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Dr. Joseph White, Author and Speaker

Sharing Catholic Faith


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Helping Kids Cope with Anxiety and Stress

Posted on August 19, 2015 at 1:47 AM Comments comments (340)
The beginning of the school year and the changes that come with it can sometimes cause stress for children and parents alike. Whether it's first-day jitters, adapting to schedule changes, homework, tests, or other issues, stress sometimes intensifies at this time of year. For some kids and teens, however, worries and stress can be more serious issues. According to recent research, about 13-15% of children and teens meet the diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder -- a startlingly high prevalence rate for any health or mental health problem (and much higher that just 15 years ago). Signs of anxiety disorders can include persistent worries, frequent crying or irritability, changes in sleep and eating habits (for example, difficulties falling asleep), and physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches.

Though stress and anxiety can feel overwhelming, we can choose how we respond to it.  here are some ways we can help kids and teens deal with stress and prevent anxiety disorders:

Think positive! Help your child or teen identify and change patterns of thinking that might be extreme, absolute, or pessimistic. For example, it is usually not helpful to us when we think thoughts that begin with "I can't" or include words like "always" or "never." Try to replace these with more positive or flexible thoughts.  

Coach your child through basic problem-solving steps. instead of telling your child how to handle a particular challenge, guide him or her through the problem-solving process by helping your child ask and answer these questions: 1) What is the problem?; 2) What are all of the different things I could do?; 3) Which action should I take?; 4) How did it work?

Help your child cultivate stress-busting habits. Adequate sleep, exercise, proper diet, and quality time with supportive friends and family are things that can help us prevent and manage stress. Help your child acquire and keep these good habits.

Encourage through your actions. Don't try to do for your children what they can do for themselves, but may lack the confidence to do. Instead, serve as a cheerleader for your child by using encouraging words and actions that say, "I know you can do this. I believe in you."

Help them learn how to relax. Slow, deep breaths (sometimes called "belly breaths") can help us in ridding the body of tension, as can step-by-step muscle relaxation techniques, such as focusing on one muscle group at a time, and relaxing those muscles. Imagining a peaceful place can also be helpful in relaxing the mind and body.

Be a good example. Make sure you are a helpful role model when it comes to managing stress. Children and teens often do what they hear and see.

Help them learn to take their worries to God. I Peter 5:7 says, "Cast all you worries upon him because he cares for you" (NAB). God is a loving parent, and if we ask him he is ready to give us the grace to work through even the most stressful of challenges.

Help in Vanuatu

Posted on March 22, 2015 at 12:23 AM Comments comments (11)
Dear Friends,

Although we have heard very little about it, a category 5 hurricane (called Cyclones in the Pacific) directly hit the small island nation of Vanuatu last week. This country is one of the poorest and most vulnerable on earth, and many of its inhabitants have lost everything. There is extreme concern about starvation and disease in the coming days and weeks. I just made a donation for relief in Vanuatu, and I encourage you to do the same. Because the inhabitants of Vanuatu have such simple lifestyles, any money you could give would go a long way to help them. In the Catholic Church, Lent is the season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in which we prepare to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Please consider giving even a very small amount to help the inhabitants of Vanuatu "resurrect" their lives after so much suffering.


Fifty Shades of Psychologically and Spiritually Unhealthy

Posted on February 16, 2015 at 1:54 PM Comments comments (85)
As a clinical psychologist and a catechetical writer and speaker, I have trouble letting a problematic cultural moment like this one pass by without comment. Fortunately, everything I would say about the "Fifty Shades of Grey" phenomenon has already been said, here on the psychological side (in a blog by UCLA psychiatrist Dr. Miriam Grossman) and here from the theological end, by Bill Donaghy from the Theology of the Body Institute. Enough said.

Nurturing Your Marriage as Parents

Posted on February 3, 2015 at 12:02 PM Comments comments (141)
The United States Bishops recognize February 7-14, 2017 as National Marriage Week. For more information on that, click here. 

In recognition of this worthy focus on marriage, I am posting the following excerpt from my book, A Catholic Parent's Tool Box (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014):

Many couples, as they begin to have children, transition away from time as a couple to time as a family. The pressing demands of parenthood – the busiest job you’ll ever love – push “together time” between husbands and wives to the back burner. Many parents of young children feel guilty about spending time away from the kids – or even wanting to. And the increased mobility of today’s families often means that grandparents and other family members are farther away, making it a challenge for many parents to find reliable childcare.
Still, research tells us that the best parents are those who take time to nurture the marital relationship, even if it sometimes means occasionally sacrificing time with the kids. This makes sense for three reasons. First, you are your child’s example of how to have a healthy adult relationship. Kids learn by example, so if one of your dreams for your children is to find that special someone and live “happily ever after,” show them how it’s done. Second, children feel more secure when they know their parents’ relationship is solid. The day to day struggles of marriage and family mean that we will always have some conflicts, but kids get can get confused about how serious these are, and often have fears (even unspoken ones) that mom and dad may get divorced because they are arguing. More positive time together for husbands and wives is reassuring to them (and to you) that you still love each other no matter what. Third, parents who aren’t generally in close communication with one another find it much harder to set consistent limits for their children. Kids often learn to exploit this and can sometimes pit one parent against the other in an effort to get something they want. (It sounds a little devious, but almost all kids try it at one time or another. Perhaps you remember doing this yourself!) Parents will find that child discipline is a lot easier when they present a “united front,” working together to give the children what they need even when it means denying what they want.

So how do we do this in a world of real-life family demands? Here are a few tips:

1. Ask each other out on dates. Don’t find time, make time. Perhaps you could get together with another couple who have young children and agree to watch their kids so they can go out if they will do the same for you. Go somewhere you wouldn’t go with the kids – a romantic restaurant, a movie, or perhaps you may even wish to stay at home and have a quiet dinner and a little romance while the kids are out!

2. Do the unexpected. Surprise your spouse with something he or she really likes. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. (Flowers are the old cliché, but they still work, guys! They’re not that expensive if you deliver them personally.) Perhaps a favorite treat or a love note sent via U.S. Mail to your spouse’s work (or hidden in a briefcase or lunch bag). It can take just a few minutes to brighten up their day and spice up your relationship.

3. Bring back the good old days. Make a compilation of music the two of you listened to when you were dating. Did you have a song that was “your song?” If you are still in the same city, go to a place you used to frequent together. (If not, perhaps a place that reminds you of “back home.”)

4. “Steal” some quick moments together. Make a lunch date while the kids are at school or childcare. Be firm about bedtime, and spend try to spend at least an hour together after the kids go to bed. (Together enjoying one another, not paying bills and folding clothes.) Schedule this for two or more nights per week. Steal a moment or two in the morning while you are getting dressed for the day (Your bathroom door has a lock, right?)

5. Pray together. This is another place where time has to be made, not found. Hold hands and ask God to bless your marriage and your kids. Pray some traditional prayers together. Take turns reading the Psalms to one another. Tap into the Creator of marriage and family, the Source of the grace that strengthens us as husbands, wives, and parents.

6. Be affectionate in front of the kids. OK, don’t overdo it, but giving quick hugs and kisses is nice for you are reassuring to them. Even if they say “yuck,” they’re probably smiling on the inside.

7. Be patient with one another. If you’re not already doing these things, it takes a while to “get into the groove.” One of you may try something romantic when they other is not necessarily in the mood. Be open and patient as you work to get more in sync. Try again and again.


Catholic Schools Week 2015

Posted on January 30, 2015 at 3:59 PM Comments comments (188)
In a time of tight pocketbooks and increasing school choices, parents are interested in what makes a Catholic school unique. Why should they choose a Catholic school over other options available to them?
One response, especially for active Catholic families, is Catholic identity. We know that the central character – the heart -- of a Catholic school is different. But how can we ensure that this difference permeates everything that we do?
The answer to this question can be found in the pedagogy recommended by Church documents, such as the General Directory for Catechesis, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the U.S. Bishops’ pastoral message on Christian education. All of these documents state that our pedagogy should be based on the pdagogy of God. We are called to teach others in the way that God teaches us.
What exactly is divine pedagogy?
Divine pedagogy includes principles of selection of content and of methodology. It encompasses how we arrive at the “what” and the “how” in the educational process. In Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, we can clearly see five aspects of the divine pedagogy:
God’s pedagogy is invitational and person-centered. God invites us into relationship with him. We don’t “find God,” God finds us. He initiates the relationship. As God enters into dialogue with us, we are called to follow this example by providing catechesis that it “is rooted in inter-personal relations and makes its own the process of dialogue” (GDC, 143). God also meets us where we are and accommodates for our particular needs. Therefore, education based on the pedagogy of God is developmentally-appropriate and makes allowances for adapting to special needs.
God’s pedagogy is incarnational. Dei Verbum points our the “inner unity” of deeds and words in God’s plan of revelation: “the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them” (2).  From speaking the universe into existence, to his promise to Noah and his covenants with Abraham and Moses, to the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ, it is evident that God’s word becomes action. Education built upon the principles of the divine pedagogy will make lessons come to life through hands-on activities and applications and multisensory teaching methodologies. It will give learners clear ways to go out and live the Gospel in their everyday lives.
The pedagogy of God is familial and communal. God reveals himself as a communion of persons – Father, son and Holy Spirit – and creates human beings to be in communion with one another. Catholic education modeled on the divine pedagogy will build community in the classroom, involves parents and families as primary catechists, and connects children to the larger parish community.
God’s pedagogy is structured and comprehensive. In salvation history,God reveals himself to humanity gradually as people are able to understand. And one revelation builds upon the next, until revelation reaches its fullness in the person of Jesus Christ. Catholic education modeled after the divine pedagogy also presents key truths gradually as the learner is able to receive them. These truths are centered around the person of Jesus.
The pedagogy of God is perpetual. Isaiah 55:11 states, “So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me empty, but shall do what pleases me, achieving the end for which I sent it” (NABRE). God’s truths are handed on through the generations in the forms of Scripture and Sacred Tradition, which is the living memory of the Church. God’s covenants do not end, but come to greater fulfillment and realization. Catholic education based on the divine pedagogy prepares the learner to share the Gospel with others, in word and deed, so that God’s Word is handed on to others and to future generations.

Sandy Hook -- Second Anniversary

Posted on December 14, 2014 at 5:00 PM Comments comments (99)
Today is the 2nd anniversary of the Sandy Hook School shooting. Pictured here is one of the children who died on that terrible day -- 6 year old Caroline Previdi. Caroline's life is an inspiration to me because of her generosity to others and her recognition of God's blessings in her life. She would save her money all year and empty her piggybank just before Christmas to buy presents for children whose families couldn't afford them. Whenever someone said something was "lucky," she would correct them, saying, "We aren't lucky, we are BLESSED!" I think there's a close connection between gratitude and generosity, and one of my Christmas wishes is that I can grow in both. Thank you for your short life and powerful example, Caroline.

Fall 2014 Recap and 2015 preview

Posted on November 29, 2014 at 8:17 PM Comments comments (102)
Diocese of Trenton, photo by Joe MooreThis post is long overdue, as I've mostly been on the road for the past several weeks. August began with keynote talks for Catholic school conferences in the Archdiocese of San Francisco and the Diocese of Laredo. Later in the month, I had lots of fun with he catechetical leaders in the Diocese of Trenton this past August, as we discussed "Engaging Children and Evangelizing Families." What a wonderful day we had together!

Our skit with catechists in Tokyo.October began with a keynote talk at the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston's Early Childhood Conference, followed by a talk together with my wife at the St. Francis Center in Tokyo, Japan. It was wonderful to hear about what the Catholic community in Tokyo is doing and to share some new ideas with catechists there. A special thanks to those of you who volunteered to be a part of our Bible story skit (see photo).

Later in that same week, I had the honor of speaking at the National Shrine of St. Therese of Lisieux (my favorite saint!) in Darien, IL. Special thanks to Fr. Bob for his hospitality and to all who participated in our engaging discussion on the role of Scripture in the life of the Little Flower. This was followed by a filled-to-capacity talk the next day at the Chicago Catechetical Conference. 

After Chicago, I jumped on a plane to get to Vancouver, for a talk to catechists and catechetical leaders the following day. Thanks so much for the warm welcome you gave me there! I'm so encouraged by all that is happening in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, and it was a privilege to meet Archbishop Miller as well. October wrapped up with talks in the Diocese of Stockton and a  day with Catechetical Leaders in the Diocese of Bridgeport, CT. It was great getting to know some of you so well and talking about exciting things to come!

Speaking of what's ahead, my 2015 speaking calendar will be posted soon, but here's a preview. I'm so excited to be coming soon to New Orleans, El Paso, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Springfield, Orlando, Santa Fe, Milwaukee, Trenton, St. Augustine, and TWO upcoming dates in Philadelphia (including a talk at the World Meeting of Families). Looking forward to meeting more of you as we work together to share the treasures of our faith!!

Robin Williams

Posted on August 12, 2014 at 4:05 PM Comments comments (101)
I've been putting off commenting on this because I wasn't sure quite what to say, but as a psychologist, and considering the circumstance of his death, I feel I should say something. I have been a fan of Robin Williams pretty much all my life. His career started when I was a young child, and I remember seeing him on Happy Days and then Mork and Mindy. I even had some of those Mork suspenders that I wore around as a kid! In high school, my friends and I saw Dead Poet's Society at the theater every week until it went off. (I don't even know how many times we saw it!) I was awestruck by his performance in Good Will Hunting (and so, apparently was the Academy, since he got the Oscar). Who else had, at the same time, such comedic sense and such dramatic sensitivity?

And to top it all off, he was by all accounts of those who knew him, an extremely nice guy -- one who performed tremendous acts of charity on the condition that they wouldn't be publicized (now some of this is coming out).

It's so very sad to see this kind of immense talent, mixed with real humanity, come to such a tragic end.If you or someone you know is battling severe depression, please, please get help. And if the first or second or even third thing you try doesn't work, KEEP TRYING. Life is worth it.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.

Talking with Children about The Worldwide Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace

Posted on September 5, 2013 at 1:43 PM Comments comments (83)
In response to the recent conversation about Syria, Pope Francis has proclaimed Saturday, September 7th as a day of fasting and prayer for peace. The Holy Father has also made a number of statements expressing his concern over the use of chemical weapons and also reminding us that it is our responsibility as Christians to find peaceful ways to resolve conflicts whenever possible. While we don’t expect children to understand the complexities of issues like chemical weapons, international law and military intervention in conflicts in other nations, current events provide an opportunity to dialogue with them about Catholic teaching on war and conflict resolution.

"War never again! Never again war!" Pope Francis posted these words to his account on Twitter in the midst of the debate concerning Syria. While there might sometimes be just reasons for considering military intervention, our primary goal should always be to find peaceful means of resolving conflicts. The pope also sent the following message: “"We want a peaceful world, we want to be men and women of peace." In talking with our children, let us reflect on what it means to be people of peace in our own daily lives. Here are some questions for reflection with children:

• Do I pray for my enemies, as Jesus told us to do?
• When I have a disagreement with someone, do I look for ways to make it better?
• Do I stop to pray, asking the Holy Spirit to help me choose how to work things out peacefully?
• Do I take time to calm myself down so I can make a good (and prudent) decision? 
• Do I talk things through and avoid physical violence?

Being a people of peace can sometimes be counter-cultural. To be peaceful people means “going against the flow.” Pope Francis says, “"We want in our society, torn apart by divisions and conflict, that peace break out!" Le us all resolve, on this worldwide day of prayer and fasting, to “let peace break out” in our families, our schools, and communities. Let us all say together, “Let it begin with me.”

Because I Said So

Posted on July 9, 2013 at 12:39 PM Comments comments (90)
Every once in a while, a parent says something that I find really insightful and useful in my work as a family and child psychologist. A few days ago, my friend Lisa posted this to her Facebook:

"'Because I said so,' used to be the lamest answer an adult could provide. It made me think my mom was lacking in imagination, and didn't respect me. Now I realize it was a self-defense mechanism. 'Because I said so,' translates to, 'It's not negotiable.' 'Why' doesn't really mean why, it means, 'what are the obstacles I need to work around or remove to get my way?' It's a power play. My response to "why?" is, "I'll tell you why if you still want to know after you do it." It isn't that I don't respect them or think they will understand the reasoning behind a request, it's simply that I want it done. Period. I'm trying to avoid, "Because I said so," because it is insulting, but really, if my children were born in the wild, they would have already been eaten by a predator because they wouldn't just listen and do what I said without questioning me. Sometimes I think they just like seeing me lose my temper and bark at them. Not today of course. Today they were little darlings."

Way to go, Lisa. You get the Best Advice Award from this child psychologist!