Parent Tips for Reentry Anxiety

Yes, reentry anxiety is a real phenomenon. After enduring 15 months of some form of lockdown, many of us are collectively attempting to shake off the trauma experienced from the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past year, contact with extended family and friends was limited, leaving many feeling disconnected from typical supports. Working parents experienced the stress of caring for children 24/7, while also juggling the demands of jobs. Many families faced employment loss and financial hardship. Children may have been anxious about the health and safety of parents or grandparents, and some did lose loved ones to illness or death.

Unfortunately, we may not be in the clear, yet. Masking and other restrictions have been lifted in California, but we have yet to understand the impact of the COVID variants, less than stellar vaccine rates and the possibility that even the vaccinated will need a booster shot. Some parents feel anxious about exposing their under-12 children who are not yet eligible for the vaccine.

Ironically, we are such creatures of habit, that, over time, many of us grew accustomed to hiding away at home and may feel unsafe or experience reentry anxiety as we move back to our pre-pandemic routines. Although often resilient, children are also vulnerable to reentry stress. They need adult guidance and support to help negotiate a return to community life. Here are 4 steps parents can take to ease the way for their children and themselves:

  1. Listen reflectively to your child’s concerns and fears, validating feelings rather than jumping to solutions. Try to contain your anxiety to serve as a calming presence for your child. Children look to parents to set the tone.
  2. Take it slowly, gradually resuming activities and helping your child identify what he is looking forward to. Be careful not to push your child too quickly, while at the same time supporting growth and change.
  3. Let children know about new plans. Keeping a family calendar that your child can see may help her visualize the upcoming weeks and ease her stress.
  4. Keep a resilient mindset. Talk about the new ways you learned to spend time together as a family during COVID and what new habits you’d like to keep. Demonstrate curiosity, rather than fear, about any societal changes your children observe post-lockdown.

If you are noticing any unusual behaviors in your child, such as withdrawal, sleep issues, stomach complaints or headaches, don’t hesitate to contact a mental health professional who can help you and your family through this adjustment period.

Independence for Adolescents with Learning Differences

Julia Murphy, LMFT

Parents often come to me confused about whether or not assisting their Learning Disabled (LD) child is in fact “enabling” him.  A further complication is that each parent may have a different opinion about this issue. Many 18-year-olds may be driving, holding down jobs or making appointments on their own, while these typical rites of passage may not apply to an LD teen, whose development is following a slower course.  These teens may have the emotional maturity of someone much younger.  Parents sometimes feel a renewed sense of fear and grief during this period that may trigger earlier feelings they had when their son or daughter’s learning difference was first detected. 

This was the case with one of my clients, the mother of a son who was diagnosed with Non Verbal Learning Disability and ADHD at age 5. She felt that over the years of his childhood, she had adjusted to her son’s strengths and limitations after the initial shock of his diagnosis when he was age 5, followed by what felt to her like stages of grief: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. She had expended a lot of energy and effort along the way to support her son, having him evaluated periodically, finding educational therapists, occupational therapists and mentors. She also learned how to navigate the IEP process with an advocate who helped her get funding for a non-public school that could support his academic, social and emotional needs.  By the time he reached high school it seemed like life was fairly stable for her son and the family. He was on an effective medication regimen, was able to work more independently, and had finally found a small, steady group of friends.  She could finally relax a little. Although those high school years weren’t without their turbulence, it felt like nothing to her compared to the early years of acting out and hyperactivity both he and his family endured.

Then, as he began his senior year and friends were applying to college, taking the SATs and even finding part time work, a renewed sense of his being set apart and left behind entered her consciousness, especially when his friends came over to the house and she could sense the disparity between her son’s maturity level, accomplishments and abilities compared to his friends. As much as she resisted the comparison, so many early feelings came rushing back – fear, bitterness, grief, heart ache.  As painful as these feelings are, they are also natural. As parents, we want so much for our children to be happy, successful and fulfilled. On a deeper biological/primal level, we hope to ready them for survival after we are gone.

With therapy, this mother was able to recalibrate her emotions surrounding her son and his well-being and to remind herself to resist comparing him to others. She focused on what she could control – support, love and guidance – and managed, at least most of the time, to let go of expectations connected to comparing her son to other teens his age. Admittedly, this is not an easy task for a parent, but it is an important one to work toward. After all, launching a child is a major transition in the life of an entire family.  It may be a very emotional time even without the added worries that come with parenting an LD child.   

My word of advice is, to the best of your ability, honor your feelings but also resist comparing your teen to the “neurotypical” neighbor.  Talk your feelings out with a sympathetic therapist if need be.  In the end, your peace of mind and your child’s self esteem stands a better chance of remaining intact if you consider where your child’s independence and maturity level actually are, rather than where they “should” be. Also, bear in mind that brain and frontal cortex keep developing into the 20s and even 30s.  Many of these skills will develop over time, and learning disabled teens will reach independence with the right support and training.  In fact my mantra to sooth worried parents is the phrase “time is your ally.”  Remember it if you can.

The Promise of Nutritional Psychiatry

Nutritional Psychiatry is an emerging field exploring the link between diet, brain function, and mental health. In simpler terms, it looks at how the food we eat impacts our emotional state. Current research data points to a healthy diet (ie: lean protein, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts and whole grains) as prevention and treatment for depression, as well as adjunctive treatment for ADHD. Conversely, unhealthy diets (processed, fatty and sugary foods) are associated with mental health problems in children and adults across nations and cultures.

By now you’ve probably heard of the term “gut-brain” connection. Our bodies house a miraculous, intricate community of different, beneficial bacteria called the human biome. Healthy gut bacteria are responsible for nutritional absorption, as well as immune system support and modulation of the nervous system. What we eat impacts the health of the human biome, and, therefore, the health of our bodies and minds.

Dietary interventions at this early state of nutritional psychiatry research are recommended as complementary treatments that may alleviate mild depression and anxiety or help with ADHD. At this point, diet is not recommended as the anecdote to suicidal ideation or extreme mood issues, but the field holds a lot of promise for breakthroughs to come.

Special Book Signing

Friend and colleague, Dr. Joe Parent with be offering a special book signing for his book written with Nancy Parent, “A Walk in The Wood: Meditations on Mindfulness with a Bear Named Pooh.”

When: December 9, 1-3 pm

Where: Marie et Cie, cafe and gift shop, 11704 Riverside Drive, Valley Village, CA 91607


Adolescence Defined

Adolescence has historically been characterized as a period of great turbulence and change in the lives of teens and parents. Media images of high profile stars careening off the rails with their involvement in drugs, alcohol and reckless behavior seem to support this portrait and strike fear in the hearts of many parents. Nonetheless, I like to look at this phase of development as a time of essential, vibrant growth and change that, at its most successful, can meaningfully prepare a teen for a rich and varied adult life. Research proves that the majority of teens make it through high school, are attached to their families, and escape serious involvement with violence or drug abuse. This optimism is not an attempt to discount the real risks involved in the adolescent years or to ignore those teens who feel isolated, lost, or out of control, but rather to promote the sort of guidance and support parents, professionals, and mentors can offer teens to give them the best chance for positive development.

It is our job as adults to create opportunities for teens to be exposed to relationships and environments that promote growth and minimize risk. The starting point is to preemptively improve the one-to-one relationships that are integral to a youth’s happiness, success, independence and security. The hope is that these improvements will have a ripple effect on larger systems like the family system, the school system, the criminal justice system or the social welfare system. One way to make a powerful difference is for adults in a teen’s life to understand and empathize with the amazing changes, risks, joys, aggravations, excitement and growing pains that happen during the teen years and the purpose they serve in a child’s life. According to The John’s Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Heath publication on Adolescent Development, research supports that (1) adolescence is a time of opportunity; (2) normal, healthy development is uneven; (3) young people develop positive attributes through learning and experience; (4) the larger community plays a fundamental and essential role in helping young people move successfully toward adulthood.  TO BE CONTINUED

Helping Your Child Master Skills

The key is collaboration. Academic and social skills do not develop in a vacuum. They are the result of interactions between the child and his/her environment. Your child’s capacity to complete tasks independently occurs when skills have been mastered and external supports are no longer required. For example, complex academic assignments may overwhelm your child’s brain. She needs you to look at the task with her and collaboratively develop a plan for how the assignment or project will be executed. This means breaking the task down into steps, then creating timelines for each step to be accomplished. You might also have to work with your child to actually complete the steps. The idea here is not to do the work for your child but to do it with her. This collaboration will enhance his learning, while also helping her develop the organizational and planning skills necessary to eventually mange the work on her own.

Families and Parenting: Goodness of Fit

“Goodness of Fit” is a useful concept for determining how temperamental traits affect the interpersonal dynamics within families. It is important for parents to consider how their own temperaments mesh with those of their children. For example, a very active, intense child can quickly spark an emotionally charged reaction from a parent with a similar behavioral style. The same child might also try the patience of a more relaxed, reflective parent but not provoke him or her to the same level of emotional intensity. Moreover, if a child who is vulnerable to rigid, inflexible reactions to novel situations encounters a parent with an inflexible, authoritarian parenting style, the interactions are frequently combustible. Conversely, the parent who possesses the ability to respond flexibly to the inflexible child will experience more success in steering emotionally charged situations in a positive direction. The parent’s flexibility will in turn facilitate the development of flexibility in the child over time. You as a parent may have to develop the very skills you are asking your son or daughter to develop. In order to have your expectations of your child successfully met, you’ll want to practice reflecting on your feelings in response to your child’s behavior, then accurately interpreting the motives for their behavior, instead of responding impulsively. Tolerating and reflecting on feelings of self-doubt, anxiety, shame, anger, disappointment and helplessness makes parents less vulnerable to being derailed by these difficult emotions. A word of caution, though. I am not advocating allowing a child to rule the household. Parents of children and adolescents with difficult temperaments are vulnerable to appeasing their children for the sake of keeping the peace, but, in the process, they often lose control. The child who is constantly appeased is denied the opportunity to gain successful mastery of new experiences. The appeased child assumes a position of power, leaving many parents feeling ineffective and helpless. The idea is to find the balance of reflective, thoughtful, yet firm when parenting challenging children.



The first step in the process of improving the parent/child relationship lies with deepening the parent’s insight and understanding into their child’s difficulties. When parents gain the capacity to recognize and acknowledge the thoughts, feelings, desires, beliefs, and intentions of themselves and others, they may then begin to understand how these elements come together to shape their child’s behavior. Specifically, changes in the parent/child relationship are often the result of a parent’s capacity to make sense of their child as a separate person with thoughts, feelings and a mind of his own.  However, for this understanding to evolve, parents must first feel that their own complex experience is understood. Parents often feel immense relief when a thoughtful therapist or other individual acknowledges how difficult it is to parent a challenging child. In my therapy sessions, many parents report feelings of sadness when this occurs, because they have never had the opportunity to speak about their parenting without the threat of criticism or blame. Angry, hurt or disappointed feelings as a parent are natural at times, and not an indictment of the parent’s ability or the depth of their love. Some children can make the best of parents look bad, while others make the worst of parents look good. When parents can speak openly about negative feelings without being judged, this opens the door to positive change in their relationship with their children.

How Your Childhood Affects Your Parenting

When parents bring their children to therapy, they frequently express feelings of discouragement, defeat, confusion, shame, frustration and anger relating to their child and their parenting experience. As they describe the behavioral, academic and/or social challenges of their children, some parents can relate to their child’s struggles. Others are able to identify challenges they observed in siblings or extended family members. They want to make sure that their own son or daughter goes down a different path. Further discussion of parents’ family histories provides important information about the genetic aspects of their child’s strengths and challenges. More importantly, it offers insight into each parent’s relationships with important adults throughout their own development. We are all shaped by relationships and experiences throughout our lives. The template for relationships is formed in infancy by our interactions with our parents. Therefore, the quality of the relationship with our parents or other significant adults in our lives will directly influence how we relate to our children. Whether we like it or not, we can sometimes hear the voice of our parents in our heads as we deal with our children. At times we are reminded of our unresolved pasts, because relating to our children can become a re-enactment of early experiences we had with our parents. At times our children might demonstrate characteristics similar to those of our parents, which may provoke old feelings in us that might be confusing and guilt inducing. Sometimes it is difficult to make sense of our feelings and differentiate our child from our parent in our minds.

Case Study:

Sandra and James have a 5 1/2-year-old daughter Jillian who frequently tantrums both in preschool and at home. As Sandra and James described their difficulties with managing Jillian’s inflexible, oppositional behavior, each of them began reflecting on their upbringings and the ways in which their own parents imposed expectations. Sandra explained that her mother had consistent daily routines in place that were not only predictable, but rarely challenged. She described herself as very compliant as a child and adolescent and noted that her father had a quick temper that she and her older sister would avoid provoking. Sandra, with a tone of frustration, stated that at some point in her life she would like to feel in charge. She did not feel in charge as a child, and she didn’t feel in charge of her daughter. In fact, she felt strongly that Jillian was in control of their lives. Sandra’s experience of accommodating others has been recreated in her relationship with Jillian. She was walking on eggshells to avoid provoking Jillian and vacillated between feelings of guilt and resentment toward her daughter. Sandra had little awareness of these feelings prior to our conversations. This insight offered her greater understanding of her reactions to Jillian and the ability to delineate experiences between relationships. Up to this point, Sandra’s history had been influencing her reactions to  her daughter; however, with this new found awareness Sandra was better able to monitor and control her emotional responses to Jillian, which also helped regulate Jillian’s emotional state and behavior.

The Nature of Trauma

Our bodies and brains are made to process new information and experiences every day without our even being aware of it. Here’s the exception — when we are jolted by an overwhelming event like a car accident or repeatedly distressed from neglect or abuse, our natural coping mechanism shuts down. As a result, these traumatic experiences remain frozen in the limbic system of our brains — in their raw, emotional form, rather than in the verbal, “story” mode of the cortex.

In other words, the limbic system holds the unprocessed traumatic memories in an isolated network disconnected from the cortex where we use language to house memories. As a result, even when the memory is forgotten, emotions and sensations from a prior traumatic experience may be triggered when some element in our environment seems similar to elements of the traumatic event. Without understanding why, we may re-experience painful feelings like fear, panic, anger or anguish.

The goal of effective trauma therapy is first to establish a strong therapeutic alliance, then to make sure self-calming resources are in place. The therapist can then assist you in forming connections between the brain’s memory networks, putting words to a traumatic experience, thus enabling you to process past trauma and move forward a little more freely in your life.