Popcorn for the holidays

The Popcorn Method of Surviving Holiday Drama





What’s your Holiday Drama?

Before heading over to that family dinner, take a moment to check in with yourself.  What are you looking forward to? What are you dreading?


Identify the challenges ahead of time so that you’re less surprised when it comes up.


What are the “escape strategies” from the drama?

Can you:

–Check on the food

–Play with a pet

— Go for a walk

–Check in with an ally?


What are you grounding strategies?

Here’s a list of some of my favorite grounding strategies

With all the food around most holiday gatherings you can also engage in mindful eating.

Walk through all the senses as you experience a food.  What is the color? The texture? The smell?  Does the tastes and textures change as you change them?


What do you enjoy about the holidays?

Don’t let the drama take center stage.  You deserve to feel joy and gratitude.  Seek out the pieces of the holidays that do bring you joy.  Nothing is too small.  One of my favorite aspects of almost all winter holidays is the centrality of candlelight.  On the darkest days, there is always a light.  It might be small and we may have to light it ourselves, but that just makes it all the more beautiful.


Popcorn for the Holidays

Wishing you happiness these holidays wherever it can be found!

12 ways to help anxious kids and teens

Anxious kids: an Epidemic


The child and teen mental health crisis has been building for yearsSince 2016, intentional self harm and suicide have been the leading cause of death for teens aged 15-19.  Since at least 2018, it has also been the 2nd leading cause of death for kids 10-14.  While the Covid crisis has certainly made the situation worse, those of us working in mental health have been sounding the alarm for years. This year the CDC estimates there are 4.4 million kids between ages 3-17 diagnosed with anxiety and 1.9 million diagnosed with depression. Supporting our anxious kids and teens is more important than ever.


What is Anxiety?

The DSM-5 defines Generalized Anxiety Disorder as “excessive anxiety or worry” most days for at least 6 months that has been difficult to manage and is causing significant challenges to regular functioning.  In adults one needs at least 3 of the following.  In children only 1 is needed to meet criteria

  • Restlessness

  • Easily Tired

  • Problems Concentrating

  • Irritability

  • Muscle Tension

  • Difficulty with sleep


What is Depression?

For a Major Depressive Disorder at least 5 of the following symptoms for at least 2-weeks, including a depressed or irritable mood and/or loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities:

  • Restlessness

  • Easily Tired

  • Problems Concentrating

  • Irritability

  • Muscle Tension

  • Difficulty with sleep

In both Anxiety and Depression, symptoms can be rated as Mild, Moderate, or Severe.

Depressed and Anxious Kids:

What does it look like?

It is only a “disorder” when it becomes distressing our somehow affects regular functioning.  I tell my clients that I’m not here to create robots.  I’m here to help them live with emotions and tolerate strong emotions or challenges as they come.  Emotions are information.  Anxiety gives us superpowers when we are facing dangerous situations, and we don’t want to take that way.  Sadness and isolation are a way that we process loss, slow ourselves down, and allow ourselves time to heal.  However, if the fire alarm is going off when we’re making toast and not when there’s a fire, or we want to stay in a cave forever …. we clearly have a problem


There is a lot of overlap in how these disorders show up in kids and teens.  For both, behavior is the main way of communicating distress.



A young child in distress:

  • may be excessively clingy and have difficulty separating from adults.

  • specific fears or phobias

  • difficulty going or staying asleep

  • tantrums that are more frequent or more intense than usual

  • easily frustrated

  • high distractibility.

  • If the stressor is a sudden event, there may be regressions where old behaviors come back. A potty-trained child may have more accidents.  They may start sucking their thumb or wanting a bottle again.


For older kids and teens

  • school and grades suffer

  •  isolating

  • screen or gaming addictive behaviors

  • self-deprecating comments

  • less investment in hygiene and appearance if depression is present

  • unusual obsessive behaviors

  • irritability or weepiness

  • emotional outbursts

  • Both may experience somatic symptoms such as headaches, muscle soreness, stomach problems, muscle tightness, or teeth grinding.  Some might do self-harm or stimulation seeking activities such as biting, chewing nails, or for teens there may be actual cutting.

There is always a bit of detective work that goes into differentiating between depression, anxiety, or other disorders in kids. These behaviors often simply indicate distress.  It is also very possible for a kid to have more than one mental health issue.  I often refer to Anxiety and Depression as cousins, who like to work together.  A child who feels anxious may also feel depressed about falling behind, withdraw more, and then become even more overwhelmed and anxious.   Many kids with ADHD are anxious or depressed because they are ashamed or struggle to fit in. Eating disorders often co-occur with anxiety and extreme perfectionism.  Substance abuse disorders are also often an attempt to self-medicate an underlying mental health challenge.

Role of Shame

Unfortunately, these experiences often come with a lot of shame.  Shame only makes things worse.  

Mental health challenges are something we experience. They are not who we are.  A teen who is refusing to do their homework is not lazy.  They may be experiencing depression.  A child with anxiety who is having tantrums isn’t naughty.  They are not a “bad” child.  They are anxious and showing it.  However, kids often begin to feel like this is who they are and who they will always be.  As caring adults in their lives, we need to remember that the child is not the problem. 

The problem is the problem. 

If we blame the child, we will make no progress. Our goal is to work with the child to build resiliency and solve problems. We want to give them the tools to help them move through this moment and prepare them for future challenges.


What can adults do to support their anxiety and depression in kids and teens


What I’m writing here was true before the pandemic, and it will be true after.  Childhood mental health is treatable!  And there is a number of things that caring adults can do in a child’s life outside of therapy!


  • Validate and empathize

    • be honest about where you are or when you’ve struggled. Empathize with where they are.

  • Make one-on-one time

    • Join them in activities they enjoy.  Coffee dates, favorite foods, video games, puzzles.  Let them set the agenda.

  • Ask about their friends

    • It can be easier to talk about their friends, than themselves.  Let them know you care about what’s happening in their world.  This generation is carrying a lot.

  • Help give them language to talk about their emotions.

    • Notice their behaviors and help them name what’s happening:

      • For example, “You’re clenching your fists.  Are you feeling frustrated?”

    •  You can use the language of their favorite characters:

      • Are you hyper like Tigger or sad like Eeyore?

      • Are you feeling tired like Snorlax,  or frustrated like Charizard?

      • Are angry like Hulk or confident like Captain America?


  • Invite them to help make a manageable family routine

    • Ask them questions:

      • When do you have the most energy to get things done?

      • When does your body need to move?

      • What is a good time for quiet time?

      • When is a fair time for screen time?

  • Manage Screen time as a family

    • Do not ask your kids to do what you are not willing to do! I hear teens and kids complain over and over again about their parents’ screen addictions!

    • Make a family screen time contract where you work together to set healthy boundaries for everyone

  • Create space for laughter

    • Make fart jokes!

    • Laugh at your own mistakes.

    • Pull Pranks on each other… kindly.

  • Gratitude Practices

    • Make regular time in the day or week to reflect on what’s going well.

  • Get Outdoors!

    •  No matter the weather, even if it is just standing in the rain or snow.  At the bare minimum, open a window.


  • Create “bite size” goals

    • Look for the next right step to avoid getting overwhelmed by the big picture.  If “doing homework” is overwhelming, try 10 mins on one assignment.  If showering is too hard, use a washcloth on essential areas.  If leaving a bedroom is too hard, open the door. Make a start, and then see where you need to go next.

  • Call in reinforcements:

    • Reach out to teachers if the child is behind on assignments.  Work together to come up with a manageable plan.

    • Check out support groups at their school.  Many schools have lunch or afterschool groups.

    • Connect them with individual or family therapy


We may not be able to take away the challenges in their worlds, but we can help them learn to meet them…

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