicate that the only way the child will feel better is if he or she does avoid the object.  Because the child feels immediate relief by avoiding the fear, the avoidance behavior is reinforced. This sets the stage for more avoidance in the future – and limited opportunities for corrective experiences.

Helping your child face their fears is an important part of growing up and can help them enjoy even Halloween – provided it is done in a supportive, loving fashion.

By Chris Barrett

Aranda is a licensed psychologist (#PY5983) who specializes in psychological assessments and child, adolescent, and adult therapy. More information about her can be found at http://www.helpingtampafamilies.com<./p>

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Balancing an Empty Nest With a Full Heart

A friend is experiencing pangs of anticipatory grief for the day when her eldest goes off to college. 

She burst into tears when her daughter simply began to fill out her first college application.  How can parents address challenges related to their children’s departure?

First, bursting into tears is normal.  This time is an emotional roller coaster for parents and children alike.  The child feels excited about future opportunities yet experiences a sense of loss as they leave their homes, friends and family.  Their emotions may be conflicted and messages may be mixed. One moment, they’ll say, “I want to be independent and make my own decisions.” The next moment, their behavior screams, “I need you and want your full attention.”

Second, it’s important for parents to understand their job changes from a directing to a supporting role.  Even with texting and Skyping, remember that sometimes less is more.  The less parents direct, the more college-age children will have to figure out how to problem-solve and independently use campus resources. 

Third, keep an open mind. College is a time to explore possibilities. This may include your child’s classes, dress, diet, friends and thoughts. Much may feel foreign to you, but many will be temporary changes.  Even if your child seems different, remember that he or she still values your opinion and wants your love and support.

For many, easing their child’s transition to college doesn’t ease their own sense of loss.  It’s important to remember, however, that our children are only on loan to us.  We spend thousands of hours and dollars on a priceless treasure we never actually own.  While we are fortunate to borrow and shape them for 18 years, we cannot hold onto what was not ours.  We can only keep the memories, the pride, the love and hopefully very little regret. 

Eventually, if we’ve done our job well, we learn to let go and release them – at least until Thanksgiving break, when they return home with 14 loads of laundry in search of a good, home-cooked meal.

By Andrea Friedman, Ph.D.

Friedman is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Florida Medical Psychology Associates, LLC, at http://www.flmedpsych.com<./p>

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Eating Disorders: Common Myths and New Directions

True or False? Dieting is just normal adolescent behavior.

What about: Disordered eating is a choice and often done to get attention?

You probably guessed that both statements are false. While fad dieting has become typical in Western cultures, frequent or extreme dieting can be a risk factor for developing an eating disorder. This is especially true for those with a family history of eating disorders, anxiety, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Eating disorders are not a choice or a ploy to get attention. They are real, complex and destructive conditions that have serious consequences for emotional and physical health, optimal functioning and relationships. They are classified in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-IV), often have a biological basis and co-occur with other conditions such as anxiety, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Anorexia may be experienced by as much as 15 percent of females in their teens and 20’s. Up to seven percent of U.S. females have had bulimia at some point in their lives. Binge-eating disorders affect up to four percent of the general population. Though eating disorders are more common in females, they affect males too, especially athletes.

Adolescents who participate in sports such as dance, gymnastics and track – where weight is important to success – are especially prone to disordered eating. Warning signs include but are not limited to: losing a significant amount of weight, developing a distorted body image (e.g., feeling “fat” even when thin or normal weight), fear of weight gain, losing menstruation, exercising compulsively, eating in secret, purging, using the bathroom frequently after meals and mood swings. Eating disorders make normal functioning difficult and can become a chronic, life-threatening illness requiring hospitalization.

All eating disorders can have damaging physical and psychological consequences. In anorexia’s cycle of self-starvation, the body is forced to slow down to conserve energy, resulting in serious medical consequences including abnormally slow heart rate and blood pressure, muscle loss and weakness, dehydration, fatigue, fainting, dry skin and hair as well as hair loss. Bulimia’s recurrent binge-and-purge cycles can affect the entire digestive system, leading to electrolyte and chemical imbalances as well as peptic ulcers, pancreatitis, and tooth decay and staining from stomach acids released during vomiting. Health risks related to binge eating disorder are often the same as those related to clinical obesity. These include high blood pressure and cholesterol, heart disease, gall bladder disease, and type 2 diabetes.

The most effective treatment for eating disorders is psychological counseling (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy) in coordination with medical and nutritional care. The earlier a person obtains treatment, the more likely they are to recover.

Hope is on the horizon for dispelling the myth that ultra thin is ultra good. A bill was just approved in Israel banning the use of underweight models in advertising, as well as requiring that any ad digitally altered to make a model look thinner must say so in the advertisement. The new measure has been called a “knockout in the war against anorexia.”

Even better, members of the U.S. Congress are considering promoting a similar law. Until advertisers use more realistic images, the rest of us can learn to identify and treat eating disorders for what they are: an illness, which deserves medical and psychological attention.

For more information, please visit NEDA, the National Eating Disorders Association, http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

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By Andrea Friedman, Ph.D.

Friedman is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Florida Medical Psychology Associates, LLC, at http://www.flmedpsych.com<./p>

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What Does Your Child’s Art and Play Tell You?

Can children’s drawings really tell you something significant about their mental health?

The recent movie We Bought a Zoo featured a young teen whose mental health and state of grieving were readily reflected in the art he drew. But is it really that simple?

The use of play and art in psychotherapy dates back to the 1920’s, and continues to represent a staple in any modern child therapist’s repertoire. Psychologists use play therapy to re-live the emotional distress of children. Why? Because children are not often able to verbalize what ails and worries them like adults can. Instead, through the use of art, puppets, board games and other expressive materials, children work through their worries, fears or any past traumatic incidents.

It isn’t a Hollywood stretch then that real children in everyday life use play and even art to master different developmental challenges and move through the various phases of their childhood. With patience and an observant eye, parents can even decipher what types of themes and challenges their child is working through simply by observing their play and art.

At different ages children need to master different developmental challenges. For example, children who are 3-5 tackle the challenge of growing in independence. They have to master the anxiety they feel when they are away from their parents, who represent security. Children who are discouraged to try things on their own may become overly dependent on their parents and fearful away from them.

Children who are 5-12 become more aware of themselves as individuals and their potential effect on their environments. Their challenge is to become confident in social relationships with their peers and in their abilities in school. If children are instead ridiculed or punished for their efforts or if they find they are incapable of meeting their teachers' and parents' expectations, they can develop feelings of inferiority about their capabilities.

After age 12, the challenges of identity become prominent for kids. At this age, pre-teens and adolescents are striving to figure out who they are, what they like, and with whom they prefer to associate themselves. Their peer groups becomes very important, influencing forces.

What does play have to do with all of this? Symbolic play, or play which occurs when children begin to substitute one object for another, typically occurs after age 2, and is quite common after age 3. At this point a banana can represent a telephone, a hairbrush can be a microphone or a cardboard box can be transformed into a castle. Through play, children are able to practice their new skills (“Let’s pretend I am a ballerina.”) and roles (“This time I am the teacher.”). They learn to negotiate with their peers (“Who gets to go first?”) and solve problems (“How do we make the cardboard box not collapse?”) They learn to use their imagination to create possibilities (“Look at my house on wheels!”) and express feelings (“My horse is mad at you.”). Board games are also important as they help reinforce the importance of rules and order.

What about art? Have you ever studied your child’s artwork?  One drawing, of course, won’t tell you everything you need to know about your child. But persistent themes in art can tell you about a child’s outlook on life and what may be on his or her mind. A child that does not like to socialize with others may prefer to draw scenes of animals and pets. A child with an inherently sunny disposition may always draw their characters having fun or wearing happy faces. A child with insecurities and doubts about his or her abilities may have drawings where the characters are inactive and passive in the face of a challenge. 

Deciphering play and art is not an easy task. If you have doubts about your child’s mental health or well-being, a consultation with a medical or mental health professional may be in order.

For typically developing children, a parent, however, can find great joy and understanding of their children simply by observing their art and listening to their play.

Aranda is a licensed psychologist (#PY5983) who specializes in psychological assessments and child, adolescent, and adult therapy. More information about her can be found at http://www.helpingtampafamilies.com<./p>

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Fighting Fair: Ten Tips for a Long, Successful Marriage

True or False? Not all married couples have arguments, only the unsuccessful ones do.

Research indicates that most successful marriages share certain characteristics.  Topping the list are commitment, respect, acceptance, positivity and effective conflict management.  The last, knowing how to handle conflict, addresses the fact that all married couples have arguments or fights. 

Knowing how to argue effectively is the key to whether couples will enjoy a successful, long-term marriage.  Fighting fair makes all the difference.  Here’s how to do it:

1) Don’t let little things build up until one of you explodes the issue into a large fight.
2) If you or your partner doesn’t want to discuss a matter, set an appointment to revisit it within the next 24 hours.
3) Keep your fight between the two of you.  Don’t bring in third parties like your sister, his best friend or the children.
4) Don’t bring up past history.  This will be easier when you get in the habit of bringing things up right away rather than storing up complaints for a rainy day.
5) No name calling.
6) Be careful how you use humor.  Laughter is good, but teasing can be misinterpreted and can be hurtful.  What you think is funny may not be funny to your partner.
7) Don’t interrupt while fighting.  Learn to listen while your partner is talking.
8) Don’t blame one another or make accusations.
9) Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements.  In other words, take ownership for your feelings rather than blaming the other for how you feel or what went wrong.
10) Be open to asking for and giving forgiveness.

All of these tips are best done in the context of a respectful atmosphere, including agreeing not to yell, scream or speak in a threatening tone.  Remember that it’s is OK to postpone a discussion if one or both of you is not able to stay composed and respectful.

With a little practice at fair fighting, you too will agree with Andre Maurois, the renowned French author, who aptly stated, “A happy marriage is a long conversation which always seems too short.”

To read more inspirational stories and quotes from long-term marriages, visit http://projecteverlasting.com and www.longmarriedcouples.com.

By Andrea Friedman, Ph.D.

Friedman is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Florida Medical Psychology Associates, LLC, at http://www.flmedpsych.com<./p>

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Your Teen in Training

Are argumentative teens just a rite of passage for parents or is something more significant at work?

In their quest for independence and freedom, adolescents often push parents’ boundaries. A new research study in the journal Child Development, however, provides evidence that how teenagers argue and negotiate with parents may be linked to their ability to withstand and negotiate peer pressures outside the home.

In the study a sample of 13-year-old pre-teens was videotaped describing arguments with their parents; their parents’ reactions were also studied. Researchers then interviewed teenagers at age 15 and measured their ability to withstand peer pressure regarding substance use. The researchers noted that how teenagers handled disagreements with parents was related to how they later handled peer pressure later.

More specifically, teenagers who learned to negotiate disagreements with parents using calm, persuasive arguments were also better able to use assertive and clear arguments with peers in subsequent years. On the contrary, teens who shied away from negotiating with parents – or recanted their original positions because they thought there was no point in asserting them – were more likely to succumb to peer pressure later. Essentially, the study found that arguments and discussions with parents can serve as a training ground to help teens become independent thinkers who communicate and assert their positions with friends.

However, not all arguments are conducive to such growth. Arguments with an abundance of yelling whining and lost tempers are less likely to help teens learn to control their emotions and use their critical thinking skills. Also, in order for teens to talk and resolve their differences with their parents, parents have to listen. Parents who rely on a dictatorial style of parenting with minimal communication, support and respect for their child’s point of view can end up stifling the communication process. Parents can then find themselves with an angry and resentful teen, more likely to rebel in unhealthy ways than to negotiate conflicts.

So, parents, next time your children launch a litany of reasons they should be allowed to stay out late, take a deep breath and listen up.

Doing so may protect them from their friends’ self-destructive decisions.

By Maria T. Aranda, Ph.D.

Aranda is a licensed psychologist (#PY5983) who specializes in psychological assessments and child, adolescent, and adult therapy. More information about her can be found at http://www.helpingtampafamilies.com<./p>

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Accepting What We Cannot Change

We all know the prayer.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

While being brave enough to recognize the importance of tackling self-help projects is a good start, how do we know when to stop and accept what we cannot change? 

I have a client who has worked very hard to identify the thoughts in her head that cause her emotional distress. These then lead to unhealthy behaviors, such as emotional eating, procrastinating or self-isolating.  She recognizes that telling herself hateful things batters her self-esteem.  However, these thought patterns are so deeply ingrained that she cannot seem to shake them.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy teaches how to restructure distorted thoughts into less damaging and more neutral thoughts (not necessarily positive ones).  For example, the negative, catastrophizing thought of “what if I lose my job and cannot pay my bills” can be reframed to “right now, I know that I still have my job and I have always been able to figure out a solution for my past challenges.”  Logic and facts are used to calm the nerves.  But what can you do when changing thoughts doesn’t help and just makes you feel worse? 

That is when Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) techniques come in.  ACT teaches people to first notice their thoughts and feelings and then to defuse them by becoming an observer of them. This is similar to watching a football game on TV versus playing touch football in your back yard.

Using language, such as “I am having the thought that I am inadequate,” helps you distance yourself from the thought, rather than exhausting yourself trying to get rid of it.  This may seem like a small difference, but it has a powerful effect, similar to changing our words to our children from “you were naughty” to “you’re behavior was naughty” has.  In the same way, the woman who has failed to shake her self-deprecating thoughts can try instead to accept them by observing them but not getting tangled up in them. 

With practice, she may find the serenity to start the New Year off right and keep it going all year long.

By Andrea Friedman, Ph.D.

Friedman is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Florida Medical Psychology Associates, LLC, at http://www.flmedpsych.com<./p>

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Calling Dr. Right: Finding a Good Psychologist

A parent searching for a psychologist for her daughter recently called. “I don’t even know how to go about finding someone,” she lamented.

Finding a suitable therapist for you or your child can feel daunting. So how do you find a great one?

Your first decision regards insurance. Most health insurance plans provide some type of mental health coverage, but there are pros and cons to using them. Their main benefit is that they help with therapy’s cost. Their most significant disadvantage is your resulting loss of privacy. Insurance companies require certain information be released to them if they are to pay for services. If a family decides to use their insurance, however, they should begin with the company’s list of providers.

Alternatively, the search can be broadened to providers that are not on their insurance panel. If the person in need of services is a child, the child’s school will likely have a list of providers to which staff refers parents. Word of mouth can be helpful; the best sources for finding a good psychologist will be past, happy clients. Although Internet searches can be helpful, be sure to verify information found on the Web.

With a list of possibilities in hand, call the professionals and ask about their past experiences. Specifically inquire about their experiences with the specific issues you’re facing and how comfortable they feel working with them. Do some research. Explore what the standard of care is for the type of problem you are facing. Then ask the psychologist if he or she would employ this type of treatment.

If children are involved, meet with the professional first prior to bringing the child. Whether you are an adult seeking therapy or a parent seeking help for a child, meet with someone else if – after the first session – you did not feel comfortable. There are many types of psychologists available and they have different styles and approaches. It is not enough that they be knowledgeable about your specific issues. The key is to find someone who also listens well and demonstrates an ability to form a comfortable rapport with you or your child.

By Maria T. Aranda, Ph.D.

Aranda is a licensed psychologist (#PY5983) who specializes in psychological assessments and child, adolescent, and adult therapy. More information about her can be found at http://www.helpingtampafamilies.com<./p>

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The Power of Forgiveness

Studies show that offering forgiveness to yourself and others benefits your health.

During Thanksgiving we feel grateful for our blessings. Expressing gratitude, however, can be difficult when we ruminate on hurts and wrongs, yet we’re better off letting these go. As Buddha stated, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned.” 

Research suggests that people who forgive are less hateful, depressed, hostile, anxious, and angry; they’re more happy, healthy, agreeable, and serene.  Forgiving does not mean that you have to restore the relationship with the transgressor, nor does it mean excusing or condoning the behavior.  Forgiving is something you do for yourself, not for the person who has wronged you. 

Eva Kor’s ability to forgive is especially profound considering that she came to forgive Joseph Mengele, the Nazi doctor who performed medical experiments on her and her sister when they were 10-years-old  in Auschwitz.  Although freed in January 1945, she carried the burden of pain, anger, and hatred for many years.  At the 50th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation, she signed a declaration of forgiveness.  She later said, “I felt a burden of pain lifted from me. I was no longer in the grip of hate; I was finally free.”

Studies have demonstrated that when forgiveness is taught to those who experienced a variety of offenses (incest survivors, victims of infidelity, children of neglectful parents) it not only results in improved ability to forgive but also less negative emotions, higher self-esteem and more hope. 

When practicing forgiveness, consider the following.  First, recall when you have been forgiven and explore how you felt, and how and why the other person forgave you.  Second, write a letter of forgiveness to someone who hurt you.  In the letter, describe the offense and its affect. State what you wish the other person had done, and end with a statement of forgiveness and understanding. 

Like the example of Eva Kor, you may find that forgiveness will help you better appreciate all for which you are thankful.

Read more about forgiveness at: The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky, and http://theforgivenessproject.com/stories/eva-kor-poland/ .

By Andrea Friedman, Ph.D.

Friedman is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Florida Medical Psychology Associates, LLC, at http://www.flmedpsych.com<./p>

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Children with Special Needs in Public School

One of the mandates of public schools is they must provide every student a free, appropriate public education.

Schools must provide one regardless of the nature or severity of a person’s disability. An appropriate education may include regular classes, special educational classes in a separate classroom, or a combination of these. Special education may also include speech, language and occupational therapy. Extra services may even include psychological counseling or behavioral modification strategies in the classroom.

Parents of children with special needs need to understand this information to access available services and programs. First, parents need to begin the process of identifying the special medical, psychological or developmental needs of their child. This identification usually involves an evaluation and documentation of the need by physicians, psychologists or other professionals. This documentation should include the history and nature of the need as well as recommendations regarding the accommodations or services that the child requires. Schools can assist in providing these evaluations, which can include psychological, behavioral, language, physical and occupational evaluations.

Public schools are also adopting a model called Response to Intervention. This is a series of academic interventions aimed at helping a child’s weaknesses in the regular classroom prior to considering special educational services. Many counties, including Hillsborough County, also provide early diagnostic screenings and evaluations for children who are under the age of 5 and who display possible developmental delays. These screenings are performed through Child Find.

Once the evaluations have been completed, school personnel can then decide if special educational services and the developmental of an individualized educational plan (IEP) are needed. If the student is not eligible for special educational services, they may also consider a 504 plan. This is a legal document that provides a child accommodations in the regular classroom. Such academic accommodations can include extended time on tests or a separate room for assessments.

If your student is struggling with unique needs, there are alternatives and solutions. You simply need to take that first step.

By Maria T. Aranda, Ph.D.

Aranda is a licensed psychologist (#PY5983) who specializes in psychological assessments and child , adolescent, and adult therapy. More information about her can be found at http://www.helpingtampafamilies.com<./p>

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