HERE YOU WILL FIND MY LATEST BLOG POSTS, SUCCESS STORIES, EVENTS AND HELPFUL INFORMATION FOR ALL MY PROSPECTIVE CLIENTS!
2 months ago
Creating New Holiday Traditions
What do the holidays mean to you? Let's start with Thanksgiving - which is coming up fast. For our family, it's all about creating a special meal and spending quality time with our family and friends. Throw in some game time and a movie or two and you have the ultimate May Family holiday gathering. Unfortunately, this year isn't the best time to get together with people who don't live in your household.
Rather than focus on what we CAN'T do, I'd like to shine a spotlight on some things we CAN do! Below are some ideas I have either heard or read about or have done myself.
Have nearby friends or family members cook their usual "special dish" for Thanksgiving, like Aunt Mary's amazing sweet potatoes or Grandma's melt-in-your-mouth butter rolls. Then every cook puts their dish into individual containers for the other households. Designate a drop off location where all the components of the big meal are exchanged so that each household gets a complete meal. It's like a take home potluck.
Rent a tent (or convert your garage) for an open-air Thanksgiving cafe. A few well-placed heaters, tables spread apart and following common sense precautions may allow for a few family members or friends to safely visit.
Consider starting a completely new, smaller meal tradition with just the members of your immediate household. Having a meal with a turkey breast (or a couple of thighs), two side dishes and one tasty dessert treat might be enough to celebrate this special time of year without being overwhelming. It can be a great opportunity to get the kids involved in the cooking. Teach them how to prepare one or two of your own speciality dishes.
With no extended family in town, my own family has often scrapped the traditional Thanksgiving meal for something entirely different. One year we made stacked enchiladas with homemade enchilada sauce and homemade refried beans. It's a favorite in our house, so making the non-traditional feast was perfect for us. Get creative and enjoy any favorite meal together.
For some, like my younger son, food allergies make the holidays extra stressful with seemingly everything being about eating. Focusing on activities that do NOT revolve around food can make this time of year fun for all. Choosing a movie series like Star Wars or Harry Potter for a movie marathon over the long weekend could be a new tradition. Having a family game tournament could bring some friendly and fun competition to the holiday. My dad and I always worked a jigsaw puzzle in November or December. Even after I moved away from home and would visit during Thanksgiving or winter break, he'd have a puzzle on a card table ready for us to tackle together.
Thanksgiving is an opportunity for each of us to remember what we're grateful for. Have your children express themselves in a fun way to show what THEY are thankful for this year. One child might write a poem, another may prefer to paint a picture, while yet another might compose a song, write a short story, record a video, or create a dance. Let the kids have fun with this project and maybe the adults can get involved too.
Turn your family's gratitude into action and write thank you notes to front line workers like firefighters and EMTs, doctors and nurses, delivery truck drivers, grocery store clerks, etc. Or write notes to residents at nursing homes, assisted living facilities, rehabilitation facilities, single friends living alone, or an elderly neighbor. Many people are secluded, lonely, and missing their friends and family members. What a great way to brighten someone's day! Contact a local facility to write to seniors or others confined indoors or you can support a nationwide organization like Love For Our Elders (loveforourelders.org/letters).
Whatever you and your family decide to do, please be safe and stay healthy.
I'd love to hear what your family has planned for this holiday season. Please share with me on my Facebook page:
Happy Thanksgiving!!! ...
3 months ago
9 Benefits of Health Coaching for Kids and Teens
1. Reduced homework time - I worked with a first grade girl with ADHD who took more than 2 hours to complete homework (with her mom's help). The teacher said it should be done in approximately 20 minutes. After working with me, homework time dropped from 2+ hours to 30 minutes or less.
2. Increased intake of healthy fruits and vegetables - One 15 year old client had a very limited diet which included virtually no fruits and vegetables. Over the course of our sessions, she tried at least 10 fruits and 12 vegetables and eventually began eating at least 6 different fruits and 3 different vegetables on a regular basis. At the end of our coaching together, this client even stated, "It feels normal now to eat healthy."
3. Kids learn about "questionable" ingredients - A tween boy I coached thought drinking a diet lemonade powder was a healthy choice. I had him research each ingredient on the label and report back to me what the ingredient really was and why it was in the powder mix. After discovering there is a questionable artificial sweetener and a mold extract in the formula, he decided drinking water or making real lemonade was a much better option.
4. Improved mood - Many of my parents report happier kids after health coaching sessions. Poor diets contribute to poor mental health in a variety of ways. A 3-year-old girl with Eosinophilic Esophagitis that I worked with showed noticeable improvement in her mood once we removed several troublesome foods from her diet.
5. Better sleep - Kids who eat better and are less stressed during the day are able to sleep better at night. One parent had trouble getting her elementary school aged son to go to bed and stay there. We brainstormed several reasons for the problem and a variety of solutions to address it. After a few months and several new strategies in place, the bedtime challenges were gone!
6. Fewer battles at home - When kids are stressed out, we parents become stressed as well (or vice versa). This can lead to more altercations between parent and child. One client was experiencing frequent opposition from her young daughter. Once we pinpointed a few causes for the stress (friend issues at school, struggles with homework, lack of self esteem) we were able to address the problems and reduce the bickering. Both mom and daughter reported getting along better and feeling more calm.
7. Clients can learn cooking skills - I worked with a young woman with Down Syndrome who was looking to be more independent. We worked together at her house to gain proficiency in the kitchen. She learned how to prepare several healthy meals as well as food prep, cooking, and general kitchen safety.
8. Increased self esteem - Kids and teens not only feel better physically when they eat healthy foods, they also feel better about themselves. I have worked with kids who are underweight, overweight, anxious, unsure of themselves, and/or are just not happy with their bodies. One client stated after working with me that "I feel better about how I look - I feel healthier." THAT is a huge improvement over the frustrated young woman who wasn't happy with her body before our health coaching sessions started.
9. Kids learn goal setting and achievement strategies - The kids I work with learn firsthand how to set goals, brainstorm ideas, address obstacles, readjust goals (as needed), and celebrate successes. These are skills the children can use in all areas of their lives through adulthood. One teen boy texted me months after our sessions had ended to share a health milestone he had achieved. He was so very proud of himself and he knew I would be, too! ...
8 months ago
Useful suggestions from a school psychologist:
After having thirty-one sessions this week with patients where the singular focus was COVID-19 and how to cope, I decided to consolidate my advice and make a list that I hope is helpful to all. I can't control a lot of what is going on right now, but I can contribute this.
Edit: I am surprised and heartened that this has been shared so widely! People have asked me to credential myself, so to that end, I am a doctoral level Psychologist in NYS with a Psy.D. in the specialties of School and Clinical Psychology.
MENTAL HEALTH WELLNESS TIPS FOR QUARANTINE
1. Stick to a routine. Go to sleep and wake up at a reasonable time, write a schedule that is varied and includes time for work as well as self-care.
2. Dress for the social life you want, not the social life you have. Get showered and dressed in comfortable clothes, wash your face, brush your teeth. Take the time to do a bath or a facial. Put on some bright colors. It is amazing how our dress can impact our mood.
3. Get out at least once a day, for at least thirty minutes. If you are concerned of contact, try first thing in the morning, or later in the evening, and try less traveled streets and avenues. If you are high risk or living with those who are high risk, open the windows and blast the fan. It is amazing how much fresh air can do for spirits.
4. Find some time to move each day, again daily for at least thirty minutes. If you don’t feel comfortable going outside, there are many YouTube videos that offer free movement classes, and if all else fails, turn on the music and have a dance party!
5. Reach out to others, you guessed it, at least once daily for thirty minutes. Try to do FaceTime, Skype, phone calls, texting—connect with other people to seek and provide support. Don’t forget to do this for your children as well. Set up virtual playdates with friends daily via FaceTime, Facebook Messenger Kids, Zoom, etc—your kids miss their friends, too!
6. Stay hydrated and eat well. This one may seem obvious, but stress and eating often don’t mix well, and we find ourselves over-indulging, forgetting to eat, and avoiding food. Drink plenty of water, eat some good and nutritious foods, and challenge yourself to learn how to cook something new!
7. Develop a self-care toolkit. This can look different for everyone. A lot of successful self-care strategies involve a sensory component (seven senses: touch, taste, sight, hearing, smell, vestibular (movement) and proprioceptive (comforting pressure). An idea for each: a soft blanket or stuffed animal, a hot chocolate, photos of vacations, comforting music, lavender or eucalyptus oil, a small swing or rocking chair, a weighted blanket. A journal, an inspirational book, or a mandala coloring book is wonderful, bubbles to blow or blowing watercolor on paper through a straw are visually appealing as well as work on controlled breath. Mint gum, Listerine strips, ginger ale, frozen Starburst, ice packs, and cold are also good for anxiety regulation. For children, it is great to help them create a self-regulation comfort box (often a shoe-box or bin they can decorate) that they can use on the ready for first-aid when overwhelmed.
8. Spend extra time playing with children. Children will rarely communicate how they are feeling, but will often make a bid for attention and communication through play. Don’t be surprised to see therapeutic themes of illness, doctor visits, and isolation play through. Understand that play is cathartic and helpful for children—it is how they process their world and problem solve, and there’s a lot they are seeing and experiencing in the now.
9. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and a wide berth. A lot of cooped up time can bring out the worst in everyone. Each person will have moments when they will not be at their best. It is important to move with grace through blowups, to not show up to every argument you are invited to, and to not hold grudges and continue disagreements. Everyone is doing the best they can to make it through this.
10. Everyone find their own retreat space. Space is at a premium, particularly with city living. It is important that people think through their own separate space for work and for relaxation. For children, help them identify a place where they can go to retreat when stressed. You can make this place cozy by using blankets, pillows, cushions, scarves, beanbags, tents, and “forts”. It is good to know that even when we are on top of each other, we have our own special place to go to be alone.
11. Expect behavioral issues in children, and respond gently. We are all struggling with disruption in routine, none more than children, who rely on routines constructed by others to make them feel safe and to know what comes next. Expect increased anxiety, worries and fears, nightmares, difficulty separating or sleeping, testing limits, and meltdowns. Do not introduce major behavioral plans or consequences at this time—hold stable and focus on emotional connection.
12. Focus on safety and attachment. We are going to be living for a bit with the unprecedented demand of meeting all work deadlines, homeschooling children, running a sterile household, and making a whole lot of entertainment in confinement. We can get wrapped up in meeting expectations in all domains, but we must remember that these are scary and unpredictable times for children. Focus on strengthening the connection through time spent following their lead, through physical touch, through play, through therapeutic books, and via verbal reassurances that you will be there for them in this time.
13. Lower expectations and practice radical self-acceptance. This idea is connected with #12. We are doing too many things in this moment, under fear and stress. This does not make a formula for excellence. Instead, give yourself what psychologists call “radical self acceptance”: accepting everything about yourself, your current situation, and your life without question, blame, or push back. You cannot fail at this—there is no roadmap, no precedent for this, and we are all truly doing the best we can in an impossible situation.
14. Limit social media and COVID conversation, especially around children. One can find tons of information on COVID-19 to consume, and it changes minute to minute. The information is often sensationalized, negatively skewed, and alarmist. Find a few trusted sources that you can check in with consistently, limit it to a few times a day, and set a time limit for yourself on how much you consume (again 30 minutes tops, 2-3 times daily). Keep news and alarming conversations out of earshot from children—they see and hear everything, and can become very frightened by what they hear.
15. Notice the good in the world, the helpers. There is a lot of scary, negative, and overwhelming information to take in regarding this pandemic. There are also a ton of stories of people sacrificing, donating, and supporting one another in miraculous ways. It is important to counter-balance the heavy information with the hopeful information.
16. Help others. Find ways, big and small, to give back to others. Support restaurants, offer to grocery shop, check in with elderly neighbors, write psychological wellness tips for others—helping others gives us a sense of agency when things seem out of control.
17. Find something you can control, and control the heck out of it. In moments of big uncertainty and overwhelm, control your little corner of the world. Organize your bookshelf, purge your closet, put together that furniture, group your toys. It helps to anchor and ground us when the bigger things are chaotic.
18. Find a long-term project to dive into. Now is the time to learn how to play the keyboard, put together a huge jigsaw puzzle, start a 15 hour game of Risk, paint a picture, read the Harry Potter series, binge watch an 8-season show, crochet a blanket, solve a Rubix cube, or develop a new town in Animal Crossing. Find something that will keep you busy, distracted, and engaged to take breaks from what is going on in the outside world.
19. Engage in repetitive movements and left-right movements. Research has shown that repetitive movement (knitting, coloring, painting, clay sculpting, jump roping etc) especially left-right movement (running, drumming, skating, hopping) can be effective at self-soothing and maintaining self-regulation in moments of distress.
20. Find an expressive art and go for it. Our emotional brain is very receptive to the creative arts, and it is a direct portal for release of feeling. Find something that is creative (sculpting, drawing, dancing, music, singing, playing) and give it your all. See how relieved you can feel. It is a very effective way of helping kids to emote and communicate as well!
21. Find lightness and humor in each day. There is a lot to be worried about, and with good reason. Counterbalance this heaviness with something funny each day: cat videos on YouTube, a stand-up show on Netflix, a funny movie—we all need a little comedic relief in our day, every day.
22. Reach out for help—your team is there for you. If you have a therapist or psychiatrist, they are available to you, even at a distance. Keep up your medications and your therapy sessions the best you can. If you are having difficulty coping, seek out help for the first time. There are mental health people on the ready to help you through this crisis. Your children’s teachers and related service providers will do anything within their power to help, especially for those parents tasked with the difficult task of being a whole treatment team to their child with special challenges. Seek support groups of fellow home-schoolers, parents, and neighbors to feel connected. There is help and support out there, any time of the day—although we are physically distant, we can always connect virtually.
23. “Chunk” your quarantine, take it moment by moment. We have no road map for this. We don’t know what this will look like in 1 day, 1 week, or 1 month from now. Often, when I work with patients who have anxiety around overwhelming issues, I suggest that they engage in a strategy called “chunking”—focusing on whatever bite-sized piece of a challenge that feels manageable. Whether that be 5 minutes, a day, or a week at a time—find what feels doable for you, and set a time stamp for how far ahead in the future you will let yourself worry. Take each chunk one at a time, and move through stress in pieces.
24. Remind yourself daily that this is temporary. It seems in the midst of this quarantine that it will never end. It is terrifying to think of the road stretching ahead of us. Please take time to remind yourself that although this is very scary and difficult, and will go on for an undetermined amount of time, it is a season of life and it will pass. We will return to feeling free, safe, busy, and connected in the days ahead.
25. Find the lesson. This whole crisis can seem sad, senseless, and at times, avoidable. When psychologists work with trauma, a key feature to helping someone work through said trauma is to help them find their agency, the potential positive outcomes they can effect, the meaning and construction that can come out of destruction. What can each of us learn here, in big and small ways, from this crisis? What needs to change in ourselves, our homes, our communities, our nation, and our world?
Keri Johnson Louise Crooks ...