'Tis the season of midterms, family gatherings, parties, and much more. While the ushering in of the holiday season can be a joyous event for most, it can still be quite anxiety-provoking for some, especially for worriers. While we all worry from time to time "worry warts", however, may have a form of generalized anxiety where their worries seem to consume most of their day more days than not. For your little ones who seem worried about more things than not, one helpful method may be to assign a "worry time". This allows for stimulus control of worries-in other words.
Here's how to assign a "worry time":
If you've decided that it's time to take your kid to see a child therapist then it's important you talk to them before your first visit. Talking to an unfamiliar adult about things that make them anxious can be an uncomfortable experience for kids. Letting them know ahead of time what to expect is a good idea. Here are some suggestions of what to say to them:
Now that school is back in full swing it may be a good time to take your child to go see a therapist if they are struggling with anxiety or adjusting back to the routine. Finding a good therapist can feel overwhelming especially when you are looking for the right fit with your anxious child. Here are some good questions to ask during the initial phone consultation:
1. Do you work with kids of a certain age? Do you work with the parents?
2. What is your treatment approach?
3. Can you explain what a typical session looks like?
4. What do you do if treatment is not working?
5. My son/daughter is experiencing (describe specific problems). Have you treated this before?
6. My son/daughter has an IEP or 504 Plan. Will you collaborate with the school if requested?
7. I am interested in having my son/daughter evaluated to receive services. Do you conduct (specific) evaluations?
8. If I need to contact you between therapy sessions, what is your policy?
9. What if my child needs medication?
10. My child has never been in therapy. What should I tell them before our first visit?
First days of school can be anxiety-provoking for most kids. Lets face it first days back from summer can be tough for us all! Whether it is anticipation about starting at a new school, changing classes for the first time, transitioning to high school, meeting new teachers, taking regents for the first time, finding out who is in your class....school can definitely be information overload which for many kids can cause anxiety. While anxiety or butterflies about starting school is a normal reaction to the start of the school year, for anxious kids however, they may be consumed by these worries. Here are some helpful strategies to ease the back to school transition.
1. Normalize first day of school butterflies. Let them know that adults feel the same way too on the first day back! Emphasize that it is everyone's first day and that having some nervous feelings is okay.
2. Discuss and problem-solve specific worries. For example, if they are worried about being in a new building and making it to their classes see if they can walk the building in the mornings before school to make them feel more comfortable. Emphasize that most teachers understand that in the first week they are adjusting to a new building but that they probably will get the hang of it like they did at their previous school.
3. Review some previous "first days". Have them recall the first day of karate, girl scouts, middle school, etc. Emphasize that since then they have not only gained experience handling firsts, they are older and more capable! Emphasize how they felt similar butterflies during those times but ultimately did beautifully and/or what strategies helped them (or weren't so useful).
4. Lastly, take the pressure off this week and apply the sponge rule: just take in everything this week without making decisions. The goal of the first week should be acclimating to their schedule, finding their classrooms, reconnecting with peers, and getting to know new teachers. Decisions about classes, clubs, schedules, etc. should be a later focus. Emphasize that their goal for the first week is to be a sponge- take in all the information around them, learn what the demands are for each class, adjust to the dynamics of the classroom, and get used to their daily schedule.
To all the parents, teachers, school psychologists/administrators, and most importantly to all the brave kids I work with and those out there, have a great school year!
It has now been 24 hours since the results of the election have been announced. Now that emotions seem to be more contained it is a good time to talk to your kids about the election. If your kids are old enough to understand and ask questions here are some general guidelines to keep in mind when talking to them:
1- Encourage your kids to ask a lot of questions. Have them write them down before sitting down to talk to them.
2- Use this opportunity as a teaching tool and research information together about the election process and government that you both may not know.
3- Stay neutral when explaining concepts such as the electoral process. Give them the facts about the process including candidates and policy in a developmentally appropriate way.
4- Emphasize the importance of accepting and understanding different points of view when you have 2 opposing parties. Discuss that some people may believe strongly in their views and may be upset by the election results but that's okay. Stress that it's okay for people to feel disappointed but important that people respect and accept each other's differences and ultimately learn to work together. Use an example from school or home to illustrate that concept. See if they can think of an example themselves.
5- Highlight that sometimes you don't win. In this case stress that it is important to respect the election process even if your side lost. Review what both parties must be feeling. Have them think of an example of when they won and lost something.
Halloween can be an overwhelming and scary holiday (pardon the pun) for many kids. Kids with allergies can be anxious about what candy they will get, kids with specific fears may be anxious about what costumes they will encounter, kids with sensory issues may be anxious about the unexpected noise and lights they will experience, and shy kids may be anxious about going door to door and speaking up for themselves.
Here are some general guidelines to prepare for a successful Halloween experience:
1- Explain the concept of Halloween using the golden rule of pass or play. Teach that Halloween is all about having fun but that some things can be scary. Point out that being scared is okay because they are still safe. However if they find something too scary they have a choice to pass or play. While it is all in good fun, share that some things may be too scary for them and it is okay to pass on those things. Encourage kids to make that choice on their own. With hyper anxious kids try to encourage more plays than passes. Come up with a reasonable number of passes ahead of time. For instance, have them use a fear scale of 1-10. Decide that anything that raises their anxiety or fear above an 8 is worth thinking about the pass or play rule. But try to limit the passes to 1-2 experiences so that they also learn to face their fears.
2-Try to anticipate certain things that will trigger kids. For example, if a child has sensory issues incorporate earbuds and an eye mask for when they experience sensory overload by the noise and lights. For kids who are nervous about asking for candy try to role play what to say. Practice the exchange a few times and stay with them at the first house while gradually moving farther from the door at subsequent homes. For a kid with allergies, make a plan that at the end of the night a parent will go through all the candy and check to see what is safe.
3- Make it a teaching moment. Use this to teach about the generosity of strangers and how to meet new people. Emphasize practicing social skills at each home like eye contact, being polite, introducing yourself (your costume), etc. Reinforce good behavior.
4- Encourage fun! No matter how much candy or homes you visit reinforce that they were brave for going!
Perfectionism, the tendency to set expectations that are unrealistic or difficult to meet, can be a real challenge for some kids. It may mistakenly look like a kid with poor time management and procrastination behaviors when in fact they are really struggling with anxiety over completing a task perfectly. Perfectionism can be a stand alone trait or be one of many compulsive behaviors like those seen along the OCD spectrum. It can significantly impact academic learning and cause other issues like anxiety and depression.
Here are some signs of perfectionism:
1-Consistent procrastination when it comes to tasks
2-Re-doing, re-writing, or re-checking work
3-Spending a long time on a task that typically should take only a few minutes
4-Stressing out over small details
5-Asking for reassurance or for someone to look over your work before submitting it
Here are some tips for talking to kids about dealing with perfectionism:
Talking to kids about anxiety is a good step in helping them overcome situations that make them feel anxious and that they tend to avoid. Getting children to pay attention to their triggers can help them identify why they feel anxious and help them build tools to handle it.
Here are some helpful tips in talking to kids about anxiety.
1- Give it a name. I often refer to anxiety as a case of the "what-ifs". Kids who are anxious will usually start a sentence with "What-If" followed by some anxiety-inducing thought projected about a future event. "What-if I get on the wrong school bus? What if I forget where my locker is? What if I don't understand my homework?"
2- Give the truths about anxiety. Despite its discomfort, anxiety is not dangerous. In fact many kids are surprised to learn that a good amount of anxiety can actually be helpful and is a normal part of life.
3- Describe the triad of anxiety: body, mind, and behavior. Go over the physical sensations. For example, anxiety can be sweaty palms, upset stomach, warm forehead, dizziness, etc. Connect it to non-threatening situations like when you feel butterflies in your stomach when you are on line at the amusement park but the only difference is that you are not thinking that you are scared. Next, catch what it is you were thinking when you felt this way. Then review what you did when you felt anxious. Did it make it better or worse?
4- Teach kids to be like a detective and pay attention to the clues their body is giving them that anxiety is ahead. Encourage them to spot the clues and catch the "what-ifs" early so that they can change what they are thinking and do something else to calm themselves.
5- Share a time when you felt anxious. Modeling appropriate ways of dealing with anxiety is a powerful tool in reinforcing healthy coping behaviors.
A majority of the kids I see suffer from either anxiety or depression issues. At some point or another, the pendulum swings from states of anxiety to states of depression. Worried brains share ineffective loops much like depressed brains. Depressed kids have a hard time stopping the loop of negative thought and affect. This endless negative loop is called rumination. Much like the endless worry loop anxious kids engage in, depressed kids engage in a comparable and similarly ineffective problem solving approach. Kids often get "stuck" in a repetition of negative thoughts. An over focus on thinking related to negative affect leads to depressive behaviors which leads to depressive thoughts and then results in lowered mood. Once kids get on this negative loop it is much like a roller coaster ride that doesn't get you very far.
Here are some tips on how to help kids get "unstuck":
1. Use the metaphor of riding a roller coaster. Give kids the choice not to get on the ride or to choose to get off the ride.
2. Acknowledge that rumination is an ineffective problem solving method. Much like the roller coaster it gets you right back where you started. It doesn't get you positive results....just more negative thoughts and feelings.
3. Ask your kids the following questions:
If you have seen the latest TIME magazine you probably noticed that this concept we called mindfulness seems to be popping up everywhere. It's not just invading newsstands but in pop culture, therapy, yoga, and more. So what is it and how can it help? Simply put the practice of mindfulness describes the act of being present. It means paying attention to your thoughts without judgment. It is focusing on what you're doing at the moment without paying attention to the extraneous noise in your head. Remember the old adage "stop and smell the roses"? If you are like most busy parents it probably is very hard to recall the last time you stopped to experience the beauty of a rose with all your senses. But you should! Mindfulness has been associated with a number of positive health benefits like decreased pain, anxiety and depression. Mindfulness is not just beneficial for busy adults. Teaching your kids to practice mindfulness can help them de-stress after a super packed day. With kids being over-scheduled and over-stimulated the practice of multi-tasking is taking precedence. While multi-tasking isn't an inherently bad thing it is good for kids to learn what it feels like to sit still and experience their thoughts and sensations. Mindfulness can help them stay in the present moment, enjoy and accept their experiences, and learn better control of their feelings. So take this moment to not only become more mindful yourself but to teach your kids this helpful practice!
Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Set aside a time to practice being mindful.
2. Teach kids about recognizing their internal voice or thought. For example, "When I look at the sun I think how bright and yellow it is."
3. Teach kids to stay in the present by paying attention to their thoughts and filtering out the noise. I like using the example of a radio dial.
When we pay attention to the present moment it's like tuning the radio to a channel that comes in clear. For instance, when we pay attention to the sun we are experiencing it with all our senses, how it looks, how it feels on our skin, etc, and the channel comes in clear. When we look at the sun and start to think about how bright the sun should be, we start thinking about the times when the sun was brighter and are no longer in the present moment. When we leave the present moment we are not paying attention to what is going on around us and it's like hearing a lot of static on the radio.
5. Pick 1 thing to do with your kids to practice being mindful where they engage all their senses. For instance go for a walk on the beach or take a bubble bath at bedtime.
6. Model being mindful for your kids by describing each sensation vividly and concretely every step along the way.
7. Redirect any questions, thoughts, or judgments back to the present. For example, "Oh no i'm starting to hear some static let's tune the radio dial back to the present".
Natascha M. Santos, Psy. D.