Helping Children Thrive: How I Spoke Up for One Little Girl

helping children thrive

The day I first met Rikki in the parking lot of a Motel 6, she effortlessly captured my heart. I had actually started to care about her even before that first meeting. As a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer preparing for my first case, I had read Rikki’s file. I knew she was 10, she was the third of five kids who had been removed from their mother due to neglect and drug abuse, and this was the third time she had been through this kind of upheaval in her short life. I knew that her father had died a year before. He had also been an addict, and like her mother, had been in and out of recovery.

A few months earlier, after a loss in my own life, I was looking for a way to match my time, energy and caring with a child or children in need. I didn’t know in what capacity…I just knew I was interested in helping children. While interviewing a young woman for a job, she mentioned her volunteer experience as a CASA. That serendipitous encounter led me to find Court Appointed Special Advocates in my town, where I subsequently completed 30 hours of training and a background check, and was sworn in as an officer of the court. The juvenile court judge asked us CASA volunteers to be his “eyes and ears” in the lives of kids in the child welfare system. I didn’t know then the power we were being given to alter these young people’s trajectories, to help them toward better, happier and healthier futures. (Read the full article at PsychAlive.)

Commitment Issues: Why Some People Have Them and Others Don’t

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Adam is smart, talented and attractive. He’s successful in business and has an exciting lifestyle. He’s a winner, everyone agrees…except his ex-girlfriends. Any one of them can tell a story about Adam that includes disappointment or betrayal. Adam is not malicious. Like anyone else, he wants intimacy… but only so much. If things get too close and personal with a woman, he’ll do something to provoke distance, like not call when he said he would, or pick a fight. He likes to keep things a little up in the air, and has avoided marriage. Sometimes, under certain stresses, especially if the object of his affection is unavailable, Adam will get needy and possessive. But once his partner is safely, uncomfortably, available again, he can’t help but push her away.

Sophia tries hard to nail things down. Her whole existence feels like a hunt for “happily-ever-after.” If she’s not in a relationship for a while, her yearning for intimacy feels so urgent that she doesn’t discern new partners very carefully. As soon as things heat up with a new man, she’s all in. She tends to cling, fears losing her new love, and gets quietly controlling. She feels very enchanted with the idea of marriage, but has interestingly evaded it. She tries to play things cool when dating, letting the man dictate the pace, but underneath she obsesses. She quickly jumps to the worst-case scenario when small conflicts arise. Even though she is very high functioning in her career as a teacher, she never seems to feel like a grown-up in relationships. Occasionally, when a partner seems more “needy” than she is, Sophia shuts down and wants to get far away from him. She’s got a lot of exes too, and they would likely tell you that Sophia is “high maintenance.” (Read the full article at PsychAlive.)

Compulsive Liars: The Truth About Lying

compulsive liars

“You’re a despicable liar!” These words, shouted by my 11-year-old cousin, John, were etched into my mind some forty years ago. Not because they stung, but because I was so struck by John’s impressive use of the word “despicable,” and the dramatic flair with which he hurled it at me. I distinctly remember that I felt falsely accused, but John did have reason to be miffed. Earlier that day, on our seaside vacation, his 13-year-old sister, Margaret, and I had been given $20 to share with our brothers at the arcade. Instead we took the money and ran. From inside the Chinese restaurant, where we spent the money on a sumptuous lunch, Margaret and I looked out the window to see the boys hunting for us; focused and angry, they walked by without spotting us. We thought this was hilarious. I have an even earlier memory of being deceptive: I was in a crib and I premeditated a fake cry so that the babysitter (a pretty teenager who was playing the guitar in the other room with her boyfriend) would come and pick me up. These are fairly normal deceptions for a child. Research shows that by the age of six months, children learn that they can manipulate adults’ responses to get what they want. (Read the full article at Psychalive.)

Confessions of a (Narrow-minded?!) Liberal: Using Friendship to Heal the Political Divide

Confessions of narrowminded liberal

Chad (not his real name) and I dated in high school. Now we’re friends on Facebook. We do the normal Facebook things, like sending happy birthday wishes, sharing and commenting on cute old photos, and retelling funny stories from the carefree days of youth. Everything was going fine, until… Election 2016. In the last year, our communication has gotten tense. Chad is one of those people…on the wrong side of the issues; you know… a real “nut job.” I know when I post some political article or call to action, Chad will protest angrily in the comment section, frequently in all CAPS!  It’s frustrating. He just won’t listen to reason. Funny thing is, he says the same about me. He recently wrote that he feels like if he tries to debate with liberals, “I will be labeled a racist and woman hater! There is no room for dialogue…the left is totally intolerant, to the point of writing off lifelong friends!”  He said he gets worked up because he is not anti-woman but he’ll be accused of that and worse if he mentions “anything opposing the left!” So, my question: does he have a point? (Read the full article at PsychAlive.)

The Sweet Spot: Relief from the Fear of Death through Mindfulness

Sweet spot

If you have ever lain awake in the middle of the night pondering death, heart racing, icy hot fear coursing through your body as your mind tries desperately to find solid ground, you are not alone. Let me say that again: You are not alone. On the most basic level, you are not alone, because every other being on the planet shares your fate. That notion probably doesn’t have enough power to alleviate the anxiety though. Thankfully, there are antidotes to our trembling dread of dying, and we can help each other discover them.

Death is part of life. Many of us would like to ignore that fact, but sooner or later, we can’t.  When we lose a friend, a family member, or a cherished pet, we can’t help but think about our own mortality. My friend Andra was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of cancer. In terms of scary and dreadful human experiences, this kind of diagnosis is high on the scale for anyone. Sometimes Andra’s mind is highjacked by fear.  She gets overwhelmed by the situation, and she feels despair.  But sometimes, in the midst of this unwanted development in her life, Andra finds a place inside where the fear dissipates, time stops, the names of diseases and their statistics are irrelevant, and peace fills her mind and body. She has learned how to tap into a sweet spot within that washes her mind and body with calm. (Read the full article at PsychAlive.)

Empathy: How it Can Help Us All Right Now

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In the aftermath of the most contentious election in recent history, many people are talking about the need for empathy in order to heal our divided nation. Facebook posts are flying around that charge us to rise above the rancor and offer empathy to those with whom we disagree. Just recently, Meryl Streep spoke to the value of empathy in her acceptance speech at the Golden Globe Awards. So what specifically is empathy and how do we create more of it? And what if it’s not fair; what if we give empathy but they don’t (whether they are our friends on the other end of the political spectrum or our partner on the other side of the bed)?  Everybody wants to be respected and cared about, but do we all know how to dish it out – to respect and care about people when they are doing and saying things that cause us distress? If we make a commitment to offer empathy, will it really make a difference? Will it create peace and understanding in our country (and our relationships)? (Read the full article at PsychAlive.)

Living Mom’s Life?

living moms life

“I think I want to be good.”  A warm tear rolls down my cheek.  My ten-year-old and I are watching the climactic scene of Descendants, a new movie from Disney Channel.  The girl uttering this revelation is Mal, daughter of Maleficent.  She is speaking to the boy who loves her.

In this lighthearted movie, which is like a hybrid of High School Musical and Ever After High, four offspring of legendary bad guys (and gals) are given a chance to leave the island where they, their parents, and all villains have been sequestered.  The good King Ben of Auredon (a teen himself) believes the children of villains deserve a chance to make their own choices in life, so he invites Mal and her three friends to integrate at Auradon High School.  These “evil” teens strongly identify with their parents and want to please them.  With intense pressure from their self-serving role models, the four kids accept their duty:  They will lie, spy and use the opportunity given them to steal power back for their greedy parents. (Read the full article at PsychAlive.)

What Inside Out Can Teach Us About Loving Our Kids

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The other day I recommended the movie Inside Out to my friend, Cynthia, as an intervention. Her favorite niece, Emily, is going through puberty. The sweet little girl who used to love shopping and doing craft projects with her aunt, is now moody and not interested in sharing those activities. Cynthia feels hurt about this change, but her efforts to control their relationship and get it “back on track” have backfired and made things even more strained between them. Now, sadly, Cynthia seems to have lost all affection and compassion for the girl she once adored. I hoped that by seeing the movie, she might soften and feel empathy for her niece. Inside Out may be a wild, animated romp for kids, but it packs at least three powerful messages for parents and caregivers. (Read the full article at Psychalive.)