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Cultivating a Mentally Healthy Family

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly
The Truth Network Radio
February 12, 2024 6:59 am

Cultivating a Mentally Healthy Family

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly

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February 12, 2024 6:59 am

Research increasingly shows that our culture is in the midst of a mental health epidemic, especially among children and youth — persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness, anxiety and even suicidal thoughts. But Dr. Danny Huerta believes parents can offset these issues by routinely initiating conversations with their children to assess their mental and emotional well-being. He encourages parents to establish a solid spiritual environment in the home to help improve mental health.


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Well, a lot of lies come through that mirror.

I mean, they really do. And something we've used is either chalk markers or dry erase markers, and we've drawn a circle on the mirror and then written truths about each other in our home. That's Dr. Danny Huerta describing what a mentally healthy family looks like. And the key is, Mom and Dad, you play an important role in this process of creating a good environment in the home. This is Focused on the Family with Jim Daly. Thanks for joining us.

I'm John Fuller. John, mental health is one of those issues that most of us probably don't think much about, especially if it's not present or it's not extreme. But it is becoming more of an issue in many, many homes, especially here in the U.S., but I'm sure in Canada and other places where we air the broadcast. Maybe you have recognized some problems, especially post COVID. You know, during COVID, we had the shutdowns and kids were at home, not going to school, the lack of socialization. All these things contributed to a real destabilization of normal activity. And I know for my boys, it was disruptive not to be able to go to school.

They didn't have the prom for two years. It was odd. And I think we're still experiencing some of the ripple effect of that. We do want to equip you as parents to recognize these things, to bring greater stability in the home. You know, Jesus calls it the shalom. It's God's peace. And we as Christians particularly should be experiencing a level of God's peace.

So we want to try to help as best we can today. And Danny Huerta is a colleague here at Focus on the Family. He's been here a number of years, what, 15 or more years, I think. Nineteen years. Nineteen years.

Yeah, it's been a while. And he's a licensed clinical social worker. He heads up our parenting team here at the ministry.

He speaks. He counsels parents. He really is all about cultivating healthy- Doctor of psychology. Indeed. All about cultivating healthy relationships with the family.

And he and his wife, Heather, have two kids. Danny, welcome. Thank you.

Back. Thanks for a new day. Thanks for being with you guys in the studio.

Well, it's wonderful. And you're concentrating every day here at Focus on Parenting. And I so appreciate it that you walk into the door thinking strategically, where does Focus need to be with parenting? So thank you for taking some of that burden. Yeah, thankful to be able to do that.

Yeah, it's really cool. Well, let's get started by looking at the research you've looked at about mental health concerns for young people today. We touch on this from time to time, and I think just painting the picture is really good because it has skyrocketed the increase of mental health issues in kind of that 15 to 25 year old group. Even younger than that. Even younger.

Yeah, Jim, it's fascinating to see what momentums are happening, right? I've seen an increase in social anxiety of kids coming to my private practice with social anxiety and depression. But the statistics show a real concerning picture. 6 out of 10 boys, teen boys, are struggling with loneliness. 7 out of 10 girls are struggling with extreme loneliness. Now, loneliness is not just, I feel alone. This is, I feel lonely and there's no hope for it. Desperate loneliness.

Right, it's a desperate. And then anxiety has gone much higher in teen boys. Now it's 1 out of every 2 teen boys is struggling with some form of anxiety and 6 out of 10 girls are struggling with that. And it goes all the way down to suicidal thoughts. 22% of youth are struggling with suicidal thoughts. So what is going on that is so different now than it was 25 years ago when these numbers were still present but not as high? Well, youth are struggling with a variety of different things. And one is social media has created just a culture of comparisons, upward comparisons. It's the what ifs or what don't I have type of comparisons. And then the unrealistic comparisons as well.

And then we've got COVID that created some dynamics that you already mentioned that made it real hard for kids to recalibrate after that. And then a busy family's worldview is coming into question, truth itself. And we know when we remove trust from the human being experience, you begin to create struggles with mental health. We saw what it created in the garden.

In the Garden of Eden. It really, it created chaos in the Garden of Eden. And it does in our culture. And we're having a crisis of trust right now all around us. So in that regard, when you look at, you know, parents that are listening to this going, uh-oh, you know, you begin to self-diagnose what's going on in your home.

Are the kids okay? And you might have some concerns. Obviously, when there's extreme mental illness, you need to find help. And it's so hard, Danny, and I think it's a good disclaimer that we have here that sometimes it's like watching an automobile accident take place in front of you. You're going, did I really just see that? You know, you're not sure of what you're seeing. So how do you encourage people, parents particularly, to keep an eye on the mental well-being of their children and to notice things that might not be healthy? Yeah.

Yeah, it really requires being attuned and attentive, right? Just spending time with your kids. That's where it begins.

What are some of those things that, like for anxiety or depression, what should you be looking for? Well, look for major changes. If a child tends to love, let's say art, and all of a sudden they say, yeah, I hate it. I don't want to do it ever again. They start to disconnect. They're saying, yeah, I don't want to hang out with friends.

I don't want to be with people that they've traditionally wanted to be a part of. If they love to generally be engaged with the family and suddenly they're not willing to do that or their sleep patterns change or eating patterns change. Just if you notice major changes in your child, you begin to see something is not right and I need to start asking questions.

In that regard, then how do you engage it in a way that's helpful, not harmful? Yeah, you say, hey, I've noticed these things and I love you. I care about you.

You know I would die for you. And these are some things that I'm concerned about. I've noticed that you're disconnecting more and just know that this is out of love and I'm concerned about what's underneath the surface.

Behaviors just give us signals and I want to go deeper than just behaviors. Something's going on inside. You know, again, you're a trained professional. You're a PhD in psychology. You understand these things. Talk to the poor guy that, you know, doesn't have that background that isn't exposed to those things and he's just, he's got a hunch or mom has a hunch that something's not quite right. Where do you go to find additional input to say, okay, here's what my child's expressing.

Should I be worried? Is there a place? Oh, yeah, there's a lot. Well, focus is a place. Focus on the family.

Yes, I was going to say that. So you can go to and there we're trying to equip parents to have those initial conversation starters and also just those signals that they can be aware of. With my son recently, we were on a hike and this just gives you an example of what you can do day to day. We were on a hike and I just said, hey, son, have you been struggling with loneliness, with depression, any anxiety that you've been wrestling with in your thoughts?

He said, no dad, it's been good. What about the insecurities? How are you managing those?

Because everybody has them. How are they tugging at you? And we got into a great discussion about insecurity and what that means and his fears and the fact that everyone is carrying these things underneath the surface. Some people seem okay on the surface, but you go a little deeper and sometimes you run into other people's behaviors and we were talking about that. Whose behaviors do you think you've run into that has thrown you off because you're having a hard time with how they came at you?

What do you think is going on underneath them that you need to understand rather than react to? Yeah, that's good. I tend to use a lot of scales, like zero to ten.

You do. I'm a zero to ten guy. You're a scale guy. I'll say that to the boys, you know, with anxiety or something. I wear you out on a scale of ten, you know, two or eight, whatever it might be. And then it gives you a little indication. It's almost like a dash light on your car, right? If it's an eight, that's a red light. You got to engage and figure out what's going on.

If it's a two, that's good. You're able to manage these things. And a lot of what we're talking about is based off of content in your book, Seven Traits of Effective Parenting.

And you have mentioned a story where you and your wife are struggling. I so appreciate the vulnerability of that. We all have those moments, don't we? We do, yes.

Yes. I love you. It's good to have those moments. I said, I love you. I don't like you right now. Of course, my response is, how could you not like me?

Not probably the best response. You know, maybe I should look a little deeper into my issues, but the point of that is I appreciated that vulnerability. But what was the moment? And then your son, who was pretty young at the time, had a solution for you, which was pretty amazing.

He was four, and God spoke directly through him. This was a momentum shift of my soul that I needed. And I love telling the story.

It makes me emotional sometimes, so we'll see where it goes, Jim. But I was sitting around the kitchen table with my son. It was a round table. We had been experiencing stress in the home.

I really consider that a dry time spiritually for me. I was a therapist. I was doing all the things externally. Well, you were pouring out a lot and not refilling.

Correct. And my son was playing with one of those plastic construction sets. I'm sure you guys are familiar with that. And then had the plastic screwdriver. He looked at me with those just innocent four-year-old eyes, and then got up from the table, started walking around the table, and he said, Daddy broken, need fixed. And he put the screwdriver right on my side, and I started to weep. He probably thought, man, I just poked my dad, and he's leaking.

And he's leaking. And it was a moment where I knew God was speaking to me, and it was truly a monumental momentum shift in my soul to pursue Him wholeheartedly, because I felt Him pursuing me through my son. He knew I would listen. Yeah. Got your attention.

He got my attention. That's half or even more than half the battle that we recognize where we're falling down. Right. My guard, you believe, and I totally agree with you, that mental well-being is built on a strong spiritual foundation. What are some of those essential spiritual rhythms that parents should put into the home? Jean was great at this.

I mean, moms are typically really good at this. But what should we be thinking about in terms of those rhythms? You're absolutely right. The foundations require rhythms, and it's the first one that begins with prayer. Prayer is foundational. Do you actually believe that when you're praying, you're speaking to the Creator of the universe?

Do you model that in your home? So the first rhythm is prayer. The second one is reading God's Word together as a family on a regular basis, engaging with God's Word, whether it's one verse or a whole chapter in the Bible. And then the next one is rest and balance.

Do you model the idea of rest and balance, which includes exercise and pausing life and spending time together? And then the other one is talking about, what does it mean to have an identity as a child of Christ? What does that mean? And talking about that over and over again, because we lose sight of our identity as a child of God. And when we see things through that lens, things change, the way we see things, and the way we thirst for things in our lives. This is the sense of belonging, worth. All that changes when we're a child of God, because God says, I'll take care of you.

Don't worry about that. And then the last one is to cultivate humility in your home. Always be talking and valuing what it means to have a humble heart. And when you see the evidence of that, say, hey, look at that.

Did you guys notice that? Because we notice all the pridefulness, and many times we're drawn to that. And we're naturally drawn as human beings to very confident and maybe overly confident people. And we look at social media, it heightens that. But notice the humble, the meek. And as a family, if you notice that, if you have that kind of culture, it really fosters a teachable heart. Another thing that you did that I connected with was journaling.

I didn't lay that as an expectation out for the boys, but I did it for them. They've got, you know, when I would travel internationally, early with Trent, when he was born, I kept like a 400-page journal and just wrote on these long trips to wherever. But I would talk family history. I'd draw them diagrams of where I was going to South Africa or Russia or China or wherever I was headed. And, you know, first baseball tickets and photos that meant a lot to me. I put them all in the journal.

They've got them now. I mean, they've got them in their time capsule boxes that Gene and I created. And Trent said he reads it almost every night and, you know, just talks about the importance of faith and what our family has gone through and, you know, what God can do for you if you trust him and those kinds of things. But how did you do the journaling as a family?

So I did that, and I think around three years of age for each of the kids, I kind of, you know, the busyness was gone. But a different kind of journal was one where we put journals at each of our spots at the kitchen table. It wasn't one we wrote in. So the one that was at my spot, my family would write into to give me life-giving words.

And then my daughter had one, my son, my wife. And we would just write either quotes, verses or words that we felt God was speaking through me to you. And we would put those at the table and reference them. And here's one.

I'm going to read one. Before a trip for Focus on the Family, I went to speak at a conference, a homeschool convention. And right before I got on stage, I read this note from my daughter that she had written.

I took it off the table, and I said, I'm taking it with me. And it said, Dad, you can have knowledge, and you can be meticulous in your preparation, but without the direction of the Holy Spirit, you will have no power, and your talks will not be effective. Make sure you rely on the Holy Spirit.

He will give you strength. Wow. Is that your daughter? So that was gone.

And she was a young teen at the time. And I said, oh, my goodness, thank you for the reminder. And in that moment, I said, yes, Holy Spirit, this is yours. Sounds like the author of Proverbs. And so those are the quotes, the things that she finds or that my wife will find, and we'll put it at our spot. And one time my son said, Dad, I think I'm done with the journal thing.

I think I'm good. And just the other day at 19, he's still living at home, saving some money doing that. And he said, Dad, I'd love that journal thing again. I think set reassurance as an adult. Have them thirst for it. That's good.

The rhythm of encouragement there. Danny, you use something called thought bubbles. And you talk about that in your book. What is the age appropriate use of thought bubbles and what are thought bubbles? Yeah, I don't think I can get those all out of thought bubbles.

Really, I have families talk with each other about different thoughts that we can have. And so they'll have a blank sheet of paper, and as young as three, four, five, you can begin to fill out those thought bubbles. And then talk about the potential choices. What made you choose that different thought bubble?

And could you reach for the better thought bubble? What's an example of that? So let's say a child is wanting candy. Let's just say that. Let's just say that.

Let's just say that. And there was a boundary put, don't have candy. And what you can do is write the boundary down, it was don't have candy, and say what kinds of thoughts did you have? Well, I want the candy. I'm not supposed to have the candy. I could get in trouble if I grab the candy. Boy, I would love to have some sugar right now. All these different thoughts. Candy good.

Candy good, that's right. And you write them down so they can see it. Multiple thoughts come in. How did I choose the one that I did? Was it an emotion that caused that? Was it because it was a selfish reason that I chose that thought bubble?

So what are you driving at in that example? What do you hope to prove as a parenting point? Is to reach for the better thought bubble.

Okay. And so watch themselves actually reaching for that harder or better thought bubble with the value of relationship. And noticing that thoughts, you don't have to just follow them.

You have a choice. Another thing you use is a feelings chart. Talk about the importance of that.

It does make it far easier. I remember one time I had disciplined Trent for something and he was non-communicative. You know, I'd say, can you talk to me and shake his head no. And so I went and got a feeling chart. How do you feel right now? Angry. That's good. That's good. You're getting the thought out there.

So how do you use, why use it and how to use it effectively? It helps you teach your kids that emotions are simply signals, right? There's a lot of information to be found through emotions. You don't have to take them for a ride.

They're not necessarily bad. They're just following some thoughts. So it gives you signals to go a little deeper. And something we've created is a feelings chart that is actually a water bottle sticker. And so the analogy with that is that we thirst for things. And sometimes those thirsts create certain emotions inside of us and can throw us way off.

And so asking your kids, hey, what do you think you're thirsty for? Is it acceptance? Is it that you don't, you don't feel accepted? And so it makes you feel sad and maybe it makes you feel angry. And so you go backwards to the real thing.

I feel left out. I know with my daughter, I actually apologized to my kids early on. I said, guys, with anger or happiness or sad, I'm going to go deeper. And, you know, you're a counselor.

Bummer of a birth order. So we're going to be, we're going to be going deeper. So we're not going to stop there. That's good. As parents, just know emotions are gold for you.

There are opportunities to get to know your child even deeper. And talk about your own emotions. If you feel upset, you go, man, I feel upset. But below that is this emotion.

And below that is this. I feel unheard. I feel dismissed. Unloved.

Unloved. Those words that are much more descriptive and much more helpful to be known are the ones that you want to put out on the table instead of the surface ones. Help your kids understand that the deeper you go, the more they'll be known. And we thirst for that. We do want to be known by people. You know, and again, I haven't met a parent who doesn't want to be thinking about those things and do the right thing. Sometimes it's just the knowledge or the intentionality, again, to be that engaged.

And I think, you know, we tend to be people who take the path of least resistance, right? So you get home, you plop on the news, you sit in the chair. I just need 20.

Give me 20 minutes just to get ready for the chaos. And then you never get out of the chair. Right. And so you speak to that parent what they're missing out on. If they don't, there is so much excitement, enthusiasm, learning when you do engage in this way. But it takes effort. It does. It does. It takes effort.

It takes energy. I mean, conversation is something that you have to be right there in. You have to be involved.

It takes a lot of concentration on your part to be involved. What a great reward, though, the relationship that you're going to have. Oh, yes. You know, somebody was telling me the other day that he was the officiator at his daughter's wedding. You know, that's pretty tough. And then she leaned to him and said, Dad, you're always going to be my best friend. And he said he started to cry. But the point of mentioning that is that's the relationship you want with your child.

That's right. Especially your adult child. And it goes so fast, Jim. And many times we think, ah, we'll just do that tomorrow or next week. And pretty soon it's years that have gone by. And you can start off with a walk. If you get up and start walking and just go side by side, you'll see the conversation will come over time. Maybe the first one will be very quiet. And that's okay. And over time you'll enjoy those conversations. We're right at the end, Danny. I do want to mention something that you refer to in the book, which is who gets a vote?

Because I think the concept is excellent. Describe who gets a vote and how do you apply that in your family? I still remember a young man came to my office and he said, Mr. Wertheim, I'm too short to ever get married. I said, wait, how did you get that? He said, well, somebody told me I was too short. I said, well, how did they get to vote on that?

I mean, I've seen short people get married. That's not even true, right? So how did they come up with that? And that just gives you a concept that some people have more power in what they say than others.

And it may be healthy power and it may be unhealthy. And so the idea, the concept is that you draw concentric circles. And the middle circle are the people that have the most powerful votes, the most votes in saying who you are.

And for kids, it may be the most popular kid, it may be a toxic kid, a kid they want to be like or be liked by. And they're in the middle circle and you have to figure out what does that mean? If they're getting that many votes, what does that mean in how you see yourself when you look in the mirror?

And then you look at the outer circle as you go out in the concentric circles. And sometimes parents find themselves there and you can see I don't get as many votes. So if I say something positive to my child and something said negative by this other person, they're believing more of that.

So ask your kids, as you're filling that out, what does this mean? You want these people to have that many votes and if you don't and they're affecting you, how can we move them to a different place on your vote chart? And really getting the right people in the middle so you get an accurate perspective of who you are. Adults, when they do this, it's pretty powerful. When they start filling out who gets the most votes.

And a lot of times it's those emotions that throw you off that it's an insecurity or a thirst to belong or to feel a sense of competence. Somebody that you thought can measure you on that all of a sudden gets these votes, then it throws you off in having the right and the healthy people that can accurately give you the thirst for Christ. I like that. No vote for you.

Yeah, no vote for me. I do like that. Let's end right here. You know, I'm thinking back when I was 13 and you're freshman year in high school, even better. And you're looking in the mirror going, man, I'm not as muscular as that junior I know from PE class who almost beat me up the other day or look at that zit.

Where did that zit come from? There just are a lot of imperfections that are showing up in that that early teen experience. How can you encourage your son or daughter?

And I'm only those examples were obviously boyish. But in that regard, what can you do as a parent to encourage your your preteen teen to not just look in the mirror? Well, a lot of lies come through that mirror.

I mean, they really do. And something we've used is either chalk markers or dry erase markers. And we've drawn a circle on the mirror and then written truths about each other in our home. I remember doing it for the first time for my son and my daughter where I drew a circle. They were sleeping, drew a circle for my son and a heart for my daughter.

Right. And where they were going to see themselves in the mirror. And then I put arrows on there and I called my wife over.

Hey, let's put things that are true about them specifically, not general. And it it really requires a lot of thought to sit there. I was going, man, this is harder than I really expected. I was writing those out and they saw them and they ran over and they said, hey, thank you. It meant a lot to them. And then they did. They drew some circles on our mirror the next day.

Oh, wow. And so then we had fun. And my wife said, well, this is going to be fun to clean up, but but it was it's been fun to use and surprise each other with these these markers. So that our children will have the truths in the mirror and they'll remember those words instead of the the deficits that they tend to wrestle with in the mirror. And again, this is for the mental well-being of our children and making sure they're feeling strengthened and encouraged and defended.

And I just love the concept. And Jim, on that, bringing them back to what scripture has said about who they are. Most importantly. Masterpieces of God's creation. Ephesians 2. Made in his image.

Yeah, made in his image. Psalm 139, fearfully and wonderfully made. So much in scripture gives us the reassurance and the picture of truly who God sees us to be.

And we often forget that. And one of the big words that I want to leave parents with is the word trust. How are you really cultivating trust in your home? Trust in God, trust in each other. That is core. When you lose trust, things start to get wobbly. And so if you want to start somewhere, start with the word trust.

What's happening there? It's so good. Danny, it's a pleasure to be with you today on the program. And thanks for doing everything you do to walk in every day thinking about the job of a parent. And man, we are chock full of resources here at Focus on the Family. I think, you know, I've been here. I'm shocked to say I think 34 years.

I started at Focus in 1989. And, you know, when you think about it, Dr. Dobson and the team over the years, I mean, just simply built a resource center for marriage and parenting. And we want you to tap us for help.

That's the whole thing. If you don't feel like your parenting technique is moving in the right direction, let us help you. Just give us a call. You can talk to a counselor. We'll send you resources.

We'll give you ideas. And if you're dealing even with some more serious things, we're here to help you. And that's the critical thing to remember. Danny's got a great book, Seven Traits of Effective Parenting. That's a tool you can put in your resource chest to go to. And you can get a copy when you contact us here at Focus on the Family. Yeah, this is a terrific book. It's got lots of great charts, a lot of interaction for you as a parent. Get a copy today of Seven Traits of Effective Parenting when you call 800, the letter A in the word family, or stop by the show notes for all the details. And when you make a gift of any amount to Focus, we'll send you a copy of Danny's book as our way of saying thank you for being a part of our support team. Plus, at our website, we've got details about our new podcast. It's called Practice Makes Parent.

It features Dr. Danny Huerta and Rebecca St. James. And the podcast really has a lot of great practical insights and faith-based encouragement. Real life strategies for every stage of parenthood. Check out Practice Makes Parent today.

And again, you can donate and get your copy of the book, Seven Traits of Effective Parenting, and so much more in the show notes. Danny, great to have you with us. Thanks for being here.

Thank you. Well, coming up tomorrow, Dr. Kevin Lehman wants to help you experience a happy, lifelong marriage. And here's what I want people to really understand. When you share feelings, it draws you together.

When you go down the judgment trail, now the defenses go up. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I'm John Fuller inviting you back as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ. We'll see you next time.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-02-12 08:56:02 / 2024-02-12 09:08:18 / 12

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