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How can I address the trauma of tragedy?

Dear Mama Drama:
With one traumatic event after another in the headlines I am struggling to manage my own anxieties much less those of my children. We are all sad, angry, and afraid, and struggling to maintain our emotions and get through our daily routines. What advice do you have to help us?
~Stressed Out Mama

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Dear Stressed:
While news of violent acts often leads to a mild increase in anxiety and fear, the recent string of tragedies has overwhelmed many children and adults. You and your family are not alone. Following are some ideas to support you through these difficult times.

Limit exposure to news media. Hearing and seeing the information and images related to tragic events can be traumatic and intensify anxieties and fears. There is a difference between being informed and being overwhelmed. Be thoughtful about what you choose to watch and listen to. Then, share the information with your children in an age appropriate manner. If they are older, watch and listen together so you are there to help them to interpret what they hear on television, radio, and the web.

Allow time to grieve and express feelings and fears. It is natural to want to move on and avoid the pain of tuning into our feelings about these tragic events. However, allowing time to cry and feel the sadness, anger, and fear can keep it from overwhelming us. Sometimes talking feels too difficult or the words are not there, so use music, drawing, painting, and sculpting as ways to express feelings, too. You don’t have to make it better or have all the answers, just be there to love and support each other.

Recognize all the ways you are safe and the steps in place to maintain that safety. Acknowledge the ways you are all safe right now. Then talk with your kids about the safety measures in place at home, school, and other places you frequent. If you don’t know what these are, investigate and find out. Knowing what is going on behind the scenes can help all of you feel more secure.

Find the balance between safety and trust. Help your children remember that most people are kind and willing to help. Discuss the people in the community who they can trust such as teachers, police officers, neighbors, etc., and make sure they have a plan for what to do if they feel unsafe.

Look for joy. Take time to notice and acknowledge the little and big moments of joy throughout each day. Tuning into your own light and joy helps to dissipate the effects of the dark acts around us. Notice and practice acts of kindness, demonstrate compassion for yourself and others, and honor each person for who they are.

Take action. Feeling helpless can exacerbate your sense of fear and anxiety, so take action to voice your concerns or stand up for a change you think will make a difference. Light a candle, write a letter, make a phone call, or join a group that supports your beliefs.

Seek professional help. If you or your children are still overwhelmed in your daily life and unable to return to your normal functioning, seek the support of a professional counselor, social worker, or psychologist. Even though you were not part of the tragic events, you have been traumatized by them. That trauma is real and you need support to get through it.

A good book to read with children is Jenny is Scared: When Sad Things Happen in the World by Carol Shuman. For children who have witnessed scary events either in person or through watching them on television the book A Terrible Thing Happened by Margaret M. Holmes can also be helpful.

As people returned to more typical routines this week a journalist on NPR noted, “Everything is normal, but nothing is the same.” This is true for all of us as we find the strength and courage to move forward in the aftermath of tragic events.

What do you do to care for yourself and your families when news of tragedy strikes?

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential. Read more of Lisa’s parenting perspective at her Laughing Yoga Mama blog.

5 ways to help kids pay attention in the classroom and at home

“Mom!” said 7 year-old Mason when his mother cursed at the driver who had just cut her off, “you’re in your amygdala. You’d better get back into your prefrontal cortex.”

Such utterances have been made by school children in Steamboat Springs ever since Kristen Race, PhD, began training that district’s teachers in her Mindful Life Schools program (other school districts in Colorado and around the country have received training, as well). In addition to trainings for educators, Dr. Race also offers workshops for parents  in how to create peaceful classrooms and homes through the simple act of cultivating mindfulness.

The children learn early on the brain science behind the program. When we are stressed, our response are more likely to come from

Mama Drama: Strategies for a Successful New School Transition

Dear Mama Drama:

My eight-year-old daughter is starting a new school this year and I need some ideas to help her with this transition. Last school year was difficult as she struggled with feeling unsupported and misunderstood by her teachers and she often refused to go to school. She also had some difficulties with bullying behavior from her peers, particularly on the playground.

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Understandably, she is anxious about starting a new school year with teachers and peers she doesn’t know. Any ideas you have are greatly appreciated!

~Protective Mama

Dear Protective:

Your daughter will benefit greatly from you being proactive as well as protective. There are many things you can do together to make this new school transition smooth and positive for her.

First, talk with your daughter about her specific worries regarding the new school both with peers and teachers. Make a list and problem solve strategies together. Getting worries out of our head and having a plan for how to handle them can significantly help in decreasing anxiety.

Next, visit the school. Principals and secretaries come back several weeks before teachers and students. Make an appointment for you and your daughter to meet with the principal and have a tour of the school. This is a great time to talk with the principal about your daughters concerns and for you both to ask questions regarding how learning and social difficulties are handled in the school.

If your daughter has an IEP, 504 plan, or other specific needs, be sure to let the new school know. Once teachers are back, contact the staff members who will be supporting these plans and arrange a time to review your daughter’s specific strengths, needs, and supports within the first few weeks of school.

Take your daughter to play at parks in the neighborhood or at the school playground. This will give her an opportunity to meet children from the neighborhood who will be attending school with her as well as to practice social skills with you there to support her.

Read books about bullying to learn new strategies and to help your daughter realize she is not alone in her experiences. Choose one or two strategies she feels comfortable with and role-play different situations so your daughter will gain confidence in using them. Some great books to read with you daughter are The Juice Box Bully by Bob Somson, The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill, and My Secret Bully and Just Kidding by Trudy Ludwig. Books you can use a resources to support her are Words will Never Hurt Me by Sally Northway Ogden, Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me by Michele Borba, and The Unwritten Rules of Friendship by Natalie Madorsky Elman and Eileen Kennedy-Moore.

If your daughter needs help with other social skills, talk with the school social worker, counselor, or psychologist about a social skills group that can support her in developing more effective friendship skills, assertiveness, and other social emotional skills that will help school be a positive place for her.

Finally, continue to be proactive by meeting her teachers and communicating with them regularly about both positive experiences and concerns that need to be addressed. Teachers need to hear what things are working as well as what is not. Most teachers are comfortable with emailing parents, which can make this less time consuming for all parties.

It can be tricky to find the balance between being supportive and being a helicopter parent. Encourage your daughter to address her concerns with adults in the building as much as possible, but be available to help her do so as needed. Trust your daughter to grow in these skills with your support, but also trust your gut about when to step in and advocate for her.

Share your new school transition and support ideas.


Mama Drama: Toddler Swimming Anxiety

Dear Mama Drama:

My twenty-month-old son has been taking swimming lessons for about a month. He started out well, but now throws a fit when I tell him it’s time to go swimming and is often hysterical by the time we get to the pool. Sometimes I can coax him into the water and other times he’s completely uncooperative. He’s always loved the water so I’m not sure what is getting in the way of him enjoying swim lessons.

How can we help him get through this and get back to loving the water?

~Drowning in Drama

Mama Drama: School Anxiety Support…for Mom

Dear Mama Drama:

I was bullied in school and have a lot of anxiety for my daughter who just started preschool. I worry that the teachers won’t stand up for her and that she’ll be picked on, so I’ve told her to hit anyone who bothers or hurts her.

Her teachers say that she will end up in trouble instead. How can I help her stand up for herself if she can’t hit?

~Scared Mama

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Dear Scared:

Bullying is a real problem, but you can empower your daughter to stand up for herself without teaching her to hurt others.

Our experiences growing up have a big impact on how we view school for our children. It is easy to project these onto our children, but is more important to support them in creating a positive outlook about school so their experience can be better than ours.

Hitting it not a socially acceptable behavior and if used as a first response will lead to a great deal of difficulty for your daughter. Children who hit are often ostracized in school, as other students don’t feel safe playing with them. They are also more likely to have consequences that lead them to miss class time and learning opportunities.

Talk with your daughter’s teachers about your concerns and the reasons for them. Ask them about how they monitor the class, handle problems between students, and teach social skills. Knowing their strategies should help ease some of your fears.

Encourage your daughter to see the positives in school and in her classmates. Model noticing safe and friendly choices and ask her about the things she enjoyed in school each day. Make sure you are looking for the positives as well and not being critical or overreacting to typical interactions that happen in preschool. When you have questions or concerns, try to share those with the teachers out of earshot of your daughter.

Find resources to teach your daughter pro-social skills for problem solving and making friends.  The Mama Drama column on Bully Busting Basics describes skills to teach and books to read with your daughter.

The bottom line is that you don’t want other kids hitting and bullying your daughter and other parents don’t want their children hit or bullied either.  Teach your daughter to be strong in her social skills, rather than to be afraid that others will hurt her.

If you still feel overwhelmed by anxiety, seek professional mental health support to help you work through these issues.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.

Five things parents can do to help an anxious child

While a trip to Disney World is an event that is celebrated by most children, for 9-year-old Ann, it was an ordeal to be tolerated.

She became anxious and started to sweat whenever she was in a crowded area. Ann refused to go on most of the rides. She was reluctant to eat food that was different from what her mom typically prepared.

Ann wasn’t a bad kid. She got outstanding grades in school, rarely misbehaved and practiced the piano for hours without being told. However, Ann has experienced severe anxiety for the past two years. Her behavior during the Disney trip convinced the parents to seek psychological help.

Anxiety in moderation is a normal and healthy response, but can be incapacitating when excessive. For some children,

Mama Drama: Extreme Hair Pulling

Dear Mama Drama:

I am really worried about my son. He is three years old and has a really hard time handling frustration. When he doesn’t get his way or becomes frustrated with something, he starts pulling out his hair. He has done this so much that he has large bald spots all over his head.

I try to talk with him and get him to stop the hair pulling but nothing seems to work. It seems like the more distressed I get about the behavior the more it increases. My husband and I are at a loss. What should we do?

~Pulled Apart

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Dear Pulled:

Your perception that this is concerning behavior is accurate. Hair pulling of this extreme is not typical behavior and should be addressed with your pediatrician as soon as possible. There are a variety of issues that could be leading to this behavior.

At three many children’s expressive language skills have not yet caught up to their ability to understand what is going on around them. This difficult expressing themselves verbally can cause extreme frustration. If a child’s speech is delayed, this can create even more difficulties. If your son seems to be struggling in this area, having him assessed by a speech therapist is a good idea.

You mention that your son’s hair pulling increases as your distress does the same. He may be recognizing that he is getting attention with this behavior or his anxiety may increase in response to yours. Seeking the support from a mental health professional will help you evaluate this behavior and how you can best support your son.

There is also a compulsive disorder call trichotillomania that involves pulling out one’s own hair. There is a fair amount of information about it online. Some resources you may want to explore are the Trichotillomania Learning Center and The Mayo Clinic.

Whatever the reason your son is pulling out his hair to this extreme, it is imperative that you seek professional support for him and yourself. Early intervention provides opportunities to prevent further damage and teach the skills needed to cope with the difficulties he is facing.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.

Mama Drama: Competition Quakes

Dear Mama Drama:

My daughter, age 8, signed up for a team sport this summer. We counseled her about the level of commitment it would take and were assured that she was up to it, even eager for it.

My daughter enjoys the practices but gets too nervous for the competitions! The first week she did it, but it took a lot of cajoling. She did feel good about it at the end. But the second week, no amount of cajoling would get her onto the field.

What are your ideas on handling her commitment? If she quits mid-season, should we make her responsible for some of the fees we paid? How do we help her to have a stake in this, without it being seen as punishment?

~ Questionning Commitment

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Dear Questioning:

Your daughter’s eagerness to join the team and actively engage in practices shows that this is an activity in which she wants to participate. Regardless of what she initially agreed to, however, she may have had no idea how anxious she would feel about playing in front of an audience in a competitive situation. Pressuring her or punishing her for being anxious is not going to make the situation better.

I suggest allowing her to continue on the team for the summer, thus following through with her commitment. Talk with her coach and make arrangements that meet your daughter’s needs. She can attend the practices and has the option of playing in the games. If she is too anxious to play, she can still attend the games, cheer on her teammates, and possibly support the team by having a job such as managing the line up. It will be important for the coach to be understanding and work with the team to be supportive as well. Your daughter will improve her skills and increase her confidence by continuing to practice and be part of the team.

Once she knows that you will give her a choice to play without pressure, give her the opportunity to talk about the thoughts and fears she experiences when thinking about the games. She may be afraid of getting hurt, letting down her teammates, being ridiculed, or doing something wrong. Validate her fears, they are very real for her, while giving her some perspective on how you may have felt in a similar situation. Her coach may also have some ideas that may help her.

Many of us experience mild to moderate anxiety and are able to work through it. However, many people experience severe, debilitating anxiety and panic attacks over which they have no control. Their responses often seem unreasonable or irrational to others, but they are very real to the person experiencing them. Your description of your daughter’s response tells me that her anxiety response is more than average stage fright or pre-game jitters and that she needs a lot of support working through this.

If her anxiety continues to be to this extreme or worsens, seek mental health support for your daughter. Learning to identify and manage her anxiety now will make a huge difference when facing other challenges as she gets older.

Many people also find relief from anxiety with Rescue Remedy®, a Bach Flower Essence combination, which supports nervous tension in crisis or stressful situations. Our family has found it very effective in calming nerves and facing fears and it is safe for children and adults.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.

Mama Drama: Flushing Fears

My three year old was doing great with potty training until we visited the museum and an automatic toilet flushed unexpectedly. He now screams and cries when we take him into any public bathroom. How can we help him get over his fear and handle these flushing monsters?

~Flushed away

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Dear Flushed Away:

Automatic toilets can be disconcerting to both adults and children when their powerful flush whooshes unexpectedly. For young children teetering on the edge of the seat and just beginning to trust in this whole toileting experience, the rushing water and powerful suction can be terrifying.

A quick and easy fix for the automatic toilets is to place a sticky note over the sensor. This prevents them from flushing until the paper is removed. Carry a pack in your purse or diaper bag and make sure anyone with whom your son goes out into the world does the same.

Your son will take some time in trusting that this will work. You will need to explain how it works and let him test it out. Even with this he may need to test it each time and may be apprehensive about going into the bathroom. Assure him you will prevent the flush until he is out of the stall and be patient with him.

If you forget the sticky notes you can also put your hand over the sensor, holding it there until your son is finished. If he needs any assistance pulling his pants up and down, this can be a bit tricky but it works in a pinch.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.

Mama Drama: Separation Anxiety Blues

Dear Mama Drama:

My daughter just started preschool and cries and clings to me every time I take her. This is her first experience away from me. What can I do to help her adjust?

~Struggling to Separate

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Dear Struggling:

Leaving your child when they are crying and scared is one of the most heart wrenching experiences a parent can have. The multitude of emotions you experience can be overwhelming.

Heading off to school for the first time can also be a scary experience for many children. If they have never been left anywhere like school or day care previously, they have no idea what to expect. Common fears for first time preschoolers are that mom or dad won’t come back, no one will play with them, and they don’t know what to do if they have to go to the bathroom. Many young children are not yet able to express these fears verbally, so instead they cry and cling to mom or dad.

Here are a few ideas to ease your daughter’s anxiety and yours as well:

  1. Arrange a visit to the classroom and teacher(s) before school starts. (It’s ideal to do before the school year, but since you have already started thirty minutes before class should do.) Explore the room with your daughter and the teacher discovering the materials and toys that interest her and allowing her to begin developing a relationship with the teacher.
  2. Use items that she was interested in on your visit together to entice her into the classroom when she comes to school. These transition objects help children move more smoothly from one part of their day to another.
  3. Reassure your daughter you will be back to pick her up. As most preschoolers cannot tell time, you can talk with her about her routine at school and let her know you’ll see her after snack (or whatever the last activity of the day is.)
  4. Take pictures of yourself and other family members in the home to send with her to school. Laminate them (clear contact paper works great, too) so they can hold up over time. My sons loved mom and dad on one side and the brothers together on the other. (Even at seven and ten they like to keep these pictures handy in their backpacks.)
  5. Read books with your daughter about what to expect at preschool. D.W.’s Guide to Preschool by Marc Brown is a great option and includes that very important reminder that the moms and dad do come back!
  6. Speak positively about preschool and the fun things she’ll get to do each day.
  7. Try to stay calm and relaxed yourself. Keeping your anxiety down will help her to feel more relaxed as well.