In the quiet by Jessica Gombis

Let me address the elephant in the room.  I am not a licensed counselor or social worker.  So why do I get to contribute to Sprout Family Clinics blog and who am I, anyway? Well I can't speak to why these therapists gave me the mic (wink wink), but I promise I'll do my best not to lead you astray.  I am the wife of an actual therapist at Sprout. I'm also the gal who does the billing, manages the website, orders toilet paper, as well a bunch of other glamorous tasks around here. Most importantly, I'm raising three amazing kiddos ages 5, 4 and 10 months.  So, with that introduction and list of fabulous credentials, I'm sure you are excited, dear reader, to hear my perspective on things.

Now, I'm not just saying this because my husband is a therapist and I work at Sprout, but therapy is awesome.  Really. It is. There have been seasons in my life when it was absolutely necessary for me. Truth be told, I could probably always use therapy, but I can gratefully and humbly say that right now, I'm doing pretty good-- good enough to use some of the strategies and rituals I've learned through periods of therapy and self discovery.

The primary tool that I’m using right now is having daily quiet and prayer time.  For me, it’s best early in the morning, before little feet come down the stairs to ask for milk or to read a story.  I know that I need this time, but for me, it’s funny how when I'm doing okay or something else comes up, I easily give up these practices until, suddenly, I realize that something is really missing.

In the last year, I've been lacking my early morning prayer and quiet.  With the arrival of our third child last January, sleep became scarce, so the idea of waking up when I didn't have to, seemed beyond ridiculous.  And so, 9 months later I could feel it. Something was wrong. When I get that gut feeling that something is wrong, it usually takes me a while to figure out what to do.  I'll have a few too many icky interactions with the kids or I'll bicker with my husband. I’ve been known to go on a new job hunt and to have a shopping spree, which is immediately followed by a spending freeze.  I may get a new gym membership or reserve a plethora of self help books at the library.  (Notice, I didn’t say read them.) You may know what I'm talking about.  I try to rework to the whole life scenario for a few weeks. Then I remember the simple things that I need.  I need prayer and quiet in the morning. I need it.  

And so I began again.  I set my alarm. I made the coffee.  I lit the candle. I sat in stillness.  I prayed. I read. The first day wasn't magical and neither was the second.  But, it’s been about a week now of being back in the practice and I feel dramatically different.

I don't have just one thing that I go to when my world seems off kilter, but prayer and quiet is a solid practice for me.  Your thing may not be prayer and quiet. It may be running or yoga or coffee with a friend. Whatever it is, I think we need to identify our personal rituals that set our minds back on track.  We need to keep them stored in a safe place to remember and return to when we get that feeling that things just aren't right.

Maybe, like me, you need the help of therapy to get started on the path to identifying some practices and rituals.  Lucky for you, you've found the right blog.

The Generosity of Youth By Sandie Johnson, LCSW

In this season of gift giving, there is much emphasis on a child’s reaction to the holidays and their gifts. I remember my own kids’ excitement when they opened a gift that they thought was “so cool.” I felt joy, just seeing them feel joy! After all, Christmas is about the kids, right? It’s about seeing their faces light up when someone gives them a gift or they have a new experience. I’d like to challenge that notion by suggesting that the joy that I experienced watching someone else receive a gift that he really wanted, is a joy that children should experience as well.

So how do you get young ones to think about someone else? Children can be self-involved for very good reasons. They are figuring out how to get what they need through practice: asking for it over and over again, sometimes in more gracious ways than others. However, there are several ways that we can encourage kids to look beyond themselves to be generous in order to experience the joy of givingFirst of all, building a child’s empathy for others is crucial. There is no better way to get out of being self-focused than trying to imagine what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. Seeing strong emotion in movie or book characters and asking your child, “How do you think that person is feeling?” prompts empathy. It can even happen with siblings or strangers and then awaken a sense of generosity towards them.

Furthermore, noticing a child’s generosity will reinforce it. Children can be naturally generous,  especially if they are with someone they want to please. Even though there may be self-centeredness entwined in sharing their cookies with a friend, noticing and remarking on it can help the child feel validated when they are doing something that might feel a little hard. When given positive attention, an action that is hard may take on a brave or courageous quality. Then that feeling of bravery becomes associated with generosity and the nobleness of generosity is highlighted for the child.

In addition, your own attitude about generosity is one of the biggest influences on your child’s propensity to be generous. If they see you extending yourself to be helpful to others, giving to charitable organizations (not just at holidays), and practicing kindness in small ways, they will follow your pattern and see these acts as a healthy habit. Having moments everyday when you excuse a mistake that is made or acknowledge a server’s work in a restaurant will communicate an attitude of generosity, not just an act of generosity.

An example of practicing generosity as a family could be to pick a family project that creates a holiday tradition as well as setting a generous example.  Perhaps volunteering at a food pantry, making cards for residents at a nursing home or making cookies for your neighbors could be ways that kids can be involved hands-on in generosity. It will also give you time together as a family, building memories of the times your family shows generosity again and again.

However you encourage generosity in your children, you can count on the fact that when humans are generous, gratefulness arises, and when someone is grateful, contentment is found.  I hope we can all find that kind of contentment this year!

The main ideas in this blog come from “Tips for Raising Generous Children,” an article found on the Childmind® Institute website. (Tips for Raising Generous Children)

Thankfulness By Leah Zhang, LPC

The vibrant fall colors remind me that the Thanksgiving Holiday season is fast approaching, filled with travel plans, family gatherings, friendsgiving or a pre-Christmas shopping spree. For some of us, it can be very low key and chillax. For others, it can be hectic trying to finish tasks at school or work in order to pack up and fly home. For some, it might be stressful anticipating the upcoming gatherings given how complicated our family dynamics are. I hear many stories where people feel overwhelmed anticipating the worst case scenario, conjured up from their past Thanksgiving experiences. ‘I love seeing my family for Thanksgiving. But being stuck in the airport waiting to see them isn’t my favorite moment.” “My mom and I have been arguing about something over the past few months. I am afraid that we will be fighting over dinner and completely ruin everyone’s Thanksgiving.”

If we look only at how stressful Thanksgiving can be, we might miss the complete picture. Simplistically, there are two sides of a coin. Thanksgiving gatherings can be chaotic and joyous; tiring yet satisfying. When we go around the table and take turns to give thanks, it is surprising how our negative emotions can ease up. Certainly, it’s easy to be thankful when life is going well when you feel like you are standing on top of the mountain. It a bit trickier when we consciously choose happiness and gratefulness in the valley. Creating a habit of giving thanks can be what we need in stressful situations when we actively shift our perspective to a “glass half full” mentality, bringing what we have rather than what has been missing in our lives into our awareness. It fosters other positive emotions, such as joy and contentment.Just like creating a healthy habit of working out regularly takes time, cultivating a thankful spirit in order to feel and express gratitude will not be our automatic response right away.  

Here is an easy exercise to start off and it takes about five to ten minutes to accomplish. Every morning for a week, prompt yourself to count three things you are thankful for in life. This exercise can be done mentally on the way to work, or written in your journal while riding the train. Or if you are not a morning person like me; give thanks at the end of the day. For example, “I had a great time today when …” “I felt happy/cared for/excited/appreciated today when …” At the end of a week assess your emotions to see if the exercise is helpful to you. If so, do it two more weeks, and then a month. In time, this gratitude exercise may rise above an item on your to-do list and become an attitude in life and an an effective coping method when stressful situations come our way. That attitude can help us to interpret and reinterpret any event in a positive light. When we are busy counting our blessings in life, it may be easier to overlook the negatives about a delay at the airport on the way to see our family.

To read more about the benefits of gratitude, please visit The 7 Benefits of Gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Celebrating Halloween Without Creating Monsters By Sandie Johnson, LCSW

I’ve noticed in the last 10 years how much earlier Halloween decorations start to go up now. I saw one family putting them up the last weekend of September this year. The elaborateness of them seems to have gone over the top too.  My favorite was an inflatable ghost that rose up from behind a gravestone and then went back down slowly. Very effective on the spookiness scale.

So how do kids perceive all this? We as adults have a filter that says it’s not real. Small children may see the scary things and be either fascinated or afraid depending on their previous experience. Older children (6 to 10 years old) may experience real fear because of images that they’ve seen and stories that they’ve heard.

Some kids manage the fear and enjoy the startle factor that comes from being scared momentarily. Others make it very clear that they are afraid and upset by the images and can tell a parent that they don’t like looking at a certain decoration. The third category of children are the ones who feel afraid internally but can’t express it for fear of looking “like a sissy.” These children often have older siblings that they are eager to impress. When left alone with those feelings of fear these children may have their fear come out in other ways. They may have a meltdown over having to go to bed. Or maybe they become resistant to activities that are normally fun for them to do.

As a parent, you can handle all three of these scenarios! First of all, know your child. If there are experiences that predispose your child to anxiety, count on the fact that Halloween is a stressful season for them. No matter how many times you say, “It’s not real. You don’t have to be afraid,” they are still going to need time to process their feelings, either verbally or just through play. Provide downtime leading up to the holiday as well as on the day. When trick-or-treating, for children 5 and under, I would recommend only going to houses of people you know and keep it to 30 to 45 minutes. Little people will be overstimulated by any more than that.  For older children you as the parent can set up the structure of the evening so that expectations are clear about how long you will go door-to-door, how much candy they can eat and what time they have to be in bed. Afterwards, process what they saw by asking questions like, “What was the scariest costume you saw?” or “What was the high and low of the evening?“ Having time at home before they go to bed where they can play or read is the ideal to give them some space to process on their own.

However you do it, check your own expectations as well. Are you trying to create an experience for your child that you didn’t get? Are you being as creative as you can with the costumes to impress another family? If you’re focusing on your child, even if they want to wear a garbage bag as a costume (yes, that really happened) you’ll be able to enter into their excitement and enjoy the holiday with less external pressure.

Happy Halloween!