Nurturing Resiliency, Not Fragility

Our community is beginning our fifth month of dealing with COVID-19. It has been a very challenging few months for most folks and especially those with young families. Parents have juggled working from home while providing their own childcare and homeschooling their kids. And summer has brought its own challenges. How do we keep the kids entertained when we continue to try and social distance appropriately? And how to we keep them from staring at screens all day? Tension between teenagers and their parents is often high as adolescents, especially the extroverted, social ones, want to reconnect with their friends and are not especially motivated to follow the mask wearing and 6-feet-apart guidelines. Adolescents, whose developmental task is to figure out “Who am I?” and “Where do I belong?” are temporarily stuck , not able to work through these questions in the context of their very important social structure.

And now everyone has to begin planning for the new school year that will begin in about a month. Our community will be doing remote learning but other nearby communities are planning to do in-person school and trying to figure out how to do that as safely as possible, which will require mask wearing and trying to keep kids 6 feet apart. Either plan is fraught with challenges. The folks who want to keep kids home believe that having them in school is not safe and that wearing masks, staying apart, and perhaps having plexiglass partitions is traumatic for children. Other folks believe that having kids continue staying socially disconnected is traumatic.

My belief is that our culture has become too flippant with the notion of trauma. We toss that word around as if it is a common, everyday occurrence and it is not. Trauma is felt when an overwhelming amount of stress exceeds our ability to cope, leaving us feeling helpless. It’s really important to see that challenge and trauma are not the same thing! All of us are experiencing significant challenges, but most of us and our children are not experiencing trauma. Let’s don’t make this awful situation worse by making up a story that all our kids are being traumatized if they are not. Certainly there are some who are and I don’t want to minimize those experiences…if families have lost loved ones, are dealing with very ill family members, have abusive homes that they can’t leave, have anxiety disorders, are first responders, etc. These families need support and definitely need professional help. But the vast majority of us are experiencing challenge and stress and we can handle it with healthy coping skills!

Times are definitely hard. But we can do hard things! And that is the message we need to be sending our kids. “Yes. This is awful.” “Yes. It really sucks that you can’t go hang out with your friends in the same way you normally do. But it’s not forever and I know you can handle it!”

When my father was 18 years old he and all his friends went off to fight in WWII. We’re asking our 18 year olds to wear a mask and sit 6 feet apart from their friends! Let’s keep this in perspective! Let’s teach our kids how to be resilient, not fragile. Let’s be that example to them. We don’t need to deny our feelings. We can express our frustrations and allow them to do the same. And then we concentrate on what we can control, make a plan, and move forward, focusing on what we can still do not on what we can’t do. Let’s teach our kids that they can handle challenges and that we have confidence in their abilities to do so. Let’s nurture their resilience, not their fragility.

If you need help putting this into action in your family I am here to help.

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Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.  This is an opportunity to discuss a topic that most of us find very uncomfortable but that is a huge health concern in our country…Suicide. We don’t yet have information about how the current pandemic may be affecting these statistics. The most current information is from studies done in 2017. Here is some information that may be helpful:


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2017…

  • Suicide was the 10th leading cause of death overall in the US and the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10-34, second only to accidents.
  • In 2017 there were twice as many suicides in the US as there were homicides.
  • Firearms were the most common method used in suicide deaths.
  • While females attempt suicide more often (and most often by overdose), males are nearly four times more likely to die by suicide.
  • The suicide rate was 1.5 times greater for Veterans than for non -Veteran adults over age 18.

Some Risk Factors

  • Depression, substance abuse or other mental disorders.
  • Chronic pain
  • A previous suicide attempt or a family history of suicide
  • Being exposed to others’ suicidal behavior
  • Family violence
  • Recent release from prison
  • Having firearms in the home

Possible Signs and Symptoms

  • Talk of wanting to die, feeling hopeless, great shame, feeling trapped
  • Talk of being a burden to others
  • Increased use of drugs or alcohol
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Giving away important possessions

How to Help

  • ASK them if they’re considering killing themselves. This is very hard to do but you must ask. Do not worry that asking will put the idea in their mind if they’re not already considering it. Studies show it will not. It actually may be what will keep them from attempting.
  • Ask if they have a plan and do what you can to keep them safe by removing access to firearms or other possible methods.
  • Help them get professional help. Suicidal thoughts or actions should never be ignored.


CRISIS TEXT LINE      Text HELLO to 741741

VETERANS CRISIS LINE 1-800-273-8255 Press 1


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What Are You Learning to Value During the Pandemic?

The Covid 19 pandemic has been horrific. So many have been ill, lost their lives, their loved ones, their jobs. It has been surreal. We have all tried to make the best of it. What I am heartened to hear from so many families is that amidst the challenges of juggling home schooling, working from home, and stay at home orders they are learning to appreciate some parts of their current situation. Many are saying they are enjoying eating meals as a family again, taking walks together, playing games, and doing puzzles, and having family movie nights. The rushing to sporting events and extra curricular activities has stopped…And it feels good! So what does that mean? Could it mean that there are parts of life during this pandemic that your family wants to keep in place when the crisis is over? That maybe the endless rushing to do unimportant things can end? I encourage you and your family to sit down together BEFORE the crisis is over and talk about what has been challenging, but also what you have all found valuable and want to keep in place afterwards. Write it down so you can revisit it later because when the immediate crisis is over and folks go back to work and school and sports we will all be pressured to return to our old ways of being…to rushing and shopping, and eating out instead of cooking together, etc. We are going to have to be very intentional about what we want to keep in place, otherwise we will be convinced that we need to return to all those old ways of living and we’ll forget the valuable lessons we have learned during this time.

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Take an Imaginary Trip

Guided meditation can be very effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety. Often I introduce this method to children by asking them to take an imaginary trip with me. They are almost always willing! So I ask them where they think we should go if we want to feel calm on the inside. They can usually come up with a place but if they struggle with it I give them ideas or we look at pictures and they choose one. Then we close our eyes and “go there” in our minds…Very slowly.  While we’re there I calmly suggest they think about what they see, hear, feel, smell. What colors? Is it warm or cold? Do they feel the sun on their skin? Sand between their toes? Have them experience it in as much detail as possible and guide them very slowly and calmly, breathing slowly and deeply through the process. And after we go through this process (the length of time depends on the age of the child) we gently come back into the room and then talk about what it felt like to do this and how they feel now that it’s over. I encourage them to take these trips at home when they’re feeling stressed. This is guided meditation, although I rarely use that term with kids. It works for adults too, of course. So if you and your children are feeling stressed these days cooped up in the house quarantined together it may be time to take an imaginary trip!

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Staying Calm in a Very Stressful Time

The current pandemic is causing stress and anxiety in varying degrees for most of us. Coming up with ways to handle this stress is going to be important especially since we don’t know how long this is going to last. There are simple techniques for handling stress and anxiety that can be helpful for adults and children as well. During times of stress our limbic system is highly activated. Our limbic system is the part of our brain that controls emotion, among other things. So if we can calm our limbic system we can reduce our experiences of stress and anxiety. Here are some ways to try and do that:

  • Exercise  (Highly effective)Walk, run, bike, do yoga, dance. It really doesn’t matter, just get moving. The research shows that for mild to moderate depression exercise may be as effective as antidepressants.
  • Get out in nature…taking a hike is great but hanging out in your backyard works too.
  • Sunshine
  • Meditation and/or breathing exercises…deep, slow rhythmic breathing
  • Rocking in a hammock or rocking chair ( think rocking a crying baby to soothe her).

Anything that engages your senses…such as:

  • Music-Listening or Playing
  • Warm baths or showers
  • Massage
  • Scents- such as lavender
  • Warm drinks (decaf)
  • Petting your cat or dog

This is not an all-inclusive list but it’s a good start.  What you DON’T want to do is hibernate alone in your dark bedroom in front of a computer screen watching Netflix for hours on end! You will end up feeling sluggish, more depressed and more anxious.  Give some of these suggestions a try!

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Maintaining a Sense of Routine

School is out for an undetermined amount of time.  It could be months before it’s back in session. And most adults are working from home or likely will be very soon. All of a family’s routines are now out the window! This could be a recipe for disaster for family relationships, but I don’t think it has to be. One of the most helpful things parents can do immediately is put some new routines in place. Children fare much better when things are predictable. I encourage you to make a daily schedule for your children just as they had when school was in session. Wake up at about the same time every day and get moving. Put a “homeschool”  schedule in place where kids know at what time they’ll be doing school work and when they will have free time, just as they would on regular school days. Keep mealtimes and bedtimes regular. Make sure to include lots of outside play, rest time, and time for household chores. (Yes. Children need chores). Also include alone time where family members agree to be separated to relax, each in their own spaces. Togetherness 24/7 can be very challenging for even the healthiest relationships! This is a very stressful time for everyone but keeping a predictable routine will be a big help!

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Due to the need for social distancing to prevent the spread of Covid19, all sessions are temporarily being offered via video conferencing. Please contact me through email if you have not received the link for your appointment conference.

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Social Distancing. Now what?

Friends, since schools are closed and many adults are not leaving home for work I’m anticipating a few challenges for families and also for adults that live alone…boredom and loneliness. The temptation for parents is to allow kids to zone out in front of video games for the next few weeks. I really encourage you not to do that. It will increase behavior problems and irritability. Decide now how much screen time your kids will be allowed and stick to it. Otherwise you’ll be in a constant state of arguing about it and negotiating. Maybe this is the time to teach your kids to cook, or read a book together as a family, or  (until the medical community tells us differently) take everyone and get outside. Play in your yard, dig in the dirt, throw a ball with your dog.
Being outdoors is good for your mental health…The combination of sunshine and exercise can actually raise your seratonin level and help with depression and anxiety. One can only “Netflix and chill” for so long without it affecting your mood!

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Preventing Anxiety in Kids about Coronavirus

If you have young children in your care please be mindful about how all the conversations about the coronavirus may affect them. There is really no need for young children to be party to these conversations and it has the potential to increase their anxiety needlessly. Please just cut off the tv when they’re around and have adult discussions when they are not in the room. Let the adults take the proper precautions and protect the kids not only from the virus, to the extent that they can,  but from the hype and anxiety it may cause. Young children are not developmentally capable of appropriately processing this information and they don’t have the same coping strategies that adults do. I’m sure that in the coming weeks I will see kids who are very anxious about this and it’s unnecessary.  If young children do hear about it from others reassure them that adults in charge are taking care of the situation and they don’t need to worry about it. And of course it’s important for the adults to stay calm as well because children will sense our anxiety and it will escalate theirs.

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