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Anxiety & Kids: Too much, too little, or just enough?

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Daughter Clinging To Working Mother's LegAnxiety in children, teens and young adults is a big issue—so big that The Family Institute’s next Circle of Knowledge event focuses on the topic. At this event, Dr. Danielle Black, Director of the Institute’s child and adolescent services, will help parents differentiate between normal worry for our children, teenagers and young adults as they face the pressures of school, sports and socializing, and more severe anxiety symptoms that may be signs of a larger issue. She will also explore how anxiety can be turned into a positive thing that can help your kids become successful.

See below for more information on this event, as well as tips on how parents can begin to tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy anxiety.



We generally view anxiety as a bad thing, particularly when our children experience it—no one wants to think of their kids suffering or experiencing discomfort.

However, a little bit of anxiety can be helpful for both adults and children. It can be functional in that it can motivate us and help us achieve our goals.

But when anxiety becomes too extreme, starts to interfere with daily life and gets in the way of a child doing what he or she needs to do to achieve those goals, then the anxiety is unhelpful.

Here are a few ways to differentiate between healthy versus unhealthy anxiety in kids:

  • Your child expresses feeling anxious about a test he/she has in the morning as he/she starts to hit the books: This type of anxiety can be helpful in that it can help motivate your child to study.
  • Your child refuses to go to school on the day he/she has a difficult test or exam: This anxiety is unhealthy, as it’s preventing your child from following through on a task he/she needs to complete to excel.


  • Your child is anxious and a little scared about his/her first day of kindergarten and acts behaves sheepishly when you drop him/her off: This anxiety is healthy. Your child is facing a major change and separation from his/her parent, which can feel stressful. Both children and adults often have difficulty facing the unknown.
  • Your child cries a lot his/her first few weeks of kindergarten and/or is disruptive in class: This might be a sign of unhealthy anxiety. While the transition to kindergarten is a stressful one that may make a child feel anxious, being unable to adapt could be a sign of a larger issue.



  • Your child lists his concerns, anxieties and fears about going away to college and starts to problem-solve how he/she might cope with them: It’s healthy to talk through healthy anxieties about a transition as large as this one. In this case, your child’s anxiety will motivate him/her to develop healthy coping strategies.
  • Your child becomes preoccupied with “what if” scenarios that might occur when he/she moves away to college: This level of anxiety may be unhealthy. If your child is preoccupied with the “what if” question—a natural question during a time of transition—it might be getting in the way of the goals he/she has for the transition.

When a child’s anxiety gets in the way of the things he/she needs to do—things like learning, growing or transitioning— or prevents your child, teen or young adult from achieving goals, it could be a sign of a larger problem. Consider the help of a trained professional when anxiety begins interfering with a child’s day to day functioning, by affecting their schoolwork, friendships, and/or their willingness to try new things.


The Family Institute’s Child and Adolescent services offers support and effective treatment for anxiety in kids and teens. Visit our website to learn more.

To learn more about Straight A’s & Stressed, our next Circle of Knowledge Event that focuses on children and anxiety, visit our website and see below more information.


Straight A’s & Stressed: Navigating childhood, teen and young adult anxiety

Presented by Danielle Black, PhD

Friday, April 10, 2015
10:30 a.m. registration, 11:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m. presentation & lunch
Exmoor Country Club, 700 Vine Avenue, Highland Park

$25 per person, space is limited
Register online today!
Deadline to register: April 3, 2015

For more information, call 312-609-5300, ext. 480 or email


Straight A’s & Stressed: Navigating childhood, teen and young adult anxiety

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Sick and tired of studyingFrom bitten nails and stomachaches to all-night study sessions, our kids display their anxiety in a variety of ways. However, not all anxiety is bad, and it can be difficult to know the difference between productive anxiety and anxiety that has become a problem.

On April 10th, The Family Institute will host a Circle of Knowledge event to address the issues facing parents as they learn to navigate their children’s anxieties. During this event, Dr. Danielle Black, Director of the Child & Adolescent program, will help parents differentiate between normal worry for our children, teenagers and young adults as they face the pressures of school, sports and socializing, and more severe anxiety symptoms that may be signs of a larger issue. She will also explore how anxiety can be turned into a positive thing that can help your kids become successful.

See the event details below, and visit our website to learn more or register for this event.

Friday, April 10, 2015
10:30 a.m. registration, 11:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m. presentation & lunch
Exmoor Country Club, 700 Vine Avenue, Highland Park

$25 per person, space is limited
Register online today!
Deadline to register: April 3, 2015

For more information, call 312-609-5300, ext. 480 or email

Transitioning to College: It doesn’t start in the fall

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Student trying to find something in his bagThough most kids who are going off to college won’t be leaving for a handful of months, at this point in time they are likely deciding (or have recently decided) where they are actually going to be attending college. Once that decision is made, there are many other aspects of this transition that then require attention in the coming months (i.e. housing forms, meal plan decisions, course registration, financial/scholarship applications, etc.).

As the ball gets rolling, the reality of this future transition begins to solidify itself as decisions continue to get made. Though the actual transition will not likely occur for another 6 or 7 months, the emotions (positive and negative) and anxieties around the transition can begin percolating at this time.

Because of these percolating emotions, there is an opportunity for early discussion around the transition. There is a reason why “the system” isn’t designed for kids to leave for school a day after they learn they have been accepted somewhere: that’s arguably too much to adapt to in too short of a period of time. The fact that this process of leaving for college can sometimes take almost a year from applying to settling into the dorms gives everyone an opportunity to talk about, explore, and prepare for these changes before they actually occur.

Today’s insights on how to begin handling and discussing this transition before it occurs come from Family Institute therapist Amy Drucker, MSFMT, AMFT.



Get excited — but think about what’s scary too.

Kids who are leaving for college are likely very excited, and simultaneously very nervous about the big step. Given that they have time to process and prepare for this new chapter, it’s helpful for them to start thinking about what they are most fearful about, as well as what can they anticipate they may need to help make this transition go as smooth as possible — what do they need to make themselves feel cozy and safe when they leave.

Alternately, going to college is such an exciting and thrilling time! Once they know where they are going to school, they can start researching the happenings on campus, intramural activities, maybe familiarize themselves with fun things to do in the city or area they are moving to. Sparking interest and getting excited about their departure and what they will have opportunities to get involved in or experience can go a long way in helping them adjust with greater ease to their new environment when they arrive.

There’s also the issue of good old senioritis to consider. Senioritis marks the beginning stages of this transition, so there is some level of normalcy in the perceived apathy that seniors exhibit in the last months of their high school career as they start thinking about their future and changes that await them. Students certainly shouldn’t “slack off,” but through these last few months of high school, students are (whether consciously or not) navigating some new level of independence and taking responsibility for themselves — if that means they fall a little behind and realize what skills they need to cultivate to catch up or practice better time management, then so be it.

It should also be noted that many seniors do not exhibit any signs of senioritis. In either case, this time is a normal part of the beginning phase of this transition from high school to college.


Parents have their own anxiety about the transition—whether it’s their first or last child going to college.

Parents, whether sending off their first or last child to school, experience a lot of anxiety about their soon-to-be legal adult’s safety (amongst a myriad of other things). There are many things that parents do for their children when they are under their roof that they simply will not be able to continue to do when their child leaves. Beginning to step back from some of those things (even something like doing their laundry — teach your son or daughter how to do their laundry!) and allowing their child to start cultivating some more independence will go a long way in empowering their sons or daughters before they leave.

Also, parents tend to fear for their sons’ and daughters’ safety on college campuses. In preparation, parents should educate themselves on the resources (emergency and voluntary) available at the university. Sitting down with their sons or daughters to provide them with these resources and have a discussion (not a lecture!) with them about how they can be proactive and preventative in keeping themselves and others safe (don’t travel alone, don’t travel alone at night, know what resources are available — from mental health to safe ride options) can help assuage anxieties.

Additionally, parents and students should come up with a realistic and agreed upon plan for communication once the transition takes place: A phone call every day? Every few days? Texts? For parents, not communicating with their child and thus feeling like they don’t know what is going on with them or if they are safe is arguably the facet of this transition that can contribute to most anxiety. A plan of communication helps ease anxieties and lays the foundation for the beginning of a new relationship between parent and their young adult child.


Remember that siblings are impacted too.

Siblings are a unique facet of this transition and often their feelings aren’t addressed (not intentionally, they just seem to be overlooked) — but this is a very major transition for them too. They may be the only ones left in the house, or they may have a really close bond with their brother or sister and them leaving is going to be a great loss, or perhaps some siblings are so young they don’t even recognize what is going on. Discussing with siblings a. the fact that the transition is happening, b. how they feel about it, and c. what (if any) their concerns are regarding it, etc. are helpful things to explore.


Bottom line, there are plenty of things to do now and in the months prior to freshman orientation that can exponentially improve everyone’s experience around the transition when it actually takes place.

Simultaneously, it is important to remain in the present and enjoy the time that the family unit has together. When we spend so much time thinking about the future, we miss out on what is happening now. There is a certain degree of preparation, discussion, and planning that can and should begin to happen, but be mindful of not letting it take you so far into the future that you miss these present moments and these opportunities.



Amy Drucker is an associate Marriage and Family therapist at The Family Institute at Northwestern. To read her full bio or make an appointment, please visit our website.


The Family Institute offers affordable counseling throughout the Chicagoland area. To learn more about our therapy and mental health services, please visit our website.


National Eating Disorder Awareness Week: How can parents help?

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NEDAwareness_2015_Shareable_ParentsThis week is National Eating Disorder Awareness week, a time to shine a light on the seriousness of these issues and raise awareness.

Last year, we received insights from Family Institute staff clinician Mallory Rose, LMFT, on the unique ways families and eating disorders interact, including one way in which parents can help in early intervention against disordered eating and/or body image issues:

Parents are also in a unique situation because they can demonstrate to their children healthy ways of coping with anxiety. Children are very perceptive and will notice even subtle signs of parents’ anxieties and insecurities. I encourage parents to really try to recognize and address their relationships with their bodies and food intake. Anxiety may be inevitable, but I encourage parents to work on healthy ways of coping for themselves and to also be healthy role models for their children.

Read Mallory’s full blog post here, and learn more about her services on our website.


To look for treatment for eating disorders or food-related issues, visit our Find-A-Therapist feature.

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

Ask A TFI Clinician: Young Adults & Anxiety

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Stress Meter Showing  Panic Attack From Stress Or WorryAs we continue to commemorate OCD Awareness week, today we look at the unique ways anxiety and anxiety disorders like obsessive compulsive disorder impact young adults.

Today’s insights come from Jennifer Welbel, LPC. Jennifer received her MA in Counseling from The Family Institute at Northwestern University and is currently a Clinical Fellow in the Institute’s Anxiety and Panic Treatment Program. She currently runs the Anxiety Network, a psychoeducational support group at The Family Institute that offers support for young adults (out of high school, ages 18 – mid 30s) who are struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and/or anxiety symptoms.



Young adults are in a natural state of anxiety.

During this transitional life stage, young adults deal with dating, career choices, self-definition and a myriad of other complex issues. Combine these concerns with an anxiety disorder during this already confusing time, and the challenges can be incredibly difficult.

Everyone worries, but excessive worry and anxiety that interferes with your life and impairs your functioning may be a sign of a larger issue, like an anxiety disorder.


Be on the lookout for more serious symptoms.

A large percentage of the population experiences mild symptoms of anxiety, such as occasional panic attacks, worries, and anxiety in novel situations. However, anxiety becomes problematic when:

  1. It is excessive and out of proportion to the situation.
  2. It begins to interfere in one’s social, academic, or occupational functioning.
  3. The anxiety is persistent and lasts much longer than expected.


Age matters.

Anxiety disorders look different at different ages. Key milestones of young adulthood, such as dating and beginning a career, are made more complicated and less enjoyable when  anxiety disorders or OCD are also present. It can be difficult to not let an anxiety disorder define who a young adult is when self-definition is such an important part of this life stage.

That’s why the support group I facilitate at The Family Institute is geared toward young adults. Most anxiety and OCD support groups tend to group everyone together. The fact that the Anxiety Network is geared toward young adults living with OCD and/or anxiety disorders creates a common ground — the group discusses issues specific to young adulthood, such as friendships, dealing with parents, roommates and employment issues, as well as issues specific to OCD and/or anxiety disorders, such as how to manage symptoms, medication concerns, and brainstorming coping strategies.


It’s important to break through the isolation.

Anxiety disorders can be isolating. Support, like through a group like The Family Institute’s Anxiety Network, helps break through that isolation. Young adults in our group self-assign homework and determine what topics they’d like to go over that day — things like problem-solving anxiety-provoking situations, brainstorming exposure ideas for the week, or discussing the stigma that sometimes comes with OCD and/or anxiety disorders — all while interacting and eating pizza. I facilitate the discussion, but I really want participants to lean on each other and learn from one another.

Group therapy like the Anxiety Network makes a great adjunct to individual therapy because it allows participants to brainstorm, bounce ideas off each other, and to get some emotional support if they get ‘stuck’ on a tough individual therapy homework practice. Many, but not all participants have had some form of exposure therapy that they are interested in continuing for themselves and helping interested members with



The Anxiety Network meets in downtown Chicago (8 S. Michigan Avenue, Suite 500) every other Monday from 6:00 – 7:30 p.m., and is $30 per session. Advanced registration is required; please see our website for more information.

Jennifer Welbel is a Clinical Fellow at The Family Institute where she specializes in using cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and exposure therapies (ERP) to treat children, adolescents, and adults with obsessive-compulsive and related disorders, such as trichotillomania and hoarding, anxiety (e.g., social anxiety, school refusal, panic disorder, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety, and driving phobia), and depression.

To read Jennifer’s full bio or to make an appointment, visit our website.


A Dorm Room with A View: How cognitive behavioral therapy can ease back-to-school nerves

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It’s back-to-school time at TFI Talks, and to highlight this time of year our expert therapists are telling their own first-day-of-school stories, and at the same time providing insights into how families, parents and individuals can handle back-to-school stress.

Today’s story comes from Family Institute staff clinician Jennifer Welbel, LPC. Jennifer is a therapist in the Institute’s Anxiety and Panic Treatment and Depression Treatment Programs. She specializes in using cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and exposure therapies (ERP) to treat children, adolescents, and adults with obsessive-compulsive and related disorders and depression. 


windowLike many incoming college freshman, I was both excited and nervous about starting college. I couldn’t wait to find out where I would be living, who my roommate would be, and what classes I would be taking.

However, my nervous anticipation was quickly filled with extreme anxiety when I learned that, due to extenuating circumstances, I wouldn’t have my dorm assignment until I got to campus. As all my high school friends were chatting with their new roommates and buying dorm decorations, I had no clue who I would be living with, let alone where I would be living. The uncertainty felt intolerable, but I kept reminding myself that everything would be fine once I got school.

However, when I finally arrived on campus, I quickly learned that I was being placed in all girls dorm, in a single, and it overlooked a cemetery. At that point, I remember being completely overwhelmed and anxious. I was stuck with everything I had dreaded – no roommate and no boys! I was terrified. I remember wondering, “What if I don’t make any friends? What are the other people going to be like in this dorm? What if I don’t have any fun without a roommate?”

Reflecting on that situation, I now know that the anxiety and nerves that I felt were normal. I was in a new situation—one in which I felt isolated and alone. I could have chosen to be upset about the situation and worry about the ‘what-if’s’, but instead, I shifted how I was thinking and focused on what I had control over. I had control over my behaviors, specifically my interactions with others, and I had control over how I viewed the situation. From that point forward, I made an effort to introduce myself to all the other girls on the dorm, and I learned that most of them were also in singles. I also always kept my door open, except when I was sleeping or away, which allowed my friends to visit and made me feel less isolated. Additionally, instead of thinking that I was going to be miserable without a roommate, I viewed it as an advantageous situation. I was getting the best of both worlds– I was able to see my friends when I wanted, but I was also able to have my alone time.

Knowing what I do now, I realize that, without even knowing it, I used cognitive behavior therapy. Instead of focusing on the negative and isolating myself in my room, I changed my behaviors and adjusted how I viewed the situation. And, in the end, I had an incredible freshman year and met some of my closest friends in that dorm.


To read Jennifer Welbel’s full bio or to make an appointment, visit our website.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health treatment for individuals, couples and families at our six Chicagoland locations. Learn more about us at our website.

The Importance of Support Groups

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Earlier this week, Institute staff therapist Jennifer Welbel, LPC wrote a piece for about the Anxiety Network, the Institute support group she runs for young adults experiencing anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms.

From her post:

Although there are support groups for OCD in the Chicago area, there were not any groups that are specific to this phase in life. As a result, I wanted to fill that void and give these individuals a place that they could connect with others close to their age.  After about six months, I realized that many of the young adults that were coming to the group also struggled with anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety, panic disorder, and social anxiety. However, by limiting our discussions to just OCD-specific topics, we were doing a disservice to our members. As a result, after a discussion with the group, I decided to expand it to include young adults that were struggling with OCD and/or anxiety disorders and, in turn, renamed the group, “The Anxiety Network.” I have found that this change has made the group feel more relevant to individuals, has increased the number of participants, and has resulted in additional referrals from therapists the community.

Read the full post on, and visit our website for Jennifer’s full bio or to learn more about the Anxiety Network.


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