Facts Schools Do Not Tell Parents about IEPs

Facts Schools Do Not Tell Parents about IEPs

School is getting ready to resume and so are meetings deciding if a child qualifies for an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) or a 504 plan. I have posted this article before, but it appears I need to post it again. Once again, I have been hearing from parents all over the country who are afraid about lies they are hearing from their child’s school. Many of these parents are panicked and overwhelmed. They know their child needs help at school, but they do not want to ruin their child’s future. Additionally, many parents do not know what their child is legally entitled to and the school districts take advantage of this fact.

The issue that parents are feeling confused about is should their child have an IEP or a 504 plan. An IEP is for children who are having difficulty learning subjects in the classroom. They do not have an IEP because they are not intelligent. They have an IEP because they have a different learning style. I have seen numerous parents and received numerous emails from parents stating their child’s school has told them an IEP would mark their child for life as unintelligent and possibly bankrupt the school district. None of these remarks are true.

An IEP will not stop your child from getting into a college or getting a job as an adult either. Not having a decent education can stop your child from getting into college or getting a job. Therefore, if your child needs an IEP and not a 504 Plan in order to benefit from their education, not having an IEP could stop your child from getting into college or a job because they failed to receive a proper education.

Also think about when you applied for college or a job, did they ever ask for your middle school or elementary school records? The answer is no. Therefore, there is no way for a college or job to know if your child ever had an IEP unless your child volunteers the information when they apply for college or a job. Once again, colleges and jobs never ask an applicant if they ever had an IEP. Actually, an IEP can help students receive additional time taking the SAT and ACT and assist them in college if they need it. So actually, it can help a child applying to college.

As for the idea that an IEP will bankrupt the school district, this is absurd. The school districts have plenty of money to provide children who need an IEP with an IEP. A 504 plan costs the district nothing and if the district fails to comply with the 504 plan, you really have no legal recourse. However, an IEP is a legal agreement and the laws governing IEPs are the same in every state in the United States. Also if a school doesn’t comply with an IEP, you have a number of options including legal options.

Also parents please do not pay to have your child psychologically tested or undergo any educational testing by a private mental health clinician. Legally, the school district does not have to accept these tests results. The school has the right to do all testing first. If you disagree with the school’s tests results, you can contest the results and request that your child be re-evaluated by an independent clinician. If you request an independent evaluation, you can select who does the testing and the school district must pay for the independent evaluation not you.

The only testing schools currently are not doing are assessments for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Too many children were being diagnosed with ADHD and now these assessments need to be done by a mental health clinician in private practice. These evaluations you do have to pay for.

Another issue I am receiving a large number of emails about is that the school is not doing anything. Parents are saying they are hearing from the school that their child is distracted in the classroom and not doing well on tests or homework. However, the school is not doing anything. If you feel your child needs to be assessed, you need to submit a written letter requesting the evaluations to the principal. Requesting it verbally does nothing. Legally you must submit a written letter to the school principal in order to start the IEP process.

Another suggestion, parents before you panic or feel guilty about not signing that you agree with the assessments by the school because the school is pressuring you to accept their recommendations, stop and think. Look at the proposed plan and decide do you think this is really what your child needs or is the school bullying you into signing their proposed plan. If you have doubts, don’t sign the agreement and seek a second opinion. You are the one in charge not the school. The school district cannot do anything until you sign the agreement. I have seen many parents made to feel guilty if they do not sign the school’s plan. You are not a bad parent if you do not sign right away, you are a cautious parent. If you do not agree with the proposed IEP plan, you can sign that you disagree and do not accept the proposed plan. There is a space on the form for you to do so. If you reject the plan, you will not ruin your child’s education. If you reject the plan, it simply means the school district needs to do more work to develop an acceptable plan. However, I have seen many school districts doing what is best for them financially not what is best for your child and making parents feel guilty. There is no need to feel guilty if you do not accept, the first option presented. Think about it when you are selling or buying a house, you do not automatically accept the first offer and you do not feel guilty.

For more information about IEPs and 504 plans visit the website www.lucascenter.org.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist and has worked with children and families for over 20 years. He also worked as an Intern at AB3632 for 2 years. AB3632 is a California program that provides counseling services for children in Special Education. They also participate in IEPs on a regular basis. Dr. Rubino has been an IEP Advocate for over 20 years. For more information about Dr. Michael Rubino’s work or private practice visit his website www.rcs-ca.com or www.RubinoCounseling.com or www.Lucascenter.org.

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July 2018

How Did We Get Here?

A Perspective on Residential Therapeutic Treatment

Parents’ dreams for their children seldom include placing them away from the family home before college or adulthood. Yet that is the complicated choice many parents face when their teenagers’ behavioral and mental health reaches a crisis point, whether due to an existing disability, or when a young person develops new struggles that put them at risk. The increasing number of young people with mental health challenges has been well documented. Nearly 1 in 5 young people aged 13-18 years experience a severe mental disorder at some point during their life.  See the full infographic from National Alliance Mental Illness (NAMI) here.

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Not all teenagers and young adults with these challenges will need residential placement. If they haven’t responded to outpatient treatment, medication therapy or are at risk of harming themselves or others, placement outside the home may be warranted. Children with an existing disability, like Autism Spectrum Disorder, with an increase in self-injurious or other risky behavior that is not being effectively addressed in their school placement, may also need a more restrictive setting.

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Complaints About ABA Providers

Our office has received an increasing number of phone calls recently from families with children with autism that have complaints about the quality of their ABA providers. While we care about our families and the quality of the health care that they receive, we typically get involved when there are disputes with your health plan about what is medically necessary, or when your health plan is not following consumer protections under the law.

First, try to address your concerns directly with the ABA provider by discussing in person or by phone. If this doesn’t work, outline your complaint in writing. You should include specific examples of your complaint and any dates or times associated with the issue. For example, if a therapist consistently arrives late of fails to show up, document those incidences and include them in your letter. While some providers have their own toll-free complaint or customer service line, it is always a good to document your concerns in writing and then follow up with a phone call.

If you are unable to resolve the conflict with an ABA provider, it may be appropriate to contact the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). The BACB has a long list of appropriate behaviors that certified behavior analysts must abide by. According to their Ethics code, Behavior Analysts responsibility to clients include: operating in the best interest of their clients, providing effective treatment, and avoiding interruption of service, among other things. For more details, see Professional and Ethical Compliance Code for Behavior Analysts.

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MHAIP Recovered over 10k for Ambulance Services for Client with Eating Disorder

MHAIP was able to recover over $10,000 from Blue Shield of CA for a San Mateo teen girl with eating disorders who was transferred from an eating disorders program to a cardiac unit, after developing urgent cardiac problems.

MHAIP Recovered over 93k for 11 Week Stabilization and Assessment

A 23 year old Alameda County, CA man with autism and severe depression requested stabilization and assessment with a residential facility in Utah through his HealthNet/MHN HMO.

Residential Therapeutic Care Won Through Ongoing Utilization

MHAIP conducts pre-authorizations and ongoing utilization reviews when clients contact us prior to starting residential treatment

We recently won the 161 days of residential coverage (and ongoing) for a 12 year old girl from Colorado with bipolar disorder and severe anxiety  from United Health Care.

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Autism Treatment Won by MHAIP through DMHC

MHAIP won additional hours of 1:1 ABA therapy and reimbursement for out-of-pocket payments for past ABA therapy hours for a family in San Mateo County, CA who have a six-year old boy severely affected with autism.

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Boot Camps Do Not Work

Boot Camps Do Not Work

In my experience as a psychotherapist, I have had many parents decide that their teenager needs to go to Boot Camps. Parents proceed with their plan, but it doesn’t work. Typically teenagers return angry and with more oppositional behavior. This also increases the time in therapy to undue the Boot Camp damage.

Many of these camps are located in Utah. They are located there because they are not closely monitored by the State. Therefore, they can basically do what they want and need no evidence that their methods work. Also most of these camps are not covered by insurance and parents must pay privately. These camps are not cheap either. It is less expensive to go on a vacation to Europe.

As I said, many parents feel Boot Camps are the answer. I have never seen one work. They tend to make things worse. Read about the alternatives that work better. Alternative to Boot Camp For Kids | Empowering Parents https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/is-boot-camp-the-only-option-for-your-child-read-this-first/

Is Your Child Depressed about School Starting?

Is Your Child Depressed about School Starting?

Summer is ending and school will be starting soon. This means that children who were being bullied at school or having difficulties with homework will be returning to the same environment and they may be experiencing stress or depression. Also you have students who are starting middle school and high school. They may be afraid of not fitting in or already feel the do not fit in and feeling depressed. Finally, you have the students who are leaving home to start college. They are leaving their family and friends going into a completely new environment. This can be over whelming and intimidating. Many parents have been asking me about changes they have noticed in their child or teen and wondering if their child is experiencing depression or anxiety. Since I am asked the question often, I was reading an article by Dr. Jerome Yelder, Sr., which outlines many symptoms of depression. He explained them so they are easy to understand and covered all symptoms parents need to be aware of regarding depression. This is important because typically children and teenagers do not act like adults do when they feel depressed. I have outlined his list below for you to review and decide if you feel your teenager needs to see a mental health clinician for depression.

Sleep Problems

Depression can affect your body as well as your mind. Trouble falling or staying asleep is common in people who are depressed. But some may find that they get too much shut-eye.

Chest Pain

It can be a sign of heart, lung, or stomach problems, so see your doctor to rule out those causes. Sometimes, though, it’s a symptom of depression.

Depression can also raise your risk of heart disease. Plus, people who’ve had heart attacks are more likely to be depressed.

Fatigue and Exhaustion

If you feel so tired that you don’t have energy for everyday tasks — even when you sleep or rest a lot — it may be a sign that you’re depressed. Depression and fatigue together tend to make both conditions seem worse.

Aching Muscles and Joints

When you live with ongoing pain it can raise your risk of depression.

Depression may also lead to pain because the two conditions share chemical messengers in the brain. People who are depressed are three times as likely to get regular pain.

Digestive Problems

Our brains and digestive systems are strongly connected, which is why many of us get stomachaches or nausea when we’re stressed or worried. Depression can get you in your gut too — causing nausea, indigestion, diarrhea, or constipation.

Headaches

One study shows that people with major depression are three times more likely to have migraines, and people with migraines are five times more likely to get depressed.

Changes in Appetite or Weight

Some people feel less hungry when they get depressed. Others can’t stop eating. The result can be weight gain or loss, along with lack of energy. Depression has been linked to eating disorders like bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating.

Back Pain

When it hurts you there on a regular basis, it may contribute to depression. And people who are depressed may be four times more likely to get intense, disabling neck or back pain.

Agitated and Restless

Sleep problems or other depression symptoms can make you feel this way. Men are more likely than women to be irritable when they’re depressed.

Sexual Problems

Hopefully your teenager is not sexually active. While they may not have the sexual problems adults do, when they are depressed, they may show a lack of interest in dating or relationships and tend to isolate. They also may feel they are sexually unattractive.

If you’re depressed, you might lose your interest in sex. Some prescription drugs that treat depression can also take away your drive and affect performance. Talk to your doctor about your medicine options.

Exercise

Research suggests that if you do it regularly, it releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good, improve your mood, and reduce your sensitivity to pain. Although physical activity alone won’t cure depression, it can help ease it over the long term. If you’re depressed, it can sometimes be hard to get the energy to exercise. But try to remember that it can ease fatigue and help you sleep better.

If you feel you child or teenager are experiencing the above symptoms and may be depressed, have them evaluated by a mental health clinician who specializes in treating children and teenagers. Remember, children and teenagers often display different symptoms when they are depressed so it is often misdiagnosed. Also do not be embarrassed or ashamed. The pressure children and teenagers are facing at school can be very overwhelming and can easily cause a depressive episode. The most important thing is if your child or teenager is experiencing depression, get then the treatment they need.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating teenagers and children. For more information about Dr. Rubino’s work and private practice visit his website www.RubinoCounseling.com or on Twitter @RubinoTherapy

Children and Teenagers Need Sleep for School

Children and Teenagers Need Sleep for School

The end of summer is coming fast, which means school will be starting soon. Many children and especially teenagers have become use to staying up late and sleeping in because it is summer. However, this pattern will need to change when school starts. Sleep is very important for children and teenagers. In fact, research shows that sleep has a big impact on our mental health and physical health. Research has shown that sleep deprivation can cause a person to have a psychotic break or if the depreciation is really severe it can even result in a person’s death. I recently received some very good information regarding sleep and mental health. It was provided by Jenny Thompson who is associated with www.bettermattressreviews.com. I think it is valuable information for everyone so I have provided it below.

Mental health and sleep are closely related. Sleep problems frequently accompany mental illness, and can even be the first warning sign of a disorder. In turn, lack of sleep worsens mental health symptoms, creating a vicious cycle.

Mental illness is common, with almost 20 percent of Americans suffering from at least one mental health disorder. While only 10 to 18 percent of the general population experience sleep issues, as many as 50 to 80 percent of people with mental illness have trouble sleeping.

Mental health disorders are the largest cause of insomnia. 40 percent of insomniacs and over 46.5 percent of hypersomnias have a comorbid mental health disorder. On the other hand, only 16.4 percent of people have a mental health disorder without any kind of sleep issues.

Sleep problems are closely correlated with ADHD, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia. Below we’ll review how sleep affects several mental health disorders, and provide tips for getting better sleep.

Schizophrenia and sleep

Schizophrenia affects 1 percent of people, or 3 million Americans. Onset often occurs in late adolescence or the early 20s. Individuals with schizophrenia suffer from psychoses such as delusions and hallucinations, and experience difficulty focusing their thoughts and expressing themselves.

Up to 80 percent of people with schizophrenia have sleep problems, including:

Irregular sleeping hours. They may fall asleep anytime during the day or night rather than during the typical overnight sleep period of most people. They may have consistently delayed melatonin release that shifts their sleep pattern later than normal, slowly shift their circadian rhythm later and later each day, or follow no consistent sleep-wake patterns at all.

Irregular sleep quantity. They may get too much (hypersomnia) or too little (insomnia) sleep, as a result of medication side effects, fear or anxiety due to hallucinations (which may cause them to sleep more to escape, or conversely to be afraid of nightmares), or the irregular sleep hours cited above.

Sleep apnea. Individuals with sleep apnea literally stop breathing during the night, due to blocked airways or a miscommunication between the brain and the breathing muscles.

Less refreshing sleep overall. Due to the issues described above, people with schizophrenia experience less refreshing sleep overall because they have trouble getting sufficient amounts of REM sleep.

For many people with schizophrenia, an onset of sleep problems can be a warning sign that psychosis is starting or returning.

A 2012 study of mice found that abnormalities in the SNAP-25 gene are linked to schizophrenia as well as disrupted sleep-wake cycle, suggesting that resolving sleep issues may less or resolve schizophrenia symptoms.

Anxiety disorders and sleep

Generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social phobias, and PTSD are all associated with having anxious thoughts while trying to fall asleep at night and related insomnia.

Source: The National Academies Press

Panic episodes may waken an individual with panic disorder from sleep, thus disrupting their overall sleep quality. Likewise, individuals with PTSD are prone to vivid re-experiencing traumatic nightmares which heighten their bedtime anxiety and also cause interrupted sleep.

Individuals with mood and anxiety disorders may be prescribed various medications such as antidepressants and mood stabilizers which can further interfere with sleep.

Insomnia not only accompanies anxiety; it can cause it. When individuals experience chronic sleep deprivation, it disrupts their serotonin and gamma-Aminobutyric acid neurotransmitter levels, which can result in anxiety. One study found that having insomnia increased one’s risk to have yet another mood or anxiety disorder one year later.

Depression and sleep

Insomnia is one of the biggest risk factors for depression. Lack of sleep worsens mood, and the effect is even worse for individuals with a mood disorder. Depressed people with sleep issues have a higher risk of suicide than depressed individuals without sleep problems.

Treatment is also complicated. While antidepressants boost mood and alertness to help treat depression, that same alertness makes the insomnia persist – and not addressing the insomnia can make individuals less responsive to treatment. But certain prescription drugs for insomnia, like Rozerem, may worsen depression. The key is to find a treatment plan that helps both issues, but not at the expense of either.

Depression and sleep issues are bidirectional. That means the problems of one can worsen the other. The good news is, that also means the improvement of one often fixes the other. For example, 35 million Americans suffer from mild depression (dysthymia). For many, their comorbid insomnia goes away once they begin taking antidepressants.

Bipolar disorder and sleep

Bipolar disorder affects 3 percent of Americans, or 6 million adults. In addition to severe changes in mood, behavior, and energy levels, individuals with bipolar disorder may also experience the following sleep problems:

Insomnia, or difficulty falling or staying asleep

Hypersomnia, or oversleeping, especially during depressive episodes

General sleeplessness, where individuals feel fine even when they’ve had significantly less sleep, although this abnormal sleeping pattern eventually catches up with them

Delayed sleep phase syndrome, where the individual has a delayed circadian rhythm, causing them to naturally start to fall asleep or wake up later than others and experience excessive daytime sleepiness as a result

Irregular sleep-wake patterns from manic episodes and related hyperactivity at night

REM sleep issues like vivid nightmares

Sleep apnea affects one-third of individuals with bipolar disorder, resulting in less restful sleep overall and excessive daytime sleepiness

For individuals with bipolar disorders, different sleep issues may arise depending on when they are in a manic or depressive state.

In fact, for 75 percent of individuals with bipolar disorder, sleep problems are one of the biggest warning signs that they are about to experience a manic episode. For example, sleep loss from chronic sleep deprivation or even a night of jet lag can induce a manic episode. Manic periods are so arousing that individuals can go for days without sleep, or sleep drastically less amounts than usual and not feel tired. However, that lack of sleep makes its mark in other ways, as they’ll still experience the other symptoms of sleep deprivation felt by everyone, including increased irritability, trouble focusing, reduce judgment, depressed mood.

As they enter depressive episodes, bipolar people may experience insomnia or hypersomnia, both extremes which cause further imbalances in mood and increased anxiety.

In between manic and depressive episodes, individuals with bipolar disorder experience poorer quality sleep, occasional insomnia, and interrupted sleep.

Sleep tips for individuals with mental health disorders

There are various psychotherapies that treat mental illness, sleep therapies for sleep problems, and other behavioral changes that can help individuals with mental health disorders sleep better at night.

1. Practice good sleep hygiene.

It all starts with good sleep habits. Good sleep hygiene includes keeping the bedroom cool, dark, and quiet, and limiting stimulating activity before bed, such as watching television, using the computer, or engaging in heavy exercise. Heavy meals, as well as alcohol, drugs, and caffeine, should be avoided in the early evening and late night hours.

2. Be careful with napping.

For individuals with excessive daytime sleepiness, power naps of 20 minutes can help give a sense of refreshment. However, naps longer than 20 minutes should be avoided as they can contribute to insomnia later that night.

3. Try sleep therapy.

There are various psychotherapy options that assist individuals with mental health disorders. There are also many specific therapies designed to treat comorbid sleep problems.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has proven very effective for treating insomnia. CBT first helps the patient recognize their harmful or disruptive thought patterns and habits. Then, they learn to replace them with positive thoughts and better ways to cope so they can calm anxieties surrounding sleep as well as the rest of their lives. One study in particular found that six 20-minute sessions of CBT resulted in a nearly 50 percent decrease in insomnia, 20 percent decrease in depression and anxiety, and 25 percent decrease in paranoid thoughts, and 30 percent decrease in hallucinations.

Sometimes taught as part of CBT, meditation and deep breathing exercises can soothe anxious thoughts and help relax the body for sleep. You can find audio files of guided meditation and relaxation exercises on the MIT Medical website.

Sleep restriction therapy involves setting a strict bedtime and waketime, and only staying in bed for that allotted amount of time, regardless of how much sleep the individual actually enjoys. Eventually the body gets used to the new sleep-wake cycle and begins to sleep and wake at the proposed appropriate time. A small 2013 study found that sleep restriction therapy improved sleep and reduced symptoms of insomnia for patients with bipolar disorder.

Chronotherapy works similarly by gradually adjusting the bedtime and waketime. It’s a newer therapy and the research is still bearing out.

Bright light therapy helps reset a person’s circadian cycle and make them feel more awake in the morning. Exercising outside in the morning in areas of bright sunlight can provide a similar effect.

4. Explore natural remedies.

Melatonin supplements help kickstart melatonin production in the brain. These can be helpful for insomnia or anyone who has difficulty falling asleep due to a period of mania or delayed sleep-phase syndrome. Valerian root can also help induce sleep. Both melatonin supplements and valerian root are widely available at pharmacies.

5. Keep a sleep diary.

If you’re concerned you may have a comorbid sleep disorder, a sleep diary can help you track your sleep habits. Note when you fell asleep and when you woke up, the total amount of time you were asleep, and anything abnormal that happened during your sleep, such as nightmares or snoring. If you find you’re not getting enough sleep, you can meet with a sleep specialist for a diagnosis and share your diary with them.

You may also want to consult a mental health professional for an evaluation and/or your primary care physician.

Dr. Rubino has 20 years experience as a psychotherapist treating children and teenagers. Many have sleep problems. For more information regarding Dr. Rubino’s work or private practice visit his website http://www.rcs-ca.com.

Ways to Cope with Siblings Fighting

Ways to Cope with Siblings Fighting

Any parent who has more than one child knows that siblings fight. Some siblings fight a great deal. In fact, I have worked with some parents who feel like they are living in the middle of a civil war. Many parents feel overwhelmed and will do anything to stop their children from fighting.

While I can understand that a parent may get tired of the screaming and yelling, but they also can use this situation to teach their children valuable life skills. As adults these children will not always get along with everyone and they cannot be fighting with people all the time. Therefore, learning the skills necessary to manage a conflict in a calm manner is very important. Parents can use these fights between siblings to help their children learn these skills. Debbie Pincus, MS, LMHC, also feels that parents can use these situations to help teach their children about conflict resolution.

Below are six steps parents can use to help their children learn how to manage conflicts in a calm manner. Hopefully, it will also help to decrease the number of arguments between siblings. Since siblings are going to argue, it is just part of normal sibling interactions, use these arguments as a teaching opportunity. It will help your children and help to decrease your stress regarding their arguments.

1. Pay Attention to How You Tend to React When Your Kids Are Squabbling

2.

Are you an over-reactor or an under-reactor? If you are like me, then you tend toward overreacting when you hear your kids struggling with each other. I tend to move in quickly to try to stop the fighting and fix things. Their fighting stirs up my own stress, so I jump in to intervene. If you tend to overreact, try sitting on your anxiety before jumping in too quickly. Give your kids the space to experience conflict, manage their distress, and solve their own problems.If, instead, you are like my friend, Jan, and tend to do the opposite, then you under-react when the kids are going at each other. She tends to freeze when the going gets tough; her own stress causes her to throw up her hands and give up. If you tend to under-react when stress rises, remind yourself to stay present and accounted for, rather than distancing yourself from the intensity. Maybe instead, you jump back and forth between the two. Neither reaction is right or wrong, or anything to feel guilty about. What’s important is to notice your own tendency so you can modify your patterns and automatic behaviors when feeling stressed by the kids’ conflict. By not under or overreacting to your stress when you hear their tension escalate, you will get a handle on what is actually necessary for you to do, if anything.

2. Give Kids Some Space to Work out Their Own Struggles

Generally, this is a good rule of thumb. Stay calm and let them work through their differences. If the fighting heats up, unless it’s getting particularly vicious, ask them to take it somewhere else so they don’t disturb you. Or simply tell them to separate and take a time out until they have cooled off.

3. Set Ground Rules

Set ground rules, including principles regarding how you expect siblings to treat one another. For instance, maybe a principle that you expect everyone in your family to live by is to treat each other with kindness and respect, no matter how stressful things get. If there is a problem that people are having trouble working out, the ground rule is no fighting; they sit down and talk it through.

4. Teach Your Children the Conflict/Resolution Method

In calm moments, teach your children the conflict/resolution method. This method teaches each person to state the conflict, brainstorm all possible resolutions, and then together pick out the one that works best for both people. You can use the problem at the center of a recent squabble as an example to walk through with your kids, once things cool off.

5. Are You Contributing to Your Kids’ Rivalry?

As parents, often without being aware of it, we can contribute to our kids’ feelings of jealousy. To determine if this is happening, observe your kids’ typical “dance.” For example, for a long time I would blame my son, Sam, for being the instigator of conflict with his brother. When I took a more careful look, I recognized that when stress got high, Sam tended to pursue or go after Josh, and Josh tended to distance or pull away from that pursuit and intensity. The more Josh distanced, the more Sam got in his face, trying to engage him and get his attention. They were involved in a dance that was not helping them solve their conflicts.Josh’s distancing style was easier for me to cope with because it was quieter. Sam’s pursuing style was louder and included more verbal slings. Because Sam’s style of managing stress was more problematic superficially and got my attention, without even realizing it, I tended to blame him for the bickering. Sam was onto something when he would tell me I always sided with Josh.Parents can also inadvertently cause rivalry if the parent tends to confide in one child about the other, or share personal or family information with one child and not the other. Parents might tell one child, “Don’t tell your sister,” because the parent believes she is too sensitive and can’t handle it. This creates alliances, insiders and outsiders, false roles, and labels. The sibling on the outside senses her position in the family and, in response, will likely react negatively to her sibling.

6. Embrace Each Child as a Unique Individual

When my kids went through periods of fighting a lot, I learned that it was necessary to look at my (and my husband’s) relationship with each child. As I observed the subtleties of my behavior, I saw more clearly that I was inadvertently playing a part in how my kids were feeling about each other. If your child says to you, “You seem to like Johnny more than me,” take a close look at how you are reacting to each child before telling him that his feelings are not true.For instance, I noticed I would call my husband with excitement when one of my boys played a good soccer game, but I didn’t necessarily do that when the other had an accomplishment. I was laying the seeds for them to be seen in comparison to each other. Another time, my sister gently pointed out that I seemed to only worry about one son and never the other. This made me realize that I was projecting my needs and fears onto him, which influenced how I treated both of them. In both cases, I wasn’t really seeing each child as an individual, with his own unique strengths and weaknesses. My perspective wasn’t objective, and my kids picked up on that.It’s important, although admittedly sometimes hard, to see your kids’ differences without labeling them—the smart one, the pretty one, the helpful one, the messy one, the one that is like difficult Uncle Paul—or denying, minimizing, or blowing out of proportion their differences. Often, oldest kids get locked into being the “responsible ones” and the younger ones “the slackers.” This is not realistic and can lead to resentment because they have less room to be the individuals they are.

By not taking sides or trying to be the judge, by taking a close look at your own relationship with each child and your tendencies when stress between your kids occur, and by not tolerating bullying behavior, you will help reduce sibling struggles. You will not get rid of sibling bickering, no matter what you do. But, you can make your home a safe place where each child is seen as an equal and appreciated for who he is.

Remember, the suggestions above are meant to help teach your children how to manage conflicts calmly. They will not stop siblings from fighting. However, using these ideas when they do argue may help them learn important communication skills they will need as adults. It will also hopefully reduce their arguing and your stress when they do argue. Good luck.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a pediatric psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating children and adolescents. For more information regarding his work or private practice visit his websites www.rcs-ca.com or www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/Drrubino3.

Teenagers and Their Bedrooms

Teenagers and Their Bedrooms

An issue that comes up daily with teenagers in psychotherapy is their bedroom. Many parents tell me that their teenager’s bedroom is like a junk yard. Parents are embarrassed by the bedroom and feel the teenager is being disrespectful. Many parents ask me should they demand that their teenager clean their bedroom. Also many parents ask about is it appropriate if they search their teenager’s bedroom. Let’s deal with this one issue at a time.

Parents it is very important to remember to pick and choose your battles. There are a lot of issues you will need to discuss with your teenager. Therefore, it is important to ask, is it worth an argument? Teenagers are at a point in their life where they do need their privacy. They are also at a point where they are trying to find their own identity. Their bedroom is a place they use for part of this process. Also you want your teenager to learn responsibility. Their room is something they can be responsible for.

My recommendation is not to make an issue of their bedroom. You have more important issues such as school, how late your teen wants to stay out, where they want to go and the common issues of alcohol, drugs and sexual activity. Therefore, their bedroom really is a minor issue. In my opinion it is not worth the fight. Arguing about their bedroom, which they view as their private space, can lead to bigger problems with some of the other issues I listed above. Also remember these are only some of the issues you will need to set guidelines and expectations about your teenager’s behavior. This is why I strongly recommend leaving the bedroom alone.

Many parents ask me, “then I should just let them live in a junk yard?” The answer is yes. However, there are some guidelines I do set with teenagers. I tell them that Mom and Dad are not going to clean their room as long as they comply with the following guidelines:

1. The bedroom door must be able to be closed so no one else has to look at the mess.

2. People can walk by the room without smelling anything such as rotting food.

3. There are no ants or bugs going into or coming out of the room.

4. They do not keep dishes in their room so Mom has dishes when she needs them.

5. They are responsible for getting their clothes out of the room and cleaned. They are also responsible for putting away their laundry.

If they do not follow these guidelines, then they are giving Mom and Dad permission to go in and clean the room as they see fit. I ask the teenager and parents to both agree to these guidelines. I also recommend writing down the guidelines. Therefore, two months from now if someone remembers the agreement differently, you have a document you can refer back to which states what everyone agreed to.

Therefore, I recommend to parents if their teenager can agree to these guidelines, let them live in a junkyard. If they forget to get their clothes to the washer then they will be the one wearing dirty clothes. This is helping them to learn responsibility. It also gives them a sense of independence which they need.

I remind teenagers, if you do not want Mom and Dad cleaning their room then they need to abide by the guidelines. I also remind them it is their responsibility to get their clothes to the washer. If they don’t then they will be wearing dirty clothes to school. I also remind them that they cannot stay home from school because they do not have any clean clothes. I am basically telling the teenager that their parents and I feel they are responsible enough to take care of their room. This again helps the teen feel more mature and understand that they have to start assuming more responsibility for theirselves.

Now for the next issue, searching your teenager’s room. I do not think it is something parents should do on a regular basis just because their child is a teenager. As parents you have a responsibility to make sure you are raising a responsible young adult and if they need help, you have an obligation to provide them with the help they need. Therefore, if you have valid reasons to believe your teenager is using drugs or alcohol on a regular basis, then yes search the room. A valid reason would be noticing the smell of marijuana on their clothes or coming from their room. Finding marijuana or alcohol bottles in their backpack or car that they use. Other signs could be changes in their behavior and grades that are associated with drug use. However, before searching the room, I would recommend when your child enters middle school that you discuss with your child about the conditions which would make you search their room. If you feel it is necessary, tell your teen that you will be searching their room. Obviously, you do not tell them a week a head of time so they can hide things. I suggest you calmly inform them when they are home that you will be starting to search their room in a few minutes. It is important you explain the reasons why you are searching their room.

Parents may be concerned about an argument. This may start an argument, but this argument is worth it. Remind your teen about the agreement the two of you had made about searching their room. If you feel your teenager is not mature enough to abide by the agreement and is likely to start a physical fight, then you do not tell them and search it when they are out of the house. Remember you are only searching the room if you feel your teen is having a serious problem and need professional help. As a parent, it is your responsibility to get them help when they need it. You will want to remember this fact because your teenager may be very angry with you. However, it is better to have an angry teenager than a dead teenager. Many of the drugs teens are using today can kill someone very quickly and teenagers are not usually aware of all the risks.

Therefore, in general respect the privacy of your teenager’s bedroom, however, if you notice signs that indicate your teen is having difficulties then search the room.

Dr. Michael Rubino has over 20 years experience as a psychotherapist who teats teenagers and children. For more information regarding Dr. Rubino’s work or private practice visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/drrubino 3.