Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Fear: Sitting on your Edge and Winking

“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.” ~Steven Pressfield

It is common for fear and resistance to increase (sometimes to epic levels) when you get closer to your true purpose or calling; whether the fear is related to a personal project, being open and vulnerable in a relationship or accepting your dream job. The fear being referred to is not the fear that gives you cues to run for safety, it is the manufactured fear from memory or imagination. The kind that keeps you from taking that final step to creating the life you truly desire. 

The upside of allowing fear: when we sit on our edge, we get the opportunity to grow and change. We learn that fear is just a feeling and will go through us in about 90 seconds if we simply allow it. Karla McLaren, Author of The Art of Empathy and The Language of Emotions posits that fear has gifts. It focuses us and hones our intuition. She states “fear stops you – not to immobilize you but to give you time you need to gather yourself and your resources.” The internal question to ask when fear presents its scary head is “what action should be taken?” Sometimes the action is rest or play; not push harder. 

The downside: It feels scary, vulnerable and causes us to doubt ourselves. Most of us haven’t been taught how to cope with fear and we assume something is wrong. 
From an evolutionary perspective, there is a part of our brain called the reptilian brain that developed to broadcast fear. The purpose was to keep us safe from lions, tigers and bears. Fortunately, most of us are no longer being chased by large mammals. However, we are still living and reacting as if we are. (Refer to the last person who blithely cut you off in traffic.)

How to stare down the 3 a.m. (irrational) fear monsters:

1. When fear takes over your calm ask “what am I most excited about?” The reframe is instantly freeing. Focus on what you will get or feel after you do what frightens you.

2. Research others who have sat on their fear edge. Feel free to borrow their brilliance. How did they do it? For instance, check out Liz Murray, who was homeless and an addict at 15 yet won a scholarship to Harvard and is now a bestselling author. Or Ralph Lauren who was a clerk and high school dropout.  And Jim Carrey who lived in poverty and worked in a factory and now makes a few dimes. If your concern is that you are a non degreed, single mother with no work experience, find others just like you who are creating, writing and otherwise living out their passion and talent.   

3. Accept being perfectly imperfect when meeting your goals. Expect to suck or fail at times. You will live up to your goal regularly and allow yourself to be perfectly human. 

4. Get comfortable with people judging, not accepting, nor understanding AND still loving them. You can choose not to see yourself through anyone else’s eyes. What they see is their story. You don’t have to subscribe to it. You can lean back and let it all pass by. 

5. Adhere to a “no chicken out” rule. Even if you present to an audience and flop. YOU DID IT. This affords the opportunity to watch old stories unravel. The ones we create based on past events or were handed down to us about how to be, think, feel and act. These stories do not have to be your future. So don’t live as if they are. This is how you can look at the fear in the eye and wink. 

Heather Tydings-Goldfarb is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Martha Beck Certified Life Coach. She can be reached at 301-712-9015 ext. 1026 or

Grief and Children

Most people do not realize that grief is experienced across many different types of loss and transition. Feelings of loss often show up as a result of any life transitions. These can be positive transitions as well as unwanted transitions, including but not exclusive to, death.
Most recognized is grief experienced through loss of a loved one. However, grief can be felt when there are transitions precipitated by divorce, deployment, loss of job, diagnosis of life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, death of a pet or any other change that disrupts the balance of one’s life.

Children are not exempt from grief and loss. They feel loss and react to change just as adults do. However, their grief often presents itself quite differently than adults. Additionally, depending on developmental stage, maturity level, and social environment, grief can look different in children that are the same age. As a rule, each person’s experience with grief is unique to them and this is also true for children.

For those who know, as well as interact with children who are grieving due to any loss or life transition, the following are some basic principles for supporting children. Release fear or concern about speaking of the loss or change. Children feel changes and feel the energy of the adults around them when there has been a loss. By speaking about what is happening, at their invitation, it eliminates any ideas they may be making up in their creative minds. Often, what children imagine is scarier than the reality. This does not mean sharing all details of a death or relevant transition, rather sharing what they ask in an age appropriate way. For younger children, the response provided will be different than that of an older child or adolescent who can understand more.

Being honest, open and clear will likely satisfy the curiosity that they have while alleviating a child’s imagination. Avoid using metaphors, particularly with death, such as “they have gone to sleep” or “daddy got sick and could not get better.” This can create new fears and anxiety related to sickness or sleep.  Typically, children will initiate their questions or make statements related to the loss. A good rule of thumb is to follow their lead for questions related to changes in their life, such as divorce or illness, as well as with death. Be prepared to be repetitive in your responses, as you may be asked the same questions repeatedly. This is seen a lot more in the toddler to elementary age range.

An important consideration is that grief is often expressed differently in children than in adults. This may be confusing and challenging to adults who are likely to experience grief very differently than children. Children may manage grief with emotional numbing, episodes of anger, sadness, fear and regression. There may be an ebb and flow to these manifestations; times of playing and being adjusted that can unexpectedly be disrupted with no trigger.

Initial understanding of loss will be age dependent. For a young child, pre-school age, it is difficult to grasp the finality of losses. Therefore, younger children will have a completely different understanding of loss than that of a middle school age child. Likewise, as children become more emotionally mature, their understanding of loss and expression of grief will likely change. Thus, even if a child will adjust at one age, as they reach various milestones in their life, the grief may re-emerge with a different understanding or manifestation. In the instance of loss as a result of death, a young child may miss their loved one and wish to visit them or have them come home but as they become older, they will likely experience more of the implications of not having one of their parents at school functions, birthdays or holidays.

Children across all ages can thrive and adjust to loss in a supportive and nurturing environment. Things like sleep, diet and physical activity are basic needs that children of all ages need. Permission to share their feelings and permission to be creative in their expression of grief are also valuable in supporting grieving children. 

Again, grief is experienced in various types of circumstances. Children experience grief when their parents go through a divorce, they can experience grief when they move to a new home or location, and they grieve when a parent is deployed. Grief is not limited to death and response to one loss may not be the same for all losses. There really are no rules or one right way to manage feelings related to loss. Guidelines are provided as a resource and above all else, the loving presence and reassurance of a trusted adult can go a long way in providing space for a child to explore their response to loss.

Bonnie Triantafillos-Wright is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Grief Coach @ Healing Circles Wellness Center, Rooting Through Grief, LLC. She can be contacted at 301-712-9015 ext. 1046 or 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Tips to End the Homework Battle

By Jess Albright, LCPC

School will be back in session soon, which also means that your child's backpack will have that dreaded content - homework!  It can be excruciating for them and also for you as the parent, am I right?  Well, let's end the battle and help your child succeed with his homework by implementing a few tips.

  • Allow your child to have some free time when he gets home from school instead of forcing homework right away.  I know that after a long day at work, the last thing I want to do when I get home is continue what I didn't have time to get done during the day.  I need to relax a little.  Your child is no different - he just spent 8 hours in the school environment.  Let him recharge his batteries, eat a healthy snack, use up some energy, and re-center himself.  Depending on your child, and what time he gets home from school, an hour is a nice block of time for this.      
  • Create a quiet and effective space for homework and studying.  This should be away from all distractions, electronic devices especially.  You can have your child "check his tech" after his break is over, knowing that he can earn them back when his homework is complete.  
  • Also make sure that this space has all the supplies and materials your child will need.  This can include a desk/hard writing surface, sharpened pencils, markers, eraser, ruler, calculator (if applicable), assignment notebook, scissors, glue, etc.  Having everything easily accessible to him will allow your child to concentrate on the task at hand rather than scour the house for colored pencils.  
  • Encourage your child to divide his homework assignments into "What I can do myself" and "What I need help with."  This will also help prepare you for when he may need your assistance so that you can make yourself available.  
  • Allow your child to take breaks throughout the duration of his homework.  Depending on your child's age, he could earn 10 free minutes after completing each subject, or 10 free minutes after every 30 minutes of hard work.  You are your child's expert here.  However, keep these short breaks tech-free.  We all know how addictive electronics can be at times, so avoid the power struggle and don't allow tech until homework is completely finished.  It is also helpful to set a kitchen timer so your child knows when his 10 minutes is up.
  • Consider doing your paperwork at the same time because modeling is the best example for children.  I know you have to slap on that Superman cape and make dinner, clean the house, take care of the kids, feed the cat, walk the dog, and so on and so on.  But as much as you can, try to complete these other duties before or after homework time, or even during your child's earned break times.  If everyone is focusing on quiet work at the same time, there are much fewer distractions, thus creating a more efficient work environment.     
  • Use encouraging words when your child is struggling.  Some examples are: "What parts do you understand?"  "What part has you stumped?" "If you had to guess, what would you say the answer is?"  "How could you find the answer?"  This shows your child that you are there to support him, but that you won't jump in and actually do the work for him - that's his job.
  • Feel free to look over your child's homework when it's completed.  This way you can help him make sure he didn't forget anything, especially if the assignment has several parts.  You can even encourage your child to put check marks in his assignment notebook as he completes each piece to help teach him how to become responsible for keeping track of what he needs to complete.  As much as you will want to, fight the urge to correct your child's mistakes (unless you have checked with his teacher).  If his teacher sees patterns with his errors, this can be very helpful for her and what content she might need to re-visit the next day.  
  • Understand that your child's homework is his job and his responsibility.  This may seem very difficult for you.  However, it is vital that your child learns as early as possible that the consequences for not completing his homework rests on him, not on you.  After a few times of learning the consequences first-hand, your child will begin to see that he has responsibility in the matter.  Life lessons - gotta love 'em!

Take all of these tips into consideration, sit down with your child, and develop a system that works best for everyone.  There is never one right way to do things, so allow yourself to be flexible and make alterations to suit your child, especially as he progresses through grade levels.  Don't let homework be a battle you choose! 

Back to School: Conquering Transition Stress

By: Elise Abromson, Psy.D.

Going back to school can be an exciting and scary time for many children and teens. This may be the year your child transitions from elementary to middle school or from middle school to high school. These transitions can be stressful and anxiety provoking. Many children do not know what to expect in a new school. They worry about the schoolwork as well as the peers they will face. Even if they are returning to the same school they may have some back to school jitters. Here are some ways that parents can help their children make a smooth transition from summer to back to school. 
  • Start talking with your child early about their concerns and also what they are exciting about for the upcoming year. This will allow you enough time to address their concerns and take action when needed. Encourage your child to be open with you about their worries and not to be embarrassed by them. 
  • If your child is transitioning to a new school speak with the principal to set up a time for your child to look around the school before everyone gets there. If possible, bring his or her class schedule and help him or her find his or her classrooms. Orientations can be overwhelming; seeing the school without as many people there makes it a less intimidating experience. Many children also find it helpful just to drive to the school and stand outside the building to get used to it. 
  • Encourage your child to call peers he or she knows from his or her previous school and set up a time to meet and go to school together. Children feel better approaching a new situation if they have someone there with them and have their peers as support. They also begin to feel as though they are not in it alone. If your child does not know anyone, speak with the school counselor or principal and look into getting your child a "student buddy" that may be able to show him or her around. 
  • Get your child back on a school schedule BEFORE school starts! Do not wait until the night before to send your child to bed earlier. The combination of nerves, excitement, and a new schedule can be a recipe for a sleepless night and a tough first day. Try to begin the school schedule about a week in advance. 
  • Create a sense of excitement! Go back to school shopping for clothes and school supplies. Make a family day out of it so your child does not dread going back! Help them pick out their clothes for the first day and pack up their backpacks. Give them a special lunch for the first day that will result in a smile on their face (feel free to include a note as an added bonus!)!
  • Look on the school's webpage before school starts to find information about clubs, sports, and other after school activities in which your child may be interested. Make sure he or she knows when, where, and how to sign up for the activities. Activities are also a great way for children to meet new people and feel happier in school. 
  • Of course, always encourage your child to come to you should he or she experience any difficulties during the year. Letting them know you are there for them is so important, as they may need support throughout the year.

This article addresses typical school worries. There are other issues that factor into back to school time that are more serious. Bullying and school anxiety are just a few. If your child is experiencing more intense emotions about school it may be necessary to seek professional help. 

Clinician in the Spotlight

Pam McDonald, LCSW-C

Pam McDonald, LCSW-C, has practiced integrative psychotherapy in her private practice at the Healing Circles Wellness Center since 2009. Her passion is awakening clients to their innate healing capacities and assisting them on their journey of self-discovery and healing. Pam integrates mindfulness-based and Somatic Experiencing techniques into her practice to address the wellness of the whole self. She believes, "To fully engage in our lives, we must feel connected to and balanced in body, mind and spirit."

Pam's mindfulness practices teach clients to nurture self-compassion, non-judgment, and deep acceptance of all their thoughts, feelings, sensations, and experiences. This inviting and loving approach teaches clients that "what we resist, persists" and gently, but deeply allows clients to experience the wholeness that lies beneath their chattering mind. Whether the chattering mind is believing anxious or depressive thoughts or traumatic histories, there is a way through the noise of the body and mind to a place of inner peace and potent creativity--always present, always within the self.

Pam assists clients with reconnecting to the natural intelligence held in their bodies through Somatic Experiencing. Somatic Experiencing, developed by Dr. Peter Levine, is a powerful psychobiological approach that gently yet deeply resolves trauma symptoms and relieves chronic stress held in the body. Trauma research reveals that there are multiple ways that humans experience trauma--from the birth process, attachment and early child development, accidents, surgeries, chronic stressors, war and terror, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. These traumas can produce persistent symptoms that mimic physiological and psychological disorders--symptoms that clients have difficulty getting lasting relief from traditional approaches. Somatic Experiencing provides a holistic framework of working in the body to reset the nervous system so that clients can access their innate vitality, equanimity, and fully engage in their lives. Pam has found it to be a transformative process for her clients.

Pam enjoys working with men and women, teens and adults, individuals and couples. She is experienced with helping clients with anxiety, depression, emotional dysregulation, trauma, stress management, navigating life transitions, grief/loss, and Asperger's. She also provides meditation coaching and meditation groups. Pam is also available as a speaker to groups and organization

Learn more about Pam at 
She can be reached at 301-712-9015, x1022.