A Keesler Air Force Base Family shares how a chance encounter with FOCUS during a Kindergarten open house led to an experience that created lasting benefits.
Our family went through the FOCUS family program a few years ago. To say it was a “game-changer" for us would be an understatement. But in order to best share our story, I need to start with a little background on the state of our family at the time.
We had been at Keesler AB for a little more than a year. My husband had taken an assignment as a Military Training Leader working with the incoming student airmen. This was a great opportunity for him, but it meant that he was always on the job and it was not uncommon for him to have to go in nights and weekends. I was (and still am) a stay-at-home mom so I would make sure we were covered at home. For the most part, that was fine, but every now and then, especially if he had to leave during dinner or miss a family outing because an airman needed help, my frustration would bubble to the surface.
Our daughter was 5 at the time and about to start kindergarten. She’s a pretty happy kid, but she was prone to huge meltdowns when feeling stressed or overwhelmed. We worried that she would have trouble adjusting to all-day kindergarten. Finally, our son was 3. He had been going to preschool, but the program he was in changed which meant that he would be at home with me all day, every day for the next year.
Individually, all these stressors may not look too bad. But put them together and we had a perfect storm of anxiety happening at our house. We needed something to help us manage. Enter FOCUS.
I first met our local FOCUS team at kindergarten registration. I remember I decided to go while my daughter was at a morning summer camp so I would only have my son with me. He saw the table first and was instantly drawn to the Feeling Fox pictures. I got to chatting with a resilience trainer about our current family situation. Between her welcoming personality and the fact that those days I had limited interactions with other adults, I more or less unloaded all my messy feelings on her. She gave me her card and asked that I call to set up an appointment. She said it sounded like we could really benefit from the FOCUS family program.
To this day, I’m so glad I made that first appointment. The first two sessions were just for my husband and me. Through the assessment test, building a feelings timeline, and lots of talking, we discovered how much our communication skills needed some work.
The next few times, our resilience trainer met with our kids. They played games with the Feeling Foxes to help them better identify their emotions. She helped them make feelings jars, basically water bottles filled with glitter and small charms, that they could shake up when they were angry then watch all the material settle back to the bottom. And as a family, we did a few exercises where we could show the kids that us grown-ups have all kinds of emotions too. More importantly we talked about ways to handle those big feelings.
With our resilience trainer’s guidance we gained so many tools to help us better communicate with each other. The projects were easy for our young kids to understand and use. We hung the Feeling Foxes on the refrigerator where everyone could see them. Many times, when the kids got frustrated they could point to the fox that matched their feelings and then we could work things out. But the biggest tool we found, the one we all still use just about every day, is the Feelings Thermometer. It starts at green then moves to yellow, orange, then red. Using the colors to identify our state of mind gave us a very simple, clear way to let everyone know how we’re feeling.
We had such a great experience with FOCUS. While we don’t use the Feeling Fox pictures anymore, we do still go back to some of the tools we gained through the family program. And my daughter still has her feelings jar in her room where she can shake it anytime she needs to get back down to green.