Are you a parent of a middle school student? Do you constantly battle it out with your tween or young teen? I work with this age group regularly, both in individual counseling and in group counseling. This age group is amazingly awesome to have in the office, best of both worlds – the playfulness of a child and the growing maturity of a teenager. We don’t know if we’ll get the sweet innocence of a child or the lashing out of a teenager but either way I love them unconditionally.
Here are some common themes that middle school students wish their families or parents knew.
- Your tween or young teen might be moody. While it’s important to set a level of respect in the house, as their guardian, do not take it personally. We all have bad days. Your tween is still learning coping strategies of what to do when they feel that way. Give them the space to do that.
- Explain why consequences are being placed, or why you are upset. Believe it or not, while you may feel like it’s common sense, your tween or young teen may not totally understand what is going on. Connecting the dots is a little challenging for this age group. Having the conversation while calm, allows the teen to understand it on a deeper level. Having rules and consequences posted in your house can also help them see the connection.
- Respect them. While they might be your kid, they are their own person, with opinions and values different from yours. Your comments will stick with them whether they are positive or negative. Be remembered as the parent who supported their adolescent. Show them that THEY are valued, even if you disagree with what that is.
- Show interest in them. Laugh at their jokes or be involved in the story they are telling by asking questions. They do care about what you have to say and how you respond to them. Let them know when you like something about them. Sometimes that might be just what they need to snap out of the funk.
- Hang out with them. While sometime we may not feel like we have anything in common, just spending time with them is vital. It doesn’t have to be a large event. The simple boring moments are what this age group remembers the most. Parents can be watch the baseball game on tv, or it can be stopping by their school at lunch to eat lunch with them or even helping them with their chores while catching up on their week. When you put down your screens or put aside your busy life, they will see that they are important, that they are valued.
- While the tween or young teenager won’t admit it, they still need their guardians to help them self regulate – whether that be with time they spend in front of screens, social times with friends, unhealthy foods, etc. This age group is still learning, and still need their guardians to be loving and set boundaries. They might not appreciate it in the moment, but one day they will.
- One last thing, you do not need to “save the day” every time your tween or young teen is in trouble. Allow your tween or young teen to turn in an incomplete assignment or project or allow them to make choices that might be different than you would make yourself. They need to experience those moments in order to learn from them.
Many parents or colleagues who struggle with children and adolescents ask how I am able to see progress when I work with these ages. I always tell them I start with trust. So that is what I’m going to focus on today. Many of the clients that I see in the office struggle with trust. All too often in the beginning I hear “I will never trust anyone again,” or “I don’t know if I can trust anyone again.” Or worse, “I have trust issues” or “I don’t trust myself…” If not those, I hear from the caregivers “I don’t trust him/her” or “I would like them to earn their trust back…” One of my favorite roles as a counselor is helping clients and their families build trust in themselves, their families and their communities. This is a tough task, but it can be done!
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines trust as “a belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc.” In High School, my Aunt told us that we needed to earn her trust. Her husband, my Uncle, told me that trust was not a matter one particular thing, it was our character, how we chose to live each day, and it had to be consistent. I remember the example he used with my cousin. He stated “You can’t just come home on time once, you have to meet curfew every night in order for her to trust that you’ll be home by curfew.” This has stuck with me over the years, that it’s hard to “fake” trust – one has to follow through with what they say, and it’s something that has to be repeated time and time again, and earned over time.
I view trust as a bank account. As we encounter positive moments we are depositing into the trust account. On the other hand, when we mess up – big or small – we are withdrawing from our trust accounts, sometimes small amounts, other times by larger amounts. Furthermore, the loved ones in our lives deposit or withdrawal moments of trust into our lives depending on the day to day situations that arise. I truly believe that trust is built in small increments or small moments. Sure, grand gestures don’t hurt, but our bank accounts are meant to grow over time. I frequently share a quote with the guardians of the clients in my office “Trust is built when someone is vulnerable and not taken advantage of.” (Bob Vanourek). I follow it up with, our children learn to trust adults in their lives when they can be vulnerable AND safe. Are you, as a parent/guardian providing opportunities where your children/adolescents feel safe and supported?
When working with clients, I start by teaching clients how to trust themselves. If we cannot trust ourselves, how can we expect others to trust us? Self trust also leads to self love. If you find yourself struggling with trust, you should examine how you treat yourself. We cannot ask for something that we do not believe we are worthy of receiving.
When families struggle with trust, I love using Brene Brown’s acronym BRAVING. She has a great way of explaining trust and I love walking families through each one of these finding ways in their lives that each one applies.
- B – Boundaries
- One must be clear about boundaries, showing that it is important to respect those with not only yourself but other people.
- R – Reliability
- One must do what they say they are going to do, over and over again. Someone gains others’ trust by being consistent and honest.
- A – Accountability
- If one makes a mistake, own it, apologize for it and make amends. Everyone makes mistakes, showing honesty and transparency helps build trust.
- V – Vault
- Can information be stored safely? What someone shares with you, will you hold in confidence? By keeping information safe, that is saying to others: I respect your story and others stories.
- I – Integrity
- Saying to yourself, “I must stand in a place of integrity and challenge others to do that too” is something important to tell yourself. It’s vital to choose courage over comfort, what’s right over what’s easy, and practice what you preach…but to also encourage others to do that as well.
- N – Non-Judgement
- Can someone fall apart in front of me, and not be judged?
- G -Generosity
- We must assume the most generous thing about others words, or actions or behaviors. It’s important to be in a place where you do not assume the worst of someone.
Knowing all these different ways to build trust, do we take advantage of building trust with our friends, families and co-workers? Reply below, what are the hardest ones for you to do?
Thank you for TRUSTING me with your families in 2015. Blessings to you in the new year!
The holidays can be overwhelming for the most organized and prepared host/hostess. The thought of the holidays can include family traditions, hosting gatherings and a lot of planning of the planners. In actuality we could plan every hour, from the moment we rise out of bed to the second we shut our eyes; however, reality is sometimes plans change.
Life happens. A professor of mine once referenced this as ‘happenstance’. It’s those moments in life where an individual stops to question themselves and say “What in the heck just happen” or “That just came out of the blue” All this means is we don’t have as much control as we think, but what we can control; lets….
So the holidays…
Holidays have a tendency to effect a large magnitude of people in many ways. Those individuals with mixed emotions, some are full of voids, the in-laws at family gathering, tighten budgets and the sadness of loved ones. Believe it or not family gathers can even make the faint at heart miss the individuals that seem to only show up to wreak havoc or the peacemaker become overly vocal, and let’s not forget the adoring soundboard.
I could go on and on, but I’m sure you follow where I’m headed. So what do you, do. Now that you’ve read this and the emotions have officially surfaced. How do you put the top back on the jar and carry on? How do you mustard up your strength and drive to pick up the kiddos? Okay. There isn’t a magic answer. Good news is, there is an answer.
The answer varies for each individual so I’ll give you some holiday tips so you can put the ‘I’ back into HOL’I’DAYS. It’s time for you to get right back into the middle of it all.
H – Have a whiff of citrus, studies have found that certain citrus fragrances boost feelings and alleviate stress
O – Owe it to yourself and loved ones to be mindful and grateful for those you have around you and shower them with love
L – Laugh a little more, it’s far more contagious than cough, cold or sniffle. Laughter is strong medicine for mind and body
I – Incorporating mindfulness meditation (unconditionally present) and continue after the holidays to help with the stress and anxiety of everyday life
D – Delegate the duties out to others, get them involved and be mindful, they probably won’t do it your way, but that’s really ok – it’s the holidays
A – Attend a local support group may be helpful during this time of the year
Y – Yoga, it’s worth a try
S – Spend a few minutes daily leading up to the holiday event remembering the good times you shared with your loved ones.
“What is Expressive Arts?”
I have been asked this question many times, and it makes me smile every time, because then I get to explain it! Expressive arts encompasses a wide range of art forms such as visual arts like painting or printmaking, poetry, music, movement, and much more. All of these modes of expression can support the therapeutic process. As you may have experienced, words can be limiting. Often times our words alone cannot fully capture the emotions we are feeling. Entering into an expressive mode allows you to move beyond words and connect to your soul self.
Now I know that for many people the words “expressive arts” might sound intimidating. Perhaps you think “I can’t draw” or “I’m not an artist”, and you would not be alone, many people feel the same way. The real beauty of using art in therapy is that you do no have to be a skilled artist, in fact skill doesn’t matter in this setting. What matters is the process, allowing yourself to experience art in a new way, as a mode of expression where the product is not the goal, instead the objective is to learn from the process. Another great thing about this process that may be different than other experiences is that there is no right or wrong to do it, when you are the creator there are no limitations. If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say “I messed up”… my reaction is always the same, I reply “There are no mistakes in art, only surprises!”
This week if your feeling blue or stuck on a problem here are a couple of things you can do to rejuvenate yourself and engage in an art process:
- Grab a pen and paper and doodle, don’t think just doodle. This is a great way to rid yourself of distractions and find focus before starting a new project.
- Dig your hands into some dirt or clay, and really notice how it feels. This is a great way to ground yourself.
- Write a haiku. A haiku is a short poem with only three lines. Line one is five syllables, line two is seven syllables, and line three is five syllables. This is a fun way to extract all the excess parts of a thought and hone in on the most important pieces.
- Turn on your favorite song, get up and dance around your house, act like a fool, laugh at yourself, and breathe a sigh of relief. This is a great way to release stress!
- Create a mini-family photo album that they can look at during school if needed.
- Social story: a short story talking about going to school and what to expect when going to school
- Read stories at home: http://www.
notimeforflashcards.com/2012/ 07/31-books-to-read-about- school.html
- Attend meet your teacher night
- Transition object: Some kids may find it helpful to bring something from home to help them feel comfortable
- Quick kiss and goodbye: sometimes when parents stay this teaches kids that if they get upset then they get to go home.
- Help them get back into a routine before and after school as well. It helps to start a few days before school starts.
- Do a practice (drive past school, visit playground, hang out at the bus stop for a while)
- Try to appear excited or relaxed about school. You do not want your worries making them feel there is a need to be worried
- Letting them feel in control (helping them choose their outfit or what to pack for lunch
- Empathize their worries “you are feeling worried about mommy and daddy not being at school” “many other kids feel this way too”
- Some kids are old enough to brainstorm ideas for feeling better at school, take a break to draw a picture call mom at lunch bring something from home
- Color a back to school banner to take on first day
- Donate school supplies to take the focus off of them
- Practice deep breathing or guided imagery
- crate a story puppet show about a kid’s going back to school
Often times I am asked why is counseling important? Or why do you have to meet each week? These are important questions and something that should be discussed with anyone who enters or is seeking counseling. Allow me to give you my perspective.
Let’s say you have a pain running down your arm. It has lasted for days. It doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. What would you do? Some would say go to a doctor. In fact, this is the most popular answer. So then why do we avoid going to see someone for our emotional pain? Why wouldn’t you want to alleviate mental pain just as quickly as physically pain? This is part of what counseling is meant to accomplish: reducing or alleviating emotional pain/stress. Of course, there are multitudes of other areas of counseling just like medicine, but this is one example.
So let me address the other question. Why weekly? Have you ever watched someone heal from a significant injury? Usually this requires some form of physical therapy. They go each week to stretch muscles and/or increase strength. When sessions are skipped, it takes longer to recover or gains that have been made can be lost. Counseling is no different. It is structured as a weekly session so that you can “stretch” those emotional muscles and learn strategies to increase or gain strength. It helps you maintain skills throughout the week, When time elapses, you may take longer to build those “emotional muscles” or loses some of the gains made. Why make it harder on yourself? Afterall, counseling is meant to lessen a burden, not increase it.
Often times I find that in talking about one thing, it carries over into other aspects of my life. This is true professionally as well. In one of my groups that I help facilitate we discussed the need for pleasant activities in our life. Pleasant activities reduce stress, increase mood, and help give variety and balance to our lives. What better thing than to share some tips/suggestions for pleasant activities with caregivers.
- Try to . plan at least one pleasant activity per day, even if it’s not very long.
- Make it about yourself! (Even if the activity is with others, make sure ultimately it’s about what you enjoy-I’m giving you permission to be selfish).
- If you can’t do the exact thing you want (stuck at home, scheduling conflicts, etc.), try to find a similar replacement activity or modify it to accommodate your current circumstance. For me, this may mean chair yoga instead of going to a class.
- Keep it simple! This doesn’t have to be anything big. Even taking 2 minutes for yourself can be helpful
- Mix it up! Do different things, After all this helps to prevent boredom.
- Take a walk
- Go for a bike ride
- Listen to music
- Call an old friend
- Check the rankings of your favorite sports team
- Bird watch
- Find a pretty view and sit
- Go fishing
- Do yoga/meditation
Other ideas or suggestions, feel free to share.
If you have thought twice about seeking therapy, you are not alone! People often share some of the same mental health issues as others and avoid seeking ways to overcome their emotional hurdles too! Sometimes people mistakenly feel that mild depression or anxiety is considered “crazy” in their own social circles. In some ethnic communities, it may even be like a sore thumb, and embarrassing. Some even think that they can’t afford it, or don’t want to go through their insurance companies because they want to remain anonymous.
You may be someone that resists seeking treatment because you may fear that it might reflect badly on your family or serve as an outward admission of your family’s failure to handle problems internally. Or you may be someone that is unaware that you have a diagnosable illness and even less aware that effective psychological treatment does exist for that specific problem. Anxiety about therapy is also a natural reaction to seeking therapy, but this is often because of a lack of knowledge about what or expect from the treatment itself. Even those who are willing to brave treatment, may not place therapy on their priority list. This troublesome reality suggests that, despite struggling with your problems for a while, you are reluctant to take time for your own self to get better.
Here at Step-by-Step Counseling, LLC, graduate interns, i.e., stepping stone therapists, are able to provide the community with an option to have mental health counseling at a cost they can afford. Some reasons why potential clients may choose this option for counseling would be that they have no mental health coverage, they cannot afford the insurance deductibles/copays, or did not qualify/want to use the sliding scale offered by other therapists in the office. We are here to make that uphill battle easier to climb!
With the busyness and demands of life, sometimes we feel disconnected from our child(ren), but aren’t sure how to re-connect. Today our Child & Family Therapist, Brook Howell, shares tips on how to connect with your child.
Your presence is the greatest present you can give your child.
Make a point to check-in with each of your children individually at least once a day. A check-in doesn’t need to last more than a few minutes. Be fully present for each child – giving them attention and affection.
Sit down on the floor, couch, gaming chair, etc. and play with your child – even if they have not asked you to. This action lets them know that they are important.
Schedule weekly dates or special times with each of your children. These can be anywhere from 15 minutes per parent to an all day outing. Do your best to schedule this time when other events will not occur. If something comes up, let your child know as soon as possible so you can reschedule rather than cancel. These special times are for activities of your child’s choosing and should be lead by your child. A few suggestions for dates or special times include: play catch, bake cookies, play a board or card game, put together a puzzle, choose a kit and build a model, visit the skate park and practice your skills, go out for icecream, shop at a craft store for the materials for a project to create together.
Eye contact is a great way to show the person speaking that you are listening.
Many times our children want to talk with us at times that are not the most convenient. Even if you are preparing dinner, folding laundry or waiting in the car, you can shift your body towards them which encourages them to talk. Ask open-ended questions in response to what they have shared. Respond to their answers so they know you were listening.
Sprinkle humor or playfulness into your daily routine.
Whether it is sharing a daily joke – one someone else wrote or you or your child made up – making funny faces to giggle about, or giving one another a ‘tickle torture’, turning up the music and dancing in the kitchen together, find ways to connect in a playful way with your child each day.
Learn and Utilize Your Child’s Love Lanaguage
This post would not be complete without mentioning the topic I share with almost all of the parents I work alongside -love languages. Some of you may have heard of this topic and even learned your own personal love language while others may have never heard of the topic. Learning your child’s love language allows you to relate to them in a way that makes them feel loved.
There are five love languages and individuals may have one predominant love language, or like me, may equally feel three of the five. The five love languages are acts of service (someone doing something for you), gifts, physical touch, quality time, and words of affirmation (encouraging words).
You can purchase The Five Love Languages of Children at your local or online bookseller, check it out at the St. Charles City County Library or visit the author’s website to take a online quiz to determine your child’s love language.
Active listening, being present with your child, humor and playfulness, as well as utilizing your child’s love language are all ways that you can connect with your child. Do you have other suggestions you’d like to add? Have you tried any of these ideas? I’d love to hear the ways that you’ve connected with your child!
Life has its ups and downs and everyone feels sad from time to today or even define themselves as “having the blues”. These feelings can be defined as “normal”; however, if these emotions take hold of your life and won’t seem to let go, then you may be depressed and suffer from clinical depression. Depression makes the everyday tasks in life quite difficult, and you can’t enjoy life like you once could. Sometimes just getting through the entire day is a struggle and can be quite overwhelming. Understanding the signs and symptoms of depression can be your first step in seeking help and getting better, overcoming this problem.
Clinical depression is much more than feeling sad about something. Sadness is a normal reaction to the struggles in life, along with the disappointment and setbacks that come with it at times. On the other hand, depression often makes people feel lifeless, empty, or even restless, angry and aggressive. Depression can feel like it’s taking over your life, and interfering with your ability to have fun, work, sleep, study and even eat. If you can identify with several of the following signs and symptoms, and they seem to not go away, you may want to consider seeing a counselor:
o You can’t sleep or you sleep too much
o You can’t concentrate or find previously easy tasks difficult now
o You feel helpless and hopeless
o Your negative thoughts can’t be controlled, despite trying
o You either just can’t stop eating, and have lost your appetite altogether
o You are much more irritable than usual, or more aggressive or short-tempered
o You have been consuming more alcohol than normal or engaging in other reckless types of behaviors
o You have been having thoughts that life isn’t work living (seek help immediately!)
It is important to also know that there are many faces of depression. The mere term depression is a pretty loaded word in our present culture. Its association is at many times wrongly associated with weakness and excessive emotion. It can be expressed as differing symptoms in men, women, teens and even older adults. Men with depression may experience pronounces feelings of aggression, violence, substance abuse, reckless behaviors or anger. On the other hand, women may express their depression as guilt, excessive sleeping, overeating, or gaining weight. In teens, irritability is common, and symptoms of hostility and being easily angered may appear, and even unexplained aches and pains. Older adults who are depressed may express increased physical symptoms, and it is important to know that depression is not a normal part of aging.
The Road to Depression Recovery
It is important to know that what works for one person might not work for another. It is important to seek professional help to assist you in finding your own “road to recovery” and explore the many treatment options. Even if you feel that the thought of tackling your depression seems overwhelming, don’t panic, but start small and ask for help. Therapy can help you work through the root of your depression and help you to understand why you feel a certain way, and what you can do to stay healthy!
- Ask for professional help and support
- Make healthy lifestyle changes
- Build stronger emotional skills