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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.

Wise Girl Workshops At It Again!

Announcing a great opportunity for both 5th-6th and 7th-8th grade girls!  Wise Girl Workshops’ NEW School Year Toolkit is here.  12 awesome weeks to learn, grow, and share together.  Help your girl get all the tools to support her emotional and physical health this school year!

Parenting Tips For the Road Trip

Upon completing a fairly unplanned 2 1/2 week road trip with my 2 elementary school age kids, I am a mom and therapist with some sound advice about traveling with kids. Don’t do it!

Only kidding! This road trip had ups and downs and all the emotions in between. I would highly recommend traveling with your kids, and I wanted to pass along some lessons learned.

1. Be a mind reader and have within your reach all the “needs” your kids are going to have. Snacks, travel blanket, snacks, water, pillow, snacks, Kleenex’s, books, audiobooks, coloring supplies, movies, games, paper towels, snacks, charger, car sick medicine, and did I mention snacks?

2. Keep in tune with their need for food. If it’s been a few hours or you can see their tank running low then certainly make the effort to fuel. With my one child I can see a distinct mood change when she gets some chow from grumpy kid to funny, playful kid. Parents eat too. A hangry Mom or Dad is no fun either.

3. Pace yourselves. I know you may have plans, a schedule, ideas, and want to do it all, but a kid who is pushed to the max is no bueno. If you’ve been rafting all day and then want to stop at the brewery for a relaxing pint and meal you may be setting yourself up for disaster. Because what you actually may get is a melted down child and an angry parent combination. There couldn’t be a worse way to end your awesome day.

4. Limit the electronics. I hear so many parents talk about how their kids energy takes a turn for the worse when posted up in front of tv, phone, or video game systems. If you find your child cannot handle even having the device without a swirl of whining when they take a break, don’t bring it along.

5. Make room for the emotions and practice self care. I had a great time with my family, however, there were moments when I wanted to release their rafts into the wilderness while I floated in the peace of the river or allow them to go live with the lovely lady at the pottery painting studio. At times I felt burnt, sad, anxious, and overwhelmed. My whole family also felt this way at times. They weren’t going to be perfect and neither was I. So I needed to make room for all the feelings and also take care of myself by taking some time to read, exercise, and pray.

6. Practice mindfulness. Yes it is the buzzword of the times and that is because their is something to it. Pulling yourself into the exact moment of what was happening was helpful to me in so many ways. Feeling the mountain air make contact with my belly through a deep breath was medicine for many of the moods I encountered.

The advice could go on, however, as I tell all parents I work with, you know your kid best. You know their wants and needs and limits. There will be a time when they can do it all and when that time comes, it’ll be awesome. Until then….

Easing Child and Teen Anxiety Around Shootings

There is an anxiety about being safe in school given the climate of our nation.  I offer you a few ideas on what to do and say to kids who are feeling anxious about shootings.

  1. Listen with love by looking at them, holding them, resting their head on your shoulder.  “I know you know about the school shootings that have happened, would you like to talk about it?”  Then be quiet.  Maybe ask some probing questions if it feels like want to talk but don’t have a lot to say.  “What do you know has happened?  How are you feeling about it? Say more about feeling worried.”  Or if they aren’t wanting to talk, let them know they can talk with you whenever they need to.

  2. Let them ask questions.  If you do not know the answer or not sure how to answer the question, then let them know it is a great question and you will think about it and get back to them.  Make sure you get back to them. “Do you have any questions for me?  That is a great question; let me do some thinking about how to answer and get back to you.”

  3. Do not overshare.  What a 7 year old should know is much different than what your 14 year old should know.  Children do not need adult doses of information.

  4. Limit tv and online exposure both for yourself and your child.  If your child has access to their own phone/computer, educate them on what binging on the media can do in terms of their mental health and encourage them to limit their exposure.  “Watching media about the school shootings can feel important.  We are curious about all the details and maybe even think watching things over and over will keep us safe.  I want you to know while it can feel good to be in the know about what is happening in the world, it can also make us feel overwhelmed, anxious, and cause problems for us like being afraid to go to school or having difficulty sleeping.  I encourage you to get back to enjoying the things you like to do and if you have any questions about what is happening, know you can ask me. If I don’t know the answer, I will find out, and get back to you.”

  5. Remind them of the unlikelihood of this happening and their teachers being there to help keep them safe.  “It’s scary to know kids have been killed in schools. I want you to remember, you teachers and staff are there to help keep you safe.  If you are feeling unsafe, know you can talk to them. If a drill or event ever happens, follow your teacher’s directions and hide. It will be alright.”

  6. Validate and normalize their feelings.  “This is a sad time. You are worried. You are afraid to go to school.  It’s normal to feel afraid after scary things happen. It is normal to feel sad.”

  7. If you let your kid stay home for a day, be there with them, and get them prepared to head to school within the next day or so.  Keeping kids home only fuels anxiety more. It may look like it is soothing them but in the long run, avoiding what causes anxiety only increases anxiety more.  It’s like the monster in the closet. If we never check the closet and face our fears, the monster gets bigger and stronger. If we open the closet door, we see the only things that exists is our clothes.  “I am so glad we got to spend today together relaxing. Are you feeling ready to go back to school tomorrow? What will happen if you keep missing school? Who do you think missed you today? I know you are afraid to go to school tomorrow; I believe you will be safe and you need to return tomorrow.  If anything bad were to happen, I would get to the school right away. You can trust I would.”

  8. Communicate with the school counselor/trusted staff if your child is struggling with anxiety/going to school.  Let your child have a contact person to connect with until the wave of anxiety passes. You can develop a plan with the staff on how your child can have contact with them.  “You have a great relationship with Mrs. Dator. Do you think we could let her know you are feeling worried and get permission for her to check in with you this week?”

  9. Make room for their feelings and experiences AND get back to life.  Model healthy ways of living and coping and encourage your child to get back to enjoying their life.

  10. If your child is unable to get back to life and cannot move through the anxiety and/or is experiencing depression for more than 2 weeks, get them professional help from a license mental health professional.

  11. Shootings are a trauma experienced by all those touched no matter how distant from the victims.  Remember grief and loss take time to heal. We can grieve the loss of people we don’t know, and we can grieve the loss of our safety.  Parents have a huge responsibility to help their children feel safe in an unsteady time. Do not promise anything you cannot offer but do give them hope.  “Bad things do happen in the world. I believe you will be safe, and I love you.”

  12. Offer a transitional object.  Children and teens can benefit from having something tangible to have to remind them of you and your love.  “I wanted you to have this bracelet to where each day. I am going to wear one too. That way, if you are ever feeling worried, sad, scared, or just missing me, hold the bracelet and know I am thinking of you too.”

  13. Empower your child to tell.  Teach your child that when it comes to the safety of themselves and others, they need to tell a responsible adult.  “If you ever hear anyone in your school talking about wanting to hurt or kill themselves or others, you need to tell a responsible adult right away.  I know you might think it is a false alarm or you might not want to get someone in trouble, however, if it isn’t a false alarm, how would you feel if something did really happen?  It isn’t up for you to decide how serious someone is; that’s too much responsibility for a kid. I highly encourage you to tell me and know I can help do the right thing to keep kids safe.”

 

Sexting and How Wise Girl Workshops Addresses It

One of the topics covered in the Wise Girl Workshops Emotional Toolkit workshop is on how to make wise decisions around sexual health, and is age appropriate for all grade levels covered.  As the article in The New York Times “Teenagers are Sexting—Now What?” by Perri Klass, M.D. on March 12, 2018 greatly points out, it is important to talk about sexting as a part of what tweens and teens are facing today, not with shame but with an openness. My job is to help girls come up with a plan about what they are going to do when they themselves or friends are faced with the question to send nudes, normalize the curiosity they may feel, and think about the outcome of their actions and whether sending pics are worth it.  Because as this article points out, the median age for getting a cell phone is just after age 10.

 

Wise Girl Workshops Summer 2018!

Already thinking about summer?  Me too!  Check out the offerings of the amazingly fun Wise Girl Workshops for Summer 2018 and sign up early to reserve your child’s spot today.  Be sure to check out both pages of this flier for all the juicy details.  You can find more info here too!

Thanksgiving

Holidays mean something different for me as each year passes.  In the wake of the recent fires, I am filled with a whole host of thanks for all those who have and continue to put in the effort to support people who have lost and are impacted.  I am also saddened and hopeful for those of you who have been directly impacted, and I am holding you close in my heart.

The fires have not only kicked up gratitude but also trauma, as it continues to be a theme I am seeing around me.  With the holidays just around the corner, many people having lost their homes, sexual harassment in the media, the state of our country and world, and our own pasts, people are feeling deeply everywhere.

Holidays and being with family can bring forth a of mix feelings.  Being without family can do the same.  There is so much to feel.

It is important to remember this time of holidays and feelings is a season.  While they may feel extremely big and overwhelming, I encourage you to remember this is a moment in time.  Feelings change just as the trees do.  Nature holds such a powerful metaphor for our lives.

Just as the natural world cares for itself, we must care for ourselves too.  As the mushrooms pop up around us acting as a purifier for the air, we can care for ourselves by breathing deeply and paying attention to our inner world.  Asking ourselves if our choices are helpful or unhelpful.  Giving oneself permission to leave after dessert or go for walk.  Declining the party or forgoing the alcohol.  It is vital for us to practice self care.  What would our world look like if nature didn’t care for itself?  Please remember being thankful doesn’t mean we allow other people’s wants, needs, and expectations to compromise our own.

I am wishing you all a caring and reflective Thanksgiving.

Moving Forward in the Aftermath of Disaster

In the aftermath of the Northern California fires, nervous systems have been revved up and are now crashing down.  The fear and unknown has led many adults and children to live in a hypervigilant state.  Now that the fires are contained and threats to homes and lives are at bay, it is time get back to living.  This may be hard to do given the state of the community if you are in a fire struck area, lost your home or loved one, if you have been volunteering, and/or living in a constant state of fear.

While many people are resilient and will bounce back easily into their own lives, some people will not for a variety of reasons.  Whether impacted directly or indirectly, a natural disaster can have a traumatic impact on lives.  It is important to care for yourself, and as parents, it is vitally important to care for yourself so you can better care for your own children.  So what does caring for yourself mean?  This means getting back into your own routine, getting a lot of sleep and rest, nourishing your body with healthy foods, exercising, and engaging in other activities that bring you relaxation and pleasure.

It may take some individuals days, weeks, months, or even longer to recover from this experience.  I would encourage you to notice your own feelings and move with gentleness if not feeling quite as resilient as some of those around you.  Each day is a new day with new feelings and thoughts emerging.  Moving through a traumatic experience can take time so please be patient with yourself and those around you.

New trauma can trigger old trauma and sometimes cause a regression.  This can be a regression in behaviors or memories and can take many forms including an increase in separation anxiety, reverting to younger behaviors, and thinking about past traumatic events when one thought they had moved past them.  Again, please be patient with yourself as you move through your own process, care for yourself in healthy ways, and get some further support from loved ones or professionals.

Some people who did not experience the fires directly or whose home and family came out ok may feel guilt for having not lost their home or loved ones even though they are thankful they did not.  This is known as survivor’s guilt and is a common feeling for people to experience.  I encourage you to not disregard and down play your own feelings.  Last week evoked a lot of emotions.  We are all different and will process this experience differently.  There is no right or wrong way to move through these feelings.  

If you are feeling stuck, having difficulty sleeping, overeating or under eating, feeling lethargic, do not have any interest in things you used to, having nightmares, and/or you don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel, I highly encourage you to talk with a professional for further support if it is feeling overwhelming and you feel unable to move through it one your own.  Talking with a professional can have many benefits including giving you the space to explore and process your experience, gaining support, having space to not feel like you are overwhelming people around you by talking about your feelings, and helping you find your way back to wellness.  

Like adults, most children will remain resilient and bounce back easily while others can be deeply impacted by the disaster whether it has touched them directly or not.  Younger children do not have the sense of time and when seeing images or hearing people talk around them, they may be unable to differentiate if the disaster was from last week or from this very moment; this can be frightening.  If you are noticing any changes to their behaviors, including regressive behaviors, they are letting you know they need more attention right now.  It is extremely important to continue to check in with your child about their feelings as they head back to school and hear about the events from their peers.  If you are feeling overwhelmed as a parent, please reach out for support.

I am wishing everyone good health and loving kindness for oneself and each other as our communities recover.

Here are some local community resources for professional help:

Hospice of Sonoma County

Petaluma People’s Services

Social Advocates for Youth

Petaluma Health Center

Seeds of Awareness

Psychology Today has a list of therapists in private practice

New Private Practice Fundamentals Group Fall 2017

As a therapist, you may not realize you can have your dream job where you get to make your own hours, be your own boss, see clients who are a good fit for the work you like to do, make money to support yourself, and practice in a way that works for your style and values.  If you are a therapist who is interested in improving your own work life so you can have an even better personal life, this workshop series is for you. You can sign up or ask any questions here!

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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