Making the Most of This Quarantined Spring Break

Family Time

“You will never look back on life and think, ‘I spent too much time with my kids.’” ~Unknown

A good friend of mine recently posted a darling picture of her family–toddler and all–hiking along a trail in the foothills of Utah. She said their family had a goal in 2020 to spend 1,000 hours outside. You read that right, one thousand hours spent outdoors. I love that idea so much! She found what helps her family connect and they have made a goal to do more (lots more) of it this year. Since Spring Break is nigh upon us, I want to talk about ways to connect with your family and create meaningful memories together, even with everything that is happening in the world right now!

Let’s first define connection so we all know what we are working towards. Connection in relationships means closeness, mutual trust, empathy, respect, loyalty, and love. This connection is what enables any relationship to continue on and deepen. When you feel connected or close to someone, you know you can rely on one another, and the relationship is meaningful. Connection is not a one-time occurrence; rather, it is a continual connection that strengthens any relationship.

What relationships could be more important than those you have with your family?  What can you do to connect with your family members this spring break? Here are some steps to ensure you spend quality time and create beautiful memories together:

  1. Be present. It is impossible to have connection if you are distracted or multi-tasking. Put down your phone. Turn off the TV. Hide the iPad. You and I live in a world filled with any and every distraction imaginable; yet all your children truly want is to be seen, heard, and noticed. They want your time and attention.  They want YOU. You are your child’s role model, best friend, biggest fan, and hero. You may unintentionally make your children feel like second best if your texts or Instagram take priority over what your children have to say or show you. So start connecting with those who truly matter to you by first disconnecting from what does really not matter.
  2. Explore hobbies. My friend’s family found a common hobby: they all enjoy spending time outside hiking. Maybe your family enjoys family bike rides. Or going to the park. Or grilling up delicious kebabs. Some families love playing board games, making cookies, doing chalk art, going on walks, reading together, watching movies, upping the ante a bit and making movies (aka filming, editing and whatnot; it is quite the creative process!); playing with legos, going on a drive, exercising together, playing sports, going swimming, traveling, etc. There are infinite possibilities for ways your family can spend time together. If you are unsure about what your family likes doing together, you can take turns trying someone else’s hobby! For example, if Gramma enjoys watercolor painting, perhaps you could try that activity as a family. If Dad likes bird watching, the family can try that together. Find a family hobby and do it this spring break!
  3. Make life skills fun. You can teach your children important and helpful skills and also have fun together. Give each child a chance to pick the menu for a meal and do the whole process together: come up with ideas, make the list, buy the food, prepare the meal, then sit down and eat together. Or you could spend time working together in the yard; maybe that spot you clear weeds out of is where you sleep or star gaze together one night? Declutter your home. Spring cleaning can be fun; help your children appreciate that fresh feeling that comes from deep cleaning! Wash the car and have a water fight. Have a competition picking up litter off the beach or in your neighborhood. Doing these types of activities together is simultaneously instructive and fun. Surely a great use of your time!
  4. Make a family bucket list. It is relatively early in the year; you still have time to seize 2020! What are some things you want to see, do, learn, or experience as a family? My friend made a goal to spend 1,000 hours outside. A great bucket list goal! Another friend has several family bucket list items for 2020: Making it to Redwood National Forest, visiting Four Corners Monument, going camping several times, taking the family fishing, learning to make ebelskivers, and painting and organizing the garage. A family bucket list does not mean that every item has to be expensive or time-consuming. Tailor your bucket list to your financial situation and interests as a family, and then make it happen! 

Spring break only comes but once a year. Make the most of it by connecting and making memories as a family! Be present, participate in fun hobbies, learn life skills, and make a family bucket list. Spring break will fly by, and you will be left with beautiful memories and a fun bucket list to keep you busy the rest of the year. Happy spring break!

Best,

Melissa

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

References:

Understanding Your Child’s Love Language

Love Languages

“It’s not enough to love your kids. You have to know how to communicate love to a child so that he genuinely feels loved.” ~ Dr. Chapman

Dr. Laura Markham, founder of “Aha! Parenting,” clinical psychologist, and mother says, “The kids who thrive are the ones who feel loved, accepted and cherished for exactly who they are.” One of the most important things you can do for your child–if not the most important–is consistently show genuine love. I am a believer in Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages. I have written about them at length in the context of adult relationships, but they also apply to the way children receive love from their parents and caregivers. Today, I want to put a new spin on it, though; I have never before talked about how to understand and apply the Love Languages with your littles. Though there are slight differences in the Love Languages between adults and children, the basics remain the same. Read on to know how to identify your child’s Love Language, as well as ideas for how to speak it, and pitfalls to avoid. 

TOUCH

“Mama, come snuggle me.”

If your child is constantly in your space, touching you, trying to sit on your lap, or playing with your hair, there’s your signal that he/she thrives on physical touch. Some children do not like hugging or snuggling; do not make the mistake of thinking all kids crave physical touch! While children in general enjoy being physically close to their parents, it is much more pronounced in children with this Love Language.

Here are some ideas to speak this love language: Snuggle on the couch. Let your child sit on your lap. Offer foot massages. Give high fives. Hold hands. Make a secret handshake (one mother squeezes her daughter’s hand three times to nonverbally say, “I love you”). Wrestle or try other sports that require jostling. 

Warning: Spanking or hitting any child is damaging in any and all cases, but it is particularly so to those children whose primary Love Language is physical touch. Also, according to Dr. Markham, research has shown that dads grow increasingly less physically affectionate as their daughters develop; she suggests making a habit of good-morning and good-night hugs, so it is already in place as kids get older.

GIFTS

“Daddy, will you get me a toy?”

For those children whose Love Language is gifts, they see a present as a symbol of your love. They love when you give them things. Children with this love language tend to care about how a present is wrapped. They often remember who gave them what for months or years after the fact. They also may have trouble throwing out things they have been given, even if they hardly use them. Now, before you freak out thinking your child is materialistic or that you are going to go broke buying all the things, let me talk you off that cliff. 

Here are some ideas to speak this love language: You do not need to buy a million toys to let your child know you love him/her. A gift can be anything from a very smooth stone to a ball of yarn in her favorite color. You could leave an origami creation on your child’s chair or a wildflower on her pillow. One grown woman with this love language said, “Every year since I left for college, my mom has mailed me leaves from Wisconsin so I can enjoy a bit of fall from home while living in California.”  Stickers and star charts are also concrete ways of making these children feel valued, says Parents advisor Harvey Karp, M.D., creator of the DVD and book The Happiest Baby on the Block. Low-cost options, people.

Warning: Avoid accumulating meaningless things. Give gifts that bear some meaning or are special to your child for some reason. Also, try to give gifts that are age-appropriate (for example, give your three year-old something that will stimulate her brain and encourage her to develop creativity, etc). When you are on the receiving end, be sure to make a big deal of any gifts your child gives you by hanging artwork or creating a “precious things” table for those tender presents from your youngster.

WORDS

“Mama, listen to me!”

These are the kids who listen intently and speak sweetly. They beam whenever you praise them, always have something to tell you about, and live for your loving words in return. For these children, it is not just what you say, but how you say it. They know when you are distracted or halfhearted, and it deflates them to the core.

Here are some ideas to speak this love language: 

Leave little notes in their lunch box, send texts, or even give a bracelet with something like “my hero” printed on it. Generously praise your child and let them know you see the good in them. One mother, Auburn Daily, will get down on her toddler’s level, stare into her eyes, and say, “You are the best thing in my life. You are so important to me.” Dr. Karp suggests telling a stuffed animal or anyone who will listen about something your kid did well, since research shows we all believe more of what we overhear than what is told directly to us.

Warning:  Regardless of who you are, insults cut deep. Try not to make blanket statements about these children being “bad listeners,” “bad sharers,” or anything of the like. Also, Dr. Chapman says it is particularly important for these children to hear the words “I love you” standing alone, rather than, “I love you, but …” 

SERVICE

“Mama, can you put my shoes on?”

These children may beg you to tie their shoes for them, fix a broken toy, or fluff their pillow. They like having your help–even with things they are capable of doing on their own. While it may feel like servitude to you, it is the deepest expression of love to these children!

Here are some ideas to speak this love language: One mother reports that helping her daughter get dressed in the morning is one way of doing this. Another mother says her son exclaims, “Tank you, mama, das so nice of you!” anytime she serves him food. Basic things like that show your children you love them. You can also go above and beyond by doing things like warming their clothes in the dryer on a cold morning, helping them clean up their room, or getting a stain out of a favorite shirt. 

Warning: Parents of these kids often end up feeling like servants. Obviously you want to encourage self-reliance and obedience to household rules, so picking up after your child over time may prove to be a hindrance. As with all children, it is important to encourage self-reliance and expect them to do what they can for themselves at each stage of development. The best act of service you can provide is walking your child through a new process and teaching him, step-by-step, how to be more capable.

TIME

“Daddy, come read me a story!”

These children feel most valued when you choose to spend time with them. A child who often says, “Watch this!” or, “Play with me,” is begging for quality time. Dr. Chapman’s own daughter would say, “Daddy, come to my room! I want to show you something.” They spell love t-i-m-e. 

Here are some ideas to speak this love language:  For these kids, time can be spent together doing anything. Reading books, building a tower, wrestling, snuggling, watching a movie, baking, eating, swinging, etc. All they want is you….and your undivided attention. This does not mean that you need to scrap your to-do list in order to show your children your love; instead dedicate blocks of time to your child. Dr. Markham calls this “special time,” and says it can be short, but let your child choose the activity, and be fully present the whole time. 

Warning: If your child’s love language is quality time, banishing him or her away for time out in isolation is the severest of punishments. If you have done “special time” but your child still seems to be craving your attention, try having him/her play at your side while you read or work. 

Can you see the 5 Love Languages through the eyes of your child? As you pay attention to what your child asks for, you will pinpoint his/her love language. If you are still struggling to figure out what your child’s language is, take this quiz. And remember that love languages can morph and change over time. As you embark on this journey to understand and speak your child’s language, they will feel your love, and your connection with them will grow. As always, should you find that you need help, please do not hesitate to contact me!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

References:

Teaching Your Little Ones The Art of Gratitude

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” ~ William Arthur Ward

Thanksgiving (and the month of November in general) is a great time to focus on gratitude. The added emphasis on being “blessed” certainly inspires all of us to consider our bounty and offer thanks. It is a time of gratitude lists, service, and gifts. I want to focus on how you can get your children involved and inspire gratitude in their hearts!

By age two or three, children are able to talk about being thankful for specific objects, pets, and people. By age four, children are able to understand the concept of being thankful for immaterial things like acts of kindness, love, and caring. Regardless of how old your children are, you can always teach age-appropriate gratitude! The following are ideas you can implement around the holiday season and throughout the year to foster an attitude of gratitude:

  1. Say please and thank you. Our manners show that we do not believe we are entitled to anything and that we are grateful for the kindness of others.
  2. Help someone less fortunate. This could be your neighbor down the street, grandma, or someone you know who is in a tough spot. I have fond childhood memories of taking meals or gifts to members of my church who needed help. 
  3. Model the adage “Tis’ better to give than to receive.” Take young children holiday shopping at the dollar store and challenge them to pick out gifts for others without buying something for themselves. Or go the DIY route and make something; even toddlers can buy or make gifts for others!
  4. Volunteer service or donate to a nonprofit. Nonprofits serve people in need and at this time of the year they are always looking for volunteers, basic necessities, meals and gifts to give to those in need. Help out at a homeless shelter, soup kitchen or non-profit. 
  5. Send out thank you cards or a letter. Express your gratitude for those who have served your or added value to your life. Encourage your children to write a letter to someone who has touched his life in some way or who has given them something. I highly recommend keeping thank you notes on hand and using them frequently!
  6. Intentionally look for awe-inspiring moments in your day. If the sunset is particularly beautiful, comment on it. If the sound of the baby’s laughter warms your heart, tell your children. Encourage them to look for their awe-inspiring moments and share them with you.
  7. Share your gratitude. There are a million different ways to do this; you can take five minutes at bedtime by asking your children what they are thankful for that day. You can go around the dinner table and allow each family member a chance to vocalize their gratitude. You can keep shared or personal gratitude journals. You can create a family gratitude list and post it somewhere visible. You can create a gratitude jar and share each entry at the end of the month. I even saw one idea of gratitude trees–where little leaves are written on with things the family is grateful for, and then hung from the twigs of a branch found outside. (This doubles as decór so win-win!)
  8. Compliment others. I heard a wise woman once say that withholding a compliment is prideful, so model sincere compliments. If you think it, say it! Share the things you appreciate about another person. Encourage your children to do the same. 
  9. Look for the positive. It is human nature to see the glass half-empty from time to time, and children are no exception.  Try to look for the silver lining; find something positive in frustrating situations and discuss it. When kids complain or gripe, it can be helpful to try to find a response that looks on the bright(er) side. It’s called an “attitude of gratitude” for a reason — it’s about perspective more than circumstance. 
  10. Take gratitude walks. While you walk, look for the simple pleasures in the day, such as the warm sun or the birds singing and express appreciation for them. Use this time to ask your kids what they are grateful for.
  11. Work through envy. Help your child work through any feelings of jealousy she may have. Envy can come when we are not feeling thankful for what we have, and are focusing instead on what others have. Easy access to social media surely contributes to feelings of jealousy and comparison!
  12. Have them pitch in when they want something.  When children take the time to save up and take ownership in a purchase, they gain an understanding of the value of a dollar by working toward what they want. It also teaches restraint and encourages them to appreciate what they have.
  13. Make time for chores: Most children have about four hours between the time they get home from school and bedtime where they need to fit in homework, extracurricular activities, dinner, bath, and bedtime. Without chores, children do not understand what it takes to run a household–they will take clean laundry and dishes for granted. So find age-appropriate chores for your children. Consider leaving time-intensive chores for the weekend, but allow your children to be grateful for the blessing of clean dishes or warm meals enjoyed in your home. 
  14. Let big kids take care of little kids: Surely you did not understand all the work that came with children until you had your own. If older children have responsibilities for their younger siblings, it fosters an attitude of gratitude towards you, their parents. Pair up big kids with little kids to get chores done or get through homework. 
  15. Talk about your ancestors: What are your family stories of hardship and perseverance? My grandmother lived in the depression and to this day she reuses her plastic baggies and counts her pennies. I remember hearing stories of this amazing woman and feeling so grateful for the box of endless ziplocs. It really is the little things! (If you are not sure of your past, you can take a family trip to the history museum, a battlefield, or other historic site. You will return home grateful!)

Studies have shown that kids who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and family. Being grateful benefits adults and children alike on a very basic level and can increase happiness levels by around 25 percent! It can help you live a happier, more satisfied life and with increased levels of self-esteem, hope, empathy and optimism. It also grants perspective to what really matters and improves relationships. There is no downside to gratitude!

Now it is my turn to be grateful: I am grateful for my health, my family, and a career I love. I am grateful for you, my faithful readers, and for such wonderful clients who trust me with the deepest, most vulnerable and beautiful parts of their lives. I am thankful I am allowed to live the life I love in helping people work through addiction, trauma, mental illness, and/or relationship issues. I am thankful for YOU. I am your biggest advocate! As always, please feel free to contact me with questions or to schedule a session. Let’s talk!
Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

References:

Self-Care is a Family Matter

“Family is not an important thing. It’s everything.” –Michael J. Fox

When you think of self-care, you might envision yourself with cucumbers on your face getting a massage. Or maybe you think of axe throwing, running several miles, or playing an instrument for fun. Self-care has been in the limelight with endorsements from celebrities and other influencers on their social media accounts. Self-care is important because it helps you maintain a healthy relationship with yourself and others, it produces positive feelings, improves confidence and self-esteem…the benefits to practicing self-care are endless (additional sources on the benefits of self-care are included below). But what about family self-care? What are you doing to make sure your family wellbeing is maintained and functioning optimally?

At the end of September, I wrote about fun family activities to get everyone involved in the nationwide holiday Family Health and Fitness Day. When practiced individually, self care can benefit you and I emotionally, spiritually, mentally, practically and socially. In like manner, when implementing on family self-care strategies, it will greatly benefit you to focus on each of these areas; it will keep your family healthy, happy, and united. The following are some suggestions for each of those areas:

Emotional:

  • Watch a move
  • Write each other positive notes
  • Discuss each others’ talents/gifts
  • Verbalize and talk about feelings
  • Draw self-portraits
  • Say, “I love you”
  • Spend time writing
  • Try a new craft

Spiritual

  • Write a gratitude list
  • Go outside
  • Talk about forgiveness
  • Write thank you notes
  • Volunteer
  • Spend time outdoors in nature
  • Plant a tree
  • Practice positive self-talk

Mental

  • Read together
  • Draw or write stories
  • Meditate
  • Find shapes in clouds
  • Practice belly breaths
  • Go on a walk to find new things
  • Make vision boards
  • Try Headspace for Kids
  • Create mandalas
  • Make mindfulness jars
  • Mind strength games like “Memory”

Practical

  • Clean up
  • Declutter old toys
  • Assign chores
  • Make a grocery list
  • Learn about money
  • Make a weekly budget check-in
  • Make a weekly cleaning check-in
  • Do homework/study
  • Establish a morning/evening routine

Social

  • Play in the park
  • Call or visit relatives
  • Have family dinner
  • Play boardgames
  • Host a sleepover
  • Invite friends over
  • Plan a BBQ
  • Join a team
  • Organize a food drive
  • Discuss friendship and how to be a friend

Maybe by reading this list you have thought of your own ideas for one or more of these areas. Figure out what works for you and your family; what leaves you feeling recharged, connected, and happy? Do those things. And do them regularly. Individual self-care is a daily effort; staying balanced and connected as a family is no different. Carve out time for your family, make it a priority, be consistent, make it fun, and you will find that family self-care is the answer you have been needing for your family. Should you find you need help in increasing your family togetherness, please contact me today to schedule a session. 

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.


Resources:

Beware the Sting of the Internet: Simple Ways to Protect Your Home from Porn

“There is no dignity when the human dimension is eliminated from the person. In short, the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it shows far too little.”  ~ Pope John Paul II

Every second…

  • 28,258 users are watching pornography on the internet
  • $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography on the internet and
  • 372 people are typing the word “adult” into a search engine.

Every day…

  • 37 pornographic videos are created in the United States
  • 2.5 billion emails containing porn are sent or received
  • 68 million search queries related to pornography (25% of total searches!) are generated, and 
  • 116,000 queries related to child pornography are received.

In addition to these frightening numbers, 40 million Americans regularly visit porn sites; 35% of all internet downloads are related to pornography; 34% of internet users have experienced unwanted exposure to pornographic content through ads, pop up ads, misdirected links or emails; and 33% of porn viewers are women. There is no doubt, pornography is everywhere. It is accessible just as it is addictive. So how can you protect yourself and your home from pornography? Since the web is accessible on so many devices nowadays, I want to go over some free and relatively easy ways to block pornography in your home.

DNS

The Domain Name System (DNS) is the Internet protocol that converts website names (domain names) to IP addresses. Filters at this level prevent the DNS resolution for the blocked sites, so their content never loads. This is the fastest way to block sites. Every device needs DNS to connect to the Internet, so this type of filtering works everywhere. All you have to do is open the device Settings, look for Network Settings or Wifi Settings and change the DNS servers (also called NameServers) to the IP address provided by your Internet Filter. Click here and refer to step one for specific instructions on how to open the settings, get to the appropriate filters, and block the known IP addresses. This article also has incredibly clear and helpful steps for setting up “clean” server providers on each of your devices. (It is important to note that if you are using your phone’s internet, versus wifi, you can bypass any filtering settings on DNS.)

PARENTAL CONTROL

When you make changes or set up filters on your device(s), you will need to set up parental control options that will disable your children from altering any of your settings or removing the filters you have put in place. This can be done on most TVs and devices like Roku, Amazon Fire Stick, and Chromecast. Each device might have a different name for Parental Control, but it is generally called Parental Control or Restrictions. On IOS (iPhone/iPad), you can do it by going to Settings-> General-> Restrictions and filtering the content you do not want to allow your children to see. On that page, if you scroll down to Allowed Content, I would recommend setting:

  • Movies: PG-13
  • TV Shows: TV-14
  • Books: Restrict explicit content
  • Apps: 12+
  • Siri: Explicit language filtered
  • Websites: Restrict adult content

ROUTER

Too many families miss the significant step of controlling their wireless router. You are responsible for every digital click that occurs on your WiFi network–every babysitter, every relative, every friend. Please make sure you have eliminated the bad stuff before they even decide to connect their device to your home’s network!

BROWSER HISTORY

Once you set up a filter to block pornographic content and enabled parental control, I recommend doing spot checks every day or every couple of days to see what online sites are being visited in your home. Older kids will learn to clear their browser history, but younger kids are not aware of that trick. Some devices (like Mac), even allow parents a way to prevent browser history from being deleted! Be aware of “incognito mode,” which is an internet browser setting that prevents browsing history from being stored. If you want to prevent this and have iOS, delete the app store to prevent more apps from being downloaded and ensure Safari is the only browsing app–Safari does not allow private browsing.

SPONTANEOUS FOLLOW-UP

Every few days, go through your children’s messages and social media apps like Instagram, Facebook, Whatsapp, etc. Look at the photos they are viewing and sharing, as well as with whom they are talking. Scan the photo library on your child’s cell phone as well; although younger kids may not be sexting yet, by the time they hit their tweens they may begin participating in this type of behavior. Be sure to look at your children’s deleted photos and messages because kids these days are smart! 

USE YOUR WORDS

At the end of the day, parents ultimately want their children to make good choices on their own–without filters or blockers or any kind. No parent wants to feel like a bossy, overseeing nag. Having a solid foundation where mutual trust and communication are employed will be the best way to help your kids be open with you. If they know they can come to you with questions, concerns, or mistakes without you getting upset, they will be more likely to be honest and open. So start today. Talk with them. Be real with them. Tell them that you will always be there to help them in any way you can.

Other practical tips include paying for ad blockers that potentially have offensive material, limiting or disabling data on your child’s device, restricting the YouTube app on your/your child’s device, enabling the PIN and call your Cable provider to block porn pay-per-view, and being sure to report offensive material if you do see it in a browser search (this will help improve their filtering). Be sure to keep in mind that whatever filtering tools you choose to go with will need to be installed on every device your child may use to go online: game consoles, cell phones, tablets, Kindles, personal laptops, computers, etc. 

One final tip: Lean on the many available resources to protect your home. Though the internet is full of pervasive material, there is also so much information on how to avoid and protect your family against it. You don’t have to do this alone; feel free to contact me with any questions, or to schedule a session. My door is always open!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

How to Talk to Your Child About Porn, Part II

How to Talk to Your Child About Porn, Part II - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville Therapist

How to Talk to Your Child About Porn, Part II - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville Therapist

No parent wants to talk with their children about pornography. It can seem overwhelming, uncomfortable, and maybe unnecessarily early–depending on the age of your child. While there may be validity to all those feelings, I urge you to communicate openly, honestly, and early with your child about the fallacies and dangers of pornography… before they learn about it elsewhere.

Children are now learning to use electronic devices at a very young age, and often stumble upon inappropriate pictures or videos. Like many others, you may be caught off guard and quite surprised by how early in your child’s life this happens. Upon entering puberty, pre-teens may be curious about sex and sexuality as their brain, body, and hormones change and develop. Your children may hear things in the playground or at a friend’s house. Inevitably, they will want to know more and asking Mom or Dad about sex can be embarrassing. You can be ready for this conversation by preparing some talking points and creating an environment of open communication. You will be grateful you did so!

Last month, I posted the first part in this two-part series on talking with your children about pornography. The world is different than it was 20 years ago; the ease and and convenience of viewing porn at our fingertips–plus the increased dependence on technology–is a recipe for disaster. We must adapt to the pervasive and dangerous drug that is sweeping through our internet, TVs, phones, and homes. It is everywhere. Your children will see porn; it is a matter of when, not if. My wish with this post is to help you prepare for when you decide to talk with your children about pornography. I know it seems like a daunting, horrible thing to need to talk about, and you may want to put it off as long as possible, but I urge you to read this post and mindfully consider what will be best for your child(ren).

Part 1 focused on 9 foundational points that will help guide you as you prepare for this conversation (or hopefully the first of many conversations) with your children. Click here to read that post in its entirety. To briefly summarize, those 9 points are:

  1. Build trust.
  2. Talk about it sooner rather than later.
  3. Prepare for it now.
  4. Explain why porn is problematic.
  5. Teach that porn is inaccurate.
  6. Treat pornography the same for your daughter as you would your son.
  7. Teach them (especially daughters) that their worth is more than skin deep.
  8. What to do if my child comes to me with a porn addiction.
  9. Make it an ongoing conversation.

Again, I recommend reviewing that post because I explained each point in greater detail that will offer clarity and guidance as you apply them. The most important thing about this talk is that you deliver it with the needs/preferences/personality of your individual children in mind. Follow your innate parent gut and speak with love.

What do I say?!

It is 100% natural to have no idea where to begin. Might I suggest that you begin by asking questions and then LISTEN. Encourage two-way conversation. Questions may include (but are not limited to) the following: What do you know about pornography? Do any of the kids at school ever talk about it? What do they say? Have you ever seen it? Did someone show it to you? Or did you find it yourself? You may be surprised and/or horrified by their responses, but try to remain calm. Reassure your child(ren) they are not in trouble. Try to find out how they found it and why they were searching for it. If they have seen it, ask when/where they saw it and how it made them feel. Then discuss those feelings.

Because children are generally pure and tender, they may feel “yucky” for what they have seen.

Explain to them that pornography teaches attitudes towards sex and sexual behaviors that are inaccurate and unhealthy. I highly recommend utilizing the suggestions found in Kristen Jenson’s book Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn Proofing Today’s Kids. She explains how to make it a comfortable conversation about what pornography is, why it is dangerous, and how to reject it. By explaining porn in a developmentally appropriate way (found in the book), young kids are able to porn-proof their own brains. If having this conversation is making you feel nervous, remember that professionals actually encourage parents to have this talk with their children. Avoiding the subject will only lead your children to satisfy their curiosity by searching elsewhere!

You may choose to discuss some of the false content portrayed in pornographic material (such as lack of respect and consent, violence, and dangerous sexual practices) to help them understand why you are concerned about them viewing it. Talking about these feelings will help them understand that this is for their protection and not just another rule you wish to impose upon them.

Then help them prepare for the future. Ask them what they could do if someone tries to show them pornography again and let them suggest options. Discourage them from seeking it out and encourage them to come to you with further questions. Explain that you will put protection up to help avoid further exposure in your home (through parental controls on smartphones, TVs, computers, blocking certain sites, installing filters, etc). You can even work with your child to find ways to protect against pornography! Your children might surprise you by agreeing with or even suggesting certain ‘house rules’, such as not deliberately visiting these sites, avoiding searches with potentially dangerous keywords, using devices in open areas at home and not behind closed doors, being offline by a particular time of night, no sleepovers, keeping phones in mom and dad’s room at night, etc. Together come up with consequences, and then as the parent, enforce the rules.

Okay so at what age do I do this?

This will depend on you. There is no hard and fast rule. Devorah Heitner, author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World, says parents can talk about potential issues as early as third grade, because even the youngest children can pretty easily find things like pornography online. I know several families who have this chat as early as eight years old. Basically, follow your gut. If you are thinking about this already, there is probably a reason! And remember my final suggestion from Part 1 of this post, to make this an ongoing conversation. Let your children know that you are always available and willing to continue the discussion, and encourage them to come to you before looking elsewhere. And as they grow and progress developmentally, I invite you to tailor this same conversation to their understanding.

No one looks forward to having the pornography chat with their children. But you must have this conversation in order to protect and prepare them. If you still have questions or concerns after reading this series on talking with children about porn, please feel free to contact me! Please remember–pornography is not just a male or an adult problem, it is a human problem. The children in your life need protection from pornography. They need to understand what it is, why it is harmful, and have a plan when they see it. And they need to have our support through loving, mentoring relationships, and know that we will be there for them when (not if!) they see porn. Keep it short. Be honest. Try to make it part of an ongoing and open discussion about sexuality and sexual development. Let’s have the wisdom, courage, and compassion to face this problem head on so that our youth will not have to face it alone.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

How to Talk to Your Child About Porn, Part I

How to Talk to Your Child About Porn, Part I - Cluff Counselingn - Lewisville Therapist

How to Talk to Your Child About Porn, Part I - Cluff Counselingn - Lewisville Therapist“For some reason, we don’t talk very much to youth and children about one of the strongest urges and biggest temptations they will face. Our reluctance sets them up to be taught primarily by the internet, other children or teenagers, or even Hollywood.” -Joy D Jones

Children are now learning to use electronic devices at a very young age, and often stumble upon inappropriate pictures or videos. Like many others, you may be caught off guard and be quite surprised by how early in your child’s life this happens. Upon entering puberty, pre-teens may be curious about sex and sexuality as their brain, body, and hormones change. Your children may hear things in the playground or at a friend’s house. Inevitably, they will want to know more and asking Mom or Dad about sex can be embarrassing. You can be ready for this conversation by preparing some talking points and by creating an environment of open communication in your home. You will be grateful you did so!

Last month, I posted about how women can also fall prey to the temptations of pornography. Pornography is not just a male problem, it is a human problem. Knowing that women and girls are just as susceptible creates more of a sense of urgency to combat the pervasive nature of pornography. Your children will see porn; it is a matter of when not if. My wish with this post is to help you prepare for when you talk with your daughter or son about avoiding pornography. I know it seems like a daunting, horrible thing to talk about, and you may want to put it off as long as possible, but I urge you to read the following points and mindfully consider what will be best for your child(ren):

  1. Build trust. Your child needs to know that he/she can count on you to talk about the hard things and that your love is unconditional. It is impossible to have influence when there is no trust. Invest time in your relationship with your child to help them feel loved and accepted. Not only will discussions about sexual matters be more effective when you have a trusting relationship with your child, but they will feel safe coming to you with sensitive questions.
  2. Talk about it sooner rather than later. Kids are curious. Be the one to teach your children. If you do not, the Internet, Hollywood, or their friends will do it for you (and who knows how good of a job they will do)!
  3. Prepare for it now. This might entail talking with other moms, reading the latest research, contacting a reputable therapist for guidance, or conversing with your spouse/partner–whatever it is, plan and prepare today for this conversation with your children. It needs to be done correctly or else they may feel shame, guilt, or heightened curiosity–which could lead to further (and maybe secretive) internet searches.
  4. Explain why porn is problematic. For some families, this might include religious convictions. But regardless of your religious views, we can all agree that pornography depicts erotic material unsuitable for young children. It is imperative to help your child understand that explicit material is literally harmful for the developing brain (as taught by Kristen Jenson in Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr.: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds), and that it can lead to unrealistic expectations of oneself, unhealthy relationships with others, and even addiction.
  5. Teach that porn is inaccurate. Children (and adults) need to be reminded that porn stars get plastic surgery, that sex depicted in porn is unrealistic, and that the high porn gives is temporary at best. Having a frank conversation about the mechanics of sex will lead you perfectly into the realities (and fallacies) of pornography. Educate your children on the male vs. female sexual response, and teach them that pornography is a literal production and not a true representative of typical sexual encounters. If you have not yet done so, this may be an advantageous time to talk about masturbation as well.
  6. Treat pornography the same for your daughter as you would your son. Whatever pointers/rules/guidelines/lessons/lectures/rules you have in place for your son, they need to be the exact same for your daughter!  Use the same protective measures with your daughter as you do with your son. Help them to develop an “internal filter” against pornography from an early age by teaching them what pornography is, why it is harmful, and how to reject it with a plan when they are exposed to it.
  7. Teach them (especially daughters) that their worth is more than skin deep. Society will teach your children–daughters especially–that their outward appearance is what really matters, and pornography definitely builds on that. Your children need to know that their worth is so much deeper than what they see in the mirror. Compliment them on their accomplishments or character traits as much or more than their appearance. As I stated in point four, porn stars are not meant to look real; many of their bodies are surgically, hormonally, and photographically enhanced. No one should expect–or expect others–to look that way!
  8. What do I do if my child comes to me with a pornography problem?  It is incredibly difficult to have a child confess a pornography problem. But the very best advice I can offer is to remain emotionally neutral. It is critically important that you not become unglued in front of your child, as this will increase their shame as well as make them less likely to listen and open up to you in the future. Be encouraging and supportive. Remember, porn is the enemy, not your child!
  9. Make it an ongoing conversation. Help them know that while the topics of sex, pornography, or masturbation are certainly not easy things to discuss, that you are always available to talk with them. Teach them that your chat is not a one-time occurrence and that you are and will always be a safe place to ask questions!

These nine points are guidelines for you to use as you navigate the when and the how of talking to your children about pornography. Next month I will share part two of this post, which will include specifically what to say to your children, as well as when–what age–to say it.   

Absolutely no one wants to have the pornography chat with their children. But you must have this conversation in order to protect and prepare them. Keep it short. Be honest. Try to make it part of an ongoing and open discussion about sexuality and sexual development. The children in your life need protection from pornography. They need to understand what it is, why it is harmful, and have a plan for when they see it. And they need to have our support through loving, mentoring relationships, and know that we will be there for them when (not if!) they see porn.  Let’s have the wisdom, courage, and compassion to face this problem head on so that our youth will not have to face it alone.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

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Men Are Not the Only Ones Addicted to Porn

Cluff Counseling - Men Are Not the Only Ones Addicted to Porn - Denton Therapist

Cluff Counseling - Men Are Not the Only Ones Addicted to Porn - Denton TherapistOne study found that 76% of females, between the ages of 18 to 30 years old, watch pornographic material. Although we may most commonly hear about men being addicted to pornography, women can be as well. Because the stereotypical porn addict is a man, women tend to feel shame and isolation when they “go against the norm” and become addicted to pornography. No one is exempt from falling prey to addiction–especially when pornography is so easily accessible!

There are many myths circulating about pornography usage. First is the myth that it is an accepted societal norm that men view pornography.  Second, is the idea that women do not view porn. Think about a movie where you see a girl deleting her browsing history as her boyfriend walks in the door…or a scene when a woman is caught with stacks of porn magazines under her mattress. If you are unable to think of such a scene, it is because men are the ones depicted as being hooked on pornography. Not women.

A recent German sex study showed that women are just as easily at risk of becoming dependent upon porn as men. In fact, one study reports that half of young adult women agree that viewing pornography is acceptable; a 1/3 of these young women reported using porn regularly.

The truth is that pornography is highly addictive. It truly is like a drug. It has a chemical effect on the brain that first leads to compulsion and then addiction. Substances like cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs bring foreign chemicals into the body (whether it is sniffed, injected, drunk from a glass, lit on fire and smoked, etc). Behavioral addictions, like gambling and viewing porn, bring no new chemicals or substances into the body, but achieve the same effect: the brain releasing dopamine, resulting in a temporary high.

Fight the New Drug–a website dedicated to increasing awareness and providing a community for healing from pornography addiction–gives the best example of what pornography is and does to the brain:

“Porn is basically sexual junk food. When a person is looking at porn, their brain is fooled into pumping out dopamine just as if they really were seeing a potential mate. Sure, filling your brain with feel-good chemicals might sound like a great idea at first, but just like with junk food, it’s more dangerous than it seems.”

Pornography appeals to one of our primary human needsthe need to belong and connect. Because of this, both men AND women are at risk. One article cautioned readers that thinking only men are pulled into viewing pornography is ignorance. Yes, porn has been criticized for hooking males with its focus on and objectification of female bodies. But there are, in fact, women viewers of pornography.  Pornography leaves no one exempt–men and women alike. The truth is that pornography is incredibly addictive–to anyone finding him- or herself in its wake.

According to several studies, men prefer watching visual erotica (pictures and movies) and women prefer actually engaging in interactive erotica (chat rooms, social media sites featuring explicit material, and webcams). Whatever its form, pornography not only impacts the brain–making its user need more and more all the more frequently–but it also harms the user’s attitudes and perception about real life sex, intimacy, and relationships. Pornography may negatively influence a woman in the following ways:

  • Unrealistic expectations around sexual behaviors and performance.
  • Reduced intimacy with real-life partners.
  • Personal sense of inadequacy.
  • Lowered self-esteem.

The excessive use of pornography can even affect a woman’s relationships with herself. One woman reported that she felt cheap, dirty, useless, insignificant, and unworthy of love or belonging. When she reached out asking for help as a 15 year-old girl, her adult-confidant did not believe someone as young and innocent as her could have such a problem. No one believed that she had a pornography addiction and needed help. She was a slave to her addiction for five more years, endlessly trying and failing to conquer her addiction on her own. She eventually reached a point of such deep self-loathing that she nearly tried to end her own life.

Most addicts strive day and night to keep their addiction a secret. It becomes an endless quest to feed the addiction while simultaneously living a double life. This is tiresome, unfulfilling, and–in the end–useless. Most of the men and women I work with know their addiction is unhealthy and want help to overcome it. While they once may have thought that viewing a little pornography would be liberating and fun, they soon find themselves a captive to its grasp. They wind up isolated, unhappy, and unsatisfied–it is a downward spiral. The only thing that is truly liberating is breaking free from addiction.

Tell somebody.

Begin breaking free by thinking of someone you trust or admire. Tell him or her what you are struggling with. It will be difficult, but having a trusted person on your side will help you not feel so alone.

Ask for help.

Next, ask a trusted friend to be your accountable buddy. Ask them if you could reach out to them when you are close to acting out, or give them permission to periodically ask how you are doing in regards to pornography. Researching and then making an appointment with a therapist is another way you can ask for help. Sometimes, just having someone else on your team–and not shouldering the burden of addiction alone–makes all the difference.

If you are a woman battling a pornography addiction, you are not alone. This is not a battle that only men face! I am here to tell you that addiction is addiction, and anyone can become addicted to the addictive, prevalent “substance” that is pornography. Anyone! Along with there being an increased awareness of this addiction, there is also help more readily available for all–male or female, child or adult.

Your sex life, virtual or physical, is one of the most intimate aspects of who you are. By opening yourself up to a new level of scrutiny, you will also open yourself up to new levels of freedom, healing, and grace. Addiction recovery is not an easy road. (In fact, I would dare to say that the only easy road is the one where you give up and stop trying.) But you are bigger and better than that! Yes, your addiction may feel stifling, but your will-power to overcome it, coupled with counseling from an experienced therapist, is stronger than even the strongest porn out there. Hope and healing is available today, now. Contact me or click here to schedule a session.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Teen Mental Health: Recognize It, Talk About It, Care For It

Teen Mental Health - Cluff Counseling, Carrollton Therapist

Teen Mental Health - Cluff Counseling, Carrollton Therapist1 in 5 teens lives with a mental health condition and less than half are receiving the support he/she needs. The fear of discrimination and being viewed as different by their friends and peers is a large barrier to young people receiving mental health services. Learn the warning signs and be aware of your teen’s mental health.

When you ask a child or teen about mental health, often they will not know how to answer or will not want to talk about it. This may not seem like a big deal, but considering the staggering statistic of 1 in 5 teens living with a mental illness, this is something we must face. We need to be talking about it with our youth! We need to be mindful of the signs and symptoms so we can recognize if/when something may be awry.

One of my good friends of many years recently told me about an interesting conversation she had with her parents.  This friend of mine had suffered abuse as a child and ensuing mental health issues that landed her in a treatment center in our twenties. She told me her dad admitted to recognizing a big warning sign in his teenage daughter–a lack of range of emotions. My friend always feigned happiness. She pretended like everything was okay. Because she was such a good actress, everyone fell for it, me included. Her dad wisely said, “Children and teens are supposed to feel and exhibit a wide range of emotions. If a child is consistently only displaying one emotion, there is a problem.”

Hindsight is 20/20 for these parents. They wish they would have seen the signs. Thankfully there has been enough experience and research done to give you and I a fairly comprehensive list of criteria to be aware of. The following are warning signs of mental illness to watch out for in your child or teen:

  1. Feeling very sad or withdrawn for two or more weeks
  2. Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
  3. Intense worries or fears that gets in the way of daily activities
  4. Sudden, overwhelming fear for no reason
  5. Dramatic changes in behavior (ie. if your once-ambitious or strong willed child suddenly loses desire to participate in activities he/she once did and/or is lethargic or empathetic)
  6. Plans or attempts at self-harm, or to harm others.
  7. Drastic changes in behavior, personality, sleeping, and/or eating habits
  8. Not eating, throwing up, or using laxatives to lose weight
  9. Significant weight loss or weight gain
  10. Severe out-of-control risk taking behavior that could cause harm to oneself or others
  11. Repeated use of drugs or alcohol
  12. Extreme difficulty concentrating or staying still
  13. Adrenaline rushes, cold sweats, and/or panic attacks

If you see these signs in your child or teen, tell someone you trust. Ask for help. A diagnosis of a mental health disorder will not define who your child is or their value. They can live a full life with their mental health struggles.

The best advice I can give to someone who has kids–especially teens–is to be aware of their mental health.  Remember, mental health is a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being. Children and teens are our most vulnerable and innocent population. Watch for changes in them.  Do not be afraid to ask questions.  Get in their business. Let them know you care about and are there for them. Adolescents fear of discrimination and being viewed as different by their friends and peers is a large barrier to seeking mental health services. Not talking about mental health increases the stigma around mental health; the fewer conversations we have about mental health conditions, the more these negative perceptions endure!

I hope that learning about these warning signs educates and helps you. Many adolescents  struggle with their mental health, but do not understand what is happening to them or have the words to reach out. We must be there for them! Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns you may have. If a child or teen you know is experiencing one or more of these signs, talk with their parents immediately. Help with mental health is widely available and my door is always open. Please contact me today or click here to schedule a session.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

When Addiction Raises Your Child

When Addiction Raises Your Child - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville Therapist

When Addiction Raises Your Child - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville TherapistAccording to The US Department of Health and Human Services, more than 8.3 million children currently live in a household where at least one parent is addicted to alcohol or drugs. Do those children notice their parents’ addiction? How does it affect them?

Addiction comes in all sizes and severities. There are addictions to substances like alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs and illegal drugs (heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, PCP/angel dust, hallucinogens, etc); there are impulse control disorders like kleptomania, pyromania, and gambling; and then there are behavioral addictions to food, sex, pornography, video games, smartphones, working, exercising, spirituality, cutting, shopping, etc. Because addictive behaviors are often done in isolation, the impacts of the behaviors, to loved ones, are often thought to be minimal.

Due to the many faces of addiction, its impacts can vary greatly. For example, a mother may physically leave her home to frequent bars, clubs, hotels, casinos; as a result, her children may suffer from neglect or abuse by her or others. Other addictions can take place at home and do not require a physical absence–like the father who abuses substances or gets involved in pornography/sex addiction from home. In such cases, his children may inadvertently experience psychological or emotional absence that can cause relational issues later in life. Depending on the age(s) of the child(ren), they may miss out on/not learn important things like how to brush their teeth or take care of their personal hygiene, table manners, stress management, problem solving, communication, how to make/keep friends, conflict resolution, etc. One woman, a new mom, recently told me she is not familiar with any nursery songs to sing to her daughter because she was never sung to herself.

This same woman shared with me the consequences she experienced of having a mother who was addicted to prescription pain medications. She said, “It was terrifying. Every day I dreaded coming home from school because I was afraid my mom would be passed out or dead on the bathroom floor. I was young–maybe third or fourth grade?–but I knew something was seriously wrong. I felt powerless. In order to feel like I had some semblance of control over my life, I formed OCD behaviors; I started pulling out all my eyelashes and even patches of hair off the top of my head. I even resorted to bullying a nice girl in my neighborhood! Eventually, the girl’s mother told my mom and I was put in therapy.” My heart goes out to this woman, as well as the other adult children of addicts whose stories I hear.

The real-life example above illustrates how children–even when they do not fully understand their parent’s addiction–feel its effects, and behaviorally act out their confusion and pain. They may wind up bullying, self-harming, or practicing OCD behaviors (obsessive-compulsive disorders) like cutting, eating disorders, etc. Many of these children go on to distrust authority figures, have commitment issues, and may wind up facing addiction themselves. Although these behaviors are often maladaptive, they are simply the way the child copes and tries to take care of him/herself. It is important that teachers, mentors and other adult family members recognize these as such, instead of punishing the child, and help them learn adaptive ways of coping (watch for a future blog post on specific ways you can help!).

If you are battling addiction, please remember–there is help! Just recently, I posted about the possibility of relying on a support animal through addiction and/or trauma. Not long before that I went into detail on support groups and group therapy which is accessible nationwide. And last summer, I posted about the benefits of therapy in general. The truth is, help is out there. In fact, it is readily available if you make (and follow through with) your decision to get help. So please, I urge you to contact me or schedule a session–not just for your own sake, but also for your family’s.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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