Archive of ‘Preschooler’ 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

Parenting Your Preschooler

Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott’s Positive Discipline views children’s behavior that looks and feels like misbehavior as discouragement, or the feeling that they don’t belong. This paradigm shift can help parents respond in a different way, ultimately changing the child’s behavior and the parents’ feelings of frustration, anger and helplessness. In this article, we will focus on parenting the preschool-age child, but most of the concepts can be applied loosely to all age groups.

By: Jennifer Alley, LPC

By: Jennifer Alley, LPC

Part of successfully responding to your child’s “misbehavior” is to understand the meaning behind the behavior. Children generally want to behave well and when they aren’t, it’s usually with good reason. For example, they may be acting out to get more attention (which means they want to be noticed and involved), to gain power or control (they want to help or be given choices), to get even or have revenge (they are hurting and need their feelings recognized and validated), or they have given up (they need to be believed in and shown in smalls steps how to be successful).

Another important tip for parenting your preschooler is to be consistent with your expectations. Respond kindly and firmly to negative behavior. Children don’t understand when you are inconsistent or when something is sometimes okay and sometimes not because you are too tired to enforce a rule. Let your love for them be evident in the way you interact with them (be explicit about your love and care for them).

Redirect instead of using “no when possible. Instead of telling your child what not to do, share your expectations or what they can be doing. You might ask for their help or turn tedious tasks fun by making up a competition.

Encouragement and recognition motivates children to continue behaving in positive ways and will get much better results than scolding or only paying attention when your child does something “bad.” Praise your children for positive behavior, and build on their strengths.

Because children are emulating the behavior they experience at home and with important adults, focus on your own responses and behaviors. If your goal is to raise a respectful, caring, responsible adult, you must model these behaviors when with your children (toward them and others). Instead of punishing your child in the heat of the moment, it can be helpful to take a time out yourself to collect your thoughts, calm down, and then thoughtfully respond to your child.

Developmental Considerations for Preschoolers:

  •  Until age five children are much more interested in what/how they are doing something rather than the goal or outcome. Be patient and give children time to be process-oriented when possible. When you are running short on time, set clear (but kind) expectations ahead of time to improve cooperation.
  • Recognize your child’s physical perspective and limitations to increase feelings of competence and to decrease frustration. For example, buy a footstool to allow your child to wash his/her hands independently. Or, get down on their level when you are having a conversation with them instead of talking down to them.
  • Children have a difficult time understanding the difference between what is real and what is not. Instead of disciplining children for what might be perceived as lying or for developmental difficulty in understanding reality versus fantasy, try to accept your child’s fears and listen to his/her feelings.
  • Mistakes are inevitable- strive to recognize your child’s mistakes as an opportunity to learn.
  • When your child does lie (which they may do at this age), listen and avoid shaming or punishing. Fear of punishment or shame often encourages children to lie! Instead, work with him/her to understand the truth as well as the value of honesty. And remember to model honesty yourself.
  • The preschool years often bring questions about anatomy and defining who they are. When asked, try to remain calm and approachable. Use accurate terms when describing anatomy, but avoid giving a great deal of detailed information about sexuality to small children as they don’t need it at this point.