Monday, April 23, 2012

Reconnecting our “plugged in” youth: Communication and Empathy

by Melissa Reynolds, LCSW

Contact is the process of transmitting meaningful information through touch, emotions, nonverbal gestures, and positive energy. To do this we must know how to communicate.  To communicate effectively, there are several objectives to consider.  Surprisingly there are more non-verbal than verbal forms of communication.
  • Eye contact
  • Language
  • Tone of Voice
  • Body Language
  • Facial Expressions
  • Gestures

The GOAL to communication is MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING.

It is obvious that many of these cannot be accomplished when texting or e-mailing.  Talking on the phone at least allows for tone of voice.  Many times when communication is only through words, there can be a lot of miscommunication.  I’m certain each one of you can recall your own experience with reading an e-mail or text message the wrong way and perhaps ending up in tears over it.  I believe our youth are losing these skills and it is important for parents to model these non-verbal forms of communication and help their children to become aware the importance they play in communication.

Once an individual can learn to become mindful, engage their five senses, label their feelings, and communicate then they hold all of the skills necessary to achieve empathy. 
Empathy is the feeling or capacity for awareness, understanding, and sensitivity of another person’s experience.

The answer to violence lies within each one of us.

“Our bodies carry the potential for self-knowledge, self-healing, love and compassion.  By reawakening our perceptive skills of feeling, sensing and initiating, we allow the wisdom of the body to emerge, to guide, and inform us.”

“PEACE begins where we live, in our bodies.  By working sincerely and directly with our present bodily felt condition, we can begin to affect our life as well as the lives of others.  When we heal our self, we heal others.” Janice McDermott

  1. Janice McDermott, M.Ed, MSW and Joan Stewart, MSW, Grand Ideas from Within, 2009.
  2. Kimberly A. Schonert-Reichl and Molly Stewart Lawlor, “The Effects of a Mindfulness-Based Education Programs on Pre- and Early Adolescents’ Well-Being and Social and Emotional Competence”.
  3. Aysha Schurman, “Ten Effective Communication Skills,”
  4. Elizabeth Scott, M.S., “Communicate: Improve Your Relationships with Effective Communication Skills,” December 10, 2010,

Monday, April 16, 2012

Reconnecting our “plugged in” youth: The Five Senses and Feelings

by Melissa Reynolds, LCSW

Reining in the Senses

“Just as the body is made of food, the mind is made of the sense impressions it takes in.  And just as there is junk food, there are junk experiences and junk thoughts – attractively packaged, but most debilitating for the mind.  Training the senses means that we need to be discriminating about what shows we watch, what music we listen to, what kinds of books and magazines we read, what kind of conversation we listen to.  Every day the senses give the mind a ten-course dinner, and we can add to our energy, our health, and our vitality by not serving it junk thoughts.” Eknath Easwaran

Presence is when we are completely focused in our bodies.  To do this we must engage our 5 SENSES.  It is important that we teach our children about their five senses and assist in helping them become aware of their senses and use them on a daily basis.  This must be achieved before they are able to label their feelings.


How do you teach them to engage their five senses?  It is actually quite simple.  Here are some examples for each sense that you can do with your child.

Sight: Have them describe what they see when they are looking at a painting or photograph.

Hearing:  Listen to music together and ask them if they can tell what instrument is being played in the background.  Another example would be to go on a nature walk in silence and then discuss what sounds they heard.

Taste:  While eating meals, have them describe the different flavors and talk about which they prefer.

Smell:  Have them recall a smell that triggers a happy memory or perhaps a sad memory.

Touch:  Read a book that is a touch and feel book and have them describe in their own words what they feel.

The most important thing to remember about feelings is that they are broken down into four groups – happy, mad, sad, and afraid.  The other is that there are different levels of feelings.  “Good” and “bad” are not feeling words so try to correct your child when they say, “I feel good” and remind them “good” is not a feeling word and perhaps they mean, “I feel happy”.  Here are some feeling words under each category to illustrate the different levels to describe feelings.

HAPPY                        MAD                           SAD                             AFRAID
Cheerful                      Annoyed                      Blue                             Tense
Delighted                    Irritated                       Defeated                      Nervous
Overjoyed                   Outraged                     Miserable                      Alarmed
Ecstatic                       Fuming                        Helpless                        Terrified

Encourage your child to use feeling words and then incorporate the five senses component by asking them, “Where do you feel happy?” or “Where do you feel angry?”

Monday, April 9, 2012

Reconnecting our “plugged in” youth: Mindfulness

by Melissa Reynolds, LCSW

What is mindfulness?  Mindfulness is achieved when we are in a state of complete awareness in the present moment paired with the ability to observe our inner experience without judgment.
  • Hindu mindfulness: 1500 BCE
  • Daoist mindfulness: 6th c. BCE
  • Buddhist mindfulness: 535 BCE
  • Christian mindfulness: 530 CE
  • Jewish mindfulness: 10th c. CE
  • Gestalt Therapy: 1940’s
  • Modern Clinical Psychology/Psychiatry: 1970s
    • treatment of chronic pain, stress, depression, substance abuse, suicidal behavior, and   family therapy
  • Jon Kabat-Zinn developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Center at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center: 1979
At this point, you may be thinking that this seems “religious” or too “weird”.  Let’s challenge these thoughts.

Myths: Mindfulness and Meditation
  1. It is a religious activity and will conflict with my religious beliefs.
  2. You have to sit in lotus position and say “Om”.
  3. I’m too busy to be quiet.
  4. It will put out the fire of my creativity and ambition.
  5. It will surface upsetting information from my subconscious.

Studies on the Effects of Mindfulness
  • Improves concentration
  • Elevates perceptual acuity
  • Decreases stress and anxiety
  • Increases academic performance
  • Cultivates creativity
  • Enhances EMPATHY

So how exactly do you learn to achieve a state of mindfulness?  Learning how to breathe is the first step for many.

Objective: To calm one’s self through proper breathing
  • Our muscles HOLD ACCUMULATED STRESS-INDUCED TENSION, the result of our daily environments.
  • The FIRST STAGE OF STRESS the body responds with a PANIC, a “FIGHT OR FLIGHT” reaction.
  • Shallow breathing patterns trigger the STRESS RESPONSE cycle (similar to a FEAR RESPONSE), within the sympathetic nervous system, which transmits more stress signals to the breathing mechanism.
  • WITH TRAINING in breath awareness and special breathing techniques, we can begin to bring our breathing patterns out of our unconscious and into our conscious control.

Copyright 2009, Janice McDermott, M.Ed., LCSW & Joan Stewart, LCSW

This breathing lesson was taken from Grand Ideas from Within which is a guided imagery program with pre-recorded CDs.  Other examples of guided imagery exercises can be found on Health Journeys website.

  1. Ronald Alexander, Ph.D., “Four Myths about Mindfulness Meditation,” in The Wise Open Mind, December 2, 2009.
  2. Shamash Alidina, posted  in Blog, “History of Mindfulness,”
  3. Bodipaksa, “The top ten myths about meditation,” May 18, 2007,
  4. Tobin Hart, “Opening the Contemplative Mind in the Classroom,” Journal of Transformative Education Vol. 2 No. 1, January 2004.
  5. Janice McDermott, M.Ed, MSW and Joan Stewart, MSW, Grand Ideas from Within, 2009.
  6. Kimberly A. Schonert-Reichl and Molly Stewart Lawlor, “The Effects of a Mindfulness-Based Education Programs on Pre- and Early Adolescents’ Well-Being and Social and Emotional Competence”.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Reconnecting our “plugged in” youth: Eye Opener

by Melissa Reynolds, LCSW

Imagine that you have a sixth and eighth grade son and you have made a commitment to be a chaperon for the middle school mission trip at your church.  The students will be performing concerts with song and dance to the homeless and other groups.  They will sing contemporary Christian songs not the traditional music you listened to in church.  You walk into the choir room for the first practice session and there are well over 200 sixth, seventh, and eighth grade boys and girls in one room.  This in and of itself is overwhelming and you begin to wonder what in the world have you gotten yourself into.  The students are on built in risers so they tower over you.  There is a hum of conversation and laughter along with a lot of movement.  The youth pastor addresses the group that it is time to begin.  Practice starts with prayer.

You begin to notice the students are having trouble settling down.  They seem to be distracted and you begin to observe that some are still texting, others are listening to their i-pods, and there is one boy who is actually playing a video game on his phone.  It occurs to you that these kids are having a hard time disconnecting from their outside world.  For the most part, the students were there because they wanted to be and they were “good kids”.  You have two children who are part of this group and had not noticed this behavior before, but now you realize how this age group is so disconnected.  You think to yourself something must be done!
This was actually my own personal experience.  My eyes were opened!  I began to realize this was not good and a bit scary.

Reconnecting our “plugged in” youth
I-pods, cell phones, text messaging, e-mails, facebook, and video games keep us from connecting.  Our youth are so “plugged” into the world that they are disconnected from each other.  Now more than ever they need lessons on how to turn inward to calm the body – to disengage from their busy world and open their MINDS to unlimited possibilities through creativity and their imagination along with finding the PEACE that lies within them.

Communication is not just verbal.  It is also non-verbal including eye contact, tone of voice, body language, facial expressions, and gestures.  Full communication cannot be achieved with text messaging and e-mail.  The ability to have Empathy is acquired through the process of communication.  Empathy is the feeling or capacity for awareness, understanding, and sensitivity of another person’s experience.  Do you wonder if we are not creating a generation who will not have the ability to communicate effectively therefore the possibility of little or no empathy.

Where do we begin?  I believe the answer lies within “Heightened Awareness”.  I like to think of it as a pyramid effect similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  You have to start at the bottom to make your way to the top.

We shall climb this pyramid together over the next three weeks.