Archive of ‘Back to School’ category

Back-to-School at Austin Family Counseling

Reframing Common Conversations

Woohoo it is time to go back to school! I am sure that many of you parents, guardians, and loved ones of school-aged children are experiencing a complex mix of emotions as the summer wraps up. It is perfectly natural to experience some anxiety regarding issues such as childcare, scheduling, and the overall transition; however, it will be a great benefit both to you AND the children if topics related to school are discussed in a positive manner. I would like to share my tips for reframing/rephrasing these conversations in order to decrease anxiety and motivate everyone to put their best foot forward this school year.

“I am nervous about making new friends.”

Instead try- “Wow I am so excited for you to make even more friends this year! How wonderful it is to have the opportunity to meet new people while still treasuring the memories you have with your current group.” This reframe using positive psychology will encourage socializing without focusing on the possible grief of losing friends. Another tip would be to ask your child to host a playdate at your home with someone new!

“You have to make your own lunch now because you are too old for me to do it.”

Instead try- “I am so proud of your growth and maturity that I am trusting you to make your own lunches now. Ask me if you need some help, but I am confident you will do great.” Some kids are not quite ready to grow up and accept new responsibilities, although it is often necessary, so this reframe emphasizes their strengths. If you let them know you believe in them, then they are more likely to believe in themselves.

“You will need to work extra hard this year because I do not want to see your grades fall behind.”

Instead try- “If the schoolwork seems more challenging this year, remember that most of the other kids probably feel the same way. Do not be afraid to ask your teachers and friends for help because working together is the best way to succeed.” We all want good grades and success for our children, but sometimes the pressure of new teachers, harder courses, and change overall can be too much for an anxious student to absorb. This reframe still promotes hard work in the classroom, but also reminds the child that they are never alone in their worries.

“I cannot deal with all of this; school, you kids, work, and keeping it all together”

I want to preface this reframe by validating that parenting is the hardest job on earth, point blank. Sometimes we say things that are maybe too adult for them to hear and we wish we could take them back, or we get caught up in the moment of our own distress. It is healthy to be honest with your children when you are struggling because then they learn that all humans go through hard times; however, it is important to phrase your statements in a way that the kids will not take personally and internalize as being their fault. Try this- “I am very overwhelmed right now. I will be okay, and do not need you to worry about me. However, I might need a little extra help from you until I feel better. Thank you for being such a good listener.”

If you made it this far, I hope you have a better idea of how to broach stressful topics with your little ones. Nobody is perfect, so please be kind and patient with yourselves if these conversations do not come naturally- all good things take practice! As long as you are willing to learn, then your children will have the motivation to learn from you and grow this upcoming school year. Good luck and have fun 🙂

Written By: Jennifer Sacco, LMSW Supervised by Doran Oatman, LCSW

Supporting Your Teen Through Applying to College

The college application process is an exciting time for any family. Your child has decided to further their education, consider different career paths, and begin the first stage of their adult life. You are proud of them and simultaneously anxious about the choices they will make. This is one of the most uniquely stressful times in a teenager’s life, and it can be easy for any parent to feed off of their child’s stress and worry about whether they are making the best decisions for their future. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you help your child navigate this transitory time.

Encourage them to seek joy

I recently had a parent session with the father of one of my clients who is a junior in high school. He shared with me that his son’s school counselor looked at his choice sheet for his senior year classes and asked him, “Where is the joy in your schedule?” This is such a beautiful reminder that teenagers need balance. Even though AP and IB classes look great on college applications, you have an amazing opportunity to demonstrate to your child that it is necessary to prioritize their mental health and focus on things that make them happy. Start a conversation with them about their schedule. Be curious about the subjects they are interested in, and take note of the electives, sports, fine arts, etc. that make them come alive. Ultimately, colleges pursue students who jump off the page. GPAs and test scores can make an application stand out, but admissions officers are not looking for robots. They want to see students who have passions and varied interests. Reinforce that your child is human, and this is the time in their life to try new things and decipher what makes them feel joyful.  

Help them prioritize their overall wellness

There are so many things that demand high schoolers’ time and energy. Your child is likely coming home feeling exhausted from balancing assignments, tests, extra-curricular activities, friendships, studying for the ACT or SAT, and completing college applications. This often involves overextending themselves and putting their wellness beneath the things on their to-do list. It can be hard to balance helping your teen stay on top of their responsibilities with inspiring them to care for themselves. Here are some behaviors to look out for that indicate your teen needs help to put themselves first:

  • Irritability 
  • Trouble sleeping or oversleeping 
  • Appetite changes 
  • Withdrawal
  • Sluggishness 
  • Decreased interest in previously enjoyable activities

Remind your child that they will not be able to perform the way they would like to in their classes or on their standardized tests if they are not regulated, well-rested, well-fed, and well-connected. Most importantly, children learn by example. If they see you prioritizing your wellness, they will follow suit.

Be patient 

There are many moving parts to college applications like login information, resumes, deadlines that vary according to school, recommendation letters, essays, transcripts, and more. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that houses executive functioning, organizational skills, impulse control, and decision making, and it does not fully develop until around age 25. With this in mind, it can be difficult for teenagers to keep track of all the things they need to acquire and submit for their college applications. They will have plenty of questions for you, and they will need your assistance to stay on track. Listen to their concerns, reflect and validate how they feel, and collaborate with them to find solutions to their problems.

Seek professional help

Teens have many things to consider when they apply to college. This process brings up various existential questions like “Who am I?” “What is my passion?” and “What do I want to do with my life?” It is beneficial for teens to have a safe, confidential, and non-judgmental space to address these questions. Meeting with a therapist can empower your child to care for themselves and face this uncertain time confidently. If your child needs support with the logistical aspects of the college application process, here are some referrals for wonderful college counselors in Austin:

Rebecca Putter of Putter Academic and College Experts

Jen Hendricks of Hendricks Education

Kendall Guess of Path to Admissions

Your teen is looking to you for encouragement, support, and guidance through this incredibly turbulent time. Above all else, remember to focus on connecting with them and maintaining a curious disposition as they communicate their interests to you. Trust that they have the skills within them to see this process through and make decisions that align with their values and desires. Additionally, trust that you are capable of pacing them through this time while helping them embrace their autonomy. 


The Two-house Two-step

Whether recently separated or long since divorced, the transition between parents’ homes is a challenge for parents, teens and children alike. Giving your child as much heads up about when the transitions will happen, how they will happen, and updating them on any schedule disruptions is a great way to start, or reset, the Two-house Two-step. Here are a few other tips on co-parenting through home transitions: 

Clear and Consistent Expectations

Expectations and guidelines might differ between co-parents, but the expectations and guidelines at each home should be clear and consistent. Despite the constraints of two parenting styles, your child gets the benefit of TWO, loving, safe homes.

Create Routines and Lists

Parents and children should establish a drop off routine together and allow for adjustments and flexibility along the way. Create a shared list of commonly forgotten/important items of the child’s. Allow your child to edit and update this list freely and clearly reference the list during pack-up/drop-off times. A routine and list provides structure and helps build your child’s trust in the transition process. 

Give Grace

We all know how stressful a move is for an adult. For some children, the two home shuffle can feel like a lot of mildly stressful mini-moves on a set schedule. Even with a great transition plan and the most responsible children, expect there will be the occasional forgotten item when transitioning from home to home. Give your child some grace when things are forgotten; their brains are also transitioning! 

Validate Their Feelings and Model Problem Solving Skills

Identify comfort items and important, unduplicated items such as schoolwork. Validate your child’s discomfort and any other emotions they are feeling as a result of forgetting to transition an item. Of course it’s frustrating your teen forgot to bring a project due tomorrow but they remembered to bring their phone and 3 backup chargers. Of course it’s frustrating when your 9 year old forgets their soccer jersey the night before a game but remembers to bring all their Halloween candy. Instead of another lecture about remembering important items, consider modeling adaptability and problem solving skills. Calmly talk through your options with the child on whether retrieving the item is appropriate and feasible. 

Recap Your Time Apart

Establish a pick-up ritual with your child. Children may feel they are “missing out” on fun activities or bonding that happens while they are at their other home. Spend a few minutes recapping your time apart and talk through any upcoming events or reminders. 

Communicate With Your Co-Parent

Avoid using your child’s possessions as a co-parenting weapon. If a consistent pattern of forgotten items presents itself, please consider contacting your co-parent when neither of you are with the child, such as during the school day, to come up with a solution. 


1 2 3 4 8