Voyage Chicago – Dori Mages Interview


I am the founder of North Shore Family Services and began working with kids, teens, parents, and families in 1994. In my early years of my career as a licensed clinical social worker, I worked in foster care with teenage boys and as a case manager. I also served as an intake coordinator for an agency working with clients with developmental disabilities. After grad school, I worked as a school social worker for several years and am very experienced in IEP and 504 plans to allow our clients to obtain the accommodations and services needed to help them be successful. Read more here.


Fireworks: 6 Tips to Help Kids who are Scared

Are your kids scared of fireworks?

While the beautiful explosion of colors in the sky are wonders for all to see, kids are often very scared of fireworks because of the loud boom that accompanies them. Have no fear- Here are 6 tips to help with fireworks fright.

6 Tips to Help Kids who are Scared of Fireworks

  1. Be a sound detective:

    Many kids, whether they have sensory processing struggles or not, will often be scared when they hear an unexpected sound. It could be a creak in the floor. Or, it could be a cabinet closing, causing them to wonder, “What was that?!” When they discover what is causing the sound, kids will find that there is nothing to fear. Take a walk in your neighborhood or around your home and listen for sounds to determine where they start. Once they find the sounds’ origins, they will understand the unexpected noises better.

  2. Ask questions/fact check:

    Fears and anxiety often come from the unknown. At North Shore Family Services, we often refer to this as the “what ifs” that may or may not be likely to happen. Ask your child if the “what ifs” are likely to happen. What if it’s a dinosaur coming to eat us? What if it’s a HUGE bowling ball coming right for us? Come up with silly answers to help ease their worries.

  3. Count:

    Did you know that after the sparkle of the fireworks hit the sky, we often will hear the BOOM about 1 second later? Here’s a trick: count one second with your child using “one one thousand” to see if that’s right. The boom will be more predictable and often calm your child’s nerves. If your kids hear a boom and don’t see the fireworks, you can help them by letting them know that the firework probably went off about a second before then and maybe it didn’t go off high enough in the sky to see it. You can refer to it as a “dud” firework. “Bummer, Emma, we missed that one.”

  4. Anticipate the big noise and match it:

    Challenge your kids to be louder than the fireworks. Teach them to roar like a lion or drum like a drummer when they anticipate the loud firework. By teaching them this trick, you empower them to take control of their fears!

  5. Weighted blankets/big hugs:

    Kids like to feel secure when they are scared, so wrap them in a big hug or blanket while watching the fireworks together. If you can make your kids feel more secure, who wouldn’t try that?

  6. Noise canceling headphones:

    Sometimes, the beauty of the fireworks for some young ones does not outweigh the scary sounds for them. Noise canceling headphones can help tremendously. We recommend one from The Sensory Kids Store, locally in Wilmette.


Chicago Tribune – Dori Mages “13 Reasons Why”

The founder of North Shore Family Services, Dori J. Mages, MSW, LCSW was interviewed by Jackie Pilossoph of the Chicago Tribune  about “13 Reasons Why”, a popular Netflix series among pre-teens, teens, and parents where a 17-year-old high school student, Hannah Baker, dies by suicide and leaves behind a series of tapes describing situations that weighed on her and the peers who were involved. Read more here.


5 Tips for a Successful Prom

5 Tips for a Successful Prom

by Elyse Dombrowski



It’s in the details.

Prom is a time for celebration and excitement.  For your teen, that means finding a dress or a tux, a date, and getting ready for the big dance, however, those things do not just come together on all on their own. Talk to your teen about the plans they have, and how they anticipate putting them all together, there may be small details that they are not aware of, or have never had to address before this time.  Simply engage your teen in a conversation regarding their plans and what they need to do in order to bring all the moving pieces together.  Have they ordered the corsage or boutonniere? Arranged transportation to and from the dance? Or made their dinner reservations in advance to guarantee that their group will be able to eat at the restaurant of their choice, as well as have enough time to do so before the dance?  All of these questions are a good place to start and helps your teen develop a sense of responsibility while improving their organizational skills at the same time!



Budget, budget, budget.

Talk to your child before the big day arrives, and let them know how much you are willing to spend on their outfit. This includes the dress or tuxedo, the flowers, dinner, and all of the little accessories that go with completing the outfit (jewelry, shoes, etc.).  If your teen wants a more expensive outfit, then let them know that will be an expense they must cover on their own.  Similarly, for other homecoming costs, such as transportation, the dinner, and after-party plans, let your teen know the budget for those expenses as well.  Expenses can add up quickly, so inform your teen of your budget well in advance so they know what to expect and can plan accordingly.



Communicate rules and expectations.

Just as you discussed the budget in advance, make sure you also address what you expect from your teen when they are out.  Do you know who your teen will be attending the dance with?  Do you know what their plans are for after the dance? Are they able to attend an after-party, and if so, do you know where they will be going and whether or not another adult will be present?  Be sure to ask your teen to provide you with the details and information before prom arrives, and to check in with you should their plans change throughout the course of the night.  Curfew is another important piece to discuss in advance and whether or not it will be extended for the evening.  Ensure your teen that you feel confident in their ability to stick to the plans you have discussed, and trust them to make decisions accordingly.



Safety first.

Safety is always a big concern for parents when it comes to prom, especially when there are after-party plans. Many schools offer after-party plans that the students can take part in, which provide fun, food, and adult supervision.  Still, there are teens that choose to make their own plans after the dance, typically at a friend’s house.  Talk to your teen about drinking or using substances and keep a realistic mindset when discussing the presence of said substances.  While you should stress that you prefer your teen do not use any illegal substances, set some realistic guidelines and non-negotiable rules with them.  This may include no drinking and driving, no binge drinking, and no leaving the after-party.  Younger teens may need different rules, such as setting a curfew and ensuring that adult supervision will be present. Encourage your teen to call you, without getting in trouble, if they need help or do not want to be at the party anymore.  Keeping the lines of communication open is the key here.



Have fun.

As a parent, you can remember the thrill and joy of prom.  Going to the dance is such a great time, and will be a time your teen remembers forever.  So get excited for them!  Although knowing what to expect and how to plan is half the battle, and important, don’t forget to make this time as enjoyable as possible for them.  Help them find the right dress, document the day of the dance with pictures of them getting ready and laughing with friends, and wish them the best time before they head out.  While they are out, plan a fun evening for yourself!  Plan a date night, watch a movie, or spend time with friends.  Just because prom is for your teen does not mean you cannot have fun too!       


Spring Break: An Opportunity for Bonding with your Teen

If you are home on spring break with your teen, you have probably experienced her lack of interest in doing anything over break- asserting that she “just wants to chill.”

If your teen has no plans to go on a trip for break and YOUR idea of spring break isn’t watching him focused on some variation of a screen (video games, social media, texting, tv, taking selfies, etc.) while on the couch eating snacks, then why not make the time off from school an opportunity for your family to chill out together? (more…)


Valentine’s Day for Your Teen: Feeling Red-Hot or Making Them Blue?

February is the month of LOVE, highlighted by a culture-bound (and Hallmark-enhanced) national “holiday” that can mean different things to different people, depending on the state of relations at that moment in time. Valentine’s Day spells out, in no uncertain terms, the absence or presence of a love interest in your son or daughtNSFS teen girl with heartshutterstock_244364491(1)er’s life. While some kids take this in stride, or don’t consider it an identity-maker (or breaker), others can feel markedly uncomfortable around the pressures and expectations that this day inspires.

What if my son/daughter doesn’t have a love interest?

Be supportive. And, if you can, share your own “war stories” from the front. Let them know that, back in the day, you struggled at times with caring for someone who didn’t notice you—or perhaps noticed you too much, and it wasn’t from the one you wanted. It’s ok to reflect that you had a heartbreak of your own, and lived to tell the tale. While most of the time our kids don’t want to hear too much about their parents’ relationship experiences, in this case a little shared wisdom can be reassuring for them. The caveat here: once you’ve shared a little, stop sharing. That’s enough about you.

Listen. Listen more.

Be a great listener; it’s the single-most important thing you can do for a teen who is willing to talk. Sharing their concerns or disappointments can be a relief for kids who are struggling. It’s already difficult for some teens to modulate their feelings and reactions to budding romantic thoughts. Most of this gets shared with peers, but on some occasions a teen might feel ostracized if everyone in their friend group appears to be in a couple. If they feel like odd-man-out, your open and non-judgmental support, without advice or admonitions, can do a world of good.

Red-Hot making you nervous? Set limits, early and often.

What if your teen is love-struck and their love interest reciprocates? Exciting for them, a little scary for you! Part of the job of parenting a teen is to set clear and appropriate guidelines for behavior. Remind them that it’s ok to think and feel whatever thoughts and emotions they have, but that behaviors should be aligned with your family values. Be sure they know what those are! As a parent you may have become accustomed to managing your child’s schedule, but in the area of love and romance it is largely an internalized experience for your teen. Where love and attraction is involved, don’t expect to be in the loop about everything, but make sure they know what your parental expectations are regarding dating and relationships.

Love is more than romance…

If your son or daughter doesn’t have a love interest this month, remember that family time can spell love and happy memories as well. What about starting a standing family tradition that marks Valentine’s Day, or the month of February, with something related to fun family rituals? Kids are comforted and grounded by the love and support that moms and dads (and even siblings!) provide—at all ages and stages. This Valentine’s Day can be another opportunity to build family traditions that bring joy and connection, and can be passed along to the next generation.

Happy Valentine’s Day!




College Applications: What to Do After a Rejection


Are you waiting for that acceptance letter from THAT school? You know, the one your son or daughter has been dreaming of attending since kindergarten?NSFS college rejection letter shutterstock_127040054

Then, as a parent of a high school senior, you have probably been accompanying your son or daughter on the year-long journey through the college application process. Of course, this is the culmination of the efforts made for several years before now: building a solid GPA, participating in social or philanthropic clubs, collecting athletic and academic accolades. With all that effort, how could one possibly tolerate the idea that different schools focus on a range of qualities, and that student strengths may not align with the university’s decision to admit your star student? So, what do you do if that #1 school says “No”?

Handling Rejection—with Grace
Remembering that a failure is nothing more than a “correction” can help to lessen the impact of disappointment. If that school was not going to be an option, now you can move forward in the right direction, the way things are intended to go. It’s important to avoid personalizing a decision that ultimately may have very little to do with the applicant, and much more to do with the changing and unknowable institutional demands to which university admissions departments respond.

Helping Your Teen Weigh the Pros and Cons
It would be thrilling to get into your “reach” school, unless you consider the real possibility that you would now be in the big pond, as a little fish. Everyone around you will have been the best and brightest from their own respective high schools, and the prospect of keeping up with the competition for the next four years is daunting. For this reason alone, many students may be slightly relieved to readjust their sights to more manageable college matches. Being accepted at a (ahem, perhaps) less competitive, but nevertheless appealing school where a student can ideally thrive and grow can ultimately be a better experience. Although rejections are never the preference, ask your child what possible benefits might arise from crossing that school off the list?

Feel the Feelings
Most parents invest lots of energy teaching kids to be good sports when it comes to athletics and competitive activities—and that’s all good. But disappointment should be given a voice when big things go wrong. It’s ok for your teen to feel badly about a loss; try not to take that away from them by being too quick to cheer them up or tell them it doesn’t matter or to look on the bright side. They will get there, but first let them own their “sad” and “mad” feelings—perhaps even to indulge in them just a bit.

Although it’s distressing to watch your child struggle, unless it’s unusually prolonged or excessive in some way, it is natural and appropriate to “grieve” the loss of a dream. Allowing the time to navigate through the feelings will enable him to come out stronger on the other side.

Let it Go & Reframe
Once they’ve spent a sufficient amount of time emoting, a shift of perspective will follow. Re-framing a bad situation into something “less bad” is highly adaptive, and ultimately the recipe for a successful life, both in college and beyond.

Knowing how to accept rejections can be instrumental in building good coping skills. Instead of personalizing the rejection as a measure of self-worth, recognize that learning how to bounce back after a setback is one of the ways to become emotionally resilient!



Does My Child Need a Therapist?

Parents typically are much more worried about having to take their child to a professional than the kids are. Kids and teens usually shutterstock_162527039(1)view their therapist (well, a good one) as an adult sounding board: someone besides their parents who can offer “what if” scenarios to help develop strategies and problem-solving skills in common situations.

Kids come to therapy for a wide range of concerns, and the reasons that parents consider seeking help will vary greatly depending on the age and developmental stage of the child. In school-aged and pre-school children, there may be situations where skill-building in social, academic and emotional arenas appear to be falling behind that of their peers, or lacking in basic areas. A parent may notice these challenges, or may be informed of such concerns by a school social worker, teacher or a pediatrician who suggests further investigation into an issue which may be more emotional in nature than physical.

In teenagers, some of those skills may have been developed effectively early on, but there is a regression or retreat from previous areas of competence. Also, negative behaviors or attitudes that cause significant stress in family, friendship and school/work relationships will frequently motivate parents to seek outside help.

Common Range of Parent Concerns (depending on age of child)
• Excessive worries or fears
• Perfectionistic tendencies
• Irritability or over-reactivity
• Difficulty with transitions
• Difficulty socializing with same-aged peers
• Sleep issues
• School refusal or avoidance
• Decline in academic performance as an indicator of social/emotional struggles

• Inability to identify, express or cope with feelings
• Unresolved loss issues
• Frequent or heavy conflict with family/friends
• Poor eating habits (too much/too little)
• Lack of interest in formerly desired activities
• Lingering negative mood or attitude
• Aggressive or risky behaviors towards self or others
• Non-compliance with authority figures (e.g., teachers, parents)

Who should I call? A social worker? A counselor? A psychologist? A psychiatrist?

Licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) have a master’s degree in social work and at least 3000 clock hours of supervised training in a clinical setting before taking the licensing exam. They also receive supervision training and consultation during their clinical experience.

Licensed professional counselors have a master’s degree in clinical psychology, also with 3000 clock hours of supervised training in a clinical setting before taking the clinical licensing exam.

Licensed marital and family therapists also have a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy and are well-trained to work with children, teens, parents, couples, and families. MFTs have graduate training (a Master’s or Doctoral degree) in marriage and family therapy and at least two years of clinical experience. Like their counterparts, marriage and family therapists regularly practice short-term therapy and prefer to offer brief, solution-focused treatment that is specific, with therapeutic goals with the end of treatment in mind. About half of the treatment provided by marriage and family therapists is one-on-one with the other half divided between marital/couple and family therapy, or a combination of treatments.

These professionals do not need a doctorate degree to practice in their field, but can be in-network providers for health insurance, which helps families afford therapy services. Social workers and counselors often charge less per session for the work they do than their psychologist counterparts, who often also conduct psychological evaluations and testing and sometimes do therapy as well. Psychiatrists may offer therapy, but often are sought when medication is a consideration.

What to Expect In a Therapy Session
Before bringing a younger child in for therapy, a parent will typically meet for an initial session alone with the clinician to discuss concerns, review any previous treatment or diagnostic assessments, and answer any questions for the parent. In a first session with the child (which may or may not include the parent), the therapist assesses in a non-judgmental, supportive way specific information related to the child’s personality, style of relating, and areas of concern. This assessment forms the basis for creating a treatment plan, and identifying specific goals within that plan that are related to the development of the child’s self-directed problem-solving skills.
Parents of older teens often start the therapy process with a phone consultation with the therapist, bypassing the need for an in-person meeting, and the therapist meets with the teen individually from the beginning. In this case, parents are included in the process whenever necessary and useful.

Ongoing communication between parent and clinician is an important part of the therapy process as treatment goals are met or modified. One of the most important goals of therapy is to enable the child/teen (and family) to become skillful and confident in their problem-solving abilities, so that the therapist is no longer-needed. Follow-up or “booster” sessions are available after therapy ends, so that any new or unresolved concerns can be addressed if the need arises.


Overnight Camp: Survival Guide for Parents

shutterstock summer camp_173428661The kids are off to overnight camp! Which parent of summer campers are you? Are you one of the “I can’t wait till they’re off” folks, or the “I can’t wait till they come home” types? The former are often parents of veteran campers, or moms/dads who had great overnight camp experiences themselves, and eagerly envision their children experiencing the same. The latter is admittedly more challenging. It’s an uncomfortable feeling…the sense that something is a little “off,” a perpetual worry that plays in your gut, a pensive anticipation at random moments…this is the stuff that extended separations from our children produce in parents of fledgling overnight campers. But fear not, because the experience is not only temporary, but growth-promoting, for parents and kids alike.

What Your Kids Need

They need to know that you’re ok…so that they can be ok! If you focus too much on telling your child how much you will miss them, or anticipate every possible issue or concern that might potentially arise, they may begin to question your belief that they can handle the experience. It is best to envision the best possible outcomes your child may have, and keep that in mind when interacting during the weeks and days leading up to their departure.

They need to know that you believe they are capable. Most overnight camps don’t allow parents to call or text their child while at camp for this very reason: to allow kids to adjust and be successful away from their parents. When your child starts to think of all the “what ifs” that can happen at camp, reassure your camper that she can think through options and problem-solving, as well as taking appropriate risks in reaching out to new friends and camp counselors. The potential for developing self-confidence starts with sons and daughters meeting new challenges with an open mind, and a silenced cell phone.

What You Need

As important as enabling your child to feel competent, is to recognize that you as the parent are capable of enjoying a summer camp break as well! It’s great to spend some time focusing on yourself, or engaging in a little extra couples-time, or perhaps spending some special one-on-one time with other kids or family members while your camper is away. Replenishing your own energy and resources is a great gift to yourself, and provides an important example to your kids about good self-care, as well.

Life Lessons

So…what happens if your kid struggles during camp, or wants to come home? Rather than over-react, consider the possibility that a teaching moment has arrived. Would you hop in the car and bring Junior home, acknowledging that it’s too difficult to tolerate loneliness or upset or anxiety (and yes, that includes YOU tolerating those feelings in yourself)? Or, would your child benefit from encouragement that there is something she/he can do to feel better, that the difficult feelings won’t last forever and that they can make choices, both attitude and action-based, that will help them tolerate the experience with an open mind and heart. When a kid learns how to make themself feel better, even just a little bit, it

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