I am proud of my daughter Lauren. And, I am proud of myself. Because, it was really, really hard and we did it!
Yesterday, we drove our daughter Lauren (16 years old) to the airport. We checked her in and then said good-bye as she made her way through security. She was going on a big, HUGE adventure all by herself.
Lauren traveled to Spain, switching planes and terminals in Heathrow, to arrive in a small, Northern town in Spain (Asturias) to visit a former exchange student who lived in our home for 6 months. Isabel and Lauren became fast friends in 2016 and have Skyped or texted every single day since Isabel returned to Spain. Last January, Lauren asked me if she could go visit Isabel and I hesitated. The trip would require two plane changes--one in Canada and one in London Heathrow. However, Lauren assured me she was able to do this. She argued that she has traveled internationally with us for years and that next year she would be going off to university by herself. She assured me that she was ready.
But was I?
I have longed encouraged parents to let their children grow. To not overprotect them. To let them have adventures. To encourage their children to explore the boundaries of their comfort zones. This is how children grow and develop self-efficacy I argue constantly. However, when it came time for me to follow my own advice--I faltered. I was scared. Scenes from Liam Neeson's movie "Taken" flashed through my mind.
But, in the end, I agreed to let her go.
The last 18 hours have been excruciating for me. I could not sleep last night. I texted Lauren constantly while in Heathrow. I texted Isabel's mother to ensure they would be at the airport on time. I tracked Lauren's movements on "Find Friends." I gave her a VISA card and my Interac card and Global Health Insurance and cash money.... I sent her off with a rosary blessed by His Holiness Pope Francis to keep her safe and to ward off danger.
I needn't have worried. Lauren was ready. She did it! She has grown--and so have I!
Lauren and Isabel at the Airport in Asturias
It is important to consider the psychological dimensions of growing up when you choose a name for your child. As a child psychologist, I would offer the following four pieces of advice to families exploring names for their child:
1) I would think about how the name grows with the child. Think: Will this name that is very cute on a four year old, work with an adult professional man or woman?
2) Will this name attract any teasing? Will this name be easy for the child and others to pronounce and to spell? Will the child constantly need to correct others?
3) Does this name have any special meaning to you? Will you be able to share a special message or story with your child as you explained why you chose the name you did--what special symbolism did you want to use to honour the birth of your child?
4) Are you choosing a family name, that will create an instant sense of family belonging for your child? If not for a first name, I would suggest considering a family name for a middle name. The sense of belonging is very important to a child.
Choosing a name is an important milestone in beginning the parenting journey.
Back in 2015, I collaborated with Katherine Speller on an article for MTV news about how to explain the Paris attack to kids. The original link for that article is here:
I receive many questions about social media use and kids. Parents really need help here. So, I have compiled some quick tips for your consideration. If you have any other good tips, please do not hesitate to share them with me!
Tip 1) Only post something you genuinely want to share. Do not post to compete with someone else or to fish for "likes."
Tip 2) Only post something you would want your grandmother to see. When you post online, it is not private. Anyone can see what you post. So, think very carefully about what you post before you do it. Give yourself some time (like a 5 minute rule) before you post something to make sure you want to. And, if you are hesitant in any way, don't post! (Hint for parents: ensure that you are following your kids on all their social media formats).
Tip 3) It is important to remember that to have good friends, you must first be a good friend. So, only "like" or "share" something that is positive--like the old adage: only pass along a compliment, never an insult. (Hint for parents: it is important to be role models here.)
Tip 4) It is important for parents to realize that kids are going to make mistakes here. It is inevitable. When this happens, use the opportunity to teach, guide and grow--never to shame.
Tip 5) It is important to stress to our kids that how many followers, and how many "likes" or "shares" is not important. Social media is at its best when it creates an opportunity for genuine sharing. Think of a party--you can go to a party with 50 people and you probably won't have a good conversation with many people. However, if you go to a party with 10 people, you probably will have the chance to truly connect with most of them. True, authentic connection and sharing is what matters most. This applies to social media as well.
Tip 6) I think we need to lead by example, when it comes to turning off our devices. Parents need to first develop their own good habits and then they can help their children find balance too. In order to help things along, I suggest that families make "device time outs" for things like family meals and special events. I also think it is helpful to ask kids to leave their devices in the kitchen when they go to bed, as I have seen children with dysregulated sleep when they keep their devices in their rooms at night. (PS--I think it is really important that families sit down and eat together totally unplugged at least once a day.)
Tip 7) There is a great deal of controversy around when children should first be allowed to go on a device. The American Academy of Paediatrics discourages screen time in children younger than 18 months of age. Some recent research shows that early "device usage" can delay children's language development. However, I have also seen families use devices very creatively--for example, to help children cope during long car rides. I personally use devices for children who are waiting to see me in my wait room--as I know how hard waiting can be for them. So, my advice here is moderation. I believe some device use is okay if the content is of high quality and educational, and if the use of the device is helping the child in some way. But, put on a timer, do not let the young child play for more than 10 minutes. Then, put the device away and talk and sing and play with your child!
As a psychologist, I am very concerned about body image and the pressures around body image on our children. I have seen dozens of teens with eating disorders, and some so serious that they end up in hospital on feeding tubes.
The pressures with social media--with the barometer of popularity measured by "likes"-- has left young people more and more desperate to take a good "selfie." Looking thin is equated with beautiful; and beautiful with popular; and popular with love, acceptance & belonging. The result is a whole generation of young people struggling to achieve what is defined to be beautiful by social media standards.
Language is incredibly important. As the adults in children's lives, we can show them that beauty is more than skin deep. We can teach our children that beauty is defined by the goodness in your heart and by the way you treat the people around you. We can praise our children for their character, rather than for their appearance. We can talk about feeling proud of ourselves for our accomplishments, rather than for our dress size. We can change the dialogue, and draw the attention/obsession away from how we look and direct it towards how we feel and how we live our lives.
We can help our children feel good about themselves and their bodies when we praise them for being strong and healthy. We can can help them set goals and to celebrate "daily steps" and fruit and vegetable intake. We can help them choose shoes and clothes that are comfortable and facilitate an active lifestyle. We can share in activities that promote health, wellness, balance and moderation. In doing so, parents can be leaders in the fight to end negative body image and all the pain and suffering that follows it.
It is really important to think about Postpartum mental health as a spectrum. Depression is on that spectrum, but so are anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Depression can leave mothers with an intense feeling of sadness, despondency and emptiness. A deep fatigue can set in, which is made all the worse by the natural disruption of sleep that comes from caring for a newborn. The lack of sleep becomes a significant risk factor for the mental health worsening.
There is also Postpartum anxiety and OCD. The anxiety leaves mothers with uncontrollable worry for their baby. These mothers feel the need to check on their baby every few minutes. They worry about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and cannot sleep for fear of their baby dying. They worry about their babies' health, and growth and development. Postpartum OCD can be very frightening for new mothers, as it can include intrusive thoughts of baby harm. It is as though the worse possible scenarios (dropping a baby, maybe even on purpose etc) intrusively flood into the mother's thought stream. Mothers with OCD would never do these things, but even the thought of the possibility is so disturbing and distressing that the mother incredibly suffers--and often suffers in silence because she worries that if she tells anyone that the baby will be taken away from her. This form of OCD occurs in 3-5% of new mothers.
One of the most important ways to help new mothers is to educate them in advance about the possibility of experiencing these symptoms. Many physicians and midwives will talk about depression and anxiety--but they may leave out OCD for fear of unnecessarily distressing an expectant mother. However, if new mothers do not realize that these symptoms may occur, during the chaotic days of caring for a new baby for the first time, they will be terribly (and perhaps even overwhelmingly) frightened and distressed if these do symptoms occur. So, talking about these symptoms before and after birth is very important. We MUST destigmatize mental health challenges of all forms--and especially the forms that can occur after childbirth.
New mothers, and especially new mothers who are experiencing these feelings, should be encouraged to talk about their emotional state with others, and those listening to new mothers, should continually reassure them that these feelings are nothing to be ashamed of. Becoming a new mother is one of the most vulnerable times in a women's life, and it is important for family, friends, and community to rally around her. She needs people to be with her, especially if she is feeling symptoms of OCD. She needs sleep during the day, and she needs help with feedings, baby care, family meals & chores and school drop offs/pick ups of older siblings. She needs cups of tea and gifts of body lotion and bubble baths. She needs to feel acceptance of her changing and healing body. Husbands and partners need to give her ample time to find her sexual self again.
If a new mother expresses concern about her feelings/mental state, that is time to seek help. If a new mother is not sleeping, not eating or behaving in any kind of strange way, that is time to seek help. Talk to the midwife, doctor, or doula. Together with these postpartum experts, you can make the call as to whether or not a mental health expert is required. If you are not sure, book a consult with a mental health expert (like a Registered Psychologist or Licensed Clinical Counsellor) to discuss your fears.
A Guest Post by Caileigh Flannigan: Improving Your Everyday Life Through Art Therapy--Paint, Sculpt, or Color Your Way to Relaxation
It seems that everyone today has some level of stress in his or her everyday life. Whether it is rooted in work, school, the past, or personal relationships, stress is a huge part of our lives. Stress can have many negative effects on physical and psychological systems. An inability to positively control or manage stress may lead to inappropriate behavior such as alcohol consumption, overeating, or neglecting feelings. It’s important to know that stress can be managed effectively, at very little cost, and in a fun way! Art therapy is a great therapeutic approach that you can use in your daily life to keep your stress levels low and your contentedness high.
What is Art Therapy? Art therapy is an approach that involves the creative processes of art to improve one’s life. For example, drawing, coloring, painting, doodling, and sculpting are all examples of art forms that can be used as a means of therapy. Using art as a medium for healing promotes self-exploration, understanding, self-esteem, and awareness. It is a way for a person to improve their mental, emotional, and physical states, as well as their overall health. When you use imagery, colors, shapes, and designs as a part of your therapeutic process, your thoughts and feelings can be expressed through your art, rather than words that are often difficult to articulate to others. This means that you do not have to verbalize how you are feeling.
Art therapy can be done in counseling, where you work one-on-one with a trained and certified art therapist. However, the healing potential of art is not only effective in a counseling or psychotherapy setting. Art therapy techniques and approaches can be completed at home, work, or school without a therapist. In some methods of art therapy, you are your own therapist.
This is one of the great things about art therapy – you can practice antistress art anywhere! Art can be practiced at work, at home, on the bus, or during any downtime. Rather than stressing out about the next big meeting, you can color or doodle on some paper. You can release negative emotions about your job or personal relationships through artwork. This, in turn, helps overcome the stress, avoids further upset and creates a coping strategy for future stressful times.
Who Can Benefit from Art Therapy? You don’t need to be a talented artist to engage in art therapy or to enjoy its benefits. After all, the goal is not to create a masterpiece but to express yourself freely through art; the artistic results are secondary to the emotional benefits. Art therapy improves the lives of many people. It can help people who have been exposed to loss or trauma. It can support people in overcoming addiction and mental health disorders. It has even been used in hospital settings for cancer patients. It’s also a common expressive therapy for children. The great thing about art therapy is that it can help the lives of so many people – even if you do not have a major concern or illness. Art therapy is beneficial to people who experience the stressors of everyday modern life.
Have you ever noticed how expressive arts therapy is calming and peaceful? Have you ever come home from a long work day in front of the computer and needed an outlet that wasn’t a screen? Engaging in art techniques can clear the mind, let us put feelings and thoughts onto paper or canvas, and leave us feeling accomplished and calm. It is a great option for people who experience even minor stress or upset in their lives.
Your Brain on Art! When we engage in the creation of our own art forms, we receive big benefits to our minds, both physically and mentally. When we produce art with our own hands, there is increased neural connectivity in the area of the brain that deals with introspection, memory, and self-monitoring. This means that this area is more active when engaged in producing art. Mentally, we become more psychologically resilient, we have increased positive perspectives, and become more self-aware. This makes us better at coping with future problems, stressors, or events. It is said that the pairing of actually creating the art (motor processing) and thinking about expression (cognitive processing) is what makes art therapy so beneficial.
Types of Art Therapy for Different Feelings and Emotions? To do art therapy, you can either take a nondirected or directed approach. A nondirected approach is flexible, and less structured than a directed approach. For example, you would draw, paint, color, or sculpt without guidelines. A directed approach is more structured in the sense that you choose an art therapy activity that relates to certain feelings and emotions. With either approach, your feelings are expressed, and your stress levels decrease. The benefits of art therapy are provided in both approaches. Here are some examples of art therapy activities related to feelings and emotions that you can try:
Trauma and Loss
Another form of art therapy is paint nights. This type of art therapy is done in a group setting and often held at local restaurants and bars. You go with friends and sit with other people who are all painting the same picture. In the end, you see how everyone painted the same picture differently. You can also host your own paint night by gathering up some friends or family and purchasing some paint and canvas. You can designate a specific picture for everyone to draw, or you can leave it up to the group! Art therapy in a group allows for free expression in an environment that is safe and accepting.
Art therapy is an easy, affordable, and beneficial way to express feelings, reduce stress, and remind us of the happy things. We are able to put difficult feelings into something visual and meaningful. When we draw, color, or paint, our brains become active and are better at helping us out with any future stressors.
Be creative, expressive, and be you through art therapy!
Enjoy the original article--with additional illustrations--by Caileigh Flannigan here:
I received an interesting question yesterday: What is the best way to share your mental health diagnosis with your child?
There is no simple answer to that question. It will depend on your child—the age of your child and your child’s level of maturity. It will also depend on your child's current circumstances. We never want children to adopt the role of “parent” to their moms and dads, and we never want children to feel like they are somehow to blame for how their parents are feeling.
Sometimes though, the circumstance would require your child to have some understanding of what is happening for the parent. This would be especially true if a child needed to stay with an extended family member for a while during their parents’ treatment.
If a parent is struggling with mental health challenges, it is incredibly important—I would say critically important—that they get help. Getting help is not only necessary for the parent’s health but also for the health of the family as a whole. An important part of this help will be talk therapy and the therapist involved can help a parent navigate the “disclosure” process with the child. The therapist may even encourage the parent to bring the child into a session to discuss the diagnosis during a family therapy session.
Parents sometimes find it helpful to keep a parenting journal where they write to their child about what is happening for them and how they are feeling, but that they save this journal to share with their grown up children.
If parents are ever in doubt about how their mental health is affecting the wellbeing of their child, they should reach out to a child psychologist or therapist. Getting your child help, while you are receiving help, would be an excellent idea.
A word of wisdom: when you are struggling with mental health challenges, this is not the time to economize. The first step is always to talk to your family doctor to see if there is any help available that would be covered by the medical services plan. There are often long wait times for this help, and so if you do not have extended medical that covers psychotherapy, this is the time to reach into savings (or ask for help from others) to pay for the treatment you need! (A note of advocacy from myself to Prime Minister Trudeau: if you really want to make a difference in the lives of Canadians—include the services of registered psychologists under the MSP programs in each province. This care will undoubtedly pay for itself over time, as prevention and early intervention are truly the keys to successful mental health treatment!)
With all these things in mind, here are some general guidelines for how to disclose your mental illness to your child, broken into broad age groups:
Preschool and younger:
Children this young would not often need to know the diagnosis. This is a time to shelter stress, as much as is possible, from your child. Parents must seek treatment and surround themselves with as much support as they possibly can. This is the time to ask family and friends to come in and help you with the children as much as possible.
Early elementary school:
Children this young would be similar to preschool children, except they could likely handle you explaining that you are “not feeling well.” It is important to reassure children and tell them not to worry about you. Explain that you are getting help and will be better soon. The key here is to not transfer your stress onto your child.
Middle elementary school:
Children at this age could manage a little more. You could explain that you do not “feel well in your mind” or “in your heart.” It will still be very important to reassure your children, stress that this is not their faulty in any what whatsoever, and explain that you are getting the best help available. Leave them with a feeling of hope that things will be better soon.
Older elementary school and middle years:
Older kids could handle a name. You could say something like, “I have an illness called depression. It means that I have deep feelings of sadness inside me that I cannot shake off. It drains me of my energy and makes me want to sleep all the time. It is nobody’s fault. It is not my fault, and it is certainly not your fault!” Share with your child everything that you are doing to feel better and give them hope that things will be better soon.
Adolescents and young adults:
This is the time to have the kind of conversation you have been probably wanting to have with your child for a long while. Young people at this age could handle more detailed information. This would be a good time to explain the medical basis for the mental illness. You can talk about genetic factors and environmental factors. You could explain in more depth the treatment you are receiving. You can give your children updates on how your doing and what your doctors (etc) are suggesting. You can also ask your child of this age for a little help. Ask them to help around the house. Ask them to go for walks with you. Allow them a sense of agency and give them a way to participate in the family’s goal of getting you better. This is also the time to talk to your adolescent children about any genetic risk factors they may have inherited and what to be on the lookout for in their own lives. Talk about what it means to practice good mental health care. Perhaps, you could even bring advocacy into these discussion. How can your family raise awareness about mental health and spread the message that the world needs to LOSE the stigma (finally!) and focus on getting help to those who need it?
If you have any other ideas or suggestions, please send them in! I am continually learning and growing by sharing ideas with others. To me, this blog is a community of sharing!
On Friday, April 21st, I was excited to present at the Girls’ STEM Leadership Conference "Heads and Hearts To Action" at St. Margaret's School! This was a very special day for me because my two daughters (Lauren & Ally) have been at SMS since Kindergarten!
I presented about how the field of psychology fits into STEM, and in particular how "positive psychology" is shaping the way psychology is understood in the 21st century.
The room was filled with bright and keen young women who asked amazing questions! It was the most fun I have had in a long, long time!
Here are some photos of the event and from my presentation :)
I am excited to share that the JustEnough.ca books will soon be translated into Greek & launched in Greece! Hopefully, there will be a book tour!