#AskMe:  How to Care for Your Mental Health While Caring For Your Child’s Needs @TheMighty

#AskMe about managing your mental health as a parent

I’m Dr. Liz, a Clinical and School Psychologist in private practice in New Jersey. I am also a mom of three kids, and one of them has disabilities. I am also a mom who struggles with anxiety. Personally, and professionally, I strongly believe that our own mental health — as parents — is a topic we have not given enough attention to, and the time is now! This week, I will be answering your questions 

Q&A:
“My child’s needs won’t go away. What can I realistically do to work on my own mental health?”

When we became parents, our children became the center of our universe. Our own self-care became secondary. This is especially true when we have a child with disabilities. Our child’s needs become primary, but one thing I know is that by not taking care of yourself, you will not be able to take care of your child.

How many times have you thought, “I should read/sing/talk to my child because it’s good for her,” even when you really don’t want to?

You may be experiencing some burnout. That is, you feel like you are tired — tired of thinking about what’s next, what if, what will I do when… and you’re managing all of these thoughts while trying to hold on to the guise of being a woman or a man, a wife or a husband, a daughter or a son, a brother or a sister and a friend. If your head is spinning, I understand. I hear you and I feel you.

I know when I get to the point where my head is going to explode with the constant running lists, when I’m checking those lists on my phone and I’m adding more “things,” I know I am good to nobody. Not my kids, not my husband, not my patients; no one, nowhere.

I know it’s really hard, and I combat the feelings of guilt of wanting to run away and hide in a corner for a few hours right along with you. I crave silence in my head, even when the room is quiet. I crave not having my name called for the 523.67th time in the past hour. I want to owe nothing to no one.

That’s burnout.

That’s just plain old burnout in its truest form.

When I get here, I know something has to give. I know I have to change my mindset and my routine in order to survive.

Shifting your mindset

I have always felt the strong urge to “do the right thing” by everyone in my life, but especially with my children. I want to make sure that I am providing them with every opportunity for them to be happy and achieve their potential. I strive to keep my home clean, prepare a health dinner, have healthy snacks in my pantry, and to provide experiences that are educational and enjoyable.

Big goals that serve as big a pressure, and that are also highly unrealistic.

It has taken two years in therapy for me to come to terms with the idea that I cannot give 100 percent in every direction of my life because at the end of the day, I only have 100 percent to give, not 10,000 percent.
I am embracing the idea that I can still be a “good” parent to my children while not checking each one of the items from my mental checklist I just mentioned. On some days, it’s OK if their primary form of entertainment is the TV, their phone or iPad. It’s OK if I order in or we eat a bunch of frozen meals that have been sitting in the freezer for… I don’t know how long! It’s OK. It’s really OK. Your children and my children will not suffer.

Sometimes, it’s OK to be good enough. Give up the guilt and, in the wise words of Elsa from the movie “Frozen,” let it go!

Makes sense? What are some other ways you can shift your mindset?

Image by: The Mighty

by Dr. Liz Matheis, Ph.D

Remember Me? The Special Needs Of Siblings Of A Child with Special Needs

A child with special needs (or as some parents and children would rather call it: a disability) can be a very demanding job for parents. Throw into the mix a sibling or two and now you are managing several different worlds of need. Oh, and a spouse or partner – now it’s a party but without the disco ball!Now let me change the perspective: what it’s like to be the sibling of a child with special needs. In my house, my daughter can be exceptionally demanding and difficult on most days. These are the days when I find myself drained and unable to respond to my other two children with patience or just plain old consideration.

When I sit with my thoughts at the end of the day – the daily day-in-review beat down you are all familiar with – I feel guilty. I feel like I’ve cheated my two boys. I feel like I didn’t connect with them about their day’s struggles or celebrations. I feel like I became consumed by the intense emotion that gets riled up in me and that I work so hard to manage.

Every few months, my older son will confide in me that he needed something from me but didn’t tell me because his sister needed me more. He doesn’t ask for help or vent especially on the days that my daughter is especially difficult because he can see I’m exhausted. I understand why he does what he does but I’m also sad that he feels like he has to wait.

​It’s not his job but I realize that there is a unique dynamic that happens in the home of a family with a child with special needs. When I think about my own children’s’ experiences as well as the experiences of the children with whom I work professionally, there are a few things to note about their day to day.

Image by: PCWSN.com

by Dr. Liz Matheis

Navigating the Social World with ADHD

For a child with ADHD, navigating the school environment can be a scary place.  Everyday tasks such as organization, time management, peer interactions, and remembering to visit the school nurse can be a struggle.  Often they are faced with many new battles throughout the day.

Stigma
Unfortunately, mental health diagnoses, including ADHD still have a negative stigma attached to them.  In reality all it really means is their brain works differently and they will need extra support. Along with school accommodations, medications are also sometimes used. This is not without its own negativity; it can subject not only the parent but child to bullying.  Parents can be seen as not knowing how to handle or discipline their child.  In turn, many parents do not confide in family or peers for support.  For the child, it can result in being teased for the struggles they have and “fake” friends using them for access to medications.

Social Isolation
For a child with ADHD, sustaining attention is a constant challenge.  Their impulsivity may cause them to be disruptive to others.  This can make navigating peer relationships difficult.  They may not understand the social boundaries which can push peers away. They may talk over or interrupt their peers and their peers may find this annoying and begin to separate from them.  Peers may tease them for their loud tone or their inability to engage in a conversation with them.

How can we help?
Keep the dialogue open with your child.  Talk to them about school, their teacher and their friends.  Be mindful of any changes in their demeanor or avoidance of the topic when you bring them up. If they go from being enthusiastic about school to changing the topic when it is brought up, inquire deeper.  If they express to you something is happening at school or you suspect something, reach out to their counselor or teachers.
Involve them in social skills groups.  Working with peers their own age with similar challenges will help normalize their experience as well as know they are not alone in this world.  These groups will help guide them through social boundaries and interacting with peers.

           Work with an executive function coach to help them with their school work.  A coach can assess their executive functioning profile and see the challenge areas to work on.  This can include giving them an organizational system for school, time management or study skills.
by Jennifer Mandato, LAC

How can I help others who have a special needs child?

Q: If a friend has child with a disability, especially autism, what is the kindest or most helpful thing anyone can do for them?

​A: Thank you for this great question! In order to answer this one, I went straight to the pros – the moms of children with special needs.  Their insights about what has been helpful and what others have done for them is great and will help you to be a supportive friend to a parent of a child with special needs.

Here are some of the responses I gained:

  • Listen. Just listen without judging and fixing
  • Offer to baby sit her/his child so that she/he can have some quiet and alone time.
  • Offer to baby sit his/her child so that she/he and her/his spouse can have some ‘couple time’
  • Show a genuine interest in your friend’s child
  • Remind your friend that there is a beautiful, amazing, perfect and lovable child in there
  • Invite a fellow mom to a girl’s night; invite a fellow dad to a boy’s night
  • Encourage your friend to find a support group
  • Encourage your friend to find a good therapist
  • Encourage your friend to be patient. Very, very patient
  • Suggest that your friend research and advocate for his/her child
  • Offer to help out with other children in his/her home
  • Welcome your friend and his/her child into your home even though the child may make a mess
  • Support your friend to support her/himself
  • Remind your friend to trust his/her instincts

Image from: Pexels

by Dr. Liz Matheis, Ph.D.

A Financial Guide To Home Adaptation If You Have A Disability

Introduction

For anyone who has any kind of disability, there is often a requirement for adaptations to be made to the home to allow for suitable access and usability. This article will be discussing the help that is available, including the adaptations for homes, financial assistance for changes and energy supply support options.

Finding Benefits Available In Your Area

If you want to discuss, in person, about the options that may be available to you in your area, you can visit you local Citizens Advice Bureau. You can find your local Citizens Advice Bureau via the Citizens Advice Bureau website (see the section “Find your nearest Citizens Advice”), or for Scotland residents, via the Citizens Advice Scotland website.

Alternatively, you may be able to find out online about what benefits available in your area via Advice Local.

Housing Adaptations and Support

For all disabled persons there is support available for you to have suitable changes to be made to your home. However, this may vary in terms of scale, payment amounts available and possible limitations, depending on where you live and your specific requirements.

Image from: Pexels

by MyJobQuote

Transitioning into Summer Time with Children with Special Needs

Summer, summer, summer time! We have waited a long time for the weather to get warm, for the sun to shine and for school to be over! For our kids with special needs, summer time represents another transition, and transitions (even good ones) are hard to handle. In fact, they stir anxiety and, perhaps, a ton of questions.

For me, this is the time of year begins summer camp for my 3 children. Despite the fact that it’s all fun and games, my children become anxious and meltdowns are very common right now. That is, until we have established our new routines, my children are still adjusting to a new camp begin and end time that is different from their usual school schedule, and new items to make sure they have in their bags.

So, how can we prepare our kids and help them through this time of transition?  Or better yet, how can we prepare our children for any upcoming transition, whether it be a change in who will greet your child from the bus after school, to a business trip that will leave your child with grandma for a few days? Read on!

Summer Transition Tip #1: Give Notice, But Not Too Much Notice
Children who are anxious like to “know” what’s to come. But sometimes, that “knowing” creates questions, more anxiety and even anger. With that said, when giving your child notice about an upcoming change, think about what will work better for your child – lots of notice so your child has time to process and accept, or a little bit of notice so that there isn’t too much time to process? You may decide that letting your child know about what’s to come later on in the day in the morning is more than enough. For another child, one day’s notice is needed. Assess your child’s needs and give notice in advance, but not too much in advance!

Summer Transition Tip #2: Create a Visual Schedule
By schedule I mean, create a calendar showing the upcoming transition with a countdown, especially if it’s a positively anticipated transition such as a family vacation. An upcoming pleasant trip or relative coming to visit is exciting but can also result in the experience of anxiety and agitation as there will be a change in where family members are sleeping and the daily flow of the day.

For an upcoming event where your child is nervous about the change, create a list of events, with pictures and words, that will show the series of events that will take place. For example, if grandpa is going to pick up John from school instead of Mom place a picture of grandpa and John on a piece of paper with the time and OT with Miss Samantha on the refrigerator for your child.

by Dr. Liz Matheis, Ph.D.

Neurodiversity: What’s Your Superpower?

Many learning environments today do not provide our neurodiverse children with opportunities to tap into their unique strengths, but rather unintentionally create barriers and obstacles for our students to learn and flourish. We are all uniquely wired and sometimes our children need a little extra help finding their gifts and tools to chanel them appropriately. It’s important that we stop pathologizing and looking for “cures” and start celebrating neurodiversity and the unique differences that make our children who they are. Shifting the way we think about our children’s innate characteristics may help us see the whole child and start to uncover unlocked potential, or “superpowers.”

The strong-willed or bossy child as determined and courageous. We want our children to grow up to be strong, independent thinkers.  Often times, these children are self-motivated , inner- directed, and may be prone to power struggles. This is because they are experiential learnings and like to “ do” for themselves. Providing choices within a boundary, actively listening, providing opportunities for independence, and setting up consistent rules and routines are all positive ways to help promote growth without breaking their will.

The distractible child as creative and imaginative. The current standard seems to place value in students being seated, attending and looking straight ahead in a learning environment. This is not how many of our children learn. It’s important that we tailor the way we teach to meet the needs of our children’s unique learning styles. Using children’s passions as a way to enter into their world is an effective tool for growth and engagement. Children need to learn in environments that facilitate their unique talents in order to strengthen their self- esteem and foster their creativity. Plus, how boring would life be if we didn’t have individuals who thought outside of the box?

The Overly-sensitive child as perceptive. Often times, highly sensitive children may be viewed as emotionally-intense and demanding or on the other end of the spectrum, calm and introverted. This trait can be wonderful and valuable. Sensitive children can be extremely intuitive and empathetic. It’s important that we help to provide an outlet for our children to explore identify, understand, and express their emotions early on. Validation is key in helping our children navigate emotional situations and maintaining self- esteem.

The Impulsive child as spontaneous or energetic. Who wouldn’t love a ton of energy and to be a bit more spontaneous? In a classroom environment, this may be disruptive and off-task if not planned for proactively. It’s important that our children have positive outlets to exert their energy effectively. We also want to help our children see the power in completing a task of high motivation and translate those skills into completing non- preferable tasks as well. After all, even successful entrepreneurs have to complete parts of the job that may not highly motivating to create a successful business. Giving our children ample opportunities to express their creative thoughts and ideas will help strengthen their executive functioning skills.

There are many celebrities who publicly discuss growing up with different “diagnoses’ that have turned their challenges into strengths and are doing pretty well for themselves today. I personally love the child mind institute’s #MyYoungerSelf campaign where a prominent public figure shares messages of hope and wisdom in order to end the stigma around mental health. In sharing his story about growing up with ADHD, Ty Pennington states,

“Your confidence is not at an extreme high right now, but things are going to change. You’re going to realize that you have an amazing talent of creativity and that you can use your hands, and that’s going to lead to you believing in yourself, and when you believe in yourself, the whole world changes.”

In order to raise confident children we need to be reflective of our own experiences. What is your unique superpower and how did you channel it successfully? What would the younger you want to share with your own child ? Children will flourish in environments that afford them the opportunity to display their superpowers. As practitioners, diagnoses can help us communicate effectively with other professionals and provide a common language, however, they shouldn’t be limiting. They should serve as a starting point for us to work together as a team to create a toolbox to help our children find and grow the superhero that lives inside all of us.

Image from: Pexels

by Rachael Berringer, LAC

Why Is My Kid so “Behavioral?”

If you know me or have ever worked with me, you know that this is my phrase: “No child ever wakes up and decides, Wednesday is my day to throw a desk.” That is, no child wakes up and decides to act out. Our children’s and adolescents’ behavior is a form of communication when the words can’t be found, and it is our job as the parent, teacher, behaviorist, or psychologist to become the investigators to understand the underlying reason and what our child/student/adolescent is trying to say.

There Are Feelings Behind the Behaviors

Most people see negative or dysfunctional behavior, and the goal becomes to eradicate it. That is, they believe that behaviors are learned and can be unlearned. Well, if we were mice or robots, then that premise would work every time. However, our children are humans, and humans are complex. There is a reason why some of our best interventions don’t work, and that is because the reasons for the behaviors are not often that clear.

The other element that we need to factor into behavior is the adult/authority figure response to the behavior. Stop to think about this—the adult response can change the outcome of a child’s behavior. There are often two possible outcomes when it comes to an adult response to a child/adolescent’s behavior: escalation or moving on. And having a mild response doesn’t mean that you are being “too easy” on the child; it means that you are meeting that child’s needs. So, as much as we take a look at the child’s behavior, we also need to take a look at how the adults around the child/adolescent are reacting, as this can be contributing to behavioral escalations as well.

We can hypothesize that the function of the behavior is to gain attention or avoid or escape a task, but until we gain perspective on the feelings behind the behaviors, even our best of interventions and well-written behavior plans will likely be ineffective.

by Dr. Liz Matheis, Ph.D.

“It’s a Spectrum” Doesn’t Mean What You Think

Everyone knows that autism is a spectrum.  People bring it up all the time.

“My son is on the severe end of the autism spectrum.”

“We’re all a little autistic– it’s a spectrum.”

“I’m not autistic but I’m definitely ‘on the spectrum.’”

If only people knew what a spectrum is…  because they are talking about autism all wrong.

Let’s use the visible spectrum as an example.

Picture

As you can see, the various parts of the spectrum are noticeably different from each other.  Blue looks very different from red, but they are both on the visible light spectrum.

Red is not “more blue” than blue is.  Red is not “more spectrum” than blue is.

When people discuss colours, they don’t talk about how “far along” the spectrum a colour is.  They don’t say “my walls are on the high end of the spectrum” or “I look best in colours that are on the low end of the spectrum.”

But when people talk about autism they talk as if it were a gradient, not a spectrum at all.

People think you can be “a little autistic” or “extremely autistic,” the way a paint colour could be a little red or extremely red.

But autism isn’t that simple.

by C.L. Lynch
"The various psycho-educational testing Dr. Liz conducted on our son gave us critical clues about where his learning strengths and weaknesses lie so that his needs could be better addressed at home and school. Moreover, because of their warm, kindhearted personalities, both Dr. Liz and her associate, Stephanie, formed an immediate bond with my son. He eagerly looks forward to his weekly therapy sessions. We are so lucky Dr. Liz came into our family's lives when she did! For stressed-out families trying to help their children as best they can, she is a calming voice of reason!"
- Julie C.
"Dr. Matheis has a remarkable ability to understand the unique needs of her patients and address them constructively. She builds strong, meaningful relationships with patients and their families, encouraging trust and collaboration. When working with my son who struggles with autism-related anxiety, she created an environment in which he was able to calm down and open up to her in ways I had not seen before. She was able to reach him and helped him work through his crisis/problem. Most importantly, she empowered him to move forward."
- N.L.
"Dr. Matheis is amazing. She has tremendous resources and loads of energy. She is not willing to accept anything less than the most effective results for her clients. She made me feel as if my son was her top priority throughout the entire process. I would, without reservation, give her my highest recommendations.  Thank you, Dr. Matheis!"
- Anonymous
"Dr. Matheis has an amazing ability to read kids and connect with them. She has been an invaluable resource for our family over the past several years and has helped us with everything from educational consulting, to uncovering diagnoses as well as family therapy. Working with Dr. Matheis never feels clinical and most importantly, our children love and trust her. We can not thank you enough Dr. Liz!"
- Anonymous
"My teenage son had been seeing Dr. Matheis through his senior year of high school, as he was only diagnosed with ADHD at 16 years old.  Dr. Matheis came highly recommended from our pediatrician and she has done wonders for our son as well as our family, navigating new ways for him to deal with his diagnosis without the use of medication.  She taught him ways to organize himself and even when something did not work for him, she patiently continued teaching him new ways to keep himself on track.  She has also helped us as parents to understand how his mind works so that we did not continue to blame his lack of focus on him, rather on his unique way of thinking.  Thank you Dr. Matheis!!!!"
- LG
"Dr. Liz is the best! Our family was directed to her by our Pediatrician to assist with figuring out severe mood changes, severe anxiety, strange new fears and food aversion that had come onto one of our children literally overnight. After just a couple of visits, she suggested that the issues may actually be rooted in a physical issue and suggested we immediately take our child to be swabbed for strep, because Dr. Liz suspected PANDAS (a pediatric autoimmune disorder brought on by strep). The same Pediatrician that suggested Dr. Liz would not do the swab (they do not believe in PANDAS and we no longer go there) but I took my child to my doctor who did the swab and it was positive for strep. When our child went on antibiotics, within 24 hours all symptoms went away and our child was back :-) Dr. Liz then recommended a PANDAS specialist who helped us and our child is in complete remission and is happy and healthy. We are incredibly grateful to Dr. Liz for her knowledge of all things, even the most remote and unusual and for helping us so much! Thank you!"
- Anonymous
"The various psycho-educational testing Dr. Liz conducted on our son gave us critical clues about where his learning strengths and weaknesses lie so that his needs could be better addressed at home and school. Moreover, because of their warm, kindhearted personalities, both Dr. Liz and her associate, Stephanie, formed an immediate bond with my son. He eagerly looks forward to his weekly therapy sessions. We are so lucky Dr. Liz came into our family's lives when she did! For stressed-out families trying to help their children as best they can, she is a calming voice of reason!"
- Anonymous
"Thank you, Dr. Liz. Although we have told you countless times, it will never feel enough. You have listened when J could barely speak and continued to listen when he was sad, angry and confused. You've challenged him and directed us in our roles as parents. You've helped J face his fears while the list evolved and changed, and yet you've stayed committed to 'the course.' We pray that your children realize that time away from them is spent helping children learn and that vulnerability is a sign of strength and bravery."
- June I
"My son was admitted to an Ivy League school when only 2 years ago, you assessed him and saw his struggles, his Dyslexia. We are grateful that he no longer has to carry that deep feeling of inadequacy or shame that must have kept him so self conscious and from reaching his potential. He has the PERFECT program for him. He has A's in high math and economics. He became a Merit Scholar, a Boys State legislature, the HEAD captain of the football team and help a job ALL while studying and managing his classes and disability. I am PROUD of you, a young doctor, who knows and sees the vulnerability of children and helps them recognize "it's NO big deal" God bless."
- Anonymous

Learn More About Dr. Liz!

Subscribe to our Mailing List
Psychological and Educational Consulting Logo

513 W Mt Pleasant Ave, Ste 212,
​Livingston, NJ 07039