Some Bunny to Talk to: A Story About Going to Therapy

Check out this fantastic book resource for kids in therapy! Some Bunny to Talk to: A Story About Going Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 1.38.04 PMto Therapy by Cheryl Sterling, Paola Conte, and Larissa Labay (Illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke) provides for a gentle and easy to understand introduction to therapy. Filled with colorful illustrations, the book covers feelings of worry, sadness, anxiety, while also explaining who a therapist is, what they do, and how they can help. Some Bunny to Talk to does a great job showing how therapy can be a positive and helpful experience. In addition, the book has a section at the end that provides notes to parents and caregivers on how to pave the way for a positive therapy experience. The book can be found at your local library, or it is also available on Amazon.com here: http://www.amazon.com/Some-Bunny-To-Talk-Therapy/dp/1433816504

Bunny Collage

Teaching Children to Confront Conflict

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Teaching Children to Confront Conflict

One important lesson for children that is often passed over is learning to confront conflict. When a conflict between two peers occurs – for example, “Mom! Joseph threw his toy at me!” or “Mom! Sarah colored all over my picture and ruined it!” – our first response is usually to intervene and correct any wrongs. We jump in to immediately stop the argument, and dish out punishment. Does this scene look familiar?

“Mom! Joseph threw his toy at me! Then he laughed about it! It hurt really bad!”

Mom enters the room and immediately turns to Joseph.

“Joseph, did you throw your toy at Jacob? That was not okay. If you can’t play nicely then you will have to take a break up in your room. Do you understand?”

Joseph nods silently while giving his mom an apologetic stare.

In this scenario, the child tattles and the parent jumps in to lecture. The child misbehaving learns from the parent what is acceptable behavior, what is not acceptable behavior, and what is expected of him from his parent. The child also learns what consequences the parent will deliver should his behavior not change. All these lessons are important, but what is missing, however, is a lesson on confronting conflict for both children.

The child misbehaving – Joseph, in our example – is interacting with the parent only. The only person he has to apologize to is his mother, and the only reason why he should behave nicely is because his mother will be upset and he will have to take a break in his room. The consequences are dictated and determined by his mother, not his peer. This is often why children will misbehavior with peers when parents or another adult is not present.

Confronting conflict on their own (with the help of a parent), teaches children how their behavior affects their peers, and that regardless of a parent’s reprimand, there are consequences to face with their peers as well. Let’s re-approach our first example:

“Mom! Joseph threw his toy at me! Then he laughed about it! It hurt really bad!”

Mom enters the room and immediately turns to Jacob.

Mom: “Jacob, can you tell Joseph why you are upset?”

Jacob turns to Joseph: “You threw the train at me and it hit my arm! It hurt really bad!”

Mom: “Now it’s your turn to talk Joseph.”

Joseph turns to his mother, but his mother stops him: “Joseph, look at Jacob. Talk to him, not me.”

Joseph turns to Jacob, but his silent. He waits for a few seconds with an apologetic stare: “I was just giving you the train to play.”

Jacob looks at his mom prepared to rebuttal. Mom points back to Joseph with a look of encouragement.

Jacob: “You didn’t give me the toy. You threw it at me. I don’t like to play when you throw things at me.”

Joseph: “I’m sorry Jacob.”

Jacob: “It’s okay.”

In this scenario, instead of the mother being a main part of the dialog, the two children were. Jacob and Joseph were able to confront each other and discuss the conflict themselves. This situation allowed them both to practice confronting conflict, which takes a lot of courage and confidence. It also helps a child learn how to regulate their emotions and anxiety during a state of arousal. Although one child is really upset, he practiced using a calm voice to confront his peer about what was making him upset.

In addition, the children also learn how to take responsibility for their behavior. An argument of “No I didn’t! He did!” is averted when the conflict is kept between the two children. The children do not have to prove who did what, as there is no adult to mediate. The mediation is between the two children. In this situation, Joseph learned how to accept his behavior, and take responsibility for his actions. Both children also learned that it’s okay to make mistakes. When children confront conflict together, there is no “naughty” or “bad” child, just forgiveness.

Lastly, one of the most important lessons learned when a children successfully confront conflict together, is how their behavior affects others. In the conflict above, Jacob stated: “I don’t like to play when you throw things at me.” Their friendship and time together was at stake, which was more valuable to the two children than a short break in their room. When working the conflict out together, children learn there are other consequences to their actions aside from how their parent’s will react. Acceptance from peers is important, and is what will help a child from doing hurtful things in the future when a parent or teacher is not around to see.

Learning how to confront conflict is an important lesson for children that can be practiced every day at home and at school. Take the next moment of crisis during play to teach children how to work the problem out together, accept responsibility, and learn how their behavior affects others around them. Focus less on the consequences, and more on the dialog between the two children. Utilizing these teachable moments will help develop more responsible and emotionally secure children, and will leave you feeling less like a dictator, and more like a peacemaker!

nessa  Vanessa Lemminger M.A., LMFT 53937
Marital and Family Therapist

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© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

This blog (https://vanessalemminger.wordpress.com/) is for informational and educational purposes only. No therapist-client relationship arises. The information provided and any comments or opinions expressed are intended for general discussion and education only, even when based on a hypothetical. They should not be relied upon for ultimate decision-making in any specific case. There is no substitute for consultation with a qualified mental health specialist, or even a physician, who could best evaluate and advise based on a careful, considered evaluation of all pertinent facts. Likewise, it is understood that no guarantee or warranty arises from the information provided or discussed on this (https://vanessalemminger.wordpress.com/) blog.

 

 

Autism: Support for an Entire Family

Time magazine posted a great article online by Barbara Cain titled, ‘Autism’s Invisible Victims: The Siblings’.  Cain speaks about the taxing role of being a sibling to a child with autism, and the endurance siblings need to cope with such a complex disorder.  Although Cain highlights the role of sibling can lead to positive outcomes as well, she emphasizes the importance in recognizing that autism is not just an individual condition, but a condition that effects an entire family.  The entire family deals with autism, and the entire family needs support.

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I would like to reiterate how important it is for parents to find support for themselves as well.  Parents of children with multiple barriers are the most self-sacrificing individuals, and because of this they are likely to disregard their own needs for support, for the needs of their children.  It is important for parents to remember that their needs for support and self-care are essential for providing the best care for their children.  Think about this: When are you more likely to get irritated and yell at your child?  When you are tired? Or when you are feeling refreshed? I am guessing this is an easy answer.  How you feel and the care you take for yourself will reflect in the relationship and care you provide your child.  Whether it means taking an hour out of your day to do something you enjoy, like reading a book or going for a walk, or spending an hour talking to a supportive friend, self-care should not be neglected.

Vanessa Lemminger, M.A., LMFT 53937
Marriage and Family Therapist

 

Breaking the Chains of Control

Breaking the Chains of Control

Control. 

Merriam Webster defines it as, “to exercise restraining or directing influence over; to have power over; or to reduce the incidence or severity of especially to innocuous levels”.

Control is found in almost everything we do.  We control our appearance with control tops, supplements, and diets.  We control our pets and children with leashes and boundaries in hopes to reduce harm.  We control our finances with savings accounts, retirement funds, and investments.  We attempt to control our health with vitamins, preventative medicine, and doctor visits.  We control the events in our lives with schedules, planners, and lists.  Sometimes we even control our lists with more lists.  An even greater example of this desire for control can be found in the field of genetic engineering, where we have created near perfect produce, plants, and cloned animals.  Depending on how much money one is willing to spend, there is also the opportunity to choose which favorable traits one want to pass on to their unborn, yet to be conceived, child. Humans are creatures of habit and pattern, which are reinforced by the ability to control various elements from our environment to fit into those habits and patterns.  Control also creates a sense of safety through predictability.  When we can alter or restrain our surroundings, we can create an ideal environment where we are better able to predict what the outcome of each situation will be.  We feel safe when we know what to expect.

Life. 

Merriam Webster provides one definition of life as “the sequence of physical and mental experiences that make up the existence of an individual”.

Here is where I would need to correct or adjust Merriam Webster’s definition to include descriptions such as: chaotic, spontaneous, adventurous, and full of surprises.  Life should really be an antonym for control.  No matter how much we attempt to control the events of our life, there will always be something that is beyond our reach.  Let’s be honest, trying to control and predict how life will unfold is similar to herding a pack of stray cats in a dark room.   I wish you the best of luck, and urge you to bring some band-aids.

Despite knowing how chaotic life is, we still try to control as much of it as we can.  It almost seems as if the more chaotic life gets, the more control we try to gain.  We end up either completely exhausted after multiple, failed attempts to control the uncontrollable, or our attempts to control morph into a maladaptive habit that consumes the large majority of our lives.   Each extreme leaves one feeling completely enslaved by the idea of control.  The key to gaining back our freedom is to forget that the chains even exist.  We should focus our energy on battling the need to feel in control because, as we know, most things in life do not work this way.  We need to learn how to let go of what is uncertain in life and trust in our ability to navigate successfully on our own.

Freeing the chains of control that hold us down is not always an easy task.  There may even be a time when we don’t even recognize the ties that pin us down.  Start by breaking the situation down into more simple pieces.  Find the situation that gives you the most stress.  Why does it cause you stress? What do you do when the anxiety starts to set in? Then ask yourself the important question of, “What does this behavior serve? What do you gain from it?” Instead of spending an immense amount of time on attempting to predict and control results, we need to learn to feel comfortable saying, “I don’t know exactly how things are going to work out”, and learn to feel more confident that we have the strength to move forward, even in the hardest moments.  Focusing less on outcomes will allow us to spend more time enjoying the process of living.

Vanessa Lemminger, M.A., LMFT 53937
Marriage and Family Therapist

Check out my article on R.A.R.E. Project blog as well!

© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

25 De-stressing Mini-tips

25 De-stressing Mini-Tips

Are you under stress?

Do you feel like you have no spare time to relax?

Well, this article is for you.  Here are 25 de-stressing mini-tips that you can use in the quick five minutes between meetings, or the half-hour you have on your lunch break.  These tips are great ways to collect yourself when stress is high and time is limited.  Some of these tips may work well for you, and others may not.  You will have to figure out which helpful tips work best for you, and work best with your schedule.

1. Go for a walk.  Whether it is just for five minutes to get out of the house or office, or a longer ten-minute walk, some mild exercise and fresh air does wonders when we are under stress.

2. Chocolate! Chocolate’s link to PEA (Phenylethylamine) and endorphin release (check it out here: http://www.allchocolate.com/health/basics/brain.aspx) make it a great option for a quick 5-minute fix.  But here’s the catch: this is not an excuse to eat an entire pint of chocolate ice cream as a “snack”.  The yummy benefits of chocolate come from the actual cacao bean, and dark chocolate has a higher concentration of cacao than milk chocolate, so you will be able to reap better rewards if you stick to the more potent and healthier chocolate.  Also, moderation is key.  There is no point in eating chocolate to relieve stress, if one is just going to over-indulge to the point of causing more stress (“great, now I have to add ‘working out’ to my giant to-do list today.”) Try planning out your chocolate fix.  Look at your schedule, and find your most stressful points of the day.  Are there two, or three? Maybe even five?  Pick out three times in your day where you feel the most stressed, and then pack three bite-size pieces of dark chocolate in your bag.  This will keep you from eating the entire bag, or caving at the snack cart and buying the Snickers bar instead of the healthier dark chocolate.  The idea is to keep your quick-fix a stress reliever and not a stress producer!

3. Eat a healthy meal.  What we put into our body is what we get out in return, and fueling up with a nutritious meal will not only make you feel good, but give you more energy as well!

4. Make yourself a warm drink.  A soothing cup of de-caf tea, or even just an apple cider will do the trick!

5. Get cozy and read a book!

6. Sing your favorite song! We all have a favorite song.  Not just any favorite song, but the song that puts you in a good mood no matter what is going on around you.  (You know, the song that you stop and dance to no matter where you – even if that means dancing down aisle five at the grocery store)  Turn the song on and blast it as high as it goes (or as high as you can get away with where ever you happen to be), and sing away!

7. Laugh! Watch a funny movie, read a great joke, or listen to a comedian.  Do whatever it takes to get yourself to laugh!

8. Make a de-stressing CD or playlist for your Ipod.  Gather some songs, even if it is just a few, that make you feel relaxed.  Take advantage of the five minutes before a meeting or doctor appointment by popping in some ear buds and listening to a calming track, or take advantage of a commute from work and pop in the CD.

9. Write. Using the word “journaling”, always produces some cringes, as the next thought is usually “Dear Diary …”, but wash that image out of your brain.  Pick up a sketchbook from the store.  You can usually find basic ones for about $4.  Sketchbooks work the best for this because they allow more flexibility and creativity.  You don’t have to have a purpose for why you are writing, or even a set format.  Just write.  Maybe you can’t find the words? Draw instead.  Possibly you have seen a picture in a magazine, book, or a picture of your own that reflects what you are feeling – tape it inside the sketchbook.  Quotes are another great starting point for those who are hesitant.  Don’t worry about what you are writing about, and just let the words flow from your hand.

10. Tear up your stress! Think about what is bothering you the most, or what has been on your mind, and write it down on a piece of paper.  Then, tear the paper into shreds!

11.  Do you have too many things on your mind? Are your thoughts racing? Write them down.  Cut a few strips of paper, find a bowl (a fish bowl or mason jar would be fine), and keep them in a handy spot.  When you feel that you can’t focus your thoughts, write down each thought that is causing stress on a piece of paper, fold it up tightly, and place it in the jar.  You can always go back into the jar when you are feeling less anxious and address the things you put in.  By doing this, you allow yourself to completely let go of the thought until you feel better able to tackle it.

12. Cardio: get your heart pumping with some cardio.  Challenge yourself to see how fast you can go on the treadmill, or try something new and learn how to kick-box.  Getting your heart rate up and releasing energy through physical activity is a great way to let go of stress.

13. Try some mindful meditation or breathing exercises. When we exhale, we turn on our parasympathetic nervous system, slowing our body down, which is why many forms of meditation involve extended exhalations.  (Sapolsky, 2004, p. 48)  Are you new to mindfulness or lacking some good breathing exercises? For an introduction to mindfulness and meditation, I would recommend The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh, which is available on Amazon.com for under $6.  For practical application, I would recommend The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions by Christopher K. Germer, PhD.  Germer’s book covers self-compassion, practicing loving-kindness, and customizing your self-compassion, with practical breathing and meditation exercises weaved into each chapter.  This book can also be found on Amazon.com for as little as $9.

14. Try yoga.  Yoga incorporates breathing and meditation with exercise to treat both our physical and mental self.  There are many different types, or teachings, of yoga, making it easy to find a style that is most fitting to your own.  Yoga is a great practical way to incorporate meditation and breathing exercises for those who are more active/need more of a physical release.

15.  Remind yourself of something that you admire about yourself.  Better yet, make a list of all the things you admire about yourself.

16. Call a friend.  That’s what they are there for!

17. Flex your creative muscles.  Whether is it dancing, painting, drawing, composing, creating, or even a DIY project – just let the energy flow out of your body and create something.  Creativity allows for a flexible release of energy!

18.  Take a short, 30 minutes nap.  Sometimes a little rest can turn a day around.

19.  Get more sleep! This is probably a no-brainer, but one that almost everyone is guilty of neglecting.  There are a million excuses for not going to bed early, but it is better to go to bed early and tackle unfinished projects in the morning when our minds our well rested, as we are better able to concentrate and are actually more productive (despite the fact that we swear we are not a morning person!) Are you a night owl? Start small and head to bed fifteen minutes earlier than you normally would.  The next week set your goal for 30 minutes earlier.

20. Take 30-minutes to yourself each morning.  Don’t do what you have to do, or what you should do, but do what you want to do.  We often spend most of our day doing things for others, and when there is finally time at the end of the day for ourselves, we are often too tired to take it.  Reverse this pattern and make the first thing you do in the day for you.

21. Plan your day.  Take a few minutes to plan out your busy day.  When you are prepared, things go much smoother and you are better prepared to deal with natural bumps that occur.

22.  Treat yourself to a massage.  Only have a couple of minutes, or are trying to save money? Even little, self-administered massages are great.  Try gently massaging your temples, nose, or scalp when you are under stress.  A scalp massage would also go great with a nice hot shower, recommended in #24.

23. Immerse yourself in nature.  There is something about our natural environment that brings a sense of relaxation and grounds us.  When you are stressed, surround yourself with nature.  If you only have five minutes at work or with the kids, go for a brief walk outside, eat your lunch on the grass, or just enjoy the breeze from an open window (We rely on our air conditioning systems way too often!).  Do you have more time? Go on hike, enjoy a lake, or head to the ocean.  In my opinion, nature’s most calming element is rain.  Next time it rains, take five or ten minutes to enjoy it in its entirety.  Open the window (you can lay down a towel to protect the window sill or floor), and smell the scent of fresh rain.  Feel the cool, humid air rush in.  If you’re really brave, sit outside when it rains and feel the raindrops bounce off your body.

24.  Take a nice, long, hot bath or shower.  Not the kind of shower that you take to do the everyday scrub down.  Take a shower just to feel warm water run over your skin, and focus on how your muscles relax as you feel the beads of water drip down.

25. Create a new space.  This depends on the space and the amount of freedom you have, but try changing the space you are in.  Re-arrange the furniture, reorganize, or change the décor.  If you really have a lot of flexibility, be bold and repaint the room.  Changing the space you are in will also change the energy and feel that accompanies the room. If you are questioning this one, think about the advertising business.  There is a whole industry built around creating different feelings and messages by creative placement.

Do you have any other great suggestions that I missed? Please, let me know! Pass along what great de-stressing mini-tips you may have as well!

Reference:
Sapolsky, R. M. (2004).  Why zebras don’t get ulcers.  New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

Vanessa Lemminger, M.A., LMFT 53937
Marriage and Family Therapist

© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Coping when Tragedy Strikes

In a world of “How To, For Dummies”, Web MD, and the ease of Google search,  we are accustomed to finding fast solutions to problems we encounter.  With a quick search on You Tube, one can find tutorials on everything from “how to create perfect curls” to “how to pick a lock”.  There are books that range from “How to Run a Successful Business” to “How to Find Inner Peace”.  Information, guidance, and insight are at the tip of our fingers in our fast paced, highly connected society.  When tragedy strikes, we often have the same urge to find a solution, some guidance, or at least some insight into what steps we should take next.  Working in the field of therapy, this is something I see often.  “What should I do?” “How long will this feeling last?” “How long does it take to recover?” “Will things ever feel normal?” “What do other parents do?” “Am I taking the right steps?”

My answer is never a simple one, and never a popular one.  In fact, that actual thought of one person having an “answer” to such problems, is ridiculous.  My reaction, instead, is this: If there was a “How To” book on what to do and how to cope when tragedy strikes, everyone would read it front to back, ten times over.  The book would be an instant best seller, but unfortunately, such a book does not exist.

There is no easy way to cope when tragedy strikes, and there is no easy answer on how to react.  What I can suggest, however, is helpful hints on how to make coping easier, and how to find solace in your own way.

Don’t panic:

Whether you have just been given a life-altering diagnosis, or experiencing another relapse through the course of a current condition, it is important not to panic.  It is easy to let our thoughts run wild, and sometimes when we are delivered what seems like unimaginable, out-of-this world news, our thoughts tend to drift into the unimaginable as well.  It is easy to instantly think of the worst that can happen, and get lost in a tumbling avalanche of fear and panic.

Although it is important not to panic, this does not mean you shouldn’t be experiencing feelings of sadness, shock, and fear.  All those reactions and emotions are normal to experience.

Give yourself time to cope:

This is a continuation of what I said above under “don’t panic”.  Disbelief, depression, anger, fear, and even euphoria are all emotions that can occur when tragedy arrives.  The different emotional states can occur in any order, and occur many times, or some not at all.   No matter what card you just been dealt, life continues to move at its normal lightening-fast speed.  It’s important to put take some time to yourself.   Put the breaks on when needed, and make sure to give yourself plenty of time during the day to just, simply, breathe.  Once you allow yourself to experience these emotions, you can start to reflect on the deeper meaning behind what is going on.

Educate yourself:

Don’t let shock and disbelief leave you helpless.  Educate yourself the best you can on what you are dealing with.  Information can help empower, thus leaving us to make better decisions that will lead us to more positive outcomes for ourselves.  Our bodies and our lives are as intricate as the ecosystem.  Making small, minor adjustments can create surprisingly large changes in how we feel.

Education can help us better understand the course of a disease, what the future may look like, common symptoms, and helpful ways to lessen or deal with side effects.  Education can tell us about what treatment is available, what treatment is not available, and what others in our position have encountered.

Education is similar to solving a Sudoku puzzle.  The more numbers that are available, the easier the puzzle is to solve.  Granted, this is a very simple metaphor, and “solve” is a very concrete and loaded word when dealing with tragedy, the point is to emphasize the importance of knowledge.  The more you know, the more control you can gain on the situation.

Now, here is the catch: it is also important not to obsess over information.  Moderation is key here.  Have you ever made a list for a list? (Guilty here.) Make sure that this stays helpful, and doesn’t lead to more stress.  Determine what would be helpful to know, and what you are content about leaving alone.

Self-reflection: What does this mean for you?

Find some time for self-reflection, grab a soothing cup of tea (or any thing that helps you relax), grab a notebook, and find a comfortable spot in your favorite room.

Take some time to think about these questions, how you would answer them, and actually jot them down in a notebook.  Physically writing down your answers will help give these answers weight.

1. How is this event going to change my life?

2.  How have these changes altered my identify?

3. How did I define myself prior to this event, and how do I define myself now?

4. What does this situation mean to me?

Whether you are experiencing an actual loss, or experiencing the loss of ability or lifestyle, these losses can be disorienting and alter our sense of identity.  Finding meaning in who we are and understanding how the changes in our life will redefine us will aid in the coping process.  It may take a while to feel content about our answers.  It is the process that is important.

Vanessa Lemminger, M.A., LMFT 53937

Marriage and Family Therapist

This article can also be found on the R.A.R.E. Project’s blog! Check out link and learn more about the R.A.R.E. project!

http://rareproject.org/2012/04/03/coping-when-tragedy-strikes/

© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.