Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Helping Kids Who Cut

Over the last decade or so, the prevalence of kids who cut themselves has increased greatly. Though studies show that both kids and adults, males and females, are vulnerable to this kind of self-harm, cutting is most common among adolescent girls. At Milliken Middle School, I have talked with both girls and boys in all three grade levels who look to cutting for, more or less, the same reasons. In this post I will address why kids cut, what the warning signs are, and how we can help them out of this unhealthy behavior.

Why Kids Cut

In everything that I have read about cutting and all that I have observed with adolescents who self-harm, there is generally one prevalent reason that kids turn to cutting: they can control it. Regardless of what they are going through (divorce, abuse, depression, poverty, etc), if kids are cutting themselves it usually means they experience some amount of satisfaction with the ability to control the situation. They can control when the cutting starts, how long or deep the cut goes, and when the pain stops. Kids who cut often have no control over the emotional pain in their lives and cutting fills this void. It’s important to know that kids who cut DO NOT necessarily entertain suicidal thoughts.

Some studies have shown that kids who are feeling depressed or consistently melancholy will cut themselves for “high” feelings they have afterwards. This kind of self-harm causes the brain to produce endorphins, which are chemicals that allow us to feel good. Some kids get addicted to this feeling and believe they have no way to feel good in their lives other than when they’re cutting themselves.

Finally, some kids who cut (although not the majority) are neither depressed nor going through intense emotional pain. These kids cut because they believe it will gain them attention from peers (even if it’s negative) or because they want to create a certain edgy self-image. Often, cutting is a fad for these kids and the behavior may be more short-lived than it is with the other population.

Warning Signs

• Cut or burn marks (including scars) on arms, legs,
abdomen, feet, etc.
• Cutting instruments, e.g., razors, knives, pins/needles
found among your child’s belongings
• Friends or peers are cutting themselves
• Wearing long pants and long-sleeve shirts consistently
(even in warmer weather)
• Blood stains on clothing
• Regularly seeking isolation and privacy when emotionally
distraught or depressed

How to Help a Kid Who Cuts

If you suspect that your child is cutting him or herself, it’s important that you talk to him or her immediately to seek the truth. Rather than abrasively confronting your child, calmly explain your concerns and ask to see his or her arms and legs (the most common areas for kids to cut themselves). If you find evidence of cutting, seek professional help immediately. Most individuals who cut themselves do so for intensely personal and painful reasons and will mostly likely need the help of a counselor to work through these issues. If you discover that your child is cutting, please call me and I would be happy to work with him or her. If it is a serious case of self-harm, I also often refer parents to local resources that are trained in assisting adolescents who cut themselves.

For more reading on this topic, visit the following links:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Welcome back!!!

The summer always goes so fast and before I know it, there are 600 kids returning to Milliken Middle School! Summer is a great time to regroup, rest, and spend time together. However, sometimes summer can be stressful for our kids. Some kids are in between households during the summer and feel unstable. Some kids lose their social networks and therefore feel lonely and bored. Some kids move to a new school or community and feel nervous and anxious. If you have a child who had a difficult summer, please feel free to contact me. I'm more than happy to check in with those kids and help them transition to the school year.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Helping Kids Through the Holidays

I love Halloween because it signifies for me the real start of the Holiday season. After the candy is put away, it’s time to start preparations for Thanksgiving and then onto buying a Christmas tree and gifts and then onto New Year’s Eve parties. For many of us, it’s the most fun, happening time of the year! For lots of our kids, however, it signifies the time of year that is the most tumultuous and distressing. At MMS, I see a lot of students at this time who act out or feel sad, angry, or stressed out and don’t always know why. In this blog, I’ve outlined the top 3 reasons the holidays mark a very difficult time for some of our students.

Children of Divorce
Many of our students are children of divorce and the holidays mark a time when they are split between two households. Because Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah are such family-oriented holidays, kids often feel the stress of having to negotiate all of the different family dynamics. If you have gone through a divorce and have children, it’s important that you help reduce the stress that will inevitably build in your kids during the holidays. You can do that by limiting how much you talk in front of them about holiday logistics: who they’re spending what day with and at what time and for how long. These type of stressful conversations can build guilt and anxiety in kids. Also, talking to your kids about their stress is extremely important. Be HAPPY for them (or at least pretend!) when they go and see the other parent, rather than passive aggressive or resentful. It’s difficult for them to be in the middle, especially on the most important days of the year. Here are a couple more articles to peruse if you’re feeling in need of more holiday survival tips as a divorced parent:

Financial Hardship
Another reason the next two months are so difficult for our kids is the extra burden they place on families financially. For families that are already stretched thin or living paycheck to paycheck, the holidays can create an unbearable amount of stress and anxiety. This financial burden sometimes manifests itself in an increase in arguments between parents, alcohol abuse, and even physical or emotional abuse. Kids feel and internalize all of these effects and the holidays soon become a time they dread instead of happily anticipate. Here are a couple pointers if you’re finding yourself in an especially tight-budgeted holiday season:
Sit down with your kids and brainstorm ways that you can still have a fun-filled time without spending as much.
Try to avoid arguing with your spouse about money issues in front of your kids.
They don’t HAVE to get the newest ipod, Play Station, or designer jeans to be happy. You can create a very special holiday for them without spending a fortune.
If you’re feeling high amounts of stress due to money, take care of yourself so that the stress isn’t transferred to your kids. Avoid alcohol, get good sleep, eat well, and exercise.
If you are under extreme financial constraints and unable to afford any holiday meals, gifts, or warm clothing, call me and I will connect you to services in our community who have the resources to help!

Missing Loved Ones

For our students who have lost parents, siblings, and other loved ones, the holidays can be very difficult. The happiest time of the year can bring up the saddest times in our lives. The loss of a loved one becomes especially evident when there’s an empty seat at a holiday dinner or around the tree. Keep an eye on your kids if they’ve recently lost someone close to them. They may need to talk about that person and reminisce. If the loss is very recent, you may want to arrange away to honor that loved one at a meal or activity. For further reading on how to cope with the holidays after the loss of a loved one, check out these articles:

If you feel that your child is experiencing an increase in stress, sadness, or anger around the holiday season and would like help, please do not hesitate to contact me. We can talk through the situation and figure out the best way to help your child find the happiness of the holidays again!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

6th Grade Transition – A big and (sometimes) bumpy step!

Coming to middle school from the elementary schools is exciting and fun for most of our students. However, within all that excitement can also be a lot of anxiety, nerves, and tough times. By now, most of our sixth graders are past that first bout of nerves and know the ropes. They know their locker combinations, have their schedules memorized, know the layout of the school, and know the lunchroom and recess procedures. I think of those steps as the first phase of 6th grade survival. At this point, the second phase of 6th grade survival is creeping in and many of our 6th grade students are having growing pains.


It is nearly impossible for kids to get through middle school with decent grades without an organization system. With seven different classes and seven different teachers there’s a lot to remember! At MMS we provide all students with a planner and we reiterate over and over its importance. ALL teachers at MMS write the day’s activities and any assigned homework on their white boards so that all students know what to write in their planners. Some kids are naturally organized and love the idea of a planner. These are the kids who have their planners with them at all times, every class is filled out (even PE), and they may have their assignments color coded. You know if this is your child. Then there are other students who think that the planner’s most important use is as a restroom pass. They can’t remember the last time they used their planner and think it may be in their locker underneath their science book, which incidentally hasn’t been taken to science class in two weeks. You know if this is your child.

Whether your child is the first scenario, the second, or somewhere in between, it’s important that YOU know about the planner. If you have a 6th grader who has not learned (or cares) about the importance of the planner, it’s a good idea for you to set up a check system at home. I’ve known some parents to create a calendar for planner checks. They’ve then checked their child’s planner every day at around the same time to see that it’s filled out. Some parents keep track of these checks and then assign small rewards or consequences to their child based on how successful with the planner he/she has been that week. How you choose to monitor your child’s planner is up to you and some kids need less monitoring than others. The point is that good organization leads to good grades.

Friendships on the Fritz!

Another problem that starts to rear its ugly head this time of year is the deterioration of long-time, elementary friendships. I start to see a lot of girls and boys in the 6th grade who can not understand why their best friend since 2nd grade now sits with a different crowd at lunch and doesn’t even acknowledge them during passing periods. This is a very common problem for 6th graders and is probably the one that causes them the most sadness. It’s difficult for kids not to have the closeness and comfort of their old friends when they’re trying to navigate the newness of middle school.

What can you tell your kids when they’re sad about changing friendships? First, it’s very important not to bad-mouth the old friends. With how quickly middle school friendships change, it’s very likely that the dissolved friendship will be better by the Halloween dance and you’ll feel sheepish when your child is trick-or-treating with somebody you called “mean and jealous.” I often tell kids that it’s ok that they’re taking a break from their best friends from elementary school. They can take this opportunity to make new friends and meet new people. I remind them that they probably didn’t always get along perfectly in elementary and that it’s very likely that they’ll find each other again down the road. The kids that are ditching their old friends are not “bad” kids. You can listen to your child and support him or her and stay objective at the same time. With all this being said, please remember that if you believe your child is being bullied (which is different than typical, age appropriate friendship drama) to please report it to the school and we will deal immediately with the situation.

Organization problems and friendship difficulties are two of the more common issues I see arising from our 6th graders. Sixth grade is just full of so much transition! Please feel free to use this blog to share stories about your 6th grader (past or present) or ask questions. Here are a couple of articles and websites if you’d like to read more about 6th grade transition:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Welcome to the first posting of The Counselor’s Corner!! I’m so excited to be starting this blog for the parents of Milliken Middle School. My hope is that it will serve as a place where I can discuss some of the more prevalent problems and issues I see with our middle school students as well as post articles and websites I find that can also shed some light on important topics. Additionally, I would love if this blog became a place that parents could visit for support from other parents. Adolescents can be a tricky animal and we as adults aren’t always sure what to say or do to help them through this confusing, hormonal, and rebellious time of self-discovery and change. Middle school is a great time for kids to get to know more about their own identities and values, but can also be lonely and extremely challenging. I hope parents will be able to come to this blog to share their stories and receive support from others parents grappling with similar situations.

You may be wondering how The Counselor’s Corner will work. Every month I will pick one topic that I feel is a prevalent issue affecting our kids (i.e. bullying/relational aggression, lack of organization/motivation, low self esteem, etc). I will share some of my thoughts and observations on each month’s topic as well as provide additional articles and websites that I hope will serve as helpful resources. All parents are invited to read this blog and respond with questions, suggestions, and stories. In doing this, parents will hopefully see that they are not alone!

If you have suggestions for specific topics you’d like to know more about, please don’t hesitate to let me know! I want this blog to be a place that you, as parents, receive the most relevant and informative insight into your middle schoolers. For confidentiality purposes, I will never use any student's name or give specific details about a situation when writing my posts. Similarly, you don't need to use your or your child's full name when commenting. Also, if you read a blog post and would rather discuss your questions and concerns with me in person, please feel free to contact me at school via phone (587-6349) or email (

Have a great school year!