Parenting

Sync Up and Parent as a Team

Imagine parenting to be like managing a ship. You plan a route, assign tasks to your crew and hope that everyone pitches in. The crew relies on the co-captains, or parents, for guidance and reassurance. Now imagine if the co-captains are sending conflicting information. This approach leaves the crew confused about how to proceed. Often, what ensues is chaos, stress, and a crew that either attempts to benefit from this discord or proceed with discouragement.

This is similar to families when the co-captains, or parents, are not aligned. Each partner is working hard and making decisions based on their own goals, often unaware of what their co-captain is delegating at the same time. Let’s be clear, this is typically done with the best of intentions and belief that you are steering your family in a great direction. Yet, if the ship is being steered in two different directions, not much is accomplished. If you notice your children going behind your back to ask your partner permission, the rules often shift, or perhaps there is no family mission in place, this can be a fantastic opportunity to reflect with your partner on how to sync up. This can feel like a big undertaking. Many of us did not grow up in homes that had consistent structure and a transparency in why our parents operated the way they did. However, this is an opportunity to grow and learn. Remember: perfection is not the end goal here!

A great starting point is to sit down with your partner and discuss what values you are wanting to instill in your family. Whether that be adventure, honesty, selfless service, etc., start to discuss why these values matter to you. Really hear each other out and try to connect with your partner’s point of view, even if your lists differ. Second, reflect on how your current “rules” or guidelines at home either support or deviate from these values. You want to both be clear on how each guideline directly promotes your top values. Once these guidelines are clearly established, they also need to be written out so that all ages can understand what is expected. When spelling out guidelines think “SMART” - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely. For younger kids, pictures are also effective.

It can be helpful to call a family meeting and sit down with your kids to discuss, especially when changes have been made. Now with the family present, explain what is the purpose of each guideline. For example, we will spend each Sunday morning together as a family at breakfast for one hour, without phone/tablets to include quality time, holidays and vacations included. If you have buy-in about the purpose of this, there is more likelihood your children will have buy-in as well. Allow for questions and even for a respectful discussion to ensue. With teens, it oftentimes helps to allow some flexibility for feedback or editing the guidelines together so everyone can feel invested in the process. Having everyone sign the list and posting a copy for reference can symbolize this commitment of the entire family.

Now, the most important piece: FOLLOW THROUGH. Louder for the people in the back!! CONSISTENCY is key. If you and your partner agree to establish a rule or guideline, stick to it. It can be tough, but it’s so crucial to make sure you’re honoring your co-captain and the mission you’ve laid out for your family. If you slide, that actually means you are going against your commitment. This lends to anxiety and confusion.  It is crucial for your children to learn that you are true to your word and that what you expect of them is consistent. Perhaps this feels like something too big to take on without some extra support or you and your partner feel way off track. This can be common, especially with separated or blended families that are trying co-parent and are struggling to communicate. Know that family therapy is an option. There are wonderful therapists who can patiently walk parents through this process, and help clarify how to work together to steer the ship in an intentional direction.

Treating Parents is Key to Treating Anxious Children

Earlier this week in the break room, Blake and Tracy shared about a recent study they had read.  As one of the rare individuals who thoroughly enjoy reading academic research, I was PSYCHED – not just because I got to hunker down with my highlighter in hand, but in that it pertained to treating children with anxiety.  While these two things alone would bring a smile to my face, the results were tremendously powerful: TREAT THE PARENTS. While this may seem like a simple and maybe obvious solution to a family systems therapist like myself, you’d be surprised how little family/parental work is done when the main client is a young person with anxiety.  It is not uncommon for parents to believe that their anxious child is the one who needs therapy, which is certainly still true. However, if the goal of all involved is to support the child in reducing symptoms of anxiety, treating the parents is very much the key to success.

According to Eli Lebowitz, the associate director of the Anxiety and Mood Disorders at the Yale Child Study Center, parents of anxious children almost always try to accommodate their child. She states, “For instance, if the child suffers from social anxiety, no friends are invited to the house; in the case of separation anxiety, parents sleep with their child or never leave the home. Parents constantly reassure a child with generalized anxiety. While the responses of parents are natural, studies have shown that they also leave children suffering from debilitating anxiety into adulthood”.  Currently, there are only two evidence-based treatments for anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT, which I provide and have written about in past blog posts - Embracing Self-Compassion and Let’s Talk About Teen Mental Health), and medication. Of those able to receive these options, however, only half of the children respond to treatment. Because of this, it has been vital for researchers to find additionally effective treatments.

Yale researchers randomly assigned 124 children ages 7 – 14 with diagnosed anxiety disorders to either receive cognitive behavioral therapy, or their parents were enrolled in the Yale SPACE program, or Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions. For 12 weeks, parents attended weekly counseling sessions geared toward helping themselves cope with their anxious child.  While both approaches were equally effective in reducing the child’s stress levels and anxiety symptoms, the “accommodating” behavior parents typically engage in reduced significantly after receiving SPACE counseling.

For example, a parent assigned to SPACE was able to decrease the number of daily text messages sent to their child from “dozens” to about 2 – 3.  Also, parents who repeatedly kept their child out of school because of anxiety-related stomachaches learned to say, “I know you are feeling upset right now, but I know you’ll be okay,” and sent their child to school.

It is believed that the accommodating behaviors were reduced due to encouraging parents to validate their child’s emotions, while also creating and maintaining boundaries and consistent support for the child. In a 2013 study about Space, Lebowitz shared this example script:

“We understand it makes you feel really anxious or afraid. We want you to know that this is perfectly natural and everyone feels afraid some of the time. We also want you to know that it is our job as your parents to help you get better at things that are hard for you, and we have decided to do exactly that. We are going to be working on this for a while and we know it will probably take time, but we love you too much not to help you when you need help.”.


I am very much excited to share that I will now be challenging myself to learn more about the SPACE approach, and will begin engaging parents more frequently when treating their child’s anxiety.  Also, for you parents of anxious children out there, I’ve created a short and quick cheat sheet that may also help you in this process:

  1. Listen to what your child is saying, both verbally and with their body language!

  2. Validate your child’s feelings – “I see that you feel _______”.  

  3. Normalize the feelings – “Everyone feels _______ sometimes”.

  4. Support – “We are all working on this together, and I love you”.

Thanks for letting me share this exciting work with you, and as always, be safe, be peaceful and be kind ☺


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!


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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.

How To Let Go of Your Own Stuff and Parent Your LGBTQ+ Kid With Unconditional Love

The emotional support and unconditional acceptance from the caregiver/parent of a youth is imperative in promoting a positive and successful life for the youth. Each and every one of us have navigated through our own identity formation stage in life. Through this stage, we recognized and eventually embraced all of the pieces of ourselves that create our own identity. For some, that period included the construct of heterosexuality and for others that stage included: homosexuality, bisexuality, sexual fluidity, or any other construct that is not within the parameters and confines of heterosexuality. Our gender identification also occurs during this period. Whether it be the two binary gender concepts of male and female or gender concepts that fall outside of the binary constructs such as: non-binary, gender fluid, agender, or transgender. Regardless, though, of what is learned and embraced, each and every one of us were provided with an opportunity to learn and appreciate who we are as individuals. Kiddos need that same opportunity as well as the unconditional love and support from their parents/caregivers.

I could sure get academic and rattle off the various studies that have been conducted to assess the emotional well-being of youth who consistently received that support from parents compared to youth who did not receive that love and support, but I’d rather talk to you as a person and not a research study. Yes, each study identifies grave disparities between the two groups and the well-being of those where the love and support was withheld resulted in poor mental health, school performance, struggles in maintaining healthy relationships, and substance use issues. More important, though, individuals who don’t receive that unconditional love and support from their parents are often left floundering and feeling abandoned by their foundation – their parents &/or caregivers.

Within my practice, I often hear parents say, “I just want to love my kid but now that they’ve told me (I’m gay, I’m non-binary, I’m transgender, etc.) I feel like I just don’t know how to show him that I love him anymore.” I’ll often respond with a question of how the parent showed love to her child prior to the ‘announcement’ and how is it that the love of yesterday can’t be displayed today? What often is discovered is that the parent &/or caregiver has gotten caught up in her own struggles with the youth’s identity which has caused a rift in the relationship between parent and child. Through positive support, education, and processing, parents are able to work through their own biases and return to a place where their love is no longer hindered by their fears.

Parents – love your kiddos. Whether they’re 2, 15, or 46 years old, they need to know that you love and support them. When you see your child struggling, talk to them. Don’t talk down to them, just talk to them. Educate yourself, reach out to someone to talk to, join a parent support group, or set up an appointment to meet with a therapist. Do something so that you are best equipped to be that core source of support and love for your child. Don’t allow your biases or struggles become your child’s torment. Rather, relish in the thought that your child loves and trusts you enough to show you his true and authentic self for it is within this authenticity that genuine love thrives.

As many of you know, working with LBGTQIA++ youth is a passion of mine. Once the holiday’s pass and things begin to calm down a bit, I will finally be starting up a processing/support group for high school-aged individuals who identify as LGBTQIA++. I’ve attached our groups flyer with additional information. Contact us by clicking the button below to start the enrollment process!

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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!


ParentTip: Division of Responsibility (Or How to Do Less So Your Kid Does More)

Photo by  Toa Heftiba  on  Unsplash

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

I was having this conversation with a parent the other day about how our role changes pretty much continuously as our kids develop, and how much we have to shift the division of responsibility as they grow up. If you think about it like a big, messy pie, our share of responsibility goes from the whole dang thing as caregivers to infants to a big thick slice in the middle school years to a thin and very delicate sliver as our teens get ready to launch. The way we adapt to the shifts in the division of responsibility can influence how our kids develop the skills needed for living independently, how much we experience power struggles in our relationships with our kids, and how prepared we are for the inevitable letting go that occurs inch by inch as our kids get older.

Like development in general, changing the division of responsibility is not a linear process. It can ebb and flow along with each child's unique ability to manage increasing responsibility, and as they experience the inevitable mistakes, backslides and missteps that mark the process. How we adapt the division of responsibility is also dependent on our own willingness and ability to step back, let go, and create space for our kids to try new things that they will have to mess up a little along the way. This can be uncomfortable, anxiety-provoking, confusing and scary for parents. It also means that we're constantly having to reassess our own readiness and our kid's readiness for taking over a larger piece of the pie. 

In early childhood, we can get in a routine of "doing for" our kids in big and small ways, and it can be tough to know when the right time is to give them a little more autonomy. How much do we manage *for* our kids and how much do we manage *with* our kids? How do we get comfortable with all the discomfort this messy process uncovers? Part of what makes this so challenging is that there's no way to change up the division of responsibility without experiencing some failures and some heartaches. This is the hardest work of parenting, learning how to manage our own fears and pain as we give our kids room to skin their knees, experience loss, and get their hearts broken along the way.

Think about a time your young child made a mistake. How much did you step in to correct course for them? How much did you have to guide, manage, advise, and direct this process? Now what about with your teen? How different does it need to look in order for your teen to develop the necessary skills for living independently from you? The teen brain is wired for novelty-seeking and  risk-taking, but it's also wired for resilience and growth. The most effective way to nurture our teen's developing frontal lobe (home of all the critical thinking and executive functioning skills) is to give them plenty of room to practice, practice, practice their increasing responsibility to directly manage their own lives, and to learn how to parent from a place of collaboration & compassion as they grow. This isn't about turning our backs on them, or shutting them out, or leaving them to fend for themselves. It's about moving from the position of leading them by the hand (sometimes dragging them kicking and screaming) to walking behind them with a gentle hand raised in readiness to help steady them when they stumble. Because how will we, but more importantly they, ever know what they're really capable of until we give them room to try?

Need some guidance or support with navigating the tricky teen years? We've got you. Check out Blake & Tracy's TeenWise® Parent Coaching or our Therapy Services to find out more about how we can help. You don"t have to parent alone. 

ParentTip: Where’s That Parenting Manual?

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Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a manual of some sort that was issued the moment you become a parent?   Unfortunately, there is no manual that can capture all of the in’s and out’s of being a parent. Just as being a kiddo is rough, a parent’s job is equally as rough.  Every day can seem like a trial and error experiment. One of the biggest questions that I get asked is, “how do I become a better parent to my child?”

At the sake of sounding like a broken record, my first response is to always stop and breathe.  Give yourself permission to put the brakes on for a few moments and relax.  I can appreciate that there are many moments where you are juggling: grocery shopping, talking on the phone with the cable company, keeping an eye out on your child, and checking out the date and time of your kiddo’s next soccer match.  With all of this multi-tasking, though, it is vital that you take a moment for yourself so that you can regroup; burning the candle at both ends can’t last forever.

My second statement is often “it’s okay to make mistakes”.  We’re all human and all are afforded the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from our mistakes.  Yes, parents are essentially superheroes but even superheroes can’t be perfect 100% of the time. Accept and embrace that mistakes will happen as a parent and allow yourself the compassion to forgive yourself.  In doing this, you’re not only giving yourself the grace that you deserve but you’re modeling positive self-care and self-appreciation to your child.

Taking on the responsibility of rearing a child and helping to shape your kiddo’s values and decision making skills is a tall order for anyone.  Although children are always looking to you for guidance and support, they are also learning how to successfully navigate through the tough stuff.  If you’ve had a crummy day at work or you and your partner are having a spat, your kiddos are watching to see how you deal with the yucky stuff. These young eyes are absorbing everything that they see and using this to help shape how they navigate through their own rough patches.

In working with youth, I often support them as they work through concepts of identity – the good old “who am I” concept.  Through this, we identify the different pieces of child that create who that child is. I utilize the same concept when working with parents.  We are all made up of many different pieces and possesses many different qualities and attributes that make up who we are as individuals. Yes, you’re a parent, but you’re also a human being that deserves just as much love and appreciation as every other person.

As a parent, you do hold a responsibility of providing safety, security, love, support, and guidance for your children.  You also hold a responsibility to yourself as an individual. Be patient with yourself and give yourself the grace to make mistakes.  Love on yourself and take time to just breathe and re-center. When things get rough, do what you need to do in order to release that stress and calm down.  Lastly, find someone to talk to – a friend, your partner, a counselor. There’s no shame in admitting that we need a little extra support at times.

ParentTip: Mindfulness in Parenting

Photo by  Jon Flobrant  on  Unsplash

"Mindfulness isn't about having perfect attention, it's about noticing when your mind has wandered and bringing it back to whatever you're doing...Any activity you do with your kid can be a mindfulness practice if you choose to make it so." -Carla Naumburg, clinical social worker

This short video explains some of the science behind mindfulness and how daily practice has been shown to lower anxiety, improve quality of sleep, and increase one’s ability to concentrate and be present. Mindfulness is also very beneficial for kids! And you don’t have to be a guru to incorporate it into your parenting style either.

Simple ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine with your children are centered around the idea of slowing down and inviting a sense of calm into your home. This can be as simple as taking deep breaths together, having a mindful afternoon snack where you and your child focus your senses to really experience what you’re eating, or even taking a leisurely walk around the neighborhood to be curious together about the sights and sounds.

Source: Mindful Parenting