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A Healthy Dose of Back-to-School Anxiety by Brent Black, LMFTA, MS

?????????????????What is a Healthy Dose of Back-to-School Anxiety?  As a family therapist, I often meet with parents who want to know if their child has anxiety and my quick response is “I hope so!” Today the mere mention of the word anxiety tends to induce stomach knots, racing hearts, and cold sweats. However, a proper dosage of anxiety is a key component for healthy and successful children. On the other hand, excessive anxiety and the absence of anxiety are debilitating. Since the launching of school can also launch levels of anxiety for many students, here are a few points for parents to consider as they look forward to a successful year.

MP900405644Too Much?
The better question about anxiety is “does my child have excessive anxiety?” All healthy individuals experience at least some anxiety, but excessive levels of anxiety can lead to harmful behaviors. In order to diagnose an individual with Generalized Anxiety Disorder they must meet certain criteria which include excessive anxiety or worry more days than not for at least 6 months, difficulty controlling the worry, restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, or muscle tension. These symptoms cause significant distress or impairment in social, educational or other significant areas of functioning. So, a helpful question in determining excessive anxiety is — “has my child been significantly impaired for an extended amount of time in important areas of their life because of the anxiety that they feel?”

The beginning of the school year is a fitting time for parents to consider the possibility that their actions might be creating additional anxiety. One parental trend that often leads children to experience greater anxiety is an excessive family emphasis on achievement. Children who feel like they have to achieve in order to win the approval and respect of their parents are often filled with anxiety. Their motivation for achieving becomes less about personal growth and more about fear of letting parents down.

Kids on School BusNot Enough?
The opposite of anxiety is apathy or carelessness. Children who are apathetic give off a vibe of indifference, laziness, boredom, and unconcern. Faces are unflinching and tones are flat. The default response for many questions is simply “I don’t know.” There is not an official term of diagnosis to describe these characters but they are easily identifiable.

One parental trend that could lead a child toward apathy is a parent who is inconsistent, indifferent, and un-opinionated about their child’s success. I see exceptions to this trend, but I am often unsurprised by a child’s apathy after meeting both parents and understanding that a child is simply following the example of at least one of the parents. In these cases the apple really doesn’t fall that far from the tree.

Achieving the Right Amount of Anxiety
???????????????????????A great question from parents is ‘how do I help my children have the proper amount of anxiety?’ One of the best ways of helping kids reduce to a healthy level of anxiety is by maintaining high expectations while also assuring children both verbally and non-verbally that parental love is not dependent on child outcomes. In other words, parents need to convey that regardless of achievement level their children will always be genuinely loved.
One of the main ways that parents can increase the anxiety level of their apathetic children is to get actively involved. Parents who sincerely check-in and follow-up with their children are likely to see the kind of anxiety that will help motivate their children to succeed.

Although anxiety is often viewed in a negative light, a healthy dosage of anxiety helps children to be successful. Of concern are children who are experiencing excessive anxiety or no anxiety at all. Great parents are those who feel appropriate anxiety about helping their children to be balanced in their anxiety.

brentAbout the Author: Brent is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. During his Master’s Degree at Brigham Young University he worked at Wasatch Mental Health where he gained experience in working with families who have children that struggled with depression, anxiety, autism, trauma, or addictions. Learn more about Brent at st.georgefamilies.com.

Fun and Play by Dr. Jeremy Boden, LMFT, CFLE

When was the last time you and your partner really had fun together? When was the last time you were truly playing together?

Family in PoolWhen working with couples at the Center for Couples and Families, one of the most consistent questions I ask to evaluate the current vitality of their relationship is about their level of fun and play. I’ve found in both my therapeutic and educational settings that couples overwhelmingly underestimate the power of play and fun in their long-term relationships. In fact, two findings consistently show up in the research: 1. Couples give too little notice to fun and play in their relationship and, 2. playing together and having fun is a key contributor to marital happiness among couples.

You might contend, “We are too busy for fun.” If this is your sentiment, let me be the first to validate that concern. Yes! our lives have become increasingly busy. Having fun just doesn’t seem productive when there are jobs to go to, rooms clean, kids to feed, and activities to attend. I know. It’s tough. However, humor me and let’s see if I can bring in another perspective to the importance of fun and play in marriage.

MP900309139Dr. John Gottman, an award-winning marital researcher, has interviewed and observed couples in his “love lab” for the last twenty-five years. He found that when couples maintain at least five times as many positive interactions as they do negative interactions their relationship is more likely to be stable. However, few people have wedding vows that state, “I promise to make this relationship stable all of our married life.” At the genesis of most marriages, couples hope for their relationship to be full of vitality and happiness for the length of their lives. Thus, the goal for couples should be to have 10 to 20 times as many positives as they do negatives. I believe the main reason this is important is because during times of tension, conflict, or frustration, if you don’t have a reservoir of positive interactions stored up, the negative interaction can drain any positive feelings you have for your partner and create more tension than the issue probably deserves.

MP900289480So, what is a positive interaction? A positive interaction is any pleasant interaction (great or small) where a bond is strengthened and fortified. Therefore, having fun and playing together as a couple is a form of positive interactions. This can include dates, surprises, romantic acts, flirtations, appreciation, physical affection, or just plain silliness. An example of a simple positive interaction occurred the other night between my wife and me. As we were winding down from the day, she found an app on her phone where one can take a picture and manipulate a self-photo with crazy hair, make-up, morph their face, and so on. We sat there for about 15-20 minutes making a variety of different silly pictures of me, her, and other family members. It was fun, silly, and, most importantly, bonding. That simple act, created a positive interaction between the two of us.

In my experience with couples, those relationships that do the best are those that are proactive and intentional about positive relationship habits. Most relationships don’t just accidently succeed but rather it is two partners committed to intentionally nourishing and enriching their relationship daily. So, let me help you be a little more intentional by giving you a little homework or, what I like to call, Home Practice. Tonight, set aside 20 minutes when you are both relatively relaxed and wound down. Then, with your partner, engage in the following activity:
1. Separately write down five ideas of things that would be fun.
2. Together share your ideas and be open to your partner’s ideas.
3. Do your best to engage in activities that are, for the most part, fun for both partners. But also try to stretch yourself a little.
4. Make a plan for this upcoming weekend to engage in one of the activities.
5. Finally, make a point to not shy away from moments in your day together where you could be more spontaneously playful, affectionate, flirtatious, and/or silly.

Make fun and play a healthy habit in your relationship and watch the fruits begin to blossom.

Jeremy2(1) (297x221)About the Author: Jeremy Boden, PhD, LAMFT, CFLE is a therapist at the Center for Couples and Families. He has a PhD in Family Studies and is a Certified Family Life Educator as well as an instructor at Utah Valley University.