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Andrew Portwood

The Mini-Me syndrome

Signing my seven-year-old son up for soccer this season was a decision my wife and I made without hesitation. He loved hockey after all, and soccer involved far less equipment while offering a unique chance to watch games in practices in a warm Okanagan spring, rather than freezing in a town rink. My wife was especially enthusiastic about his playing soccer, as she played at a high level for many years, and still enjoys playing for her indoor team.

Imagine our reaction when, as it turns out, our son has not picked up skills like dribbling and shooting as quickly as we had envisioned, and in fact appears far more interested in goofing around with his teammates between (and during!) drills. While he may be exceptionally talented with Lego and can list five unique traits of every Pokemon character ever created since the dawn of time, he has yet to show he can shoot a ball in the net from three yards away. My wife can hardly contain herself, and numerous times has found it very difficult to watch as he bumbles, stumbles, and laughs his way through almost every practice and game, and has a fabulous time doing it.

All of us want our children to grow and learn at a rate at least on par with their peers, and it is hard to disagree with this. I wish for the same thing! However, potential problems can emerge when parents begin to conclude that the path to success for their child is through them mirroring the parent's success, and following a very similar route. This can often occur with highly successful parents, wishing for nothing less for their son or daughter, and naturally wanting similar success to occur for them as well. To bring this about, a very strict regimen of specific homework times, team sports, and very structured, intense parenting is not unusual. The phrase "I don't want her to make the same mistakes I made", while perhaps coming from a healthy place and with the best intentions, can actually really hinder positive growth for a young person.

I call this the Mini-Me Syndrome; a desire (and sometimes a demand) for our child to enjoy success that actually looks very similar to what we currently enjoy, but without having to endure nearly as many pitfalls along the way. In effect, we want our children to enjoy our success, and do it our way, because we know it works, and they might run into far too many problems if they try and plot their own route to success. In some of the more serious cases, there can also be a great deal of ego involved: if our child follows our path to glory, it is a confirmation of our own greatness, and provides a deep personal satisfaction through passing on a legacy that shouts out the victory we have made happen.

The Achilles Heel of such a parenting approach comes through taking away the single largest opportunity a young person can have in developing a healthy sense of independence - that of taking ownership of creating his or her own path, being allowed to deal with obstacles and natural consequences that are not always easy, and even being permitted to fail as required in learning valuable lessons in life. When we choose to invite our children to find and embrace their own interests, and plot (with support from us, of course) their own route into a purpose-filled future, there is an inherent risk that they will choose something other than what we had in mind. Their interests may be completely different, their beliefs about the world and how it works may not match up very well with our own, and they will almost certainly make mistakes that we as parents knew were coming, and that we could have helped them avoid!

Nonetheless, the gift of allowing our children to choose much about their own path helps them to grow resilience and a sense of purpose that is all but unachievable through any other means. Though it is very difficult for many of us, it usually is a very healthy exercise to encourage our children to develop their own paths forward in ways that resonate with them. They much more quickly take ownership, responsibility, and grow immeasurably from the experience - tears and all. Mini-Me is almost always an illusion, and might prevent us from experiencing the deep satisfaction of raising our children toward growing into adults who love us, are fulfilled, and who we couldn't be more proud of.

Andrew Portwood is a certified Masters-level counselor in Kelowna with a heart for supporting and helping children, youth and young adults. He has also helped many parents to grasp a better understanding of why their children are choosing the behaviours they have, and how to move forward in a supportive, healthy manner. Creating authentic connection and clarity is essential in all he does, both as a counselor and in his life. Find more about him and his practice:

Website: http://clarowellness.ca/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AndrewPortwood/



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A hidden danger of ADHD

Last week I wrote about the increasingly common challenge of dealing with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and one of the biggest factors in helping a child or teen that may not normally be much of a part of the conversation. As more and more of us have someone in our world who is working to understand and manage the unique aspects of ADHD, it is equally important to be aware of one of the main dangers often faced. Parents especially can fall into a trap that can present a serious limitation on the degree to which they can support their child or teenager, and ultimately lead to continually increasing levels of frustration and discouragement for those in the family, as well as in the classroom.

Let me get right to the point: in more than a decade of working with children and youth of all ages, several hundred of whom either had formally diagnosed ADHD or were displaying very similar symptoms, there continued to be a disproportionate amount of attention paid to the actual diagnosis of ADHD being made, and finding some quick "one-size-fits-all" tips and strategies for kids. The reason this is disproportionate in my view is not because diagnosis is unimportant or that parents' and teachers' efforts are futile, but rather because there can be acceptance that we are powerless to work through the challenges of ADHD in an effective way. In other words, if my son is diagnosed with it, then why would I put great effort into helping encourage his number and quality of social connections, participate in school efforts to modify assignments when needed, while supporting him with healthy boundaries and authentic connection at home? Isn't his ability to thrive now out of our control?

We live in an increasingly busy world, and most of us have more items on our agenda for the day than we realistically have time to complete in a matter of a few hours. It is a natural human tendency to want to optimize our day by spending more time on actions we feel are effective and likely to have a noticeable payoff. As such, there is a puzzling phenomenon where it can be easy to tell ourselves that because an ADHD diagnosis has been made, there must therefore be a genetic or physiological cause for it, and we are therefore nearly powerless to create any meaningful change. Our efforts to learn more about its challenges and how we can best help can be completely short-circuited at this point, while frustration and resentment often start to grow like weeds as a result.

The reality, and this is good news, is there is a whole lot we can (and should!) do to help those dealing with the challenges posed by ADHD. Part of the effort involves accessing information that is easily available, such as this useful primer and action plan from Interior Health. To go one step further, there are several opportunities for coaching and counseling in the Kelowna area that can help us to understand how to meet the needs of children and teens with ADHD on a deeper level, which can be found with a simple search online. These can all be accessed simply and often inexpensively, with one important caveat: parents and those working with children must be active and healthy supports in the process, with a minimal degree of "let the professionals fix my kid".

It is not uncommon to hear a frustrated parent remark on how difficult it has been to deal with their child, and then follow up with a form of this question: "Do you think it might be because of his ADHD?" At this point I usually like to help that parent take a step back and examine the larger life picture they are experiencing, including their own struggles and stresses they are going through. As occurred with a mom I worked with very recently, she needed to make the connection between the separation she was currently in the middle of, and the effects both direct and indirect this could have on her children, even very young ones. Once this had occurred, she was able to see that while ADHD might be an ever-present factor for one of her boys, there was also much she could control, such as structured home environment and meaningful connection between each child and their mother, and this could absolutely help their ability to deal with a changing reality on the homefront.

When dealing with children who have, or seem to have ADHD, always remember that you don't have to be a professional to make a big difference in supporting them. Taking a realistic look at home stressors, understanding how your own emotions affect everyone in the home, and taking positive steps forward can all be essential pieces in everyone being able to enjoy life, and nurture the meaningful connections that are so vital to healthy functioning.

 

Andrew Portwood is a certified Masters-level counselor in Kelowna with a heart for supporting and helping children, youth and young adults. He has also helped many parents to grasp a better understanding of why their children are choosing the behaviours they have, and how to move forward in a supportive, healthy manner. Creating authentic connection and clarity is essential in all he does, both as a counselor and in his life. Find more about him and his practice:

Website: http://clarowellness.ca/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AndrewPortwood/



A secret behind ADHD

For much of my professional life I have been involved in work within several different school districts, as well as a large private school, both in teaching and counseling roles. Without question, the most notable trend over that 15 years or so has been the emergence of ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, and several other afflictions within students in our schools. You will not easily find a classroom without one or more students who have been identified as facing one of these disorders, and potentially have formalized supports in place to help them deal with the effects. These are important, and I am greatly encouraged to see funding and public awareness of them increase steadily over time, rather than being marginalized or even forgotten.

At the same time, and especially over my past few years in a counseling capacity, a concurrent reality has also appeared, however. The complexity of these and other disorders almost invariably includes a significant deficit in at least one of two main needs: belonging and independence. Of these, an unmet need to connect in meaningful ways with peers and parents has proven the most common in my own practice. While physicians have an important role to play in discussing and identifying possible medications and other solutions for young people facing ADHD, for example, I believe it is equally important to address the natural need to connect and belong as well. When this need is not considered, there are very few children and teens with ADHD that I am aware of who have been able to find significantly improved levels of emotional health, especially by way of seeking diagnosis and receiving medication-based treatment.

To put it simply, kids need friends. They really, really need friends who matter to them, and especially those of similar age. When they do, kids have a good chance of feeling like part of a community, and that they matter and have value to others. This is massively important for the emotional health of a growing young mind, and helps to build and solidify self-esteem in ways not easily achievable through other means, including testing and medications. On the other hand, when kids feel disconnected or rejected (real or perceived) by their peers, the consequences can be crushing and far-reaching. Feelings of intense anger or anxiety can arise, and can be triggered by completely unrelated events such as a simple disagreement with a sibling. An otherwise happy child can rapidly become defiant, unable to focus in class or upon a task at home, or become an overall difficult person to get along with.

Now, to be clear I am not prepared to suggest that any single or combination of unmet needs are an actual cause for afflictions like ADHD. I will leave the mysteries of causation to those conducting scientific studies. What I will suggest however is that a lack of meaningful connection with peers and parents is very likely to heighten and amplify the difficulties provided by ADHD and other disorders. Never should we fall into a belief that a child struggling with one of them will find complete healthy functioning without consideration of the need for connection; additionally, we should be aware that a quick-fix at no cost is essentially non-existent.

What can you do as parents to help? Continue seeking out all the supports you already have, and involve as many invested individuals, including professionals, as seems appropriate. In addition, there are several everyday steps you can take that will help your child to deepen his or her ability and willingness to create new friendships. A fabulous article put out by the University of Florida I came across gives you clear, easy-to-implement ideas on how you can make a real difference in this specific, important way for a young person. It contains an important reminder: kids are not born with social skills - we need to teach but also encourage opportunities for them to gain these needed skills. If we do so, it is much more likely our kids will want to go outside, meet up with others, and regard their school experience as a positive one overall.

 

Andrew Portwood is a certified Masters-level counselor in Kelowna with a heart for supporting and helping children, youth and young adults. He has also helped many parents to grasp a better understanding of why their children are choosing the behaviours they have, and how to move forward in a supportive, healthy manner. Creating authentic connection and clarity is essential in all he does, both as a counselor and in his life. Find more about him and his practice:

Website: http://clarowellness.ca/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AndrewPortwood/



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Brace for panic attack

A newly emerging challenge that many young people and parents alike are either experiencing themselves, or very likely know someone else struggling with at times, is the panic attack. It seems that especially over the last two years this term has become shockingly common, and the number of people I see in my office who detail their own current experiences with panic attacks has grown to the point where it is nearly a daily occurrence. So what exactly is a panic attack, and how can someone work through the intense emotions that are naturally associated with it?

The panic attack is actually an amped-up version of anxiety. It tends to present itself in very specific situations, and often associated with a traumatic experience from the past. A quick example would be someone who is terrified of needles; when the time approaches to get a flu shot in the fall, there can be intense feelings of dread and fear that arise, complete with rapid breathing, quickened heart rate, but also a temporary inability to function as one normally would. The thoughts of the traumatic event approaching are sufficient to prevent focus and concentration, and this can even include the ability to speak and communicate normally. Most of all, the experience of a panic attack is exceptionally unpleasant for the individual, and consumes a great deal of emotional energy before it subsides.

Perhaps the most important elements of a panic attack to remember are twofold: 1) they involve the anticipation of something unpleasant occurring, and almost never the presence of an unpleasant event actually taking place in the moment, and 2) the pain and suffering from a panic attack is temporary, and will eventually pass all on its own. These in fact provide two very important clues in understanding how to begin overcoming the attacks, and reducing their sometimes crippling power over us. Truly the worst feeling of all may be that there is no hope and no possibility of ever getting to a place where panic loses its grip upon our lives, or someone we care about.

First, when we know the anticipation of an unpleasant event is an important quality of panic attacks, this makes an interesting statement - the power that feeds the panic comes entirely from within. In essence, an attack will come only when our fear of an unpleasant event is sufficiently high beforehand, and we are afraid of what might happen. That does not mean our fear is without just cause or should be disregarded, but it does mean we should be aware that the human mind can be incredibly effective at painting a worst-case scenario, and making it seem all too real - real enough that the worst case starts to actually become reality! As a result, it can be helpful simply to have an understanding in advance of this power; and while we can absolutely feel crushed by the force of panic, in no way can fear and panic represent an iron-clad guarantee about what the future will bring. There is always a chance (and usually a good one) that a given worst-case scenario will not actually become full reality.

Second, even the strongest and most intimidating fear does not have an endless life cycle, and will eventually wash over us and move on. I liken this phenomenon to a huge thunderstorm approaching the valley, with towering black clouds. The storm is coming, and I am certainly going to need to take cover and be prepared to get wet, but it is extremely unlikely I will be injured or killed by the storm, and at some point it must move on, allowing sunshine to return again. In the same way, fear and panic have a message, and we must accept their presence in order to be able to move past them. It is of very little value to do our best to not think about the fear, but it can bring some much needed comfort to admit to ourselves that we are afraid, and that our fear is very real and valid. If we understand these truths, while acknowledging that a panic attack cannot actually injure or kill us, relief from attacks is very possible.

Once a panic attack is beginning, it is usually futile to try and stop it, and believe that sheer willpower is somehow sufficient to prevent it. Such is not the nature of this beast. However, creating an element of comfort and reassurance absolutely is possible, especially when we are prepared to accept the presence of the panic, and understand that it is a temporary but natural response to fear. Ultimately, when a person is prepared (in quieter moments) to start facing the fear which in turn feeds the panic, a long-term solution to overcoming and eliminating panic attacks is possible. This can be a long and complex road, and greatly assisted by the presence of a professional who has built sufficient trust and safety to move forward.

 

Andrew Portwood is a certified Masters-level counselor in Kelowna with a heart for supporting and helping children, youth and young adults. He has also helped many parents to grasp a better understanding of why their children are choosing the behaviours they have, and how to move forward in a supportive, healthy manner. Creating authentic connection and clarity is essential in all he does, both as a counselor and in his life. Find more about him and his practice:

Website: http://clarowellness.ca/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AndrewPortwood/



Read more Youth & Family Dispatch articles

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About the Author

Andrew Portwood is a certified Masters-level counselor in Kelowna with a heart for supporting and helping children, youth and young adults. He has also helped many parents to grasp a better understanding of why their children are choosing the behaviours they have, and how to move forward in a supportive, healthy manner.

Creating authentic connection and clarity is essential in all he does, both as a counselor and in his life.

Find more about him and his practice:
Website: clarowellness.ca
Twitter: @AndrewPortwood

Contact him at The Core Centre of Health (250) 862-2673.




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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.


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