3 Steps to College Success (Even when you have senioritis)

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It's the last semester of senior year

It may be "crunch time," but senioritis has set in.

Your teen has  already been accepted to college and now they're giving themselves permission to coast a bit.

“It’s senior year,” they say.

“I’m going to enjoy it,” they say.

But with the senior project work piling up and the assignment on top of assignment that every single teacher is throwing their way, they're beginning to feel like they've dug a hole that they'll never get out of by the end of May.

You worry as a parent that your teen's lack of worry has led to fudging that awesome GPA they worked their whole high school career to achieve.

There’s a nagging concern in the back of your mind that they could actually revoke that college acceptance if they don’t pull it all together.

But now that they cycle has started, you both feel a lack of control.

Where do you start?

How do you pull yourself out of this now?

How does your teen even find the time to get all the past due assignments done when school and activities just keep on going on top of it?

When work piles up, it can be easy for your teen to give in to paralysis and the belief that they will start doing better once they get to college because they'll care more then.

We hear it all the time…

I’ll be paying for it so I’ll care more…. Lie

I’ll only be taking classes that I like, so I’ll be more interested in school…. Lie

These are examples of magical thinking at it's finest. And they’re the lies that many high school seniors are telling themselves to give them permission to coast through the rest of the school year.

But here's the truth

Unless you COMMIT to a routine that brings you success right now, it's going to be super hard to change your internal motivation or day-to-day work ethic just because you've had a change of location (even when there's more money involved.)

IT'S TIME TO DEVELOP A SCHEDULE TO GET YOUR LIFE ON TRACK. (now, not then.)

Here's how...

SET SMALL GOALS

People tend to get overwhelmed with big responsibilities, so it helps to break them down into smaller steps. Make a list of overall goals, then schedule smaller objectives directly into your calendar. Small wins lead to big successes.

 

CREATE AN ONGOING STRUCTURE

Having a daily routine allows you to wash, rinse and repeat success in a way that feels normal and keeps you from getting stuck. Write down your weekly routine. Of course you can allow yourself to be flexible within this routine, but committing to an hour of studying per day, or physical activity daily is a way of creating a strong foundation for a happy and healthy life.

 

REMEMBER TO ENJOY YOUR LIFE

Productivity is great, but when you ignore what makes you happy, tasks and responsibilities get more difficult to complete. Build in time for fun and self-care every single day. Make a list of activities that you feel confident when you're engaging in and that you feel happy when you complete. Make doing at least one per day as routine as brushing your teeth.

When you can be mindful of how routines help you build a more satisfying life and you commit to taking the time to make routine a habit, you'll soon be soaring towards your goals and ready for college now, not crossing your fingers and hoping it happens when you get there.

If your teen is a high school senior, there are 28 weeks between them and college.  Get out that agenda book and start making a plan!  

And, if your teen needs support overcoming the barriers between high school and college success, we’re here to support you.  

Our therapists have opened up 5 spaces to see high school seniors in the second semester so that we can fully support your family in going from overwhelmed and “over it” at school to having the practical plan for coping with stress NOW so that your teen can navigate college and beyond in the happiest and healthiest way possible.

Click HERE to apply for a complimentary parent call so that we can connect and explore together the next best steps for your high school senior.  We look forward to speaking with you soon.

 

3 Phrases to Build a Positive Mindset + Boost Self-Esteem in Your Teen

IS YOUR TEEN A NEGATIVE NELLY?

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It's human to give more attention to pain and difficulty than to positive experiences.

Your teen likely has neutral or positive interactions and experiences in the majority of their day, but if one person gave them a "look" or said something critical, it becomes the ONLY thing they can focus on for the rest of the day.

 

And, this becomes a tailspin of negative self-judgments, self-loathing and harsh criticisms too.

 

Your teen begins to believe that they aren't good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, fit enough or talented enough.

 

And these comparisons become a dangerous foundation for basing our worth on other people's opinions of us... something that can create stress, illness, avoidance, procrastination and perfectionism... and ultimately depression.

 

The good news is, that when we can help our teens focus on the fun, encourage positive interactions, highlight strengths, show gratitude for effort and give attention to the work in progress, it helps teens to feel good enough for exactly who they are while still working on improving.

Because we're all a work in progress, but it doesn't mean that we can't love ourselves at every single step along the way.

 

Here are some phrases to help you get started in supporting your teen's self-esteem and shifting them into a more positive frame of mind:

"Thank you for taking the trash out.  I appreciate you remembering to pitch in and contribute."  

Even if it's an "expected" chore, attention and gratitude ensure that it's acknowledged and increases the likelihood that your teen will do it again without being asked.

 

"I'm super proud of how hard you worked in studying for that test last night.  You really put in a lot of effort and focused for a long time."

Notice how you're praising the effort and NOT the grade or outcome here.

 

"I love how kindly you spoke to your friend when she was upset in the car on the way home last night.  You're a good friend."

In this example, you're highlighting your teen's strength or positive quality in an interaction or situation, not the outcome of how they made the other person feel.

 

The more you can pull out and highlight strengths that you see in your teen and share them together, the more your teen will internalize these ideas and begin to think them too!

 

Finally, be sure to help your teen focus on the FUN in every situation.  Help them find joy.  Encourage them to take breaks and talk to friends.  When all you focus on is outcomes and responsibilities, not only will your teen see you as an adversary, but they will learn to focus on difficulties without prioritize self-care and life's positive moments.

 

It's all about finding and encouraging the balance so that your teen can navigate the hard times while still holding space for what makes life worth living too.

 

If your teen is having difficulty finding balance or seeing the good in life, there is hope.  We'd love to connect and explore the next best step in helping your teen find happiness.

Reach out to apply for a complimentary parent consultation call here:  www.creativehealingphilly.com/free-parent-call

 

 

 

 

 

3 Steps to Managing Teen Anxiety without Meltdowns or Overwhelm (for you or your teen)

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ANXIETY FEELS LIKE....

  • That critical voice that's always nagging you in the back of your mind
  • That weight on your chest that makes it hard for you to breathe
  • That belief that others don't like you, don't want you around or secretly hate you
  • That urge to run away, hide in the corner, avoid eye contact or to stay super duper still and hope that others don't notice you
  • That fear that something horrible is about to happen, whether it's failure, loss, danger, rejection or embarrassment
  • That shaking, sweating, crying sick feeling
  • That thought that cycles through your mind again and again with no end in sight

Anxiety can be a bit of a bully and when your anxious teen is faced with discomfort or difficulty, the natural tendency is often to avoid.

They may want to run away, avoid or procrastinate... because let's face it: Facing your fears is hard work!

In DBT we teach a skill called Opposite Action to help teens learn HEALTHY ways to manage difficulties without making the situation worse.

This means that...

...one day of homework doesn't pile up into a week's worth of overwhelm.

...one bad interaction with friends doesn't lead to arguments and isolation that trigger depression and safety concerns.

...one critical sentence from a parent doesn't lead to big blow ups and days of not speaking to each other.

It's about acknowledging how you feel in the moment, taking a breath and step back and making a CHOICE to effectively manage the situation.

When we're talking anxiety, the following suggestions are helpful when your anxiety or fear is not justified by a legitimately dangerous situation:

STEP ONE
Stop avoiding and reassuring. Approach what makes you anxious by being brave AND afraid. Do it over and over and over again. 

It's going to feel uncomfortable. Expect it. And do it anyway. It's the only way.

STEP TWO
Approach events, places, tasks, activities and people that make you nervous. Take it one step at a time and expose yourself to these difficulties while taking note of how it impacts your thoughts, your emotions and your body sensations. 

Make a list of the experiences that make you nervous and place them in an order from least scary to most. Start at the bottom and work your way up.

STEP THREE
Do something every day that gives you a sense of control and mastery over your fear. No matter how small it seems, find a way to feel empowered. Engage in activities that make you feel confident. Tell yourself you can do it.

^^ This is all SUPER hard and can often feel overwhelming or make you feel paralyzed without a professional to walk you through it and support the process each step of the way.

If your teen needs help going from anxious and overwhelmed to confident and coping with ease, we've got you covered. Reach out to us for a complimentary parent call to get clarity on the next best steps here: http://creativehealingphilly.com/free-parent-call

A Resource for your Procrastinating Teen

How to help your teen overcome procrastination... 

One of the most frustrating concepts we hear from parents for their teens is completing work that seems overwhelming, attending to chores when they have an "I'll do it later" attitude.

Just ONE more episode of Netflix, they say.
Just ONE more scroll of the Insta feed, they say.
Just ONE more snap to friends, they say.

But it never ends at one and then the work never gets done.

Which leads to MORE stress and overwhelm as the workload piles up and then your teen asks to go in late to school (or avoid it altogether) since they haven't completed the work they stayed up until after midnight trying to complete. >> Then skipping class stresses them out MORE because they're missing more work.

It's an endless cycle. And we have an end.

When teens don't learn the tools to manage procrastination in high school, they take these poor habits into college and beyond and life becomes an overwhelming collection of tasks that makes you feel like you're constantly at the bottom of a hole trying to climb your way upward.

This comes with physical illness, emotional distress, snapping at friends and family when you're on overload and more.

And that's no way to live.

What can you do?

* Learn the REAL reasons you procrastinate (What's behind it all and what's at the root of it?) Here's a hint... a lot of times it's connected to perfectionism and self-worth.

* Create structure and routine so that you can learn how to organize and use your time more effectively and prioritize the tasks that need to get done NOW.

* Develop a world-class support and accountability team of family, friends and professionals to keep you on track. We're all counting on you FOR you until you learn the skills to be self-sufficient in meeting your expectations.

Our goal for your teen...

+ Get organized

+ Stay focused

+ Reduce stress

+ Feel GOOD about yourself and your accomplishments

Check out this great resource on overcoming procrastination for teen:

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If your teen needs more than a book to get going, we're here... 

If your teen needs support in breaking free of procrastination and beginning to meet life's challenges effectively so that they can be fully prepared for college and beyond, we've got you covered.

Complete an application form to speak to one of our counselors about the next best steps to support your teen: 
www.creativehealingphilly.com/free-parent-call

7 Reasons Depression is Like the Common Cold

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In our sessions at the teen support center, we often will use metaphor to talk about depression because when we can put a mental illness in physical terms, it helps teens to look at their situation in a whole new way and helps them to take action and effectively change their behaviors and routines so that they positively impact their mood at its core (and not just mask the symptoms.)

Here are our 7 Reasons Depression is Like the Common Cold:

  1. Some days it’s just a nagging tickle in your throat and a stuffy nose and life can proceed as usual -- even though it’s always there as a dull reminder.

  2. Some days your head hurts so badly and your nose is so clogged that moving or getting out of bed feels next to impossible.  You feel like bed is the only option and that you “just can’t do life” today.

  3. Sleeping all day helps you to cope with it but it’s still totally there when you wake up.

  4. You can laugh with your friends and still have a cold.  The awesomeness of friends does not negate the suckiness of a cold.

  5. You try not to complain about it to others, especially when you’re up and completing daily tasks because you don’t want people to judge you, tell you it’s not that bad, relate to you by telling you about their most recent sniffles, or worse… tell you it’s mind over matter and you’ll get through it.

  6. You’d love to be tucked in by a loved one, brought chicken soup and nurtured but you don’t want to feel like a burden on others.

  7. Cold medications may work to mask some of the symptoms, but they don’t make it go away and you hate that you have a cold.  You wonder how you got it, why you have it and when it will go away… and in the deepest midst of it, it’s hard to imagine that you’ll ever feel any other way again.

Just like with any physical illness, when you don’t acknowledge and effectively treat the problem, it tends to get worse.  Or at the very least, it sticks around a LOT longer than is comfortable or helpful.

And, what starts as a dull sadness or a tearful night or two over homework can quickly lead to overwhelm, hopelessness, loss of motivation or isolation.  When an emotion isn’t validated by parents, the behaviors that come with that emotion will escalate until your teen feels heard and understood.

Having a safe space to explore, express, communicate and cope with emotions BEFORE they become overwhelm is an effective way to manage a “cold” and not just treat or dull the symptoms.

What’s more, when you can communicate to your teen that you truly understand how they feel (either by validating them with your words and with listening wholeheartedly or by connecting them with a therapist for more support) it allows your teen to FEEL understood by you and opens up communication and an opportunity for a closer bond with them.

If you have a teen who is experiencing:

  • A low mood, feeling “blah” or numb and lacks enjoyment in everyday activities

  • Feelings of worthlessness or hopelesssness

  • Isolation or withdraw from friends

  • Fatigue, exhaustiion, difficulty getting out of bed or getting motivated

  • Thoughst or urges to harm themselves

Complete an interest form here and let’s connect to explore the next best steps for how to support your teen.

We currently have appointments available for depressed teens who want to learn how to...

  • Actually implement effective skills to manage their mood on a day-to-day basis
  • Understand and “catch” how they feel in any given moment so that they can make positive choices in how to respond, rather than acting impulsively or destructively and making the situation worse
  • Learn how to handle overwhelm in healthy ways now so that stress-masking habits don’t become a way of life
  • Learn how to appropriately ask for support and not use manipulation tactics or fall apart so that others take care of them

But, these appointments are certainly not for everyone :)

Your teen MUST:

  • Be open and excited about working with a counselor who will “get” them and who will help them understand that they are not alone
  • Be willing to learn new skills to help them manage their mood
  • Be ready to let go of the excuses and negative thinking that have been keeping them stuck

If this sounds like your teen, I’d love to personally connect.  

Click here to complete an application form and I’ll reach out soon to explore the next best steps.

 

 

Have a Plan in Place When Life Overwhelms Your Teen

Help your teen learn to give themselves a break 

When an activity or event is overwhelming for your teen, best practice is to encourage them to take a break to calm down, then return to the activity when they are feeling more equipped and ready to tackle it.

It's important to note that breaks like this should be PLANNED and TEMPORARY and that too long of a break results in straight avoiding a stressful situation and that will only serve to make it more difficult in the end!

Help your teen come up with a list of activities or events that stress them out or overwhelm them. Knowing in advance what is going to be difficult will help you partner together to devise a "Cope Ahead Plan." Maybe you teen has difficulty with math homework, or maybe it's getting to school in the morning. Identify the trigger situations that cause distress so you can put a solid coping plan in place.

Be Mindful 

Help your teen identify what thoughts, emotions and body sensations arise when they feel overwhelmed.

You may ask them...

"What goes through your head when this happens?"

"What differences do you notice in your body when you're feeling stressed?" (This could be tension, changes in heart rate or breathing patterns.)

"What emotions come up for you? Do you feel sad? Angry? Anxious?"

When you can identify the warning signs of stress you can head it off before it gets to the point of crisis and it gives your teen a clear indicator of when to actually use coping skills.

Come up with a solid list of ways to cope 

Help your teen choose at least 5 activities to engage in when stress hits. This could be ways to distract them from the difficult feelings until they lessen, such as...

+ Journaling
+Drawing
+Listening to music
+Talking to a friend about something else
+Taking a walk

It's important to have these activities chosen in advance and for your teen to have a list of them somewhere they can easily access so that when they are upset, they know exactly what to do. It can be difficult to make decisions or come up with a plan when emotions are swirling, so it's important to BE PROACTIVE.

Here's a list of just some of the coping skills our teens have come up with in past groups.  (This is part of a list of fifty!)

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Make a plan to return to the situation 

Remember, coping skills are planned and temporary, so you need to decide when your teen feels ready to return to the situation too. This again should be something that is planned in advance when your teen is calm.

Ask them...

"What would let you know you were calm enough to return to the situation again?"

"How would your thoughts/feelings/body sensations be better or different?"

"What are the signs that you would notice that would let you know you were feeling calm enough to try again?" 

Find a language for talking about mood intensity 

Sometimes using a number system of 0 being completely calm and 10 being the most upset can help you and your teen decide on a good time to return to the activity as well as when it's time to take a break.

Some helpful ways to track moods include using a family journal, having your teen record a number daily on the calendar, or doing a daily text or spoken check in at the same time each day.

The Fuel to Your Emotional Fire

Many times, you and your teen are experiencing feelings you don’t recognize well enough in the moment and then react to that stress with self-judgments that often lead to decisions and behaviors that make the situation ultimately worse.

This “full mind” allows you to live life on autopilot and prevents you from being intentional in your interactions and choices.

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You can CHOOSE to be mindful! 

Mindfulness creates a space between feeling and reacting so that you have a choice in how to respond in the moment.

See the breakdown of the six components of an emotion here.

Mindfulness means having an awareness of and describing your experience in the moment without judgment so that you can make a choice in how to effectively proceed.

 

Here’s an example of unmindful reaction that includes judgment... 

Lisa gets her test back and school and sees a big red F at the top of the page and immediately feels disappointed.  She thinks, “I’m such an idiot!  Of course I failed again!” This judgment increases her emotion from disappointment to anger and self-hatred.  The bell rings and she leaves class feeling tense and dizzy and beginning to hyperventilate.  She began to have swirling thoughts about never being good enough and never getting into college.  She texted her parent saying, “I can’t be here right now” and leaves school to walk home.

Lisa arrived home where her father (who had worked from home that day) greeted her at the door.  He immediately thought, “Here we go again.  She’s so lazy.  She’s just not trying hard enough!”  This was followed by a hot rush of anger spreading from tension in his chest through his body.  He reacted by yelling, “Why aren’t you at school?  Enough of this already!” His tone was angry which made Lisa feel invalidated when she was experiencing sadness and disappointment.  She thought, “He never understands!” and ran to her room where she then engaged in self-harm behaviors that led to even more consequences and undesirable outcomes for the whole family.

Notice the bold-faced judgements in the story that fueled the emotional fire and led to each person’s emotional experience escalating.  

Let’s look at how the situation could have played out differently using the mindfulness skill of describing without judgment:

Lisa gets her test back and school and sees a big red F at the top of the page and immediately feels disappointed.  She noticed a pit in her stomach and said to herself, “I feel really disappointed about this” and texted her mom to say, “I feel like crying right now.  I just got my test back and I got an F on it..”  Her mom acknowledges that this disappointment makes sense and that it stinks to get an F.  (A validating response that helps Lisa feel heard.)

She leaves class feeling sad and connects with a friend in the hallway where she shares that she’s frustrated about her grade.  The friend relates to her experience by saying she took the same class last semester and it was really hard.  (Another validating comment that makes Lisa feel heard and accepted.)  They begin then talking about the upcoming formal together and Lisa’s mood slowly returns to balance while she enters her next class.

Having an awareness of your thoughts and feelings and being able to acknowledge them, or describe them to others is critical.  

Be like a sports announcer and narrate your thoughts and feelings to create a cushion of time between urges and behaviors.

Track your judgments and notice how they fuel your emotions! 

In our Teen Groups and DBT Groups, we have a “Judgment Jar” where group members will recognize theirs and others’ judgments by putting a marble in the jar.  It’s a kind way of being mindful of judgments in the moment and reminding others to practice nonjudgmental stance too.

 

When you can bring an awareness to your experience and slow it down, you can then make choices that are effective in how to proceed, rather than reacting quickly which often makes the situation worse.  In next week’s email, I’ll review the 3-part model for skillfully coping with stressful situations in the DBT model.

Parenting Priorities + Changing Teen Behavior

When your teen has a history of hard times, setting effective limits can feel daunting. 

You may fear triggering a safety concern or starting and argument with your teen, or you may just not know where to start given the host of concerns at hand including:

  • Not completing school assignments
  • Arguments at home
  • Isolation, depression or self-harm
  • Anxiety that shows up as avoidance and shutting down

Prioritizing parenting goals... 

When your teen is making unsafe choices or engaging in self-destructive behaviors, this take priority over all other concerns (yes, even grades.)  The #1 priority to reinforce for teens who are experiencing safety concerns is getting them into treatment and ensuring that they engage in it (even if this makes them angry with you.)

When your teen is safe, prioritizing goals and tackling issues comes down to a few things:

  1. What is the most challenging concern that your teen or family faces?
  2. What values do you have as a family and how does this impact the decisions and goals you develop within the family system?

The goal or challenge you choose to address first matters less than being clear and staying consistent in communicating expectations and consequences to your teen.  This is how they learn what to expect and where limits lie... limits that create consistency and security for your teen.

Increase Positive Behaviors by Reinforcing Them 

When you respond to your teen with attention and/or reward, it increases the likelihood that whatever behavior they are exhibiting will continue to occur.  Some examples of reinforcers include:

  • Smiles
  • Hugs
  • Praise
  • Compliments
  • Extra privileges
  • High fives
  • Gratitude
  • Attention

There are lots of ways to say or show that you appreciate your teen's behavior and that you want more of it.  

Your interactions with your teen (whether they'd like to admit it or not) can be a POWERFUL way to reshape their behavior.  

Be very mindful of what you may be accidentally reinforcing with your time, attention, or strong emotion (and also aware that giving too much focus to an unhealthy behavior can reinforce that behavior too.)

Punishing your teen sucks (and it doesn't even really work) 

Taking something away from your teen, like the car or phone (or even having them do chores or other tasks) has been proven to be LESS effective at getting them to stop problematic behaviors.  AND, it often leads to sneakiness and dishonesty as your teen will just continue to do the same thing but try harder to make sure they don't get caught.

Punishing your teen doesn't tell them what they should do either and ends up creating a divide in the parent-child relationship.

What works?

Notice and reward healthy behaviors.  << Years of psychological research back this up.

What if it doesn't work? 

Help your teen learn natural consequences by not fixing mistakes for them.  As long as they are safe, let forgotten homework, embarrassing social judgment and failed tests have real world responses.

When you protect your teen from what would naturally happen in these situations, your teen doesn't learn that their behavior has consequences and you give them permission to shift blame to others when life doesn't work in their favor.

It's hard and scary to watch your teen "fail' but it's a necessary life lesson so that they can learn from these experiences and adjust their behavior accordingly.

It definitely gets worse before it gets better 

It's called the behavioral burst.  As you're making changes (which take time), you're shaking things up and your pulling your teen out of their comfort zone.  Expect that your teens emotions and behaviors will increase in intensity as they try to maintain the status quo.

Trust the process.  Stay the course.  It makes sense that you'd want to give in, but doing so will only strengthen your teen's unhealthy patterns.  

You're about to make the changes that will set your teen up for success today, tomorrow, in college and beyond. You got this!