Category Archives: parenting

Cultural competency with Muslim patients

As Ramadan begins, Embolden is working with several DC area schools and school systems, as well as offices/businesses, to create understanding and comfort for Muslim students and professionals who are fasting or participating in other spiritual activities. Muslim individuals differ in every possible way. The Muslim community has a rich variability that is a complex and nuanced mix of religion, cultural identity, family traditions, and individual personality.

Muslim individuals differ in socioeconomic background, family structure, level of religiosity, cultural identity, knowledge of spiritual practice, gender identity, community, career paths, and personality. There is no single coping style or mental health profile that Muslims share as a group. In order to serve Muslim clients and mental health needs best, an open stance of curiosity, inquiry, and humility is required by medical and mental health professionals.

On a pragmatic level, some schools are adapting to Ramadan, a time when students fast and cannot drink water from sunrise to sunset and often cannot participate in sports, by creating alternative activities during lunchtime, psychoeducational presentations for students and faculty and awareness for both the vulnerabilities and strengths that all students bring with them to school communities.

Also see Nine Reasons Why Cross-cultural Friendships Are Good For Your Health.

The Father-Daughter Dance: Okay to Be Me

A healthy father-daughter relationship can be key for developing a girl’s positive self-esteem. If the relationship between father and daughter is strained at an early age, it can make for a lifetime of internal challenges and relationship struggles.

Based on clinical psychology research, the most important question for the father-daughter relationship appears to be: Is it OK to be me?

*When a daughter’s father allows her to be a child, without piling on adult responsibilities, she’s more likely to develop healthy relationships.
*Feeling that her father accepts her as she is, and communicates with her well, appears to lessen a girl’s risk of developing depression.
*Research suggests that paternal closeness, reliability, affection, and permission for autonomy lessen the risk of a girl developing major depression or eating disorders. 
*Women who had a psychiatric disorder were more likely to describe their father relationships as less caring, overprotective, unkind, critical, and punitive.

Stats, see Demidenko, Manion, & Lee: Father-daughter attachment and communication in depressed and non-depressed adolescent girls. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 2015.

Mother, as a Verb.

Many people had a parent in childhood and adolescence who couldn’t meet mental, emotional, or physical needs. Perhaps the parent was struggling to do the best they could with the limitations of society and personal circumstances, but fell short. Perhaps they had mental health challenges, medical problems, trauma, financial hardship, personal struggles, and lack of validation from society. 

Whatever the reason is, many people are left with relationship wounds from their interactions with primary caregivers.

Mother wounds can show up in the following ways:

  • Unrealistic expectations in relationships.
  • An inability to practice consistent self-care.
  • Emotionally care-taking others to the point of personal exhaustion and disappointment.
  • Unconscious self-sabotage in work and in love.
  • An inability to ask for and receive support.
  • Disordered eating – or other addictions or numbing coping mechanisms.
  • Allowing and accepting poor or abusive treatment from others.
  • Living out the unlived lives of our mothers and not being true to personal aspirations and dreams.
  • Shame, believing that something is fundamentally wrong with you, or that you’re not worthy of love.
  • Keeping yourself small – physically, emotionally, or mentally – for fear of stepping fully into your power.
  • Feeling relentlessly needy in your relationships.
  • Feeling resentful and bitter, and believing that others have it better.
  • Never feeling good enough no matter what you do.

Everyone needs mothering. Mothering is that nurturing process that helps someone grow. In addition to physical nourishment, including gentle touch, care, safety, and food, emotional nurturing consists of meeting a child’s emotional needs.

These include:

  • Love
  • Play
  • Respect
  • Encouragement
  • Understanding
  • Acceptance
  • Empathy
  • Comfort
  • Reliability
  • Guidance

As an adult, you still have these emotional needs.
Self-love and re-parenting means working on meeting them as a life long process.

When you have uncomfortable feelings, literally put your hand on your chest, and say aloud, “You’re (or I’m) ____.” (e.g., angry, sad, afraid, lonely). This accepts and honors your feelings.

If you have difficulty identifying your feelings, pay attention to your inner dialogue. Notice your thoughts. Try to name your specific feelings. (“Upset” isn’t a specific feeling.) Do this several times a day to increase your feeling recognition. Putting words to emotions is validation.

Think or write about the feeling and what you need that will make you feel better. You need to sleep, take a time out, drink a hot beverage, eat a snack, go outside, take a nap, call a friend. Meeting needs is good parenting.

If you’re angry or anxious, practice yoga, stretching, meditation, or simple breathing exercises. Slowing your breath slows your brain and calms your nervous system. Exhale 10 times making a hissing (“sss”) sound with your tongue behind your teeth. Vocalizing is ideal for releasing anger.

Practice giving yourself nurturance: Write a supportive letter to yourself. Have a warm drink or eat some comforting soup. Wrap your body in a soft blanket.

Do something pleasurable, e.g., read a book or watch your favorite show, cuddle your companion animal, walk in nature, listen to music or dance, create something, cook something nourishing, or stroke/groom your skin. Pleasure releases chemicals in the brain that counterbalance pain, stress, and negative emotions. Discover what pleasures you.

Adults also need to play. This means doing something purposeless that fully engages you and is enjoyable for its own sake. The more active the better, i.e., play with your dog vs. walking them, make a yummy meal while listening to music, take some selfies (My essay: The Selfie and Mental Health, coming soon).  Play brings you into the pleasure of the moment.

Practice complimenting and encouraging yourself – especially when you don’t think you’re doing enough. Remind yourself of what you have done and allow yourself time to rest and rejuvenate.

Forgive yourself. Good parents don’t punish children for mistakes or constantly remind them of perceived failures. Instead, learn from mistakes and move forward.

Keep commitments to yourself as you would anyone else. When you don’t, you’re in effect abandoning yourself. How would you feel if your parent repeatedly broke promises to you? Love yourself by demonstrating that you’re important enough to keep commitments to yourself.

The point of re-mothering work is to have different experiences with yourself and with others to help you fill in any developmental gaps or unmet needs from childhood that are getting in your way as an adult and sabotaging your ability to fully engage with life.

Depression and Parenting

I was recently the speaker on The Zebra School, a parenting podcast, on pregnancy and mental health. Depression, both during pregnancy, and postpartum, are very serious concerns that can affect the entire family. The podcast and blog interview will be officially LIVE May 1, 2021. You can listen to the full interview on iTunes, Spotify, Google, and a few other audio platforms. Just search for The Zebra School on the desired platform.

Zebras are ungulates with an acute sense of hearing. Like a horse, a zebra can turn their ears in almost any direction – capturing the sounds of its environment with keen precision. Similarly, The Zebra School programs promote content committed to keeping our ears to the ground to stay abreast of relevant information taking place in the childhood space.

The Neuropsychology of Chores

Neuropsychological research shows that those children who have a set of chores have higher self-esteem, are more responsible, and are better able to deal with frustration and delay gratification, all of which contribute to greater success in relationships, school, and future endeavors. These are all aspects of executive functioning, which include planning, organizing, sequencing, sustaining effort, and self monitoring, all mediated by the frontal lobe of the brain. One study by Dr. Martin Rossman showed that the best predictor of young adults’ career success in their mid-20’s was participating in household tasks when they were children. Also see the What Is Executive Functioning

In my practice, parents often express concern that their kids are so busy with school work, sports, and social life, that they have little or no time to contribute to household tasks. I believe that household tasks and chores are absolutely essential, contribute to brain development, and help with prioritizing, scheduling, and multitasking. I specifically assign household tasks that are developmentally appropriate as part of a treatment plan for each family.

The gains:
Life Skills
I often ask kids, are you important in your family? Kids begin to see themselves as important contributors to the family. They feel a connection to the family. Holding them accountable for their chores can increase a sense of themselves as responsible and capable. Not being taught the skills of everyday living can limit children’s ability to function at age appropriate levels. By expecting children to complete self-care tasks and to help with household chores, parents equip children with the skills to function independently in the outside world.

If you let children off the hook for chores because they have too much schoolwork or need to practice a sport, then you are saying, intentionally or not, that their academic or athletic skills are more important than life skills. I work with young adults who go off to college and don’t know how to do their laundry or who live with roommates and leave piles of dishes in the sink, causing friction. Chores are an important part of relationships, with family, colleagues, and friends. One goal I emphasize is for kids to plan and help make a meal for the family each week. By accomplishing goals that are not related to school or athletic prowess, there can be huge gains in self-efficacy and self-esteem.

Role Modeling
You can model a message that there are tasks that need to be completed in order for the entire household to run smoothly, and that everyone in the family is encouraged and expected to participate. Or, alternatively by being allowed to avoid tasks, children may receive the message that chores are boring, mundane, can be put aside, and are to be done by others.

Encouraging Participation
Young children naturally want to be a part of the family and want to help. Ideally, you will encourage their participation (even if it takes more work on your part in the short run). The size of the task does not matter; the responsibility associated with it does. Praise hard.

Withholding Judgment
When tasks are assigned, and completed on a consistent basis, they are creating new neural pathways. Being overly critical or judgmental is not the objective, making chores part of a daily routine is.

Assigning Chores
For those parents who did not begin a chore regimen when their kids were little, you can still start a plan now. You can take some time to think about what tasks you need help with in the home, what life skills your children need to learn, and what are each child’s interests and abilities.

Family Meetings
As you contemplate these decisions, you can ask your children for their feedback and input. This shows teamwork and connection. Also, brainstorm ideas for overcoming any obstacles faced in the past, such as children not following through, arguing, or not doing a thorough job. Many parents hold a family meeting to discuss chores and when and how they will be starting, revising, or re-instating them. Such times together can build morale, improve relationships, and facilitate creative problem solving.

Giving an Allowance
One question that parents frequently ask is whether allowance should be tied to the completion of chores. This is a personal call for families. Many parents want their children to help around the house as a contributing member of the family, not because there is money or other external rewards associated with it. The option I most often discuss is that chores and allowance can be separate. I also encourage providing an allowance or reward for a task that is above and beyond everyday routines, such as cleaning the garage, painting a shed, or other major house projects.

Earning Privileges
One alternative to paying an allowance may be to have children earn privileges for completing their chores. For example, a teen may earn the right to use the car on the weekends by washing the automobile. A school-age child may earn the privilege to have friends over to play if he throws away the trash and puts away the games after a previous gathering with friends. Often parents expect kids to finish their schoolwork, before they get on their favorite video game. All of these actions demonstrate earning privileges, and when done consistently, show that chores and fun are both important.

The Dangers of the ‘Mini-Me’

On Individuation
“I don’t know where she gets it from…” “He is just like me.” Familiar phrases I hear from parents.

Two year-olds have to learn to say “no” before they can say “yes.” The “no” of the 2-year-old is a crucial component of the development of self. When their “no” is accepted, it makes it possible for the child to begin feeling authorship of their “yes.”

“Yes” is a nod to the self, to one’s desires, needs, and drive toward autonomy. The period between leaving childhood and entering adolescence is an interesting time fraught with many hurdles, successes and challenges. In this mix is the desire to express individuality. According to Jungian psychology, this is individuation, and relates to the individual’s personality differentiating from others. Specifically, it is related to the ‘separating’ or individuating from one’s parents, and during adolescence it takes on particular importance. This means the child is given space to question and even change the rules, as they move toward “yes,” i.e., developing their identity as autonomous adults.

According to clinical psychologist Dr. Shefali Tsabary, the conscious parent understands that children are not possessions; they are expressive, free-thinking individuals with their own spirit and interests. “They are not ours to possess, to control and dominate, and to act as if they are our puppets, our minions, our products,” Dr. Shefali says.

Pitfalls in individuation:
Parentification is a role reversal where the parent gets the child to take care of the parent. The parent raises the child to care for the parent’s physical and emotional needs, rather than exploring the child’s needs.
Instead: The importance of self-care, balanced with being able to accept the care of others.

Criticism violates a sense of worth. It can lead to kids who second-guess themselves and constantly seek the approval of others.

Instead: Having positive self-regard and liking who you are.

Possessiveness violates a sense of autonomy; a possessive parent undermines the natural desire to explore who the child is, away from the parent.

Instead: Making personal choices and decisions and understanding the consequences, both positive and negative.

Dependence violates a sense of agency. A child needs to learn they have self-advocacy, a capacity to create change in their lives, no matter the struggle.

Instead: Being your own advocate, which includes asking for help as needed.

Unpredictability violates a sense of security. When you can’t trust your primary caregiver, it teaches you that you cannot trust anyone else, which makes the world seem dangerous.

Instead: Taking responsibility for and living with one’s own choices, the good and bad ones alike. 

Rescuing violates a sense of healthy collaboration. The parent indulges and “saves” a child from any form of pain. Instead of teaching them how to process the reality of limits, the parent encourages their child to see themselves as someone who needs rescue or indulgence.

Instead:  I take care of myself, and also enjoy working with others.

We cannot really change a child to be more like us, or more like we want them to be. We can lead them, guide them and encourage them to a degree, but we must allow for the part of them that we may not recognise, or even understand. So, the next time you feel that your child is behaving in a way that ‘you just don’t know where they get it from.’

They get it from themself.

Where does our ‘work ethic’ come from?

Why do some people have a strong work ethic, and others just, well, don’t?

Psychology research has helped define these main indicators of work ethic:
Framing an end result or goal
Prioritized focus
Being available and reliable
Creating a rewarding routine/system
Embracing positivism

The role of parenting
Attitudes and values develop early in life and there is evidence that the relationship with parents affects the work development of adolescents.

With regard to adults, Leenders and her colleagues (2017, journal of general psychology) investigated this by surveying nearly 4,000 people in the Netherlands, asking them to rate the quality of the relationship that they had with their mother and father.

The results showed that: Overall, people who had had a more positive relationship with their parents during their teens had a more positive work orientation and stronger work ethic later in life. And, youngsters who had parents with a strong work ethic also tended to work harder.

Does work ethic matter?
In 2009, a study entitled “Personality and Career Success: Concurrent and Longitudinal Relations” found that people scoring a high degree of conscientiousness (work ethic) on the Big Five test earned considerably higher incomes and reported greater job satisfaction.

A National Institute of Mental Health Study found that conscientious men earned significantly higher salaries than their low-C counterparts.

A 2006 study reported in the Journal of Applied Psychology linked conscientiousness with entrepreneurship, finding that successful entrepreneurs scored far higher on conscientiousness than managers.

Research from the University of Sheffield in the UK is one of the many studies that link conscientiousness with high educational attainment. Simply put, conscientious kids do better at school.

Other studies associate conscientiousness with long life, as conscientious people are far less likely to smoke, drink to excess, abuse drugs, drive too fast or break the law. They are also drawn to other conscientious people, which puts them in long-lasting stable relationships and healthy work situations.

Conscientiousness even determines your chances of becoming an influential presence on Twitter, according to a University of Cambridge study.

In my opinion, the most remarkable thing about conscientiousness is its ability to cut across situational variables. Arriving on time, being on top of deadlines, making plans and sticking to them – these skills help you regardless of your life stage, transitions, or work situation.

Personality Variables
Out of all the big-five personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism; conscientiousness is the only trait that consistently shows a strong relationship to work ethic. Overall, conscientious individuals tend to demonstrate a strong work ethic, be reliable, punctual, pay attention to detail and show commitment and purpose.

Conscientiousness can be broken down into two sub-traits:

Industriousness, which refers to the ability to suppress disruptive impulses and pursue non-immediate goals

Orderliness, which refers to the ability to adopt and follow rules (either self-imposed or imposed by others).

Work ethic and neuroscience
High Conscientiousness has been linked to a greater connectivity between several neural networks in the brain:

The cognitive control network controls your executive functions- attention, planning, working memory, and social behavior.

The salience network primarily decides which things you pay attention to and which things you ignore. Both of these networks are controlled by the Frontal Lobe, the conductor of the brain. 

Please also read: Leenders, M. V. E., Buunk, A. P., Henkens, K. (2017). The Role of the Relationship with Parents with Respect to Work Orientation and Work Ethic. Journal of General Psychology.

The importance of tears

A lot of my work consists of working with men. Many male patients have not been allowed to share their emotions in an open fashion. Crying actually releases cortisol through tears. That is the stress hormone, and is is not good to have in your body. Tears release it. As adults, being vulnerable is good for relationships, but if you were told that it’s not a good thing, it’s hard. I hope we can change this mentality that men shouldn’t cry.

Embolden Psychology

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

Thank you for contacting us.