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Sister Power: How sisters improve mental health

Sister Power: How sisters improve mental health

Studio 5 Contributor, Julie Hanks, LCSW with Wasatch Family Therapy has tips to help you tap into the positive power of sisters.

A recent New York Times essay “Why sisterly chats make people happier” by Deborah Tannen caught my eye because I have five, yes, FIVE sisters. I love research that supports what I already know from real-life experience — sisters are important to mental health. Having a sister protects teens against feelings of depression, loneliness, self-consciousness, fear, and being unloved according to Laura Padilla-Walker, head researcher in a recent BYU study.

The positive impact of sisters extends beyond adolescence into adulthood. British researchers Liz Wright and Tony Cassidy found that people who grew up with at least one sister were happier more motivated, had more friends, and were more resilient during difficult times, especially during parental divorce.

Here are some tips for helping your children, sisters AND brothers, develop close, positive relationships with each other during childhood and adolescence so they will continue to support emotional health as adults.

Tips to Help Your Kids Help Each Other

1) Show Affection

Encourage your family to express physical affection, to notice and express positive traits, to increase emotional sensitivity to siblings, and to celebrate other sibling’s successes. Affection is an important aspect that contributes to the positive mental health outcomes among siblings, According to Padilla-Walker, “An absence of affection seems to be a bigger problem than high levels of conflict.”

A-list star Gwenyth Paltrow, and her producer brother, Jake Paltrow are a great example of affectionate siblings raised in a loving home.

2) Express

Emotion

Healthy emotional expression is a crucial component to emotional health. Wright & Cassidy found that in families whose parents divorce, sisters tended to express themselves, and encourage emotional expression in others leading to less distress.

Coach your children to express feelings to their siblings in a non-attacking way. Here’s an excellent tool to help your children communicate their emotion:

I feel (emotion word) when you (other’s specific behavior) because I think (thought) . I would like it if you would (requested behavior) .

Here’s an example: “I feel mad when you take my clothes without asking because I think you don’t respect my privacy. I would like it if you would ask me before you borrow my clothes.”

When single mother Jennifer Child’s daughter was diagnosed with cancer her sisters were her strength.
“I have 2 sisters whose lives CHANGED when my daughter was diagnosed. I was a young single mom, my sisters PULLED me through~ I COULD NOT have made it through without my family. We pulled together and somehow made it through this HORRIFIC time in our life. My sisters are my best friends. I now have 2 daughters, 6 and 7 they are best friends. They do fight like NO OTHER, but love each other as I have seen with my sisters.”

3) Show Kindness

Coach your children to treat each other with respect, thoughtfulness, and kindness. Having a loving sibling of any gender seems to promote kindness and empathy toward others, according to Padilla-Walker. Interestingly, the relationship between positive sibling relationships and good deeds was twice as strong as the relationship between parenting and a child’s good deeds.

Mother of eight children, Andrya Lewis, promotes kindness among her children “by having sleepovers on Friday nights with movies and treats and sleeping bags, by letting siblings tell good news and surprises and

distribute treats to the other siblings, and by verbally interpreting and translating that acts of kindness or service (like sharing a toy, or finding a lost shoe) mean their sibling loves them.”

4) Communicate Often

Tannen’s research found that women talk with sisters more often, at greater length, and about more personal topics than they do with brothers. She concludes that the frequency of contact with sisters, not necessarily the content of the communication, is most important component contributing to the positive impact of having a sister.

Annie Frazier says she checks in with her older sister Jennie Gochnour by text or phone every other day. “It’s not always a big conversation; often it’s just a check in. We share everything and it’s not judged. We have gotten each other through everything – deaths, marriages, and divorce. She’s the only reason I’m not in intensive therapy! I particularly remember one day when we were running together in the early morning. I was going through infertility treatments and hoping to get pregnant – despite the reality of the months of darkness that I knew were around the corner with my postpartum depression. I don’t remember what she said, but I remember what I felt. In her eyes, I could not have been any more wonderful – even though in my eyes, all I saw was failure, sadness and inadequacies. She was my crutch and has carried me along many dark roads that have led to beautiful moments of celebration. She has always been by my side.”

5) Minimize conflict

Set family rules of no name-calling and no physical fighting, and don’t be afraid to intervene in your children’s fights. High levels of sibling conflict is associated with increased risk aggression in other relationships, and increased delinquent behavior, but on the positive side, a little bit of conflict gives siblings a chance to practice emotional control and problem solving skills.

According to Oracne Price, mother to tennis superstar sisters, Venus and Serena Williams, though they are fiercely competitive on the court, her daughters are very close friends.

Do you have a sister? How has she impacted your mental health?

What’s the best age for girls to wear makeup?

I was invited to weigh in on the subject of daughters and makeup for a popular woman’s website SheKnows.com. Having gone through the makeup transition several years ago with my 16 year old daughter, and having dealt with parent child struggles in my therapy practice, I had a few things to say.

“Makeup often represents an adolescent girl’s eagerness and excitement to become a ‘grown up,’ and explore her attractiveness to peers, but for parents, it can bring up fear and stress relating to their child maturing and becoming interested in boys,” says Julie Hanks, a psychotherapist specializing in family relationships. “It may also represent a daughter pulling away from her parents to focus more on peers, which may feel scary for some parents.”

Read the entire SheKnows.com article

Raising an Emotionally Healthy Child: Studio 5

Raising An Emotionally Healthy Child on KSL TV’s Studio 5

Self and Relationship Expert Julie Hanks, LCSW, Owner and Director of Wasatch Family Therapy, shares how you can become your child’s “emotion coach” and help her develop emotional health. Watch the segment online!


As a parent, I find it’s often easier to focus on my children’s physical and external needs (food, shelter, clothing, grooming, education, relationships) than on their emotional needs. As a therapist I understand the crucial role that emotions play in our lives, but when I was a new mom and my own children expressed intense emotions, it was challenging to help them work through it. I tried hard not to shame or to dismiss their emotions, but I also didn’t want their intense emotion to rule my life…or theirs. When I came across the work of Dr. John Gottman and his book Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child several years ago I remember thinking, “This fits with what I intuitively knew about parenting and it describes the parent I want to be!” It provided a framework to help me more effectively help my children understand and express emotions in healthy and productive ways.

 

Why Emotional Intelligence Matters

According to Dr. John Gottman’s research emotionally healthy, emotionally intelligent children are better able to regulate their emotions, calm their heart rate faster after being emotionally upset, had fewer infections, are better at focusing attention, have healthier peer relationships, and perform better academically. The best way to help you children achieve emotional health is to adopt an “emotion coaching” parenting style.

Dr. Gottman’s 5 Steps to Emotion Coaching:

1. Be aware of your child’s emotions

2. View emotional expression as opportunity for teaching and intimacy

3. Listen, empathize, and validate your child’s feelings

4. Label emotions in words your child understands

5. Help your child come up with solution or way to manage emotions

Recommended Parenting Books:

Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman, PhD & Joan Declaire

Parenting From The Inside Out by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell
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Self & Relationship Expert Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW, founder and director of Wasatch Family Therapy, LLC specializes in women’s mental health therapy, marriage counseling and family therapy. Visit www.wasatchfamilytherapy.com to learn more about counseling services, workshops, & classes. Visit HERE for more relationship advice.

Join the discussion by posting comments below (your email will be kept private). I’d love to know your favorite parenting books. What do you do to raise emotionally healthy kids?

Quoted in AOLHealth today on Teens, weight, & depression

A recent study a Penn State suggests that teen girls who think they are overweight but are actually at a healthy weight are more at risk for depression than their overweight peers. I was invited to comment as an “expert” on the topic in an AOLHealth.com article and give suggestions on how parents can help their teens develop healthy body image.

Here’s a link to the article…

Weight & Depression in Teen Girls: Misperception of Weight Leads to Depression

Quoted in MSN.com Article “Recess Rascals”

Quoted by MSN.com “Recess Rascals”

Has your child been picked on? Inevitably, every child goes through being left out or being teased during recess at some point in their school experience. Read this MSN.com Mom’s Homeroom article on “Recess Rascals” for tips on:

How to know when it’s bullying

When bad behavior isn’t so bad

How to know when it’s bullying & what to do (*I’m quoted in this section)

Read “Recess Rascals” HERE

Quoted in E! Online about spoiled kids

I responded to a reported request yesterday for an “expert” to comment on spoiled kids. When I got the questions it was about Suri Cruise’s being seen, at age 4 using an iPad and my comments ended up on E! Online article “She Has an iPad – So is Suri Cruise Spoiled?” Kinda fun.

Read Article HERE

How do you define a “spoiled” kid??? Post your comments below…(email will not be made public)

The Sibling Shuffle: Studio 5

The Sibling Shuffle: Solutions for parenting more than one child

 


As one of nine children in my family of origin, and as the mother of four in my current family, I know all about the pain and the joys of sibling relationships and of the parenting challenges that come along with raising children. Here are some common complaints and dilemmas, and tips for parenting more than one child.

 

Common Complaints From Children To Parents

• That’s not fair!
• You like him/her better!
• How come you let him/her do _____________?
• Why do you baby him/her?
• How come you’re harder on me than the other kids?

Common Parenting Dilemmas

Here are some common family situations that may leave parents wondering how to manage their children’s varying needs:

• One child is dedicated to and involved in a sport, artistic, or academic area that is very time consuming and expensive.
• A child has an illness or disability and requires extra parental attention.
• Many years separate the ages of siblings so they are in different developmental stages.
• Your personality just “clicks” with one child over the others.

Solutions for Parenting More Than One Child:

1 -Focus on meeting needs instead of on fairness

No matter how hard you try to be “fair” among siblings there is really no way to achieve equality. There will be times when parent’s attention will shift slightly toward one child or another depending on each child’s needs. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but an opportunity for the other children to learn life lessons, like empathy and patience. Rather than trying to be fair, focus on meeting each child’s needs at each stage of development.

A wise friend and mother of four, Cori Connors, shared this helpful idea when it comes to parenting many children, “I always told my children they were soup…some need an onion, some need more bullion, some need more salt or a little pepper. If I didn’t taste and adjust according to what was needed it would be yucky soup. You can’t just presume that fine cuisine follows one recipe.”

2-Celebrate each child’s unique qualities

Each child has different talents and strengths that can and should be celebrated. For example, if your family is big on sports and one child is more gifted in art than athletics, be sure to attend his or her art shows and encourage siblings to show their support. If you have a child that is more challenging for you to understand or celebrate, it’s even more important to actively find strengths to celebrate. Be careful not to compare children to their siblings.

3-Avoid labeling your children

While it’s natural for parents to categorize (i.e. the baby, the quiet one, the smart one, the dumb one, the helpful one, the pretty one, the loud one) but keep in mind that labels, even when positive, can hinder your child’s self-expression and development especially when they are rigid and enduring. It may be more helpful to acknowledge each child’s efforts instead of using a general label. For example, instead of saying, “You’re so smart” try, “You work hard and really seem to care about doing well in school.”

4-Listen to each child’s underlying emotions & desires

Underscoring children’s complaints to parents about unfair treatment are often requests for their needs to be met and for their underlying emotions to be heard. As the parent, you have the honor of helping your child learn to identify their deeper emotions and to help them say what they want and need from you. For example, if a child says, “You love him more than me!” he may be trying to say “Mom, I’m sad that I’m not spending more time with you.” Put your own defensiveness on hold and try to hear the meaning behind the complaint.

5-Encourage cooperation instead of competition

Since most siblings seem to be competitive by nature, it’s easy as a parent to use this competition to motivate our children to do what we want them to do. Instead, Use phrases that encourage win-win situations and helping each other. Instead of saying, “Let’s see who can get their teeth brushed first” try “Let’s all get teeth brushed and read a book together.”

Life lessons from a 3 year old

Life lessons from a 3 year old

As I sat this evening on the sidelines watching my daughter’s lacrosse game, I was exhausted and looking forward to sitting down, unwinding, and watching the game. Quickly, my expectations for an hour of relaxation were dashed when my hungry and thirsty and energetic 3 year old daughter Macy began climbing on me, asking for food, refusing to wear her jacket, and sprinting across the long stretch of grass in the opposite direction. I didn’t have the energy to chase her. I didn’t even want to move. 

I made a few idle threats like “You need to stay by me or you’ll have to go to the car” as I wondered, “How long do I have to stay and watch the game so my older daughter feels supported before I can leave to go home, eat, put my feet up and put this little one to bed?” I was emotionally and physically drained (for a variety of reasons and I will spare you the details).

3 Year Old

As I was planning my exit strategy I noticed Macy, with her fair skin, yellow pigtails, and no jacket grinning with delight as she ran. Her boundless energy stirred a twinge of jealousy in me, as if somehow her glee was a threat.

Feeling a bit winded Macy sat down on my lap me and noticed that the family sitting next to us had fruit snacks. She asked if she could have one and they gladly shared.  Macy danced and made silly faces while eating it. I thought to myself, “I wish I could be so joyful about small things.” 

As she savored her fruit snack I noticed her slowly moving toward the little girl sitting next to us, trying to get her attention. Within a few minutes Macy had made a new friend and was nestled up in the same chair while the older girl read a book to her.

Over the next 45 minutes these two little girls chased each other, rolled around in the grass, and made a tent with the blanket and chairs, and pretended they were puppies. I marveled at how open Macy was to reaching out and connecting to this girl without fear, and how easily delighted she was by the attention and the playful interaction. It dawned on me that the game was almost over.

During the final few minutes of the game I realized that while Macy was frolicking with her new friend, I had been sitting by this little girl’s mom and we hadn’t exchanged more than a few words. Taking the lead from my 3 year old, I turned to this lovely woman and introduced myself, and began to ask about her and her family. As the final whistle blew, we continued chatting and gathered our chairs and blankets, and mentioned that we’ll likely be seeing a lot more of each other throughout the season. As we walked to the parking lot I felt energized, thanks to my 3 year old.