3 Ways To Make The Best Of The Back To School Transition

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As summer comes to a close, the transition back to school has started creeping up all around us. Big displays in every store, class assignments coming in the mail, summer camps wrapping it up–it’s hard to avoid. 

And though it is often disguised under the excitement of another year starting, this time of year can be hard for both kids and parents. 

Kids, who have spent the last two months playing with friends, sleeping away at camp, enjoying the sunshine and wide open schedules, suddenly have to get back to a firm routine (scheduled around something they’d often rather not be doing!).  

New boundaries have to be set, new schedules have to be juggled, and parents have to be ready for new conflicts that may crop up in a new class, with a new teacher. A new year of school can bring higher level work, and children who struggle with school work can come to dread this time of year, making it hard on themselves and their parents who are trying to support them. 

Not all children struggle with the transition between summer break and a new school year–some are even excited to get back! A new year means a new class, a chance to make new friends and try new things. But while some children eagerly await the return to school, others fret over the stress, and feel anxiety or wariness at the idea of jumping back in. 

It’s easy to get caught in the Easy Transition = Good Parenting trap. But whether your child transitions from summer into a new school year easily or not is not a judgement on your parenting. If your child has difficulty transitioning back into school every summer, it doesn’t mean they are a bad kid or that you’re a bad parent. It just means you have to find new methods to guide and support them to help them navigate this tricky time of year. 

So how can you help them? 

1). Allow them to feel whatever it is they’re feeling: 

Telling them not to be so grumpy isn’t going to work! If they are dreading the new school year, let them dread it. They don’t have to transform into a kid who is excited to start school again, they just have to start school again. Shutting down what they are feeling won’t make them feel what you want them to. By letting them feel it, you’re giving them the time and space to explore that feeling, to live it, until it passes. Pushing it down won’t get rid of it! Eventually they will get over the grumpiness and adjust to the new routine. 

2). Keep yourself organized: 

There can be a lot of chaos at the start of a new school year! Lots of letters coming in from the school about class assignments, supply lists, paperwork that needs to be filled out, and on and on. Give yourself a designated spot to keep all of the back-to-school papers. And, as soon as you’re given dates: put them in your calendar. You won’t have to go searching for the date of when you’re supposed to do X, because it will already be in your schedule. When you know exactly where to go looking when you need back to school related info,  the stress on you will ease. And when your stress is eased, you’ll be able to better support your child with their transition. 

3). Start the bedtime routine before school starts: 

When your child is on summer break, chances are the bedtime routine isn’t as strictly enforced as during the school year. However, that means when the school year does start they will be out of practice getting into bed and falling asleep in time enough to get a good night’s rest. Kids have to be up early for school, and a good night's rest is very important for them to stay energized, allow for focus throughout the day, and in keeping their mood boosted. Start the transition back gradually. Give you & your child time to get back to the point where the bedtime routine is easy & natural. Then that’s one less stressor you have to worry about once they’re actually back in school. 

The most important part of the transition, is letting your child know you’re there to help them when it is hard. Ask them how their day was, really listen when they answer, offer help if they need it. 

If your child is struggling, we are here to help. Click the button below to see the services we offer for children and how we can support your child.



When the World Feels Heavy

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“There are times when, despite the years of training, education, and experience, there are just no words for what lies between two people in the therapy room. When the grief and pain is tangible, with mass and weight and texture – but with no words. When the images and sounds and the felt sense is so vivid, but language fails to capture experience. And when the only words that come to mind seem trite, pale, and weak. At those times, I am grateful for the eloquence of others. Today, I will borrow the eloquence of one of my favorite songwriters to share my wishes for you.” - Amy Marlow-MaCoy

Therapy can be an intense, emotional experience for people. It is very intimate to sit in a room with someone and talk about personal, private, painful things. Remember that your therapist is there to hold space for you. Sometimes, the feelings that come up in therapy are hard to put into words, so our therapist Amy Marlow-MaCoy wrote a beautiful post inspired by some of her favorite song lyrics to help put the feelings into words.

Amy has words for when the world feels heavy, when the world feels dark, and when the world feels hopeless, so if you’re in a tough place right now, these words may resonate with you.

You can read the full post here!

5 Ways to Empower Your Child

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Sometimes I wish we could bottle up the authenticity of the three year old that feels beautiful in rainboots, a Halloween costume, and bed head. It’s their go-to outfit and they rock it. They feel great in it and they don’t care what anyone else thinks!

As they grow up, they seem to become so much more aware about who is looking at them. That inherent confidence starts to fade and they want to fit-in rather than stand out. Sometimes fitting in comes at the cost at making sacrifices to their true personality.

We can hone in on that natural quality by empowering children and showing them its okay to share what makes them unique. We can do this by:

  1. Encouraging them to recognize their strengths and special qualities: ask them what they like, what they feel good about, and what about their personality they love.

  2. Focus on working hard rather than praising what comes easy: instead of always noticing what they’re “good at” emphasize the importance of working towards goals and the grit it takes to get there.

  3. Celebrate their victories and their losses: successful moments and times of defeat are fleeting moments. A loss doesn’t take away from who they are, but it can be a chance to learn and grow. We don’t want failures to chip away at their self-worth.

  4. Encourage them to share their opinion and show them it matters: Listen to them, ask them questions, hear their reasonings. You’d be shocked at the beautiful ideas they come up with and how they get their opinions!

  5. Have them feel comfortable in owning who they are: confidence doesn’t mean their vain, conceited, or narcissistic. True confidence comes from feeling comfortable in your skin and knowing who you are. Have them compliment themselves or what they’re grateful for about themselves.

If your child could benefit from a safe space to be themselves, learn healthy ways to deal with big emotions, and practice social skill -, please check out our empowerment groups. We teach the basics of building self-confidence and self-esteem so they feel empowered to be themselves even in difficult times. 

Name It to Tame It: Getting Space from Big Emotions

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This is one of my favorite expressions of all time, thank you Dr. Dan Siegel. It ties in emotional awareness and mindfulness in a very simple way. Give this a try the next time you or your child become flooded with a big emotion like anger, sadness, or hurt.

All you have to do is: first, name the emotion.

Ask your child (or yourself- this one’s not just for the kids!) “what am I feeling right now and where”?

Really identify the emotion… If it’s anger chances are there is a more vulnerable emotion under there maybe feeling disrespected, hurt, or rejected. Where is the anger- does it feel like heat in the chest, a fast heartbeat, a clenched jaw?

It’s all the in the pause, people! Those couple seconds can make such a big difference.

Then ask “why?”. Give yourself or your child the space to figure out why does this feel so big, intense, and real.

By taking the time to go through this process it can help lessen the intensity and the reaction. By listening to the body it can give us some clues to what we need; maybe a break from the conversation, a rest, some deep breaths, or a hug.

Resources:

https://www.drdansiegel.com/books/the_whole_brain_child/2/

If your child could use some guidance developing emotional regulation skills, please check out our groups for children. We go over the basics of labeling emotions, noticing where we feel it in our bodies, and practicing mindfulness to develop the ability to diffuse intense emotions.

How Listening Can Lead to More Connection and Less Conflict

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The solution to an argument is very frequently rooted in less talking and more listening. Conflicts, especially with strong-willed kids, can feel like an endless game of tug of war and an epic power struggle. Do you ever feel like you’re constantly saying “why can’t you just listen to me!?”

Kids feels the same way especially after that dreaded N-O word is spoken. They feel like no one is listening to their side, not caring about their feelings, and just not getting it. Even though you may have a perfectly reasonable for saying no, they are feeling totally lost.

If you’re starting to feel like the other person isn’t listening, there’s a good chance they feel the same way too. Resentment, anger, frustration all build up - no one wins. Only when everyone in the dispute can really listen, calm down, and empathize can anything productive occur. If you can show them that you’re listening to them, you might have better luck with them listening to you.

Listening isn’t just important during conflicts it’s important in being a good friend, a great student, and a supportive family member. We all have those people in our lives that when you tell them something they are either waiting for their chance to talk, talk over you, or just flat out don’t listen. It feels so deflating and frustrating. We know how nice it is to have that one person that you know you can count on to be a good listener and who just gets it. It can facilitate really deep connection. When we feel connected, then conflicts can be resolved a bit easier.

In my groups, I always focus on the importance of being a good listener because I know how incredibly valuable in can be to be heard and feel heard. If you think your child could benefit from learning these skills, please click below to learn more.

Turning “friend drama” into a more meaningful connection

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Do you have a daughter that always seems to be wrapped up in friendship drama? Do you struggle to come up with good advice to share with her and maybe even find yourself dismissing it?

When we call our girls’ conflicts, “drama”, we minimize what actually is going on - really BIG feelings and missed connections. Typically, there is gossip, hurt feelings, and taking sides involved.

Parents - we all do this too within our own social circles or even at work! There’s something alluring and bonding about a good piece of gossip! It helps forms new friendships and provides something interesting to talk about, like a difficult friend or a frustrating boss. You have a reason to talk each day “did you hear what so and so did now.” You’ve found a friend!

Although gossip and drama is certainly a way to connect, it is not the best way. It can be superficial and then the thoughts creep in… “I wonder what they say about me if this is how they talk about our other friend.” Instead, we can focus on empowering one another and showing our girls they should empower one another as well instead of using judgement and criticism.

Teaching our youth that they can navigate hurt feelings, rumors, and conflicts in healthy ways will lay the foundation so that they can connect more deeply with those around them.

Engaging in gossip and this type of conflict, takes away from the tons of amazing qualities in your child… they might feel pressured to add to the drama or to create new drama just so they can connect with their peers. This doesn’t showcase their creativity, silliness, interests, hobbies, and values that they all have within. It also leaves them with friendships that could feel unstable.

In our Strong Girls Groups, we talk about the role friendship drama plays in your daughter’s life and offer concrete solutions for them to work through it. We talk about what makes a true friend and how we can be a true friend to others.

If you feel like your 7-12 year old could use some help navigating conflicts in their friendship circle, please click the link below.

How to Support Your Shy Little One

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Does your child often cling to the back of your legs while entering new places, afraid to let go when you leave? When you drop them off at a new activity or party, are they alone in the corner, unsure of how to go talk to new friends?

Navigating this can be such a heartbreaking experience because it’s your parental instinct to just hold onto them so they don’t have to be filled with anxiety. It may feel easier to avoid the experiences that you know might be hard, just so they don’t have to go through the ache of saying goodbye.

Instead of avoiding those tough experiences it can be really helpful to:

  • Give you child the support they need before entering new experiences

  • Ask them what they are feeling and where they feel it in their bodies (swirls in the tummy, racing heart, shaky hands?)

  • Provide them a preview of what will happen and when goodbye will take place

  • Allow them the experience to form connections with others, even if that means you have to do a warm hand off with another trusted adult

This is why groups like our Strong Kids Groups can be so helpful because this is such a safe, fun place to practice handoffs and forming new connections with others! Your child can connect with others who also experience what they do and this will improve their confidence greatly the next time you have to part ways! The more they are able to successfully manage new social situations, the easier it will feel, especially when September comes and they have to start school again or for the first time!

If your 5 or 6 year old could benefit from a fun, play-based group where they can learn new skills to help manage these big feelings, please click the button below to learn more!

Tips for Connecting with Your LGBTQ Youth

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Do you have an LGBTQ child, or loved one, who you find it difficult to connect with? Perhaps you feel that there is distance between you, or that you are not as close as you both once were? If this resonates with you, you’re not alone! This is very common. Many parents and caretakers find it challenging to connect with their LGBTQ youth. However, taking steps to understand where they are coming from can make a huge difference.

LGBTQ youth face unique and difficult life experiences. It can be difficult for individuals who are not part of the LGBTQ community to understand exactly what this feels like. For example, your child may have received messages their whole life telling them subliminally and outright that they are “bad,” they should hide themselves, they are not normal, and they that they will be rejected. Additionally, they may have experienced discrimination, stigmatization, and oppression in the forms of bullying, verbal or physical abuse, social conditioning, and outright prejudice. Unfortunately, children often internalize these negative experiences and messages. This can create problems such as: difficulty with self-acceptance, depressive symptoms, inner turmoil, internalized homophobia, and self-harming behaviors

The good news is that you can help! A little compassion and empathy can go a long way. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to completely understand, or even be completely on board with your LGBTQ youth. But simply letting your LGBTQ youth know that you are on their side can make all the difference! Here are a few tips:

  • Let them know you love them- Unconditional love speaks volumes. Let your child know that you love them regardless of their choices or identity.

  • Validate their emotions- If your youth is upset about an issue regarding their identity or sexuality, honor their feelings. But also encourage and model healthy ways to deal with stress. 

  • Ask questions, make it fun! - Be honest, you don’t always get it. Times have changed! Today’s youth are well versed in diversity vernacular. Brush up on your vocabulary. Open up to a discussion with your child about cis-gendered, pansexual, or non-binary. 

How Do You Want to Grow?

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In my part of the world, this has been the epitome of a beautiful spring weekend. Warm sunshine, a little rain, and that magical spring air that lets you just feel the world coming back to life around you. The earliest blooming flowers have already started showing their faces, and my favorite ones - lilacs - will follow soon. Although spring can be unpredictable, it is a time of awakening, renewal, and growth.

Sometimes the changing weather prompts a parallel internal experience - a spring of the soul, if I may be a little dramatic. I’ve never been much for New Year’s Resolutions, personally, but springtime almost always brings a renewed sense of interest, motivation, and energy toward the rest of the year. It feels natural to begin thinking at this time of how I want to shape and direct my growth in the coming months.

So, I thought I would share that sense of anticipation and forward-thinking with you today, by presenting 5 thought points to help you get into a growing space! Grab yourself a journal, or pull up a keyboard, and let’s get curious about growing.

Ready? Ok, let’s jump in!

How do I want to grow?

I know, I know, Captain Obvious here. But if you don’t know how you want to grow, you won’t know where to channel your energy. Energy is a finite resource. Rather than flailing around without direction and wasting precious energy, think about how you want to grow your life. Are there skills you want to develop? Interests you’d like to explore? Relationships you would like to strengthen or redefine?

For each area that you want to grow in, consider what growth looks and feels like. If you want to grow in assertiveness and confidence at work, what would that look like? How would it feel different than your current sense of yourself? Create a picture in your mind of growing in these traits will feel. How will you stand when you are more confident? Will your posture, your nonverbal communication, or your tone of voice change? What do you anticipate that will feel like?

Imagine, with all the detail you can muster, what it will be like to achieve growth in your chosen area. Visualize yourself embodying whatever skills, traits, habits, or other changes you aspire to make. See it as an event that has already taken place - now you just need to get there.

How can growing in these ways improve my life?

We generally choose goals based on the belief that achieving them will improve our lives in some way. How do you anticipate your areas of growth improving your life? Taking a class in photography, for example, will help you develop your skills with a camera. That could benefit your life by enabling you to take beautiful photos that evoke a profound emotional experience when you view them. On another front, learning to speak in public might empower you to take a more leadership-oriented role at your job. You might even find it easier to handle social anxiety outside of work.

Think about all the ways your chosen area(s) for growth could improve your life. Imagine your life already better in those ways. What does it look and feel like to live in that improved space? Be detailed!

What is keeping me from growing?

Chances are, you’ve wanted to grow in one or more of these areas before. For one reason or another, it hasn’t happened yet, or maybe hasn’t happened to the extent that you wanted. What do you think has contributed to that? Think about what might make it difficult for you to grow in the ways you want to. Are there things you fear about the changes you would make? What kind of risks are involved? Are you afraid of failing?

Are you afraid of succeeding?

If you pursue growth, your life will change. There may be parts of you that are not fully on board with changing. If you feel ambivalent, or anxiety keeps rearing its head when you contemplate growing in your chosen areas, be curious about the resistance. What are your resistant parts worried about? How might they be trying to protect you by resisting change?

How can I tend the soil to support my growth?

Some plants are delicate, and require very careful and particular care. Others are hardy and need the bare minimum. Whether you feel more like an orchid or a dandelion, you will grow best in an environment that supports and nurtures you. So what do you need to create that environment?

Think about the people, places, and things that make you feel good. When, where, and with whom do you feel most safe? Most loved and appreciated? Most you? 

The answers to these questions are what make up your most fertile grounding. Take a moment to imagine being steeped in that care. How can you create that sensation more often? Visualize yourself growing and thriving in this enlivening space. What does it look and feel like? How can you build that around yourself?

How have I already grown?

This is important. Having goals and aspiring to growth is wonderful. A growth mindset reduces stagnation, empowers and enlivens you, and enlarges your world. But a growth mindset should also be balanced with a gratitude mindset - toward yourself.

Now is not the first time in your life that you have grown. What has your journey looked like up to now? What are you building on? Even if you feel like you’ve been stuck for ages, I promise you have experienced growth in your lifetime. As ye olde ska band Relient K once sang, “I struggle with forward motion.” But struggle does not mean the forward motion hasn’t happened.

In your readiness to move forward, take a moment to look behind. Send some appreciation to yourself for the growth you have achieved already. That growth is the foundation for the growth yet to come. Trees grow both into the sky and into the earth. There is value in your history as well as your future.

Grow on, my dears.

Seeing the Hidden Picture: Narcissistic Families in 3D

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Do you remember those old-school 3D puzzle pictures that used to be printed in the comics section of the newspaper? (Remember physical newspapers?) They looked like a bunch of squiggly lines, or a frozen kaleidoscope at first. There was a trick to seeing the image within the squiggles - you had to let your eyes drift out of focus slightly until...there! The image within the image pops out. And once you saw that hidden picture, you saw it every time you looked at the image. What was seen could not be unseen.

I used to hate those puzzles until I figured out how to see the hidden picture. What seemed to come easily to others was a source of frustration to me, until one day - it clicked. Now I was part of that special group, Those Who Could See. For a nerdy tween, this was heady stuff! Once I knew the trick, it was easy to find the hidden image.

Recently, we explored what it’s like to be One Who Can See among those who cannot, and some of the difficulties that can present. Today I want to revisit that status of being sighted among blind, but from a different angle. Today, we’re going to talk about the ups and downs of Seeing What Cannot be Unseen.

Rosy glasses knocked askew

How about another trip down memory lane. When did you begin to question whether your rosy view of your personal history was fully accurate? What made you tilt your head, squint your eyes, and begin to wonder if the picture in front of you was all there was to see?

Many times, an adult child of a narcissist has grown up with a narrative that their family was loving, close, supportive, and above all - “normal” (whatever that is). Narcissistic families have a lot to lose by letting go of that narrative too soon, so they tend to be fiercely protective of it. The first cracks in the frame come when someone begins to question why their felt experience doesn’t quite line up with what they’ve been told. At that moment, the rosy colored glasses begin to slip, and there is an opportunity to see the picture differently. 

Narcissistic parents can provide mountains of evidence of what wonderful parents they were. They do not understand (or do not accept) that the trips to Disney World and outward shows of love do not cancel out the emotional abuse or neglect. Or, if you have a martyr-type narcissistic parent, they will dissolve into guilt-inducing tears at the possibility that they could have been less than perfect. For them to feel ok with themselves, they need to maintain their own personal narrative that they did well. A child’s incongruent experience has no place in their world.

Time for a new prescription

The moment when those rosy glasses slip is a watershed moment. If you take them all the way off and look more closely, you risk crossing an invisible line: the line of Those Who See. Because once you see the dysfunction, the emotional neglect, the distorted version of love that narcissistic families live in, you can’t unsee it. And when you see what can’t be unseen, going back to the way things were before is no longer an option.

This moment is important, life-changing, and potentially devastating for all involved. For the adult child of a narcissist, seeing the hidden picture within the surface image means re-evaluating everything you thought you knew about your own life. Once you see it, you can’t stop seeing it, and you have to make adjustments in your thinking about what that image represents. Letting go of a particular image of your family can be a loss. Learning new terms like enmeshment, emotional proxy, and parentification may be a piece of knowledge you’d rather not take on. But once you see it, you can’t unsee it. 

For a narcissistic parent whose child begins to question their version of reality, the moment of Seeing can be panic-inducing, infuriating, or confusing. In their revisionist world, they created a great life for their family. To have that questioned or denied brings up a host of questions they’d probably rather not explore. Unfortunately, this often means either lashing out or giving a cold shoulder to the child who does not fall in with the party line. Or, failing that, the parent may dispatch flying monkeys to convince the adult child to return to the fold.

For both adult children and narcissistic parents, seeing in 3D changes everything. The relationship will inevitably be affected by how both sides handle their respective responses to this shift in focus.

What if your prescription is mismatched?

Sometimes a client comes to me with an old and very clear awareness that one of their parents is narcissistic or abusive. The other, they are quite sure, was the better parent. That other parent was also a victim, and couldn’t be blamed for not protecting their child. That other parent may be immature in their own way, or perhaps distant, or unwilling to take on the narcissist, but they weren’t as bad. Because at least one of those lenses had to have a rosy tint, or the world is just too dark to tolerate.

Walking around with one clear and one rosy lens means you are probably still only seeing part of the image. And there may be parts of you that absolutely rebel against the idea of really seeing the whole thing clearly. Because what if you let your focus change, and what you thought was a hidden picture of a unicorn turns out to be a chimaera? A friendly dog becomes a wolf? A smile becomes a vacant stare? There could be a lot to lose in seeing the whole picture. Because once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And then you have to decide what to do next.

The ups and downs of seeing the hidden picture

Seeing clearly with both eyes presents options and potential conundrums. Once you see what is really happening below the surface, it’s harder to tell yourself it’s just Mom’s anxiety making her so controlling. Or you have to decide what to do when Dad starts pressuring you to get involved in a dispute that shouldn’t involve you. You have to ask questions and make decisions you may never have had to make in the past. You’ll have to weigh out the potential consequences of each choice and decide which fork in the road you can handle today.

But with those questions comes an awareness. You are still in uncharted space, but now you know there are black holes and supernovae about. You are less likely to be pulled off-course when you know there is something or someone waiting to do so. Sight is a double-edged sword, but at least one of those edges works in your favor. Knowing the danger zones allows you to better prepare to respond to or avoid them.

What's there is there

Ultimately, whether you want to see the hidden image or not, one fact remains: the hidden picture is there. It exists, even if you don’t want it to. Even if you could go back to being ignorant, it wouldn’t make the narcissistic dynamics go away. Seeing What Cannot be Unseen may be hard, but it is less a creation of difficulty than an awareness of what was always there but not always visible.

Take heart in knowing this this. Seeing the hidden picture gives you an opportunity that the rosy glasses folks don’t have - the opportunity to change a pattern. Seeing the whole picture gives you the chance to rewrite a legacy that may have hurt many generations of your family. There is pain in facing an ugly truth - unquestionably. And there are no guarantees that your vision will be celebrated or validated. But in it lies the hope for change. And you are the bearer of that hope.

And that is no small thing.

See clearly, my brave ones.