Private Practice Therapist Resources
Offering up to 6 free sessions of grief and trauma therapy to fire/mudslide survivors:
- Christina Donaldson, PhD
- Diana Ferrari, LMFT
- Rudi Lion, LMFT
- Linda Menesez, MSW, LCSW
- Jackie Beraldo, LMFT
- Judith Rubenstien, LMFT
- Karen Tyrell, LMFT
- Elizabeth Wolfson, PhD, LCSW
- Nancy Gunzberg, LCSW
- Deborah Smilovitz Foster, Ph.D.
- Angela Coady, MFT
- Bobby Kornhandler, MFT
(805) 451-5349 or (805) 699-1011
My Child Is Afraid of the Dark–Is That Normal?
Men fear death as children fear to go in the dark; and as that natural fear in children is increased by tales, so is the other. –Francis Bacon
Young and old, child or adult, fear is one of our companions in life, and we should be glad that it is. Our brains are hard-wired to notice signs of danger and to alert us to take protective action. A certain amount of anxiety can actually enhance our performance in stressful situations. Certain fears go hand in hand with childhood. Others don’t.
Key #1: Know what is normal given your child’s age.
There are a lot of fears that are part of the normal process of child development. Most come and eventually go away on their own as kids get older. For example, babies startle at loud noises and are afraid of large unfamiliar objects. At around six months, your formerly easy-going baby will suddenly be afraid of strangers–which can unfortunately include grandparents if they don’t see them much.
Stranger anxiety often peaks, then will seem to disappear, only to reappear again and again over the course of the next year.
Separation anxiety is another normal developmental milestone that can appear suddenly at around eight months.
It is a good sign that your baby is smart enough to realize that his or her survival depends on you, which is why the baby screams like crazy when you try to leave them with a babysitter. Although stressful for parents, babies naturally move through this stage by having the painful experience–and the reassurance of you and other caregiving adults–of how you come and go and come back again.
Practice and repetition is how we learn to confront our fears. Preschool kids, aged 3 to 6, are typically afraid of the dark and often worry about monsters, ghosts or wild animals. They hear noises in the night and want to sleep near or with their parents to feel safe and protected from these imaginary beasts.
As kids get older, they typically develop more realistic fears such as anxiety about being sick or injured, or the fear of their own death or the death of a parent. They also start to get anxieties about school performance or peer relationships. They often develop fears about whatever natural disasters plague your part of the country (such as earthquakes, tornadoes, floods) or the current stresses of family or neighborhood (such as threats of poverty, violence, or prejudice).
Key #2: The severity of your child’s response will vary depending on that child’s temperament and way of handling new situations.
Temperament is, by definition, the part of a child’s personality that is not caused by good or bad parenting. We now know that infants are born with certain built-in traits that affect their style of interacting with people, places and things throughout their lifetime.
This validates what many parents knew intuitively all along. Not all babies respond the same, and some are inherently more fearful than others.
Entire books have been written about the importance of understanding your child’s temperament, but for now, it is important to know that how quickly and how intensely your child reacts to new people, places and activities and how adaptable your child is in the face of change is a built-in biological factor that neither you nor your child can control. If you have a sensitive baby, you will need to learn to approach new activities and challenges gently, calmly and consistently even more so than other parents.
Key #3: All babies, toddlers, children and teens typically have more fears than adults. They are simply more vulnerable.
Given the wide range of tasks children must learn to master throughout their childhood, it is no wonder that they typically have more fears and phobias than the adults around them. It is important for parents to make sure that their kids begin to learn, as early as possible, some skills for coping more efficiently with their anxious feelings so that their fear does not begin to interfere with their ability to function.
Children also can develop fears from a traumatic experience such as an automobile accident, the serious illness of a family member, or a confrontation with an aggressive animal. Depending on the child’s age, they may not be able to understand why or how the trauma occurred so the experience just leaves the child feeling scared and vulnerable.
Other kids become fearful for no obvious reason. Some children become fearful simply by watching another child or one of their parent’s acting scared. Sometimes kids’ fears can be traced to something on the news or can emerge after seeing a movie that sparks their anxiety.
Many films today–even those supposedly intended for children–are loaded with images that are aggressive and frightening depending on the child’s age and sensitivity.
Key #4: Some children will go on to develop serious fears and phobias that could get in the way of normal development if untreated.
A small percentage of children (studies estimate 5-10%) will go on to have phobias that will seriously impact their lives causing them not only significant personal distress, but making it difficult for them to remain involved in day-to-day activities of life.
We also know that childhood phobias, left untreated, can predict the presence of phobias in adulthood. If you are worried about a fear or phobia that is getting in the way of your child going to school or eating or sleeping enough, or if the phobia has persisted over time, talk to your pediatrician or get your child assessed by your local clinic or counseling center. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Are You Tending Your Garden of Love?
Your family and your love must be cultivated like a garden. Time, effort, and imagination must be summoned constantly to keep any relationship flourishing and growing. -Jim Rohn
The wish for a deep sense of human connection and commitment is universal. Ask people what is most important to them and their first answer is always the same–their family. Our families give us a sense of identity and belonging, reminding us of who we are and what is unique about us. They are also the context, the garden soil, out of which our individuality flowers.
The metaphor of a garden is an apt one for many reasons. All over the world, there are gardens of vastly different designs, planted at different times, at different stages of growth and decay, with different types of plants. In spite of the fact that no two are alike, all gardens have some common needs–sunlight and water, planting of seeds and cutting back weeds. In short, for a garden to flourish, it needs tending.
How Does Your Garden Grow?
What gives families a strong sense of connection? The answer is simple even though often so difficult to do.We must spend quality time together, or if separated by geography, spend time communicating. Only by making the time to share the details of our daily lives as well as our successes, hardships, dreams anddisappointments can we reap the rewards of our intimate bonds.
Twenty-first century families are more isolated than ever before. With both parents working more hours than ever and with the demands of work infiltrating family time via computers and cell phones, most everyone we talk to complains about the same thing. There’s just not enough time!
What Happens When We Neglect Each Other?
The lack of emotional security of our American young people is due, I believe, to their isolation from the larger family unit. No two people — no mere father and mother — as I have often said, are enough to provide emotional security for a child. He needs to feel himself one in a world of kinfolk, persons of variety in age and temperament, and yet allied to himself by an indissoluble bond which he cannot break if he could, for nature has welded him into it before he was born. –Pearl S. Buck
When we neglect our close family and friends, not only do we feel more lonely and isolated but we are far more likely to suffer from depression. Psychotherapists have long known that social support is crucial–not only when the patient suffers from depression but with any physical or emotional illness or disability.
When you visit your doctor for your annual check-up, how often are you asked about the quality of your relationships? We now know that this is even more important than we thought. Is it time for you to reach out to those you care about?
A new study by Alan Teo and his team in the Psychiatry Department of the University of Michigan conducted a ten-year follow-up of almost 5000 adults aged 25-75 to determine just how big a part relationship factors played in the risk of developing depression years later. Their conclusion: the magnitude of the impact of social relationship quality on risk for depression is as strong as the effect of biological risk factors (like obesity, smoking, high blood pressure) for cardiovascular disease.
It turns out that what is relevant is how each of us subjectively feel about the quality of our relationships. The study revealed that of the people who rate their relationships as positive and supportive, only 1 in 15 will develop a diagnosable depression in ten years time. In marked contrast, 1 in 7 who describe poor social relationships will get depressed. Now that’s a big difference.
Remember to Tend Your Garden
So remind yourself in the following week to take some time each day–even if only minutes– to connect with your family members. Remember to use the precious times you already have to talk and listen rather than remain plugged into cell phones or ipods.
Catch the moments in between–like driving in the car, eating a snack, walking the dog–to share thoughts and feelings with your loved ones. These moments don’t have to hold long or intense conversations. Just checking in lets your spouse or child know that you are thinking about them during the day.
Sometimes the fastest way to nourish your garden of love is to stop what you are doing when someone walks into the room and just smile. Call them an affectionate nickname. Even better, offer a hug or a kiss.
Offer to help with a chore. Leave a secret love note. Say please and thank you. If you are really brave, ask your partner or your children how you can better show your love and appreciation. Even the smallest of efforts can grow miraculously. Who would ever believe that an acorn becomes an oak tree?