Monday, February 14, 2011

Not Just for Kids!

Thought someone might enjoy the blog I wrote that was just posted on the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation website.

Remember, during a crisis act like a thermostat, not like a thermometer. This is one of the many things I try to share with my graduate students during the class I teach on emotional, behavioral and mental health conditions. Many of the graduate students are also parents and have told me that the suggestion of acting like a thermostat rather than a thermometer is also helpful to them in their homes. This analogy means staying level when your child’s emotions are running wild. Instead, we often act like a thermometer, responding to the distress by heightening our own emotions in response.

This response is called “mirroring”. We have a neural “wi-fi” in our brains that is deeply affected by the actions and behaviors of others. Have you ever noticed that when a discussion gets loud or heated you can change the volume of another person by merely lowering your voice and slowing your speech? The frontal lobe of our brain is the “high road”, working with logic and impulse control and it doesn’t fully develop until the MID-TWENTIES!! The “low road” is, in fact, located down low in our brain and it is the “fight, flight or freeze” part of the brain as well as the master of mirroring. When kids are in stress and their behaviors are strong and negative, adults will mirror those behaviors unless the brain is trained to do otherwise.

Example of mirroring:

1. Stressful event occurs (frustration, failure) which activates the child’s (or adolescent’s) irrational beliefs (adults are unfair, nothing good ever happens to me).
2. These negative thoughts trigger the child’s feelings.
3. Feelings rather than rational thinking drive the child’s inappropriate behavior.
4. Inappropriate behavior (yelling, threatening, refusing to speak) provoke adults.
5. Adults don’t only pick up on this behavior but mirror the behaviors (yell back, threaten, etc.).
6. This negative reaction increases the child’s stress, escalating the conflict into a self-defeating power struggle.
7. Although the child may well lose the battle there is no winner. The irrational beliefs the child had in the first place (nothing good ever happens to me) are reinforced and she or he has no motivation to change or alter beliefs or behaviors.
Children and adolescents must be taught to take the high road. Adults must remember to take the high road.
Stay a "thermostat" even though it is hard. Don’t be a "thermometer" and fluctuate with the temperature around you. Try to:

1. Use “I” messages (less threatening, less likely to promote aggression, good modeling of an honest exchange, interrupts power struggles and releases stress in a healthy way).
2. Step out of the conflict if you feel yourself mirroring. Tell the child you do want to talk to them and can when you are both calmer.
3. Encourage the child to take a break and practice self-calming techniques.
4. Listen carefully for what is not being said (decoding) and try to respond to underlying concern with I messages.

I personally know how difficult this can be, particularly when you are exhausted and it doesn’t seem to get any better. Hopefully these suggestions are helpful or a reminder of things you already know. Find time to take care of yourself. Take a walk, join a book club, do yoga, meditate, stay close to friends, find a group or organization that can support your spiritual side, find time to talk to you partner about something other than your child or adolescent, garden or go to a park or conservatory, pet an animal, write in your journal, and enjoy a small pocket of peace wherever you find it. Remember to breathe.
This is the direct link to the CABF Blog.


Bugga in OK said...

Cinda, thank you so much for posting this. I needed to read it. My sister is bi-polar, 64 years old, diagnosed in 1989, and on lithium since then, with very good results for the most part.

She lives with me and my husband. I am 3 years older than she, and we all do well together. So well in fact, that I think I sometimes forget that she has a mental illness.

She recently quit taking her lithium for a couple of weeks (unknown to me, and unusual for her.)She progressed quickly to a pretty severe manic episode,which had not happened for many years, and was taken from her daughter's home, where she was visiting, by the police and an ambulance after a disturbance.

With no insurance and only SS income, she was confined for 3 days to a local crisis center, which is only a port in a storm.

When I picked her up,she was combative and angry, and had refused medication while she was there, because they tried to give her Depakote, and she insisted that lithium was what she should be taking. Don't know why they wouldn't give her lithium?

Anyway,now home, she insists she is now taking her lithium, which of course I cannot control, only encourage. Her moods are very up and down still, very argumentative or euphoric.

Sorry for this overly long post. I think she will get through this in time. Your words reminded me of what I can do to help. I am sorry to say I am rusty at dealing with this behavior, because she has been so "well" for so long. I have definitely been a thermometer. I am going to become a thermostat.

Thanks for the words of wisdom when I needed them.


Megan said...

Great suggestions and analogy! Thanks for writing!

shah wharton said...

Excellent - I used to work with young people with challenging behaviours and these were the skills I taught myself (from a book I picked up when I got the job - along with psychology degree - which wasn't hugely helpful ;D)

It's difficult to do and takes real focus but the results are wonderful - usually. X

shah wharton said...

Please consider popping by and linking up -Monday Madness linky - for the mental health blogging community

Shah .X

Cinda said...

Thank you for your comments! Bugga in OK, do you know about NAMI's Family to Family? You are going through so much right now! I recommend Family as a great support group and one that "gets" what you are going through with your sister. Take care and thanks to all for comments!