Last September, I had an opportunity to learn about how to prevent and treat depression in children and adolescents. I attended a seminar given by two respected psychologists, Michael Yapko, Ph.D. and Maggie Phillips, Ph.D. They covered enough information for many, many blog posts.
Today, I wanted to highlight the skills that are essential to teach children and adolescents to help them cope with their emotions and moods. One thing I appreciate about Micheal Yapko, Ph.D. is that he is an advocate of teaching skills versus taking pills for depression. I think that treatment without medication is a beneficial approach when possible.
Here are my highlights.
1. Teach them positive self-soothing techniques.
This could include mindfulness, guided imagery, prayer, self-calming or breathing, among other things. These can replace negative coping skills, such as violence, drugs, alcohol or sex.
I spend a good portion of my work, especially with teenagers, in helping them identify their positive and negative coping skills. Decreasing the negative ones and reinforcing the positive ones. This can be tremendously helpful.
2. Help them learn how to create multiple perspectives or interpretations.
This encourages them to use their imagination and explore options that may change their feelings about a person or event. The question is, “Why do you think it happened that way?” This question can be repeated to uncover multiple possibilities.
3. Assist them in understanding linear, cause and effect thinking.
The more a child or adolescent understands about how the world and relationships work the more equipped they are to make good choices. Or at least, understand why their particular choices result in favorable or unfavorable outcomes.
Dr. Yapko said, “We are striving to encourage cognitive flexibility as a vehicle of problem solving. How many different ways can you think about the nature of a particular issue and how to go about resolving it?”
One challenge that many teenagers face is that they lack emotional problem solving skills. They encounter intense emotions, don’t know what to do and sometimes make poor choices that leave them with shame and regret.
4. Teach them about choices, what to do when they are feeling stuck.
“I don’t know what to do here, but that doesn’t mean somebody else wouldn’t know what to do so, who else can I call or what other resource might I tap into to find out?” Parents can help in this regard, by setting a non-judgmental atmosphere that allows their children to feel like it is alright to ask for help.
After attending this seminar, I felt a bit more equipped to provide the tools necessary to help kids and teens cope with the challenges they face. An important task for me as a parent and as a counselor.
Photo credit: Nathan Csonka Photography