Category Archives: Facts

Mood River: Highs and Lows of Mood Disorders in Children

The murky waters of mood disorder

The murky waters of mood disorder

Recently I asked “Ashley” to share advice on my blog. Ashley is a colleague and parent to an 11-year-old girl diagnosed with Mood Disorder

I have learned a lot about mood disorders and was blown away by her candor.

Please note that this post was originally published in 2013.

1) Can you describe “mood disorder” and its symptoms?

Last spring, my daughter was diagnosed with ADHD and we put her on a stimulant. She began having rages, getting verbally aggressive (threatening to kill people) and physically aggressive (biting, hitting, kicking) family members to the point that she left bruises and other marks. We took her off the medication and the rages decreased for a while, but returned along with ADHD symptoms that interfered with school.

We tried another stimulant and the rages increased. Her paediatrician suggested that because she was raging on stimulants that he highly suspected that she had a mood disorder.  At his suggestion, I read the book The Bipolar Child and cried because the symptoms described in the book were almost a verbatim description of my daughter. 

2) Why were you surprised by this revelation?

I was surprised that the way that bipolar presents in children is very different from the way it looks in adults. Some of the symptoms that resonated with me:

  • severe irritability
  • night terrors
  • raging
  • oppositional behaviour
  • rapid cycling (going from giddy to irritated very quickly and back again)
  • sensory issues
  • carb cravings (my daughter would binge on sweets and bread)
  • hyper-sexuality

Another trait exhibited by my daughter was that she didn’t show her rages and violence to anyone outside the family and I was her main target.

toddler with red adidas sweat shirt

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3) Please provide some insight into the relationship between ADHD and mood disorders and how they’re sometimes confused.

According to the book The Bipolar Child, one-third of the children diagnosed with ADHD actually have early onset bipolar. Many symptoms of bipolar overlap with ADHD, such as being impulsive, emotionally volatile, hyperactive and distracted. When I was reading Bipolar Child for the first time, the description in temper tantrums between children with ADHD and children with mood disorders was what finally convinced me that my daughter was bipolar.

Bipolar temper tantrums can often last for hours, can involve destruction or violence and are typically triggered by not getting what they want. The book described that ADHD tantrums typically last 20-30 minutes and are caused by sensory or emotional stimulation. I thought about the previous evening and how my daughter had spent over two hours hitting us, screaming and chasing after us and realized that my daughter was bipolar.

4) What advice can you offer parents?

My biggest advice is to find support. I found the forums and support groups at The Balanced Mind to provide me great information on both the medical side and the coping side.

At first I was really scared to tell anyone about my daughter’s diagnosis and even more about her repeatedly hurting me. I would wear long sleeves to cover the bite marks and bruises and worry that someone would see. But then I shared with trusted friends what we were going through and was very surprised that instead of judgement, I received love and support.

My other advice is to find the right team of doctors and therapists. It took several tries to find the right fit for our family and my daughter’s situation, but we finally found a neuropsychiatric that has been lifesaving for us. We also began working with a behavioural therapist to help our whole family learn strategies to deal with the bipolar symptoms.

medication pills isolated on yellow background

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5) How do you and your family (and your child) best cope with this mental illness?

When she is raging, we try to remind ourselves that this is the bipolar talking, not our daughter. We also make sure that every member of our family gets time to enjoy the things that make them happy and get a break from my daughter. We also all meet with a therapist to talk about our feelings of living with the disease in our family.

6) Anything else you’d like to add?

If you suspect that your child has a mood disorder, get him or her evaluated as soon as possible. Life has gotten dramatically better once we found the right medication and have begun learning to understand the disease.

Does any of this resonate with you? I thought republishing this post might help a parent or friend who has a child with a mood disorder.

Yours,

Lisa

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Big Mouth Strikes Again…

I’m listening to The Smiths right now who are one of my all-time favourite bands. While “Bigmouth Strikes Again” is a cool and iconic song (take a listen if you’re not familiar), it reminded me that, so far, my new year’s resolutions are going well. One of my major family goals is to drastically reduce – or better yet, eliminate completely – yelling.

animal bear big blur

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Believe me, I know that yelling isn’t terribly effective or good for anyone. But shouting at kids is different than shouting at another adult.  Obviously no one yells for fun or to get their kicks – it’s generally out of exasperation, overwhelm or frustration. It’s learning to stay calm when we’re stressed and not resort to yelling that’s the tricky part.

I’m reminded of an interview I did with Erin Flynn Jay about mothers’ work during economic downturns. Through her research, she discovered that child abuse increases during economically difficult times. Children might sense a parent’s stress and then act out, causing the parent to feel the need to yell or strike back. It’s unfortunately a vicious circle.

white and blue crew neck t shirt

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Now, none of this is meant to stress anyone (including me) out. But it is a good reminder that our actions and reactions to things do impact our kids – even if we don’t realize it or it doesn’t seem obvious immediately.

One of my other new year’s resolutions is to “think small.” I know that sounds like an oxymoron but, really, it’s meant to celebrate the little things in life. When it comes to parenting,  in my view, we need to pat ourselves on the back more and acknowledge that even small successes are still successes – especially when it comes to our or our children’s positive mental health.

If you made any, how are your new year’s resolutions coming along? I’d love to hear about ’em.

Peace,

Lisa

Weighty Issues: An update on Weighted Blankets & Sleep

Hello! It’s been some time since I last posted but life has gotten in the way – again! Between Canadian Thanksgiving, travelling for work, work itself, kids, friends, chores, commuting… there sometimes just isn’t enough time to devote to this blog. But, I am still invested in this topic so, while I may not post regularly, I will be always be back.

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One of the most popular posts on this blog in recent years is one about weighted blankets. Whether it’s for ourselves, our partner, parent or child, everyone is looking to get the best possible sleep.  In my original post, I lamented about not having purchased a weighted blanket but wanting to. Well, I’m happy to say I purchased a 7-pound weighted blanket about two weeks ago and I think it’s working!

I won’t tell you which brand it is because I think I got ripped off quite frankly. However, it does seem to be helping me get a deeper, higher quality of sleep. What I do like about this particular blanket (which looks something like the one in the image below) is that it’s heavy but not too heavy – common consensus is that the ideal weighted blanket is 10-15% of your body weight. As well, it has a cotton-like cover that can be taken off and washed.

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Special Note: Please be careful with toddlers and young children; even the lightest weighted blanket can be heavy and you don’t want them to get smothered.

As a reminder, the popularity of weighted blankets in recent years is due, in part, to the following reasons:

  • The steady weight calms the body and helps us to relax and sleep
  • The evenly distributed weight (usually in the form of pellets or ball bearings sewn into rows in the fabric/filling) is applied to the whole body, not just one portion
  • Those with ADHD, anxiety, insomnia, depression or restless leg syndrome often find the heavy constant pressure soothing and provides a zen-like response in many (but not all) people

Weighted blankets can even help our pets stay calm in extraordinary situations like loud parties, fireworks or thunderstorms!

Time will tell if the weighted blanket will help me get better quality sleep long-term but I am already searching for the right blanket for my kids. I think I’ll let them try mine first and then invest if they like it.

Also, I recently received a query from the owner of this site  on bedding and the importance of sleep. There isn’t any affiliation on my part but I looked at some of the info about different types of mattresses and it seems worthwhile; you may find it interesting too.

If you’ve purchased or used a weighted blanket for yourself or your child or teen, please comment below or write to me and let me know. I’d love to hear your opinion and findings.

Yours dreamily,

Lisa

 

 

Growth Mindset Parenting

No doubt you’ve heard the terms “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset” bandied about in relation to learning. While they’re not new ideas, these concepts are very “buzzy” right now in everywhere from the classroom to the boardroom.

selective focus photography of chess board set

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Last year, my son mentioned that his high school math teacher repeatedly brought up the growth mindset philosophy when teaching.  Initially, I thought that was quite fascinating and odd — I mean, how does a growth mindset matter in a math classroom?

But, of course, it does! Many people have a fear of mathematics and feel they’re not clever enough to learn advanced math or that their brain doesn’t work that way. I know I used to think, “Well, I’m just not a math person” so I didn’t try to excel in that subject – I merely tried to pass the class. However, if we go into our math (or chemistry or art or aerobics or welding) class knowing that we are all capable of learning new things, we will be better able to relax, comprehend the information and then learn or adapt.

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

So, what is “growth mindset” exactly? According to Carol Dweck, the Standford professor who coined the phrase and wrote the groundbreaking book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, someone who employs a growth mindset understands that learning is always possible – no matter your status, past successes/failures or accreditation. The concept reminds me of the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again…” However, according to Dweck, it’s more than just a positive outlook.

From the book’s overview: “People with a fixed mindset—those who believe that abilities are fixed—are far less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset—those who believe that abilities can be developed through hard work, good strategies, and mentorship…”

Growth Mindset Parenting

Beyond math and classroom learning, we can also apply “growth mindset” to parenting. In my mind, having a growth mindset is somewhat tied to the idea of resiliency which I wrote about recentlyIn a way, to be resilient is to not let past failures define you. This can be taught to your kids as well.

We can teach our children that none of us are perfect or successful in everything but that we can all set goals we’d like to achieve – this can be social, emotional, spiritual, academic, athletic, long-term or short-term. If we go in with a growth mindset – understanding that we are physically capable of achievement and set realistic goals – and put the work in to achieve them – then we don’t have to let our own (or other peoples’) ideals and expectations define us.

abstract blackboard bulb chalk

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This is a massive concept and one that can be explored from many angles. I love this post on the “Children’s Library Lady” web site which focuses on books related to growth mindset. Through her post, I’ve learned that there are many ways to incorporate this vital concept into parenting and kids’ everyday learning. It’s a idea that, if used properly, can benefit us and our children for the rest of their lives.

Do you incorporate growth mindset into your parenting style? If so, how? I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to comment below.

Happy Growing!

Lisa

Please note: This post contains affiliate links which means that, if you decided to click on and purchase one of the items listed in this post, I may receive a small commission at no additional expense to you.

And, I apologize for getting off-schedule with my weekly posts. I had surgery about a month ago and then a nasty case of strep throat and am now getting to a place where I can focus on work and blogging. Thank you for your recent comments, messages and emails.

The Resilience Fallacy

“Don’t worry, she’ll bounce back. Children are resilient!”

boy child clouds kid

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Over the years, through divorce, moving, kids’ changing schools, new relationships, issues with friends, various diagnoses, etc., that adage and similar advice has been doled out to me like so much candy on Hallowe’en.

Although assuming that children will bounce back after trauma or even minor incidents may sound innocent enough and even reassuring, it can be a dangerous assumption.

What is Resilience?

Psychological resilience is the ability to cope with a crisis or to return to pre-crisis status quickly. Resilience exists when the person uses “mental processes and behaviors in promoting personal assets and protecting self from the potential negative effects of stressors”. Wikipedia

Building resiliency in children is vitally important and it’s a skill that can make a critical and positive difference in your child’s life.

Here are some methods that can help:

Let them solve their own problems:

While we might want to jump in and “save” our children from falls (literal or metaphorical), it’s vitally important that kids learn how to defend themselves, stand up for themselves and others, and find ways of coping in difficult situations.

Of course, this isn’t a way to opt out of helping your children or forcing them to make bad decisions because they don’t understand the options but rather it’s a way for them to test their own skills in order to help build up their self-esteem and self-confidence.

Be a living example:

Through your words and actions, show children how you deal with problems in your workplace, with your own friends, in your neighbourhood, etc. – and also how you dealt with different situations as a child.

I find watching movies or reading books about how children deal with minute or massive problems teaches them context. For instance, my partner and I watched the movie “Lion” a few days ago and I can’t wait to watch it again with my children for both its cinematic brilliance and the incredible story-line and ending. (I won’t add too much here in case you haven’t seen it. Please do!)  My daughter is also into learning about Anne Frank – and of course there is plenty of context provided with her amazing and courageous story.

Be there for them

This may sound contradictory to the above advice but it’s not. To me (and I am certainly not perfect at this and fail regularly) it’s about trying to be there for my kids when they really need me and not hanging them out to dry. So, let’s say, your child had a bad day or was bullied at school or saw something that made them uncomfortable. Ask them about it, try to help them solve the problem, be sympathetic and perhaps brainstorm possible solutions.

Something that seems to work for me is asking my kids, “Do you want me to talk to the teacher about that?” if it’s a problem related to school. They almost always say no. Even though they often don’t want me to step in, I feel like asking my children if they’d like me to intervene puts the power back in their hands. Note: Occasionally, I do talk to teachers or principals if I feel it’s important to step in!

Get out there

Whether it’s volunteering, building leadership skills or travelling, getting outside of one’s comfort zone can build resiliency by providing new experiences and challenges.

Travelling has been one of the single most defining aspects of my life. Not only has travelling to other regions and countries allowed me to experience new worlds, but the lead-up of researching trips, booking hotel or hostel reservations and flights (even as a teenager) and asking strangers for assistance has helped to develop my self-esteem and resilience. Meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds also provides context and perspective to consider when faced with a difficult situations.

ball shaped blur close up focus

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If you are able to volunteer and/or travel with your family, you might ask your children to help research the non-profit organization or new region, point out aspects affected by war or strife, talk to locals, learn a new language or a new skill. In any case, if you are travelling by plane, train or automobile, everyone will have to learn to be patient, creative and innovative together when faced with inevitable travel delays!

What tools have you used to help your children build resilience? What happened in your own childhood that helped you face adversity? I’d love to hear from you.

Update from May

I’d also like to provide a quick update on “No Money May” since it’s now June. I’ve recently had surgery so was forced into a no spending mode for the last part of the month. Overall, I’ll give myself a “7” on a scale of 1 to 10 for not spending frivolously. I heard from other people who were going to try No Money May too. If you did it, how did it work out for you?

Feel free to comment at bottom or write to me privately.

 

Onward and upwards,

Lisa

 

Canadian Mental Health Week: May 6-12

This week is Mental Health Week and Children’s Mental Health Week in Canada.

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It’s a good time to consider all of the facets of mental health. Happily, I feel that families, communities, schools, organizations and governments are getting better at recognizing signs, symptoms and remedies.

Even though some stigma remains, more people understand that mental health challenges are common. In fact, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health:

  • 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally face a mental health problem or illness
  • 8% of Canadians will experience major depression in their lives
  • Mental health affects people of all ages, education levels, incomes and cultures

Regarding kids, many wonder why suicide rates for children, teens and young adults seem to be increasing* and why more children (even those as young as 8) seem to be experiencing more stress than in generations past. What might the reasons be?

bed blanket female girl

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From reading, research and speaking with other parents and experts, here are three top-line theories:

The Sleep Factor

  • Children, teens and adults are getting far less sleep than in prior generations. Whether it’s due to the blue light from our devices, the lure of 24/7 streaming content, being overwhelmed with homework or answering emails, or parents not enforcing strict bedtimes for younger children, we all could use more shut-eye.
  • Sleep allows us to heal our bodies and minds and to recharge for the day to come. It also helps regulate breathing and blood pressure. Without consistent, regular sleep and sleep patterns we put extra stress on our mental health and well-being.

The Failure Factor

  • Over the past year, I’ve read more and more about how parents’ inability to let our children fail and experience disappointment is hindering their ability to be successful later in life.
  • While we may think we’re doing our kids a favor by protecting them from, say, losing a race or failing a test or not making the cheerleading team, it’s important that children understand how to fail. When a child gets a D on their math quiz or is not invited to the dance, she might learn how to do things differently next time and, at the same time, build resilience which can help her deal with future disappointment.

The Comparison Factor

  • Personally I think adults are just as at-risk of this as children or teens. In our social and social media-infused world, we can’t help but compare ourselves to our next door neighbour who just returned from a spontaneous trip to Italy or to our colleague who is taking a year off to write a novel.
  • I’m not at all against social media (in fact, I’m a huge fan) but it can be extremely detrimental when we (or our children) are feeling vulnerable. It’s difficult to remember that people are more than their social media profiles and that most only post the best of their lives – not the tedious chores or the endless amounts of homework or the fight they just had with their sibling.
  • Comparing ourselves to our friends, classmates, or colleagues can bring on feelings of anxiety, inadequacy, depression and doubt. For parents, talking to our kids about social media and its implications and limiting the use of personal devices and video gaming can be beneficial.

Do any of these theories about modern-day mental health resonate with you? Are you aware of your kids’ mental health on a regular basis? Do you speak with them about stress or social media or suicide? I’d love to learn about your own theories and advice.

Feel free to comment on this post or write to me.

Lisa

*Note: The web site linked to teen suicide includes some disturbing content

I’m not an “ADHD Mom.” Are you?

woman kissing cheek of girl wearing red and black polka dot top

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I hesitated in writing this post for two reasons. One: I don’t want to be a Judgy McJudgerson (we all have enough guilt when it comes to parenting) and two: I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. However, I thought about it for a few days and decided to go ahead.

Have you read or heard people say, “I’m an ADHD mom?” Or, “I’m an autism mom?” This makes me cringe. I feel we do a disservice to our children when we label their projected imperfections in our parenting style. Would you say, “I’m a cancer mom” or “I’m an epilepsy dad” when introducing yourself online or in person? Probably not.

Now, I can guess where the label comes from… social media allows us to form groups and communities which are mostly wonderful and helpful and inspirational. To gather our “tribes” sometimes we need to attach labels or attributes to ourselves so that we can draw on people going through similar challenges. For instance, there are groups about running marathons, trekking mountains, for movie buffs and abuse survivors… really, any challenge or accomplishment good, bad or neutral.

Im not an adhd mom are you

However, by introducing ourselves or labeling ourselves online as our child’s diagnosis or disability or syndrome, we run the risk of drawing attention to something that our child may not want people to know – especially as they grow up.

Now, if you yourself are challenged with autism or epilepsy or cancer and you want to shine a light on this issue, I say go for it. But, if it’s your kid who’s dealing with something, perhaps ask them if they’re old enough or consider a different label.

What do you think? Do you agree with me? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Lisa

Kids & Exercise

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Hello! I am happy to include a guest post from the tenacious and talented Sarah Maurer of Miss Adventure Pants. I recently wrote a guest post for her site about hiking with kids and am thrilled to include her expert tips here.

Yesterday, I wrote a similar post about how I may not be the perfect parent but I am really good at getting my tween and teen outside and active as I believe it is so important for everyone’s mental health. Unfortunately that post was lost in the great unknown (most likely because I forgot to save it as a draft!) so Sarah’s helpful list has saved me and will hopefully inspire you & your family as well.

Seven Surprising Facts About Kids and Exercise

If you have a hard time getting your kids to put down their phones and play outside, you’re far from alone. Raising active kids in the information age is a challenge for almost all parents.

Research by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that kids spend an average of 7 hours a day interacting with devices and screens. That’s about the same amount of time you spend at work — and they also do it on weekends.

However, even when it feels like pulling teeth, motivating your kids to exercise is almost always worth the trouble. If you need extra motivation to persevere, consider what the research says about kids and exercise:

1. Being active at a young age helps to prevent chronic disease in adulthood.

People who were active as children have a lower lifetime risk of many chronic illnesses, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and coronary artery disease.

2. For kids, the health benefits of exercise are mental as well as physical.

Active children ages 6–17 are less likely to develop depression than their sedentary peers. A two-year study involving 4,600 middle school kids found that the exercisers among them scored lower on measures of depression like anxiety and fatigue. While the study didn’t look specifically at the effects of exercise on childhood depression, the authors posited that young exercisers probably experience the same mood-lifting benefits as adults.

3. Exercise helps kids learn.

Schools, think twice before you cut your physical education programs any further. Active kids ages 6–13 score higher on measures of cognitive function, thinking, and memory skills than their less active classmates.

4. Kids need a surprising amount of exercise.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services currently recommends that children and teens engage in 60 minutes of physical activity a day, including vigorous activity on at least 3 days a week. That may seem like a lot when you think in terms of aerobics or spin classes. But keep in mind that for kids, this can include active recreation like walking, skateboarding, biking, and ball games.

5. Kid athletes are surprisingly mighty

Until fairly recently, experts warned parents about the dangers of too much exercise during childhood. They posited that activities like weight lifting and long-distance running might harm growing bodies. However, research hasn’t borne these concerns out. Weight training in particular has been shown to be safe and effective for school age children, so long as they avoid maximal effort and explosive movements (no power cleans!).

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6. Active kids tend to become active adults.

Experts lament the fact that so many sedentary children are growing into sedentary adults who are at increased risk for chronic illness. However, the opposite is also true. Kids who enjoy exercise and physical activity will tend to maintain these interests as adults, reaping many health benefits along the way.

7. The best way to raise active kids is to be active yourself.

What’s the number one predictor of physical activity in kids and teens? It’s having an active role model in their lives, whether it’s a parent, a sibling, or anyone else they look up to. That’s a great reason to be active as a family — even when the kids would sometimes rather be playing video games.

For some excellent tips on hiking with kids, check out this blog post by Lisa. I’ve also written a 4-week walking workout plan that you can enjoy with children and teens.

Hopefully, these tips will motivate you to get active with your kids, whether you’re walking the dog together, doing exercise videos, lifting weights, or just monkeying around at the playground. And if you hit some resistance from the kids, rest assured that the lifelong health benefits will be worth it.

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Sarah Maurer is a fitness coach and hiking enthusiast who blogs at missadventurepants.com. She previously worked as a school counselor to elementary and middle school students.

Now We’re Cooking with Gas

Do you know the term “gas-lighting”? I’ll admit I didn’t fully understand it until last year. I had heard the term referenced in books, conversation and movies and had a vague understanding but didn’t dig deeper until recently.

gray coat and blue jeans

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According to Wikipedia: “Gas-lighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s belief.”

Basically, gas-lighting is manipulating someone into thinking that they’re imagining something. We tend to think of it happening in an adult context such as manipulation between partners: “I am not having an affair, you must be dreaming.” Or, “It didn’t happen that way, you’re crazy.”

That’s bad enough but gas-lighting can happen with siblings and between parents and their children, too. A parent might downgrade a child’s feelings or reality in a variety of ways:

  • “Don’t be silly, you’re not afraid of the dark.”
  • “Your Uncle Billy is a lovely man; don’t be afraid of going to his house for dinner.”
  • “We didn’t eat your Hallowe’en candy; you must have counted wrong.”
  • “Oh, stop crying, Jenny. It’s not that important.”

While an occasional manipulation of the truth may not harm a child’s psyche, long-term gas-lighting of his thoughts, feelings, opinions or reality is most-definitely harmful and can wreak havoc on a child’s self-confidence.

Has this ever happened to you? Do you ever “gas-light” your child or partner without realizing it? I know I’m going to be more aware of this phenomenon moving forward.

Lisa