Category: troubled teenager

Animals that make good therapy pets

Animals that make good therapy pets

An amazing variety of creatures make good therapy animals:  dogs, cats, “pocket pets” like ferrets, birds, and reptiles are therapeutic for children who struggle with any disability:  physical, behavioral, and developmental. A calm smiling dog, an affectionate cat, or a small pet a child can hold is a great therapist. The right therapy animal offers unconditional love and affection, and the ideal animal makes your child feel special.  Measurable benefits have been seen with many creatures “ranging from dogs, cats, birds, and fish to goats and snakes.”

If you are considering therapy pet, strategically pick the right animal.

When identifying a pet, monitor your child’s interactions when they are first introduced to the creature. Be honest with yourself, the therapy animal you think is best may not be the best for your child. Hyperactive and barking dogs, aloof or mean cats, fearful hamsters, and noisy birds don’t work and can be outright stressful. Pay attention—people are often unaware how much stress a fussy pet causes with distractions and chaos.

What is the right animal?

  • The animal’s natural manner fits your child’s emotional needs.
    • Quiet–if your child easily experiences sensory overload;
    • Soft, active, or affectionate–traits that help a withdrawn or anxious child;
    • Interactive–if your child needs to maintain interest or needs attention: a bird that speaks, or a dog that follows instructions;
  • The animal likes to be with your child for long periods. The animal has a preference for your child.
  • Your child is able to treat the pet humanely. (Animals can be abused consciously or unconsciously by troubled children.)
  • You appreciate the animal too and aren’t concerned about mess, smell, hair, or feathers in your home. You should consider yourself the one responsible for its care. This pet is a therapist first, and not a lesson in responsibility. Your child can learn responsibility another way.
  • The child’s pet should still be welcome and cared for if it doesn’t work out for your child. If it’s not wanted, consider a rescue shelter or humane society that can find a caring owner.

Dogs

Most people are familiar with therapy dogs. Their natural affinity with humans is the reason why dogs are the most popular of pets.  And research shows dogs reduce depression and anxiety.  If you are interested in getting a puppy to train as a therapy animal, you can find instructions on how to train certified therapy dogs, and pick up tips for training your dog to fit your home.  (Real certified dogs need significantly more training so they can trusted in nursing homes, hospitals, and schools.) “How to train a therapy dog”

Birds

The parrots and parrot-like or hooked beak birds are smart and can have marvelous personalities.  They will affectionately bond with their owner for life. These colorful birds can be trained to perch on a finger or shoulder and spend time with people, other birds, even dogs and cats! The best low-cost option is a parakeet, a low maintenance, happy chirpy creature, easily tamed, and easily trained to talk.

“Patients hold and stroke cockatiels so tame that they often fall asleep in a human lap.” Maureen Horton, the founder of “On a Wing and a Prayer” tells of “non-responsive patients in wheelchairs who suddenly begin speaking again while petting a cockatiel as their relatives weep at the transformation.” She described bringing her birds to visit a group of violent teenage delinquents who clamored to touch a cockatoo named Bela. “For a few minutes,” Horton says, “these hardened criminals became children again.”
— “On a Wing and a Prayer,” a pet-assisted therapy program, uses birds to visit patients.” Connie Cronley, Tulsapeople.com

Fish

Fish can’t be held, but few things beat the visual delight and serenity of a beautiful aquarium.  Fish have personalities and form interactive communities in a tank, which are fun to watch, and individuals are fun to name. There is a reason aquariums are common in waiting rooms and clinics, lobbies, and hospitals.  They help people relax and calmly pass the time.

“Pocket pets”

Little mammals that like to be cuddled and carried around, often in pockets, are good therapy:  ferrets, mice, rats, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, and very small dogs. It is best to select a young animal that is calm and won’t bite, and handle it gently and often so that it becomes accustomed to being held. Challenges with many pocket pets include running away or escaping their enclosures, urine smell, and unwanted breeding. As the main caretaker, you will want to be comfortable with their needs.

Reptiles

Snakes and lizards are also excellent pets and demand little attention, and they are readily accepted by children. My bearded dragon, Spike, comes with me to my support groups. Dragons are a very docile species–safe with young children and popular with teens and parents. Other good species are iguanas, and geckos.

“I’d have to say my Leopard Gecko Mindy is very much therapy for me. She really is my therapy lizard, she wants to sit with me when I’m upset and tolerates me, which even my two dogs and cat won’t. She’ll just find a place on me and curl up and be like “I’m here, I won’t leave you.””
–User name “Midori”, Herp Center Network

Horses

Properly trained horses are extraordinarily healing. certified horse therapy programs are considered medically effective treatment and often covered by health insurance. Horses benefit disabled children and teens across the board: those with physical disabilities such as paralysis and loss of limbs, mental/cognitive disabilities such as development disabilities and retardation, and children with mental and behavioral disorders. The horses are selected for their demeanor and trained to reliably respond appropriately to children who may misbehave. Therapists are specially trained also to collaborate with the horse as a team. Horses have a “large” serenity and a lack of concern with the child’s behavior. They are also intelligent and interactive like dogs, provide a warm soft hide to lean on, and they empower their riders. A child on a horse will connect with the animal’s rhythmic bodily movement, which stimulates the physical senses and keeps the child physically and mentally balanced. According to parents and children in these programs, horses change lives.  New research proves horses are genuinely effective:  Study Suggests That Equine Therapy is Effective.

–Margaret

How has your child’s pet improved mental health?
Your comments help others who read this article.


The science behind animal therapy

Are dogs man’s best therapist?
Psychiatric Times. H. Steven Moffic, MD. February 29, 2012

Note: this is an excellent article by a psychiatrist who moved from disbelief to belief that dogs have a genuine therapeutic value, healing some of the most psychiatrically challenging children. http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/blog/moffic/content/article/10168/2040421


Children’s best friend, dogs help autistic children adapt (summary)
Journal: Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2011, Universite de Montreal

Dogs may not only be man’s best friend, they may also have a special role in the lives of children with special needs. According to a new study, specifically trained service dogs can help reduce the anxiety and enhance the socialization skills of children with Autism Syndrome Disorders (ASDs). The findings may lead to a relatively simple solution to help affected children and their families cope with these challenging disorders.

“Our findings showed that the dogs had a clear impact on the children’s stress hormone levels,” says Sonia Lupien, senior researcher and a professor at the Université de Montréal Department of Psychiatry and Director of the Centre for Studies on Human Stress at Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital, “I have not seen such a dramatic effect before.”


Pet therapy: how animals and humans heal each other. (summary)
by Julie Rovner, March 5, 2012, National Public Radio

“A growing body of scientific research is showing that our pets can make us healthy, or healthier. “That helps explain the increasing use of animals — dogs and cats mostly, but also birds, fish and even horses — in settings ranging from hospitals and nursing homes to schools, jails and mental institutions.”

“In the late 1970s that researchers started to uncover the scientific underpinnings animal therapy. One of the earliest studies, published in 1980, found that heart attack patients who owned pets lived longer than those who didn’t. Another early study found that petting one’s own dog could reduce blood pressure.

“More recently, says Rebecca Johnson, a nurse who heads the Research Center for Human/Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, studies have been focusing on the fact that interacting with animals can increase people’s level of the hormone oxytocin. “That is very beneficial for us,” says Johnson. “Oxytocin helps us feel happy and trusting.” Which, Johnson says, may be one of the ways that humans bond with their animals over time.”


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What to do about screaming teenagers

What to do about screaming teenagers

When their screaming starts, you brace yourself.  You armor your gut to protect it from the verbal pummeling.  Their cruel words pierce your heart.  When it’s over, you want to strangle them or abandon them in a wilderness.  In his  play, King Lear, William Shakespeare wrote, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!”  That was 500 years ago and little has changed.

BUT THIS WILL PASS.  Your teen will quiet down and apologize someday… it may take a few years, but someday.  Until that bright day, remember that you’re tough enough to take it, and tough enough to persevere in the face of high drama and lots of noise.  You are not failing as a parent, but proving you care enough to be a good parent.  Paradoxically, your screamer appreciates your engagement because it’s reassuring to them.  Screaming teens are horribly insecure, and need you to prove you care for them.  This isn’t rational, or fair, but don’t take the screaming personally.  And don’t take it seriously unless the behavior is new or out-of-character, or unless your screamer makes threats of harm.

Difficult teenagers are inconsistent, irrational, insensitive to others, self-centered, childish and…  should I go on?  It may have nothing to do with a disorder per se.   Screaming teens are as normal as screaming babies.  Regard their screaming as you would a toddler temper tantrum.  It is a phase that most teens grow out of unless something else is holding them back.

The way to handle a screaming teenager is to handle yourself first, because you are the king or queen, holder of all power in the parent-child relationship, and you must use your power wisely.  Don’t scream back. Don’t reward screaming by losing your cool. Don’t get hooked.

When the screaming starts, do a personal check-in on your thoughts and feelings

How am I doing?
I am handling it.  This isn’t as serious as it seems.  It’ll be over in less than 10 minutes.

How am I feeling?
I choose how to feel and I won’t let this bother me.  I will rise to the occasion and come out stronger.

What are my options?
I will be persistent until I regain power over our household.  I will live within my values.  I will take care of myself when it becomes stressful.

Keep your expectations realistic

  • You don’t need to be in total control, just one step ahead of your teen.
  • Be prepared for screaming to worsen before it gets better.
  • If you get an apology, accept it, even a weak apology.
  • Don’t expect to hear that they love you, or that they appreciate what you’ve done for them.
  • They will not give you credit for being the good parent you are, yet.

Two simple demands:
1. lower the volume,
2. clean up the language.

Set the boundary on the loudness of screaming and the use of mean-spirited, foul language.  Remind your teen that it’s OK to be angry; it’s not OK to assault with screaming and ugliness.  Give them an example of what you’d rather hear, for example:  “You are not being fair to me;”  or “Don’t say that about my friends…”

If they can’t communicate themselves in a straightforward non-screaming manner, then restate what you think they mean, using different words so they know you got their message: “You think I’m being unfair to you,”  “You don’t like me criticizing your friends.”  Ask them if you are correct.  Make it clear you got the message even if you disagree with them.  It becomes awkward to scream once you’ve shown you heard them.  It will take them off guard as they think of some other thing  to be upset at you about.

Until a teen can manage basic communication with you, they are not ready to discuss the substance of their complaint.  Make a sincere effort to look deeper and try to understand what’s bothering them.  You will often get this horribly wrong and upset your teen immeasurably, but they will realize on some level that you are aware of  their deep pain and seething rage… and feel more secure.

This mother should be texting her daughter instead

Use technology and avoid screaming altogether.   Get on your cell phone and text your child, or use email.  This works surprisingly well because you’ve entered their virtual world where they feel safe from your presence, and have time to contemplate and cool off.  Writing/texting is slower, and that’s the point.  Therapists often direct feuding parents and children to communicate only by email for a while.

Listen to what they need and feel, not to what they say.

Most teens have similar needs: to feel heard, to be loved, to make one’s own choices.  Take these away and you have an angry screaming teenager.  But teens also struggle with emotional distress:  family instability, problem with a love interest, or something else they don’t want to share with you because they’re afraid of how you’ll react.  Teenage years are emotional hell, remember?  Ugly rumors on social sites, bullying, grade worries, frets over appearances… would you want to go through your teens again?  Does the thought make you want to scream?

A teenager may be a screamer because of genuine physical discomforts.  Physical things make people irritable, and teens more so:  lack of sleep, dehydration, lack of exercise; excessive sugar and fat; constipation; the monthly period.  A change in the length of daylight affects mood, whether going into the spring or into the fall.  Don’t forget to assess the home environment.  Has there been a significant change in family life?  a traumatic event?  Always consider drug and alcohol use.  If their behavior is unusually or uncharacteristically aggressive or violent, or if it’s changed for the worst recently, get a urinalysis and look for methamphetamine or marijuana. UA kits are available at drug stores or online.  Go through a  medical diagnostic checklist when the misbehavior starts.  Sometimes a few glasses of water is all your teen needs to become human again.  Have a glass yourself.

What if you, the screamee, are the problem?  Are you too strict?  lenient?  picky?  Do you nag without realizing it?  You might be the one who needs to change.  If so, admit when you’re wrong and be the first to apologize and set the good example.  My first apology to a recalcitrant child was awkward and defensive, but I had to swallow my pride and apologize for something I said.  Over time, it got easier, and apologies happened normally and easily in the family.

Self care, find a way to let yourself down easy

Leave people and chores behind for a while, go scream in a pillow, and pull yourself together.  Talk to someone who can listen or provide a point of view that’s helpful.  Set aside a dollar after every screaming fit, and treat yourself to something special later.  Let your screamer know that you’re looking forward to their next screaming episode so you can save more and get something nice.

Humor heals

Don’t forget to laugh.  Any parent who’s survived the teenage years will understand that we all need a sense of humor.  It may be a little twisted, but I find these bumper stickers funny.

“Mothers of teenagers know why some animals eat their young.”

“Grandchildren are God’s reward for not killing your own children.”

“Few things are more satisfying than seeing your children have teenagers of their own.”

 

Do you like this article?  Please rate it at the top, thanks!

–Margaret

Don’t let siblings lose their childhood

Don’t let siblings lose their childhood

Siblings suffer when a brother’s or sister’s chronically severe behavior overwhelms the family.  Usually parents are too stressed and exhausted to give them attention.  Their needs are overlooked because their brother or sister demands so much.  ‘Normal’ siblings can be very negatively affected and start to have trouble in school, troubled behavior of their own, and emotional scars that affect them in the future.

It’s easy to see how siblings are affected, but there’s little information on how to raise well-adjusted siblings in a home with a troubled child.  On the one hand, they need to be kids with plenty of love, support, and opportunity.  On the other hand, siblings also need to be part of a family team when there’s a crisis.  They can’t avoid being involved!  I found it necessary to coach the siblings on precisely what to do, with the promise they could be a kid afterwards.  I found it necessary to normalize our peculiar family situation to them.  We were a ‘normal’ family for families like us.

The Siblings’ Bill of Rights

  1. The right to our own life outside the family
  2. The right to have our own concerns acknowledged
  3. The right not to be “perfect” to compensate for our troubled sister or brother
  4. The right to be treated as fairly as our troubled sister or brother
  5. The right to a safe environment
  6. The right to have our own friends and spend time with them
  7. The right to helpful information about our troubled sibling
  8. The right to be supported in our choice of future, and to pursue our future without continually caring for our troubled brother or sister
  9. The right to one-on-one time with our parents-caregivers
  10. The right to have our achievements and milestones celebrated
  11. The right to have our needs and opinions included in our sibling’s treatment plans.

From the Sibling Support Project – a national effort dedicated to the life-long concerns of brothers and sisters of people who have special health, developmental, or mental health concerns.  http://www.siblingsupport.org/

 

Find ample time to put the siblings first.  You cannot let your difficult child rob them of their childhood, their need to grow and be social and do well in school.  Your other children will be part of their brother’s or sister’s life forever, and they will need to be strong and supportive when the troubled one needs help as an adult.  To the parent or caregiver, this is for you:

“Most siblings of people with psychiatric disorders find that mental illness in a brother or sister is a tragic event that changes everyone’s life.  Strange, unpredictable behaviors in a loved one can be devastating, and your anxiety can be high as you struggle with each episode of illness and worry about the future.  It seems impossible at first, but most siblings find that over time they do gain the knowledge and skills to cope with mental illness effectively.  They do have strengths they never knew they had, and they can meet situations they never even anticipated.”
— National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) July 3, 2001  www.nami.org

Sibling quotes – I once asked several young people about their experience living with a brother or sister with a mental disorder, and this is what they said:

“I escaped, I left in my mind.  I wouldn’t let anything bother me.  I dropped compassion and pretended nothing happened, I tried to forget about my family.”  Her sister was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder at age 15.

“All I did was tried to get away when she blew out.  Then I got jealous of all the time my parents spent on her and not the rest of us.  Now I just let them handle it and I take my younger sisters away to protect them but they still hear the noise so I help them feel safe, but it’s hard sometimes.”  Her sister was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 9.

“To me, it was a death.  The brother I knew and who was so much like me in so many ways had died, and I didn’t know who this person was who was living in my house anymore.”  His brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 18.

Share these messages with your other children. They will probably help them learn to live with or accept their troubled brother or sister:

  • “You cannot cure a mental disorder for a sibling.
  • No one is to blame for the illness.
  • No one knows the future; your sibling’s symptoms may get worse or they may improve, regardless of your efforts.
  • If you feel extreme resentment, you are giving too much.
  • It is as hard for the sibling to accept the disorder as it is for you.
  • Separate the person from the disorder.
  • It is not OK for you to be neglected.  You have emotional needs and wants, too.  The needs of the ill person do not always come first
  • The illness of a family member is nothing to be ashamed of.
  • You may have to revise your expectations of your sibling.  They may never be ‘normal’ but it’s OK.
  • Acknowledge the remarkable courage your sibling may show when dealing with a mental disorder.  Have compassion, they suffer and face a difficult life.
  • Strange behavior is a symptom of the disorder.  Don’t take it personally.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your sibling if he or she is thinking about hurting him or herself.  Suicide is real.
  • If you can’t care for yourself, you can’t care for another.
  • It is important to have boundaries and to set clear limits.  You should expect your sibling to show respect for others.
  • It is natural to experience many and confusing emotions such as grief, guilt, fear, anger, sadness, hurt, confusion, and more.  You, not the ill person, are responsible for your own feelings.
  • You are not alone.  Sharing your thoughts and feelings in a support group has been helpful and enlightening for many.
  • Eventually you may see the silver lining in the storm clouds: your own increased awareness, sensitivity, receptivity, compassion, and maturity.  You may become less judgmental and self-centered, a better person.”

Excerpted from “Coping Tips for Siblings and Adult Children of Persons with Mental Illness.”  NAMI, 2001, www.nami.org