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.”

 

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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#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.

Summer Activity for Girls in Petaluma

I am very excited to announce the opening of The Gathering: A supportive girls’ book club fostering connection and community in Petaluma.  The group is for 6th-8th grade girls and 9th-12th grade girls kicking off Summer 2012.

Why a Book Club for Girls?  Growing up on the East Coast allowed for many hot summer days, laying on the beach, and reading stories with my girlfriends as a teen.  I remember the close connection I felt to my friends as we laughed, cried, and embraced a story together while eating food and our beach blankets in a circle as we were transported to another place and time in our minds.  This time of my life was such a gift and I hold these memories close to my heart.  I am hoping to create this feeling through the The Gathering.

Photo By infinitas infinitio

What to Expect?  Come enjoy stories as we lie in the sun on comfy blankets in the grass, eat delicious snacks, and embark on an adventure reading books together and discussing the messages and thoughts around the stories we are being told. Build friendships and learn to voice your ideas in a safe and kind environment. Books, snacks, comfy blankets, and a good time are all included in the fee. No reading prior to the group expected and there is no homework. We will read and discuss books together as a group.

Where:

134 Howard Street

Petaluma, CA 94952

Facilitated By:

Sierra Dator, LCSW

When:

Summer 2012

Tuesdays, June 5, 2012-August 21, 2012 (6th grade + Junior High group)

Thursdays, June 7, 2012-August 23, 2012 (High School group)

Time:

10AM- 11:30AM

Cost: $30/session

Cash, Check, Credit Card accepted

*Please contact Sierra prior to attending the group at sierradator@gmail.com or 707-478-4351.