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Children's Mental Health

10 Ways To Talk To Teens If They Don’t Want To Talk To You

Whether we like it or not, teenagers are complicated creatures. From being sweet, wholesome, and talkative kids who cannot wait to tell you stories about their day, they can become moody, temperamental, and impulsive adolescents who prefer to stay glued to their phones and answer your questions with grunts and eye-rolls.

Don’t worry, it’s really part of growing up. “There is a science behind this change in behavior during the teenage years,” assures Dr. Margaret Mae Maano, a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist. “During adolescence, teenagers experience changes in their bodies and brains and these changes don’t take place at the same time. The first part of the brain to develop would be the limbic system, or the part that deals with emotions, which will explain why teens can become moody. The last to develop would be the prefrontal cortex, which is the decision-making part of the brain, and explains why teens are more prone to engage in high-risk behaviors.” According to the National Institute of Mental Health in the United States, this brain remodelling will continue until the teen turns 25, so it’s important that adults around them be a steady and constant presence to protect them from the negative impacts of their impulses. 

In addition, the combination of a developing brain and experiencing so many physical, emotional, and social changes may make teens ill-equipped to handle stress and cause them to develop mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. “Before the COVID-19 pandemic, teens could always turn to their friends for mental health support,” says Dr. Maano. “But now that schooling is online, this support system is no longer as accessible. It’s up to the adults in the house to become their source of strength and support.”

Just because your teens seem withdrawn and reticent does not mean that they will not appreciate your efforts to maintain a close relationship; you just have to approach them the right way. Below are some ways you can connect with your teenagers and get them to open up (even if they seem like they don’t want to):

1. Make family meal times sacred. Aim to have the family complete during one meal time each day and institute a no-gadget rule at the dining table. This creates a safe space where family members can share how their day went or talk about whatever is on their minds. “When family mealtimes are the norm, this will ingrain in our teens’ minds that their parents will always make time to listen to them,” says Dr. Maano. 

2. Ask open-ended questions. This allows teens the opportunity to open up on their own terms and the freedom to talk about what they are comfortable to share.   

3. Keep the conversations stress-free and casual. Limit the lectures. “The key is to actually listen to what your teen says,” points out Dr. Maano.

4. Tone down the criticisms, turn up the praise.  “Sometimes, that positive statement from you may be the only good thing they have heard in a long time,” Dr. Maano says.

5. Don’t demand compliance; opt for negotiation. “Because teens are at a stage when they are trying to develop independence from their parents, they may not respond positively if we force them to do something,” opines Dr, Maano. “Instead of imposing your will, help them come up with a better way to handle their issues. Teens may not want you to solve their problems for them, but some guidance would be great.” 

6. Ask them about their opinions about what is going on in the world. This is a good way to understand what is going on in their minds. “It also makes them feel respected and valued,” points out Dr. Maano. 

7. Be clear with your family rules, such as non-school related screen time, smoking, swearing, etc. Everyone in the household should be in agreement with the rules and even adults should be bound by them; if some parts of the rules are contentious, negotiate during family meal times. 

8. Pick your battles. Don’t fight with your kids over every infraction committed. “Teens feel omnipotent, that diseases and dangers do not apply to them. They also tend to be experimental, so for example, they may try to smoke or drink alcohol out of curiosity but then stop on their own,” explains Dr. Maano. As a parent, the most you can do is guide them in making their own decisions. And if you do catch your teen disobeying your rules, such as skipping class, smoking, or drinking, address the issue calmly. Don’t lecture them because they will only shut you out. Find out why they started doing it, then negotiate on getting them to stop. If there are consequences, help them face up to it; and if they stop, commend them for making a good decision. 

9. Allow them some liberties but give them additional responsibilities at home as well.  Giving them responsibilities also means that you are trusting them as a young adult and boosts their confidence. 

10. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you find yourself facing an issue beyond your control or expertise, ask help from your child’s school counselors, your pediatrician or adolescent medicine specialist, or from mental health professionals. Dr. Maano gives some examples:

  • If you catch your teen doing drugs, this will require professional intervention. 
  • If you and/or your teen are uncomfortable talking about sex or reproductive health, find another trusted adult whom he or she can talk to, like their pediatrician. “But as early and as often as possible, I encourage parents to teach children about respect for the body, that private parts should remain private. If your daughter feels she is not ready to have sex with her boyfriend, tell her it is ok to refuse and say no.  And if your son has a girlfriend and she says no, he should respect that as well.”
  • Finally, self-harm and suicidal ideation should be treated as a cry of help from the teen. “Consult a mental health expert right away,” Dr. Maano advises. “If your child is reluctant to see a mental health expert, he or she might be more comfortable talking to their school’s guidance counselor first. The counsellor will be the one to recommend further evaluation.”

There are no hard and fast rules for parenting. “The good news is the majority of teenagers go through adolescence without any problems,” assures Dr. Maano. “Just be a constant presence in their lives, talking to them, listening without judgement, and keeping an open mind. Step back and allow them to discover things on their own. When your teen knows that you are just there, ready to listen, he or she will open up to you when they are ready.”

If you or your teen needs someone to talk to, MindNation’s Care Hotline is available on FB Messenger. The FREE service is available 24/7, all year round, and is completely confidential. Drop them a line here http://m.me/themindnation.

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Featured Get Inspired Mental Health 101 Self Help

8 Ways To Raise Grateful Kids

Help kids develop an attitude of gratitude so that they will grow up to be happier, more positive, and more content with their lives.

As 2020 comes to an end, it’s time to start thinking about our goals and intentions for 2021 — not just for ourselves but also for our family. One resolution in particular that we would like to suggest — teach kids to be more grateful and less entitled. 

“Children become entitled when they always get what they ask for, when parents say ‘yes’ more than they say ‘no,’” says Maribel Dionisio, a parenting and relationship expert, author, and founder of the Love Institute, a pioneering company equipping couples, parents, and individuals with skills on how to have fulfilling relationships with those dearest to them. “When children are raised with everything handed to them, they grow up to become demanding, high-maintenance adults who are not equipped to handle life when things don’t go their way,” she adds.  

On the other hand, when children learn to be appreciative, responsible, and not take things for granted, they have better relationships with other people, can empathize more, are easier to please, and become generally happier in their later years. 

Below are some ways you can reinforce the importance of gratitude:

  1. Be mindful of your words and actions. You may be feeling proud that you are not entitling your children because you do not buy them every toy that they ask for; but an entitlement mentality can be shaped in other ways, some of which you may not even be aware of, such as: 
    • Attributing other people’s actions to their character and not because of outside forces. When your kids complain that someone took the last cookie without asking, don’t immediately say “Yes, he’s a bad boy, don’t be like him.” This teaches children to be judgemental and quickly blame others for their misfortunes.

      A better way to manage such situations would be to ask your children to think about what the other person may be going through or how they might be feeling, i.e. “Maybe he took the cookie because he didn’t get to eat lunch and is really hungry.” This act of empathizing makes kids stop immediately seeing others as bad, and makes them more grateful for their circumstances (i.e. at least they are not THAT hungry).
    • Overprotecting and overpraising them. The first will make them dependent on you, the second will make them feel that they can do no wrong. 
    • Jumping through hoops to make sure their path to success is paved for them, so they never have to work hard to get what they want. 

2. Set a good example. Kids learn a lot from watching their parents. So model gratitude every chance you get, such as offering a sincere “Thank you” to the person who delivers your packages or making it a point to share little things that you are grateful for during casual conversations. 

3. Be encouraging and positive. “When you catch your children doing good or beyond what is expected, praise them for it; don’t always focus on the things they did not do,” says Maribel. For example, if your toddler packed away four out of his seven toys, don’t scold him for not doing a perfect job; instead, tell him thank you for doing that, then remind or offer to help him pack the remaining items away. This reinforces the positive behavior and lets them know that what they do (no matter how small) is appreciated. 

4. Put things in perspective. Talk to your kids about those who are less fortunate, like the owner of their favorite restaurant who had to close shop because of the pandemic, or the people who lost their homes because of natural disasters. Understanding that not everyone has the same advantages will help them develop compassion for others and gratitude for their own privileges.

5. Let them do chores. Part of feeling gratitude is being aware of the effort someone else went through to give us something. One way to let your child experience this effort is to involve them in household tasks, such as making the bed, folding the laundry, or helping prepare meals.  “Chores reduce entitlement because it helps children see the value of work,” Maribel points out. “In addition, children learn to be responsible, feel more confident, discover their strengths, and see the value in their work.” 

6. Show them how to find the money. It can be hard for children to understand why they can’t just buy everything they want if they have never paid for anything. “Give your children opportunities to manage money, whether it’s giving them an allowance, helping them start their own business, or even paying them for doing extra chores,” says Mariblel. “When they see the time and effort it takes to be able to buy a new item of clothing or new gadget, they won’t feel entitled about money.”

7. Establish boundaries. “Do not let your children get away with everything,” Maribel instructs. “Have rules, and explain the importance of these rules so that your children cooperate. And if they deviate from rules, counter with logical and natural consequences, not with screaming, shouting, or spanking because these will only make them resent you.”

8. Cultivate a good relationship with your child. All of the above tips require you to be able to talk to your children openly, honestly, and without judgement. To achieve this, Maribel suggests the following ways:

  • Set aside one-on-one time for each child, at least 20 minutes a day. Make the conversation light and easy-going so that he or she opens up to you about what’s on their minds, and you in turn can share stories that impart the values of empathy, gratitude, and kindness. 
  • Set aside one-on-one time for each child, at least 20 minutes a day. Make the conversation light and easy-going so that he or she opens up to you about what’s on their minds, and you in turn can share stories that impart the values of empathy, gratitude, and kindness. 
  • Set aside one-on-one time for each child, at least 20 minutes a day. Make the conversation light and easy-going so that he or she opens up to you about what’s on their minds, and you in turn can share stories that impart the values of empathy, gratitude, and kindness. 

The only way children will learn gratitude (along with other positive values) is by having a relationship with them that is open, honest, and managed by boundaries. “When we do away with limitations and give our children everything they want because we want their lives to be easy, it is OUR lives that become complicated,” says Maribel. “On the other hand, when children feel loved, respected, and secure, they will not misbehave or feel entitled. They will want to return those loving feelings to you, absorb the values you impart,  and do everything to make you happy.”

If your children are struggling with strong emotions or if you need advice on how to manage their wellbeing and happiness, feel free to drop us a line on our FB Messenger chat helpline. We are open 24/7 and the service is free, secure, and confidential. 

For more information about the Love Institute, visit their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/theloveinstituteph/

— Written by Jaclyn Lutanco-Chua of MindNation

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Get Inspired Mental Health 101 Self Help

8 Ways To Help Teens Increase Their Self-confidence

It’s hard being a teenager. On top of dealing with the major physical and emotional changes that come with puberty, they must also grapple with being accepted in friendship groups and fulfill the roles expected of them in school and at home. Successes or setbacks in these areas can affect how they view themselves, which in turn can impact their self-confidence.

Confidence is defined as the belief that one will be successful in a particular situation or at a specific task. For teenagers, having a healthy dose of confidence is important because: 

  • They display more emotional resilience — even if they don’t have all the skills and knowledge required to overcome a particular problem, they are assured of their abilities and resourcefulness to acquire what they need. 
  • Confidence helps teenagers make safe, informed decisions. They can avoid people and situations that aren’t necessarily right for them, and find those that are.
  • Lastly, teens who are confident are also more likely to be assertive, positive, engaged, enthusiastic, and persistent.

Self-doubt

On the other hand, teenagers plagued by self-doubt will feel that they are incapable of accomplishing tasks. They may be afraid to recite in class or try new activities. But don’t panic if your child occasionally displays self-doubt. “Having a certain level of self-doubt is not necessarily a bad thing,” assures Joyce Pring-Triviño, actress, philanthropist, and host of the Adulting with Joyce Pring podcast (https://open.spotify.com/show/0GVJ57XsbtgwRW7TJxNI0c). “A person has healthy self-doubt when even though he or she feels that they are not good at something, they are challenged to do better instead of outrightly giving up.”

That said, parents should be on the lookout for signs of unhealthy and persistent self-doubt, because if left unidentified or unresolved, it can lead to problems such as:

  • Negative moods like feeling sad, anxious, ashamed, or angry 
  • Relationship troubles
  • Low motivation
  • Poor body image
  • Earlier sexual activity
  • Drinking alcohol or taking drugs to feel better

Developing confidence

There are a number of things that you can do to help teenagers develop their self-confidence: 

  1. Don’t let them be defined by their failures or successes. Teenagers often see the world in black and white. If they get a low grade in a subject, they feel that they are not smart students. If they don’t win at sports events, they think that they are poor athletes. If a romantic relationship fails, they bemoan that they will never find love again. “But life should not be measured by one’s successes or failures,” Joyce advises. Assure your teen that he or she is not just a student, an athlete, or a boyfriend or girlfriend; they are also so many other things, including being sons, daughters, cousins, someone’s friend, a budding artist, etc.  
  1. Prioritize self-improvement. “‘Life is an infinite game,’” Joyce says, quoting from the book “The Infinite Game” by motivational author Simon Sinek. “There is always the opportunity to become better. If you did not do well today, you can always do better tomorrow.”
  1. Praise effort instead of outcome. While your teen cannot control the outcome of an exam, he or she can control how much effort they put into studying for it. If they get a low grade as a result, don’t berate them; instead, refer to the tip above and tell them to pay attention to the mistakes made so that they can do better next time. And if they get a good grade, praise them for all the studying they did instead of getting the high marks (i.e. “Your efforts really paid off!”). By doing this,  they will feel that they can always develop their abilities to become better or persist when the going gets tough.
  2. Teach your teen to speak up for himself or herself (in an appropriate manner). Assure them that it’s okay to ask for help when they don’t understand school work, rather than stay quiet, preserve their pride, but end up falling behind. Encourage them to speak up if they feel they are not being treated right by others — this will make them less likely to be treated poorly by peers. When they grow up, they will have the confidence to ask for what they need in a more direct manner, and protect themselves from untoward situations. 
  3. Encourage your teen just try. This is especially true when your child needs to step out of his or her comfort zone, like performing onstage or participating in a sporting event. “The only thing that keeps us from being confident is taking that first step to try,” Joyce says. Don’t focus on whether or not the attempt ends in success, because as we mentioned in tip #1, one should not be defined by what he or she did or did not achieve. But the very act of trying new activities is already a win because your  teen will end up discovering hidden talents, challenge himself or herself, or master a new skill — all of which can help grow his or her confidence. 
  4. Promote body positivity. Basing self-worth on superficial things, external circumstances, or other people leads to a lack of confidence in the long run. For example, if your teenage daughter only feels good when she fits into a certain size of clothes, this can have an effect on her body image and self-esteem. If your son feels anxious because his latest social media post is not getting many “likes,” he is basing his worth on other people’s opinions. Help your teen build a healthy and stable foundation for self-worth. Emphasize your values and teach that true self-worth is about living according to those values. For example, help them see that it’s more important to be kind and caring rather than thin or attractive.
  5. Avoid being a helicopter parent. When you micromanage your teen’s life, you will only reinforce that he or she can’t be trusted to make good choices on their own. Guide them when they make decisions, but also allow them to make their own mistakes and learn from them. Over time, they’ll develop increased confidence in their ability to make healthy choices.
  6. Avoid comparison. “One of the reasons self-doubt is so prevalent is because we tend to look at other people and how good their life is, instead of looking at ourselves and how good our life is,” Joyce points out. “Start life with an attitude of gratitude instead of from a place of comparison and entitlement. The more we expect our lives to be as perfect as others’, the more unhappy and disappointed we will be.” 

When you nurture your child through supportive words and actions, you nurture his or her self-esteem and give them the confidence needed to face any challenges that come their way.  “The key to developing your teen’s self-confidence is to make sure that he or she is grounded in the more important things of life,” Joyce says. “One is the unconditional love of the people around them. Another is the acceptance that life is not perfect. As long as they are able to give their best at everything, then they are doing the right thing.”

–Written by Jaclyn Lutangco-Chua of MindNation