Parents, Ready To Make Some Changes?

Family session

One of my favorite parts of being a therapist is helping parents become better parents. I love talking about the challenges and finding solutions to what can seem like insurmountable problems.

Parents can feel afraid of therapy. What will Sierra think if I tell her what my child is doing? Will she judge me? Will she think I am crazy?

Let me just put it out there. I won’t judge you. I will think you are a parent who is trying to do your best. And no, I won’t think you are crazy.

Especially because we all come from some place, and that some place modeled for us how to be an adult and parent. Hopefully some of that modeling was stellar. However, because we are human, some of the modeling we received might not have been the healthiest and unfortunately this can impact how we parent. This way of modeling may have been passed down for generations.

Maybe you come from a family where no one ever talked about their feelings, or the only way one ever got heard was to get angry. Maybe your parents weren’t emotionally available for you, or they were super permissive leading you to be a wild child.

Whatever the way of parenting that got passed down, I believe we owe it to our children to do our best to do it better.

This is where I come in. A parent can have great success in shifting their child or teen’s behaviors by doing their own work in therapy. Yes that’s right. One way I help families work with their child is through working on themselves.

If you aren’t sure who could benefit in coming to therapy, then let’s talk. If you are ready to start your journey to becoming a better parent, email me here, and let’s get started!

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!

“Parents Just Don’t Understand”

What if I don’t get a Valentine?  What if I never date?  What if I don’t get asked to prom? 3262670006_b506c311e0_m (1)What if the only guy to ever kiss me is my dad?….gross.  What if I never get married?  What if I live with my parents forever?  I need a Valentine. Gretta got a rose from Steve last year.  She is so pretty.  I am not pretty.  I saw someone looking at my hair in class today. I know they were laughing at me.  I am ugly. I need to get up earlier before school. Do my hair.  And my makeup. I need to ask my mom for new makeup. Is makeup really going to help me? Maybe. It helps those girls in the magazines. It could help me. Probably not, I am ugly. I should text Gretta. Find out where she gets her hair done. Oh, and I have to do this stinkin homework. Really? I am awful at math………on and on and on and on……………..

Anybody else’s brain ever race like this?  Exhausting and self-deprecating.  Teenage girls are in the ranks among the people to be the most hard on themselves.  Constantly feeling the need to compare and put down themselves.

The thing is, you may never hear this whole dialogue.  Teens keep things like this tucked inside and maybe share a little bit with a friend.  Teens want to keep their parents at a distance because they think they don’t get it. Even in the 80s DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince were singing about it, “Just take it from me, parents just don’t understand.”

Some parents love to pour out what happened to them to their children as living proof they get it. The thing is, while your story may be a carbon copy of what you teen is going through, it is your experience and not theirs so to them it can sound polar opposite.

I wouldn’t discourage all sharing, but just be selective.  Maybe ask if they want to hear it.  Otherwise you end up wasting your breath, your teen gets annoyed, and you find yourself agitated as well.

So what to do?  That is a good question isn’t it?  My answer is fourfold:

1. Show your unconditional love in any way you can. Share a meal together. Catch them on a Saturday when they wake up at 12PM and go out for a bagel; just before they hit up their phone and are gone for the day. Invite them to watch a movie with you. They may decline 9/10 times. But there will be a night when they need you. It might be just the right invite when not feeling so loved by their friends.

2. Listen. I always go back to this in a lot of things I write because it is what gets reported by teens so often. Teenagers want parents to listen and not jump in with the perfect solution.

3. Give them room to grow. Like you and me, we all needed to have our own experiences to grow and learn. Most of us really learn our lessons from our own doings. Teens crave these experiences and parents need to allow their teens the room to have them.

4. Get Their Mental Health Treated.  If your teen’s brain is functioning like the above paragraph and you know it, get them some professional help. Many kids benefit from a tune up of self-esteem from a professional. Teens can also learn life long tools to help them cope with anxiety and the negative chatter their mind’s create.  And lastly, teens are really soothed with reassurance by a teen expert in knowing they aren’t the only ones going through certain things.

AFFIRMATION
I allow my teen the room to grow and experience life.

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.