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Helping a Troubled Child Self-Soothe (Part Six-Final)

The information in this serial posting comes from psychologist Dr. James Sutton’s current work-in-progress, The Changing Behavior Book: a fresh approach to the difficult child. One of the chapters is on teaching troubled youngsters the skills of soothing themselves in times of difficulty. To read Dr. Sutton’s comments on this new book (which will also be available in e-book format), including a description of its 20 chapters, click here

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Helping a Troubled Child Self-Soothe (Part Six-Final)

“Automatic” Soothing

The capacity for a youngster to self-soothe is directly related to that child’s concept of themself. This concept is Self Concept, and the youngster’s evaluation of it makes up Self Esteem. When a youngster improves or gains in Self Concept, his ability to self-soothe improves also; they move together. It makes sense then that efforts at improving Self Concept would “automatically” boost skills of self-soothing.

In addition to Self Esteem, there are three other components to Self Concept: Body Self, Social Self and Cognitive Self. It’s not at all unusual for a youngster to struggle with one or more of these. Here’s where we can help.

Body Self relates to how a youngster views her physical appearance and presence in comparison to peers. Although we can’t always change every aspect of how our children look, the best appearance or correction possible is important, whether it be clothing, braces, eyeglasses or any number of things that enhance appearance and a sense of physical wholeness and functionality. In other instances, Body Self might be related to physical skills and abilities. Sports and athletics would be an example. Helping a youngster with these skills contributes powerfully to Body Self.

Social Self reflects a youngster’s comfort in being around and interacting with others. Like any other skill, it can be developed. Consider also how Social Self is critical to self-soothing. If a youngster is socially adept enough to ask other for help or assistance, they are getting the soothing they seek.

Cogntive Self is closely tied to self-soothing. It’s the ability to use skills of thinking and accumulated knowledge to solve problems and issues. A child who is failing in school is experiencing a major problem with Cognitive Self. Helping a child with homework or finding for them a good tutor address Cognitive Self. The practice of commenting on a youngster’s good decision making addresses Cognitive Self and encourages the child to keep up the effort.  A child with a stronger Cognitive Self finds it easier to self-soothe.

All four of these, Self Esteem, Body Self, Social Self and Cognitive Self are all inter-related. When we improve a youngster’s capacity in one or more of them, the whole Self Concept receives a boost. When that happens, improved skills of self-soothing follow “automatically”.

(To read about my informative 73 page e-book, Improving a Youngster’s Self-Esteem, click here. It gets into much more detail on the subject.)

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James Sutton, Psychologist                     http://www.docspeak.com

September 6, 2008 Posted by | adversity, Counselors, Educators, family, Parents, Self-esteem | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Helping a Troubled Child Self-Soothe (Part Five)

The information in this serial posting comes from psychologist Dr. James Sutton’s current work-in-progress, The Changing Behavior Book: a fresh approach to the difficult child. One of the chapters is on teaching troubled youngsters the skills of soothing themselves in times of difficulty. To read Dr. Sutton’s comments on this new book (which will also be available in e-book format), including a description of its 20 chapters, click here

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Helping a Troubled Child Self-Soothe (Part Five)

Falling Back on Reminders

It’s a general practice of adults to evaluate present events and circumstances against past experiences. There’s a high-water mark for joy, sorrow, fear and all emotional states, and chances are good that the high-water mark is NOT what’s happening right now. (If it is, then you have a higher “mark” for evaluating future events and circumstances.) In other words, we’ve had higher highs and lower lows and have survived them.

The act of considering a current experience against an extreme mark for that same sort of experience can be a soothing reflection for older children. They’ve been around long enough to make a few deposits and withdrawals from their “bank” of experiences. Younger children have more difficulty making these comparisons because of fewer experiences, but the same concepts works still apply.

Here are some reframing statements a youngter can make as another way of soothing themselves:

“Hey, I know I’ve handled stuff tougher than this before.”

“This isn’t really as bad as it looked at first.”

“I can handle this because I’ve handled worse.”

“I’m up to the challenge this time.”

“You know, there’s really no need for me to turn this into World War III.” 

Watch for Part Six (final): “Automatic” Soothing

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James Sutton, Psychologist       www.docspeak.com

 

August 23, 2008 Posted by | adversity, Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, family, Inspirational, Parents, Self-esteem | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Helping a Troubled Child Self-soothe (Part Four)

The information in this serial posting comes from psychologist Dr. James Sutton’s current work-in-progress, The Changing Behavior Book: a fresh approach to the difficult child. One of the chapters is on teaching troubled youngsters the skills of soothing themselves in times of difficulty. To read Dr. Sutton’s comments on this new book (which will also be available in e-book format), including a description of its 20 chapters, click here

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Helping a Troubled Child Self-Soothe (Part Four)

Address the Physical Cues

Youngsters in deep emotional tormoil can’t put off being soothed, nor should they. But if they experience a temporary difficulty they should learn how to tolerate and manage, a focus on changing physical cues can be helpful.

All emotional distress comes with physical cues, specific elements of fear and tension that work on the body. These can be changed. The better the capacity to change physical cues in times of stress, the better the ability to self-soothe.

A child who recognizes that her body is getting tense, for instance, can to focus specifically on making her body relax some.

A child who is not breathing well can focus on breathing, perhaps even use the Breath the Square activity. 

A child who is tense and standing can sit down. A child who is tense and sitting can stand up.

A child who is tense and dry-mouthed might drink a glass of water slowly.

The important thing to addressing physical cues is not what youngsters do to alter physical cues of fear and distress, but that they DO something. It is an option of empowerment. These simple actions might not change the circumstances that caused the distress, but they do focus on something youngsters CAN control, however small it might be.

Watch for Part Four: Fall Back on Reminders

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James Sutton, Psychologist       www.docspeak.com

August 18, 2008 Posted by | Counselors, Educators, family, Parents, Self-esteem | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Helping a Troubled Child Self-soothe (Part Three)

The information in this serial posting comes from psychologist Dr. James Sutton’s current work-in-progress, The Changing Behavior Book: a fresh approach to the difficult child. One of the chapters is on teaching troubled youngsters the skills of soothing themselves in times of difficulty. To read Dr. Sutton’s comments on this new book (which will also be available in e-book format), including a description of its 20 chapters, click here

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Helping a Troubled Child Self-soothe (Part Three)

Make a Soothing “Appointment”

Good school counselors know there’s a thin line between being an emotional resource to a child and being a too-available crutch. (Therapists have the same concerns with adult patients.) The “fix” for the too-available problem is for the counselor to offer incentive, praise and reinforcement to a youngster for NOT coming to them between scheduled visits.

When the child or adolescent is encouraged to “save up” their troubles and bring them to the regularly scheduled appointment, they are stresing self-soothing. The counselor is encouraging that youngster to make an attempt to get through an uncomfortable situation as best they can on their own steam, then share about it later.

Of course, it’s important for the counselor to encourage the youngster to continue to use and expand this skill.

Parents and caregivers can accomplish much the same thing. It’s critical, however, that a specific and predetermined time, the “appointment,” be established for sharing. If this isn’t done, the whole process comes across sounding like, “Just deal with it and don’t bother me about it … EVER!”

Keep the appointments.

Watch for Helping a Troubled Child Self-soothe (Part Four): Address the Physical Cues

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Dr. James D. Sutton, Psychologist   www.docspeak.com

August 11, 2008 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, family, Parents, Self-esteem | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Helping a Troubled Child Self-soothe (Part Two)

The information in the serial posting comes from psychologist Dr. James Sutton’s current work-in-progress, The Changing Behavior Book: a fresh approach to the difficult child. One of the chapters is on teaching troubled youngsters the skills of soothing themselves in times of difficulty. To read Dr. Sutton’s comments on this new book (which will also be available in e-book format), including a description of its 20 chapters, click here

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Helping a Troubled Child Self-soothe (Part Two)

Breathing on the Square

When individuals are under stress, their breathing is affected because they are emotionally preparing to run or fight. They are gasping and panting, not breathing. Consequently, much needed oxygen doesn’t get to the brain as it should. It’s a rapid recipe for things getting worse, not better.

Here’s an activity that was shared by a teacher in Tennessee. She used it with her students just before they were to take an important test. She instructed her class to do the following in four-second intervals.

1. Breathe in slowly

2. Hold that breath

3. Breathe out slowly

4. Pause before starting over

The whole “square” takes 16 seconds. If a youngster does this correctly, the gasping and panting have to stop. Systematic breathing brings in oxygen and a sense of order and control … all positive benefits.

It’s not difficult to create a model of a square with four segments to each side as a visual. It can be drawn on a piece of paper or it can be drawn on the floor. Another idea would be to use something like square stepping stones and have the youngsters actually move through the square as they preform the breathing.

Consider an additional benefit. This breathing intervention provides a sense of focus. For 16 seconds the youngster’s mind and focus (hopefully) is on completing the square. This can greatly reduce impulsive behavior. If the child breathes the square a dozen times without stopping, she’s gone more than three minutes on the soothing she’s provided for herself. More importantly, consider the possibilities of what all didn’t hapen while she was breathing the square.

What value can you put on disasters that DON’T happen?

The next step would be to encourage youngsters to do this on their own, to use Breathing on the Square as a resource they can call on to soothe themselves. Give it to them as an assignment, to try it and report back to you later.

Okay, a youngster walking four-second turns in a mall or supermarket might be a tad conspicious. It’s really just as easy to walk and breathe the square in a straight line. The strategy and the benefits are the same.

(Watch for Part Three: A Soothing “Appointment”) 

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James D. Sutton, Psychologist         www.docspeak.com  

August 4, 2008 Posted by | adversity, Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, family, Inspirational, Parents, Self-esteem | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Helping a Troubled Child Self-soothe (Part One)

The information in the serial posting comes from psychologist Dr. James Sutton’s current work-in-progress, The Changing Behavior Book: a fresh approach to the difficult child. One of the chapters is on teaching troubled youngsters the skills of soothing themselves in times of difficulty. To read Dr. Sutton’s comments on this new book (which will also be available in e-book format), including a description of its 20 chapters, click here.

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Helping a Troubled Child Self-soothe (Part One)

The issue of self-soothing is a huge area of concern, as many youngsters simply cannot soothe themselves adequately in times of stress and difficulty. They rely on others to soothe them, and seek soothing in food, toys, or activities of distraction. (Could today’s concern about childhood obesity be connected to problems with self-soothing?)

These youngsters run the clear risk of carrying their self-soothing deficiencies into adulthood, where the stakes become even higher: broken relationships, bouts of unemployment, and overdependency on pills, alcohol, and whatever new gadget catches their eye today.

Efforts spent on teaching youngsters skills of self-soothing can pay off today … and way into tomorrow.

Tough Shoes to Fill

If you want to get a glimpse of the value of self-soothing, put yourself in this person’s shoes for a moment:

He was shot out of the sky over North Vietnam in the winter of 1966, sustaining serious injuries. The enemy literally tossed him into solitary confinment in a prison that earned the name of “The Hanoi Hilton”. In addition to being sick, cold, hurt and hungry, he was tortured for information and a confession to war crimes. He remained a prisoner there, separated from home and loved ones, for over seven years.

Try our your self-soothing skills on that scenario. This is from the real-life account of my friend, retired Navy Captain Jerry Coffee. (You can read his whole story his his book, Beyond Survival, published by Putnam.) He shares he survived that experience on the strength of his spiritual faith and the relationships he had built in his life. They continually helped him affirm and reaffirm to himself that he was MUCH more than the painful experiences of the moment. In fact, he’s quick to credit high school literature teachers for stressing that he memorize poems for class. These classic poems, as well as Bible verses he had memorized, pulled him through some incredibly tough times. Jerry is gracious to share that he was not at all unique; many folks could have done the same.

Young children, however, don’t have a deep well of experiences from which to draw soothing. They often don’t have a reference for knowing that the problem of the moment isn’t a catastrophe, or even that they will survive it. Older children have a better perspective simply because they’ve experienced difficulty in the past and know the world didn’t end there. Still, they sometimes struggle anyway.

Even adults struggle with self-soothing.

A youngster who can’t self-soothe goes into a “Someone PLEASE soothe me” mode, where they turn to relationships, activities, and things to comfort them. Their needs are desperate, and their behaviors match their needs.

Not all young people are this desperate in their need for self-soothing, of course, but most of them can benefit from simple ideas and strategies that focus on self-soothing in times of difficulty.

(watch for Part Two: Breathing on the Square)

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Dr. James Sutton, Psychologist    www.docspeak.com

July 28, 2008 Posted by | adversity, Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, family, Inspirational, Parents, Self-esteem | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments