Jun 17, 2013 / 5:00 am
I am continually amazed at how difficult and complex we often categorize problems that youth and children face. We are in the era where any perceived symptom or challenge one faces can be quickly looked up with Google, and instant answers (with varying degrees of accuracy) found. Too often, parents seek to immediately have a wide range of testing completed, sometimes costing hundreds of dollars, in order to get a big picture of why their son or daughter is so angry or has such a difficult time focusing in class, for example.
Without question, there are indeed many cases where children and youth are struggling with acute difficulties for which they truly require specialized help. Pediatricians in the Okanagan are very busy, and their help can be critical in helping a child to start down the road to newfound health. By the same measure, there are many professionals who can share useful expertise in helping children and youth, and who are excellent at what they do. Yet, I often wonder: does finding health need to be this difficult? Are the solutions found both long-lasting and effective?
Remarkably, when we ask children and young adults for insight on their own needs and struggles, their answers can be very enlightening. One of the themes that seem to come up again and again in my practice is the wish to simply have more presence from Mom, Dad, or whoever the parental figures in a family are. When I ask the person to tell me more, I often hear of a desire to have one-on-one time with a parent, and without being on the phone, or as part of a task or chore of some sort. Our kids and youth truly just want to have some focused time where they feel heard, where Mom or Dad are not clearly just waiting for the next task or event to begin. Most of all, they want to have FUN!
One of my own favourite activities over the years has been to head over to the nearest Dairy Queen for a Blizzard. Almost never do I end up going alone, or without at least requests from others to bring back a treat for them as well. It is not unusual at all for me to have a tray of Blizzards to bring back home for friends and family to enjoy together. However, something almost magical can occur with ice cream: it encourages people to spend a few minutes sitting and enjoying together. In short, a simple treat can become an invitation to do something very easy but fun together, and to be emotionally present with those around us. This so often is what kids, teens, and even adults crave – and a fun treat is a shockingly powerful tool.
Last week I also engaged in an activity I had put off for too long. My 5 year-old daughter has long wanted to play with her dollhouse with someone, and someone who was prepared to spend more than 2-3 quick minutes with her. So I surprised her by asking her to play, and was treated to a half hour of having the miniature father cook pancakes, taking the little girl to soccer practice, and tending to the little twin baby figurines she has obtained. My daughter was positively glowing for that entire time, and talked about it for several days afterward! I couldn’t help but notice how nothing else seemed to matter to her for a time – she had great focused time with Dad, and her happiness with something so simple was remarkable.
A large question to ponder then arises: if our children and youth felt healthier connections with their parents or parent figures, what might the impact be on their overall health, both physical and emotional? Without a clear study seeking to answer this question in front of me, and based simply upon my own work with families over 15 years, I would hazard an educated guess that the healthier the family and the relationships within, the fewer difficulties requiring testing and visits to physicians and other professionals will generally be required. Why is this? Happier and healthier are qualities that tend to go hand-in-hand, regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. If we meet our kids’ needs to feel safe, connected and loved, it is an intoxicating feeling that is therapeutic on its own, both for them AND for us.
Jun 10, 2013 / 5:00 am
Thanks to a colleague, I had the opportunity to read a fascinating article in Psychology Today this past week. It detailed the vast differences between American and French cultures, specifically around how each views the phenomenon of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder, most commonly known as ADHD. Having spent a large part of my adult life in the education field, I can say that ADHD is a term so widespread that it would be very strange to encounter a school where nobody had been diagnosed with the disorder, and likely scores of students. Parents are just as familiar with this, and many continue to seek answers for how to best care for and support a child with an ADHD diagnosis, or similar behavioral tendencies.
For those less familiar, ADHD is a problem in which a person has a less than normal ability to pay attention, especially in a situation where quietly listening is required. It also involves having a great deal of energy stored up, and which the individual will feel an acute need to release regularly. Both of these factors can make it very difficult for the person to do what is still generally required in today’s classrooms and many of today’s workplaces: to sit quietly, and focus for long periods of time on the words and actions of someone else.
In our North American society, we have become very familiar with the solution as well as the problem. If someone has been identified as having ADHD, and an official diagnosis follows, then medication is often the main or sole solution. Why medication? Well, if there is an assumption that this behavior disorder is biologically-based on a significant level, then it makes more sense to treat it using pharmaceuticals than to attempt to change the person’s environment or use differing behavioral-modification techniques. In other words, a chemically or genetically-based problem might be best remedied with chemically-based solutions.
However, something interesting appears to be occurring in France. There is an attempt to examine and understand the root causes of ADHD-like symptoms, rather than just treat them. More specifically, diet and child-rearing methods are believed to be key parts of the degree to which one displays signs of ADHD or not. For example, some studies have shown foods with preservatives and numerous artificial ingredients to have a connection with poor behavior in children. In addition, parenting habits that involve setting specific and consistently enforced limits and expectations upon the children are part of French culture, along with the absence of any “open-trough” approach to food; if a child wishes to have food, he/she generally will have to wait until the next meal, rather than help herself to whatever is in the pantry, and at any time.
How does this affect us here in the Okanagan? In essence, we as parents perhaps have a deeper level of control over the behavior our children choose than we realized, if the French experience is to be believed and embraced. First, we can do our best as individuals to be very clear and fair with our children and teens, and provide a predictable structure and set of expectations for them in all things. At home, this can mean agreeing upon who will help with loading the dishwasher, or how late your 13 year old can stay at a friend’s house on a school night. Asking for the kids’ input and having an open process may also work better than simply a top-down dictatorial approach, as long as there is clarity and mutually agreed-upon structure as a result.
We also are very fortunate to live in a place with an abundance of not just fresh fruit, but increasingly, locally-grown vegetables as well. You probably even have a service nearby that provides delivery of these life-giving foods (thank you Allingham Edibles!). It is easier here than almost anywhere else to help young people make healthy food choices, and keep the kitchen stocked with natural, fresh and great-tasting foods – and strangely enough, this can directly impact one’s ability to choose healthy behavior too.
ADHD is a very common problem faced in our society today. If the French experience is to be believed, we may even have an invitation to approach raising children in a different way, one that may reduce the far-reaching impact of ADHD further than is often believed possible, and by natural means. It is interesting food for thought, and worthy of consideration as we all seek to raise our children in the most effective ways we can.
Source: “Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD”, Psychology Today, March 8, 2012.
Jun 3, 2013 / 5:00 am
Last week we looked at the tough challenge Mom faces with Dad working “up north”, especially the situation that is created when he arrives home again. We have also acknowledged in this brief series of articles that living in one place, while working in a non-commutable distance at another, presents challenges to a couple and to a family that may be beyond its capacity to deal with in a healthy way. So what now? Can a family be truly healthy when one parent spends so much time a significant distance away?
Every family is unique, and there is no one rule that fits all. In addition, some families have resources other than money that help to alleviate the challenges of a parent working at distance. These include grandparent(s) that live in the area, and good friends and neighbours who are agreeable with sharing the load in childcare, for example. Taking advantage of having these resources is an acknowledgement that we can’t do it on our own, and without question helps ensure a happy, healthy home, even if one parent is often unable to be physically present. In general however, the working “up north” scenario tends not to be sustainable over a long period of time. What this truly means is that it is almost impossible for everyone in a family and within a couple to have their needs met consistently without one parent being present for more than a few days per month, especially if this goes on for years on end.
Why is this so often the case? After all, there are plenty of examples in our society of single mothers successfully raising a healthy family, and where everyone is able to find health and happiness in a meaningful way. The difference can come from the quality of the parental relationship that is present within the home back here in the Okanagan: when a husband and wife, or common-law couple is unable to spend time together outside of playtime with the children, tasks and planning, or other regular family activities, that primary relationship will likely suffer. When Mom and Dad are arguing much of the time, or failing to find time to enjoy each other’s company without distraction, that relationship is far less likely to be getting fed in a positive and sustainable way. Everyone in the family will feel Mom and Dad’s lack of connection, and this may create a feeling much darker than simply the absence of one parent.
For argument’s sake, let’s suppose there are few resources available to a mom at home with three children, and when her husband is gone, she is left largely to fend for herself in getting everyone’s needs met. How long can this scenario continue, without anyone being pushed past the limits of their own abilities to cope with this family dynamic? While each family and its individual members all have their own tolerance for this, it is almost guaranteed that Dad’s working far away cannot continue indefinitely, and probably must have a clear end date in sight if the family is to have the best chance possible to prosper. With an end date of some kind, hopefully agreed upon by the parents and even the children, there is a light to focus upon. It actually matters far less whether he moves back home, or the family permanently relocates in order be nearer to him while he continues his career.
There will be an understanding among his wife and each child that while Dad may not be at home much now, there will soon come a day when he will be able to spend much more time present at home; able to attend football practices, ballet recitals, and just as importantly, spend some meaningful time with his wife, where there is time to discuss more than simply how long he is home or the logistics of the day. The Dad and Husband will be able to share not just his time, but also his heart, and do so with all his energy and focus. It is his heart, shown through his love and presence, that can be the difference between a happy family brimming with love, and one that struggles to find connectedness and even its purpose together.
May 27, 2013 / 5:00 am
In last week’s column, we started to look at the difficult situation many local families bravely face on a regular basis, that of the father working for weeks or even months at a time “up north”, which typically means Ft. McMurray, Ft. St. John, or a similar northern community. The reasons are more than understandable: there is money to be made up north, and the hourly wage can be significantly higher than what a similar job would command in the Okanagan. It can become a resourceful (sorry for the bad pun) way to afford living in our beautiful region, and provide the essentials of family life without financial stress being ever-present at home.
The father of the family is faced with a significant challenge during his few days at home in finding a healthy balance between getting much needed physical and mental rest, and spending valuable time with his wife or girlfriend and children. But what about Mom? She may not be doing tough, challenging work of the same sort her spouse is, but she is working exceptionally hard as well, make no mistake. She must create and conduct the daily routines of getting the kids off to school, making sure everyone arrives for sports practices, playdates, and have meals for the family prepared. She must coordinate a complex program at home, and if there are few relatives nearby to assist, the pressures placed upon Mom can be intimidating.
Interestingly enough, I have discovered through conversations with several local Moms that one of the toughest times to manage is when Dad arrives back at home from work far away. Why would this be? After all, it would seem that she now has the relief of an extra set of hands to help out around the house, as well as the enjoyment of reconnecting with her husband or boyfriend after time away.
Although no doubt many local fathers manage the balance of getting rest and being physically and emotionally present with their families brilliantly, some families struggle with making this work well. This in turn can increase stress for his wife; she may feel a need to re-educate her husband on the home routines she has implemented, ones that he may or may not be in full agreement with. Next, she can feel resentment at times through Dad arriving home to hero-status, and appearing to be someone who can do no wrong. As he usually wishes to make the most of his time at home, the father figure can sometimes also be less prepared to discipline his children as needed, shifting that responsibility primarily to his wife, and potentially making her feel like a “bad cop”, as opposed to the “good cop” status of Dad.
Finally, reconnecting in a genuine, natural way can be a difficult task indeed for a couple at this time. Look at all the potential pitfalls that can become real obstacles: resentment over hero-status, Dad being physically and mentally exhausted, short tempers, disruption of routines, and the list can go on. When the day is over, the real test becomes whether a couple in this situation can look at each other after the kids have gone to bed, smile, and relax into getting reconnected, revisiting the love that brought them together in the first place. Love is a powerful force, and is enough to overcome even the most extreme challenges. The more they are able to do so, the happier and healthier both the couple and the entire family will be.
So what are the best ways to minimize the stresses within a family, and is the “working up north” scenario truly sustainable in a healthy family? The answers to these questions can be complex, and we will examine some of them next week.
Read more Youth Dispatch articles
- Faulty fatherhood in Kelowna? May 20
- Who is setting the tone? May 12
- Carnival of horrors May 5
- I must control you Apr 28
- What's wrong with a little poker? Apr 21
- Why would I want to get a job? Apr 14
- The myth of the family dinner Apr 7
- You really think we are all equal? Mar 31
- Treating anger with band-aids Mar 24
- Freedom to be ME (Safety: Part 2) Mar 17
- It's all about safety! (Part One) Mar 10
- Surviving divorce Feb 22
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