Friendship Break Up First Aid



Regardless of our age, positive friendships bring joy, a sense of connection, entertainment, stress relief, improved mood, and self-confidence. The benefits of healthy friendships are so significant to our well-being that daily social interactions are recommended, and a common homework assignment that I prescribe.

Friendship Shake-Up

41sl4PH795L._SL250_We are hardwired for human connection and as a result, we do not thrive emotionally when friendship conflicts arise. In fact, we can be thrown greatly off course and become toxic and self-destructive when we sense a threat to our friendships. This is when we will commonly see “drama” like behaviors, such as gossiping and excluding. Ironically, these are maladaptive attempts to rescue the friendship.

Friendship Make-Up?

danbo-1863385_960_720When a friendship is salvageable, for example, the friendship is meeting one’s emotional needs the majority of the time, assertiveness training, conflict resolution, boundary education, and the processing of feelings are my go-to interventions for friendship healing.  When the discussion leads more toward’s one’s frequent heartbreak, consistent emotional discomfort, or one’s boundaries being violated, this is when we begin discussing the time for a friendship breakup versus a friendship make up.

Friendship Break-Ups

love-1281655__340The emotional recovery of a friendship break up can take months to heal from, and if complications from older friendship wounds are present the grief process can take even longer. Examples of friendship grief reactions range from avoiding all contact, vengeful fantasies and behaviors, and collecting new and old friends to side in one’s favor.

Friendship Grief First Aide

Proven strategies to grieve a friendship that alternatively promotes an easier recovery, prideful behaviors, and improve self-confidence include the following:



  1. Write a handwritten goodbye letter. Do not pay attention to grammar, spelling, or formatting. Freely write what comes to your mind, including how you feel, why you feel the way you do, what you don’t understand, what you want, and how you plan to move forward. Put the unstamped letter in the mail, the trash, or a shredder when you are finished. Repeat this ritual when emotions linger.
  2. Set boundaries. In an effort of making sense of the pain, we can obsess about the loss and villanize our ex-friend when talking about them. Stay away from writing on social media and make a choice of the few people you will share your feelings and experiences with. Be mindful of how others may react to your negative comments and how others may perceive you. When venting, focus primarily on your feelings and your responsibility.
  3. Share only the facts.  Adjectives and judgments about others tend to heighten our emotions. To protect your feelings from escalating, when talking about your ex-friend, stick with the truth and limit language that is exaggerated or abusive.
  4. Have a backup plan. Be prepared that you may be blindsided by others approaching you with questions about what happened. You may also run into your ex-friend unexpectedly. Have a plan in place for what you want others to know and how you want to pridefully respond if you see your ex-friend in public.
  5. Create a friendship shopping list. Make a list of what you want in a friend, how you want to be treated, and what the consequences will be if your needs are not met.
  6. Write a friendship inventory. Make a list of what makes you a good friend, how you can improve, and commitments you will make to be a better friend as a result of this experience. Read the list often to remind yourself of the strengths you provide your other friendships.
  7. Take care of yourself. Regularly involve yourself in activities that make you happy, such as drawing, being outside, playing an instrument, exercise, or listening to music. When feeling down, commit to having fun and surrounding yourself with those that care about you.
  8. Get social.  Invest your time in your old friendships by reaching out and inviting them to go do something enjoyable. Also, include yourself in activities that expose yourself to making new friendships. Be courageous and introduce yourself and find common interests. Remember, everyone wears an invisible signs that says, “include me.”
  9. Journal. Writing down your feelings is one of the most therapeutic exercises you can engage in. When your mind wanders on old memories or you get preoccupied with fantasies of reunifying with your friend, journal your feelings and write down a list of reasons you broke up and compare it to your friendship shopping list.
  10. Be your own therapist. Friendships don’t always last. Remind yourself that this is normal and it is common to outgrow friendships. Validate your feelings, don’t judge yourself, and engage in activities that make you feel good about yourself, such as volunteer work or kindness acts.

Grief During The Holidays


Tis The Season to Be Jolly?

christmas-2618269_960_720It is now officially the holiday season, which means it is time to begin decorating, purchasing greeting cards and gifts, and scheduling visits with family and friends. Not to mention, it is the time of year to be jolly and grateful for our blessings. This is of course according to our cultural traditions, family expectations, and the media’s messages.

There is a lot of pressure on everyone to actively participate in celebrations and embrace the moments with joy. But, when you have lost a loved one to a death, having holiday spirit is the last thing on your mind.

Holiday Grieving

Whether the death was 5 years ago or 5 days ago, memories of previous holidays with your loved one are regularly triggered and old grief commonly resurfaces. So, it’s not surprising others may be depressed during the holidays when you combine grief and the social pressures to be joyful.

rainy-83136_960_720Fantasies of loved ones returning, resentment of others having perceived fun, and anger that loved ones are not here are common thoughts that also complicate emotional reactions and drive isolation and avoidance.

Although everyone’s healing has a different pace, acknowledging that it is normal to feel grief during the holidays helps bring comfort and decreases feelings of shame.

Self-Care Plan


A helpful way of managing intense emotions during the holiday season is being proactive and coming up with a self-care plan. This helps armor those grieving with strategies to cope with planned and unplanned holiday experiences. I use the Holiday Grief Self-Care Plan template as a guide, but you can also use a blank piece of paper with the following directions:


  • Start by making a list of holiday expectations, anticipated negative possibilities, unwanted individual encounters, and uncomfortable feelings.
  • Next, create a list of action plans that match these scenarios to review and practice before the holiday. For example, if one anticipates seeing their Grandfather on Thanksgiving will bring a flood of grief from reminders of losing their Grandmother, create a list of self-care strategies that will be implemented when in this moment.
  • Include families to participate in the writing and reading of the list. Invite the discussion of creating new holiday traditions, experiences to mourn their loved one, and ways the family members may be of support during more vulnerable times.
  • Use the list for ongoing discussion, practice of role plays, visualization, and mental rehearsing.




Thanksgiving Day Craft for Kids

Thanks Giving

Thanksgiving is a child therapist’s ideal holiday. The month offers the opportunity to introduce to our children the practice of gratitude. As research has suggested, this important act aides in improved wellness and life satisfaction for all ages.

The Giving Tree


It is important to me to teach my children this important life skill. So, once the Halloween decorations are put away, I introduce the concept of gratitude by reading the story, “The Giving Tree.

I invite the conversation of The Tree giving his friendship gestures to the boy in exchange for the tree’s happiness.

I explain to the children their ability to also improve their own happiness by engaging in kindness acts and being mindful of what in their life makes them grateful.

My Giving Tree Craft

I have the children then create their own personal giving tree with examples of what they are grateful for, how they show gratitude to others, and/or kindness acts they commit to practicing throughout the month. Once their giving tree is complete, the children share their personal examples. They are encouraged to gift their tree to someone special or display in a location where reminders of self-care will be helpful.


Supplies Needed:

  • 1 paper bag
  • Scissors
  • Green construction paper
  • Sharpie or markers
  • Optional: Paper, Tape, Glue, Ruler


Start by cutting 3 inches off the top of a paper bag and then cut 3 inches of strips from the top of the bag. Flatten the bag before you write, “My Giving Tree” on the front of the bag.

Next, take out your green construction paper and cut 3-inch strips on the right side. Use a marker to write what you are grateful for or how you show kindness on each strip. Use as many separate pages of green paper as you need.

Then, place the construction paper inside the bag with the left side facing down. Gently squeeze the neck of the tree and tug the green strips in between the brown paper bag strips.

Child Behaviors Speak Louder Than Words

One could argue that child therapy is similar to veterinary medicine in that the underlying problem is often a guessing game. Similar to pets, young and immature children do not have the verbal skills to share their internal experiences. It is not likely for a child to enter your counseling office or classroom with the insight of why they are there, what they are feeling, and what they need. Their self-awareness is limited, and their ability to articulate their needs is often obsolete.


Just as your dog may chew up the couch when you leave for work, or your cat may urinate outside of the litter box when a new kitten is brought home, children will show their distress through their behaviors.

It is easy to get distracted by attitudes, manipulation, lying, defiance, and stealing, as our immediate reaction is to discipline and teach respect. However, if we only focus on repairing the negative behaviors, we neglect to see that these behaviors may be signs something is seriously wrong.

sad-544730__340When I receive calls from parents pleading for help because their child has “anger issues,” and is exhibiting “out of control behavior,” my automatic response is to assess for anxiety, social changes, trauma, and depression. It would only be a band-aid strategy if I just focused on teaching anger management skills without exploring what is causing the anger. Once the trigger to the behavior is identified, the real treatment can begin.

Behavioral Signs of Child Distress

Child Behaviors Speak Louder Than Words

Below are a few not-so-obvious, but still significant behavioral signs of distress. Use the bullet-pointed clues as excuses to assess for underlying issues, such as anxiety, depression, and social problems to further explore and remedy.

Anxiety Behavior Signs:

  • Perfectionism
  • Somatic complaints
  • Procrastinating
  • Avoiding responsibilities
  • Irritability
  • Controlling others
  • Rigidity
  • Trouble staying asleep

Depression Behavior Signs:

  • Withdrawal/isolation
  • Drop in academic performance
  • Talking less than normal
  • Neglecting important or typically preferred activities
  • Anger outbursts
  • Sleeping too much
  • Changes in eating habits, exercise, and hygiene
  • Frequent complaints

Social Conflict/Rejection Behavior Signs:

  • Gossiping
  • Abrupt changes in friends
  • Targeting a peer for retaliation
  • Self-harm
  • Excluding others
  • Social isolation
  • Obsessive negative talk about peer/s
  • Manipulation

How To Armor Children From Bullies

Teach assertiveness skills to defend children against a real bully. Proactively create a safety plan that includes ways to respond to a bully, trusted supports to seek out, and safe locations to move towards. Once the bully safety plan is completed, consistently rehearse it until it becomes second nature.

Follow the Safety PLANS acronym for easy recall.

Power Up: Avoid being alone. Ask for help and physically surround yourself with friends or same-aged peers.

Look Brave: Be mindful of your body language. Holding your body in an upright position shows confidence. Keep your head high, your eyes forward, shoulders back, chest pumped out, and hands on hips.

Assert Yourself: When approached by a bully, say something that shows you are not bothered by them. Bullies like to provoke our reactions. Using a calm, firm
tone of voice and a clever comeback shows the bully you do not care and will not tolerate being bullied.

Near an Adult: Ask for help. When appropriate, physically surround yourself with an adult before, during, and after a bully encounter. They will help problem solve.

Step Away: When approached by a bully, do not feel the need to entertain their attention. Show you don’t care and walk away to a safe area that is surrounded by peers and adults. Classrooms and offices are best. Avoid the bathrooms or other areas that are closed in or empty.



Teaching Self-Awareness and Empathy

Hiding in Our Own Shell

egg-1280733__340 (1)We all hide in our shell when we are a little scared. When things seem safe and comfortable, we poke our head out and look for reasons to come out to share ourselves with the world. Children do this too, and most often with each other. When feelings are hurt or needs are not met they pop right back inside their shells. It may take some time to rebuild trust, but even the most resilient children want to come out of their shells and enjoy what a friendship offers.


 Causing Others To Hide In Their Shell

egg-1280733__340Because children are egocentric and empathy is emerging, they often do not recognize how their own behaviors influence others. They can be blind to connecting how their negative actions, such as, tattle telling, whining, being bossy, lying, or not sharing may cause others to feel uncomfortable or disinterested in being their friend. Consequently, the discomfort they provoke may cause their peers to hide back in their shell, preventing a friendship from emerging.

Pro-Social Behaviors Crack Open Our Shells


When children have an understanding of how their behaviors both positively and negatively influence others’ reactions to them, their ability to maintain a friendship is more likely to sustain.

A fun way of teaching self-awareness and empathy in young children is using the analogy “hiding in your shell.” When a negative behavior is observed, such as name calling, let the child know that this behavior causes you to feel sad and hide away in your shell. Explain your goal is to come out and help them get their needs met, but you need positive choices to help crack open your shell. So, when you hear a child compliment a friend make a point to say, “you just made us happy and come more out of our shells.”

Crack My EggBehavior Chart

Using a behavior chart that notes one’s progress with pro-social behaviors helps improve both self-awareness and empathy.

Download the FREE, “Help Me Come Out of My Shell” chart to use in your individual sessions, social skills groups or classroom.

When positive behavior is noted, place a marker on top of the next emerging chick.  Once the chart is filled up, provide a reward for their behaviors that helped others “come out of their shell. ” In social skills groups, have children provide the marker to their peers when friendship behaviors are noted.


How To Stop Power Struggling With Inflexible Children


All or nothing, inflexible, and absolute thinking patterns and behaviors are common among children with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder. These children often get stuck believing their opinions are facts and then dominate conversations, convincing others they are right. Because of their rigidity, they may refuse to end discussions, refuse to engage in specific activities, or refuse to follow instructions. These interactions provoke emotionally driven disagreements. When not prepared ahead of time, it is easy to fall into the trap of arguing against their irrational thinking. Below is a useful guide to escaping the “Chinese finger trap” like interactions.s-l300

Let Go of Your Control

  1. Understand Anxiety Rules. Be aware that rigid thinking and defiance are symptoms of anxiety versus purposeful insensitivity and opposition. It is inevitable that children with anxiety will attempt to control you, others, and their environment. Although not socially appropriate, this behavior helps anxious children eliminate their feelings of helplessness, while also securing their sense of safety.
  2. Don’t React. When a child challenges you, especially if the child is being defiant, disruptive, or verbally aggressive, it can test even the most experienced parent or professional. Defending yourself against their negative behaviors only traps you in an endless power struggle. This is why it will help to remind yourself ahead of time that inflexible children are coming from a place of fear and not hate. Similar to what you would tell your children when you notice yourself getting upset, stop and take a deep breath. Imagine an invisible bubble around you and their words ricocheting off the bubble.
  3. Lean In with Validation. The sure-fire way to get out of a Chinese finger trap is to push your fingers together to release the trap’s hold. Similarly, when working with an inflexible child, the more you fight against their argument, the more resistance they will give you and the situation. Because their attempt to control their situation is coming from fear, the key for them to let down their defenses and “loosen the finger trap” is for you to lean in and provide reassurance, comfort, and empathy for their concerns.
  4. Pick Your Battles. When safety is not a concern, decide what interactions are worth addressing in the moment. Even if it means opinions differ or someone is not being included, sometimes letting go of the outcome of being right is more valuable than carrying on an endless heated debate.
  5. Teach Social Consequences. During a moment of calm and when time and privacy permit, share your genuine observations of the children’s behaviors and your concerns for how they may be perceived by others. Show a Chinese Finger Trap and explain how the children’s inflexible thinking and controlling behaviors trap others into feeling uncomfortable around them. Discuss the natural consequences and your concerns for their friendships. Teach them that when they are more flexible, the finger trap loosens and others feel more comfortable and driven to wanting to their friend.
  6. Address the Anxiety. Provide a predictable environment with visual schedules and proactive commentary of what will happen at each stage of the day. Teach and practice coping strategies to manage transitions, new experiences. and social anxiety. Always remember that anxiety is a driving force to rigidity and the key to escaping the power struggle trap.

Managing ADHD Impulses in the Classroom

class-1459570__340Impulsivity is a common symptom of ADHD. The sudden urge to do or say something, coupled with the difficulty of regulating behaviors and emotions make children with ADHD more likely to be labeled and treated as troublemakers.

Noted behaviors in the classroom setting are blurting inappropriate comments, making noises, being goofy, not completing work, getting into other’s space, arguing, threatening, and grabbing. These are common behavioral thoughts most children have, although children with ADHD struggle with stopping these thoughts, thinking of the consequences before following through with their behavioral urges, and using adaptive coping skills.

In an effort to decrease the disruptions and consequential frustration, below is a list of classroom interventions that will be of help when implemented consistently.



  1. Re-evaluate Your Expectations: Expect impulses to happen in children with ADHD. Note the children are not being purposeful or malicious, but reacting to their body’s reflexes.
  2. Be Neutral: Respond in a non-reactive manner in an effort to decrease one’s shame and defensiveness, which may later be observed in defiant behaviors.
  3. Use Visual Reminders: Proactively discuss with the children the classroom rules and natural consequences. Post visual reminders of the expectations on the child’s desk, the classroom wall, on homework assignments, or tests. When impulsive behaviors are observed, without using your words, point to the symbol that indicates the need to STOP, breathe, and think about making a prideful choice.
  4. Acknowledge Impulse Control: Build children’s self-awareness and confidence, by narrating your observations of their behavioral control. For example, “I notice Jenny is sitting calmly in her chair while we wait for the directions. This makes me happy.”
  5. Use a Visual Schedule: Posting the day’s schedule on the board helps provide children a sense of control because they are aware of the day’s expectation.
  6. Permit Activity Breaks: Uncomfortable feelings and urges in everyone are easily decreased when we engage in an action. The physical movement messages to our brain that we are safe and have control. So, even if the impulse is to hit someone, the simple act of just standing up and down or stretching your arms will help eliminate the negative urges. This is often why a common suggestion when others are upset is to go for a walk. The movement helps water down the frustration.
  7. Model Self-Control: When you are frustrated or upset, narrate your feelings and self-care strategies and then simultaneously do it. For example, “I am feeling upset that I can’t find my book. I have the urge to throw my pencil, but I know that is not a safe choice. I am going to sit down and take a deep breath so I can think clearly.”
  8. original-2048366-1Practice Relaxation: When minds and bodies are relaxed, children are more likely to use reason and logic and think through the consequences before engaging in non-prideful behaviors. Start the day or before each transition with breathing exercises or meditations. This will help settle high energy and impulses.



Self-Care From My Office Desk

When not attending meetings or providing groups and individual sessions, I live at my desk. Throughout the year, I am able to spend hours at a time completing paperwork, sending emails, playing on social media, and creating resources for TPT. Because I had become a pro at engaging in sedentary work habits, it was becoming easier for me to pack on pounds and feel down. In an effort to prevent this and keep up with my work, last year I found two game-changing office essentials that I now refuse to go without- a desk bike and a light box.


I start my workday at 6:00 in the morning and my office lacks any natural light. I can substitute losing these important rays, by turning on my light box for 45 minutes every morning. While I catch up on emails, I place my feet in the bike pedals and burn away the calories. I have noted a significant improvement in my mood. Gone are the days that I feel guilty for not getting off my butt! I absolutely still benefit from getting up and going on walks, but these office essentials help me to feel good about myself when I need to finish important work.


Building Bridges with Parents of Disruptive Children

Reach out to parents early on to share your interest and good intentions of working together. After speaking to a parent in person or over the phone, an online partnership might be a good next step. To promote parent reception and eliminate defensiveness, consider scheduled weekly or biweekly emails:

Bridge Building 101

building bridge

Review specific goal(s). Keep the email focused on the specific goal that is being worked on. This will help eliminate child blame and focus on strategies that are working or need tweaking. For example, instead of “I am emailing you about David’s anger problem,” try “I am emailing you today regarding our goal of anger management.”

Use language that demonstrates partnership, such as “us, we, our, let’s.” Although this may show a looseness of boundaries,  we want parents to understand we are equally invested in their child’s goals and progress; and this avoids blaming statements.  A helpful example of positive language is, “let’s  work on helping David with coping skills this week.”

Invite parent expertise. A newbie mistake is assuming parents are at fault for their child’s behaviors. Regularly ask the parent/s for their advice. Ask what has worked for their child before, what is working for the child at home, and what reasonable suggestions the school could try to help their child’s behavior. This will not only provide strategies you may not have considered before but helps to improve the parent’s feeling of value and connection.

Include positive behaviors and progress towards goals. Similar to children, parents need to feel encouraged and supported. Parents need to hear their children are moving in a positive direction and although there may be a temporary regression, reminders of the steps made forward are necessary to sustain hope. Although this may be a challenge, it will be a critical piece of gaining parent investment.

When sharing updates that include negative behaviors, avoid language that shows judgment or criticism. Simply state the facts. Instead of  “David lost control again and rudely threw his pencil. He can’t seem to control his anger,” try, “David struggled with impulse control today and threw his pencil.” Sticking to facts prevents emotional and finger-pointing responses.

Avoid reviewing the negative consequences to their child’s behaviors, such as “the teacher and the classmates are tired of his behavior.”  This will only promote shame and resistance. Instead, focus on the positive consequences that include the both of you working together. For example, “I plan to review coping skills with David this week. I will send home a list of the skills he prefers to practice at home.”

Offer help.  Even the best of parents feel helpless and inadequate. Instead of imposing recommendations, when appropriate, gently offer solutions. For example, “If you are interested, I have found some useful tips that may work at home, I would be happy to email you.” Other suggestions that help support the parent include collaborating with the student’s outside therapist and providing updates as needed.

Lastly, although parents can have a negative influence at times, we do not want to take for granted the positive influences they have on your student’s success. These emails may seem like a chore at first, but once you create a trusting connection with a parent, the fewer details need to be provided and most importantly, the alliance built aids in improved behaviors. Finally, when writing your email, always put yourself in the parent’s shoes and ask yourself, what would I want to read if this was my child?

Download the FREE editable behavioral progress note from Mental Fills.

Fidgeting in the Classroom


fidget kid

Fidgeting in a child with Anxiety or ADHD can result from excess energy or hyperactivity. It can serve as a release of tension and nervousness resulting from the student being confined to their desk. Although fidgeting can be interpreted misbehavior, defiance, or as something the child can control, the reality is that fidgeting is often an automatic response, so much so that the child can even be mostly unaware that he/she is fidgeting.

Fidgeting can serve to increase a child’s ability to fight boredom and improve attention and concentration.

However, fidgeting behavior, such as leg bouncing, foot tapping, repeatedly changing sitting positions, rocking a chair back and forth, and/or rearranging objects inside and outside of one’s desk is disruptive to the classroom setting.

Fidgeting Solutions

Helpful strategies to address hyperactivity that meet both the needs of the classroom and the child with restless energy are listed below.


  • Allow students to stand by their desk for a designated period of time.
  • Have an empty desk in the classroom available for the child (preferably on either side of the room to minimize distraction) so they can move from one desktop to another.
  • Provide movement breaks every five to ten minutes.
  • Encourage the use of silent objects to dance between one’s hands and fingers, such as stress balls, squish balls, erasers, or rubber bands.
  • Replace classroom chairs with exercise balls or use elastic bands on the feet of the chair.
  • Assign the child classroom chores that involve heavy lifting, such as sorting books, taking the trash can outside, or stacking chairs.
  •  Practice deep breathing exercises and mindfulness breaks.
  •  Use recess as an opportunity to release energy. Never remove recess as a form of discipline.

How to Burn a Bridge with a Parent


It was Back to School Night for parents a few weeks ago and I introduced myself to my son’s new school counselor. Following our greeting exchange, I politely asked in private how my son was doing. The 6’4 twenty-something counselor immediately pulled his body away, avoided eye contact, and said with force, “I can’t talk about that because of confidentiality.” His defensiveness to my innocent question caught me off guard.

After ignoring my impulse to walk away from his intimidating presence, I asked him to clarify what he was talking about. Specifically, because the treatment goal is just improving social skills. The counselor blurted some scripted speech about needing to protect my son’s privacy and wanting to preserve rapport with him. He was unapologetic and appeared apathetic to my curiosity.

When I finally mustered up the courage to tell him I was frustrated and that no one at the school had ever talked to me in his tone, he acquiesced and gave me some general updates about my son. At that point, all rapport with me was destroyed and I was emotionally checked out of the conversation. My detachment from our interaction prevented him from hearing any useful tips and strategies that would make his job less challenging this school year.


Bridge Burning 101:

  1. Dismiss a parent’s question about how their child is doing.
  2. Use confidentiality as an excuse to not engage.
  3. Use body language that shows you are in control and disinterested.
  4. Use a memorized script to answer questions.
  5. Invalidate a parent’s feelings.
  6. Be inconsistent with what you say and do.
  7. Neglect to ask a parent for their input and see the value of their collaboration.
  8. Permit interruptions and give divided attention to others.


Welcome to the Mental Fills Blog!


Those of you that know me, know I am not a public speaker. I am the first to duck and cover when a volunteer is invited to lead a group, teach a course, or speak in front of an audience. I am a combination of an introvert and overly self-conscious.

I have sublimated my insecurities by becoming an expert listener. I score extra points with friends because I do not monopolize conversations, and my clients appreciate that I do not offer unsolicited lectures.

My social anxiety has transferred over to my writing, and as a result, I have avoided creating this blog for years. With some gentle nudging from colleagues and TPT followers, I have made the commitment to myself to live with “Brene Brown like vulnerability” and finally share my expertise with others.

My goal of this blog is to document a combination of creative, useful, and evidenced-based strategies for parents and professionals working with children, teens, and adults with social and emotional growth needs. I am calling this experience and the tools I will provide on this page, “Mental Fills.”