Do you know of a family that has a child who is in the process of transitioning? Or whose family includes a transgender or gender expansive child? Here are some easy ways you can support them:Read More
Check out our top 5 tips for making the transition back to school a little bit easier for everyone.Read More
By Jennifer Shivey MA, LPC, RPT-S
The term “Reunification Therapy” gets thrown around a lot, and it’s one that is commonly misunderstood. Here’s where I think the confusion lies: Reunification Therapy is not so much a phrase that’s originated within the mental health community. It’s a term that comes from the legal community and family courts. As therapists, we are cautioned and warned in every which way not to practice outside of our scope. When there is a new treatment modality or procedure that we want to be able to use, we seek out a workshop, certification program or other coursework to ensure that we know what we are doing! There’s not really a certification or any specific training for Reunification Therapy, so when we are asked if we provide that service many of us answer “no.” Reunification Therapy typically comes with court involvement, which is also tricky for therapists, so we also tend to decline as we don’t know what we might be getting into, and don’t want to practice outside of our scope.
Here’s the thing that we as therapists need to understand: What is called Reunification Therapy in the legal world is called Family Therapy in ours. The difference is that the specific focus of the Family Therapy is to reunify the parties, for the most part a parent and their child(ren). So to accomplish this goal we need to have training in family therapy. We also need to know how to work with children, and if they are young we should be utilizing Family Play Therapy (yes, I know that’s my own bias but I stand by it!). We need to have some basic knowledge of the court system, who a GAL is, who a Caseworker is, how does confidentiality work, etc.
The times that I have done Reunification Therapy the only court involvement I had was communicating with a GAL and/or Caseworker, and providing a clinical summary of our work together. The clinical summary should include things such as:
Are the parties attending sessions and participating meaningfully?
Are there any concerns about safety or the child(ren)’s welfare?
Is the parent displaying adequate parenting skills?
What goals were accomplished? Which ones need work?
What can support the family moving forward?
You want to make sure your paperwork is in order. This is not a scenario where you want to bend the rules - straight by the book, no exceptions! As always, every case is different, and if you have concerns you should always consult with an attorney about specifics. Reunification Therapy shouldn’t be as intimidating as it sounds. At the end of the day you are helping a family to work out their differences so they can reconnect. All in a day’s work for us, right?
Wishing you health and happiness this holiday season.
While the holiday season is a joyous time for many, we know that is not always the case for every person. If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, please do not hesitate to reach our and/or share these resources:
Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Addiction Hotline: 1-877-226-3111
Self Harm Hotline: 1-877-455-0628
Depression Hotline: 1-888-640-5174
Eating Disorder Hotline: 1-844-228-2962
Crisis TEXT Line: 741741
Simply put: children are not born with the ability to recognize and control their own emotions. It’s something that needs to be learned/taught. This is why it’s easier to tell when a child likes or doesn’t like something — they wear their emotions on their face! Understanding the way other people communicate nonverbally is essential for us to be able to relate and get along with others. This includes children! Click here for some tips to help you help your child understand body language.
By Christa Grauert
This year, I was lucky enough to attend The Association for Play Therapy Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. Having graduated with my Master’s Degree in Clinical Counseling only a couple months before, I was anxious to attend. I could feel emotions stir inside my stomach and I began to doubt who I was as a therapist. These feelings of inferiority were quickly squashed the second I stepped foot in the Grand Sheraton, as I was immersed in a sea of other Play Therapists who share the same passion as myself. There were 1,100 therapists there, all eager to learn, and take away new knowledge to better support our clientele.
Being my first conference, I threw myself into as many workshops as I could, but could feel the fatigue set in after day three of 9am to 6pm classes. Nevertheless, there was an energy in each of the workshops that encouraged me to continue showing up and opening my mind and heart to whatever I was about to absorb in those moments. I attended a range of trainings beginning with innovative techniques to support hard to engage kids and teens and ending with a Jungian play therapy approach to sexual abuse victims. Attending this conference, I gained a new perspective of how I can approach my sessions depending on the needs of my clients. I feel that I walked away with more skills and resources in my toolbox that will contribute to the well-rounded, engaging and compassionate play therapist that I want to be. I look forward to attending the 2019 Conference next year!
By Danielle Maizel
The term “growth mindset” describes an underlying belief about intelligence in which students believe in their ability to get smarter, so they understand that their effort makes them stronger. “I can’t” statements are changed to “I can’t, YET” in a growth mindset.
Parents! Here is a great tool for teaching your children how to embrace the Power of Yet by teaching them how to problem solve using a growth mindset.
There are definitely benefits to “letting” transgender children socially transition at a young age. For one, kids just don’t care. It’s true! You want to go by a different name and wear a dress? Ok - let’s go get a snack now. That’s usually pretty close to what I hear from young kids who have not been told otherwise. Preschoolers and elementary age children are typically pretty understanding when their friend tells them they are really a different gender. A lot of people think that we don’t need to talk to kids about this - but we do talk to them about diversity in other realms, right? Why would this be different? A child having support and knowledge about who they are from a young age is so incredibly empowering for them. They can connect with other transgender children so they don’t later feel isolated, and like they are the only ones in the world who feel this way. We have phenomenal resources here in Colorado in the way of support groups and medical/mental health professionals to make transitions easier. There are also very specific laws for schools about basic rights of LGBTQ+ youth. YouthSeen is an organization in our community that can help connect families to some of these resources.
Connecting with other families, knowledgeable professionals and reputable groups can make accessing this information much easier, as well as building a support network for parents who are supporting their child. No child should feel alone in their journey, but no parent should either.
*As published in OutFront magazine, July 18, 2018
I get asked a lot about Play Therapy:
What is it?
Is it a for real treatment?
Aren't you just playing with kids?
How can that really help?
Yes, it's a real thing. Yes, there is science backing why it works and what happens in the brain. No, it's not the same as talking to kids while they play with some toys or a game.
I had the privilege of seeing Paris Goodyear-Brown speak and I own several of her books on trauma in children. If you've ever asked any of the above questions about Play Therapy I urge you to check out this video!
At Realistic Serenity we wear many hats, and treat adults as well as children and families. But this is why Play Therapy will always have a special place in our hearts.
Jennifer Shivey MA, LPC, RPT-S
I’d like to talk about one of my favorite myths of childhood: “Oh, they were so little, they don’t even remember that awful thing that happened,” and “Children don’t remember anything before the age of three.” This is only partially true. There are two kinds of memories that we need to pay attention to.
Explicit memories are the concrete memories that we can recall. These are things such as, “I remember going to the amusement park,” or “I remember that I got really sick and had to stay in the hospital.” These are the memories that start to solidify around the age of three. At this age, memories become increasingly more detailed and are easier to recall. This is due to brain development, language development and an overall exposure to different experiences that children are now able to differentiate. But that is not to say that they don’t remember anything prior to this stage of development.
Implicit memories are the things that maybe we don’t remember but our bodies remember. For example, maybe we don’t remember that we were involved in a bad car accident at the age of two, but our bodies remember a time that was not safe. Our bodies remember something happened that scared us, made our heart rate increase, maybe we felt alone, etc. These events then have the possibility of becoming triggers in everyday life. We might not understand why we sometimes have panic attacks in the car for no apparent reason, and it can feel very frustrating and confusing not to have a reason for those reactions.
This is where EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy can be helpful. For EMDR, it’s not necessarily important to remember the triggering event. We can use the current responses to current day triggers as a starting place. EMDR will help to unravel the connections that were made to those implicit and explicit memories. It’s not hypnosis - no chance of unknowingly clucking around like a chicken here! Clients are awake and present for the entire process. We still remember those events, it’s just not at the forefront of our minds triggering that fight, flight or freeze response because our mind knows it’s not something that’s happening right now. EMDR looks very different for children than it does for adults, so it’s important to make sure that your clinician has the training to fit your individual needs.
To learn more about if EMDR is right for you or your child, visit our website here!
Jennifer Shivey MA, LPC, RPT
By now, most kids are back in school. Hooray! This usually brings a mix of emotions for both children and their parents. Here are some things to keep in mind as your student embarks on this year’s school journey:
1. The days are long! Especially for children entering kindergarten. Even if your child has attended full time preschool, kindergarten is a whole new game. Naps are gone. They are learning more and adjusting to all the new rules and expectations, at the same time that they are taking in everything that their new environment has to offer. Expect some meltdowns and know that this is normal. Which brings us to the next point…
2. “Why do I hear nothing but rave reviews of my child during the day, yet they lose their s%#! the minute they get home/in the car?” Yeah. I’ve been there. Kids are typically able to keep it together while they are at school. But it takes everything in them to do so. Once they see you, well…you are their safe zone. Their home and family is the one place where they know that no matter what, you will still love and accept them. As such, this is where they can lose it without fear of repercussions. If you find this happening, congratulations! You’ve created a safe environment where they feel ok to show you the not so shiny parts of themselves. Well done! Validate, validate, validate and help them to name their emotions. “It seems like you had a long day. I can tell you’re exhausted. I can see you’re upset – tell me more. It’s ok to feel _____, but I’m not ok with hitting/yelling/throwing/etc.” This will calm down a bit, but don’t take it personally in the meantime.
3. Now is not the time to add extracurricular activities to the schedule. In fact, it might be better to pare those back a bit initially if possible while they are adjusting to school. Again, the days are long and they are nearing max capacity as is. Take this time to establish a routine, and work out any kinks that may need adjustment. See if you can catch the next session of that activity later in the fall.
4. Let your child know you are genuinely interested in their day at school. If you have a child like mine, the answer to “How was your day?,” will always be, “Great!” That’s it. Nothing else. Also, if you happen to be my kid you will decline to share any of your friends’ names because Mommy won’t share her clients’ names with you. <insert eye roll here> Click here to see some alternative ways to ask your child how their day was.
Good luck out there, parents! May the odds be ever in your favor.
I've seen this video floating around on social media for a week or so now and haven't taken the time to watch it. I finally did this morning and was left in tears. This comes at a timely point in my life for me, as I am struggling to juggle some unexpected curveballs. I also had the opportunity to see Brene Brown speak last night (therapist geek out moment...!), so her words are very fresh in my mind. Here's my truth: I am a Registered Play Therapist. I've worked hard to earn that accreditation - I took a lot of extra classes and received many, many hours of supervision all about parenting, child development, therapeutic activities and techniques for working with children, etc. Yet, every single day I question whether or not I am a good mother myself. Every. Single. Day. The story I tell myself is that I don't really know what I'm doing, I'm not qualified, I can't give others advice because I am so unsure of what I am doing as a parent myself. Am I making the right choice for my child? What have I done today that's potentially damaging to his soul, his little spirit? How's that for vulnerability?
Then I watched this. All of these women have different stories and are parenting their children differently from one another. From the outside they seem pretty confident in their parenting choices, then you hear what they are really thinking. And you hear what their truth is. It felt like someone was wringing out my heart and uncovering all of the things. I felt connected to at least one thing every one of these moms said. I realized how much I still compare myself to other moms, even though I know better. As it turns out, we all probably judge one another and none of us know what that other person's truth is. A quote that I hold on to often is something along the lines of, "Every day, every person you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about." The fact that I seem comfortable and confident in my role as a working mom doesn't mean that I didn't cry the entire way to work after dropping my child off at preschool one morning.
I'm extremely fortunate to be surrounded by people who help to lift me up and who will call me out when the story I'm telling myself simply doesn't make sense. Will I make mistakes? Of course. I can't grow if I don't fail first and fail often. Brene Brown talks about the difference between risking failure and embracing it. It's not that you're prepared to risk failing - it's that you WILL fail. It's what you do with it that matters. So yes, let's stop the shaming and the judging that seems so commonplace and almost acceptable in today's parenting culture. And when it feels too overwhelming, ask for help! If I could go back and change one thing about my early days as a new mom, it would be to accept the help that was offered and not pretend that I had everything under control. We can do hard things, no doubt about it, but that doesn't mean we have to do it alone.
I recently had the pleasure of presenting to a group of talented early childhood educators about a variety of topics, the most pressing being “What do we do with all of these boys who want to play guns at school?” This is not a new dilemma – kids (both boys and girls) have been “playing guns” for as long as any of us can remember. Many of us probably did, right? But here’s the thing: We live in a world where some bad things have gone down. We are now prepping our young children to enter into school settings with zero tolerance policies for guns. We can’t really stop them from enacting gun play (children will make gun toys out of anything, even if toy guns are never provided), but at the same time we don’t feel right about allowing it. So what’s a parent or teacher to do?
First, look closely at what your children are actually playing. Are they aiming at each other and declaring each other “dead?” Do they know what dead means? On television, specifically cartoons, characters who are shot at don’t really die. They evaporate, disappear, wither up and come back, etc. You can talk with your child about what they feel like when someone hurts them, and maybe even what it means when someone dies. Maybe they’re playing super heroes or something where they are in a position of power over someone else. Play is how kids process things going on in their world. Kids who act out play scenarios where they need to be in charge often feel somewhat powerless in other areas of their lives. If you think about it, this makes sense. We make lots of decisions for our children – where they go to school, what and when they eat, where they’re going, etc. Giving children the power to make small choices such as, “Do you want to wear this red shirt or this blue shirt today?” can help to build empowerment, and reduce power plays in general.
Another strategy is to give kids an alternative to playing guns that still feels similar. Targets are great for this. Use sidewalk chalk on a fence or a dart board type game to let them throw water balloons, balls, sponge bombs or anything else at – safely. Put parameters around it such as, “We never aim at people, because we don’t want to hurt them, but we can aim at this.” Not shoot – aim.
Finally, talk about it! This is not a topic that we should keep away from kids. Whether you have guns in your home or not, chances are good that at some point, your child will come into contact with a dangerous weapon of some sort. If they already know never to touch a gun, and what to do if they see one at a friend’s house, they have a base to work from. Otherwise, it’s just something new that could be exciting to check out.
For further info, here are some resources I’ve used in the past. And always, if you have questions or aren’t sure how to handle a situation, just ask! This is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. If I can’t answer your question I will connect you with someone who can.
Website: PBSKids.org - Boys and Guns: What's a Parent to Do?
This is a really fun, easy and inexpensive tool that can be used in a ply therapy setting or at home! How I use this the most is to have kids (or teens or adults) use sidewalk chalk to draw or write whatever it is they're struggling with; feelings re the death of a loved one, anger and/or sadness about a divorce or about a loved one's substance abuse, naming feelings - the possibilities are really endless. Then they get the water bombs wet and launch them at the things they've drawn. Maybe they're not ready to let go of some and those stay. But the effect of throwing something at an issue and literally watching it melt away can create a powerful mind/body connection.
Maybe you didn’t hear, but last week the internet broke again. No, nothing Kardashian related this time. Apparently, the internet broke because Jaden Smith wore a skirt. This brings up a question that I have actually had since I was young – if I can wear a pantsuit and nobody cares, why can’t a male choose to wear a dress? It’s just an article of clothing after all, isn’t it? I can also wear hoodies, jeans, button down shirts – basically I can wear whatever I want to and nobody jumps to any conclusions about my sexual orientation or general identity. Nobody blinks an eye. People close to me are well aware that I have a little boy who loves nothing in his closet more than his Hello Kitty dress. It’s been worn so much that it is literally a tattered shred of a dress at this point, but as soon as he sees it’s available it’s the only thing he wants to wear. Any why shouldn’t he? He has no idea at this age that certain colors are “girl colors.” They’re all just colors to him, as they should be. When did we start categorizing colors by gender anyway? It absolutely breaks my heart that conclusions could be drawn about him based on what he wears. You might be thinking, “Nobody judges 2 year olds for their clothing choices,” but that’s not true. It’s done with subtlety, but it’s done. I already heard someone close to him say, “That’s a great outfit to wear at home, but not when you go out.” And right there is where it begins, folks. That’s where the messages start that there is something wrong with you if you dress a certain way. I feel like we have better things to focus our attention on. Let’s be honest here: Jaden Smith looks better in a dress than I do on most days. So men, if you want to rock in something different for a change, come on over to “our” section of the clothing aisle. There’s a bigger selection, which means you all won’t be wearing the exact same outfit all of the time! Plenty to share and you’re welcome to it.
Today I caught myself doing something ridiculous. Something I’m embarrassed to admit I do all the time. I was picking out my clothes based on who was going to see me today. At first glance this doesn’t seem so odd – if I’m going to work I dress differently than if I’m going to go run errands, right? But that wasn’t exactly it, and the sillier thing is that I was already dressed and was simply choosing a pair of socks. I had one pair in my hand and then thought, “These are cute socks – I should save them for a time when someone might actually see them.”
What? It got me to thinking about the importance we place on ourselves. So much effort goes into pleasing others and showing up for them, but what about just showing up for you? This comes out in many different ways in counseling sessions I have with others. I talk about creating boundaries, the importance of self-care, advocating for yourself – and then I downgrade my sock selection because I’m just doing paperwork today and nobody will see them except for me. Hmmm.
The truth is that there is an unspoken expectation in our society that to be a “good” person you need to put others’ needs in front of your own. This is actually true in some scenarios, but there has to be a balance. An analogy I use all the time is “your bucket.” Everyone has a bucket of what they are capable of giving to others. But if you deplete this bucket completely you have nothing left to give – to anyone, including yourself. So what do you do about this? You make sure your bucket is being refilled regularly so that it always has something in it and never runs dry. You do things FOR YOU! This looks different for everyone. Maybe it means you do something pampering or make time to work out so your body is strong. Maybe you read a good novel that doesn’t have anything to do with your professional growth. Maybe you wear the cute socks, just for you, because they make you happy. Hopefully you also have a good support network of friends, family or others that add positive energy to your life and give back some of what is taken out of your bucket. If you think about it, the more you take care of yourself, the more you have to give to others.
So go ahead and grab those cute socks and rock them all day long! Because you can.
Finding a therapist can be difficult. It is a deeply personal experience. You want someone who is qualified to work with the issues you are concerned about, and you also want to be able to build a lasting and trusting relationship with your therapist. So, how do you decipher all of the different kinds of therapists out there based on the alphabet soup of letters following their name? Let's do this!
MA/MS - Master of Arts/Master of Science. This person has a master's degree in a counseling related field. Sometimes Community Counseling, Clinical Counseling - the specific names vary, but a master's degree that included a lot of classes about how to provide counseling, a practicum and an internship.
LPC - Licensed Professional Counselor, Counselor/Therapist. In addition to having a master's degree, this type of clinician has also passed a board exam approved by their state, and has met the experience and supervision requirements set forth by their state. In Colorado, a LPC must complete 2000 hours of counseling work experience and must have received a minimum of 100 hours of supervision. This cannot be completed in less than 2 years. A LPC cannot prescribe medication, but will often refer to and work in conjunction with providers who can. (In Colorado, a LPCC is a Licensed Professional Counselor Candidate)
LMFT - Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Counselor/Therapist. Very similar to the requirements for a LPC. This clinician's master's degree has more of a focus on marriage and family counseling. A LMFT also cannot prescribe medication, but will often refer to and work in conjunction with providers who can.
PsyD or PhD - Doctorate of Psychology/Doctorate of Philosophy, Psychologist. This clinician has completed a doctorate program in the field of psychology and has passed a board exam, in addition to the requirements of a MA/MS degree. They will have the title of Dr. in front of their name. Psychologists typically have more training in administering evaluations and other testing. A psychologist cannot prescribe medication. .
Psychiatrist - Medical Doctor. A psychiatrist is a clinician that has attended medical school. They definitely have the title of Dr. in front of their name. If they are practicing psychiatry exclusively, they should be board certified in psychiatry. Psychiatrists can prescribe medication as well as offer talk therapy.
There are many other specialties that therapists can earn that will allow them to have additional titles after their names. I am a RPT, which stands for Registered Play Therapist. Another common title is CAC (I, II, III), which is a Certified Addictions Counselor. There are many more. All of these require additional training, verification of experience and supervision. So there you have it, in a nutshell. Good luck on your therapist search, and remember that therapists typically know a lot of other therapists - if you're not sure what you need just call one of us. If we can't help we will direct you to one of our many colleagues that specializes in the type of treatment you are looking for.
For this blog post I thought I’d write about something different. I know that usually I write about something kid related because I’m a play therapist and have a toddler – so those topics pretty much encompass my life. But I’m also really committed to leading a healthy (mostly – it is Pumpkin Spice Latte season at Starbucks) lifestyle. For me, yes, but also because I want to role model what being healthy should mean to my son. But that doesn’t mean that at times I’m not faking it until I make it. This is the real world, after all.
Right now I am really into doing this workout called PiYo at home and I’m training for a half marathon in October. This is my 4th or 5th (can’t remember) half marathon, but it’s the first time I’ve really attempted to do anything physically challenging since having my son – yes, 2 years ago. I lead an online group of runners that live all over the country who are also training for a half-marathon this fall (and I use the word “lead” loosely – they are awesome and kinda do their own thing, so really they motivate me to keep going). I like the sense of community that it builds virtually. Running on the trails here also builds upon that. Runners are friendly! They smile and/or wave when you pass each other. You start to see a couple of the same people every once in a while on the trails. It makes you feel included and like you’re in this together. Even though I’m running alone (my son is usually asleep in the stroller), it fosters the need for belonging that we all as human beings crave.
Now when I say I’m “running” a half marathon I really mean I’m jogging/walking for 13.1 miles. The honest truth? I hate running. I mean, I really don’t like it at all! But I do enjoy getting out and enjoying the fresh air. I enjoy the running trails around my house and the feeling that I get from running. Doing any physical exercise is an instant mood-lifter. It increases the level of endorphins being released and makes you feel better. Despite that, I use a lot of mind tricks to motivate me to keep going. There are two trails near my house that both run along rivers. That means they have little bridges crossing over them. I use those as markers. “When I get to the next bridge I can walk until the one after that.” I do the same with music. I’ve had the same playlist on my phone for years now. It hasn’t been updated at all. I think there’s some comfort in knowing that those songs got me through the last half-marathons, and they can do it again! I also use other landmarks along the way as motivation markers. Like this:
I’ll just let you caption that one.
My son at this point is used to us going on our runs. It’s not out of the ordinary, nor is it unusual for him to see me working out. As I’ve talked about before, the scale from his point of view is something that we celebrate by declaring how strong we are! We see who can do a better downward dog and he’s got a decent side plank. We race down the hallway to his room (the people that live below us hate us). I make him boatloads of healthy foods to try that he will take one look at and declare, “No”, but we keep at it. You don’t have to be a superhero or have an army of nannies to do things that will help take care of your overall well-being. As an entrepreneur and a mom to an extremely active little boy I rarely have spare time. But it’s funny how you make time for the things that are a priority in your life and find ways to make them happen. You are a priority in your life. Being healthy and able to live the best life possible is a priority. It’s not all or nothing, you do what you can, but you do have to take that first step.
I was introduced to this phrase a couple of weeks ago, and I have been using the heck out of it! With my clients, in my own personal life – it just seems to be applicable to so many situations! Not my circus, not my monkeys is a Polish proverb (nie moj cyrk, nie moje malpy) that basically means, not my problem. How refreshing is that? It is without a doubt the hardest lesson I have had to learn in my life. As I’ve talked about before, I am a fixer. I think most therapists are – it’s what drives us to be therapists after all, to help other people solve their problems. But helping someone else to solve their problems is much different than solving someone else’s problems for them. And that’s hard. You want to help. You may know (or think you know) what would be the best solution. But you simply cannot want something for another being. They have to want it for themselves. And they have to be willing to work for what they want.
One of the biggest traps that therapists fall into is that of working harder than their clients. It leads to therapist burnout, resentment and can also contribute to secondary trauma if pushed too far. It is so incredibly difficult for a therapist to sit back and watch their client struggle. Yet, it is that very struggle that is going to help them come to the conclusion that they need to in order to best serve their life, their desires and their goals. I often talk to my clients about how I at times have to visualize a bubble that springs up around me when I need it to. It’s how therapists protect themselves and how they are able to detach (somewhat – we’re not perfect, being drawn into other people’s stuff is what led us to this profession). Reminding yourself that these aren’t your monkeys can serve as a visual reminder to provide some distance, while still being present and sharing in the other person’s journey with them.
But does this phrase only apply to therapists? Heck no! Everyone can benefit from it! I’ve used it at home when frustrated with my toddler (but he just starting acting like a monkey, so – win some, lose some), in line at the grocery store, while driving on the same roads with people who certainly never took any sort of driver’s education, whatsoever. It pops into my head sometimes when I’m reading my Facebook feed and I want to comment on something that I know I have no business sticking my nose into. I’ve taught it to my husband so he can use it when he gets overwhelmed at work. It’s a funny image, so it adds some lightheartedness to what can be a frustrating, overwhelming, fill-in-the-blank emotion situation.
The point is, it’s hard to pull away from the drama and not take in everything as your own. You have your own stuff to deal with, so pick your outside battles wisely. Do you really need to be involved in everything? Think of yourself as a bucket – you only have so much to give, and when it’s empty you can’t give anything useful to yourself or to others. If you need to adopt some of those monkeys on occasion that’s fine, that’s life. But decide how many you want, and think about what your circus will look like.
This isn’t a new idea – I’m totally copying someone else, but these are the reasons my 2 year old has had meltdowns this week:
• Wrong sippy cup provided
• Wants to open and shut an umbrella repeatedly inside, with no regard to hitting other people/things/animals
• Wants the hair tie currently in my hair (20 minutes on this one)
• Doesn’t want to go to bed
o Needs more milk (3+ sippy cups worth)
o Needs different blanket
o Didn’t kiss all of the stuffed animals/blanket/sippy cup/pillow in his crib goodnight – twice
o Wants to go potty
o Wants a new diaper
o Needs a different pajama top/pajama bottom
• Wants to watch “maid”, aka The Little Mermaid, on repeat
• Shirt won’t fit on his legs
• Shorts won’t fit over his head
• Doesn’t want to leave the playground/go inside/go outside
• Saw a playground out of his window as we were driving by and wants to stop
• Wants potato chips for breakfast/lunch/dinner
• Can’t play with a plastic bag
• Can’t play behind photo counter at Walgreens (knockdown, dragout, kicking and screaming while waiting in line with the world’s slowest checker)
There are more. Many more. At times I feel like my life has become one imminent meltdown after another. Where will it be? Who will be watching and judging? I picture myself cowering in the corner, just waiting for the next one to erupt. Picking my battles has an entirely different meaning. Take the hair tie example. He keeps ripping hair ties out of my hair and I finally had to set a limit. He wasn’t happy about that. It would have been so-o-o-o-o much easier to just give him the hair tie – I didn’t need it that desperately at the moment. But doing so would only reinforce that if he screams and kicks loudly enough he will eventually get what he wants. Every time I say “no” I run the risk of a meltdown. It’s exhausting. It’s also simply where he is at right now and what he needs to be doing to figure out this part of his world.
Our bodies are actually designed to deal with stressors the way a child does – to erupt, get it out of our system and then move on as if nothing happened. We’re conditioned as we grow to control these emotions, where sometimes screaming and kicking a punching bag would be much more effective. A toddler, for starters, just doesn’t have all of the verbal skills to be able to work this out with them – yet. They will, and until they have it we have to keep talking to them as if they do, because that’s how they will learn what our response will be and that’s how we teach them how to safely express their emotions in a way that is acceptable in our society. During a tantrum, you’re supposed to stay near your child, comfort them, let them know that you are right there beside them to support them and to help them through that wave of emotion. Not everyone agrees with that, but that’s the current line of thinking and I actually do agree with it. I try really hard to practice what I preach with my own child, but it’s really difficult, and like I mentioned already, absolutely exhausting. My son happens to not want to be touched or really comforted when he is having a tantrum. Telling him “I see that you’re angry” only angers him more. I still say all of the things I’m supposed to, in the hopes that one day it will “click” and he’ll tell me “I’m angry right now!” Until then, I have to standby at an arms distance and wait it out until he is ready to come to me. Ugh. He cried so hard about the hair tie that I honestly thought he was going to make himself throw up, but I was at the point of no return and had to follow through with what I said (side note: He now asks if he can have my hair tie, which is an improvement. I now always say yes, out of fear that the meltdown will happen again - we’re both a work in progress).
So, pick your battles and let the little things go. Remember that your expectations of them might be more than they can actually manage. They aren’t going to sit still at a restaurant. Why on earth would they want to leave their favorite playground? Toddlers see things very much in black or white – in the moment that hair tie was probably the most important thing in his little world, and to be told he couldn’t have it was devastating. He wasn’t faking it. He wasn’t being dramatic for the sake of being dramatic. His feelings got too big for him to manage and he responded in the only way he knows how to at his age. When it was over he felt better and moved on. The good news is that this stage won’t last forever. Riding out the storm now and teaching your child what those firm boundaries are will help you both later on. When you say no, mean it. But teaching your child that you are there with them to ride out that storm together sets forth a much stronger message: That you’re there to ride out any storm with them, no matter how big it may be.