• Family Stressors

    There are a number of risk factors for depression and suicide associated with family stressors. For instance, a family history of depression increases a person’s risk three to four times for getting depression. A family history of substance abuse also increases a person’s risk for depression, as well as being a substance user. A family history of suicide, high levels of family conflict, poor communication with parents, parental separation / divorce, and high pressure to succeed are also among the risk factors for depression and suicide. Serious or chronic medical illness of a family member can also contribute to depression in teenagers.

    Family connectedness is a protective factor against depression and suicide. Families can become more connected by improving communication skills and by finding positive ways to resolve conflict.

    It is important that parents be consistent and model positive behaviors for their children. Children are more likely to remember what parents do, rather than what they say. Conflicts can arise when parents’ behaviors contradict their words.

  • Positive Ways to Resolve Family Conflict

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    • Children need to be given the freedom to think and feel. If children are not allowed to talk things out, they will often act them out. It’s important that children be allowed to express their negative feelings as well as voicing their own, and sometimes opposing, opinions to parents so they can better connect with them.  Learn more from Healthychildren.org regarding communication with adolescents.
    • Eating meals together can provide opportunities for family members to talk to each other. If conflicting schedules prevent this, then parents and teens need to be creative around times they can get together. Some teens, though, may have difficulty opening up to their parents in spite of these efforts. Parents may begin probing and asking their children a lot of questions. This is often perceived by children as nagging or prying. Instead, parents can engage their teens in topics (e.g., sports, movies, clothes) or activities (e.g., family game night or offering a back rub or foot massage) that the teens enjoy. Teens may also engage parents in this way if they have trouble talking to them.
    • Some teens complain of being constantly criticized or corrected by their parents, making it difficult for them to talk or open up. It is important for parents to give positive feedback and affirmation to their teens. Parents can build trust with their teens by regularly sharing something positive they see them doing. Teens can also build trust with their parents by talking to them more or by asking them questions about their lives.

    • Schedule regular times for family members to meet and discuss the week’s activities, sharing feelings with each other.
    • Arrange a time for everyone to be together to discuss problems within the family.
    • Establish ground rules for the meeting, such as be patient, be respectful and everyone has a turn to share without being interrupted.

    Five Rules for Having Family Meetings

    1. Talk one at a time – You can give the person a ball, stick, or some other object to hold to show it is his or her turn to talk.
    2. Limit talking time – Perhaps give each person 5 minutes to talk. You can use a timer to set the amount of time allowed for each person.
    3. No yelling -- Have a signal to help the person who raises his/her voice. For example, you can hold your hand in the air in a horizontal position at eye level and gently lower the hand in a zig-zag motion until you reach the level at the middle of your chest. If everyone is worked up at the meeting, then give a “time-out” signal by making a t-shape with both hands. You can also use this as your personal signal if you are getting too upset to talk at the meeting or to another person.
    4. Be respectful – Establish a safe word that can be used at home to let people know when they are being offensive or disrespectful, such as “pineapple.” Agree to say this word when you feel offended by someone’s comments and to be more respectful when someone alerts you with this word.
    5. Listen – Talk to people at home about the importance of listening to each other. Agree to use a signal when someone feels unheard or thinks that the person is not listening, such as the listening llama.  You can form the shape of a llama’s head by touching your middle two fingers with the thumb and keeping the 1st and 5th fingers straight up. This signal means, “You need to listen to me!” When looking at the listening llama shape, it shows the mouth closed and the ears open!
    • Put your emotions in writing. Throw away the first angry letter and rewrite it.
    • Use “I” statements in the letter. Instead of saying, “You make me so mad” or, “You do this” or, “You’re so ___” say, “I feel ___ when you do____” or, “This is how I look at things….” Or, “This is why I do what I do…”
    • Parents and children often have conflicts over the child’s “messy” room. Having a contract about what a clean room looks like, how often a child will clean the room, etc., may decrease conflict.

    To ensure a child will call home when in trouble, parents can agree to pick the child up whenever she needs a ride home without complaining. (This may save a life.)

    • When verbally communicating with one another, make an agreement not to yell.  Agree to help one another by using a hand signal or other cue when anyone starts to raise his voice.
    • Find out the reason behind actions without making assumptions.
    • Some children think a parent is “out to get me” or wants “to make my life miserable” when told “no” instead of realizing their parents want to protect them. The intention is to keep their children safe.
    • Once an intention is clarified, the child can negotiate with the parent to meet the intention and perhaps be able to do the activity.
    • Look at external stressors causing the conflict instead of blaming each other for a problem. This way people can blame things instead of each other and work together on solving the problem.
    • For example, instead of siblings blaming each other for a fight over the internet, they blame the computer or internet, or conflicting schedules, etc., for the problem and work on ways to share the internet.
  • Rules for Fighting Fairly

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    • No yelling or self-hurting. Be respectful of others. Express feelings honestly.  Don’t tell a person how she thinks or feels (i.e., “You try to make my life miserable,” or “You hate it when I’m happy”). Instead, tell him how you feel (i.e., “I feel miserable when _______ or I’m not happy about _______”).
    • Don’t attack. Use “I” statements.
    • Saying, “I feel like you’re treating me like a baby” is a judgment, not a feeling. Instead, express how that feels, such as, “I feel like a baby when I’m not allowed to do things that other kids do.”
    • Ask questions to show you want to understand.
    • Play back in your own words what you think the other person is saying so she can determine whether you understand.
    • Stick to one issue; don’t bring up past issues.
  • Anger Management

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    Identify feelings so they don’t get in the way of communicating

    • Feelings are neither good nor bad, right nor wrong.
    • It’s what you DO when you’re feeling a certain way that can be right or wrong.

    Be alert to cues that you’re getting angry:

    • Heart racing
    • Breathing fast
    • Biting lip or clenching fist
    • Flushed feeling in face / neck
    • Deep breathing. Take a slow deep breath while counting to “6,” hold it to a count of “4,” and then breathe out slowly to a count of “6.” This will decrease the urge to yell at someone.
    • Progressive muscle relaxation (tensing / tightening and then relaxing muscle groups). Start with muscle groups below, such as toes and feet, and work up to legs, then buttocks, abdomen, and finally ending with neck and facial muscles.
    • Tense or tighten the muscle group while taking a deep breath, hold until a count of “4” and then relax and breathe out. Do exercise twice before going to next muscle group. Practice whenever feeling tense.
    • Imagery. Go to your “happy place.” Activate the senses when thinking of a calm, happy place. Imagine what you see, hear, taste and feel while there. If imagining walking on a beach, think how it feels when the waves gently touch your feet, the smell of the ocean, the sound of the ocean’s roar, the taste of the salty water.
    • Meditation. Start with your body being in a comfortable position and in a quiet area. Clear your thoughts. Practice deep breathing while focusing on a relaxing word, inspirational verse, a sound (like a hum), or relaxing image to keep other thoughts out. This takes practice; if you detect other thoughts coming into your mind, focus more intensely on that word, verse, sound or image you chose.

    Engage in self-talk (cognitive restructuring)

    • Challenge negative thoughts by replacing them with positive statements.
    • Your thoughts control your feelings, so it’s important to keep your thoughts positive, hopeful, objective and truthful.
    • Instead of telling yourself that your parent (or child) never listens to you, say, “Perhaps they will hear me better if I’m calm and not yelling.”
    • Coach yourself through difficult situations.
    • Tell yourself to relax, not to yell, and to take a deep breath.
    • Tell yourself you can get through it.

    Mentally rehearse your response and others’ reactions

    • Practice ahead of time what you plan to say and how the other person might respond so you can be prepared instead of being taken off guard.
    • Remember a past argument and what was said to upset you.
    • Imagine what you could have said better or how you could have better responded.
    • Now you’ll be prepared for the next time this happens.
    • Stand up for yourself without attacking or hurting someone else.
    • Use “I” statements instead of saying “you.”
    • Instead of saying to a sibling, “You make me so mad, you little brat,” you say, “I get upset when ___” (Describe the situation that is annoying you.)
  • Therapist Helps Family Resolve Conflicts

    A 15-year-old girl was giving up talking to her parents and beginning to feel hopeless about her life. Fortunately, her mother sought help.

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