Archive of ‘Children’ category

Anxiety in Children: What is Normal? (Part 1 of 2)

It can be difficult to know as a parent when your child’s anxiety is reaching a point where they need help. What is considered normal nervousness and stress, and what are some red flags that could clue parents in that it’s time to get help? In this two-part article, I will be discussing what’s normal, reasonable anxiety, and what are some signs that it’s time to see a therapist.

Normal Anxiety

All children will experience some fear and anxiety throughout their life. In fact, it is developmentally appropriate that children experience nervousness when faced with something new or stressful. This fear is natural, because it signals the brain to proceed with caution when facing a new stressor. Sometimes even exciting things can first be seen as fearful to children.

Children experience these normal anxiety-provoking situations by backing off, seeking assurance from parents, or having shaky confidence for a while. When the child has mastered the situation, this confidence will grow again, and you will see your child overcome their initial fear. Parents can help their children to overcome these fears by accepting and listening to their child’s concerns, soothingly correcting any misinformation the child might believe, and gently encouraging the child to take one step at a time until this fear is conquered. Being gentle and loving during this time is the key to helping your child overcome lingering anxiety.

Typical Childhood Fears

Early Childhood – At age one, children are healthily attached to their caregivers, and might be fearful of separation. This gradually improves until around kindergarten age, where this separation anxiety gets better. Children ages 3-6 might have trouble distinguishing between what is real and imaginary, which is why children of this age can be scared of people in costumes, the dark, under the bed, etc. During this early childhood period, children might fear sleeping alone, but this again usually resolves by kindergarten age.

Later Childhood – In elementary school, children are exposed to new and more realistic fears. These can include storms, burglars, fires, and getting sick, to just name a few. As they grow, and gain real world experience, children begin to understand better that these are not likely scenarios. In middle school, children begin to get really anxious about fitting in with peers, and how to act in social situations. They also begin to have performance anxiety, as they begin to excel in their chosen academic or extracurricular activities. High school age children still worry about social status, but also about their identity, and acceptance in the group that they want to be in. At this age, teenagers also begin to worry about the outside world, morals, and their future.

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

6 Communication Strategies You Need to Know for Your ADHD Child

There are several learning curves to raising a child. Let alone one with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). At times, it can feel frustrating, overwhelming, and confusing, but it can also feel rewarding, successful, and loving. In my experience working with children and parents, communication seems to be an especially challenging area. Here are some questions to consider to help increase satisfaction and connection in communicating with your child.

How Do You Know They Are Listening?

Listen and learn from your child to see how your child acts when he or she is listening. Although most people use consistent eye-contact to relay listening, this may not be possible for your kid with ADHD. He or she may not be able to maintain eye contact with you and may fidget during a conversation. This does not mean the child is not listening, but likely that he or she listens differently. Maybe ask your child, “how can I know you are listening?”, “how can you show me you are listening?”, or “what can I do to help you listen?”. Employing your child to help will encourage him or her to find coping strategies on their own, and will allow you and your child to problem solve together when challenges come up. This could mean providing your kids with a “tool” to use when listening – like a ball to squeeze or toss.

How Do They Need Directions?

It can be difficult to give simple, step-by-step directions when we are in a rush or trying to get something accomplished quickly. Although it feels counter-intuitive, it is important to provide simple, direct directions to our children with ADHD in order to be most effective. Try to give only one or two steps at a time. This will help your child accomplish the tasks without getting too overwhelmed, and will provide better results for yourself in the end.

Can You Get Creative?

Every child is completely unique and often require different strategies from one another. However, we also know that children with ADHD respond very well to visual aids. Many children with ADHD struggle with routines because of all the information to remember. Take bedtime for example. They may need to take a bath, brush their hair, brush their teeth, put on their pajamas, read a story, etc. This is hard to do when there are siblings playing, parents completing their own tasks, spiraling thoughts, and many, many other distractions. For many ADHD kids, having images to refer to can help. Create a printout with simple images illustrating the necessary bedtime tasks like teeth brushing, a bathtub, PJs, and whatever else is on their routine list. Put them in order and place the list somewhere that is easy for them to see, like the fridge or their bedroom door. When they get off track, ask them what picture is next on their list or have them pick which task from the list they would like to complete now. This is just one example of a creative method to encouraging children with ADHD to remain on task, create focus, and help prevent you from feeling frustrated.

What Choices Can You Give Them?

Children can not always have the final decision on when to go to bed or go to school. But you can encourage them to play a part in it. Ask them what clothes they want to wear or where they would like to sit in the car? It can be small, but giving them these choices help them focus on one task at a time, and feel heard and invested in.

What Part Do You Play In The Situations?

We always need to look within and see how we impact the frustrating situations. One of the biggest complaints for parents is loosing their temper or control. Children sense this and often respond strongly. It is important to stay calm and speak softly. This will help prevent stimulating the ADHD child so they can remain calm also. If they react strongly, step away and begin something calmly and quietly that they will want to participate in. This will help show them how to regulate in a healthy manner, and give you time to breath and calm as well.

Can You Help Set Your Child Up To Succeed?

You may be the parent, but children still have a need to understand. Let the child know your expectations before an event or experience. Remember to keep it simple and easy to understand, maybe bring a ball or toy they can hold on to, or ask them what they need in order to follow your directions.

Parenting an ADHD child can be challenging, but it can be easily managed when we learn to be creative and listen to our child’s needs. Be kind to yourself and your child. You are both learning. If you make a mistake, go back and make amends. Show your child what it means to follow up, and adjust when something has not been done correctly. Reward the positive behavior- yours and theirs. If you get overwhelmed, seek out a parenting or support group. Maybe find a counselor for yourself or your child. You are not in this alone!

Austin Therapist Grace Shook, LPC-Intern

By: Grace Shook, LPC-Intern
Supervised By: Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

What I Wish My Parents Knew About Childhood Mental Illness

Dear Mom and Dad:

1. Be Patient

This is all new for me. I am still learning how to identify and name all my emotions, and understand what is happening in my body. With this mental bully, I am having to learn all that any child my age would learn on top of what my bully brings. It will take me time to learn to regulate all this, but I will. Please be patient with me on my bad days. There is no quick fix, and it may take some trial and error before I learn how to manage it. It may even shift and change how my bully presents over time – I need you to walk this journey with me as I learn and grow.

2. Show Me

I am looking to you to help me learn how to regulate and manage my emotions. When I am in a bad moment, remind me how to calm myself by talking soft and slow, taking breaths with me, and helping me talk through what I am experiencing. Stay open with me, and help me fight the feelings of shame and blame that my bully loves to use against me.

3. Help Me Find Support

You do not have to carry all of this on your own. Please help me find support in my school, with other family members, in counseling, and other outside areas so that I know who or where I can go when I need extra support. Mom and dad, seeking counseling for me or yourselves is not a sign of weakness or failure, but a place where we can receive the support we need.

4. Ask Me

Sometimes it helps when you ask me how you can help or what I need in that moment. The coping skill that works for one situation may not always work for another so please ask what I am feeling and help me talk through what might work. It will also help teach me how to self-regulate myself for when you are not around and need to cope.

5. We are Not Alone

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 13% of children aged 8 – 15 face mental illness, and half of all chronic mental illness begins around age 14. Many children and adolescents face this and work to overcome it. You are not in this alone. There are many parents struggling with a child who has their own kind of bully. Let them help us, and help me feel normal. I am not the only one facing this and neither are you.

6. This is Not Your Fault

This is not a poor reflection on you. You are amazing parents. My mental bully is not due to any mistakes you could have made or an indication of your failure as a parent. I am lucky to have you to love and support me while we battle and grow in this together. This is part of our story, but it is not all of it.

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By: Grace Shook, LPC-I
Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S


Note from the author:

As a child therapist, these have been some of the things I have heard from children and think are important for parents to hear. It can be terribly difficult to watch your child face mental illness. Maybe your heart aches with fear, loneliness, and helplessness, but there is support for you and your child. You are not going through this alone, and we would love to help you walk through this chapter together.

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