The Scars You Can’t See

When people look at me, they probably see someone that is educated, smart, successful, and confident. All of these are true, but what they do not see are the scars. Not scars on my body, but in my body. Sure, I have physical scars on my body; one on my shin when I fell on a rusty nail, a scar on my pointer finger where I gouged an inch of skin away, and scars from surgeon’s with multiple surgeries – some elective, others not elective, but necessary to remove the cancer.

The scars that other people do not see are the scars inside me – the emotional scars. Scars so deep even a body scan does not show them. Being born to a mother who was incapable of bonding with her infant. The scars of having a narcissistic father uninterested in his children. Scars left by parents who were too interested in their own lives that they did not notice the changes in me when my brother started sexually abusing me. The scars left from the feelings of inferiority, worthlessness, and rejection. 

The scars left from an emotionally vacant husband who turned physically abusive.

These are the scars that others judge us by, through not understanding why those of us scared act the way we do, why we have trouble trusting people, why we have limited social groups. These are the scars that rarely receive understanding, or empathy.

Now, I do not share my scars for empathy, sympathy, or understanding as I have worked to address my scars, healed the scars left unseen. These scars no longer hurt me. But, there are many people walking around with these unseen scars. We bump into them on the street, in the elevators, and in the workplace. They have behaviors and interactions that may seem odd, so people do not understand.

I understand. I understand the emotional unseen scars. I also understand the process of healing these scars, so they no longer are felt. When the events that left the scars happened, or are happening, everything a person is seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling are stored with those events. Those senses get triggered resulting in behaviors that the individual has a hard time understanding. The individual may get angry, may be depressed and withdrawn, have nightmares or flashbacks, or may feel the need to run away. It may feel hopeless. There is hope. There is hope not only for healing the emotional unseen scars. There is hope in living the life you want. Being free of the scars that other’s cannot see.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) is a type of therapy that effectively heals the unseen scars. EMDR takes the emotional pain away from the scars, so the scars no longer have any power in your life.

Consequence 1.0

As parents, we want our children and adolescents to behave appropriately and be responsible for their behaviors. When our children and adolescents misbehave, we want them to understand why those behaviors are unacceptable. So, we want to give consequences, but it is important to make sure we are imposing consequences that will alter behaviors.  If parents are going to use consequences, they have to realize why they are using consequences and understand the significance of making the consequence “fit the behaviors” if you will.

Remember that punishment means to impose a penalty for an offense, retribution or retaliation, to deal with roughly or harshly, to inflict injury, whereas, discipline basically means to teach. So, as the parent, do you want to deal with your child harshly or to teach your child to use better behaviors? Hopefully, the answer is to use better behaviors. If the parent uses consequences to teach the child alternative behaviors, then the consequence has to be related to the negative behavior. An example is if the child or adolescent comes in late, then the parent cannot give sentence writing to change the behavior. Sentence writing is not connected to coming home late, so that consequence will not extinguish the behavior or help the child or adolescent recognize why the behavior was unacceptable.

There are two types of consequences: Natural and Others-Imposed. Natural consequences are the most powerful for extinguishing behaviors as they are directly connected to the behaviors. An example would be not wearing a coat to school (behavior) and the child is cold at recess (natural consequence), touching a hot stove (behavior) and the child gets burned (natural consequence), or leaves his or her bike outside (behavior) and someone either steals it or it rains, ruining the bike (natural consequence). You might ask, “Do natural consequences really work?”

Yes they do, but the parent cannot interfere with the natural consequence or it will not reinforce the alternative behavior. If the child won’t eat dinner (behavior), then they will be especially hungry for breakfast (natural consequence). If the parent goes into the kitchen to fix the child something later, then the natural consequence is ineffective. If the child does not do his or her homework (behavior), then they will get a zero for the homework assignment (natural consequence). The parent cannot do the homework for the child. The way this works is that the natural consequence will be unappealing to your child; therefore, it will change or extinguish behaviors. One exception here is when a natural consequence is dangerous to safety and health (like matches outside on a dry day). Never use natural consequences when a child’s safety is in jeopardy.

When using discipline to help the child be able to switch from unacceptable behaviors to acceptable behaviors, one of the most important thing for a parent to do is to make sure that they stay calm and regulated, no matter what the child’s behaviors happen to be. If a parent is upset about something their child has done, the parent needs to wait until he or she is calm before addressing the unacceptable behavior. The goal of discipline is to teach alternative behaviors. If the parent is upset and angry (dysregulated) when disciplining the child, the opportunity to teach alternative behaviors is ineffective as the child will be focused on the anger. The parent’s anger will most likely scare the child causing dysregulation in the child. For the discipline to work, the parent has to be calm and regulated.

The Art of Giving Choices

The Art of Giving Choices

There is an art to giving children and adolescents choices. As parents, we want to give our children the choice of how they do a task or chore, but not in the completion of the task or chore.

The completion of the task is going to happen. This is never up for negotiation. What the parent and child can negotiate is how and possibly when the completion of the task happens. By giving children and adolescents ownership in the completion of tasks, they are able to gain a sense of responsibility, ownership, and independence. An example is that the trash needs to be taken out. The parent says to the child, “The trash needs to be taken out. Do you want to take it out now or when your show is over? Which do you choose?” Of course, the child will choose when the show is over. When the show is over the parent can say, “Remember you chose to take the trash out when the show was over. I appreciate you taking responsibility for the choice you made. Thanks.” Another example is that toys need to be picked up. The parent says, “The toys need to be picked up. You can choose to pick them up now, or you can choose to pick them up in five minutes. Which do you choose?” Or you can say, you can choose to pick up the blocks first and then the Legos, which do you choose. The pattern is still the same.

The pattern for the choices can be used for anything. The pattern is “You can choose___________(this, whatever this is) or you can choose ________________ (that, whatever that is), which do you choose?” Giving children and adolescents the choice allows them to begin understanding that their choices have consequences. Plus, it allows them to begin accepting responsibility for the choices that they make.

What happens when the child or adolescent makes a choice the parent does not like? For the parent – breathe! Allowing children and adolescents to make choices, in the safety of our homes, is teaching them how they will make these choices in adulthood. An example might be that the child chooses to not study for a test and then complains about the bad grade. The parent’s response should be limited to, “sounds like you are unhappy with the choice you made (of not studying for the test), maybe next time you will make a different choice.” The art is making that one statement, nothing else. Do not lecture. By making this one statement, it is allowing children and adolescents to experience the anxiety of their choices.

Anxiety is what produces change in people. As parents, we have to allow our children to experience the anxiety of their choices, so they gain the understanding that they need to learn how to make the right or better choices. What happens is that parents take all the anxiety away from children; like the above example when the child or adolescent is not studying for a test and we harp on them to study. This is our own anxiety that causes us to harp on them. Instead, we have to give the anxiety back to the children to help them understand their choices have consequences. When they experience the anxiety of possibly not doing well on a test, they will be more likely to study. But, when the parent takes all that anxiety from them, they will not study. Giving choices helps the relationship between the parent and child instead of the parent focusing only on the behaviors. The child is happier and the parent is happier.

The Importance of Praise

We all like to receive praise, especially when we have accomplished a task or completed something that was new for us; children feel the same way about receiving praise. 

Children particularly like to receive praise from their parents. It is important for parents to praise children, so that they are able to repeat the task, chore, activity, or assignment.

Our brains are a pattern seeking muscle. It seeks to find the pattern in order to receive the praise again. This is why praising is vitally important to a developing child. Our role as the parent is to make sure we are praising in a way that allows the child to repeat the task, chore, activity, or assignment that received the praise in the first place. We can accomplish this by using labeled praise instead of unlabeled praise.

Unlabeled praise is when we say, “good job”. As the brain is making a pattern, the praise of good job is not “attached” to anything, so the brain is unable to repeat the pattern. Additionally, when someone makes the statement “good job”, this means that the person approves of what was accomplished. For children, we want them to be self-approving instead of others-approving. We want our children to be satisfied with what they are accomplishing and not seeking the approval of others. This is where labeled praise becomes invaluable.

For the brain to make a patterned memory the parent should always label, or identify, what the child has accomplished. When this kind of statement is made first, then followed by a “tag” line, the brain is making a memory in order to repeat the same behavior that received the praise. Using labeled praise such as, “you were able to put all the blocks away, you did it”, “wow, you knew exactly what to study to make a good grade on your test, you did it”, or “you put the dishes away without being asked, wow, you are amazing”, gives the brain a memory or pattern of behavior that will receive praise again.