Names and details in this story have been changed to ensure confidentiality.
Mental Health Consultant Helps Find Calm in the Classroom
Daniel was 4 years old when Tina first met him at his preschool – as a mental health consultant who visited his preschool to provide social-emotional support to students and training for teachers, directors and parents.
Daniel was a child who appeared interested in connecting with Tina, but seemed to struggle with getting close or asking for too much help. He was often at the outskirts of Conscious Discipline I Love You Rituals – one-on-one interactions that help teachers connect with students. He would often join in for a bit, but then it seemed hard for him to tolerate connection so he would distance.
Over the course of the two years, while Tina periodically visited his classroom, Daniel demonstrated rage in various ways (outbursts, refusing to follow directions, yelling and screaming in class). Though these behaviors did not happen often, at times teachers were overwhelmed, and in his final year of preschool, Daniel was sent home several times due to teachers feeling overwhelmed by his rage and not knowing how to help him calm. Tina provided instruction and support to teachers about co-regulation, and supported Daniel through the rage rather than sending him home, as being sent home further triggered his separation anxiety. They found the use of dolls helpful. Dolls can help children identify what they are feeling so they can separate themselves from the feeling and regulate emotions.
With Tina’s help, Daniel’s teachers were able to connect with him differently and make specific plans to help him work through his intense emotions. Daniel’s rage and anxiety seemed specifically triggered by the absence of a primary teacher that he connected with a great deal, as well as the back-and-forth visits he made between caregivers weekly. On the very last day of preschool, amidst lots of feelings of sadness and grief, Daniel was sent home early due to having a rage outburst.
Amidst Daniel’s mother and teacher’s growing concerns, especially after the emotional way his final day of school ended and hoping for a successful transition to kindergarten, Tina was asked to help the family find counseling. Serendipitously, Tina splits her time at The Family Conservancy between early education classrooms and outpatient mental health therapy, and Tina was able to accept Daniel as a client.
Tina had recently participated in a grant-funded Child Parent Psychotherapy training cohort, and chose to employ this modality with Daniel and his mother. She was aware of the family’s divorce history and Daniel’s intense emotional triggers around separation. In June 2021, Tina started working with Daniel and his mother every other week. They spent time using Conscious Discipline I Love You Rituals, breathing techniques, building a feeling vocabulary, using art, working on increasing his awareness of sensory needs, and developing ways to cope. Tina spent time in each session building attachment and safety, and processing past trauma that is still impacting Daniel in the form of intense sadness, anxiety and rage.
To date, Tina has worked with three out of four main caregivers in Daniel’s life, providing psychoeducation around trauma, attachment, and ways to support Daniel through intense emotions. There have been no academic instances of rage reported since starting kindergarten. Though Daniel continues to struggle with outbursts of anger at home from time to time, his mother reports that she has a better understanding of what is happening and that things are getting better. She is learning to invite Daniel to talk about his feelings, anticipate his feelings, and help him walk through managing big emotions with her instead of alone. She has grown in her confidence as a parent and has healed some of her own emotional wounds in the process.
Daniel’s mom says thanks to therapy, they have conversations around emotions in general more frequently, and Daniel voluntarily talks about his feelings. She has also noticed how he points out the feelings of his caregivers, and engages with her more about what he is afraid of as it is happening. Though Daniel has a hard time talking about and acknowledging his parents’ divorce, he has started processing that trauma with the use of dolls and other props. All of this work has taken place over telehealth with his mother doing the legwork of getting art supplies, dolls, and other materials. She has met with Tina consistently to work through her own grief work around the divorce, and how that has impacted her as a mother so that when we address it in session with Daniel she is prepared to support him.
Overall, Daniel has shown impressive improvement in his ability to seek support when upset, self-soothe at home, express his needs for connection, and to receive love from his parents differently. Tina has seen Daniel and his mother grow so much, and the investment in the entire family’s healing improves significantly.
Learn more about TFC’s early childhood mental health services.