Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: The Lies We Tell Ourselves

Under normal circumstances, people behave in certain ways based upon their thoughts and beliefs. For example, you, as a parent, might believe that your kids must eat vegetables in order to be healthy, so you require them to eat vegetables every night with dinner.

But what happens when some event or circumstance comes along that conflicts with those thoughts, beliefs, or behaviors?

There’s a term in psychology called “cognitive dissonance.” You’ve probably heard it floated every now and again. In case you’re unfamiliar with its definition, here it is:

“Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. This produces a feeling of mental discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviors to reduce the discomfort and restore balance.”

–Saul McLeod, Simply Psychology

In other words, your brain doesn’t like to contradict itself. If you have two conflicting thoughts or beliefs, or your own behavior conflicts with your own beliefs, you will either change one of your beliefs or change your behavior.

Let’s look at our vegetable example again. We’ve already established that you believe that vegetables are essential to your kids’ health. They have to eat the vegetables, or they won’t be healthy. But what if your kid hates vegetables and refuses to eat them? Perhaps they throw a tantrum every time you serve vegetables, and you can’t get them to eat them no matter how hard you try. You might stop insisting that they eat vegetables.

Now you’ve got a behavior that conflicts with your beliefs. This creates a problem. If you believe that your kids can’t be healthy if they don’t eat their vegetables, but you’re not serving them vegetables, what does that mean? That you’re making your kids unhealthy? That’s not something any parent wants to think! It would probably make you feel pretty guilty.

Our brains protect us from these uncomfortable feelings by changing either the behavior or the belief. In this case, your brain would probably change your beliefs about vegetables.

Changing your beliefs about the necessity of vegetables sounds relatively harmless. Sure, nutrition is important. But lots of children hate vegetables and still grow up healthy. They probably even grow to like vegetables eventually. So what’s the harm in changing our beliefs about vegetables, right?

The thing is, cognitive dissonance causes us to change our beliefs about all sorts of things, and sometimes it is harmful. For example, we might believe that we are pretty good parents. But if we go through a particularly stressful period and end up yelling at our kids a lot, we feel guilty about that and start telling ourselves that we’re terrible parents.

Kids do this too.

  • A 7-year-old girl gets a few math problems wrong and starts telling herself that she’s terrible at math.
  • A 9-year-old boy has difficulty controlling his emotions and tells himself that it’s impossible because he’s a bad person.
  • An 11-year-old girl has trouble making friends and tells herself that she’s unlikeable.
  • A 16-year-old boy can’t find a date to the school dance and tells himself that he’s too ugly for girls to like him.

The Lies We Tell Ourselves

In cognitive behavioral therapy, we call these statements “the lies we tell ourselves.” You can probably see that they are harmful. They affect what we call “the cognitive triangle.” As you can see from the chart below, our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all connected.

Let’s take a look at our examples from above one more time, and examine how those negative thoughts might affect the kids’ feelings and behaviors.

ThoughtsFeelingsBehavior
“I’m terrible at math.”Ashamed, unmotivated to try.Refuses to do math homework.
“I’m a bad person and it’s impossible to control my emotions.”Angry, sad, guiltyRaging tantrums, refusal to try calming techniques
“I’m unlikeable.”Sad, angrySits alone at recess, doesn’t play with other kids.
“I’m too ugly for girls to like me.”Sad, embarrassedSays and does cruel things to girls to avoid rejection.

The good news is, we can change the feelings and behaviors by changing the thoughts. The way that we change these thoughts is by challenging these lies that we tell ourselves. A good CBT therapist can help.

Here is a list of some of the most common lies we tell ourselves.

  1. Black and white thinking: For example, I can only be a good person or a bad person. I can’t be a good person who sometimes makes mistakes.
  2. Making unfair comparisons, usually in the negative: For example, Sarah got a higher score on her math test, so I’m dumber than her.
  3. Filtering – focusing on the negative, forgetting the positive: For example, a parent forgets all of the times she was patient with her kids and only thinks about the few times she lost her temper.
  4. Personalizing, or blaming yourself for things that aren’t your fault: For example, a child thinks her best friend hates her because she had to move away to another town.
  5. Mind reading: This happens when we assume that we know what others are thinking, and that they are thinking negative things about us.
  6. Catastrophizing: This means that you imagine the worst case scenario. For example, a child misses a homework assignment and imagines that it will cause him to fail all of third grade.
  7. Overgeneralizing: When you say you always mess up, or you never get something right, you are overgeneralizing.
  8. Confusing fact with feeling: For example, you might feel frustrated with a task and assume that means that the task is impossible.
  9. Labelling: Children might label themselves as all sorts of negative things when they’ve simply made a mistake, like “dumb” or “a loser.”
  10. ‘Can’t Standitis’: This is what we call it when you are being unnecessarily intolerant. For example, you might hate a particular exercise and determine that you’re just never going to exercise at all, rather than trying to find some other exercise that you can enjoy. (Or practicing the original exercise until it’s not so hard anymore.)

Do you tell yourself any of these lies? Do your kids? If so, try to challenge the lies and change your thinking. And if you can’t do it on your own, don’t worry. Find a CBT therapist who can help.

Diagnosis: Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder, and DMDD. What’s the Difference?

If you are the parent of a behaviorally challenging child, you may have seen therapists, psychiatrists, or other mental health providers looking for answers to your child’s behavior problems. I’ve been there.

Many kids, including mine, have difficult, oppositional, and explosive behaviors. These can range from milder behaviors–like refusing to acknowledge authority, disobeying rules, or arguing with parents and teachers–to more serious problems like destroying property and violence.

There are three diagnoses that professionals typically assign to these kids: oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder (CD), and disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD). On the surface, these diagnoses sound really similar, so parents can be confused about the difference between them. I’d like to help you understand your child’s diagnosis and what it means for them and your family.

On the surface, these diagnoses sound really similar, so parents can be confused about the difference between them. I’d like to help you understand your child’s diagnosis and what it means for them and your family.

Before we get into the differences between these three disorders, let’s discuss what each of them are. Here are the definitions and diagnostic criteria for ODD, conduct disorder, and DMDD, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM 5), the manual that psychologists use to diagnose mental illnesses.

What Is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

According to the DSM 5, oppositional defiant disorder is a behavioral disorder that is usually first diagnosed in childhood. Parents often see the symptoms of ODD play out in one or more of these three primary areas: First, the child will often have an angry, irritable, or raging mood. Second, the child is often argumentative and combative with authority figures. And third, the child might have a spiteful or vindictive attitude.

According to the DSM 5, oppositional defiant disorder is a behavioral disorder that is usually first diagnosed in childhood.

In addition, the symptoms can be mild, moderate, or severe.

In mild ODD, the symptoms are only present in one setting, like home, school, or with friends. Moderate ODD means that some of the symptoms (though not necessarily ALL of them) are present in at least two of those settings. And in Severe ODD, children experience symptoms in three or more settings.

The DSM V diagnostic criteria for oppositional defiant disorder require that the children show at least four of the following symptoms for at least six months:

  1. The child often loses temper/has raging tantrums.
  2. The child is easily annoyed or touchy.
  3. The child is frequently angry and resentful.
  4. The child often argues with authority figures or any adults.
  5. The child actively defies or refuses to comply with requests/rules.
  6. The child deliberately annoys others.
  7. The child refuses to take responsibility for their own behavior, often blaming others for mistakes.
  8. The child has been spiteful or vindictive at least twice within the past six months.

What Is Conduct Disorder?

Again, the DSM 5 defines conduct disorder as a behavioral disorder. It’s similar to ODD in that children and adolescents with conduct disorder often refuse to obey authorities or follow the rules. But conduct disorder symptoms also include a violation of the rights of others. So a kid with ODD might refuse to go to school, for example. But if your child slashes your tires to prevent you from driving him to school, he’s graduated to conduct disorder.

Here are the conduct disorder DSM 5 diagnostic criteria. In order to be diagnosed with conduct disorder, a child must meet at least three of the following 15 criteria. All three of the met criteria should have been present at some point in the past 12 months, but at least one of them should be present in the past 6 months.

Here are the conduct disorder DSM 5 diagnostic criteria.

Aggression to People and Animals

  1. The child or adolescent bullies, threatens, or intimidates others.
  2. The child or adolescent frequently initiates physical fights.
  3. The child has used a dangerous weapon that can cause serious physical harm, like a bat, broken bottle, knife, or gun.
  4. The child has been physically cruel to other people.
  5. The child has been physically cruel to animals.
  6. The child has stolen property while directly confronting a victim, as in a mugging or armed robbery.
  7. The child has committed sexual assault.

Destruction of Property

  1. The child deliberately engages in fire setting with the intent of causing serious damage. This does not include accidental fire setting caused by carelessness.
  2. The child has deliberately destroyed others’ property in some other way.

Deceitfulness or Theft

  1. The child has broken into someone else’s house, building, or car.
  2. The child frequently lies or “cons” others in order to obtain something or to avoid an obligation.
  3. The child has stolen something valuable without confronting a victim, as in shoplifting.

Serious Violations of Rules

  1. The child often stays out at night in violation of their parents’ rules.
  2. The child has run way from home overnight at least twice, or at least once for a long period of time.
  3. The child frequently skips school, beginning before age 13 years.

Again, the DSM 5 defines conduct disorder as a behavioral disorder. It’s similar to ODD in that children and adolescents with conduct disorder often refuse to obey authorities or follow the rules. But conduct disorder also includes a violation of the rights of others. So a kid with ODD might refuse to go to school, for example. But if your child slashes your tires to prevent you from driving him to school, he’s graduated to conduct disorder.

What Is DMDD?

Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, or DMDD, is a mood disorder that I’ve heard described as “pre-bipolar disorder in kids.” In fact, it was created to replace the diagnosis of “pediatric bipolar disorder.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that a child with DMDD symptoms will grow up to have bipolar disorder. Indeed, DMDD does not include manic or hypomanic episodes like bipolar does. It simply means that these kids have severe difficulty with regulating their emotions, and as a result, they are chronically irritable and have frequent, raging tantrums.

These are the DSM 5 diagnostic criteria for DMDD:

A. Severe, repeated temper tantrums that include verbal rages and/or physical aggression.
B. The tantrums are inconsistent with the child’s developmental level.
C. The tantrums occur three or more times per week.
D. Between tantrums, the child’s mood is persistently irritable or angry most of the day.
E. Criteria A–D have been present for 12 months or longer.
F. The tantrums and irritable mood are present in at least two settings, and are severe in at least one.
G. The child is between the ages of 6 and 18 years old.
H. The clinician should take a history to ensure that the symptoms began before age 10.
I. The child has never had a manic episode.
J. The clinician has ruled out major depression and other mental disorders oppositional defiant disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, and bipolar disorder.
K. The symptoms are not caused by substance use or a medical or neurological condition.

ODD vs Conduct Disorder vs DMDD

Hopefully, the explanations above have already given you a good idea of the definitions of and differences between ODD, conduct disorder, and DMDD. But just for clarity’s sake, let’s take a look at the specific symptoms that help you differentiate between these three similar disorders.

We’ll start with oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder. These two diagnoses are best understood on a spectrum, with ODD on the less severe end and conduct disorder on the more severe end.

The symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder are just as they sound–oppositional and defiant. But they don’t violate the rights of others. They cause problems, for sure. They are frustrating, for one thing. When you need your child to get in the car so you can leave the park, but he just keeps on swinging and chanting that you can’t make him, that’s pretty darn annoying. If he shouts at his teachers and refuses to do his school work, his grades are going to suffer, and he might end up with detention and very few friends.

But he’s not actually harming a person, animal, or property. If the child starts physical fights, beats someone up, tortures an animal, steals from someone, or vandalizes property, he’s in conduct disorder territory. Even if the child is also oppositional and defiant (and he probably is), the addition of violent, aggressive behavior changes his diagnosis to conduct disorder.

It’s important to note that no child can have both ODD and conduct disorder. Either there is no violation of others’ rights, which portends a diagnosis of ODD, or there is a violation of others’ rights, which means he now has conduct disorder. It’s also noteworthy that ODD can lead to conduct disorder. Kids diagnosed with ODD are often younger, between the ages of 6 and 10. When they get a bit older, sometimes their symptoms become more aggressive, and their diagnosis is changed to conduct disorder.

Let’s move on to disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. DMDD symptoms might seem very similar to ODD and conduct disorder on the surface. However, what sets this diagnosis apart is the presence of mood instability. Like kids with ODD, kids with DMDD are frequently irritable and angry. But kids with DMDD also have extreme temper outbursts in response to situations that seem far out of proportion to the emotional reaction.

For example, let’s say it’s homework time. A kid with ODD might just say, “No, I’m not doing it.” He may act angry and irritable when you insist that he has to do it. He might even shout at you about it. For the ODD kid, it probably doesn’t matter what his homework assignment is or when you ask him to do it. He doesn’t acknowledge your authority to tell him he has to do the homework, and he digs in his heels.

For a kid with DMDD, homework might trigger problems too. But they’ll look different and be caused by different factors. He was probably already irritable before homework time. But once you said he had to get started on it, he felt some huge emotions that he couldn’t control. Maybe he’s anxious about his math skills, or he feels overwhelmed by the amount of homework. There could be any number of reasons for his big feelings. But when he has them, they are HUGE, and they come out like a giant tantrum.

Kids with DMDD are especially likely to have these outbursts when something changes in their routine. For example, he might normally do his homework after dinner. Then one day, he comes home from school and you tell him that the family is going out to dinner, so he needs to get his homework done beforehand. This might seem like a small deal to most people, but a kid with DMDD might react with an enormous, out-of-control, rage-filled tantrum.

During these tantrums, the child might hit, kick, or break things, similar to conduct disorder. But the difference here is that kids with DMDD do these things because of extreme mood swings.

I hope this information helps you understand your child’s diagnosis. I plan to write another blog post in the future about the various treatments for these disorders.

Five Ways to Build Resilience During Mental Health Month

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May is mental health month, and since anxiety and stress levels are so high, I asked world-renowned resilience expert Andrew Shatte, Ph.D. to offer us some resilience tips. Dr. Shatte is the Chief Science Officer at meQuilibrium and the founder and President of Phoenix Life Academy, a company that specializes in measuring and training in resilience. He is a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Executive Education, a former professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and currently serves as a research professor in the College of Medicine at the University of Arizona. Dr. Shatté has published prolifically in peer-reviewed journals and is the co-author of
The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles.

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Resilience Skills Help to Navigate Crisis, Avoid Worst-Case Thinking

Mental Health Month has been observed for over 50 years, but this year it is especially important to raise awareness of ways to improve mental health and increase resilience. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 19.1% of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2018 (47.6 million people). However, the worry, isolation, and anxiety associated with Coronavirus is something that literally everyone may experience.

Mental Health Month has been observed for over 50 years, but this year it is especially important to raise awareness of ways to improve mental health and increase resilience.

Resilience is a crucial skill we need to thrive in uncertain times, says meQuilibrium, the leading digital employee resilience solution. Resilience represents the ability to rebound productively in challenging situations and it has a strong protective effect against anxiety. In today’s anxiety-ridden environment, those who possess adaptive capabilities will be better equipped to handle the psychological toll. meQuilibrium’s scientific research has shown that highly resilient people are 28% more able to adapt to changing circumstances.

“People are experiencing heightened levels of uncertainty and anxiety from COVID-19,” says Andrew Shatte, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer, meQuilibrium and a world-renowned resilience expert. “The human brain is wired for the negative and it’s natural for us to be worried about the future. However, instead of anxious feelings getting in the way, we can take productive steps to be in problem-solving mode rather than worry and stress mode.”

The human brain is wired for the negative and it’s natural for us to be worried about the future. However, instead of anxious feelings getting in the way, we can take productive steps to be in problem-solving mode

Learning to recognize responses to stress, emotional strain, and exhaustion provide the foundation for resilient self-management. Even small improvements in individual cognitive performance can make a positive impact on emotional distress. meQuilibrium offers these steps to build simple resilience practices in your daily routine:

Keep your emotions in check

Coronavirus has our brains pinging on “future threat,” driving global anxiety and shared fear. Stay calm and work to keep your emotions in check, particularly anxiety, which will take center stage. Work to catch those anxious thoughts before they spiral, and reframe them into more realistic, probable outcomes.

Remain realistic

People will begin to catastrophize in this extreme situation. It’s a natural response that’s rooted in self-preservation. But when you focus on the worst-case scenario, you allot the majority of your energy to worrying about something that has only a small chance of happening and not devoting any resources to the negative things that are very likely to happen. At the same time, there may be other possible outcomes and choices at your disposal that you’re not seeing.

When you focus on the worst-case scenario, you allot the majority of your energy to worrying about something that has only a small chance of happening and not devoting any resources to the negative things that are very likely to happen.

Adaptability is key

Make informed adjustments based on the information you have. Limit the amount of energy spent on speculation. Use mindfulness to stay in the moment. Every day, take a moment to pause, breathe deeply, and focus. We can exert most control over today, this moment. Using simple breathing mindfulness techniques or meditation will serve to bring us back to the present, calm the mind, and reduce the high level of stress that we are all feeling now.

Every day, take a moment to pause, breathe deeply, and focus. We can exert most control over today, this moment.

Practice gratitude

Coronavirus is a new threat and coping with new threats requires strength and energy. So give yourself some credit. Remember to end each day with a measure of gratitude that you successfully navigated the world around you, and let this positivity build on itself. You have the power to care for your physical and mental health; don’t let anxiety control your well-being.

Coronavirus is a new threat and coping with new threats requires strength and energy. So give yourself some credit. Remember to end each day with a measure of gratitude that you successfully navigated the world around you

Prevent

When individuals recognize their own habitual patterns and begin to manage stress in healthier ways, healthier behavior and interactions spread, in what we can consider a positive network effect. We become better equipped in our interactions, even under stress, and better able to support one another.

“Resilience helps people respond to change more effectively by managing their minds and emotions in high stress, adverse situations,” explains Dr. Shatté. “People who can quickly switch gears from threatened to productive, can navigate this challenging time more effectively.”

Visit meQuilibrium to read more about how to address uncertainty and anxiety with resilience.

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Parenting During Quarantine

I wrote this answer in response to another mom’s post in one of my parenting groups. I thought it might be useful to others, so I’m sharing it here.

This mom is having trouble getting her child to comply with any directives at all, including school work, hygiene, meals, and bedtime. Here’s what I wrote:

I’m so sorry. I am having similar struggles with my kids. It is so, so hard. Unbelievably hard. I don’t know if any of this will work for you, but here are a few things that sometimes work in my house:

1. I’m not sure where you live, but most cities and counties have a mobile crisis unit that will send a mental health professional out to your house in case of emergency. Google to find one near you and save their number in your phone. If it ever gets to the point of a serious meltdown, violence, or self harm, don’t be afraid to call and ask for help.

2. Make a list of all the problems you are having with your child, and prioritize them. Pick just the most important 3 or 4 things to work on, and choose to let the rest go for now. There have to be some things on your list that are not a matter of life and death. (For example, can you choose not to enforce meal times or hair brushing?) We are experiencing an unprecedented, enormous catastrophe. It’s ok to just be getting by right now.

3. Forget about enforcing the structure. Just HAVE the structure and follow it yourself. Put a schedule on the wall that says when you will get up, do hygiene tasks, eat, work, etc. When it’s time to do something, just say, “it’s time for breakfast,” (or whatever) and then have breakfast. If your kid doesn’t participate, don’t worry about it.

4. Refuse to argue. If you tell your kid to do something and they whine back that they shouldn’t have to because XYZ, resist the urge to respond with your side of the argument. Just repeat that they have to do it. (You can give a reason one time, of course. Just don’t keep going back and forth.)

5. During a calm period, Ask your child for ideas on how to solve a particular problem. I know this sounds cliche, but sometimes they’ll give good suggestions. If they do, follow them.

6. If they start fighting about school work, let them be done for the day. It’s really not worth a fight.

7. When you give a consequence, choose something you won’t have to “police.” For example, you can take away screen time with parental controls instead of having to catch them watching screens and making them turn it off. Don’t let the punishment be one more thing to fight about.

8. Make sure to spend at least part of each day laughing with your child. You can just look at funny memes or tell a funny story about something they did when they were little. It’s more important to have a good, loving relationship than to get all the other stuff done. Plus, strengthening your relationship might make them more likely to listen to you.

I hope this helps. These are things that kinda sorta help in my family. They may or may not apply to yours. I’m sorry you’re going through this. ❤️

Quarantine Diary: Family with mental health problems and the CoronaVirus shutdowns

As you all probably know, I am parenting three children with mental health problems. There are a total of seven people and two dogs in my house right now.

We are blessed in many ways. For example, our house has plenty of space. Almost everyone has their own bedroom, except for the two youngest boys. We have a back yard with a swing set and a slide, as well as a great climbing tree in the front yard. Our neighborhood is safe for walking, and our neighbors are all doing a great job with social distancing. In addition, my husband and I are both able to do our jobs from home, so we haven’t lost income like so many others have. We are so very grateful for all of this.

But that doesn’t mean that the shutdown has been easy on us. My son’s mental illness causes some very serious and violent symptoms. I’ve spent much of the last two years putting out fire after fire, and working on getting him onto the right treatment regimen to help us live a normal life.

Right before All Of This happened, he had finally started making some progress. We got him into an intensive outpatient therapy program that he loved. We started seeing a new psychiatrist who helped us figure out a better medication regimen that helped stabilize his mood and decrease his meltdowns. In fact, the meltdowns were practically non-existent.

Then Coronavirus happened. He couldn’t go to his intensive therapy program anymore, he was stuck in the house with the same siblings all day, every day, and everything went to shit. Within days, it seemed like all that progress had been obliterated by this unforgiving pandemic.

Obviously, I can’t just throw up my hands and give up. I’ve been trying a few things that have helped somewhat, and I wanted to share them with you, in case you are in a similar situation.

Photo by Caleb Oquendo on Pexels.com

Tips for parenting mentally ill kids through the pandemic

  • Keep in touch with their providers via phone or internet. Many therapists, doctors, and psychiatrists are offering virtual appointments now. If your child’s providers are doing this, absolutely schedule those appointments.
  • Heap on praise for every itty bitty success. There’s got to be something. Find it, and give your kid praise in whatever way they respond to it.
  • If you have more than one kid, separate them by taking them each for a drive, one at a time. Even neurotypical siblings tend to fight more often when they’re cooped up together. The drive just gives them a short break.
  • Spend as much time as possible outside. As long as you stay 6 feet away from the neighbors, outside time is still O.K.
  • Don’t beat yourself up. If you need to give extra screen time, do it. If your kid melts down over the homeschool work, let them stop. If you’re all eating too much junk, don’t stress over it. This is survival time. Just do what you need to do so that you’re not losing your mind.
  • That being said, it’s probably a good idea to have some structure to your day. Write down a daily schedule and tape it to the wall. It can be broad or detailed, whatever you want. Just try not to slip into a chaotic, non-linear existence where you never know the date or time.
  • It’s OK to change the schedule at the last minute. It’s there to serve you, not the other way around.
  • It’s also OK to get stricter about something. Have you noticed that your kid has turned into a monster after 8 hours of TV and an all-sugar diet? Go ahead and take that screen time and junk food away if you think it will help. Yes, you’re going to have to put more effort into supervision in order to enforce this. It’s up to you to decide if it’s worth it.
  • Try to stay away from alcohol and drugs. I know that some people will hate me for saying this. I hate me for saying this. But if you use mind-altering substances to treat your stress and anxiety, it is very easy for that to turn into an addiction. Addictions will increase your stress and anxiety, as well as many more problems. You also might spend the mornings hungover while parenting your mentally ill children, and that is SO much harder. It’s a vicious cycle.
  • Self-care is pretty difficult right now, but it’s still important. Try to spend a little time each day on one of the following: Meditation, chatting with a friend on the phone, taking a warm bath, reading a good book, exercise, or a virtual session with your own therapist.
Photo by Mike on Pexels.com

Round Up: How to Work From Home When the Kids Are Off School

I’ve been working from home while homeschooling my kids for three years, and in that time I’ve developed a few home-management and parenting skills that help me get both work and school tasks done effectively.

Since the novel CoronaVirus (COVID-19) has shutdown schools and forced many parents to work from home, I’ve written a few articles with tips on how to homeschool and work at the same time. I’m linking to my articles below, as well as several others that I believe might help other parents as we deal with this public health crisis.

CoronaVirus Quarantine: How to Work From Home While Homeschooling

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Coronavirus and the Workforce: Working From Home With No Childcare

I wrote this article for Zenefits, a provider of innovative HR and payroll software and services for small and mid-size businesses. I hope to reach both parents who are now working with no child care, and employers whose staff is in this situation. Read.

10 tips for working from home with your kids there, from a freelancer who’s been homeschooling her kids for 3 years

I wrote this article for Business Insider. In it, I share 10 tips for working from home with kids. A few of my work-from-home tips include: communicate your expectations to your kids, schedule office hours, and get your big kids to help out with the littles. Read.

A few of my work-from-home tips include: communicate your expectations to your kids, schedule office hours, and get your big kids to help out with the littles.

4 Professionals Share How to Effectively Work From Home

I wrote this article for the Zenefits.com blog, Workest. In it, I share insights from 4 work-from-home pros (including myself!). Read.

Got kids? Try these 11 quick tips for working from home while they’re with you

This article, published on Fast Company, also includes a lot of good suggestions for keeping your career going while simultaneously caring for children. It includes some great advice on setting boundaries and rewarding good behavior. Read.

Coronavirus: 5 ways to work from home with your kids (and stay sane)

My favorite advice in this article, which is published on the World Economic Forum, is to let go of perfectionism. The entire world is dealing with an unprecedented public health crisis, and some things just aren’t that important anymore. If you’ve been holding yourself and your family to very high standards, now might be the time to re-evaluate what really matters. Let your kids watch a little more screen time. Let your house get a little messy. There’s no need to be perfect. Read.

Now Is the Perfect Time to Lower the Parenting Bar

Thecut.com wins the Headline Olympics with this article. Here’s my favorite quote: “I felt completely unmoored from routine and blinked into the sun as if I had forgotten what it was for. We learn over time to feel like we must be in front of a screen grinding and grinding and grinding in order to do our jobs well. But that is bullshit.” Read.

We learn over time to feel like we must be in front of a screen grinding and grinding and grinding in order to do our jobs well. But that is bullshit.

Tips for Working From Home With a Toddler

If your kids are too little for the above tips to work, you might find this Very Well Family article useful. It has a lot of helpful advice, including the sad reality that you are going to have to get up really early in the morning. Read.

What are your work-from-home tips? What are you doing to survive the CoronaVirus shutdowns?

What are your work-from-home tips? What are you doing to survive the CoronaVirus shutdowns? Let me know in the comments. I love hearing from you!

How Could Motherhood Possibly Be This Hard? (Parenting Kids with Mental Health Problems)

Dear long-time readers: You may recognize this blog post from my old blog, nicoleroder.com. From time to time, I will re-share old blog posts here. If you’ve read it before, feel free to just scroll by. (Or stick around and enjoy it all over again!)

I wrote this particular blog post in 2017. Back then, I didn’t have the best handle on treating my kids’ mental illnesses. It’s not exactly easy now, but at least the kids are taking prescription medications along with their therapy. That helps a lot.

Photo by Alexander Dummer on Pexels.com

I want to warn you, before you read any further, that this will not be my typical, dumb humor post. I won’t be telling you some sarcastic, relatable story about a time that my kids did something aggravating, then toss in some “funny” so that you can walk away with the feeling that this is all normal, lighthearted stuff.

If you want to maintain the illusion that my life is perhaps a bit chaotic, certainly full of hard work, but at the end of the day we can all hug it out like an “aw shucks” moment on a family sitcom, you should probably stop reading now.

Because the truth is, my life is hard. Not poverty-stricken hard. Not life-threatening illness hard. I’m well-aware of my many blessings. I’m talking about my day-to-day life as a mother.

I’m talking about yesterday, when my 5-year-old son, R, refused to get up and go to church. There was absolutely nothing I could do to convince him to get dressed, so I threw up my hands and said, “I guess you’ll go to church in your pajamas.” My husband then had to carry him out to the van and buckle him in, kicking and screaming, and I had to dive into the back seat and hold him down to keep him from unbuckling and jumping out of the moving car.

I’m talking about the hour long Mass when I had to sit in the back of the church with him and physically restrain him from either A) punching and kicking me, or B) running out of the church and into the street. I’m talking about the fact that I’m calling him my 5-year-old despite knowing that he’ll be 6 in 3 weeks, because I don’t want you to think he’s outrageously immature for his age. (As if it were normal for 5-year-olds to punch their mothers and jump out of moving vehicles.)

I’m talking about a few days ago, when I stayed up late writing and consequently overslept and missed the girls’ swim practice. Nine-year-old E woke me up in her bathing suit. I jumped up, looked at my phone, and gasped. “Oh no, honey!” I said. “I overslept! We missed practice! I’m so sorry.” She stomped out of the room to inform her sister that the two of them were not to love me anymore. She then proceeded to scream at me, from every room of the house, for the better part of an hour. She said she wanted me to go to prison. Or die. Either one was fine with her.

I’m talking about the fact that I had to hide in the bathroom when my babysitter first arrived the other day so that she wouldn’t see that I’d been crying.

I’m talking about the fact that my daughter has a health condition that requires strict adherence to a bathroom/water/diet schedule, and I can’t get her to follow it without an enormous fight every day.

I’m talking about two days ago, when my 8-year-old threw my lunch across the room because I told her to go upstairs.

I’m talking about chore time, and how there has never been one single day when all 3 of them have done their chores without screaming at me and declaring that they wanted to live somewhere else.

I’m talking about the hours I spend writing, and the guilt I feel when I can hear the kids shouting at my husband while I stay locked away in my office.

There is no “but” at the end of this list. I’m not leading up to some concluding sentiment of happiness and satisfaction with my parenting life despite the trials. Yes, of course I love my children. I’d give my life to protect them, and if I could do it over again, I would still want to be a mother.

But there are days when I wonder, “Could this really be motherhood? Could it really be this hard?”

I know of no other mom who still has to carry her 8-year-old to time out because she will never, ever go there on her own. I know of no other family who can’t make it through a single family dinner without someone crying or throwing a tantrum.

As I’m writing this, I’m imagining dozens of my friends and acquaintances reading it with furrowed eyebrows. Whoa! We didn’t know that Nicole was such a terrible mother! How did she raise such miscreant kids?

Sometimes, I bring this up to another mom, but I don’t really tell the whole story. I say something like, “Wow, you wouldn’t believe what happened today! I feel like the worst mother ever!” Other Mom always responds, “We all have days like that! Don’t feel bad!”

But this is not one day. This is all the time. Yes, we have nice moments. Yes, we have more happy minutes than craptastic ones. But it seems like every single day, there is at least one blow up. At least one moment when someone hates me and never wants to see me again. At least one raging, screaming fit.

So I’m back to my original question. Is this normal? Do other moms experience this type of utter misery nearly every day of their lives? I don’t know if I want the answer to be “yes” or “no.”

I know that people usually keep this kind of thing private. Nobody posts photos of temper tantrums on Instagram. I know I don’t. If you check my Insta feed or Facebook page, you’ll see plenty of evidence that my family is happy, healthy, and carefree. And we are. But we’re also loud, miserable, and dangling from a rescue helicopter over a crocodile-infested swamp–and our hands are getting sweaty.

If you check my Insta feed or Facebook page, you’ll see plenty of evidence that my family is happy, healthy, and carefree. And we are. But we’re also loud, miserable, and dangling from a rescue helicopter over a crocodile-infested swamp–and our hands are getting sweaty.

I’m not looking for advice. I’ve talked to friends, family members, and professionals. I’ve read every parenting book and tried every “method.” This isn’t happening because I don’t know what to do. The opposite is true. I don’t know what to do because this is happening.

If you’ve never had to deal with a problem like this, I’m happy for you. I mean it. I’m really happy for you. But if you’re like me, and you’re wondering how everyone but you seems to have their motherhood shit together, please know that it’s not everyone but you. You’ve got at least one sister-in-arms.

If you’ve never had to deal with a problem like this, I’m happy for you. I mean it. I’m really happy for you. But if you’re like me, and you’re wondering how everyone but you seems to have their motherhood shit together, please know that it’s not everyone but you. You’ve got at least one sister-in-arms.

Love in a Time of CoronaVirus

Like just about everyone else in the world, I am stuck in my home with my family. We plan to use this time to unplug, rest, and re-connect as a family. What follows is my quarantine diary.

Quarantine day 1

We can do this! It won’t be easy, of course. But we have a big house with a yard, and Matt and I both have jobs that can easily be completed from home. Plus, I’ve been homeschooling for three years. If that’s not quarantine boot camp, I don’t know what is!

I’ve made a daily schedule so that we can stick to a routine. I’ve scheduled time for work, school, play, rest, meditation, exercise, chores, eating, and contemplating the universe.

Quarantine day 2

OK, yesterday was hard. We stayed on track with the schedule, but there was a lot of complaining. I’m beginning to understand why some animals eat their young.

Quarantine day 3

I’m writing this from the toilet. My children have set up a real life Hunger Games in the rest of the house and this is the only safe place. Oh dear God, they’ve found me.

Quarantine day 15

Today I awoke in a darkened cell. The children appear to have pledged their allegiance to a mystical cartoon god. I am not sure of the rules of this new religion, but they seem to involve rubbing bare butts in odd places.

Quarantine day 437

Oh, hello! I am perfectly normal and healthy and not under any duress at all! My colony of rodent friends is growing (4,500 so far!) and I’ve crocheted little ski caps that they can use when the quarantine is finally lifted. I believe it will happen as soon as tomorrow!

Quarantine day ???

Time is a construct. Food no longer exists. I can’t remember what paper looks like. I will sleep now.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Round-Up: How to Talk to Your Kids About CoronaVirus (COVID-19)

A lot of the news about the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) sounds scary. It’s also confusing and changes rapidly. Understandably, your kids might have some questions. Below, you’ll find a round-up of articles that contain good advice for answering those questions, easing some of your children’s (and your!) anxiety about the virus, and keeping your family safe and healthy.

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

Talking to Kids About Coronavirus

Child Mind Institute

According to the experts at the Child Mind Institute, kids will worry more if you keep them in the dark. I wholeheartedly agree. They say that your kids have almost certainly heard about it already, so you shouldn’t be afraid to discuss it with them. Here are their tips for talking about the virus in a developmentally appropriate manner. Read.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

As you all know, my background is in public health. Because of that experience, I’ve learned that one of the first places you go to find reliable and accurate health information is CDC. They have some advice for talking to your kids in a calm and reassuring way, and listening to their fears as well. Read.

In addition, CDC has a webpage dedicated to sharing accurate, up-to-date information about the virus and things you can do to prevent its spread. Read.

A Rose Tinted World

Jo is a 48-year-old mom in the U.K.. She has a great blog called A Rose Tinted World, and she’s written a pretty level-headed blog post about talking to her own 4-year-old child about Coronavirus. You’ll find some sound advice here. Read.

National Public Radio (NPR)

NPR has published a creative comic strip that helps explain Coronavirus to kids in terms they can understand. It’s based on a radio story told by NPR journalist, Cory Turner. You can read this directly to your children and show them the pictures. Read.

Business Insider

Amy Ettinger is a mother who lives about 70 miles from San Francisco, where the government has declared a State of Emergency due to Coronavirus. She says that talking to kids about this outbreak is tricky, as it’s important to both state the true facts and relieve anxiety. This article explains how she handled the conversation with her own kids. Read.

Pop Sugar

Looking for some expert advice? This article delivers the expertise of an RN and an MD. It explains the reasons it’s important to discuss this virus with your children, the common fears or worries children might have, and the safety measures parents should discuss with them. Read.

Mommy Nearest

Mom and writer, Michelle Hainer, says she hasn’t started panicking about the novel Coronavirus just yet, but she is taking precautions to keep her family healthy, including putting the breaks on planning a trip to Disney. For this article, she interviewed some experts and wrote some great advice for having this conversation with your kids that includes actively listening to your children, sharing your own concerns, and other great tips. Read.

How to Know When It’s Time to Think About Psychiatric Medications for Your Kids

Hey friends! Recently, I got a question from one of my Twitter followers about psychiatric medications for children. Since this is a pretty common question among moms of children with mental illness, I thought others might want to read my answer as well.

I’ve edited the question to protect the writer’s privacy.

Photo by Pietro Jeng on Pexels.com

Question: Hi Nicole. I follow you on Twitter and wanted to ask, how did you know it was time to start your kids on medication? I understand if it is too personal to share but just interested in your experience.

I don’t mind at all! Thanks for reaching out!

I took my kids for an evaluation with a psychiatrist as soon as their mental health symptoms started interfering with every day life. In my experience, psychiatrists play it pretty safe when it comes to prescribing psychiatric medications to children, so I don’t think you need to worry much about taking your child too soon or somehow getting a prescription for too much medication. Of course, you should ask lots of questions and be sure you’re comfortable with the effects and side effects, and ask about any long term effects, interactions, etc. But I also think it’s unlikely that a psychiatrist will prescribe something that will harm your child.

I will say, though, that once my child started displaying explosive rage symptoms, that was a lot harder for me to come to grips with. Here’s why: Up until that point, he’d been diagnosed with anxiety and ADHD. Those are pretty common, easily treatable disorders, and they might even resolve before he grows up.

Now, the doctors and therapists are talking about DMDD. That’s like the junior version of bipolar disorder. It doesn’t ALWAYS lead to bipolar, but it can. And that totally freaked me out. I’ve worked with bipolar people, and their lives were very difficult. I just didn’t want to think about that for my child.

Also, the medications that treat DMDD are stronger and more serious. They have more side effects. I was scared. His psychiatrist told me that the standard treatment for DMDD is Abilify, which causes heavy weight gain, sleep disturbance, migraines, incontinence, and a whole lot more. I thought, “forget that.”

But then my son got into a new program and we met with a new psychiatrist there. She told me that she wouldn’t recommend Abilify because of the side effects, but there was another mood stabilizer called Depakote whose side effects are much rarer and less severe. So, we decided to try it. Thank God we did. His behavior got a million times better.

The things to be aware of when starting medication: many of them take a few weeks to start showing results, so be patient; it may take some trial and error for the prescribing doc to get it right; and it’s important to also see a therapist at the same time.

As long as you’re going into it fully informed, I really think medications can be life savers.

Best of luck to you.

Do you have a question about parenting children with mental illnesses? I’d be happy to help if I can! Get in touch!