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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!

 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:

Positive Discipline Resources & Video about routines:

“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

Resilience: What it is & How to Cultivate it in Your Children and Yourself

Resilience: (n.) “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change” (Meriam-Webster Dictionary). Being human means living with uncertainty, change, and hardships, and while we can’t protect our children, or ourselves, from these things, we can cultivate resilience. In a way, building resilience is like preemptive coping. It’s like going to the gym or eating healthily so your body is strong and your immune system is able to fight off the common cold or get you through surgery. Like anything, resiliency takes practice and repetition, ideally in times of lower stress.

Six ideas for encouraging resilience

“Collect Joy”

According to the researcher, and author Brene Brown, “Joy, collected over time, fuels resilience – ensuring we’ll have reservoirs of emotional strength when hard things do happen.” Savor the positive moments, as these happy memories or emotional reserves will help you get through the hard times.  

Encourage Expression

“Resilience is very different than being numb. Resilience means you experience, you feel, you fail, you hurt. You fall. But, you keep going.”

Yasmin Mogahed

I tell my clients on a daily basis that all feelings are OK! Allow yourself and your children to feel. Dance with joy, scribble in anger, cry along with a sad song…whatever helps you release. With children, identifying and reflecting back the feelings they may be having can help them build an awareness of their emotional states.

For example:

“I can see that you’re feeling sad because it’s time to leave your friend’s house and you were having so much fun…”

Teach Problem Solving Skills

Instead of solving problems for your kids, help them come up with solutions. Have a brain-storm session where any and all ideas are welcome (even super silly or unrealistic ones). Let your child try the solution they decide on and follow up with how it went. If necessary, help them choose another option to try. Family meetings are a great way to do this on a weekly basis. Check out this great resource to learn about how family meetings can help your household.

Have Compassion for Yourself and Your Children

Have you ever lost your temper and yelled at your child or your partner? Or burned dinner? Most of us have! And we can learn a lot from our mistakes. After all, mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn!  Instead of beating yourself up, think of two things: what you can do differently next time, and all the times you didn’t burn dinner or you breathed through a challenging interaction. Children can be incredibly forgiving, so if you apologize, let them know how you were feeling, and identify what you plan on doing differently next time, you’ll not only be strengthening your connection with them, but showing them that we all make mistakes and that’s OK!

Cultivate Supportive Relationships and Ask for Help When Needed

This can look many different ways: joining a community group such as a church or service organization, engaging in hobbies with others, connecting with your child’s school or focusing on building stronger connections in your family. Ask for help when you need it (note: everyone needs it at some point)! While it may feel uncomfortable, I believe that asking for help is a skill that should be taught and applauded.

Show Faith

Showing faith means giving your child the tools to deal with difficult situations instead of solving them for your child. Children learn from the reactions of the adults around them, and when adults consistently do things for a child that they could do themselves, the child may internalize the message that they can’t be trusted. Showing faith doesn’t mean leaving your child alone to fail, but instead letting them know that they are capable and that you are there if they need you. 

By: Magdalen Marrone, LCSW

Caring for the Caregiver, Part 2: Managing Caregiver Stress

Part 1: Caring for the Caregiver

It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.
–Hans Selye

Life brings with it a few guarantees: death, taxes and stress. Stress is universal, and we all experience it from time to time. A reasonable amount of stress is actually thought to be helpful: it can be a source of energy that moves us toward change. Sometimes, however, circumstances are such that the stress involved seems almost overwhelming.

By: Shannon Haragan, LPC-Intern Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

By: Shannon Haragan, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

If stress is defined as the gap between our expectations and our reality, this is a constant for the Alzheimer’s caregiver. As any chronic and incurable disease progresses, new normals are a steady force that bring with them new realities that often defy our expectations. Chronic stress of this type can impact not just our emotional and mental health, leading to depression, anxiety, and more, but it also can have a profound effect on our physical well-being.

Stress and Your Physical Health

In a recent study, the stress of caregiving was found to have a significant negative impact on the physical health of caregivers. Three-fifths of all caregivers rated their physical health as “fair” or “poor” compared to one-fifth of non-caregivers. Caregivers also experience chronic conditions (including heart attacks or heart disease, cancer, diabetes or arthritis) at nearly twice the rate of non-caregivers. According to the National Center on Caregiving, the stress of caregiving also causes a decreased immune response. Studies indicate that caregivers have a 23% higher level of stress hormones, and a 15% lower level of antibody responses.

Although the perception of stress is subjective (what’s stressful to you may not be to somebody else), there are several factors that can influence our perceived level of stress in a caregiving context:

–Is the caregiving voluntary or not? Were you forced into the role because nobody else was available?
–How well have you coped with stress in the past? This is a strong predictor for how you will cope with it now and in the future.
–What was your relationship like with the care receiver before the diagnosis? If it was a difficult one, higher amounts of stress if more likely.
–What kind of support is available to you?


Caring for the Stressed-Out Caregiver: Steps

Clearly, stress management and reduction should be important goals for caregivers and for anyone who supports a caregiver. Though there is nothing that can be done to improve the long-term outcome of a care receiver diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other type of dementia, there are definitely things that can be done to help reduce stress in the caregiver, which ultimately helps both the caregiver and the care receiver:

  1. Learn to recognize the early signs of stress. Everybody’s different. What happens when you get stressed out? Is your sleep impacted? Your temper? Your eating habits? Are people commenting on changes in your appearance or behavior? Know yourself, and become familiar with how stress manifests for you, so you can recognize it while it’s still in a manageable stage.
  2. Identify your sources of stress–even those not associated with caregiving, as these can directly impact your caregiving abilities. The possibilities are wide-ranging and very subjective, but can range from financial stressors to the care receiver’s diminishing abilities to the negative attitudes of people close to you and much more.
  3. From this list, figure out the items you can change, and those you can’t. This one can be the most challenging, as most of us would like to believe we can change the unchangeable. Be willing to look objectively at those things you can’t change, and foster a sense of acceptance. Educate yourself on the disease and identify any unrealistic expectations you may have for the future. Focus on the things you still have, rather than what you don’t.
  4. For those items that can be changed, take action. Try to make sure each part of you is being cared for: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Seek out resources and be willing to accept support. Take small steps. Seek meaning in the journey.

    Those who have a ‘why’ to live can bear with almost any ‘how.
    –Viktor Frankl

Give yourself permission to take care of you. In order to better care for your loved one, you must learn to first care for the caregiver, and this includes managing caregiver stress.

November is National Family Caregivers Month! If you know a family caregiver in need of support, now is a great time to offer a word of encouragement or even to ask how you can help to reduce their stress.

(Sources: The Caregiver Helpbook, 3rd edition, AGE of Central Texas)

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