Monday, August 30, 2010


One of the things that clients often talk about is contentment. They struggle to really be content with where they are, who they are, what they have, and on and on. I think that most of us have struggled with that at one point or another in our lives.

In Philippians 4:11, Paul writes, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances."

If you go back and look up what the word "learned" means in the original language, you will find that it is the kind of learning that is a process. Further, it is a process of learning that ends with the learner actually being different. An inside change. Not cosmetic. Not putting on an act. It is a deep down inside contentment.

But because it is a process, it didn't happen overnight. We don't know what kind of a person Paul was before his conversion. What we do know is that he learned to be content. We can also learn to be content.

Rabbi Hyman Schachtel is credited with saying, "Happiness is not having what you want. It is wanting what you have."

It takes a shift in thinking, among other things, to become content. It may also take working through some issues to discover where the discontentment came from or where you're stuck. You may have some depression or anxiety that needs to be dealt with, or possibly some obsessive thinking.

Once those things are taken care of, then it is a matter of focusing on the good in what you do have. Look for the good in your life, starting with the God that you serve. Then look at the good people in your life who bring you joy. Look at the needs you have that are being met.

I'm not suggesting that you go into denial and don't think about the difficult circumstances. Of course you should. But think about them in constructive ways. What can I do to change this situation? What can I learn from this?

Think about the difficulty, but focus on the good thing. Many times in difficult situations it is tempting to focus on the difficulty.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Helping Children Deal with Grief

Loss is a part of life. We all face losses of different types all along our journey, and some of those losses happen when we are still children.

I often have parents ask me, "How do I help my child deal with this loss?" Questions often center around dealing with funeral attendance, talking about the person that died, dealing with emotions, talking about death. Those are good questions, and here are some of my thoughts and opinions:

1) If you plan to include children in the funeral service, explain to them ahead of time what it is and what they can expect to see there (i.e. the body in the casket, flowers, etc.). My personal preference is to not have children younger than four at the service, but parents have to make that decision themselves.

2) Children should absolutely be involved in the family gatherings. It is good for them to see that loss can occur and that the family is still together and supporting each other.

3) Talking about the death is helpful, and parents should talk honestly and openly. It is not a good idea to tell children that "grandpa went to sleep and is in heaven," because that may make the child fearful of going to sleep. Be honest.

"Grandpa was sick, not the same thing as when we get a cold or a tummy ache. He'd been sick for a long time and he wasn't getting well. So he went to be with Jesus in heaven."

"There was a bad accident, and Aunt Jill died."

"Grandma was very old, and her body got worn out. When that happens, people's bodies just don't work quite right, and they die. That's what happened to Grandma. She died and went to heaven."

4) Answer children's questions as best you can in an age-appropriate manner. Don't give too much information, and be aware that questions may come up over the course of weeks/months, so one conversation about it will probably not be enough. Let the child set the pace.

5) It is also okay for you to talk about your own feelings with your child. It is good for them to understand that you are feeling sad, so that they can observe you getting through the pain. They will understand from that, that death is a part of life, that life goes on, and that after a loss we can feel joy again.

6) Allow the children to talk about the person has died. Don't remove their pictures from your home. It is good to talk about happy times with grandpa or the camping trip with Aunt Jill. It helps the child to remember that they still have that person in their memories and their hearts.

7) Sometimes it can be helpful for a child to do some sort of activity as a part of their grieving. Make a scrapbook of fun times with the deceased person. Make a memory box. Plant a tree or some flowers. Write in a journal or write a letter to the person and read it out loud. Anything that is meaningful to the child.

8) Finally, there are some books that you can read to the child that may be very helpful. Check with online sources or your local bookstore, but here are a few titles to get you started:

Sarah's Grandma Goes to Heaven by Maribeth Boelts
The Goodbye Boat by Mary Joslin
Talk to Me Grandpa! Talk to Me! by Dawn Bernstrom Fullerton
Sarah's Grandma Goes to Heaven by Maribeth Boelts
After the Funeral by Jane Winch
Summerland: A Story about Death and Hope by Eyvind Skeie

It is very important that children grieve in a healthy way, because it sets the tone for how they will deal with loss throughout their lives.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Time Out!

Sometimes the couples that I counsel talk very early on in the counseling process about their pattern of conflict. Often their arguments escalate until one or both of them are over the top angry. Rather than the problem being solved, it becomes more and more complicated as emotions get out of control and hurtful words are unleashed.

Since one of my goals is to help people to communicate better, I offer some tips to help clients learn to deal with big anger. When you get to the point of anger where you are literally in "fight or flight" mode, you are probably not going to talk rationally and it is not a good idea to continue.

So what should you do? Take a time out! Take a "purposeful time out." A purposeful time out is not storming out of the house and peeling rubber in the driveway.

Signal your partner that you need a time out by labeling it as a time out and giving it a end point target. Say something like, "I can see that we are both angry so let's take a time out and we'll talk about this in an hour." Or "I am feeling angry, and I don't want to make the problem worse. Give me an hour and I'll come back and talk to you about this at 5:00."

Then you take the time out and at the designated time you come back and try again. If the anger escalates again, you take another time out.

Here are some tips for what to do during the time out:

1) Remember that the purpose of a time out is prepare yourself to be able to come back and solve the problem with your partner.

2) Preparation for coming back together involves calming yourself down. Go for a walk. Journal. Pray. Do whatever it is that helps you to calm down.

3) Preparation for continuing to talk also involves preparing what you want to say. Think about how to share with your partner your concerns and your feelings about the problem. Do this with respect. No name calling or labeling. No bringing up the past. No use of trigger words such as "always" and "never."

4) Also use the time out to try to see the problem from your partner's point of view. Work on empathy for him or her.

5) Focus on the good about your partner. Is he a good provider? Is she generally nurturing and caring? Is she generally helpful? Is he a good father? Do you enjoy her jokes? Does he usually make you feel loved? Those are things that can help you to frame the problem in a way that can lead to a healthy discussion and then a positive outcome.

Remember that when you continue on and let anger escalate, the damage done can be devastating. You may say things that will hurt your partner and you may hear things that are hard to forget. Time outs will help minimize the damage.