Monday, September 28, 2020

Reconnecting with our kids

Even though we are spending so much time together in the same space, many of us have had our roles change in ways that have added stress to our relationships with our kids. I encourage you to spend some time re-kindling or strengthening these relationships through purposeful time together and silliness and play.

Ideas to stay connected to your kiddo:

  • Let your child pick out a couple of new board games and have a game night.
  • Ride bikes together. (And if you’re not chicken, try to skateboard.)
  • Try doing an art project or craft together.
  • Make dinner together.
  •  Have a good old fashion pillow fight!

Funny questions to ask your kids to get them talking like:

  • If you could be invisible for one day only, what would you do?
  • Would you rather be as small as an ant or as tall as a giant? 
  • If you could visit one planet in the universe, which one would it be?
  • Do unicorns fart rainbows?

Benefits of Pretend Play

When children pretend, they use imagination and emotion. Pretend play is linked to skills in creativity, emotional control and awareness, and even academic achievement.

Tips to Bond with Your Child through Play

Because kids are naturally drawn to play, it can be a great tool for parents to connect with our kids and to help them develop new skills. Here are some ways for creating a great bonding and growing experience with your child:

  • Be intentional about setting aside time to play together, one-on-one. Plan for about 20 minutes if you can, with minimal distractions.
  • Choose toys that allow for good pretend play. 
  • If you and your child need help getting started, you can use a story stem like: “A story about a boy who lives in a castle.”
  • If you remember nothing else, FOLLOW YOUR CHILD’S LEAD. They are the experts, after all. As a rule of thumb, try not to say anything that changes the course of the story or adds a plot point. 

  • Praise, praise, praise! Kids absolutely soak up every bit of praise they receive. Find as many moments as possible to tell your child what great ideas they have and how funny and creative they are. “That was cool how you used ___ to be something else.”
  • Avoid asking lots of questions. Questions can show you are engaged, but they can also shut down natural creativity. We also tend to shift into teaching mode as parents (e.g., “What sound does a tiger make?” or, “What color is this?”), which is much less fun than what our kids have in mind for playtime.

Ideas for fun and safe things to do with kids like apple picking, drive-in movie options and hiking and

Interactive ‘How To’ videos like drawing different animals

Virtual fishing tournament

Disc Golf

Stallings kits for kids -

And a very cool ‘I.T. Adventures in a Box’

Learned Helplessness, What's THAT?


The need for virtual learning is a necessity of life, as we know it right now. The times you used to drop off your child to

practice being a UA student away from home is now not the norm. It is so difficult to watch your kiddo on a ZOOM call make a mistake you knew s/he could answer correctly without “helping” them. I want to introduce (or refresh for you) a concept called learned helplessness. I wish I had known this years ago when my three children were little.


  “Every single time you pick up a dirty sock, a used tissue, a crusty cereal bowl or a misplaced toy-every time you do this- you teach your child to believe in the “cleanup fairy.”


There is a story about a boy and ground beef that helps explain why NOT picking up that sock, used tissue or crusty cereal bowl is SO IMPORTANT. The story is an excerpt called ‘Hamburger, The importance of teaching our children to do for themselves. Hint: does your child know what hamburger is or how to find it in a store?

 Here is an article about What Learned Helplessness Looks Like in Children and another about why it happens. These may help you identify habits that need to be changed. So, you ask, what about that fine balance of encouraging freedom and giving too much freedom? That is exactly what this article will talk about, finding the best balance between the two.  

Friday, September 11, 2020

Is My Child OK, Or Does My Child Need Professional Help?

All kids have emotional ups and downs and we have heard over and over again that it is normal for your child to feel stress, worry, anxiety, and frustration during this pandemic.  At some point most everyone has cried, screamed, or lost their cool since the coronavirus halted our lives back in March.  So the questions arises- at what point are these emotions and behaviors more than "normal"? When should you seek professional help?

When To Seek Help

According to the National Association of School Psychologists, parents and caregivers should contact a professional if children exhibit significant changes in behavior or any of the following symptoms for more than 2 weeks.

Preschoolers—thumb sucking, bedwetting, clinging to parents, sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, fear of the dark, regression in behavior, and withdrawal.

Elementary school children—irritability, aggressiveness, clinginess, nightmares, school avoidance, poor concentration, and withdrawal from activities and friends.

Adolescents—sleeping and eating disturbances, agitation, increase in conflicts, physical complaints, delinquent behavior, and poor concentration

This Pediatric Symptom Checklist created by Massachusetts General Hospital is a quick 17 question screener that is helpful in determining if your child's behaviors are in the normal range.  Click here for the English version or here for the Spanish version. When you are finished, calculate the total score by adding the 17 individual scores (0 for never,1 point for sometimes, and 2 points for often). The total score will be between 0 to 34.  If the score is 15 or higher your child's difficulties are considered higher than normal and help may be needed. Please note that this tool does NOT diagnose any specific condition. PSC scores simply show how many problems are reported and whether those scores are high compared to other children. A higher PSC score often suggests a problem that can be helped, though it does not necessarily mean that your child has a disorder.

 Where To Get Help

There are many resources to help you and your child when emotional difficulties rise.  Your child's family doctor or pediatrician is a good first stop. They are experts at differentiating between normal and abnormal levels of emotional distress.  They can also assist with referring to a counselor. You can also call The National Mental Health Information Center at 1-800-789-2647 to ask questions and receive information and brochures and therapist referrals.

In a crisis- try any of these helplines:

  • Call 911
  • Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 (press 2 for Spanish), or text TalkWithUs for English or Hablanos for Spanish to 66746. Spanish speakers from Puerto Rico can text Hablanos to 1-787-339-2663.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifelineexternal icon: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English, 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish, or Lifeline Crisis Chatexternal icon

Finally, Remember: Some Struggles Are Normal

“Some moodiness, anxiety, and social and school difficulties are expected as kids grow up,” says psychologist Kristen Eastman, PsyD. “I call them bumps in the road.”  These normal developmental challenges may require your child to change perspectives or learn new skills. They can be viewed as opportunities for growth. In most cases, if you offer support, your child can figure it out. Validate your child's feelings and help them problem solve.  Sometimes, all the kid wants is to fee heard and understood.  In the event that normal difficulties turn into something more serious, trust your gut.  Don't be afraid to simply ask your child, "Does this feel like something we need to get help with?"  You may be surprised to hear them say yes.

As always, feel free to reach out to your child's School Counselor if you ever have a question or concern.

Article resources:  

Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Need for Socialization During COVID-19


      One of the hardest parts of COVID-19 for my own children has been the significant reduction in socialization.  This is not a surprise based upon the limits put on interactions and their own social-emotional developmental stage. Being around peers is normal and healthy part of child development.  At age 5 or 18, kids work to develop a stable self-concept, determine standards for their behavior, learn how the social world works, and develop strategies for self-control through peer interaction. In older adolescents, teens begin to actively separate from their parents. The need to be accepted by friends and belong to a peer group increases starting around age 7 and  prosocial behaviors (such as cooperation, sharing, and empathy) are acquired.  With peers, children and teens learn how to handle conflict, build trust, practice loyalty, and how to support others. Time with other children is a crucial piece of growing up and sadly children and teens have lost many of these opportunities since March.  This has caused some kids and adolescents to act out at home, feel down, or lonely.  This is ok, and should even be expected. (Click here to see Mental Health Red Flags for which parents should stay alert.)

So how can you support your child work through these social developmental milestones while interactions are limited? Deciding between allowing social interaction and protecting from the corona-virus is a balancing act.  It may help to think of social activities on a spectrum of risk to determine what is best for your child and family.  Emily Smith, Assistant Professor of Global Health, Exercise, and Nutrition Sciences at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, suggests considering people, space, place, and time before deciding to meet with others. 

People: Try to keep the total number of people with whom your children interact to a minimum.  This may mean only allowing in-person interaction with a very small number of friends.

Space:  I think we all know that 6 feet apart or more is best. Wearing a mask is advised, especially in situations where 6 feet cannot be guaranteed.

Place:  Outside is better than inside.  Open spaces carries less risk of infection, therefore setting up play dates that involve walks in the park or kickball is better than indoor play.

Time:  Increased time together equals an increase is risk of infection.  Per the CDC, being within 6 feet of a sick person with COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes counts as a COVID exposure. 

So, now that you know how to lower the risks of exposure- what are activities that have lower risks and could allow your child the chance to interact with their peers? Phone calls and video calls are no risk of infection. The Mayo Clinic suggested that outdoor activities such as walking, running, and biking are low risk.  They also suggest outside games like sidewalk chalk and frisbee (with the use of hand sanitizer) or meet ups for drive-in movies, and picnics (stay 6 ft apart and bring your own food and utensils).

Ultimately, this is a personal decision based upon the health and needs of your family. You must weigh the consequences of a COVID-19 exposure (possible sickness, or quarantine) against the reward for socialization.  There's no easy answer and the struggle is real. If your having trouble deciding, talk about it with someone you trust or try making a pros and cons list.   In the absence of treatment and a vaccine, Bertha Hidalgo, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Public Health recommends you proceed with caution and take care to assess risk. “We simply don’t know enough about the virus to be cavalier about returning to before-COVID life. We still need to proceed with caution and do it not only for ourselves, but for others as well,” she says.

**Please reach out to your child's school counselor or try one of these resources if you are worried about the mental health of your child.**


Friday, August 21, 2020

It’s OK not to be OK right now — in fact, it’s normal!

There is something called Toxic Positivity, who knew? I certainly did not but it makes so much sense! Dr. Long defines toxic positivity as the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. The process of toxic positivity results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience. “The pressure to appear ‘OK’ invalidates the range of emotions we all experience,” says Carolyn Karoll, a psychotherapist in Baltimore, Maryland. “It can give the impression that you are defective when you feel distress, which can be internalized in a core belief that you are inadequate or weak.”

So how do you deal with Toxic Positivity?

1. Avoid ignoring or stuffing your emotions Acknowledge how you feel, and feel all your emotions, good or bad. Sit with them. Avoiding how you feel will only prolong the discomfort.

2. Listen and validate how others feel — even when it’s different than how you feel Everyone’s entitled to their own feelings. Don’t shame another person for their emotions. It’s really important to acknowledge that others may not cope with things the same way you do.

3. Remember, it’s OK not to be OK “If you’re overwhelmed and exhausted, give yourself permission to rest or do something imperfectly, free of guilt,” Long says.

4. Remember that feelings aren’t mutually exclusive “Healthy positivity acknowledges authentic emotions,” Long says. “It rejects the either/or mindset and holds that two opposing concepts can be true simultaneously. “In other words, you can be sad about losing your job during the pandemic and be hopeful about finding a new job in the future.

5. Be realistic If you want to feel productive, start with small, actionable steps.“Doing things to make you feel better that are extensions of your existing behavioral repertoire requires less cognitive effort and protects the person from setting, and ultimately not meeting, unrealistic expectations,” Zuckerman says.

6. Recognize toxic positivity messages Usually, these messages are overly simple: “Positive vibes only,” “Choose happiness,” etc. Remember, what makes positivity toxic is that it dismisses other genuine emotions, Long explains: “If the message is that positivity is the only or best way to go, that’s problematic.” You don’t have to engage with toxic positivity. See the chart below by Dr. Long that shows a better way of encouraging and supporting someone’s outlook or perception.

Toxic Positivity

Non-Toxic Acceptance & Validation

‘Don’t think about it, stay positive!”

“Describe what you’re feeling, I’m listening”

“Don’t worry, be happy!”

“I see that you’re really stressed, anything I can do?”

“Failure is not an option.”

“Failure is part of growth and success.”

“Positive vibes only!”

“I’m here for you through both good and bad.”

“If I can do it, so can you!”

“Everyone’s story, abilities, limitations are different, and that’s okay.”

“Delete negativity.”

“Suffering is part of life, and you are not alone”

“Look for the silver lining.”

“I’m here for you.”

“Everything happens for a reason”

“Sometimes we can draw the short straw in life. How can I support you during this hard time?”

“It could be worse.”

“That stinks! I am sorry you’re going through this!”

7. It’s OK to be wary of social media “People put their best-filtered foot forward on social media,” Zuckerman explains. “Rarely do people post their faults, flaws, or highlight their poor decision making. As a result, social media gives off the impression that everyone is handling hard times ‘better than you,’ [and] this fosters a sense of loneliness, shame, and embarrassment.” In particular, she adds, watch out for social media influencers, because many promote toxic positivity by only posting their best looks, workouts, and what appears to be perfect lives.

Click either article Healthline and The Psychology Group to read in their entirety.