How to build your child’s self-esteem?

self-esteemSelf-esteem is a concept that is regularly discussed in our culture. Many parents fill their child’s life with activities, play dates, and positive affirmations in the hopes of creating greater confidence. In many cases however, it does not seem to work. The harder we work to build our kids up the lower their self-regard. This post is intended to give you a framework for how to build your child’s self-esteem.

What is Self-esteem?

Self-esteem is made up of a child’s academic and non-academic self-concept, that is, how the child views himself in those two domains. Each domain is broken down further into more specific areas. Academic self-concept is divided into the subjects of math, science, english, and social studies. Non-academic self-concept includes the areas of social, emotional, and physical self-concepts. Global self-esteem is a combination of how the child experiences himself in these areas combined.

What makes Self-esteem?

We know what self-esteem is but what makes one child have more than another. Researchers have found

“The greater the discrepancy between adequacy in some domain and importance of that domain, the greater the negative impact on self-esteem” (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015).  

 In other words children grow in self confidence when they experience success in a domain that is highly important to them.

Support and Competence

The role of parents then, is to discover which domain is most important to their child and to support it. Does your child love math but hate soccer? Then, practicing soccer with them may not be the most important thing on the list. You may want to spend more time doing math together and joining them in that love. Discover what is important to your child and support them in that area.

Support from parents is a key way to build self-confidence and so is competence. When a child feels competent in an area that is important to them, their confidence is enhanced. So, focus on providing lessons, activities, and competence building experiences in the areas that are important to your child. As they build competence in these areas they will grow in confidence. If we focus too much energy on too many areas the child may be overwhelmed and tired.

Get help building your child’s self-esteem by talking with Brandy Kruse

Learn about counseling for children HERE

If you are looking for help call 217-231-1413 today

How Porn Addiction Hurts

Porn AddictionI was watching my son’s baseball game the other day and happened to overhear an exchange between two parents and their two sons that compelled me to write this post.

The two boys were joking and laughing with one another through out the game. One of the boys joked with his mother sitting near by and goaded her to ask the other boy why he had been grounded from his smart phone. The second boys father walked up and jokingly gave the reason by saying, “somebody likes the P-O-R-N a little too much”. The father, his son, and the other boy laughed and continued on with their activities.

I began to think through some of what I had been learning from the book Wired for intimacy: How pornography hijacks the male brain written by William M. Struthers. I missed my opportunity to share with this father how pornography hurts his son. But, will share with you now what I have learned about the impact of pornography on boys.

Porn Addiction Corrupts Intimacy

We all, boys included have a built in need for connection with other people. We are driven to seek relationship, closeness and safety with those we love. Pornography corrupts this desire by making intimacy all about the physical act of sex rather than vulnerability, and emotional connection. Struthers states it this way,

“pornography corrupts the ability to be intimate. It pulls consumers and producers in with the promise of intimacy, but fails to deliver the connection between two human beings”.

Sex is a part of deep intimacy but it is not the whole picture. Pornography promises the connection that boys long for but delivers shame, guilt, secrecy and pain.

Porn Addiction Consumes the Brain

New brain research demonstrates that experience changes the brain. The viewing of pornography and the subsequent acting out is no different. The more pornography is consumed the greater the impact it has on the brain. Again Struthers describes it well by saying,

“As men [boys] fall deeper into the mental habit of fixating on these images, the exposure to them creates neural pathways. Like a path is created in the woods with each successive hiker, so do the neural paths set the course for the next time an erotic image is viewed… with each lingering stare, pornography deepens a Grand Canyon-like gorge in the brain through which images of women are destined to flow”.

The more pornography that is consumed and the younger the age of exposure the more significant the impact will be on the brain.

Thankfully brain research also demonstrates that the brain is plastic. This means that it changes through out the entire course of ones life. So, the neuro-pathways developed in response to viewing pornography can be rewritten over the course of life. So what can you do to help your son?

 

What Can Parents Do?

Build Emotional Mastery

For those dealing with porn addiction the viewing of pornography and sexual acting out often become the primary way they deal with stress and overwhelming emotions. They never learned how to adaptively regulate emotions and pornography has become the only strategy that works.

“emotional mastery is important because it teaches boys how to regulate and control their feelings. As a father pushes and challenges, he offers an opportunity for his son to experience these human emotions in a safe place.” (pg. 141)

 Connect in Relationship

As stated before we all need connection to other people for survival. Struthers says that the depth of porn addiction is correlated with a boys unmet emotional and relational needs. If you are concerned that your son is addicted to porn it may be tempting to avoid discussing it or to distance yourself from him in anger. What he needs however is more connection with you. His needs for connection and intimacy will never be met through pornography. Those needs are only met in genuine connection with you or other loved ones. Move toward your son in relationship communicate compassion and love in the midst of your heart break.

Get Help

It can be difficult to reach out for help when struggling with pornography. Our culture tends to view porn addiction as one of the things that cannot be talked about. Reach out to trusted friends, a pastor or professional counselor to walk with you and your son through the struggle.

If you, your son, or someone you know struggles with porn addiction and you are ready to get help please call me at 217-231-1413 and I will help you build the emotional mastery and connection you both need.

Learn more from William Struthers by Watching this Helpful Video.

Helping Your Teen With Depression

depressionWhat is Depression?

The DSM-V defines depression as:

“The presence of sad, empty, or irritable mood, accompanied by somatic, and cognitive changes that significantly affect the individual’s capacity to function”

More specifically the DSM lists the criteria for a Major depressive episode as

5 or more of the following symptoms when they occur during the same 2-week period and at least one of the symptoms is depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure.

  1. Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day
  2. Diminished interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities
  3. Significant weight loss or gain when not dieting, or change in appetite
  4. Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly everyday
  5. Movement agitation or slowing
  6. Fatigue or loss of energy
  7. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
  8. Diminished ability to think or concentrate
  9. Recurrent thoughts of death

If your teen exhibits some of these symptoms, what are you to do?

Pay attention to thoughts:

Depression is primarily about mood, but our thoughts can have a significant impact on the way we feel. So, helping your teen to label and verbalize his/her thoughts can be very helpful. Sometimes teenagers get stuck in a cycle of negative thinking and are not aware of the pattern. Verbalizing these thoughts helps your teen to become more aware of them and how they are impacting feelings. Talk with your teen about their thoughts and ask them to decide if they are unhelpful. If the thoughts are unhelpful brainstorm new, more helpful thoughts that can replace the negative cycle. Through practice they will begin to recognize and understand how thoughts impact mood. Go HERE to read more about ways to get your teen talking.

Pay attention to Feelings:

Some teens have a hard time expressing what they feel. They are really good at bottling their feelings inside. Unfortunately, for most teens bottled up feelings lead towards explosions of anger or periods of depression. So, helping your teen to express their feelings (no matter how difficult) is a great way to improve mood. You can do this by empathizing with their emotions. Empathy is a three-step process:

  1. Listen carefully to what your teen is saying
  2. Go inside yourself and ask, “what would I be feeling right now”
  3. Express your empathy through a statement such as

You feel ______________because _______________.

Empathizing with your teen’s feelings helps them to be more aware, and makes you a safe place for emotional discussion.

Seek Professional Help:

Sometimes, all of our best efforts do not have the impact we hope for and it is necessary to seek professional help. Reaching out to your primary medical provider is a good place to start. Most practitioners can provide an initial screening for depression and suggest trusted resources for mental health services.   Professional Counselors (LCPC) are specifically trained and licensed by their respective states to provide treatment for depression. It can be unsettling but a professional counselor can accurately diagnose the problem and provide individualized treatment to meet the needs or your teen. The best counselors create a strong sense of safety for their clients. They develop specific goals and openly discuss treatment strategies.

Helping your teen with depression may seem difficult. Start by paying attention to their thoughts and feelings. If your teen does not improve or things get worse, talk to your primary medical provider or a professional counselor. They will walk with you on the journey to healing.

To learn more about my approach to individual counseling go HERE

To learn more about how I use EMDR to treat depression go HERE

If your teen is depressed call me at 217-231-1413 to get help.

References:

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).

Sharing Faith With Your Children

Faith: Proverbs 22:6I have had the wonderful privilege of working with many Christians struggling to parent their child through the difficult teenage years. Most of these families are like any other family that enters counseling. They are struggling with conflict, rebellion, communication difficulties, trust issues, and emotional challenges. One unique concern for Christian parents, however, is the desire to pass their faith in Jesus to the next generation.

Some parents fear that their ability to pass the faith on to their children has decreased due to a perceived reduction in the influence of family. Others fear technological advances and social changes that seem to have eroded their ability to influence their child’s value system.

Recent statistical reports noting the significant rise in the number of “nones” (adults with no religious affiliation) in the United States seem to confirm the challenges facing parents when seeking to pass their Christian faith to their children. In his book “Faith and Families: How Religion is Passed Down Across Generations Vern L. Bengston  gives five suggestions for parents hoping to pass the Christian faith to their children.

Bengston conducted a 35-year study of how religious families from a wide variety of faiths; pass their beliefs and practices to the next generation. He suggests that parents….

Have more religious influence than they think

Despite the popular opinions downplaying the influence that parents have on the religious beliefs of their children Bengston found parents to be the most important factor in the transmission of faith to the next generation. He also cited researchers Christian Smith and Melinda Denton as noting,

“Contrary to popular misguided cultural stereotypes and frequent parental mis-perceptions, we believe that the evidence clearly shows that the single most important social influence on the religious and spiritual lives of adolescents is their parents”

Bengston also described the importance of a close and warm relationship between parent and child when determining the level of influence afforded a parent.

Fervent faith cannot compensate for a distant dad

The fervency with which parents teach or adhere to their faith does not outweigh the power of a warm and close relationship in the transmission of the faith. Bengston found that children who felt a warm and close connection to their parents were more likely to share their parent’s religious affiliation than those with a cold or distant relationship. Not only that, this association was especially strong for the relationship between children and their fathers. (Go HERE to read more about how to connect with your children)

Allowing children religious choice can encourage religious continuity

Those children that are allowed to experience religious choice were more likely to share their parent’s religious beliefs. This one can be especially difficult for parents to put into practice.  The strong desire for our children to share our faith may cause us to become overbearing and rigid.  Remember that ultimately the Holy Spirit does the work of regeneration. It is not possible to “parent” our children to faith in Christ. Allowing for honest questions, open dialogue, and “belief exploration” may create the space needed for the Spirit to do his work.

Don’t forget the grandparents

Bengston found that for many families, grandparents have become the moral and religious compass. Grandparents offer important support to exhausted and over worked parents that encourage the continuation of religious practices and beliefs.

Don’t give up on Prodigals, because many do return

One of the most painful experiences for Christian parents may be a child who rejects the faith they have shared. Bengston found that those parents that waited, were open and accepting, and did not push were most likely to have their children return to the faith. Additionally, he found acceptance and affirmation as opposed to judgment and preaching as important factors.

What have we learned?

Ultimately parents cannot control whether or not their children come to faith in Jesus Christ. That is the domain of the Holy Spirit. It does appear however that a close and warm relationship with parents, particularly dad, belief exploration, support from grandparents, and patience can be important factors when seeking to disciple your children in faith.

 

What do you think? Do these points fit with your experience? What do you find helpful when raising your children in faith?

Adolescent Boredom Busters

Boredom1

For many parents the worst phrase that could come out of their adolescent’s mouth is, “I’m Bored”. This phrase can push the parent fear buttons of “entitlement”, “laziness”, “ungratefulness” or “failure-to-launch”. These buttons when pushed tend to produce feelings of failure, inadequacy, and helplessness.

The problem of Boredom

Richard Winter described the problem of boredom in his book “Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment”.  He views it as an issue of over-stimulation rather than under-stimulation. He argued that we live in a culture in which “to be entertained” is the highest value. This desire creates an incessant need for novelty and excitement. The problem, however, is that life is full of routine, mundane, and repetitive tasks that must be accomplished.

Types of Boredom

Winter defines two types of boredom, the first is a temporary boredom that is the result of repetitive tasks. The second, is an on-going pervasive sense of boredom that results from having nothing to do that one likes. I think it is this second more pervasive type of boredom that is most problematic for today’s adolescents. It is a sense that no matter what is happening there is just nothing in life to enjoy. The perspective that life cannot be enjoyed unless it is always entertaining, exciting, or extreme  creates a sense that “my life is not good enough”. Thankfully Winter offers 6 ways to combat this pervasive sense of boredom

The Boredom Busters 

Remember the Big Picture:

Recall that even the most mundane tasks (doing the dishes, mowing the lawn) are wonderful gifts. Not everyone has the ability or the means to pursue these tasks. Additionally, these tasks can create a wonderful feeling of accomplishment, capability, and resourcefulness.

Stop and Smell the Roses:

Adolescent bordeom busters

Living in a culture of constant entertainment has caused us to lose sight of the marvel and grandeur of the simple things around us. We are so busy looking for “extreme” experiences that we miss out on the incredible beauty of the flowers in our yard, the baby birds in our trees, and the stars in the sky. Stop to smell the roses by intentionally noticing the small details of the world around you. I wrote about several ways to practice this skill in a post on mindfulness found here.

Cultivate Wonder

Winter quotes philosopher Rene Descartes’ description of wonder as an “intense intellectual interest”. We live in a time in which a massive amount of information is available at the click of a mouse. Although incredibly convenient we may lose the experience and pursuit of curiosity. Remain curious by seeking to understand the inner experience of the people in your life. The inner world of people can never be fully contained in a book or webpage.  Relationships, therefore, offer an inexhaustible mine for our curiosity. Learn more about how to do this by reading this post I wrote on listening well.

Active Engagement rather than Passive Expectation

A culture of entertainment has turned us into passive consumers. We sit back and wait to be entertained. Anything that requires effort is passed over for something less challenging. Challenge however creates engagement. When a task entails just the right amount of challenge it creates a wonderful sense of excitement, accomplishment, and competence. This active engagement heightens a sense of purpose and passion that leaves little room for boredom.

Ultimately, boredom is a mindset. It is a perspective that develops in a culture that values constant entertainment, excitement, and leisure. Unfortunately life is not all excitement and pleasure. Life is full of routine and mundane tasks.  Remembering the big picture, stopping to smell the roses, cultivating wonder, and actively engaging are ways to combat the life of boredom.

 

What do you do when your children say, “I’m bored”? leave a comment below.

Boys and Mindfulness

Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the moment, without judgment Jon Kabat-Zinn“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”                   -Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness is all the rage these days. It seems like teachers, parents, news personalities, and especially counselors are talking about how mindfulness helps to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. (I wrote about other ways to help you son Here)

I am one of those counselors that talk about mindfulness.  Not only that, I regularly teach it to those that I am counseling. It appears to me that many people think about mindfulness in a rather narrow context. When I ask people about it they tend to describe sitting calming, taking deep breaths, having their eyes closed, and thinking about something intently.

I don’t think this works very well for boys, however. Telling a boy that the best way to reduce stress is to sit as still as possible, take deep breaths, and think really hard seems more like cruel and unusual punishment than helpful. It is for this reason that when I am teaching boys about mindfulness I refer to it as being “in the zone”.  When we practice it in session I use active and engaging activities. Here are a few ways to practice mindfulness that will speak to the heart of your son:

Target shooting or Hunting

I do not know of any activity that requires more mindfulness than target shooting or hunting. This activity requires incredible focus, regulation of breathing, management of emotion, and the ability to block out distractions. Your son will learn to breath smoothly and slowly squeeze the trigger in order to minimize barrel movement. He will realize that noticing and managing his heartbeat enables him to regulate his level of excitement and therefore his accuracy. The novelty of the experience will create a sense of being present in the moment enhancing his ability to block out distractions.

A Wilderness Scavenger Hunt

Take your son to a state park or hiking trail.  Provide him with a list of natural objects (leaf, smooth rock, black rock, deer antlers etc.).  Then hike through the woods on a mission to find each of the objects. This activity will have him fully engrossed in the moment.   He will actively notice the tiny details of all that is happening around him. Be sure to include noises and smells on the list. These objects will encourage him to use all of his senses in the scavenger hunt and will enhance those abilities in other contexts.

These are only a few examples of ways that you could actively engage your son in the development of mindfulness. No matter which activity you choose, the purpose is to be fully engaged (no electronics), use all five senses, and participate without judgment. Don’t worry about if you are doing it right or good, hitting the target, or finding all of the objects. Enjoy the moment with your son, connect in relationship, and move away from distraction, anxiety and depression. (Here is another post about connecting with your son)

How to Teach Emotional Intelligence to Your Son

What is the most important thing you hope to teach your son before he turns 18? Many parents focus on skills like, driving a car, spending money wisely, working hard, or study habits. But, research seems to show that teaching our sons emotional intelligence may be the most important thing we do.

In 2003 researchers at Yale University studied a group of college age students and found that as emotional intelligence goes up so do positive relationships with others. These researchers also found that the ability for a person to manage their own emotions is closely related to positive interactions with others.

The same group of researchers later discovered that Lower levels of EI are associated with adolescent risk taking behaviors like use of illegal drugs, consumption of alcohol, and deviant behavior.

So, what is emotional intelligence? There is some disagreement about the exact definition but the one that I find most helpful can be summarized like this:

Emotional Intelligence is,

  1. The ability to Perceive Emotions
  2. The ability to Utilize emotions to facilitate thought
  3. The ability to Understand emotions
  4. The ability to Regulate emotions of self and others

So, What are some ways that parents can help their son to learn emotional intelligence? Here are my thoughts

  1. Focus on Connection

The research about how children develop emotional intelligence shows that it is passed on through connection with parents. Those parents that use an authoritative parenting style (balance between control and empathy) have children with higher levels of emotional intelligence. Sometimes our fast paced culture encourages parents to get their children involved in activities that will enhance their brains and build their resume. What research shows, however, is that it is “us” that matter, the time spent connecting over low cost activities enhance our children’s lives. So, build connection with your son by using the basic listening skills (I wrote about them here). Play their favorite board game one evening a week. Schedule them to cook dinner for the family one night and help them through the process. Spend a few minutes talking about the day before shutting off their bedroom light for the night.

  1. Focus on Perception of Emotions

Help your son to understand that other people’s behavior is a clue to all that is happening on the inside. Your son can learn about how to interpret facial expression, body language, tone of voice, and other communication from you. You can help him to accurately perceive emotions by guessing at what you think he is feeling and expressing it verbally (ex. You are angry) if you are correct he feels heard and now has a word for what he was just feeling on the inside. If you are incorrect he can tell you and therefore clarify his feelings for himself and for you. It is also very helpful when you verbalize what you are feeling in the moment with your child. If you have lost your keys you might say, “I am really starting to get frustrated” when you experience a setback at work you might say, “I am disappointed that…” The bottom line is; help him to perceive his own feelings by verbalizing them for him and then discussing it, help him to perceive what others are feeling by sharing your feelings in the moment.

  1. Focus on Managing Emotions of Self

Again, the best way to help your son learn to manage his emotions is to be good at managing yours. Modeling appropriate emotional reactions to normal and difficult situations shows him exactly how to do it. For younger children games like red light/green light are helpful. Older children can learn skills like belly breathing, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques. Additionally, the way you listen can be a very powerful way to co-regulate your child, which enables them to learn to regulate emotions by experiencing the process with you. (read about it here).

Emotional intelligence is one of the most important skills that a boy can learn. You can help him to learn it by focusing on connection, perception of emotions, and managing emotions of the self.

Check out this video to hear some more about boys and their emotions.

What are some other ways you have found to help increase your sons Emotional Intelligence?

How To Raise Self-Reliant Kids

My wife and I were rushing the kids out the door for school this morning and one of my worst parenting fears was “triggered”. While all his siblings were climbing into the car, one of my sons came stumbling out of the laundry room. His backpack was haphazardly draped over his shoulder, crumbs were strewn across the front of his shirt, and his hair was uncombed, “I can’t find my shoes” he said.

This may not seem scary to you, but for me this brings up fears of a son that cannot care for himself, irresponsibility, lack of initiative, and laziness. I saw images of a grown man living in my basement playing video games with orange chee-to stained fingers. These are the things of nightmares!! I have been encountering these moments more and more lately as my boys grow into the preteen years. They are changing, developing their own unique personalities and ways of acting in the world. I love to see this, but it also creates fear.   I am beginning to realize that I cannot control the outcomes of their life. I could be the best parent in the world and yet there will be struggles, difficulties, and challenges. In fact, Alfred Adler believed that the behavioral struggles for many children occur in direct relation to their parents value system. So, if you strongly value cleanliness, you will likely struggle the most with your child that has difficulty keeping his room clean. If you value kindness, your child’s misbehavior may manifest itself as disrespect and selfishness. I value responsibility and personal initiative. So, the behaviors that bother me most are lack of responsibility and forgetfulness. These behaviors push a button in me and I begin to imagine the worst possible outcome. I feel responsible for his lost shoes, I feel responsible for his future self, growing up to live in my basement. I start to respond in ways that are less than helpful for the current situation. Some times, this looks like me running around looking for his shoes, huffing and puffing about where they are SUPPOSED to be or threatening to leave the house with out him. Unfortunately, this behavior communicates to him “you are not responsible, so I (your father) must take responsibility for you”. Of course this is the exact opposite of what I want to communicate, which is, “you are responsible, you can handle this and I am here to help”. So, what can I do to avoid this train wreck?

First of all, I need to stay calm and stop indulging my worst fear images. The images of 10 years down the road are irrational and unhelpful. Instead I need to exercise patience, acknowledge my fears, and give him some time to find his shoes. I don’t have to find them, I can brainstorm possible solutions, but he is the best person to hunt them down (they did come off his feet after-all). I recently read a book by Ben Sasse entitled “The Vanishing American Adult: Our coming-of-age crisis and how to rebuild a culture of self-reliance” this book offered five practical ways that parents can help their children to build self-reliance they are

  1. Flee age segregation
  2. Embrace work pain
  3. Consume less
  4. Travel to see
  5. Build a book shelf

Check out this video I made to share some of my thoughts about these ideas.

What do you think? will these things work to build self-reliance in the next generation? Leave a comment below