Archive of ‘Anxiety’ category

Beating the Back-to-School Blues

Sometimes it feels like sweet summertime will never end. Then, all of a sudden, it’s August and you’re scrambling to get school supplies, sign up for extracurricular activities, and getting used to the idea of waking up at 6AM. Meanwhile, your child is feeling anxious about the new school year, as shown by tearful outbursts, or even declaring they’re not going back to school.  It can seem like this time will always be stressful, but there are concrete things you can do to make the transition into the school year go smoothly for you and your kids. 

Practice School Routines

Get on a good sleep schedule a couple weeks before school starts. This will help alleviate morning grumpiness and help your child be prepared for the school day. Pick out new school supplies with your child and have them packed. This will help your child to feel some control over the process. In addition, let your child help plan their lunches for the first week. This doesn’t mean packing cupcakes and cookies! Emphasize to your child the need for healthy lunches to make them feel their best. 

Get Familiar

If going to a new school, tour the school beforehand, especially if you know where their classroom or locker will be. Your child will feel better being familiar with a new place. Walking your child through their class schedule will help them feel more confident those first weeks. If possible, meet the teacher! Meeting the teacher in a low pressure setting will help your child feel more confident about what to expect from this school year. 

Make New Friends

If your child is going to a new school or one in a new area, set up a few play dates with other children who are going to the same school before it starts. A few familiar faces will greatly ease your child’s nerves! For older children, find spots where kids their age like to hang out. 

Reflect on the Positives

Ask your child what are some of the things they liked best about their last school year. Maybe it was being part of a certain club or sport. See how you can incorporate these things into their new school year to help them get excited about it. 

Identify Fears

Listen to your child’s fears about the upcoming school year. Letting your child talk about any worries they may have will help them release the burden of carrying these fears by themselves. Sometimes all kids need is to be listened to. 

Empathize

Change is hard! Change when you’re a kid can be downright scary. Being nervous is a normal reaction to change. Let your child know that you are there to help them through the process. Point out the exciting parts of starting school, but empathize with them when they’re feeling nervous. Both are necessary to helping your child overcome their fears.

Get involved

Knowing what to expect will help you and your child feel more prepared. Meet members of the community and school so that you know what to expect. Join the PTA or volunteer within your community. Being friends with other parents in similar situations will help you feel less alone and able to conquer this time of transition. If you ever feel overwhelmed by the stress of the school year, meet with a mental health professional who can help you find ways to better balance and manage the stress. 


By: Michelle Beyer, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Karen Burke, LPC-S, RPT-S

Animal-Assisted Interventions with Rio

For many of us, being greeted by your pet after a long day at work is a highlight of our day. Our stresses and worries can float away a little easier when there is an easily excitable animal waiting for us behind the front door. Our pets have the magical capability of helping us forget about all the bad stuff. It’s not surprising that many of us refer to our pets as our “babies”!

As an animal-assisted therapist, I am lucky enough to bring my “baby” with me to work at Austin Family Counseling. Rio, my border collie, is the friendly therapy dog you may have seen around the office. He is usually wearing a bandana and will greet you with a kiss or a full downward-dog bow. He spends his days with me, working with children, tweens, teens, and their parents. With lots of pets and belly rubs throughout the day, it’s safe to say he has a pretty sweet gig.

Rio and myself are certified in animal-assisted counseling and completed our trainings at the Animal-Assisted Counseling Academy at Texas State University (Eat ‘em up, Cats!). Throughout our training, we experienced how powerful and therapeutic the human-animal bond can be.

In my previous blog post, I shared about animal-assisted counseling and how is can be therapeutically beneficial for clients. For this post, I want to share some animal-assisted interventions that I incorporate into sessions with my clients.

Highs and Lows with Rio:

To check in with my clients at the beginning of session, we start with our highs and lows. A “high” is the best thing that happened to you that day. A “low” is something we wish went a little differently. My client shares, I share, and we often speculate about what Rio might share if he could speak. Sometimes clients guess that Rio’s low is that it’s raining outside, that he’s feeling sleepy, or he only got to eat 2 treats instead of the client’s proposed 50. More often than not, my clients theorize that Rio’s high is spending time with them in session (and they’re not wrong!) 🙂

What Would Rio Do?:

I adapted this intervention from a fellow animal-assisted therapist, Wanda Montemayor. Wanda and her therapy dog Chango work with middle schoolers in Austin. Sometimes it is easier for kids to imagine what someone else might do in a situation instead of guessing what they themselves might do. You may have experienced this when your kiddo effortlessly recalls what their sibling did wrong, but find no fault in their own behavior! Not surprisingly, kids are very aware of what a dog might look like when they are scared, angry, or tired. Sometimes, it is more difficult to know our own physical reactions to stimuli that make us scared, angry, or tired. My clients know that if Rio were to ever huddle in a corner, wimper, or hide under his blanket during a thunderstorm, he would be feeling frightened. By guessing how Rio might react to relatable situations, clients are able to verbalize what their own emotional and physical reactions could be.

Emoji Balls:

Dr. Elizabeth Hartwig, the director of the Animal-Assisted Counseling Academy, knew that Rio would be a good fit for this intervention because of his energy levels, intelligence, and eagerness to please. I have about a dozen stress balls with different emotions depicted on them. While Rio and I wait outside of the office, my client will hide the emoji balls throughout the room. When the balls are in place, my client invites us back in. Because Rio is very motivated by anything that can be thrown and retrieved, all my client has to do is ask, “Rio, where’s your ball?”. Rio will then tirelessly search the room for each emoji ball. As he finds each one, he will bring it back to us. My client and I each share a time in which we felt the emotion that is shown on the stress ball. These emotions range from scared, angry, calm, loved, sad, and more. We often like to guess a time when Rio felt that emotion, too. This is an active intervention for all participants, and definitely a favorite of my kids.

I hope this sneak peak into animal-assisted counseling gives you a little more insight into the therapeutic work canine counselors are capable of. If you have any questions for myself (or for Rio), don’t hesitate to reach out to [email protected] or (512) 893-7396.
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To learn more about Rio’s certification and training, check out Animal-Assisted Counseling Academy!

Morgan Rupe, LPC-Intern
Written by: Morgan Rupe, LPC-Intern under the supervision of Kirby Schroeder, LPS-S, LMFT-S
Follow Rio on Instagram at @animalassistedtherapist
Check out the work Morgan & Rio are doing at http://AnimalAssistedTherapist.com

How to Talk to Your Children About the News

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” – Mr. Rogers

The news is everywhere, and children are becoming consumers of the news at younger and younger ages. Not all information is factual, and children might have a difficult time distinguishing between what is real and what is false. Children might also be frightened by things they hear from peers or news outlets. By age level, here are the things parents should focus on when discussing the news with their children.

Children Under 7
  • Keep the news off – children in the age group developmentally do not need to be seeing the news. Wait until children are in bed to get your nightly fix. Keep any pictures that might be violent or distressing out of sight of children, that includes things on the internet! Make sure your computers and tablets have child protections in place that include news channels. 
  • Emphasize that your family is safe – If your child does hear about a tragedy in the news, highlight to your child that your family is safe. Clear up any misconceptions that your child may have about what happened. Although we as adults know that chances are low, your child only needs to know that this won’t happen to them. Children are very black and white at this stage, and might be fearful if they think there’s even a tiny chance of something bad happening to them. 
  • Teach basic safety skills – 
    • Beginning at age 4, knowing how to call 911. Children should know how to call from a parent’s cell phone, and know to answer questions as best they can, without hanging up. 
    • Know address and phone numbers at age 3. Children can best learn this through a made up song. 
    • Know names of parents. 
Children 8-12
  • Ask what they know – they’re getting a lot of information and misinformation at school at this age, so ask first what they know, and correct any misconceptions. 
  • Allow them to ask questions – and answer in an age appropriate way. Take into account your child’s sensitivity. What is right for one child is not for another child.
  • Talk about the news, but filter coverage – Children of this age do not need to see the grisly photographs, but they can know about what is going on in the world in a discussion. 
  • Talk about what you can do to help – they can send politicians post cards or attend an event with you. Encouraging them to help will let them feel as though they are making a difference in the world. 
  • Have a plan – making a disaster or safety plan with your child will give them a sense of control. 
  • Acknowledge feelings – Big feelings during tragedies are a normal and valid reaction. Allow your child to mourn and question when bad things happen. Be comforting but also accepting.
Teens
  • Be open – check in with them and allow them to express their opinions. It’s ok to state yours, as long as you’re not shutting down your teen’s ideas.
  • Let them develop – Teenagers are creating their own morality at this stage, and it’s important for them to question and challenge ideas. Within this questioning is growth, and identifying who they are as a person.
  • Encourage activism – Teens can participate in their world even more than younger children. They can attend meetings and events, and raise awareness about issues that are important to them.
  • Do the same things you would do with younger children, but at their developmental level. Some teenagers might need reassurance from their parents. Some might need an action plan. Be open and aware of your teen’s feelings so that you can do what’s best for them.

No matter what the age of your child, watch for significant and lasting behavioral change from your child when they’ve heard about a tragedy. If these steps are not working to reassure and help your child feel safe, it might be time to seek some professional help. 

Questions? Contact Michelle at [email protected]

By: Michelle Beyer, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Karen Burke, LPC-S, RPT-S


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