Category Archives: Blogs

Deck the halls with DBT Skills

So, here we are – the holiday season is once again upon us. The rational part of us says, “Everything will be fine, you’ll get it all done in time, no problem.” The emotional part reminds us of how quickly the holiday can ‘sneak up on us’… and how crazy and frantic it feels, in those weeks leading up to it. We try to stay in the moment, be present… stay in the “now”… just  breathe. But, when the holiday season kicks into high gear, we feel anything but prepared… and far from present-minded! We’re thinking of a different type of “presents”… like which one to get Uncle Bob, your daughter, and your boss! Not one gift purchased, not one decoration hung, not one cookie baked – it can feel overwhelming.

So now what? Ah… DBT Skills to the rescue!

DBT, or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, can be a helpful tool to provide a little less stress, and a few more moments of calm and peace, during the holidays (or, most anytime, actually). DBT is designed to encourage individuals to change patterns of thinking, and regulate emotions and reactive states, in response to specific triggers. DBT also incorporates an aspect of mindfulness, which helps individuals stay focused in each “present” moment… and to recognize how they might be feeling, without judgement.

But, wait… we live in a culture that wants us to keep looking ahead, anticipating, preparing, spending! We live in a culture that instills fear in us that we aren’t keeping up, and we aren’t ready or prepared in all the right ways, with all the right things. We keep reflecting on deficits of the past, and have anticipatory anxiety about the future.

What are some ways to stay in the present and transcend this culture that is compelling us to race ahead and be prepared?

One of the best ways is to “ground” yourself. What is “Grounding?” Well, grounding is a way of referencing your senses to connect with a ‘present’ moment. Anything from observing a biorhythm to a sense of smell… a sound, a taste, a visual stimulus… Commons suggestions include focusing on your breathing, pressing your feet into the floor, rocking gently, getting a sense of connecting to the ground. However, exploring senses can be intricate and you can develop skill in aiming to recognize increasingly deeper ways that you are connected to the present moment.

And, of course, no better way than to use the activities at hand, such as everything we do over the holiday. Try to break down your movements in the activity of gift wrapping… baking… decorating. Allow yourself to be as poetic and profound as you can, in the ways you note the musculoskeletal movements involved in handwriting holiday cards, and the way your emotional center reacts to the words you choose, and the images on the card.

Stay with it as best you can… and, if you lose focus…that’s okay.

Remember, no judgment. Staying present is a developed skill. It does not come naturally. Just gently coach yourself to try to return to the observation… slow down and mindfully move through each moment, with awareness and intention.

If you go on to study DBT, or practice for a while, you will eventually develop what is called a ‘Wise Mind’. The Wise Mind helps us determine what is effective planning… verses what is unnecessary and ineffective worrying. The Wise Mind allows us to develop a mental ‘toggle switch’ that we can use to alter our state. We can go between states of participatory observation, mindfulness… and, well, just riding the general past and future reflections that are part of everyday life.

There are lots of different DBT skills you can use, at any time of year. Drop in for a workshop, or take part in an ongoing group, or get yourself a DBT coach… soon you’ll feel empowered and in control.

This holiday season… Try using DBT skills.

 

WFC wishes you, your family and friends a joyful, healthy holiday season!

 

 

Holiday De-stressing

The holidays are traditionally a time for festivity and cheer. However, the pressure of traveling, hosting, cooking, and gift-giving can sometimes make the holiday spirit a little less bright.That’s because our bodies respond to stress, and stress affects almost every system in our body. Therefore, finding healthy ways to manage stress over the holidays is just the right gift to give our bodies and our minds.

Here are a few tips on how to have a more positive holiday season.

1) Bah-hum-BUG to bugs and colds and flus… ‘Tis The Season To Be Healthy!

With the change in season, November and December are notorious for catching a cold, the flu, or the stomach bug. Be diligent about disinfecting, staying hydrated, exercising, getting enough sleep, and eating healthy.

  • Buy extra tissues, lip balm, hand sanitizer, and hand cream…
  • Bring your own bottle of water or tea with you, everywhere you go!
  • Set your alarm to make sure you get up to go to the gym… and go!
  • Make sure you have three meals a day… and not too many snacks!
  • Give yourself a little something extra, like a trip to the massage parlor.

 

2) Ho, ho, ho… No, no, no!

It’s okay to say “No” to people… even if they offer holiday tidings and cheer. There’s only so much we can do, year-round. The holidays can be especially taxing, because of the time crunch we often feel with trying to fit in gift buying and festivities, while school is still in session, and our workload is mounting. So… though you might usually say, “Yes” to the many things your kids want to do, after school… you may decide it’s better to let them play in the basement, while you take care of yourself.

Be realistic about your limits!

If someone on the PTA has asked you to bake five dozen cookies for the school holiday party, don’t just automatically say, Yes. Think a moment. Before agreeing, ask yourself, am I already feeling stressed? Will this just add to the pile? Is there a way to divide up this task so it doesn’t all fall on me?

 

3) Be A Responsible Giver

Don’t overextend yourself with gift-giving. You may want to get your daughter the computer she’s been asking for, or the latest smartphone, because all of her friends have one. However, look at your budget and make an informed decision based on how much you set aside to spend on gifts, instead of just saying “Yes,” on the spot. You want to give freely, and not with a heavy heart!

4) Relax!

Self-care isn’t just saying “No” to overload… it’s saying “Yes” to experiences that are rejuvenating!

Try to find ways to nurture your mind and spirit during the holidays.

  • Draw a bubble bath, and give yourself a break from wrapping presents.
  • Light holiday scented candle, and awaken your senses.
  • Play music in the car… in the kitchen… in the bedroom… in the bath… create music playlists that suit each environment!
  • Take a walk to get some fresh air and collect some pine cones…
  • When stress is at it’s height, it can be a great time to try meditation, yoga, or mindfulness fitness.
  • Practice Daily Dialectical Behavioral Therapy skills… grounding, self-soothing, becoming present!

Adjusting to being an Empty Nester

The day has finally arrived. Your youngest child has been dropped off and is now a college student, which makes you… an Empty Nester. Marriage therapists see the gamut of reactions – from “Yippee” to “Oy vay.” If you fall into this latter category and are entering this new life phase with trepidation (or even dread), you are not alone.  “We help a lot of couples normalize the transition to becoming Empty Nester’s,” says Nicholas Strouse, Director of Westport Family Counseling. Couples have a lot of expectations and stereotypes. We help them reality-test, and avoid some of the possible pitfalls. We show them how to listen to each other and to themselves… and return to being a team… but, a different type of team… not as parents, but rather, as partners…like they once were, or maybe only now are having a chance to discover.”

Strouse starts with these basic recommendations to help Empty Nester’s acclimate and be supportive one another’s needs.

Give yourself time – The past 20+ years have been filled with activity, distractions, and all manner of challenges. Give yourself time to adjust to your new normal, which includes a quieter home, and fewer familial demands. There is no “map” for what to do. Settling into what is best for you and your spouse will include some trial and error and exploration.

Give yourself permission – Some needs may be transitional, while others may be ongoing. Allow for whatever needs arise. Your first impulse may be to create “time for yourself.” Yoga may be at the top of your list… reading… cooking more gourmet meals, and taking the time to do so. However, you may adjust to different priorities, as you settle into your new life as Empty Nester’s. It may take a period of time before you recognize your long-term goals, or you may know right away. You may be surprised to learn that some are still related to the family, such as thinking about downsizing and moving to another area that is more affordable, and close to where you expect your children to settle down… or, you may want to do some Estate Planning. On the other hand, you may not be surprised that you have some typical long-term goals, such as travelling with your spouse.

Give yourself space – While it’s great to look forward to being surrounded by people, it’s also important to give yourself, your children, and your spouse individual space. Everyone needs to find a balance between shared time and alone time, without giving up what is important to him or her.

Make some concrete plans – It helps to have short-term goals on the calendar. This can include a visit your child’s college, visiting old friends who have moved away, a vacation for the two of you, or for your family during a school break. Closer to home, it can be a big family gathering around Thanksgiving or the holidays. Once again, do not be surprised if your “Empty Nester plans” still include family. Remember, your sense of self and the coupleship may have changed… that does not mean your love for your family and desire to be with them will go out the window.

Reclaim your identity  – One of the most common issues Couples Counselors encounter is a parent getting too wrapped up in their children and losing their own identity. Instead of seeing being an Empty Nester as a “void,” see it as an opportunity to reclaim who you are – your passions, your interests, confidence in your skills. Some of these may relate to child rearing, but some may be interests that have had to take a back seat… or, they may be new experiences you’ve yearned for. This is the time to explore and find out what resonates most with YOU.

Engage in open communication – One of the tenets of couples counseling is open and honest communication. Talk with your spouse about where you are at… and, where you’d like to “be” over the first few months… as well as,  over the longer term.

Counseling may be an option – There are plenty of positives about being able to refocus on yourself and your partner. However, this may also be a time for pulling back the curtain on marital issues. Problems that were avoided, while being distracted by children, can come to the fore when you are Empty Nesters. Couples can find circumstantial, and situational therapy very useful to navigate their new life together, and help resolve long simmering issues.

 

Having your children go off to college is an exciting and anxious time for your children, and also for you. Being mindful during this new phase, and also being open to outside help, can help turn this time into a fulfilling adventure.

Taking The Stress Out Of Back To School

If only it was as easy as it looks in the Staples commercials – breezing through the aisles with visions of your kids happily heading back to school.  For many kids and parents, alike, back-to-school is filled with anxiety. Whether it is a kindergartner, just entering school, a middle-schooler in the throes of adolescence, or a high school junior facing what could be their toughest year… back-to-school is chock full of uncertainty about academic expectations, social interactions, and time management. Here are some steps that parents can take to lower back-to-school anxiety.

Start early – Begin prepping a couple of weeks before school to keep tensions down. Nicholas Strouse, Director of Westport Family Counseling, recommends, “Give yourself enough time to plan… it’s unpleasant to feel like you are cramming to get everything done, last minute… parent’s anxiety effects kids, and visa versa.” It’s unnecessary to be so stressed out, before school even begins. So, “Give yourself plenty of time,” says Strouse. Plan to buy clothes, and supplies, and look at your schedules, in advance.

  • Know the exact start date of school, classroom, and teachers. So much stress is due to the “unknown.” Simply having the key facts can make a big difference.
  • Consult your schools’ websites for forms or notifications you may have missed. Especially with the cut back in mailings, the website is a vital resource. Check it now… and, make checking the website a part of your weekly routine, throughout the school year.

Build in fun – Make shopping an adventure rather than a chore. Try to pick a time in advance of the first day of school to get some supplies out of the way. Same goes for clothes; get some shopping out of the way early, but leave time a few weeks into September to fill out the wardrobe.  Of course, food and shopping go together, so build in a lunch or light dinner break… or, consider post-shopping decompression, at the yogurt or ice cream shop.

Use visual cues – We all love electronics, however…Did you know that big, bold and highly visible handwritten calendar notes and bulletin board alerts work wonders for keeping families organized. Therapy studies are filled with proof: more organized = less stress. Use white boards, cork boards, blackboards (or, blackboard paint) to create an area for posting important dates and appointments… as well as, “Do not forget” notes. (These boards are also terrific for all kinds of messages: “Congratulations!”, “Good luck!”, “You’re a Star!”)

Involve both parents – One of the most common mistakes family therapists see is a lapse in communication between parents. Whether both parents work, or one stays at home, everyone needs to be involved. Both parents need to have key dates on their calendars – orientation, first day, back to-school night, games, plays, concerts, et al. Even if a parent can’t attend, proactively (rather than re-actively) acknowledge what is occurring in your child’s life. This can instill a sense of caring, which can reduce a child’s stress level.

Planning – The first 2 weeks of school are crucial. So, plan a little flexibility as everyone settles into the new routine. Keep your calendar a little freer, during this important “settling in” period.  Then you can see more clearly how and when your child will need you throughout the quarter or semester, and plan your days…and nights accordingly.

Your home may not bounce to the soundtrack of the Target back-to-school ads, but there can definitely be a more upbeat tone set for everyone, as your family starts the school year.

 

Tips On How Families Can Spend Quality, Peaceful Time Together

Summer is often when families spend time together, whether vacationing at home, or traveling abroad. Being together presents an opportunity to grow relationships, and build feelings of connectedness. Of course, with more time together, tensions can sometimes increase, and conflict can ensue.

Here are a few tips to make sure your summertime “Family Time” is positive together time!

1) Unplug, to plug in.

Carve out a few hours per day of device-free time to focus on being present and interacting with family members. You hear it all the time… “Stop looking at your phone!” When you give your family members your undivided attention, they know it! They feel it (just as when they feel it, when you’re not paying full attention). Think about the power you have to make your family feel good.

2) Dinnertime is Family Time!

Making dinner together can be fun, and provide an opportunity to connect. Delegate smaller tasks to younger children… like setting the table, pouring drinks, making a creative centerpiece, or preparing an appetizer. Ask older kids to help with the more complicated meal prep. Interacting in the kitchen and dining area beats zoning out in front of the TV, or being spread out, in different rooms throughout the house.

3) “I” before “You.”

Refrain, and reframe…when communicating frustrations to another family member, refrain from using, “You Statements.” Reframe your message, using, “I Feel” statements. And, stick to identifying behaviors that can be described objectively. For example, instead of, “You aren’t listening to me”… try, “I felt like I was not being heard, when you interrupted me.” True, this tip isn’t just for Summer. Use it all year round!

4) Connect, Don’t Deflect

Certain words can act as deflectors, while others can help us connect. Try replacing “but” with “and,” in your communications. “But” can be interpreted as meaning, “no,” or deflecting. See how much better you can connect, when you use the connector word, “and,” in its place. For example, instead of saying “I like your idea, but that’s not appropriate for your little brother”… try, “I like your idea, and I bet some of the older kids would enjoy getting involved.” Another year-round piece of advice.

5) Family planned, family vacation

Parents can come up with a list of possible destinations. Then, the children can choose some of the activities. If the kids can be involved, they will more likely experience that their interests are regarded as important. Doing this will help everyone feel valued, and heard. And, that sets a good tone for the vacation, ahead.

6) Care to prepare

Familiarize yourself with the myriad of games that you can play in the car, or on the plane that get the family interacting. Start a round of, “The License Plate Game,” in which you try to spot the most license plates from different states. “Eye Spy” is especially fun for younger children, and it encourages them to be mindful of their surroundings. Mad Libs™ can create some laughs, while also teaching children about parts of speech and grammar.

7) Think ahead…about how to remember

Work together to make a scrapbook or video of the vacation to help remember the memories you create. Have each family member contribute a small video clip, or a couple of photos. Then, when you return from vacation, get everyone together to make a book, or video. Years later, the whole family will be able to reminisce about the time they spent together, over the Summer.

8) The Family Book Club

Pick a book that everyone is interested in, and take turns reading a chapter out loud, each night (during “unplugged time”). Encourage discussion about the different characters and storyline. Invite children and family members to express their opinions.

9) All together, for one-on-one

Vacations can be a perfect time for one parent to spend individual time with each of their children. Vacations are what afford us that extra time to be able to plan a Father-daughter, Mother-son excursion… or, a Mother-daughter, Father-son game! Spending one-on-one time with each child will help them all feel special.

10) Preparing for School and Setting Goals

Yes, though “school” somehow doesn’t seem like it ought to be a part of Summer vacation, the start of the school year is an important reference point. If the school year is only regarded as, “The official end of Summer”… well, then everyone is going to feel a level of dread, which will increase, as the months go by. Talking about the school year ahead can help the experience of Summer’s end seem less abrupt. Actually, preparing for school can be treated as another fun activity (as opposed to an end of a good time). Shop for school supplies, decorate binders, and make some concrete goals for the year ahead. Encourage kids to think about seeing their school friends. Arrange a playdate with school friends, before the school year begins reconnect with other school kid’s parents.

Westport Family Counseling is Sponsoring Westport Art Center’s Art Slam! this Saturday 6/20 from 6-8pm

WFC is teaming up with the Westport Arts Center to sponsor their Art Slam! this Saturday 6/20 from 6-8pm.  Art Slam! is a one night only art party featuring work from 12 local teens and music by local performers. This event is free and open to the public, and will also include food furnished by The Cheese Truck and the GRANOLA bar.  As the event sponsor, a clinician from Westport Family Counseling will be offering an art therapy activity that all guests can take part in.  Stop by the Westport Arts Center on 51 Riverside Ave in Westport this Saturday, June 20th from 6-8pm.

Artists were selected by TAC members and are:

Katherine Coogan, “Longshore”
Madison Dick, “Living Life.” 
Sophie Driscoll, “Real”
Lauren Fraites“Patterns in the Sky”
Sarah Holmes, “Autumn Walk” 
Blair Marine, “It’s a Grey Day”
Celeste Matte, “The Garden Arch” 
Alexandra McMahon, “Tiger Lily”
Audrey Seo, “Fun with Knives”
Katherine Simpson, “Stay Gold, Ponyboy” 
Alex Spadacenta, “Just Another Day”
Rachel Wolfe“Colorful Crab”

TAC Is a group of 20-30 elite teens who serve as ambassadors for the arts in the community by creating program and event opportunities for their peers. Founded in January 2015, TAC currently accepts applications on a rolling basis. To learn more about TAC, please click here.

Parenting Through Power Struggles

When you describe your child, are you describing their behavior, their nature, or their mood? Perhaps you are describing what you would like them to be, or how you expect them to behave, or the effect of their behavior on you.

Talking about parenting a “strong-willed” child, one must first define that term. In most cases, this terms refers to a child who bears some sort of oppositional or defiant energy. Clinically, this may be referred to as Oppositional Defiant Disorder. However, Nicholas Strouse, a clinician and the Director at Westport Family Counseling says it is important to be careful about “pathological language, and pathological points of view,” particularly when talking about a child. In fact, it is the parent’s very label for their child that is often related to the problem. Parents can unintentionally create and perpetuate fear of their child’s behavior. “Even ‘Strong-willed’ can be too strong, if that is how you view a child, globally. Understanding that kids can sometimes be strong-willed, or challenging is more positive, and actually helps us be more flexible and solution-oriented.”

Because children’s behavior often corresponds to their parent’s beliefs and expectations, parents need to learn how to look at their child reacting to a situation, as opposed to identifying a child by their behavior. “If you look at your child in a situation, it’s much easier to look at the situation differently,” says Strouse. At that point, it becomes easier to embrace different management techniques to cope with the challenges that come from parenting such a child.

There are many gradations of strong-willed presentations, but the root of the action comes from a desire for control. “In many cases, a child feels so much emotional dysregulation that the way that they control their surroundings, or feel safest, is by enacting a stubborn mood or behavior. This, in turn, puts them in opposition to the parent. Through this ‘strange emotional math,’ the parent then becomes the external factor that allows them to gain control,” says Strouse. “For example, if a child is upset about not being allowed to watch television… instead of regulating their frustration, they create a situation that puts them in opposition with the parent that has imposed such a rule. Many times, parents respond by instituting a timeout, or yelling… or some other discipline. While this may seem like a success, it turns out to be only a temporary one. Over time, the discipline is actually reinforcing that regulation comes from the outside… the parent. The child needs to regulate on their own… it is a skill that must be mastered for successful relationships.”

This behavior can become a problem if this pattern of external regulation continues long term. A strong-willed child, who does not learn how to internally regulate their emotions, will continue to turn to relationships to regulate their actions and behavior into adulthood.

As a parent of a strong-willed child, there are a number of things you can do to positively impact how your child processes frustrations, as well as encourage healthy coping mechanisms.

  • Make a point to avoid a power struggle. A routine allows you to set expectations without being the “bad guy”. Things like, “We always wash up before dinner,” or, “It’s important to finish our homework before TV time,” makes it clear that these are firm rules.
  • Once you set rules and boundaries, stick with them. Many times, it’s easier to give in to the frustrated tantrums of a child than oppose them. However, by communicating clear expectations, consequences, and following through, you can prevent putting yourself in the position of being the external factor for regulation.
  • Offer alternatives. By offering choices to a child that is having difficulty accepting an expectation, a parent can maintain a certain level of control over the situation, while allowing the child to make the decision on their own (this is the sort of internal control that strong-willed children desire…and need).
  • Parents, be a team. Establish a co-parenting model, and stick to it. That way, children will know that there is no “weak link” in the system. If one parent reacts more emotionally, this can make parenting a strong-willed child more difficult because it gives the child the control they are seeking. Instead, parents should communicate about how to handle each situation, so when a potential conflict does arise, it can be effectively diffused.

As parents, understanding the implications of a strong-willed child, and adjusting accordingly, can help to diffuse some of the most challenging situations. This approach has an added benefit of providing your child an opportunity to grow and mature in a healthy way. At Westport Family Counseling, we offer Parent Consulting, as well as Play Therapy. Each can offer insights and help both parents and children work through obstacles. If you are the parent of a strong-willed child and you are interested in finding more effective ways to parent and communicate with your child, we can help.  Call (203) 227-4555 or email wfc@wfcmail.org.

 

The Limits of Psychotropic Medications

Though the advertisements on TV would have you believe otherwise, the mental health community has differing opinions about the use of psychotropic drugs to treat mood disorders, like depression and anxiety. In one camp, there are those who wish to portray these types of medications as a “silver bullet”… that they are able to reduce depression and anxiety well enough that the person on medication can resume their daily functioning. On the other hand, there are those who believe these medications are based on a very inexact science, which shows little indication of solving the root of the problem from which the mental health issues stem. This last group believes that–while psychotropic drugs may be useful in remediating acute symptoms–the drugs are not as useful as they are advertised to be, when administered without other forms of adjunctive treatment. A recent article by Susan Scutti touts that psychotherapy may in fact be enough in “Psychotherapy Proven To Normalize Brain Activity In Depressed Patients” 

Anti-depressants and other psychotropic drugs serve to alter or reduce symptoms. In the case of those suffering from depression, an antidepressant, such as Prozac, can be prescribed to reduce the intensity of the depression. Anxiolytics, or anti-anxiety agents, such as Xanax, can rapidly reduce the physiological dysregulation that occurs in a panic attack. However, according to Nicholas Strouse, a clinician and the director at Westport Family Counseling, “The symptoms, emotional states, and moods are conditions elicited by a source. When treating a patient with psychotropic medications, without discussing the core of the problem, the medication only acts as a band aid. The medication will not resolve the deeper issues that may be causing or contributing to the symptom.”

Strouse suggests that understanding the source of symptoms permits more effective treatment. In the case of the person suffering from anxiety or depression, counseling can offer insights as to the “why.” There are many variables that can account for why symptoms are triggered, or why specific symptoms become most prominent, or why a symptom intensifies at a particular time.

“When diagnosing and treating a patient, it is very important that you are able to isolate as many of the variables that contribute to a person’s condition as possible,” says Strouse. “Providers may be able to administer drugs that reduce the symptoms. However, all too often, people feel they are being experimented on, as providers run through a long list of medications, while the patient continues to live with their ailment. And, in the meantime, it may be that family dynamics, or a relationship… or, even their balance of nutrition and exercise are directly influencing their symptoms.”

In addition to imbalances within the brain’s chemistry, Strouse suggests that other factors including the environment, people’s belief system, thought process, and support network contribute to the symptomatology. The reason these factors are important is two-fold. First, any one of these factors, or a combination of such factors could be a source of the symptoms. That means that a medication will not remediate the issue. Although it may buffer some of the most intense discomfort, it will not actually do anything to stop the symptom. Secondarily, because the benefit of psychotropic medication is evaluated by the perception of the patient over time, it’s important to have a third-party to help track the improvement or effectiveness of the drug.

If psychotropic medication is determined to be helpful to someone’s condition, it would be ideal to integrate therapy with the use of those drugs. This approach allows for the most acute symptoms to be treated, as well as the root, or core issues that may be generating the symptoms. Westport Family Counseling uses an integrative model, in which Nutritional Counseling, DBT, Mindfulness Fitness, and EMDR are some of the interventions used in conjunction with, or instead of medication. “Non-psychopharmacological options are a definite part of comprehensive care,” says Director, Strouse. “Not everyone is comfortable using medication… and, more and more, people understand that using medication alone can limit the potential for improvement.”

To learn more about WFC’s comprehensive care or schedule an appointment, call (203) 227-4555 or email wfc@wfcmail.org.

What To Expect When Transitioning Into A Blended Family

Making the transition into a blended family is a challenging one, no matter the circumstances. Especially for the children, coming to terms with a new parent entering the picture is not always going to be easy. Understanding what to expect during this transition period, and the best ways to cope with your new family dynamic, can improve your ability to handle the challenges.

 

When entering a new family dynamic, such as blending two families into one, the challenges that arise come from unknown expectations. Unfortunately, the variability of these transitions and the subsequent reactions to them cannot be planned for in advance. Acknowledging the hurdles and understanding the need for communication and resolution is vitally important. Westport Family Counseling Director, Nicholas Strouse, suggests factoring in a ‘distress tolerance’ as the transition unfolds. “Feelings will be hurt, and unexpected feelings will come up arbitrarily. Things may appear to be going well, and still there will be feelings that were not planned for.” Understanding that these feelings need to be expressed and addressed in a safe environment is critical to ensuring that each family member feels secure and comfortable.

It’s also important, and rests on the parents, to take time for self-reflection. “Examining your habits and thinking about how you’re feeling ultimately allows you to assess how you’re affecting others,” says Strouse. “And in addition to self-reflection, one must reflect on other members, too… even, and especially, if they are not.” An important word of advice is to look at the bigger picture, and the development of the individuals and collective members of the new family… everyone’s evolution over time. Strouse tells us, “The examination of new boundaries and the needs of family members may not be resolved in the first six months, as many new dynamics are likely to only become apparent over time… It requires this type of ‘active listening,’” to ensure that each family member’s feeling, thoughts, and concerns are recognized and addressed, respectfully.

 

At all stages of life, each and every situation poses a new challenge. That can be difficult, or demanding, for even the biological parents. It can present a particular challenge for the parents of a blended family, because of the tendency for a biological parent to feel a certain level of protectiveness of their children. Maintaining an open line of communication regarding conflict management and resolution, as well as discipline, can ensure that the couple stands united. By discussing these types of matters, outside of a crisis, partners can reach resolutions that ensure both are on the same page if, and when, something does crop up.

Strouse also offers a few rules of thumb to keep in mind throughout the blending process.

 

  • Patience is Key – Although the family may “blend” over the course of a move-in day, the process can last much longer. Understanding that there is a “learning curve,” of sorts, for both children and parents alike, can make each family member more amenable when challenges do arise.
  • Be Open with the Children – No matter their age, children deserve an age-appropriate frame of reference from which to view this new family dynamic. Explaining the situation, as well as stressing that open communication is vital, can help to ensure the children feel heard.
  • Listen and validate – The transition may have seemed “seamless,” and the family may appear to be doing well, as a whole. However, keep checking in with each other. Remember that each member can have a different experience.

 

Ultimately, there is no one method that will make the transition into a blended family a perfectly smooth process. But, understanding what to expect during this period can help both parents and children to manage it in a healthy and productive way. By maintaining open communication and practicing empathy throughout, the transition can be a more pleasant experience for all involved. Being conscientious in these ways may help a blended family get closer, and actually bring a close family even closer together.

Are you encountering challenges navigating the transition into a blended family? Westport Family Counseling can offer insights through family counseling. Contact us to learn more about these services or to schedule an appointment.

Next Thursday 3/12 Join WFC and Newport Academy for a Free Screening and Panel Discussion of “The Anonymous People”

 

Westport Family Counseling and Newport Academy are proud to present, “The Anonymous People,” a film aimed at encouraging an open dialogue about addiction and recovery. The documentary depicts the road that 23 million Americans travel for long ­term recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. It showcases the history of recovery, including how the AA is just one of many recovery ­related anonymous experiences available for the individuals who face addiction.

But anonymity is not always what recovering addicts or those around them, need or want. There are social stigmas and discrimination that can arise with the anonymity of meeting quietly and in secret from the rest of the world. Mass media has reinforced stereotypes, rather than explaining that addiction is preventable and treatable. “The Anonymous People” depicts courageous Americans as they emerge from the shadows of anonymity to help elicit a network of strength to defeat addiction.

Above all else, the film inspires us to be a face and voice for change, raising our concerns while unveiling fear and how to triumph over it. Because while addiction is a scary thing, the world remaining silent about it is scarier. Together, we can open eyes and ears to the struggle, which in turn gives those who face addiction and their loved ones a way to feel comfortable reaching out. In turn, we can fight to end the discrimination and criminalization of addiction. The film touches on this issue, discussing potential legislation to prevent jail time for drug offenses linked to addiction.

The film will conclude with a discussion panel. Greg Williams, the film’s producer, will be present alongside Ingrid Gillespie (from Communities 4 Action), Carter Barnhart (from Newport Academy), and our own Nicholas Strouse (Director of Westport Family Counseling). Feel free to bring questions for anyone on the panel.

The first step to finding a sustainable solution is speaking out about the problem. We intend to do just that.

Interested in attending? The event will be held on Thursday March 12, 2015, at Trinity & Holy Church Westport at 75 Church Lane in Westport from 6:30-­ 9 PM.  You can register for your f​ree tickets ​online.  We also encourage you to visit the M​any Faces 1 Voice Project ​to learn more about the film and it’s impact.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, Westport Family Counseling ​is a safe resource for support and guidance.

Poster