The Impact of Teachers

Teachers can have a major impact on students’ lives-for better or worse. You may think of a “good” teacher as one whose students perform well. While this is an important measure-after all, a teacher’s job is to help students gain knowledge in academic subjects-teachers’ influence can reach far beyond the classroom. Within the classroom, I’ve observed that students tend to try more and often perform better when they like a teacher. This can be true for even the most academically gifted students. The feedback students receive from teachers can influence not only their academic performance, but also their self-confidence. It would be difficult for teachers to do their jobs well without forming some kind of relationship or bond with their students.

By far, I believe that the majority of these bonds have potential for positive outcomes. Teachers can be role-models for students. They can be confidants for students who are being bullied or experiencing difficulties at home that need to be addressed to keep them safe. They can inspire students to pursue higher levels of education and be sounding-boards for students to discuss their career goals. The teacher-student relationship can be a powerful one, and as Voltaire (and Uncle Ben from Spider Man) have been quoted as saying, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Unfortunately, abuses of this power have been making the news more and more in recent years, and Houston leads the nation in inappropriate (read “sexual”) relationships between teachers and students. Some people believe that the increasing number of avenues of communication between teachers and students, such as texting and social media, have created a slippery slope that is leading to more incidents of inappropriate relationships. Although most schools have policies preventing students and teachers from forming social media connections, these policies are very difficult to monitor. I was recently interviewed about this by Fox News Houston.

While the potential for good remains, so does the need for boundaries in teacher-student relationships. It is important for teachers to maintain the position of “safe adult” and not “adult friend.” Parents, students, and teachers need to be aware of the difference between appropriate and inappropriate student-teacher relationships, the potential for abuses of power (both sexual and otherwise), and what to do when they occur.

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Anxiety in Youth

It seems that today’s children are experiencing problems with anxiety much more than children in the past. Anxiety can zap the joy from childhood and set children up for continued emotional difficulty in the future.

Signs of anxiety in children can include:

  • Insistence on perfection
  • Avoidance of feared situations
  • Seeking Excessive Reassurance
  • Repetitive Behaviors
  • Excessive Checking
  • Difficulty with Decisions
  • Frequent Somatic Complaints
  • Easily Overwhelmed
  • Sensitive to Criticism
  • Irritability
  • Uncontrollable fears, worry, or “what if’s”
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty focusing in high-stress situations (mind “going blank”)
  • Shutting down or melting down in the face of perceived pressure

Children can experience the same anxiety disorders as adults, but they may not always recognize the feeling of being worried or anxious. Some children may deny these feelings when they do recognize them. Children can, however, still benefit from therapeutic interventions.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the preferred treatment for anxiety in children. CBT techniques that may be used include:

  • Learning relaxation skills
  • Positive self-talk
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Compartmentalizing worry
  • Re-evaluating thoughts

-AND ULTIMATELY-

  • FACING FEARS

Protecting children from their fears and continually reassuring them will only serve to strengthen their anxiety, but they should not be forced into feared situations without the proper tools. With help learning the right skills, children can learn to manage anxiety and enjoy their youth!

 

Improve Sleep with Autogenics

Not only is insomnia  frustrating when it happens, but it’s makes it more difficult to get through the following day. Lack of sleep can also compromise your immune system, making you more vulnerable to illness, and can increase stress hormones that lead to weight gain.

Insomnia can become a viscious cycle.  

You become afraid that you won’t be able to sleep, so you stress about not sleeping, which in turn makes it harder to sleep. These circumstances lead many people to turn to pills, which can have negative side-effects such as increased drowsiness the next day, increased appetite, and impaired memory.

Overall, the side-effect profile of most sleeping pills doesn’t sound much better than the effects of insomnia. If you’d like to sleep better without taking pills or supplements,  try autogenic training.

Autogenics is a form of relaxation that involves self-suggestion. In other words, you tell your body that it is relaxing, and it does. I’ve taught several relaxation techniques to individuals and groups, and this technique has been the top choice for most of them for improving sleep. It’s also the one I personally find to be the easiest to use and the most effective for helping me get to sleep. There are several autogenics scripts available, but this is the one I use:

Lay on your back, close your eyes, and get comfortable. Take several deep, slow breaths. Imagine the air going all the way to the bottom of your lungs. Your belly, not your chest, should rise and fall.

Tell yourself “I am completely relaxed and at peace.”

After a few deep breaths, say to yourself “my right arm is heavy.” Repeat this to yourself 3 times, slowly, pausing between each statement. As you pause, focus on the feeling of heaviness in your arm.

Repeat this sequence with the following statements:

  • “MY LEFT ARM IS HEAVY”
  • “BOTH OF MY ARMS ARE HEAVY”
  • “MY RIGHT LEG IS HEAVY”
  • “MY LEFT LEG IS HEAVY”
  • “BOTH OF MY LEGS ARE HEAVY”
  • “MY HEAD AND CHEST ARE HEAVY”

You should actually feel your arm, legs, head, and chest getting heavier. Some people find it helpful to imagine a weight pulling each body part down.

I usually fall asleep somewhere before the last statement, but if you get through all of these statements and are still awake, go through the statements again, this time telling yourself that each body part is warm (replace “heavy” with “warm”). Again, some people find it helpful to imagine something warm like the sun or a heating pad on each body part as they focus on it.

You can also add statements such as “my breath is slow and regular” or “my heartbeat is slow and regular.”

WARNING:  DO NOT try to FORCE yourself to feel heavy or warm. Instead, allow yourself to notice what happens when you tell yourself your body feels heavy, warm, etc. Some days you may feel more heaviness or warmth than others, and that’s ok. Just the calm repetition of these statements can help you relax. If you try to force it, you’ll just get more stressed.

Try it and let me know how it works!

NEW Breast Cancer Group–Houston, TX

Ehrin Logo 1 (1)Have you been diagnosed with breast cancer? Are you struggling to cope with the impact of breast cancer on your life? The experience of having cancer is stressful. The ability to manage stress can improve overall health and cancer recovery. The many breast cancer support groups that are available can be very helpful, but do not teach specific skills for managing stress. Sometimes support is not enough.

Dr. Weiss has led this group at MD Anderson Cancer Center and is now offering it in her own practice. This group provides not only support, but also skills for dealing with the stress associated with breast cancer. Participants will learn new skills each week for relaxing and managing stress, and have the opportunity to share their experiences with other group members. 

When?  

Day/Time: TBD
Dates: 10 weekly sessions
Cost: $75/session

Who?

Women who have had a diagnosis of stages 0-3 breast cancer. Limited to 6 parents per group.

Enroll

Call  713-263-0400 ext. 205 or e-mail Dr.EhrinWeiss@HoustonFamilyPsychology.com with questions or to reserve your place.

Or fill out the contact form below to send an e-mail:

NEW Surviving Divorce Group for Parents–Houston, TX

Ehrin Logo 1 (1)Are you involved in a divorce where children are involved? Divorce is difficult for everyone, even when it’s the best decision for a family. Even the best parents often struggle with managing their own feelings and understanding their children’s reactions to divorce. Children adjust best to divorce when parents are able to manage their own feelings and keep kids out of their conflict.

In this group, parents will have the opportunity to learn ways to do just that. The group format provides additional support and helps parents see that they are not alone in their struggles. Give your kids the best chance possible to adjust to your divorce!

When?

Day/Time: TBD
Dates: 10 weekly sessions
Cost: $75/session

Who?

Parents who are divorcing or experiencing ongoing conflict with their child’s other parent after their romantic relationship has ended. Limited to 6 parents per group.

Enroll

Call  713-263-0400 ext. 205 or e-mail Dr.EhrinWeiss@HoustonFamilyPsychology.com with questions or to reserve your place.

Or fill out the contact form below to e-mail me:

NEW Surviving Divorce Group for Children–Houston, TX

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Are you involved in a divorce where there are children involved? Divorce is difficult for everyone, even when it’s the best decision. Children often feel alone and like they’re different from other kids when parents separate. They may have feelings and worries that they don’t feel comfortable sharing with their parents, and struggle with how to handle their emotions.

In this group, children will have the opportunity to see that they’re not alone by meeting other children who share their experiences. They will also learn skills for handling their emotions and sharing their feelings with their parents, which can help them adapt more quickly to the changes in their family.

When?

Day/Time: RBD

Dates: 10 weekly sessions

Cost: $75/session

Who?

Boys and girls ages 8-10 whose parents are divorced or divorcing. Limited to 6 children per group.

Enroll

Call  713-263-0400 ext. 205 or e-mail Dr.EhrinWeiss@HoustonFamilyPsychology.com with questions or to reserve your place.

Or fill out the contact form below to e-mail me: 

NEW *Social Stars* Social Skills Group–Houston, TX

                                                           

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Does your child struggle with making or keeping friends? Start the school year right by enrolling him or her in Social Stars social skills group. In this group, children will learn and practice new social skills to help them be more socially successful at home, in school, and in extracurricular activities. Children will learn through instruction, role play, and guided activities. A new year deserves a new start with new skills!

When?

Day/Time: TBD
Dates: 10 weekly sessions
Cost: $75/session

Who?

Boys and girls ages 8-10 who have difficulty making or keeping friends, or who feel left out socially. Limited to 6 children per group.

Enroll

Call  713-263-0400 ext. 205 or e-mail Dr.EhrinWeiss@HoustonFamilyPsychology.com with questions or to reserve your place.

Or fill in the contact form below to e-mail me:

Help for the Holidays

The holiday season is in full swing. Signs of it greet us everywhere; decorations line the streets and fill the stores and Christmas music fills the air. While the holidays have a reputation for being a time of joy, for many people they are a source of increased stress or even depression. If you find yourself feeling less than joyous this holiday season and are wondering why, you’re not alone. Keep reading to better understand the sources of holiday stress and what you can do to improve your holiday experience.

One of the biggest sources of stress is the increased demand on resources that we already feel are limited: our money and our time. ‘Tis the season for gifts and social gatherings. While these may be sources of happiness, they can also strain our resources. Finding the money in an already tight budget to buy gifts and participate in festivities, or the time in an already tight schedule to locate the perfect gift or attend parties, can feel like a burden.

Striking a balance between our work and home lives seems both more important and more difficult at this time of year. While social demands are increasing, work demands may stay the same or increase. Salaried employees may find they need to complete the same amount of work, or more, in a shorter amount of time because of work parties or days off. For hourly employees, taking time off to meet social demands means less income at a time of increased expenses. Those with children may need to arrange for childcare while they work and the children are out of school. These demands can feel overwhelming.

Another major source of negative emotions this season is the difference between our expectations and the reality of our experiences. Common expectations include giving and receiving gifts, spending time with friends and family, and enjoying ourselves. We expect things to be happy and perfect, and when they fall short of our expectations, we feel disappointed. This disappointment can be particularly strong for people who have lost a loved one in the last year, lack social support, have to work on holidays, or have recently lost significant portion of their income.

So what can you do to manage the inevitable stresses of this season with your sanity intact (and maybe even enjoy yourself)? Assessing your priorities and focusing on the true meaning of the season is a great place to start. A friend of mine does this by doing something special with her family each day of December. Possible activities may include baking, holiday decorating, playing games, watching holiday movies, and looking at neighborhood holiday displays. She also limits the number of gifts or amount of money spent on gifts. These strategies help shift her children’s focus toward quality time and away from materialism. To promote the spirit of giving, try volunteering at a shelter or soup kitchen, or donating or wrapping gifts for families in need.

Additional strategies:

  • Give yourself permission to not be perfect.
  • Take at least a few minutes a day to de-stress (e.g. taking a bath, exercising, or talking to a friend).
  •  Make a list of things that need to be done and things that can wait.
  • Write down the things you appreciate in your life. Review and add to the list daily.
  • Set clear boundaries with others.
  • Remember that kids pick up on their parents’ emotions.
  • If you feel overwhelmed, consider seeking professional help.

Book Review: The Kazdin Method…

Have you ever wished you had a guidebook for your child? Thanks to Dr. Alan Kazdin, you can have the next best thing. As a parent, you will get a lot of (often unsolicited!) advice, much of it conflicting. It can be difficult to know who to listen to or what to do. You may find yourself trying all of it and getting more confused, and frustrated, in the process. It may start to seem like nothing works with your child.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Even parents who seek professional advice may find themselves confused and frustrated by a lack of progress. The good news is that there is A LOT of research on how to manage childhood behavior problems and get your child’s behavior on track. In this book, The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child with No Pills, No Therapy, No Contest of Wills, Alan Kazdin, Ph.D. summarizes much of the research on effective parenting, explains why common parenting wisdom often fails, and provides parents with real-life examples and guidance for developing a behavior plan for their own child(ren).

Research consistently demonstrates that parent training is one of the most effective ways to manage childhood behavior (even outside of the home). Not only has it been proven to help parents teach their children to behave better, but also to improve the parent-child relationship, reduce parenting stress, and improve mental health for both parents and children. Even if your child is not overly defiant, the approach outlined in this book can help you manage common child behavior challenges with less frustration.

If you’re looking for a proven method for managing your child’s behavior that you can learn and implement from the comfort of your own home, this is the book for you. If you continue to have difficulty after trying this approach, or want additional guidance and support in implementing the method, look for a psychologist who is familiar with the technique.

Children’s Television Programming is Not Necessarily Child-Friendly

You like to think of yourself as a good, conscientious parent. You try to protect your child from the negative influences of the media. You don’t allow your kids to play violent video games (or play these games in front of them) and you only allow them to watch television shows designed for children. You may even only watch adult television and movies after they go to bed. But if you think the television shows and movies your child is watching are safe choices because they’re designed for children, you may want to think again.

Have you noticed that many children’s programs today, even cartoons, seem more racy or advanced than programs of the past? I sure have. I’ve been borderline shocked at some of the things I’ve seen on shows supposedly meant for kids. Sometimes it almost seems as if they are written to keep parents interested instead of just children!

It’s tempting to try to rationalize this as “just how things are now” or “obviously okay because they’re kids shows.” But think about who’s writing these shows. Most of the time it’s someone who is trying to sell programming, not necessarily someone who understands children’s developmental needs.

Research shows that developmentally inappropriate shows are related to a variety of difficulties in children from increased aggression and violent behaviors to difficulty sleeping.  You may be shocked to learn that children are exposed to an average of 20-25 acts of violence per hour  on Saturday morning children’s shows. Exposure to media violence (even in cartoons) has been repeatedly linked to increased aggression.

Growing up, I remember thinking it was weird when my brother, who’s about three years younger than me, got nightmares from watching Scooby Doo. It turns out he wasn’t so strange after all 🙂 Cartoons such as Buggs Bunny, Scooby Doo, and Sponge Bob Square Pants have been linked to problems sleeping in preschoolers, but are much more acceptable for 8 or 9 year-olds. Sleeping problems have been associated with behavior problems, weight problems, and poor school performance.

So what can you do?

  • Be aware of the content of the shows your child is watching and think about whether what is on the show really seems appropriate for their age. If you’re unsure, you might want to skip that show.
  • For children under five, choose shows that are geared toward very young children (think Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer). Even shows geared toward a slightly older age can cause problems.
  • If you are concerned with your child’s behavior or sleep patterns, consider switching them to younger programming.
  • Sit with your child while they watch shows and discuss what you are seeing to help them understand and process it. If you see something you don’t like, explain why it’s problematic (e.g., “He was mad and he  hit her, but hitting is not a good way to solve problems. The right way to handle it is to use your words. What could he have said?”)
  • Realize that what is appropriate for your child might seem really boring to you!

For more information, check out the following links:

Children and media violence:  http://actagainstviolence.apa.org/mediaviolence/index.html

Children’s programming and sleep problems:  http://pedzzz.blogspot.com/2012/08/study-kids-who-watch-age-appropriate-tv.html