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How is Parenting Adopted Children Unique?

Adoption blog photo 1.jpgToday’s blog comes from Allen Sabey, PhD, LMFT, in recognition of National Adoption Awareness Month.

Parenting adopted children can be uniquely challenging. One such challenge that adopted children often face is forming a secure attachment with their new parent(s). Basically, a secure attachment is a reliable emotional bond or trusting relationship between a child and a parent. For example, securely attached children feel more comfortable going to parents to receive comfort when distressed. As a result of inconsistent caregivers in the past, adopted children may struggle to trust a new parent and turn to them for comfort. Fortunately, adoptive parents can take proven steps to ensure their adopted child will form this important secure attachment relationship with them.

First, adopted children may need extra portions of love and understanding. Parents should frequently show and express their love to their adopted child in ways that are meaningful to their child. For example, parents should regularly play with their younger children. In addition, some adopted children struggle with feeling unwanted or confused about their potentially new culture. It is helpful when parents simply express understanding and acceptance of these feelings.

Second, adoptive parents need to maintain firm expectations for their adopted children. Perhaps because of the prior difficulties faced by the child, parents may feel the need to overcompensate and not enact the same structure and discipline as with other children. However, all children, no matter their backgrounds, need a strong sense of structure and firm expectations to thrive.

Lastly, adoptive parents may need to have an extra measure of patience as their adopted child slowly learns that they can trust them. Adopted children are sometimes more resistant to affection or reluctant to open up to their new parents at first and so time is a necessary ingredient.

In sum, as adoptive parents consistently and frequently show love, express understanding, and firmly provide structure, a secure bond will form over time and their adopted children will come to trust them and feel emotionally safe.

Allen Sabey, PhD, LMFT, is the John J. B. Morgan Postdoctoral Clinical Research Fellow at The Family Institute. Some of his specialties include adoption, child behavioral problems, couple conflict and communication, and divorce/marital separation. He also maintains an active program of research that is aimed at understanding how and why family members provide care and support for one another, especially in times of distress.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health counseling for families, couples and individuals in Evanston, Chicago, Northbrook and Westchester. Learn more about our Adoptive Families Program. Visit our website to learn more about our services. 


Happy Veteran’s Day!

Happy Veteran’s Day from The Family Institute at Northwestern University! 

Veteran's Day Blog photo.jpg

Thank you to all who have served and are currently serving. 

Keep Anxiety at Bay

group of smiling men and women making selfie

With the election behind us, we all know that anxiety levels have been elevated. But anxiety is a natural side effect of being human; however, too much can be detrimental to our mental health. It is important to be aware of the presence of anxiety in our lives, and most importantly, find ways to keep it in check so we can live our days to their fullest.

Here are some helpful tips & tricks to help you keep anxiety to a minimum.

  • Know Your Own Cues. We often know with personal insight whether something in our lives is off balance or doesn’t feel right. During times of high anxiety, ask yourself questions like: When I feel anxious, how long does it normally last? How am I able to cope with these feelings? Cultivating self-awareness in this way allows for us to recognize when anxiety is lasting too long, which lets us know when it is time to get the help we need.
  • Take care of your own well-being. Some people use yoga, exercise, religion or other activities to try and keep themselves balanced and feeling well. Turn to your friends and family and enjoy time together.
  • Maintain as consistent a sleep schedule as possible. Routine sleep times are beneficial for positive mental health. Around bedtime, avoid media outlets that distract you, or that tend to cause excess mind chatter. Shut off your phone and watch a comedy instead.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health counseling for families, couples and individuals in Evanston, Chicago, Northbrook and Westchester. Learn more about our Anxiety and Panic Treatment ProgramLearn more about our services on our website.

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween from The Family Institute at Northwestern University!

Happy Halloween pumpkin

Favorable Fright: Why Getting A Little Scared May Be A Good Thing

Favorable Fright 3.jpgEvery Halloween we revel in the spooky and the scary. Spiders, skeletons, scary movies, ghosts, ghouls, and goblins — at this time of year, they’re all just part of the fun. We giggle at things we might otherwise recoil from in fright, and all of the scares are followed with ample candy. There are many reasons why we do this—first and foremost, because it’s fun—but from a mental health perspective, safely enjoying the occasional scare might be doing us some good.

Today, Velizar Nikiforov explains why we all need a good scare once in a while.

Let’s start with the nature of fear. While it may not be something we usually enjoy, it is in fact a perfectly natural and useful reaction. The physical manifestations of fear — thumping heart, ragged breathing, sweaty palms — are part of the fight-or-flight response, our body’s built-in system for getting us out of harm’s way. Fear is the emotional component of this reaction, and it tends to be accompanied by other changes to our perceptual and cognitive processes—our senses are sharpened and trained on any sign of danger, and our thoughts run towards worst case scenarios.  Imagine you’re walking through a dark and ominous forest: your fear might make you attentive to every creak of the trees and snap of a branch, and with each step you might expect a blood-thirsty animal to leap out at you. With your fight-or-flight response, you’ll be primed to detect them and protect yourself.

When there’s real danger afoot, our fear serves us very well, letting us detect threats early and respond effectively. However, sometimes our fear reactions can become misdirected. Whether due to a past personal experience or through the example of others, we might fear things that are not particularly dangerous to us. For example, a child whose mother is afraid of spiders may see her shriek and run every time she catches sight of one.  That child might begin to fear and avoid spiders, too. Over the years, this fear reaction might transfer to any place where a spider might lurk, so the child may start avoiding basements and attics, or sheds and gazebos. Even a photograph of a spider might prompt a spike of dread. In some cases, such fears can become debilitating and interfere with life to such an extent that they can be diagnosed as a phobia.

In such cases, the protective purpose of fear has been turned towards an object that poses minimal threat or is only dangerous in rare cases. However, because this fear leads to avoiding any interaction with the feared object, the fearful individual never gets to have any experiences that can help demonstrate this fact. In cognitive behavioral treatment of phobia, such misdirected fear is addressed by very gradually putting the client in contact with the object of their fear: someone with a spider phobia might look at a picture of spider until their fear naturally subsides and then repeat the experience by looking at a spider in a jar, touching a web, being in the same room as a harmless spider and so on, until their fear is reduced to a reasonable level.

Even in the absence of a phobia, such safe exposure to feared things can help demonstrate that the world is not always threatening and dangerous. Going to a haunted house or watching a scary movie allows us to learn that sometimes things that scare us are not real. Such experiences allow us to feel our fear and watch it dissipate without escaping or avoiding. This helps us adapt to the emotional and physical experience of being frightened, and teaches us how to manage it.

This Halloween, take the opportunity to enjoy fearlessly facing your fear. And don’t forget to reward yourself with some candy!

 Velizar Nikiforov, MA, is a Staff Therapist on the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Team at The Family Institute. He specializes in working with individuals with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety.

 If you experience problematic fear or anxiety, The Family Institute’s Cognitive Behavioral Therapy team can help. Contact us at 847-733-4300, x611 or to learn more. 



Cyberbullying — Distress beyond the playground

Cyberbullying.As children and teens increase their technology and social media use, they become more susceptible to being targets of a relatively new form of bullying — cyberbullying. We are past the days of negative interactions that both start and end on the playground; our children continue to be victimized by their peers outside of school as well.

In observation of National Bullying Prevention Month, today’s blog comes from Adam Margol, PsyD, a staff therapist at The Family Institute.

Estimates suggest that over 90% of adolescents are online, and those adolescents are spending close to a third of their waking hours using electronic devices (Lenhart et al., 2010 and Gerson & Rappaport, 2011). Due to adolescent’s constant access to electronic devices (including popular social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat), the opportunities for peer interactions to continue beyond the school day are extended, oftentimes lending themselves to cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying, or cybervictimization, is associated with negative outcomes such as low self-esteem, symptoms of anxiety and depression, and suicidal ideation (Landoll et al., 2015). In the Youth Internet Safety Survey, 93% of cyberbullied youth reported that the bullying made them feel sad or afraid to go to school (Raskauskas & Stoltz, 2007). The impact of negative peer interactions online is profound, which opens essential dialogue between children, parents, and their schools to help support our kids and to help them feel safe.

The question is — can it be prevented? The likelihood of adolescents refraining from ALL social media use is unrealistic. What can parents do to protect their children from cyberbullies?

  • Start the conversation with your kids about cyberbullying. Suggestions for starting the dialogue include asking:
    • What social media platforms do you use? How do you decide what to post or who to follow? Does anyone else know your password?
    • Have you ever gotten into a fight with someone online? Have you ever said anything to anyone online that you wish you could take back? Has anyone ever said anything to you online that made you upset or hurt your feelings?
    • Have you ever heard of cyberbullying? What does bullying include for you? Do you know anyone that has ever been bullied online? What happened in that situation and what was the outcome? Are you or any of your friends afraid to attend school or are uncomfortable at school because of what has happened online outside of school?
    • Has anyone teased, attacked, or spread rumors about you online? Has anyone ever asked you to send pictures of yourself to them? Has anyone asked you to send naked pictures of yourself? How did you respond or how would you respond if that were to happen?
  • Ensure that your children can identify supports to utilize if they do experience cyberbullying (e.g. parents, teachers, school counselors, therapists, etc.).
  • Let your children know that they can come to you for support if they were to ever experience any form of cyberbullying.

For more information about cyberbullying, visit:

Adam Margol, PsyD
, is a Staff Therapist at The Family Institute. He has experience working with children, adolescents and young adults with emotion regulation issues, social skills deficits, school issues, behavioral issues, learning disabilities/challenges, executive functioning deficits, ADHD, depression, anxiety, aggression, and developmental disabilities.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health counseling for families, couples and individuals in Evanston, Chicago, Northbrook and Westchester. Learn more about our services on our website.


Finkelhor, D., Mitchell, K. J., & Wolak, J. (2000). Online victimization: a report on the nation’s youth. Alexandria, VA: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Gerson, R., & Rappaport, N. (2011). Cyber cruelty: understanding and preventing the new bullying. Adolescent Psychiatry, 1, 67-71.

Landoll, R. R., La Greca, A. M., Lai, B. S., Chan, S. F., & Herge, W. M. (2015). Cyber victimization by peers: Prospective associations with adolescent social anxiety and depressive symptoms. Journal of Adolescence, 42, 77–86.

Lenhart, A., Purcell, K., Smith, A., Zickuhr, K. (2010). Social media and young adults: Social media and mobile internet use among teens and young adults. Pew Internet and American Life Project, February 2010. Retrieved from

Raskauskas, J., & Stoltz, A. D. (2007). Involvement in traditional and electronic bullying among adolescents. Developmental Psychology, 43, 564-575.


Halloween Safety: Make this Halloween FUN

Dressing up is children's favorite gameAs Halloween quickly approaches, it is helpful to reflect on the purpose of the holiday — for children, teens and adults to have F-U-N. Halloween is filled with exciting costumes, spooky decorations, and most importantly, sugar. However, the most concerning component of Halloween for parents is often safety.


Today’s blog is from Adam Margol, PsyD, a staff therapist at The Family Institute.

As children flood the streets in search of delicious candy while sharing laughter with friends and family, it is important to remember that there are some potentially dangerous components of trick-or-treating. These possible dangers should not prevent everyone from having fun, but it is helpful if everyone in the family is informed and educated. Here are a few tips to consider when prepping for Halloween festivities:

Before your kids leave the house …

  • Ensure that their costumes are safe. Add some sort of reflective gear to their costume. Check that their vision is minimally obscured. Ensure fake weapons of any kind appear markedly inauthentic.
  • Review road safety. Do not assume cars can see you – look both ways before crossing the street. Don’t be distracted by technology when in the street. Make sure your children always walk with a trusted adult or a designated buddy. It may be helpful to carry some sort of light or flashlight to ensure that you can be seen.
  • Talk to your children about entering homes or cars of adults that they do not know. Make sure the group has some way of contacting an adult or the police if an issue were to arise.
  • Educate your children about the dangers of eating unwrapped food.
  • Set a realistic curfew and decide on check-in times throughout the evening. Establish clear parameters of how far your children can venture from home.

It IS possible to stay safe while maximizing fun during Halloween. We hope that everyone has a fun, spook-tacular time celebrating! Happy Halloween from The Family Institute!

Adam Margol, PsyD, is a Staff Therapist at The Family Institute. He has experience working with children, adolescents and young adults with emotion regulation issues, social skills deficits, school issues, behavioral issues, learning disabilities/challenges, executive functioning deficits, ADHD, depression, anxiety, aggression, and developmental disabilities.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health counseling for families, couples and individuals in Evanston, Chicago, Northbrook and Westchester. Learn more about our services on our website.

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