A few weeks ago, we talked about helping your kids understand and manage their anger. But anger isn’t the only big emotion kids need help with sometimes! 

Learning to navigate their own complex feelings, new friendships and relationships, and discovering themselves all at the same time can be overwhelming. And often, because it is such a complicated subject, mental health goes undiscussed with kids. 

Whether it’s because the topic seems too “grown up” to talk about with them, or because we simply don’t know where to start, there is the need for some sort of roadmap to help us communicate the importance of mental health with our kids. 

One great way to start the necessary conversations is through storytelling! Children love stories, and engaging with complex issues in a fun and accessible way is a great way to teach them important lessons, without making it feel like they’re being taught. To help with this, we’ve put together a list of books to add to your rotation of stories with your child. 

BOOKS FOR TEACHING KIDS ABOUT UNPLEASANT EMOTIONS: 

The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland

Woken by a well meaning group of animals seeking shelter in his cave, the very cranky bear roars at them that he is trying to sleep. In their many attempts to cheer him up, the other animals can’t understand why he is so cranky. Only when they are able to change their thinking to see things through Bear’s perspective, are the animals able to help him with his mood. 

Glad Monster, Sad Monster by Ed Emberley and Anne Miranda

“Monsters have all kinds of feelings!” This book is about teaching kids to recognize what their different feelings are. Without shame or judgment, Glad Monster, Sad Monster, explores all types of different emotions, and how we see them show up in our own lives. 

Taking a Bath with a Dog and Other Things that Make Me Happy by Scott Menchin

This book is all about finding things that make you happy when you’re feeling down! Taking a Bath With a Dog helps kids to understand that even when they are stuck in a funk, we can still find love & joy in our ordinary lives. 

Mouse was Mad by Linda Urban

This book is about a mouse who can’t seem to figure out how to express their anger. Mouse observes other animals (“Bear stomps. Hare hops. Bobcat screams.”) but just can’t seem to express anger in the same way. Mouse was Mad teaches kids that understanding and expressing your emotions doesn’t look the same for everybody–and that it’s better to find the ways that work for you instead of trying to copy someone else. 

My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss

Using colors and animals, Dr. Seuss in My Many Colored Days, takes kids through the broad spectrum of feelings and experiences that we all go through in our day to day lives, and is a great tool for parents to use when talking to kids about their feelings. 

BOOKS FOR TEACHING KIDS ABOUT DEPRESSION & ANXIETY: 

When My Worries Get Too Big by Karl Dunn Buron

Stress and anxiety levels are increasing in young children. When My Worries Get Too Big is a wonderful exploration of what to do when anxiety makes you feel like you can’t accomplish anything. 

The Princess & the Fog by Lloyd Jones

Once upon a time there was a Princess. She had everything a little girl could ever want, and she was happy. That is, until the fog came…” The Princess and the Fog is a great story & guide for young children with depression. It helps to explain to them what’s happening, and give them ideas for support & coping mechanisms. 

Don’t Feed the Worry Bug by Andi Green

If you have an anxious child, Don’t Feed the Worry Bug is a must read! The main character, Wince, worries about everything, and when he does, his WorryBug gets bigger and bigger. Don’t feed the Worry Bug is a story about learning to cope with anxiety, without feeding it or letting it spiral out of control. 

When Sadness is At Your Door by Eva Eland

When Sadness is At Your Door helps teach kids that sadness is not a feeling to be feared or ashamed of, but instead it is an emotion we should treat as a guest–something temporary we can learn from. This book can help demystify sadness for your child by giving it a name. 

BOOK FOR TEACHING KIDS ABOUT SELF ESTEEM: 

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Chrysanthemum is named after a flower, and she loves her name! That is, until she starts school and the other classmates start to tease her about it. Chrysanthemum teaches readers about how to deal with bullying, and the importance of self love & self esteem. 

BOOK FOR TEACHING KIDS ABOUT MIND-BODY CONNECTION: 

Listening to My Body by Gabi Garcia

Bodily sensations or expressions of emotions are tough to understand, even for many adults! Listening to My Body helps to teach kids how to recognize what is happening in their mind and how that relates to what is happening in their body.

BOOK FOR TEACHING KDIS ABOUT DEALING WITH TRAUMA: 

A Terrible Thing Happened by Maragret M Holmes

Our main character, Sheriman, witnessed a horrible thing. He tries to forget about it, but soon it starts affecting his everyday life. From feeling nervous, to getting stomach aches, to feeling angry, to having bad dreams, the terrible thing keeps showing up in Sheriman’s life. A Terrible Thing Happened teaches readers that finding support and talking through trauma can help you heal. 

BOOKS FOR TEACHING KIDS ABOUT BOUNDARIES: 

You Should, You Should by Ginny Tilby

In You Should, You Should, Hippo’s friends tell him all the things he “should” do. But Hippo doesn’t want to do any of them–he wants to decide what is right for himself. You Should, You Should is a story about dealing with peer pressure and learning to establish boundaries. 

I Said No by Zach & Kimberly King

This book deals with setting boundaries over one’s body–a conversation that can seem difficult for many parents to navigate. Using child-friendly language, I Said No helps to teach kids about recognizing red flags and where to go for help when your boundaries are violated. 

Is your child angry all the time? Are they lashing out?

They might be throwing tantrums, having outbursts at school, fighting with friends, resisting authority both in and out of the home. 

Anger is a complicated emotion, even for adults. It’s common to find ourselves feeling lost and overwhelmed by it–and for a child that feeling can be even more overpowering. They don’t have the life experience teaching them how to handle it. All they know is how overwhelming their anger feels. And without our help and guidance, they probably won’t know how to cope with those feelings without lashing out. 

For children, anger feels instinctive. 

It’s a coping mechanism they’ve learned to tune into when things feel out of control. At their young age, they aren’t able to distinguish between a physical threat and a negative emotion. Because of this, the fight or flight instinct kicks in. And the fight portion of that expresses itself the only way it knows how at that stage: yelling, crying, and other such emotional outbursts. 

“Humans mobilize against any perceived threat (even our own upset feelings) by attacking.” (Aha! Parenting). 

Unlike adults, who have the experience and context to know what is a “big dea;” and what is not, anything that threatens the emotional equilibrium for a child is likely to trigger that rage response. We see this when they lash out at teachers, parents, or friends; when they feel they are being treated unfairly, when they’re embarrassed, when they are sad, etc. In being unable to balance extreme or sudden emotions, they fall into defense mode. And often, the defense mode that makes the most sense to them is anger.

So how can you teach them to manage it?

In order to help them manage their anger, first we need to help them understand it.

Rather than telling your child to stop crying, or that there’s “nothing to be upset about”, take a few moments to help them understand where this feeling is coming from. First, try to calm them as best as you can, without diminishing the validity of their feelings. Give them a glass of water to drink (they will have to calm themselves enough to steady their breathing while they drink it), walk them through a few deep breaths, etc. 

Be sure to let them know that you’re trying to calm them in order to explore what they’re feeling, not to push that feeling aside.

You can say something like, “I see that you are upset. I want to know more about what you’re feeling so we can find a solution. Let’s take a few deep breaths to slow ourselves down so that we can talk about it.”

It’s important to teach them that their feelings of anger aren’t wrong–anger like every other emotion we experience can teach us something about ourselves. Addressing their anger without shaming them for being upset will help teach them that emotions aren’t right or wrong, they just are. There are no rules against being angry–they just need to learn what to do when they feel that anger. 

Help them learn that anger is a secondary emotion.

Primary emotions are the first emotions we feel in relation to an event. A secondary emotion is a learned response we have in reaction to that first emotion. 

For example, if your child is reprimanded by their teacher in front of their friends, the primary emotion might be embarrassment. And then, because they are uncomfortable being embarrassed or vulnerable in front of their friends, they’ll likely react in anger. So they aren’t angry about what their teacher said to them, they are angry about being made to feel embarrassed.

While teaching this won’t stop your child from getting angry, it will help them understand their anger better. 

Ask them:

Guide them to find the root of their anger. 

And when you find the root of it, offer them some empathy.

Validate their feelings. Tell them, “I understand why you’re upset. That would make me sad too.”

Offering empathy and understanding, you teach your child that it is okay to have whatever feelings they have. And you create a space in which it is always safe for them to come to you and talk about them. When they have that space to discuss and explore their feelings, big emotions feel less scary, and when they feel less scary, they are less likely to make your child lose control. And then: 

Guide them through a healthier way to handle their anger.

It’s important to teach your child that all emotions are acceptable, but that not all reactions to those emotions are appropriate. 

For example: it’s okay to feel upset when your teacher reprimands you, but it is not okay to lash out at the teacher, to yell at them, to get physical, to take those feelings out on others, etc. 

It’s our job to help teach them a better way to react to anger. Say things like: “I know you’re upset. I would be too. But did yelling at your friends make you feel better?” Remind them that when they lash out, they aren’t solving the problem. Give them some examples of what they could do next time. Say something like, “Next time you feel like this, what if you tried X? Do you think that would make you feel better?”

And help them learn to find those alternate options on their own! Ask them what they think would make them feel better. Say, “Okay, we know that yelling at our teacher, or being mean to our friends when we’re upset doesn’t actually make us feel better. What do you think would make you feel better?” 

The key is to open the space up for them to explore their feelings without shame, and to guide them to a thought process that will help them navigate those big emotions in the future. 

Knowing what to do when your child or teen is having a difficult time managing their emotional responses and behavior is stressful and challenging.  Having a pocket full of tools is beneficial for you and for your child. It is always important to remember that there is a reason for the behavior and to try not to take what they say and do personally.  Typically your child is trying to avoid something, want control of a situation, want attention, want something, or are having difficulty managing their sensory system.

In my experience working as a school social worker and as a therapist, I found a number of strategies very helpful in de-escalating the situation.

References:

https://www.heysigmund.com/how-to-respond-to-tantrums/
https://www.bradleyhospital.org/tantrums-meltdowns-and-kids-acting-out-what-do
http://blog.optimus-education.com/using-de-escalation-techniques-effectively

About the Author

Denise Gulotta, LCSW, is a therapist at our Edison Park location. Denise works with children, adolescents, and parents. Denise’s specialties include stress & anxiety, mood disorders, behavior problems, self-esteem, school issues, and family changes + life transitions. If you’re interested in working with Denise, send an email today!

As an outpatient therapist, I love every opportunity to connect with schools’ staff.  When I was a school social worker, I valued the opportunity to coordinate and speak with my student’s private therapist.  Many parents ask if there are pros and cons of telling the school that their child is working with a therapist. In my experience, there are many benefits of collaborating with student support personnel such as a school social worker, counselor or psychologist.

Here are some important tips:

What is a release of information?

A release of information must be signed by parents and by the student if the student is 12 years old and older before any communication between therapist and school personnel can take place.  The information shared between a therapist and school social worker, counselor or psychologist is confidential. School mental health providers hold the same ethical and legal standards when it comes to confidentiality.

Why is the direct contact between therapist and school beneficial?

It is helpful to speak directly to school personnel in order to get a better understanding of your child’s academic performance, behavior and relationships with adults and peers in various settings.

The school can share information that parents and therapist do not see regarding academic performance and relationships with peers.

Two heads are always better than one!

Collaboration and continuity of care, working on the same issues and focus, is beneficial to connect the link between home, school, and therapy sessions.  Your child’s therapist and school service personnel can brainstorm options and resources that can help your child at school if they are struggling. As an example, creating an informal or formal plan that can help your child feel more comfortable at school if they are refusing to go in the mornings.  School staff can also identify specific areas that can be focused on during therapy sessions.

Why recreate the wheel?

If your therapist is working on an effective coping strategy it can be shared with the school mental health provider and reinforced at school or vise versa.

Advocacy.

Your child’s therapist can help advocate for your child’s needs and suggest specific strategies that can help your child’s social and emotional needs in the classroom and school environment.

IEP and Section 504 Plans.

 If your child has special education services through an Individualized Education Plan or accommodations through a Section 504 Plan, your therapist can provide suggestions for services, accommodations or modifications based on work that had been done during individual sessions.  You are allowed to invite your child’s therapist to these meetings.

About the Author

Denise Gulotta, LCSW, is a therapist at our Edison Park location. Denise works with children, adolescents, and parents. Denise’s specialties include stress & anxiety, mood disorders, behavior problems, self-esteem, school issues, and family changes + life transitions. If you’re interested in working with Denise, send an email today!

Navigating and Understanding Your Child’s Anger

Have you ever wondered why your child seems so angry or feared that they might need anger management?  Does your child often seem irritated, agitated, moody or quickly seems as though they will turn into the Hulk? Well, you are not alone.  Parents often express their concern that their child appears too angry and that they appear to struggle with managing their anger. It is important to remember that Anger is a healthy and very normal emotion. This article aims to provide information about anger and tips to for parents to better assist your child with managing their anger.

Again, anger is a normal and healthy emotion. However, anger is known as a secondary emotion. This basically means that another emotion typically is present first. For example, your child is working on their homework and you ask if they need support and they respond to you with anger. They most likely could be feeling frustrated that they do not already know the answer which is also often accompanied by negative self talk. They might also feel embarrassed that they do not know the answer or they might simply be feeling drowsy or even anxious.  Anger tends to be a much easier emotion for children and even adults to express and identify. Have you ever felt inadequate at something? It tends to be much easier and more of a habit to respond with anger than to say ‘ I am feeling inadequate and do not know how to handle this issue ‘.

So what can you do to assist your child and minimize the chaos that anger tends to create? Talk to your child about feelings and emotions when they are in a calm state and able to engage. Informing them of all the different feelings that are out there also helps to normalize them. Also, when one is able to identify their emotion and feelings than they are more likely able to identify ways to cope with them.

Also, talk to them about your feelings. It can be very powerful for a child to know that their parents also feel worried, scared, embarrassed, frustrated and that they might express anger in healthy and unhealthy ways. If they are identifying anger and expressing anger try and assist them with figuring out what other emotion or emotions might be present.

Here are some quick tips to keep in mind:

-Teach your child about emotions and feelings to better assist them with identifying their own feelings

– If they are expressing anger assist them or encourage them to identify another emotion that might have been present before.

-Discuss coping skills. There are healthy coping skills and unhealthy coping skills. It is not healthy or safe to express your anger by hitting or other aggressive acts but it is okay to express your anger by taking a break, creating art, going for a walk or taking deep breath.

-Empathize with them and validate their feelings. Feelings are part of what makes us human and regardless of age, race, gender or culture we all experience both good and bad feelings. Even if they identify they are anger it is okay to validate the anger. We all want to feel heard, validated and connected.

Anger is a part of life and all humans feel anger along with many other emotions each day. Teaching children how to express their feelings and cope with their feelings can be powerful and minimize chaos in your home.

Below are a few websites and books that I often recommend that parents utilize to gain additional information about emotions and that can assist in educating their children about emotions and ways to cope. If you feel your child is uncomfortable talking to you about their feelings or if you feel uncertain about how to approach the subject therapy services can also be highly beneficial.

What to Do When Your Temper Flares: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Problems with Anger By: Dawn Huebner, PH.D

 

About the Author

Lauren Fontana, LCSW is a therapist and the Clinical Director at our Edison Park location. Lauren works with children, teens, families, adults. Lauren’s specialties include trauma, relationships, DBT, anxiety, behavioral issues, school issues, and mood disorders. If you are interested in working with Lauren, send an email today!

10 Ways to Improve Social Skills in Children and Teens

In today’s society, children and teens are faced with many obstacles that previous generations might not have experienced. In a world where social media and technology take over, it is important to look at the ways in which social interactions are changing.

In sessions I often hear statements such as, “It is weird to talk over the phone; no one ever does that,” or “I can’t tell what people are thinking about me.”

I have been putting lots of thought into the question, “How can we, as parents, clinicians, or educators, help to teach the younger generation appropriate social skills in a world that gives them every opportunity to reduce face to face interactions?” Below I have created a list of a few ways in which we can encourage and promote healthy social skills in younger generations.

In children:

In teens:

 

About the Author

Dana Rivera Dana Rivera, LCPC is a therapist at our Edison Park location. Dana works with children, teens, and adults. Dana’s specialties include self-esteem and personal growth, behavior modification, and anxiety. If you are interested in working with Dana, send an email today!

Parenting A-Z: Keeping it simple.

Parenting is an indescribable job that changes at any moment, without permission or readiness. Here are a few friendly reminders that raising a human being can be tricky from time to time, but workable.

A-Argue less. Lots of stuff can be angering…if you let it be. It takes more energy to be angry, and you’re already tired. Acknowledge, and then try to let the emotion pass.

B-Blow bubbles. Bubbles are beautiful and will make you and the kids smile.

C-Clear the clutter. Whether it’s in your head or on the dining room table it needs to go.

D-Delegate. Give the kids chores. Help them recognize the importance of contributing to the family.

E-Elephant in the room. Don’t let uncomfortable topics disappear or avoid an opportunity to talk with your child.

F-Forgiveness. Every day, all the time. Don’t hold a grudge.

G-Give back. Do kind things for others with your kids.

H-Hugs. Always hug those little muffins and wrap them in your arms for no reason.

I-Independence. Kids need to learn how to butter toast and how to clean up the crumbs.

J-Juggler. Laundry, homework, work, laundry, dishes, dinner, bath, more laundry. Don’t try to solve everything in one day.

K-Ketchup. Kids seem to love ketchup on everything. This has always been a mystery to me. Tap into what makes your kid tick.

LLaugh. Kids can be absurdly funny, teens are witty and angst. Use this to your advantage and have a good laugh.

M-Mustard. Kids don’t like mustard, or foods you spend a whole lot of time making.

N-Noisy. Kids are loud. Sometimes it seems like you can’t think straight. Don’t forget to breathe, leave the room, consider buying earplugs.

O-Open minded. Your child may be someone different than you expected. Work with it, not against it.

P-Porcupines. Remember your child has feelings to, and sometimes they’re not pleasant.

Q-Quest. Set out on an adventure, even if it’s just taking a walk down the block.

R-Remember. Remember your friends? Go hang out with them!

S-Saying sorry. Let your kids know you make mistakes to, and are willing to admit your weaknesses.

T-Tickle. Tickling little ones can cure almost anything.

U-Underground. Mainstream hype can be overwhelming and pressuring. Trust your instinct.

V-Veggie Value. Bravery to try new things is a lifelong practice. Might as well start early with spinach.

W-Within reason. Kids need to know that everything has a respectable limit.

X-X-ray. What lies beneath is often over looked. Look beyond the surface.

Y-You. You are amazing.

Z-Zonked out. Sleep is good. Recharge your heart and spirit.

 

About the Author

Andrea Picard Andrea Picard, LCPC, ATR is a therapist at our Edison Park location. Andrea works with adults, families, teens, children, and moms/caregivers. Andrea’s specialties include art therapy, parent + child relationships, anger, addiction, and anxiety. If you’re interested in working with Andrea, send an email today!