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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. 


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.

Hiding Negative Feelings

Angry mother scolding a disobedient childThe Family Institute’s Family Tip of the Month discusses whether we are better off suppressing our negative emotions from our children or if we should be honest and transparent with our feelings.

From this month’s tip:

“Hiding our negative emotions decreases our sense of authenticity, defined as operating according to our core sense of who we are. Authenticity seems to be a critical component of personal well-being, whether in our role as parents or any of our important relationships.”

Read the entire Tip of the Month and learn how to handle these moments.

For additional Tips and to sign up for our Tip of the month, visit our Tips webpage.

The Family Institute offers affordable counseling for families, couples and individuals. Learn more about our services on our website.

To get support at The Family Institute, visit our Find a Therapist page.

Children and Grief at the Holidays

sad_boy_in_santa_hatLoss is a hard topic to talk about with children. They may not understand why grandma isn’t here anymore, or why dad is living somewhere else. It is compounded when added to the mix of the holidays.

Today’s blog answers four common questions about children dealing with loss or grief during the holidays. Christie Stiff, MSMFT, coordinator of Rainbows at The Family Institute, offers ideas for working through the sadness, and making the holidays a little brighter for children.

1) What is the best way to handle loss or grief over the holidays with a child?

It is important for parents and children to know that the grieving process looks different for every person and there is no “right” way to grieve. Children may grieve differently than adults, and a child’s grieving can be harder to detect. Children may feel the need to hide their grief to protect or care for the parent. Some children may try and avoid feeling sad, while others may be overwhelmed by their emotions. Children may feel many emotions about grief and loss over the holidays, and it is helpful for parents to help their children accept these feelings as they are.  For example, some children may feel sad that they are not getting to experience the joy of the holidays, while others may feel guilty for allowing themselves to feel joyful. It is helpful for parents to normalize these feelings and help their children to accept their emotions as they are, not try and judge them.

2) Traditions change with the loss of a loved one. How do you handle those traditions?

Instead of trying to ignore the loss of a loved one over the holidays, try and help children talk about a holiday memory that included their loved one. Maybe families can talk about a special tradition they used to do with the loved one and continue incorporating that into their holiday routine. Families can talk about the parts of the holiday that they loved participating with alongside their loved one, or the parts of the holiday that their loved one enjoyed the most. Children can also heal through continuing to give a special gift in remembrance of the loved one they lost or writing a letter to the person.

In addition to continuing family traditions, families can share favorite stories of the loved one or light a candle in remembrance. Families can highlight their loved ones goals/values and make a donation to a related cause in their name. Families should be open to making new or slightly different traditions.

3) What do you do if a child is showing no interest in being part of the holiday celebrations?

Grieving can be exhausting, so it is helpful for parents to be mindful of their children’s limits. Help children be aware that they are doing the best they can and create a plan to scale back on holiday obligations if necessary (not sending Christmas cards,  no excessive decorating, etc.).

Children may also need additional alone time during the holidays. It is important to give children adequate space to process their feelings, while still providing comfort and support. Planning could be important with this topic. Before the holiday begins, talk about what support the child needs. Discuss a sign that your child can give you when they need to be left alone. Parents should also reach out to friends or relatives that the child feels close to and feels supported by to help their child throughout the holidays.

4) What are ways to make the holidays brighter for a child going through loss/grief? 

Children should take part in activities that allow them to feel closer to their loved one. Maybe the child and the loved one always decorated cookies together. Maybe there is another relative willing to take part in that tradition to help continue it. Parents need to provide a positive sentiment of the holidays rather than only focusing on the loss itself.

Families can also find a support group to attend over the holidays so that children can seek comfort from others who are having a similar experience of the holiday season.


Christie Stiff, MSMFT, is a Clinical Program Fellow at The Family Institute. She has a special interest in and significant clinical experience working with child and adult anxiety, disordered eating, depression, non-suicidal self-injury and young children with behavioral issues. Ms. Stiff also has training in utilizing Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) techniques and exposure-based therapies to treat anxiety, depression and emotion regulation issues. In addition, through the Parents in Charge program, Ms. Stiff has experience with parent training for children under 7 with acting out behaviors, challenges due to the regulation of their emotions or academic concerns.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health counseling for families, couples and individuals in Evanston, Chicago, Northbrook and Westchester. To learn more about our therapy and mental health services, please visit our website.

Sleep and School

Boy sleeping in schoolThe school year is underway, routines are becoming more habitual and your child has homework, practice and family time to balance.

This archived Family Tip of the Month column addresses how much sleep our children need and what happens when they don’t get adequate sleep.

From the tip:

“Cutting corners when it comes to sleep is more hazardous to our kids’ welfare than most parents realize. We may be so accustomed to playing fast and loose with sleep — we often compromise our own as we go about our over-scheduled lives — that we’ve lost perspective on our children’s need for sleep.”

Read the entire tip and learn more about what scientists have learned about sleep and what the recommended hours of sleep children and teens need.

Sharing knowledge is a vital part of the Institute’s mission. To widely disseminate knowledge about family relationships, the Institute created Tip of the Month, our two online eBlasts that highlight how to promote strong couples and healthy families by focusing on timely and relevant topics. Sign up to receive our Tips via email.

The Family Institute offers affordable counseling at our locations in Evanston, Chicago, Northbrook and Westchester. Visit our website to learn more.


Enhancing the Role of the Father in Children’s Development

Father with 3 sons“Research on fathers’ influence on child development has gradually moved beyond simple measures of the quantity of father involvement towards reliable and meaningful measure of the nature, or quality of fathers’ relationships with their children,” writes Mark Lynn, PhD, in his Clinical Science Insight white paper, “Enhancing the Role of the Father in Children’s Development: A contextually informed approach”.

This white paper discusses how a fathers’ involvement in parenting is more heavily influenced by a variety of personal and contextual factors, including religion, than a mothers’ involvement.

Read the entire white paper.

The Family Institute offers affordable family, couples and individual counseling at our Evanston, downtown Chicago, Westchester and Northbrook locations. Visit our website to learn more.

Ask a TFI Expert: Talking summer camp with Hollie Sobel, PhD

Ask a TFI Expert: Talking summer camp with Hollie Sobel, PhD

With summer vacation in full swing, join us on TFI Talks as we explore all things Summer Vacation with insights from our expert clinicians.

Today, Family Institute staff therapist Hollie Sobel, PhD, discusses summer camp and ways to keep the stress and anxiety to a minimum.

There’s something for everyone

Today you can find a camp for just about anything.

If your child is interested in activities such as video games, camps with a gaming focus can be a way to work on social skills while partaking in a personal interest. Adolescents can attend specialty camps in areas of interest (e.g., computers) that can help them gain skills for a future career.

For children who struggle with mental health issues, there are camps geared toward specific issues such as Autism or ADHD. These unique camps give kids the opportunity to socialize and have fun while working on and through some of their issues. Since all the campers have similar struggles, it can help the children to feel like they fit in.

Sports camps (e.g, hockey, baseball, basketball, soccer) can help children to use their energy in productive ways. They can also learn teamwork and good sportsmanship.

There are plenty of different ways to work a summer camp into your child’s schedule. Try to find a camp that aligns with his/her interests and help create opportunities for growth and development.

Overnight camp

Overnight camp provides kids with new and exciting opportunities but can lead to a lot of anxiety. As the date to leave for camp approaches, parents may notice their child’s anxiety increases — the closer they get, the less they want to actually go.

Help ease the transition by reaching out to camp staff ahead of time, and work with them to get all of the necessary details in place, and ease some of your kids’ anxiety and stress. Many camps and camp counselors have experience working with parents and families during the weeks leading up to overnight camp.

Keep tabs on the anxiety.

It’s normal to feel some anxiety surrounding summer camp, as it involves meeting new people and going to new places. Some kids, however, will need more help with their anxiety than others.

Anxiety warning sign to watch for:

  • Difficulty separating from parents under typical circumstances
  • Clingy behaviors
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Somatic complaints (stomachaches, headaches)
  • Irritability
  • Statements refusing to attend the camp

Dr. Hollie Sobel provides individual, family, and group psychotherapy. Dr. Sobel has specialization in using researched-based cognitive-behavioral techniques with children and adolescents to improve mood, decrease levels of anxiety, and enhance functioning across home, school and social settings. She includes children/adolescents and parents in the treatment planning process, as family involvement is often important in reaching treatment goals.

To read Dr. Sobel’s full bio or make an appointment, visit our webpage.

The Family Institute offers a wide variety of affordable counseling care that treats whole individuals and their loved ones throughout the Chicagoland area. Find out more at our website.

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