Posted in anger, boundaries, counseling, emotion regulation, goals, parenting, relationships, selfcare, trauma, values

I’m Sorry I Hurt Your Feelings by the Boundary I Set, You Psychopath

Okay, so that might not be the best way to respond to someone. Name calling is generally considered unhelpful. However, this can be the heartfelt cry of many people attempting to hold boundaries within unhealthy relationships. It is actually a phrase I heard someone wish to utilize recently. Establishing boundaries when a relationship has a close association or has persisted for a number of years, can be difficult. How do you create the boundary? How do you communicate it? The hardest, how do you hold the boundary when there is the inevitable pushback? All these questions are important to consider. Boundaries are necessary, the are important and they are a way to protect yourself and others.

HOW DO YOU CREATE THE BOUNDARY?

I have always known boundaries were important. However, few things increased my insistence on boundaries quite like becoming a mom. I’m in the camp that holds better boundaries for others than for myself. I know, I know, I’m working on it.

You know a boundary needs to be set by internal warning signs. Do you feel hurt and confused? Do you sense a threat? Fight, flight or freeze kick in? That lets you know a boundary was crossed. We hold unconscious boundaries within ourselves that can be difficult to identify. These standards can be solidified when we evaluate the event that occurred and what value was violated. This can range from a tone someone takes with you to physical abuse or aggression. Having this spectrum can make things a little gray. It does not help that the most chronic boundary violators can be very skilled at gaslighting. Gaslighting is the method of convincing someone that how they feel is invalid and wrong.

When you are continually leaving a situation or person feeling out of sorts and “always wrong” it might be a good idea to process the events with someone objective. It needs to be someone that can remain dis-engaged emotionally and does not play devils advocate, nor jump to your defense. Someone that can listen and remain detached. They can help identify the value breached and create a reasonable boundary. This can include not interacting with them until they can take responsibility for their behavior or even leaving the situation when they breach the boundary. This can be leaving the room or even the location where they are.

HOW DO YOU COMMUNICATE IT?

Here is an example of identifying when a boundary needs to be set. Sometimes a loved one can be feeling anxious or frustrated and they turn all their emotion into the way they speak to you. Ouch, right? The value violated is respect. You may let it slide once or twice. However, it can be helpful to calmly say, “Please do not take your frustration out on me,” or “please talk to me in a kinder way.” Responding in a non-combative manner is helpful because it is more difficult for the other person to continue in their behavior. Read difficult, not impossible. If the pattern continues, the script can become more assertive. This can be saying, “If you continue to speak to me this way, I will leave.”

If patterns are repeated in a relationship, having one or two phrases identified that can be used in these situations is crucial. You may sound like a broken record, but the calm repeating of a phrase can defuse a situation. Who will continue arguing with someone that doesn’t change their words or escalate in emotions? It takes away the confrontation, fight or acquiescence the person may be looking for.

HOW DO YOU HOLD A BOUNDARY?

Boundaries are hard. They force change in a relationship. Any time there’s a shift, the relationship acts like a rubber band. You create distance due to the change, the other person either adapts or the relationship snaps. A severed relationship is painful. We, as humans, have an aversion to pain. Maybe that’s just me? The status quo is sometimes comfortable, even if it causes us pain.

However, boundaries are never an unloving or unhelpful addition to a relationship. A healthy relationship is one where boundaries are expressed and accepted. When two people’s values in treatment collide, it might not be the best to continue that friendship. This can range from one person wanting to gain all their emotionally validation from one person (read unhealthy) or refusing to engage in a nonreciprocal relationship.

The best way to hold a boundary is having a predetermined consequence to continual violation of the boundary. It helps to have an outside consultant to come up with this as well. The confidant can be a mental health professional, a mentor or a level headed friend. It needs to be firm, but also proportional. This can be, as stated before, leaving a room or a place when someone violated that boundary. It can be cutting a type of contact, such as texting, phone calls, etc for a predetermined set time. It can even be cutting all contact for a certain amount of time. It helps to have a set time table. It ensures that there is a possibility for reengagement, in non-abuse cases, and allows the option for growth.

Most importantly, then you must, MUST, hold the consequence. If it is a consequence “without teeth” the chronic behavior will not change. It must be enforceable and enforced. Have others that help keep you accountable to the consequence.

Remember, when it is hard, that your values are worth upholding. Insisting that others treat you with respect is important and contributes to how you feel about yourself. It can be a helpful model for your children, your friends and your family. It can serve as a reminder to people in your life that they, also, are worth holding boundaries.

Posted in boundaries, counseling, emotion regulation, empathy, grief, isolation, Jealousy, parenting, relationships, selfcompassion, siblings, therapy, trauma, values

Three Things to Learn From Encanto

As many parents know, the world of Encanto has enveloped reality. The music plays constantly, the kids enact scenes and scold one another from mentioning Bruno. One thing to know, I’m not a huge fan of animated movies. I loved them as a kid, but as an adult I’d rather an action movie. However, this movie surprised me. I was unaware of many themes that presented themselves. The therapist and parent within me was hooked from the first few verses of “Surface Pressure” and as more evolved, I was excited for the progression of the story. There’s much to learn from examining this movie related to mental health. Here are a few lessons to glean from this wonderful movie.

“Give it to your sister, your sister’s older / Give her all the heavy things we can’t shoulder / Who am I if I can’t run with the ball?”

Your talent or “gift” does not need to be your identifier. Each character is presented based on their gift. It appeared that they have settled into their role within the community and family system. However, it begins to become clear that they are exhausted by the constant expectations. The pressure is intense and robs them of exploring other aspects of their personality.

It can be comforting to put ourselves in a box. A clearly outlined identity. We know where we fit within ourselves and the world. It can be uncomfortable to be okay with unclear boundaries and expectations. It is comforting to be known for one particular characteristic. The reason stereotypes are common, is it is easier to stick someone with a label than take the time to get to know the whole person.

Unfortunately this can be true of ourselves, or even the person we projected to others. We worry that we will be judged or rejected. However, being a complete person with quirks and weaknesses, is reality. You are known for baking? It is okay to bring a store bought cake when you’re tired. Usually the friend that listens? It is acceptable to need someone to listen to YOU too. Learning to break out of the norm can be difficult and scary. However, you are worth it and the world needs all that you are, not just a portion.

“We don’t talk about Bruno”

Having family secrets are harmful. You know that family “thing” that no one talks about? It is unhelpful and actually harmful to your family. It can be anything from someone’s past, a mental health struggle, addiction or a whole estranged member of the family. Just because the family didn’t talk about Bruno did not mean his absence left the family unmarked. The unspoken aspects of a family will actually be the most harmful.

When words are unsaid, they hold too much power. Power to divide, power to grow into lies that cause damage. Families internalize what is unspoken. It can create a whole range of trauma and veiled problems. This is explored in detail by Mark Wolynn in It Didn’t Start with You. It is called “transgenerational trauma” in the field of counseling. This leads to the next point.

“And I’m sorry I held on too tight / Just so afraid I’d lose you too”

Grief and all kinds of trauma can be harmful down generations if unresolved. Abuela silenced her emotions. She silenced her fear. She walled herself off as a matriarch with noble goals for her family and did not have attachment to the next generations. The members of her family became lauded only for their outward actions. She was a victim of trauma and wounded deeply. It not only effected her interactions with the world, it effected how those that loved her felt about themselves.

Experiencing a traumatic event is not your fault. However, how you cope with it IS your responsibility. Numbing and refusing to acknowledge what you view as weakness, is not helping anyone. It harms the future. Relationships cannot coexist in a healthy way with unresolved trauma. It can spread like a disease and weaken all bonds. Please seek help. For you, and generations to come.

Media can be so helpful to explain difficult lessons in a nonthreatening manner. The elements of stories in general allow us to learn from character’s failures and how to overcome obstacles. We watch movies for entertainment and that is okay. However, sometimes the themes are so universal and important we need to examine them to understand the world in a healthy way.

Always learning,

Allyson

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Posted in coparenting, counseling, emotion regulation, empathy, motherhood, parenting, relationships, selfcompassion

Parenting While Pregnant

WARNING: THIS POST TALKS ABOUT PREGNANCY

We are pregnant. We are pregnant! It’s an exciting reality. We have talked about expanding our family often and knew we wanted to grow beyond our two kiddos. After prayer and conversations, we were able to conceive. That sounds so simple. To be honest, despite my PCOS diagnosis, fertility issues is not one of my symptoms. Before I explore my struggles parenting while pregnant, I want to acknowledge those that DO struggle. Struggle with getting pregnant, struggle with carrying a pregnancy to term, struggle with grief over loss, struggle with waiting in an adoption journey. With all the ways science and culture has moved forward in having babies, it doesn’t change the reality of the emotions present when others are able to announce a new life when you’re trying so hard to experience that reality.

In this post I want to chronicle some difficulties I am having during pregnancy. I explore this not to complain, not to minimize this miracle. I disclose to help others that really dislike the glorious reality of being pregnant not feel so alone. Being pregnant is a privilege. Not everyone is able to have this experience. However, it CAN be difficult. It is okay to be discouraged or disgruntled or miserable even while being grateful for what is to come.

That is my life. I love my kids. I love having them. However, I do NOT enjoy pregnancy. It seems that each subsequent pregnancy has different stresses. With Gideon, the nausea was so overwhelming that medicine was necessary to make it through the day. I did not have hyperemesis gravidarum, but it was still miserable. With Keaton, it was fatigue. Parenting a toddler and working part time added to the hormonal exhaustion. Then we come to this baby. There is some nausea, there is some fatigue, but ,oh man, are there mood swings.

You know who this effects the most? My kids. I have lost my mind around their behavior more times than I would like to admit. There have been many talks and many apologies. My kids and my husband endure my irritability, my sadness and my anxiety. I hate it. I do not like to feel out of control. Sometimes, my usual coping skills are unhelpful and it drives me crazy. I preach and preach to people about knowing the coping skills that are helpful to them and here I am, not being able to utilize any! It’s obnoxious.

My oldest has since started school. Let me tell you, homework time is, whew, I don’t have a word. He’s silly. He’s all over the place. Wanna know why? He’s FIVE! Knowing this, I still get so so frustrated. Then, I get more and more frustrated with myself. Ya’ll. Hormones are very irrational things. Here are a few things that I need to tell myself as well as communicate to others in an effort to help.

BE VOCAL ABOUT WHAT’S GOING ON INSIDE

I lash out sometimes. I am not proud of it. Usually my husband gets the brunt. I will be angry…sometimes for no reason (thanks Mrs. Hormone). Then, I will find some small thing he did that could be the reason for my emotions. I will then explain that his actions are the cause of my feelings. Yikes, right? Poor man.

Usually, about 5 or sometimes 20 minutes into this tirade and trading of lovely information, I will realize that my words do not make sense. I think on all the positive things he’s done and all the things I am grateful to him for. I then recognize that what I am feeling has nothing to do with him. At this point, no matter who is the recipient of my frustration, I experience embarrassment. I realize that it has nothing to do with them. It is my own emotion that has overruled sanity.

The conversation usually involves me apologizing. It involves me acknowledging all the positive things he has done and then something unhelpful, it involved me berating myself. That leads to my next point.

APOLOGIZE, REPAIR, AND MOVE ON

I do not do this well. I feel as though I need to batter myself internally a bit to ensure I don’t treat someone in an unkind way again. Does it help? Nope. I fail again and hurt feelings again. It instead creates distance in the relationship. It puts up walls. In holding onto my anger at myself, it becomes about me rather than that person.

Having a self flagellation session can cause the person whose feelings I’ve hurt work to make ME feel better. That is very unhealthy. It almost steals their space to experience their anger or their hurt. It is so unhelpful and can be so damaging.

Acknowledge the negative behavior, apologize, and seek to repair the relationship. That may be by giving them space or even listening to how your actions hurt them without providing a defense. It is super humbling, but also super healing.

TAKE A MOMENT

Sometimes, I need to take a moment. I need to lay down and get space from people. It seems weird to type, because I LOVE people. If I could run all my errands and do all my everything with someone chatting along with me, that’d be great. However, no one needs to be around a “cranky pants.” Taking time can be more for other’s benefit than for me.

When it’s a moment from my kids, I can give them paper to color, allow them to video chat with my mother-in-law or *gasp* put on a TV show. Taking my moment is way more beneficial than doing any yelling. They’re kids. They are supposed to make mistakes, spill everything, and try my patience. Parenting is so lovingly refining.

Those struggling to parent while pregnant, I see you. I am you. It is okay to have difficulty staying calm with all the changes and all the hormones coursing through your body. It does not mean that you don’t love your kids. It does not mean that you aren’t grateful for your pregnancy. Remember, anything worth doing has it’s battles.

Making it, maybe?

Allyson

Posted in back to school, coronavirus, counseling, emotion regulation, empathy, parenting, social distancing

Reintegrating Children After Covid

There is light at the end of the tunnel. As more people become vaccinated and things are able to open safely, we will reemerge in the world. Parents scheduling more playdates, more time at the playground, kids going back to school in person and (hopefully) the reopening of the Chick-fil-a indoor play-place. However, as these events become the norm after over a year away from constant socialization, we will notice a difference in our children.

They have been isolated from their peers and some small children, like my toddlers, haven’t been around other children on a constant basis since that fated March 2020 lockdown. How can we deal with this fall out, with these unsocialized children that no longer know how to manage peers invading their space? Any progress in sharing that my oldest made in Mother’s Day Out last year seems to have evaporated. Today, there was an epic meltdown because someone else was playing with a toy he wanted at church. Did he ask to share? No. Was the kid antagonizing? No. Were those the only toys? No. However, big emotions come with change. As parents, what do we do?

SET EXPECTATION

It helps to set expectations before going somewhere. “We are going to Lina’s house and we are going to share” or “Malachi is coming here and he is going to play with your toys and you will share with him.” It is important to clearly state the expected behavior. State it in a positive manner, more what you want them to do than what you don’t want them to do.

This can be other expectations, such as, “remember when you share, they take a turn and then you get it back” or “when you want to play with something, ask; and if they aren’t done playing with it, be patient.” It explains what may happen and then sets the expectations of how they can respond. Once the language has been stated, you can remind them throughout the event. “Remember how we talk about how you might need to be patient? Lets find something else to play with.” Once you leave, you can use that same language to praise them for their behavior. “You did a wonderful job sharing and being patient. I am proud of you.” It is important to recognize when they achieve the expectation.

VALIDATE EMOTION

Kids have big emotions. Just like adults. However, as adults we have the ability to understand and rationally explore our feelings. Kids don’t. They actually cannot. Their frontal lobe isn’t fully developed. The frontal lobe helps regulate impulses and consider long term consequences. This part of the brain isn’t fully developed until we are twenty-five years old on average. YALL. That’s around the age some of us started having kids! I digress.

Kids take their cue about the world from you. Their world is changing and in chaos right now. Validate their emotions. I repeat, validate their emotions. Their behavior may be wrong, but their feelings are not. “I know you are frustrated right now, and that’s okay.””I know that hurt your feelings.” One way for children to deal with their emotions is to know that it is okay to feel them. Help them not only know that they are okay, but help them identify their feelings.

When we name how they are expressing themselves as “jealous” or “hurt” or “disappointed,” it begins to build their vocabulary. They are learning from us, their parents. We need to allow them to feel how they feel. Sometimes their intensity may not seem to match the situation. That’s okay. It can mean that they are becoming overwhelmed by their feelings. That leads to the next point:

REPEAT COPING SKILLS TOGETHER

We have written about this idea often. It is so important to teach our kids coping skills and practice them frequently. Kids forget. Heck, I forget why I walked into the kitchen. Why expect kids to remember how to calm themselves down when their feelings are running out of control? When they are in the middle of a tantrum, model taking deep breaths, and sometimes coach them to do it along with you.

It can help to talk about coping skills while setting expectations. “When you don’t want to share when we are at Emma’s house, what can you do?” List different ways of coping, then let them list some too. It is teaching them that coping is part of the social conversation.

A common phrase at our house is, “It’s okay to cry, it is not okay to whine.” It validates the crying, that it is okay to express emotion, and it calls attention to the negative behavior. Then, I remind my child of a coping skill, sometimes in a directive after providing comfort when a tantrum continues. “Go to your room and read one book and then come back.” “Run from here to that tree and then come back.” These ideas teach different ways of coping and give them space to feel how they feel.

HAVE PATIENCE

Kids will always struggle with social skills. They are learning. Reemerging into the world after this massive pandemic is going to be hardest for our children. They have some catching up to do. Do not expect them to do things perfectly. Tantrums are expected. They are kids.

We also need to have patience with ourselves. Sometimes, our kids’ behaviors do not reflect our awesome parenting. Ha! But seriously, just because our kid doesn’t want to share or throws a toy, doesn’t mean we are failing at this parenting thing. But it can feel like it (speaking from experience). Getting back to how things were won’t feel like normal anymore, and that’s okay.

It can also help to encourage each other as parents when the meltdowns occur. The next time you see a Mom or Dad or Grandparent with a kid that has lost their ever loving mind in the grocery store? Give them a smile. Maybe tell them they’re doing a great job as they try to speak to their kid in a calm voice. Encouragement helps.

We can do this. Our kids can do this too.

Allyson

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Posted in boundaries, counseling, emotion regulation, empathy, motherhood, parenting, relationships, selfcare, selfcompassion, therapy, trauma

How Do I Talk to My Kids About…My Mental Illness

“I love Nonna. Nonna is always calm and kind…not like you mom.”

Nonna is the name my kids use for my mother-in-law and those were the words my child was whispering to me as I was tucking him into bed one night. I knew that on a different day those words would have cut right through me, but that night was different. That night, I agreed with him.

I was at a low point that night. I didn’t recognize myself as a parent: I was yelling, irritable, and struggling to delight in my relationship with them. In short, I wasn’t okay. But I had been diagnosed with PTSD just a few days earlier and was finally able to see my actions through a lens that made my behavior make sense.

If you are coping with a mental illness and have a diagnosis, you have every right to keep that information to yourself. If, however, you find your mental illness affecting your relationship with your children, here are a few ways of talking about it that may help.

View Your Diagnosis As An Explanation, Not An Excuse

That night, as my son told me how much he didn’t like me, I knew the reason for my behavior. I understood enough about PTSD to understand that what had happened during the day made sense, including my behavior. But I also knew that I had really hurt my child’s feelings and that there was no excuse for taking my emotions out on my kids. Having a diagnosis can help contextualize your actions, but it is not a free pass for not addressing the consequences of your actions. Mistakes that you make as a result of mental illness are still mistakes.

When your mental illness affects your relationship with your kids, it’s okay to let them know what’s happening. First, wait for everyone to be in a calm space, then repair with your kids. Talk about the role your mental health played in your behavior, and apologize, empathize, and connect. It can also be helpful to tell you kids what you are doing/will do to change your behavior, such as talk to a doctor/counselor, keep taking your medicine, or make sure you get enough sleep.

Externalize Your Mental Illness

With mental illness, it can be really difficult to separate the person from the symptoms. Before a diagnosis, many people agonize about their symptoms and their difficulty managing them. It can be hard to keep away negative self-talk like, “I’m just not good enough,” “What’s wrong with me,” or “I’m such a bad/sad/angry/crazy/terrible person.” Creating a separation, or externalizing the problem, can help keep people separate from their symptoms.

You can use externalization with your kids by explaining what is going on with your mental health. For example, you may have promised your kids a trip to the park, but your social anxiety has become so severe that day that you can no longer go. It’s natural to feel guilty in that moment, but getting stuck in this kind of thinking is likely to lead to greater anxiety. Instead, you can try explaining to your kids that you are having a hard time with your anxiety and need to stay home.

You don’t have to use the word “anxiety”; you can call it whatever feels right for you and your kids’ maturity level. And your kids may not understand – they will have their own emotions to manage at the disappointment. By using externalization and saying that “the anxiety” is making it hard to go, you can help maintain the connection between you and your children. Instead of “Mom won’t let us go,” you change the narrative to, “Mom’s anxiety won’t let us go.” It’s a subtle shift, but it opens up the opportunity for compassion from your kids and for you to attend to your kids emotions.

Model A Balance Between Self-Control and Self-Compassion

One of the possible benefits of sharing about your mental health – whether you have a diagnosed mental illness or not – is setting an example of balancing self-control and self-compassion. Coping successfully with any mental health struggle requires both self-compassion and self-control, and it is an example that many of our kids will need. Recent studies estimate that up to 25% of adolescents are affected by anxiety disorders, so that means that even if anxiety doesn’t affect your kids, it will likely affect one of their close friends.

As much as you are able to, model and narrate how you cope with your mental health struggles. Explain that you are doing deep breathing to help keep a panic attack at bay. Talk about how you go to therapy because it helps make your depression feel better. After an outburst of PTSD anger, let you kids know that you are going to sit and sip a cup of coffee alone in order to calm down your body. Allow yourself to be disappointed that you can’t get out of bed that day, and show your kids how your treat that struggle with compassion rather than self-criticism. You won’t always get it perfect, but it is powerful to show your kids that while you cannot control your symptoms, you can often work hard to better manage them.

There are definitely times in my work as a therapist where labels and diagnoses appear to do more harm than good. Other times, like that evening with my son, a diagnosis is the best tool you have. I told him that my brain was having trouble staying calm because it had gotten hurt. I empathized that it was hard to have a “mad mom” and told him how sorry I was about using my angry voice so much that day. I sat and listened to what had made him sad or mad, and then asked if he wanted a hug. I then told him that I would keep taking my medicine for my hurt brain and keep talking to my doctor to try to get better. Being open about my mental health turned what could have been a wound in our relationship into a moment of connection.  

We will never be able to hide our imperfections from our kids. Think about ways you can normalize struggling with mental health with your kids and let us know what you come up with!

Talking it out with you,

Selena

An Important Note:

Stigma against mental illness is real. I’ve met people who keep their struggles and diagnoses a secret from as many people as possible out of fear and others who have been ostracized from their families for living openly with their diagnoses. The stressors that result from the stigma can range from minor (being embarrassed that someone saw your medication) to extreme (fear of being cut off or becoming the object of derision in your family or other social group). Only you fully know the costs and benefits of being open about a diagnosis or mental illness, and I encourage you to do what you believe is best for you. And remember, if you need to talk therapy is always confidential.

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Posted in back to school, comfortzone, coronavirus, counseling, emotion regulation, empathy, goals, grief, home, loneliness, motherhood, parenting, relationships, summer, Uncategorized, unprepared, values

Ch-ch-changes

Change is always inevitable. As the saying goes, “the only thing constant is change.” That is more true in these tumultuous times than ever. As I type this post, I sit in a home with unpacked boxes and blank walls. During the craziness of a pandemic, my family has moved across state lines. More unsettled emotions and more disruption to routine await my children. 

It is important to focus on ways to support our children and give them stability amidst uncertain times. As we have previously discussed, their emotions are weaving through anxiety, grief, and confusion. The presentation of these feelings may come out sideways, but there is no question that they are struggling. School is uncertain and friendships are suffering from lack of time together. Here are a few ways to ensure our kids have what they need.

SET EXPECTATIONS EACH DAY

A way to reduce anxiety is to give the most information possible. As they wake up or join you for breakfast, remind them of everything on the agenda that day. It can include having a FaceTime date with a friend or relative, going to pick up groceries, spending time doing online school or even going on a walk. A few activities that you plan for the day or need them to accomplish, stated in a few bullet points. 

This can allow them to have a method for marking the days. As days run together it can become distressing for a child that is used to lots of activity. If it is possible, plan the day with your child and allow them to insert a few items they would like to do or need to do. This can provide some feelings of control. 

CREATE A SAFE SPACE 

My son is a fan of enclosed spaces. Give him a tent or box and he enjoys himself. Having somewhere a child feels safe can go a long way to aiding their adjustment to change. This can be a corner of the house where they can listen to music, read or draw. Having their own space, again gives them feelings of control and a place to turn when life seems out of control. 

Understanding their need for familiar things, and providing them time to seek out the comfort, you are validating their emotions and coping. It sets a healthy precedent for enduring upheaval later in life. It is also helpful to have a place of your own. Modeling healthy behavior aids in kids engaging that behavior. 

SPEND INTENTIONAL TIME TOGETHER

How often this is possible, depends on your life stage. Working from home with school age children having to do distance learning? Maybe once a week. However, setting up some activity to do with your son or daughter can give them the extra attention they need. This does not need to be finishing a thousand piece puzzle and hours of work. It can be reading together, coloring together or building a blanket fort. 

Kids love experiencing fun with their parents. They love finding ways to do things they know their parents are enjoying alongside them. It builds a foundation of security that lasts during times of uncertainty. Knowing that they have a way to connect with the most important people in their lives.

USE FEELING WORDS OFTEN

We spent the last two months focused on feeling words. On why they are important, how to cope and how to identify them. Revisit those if needed, its never a bad idea. Using feeling words when you are experiencing an emotion as well as identifying their emotions can give your relationships a common language. 

Some examples are: “Oh, I see you are so frustrated.” “I am really angry that, that car cut me off. Please give me a minute to listen to music to calm down.” “I am a little confused about what is going on right now, it can be scary”. “It is ok to be overwhelmed with all the change.” One of the phrases I use to most is, “It is ok to cry, but not whine. It is ok to be disappointed.” All of these comments allow for emotional intelligence, modeling and beginning conversations. The more emotions are discussed, the less scary they are for little ones. 

Change makes parenting difficult. It pulls and tangles our emotions and then we have to help our emotionally developing little ones navigate it as well. This season, that seems to last forever, is a tricky one. It begs for relief and we beg for stability. Let us find ways to be that stability for our children so they are able to cope effectively. 

Growing through change,

Allyson

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Posted in anger, coronavirus, counseling, emotion regulation, empathy, grief, motherhood, parenting, relationships, selfcompassion, social distancing, summer, Uncategorized

I’m Sorry, but We Can’t: Navigating Disappointment

“I know you wanted to do ________, but we can’t right now.” Sound familiar? I’m sure you’ve said it to your kids many, many times since March. If you’re anything like me, you’ve said it to yourself many times as well. My latest submersion in the pool of disappointment was Saturday. After coming in contact with someone that tested positive for COVID-19, my family went from limiting people interaction, to eliminating the interactions. 

Celebrating a holiday in a more subdued manner is so sad. I love to celebrate and have a reason to do fun things that make a day special and different than an ordinary day. I decided, even if the day couldn’t be the hanging out at the pool and jumping into a large crowd to watch fireworks, at least I would treat myself to a milkshake. Of course, the shake machine was down at Sonic! I mean, come on! Disappointment radiated through my fourth of July. 

As this pandemic continues, everyone is a little too acquainted with disappointment. How do we cope with this disappointment, and how do we help our kids navigate this emotion? It is especially difficult when you are disappointed for them. Your child was supposed to graduate, visit a theme park for the first time, have a birthday party, see the beach, or merely finish out the school year with their friends. Our hearts hurt when our children do not get to have the childhood we dream for them. Our hearts hurt even more when they express disappointment and we cannot change the circumstances. Here are a few points to consider:

RECOGNIZE DISAPPOINTMENT AS A PRIMARY EMOTION

When people, especially kids, experience disappointment, they often express it through anger. After all, it is more socially acceptable, and seen less as weakness, to explode in anger rather than dissolve into tears. When a child isn’t able to do something they prefer and they throw a tantrum, recognize the primary emotion. 

Call attention to their feeling of disappointment, validate their sadness and their original desire. Recognize their anger as a protective reaction to a hope that went unfulfilled. We can all relate. Even small disappointments seem monumental to a child, even a teenager. 

Those without their frontal lobe fully developed (anyone under 25) have some trouble regulating their impulses. They forget to utilize coping skills, and often do not want to regulate their emotions. When a feeling is validated and empathized with, the intensity often dissipates. Sometimes it is tempting to belittle the experience, or tell a child that they are over reacting. This moves us to the next point:

VALIDATE, VALIDATE, VALIDATE

Just because you cannot understand the intensity does not mean it is an overreaction. They may not respond in a respectful manner, and that can be given consequences. However, the intensity they feel is partially due to age. Disappointment is new to them. In some ways, that is a positive reality. Some young people become desensitized to disappointment because it is their constant reality. 

Being able to experience disappointment, means you allowed yourself to dream. Recognize the hopes, expectations and dreams that must have been held before the disappointment. Validate the emotion, discuss what was expected or hoped for and give them room to feel.  This is a great way to model empathy. The same needs to be done for you as well. Acknowledge and feel your disappointment. Validate your own emotions and seek out those empathetic friends that will validate them as well. 

Crying over disappointment can seem immature or being “overly sensitive.” But experiencing that depth of emotion can merely mean that you give yourself freedom to hope and plan and dream – something that adults often do not allow themselves to do. Teach your kids that having that freedom to experience disappointment is okay and actually a mark of healthy emotional expression.

MODEL AND TEACH HEALTHY COPING

When you give yourself permission to experience disappointment, you give your children an example of healthy emotional regulation. But you also give them a front row seat to witness healthy coping.  If you had great hopes for a birthday and it does not happen, it is okay to express the disappointment. This may include a few tears, or just a glum expression. When they ask for an explanation, tell them how you feel. However, it is key not to stay there. 

Feeling emotions are crucial for a healthy emotional life, but so is coping. We would not allow a teenager to mope for an entire weekend over a cancelled date, so neither can we. Express the emotion, process the emotion and cope with the emotion. This can be putting on some music, choosing a different task or merely engaging in some physical activity. 

Some people cope best by processing the emotion with a safe person and as a result they are able to continue on with their day. Others people struggle to move past the emotion. That is where the distraction technique we utilize with toddlers can come into play. Distract yourself with something this is possible and will make your heart a little lighter. You favorite song, facetiming with a friend, listening to a comedian, watching a good movie, going on a walk, creating something or taking a bubble bath. Find something that helps you cope, allow your child to recognize that you are engaging in these coping activities. Work with them to find a few methods that help them as well. Having a list of helpful coping skills on the refrigerator might be very helpful during this time that is filled with more than normal disappointments. 

This feeling of loss, of sadness, of missing something, is uncomfortable. However, if we suppress it and ignore it, it will come out in a maladaptive manner. More importantly is that we can teach our children to handle it the same way. Refusing to acknowledge disappointment may result in no more dreaming, only expressing anger or a temptation to belittle others that express disappointment themselves. 

Remember, feelings aren’t wrong, they are valid. Feel them, express them, but also be intentional about coping with them as well. You can do this!

Moving through disappointment to the other side,

Allyson

Someone please find me a milkshake!

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Posted in boredom, coronavirus, counseling, emotion regulation, empathy, home, isolation, loneliness, parenting, summer

The Doldrums of Summer

“I’m bored!”

Complaints of boredom almost always arise during summertime as kids adjust to idle days after months jam-packed with school, sports, and other activities. Now, as we are all moving through a summer in which our vacations, camps, and road trips have been cancelled or postponed and many of our plans changed or been put on hold, our kids are likely to encounter boredom more than ever.

It can be tempting as a parent to try to prevent boredom in our children, especially when our kids are asking us to try to solve the ‘problem’ of boredom for them. We want our kids to have access to enrichment and learning activities, to engage in team sports and learn how to play instruments. We love seeing our kids light up whenever they are being delightfully entertained and sometimes, frankly, we just need some time alone to work or rest.

However, parents should be slow to jump in and ‘fix’ boredom. There are many ways that we, as parents, can guide our children through their boredom and help them learn more about themselves while empowering them to emotionally regulate.

Try Connecting

The fact that our children usually come to us with the cries of their boredom is a clue that one of the reasons our kids get bored is because they are lonely. Sandi Mann, a senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire in the U.K., describes boredom as a search for neural stimulation that isn’t satisfied. So much of a child’s learning comes from social interaction and our increased isolation during the time of COVID-19 has increased the potential for everyone, especially our kids, to be a little lonelier.

Try to listen to what kind of boredom your child is experiencing. If it sounds like loneliness, you might look for ways of connecting your kids to their friends more. Try a combination of ways to connect that can also ignite your child’s creativity, generosity, or kindness. Provide stationary, letters, and envelopes or help coordinate facetime phone calls between friends, even with younger children. It will still be meaningful even if the video call is short and distracted. If you have older kids, it is fine to have rules about socializing over screens that mimic your in-person rules, such as having to be in a common area while on a device and having a “curfew.”

Some children, younger kids especially, may simply need to feel your empathy and connection through their boredom. Normalize the feeling of boredom, listen to what they have to say, and help them problem solve. If you have time to play, certainly take the time to play. But connection will also happen through the simple act of taking the time to make eye contact, listen, and simply be with them. Kids rarely have “run out of things to do,” and instead just need a break to be with someone for little while.

Model Boredom

One of the most impactful ways that we can help our kids with their boredom is by engaging with our own. When we keep ourselves busy or distracted by screens, we start to lose our ability to move out of our own boredom. It is easy to drown out our boredom with podcasts, tv, and scrolling, but in the process we lose our ability to be creative in alleviating our own boredom and become dependent upon outside stimulation.

Boredom has been found to be a fount of both creativity and emotional processing. Dr. Mann states that, “Once you start daydreaming and allow your mind to really wander, you start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, a little bit into the subconscious, which allows sort of different connections to take place. It’s really awesome, actually.”

When you are bored, your brain begins to do amazing things. It is the space in which your brain sets goals, assigns meaning to your past, and processes emotions. It is also the space in which we dream up new solutions to our problems. It is really tempting in this season of boredom, burnout, and uncertainty to want to check out at the end of the day (or even mid-day) and just numb out with some Netflix. But just like our other emotions, boredom communicates something important to us. If boredom is the unmet need for stimulation, then boredom, like hunger, is simply trying to get us to pay more attention to what we really need.

Just like with our kids, boredom can be delayed by constant entertainment, but that will just make creating stimulation for ourselves so much harder. We can model good mental fitness by allowing ourselves to get bored during the day. This can look like engaging in menial activity, practicing mindfulness, sitting and thinking, or even just putting away our screens.

Provide a Space for Exploring Boredom

Personally, the hardest part of allowing my kids to be bored is letting go of control. Younger kids learn better through concrete experiences so while a teen may find themselves lounging under a tree and getting lost in their thoughts during productive boredom, toddlers and preschoolers tend to be a little, erm, *messier.*

Create space, perhaps both inside and out, in which your kids can explore. Set up a drawing station or pull out some play dough. Dedicate a section of your backyard to dirty and messy play. Have a cache of puzzles, books, or other engaging activities on hand. Set a time everyday during which everyone has alone time in a space made special for them. When we give kids ways to constructively work through and process their emotions, including boredom, they are more likely to grow into adults with healthy emotional regulation.

Many of us are still finding ourselves in survival mode this summer, but boredom is one thing that we don’t need to run from. Let’s all lean a little harder into boredom and see what amazing things happen.

Being bored and brilliant with you,

Selena

Ducharme, J. (2019, Jaunary 4). Being bored can be good for you—if you do it right. here’s how. Time. https://time.com/5480002/benefits-of-boredom/

Kovelle, K. (2020, March 25). Boredom is OK! Here are 13 ways to help your kids embrace it. Metro Parent for Southeast Michigan. https://www.metroparent.com/daily/parenting/parenting-issues-tips/boredom-is-ok-for-kids/

Zomorodi, M. (2017, April). How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas [Video file]. Retireved from https://www.ted.com/talks/manoush_zomorodi_how_boredom_can_lead_to_your_most_brilliant_ideas?language=en

Posted in boundaries, counseling, emotion regulation, motherhood, parenting, therapy

I’ve Got A Feeling…or two, or three…

Back in March, Tiffany wrote an excellent post about checking in with your emotions. She beautifully described emotions as “a check-engine light for the soul,” and we figured that now is the perfect time for a tune-up. For the next several weeks, we will be checking in with one emotion each week with strategies for both parents and kids to help with identifying emotions, coping with them, and working through them.

As we dive into the world of emotions, I wanted to start us out with a word about the importance of talking to your kids about emotions.

The ideal balance is to have both high expectations AND high responsiveness in our parenting. One without the other is unbalanced (and we will all be unbalanced from time to time), but talking about emotions with our kids is just as important as teaching them discipline and boundaries.

Here are just a few reasons why we should talk to our kids about emotions:

1 – One day your kids will be grown-ups with their own grown-up emotions.

We spend a lot of time and effort making sure our kids know the things they need to know to be successful adults. We teach them math, manners, finances, and French. But knowing how to talk about, cope with, and regulate emotions is arguably the most important tool for success in the adult world. We need emotional regulation to cope with our adult relationships, adult stressors, and adult workplaces. And just like with any other skill, the sooner our kids start working on it, the more practice they will have and the better chances they will have to excel in it.

2 – Emotions help kids self-soothe.

Emotions can be big and powerful, and they can even be frightening whenever they seem to ‘take control.’ Being able to name emotions and the ways they make your kids’ bodies feel not only normalizes what is happening, but it also empowers them to talk about what they are experiencing and take appropriate action.

3 – Emotional health is critical for physical health.

If emotions aren’t processed and regulated, then they can manifest as health problems. Just like a lack of emotional regulation can lead to health problems in adults, the same can result in physical problems for kids too. This can includes symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, or weakened immune system function.

4 – Talking about emotions with our kids give us a chance to connect.

Talking to and teaching our kids about emotions can be hard and exhausting. It can also create more connection with our kids. Whenever we engage with our kids on an emotional level, we have more opportunities for compassion, empathy, and connection.

In the coming weeks, I want to begin by challenging you to become more aware of your own emotions. Here is an emotion wheel to get you started. Our kids are studying us all of the time, so the best way to start the conversation about emotions with you kids is to start leading by example.

Feeling with you,

Selena

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Posted in counseling, goals, motherhood, parenting, screen time, selfcare, summer

Survival Mode to Summertime

Stepping into summertime feels really different this year. Kids have already been at home for months, things are slowly reopening, and many summer plans have been put on hold. So how do we differentiate summer from quarantine life and move out of survival mode to summer mode?

Hopefully things are getting a little more normal for you. As you make this transition, I would encourage you to remember to do what is comfortable and best for your family. If that means socially distancing longer than your friends or letting loose now that the stay at home order is over, you get to make the choice for your family. A great thing we can do for our friends and family members is respect their decisions. On this Memorial Day, you can also take some time to prepare for your summer!

When You Were a Kid

What do you remember about summer when you were a kid? What did you love? What can you recreate with your family? Maybe a backyard kid pool and homemade popsicles made the list or water balloon fights and super soakers. We may have to get a little more creative this summer with safety precautions and not everything open. I would encourage you to make a bucket list with your kids about things you want to do over the summer. Planning and working your way down the bucket list can help get everyone in summer mode.

Reinstate Normal

Anyone still feeling like they are in survival mode? What do you need to implement to get back to normal that is within your control? In our house, I need a better morning routine, and we need to get back to our bedtime routine in the evenings.  Maybe its reigning in screen time or limiting self indulgence as a coping mechanism as discussed in previous blog posts. Communicating expectations and routines is beneficial for both you and your kids. It keeps you accountable and does not take them by surprise.

One on One

In her book, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting, Dr. Markham discusses the importance of one on one time. She suggests doing this daily for fifteen minutes with each child and calling it by your child’s name, for example, “Matthew time.” I realize this may not be feasible every day, but what a great thing for our kids to look forward to when we can! These little ones love spending time with parents. It also creates something predictable in the summer routine.

I hope this new season helps you get into a new mindset as you set out to enjoy some time with your family this summer. Life isn’t normal yet for most of us. We know summer will have great moments and hard moments as all parenting seasons do, but I hope you can enjoy the moment by moment of this season.

Diving in with you,

Andrea

Reference:

Markham, L. (2012) Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. New York: Perigree Press.

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.