An Open Letter to Parents: After a School Shooting

By Tanya Ruckstuhl LICSW

One of the most horrifying events has happened. Your child attends a school where there has been a shooting. Someone is dead. Someone else is responsible. Within this awful reality, you and your child are navigating the emotions of fear, anger, loss and trying to find a path forward.

This letter is to help you as a parent be as supportive and emotionally available as possible so that your child can feel safer and function better.

In the wake of trauma, it is normal to feel terrified, exhausted, furious and even numb, or as if nothing is real.

Imagine that a traumatic event is like a surge of electricity and that this surge pops the circuit of our mind’s normal ability to process reality.

You can expect the following behaviors from your child: they may regress in independence. They may want you to make them food or even cuddle them the way you did when they were younger. It is normal and helpful for your child to receive extra love, care, and declarations of support. If your child wants to sleep on the floor of your bedroom, this is a perfectly reasonable thing to do right now.

Alternately, they might also pull back, shut down and even direct their anger at you for expressing concern. If this happens, try not to take it personally and instead imagine that they are telling you through their behavior, “Right now I need to avoid or release pent up distress about the event.”

They may have a greater need to be in touch with other classmates and friends at this time. While you can maintain whatever rules you already have regarding screen time and social media access, you may consider liberalizing those rules for the next three weeks by allowing your child to text, Snap and Discord more frequently to process their experience with others.

Your child may have a harder time attending to school work, and may neglect homework or studying. Teachers understand that in the wake of school shootings, it is harder to focus and learn. You can reach out to your child’s teacher to make accommodations if necessary.

It is normal for your child to want to talk about what they heard/felt/and are thinking about now. If you have difficulty listening to your child talk about this event, consider getting help for yourself and/or making sure your child has a trusted adult to talk about it with.

If your child seems extra sleepy that is normal as well, but if they are neglecting to eat, shower or they are staying in bed all day, that would be a strong indicator that they need additional help and could benefit from talking to a therapist.

Additionally if they cannot sleep and this does not resolve within a few days, they may need additional support.

Above all, remember that help is available and neither you nor your child should have to navigate this scary and traumatic time alone.

Road To Relationship

I’m so excited to announce a new monthly class I’m offering with two of my favorite humans in the world: Road to Relationship will be an educational group for personal-growth minded singles who are not fully satisfied with their online dating experiences. We will be talking about communication skills, setting boundaries, appropriate expectations, etc…

Check this out and if you know anyone who might be interested and lives in the Seattle area, please forward this to them!

Thank you!

Tanya Ruckstuhl

Half-Assed Project Completion

By Tanya Ruckstuhl LICSW

(I would insert a photo of the newly repainted furniture here–but I’m too lazy. You’re just going to have to imagine it. It’s dark brown).

I have a friend who refinishes furniture as a hobby. She and her husband go to rural antique stores and buy beat-up wooden furniture and bring them home and sand them down and stain and seal them. Her therapy office has gorgeous antiques that glow a golden polyurethane light.

My office, meanwhile, has Craigslist finds that I’ve tucked in higgledy-piggledy that are replete with water stains and scratches.

Every once in a while, I notice how beat up my furniture looks and hatch a plot. I will empty my bookcase and side table, bring them home and sand and re-stain them. But the thing is, I never actually do anything about it.  My book case is an unwieldy China hutch that has heavy glass doors that do not come out and last time it was moved, the guy I bought it from nearly lost a hand when the glass door swung over and slammed into it.

This past month I’ve been reading “Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things” by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee. It’s about hoarding, anxiety, perfectionism and obsessive-compulsive disorder and this book has motivated me to be more half-assed in my approach to non-consequential tasks.  Much of hoarding can be understood as avoidance of making decisions due to fear of imperfection/regret.  If you can think through options like “if I miss this thing, I can buy another on Amazon and have it within 48 hours—and get even a better version of it,” or “even if I make the wrong decision about this, it’s no big deal,” you might find it easier to edit, or like me, decide to try to do something you are not excellent at.  

None of my clients really care about my furniture. If they did, they wouldn’t be my clients because my furniture is—well– ratty. So, the condition of the furniture hasn’t affected my work life (which would be consequential), but it bums me out because it looks bad. Taking my new anti-perfectionist commitment to half-assery to heart, this evening I simply brought the refinishing supplies to the office. I sanded, wiped with rags, and stained just the tops of the breakfront and the side table, ignoring all the other sides. I spilled a little wood stain on the carpet and in spite of wearing gloves, managed to get some of the stain on my hands. That’s okay. All in all, the whole thing took about ten minutes to gather supplies at home, ten minutes to do the work at the office, and another five minutes to throw out the roller brush and put away the sanding and painting supplies afterwards. The finished product would make anyone with legitimate furniture refinishing skills (or OCD) cringe and shudder, but for my purposes, it’s great: the furniture looks better, it was easy to do, and most important of all; it’s done, aka not taking up space in my brain anymore.

This summer I embrace H.A.P.C. or Half-Assed Project-Completion whenever possible! I hope you will join me and relish in your own triumph over procrastination!

Dog Lessons

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

by Tanya Ruckstuhl LICSW

Today I am writing about dogs. I used to have this sweet, traumatized rescue dog named Odie. We got Odie when the twins were eight years old. We had prepared for months, watching Caesar Milan dog training videos and discussing principles of behavior training, the importance of exercise and how to use treats to reward good behavior and ignore bad behavior to extinguish it according to the principles of operant conditioning. I felt well prepared to use my graduate school education and earnestly thought my state certification as a child mental health specialist would apply neatly to dog parenting.

Odie came from a home where he had been so neglected that when he first joined us, he couldn’t walk around the block without sounding like he was having an asthma attack. He licked the fur on the tops of his paws clean off. He licked the glass of the backdoor until his salvia etched it into a permanently cloudy surface.

Whenever someone came over or I talked on the phone, he would rocket out the doggie door into the backyard and leap up repeatedly against the door and bark as if the hounds of hell were on his tail.

When company came over, he would take out his girlfriend/dog bed and vigorously hump it in the middle of the gathering.  Having been neutered did nothing to deter his motivation.

I did all I could think of to help Odie become a better-behaved dog. I got him a variety of treats. Sprayed bitter apple spray on the back door. Held and petted and walked him daily. Tried picking him up when he was misbehaving, as well as leaving him alone, as well as putting him in time out in another room, as well as distracting him with toys.

I wish this were a story where my persistence and patience resulted in the eradication of these whacked out behaviors, but it is not. Instead, I changed. I became less distressed when he came back in through the doggie door with saliva streaming down his chin. I learned to leave the room when I made or received a phone call so the person on the other end wouldn’t have to worry that we were beating our dog. I learned to take less personally his pillow humping during social gatherings. Odie taught me high strung, traumatized dogs don’t necessarily get better.

This spring, Odie was killed by Coyotes. It happened early in the morning, before I woke up. I found his collar and a significant amount of blood in the backyard, and later found his skull under a sage bush.

There is a mathematical equation that equals the exact amount of time each of us gets on earth, but no one knows the value of any of the variables. It’s only when their time is up that we know how much time we had with our human and non-human beloveds.

Hedonic adaptation is the psychological term that describes the common tragedy of developing a tolerance for, and then subsequently ignoring, every single familiar source of joy in our lives. We forget to notice the beauty of the garden, the sweetness of ice cream, the scent of our child’s scalp, the warmth of our spouse’s sleeping body. It takes conscious effort to fight the development of immunity to joy.

Dogs never develop hedonic adaptation. They eat their treats with gusto every single time. They greet us with total focused enthusiasm. Odie, as crazy as he was, celebrated each family member with sniffs and licks and tail wags and demands for belly scratching. He had terrible breath and was banned from dog gatherings and destroyed the back door and was still the sweetest, most loving creature. Flawed is not unlovable.