As a Therapist I often provide services to families and Supported Individuals. This is a population that we often overlook, and do not adequately service. It is my experience that counselling is one of the resources that can be of great benefit for both the individual and the family in these situations. There needs to be a better understanding of the purpose, core values, barriers and some recommendations which may provide better insight and perhaps help networks to appreciate and recognize the value in counselling for Supported Individuals. It is important to put resources in place for individuals with developmental or emotional disabilities that support whatever choices they want to make, independently or in a supported environment.
Often, as parents, we are interested in how to raise our children to be the best they can be. Not as commonly do we ask “How is my child raising me?” After all, as adults we are still growing up too!
Let’s face it: our children have a way of bringing out emotions in us that we may not have known we had difficulty with before becoming parents. We may find ourselves, like our children, having a temper tantrum (even an internal one!) or digging in our heels with a big “No!” or avoiding handing the situation altogether. It is in these moments that we are being offered a mirror. And if we have the courage and self-compassion to look, we are being given the unique opportunity to grow-up ourselves an benefit our children in the process.
August is winding down and summer holidays are almost over. This is the time of year when many parents see their children’s anxiety increase. It is difficult to let go of summer and deal with the reality of school again. Here are some tips for parents on how to support your children in dealing with the back to school anxiety.
1. Remember the basics. Regular sleep, exercise and nutritious food go a long way in decreasing anxiety. The return to structure and predictability can be done in a way that eases everyone back into the routine. Little by little over the next week get the structure back in place. Get the younger children to bed earlier, and up earlier in the morning. For your teenage children discuss the importance of structure. Be clear on your expectations, but do not arbitrarily make all of the decisions. Listen to them and get them involved in establishing a progressive return to routine.
2. Discuss change. Use this transitional time as an opportunity to teach your children that change is natural, healthy and inevitable. It is OK to be sad when things change. The reality is that there is usually some loss associated with change, but there are gains as well. Change is only your enemy if you fight it. Have an honest conversation with your children about change and ask what they feel they might lose at the end of the summer, and what will they gain with the arrival of school year.
3. Anticipate your child’s anxiety. Let them know that it is natural to feel worried about the unknown and that anxiety is just part of life. It is natural to feel anxious about going back to school. We all feel anxious during a big transition – no matter what our age. Ask them if they are worried about any particular things and let them talk through it.
4. The antidote to anxiety is exposure – not avoidance! You can assist your children by working through anxiety rather than avoiding the things that are making us anxiety. In these times of “high anxiety” this an essential life lesson. We should not be trying to shield them from anxiety. Some simple deep breathing skills and mindfulness techniques can help them work through the anxiety and build resiliency.
5. Focus on belonging. In a concrete manner you can help your children by exposing them to some of the things that are making them anxious. For younger children, a return to the school and a play in the playground can go a long way to decreasing anxiety. For older children, gathering their supplies and setting up their structures can help them accept that the summer is ending. It is also helpful for them to be reconnect with their peers. We all want to belong, and bringing back the sense of belonging to their school and with their peers helps your child feel a part of the community again.
6. Manage your own anxiety. I cannot stress enough how important this point is. Where we lead, children will follow. If you are anxious and stressed about the new school year, they will also be. Look for ways to take care of yourself first so that you are grounded and can guide them through the changes that are coming. Look for positive things, and keep your focus on the big picture.
7. Focus on connection. Fill your children up with “you” and the secure feelings that come when your child has your attention and feels your enjoyment of the relationship. Don’t rush through the family time and spend some one-on-one time with your child whenever you can. This can be done though simple things like a talk and walk, or a family barbecue. Be present and enjoy your child; nothing else will prepare them better for that school year that that!
Grieving and comprehending this with supported individuals whether they live independently or within their family is an area that is complicated and has no clear definition. In essence there is no clear “way” to grieve. Grieving a loss coupled with cognitive challenges can take this life process to another dimension, requiring a different understanding and support.
For caregivers, we may feel helpless and may revert to the following in order to protect our loved one. The following are areas to avoid when a supported individual is grieving:
- Overprotectiveness that creates a reluctance to upset individuals
- Limiting exposure or discussion of death, loss and grief
- Putting a time limit on their grief. There is no time table for grieving. Over time an individual’s painful and emotional reactions lessen and returns to their former levels of functioning
- Grief never goes away, and there may be surges of this emerging especially during holiday or anniversary times in which the deceased is deeply missed
- There is no sequence or stages within the grieving process (Worden 2010)
- The process is individual
There needs to be consideration that supported individuals may experience grief with what seems like distorted limited emotional reaction. However, within everyone there is a spiritual element, that encompasses not only our outward reaction, such as crying or anger, but inwardly. It is known that when there is a significant loss there is sense of longing, or an emptiness that is experienced. There needs to be honour and dignity when a supported individual also experiences a loss in their lives, without the assumption that they will not notice or it just goes away. Avoiding these assumptions, paying close attention to behavioral changes, giving space and supporting resources that can aid in this process for as long as they need will be integral to their unique self- expression, healing and moving through their loss.
Doody,O. (2014) Loss & Grief Within Intellectual Disability. Research Gate: https://www.research/gate/net.publication/288010367
In previous blogs I wrote about the first two principles of the MORE Philosophy which are movement and opportunity. Hand in hand with these previous principles is the concept of reality. To achieve the outcome of an exceptional life you need to live in the real world! Living in a fantasy will only yield a fantasy, and frankly that is pretty unfulfilling.
A fairytale may be pretty and perfect and have a “happy” ending, but it is not real. It is insubstantial and nothing else truly exists there but your imagination. It is healthy to have fantasies, to use your imagination to create visions for the future, but those exceptional moments that offer opportunity and require movement, only exist in the real world.