How to stand up to bullies & Raise nice kids

Confidence & Empathy.png

Last weekend, I gave a talk on How to Stand up to Bullies and Raise Good Kids and wanted to share the two things you can start doing today to help your kids stand up to bullies and be a the type of kid who is “good.” Those two things are raising their self-confidence and teaching them empathy.


Here is a list of things you can do to help your child be more confident.   

Highlight the positive. We spend a lot of time correcting our children’s behavior which can cause kids to think negatively about themselves.

Encourage their interests regardless of if they are good at it. Your child might be an average artist or athlete, but if they like it encourage them to continue by praising their efforts. Learning how to persevere is an important part of gaining confidence.

Model confidence. Stand up for yourself, express your emotions appropriately, challenge yourself in front of your kids. Use positive language and don’t quit.

Here is a list of things you can do to teach your child empathy. 

Make a kindness jar. When someone in your house does something nice for other people place a pom-pom or gem in a clear jar. This helps children visually see their  (and your) acts of kindness. For young kids use a smaller jar so they get the reward faster. When it’s full celebrate by doing something fun together as a family.

Make an empathy bead necklace. Identify different colored or shaped beads for different feelings and when your child is feeling different emotions have them add the corresponding bead to a necklace, pipe cleaner, or other piece of string. Hang the strands from a stick to make a wall hanging, or have them hand their necklace somewhere. This helps children pay attention to a normal range of emotions and start identifying them for themselves and other people.

Make joy rocks. Paint rocks and leave them in different places for other people to pick up. Helps kids learn to do things that make other people happy.

Create Kindness Bingo. Create a chart with 12 - 16 squares (less for younger children). In the squares write things like, gave a compliment, helped someone clean up, made a picture for a friend, played with a new friend, etc. When they accomplish something and have them mark off the square they completed. When they have gotten a line or filled their board reward them with something special. This can be extra screen time, a later bed time, special one on one time with a parent or a small gift.

Take them to volunteer with people. Have them help serve food at a soup kitchen or on a lesser scale make and deliver food or a craft to someone in your neighborhood who may be having a tough time.

And of course, if you need some help, we are your Village and we are always here. #youareawesome #TOVillageWellness

Not In My Town

In my town.png

Written by Kandice Marshall-Cunanan, LMFT

On February 14, 2018 a young man walked into a school in Florida with an AR-15 and began shooting.  He killed 17 students that day.  I have to admit that after all of these years I was beginning to grow numb.  If I allowed myself to feel anything I would have become paralyzed because I would be so overwhelmed with emotion everyday, day after day, it would never end.  Each day there is a mass shooting in our country. Each day someone’s child doesn’t go home. And not a day goes by that I am not grateful that mine do come home and for that I carry a little bit of guilt.

On February 15, 2018 I was reading my Facebook posts when I saw one from a friend of mine from middle school.  A few years ago she moved to Florida with her husband and daughters.  Typically her posts are filled with happy moments with her family but not on that day.  On that day she had written a memorial for one of the children killed on February 14th.  As I read it I began to cry.  I couldn’t stop.  I cried for everyone.  And then I realized I was also crying because I was grateful.  I was so grateful that it wasn’t my daughter, that it wasn’t in my town.  I went back and read it again, and again, counting my blessings.  So thankful I wasn’t writing a memorial about a child, a person I once knew killed in a mass shooting.  With great pain and sadness, though, today is my day. 

It’s been 10 days since 12 people were killed in a mass shooting in my town. 

November 8, 2018 was my mom’s birthday.  My family had planned on going to The Lakes in Thousand Oaks to celebrate that night.  And on November 7, 2018 when I fell asleep, around 11:30 p.m, I fell asleep thinking about the fun we would have the next day.  Ten minutes earlier 12 people in my town had been fatally shot by another young man in my town. 

I woke up that morning excited at what the day would bring.  I was excited to go out that night.   And so when I checked my phone I was not prepared for the messages I had received through out the night. 

My daughter’s message read, “There was a mass shooting by your apartment….” 

I don’t even have words to describe how I felt.  I sent her a message back letting her know that I was fine, I was shocked I hadn’t heard anything, and grateful that my brother, her uncle, wasn’t there because, like most Thousand Oaks residents, including myself, he used to go there.  She responded that she was happy her uncle had not been there the night before.  I was too.

I began reading and watching the news trying desperately to find out as much as I could about the shooting.  I realized, as I read, that there would be a strong possibility I would know someone who had been there.  That strong possibility did not include knowing the dead. 

Like most of the people in my town, I found myself driving to The Oaks to pay my respects to Sgt. Helus, who had been killed as he responded to an active shooter call at Borderline the night before.  I can’t even say why I did it.  I didn’t know him but the pain I was beginning to feel was getting worse just sitting at home.  I knew the route his body would take because it was the same route my daughters and I had sat along to watch as President Ronald Reagan’s body was take to his library in Simi Valley after he died.  I was not surprised by all the people there.  It was comforting.  While I waited for his body to pass I continued to receive messages about Borderline.  One was just a picture of a young man and a plea to help find him.

I read that plea over and over again and then I reposted it.

My heart was breaking for everyone because now it was my town.

As I read the post again I realized I knew him but he wasn’t one of the kids I used to work with he was my daughter’s friend from kindergarten. 

When we first moved back here from San Diego I worked a swing shift and I didn’t have as much time with my daughters as I had had before.  One day in the school news letter I read they were hiring campus supervisors and so I got a job there.  This way I could remain involved, as much as possible, in my kids life.  On my first day I worked in the kindergarten yard and when I walked in I was immediately greeted by another campus supervisor.  She wanted me to know that I would be watching a particular child due to a medical condition.  After that, anytime I was there I paid extra attention to him even when I wasn’t assigned to him.

Now I was looking at him as one of the missing.  I was having trouble processing the information and so I contacted my older daughter and that’s when she confirmed that the little boy and the man I was looking at were the same person.

Time was beginning to slow down.  I needed to breathe.   

Focus…..breathe in……breathe out…….Again……..breathe in……breathe out……

I needed to keep my composure.  I couldn’t fall apart with a stranger in my house.

Around 1:30 p.m. my older daughter confirmed that little boy, no, that young man had died.  I cried out and the man working in my house came rushing in to check on me but stopped short when I said, “He died!”

During the past 10 days I have had to evacuate my home because of 2 fires.  I’ve been to memorials, fundraisers, and I’ve found myself sitting on the sidewalk staring at the cross that bares his name.  I didn’t believe it.  I couldn’t allow myself to go to that place where another person my daughters knew had died.  Over time I would learn that it wasn’t 1 person my family knew at Borderline but 4 people.

Many people are familiar with the Five Stages of Grief.  For those who aren’t they are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.  We don’t necessarily go through them in that order and sometimes we will return to a particular stage while grieving.  Some may never go through a particular stage, as the model was originally used to describe terminally ill patients.  I have used this model to help my daughters and clients in the past and now I realize I am also going through it.  I didn’t realize, until I was buying flowers to lay at his cross, that I was also in denial. 

Tomorrow, November 19, 2018, my youngest daughter will turn 21 years old.  Ten days ago I was so excited but now I’m sad.  During all my reading and information gathering I discovered one of the victims who died would have also been 21 years old tomorrow, too.  He will forever be 20 years old.  Today his mother had a memorial for him and I find myself Angry.

I live in a nice town. A really nice town and I’m angry that it took this for me to realize what I’ve had all along, a wonderful and supportive community filled with people trying to do right by their families, friends, community.  We are far from perfect and now my town is a statistic and not the one we held November 6, 2018, one of the safest cities in America.  Now we are known for being the city that had America’s 307th mass shooting in 2018.  The year isn’t over and everyday there is another mass shooting and that’s why I’m angry.  My heart is breaking but I am not broken.  I’m Angry that this continues to happen and the only thing we seem to be able to do is offer “thoughts” and “prayers” but I know that in the end I can say, “I tried.”  As a mental health professional, I am doing my part and now I’m asking everyone else to do their part so that this doesn’t happen in their town. #TOStrong



How to Talk to Kids About Mass Shootings

How to talk to kids about mass shootings.png

In 2015, after a mass shooting I wrote a post about how to talk to anxious kids about mass shootings and other man made violence. When I originally wrote it there had been mass shootings before but they weren’t as common as they are today (makes me sick to write that) and emotionally affected kids who were already feeling unsafe at school. Today, mass shootings at schools, places of worship, bars and nightclubs, music festivals and common community areas are common. In the last 2 weeks there have been 2, and 23 people have been killed. Those are 23 people who families, friends, loved ones and communities who are left reeling in the aftermath. 

This morning I woke up to the news of a mass shooting just a few miles from my house. This morning when I dropped my kids off at school I watched and listened to news helicopters flying overhead covering the tragedy. I listened to elementary school aged kids talk about how there was a shooter who killed a lot of people in Thousand Oaks. Some understood and some of the younger ones didn’t but asked if they would be safe. I got stuck in traffic by the reunification center and watched as my community got turned into a statistic.

And now, instead of needing to explain a mass shooting to clients or help other parent’s talk to their kids about it, I had to talk to mine. I had to explain to my 4 year old why there were so many helicopters and why there were policemen and so many trucks with sticks on top (news trucks) at the library. It got me thinking that I needed to amend my original post to help everyone talk to their kids following such a tragedy.

I have left the original introductions with the dates, but some of the content in the tips have changed. As always remember that you are never alone and we are here to help. If you need help talking to your own children or help processing such senseless violence yourself please reach out. 

February 14, 2018

Let me start out by saying that this is not the post I want to be writing today. To date, I have “re-published” this post several times since it was originally written on December 3, 2015. Every time there is a school shooting, a shooting at a festival, nightclub, place of worship, or other place that society deems “safe,” I spend the day trying to wrap my head around how I’m going to address it in my work.

How can I help anxious mothers send their children off to school knowing that fearing a gunman is not irrational in today’s America. And how can they help comfort their own children who are scared? How can I look the children I work with in the eye and help them process something like what happened today in Florida?

Needless to say, I am tired of it. Something has to change, but until it does, I will continue to provide a safe place to talk about it and to support those affected.

And, if you are as tired of this as I am, consider a donation to Sandy Hook Promise, whose mission is to prevent gun-related deaths due to crime, suicide and accidental discharge so that no other parent experiences the senseless, horrific loss of their child.

So, once again here are some tips for talking to children about mass shootings and senseless violence.

(Original post about how to talk to anxious kids posted on 12/3/15 can be found here)

If you are parenting a child these days’ chances are there are times when you anticipate your child’s reaction to daily stressors. So, when mass shootings and senseless acts of violence occur you may worry about how they will affect your child and how you will explain it to them.

Most parents’ first instinct is to try to hide it. To turn off the TV, not watch the news, and not talk about it in front of your kid. While hiding the problem may seem like the easy answer, it is not the best one, and can increase your child’s sense of fear and anxiety when they learn the truth.

Instead it’s important to explain to your kids what is happening in an age appropriate way. It’s good to show them emotion. It’s how they learn empathy and emotional expression.

So, here are some tips for how to talk to kids about mass shootings and other senseless acts of violence.

Use appropriate language and concepts and tell the truth.

While it is important to be honest with your children, make sure you are doing so using age appropriate language and concepts. Children can be very literal and of course don’t have the same emotional understanding about death and violence as adults do. Don’t talk about hypothetical situations, instead talk about the actual one that occurred, how you are feeling about it and explain it in a way they will understand.

For example, this morning I had to explain it to my four year old. I told her that there were more police cars and news trucks at the library because someone hurt a lot of people last night and 12 people died. I told her that she would see more police cars today and hear more helicopters because they were helping find out what happened and make sure everyone else is safe.

This explanation gave her what she needed to know, but not more information than she was able to process.

For older school aged children who have a better understanding of the impact of violence follow their lead. Answer their questions as directly as possible and remind them to speak up if they see something out of the norm. Do not try to introduce concepts that are too complex or beyond their cognitive ability as this will increase their anxiety and decrease their sense of safety.

Be honest about your own feelings and express them.

Acts of violence make us question our safety; they scare us and make us fearful of daily activities. This type of reaction is appropriate and normal, and your children should know that. It is ok to cry. It is ok to tell them you are sad and why. Don’t feel like you can’t show emotion because it will scare them or make them ask questions. Asking questions and being tuned into your emotional frequency is a good thing! By disclosing and expressing your own feelings of sadness and fear you are helping them understand that their feelings are justified; and you are teaching them not to hold their own feelings in.

Make time to talk

Set aside time to check in. You don’t have to talk directly about the act of violence, but check in regarding their day and how they felt. This creates an opportunity for them to share their fears if they need to.

Maintain your routine.

Changing your routine because of an act of terrorism reinforces fear. It is important that you keep your routine consistent so that your children feel secure. If you have to change routines for safety reasons make sure to talk through the changes so that it doesn’t create additional worries.

And most importantly remind your child that they are loved and that you are there for them no matter what.

**Always remember to observe your child closely following a traumatic event. If their symptoms of anxiety remain increased and they are unable to cope with them on their own make sure to seek the help of a professional. If you are in the Southern California area and need help please give us a call today at (818) 917-6596.