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Family Wellbeing

At WellNest Counseling, support services are for the family as a whole.

Article by Emily C. Laskowski

Photography by Capri Gaston Photography

Originally published in Park Cities Lifestyle

As a parent, do you know the difference between responding and reacting? What about the signs of emotional development? Melissa Griffing does. She is the founder of WellNest Counseling, which provides a range of therapy services for families and children, including parent training and child and adolescent counseling. We asked Griffing for her advice for families going into the new year. Not surprisingly, issues related to post-pandemic learning are top of mind. Griffing offered advice on when to seek help, other issues to look out for, and resolutions you can work on at home.

Park Cities Lifestyle: What are the top issues you're seeing with young children and teens lately? What should parents be on the lookout for in 2023?

Melissa Griffing: The biggest issue I see with kids these days is linked to the pandemic. Kids missed out on important social and emotional development during this time, likely because they were kept home for about a year and a half. The most common call I receive at my practice is a parent explaining how their child’s anxiety seemed to start in the middle of the pandemic or as they were going back to in-person school for the first time. Most parents express concerns over their child’s social-emotional development, frustration tolerance, and ability to keep up with the demands of in-person school, finding that in these areas they are lagging or stunted. This is contributing to low self-esteem, increased anxiety, panic attacks, and irritability. The age groups of kids that are most affected seem to be the kids aged 4 to 6 and 12 to 14. This makes sense because these kids are in pre-K, kindergarten, first grade, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th. Traditionally these are the grades in which kids experience an abundance and accelerated amount of social-emotional development. So, if they were home for those important years, then of course they feel out of step as they enter back into in-person school and social interactions. 

PCL: How do you and your team work with kids? Are the parents involved? What are some of the services and techniques you offer?

MG: WellNest counseling provides services to the families of DFW with a specific vision in mind. We approach therapy with our unique values guiding us. We focus on family relationships, inclusivity, simplicity, and joy. For these reasons, when we work with a child as an individual, we strongly believe we must also be supporting the family as a whole. This means parents are offered parental support simultaneously with their child’s therapy. Parental support happens in the form of parent consultations, parenting classes, family therapy, or even individual parent therapy. We offer services for kids who struggle with ADHD, identity issues, adjustment difficulties, parent/child relationship concerns, behavior concerns, anxiety, depression, and social-emotional learning. We guide parents to improve the parent/child relationship and teach research-based parenting strategies. While we do focus a lot on children, we do provide care for people of all ages. We provide individual therapy for emerging adults. We help moms and dads-to-be adjust to their new roles. We provide support for parents struggling with perinatal mental health as well. We aim to provide tailored and individual support for each family and its unique needs.

PCL: When it comes to behavioral issues with kids, what are some things parents can work on at home?

MG: First, it is incredibly important to decide what your values are with your partner. These will be your guiding principles when making parenting decisions. Next, settle on one goal. There are likely lots of things you want to change, but I suggest starting with the one that is causing the most distress in the home. Focus on that one goal. Then decide how you want to handle parenting toward that goal. How will you handle discipline? How will you respond when you feel stressed? What parenting technique will help you meet the goal? The last thing I want to emphasize is consistency. Whatever you choose to do, you must do it consistently. You will likely not see results in one week. It takes time. So give it a good month before you throw in the towel. Remember that for kids, consistency leads to expectation, which leads to safety. When kids feel safe and know what to expect, that’s when we truly see change. It is very much like building a new habit.

PCL: If you had to suggest 3 resolutions to parents for the new year when it comes to parenting, what would you suggest?

MG: 1. Play with your kids. When there is joy and fun throughout, your relationship is stronger. When your relationship is stronger, it makes the harder parts of parenting easier. So, commit to spending time playing with your kids in a kid-lead activity at minimum twice a month. That means they get to pick the activity, within limits of course, and you, as the parent, get to follow. For example, if your 8-year-old wants to cook cupcakes with her own special recipe, let her! As long as nothing gets damaged and no one gets hurt, it’s okay to let kids explore and for you to just follow and have fun!

2. I would urge parents to reflect on this phrase: “You parent in response to how you were parented.” Many times parents come to WellNest wanting to know what they can do to help their kids. I believe that one of the best things parents can do is engage in self-care. Sometimes that means working on your own emotional and mental stuff. Often, the way a parent responds to their child is directly tied to the core beliefs he or she holds that were developed in childhood. Parents become frustrated that they are having trouble making changes in their parenting, but what they don’t realize is that in order to make those changes, they first need to figure out which core beliefs are holding them back. Often parents need to work on changing the maladaptive core beliefs to more adaptive ones.

3. Learn the difference between responding and reacting. When parents aren’t in tune with why they parent the way they do, we end up with parents who react to the situation. Reacting means you are making the first parenting choice that comes immediately and automatically to mind. For example, when your child pushes another kid on the playground you might immediately yell, haul him off the playground, or give him a time-out. Your intention is to stop the behavior and teach him to not do it again. But this reaction often doesn’t have that effect. Instead, respond. Take a moment to think about what you want to teach your child, focus on your values, center yourself, and then go in with your parenting. Remember, as the parent you want to set the emotional temperature or the situation, not react to it.

PCL: What are the signs parents should look for to know if it’s time to seek help or not?

MG: A primary sign that might prompt parents to seek therapy services would be when they are feeling like they need support for themselves and for their family. They may feel as if they don’t know what to do going forward. They’ve gone through all their go-to tactics and tricks, yet nothing seems to be working. Another sign that seeking help is the next step is if your child has suddenly lost interest in activities they used to like, has an abrupt change in behavior, or is starting to fail classes. There’s also a current movement towards engaging in therapy before the issue becomes a problem. I have a certain amount of clients that engage in therapy simply because they are doing fine but want to work to be even better.

  • Melissa Griffing

Remember that for kids, consistency leads to expectation, which leads to safety. When kids feel safe and know what to expect, that’s when we truly see change.

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