Teens, Anxiety, and Depression

Lynn Lyons

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Causes, Connections, and What Parents Can Do to Help

Teen depression is on the rise, and a parent’s best strategy to help a child is to promote the development of key skills.

One of the most important aspects of healing and recovering, be it from an injury, depression or a broken heart, is the belief that change is possible. Researchers call this “positive expectancy,” and when we look at the success of therapy, it figures prominently.

In order to do the hard work of changing or healing, we have to believe that change is actually an option. Recently I’ve been bumping into more and more information about depression and anxiety disorders that is saying the exact opposite of this.

In an effort to promote mental health awareness and prompt children, teens and adults to seek help for mental health issues, the messages that depression and anxiety disorders are diseases of the brain that “just happen” and –more disturbingly–are “how you are wired” or “are like diabetes and heart disease” have been showing up again and again. Drug ads are major offenders, but not the only ones. (Note: I am not talking about bipolar disorder or schizophrenia…these are viewed and treated differently.)

Seeing Teen Depression For What It Is

I understand the intent: we want to prevent kids and teens from feeling guilty or ashamed when they are struggling.

We want them to understand that mental health issues like these are common and treatable. We don’t want them to feel alone. But it’s also critical they know that their brains are malleable and changeable.

The way we think, develop, relate to others, and handle challenges are critical to good mental health and are components of our human experience that CAN be learned, unlearned, and adapted.

What you believe about yourself and how you view the world are significant factors in both the development and recovery from anxiety, depression, stress, chaotic relationships, and many other issues.

Parents can learn how to help a teen with depression when the family takes a skill-building approach.

Teens are hearing– so they tell me when I ask them–that depression and anxiety are permanent, based on hard wiring and/or genetics. While there may be some genetic contribution to anxiety and depression in teens, there is no known anxiety gene or depression gene nor ANY solid scientific proof that fully explains what causes depression.

We do know that the malleability of our brains, our chemistry, and even the genetic expression of our DNA is far broader and influential than researchers believed even 10 or 15 years ago, and we know about risk factors, like trauma, isolation, and social disconnection, to name a few.

Depression is not who you are

Rather than promoting healthy changes in thinking, acting, decision-making, and connection, we are hindering the positive expectancy and motivation that is critical to the treatment of these problems. And we are inhibiting an important discussion about risk factors, prevention, and recovery.

When we give teens the message that “this is who they are,” that their brains are imbalanced, and that depression is a disease that “just shows up,” our attempts to help are possibly doing the exact opposite.

Depression and anxiety in teenagers are very real and very destructive when left alone, but treatment that focuses on building resources and skills is very successful.

Connecting Teen Depression and Anxiety

As an anxiety expert, I often talk to teens who are also depressed. Why?

Because an untreated anxiety disorder in a child is one of the top predictors of developing depression as a teen or young adult, a fact that most teens and parents are unaware of. And because anxiety is the chief mental health complaint of young people, it’s not surprising that rates of depression in teens is increasing.

Adolescence is often the time when longer term issues with anxiety and worry become more intense and isolating. The challenges of social life and increased academic pressures push kids toward brand new experiences and responsibilities, along with the shadow side of hesitation and insecurity.

Specific learning difficulties can surface as students take on more complicated tasks or have to speak up in class. Sports become more demanding, and hormones can wreak havoc with appearance. Whether social, intellectual or physical, anything can serve as a source of worry.

Teens are caught between wanting to achieve and being afraid of failing, of wanting to belong and fearing rejection.

When teens believe they won’t measure up or when they expect rejection, they withdraw.

To make matters worse, teens are developmentally more likely to reject adult input as they strive to be independent and find their own answers. At the very time when they are faced with huge changes– graduating from high school, waiting to hear from colleges, moving away from home or deciding on a career path—your advice and desire to help are met with resistance.

No degree of reassurance or encouragement seems to be enough, because you can’t give your teen what she’s looking for: a guarantee that everything will turn out perfectly.

The Desire for Certainty

And it’s this desire for certainty that allows anxiety to grab your teen and hold on tight. Add to that a conflicting desire to be a part of a complicated and uncertain social world, and it’s no wonder that the withdrawal, hopelessness, and sadness of depression can take hold.

This means that helping children and teens understand and normalize the challenges of relationships, problem solving, disappointment, and uncertainty is critical for prevention and recovery. These are skills that can and should be taught.

Your anxious teen is looking for a guarantee that everything will turn out perfectly. Since you cannot control that, the family goal is acceptance with uncertainty.

Shifting Thought Patterns

When we talk about permanence and disease, we miss an opportunity. We must help our children notice the patterns of thinking and responding that can be most helpful and most hurtful.

For example, most teens understand that life can be unpredictable. But during this time of flux, they sometimes lose their ability to tolerate such big uncertainties.

Most anxious teens get trapped by the following rigid patterns when making plans and thinking about the future:

  1. Perfectionism: “Everything must—and can– be done perfectly” (also known as all or nothing thinking)

  2. Catastrophic thinking: “If one thing goes wrong, everything will fall apart and I won’t be successful in life.”

  3. The One Path Myth: “There is ONE PATH to a successful life. I have to find it or stay on it, no matter what!”

How to Help a Teen With Depression

These ways of thinking create anxiety and stress in teens, so what can you as a parent do to help? You can start by paying attention to how you and your family handle failure and mistakes.

Research tells us convincingly that your own relationship with anxiety and uncertainty—and how you role model this to your child—significantly impacts how she sees the world.

When is something good enough? How do you move on to your next task? What does your family say about screw-ups?

Now may be the time to notice and change your own response to mistakes, to sprinkle family conversation with phrases that normalize screw-ups, struggles, and imperfection.

Teens also need to hear that they aren’t expected to know everything, and that they can’t see into the future.

The goal is NOT to make all good decisions. The goal is to have the problem solving skills needed to adjust from the inevitable bad ones.

Flexibility is key, and this means knowing when to push harder and when to be satisfied with a less-than-perfect result. As you see your teen becoming anxious, look for opportunities to let her know that this IS a time of uncertainty, but you have confidence in her ability to problem solve along the way.

Giving advice about how you would handle things might not be as valuable as instilling a sense of autonomy in your teen—and this may mean backing off the lectures and letting her know that you are there to support her as she makes HER choices.

Worry is Normal

Finally, teens need to hear that they are supposed to be anxious! Expecting to be calm and relaxed during such a time of change is unrealistic.

In fact, moving toward the anxiety and learning how to manage it is the skill I most strongly promote.

If a teen believes that staying calm is the goal, she’ll avoid taking risks, stay where she’s most comfortable, and never build up her own sense of confidence.

Let her feel her feelings, but then support taking action and courageously moving into uncertainty. Although your first instinct may be to step in and make it okay, know that you are equipping your teen with valuable skills when you model and support a more flexible—and independent– path into adulthood.

Remember how girls used to be told that boys were better in math and science? And then they lived up to those limited expectations? We don’t do that anymore.

Sadly, however, we have seemingly replaced those outdated myths about brains with some new ones. With the rates of depression and anxiety in college students at an all time high, we need to start paying attention to the power and (in)accuracy of our language about change, brains, and the future of our children’s mental health.

Learning how to help a teenager with anxiety and depression means teaching problem solving skills needed to respond to the tough choices and bad decisions they all make.

Help teens to step back from their rigid expectations and permanent mindset, and instead support them through this time of struggle, discomfort, discovery, and growth with the language of change, possibility, and movement.

Most importantly, stay connected to your teens, even when they are being clear about how annoying you are.

Small gestures go a long way: offer a compliment, ask question or two that conveys genuine interest, and be that steady stream of messages that let them know you are there when needed as they trip, fall, regroup, and find their path.

Childhood Trauma And Its Lifelong Health Effects More Prevalent Among Minorities

Tara Haelle | NPR

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When researchers first discovered a link in the late 1990s between childhood adversity and chronic health problems later in life, the real revelation was how common those experiences were across all socioeconomic groups.

But the first major study to focus on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) was limited to a single healthcare system in San Diego. A study published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics — the largest nationally representative study to date on ACEs — confirms that these experiences are universal, yet highlights some disparities among socioeconomic groups. People with low-income and educational attainment, people of color and people who identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual had significantly higher chance of having experienced adversity in childhood.

The study finds three out of five adults across the U.S. had at least one adverse experience in their childhood, such as divorce, a parent's death, physical or emotional abuse, or a family member's incarceration or substance abuse problem. A quarter of adults have at least three such experiences in childhood, which – according to other research — increases their risk for most common chronic diseases, from heart disease and cancer to depression and substance abuse.

"This is the first study of this kind that allows us to talk about adverse childhood experience as a public health problem in the same way we talk about obesity or hypertension or any other highly prevalent population risk factor," says Adam Schickedanz, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, who was not involved in the research. "Up until now, we haven't really had a study that takes a national look."

The study researchers, led by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researcher Melissa T. Merrick, analyzed data from 214,157 adults in 23 states between 2011 and 2014. The participants answered 11 questions about whether they'd experienced what have now become well recognized as ACEs: parental separation or divorce, child abuse (physical, emotional and sexual), domestic violence and living with someone who has been incarcerated or has a mental illness or a substance use disorder.

Nearly 62 percent of respondents had at least one ACE and a quarter reported three or more. The remaining respondents had at least two ACEs, including 16 percent with four or more such experiences.

Those identifying as black or Latino and those with less than a high school education or an annual income below $15,000 were more likely to have more ACEs. But a relatively new finding was that multiracial and gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals carried the greatest burden.

Multiracial participants reported roughly 2.5 ACEs, and bisexual adults reported 3.1, both the highest scores reported. Women, younger adults, unemployed people and those unable to work also tended to have higher scores.

But Schickedanz cautions that, while the disparities are real, it's important to recognize how common these experiences are among all people, including white and middle class families.

"This [study] shows that ACEs affect people from all walks of life everywhere," he says.

The link between trauma and health

The original ACE study, published in 1998, analyzed data from more than 9,000 primarily middle class adults in the San Diego area, starting in 1995-1997. Its publication opened people's eyes to how common adverse experiences are even among children in seemingly more privileged homes. Nearly 40 percent of participants had at least a college degree, and 75 percent were white.

More than a quarter of those original participants reported physical abuse in childhood, and one in five reported sexual abuse. And the study identified the link between adverse childhood experiences and poor physical and mental health decades later.

Since that study, an increasing number of states have begun collecting data on ACEs with the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the database used by the new study's researchers. All states use the system, and 32 states since 2009 have collected ACEs data.

The CDC tracks the many ACE-related studies published on a website section specifically about ACEs. Studies have linked a greater number of ACEs with greater risk of heart disease, cancer, bone fractures and chronic lung or liver diseases, diabetes and stroke. Those with the most ACEs, four to six or more, tend to have higher rates of mental illness.

Scientists have just begun understanding the social and biological mechanisms that might explain how highly stressful experiences in childhood could translate to greater risks for heart disease or diabetes. One way has to do with the stress response itself: the body produces and releases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline while increasing blood sugar and blood pressure — all of which help with the body's need for fight or flight.

But chronic stress means chronically high levels of these substances, which isn't healthy in the long term. Consistently high blood sugar, for example, increases the risk of diabetes, and high blood pressure is linked to heart disease.

Opportunities for intervention

This new study suggests a need to target prevention resources where they can help most, says Jack Shonkoff, a professor of child health and development at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. This also requires identifying what makes some people more susceptible than others to the effects of adversity.

"Nobody is immune to adverse experiences in childhood but for some population groups, they're a larger burden of childhood adversity than others," he says. "We need to focus on targeting limited resources to the people at greatest risk and making sure those resources go into programs that reduce or mitigate adversity."

Doing that will require developing tools to screen for people's sensitivity to adversity, he says. He also notes that ACEs alone don't account for health disparities. Genetics play a key role in health outcomes as well, he explains.

"Environmental risk factors are only part of the story. You can't separate genetics from environment," Shonkoff says.

To address the consequences of childhood adversity, it will be important to develop programs that help children learn healthy coping mechanisms and strengthen families and communities overall, says Andrew Garner, a clinical professor of pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland.

"Our objective is not to put kids in a bubble but teach kids how to deal with adversity in a healthy manner," Garner says. "If parents are in survival mode, their kids are in survival mode too, and they're not going to learn as well and learn coping mechanisms. Those poor coping mechanisms are what we think links adversity to poor health outcomes."

For example, youth who cope by using drugs, alcohol, sex or other risky behaviors are increasing their risk of substance abuse problems, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, all of which increase risk of other chronic diseases later on.

Garner and Schickedanz both pointed to increasing levels of social isolation documented by other researchers as a substantial likely contributor to the health outcomes linked to ACEs.

"If you look the very highest risk group, it's bisexuals, and we know they may feel isolated. The second highest is multiracial people who may not necessary feel they belong in any particular group," Garner says. "We know from biology that it's really bad to be socially isolated and we're seeing that disparities in adversity are mirrored in health outcomes later on."

But Garner emphasizes that an ACE score is "not destiny." In addition to social programs that address underlying income and racial disparities, it's vital to teach kids resilience.

"Resilience reflects using skills, and the beauty of that is that skills can be learned, taught, modeled, practiced and reinforced, and kids learn better when they're in relationships," he says. "We need to do better job of primary prevention by focusing on emotional learning and promoting safe, stable, nurturing relationships."

Talking to Children About Bullying

Parenting Tips | Prevent Child Abuse America

Back-to-School season is an exciting time for kids. A new year means new classrooms, teachers, friends and possibilities. Unfortunately, it can also mean new and different ways for kids to experience bullying. As a parent, you can help prevent bullying by having open communication with your children about school. The more you are able to talk with your children about what’s going on at school, the better you can help them understand what bullying looks like and some appropriate ways that they can react when they witness or hear about bullying.

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Communication is essential to preventing bullying

Begin by asking the right questions. Rather than asking, “How was your day” which usually leads to “good” or “ok,” consider asking questions that encourage a longer conversation. Some examples include:

  • What did you do at recess today? Who did you play with?

  • What was the best thing that happened today?

  • Does anyone in your class seem to be having a hard time?

  • Did anyone make you feel good / bad today? How?

Knowing the right time and place to talk is also important. For young children, after school snack or dinnertime offers a chance for meaningful communication and gives children an opportunity to share while they are also focused on eating. As they get older, car rides offer a great opportunity for talking with your child, as teens feel less threatened having personal conversations when their parents are not looking directly at them.

For some other ideas on how to talk to your kids about bullying, check out this page from StopBullying.gov.

What to do if your child tells you they’re being bullied…

If your child discloses that they are being bullied, make sure they understand that it is NOT their fault. Reassure them that they did the right thing by telling you. Help them find ways to handle it by confirming the circumstances:

  • Has your child experienced problems with those involved before?

  • Did those involved have power over your child either in strength, popularity or perception?

  • Did other children observe the conflict or did it happen in private?

Once you understand the facts, tell the teacher or principal who can monitor the situation and prevent further incidents.

If your child discloses that there is someone else they know who is being bullied, once again be sure to tell a teacher or principal about the situation. If your child wants to do something to help, you can encourage them to become an “upstander” and follow some of these tips to safely and appropriately intervene in a bullying situation.

How to Raise Optimistic Kids in Pessimistic Times

Time.com | KJ Dell’Antonia

Wanted: Optimists. Must enjoy challenges, appreciate possibilities and possess a deep belief in your ability to master a situation. Hope for the future a must, and confidence in that hope a strong plus. If your motto is “try, try again” and your glass is always half-full, you’re perfectly set to make the most of this — or any — opportunity.

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There are excellent reasons for anyone — nations, businesses, schools — to seek out the optimistic. And it’s even truer for parents who wish to see their children succeed both as kids and as adults. Optimists are more resilient. They make better entrepreneursexperience better health outcomeslive longer and are more satisfied with their relationships. Optimism enables people to continue to strive in the face of difficulty, while pessimism leaves them depressed and resigned to failure — even expecting it.

I want that hopeful, optimistic outlook for my children. I think most of us do. But when it seems like everything from our headlines to our entertainment options suggests a dystopic society careening towards catastrophe, I’m finding it tough to set a positive example — even as I think it’s more important than ever.

We live in especially pessimistic times. We’re pessimistic about the environment, pessimistic about America, pessimistic about the government and education. The resulting stew of negativity makes me worry that the future — my kids’ future — will be even more grim than the present. Pessimism, here I come — and yet, how can I expect my kids to practice what I don’t preach?

Fortunately, research suggests things we can do help our children grow up with the resilient “can-do” attitude that’s the mark of the optimist — and maintain a happier outlook ourselves. Here’s what I’ve learned, and what I’m trying.

Pay more attention to the positive, and help your kids do the same.

There’s one problem with the pessimist’s perspective: it’s wrong.

That negative dystopian soup is an illusion, the result of an unfortunate collision between a 24/7 news cycle and the brain’s tendency to hone in on any possible danger and ignore everything else. Overall, things on planet Earth are pretty good — or at least, in many ways, they’ve never been better. No country in the world has a lower life expectancy now than the countries with the highest life expectancies in 1800. More people around the world believe in gender equality than ever before, and more value religious freedomPoverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, child labor and infant mortality are all on the decline.

Humanity has made enormous progress by almost every measure, but that progress has become the water in which we swim, and like fish, we take the water for granted. We focus on the beasts that are still out there in the deep rather than on those we have tamed because that’s what we’re designed to do. As neuropsychologist Rick Hanson described in his 2013 book Hardwiring Happiness, our brains naturally put greater emphasis on the negative. “Just a handful of painful experiences of futility can rapidly become a sense of helplessness,” he writes, while “most good news has little or no effect on lasting memory systems in the brain.”

In other words, it’s natural to let the bad news overwhelm us. Fortunately, with practice, we can help our brains to give the good stuff equal weight. Dr. Hanson’s advice: when you hear a great story, achieve something in your own life or just find yourself in a beautiful place with those you love, deliberately rest your mind on that experience and stay with it. Sink into that feeling, he writes, “as it sinks into you.” Describe what you’re doing to your kids, and encourage them to dwell on their joys and pleasures as well.

Change the language you use to describe current events.

Optimism can be developed. Researchers found that when even people with a more pessimistic outlook use positive language to describe situations they find traumatic, their feelings about the situation become more positive, and their more generalized sense of optimism increases. That’s something we can try at home.

Stuck for some ways to approach depressing current events with a more hopeful tone? Consider this: what we call “hate speech” today was just “speech” not very long ago. Bad behavior by corporations was rewarded with higher profits; hunting animals to extinction was sport; dumping pollutants into rivers was an efficient way to get rid of a mess. The event that’s driving the news may be bad, I tell my kids, but listen to all these people trying to do something about it. That’s a change for the better. Our pessimism, ironically enough, derives in large part from our collective expectation that we can do better.

Moderate your news intake.

On any given day, ugly things have been said and done, violence has ended lives and, somewhere, justice has not been served — and in our 24/7 media cycle, there are vast forces aligned to ensure that we don’t miss a minute of it. When Paris was attacked in 2015, I couldn’t hold back my gasp when my phone started to ping. With events still unfolding, it was hard to reassure my kids that it was all “a long way away” when the chance that it could come closer was at the top of my mind.

Those moments, however short, of fear and anxiety were pointless. It didn’t serve anyone for me to ignore my family to click and refresh to learn more. I may need and want to know what’s going on in the world, but news delivered in that manner evokes fear rather than informs — including for our kids. I’ve found that it’s difficult for our children to feel secure when they see us reacting constantly to outside events that are often invisible to them. I turned my news notifications off, and I’ve never brought them back.

Involve yourself in your community.

Passionately following the “big scary” news can not only leave us feeling helpless and distraught, it can distract us from the smaller issues where knowing the facts, and then acting, voting or volunteering as a result might make a difference. Instead, put your energy towards making sure you and your family are a part of the world immediately around you. That might mean volunteering, but it might also mean simply joining and being part of local institutions and clubs that feed our natural human need for connection (not of the digital kind). Find something in your area that makes you feel hopeful, and make it a part of your family life.

Raising optimistic kids is hard, in part, because it demands that parents relinquish the cynical perspective that’s the easiest response to pessimistic times. It’s tempting to dismiss the challenges that bombard us daily with a hopeless shrug. It’s even reasonable. I don’t know what I, or you, or our kids, can do to make any of that better.

But I do know that we need to find ways to try — and that means answering the “optimists wanted” call, and raising our children to do the same. Hopeful, resilient problem solvers needed. No application necessary. Just show up, and make the best of it.

Which is Better, Rewards or Punishments? Neither

NY Times | Heather Turgeon

Rewards and punishments are conditional, but our love and positive regard for our kids should be unconditional. Here’s how to change the conversation and the behavior.

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“I feel a sense of dread as bedtime rolls around. Here we go again.”

A dad said this in our family therapy office one day, describing his son’s pre-bed antics. The child would go wild as bedtime approached, stubbornly ignoring his parents’ directions and melting down at the mention of pajamas. The parents felt frustrated and stumped.

They asked us a question we hear a lot: Should they sternly send him to time out and take away his screen time when he acted this way (punishments)? Or set up a system to entice him with stickers and prizes for good behavior (rewards)?

Many parents grew up with punishments, and it’s understandable that they rely on them. But punishments tend to escalate conflict and shut down learning. They elicit a fight or flight response, which means that sophisticated thinking in the frontal cortex goes dark and basic defense mechanisms kick in. Punishments make us either rebel, feel shamed or angry, repress our feelings, or figure out how not to get caught. In this case, full-fledged 4-year-old resistance would be at its peak.

So rewards are the positive choice then, right?

Not so fast. Rewards are more like punishment’s sneaky twin. Families find them alluring (understandably), because rewards can control a child momentarily. But the effect can wear off, or even backfire: “How much do I get?” a client told us her daughter said one day when asked to pick up her room.

Over decades, psychologists have suggested that rewards can decrease our natural motivation and enjoyment. For example, kids who like to draw and are, under experimental conditions, paid to do so, draw less than those who aren’t paid. Kids who are rewarded for sharing do so less, and so forth. This is what psychologists call the “overjustification effect” — the external reward overshadows the child’s internal motivation.

Rewards have also been associated with lowering creativity. In one classic series of studies, people were given a set of materials (a box of thumbtacks, a candle and book of matches) and asked to figure out how to attach the candle to the wall. The solution requires innovative thinking — seeing the materials in a way unrelated to their purpose (the box as a candle holder). People who were told they’d be rewarded to solve this dilemma took longer, on average, to figure it out. Rewards narrow our field of view. Our brains stop puzzling freely. We stop thinking deeply and seeing the possibilities.

The whole concept of punishments and rewards is based on negative assumptions about children — that they need to be controlled and shaped by us, and that they don’t have good intentions. But we can flip this around to see kids as capable, wired for empathy, cooperation, team spirit and hard work. That perspective changes how we talk to children in powerful ways.

Rewards and punishments are conditional, but our love and positive regard for our kids should be unconditional. In fact, when we lead with empathy and truly listen to our kids, they’re more likely to listen to us. Following are suggestions for how to change the conversation and change the behavior.

Look Underneath

Kids don’t hit their siblings, ignore their parents or have tantrums in the grocery store for no reason. When we address what’s really going on, our help is meaningful and longer lasting. Even trying to see what’s underneath makes kids less defensive, more open to listening to limits and rules, and more creative in solving problems.

Instead of saying: Be nice to your friend and share, or no screen time later.

Say: Hmm, you’re still working on sharing your new building set. I get it. Sharing is hard at first, and you’re feeling a little angry. Can you think of a plan for how to play with them together? Let me know if you need help.

Crying, resistance and physical aggression may be the tip of the iceberg. Underneath could be hunger, sleep deprivation, overstimulation, having big feelings, working on a developmental skill or being in a new environment. If you think this way, it makes you a partner there to guide, rather than an adversary there to control.

Motivate Instead of Reward

Motivation is great, when it has the underlying message: “I trust you and believe you want to cooperate and help. We are a team.” This is a subtle difference from dangling rewards, but it’s a powerful one.

Instead of saying: If you clean your room we can go to the park. You better do it, though, or no park.

Say: When your room is clean, we’ll go to the park. I can’t wait. Let me know if you need some help.

Help Instead of Punish

The idea of a punishment conveys the message: “I need to make you suffer for what you did.” Many parents don’t really want to communicate this, but they also don’t want to come off as permissive. The good news is that you can hold limits and guide children, without punishments.

Instead of saying: You’re not playing nicely on this slide so you’re going to time out. How many times do I have to tell you?

Say: You’re feeling kind of wild, I can see that! I’m going to lift you off this slide because it’s not safe to play this way. Let’s calm down somewhere.

Instead of saying: You were rude to me and used swear words. That’s unacceptable. I’m taking your phone away.

Say: Wow, you’re really angry. I hear that. It’s not O.K. with me that you use those words. We’re putting your phone away for now so you can have some space in your mind. When you’re ready, tell me more about what’s bothering you. We’ll figure out what to do together.

Engage the Natural Hard Worker

Humans are not naturally lazy (it’s not an adaptive trait), and especially not kids. We like to work hard, if we feel like we’re part of a team. Little kids want to be capable members of the family, and they like to help if they know their contribution matters and isn’t just for show. Let them help in a real way from the time they are toddlers, rather than assuming they need to be otherwise distracted while we do the work.

Have a family meeting to brainstorm all the daily tasks the family needs to get done. Ask for ideas from each family member. Make a chart for the kids (or have them make their own), with a place to note when tasks are completed.

In the case of the bedtime-averse child, when the parents looked under the surface, they made progress. It turned out that he was overtired, so they let go of some scheduled activities and protected more wind-down time in the evenings. When he started to get wound up, his mom wrapped him in his bath towel and said he was her favorite burrito. She acknowledged that it was hard for him when she had to work late: “Maybe you’ve felt sad I missed bedtime the last few weeks — I know I have. Hey, can we read our favorite book tonight?” They made a chart listing each step of his routine and asked for his input. Over time, he stopped resisting, and the tone at bedtime went from dread to true connection and enjoyment.

No matter how irrational or difficult a moment might seem, we can respond in a way that says: “I see you. I’m here to understand and help. I’m on your side. We’ll figure this out together.”

 

How To Spend More Quality Time With Your Child

 Harley A. Rotbart, M.D. | Parents.com

Although the days with little kids often seem long, the years fly by. Use this practical and purposeful blueprint to savor the moments you have together.

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The ten o'clock news hasn't even started, but you're too exhausted to watch—who can stay awake that late? Car pools, lunch bags, after-school activities, dinner, homework, bathtime, bedtime. All on top of your own job (or jobs) and the other realities of adulthood. You have just enough energy left to drag yourself to bed so you can wake early and start the routine all over again. Each day with young kids feels like a week, each week like a month.

Yet as every birthday passes, the years seem to be streaking by at warp speed. Five-month-olds become 5-year-olds in the blink of an eye, and then 15-year-olds. This inexorable march of time that turns babies into big kids is the "other" biological clock facing young couples. Every day brings new growth, new milestones, and new wonderment, but the challenges of juggling our adult lives often prevent us from fully appreciating the delicate nuances of childhood.

We've heard about slow parenting, attachment parenting, and tiger moms. However, over my past 30 years as a pediatrician, I have learned that there is a single truth that applies to any parenting philosophy: Your children need to spend meaningful time with you. They need to see who you are and how you live your life. And in return, they will help you to better see who you are.

When you add up all the time your kids spend at day care, in school, asleep, at friends' homes, with babysitters, at camp, and otherwise occupied with activities that don't include you, the remaining moments become especially precious. There are only 940 Saturdays between a child's birth and her leaving for college. That may sound like a lot, but how many have you already used up? If your child is 5 years old, 260 Saturdays are gone. Poof! And the older your kids get, the busier their Saturdays are with friends and activities. Ditto Sundays. And what about weekdays? Depending on your children's ages and whether you work outside the home, there may be as few as one or two hours a day during the week for you to spend with them.

However, instead of worrying about how many minutes you can spend with your children each day, focus on turning those minutes into memorable moments. Parents often compensate for having such a small quantity of time by scheduling "quality time." Two hours at the nature preserve. An afternoon at the movies. Dinner at a restaurant. But the truth is that quality time may occur when you least expect it—yes, at the nature preserve, but also in the car on the way to ballet practice.

Try this mental trick to help you readjust your thinking: In the course of a crazy day, imagine your biological parenthood clock wound forward to the time when your children have grown and have left home. Picture their tousled bedrooms as clean and empty. See the backseat of the car vacuumed and without a car seat or crumbs. Playroom shelves neatly stacked with dusty toys. Laundry under control. Then rewind the imaginary clock back to now, and see today's minutes of mayhem for what they are: finite and fleeting.

Practice Parenting Meditation

When you're overwhelmed with your responsibilities, it's easy to toggle into automatic pilot with your kids. But if your mind is elsewhere during the precious moments you've worked hard to preserve, you have lost your kids' childhood just as surely as if you hadn't spent the time with them at all. Instead, try to stay in the moment with a "parenting meditation," in which you focus on seeing your kids, hearing them, understanding them, and really being amazed by what you've created—living, breathing miracles of nature who are learning like sponges and growing like weeds.

Take Pajama Walks

The hour before bedtime can be chaotic with young children. One of my favorite techniques to help them calm down—weather permitting—is an evening pajama walk. Not only will it give your kids gentle, mellow time to decompress, but it will also give you special moments with them that otherwise might have been lost to TV.

The key to pajama walks is the pajamas. Get the kids completely ready for bed—teeth brushed, faces washed, pj's on. Then put them in their stroller, or on their tricycle, or in their sneakers, and meander slowly around the neighborhood. No snacks en route (their teeth are already brushed!); don't kick a soccer ball along the way; postpone animated conversations until tomorrow. It may take a couple laps, but by the time you arrive back home, your kids will be in a fresh-air trance and ready for bed.

Have Taco Night

Dinner at home with the whole family is special unto itself, but your kids will be even more eager to sit down together when your meal has a theme. You can have taco night, pizza night, Chinese night, egg night, or pancake night. Turn your kitchen into a sushi bar or an Italian bistro once a week. When kids are excited and having fun, they are energized in their conversation and about sharing their news at the table.

Special dinner nights are also a unique opportunity to increase your kids' involvement in cooking with you. When there are recurring themes for dinner, they can assume a bigger role in getting the food to the table because they'll remember the routine from the last time. While they're washing the vegetables, stacking the tortillas, mixing the salsa, grating the cheese, they may be gossiping about what's happening at school. When they leave the house in the morning, be sure to remind them, "Taco night tonight!" They'll look forward to it all day.

Fix It Together

Never repair a leaky faucet, change a tire, paint the fence, or replace the furnace filter without your kids. Home improvements are a great way to spend time with them while teaching them about tools and life at the same time. The attic, the basement, and the crawl space are all classrooms for learning how things work and how to safely fix things. Give them a flashlight, and talk them through the job you're doing. As they get older, hold the flashlight for them. Instead of dreading things that break, you'll see new tiles, built-in shelves, and paint jobs as bonus chances for time with your kids.

Don't Drive Everywhere

The minutes that we "save" by driving our children a short distance to the neighborhood park or a friend's house are actually priceless moments that we lose in the name of convenience. The next time you need to take your children somewhere nearby, try to get there on foot. Walking with your kids is a great way to slow down the pace of your lives and to have more unscripted moments with them. Talk about where you're going, what you're thinking, what they're thinking, what you see on the way, and who said what to whom in school today. Hold hands if your kids haven't gotten too cool for that yet. If you're dropping them off somewhere (a playdate, a piano lesson, karate class) and would normally drive away and return again later, take along a backpack with work or reading and find a quiet place to wait until they're finished. The hour or two that you have alone in a coffee shop or under a shade tree will help you slow down and stay sane. Then pick up your child and walk back home together.

Play Their Games

If you decide to bring video games into your home, do your best to screen them and even learn how to play them so you can experience this part of your kids' world. Why? First, your kids will "kick your butt," to use their phrasing; this is one activity where you'll never have to let them win, and it's a good thing for children to occasionally see their parents as human and vincible. Second, there will be guaranteed hilarity at your lack of dexterity. Finally, some games have somewhat redeeming virtual reality, because they mimic real-world activities such as table tennis, bowling, baseball, skiing, and dancing (which are certainly much better than games where you blow each other up). But set time limits, lest their virtual realities take over their reality.

Serve Ice-Cream Sundaes and Popcorn

Yes, we all know that there's an obesity crisis in this country, and we certainly don't want to teach our kids to get their comfort from food. However, kids have to be kids, and when kids grow up to become adults and parents (I'm talking about you!), they still need to occasionally feel like a kid.

Establish special traditions around fun treats—they become more special because they don't happen that often. Hot summer Sunday-afternoon sundaes, or cold winter family TV nights with hot cocoa, or popcorn balls on the day of the big game. Sprinkles make ice cream special, and cuddling goes great with cocoa. Now, please don't go around telling people that a pediatrician told you to feed your kids ice cream with sprinkles; I do have a professional reputation to maintain. So, just for the record, baked apples with cinnamon and raisins, angel-food strawberry shortcake, and banana splits with fat-free frozen yogurt work just as well.

The food is not the point—it just helps make the point. Fun foods and special treats are conversation starters and memory makers. Your children may not remember all the discussion topics or the jokes or the tickling, but they will forever fondly recall the baked apples and raisins. And, of course, they'll remember the occasions that merited the special treats. And that they shared them with you.

My wife's grandmother was famous for periodically telling her daughters, "Remember, girls, you're having a happy childhood." If you find a way to make the most of every moment that you have with your kids, you will not only be a wonderful parent, but you will also be teaching your kids how to be good adults and wonderful parents themselves someday. Show your children how important your time with them is, and you will be impacting generations to come.

Parenting Tip of the Week - Preparing for Back-to-School

Prevent Child Abuse America | Preventchildabuse.org

As summer is ending, many children and families are getting ready to go back-to-school. Some other kids are getting ready to go to school for the first time! Today’s Parenting Tip of the Week is about helping transition your child from summer-time to school-time with as little stress as possible.

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Getting your Kids Ready for Back-to-School

The most important piece of getting your kids ready for back to school is helping them have a positive attitude! After months of visiting friends whenever they can and playing outside to their hearts’ content, it can be tough to get kids excited about spending time in the classroom again. Ask your children questions like “what class/teacher are you most excited for?” or “who haven’t you seen this summer that you are excited to see when school starts?” Continuing to reinforce the positive aspects of going back to school can help build up your child’s own excitement.

Beyond instilling positive attitudes, there are other great ways to get your child ready for school:

  • Re-start your school bedtime routine early. We know that routines are critical for child development, but also understand how things like bedtime and wake up can shift a little during the summer. Start easing your children back into a school bedtime schedule several weeks before the summer ends. By starting to put kids to bed a little earlier and get them up in the morning a little sooner, it will make things easier when school is officially in session.
  • Ease back into school-work. If you haven’t been doing specific, school-like assignments during the summer, now is a great time to start. For example, you can give a reading-age child a short book to read and have them come to you later to tell you about the story and what it means to them. As another idea, you could pick up a fun and age-appropriate math or science workbook and spend time doing problems with your child during the day. Here are some more examples from Education World that you can use with your family.
  • Talk about expectations. What is your child expecting out of this school year? What are you? Talk with your child about the upcoming school year and set goals. Remember that these goals don’t just have to be based on grades or scores. Your child could want to meet new friends, join a new club or team, or learn about instruments they may want to start playing. Encourage your children to think about school and what they are most excited for, as well as what they’re most afraid of. Talk these expectations out with your children and determine how you can best help them achieve their goals.
  • Attend pre-school year planning sessions or welcome nights. Many schools have events such as a pre-school year planning night, Ice Cream Social, or simply a time where the school is open and kids can go find their lockers and classrooms. If your child’s school offers this kind of event, take advantage! Bringing your child in before the school year begins can help acclimate a child to a new school or help reinforce the positive attitude and excitement you’ve been working to build.

The Trauma Informed Teacher - Silent Front Line

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RansomforIsrael.com

I hate the first week of school. It fills me with anxiety and dread. I once loved the smell of new crayons and was excited over the new backpacks and folders. Now I worry. I parent children from hard places; children who have experienced trauma. I’ve been lucky the last two years. I had a teacher that “got it”. I had a teacher that listened to me and studied up on trauma and it’s effects on the child’s brain. She understood that unaddressed trauma generates lifelong impacts that can end in early death.

Sound extreme?

It’s not.

Parenting my child is life or death and I decided to write this post to explain. I was once a 3rd grade teacher, so I know that you might be thinking this is all a bit dramatic. However, I am now the mother of 7 and I live with the effects of childhood trauma every day. These are the things that I understand as a mother, a former educator and a nurse.

Trauma impacts the children in your classroom.

We have sanitized trauma in our lives. Opioid crisis. Food insecurity. Sirens and fights in the night. We don’t really think about the smallest victims. We don’t read about the child hiding in the backroom during a drug bust, or the baby left in an apartment tended by his 11 year old sibling with only ramen and cereal to eat. Instead we protect anonymity to the detriment of these children who end up in the classroom struggling with a story that is never told. We end up treating the traumatized by ignoring the trauma.

If you are a teacher, you WILL teach children who have been traumatized. The CDC ACE study tells us that more than 50% of students in the classroom have experienced one or more adverse childhood events (ACE). The time in life when the brain is the most sensitive to experience is infancy and childhood.

In the CDC’s ACE Study, the ten types of childhood adversity measured were:

  • physical, sexual, verbal abuse
  • physical and emotional neglect
  • a parent who’s an alcoholic (or addicted to other drugs) or diagnosed with a mental illness
  • witnessing a mother who experiences abuse
  • losing a parent to abandonment or divorce
  • a family member in jail

Trauma Changes the Brain
Studies show chronic stress or unaddressed ACEs can change the chemical and physical structures of the brain. In the classroom, children can display traumatic stress through aggression, anxiety, defiance, perfectionism, and withdrawal. And here’s the biggie, signs of trauma often times look very similar to ADD, ADHD, ODD and autism spectrum disorder. 

                                                     acesconnection.com

                                                    acesconnection.com

Think on this…inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive behavior may in fact mirror the effects of trauma or adversity. Children show their emotions through behavior.

What might seem like random, nonsensical or manipulative behaviors in a child, might actually be rooted in a space called ‘FEAR’ and pain. The emotional backpack they carry to school each day is one that they cannot set outside your classroom door, and it will remain heavy and forefront in their brain.

It’s important to understand that 25% to 50% of the students within your classroom, will be affected by adverse childhood events.  Trauma undermines attention, executive functioning and working memory. When trauma causes emotional or psychological damage to children, they may adopt a set of behaviors or patterns of thinking that put them on a path for further trauma. Trauma begets trauma.

1. Set the TONE – you need to use the environment to regulate the brain.

Your students who have experienced trauma in their lives are often operating from a primal state – always ready to fight or flee. They have learned that the world is not a safe place. They are living in a state of hypervigilance; their little minds have been hijacked by their basic instincts and impulses which renders them unable to concentrate.

Your classroom environment and schedule is your greatest weapon. Clear expectations and schedules are everything. You can create a safe environment that actually helps regulate the brain. Think schedules and procedures. If a child can anticipate routine, they can feel safe.

2. Recognize that a child is going into survival mode.  

When you notice that a child might be having a difficult time, start by asking yourself, “What’s happening here?” rather than “What’s wrong with this child?” For example, the student might:

  • Get a “deer-in-the-headlights” look
  • Looks angry
  • Breathes more rapidly
  • Becomes fidgety and squirmy
  • Bursts into tears or looks about ready to cry

When survival mode occurs, you are not going to be able to talk and correct the child. You need to provide a safe space and help them regulate. This might mean sinking down to eye level and saying, “You are safe.” and then simply step away for a while. The cure for trauma is a safe relationship and you are going to give the child space and environment to feel safe.

3. Self-Regulation through Co-Regulation

School is not easy for my children and every year I walk in praying they have a teacher that ‘gets it’. A teacher that can see how self-regulation doesn’t exist with a child from trauma.  Yes, it sounds crazy, but this is important.  Regulatory skills live in the highest part of the brain.  Dysregulation lives in the lower parts of the brain. Trauma in a child’s life causes children to live in the lower part of the brain and this means dysregulation, and this looks like a child who is either hypervigilant or disassociated. As a former teacher, I would have described this as the ADD child or the daydreamer. I would have used stickers, rewards, and consequences to curb this behavior…and it never worked.

What works isn’t teaching self-regulation. It’s giving children experiences of co-regulation over and over and over again.  Until their brains literally take in and imprint the regulated adult. Children from trauma or from hard places, cannot self-regulate because they were never given the experience of co-regulation. They need YOU. Yes, you may be the only co-regulating adult in their life.

4. Relationship not Attachment – See the Goldfish

"It is crystal clear that relationships are the counterpoint to traumatic stress in childhood."  Dr. Bruce Perry

My children need you to have a teacher relationship with them, not an attachment. Attachment is the bond that develops between a primary caregiver, usually the mother, and her infant. This attachment ensures survival for the infant. My child should not attach to you as the means to survive. However, they should have a relationship with you as a ‘secure base’ within the school system.  My child needs you to navigate the world of school, and to point to me for attachment.

This relationship you have, will help you teach to my child’s emotional age and not chronological. It seeks to understand how history can cause learned helplessness and behaviors that you do not understand.

The goldfish shark is how I best describe my child and last week I shared it with a group incarcerated mothers who “got it” when it comes to trauma. Here’s the story –

I share the picture below. I began talking about how our children often present with behaviors that look like the shark, but if we look below the water, we will realize they are really just scared goldfish trying to have a need met. Their behaviors might communicate anger and hostility, but below the surface is fear and a hurting child. I further explained that it is our job as parents/teachers to stop parenting the shark fin, and look below the surface and meet the needs of the goldfish.

One of the inmates raised her hand and said, “I’m alot like that picture. I act all tough and mean, but I’m really just a scared fish. I wish when I was a kid, someone would have thought to look for the goldfish, instead of just seeing me as a shark”

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See the NEED behind the BEHAVIOR. – Karyn Purvis

How to SEE the Goldfish –

  • Consider all extreme behavior within the context of survival to better understand ‘why he keeps doing that?’
  • Repetition is important because with every positive experience the impact on the brain grows.
  • Traumatized children expect the worst and focus on the negative.  If you understand this, you will be better prepared for it.
  • Childhood neglect is the most damaging trauma.  The child must not have basic needs threatened in any way or survival will be all they think about.
  • At the point the child was abused, the brain was focused on survival not learning.  The development the child missed due to abuse will need extra attention.
  • Traumatized children will often score lower on IQ tests than their true ability.  Retest when their environment is helping them heal and watch the scores go up.
  • The goal in healing trauma is when the child becomes agitated to help them learn skills to reduce the agitation.  This repeated cycle is what most helps the child.
  • Promote play with traumatized children.  Play is very healing to the brain and the emotions.
  • Don’t give up hope!  The human brain is capable of healing in ways we do not yet understand.  It may be a long road to healing and the child may not get there while still in your classroom, but every situation makes a difference. (excerpts from Traumatic Experience and the Brain, A Handbook for Understanding and Treating Those Traumatized as Children.) 

Parenting Tip of the Week - Preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome

Prevent Child Abuse America | Preventchildabuse.org

The first few years of life are critical for the development of children, but they can also be incredibly frustrating for parents. Whether it’s crying for hours on end or not sleeping through the night, there are many challenges that parents can face. With new research coming out about abusive head trauma, also known as Shaken Baby Syndrome, we wanted to share some information for parents and caregivers that could help during those frustrating early months.

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What is Shaken Baby Syndrome?

Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS), also called abusive head trauma, is a form of child abuse. Like the name implies, this kind of abuse involves shaking a baby hard from their shoulders, arms or legs which can cause serious and lifelong damage. The “whiplash” effect from the shaking can cause major damage to a baby’s fragile and still-developing brain, so children under the age of 1 are especially at risk.

Important side note: Not everything that causes a baby’s head to “shake” will cause shaken baby syndrome. For example, playfully tossing a baby in the air or a baby accidentally rolling off a couch or chair won’t cause injuries consistent with abusive head trauma.

The effects of shaken baby syndrome are severe and potentially life-threatening. According to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, 25% of shaken baby syndrome cases result in death and 80% of non-fatal cases result in lifelong consequences, including learning disabilities, behavior disorders, and decreased brain function.

Shaken Baby Syndrome is Preventable

Fortunately, shaken baby syndrome is 100% preventable. The best way to prevent shaken baby syndrome involves taking two key steps.

First, ensure that all caregivers are aware of the dangers that shaking a baby can have. This includes not only the baby’s parents, but also grandparents, babysitters, siblings, or others who may be involved in the baby’s care. 

Second, ensure that caregivers understand that taking care of a child – no matter how much they love that child – can and will be very frustrating. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most cases of shaken baby syndrome occur when a caregiver gets frustrated and loses control, not because caregivers want to purposefully injure a child. But ensuring that parents and caregivers are aware that there will be moments where the frustration boils over isn’t enough without also providing strategies for dealing with that frustration!

Coping Mechanisms and Strategies

One way to help parents and caregivers deal with frustration is to prepare them for what’s ahead. While extremely frustrating, the fact is that crying, including prolonged bouts of inconsolable crying, is a normal part of child development and follows what is called a “crying curve.” Babies will typically start crying more after about 2-3 weeks, reach a peak between 9 and 12 weeks of age, and will become more stable by 29-32 weeks. It is during the three to four months of this curve that caregivers are at the highest risk of letting their frustration boil over.

When babies are crying incessantly, parents and caregivers can try to calm their child by rubbing their back, gently rocking, singing to the baby, or taking their baby for a walk. However, there may be times where these tried and true strategies don’t work and your baby simply won’t calm down. When this happens, first recognize that this is not your fault as a parent and that you haven’t done anything wrong. Next, it can be helpful to remove yourself from the situation and give yourself a few minutes alone to calm down. Some coping strategies parents can use include:

  1. Take a deep breath and another. Press your lips together and count to 10, or better yet, to 20.
  2. If someone can watch the children, go outside and take a walk.
  3. If not, put your baby on their back in their crib, make sure they are safe, and then walk away for a bit.
  4. Put yourself in a time-out chair. Think about why you are angry and what might make you feel better that you can do for yourself.
  5. Call a friend or family member to vent or ask for help.
  6. Take a hot bath or splash cold water on your face
  7. Hug a pillow.
  8. Turn on some music. Maybe even sing along.
  9. Pick up a pencil and write down as many helpful words as you can think of. Save the list.
  10. Call for prevention information: 1-800-CHILDREN

Even if you are not a parent or caregiver yourself, you can still help prevent shaken baby syndrome. As a family member or friend of a parent whose children are going through this tough development stage, you can provide support by:

  • Offering to babysit for an evening to give the new parents a break,
  • Be present as a shoulder to lean on and a listening ear,
  • Ensure that there are parent education and support programs in your community that other parents can turn to in times of need. If no such programs exist, you can work with your community leaders to start them.

This Father-Daughter Morning Mirror Motivation Sesh Is Everything We Need

HOLLEE ACTMAN BECKER | PARENTS.COM

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We all have those days when we wake up feeling less than stellar. Happens to me all the time. And when it does, I lean in close to my bathroom mirror and whisper those infamous words from The Help:

"You is kind. You is smart. You is important."

It's a pretty solid affirmation. But does it make me feel like a rockstar? Not always. And in fact, you is now late for car line.

Then I stumbled upon this uplifting father-daughter duo getting their daily mirror motivation sessions on, and it's a shame I didn't find it earlier because these two totally get it right.

Posted earlier this month on the DFG Health and Wellness Facebook page—that's Destined For Greatness—the inspirational clip, which features the dad encouraging his daughter Aaliyah to boldly assert her epicness, has already been viewed more than 12 million times because it's basically awesome on every level.

"Look at yourself, look in your eyes," he tells her, as the two of them face the mirror. "You gotta see it, OK? You gotta feel it."

The proud papa then has his daughter repeat back the following statements:

I am strong.
I am smart.
I work hard.
I am beautiful.
I am respectful.
I'm not better than anyone.
Nobody's better than me.

I am amazing. I am great.

Pretty sure this guy is the greatest dad ever. And it doesn't end there. Because Dad is not concluding the pep sesh until he's convinced Aaliyah understands the power of perseverance.

"If you fall...?" he asks her.

"I get back up," she replies without missing a beat.

And there you have it. Aaliyah for president!