Helping Kids Cope with Tragedy by Emily Hasselquist, LCSW

As the news of the Las Vegas shootings came out, I prepared myself to have conversations with the children, teens and families I work with about how this horrific event impacts them.  Unfortunately, stories of shootings in schools, public spaces, or communities are no longer uncommon.  As a parent, you may be wondering the best way to talk to your children about this type of violence.  You may even question whether or not you should talk about it at all.  Below are some tips to guide these difficult conversations.

Consider Their Age

Where your child is at developmentally can impact how you choose to talk to them about violence.  Their age, maturity and understanding of the impact the event has had can determine how much detail you go into.  The American Psychiatric Association recommends a child be at least 8 years old before your discuss these topics unless they directly impact your family. For elementary age children, be prepared to answer questions.  It may also be helpful to focus on the positive, such as talking about the great impact first responders have.   For pre-teens and teens, let them share how they’re feeling and follow up with how they can help.  This may be through making a donation as a family to the victims or discussing positive ways to give back to your own community.  It is also important to be factual when having these conversations. Be sure to refute any rumors or unconfirmed details about these events.  

Help Them Cope

Let your child show emotion and teach your children healthy ways to cope with these difficult emotions.  Encourage them to express themselves through activities such as art, music, writing and especially through talking to you or other trusted adults such as teachers or school counselors.  Validate how they’re feeling by letting them know it is very normal for them to be scared, sad or nervous after hearing about the event.  One thing you may want to monitor is their exposure to the event.  Constant exposure or repeated images of a violent act can be distressing.  Try to jump back to your normal household routine rather than letting the media coverage alter your normal family activities.

Help Them Feel Safe

Reassuring your child that they’re safe is one of your biggest roles as a parent.  Children often wonder if it could happen to them when they hear about a tragedy.  Talk to them about all the ways in which you, your child’s school and the community are working to keep them safe on a daily basis.  An extra hug, special trip to the park, or one more story at bedtime are just a few small ways in which to show your child some extra love on difficult days like this.  

If there is anything the staff at Gurnee Counseling Center can to do help you process these types of tragedies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at (847) 336-5621.

4th Annual “Give Them a Voice” Fundraiser

Our very own Ismael Rosa and his gym, Outpost CrossFit, are hosting a fundraiser for sexual abuse/assault awareness. Please consider attending the event or making a direct donation. Any contribution will make a difference.

Why participate? If you yourself are not a survivor, it’s highly likely that you know a survivor suffering in silence. Participate to give survivors a voice!

The staff of the Lake County Children’s Advocacy Center work diligently to provide the following services to child victims, their non-offending family members and the community at large:

  • Investigations of child sexual abuse and severe physical abuse allegations
  • Court advocacy and crisis intervention
  • Referrals to area agencies and/or private therapists for on-going counseling needs such as Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center
  • Assistance to local police departments
  • Coordinate specialized medical examinations
  • A Speaker’s Bureau, offering presentations and trainings to interested agencies, civic groups, etc.


Current research regarding child sexual abuse reveals the following:

  • 1 in every 3 girls and 1 in every 5 boys will become a victim of a sexual assault before age 18
  • More than 3 children die each day in the U.S as the result of abuse or neglect
  • An estimated 80% of all instances of child sexual abuse remain unreported
  • 90% of abused children are abused by someone they know and trust
  • Child abuse occurs among all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds
  • Children are often threatened or intimidated into keeping abuse a secret
  • Months or years pass before a child discloses that they have been abused

Keeping your Kids Busy this Summer By Emily Hasselquist, LCSW

The arrival of summer is exciting for kids of all ages. Parents may worry though about how to keep their children occupied, active and out of trouble.  You may find yourself scrambling to keep your kids busy through the months of June, July and August.  Below are some ideas on keeping your children happy, healthy and busy this summer.

  1.  Keep their brains active

I recently read that children lose an average of 2 months of reading and math skills over the summer.  Keep their brains active by encouraging as many learning opportunities as you can. Challenge the entire family to a summer book reading contest and visit the local library often.  Encourage your children to try a musical instrument or look into opportunities in the community for kids to learn another language. These are just a couple of activities that may ensure their brains are continuing to grow over the summer.

  1. Get moving

Keeping your kids physically active should be an important part of their summer. Rising temperatures can result in more time indoors playing video games, watching tv and relying on cell phones for entertainment. Break this habit through involvement in sports camps, outdoor games, family walks or time playing at the local park. With childhood obesity growing, it’s even more important than ever to keep your kids active. Encourage healthy eating as well by doing things like planting a vegetable garden or cooking together with your kids.

  1.  Plan ahead

If ‘I’m bored’ is a statement you heard all too often last summer, plan ahead this year. Sit down with you kids early this summer and have them make a list of 25 things they can do when they’re bored. Have crafts, art supplies, sports equipment and books easily accessible.  The combination of summer school, sports camps, classes and playdates may get overwhelming. Keep a visible 3 month calendar somewhere in the house for the entire family to see.  For older kids, hold them accountable for knowing their schedule.  Consider a shared calendar with your partner or coparent so there is no miscommunication about your kids’ schedules.

  1. Keep the peace

More time together can result in some amazing bonding between your kids over the summer. On the other hand though, you may find sibling rivalry at an all time high during warmer months. Be sure that expectations regarding behavior are understood by all. Rules and consequences for misbehavior must be extremely clear and consistent. Consider letting your children workout their issues on their own rather than having them rely on you to step in and choose a side. Teach and model healthy communication and respect towards one another. By engaging in many of the family activities discussed in the article, ideally your children will remember the positive interactions they had with each other this summer as opposed to the negative ones.

  1. Embrace your community

Support Gurnee and Lake County by attending some of the great events and activities they have planned this summer.  Live outdoor concerts at your local park, roller coasters at Six Flags and a walk through Independence Grove should all be summer bucket list items for your family. Visit some of the websites below for ideas and a calendar of events in the community.

From all of the staff at Gurnee Counseling Center, we wish you and your family a wonderful summer!


Digital Detox Part II: Getting Your Kids Off Their Phones by Emily Hasselquist, LCSW

Children are becoming experts on technology younger than ever before.  It’s not uncommon to see toddlers entertained with iPads, elementary school children with cell phones and middle school kids on social media. If you have a teenager, you’re well aware that their entire life seems to revolve around their phone.  Social media has replaced in-person interactions which makes us question whether or not our children’s social skills are suffering.  Cyber bullying is far too common as kids feel a level of anonymity on the internet.  Many children and teenagers are unfortunately learning the hard way that what they type or post is forever.  Below are 3 things to consider when exploring how to get your kids off their phones.

  1. Phones are a privilege, not a right.  While your child may boast that everyone in their class has a phone, there should be no pressure to get them one.  Having a cell phone is a privilege that is earned, and can also be taken away at any point.  Some parents may not provide that day’s wifi password until chores are complete.  Or only allow the phone to be used once all homework has been completed. Grades dropping? Take the phone away until they come up.   
  2. Plan tech free activities. If you are spending time as a family, set the expectation that phones are off limits.  This includes everyone.  Attending a sporting event or going out to dinner does not require cell phones.  Teach your child that if they’re too focused on the world they see through their phones, they make actually miss out on enjoying the world around them.
  3. Set limits. Parents have every right to limit the use of electronics.  There are many parental controls put in place by cell phone providers or programs that allow you to set what hours your child can use their phone, limit which apps are downloaded, monitor internet activity, and access who your child is communicating with.  While they may argue that you’re not allowing them privacy, consider an agreement that you’ll only access this information if you have a reason.  

Not all technology is bad though when it comes to your kids.  Some parents find a sense of relief knowing their children can access them immediately if there were to be an emergency.  Setting up location services on your child’s phone can keep you informed of their whereabouts. Assistive technology for children with disabilities, homework help websites, and apps designed to teach kids coping skills are just a few examples of the ways technology can support positive child development.  It is also common for teachers and schools to rely on different websites, apps and email to communicate information and enhance learning.   Cell phones can be a valuable tool in your child’s life, but it’s up to the parents to teach responsible use.

If you are concerned about your child’s dependence on electronics, the staff at Gurnee Counseling Center can help.  Contact us at (847) 336-5621 for more information.  

Digital Detox: Get Off Your Phone! by Emily Hasselquist, LCSW

Like many others, I often start my day by scrolling through a couple of my favorite social media sites as I enjoy my morning coffee.  One recent morning though, I had just had enough.  I thought about how many times I spent picking up my phone throughout the day and how those minutes were taking away from the many other things I enjoy doing.  I love planning vacations, taking walks, reading, spending time with friends and family, and participating in the many activities Chicagoland has to offer.  I became determined to focus on these activities, not my phone.  I challenge you to do the same!

The rise of social media, in particular, has had many negative effects on some people.  It can be easy to feel jealous or lonely after viewing images of other people’s social activities or accomplishments. The constant scrolling through news stories can result in stress and fatigue.  The harmful impact being on your phone has on sleep is also well researched.  The issue of cell phone and electronic dependence is a reality for some.  Internet addictions are just as real as a gambling addictions and may require treatment.  While this is not what the average adult is dealing with, many of us would still admit to spending a substantial amount of time on our devices.

My challenge to you is to plan a “digital detox.”  Whether it’s for an hour, a day, or a week make a commitment to detox.  Pledge to stay off social media, ignore the alerts popping up on your screen, leave the work emails at work.  Take notice of how this impacts you. While initially you may feel like you’re missing something, ultimately you may notice yourself more relaxed.  You’ll be more present in the moment. You’ll free up time for home projects you’ve put off. You’ll be more available and approachable to those around you if you’re focus is not on a device in your hand. So as you finish this article I ask you to join me in the following challenge; get off your phone!  Read that book that has been on your shelf for months. Go outside. Make plans with your friends or family and commit to technology free time together. Take in the sights and sounds of the world around you.

If you are looking for more ideas on how to implement a digital detox, the staff at Gurnee Counseling Center can help. Contact us at (847) 336-5621 for more information. Looking for ways to get your kids off of their electronic devices too? Stay tuned for our next article!

New Year’s Resolutions for Families by Emily Hasselquist, LCSW

Sure, we’ve all made New Year’s resolutions. I too have promised myself that I would start eating healthier, join a gym, and finally organize that hallway closet on January 1st only to have my goals fall short.  Rather than making individual resolutions this year, consider making resolutions as a family.  Sit down together to brainstorm things you can all work on and post them somewhere in the house as a constant reminder.  Help hold each other accountable by setting dates throughout the year to revisit your family resolutions and asses your progress.  Below are 5 suggested resolutions to get your family on the path to a happy and healthy 2017.  

  1.  Less Screen Time.  If you look around and notice that your teenager is Snapchatting, your other child is playing Minecraft and your spouse is checking Twitter for the latest news all while you’re checking the final score of last night’s game on the ESPN app, your family may need less screen time.  Make a pact to spend less time on your phones.  No electronics after 7pm, for example, will allow for more face-to-face interaction.  Many studies have shown that children’s social and communication skills are negatively impacted if they spend too much time on electronics. 
  1.  Get Moving.  If your family spends more time on the couch than on their feet, it may be time to get more active together.  Look into fitness classes or team sports at your local park district.  Go for walks through the nearest forest preserve as a family if the weather permits.  Look into investing in pedometers or fitness trackers for each family member as a way to encourage some friendly competition.  Consider fun challenges, like whoever gets the most steps in a day gets relieved of cleanup after dinner that night.  
  1.  Save Money.  Learning the value of money is helpful even for younger children.  Whether it’s your 3rd grader earning an allowance for doing chores or encouraging your teenager to seek a part time job, teaching the value of money and encouraging saving is important.  Set a good example by reviewing your own finances.  Setting financial goals, reviewing your life insurance policies, or setting up college savings accounts are just a couple things to do to ensure your family’s needs are being met in the future.
  1.  Worry Less. Think about what worrying has done for you.  Has it helped solve a problem? Prepare you for the worst? Make you feel better? I’m guessing the answer to all of these questions is no but yet many of us spend precious minutes every day worrying. When you notice a family member worrying, allow them to talk through their worries but help them to use their time in a more positive or productive way.
  1. Get a Hobby.  Spending less time on electronics may result in your children (or yourself!) feeling bored.  Hobbies may include anything from do-it-yourself home projects to playing an instrument or learning another language. Encouraging hobbies to do either individually or as a family will help fill the time typically spent online.  Trying out a couple different hobbies may even result in a new passion or undiscovered talent for one of your family members.

These are just a few ideas for resolutions to help your family grow throughout the year. On behalf of Gurnee Counseling Center, I’d like to wish you and your loved ones a Happy New Year!  Please keep in mind that if your family could use some help setting goals, improving communication or reducing conflict, our staff can help.  Contact us at (847) 336-5621 for more information.

“Blue Christmas” at Holy Cross

Blue Christmas Worship Service – Sunday, December 11, 2016 7:30pm – 9pm

Holy Cross Lutheran Church is located at 29700 N St. Mary’s Road in Libertyville, Illinois, between highways 137 to the north and 176 to the south. Please visit their website for more general information –

For many, the holidays are an occasion to celebrate and enjoy rewarding moments together with loved ones, sharing meals, gift giving, worship and play. For others, the holidays are a time of distress. For individuals and families who have suffered significant losses, all the holiday cheer and celebration can be just too much. Many holiday gatherings and services can leave some feeling more alienated and alone, wondering, “what’s wrong with me that I cant even be happy at a celebration with friends and family?”

To address this dilemma, Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Libertyville holds its annual “Blue Christmas” service on Sunday, December 11, 2016 from 7:30-9:00 PM. The service, open to anyone from any faith background, is a warm and welcoming chance to gather with others who are in need of a place to honor their loss(es) and help find some perspective and peace during the holidays. The spectacular Holy Cross sanctuary is bathed in soft lights, with music (their world class pipe organ, piano, cello) and song for a service that is down to earth, reassuring and hopeful. The “Blue Christmas” honors our struggles with the passing of a loved one, loss of job, home, marriage or health – offering ample opportunities to quietly remember and reflect. Participants may choose to attach the name of a loved one to the “Jesse Tree,” light a candle, or place a stone in “holy water” as symbolic ways to acknowledge the continued importance of their loved ones, objects or relationships in their lives.

I attend this wonderful service every year. Some years it’s been a part of my healing from a significant loss. Other years, I have attended to support someone else who has needed to reconnect with his or her faith, with God, or with a sense of community after a difficult loss, disappointment or other heartache. I always find the service to be beautiful, meaningful and uplifting.

Please join me on this special night. You won’t regret it…

From the Heart,

Phil Kirschbaum, LCSW

A letter from co-founders Phil Kirschbaum and Nancy Flaherty

Dear Friends of GCC,

It’s been an extraordinary privilege and responsibility to partner with all of you in helping to serve the individuals and families in our community for over three decades. 2016 is the year we celebrate our 30th year as Gurnee Counseling Center. We’ve seen the tremendous growth of this community – Gurnee and Lake County – and have been honored to be able to make a significant contribution to the mental health and well-being of the people who live here. We’ve been amazed to see – literally – generations of families come through our doors. We are in awe of the courage, resilience and the accomplishments of the people who come here for help: men, women, children and families who repair their relationships, overcome losses, trauma, addictions, and learn to live healthfully and to laugh again.

What we know is that we couldn’t have accomplished this alone. Only in partnership and collaboration with you could this have happened. We are so appreciative of your trust and support over the years.

We know that we can’t just rest; we know that there’s important work ahead. To that end, we are very proud to let you know of a change in leadership and ownership at Gurnee Counseling Center. As of October 1st, Christine Taylor, LCPC, has accepted the responsibility of carrying on the tradition of quality care for our community. She has been with us for four years, has already taken an active role in leadership within the organization, and has our complete confidence in steering Gurnee Counseling Center into the future. We (Phil and Nancy) intend to continue to serve in a clinical and consultative capacity to ensure continuity of care and a seamless transition. We couldn’t be any more excited about the future of Gurnee Counseling Center.

With Gratitude,

Phil Kirschbaum, LCSW  and Nancy Flaherty, LCPC

Making a Change: Ready, Able, Willing by Laura Novak, LCSW, CADC

It’s no secret that people often struggle with change. Leaving behind what is familiar and venturing into unknown territory can be scary. The stage of change model, developed by James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente in the 1970s, indicates that there are five stages that one goes through when making a significant change.

Precontemplation­ I see no need to change

Contemplation­ maybe I want to change, maybe I don’t. I am “on the fence.”

Preparation­ I’ve made up my mind I want to change. What’s next? What are some goals?

Action­ Doing what needs to be done to begin to change.

Maintenance­ A continual action that keeps me moving forward.

As a therapist, I see many people stuck in the contemplation stage of change. I think of this as the “should I or shouldn’t I” stage of making a decision. This is commonly called ambivalence. When you are ambivalent, you see positives and negatives for both making a change and not changing. Below is a helpful tool that helps you look at your reasons for changing, and your reasons for not making a change. Once this ambivalence is resolved or its power decreased, great growth can be made.

 Pros of Changing



 Cons of Changing



 Pros of Not Changing (staying the same)



 Cons of Not Changing (staying the same)



Aside from this chart, to move out of the contemplation stage and into preparation, it helps to ask yourself these questions.

Am I ready?

“Readiness” is about time. Have I committed to doing this now? Do I still have excuses about why I should wait, and are these valid? The truth is that sometimes, people never really feel “ready.” If you don’t feel ready, ask yourself when you WILL be ready. If you don’t have a clear and concrete answer, then this is a good indicator to just do it now.

Am I able? Able is about resources. What do I need to successfully do this? Who can and will be likely to help me? What obstacles might stand in my way?

Am I willing? Willing is about motivation. How much work will I put into making this change? Do I have a plan that is both effective and realistic? How will I maintain a positive attitude?

Most people have struggled with ambivalence and uncertainty at some point in their life. Sometimes people have unhelpful beliefs about themselves, others, and the world that keep them stuck. Often these beliefs are so deep­seated that they are outside our awareness, and they go unchallenged. Great growth can occur with people who challenge themselves and their old beliefs.

If you would like to further discuss making a change in your life, contact Laura Novak, LCSW, CADC at (847) 336-5621 x151.

When the First Kid Left Home by Gayle Florian

Six years ago our oldest, Gina, went off to college among the Minnesota bluffs of the Mississippi River. When she chose Winona State, I was reminded of the comment someone had made about finding a wedding dress:   when it’s the right one, you’ll feel it.  After several road trips to try on universities, Gina had that feeling about Winona State.  We’d spent a morning with the admissions counselor, and after a tour of the campus, Gina turned to me on the quad with a smile and a glow in her face that will be etched in my mind forever – she’d found her fit.

On the day Gina packed to leave for school, Jay and I slipped out to the Adirondack chairs in the backyard and began to grieve the leaving of our energetic, cheerful daughter.  We talked as if a chunk of the sun was disappearing and we couldn’t imagine how our family would get along without it.  There we sat, looking back on her childhood, regretting not travelling to all the places we would have liked, not teaching her all the things that suddenly felt important in a way they hadn’t before.  We felt cheated.  There hadn’t been enough time to accomplish all of that.  Our hearts were screaming out—we needed more time.

Then it hit me; we’d done a fine job of preparing Gina for the world.  And we actually had taken her on many memorable vacations.  We’d given much thought to what behavior we modeled for her and what experiences we exposed her to.  And we had fun, lots of it.  Did we really have much to regret about how we brought her up?  But that was exactly the point:  the everyday moments of parenting defined us.  Gina and Lexi gave us purpose and joy, and those childrearing years were beginning to end.  We never failed to savor them, and now Gina, and later Lexi, would be spending more moments away from us than with us.

I’ve been thinking back on that day ever since I received a card from my college pal, Mary.  Her eldest is heading off to college, her middle child has just gotten a driver’s license and her youngest is working towards becoming an Eagle Scout.  The weight of her son leaving home and her younger kids reaching milestones that mark their progress towards adulthood has touched a tender spot in her heart.  She mentioned trying to see the “happy” in all this, knowing I’ve always stressed enjoying the moment since children grow so fast.  I want to assure her that she can relax and have fun now because life will continue to be full and rich even after her children leave home.  But I share that tender spot and know I couldn’t be convinced of that until I experienced it for myself.

On that day six years ago, before heading back inside to help Gina, Jay and I quit distracting ourselves with judging whether we’d done a good enough job parenting.  Instead we showed compassion for one another as we began to navigate this next stage of our married life. And somewhere deep down I felt confident that our love for one another would carry us.  It would expand to fit the everyday nooks and crannies that would be left vacant as our first born headed off to college.

Later that evening several friends, whose kids would also be leaving for school, came to sit with me at my kitchen table, supporting me, as I was the first.  We laughed and cried, and again I experienced a tinge of that feeling, that sense that even while life would be different, it could be fulfilling in a new way.

And there was always that image of Gina’s face, illuminated with the promise of exciting endeavors beyond her childhood home, to remind me of exactly what we’d been preparing her for all along, and life was as it should be.

This post was originally published on Gayle’s blog, Life in the Turn Lane –