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That Time Again

Here we are again. BTS time is upon us. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve abbreviated those three little words just so I wouldn’t have to speak them out loud. 

Back.To.School.

What is it about those words that can make some of us shudder? I mean, I have known people who get excited and cannot wait to walk through the doors of their school, thrilled at the idea of seeing old friends and making new ones, psyched to get into to learning and participating in new educational adventures. Really. I have known a few of these exotic creatures. 

But this was not my experience. Nor was it typical of my students, the majority of whom struggled with anxiety, depression and learning difficulties. BTS also stood for Breakdowns, Tears and Stress.

What can we do to help our reluctant or anxious kids face this challenge? Something that can work wonders is preparation. And I don’t mean loading up the backpack with school supplies. I mean mental and emotional preparation. It can look something like this:

If your child is attending a new school or will be in a different part of their usual school, go check it out with him or her. Walk around and find his or her classroom. If you know who your child’s teacher(s) will be, see if you can meet them ahead of time. Many teachers are already at school, preparing and setting up in the week or two before classes start. If there are class lists posted, see if there is anyone your child knows who will be in the same homeroom or other classes. Locate bathrooms, lunch room, library, or gym (if that is not a stressful place for your child). Whatever elective your older child is even a little excited about taking, make sure you visit those rooms: band room, drama room, art studio, shop or home-ec rooms. This can help build optimistic anticipation.

In the week or two before school starts, help your child visualize a positive first day. This can take the form of a bedtime story for younger children or a guided meditation for older kids. Have your child relax, close eyes, and take five deep, slow breaths. With as much detail as you can imagine, and in a calm voice, guide them through an ideal first day of school. Here are some suggestions you could include: new outfit, awesome lunch packed, a friendly kid sits with you on the bus, there are kids in your class that you know and like, people wave and say “hi,” there’s lots of laughter, everything is calm, you do a fun activity, something really interesting is happening next week, you feel excited and happy to be back… Personalize the ‘story’ for your child and be sure to describe the confidence and calmness they feel as you tell their ‘story’ of success. 

And as the day gets closer, reassure your child by expressing your confidence in their ability to manage and be successful. Practice and model optimism for your child. Have a great BTS week!​

 

Article Author: Valerie Ostara is the world’s first Closet Monster Battle Coach and founder of Sound–Mind.ca, an educational and coaching organization dedicated to defeating the anxiety monsters that lurk in the closets and under the beds of our children’s minds. Through our effective and empowering strategies, children and parents learn the skills and self-management techniques guaranteed to bring peace of mind.

Self-Awareness and Self-Understanding in Anxiety Management

Helping your child learn about their feelings is an important part of your child’s growth. Advances in the psychology and neuroscience of emotions, now offer us a new understanding of the nature of emotion—and of the importance of emotion, in our own lives and in the lives of our children. But, what does it mean to “learn about” feelings?

Learning about feelings means helping your child understand they have the same feelings or emotions as everybody else – the same feelings as their friends, siblings, teachers – even their parents. Part of being human means having feelings – and there are lots of them! As we grow up our emotions guide our thoughts and our imagination, our behaviour, our values,  and our moral judgments. They even effect our memories.

Learning about feelings also means knowing what they feel like in the body. If your child is dealing with anxiety, he or she has likely experienced some of the following: rapid breathing, pounding heart, sweating, shaking, dizziness, tense muscles, upset stomach. Sound familiar? This is often what anxiety feels like. But, it could also mean your child is afraid or even really excited. Learning to identify emotions often starts with understanding how the body reacts, then figuring out how we are interpreting that information.

When your child knows what they are feeling, they can understand it, enjoy it, or manage it. It means they can be in control of themselves, their body, thoughts, and behaviour. They can be the “boss” of themselves, meaning they will know that they can do or think things to make themselves feel better when experiencing uncomfortable emotions (like frustration, sadness, anger, anxiety, jealousy and so forth).

In order to have great friendships or relationships, it is really helpful to know how to respond to the feelings of others. “What if” conversations can help kids practice their responses and develop empathy. Ask your child how they would like to be treated if they were feeling _______? Then ask, if they thought their best friend/sibling/someone at school was feeling that way, what would they do or say?
Learning about their emotions will help our kids be better friends to themselves and others.

Article Author: Valerie Ostara is the world’s first Closet Monster Battle Coach and founder of Sound–Mind.ca, an educational and coaching organization dedicated to defeating the anxiety monsters that lurk in the closets and under the beds of our children’s minds. Through our effective and empowering strategies, children and parents learn the skills and self-management techniques guaranteed to bring peace of mind.

The Language of Emotions – Managing Anxiety

Learning the language of emotions is crucial for helping your child manage anxiety. Helping your child learn to identify and express a full range of emotions is a great gift you can give them as it is the foundation of good mental health.

Often, our anxious children struggle with expression of feelings. You’ll see them grappling with frustration, nervousness, anger, hurt, sadness and depression and many other emotions without being able to identify or communicate what they are feeling.

They get stuck in patterns of behaviour which are comfortable in their familiarity even if those patterns of behaviour do not serve them well. A child’s struggle with their feelings can certainly cause stress in a family. If you’ve observed your child acting out feelings they cannot verbalize but which are obviously causing them grief, you probably have experienced helplessness and your own frustration and worry. Maybe you’ve heard your child say, “You don’t understand!” or “you don’t know what I’m going through,” or “I don’t know what’s wrong - everything’s wrong,” “it’s your fault, their fault, her fault,” “I hate my life.” And you feel powerless to help and no further ahead in knowing what is going on inside them.

When we (not just your child, but all of us) can speak in the language of emotions, we are better able to communicate what is getting in the way of our problem solving and happiness. Children learn by watching, by listening and especially by doing and do best in an environment where they feel loved and safe.  So it’s time to develop your language skills. There are several exercises, activities, and games your child and whole family can participate in. Here are a couple to get you started:

Generate a list of feeling words. Brainstorms as many feeling words as you can. Once you’ve come up with a good list - try for at least a dozen - review the list. Read every word out loud and ask your child to  try to define any unfamiliar words. (Help them out by saying, “I think this means _____. What do you think it means?”) Post this list on the fridge or bulletin board and refer to it often, especially if your child seems to be struggling to express a feeling appropriately.

Make a collage. Find pictures in old magazines that show people expressing emotion with face and/or body. Cut them out and arrange on paper. See if you can identify the emotion. There is no right or wrong as we all interpret other people’s face and body language differently. A smile or a frown can mean many things!  Encourage your child to explain what they see in the faces and body language that gives them clues to what people are feeling (look at eyes, eyebrows, mouth, posture, etc.)

In a natural, almost unconscious, process, children follow the examples set by you and others, modelling both behaviour and the accompanying emotional tone. Support your child by doing the previous exercises together and help them learn and practice healthy expression of comfortable and uncomfortable emotions in a way that will support them their whole lives.

 

Article Author: Valerie Ostara is the world’s first Closet Monster Battle Coach and founder of Sound–Mind.ca, an educational and coaching organization dedicated to defeating the anxiety monsters that lurk in the closets and under the beds of our children’s minds. Through our effective and empowering strategies, children and parents learn the skills and self-management techniques guaranteed to bring peace of mind.
Photo Source: courtesy of imagerymajestic / Free Digital Photos

Relaxing Techniques for You and Your Kids

When you are feeling anxious, probably one of the last things on your mind is relaxing your body. After all, you’re probably ready to run away, freeze or fight. Your heart rate is up, adrenaline is running through your body... how are you supposed to relax?  When anxiety is taking a toll, your body knows it. You can have trouble sleeping, eating, and concentrating.

Relaxation is a process that decreases the effects of stress on your mind and body.  You can learn how to relax your body when you are anxious; to gain control over your body by learning the required techniques. You will stop the release of adrenaline and feel more in control of your body. Practice relaxation techniques while you are feeling calm so you understand how to use them. Practice them a lot! Then put them to work when you need them.

Here is one to help you relax from your feet to your face. Start by standing comfortably, back straight, feet shoulder-width apart.

Tree Top (Feet & Legs): Imagine you are up in a tree, standing on a branch. You must hold onto the branch with your toes and stay very still. Curl your toes under and hang on! Keep your legs stiff and straight. Tighten up your bum muscles. Hold that pose and count to 10. Release and feel your lower body relax. Do this three times. Shake out your legs and relax.

Incredible Shrinking Kid (Belly & Back): You are going to make yourself as thin as a sheet of paper. Slowly pull in your belly and imagine you can touch your belly button to your back bone. Hold it there for five seconds and release. Do this three times. Take a deep breath and relax.

Body Builder (Arms & Shoulders): Imagine you are very strong and about to lift some heavy weights. Start with your arms at your sides, the palms of your hands facing forward. Squeeze your hands tight around the weights and slowly lift them by bending your arms at the elbows. Bring the weights up to your shoulders, tightening the muscles of your hands and arms as much as you can. Feel the strength and power in your hands, arms, and shoulders! Hold for 5 seconds, then relax your arms as you slowly lower them back to your sides. Do this three times. Shake out your arms and relax.

The Puppet (Neck & Shoulders): Imagine you are an old fashioned puppet (marionette) with strings attached to your shoulders. Your invisible puppeteer (puppet master) pulls up the strings, pulling up your shoulders as high as they can go. Feel your neck scrunching down as your shoulders pull up. Stay like this and count to 5, then let your shoulders drop quickly. Do this three times. Shake out your shoulders and roll your neck gently from side to side.

The Feather (Face): Close your eyes and imagine a tiny feather is tickling your forehead. Use your eyebrows to try and get rid of it. It starts to tickle your nose. Use your nose, and other face muscles to chase it away. Then it moves to tickle your lips and chin. Use your face muscles to make it go away. Finally, it goes!

Take a deep breath and relax.

To get the most benefit, use relaxation techniques along with other positive coping methods, such as thinking positively and dealing with thoughts that increase anxiety, finding humour, problem-solving, managing time, exercising and getting enough sleep.  The most important thing to keep in mind about exercises such as these is that they are best practiced regularly, as a part of your daily routine so they become second nature.  

Article Author: Valerie Ostara is the world’s first Closet Monster Battle Coach and founder of Sound–Mind.ca, an educational and coaching organization dedicated to defeating the anxiety monsters that lurk in the closets and under the beds of our children’s minds. Through our effective and empowering strategies, children and parents learn the skills and self-management techniques guaranteed to bring peace of mind.
Photo Source: courtesy of  photostock | Free Digital Photos
 

How the Foods You Eat Affect Your Child’s Anxiety

Did you know that the food you eat can make your anxiety better or worse? There are some foods that really can make you feel more anxious. While doctors, scientists and nutritionists can tell you exactly how that happens, it probably won’t come as a surprise to find that there are some foods you should simply avoid serving to your child. If you guessed these culprits are foods with added sugars, fast foods or processed foods, you are 100% correct.

Don’t despair! If your child has a sweet tooth, I’ve found some wonderful, kid-friendly recipes your child is bound to enjoy. The Closet Monster Battle Kit has a chapter devoted to exploring healthy alternatives to high sugar, high fat foods. I will be posting a tasty recipe monthly on this blog, so be sure to come back for the treat-of-the-month and KNOW that it will not fuel your child’s anxiety. That’s good for you too.

Our first recipe comes from onegreenplanet.org

Chocolate Almond Butter Fudge (No Sugar!)

This recipe is a special treat and super-delicious. An adult is needed to help make this.

Tools and utensils you will need:
High speed blender or food processor
Measuring cups
Small sauce pan
Square baking pan (lined with parchment paper or thin layer of coconut oil)

Ingredients:
1 cup Medjool dates (pitted)
1 cup of coconut oil
1 cup smooth, natural almond butter or natural peanut butter (no sugar added)
2 cups raw cocoa powder
1 to 2 pinches of Himalayan salt
Optional: pecan or walnut pieces

How to make this:
Soak your dates in hot water for about 20 minutes to make them soft and sticky. (Keep the water in case you need to thin the mixture while blending.) Melt your coconut oil in the small sauce pan over low heat.

Place all your ingredients, except the nuts, in a blender or food processor and blend until soft and well combined. You may need to add some of the saved date water if it is too thick to blend. Stir in the nuts (or sprinkle them on top once you’ve spread the mixture in the pan).

Spread evenly in a baking pan. Refrigerate at least an hour - overnight is better. Cut into small squares. This is best if kept refrigerated.

Article Author: Valerie Ostara is the world’s first Closet Monster Battle Coach and founder of Sound–Mind.ca, an educational and coaching organization dedicated to defeating the anxiety monsters that lurk in the closets and under the beds of our children’s minds. Through our effective and empowering strategies, children and parents learn the skills and self-management techniques guaranteed to bring peace of mind.
Photo Source: courtesy of  photostock | Free Digital Photos

Helping Children and Teens Cope With Anxiety

Is your child struggling with anxiety? Unlike the Hollywood notion, childhood years are not necessarily care-free. We live in a high demand world and our children are not immune to its pressures. However, most children have not learned specific skills for managing anxiety and stress. When a child is unable to manage or express their anxiety in healthy ways, we tend to see behaviours that worry us – anger, defiance, excessive crying, whining, or tantrums, extreme shyness, sleep and eating issues, withdrawal from activities, unwillingness to participate or cooperate, just to name a few.

It hurts to see our children in pain and struggling. If you’ve ever witnessed your child having a panic attack, you know what it is like to feel powerless to help. Perhaps you run through the mental list: Did I cause this? Am I too controlling? Too lenient? Too busy? Over-involved? Or you might wonder if something outside your awareness is playing a part: Is he being bullied at school? Is she being ostracized by other girls? But while we desperately want to find the cause of the anxiety and eliminate it, it might serve our children better in the long run if we find ways to teach them skills for anxiety reduction, prevention, and management.

We can equip our children with the necessary skills for dealing with anxiety. It starts by modelling healthy coping strategies – out loud. Next time you feel overwhelmed or anxious try something like this:

1. Say out loud:

a) What is going on and how you feel about it:  “I feel so bad for forgetting Andrea’s birthday. I bet she’s really disappointed.”
b) How you are going to manage yourself:  “Ok, I need  to calm down and breathe.”

2. Demonstrate a self management strategy: Take a couple of deep, slow breaths. Close your eyes and calm yourself. Let your shoulders drop, roll your head from side to side.

3. Share your thoughts on what to do next: “I’m going to go call her right now and wish her a happy belated birthday.”

4. Do it – and report later on the results. “I called Andrea to wish her a happy belated birthday. We had a great chat. She said to say “hi” to you.”
Your children will learn coping strategies from you. Seize your own anxious moments and turn them into teachable moments for your child. The more you can practice helpful, anxiety reducing skills in front of them, the better for all of you.

Article Author: Valerie Ostara is the world’s first Closet Monster Battle Coach and founder of Sound–Mind.ca, an educational and coaching organization dedicated to defeating the anxiety monsters that lurk in the closets and under the beds of our children’s minds. Through our effective and empowering strategies, children and parents learn the skills and self-management techniques guaranteed to bring peace of mind.

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