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Parenting Resolution: Let Your Kids Get Bored


Some New Year’s resolutions are often fairly standard – eat healthier, exercise more and spend more time with loved ones. But in 2017 we challenge you to resolve to let your kids be bored. Yes, bored! In an article written by Teresa Belton (published by the World Economic Forum in September of 2016), she helps parents understand that boredom is actually excellent for kids and necessary for their healthy development. So sit back, relax and read about how you aren’t going to feel guilty when you hear the words, “I’m bored!” from your kids.

Being bored is good for children – and adults. This is why:

From books, arts and sports classes to iPads and television, many parents do everything in their power to entertain and educate their children. But what would happen if children were just left to be bored from time to time? How would it affect their development?

I began to think about boredom and children when I was researching the influence of television on children’s storytelling in the 1990s. Surprised at the lack of imagination in many of the hundreds of stories I read by ten to 12 year-old children in five different Norfolk schools, I wondered if this might partly be an effect of TV viewing. Findings of earlier research had revealed that television does indeed reduce children’s imaginative capacities.

For instance, a large scale study carried out in Canada in the 1980s as television was gradually being extended across the country, compared children in three communities – one which had four TV channels, one with one channel and one with none. The researchers studied these communities on two occasions, just before one of the towns obtained television for the first time, and again two years later. The children in the no-TV town scored significantly higher than the others on divergent thinking skills, a measure of imaginativeness. This was until they, too, got TV – when their skills dropped to the same level as that of the other children.

The apparent stifling effect of watching TV on imagination is a concern, as imagination is important. Not only does it enrich personal experience, it is also necessary for empathy – imagining ourselves in someone else’s shoes – and is indispensable in creating change. The significance of boredom here is that children (indeed adults too) often fall back on television or – these days – a digital device, to keep boredom at bay.

Some years after my study, I began to notice certain creative professionals mentioning how important boredom was to their creativity, both in childhood and now. I interviewed some of them. One was writer and actress Meera Syal. She related how she had occupied school holidays staring out of the window at the rural landscape, and doing various things outside her “usual sphere”, like learning to bake cakes with the old lady next door. Boredom also made her write a diary, and it is to this that she attributes her writing career. “It’s very freeing, being creative for no other reason than that you freewheel and fill time,” she said.

Similarly, well-known neuroscientist Susan Greenfield said she had little to do as a child and spent much time drawing and writing stories. These became the precursors of her later work, the scientific study of human behavior. She still chooses paper and pen over a laptop on a plane, and looks forward with relish to these constrained times.

Sporting, musical and other organized activities can certainly benefit a child’s physical, cognitive, cultural and social development. But children also need time to themselves – to switch off from the bombardment of the outside world, to daydream, pursue their own thoughts and occupations, and discover personal interests and gifts.

We don’t have to have a particular creative talent or intellectual bent to benefit from boredom. Just letting the mind wander from time to time is important, it seems, for everybody’s mental wellbeing and functioning. A study has even shown that, if we engage in some low-key, undemanding activity at the same time, the wandering mind is more likely to come up with imaginative ideas and solutions to problems. So it’s good for children to be helped to learn to enjoy just pottering – and not to grow up with the expectation that they should be constantly on the go or entertained.

How to handle a bored child

Parents often feel guilty if children complain of boredom. But it’s actually more constructive to see boredom as an opportunity rather than a deficit. Parents do have a role, but rushing in with ready-made solutions is not helpful. Rather, children need the adults around them to understand that creating their own pastimes requires space, time and the possibility of making a mess (within limits – and to be cleaned up afterwards by the children themselves).

They will need some materials too, but these need not be sophisticated – simple things are often more versatile. We’ve all heard of the toddler ignoring the expensive present and playing with the box it came in instead. For older children, a magnifying glass, some planks of wood, a basket of wool, and so on, might be the start of many happily occupied hours.

But to get the most benefit from times of potential boredom, indeed from life in general, children also need inner resources as well as material ones. Qualities such as curiosity, perseverance, playfulness, interest and confidence allow them to explore, create and develop powers of inventiveness, observation and concentration. These also help them to learn not to be deterred if something doesn’t work the first time, and try again. By encouraging the development of such capacities, parents offer children something of lifelong value.

If a child has run out of ideas, giving them some kind of challenge can prompt them to continue to amuse themselves imaginatively. This could range from asking them to find out what kind of food their toy dinosaurs enjoy in the garden to going off and creating a picture story with some friends and a digital camera.

Most parents would agree that they want to raise self-reliant individuals who can take initiatives and think for themselves. But filling a child’s time for them teaches nothing but dependence on external stimulus, whether material possessions or entertainment. Providing nurturing conditions and trusting children’s natural inclination to engage their minds is far more likely to produce independent, competent children, full of ideas.

In fact, there’s a lesson here for all of us. Switching off, doing nothing and letting the mind wander can be great for adults too – we should all try to do more of it.

As you engage in this new year we encourage you to allow your children (and yourself!) to be bored. If your child – either teen or young adult – has a challenging time using down time in a destructive way call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC, at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss treatment options for their situation.

New Years Resolutions for Better Mental Health

New Life

The New Year is almost here! It’s a time for new beginnings, leaving bad habits behind and setting goals. At times people hesitate to set resolutions because they have a hard time keeping them, or feel like they are setting themselves up for failure. This year, we challenge you to set some resolutions that improve your wellbeing and mental health – simple things that will bring you joy and peace of mind.

Here are a few of our favorite suggestions from Metro News.

  1. Meditate: Try the Headspace app to get started. You might feel a bit silly at first, but meditation really can work wonders – even if it’s just to give you a few minutes of true calm.
  2. Schedule in some quality alone time: Spend some time alone doing something that makes you genuinely happy and relaxed – whatever that may be. Do it at least once a week, and make sure to actually schedule it in your planner with a set time and day. Why? So you’ll actually commit to some me time.
  3. Write down something good that happened: It can be something tiny, like ‘excellent doughnut at lunchtime’ or big, like ‘got offered my dream job’. Putting a positive slant on your day will help you feel more positive overall. Plus, at the end of the year you get to look back at 365 days of great things that have happened.
  4. Open up to the people you care about: They need to know what’s going on so they can step in and help when necessary. Plus, talking about whatever you’re going through helps you deal with it. And on that note, make sure you spend time with those people. Loneliness helps no one. Try to stay social and get out of your own head for a bit. Surround yourself with kind, supportive people.
  5. Learn self-help techniques for times of stress: There is no substitute for professional help, but it’s incredibly helpful to have some techniques that work for you when you’re having a challenging time.
  6. Get more sleep: There is not a person in the world who’s their best self on too little sleep. Try getting into bed 10 minutes earlier each night for a few weeks. Eventually you’ll be getting an extra hour of sleep and feeling the benefits.
  7. Stop the comparisons: As Theodore Roosevelt once said, ‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’ And it’s true. Make a conscious effort to stop comparing yourself to others. You’re doing your thing, they’re doing theirs. Every time you find yourself spotting the difference, pause, stop, and tell yourself one cool thing about what they’re doing that inspires you, and one cool thing that you’re doing.  It’ll help you get into the mindset of ‘hey, we can both be amazing!’
  8. Do something physical at least once a week: Yes, it can feel impossible to get out of bed when you’re in a serious down period (and if you’ve reached that point, we recommend talking to a professional). But for usual day-to-day happiness, a little bit of exercise is magical. All those fit people weren’t lying about the power of endorphins – they’ll flood your system and make you feel more optimistic.
  9. Try something new: Don’t get too stuck in routines. Make 2017 the year you try at least one thing that scares (and excites) you a little bit, whether it’s finally doing that pottery class or just speaking up in meetings. You’ll feel really accomplished, and might find you actually like that thing that terrified you last year.
  10. Get help if you need it: Maybe it’s medication, maybe it’s therapy, maybe it’s just talking to your family and telling them you need some support. Whatever it is you need, you don’t need to feel embarrassed or ashamed about asking for it. It’s okay. You deserve to feel good, and happy, and fulfilled. If you need a little help doing that, commit to getting it. It might be scary at first, but the benefits are endless.

We wish you a happy and healthy New Year! If you feel like your teen or young adult child needs help starting the New Year off in a healthy place, call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC, at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss treatment options that will work for them.

Beating the Holiday Blues


With the holidays in full swing many people find themselves battling depression and anxiety – sometimes referred to as the Holiday Blues. While everyone is trying to “be merry” for the holidays, it can become overwhelming to participate in the festivities while getting long to-do lists finished. On top of that, the days are shorter and holiday spending can increase financial burdens.

Before letting the holidays get you in a slump try these five tips, from Sierra Tucson:

  1. Take a Stroll – It’s no secret that walking is good for your health, but taking a 10-minute stroll three times a day is therapeutic too. Just a few brief doses of sunlight throughout the day can lift your mood dramatically, especially during the winter months.
  2. Play with a Furry Friend – Whether you own a pet, borrow a friend’s pet, or volunteer at a local animal shelter, enjoying a few minutes of pet-friendly playtime each day can help. These lovable companions serve as great reminders to stay in the moment.
  3. Book a Therapeutic Massage  There can be great power in using integrative treatment for recovery from mental health conditions. Studies have shown that human touch not only eases aches and pains, but helps to relieve depression and anxiety as well. So treat yourself to a massage!
  4. Schedule a Coffee Date – Surround yourself with positive people, places, and things. Regular social contact with loved ones is a surefire way to boost one’s mood and share a few laughs.
  5. Strive for Balance – Often the holidays are jam-packed with parties and obligations. Staying balanced with one’s time is essential when dealing with mental health challenges. Resting the body is an excellent way to practice self-love.

TAG Counseling wishes you Happy Holidays! We encourage you to do everything you can to stay positive and balanced this holiday season. If your teen or young adult child is having a hard time with the holiday season, call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Managing Holiday Expectations


The holidays are a wonderful time of year. However, they often come with high personal expectations of buying the perfect gifts, participating in holiday parties and seeing family members not frequently seen. The prospect of facing the holidays can be daunting for everyone – and even more so for people who struggle with depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other mental health concerns.

As the holiday season is upon us, it is important to remember that you might not always be able to control what happens during the holidays but you can control your reaction to the events by managing your holiday expectations. We’d like to share five ways to keep your holiday expectations in check, from a blog written by Lucida Treatment Center.

How to Keep Your Holiday Expectations in Check

1. Don’t buy into idealized holiday notions. That holiday special where everyone is enjoying a “Hallmark moment,” singing carols in the softly falling snow? That’s a TV show. The snow is made out of plastic, and if you’re comparing your holidays to scripted ones with professional actors being directed on Hollywood sound stages, you’re setting yourself up for inevitable disappointment.

“When people are bombarded with commercials, greeting cards, and movies showing perfect families and friendships, they may start to question the quality of their own relationships,” said Adam K. Anderson, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, in an interview with Shape magazine. “This can make people feel lonely and less fulfilled.”

Life isn’t perfect, and holidays are part of life. Embrace their imperfections.

2. Be OK with celebrating your own way, even if it’s unconventional. One Thanksgiving, about fifteen years ago, I found myself all alone — just my dog and me — with no dinner invitation. Rather than feeling sorry for myself and spending the day drinking while watching football, I decided to take my dog for a hike in the mountains instead. We had a great time, and on the way home I stopped at a truck stop and had a turkey platter at the counter while enjoying an interesting conversation with the waitress stuck working that day. I now look back fondly on that day as one of the best Thanksgivings of my life. But it never would’ve happened if I hadn’t adjusted my expectations of what a “real” Thanksgiving was supposed to be.

3. Make it acceptable to limit the number of engagements you attend. Count yourself lucky if you’re invited to a lot of holiday celebrations. But holiday get-togethers can be time consuming, stressful and even terrifying if you suffer from social anxiety disorder. Decide how many events you can reasonably make and tolerate, and stick to that number rather than spreading yourself too thin. Ask yourself this: If a holiday celebration or tradition is causing you more stress than joy, is it really worth attending or keeping?

4. Know that it’s possible to enjoy the holidays without alcohol or drugs. “Taking the edge off” with a few drinks during the holiday season can quickly get out of hand. If you’re in recovery, it can be incredibly tempting to use alcohol or drugs when everyone else around you is using, too. And if you suffer from anxiety or depression, it’s tempting to turn to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate during the holidays. But the holidays can be endured and even enjoyed while sober. Millions of people do it every year, so why can’t you be one of them.

5, Don’t expect family members to be different because it’s the holidays. One of the biggest stressors during the holidays is getting together with family and quickly realizing why it is that you only see them during the holidays. But you can only be you, so let go of any preconceived notions of how you’d like them to be. That judgmental relative across the table making disparaging remarks about your lifestyle won’t be around forever, so do your best to enjoy their company and pass them the potatoes with a smile.

We hope you have an enjoyable holiday season. If your teen or young adult child is having a particularly difficult time around the holidays, or you feel as though their mental health condition is worsening, call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Gifts with Screen Time Rules

Gift boxes with bow on wooden background

The holidays are approaching quickly and with the merriment of the season comes purchasing gifts for loved ones. Top gifts for our teens are often something tech-related – whether a new laptop, gaming device or the newest cell phone. While these are all great gift ideas, they bring up an important point that should be considered – what are your family’s screen time rules? Or, if you don’t have any set up – does this gift being purchased require a conversation about screen time and setting limits?

This week’s Tech Talk Tuesday put out by Screenagers gives an excellent list of discussion points that family rules can be based on for technology.

Are you and your family on the same page with screen time rules?

  • Bedtime: Is there a time devices go off? Can devices be in the bedroom? Where do they go in the house if not in the bedroom? (Including television)
  • Homework: Can you have a computer out while doing homework? Can you have a phone out? Can you respond to texts, messages, Snapchats while doing homework?
  • Gaming: Are there rules around amount of time and or type of gaming? How about where you can game?
  • Social Media: Are there rules around time spent? Specific apps you can or can’t use? Are there times you can’t use social media?
  • Passwords: Do the parents in the house have passwords to every device and every account?
  • Meals: Can you have your device out at meals?

Technology gifts are fun and exciting, and as you purchase them we encourage you to set healthy family rules surrounding screen time. If you feel as though your teen or young adult has a hard time managing technology appropriately contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation and guidance to the best treatment option.