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3 Stress Busters for Kids and Teens

Think stress is just for adults? Not these days.

Research finds that between 8 and 10 percent of American children and teens are seriously troubled by stress and symptoms. And stress is also hitting our children at younger ages. If left untreated stress not only affects children’s friendships as well as school success, but also their physical and emotional well-being. Chronic stress symptoms break down children’s immune system as well as increasing their likelihood for depression.

One thing is certain: Stress is part of life and each child handles stress differently. The critical four parenting questions are:

How does my child handle stress?

What could be triggering the stress?

What can I do to reduce unhealthy stress?

And does my child know healthy ways to reduce the stress?

Here are three steps to reduce kid stress and solutions to help children and teens cope with stress.

STRESS BUSTER STEP 1: Defuse Home Stress

One recent study found that 85% of teens say they are stressed—and the number one cause: the stress at home! It may be time to take a Home Climate Stress Check. Here are just a few things to consider:

How is the everyday climate in your home

Does it increase your kid’s stress level or help him relax? Are there opportunities for your family to relax?

Are you watching your family’s diet intake for things that could increase stress?

Are there times you’re modeling how to let down and cool off to your kids?

Are you checking your kids’ (and your) stress loads?

Are you making sure sleep is on everyone’s agenda?

Are you taking time to talk to your kids about their day and their worries?

Are you checking your kids’ work load? Can they keep up?

Watch out! Stress is mounting and is impacting our children’s emotional health. Competition, after school activities, a lack of sleep, a crunched schedule, peer pressure, tests, and bullying are just a few things that boost our kids unhealthy stress levels. Make sure your home is a place where your kids can de-stress. Build in times where you and your kids can relax.

STRESS BUSTER STEP 2: Know Your Child’s Stress Signs

Each kid responds differently, but the key is to identify your child’s physical, behavioral or emotional signs before he is on overload. A clue is to look for behaviors that are not typical for your child. Here are common stress signs to look for in your child:

  • Physical Stress Signs: Headache, neck aches and backaches. Nausea, diarrhea, constipation, stomachache, vomiting. Shaky hands, sweaty palms, feeling shaky, lightheadedness. Bedwetting. Trouble sleeping, nightmares. Change in appetite. Stuttering. Frequent colds, fatigue.
  • Emotional or Behavior Stress Signs: New or reoccurring fears, anxiety and worries. Trouble concentrating, frequent daydreaming. Restlessness or irritability. Social withdrawal, unwilling to participate in school or family activities. Moodiness, sulking or inability to control emotions. Nail biting, hair twirling, thumb-sucking, fist clenching, feet tapping. Acting out, anger, aggressive behaviors such as tantrums, disorderly conduct. Regression or baby-like behaviors. Excessive whining or crying. Clinging, more dependent, won’t let you out of sight, withdrawal.

STRESS BUSTER STEP 3:  Teach Family Members How to Handle Stress

This last step is crucial but often overlooked: Make sure you teach your child a specific way to reduce stress. Without knowing how to cut the stress, it will only mount. Here are a few strategies. Choose the one that works best for you and your family. Then practice, practice, practice until it becomes a habit and your child can use the stress reducer without you.

  • Melt the tension: Tell your child to make his body feel stiff and straight like a wooden soldier. Every bone from his head to toe is “tense” (or “stressed”). Now tell him to make his body limp (or “relaxed”) like a rag doll or windsock. Once he realizes he can make himself relax, he can find the spot in his body where he feels the most tension; perhaps his neck, shoulder muscles, or jaw. He then closes his eyes, concentrates on the spot, tensing it up for three or four seconds, and then lets it go. While doing so, tell him to imagine the stress slowly melting away from the top of his head and out his toes until he feels relaxed or calmer.
  • Use a positive phrase: Teach your child to say a comment inside her head to help her handle stress. Here are a few: “Calm down.” “I can do this.” “Stay calm and breathe slowly.” “It’s nothing I can’t handle.”
  • Teach elevator breathing: Tell your child to close his eyes, slowly breath out three times, then imagine he’s in an elevator on the top of a very tall building. He presses the button for the first floor and watches the buttons for each level slowly light up as the elevator goes down. As the elevator descends, his stress fades away.
  • Visualize a calm place: Ask your child to think of an actual place he’s been to where he feels peaceful. For instance: the beach, his bed, grandpa’s backyard, a tree house. When stress kicks in, tell him to close his eyes and imagine that spot, while breathing slowly.
  • Blow your worries away: An instant way to relax is taking a slow deep breath from your diaphragm that gets oxygen to your brain. A quick way to teach the skill is to tell her to pretend she’s blowing up a balloon in her tummy (as you count “one, two, three” slowly). Then she lets the air out with an exaggerated “Ah-h-h-h” sound (like when the doctor looks in her throat). Explain that taking slow breaths from deep in your tummy will help blow her worries away and then encourage her to practice taking slow, steady breaths by blowing soap bubbles or using a pinwheel.
  • Find a relaxer: Every child is different, so find what helps your kid relax, and then encourage him to use it on a regular basis. Some kids respond to drawing pictures or writing about their stress in a journal. Other kids say imagining what “relaxing” or “calm” feels like helps. (Show him how to make his body feel like a slowly moving fluffy white cloud or a rag doll). Or allocate a cozy place in your home where your kid can chill out when he needs to ease the tension.

All kids will display signs of stress every now and then. Be concerned when you see a marked change in what is “normal” for your child’s behavior that lasts longer than two weeks. When you see your child struggling and feeling overwhelmed, it’s time to seek help from a mental health professional. And don’t wait: Stressed-out kids are two to four times more likely to develop depression, and as teens they are much more likely to become involved with substance abuse.

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Dr Borba’s book The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and WildestWorries, is one of the most comprehensive parenting book for kids 3 to 13. This down-to-earth guide offers advice for dealing with children’s difficult behavior and hot button issues including biting, tantrums, cheating, bad friends, inappropriate clothing, sex, drugs, peer pressure and much more. Each of the 101 challenging parenting issues includes specific step-by-step solutions and practical advice that is age appropriate based on the latest research. The Big Book of Parenting Solutions has been released and is now available at amazon.com.

Checklist for a SAFE Back to School and Sports. Everyone Ready?

Little girl with inhalerIs it August already?  Yes it is! Or soon will be and that means that soon it will be back to school and organized sports and all the things that make the school year so hectic.   As a parent returning one child to school and sending one to his first year of school this is a pretty busy time of year in our house.  Mixed in with all the fun of summer reading lists and back to school shopping, I would like to give you another list of things to make sure are right before the kids return to school and sports.

First and foremost on my list is always making sure that the school is up to date on its CPR and First Aid training.  If you are a parent leaving your child at a school, daycare, or organized sports league you need to inquire and make sure that the staff or at least the staff that will be on hand ALL the time knows what to do in case of an emergency situation, such as an injury or an allergic reaction involving your child.  Does your child have any emergency medicine that they need such as an EpiPen or an asthma inhaler, or any other medication that might be needed in a moment’s notice? , and if so, are they expired, does the school need a new one or even know about them and how to use them should the need arise?   I have seen people forget their own name when confronted with these situations and the right training and preparation can make all the difference in the world.

Organized sports are another area where things need to be checked off before the new season starts. These activities can be at any age and be anything from baseball and football to cheerleading and gymnastics.  Injuries happen in these sports all the time and once again, the coaches, staff, volunteers, and anyone else involved need to be properly trained or refreshed on what to do in case of an emergency.  Most of the centers or parks hosting these activities have automated external defibrillators (AED’s) on site for both participants and parents and need to be trained or refreshed on the use of these devices as well.    When playing organized sports like baseball and football, there are pieces of safety equipment built into the helmets and pads and other parts of the uniforms. If your children have  grown over the summer like mine have then you need to make sure that the equipment they are using fits properly and securely and delivers the maximum amount of safety it was designed for.  Whether its helmets, groin protectors or even shoes, these should all be the proper size for best results.

As always, a little preparation makes all the difference and I wish you all the safest and best school/sports year.

Hearing Loss In One Ear Can Cause Speech Delays

Children with hearing loss in one ear may seem to be hearing normally but may fall behind in speechMost babies are given a basic hearing test when they are born.  Usually kids don’t get another hearing test until they enter kindergarten.  A 2018 article by the Cleveland Clinic shows that hearing loss in one ear can go undetected and often goes untreated. The problem is that “these children are exhibiting speech and language delays and are at risk for education problems, including an increased rate of failing a grade, the need for educational assistance in the classroom, and perceived behavioral issues”.

If your preschooler is behind in speech or diction or seems to only pay attention occasionally you might want to ask for a hearing screening.  Being deaf or hard of hearing qualifies a child for special education.  Although that disability may not mean there are any cognitive impairments the condition may prevent the child from taking in or accessing the information being taught. Children with hearing impairments also benefit from speech therapy and other strategies.

More details on how to recognize unilateral hearing loss (UHL) in children can be found at the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA), where you can also find information on testing as well as tips for helping your child hear and learn better at home and at school.

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Editor’s Note:  Links have been checked for accuracy and updated as needed

Who Here Is Certified in CPR or Basic First Aid? Ask The School!!

It’s a simple question really. How many people at your child’s school are certified in life saving CPR and basic first aid? The answer may surprise you. I am often on the other side of this question training the administrators and teachers in cpr and first aid, and praising them for spending the time and money to go beyond the bare minimum and make sure their entire staff is trained and the children are safe, but putting my oldest child in school for the first time this year made me curious to know the answer to this question.

As a concerned parent I placed a call to Miami Dade public schools and was alarmed to find out that at a public school here in Dade county only two people are required to be certified in CPR and basic first aid. This is a dangerously low number considering that some of the schools here in Dade County have over 5000 students. Not to mention what would happen if one or both of these people calls in sick or goes on vacation? Then you run into the possible situation of having nobody on campus that day required to be trained. Not good. With the normal everyday injuries at schools, the knowledge of basic first aid is a must and add to that the growing number of sudden cardiac events in schools around the country and you will see that having a basic knowledge of first aid and cpr together is also a must and therefore the bare minimum of safety by some schools just will not do.

What would cause a school to keep only the bare minimum of people trained in something so important? Is it that the administrators and staff don’t care about the children’s safety and only do the bare minimum because they have to? Of course not. The answer as usual is money. Now obviously what needs to happen is the schools need to increase the number of people trained in cpr and basic first aid, but like anything else training costs money and with school budgets shrinking by the day and teachers coming out of their own pockets more than ever to make up for the lack of funds, asking a school to budget in training for an entire staff just does not seem possible. So what can you as a concerned parent do? Well if you are certified to train the staff in cpr and first aid then you can do as I have done and donate the training to the school and staff for free, or you can do as some parents here in Dade county have done and that is to raise the funds for the training themselves by having a bake sale or a car wash or some other fundraising event and hire a company to come out to the school and train the entire staff. I cannot think of a better use for that money than the safety of our children.

The bottom line is no matter where you live the people looking after your children, whether it is a school, a daycare or even grandparents need to be trained and know how to react when your child needs help. So go ahead and do as I did and ask the question as to who is certified here and what can I do to help? And if you are in the south Florida area, shoot me an email, I’d be glad to help.

Be Safe.

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Editor’s Note:  In the aftermath of some of the recent tragedies experienced at U.S. schools it is even more important to know that the folks looking after our kids know CPR and basic first aid.  This post first ran in September 2011.  We thought it was time to run it again…

Why Social Skills Matter to Kid’s Academics

Do you remember learning to read in school? I vividly remember the nervousness I felt when the teacher asked me to read aloud for the whole class. I was a pretty good student, but even I felt put on the spot in these moments.

Now imagine that you are a student who is struggling to read. You might mispronounce words or not know how to even start reading a new word. How would you feel in front of all your classmates?

New studies are showing in more detail how these two issues—literacy and social skills—might be even more linked that we previously thought.

A recent research study in Child Development examined the relationship between early literacy and social behavior. This report actually included two similar studies of early elementary-aged children (grades K-5) from low-income backgrounds. The students were assessed on literacy skills, aggressive behavior, and pro-social behavior (i.e., helping others) (as reported by teachers). The studies showed that:

  • children with lower literacy in 1st and 3rd grades were more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior two years later (but the reverse was not found)
  • the relationship between lower literacy and aggressive behavior strengthened over time (between 3rd and 5th grade)
  • children who showed more pro-social behavior in 1st grade were more likely to have higher rates of literacy two years later

These findings make perfect sense when you consider the social dynamic of early elementary school. Children who struggle to read may be teased by peers. Without guidance in social and emotional skills, this could lead to aggressive behavior in the form of retaliation. If these struggling students do not receive tutoring or emotional support to cope with teasing, this aggressive behavior may continue year after year.

These studies dovetail nicely with several other recent reports showing the link between academic development children’s social skills. One study showed that academically struggling students who participated in a social and emotional skills training program actually significantly improved their academic skills.

Why is this the case? Simply put, different aspects of children’s brains don’t work in isolation. If a child is emotionally distressed because of teasing or other social issues, they cannot focus well on academic subjects. Research proves this out as well. One study of German kindergartners showed that those who had better emotional knowledge (e.g., identifying emotions, reading feelings, etc.), had fewer attention problems in school. The researchers suggest this is because once kids understand the emotions of others, it becomes more routine and this frees up their brain to focus on other tasks.

Overall, we see from these studies that a strict focus on academics alone is not the path forward for our kids. Kids, much like adults, do not function in mental isolation. Their emotional and cognitive worlds are tied up together and can either compliment or compete with one another. As parents, we can encourage schools to focus on the whole child for better overall outcomes for all kids.

Considering Children With Special Needs in a School Emergency

In the aftermath of the terrible Florida school shooting many people are examining the plans to keep individuals with special needs safe in the event of a lockdown or evacuation. Most schools are conducting drills and training to make the procedures more familiar to students and staff. While this is a very good practice, students with special needs may have additional issues with such drills and emergencies. Many rigid kids get very upset about having their routine disrupted.  The alarms and announcements may be upsetting to children who are sensitive to loud sounds.

Here are some “special needs considerations” you may want to discuss with your child’s school that may make the process of conducting drills and trainings go more smoothly. It may also, in fact, save lives, should a situation arise when these drills turn into a real-life emergency.

Preventive measures – If possible, students with sensory issues or their teachers may be given an early warning so that such children can be equipped with headphones or moved away from speakers or bells. Of course, in a real emergency no such precautions will be available.

Lockdown – If a lockdown occurs the usual protocol is that everyone should hide in the nearest classroom or structure. While your child’s backpack, cubby or homeroom may be fully stocked with every medical, emotional and sensory item the student might need during the day what happens if the class ends up locked down in another part of the school? What if the lockdown drags on for hours?

Accessibility needs in the case of evacuation – If a child uses a walker or wheelchair, are all their classes on the ground floor? If not, will the elevators be operational? Are the elevators key operated, and if they are who has the key? What if the power goes out? Are there ramps? Many older buildings are not very accessible so check out if the school has been brought up to the current ADA code.

Medical needs – In the case of a lockdown or evacuation, does the child have any medical needs? Will any epi pens, medicines, feeding or toileting supplies be available? Discuss this with your child’s teacher or school and see if kits can be kept in several places on campus.

Emotional needs – In a lockdown situation students are asked to remain quiet so as not to draw attention to the room. Will the student need something to keep them occupied, like an ipad with headphones or a weighted west? How can these items be made available during an emergency?

Depending on the staff to student ratio, you may be able to formulate a specific plan for your child in such events that takes into account their sensitivities and needs, or a more general plan if there is a larger special-needs population.

Take the time now to discuss these issues with your school and formulate a plan – and hopefully they’ll never need to use it.

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