Counselor's Corner

School is Starting

School is Starting

“School is starting!”  These words bring joy to some and strike terror into others.  I remember as a boy when my parents came to pick me up after spending some wonderful time with my grandfather at his home on a river during the month of August.  I was devastated that the time was coming to an end, and although I enjoyed school, I had no desire to go back.  Obviously, each child has his or her own reaction to the announcement; one of my grandchildren couldn’t wait and loves school; another is very apprehensive; a third sees school as a necessary evil.  In any case, the beginning of the school year brings anxiety as parents and children anticipate and experience change.

During the first days of school, there are a number of situations that confront every child.  Peers, teachers, the very classroom or school atmosphere, to say nothing of homework and educational content.  The first few days often set the stage for the year to come. Hopefully, most will hear about the excitement of having a new teacher, seeing friends, or being thrilled about a new class.  However, there are also red flags such as not being included, feeling bullied by peers or picked on by the teacher, or being exposed to class content that is overwhelming or offensive to family values.  In some instances, some learning difficulties will come to light that were not previously recognized.  For others there have been family changes that have an impact on the child at school – a move, divorce, or other loss that may make adjustment more difficult.

It is especially important to understand and be sensitive to children’s feelings and experiences during this early time of adjustment.  The old adage about “nipping it in the bud” fits here.  There are things the concerned parent can do:pencil-602440_1280

  1. It is important to be particularly sensitive to the child and their communication (both verbal and non-verbal). Celebrate the positives with them and be aware of areas of concern.
  2. If possible, listen and help your child problem solve issues that they are capable of handling. Sometimes just having a sympathetic ear is all that is needed.
  3. When the situation seems overwhelming and more than the child can handle, it is time to step in. Even though the child may not like it, often times the teacher or guidance staff at school is the place to start.
  4. Seek other advice and help when it is indicated. Parenting is difficult and it is hard to handle it alone; however, sometimes there are real medical, learning, or relationship issues that respond best to early intervention by a physician, psychologist or counselor.
  5. Ultimately, as a last resort, you may have to make hard decisions in the best interest of your child. As parents, we reluctantly changed schools for one of our children and the adjustment was immediate and positive.

As a professional therapist and supervisor, I know how important encouragement and sometimes early intervention are.  Too often, I have seen situations that could have been handled early on which develop into major problems.  It bothers me tremendously when we receive a referral in May about a problem that should have been dealt with and solved earlier. Parenting is a wonderful and daunting responsibility.  The task of raising a child from total dependence to independence brings both joys and sorrows.  Taking positive steps now will help insure more joy as you and your child journey forward.

Lee Webster imageLee Webster is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has over 40 years of counseling experience. He is also the founder and clinical director of the Center for Human Development.  To learn more about Lee click here.

 

 

 

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Childhood Anxiety

Childhood Anxiety

Is your child showing signs of anxiety such as worrying, irritability, avoidance, fear, hair pulling, nail biting, or perfectionism?

You may be thinking, “My child has a good life; how could they have anxiety?  It doesn’t make any sense!”

The truth is it doesn’t have to make sense for it to happen.

Your child’s anxiety is not the root of the problem.  It is a symptom of the problem.

So, what IS the problem?

To understand this we must first understand that both emotions and needs drive behavior.

Your child’s anxiety is a sign of a basic emotional need being unmet.

This does not mean that you are doing a bad job at parenting.  It simply means that your child has a need that they don’t know how to get met and has feelings that they haven’t figured out how to handle.

Let’s take a look at what their symptoms are saying…

My Negative Emotion Bucket is overflowing.

I’m feeling out of control, scared, angry, etc and I don’t know what to do about it.

My Positive Emotion Bucket is too empty.

I want to feel loved, safe and capable of handling my circumstances and the emotions attached to them.

How to facilitate meeting that emotional need (Balancing the Buckets)

  • Ensure that every time your child hears something negative, corrective, or scary, they hear at least 5 positive and/or empowering things.

This is not easy to do and takes purposeful effort on your part, but the payoff is well worth it.

For example:

If your child overhears you talking about money concerns, this can produce very uncertain and fearful feelings within them because they have no control over the budget, but it affects their life.

Because of their developmental stage, they may think they did something to cause the situation.  They may begin worrying about the worst-case scenario and feel incredible stress with no way to release those feelings.

The best thing you can do to counteract that is to make sure they hear at least 5 positive statements, at different times, such as; things will be okay, I love you, I’ll take care of you, you didn’t cause this situation, etc.

  • Teach your child how to recognize and vent their feelings by asking “feelings questions”.

Don’t ask, “How was school?”  They’ll probably say, “Fine.” which doesn’t get to their emotions.

Do ask, “Did anything happen at school today that you didn’t like?  What happened?  What were you feeling when that happened?”

Do ask, “What was the best part of your day today?  What did you like about that?  How did you feel when that happened?”

When having “feelings“ discussions with your child, be careful to not suggest that they shouldn’t feel the way that they feel.  Often times we do this because their feelings don’t make sense to us.  But their feelings are real and legitimate.

A productive “feelings discussion” consists of the following:

  1. Allow them to vent their feelings with no judgment.

Ask them to tell you more about it, how often they feel that way, etc.

  1. Then ask them how they want to feel.

Steer clear from asking, “What would make you feel better?  They probably don’t know or else they’d be doing it already.

  1. Problem solve with them as to how they can produce the feeling that they want.

See if they have any ideas.  You may offer some ideas.  Allow them to choose a course of action.

This conversation validates and empowers them which can drastically empty the Negative Feeling Bucket and fill the Positive Feeling Bucket at the same time!

 

Corina Helgestad imageCorina Helgestad is a professional counselor who especially likes working with teen girls in such areas as self-esteem, cutting, suicide, depression, and anxiety. To learn more about Corina, or to set up an appointment click here.

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No more sibling rivalry!

No more sibling rivalry!

Really?!  No…not really – I’m not sure how to fashion that kind of serenity in a home, but there are some things you can do to help reduce sibling rivalry, and to provide a foundation for your children to truly love and care for each other as they grow older.

I’m raising four children.  Two are adults and two are quickly on their way to adulthood.  Each of the siblings are close to each other.  I’ve often pondered how it is that I am so blessed to have these four wonderful children who genuinely care about each other.  It’s been a joy to hear one daughter comment how she wants to find a future husband who is like her brother, or watch my son pick up his little sister after a concert telling her how proud he is of her as he swings her around in a circle.  These things don’t just happen by chance, there’s usually a parent or two who has fostered this kind of relationship for years.

Here are some secrets I’ve found that have worked for my family.  One area that is a problem in most families is in the area of disagreement.  I’ve tried to help my children in knowing how to disagree well.  It isn’t ok in my home for someone to talk disrespectfully to a family member no matter how young or old they are.  My toddlers were corrected and directed how to say things kindly.  I have made it a habit to talk to my children respectfully regardless of where my emotions want to lead me.

Another tool I implemented was that of an effectual apology.  A quick “I’m sorry” from one sister to another after a painful exchange was said, is not sufficient for this Mother.  A true, “I’m sorry,” comes from the lips of someone who is able to identify what they had done, verbalize it, and make a change in future behavior.  When my children were little you might have seen me coaching a daughter and hearing her say,  I’m sorry for calling you ugly, that was mean of me, will you please forgive me?”  The offended child had to decide if they were willing to accept the apology or not.  Sometimes that process might take a few hours, or even longer.  I tried not to force the forgiveness.  In order for forgiveness to be genuine, it needs to come from the heart.  This pattern probably isn’t perfect, but as a rule of thumb it has worked well in my family.

My children fought, made up and fought again, but the fights lessened over time.  Today they are close and call each other friend.  What a satisfying legacy for this Mom.

Erin Morgan imageErin Morgan is a licensed professional counselor at the Center with over 20 years of counseling experience.  To learn more about Erin, or to set up an appointment click here.

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