Author: Darlene

Note to clients (Updated June 2021)

Due to increased demand for mental health services, we unfortunately are unable to accept new clients at this time. We appreciate your understanding, and will update availability as spaces open up.

For current clients, we are pleased to announce that in-person sessions are available in addition to Telehealth. We will be following the CDC recommendations regarding mask safety. 

Telehealth is HIPAA-protected and easy to use. Ten minutes prior to our session time, you will be emailed a link that connects us electronically and initiates a video call.

A Windows or Mac computer, iPad, or smartphone may be used; the latter two options require downloading the free Telehealth by SimplePractice app.

Thank you for your partnership in this effort to keep safety and mental health a priority!


Dear Cubs: How to get back in the psychological game of winning despite failure

By Darlene Gavron Stevens, LCPC

As a psychologist, I am fascinated not only by the Cubs fans’ determination but their resiliency from over a century of defeated hopes for the World Series title.

I have written about embracing and rebounding from failure, and the Cubs are proof that there is always a “next time.” Hope isn’t lost until the players (and fans) lose it. This one-of-a-kind team is ideally equipped to take it all during future games if they have the psychological wherewithal to persevere and act like winners.

Sports psychology is not my specialty, but I am a student of behavior, and have watched the Cubs’ late season with a clinical eye. The team has many young players, but they seem very maturely focused on getting the job of winning done. My clinical suggestion would be to re-focus on the basics. These young men have been playing since they were roughly 4 years old. They know what to do. Sometimes our emotions get in the way of performing at our highest level. We second guess, we freeze; it even occurs when our skills are sharply honed and we are eager to excel at our chosen craft.

My high school English teacher, Mary McCormick who encouraged me to become a professional writer, gave me a plaque for my graduation that said, “Be not afraid of greatness.”

As for the Cubs, I hope they heed the same advice. You’ve got this! This is your year, so embrace it. Get outside of your head, back in the joy of the game, and stay focused. You so earned this place at the World Series “table.” Have fun in a way that only a lifelong baseball player could understand. You have lost many times, but your team has rebounded from loss for over a century. Baseball, perhaps more than any other sport, offers many chances (and games) to start the competition over. Fans are counting on you to put the “Want” and “Will” behind the “W” flags.

Even some White Sox fans like me, who are pro-Chicago and know the joy of a World Series win, are cheering you all the way. You can make history, and you will, if you believe it to be true.

Why you shouldn’t be (or teach your kids to be) perfect

By Darlene Gavron Stevens, LCPC

I was raised to be perfect.

If I had three A’s and a B on my report card (at Northwestern University –freshman year no less) my dad would ask, “How can we get 4 of a kind next time?”

He was a successful man and meant well. But in my work as a therapist, I have learned that perfectionism has an unhealthy side. It keeps us from taking risks. It’s an illusion of safety that isn’t realistic.

We are all human; we will fail and make mistakes sooner or later. The gift of “falling down” is learning how to get up again.

The CEO of Spanx, Sara Blakely, recently posted a video praising failure. She talked eloquently of how her father would gather the family and ask what the children failed at each day. The dad said it indicated the kids were trying, and that was what mattered.

I have failed in my life. I graduated from Northwestern summa cum laude and couldn’t get a job right away, in large part because of the economy. But that adversity eventually propelled me to new, prosperous paths.

In the end, failure can encourage growth in ways that we sometimes don’t realize. I have learned that it’s important not to be too afraid of failure. Here are some reasons why:

  •  You know what your limits are. Failure is a wake-up call to reassess and re-define your role in a situation. What are you learning from your missteps? What resources do you need to improve? Is it time to change course?
  • You understand how you should ask for help. Who can help you learn  or grow from this mistake? What can you do to rectify or at least rebound from the failure? How can you resist making the same mistake again?
  • You goofed, but you are still worthy of self-respect. Recognize and deflect the urge to blame or shame yourself. We are not perfect. In nature, there are beautiful imperfections. Embrace that you are human and capable of simple brain freeze or human errors. At the Chicago Tribune, if we made a reporting error we filled out a report that included the option, “brain lock”.
  • Trust that you are worthy of love, no matter what. This includes inherent self-esteem, not looking to others for validation.

Incidentally, I had wanted this blog to be weekly. I opened my new office September 6 and have been consumed with the details of a start-up business. So I failed in my goal. I’m not perfect. It’s like getting a “B.’’

And that’s more than good. It’s great.

Handling the dreaded “H” word: Homework

 

 

By Darlene Gavron Stevens, LCPCIMG_2197

Personally or professionally, I have never heard a child or teen utter the words, “I love homework and can’t wait to start it after school!”

At the highest end of the positivity spectrum, they are simply resigned or neutral. Homework is an easy way to boost their grade. At the mid- to lowest end, the very word “homework” sparks tears, power struggles and crumpled or ripped assignment papers.

So let’s examine the “H” word, the pros and cons, and the conflicting research about its efficacy.

Homework load widely varies by district, teacher, grade level and course. I heard on the radio today that a mom posted the note of her child’s teacher, saying that instead of homework the teacher wanted more family or downtime for the student.

This made the national news.

Homework is generally touted as a way for students to learn what they need to know within a limited classroom day. It reinforces and supplements what a child or teen is being taught. Homework also undoubtedly teaches self-discipline and problem solving. In the end, it encourages work before play. How can the student get help? What resources/tutoring do they need to excel?

Opponents of homework point to studies that show homework has little or no impact on grades. In reality, a missed assignment or poorly understood assignment can drastically pull down a decent grade. Some students have more parental help than others, which leaves a less-than-level playing field, it is argued.

As the debate continues, I recommend making homework a priority, following a brief break after school. Give time for a snack or some physical activity (no electronics). Encourage a positive attitude about homework and how it can impact grades. We all have duties we dread (such as paperwork, bill paying or cleaning) but it is a vital part of being a successful adult. Role model for your children the value of paying bills on time, keeping up with household chores and keeping a positive attitude about mundane but necessary daily tasks.

They are paying attention, even if they don’t let on, that you care that the parent permission slip gets signed, or their lunch account is loaded.

As for homework? Try to help your children develop an “I’ve got this” attitude, ask for help, stay focused, and finish efficiently.

Then, hopefully, there will be more “home play” time.

 

Letting Kids Go, Letting Them Grow

By Darlene Gavron Stevens, LCPC
The process of letting go of our children often begins in the delivery room.
It’s a blur. The umbilical cord gets cut, then you brace for the ear-piercing crying, the sheer shock, and even terror that you are now in charge of this amazing, squirming new baby. This colicky, or calm newborn, has his or her own needs, wants, and personality. Goodbye sleep, quiet dinners, and unfettered nights out. Hello, responsibility.
Of course, it doesn’t always start in a hospital. Sometimes, it’s after you’ve finally signed adoption papers and are preparing to meet your new child. Or you take on the responsibility of being a lifelong guardian for a grandchild.
Whatever the path, the destination is the same. Letting them go.
In the next few weeks, many of us will be sending our children off to their “firsts.” Preschool, kindergarten, middle school, high school, college or beyond. We want to celebrate but it’s bittersweet. Don’t they still need us? Will they be ok?
In my work with mental health, I have seen that giving children the tools to succeed with less parental support can, depending on age and maturity, improve self-esteem and self-efficacy. It teaches children to seek out appropriate supports and problem solve when they are stuck. In short, it helps prepare them for living independently – whether that’s in two years or 20.
Here’s a quick guide to letting your kids go (and grow) as they develop into young adults:
K-5: Yes, they still need you to check backpacks, stay on top of academics, activities and friend problems. Assign chores and encourage your children to develop their own organizational style. Role model being a good friend by having your own friends, and encourage them to take on new challenges even if they fail.
Middle School: Start pulling back a little and see how your child fares. Mistakes made in middle school can lead to growth, such as learning that missed assignments can make the difference between a B and a C.
High School: Gradually back away and focus on online grades rather than the papers in your child’s backpack. Teach them to ask for help and how to find appropriate, trusted adult supports at school. Know their peer group and meet the parents of their close friends. Encourage them to volunteer, get a job, and open a savings/checking account.
College and Beyond: Be positive for your college student. Role model confidence that they can handle any situation and keep the lines of communication going. Ask your student how much contact he or she would like with you, and respect his or her boundaries but set a minimum limit of contact if you are still responsible for his or her finances.
When are parents “done?” Not really ever, in my personal opinion and experience. They will still need guidance, unconditional support, and encouragement. The secret is simple: parents change and grow in the “letting go” process too.
It invariably makes so worthwhile every diaper, sleepless night, game practice, IEP meeting, vaccination appointment, video game midnight release, sleepover, and monumental college bill.
Then just maybe—a few or many years later– they will get to navigate their own parenting journey too.

6 Emotional Tools to Tuck in Your Student’s Backpack

By Darlene Gavron Stevens, LCPC

As I attended my son’s last high school readiness day, it struck me that many of us are very busy buying books, binders and backpacks. But we might neglect the emotional preparation essential for starting a new school year.

Whether your student is 5 or 25, consider discussing these emotional tools that can help them hit the campus, school, and playground running:
   

   Flexibility – Your child might not get the teacher, class, or course schedule they wanted. Friends from last year are suddenly snubbing them. The fashion code went from yoga pants to floral jumpsuits and no one told you. The roommates weren’t as good of a fit as expected, making the dorm room feel increasingly small. The sooner children, teens and 20-somethings learn how to be flexible, the more resilient they will be as emerging young adults.
   

   Optimism – It’s easy for students to get locked into negative thinking if they had a poor school experience in the past. Depending on age, it could be devastating if they were bullied or received poor grades. Some away college students need to come home and study online or take community courses before returning to university life again. Optimism helps teach children to put the past where it belongs, and use the present to effect change.

   Individuality – Especially in highly competitive school districts, students can be so busy comparing themselves to others that they lose sight of the wonderful, unique traits that make them shine. I often use the analogy of a torch: We each have our own torch and it’s our responsibility to take care of that unique flame. That quirky trait might become your trademark someday.

   Anticipation – Excitement can be contagious. If your child is dreading school and having a hard time saying goodbye to summer, be a role model for expecting good outcomes this school year. K-3rd graders often love to play school and pretend to be the teacher. This can be used to role-play classroom situations. Even high school and college students often look forward to seeing their favorite teachers or professors. Emphasize this over the usual, automatic thoughts about exams and exhaustion. Encourage children to visualize a successful school year, and ask them what that would look like. Line up supports (teacher meetings, tutoring, club activities) to help make that happen. Give summer a proper send-off by creating end-of-summer rituals such as a special sleepover, one on one time, or outdoor movie night.

   Tenacity – Sticking to a commitment, working through a tough subject, navigating a complicated social situation; these are everyday occurrences for stressed-out students. Develop and strengthen your student’s ability to persevere, endure, and maintain focus. Encourage them to keep commitments, whether a play date or play performance.

   Joy – Many of us, parents and students, lose track of finding joy in the press of assignments, carpools, and checking online grades. It might seem like graduation will take forever, but even I find myself surprised that it’s almost here for my son. Teach them not to get bogged down by the grueling details of academic life and to ask for help if needed. Keep a sense of inner joy polished and ready.

These emotional tools just might boost your student’s GPA and FPA (Friend Point Average) faster than you think.

The ABCs of Change

By Darlene Gavron Stevens, LCPC

In my first childhood memory, I’m four years old and crying.

The youngest of six, I was usually the last child picked up at my Catholic School kindergarten. Mom was caring and wonderful, just overbooked. The crossing guard I clung to each day was equally lovely, but she wasn’t my mom.

Welcome to change, and the realization that sometimes you have to rely on yourself when life asks you to skim over a hurdle. Problem is, you’re not sure you even know how to jump.

Now, as an adult with an adult son and another set to start his senior year of high school, I don’t usually cry when faced with change. I rely on the ABCs of Change.

A — Accept the situation as is. Try not to make it a catastrophe, drama, or apocalypse. Fighting change rarely  helps and often prolongs the adaptation process.

B– Believe that you can survive, adapt, and thrive from change. This was very difficult for me to embrace in 1994 when I was undergoing cancer treatment. Or when I left the Chicago Tribune to get a graduate degree in counseling psychology. The treatment (I am a 22-year survivor) led me to phone peer counseling, and the grad degree led me to my dream of counseling families.

C– This letter deserves three phrases: Courage, Caring and Community. Have Courage that you can weather any change, be Caring to yourself and seek out a supportive Community.

As I begin another new chapter — my own private practice — I thank my late mom for being late those kindergarten days. She dried my tears, apologized, and hugged me and the crossing guard.

In the end, the lesson she taught me (and in a way, you) was as simple as ABC.

 

 

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