Benefits of Therapy for Children During the Summer

The countdown is on! Days are getting longer, sun is getting warmer, and the last school bell is right around the corner (35 days away if your counting!).

For many children, summertime is a break with less responsibilities, more freedom, and less stress. Due to increased time for free play, promoting independence, and strengthening interpersonal relationships it may be a great time to start thinking about taking some of the availability in schedule to address certain symptoms you may have noticed your child demonstrating during the school year.

Before the School Year Ends

Take time to schedule parent-teacher conferences, follow up with guidance counselors, 504 contacts, and coaches to get a clear picture on how your child has adjusted throughout the school year. It is unlikely children will “grow” out of certain mood, impulse, behavior, or social struggles in a matter of months without support. In my clinical experience, abatement of school year stressors are likely to return, in more severe forms during the next school year if not addressed.

Availability to Focus on Home Based Challenges

If your child or teen struggles with behavior problems at home and in school, summer can be a great opportunity to hone in on improving skills in the home environment. Therapists can work with your child and family on identifying mood disturbances, increasing problem solving skills, planning and organization, and increasing positive communication in the family system. During the school year hustle and grind, it can be easy to allow these important goals fall to the wayside. Summer is a great time to tune up our emotional growth inside the family system (where change is most likely to stick!)

Structure

Change in routine can be wonderful, but also can cause uncertainty in the lives of school aged children and teens who are hardwired to schedules. Adding weekly therapy appointments provides routine and structure to the laid back feel of the summertime. Keeping children on consistent schedules has been proven to increase sense of security, positive self-image, and control in numerous environments.

Increase Your Family Tool Bank

Therapy provides an opportunity to learn and develop healthy coping strategies in a safe environment, but the benefits extend past changes in your teen or child. By engaging in this collaborative effort you are letting your child know the family is working to improve together, and it is a priority to the family to be the best you can! Benefits such as improved communication, reflection of feelings, and increased emotional connection are only some of the wonderful outcomes of investing in you and your child’s mental and emotional health this summer!

For more information on booking an appointment or consultation for your child, teen, or family contact Michelle Smith MS, RMHCI

405-323-1786

Understanding Anxiety

Anxiety. We all know the feeling. An all-encompassing emotional response to a real or perceived threat. Right now with FSA testing happening in school districts across the state, anxiety levels are sky-rocketed for students, parents, and teachers alike. During times of increased stress you may notice changes in your child’s behavior such as irritability, rigidity, outbursts, and attempting to gain control of the world around them. Although anxiety is a normal emotional response, it can become detrimental especially if ruminating thoughts regarding what “might” happen take over.

During high emotional times such as state testing, you may notice your own anxiety increasing more than normal. Anxiety, like many emotions, is contagious and just being in a setting with high anxiety can increase another’s feelings of anxiety. So how can parents “weather the storm” of testing anxiety season and support and also encourage our students to be the best they can be?

Encourage and Validate

Parents, teachers, and adults sometimes struggle to validate children who are dealing with anxiety because it may not make any rational sense. For instance, maybe you have an honor role student who consistently performs well on standardized tests; however, they are feeling an overwhelming sense of dread the morning of the test. You may feel challenged to validate your child without agreeing or dismissing their feelings. Validate and encourage your child or teen’s feelings anyways, note how difficult it must be to feel so out of control at times. Use statements like these below:

“It makes sense that you are nervous about your test, and I know you will do your best and make it through anyways!”

“I can tell you are worried about the test coming up, especially because you have been picking your nails more lately. Is there anything we can do to help you feel better about it?”

When validating remember anxiety feels REAL whether it is a perceived or imaginable threat. Try to take a trip down memory lane to your middle school or high school years and connect to your experience with anxiety. Allow your child to vent if necessary, and reward them for taking steps towards their future.

Model Healthy Coping Strategies

The history of anxiety comes from our caveman ancestors who were driven by fear to escape life threatening situations such as being chased by a bear. In 2018, anxiety comes from worry thoughts that trigger the same “fight or flight response”. The problem comes when there is nothing to run away from, then you or your child can be left with symptoms such as rapid breathing, increased heartbeat, sweating, or trembling. You can help encourage your teen to begin utilizing healthy coping strategies in times without high emotion, so it is easier for them to practice the skills during anxiety.

Breathing Exercises

Teaching simple 4 count breathing in through the nose, and out through the nose is a wonderful tool to teach children at a young age. When our mind is on overdrive, we can calm the body which sends a message to calm the mind. Deep breathing helps bring our body to a relaxed state and out of the “fight or flight” response. Bring your teen or child to a free community yoga or meditation class, make a date of it to tune in and focus on your breathe.

Get Into Logical Mind

Many times when anxiety becomes paralyzing, we can make a shift in mood by engaging our logical mind, or the part of the mind that focuses on logic versus emotion. To engage this part of the brain help your child focus on a number game, count backwards, or engage in a writing exercise. This takes attention off the emotion and brings the body back to an equilibrium state. Sudoku, meditative coloring, even math problems can help in times of intense emotion. Engage with your child and model these behaviors for most effective practices.

Acceptance

Although your child or teens emotions may be more intense in the next couple weeks than normal, it’s important to remember anxiety is a part of life that your child can and will learn to manage to live a fulfilled life.

It may be easier to minimize or dismiss your child’s anxiety, taking the time to acknowledge it may be the difference between learning how to cope and manage these feelings or burning out. And remember… testing season will pass!

 

For more information on anxiety, mental health services for your child or teen, or psychoeducation for families contact Michelle Smith, MS, RMHCI and Middle School Guidance Counselor at 405-323-1786 for a consultation.

Why Knowing Your Child’s School Counselor Is So Important

Let’s face it. School brings out another side of our children that maybe parents do not get to see at home. Our children spend the majority of the hours in the day at school. Children spend more time at school than they do spending time with family, participating in extracurricular activities, and even sleeping! As a middle school counselor, I have had the privilege of serving over 500 middle school students this past school year, and I would encourage each and every parent to establish a close relationship with your child’s school counselor. Here’s why:

Not All Counselors are Created Equal

School counselors wear many hats in school. Likely they are the ones encouraging your child’s academic success, helping students apply for high school and college, and providing social-emotional support as well as juggling other administrative tasks. My personal background is mental health focused. My goal this year was to increase student’s understanding of self, and increase their coping skills to navigate life challenges academically, socially, and emotionally. At my school, both guidance counselors have a mental health lens and provide support to the entire school from this perspective. I believe this is vital for many students and families.

It may surprise you that many school counselors have no or little understanding of counseling whatsoever. Some school counselors hold teaching certifications and were “promoted” to this role through effective work in the classroom. Unfortunately effective classroom management does not mean this individual is ready to handle the reality of the real life issues that come about in the guidance offices such as suicidal ideations, family conflict, low-self-esteem, broken families, poverty and more. I have seen many school counselors push these extremely important issues to the side, just because they were not trained on how to effectively provide support to a student or family.

School Counselors Are Busy

Establishing a good rapport with your child’s counselor opens the door for future communication regarding your child’s academic success, behavior, and changes that are noticed in the school. Working in a smaller charter school, I have been blessed with the opportunity to get to know my students on a very personal level. In larger schools, counselors may not have the time or ability to do this. A recent study by the American School Counselor’s Association (ASCA), suggests that the average guidance counselor spends about 38 minutes with your student in an entire school year! If you are present and send the message you are engaged in your child’s schooling, the counselor may be more likely to give you vital information happening at school such as conflict between peers or teachers, concerning drawings or messages, or just a sudden change in mood or affect. This is important information parents need to know so that you can follow up at home and to create a bridge between school and home life. If you haven’t yet, make an appointment with your child’s guidance counselor to introduce yourself. Face to face communication goes a long way!

Teamwork Between Families and School

Many times when I contact families to provide referral for therapy, resources for food or clothing donations, or insight into their child’s behavior I receive resistance. One thing parents and guardians need to know is that school administration wants to work as a team with you and your family. When school administration contacts you with information regarding your child, it is for your benefit and understanding. The intention is never to place blame, but to work as a team to provide consistency throughout the child’s life at school and at home. Remember that school is a whole different setting for your child, and it may bring out another side you have not seen yet. Trust in your school administration that they have your best interest at heart!

Michelle Smith

RMHCI, MS

Middle School Counselor

Are You Holding on to Resentment?

Resentment. We all have experienced the feeling of struggling to let go of anger towards ourselves or another person in our life. Buddha once said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot goal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned”.

While this may be true, it can be a very difficult process to let go and allow acceptance to happen in your life. Anger is a valid emotion, its function is to take back power and be strong after we feel an injustice has occurred. If anger is consistent and not acknowledged we can become aggressive, self-shaming, provocative, aggressive, or even vengeful.

Before you understand the process of forgiveness. Let’s discuss the myths of what forgiveness is and is not. Many people believe forgiveness means reconciling a relationship. This is a myth. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean moving forward with the relationship in which you felt wronged by. Maybe it looks like setting a clear boundary with said person, or dissolving the relationship all together. Another myth I hear often in my practice is “If I forgive this person, I’m condoning the injustice and allowing the person to treat me this way in the future”. This is also a myth. By forgiving it is not granting mercy to the perpetrator, but allowing peace to and compassion towards yourself and the other person.

On the other side of the spectrum, sometimes we believe we have forgiven by saying “I’m sorry” or giving an apology, but we still are holding onto anger and resentment. Forgiveness can occur without ever speaking to the perpetrator, for instance clients with sexual abuse working towards forgiving their abusers or themselves in therapy settings. Forgiveness is an emotional change that starts a chain reaction of changed behaviors to increase quality of life for clients.

So how do you know if you are holding onto resentment? Some warning signs include:

-Ruminating thoughts of the injustice

-Fantasies of revenge

-Self-shaming

-Looking for evidence that your anger is valid and linking it to past incidents or behavior

The nature of resentment is that it is never only one incident. Resentment always extends into the past, and in severe cases carries into the future for instance if your extremely resentful you might say something like, “We’re doing OK now, but my birthday is coming up I know he/she will find something to screw it up then”.

If you’re holding onto that hot coal wishing for it to burn someone else, it may be time to put it down and acknowledge and validate your anger by talking to a professional. Forgiveness starts with you.

Contact Michelle Smith at 405-323-1786 for a free consultation for therapeutic services.

5 Phrases Your Child Says That Are Red Flags

“You don’t listen to me”

“You don’t understand me”

“You never hear me”

“You don’t know me”

“You don’t care”

Ouch! As a parent, these phrases are extremely hard and painful to hear from our children. We dedicate our lives to school pickups and drop-offs, chauffeuring to extracurricular activities, providing healthy lunches and dinners, making time for homework and projects, and much more. Hearing these phrases can be a huge damper, and they also may be necessary to examine to see if your child is crying out for more validation in their home environment.

I read a quote the other day that resonated with me it said, “Students who are loved at home come to school to learn, and students who aren’t come to school to be loved”. I have seen this testimony play out in a number of ways in my experience working with children, teens, and their families. Parents have the best of intentions to provide support, encouragement, and validation to their child, and it can also be one of the first things that falls to the wayside in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Validation is defined as, “recognition or affirmation that another’s feelings or opinion are worthwhile”. Note that validation is NOT defined as agreeing with, concurring too, or even encouraging the feelings or behavior of another. I’ve had many parents tell me that they are worried validation will create entitlement in their children. It actually is the exact opposite. Children who are not validated look for validation in negative places such as toxic relationships, substances, and negative friendships. You do not have to agree with your child to validate them. Validation is not encouraging those behavior and feelings, it is simply acknowledging that they are present.

So now that we know what validation is and is not, let’s think about what it looks like in the family. Children and teens are craving positive adult attention. If your child is saying the phrases above, they may not be getting the attention they are asking for and are acting out to gain any type of attention. After all, negative attention is better than no attention, right? As a parent is our responsibility to let our children know their voice matters, and we do that by validating their feelings, thoughts, and opinions.

A common way we invalidate our children is by forgetting to be present in moments which your child is reaching out for validation. Picture this. Your child comes home and begins to share about a kid in their class who is mean to them. You are in the middle of a very important email from work and decide not to look up from the computer, half listening to their story adding in “uh-huhs” and “oh really?” every once in a while. You may not be saying it or even mean it, but the message you are sending is “What you’re saying is less important than what I’m doing”. This message, if received often, can seriously affect your children’s emotional and mental well-being. I’ve had children and teens in my office or in session state that they would rather hold important information from their parents than share due to feeling a “burden” because of the lack of validation they receive at home, which is heartbreaking.

Another way validation is commonly missed is parents attempting to “fix” or “solve” all their children’s problems. When our children come to us with news it is the natural mother or fatherly response to want provide a solution. Although you are coming from a place of good intention, this can send the message that you have all the answers and you don’t want to listen to their feelings and opinions on the matter but put a Band-Aid on the issue. One way to help combat this is ask your child or teen, “Are you looking for my advice, or do you just want to vent right now?” This sends a clear message that your listening, present, and willing to provide whatever support your child is asking for in that particular moment.

Parents are rockstars in 2018. We do now more than ever to make sure our children are physically, emotionally, and mentally safe in our homes. It is easy to miss opportunities to validate your child, but with awareness and some attention we can utilize everyday moments to send the message our children’s voices and opinions matter by using these tools. Validating your child will increase your child’s self-esteem, awareness of self, emotional maturity, and decrease the likelihood for your child to engage in unsafe activities such as consuming violent media, substance use, and illegal activities as a teenager.

For more information on how you can validate your children contact:

Michelle Smith RMHCI, MS