Archive of ‘Connection’ category

Mindfulness for Kids: Embracing the Power of Nature

Ahhh it’s FINALLY that time of year when it finally doesn’t feel like a million degrees outside or that you’re swimming in the humidity every time you walk out the door. This year especially, going outside feels particularly powerful and therapeutic (for most – I recognize that this might not be everyone’s experience of nature!).  As Hippocrates once said “Nature itself is the best physician.”  But how exactly does going outdoors help us?  Getting outside activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us and our bodies to feel calm.  It also provides a great landscape to practice mindfulness (paying attention to the present moment on purpose) by providing a fun, ever changing sensory experience (i.e. bird song, leaves rustling, changing colors with the seasons).  It can help children develop and enhance focus/attentional skills and promote feelings of calmness and relaxation. 

Mindfulness Activities

With that, here are some suggested activities to do outdoors with kiddos. (Note: all activities were found and inspired by the book Mindfulness and Nature-Based Therapeutic Techniques for Children by Cheryl Fisher, PhD., NCC, LCPC, ACS)

Color Walk

Purpose: Helps children to focus attention and be present in the moment as they look and match color cards to natural items! 

Supplies: Squares of color (paint samples or you can create your own!)

  1. Choose a color from your deck of color “cards” and hold onto it as you walk.
  2. Set a timer for 10 minutes.  As you begin to walk, look all around and notice all the things that are similar in color to your card.
  3. As you notice something, share it out loud or quietly say it to yourself.
  4. When the timer is done, stop and select another color from the deck and repeat the steps! 
  5. You can follow up with your child at the end of the walk with questions such as: 
    1. “How was it to focus on your card?”
    2. “What surprised you about this?”
    3. “What did you notice?” 

You can adapt this activity to fit the needs of your child.  For example, ten minutes may seem challenging (which is understandable)! Start with setting the timer at 3-5 minutes and work on increasing the time.  It doesn’t matter how many cards you are able to complete-the goals is to develop attentional skills at a safe pace 🙂 

Tabletop Sand Garden

Purpose: To calm and focus the mind by creating a natural scene or environment in the sand box.

Supplies: Tupperware or plastic container with lid filled with sand, bag, natural items found in walk.

  1. Start by taking a walk in nature.  Instruct your child to collect natural items that stand out to them (preferably ones that are not picked but lying on the ground already).
  2. Once your child has collected items, open the sand container.  Place and arrange the natural items to create a scene or a design.  
  3. Follow up with questions such as: 
    1. “How was that for you?”
    2. “How did your mind/body feel while you were creating your scene?” 
    3. “What does this mean to you?”

4.  Once they have time to reflect, take the natural items and ask your child to replace the natural items in a place they choose outdoors. 

If I were a Tree…

Purpose: Art activity to help children express themselves through a natural symbol.

Supplies: Paper, coloring utensil (markers, crayons, pencils, etc.)

  1. Find a spot in nature
  2. Close your eyes and imagine you are a tree
  3. Consider the following questions and read out loud to your child: 
    1. What kind of tree would you be? 
    2. Are you a young tree or an old tree? 
    3. Do you have flowers or fruit?
    4. How do animals live around you?
    5. Do you have deep roots? 

4.  Draw your picture of the tree using paper and coloring materials 

5. Consider follow-up/reflection with prompt such as “Tell me about your creation.”  

Sound Mapping

Purpose: Enhance listening skills for attention and body/spatial awareness

Supplies: Large piece of paper, tape, cardboard, pencil

  1. Find a place outdoors that feels safe.  Put the piece of paper in front of you and secure it by either taping it to a wall (if there is one) or by taping it to cardboard.  
  2. Close your eyes and begin to listen to noises around you.  Take your pencil and “map” out the sounds you hear and draw symbolically what they sound like to you (for example: maybe you hear birds chirping in front of you and you place it on the top of the paper with symbols).
  3. Map all sounds around you with shapes, lines, symbols to create a “sound symphony.” 
  4. Once completed, open your eyes and title your piece.
  5. You can reflect with your child with suggested questions such as: 
    1. “What was that like?”
    2. “Were some sounds easier to recognize? Were some harder to recognize?” 
    3. “What surprised you about your map when you opened your eyes?” 

Each of these activities can be modified to fit the needs of each child/teen completing them.  Part of the process is to be with what unfolds, so if the activities don’t go exactly as planned, that is OK! Mindfulness is a practice that is ever-evolving. 

While I hope these provide a way to harness nature’s power,  my greater hope is that it gives you a fun bonding opportunity with your kiddos in the midst of a challenging time.  Parenting is HARD and I see and value you, parents.  Happy exploring, friends! 

Presley Pacholick, LCSW
Written By: Presley Pacholick, LCSW, RPT


Kings & Queens: Tips from a Therapist on Coming Out

In honor of October being Coming Out Month, I wanted to write a blog very near and dear to my heart. Easily over half of my clients identify as LGBT, non-traditional, non-monogamous, and have some form of a coming out story. Whether they did not feel attracted to the opposite sex, they did not identify as the sex they were born, or the idea of a traditional monogamous marriage was not attractive to them, over 60% of my clients have had to go through the mystical, terrifying, and liberating experience of coming out. 

If you are questioning your sexuality, myself as well as the folks at Austin Family Counseling want to reassure you that you do not have to go through this alone. Coming out itself is a very isolating experience, and given the current pandemic, we need as little isolation as possible. Per my previous blog, social distancing does not mean emotional distancing. When a human comes out to their friends, family, and coworkers, their need for emotional support is so strong as it is one of the most vulnerable times of their lives. 

Below are helpful suggestions from an out-of-the-closet gay man turned therapist to the LGBT community of Texas who had his own share of struggles coming out in early adulthood. These tips are generalized as every person’s story is unique and beautifully different. 

Know Who Your Cheerleaders Are and Are Not

As the great Dr. Brene Brown talked about in her book “Daring Greatly”, all of us in some way, regardless of if we have a coming out history, are walking into some kind of arena in life. We are showing up and being seen, regardless of where we are. And in this metaphorical arena she has so beautifully drawn, all of us have the Support Section. This is the section closest to the arena where the cheerleaders in our lives belong—the people who get the closest and most intimate perspective of our struggles. And these people we absolutely need in our lives when we come out.  Siblings are often the first people who non-heteronormative people come out to first. They can also be parents, close friends, teachers, counselors, mentors, and close relatives. Consider who is going to be cheering you on and in your corner when you come out. Messages like “This does not change how much I love you”, “We are still your friends regardless”, “We love you no matter what” are messages that ideally should be told to someone who is so vulnerable when coming out. 

Being someone’s cheerleader when they come out does NOT sound like: “Well, just don’t hit on me if you are gay”, “It’s okay, I won’t tell anybody”, or “It’s okay, God will forgive you.” There are sadly still families who disown their children for coming out, and in lieu of the recent banning of Conversion Therapy this is a form of emotional and psychological abuse that has no place in our current climate. 

Be Mindful of What Could Change

Since coming out can be such a freeing and liberating experience, it is almost counterintuitive to say that there can be “consequences”. As mentioned above, some families disown their relatives for coming out (the amount of homeless LGBTQ youth makes up 40% of the entire minor homeless population). Some workplaces still discriminate against LGBTQ employees for coming out at the workplace. Though we should ALL be able to live authentically as our out and proud selves, I know several clients and several close friends who have had an adverse experience when coming out to their friends and family. 

Be Mindful of Mental Health

Bias aside, it is almost always better if you have a therapist to stay with you during the coming out process. As mentioned, coming out can be very isolating and is linked to depression, anxiety, compromised immune systems, suicidal thoughts, and drug and alcohol abuse. In extreme cases, some people never come out of the closet and suffer from very high anxiety and feel obligated to live a double life which can be very harmful for mental and physical health. 

Bullying Sadly Still Exists in 2020

I am filled in by a lot of my queer teens and early adults who sadly experience an enormously high level of bullying both in person and through apps like Instagram and Snapchat. Teens who are forcibly outed are prone to suicidal thoughts, feelings of humiliation and embarrassment, and lower senses of self esteem. Having gone through my own fair share of bullying in high school, I am fully empathetic to how painful and scary repetitive bullying can be. 

Bullying for queer people can also be present in the adult world. As women, racial and cultural minorities, and persons with special needs can empathize with, bullying in the workplace is alarmingly common. Workplace discrimination based on sexual identity is still sadly alive and well. However, if bullying in any capacity (from coworkers, managers, supervisors, bosses, etc) is present, it is NEVER okay and does not need to be tolerated. 

FOR TEENS:

If you are an in-the-closet teen and reading this, please know I am here, I am with you, and I am here to help. I have been through some of the worst parts about coming out (before and after) and I can probably relate to the struggles of coming out in a world that is more straight-friendly. Please let me reassure you that you do not have to go through the process by yourself. One of my favorite kind of client is a teen who is going through the coming-out process as I was there not TOO long ago. 😊 If you are not in a place to tell your parents why you need counseling for coming out, feel free to email me at [email protected] with questions about resources I can give you—and there are plenty in Austin! 

Written by: Ian Hammonds, LPC, LMFT

Looking for more resources? Click here!


What Being a Mom Taught me about Self-Care

I think I was in grad school when I first heard the term “self-care.” I remember professors stressing how important it was and then assigning 200 pages of reading and a paper. I would roll my eyes (internally, I think) and then power through the assignments and ignore the self-care. I saw it as a luxury, something that people who weren’t worried about working or going to school did. Now and then I’d paint, journal, or go for walks, but usually only when I didn’t have much going on and it happened naturally. When I was busy, I laughed it off and said I’d do that when I had free time. I could power through the busy times and then relax during the breaks. This worked more or less when I was childless, but when I became a mom I realized that naturally-occurring self-care time was never going to happen, and there was only so long that I could power through before my stress began to show.

It’s not a luxury!

When you have a tiny human depending on you for comfort and soothing, you start to realize how important your own stress level is. As my son became a toddler, this became even more clear—when I felt calm and regulated I could respond to normal (and challenging) toddler behavior with kindness, firmness, and patience, whereas when I was feeling higher levels of stress I was more likely to snap at my son or give into whatever he wanted. Neither of these were effective strategies and left me feeling guilty and ineffective.

I realized that there was no way for me to be the mom I wanted to be without prioritizing my own self-care. I still have days, weeks, and months where I forget to prioritize my self-care. Sometimes the thought of adding it to my agenda feels overwhelming. However, I now know that I have to come back to it, because if I don’t then my whole family will suffer.

You don’t need lots of time or money

Self-care doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive, and it can be helpful to have a few options for the different amounts of time available. For example, if you have 30 seconds you can take 3 deep breaths to calm your nervous system or light a candle with a soothing smell. If you have 1 minute, get a drink of water or step outside. If you have 5 minutes, make a cup of tea, play a quick game on your phone, or do a few yoga stretches. In 10 minutes, you could take a walk around the block, have a snack, or check in with a friend. Of course, having longer stretches of time gives you more options, but as a parent you know that’s not always realistic. 

Self-compassion is key

I also learned that self-compassion is an important part of self-care. There will be times when you aren’t the parent you want to be, and that’s OK. Just like our kids have tough days, so do we. “Feeling compassion for ourselves in no way releases us from responsibility for our actions. Rather, it releases us from the self-hatred that prevents us from responding to our life with clarity and balance.” -Tara Brach 

We won’t always act our best, but if we can treat ourselves with kindness we can let go of some of the guilt, stop beating ourselves up, and instead focus our energy on showing up for our families. And, whenever you do mess up, there’s always the opportunity to repair and maybe even strengthen your relationship with your child. When you take responsibility for your mistakes and make a plan for doing better next time, you are teaching your child that yes, you make mistakes, but you care enough about your relationship to own up to it and try harder next time. 

Living through a pandemic is hard, and parents have so many demands on their time and energy! It may feel impossible to do it all and still take care of yourself, but I assure you that you deserve that care, now more than ever! 

Written by: Magdalen Marrone, LCSW


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