Tackling Childhood Fears, a counselor's anecdote

I have a 3.5 year old, who, admittedly, watches more TV than he should that is suitable for older children. At 2:30am I hear the quiet creaks coming down the hallway floor and a little voice say, "I'm scared. I'm scared of The Joker." My first response was "The Joker isn't real, he's just a character on TV," but I knew this wasn't enough nor was it validating.  Children need empathy and a creative reworking of their perceptions and experiences that allows them to perceive a sense of control over a fear. Fortunately I could use his imagination to guide him in managing his fear instead of falling prey to his fear. 

Me (adapting a song he has learned at school): "You are so big and strong and mighty. There's nothing your God can't do. He's on your side.   

Son: Will he fight the Joker? 

Me: He will fight for you and win! 

Son: I want the Avengers to put the Joker in jail.  

Me: And lock it with a key.  

Son: But what if Joker break through the jail? 

Me: God will put one of his angels in front of the jail to guard it. He has a big sword.  

Son: Are there enough angels to fight the bad guys?  Will they circle around them?

Me: Yes the angels are strong and mighty too and will fight to keep you safe. You are safe, strong, and mighty. 

This conversation along with some snuggles in bed tamed his worry and he was able to fall back asleep after I left his room. The following article Helping Your Anxious Child Overcome Bedtime Fears gives fantastic ideas for taming a worry brain and moving to a more regulated state. The strategies are not exclusive to bedtime fears. You can find it here.

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When In Doubt, Connect

A few words on what to do when you don't know what to do. The following blog post is suitable for anyone who has a relationship in any capacity with someone else. I hope that keeps it broad enough. In my practice I facilitate strengthening the parent/caregiver/child relationship. However, the following same principles apply to romantic relationships, friendships, teacher/student interactions, workplace relationships, etc...

 

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It's not often that I quote myself, but when I do, it's because I struck a chord I needed to hear myself. In parenting or in other relationships we may find ourselves at a loss, confused, desperate, hopeless, discouraged, or hurt. It's in those times that we should respond with love and connection.

How do goals of behavior affect our responses?

I  frequently talk with parents about a child's goals for misbehavior--that behavior is goal directed and children are trying to fulfill a need. Adults do the same thing except our misbehavior looks differently, but is rooted in the same needs.

In our relationships and interactions with others, we automatically assign a story to our beliefs about ourselves, about others, and about our situations. These beliefs will trigger emotions which trigger a reaction. This reaction is trying to fulfill a need.

When we are are feeling discouraged, challenged, hurt, confused, or hopeless in our relationships, it would serve us well to reflect on what might be the other person's goal and what might be our goal.

Power/Control, Inadequacy/Fear of Failure, Revenge, Attention

1. Goal: power and control. The belief behind power/control is: I belong or I am valued when I am in control or proving no one can boss me. 

2. Goal: avoid inadequacy. The belief behind inadequacy/fear of Failure is: I don't believe I can belong so I'll convince others not to expect anything from me. I am helpless and unable. It's no use trying because I won't do it right. OR I will do everything I can to avoid being perceived as inadequate.

3. Goal: hurt, get even. The belief behind revenge is:  I'll hurt others as I feel hurt. I can't be liked or loved.

4. Goal: attention. The belief behind attention is: I am valued only when I am being noticed. I'm only important when I'm keeping you busy with me.

What's the best response?

To change a negative attitude you're holding about an individual, you'll need to uncover the underlying belief or goal that's creating your unhappy feelings. Begin by asking whether you believe people, in general, are doing the best they can. Researcher Brene Brown has discovered that believing that you and others are doing the best you can requires compassion. "You may not be absolutely sure about the intention behind someone's behavior, including your own. But being compassionate is about cultivating the attitude that normally people do their best with the tools they have. Compassion allows us to believe that we can all learn from our mistakes, enabling us to grow and change." (ThePropelPrinciples.com)

What's the most generous possible interpretation of the intentions words, and actions of others? (Brene Brown)

Equally, what's the most generous possible interpretation of our own actions? 

1. Identify goals of behavior with the most generous possible interpretation.

2. Evaluate whether your reaction is responding to their need/goal AND whether your reaction is self serving your goals of behavior. Are you reacting out of your own sense of inadequacy, need for control, from feeling hurt, or to be recognized?

When in doubt, do something that connects or communicates love.

When we feel at a loss for an appropriate response or don't have the time or emotional energy to calculate goals or beliefs, respond in a way that connects, preserves a relationship, or communicates love. (Remember, another person's response to your extension of connection does not determine your adequacy or value).

Offering connection or love does not imply permissiveness nor does it allow someone to take advantage of or walk all over you. Brene Brown recommends Living BIG: Boundaries, Integrity, Generosity. "Setting boundaries means getting clear on what behaviors are okay and what's not okay. Integrity is the key to this commitment because it's how we set those boundaries and ultimately hold ourselves and others accountable for respecting them." (Brene Brown, Rising Strong).

Llama Llama book giveaway

We want to honor the late Anna Dewdney's final wish: to read a book to your child. We are giving away 2 copies of Anna Dewdney's Llama Llama books. A book will be shipped to you and a book will be shipped to a foster family or foster home of your (or our) choosing. (Domestic shipping only). To enter this giveaway, please comment below with your favorite Llama Llama books and your email address. A random drawing will be held September 14. 

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How Do We Start the Play Therapy/Counseling Process? What parents can expect

When parents begin to notice a child's functioning or well being is being affected by a life circumstance or behavior, speaking to a mental health professional is an appropriate first step. At the Playroom Lubbock we do not require a pediatrician referral. You can simply call our office to ask questions, tell us a little bit about your concerns, and book your first appointment. In fact, when you call inquiring about play therapy/teen activity therapy you will speak directly to Kelly Martin, LPC. Once you book your appointment, Kelly will send via email the necessary consent forms and intake paperwork through a secure client portal. Unless you have custody papers or prior assessment evaluation reports, you do not need to bring any other paperwork to the first session. 

  The first session 

The first session is a parent only session with our children's counselor and play therapist, Kelly Martin. There are several topics that will be discussed during this 45 minute session: 

  1. Kelly's practice policies and privacy policies
  2. Stages of play therapy
  3. Background history of the child
  4. Goals the parents have for both the child and for themselves  
  5. A treatment plan for therapy

  

Warm and inviting office for parent sessions. 

Warm and inviting office for parent sessions. 

The fourth session 

Prior to the 4th session, Kelly will send a parent report form for the parent to complete. This gives them the opportunity to record changes, rate progress, and jot down questions or concerns. Every 4th session Kelly and the parents/guardians come back together for a session to discuss progress, changes, review goals, and to provide support to keep the therapy process moving forward. We continue this cycle of 3 child therapy sessions followed by a parent session. 

 Value of the parent

Parents and guardians are also an agent of change in the therapy process. Parents know their children best and their insight, perspective, and observations are valued and helpful to the counselor in her work with their child.  

  

Raising Confident, Capable Kids in a Performance Filled Culture

Children who come to believe that our love, praise, or affection is contingent on their pleasing us and doing what we want them to do become the most vulnerable of all people.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

I have been silently taking inventory of our culture's and many families' perceptions of performance and raising confident/capable kids. What stands out the most is the unintentional reinforced value that performance has on self-worth. What also stands out are misconceptions of grace and confidence which affect children's perceptions of life and faith.

Before we dive in, you must understand as parents, that it is never too late to make improvements. We are easily caught up in performance based parenting and feeling the shame and guilt of not parenting the way we "should" or the way others do. We equate our parenting performance with our self-worth as a parent. We begin to parent out of fear of inadequacy instead out of grace and confidence.

We grow and change much faster when we shed discouraging thoughts about what we have failed to accomplish.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

To get all of us started in making some improvements, I will be referencing and pulling out pieces from these resources: Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen) and What's So Amazing About Grace? (Philip Yancey).

In today's culture we are bombarded with opportunities and pressures for our kids to perform or to prove their abilities. How do we carve out self-confidence, self-validation, self-discipline, good judgement, and a sense of responsibility in our children? These capabilities can be nourished in young people through  1. networking 2. finding meaningful roles 3. exploring 4. celebrating 5. setting limits, 6. developing self-control and 7. modeling grace.

First let's understand "perception." When we think through our experiences, we form conclusions about ourselves and our lives (perception). Children make decisions about themselves based upon their experiences. They think about what they need to do to survive or thrive. When a child's perceptions are threatened or when their perceptions are not consistent with the environment, their brain reacts, which sends a signal to their body to react. You've heard of fight, flight, or freeze. Read more about brain science and behavior here.

Perceptions are unique. Perceptions are keys to attitudes, motivation, and behavior. Perceptions must first be supported and challenged in order to change.

Glenn and Nelsen in Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World suggest ways of helping children process their experiences and examine their perceptions.

1. Identify: What are the important parts of the experience? What happened? What was the outcome? What were your feelings? What was most important?

2. Analyze: Why was that important to you? What were you trying to do?

3. Generalize: How can you use this information next time? What do you need to repeat to achieve the same outcome?

Nourishing Your Child's Capabilities

Networking

The simplest of all networks is friendship.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

People are tribal creatures designed for relationships. We excel when we collaborate, teach, affirm, and encourage each other. Who is in your tribe with whom you can dialogue about the world, about life, and about kids?

Finding Meaningful Roles

Today we need to deal with our young people actively in ways that cause them to believe they are significant contributors rather than just objects or passive recipients of our activities.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

As children find meaningful roles in their family and in their social groups, they develop a sense of importance and personal significance. Focus, direction, a sense of ownership, all help to foster this perception of personal significance. When we listen to our children and take them seriously, we can restore collaboration with them. What are some ways you can offer meaningful roles to your children? How can you incorporate family meetings into your routine? What ritual, tradition, or activity can you devote weekly time?

The need to be needed is often more powerful than the need to survive.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

Exploring

Experience, especially one that’s reflected on, is a far more effective teacher than parents could ever be.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

Too often parents or caregivers step in prematurely instead of allowing a child to do for himself or to experience for himself. When parents are too quick to offer an explanation or expertise, the child is left feeling vulnerable or intimidated. They may form the perception of: I am not capable unless they are here. What would happen if they were not there? Rescuer parents rescue children from inadequacy and then enable them to remain vulnerable. 

By helping our children explore their experiences, they will develop confidence in their ability to learn and problem solve.

Celebrating

When we recognize effort and progress, we get more results.  Sometimes we unintentionally set up a trap for our children by steering them to be independent and then objecting to their way of doing things. Instead, encourage children with specific feedback and acknowledgement of effort.

When we praise the performance or praise the results, we lose sight of the individual and her effort and contribution. Examine how you celebrate your own successes or how you evaluate your mistakes. Do you communicate that self worth and self control are independent of external circumstances?

Setting Limits

Setting limits is an exercise in using our wisdom and experience to anticipate possible problems and solve them in advance.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

Too often we wait until after something has gone wrong to decide what we'll do about it. We often react with anger and say meaningless things. Determining limits together with a child before a situation occurs will help your child's sense of control remain intact. Using firmness and respect to communicate and follow through with a limit provides opportunity for your child to honor the limit and exercise self-control. 

Developing Self-Control

Our children's capability to recognize and acknowledge personal feelings directly affects their ability to select an appropriate behavioral response to a feeling.

Once children become comfortable with the notion that their feelings are, as are the feelings of others, a legitimate, worthy part of their lives, they are ready to take the next step-to self-control.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

Developmentally around eight years old, most children are capable of controlling impulses that bring immediate gratification and instead choosing a behavior that achieves a goal.

Philip Yancey in What's So Amazing About Grace chooses the word gratitude for motivation for "being good." We want our children to strive to do well and to have self-control--not to make their parents or God love them (we already do), but because of gratitude and a sense of love within a relationship. 

Modeling Grace

By instinct I feel I must do something in order to be accepted. Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more. And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.
— What's So Amazing About Grace? (Phillip Yancey)

Take the initiative to model grace by laying down retribution or fairness. Reinforce your love for your children regardless of performance or behavior. Speak truth and life into your children. Speak to who they are becoming. Forgive. Lay down all of your needs for gratitude and compliments.

We are modeling grace when we allow our children to operate from within themselves, to practice self-control, to explore experiences and opportunities, and to practice their abilities. Regardless of performance or failures, we can gracefully communicate to our children through our attitudes, words, modeling, and forgiveness that they are worthy of unconditional love. This sets the stage for them to explore faith, accept spiritual grace, and to realize their greater worth.

Next Steps

You've read through all of this information, now ask your self "What is the most important thing I've come to realize? What behavior change do I want to make? Why is this realization important right now? How can it make a difference in my life or my child's life? Where do I want to first apply it?"

Complete the following statement: As a result of this awareness, the first thing I will do at the first opportunity is....

Freaking Out, Brain Science, and Resetting Your Body

Racing heart. Sweat. Labored breathing, Uncontrollable crying. Chest tightening. You feel like you're going to DIE. Your body is reacting to perceived danger in your brain. Your unconscious mind has picked up a signal that you are unsafe and your body needs to activate for protection. When your brain senses danger, a messenger relays that information to your amygdala from your brain stem before your cerebral cortex can process it and make sense of it logically. The message is Fight. Flight. or Freeze. 

What are "threats" or "perceived dangers" to the brain?

1. Threats to basic human needs both physiological and safety needs. Not only are traumatic experiences threatening, but physiological and love needs can also trigger a response. H.A.L.T stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. Are you feeling any of these?

2. "Shoulds." The "shoulds" are expectations you tell yourself. I should be more...I should have done this...I shouldn't be like that...I should...I should...I should. Go ahead--start writing a list of your "shoulds" as you realize them. We all have the "shoulds."

3. The Unknown. The unknown can be frightening. The unknown of the future. Of the unexpected. Of how your body will respond. Of outcomes. Unpredictability. Really, the unknown can go on for infinity.

4. Contradictory Messages in the Environment: Mixed messages in an environment are threats to the brain. Double standards. Unpredictability. For example: A parent who either encourages or "forces" a child to do an activity, and then criticizes his effort. Or a partner who is a completely different person under the influence of alcohol. 

5. Implicit Memories. These are memories that rise to the "surface" of the brain, although are not recognized as a memory. It is when something happening now stirs up a memory from the past when you felt similarly--even though the current situation may be completely different. There is no time stamp either. For example, a scent associated with a past event may bring about an emotional response, yet the individual is unaware that scent was associated with the memory.

Dysregulation vs Defiance

This physical response to a perceived threat is called dysregulation, and it happens to both children and adults. The difference for a child though, is typically, he/she does not have the tools and skills to express this intense whirlwind. He/she often shuts down or acts out in order to release or suppress that energy. What may look like defiance is actually a physiological response to perceived danger. Defiance is intentional and motivated by a desired outcome. Dysregulation is governed by the nervous system. Try telling a dysregulated nervous system that "there is nothing to be afraid of" or to simply "calm down." Or "he just needs a spanking." It's like sending an email through the mailbox in your front yard. You're sending a message through the wrong channels in the brain. 

Symptoms of Dysregulation

We are all very much aware when a dysregulated individual is in a hyper-aroused state: Aggression, disorganized, alert, excessive motor activity, uncontrollable, irritable, anxious. 

But, a hypo-arousal state looks and feels much differently. It's easier to misperceive. Tired, automatic obedience, appears life-less, non-expressive, numb, lack of motivation, isolated, helplessness.

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Respond More Effectively

Mindfulness is key. Mindful awareness practices activate and harness the power of the prefrontal cortex in order to respond more effectively. As you repeatedly practice something, that state becomes a trait. You rewire your neurons. How cool is that?! Daniel Siegel discusses this here. 

Mindfulness is simply recognizing what's going on inside (our internal experience) in order to shift our internal experience. When we are more aware of what is happening on the inside, then we have more freedom to make a different choice in our response. This self-awareness allows people to stay connected to themselves in overwhelming moments. Self awareness allows the brain to think rationally, thus giving more choice and control over a response. Modeling is the best way to teach mindfulness. Check in with yourself throughout the day, particularly with your body. Notice what is happening to your body in regards to temperature, sensations, and movement. What parts are tight or clenched? What parts are relaxed? Notice and breathe. We want our mind to be an active participant--when we bring our attention to our body, our brain is less likely to "jump to conclusions" about what is happening in the situation or in the environment. The more we model and teach our children to be mindful of the body, overtime, patterns that we have been stuck in, will begin to soften and release.

Reset your body 

Grounding exercises are designed to bring your awareness into the present moment which reminds our bodies that we are actually safe from harm. Adrenaline and cortisol then can be reduced.

Grounding exercises are designed to bring your awareness into the present moment which reminds our bodies that we are actually safe from harm. Adrenaline and cortisol then can be reduced.

When we change our perceptions, we change the symptoms in our nervous system.
— Lisa Dion, The Play Therapy Institute of Colorado

Lisa Dion compiled a list of activities to help return our bodies to a more regulated state.

  • Run, jump, spin, dance, bounce on yoga ball, crash into something soft, roll on the floor
  • Sit in a chair and push up by straightening arms
  • Massages, deep pressure on your arms and legs
  • Eat something crunchy
  • Drink through a straw
  • Take a bath/shower
  • Wrap up in a blanket
  • March or sing during transitions
  • Play music
  • Carry something heavy
  • Do a wall push up, or press hands together firmly
  • Run up/down steps
  • Hang upside down
  • Play sports
  • Doodle
  • Hold a fidget (koosh ball, rubber band, silly putty)
  • Dim the lights/Turn on the lights
  • Swing
  • Yoga
  • Breathe

Seek Professional Help

A healthy and effective therapeutic relationship with a counselor will provide an opportunity for you to examine and understand your perceived threats in a safe, empathic relationship and environment. For children, therapy involving play, sand, and activities will increase self-awareness, acceptance,  regulation, and self-control. A therapeutic relationship can connect at both the brain and heart levels that promotes new growth and neural pathways in the brain as well as heal any hurts in the heart.

 

 

 

The Play Project

The Play Project is a public awareness initiative developed by The Playroom Lubbock to encourage play, movement, and mindfulness in our kids' lives. Play is how our kids make sense of the world. Many of you have an impact in children's lives through play. The message we want to send is that play and mindfulness is an integral part of life for communicating, coping, adjusting, and discovering. At The Playroom Lubbock we provide therapy solutions for kids using play based interventions to help them fulfill their purpose in this life.

TShirt Designs by Kelly Martin, LPC of The Playroom Lubbock and Regina Penney of Penney Photography and Design.

The Resolution to No Resolution

When we are always BECOMING we have no room to BE.
— Glennon Doyle Melton

Just Be: with all of your God-given gifts, quirks, flaws, qualities, and looks, just be. When we are present with those around us we give our attention to one thing or person at a time. We embrace the goodness of a situation or person. We see beauty and life. When we are present we give hope and love for another to receive.

It's not logical. It's perhaps ironic to have a resolution to no resolutions. When we are always striving for perfection, to meet a worldly standard, or to attain the next level, we miss out on recognizing the goodness and beauty in our present.

Sure we want to become a better person or better at what we perceive defines us. When we learn to integrate our ideal self with our true self, to just BE, we open our selves up to possibilities of love, hope, and life. And that's the BECOMING to attain. Not a better this or better that, but a genuine and congruent or balanced individual.

It this permission to be lazy or selfish?

When we focus inward, we ask our selves Who am I? What is my purpose? Allowing yourself the freedom to be present will shine light on the answers to these questions. Accepting and allowing yourself to BE provides clarity and fuel to move forward. Focusing inward prepares us to pour our best outward.

What if I'm an extraordinary multi-tasker?

Multitasking can be very efficient and can accomplish many goals at once.  When you practice Just Being, your task is the present. When we multitask during moments meant for connecting with others, our connection can actually be misinterpreted and can send an entirely different message: I value you only as much as I fully attend to you. In moments of connecting with others, Just BE WITH.

But what if I need a checklist? What's so bad with making goals?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with checklists or goals. We want to ground our goals, rooted to our core beliefs. Life situations and emotions sometimes blur, twist, or alter our core beliefs. We behave in ways and make choices that reflect our core beliefs. To JUST BE helps us to reexamine our core beliefs, while taking in the present, and to regulate our emotions so that we may offer the best part of ourselves to others. Then we're ready to tackle some goals. But for now, the resolution is to have no resolution and just try being.