Counseling Corner
Dawn WomackMSW, LCSW, BACS
Child and Adolescent Counseling, LLC
Serving East & West Baton Rouge, Ascension, Livingston & St. James Parishes
HomeAbout MeServicesResourcesLocationsClient FormsBlog

Counseling Corner

Stress in Children and Teenagers

by Dawn Womack on 12/30/11

Children and teenagers experience stress.  It can come from different sources, such as making and sustaining friendships, managing perceived expectations from parents, teachers, or coaches, doing well in school, etc. Stress can be positive by providing energy to take on a big test, sports event, or presentation, or it can be negative by creating unnecessary hardship and challenge.  Parents don't always realize when their children or teens are experiencing overwhelming feelings of stress.  Recognizing emotional or behavioral cues is important in identifying potential problems and working with your child or teen to provide support and guidance to work through difficult times.  Here are some tips from the American Psychological Association (APA)

  • Watch for negative changes in behavior (irritability, withdrawing from favorite activities, clinging, routinely expressing worries)
  • Understand that "feeling sick" may be caused by stress (stomach aches, headaches, frequent visits to the school nurse)
  • Be aware of how your child or teen interacts with others
  • Listen and translate (they may use words like worried, confused, annoyed, or angry or may talk negatively about themselves)
  • Seek support

Some sources of stress at school:

  • Being away from home
  • Fear of wetting themselves (5 to 7 year olds)
  • Fear of punishment from teacher
  • Worry about school work
  • Worry about getting along with other kids
  • Fear of being different
  • Fear of being chosen last for an activity or team

Some sources of stress at home:

  • Divorce of parents
  • Being held back in school
  • Moving to a new town
  • Serious illness

Children react differently to stress.  Some are born with an easy-going personality.  They take life in stride, get along with others, and adjust easily to change.  Other children are easily upset, bothered by new situations, routines, and more challenging events.  Children's personalities develop from what they inherit genetically and also from the environment where they are raised.  You can't change the inherited characteristics, but there are ways for them to learn to manage stress.

Recognizing a child who holds his feelings in:

A child who holds stress in may try hard to be good, work extra hard in school, and make few demands on adults.  This child may have low self-esteem, be a worrier, be fearful, shy, or prone to cry easily.  He may have physical symptoms such as stomach aches, headaches, or frequent illnesses.

Recognizing a child who acts out:

A child who shows stress by letting it out may lose his temper easily, become destructive or demanding, or may tease or bully other children.  Research shows that under high-stress situations boys tend to become more disruptive or aggressive while girls become depressed or anxious.  You may notice, however, that your son had tendencies toward being fearful or depressed, or that your daughter is destructive or aggressive.

Coping with stress:

  • Help your child talk about what is bothering him
  • Encourage vigorous physical activites
  • Spend one-on-one time with your child
  • Encourage healthy eating
  • Give back rubs and hugs
  • Teach relaxation skills
  • Teach your child that mistakes are okay
  • Teach ways of handling difficult situations
  • Be clear about rules and consequences
  • Tell stories about dealing with stress
  • Be a role model for your child in handling your own stress in a healthy way


by Dawn Womack on 12/29/11

Here is some good information about teen self-injury.  I especially like the tips for dealing with self-injury if you should find that your child is using self-injurious behaviors - very important:


  • React with anger.
  • Go into denial about the problem.
  • Assume this is a "phase" your teen will outgrow.
  • Say "What did I do wrong as a mother (father) for you to do this to yourself."
  • Ask "Why are you doing this to yourself?"
  • Try to hide sharp objects. It's an ineffective deterrent. If your child wants to self-injure, she'll find a way.


  • Admit you and your child need help.
  • Take the problem very seriously. This is not just attention-seeking behavior.
  • Be completely supportive.
  • Immediately seek treatment for your child.

Here is the website:

Relational Aggression - "Girl Bullying"

by Dawn Womack on 12/27/11

As a middle school counselor, Relational Aggression is a term I've come to know well. It is “girl bullying.” Relational aggression is described as any behavior that is intended to harm someone by damaging or manipulating relationships with others (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995). Unlike other types of bullying, relational aggression is not as overt, or noticeable, as physical aggression. However, the effects can be long lasting.

While relational aggression can take many forms, some of the methods include:

· Exclusion

         ·  Ignoring

         · Malicious gossip and rumor spreading

         · Taunts, teasing, and insults

· Intimidation

· Manipulative affection

· Alliance building

· Cyberbullying

Most of my work as a school counselor is in a middle school and this problem shows itself daily. It can take many forms…facebook (including the creation of fake accounts to make it seem as if one girl is talking negatively/threatening peers), excluding certain girls from sitting together at lunch or in the gym, spreading lies that “she said this about you” and “she wants to fight you.” At least once a day, a girl(s) will come to my office upset that“this person wants to fight me!” I’ll ask “how do you know?” And she’s almost certain to say something like “this person told that person and she told me!” The more the kids get to know me, they begin to repeat my most common response to their friends…”if you didn’t hear it come from her mouth, then you can’t believe it.” If all parties are calm enough, I bring them together so that they can ask each other, “did you say this about me?” “do you want to fight me?” It's typical for both girls to admit that they do not want to fight and often do not even know how all of the drama started, but can usually be attributed to someone being jealous of the friendship.

There are different roles within Relational Aggression, and the roles and positions often change. Adolescent social structures can be very complex and sophisticated. While the names may be different, the roles are the same. The general roles are:

The Queen - Her friends do what she wants, she's not intimidated by other girls, she can be charming to adults, she's manipulatively affectionate, she wont take responsibility for hurting another's feelings, she defines right and wrong by the loyalty or disloyalty around her. She loses her sense of self by working so hard to maintain her image. She can be extremely cynical about others, feeling they don't really like her but are using her popularity. The Queen believes her image is dependent on her relationships and she gives the impression that she has everything under control.

The Sidekick - She feels the Queen is the authority (tells her how to dress, think, feel, etc), allows herself to be pushed around by the Queen, will lie for the Queen. The Sidekick rarely expresses her personal opinions. Her power depends on the confidence she gains from the Queen. The sidekick and the Queen may seem very similar, however, the sidekick can alter her behavior for the better, while the Queen would likely just find another sidekick and begin again.

The Gossip - extremely secretive, seems to be friends with everyone, good communicator (gives the impression of listening and being trustworthy) seeminly nice, but uses confidential information to improve her position, seems harmless, but in truth is intimidating, rarely excluded from the group. The Gossip tends to get girls to trust her because when she gets information, it doesn't seem like gossip. She gets girls to confide in her and then may casually mention information in a conversation. Once girls figure out what she is doing, they don't trust her.

The Floater - Moves freely among groups, doesn't want to exclude people, avoids conflicts, more likely to have higher self-esteem (as if her sense of self isn't based on one group), not competitive. The Floater usually has some protective characteristics that help her to avoid other's cruelty. She may be pretty, but not too pretty. She may be nice, but not too sophisticated. People genuinely like the Floater. She may actually stand up to the Queen and may have some of the same power as the Queen. However, the Floater doesn't gain anything by creating conflict and insecurity as the Queen does.

The Torn Bystander - Often finds herself having to choose between friends, accommodating, peacemaker (wants everyone to get along), doesn't stand up to anyone she has conflict with (goes along to get along). The Bystander may be conflicted with doing the right tihng and her allegiance to the group. She often apologizes for the Queen's behavior, but she knows it's wrong. The Bystander may miss out on activities because she is afraid her friends will make fun of her. She may even hide her accomplishments, particularly academically, to fit into the group.

The Wannabee - Other girls' opinions and wants are more important than hers, she can't tell the difference between what she wants and what the group wants, desperate for the "right" look (clothes, hair, etc.), feels better about herself when others come to her for help/advice, loves to gossip (phone and email are vital to her). The Wannabee will do anything to be in the inner circle of the Queen and Sidekick. She may enthusiastically support them no matter what and she's motivated by pleasing the person who is above her in the social totem pole. The Wannabee often gets stuck doing the dirty work of the Queen and Sidekick. She may be dropped if she is seen as trying too hard to fit in. For the Wannabee, she hasn't figured out who she is or what she values. She likely feels insecure about her relationships and has trouble setting boundaries.

The Target - Helpless to stop other girls' behavior, feels excluded and isolated, masks hurt feelings by rejecting people first, feels vulnerable and humiliated and may be tempted to change to fit in. The Target is the victim of the group. Girls outside the group may tend to become targets just because they've challenged the group or because their style is different or not accepted by the group. The Target may develop objectivity, which may help her see the costs of fitting in and decide if she's better off outside of the group. She may choose her "loser" group but know who her true friends are.

Tips for Parents

· Involve girls in activities outside of school so they are exposed to different types of people

· Encourage relationships with adults and other children who appreciate them for what they are

· Be available to listen and don’t downplay the importance of an incident

· Teach kindness and model that behavior

· Talk about both sides of an issue. Girls may tell you about being a victim but not talk about being the aggressor

· If your daughter is caught in the middle, encourage her to take the high road and support the victim, or at least not take part in the aggression

· If necessary, seek professional counseling.

· Become computer savvy.

· Do not allow your child to have a computer in their room or other isolated area. If they have laptops, set guidelines for where they can use it and the length of time they can use it.

· Be aware of the online activities of your child

· Research filtering and parental control programs for your computer

Some resources regarding Relational Aggression:

Positive Parenting

by Dawn Womack on 12/26/11

Great advice from Dr. Glen Mark's Website -

Positive parenting is a lot tougher to maintain than punishment type parenting because you have to think and use your head and remain in control of yourself while under fire, which is challenging when the child is acting out. However, this is what separates adults from children.  When you control yourself under fire, the child learns to do the same and eventually respects you for it.

Good counseling techniques for children involve the developing of a parenting plan. An example of a simple parenting plan, might be the following:

  1. Develop a proper parenting plan and communicate this plan to your children.

  2. Formulate a list of child behavior expectations and consequences.

  3. Have your child participate in the process as is appropriate for her age.

  4. Communicate and role play these expectations to your child.

  5. Make sure your child understands these expectations by having him explain them and perform them.

  6. When a child performs an expectation incorrectly or  misbehaves, instead of criticizing him, role play it the correct way. Then as he performs it, praise him for each  part he does correctly. This is an example of successful  parenting skills.

  7. Learn to praise the many things your child does  correctly. For every negative comment, be sure you find  three or more positive things to say to your child.

  8. Never lose self-control. Plan for power struggles by  not taking yourself too seriously, redirecting behavior  before it gets out of control, switching places with your  spouse, taking a time out, getting upset before you are
    really upset, seeing the humor in the situation.

  9. Consistency in adhering to the expectations and consequences you've communicated to your child is the key to transforming her negative behavior into positive behavior.

  10. Again praise your child for what he already performs well, when he improves at something and when he genuinely tries.

  11. Always give a reason for the praise or describe the praiseworthy behavior as follows: "I like the way you picked up every toy in your bedroom, even the ones under your bed, and put them all neatly in the toy box."

    When you learn to catch them doing good things it blows their mind when you point that out. Now they won't thank you for it and in fact they may hate you for it at first. But kids are kids and eventually they come around if you are tough enough not to lose your cool.

    This is what I've learned from experience and good counseling techniques for children. Those parents who simply lash out at their children are teaching them impulsive lack of control, exactly the opposite of what we should teach our kids.

Teenagers and Counseling

by Dawn Womack on 12/23/11

Teenagers have very distinct needs and while they are not adults, they are not small children either. This can sometimes create difficulties when parents feel that counseling is necessary.

Many parents would like to see their teenagers well-adjusted, happy, successful and social. That is a lot to ask for teens who are dealing with peer pressure, hormonal changes, academic expectations, parental ideals and their own self-discovery process, all at the same time. When parents are interested in counseling for their teens to provide a neutral, objective party to help, it can be difficult to decide who can best deal with teen issues. Many children’s therapists will not treat teenagers (they are too old and unmoldable) and many adult therapists will not either (they are too young and volatile). What does that mean for a parent trying to find a good-fit therapist for their teenager?

Currently, I am a school counselor working with students from grades K - 8.  I enjoy working with teenagers and discovering interesting trends in their needs and wants. I have had to modify my treatment to best serve them, but with positive outcomes. In my practice, I hope to work with children of all ages, but especially teenagers. 

Teens want to talk about themselves. Human beings love to be the center of attention. If given the right environment and a trustworthy recipient, teens enjoy discussing their lives. Additionally, teens like talking about what THEY like. Talking about their family arguments or school problems does not interest them. Their friends, their dreams and goals, their feelings, and their frustrations are the favorite topics for discussion.

Teens also like more structured activities. They do not feel comfortable with open-ended questions or hypothetical questions (“What do you think about that”?) Teens do well with specific directives where they are able to complete a given task and then discuss it. I use activities, worksheets, and creative projects to deal with emotions, family, friends and more.

Teenagers are are at a sensitive age where their self-esteem and confidence is developing or sometimes non-existent. Any questions or activities that put them in a threatened position will produce defensive postures and difficult progress. They need to feel respected and valued for it to work.

The confidentiality of therapy is integral to success with teenagers. Many teens who have refused to continue therapy with other counselors felt that the therapist and parents were on a “team”, inevitably competing against them. Parents and counselors should NEVER discuss the teen in front of him or her, and it should be clear that the allegiance is between the teen and therapist, no where else. It is helpful to keep the parent updated on their teen's progress, but important to keep the counseling sessions confidential, unless safety is a concern.

Remember, teens cannot be forced to get into a car and go to therapy. So, if they agree to go on the first visit, begrudgingly or not, consider it a success. If they go back again, it was widely successful. “This is a waste of time” or “I think this is stupid” is perfectly fine, as long as they continue to go. Adolescent rebellion and indifference is a part of life, but their actions will always speak louder than their words.

December 22, 2011

by Dawn Womack on 12/22/11

Welcome to my counseling corner! I am a licensed clinical social worker in Louisiana and am interested in providing resources, information, and helpful tips to anyone who is interested in dropping in! I will gladly help find any needed information if you leave a comment and let me know how I can help.  I focus on working with children, adolescents, and their families.  I am also a school counselor, working with special education students who have behavior concerns.  A lot of my interests are in interventions that help children behaviorally.  Please leave a comment and let me know that you stopped by!

~Dawn Lundin, MSW, LCSW