May 25, 2022

Talking To Your Child About Tragic Events At School

 Hello Everyone,

I hope you are doing well and enjoying late Spring.  In response to yesterday's deadly shooting at Robb Elementary School in Texas, I wanted to provide a brief post about reassuring your child of their safety in school. I also want to address the topic of gun safety as well.  Please note that while this post is directed mainly to parents of children with developmental diagnoses, the ideas apply to all children in general.

Children, especially those with developmental diagnoses, often need reassurance of safety when confronted with threatening situations or the potential threat of such situations.  This can be difficult for them as it requires being able to abstractly think about what "could" happen as opposed to the moment right in front of them.  It's even more difficult for parents as we understand the randomness of such threatening events as school shootings and other acts of violence.  Such violent acts destroy safety, trust, and above all, innocence.  We cannot prevent these senseless acts from happening, however we can provide reassurance to our children that they are safe and that we will do our best to protect them.  Being consistent and reliable as parent protectors is our best way to concretely demonstrate that our children our safe and will continue to be so.  Here are some ideas:

Discuss the event: If your child is capable of understanding what happened be sure you discuss in a matter-of-fact way what happened.  Be sure to mention that what happened was tragic and discuss the emotions that may go along with such an event.  Use clear language and make sure your child understands the words you are using; don't assume they will understand on your own.  Limit access to media so that you can control the tenor of the information your child is receiving and so they do not get overwhelmed by the in-your-face nature of news media.

Communicate so your child will understand: If stories or pictures work best use those; use language that is concrete and specific.  You can also include a beginning statement such as "A very tragic (sad scary, whatever you think your child can handle) event happened.  

Validate your child's fears about school safety: If your child has fears about school safety talk them through and listen with empathy.  validate their feelings and thoughts even if you know they are not likely to happen.  Remember that children, regardless of diagnosis, will often process fear by attempting to master it by putting themselves in that situation via their imagination.  A child may also make up scenarios as another way to understand these scary events.  For example, your child might ask what would happen to them if someone shot at them or tried to hurt their teacher.  They might even say what they would do.  This can be a hallmark sign of trauma.

Validate your child's fantasies about how they would handle violent scenarios: Remember that all children try to resolve scary and unknown situations by fantasizing about how they would handle the situation.  They might tell you what they would do in the situation or how they would try to stop it from happening.  Remember here that the child is dealing with a significant, random unknown that can cause harm in reality so they are trying to prepare for that situation.

Discuss safety plans: This is hugely important to a child's sense of safety.  If your school has a safety plan, make sure it's being taught and reinforced regularly.  Get as much information yourself about what plans are in place to help your child deal with the sudden disruption and sensory overload that will happen should the plan occur in a drill or real life.  Also discuss your role as a parent in making sure that your child will be safely reunited with you in the case of a violent event.

Demonstrate your reliability: Your child needs concrete proof that you will be there for them in the case of a violent event.  You can demonstrate this by showing up on time for regular routine activities, sticking to schedules, and following through on your commitments to your child such as picking them up on time or giving a reward when you say you will.  These acts reinforce the idea that you will behave as you say you will.

Use supports: Get other family and friends involved to help your child process the feelings around the reality of these events.  Keep in contact with teachers and encourage them to understand the challenges faced by children with developmental diagnoses around understanding such events.  You may even consider possible therapy for your child. Expressive therapies such as play and art therapy are helpful for young children as well as those with limited vocabulary.

Observe your child for signs of distress: Changes in behavior and routine may indicate distress.  Be observant and check-in with your child to see how they are doing.  Being available to discuss and process such distress is another way to demonstrate reliability.

Discuss gun safety: Guns are an inevitable part of our society; many people own them for one reason or another.  If you own a gun make sure that it is locked away in a safe place where your child cannot access it.  If your child is capable of understanding you can have a straight forward discussion about the guns in your house and the safety plan for safe handling.  Also be clear about who uses the gun and who doesn't.  Reinforce that most people with guns are safe people and know how to care for guns safely.  You can reinforce this concept by discussing the fact that by and large the only people with guns in public are the police and that most people are not carrying them-they leave them at home.

March 20, 2022

A Quick Dating Guide

Hello Everyone,
I hope you are doing well.  There's never a wrong time to start dating or thinking about dating.  For individuals with developmental diagnoses, this process can be very scary, uncertain and confusing.  Here's a quick infographic I've developed, which outlines the dating process.  Anyone can use it, especially as a framework to help your loved one understand dating and what it means.  Feel free to apply your own experiences with dating to the different steps to give concrete examples and make the steps relevant for the person you are working with.  Everyone deserves to have a great relationship...good luck!


February 12, 2022

Single For Valentine's Day

 Hello Everyone,

I hope you are doing well.  This month's post is going to be a quick one: what to do on Valentine's Day if you are single.  For many people Valentine's Day is a loving and happy experience.  For many others, however, Valentine's Day can be a painful reminder of being single or alone and not being in a romantic relationship.  Many people experience this loneliness and emotional isolation, however it is much more prevalent amongst certain populations such as those with developmental diagnoses.  Quite often aspects of the diagnosis(es) (and their effects on social flourishing), whether difficulty processing social cues, crippling social anxiety, depression related to these challenges, and so on result in social isolation.  Here are some ideas to (hopefully) help you take control of some of that loneliness that comes up each time this year as well as focus on your own emotional self-care.

Write a letter or card: This can be a great time to write someone you care about (or know) a letter simply saying "hello".  It does not need to be a Valentine card just because it's Valentine's Day.  You don't need a Hallmark Holiday to have a reason to write to someone.  Writing also takes more effort than texting or email; this is important because the extra effort signifies that you genuinely care about that person.

Schedule a meet-up: Depending on your stance regarding COVID-19, this can be a great time to get together with friends or family to simply hangout.  Create your own social tradition if you feel like it.

Schedule an on-line meet-up: If you're not comfortable getting together with people right now, try a meet-up online.

Re-connect with people: The pandemic has really taken its toll on relationships, adding another layer of stress and yuck to already stressful lives.  Communication has fallen apart.  Think of someone you know that you haven't talked to in a long time and contact them to say hello.

Create your own care package: Find things that make you feel good, such as a book, some special food or candy, or anything else that puts you in a good mood and put them into a box that you can have available.

Do something you enjoy doing: Whether alone or with someone else do something you enjoy that you may not get to do too often.  Go to a movie or get take-out, or simply get out of your home.

Tell the people in your life you love them: This is important.  Often times we can get caught up in thinking about the relationships we don't have instead of the ones we do.  The relationships we have are critical so grow them by letting those people know how important they are to you.

TAKE ACTION: Now may be the time to get serious about dating and finding a romantic relationship.  Working with someone you trust, now may be the time to create an on-line dating profile, talk to a relationship specialist, explore new hobbies to meet people, find out where people like you socialize, and so on.

These are just a few ideas.  What ideas can you come up with?  Good luck and take care!!!  

January 2, 2022

Ideas For Managing Covid19-related Depression

Hello Everyone,

          It has been a while since my last post so I thought I would start off the new year by doing a post about ideas for managing covid19 related depression.  Even though it is a new year, covid19 is still here and there does not seem to be an end date in sight.  For many of us living with depression, such as myself, and I am currently going through one of my depressive cycles as I am writing this, we already have enough depression aggravators to deal with without the specter of a seemingly unending pandemic.  A key hallmark of depression and its overly burdening effects is the idea that things cannot get better and there is no hope or end in sight.  It certainly seems that way as we enter year three (I think) of the pandemic.  I don't know about you, but my "New Year" has been quite difficult thinking about this and managing a naturally occurring bout of depression (because depression doesn't care when it hits) has not helped.  The strain of unending covid19 has made it much more difficult for me to maintain my "mutual non-aggression pact" with my depression.  By that, I mean that managing in a live and let live mind-set with a mental illness with no cure, is harder to find tools to manage it, especially when the unknown is time.  So what to do?  The following post has several suggestions for how we can gain some measure of perspective and possible comfort by taking the unknown, as in the number of days until the pandemic is done,  and working with it instead of against it.

        Please note that this post is not intended to serve as ideas to cure covid19 related depression, but as ideas to help manage it.  As we know, there is no cure for depression...there is management for living.  Even if none of these ideas work for you, if they inspire you to get creative and come up with your own ideas, then this will be a helpful post for you...hopefully!

        As obvious as it might seem, the following is something many people, me included, do not do very well: REDIRECT MENTAL ENERGY.  When we feel hopeless and out of control it's very easy to fall into the trap of "why won't this end" and "things will never get any better".  We can't do anything about this sadly, and all the resulting frustration, angst, and emotional whatever does is fuel the depression.  We can at least try to REDIRECT MENTAL ENERGY towards thinking about what can I do with this time instead?  How to do this?

Keeping a covid19 calendar-Instead of focusing on the number of days until the pandemic ends, you can take charge by keeping track of the days you have already gotten through and survived.  You ARE TOUGH and being able to have a visual reminder that you have already gotten through three years of crap and are still around can be quite empowering.  Keep the record going...if you've gone this long, can you go further?  Yes!

Have covid19-free conversations with people-How is this possible?  It's everywhere and on everyone's mind!  Yes, that's very true, but that doesn't mean that other life events and existence suddenly go away.  You are not pretending covid19 away by not talking about it, you are choosing to focus on other parts of life that deserve to be heard.  For example, talk about a positive event such as a good day at work or something positive going on in the world that has nothing to do with covid19.

Make yourself do something when you think about being depressed.  This is called ACTIVE COPING.  Active coping is a fancy term for redirecting your thinking and your actions by doing an activity to distract you from thinking about being depressed and doing nothing.  This can be really hard to do, so what I try to do is when I have the thought about doing something (such as going for a walk), I make myself do it.

Give yourself credit for what you do!  For many of us living with depression, getting out of bed or taking a shower can be a huge accomplishment.  Note down your small, but critical successes on your covid19 claendar so you can see how you are persevering through the seemingly endless days of the pandemic.  Small victories make all the difference!

Schedule a small reward every day.  This does not mean buying something every day.  We're talking about little things you enjoy when you are not depressed and that you can look forward to as a way of keeping up your spirits during seemingly endless days of nothing.  For example, I really enjoy vegetable pasta that comes from the freezer section of the grocery store.  It sounds silly, but I look forward to eating it and its something small that gives me pleasure without being a big deal.  Schedule something small each day and put it on your covid19 calendar.

Make sure you force yourself to get some exercise or movement everyday.  This is really hard with the weather being like it is, yet even if you cannot get outside due to weather, try to do some physical activity; I do laps up and down my staircase.

Spend time doing something for someone else.  Thinking of others and doing something kind for them is a great way to get outside of your own mind and away from your own problems.  Helping others can be empowering.

August 21, 2021

Social Skills Advice For Going Back To School From Former Students With Autism

Hello Everyone,

It's been a while since a post was done; we have been working on writing a book about dating with Autism (more information to follow in the future) and enjoying the summer.  This post was conceived by several of the gentlemen (all diagnosed with ASD) I work with who have shared a number of negative social experiences when returning to school at the end of summer vacation.  They figured, that combined with the isolation brought on by the COVID pandemic, this year may be especially tough for kids, in general, but especially for kids with ASD who are returning to school.  In an effort to experience some healing and gain something positive from their negative experiences, the guys decided to come up with some suggestions for returning students to try and ease their social transition back to school.  Please note when reading, that these are simply suggestions based on personal experiences and may not be applicable to your child's situation or necessarily feasible.  As always, the guys and myself are grateful for your feedback and we hope you and your child experiences a smooth transition back to school.  Thank you!

1. Eye contact does not mean staring.  Eye contact is when you look at someone's eyes to show you are paying attention.  Staring means you are looking at something or someone without looking away, with wide eyes.

2. Staring makes people uncomfortable.  When we stare we are often not aware we are doing it; we may simply be trying to observe and gather information.  However other people find staring makes them uncomfortable because the intensity of staring makes them feel self-conscious.

3. You don't have to make constant eye contact.  If eye contact makes you uncomfortable you can always take a look at something else for a moment (practice making eye contact in the mirror with yourself, or with trusted people, and then looking away for a count of -2 seconds before making eye contact again).  Doing this is also a great way to avoid staring.

4. If you do not understand a joke or comment DO NOT pretend you understand it.  If you get caught by your peers when they make a follow-up comment to you, you run the risk of coming off as insincere or inattentive.  You can ask instead for an explanation; it's better to ask.

5. DO NOT MAKE JOKES OR COMMENTS ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE!  Even if what you're saying may be true or get laughs and attention from others, doing this is a great way to establish yourself as rude or mean.  You can also earn bullies and negative attention if the joke/comment backfires or is heard by the wrong person.

6. DO BE POLITE TO YOUR PEERS!  Making efforts to be polite, even some of the time, can be a great way to not only make friends, but also establish yourself as someone with a positive reputation.

7. Reputation DOES matter.  Unfortunately, especially in middle and high school, reputation i.e. what others think or believe about someone to be true, matters.  People with positive reputations often are more likely to avoid bullying and have more friends, while negative reputations often result in the opposite.  You can still be you and have friends even by just making the effort to be pleasant and yourself.

8. Social anxiety and taking a break.  If you are in a social situation at school, it's always ok to take a break and excuse yourself for a moment to regulate yourself.  You can excuse yourself to go to the bathroom, take a quick mental break, use a fidget for a sensory break, etc.  If the situation is overwhelming and you need an exit you can always excuse yourself with something like "I am going to class" or "I have some work to do" or come up with your own ideas.

9. Be aware of your enthusiasm and excitement.  Some of you may actually be looking forward to social situations and to making new friends.  Sometimes we may become excited and really into making efforts, however we may come across as pushy or overwhelming; believe it or not, people without autism can also be overwhelmed by intense displays of emotions.  Practice regulating these emotions with trusted individuals before school starts; they are great emotions yet they can override our impulse control and lead to us acting in ways we might not when we are calmer.

10. Interpret peer social cues as best you can.  You may not always get it right, however if a peer you are talking to (or want to talk to) says they have to go or they can't talk right now DON'T PUSH IT!  Give them their space and do not follow them or try to stop them in order to keep the conversation going.  If a peer responds to you with short answers or sounds like they are tired or they look tired (usually a sign of dis-interest) limit the social interaction and leave them alone.

11. It's ok to be nervous and scared.  When you own your feelings and are honest with yourself you can be more effective at coming up with solutions.  For example, you might carry a fidget or camouflage your stimm with different behavior.

12. It's ALWAYS OK to ask for advice.  You have cheerleaders in your corner and they, especially siblings and existing friends, can give you some great advice about being in social situations.  They want you to succeed!

May 11, 2021

Fun Ways To Understand And Experience Complex Feelings

 Hello Everyone,

I hope you have been well.  Thank you for your patience and understanding while I was taking a break from blogging to focus on personal matters.  This is going to be a simple and easy post about how you can help yourself and your child understand complex (difficult to understand) feelings.  

If you re-visit my last post on different emotions you may notice that although there are only about five emotions groups, there are many different feelings under each group.  You may also notice how each of these feelings can evolve in intensity, frequency, and can even change from one feeling to another in the same or different group.  You may notice that it is possible to experience several different feelings from several different groups at the same time depending on the situation that triggers them.  For example, if you are experiencing a re-adjustment to in-person work or class, you might experience happiness, worry, frustration, relief, and concern all at once!  

The following are just some creative ways that we can help ourselves and our kids be able to physically experience, by using the five senses of taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing, how complex emotions exist and how we can learn to pick out and connect with individual emotions from out of the mess.  Please note that these suggestions involve multiple senses and are not organized by any specific sense.

There are many, many different ways to experience complex emotions in a fun and nurturing way.  These are just a few ideas to get you thinking.  Most important....have some fun!

Lego Mess (or Block Mess): Gather legos or blocks of different shapes, colors, and sizes.  Assign an emotion to each group based on size and/or color (for example red legos are for happiness).  Once all have been assigned, mix them all up!  You can then discuss an experience where you might have had mixed feelings and pull out individual colored legos/blocks and explore the feeling.  Hint: different sizes of the same color can represent intensity or different feelings within the group.

Make a Smoothie: Straightforward.  Gather ingredients to represent different feelings about an specific experience, or not, and make a smoothie.  Notice how everything is all mixed up and see if you can identify a specific flavor, which will represent one of the "feeling" ingredients e.g. tasting banana represents identifying frustration.  You can also use this activity to explore unknown emotions.  Unknown emotions are those which cannot be described and often don't fit the definition of the feelings we are aware of.

Soda Disgusting: If you dare...this is a great one for exploring negative emotions.  Assign different negative feelings to different sodas and mix them together.  This is supposed to taste bad.  The intensity of the mixed flavors may be really nasty, yet this is an excellent way of processing how you can have multiple negative feelings at the same time and how letting more and more build up can be worse than dealing with them when they occur.

Music Time: Assign different feelings to different musical instruments.  Practice just listening to the music without picking out an individual instrument and experience what its like hearing all that "emotional noise".  Then try focusing on a single instrument and just listening to that.  This can be a great exercise for practicing ignoring anxiety or negative head noise.  You can also try using music with a singer and having that singer represent you with all that background noise going on as if you are trying to hear yourself deal with the situation.

Recycling: Same concept and process as lego mess but you are assigning emotions to different recyclable products.

The Gray Zone: Great painting activity that can be made into a tactile experience by using finger paints.  Using different colors, mix them all together until you have a big gray/black blob.  This activity is very similar to smoothies or soda disgusting and is meant to help expose you to unknown feelings.  See if you can see little pieces of the original color (if you see some blue for happiness sticking out of the gray/black blob) and notice how even when you feel emotionally lost, it is still possible to find one to cling to, to begin the emotion exploring process

Cleaning Things: It's only a chore if you let it be one.  Cleaning dirty objects can be a metaphor for negative surface emotions, the ones we are aware of that often get triggered immediately during/after a negative event.  Think of a negative experience and assign a negative feeling such as "disgust" to the filth.  Then clean the object and notice what happens to the filth.  Often we will find that the object looks clean and different, as if there was something hidden underneath.  This symbolizes other deeper feelings we may have covered up such as fear, shame, or anything else.  Notice how easy it is to focus on the filth and not whats underneath.

Organizing Things: Another way to experience different emotional intensities.  You can take anything that has a uniform color and assign it an emotion e.g. yellow for calm.  Make sure you have multiple objects of the same color and different size and organize them to visualize how the feeling can change in intensity based on its growing or shrinking size.

Blowing Bubbles: The rainbows of colors in the bubble soap represent mixed emotions, which you can assign different ones to.  Blow bubbles of different sizes and quantities to visualize intensity.  Also notice that the bubbles pop, representing the fact that not matter how complex and challenging they may be, they don't last forever.

February 2, 2021

Emotional Literacy Poster And Handout

 Hello Everyone,

I hope you are well and having a pleasant winter so far.  I wanted to share a set of handouts that the social work intern, Juliette Levchenko, working with me produced for a recent talk we did on emotional literacy.  Please see my previous post about emotional literacy and anger to get more information about what emotional literacy means and why its important for us to have as a life skill.  Anyway, here they are and please let us know what you think!  Thank you for looking!

December 1, 2020

Let's Learn About Anger! A Guide To Emotional Literacy

 Hello Everyone,

I hope you are well.  Sometimes just saying mad, sad, or happy, just doesn't cut it.  We're feeling an intense feeling that using those words does not effectively describe what is being experienced.  We need to be emotionally literate and aware of these other feeling states so we can either ask for help in managing them as well as understand and even help ourselves.

The "Anger Family" has been designed with that in mind by teaching what is called EMOTIONAL LITERACY.  -the ability to identify, understand, and mange more complex emotional states.  Emotional literacy requires an understanding that many feelings in the same "family" can exist at one time and move very quickly through different levels of intensity as you continue to experience more inputs and emotional triggers.  It is, therefore, important, to be able to know how to GRADUALLY work through different feelings to get to a more desired state of being.  These feelings can often seem like "being mad" and often share characteristics of it.  However, unlike garden variety mad, these states are different, with different levels of power, and require different tools to manage them and ways of understanding how they work.


1. Identify the feeling by observing the triggers of the feeling and its associated physical signs (movement, body language, language, physical behaviors, etc.) and their intensities.

2. Identify the power level of the feeling.

3. Identify which level of coping tools you need to use by comparing the identified feeling and its intensity with the coping tools list.

4. Use the identified tools at each level as you GRADUALLY work your way down to the lowest power level and a calmer emotional/energy state.

5. Process the incident with your child when you are both calm and able to engage each other without ramping back up.  Be sure to specifically name the feeling, its power level, and the associated skills you used.  Be sure to point out how feelings change and that no feeling stays around forever no matter how intense.  By reinforcing the use of the coping tools and validating your child's effort, you reinforce this message as well as helping build confidence in the self-management of new, intense feelings that they become aware of with increased emotional intensity.

A couple of notes for parents:

Hey Parents!  Remember that helpful tools like taking deep breaths and talking through feelings require calm, attention, and organization of thoughts.  Your child cannot use these low power tools when they are overwhelmed by the energy of high power feelings.

Tools for high and medium power feelings are there simply to reduce the dis-regulating intense energy and help you get to a calmer place.  then you can use the tools that teach more awareness and planning for future instances of experiencing any of the feelings on this handout.

You may note that there are a number of destructive outlets provided for the high power feelings on this handout.  These are designed to provide explosive, intense releases of intense energy and generate fatigue as well as a release valve to get energy out and begin the calming process.  If your child can get out the explosive energy without resorting to aggressive behaviors then DEFINITELY use those!!!

The destructive suggestions are provided simply to redirect violent and other destructive behavior (ie. property) to a "preferable" outlet as you continue to work towards desired expressions of feelings with your therapist.

When looking at the handout, you will notice that we deliberately left the picture boxes empty. Visual cues will be much more relevant and useful if you use your own visuals that trigger reminders regardless of what they are.

You will also notice that we deliberately left the triggers and feelings warning signs blank.  Again, everyone experiences these feelings differently; triggers and outward and inward expressions of these feelings will be different.  Work with your child (when calm) to explore how they know they are having these feelings; combine their observations with yours and write them here.

October 10, 2020

Stop Giving Yourself Crap During Challenging Times! Part 1: Should

 Hello Everyone,

       I hope you are well.  First off, here is a free "inspirational poster" done by myself and a kid with autism I work with to help him remember to not criticize/beat himself up for past negative behaviors by "saying he should have acted differently"

 This is going to be a post about "should", which sounds a lot like s*&t.  "Should" happens quite often when we have acted in a manner that we later evaluate as being wrong or somehow negative.  Whether it is snapping at our kids when they are too loud, or cursing out the driver that cuts you off, or anything else that we would not normally do when calm and rational for that matter, we may see negative behavior as saying something negative about ourselves as a human.  This holds especially true for people who already tend to think negatively about themselves.  When we beat ourselves up for what we have done by saying we "should have acted differently" we are "SHOULDING ON OURSELVES" which is basically the same thing as taking a giant negative mental "s*&t" of self-demeaning negative thoughts on our already sensitive self concepts.

"Should" like s*&t occurs in different quantities for different people.  However, "should" grows the most when we are under great deals of stress and experiencing feelings of not being in control.  When we experience these internal states, we are also at much higher risk to act impulsively as a result of being so emotionally on-edge (this is something that is happening a lot right now in our world).  We might yell at someone or cut someone off whilst driving or over react in general.  All of these impulsive actions (plus many others) are basically the equivalent of giving ourselves a GIANT high-fiber dose equivalent for massive 'SHOULDING".  We regret our actions and often experience shame about how we "should" have acted differently; "I should not have yelled at my kids"; I should not have cut the other driver off"; "I should not have yelled at the bus driver" and so on.  It gets worse the more the "should" keeps flowing in our minds and we can be setting ourselves up for further emotional and mental dis-regulation, which may lead to another impulsive outburst that will start the "should" cycle all over again.  So what do we do?

It takes more than a witty poster to stop "shoulding" on yourself.  Please note that all people are impacted by their own "shoulds" and those of people close to them, especially caregivers.  It is very important to remember that children and individuals with developmental diagnoses are especially susceptible to impulsive behavior due in part to the nature of the biological impacts of their diagnoses/age.  Parents need to be aware of how they talk with their children about their negative behavior by avoiding "should" when reprimanding or using experiences as teachable moments.  Doing so is critical to remaining supportive and empathic, while also keeping shame away from infecting the discussion as "should" often is used in conjunction with statement of values and beliefs of what is good and appropriate.

You, the parent, can model the following suggestions for your child when you experience your own "should" moments.  Doing so teaches your child how they can handle their own "should" while allowing you to remain a concrete example of a real human who experiences moments of negative self-appraisal.

Practice self-forgiveness: Tell yourself you understand the action was not appropriate and yet it was a natural, human response.  You are human and you make mistakes!

Practice acceptance: Ok, it happened, you did something and you are "shoulding".  "Shoulding" won't let you rewind to before the inappropriate behavior.  We don't have to like what we did and NOW it is time to start redirecting to self-forgiveness and self-validation so we stop the flow of "should".

Validate your feelings: It is ALWAYS OK to experience whatever feelings you have even when you act out.  This does NOT mean that your feelings justify your behavior.  For example "I was really angry when that other boy called me dumb.  I felt attacked"

YOU ARE NOT YOUR BEHAVIOR! Just because your behavior is inappropriate, you are not a bad person or have something horribly wrong with you.  For example, an adult who yells at someone who cuts them in line is not necessarily an "angry person".

Watch out for "should" and values statements: Often times we "should" on ourselves when our behavior contradicts a value or belief that is important to us.  For example "I should not have cut the other driver off because that was rude and not something people do".  We need to be careful not to pair these together because even though we did not say that cutting someone off was bad, it is implied.  Kids are very good at picking up on these kinds of statements so its important to avoid this "criticism trap".

Thank the "shoulding" incident: This sounds odd, but when we thank the incident we can give ourselves permission to find a learning opportunity, which allows us to get rid of the power of the "should" by turning it into a constructive rather than destructive experience.  For example "thank you for the opportunity to learn that I still want to work on not yelling at people who are disrespectful" or "thank you incident because I learned more about how much stress I can handle before I explode.  I want to work on increasing that tolderance".

Find the positive: What went right?  Believe it or not in every negative incident, there is something we did right and it deserves notice.  This does not mean that our behavior automatically is excusable and alright, more so we are taking note of where we started to experience functional decline so we can work on improvements for next time.  For example "I did a really good job of yelling at that other kid; I would have hit him if this had happened a while ago".

"Should" happens: We are all human and all humans will "should" from time to time.  We can practice not "shoulding" on ourselves, yet does it really make sense to "should" on ourselves for "shoulding" by saying we "shouldn't should on ourselves"?  That's like saying you can't take a s*&t if you have to.  This is a good time to practice acceptance of the "should" and self-forgiveness.

"Should replacement therapy": Replace "should with "want".  We can remove the negative aspects of values associations by taking ownership of our behaviors that we have and will do whether negative or positive.  When we take ownership, we can successfully remove that negative self-harming propaganda telling us what a screw-up we are and then turn the experience into one of learning.  For example instead of "I should really learn how to manage my anger around others" try "I want to learn how to manage my anger around others".  Replace "should with "want".

October 7, 2020

COVID Halloween Fun!

Hey Folks!

This is my first post here at JMR Counseling. Let me introduce myself! My name is Juliette. I received my BA focused in Psychology from McDaniel College. Currently, I am in my first year of my Masters of Social Work Program at University of Maryland, Baltimore. I am very excited to be a student intern with JMR Counseling and I look forward to engaging in this space with you all. 

For today’s blog post, I would to talk about the changing seasons, and the upcoming holidays including Halloween! For those who celebrate, you may have been wondering how celebrations could look different this year as we navigate life during Covid-19. Here are some ideas! Check out the links at the bottom of this post to learn more.

Here are just a few activities and ideas for celebrating Halloween safely this October. 

  1. Virtual costume parties

    1. This is a great way for you to engage socially with friends and family while at home. You can get creative with it! Because you won’t be outside, this may actually be a unique chance to show off you or your child’s costume without it being hidden under a coat.

  2. Netflix party

    1. Another idea in line with the virtual setting, can be to watch a festive movie with friends through the Netflix party extension. This enables you to chat live with friends as you watch the same movie. 

    2. Here is a link with instructions on how to download Netflix Party

  3. Carving or decorating pumpkins

    1. According to the CDC, lower risk activities include carving or decorating pumpkins outside and at safe distance with friends or neighbors! 

    2. An alternative to carving pumpkins can be decorating them with paint, stickers, or fun push-in additions (such as bat wings or arms like Mr. Potato head!). Target and Michaels typically have a variety of options, and so do many online stores including Amazon.

Let’s talk about masks! Masks are often a staple of Halloween costumes. How can we incorporate them in a safe way this holiday? If you opt for some physically-distanced Halloween and fall activities, wearing a festive mask could add a sense of style and fun, while keeping you and others safe. You could even find a design to match with a costume., for example, has a wide variety of face masks, with tons of unique and halloween-themed designs. Do you have a friend or neighbor that makes masks? Maybe you can reach out and see who in your community could design some fun and festive masks.

As we transition to colder weather and continue to navigate life during a pandemic, let’s hold space for each other as we adjust and process our feelings that may arise during this time. I hope this post spreads some positivity your way.

Wishing you all a safe and Happy Halloween!

Check out some links below

Wearing a mask social story. Image above

Best seller, masks with various designs including pumpkins and skulls! Image above.

Best seller masks that could match a costume. Images above.

August 13, 2020

Bubble Packing Wrap Stress Relief

 Hello Everyone,

      I hope you are well and staying healthy.  Since COVID-19 started and physical distancing became a reality, many of us have turned to Amazon and other mail order services to get the things we need to keep our lives going and get them quickly.  As an added bonus, when the package comes, it often comes with another useful, yet often overlooked, freebie: BUBBLE PACKING WRAP!!!!!

      Some of you may be reading this and thinking, what the freak are you talking about?  Those bubble package things are bulky (they can be the size of small pillows sometimes), a pain in the butt to break down and throw out, AND they are bad for the environment!  Well, those points are valid, yet only if we close our minds to unlocking their true hidden potential....FREE AND QUICK STRESS RELIEF!!!  Wait....what?  Yes that's right!  Currently, and it is only going to get more so, we are under an unending waterfall of stressors whether it is the election, COVID-19, going into a new school year not knowing how online classes are going to work, having to balance childcare during the school day with working at home, worrying about the safety of loved ones, being stuck with more boredom, and the list goes on. 

      This post is going to explore ways that you can turn those free bubble package packets into quick, fun (HAVING A GOOD LAUGH IS ALWAYS GREAT STRESS RELIEF) and easy-to-use stress relievers.  Most important, the ideas in this post are meant to provide discussion and empathy building opportunities to discuss how you experience stress/anxiety and how you can work with it, not against it.  You won't have to spend a dollar on stress-relievers again; you only have to grab a packet and open your creative mind!!!!

      If you have packets lying around, yet not sure how to make them work for your stress-relieving needs, here some ideas that kids and adults I work with have come up with during our sessions:

-Please note, that unless otherwise stated, these activities are best suited to the rectangular/square shaped bubble packing packets and not traditional bubble wrap.

Slow-Pops-practice popping a packet very slowly by gradually (slowly) squeezing the packet harder and harder until it pops.  This one is great for building mindful awareness of your stress/anxiety, especially around tense physical energy and developing controlled release

Bubble Creator-take a large air packet and hold it in both hands at one end.  Slowly, squeeze the packet so that a bubble bulges at the other end of the packet.  Do not try to pop the packet-this is a great activity for people who don't like popping sounds

Bubble Pack Sandwich-take a air packet and put one hand either side of it's wides/longest sides.  Practice squeezing the packet as hard as you can; you will not be able to pop it.  This is great for deep pressure as well as practicing mindful transfer of anxious energy out from your body

Destructor-for those who have a great deal of aggressive energy to release, setting a timer and popping as many as possible before the timer goes off.  You can turn this into a fun competitive game with friends and family members

Pass The Squeeze-A fun activity for multiple people where you take turns squeezing the air packet firmly without trying to pop it.  Pass the squeezed air packet to the person sitting next to you and keep passing it around until it pops

The Whoopi Cushion Game-Take a couple of large air packets and try sitting on them without popping them.  Great for a laugh

Don't Let It Drop!-a fun game you can do by yourself or with others where you try to keep the air packet in the air without letting it touch the floor

Air Packet Pit-if you have a large box and lots of packets, you can full the box and let your kids play as if it were a ball pit.  For many kids, experiencing overload of any kind, having a sensory catered, safe environment that is private, is a must.  The air packets provide the sensory tactile and auditory needs, while the box symbolizes boundaries. Safety is a must!

Two People Push-this is a version of bubble-pack sandwich, except this one involves two people with each of them putting a hand on opposite sides of an air packet as described above.  At an agreed time, both people push on the packet and try to pop it without letting the other person push you.  This activity can be great for creating room for discussion around listening issues parent-child conflict (represented by the pushing)

Rolling Pops-for kids who are sensory seeking and enjoy loud sounds, you can take regular bubble wrap and lay it on the ground.  If you have a wheeled chair, sit in the chair and roll it over the the wrap.  You can also incorporate a more physical, body awareness aspect by having your child role over the wrap with their bodies

Traditional-use air packets to practice using calming tools you already have.  This provides a cheap stress-relief tool that can take the place of traditional stress relievers.

There are limitless possibilities!  As long as you have a supply of bubble package packets, imagination, and a way to guarantee consistent flow of supply (this is guaranteed if you order a lot from Amazon and other companies) you will have ALWAYS quick stress relief tools available.  Good luck and have fun!

July 11, 2020

Make Your Own Emotions Garden!

Hello Everyone,

      I hope you are well and staying healthy and safe.  Our post this month will be all about gardening and feelings.  Being able to identify and understand emotions can be really hard, especially when you can't see them.  Being able to turn understanding of emotions into something more, like being able to safely experience them and having the tools to help create a safe environment in which to do so can be much harder.  For younger kids and especially those with developmental diagnoses, being able to understand and connect with their emotions can be much harder due to the added challenges of understanding abstract concepts while having a mind that does best when it has solid, actually visible things to aid in understanding.  Today we will be talking about how creating your own emotions garden with you child can hopefully provide a concrete visual aid to help them learn more about their emotions and how they can care for them.
      A brief note before we continue.  THIS ACTIVITY IS 100% ABOUT SOUL AND 0% ABOUT LOGIC!  Growing an emotions garden is designed to be a nurturing and supportive activity for the whole family so for it to work, parents and kids need to be able to connect with what speaks to them.  Use plants you like and that you find meaningful when you think about your feelings.  Get creative and focus on the process not the end result; metaphors never work if you cannot connect the idea to the visible thing in a way that your child will understand.  Our goal is to help create conscious awareness of ourselves!
      If you read my earlier post about creating a sensory garden, then you probably have an idea about the benefits of gardening.  Gardening can serve multiple purposes, especially around helping to reduce stress and worry.  For kids with developmental diagnoses, gardening can not only provide an outlet to address sensory and motor skills challenges, it provides an excellent opportunity to learn about caring for others.
      Gardening requires a person to take care of an other living object, which will rely on them for its survival.  Kids who have very concrete patterns of thinking and understanding will have the opportunity to visibly see their plants grow and thrive with their care.  In other words, taking care of plants is an excellent metaphor for  importance of creating empathic connections with others as well as for taking care of oneself.  Whether you are using plants as a metaphor for nurturing relationships or for understanding your feelings so you know how to care for them, taking care of them will provide you with a visible reward for your efforts, which you can connect to concepts your child is learning about in their social skills or therapy sessions.  Lastly, allowing your child to create and maintain their own emotions garden can be, whether your child has a developmental diagnosis or not, a very insightful tool for assessing their abilities to take care of something with more needs in the future such as a pet.
      Ok, so how do we turn a garden into an emotions garden?  What about this weather?  After all, we're in the high summer months and it's brutal outside.  To solve this challenge we will be focusing on plants that you and your child can grow indoors or in a simple window box that you can access from your home.  These plants are also being suggested for the wide range of colors they provide, which will be a critical component to creating our emotions garden.  There are many more types of equally useful plants to do this project so make sure you pick ones that speak out to you and your child.

First, you will need to find the plants you want to grow.  Here is a list of some very colorful plants that thrive indoors or in planters that are very colorful. 

African Violets-Easy to maintain and come in various shades of purples and pinks

Begonias-Makes many lovely, small flowers that come in purples, pinks, reds, yellows, whites

Bromiliads-Not flowers, these jungle plants are easy to care for and come in vivid reds, oranges, yellows, purples, and pinks; they also have a deep green body and leaves.

Christmas Cactus-Thrives on neglect so maybe use this one to illustrate the concept that you do need to be aware of your feelings, but that you can safely leave them alone for a while and still be ok!  Green fronds and bloom in bright magentas and fuscias during the winter

Chenile-A really fuzzy sensory plant with long fuzzy flowers, these come in reds and oranges

Kaffir Lilly-Thrives when placed in total dark for the night.  This plant can be an excellent metaphor for the triumph of the self during really hard times.  With its bright oranges, yellows, fuscias, and reds, it bursts out of the darkness that consumes it every night and still thriving.

Amaryllis- related to Kaffir Lillys and makes very bright blooms, especially when well looked after.  Comes in orangesyellowsfuscias, and reds, and some other colors I can't remember.

Peace Lillies-Low maintenance, calming deep green leaves and stem with a bright white and yellow bloom.  These plants can serve as a metaphor for when we are well-regulated, calm, and at peace.
 The more energy put into care of this plant results in a brighter bloom, which happens when we take care of ourselves.

Pansies-These are more suitable for planter boxes and come in a wide range of colors: pinks, oranges, blues, yellows, purples, whites, darks, and so on

Fireplants-More frequently sold as CELOSIA, these feathery flowering plants come in many colors: pinksorangesbluesyellowspurples, whites, darks, and so on.  Like pansies, they are best suited for window boxes outdoors.   I have used these to symbolize anger and the need to still take care of my anger even if I do not like experiencing this emotion; it is still real and cannot be ignored.

      Now, a note about the importance of colors.  A critical component of making an emotions garden is being able to make abstract concepts like emotions, visible.  This is where color comes in because the color will be the visual representation of the emotions.  For example, you may pick a red celosia because the red symbolizes embarrassment.  A blue pansie may symbolize sadness.
      For those of us who are not sure which types of plants we want to use for our emotions, the following may help.

Cool Colors Vs. Warm Colors

Cool colors are considered to be calmer, more subdued colors which when visualized have a more calming psychological impact on emotion and visual perception.  Traditionally these colors have been viewed as soothing and an apotheosis to warm colors.  The cool colors include:


Warm Colors are considered to be more vivid and attention getting.  Traditionally they have been associated with intense action, danger, more highly visible.  The warm colors include:

Any bright version of cool color

      Traditionally, when making associations between colors and emotions for the purpose of labeling and identifying feelings, warm colors are used for more intense positive AND negative feelings such as anger, excitement, terror, fear, rage, panic, danger, and so on.
      Cool colors, and the deeper shades of them, on the other hand, have been used to represent more calm, heavy, and deep emotions.  Examples include sadness, depression, calm, peaceful, relaxed, bored, apathy, and so on

REMEMBER!! It does not matter what color you use to represent your feelings as long as it makes sense to YOU!!

Once you have picked your emotions together with your child, take a moment to pick several of them that you want to focus more on.  For example: rage, depression, and calm.
Now pick the flowering plants and colors represent those feelings best for you.
      Per our example: Rage-Bright red fire plant colosia
                                  Depression-deep purple african violet
                                  Calm-yellow peace lilly 

In the interests of building emotional fluency and expanding knowledge beyond mad, happy, sad, you can use different colored flowers in different shades of the same color to create an association.  This can also really help for teaching your child about different emotions by giving them more vocabulary to use for when they experience a feeling that doesn't fit mad, sad, happy.  Here's an example:

You can use fireplants to represent different feelings in the anger family by picking ones that start out more muted and then become more intense as the intensity of the color grows.

Annoyed Fire Plant, Frustrated Fire Plant, Fed Up Fire Plant, Angry Fire Plant, Furious Fire Plant, Enraged Fire Plant

Plant your plants!  This is not something I am good at describing so watch this video  !  Watch this one if you are planting indoors

Now, remember to follow the care instructions that come with your plant.  This is the part where you are going to be tying in the work your child is doing in their therapies to caring for their plants.  Have conversations about the feeling they are experiencing when they care for each plant.  You can also try and identify the feeling for them if they don't seem to have a recallable emotion to use when you discuss them.  For example, if you are taking care of the peace lilly, you might talk about what helps you stay calm or when you get overwhelmed how do you get to a place of peace.  Another example, may be talking about what its like to experience anger and how to deal with it when caring for the fire plant or whatever plant you choose.  Be creative in your discussions and most of all, DO SHARE YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES of those feelings.  You are modeling healthy coping!!!!