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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

school counselor = parents' best ally

It's National School Counseling Week! 
Before I became a mama, I became a school counselor. I have worked as a counselor for 8 years now and LOVE my job, helping middle school students figure out the ups and downs of adolescence.

A huge part of my job is working with parents and guardians, as they, too, navigate the roller coaster ride of raising elementary through high school age children. Many parents have questions for me, is this the right thing? is my child succeeding? is my child following the wrong crowd? what do I do with this particular phase? etc.

A counselor's job is to listen and help guide others toward a positive outcome.

Here are some of the things I know for sure as a counselor, who happens to be a mom, too:

*Schools are your allies, not enemies. We are here to teach your child, that's our goal and job. We are there to encourage them to be great. If we call you with a concern, try to avoid getting defensive or feeling guilt or anger. We are not trying to ruin your day. We are looking out for your child. We spend 6-7 hours a day with your child, which for many parents is more awake time than they spend with their children. We know your child in a different light, too... oftentimes kids are great at home and awful in front of friends at school, or vice versa. When we call you to talk, please listen, share your concerns, we're listening to you, too.

*We're all ears. Call us! If something is bothering you, don't hesitate to ask for a meeting with your child's teachers and counselor. We can brainstorm together. Email works better for most teachers and counselors also, at least initially. It's oftentimes difficult to call parents in the middle of the day due to schedules, meetings and children at our beck and call. Point: Don't keep it in and get frustrated, contact us!

*Don't say, "I didn't want to bother you..." I hear this one all the time, parents not wanting to bug counselors or teachers, knowing we have 100 other kids to tend to, and this particular issue they have with their child doesn't sound large enough to bother us with. NOT true! Please, by all means, contact us. You aren't bothering us. Of course, we don't have time to talk on the phone for an hour or email you within minutes of you sending a note to us... but within 2 days or so you should hear back from us and know that what you are worried about is important to us.

*It's a good thing if your child wants to talk to someone besides you. Parents report to me feeling so lonely, left in the dark with their kids' thoughts and feelings as they grow older toward teenager years. Their kids don't talk to them. They say "nothing" and "good," when parents ask them questions, yet text and Facebook and chat nonstop with friends. I've had parents frustrated that their child will talk to me as the counselor but not to them. I know that must be difficult to know your adolescent doesn't want to share things with you, I can't imagine how I'll feel as a parent someday when this happens to me - and it will, no matter how cool of a counselor I may be to other kids. But it's a GOOD thing that they at least will talk to someone. And you should trust that the school counselor they are talking to will share with you anything serious. We are mandated to inform you if they speak of harming themselves in any way or if they have been harmed. We will tell you the big things, don't worry. Trust that this is a normal thing, children growing apart from you a little. It's how they gain independence. It's how they grow up and enter the world and be the great big beings you planned for them to be.

*Counselors help students achieve. We help them by checking in if they are failing classes, setting goals, and then re-checking in with them to make sure they are following the plan we set up. We facilitate small groups of students to talk about similar concerns like family changes and divorce, body image and self esteem, anger management, stress and organization skills, etc. We eat our lunch with students while they eat their lunch to keep them company. We review test scores and help your child apply to special high schools. We are here to talk to you about the transition in or out of middle school, plan for high school and beyond. We can help in crises and in everyday girl drama. We prevent and handle bullying situations. We collaborate with resource officers, administrators, outside counselors, and others. This and more is what we do. We are here to help.

Here's what I know about your school-age children:

*They want you to care. They certainly act like this is not true, but they DO want you to pay attention to them, ask them questions, be involved, attend events, and know who their friends are. They will roll their eyes, sigh a lot, and totally ignore you... but the second you get too busy for them or act like you aren't interested, they complain to me about it. So stay involved. Stay focused and pay attention. Don't smother, you do need to let them have some independence. Yet be there. Always, regardless of how they act.

*They are still children. They may start wearing makeup and having first kisses. They may talk of boys and girl friends. They may roll their eyes a lot and say things that don't make sense to you, or ask to be dropped off at the movies without supervision. They may freak out if you even step foot in their room because they want their privacy. And yet, I know, they are still your young children. Regardless of age or attitude, they are still your babies in there. I've seen big boys, teenage boys, cry because their mother is sick with something serious or because of a break up. I've seen tough girls with the biggest attitude crumble because another girl friend looked at her the wrong way and she thinks she has no friends left. They are young inside, and they are mostly innocent. This means they are reachable. You can teach them and support them still, regardless of those eye rolls. It's a fine line, letting them have some independence, not pushing too hard, not pressuring them, not nagging... and yet not being their best friend, letting them do whatever they want. But try. Try keeping between that line and realizing they still need you.

*They need help. At the very least, they need you checking in every day/week on what homework they have, big tests coming up, what they are struggling with in school. They need you helping to communicate with their teachers, because they aren't too good at this yet. They definitely need help organizing their binders, folders, notebooks, papers, etc. They are not taught this very well, they need extra practice with it. Help them, even if they push you away or get annoyed by it. Keep offering help.

*Listen now to the trivial things so they will trust you later with the big things. Yes, I understand how boring their stories can be. I get how sometimes you really cannot follow the story they are telling, of who was saying what to whom and when and where and why it bothers them when it had nothing to do with them. They get worked up over small things that seem insignificant to you. You are dealing with real issues like bills and mortgages and jobs, so you see these adolescent troubles as minor. But to these kids, these issues are the biggest things they've dealt with so far. So for them, these are real issues. They are not exaggerating their fears, worries, stresses, and emotions. Just like your 2-year-old who collapses screaming and kicking on the floor because you said it was dinner time and they had to stop playing... this is the same thing for teenagers. So don't offer solutions or tell them to get over it. Don't ever say "this is not a big deal." They hate that. You'd hate it, too, if someone said it to you. If you don't listen now to these minor things, they are not going to come to you later on with bigger things like drinking or sex.

A student told me last year that she was at the movies and her friend's parents were supposed to take them home. The parents were not able to pick them up, so the girl called her parents, who told her no, they would not come get her, they needed to call the other parent again. She told me that her parents always said they'd get her if she called in a drinking situation, so she didn't get why they would not come in this situation. She said when in high school she would not call them about drinking or anything serious. Now, as a parent, I get what those parents were thinking, they were probably annoyed. But they lost a big opportunity for later, to this kid they ruined the chance to be trusted later. I know it's not always this drastic, but what you say and do with your young children ends up aiding in how they feel later on when it matters most, when they are entering the world on their own without you. Do what you can now to be someone they trust and can talk to. Listen.

I encourage you to send a note to your child's counselor. Ask questions. Ask for ideas. Share your thoughts. We can help each other support your growing child.

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