Category Archives for "Parenting Tips"

Jun 08

“If It Bleeds, It Leads” – Talking to Children About Tragic News Headlines

By Kristyn Buchanan | Children 0-5 , Kids 5-12 , Parenting Tips , Teens 13 and Over , Trauma

Welcome back our guest blogger Marly Hinestroza, as she discusses about tragic media headlines, the effects on children, and how you as a parent can help!

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On 01/13/18, at 8:00 am HST, I was trying to entertain eight 9 year old girls who had just woken up from a birthday-sleepover party for my daughter, when I received an alarm on my phone that read “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” Many people have shared what it was like to be in Hawaii during this “mistake” and I echo many of the sentiments of fear, anger, confusion and sadness so I won’t go into that (Coping with Hawaii’s Ballistic Missile False Alarm). Luckily, my fight or flight instinct kicked in and fight prevailed so I managed to get my daughter, her friends, my 18 month old and 2 year old lab into the laundry room with as many provisions as I had ready for hurricane season, because who prepares for incoming missiles? Right…

“If It Bleeds, It Leads”

Barely a month later, on 2/14/18 as I’m ordering lunch with a friend, the headline start to roll across the screen – “Mass shooting in Florida High School.” So my heart drops and I think “what must those kids be going through? Those parents? What if it was my kids? Why is this happening?!”

There is so much going on in the world and it is close to impossible to shut all the “noise” out and keep it away from our children. Whether they are on social media or not, news spread like wildfire and children are talking about it. News stories are coming up in sessions with school age children and teens who have “heard that” or “read this on Facebook.” News stories are also coming up in sessions with parents who are struggling with how to talk to their children about how bleak the world seems to be some days.

Shortly after the shooting my daughter’s elementary school sent out a letter in an attempt to reassure parents that they have drills to prepare for the unfortunate. I asked my nine year old if she’s done the drills, tried to gage if she understands why and tried to ensure she knows what to do even though just the thought of it makes me sick. Then she told me something that chilled me; she told me that a teacher asked her if her light up shoes (which she loves and wears almost daily) have an on/off button and that when they have a drill she has to turn them off because she won’t want the bad guy to see her… Later on I saw a viral post on FB about light up shoes and I cried the tears I didn’t allow myself to shed when talking to her.

How to Talk To Your Child About Tragedy

At this point I realized that I myself don’t quite feel prepared to talk to my children about the tragedies in the world, which some days seems to be daily occurrences. I don’t want to address any of it with my nine year old, and does my 18 month old even need anything from me in the days following a tragedy that is being covered on every media channel, social media app and seemingly everyone around me? The answer is YES. Yes, no matter the age our children have needs that we must meet during times of national and international tragedies. There are many articles on this topic and at times the sheer amount of information available can be overwhelming, however, there are some common themes when talking to children about tragedies in the world:

Listen, allow them to express themselves and reinforce that they are safe.

Start where the child is. From infants to adolescents our children speak to us both with their words and with their actions so no matter their age it is important that we listen to them.

-Infants and toddlers may be responding to you and how you are coping with the stress, listen to the cues they are giving you.

            Signs:
  •         Sleep regressions
  •         Change in appetite
  •         Excessive crying or screaming
  •         Increased irritability or sadness
  •         Shows anxiety/startles easily

If you notice these signs in the days following a national or international tragedy that is being broadcasted widely take a moment to assess how you are responding to it. Limit your exposure to it as much as possible, especially when interacting with your infant or toddler and take care of yourself. The NCTSN provides a comprehensive list of signs to look out for.

School age children are also looking at you and how you are responding to the events but they are likely to also be receiving information from other such as teachers, peers, older siblings or even TV and social media. Listen to what your child knows already and correct misinformation as well as provide facts in simple, clear and concise age appropriate terms. If they have an explanation that implies they understand something has happened, that it is over and those able to help have done so (police, EMTs etc.) and they are safe either because it happened in a place far away or because they have been reassured their school and caregivers will protect them then don’t take away their sense of safety. This is the explanation they need to feel safe and although we know that unfortunately tragedies can happen nearly anywhere and at any time, we don’t want to burden our children with that knowledge.

            Signs:
  •         Regressive behaviors (i.e. thumb sucking, bedwetting)
  •         Difficulty focusing
  •         Excessive temper, irritable, sadness, anxious
  •         Difficulty sleeping
  •         Frequent headaches or stomach aches

-Adolescents may be even more exposed to tragic news as it is more common for them to be on social media, however they probably still have many questions and misinformation about what has happened. An adolescent may not know how far away or close an event is to them, they may wonder why it has happened and what is being done about it and have misconceptions about what can actually be done. As with younger children, gently correct misinformation by offering facts in simple and clear language. Remember that they are getting information from many sources and whatever gaps they have are being filled in by their imagination and what they are piecing together. It is also important to listen to them in whatever way they choose to present the information, whether they tell you what they know and how they are feeling or using friends as examples. Don’t remove the mask by saying “I bet you’re feeling that way too.” Or “Sarah doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” The American Academy of Pediatrics has a website called Healthy Children where you can find articles including phrases to say and what not to say for natural or man-made tragedies and loss.

            Signs:
  •         Difficulty focusing
  •         Increased irritability and anger outburst
  •         Withdrawing from others and activities they enjoyed
  •         Change in appetite
  •         Difficulty sleeping

No matter the age, be open to having the conversation – it is better that they get the information from you than from others. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting in CT I listened to an interview with Dr. Benjamin Shain, MD and he was asked by the interviewer when to talk to children about these tragedies, are there times to avoid such as before bed? His response was no, if children are talking about it, it is best to address it then and provide clear and concise answers. Ultimately, no matter the age, they are looking at you for how to navigate these very overwhelming situations and they need to feel safe and reassured.

Give Love

When in doubt, my new internal mantra has been “I don’t got all the answers, so tell me who does. All I really know is that we really need love!” – Landon McNamara  (great song with Island vibes and a powerful message). Yes there are horrific things going on and somedays it feels very overwhelming but one thing we can do is GIVE LOVE. So no, it won’t be easy to have these conversations with our children and as much as we wish we didn’t have to, we need to. We need to listen to them, allow them to express themselves and help them feel safe.

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Marly A. Hinestroza-Gaviria, LCSW

Ms. Hinestroza-Gaviria is a Resilience Trainer for FOCUS Hawaii working with military families and couples. Marly has worked as a certified Multidimensional Family Therapist with adolescents and their families dealing with adolescent high-risk behaviors and/or substance abuse. She has experience working with children from infancy to adolescence and their families providing assessments, individual and family therapeutic interventions, service coordination and crisis intervention. Marly earned her Master of Social Work degree from Rutgers University in New Jersey.

 

 

Jun 01

Anxiety in Children and How to Help

By Kristyn Buchanan | Children 0-5 , Kids 5-12 , Parenting Tips

Let’s welcome back one of our guest bloggers, Kim Martinez, as she dives into the topic of children with anxiety.

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Parental Support of Children with Anxiety

When your child has anxiety, it can very stressful as a parent. Many parents ask me what they can do at home to support what I am working on with their child in their counseling session. I believe that it is most important to not offer advice but to listen when they are sharing their feelings- with no judgment.  

Anxiety is the body’s way of dealing with the need to fight, flight or freeze. The child struggling with anxiety is not trying to worry and feel anxious, they are trying to cope with their body’s need to deal with the “tiger” it thinks it is about to be attacked by. The body doesn’t know the difference between an actual tiger and the fear of being laughed at if you answer a question wrong in class. The body responds the same way to the two different fears.

When a child is anxious, they feel their heart racing; their palms sweating and they feel like they are disappointing themselves and others due to the way they are “acting”.

There are healthy and safe ways to help your child cope with their anxiety.
  1. Work with them on practicing their breathing techniques they learned while in session. Practicing makes it more likely they will use the technique when it they are struggling the most. It will be more like second nature.
  2. Ask your child how you can best support them when they are feeling anxious. They may need a hug, a moment alone or a reminder to use their relaxation techniques. Every child is different and every time they feel anxious may not be the same.
  3. Help your child to create a safe space where they can go to be alone and regulate (effectively manage and respond) to their anxiety.
  4. Have a plan for when you and your child are away from the house and they are struggling to regulate their anxiety. Parents and children often chose a word or phrase the child can use to let the parent know the child is struggling and needs to move away from whatever activity they are engaged in. This way, the child is not embarrassed by their anxiety and the parent can support the child in a way that is predetermined.
  5. Positive feedback about how they handled their anxiety with specific praise will help them feel good about themselves and let them know you have noticed them trying their best.  Criticism and negativity fuel their anxiety so it’s best to use positive feedback.

    Often, anxious children have anxious parents.

    Making sure you are managing your own anxiety is key to a calm household.  Children learn by watching and parents are the greatest models for appropriate behavior. Spending time relaxing after a hard day and letting your child know that is how you handle a hard day at work helps them to understand healthy coping skills.

Stressful Mornings make anxious, stressed out kids

Lynne Kenney, PsyD and Wendy Young, LMSW, BCD write in “Bloom, 50 Things to Say, Think and Do with Anxious, Angry and Over-the-top Kids” that the keys to lowering morning stress are consistency, routine, family needs system, parents teaching how-to’s, getting out of your emotional brain, collaborating with teachers, parents responding to their own childhood chaos, and consistent eating and sleeping routines.

Tips from Kenney and Young:

-Keep things consistent with rules and expectations

-Write down and keep visible the morning routine

-Family needs system is the actual way a family believes things should be done such as how a bathroom is cleaned

-Parents should teach the children the best way to accomplish a task for independence

-The parent or child may need help regulating their emotions in the morning so they can think clearly

-Work with the teacher if your child is struggling with homework so the mornings don’t have an added stressor

-Get help for your own past/childhood traumas or issues so you can parent with less stress

-Have consistent eating and sleeping routines so everyone’s brains are working the best they can

How Play Therapists Can Help Your Child with Anxiety

Credit: Liana Lowenstein’s “Creative CBT Interventions for Children with Anxiety”

1-Cognitive behavioral style therapy may be used

2-Parents will actively participate in collaboration with the therapist

3-Games and art based techniques will be utilized in the playroom

4-Parents coaching children between sessions to use what they have learned

5-Understanding that progress takes time and does not happen on a timeline

6-Lifelong coping skills will be taught

7-Relaxation techniques will be taught

8-Treatment goals will be created specific to your child

Finally…

Recognize that anxiety is real. If a child feels that a parent is belittling or denying the existence of their anxiety, they will try to hide it or minimize it, which will cause the anxiety to grow.  Check with your pediatrician for a respected children’s play therapist near you.

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Kim Martinez

Ms. Martinez is a child and family counselor in Tampa, Florida. She specializes in anxiety, ADHD and divorce/step family issues using art, play, sand tray and creativity in counseling. Kim believes in helping families, children and adults find their “True North”. 

Check out her website at www.yourtruenorthcounseling.com

 

 

May 25

Making the Summer Move a Little Easier: School Enrollment Tips for Parents

By Kristyn Buchanan | Kids 5-12 , Parenting Tips

Welcome back to our guest blogger Sharon Montcalm, M.Ed., LPC, CSC!

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Looking back, I always smile with a shake of my head when “the move of 2015” comes up in conversation. My family, we are not movers. We stay put. Well, we stay put until life comes along and then we move. And honestly,  as far as moving goes, it really seemed to be going really well until we decided to go as a family to see a movie in our new city. During the summer of 2015 a fantastic movie detailing the inner workings of our thoughts and most of all our “emotions” was filling theaters; so that’s the one we picked (I picked).  Off we went, to see our very own moving story play out on the big screen before our eyes, my child leaned over at one point to me saying, “This is our life. I don’t like it. It’s not entertaining to me.” Ouch.

 

Much like the family in the famous flick, most families making these summer moves will go through emotions that run the gamut from excitement, to anger, to sadness and hopefully at some point resolution sets in as the new becomes the familiar and the known. It’s not easy. It’s messy. Moving is on every list of life’s greatest stressors for a reason: it’s just painfully stressful for everyone in the family. And for those left behind.There will be tears along with laughter, so grab the tissue and hold on for the ride.  

Keep Them Informed

After talking with the kids about the move,  (yes, parents we get to break the news) then start including the children in gathering information about the new destination.  Especially, to help answer the following question, “Where will I go to school?” which goes along with “What about my friends” and “Where am I going to live?”.  These three questions could each easily fill a whole article or book, but the focus here is on getting started in a new school after a move.

 

Kids today are consumers of information. It’s at their fingertips all day long. Let them help you with gathering information to answer the question, “Where will I go to school?”.  They can pull school ratings/rankings off of GreatSchools: School Ratings & Reviews for Public & Private Schools  or the state’s department of education may also have a search for information on the schools within the state. Give them some assignments to look over websites, facebook pages and twitter feed from schools of interest to the family. Schools definitely know that families do research, so the amount of information available on school websites is growing rapidly. I pulled the “school report cards” for the middle schools in the community we were moving to and gave those reports to my son. He looked those over, looked at the websites and then we did drive arounds to the different campuses.

 

After narrowing down possible schools, have your child go through and get your signed up for all of the social media pages that schools now use daily. Yes, like the facebook page, get on twitter (no, I didn’t do this one…) and try to figure out instagram. Now, your student may be too cool to use these particular social media apps, but schools are trying to use technology to improve communication, build community and let the world know that there’s good stuff happening in the halls.These social media outlets are a parents best friend to getting a look at what’s going on at the school.

 

Next, start gathering the required enrollment documentation prior to the end of the current school year. States and school districts have required documentation for a student to enroll in the the school. Go to the school, the district or state education department website to look over the documents required for enrollment.

 

Here’s what I call “the basics”:

  • Transcripts
  • Report Cards for previous school year
  • Birth Certificate
  • Driver’s License of Parent/Guardian
  • Proof of Residency – this may be a utility receipt, lease agreement, or home purchase agreements
  • Academic Testing Information/Results – this may be state or school assessments
  • Special Education Records/504 Records/Gifted and Talented Records
  • Divorce Decree/Custody Documentation
  • Vaccine Records

Let your current school know that your family will be moving over the summer. This is huge in helping the flow of records move from one school to another more smoothly. Many schools will have your fill out a withdrawal form to officially withdraw from that campus which you can then take to the new school upon enrollment.This form lets the new school know that business has been taken care of with library books being returned, no charges in the cafeteria and all school equipment was returned to its proper place.

Now What?

Now, get all of that moving stuff done in the next 8-10 weeks before the new school year starts. Throw a farewell party. Make those last minute visits to favorite spots in your old town. Cry. Laugh. And yes, expect the unexpected because you are moving with kids. Ask for help.This is the time to call for reinforcements for emotional support along the way. Most of all, find some fun this summer.

It’s August, most of the boxes are unpacked and there’s a buzz in the air that school is starting soon according to local retailers.

So here’s the BTS (Back to School)  Checklist:

  • Find out when new student registration will happen. This could be an online process or old school paper/pencil in the front office.
  • Ask for a tour of the building to help kids learn about this new place.The school counselor loves giving tours.  No, seriously I loved it.
  • If riding the bus, get signed up and learn the pick up/drop off schedule. Our district runs bus routes by age group with separate bussing for elementary, middle school and high school students. It’s awesome!! Now, I know that is not the case everywhere.
  • Go to the Back to School Events at the school. These are great ways to meet teachers, maybe drop off supplies and get another walk around the building. There may even be snow cones, hotdogs or popcorn. Yes, I have experience serving all of those at Back to School Night when I was a school counselor.
  • Middle School and High School students may have something more like a schedule pick up day where all of the fun happens like picking up schedules, getting yearbook pictures taken, signing up for clubs/groups and buying stuff. There’s also been an increase in orientation/transition days at middle schools and high schools for students new to the campus like sixth graders and freshmen. These days allow for a longer period of time to be on the campus doing fun things while also learning about how things run at the school on a regular school day. A great one that I served as a coordinator for is WEB – Where Everybody Belongs designed for a year long middle school transition experience for 6th or 7th graders with 8th graders serving as mentors.  

I encourage parents to ride this wave of newness with their children. Listen when they talk about missing friends, missing their old school, and missing just about everything that was their life. Hug them when they cry. It’s okay to let them know that you are making adjustments to this new place, too. Stay positive. And hopefully, with each passing day the new becomes the now which becomes the known. After all, we are such creatures of habit.  

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Sharon Montcalm, LPC, CSC

Ms Montcalm is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified School Counselor and  Owner of Kid Time Counseling in Denton ,TX where she happily serves kids, families and educators. Sharon spent sixteen years working as a public school counselor experiencing school days with  students ages 4 to 18. It takes time to be a kid. www.kidtimecounseling.com

 

 

Mar 16

Helping Your Child Navigate Difficult Emotions

By Jen Taylor | Children 0-5 , Kids 5-12 , Parenting Tips , Teens 13 and Over

Welcome Alyssa Caldbeck as our guest blogger this week as she explores navigating a child’s difficult emotions.
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Parenting is the most challenging job you’ll ever have. Weathering the storms of your child’s vast and varied emotions can feel like tricky territory. Experts on the subject of emotional intelligence say that it is best taught at home within the family. Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Daniel Goleman have written extensively based on research about the relationship between children and parents with regard to emotional intelligence in their book Raising Emotional Child The Heart of Parenting.  They have found that when parents serve as an emotion coach for their children, those children adapt to difficult circumstances more readily.

Understanding Emotional Intelligence

Unlike intellectual intelligence which can be measured and is pre-determined potential for absorbing, recalling and utilizing information, emotional intelligence is learned. Emotional Intelligence  is defined as the ability to recognize emotion, identify and name emotion, to manage those emotions in a way that is adaptive and to feel empathy for others. Emotional intelligence requires particular brain activity largely occurring in the front part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) which is headquarters for executive functioning skills. Young children are only beginning to develop the upper part of their brain.  They don’t have all the pathways created in their brain to control themselves yet. Children are more likely to develop better coping mechanisms if parents help children learn how to identify their emotions. Additional aspects of helping children learn to handle their emotions effectively include assisting children in healthy emotional expression and teaching them to have empathy for others.

What is an Emotion Coach?

The term emotion coach is used in reference to a parenting technique where the parent helps their child understand their (the child’s) emotions.  When parents engage in emotional coaching, their children learn how to react to emotions in healthy ways and more about how emotions work.

How Can You Be an Emotion Coach For Your Child?

Being an emotion coach with your child starts with you recognizing their emotions. Here are some steps you can take to be your child’s emotion coach and help your child handle their emotions.

1.Raise your own level of emotional awareness.

Practice noticing and naming your feelings rather than allowing your emotions to drive your actions.

  1. Become familiar with the continuum of parenting styles.

Aim to land in the middle of these parenting styles where you exercise authority when your child’s safety is at risk or healthy boundaries need to be set.

  1. Practice coping or calming strategies when you have overwhelming feelings of frustration, sadness or anger.

Take responsibility for your own feelings and actions.  Know when it’s time to take a break. Practice deep breathing or another method to help you return to calm. When a human being’s limbic brain (that’s the headquarters for emotions, reactions and memory) becomes “flooded” the pre-frontal cortex (where reasoning and executive functioning occurs) goes offline temporarily . It’s best to give yourself some time and allow your limbic part of the brain to cool off and settle down. This will give you a better chance of returning to rational and reasonable thinking when responding to your child.

  1. Be a model for your child when it comes to emotions.

Allow your child to observe you identifying whatever emotions you experience.  Give them chances to witness you making it a point to calm yourself before acting or speaking further. Once you are calm, return and explain how you are now ready to use your words and make decisions.

  1. When your child is beginning to experience an emotion, reflect with empathy.

An example would be “I can see you are beginning to feel frustrated that you can’t get the top of your PlayDough container. You really want to get it off.  It seems to be stuck.” When your child has an experience of feeling heard and seen it helps them to begin to formulate their own ability to identify what they are feeling and why. Young children do not have words or the ability for abstract thinking (understanding why they are having their feelings). They do have an ability to learn new words that they can associate with the emotional experiences they are having.  This helps the development of their executive functioning skills.

  1. Forego punishing and seek opportunities for teaching and learning.

It is understandable and common for you to have your own intense emotions when your child is experiencing big emotions.  This is often when parents get to the point of disciplining a child for having these types of feelings. Trying to diminish big feelings by issuing consequences or punishment can actually create more of an emotional response.  Your child may have emotions about the consequences issued and still be left with the emotion(s) they were feeling that got them in trouble. Teaching the child more appropriate ways of handling their feelings is missed when parents focus solely on punishments for emotional reactions.  

  1. Catch feelings in their early stages with your child.  

When you see feelings starting such as sadness or frustration speak to your child before their brain becomes fully flooded. Within that window you can wonder aloud about what might be going on..  An example would be, “I wonder how we could work together to get that lid off the PlayDough container.” You can join with your child to find possible solutions after you’ve reflected what you notice they are feeling.   “If we think about it together we can find a way to get it open.” Emphasizing the “we” lets your child know they are not alone in dealing with their feelings and you are there to help them. Meeting the emotion being expressed before shifting into problem solving  will help improve the outcome. Daniel Siegel’s video Connecting to Calm explains this more. He offers useful written information in this reference sheet.

  1. Find delight in your child often.

This is not the same thing as piling on the praise. Praise is when you as an extrinsic force decide your child  is “good” or worthy of your approval. Delight and encouragement are when you reflect the child’s intrinsic qualities. Purposeful delight is when you notice your child’s effort, creativity, persistence, patience, joy and reflect with your own felt sense of celebratory noticing aloud. An example might be to smile and with an excited voice say, “Wow! Look at all the work you have done on this puzzle! You’ve been trying to find all the pieces and it looks like you’re almost there. You’ve kept trying and you almost have the whole puzzle together!”

  1. Avoid adding to the intensity of the emotion your child is experiencing.

Be with your child and allow them to express themselves.  Let them get their feelings out while keeping them safe. Limit the talking you do with your child and avoid asking why they are acting this way.  Children, even young toddlers can often have their own process when adults don’t interfere with this ability. What can happen is as adults we get impatient or focused on moving on from this experience or want it to end.  

Despite a temper tantrum or intense emotional response feeling like it last forever this has shown to not be the case. When a person is emotionally triggered research has indicated it takes less than 90 seconds for the chemical surge to take hold and leave the bloodstream.  The intensity related to the initial flooding of the emotions can peak and dissipate within this timeframe. Any response after 90 seconds is related to the person not letting go of the emotion or continued input feeding the same emotional loop (external input such as an adult talking to child, other sensory input or stimuli).  

The key to keeping emotional responses within this timeframe is to feel the feelings, acknowledge them, and let them pass.  This can be explained to children when they are in a calm state. It can be taught as imagining the emotion as a wave coming in and out or on the emotion moving away by floating on a cloud.  Adults can practice the same strategies to not let their emotions linger.

  1. Accept all feelings and realize children will experience negative emotions.

A child’s emotions are not always logical and may seem to come out of nowhere.   However, a child’s feelings are very real to them.  Adults are not happy all the time. The truth is we don’t always handle our feelings the best.  Children are not little versions of adults.  It is not realistic to expect a child to always handle their emotions when we as adults struggle with this too.  Children need to be able to have an array of feelings (positive, negative, big feelings) and it be OK.  

 

Why Be an Emotion Coach For Your Child?

As a parent, you are the main influence in shaping your child’s abilities to work through the natural emotions of childhood.  By working to help them develop emotional intelligence you are empowering and supporting the development of an intrinsic sense of worth and value.   You set the tone and example for whether it is possible to experience emotions and get through these feelings without letting the feelings overtake and drive actions and responses.  Starting this process and teaching early gives children the ability to build on having the success of handling their emotions effectively.

Conclusion

Rather than feeling like this is one more feat you have to tackle as a parent simply find daily opportunities to label, model, and practice emotions.  This can be done by identifying emotions in everyday situations. Have an open discussion of what the emotion being displayed is and what could be done to handle the emotion in an appropriate way.  

Embarking on the journey of serving as your child’s emotion coach can be an important step you take for yourself, your family and your child’s development.

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Alyssa Caldbeck, LISW, RPT

 

Alyssa Caldbeck is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and aRegistered Play Therapist. She specializes in attachment, trauma, and adoption concerns in children and adolescents of all ages.  Alyssa is an EMDR Certified Therapist and Consultant in Training with Ana Gomez. She has completed specific adoption mental health competency training (Training for Adoption Competency) with the Center for Adoption Support and Education. www.alyssacaldbeck.com.
Mar 09

Early Signs And Intervention

By Jen Taylor | Children 0-5 , Kids 5-12 , Parenting Tips

Let’s welcome our latest guest blogger, Leanna Rae, as she begins a series of articles on early signs of sensory and motor immaturity and early intervention!

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Learning is much more than classrooms and tests.  Children start at a young age exploring their environment through their senses (sensory learning) and working to understand how to move through and interact with it (motor interaction).  The sensory motor interaction is interdependent and essential to all learning.

How a child behaves and physically moves gives us insight into how they process information from the world around them.

Does your child display any of the following?

Sensory motor movement (sensory perception and motor skills) is the primary vehicle through which we learn and express what we have learned.  These “behaviors” mentioned above are signs of an immature neurological (sensory motor) system and indicates that the brain and body are not getting the proper stimulation or connection needed to support learning.  

Physiological Foundation

There are foundational physiological skills the body needs to master for the brain to meet the task of higher level thinking. Our ability to move through space (coordination) and organize information and relationships in the world around us (emotional and social intelligence) forms the foundation for successful academic learning.  Simply put, without a fully functioning sensory motor system, the brain cannot operate at its best. Your child expends an enormous amount of energy in constructing and filtering a world of objects, sights, sounds, textures, colors, shapes, dimension and directions. When the physiological skills are not in place, daily school activities like siting in a chair, tracking words across the page to read fluently, being able to copy from the whiteboard to paper without losing their thought or information, etc.  becomes a conscious effort and learning is compromised. 

In life, it is easier to start off on the right path as a young child versus having to make corrections latter in adolescence and adulthood where the cost of energy and time is much greater. Early intervention supports your child’s developing mind and body, creating fluid and harmonious learning. In this series of articles, we will address what interventions and approaches lead to academic achievement, social growth, and emotional maturity.

Resources

https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/sensory-processing-issues/how-sensory-processing-issues-can-affect-motor-skills

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/schooled_in_sports/2016/06/researchers_draw_link_between_physical_activity_academic_success.html

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Leanna Rae, MSSW, RMTi, CPLC

Ms. Rae has over 16 years of experience in the field of social work providing neurodevelopmental tools for children and adults to help with social, emotional and cognitive growth and learning. She is the co-founder and Executive Director at Kid’s Brain Tree Fort Worth,  www.kidsbraintree.com.

Mar 05

Ways to Help Your Child with School Stress

By Jen Taylor | Kids 5-12 , Parenting Tips

Let’s welcome Sharon Montcalm as this week’s guest blogger who talks of school stress and how to help your children cope!
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We have all heard the words at one time or another in life- “Stress is a good thing. It serves a purpose.  It helps you get things done.” Well, if you have a child who stresses regularly about school then you may be wondering where is the good in all of this. And what purpose is this serving for my child? And most of all, how in the world do I help my child be okay when school stressors get in the way of having a good day?  

Ideas on How to Understand and Deal with Stress

Use the ideas below to help your child and yourself develop some healthy ways to understand and deal with school related stress and to know when it’s more than a passing phase.

   1. Take Care of the Feelings

 

It’s important to help kids know that all feelings are really okay to feel especially the hard ones like fear, anger, sadness, and frustration. Connecting and validating your child’s feelings allows for a more open pathway to helping the child learn emotional regulation from you, their parent who loves them unconditionally.  Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson’s book, The Whole Brain Child gives parents easy to understand brain science based strategies for developing healthy emotionally balanced brains which leads to healthy better balanced daily lives. Sometimes, just sitting with your child during their struggle is what the kid needs the most. Especially, if the child is in full blow meltdown mode, then refrain from using “talk” problem solving strategies until the storm has passed because their ability to to logically process is not available to them until the brain resets from the emotional stressor. Siegel refers to this as connecting right brain to right brain to provide support and understanding of the child’s feelings.

Once there’s a state of calm,  move on to simple connection sentences that fit the situation.  An example could be, “It makes you mad when math doesn’t make sense,” or, “Subtraction can be confusing,”. Now, it can be hard at times to validate feelings when the stressor makes no sense to us as the parent.  For example, the child who is crying and upset because they can’t draw a tree for each season showing what it would look like in that season. Yes, this is a real homework dilemma. So what’s a parent to do? Identify and validate the feelings, make the connection to the right side of the brain that deals with emotions/creativity/experiences because once the right side calms down then it’s ready to play with the left side brain of logic. “This assignment is really hard for you. It’s frustrating that the trees don’t look like you want them to look.Tell me how you would like it to be.”  And wait for the child to lead on what to do next.

        2. Create Positive Problem Solving Pathways

Once, the emotional flood of the stress inducing crisis subsides it’s important to teach your child different ways of viewing difficulties in school. Set aside a few minutes each day to practice one of these activities to build up confidence and understanding.

  • Rose, Bud, Thorn is a  game to review the day in short sentences using a rose as a metaphor for feelings and events of the day. The Rose is something good that happened today, the Thorn is something yucky and the Bud is something to look forward to tomorrow. Notice the Thorn is sandwiched between the Rose and the Bud because that ends the activity on a positive note. Use a visual of a real or silk rose, bud and thorn for kids to hold so they can feel and see how petals look, thorns feel and buds are getting ready to bloom. Or go outside to look at real roses, thorns and buds.
  • Rate the Day is for ages 6 and up. This game builds an understanding that each day is different and some parts of a day may be better than other parts which instills hope that things can get better. Use a hand drawn number line 0-10 on a piece of paper.  Explain the scale that a 0 day is an awful, no good very bad day while a 5 day is okay nothing terrible is happening but there’s also nothing wonderfully wonderful and if a day is a 10 then it is pretty awesome spectacular kind of day. Have the kids draw feeling faces to go with the numbers.This activity can be adapted to a shorter scale or just feeling faces.
  • Positive Talk, Leads to Positive Thought  is a sentence replacement strategy that helps kids turn negative self talk into more positive self affirming statements. Kids needs to learn how to not let a passing feeling become a permanent self identifier. So, if the words, “I am so dumb” come out of your child’s mouth then it is time to stop and help them find new positive words.“I am stupid” can become, “I feel stupid when I can’t spell the words right but I am working hard in spelling,” Or this one, “I just can’t do this. It is too hard,” can become, “I can learn to do this. It just takes time to learn. I am learning how to ______________. It will get better,”. Write replacements statements down to reference- colorful index cards work great. Make it fun. Keep it positive, keep it short
3. Develop Emotional Understanding Through Books

Children’s literature is a natural place to find characters who children relate to in familiar situations like school, home and friendships.  Now, some of the characters might not be human, but kids really do not care if it’s a happy pig or sad bunny or even a silly dinosaur. Kids are looking for shared common experiences in stories. Listed below are four books that I have found helpful when working with stressed out kids and their parents: 

Wilma Jean Worry Machine by Julia Cook  

Wilma Jean does worry and stress about everything at school. Julia Cook writes awesome stories for kids, parents and educators to help children develop self-awareness and coping skills. Parent and educator note and tips in the back.  

Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus

Leo is doing what Leo needs to do, but it’s different than the other animals in his class.This is a classic story of how we all develop at our own speed with support, love and understanding.

The Pout-Pout Fish Goes to School by Deborah Diesen

Pout-Pout struggles through his first day of school until he finds that help is available. This story is great for practice in turning those negative self talk statements into positive declarations.

The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

I love this book!! Even when we think that we can’t draw a masterpiece, we can still start with a dot and see where it leads. This story focuses on taking the risk, going for it and putting the pencil on the paper even when it’s hard.

4. Get Help When Needed

Stress by definition is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. The seasonal tree drawing assignment was last month, so why is my child still stressing about science homework?  The keys word is circumstances because circumstances can and do change. But what if your child continues to stress out about school situations, expectations, grades, friends, math, reading and pe and music and art class and lunch. Lunch is a huge one because the menu could change which is a problem when you really want pizza,  but now the choice is corn dogs. Stress can move into worry and anxiety when it becomes daily, debilitating and life changing for the child and family.

Additional Help

Listed below are recommendations for engaging school personnel and getting help for your child at any time during the school year.

  • Call or email the teacher to find out more about what is going on at school with your child?  Ask specific questions about whatever is creating the stress for your kid. Does the teacher see the same stress at school? Does the teacher have concerns about your child?  Teachers need to know what’s going on at home with school assignments and other school related concerns.
  • Seek out the school counselor for questions and suggestions on ways to help with school related stress. School counselors are superb at knowing the social and emotional needs of children at different ages and stages. Set up a conference with the school counselor and teacher to share information and determine the level of need for the child along with possible school provided interventions.
  • If your child continues to struggle with school stress for longer than a few weeks, then it may be time to seek therapeutic help from a specialist in child mental health such as a play therapist, professional counselor or social worker. These specialists can offer extensive, individualized therapeutic services in many different ways to best suite the needs of your child and family.

Just Remember…

One of the great things about a school year is the cyclical nature of time; there’s always a beginning, middle and end to each academic year. It’s like a giant 9-10 month project that can be broken down into manageable pieces with different experiences, different people and different opportunities all leading to completion. School related stress is one of those experiences that can sometimes occurs during this long project, but it can be addressed, explored and supported. Parents, take heart you are helping finish this project. At times serving as the senior project manager while other times stepping into a more supportive assistant role as your child grows, matures and takes the lead at their own speed.  Remember, it takes time to be a kid.

 

Resources and References

  • The Whole Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your  Child’s Developing Brain by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.
  • Positive Talk, Leads to Positive Thought activity based on Strategy 8: Let the Clouds of Emotions Roll By- Feelings Come and Feelings Go from The Whole Brain Child  Siegel and Bryson, pg. 103.
  • Rose, Bud, Thorn activity is one passed down from fellow school counselors over the years.
  • Rate the Day is my adaptation of a Likert rating scale that better suits school age children.

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Sharon Montcalm, LPC, CSC
Ms. Montcalm is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified School Counselor and  Owner of Kid Time Counseling in Denton ,TX where she happily serves kids, families and educators. Sharon spent sixteen years working as a public school counselor experiencing school days with  students ages 4 to 18. It takes time to be a kid. www.kidtimecounseling.com

Feb 26

Raising Bi-Cultural Children

By Jen Taylor | Kids 5-12 , Parenting Tips , Teens 13 and Over , Uncategorized

Our next guest blogger is Marly Hinestroza-Gaviria! Let’s welcome her as she introduces us into the ways of keeping heritage while raising bi-cultural children.
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Second Generation Parents Wanting To Raise Bi-Cultural Children

      Growing up, the soundtrack playing to my adolescent years was the very popular Colombian phrase, “¿si todas se tiran por un puente usted se va a tirar tambien pues?” (Translation: If they all throw themselves off a bridge you’re going to throw yourself off too then?) This seemed to be my mom’s response to everything I ever asked and I hated it. I felt like I couldn’t do what seemed like every American teen my age was doing because that’s not how it was done in Colombia… but we weren’t in Colombia anymore! Not long ago, I uttered the same words to my 9 year old when she asked if she could go to the nail salon with her friend and her friend’s mom. When I said no, she pleaded, “but why, all my friends get to paint their nails any color they want and some even get fake nails at the salon. It’s not fair!” My response was out before my brain caught up and I almost laughed knowing I sounded just like my mom. The urge to laugh didn’t last long once I realized that my 9 year old was not amused and I saw boil up in her the same feelings of unfairness and annoyance that I had felt towards my mom…except now it was directed at me.

Struggle Of Second Generation Parents

     Since then I’ve been thinking about the struggle many second generation immigrant parents face (first generation and second generation are terms sometimes used interchangeably to refer to the children of those adults who emigrated from their country). We struggle with wanting our children to develop their own self-identity, fear of the isolating feelings we ourselves experienced as teens and not wanting our children to be labeled or discriminated against. This Youtube short documentary interviews four second generation immigrants now as young adults and they discuss the challenges they faced and how they constructed their identity from both cultures. Despite all the challenges, many of us still do have a deep desire to share our culture of origin with our children, instill pride and raise well-adjusted bi-cultural children.

     How then can second-generation immigrant parents raise well-adjusted, bi-cultural children? How can we walk the tight rope between fostering self-identity while instilling our cultural pride, which is a different culture than the one our children are living in? And how can we navigate the cultural clashes that we experienced?

    To begin with, take a deep breath…inhale…exhale! As with most parenting conundrums, there are options to be explored and as the expert of your own family you’ll find what works best for you. Keep in mind that our children, third generation, will more than likely not feel as conflicted between the two cultures as we did because they ultimately have a stronger American identity than we did or do. Our children were born here and so were their parents (or at least we have spent over half of our lives here at this point); a University of California study thoroughly explores protective and risk factors for us second generation immigrants and how this impacts us and therefore our children. One protective factor is community, and our children most likely have stronger community ties than we did growing up and will presumably feel comfortable being Americans while still paying homage to another culture. Additionally, we are living in the age of information and there is a great deal of material out there to help us tackle this challenge. One of my favorite sites is Hybrid Parenting, a site that provides resources and information to empower parents in providing “children with an accurate and meaningful understanding of our multicultural world.”

Here are three tips for second-generation immigrants raising bi-cultural children:

 

  1. Allow them to choose what parts of each culture to embrace:

Let your children become excited about the culture by choosing what things they find most exciting – whether it is the food, dress, religion or language! We know that children do best when they are excited about the topic or endeavor (as we adults do as well) so emphasize those areas and expose them to other areas without imposing them. If your children enjoy the foods of your culture look for food festivals, recipes you can make together or explore restaurants that sell your food. You can even make this a fun challenge when you and your family are away on vacation! One of my favorite things is finding Colombian restaurants in other states, I’ve even found one in Hawai’i, Coquito’s Latin Cuisine! Part of allowing your children to choose what parts of each culture to embrace is for you to also become excited about different aspects of the culture. As second generation immigrants, chances are that there are a great deal of things we still don’t know or fully understand about our culture, so have some fun researching and learning along with your child. Your enthusiasm, wonder and awe at learning new things will rub off on them. 

  1. Be flexible regarding what to enforce:

As with all things parenting, there will be some non-negotiables; determine what your family’s non-negotiables are and make sure these are clear and consistent. You may now be asking yourself, how do I let my children choose but then turn around have non-negotiables? I know, parenting sometimes makes no sense! We know that children do better when they have structure and limited choices and this applies to many things. This is part of being flexible and giving them some choices while still maintaining that structure and consistency that communicates safety. If your children know that you’re willing to be flexible with some areas, they’ll be more likely to accept your non-negotiables in the process. Also, remember what it was like growing up and being the odd one out because the “cool” things most of your American friends were doing was just not how “it’s done back in Colombia (insert country of origin)?” If you need to take a trip down memory lane, check out this Buzzfeed article that will surely remind you that the struggle was, and still is real. I remember being 13 and desperately wanting to wax my eyebrows and shave my legs because “all my friends are doing it!” My parents were adamant about not allowing this until I was 15 and so I suffered a hairy fate for another two years. I remember classmates poking fun about this and I’ve resolved that although my daughters will not wear make up until they are 15, if facial and body hair is a source of discomfort, I will exercise flexibility to save them from the embarrassment. (You’re welcome Melany and Sofia.)

  1. Expose them to your culture of origin… and others:

Ultimately parents want to raise well-rounded and well-adjusted children and one way to achieve this is to expose them to the world at large. Exposing your children to your culture of origin will allow them to broaden their worldviews and increase their ability of perspective taking. Exposing your children to your culture and others will allow them to be more tolerant, to celebrate differences and more importantly to embrace their own differences!

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Marly A. Hinestroza-Gaviria, LCSW

Ms. Hinestroza-Gaviria is a Resilience Trainer for FOCUS Hawaii working with military families and couples. Marly has worked as a certified Multidimensional Family Therapist with adolescents and their families dealing with adolescent high-risk behaviors and/or substance abuse. She has experience working with children from infancy to adolescence and their families providing assessments, individual and family therapeutic interventions, service coordination and crisis intervention. Marly earned her Master of Social Work degree from Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Feb 03

Dare To Dream

By Jen Taylor | Kids 5-12 , Parenting Tips , Teens 13 and Over

My next guest blogger is Kim Martinez. She shows us how giving our own princes and princesses rules and responsibilities can lead to a more harmonious life!


Ever feel like a Disney character? Sometimes I feel like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Why is it so hard to get 4 children and a spouse to wash up and put dishes in the sink? If you often feel like you are herding a bunch of kittens, welcome to the club.

“If you dream it, you can do it.” ~Walt Disney

Disney World is spotless because of organization- everyone knows their tasks, and they are empowered to get it done. How would your home look and feel if that were the case in your home?

There are many ways to get your personal Peter Pan to grow up without giving up their child-like wonder. All kids need rules and responsibility to thrive. They do better in school, at home, and out in the big wide world when we, as their parents (or cat herder’s), teach them how to be responsible, do chores, and get the work done before they play. They may all not sing, “Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho. It’s off to work we go”, but not all of our days are filled with plucky tunes either.

Now here’s how to make your castle more harmonious and your princesses and princes willing to get the job done with a little help from their Jiminy Cricket conscious sitting on their shoulder, when they are playing on their phone instead of doing their homework or chores.  

Organization

First of all…. sit all of your little Huey, Duey, and Luey’s down for a family chat.

Discuss a plan for the chores that need doing and be aware of the responsibilities you are trying to teach your little ones and not so little ones. It is never too late to teach responsibility. If Kim Possible can save the world and still get her homework in on time, then so can your teen.

A huge wipe off board with a monthly calendar and a separate board with chores listed are ideal, but even a large piece of paper or poster board can do the trick. It’s important that it be where the family can all access it. Some prefer an online calendar and chore app. My family is visual so we use paper.

Know your Task

Next, create a chart with all of the chores needing to be completed on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Have the children sign up for the ones they prefer to do that month. They can change chores monthly so they don’t get burnt out on the same chores.

Make sure to put the chores you do on the list, children need to know that even the parent has chores. Schedule in time for homework, after school activities, and monthly holidays.

Don’t Forget:

  •   Schedule in family and personal time for rest and relaxation.
  •   Calendars are helpful if you are a blended family with schedules for three different homes. Make sure to include this information as well.
  •   Teens and adults may know their work schedules only 2 weeks in advance and may need to update that more regularly.

Planning for Empowerment

In order to help this new process of organization and teaching responsibility to go more smoothly, Dr. Richard Horowitz in his book Family Centered Parenting states, “The first part of the process is being proactive. Proactive is the buzzword for prevention and basically refers to planning ahead or anticipating situations. The better we are as family members in preparing for what lies ahead the better we are able to avoid conflict and crises.” This means, when you are proactive by creating chore charts and planning ahead, you will be less likely to have conflict.

We want our children and spouses to have a buy in on the plan. This means making sure you stick to the plan and believe in it wholeheartedly. If you are always leaving the plan or are easily distracted from the plan, not much will change.

Consequences

Be sure to have a plan for consequences if the chores and homework do not get completed so you are not making snap decisions on a punishment that will only confuse and frustrate yourself and your child.

In Family Centered Parenting, Dr. Horowitz discusses the need for buy-in from children and teens in making family rules as well as consequences for breaking them with the children, and then having a contract on what will happen if they don’t follow through. Instead of removing electronics as a consequence of not completing their chores, have your child do one of your regular chores as well. This teaches that your time is valuable and allows you to get back the time you lost dealing with that child.

Positive Reinforcement

Make sure to complement with honest feedback and thoughtful, clear statements about what you liked about them following through on chores and responsibilities. Children know when you are being insincere, so try to be more specific about the praise you give them. Praise goes so much further than put downs, name calling, or negativity.

Empowerment

Finally, support your children’s needs for independence while also making sure the larger family’s needs are met. Explain to your children that they are important and so are the other members of the family. Show them that all of the family’s needs and wishes will be taken into consideration when planning the family’s responsibilities, time, and preferences.

In Parenting Teens with Love and Logic, Dr. Foster Cline and Jim Fay remind us, ”As parents, most of us have learned by now that we’re not always right. If we have a responsible teenager who is bent out of shape about something we’ve done or said, he or she probably has a legitimate grievance.”

Princess Anna was a responsible and behaved child (for the most part, like most children) but she still got into trouble. Remind yourself that your little princesses and princes all have their moments but they ultimately want to please you, be well behaved, and be praised by you.

Hopefully, this helps to keep your family more organized, get responsibilities completed with minimal grumpiness, discipline effectively, and empower children to follow family rules for the best interest of everyone.

Below are links to different sources that can be helpful on this journey. Good luck out there…and my apologies to Walt.

Helpful Resources

Link to chore charts for families on Pinterest

https://www.pinterest.com/kimmartineztrue/parenting-with-less-stress/

References

Link to Family Centered Parenting website:

http://www.growinggreatrelationships.com/home.html

Link to Parenting Teens with Love and Logic

https://www.loveandlogic.com/parenting-teens-with-love-and-logic


Kim Martinez

Ms. Martinez is a child and family counselor in Tampa, Florida. She specializes in anxiety, ADHD and divorce/step family issues using art, play, sand tray and creativity in counseling. Kim believes in helping families, children and adults find their “True North”.

 

Jan 27

The Empathetic Child

By Jen Taylor | Children 0-5 , Kids 5-12 , Parenting Tips , Teens 13 and Over

Welcome guest blogger, Adrienne Jeffries! She brings to light the realities of nurturing the Empathetic Child!


Being a Social Worker and having at least one empathetic child, I am fascinated by the subject and others’ experience of this gift. Some call it Discernment, others go as far as calling it psychic abilities. Whatever you call it, it is special, you are special, and it is a gift you are blessed with, although sometimes it seems like a double edged sword. It is hard to feel others’ feeling as if they are your own all the time, everywhere you go.

Empathetic Adult VS. Empathetic Child

Like with any muscle or skill the more you utilize it and practice it the more skilled you are in utilizing it. It’s one thing to have it yourself as an adult. You have hopefully developed some coping skills and worked on your own mindfulness and abilities to regulate yourself and your feelings and emotions. It’s another thing to suspect that your child may be an empath. Children haven’t had a chance to learn to deal with the sudden onset of another’s feelings or walking into a crowded place and all of a sudden feeling waves of happiness, sadness, loneliness, anger within a couple of minutes time. They aren’t prepared with how to handle evil energies coming to them or any types of spirits visiting them, that is scary for a child. The gift of being an empath is rarely ever discussed, prepared for, accepted or understood by others’ unless, of course you share this gift are aware of it and are accepting of it in yourself. I am writing this post because I think those of us that are empaths, could do better by being empathic to our own children, whom we may have passed these abilities on to, and better prepare them for what they can, and will experience. The first step is identifying if your child might be an empath to know how to better prepare them. If we are able to help them be appreciative and accepting of all such a gift provides they are less likely to resent the gift and won’t want to give the gift back.

Signs That Your Child May Be An Empath

  1. Kids that are empaths are extremely tuned into others feelings and are very sensitive to their emotions as well as others emotions, thoughts (sometimes), and intentions (good or bad). They have even been known to experience physical pains because others are experiencing ailments in those parts of their own bodies. It is important with suspected or know empathic children to be open and honest with them in age appropriate ways as they will have an idea of what is going on anyway. They are very good at reading and getting subtle clues from body language, picking up on the energy in the room, and can get a vibe of the atmosphere.
  2. Someone may have been described as, or you may even describe your child as, needy, shy (I was often described as this), antisocial ( as I sit upstairs alone an type, while a group of family is currently downstairs), fussy, over-sensitive, emotional, bleeding heart, worrisome, compassionate, empathetic. Worse, these children may have been diagnosed with a social phobia, anxiety disorder, or even depression ( myself having been diagnosed as all three!). These children need extra help and support dealing with such intense emotions. It can be easy to make a child that is so sensitive feel worse if you, the adult, aren’t careful in how you handle help with all they are dealing with. It doesn’t help that these children often feel lonely and different than others.
  3. Empathic children will often complain of different physical symptoms such as aches and pains. These children often suffer from stomach aches, headaches, as well as other bodily symptoms. Often offering them a hug and reassurance is helpful. Their pains are very real for them, and  they may well be a result of someone else’s feelings around them . Children don’t always know how to express their feelings in clear ways and this may be a way that they experience negative energies.
  4. Empathic Children are often very responsible for their ages. You may say, ” Why is a kid that’s responsible a bad thing?!,”. Sometimes empathic kids take on responsibility and worries that are too much for their age. They are too young to deal with how the mortgage is going to get paid, or to take care of their parent who is depressed or passed out drunk on the couch.These kids often live their lives making others happy, doing all they can to help others, as well as trying to heal and fix situations and people. In this way it is often like a child that struggles with anxiety. It is important to help your child to learn to relax, let go of their worries ( and others’ worries), enjoy themselves, and to just be kids and have fun and laugh. It is also important to remind your little empath that it is not their job to make other people happy. This is a lesson we could all learn to accept!
  5. Your child may be an empath if there are certain people, places or situations they just don’t like or are uncomfortable in. This can be hard, especially if you or a family member don’t understand being an empath. Imagine going to a family party and your child just won’t hug a certain family member, not only that but they have a very strong reaction to that person in a negative way. While it may be uncomfortable for you, and maybe even embarrassing, know that your child is struggling and is uncomfortable as well. It is really important that despite maybe not understanding their desire not to be around certain people, they and their intuition should be trusted and not forced to be around the person, those feelings are coming up for your child for a reason. Your child may just withdraw or seem unhappy and may not verbalize what feelings are coming up for them about a certain person or situation, so as not to make you unhappy. Remember us empaths are always trying to make others happy! So while your child may not always give a voice to these feelings and emotions, there may be the above mentioned signs. It is important to listen to them and to validate their feelings.
  6. There seems to be a hypothesis that many with the gift of being an empath have been through some sort of trauma. This would make sense, given that those who have gone through trauma are often hyper-vigilant and are very adept at reading subtle cues that others give off.
  7. There are also many empaths that seem to think it be somewhat of a genetic trait, in that it can be    passed down or that multiple people in a lineage can and do experience this gift.
  8. Your child may be an empath if they seem to have a “knowing” or if they have predicted things were going to happen, and they did.
  9. These children are highly sensitive and may have strong reactions and feel overloaded to certain sights, smells, sounds, intuition and feeling emotions more strongly than others. Bright lights may be overwhelming, strong smelling perfumes and foods, or even certain sounds. They often prefer softer fabric and being out in nature has a calming effect, they also prefer having just a few close friends. They are often overstimulated by people, crowded places,noisy environments, and stress. These children may struggle at theme parks or fairs, playgrounds. I remember my daughter just stopping at the entrance to a playground and staring and taking the scenery in, rather than running and joining the fun like the other kids.
  10. These children are often considered kinder, gentler, and quieter than their same aged peers. They are often very good listeners, and are very compassionate individuals. They often will surprise you with intuitive and insightful comments about others or you or themselves, that seem beyond their years.
  11. Empathic children are sensitive to scary or sad scenes in books and movies.
  12. Children that are empaths have a strong connection to nature, plants, animals and even stuffed animals, they don’t handle animal violence well.

Most kids naturally have 1-3 of these traits. The more of these traits that you recognize in your child, the more empathic they are!

Closing thoughts

It is important to be open and honest with empathic children. They will know if you are lying to them and there is no point in trying to keep things from an empathic child, or adult for that matter. While this  doesn’t mean sharing all of your problems with them, but to acknowledge it, in an age appropriate way, explain, and reassure that you are the adult and that they are things you will handle, and that your child doesn’t need to worry about it.

Remember, empathic children are dealing with a constant barrage of excess emotions. They value being listened to and not being judged when it comes to expressing what they are dealing with and going through. They need reassurance and benefit from love, hugs, and compassion of what they are experiencing. Helping to teach them skills to cope with all their experiences is also vital to your little empath learning to use, accept, and even grow their skills with their gift.

Resources for the article:

https://www.learning-mind.com/empath-child/

https://www.lifecoachcode.com/2017/07/31/traits-child-empath/

Resources for more information:

The Empath’s Survival Guide- https://www.amazon.com/Empaths-Survival-Guide-Strategies-Sensitive/dp/1622036573/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1514151961&sr=8-4&keywords=empathic+child

The Highly Intuitive Child: A Guide to Understanding and Parenting Unusually Sensitive and Empathic Children- https://www.amazon.com/Empaths-Survival-Guide-Strategies-Sensitive/dp/1622036573/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1514151961&sr=8-4&keywords=empathic+child


Adrienne Jeffries, MSW, LCSW-A
Mrs. Jeffries has worked with adults and children, helping them navigate their mental health concerns, symptoms and traumas. She is finishing her licensure hours in Elizabeth City, NC to be fully licensed in September 2018. Adrienne is a military wife and mom to a toddler, preschooler, and 3 dogs, who just accepted a counseling position in a local school system. In her spare time she enjoys all forms of creativity, learning, reading, and spending time with her family.

Jan 19

Foster Parent Struggles

By Jen Taylor | Parenting Tips , Uncategorized

My first guest blogger is Theresa Frasier. She highlights the struggles and realities of a foster parent and Play Therapist. Enjoy!


Six months ago I had a powerful experience that confirmed some beliefs that I hold dear in my role as a therapist, professor and mother and foster parent.

I am a mother with a few taglines- foster mother, adoptive mother and biological mother. Also, once people get to know me, they learn that I am fiercely protective of my children; all my children. I would like to share the details of this powerful experience but in doing so it would be obvious what child I was discussing and the professional who impacted our family’s sense of safety for at least three months. So I will only share examples which represent themes.

Foster Parents and Play Therapy

In any Play Therapy training program there are a variety of topics covered including models and history, techniques, and special populations. We also teach and learn about ethics and best practices to include topics such as informed consent, confidentiality, counter transference and the list should dig deeper. Some therapists work primarily with children or teens and some also work with families. I love to work with families and my expertise is foster /adoptive families, mostly because I have walked the walk of providing care with kids who have complex trauma experiences and I believe in my heart that if we can empower families to learn how to become the parents their children need them to be- then our Play Therapy interventions and the powers of play can impact the child more quickly.

These experiences have taught me the most about working as part of a multi-disciplinary team and the importance of respecting all members of the team.

When my role in these teams is as a direct care provider, foster parent- mom, they haven’t always been positive experiences. They instead have been experiences where I was talked to disrespectfully, judged or mistaken for someone who would accept being talked down to. These professionals appeared to do so with intention and routine. The power imbalance was clearly felt.

It first happened in a foundational Play Therapy training where the trainer stated that many foster parents aren’t invested in being in the therapy process. It was also inferred that foster parents give up or give in on difficult kids. What wasn’t added to the conversation was that children/teens with complex needs are placed with foster parents to test out how they can be managed with little additional resources and only after four or five placement breakdowns do powers to be search out expensive albeit more intensive programs that were usually believed to be required in the first place.

Foster Parenting Isn’t Just A Full- Time Job

Foster parents are often depicted in media as money seeking uneducated people. Their daily per diem can be broken down to (at the most) $2 a hour. Fostering isn’t like a job that you clock into at a certain time but we have to acknowledge that it is hard work and though foster parents are viewing children as at least temporary family members, the system can’t always view this resource as people providing this most valuable resource with little to no supports.

There are many foster parents who have primary designations such as Child and Youth Care Practitioners, Nurses, Social Workers, Psychologists or Teachers. They may have to stay at home if they have foster children with lots of specialist appointments or school issues, all in addition to the many meetings that are scheduled regularly. Many foster families have one parent who works outside of the home and one parent who needs to be available for all of the weekly meetings with collaterals.

A foster parent may feel like it is their calling or purpose. For some it is spiritual or religious but for others it may be a sacred process. It is absolutely wonderful to see a child blossom, learn to read, or be able to shower finally with the door shut. These steps can be steps in healing from their trauma. Some therapists get this but I have experienced others who make unbelievable assumptions, or don’t engage foster parents in information sharing, or make appointments without considering the impact on other members of the family. We had one worker who constantly treated our family like babysitters, and uber drivers and would remind us that all of her decisions were in the child’s best interest. Our response wanted to be- “if it negatively impacts the family then it isn’t in the child’s best interest”. To add insult to injury, this child welfare worker emailed us without warning to communicate that “today” was her last day and requested us to say goodbye on her behalf to the child. This was not in the child’s best interest.

We have had teachers and principals try to intimidate us by threatening to contact the local child protection agency because we wouldn’t accept a difficult child home without legislated paperwork. We have had a dental receptionist state that we are being neglectful if we don’t bring the child for a check- up on a day that is chosen by an out of town clinic even though that time conflicts with being home when other children are finished school and if we aren’t home then we are neglecting their needs. Every worker looks at “their “ child as being important with no consideration for other children or family members.

We are informed and aware of both legislation and policy. When we share this information, we are sometimes described as being difficult. If my partner switched wives four times in a year he would be described as unstable but we have had four workers in a year for a child.

Fostering Therapists

There is an imbalance of power when we are therapists. We have to check our privilege sometimes and not make assumptions. We have to try to treat the direct care workers as the most important members of the team. They in fact are doing the most work and may be the most longstanding “clinician” in the child’s life with the littlest of sleep, resources, and the high cost to their marriage or relationships with other children.

There are foster parents that do not appear committed and do not appear to make decisions that align with those of other team members. However, I challenge all Play Therapists to develop a relationship with caregivers acknowledging that 18 others may have come before you (so just like with the children) they may need some time to develop trust and safety. There are foster parents who are not working therapeutically. All foster parents and all therapists need to be held accountable.


 

Theresa Frasier

Ms. Frasier is a Play Therapist Supervisor in Canada who wears many hats. She is well known for her work with folks who experience complex trauma and grief and loss. She is launching a web based sandtray training in early 2018. www.changingsteps.ca

 

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