Archive of ‘Conflict’ category

Find Your Peace in a Calm Down Place

Toddlers have a funny way of outwardly showing how most of us feel inwardly, especially lately. I am sure most of you experience the toddler meltdown that can come simply from blocks falling over, to a sibling touching their favorite toy, to not liking how you cut up their sandwich. We all have a mental picture of what this moment looks like, right?

After many of these moments happening at my house, I decided to implement something I teach to other kids and families often. The idea of a calm down place. The idea is as simple as it sounds. It is a tool used in schools often, and it can easily be adapted to your specific home setting. 

Cultivating the Space

The first step is to gather things to put in the calm down place. Depending on your child’s age, I would suggest getting their input for the items. For my two year old he wanted cookies only in his calm down area, so I picked most of the items. However, he has since added a few of his own items (see below).

Pick A Location

The second step is to decide where and how this area will look and what will be most helpful for each specific child. You know your house and child best. Maybe one kid likes this area in the loud and busy main space of the house and another may want it in a quiet small closet. I would also encourage you here to get your kids input. For my house, a small plastic bin with a lid works best given our space constraints, baby crawling sister, and want for it to be easy to transport from room to room as needed. Think outside the box as to what would work best for your child and for your space. 

Practice

The last step is to take time to teach and practice using the calm down space. It is a new idea and with any new concept, children need time to learn and practice. It may not go well the first or 24th time you practice and try using it. I would encourage you to help find a few times when the calm down place could be used successfully. This may mean that you suggest using this area before a full blow melt down happens. Once a child has felt some success they are more likely to repeat what helped them feel better. Finally, after you and your child have calmed down, it can be helpful to check in and have them identify what they were feeling and what helped them successfully calm down. You can model by sharing your feelings and how you calmed down as well. Celebrate the successful calm down. The length of time it took is not important!

Examples

Here are a few ideas and pictures of how simple this idea can be to bring to life. Some items that are helpful to include are something sensory, like a squishy ball, hard smooth toys or stones, musical items, art items (if your child can be trusted to keep supplies on paper), or a soft blanket. Another item we love at our house is books. Books of any kind work; feelings books, picture books, or novels. I also like to include some form of feelings identifying tool. This could be feelings cards, a journal, or a feelings faces chart. Get creative and have fun building this special place with your kid. 

I have learned the more your kid can help in creating something the more they will use it.  

Also, don’t leave your older children or yourself out! Do this with your teen or by yourself. 

Books pictured above include: Ravi’s Roar, Little Monkey Calms Down and Calm Down Time.

Couldn’t we all use a place and a reminder to recenter and find our peace?!?

Written by: Kirby Schroeder, LPC-S, LMFT-S

Interested in even more ways to find peace during this stressful time? Check out this blog.


Your Child’s Misbehavior May be a Clue That They Need A Routine

I’m writing this blog 6 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, however, I think this topic is helpful during any time of change, transition, and stress.  When things become unpredictable in our lives, adults and children alike experience a desire to have more control and autonomy.  For children, their brains are still rapidly developing, and they lack the years of experience that adults have to weather times of change. Children and teens are being dramatically impacted during this global pandemic, and at Austin Family Counseling (and in our own homes) we are noticing increased worry, anxiety, withdrawal, acting out behavior, and more clues that children need extra support. 

One strategy parents and caregivers can teach is the practice of creating routines. Side note: I’m a BIG FAN of routines, and have actually made a routine out of Back to School Routines (see my  blog from 2014 when my kids were 4 and 2 – now they are 10 and 8! https://austinfamilycounseling.com/back-school-morning-hustle/)

 When students go into a new classroom, there are daily tasks, activities, and rules they engage in under their teacher’s guidance. With practice, these become their new routines at school. Kids as young as age 3 can tell you their school routine – this is when we have outside time, eat lunch, etc.  With preparation and practice, parents can help children develop routines for daily living at home.  

Regardless of whether you are homeschooling, attending school virtually, going back in person, or a hybrid model, with the start of our first pandemic school year here in Texas (and all over the world), consider the following reasons that routines might be just what your child needs. 

Routines provide comfort and structure.

While plans for school, the health of our families, parent job stress, and so many other things around us are spinning, a plan for the day that guides children – “First, I do this. Now, I do this” – allows children to relax and focus on the tasks at hand.  This is a place where they have some control.  Inviting them to co-create their routine with you is so important – use the blank chart below or create one of your own to plan together.  Give choices like “would you like to get dressed before you come down for breakfast or after?” or “What are the 3 things you want to do before you come downstairs in the morning?” or “Would you like to schedule your outside time in the morning or in the afternoon?” 

Routines become the “boss” instead of the parents and caregivers.

When you co-create your routine together, you are making an agreement with your child that this will be how the day goes (consequently, if you dictate their routine or lack of routine, you are making an agreement with your child that you will be on standby to entertain them or keep them busy).  Be sure to build in things they look forward to.  At my house, we have agreed that screen time is from 3pm to 5pm each day.  Because this hasn’t changed it has become predictable, and we can check the clock together so see “how much longer” until they can get on, or my kids can see what they need to get done before being allowed to have their devices. Because we’ve agreed in advance,  I can say “what’s next in your routine?” or “What did we agree we would do from 11-12 today?” pointing to the routine as the “boss” rather than me. 

Routines that are developed by the child give them a sense of autonomy and promote confidence and responsibility. 

 If you start using routines today with your children, how proficient and confident do you think they will be after practicing for 2 years? Or 6 years? Or 8 years? My oldest will likely be moving away to college or to a work study in 8 years – I can’t wait to see how his sense of autonomy and responsibility will have grown! 

Here are some resources for ROUTINES:

Check out this article from the CDC with tips and info about the routines: https://www.cdc.gov/parents/essentials/structure/index.html

Positive Discipline Resources & Video about routines:

https://www.positivediscipline.com/articles/routines-tool-card

“The challenge of parenting lies in finding the balance between nurturing, protecting, and guiding, on one hand, and allowing your child to explore, experiment, and become an independent, unique person, on the other.”

Jane Nelsen (Positive Discipline for Preschoolers: For Their Early Years)

Written By: Lora Ferguson, LPC-S, AFC Founder & Co-Director


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

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