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So how IS a peanut butter and jelly sandwich like mindfulness meditation?

“IT’S NOT!”¬†(…Cue awkward silence . . . )

Okay! But we can imagine! Try this:

Image

Peanut butter is sticky. So is attention. ¬†Just like peanut butter sticks to bread, we can stick our attention to anything we need to deal with. If we’re fascinated by something, it’s actually hard to scrape our attention OFF that thing. Like checking someone’s online status that they keep changing all day. Or getting to the next level of a computer game. But if there’s a task¬†we would rather avoid, then we have to dig out LOTS of attention from¬†the jar and glob it onto that nasty task (if only¬†that would make it TASTE better!) until we’re done.

Jelly is floppy. So is relaxation. Ever seen jelly stand straight and tall? Me neither. Sometimes when we first wake up in the morning, we feel just like jelly. All relaxed and peaceful. If we want to get up and do stuff, first we have to stretch and flex, just to un-jellify our muscles.

So let’s say we have two slices of life. (LIFE?) Okay, let’s start with ¬†bread. And we want to fill the space between those slices with two things: peanut butter and jelly. It’s a no-brainer that we want good coverage. No big gaps. So we spread the PB evenly and flop the jelly all over. ¬†But we try to keep it on the bread. ¬†Not just spill globs over the edges. Same with meditation. Simple! Two slices of life, with a bit of time in between. (Time, space, whatever.) We just stick our attention onto ‘right now.’ We try to keep it from spilling over to other times. Most of us love thinking about times that are NOT right now. ‘Right Now’ is the hardest time to think about, in a weird way.

Next, we let our floppy relaxation spread itself, all over the same time-sandwich as our attention.

There’s one other way to explain all this. If you’ve read other stuff about meditation, like the book, Peaceful Piggy, you may have read about letting your breath just do what it ‘wants’ for a while. For most people, the breath is the easiest thing to pay attention to. –Without ‘doing’ anything, that is. It’s a very very old way of just recognizing that right now, you’re giving yourself permission to ditch, on all other times and just pay pure attention to ‘right now.’

So, usually, we don’t even think of full-on attention and full-on relaxation together. Or anyone spreading them all over each other. ¬†But here’s the trick. ¬†While we’re busy paying attention, we don’t have to actually DO ANYTHING. (WHAT?!) That’s right. Sure, it’s weird to think of paying attention but doing nothing. So it’s not quite totally nothing. Just nothing we have to THINK about doing. That’s where the breath comes in. It’s one of the things that our body CAN pretty automatically. We don’t have to work at it. (Okay, our bodies do other things almost automatically too. But we’re keeping it polite here!

Ever been so tired that you just HAD to do nothing? Maybe it was a ‘good’ kind of tired. Maybe you played a game so hard or got such a big chore done that YOU were done, but you felt oddly relaxed and you just enjoyed soaking up that relaxation. Nothing else was allowed into your mind or body. That feeling is close to what meditation feels like.

‘Noticing’ is an even better word than attention. All we have to do is keep quiet and keep ‘noticing’ what our breath feels like doing, in each moment. It changes a tiny bit, now and then. That’s got the sticky attention part going. What’s cool is that the floppy relaxation part kind of just spreads itself. We just let it.

If we notice some particular tense muscle somewhere, hey, flop some jelly on that part — okay not literally. Just let that part relax, especially. BUT: Just so we don’t fall asleep, we find the most comfortable-but-alert position we can. First time learning this, that might be sitting straight up. It might be in a chair or on a cushion, legs crossed or not. “Is there such a thing as TOO relaxed?” Well, only in meditation. If our PB & J sandwich has one whole jar of jelly in it, we won’t get to taste the normal-size layer of PB.

Same principle here: If we’re TOO relaxed, we can’t pay attention. We just fall asleep. The opposite is kind of disgusting too: A whole jar of peanut butter in your sandwich means you won’t get to taste the normal-size layer of jelly. (Same thing: If we work SO hard at paying attention, there’s NO WAY we can relax.)

‘Breath’ to the rescue. It’s totally enough, just to keep bringing our attention back to the breath. For sure, our attention will sometimes slop over a bit, to other times besides now (things that happened; things we have to do; things we worry will happen) kind of like a puppy that wants to run here and there to explore. We call our attention back gently and kindly, as we would that puppy. . . . Happy breathing!

Yours in health and development,

Ken McCallion, Registered, MA, CPsych Assoc

If you have questions or would like to see about an appointment, feel free to use the contact form, below.

psychologyisgrowth

‚Äďa ‚ÄėUse-Me-Now‚Äô resource for teens, babysitters,

maybe parents:

So how IS a peanut butter and jelly sandwich like mindfulness meditation?¬†‚ÄúIT‚ÄôS NOT!‚ÄĚ ¬†¬†(‚ĶCue awkward silence . . . )¬†

Okay,  but we can imagine. Try this:

Image 

Peanut butter is sticky. So is attention. On purpose, we stick our attention to the thing that we focus on. Just like peanut butter sticks to a slice of bread. If we‚Äôre fascinated, it‚Äôs hard to scrape our attention off that fascinating thing. ‚ÄďLike getting to the next level of a computer game. If it‚Äôs a job we would rather avoid, we have to dig out LOTS of attention, to glob onto it, until we‚Äôre done.¬†

Jelly is floppy. So is relaxation. Ever seen jelly stand straight and tall? Me neither. Sometimes when we first wake up in the morning, we feel just like jelly, all relaxed and peaceful. If we want…

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WHEN EXACTLY ARE WE GOING TO DO THIS, AS A FAMILY???

Fitting a full psych-ed assessment into a month of school work can be tricky. Two months, including a Winter break booking, can make a lot of sense. And if your health benefits year renews at New Year’s, double the coverage can reduce your costs to a small fraction of the total.

familiesonline_comBut the bigger reasons for seeking assessment are the lifetime ones. Getting to the root of the problem means giving the student more durable ways to keep up grade level and permanently improve academic skills.

student writing intense HS creative writing2Accommodations and supports in school or on campus can be a new beginning. And they don’t stop at undergrad. Graduate and professional schools all must provide reasonable accommodations for the student who learns dfferently — yet completely.

WHAT DIFFERENCE WILL IT MAKE?

Individually tuned learning strategies, teaching strategies and, where justified, provincial funding for assistive technologies (laptop and learning support software) can become permanent rights. School support teams get to work. Grades, confidence and graduation rates go up.  School Team - flopped - birds eye view iStock_000017019878Large

WHY HAS MY SCHOOL, UNIVERSITY OR COLLEGE NOT PROVIDED AN ASSESSMENT?

Most educators would like to provide more assessments and learning support. It’s good for the learning environment, the future workforce and the economy. Just ask the successful teachers and professors who now practice with a learning disability and are that much better at teaching, for it. Your school trustee or MPP will be interested in your input, on these issues.

IF GIFTEDNESS AND LEARNING DISABILITY HAD AN ARGUMENT, 

NO-ONE WOULD WIN —

And both would wear masks, so they couldn’t be recognized. Bringing them into harmony, so that the student’s strengths shine and he or she copes skillfully with challenges, requires a personalized approach.¬† Teachers of Gifted classes know this. That does not help the student whose giftedness goes unnoticed. Criteria are strict and there is no back door. But students who need both enrichment and support have a distinct profile, which justifies both.

WILL THIS GO ON THE ACADEMIC RECORD?  

OSAID logo

In a word, “NEVER.” Transcripts do not show the student’s exceptionality. You apply to post-secondary, based on marks alone. If you are already accepted, your university or college must still consider results from a Summer assessment, toward accommodations and learning supports, in all years of study. If you take a university or college course called Learning Strategies or the like, that CAN show up on your transcript, but odds are that it will be surrounded with good-to-excellent marks that put the lie to any notions of limited potential. So unless someone on staff had a liquid lunch, your disability status remains private health information, not for educational documentation.

A December-January assessment can be more relaxed . . .

There are other advantages to assessments that straddle Winter Break:

  • Less juggling around schoolwork, so the student is often more relaxed and ‘into it.’
  • It’s easier to alternate activity & exercise between the 2 or 3 morning sessions.
  • Time to catch up on sleep first may be more available.
  • A relaxed clinic schedule at Beaches includes much Winter break availability.
  • Three-week turnaround enables families to approach the new school term with results.

Even graduate students professional-school applicants can be assessed and get accommodations:

  • LiveScribe_SmartPenSome adult students have succeeded despite severe struggles, but no-one is superhuman.
  • There is no upper limit, in educational level, on the right to accommodations and learning supports.
  • Some assistive technologies, such as LiveScribe Smartpen, didn’t even exist when today’s grad students started undergrad. A¬†SmartPen¬†records voice audio, sync’d line-by-line to your note-taking.
  • Sameness is not fairness, even¬†for future leaders, so give yourself fairness instead.

Ken McCallion, Registered, MA, CPsych Assoc / Queen St E. at Glen Manor Drive, Toronto M4E 2X2

416-698-0999 ext 108 / ken.psychologyisgrowth@live.ca / @PsychIsGrowth

Mental health in schools is kind of like mental health anywhere else. Building and maintaining it both depend on a great many things ‘going ¬†right.’ So how can a parent, or for thDSL for Parents 2013at matter even a hard working teacher, even get the big picture of a student’s school day? Of what they are going through?¬†¬†One place to start is to piece together all available professional input and to organize it in ways that make sense to the average person. Luckily, stacking things in a bio-psychological way (symbolized by the ridiculously tall school house here) makes sense of a lot of things to a lot of people. It’s also consistent with newer ways of looking at mental health. But this approach is going to be the subject of a workshop at Canadian Mental Health Association in June, by me, so respecting the limits of not double-publishing material now promised to the CPA, I’ll have to ask folks to wait at least until mid June before ¬†say more. (The concept map shown here was previously web-published.) In the meantime, this is the active team approach already in use at Psychology is Growth.

illustration by Paul Lee & Brian Horton, from, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Omnibus, Volume 3, Dark Horse Books, Jan. 2008

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[Buffy] My former self hates the new Me. –But I LOVE Me.

[Xander] I think you just warped something besides time, there, Buff.

[Willow] A time warp! Exactly! Buffy, that’s how you¬†USED to think your assignments would get done. ¬†Seemed easier than measuring out each day and week like wooden yardstick. Right? Now you know it WORKS! But we have to know exactly HOW stick with that stick!

[Xander] Quit stealing lines and sticking with sticks, Willow. Not your gig!

[Buffy] But she’s right, Xander, and the tricks she taught me should work for guys too. You know the best part? I get to HOLD TEACHERS ACCOUNTABLE. I NEED to start my assignments early. I NEED to pace them toward their¬†due-dates. Now it’s the TEACHERS who are scrambling to get stuff to ME! ¬†THE POWER!! Ooooh, this is better than my last¬†triple kill. . .

GRRRWAAHHSHSH!!!

[Xander] Oh, clever. Slayer passing discretely¬†as a slayer. That’ll throw them.

[Willow] Lay off Buffy, Xander. She’s discovered the FOUR BASIC MISTAKES¬†she was making. And she’s corrected all four. Taking notes, twinkie-eater? Here you go:

1. DON’T wait til¬†the teacher gets around to structuring the assignment. TELL them what times you have already booked to work on it and WHEN you need their deets. ¬†UP FRONT.

2. DON’T wait until you have a large block of time to work on a large assignment. Large blocks mostly get wasted. Then you are even farther behind.

3. DON’T attack an assignment as if it was all one big thing. It’s not. It’s a bunch of hidden sub-goals. You have to do the detective work first. Find all your sub-goals. Put them in the order. Be ready to do the first sub-goal. Right on that day you first get the deets.

4. DON’T lose a single day. Book one hour each day, or second day, to bank some progress. Get intense for that hour. Then lay off. Berween days, it’s still in your head. So you don’t really lose that day either.

[Xander] Cool. Can I get marks for those days off?

[Willow] Get real. My point is this. Never again will you keep forgetting what your assignments are even about. Man, I never had that problem.  But everyone I know practically pees themselves when it happens.

[Xander] Nice to know you’re comfy-dry there, Willow.

[Buffy] Be nice, you two. We’ve got work to do. Best part is this: The kill is SO SLOW. It’s against the Slayer Code to do that to a vamp. Nev-Ver! They have feelings, you know?¬†¬†BUT ASSIGNMENTS? ¬†NO MERCY!

[Xander] Buff. Chill. You’re sounding psycho. In fact, lemme outa here.

[Willow] You can do it too, Xan. You don’t have to be all vicious like Buffy here.¬†Maybe you go can undercover. Let’s shop for¬†reading glasses. Maybe a visor ‘n’ like-that. Just til you get your courage up. No-one needs to know that you’re Heaven’s Child sitting on the Hellmouth. ‘Cept — come exam time — gotta warn ya — EVERYBODY¬†wants to be your friend. Guys are the worst. And if they can get YOU to help them instead of Buffy or me, WELL! Get ready to play Popularity, Release 2.0, Mister.

[Xander] Okay. But they can get their own Twinkies. Hell! They can BRING the Twinkies!

[Buffy] That’s the spirit!

[Willow] WHERE?! …OH CRAP, BUFFY! DON’T USE THAT…It sounds different, from you.

 

BE THE FIRSTYEAR STUDENT WHO CAN WRITE

ūüĒíCONTACT CLINIC PRIVATELY VIA SECURE PATIENT PORTAL

Professor and seminar group(ONTARIO) “Try writing like Helen over there. She can give you some tips.”¬† Prof. Claritti’s comment is a bit out there, for the lecture hall. But he means well. He likes Jac’s concepts. When he can find them.

Jac got into his first-pick university because his high school averages soared. ‚Äď On wings of math and science.¬† Now, these strict, First Year expectations for smooth, clear, concise writing are hitting Jac like a line-drive to the gut. Feedback notes on his lab reports and essays seem ‘blind’ to Jac’s best efforts.

Jac never needed special education. High school teachers consistently ‘tolerated’ his writing because he was a strong student overall (if sometimes a big show-off). His teachers had other issues to address . . .

peer editing

Teachers never had cause enough to get Jac to practice key strategies. For example:

   -Note-taking while Reading then Outlining.

¬†¬† -Listen to the ‘sound’ of writing you like.¬†

   -Write the Abstract & Conclusion, then fill in.

   -Have a friend read your draft to you, aloud, and without commenting.

Whether you form a study group with stronger writers, hire a private tutor, or qualify for learning disability Access Centre and BSWD for software like Kurzweil and WordQ, you’re among many first-year students who have a wall to climb, just to raise their writing to expected levels. If a disability is truly unlikely, just max-out your campus network by trading your highest skills for writing guidance and arm’s length editing. -And keep your ethics. Even when a friend is happy to trade in theirs.¬† ¬† KM¬†

PG_Portrait_by_EB_Fall_2014ūüĒíUSE THE CONFIDENTIAL, SECURE PATIENT PORTAL TO ASK A QUESTIONūüĒí

The key to best health outcomes for you as patient OR your child, is integrated care by as many different health professions and para-professions as necessary. Whether the needs of your child, adolescent, or you as adult are emotional-relational, or centred on learning and achievement, or both, you deserve effective, time-optimized care. In some cases, there may be both health professionals and educators on the team.

As a full member of the College of Psychologists of Ontario (CPO), both for Clinical and School Psychology, I am registered to practice with Child, Adolescent and Adult clients in Ontario. I uphold the standards of outcomes-directed practice which have made psychology on of the most progressive forces for wellness and healing, that our era has to offer.

Being also a member of the National Association of School Psychologists (US) and the Ontario group, OAPA, mean that your practitioner participates in resource and research networks that offer the most updated methods and insights, for thoughtful integration with long-established, sound, best practices.

Such a cliche is the word “teamwork” now that we can almost call it ‘the T-word’ now. On the other hand, professional¬†problem-based-learning¬†means at three things:

First, we see you as an individual; not strictly a ‘patient.’

Second, as colleagues, we’re regularly learning from each other.

Third, anything we don’t know, we find out, and we strive to do so in time for it to make a difference in your care.

Preventative health care is also a growing part of psychological practice today. Practitioners, administrators and politicians can all find themselves struggling with methods of service delivery which may unintentionally punish providers for taking ‘extra’ time to do preventative¬†work. Understandably, care systems may also reward practitioners for giving just-equitable time-per-patient. Sameness is not always fairness.¬†Care integration means that everyone works preventatively and¬†helps assemble the big picture. We exchange ideas constructively and plan strategically for your wellness, or your recovery.

Yours in health and development,

Ken McCallion, Registered, MA, CPsych Assoc

–a ‘Use-Me-Now’ resource for teens, babysitters,

maybe parents:

So how IS a peanut butter and jelly sandwich like mindfulness meditation?¬†“IT’S NOT!” ¬†¬†(…Cue awkward silence . . . )¬†

Okay,  but we can imagine. Try this:

Image  

Peanut butter is sticky. So is attention. On purpose, we stick our attention to the thing that we focus on. Just like peanut butter sticks to a slice of bread. If we’re fascinated, it’s hard to scrape our attention off that fascinating thing. ‚ÄďLike getting to the next level of a computer game. If it’s a job we would rather avoid, we have to dig out LOTS of attention, to glob onto it, until we’re done.¬†

Jelly is floppy. So is relaxation. Ever seen jelly stand straight and tall? Me neither. Sometimes when we first wake up in the morning, we feel just like jelly, all relaxed and peaceful. If we want to get up and do stuff, we have to stretch and flex our muscles, just to un-jellify them.

So let’s say we have two slices of life. (LIFE?) Okay, bread then. Let’s start with bread. And we want to fill the space between those slices with two things: Peanut butter and jelly. It’s a no-brainer that we want good coverage. No big gaps.¬† So we spread the PB evenly and flop the jelly evenly. Also, we try to keep it on the bread, and not spill globs over the edges.¬† Same with meditation. Simple! Two slices of life, with a bit of time in between. (Time, space, whatever.) We just spread our sticky attention inside ‘right now’ and try to keep it from spilling over, to other times, besides now. Then we let our floppy relaxation spread itself, all over the same time ¬†as our attention. ¬†

There’s one other way to explain all this.¬† If you’ve read other stuff about meditation, like the book,¬†Peaceful Piggy, you may have read about letting your breath just do what it ‘wants’ for a while.¬† For most people, the breath is the easiest thing to pay attention to, without ‘doing’ anything. It’s a way recognize that it’s only this time, only¬†right now, that we’re paying attention to.¬†

While we’re busy paying attention, we don’t have to actually DO anything. ¬†(WHAT?!) That’s right. Sure, it’s weird to think of paying attention to ‘nothing.’ So it’s not quite totally nothing. ¬†That’s where the breath comes in, because it’s one of the things¬†that our body ‘does’ all the time. ¬†We don’t have to work at it. (Okay, other stuff too, but we’re keeping it polite, here.) ¬†

Here’s where the magic of relaxation comes in. ¬† Ever been so tired that you just HAD to do nothing? ¬†Maybe it was a ‘good’ kind of tired because you played hard or got a big chore done? ¬†That feeling is really close to what meditation feels like.¬†

‘Noticing’ is an even better word than attention. All we have to do is keep quiet and keep ‘noticing’ what our breath feels like doing, in each moment.¬† It changes a tiny bit, now and then. That’s got the sticky attention part going. What’s cool is that the floppy relaxation part kind of just spreads itself.¬† We just let it.

If we notice some particular tense muscle somewhere, hey, flop some jelly on that part — okay not literally. Just let that part relax, especially.¬† BUT: Just so we don’t fall asleep, we find the most comfortable-but-alert position we can. First time learning this, that might be sitting straight up. It might be in a chair or on a cushion, legs crossed or not. “Is there such a thing as TOO relaxed?”¬† Well, only in meditation.¬† If our PB & J sandwich has one whole jar of jelly in it, we won’t get to taste the normal-size layer of PB.

Same principle here: If we’re TOO relaxed, we can’t pay attention. We just fall asleep. ¬†The opposite is kind of disgusting too:¬† A whole jar of peanut butter in your sandwich means you won’t get to taste the normal-size layer of jelly. (Same thing: If we work SO hard at paying attention, there’s NO WAY we can relax.)

‘Breath’ to the rescue. It’s totally enough, just to keep bringing our attention back to the breath. For sure, our attention will sometimes slop over a bit, to other times besides now (things that happened; things we have to do; things we worry will happen) kind of like a puppy that wants to run here and there to explore. We call our attention back gently and kindly, as we would that puppy. ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†. . . Happy breathing! ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†

Yours in health and development,

Ken McCallion, Registered, MA, CPsych Assoc

If you have questions or would like to see about an appointment, feel free to use the contact form, below.

Psychology-Psychiatry-Blog-Version-No-para-Minimal-text

Psychology is a health profession, all on its own. Psychology has many ‘practice areas.’ The ones that most people know about are clinical psychology, school psychology and counselling psychology. In most provinces and states, psychology never uses the term ‘specialization’ (whereas, the medical profession does.)

Medicine is of course a separate health profession. One of its specializations is psychiatry.  The subdivisions of psychiatry are Paediatric and Adult.

Psychiatists, as physicians, can prescribe drug-based treatments. They may use other therapies, as well. Psychologists use only evidence-based treatments — and a very wide range of them. So-called ‘talk therapy’ may be a component (and sometimes invaluable) but other examples include home-school collaborative behaviour consulting, experiential therapies, mindfulness training,¬†covert sensitization/desensitization, and many others. ¬†Each is finely tuned to the types of issues or disorders one brings to the work — even when it seems it’s unheard-of, many are surprised to learn that it’s well researched and the psychologist knows exactly what to do. ¬†But there’s more: ¬†Based on a full, human appreciation of your strengths and needs, psychologist and client take that already-fine-tuned therapy and tune it, further, to who you are as an individual. This is very far from being just ‘pigeon-holed’ into a Diagnosis X and being given Treatment Y. ¬†This gives the client a truly dignified and proactive way to confront a serious, psychological concern.

Unfortunately, the title ‘Psychotherapist’ has a long history of not meaning much at all, in Ontario and some other places. Efforts are underway to structure a new healthcare college, to regulate the use of ‘psychotherapist’ so that appropriate candidates can work for it, earn it, and use it proudly for the first time.

Children and teens usually don’t buy any of this, at first. Keep in mind that NO-ONE EVER wants to go to a psychologist¬†(OMG) unless there’s gonna be FUN. Damn straight. The thing that surprises many parents is how insight-generating the fun can be. Parents also find out what kinds of collaboration and teamwork they can build with their child, through attachment-oriented or ‘dyadic’ sessions and separate, parent-only, consultation sessions.

A future post on this blog will say more about what kinds of dynamic teamwork that psychology and psychiatry can sometimes pull off, when client needs require it.

If you have questions about this topic or about psychological services at this clinic, feel free to use the contact form, below.

 

ūüĒíCONFIDENTIALLY MESSAGE THE PRACTITIONER

The cases below are entirely fictional and based on many years of clinical experience.
Sibling_rivalry_theupbeatdad_com

[ Toronto ] How do they come up with this stuff?¬†Whether that’s truth or more likely, fantasy, it hurts, badly. ¬†In¬†Siblings Without Rivalry,¬†Adele¬†Faber & Elain Mazlish, ¬†nicely reined-in Alfred Adler’s ¬†idea that the ‘will to power’ among sibs was always the big deal. —¬†It depends. ¬†Then Melitta Schmideberg ¬†opened our eyes to the¬†parentified child¬†who gets to be boss, but suffers for it in the end. ¬†Most recently, thoughtful minds like Kristin Caspers and her colleagues have been unfolding mysteries of¬†sibling attachment.¬† One reason it’s still a bit of a schmaz is that we haven’t seriously looked at sibs through the lens of their inborn differences; that first layer of personality which we call inborn¬†temperament. ¬†Wouldn’t you love to know your child’s¬†inborn layer of personality? ¬†Try this: ¬†¬†http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/insights/profile¬†

To get a quick read on each of your offspring, be they alike in temperament or not at all, you can complete the above, New York University 38-item online questionnaire WITHOUT giving any identifying data. ¬†Click SUBMIT and you’ll see a four-column chart that just may become a go-anywhere mnemonic for you. (There’s also a teachers’ version, on the same site.)

Temperament is a latin word that suggests different ‘colourings.’ To put this another way, as babies, we come in different emotional flavours. And that, fellow parents, plays mightily into how each of us responds to our own “little, live-in Zen Masters” (as Jon Kabat-Zinn once called them).

SUCCESS STORIES

Most of us can remember at least one pair of sibs who shouldn’t be allowed to get along so darn well. It makes rest of us feel bad.¬† Odds are that both of them felt safely connected to at least one of their parents.¬† These two sibs are among the fortunate few who enjoy a secure bond (as an attachment psychologist would say). They may have sibling tiffs, but their war games never extend to that classic, calculated, surgical strike against self-esteem, which so shocks parents and dismays peers. A friend who grew up as the eldest once confessed to me that he, along with his second sib, convinced Sib 3 that she was adopted‚ÄĒAs if that would be a problem. ¬†But, to an innocent four year old, you bet.¬† Their parents dealt with that one, mighty quick.¬† Much healing ensued.¬† And it seems that some sib pairings in this family got a little stronger, once kids realized how serious their parents were, about treating everyone equally.

I SAWED YOU GET BORNED! YOU WERE DISGUSTING!

Why would an elder sib aim so low?¬† Because, at least in the formative years, their own self-esteem is the flip side of their security with parents.¬† The less secure we feel, the less valuable we feel, and so, the more we try to cut that seemingly favoured sibling down to size.¬† Enter parental problem-solving.¬† Most of us will be tempted to say to our child, “That was really immature/low/beneath you/small of you.” Here we go, saying this to the very child who almost certainly feels, despite our most loving efforts, less valued right now. They are just choosing an inappropriate way to fend off that feeling.¬† This situation is so common for elder sibs, in relation to the next child, that most psychologists once thought it was inevitable. (Hence the ‘dethronement’ concept.)¬† That was before John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth changed our view of child-parent bonds forever.¬† As the Gershwin brothers would say, It Ain’t Necessarily So.

“MY KIDS FEEL SECURE WITH ME.”

“So they won’t be doing that.”¬† You may be bang on. Enjoy this great blessing. Your grandchildren stand a good chance of inheriting this blessing as well. Quit reading now and send this post to three friends who are a bit less lucky. In Canada and the United States at least, most of us are wrong when we assume that our kids feel consistently secure with us.¬† It’s tricky stuff, for most parents, to build durable security with each child. It’s especially so, if our kids are born different from each other. That usually means one child’s inborn temperament is more like the parent’s, while another child’s temperament is unlike the parent’s. Psychologists call this ‘temperament goodness-of-fit.’¬† Having a difficult fit with our child doesn’t prevent us from building attachment security.¬† It just makes it trickier.¬† Child and parent don’t really ‘get’ each other, at first. A parent with strong emotions may, for example, have to work harder to tune into Sarah, than to Samir . . .

SARAH & SAMIR ‚Äď INTO THE BREACH

Samir freaks out at the sight of their common friend’s blood in a serious injury. ¬†Bravely, shakily, tearfully, he helps open the bandages and dials 911. Sarah thinks everyone’s being rather dramatic about it all.¬† She doesn’t help until she’s directly told to, as clearly and calmly as possibly, being told the exact steps she must take, right now:¬† “Sarah, you need to get a blanket from the closet and come straight back. Good. Now open the blanket and put it over your friend. Good. Now stand at the door and watch for the ambulance. And Sarah, this is going well, because you’re helping.”¬† Neither child acted out.¬† Both deserve equal recognition.¬† Sure, it was harder for Samir, emotionally.¬† But Sarah probably learned more, ethically. She’s now a better team member. Let’s not take that away from her, by asking ‘why’ she needed to be ordered (gently) into it. ¬†She just did.

MACKLIN & DION: WHY CAN’T YOU TWO JUST LEARN TO GET ALONG?

Sib to sib, inborn differences can be confusing and frustrating. They have a lot less experience with this stuff than their parents.¬† Macklin loves sports and contests and kids’ novels and chess. ¬†Dion can’t stand any of those. Dion draws and paints and asks deep questions at dinner‚ÄĒwhereupon Macklin rolls his eyes and tries to leave the table. One of the worst parenting responses we can make is to insist that Macklin and Dion spend more time together, find some common interests or ‘just learn to get along.’ (What does that even mean?)¬† In a way, we are telling both of them both to please, not be themselves.¬† Polite, considerate and distant may all they ever are, with each other, for decades.¬† That is not a failure of parenting. It is a success.¬† If both of them reach some level of security with at least one parent, odds are, they will both grow up to have friends, understand themselves somewhat, and achieve at their potential.¬† As adults, if they care, and they work at it, they will discover unsuspected, interesting aspects of each other‚ÄĒand therefore, of themselves.¬† No blame in coming late to that party. As kids, they simply weren’t meant to be so close.

SOMMAYAH & JULIA:  THE PLOT SICKENS

Sommayah (16) and Julia (14) were not on equal footing.¬† Julia was falling behind in school.¬† Her parents reduced her screen time on all devices to two hours a day and bought her the cheapest !@#$%^&*! cell phone EVER, with only texting and calling. It would be confiscated if used in class.¬† Sommayah, doing well in school, had no such restrictions.¬† She loved her sister but didn’t quite ‘get’ her, emotionally.¬† At lunch time, Sommayah neglected to introduce her sister to a group of her new friends when the two sisters ran into them.¬† After a few agonizing minutes, Julia left, hiding her tears.¬† Getting home first, Julia hid some of her mother’s best jewellery in Sommayah’s room (usually a much younger child’s stunt, but Julia was really losing it here).¬† She was expressing her view of Sommayah as seemingly the ‘thief’ of parental affection‚ÄĒand of course, trying to get her in trouble. Fortunately, Sommayah had a change of after-school plans and discovered the stunt before her mother did, but felt deeply hurt by her sister. Their parents arrived home to find both girls in tears, and trading loud litanies of past hurts.¬† They would not speak to each other, for weeks.

Once in a while, sibling rivalry may contribute to truly unhealthy child or teen behaviours.  This family may have a need for evidence-based behavioural consultation. (In more involved cases, one child might also have a diagnosable, treatable disorder.) The rivalry itself can be treated too. But it is neither the symptom nor the cause. It just is. When the treatment team includes a psychologist who understands temperament and attachment, then treating the behaviour (or disorder) will almost always strengthen child-parent attachment, too. Then the rivalry has fewer emotions driving it, and becomes likely to respond to behavioural work (or just fade out).

Sommayah and Julia both went to therapy with separate therapists, but Julia, more-so. Both had the option of inviting a parent to sit in, any time. Both did.  In two months they were ready to take on full-fledged family therapy with an attachment-aware social worker.  Gradually they became peaceful siblings for the first time. One could begin to see that, when they truly need each other, they will always be there.

familiesonline_comBut who felt they learned the most?¬† The parents, of course.¬† They learned how very different their two daughters’ needs are, in emotional parenting terms.¬† Sommayah shrugs off public display of affection and is perfectly happy just knowing that her parents will listen, lovingly, whenever the need arises.¬† Emotionally, what Julia needs most from her parents is expressed warmth every day, frequent firmness (though soon she needed less-and-less of this) and well-timed, smiling, full-on reminders of parental confidence in her abilities.

Finally, they learned how Julia positively thrives when her different, emotional needs are understood as core aspects of who she is; and who she can become.  Julia became interested in social work because she recognized in the family therapist a person with strong emotions very like her own, and these actually made her pretty effective at her work.  And oh yes:  Julia DID eventually earn an upgrade, from that cell phone.

The above cases are entirely fictional and based on years of clinical experience.  

Ken McCallion, Registered, MA, CPsych Assoc (Ontario)

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