What to Read; 7 Books for Kids with ADHD

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Photo by Eddie Kopp on Unsplash


In my work with kids who have the traits of Attention Hyperactivity Deficit Disorder (ADHD), many families struggle with how to discuss the symptoms with their kids.  Bibliotherapy is a technique I often use with kids in my practice. But reading books for kids with ADHD can easily done with parents at home or with teachers at school. Here is a round-up of recommended books for kids with ADHD that depict various traits of impulsivity, inattention, hyperactivity, difficulty concentrating and blurting out.  For other ideas for books, you can check out my post about books about anxiety for elementary school kids and for teens as well as books that teach empathy. And you can head over to my Pinterest page for more possibilities of books/workbooks for kids and teens on various topics.

Here are the recommendations of books for kids with ADHD in no particular order:


My Warp Speed Mind, Donalisa Helsley (K-3rd grade)

books for kids with ADHD

Written by a clinical social worker, it is one of the few books that address the thoughts at “warp speed” in a kid with ADHD.  Offers tools to deal with impulsivity and how to slow down.


My Mouth is Volcano, Julia Cook (2nd-4th grade)

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One of my personal favorites about a boy named Louis, who feels the need to blurt out his thoughts at any time. An entertaining read with a helpful technique for kids to curb this not-so-uncommon behavior.


What Were You Thinking? Bryan Smith (2nd-4th grade)

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A great read about a third-grader Braden, whose impulsivity leads to poor choices.  Whether Braden makes jokes in class at the wrong time or blurts something out and hurts his classmate’s feelings, kids with ADHD will relate to this story.


Terrific Teddy’s Excessive Energy Jim Forgan (K-2nd)

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This is an ideal choice for a parent/guardian who is trying to explain ADHD to a child who has been recently diagnosed.  It has two optional endings for parents who want to use the terms ADHD or speak generally about traits such as excessive energy.


Pay Attention Emily Brown, Linda Brown (PreK-1st grade)

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A wonderfully written picture book about a mom who in a gentle way, is trying to get her daughter to pay attention.  Written in rhyme, it’s catchy prose captures entertains young readers who struggle with inattentiveness.


Hank Zipzer series, Henry Winkler (3rd-5th grade)

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A chapter book series as well as a TV show by Henry Winkler (yes parents, The Fonz), detailing the life of Hank who has dyslexia but shares a lot of qualities of ADHD.  Engaging plots, kids are drawn into Hank’s poor decision-making schemes and how he manages to deal with his choices.


Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, Jack Ganza, (5th grade and up)

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If you are looking for a series of books for kids with ADHD, this is it. Swallowed The Key is an entertaining book in how he deals with the challenges of his diagnosis.  A boy who felt he could identify with Joey in many ways, particularly the impulsive choices and how it impacted his life at school recommended this book to me.


Julie Safranski, LCSW is a Chicago psychotherapist.  She enjoys working with kids with ADHD and their families to help them see their strengths and manage their challenges.  She can be reached at js@juliesafranski.com.

Consequences: The Surprising Truth About Teens

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After telling people I work with teenagers I often get the response,  “Oh I could never do that”  or  “What do you even talk to them about?”.  I actually feel fortunate to have been able to work with teenagers for as many years as I have.  You might wonder why I feel that way but I have been privy to their unique and often fresh insights.  Some are what you might expect and others are downright surprising.  The ones that shock people the most are:

“I thought I would get a worse punishment.”


“I’m surprised I could go out after that.”


“I would have taken my phone away.”

Or my personal favorite:

“They always threaten to take away my [phone, car, etc.] but once they calm down they never do.”


Ok parents.  You heard it straight from the source.  We are falling down on the job.  They are expecting us to give them consequences and take away their most prized possessions and/or  restrict their whereabouts. Moving forward this is what we need to do:


  1. Discuss consequences and establish rewards.

            Yep.  You need to spell out what might happen if expectations are not met.  In a previous post  I wrote about how to create house rules based on values, expectations and teenager input.  So if you expect your child to maintain a B average and they don’t, they aren’t allowed to use their phone in the evening.   Even asking your teenager what they think is a fair consequence will be a great way to get buy-in.  You’d be surprised how much stricter they would be if they were doling out the punishments. And for the rewards it could be the use of the family car on weekends or something specific like tickets to a hear their favorite band.


  1.  Enforce consequences and rewards.

This is huge.  You must follow-through on what you say you are going to do (see above: my personal favorite).  Your child is expecting it even if they say something to the contrary.  Even if they protest, whine, pout, slam doors, give you the silent treatment etc. you need to give the consequence. It sends the message of consistency and as a parent you can be counted on. It creates the structure that they are craving (even though their behavior may say the opposite) during a time of their life when their life may feel a bit chaotic or overwhelming.  And often if a consequence is discussed beforehand (eg. “curfew is 11pm and if you are late without letting us know, you are grounded next weekend”), the teen can use it as a way to get out of unsavory situations.  The threat of a  parent’s punishment will give teenagers  the opportunity to make a better choice.  They can blame you for being strict and save face in front of their friends.   And of course, if your teenager gets great grades, follow-through on getting those summer festival tickets you promised.  If you don’t, it reinforces that it’s ok not to do what you say you are going to do, modeling the exact behavior you are trying to discourage.


  1.  If you give consequences or rewards, expect an emotional reaction from your teenager.

Yes, your teenager may be angry with you.  He/she might even say they hate you.  But if you are a consistent in your parenting, your teenager will come around and know deep down you did exactly what you said you were going to do.  As uneasy as it makes us feel as parents, a teenager having some conflict with their parents is typical.  Developmentally,  they are supposed to be rejecting their parents at this stage of their life because they are figuring out their role and identity.   No one likes conflict, but try not to take your teen’s resistance personally.  Try to think of it as part of the stage of trying to be independent and they are rejecting your limit-setting. Of course, if you get those tickets for your teenager to Lolla or Pitchfork for doing well in school, you might also get a strong positive reaction from your kid that you might not have seen before (or in awhile).


Julie Safranski, LCSW is a Chicago psychotherapist.  She enjoys working with teens and their families in helping them communicate in a way that they both can understand each other.  She can be reached at js@juliesafranski.com.

Teaching empathy to kids; 8 books to read

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Recently, I have gotten some requests about how parents and/or educators can be teaching empathy to kids.  Books are great way to have kids explore other people’s perspectives and develop empathy towards others who may be different from us.  So here are 8 suggestions of various children’s books addressing themes of empathy and kindness (in no particular order).  For more possibilities of books/workbooks for kids and teens on various topics you can head over to my Pinterest page.  Or for other recommendations for books about anxiety, you can check out my post for elementary school kids and for teens.



Last Stop on Market Street,  Matt de le Pena  (4-7 yo)

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I absolutely love this book for both the wonderful text and illustrations depicting the diversity of life’s circumstances.   It chronicles the bus ride of CJ and his Nana and the conversation that ensues.  CJ asks his grandmother many questions about why he doesn’t have the same things as the other kids.  She responds in a way that makes him look at his life differently with gratitude even at the end even when their trip ends at a soup kitchen.  A must read!


Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla,  Katherine Applegate. (5-8yo)    

teaching empathy to kids


Based on a true story, this picture book details the life of a gorilla who gets taken from  his family as a baby in the jungle in Congo to grow up in a shopping mall in the Unites States for entertainment. With pressure from the community, he eventually get transfers to a zoo.  A terrific way to promote empathy for other living creatures besides humans.


Those Shoes, Maribeth Boelts  (5-8yo)

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A book about an important topic for most young boys; the social status of what shoes they wear.  Jeremy wants shoes that they can’t afford which his grandma tells him they are a want not a need.  There’s an interesting ending of how Jeremy demonstrates empathy after getting free shoes from the school counselor.  


Big Nate Lives it Up: Big Nate, Book 7,  Lincoln Peirce (8 yo+)

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The main character who usually struggles with his interpersonal skills focuses in this book on trying to be more kind to his classmates. There is a new student in the class and Nate works hard to be empathetic.  Relatable to all kids, an enjoyable read for your chapter book readers.


Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed, Emily Pearson  (3-7yo)

teaching empathy to kids

A story about a girl who picks blueberries for a neighbor.  Then the neighbor makes muffins with the blueberries and shares them with 5 people.  And a chain of kind deeds ensues. A great way to demonstrate to young kids how their one small action can affect a lot of people in a positive way.


Just My Luck , Cammie McGovern (8 yo +)

teaching empathy to kids


Benny, a fourth-grader is dealing with a lot in his life.  His father just got into an accident, was in the hospital and they are not sure about his recovery.  His best friend moved away and he is struggling to make new friends.  One of his older brothers has autism and he says things out loud that he probably shouldn’t.  Kids will find Benny likable and will enjoy reading about how he deals with his issues in a kind and empathetic way.


Enemy Pie,  Derrick Munson (5-8 yo)

teaching empathy to kids


The summer was going well until Jeremy Ross moved in down the street. Jeremy made fun of people and excluded them from his party.  The only way the boy could beat Jeremy Ross is through the dad’s enemy pie in which they had to work together to do.   An fun take on how sometimes first judgments aren’t always correct and kindness goes a long way.


What if Everybody Did That?, Ellen Javernick (3-7yo)

teaching empathy to kids


So what would happen if everyone littered, splashed at the pool or fed animals at the zoo?  This is a great tale for young readers that depicts the consequences of how our behavior affects others.


Julie Safranski, LCSW is a Chicago psychotherapist in private practice.  She has a passion for working with kids and their families. She can be contacted at js@juliesafranski.com.


Social Stress: 10 Ways to Help Your Teen

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You might be thinking “what has happened to my child?” as they enter the pre-teen and teen years.  Your once even-keeled, laid-back child who willingly hung out with the family now has all of their focus on what their friends are doing.  They may be stressing about things they never cared about (eg. what clothes you are buying for them) and now are asking to see their friends more than ever.  A lot of teens look to their parents for help but how do you support them without doing too much?  Here are some thoughts about how to help your kid manage social stress.


Understand teens have big emotions.

For teens everything is a big deal and social stress creates big emotions.  Biologically that’s what happening in their brain.  And as parents we tend to want to swoop in and make everything better which isn’t always the best in the long run.   The best thing we can do is listen, let them sort out how they want to handle it and ride out the wave of emotions.  By the next day, they often have forgotten about it and moved onto something else (or the next drama).


 Socializing through social media is the norm.

Back in the day, we went to the mall to hang out with our friends.  Now kids go on social media. A lot.  But you can still have ground rules even if they don’t leave your house to socialize.  This includes time limits, charging their phone at night in a central area or times of the day they are not allowed to use it  (e.g. mealtimes).


Your child’s friend group might not look like the one you had.

Some kids have one or two friends that they hang out with consistently.  For some kids, they hang out in huge groups.  No matter what they decide, as long as the kids they choose to be with have a positive influence, try not to compare your childhood experience to theirs.  Your child will feel the pressure to measure up with your expectations.


Kids know their friends better than you do.

As parents we may say “why don’t you hang out with Kaitlyn?’, the girl they have known since since elementary school.  But your teen may be saying no because they are aware that Kaitlyn is doing things that you would not approve of but they don’t want to reveal it.   Appreciate that your child may know more about these things than you and you may be encouraging friendships that you actually do not want to condone.


Check to see if your rules are age-appropriate.

Sometimes as parents we make a random rule such as “no makeup” until freshman year.  That may be setting your child up for social stress and feeling ostracized.  Talk with other parents to see if your expectations are realistic and in the ballpark.  


There is a social standing among the kids whether we like or not.

We hope that our kids are not facing the social hierarchies we did as kids.  Unfortunately, there are still the popular kids that everyone measures themselves up to.  Acknowledging there is a pressure for kids to participate in certain events because it affects their social status will go a long way.  Understanding doesn’t mean you have to agree with it.


They may want to vent, not get advice.

Teenagers come home from school or a friends house and they may launch into a story of a situation that is bothering them.  Your first reaction may be to offer advice but really all they want to do is vent.  Knowing when it is important to just listen will be why they keep coming back to talk rather than hide in their room.


Define what is a healthy friendship.

Some kids don’t know what it means to have a friendship that is supportive, positive and reciprocal.  Instead they try to hang with popular kids and it can end up being one-sided or they get treated poorly increasing their social stress.  Encourage them to seek out kids who genuinely want to hang with them rather than for a particular purpose.


Empathize with them when they are being mistreated but get involved if they are being bullied.

Listen to their story and offer suggestions of ways to cope with the situation.  Sometimes kids are learning how to socially problem solve  and manage the ups and downs of friendship.  But if it appears to be a targeted, chronic issue whether it be in-person or online, addressing the bullying situation is crucial.


 This phase doesn’t last forever. Promise.

Early teenagehood is a struggle for everyone, particularly 6th through 9th grades.  As they get older, kids start settling into their social groups and know where they stand with their friends. This is when the drama begins to lessen and they are beginning to feel more socially and emotionally confident.

If you feel like your teenager is having difficulty navigating social pressures and you aren’t sure what to do, seeking the help of a professional mental health clinician may be helpful.  Working together with a therapist to identify supportive strategies to help your teenager can make all the difference.


Julie Safranski, LCSW is a Chicago psychotherapist.  She enjoys working with pre-teens, teenagers and their parents as they build their social and emotional competence.  She can be reached at js@juliesafranski.com.


Teen Stress: 4 Helpful Tips for Parents

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Your teen has been snapping at you when you ask them how was their day. They yelled at their sister for bothering them when all they were doing was asking to borrow something. Your kid is silent at the dinner table and when you ask why, they say it’s because they are tired and have a lot to do. You see bags under their eyes from not enough sleep. Teen stress  is not uncommon, and your high school student may be struggling to manage. As a parent, you hate to see your child like this but not sure what you can do.  Here are four tips to help your teen manage their stress.


Teen Stress Tip #1:  Make sure that their basic needs are being met


Too many high school students say they don’t eat all day until they get home because they “don’t have time”.  Or teenagers report they were up so late doing homework into the middle of the night and had 3 hours of sleep (of course there are the ones who were on their phone or playing video games too).  We know that teenagers need 8-10 hours a night  and they need to be eating throughout the day.  Can you force your high schooler go to bed at a certain time or eat 3 meals?  Probably not but having a conversation about your concern about not eating or sleeping may be more impactful than you think. They might just need the encouragement to make better choices. Or they need help to problem-solve what are the best options for them (e.g. bring breakfast on the go and bringing snacks throughout the day). Also enforcing a no-phone rule after a certain hour by charging their phone in a community area of the house may be the structure they need to limit their distractions.


Teen Stress Tip #2:  Make sure they actually have some downtime


I am a big proponent for self-care to manage stress. This includes for teenagers too. High school students often are going to school starting at 6am for an early morning practice until 11pm at night working on their homework.  No one should be keeping that schedule on a regular basis so why are we making our kids do that? Teenagers should be able to find at least 15-30 minutes a day to veg out doing whatever makes them relaxed. Everyone’s brain needs that downtime.  So whether that is watching Netflix, listening to music, catching up with friends on social media, it is their time to not have any requirements.  Also, encouraging the downtime may actually decrease their distractions while trying to do homework because they at least “checked-in” with their friends.


Teen Stress Tip #3:  Eliminate unnecessary activities 


Some kids just LOVE being involved in everything and have a hard time choosing what really they would like to focus on. But then there are high school students who think they should be in all these activities because they feel their parents want them to, “it looks good for college applications” or it seems like all their friends are doing it.  Often kids just have to many commitments that stretch their time too thin and they end up not enjoying anything they are doing.  Help them prioritize what makes most sense for them now to continue and what they could eliminate in their day to make them less overwhelmed. Maybe the piano that they have been playing since elementary school now does not provide the same spark as it did in the past.   Or the regular part-time job babysitting is more important because they can do homework after the kids go to bed and they get paid for it.  A conversation with your teenager may just be the relief they are looking for and the permission to give up something they do not find joy in anymore.


Teen Stress Tip #4:  Keep parental expectations in check 


I have worked in many school settings in which college was the end game for most students.  But now there is more is the emphasis of getting into the “best” or the “right” school.  Some kids are naturally academically inclined, love learning, and are self-motivated to push themselves to do their best.  This means taking the hardest classes, being involved in the most activities, volunteering etc. to get into THE school of their choice.  If a heavy schedule of activities are driven by the teenager (with a realistic perspective) there is less of a concern than if it is something they feel they should be doing based on other social or family pressures.  I also think that some kids take AP classes and it ends up not being worth their time.  Kids need a certain score to gain college credit. But often kids have to score at the highest level to gain the credit or end up going to a school that do not accept AP credits.  Is the extra AP class really needed when really their heart lies in a different subject or activity? (eg. they are involved in community theater and want to do that in college). Think about the messages you may be sending as a parent about how much they should be doing.  Kids can sense expectations even if they are not explicitly stated and will want to meet your standards. A frank conversation about their future goals may be a way to eliminate the stress they are feeling.

After reading this, you may wonder if your teenager is stressed or has a more serious issue such as anxiety.  Check out my previous post for more information.  If you still have more concerns, you may want to seek the assistance of a mental health professional.  A psychotherapist can help your child find stress management techniques work for them and an effective self-care routine.

Julie Safranski, LCSW is a Chicago psychotherapist. She loves to work with teenagers to help find their balance in managing stress before they enter real world of adulthood.  She can be contacted at js@juliesafranski.com.





Back to School! How to Make A Strong Parent Teacher Partnership

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Is it really back to school again?!?  The  kids are savoring their last days of summer. They may (or may not) be looking forward for school to start so they can see those friends they don’t get-together with over the summer.  Waiting to find out who will be their teacher can create both angst for student and parent especially if your child has special needs.  My experience working as a school social worker for numerous years, I have witnessed the best and the worst of relationships develop among parents and teachers. We all know that having a positive parent teacher partnership can only benefit your student.  How do you make sure that the connection you have with your child’s teacher is the best that it can be this school year?  Here are some tips for a strong start when your child heads back to school in the fall.


Talk to the teacher about any specific concerns you have for your child.


Once back to school, most teachers send out some sort of communication requesting information to get to know your family.  Do not hold back any vital information because you want to see if the teacher “notices” an academic/ behavior issue etc.  If you wait to tell them after they come to you and you say “oh yeah, that was also a problem last year”, they may feel duped that they were not informed or that you are not interested in dealing with the problem together.

Also, it doesn’t hurt to check-in with the teacher if something changed as your child heads back to school this year (e.g. mom is now working part-time and now they go to the morning before-care program).  Your child’s reaction to this change may be something unusual for them and it would be good for the teacher to be aware of it. The more information they know, the better the teacher can support your child.

If your child has an IEP or Section 504 plan, and you have a specific concern such as implementation about a specific service or accommodation, email the special education case manager and cc: the teacher so she is aware.  Case managers are the ones who coordinate the service and/or accommodation and are usually the ones who support the teacher so they are the best to contact especially if the teacher is new to your child.


Be aware of what is happening in the classroom.


A lot of teachers send out email newsletters or have a website. Make a point to check it or read it.  I know we are all inundated with email and information.  But if the teacher takes the time to include it in their communication, it’s probably important.  And nothing is worse for a kid when it is pajama day and they are the only kid in their class who didn’t come dressed for it.  Or they missed an important deadline for a school-related activity that they now cannot participate in. Not to mention, the projects that are coming due.

And for those parents who have kids with academic or organizational issues, being aware of deadlines can help your child plan for a large assignment instead of scrambling to finish at the last minute (and yes, eventually the goal is that they will learn to monitor themselves).  Your interest in school will show your student that you think what they are doing is important and you support their teacher.


Don’t be afraid to ask questions.


Sometimes in the classroom, a teacher makes a rule, creates an expectation or has a procedure you just don’t understand and you may think “what’s the point of that?”.  Go ahead and ask your child’s teacher (in a respectful manner) for clarification.  They may have their reasons for doing it and be happy to explain their rationale.  Or maybe they do not know how their expectation comes across to your student or the parents and they need to provide more information to the whole class.  I’ve come across many parents who complain about what is happening in the classroom but never bothered to have a conversation with the teacher.  They may head straight to the principal, talk about it with their friends or other parents while never going straight to the source.  Many misunderstandings can be prevented and lots of time saved by communicating directly with the teacher.  Of course, if you still don’t feel like the issue is being resolved after working with the teacher, feel free to get other professionals involved ( counselor, social worker, principal, district administrator).


Your child is a different person at school.  Really. 


During the summer, your child might be the most extroverted kid you know.  But as soon as they head back to school, they may not say a word during class.  Or they may be the class clown.  Or have difficulty with managing their frustration appropriately.   Try to be receptive when receiving feedback from the teacher about what they notice.  Expectations at school and home are often different particularly in regards to the types of tasks required and the amount of activities in which they have to participate with other kids.  Kids may struggle with what needs to be completed and/or how they behave in the classroom.  If you have strategies that work for you at home with your kid, share them the teacher as they will probably be happy to hear about it.  A consistent message from home and school is so powerful for kids.  Or if you think you or your student needs more support, ask what other professionals in the building may be able to provide some feedback or strategies to help your child ( e.g. reading specialist, school social worker, school psychologist etc.).


Help out.


Your child’s teacher has an incredibly difficult job and most teachers I have worked with want to do the best job for your student.  But the amount they need to accomplish grows every year while their time seems to shrink with requirements (NCLB, anyone?).  As your kids head back to school, think about ways you may be able to support your teacher whether it be volunteering in the classroom to run a center, facilitate a class event or donate goods/furniture to the classroom (ask first to see if they want it though–but most of the time they will say yes!).  If you can’t get into the class during the day, maybe there is a task you can do at night at home that could really help a teacher out (e.g. cutting something out for a special activity).  They will be very grateful there is one less thing on their very full plate.


Julie Safranski, LCSW is a Chicago psychotherapist and school social worker with 16 years of experience working in private and public schools.   She enjoys helping kids and their families navigate school settings when faced with social, emotional or academic challenges.  She can be contacted at js@juliesafranski.com.



5 Tips for Managing Summer Activities for Kids with ADHD

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The kids are out of school and it’s what they have been waiting for all school year.  But they enjoy hanging at home only for so long until a parent hears the cries of “I’m bored”.  This is especially true for the child with ADHD who has difficulty sustaining attention.   Often the cure for boredom is to keep kids busy doing activities and provide some structure for the summer.  For most, finding activities for kids that they enjoy is not that big of a deal.  But for kids with ADHD, they may have some other concerns such as social skills difficulties, sensory needs or anxiety that prevent them from easily joining a new program.  Here are some ideas to try to make the transition to summer camp season go smoothly.


Research activities in advance


If your kid chooses a new activity to try, it is important to check out what the program requirements may be. A way to handle this is to talk with the park district director or coach to see how it is structured or what types of skills that may be needed.  Knowing that your child with ADHD will have naturally occurring built-in movement breaks versus the expectation that there will be lots of waiting around for others during the activity, could make or break the event for your kid.  Also prepping the adult in charge about your child’s needs may be helpful (e.g. “My child has a hard time with memorization so will there be ample time for her to practice her lines?”)  For those kids with ADHD who struggle at school, it is even more important to find activities that complement their strengths to hopefully increase their self-esteem.  Getting the most information as possible can set your child up for success.


Choose something unique


The activities for kids that are the most popular are the ones that their siblings or friends are doing.  But kids with ADHD may not have the qualities that would make the event be fun for them.  An example is if baseball is great sport for an older brother but your child lacks the self-control in the early stages of learning T-ball.  Encourage your child to find an activity that would be something that would play to their strengths and that no one else in the family is doing (e.g. gymnastics because your child has shown to be agile and their sisters are doing tennis). If your child is doing something unique in the family, there aren’t any comparisons with how it is supposed to go or how well they should be doing.  Matching the activity to your child’s abilities can increase the chances of your kid sticking with it and having a positive outcome overall. And who knows, your child may find a skill or a talent that they did not know they had.


Prep your kid


I also suggest this when kids have school anxiety but making a visit to the site where the activity takes place, may help alleviate some fears.   Figuring out the door where your child should enter, finding the bathrooms or discussing the place where you will pick them up could help them feel confident about entering a new situation.  Also prepping your child, the day before discussing what their day will be like and how long they will be there may help with questions, concerns or resistance.  If your child is giving you a hard time about going to the new event, having something for them to look forward to afterwards such as getting ice cream or some extra video game time may help.


Acknowledge their feelings


Once your child picks an activity and you feel it will be a good match for them, they may be feeling anxious about trying something new.  Or they may become frustrated that the outcome of the class is not what they imagined (e.g. art class focused more on art history rather than making art).  Instead of saying  “You’ll be fine” which we often say as parents, make your child feel heard by rephrasing what they have shared.  (e.g. “ It seems that you are worried if you will make any friends at camp.” )  Encourage your kid to come up with a plan of how to handle it so they feel more in control of their feelings.


They can opt-out if it’s really not working


For some children with ADHD, they have struggled in other activities for kids because they have had some negative experiences and are reluctant to try something new.  Discussing with your child your expectations of trying the new activity but also letting them know they can exit after a certain amount of time may be a relief to them.  Letting them know after a certain amount of days/weeks you will have a discussion about how things are going and then you can decide together whether to continue.  Of course, we want kids to finish tasks and carry out commitments especially if it seems they just lost interest or they tell you don’t like it because their friends aren’t in it. But there are some programs that may just be a bad fit for your kid whether it is skill, personality with the teacher or other kids.  Not all activities for kids are right for your child. If your kid comes home upset everyday, sometimes in order to preserve self-esteem, you may have to abort the idea and keep trying to find that activity that works for them.  Or after they mature a bit in a year or two, some children are able to return to the activity and enjoy it.


Julie Safranski, LCSW is a Chicago psychotherapist.  She enjoys helping kids with ADHD utilize their strengths to have success at school and at home. She can be reached at js@juliesafranski.com.

Teens with Anxiety: 5 Books to Read


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Stress and anxiety is a way of life these days for not just adults but kids and teenagers.  We know that societal pressures to be “the best” can create mental health issues for our kids.   In my last post, I wrote about the figuring out the difference between teens with stress or teens with anxiety. And maybe your kid  is struggling but it is a recent development. Or maybe you are not quite ready to commit to therapy right now but you want to help but are not sure how.  Although not a substitute for therapy, suggesting some reading for your teenager to do on their own could be an option.  Often kids at this age really feel that they are the only ones dealing with the issue of stress or anxiety (wrong!).  Learning about how others their age have handled it can be a great first step in dealing with the problem.  If your child is younger than 10 and is dealing with anxiety, here is another post that provides options of children’s books that may be helpful.


Here are 5 suggestions:


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Playing with Anxiety: Casey’s Guide for Teens and Kids   

Reid Wilson and Lynn Lyons  (best for 11-14 y.o.)


This is a free e-book at http://www.playingwithanxiety.com/ with a companion parent book for purchase.  Written in first-person by a girl named Casey, chronicles how she has come to grips with anxiety and eventually managing through acceptance.  I find that when a teenager is coming to terms with their anxiety, first-hand accounts can be a successful way of introducing the topic in a non-threatening way.



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My Anxious Mind: A Teen’s Guide to Managing Anxiety and Panic  

Michael Tomkins, PhD and Katherine Martinez, PhD (best for 14 y.o. +)


A thorough, but not overwhelming overview of all types of anxiety.  This book is written in a way that appeals to older teenagers with great illustrations.  Offers vignettes that teens with anxiety can relate to while providing the basics of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). 



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Mindfulness for Teen Anxiety: A Workbook for Overcoming Anxiety at Home, at School and Everywhere Else

Christopher Willard, PsyD (best for 11 y.o. +)


This book appeals to teenagers because it is written in a very straightforward manner without a lot of psychological jargon. This is a great workbook for those teens with anxiety who are ready to deal with it.  It’s also activity oriented and may be good for those kids who are have difficulty talking about their anxiety but want  to develop skills of how to manage it.  I have utilized this book in my work with teenagers whether it be during sessions or as homework (just don’t call it that-ha!).



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What You Must Think of Me: A First-Hand Account of One Teenager’s Experience with Social Anxiety Disorder

Emily Ford with Michael Liebowitz, MD (best for 13 yo +)


This is written by a young woman, Emily who recounts her high school days as she goes back to visit her teachers (and is now a teacher herself) dealing with social phobia.  A compelling read that details the self-consciousness and fear of judgment to crippling proportions that those with social anxiety face.    It can be downloaded for free at  http://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/publication/what-you-must-think-of-me/



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The Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook for Teens 

Jennifer Shannon, LMFT  ( best for 12+)


Another great resource for those teens with anxiety and are struggling socially.  This workbook breaks down some of the important aspects of CBT and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)  and presents it in an accessible way for teens.  Covers topics such as perfectionism, distorted thoughts and what to do when you get stuck.



Julie Safranski, LCSW is a Chicago psychotherapist. She loves helping teens find practical ways to manage their anxiety.  She can be reached at js@juliesafranski.com.


Is Your Teenager Dealing with Stress or is it Anxiety?

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“OMG I’m so stressed out.”


I’m sure there isn’t anyone who hasn’t seen a text or heard this from someone they know especially if they have teenagers in their life.  We know that teens are dealing with stress more than in previous generations and in one study teenagers were reporting more stress than adults particularly during the school year.   There are also recent articles describing how teenagers are having trouble dealing with stress related to school performance ,  managing social media   or getting into college .  Sadly, we also have seen the inability to cope with stress that has lead to tragic outcomes in some areas .   But how do we know if your teenager is just dealing with stress in their life or if they are experiencing something more serious such as an anxiety disorder?

There are several factors to consider if you are trying to determine whether or not your child is just stressed out or has symptoms of anxiety. First, understanding the difference between stress and anxiety is key as the terms are used interchangeably.  Stress is your body’s reaction to a real or perceived demand whether it be routine (e.g. school pressures), a change (e.g. divorce) or trauma (e.g. car accident).  Anxiety is a reaction to the stress which often appears as excessive, persistent or unrealistic.  One aspect to determine is if your child’s stress is  distressing enough to be interfering with many aspects of their life.  For some kids, they may have a lot on their plate with extra-curricular activities, AP classes, job etc. but they are able to manage in most situations with a few hiccups along the way.  But if you are concerned,  considering whether or not stress is affecting their most important areas of their life is a start.  

Other factors to consider:


Most teenagers find school to be a stressor at some point of their career. Does your teenager worry about getting their assignments done even though they always get it completed in time?  Or does your teen have excessive anxiety about an upcoming exam or test even though they studied?  There are some students who just avoid doing schoolwork completely because the thought of doing it is so overwhelming  and end up getting behind in their classes.  You may have seen their grades suffered because of this.  Another indicator is that they ask to be called-in sick from school when they are not sick or they ditch classes.



Has your teenager quit their sports team because they felt like the pressure was “too much”?  Or maybe they get so worked up before a game they may have stomachaches or throw-up before games.  Another indicator is that your teen may mention that they are afraid to make a mistake so they do not “let the team down”.  All of these instances could be telling you that your teenager is having a hard time dealing with stress and may be feeling anxiety.


Relationships with family   

Are you continually reassuring your teenager that “things are going to work out”?   Or you may be wondering why they are uninterested in getting a driver’s license or getting a part-time job.  They may tell you they don’t want to do those things “right now” because they are too stressed. These may be signs that anxiety is a concern.


Relationships with friends

It’s typical that teenagers would rather hang out with their friends than their family.  Do you feel like you are encouraging your teen to go out with their friends and it is met with resistance?  Or do they end up spending most of their weekends online rather than spending face-to-face time with friends?  If this is a change, it may be that the social dynamics with their friends is too stressful so they would rather stay home with family to avoid the anxiety-provoking interactions.  



 A job for a teenager is usually their ticket to independence.  If they are uninterested in getting a job (or babysitting, shoveling snow etc.) but talked about it in the past, it may be a sign that taking on a new responsibility is just too much.  Or if your child who once loved their part-time job is suddenly calling in or said they quit their job for what seems like no apparent reason, it may be a signaling a concern.



Teenagers are notorious for poor sleep habits  but have you noticed they have changed recently?  Sleeping too little or too much are cause for concern that your teen is having a hard time dealing with stress.   In addition, if they are frequently skipping meals or eating more than usual.   Not to mention if you think they may be self-medicating through drugs or alcohol.   Changes in health related issues can also signal anxiety is becoming an issue.


Two other factors to consider:


How long has it been going on?    

Has it just been the last few weeks around a particular event (eg. getting essays done for college apps) or has it been going on continually for several  months?

Does the level of anxiety seem appropriate to the event?  

Does your teenager’s anxiety about taking a test that she studied for seem more with someone who is taking the SAT for the first time?


If you find yourself thinking that more of these descriptions fit your teenager than not, it may be time to consider talking to a professional about your the way your teenager is feeling.  Whether your child is just having difficulty juggling their responsibilities or if their thoughts of worry are interfering with their daily life, a psychotherapist can help.  Therapy can provide tools to manage stress, incorporate self-care, and change unhealthy ways of thinking.


Julie Safranski, LCSW is a Chicago psychotherapist.  She can be reached at js@juliesafranski.com.


4 Parenting Tips: The Holidays with Your Child with ADHD

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

With the excitement of the holiday season upon us, all kids tend to ramp up this time of year in eager anticipation.  As the days get closer to winter break and the holidays that follow, kids become more excitable and even your calmest kid seems a little haywire.  And if your child has ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), it is even more difficult for them to be able to control their impulsivity, hyperactivity, attention as well as overall emotional regulation.   Here are some parenting tips that may help make the holidays a little less stressful for you and your child with ADHD.


 Tip #1:  Create a routine in the midst of the holiday


Kids who have ADHD need structure and holidays are the worst culprits in creating unpredictability. I have talked before about creating a routine such as when traveling.  One idea is to try to keep as close to typical eating/sleeping schedules as possible.  This may seem to be an inconvenience to Aunt Susie who wants to play another round of UNO with the kids instead of having them go to bed because “she never gets to see them”.   But she will thank you later if you prevent a meltdown because a lot of kids with ADHD struggle with sensory processing causing these tantrum-like behaviors.  Also sketching out the activities of the day and talking to your child about what is going to happen can be valuable.    Also having reminders as the day goes along about activities will also help with their anxiety in anticipation of the possible fun that might happen (presents!).


 Tip #2:   Give your child an “out” if they seem overwhelmed


Lots of relatives talking and laughing loudly in a room compounded with the awkwardness of talking to people that they do not know, can create an overwhelming situation for your child with ADHD (or adults for that matter).  Not to mention opening gifts and lots of sugar on top of an already overstimulated child.  If you see that your child needs a break from the action, give them one even if they protest.  Although your child may resist the break, afterwards they may appreciate  being able to get some time away.   They may need some calming activities of their choice; reading or drawing in a quiet room, listening to music on their headphones, watching a movie or playing a video game on his tablet.  This can be done whether you are at home or away at a relative’s house.   After some downtime, they may be ready to join the rest of the family again and enjoy the festivities.


 Tip #3:  Keep them busy but not too busy


Parents are stressed because they have so much to do to get ready for the holidays and kids often complain “I’m bored” which may lead to arguments or behavior issues.   Put your child’s energy (and sometimes hyperfocus) to good use help you while also striking a balance of their own downtime alone.  Whether they like wrapping gifts, making cookies or taking the dog for a walk can keep them busy and happy.   Engaging them in holiday tasks gives them something to focus on and feel accomplished when finished. Also, decide which holiday events are most important to attend (e.g. ice skating with 1 close friend vs. neighbor’s holiday open house with lots of people) as not to overextend them.  Too many events can overload a child with ADHD even if the activities are ones that they really would enjoy which can lead to poor behavior choices.


 Tip #4:  Prepping them for expectations


Holiday gatherings bring many unfamiliar social expectations for kids of all ages.   Preparing for what may happen can help as well as problem-solving in advance can be useful to manage likely awkward social situations.  An example is “ Grandma expects you not to be on your phone while you are at a family gathering.   Can you try to keep texting to a minimum?”  or “ I know your cousin Tyler usually likes to play with you but you do not always like to do the same things.  Maybe you can think about how you can compromise when you both want to do different things?”  Discussing these potential situations in advance can hopefully avoid altercations with relatives and hurt feelings.


Julie Safranski, LCSW is a Chicago psychotherapist and can be reached at js@juliesafranski.com.