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Feeling overwhelmed by depression, anxiety, and/or changes in your life?  Breathe a sigh of relief.  You may be in the right place.

I work with individuals, families, and groups specializing in treatment of depression, anxiety, and life transitions.  Overall my work centers around what my patients are wanting in their own lives and unearthing the resources within themselves to make it happen.

What makes me different than other therapists is simply who I am.  My sense of humor, compassion, skill set, and love for what I do and those I have the honor to treat is unique to me just as you are unique to you.  I believe the relationship is everything and together we create something unique to us.  Something that cannot be replicated no matter who walks in my door.

So if you are interested, please feel free to give me a call to see how together we can sort through whatever is ailing you.

I offer daytime and evening appointments.   Please give me a call today at 707-478-4351 or send me an email at sierradator@gmail.com to see how I can help.

The #1 Don’t of Handling Back to School Anxiety

The end of summer comes with a mixed bag of emotions.  Happy to see our kids head back to school to get some structure and rhythm to their days.  Ecstatic siblings get a break from one another and the bickering has a natural hiatus.  Sad the fun is over.  Dreading no more sleeping in.  Reluctance to go back to the rigid schedule.  Hopeful this year will be good for them as they learn, grow, and connect with others.  For some families, anxiety is also an emotion in the bag.  For some families, anxiety takes up the whole bag!

Some children have gotten a healthy dose of anxiety mixed into their DNA so they tend to lean that way.  Other children have had experiences causing anxiety.  Some children have a bit of both.

No matter how anxiety developed, there is one major Don’t when it comes to handling back to school anxiety:

#1  DO NOT LET YOUR CHILD STAY HOME FROM SCHOOL!  I know, I know.  You think I am yelling at you with all those capital letters in your face.  If you can imagine we are talking in person, I am looking at you directly in the eyes, with a slightly serious head tilt, and assertively telling you to not let you child stay home from school.  Then I am going to gently, kindly, and directly discuss with you why this statement is my #1 Don’t.

Parents often let their kids stay home with the best of intentions.  Promises get made about how they will go the next day.  I am telling you now, letting your child avoid what they are fearing is only feeding the anxiety monster more.  It creates anxiety by giving it more time to develop and get bigger and bigger.  It may appear the anxiety quiets down when you give your child the thumbs up to stay home, but this ease is temporary.  If you are planning on them going to school tomorrow, the one day buffer put a bandaid on a broken leg.  As we all know, bandaids don’t fix broken legs.

Anxiety has a way of making people believe something really bad is going to happen.  It tricks our brains into creating fantastic stories.  Like last night when I feared for my life because I was home alone for the night….Here I am this morning, alive and well creating this post.

Yes bad things do happen at school.  Kids can be cruel, teachers move too fast on a lesson, there is no room at the lunch table, being the last one picked, getting blamed for something you didn’t do.  Those things, among others, can make school feel terrible.  

Let’s talk about a few ways to support an anxious child who doesn’t want to go to school.

  1. Assess what is really going on.  Are they really in danger?  Is there a peer who is hitting them with sticks when the yard duty isn’t looking?  Is there someone on social media who has threatened to beat them up after school when they walk home?  Is someone threatening to post inappropriate pictures and say it was them

If we are going to help our child, we need to know what is really happening.  Sometimes anxiety is warranted.  Like if someone via social media this summer told a girl she better watch it or she is going to smash her face in if she sees her at school.  Or if last year a child was a target of someone’s constant teasing, then we can see how anxiety is present.

Your job is to learn the most you can about what actually has happened.  See if your child will show you the messages sent to her.  Find out how many times this has happened, who was involved, and all the details you can so you can move onto how to help them navigate the situation.

2. If the anxiety is due to something truly threatening their safety, reach out for help.  Talk to the teacher, school counselor, and/or administrators to help get the problem solved at school early before it has time to grow this year.  Giving your child a person to connect with over this situation can help them feel supported at school.

A second option would be to talk with the other parent of the child involved.  Whatever you do, make sure to come across in a respectful way.  These calls can go well or terrible.  Sometimes parents can become quite defensive.  If you get a call like this, do your best to hear all the information being presented and communicate back in a respectful way.

A third option is to develop a plan with your child on how to handle the situation, but if the situation truly involves their safety, we don’t want to put off keeping them safe in the spirit of keeping their cool.  If it feels like a situation you/your child want to try and manage on your own for a bit, role play what to say and do given the situation.  Discuss safe places to be and safe people to be with.  Continue to assess how the days go and if things are escalating, it may be time to go with the first two options above.

A fourth option: If none of this works, it may be worthwhile to look at whether this school is a good fit for your child.  I would encourage you to talk to the school first.  Find out if the school is willing to work with you.

I believe every child has a right to feel safe at school.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t always come easy for every child.  We need to help our children have access to this inherent right.  Going it alone or asking for help, it is important we work to address these issues with and for our children.

  1. In true anxiety fashion, if the worry is about something that hasn’t ever happened, it is time to help your child move into the present moment.  So often anxiety helps us write a horrible story in our head that probably isn’t going to take place.  We can bring our child into the present moment by looking around to what is happening right now versus what we imagine is going to happen into the future.  Be there with them in the here and now by coaching them on taking some deep breaths.  Have them tune into your voice and just breathe.  There are also some pretty amazing apps and kids/teen meditations out there if you need some help.  You tube is filled with them.  

A second tool is to help your child write a story of infinite possibilities using the facts.  Example: The fact is I can go into the office and eat lunch if I don’t find someone to sit with.  The fact is I can ask Kelly to eat lunch with me; she is nice to everyone.  The fact is I can bring my book out to lunch and read today.  The fact is I don’t know what today will look like but I am open to having a good day and I am not going to let lunch time bring me down.

I have a ton of other tools in my bag to support kids with anxiety, too much for a blog.  Please feel free to reach out to me to talk more.  Other great resources include the websites Anxiety BC and Worry Wise Kids.

Wishing each family and child a great start to the school year!

Final Wise Girl Workshops of Summer 2017!

Running Wise Girl Workshops is no small task, and I am thrilled and honored to support girls in 5th-8th grade around areas of anxiety, making wise decisions, developing healthy coping skills, increasing self-esteem, and spreading more kindness to their peers and the world.

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2 Things to Definitely Do This Summer FOR Your Kids and Teens

While watering our garden the other night, my nearly 7 year old said to me, “Mom, will you be home with us this summer all the time?”

Totally wishing I could pull from the money tree blossoming in our backyard and say yes, I said, “No little one, I have to work.  But I will be around more, and we can go to the pool and do fun things together.”

Point blank she said, “Well if you can’t be around all the time, can you please be off your phone when you’re with me?”  

Really tuning in I said, “I will do my best.  I have to do some things for work on my phone sometimes, but I will really try.  I hear you and thank you for telling me what you want.”

Then squeezy hug.  I love this kid.

I bet you can guess 1 of the 2 things to do this summer FOR your kids and teens.

#1 Get off your phone mom and dad.

Now that I have really got your attention (unless you just got a text on your phone you are now looking at…remember #1 people), let’s move onto #2.

Keeping up with other families and relatives is not always in your children’s best interest.  Some families are constantly on the move and some barely leave the house.  Neither of these ways of being are right or wrong.  They’re just different.

What is important though is while you are doing nothing or doing something, pay attention to if it is working for your family.  Doing back to back to back outings might be too much for your kids.  They may need some R&R.  Or maybe they are so bored and fighting all the time because they haven’t been stimulated enough.

Many parents can get swooped up in the FOMO (fear of missing out) and push their kids to the brink.  So when little Johnny is having a meltdown because he is super fatigued from sun and fun, you may want to rethink what Johnny really needs.  

Sometimes our children’s needs might not coincide with what we want.  That fact can be a bummer to miss out hanging with another family you really enjoy or not getting to stay home all day when that is what you had in mind.  This life is full of compromise.

Please remember this:

#2 Tune into your kid and do what they are needing more of and less of this summer.

Wishing you all a wonderful summer!

#1 Reason Your Daughter Needs An Anxiety Toolkit

Is it because anxiety is plaguing our society?  No.

Is it because you have a history of anxiety in your family?  No.

It is because your child’s mind runs wild when she lays down to go to sleep, and she cannot seem to shut off her brain?  No.

Is it because your daughter perseverates on details like, “What if I don’t get invited, or I don’t get an A on this project?” and cannot let the thoughts go?  No.

While those are all good reasons you might consider an Anxiety Toolkit Workshop for your daughter from Wise Girls Workshops, that is not the primary reason your daughter needs one.

THE #1 REASON YOUR DAUGHTER NEEDS AN ANXIETY TOOLKIT

Everyone deals with anxiety.

You might be thinking, “What?  That’s it?”

And I am saying, “Yup, that’s it!”

You see anxiety can become apart of our life for a moment in a time or in a way that lingers.  Lingers for minutes, hours, days, weeks.

Either way, anxiety is a normal human emotion.  It shows up for everyone at times.  Who couldn’t benefit from learning tools to recognize the feeling for what it is, developing tools to help care for yourself, and having some time to practice those skills?

What a gift, right?!

There are some other benefits for developing an anxiety toolkit:

  • Your daughter will feel more in control of herself when anxiety takes hold and know she can care for herself.
  • She will have an awareness to help her understand what other emotions she is experiencing and have ways to manage them too.  Some tools are transferable to other emotions, not just anxiety.
  • Through Wise Girls Workshops group experience, kids will see they aren’t alone in terms of worrying and see many of their peers have similar fears.  This fact provides relief!
  • She will stop asking you to reassure her about things over and over and over and over….
  • Your daughter can recognize it in others and provide helpful support.
  • She will learn how feelings constantly change and while anxiety might feel big in the moment, we never get stuck in one feeling forever.

This anxiety toolkit business is good stuff, right?  Developing tools to cope with anxiety isn’t just for those who have a serious problem with anxiety.  We all need tools.  We all deal with it.  Everyone can benefit.

I Wish I Had Known

Do you remember your 5th-8th grade self?  If you are like me, you may remember a variety of selves that showed up.  Transitioning from a kid to a teen in the matter of 4 short years.  From changing bodies to older topics of conversations to getting in and out of braces.  Then there is the labeling yourself, judging others, trying to find your place, changing relationships with your family members and friends, and seeing yourself in a whole new way.  And then there is the more modern day changes from no phone to phone and from texting to use of social media platforms.

I believe these years are extremely critical to our development and are a window of opportunity.  Kids and teens can still hear us. I see it all the time in my work; kids who are spouting out their family values, words, and beliefs.  Towards the junior high time though, many parents feel like their kids stop listening to them.  This time is when it can be helpful to have your child hear positive messages from other people.

Deep down inside of me is a teacher with wisdom to share with younger people.  While I don’t have all the answers, I believe I do have a knowing based on my own experiences, the experiences of others, and my training to help guide, share, and inspire.

There are a lot of things I wish I would’ve known and why I feel so compelled to run Wise Girl Workshops.  Here are a few:

  1. That feeling you get when you start eating a lot of food when you aren’t even hungry or you find yourself drinking faster, that’s anxiety.  There are healthy things you can do when you recognize that feeling to take care of yourself and watch it pass.
  2. You can be the person you want to be and you will also have challenges within yourself.  That’s ok.  You don’t have to be perfect.
  3. You are enough and can love yourself as is AND you can also work to better yourself all at the same time. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.
  4. You can make good decisions for yourself and seek guidance from the loving adults around you.  It is ok, and people approve of you asking for help.
  5. We all want attention.  You don’t have to seek it out in unhealthy ways and succumb to pressure from others in order to be seen.
  6. We are all just trying to find our place. It’s ok to feel sad, worried, scared, and lonely.  It’s ok to talk to someone who cares about you when you feel this way.  You aren’t weak.  You are human.  And you don’t have to happy all the time.
  7. You can dream big and make things happen.
  8. You don’t have to sit quietly when comments, gestures, or requests are made that make you uncomfortable.  Stand up for yourself.  Set limits with others.
  9. Allow yourself and others to try on different ways of being without judgement.  We are all going through it.  No one way is right.
  10. Give yourself permission to embrace your strengths.  From academic success to athleticism, to being funny and caring.  It all counts!
  11. No one ever starts out using substances and intends to be addicted.  It can happen to anyone.

What do you wish you would’ve known?

Don’t Let Anxiety Boss You Around

If you or your family member suffers from anxiety, chances are you are being bossed around by it. Anxiety might say things like:

“Don’t do that!”
“You can’t do that!”
“Don’t go!”
“Call me when you leave!”
“Text me when you get there!”
“Don’t leave before I tell you to!”
“This is going to be bad!”

Now notice there is an exclamation point after each of these statements. This is because if it were said in a calm, cool manner, it wouldn’t be anxiety. Anxiety has an urgent fretful tone to it, warranting the exclamation. If you hear this more urgent tone coming from yourself or your loved one, odds are good, it is anxiety trying to push you around.   Even if you aren’t the one suffering directly, anxiety has been known to be contagious and make others around them feel it too.  ​The whole system gets impacted.

Who likes to be bossed around? (The crowd goes silent.)

So what does one do when anxiety is bossing them around?

1. Once you recognize anxiety is there and possibly bossing you, take a deep breath, maybe even a few to make room in your brain to think rationally about what is happening and what you will do next.

2. Decide if the anxiety is warranted. Ask yourself questions like, “Am I really in danger?” “What will actually happen if I don’t text my kid every 5 minutes from the grocery store as he demanded?”

3. If you are in danger, worry away and get yourself to a safe spot.

4. If are not in any real danger, which most likely is the case, begin to use your logic to talk yourself off the ledge. “Who is talking here? Me or anxiety?” “What is actually going to happen if….?”

5. Soothe yourself by talking calmly to yourself. “I am going to be ok.” “She’ll be back in 30 minutes.”

6. Do something to give your mind a break from the anxiety after you have gone through these steps. We don’t want to avoid our feelings but we do want to give ourselves a bit of space if we are feeling flooded by them, and we do want to move on after we have gone through the steps. No need to stay stuck.

7. Have a party! Recognizing when anxiety is bossing you around and choosing to do something different other than let it take control of you is definitely worth celebrating!

AFFIRMATION

I handle anxiety with ease.

The Private Practice Fundamentals Group Starting This March!

A Group by sierra dator

Motivating Kids- Public Speaking Event

Tomorrow I have the great privilege of motivating kids at one of our local junior high schools through imagery, activity, and or course, eating candy.  I am thrilled to have the opportunity to teach kids about empathy, compassion, judgement, and assumptions.  I am going to end with this amazing find:

Holiday Pressure and Kids

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Imagine your boss was watching you 24/7 and evaluating whether you have been “good” at each second of the day.  Based on this vigilant watching, your paycheck would arrive or not arrive.  You weren’t sure.  Was it ok if you chatted for 2 minutes on the phone with your partner about what was for dinner that night?  Or grabbing a coffee on the way to a meeting?  Does that count as “naughty?”

Those questions could pose some serious pressure.

Now imagine your brain isn’t fully developed enough to be able to reason the way our adult mind can.  Imagine people were reminding you everywhere that “your boss is watching!”

The stress for some could feel unsurmountable.  You might eventually breakdown: lying, tears, fits, self deprecation, illness, fatigue.

I paint this picture to give you some insight into what it can be like for many children around the holidays.  It’s an amazing time of year but with it comes the stress of being perfect and being watched.  Yikes!

It might be worthwhile to give your child some room to make mistakes and to empathize with the pressure they may be feeling.  Here are a few things you can say when your child is making some poor choices this holiday season.

  1. While Santa may know when we are naughty or nice, he also knows when we do the right thing even after making a poor choice.  And it matters to him.  Let’s see if you can do the right thing starting now!
  2. I know it can feel hard to do everything right over the holidays with our Elf (name) watching all the time.  But I want you to know, its ok to not be perfect.  Let’s just do our best to treat others the way we want to be treated.  How do you want (person’s name) to treat you right now?  Ok, let’s work on treating them the same way.
  3. Did you know the elves sometimes get angry when their toy making doesn’t turn out the exact way they had hoped?  Sure do!  They have a few tools they use to calm themselves down.  They have a special breathing tool they use and I learned it once when I was a kid.  It’s called the Santa Belly Breath.  First you breath in making your belly as round as Santa’s.  Yes, that’s it!  That big!  Then they hold their breath for a second and slowly let it out…..

Be playful, kind, and loving with your interventions.  The way we approach a situation could really make a difference.

Back to the boss analogy for a moment.  Let’s say your boss came to you and screamed in your face that you better knock it off!  There was no paycheck if you kept it up!  You might feel ashamed, extremely worried, and stressed.  Would you want the same for your child?  Probably not.  You probably want them to stop the behavior or have some remorse.  But shame?  Not exactly.

I ask you to remember to have empathy for the pressure those little people feel and treat your children the way you want to be treated.

Wishing you and your family the very best this holiday season!

AFFIRMATION

I am kind, loving, and playful with myself and those around me.

 

Free Talk for Social Workers Interested in Private Practice

I am speaking at the NASW- Sonoma Chapter on November 10 from 5:30-7PM for social workers interested in learning more about starting a private practice. Event is located at Cellars of Sonoma in Railroad Square, Santa Rosa.

Participants will earn 1 CEU. If you do plan to attend, please RSVP to naswsonomaunit@gmail.com so they can plan accordingly. Hope to see you there!

“What They Didn’t Teach You in Grad School: THE LCSW in Private Practice”

Did your graduate school program leave you lacking in the nuts and bolts of how to develop a private practice? Have you ever wondered if private practice might be a good fit for you and feel stumped as to where to start? You are invited to attend “What They Didn’t Teach You in Grad School: The LCSW In Private Practice” presentation by NASW and Sierra Dator, LCSW. Learn about pros and cons of being in private practice, 3 types of private practice settings, what you need to start and much more.
Sierra Dator is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a private practice in Petaluma, CA. She has been working in social work for over 15 years specializing in the treatment of anxiety, depression, and life transitions with youth, adults, and families. Sierra earned a BSW at Keuka College in New York and an MSW at State University of New York at Buffalo. She is an eclectic practitioner drawing from many theories to inform her work including Family Systems, Dora Kalff’s Sandplay, Cognitive Behavioral, Psychodynamic, and Depth Therapy. Sierra also runs Wise Girl Workshops which offers girls in 5th-8th grades the opportunity to develop tools and increase knowledge on how to care for themselves and make healthy decisions through half day and bi weekly workshops.