Back to School Frenzy
School supply shopping, open house nights, last minute doctor visits...back to school can mean craziness for the schedule! In one weekend we had three kids transitioning to college, talk about a whirlwind. Change can be hard and stressful for everyone. Even exciting change still creates stress in the body. And the body does not differentiate between positive stress and negative stress!
Keeping something steady in your routine can communicate to the body that it’s secure, reducing anxiety. Recently my husband and I opted to make dinnertime 6:00 regardless of who will be home for the meal, with too many schedule variations we needed something steady.
Very small changes in structure can create huge payoffs in developing a sense of safety and security for your kids. For instance, notice when you’re asking your kids questions like “what do you want to do?” “should we go now?” “it’s time to turn the TV off, OK?” This transfers the job of setting structure to your child, which unintentionally communicates to them that they are in charge of their world. What they need in times of transition is a sense that you are in charge, able to take care of them and stronger than the stressors coming their way (both negative and positive).
Try using language that communicates what is going to happen next as if it's a fact. "The TV will be off in 5 minutes," or "time to go out the door." Better yet, eliminating the discussion and just acting sometimes sets the best structure. Try gently taking a hand and heading out the door, or handing a backpack and lunchbox to them with a smile or bringing the toothbrush to the child without creating a conversation. Using proactive non-verbals can be extremely comforting to a child's sense of security.
How do you know when your child’s fears have turned from everyday worries to something that might need some extra help? It’s not always obvious when a child is struggling with anxiety.
Kids can’t always tell us what’s on their mind. The area of the brain that puts words to a feeling or a visceral response is just starting to learn its job in childhood. This is a big reason why it can be tough to know what is going on with your kiddo.
You can’t always trust what your child tells you verbally. Not only do kids need our help naming emotions, sometimes they try to mask vulnerable emotions. Your child might tell you everything is fine and if that’s what you’re desperate to hear you might be tempted to take their word for it. But you need to be the detective. If something feels off, something probably IS off.
Signals your child might be struggling with anxiety:
If your child’s struggles are impacting daily life, school performance, family or social relationships, it might be time to ask for some help.
Anxiety can get better, and quickly! I love helping kids and adults overcome anxiety because it is so responsive to counseling! When people start to learn just a few tools and practice them regularly, anxiety typically takes a dramatic decline. For children, having a place to work through their big emotions and learn how to safely feel and constructively express those emotions can make a big impact. You can learn more about counseling for kids here.
Asking for help does not mean you are failing or inadequate as a parent! Contradictory from what our culture tells us, you were made to need other people. You were not made to do it all (including parenting) on your own. When you ask for help you’re modeling for other people what a mature parent does. If you’re wondering if your child might benefit from some help, reach out! Ask a pediatrician, a pastor, a friend or call a counselor.
I would love to chat with you for 30 minutes on the phone, free of charge, to see if counseling could be helpful for you or your child. Click here to start the conversation.
Photo by Janko Ferlič
Cultivating Resilience in Our Kids
When your baby cries out to you it’s an INSTINCT to snatch them out of harm's way. It's gut-wrenching to let your child experience difficulties! Believe me, if there was a way for us to get to my step-son we would have been strongly tempted to consider it.
On a daily basis I talk with parents whose children struggle with daily challenges like getting on the bus or going to gymnastics. There seems to be a rise in young adults who are fearful of driving, talking on the phone, applying for a job. They're frozen in the belief that they don't have the capacity to handle the discomfort they feel during these moments. I can't emphasize enough how much our kids need to experience discomfort in order to believe they have what it takes to face tomorrow's challenges. Until they experience discomfort on a regular basis and learn that they can move through it, avoidance of discomfort will rule their behaviors.
When you rescue your child or step in because they're having difficulty doing something on their own, you are communicating that you don’t believe they actually have what it takes to rise to the challenge.
Refusing to rescue is HARD WORK and it takes GUTS!
Building resilience in your child happens one small struggle at a time. Think of it like a muscle, the more they practice, the better they will become at facing challenges. Start small, pick one and do a few minutes each day. Then ease into greater challenges. Here are some ways you can help your child learn that they can tolerate discomfort:
My step-son came off the plane from Asia with a huge smile on his face and a journal full of insights he would never have gained another way. If your child struggles with accepting uncomfortable events, it might be a good time to start practicing as much as possible. If you feel overwhelmed by your own discomfort when your child struggles or if your child seems stuck it might be helpful to get some support from a therapist.
Your child has what it takes to rise to the challenge. Hold onto that belief, hold your child’s feet to the fire and cheer them on like there's no tomorrow!
Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash
Need to talk? Contact Karin for a free consultation.
Screens, Teens and Depression
Simple steps to help your child avoid depression
But before you get worried about your child’s screen habits here are a few things to remember:
So what’s going on?
Fear Of Missing Out (aka FOMO) - Social media can increase our teen’s sense that they are not included. They actually engage in less face to face time together but they post about it more, creating the sense for anyone not included that they have been left out.
Sleep deprivation - Screen time before bed has been shown to lead to lower quality of sleep and increased difficulty getting to sleep (2). “Fifty-seven percent more teens were sleep deprived in 2015 than in 1991. In just the four years from 2012 to 2015, 22 percent more teens failed to get seven hours of sleep.” Sleep disruption can exacerbate anxiety and depression. It can also affect concentration, memory and other executive functions like decision-making (1).
Avoidance – every generation finds a way to numb difficult emotions. Instead of alcohol, food, shopping and sex, this generation is more likely to choose screens and social media. Screen time is not bad in and of itself as long as it’s done in moderation. Moderation has become more challenging since apps are now designed to appeal to the brain’s addictive tendencies.
What can parents do?
Start with small changes – phone and screen time can be a precious commodity. Challenging your child’s phone time can create big blow-ups. Start with one small change and wait 1-2 weeks before introducing another change. Think of weaning off of coffee rather than going cold turkey.
Use alarm clocks, not phones – research has shown that sleeping with a phone nearby increases one’s sense of anxiety since the brain is always aware that a text could come in (3).
Have all family members park the phones in the kitchen or living room for charging overnight.
Take 1-2 hours off the screen before bed – sleep quality has been shown to increase when screens are off at least 1 hour before bedtime. The brain activity and the stimulation of the light impacts the body’s ability to relax and fall asleep.2
Have screen-free meals – teach your kids how to have conversation by practicing at meal time.
Limit your child’s screen time to 2 hours or less per day (less than 1 hour if your child is under age 5)
Screen detox during family vacations
Have family screen time (1 hour), followed by family play-time. We lovingly call this “forced family fun” in our home.
Find out what your kids enjoy and do it with them to help them move past the decrease in screen time.
Model, model, model – if you want your child to be able to do something difficult, you need to be able to do it yourself. Your kids learn everything they know about life from watching you.
Talk about any difficulties you notice personally from limiting screen time. Your child will learn how to manage difficult emotions by watching you deal with yours.
Help your child develop hobbies and other interests
Challenge them to do uncomfortable things, like conversation, driving, buying groceries. They need these experiences to learn that they can handle them.
Remember the screen time is not the problem, it’s an excess of screen time that can cause issues. Some waves of tension over putting down the phone is well worth a lifetime of increased sense of wellbeing for your child. Some of these suggestions may take some patience from you. Some kids might not be used to the patience and perseverance that non-screen activities take. But these skills are essential building blocks for developing a sense of happiness. So when your child whines for the 80th time about being bored, remind yourself that you’re helping him or her develop some important internal muscle. In the long run they will be much, much happier.
Highlighted article: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/
1. The Healing Power of Sleep 2nd Edition by Mary O’Brien, M.D. (2011).
Photo by Steinar Engeland on Unsplash
For Further Reading:
12 ways your phone is changing you by Reinke, T. (2017).
Choose to take control of what you let influence you. Pastor Steven Furtick said in a recent message that it’s better to know Who you are following than knowing where you’re going when you're following the One that loves you the most.
Discover who you are, and who you are not
Direction comes from knowing who you are and continually discovering who you were made to be. Gifts, talents, values, likes, dislikes, weaknesses, strengths, resources, circumstances – all of this plays into the discovery process. You were made inherently valuable. Your value comes from the fact that the wisest and most valuable Being in existence thought it was a good idea to make you, exactly how you are, exactly at this time. He made you the way you are to serve a purpose. He gave you certain gifts, and not others, for a reason.
Let go of the illusion of certainty
Some of us have a greater tolerance for uncertainty than others. Some people long for supernatural revelation so that they just know that they’re on the right track. Others are OK winging anything that comes their way. For those that get stuck desiring certainty, you may need to wrestle with the fact that there might not be one specific direction.
Let go of the fear that keeps you trapped in indecision
God gives us permission to be co-creators with him in our destiny. I can picture some of you looking back at me with immense fear in your eyes, “that sounds like so much responsibility!” Yes AND remember that God is a part of your equation if you are trusting him with your life. He’s a good father, he made you, he wants good things for you, he cleans you up when you make a mess, he heals your broken spots and he takes back situations that were bad and makes good out of them. He wants to use you where you are right now. With a God like that, you can trust him as you take a step forward. God can use any path you choose if you are honestly trying to follow his way of life and trusting him to use you.
Know when to follow your gut and when not to
“Follow your gut” is a common piece of wisdom and it can serve a great purpose, but what do you do when your gut gets confused, torn between two options? Your feelings will always change and it’s not always wise to use them to guide you. If your feelings are constantly in tension with one another, you may have an underlying fear that needs to be addressed. So what do you use to make a decision if your emotions are always changing? You can use your logic and you can orient toward your priorities and values. But even these things change over time. So for me, the one thing that doesn’t ever change in my constantly changing world is God. Anchor yourself to the One that does not change, who sees it all and has the big picture for your life. Ask him to inform you. Here’s a great podcast about how to do that.
Practice contentedness and gratitude
Satisfied people have recognized that there were many different directions they could have taken but have learned not to look back, not to compare with others and not to second-guess. In essence they have decided to celebrate what they have been given.
Finding direction in life is usually a process and it typically looks different than we expected. Know that you are not alone. You have so much value to bring to the world and there is a kind leader waiting for you to ask him for direction.
Anxious Moms, Anxious Daughters
6 Ways to Help Your Daughter Beat the Family Anxiety Pattern
You are not alone! I sit across from countless amazing high-functioning women, in the counseling office and outside of it, who experience anxiety and whose children are now facing the same thing. There’s HOPE! Anxiety is highly treatable, many kids (and mothers) see fast relief in counseling.
So how did this happen? You’ve probably tried hard to keep her from the worries you experienced as a child. Women are more likely to struggle with anxiety than men. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “From the time a girl reaches puberty until about the age of 50, she is twice as likely to have an anxiety disorder as a man. Anxiety disorders also occur earlier in women than in men.” 1
Part of this is due to the makeup of the female brain. Hormones, neurotransmitters and stress response all work differently for females and may contribute to increased chances of experiencing anxiety. Part of it may also be due to the way a developing brain works. Researchers are fascinated by newly discovered “mirror neurons” in the brain. These neurons teach us to mirror behaviors and even emotions of others. Last time you saw someone yawn and then had to yawn yourself, that’s the mirror neuron at work. It’s also what helps us empathize with others and put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.2
“…Mirror neurons may allow us not only to imitate others’ behavior, but actually to resonate with their feelings. We sense not only what action is coming next, but also the emotion that underlies the behavior. For this reason, we could also call these special neural cells ‘sponge neurons’ in that we soak up like a sponge what we see in the behaviors, intentions and emotions of someone else. We don’t just ‘mirror back’ to someone else, but we ‘sponge in’ their internal states.” (exerpt from The Whole Brain Child by Dan Siegel) 2
Your daughter’s mirror neurons may have allowed her to sponge in some of your own anxiety, just as you may have unknowingly sponged in your mother’s and so on.
Before you feel guilty, remember this is not something you did intentionally and you can take steps to help her now.
Anxiety is common for women and it’s also easy for our children to feel worried too. The great news is you and your child don’t have to sit in fear, it’s treatable and responds well to calming exercises. Choose something new to practice and do it on a regular basis. If you or your child have fears and worries that feel overwhelming, call a counselor and take advantage of the great resource that counseling can be in your life.
1. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. https://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/women/facts
2. Siegel, D.J. (2012). The whole brain child: 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind. New York, NY: Bantam Books.
3. Grey, P. (2010) The decline of play and rise in children’s mental disorders. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201001/the-decline-play-and-rise-in-childrens-mental-disorders
Driving fast increases stress. When you take your foot off of the accelerator, your brain has more reaction time, it can process all of the information flying at it in a bit more leisurely pace, allowing your stress hormones to take a break while you enjoy the ride. It might feel like you don’t have time to slow down but in reality driving 60 mph for a 20 mile drive only takes 3 minutes longer than driving 70 mph.
Batch your Social Media Time – Turn off the email, Facebook and other notifications on your phone and only check it at certain times during the day. This allows you stay in the present moment for a bit longer and keeps you from falling for the multi-tasking myth. Divided attention is always less attention. At first you might notice how often you like to check your social media but then after a few days you’ll notice that you’re not so tied to your phone. You’re spending significantly less time looking at your phone rather than the PEOPLE in your life. This also helps your attention span to keep from shrinking, a desperately needed skill in the world today!
Stop the Noise - Your brain is constantly sorting through sensory input, including plain old noise. You can give it a little breather by plugging in some headphones while you clean the house or do dishes and listen to some white noise (let the cacophony of the children have it’s full reign!). I love this app www.noisli.com! It’s a free and customizable sound machine. Listen to some light rainfall or a bubbling brook, night sounds or a fall breeze. I also ran across this song that is reportedly backed by a neurological study to reduce anxiety by 65%. I haven’t looked into the study for it’s validity but I gotta say I felt calmer listening to it. Just don’t listen while driving!
Take a Mental Vacation – This might sound hokey but it can do wonders. Your mind is POWERFUL. Take a few deep, relaxing breaths. Then imagine all of your responsibilities, complexities, tensions and worries were gone – lock yourself in the bathroom and turn on the above-mentioned app if you have to. If you want to take it to the next level, concentrate on remembering a time when you felt safe and deeply loved just as you are. Revel in that memory. What did it feel like, who were you with, how did you feel internally? Just practicing these positive emotions can set off a chain reaction in your neurochemistry that decreases stress hormones and helps protect against upcoming stress.
Explore for 5 Minutes- Neuroscience is showing that involving all areas of the brain and essentially grounding yourself in the present moment is one of the most positive actions you can take to bring yourself out of a frenzied state. Go outside and notice with all your senses, notice what has changed, what do you feel on your skin, under your feet, what do you smell, what do you hear?
Over time, practicing calming activities can bring down your overall anxiety level and teach your body how to react in a calming manner when stressful events occur.
I Wish I'd Known...
Did you know that you can bring your child for counseling for a number of common concerns AND your insurance might actually cover it?
It’s easy to think our problems need to be really big before it’s OK to ask for some help. Your child might not have major behavioral issues or need to go to the hospital, but they might have some troubles that could respond well to counseling.
Your child might resist going to school, or get really upset about going to the doctor. Maybe they’ve experienced a loss like a move or divorce. They might be dealing with a bully or bullying others. Or maybe they have some health issues like allergies or a chronic illness.
All of these are great reasons to visit a counselor, which may even be covered by your health insurance. With all the pressure kids (and adults) are facing today, who couldn’t use a little help building a good toolbox of age-appropriate stress relievers and coping strategies to move past those hang-ups and build resilience and strength?
Your child doesn’t need to have a serious mental illness to get some extra assistance. If you’re on the fence, call a local counselor and ask their opinion about your situation.
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Hello and welcome! I'm Karin, I'm a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor with a private practice in New Brighton, MN serving the Twin Cities metro area, St. Paul and Minneapolis. I specialize in helping struggling kids and overwhelmed adults find relief and live a vibrant life.