How can I help my daughter who has started throwing up before and during dance competitions?

My daughter has been competing in dance for the last two years without any problem, but she has recently started to throw up before and during competition.  However, she still goes through with it and competes.  It is becoming very stressful and I am even considering pulling her out of dance. She loves it, though, and begs me to let her go.  We keep on encouraging her and forcing positive thinking. What else can you suggest?

If your daughter is older than about ten years old, she can learn both physical and mental relaxation to help her lessen the stress of competition.

The easiest physical relaxation strategy is deep slow breathing, sometimes called the relaxation response. She should:

  • sit in a comfortable chair and gently close her eyes (no TV, could have relaxing music on).
  • breathe in through her nose and fill her lungs
  • breathe out through her mouth

She should breathe in relaxation and breathe out tension. Do this for ten minutes. If she gets dizzy she should slow down her breathing. Practicing this twice a day and then just before competition.

The easiest mental relaxation may be similar to your helping her with positive thoughts. The key is for her to identify negative thoughts and replace them with more realistic thoughts. I like to use the ADAPT method. This approach is hard to do until the child has meta cognition or the ability to think about thinking. This happens about age ten or 11 years.

A – Acknowledge the feeling of stress or being uncomfortable.
D – Describe the thought or image that is causing the stress. It might be something like “I have to win the competition” or “I will do terribly and everyone will laugh at me” or it might be an image of her falling down.
A – Assess how helpful or sensible this thought is. This is when your daughter has to learn how to argue with herself. She can say things like “My thoughts are too extreme” or “It’s not as bad as that” or “If I fall, I will get up.”
P – Present alternatives. It is best to replace the negative thoughts with sensible, positive thoughts. Saying “I will be a bit worried but I can manage” is much better than “I will do it perfectly.”
T – Think praise. She can say “That was a good try.”

She will have to practice this many times, with you helping her, before she tries it in a real situation. Try and make it fun. When you run into situations practice these yourself so that she can see you doing it.

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How do I deal with my eight-year-old son who has been masturbating at school?

I have recently been having trouble with my eight-year-old son who was caught masturbating by his dad in our living room while he and his brother (age four) were watching a movie. My husband talked to him about it and about doing it around his brother, or anyone else, and how that is something that should never be done around anyone else.

Recently, I received a call from his school that he was doing it in class and was devastated. I cried at work, wondering why he would do this in a public place around classmates. My husband and I sat down with him to talk about it. There was a little fussing and threatening but not punishment. I thought that was that.

But then, a couple of days later, the school called to say he was doing it again. I am going to stand firm and punish him this evening for a week, but I’m just scared that there is an underlying problem. Please help.

There are two possible issues here. What was he watching on the TV? Have they asked him why he is masturbating in class? What about infection or inflammation? If cleanliness is an issue he could be itching and masturbating.

There is a possibility that this behavior is related to sexual abuse.  Talk to him quietly and in a non threatening way about whether anyone has touched his penis or tried to touch him.  If there is evidence of sexual abuse, contact the police.

The other possibility is that he is bored and masturbating for pleasure or attention. Masturbating in public is very rude and should be treated as any other serious rudeness. Discussion is fine but not enough.  He needs to know that there will be significant consequences if he is rude in school or at home. Short punishment is better than long punishment. But the punishment should be significant.

Finally, it is important to insure he is getting attention for other things he is doing that are positive.  Make sure you are spending quality time with him.  Notice his good behavior.

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Witnessing a traumatic event has resulted in OCD behaviours in my son.

I read one of your letters/emails from a woman whose nephew washes his hands a lot. My son does this as well. It started after he and my husband were in a fatal car crash. My husband, my son and his brother miraculously survived, but the lady who crossed the centre line and hit them head on died at the scene, and unfortunately my son witnessed it.

Now my son washes his hands hundreds of times a day and asks me to wash all of his binders and so on every day. Sometimes he won’t even let me hug him because he thinks my hands are dirty, even after I have just washed them.

He was in therapy for a year, but nothing seems to help. He has been on Lexapro, as well, and tells me it doesn’t help. I have tried to get him in-patient therapy so we can try to get this under control, but no one will help us because he is not a harm to himself or others. Is there anything you would recommend? We are desperate.

He clearly has a significant problem and must be upset by this. You tried some therapy and some medications but there was no good effect.

Don’t give up. Inpatient care is only one strategy and not one I would recommend for any but the most serious problems.

Try to figure out why therapy didn’t work. Perhaps a different therapist would work better with your son. Moreover, there are different drugs that may be helpful. A combination approach using both medication and therapy may well be best.

Try outpatient treatment again.  Try to find someone who is particularly experienced in Obsessive Compulsive Disorders. Your family doctor or pediatrician can help you find the right person.

There are several excellent websites on anxiety disorders especially the Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada, the American Depression and Anxiety Association and several excellent books (including one written by someone with the same name as me, but not related to me):

  • Free From OCD: A Workbook for Teens With Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, by T.A. Sisemore. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger, 2010.
  • Stop Obsessing!: How to Overcome Your Obsessions and Compulsions (Revised Edition), by Edna Foa and Reid Wilson. New York: Bantam Books, 2001.
  • What to Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming OCD, by Dawn Huebner. Magination Press, 2007.
  • The OCD Answer Book, by Patrick McGrath. Sourcebooks, 2007.
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My daughter is soiling herself at school but not at home.

I am going through a very critical issue with my four-year-old daughter at school. When she wore diapers, she started taking them off from the age of two. Since she started school this year, she has been soiling in her pants.

When I ask her about it, she says that she was playing and she does not want to miss out on time with her friends by going to the washroom. I have talked to her several times about going to the washroom in time, but there has been no improvement. I know that she does not have a constipation issue or any other problem. At home, she is fine and goes to the toilet normally.

I have tried a lot of things with her, for example telling her that she will be praised if she poops in the toilet at school, but nothing is working. What do you suggest? Is she doing this because of an issue at school or with her teacher? I would really appreciate any advice you could give me.

Your daughter is probably accurately telling you why she is pooping in her pants. She is having fun and doesn’t want to leave her friends. Unless you have other indications of problems at school, I would just take her at her word.

There are a couple of things you can do.

Talk to her teacher about it. Try and figure out with her teacher how your daughter can be prompted to visit the toilet at school on a regular basis. Scheduling going to the toilet at natural breaks in the day or every two hours would be a good start. When a scheduled toilet visit is to occur, she should be discretely told she is to go to the toilet. If she is asked if she wishes to go, she will likely say she doesn’t need to. She should be expected to go for more than a few seconds.  If the teacher can also praise her for going to the toilet when she returns, this will help. If she is clean for two or three days, the level of prompts can be less.

At home, you can do two things:

  1. Keep a “Clean at School” chart. Every day she is clean, she can get a sticker with a big fuss about how pleased you are with her being clean.  If she improves her current level of soiling, make sure you acknowledge her improvement with something special, e.g., more reading with you or a trip to the park or her favorite meal.
  2. Have her clean up her panties when she comes home soiled. She should wash her panties by hand before they go into the washing. Don’t make it too easy. This natural consequence should not be accompanied by shaming or criticism. It is just that she is old enough to clean up after herself.

It would be best if all of these methods are used at the same time. Good luck.

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Just in time for flu season: It Doesn’t Have to Hurt

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Should we force our kids to spend time with the grandparents?

My 13-year-old son is more interested in hanging out with his friends and doing other ‘teenager things’ than spending days of one-on-one time with his grandmother. He told us it is just not something he is keen on anymore and we don’t really want to force him. The other day, his grandmother asked him to stay over a couple of nights, but in an extended conversation that sounded like giving him a guilt trip. He just said over and over “I’ll think about it grandma” without giving an answer.

His younger sister stayed a couple of days with their grandmother recently and she took her to three hours of tai chi and mindful meditation at the seniors’ centre. Needless to say, our daughter wasn’t too thrilled and this isn’t making our son any more eager to hang out for an extended period of time with his grandma.

So what should we do? Insist that our son stay with his grandmother for a while? Tell his grandmother he’s growing up and just interested in different things now? Other ideas?

I would suggest that you tell grandma that your son loves her a great deal but he is naturally going to prefer to do things he is interested in. If grandma wants to spend time with her grandson, she has to find things that he is interested in. Maybe he would like to go to a hockey game if his grandma bought good tickets and invited a friend of his as well. Your daughter is not likely to be interested in attending a seniors’ meeting but might want to learn something from her grandmother. Your daughter can choose what she is interested in.

Relationships are built on mutual interests and benefits. If grandma wants the company of her grandchildren, she has to offer opportunities that will be fun for her grandchildren.

I would encourage you to insist that your children treat grandma with respect and affection. It appears that they are doing that. Spending hours doing things they are not interested in is not part of being respectful and affectionate.

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Should we tell our cousins that the man who raised them was not their biological father?

I have two cousins that are in their late 50′s and early 60′s. Their mother, my aunt, just passed away. Neither knows that they were artificially inseminated babies and that their father, who has been dead for 12 years, was not their biological father. Some of the cousins know the secret, and feel that it is time to tell them, even though it is quite late in life. I feel that telling one of them especially would clear up a lot of feelings and issues that she has always had. What do you think about finally telling them?

I don’t have a good answer for you.

I believe that it is important that children be told of their conception and birth history as early as possible. My wife and I told our adopted infant her birth story from day one.  Her adoption became her story bit by bit as she began to understand things.

On the other hand, I wonder what gives you or the other cousins the right to interfere in the lives of your cousins. Your telling might be helpful or it might be devastating. The effects of telling secrets kept for five or six decades cannot be predicted.

You know the situation best, it will not be an easy decision.

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My daughter is seeing a therapist and is on medication but I don’t think it is helping.

My teenage daughter was diagnosed with anxiety and OCD. She is currently on Luvax. I noticed that she is very pushy with friends and will ask a million times the same question until she gets the desired answer. She recently asked a friend to teach her some dance steps for school, and she must have asked the girl so many times that the girl sent her an email telling her that she was “pestering” her. I feel embarrassed for her, she is currently seeing a therapist, but I don’t think it is helping. What can I do to help?

The first step is to have a talk with your daughter’s therapist. Let your daughter know you will be speaking to the therapist and book an appointment. Her therapist may not be able to tell you all the details of the conversations they have. It is important that you have confidence in the therapist.  It is perfectly appropriate to ask the therapist:

  • What are the goals of therapy?
  • How is progress being measured?
  • What progress has been made?
  • What are the remaining problems?
  • How long will therapy continue?
  • How can you help make your daughter’s therapy work better?

Luvox is an antidepressant that is used for depression and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). You should also discuss with whomever is prescribing the Luvox, if it is the right drug at the right dose.

If you still do not have confidence in the therapist, talk with your daughter’s family doctor about alternatives.

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I have a twin sister who is married to a man I cannot get along with.

I have a twin sister who is married to a man I cannot get along with. We clash strongly personality-wise. I was strongly opposed to their engagement and marriage, because I did not feel that he treated her with consideration or respect, and they had been dating for less then a year (about 5 months). He was pushing for them to get married right away, they waited about a year only because my parents pleaded with them. Also she left a really nice boyfriend to be with this guy, so I think she may have been cheating on the nice guy. They have been married for three years now. Since their marriage, I was rude to him and his parents on numerous occasions (after his mother was rude to me first). I was no longer invited to family events where he and his family would be. My sister refused to even have coffee with me without him there too. Truthfully, this guy scares me and it creeps me out to even hear his voice. His parents scare me too, they love to sue people for the slightest thing to get money and I just don’t trust them. My sister’s personality has totally changed and she is becoming like them. She has sued two people since she married him, and is really rude and condescending to my family. She used to be very sweet and loving, I worry about her. She is a total doormat to her husband and his parents, and she always puts him over herself. I worry about psychological abuse in their relationship. I really don’t want to have a relationship with her husband and his family. But she basically won’t have a relationship with me without that. And my family, who have always maintained good relations with her husband and his parents, still get treated like crap by her. I really miss my sister, but I cant stand the way she treats me, or my family. I guess I miss who she was before she started dating him. Sometimes I think I should just give up on my relationship with her, and other times I think I should keep trying. It really makes me physically sick when I think about it and I feel so much grief and anger about the whole thing. What would be the healthiest decision for me to make?

There is no perfect answer to your dilemma. Your sister has put a condition on your relationship with her that you find unacceptable.  The two choices you see are:

  1. Go along with your sister’s wishes.
  2. Give up on the relationship.

There is a third way. The third way is to try to build a limited relationship that both of you can accept. Perhaps you may have to start with an email/telephone relationship.  Focus on positive things. Don’t criticize her or her husband and his family. Eventually, you may be able to have a limited face-to-face relationship with her but it will always be a challenge if you don’t want to include her husband and his family.

It will be important that you drop the anger and hurt. If you continue to be consumed with grief and anger, no relationship will be possible. As well, eventually your anger will make you bitter and twisted. It is unfortunate but it is what it is.

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How can I get my boyfriend to stop listening to his controlling mother?

How can I get my boyfriend to stop listening to his controlling mother? She is against our getting married.

You cannot. Don’t try. It’s not worth it. If your boyfriend really wants to marry you, he will.

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