Raising Confident Girls

by Melissa Skinner, M.A., LCPC

Around the end of middle school or early adolescence (ages 9-13) is when there is a drop in many teenage girls self esteem. Although boys may also struggle at this time, they do not experience the drop of confidence to the same degree that girls do. How do we understand this gender confidence gap which begins so early on? There are likely numerous factors which impact the self esteem of young girls, including puberty, cultural influences, classroom cultures and family dynamics.

As parents the one area that we can control, are the relationships and dynamics that exist in our homes. Often times parents and teachers will inadvertently encourage girls to be perfectionist, to avoid mistakes and ultimately to take fewer risks.  At school, teachers count on girls to be the ones that are well behaved, following the rules and not causing any problems. At the same time it’s almost expected and somewhat accepted, that boys will push the boundaries more and step outside the lines. At home similar expectations may be subtly reinforced.

Perfectionism ultimately creates a lack of self esteem. Eventually girls realize they cannot do everything perfectly, but rather then understand that no one is perfect, they often internalize their mistakes and interpret them as personal failures. Research has shown that when boys make mistakes or do not succeed, they are more likely to blame it on external factors, rather then on a personal shortcoming.

In addition to teen girls struggling with perfectionism, there is also the focus on outward appearance. Girls are at a great disadvantage when they are receiving praise for how they look, rather then for their intelligence or abilities. When a girls confidence is tied to her physical appearance, she becomes more focused on having the “right” clothes, being the “right” weight and measuring up to society’s standards and media supported norms. This results in negative body image and an overall lack of confidence.

How as parents can we help our teenage daughters? One of the most important things is to model good behavior. Mothers have the biggest influence on their daughters body image and relationship to food. It’s important that mother’s not engage in body shaming toward themselves or others. Avoid discussing diets, your own weight or your daughters weight. Comments like “I look so fat in these jeans” sends the wrong message to girls.

For every compliment about your daughters appearance, make two compliments about the things she’s doing well. Emphasize her interests and passions and encourage her to embrace her talents.

Be mindful of your own perfectionism and remind your daughter that there is always room for mistakes. Encourage her to take risks and to try new things, even when she may be afraid to fail.

Be aware of the types of magazines in your house and talk with your daughter about what she’s seeing in the media. Discuss how many of the images are enhanced or improved and not realistic portrayals of women and girls.

Lastly, model for your daughter how women can lift one another up, rather then tear each other down. Speak kindly of other women. Teach your daughter that girls can work together, support each other  and face challenges together.

Melissa Skinner is the founder of Northwest Counseling & Wellness and a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call 872/222/3132

Teenagers with Social Anxiety

by Melissa Skinner, M.A., LCPC

Social Anxiety Disorder is when a person has an irrational and persistent fear of social and performance situations. A person with SA has an overwhelming fear that they will embarrass themselves and that other people will dislike them. SA is the third most common mental health disorder, however many parents are not familiar with the symptoms related to the disorder and often mistakenly assume their teenager is just shy. Unfortunately, because the disorder is often dismissed as shyness, many teenagers live with the disorder throughout adulthood and are never diagnosed.

SA does have an element of shyness, but the difference is in the level of severity. SA pervades every aspect of a persons life. Teenagers may go to great lengths to avoid any and all social or performance situations. They may not be able to leave their house without experiencing extreme anxiety. They may be incapable of performing in school and unable to make friends. Normal activities like walking into the school cafeteria to eat lunch, can create extreme anxiety. Older children with SA are at a greater risk of developing a substance abuse problem, if they start self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. The substance becomes their tool for relaxing and increasing confidence.

The signs and symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder may include:
-Rapid heartbeat
-Shaking or trembling
-Muscle tension
-Social Isolation

The best therapy for Social Anxiety is CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). CBT focuses on changing negative thoughts and behaviors, as well as emotional responses. When treating an adolescent with Social Anxiety, progressive desensitization or exposure therapy is very effective. This treatment involves over the course of therapy, progressively putting the client into the situations that trigger their anxiety and essentially the anxiety is dulled down. This type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is used in conjunction with various relaxation techniques, to manage anxiety levels. An example of a first step in treatment, might be for a teenager to close his or her eyes and imagine walking into the school cafeteria, staying for a few minutes and then leaving. The second time, the teenager might imagine walking into the cafeteria, looking for a seat and sitting down. The exposure occurs in a graded fashion, beginning with mildly or moderately difficult situations. Ultimately the teenager would put him or herself into that actual real life situation, however by that point, the event has hopefully lost its power to trigger anxiety.

For parents there are some simple strategies for helping your teen manage social anxiety. Help them to identify their negative thoughts and restructure them into positive thoughts. For instance, if your child is avoiding a particular situation and confides in you, try re framing their negative self talk. There are so many other potential positive outcomes, so encourage them to entertain these other possibilities. Most often their fear of being scrutinized in public is unfounded and they need the help of an adult to challenge their thinking. Some relaxation techniques to teach your child and even to participate in with them, are deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, exercise, listening to music, stretching, laughing and hugging.

Melissa Skinner is the founder of Northwest Counseling & Wellness and a Licensed Professional Counselor. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call 872/222/3132

How to Manage Grief

by Melissa Skinner, M.A.,LCPC

At some point everyone experiences loss and grief. Although grief is universal, we all do it differently and it is a unique experience for everyone. When we lose someone close to us, the pain and sadness can be very intense. It is not uncommon to feel as though you will never be happy again. It is important to understand that although the grieving process is very painful, dealing with and working through your loss, will enable you to begin to move forward and eventually find peace again.

As a society we do not talk about grief and death, so learning to express your sadness and how you are feeling can be very difficult. Therapy can provide a safe space to express your grief and to receive support for what you are going through. Often in my practice, I see client’s enter therapy thinking they should already be “over it”. I remind my client’s that grief is actually a journey and a process which unfolds in it’s own time. Sometimes not as fast as we’d like.

As a therapist I provide psycho education about grief and normalize the experience of feeling sad and needing to cry. I encourage my client’s to embrace their sadness, despite the intense pain they may feel. As part of the grieving process, I work with client’s on developing a new relationship to the deceased. Honoring rituals can be a good way to do this. Rituals to honor the dead can provide purpose and meaning and serve to connect an individual to something larger then themselves. The rituals can also provide some closure and help a person begin to navigate through the grieving process. Some rituals might include honoring a loved ones birthday or an anniversary, planting a tree in memory of the deceased or making a donation to a specific charity.

Practical ways to manage grief include, taking care of yourself by eating healthy, getting enough sleep and avoiding things that “numb” the pain, such as alcohol. Surrounding yourself with family and friends and allowing yourself the time and space to feel sad, will help you move forward. It is a time to scale back on obligations and focus on your own needs. You may want to explore the option of a grief support group or schedule an appointment with a Professional Therapist.

Melissa Skinner is the founder of Northwest Counseling & Wellness and a Licensed Professional Counselor. Melissa has extensive experience working with individuals and families who are coping with grief and loss. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call 872/222/3132

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