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How to Spot Anxiety and Depression in Your Child

Managing kid stressHow can you determine if your child is experiencing depression or anxiety? To begin with, you as parents have the most intimate knowledge of your child; so to define “normal behavior” according to some external “objective“ standard is not only foolish but does not tell you about your own child. The hallmark of any emotional or psychological issues in children is a significant, long term change in your child’s behavior, which cannot be assigned to any particular recent event. These changes might involve a change in appetite, sleep patterns, social behavior, and school work or attendance. One might also notice onset of risky behaviors or a lack of interest in the world around him/her.

In those occasions that are clearly visible but also clearly anticipated, such as the loss of a family member or pet, unusual behavior can be expected but for what length of time? This is indeed the major question and sometimes can only be answered by comparing similar situations in the past that affected your child. My own feeling is that any such radical behavior might in fact last up to one month or so but really should be expected to diminish after that time.

While some of the observable differences might include lack of interest in things ordinarily enjoyed by your child, sudden intense interest in repetitive movements or “hobbies” or change in temperament may also act as an alert signal.

Your first line of defense should always begin with a visit to your family doctor or Pediatrician who might also have important knowledge about your child. A total evaluation should be performed to be sure that the changes you see in your child are not caused by physical events. If your Pediatrician also agrees that this is unusual behavior, or if you feel that even though he/she had a normal medical evaluation, he/she is still showing you signs of emotional distress, your next step might very well be finding a pediatric psychologist or psychiatrist for further evaluation. You might in fact have difficulty locating a pediatric mental health care provider because there is a nationwide shortage of such people.

If you are not having any luck finding such a person I would suggest you get in touch with your closest children’s hospital and inquire. Remember you are your child’s best historian, ombudsman and support- don’t sell yourself short.

4 Tips to Take the Stress Out of Back-To-School

While somewhere, somehow, there are families happily waltzing back into their school-year routine, most face these first few weeks with a healthy dose of anxiety. “The start of school means the return to a more rigid schedule … the return of homework. In essence, it’s about change, and change is something that is hard for most people,” says Joe Bruzzese, author of A Parent’s Guide to the Middle School Years.

Change is most dramatic for children starting a new chapter — kindergarten, middle school, a move to a new school district. But even returning to what’s familiar can rattle kids. “A child who struggled with math during the previous year can approach the new year with a good deal of anxiety. Kids who have had a rough time with their friends at the end of the year may feel like, ‘Here we go again,’” says Diane Peters Mayer, a therapist in Doylestown, Pa., and author of Overcoming School Anxiety.

So how can you help? First, be calm — even if your child isn’t. Then, try these tips for a smooth ride into the new school year:

Simplify your mornings Scrambling to get your kids — and yourself — out the door can make for a pretty frenetic scene. “It’s crucial for parents to look at their mornings and ask themselves how they can make them better,” says Peters Mayer. Do all you can the night before — make sure backpacks are packed, school forms are signed, lunches are made. You can even ask younger kids to help you set the table for breakfast the next morning. Equally important, get yourself ready the night before so you can connect with your kids in the morning. If you have young children struggling with separation anxiety, it’s the perfect time to go over with them what they can expect for the day, and what Mom and Dad will be doing too.

Create a smart yet flexible after-school routine Sit down with kids and hammer out a schedule that works for all of you. Doing homework right after school may sound good to you. But some kids really need time to decompress, so you could work it out that they play at the school playground for an hour before they begin their homework. “Also, help your child figure out where she’ll do her schoolwork,” says social worker Connie Hammer, a PCI Certified Parent Coach based in Maine. “If she wants a study area to call her own, have fun setting it up with her.” Some kids prefer to be closer to where the action is when they do their homework … and that can work, says Peters Mayer. “As long as homework is completed, be flexible. It shows them you are open to their ideas and teaches kids to be able to say ‘Yeah, I can do this,’” adds Mayer.

Reach out at school There’s no need to wait for parent-teacher conferences or even back-to-school night to meet with your child’s teacher and get the lay of the land. “Much of the anxiety kids feel is their uncertainty about what their new teachers expect of them: ‘What is she going to want, how is she going to grade me?’” explains Hammer. If your child is struggling with significant anxiety or is having social difficulties or separation issues, you may also want to meet with the guidance counselor. “The more the school knows, the better it will be for the child,” says Hammer.

Keep the lines of communication open As kids get older, they often clam up — especially if they are struggling socially or are having a problem with their grades. “Typical parent questions like ‘How was your day?’ generally get a less-than-informative response because they are just too general. Kids don’t really even know how to respond,” says Mayer. Instead, try asking specific questions that show you’re interested in what they’re learning and doing. And once they start talking, just listen. “They may begin to open up about things you didn’t expect,” says Hammer. “Let them know: ‘I believe you can do this. I know we can solve this problem together.’”

I’ll Give This “10”: How to Help Kids Reframe BIG Feelings

How can you help kids deal with BIG feelings or emotions? With all the stress kicked into high gear by the holiday season -or any time kids are overly anxious- help children to understand and reframe their feelings and life experiences by having a Cognitive Conversation that recognizes and acknowledges their emotions and then lets them decide how long they want to continue to feel that way…

Consider a conversation that sounds something like this:

Kids! We all have BIG feelings sometimes. Some experiences bring us feelings of frustration, anxiety or anger. Let’s talk about times when we might make a decision about how long we will be “in” our feelings and when we will choose to let them go. Will we be “in” our feelings for 10 seconds, 10 minutes or 10 hours? You decide. Here’s an example…

 

If you waited in line for an ice cream cone and when it’s finally your turn, you learn they are out of vanilla ice cream, you might say to yourself, “That is super frustrating. I was so hungry for a vanilla cone. I’ll give this 10 seconds and then ask for a chocolate one.”

I’ll Give This 10! is a practical tool for feelings exploration, cognitive reframing and mood modulation.

 

In I’ll Give This 10, we learn how to recognize that when we are having BIG feelings, we name them and then tell ourselves how long we plan to experience these BIG feelings. We usually choose to “feel our emotions” for 10 seconds, 10 minutes, or 10 hours. Of course, this “rule of 10” is a cognitive construct, it could be 2 minutes or 27 minutes. But children get “10,” so it is a wonderful starting point to help a child to determine:

  • “HOW BIG is this feeling?”
  • “HOW LONG am I going to let this feeling determine my thoughts and behaviors?”
  • “WHEN will I let this feeling go?”

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This Holiday Season, Commit Your Family to a “Vow of Yellibacy”

Let’s face it, yelling is one way to let off steam. And we seem to be letting off more than our share these days. Unfortunately, the holidays is a time when stress builds and we let off steam with one another. Studies show that both kids and parents alike are far more stressed than just a decade ago. Those studies also show that family yelling matches and flaring tempers are especially prevalent during tough economic times–like now, and there’s proof: An online survey of 1300 U.S. parents named yelling—not working or spanking or missing a school event—as their biggest guilt inducer.

Our tempers do affect our kids. Yelling can also become an easy habit that can ruin family harmony. Just tolerating yelling just teaches a kid that the way to get what you want is by upping the volume. And beware: the more yelling, the more it must be utilized to be effective. So family members get used to the screaming, the pitch gets louder, the frequency gets longer and soon everyone starts using it so they can be heard. Yelling is also contagious so chances are once one family member has learned to scream another will catch the “screaming bug.”

If you want to boost your family’s harmony and reduce those yelling matches, then something needs to be altered, A.S.A.P. Here are the seven steps to reduce this vicious yelling cycle. Change takes commitment, but it is doable. Stick to that plan!

7 Steps to Reduce Yelling, Curb Tempers, and Be a Calmer Family

STEP 1: Take a “Calmer Family” vow. Begin by gathering the troops and convey your new “no yelling” expectations to all family members. Everyone must know you mean business that yelling will no longer be tolerated. Explain that while it’s okay to be angry, they may not use a yelling voice to express their feelings. If the member needs to take a time out to calm down, he may do so. Some families take a “no yelling” vow and sign a pledge, and posted as a concrete reminder. Hint: Kids mirror our emotions. When you raise your voice, they raise theirs. When you get tense, they get tense. The fastest way to help your kids reduce anger is for you to be calm.

STEP 2: Learn your stress warning signs. Stress comes before anger. Anger comes before yelling. The best way to stop yelling is to identify your own unique physiological stress signs that warn us we’re getting angry. Explain to your kids that we should tune in to them because they help us stay out of trouble. Next, help your child recognize what specific warning signs she may have that tell her she’s starting to get upset. For example: “Looks like you’re tense. Your hands are in a fist. Do you feel yourself starting to get angry?” Anger escalates very quickly: if a kid waits until he is in “Melt down” or a “screaming match” to get himself back into control, he’s too late—and so are you to try and help him. Here are a few common warning signs: Flushed checks. Pounding hearts. Louder voice. Clenched hands. Grinding teeth. Rapid breathing. Body vibrates. Drier mouth

STEP 3. Identify family temper triggers. Yelling matches typically happen at the same time such as when you just get home from work, homework time, the morning mania or witching hour. It helps family members learn to recognize one another’s time vulnerabilities–or the time they are most prone to yell. For instance: John: First thing in the morning when he’s always grouch. Kenny: around 2 pm when he needs a nap. Mom: 6 pm when she’s trying to get dinner going. Members just need to be a bit more sensitive.

STEP 4. Teach healthier alternatives to express needs. Many families yell because they simply don’t know how to express their anger another way. So teach a healthier way.

  • Teach “I” messages. Explain that instead of starting messages with “You,” begin with “I.” It helps your kid stay focused on the person’s troublesome behavior without putting the person down so the chances for emotional outbursts (and yelling) are lessened. The child then tells the offender what the person did that upset him. He may also state how he’d like the problem resolved. For example: “I get really upset when you take my stuff. I want you to ask me for permission first.” Or: “I don’t like to be teased. Please stop.”
  • Label emotions. Encourage members to acknowledge their hot feelings to one another. “Watch out. I’m really getting upset.” “I’m so angry I could burst.” “I feel so frustrated that you’re not listening to me.” Labeling the feeling helps both the yeller and the receiver calm down and get a bit of perspective. Give everyone in your family permission to verbalize their feelings and then honor them by listening to their concerns.
  • Give permission to “Take Ten”. Let everyone in your family know it’s okay to say, “I need a time out.” Then take a few deep breaths or walk away until you can get back in control. Then give that permission. If the yeller doesn’t stop, ask him to go to time out. Set up a place where a yeller can calm down.

STEP 5. Refuse to engage with a screamer. You know this one: “If your kid screams and you scream, you all scream. So make a rule that you will NOT engage with an out-of-control kid. Wear a bracelet to remind you. Or tape a red card to your wall so when you see it, it tells you: “Stay calm!” Here are a few other tips:

  • Create a warning signal. Some families make up their own “family signal” such as pulling your ear, holding up a red card or a “Time Out” hand gesture. You agreed upon by all members and it signifies someone is using an inappropriate voice tone. Then use it the second his voice goes one scale above a “normal range” give the signal. It means he needs to lower his voice immediately or you won’t listen.
  • Do NOT engage. If he continues using a loud, yelling tone, absolutely refuse to listen. Firmly (and calmly) explain: “That’s yelling. I only listen when you use a calm voice.” The moment you yell back the yeller knows they won and the yelling cycle continues. If you have to lock yourself in the bathroom do so. The screamer needs to know yelling doesn’t work. Walk away and go about your business until he talks right. As long as he yells, keep walking.

STEP 6. Reduce stress as a family. Find what is adding to your family’s stress that is triggering those yelling matches. While you may not be able to get dad’s job back or gain back your retirement fund but you can do things to reduce the stress in your home. Here are a few things.

  • Keep to routines. Sticking to a routine helps reduce stress because it boosts predictability and boosts security. While everything else around them may seem to be crumbling those bedtime rituals, nighttime stories, hot baths, hugs and backrubs remain the same.
  • Cut down. Too much going on? Cut one thing out of your schedule. Just reducing one thing can reduce those yelling matches because you’re cutting the stress.
  • Monitor news consumption. Limit viewing those stressful news stories or better yet, turn the TV off during the news hour. Kids admit those stories are scaring the pants of them (and us) and will boost our stress—and tempers
  • Find ways to relax. Find no-cost ways to reduce stress as a family. Meditate with your kids, do yoga with your daughter, ride bikes with your preschooler, listen to relaxation tapes with your kids. Not only will you reduce your stress but you’ll also help your kids learn healthy ways to minimize theirs. It will also reduce the yelling.
  • Rebuild relationships. Are your kids yelling because they’re not being heard? Or has yelling been going on so long and now relationships are jarred? Find one on one time with those family members who need you most.

STEP 7. Stick to your Calmer Family, “Vow of Yellibacy” at least 21 days. Change is hard work. Be consistent. Your kids need to know you mean business, so stick to your plan at lest 21 days. Get a monthly calendar and mark off each day you stick to the plan. You should see a gradual reduction in the yelling. If yelling continues despite your best efforts or escalates, then there is a deeper underlying problem. It’s time to seek the help of a mental health professional for your child or a therapist for you and your spouse or family. But commit to following through so you do temper those tempers and you become a calmer family.

Above all stay calm. Kids mirror our emotions and just-released research proves that our kids are picking up on our stress. They also copy our behaviors. When you raise your voice, they raise theirs. When you get tense, they get tense. The fastest way to help your kids reduce stress and help kids calm down is for you to be calm yourself.

So are you ready to take that Vow of Yellibacy??

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Thrivers Book CoverAcross the nation, student mental health is plummeting, major depression rates among teens and young adults are rising faster than among the overall population, and younger children are being impacted. As a teacher, educational consultant, and parent for 40 years, Dr. Michele Borba has never been more worried than she is about this current generation of kids. In THRIVERS, Dr. Borba explains why the old markers of accomplishment (grades, test scores) are no longer reliable predictors of success in the 21st century – and offers 7 teachable traits that will safeguard our kids for the future. She offers practical, actionable ways to develop these Character Strengths (confidence, empathy, self-control, integrity, curiosity, perseverance, and optimism) in children from preschool through high school, showing how to teach kids how to cope today so they can thrive tomorrow. THRIVERS is now available at amazon.com.

Check-Out What Movies are Sensory Friendly this Month at AMC

New sensory friendly logoSince 2007, AMC Entertainment (AMC) and the Autism Society have teamed up to bring families affected by autism and other special needs “Sensory Friendly Films” every month – a wonderful opportunity to enjoy fun new films in a safe and accepting environment. This Saturday, December 10th, Strange World is Sensory Friendly at AMC.

Enjoy the magic of the movies in an environment that’s a little quieter and a little brighter. We turn the lights up, and the sound down, so you can get up, dance, walk, shout or even sing! Families will be able to bring in snacks to match their child’s dietary needs (i.e. gluten-free, casein-free, etc.), there are no advertisements or previews before the movie and AMC’s “Silence is Golden®” policy will not be enforced during movie screenings unless the safety of the audience is questioned.

Does it make a difference? Absolutely! Imagine …no need to shhhhh your child. No angry stares from other movie goers. Strange World Movie PosterMany parents think twice before bringing a child to a movie theater. Add to that your child’s special needs and it can easily become cause for parental panic. But on this one day a month, for this one screening, everyone is there to relax and have a good time, everyone expects to be surrounded by kids – with and without special needs – and the movie theater policy becomes “Tolerance is Golden“.

Families can view a sensory friendly screening of Strange World on Saturday December 10th. Tickets are typically discounted depending on the location. To find a theatre near you, here is a list of AMC theatres nationwide participating in this fabulous program (note: to access full list, please scroll to the bottom of the page).

COMING TO AMC SENSORY FRIENDLY IN DECEMBER:
Devotion (Wed. Dec. 14th) and Avatar: The Way of Water (Wed. Dec. 28th)

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Editor’s note: Although Strange World has been chosen by the AMC and the Autism Society as this month’s Sensory Friendly Film, we do want parents to know that it is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for action/peril and some thematic elements. As always, please check the IMDB Parents Guide for a more detailed description of this film to determine if it is right for you and your family.

Saturday at AMC, DC League of SuperPets is Sensory Friendly

New sensory friendly logoSince 2007, AMC Entertainment (AMC) and the Autism Society have teamed up to bring families affected by autism and other special needs “Sensory Friendly Films” every month – a wonderful opportunity to enjoy fun new films in a safe and accepting environment. Saturday, DC League of SuperPets is Sensory Friendly at AMC.

Enjoy the magic of the movies in an environment that’s a little quieter and a little brighter. Families will be able to bring in snacks to match their child’s dietary needs (i.e. gluten-free, casein-free, etc.), there are no advertisements or previews before the movie and it’s totally acceptable to get up and dance, walk, shout, talk to each other…and even sing – in other words, AMC’s “Silence is Golden®” policy will not be enforced during movie screenings unless the safety of the audience is questioned.

Does it make a difference? Absolutely! Imagine …no need to shhhhh your child. No angry stares from other movie goers. Many parents think twice before bringing a child to a movie theater. Add to that your child’s special needs and it can easily become cause for parental panic. But on this one day a month, for this one screening, everyone is there to relax and have a good time, everyone expects to be surrounded by kids – with and without special needs – and the movie theater policy becomes “Tolerance is Golden“.

Families affected by autism or other special needs can view a sensory friendly screening of DC League of SuperPets on Saturday August 13th. Tickets are typically discounted depending on the location. To find a theatre near you, here is a list of AMC theatres nationwide participating in this fabulous program (note: to access full list, please scroll to the bottom of the page).

Coming Soon: Bullet Train (Wed. Aug. 24th) and Minions: The Riser of Gru (Sat. Aug. 27th)

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Editor’s note: Although DC League of SuperPets has been chosen by the AMC and the Autism Society as this month’s Sensory Friendly Film, we do want parents to know that it is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for Rated PG for action, mild violence, language and rude humor. As always, please check the IMDB Parents Guide for a more detailed description of this film to determine if it is right for you and your family.

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