family therapy

Building Family Rituals This Summer

If there’s one concept most families are familiar with (and crave), it’s the idea of routines. Routines help us stay organized and keep track of multiple moving parts. Routines are what help family members decide how to spend their time, together and separately. Rituals, on the other hand, are how families invest time and emotion. Rituals are predictable activities that help family members forge a strong sense of group identity and belonging.

Rituals and routines are especially crucial during times of high stress and transition, which occur frequently during the adolescent years. This life stage is marked with navigating the unknown, searching for identity and juggling physical and emotional changes all at once. Routines and rituals at home can help adolescents and their families find some footing. So how do we put rituals into practice? Many people associate this practice with holiday rituals and celebrations, for example: your birthday rolls around and you can predict how the day is going to go. Ideally, your loved ones are gathered with cake and candles, invested in spending time together and creating memories for years to come. However, rituals can also be the small things, the day-to-day moments that add up. Maybe family dinners or car chats after a soccer game; the intentional moments that allow space for communication and connection. Rituals are the wonderfully predictably practices that remind us we’re in it together.

While rituals can vary greatly by family system and culture, what each family deems worthy, allows it to become worthy. Here are a few simple ideas that can help your family get the ball rolling with establishing your own family rituals:

  1. Family Game Night: This is a time for play and laughter which directly contributes to a sense of connection. Also, allows family members to take turns pitching in game ideas and rule suggestions.

  2. Bedtime rituals: For littles, this can include storytime and snuggles. For older kids/teens this can mean identifying a high/low of the day or some form of emotional check-in before closing the day out.

  3. Family Meetings: Intentionally and consistently set aside time time to allow family members to discuss various topics and bring other family members up to speed on what's going on in their lives. Even allow space for discussions around changes in family rules or routines, or bring up ways to better meet family needs.

  4. Family outings/road trips: Hit the road! Whether this be an annual family vacation or perhaps just a short Sunday adventure. Your family can easily alter this based on time or financial constraints.

  5. Family walks/ exercise: Perhaps there is a sport that your family is interested in and would benefit from participating in together. Or keep it simple and take a short walk around the neighborhood to unwind and talk.

  6. Cooking/ Meal Preparation: If this is something that could be enjoyable for your family, let everyone get involved. Even allowing room for family members to experiment with recipes or learn how to make traditional family recipes. There is so much creativity and love that can go into cooking. (Note: if it wouldn't be enjoyable to get the whole family involved in the cooking, remember that there are people who enjoy to cook for others and some who take joy in eating it! That's how we bring everyone into the fun!)

  7. Family Wishlist: Set time aside to identify some wishes/goals for each season or calendar year as a family, and make it happen! Maybe in the summer you want to have a cookout, swim or make time to go the county fair. Allowing each family member to contribute and then feeling the gratification when you cross each item off the list!

These are all general ideas that can be adapted to each family and their unique needs. However, feel free to take this concept of family rituals and add your own twist!

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.

Family Therapy...not as bad as it seems ;)

Some tweens and teens may cringe at the idea of going to family therapy. The notion of being in a room with most or all of one's family for almost an entire hour might even make some feel squeamish and nauseous. Family therapy can sometimes get a bad wrap, and many times it is because there are some common misconceptions about the process. Well, we are here to de-bunk a couple of those myths!

Myth #1: My parents are going to just rag on me the entire time. You'll never get to hear what I have to say.

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While we can't promise you that parents won't bring up some subjects or topics that you might be sensitive about (or just flat out hate to hear), we can say that one important piece of family therapy is establishing some ground rules. Parents and teens both need to have their voice in therapy, but it's all about how you say it that makes the difference. The first few sessions of family therapy tend to include some information about communication and deciding together what format is the best option for the family. Not all family therapy is done with the whole family coming in together for every single session. At GirlTalk Therapy, we collaborate with the family to decide when it is best to have sessions with just the teenager, just the parents, or everyone together. Confidentiality and ground rules are a big part of that conversation too!

Myth #2: Anytime my child and I get in the same room together it ends up horribly. I think he/she just needs some space to talk on his/her own.

Having a confidential space for your teen to talk on her own is a really great thing. It's awesome that any parent would want this for his/her child. However, real progress is made when it involves the whole system - not just a part of it. Typically, therapy can drag on for a really long time if the parents aren't involved in change. A teen may be helped by talking with her therapist alone, but how will things get better if it isn't talked about outside of therapy? Part of the family therapist's job is to connect family members together and bridge the gaps in communication.

If you haven't considered family therapy as an option or have been weary about its effectiveness, it might be time to try it out! 


If you are a clinician and want some additional information and tools on how to work effectively with teens and their families, please register for our workshop this Friday at the YWCA (Reframing Adolescence: Systemic Interventions to Work Effectively with Teens).

moodiness: when is it more than just "being a teenager?"

The transition from tween to teen consists of emotional, mental, physical, social, familial, and academic changes. Teens often feel overwhelmed by changes and haven't yet learned the tools to cope in a healthy way.

Girls may be at risk for developing anxiety and mood-related health issues. An article by the Huffington Post describes the findings of several studies that find that girls are 2 times more like than boys to show signs of a mood disorder during the teen years, at 14-20 percent. The discrepancy continues to into adulthood, when women are twice as likely as men to have Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Another article explores why we may be more likely to see signs of anxiety and depression in adolescent girls. Some potential risks include the biological changes and hormonal changes that occur during puberty as well as psychosocial pressures.

What do you look for in your tween or teen? Notice changes in appetite, signficant friendship losses or changes in peer groups, withdrawal from activities, and a loss of interest in formerly pleasurable pursuits. Irritability, tearfulness and mood swings can be hallmarks of adolescence, but can also be signs that something more serious is going on in your daughter's world. Check in with teachers, the school counselor and friends' parents to help build community support and keep tabs on any signficant changes in your daughter's behavior, demeanor and appearance.

Group and family therapy are supportive options to help destigmatize what your daughter is feeling, and learn healthy ways to cope with challenges. In group, girls learn that they are not alone in their struggle. In family work, girls learn how the whole family can be a support network and that her experiences and challenges are not occuring in a vacuum. With early intervention, girls can thrive through social and emotional challenges.