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Dealing with Anxiety; 10 Suggestions of Children’s Books

children's books dealing with anxiety

 

 

“What’s a good book I can read to my son/daughter about ……”

 

I often get asked to recommend books particularly for children and teenagers on various topics.   So I decided to provide a list of 10 suggestions of various children’s books dealing with anxiety (in no particular order).  This month I am focusing on books for kids in pre-school and elementary school.  I hope to make this a regular series and will do another post for pre-teen and teenagers dealing with anxiety.   For more possibilities of books/workbooks for kids on various topics you can head over to my Pinterest page.

 

 

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I am Too Absolutely Small for School Lauren Child (Grades PreK-K)       

A book from the well-known series about Lola and her older brother, Charlie who is always trying to help his quirky sister.  This one is about going to kindergarten and Charlie tries to get Lola to understand why it’s so important to go to school even though she gives her brother many (common) excuses of why she can’t go.  Great multi-media artwork that kids always enjoy.  

 

 

 

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Jake Starts School— Michael Wright  (Gr. Pre-K-1)

A lot of kids when being dropped off on the first day of school, tell their parents they don’t want them to go (including mine).  And this story depicts an over-the-top version of what would happen if parents were to stay with their son/daughter in class.  This is bound to crack some smiles for both kids and parents.

 

 

 

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The Kissing Hand –Audrey Penn  (Gr. PreK-K )

This is one of the sweetest books about how to manage your feelings about going to school for the first time and being separated from family. This is a classic and if you haven’t read it yet, once you do you will know why.

 

 

 

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What to Do if you Worry Too Much; A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety     —Dawn Huebner PhD  (Gr. 2-5)

More of workbook than a story, this book written by a psychologist, helps reassure kids that they are not alone in dealing with their anxiety.  Provides kid-friendly concepts and illustrations along with strategies.  A great tool that parents can do together with their child  to reinforce concepts learned throughout the book or in between therapy sessions.

 

 

 

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Wilma Jean the Worry Machine  Julia Cook (Gr. 2-5 ) 

Poor Wilma Jean–she cannot help herself from  saying “What if?”  The author provides great strategies of how to deal with different types of worries (ones you can control vs not control).  Kids love her books with the colorful, relatable characters.   

 

 

 

 

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Wemberley Worried — Kevin Henkes (Gr. PreK-K)   

Wemberley worries about everything in her life including going to school until she meets a friend just like her.   Young kids who struggle with generalized anxiety will relate to all of her concerns and find comfort that they are not the only one who has worries.

 

 

 

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When My Worries Get Too Big! A Relaxation Book for Children who Live with Anxiety Kari Dunn Buron   (Gr. 1-5)

A great book for those kids who have intense emotions regarding anxiety including those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), ADHD etc.  It gives specific calming strategies and simple tools to help families have a way to communicate about their child’ s anxiety.  

 

 

 

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Testing Miss MalarkeyJudy Finchler   (Gr. 2-5)  

A humorous tale for those kids who are worrying about standardized tests (that happen oh-so-often these days!).  Although it doesn’t give specific strategies, it tries to give the perspective that testing isn’t about the student’s scores but about measuring up the school staff.

 

 

 

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A Bad Case of the StripesDavid Shannon  (Gr. 1-4)

A fantastic read about being yourself and what happens if you try to be what others want you to be.   The underlying theme focuses on anxiety, which illustrates the the consequences of not being yourself and a good read for those kids who struggle with some social anxiety.

 

 

 

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Up and Down the Worry Hill; A Children’s Book about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and it’s Treatment —Aureen Pinto Wagner PhD (Gr. 1-4)

Children who have OCD will see themselves in the main character, Casey who struggles with getting through his day-to-day routine.  There is  a parent companion book that some also might find it helpful in supporting their child.

 

Julie Safranski, LCSW is a Chicago psychotherapist in private practice.  She can be contacted at js@juliesafranski.com.

Back to School! How to Help your Child with School Anxiety

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It’s time for back to school!  For some kids, this brings excitement of getting a new backpack, figuring out their first day of school outfit and looking forward to connecting with their friends they haven’t seen all summer.  For others, it brings a sense of dread and worry.   How do you know if your child or teenager may be experiencing school anxiety? Anxiety can look different in everyone but some possible clues are; disruption in their sleep patterns (e.g. trouble staying asleep or can’t fall asleep) changes in mood (e.g. more moody or irritable than usual), overly focused about school (e.g. memorizing their schedule over and over) or directly verbalizing it (e.g. “I wish I never had to go to school”). But not all kids show signs of anxiety until after the “honeymoon period” of the first days of school. Other signs such as having a hard time getting them up in the morning, faking an illness or avoiding discussing the topic of school.   If you suspect that your child may be experiencing some school anxiety, here are some tips to on how to help.

How to Talk to your Child about their Concerns

Start a Conversation and Listen

Acknowledging that you have observed a behavior that concerns you is a great opener. (“I noticed that you keep changing the subject when we talk about school. Is there anything you want to talk about?”) If they start talking, sometimes just being a listener at first is best. As parents, we often want to fix the problem for them so we can make them feel better.  But kids sometimes just want to vent and know someone is hearing what they have to say.

Restate What They Have Shared

Often our first reaction is to tell our kids that  “You’ll be fine” but that can feel dismissive because you are not acknowledging their current emotions. To make your child feel heard, rephrasing what they have shared will be helpful “ It seems that being able to memorize your new combination has really been on your mind ”.

Ask Questions

Ask some clarifying questions to see if you can get to the root of their school anxiety. “Maybe you are feeling nervous because you will have a new teacher?” or “ Do any of your friends have lunch the same period you have?”

Normalize Feelings

Share that often people have mixed emotions about going back to school. Let them know it is ok to feel excited, nervous, curious etc. all at the same time.   And sharing that your feelings are ok no matter what they are is another way to validate what they are going through.

Come up with Solutions Together

Help your child or teen problem-solve and come up with some options that might make them feel better about their school anxiety.  Below are some suggestions to get you started.

  • Visit the school grounds  Depending on the grade level, this could mean going to the school playground to become acquainted (or reacquainted) and to know what door they will be entering in the building. For middle/high school students, you may be able to ask the principal/counselor to see if you can get a tour of the building ahead of school starting particularly if they do not offer something prior such as a middle school or freshman orientation.
  • Set a schedule  In a previous post, I wrote about tips for getting back in the routine for kids with ADHD but a lot of the strategies could apply to any student.  Planning for the structure of the school day or week can help alleviate some fears of the unknown (or forgotten).
  • Read books about school anxiety (elementary)  The Kissing Hand is a sweet story for entering school for the first time for Pre-K/K and I Don’t Want to Go to School is a fun read for PreK/K. Wemberley Worried is a great book for PreK-2 discussing anxiety overall as well as Wilma Jean the Worry Machine, for grades 2-5 which offers practical strategies for anxiety as well as an entertaining story.  You can check out my Pinterest Back to School page for more recs.
  • Focus on favorite things   For younger kids especially new to school or going full-day for the first time, having a photo in their backpack of  the family could be helpful to refer to when needed.  For older kids,  having them decorate their binder(s) and /or locker with pictures of things they like such as celebrities,  bands etc. might create more excitement for the first days of school.
  • Hang out with friends from school   For some kids, they may not end up seeing their school friends all summer due to scheduling, vacations, camps etc.  But making an extra effort such as hosting a get-together with the kids they had in class last year might help with the transition.
  • Email school personnel  For parents of elementary school students, often you do not know who your child’s teacher is until very close to the start of school.  But when you are made aware, even just letting your child’s teacher know your child is having some anxiety about going back to school will be very helpful for their teacher.   For middle school or high school students, an email to the school counselor or school social worker making them aware of your kid’s school anxiety may be also be worthwhile. They may offer to touch-base within the first few days if needed.

 

Julie Safranski, LCSW is a Chicago psychotherapist.  She enjoys working with kids to find ways to deal with their anxiety and feel better. She can be reached at js@juliesafranski.com.

Kids with ADHD; 3 tips when traveling

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Relaxation. Fun.  Adventure. Being able to take a vacation during the summer is what we look forward to all year.  But if you have a child with ADHD, going to a new destination can be very stressful for parents and children alike.  How do you make sure that your vacation doesn’t turn into more trouble than it’s worth?  Here are some suggestions to try to minimize stress and have everyone be able to enjoy themselves.

 

Planning

 

Yes, lots and lots of pre-planning. Overall, a vacation provides the novelty that many people with ADHD seek.  But also making sure that the type of trip you are thinking of taking involves activities that you know your child will enjoy is also important.  Kids with ADHD will do better if they are doing something that holds their interest.  When bored (e.g.too many museum exhibits with long lines), is when you see kids making their poor behavior choices due to their impulsivity.  Even if your vacation is not entirely child-centric (which is ok!), having activities across the day that will hold your child’s attention will be helpful in the long run.  But in the meanwhile, bring things along that might keep them entertained during waiting periods such as silly putty for the younger ones or IPod/IPhone w/headphones for the older ones.  Also, if you are planning to go to a family resort or large amusement park, calling ahead to see if they have special assistance for those who have special needs such as a way to bypass the long lines.   Another idea is to have healthy snacks available for your kids with ADHD because we know that too much sugar and processed food is not good for any kid (there is debate whether it increases the symptoms  or if red dye #40 has an impact )   Either bringing snacks from home or order online the favorite foods to be delivered at your hotel makes it convenient for your kids to eat (somewhat) healthy while you are away from home.

 

Create some sort of routine away from home

 

We know it’s hard to have a routine when you are on vacation.  But providing some sort of structure while at a relative’s house, hotel or rented home while away will help provide some stability for those kids with ADHD.  One way is to give the kids the day’s schedule when they wake up so they know what to expect even if it is different than a typical day.  It also gives the kids expectations about what is happening for the day and can keep the kids from asking (ok- maybe just reducing the amount of times they ask), “what are we doing now?”  Or if you are staying for awhile, even a mini-white board written with days of the week with the main activities of the day could help provide a visual reference.  Also, if your kid is a picky eater, having those familiar foods on hand or going to a place you know that your child can get those foods will help them feel at ease.  At bedtime, if part of their routine they usually read  a couple of stories, bring a few along or download ones you can read on the Kindle if needed.

 

Know When Your Child Needs to Take a Break

 

Splash parks! Water slides! Amusements rides! Lots of sugary desserts! All of these things are some of the best parts of summer for kids but it also could mean a recipe for meltdowns and poor behavior choices.   A good amount of kids with ADHD also have sensory issues .  So this also means that they could get easily overstimulated by the activities they are doing even if they are having so much fun.  As a parent, you will need to have alternate activities that may help your child calm down.  These activities could be as simple as daily rest time back in the hotel room which could be reading, napping, watching a movie, playing on the IPad, listening to music with earphones or quietly playing.  Or has your child been cooped up in the car traveling or been waiting in too many lines?  Those kids who struggle with hyperactivity may need a chance to get their energy out.  You may want to plan a visit to a local playground to climb and swing which provides good sensory input.  Or a greenspace to run, kick a ball or play frisbee.  For younger kids, you will probably have to look for the signs of an impending meltdown and cue them for a break.  And for older kids, telling them they have an option to bow out of an activity during the day to do one of these strategies may prevent an argument due to non-compliance later.

 

Julie Safranski, LCSW is a Chicago psychotherapist.  She loves to help kids with ADHD utilize their strengths and give them tools to feel in-control of their behavior.  You can reach her at js@juliesafranski.com

3 easy steps to get your teenager to comply with your house rules

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As kids get older and start to become teenagers, they naturally want more freedom.   They want to go places on their own, meet up with friends and begin to have a separate life from you.  As a parent, this may make you nervous as you have been used to keeping tabs on them 24/7. You may create a rule and your teen pushes the boundary or breaks it.  Then an argument ensues.  A punishment is given, tension is felt throughout the house and no one is talking. Sound familiar?   As the parent, you want to provide them guidelines because they are still learning how to make good decisions.  But they always seem to be rejecting what you are asking them to abide by.  So how do you find a balance between allowing your teenagers freedom while still meeting your expectations as parents?  Here are 3 ideas to get you started on creating house rules for your teenager.

Decide what is important as a family

You will hear most kids say that their friends parents let their friends “do whatever they want and don’t care”.  And you may feel like saying (or have said) “I’m not So-and-So’s parent, I’m your parent”.  While this is true but since they are teenagers, they may be actually looking for more of an explanation.  Be able to describe to your teen what values that you consider to be the most important to you and why you don’t want/let them do X.   Also share that these are the values in which you are now going to be creating house rules (respect, responsibility, health/safety, education, responsibility, working hard etc.) But try only focusing on a limited number of your values (4-6) though because otherwise your teen will forget the meaning behind it especially in a time of a heated discussion (a.k.a. testing of a rule).   Also being able to describe your values is communicating expectations to your kids that you may be have assumed that they already know but don’t. By stating your values explicitly, you may also get more of a buy-in when creating house rules.  And if your teenager understands what your decision-making is based upon, this will be a good model for them for when they are older making their own decisions. As adults, we don’t like to be told what to do without any explanation so why would your teenager?

Get your teenager’s input.

Once you have discussed what you think are the important values, ask your son or daughter what they think are important values for them and/or the family. It’s a great conversation starter. (And yes, your teenager does want to talk to you –it’s finding the right time and place to get them to share their thoughts-another blog post!) You might be surprised what your son/daughter says is significant for them. Their ideas may be aligned with your values or they may offer a value you never even considered. After that, ask them they think would be some fair house rules. But also ask what they think the consequence should be if they break a rule. You’d be surprised how many teenagers have told me after given a punishment by a parent if they thought it was fair, they say, “I thought I’d get worse!”.  So their consequences for house rules may be more severe than yours!  And any opportunity to treat your teenager as someone who has a valuable opinion, it can buy you loads of good will.  You are still helping to teach your child independence while having the structure that you are looking to provide.

Set limits

Once your teenager has given their opinions about house rules, create ones based on their input and your most important values.  Again, I would only have a handful (6-8) so your teenager is able to remember them.  I would be clear about not only the rule but also the consequence.  As much as teenagers protest the rules, they really are craving the structure or the safety it provides for them (and sometimes the “out” when their friends are doing things your teenager knows they shouldn’t be doing).   Also, making them aware of a  reward may also help reinforce abiding by the house rules as well as demonstrate they have certain privileges that are not guaranteed.  If one of your values is based on health/safety, creating a rule stating that they must check-in regularly when out and communicate when they will be back.  Be clear what you mean exactly (e.g. answer phone/text within reasonable time, text/call if they change locations etc.) The reward might be that your teenager is able to have a later curfew for a special occasion (e.g. concert). The consequence of not doing this is they have an early curfew.  Another example would be if one of your primary family values is education, the rule might be a B average. The consequence of not maintaining this average is that they cannot have use of their cell phone in the evening. The reward would be allowing them to use the family car on the weekend.  Another example is if one of your important family values is responsibility, your teenager must have chores done (specify daily, weekly or day of the week). The consequence is that they can’t hang out with friends after school and the reward is that they can hang out with their friends after school.

After creating these house rules, consequences and rewards, the most important part is being consistent.  Even though this is the most difficult to do when we are stretched thin, exhausted etc. it communicates stability to our teenagers.  This is a work in progress and can be modified as needed.  And we all know that teenagers will make mistakes, push limits and intentionally break rules.  It is our job to give them the discipline, guidance and love to help them make better decisions to prepare them to be the best-functioning adults they can be.

 

Julie Safranski is a Chicago psychotherapist.   She thoroughly enjoys working with teenagers and loves the perspective that they bring.  She also looks forward to helping them and their families navigate the challenges as they reach adulthood.   She can be contacted at js@juliesafranski.com.

Does your child tattle tale? How to help your child learn to problem-solve

tattle vs. reporting

No one likes to be a tattle tale. I remember as a kid, if you were called a tattle tale it was the social kiss of death. You were teased, kids didn’t trust you and they remembered for a long time afterwards that you told an adult.  Even one study demonstrated that those who were perceived to be tattling were considered less liked by their peers. 

Nowadays, children do not have the same social opportunities to “free-play” as today’s parents once did. Through non-structured play, children naturally develop the skills of negotiating, compromising and learn the nuances of social interactions.   Most kids are involved in many community and extra-curricular activities that are facilitated by adults. These are great opportunities as they teach children how to work in groups, learn how to follow directions from others, develop teamwork skills etc.  But they rarely get the chance to work out conflicts and practice coming up solutions on their own independent of adults. And there are times when we want our kids to inform adults for behaviors that are physically harmful or threatening such as bullying. So how do we build resiliency and make sure our kids know when to tell an adult without being a social pariah?

When working with elementary-aged children, I use the language of reporting versus tattling. What is the difference? You are tattling when you want to get someone in trouble.   It is also tattling, if the behavior is not harming anyone even though it may be annoying.  If the issue is considered to be not important (e.g. not a health emergency or not a lot of people are affected), an adult does not need to get involved. Also, it is considered tattling if the behavior was an accident as no one meant harm. Lastly, if the problem can be solved independently it would be considered tattling.  So reporting is about letting an adult know if someone’s well being is of concern. If someone is physically hurt or threatening harm such as bullying, an adult needs to be told right away. Also, it needs to be reported to an adult if the person intending to hurt you on purpose or you need to keep someone safe.   Lastly, I tell kids that if it is a problem that adult needs to help you solve.   But I’d like to go one step further.   If there isn’t any danger or no one is getting hurt, I would prefer a child tell an adult AFTER they have tried  two things to solve the problem and it hasn’t worked.  Most kids get stuck on this and they would rather go to an adult first.  Here are some suggestions you can give your child to deal with a problematic social situation:

  • Ask them to stop
  • Walk away and find something else to do
  • Walk away and cool off
  • Ignore it
  • Use an I-Message (“I feel_____ when you______ can you next time________”)
  • Talk it out and find a compromise
  • Apologize

Or if you want to simplify tattling versus reporting, I have also seen teachers use in classrooms the 4 B’s of when to tell an adult.   Tell an adult if someone is bleeding, barfing, bullying or behaving dangerous. A little graphic but very clear!   Parents can utilize this especially among siblings who constantly look for their mom or dad to settle their fights.

We want kids to learn how manage their own conflicts if there isn’t any harm involved. Why is this important? It helps kids to feel competent and successful.  We don’t want to send the message that they always need someone else to help them deal with their problems. It also teaches kids that conflict is part of life and not everybody gets along.  If your child is still struggling, you might also consider reading with them Julia Cook’s A Bad Case of the Tattle Tongue or  Don’t Squeal Unless it’s a Big Deal  by Jeanie Franz Ransom.

The first week of May is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week in the U.S.   This blog post is part of the Raising Resilient Children series hosted by Imperfect Families.  Click the image below to find more tips from mental health professionals!

Daning in park

 

Julie Safranski, LCSW is a Chicago psychotherapist and has spent 15 years in various school settings.   She likes to help children find strategies they can use to help them feel confident socially and emotionally.  She can be reached at js@juliesafranski.com.

 

 

How Moms Can Take Charge of their Stress; 9 Simple Self-Care Activities to Try

 

Moms Take Charge of Your Stress

 

Whether you recently had a baby or your children are school-age, today’s moms are juggling priorities more than ever.  We are living in an era where the internet provides us so much information on how to parent our children.  There is an expectation to be “professional” moms well-versed in the latest methods of the current developmental task facing our child (“Potty-train your son in 1 week!”, “Does your teenager have the test-taking skills to get into the college of their choice?”)  Never mind that life happens and there is grocery shopping, laundry, playdates, cleaning the house, and having to cart the kids to the next extra-curricular activity.  Unfortunately in taking care of our families, often parents are not taking care of themselves.  We have to consider our self-care activities analogous to the airplane safety talk we hear from flight attendants; we need to take care of ourselves so we are able to help those around us who need us whether it be kids, spouse, aging parents or friends.  For many this is difficult, but even incorporating one change at a time to relieve stress can benefit us greatly.  Here are some gentle reminders of ways to relieve stress.

Take time for yourself daily

If you are unable to commit to any other changes in relieving stress, start with making time for yourself daily.  Find 15-20 minutes a day to do something that you enjoy. Whether that is reading a magazine, taking a relaxing bath/shower (uninterrupted!), taking the dog for a walk, watching TV or even just sitting in complete silence will be a step in developing good self-care. It’s a great way to start to establish a pattern of self-care to be better able to start to relieve our stress.

Eat healthily

“Clean Eating” is all the rage these days but for good reason.  You feel better when you eat less processed foods, more whole grains, fruits and vegetables.  But making sure that happens is easier said than done.  One small change you can make is packing a healthy lunch if you normally eat out.  Then you know you have had at least one healthy meal a day.   If you are a planner, try batching your cooking on one day of the week.  The you can decide to freeze some items and keep others in the fridge so you don’t have to cook during the rest of the week.  Another idea is utilizing the slow-cooker aka Crock Pot from the 70’s and 80’s.   The kitchen tool has found it’s way back into households for good reason; it helps to relieve the stress of busy lives by cooking while you are out with the kids or at work.  (And not just women use it,  men are using it too.)  You come home and voila!  You have a cooked meal without spending any time in the kitchen.   Current recipes reflect healthier ingredients than in the past.  Need ideas? Try googling crock-pot recipes and you will find endless blog posts on the subject not to mention Pinterest boards full of possibilities.

Sleep

We all know that getting enough sleep can be difficult, particularly as parents.  Babies that aren’t on a schedule, toddlers waking up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, sick school-age kids or even waiting up for teenagers to come home can all can impact our sleep.  I have offered some strategies in a previous post to develop good sleep hygiene that may be helpful.  If your kids are still taking naps, you should try to join them if you can.  Napping has shown to have great benefits  and the more sleep we have, the better our bodies can help us relieve our stress.

Gratitude

Expressing appreciation for what one has, can be difficult when dealing with stress day-to-day.  But developing the discipline to recognize the good in our lives has shown to have both emotional and physical benefits. Numerous studies have show that cultivating gratitude daily can result in being more optimistic, attaining more goals, more empathetic and being more connected to others. How to practice? Write 3 things you are thankful in the morning and at night daily. If you need inspiration to get you started, here are 52 prompts for the year.

Exercise

This is a concept that lots of people struggle with particularly after having kids.   How to fit exercise in your schedule in a way that your needs are being met while also not feeling guilty when taking time away from our family.   We all know the benefits of exercise but this article quickly sums up the positive impacts if you need reminders.  If you don’t like the gym or don’t have the time to commit to a membership, how about taking up a sport?  Maybe it’s going back to the athletics of your youth (be a mom who plays soccer rather than just a soccer mom!)  Or now is the time to try a new fitness class or sport.  For some people, knowing that others are depending on you to show up is the motivation to exercise.  And for working moms, even if you cannot find the time exercise, walking at lunch has shown to relieve stress and create health benefits.

Find a hobby

Finding a hobby could be an important way of finding that “me” time while also fulfilling a passion of yours that you put aside when you started having kids.  Or it could be an activity that you have always wanted to try.  And if you are learning a new skill, besides relieving stress, there is an added benefit to increase your memory.    Investigate your local park districts or libraries that offer adult classes.  There are also colleges/universities that have continuing education programs teaching various skills.  Local stores, art studios etc, also offer classes.  If money is an issue, if you have a few friends that are proficient in a particular hobby, have a monthly night that you meet to learn a new project.   Or if you if you prefer the self-taught route, there are tons of videos You Tube that have informational tutorials on various subjects.  A hobby or personal interest also teaches your children that you are a life-long learner!

Socialize

Whether you are introverted or extroverted, spending time with others is a great way to relieve stress.  The daily grind can be isolating if all your socializing consists of school drop-off or pick-up squeezed in during your work day.   If you are a stay-at-home with an infant, it also can get lonely without adult interaction.  One study has shown that friendships for women provide an alternative to the traditional fight-or-flight response to stress.   If you want a structured plan, join a new mom’s group or a book club.  If you are a looking to meet area parents,  plan activities or outings with other stay-at-home moms in your area through a Meet-Up group.  Even if you can plan a monthly coffee with a friend, it is a step that can help you to recharge.  Or swap babysitting with friends or neighbors so you can get a night out with your husband or wife.

Just Say No

Maybe you have guilt that you are “only” staying home with your kids and not working outside the home for pay.  Since you are at home,  you may end up being the go-to person whom family, neighbors, friends come to for extra help. If you can assist them, great.  But often times we feel obligated if people ask us to do something for them, we need to do it because we don’t want to let them down.   Saying yes too many times to commitments that we do not want to do will make us exhausted, unhappy and/ or resentful.  Setting healthy boundaries will save our energies for the people and commitments that are really important to us.

Ask for Help

Didn’t I just write “Just Say No”?  Yes, but there are times we do need to rely on others who are able to help us.  Not just able to help us but want to help and are sincere about it.  You may have helped this person in the past. Or maybe this is a friend is in a different place in their life and have more time to do things for other people. Think of the friend who has older high school children who loves babies and can watch your child while you head out to the gym or get a manicure.  Consider a niece or nephew who can pick-up/drop-off your kids at school to simplify your schedule once or twice a week.  Or even that neighbor who says, “I’m headed to the store -do you need anything?”.   Instead of always saying no, ask her to pick up those one or two items that would prevent you from having to make a separate trip.  You could always return the favor another time.  And help isn’t always in the form of asking others for favors, it could be simplifying your responsibilities.  It might be hiring someone to clean your house occasionally, using a grocery-delivery service or even considering getting a personal assistant if you have a very busy work/home life that could use someone helping you out a few hours a week.

One step at a time,  all of us can find ways that can relieve stress.   Creating a good self-care plan does not necessarily have be about sweeping changes but often just small adjustments to our day-to-day life that can improve our well-being.   Making a commitment to relieving stress, ultimately makes a pledge to being more emotionally available to all of those who are important to us.

 

Julie Safranski, LCSW, is a Chicago psychotherapist.   She tries daily to find her “me” time and likes helping others create the best self-care plan that works for them.   Julie can be reached at js@juliesafranski.com.

Improve Your Sleep Hygiene for a Better Night’s Rest

 sleep hygiene sleep tips 60618

Photo by Logan Nolin on Unsplash

Everyone struggles from time-to-time with a poor night’s sleep.  An occasional night where you wake up and can’t fall back asleep is not that uncommon.  But there are times where you may be having racing thoughts that makes it difficult to unwind at night.  You can’t fall asleep when you would like and end up staying up much later than intended.  But there are times that you have gone to bed at a reasonable hour but still feel tired in the morning because you were tossing and turning all night long. If any of these scenarios happen to you on a regular basis it may be time to consider what are your sleep habits or sleep hygiene and think about making a change.

One consideration is the food and beverages you are consuming near bedtime.  High-fat or spicy foods can be difficult to digest and eating them close to bedtime can make it hard to fall asleep.  But on the other hand going to bed hungry could also prevent you from getting to sleep because your stomach is growling.  Having a light snack before bed (e.g. yogurt with fruit, cereal with milk, almond butter and bananas) can help.  Also taking stock of how much caffeine you have had during the day is important.  The timing in which you had that last caffeinated beverage can really affect how you are able to fall asleep.  Having that last jolt of caffeine at 4pm may be what is disturbing your sleep when trying to fall asleep at 10:30pm.  Alcohol is also a culprit for disturbing sleep patterns.  It seems counterintuitive because it makes us fall asleep faster but studies show that it interferes with the quality of sleep.

Exercise is another way to improve your sleep.  Whether you workout at your local gym, play team sports, do Pilates, belong to a specialty gym like Cross Fit or Fly Wheel or just grab a pair of shoes to go running or walking outside, getting a cardio workout on a regular basis will help you fall asleep and stay asleep.  The health benefits are too numerous to name, not to mention the mental benefits of clearing your head and experiencing the endorphins after exercising and creating an overall better mood.  And not to forget yoga, which has a calming affect as well as doing some of these stretches  could help before bed.

We all are attached to our various devices and electronics.  But we are finding out that looking at them too close to bedtime can interfere with our ability to fall asleep.    Turning our devices off before going to sleep and leaving our smart phones, tablets and TV’s out of the bedroom can help us develop better sleep habits.  It prevents our brain from misinterpreting the light so we stay awake.  Also leaving our phones out of the bedroom, creates that boundary and alerts our brain that we are getting ready to sleep.  Not to mention if we leave the phone in the bedroom (even if it is for the alarm), we are still on “alert” to get a text or feel the need to check that work email just one last time.  We are not allowing our brains to shut-down and relax for the night.

 A great way to ensure a good night sleep is to create a relaxing bedtime routine that you can anywhere no matter where you are.  This could entail reading a good book or magazine before bed (not on your laptop, Kindle or phone!) even if it is just a handful of pages a night.  Maybe that means for you to take a relaxing bath or shower.  Eliminating emotional conversations near bedtime that can keep you awake is also helpful. Drinking some non-caffeinated tea or even hot water with lemon.  For some it may mean stretches to relax our muscles from a stressful day.    Journaling before bed such as writing the highlights of the day or creating a gratitude journal can be an effective way to try create positive thoughts before bed.   But whatever you choose, doing the routine on a regular basis and creating good sleep hygiene signals to your brain that it is time to go to sleep.

Good sleep hygiene is one way to help manage day-to-day.  Even changing one of your sleep patterns may be able to produce some relief in your sleeplessness and increase overall health benefits.   The more sleep you are able to get, the better our ability to deal with the daily stressors of life.

 

Julie Safranski, LCSW is a Chicago psychotherapist.  She enjoys helping people develop self-care skills including sleep hygiene to enjoy their busy lives.   She can be contacted at js@juliesafranski.com

 

3 Tips to Get Ready for Your Child’s IEP Meeting

 

3 tips for your child’s next IEP meeting

For those parents who have children that receive special education services and have an Individual Education Program (IEP), a meeting is scheduled on a yearly basis. But often parents go into the meetings feeling unprepared and wondering if the school is meeting the needs of their child. Besides your child, you are the most important member of the IEP team and your input is essential in helping to create the legal document. Here are some tips for you to consider before attending the meeting:

Look over the current IEP and determine what services are currently provided for your child.

This may sound very basic but the IEP document is very complicated and not clearly written for the layperson. By the time the next annual review rolls around, often parents have forgotten how many direct and consultative minutes their student is receiving during the school day or over the course of the week. It is important to know how that impacts your child day-to-day and how it contributes to their overall schedule. How many minutes are they in the regular education setting versus specialized instruction outside the classroom? For instance, your child may leave the classroom for an hour a day for reading instruction or get their needs met by a special education teacher consulting with the regular education teacher. What areas have been identified as needs? Your child has identified reading and math needs but now seems to be struggling with writing at home. Parents often think reading and writing services are automatically addressed together. Does your child receive any related services and for how many minutes a week (speech/language, social work, occupational therapy etc.)? Your child may get social work services for social problem solving but now he is getting more disciplinary actions (detentions, suspensions). A different goal may be appropriate or more services need to be provided. Unless you know what the document says, it’s hard to advocate for current needs of your child and to determine the next course of action.

Determine your areas of concern and let the case manager know before the meeting the issues you would like to have discussed.

The case manager will be contacting you to let you know about the scheduled IEP meeting either through email, mail and/or a phone call. At that time or soon thereafter, letting the case manager know your particular concerns (e.g. Will Abby be able to have extended time on the PARCC?) will help the IEP team to address your questions ahead of time so they are ready to discuss them at the meeting. Often there is so much to cover during the IEP meeting and time is limited so creating the focus will get your questions answered in an effective, timely manner. Also, it demonstrates to the team that you are going to be an active participant that has a working understanding of what the IEP currently states.

Think about what you would like to see for your child for the future.

Often this question is an afterthought at meetings. We are so focused on the day-to-day details and how to get the child through the school day, we do not think about their future particularly in the younger grades. Is your goal for your child to have the least amount of special education services by a certain grade level (i.e. high school)? Or is your focus having child developing the most independence in the community (i.e.. is able to make a purchase at a store independently without adult assistance)? Do you see your child attending community college, a university, a sheltered workshop, attending a transition program or working a job after high-school? Of course, your goals for your child are based on your child’s intensity of needs but thinking about the long-term will help to drive the IEP’s overall focus. Transition services do not legally have to be discussed until 14 years old and a plan is formally created starting at 16 years old. But it’s never too early to be thinking about how you can better prepare your child for independence no matter what are their level of needs.

Julie Safranski, LCSW is Chicago psychotherapist. She also holds Professional Educator License (PEL)-School Social Worker endorsement (Type 73) for the State of Illinois and has 15 years experience in special education. She can be reached at js@juliesafranski.com.

Your child with ADHD; 5 ways to get them back in the routine after a break

 

child with ADHD Julie Safranski 60618

Photo by Patricia Prudente on Unsplash

 

Your kids have been off for 2 weeks and you may have been too. Your time has probably been filled with kids sleeping in, family gatherings, sleepovers, late bedtimes and probably lots of toys/games cluttering your house. Even the families with the best intentions have difficulty keeping to a schedule over breaks. But now it is time to get back to the routine of work and school which is always difficult for everyone, especially those with ADHD. The first Monday after a break will be difficult but here are 5 suggestions to get you back on track and hopefully make for a smoother adjustment back to their routine.

 

Have your child go to bed a little earlier than they have been beginning on Saturday night.

I know most families have a different bedtime for their school-age kids during the week than they do on the weekends. The same goes for vacations. If this is true for your family, having your children go to bed closer to their normal bedtime on Saturday will hopefully make your Sunday night less stressed. We all know a child with ADHD needs their routine and sooner they can get back to it, the better. By Sunday night, they got a little extra sleep and hopefully there is a little less fighting about bedtime and “I’m not tired”.

 

Go to bed a little earlier on Saturday night.

Yes, you too. You also could use extra sleep with all those events you planned, hosted, attended etc. Not to mention all those extra activities you had to plan for the kids when they were off. A little extra sleep for you will also help you to deal with not only your adjustment but your kid’s transition back to school. Plus, you are modeling what you are preaching.

 

Have your child gather all their things the night before to be ready to walk out the door Monday morning.

Their backpack probably is exactly where they left it when they came home from that Friday afternoon when their break started. This also eliminates any surprises Monday morning of things that should have been given to you to read, sign or for them to complete. Also, have the kids lay out their outfit for the next day including socks and shoes. One less decision to make and one less shoe that needs to found. Preparing for the morning ahead of time is always helpful but after a long break, it can help make the morning a little less hectic with a child with ADHD.

 

Go over the calendar for the next day/week. 

You have been out of the routine for 2 weeks. All kids will need a reminder of their schedule of activities but it is particularly important for a a child with ADHD. Refreshing their memories about their schedule will hopefully will prevent any surprise meltdowns for those kids who get upset when the routine changes or have difficulty with transitions. Not to mention, it helps you prepare for the week.

Get up 15 minutes early to prepare for the day.

Give yourself an extra 15 minutes to get yourself together. Enjoy that cup of coffee. Scan the news on the internet. Creating that time for yourself will help you be present to be able to support your child with ADHD who even with the best planning, might need your help in the morning to start their week after a long break.

 

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