If there’s one thing I learned from Wellness Month, it’s that the Hello Adams Family community is an incredible resource in itself. Case in point: Arielle Sheinman, LCSW, reached out to us back in February offering her insight as part of our Wellness Expert Series, and I could not have been more excited to receive her email! Though we, as parents, should feel confident devoting time and mental energy to our own wellness, I think that most of us spend the rest of our time worrying about the wellness of our kiddos. What an incredible opportunity to be able to speak to a parenting expert about some of our most common concerns! Because I bet that if you’ve been thinking about some particular aspect of your child’s development, personality, or well-being, another mom is out there wondering the same thing.
First, an introduction to Arielle: Arielle is a licensed clinical social worker in the state of Illinois, and she currently works at a private practice in the Gold Coast neighborhood of Chicago. She graduated from New York University’s Silver School of Social Work, after which she went on to work in the private practice setting treating kids, “tweens,” teenagers and adults struggling with anxiety, depression, and ADHD/executive functioning challenges. She was voted “Top Kids Doc” by New Jersey Family Magazine in 2018 and 2019.
Arielle has since completed the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy training program specializing in the treatment of anxiety disorders. In addition to the treatment of anxiety, Arielle has a special interest in working with individuals with specific learning disorders and helping families navigate special education services and the IEP process. She also recently moved to the Midwest with a goal to realize her vision of what therapy could and should be: to make therapy so empowering that it becomes the new normal. Arielle’s mission is to make therapy so productive and useful that people boast about it being a vital part of their health routine.
Arielle’s mission blossomed in her practice when she began working with children and families. Let’s be honest; parenting is HARD WORK! How can we possibly find the balance between teaching these little people to be good humans with integrity and grit while also getting them to brush their teeth and bathe each night?
For Arielle, this is really a question of values. What are my values and how do I plan to communicate them to my child?
Arielle provides a judgement-free space to explore the scary stuff which keeps parents up at night. The racing thoughts like “How hard do I push him to finish his homework on time?” or the even more troubling, “Did I ruin her life today?” “Am I enough for him?”
Arielle believes that all parents need space to explore these thoughts and questions. Without confronting issues productively, people risk hiding in shame and subscribing to a perception that therapy is for the “weak” or “crazy.” This misgiven and erroneous thought drives all people, parents or otherwise, further from our values AND our potential.
Arielle encourages parents to ask themselves a few key questions throughout parenthood:
- What are the values that guide my life and how do I plan to communicate them to my child?
- How do I plan to express love, adoration, anger, and disappointment to my child?
In asking these questions, together, we can create a roadmap to teach the big stuff (our values) through the small stuff (brushing their teeth).
This is the last Wellness Expert interview of our March Wellness Month, but by no means the least—whether you’re a long-time parent, a new parent, or a hopeful parent-to-be, there’s something in this post for you. Let’s get to it!
Q: What are the best ways to help kids slowly gain confidence and independence?
A: I like to tell my clients that competence = confidence. Children find confidence in excelling at tasks, big or small. Help your child find a passion by focusing on special interests and providing encouragement often. Focus encouragement on effort versus outcomes. For example, “You worked so hard on this lego setup. Great job!” vs. “This lego setup is amazing!” Allow them to take on jobs at home—children need opportunities to display their skills and feel that their contributions are valued.
Q: Would love some advice for my anxious 5-year old! Birthday parties, daycare drop-offs, playdates, etc are all a struggle! Similarly, why won’t my 2.5 year old let anyone besides me (her mom) do anything for her?
A: Separations are tough on parents and kids alike. For kiddos who struggle to separate—start small. Slowly build up your child’s tolerance for separation by gradually removing yourself from feared situations. For instance, begin by attending the playdate and sitting in another room. Next, attend the playdate and then leave for a short amount of time. Then, leave for longer stretches of time until your child feels comfortable. You can practice this technique at bedtime too.
You may want to also consider a transitional object. This could include a bracelet both you and your child wear to keep you connected or a family picture to keep inside their book bag.
Lastly, make a plan for new situations your child might find themselves in. Before they begin a new school year, visit the classroom and have them “interview” the teacher. Things feel less scary when we are prepared and can anticipate what to expect.
Q: My son shuts down whenever a task gets even a little bit difficult, and I’m getting worried that he is learning not to try. What can I do? Similarly, my child is a perfectionist, which often leads to meltdowns. How do you suggest handling this as a parent?
A: First, let’s confirm the expectation being placed on your child is appropriate. Are they old enough to complete this task? Do they have the skills necessary to take on this task? If so, try not to avoid things because they produce stress for your child. Even though it’s uncomfortable for us, it’s OK for our kiddos to feel frustrated. In fact, learning to tolerate frustration is an essential life skill.
Instead, focus on empathizing with their struggle and helping them develop the skills to tolerate feeling uncomfortable. Teach them to “ride the wave” by modeling your own positive self-talk. Below are some tips:
– Let frustration grow, but not too big! Help your children break down longterm goals into smaller and more manageable ones. In doing so, they will gain “small wins,” increasing motivation to continue on to the more challenging aspects of the task at hand. Learning a new skill can be overwhelming. Take piano, for example—in order to learn to play, one must master numerous different skills, from reading music to memorizing the positions of each key. Help your child to create a “task schedule” outlining when they will practice different aspects of the piano. Encourage them to practice frequently and use the “scaffolding” approach—mastering the easiest elements before moving onto the more challenging pieces.
– Allow for (and even encourage) mistakes! Mistakes are essential to learning. Children are experiential learners and as they approach tasks for the first time, we should anticipate that they will make mistakes. Normalize this for your child and remind them that mistakes are critical to the learning process by providing encouragement like, “Each time we make a mistake—our brain grows and learns what NOT to do for next time. The more chances we take, no matter the outcome, the bigger and stronger our brains grow!”
– Give praise often and remind them of recent “wins.” Highlight any progress, big or small. Remind them of times they thought they would never be able to do something and the ease with which they do it now. You might say, “You never thought you would learn to ride your bike without training wheels but now you are doing tricks at the skate park!”
To address this topic, I highly recommend the book, “Your Fantastic Elastic Brain: Stretch It, Shape It,” By Joanne Deak. I often read it with my young clients and they love it, too.
Q: At what age do you typically recognize the symptoms of ADHD? My husband has severe ADHD—is there a chance our child will, as well?
A: In 2011, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) revised the diagnostic criteria for ADHD to include children as young as four and as old as eighteen. Although toddlers are not included in the diagnostic guidelines, experts suggest that some early signs of ADHD are evident from a young age.
It’s often tough to distinguish the difference between “typical toddler behavior” and ADHD symptoms. If a parent has concerns regarding ADHD in their toddler, they may want to be on the lookout for some of the items listed below. These signs are often evident across different settings like home, school, and daycare.
– Dislikes or avoids activities that require paying attention for more than one or two minutes
– Loses interest and starts doing something else after engaging in an activity for a few moments
– Talks a lot more and makes more noise than other children of the same age
– Cannot hop on one foot by age 4
– Nearly always restless—wants to constantly kick or jiggle feet or twist around in his/her seat.
– Insists that he/she “must” get up after being seated for more than a few minutes
– Gets into dangerous situations because of fearlessness
– Warms up too quickly to strangers
– Frequently aggressive with playmates; has been removed from preschool/daycare for aggression
The jury is still out on, “Is ADHD genetic?” however, experts suggest that both genetic and environmental factors play a role in the condition. In 41%–55% of the families with at least one child with ADHD, at least one parent is also affected. Parents with ADHD often benefit from psychoeducation and coaching on the disorder. If you are concerned about whether your child might have ADHD, the first step is to talk with a healthcare provider like your pediatrician or a psychologist.
Q: I need help taming my strong-willed child, but I don’t want to dim their personality and spirit. Would love your advice!
A: Strong-willed children, albeit challenging, are just that—full of personality and spirit! They seek to be in charge, to “do it their way” on their terms. They are rarely swayed, sticking to their convictions regardless of the cost. This can be maddening, leading to epic power struggles. Walk away, take deep breaths and tag in your partner if you find yourself contributing to the escalation. Remember, you don’t have to attend every fight you are invited to! Give strong-willed children “forced choices” whenever possible. For example, would you like to take a five-minute bath or a ten-minute bath? You set the destination but let them pick the path to get there. This helps them to feel in control and to eliminate power struggles. Remember, strong-willed children have all the qualities of natural-born leaders!
Q: Do you have any tips for dealing with an extremely difficult tween (being disrespectful, talking back, etc)?
A: Teenagers are in the midst of a developmental process called individuation, developing their own beliefs about the world around them. Unlike adults, the prefrontal cortex of the teen brain is not fully developed, leading to a lack of impulse control. The two can make for a winning combination: a surly teen who needs a ride to the mall one minute and seemingly wants you out of their life the next.
This is stressful but it is to be expected as teens are trying to communicate their need for independence to us. Here, parents can play a critical role, teaching their children to advocate for their beliefs while still displaying respect for the ideas and needs of those around them. Below are some tips for communicating with your tween or teen:
– Make rules as specific and clear as possible.
– Be consistent with rules and consequences, making sure your teen knows that they are responsible for their behavior and, ultimately, any consequences that come their direction.
– Give them choices whenever you can, but make it clear that some rules will be rigid with no room for flexibility or negotiation, especially when it comes to matters of their safety.
– Try not to threaten, lecture, or yell at your child, as these behaviors typically cause the interaction to escalate or the teen to “zone out.” If you or your child are beginning to escalate, let them know that you will continue the conversation later, and leave the room.
– When calm, engage in a family discussion about rules. Invite your teen to create their own and be willing to re-evaluate rules (via a discussion rather than an argument) as your teen grows and learns to manage more responsibility.
Pro tip: talk to your teen in the car when you can—they tend to let their guard down when they don’t have to look you directly in the eye!
Q: How can we set up our kids to better handle/prevent depression and anxiety when there’s a strong family history of the two?
A: It sounds like you are already on the fast track to success with your insight and awareness! Start by using explicit teaching to explore your child’s understanding of the spectrum of emotions. How well can they identify what they are feeling, when they are feeling it? Help them to develop a language around feelings including an awareness of stress triggers and their body’s physiological response to stress. The more they know, the more effective they will be in regulating themselves. Model effective coping skills like deep breathing whenever possible.
Q: Okay, we are officially entering the Terrible Threes and it’s ROUGH. Any tips?? Similarly, how do you recommend disciplining 2-4 year-olds? Time outs aren’t working for us!
A: When time outs aren’t working, I recommend attempting just the opposite, “time ins.” Dan Siegel, (check out his books The Whole Brain Child and No Drama Discipline), a leading child development expert suggests that when a child misbehaves, it is often an attempt to communicate or connect with the adults around them. He suggests that when children are out of control, it’s actually when they need us most. By switching from time outs to time ins we can simultaneously set rules, limits, and boundaries while also connecting with our child’s innermost emotions by providing validation and empathy. A time in may look a little something like this:
– If your son hits you, get down on his level to make eye contact, gently but firmly hold his hands and say, “No hitting. Hitting is not safe. In our house we all get to be safe.”
– Let him know you understand he is angry or frustrated and why. “I know you’re mad because you really want to play on the iPad right now, but we’re going to have lunch.”
– Give him the words to say, “You can say, ‘Mom, I’m really angry at you.’”
– Let him know that he needs “to relax or calm his body.” Model specific strategies like deep breathing or muscle relaxation. Make it fun and silly when possible.
If the behavior continues, remind your child of an impending consequence and encourage them to pause, rewind, and make a different choice.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we had magic to make tantrums disappear? Unfortunately, there is no wand to wave, so hang in there! These skills don’t develop overnight so it’s important to be patient with your child AND yourself. Taking negative interactions and redirecting them into teachable moments helps empower every member of the house to be a part of the solution.
Q: My 3-year old doesn’t like her 12-month old twin siblings—still! It’s been a year! How do I help them bond?
A: Create the “wall of sibling love.” Anytime you notice the kids getting along or your older one helping out the twins tack a post-it or sticker on the wall. In essence, “catch” the older one “being good” and offer lots of praise. You can even consider adding an external motivator (a prize for X number of stickers on the wall). Make it big and decorative—your three-year-old will feel proud as children often love being “big helpers!” I’d also encourage you to create time and space for activities just with your older child, if possible. Your older child is most likely still adjusting to the changes that come with a baby in the house including sharing your attention. Prioritizing special “mommy and me” goes a long way in helping siblings to bond.
A final note: We are all experiencing something unprecedented with Covid-19. Anxiety is linked to uncertainty and, currently, uncertainty could not be higher. Children are feeling this and experiencing it alongside us. They are looking to us and closely watching how we are coping. Below are some resources for discussing Covid-19 with your children:
– Talking to Kids About the Coronavirus
– Parenting Talk: The Coronavirus
– Lynn Lyons, Anxiety