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Your Teen’s Relationships: What’s Important?

When it comes to Valentine’s Day, there is an abundance of advice about how to build a better romantic relationship.

With our teens, however, we may wish for them to build less romantic relationships at this stage of their lives. Yet, relationships are important in all our lives. Perhaps Valentine’s Day represents an opportunity to celebrate and reflect on the different, yet meaningful, relationships our teens have.

Which relationships are most significant?

Relationships with the community, organizations, friends, family and oneself are the foundation of any fulfilling life.

Community: Is your teen part of their school or home community? Teenagers spend a large portion of their week at school, and having a place to be more than a student helps them develop and share their personality. Having a role at school can help build a connection and respect for the environment around them. As parents we can model healthy participation by being active within our own communities.  

Organizations: By high school, teens are maturing in their interests and hobbies, but they are not permanently set. They can still try new ones. Does your teen belong to a school club or an organization outside of school? The sense of belonging that grows from clubs is valuable and helps to define our uniqueness, skill development and sense of accomplishment. Parents may hear “no” when they suggest that their teen join a club. Be clear about why you are suggesting their involvement, and listen to the reasons for their disinterest. Is anxiety, a lack of time, or a concern about not fitting in holding them back?  Help them problem solve and take a chance on a possible new interest.

Friends: Research suggests that having good friends can be a factor in a healthy lifestyle. But what makes up a healthy friendship? Speak with your teen about the importance of looking for traits of integrity (trust, loyalty, honesty), caring (empathy, being nonjudgmental, showing a capacity for listening), and congeniality (being self-confident and entertaining). With some of these traits, we can sustain long-term connections. Parents can model healthy friendships to their teens by taking care of their own friendships. Take the opportunity to talk about the friendships that you see in movies and TV shows with your teenager. Hear what they say about what’s important for them in their friendships. We can move away from “teaching” teens about friendships, and move toward greater perspective about the give and take of their relationships.

Family: The relationships between teens and their family members may go through a dramatic change with a teen’s move toward independence. Expect the growing pains and be available to listen, with a willingness to set boundaries and expectations for taking care of the activities of daily living. As parents we have the opportunity to share our experiences as teens, especially our mistakes and imperfections. Doing so often opens the door for conversations. You also have the chance to reflect on your relationship with your teen and decide if there is room for changes.

Self: This relationship may be the most important, and cultivating the relationship with oneself is a life-long journey. Teenagers are learning to take care of themselves by deciding what they need and want, being curious about their experiences, and practicing self-compassion when they mess up. When we focus on any of the other relationship too much, we push aside the need to care for ourselves. We are more likely to stay up extra late or help out a friend, and not listen to our own limits. Learning to slow down, interrupt negative thought cycles, and also encourage ourselves through tough times will keep us healthy over the long run. These will build our resilience and self-confidence.

This Valentine’s Day take time to reflect on the relationships that influence your teenager, you and the people that you both want to be. Think about which relationships are working, and which ones may be in need of a little attention and cultivation.

By Karan Lamb, Psy.D.

Dr. Karan Lamb is a Florida licensed psychologist with experience treating children, adolescents, and adults. See<./p>


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The First Step: Just Listen

As a child psychologist, I am frequently asked about ways to handle the difficulties and struggles that children and teens face in this complex world.

My answer: help your children develop emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence means being able to identify and understand your feelings, appropriately respond to your emotions and understand and empathize with other’s feelings. Emotional intelligence has been found to be a better predictor of success than intellectual ability or achievement.

But how do parents foster emotional awareness in their kids? First, parents need to recognize how they respond to their children’s emotions. Parents who are emotionally dismissive tend to feel uncomfortable with their children’s emotions, especially the negative ones. These parents likely were raised by emotional dismissive parents themselves, and thus tend to dislike it when their children react with sadness, anger, disappointment or other difficult emotions. Emotionally dismissive parents may ignore, minimize or discount these emotional expressions. Examples of this include telling children to “not feel that way,” or “stop being so angry, or to “cheer up.”

Alternatively, John and Julie Gottman, who are renowned psychologists, propose parents strive to be an emotional coach.

A parent who is a solid emotional coach sees all emotional expression as an opportunity for learning and connection. An emotional coach views all feelings as acceptable, and makes a clear distinction between emotions and behaviors. The latter, of course, are not all acceptable.

So what can parents do to coach their children when they are experiencing strong negative emotions?

First, focus on how your child feels in any given situation. Listen to the emotions they are expressing verbally and nonverbally. This goes for lower intensity emotions (mild disappointment or discontent) as well as higher intensity feelings (intense anger or frustration). When listening, don’t try to actively solve the problem for your child. Instead try to understand your child’s feelings and then communicate that understanding through empathic statements like “It sounds like you were really disappointed you were not picked first,” or “It is embarrassing when the teachers calls on you and you are not sure of the answer.”

This needs to happen even when there is misbehavior. Empathic statements are important because it is these statements that help our children learn to label their emotional states. Just as a child learns that a red object that you bite into is called an “apple,” they learn that this state of being where one’s chest hurts and there are tears is called “anger” or “sadness.”

This is actually learned. It’s not intuitive. And it’s very important for kids to learn it correctly.

Emotional coaching means that parents are not impatient with their child’s negative feelings. It instead views these as part of normal development that requires guidance and understanding.

It’s important to emphasize that emotional coaching for children does not mean there are no limits placed on behavior. As mentioned above, while all feelings are acceptable, the same is not true for all behaviors. Parents need to clearly communicate what is acceptable and what is not. Yet how this is accomplished is as important as what is said.

Avoid criticism or contempt when setting limits, as this simply diminishes your child’s sense of self, and erodes your parent-child relationship. If there is no misbehavior but there are intense feelings about a situation, first work to understand the feelings, then move to problem solving in a collaborative manner. If there has been misbehavior or an infraction of rules (such as lying or hitting), use short-acting consequences like banning electronics for the afternoon or using a brief time-out.

Emotions – as well as labeling and learning to handle them – are part of a child’s emotional development. With emotional coaching we recognize that feelings tell something about the inner life of our children, just as our own feelings tell something about ourselves. Only through listening and understanding can we come to know what these feelings are saying. Then we, as parents, can act accordingly.

It all starts with the first step:


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<./p>


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Five Habits to Increase Happiness

With today’s high aspirations and overscheduled lives, competing demands can deplete our happiness and well-being.

Our fast-paced lifestyles often produce chronic stress, which can overwhelm our psychological defenses, leaving us more prone to anxiety and depression. The harsh realities of the busy life can lead to burnout and stress-related disorders.

It is more important than ever to offset the costs of the fast-paced life by prioritizing our well-being and practicing healthy psychological habits. The following five habits, identified from research on well-being and quality of life, provide guidance on how we can enhance our emotional health and achieve higher levels of happiness and meaning.

Practice Optimism. Optimists have higher rates of achievement, better health outcomes and a better ability to fight off depression. Pessimism and optimism are thinking habits that can be modified, which means optimism can be learned and mastered. To boost happiness and optimism, Martin Seligman, a leader in the field of positive psychology, recommends an exercise called "What Went Well." For one week individuals are encouraged to take ten minutes every night to write down three things that went well and why. In addition to engaging in exercises of gratitude, pay attention to the habitual way you explain events. Catch negative views where you see defeats as permanent and pervasive. Instead adopt an attitude of hope and realistic optimism, even in the face of adversity.

Build Daily Alone Time Into Your Day. Time for quiet reflection is often replaced with excessive multi-tasking and device checking. According to Frisch's Quality of Life theory, five to thirty minutes of time alone in a place with no distraction is a basic tenet of increasing contentment and well-being. Consistent, quality alone time is important to renew and recharge. Goals of quality alone time include relaxing and getting in touch with feelings and goals. Identify activities that recharge you and create relaxing rituals that are implemented into your daily schedule. These can be small activities, such as meditation, prayer, listening to music or planning your day. Committing to daily alone time will give you increased energy to take care of yourself and others.

Give Back. According to Well-Being theory, preoccupation with ourselves is counterproductive to our well-being. It’s linked to increased depression and poor health. In contrast, investing in the common good and focusing on causes bigger than yourself can increase our lives’ meaning, purpose and well-being. Mindfully commit to the greater good and incorporate moral practices into your lifestyle. Find a cause that does not focus on your personal success or failure and consistently volunteer for or donate to it. If possible, involve your loved ones by starting a family journal. Log random acts of kindness and engage in family community service projects together. This will not only increase your meaningful connection as a family, it can also build empathy and kindness in children.

Create a Vision for Your Future and Identify Life Goals. According to Quality of Life theory, an additional tenet of contentment includes creating and perusing life goals that fit your values, strengths and interests. Spend time creating a vision of personal, career and family goals for the future. Have a visual reminder of these goals and reference them as you plan your days. Embrace beliefs and activities that are conducive to your goals and avoid things that derail you. Creating time to identify goals and reflect on your progress can help build purpose and meaning and shape a life that matches your vision.

Make Time for Meaningful Relationships and Plan Anchor Events. A Harvard study that followed men for 75 years found higher levels of happiness and health in individuals with strong social relationships. Additionally, individuals who were more isolated and less satisfied in their relationships experienced poorer health outcomes and led shorter lives. This study speaks to the benefits of investing in meaningful relationships. Overinvestment in career and personal goals sometimes leaves little time to focus on interpersonal relationships. Rather than solely focusing on chores and obligations on the weekends, make time for social connections. Proactively plan anchor events – pleasant events where you engage in an enjoyable activity with others you care about. Take regular technology and social media breaks, especially when with family and friends, to ensure you connect with them.

In order to thrive in our busy world, try to implement these five keys into your daily life. To thrive, also strive to increase your awareness of any unhealthy psychological habits and incorporate healthy routines into your lifestyle. Rather than neglecting your psychological health, find pockets of daily downtime where you can prioritize your goals and practice good self-care.

Taking time to practice healthy psychological habits can ultimately enhance your well-being and lead you to the "good life" – a life with more happiness, fulfillment and connection.

By Ashley Vigil-Otero, Psy.D.

A member of the PsychWell Group, Ashley Vigil-Otero, PsyD, is a licensed clinical therapist (FL PY7979) who works with children, adolescents, and adults. See<./p>


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Addressing a Parent’s Anxiety

Something seems off. Perhaps your son or daughter appears to be lagging behind his or her peers.

Are you worried about an aspect of your child’s development?

Perhaps you have observed a difference between your child and his peers in his ability to communicate with others. Maybe a teacher has raised concerns about your child’s performance in school. 

When this occurs, parents and teachers often do not have the expert training and education to distinguish among normal variability in reaching specific skills, a benign lag in skills from which a child might eventually “catch up,” and a more serious delay in development – one that requires specialized intervention and remediation. 

A comprehensive psychological evaluation, however, will help. It defines a child’s strengths and weaknesses and identifies a child’s true deficits that are worthy of additional attention or treatment.  Although many parents worry about “labeling” their child, a diagnosis – if warranted – helps facilitate communication between professionals about your child’s struggles.  It also provides some direction about effective treatments. It even assists with determining the prognosis or long-term expectations for children affected by the condition.

Properly spotting and identifying childhood delays can be an overwhelming experience for parents. It is often difficult to determine where to begin.  Although teachers or other adults familiar with your child may offer referrals, it helps to start with your child’s pediatrician. He or she may complete a medical evaluation, order tests to rule out a medical cause of your child’s difficulties and provide referrals to licensed psychologists with the training and experience to conduct a thorough psychological assessment. 

Psychological assessments vary. They may include a more limited battery of tests to assess skills in only one or two areas of cognitive or academic functioning. One example would be a psychoeducational evaluation to identify a specific learning disability.  On other occasions, an evaluation may include many more tests. A comprehensive neuropsychological assessment, for example, is aimed at evaluating an underlying neurological or neurodevelopmental condition for a delay. 

A comprehensive psychological assessment typically includes a clinical interview with parents. This gathers medical or other background history. It may also include interviews with the parents and child; questionnaires that gather information from the child, parents and teachers; a review of medical records; one-on-one testing with the child; behavioral observations of the child at school or during the testing; and consultations with teachers, speech and language therapists or occupational therapists working with a child.

The number of days of testing varies based on the scope of the evaluation. The tests may explore a student’s intellectual skills, adaptive functioning, academic achievement, attention and executive functioning, receptive and expressive language, visual perceptual skills, verbal and visual memory and learning, and fine motor skills, as well as social and emotional functioning. 

In older adolescents, a personality assessment may also be included. 

At the conclusion of the evaluation, the psychologist will schedule a meeting with parents to review the results of the evaluation and to discuss their implications for the child's development.  The psychologist will also provide an individualized treatment plan and specific referrals to professionals and other resources to help address the child’s areas of delay.  The information gathered as part of the evaluation is then compiled into a detailed report. It will include significant history, behavioral observations, test results, a summary and clinical impressions, any applicable diagnoses, and a list of recommendations for treatment.

So if you’re concerned that your child has a significant delay, take action. A simple call to your pediatrician can start a process that can replace your worries with actual solutions.

By Alina Font, PhD

A member of the Psych Well Group, Dr. Alina Font is a Florida licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in child and adolescent consultation and evaluation services. See


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The Tyranny of the Shoulds

The word should is one of my least favorite words in the English language.

As a psychologist, I see firsthand the negative impact this word can have on one's emotional wellbeing. Shoulds inevitably give rise to guilt and shame when they’re used.

Take, for example, a day in which I have ten things I would like to do but only finish seven by day’s end. If I get into bed telling myself, "I should have completed all ten tasks," I am going to sleep with feelings of guilt and a high likelihood that I will wake up with continued self-criticism.

On the other hand, if I were instead to tell myself, "It would have been nice if I had done all ten tasks" or "I wish I had been able to complete my list in its entirety," I have now removed the self-critical component of the thought. While this linguistic change does not alter the fact that I still would have liked to complete all ten items, by changing my wording I am able to avoid getting trapped in the cycle of guilt and shame. That cycle keeps me paralyzed in the past. Instead I can now focus on how to adjust my schedule in order to complete the unfinished tasks.

While self-directed shoulds tend to cultivate feelings of guilt and shame, the shoulds directed at others also produce problems. They generally lead to tension and resentment within relationships. The belief that a spouse should know how to comfort you when you are having a bad day does not change the reality that he or she cannot read your mind. Instead, they may benefit from your ability to share what they might do to help you feel supported.

If we place our shoulds on others, we are no longer looking at the reality of the present situation but instead focusing our energy on unmet expectations and subsequent feelings of disappointment. There is significant benefit to a relationship in which a person can shift from the idea that "My loved ones should know what I need in this situation" to the thought that "I wish they inherently knew how to meet my needs but it seems as though I may need to provide some guidance."

The word should runs rampant in our self-talk, the inner dialogue that constantly occurs in our minds. While often undetected, it leaves us with negative feelings about others and ourselves. The first step in replacing the shoulds is to identify when they are occurring. Do they occur in the context of social comparison ("I should be able to afford all the things the Smiths have" or "I should be as happy as Jessica always looks in her pictures")? Do they tend to enter your mind when you fail to meet your own expectations ("I should have gone to the gym today" or "I should have acted differently in that social interaction")?

After you determine the presence of the shoulds, begin experimenting by replacing them with less guilt-ridden words or phrases. Use “it would have been nice if” or “I wish I would have.” Then pay attention to how your linguistic change shifts your emotions.

By shifting away from the shoulds, we are able to curb the self-criticism, acknowledge our inability to change the past, and remain focused on the present.

By Erica J. Clark, PsyD

A member of the Psych Well Group, Dr. Erica Clark is a Florida licensed clinical psychologist who works with children, adolescents and adults. See<./p>


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Tips for Handling Your Child’s School Anxiety

Have you noticed your child’s anxiety level intensifies with the demands of a busy schedules, early mornings and tests?

With school’s second semester underway, here are some tips to help parents manage the household anxiety.

We are used to offering a quick “Don’t worry” or “It’ll be fine,” but when it comes to anxiety, too much reassurance can strengthen the worries. Reassurance is like a boomerang. You tell your child everything will be fine; it helps in the short-term and the anxiety is pushed away. But with butterfly stomachs, worry thoughts, or situational reminders – BAM! – here comes more anxiety and you start providing frequent reassurances.

Reassurance is the quick Band-Aid, but it is not the long-term way to handle anxiety. When your child is worried, consider a different approach to help them learn to tolerate the anxious thoughts, feelings, and body signals of their worry.

Identify the worry. Listen to what they are saying, and say the worry clearly for them. Ask them where in their body they feel it. Common complaints are the stomach, head or tense muscles. Help them learn their body signals for their worry.

Take some calming breaths to slow down their reaction.  This will give you and your child time to figure how to handle the worry and take the steam out of it. Calming breaths also signal their body to slow down versus run, yell or scream. If you model it, they will learn to follow your lead.

Connect and empathize. Let them know that it is OK that they feel worry and help them to decide if it is a helpful or unhelpful worry. Remember, worry is a valuable emotion and primes us to react to a threat.

We need it, but sometimes the threats are not as dangerous as worry leads us to believe.

Teach your child and your entire family how to talk back to their worry. As parents, talk to the worry when you hear it. It may sound silly, but your child will learn that worry is telling them to be scared of everyday activities. Give them examples of what bravery looks like. Reward their bravery with a smile, or a wink; you are teaching them to handle worry one worry at a time.

Do you ever wonder why your child has so many intense, unfixable worries right before bed?

During our busy day, people can distract us from our anxious thoughts and feelings, but they catch up with us as our world is quieting down. We can help our kids by scheduling a time during the day to listen to their worries. Set a timer, and you or your child can write down their worries for five to ten minutes. By knowing there is a specific “worry time,” then you can focus the worries to a non-bedtime frame, and address them before the lights go out.

Parents, you can coach your children through anxiety with these steps. If it’s not improving, seek some professional help.

By Karan Lamb, Psy.D.

A member of the Pysch Well Group, Dr. Karan Lamb is a Florida licensed psychologist with experience treating children, adolescents, and adults. See<./p>


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Your Mental Health: How Will I Pay for This?

So you have realized that a family member needs mental health help.

You are ready to commit to counseling, but one worry nags at you. Earlier you began by seeking names of reputable psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists in your area. Then you started calling them, only to realize that hardly any of them accepts your insurance.

This is clearly going to be more difficult than you thought. Why does no one take insurance and what are you going to do? With rates ranging from $125 to $175, can you afford this?

Why do so many mental health professionals not take insurance? It really comes down to reimbursement rates. Most therapy hours are 45-55 minutes in length, thus limiting the amount of client contact hours a provider can schedule in a day. With insurance reimbursements rates that are low and do not rise year after year, it becomes very difficult for therapists to sustain a practice solely on insurance reimbursements, especially after taxes and office expenses. This is particularly the case for solo practitioners.

The situation is even direr for psychological assessments. A thorough evaluation can take up to 20 to 25 hours of a psychologist’s time. In these cases, only a fraction of the hours are reimbursed – again at a far lower rate than the out-of-pocket rate. On top of that, insurance companies will not reimburse for certain diagnoses. So if you end up with a learning disability diagnosis, a non-covered service, the psychologist will not likely obtain a reimbursement.

What to do then?

You have options when you begin searching for mental health provider. First, still carefully check with your insurance. Many psychologists take one or two insurances, so your preferred provider might be covered. If not, insurance companies maintain a provider panel list. Sometimes it makes sense to look at this list first rather than blindly call around. Also check whether you have out-of-network benefits. If you do, you still have to pay the psychologist his or her rate at the time of the visit, but you could get a percentage reimbursed back to you after you submit the needed paperwork. Even if the services go into your deductible, this can free up monies for other medical procedures later in the year.

Also, check with your health insurance provider to see if they would be willing to offer a particular psychologist a single-case contract. This means that the insurance and provider come to an agreement on the reimbursement rate for a single client. If the psychologist is agreeable to this, it is another way to access your insurance benefits.

There are also many community resources that can help with a variety of issues. For example, group therapy, which can be very helpful for certain struggles such as social skill deficits, tend to be less expensive and are offered in the community. Parenting classes are also offered for free or at minimal cost. Services from Hospice and USF are also available. Calling 2-1-1 on your phone is a great way to learn about these less costly community resources.

Some psychologists also operate on a sliding scale. If there are true financial constraints, discuss them to see if the psychologist will apply the sliding scale to your situation.

Last, review your expenses. While mental health care can seem expensive, psychotherapy is not a lifelong commitment. The majority of cases are resolved in six months. With this in mind, is there a way to cut costs elsewhere for a brief time? Can you lower costs for such things as cell phone service, housecleaning, dining out, gym memberships, cable television, expensive entertainment and pricier vet services?

As difficult as it might be to consider such sacrifices, most families wouldn’t hesitate to do so if a family member’s physical health was at risk. If most of us would make cuts in that case, why do we place less value on our mental health?

Do not despair if your initial calls to therapists do not culminate in an appointment next week. Do some research, investigate other community resources, and ask questions.

While mental health may seem pricey, living a fulfilling, happy life is well worth the investment.

By Maria T. Aranda, PhD

Aranda ( is a licensed psychologist (#PY5983) who specializes in psychological assessments and child, adolescent, and adult therapy. She is a member of the PsychWell Group, which provides community outreach on psychological health and wellness.


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Working Collaboratively with Your Kids

A common complaint I hear from parents is that they’re raising a child who is frequently defiant, argumentative or even explosive when parents make demands or requests of them.

We’re all familiar with traditional approaches to discipline. These typically include the use of consequences, such as time-outs or loss of privileges, to impose the parent’s wishes and demands. However, Ross Green offers another approach, called Collaborative and Proactive Solutions, to managing these problems.

Green suggests parents adopt an alternate approach with children. Also referred to as the CPS model, Green’s approach relies on two basic tenets: First, a child’s challenging behaviors are likely due to lagging cognitive and emotional skills. Second, the most effective way to manage problem behavior is to work in a collaborative manner with children. He argues it works better than imposing the adult’s will through the use of rewards and consequences.

One of Dr. Green’s main principles is rooted in why a child is throwing a challenging tantrum or angrily arguing. Most of the time, parents believe that their child’s defiance is occurring because of willfulness or a lack of motivation to behave better. The CPS model, however, suggests that the child’s challenging behaviors are instead being caused by undeveloped, lagging skills in areas like flexibility or adaptability; frustration tolerance; and problem-solving. Green argues punishing a child does not teach him anything about managing rising frustration or becoming more flexible in his thinking. It also doesn’t teach him to solve problems with language.

What, then, is the solution?

Instead of quickly disciplining the child, the CPS approach encourages the parent to better understand the underlying reasons for their child’s behavior.

The CPS model describes three ways that parents commonly approach an explosive or defiant episode. Parents can continue to demand that their expectation be met. They can work collaboratively to figure out what is behind the defiance. Or they can lower their initially expressed expectation.

Most traditional behavioral approaches emphasize the first approach. As an alternative, the CPS model encourages parents to instead take the following steps:

First, parents should notice and comment on a pattern of problems. For example, they might say, “It seems you get mad a lot when I ask you to brush your teeth.”

Second, parents should invite the child to present their concerns. The parents might ask, “What’s up with this?” In turn, the child might respond, “I do not like going to bed because I may miss out on fun.”

Parents should then empathize with their child’s concern. They might say, “I get that you would feel left out when you go to bed.”

It’s then appropriate for the parents to express their own concerns: “The thing is, if you do not get to bed on time, you will be tired tomorrow at school.”

The final step involves the parent inviting the child together to find a mutually agreeable solution that takes into account both parties’ concerns: “Perhaps if you can get everything done on time, we can play a game before you go to bed.”

Although this is a different method than most traditional approaches, this model does try to assist the child with strengthening certain skills that are important in everyday life. These skills include identifying frustration and managing it, compromising, asking for help, identifying and managing uncertainty, and taking another person’s perspective into consideration.

Once a child’s lagging skills are identified, his explosive behavior becomes quite predictable. Once predictable, it becomes more preventable.

The parents’ challenge lies in remembering that challenging kids are communicating something important: they are struggling to meet the demands of their lives. Although what the child does to communicate that struggle is important, what’s more important are the reasons underlying their behavior.

By Maria T. Aranda, PhD

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<./p>


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Raising a Moral Child

What makes one child helpful, caring and compassionate while another needs prompting to display these traits?

As a child psychologist and mother of three children, I find the topic of how to raise moral children extremely intriguing. Research shows that for some children, kind and caring behaviors indeed come easier for them. Studies suggest one-quarter to one-half of our propensity for kindness is inherited. The good news? That leaves a lot of room for environmental forces to help children internalize these values.

Traditional literature on children’s moral development has typically focused on Lawrence Kholberg’s six stages of human moral development. In the first two stages, a child’s actions are largely determined by rewards and avoidance of punishment. In the next two stages, the maturing individual takes into account the views of others. Moral acts are now based on seeking approval from others as well as what society deems as acceptable.

During the last two stages, which not even all adults attain, an individual’s actions are influenced by higher-order, universal principles of respect, justice and fairness for humanity.

More recent literature on children and their moral development provides more specific information on how to raise ethical and moral children. Children as young as age 2 recognize and show moral behaviors and emotions. They have a rudimentary understanding of “right” behaviors versus “wrong” behaviors and can recognize when another individual is sad or upset. What is the best way to reinforce these right behaviors and help children display empathy?

A variety of studies show that when a child has engaged in a kind or positive behavior, praising their personal character instead of the actual behavior is helpful. You might say, “You are such a nice child,” versus “That was a nice thing to do.” Praising the character of a child helps children internalize the positive traits as a part of their identities.

How parents respond to negative behaviors is also important and requires a different touch. When children cause hurt to others, they typically will feel either guilt or shame. These, however, are two different things. Shame is the sense that “I am a bad person,” whereas guilt refers to feeling bad about an action. Repeated shaming from parents takes the form of anger, the withdrawal of affection, and threats of punishment, including spanking. It can lead children to feel worthless, small and not good enough. Children are then more likely to feel angry and to lash out at whomever they wronged. In contrast, guilt leads to remorse and regret. With guilt, a child has a tendency to correct the action and to make amends to the person.

What should parents take from this? When a child hurts another person, one of the most effective ways to handle the situation is to express disappointment about the child’s behavior rather than the child’s character. (For example, one could say, “I’m very disappointed that you hit your friend,” rather than, “You bad, disobedient child!”) A parent who expressed disappointment about behaviors will help their children feel guilt rather than shame. It conveys that the parent had high standards but a mistake was made. It communicates that the child is still worthy and loved, but the action was disappointing. Indeed, in my practice, when children and teens have spoken about mistakes they have made, they inevitably proclaim that the disappointment from their parents was the worse punishment they could have received.

Last, the best way to raise moral, ethical and kind children is for adults to practice moral, ethical and kind behaviors themselves. Study after study has shown that it is not what adults say, but rather how they act that most influences their children’s behaviors. If raising a generous child is one’s goal, then one must practice generous behaviors. If your goal is to raise a child who values fairness and justice to others, than fairness and justice must be observed in the home environment.

Adults face moral and ethical decisions every day – some small, some big, some easy to figure out and others more complex. Our children watch us grapple with these decisions. They closely observe how we inevitably handle them and the decisions we make.

This is what ultimately informs our children about what is right and wrong.

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<./p>


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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<./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<./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<./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<./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<./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


By Andrea Friedman, Ph.D.

Friedman is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Florida Medical Psychology Associates, LLC, at<./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<./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,  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<./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<./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, 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: 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<./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<./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<./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<./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<./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,


By Andrea Friedman, Ph.D.

Friedman is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Florida Medical Psychology Associates, LLC, at<./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<./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 and

By Andrea Friedman, Ph.D.

Friedman is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Florida Medical Psychology Associates, LLC, at<./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<./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<./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<./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 .

By Andrea Friedman, Ph.D.

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


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