Mental Health Minute with DWS School Counselor Madhuri Deshmukh

Welcome to my mental health blog! As school counselor at The Denver Waldorf School, I’ll be posting resources for students and families as we continue to prioritize mental health as a community. If you are in need of my support services, please reach out via email, and bookmark this page for helpful tips and announcements.

December – More Than Just Worried

Anxiety and stress are normal. Life can be stressful; everyone feels stressed from time to time about so many things like performance at work/school, traumatic events, or changes in life. It is merely a response to different situations perceived as stressful or dangerous. Most children experience anxiety or worry in response to unfamiliar situations and everyday stressors. However, when we have too much stress, it can disrupt our daily lives.

Stress is commonly a reaction to an external cause, such as taking a quiz or having a conflict with a peer. Anxiety is internal, and usually a response to stress. Stress can go away when the situation is resolved whereas anxiety can be a persistent feeling of apprehension even if there is no immediate threat.

Both anxiety and stress affect body and mind, such as contributing to an increased heart rate, sweating, shakiness, headaches, butterflies in our stomach, etc., and urge us to decide quickly whether to fight, flee, or freeze from a threatening situation. Life is often fast-paced and requires a lot of our time and energy, and our children are no exception to that requirement. We all have varied definitions of what situations are threatening to us, and our perception is shaped by our experiences; what you might find threatening, another person may find easy to deal with. Just being aware of when our body is going into a fight, flight or freeze or fawn mode can be a considerable tool for enabling us to overcome our worry & anxiety. The fight response is when your body faces any perceived threat aggressively. Flight mode wants your body to run from danger. In a freeze mode, your body is unable to move or act against a threat. And in a fawn mode, your body tries to please someone to avoid conflict as a response to a threat.

What can caregivers do to help children struggling with anxiety?

• Talk to your child about how they are feeling. Acknowledge that their feelings are valid and that you are there to support them. Please keep an open conversation about how they are feeling.

• Establish a time of the day or week to discuss your child’s worries. When your child has worries, have them write/draw the worries down and put them in a jar. You can then go through them together during your chosen time or day.

• Manage your own anxieties/stressors. Various life circumstances can leave us all feeling anxious. Our children can easily pick up on this, so it is essential to keep your conversations age-appropriate and reassuring.

• Help your child start a gratitude journal. Gratitude is a great way to fight anxiety.

• Practice deep breathing together. Encourage your child to write or draw pictures about how they feel during this time.

• Find activities that help your child feel calm, like reading, drawing, exercising, or connecting with friends/family.

What can caregivers say to help children struggling with stress or anxiety?

When you are talking to a child feeling anxious, it can be hard to know what to say. Please remember it is important to validate their feelings and let children know you are there for support.

• Some positive things that you can say to your child when worry and anxiety creep in are “I hear you,” “I know this is hard for you,” “I am here for you,” “Let’s work through this together,” “What is your worry telling you?,” “How can I help you through this?,” and “You are safe. I am here.” These statements are simple and do not try to fix the problem for the child, but instead let them know that they are okay and supported.

• On the other hand, it is essential not to be dismissive of their worries. This can make a child feel irrational for sharing their feelings and be hesitant to share in the future. The common phrases that we want to avoid are “Stop worrying,” “Get over it,” ” I do not understand what you are worried about,” and “It is fine”. Please know that it is very difficult to decide to stop worrying. Unfortunately, worry does not have a controller we can switch on and off. Although these statements can have positive intentions, it may cause the child to feel like a letdown because they cannot simply stop.

• Again, the best thing to do is to validate their feelings, communicate about those feelings, and work together to help your child manage them.

When symptoms of your child’s or your own stress/ anxiety do not go away, it is important to recognize a need for more help and reach out to a professional. Please remember, if your child feels anxious or stressed, they are not alone. Because childhood anxiety is so prevalent, we all need to learn to best support our children when they are in stress or when their anxiety strikes.

World Kindness Day and DWS Kindness Week

World Kindness Day is an international holiday that is celebrated to promote kindness throughout the world and is observed annually on November 13 as a part of the World Kindness Movement. This year, DWS is planning to celebrate The Kindness Week from November 14th to November 18th. Details on themes and activities will be updated soon.

November – Small Group Counseling

Are you interested in having your child participate in a counseling group at school?

Small Group Counseling will be offered twice a year: once in the fall, and once in the spring. Group counseling involves a small group of students (usually 4-6 people) and a counselor. The group meets on a regular basis, during school, for a set amount of time (usually 30-45 minutes for 4-6 weeks) to talk about a common problem or situation. Specific meeting times are arranged with the classroom teacher (often during recess/lunch time). Everything shared in the group remains confidential and is not shared outside of the group. Group counseling gives students the opportunity to share problems and ideas, to help them feel that they are not alone in the situation, and to receive help with these issues from people their own age. It is also an opportunity for students to help others. Below are some of the groups I will be running during the school year. If you would like your child to participate in group counseling, please check the group or groups from which you feel your child could benefit, and sign up here.

  • Friendship/getting along – friendship skills and how to resolve conflicts with friends
  • Anger management – healthy ways to express and control anger that are not harmful to self or others
  • Divorce/separation – helping students deal with family situations involving divorce or separation
  • Grief/loss – death in the family, loss of a pet, relocation to a new area
  • Self-esteem – encouraging better understanding of oneself, and recognizing positive aspects of oneself
  • Study skills – forming good study habits, managing time, and being organized
  • Inside out/ emotional regulation – helping students with identifying and understanding feelings and learning healthy calm down skills
  • Positive leadership – focus would be on leadership skills and the promotion of resilience and positive self-esteem, while gaining a strong sense of belonging by connecting with peers

The first round of group counseling begins in the week of November 7th 2022 and ends in the week of January 16th 2023. If you would like more information on a particular group, scheduled meeting times, or have specific concerns to share, please contact me and I will be happy to talk with you.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

September is a National Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month (September 1 – September 30) that highlights open discussions on depression, mental health, and other social-emotional needs related to suicide and suicidal thoughts. Research states suicide is the second leading cause of death among school-age youth. However, suicide is preventable. People who are considering suicide often give warning signs of their distress. Parents/guardians, teachers, and friends are in a vital position to understand these signs and get them support. One of the essential key elements is not to dismiss warning signs or keep a secret regarding an individual’s safety. When we adults and students in the school community are committed to making suicide prevention a priority and are empowered to take the correct actions, we can help/support youth in crisis.

To support this cause at Denver Waldorf School, we request that our students, families, and staff wear suicide awareness colors (yellow, purple, turquoise) on September 28. I will also be training our high school students on suicide awareness & prevention that covers warning signs, resources for help/support, and coping skills on September 21. Please reach out with your concerns or questions regarding this training; happy to help with additional resources. Please know that it is an optional training for students; you can opt-out of your student if needed.

Helpful Resources:

August – Resources for Reducing Back-to-School Anxiety

The beginning of the year after a long summer can be very overwhelming, especially when things start getting back to normal after a pandemic. We get used to not following usual routines during summer and it can be hard to adjust our lives back to the school routine. This shift can create stress and anxiety for anyone. It is not uncommon for children to create scary scenarios about school and be anxious about it. Listen to them, validate those feelings. You might try asking “what..If” questions/statements! For example, if children say, ‘what if my friends do not talk to me?”, “what if my teachers do not like me?”, “what if the school gets too hard”, reply by saying “what..If”. We sometimes unknowingly dismiss children’s feelings by saying ‘everything is going to be okay’. Explore these questions, these feelings, and validate them. Let children feel heard. Once you do that, go to “now..What” statements/questions from “what..If”. Example, ‘okay, what if that subject is hard, now what?’ This way you will encourage children to be problem solvers with your support and help.

There are a few more resources I thought might be helpful to ease your child’s back –to-school stress:

I look forward to building a positive relationship with each of you and looking forward to a wonderful academic year!