TeenTip

Beating the Back to School Blues

Photo by  moren hsu  on  Unsplash

Photo by moren hsu on Unsplash

Are you dreading going back to school? Trust me, I’m well acquainted with this feeling. From elementary school all the way up through college, it’s a feeling that doesn’t (and probably won’t) go away. Because with the end of summer comes a specific type of grief that comes from the loss of the glorious freedom of endless days with no obligations. And let me assure you that this is a valid loss that is important to grieve. The changing of seasons is always bittersweet, so give yourself space to feel all the feelings, and also know you’re not alone in feeling them. Here’s some helpful tips to soothe those back to school blues, and hopefully set you up for a successful and fulfilling new school year. 

  1. Marie Kondo Yourself: If you haven’t heard of the KonMari Method, then take a moment and look it up- trust me, it’s worth a quick google to find out how a woman’s name turned into a verb. The basis of this method is to rid your life of clutter, or things that no longer serve you. While it could be helpful to use this method for your bedroom or your school supplies, I mostly mean this in a metaphoric sense. Before going back to school, take a look at all of your habits, your routines, your relationships, your coping skills. Take a deep loving deep breath and lay them all on the table in front of you. Now slowly pick up each one and ask yourself- Does this serve me? Does this bring me joy? Is this in line with what I value? If the answer is yes, great- place it in the metaphoric “keep” pile, if it’s a no- say “thank you, next” and send it on its way. 

  1. Set Your Intentions: Grab a notebook, a few post-it notes, or open your notes app. You’ll need something to jot down your thoughts, and a way to keep your notes visible throughout the year. Ask yourself, “What do I want to get out of this school year? How do I want this school year to feel? In what ways do I want to grow this school year?” Capture your thoughts and set your intentions. Maybe it’s just one word, maybe it’s a list of things, whatever your intentions are, make sure that they are realistic and they are in line with what you value. Tape them on your mirror, save them as your phone lock screen, place them anywhere that you can be frequently reminded of these intentions. 

  1. Gratitude Gratitude Gratitude: It may seem like nothing about a new school year is good, and that there is no possible room for gratitude, but I’m a firm believer that there is always something worth being grateful for in every situation. Maybe you get to see a friend you missed over the summer, maybe you get to wear some new shoes, maybe you get to practice a sport and see your teammates again? However tiny it may be, I invite you to find one thing that you can cultivate gratitude towards during this new school year. Research has proven time and time again that gratitude helps us decrease stress hormones, sleep better at night, improve self esteem, and even can increase our physical health. 

Sympathy vs. Empathy

Photo by  Hian Oliveira  on  Unsplash

We hear these words get tossed around, almost interchangeably, all the time. So what's really the big difference between sympathy and empathy, and why should it matter to a teenager?

Here are some common definitions:

sym·pa·thy

ˈsimpəTHē/

noun 

1. feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune

em·pa·thy

ˈempəTHē/

noun 

1. the ability to understand and share the feelings of another

One way to help really get the difference between the two is to think of sympathy as feeling sorry for someone and empathy as feeling sorrow with someone. Climbing into the space where a friend is hurting and just being present with them. Sitting close to a friend whose crying and allowing the sadness to just be. We want so much to help our loved ones not feel pain, but oftentimes our efforts can have the unintended consequence of leaving a friend alone with their feelings. We dismiss, or minimize, or try to put on a silver lining, when what a friend really needs is to know that you are there for her and that you know that sometimes life is hard.

Rather than jumping in to fix it when your friend or your daughter or your partner is hurting, try just allowing yourself to be in the moment with them. Allow yourself, and your loved one, to have all these feelings without trying to rush past them back into the happiness zone. Here's a great video from the always-awesome Brene Brown that highlights the critical differences between sympathy and empathy:

Back to Nature

Photo by  Tomek Baginski    on  Unsplash

It may be scorching hot outside, but keeping in touch with nature is still important. More and more tweens and teens are so plugged-in to technology and social networking that they aren’t spending nearly enough time outside. Exploring nature is beneficial to kids because it decreases stress, increases a sense of community and belonging, and provides meaning and purpose that can increase tween’s self esteem, confidence and sense of place in the world. 

Since it is 100+ degrees on Texas summer days, you may have to get a little creative! We’ve collected some ideas to get you and your child started so you can get some fresh air this summer and stay cool at the same time.

  • Bring your child and their friend to Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center 

    on Thursday nights for Nature Nights 6-9pm

  • Visit local watering holes

  • Visit Breed and Company or your favorite local nursery to pick up inexpensive clay pots, some dirt, and plants. She and her friends can decorate the pots and plant some flowers to put in their rooms or on the front porch!

  • Go to East Austin Succulents (These plants can actually survive the Texas heat, and you will find some really cool looking cacti! Be on the lookout for a Living Social Coupon or a Groupon from them!)

  • Rent a Kayak off of Town Lake (aim for early in the morning or in the evening to avoid the heat)

What are some ways you stay cool while keeping connected to nature?

How to Give Back

Photo by  Sandrachile  on  Unsplash

Photo by Sandrachile on Unsplash

Summer may be all about fun, but with a little extra time on your hands, it's also the perfect opportunity to give back to your community with your tween. The suggestion to volunteer may elicit groans and sighs, but encouraging participation can promote critical thinking skills, empathy, social awareness and self-confidence in your tween. Finding fun ways to get involved is possible by browsing VolunteerMatch.org or visiting local non-profits to learn about opportunities for youth. Many will require parental participation as well, so make it a family affair and show your tween that giving to those in need is a lifetime endeavor! To learn more about how volunteering positively impacts young people, visit Psychology Today.

Here are a few of our favorite spots to get you started. Enlisting your tween's help in selecting a location and activity will help ensure that the experience is rewarding for the whole family!

  • Volunteers 8 years and older are welcome at the Capital Area Food Bank

  • Austin Habitat for Humanity often needs youth to provide lunches to volunteer sites

  • Planning a beach trip this fall? September 22 is Texas Adopt-a-Beach Day and there are many ways you can help!

  • Caritas encourages families to host their own food drive to help stock their pantries

  • At the Ronald McDonald House, warm meals are always welcome

  • Befriend a neighbor in need and deliver meals, spruce up the front yard, walk the dog or offer to pitch in around the house

  • Host a lemonade stand or garage sale and donate the proceeds to your tween's favorite non-profit

  • Clean out the closets and take gently used clothes to the Austin Children's Shelter

Fighting the End-Of-School-Year Burnout

Photo by  Tim Gouw  on  Unsplash

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

It’s often the same old story for students. You are counting down the days until the school year ends, and then freedom can begin! You have spent all year working hard and juggling so many moving parts in your life. Yet, finals are coming up and summer feels far away. Maybe you’ve already noticed your motivation dropping and your feet dragging when it comes to keep up with everything going on. The struggle can feel very real!

This feeling of “burnout” often pops up when we try to power through, without also taking care of ourselves. You may have received messages that you have to keep pushing on, even if you start to reach your breaking point. However, this is not realistic! Resilience, or the ability to keep going despite our circumstances, requires us to rest when we need to.

For some, burnout means feeling cranky, checked out, tearful or even shutting down. Things that used to be fun, can seem uninteresting or even overwhelming. Your body is actually screaming, “take care of me! Slow down!”

What can you do?? You have a couple months left a you still need to survive. Here are some simple tools you can use to help yourself recharge and actually get through this last hump until summer break. I challenge you to try some of these on, and see what works for you:

1.    Check in with yourself. What are you are feeling right now? Maybe: sad, irritated, nervous, numb… find the word that feels true. And then name one helpful thing you can do for yourself in this moment. And most importantly, DO it!

2.    Get your basic needs met. Are you hungry, thirsty, or tired? If these things aren’t being taken care of not much else will be able to help. It’s amazing the impact a glass of water or a 20-minute power nap can have.

3.    Find one moment each day that you are grateful for. Gratitude actually helps us see our life in a more positive light.

4.    Make a list of small things that energize you. And then write those into your weekly planner. Literally. Carve out time in your schedule to do at least 2-3 of those, along with your other responsibilities. It’s ok to be busy, and still take moments for you!

5.    Mix it up! If you are starting to feel like each week is dragging on, then find ways to do things a bit differently. Maybe change up your study spots, try out some new breakfast recipes, change up your route to school or find some new albums to listen to. Variety will help your brain stay present in the moment and less “checked out”.

6.    Name the hard days. Having a tough day? Call it out. You can start by admitting this to yourself or talk to people in your life that you trust.  It can help you accept that you are being challenged and realize that others are in the same boat. This doesn’t mean you’re weak, only human. Plus, you’ve already survived ALL of your hard days up to this point. You’ve got a pretty great track record!


Feeling stressed? Learn more about our therapy services today!

Let's Talk About Teen Mental Health

Photo by  Raw Pixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by Raw Pixel on Unsplash

Recently, I had the honor and privilege of being interviewed by a local high school student for their Sociology class. Though I field many questions regarding specific client cases, I found this particular experience to be very eye-opening; I felt that if this teenager (who isn’t a client) had these questions, I’m sure that others are wondering the same things. With this individual’s (and her parent’s) permission, I am pleased to share our interview in hopes that it may help build connection and reach teens who may be looking for help and are not sure where to start.


Student Interviewer:  In what ways are therapists trying to solve the problem of teen’s mental health issues? 

Danielle: I love that you asked this question. It is my belief that we currently live in a “fix-it” culture where we expect to take a pill or see a therapist and then after 4-6 weeks, the problem very quickly just disappears and is considered “solved” or “cured.” While this would be convenient, it’s a very common misconception.

While I can’t speak for all therapists, I can speak on my own professional experience working with teens and their families. At least right now, I wouldn’t say I’m working to “solve” the problem as much as I am trying to honor, connect with, and normalize the adolescent experience.

Adolescence is unfortunately an unavoidable, yet necessary process of growth and development that is filled with self-discovery, self-comparison, and sometimes, even self-criticism. It’s the transitional period between childhood and adulthood, and the discomfort and awkwardness of it all is VERY REAL. The nice thing about that, however, is that everyone who lives to adulthood goes through it, and I mean everyone! So, at least you are in good company!

There are a number of transitional periods in your life when you will ask yourself, “Who am I?” Adolescence is perhaps the most memorable growth moments to happen across your lifespan, because it is the first time that your brain has developed enough for you to be aware of yourself and others in a social context, and then really remember it. It’s much like watching a baby walk for the first time. Those brain muscles and thought processes are new and a bit weak, so you’re going to fall or mess up. A LOT. The important thing is to get back up and keep trying. This leads you to get stronger and stronger, until eventually it somehow becomes second nature.

Sometimes, this transition can be a shock to our system and when you factor in family of origin and past experiences, it’s not uncommon to see anxiety, depression, etc. appear.  In my work, I use some Evidence Based Therapy approaches (those that have been researched thoroughly and have been shown to be effective in certain groups of people) such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Essentially, CBT is one way to help people see how their thinking can be a little faulty, and help them learn how to shift their thinking. I also incorporate what is called Interpersonal Neurobiology - which is just a fancy way to say that I’m looking at how our brain develops and changes in response to our life experiences - as well ways to connect to ourselves and to others. Connection to others is KEY to healthy development! Additionally, I utilize a lot of creativity through art, writing, and nature. Sometimes it can be difficult to put into words what you are experiencing, and it may feel safer to use a less verbal outlet.

The important thing to know about all of this is that it takes time, and likely more time than you think. The amount of time it takes depends on the client’s current abilities to process, face and incorporate change. As a therapist, I cannot “solve” these problems for my clients, but I can help support them and teach them ways in which they can help themselves. It is very important to remember that in adolescence, autonomy (aka self-regulating) is vital, and that the client (with support of parents, therapist, peers, and sometimes medications) has to do the work. It’s hard, but with support it is very much worth the effort ☺

SI:  Are there specific ways you try and reach out to teens? If so, what are they? 

D: In terms of outreach, I personally could be so much better - particularly in terms of social media. That’s the way to connect to your generation, yes?! Lol. Professionally, I have been fortunate to become a part of a group practice that has a positive and well-established reputation and social media presence. This has allowed me to accumulate clients, and then ultimately, it is word of mouth.

In a general sense, however, I reach out to teens by noticing them and making an honest effort to better understand one’s experience within a generation and culture. I ask questions. For example, I didn’t know what “stan” meant for the longest time, and I finally just asked (typing this out even just feels like that tiny, yet noticeable amount of embarrassing! Haha).  Do I use it in sentences now? No. Do I totally understand what it means to “stan” a musician? YES - 1000% yes (I love you, Fleetwood Mac!)

I also allow myself to be vulnerable with teens and show them that I’m a real person who has gone through real life stuff. I acknowledge when I mess up within the therapeutic relationship (it happens! People are people!), and I model what repair looks like in a social and relational context.

This is something that I am constantly working on!

SI:  How can a regular person help someone out who struggles with their mental health? 

D:   I think one of the best things you can do to not only help yourself but to also help others is to listen with compassion and without judgment. If you or someone else says that they need help or that they are questioning harming themselves or others, take it seriously and reach out for help, ASAP.  It’s then equally important to be familiar with available resources to get help. This includes trusted members of your community that you could talk to – parents, teachers, friends, church leaders, mentors, therapists etc. Additionally, there are a number of confidential and free resources available to teens such as:

For those in immediate/emergency crisis

  • 24/7 Austin Mental Health Crisis Hotline at 512-472-HELP (4357)

  • The Crisis Textline: Text CONNECT to 741741

  • Calling your closest hospital or 911

Non-Emergency

Free Apps: My favorites geared towards teens are Wysa, What’s Up? and  #Selfcare

 I like these because they guide you through ways to think differently about your situation as well as track your mood, behaviors, and give you ways to take care of yourself.

**Please note that these are NOT a substitute for professional treatment.

SI: Thank you so much! I hope to be able to reach out if I have any more questions, and I’m really excited to share these answers!

D: Absolutely, I’m so glad this was helpful!



I hope that this Q&A was as helpful to you readers as it was for my interviewer and I, and if you ever find yourself wondering more about how mental health affects teens, please be empowered to reach out to your trusted support system as well as the resources listed above. They are a part of your community and you are a part of theirs! You’re curiosity and questions matter, and as cheesy as it sounds, knowledge truly is power. Like, for real. Much gratitude to you all!

The Mindful Teen - Less "Om" and More "Me"

Photo by  John Baker  on  Unsplash

Photo by John Baker on Unsplash

If you are a person with access to the internet, radio, television or books and magazines, it’s very likely that you’ve come across the word “mindfulness.”  Conduct a simple Google search on “New Year’s resolutions,” “how to deal with anxiety,” or any other self-betterment phrase, and you’re bound to find yourself sifting through pages of articles praising this seemingly miraculous technique. Even searching through our blog will bring up tons of tips and techniques for it!  If you’ve met with me in any kind of therapeutic capacity, you’ve definitely heard this word and have likely even practiced it in some way.

So, if mindfulness is so important and apparently the cure all to what ails you, what even is it and why is it so hard to actually do? Despite its intent and purpose, I’ve found that the word itself can seem a little daunting – not only for me but for many of my clients as well.

According to Dr. John Kabat-Zinn, a researcher/professor of medicine and founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, the definition of mindfulness is this: to pay attention in a particular way, on purpose, and non-judgmentally. Though it sounds simple enough, how realistic is it for teens to take on this practice when judgment and comparison of self and others is practically core to the adolescent experience?

As I explored this issue with some of my teen clients, I realized that there was quite a bit of push-back on incorporating mindfulness outside of session. The stories shared with me spoke to a sense of being bombarded with the idea that we should all be more mindful and if we aren’t, then something is wrong with us (cue judgment and comparison, am I right?!). The images of “mindfulness” we see on Instagram are typically of people sitting cross legged in a very zen-like space filled with lots of plants, string lights, and all the tapestries and floor pillows Urban Outfitters has to offer. While I do love a good tapestry and plants (and Urban Outfitters, if I’m totally honest), we have to get real about what the practice actually is and recognize that this likable image does nothing but couple the word “mindfulness” with a sense of dread, inadequacy and failure.

To help empower my clients to redefine the word on their terms, I’ve created my own definition: “simply being, simply noticing; being right here, right now as you are; no more, no less; noticing that you are here and that you’re okay.” I like to think that “being” and “mindfulness” are interchangeable, and really just a way to move out of auto-pilot. For instance, we may be sitting in class, or our fingers may be scrolling through Snapchat or Instagram. While we may appear to be focused, our minds are often elsewhere, ruminating (aka dwelling) on past mistakes and anticipating future failures instead of just being right here, right now, and being okay.

If we can recognize that our mind is on a runaway train to nowhere but self-judgment, we can stop ourselves and check in with our surroundings. One of my favorite techniques is the 5 senses check-in: What do you See? Hear? Smell? Taste? Feel? Additionally, try noticing the way the air feels cool going through your nose, and warm out your mouth. Notice how the trees move when the wind blows. Notice how your clothes feel on your body or the temperature of your beverage. There are many quick and easy ways to practice mindfulness without having to channel your inner Buddha atop an overpriced poof surrounded by wind chimes and incense. In fact, here are a few that you can do today just to get your feet wet...

Real Life Being and Noticing:

  • Holding a mug filled with a warm beverage, noticing the warmth, in your hands, watching the steam rise, and noticing the smell.

  • Brushing your teeth: notice the taste of the toothpaste, the way the bristles feel different on your teeth, gums, cheeks, tongue etc.

  • Noticing the way water feels on your body during a shower or bath.

  • Notice the feeling you get when you open a car window or step outside.

  • Notice the color of the sky, if there are clouds, if there are trees.

  • Sitting with a friend and watching the way they talk. Do they talk with their hands? Their face? Their eyes?

  • Notice any flowers. Notice the color, the smell, the softness of the petals or the texture of their stems.

  • Place your feet into a pool, tub, or local water source. How does the water feel on your feet? Between your toes? How did the water move? What do you feel under your feet? Did this cause any other changes in your body?

You and your fellow humans are wonderful and beautiful souls that are deserving of even just a few minutes of noticing, especially when you’re stressed (remember when we are stressed we don’t even think clearly!). Pay attention to your thoughts and if you catch yourself getting stuck in a doom and gloom spiral, slow it down. Stop, take a deep breath, and just notice what . Be right here, right now. As you are. No more, no less. Just Breathe.

LifeTip: Communicating Your Needs and Getting What You Want

Photo by  Mona Khaleghi  on  Unsplash

You can’t always get what you want, but how do you get what you need?

The Rolling Stones may have been on to something with their 1969 hit “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” but what happens when you “try sometimes” and still can’t get what you need? Think about it: Have you ever tried explaining what you need or how you feel to a friend, family member or spouse, but the message doesn’t seem to translate? No matter how you try to explain yourself, your listener becomes defensive, uninterested or simply does not react the way you had anticipated. Afterwards, as you mentally parse every word that was spoken, you start to wonder if talking about your needs, bringing up a concern, or making a request was even worth it in the first place. Let me reassure you- it WAS worth it! Not expressing your needs with others may leave you feeling unfulfilled, overwhelmed and resentful towards those relationships. In my work with couples and individuals, I have found that in most relationships, platonic or romantic, both parties want to provide adequate support and meet the needs of the other person. The problem is not the request for support, but instead how the request was made.

In a society where social and emotional learning is now being taught to kids as young as Pre-K, we are all pretty well versed in “I statements” (for those of you unfamiliar, an “I statement” goes something like this: I feel because ). Many couples and individuals report that they have used traditional “I Statements” but the results have been less than satisfactory. What I have discovered is that this statement tends to leave the listener with only a small amount of information, and in many situations, they can get defensive. While we have the best intentions in explaining why we feel the way we do, this format of the “I Statement” tends to lead us into a “you”/blaming format.

For example: “I feel sad because you are so selfish.”

In this example you have articulated your feelings, but, unfortunately, your listener is left to interpret your meaning of “selfish” and forced to guess how they could appear less selfish in your eyes. This is especially difficult if the listener doesn’t feel as if they are being selfish, or they just become defensive at the term. Instead of providing our partner or friend with a road map of how to better support us, we end up leaving them questioning the security of our relationship and lacking direction of how to meet our needs.

In an effort to reduce conflict and allow individuals to express their needs, I teach my clients a modified version of the “I Statement.” With this new phrasing, we exclude why the person feels the way they do in the initial statement, and instead specify under what circumstances the feeling occurs, as well as the needs of the speaker. The goal is not to negate why you feel the way you do, however, you want your listener to hear your message before they start disputing your reasoning or feeling under attack. Conversation immediately following the stating of your needs, may allow for you to express the “why.” The phrase I recommend to anyone interested in clearly communicating needs, looks like this:

“I FEEL , WHEN . I NEED .

This statement allows the speaker to not only express how they feel, but give a specific example of when the feeling occurs, and exactly what they need from the listener. Sounds like great information to give and receive, right? This does, however, require a little bit of thinking on your part. Before approaching a loved one with a feeling, determine what you need from the individual. The goal is not to blame the other person for your feelings, but instead provide specific details about what they can do to help you.

In the case of our example, instead of saying: “I feel sad because you are so selfish.”

Try saying: “I feel sad when you refuse to go to the symphony with me. I need you to show interest and agree to participate in activities that I like. I feel supportive when we go to see your favorite soccer team. I need to feel the same support from you.”

See the difference? The modified “I statement” lets the listener know that the speaker is upset, gives specific reasons why, and provides the listener a road map to the speaker’s preferred path forward. Now the listener should have an opportunity to explain how they are feeling, and if they can’t agree to meet the specified needs, they need to explain why that is (more modified “I statements”, but this time from the listener).

Keep in mind, not only couples and adults benefit from clearly stating their needs. While teens may need more help labeling their feelings and identifying their needs, statements such as the modified “I statement” may provide them with an incredible template to express themselves!


Here are a Few Tips for Conversations about Needs:

  1. Privacy Please! Conversations discussing sensitive topics should be done in private, or at least without other people within ear shot. If you want your partner/friend/family member to fully focus on your message, and respond authentically, give them an environment that they feel secure to do that in.

  2. Fully focused! Find a time that is free from distractions. If your listener is dividing their focus, they may not fully understand what you are asking of them or even be able to process your conversation. Also consider outside stressors that may prevent your message from translating; such as, stressful days for your listener, exhausted listener, etc.

  3. Make “eyes” with your listener! Gazing into one another’s eyes allows us to bond, without speaking. By making eye contact, you are showing your listener that you not only want their attention, but you want to connect with them.

** In some situations, the idea of sitting face to face may feel too confrontational. In these cases, instead of forgoing the conversation all together, consider taking a walk and talking side by side, or chatting in the car (after you have pulled into the driveway).

Help your partner meet your needs and vice versa. Use “I feel , when . I need .” statements to get your message across. Encourage the people in your life to also use these statements, so that you can appropriately respond to their needs as well. Promote this type of discussion until it becomes a natural part of your conversations!

ParentTip: Adjusting to a New School Campus

Hooray! The start of new school year! For many kids and teens, this time of year is a chance to reconnect with friends who have been out of touch for the summer and to recap their adventures from the last 3 months. However, for those going to a new school - whether the transition is from elementary to middle school, middle to high school, or simply a new campus - it can be a time of panic and frustration, as they try to “find their place” amongst a new group of peers. As parents, it can feel like you’re helpless to sit on the sidelines, and watch your child struggle to fit in. It can also lead to wondering and worrying if you’ve made the best decision in choosing their new school. Before you start looking at other education options, consider a few tips:

Tips for Parents Supporting Their Tweens/Teens

  1. Create time after school to talk with your tween/teen. Finding a time to check in with your child regularly that is free from distractions and audiences (siblings, other family members) gives your child a consistent safe space to share their concerns and fears about their new school. If your child seems “burned out” at the end of the day, give them time to recharge before you start asking questions. For a child who is feeling isolated at school, having a space to vent and connect at home is imperative!

  2. Leave your preconceived notions at the door. What may seem like a big deal to you (i.e. sitting alone on the bus), may not be the main concern of your child. Understanding specifically why your tween/teen is happy or unhappy at their new school will give you a better understanding of how you can support them.

  3. Don’t fix, reflect first. When your teen is upset, it’s easy for parents to want to offer advice to help them fix the problem. For transition issues, there are often a lot of factors in play because all of their surroundings are totally new. I have compiled a short list of “action steps” below, that teens can take to help get more adjusted to their new school, but before you start offering advice or comparing the old and new schools with your child, be sure you truly understand why they are upset. A simple reflection of feelings can save a lot of tension between you and your teen.

    For example, if your tween/teen comes home upset about Math class. Instead of saying: “That’s terrible! I am going to fill out a class change for you. This teacher is awful for not helping you. You shouldn’t be so lost and upset in their class.”

    Instead, try: “Math class was really frustrating. It sounds like you feel that the teacher moves at a faster pace than what you’re used to or comfortable with.”

    What you may find out is that an element that you didn’t expect is to blame; perhaps a disruptive classmate is causing confusion, rather than the content or pace of the class. By reflecting, your child is given a mirror to understand the message they’re conveying. Tweens/Teens are still finding their voices, so reflecting on their feelings and checking for understanding not only helps parents address the correct issue, but it also gives your child the language they need to appropriately express their concerns!

  4. Talk with your child’s favorite teacher, or their least-hated teacher, depending on how your student is feeling about the new school year. Teachers are in a unique position to help kids meet one another. Because teachers initiate peer interaction through natural class activities and give students automatic talking points, kids are able to meet each other in ways that feel less intimidating. They also know most of the kids in their classes by the end of September, so they can steer your child towards a group who shares similar interests.

  5. Introduce your child to their school counselor. If you have a child experiencing anxiety or apprehension with school, you don’t want to wait until your child is in full “meltdown mode” to start talking with some of the support staff. Counselors often have friendship groups, mentor/mentee opportunities, and the ability to give students a safe space to vent if an interaction at school doesn’t go as planned. Proactively meeting their counselor allows your child to build a relationship with them before needing it!

  6. Get involved! Join the PTSA, a booster club, or offer to volunteer at an extracurricular event. Your child will learn a lot of their social cues from you. By modeling the act of “putting yourself out there” to meet others you are demonstrating that even in intimidating circumstances meeting new people and making new friends is rewarding and important.

  7. Reach out to a therapist or medical provider if your child is taking the transition especially hard. Sometimes having an outside adult to process the new surroundings allows your tween/teen to express their feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression, while learning how to cope with difficult situations and thrive in their new environment. Be sure to fill out a Release of Information, so that your child’s therapist can connect care and strategies with their school (you can decide what information to share between all parties on the form).

Tips for Tweens/Teens:

  1. Stick to the basics. When you start at a new school, everything can feel overwhelming. During the first few weeks, give yourself permission not to know everything. In the first month, if you’re able to get to your classes, find the bathroom and cafeteria, and know your way home, then you’re doing great! Have compassion for yourself. It likely took years to know all the ins and outs of your old campus so don’t panic! You will get the hang of your new school layout, learn teachers’ names, join groups of kids, and figure out the overall “way of life” at your school, it just takes time.

  2. Join a club. Feeling connected to your new community will help make your time at school more enjoyable! Most schools have LOTS of activities for their students to get to know one another. Gone are the days when sports and academic clubs were the only extracurricular options. Now, most campuses have robotics and technology based clubs, art, movies and creative clubs, and even some form of game clubs (Minecraft/D&D/etc) in addition to athletic options. If your campus doesn’t have a club that interests you, talk with a teacher about starting a new club. Also, try something that you maybe never thought you would like. Lots of professionals are in careers that they never expected, so this might be your start to a newfound passion or hobby! No time after school? No problem! Many schools are now offering clubs that meet in the mornings or over lunch.

  3. Put down your phone and make eye contact with others! It sounds cheesy, but humans are less likely to approach someone new if they feel like they’re interrupting or imposing on someone else’s space. If you’re staring down at your phone, it’s hard for others to determine if you’re intentionally looking for peace and quiet or if you’re just passing time while also being open to meeting new people.

  4. Talk to one new person, each day. It could be someone in your PE class that runs at the same pace as you. It could be your table-mate in Math class. Even if you don’t think you will have anything in common with the other person or the conversation only lasts 30 seconds, by simply smiling and saying hello you will be presenting yourself as someone who is friendly and approachable. By presenting yourself in this way, others will feel more comfortable and invited to talk with you.

  5. Talk with your parents! Even if they don’t completely understand what you’re going through, telling them your concerns builds a stronger connection and allows them to step in and help when you feel overwhelmed.

  6. Remember: You are not alone. Most tweens/teens report feeling uncomfortable when they switch campuses! And almost all of them are looking to make new friendships and connections, even if they don’t show it outright. Whether you’re moving to a higher grade level on a new campus or moving schools mid-year, keep in mind that friend groups are fluid and ever-changing. By being open and trying new activities, you will build a friend group that is unique and satisfying for you!


TeenTip: Planning Your Way to a Stress-Free Summer

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Ah, summer. It’s the time of year when the smells of backyard barbecues, sunscreen and citronella combine seamlessly in the hot Texas air. On your evening walk to the mailbox you're able to hear kids playing, cicadas chirping and lawn mowers in the distance.  If you’re an adult, you may pleasantly reminisce to those days of summer when you didn’t have a care in the world and you spent your days out on amazing adventures which brought you home, miraculously, just in time for dinner. Millennial adults remember the hours spent roaming movie theaters, three-way calling and imagining what kind of housemate you’d be if you made it on Road Rules or The Real World (or is that just me?).  It was a simpler time back then. Relaxing. Carefree.

What we often forget, however, is that summer is a time of transition. It is a time when both parents and their children experience a loss of structure, which can end up being challenging for everyone involved. It is important to keep in mind that for most young people, this structure is really about their social life. School provides ample opportunity for connection. Without it, some teens might become anxious about how they are going to continue those relationships throughout the summer. Add to that the pressure of making the team, staying on top of their college preparations, getting ready to move to a new school, feeling self-conscious about “swim suit season” and finally, having their parents remind them that summer is about having fun and relaxing! This is all but relaxing, especially for a teen experiencing anxiety or depression.  

These teens might need some extra help during the summer months. In order to keep your cool during connection attempts with your child, here are some ways this new lack of structure might affect them as a person with anxiety and depression:

1. Isolation

  • School provides opportunities for young people to build connections and relationships (ultimately building support), contribute to the well-being of others, practice social skills, and check in on how they view themselves against a more realistic barometer. Teens with anxiety or depression may isolate themselves to feel safer, but this approach can actually make negative feelings worse.

2. Free Time

  • With anxiety and depression, your teen might experience avoidance and lack of motivation. Depression feeds off of free time, and free time reinforces the distorted belief that they have no purpose or value because they are not able to self-motivate. Feeling like they have not accomplished something can stir up guilt, shame, frustration and anger.  Finding an activity for them can help structure their time, while also allowing them to explore something they feel passionate about – ultimately increasing their sense of self-worth.

3. Lack of Stimulation

  • During the year, school allows teens to focus on productive activities. It gives them natural opportunities to push away negative thoughts and feelings, because there is other work that requires their focus and attention. This stimulation has the potential to keep depression at bay. When summer comes along and there isn't a school schedule to follow it is easy for teens to lose focus and experience a lack of stimulation, which can lead to increased anxiety and depression.

Considering all the benefits that school provides for students with depression, teens and parents should look to carefully plan the summer so that the rug doesn't get pulled out from under them. Here are some natural and inexpensive ways to replicate the benefits of school:

  1. Have a Schedule – create a to-do list, even if it seems minor.

  2. Daily Physical Activity – It fills time, improves mood and is an opportunity to accomplish something and/or nurture social relationships.

  3. Employment / Volunteer Work – An effective tool against depression is helping others. Employment or volunteering opportunities can provide structure, stimulation and social interaction.

  4. Strengthen Existing Commitments – Whether through club sports, faith communities or additional learning, teens can find purpose when engaging with their community.

  5. Stay Focused on Academics – While a reprieve from the pressures of school are necessary, keeping up with academics is beneficial for some. It can also ease their transition into the next school year.

  6. Leisure  - Ideally, leisure time is given the same priority as the items listed above and is mainly social. This allows teens to take time for themselves and blow off steam by participating in activities they enjoy, with people they enjoy. * Remember that these are activities of their own choosing, and not something that you hope they will enjoy.

  7. Down Time is IMPORTANT! – There is such a thing as TOO MUCH activity. Filling every minute of the day with activities is exhausting and might even decrease their self-esteem. Regardless of age, it is important for everyone to have time to unwind and be alone, as long as it’s only one part of many.

A thoughtful and well planned summer can not only help those with depression and anxiety by avoiding certain stressors, but it could also help them make gains in managing their illness!