tracy

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

LifeTip: Taking Baby Steps

At some point in time, someone has probably given you the advice - “Just take it one step at a time” or “Take baby steps.” These helpful sayings are usually said to help us complete a job or figure out something new. Just the other day I used the baby-step metaphor with a client. Using the metaphor this time, however, felt so real and alive to me since I’ve recently gained new insight watching my own sweet baby boy start walking. He’s literally taking baby steps! It’s so darn adorable, too. But guess what? He’s not very good at it... yet. Taking baby steps isn’t just about taking small steps (that’s how my literal mind sometimes interprets this saying). Taking baby steps means that each action towards a new goal is tiny, wobbly, wonky and sloooowwww. My little baby puts his arms in the air to help him balance, and then he pauses to try and right himself when he picks up too much speed or loses coordination (which is often).

When I was talking to this client about taking baby steps with their school work (which causes them some anxiety) we broke down what taking baby steps means for them. I even got up and demonstrated what baby steps are and how they may look! I probably looked like a fool, but it helped us laugh and get into the reality of the metaphor. In life, taking a baby step often means that you aren’t sure, and that’s okay! It’s really about getting yourself moving, starting with the most gradual of steps, and letting yourself sort of hang out in the space of uncertainty and imperfection. It’s okay to want to go fast - some babies start out running! - but know that you also need to figure out how to stop, lest you crash! When I see my baby walk, I feel like I can hear him thinking, “I’ve got it, I’ve got it, I’ve got it! Wait, nope, wait, yes! Nope again! Hey, now I’m doing it! This is great!”

What do you think when you’re in the midst of a project or task that you’re trying hard to complete? Is it light and fun and optimistic or harsh and cold? Could you try smiling like a baby when they joyfully take flight with their newfound skill? It could make a difference. And just remember, baby steps don’t last forever. All babies get better... just as you will when you’re working on something new!

ProTip: Spotlight from Work Muse on Job Sharing with Blake & Tracy

We are thrilled to share a collaboration with the founder of Work Muse, Melissa Nicholson, who has a series of interviews with us on our “accidental job share” of co-owning and co-directing our wonderful group practice here. Our first article highlights the ways we put our work relationship first, so that we can bring our best selves to our partnership, our team, our clients and our families. It’s not always easy, but it’s always richly rewarding. We take time to really check in with each other, we show up for each other, we talk it out, and we know how to have fun while doing hard work:

We owe this to ourselves and each other, as well as our therapists and clients. Good communication = love + directness. We don’t wait to talk until we’re burning in resentment. Little things can slide, but the stuff that gets us in our feels is a signal it’s time to talk. Conflict resolution makes your partnership stronger. -Blake & Tracy

Never heard of job sharing? Work Muse is on a mission to bring this creative approach to the work/life balance dilemma so that more men and women can build personal and professional lives that offer flexibility, support, productivity and more joy. Learn more about job sharing and Work Muse’s story here.

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LifeTip: Light of a Clear Blue Morning

Photograph courtesy of Chris Spicks of 396 Studios in Houston, Texas

Photograph courtesy of Chris Spicks of 396 Studios in Houston, Texas

Last month I wrote a post about the Dear Evan Hansen song “You Will Be Found.” I promised a follow up post and here it is. There’s a verse in the song that says, “So let the sun come streaming in cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again. Lift your head and look around. You will be found.” Pretty good words, right? They give me chills.

I think I’ve mentioned it once or twice that I’m in a choir. Well, in our next concert we are also singing a rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning.” These two songs were made for each other. Both are songs about hope, recovery, healing and moving forward. I’d love everyone to stop what they are doing and listen to this right now.

So what do we do when it feels dark, when we are alone, when we feel down? We look to the light, we find the light, we ignite the light. Even behind the clouds, the sun is still there. This calls on a little bit of faith - trusting that the darkness isn’t a trap, a black hole or a void. This calls on a little bit work. Sure, we can wait for the clouds to move because they always do (this is a great metaphor on mindfulness…). BUT, have you ever seen that beautiful moment in the sky when the sun is so bright and powerful that it beams THROUGH the clouds? Yes! That’s what I’m talking about - look to the light, find the light, IGNITE the light.

This post seems like it’s quickly going to something on the topic of self-compassion, so let’s just go there. You know what doesn’t work for me when I’m in a dark space - hating myself, hating anything really. But gosh, hate can be so easy sometimes. Maybe hate isn’t your operative word. Maybe it’s worry, criticism, depression… I’m a fan of feelings, all of them, I really am, but I’m not a “just think positively” kinda gal. I am, however, a firm believer in all things self-compassion. People, it is not selfish to love yourself! You are not hurting anyone by giving yourself empathy, understanding, love and concern. Light is ignited by giving ourselves self-compassion. It’s a remedy for stress, anger, worry, hate, judgement, sadness...oh, so much. Light is found by finding the worth inside yourself. Light is seen by looking at all the other times the clouds parted and there was that beautiful, bright and clear blue morning. It’s there every time. Let it in.

LifeTip: You Are Not Alone

Photo by  Jared Rice  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

You are not alone.

It’s easy to say, but when you’re standing in a crowded room with no one beside you, with no one to talk to, then the phrase just doesn’t feel real.

You are not alone.

How can this possibly be true even when you stand in a room of your “closest” friends and not one of them knows about that secret turmoil you keep hidden so well?

You are not alone.

Why do people even say this?

That’s some opener there, isn’t it? If you’re feeling a little heavy right now, that’s okay, just keep reading.

Have you heard about Dear Evan Hansen? It’s a musical about a high school boy with social anxiety. In one of the most beautifully written and composed songs in musical theatre, “You Will Be Found” brings the phrase “you are not alone” into a living, breathing promise. A promise. I heard that from my choir director as we were rehearsing this song at our last practice (yeah, I’m a choir nerd and a therapist!). “Sing this like a promise,” she said. That spoke to me and also weighed on me a little.

I have heard people say, and have said so myself, “Oh, you’ll find your crowd later in life. It’s just hard now.” What this can provide is a little hope but what this doesn’t satisfy is the pain and loneliness that too many feel right now, here and now, today. The lyrics to “You Will Be Found” remind me, though, that our connection doesn’t just exist in the physical. It’s beyond that. We are not alone. We ALL have one very core commonality and that is We All Feel. Our feelings may not stem from the same experiences, but my loneliness and your loneliness still have something in common.

You are not alone.

When you’re in a crowded room, see beyond the chit-chat and look into the eyes, posture, and hearts of people. What story might they have that tells a tale like yours?

You are not alone.

When you’re in a group of your friends, tell them how you feel. Embrace the vulnerability and brave the silence after you speak. Let them meet you where you are and maybe you’ll find that they understand more than you thought they would.

You are not alone. You will be found.

We say it because it’s true. Promise.

Here’s a gorgeous and moving rendition of the song that I think you need to listen to today.

Stay tuned for my next blog post titled “Light of the Clear Blue Morning!”

A Hard Hit

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This post goes out to the parents of littles, but take note that much of what you read can easily be adapted to fit your own needs or the needs of an older child. Do not underestimate the importance of self-care and self-compassion during a hard time. Even if you have not had a “direct hit” by Hurricane Harvey (i.e. your house may not have flooded, you didn’t have to evacuate, you only had a power outage), seeing friends and family suffer, even seeing strangers suffer, can be downright difficult and exhausting. There’s so much information to digest about how to help, what to do and what not to do that it can be overwhelming. There’s enough information download and processing happening, so let’s stick to some really important fundamentals. Please feel free to pass this along, as our connection with one another is more important than ever!

When something scary and unreal hits, like what Texas has experienced with Hurricane Harvey, our children need support in making some sense of it. Parents and adults can help children in adapting healthy coping strategies. Here are some simple first steps:

1. Attunement: Time is precious right now. There may be a lot going on with you and around you. As a parent, taking some time to connect with your child will have many positive effects on them and on you. This might be the time when you actually need to schedule, yes schedule, special time with your child. Go ahead and do it - carve out about 10 minutes for play time, extra cuddles, fun reading and good ‘ole fashioned one on one time. Perhaps make this a part of your new routine before bed, but slipping it in between phone calls is fine too. Just make sure that you have given yourself a chance to transition to a place of calm and focus before engaging with your child. Providing special connection time for your child during chaos will remind them of the fact that they are loved and safe. It will also give them an opportunity to be just as they need to be - a child without worry and fear.

2. Response: This might be a time when you, as a parent or caregiver, get a lot of questions. “Where will we sleep tonight?” “Why did this happen?” “When can I go back home?” “Why did my friend have to leave her house?” My go-to suggestion for parents overwhelmed by questions and feeling like they need to answer them all and answer them well is this: Pause and Breathe. Make space for you to clear out anxiety, stress and worry. Your child will not think twice if you don’t immediately answer their questions. Next step is to think: Is this an answer now or answer later question? If it is an answer now question, keep your response simple and age appropriate. The information you give doesn’t need to have a lot of detail. You can give a little bit at a time and check to see if that answers your child’s question. If you think this could be an answer later question, that’s okay too. Generally, those are for the real tough ones or when we don’t know what to say at all. Give the question the space it deserves. Respond with, “Wow, that’s a really good question. Mommy needs to think about that one. I’m not sure right now. I’m going to think about it and then answer you later.” Then, actually do think about it and answer it later. You can also ask your child what they think and how they feel about it.

3. Feelings: There are a lot of them right now. And they might not all make sense or seem totally logical. For instance, the feeling of anxiety may come up but bring into question 'why' because your family maybe hasn’t been directly affected or experienced significant hardship. Any feeling is fine right now. If you notice some behaviors or signs from your child that seem unusual to you, do you best to help them put words to their emotions. As Dan Siegel, MD, says, “Name it to Tame it.” It really does help to say the feeling or feelings out loud in order for them to be soothed and attended to. As a therapist, I love to suggest the following phrase, “I wonder if…” “I wonder if you are feeling scared. There are some scary things happening right now.” “I wonder if you are feeling tired right now. I see that you are rubbing your eyes.” “I wonder if you might be feeling lonely. It’s been a few days since you were able to play with your friends.”

Remember, in a time of crisis, much of how we cope is based on the need to survive. If you are seeing some concerning behavior in your child, DO reach out to a mental health provider to learn more about how to best address what you see and ensure that your child is being well taken care of during this time. The first priorities are providing safety, nourishment, shelter and love.

 

 

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).

Some of These ARE Like the Other

For many of us, reaching out to others in moments of celebration and happiness comes easily.  We cheerfully share news about receiving a high grade on a difficult test, a promotion at work, or a new baby in our family.  But when we're struggling and facing challenges that feel insurmountable, we're suddenly less comfortable sharing.  Sometimes we keep our difficulties to ourselves out of embarrassment, and sometimes we avoid talking to others because we think it might burden others.  In either case, we deprive ourselves of a powerful source of potential support.

Sharing our successes with others helps us mark accomplishments in our lives and nurtures important relationships. If you do this now, keep it up! Reaching out to also share our weaknesses and failures has the potential to have an equal, if not BIGGER impact.  In moments when we feel alone in our unhappiness, feeling understood by another person can be incredibly powerful and can inspire us to be more gentle with ourselves.  Knowing that someone else can relate to our struggles and perspectives helps us remember that we are very rarely alone in our experiences - good or bad.

Additionally, discovering that people we care about have had similar experiences can generate new ideas on how to tackle a problem.  Chances are, you have more in common with people who've succeeded in similar circumstances than you realize, including experiencing some of the same set backs and challenges.

And while it might not be appropriate to unload your emotional baggage on the cashier who routinely asks about your day =), accepting support from people that you would be eager to help in similar situations can create a closer bond and be a part of healthy, balanced relationships. 

Having the courage to acknowledge your imperfections can be liberating and empowering, both for you and the person you're sharing with.  No one has it all together all of the time, and letting go of the obligation to act like we do can be a relief in itself. Take a chance today and share the good and the not so good.

Go Grit! Part 2 of 2

Today we revisit last week’s post on GRIT. Paul Tough  wrote a NY Times Magazine Article that caused quite a controversy regarding the “secret to success.” He argues that the experience of failure, as opposed to the rigor of academics, leads to character building and ultimately to success. 

In this blog post from Aha Parenting's Dr. Laura Markham, she writes about the counter argument to Tough's stance on failure as the key to success. Dr. Markham holds that emotional intelligence is what helps kids succeed, and that self-regulation is key to helping children build this important skill. 

Grit is the “perseverance and passion for long term goals.” What if, rather than one or the other, experiencing failure AND cultivating emotional intelligence were both key factors in developing grit? 

As we mentioned last week, step one in having grit is to ALLOW SETBACKS TO HAPPEN. Notice that we didn’t use the word FAILURE. Setbacks are the challenges that everyone faces in life. The way teens (and parents) approach these setbacks contribute to our overall outlook on life, including whether we fight them, ignore them or accept and learn from them.

Here’s another thing to consider. Is a failure really a failure if you learn something valuable from it? 

What do you think? Chime in! How do you define grit? What do you think about how emotional intelligence and experience of failure contribute to building character?

For more on these topics, check out some of our older GirlTips that speak about emotion regulation, resilience and self-compassion.