Dr. Neisha Hootman

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Puzzling behavior in kids


When my children were babies, we would work hard to explain each new period of fussiness. Did he have an ear infection? Was she teething? It was a relief when they grew older and could tell me what hurt! But even older children and teens sometimes have difficulty describing what is wrong. And the possible reasons for upset just expand with age. For instance, being cranky and uncooperative can be a result of depression, peer problems, developmental changes, physical pain, rebellion, and more. Without knowing the cause, it can be hard to know how to respond. Here are a few suggestions until you find more pieces of the puzzle:

*Keep track of the puzzling behavior. Notes you make about when the behavior happens and what occurred right before and after may help you solve the mystery. And if you need to seek help, you will save time by having more information to start with.

*Make a few guesses about what might be causing the behavior and think about the best response to each underlying problem. You can then try some of these responses out while keeping an open mind about the best plan.

*Encourage your child to observe his or her own behavior at whatever level makes sense. For a young child that might mean using a feelings chart to show you the face of the emotion they experience. Teens may be able to keep a journal of their own or use an app like moodkit.

Similar to what doctors suggest for unclear physical symptoms, watchful waiting is a good first step as long as there are no safety concerns. If the puzzling behavior does not get better or the underlying cause remains a mystery, it’s time to seek help. Contact me.


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Managing emotions together


Your child gets excited or upset and seems to be spinning upward. You wish he would just learn to calm down! At different rates, all of us learn to cope with our emotions and manage our behavior. However, sometimes as we try to help our kids with this, we push them to do it alone. The focus lands on making children deal with emotions and choose positive actions by themselves (and as young as possible). The emerging brain science instead suggests that we all naturally manage these things together. This is clear when we watch a distressed baby settle down as she is held and rocked. But the same basic principle applies when we reach out to a good friend or family member at the end of a stressful day, vent a bit, and then enjoy a relaxing activity together. Of course, as adults, we may sometimes wind down on our own. But always choosing to do this in isolation puts our mental and physical health at risk. We are all wired to regulate our feelings and behavior within relationships. The implications for parenting are many. While we want our children to grow in their ability to wait for connection and comfort (and avoid inappropriate behavior in the meantime), our goal is to help them manage within relationships. For more information on how to do this — and the science behind it — see Dr. Dan Siegel’s book, No Drama Discipline. Or contact me.


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Making New Year’s resolutions as a parent


As a parent, New Year’s resolutions are more complicated. We have our own personal changes we want to make, but we also have others to consider. Sometimes our personal self-care goals can be hard to balance with our broader hopes for our family. And if we or our children are struggling, hope for life improving may be slippery. A few suggestions:

* Make your list of personal resolutions. Star the items that seem most important. In a separate column, evaluate long and short term effects for your children if you take this action.

* Have space for relational goals. After noting how you want the relationship to change, think in detail about how you personally can move towards that change. Then consider what you might communicate to your family member about your hopes.

* Resist the temptation to develop personal resolutions for others in your family. If you want to help your child grow in a particular area, make your resolution in terms of what you can do to encourage the change.

The good news is that as family members, we all influence each other. Increasing our long-term well-being usually benefits our kids, and making positive relational changes ourselves will change how our families relate. There is reason for hope in 2019! And if you’d like some help reaching your goals, contact me.

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Holiday stress is for kids too


As adults, most of us know that stress comes from both positive and negative events in our lives. A new job, a new relationship, going on a big trip — all of these are wonderful opportunities to grow, but they take take a toll, too. Sometimes we forget that our children also experience stress from the good things in life. Winter break, with a change in routines, possible travel, contact with less familiar friends and family, is a challenge for kids and teens. Especially if they are struggling right now, the expectations for joyful expressions and good behavior can be a lot to manage. It may help to carve out some time just for the most comfortable relationships in a child’s life. Taking a walk or playing a game with whoever is easiest for a kid to be with helps fill their emotional tank so they can stretch during the more demanding interactions. Some will also need time by themselves and breaks from the busy holiday schedule. If we set our own expectations with a child’s needs in mind, we can help our families manage the stressful parts and find more joy and growth in the season. And if the signs of stress don’t disappear as life moves on, contact me.