Recently a number of articles have been written about the Little Baby Face Foundation (LBFF), a nonprofit providing free plastic surgery for children with facial deformities worldwide.  Controversy has flared over LBFF’s acceptance of cases in which children or adolescents are seeking facial plastic surgery due to severe bullying following a recent Dateline episode covering the issue.  For some people, including many mental health professionals, the idea of a child or teen seeking – and getting – facial plastic surgery to “fix” a physical feature which has garnered them relentless bullying, such as an overly large nose or too-small eyes, seems misguided at best and catastrophic at worst.

 

After all, the real problem is the cycle of bullying itself, not the reason for it, right?  Children need to be taught to accept and love their bodies, right?  That sticks and stones may break their bones but words can never hurt them, and that the real conversation should be about how to effectively stop bullying and prevent it in the first place, right?

 

Certainly, these statements have merit.  For the vast majority of youth bullied about their appearance, teaching them to accept and love their bodies, to ignore the bullies, to surround themselves with a protective network of friends, teachers and family members, and to remind themselves that bullies inevitably hide their own secret pain are certainly all positive and helpful approaches to take. 

 

The problem is, these and other traditional strategies don’t always help.  Sometimes, a child’s physical appearance may deviate from societal norms to such an extent that they become the target of bullying so relentless and cruel that the usual strategies amount to fighting a forest fire with a garden hose.  Adding to this pain are inevitable the chorus of adults encouraging the youth to “buck up” and “blow it off” and sharing parables about turning the other cheek.  Simply put, most people do not understand what it feels like to be severely and chronically bullied.  While well-meaning, these messages can often convey to the bullied child that their inability to “just blow off” severe and recurrent bullying must be due to a weakness or failure within themselves.  The more hopeless, powerless, and desperate a bullied youth feels, the more encouragements to simply “be the better person” begin sounding less like empowering bits of wisdom and more like a different kind of bullying itself, seemingly reminding them that if they were only better or more resilient, the bullying wouldn’t hurt so much.

 

The effects of chronic and severe bullying can be catastrophic to a child’s mental health and well being, as the frequent media reports of teens committing suicide due to bullying can attest, and can contribute to severe mental and physical health problems which may last well into adulthood.  Severely bullied youth need all the help they can get, and their self-esteem, resiliency, and coping skills may have been flattened by years of abuse.

 

While facial plastic surgery would be inappropriate for the vast majority of youth who are bullied about their appearance, for some with genuine physical differences different enough from their peers so as to attract ruthless and relentless bullying, surgery may represent not a “victory” for the bullies, but perhaps the way out of a vicious cycle.  Sometimes you have to change one thing to potentiate other changes.  Changing a problematic circumstance of a child’s physical appearance may give them the space, and emotional boost, needed to rebuild their self-esteem and provide them with a fresh start.

 

The key to determining whether a surgical procedure might be part of a solution to a truly severe bullying problem should be a thorough and detailed vetting process.  For example, care must be taken to ensure that the child is surrounded by a support system to help them through the transition post-surgery.  In addition, psychological screening can assist in discovering potentially problematic issues which may rule out surgery, such as the presence of an eating disorder, self-injurious behavior like cutting, evidence that the youth’s appearance is not the primary or sole source of bullying, and assessing the youth’s risk of negative psychological effects from the surgery.  Finally, any youth elected to undergo such a procedure should be receiving regular counseling from a qualified mental health professional to aid with the stresses of the transition, develop more effective coping strategies and support systems, a plan to deal with the likely-inevitable instances of future bullying, and ensuring that the surgery is viewed not as a “band-aid” quick fix, but as merely the first step down a challenging but more hopeful new path.

Dr. Nicholas Jenner PsyD, MA

Transition and change are a part of life and the human experience, come in many forms and can be sudden or gradually evolving, stressful, pleasurable, or a mixture of both! We change our relationships, jobs, where we live, sometimes our values and beliefs, our goals in life; as well as changes in health. With transition and change comes some type of adjustment, roles and responsibilities can change with changing life circumstances. The more organic transitions in life are obvious, the cycle from birth to death. In fact all of life is made up of ‘little deaths’. As we transition through life we let go of childhood for adolescence, through to our old age.

There are many positive aspects to change, these include:
  • new experiences and opportunities
  • stimulation for new ideas and ways of thinking
  • new strengths such as more self confidence
  • change helps you to prioritize and problem solve
There…

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I find that at the beginning of every new year, a common question from parents is how they can improve their relationships with their children. In essence, parents try to set personal parent-child new year’s resolutions. I have found that across time, similar resolutions have been developed for families and I wanted to share some of the most frequent themes with you. These “resolutions” in fact are mindful and thoughtful parenting tools that can be used in every day interactions with children regardless whether it is the new year, middle of the year, or end of year!

1. Be respectful of your child’s boundaries and limitations. Children send us cues of what they may need or want, and often we may or may not choose to listen. For example, your child may peak out at 30 minutes a night of homework and start to become agitated, whiny, or inattentive. Or your child may only tolerate one extracurricular activity per week and tell you he/she dislikes other activities or is “bored” or “tired.” Listen to these cues if they become a pattern over time. Understand that just because “Johnny” down the street can accomplish 5 after-school activities, does not mean your child can. Trust your child’s instincts and respect them–as your child is not in competition with other children. Respecting your child’s limits (while sometimes slighting pushing them!) will create a more loving and affectionate relationship where your child will trust that you understand them.

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2. Have some HUMOR with your parenting. Relax. Parents make mistakes ALL the time. Letting your children know that you make mistakes allows space and room for your children to also make mistakes; and the shame from being “imperfect” is removed from the equation for both parent and child. Laugh when a mess is made in the kitchen or a coffee mug is dropped and breaks! Tell jokes at the dinner table instead of talking about what grade your child received on a chemistry test. Lightening up the mood in the household affords room for your children to talk about subjects that are more serious when the time is actually right.

3. Be AUTHENTIC. I always hear from kids that they want their parents to BE REAL. They tell me they wish their mom or dad told them that she/he was “really really mad” instead of saying “everything is fine honey!” Kids want their parents to model and show real emotion that is congruent with what the situation called for. This is not to say you should share inappropriate information with your children; but a willingness to be honest about feelings opens the door for your children to do the same with you.

Questions to think about this year:

1. What kind of relationship do you want with your children?

  • Fun? Real? Exciting?
  • Or do you want to remain as status quo?

2. What types of interactions drive your day to day functioning with your children?

  • Do you sit and only chat over homework or do you do things together over activities that facilitate attachment and communication?

3. What changes do you need to make to have a deeper connection to your child? What limits this right now in the present moment?

I encourage you this year to make meaningful memories with your children.

Happy New Year,

Dr. Stephanie

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Dr. Nicholas Jenner PsyD, MA

Just recently, I have been doing a lot of inner child work with very interesting results. Touching the part of our emotional memory that has been locked away for years, can be a powerful, enlightening experience.

Our inner child is the full complement of childhood feelings, needs and memories. It is very helpful to picture or feel these feelings, needs and memories in the image of a child. Some people have benefited from finding a photo of themselves as a child, and placing it in a prominent location in their home as a visual reminder.

We love ourselves to the degree we accept and love our inner child. So if we ignore our inner child, we can’t fully love ourselves. It’s that important! If a girl was frequently ignored by her parents, she may learn by example to ignore her inner child, to feel that her inner child doesn’t deserve…

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The end of the year signals the abundance of the life cycle for many with the reminders of generations of families coming together and the seasonal leaves changing, for example. Closure and rebirth is such a beautiful process. With that being said, stress is bountiful during the holiday season and creates a dampener in many family households. I was thinking about the paradox of the holiday season and how I could help my readers with some insight about how to enjoy the season’s festivities. I could make something up about how the time change makes young people have more academic concerns or flu season compounds problems by diminishing our physical and mental capacities; while life’s responsibilities double or quadruple. But the reality is things do not really change for children as they do for adults. Yes, kids may have a holiday performance or mid-year exams but these activities are relatively commonplace.

What impacts youth the most during this time of year is how parental behavior is modeled during stressful situations. Consider this: Stress starts with the Thanksgiving feast when you are multitasking making the beautiful meal, cleaning the house, and getting the kids ready for guests. Then, to top it off, there is no break for you between Thanksgiving and the holidays to come, as Christmas and Hanukkah are right around the corner—parties, shopping, cooking. Just thinking about it stresses me out! Plus, the daily routines of work and maintaining the household are still knocking at your door! Not only do you have your own internal pressures to get everything done, (and done well); but the external pressures of friends and family are also bountiful. The exhaustion and overwhelming feeling of it all places stress on the relationships you have with your family and friends. And so begins the holiday hustle….and the fun is taken out of what should be joyful time with your family.

Here are some suggestions for dealing with the holidays and transforming them into enjoyable and meaningful experiences. Rather, than increasing stress and negative interactions with your children.

FOCUS. Think about what is really important. What do you really want out of the holidays? Don’t let society define this for you.  For example; holidays are really about being grateful. So this year ask everyone in the family to participate by either preparing a dish or preparing the table with something special like an artistic project. When you finally sit down to eat, take a minute and ask everyone to say one thing for which they are truly grateful.

BE INTENTIONAL. Take your new-found focus to another level but taking control of your intentions. Your mindset affects your actions and your attitude. If you set some intentions ahead of the holidays you can change your actions and your experience. For example: “I intend to be joyful this season.” With this intention always in mind, you will notice yourself smiling more often. It will also require you to say no to things that may undermine your intentions like taking on more responsibilities at the office or agreeing to bake cookies for your daughter’s school function.

BE OPEN. There is a lot going on during the end of the year and even if you focus and set intentions, you must remain flexible. A change in plans might throw a wrench into the works but it could also lead to a new and wonderful experience.

The FINALE:

And if nothing helps…here are some great shows to watch to get you in the mood: ‘From Grinch to Gaga’ — http://tbo.com/events/from-grinch-to-gaga-holiday-tv-full-of-feel-good-shows-20131125/

Or you may feel like shopping for some “feel good” gifts: http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20550777,00.html

And finally…the true nature and spirit of the season. A real heart-felt story: http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/copsandcourts/ci_24592340/homeless-garden-project-fills-holiday-store-feel-good

In my next post I’ll talk about mindfulness practices that will help you to focus on the here and now while establishing some new traditions for happy healthy holidays.

Best wishes,

Dr. Stephanie

Hi Folks,

I recently worked on an article with Tamekia Reece from Parents Magazine about how children and parents can make work- travel feel less cumbersome on the family unit (see http://www.parents.com/parenting/work/how-to-prepare-kids-when-parents-travel-for-work/). After speaking with Ms. Reece I began to reflect more on why travel is so difficult on children despite many very concerted attempts by parents to depersonalize the relationship between travel and their fondness of their home life. Nevertheless, many children feel:

1. Work takes precedence over family time

2. Abandoned by the traveling parent, especially when time zones are so different that contact and communication are difficult

3. Confused about the “when,” “whats” and “whys” related to parent travel holidays, that can last for upwards of two months

4. Irreverent about the inconsistency of routines and discipline that comes with the territory of extensive travel

All in all, travel is sometimes inevitable in families whereby one parent is required to travel for work. But there are a few key things that can help ameliorate the tendency for children to personalize that the distance is about them:

1. Try to have a departure and return ritual that is special to the child that supports the bonding relationship.

2. Take your children on trips so they understand that you like to enjoy time with them as well–in a special and unique way–that is away from the home.

3. If possible, try to have contact on a regular and consistent basis to decrease anxiety regarding your activities and whereabouts.

4. Have a “download” before your arrival with your partner regarding your child’s week, so that he/she feels like you are still in the daily loop of lifetime happenings on the home front.

For more supportive ideas, please go ahead and click here to read the entire article: http://www.parents.com/parenting/work/how-to-prepare-kids-when-parents-travel-for-work/

Be well,

Dr. Stephanie

My colleague, Ashley Shapiro, an educational therapist in the community (http://ashleyfeinstein.com/about.html) who also does extensive work with children with learning, behavioral and executive functioning challenges sent me an article recently entitled, “Raising Successful Children.” Merely reading the title of the article evoked a number of thoughts, emotions, and questions that flooded my brain. So many parents enter my office stating they merely want their child to be “successful.” And I always ask, “well, what do you mean Mr. X?” How in fact is success defined?” For one parent who has a child with a feeding disorder, success may be defined by increasing nutritional content and calories per day. For another parent with a child with Autism, success may be documented by developing sustained and long-lasting relationships with peers. And finally, for another parent with a child with a severe learning disability, success may mean reading and writing with proficiency at a fourth grade level. So success, at any rate, has so many definitions depending on the circumstances of the family and the child.

The ultimate question though, as the article poses is, “how do parents try to achieve success?” I would argue that the more important question is how do parents communicate what success means to their children. Secondly, I would also question does success equate to happiness. There are so many different avenues to take including Tiger Parenting, Helicopter Parenting, Authoritative versus Authoritarian Parenting. My goodness, what’s next, Car seat Parenting? Lightheartedness aside, I believe being present for your child with a sense of honesty, integrity, and realism is the direction that allows children the room to honor themselves and you as the parent. When parents do not allow their children the fortitude to figure out how to navigate their social worlds, their own personal identity, or their role in the family system an unhealthy co-dependence transpires between parent and child that makes for a difficult and rocky road of development as children transition through adolescence into adulthood.

Check out the article below. I challenge you to examine yourself and where you fall in terms of how you promote “success” in your own child:http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/05/opinion/sunday/raising-successful-children.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&smid=fb-share

More importantly, how do you project yourself, as it relates to the ideals that you may have wanted for your own success onto your child. Is this fair? Is this the right expectation for your child in terms of their present level of development? Are you happy? Is your child happy?

Food for thought folks.

Be well,

Dr. Stephanie

My heart goes out to all of the families, victims, and anyone involved directly or indirectly with the tragedy that happened today in Connecticut. There is always conflicting information regarding why people engage in school violence. I find some of the best answer(s) stem(s) from two books by James Garbarino, Ph.D. Reading his books during graduate school inspired my research on school aggression. Two books I highly recommend include: “Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them” Free Press – 1999 and “See Jane Hit: Why Girls Are Growing More Violent and What We Can Do About It” The Penguin Press – 2006. 

In terms of resources for parents and families, I have provided a list below that was compiled by a number of organizations:

Disaster Distress Helpline: http://www.disasterdistress.samhsa.gov/

Helping your children manage distress in the aftermath of a shooting: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/aftermath.aspx

Managing your distress in the aftermath of a shooting: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/mass-shooting.aspx

Tips for Talking With and Helping Children and Youth Cope After a Disaster or Traumatic Event: A GUIDE FOR PARENTS, CAREGIVERS, AND TEACHERS — http://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/SMA12-4732/SMA12-4732.pdf

Listen, Protect, Connect – Model and TeachPsychological First Aid for Teacher and Students http://www.ready.gov/sites/default/files/documents/files/PFA_SchoolCrisis.pdf

General tips from National Association of School Psychologists: http://www.nasponline.org/communications/press-release/Sandy_Hook_Media_Statement.pdf

Be well and help yourself and your children by stepping back and assessing how you feel rather than avoiding what may be a traumatic experience for you.

Namaste,

Dr. Stephanie

I recently came across an article entitled, “From Horror to Hope: Boy’s Miracle Recovery from Brutal Attack” on cnn.com (see http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/06/world/freedom-project-operation-hope/index.html?hpt=hp_inthenews). When I think about my recommendations for sleep problems, proper parenting, and so forth this article made me reconsider what happens in cases of severe trauma and stress. Moreover, the article reminded me at the end of the day, faith and love underscore what all people need (children and adults) when they are requiring support.

The story unfolds as such:

A boy was traveling with his father through Dhaka on a rickshaw to a hospital because he was brutally attacked and mutilated for no apparent reason. The deeper picture evolved such that the boy was slashed because he was being forced to beg on the streets of Bangladesh. The article shared that two years later, post-trauma the boy continued to suffer in fear and angst. Of course, how could he not? He was such a young child who was beaten and wounded–unsafe, in what should have been the sanctity of his own home. The concept of forced begging is such that if one appears, or is in fact, disabled, earning potential on the streets is increased. So many issues arose for this boy including the fact that he no longer had a penis and had problems urinating. Various persons and organizations attempted to raise money for his health; special safety precautions were taken constantly; and he and his family remained under government protection during court trials through a change in residence. Alas, he was sent to one of my training sites who offered to complete one of his reconstructive surgeries, The Johns Hopkins Hospital. The story has a number of sad and happy twists and turns. I think you should read it for yourself. The story instills hope, faith, and joy for the holiday season amidst living in a chaotic world where some things just unfortunately do not make sense.

Namaste,

Dr. Stephanie

Regardless if you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa or another permutation of the Winter season, buying toys for your children can be incredibly overwhelming. I think toys that are fun and educational are important to include in the overall package of gifts that you purchase. Of course, buying your kids what they request from their list is important so they feel like you are meeting their needs. Balance, balance, balance. Here are a few websites I highly recommend (by no means do I have any affiliation with them nor do I endorse them for any financial reasons):

http://www.shop.pbskids.org/ (great educational fun stuff that kids know because of TV)

http://www.mindware.com/Home/HomePage.aspx (science experiments, to art, to brain games)

http://www.lakeshorelearning.com/ (the MECCA in learning toys)

http://www.ebeanstalk.com/ageSelection.php (toys separated by developmental age)

http://www.educationaltoysplanet.com/ (separated by age, subject, skill; outside versus inside games)

Sometimes we want to be friendly to the world and the environment. Here are some options for “feel-good” gift-giving:

“Max the Shelter Dog” book teaches compassion towards animals. Proceeds go towards animal shelters. http://www.maxtheshelterdog.com/

You could help education in another country buy paying a teacher’s salary for a week (approx. $60.00). You could have your child contribute and make this a learning experiment and help develop moral thinking skills. http://changingthepresent.org/gift/600/educate_girls

Buy something comfy from Blanket America and they will donate something to someone in need in America: http://www.blanketamerica.com/

Buy a pair of good looking Roma Boots and a child in need will receive a pair PLUS 10% of the profits go to their non-profit organization: http://romaboots.com/

Happy shopping by making a difference for your children and the world.

Namaste and happy holidays,

Dr. Stephanie