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How to Talk to Your Child about School Shootings with Indy With Kids

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How To Talk with Kids about School Shootings

 A week ago, I sat in a hotel room watching news coverage breaking down the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. My heart sank as I listened to this young lady say that she had expected it to eventually happen near her.

When Columbine occurred, I remember being horrified but I did not expect it to happen again. Besides, I was already done with high school; it wouldn’t happen to me… Columbine no longer seems like an unbelievable tragedy. School shootings are terrifyingly common, and as a parent, the terror is very real.  
Today, as I got text updates from my mom friends about the shooting at local Noblesville West Middle School, and fielded a phone call from a frightened 16 year old, in between my client appointments, I was thankful that it was also my son’s last day of school, and I was picking him up after a (planned) early dismissal. The truth is that this could happen anywhere at any time. Parents are scared, and our kids are scared as well. 
We are scared, our kids are scared, and we need to talk about it together. Indy With Kids asked me to go Live on Facebook to answer questions from parents wondering how to talk about this with their kids. In addition, I want to provide this written follow up. 

How To Talk To Your Kids About School Shootings

If at all possible, be the one to tell them the news. They need to hear it from you, not from anyone else. Present the facts as succinctly as possible in easy to understand words. I told my 11 year old “today someone took a gun to their school and shot people.” I gave him the opportunity to ask questions before proceeding. 
It is important to answer their questions simply, directly, and honestly. It is also helpful to just answer the questions asked. Now is not the time to express your agenda or to encourage ‘us v. them’ thinking. You may not understand gun rights advocates, but we cannot teach our kids that people are other, bad, or even wrong. This can be a huge risk factor in future violent behavior. 
Be honest about your emotions. They need you to model that emotions are okay, help them to identify what they are feeling, and also model how to express emotions. It is also important that you are able to have the conversation calmly to communicate to your children that they are safe with you and you are capable of handling their emotions, whatever they may be. If you are too emotional, it may increase their anxiety about the situation or create an anxiety that you will not be able to take care of them.
Don’t leave the news or radio on. Kids need their questions answered, but they do not need dramatized news. The repetition of the 24 hour news cycle has a negative impact on all of us, but especially on children. 
Most important is to listen to your kids. Giving them the space to share their thoughts and emotions can be all the therapy that your child may need. 
- Reflecting back your child’s words to them, encourages them to go deeper.
Kid: Today was really scary
Mom: Today was really scary for you, huh?
Kid: Yea, when the alarms went off, I didn’t know if I should run or hide.
Mom: Wow. You didn’t know if you should run or hide when the alarms went off?
Kid: Right, the teacher told me to….
- You can encourage your child to go deeper simply by asking “Is there more?” after your reflection.
- Tell them they make sense. “It makes sense you would be scared!” is good “Don’t be scared” is not going to help. It may shut them down or may make them question themselves. 
- As your child shares emotions, ask them where they feel it in their body. This teaches emotional awareness and can help their processing. 
Try asking your child ‘Why do you think someone might do something like this?’ You can learn a lot about your child with this question. If you have any concerns about their answer, check with a therapist. 
If you don’t already know (your kids probably do) find out and talk about emergency procedures at your child’s school and reinforce them. In a crisis, your children will be most safe following the directions of the teachers who desperately want to protect them. 
Go for a walk or a drive. Both activity and not looking directly at a parent can help kids open up. When they do start to open up, give them your full attention, including eye contact, touch if possible, and getting on their level. Only avoid eye contact if your child is struggling with opening up face to face; sometimes it feels easier looking out the window as long as you know you have the full attention of the listener. 
Don’t simply let it be, follow up with your kids and check in if there is more they want to share or ask. Another strategy is to drop sentences like pebbles into a stream to see what the ripples may be. You could say “I imagine you could be nervous heading back to school on Tuesday” or “Sometimes I think about what I would do to make sure I got to you as quickly as possible if there was an emergency at school.” Pebbles are sentence that do not require a response but allow for one and communicate that a topic is something that you are willing to discuss if the child so desires. Occasionally dropping pebbles is an indirect way of opening up a topic for conversation that allows your child to determine when they are ready for the discussion. They may not respond in that moment, but they may open up later on. 

Helping Kids Manage Anxiety after a School Shooting

Remember, you are the best therapist for your child. Your child needs you, your attention, you creating safety and reassurance, your consistency, you accepting their feelings, ideas, and questions, you attuning to their moods and their needs, you helping them regulate and soothe themselves when they have trouble doing it. 
In a crisis it is time to return to home base, and you and your home are your child’s secure base. Slow down, stick close to home, and offer them opportunities for self soothing and co-regulation. Some things that may be soothing are sweet foods (think fruit more than ice cream), tight hugs and snuggles, rocking, swinging, trampoline or other repetitive, rhythmic motions, play, a hot bath… Teach your kiddos what you do when you feel upset to help you feel better. Going to bed early and making sure everyone has predictable, healthy meals is important as you return to the secure base. 
Another important aspect to reducing anxiety around situations like this is to give them ways to feel empowered. Part of the anxiety around school shootings is that we feel helpless. If your child wants to do something, encourage that action. Any child can have a lemonade stand or bake sale. If they want to express themselves, help them write a letter to state and federal legislators. If there are rallies or demonstrations, they can attend and even make their own signs. It is most empowering for them to follow their own ideas, so let them take the lead. 

When to Seek Counseling

Remember, you are the best therapist for your child. Giving them the space to share their thoughts and emotions with you may be all the therapy that they need. In general, I think dragging a child to therapy can do more harm than good. Research tells us that kids get as much or more benefit from their parent going to counseling (working on themselves to be a better parent and learning therapeutic parenting techniques) than if the child is in counseling. If your child asks for counseling, by all means find an experienced, highly trained therapist who works with children. 
If your child is hesitant, you can offer to let them try it out. You can also tell them about Brainspotting - a power therapy where they don’t actually have to talk to the therapist. In Brainspotting, I teach children that their brains have the same self-healing power that Wolverine from the X-men has; we simply need to set up the situation for their brains to heal themselves. It is a powerful, efficient treatment method that has shown amazing benefits for kids, and it is likely to resolve these specific traumas in just a few sessions. In addition, I think it is important to note that following the Sandy Hook shooting, surveys ranked Brainspotting as the most effective treatment people experienced to help them process that school shooting
Your child may not ask for counseling verbally, but you may see other signs. Acting out is an expression of emotion. Often kids don’t know how to put the words together to express their concerns, so they throw a fit or cause trouble in other ways. Even things as extreme as enuresis may simply be the child communicating just how ‘pissed’ they are according to Dr. Wayne Duehn of the University of Texas. If you can hear the deep needs behind their behavior or words, you may be able to address them. Or you may need the help of a therapist to understand how to help your child, and that is wonderful as well. So many therapists are deeply concerned about this and truly want to help in any way that they can. 
You may notice that your child regresses or starts to act younger than their age. This is generally simply a sign that they need some additional nurturing and safety. It will very likely resolve itself if those needs are met. If your child wants to sit in your lap, rock your child, even if they seem “too big”. If your child asks for you to cut up their food, do it and even hand them the first bite on the fork. Meet your child and his or her needs wherever they are, and he or she will likely bounce back fairly quickly. 
To find a local Brainspotting therapist, visit Brainspotting Indy. Several of us want to help at a reduced cost. My office will be providing pro bono sessions with Lisa Floyd for students and staff directly impacted. (Schedule here or email us.) It can be difficult to find really experienced and well trained therapists who work with kids, but Indy Child Therapist is currently taking new clients for traditional therapy. I strongly encourage you to to consider driving or paying more to work with someone who is really good. Your child’s mental health is worth it. 


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Hope and Help from the Trenches of Foster Care and Adoption

Since this is a book review, I will start with my critique. The title of Confessions of an Adoptive Parent: Hope and Help from the Trenches of Foster Care and Adoption should have been HOPE and Help from the Trenches of Foster Care and Adoption: Confessions of an Adoptive Parent. Hope is the main theme of this book, and Mike does a wonderful job sharing that hope with his readers. In fact, I am thankful that Mike asked me to review this book because part of his message of hope hit home for me at a serendipitous time - and it had nothing to do with my child or anything about being an adoptive mother

This is the kind of book, that I want to press into the hands of adoptive parents when the tough going starts to wear them down or feels like it levels up. When I offered adoption preparation courses, even as much as I warned people that adoptive parenting is advanced parenting and often requires more of us than others, I think many believed that things would get better with time. Generally it does, but there are also moments in life that trigger adoption issues. Adolescence is tough for everyone, but with the added layers of adoption, things can get extra complicated. Other triggers are less obvious or expected; sometimes we don’t even know what has changed, but suddenly adoptive parenting seems much harder than it was just a few weeks ago. In those moments, Mike’s reminders of hope can be priceless in keeping your sanity and remaining consistent for your children. 

Confessions of an Adoptive Parent: Hope and Help from the Trenches of Foster Care and Adoption is like a dear friend bringing you a warm, fuzzy blanket and mug of hot chocolate, giving you a space to breath and re-charge. It provides comfort and reminds foster and adoptive parents that they are not the only ones who have lived through even the most shocking or devastating experiences. 

In a wholehearted way, Mike tells stories about himself and his family to assure you that his message is not pie-in-the-sky hope nor any kind of easy answer. I also very much appreciate how respectful Mike is of his children as he shares without oversharing or dramatizing. The truth may sound dramatic to some, but Mike is not striving for dramatic effect. His message of comfort, hope, and companionship is consistent throughout. 

As a former pastor, Mike skillfully explains Bible stories in a way to provide a greater understanding to his readers. I particularly appreciate the deeper dive into the story of Job. There are parts of that I will read again in the future. There is powerful and practical truth weaved throughout this book. I am so thankful that there is a Christian message on adoption that does not lead people to believe that love is all that you need and tells the truth of the pain and work and hope. Mike and Kristin Berry are the leaders on foster care and adoption that the Christian community needs. 

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10 Ways to Get the Most out of Therapy

So you’ve decided to start counseling, or maybe you’ve been going to counseling for years. Take a look at these 10 Ways to Get the Most out of Therapy: 


1. Keep a journal for all things therapy and bring it to your sessions: 

A journal is a great place for you to continue processing after a session, between sessions, or during session. Keeping one journal specifically for your therapeutic journey can also help show you the transformation that you have made. 


3. Write down important thoughts and phrases while with your therapists - and at other times. 

This one can be especially helpful during sessions; maybe your therapist says something that really sticks out to you-make a note about it so you don’t forget. Then, you can look at your journal throughout the week and be reminded of that important thing you realized, that nugget of truth you need to meditate on, that encouragement you need to remember before a difficult conversation, etc. 



2. Make a list of things to discuss with your counselor between sessions

You walk out of your therapy session and think shoot, I can’t believe I forgot to talk about… write it down! You get in an argument with your significant other and just can’t figure out why  what they said bothered you so much...write it down! You’re stuck in traffic and you remember something that has really been bothering you...wait till you park and write it down! In all seriousness, writing down what you feel is most important to talk about between your sessions can help to make each session productive. During your few minutes in the waiting room you can look back over your list and prioritize which items are most pressing or most important to get to during session. 




4. Set goals for counseling-and stick to them!

At the beginning of your first session the therapist usually asks something like: “What are your goals for counseling?” It’s important to set goals so that your therapist knows how to structure sessions and promote the positive change you need.  Sticking to your goals can help you maintain focus between sessions and during sessions. It may also be important to revisit goals periodically with your therapist as you change, situations change, and your needs change. 


5. Ask questions

If you think of a question about the session, what you are experiencing, or about therapy in general feel free to ask! Questions are great, and getting answers can help to relieve worries or stress that have been burdening you. Also remember that sessions are a safe place to ask questions and to wonder about things--judgment free. 


6. Talk about what really bothering you at the beginning of the session

This is a hard one. So often clients are worried or embarrassed about something that feels huge and they put off talking about it until the last ten minutes of the session. This may feel safe, because if you feel embarrassed or insecure about the subject you know you can leave right away; however, this doesn’t allow enough time to work through the item. If you find yourself looking at the clock, itching to say something, but waiting until the minute hand hits the nine, take deep breath and let it out. Just say what you’ve been so anxiously holding in. If you know going into a session that there is something you need to share but don’t want to share, take a moment in the waiting room to prepare yourself to share it in the first five minutes. Really, once it’s out there you’ll feel relieved. 


7. Don’t be passive, take control of your counseling

This is your time, your session, and your life--take charge! Often we think therapy is a quick and easy fix, I go to a few sessions someone tells me what I’m doing wrong and I fix it or the therapist fixes me. This isn’t true, therapy is work, good work, and we have to take charge to do the work ourselves. Taking charge can look like: completing your homework between sessions, being actively involved in scheduling your next session, bringing up your goals in session, etc. 


8. Be honest, therapy is a no-judgment zone, lying to your therapist only hurts you

Lying to your therapist is like telling your significant other that you’re not allergic to gluten when you are. Now, when your significant other makes you a pasta dinner complete with homemade garlic bread, bruschetta, and a strawberry shortcake dessert to celebrate your birthday you have two options: eat the gluten and end up sick or come clean and end up embarrassed. 


9. Do the work outside of session: you get out what you put in

This includes doing homework, reviewing notes from sessions, and applying positive change to your daily life. While from your therapist’s perspective the session is more like Vegas (that is, what you say in session stays in session), you have to take your session home with you and continue to do the work outside of session.


10. Sit with the question and say what comes up (even if it doesn’t make any sense)

Your therapist asks you a question you don’t know how to answer, instead of saying, “I don’t know”, sit with the question. Give yourself time to processes what’s going on. Take a moment to think about what could be the answer and say whatever comes to mind, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense. Why do we do this? Because sometimes your brain knows more about what you need than you do and this allows you the opportunity to talk about and process what you need to talk about. 



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Stages of Change



Change can be a difficult thing deal with, even more difficult is changing yourself: your habits, your routines, and your lifestyle.  What leads a person to change? It could be a new achievement, a loss, a trip to the ER, or a mundane event throughout the day.

When it comes to personal change, there are a few steps that we progress through: precontemplation, contemplation, determination, action, and maintenance which can lead to a permanent exit or often relapse. Do you think you are ready to make a change in your life? Are you finally so frustrated that your determination can push you to action? Take a look at the stages of change to see where you are and help motivate you to take the steps you need to finally make that change stick!

stages of change


Precontemplation is the stage where you don’t see the behavior as a problem for you, even if others do; basically, you’re not even thinking about making a change. This could be how you feel about exercise until you see a compelling Facebook post from your best friend.

Contemplation is the stage where you may be aware of the ‘problem’ but you haven’t fully made the decision to change. Those in contemplation are considering a change and weighing the pros and cons; you may even try out a new behavior without committing to a change.

Preparation or Determination is the stage where you commit to the change and start making a plan for success. This sometimes occurs as a result of some other life event; a family member diagnosed with lung cancer can encourage one to stop smoking.

In the Action stage, things start changing; you’re putting your plan into action and making a change. The new behavior is very conscious in this stage and not yet a habit (but you’re making it one!). This is the point where you start your new workout plan and are choosing to follow through with it.

The Maintenance stage requires less effort in making a change, but rather awareness to prevent a relapse. Coaches and change theorists discuss the differences between a slip or lapse and a relapse. In the Maintenance stage you are likely feeling more confident and your new behavior is a habit. Just like any habit, there are days when things don’t go as planned; in this stage you are maintaining your new habit, making sure you get back to it the next day.

Termination or a Permanent Exit is when the new habit is now a permanent change.

What stage do you find yourself in? What push do you need to get to the next level? What changes have you been avoiding that could be a huge help in your life? Maybe it’s creating boundaries in an unhealthy relationship, quitting a bad habit, cutting an addiction, making healthier lifestyle choices, spending more time with loved ones, or creating some self-care routines. We all have changes that we can make to our routines, habits, and lifestyles that can produce positive growth. It’s about time we started making some of those changes!

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Winner, Winner We Picked Dinner: Solving the Perpetual Problem of Where to Eat.

We’ve all experienced a situation like this: it’s six o’clock and there’s nothing at the house, it’s your anniversary or time to celebrate a new milestone, and you can’t agree on where to go out to eat. You really want to go to a new restaurant down the street, and your partner really wants to go to the same restaurant you always seem to go to. You’re tired of the same old thing; they don’t want something new, what do you do? It might look something like this: 

Partner: “I really want to go to 317 Burger”

You: “We go to 317 Burger all the time, I’m sick of it. I want to go to Hacienda.”

Partner: “You know I hate Mexican food, why would you even suggest that? I thought we were celebrating my promotion.” 

Now, let’s take a moment to pause here. At this point both you and your partner are frustrated, you might even be on the brink of a fight that keeps you from going anywhere or celebrating anything that evening. You don’t feel heard, your partner doesn’t feel heard, and everyone is on the defense. 

As trivial as choosing a place to eat might seem it can really become a big deal. It’s not simple because we often don’t express what we truly want and why, and we aren’t always the best mind readers either. So next time you find yourself in an all-out war about your dinner plans take a moment to find out what your partner is really saying and to express what you really mean. That could look something like this: 

Partner: “I really want to go to 317 Burger.”

You: “You really want to go to 317 Burger, what makes you want to go there?”

Partner: “A burger sounds really good today.”

You: “Oh, you’re in the mood for a good burger. I don’t really feel up for burgers tonight.”

Partner: “Well, what do you want?”

You: “Mexican food sounds really good.”

Partner: “I don’t like any of the Mexican restaurants.”

You: “Well, is there a place that has Mexican food and burgers?” 

Partner: “Umm...we really like Chili’s, they have burgers and Mexican.”

You: “Oh! You’re right, how about we go there?”

Partner: “Sounds good to me”

You go off to enjoy the best plate of fajitas you have had in a while and your partner gets to enjoy a juicy barbeque burger (with the onion strings, of course). Maybe you even share chips and salsa or some of your partners perfectly seasoned fries. To top the evening off, you and your partner split a freshly baked chocolate chip skillet cookie topped with ice cream and chocolate sauce in celebration of your partner’s promotion--certainly a fun night to be remembered. 

What’s helpful about this dialogue is that when both individuals get to express the kind of food that they really want the situation becomes a win-win; everyone is heard and valued, and the relationship is supported. Often in relationships we settle for compromise. We settle for meeting halfway between what each person wants. We settle for doing it your way this time and my way next time. We settle for poor communication. If we approach the conflict or disagreement with meaningful communication, we would both be able to walk away satisfied and encouraged in the relationship. 


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Are You Feeling the Post-Wedding Blues?

Wedding season is winding down according to my seamstress who only has 20 dresses left to be altered. After your “I dos” and honeymoon, you may feel like you are crashing from a high, the culmination of many months (or years) of planning, being the center of attention and making all your dreams come true. Even though, you are now married to the man of your dreams and practicing signing your new last name, you may find yourself suffering from a post-wedding let down. 

Why do we experience post-wedding blues?

Marriage is real and not a fairy tale - it probably isn’t all you imagined it would be. Marriage is hard. You are going to fight and you are going to hurt. Couples who don’t live together before getting married may find their soul-mates have habits that irritate them to the core or ways of doing things that are in direct opposition to how you prefer to do things. You may be disappointed to learn some of these minor conflicts.  

During premarital counseling one of the biggest relationship stressors we discuss is wedding planning. As fun as it may be, it isn’t easy. There are appointments to be had and decisions to make, money to spend and crafts to be completed, deadlines to meet and professionals to hire. For many couples, family involvement can exacerbate this stress. Living with the extra stress of wedding planning for weeks or months has left you exhausted and lowered your immune system. You have probably be living on far less sleep than you actually need and the health of your diet may be questionable - either from stress-eating or from caloric restriction. You may look perfect on your wedding day, but emotionally you are hardly in the best place that you can be - no matter how happy the day is. Immediately following the wedding you rush off on your honeymoon adding travel stressors, jet lag, digestion problems, etc. Once you arrive home ready to start your happily ever after, things don’t get any less stressful because now you have a list of urgent tasks that you put on the back burner until after the wedding.

Now that you can cross "get married" off your list of "Life’s Major Goals", what’s next? We function better emotionally when we have something to anticipate and a goal towards which to strive. You may be left feeling like you have no purpose or any important goals in your life after completing such a major life milestone. Some will immediately start trying to start a family to avoid this feeling. While children are a blessing, research has shown that they don’t actually make us happier. 

The Post-wedding Blues occur for many brides regardless of the season, but it doesn’t help that the wedding season ends right as the seasonal depression season begins. Those who are susceptible to seasonal depression may be more likely to experience post-wedding blues.

How can you get over the post-wedding blues? 

Schedule things to look forward to doing or experiencing. The first step is circling important dates already on your calendar like holidays, traveling for conferences, etc. You may need to add some new things to your calendar as well. A spa day with your mom and/or maid of honor to thank her for all her help with the wedding is one of my favorite ideas. The massage and relaxation is good for both of you. Is it time to set a new goal like running your first 5k or half marathon and capitalize on all the hours you have invested in pre-wedding workouts. 

Don’t stop working out! You have more time now, so capitalize on your momentum. Exercise is extremely important for both physical and emotional health. The chemical release of endorphins can increase your energy and mood. It will also likely improve your sleep.

Whether it was eager anticipation that kept you awake or tying bows and stamping envelopes, you are likely at least a little sleep-deprived. Sleep is also extremely important to both physical and emotional health. Having enough physical energy helps feed our emotional energy. Without enough sleep not only is your energy lower, but your immunity is lowered, your ability to learn and remember is decreased, and your mental processing slows. Our brains use dreams to help us process through some of the difficulty mental and emotional moments in our days, as long as we are getting enough sleep. Start by making sure you are in bed for enough hours and your sleep environment is comfortable and clean. There are several behavioral tweaks you can make if you are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. 

Like exercise, sex and/or orgasm can release endorphins, and there are plenty of other benefits as well. Each of us needs daily physical touch anyway. You are a newlywed, you don't need another excuse; get it on. 

You may be tempted to take on another major project but make sure that everything else is in order first. You may miss the excitement of event planning, but another big project may be more overwhelming than mood improving. I am sure you have plenty of smaller projects to complete. Have you sent all your thank you cards? Returned duplicate gifts? Left social media reviews for the professionals who helped make your wedding the best day ever? Cleaned out your closets? Sold all the leftover wedding decorations? Next year you can volunteer your new event planning skills for a fundraiser for a local nonprofit or cause. 

If you need a new project, let it be your marriage. Read some relationship books and establish loving habits that will strengthen your marriage. Make dating your spouse your new hobby. Don't wait until things aren't going well to try to work on your marriage. Maybe you won't ever have to call me for couples counseling, although many happy couples do just to help facilitate difficult conversations.  

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