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!
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….
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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?”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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:
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.
- 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.
- 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!
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!
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- You can dream big and make things happen.
- 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.
- Allow yourself and others to try on different ways of being without judgement. We are all going through it. No one way is right.
- Give yourself permission to embrace your strengths. From academic success to athleticism, to being funny and caring. It all counts!
- 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?
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!”
“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!
I handle anxiety with ease.