Focus on what's important

Focus on what's important

The education and well-being of children should be the top priority in all family relationships

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 01/17/2013

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Dear Patti,
I’m recently divorced. While it’s been difficult, I want to have a cordial and comfortable relationship with my ex for the sake of our children. Any suggestions?
 — Phillip

Dear Phillip,
Hostility and overall psychological health are critical factors in post-marital relationships. Experts cite that it’s not always hostile communications that are the most destructive. Interestingly, preoccupation figures prominently in negative interactions. Is your ex still preoccupied with you? How often during the day are you still thinking of her? When couples are still emotionally involved, they may be having fantasies about reconciliation — even after one’s ex has clearly moved on — or are perhaps still dependent on their former partner. Ex couples with low hostility and low preoccupation are often the ones with the best relationships. In order to prevent future problems, face your negative feelings of hurt and anger, but focus on getting on with your own life as much as you can.

Dear Patti,
My 9-year-old son’s grades have started to drop, and he’s beginning to develop some bad habits concerning homework. His teacher doesn’t think it’s a real problem or that he needs a tutor. She recommends positive feedback around his homework, which may increase his interest in learning. I’m open to other ideas you might have.
 — Abby

Dear Abby,
I understand and appreciate your desire to confront bad habits before they get worse. Without overreacting or micromanaging, watch to see if this problem escalates. You might consider talking to his doctor, getting him evaluated by professionals or seeking appropriate support. Are there other issues besides academics that might be troubling him?
Regarding positive feedback, praising him for working hard, rather than complimenting his innate ability, is more apt to stimulate higher academic performance. Telling a child he’s smart and has natural abilities typically isn’t as effective in creating positive change as praising him for a good work ethic.
Along with tutoring for your son, you might want to consider his becoming a tutor himself. Students with average grades can quickly increase performance by tutoring younger children, increasing self-esteem as well as solidifying study skills. Other children besides the “highly gifted” can benefit from cross-age tutoring. You might even invite him to teach you and other family members what he has learned. Keep up the good work, mom, of watching out for your son.
Dear Patti,
Is there anything I can do to help my 14-month-old talk?  My pediatrician says my daughter is normal, but she says very few words. I don’t want to obsess over this; I just want to understand what supports talking in toddlers.
 — Adele

Dear Adele,
I agree, don’t obsess about this, as she could pick up that you’re concerned or disappointed. Try this: rather than just saying “Mama” or “Dada” to her, identify an object she finds interesting like dog or ball, point at it or hold it up and repeat the object’s name slowly and clearly at least five times. This could very well aid in her talking. Even if it doesn’t, she may still be learning the word. After learning the name of an object, many children will stare at it longer than normal when hearing that word spoken. This shows they’re learning language even if they’re not actively speaking.

Dear Patti,
I’ve had depression only once in my life. Besides good psychotherapy, facing and experiencing repressed feelings and medication if necessary, do you have any other tips for preventing depression’s reoccurrence?   
 — Joel

Dear Joel,
Many psychotherapists observe that depression is better dealt with on a long-term basis when their patients learn interpersonal problem-solving. One of the biggest stresses in a depressed person’s life can be interpersonal conflicts with those they love or care about. Poor problem-solving in relationship issues intensifies stress, which can increase depression. Learning how to resolve differences with important others may contribute preventatively toward future depressive episodes. n

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email Visit her Web site,


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