4 Tips for Taming Tantrums

It’s a typical night.  Laundry’s piled up in the corner, you’re scrambling to get dinner ready and the kids are arguing.  You feel overwhelmed and on edge. You walk on eggshells in your own home, fearing you’ll set off another tantrum in your 4-year-old.  It’s useless because your 7-year-old will come right behind you and purposely trigger the little one into a raging fit.  You can’t talk to your husband about it without fighting.  Things can’t continue like this but you aren’t sure what to do.

There are other options.

Temper tantrums are very common for children ages 2-6 and can be difficult to manage. Below are a few tips that can help tame tantrums and increase peace in the home.

1) Reflecting feelings– Instead of getting upset and snapping at your child reflect her feelings back to her. This shows empathy and that you hear your child. For instance, “Susan, you’re very angry that you can’t have a McDonald’s happy meal.  You’re frustrated.  I understand not having McDonald’s tonight is hard for you”.

2) Give choices- In the midst of the tantrum, try giving your child some choices. The great thing about this option is that they are choices you pick and are comfortable with. For instance, “Connor, I understand that you don’t want to eat your vegetables but throwing them on the floor is not an option. You have three choices- eat three spoons of your vegetables and you may have a scoop of ice cream for dessert; eat two spoons of your vegetables and you may have half a scoop of ice cream, finish all your vegetables and you may have two scoops of ice cream. You may also choose not to eat your vegetables; however, then you choose not to get ice cream. The great thing about this solution is that you are in the driver’s seat the entire time.

3) Provide a safe space- sometimes children get really overwhelmed with their emotions and just need a break (hey don’t we all). If your child frequently has temper tantrums, providing a small, safe space for them to escape to really helps. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just throwing a blanket over a chair will work. I recommend setting aside a designated place so it will be a consistent, safe spot. Throw in a few sensory appropriate materials in there as well – a fuzzy blanket, a sequin pillow, etc. It’s important to communicate that this isn’t a “time out” or a “punishment” but a cool off spot for them to calm down in. Allow your child to pick out the blanket or pillow that goes in there.

4) Physically work through it together- work through the tantrum with them. Many times children don’t necessarily throw tantrums to be mean or make your life miserable. They simply get too overwhelmed with their emotions and that is their way of coping with their big feelings. Wrap a blanket around them and hold them while they scream and cry. Rock them. Soothe them. Being physically held will help your child resolve their tantrum quickly.

As a registered play therapist, I help parents resolve difficult issues that are disrupting their family, such as tantrums. Play therapy is a well-researched modality that uses selected toys in which children express themselves with. I have never had a child come into my office, sit on my couch and say, “Well, school was terribly frightening today; we had another terrifying fire drill and Bobby and his friends bullied me on my way home; I do believe this explains the terrible nightmares I have been having in the past few weeks”. Instead, children play out what may have happened at school and thus work out their issues through play.

Play therapy is a very effective modality in treating social issues, ADHD, anger management, behavioral issues, sibling rivalry, school issues and defiance/control issues.

To learn more about Play Therapy and its benefits, plus information about having a free phone consult with me, visit me HERE.

Wishing you the best…

Crystal

Crystal Lillard is a licensed professional counselor and Registered Play Therapist at Georgetown Child & Family Counseling.  She specializes in working with children and parents in creative ways to help families get to a healthier, happier place.

Do’s and Don’ts of Homework Battles

Is homework ruining your family evening time?

For a lot of folks, it’s a dreaded and lengthy battle each night.

Kids come home physically and mentally drained from their day at school. Parents are getting off of long days at work and equally exhausted.  Throw in some afterschool activities to juggle around and it can be a huge challenge finding time to get the homework in.

If your child struggles with focused attention or any other area of learning, the task of getting homework done can be especially painful.

How to Find the Homework – Home life Balance

The reality is that for most children, homework is an expectation of school.  It’s important for parents to be supportive of this while also fostering independence and being mindful of a balanced life for their child.

Your child’s whole self and wellbeing are important. Homework is important, but handling it doesn’t have to be such a struggle.  Below are a few ‘Do’s and Dont’s’ that can make the evening homework routine run smoother.

 Homework Do’s and Don’ts


DO:                Be supportive of your child’s teacher.  If there’s a problem, talk to the teacher.

DON’T:           Criticize the assignments or the teacher.


DO:                 Provide quiet study time in a well-lit place.   Play instrumental music in the background if that helps.

DON’T:           Have your child do homework on their bed, or with tablets, TVs or other distractions around.


DO:                  Ask your child’s teacher how much time homework should be taking.  Communicate if your child is struggling at home.

DON’T:          Spend all evening on homework or excessively worry about your child failing or getting ‘behind’.


DO:                 Chunk work into smaller steps and take breaks if your child struggles with work endurance or focus.

DON’T:          Go on homework marathons.


DO:                  Check work for accuracy, neatness, and completeness (as they get older, give them more independence with this).

DON’T:           Do your child’s homework for him/her.


DO:                  Give kids a chance to have a snack/play before they start working.

DON’T:           Wait until around bedtime to get started.


DO:                  Encourage effort.

DON’T:           Praise perfection (this discourages risk-taking).


DO:                  Enjoy family time and have dinner together.

DON’T:           Spend evenings yelling or fighting over homework.


DO:                  Encourage play and physical activity like sports or dance.

DON’T:           Overschedule your child or over emphasis extracurricular.


DO:                  Consider professional help (tutoring, mental health) if needed.

DON’T:          Just assume it will get better without interventions.


Know When To Seek Help

If your child is having excessive difficulty with homework, it could be a sign of something else going on like ADHD. Other common problems include learning disabilities (like dyslexia) or sensory processing issues. Or it could be that your child needs glasses.

Before you assume that your child is simply misbehaving, rule out all other possible causes. Talk to your pediatrician and your child’s teacher and evaluate the need for additional services if the problem persists.

Keeping Perspective

You want your child to do well in school.  But in the end, your relationship with your child and their positive self-image is much more important.  The dread and negativity that come along with homework battles are not good for your relationships at home, your mental health or for your child’s mental health.  Keep a school-home communication open and positive, set up the environment for success and do your best.

Your child is so much more than their academic self.  Find positives in the every day and highlight the strengths of your child.

Wishing you happy homes and peaceful evenings-

Jenna

Jenna Fleming, LPC, NCCJenna Fleming is a licensed professional counselor serving kids, teens, and parents in Georgetown, TX.   Her group practice offers counseling servicescourses and classes to support families in getting on track and staying that way.

A Parent’s Guide to Childhood Depression

The CDC reports that suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth.  Increasing stories in the news are bringing to our awareness the seriousness of childhood depression.

Many parents feel overwhelmed, frustrated or frightened by the topic.  It’s important to shed some light on the issue so that we can recognize the signs and understand strategies for helping.

What is childhood depression?

Depression may be present when your child…
• Has an irritable or sad mood for most of the day. Your child may say they feel sad or angry or may look more tearful or cranky.
• No longer enjoys what used to make him happy.
• Has drastic weight or eating changes.
• Has a big change in sleep patterns (too much or too little)
• No longer wanting to be with family or friends.
• Is no longer able to do simple tasks because of lack of energy
• Has low Self-esteem. Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
• Is unable to make choices or has trouble focusing.
• Has little or no care about what happens in the future.
• Experiences aches and pains when nothing is really wrong.
• Has started self-harming (cutting) or having frequent thoughts of death or suicide.
Any of these signs can occur in children who are not depressed, but when seen together, nearly every day, they are red flags for depression.

“Normal” teen behavior vs. Depression

The teen years are hallmarked by change and independence.  Hormones are going crazy, the pleasure center of the brain is magnified while the frontal lobe (decision-making) is muted. Normal teens are: moody, challenging, affectionate one day and a jerk the next.  Sigh.

But every child is different and so knowing your particular child or teen is essential so that you can recognize when BIG shifts occur in personality, behavior or habits.

Red Flags

Any actions of self-harm or talk of suicide should be taken seriously as well as major shifts in the symptoms listed above.   You can also take the PHQ-9 assessment: Depression Screener PHQ-9_English

What should I do if I think my child is depressed?

Pay attention, validate emotions and encourage your child to engage with others.  One-on-one time with parents, pointing out strengths build the parent-child bond.
Tend to physiological needs– sleep, hydration, nutrition, medication.  The basics for good mental health include a healthy diet, enough sleep, exercise, and positive connections with other people at home and at school.
• Tell your child’s doctor. Some medical problems can cause depression. Your child’s doctor may recommend counseling or medication.
Limit screen time, monitor use of electronics and encourage physical activity and connections with others.
Talk about bullying.  Being the victim of bullying is a major cause of mental health problems in children.
Consider getting professional counseling support, where they can risk assess and develop a plan, help your child process emotions, build coping tools and strengthen tolerance of distress.
Support healthy coping skills for your child:  Find relaxing ways to deal with stress, talk and listen with love and support, help your child learn to describe their feelings, break down big tasks into smaller steps, focus on seeing things in a positive light.

When Safety is a Concern

• Treat any thoughts of suicide as an emergency.
• Weapons, medicines and alcohol should be locked up.
• Follow your child’s medical/mental healthy treatment plan. Make sure your child attends therapy and takes any medicine as directed.
• Develop a list of people to call when feelings get worse.
• Watch for risk factors, which includes talking about suicide in person or on the internet, giving away belongings, increased thoughts about death, and substance abuse.
Suicide and Crisis Resources: 
• Bluebonnet Trails Community Services: http://bbtrails.org/ 1-800-841-1255
• Suicide hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE, 1-800-799-4889 (for deaf or hard of hearing)

Have Questions?  Want to Start Counseling?
Contact us for a free phone consult.

 

We’re here to help!

Jenna

Jenna Fleming, LPC, NCCJenna Fleming is a licensed professional counselor serving kids, teens, and parents in Georgetown, TX.   Her group practice offers counseling servicescourses and classes to support families in getting on track and staying that way.

10 Tips to Help with Your Child’s Anxiety (in difficult times)

Anxiety is an unpleasant and a real emotion.   Life has ups and downs and at some level, we all experience anxiety from time to time.

Amplified Anxiety

A tendency of people who feel anxious is to be attracted to behaviors that worsen the anxiety.  Behaviors such as over-thinking, excessive media watching or withdrawal from others tend to make anxiety worse.

We’re all seeking comfort and security.  Those times when anxiety increases, we need to be on ‘top of our game’ with self-care, boundaries, and tools to prevent anxiety from spiraling.

Common Triggers

Periods of transition such as the start of the school year, a move or changes in home life can create feelings of uncertainty and increase anxiety.  Our environment plays a big role as well.  A high pressure, tense environment increases stress.  And community tragedies- as we are experiencing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey- impacts even those who are not directly touched by it.

If your heart pours out (as does mine) toward our brothers and sisters impacted by the recent events in the news, please channel your energy into action while also being mindful of boundaries and your self-care.

10 Tips for Helping Kids

Children are impacted by changes, environment, and the turbulence in the world.  Below are 10 tips for helping your anxious child and preventing anxiety from snowballing.

  • Respect and validate your child’s feelings.  Remind your child that all feelings will eventually pass and encourage him to use words to express his feelings and needs. Ex. “I feel___.  I need ___.”
  • Teach your child deep, slow, belly breathing.  Don’t underestimate its effectiveness because it’s simple. This very portable skill can manually regulate and calm the body.  Try “Box Breathing”- Breathe in for 4, hold for 4, out for 4 and hold for 4 (repeat).  Try a whole song’s worth in the car.
  • Filter and place limits on technology and news media. The messages that come through technology can cause disturbing mental images and confuse the brain, making symptoms of anxiety worse- and often causes additional issues.
  • Soothe the senses. Engaging in the senses helps to ‘ground’ a person who feels ‘swept away’ by emotion.   Try: calm music, diffuse lavender, fidgets (things to do with our hands), chamomile tea, lower lighting before bed and avoiding caffeine.
  • Listen to your child and ask “Tell me what you are thinking?”  This will help to reveal scary thoughts and scenes that build up in your child’s mind.
  • Rather than swooping to reassure, ask your child “How likely is (that thing you’re afraid of) to happen?” You’ll be teaching him to challenge his anxious thinking.
  • Prompt your child with “Tell me some things you can do to handle this situation” and help her to brainstorm, rather than just giving her solutions.  She’ll feel empowered.
  • Let go of “mental health days” “skip days” or other ways of avoiding feared situations.  This tends to make the anxiety stick more firmly and leads to further avoidance and regression.
  • Recognize when you are anxious and say aloud what you can do to calm down and solve the situation.  Avoid over thinking, catastrophizing or perseverating on stressful topics. You’ll be modeling boundaries and coping for your child.  Modeling is the most powerful way to teach. 
  • Celebrate every small step and have a playful, light heart!  You got this!

The world is full of uncertainty, but I am certain about one thing- LOVE always wins.  Make small steps toward healthy habits and stay grounded in LOVE.  This is the path of healing.

I wish you a calm spirit, a peaceful home…

…and may God shine His Grace and Blessings upon Texas.

With great hope and love,

Jenna

Jenna Fleming, LPC, NCCJenna Fleming is a licensed professional counselor serving kids, teens, and parents in Georgetown, TX.   She offers counseling servicescourses and classes to support families in getting on track and staying that way.

Separation Anxiety: What it is and How to Help

Separation Anxiety

“I don’t wanna go!”

Oh…it’s a dreaded battle!   Going off to summer camp, staying with a relative or starting a new school year can trigger some big emotions and behaviors in kids.

Many parents find their child’s anxiety overwhelming or embarrassing.

It creates family problems- even resentment.  Parents aren’t sure what to do.

Firm parenting can escalate things and a soft approach can perpetuate the problem.   Parents argue about who’s tactic is ‘best’ and it’s now an all-consuming issue!

SIGH…

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is an issue that happens with lots of kids (and adults).  It’s the excessive fear or distress that can happen when kids think about separating from home or from the people they’ve become attached to.

In early years, separation anxiety is normal (even healthy).  This developmental anxiety usually ends at around age 2, when toddlers begin to understand that a parent may be out of sight right now but will return later.

As a disorder, separation anxiety happens when a child has more anxiety than the expected level for their age.

With a separation anxiety disorder, children may cling to their parents excessively, refuse to go to sleep without a caregiver, need someone with them at all times or be reluctant to attend camp or sleep at friends’ homes. Kids may also have physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea or tummy trouble.  They may have excessive worries, nightmares or irrational fears.

Separation anxiety disorder is the most prevalent anxiety disorder in children under the age of 12.

Diagnosed as a disorder, the symptoms must cause a problem in school, social or personal function.  In children, the anxiety symptoms would be present for at least 4 weeks and in adults at least 6 months.

How is Separation Anxiety Developed?

The cause of separation anxiety disorder is unknown, but there are some common threads.

  • Major stressors (such as a loss, divorce or disaster)
  • Overprotective or intrusive parenting
  • Inherited genetic or family patterns
  • Many cases have no known trigger

What you can do

Most parents feel overwhelmed by the issue, but the best gift you can give your child is a healthy parent.

So receive this as permission all you Moms, Dads, Grandparents and Caregivers… Take good care of yourself.  

Our brains have mirror neurons and our children are very sensitive to us by reflecting (mirroring) back what is modeled to them.

Many parents with anxious children struggle with anxiety themselves.  You may feel you can ‘hide’ this from your children, but you are fooling yourself. Just as you can feel the tension between two arguing people without being told about their tiff, your child can also feel your anxiety even when you try to hide it.

Healthy parental self-care is essential.

For older children and adults, counseling and changes in parenting approaches can also help.   I’ve written an article on helping children with anxiety with more information and helpful ideas.

For younger children, here are some tips:

  • Keep healthy snacks available (unstable blood sugar makes emotions difficult to handle…in other words, avoid ‘hangry’ moments)
  • Keep a routine or schedule.  When changes occur, help your child by keeping a calendar or making them part of managing the schedule.
  • Avoid overly processed foods or sugar.  These foods encourage inflammation in our body, which is associated with anxiety and depression.
  • Keep your child hydrated.
  • Have nighttime routines and limit screen time (particularly before bed).
  • Make sure your child is getting regular physical activity.
  • Treat the anxiety seriously and react with understanding, patience, and confidence: “I know you don’t want me to go away right now, but I will be back after school.” Do not tease or be unkind by saying things such as ‘Quit acting like a baby‘.
  • Stay calm and matter-of-fact.
  • Be flexible and firm.  Giving into your child’s anxiety will often make the problem worse, but being inflexible can escalate the issue and create a traumatic experience.  Stand firm, but think big picture and offer some flexibility where you can.
  • Communicate with your child’s teacher and show confidence to your child that you have trust in the school.
  • Give lots of love and attention. Young children learn faster when they receive necessary attention and affection.
  • Practice short-term separations and build up your child with positive reinforcement when they show independence.
  • Do not sneak away from your child. While tempting, this approach will lead to problems with trust and usually increase anxiety.
  • Role play upcoming scenarios like the start of school or a visit to Grandma’s.
  • Avoid over-labeling your child as anxious or giving too much attention to the anxiety.  What you feed grows and what you starve tends to wither.
  • Help your child with calm, deep breathing exercises.
  • Don’t feed into the negative anxiety-provoking thoughts, rather, help your child to redirect their thoughts more positively

Keep moving forward

Most importantly, just keep going…

As with most things, there is no magic or quick solution to ‘solve’ anxiety.   Focus on progress, not perfection and guide your child to make appropriately-sized steps in the right direction.

Breaking down these types of big issues can be overwhelming.  Sometimes seeking help from a professional such as a counselor or having an outside perspective can help.

I’ve also created a downloadable tool that can make it a lot easier.  Scroll below and it’s yours for free when you sign up for my monthly newsletter.

I wish you all the best…

Jenna

Jenna Fleming, LPC, NCCJenna Fleming is a licensed professional counselor serving kids, teens, and parents in Georgetown, TX.   She offers counseling servicescourses and classes to support families in getting on track and staying that way.

5 Tips for Happy Family Trips

Family Trips

Ever grabbed chocolate from a box, expecting your favorite caramel square…only to find it was loaded with that weird cherry goo?  Ugh!

That taste just doesn’t go away easily!

What a waste!  All that anticipation just to get a disappointed.

(sorry, cherry lovers)

In all seriousness- lots of folks plan months in advance for the perfect family vacation expecting one thing and getting another.

You spend hours booking flights, finding that right place to stay and packing bags.  Vacationing takes time, money and energy.  Of course, you want it to be enjoyed!

But sometimes when it comes to actually taking the trip-  it can end up feeling like anything but a vacation.

The kids are whining, parents are stressed and everyone’s frustrated.

(That cherry goo doesn’t sound so bad now, huh?!)

Listen…vacationing doesn’t need to be so aggravating.

Having some fun with the whole family can be within reach.  It just takes a little planning ahead and getting into the right mindset.

Here are some Tips:

 1.  Define your desired outcomes– We all want enjoyable vacations, but what that means can be very different for each person.

The number one reason for conflicts in families is communication issues.  Ask your family what their expectations are.  For one person it may mean going on new adventures, for another, it could be to relax.   Those are very different expectations!  Get clear on what everyone wants so that you can avoid catastrophe.  Not everyone will get their exact ‘made-to-order’ vacation and that’s okay.  The act of clearing up communication alone can stave off a lot of frustrated, invalidated and unhappy moments.

2.  Decide what’ll get you there-  Knowing what is the first step, planning how is next.

Don’t fret if family members have different expectations.  It’s really common for one partner to want a relaxing vacation, another to want an adventurous one and the kids just want to play!  Ask your tribe “What will help us have the vacation we want?” You may be surprised how much there is in common.  For instance- whether a person wants an adventurous, relaxing or fun-filled vacation, it’s likely they want the family to be able to get along.  Talk about these things.  It really helps by creating awareness and ownership of everyone’s part in the family experience.

3.  Plan for the tough moments-  Think about what may block the good times from rolling.

Fights, excessive tattling, begging Mom/Dad to buy something or bedtime battles can turn Paradise Island into the Island of Aggravation.   Does your son need a special blanket to sleep well?  Could your kids earn spending money before the trip?  Do you know your daughter misbehaves when parents are stressed?  Do you get stressed if you don’t have an itinerary- or just the opposite?  Know thyself!  Know thy family!  Plan accordingly.

4.  Take proactive measures–  The best way to deal with difficult behavior is to prevent it.

Having the knowledge of what makes a great vacation is wonderful, but insight is almost useless without action.   Decide what’s in your control, what predicts the outcome you want and what’s the best leverage to get you there? How can you best plan for the bumps so they don’t send the whole family off track?  Start verberizing what you know will help.  Then use the Nike method- just do it!

5.  Have the right attitude– Vacationing is a great time to unplug from our familiar world and dive into something new.

The change of pace can be refreshing, exciting and sometimes unpredictable. The only guarantee is that things won’t always go exactly as expected.  And that’s okay- Life’s really about moving with the flow, not against it.  These summer days won’t last forever and this time with your family is precious.  Having the right attitude helps with your own stress and it spills out into your whole family, making it enjoyable for everyone else, too.  Be present, laugh and enjoy the little moments.   If you get caught up in a moment of stress (as we all do), breathe, smile, and ask yourself “What’s the worst possible outcome?“.  Often it’s not so bad.

The best adventures are colorful ones filled with highs, lows and wild times!

And there is no such thing as a perfect path- just enjoy the one you’re on.

Family life is quite the adventure.  A little planning and having the right attitude can help us to relax and enjoy a bit more of the vacation we all want!

And you may want to even grab a few chocolates for the road (btw…the cherry ones actually aren’t so bad once you have a few…it’s mostly the shock factor that gets ya).

I wish you the very best adventures ahead…

Jenna

Jenna Fleming, LPC, NCCJenna Fleming is a licensed professional counselor serving kids, teens, and parents in Georgetown, TX.   She offers counseling servicescourses and classes to help families enjoy life more fully and get to a smoother, healthier path.