In It For Health

Where health and psychology intersect

Posts Tagged ‘girls’

A Teachable Moment: Have A Heart

Posted by Dr. Susan on February 3, 2012

February is the ‘heart’ month. It’s the home of Valentine’s Day, and it’s National Heart Health Month. But, having a healthy heart is so much more than cute cards and physical fitness. It is also about ‘having heart’, which means feeling and expressing love for others and for oneself.  As we travel through our hectic lives, it can be easy to forget the importance of love, but the truth is that during these uncertain times, kids need to be able to feel and express love more than ever before because it will keep them feeling safe and secure. Happily, it’s not too difficult to ensure that your child’s capacity for love continues to grow:

Teach by example. When you openly and frequently express love to your child and to other meaningful people in your life, it teaches your child that this is important and normal. Say the words “I love you”, give hugs and kisses, and snuggle on the couch as often as possible. Children continue to learn from their parents through their teen years and into early adulthood, so don’t stop loving and teaching. Your teenager is not too old to hug and kiss!

Encourage sharing (of feelings). When your child tells you about a friend who stuck up for her, didn’t leave her out, shared her lunch, gave her a hug or was a good friend in any other way, encourage your child to tell her friend how good that made her feel and how much she values the friendship.

Support sibling love. Siblings often spend at least some of their time arguing. However, when you look closely, there are probably also many sweet moments of sharing, helping and allegiance between them. You can encourage siblings to share positive feelings towards each other by pointing out these positive moments and telling them that these expressions of brotherly and sisterly support and love really make you feel proud of them. Then, during less pleasant sibling moments, you can remind them of the positive part of their relationship in order to lessen the momentary anger between them.

Support equal opportunity for boys. In many ways, boys have been socialized to keep their feelings to themselves, even though this is no healthier for them than it is for girls. In particular, many boys are afraid to express positive feelings for fear that it may make them seem to ‘girly’. We need to help boys shift from this old-fashioned way of thinking, and teach them that friends, siblings, parents and grandparents will feel good when they share positive feelings and behaviors. What’s more, expressing love, appreciation and other positive feelings will also help your son. He will feel positive knowing that his expressions of love have brought good feelings to his friends and family.

Self-love is most important. In order to have the emotional capacity to love others, you first need to love yourself. Every child, no matter how confident, can benefit from encouragement to be proud of her accomplishments and feel positive about her strengths. Your child may also need to be reminded that loving yourself means accepting that you are not perfect. When necessary, you remind your child that she is still lovable, even if she does not have the exact body, brain or lifestyle she desires. Help her focus on the positive aspects of herself, so that self-love is easy, rather than a burden. Also, remember to love yourself (despite your imperfections) so your child can see that you really mean it!

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Does your child have the mid-winter blues?

Posted by Dr. Susan on January 4, 2012

At this time of year kids and teens may be susceptible to the winter blues, which, in its more serious form, is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD usually occurs during the winter months, when it is colder and there is less sunlight, although, one does not have to live in a freezing, snowy climate to experience seasonal depression. Those living in milder climates may also experience the blues.

It is important to learn the symptoms of depression in children so you can recognize them, and if necessary, address them immediately. All types of depression are more common in older children and teens, but it is possible for a younger child to experience SAD, especially with a family history of depression. Therefore, if your child’s behavior seems to change with the season, it is time to take notice.

Childhood depression often looks different from the adult type. Even very sad kids will appear happy sometimes—during a funny movie, or playing with friends, but it doesn’t mean they are fine. Children typically have mood fluctuations, even if they are depressed.

The most common symptoms of SAD (and childhood depression) include:

  • Feeling sad, overly sensitive or      crying excessively
  • Anger, crankiness, moodiness
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping      more than usual
  • Eating much more or less than      usual (for an extended period of time, not just a day or two)
  • Low energy level, difficulty      concentrating
  • Reduced interest in normal activities      at home, in school and socially
  • Stomachaches, headaches or other      physical complaints that don’t respond to medical treatment
  • Thoughts of death or suicide      (not as common in young children)

 

Not every depressed or sad child will exhibit every symptom; some may have only two or three. If you think that your child has the winter blues, take these five steps:

  1. Continue to observe. Watch your child’s behavior for a week or so. Then,      if you still see symptoms and feel that he is emotionally under the weather,      move to step #2.
  2. Talk to your child. Ask how she is feeling. Inquire about possible      school and friend stressors. Don’t be afraid to ask questions—you won’t “give      your child ideas”  that she doesn’t      already have. If there is no significant stressor, but she still seems      unhappy, move to step #3.
  3. Talk to the teacher. In most cases, when a child has the blues, his      behavior will change everywhere, not just at home, so the teacher is sure      to notice any mood change too. If the teacher (and other significant adults      in your child’s life), confirms your concerns, move to step #4
  4. Meet with your child’s doctor. It is important to rule out      medical factors that may cause a child’s mood to change. For example,      either mononucleosis or hypothyroidism can cause low energy level or      trouble concentrating. After ruling out medical factors, you and the      doctor can decide the next step. If the doctor recommends that you speak      with a mental health professional, do so right away. See step #5.
  5. Seek expert help. If treatment is necessary, it will vary depending on      the severity of your child’s symptoms and her age. No one child is the      same and there are several treatment options, including light therapy,      increased natural light exposure, talk therapy or medication.

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Manners count during the holiday season.

Posted by Dr. Susan on November 4, 2011

The excitement of the holiday season can bring out the best in kids, but it often brings out their worst. Nagging, whining and a lack of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are not uncommon during this festive but frenetic time of year.

It can be easy to let these behaviors slide because you want your child to enjoy the holidays without reprimand or punishment. You also may not want to embarrass them at holiday gatherings by pointing out behavior flaws.

However, in truth, this is an excellent opportunity to teach your child about manners. If you emphasize appropriate behavior during the holidays, he will begin to realize that it is important all the time. The key is to teach with patience rather than anger, and use strategies that help him achieve success rather than highlighting failure.

These four techniques will help your child develop manners of which you can be proud:

  1. Quit while you’re ahead. Tired, cranky kids are more likely to be rude and impolite. If you finish shopping or leave a party before reaching this point, you will be able to praise your child for great manners at the end of the activity. Praise reinforces good behavior and motivates your child to want to continue it in the future.
  2. 2.      Pre-teach manners. Before heading out to a gathering or holiday activity remind your child how you expect her to behave. Emphasize that you want to hear ‘please’, and ‘thank you’; that she should look at people when they talk to her and respond to questions; and generally behave in a way that will make you proud. Subtle reminders may be necessary. For example, before leaving a party you could whisper to your child to remind her to thank the host.
  3. 3.      Don’t plead or punish. When your child doesn’t behave politely, respond firmly but not in anger. You don’t want your child to remember this holiday as one when he was embarrassed or punished. Resist the urge to yell in public, threaten, or mete out serious consequences. On the other hand, imploring him to behave, but issuing no consequences—or empty ones—will not change his behavior. If necessary, take him aside and quietly remind him of your expectations. Explain that if he continues to be impolite, there will be a consequence. Explain the consequence and, if necessary, follow through with it. You may not be happy to take your child home from a party, hold a gift for a couple of days, or send him to bed early, but the long-term impact will be worth it. Your child will develop manners, self-control and respectful behavior. This will be your favorite holiday gift!
  4. 4.      Review and reward. After every holiday activity compliment your child for positive behaviors. For example:
  •  “I loved how you held the door open for people in the stores”
  • “You played so patiently with your baby cousin”
  • “Thank you for helping set the table tonight—it saved me time”
  • “You said thank you to grandma for the gift without being reminded”
  • I noticed that even though you didn’t love the gift, you made your uncle feel like you did”

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Is your child enjoying school this year? It’s not to early to assess.

Posted by Dr. Susan on October 4, 2011

It may seem early, but October is a perfect point in the school year to assess your child’s progress. He has had enough time to become accustomed to his schedule, routine, and new classmates and the teacher has informally assessed kids to determine progress compared to grade-level expectations. Since it can take weeks or months to fix academic or social issues, it is important to assess early and often. In addition, waiting can cause some problems to become more difficult to fix, which could negatively impact your child’s self-confidence.

There are three main areas to evaluate at this point in the school year.  By asking yourself the following questions, and answering them honestly, you will recognize areas of weakness and then address them successfully.

 

#1: School

  • Does your      child enjoy school, speak positively about her teacher, and feel good      about her successes?
  • Does your      child complete class work successfully most of the time? Is homework      relatively stress-free, not resulting in delays and tantrums (him) or excessive      nagging and yelling (you)?

If you answered NO to any of these questions, begin by making an immediate appointment with your child’s teacher (don’t wait for ‘parent/teacher conferences’).  At this meeting, ask pointed questions and share examples of concerning behaviors. Agree on a concrete strategy to work towards a solution. Schedule another meeting to review your child’s progress. If necessary request that the school psychologist or counselor be present at the next meeting.

 

#2: Social life

  • Does your      child report feeling content with her social life? Does she have healthy      friendships (respect for each other)? Does she spend time with friends      outside of school?
  • Are you      confident that your child is not being bullied or that he doesn’t bully      other children? Bullying can be very difficult to see as an adult. It can      physical or verbal; in person, online or by cell phone.

If you answered NO to any of these questions, your child needs support to learn strategies that will improve her social life. The right strategies will vary depending upon your child’s personality and needs. Even if your child is a bully, she still needs your help, rather than punishment. If she is a target of bullying, you may need to intervene directly. Ask your child about her social life. Also, speak to your child’s teacher and to the school counselor. If necessary, seek private counseling to help you and your child.

 

#3: Daily Routine

  • Does your      child manage his daily routine—dressing, eating, bathing, activities,      bedtime—with no more than age-appropriate assistance?
  • Does your      child enjoy her extracurricular activities? Is she able to balance school      with additional activities?

If you answered NO to any of these questions, it is time to assess your child’s routine and schedule. Perhaps he needs a more or less structured routine. The adults must create the structure and then reinforce it consistently. If you are concerned that your child is lagging behind others in the activities of daily living, consult the pediatrician to determine whether an evaluation is recommended. Maybe your child has too many extracurricular activities which has caused him to become overwhelmed. You have time before the second semester or next sports season begins, to reassess and adjust accordingly.

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It may be time to find your child’s special talent…or not.

Posted by Dr. Susan on September 4, 2011

The start of the school year brings enthusiasm. A new class, friends and experiences are all exciting. Many kids can’t wait to try every activity introduced by teachers and peers. So, should you let your child try it all or is it better to encourage him to stick with one or two areas he already enjoys, and in which he may already show signs of excelling?

It can be tempting to let your child try every new activity. After all childhood is the best time to explore and grow—and there’s no way for her to discover a passion without trying many things. On the other hand, too much diversification can make it difficult for a child to immerse herself fully in a new experience and it can become confusing and stressful for her.

So, is it possible to encourage exploration and find your child’s passion, without her becoming overwhelmed and distracted?  Yes! Here are four simple steps that will give your child opportunities to explore, yet still build upon current passions, talents and interests:

  1. Nurture passion and interest. If your child shows an interest in, or talent for any given activity, support this by enrolling him in a class, after-school activity or school club that nurtures the interest. Pick one area of passion on which to focus. If an activity is seasonal (like a sport or a school play), you can have a replacement activity once the season is over. The replacement need not be another ‘passion’, but can be a new area that your child wants to explore (see #3 below). Stick to one area of passion at a time, or your child will become overwhelmed and lose interest in everything.
  2. Balance is essential. Kids younger than ten don’t usually need more than two days a week to work at their area of interest. More than this can cause burnout and possibly an eventual rejection of the activity. In addition, make sure there is time for homework, play and exploration of other areas. Older children may become more intensely involved in an activity they love or that requires greater commitment to be competitive. This type of commitment is admirable and should be encouraged—but not at the cost of eating, sleeping, school work or a social life. As the parent, you must make sure your child is physically and emotionally healthy—even if she is an Olympic athlete or superstar in the making!
  3. Encourage participation in a new activity. This can be a sport or creative art that your child has never tried, or even a less structured activity like baking or magic. Ask him to commit at least two or three months to the activity. This is enough time to achieve an initial level of mastery, so that the activity feels more like fun than work. After this period, he can decide whether he wants to continue or move on to something new.
  4. Resist the urge to jump on everyone else’s ‘activity bandwagon’. Your child may come home each week with something new to try. Make a list of these activities and explain that she can try one at a time, giving each one at least a couple of months to see if she likes it. You’ll likely find that she’ll lose interest in many of the ideas on the list after her initial ‘nagging’. If you stick to these four tips, your child is sure to become well-rounded while still discovering her passions and talents.

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Online gaming is good for families…really?

Posted by Dr. Susan on May 9, 2011

This new study suggests that when families ‘game’ together, their relationships improve. Ok, I suppose that could be true. If you play online games with your kids, it’s definitely better than NOT playing online with them, and rather just leaving them to online game with total strangers.

But do you really think that parents are playing online games with their kids?? The answer is NO! Either the parents are gaming alone (I see this all the time) and the kids are nagging them to get off the computer to come and throw a ball outside, or the kids/teens are online and would be mortified if their mom or (more likely) dad joined in. And of course, this doesn’t even include all the time kids are online while parents are working, running the home or dealing with the other kids. So the chance that kids and parents are bonding online is…well…let’s just politely say…unlikely!

So, while this study is interesting in theory, it truly holds no really life application. So, instead of making it your goal to game online with your child, the better goal is found in the old and boring traditions…eat a meal together, chat while you’re driving somewhere, clean the car together (pay them if you have to!), or drag out a board game. You’d be surprised how many BIG kids love Apples to Apples!

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Even teens who THINK they’re overweight are at risk for suicide!

Posted by Dr. Susan on May 19, 2009

A huge study,  published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, finds that both BOYS and GIRLS who either are, or think they are overweight, are more likely to attempt suicide. This tells us two things:

1. We need to develop better social, school and peer supports for overweight kids and teens as well as those who have poor body images and don’t need to lose weight.

2. We need to become more effective at helping those kids who need to lose weight do so.

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TV time in teens linked to depression…interesting

Posted by Dr. Susan on February 9, 2009

Does your child watch a lot of TV? If so, here’s yes ANOTHER compelling reason to make a change! This new study finds that the more TV teens watch (especially boys), the more likely they are to become depressed as young adults. The researchers theorize that watching TV isolates kids, which makes them less likely to interact with peers–having a strong social network innoculates one against depression; or play sports–physical activity has been shown to be as effective as antidepressants for mild to moderate depression.

However, you can’t suddenly tell your teen to stop watching TV, you need to set the rules when your child is young and stick with them all the way through, beginning with no TV in bedrooms!

What’s more–if YOU are depressed, the same rules apply to you: TV isn’t helping you feel better. So turn it  off and get out…talk to your friends and go for a walk. Even better…go for a walk with your friends!

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REALLY underage drinking…

Posted by Dr. Susan on October 25, 2008

Some parents have come to accept that their child will experiment with alcohol–and even perhaps drugs–in college, or even the upper high school grades. They hope that it won’t be serious, but they are realistic in recognizing that very few teens abstain completely.  However, this powerful and important study demonstrates that kids who drink or use drugs before they are fifteen-years old, are at much higher risk for substance dependence, sexually transmitted diseases, dropping out of school or acquiring criminal records in adulthood. Also, please note that a full fifty-percent of these kids had NO prior behavior problems!

The take home message: drinking or drugs and teens not a good combination. Be clear about your message of disapproval. Research clearly shows that parents who give their kids a clear message that they will not tolerate drinking or drugs are more likely to have kids that don’t use–especially at a younger age.

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eat meals with your kids

Posted by Dr. Susan on July 25, 2008

It’s not really new news, but still, yet another study underscores the importance of eating family meals. This one followed a group of Minnesota kids for five years and found that for girls (not boys, they’re not sure why) eating family meals seemed to innoculate them against cigarette smoking and alcohol and drug use–that is, by the time they were eighteen, the teens who had been eating family meals had a much lower incidence of substance abuse than those who hadn’t. I think that’s darn impressive! The study will be published in the August issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health

I am curious why the findings didn’t hold true for boys, though. My theory is that most boys (and many men) need to be reached with modalities other than talking–which is what family meals imply. For example, perhaps if parents spent equal amounts of time playing ball, or even video games, with their sons, it would innoculate them against substance abuse, the way family meals do for girls. If you have a son, try it and report back to me!

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