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tips for keeping Children safe from abuse, protecting children

All kids deserve a happy, safe, carefree childhood, free from any abuse that will haunt their memories on into their adult lives. With the knowledge that child abuse is a factor in later emotional and psychological problems, keeping our children safe from abuse is a top priority.

Here are some tips.

  •           • Be cautious about who is allowed access to your children. Statistically, family members and partners of the parent are more likely to harm children than strangers.

  Take care with choosing baby-sitters. Better to pay someone with training and references than to take risks with someone even slightly ‘dodgy’ or a sitter who is too young with immature impulse control.

  Stay sober and drug-free around your children so you can be alert to protect them, and keep your children away from people who are drunk or stoned.

  • Be alert for any signs that your child might have been abused: physical signs, age-inappropriate behaviour and knowledge, and emotional distress.

  • Set firm boundaries around the behaviour of other people around your children: pornography, bad language, lewd behaviour etc.

  • Establish regular opportunities where the child can debrief and talk to you about anything.

  • Take seriously anything a child might say about an adult doing something to them.

It is horrible to think our children are being abused, but it can also be horrible to think that the abuser is a family member or someone we love. That freezes some parents into inaction and the abuse continues. A real cause of life-long pain for some victims is that they did seek help but they weren’t believed or protected. Our priority has to be our child’s safety. Their life-long mental health and happiness may be at stake.  Get advice from your doctor or mental health professional to help you do the right thing.  Bring on board a trusted friend to support you. Yes: there may be terrible pain as a result of what you  have to do – family trouble, relationship break-ups and legal consequences – but realise this:

  • You did not cause this trouble, the abuser did.

  • Your loyalty to your children has to be greater than even your loyalty to your partner or family.

  • The consequences of not acting will be worse than any trouble your actions stir up.

These are hard things. Let two things be your guide: love, and doing the right thing.  Those two compass needles usually point the same way and, when they do, you can be pretty confident that your actions will result in the best outcomes. 

If you suspect your child has been abused, do get them some help. Again, your doctor can advise you. Gentle, sensitive counselling can greatly reduce the harm that abuse causes.

Finally, don’t let this blog make you depressed or sour! The world is full of lovely, safe men and women who are on side with you and your children. Yes, we need to be vigilant and wise, but your children will be far better off with interactions with other good adults.


These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019
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We can help our children grow up to enjoy good mental health. Yes, there is a genetic component to mental health and so if we, ourselves, have had mental health challenges, then our children may be at more risk of developing problems as well. However, there are things we can do that will improve their resilience and greatly improve their chances of happy emotional and mental well-being.

In the early years, a huge issue is attachment, which is when a child feels ‘plugged in’ to a reliable, caring, affectionate adult. Another important thing is that they are shielded from adult anger and violence. A safe, peaceful, loving home is the foundation for a life-time of well-being. Parenting courses are ideal for adding to our skill base to help this to happen.

Later on, a child’s good mental health is fertilised by

·         Friendships with peers

·         Trusting interaction with other adults

·         Fun

·         A sense of connection with family and a wider community

·         Opportunities to learn and express themselves

·         Good rest

·         Protection from, and processing of, stress and trauma.

We don’t like to think of our child’s world having stress and trauma but it is there, and one of the most stressful things that can happen is bullying. It has been linked to depression and anxiety in young people. It’s a big topic, one worth researching more fully if it is an issue, but here are few points.

·         Victims agree with the bully. They believe the put-downs and insults. Gently reassure your child and rescue their self-esteem.

·         Alternative groups help your child recover. A youth or sport group away from the school or wherever the bullying takes place is a wonderful tonic, to help a child experience themselves as something other than a ‘victim’.

·         Debrief. Provide a safe quiet space where your child can talk. Wind down the advice and wind up the listening. Nothing helps a child process their stress better than a non-judgemental adult with a sympathetic ear.

·         Enlist the school. Schools are not perfect but much better now at handling bullying.

·         Upskill your child. Child-appropriate assertiveness involves things like being able to say ‘no’, to walk away from conflict and to deflect other’s unwanted attention with humour.


Avoiding stress and managing it better are key skills in moving towards better emotional and mental health.  Those skills work amazingly well for us and, if we can pass them on, they can also be incredibly useful for our children as well. 

Monday, January 21, 2019
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 If you ever want to scare yourself, look up on the internet how mental health issues were treated in the past. Often the treatments were bizarre, verging on cruel. Frequently the only “therapy” was confinement. All over New Zealand, and most other countries, you can still see the remnants of huge rambling mental hospitals that used to be full but are now abandoned or used for other purposes. The main reason they are now empty is that modern drugs mean that far more people are able to have their symptoms treated while still living at home and in the community.

As you know, it is still a drag having mental health problems.   The good news is that most psychological and psychotic issues can now be helped with good therapies; the bad news is that the drugs are not perfect, and the process of diagnosis and prescribing the right medication is still far from perfect as well. We are all different and a drug that really helps one person might not do anything for another except give them side effects. It can be upsetting and make us wonder if we might not be better off without any treatment at all. However, we have to at least admit that things are so much better than they used to be. When medication gets tweaked and fine-tuned to suit us, our life is usually so much better than when we are trying to cope with untreated symptoms. Hang in there – that ‘tweaking and tuning’ can take a while. Here are a few tips and insights to help you get there.

1.       1.Become an expert on yourself. Diary your experiences, noting anything about your mood or behaviour that might be a bit different. Look up some of the possible side-effects that can occur with your medication and make a note if any of them occur. Discuss your findings with your doctor – your diary can be very useful.

2.       2.You might become the expert on yourself, but your doctor is still the expert on the drugs. Resist the temptation to alter your dose or try some non-prescribed drugs without talking to a medical professional.

3.       3. Don’t be afraid of annoying your doctor by asking lots of questions and requesting changes if things are not working well.  Your doctor understands the ‘tweaking and tuning’ process, and will not be insulted if you say a medication doesn’t work as well as hoped. (Sometimes, though, drugs do take a while to work well: your doctor might be quite right to ask you to be patient and persevere a bit longer).

4.       4. Treatment with drugs is only part of getting your mental health back. Counselling, life-style changes and social support can all have brilliant benefits.

5.      5. Many of the more common side effects – such as constipation, weight gain and insomnia – can be treated to make the anti-psychotic drugs more tolerable. Many side-effects also decrease as your body gets used to the drug.

6.      6. Keep an eye on your overall health – antipsychotic drugs are ‘relatively’ safe but, for some people, they can affect their cholesterol and heart and cause other problems. If in any doubt, at least call your doctor’s nurse. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Mental Illness and Suicide

Did you feel a little scared just looking at the title of this article? Almost everyone is at least a little afraid of this topic, as if even reading about suicide will nudge us towards doing it. A little reassurance: the next few paragraphs will help you pull the handbrake on those self-destructive thoughts. It will actually pull you back from the brink, not tempt you to edge closer.

As you probably know, mentally unwell people tend to be more likely to attempt suicide. In fact, a New Zealand study interviewed people who had survived a serious attempt at suicide and it revealed that almost all of them were struggling with some identifiable mental health problem. Is there any good news in that for us if we have mental health issues? Yes! It means that if you find your mind urging you towards taking your life, you can be absolutely certain it is your illness talking and it is NOT the result of rational, reasonable, logical thinking. Here is the fact to cling on to:  mentally well people do NOT escape problems through suicide. When brains work well, they know there are always better options than suicide. Yes, awful things can happen and painful emotions can rip our hearts but, even so, a healthy mind always concludes, “This will pass”, “This is survivable”, “I cannot see a solution yet but a solution is there”. 

Depression ‘dims our headlights’. Our dim lights show the problem in front of us – the pain, guilt, rejection, whatever – but they don’t give us enough light to see a solution that is any good.  Imagine you are driving on a mountain road, and a land-slide blocks your way. With your dim lights you conclude, “I can either smash into the cliff on one side or plummet over the edge on the other”. Two solutions… but both of them are terrible! You need to borrow brighter lights – the lights from friends, family and professionals who will see things so differently. I guarantee that, when they hear of your pain and problems, they will NOT say, “Yes, I completely agree. The only thing to do is to end it all.” It may surprise you, even slightly annoy you, that they see exits and bypasses and solutions all over the place when all you can see is darkness, cliffs and ravines.  Depression also can make us feel so weak and tired that we just want to give up; so, as well as borrowing their light, accept their care, love and support as well: their strength can become your strength.  And, most of all, borrow their hope! Depression may have (temporarily) stolen your bright future… ask them to help you build a new one.

The takeaways from this:

  • Suicide is never a good solution to any problem.

  • When suicidal thoughts trouble you, tell yourself (over and over if necessary) that this thinking is a symptom of mental unwellness. As your health returns, the thoughts will ease.

  • Even though you might fear embarrassment, get support from someone you trust. It will help you be steadier and feel connected, and you can borrow their cooler, clearer perspective on your problems.

  • Definitely share your suicidal inclinations with your mental health professional or doctor. Extra support is usually available for people with acute needs, and medication may help.

  • Always take your prescribed medication. Coming off anti-psychotic medication is especially dangerous as distressing and confusing symptoms can come flooding back.

  • Have an action plan ready-to-roll. If you ever feel at real risk, you will have at hand the numbers to call a Crisis Team or Helpline. Your plan might also include care for your kids if you need a break.

Are you really troubled right now? Call a help line (below) straight away.  You do not need to die. There are better solutions. There is hope.


1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor

Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland

Youthline – 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat

Samaritans – 0800 726 666

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

What's Up – 0800 942 8787 (for 5–18 year olds). Phone counselling is available Monday to Friday, midday–11pm and weekends, 3pm–11pm. Online chat is available 7pm–10pm daily.

Kidsline – 0800 54 37 54 (0800 kidsline) for young people up to 18 years of age. Open 24/7.

thelowdown.co.nz – or email team@thelowdown.co.nz or free text 5626

Anxiety New Zealand - 0800 ANXIETY (0800 269 4389)

Supporting Families in Mental Illness - 0800 732 825.

If it is an emergency, or you, or someone you know, is at risk, call 111.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019
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Mental Health and Parenting

Does our poor mental health impact our children? It certainly can. We are a huge part of our children’s world. If our emotions, thinking and behaviour start to skew, then they will probably be able to see it and will be impacted by it.  But here is the good news: children can be amazingly resilient and sympathetic about a parent’s struggles. From school age on, with a little help, many of them develop surprisingly mature insights into our ‘ups and downs’.  More good news: if children feel loved and safe, then you already have your ‘pass-mark’ as a parent! It is amazing what else can be ‘wrong’ in their upbringing but, if they feel loved and safe, they will still grow up to be healthy, whole adults… and they will most likely still love you to bits! 

Here are a few tips:

  1. Let kids know that there is always a plan B.  If our children have experienced episodes of our poor mental health in the past, they may be really scared about who will look after them if we get unwell again. Ahead of time, line up your back-ups. “You know if I am getting unwell, Mrs Green next door says you can pop in there any time and stay. And Aunty Tina will take you home if it looks like I need a bit of a break. So you never need to worry: there are always people who can look after you if I get sick.” Our priority will always be our children’s safety. If we honestly have to concede that our children might be in some risk, it is great to have a plan ready-to-roll to get them quickly to a safer situation.

  2. Debrief with them. Our children will gain better insights into what is happening if we actually talk with them about issues that have arisen.  Maybe that won’t be possible in the midst of a difficult time; we might need to wait until we recover, or our partner could step in and speak with them. Rather than just telling them information, it is more important to listen.  Ask questions and don’t be too quick to contradict their fears or distress. Sympathise. If it is appropriate, apologize.

  3. Patience. Patience with them, patience with yourself. A huge skill is to pause before reacting. Even if we were not experiencing mental health challenges, parenting can be very hard work. Their immaturity and poor impulse control create all sorts of scenarios that would try the patience of a saint! Of course, we are going to need to get on top of poor behaviour but take your time. Allow anger (theirs and yours) to settle. Get some extra skills from online, books or parenting courses (e.g. Toolbox courses and family coaching from ParentingPlace.nz). Our motto during the tough times: “This, too, shall pass!”

  4. Reducing stress helps them and us.  Routines are wonderful for giving children a sense of security. Patterns and rituals around getting up and getting ready for school, mealtimes, chores, homework and bedtime keep them feeling safe and secure. Even though establishing routines can be hard work at the start, after they are running well they require very little input to keep going. Good routines can reduce our stress wonderfully as well. They can keep family life ticking along even when we are tired or not very well.

  5. Reassure your children you love them. Children can misread our low moods or agitation. They might conclude we do not love them, or even that they are the cause of the problems they are seeing. Leave your kids in no doubt: you really do love them! Say it with words, with your kindness, with your gentle touch and hugs, with your care and attention and with the fact that your eyes light up and smile when you see them.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Mental Health and Relationships

One of the best ‘assets’ for getting through a challenging mental health issue is to have the support of a close friend, especially a loving partner. The dilemma is that poor mental health sometimes erodes those relationships. Here are a few tips for enriching your relationships.

  1. Perspective. 

  2. If feelings get hurt, it really helps to step back and get a bigger picture. Both the person with the mental health challenges and their partner would benefit from asking themselves questions like, “Is this the way we normally get on? Do we usually have these problems during periods of better mental and emotional health?” Remember that depression, in particular, can distort perspective, making issues seem much more massive than they really are: so, borrow someone else’s perspective. Talking your issues out, with your partner or maybe a friend or counselor, might help you see problems in a different way.

  3. Investment. 

  4. A relationship is like a bank account. During better times, make lots of ‘deposits’: good times together, sharing meals, expressing your love to each other. Dates are important but they don’t have to be expensive: going for a stroll, having a picnic, even together dancing in your lounge. The accumulated wealth of memories and intimacy will create extra resilience for when times are more difficult.

  5. Kindness.

  6. A secret of happy, loving relationships is simple habits of kindness. Courtesy, thinking ahead about what your partner might want, and speaking gently with each other can make life together remarkably good, even when mental health is at a low ebb. That kindness extends to grace and forgiveness: putting grievances behind you, not holding grudges, and seeking to love your partner even though (at the moment) not a lot of love might be coming back to you.

  7. Support. 

  8. Friends, sports clubs, wider family, church, and other groups provide valuable sources of strength and encouragement. Engaging with others, both with your partner and on your own, can help both of you recharge and take on board some therapeutic fun. Other support might be from agencies and professionals. It’s likely that a person experiencing mental health problems already has input from a doctor or counselor (and if you don’t, please do!) but don’t forget there are skilled professionals who can help improve the health of your relationship as well. Guidance counselors do not have magic wands, but they do have insights and advice that helped lots of couples get through problems and recover closeness and intimacy.  The big thing: don’t leave seeking help until it is too late.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018
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Lifting Depression


Depressed? Welcome to the club! It’s huge club – millions join every year – and it’s a rotten club!  Medication helps a lot of people feel better but there are also lots of things we can do to help ease depression. They also help to prevent us from sliding back into it.  Here are four simple things that have helped lots of people – they may help you as well.

1) Sleep when the clock says you should. Get a good night’s sleep but then get up and stay away from bed until bed time again.   When you have little energy and not much interest in activity, it is so tempting to snooze and nap throughout the day but research shows this makes depression worse.  Bed is not for snacking, not for gaming, not for watching TV, not for reading during the day. Farewell your bed in the morning and greet it again at bedtime.   It will take a while before this becomes a routine, but there is so much benefit from a fixed bed time and fixed waking time.  One final tip: put your radio alarm clock slightly off station, turn it up loud and put it out of reach!

2) Don’t have a depressed pantry.  Eat like a healthy person would! If you eat healthy, balanced meals, full of vitamins and light on sugars, it will not be long before your body starts to reward you by feeling more energetic and healthier. And even before the physical changes happen you will feel better just by taking control of what you put on the plate. Make it easier by filling your fridge and cupboards with quality, varied and healthy food… and maybe dumping the junk food in the bin.  

3) Treat yourself well. What makes you feel better? Then do it. (My apologies to those of you who immediately thought of ‘Having a nap’ and ‘Eating some junk food’. What else could you do?).  Especially do those things that calm you and make you feel good. It might be playing with the dog, putting on some music, doing some relaxation exercises, lighting scented candles, working in the garden, reading a book, doing some stretches, having a bath, taking a stroll or playing the guitar. Slumping in front of the TV has it’s place, but these treats I am talking about are a bit more intentional. You will be amazed how a couple of ‘fifteen-minute holidays’ each day can lift your whole mood.


4) Accept Yourself.  So you are not perfect… that is okay.  You have your faults and weaknesses  – everyone does – but don’t let those block you from seeing  that there is actually a lot of good in you, a stack of potential, a ton of talent and you are beautiful as well. Of course, if you are depressed, you might have difficulty believing any of that. But it is true because it is true of every single human on the planet.  You are a wonderful individual. Take that from me… but it will be lot more powerful when you can say it to yourself!  Everyone would like more friends. Add to your friend-count straight away by including yourself in the list of people you really like.

Friday, November 23, 2018
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“Really, how are you doing?” 

Mental Health Awareness

“How are you?” “How on earth would I know!?” Knowing how we really are and what we are actually feeling is a skill called self-awareness. Sadly, many of us actually work harder on developing the opposite skill of ignoring what we are feeling. We keep the cupboard door of our emotions firmly locked shut.  

Ever lived in a place for a while and then, ‘suddenly’, everything seems to need a lot of maintenance?  Ever been surprised that jeans that used to fit ‘suddenly’ have to be forced up and over a bulge? In the same way that we fail to notice small changes in our environment or body until they become quite marked, some people miss the signs that their mental well-being is taking a dip until they are really struggling.   Perhaps they ignore the fact that their sleep patterns have become more and more erratic, or that the occasional drink they used to have has become a nightly habit; maybe the little anxieties and once-infrequent glum patches are starting to blend into a constant state of uncomfortable tension or dragging depression. Some people never notice – or, take seriously – the little signs that their mental health is declining until they are overwhelmed by burnout or some other crisis.

Good mental and emotional health requires vigilance. A good way to sharpen our self-awareness is to compare ourselves now with some point in the past. Compared with, say, this time a year ago, are you…

… having as much fun?

… mixing with family and friends as often?

… sleeping as well?

… as fit and well nourished?

… being as helpful to others?

… enjoying life with your partner as much?

… keeping on top of your work load?

… feeling as appreciated and respected?

… able to relax as well?

… keeping alcohol use under control?

… finding time for hobbies, sport and creativity?

When you look at your own Facebook posts from a year ago, do you think your life then looked a lot better than it is now? Has a friend or family member expressed concerns about changes in your lifestyle or mood or appearance or health? We all have stress, but do you find that stressful events rock you more now than they used to, and do you get the idea that stress is piling up in your life?

All these questions are just a warm up… now the big one: how are you feeling?  What’s in your emotional cupboard? Is it mostly contentment and happiness? That’s really great. How about if you have a few anxieties, phobias, regrets and sadnesses? That can be little tough but it is also very normal most of us have a bit of ‘untidiness’ in our mental health from time to time and most of us cope pretty well. The good news is that there are proven ways to really make our mental health better and better. The really good news is that a lot of those ‘therapies’ are simple and actually very enjoyable: eating well, relaxing, time with friends, being active, music, hobbies, getting into nature etc etc.

But what if our emotional cupboard is bursting with anxiety, troubling thoughts, guilt, thinking that runs around and around in circles or energy-draining depression? It would be desperately unkind to ask you to pry open that cupboard if there were not some real solutions to those issues. That’s the first thing you really need to hear is: help helps!  You will feel better! It is often amazing the progress people make back towards health once they recognise there are issues that addressing.  Help comes in all sorts of forms,  and you will find out how to access it [on this page? In a box? ]  ( If you need help urgently then jump straight to [on this page? In a box? ]   )

For most of us, the takeaway from this is: know yourself. In the same way that good caring people will sometimes eyeball their friends and ask them how they are really doing, we can confront and check up on ourselves. Self-awareness and some simple ‘self-maintenance’  can help prevent a sag in mental health becoming a land-slide. 

Friday, November 23, 2018
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The Top Life Skill – Self-Discipline

There is a life skill that helps us to be successful in nearly every area of life – in our careers, in our relationships and, very importantly, in our mental health. Despite its huge value, it’s a skill that is never actually taught as a subject at school or university. It is self-discipline.

Self-discipline has been called the master life skill. You may have heard of the famous Marshmallow Experiment*. An experimenter put a marshmallow in front of young children and told them they could eat it straightaway but, if they could wait for a while, then they would be given two marshmallows.  The researcher then left the room for some minutes. Some children just gulped the marshmallow immediately, others battled with the temptation but eventually gave in, and some of the children didn’t touch the sweet at all and were rewarded with the extra marshmallow.  The dramatic part of this experiment is what they discovered when they followed up on those same children years later. The children with self-discipline – those who did not eat the marshmallow straight away were more successful in their studies, had lower levels of substance abuse, were less likely to be obese (despite the extra marshmallow!), handled stress better, were more likely to be student leaders and  were just generally better at ‘doing life’ than the kids who had not been able to hold out  for the extra sweet.

Obviously, self-discipline is hugely important, and it is also obvious that habits of self-control are learnt at a very young age, probably from our parents. That’s great… except I am sure that many of us would have been eating that first marshmallow even before the experimenter got to the door! Is there any hope for us? Yes!  Skills and habits can be learnt right through life. Setting goals, pumping up our motivation and getting people to ‘cheer us on’ are often the ways people build self-discipline. And here are two other strategies** that really work, especially when it comes to making the lifestyle changes that are so linked to good mental health:

‘How’ and ‘Why’.    The ‘Why’ is the desirable outcome we want; it is a vision of a ‘better self’ that self-discipline will give us. It might be a vision of a fitter self, or a sober self, or a self that will engage in therapy, or a self that saves money. That inspiring vision of our future self is our ‘Why’,  but self-discipline often breaks down on the ‘How’: the ‘devil is in the details’. E.g. we want to diet but we don’t plan what we will eat for lunch at work; we intend to study but we don’t factor in that our partner will want the sound up on the television; we want to go to the gym but the traffic after work robs us of all the available time. The ‘Why’ gave us the desire, but it is the ‘How’ that defeats us… except… you are clever! Most of us CAN actually think out a decent ‘How’. The trick is to have the ‘How’ ready when we need it. Whenever we have a good ‘Why’, straightaway work on the ‘How’.

Self Control Works on Patterns.  “I want to give up smoking, but just one more cigarette won’t hurt.” “I’ll go to that therapy course, but missing one session can’t be that important”. One cigarette, one session, one doughnut… of course, on there own, they are insignificant,  but self-control comes from choosing ‘patterns’ of behaviour rather than individual acts. That single little cigarette tonight is part of the pattern, and so it impacts how hard it will be to resist the cigarette tomorrow. Are we stopping that single cigarette, or are we stopping the pattern? Likewise,  that one little doughnut is connected to the kilos and kilos of other doughnuts that are lining up to be eaten in the weeks ahead. Self-discipline is not just one action after another, it’s grabbing hold of the whole pattern.

It would have been so much easier if we had had self-discipline drilled into us as little kids, or been gifted with ‘self-discipline gene’ (is there such a thing?) the but we can all practice and improve self-discipline. And the result? Change and progress!  It really makes us happy.  It gives us a sense of accomplishment. It banishes feeling powerless. It gives us hope that we can change and change and keep growing and improving. And what could be better for mental health than that?

* Mischel, Walter; (1972). "Cognitive and attentional mechanisms in delay of gratificatio.". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 21 (2): 204–218
**Adapted from  Heshmat, Shahram (2017).  “10 Strategies for Developing Self-Control” . PsychologyToday.com

Friday, November 23, 2018
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