In It For Health

Where health and psychology intersect

Posts Tagged ‘life’

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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Nurture yourself during the holiday rush…really!

Posted by Dr. Susan on December 4, 2011

Are you exhausted? I know that I am! After fighting crowds at the mall, baking mountains of cookies, and managing meltdowns by overtired kids, every parent is ready to drop! It’s difficult to avoid the insanity of the holidays, which is why it is so important for you to find a few moments to care for yourself. After all, if you feel cheerful and energized, rather than tired and stressed, you will be better able to juggle your way through the next few weeks. It doesn’t take much to get the relief that you so desperately need, so please enjoy these tips, as my holiday gift to you:

 

Turn up the tunes. Loud, fun music will lift your spirits and distract you. When you dance and sing along, it will definitely put a smile on your face. Soothing music will signal your body to relax and it will help you slow down.

Breathe in. Certain aromas have an instantly calming effect on your body. Lavender, rose, vanilla and many other scents will send signals to your brain to become calm and feel good. Carry an aroma that appeals to you in the form of a small container of balm, cream or essential oil. When you feel stressed, open the lid and inhale the soothing smell.

Breathe out. Stress can make your heart race. To slow it down, breathe in for a count of five, and breathe out for five. Repeat this another three or four times. You will be surprised at how this simple technique can calm you down. It is especially effective in traffic or while waiting on line. Practice this often to get better at it.

Indulge in a mini-massage. Use your favorite lotion (extra points if you use one with a soothing smell) to massage your hands together, or to rub your feet. It may not be quite as good as a professional massage, but your body will still thank you.

Limit caffeine. Too much caffeine amplifies stress. Although you may be exhausted, resist the urge to drink too much coffee. Don’t forget that there is also caffeine in some tea, soda, and chocolate.

Sip a cup of hot, herbal tea. The act of taking a moment to boil the water and brew the tea, will give you a time out. Then, since it’s hot, you will be forced to sit and sip it. Pick a flavor that feels calming (perhaps chamomile).

Stretch. The next time you watch TV with the kids, or chat on the phone, give your back, legs and neck a gentle stretch. You’ll feel your body instantly de-stress.

Exercise—even for a couple of minutes. Run upstairs or jog to meet the school bus. Your body will release feel-good endorphins that will keep you going for a while.

Take a hot shower or bath. The warm water will soothe your aching body and give you a few minutes of peace and quiet—if you’re lucky!

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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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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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It’s almost school time, but be in the moment right now!

Posted by Dr. Susan on August 4, 2011

As the stores begin stocking back-to-school clothing and notebooks, it’s hard not to start thinking about the end of summer. Before we know it, school will be back in swing, and the barefoot, carefree, sunny days will be long gone…sigh!

Of course, it is important to plan ahead in order to get school supplies at a great sale price! In addition, it’s important to help your child get accustomed to the idea that school, routines, hectic schedules and cooler weather, will all be here soon.

But…before boxing up the bathing suits and taking out the sweaters, let’s not rush into the fall and winter. It’s very important to teach kids the value of living in the moment and appreciating the experience at hand, before rushing ahead to the next thing. So, please, take the time to really enjoy the last weeks of summer together with your child. There are many different ways to live in the moment, right now. and here are just a few tips to help you do it:

  • Resist the urge to unpack and try fall clothing on your child before the first day of school. It may be convenient for you to see if your child has grown a size over the summer, but for kids, it’s a sign to move on to the next thing. Rather, wait until a week or so before school starts. This will give you and your child a little time to plan without rushing the summer along.
  • Limit school supply shopping with your child to one or two specific outings—don’t make it the focus of every day until school starts. If there’s a lot to get done, do some of it without your child so that she can continue to be in the summer mode.
  • Spend even less time than usual watching TV, or watch recorded shows so that you can fast forward through the commercials. TV ads for back-to-school products become overwhelmingly prolific in August. This advertising pressure can be stressful for you and your child, pushing you out of summer mode before you are ready.
  • Encourage your child to stay focused on the summer fun at hand by limiting conversations about school to once a day—at bedtime or first thing in the morning.
  • Regularly ask your child to name activities or experiences that she or he has enjoyed, or is looking forward to enjoying this summer. Discussing these will help you and your child stay focused on the summer “moment” in which you are still living.
  • When your child is in earshot, spend as little time as possible talking about back-to-school with other adults (in person or on the phone). Your child will pick up on the conversation and it will make it more difficult for him to focus on enjoying the rest of the summer.  
  • As the end of summer truly arrives (and teacher assignments arrive in the mail) plan one or two really fun summer activities. Even as you are preparing for the transition into school, remind your child that there are still days left of summer to appreciate; time to run through the sprinkler barefoot and eat that last piece of watermelon.

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A Teachable Moment: Summer Time Skills

Posted by Dr. Susan on July 4, 2011

I love the summer! No homework, no rushing around and everyone seems to be in a better mood. For me, the summer is one big, deep, cleansing breath that continues for two months! That being said, I don’t think kids quite get the idea that summer should represent a change of pace. They don’t bicker less with siblings, they don’t nag any less and they certainly don’t give you any more time alone in the bathroom!

However, the relaxed nature of the summer months and the reduced pressure on kids to perform academically and socially makes it the perfect time for you to teach your child the all importance ‘skills of summer’: patience and perseverance. In fact, these traits will take your child far in life and you can use summer activities to begin instilling them in your child, beginning as young as two or three years.

Building Sand Castles takes a great deal of patience, time and effort. Encourage your child to work on a castle, fort or tunnel for more than a few minutes. Show enthusiasm for your child’s sand creation and, if necessary, teach him some ways to build that he may not yet know. Sand castle building may seem trivial to you, but the time and effort required to be successful is no different from the energy you may exert on an important work project. Mastering the patience, focus and perseverance needed for this activity will benefit your child for years to come.

Learning to swim or mastering a swimming technique can be extremely challenging for any child. The fear of drowning is naturally a hurdle for any beginning swimmer, and may also impact upon a child who needs to master jumping or diving into the pool. For parents, helping a child overcome this fear can seem like a monumental task, especially when a child cries, tantrums or downright refuses to even try. In this situation, it is you that must be patient! Helping your child work through this significant fear is not just about swimming. It will teach her that she has the ability to persevere and achieve success even in those areas of life that may seem insurmountable.

Playing outside is the hallmark of summer as far as parents are concerned. We want our child to appreciate and savor every minute of the beautiful weather. However, perhaps you are one of the many parents met with arguments, by a child who would much rather spend the summer watching TV, or playing video games on the computer. When the nagging for screen time begins, please, please resist the urge to give in simply because it’s the path of least resistance. Encouraging your child to play, without having media as a crutch, will give your child the opportunity to temporarily inhabit a calmer, less frenetic world. He will develop the patience to tap into his inner creativity. She will learn how to persevere and become terrific at any number of skills—bike riding, searching for worms, swinging as high as possible or packing the perfect picnic lunch. And isn’t that what summer is all about!

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If your kids already complain that you’re too bossy…

Posted by Dr. Susan on May 18, 2011

A CA bill, if passed by the senate,would give parents FULL access to their kid’s social networking account with the ability to request removal of any and all information/pictures etc, that they don’t like, whenever they want. In fact, this bill states that if Facebook–or any other social networking site–were to ignore a parent’s request, they could be fined thousands of dollars, per account.

So, what do you think of this?

My first response was YEAH! finally someone is advocating for kids’ safety online. But the more I think about it, the more I’m not sure. I think it’s a great idea for parents of kids under 18-years to have access to their kid’s Facebook. However, I’m not sure that this parents should be able to leverage such power over their child that the access is forced upon the child. This will ultimately cause such a breakdown of trust between parent and child that no good will come of it–kids will simply go underground with fake accounts. 

Your child needs to know that you are paying attention to their Facebook and that you are concerned about their ‘social media health’. If you are involved, paying attention and discussing your concerns with them, they are much likely to be more wary about what they post online. If you force it on them, you risk losing relationship with them all together, online and off!

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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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Child-Obesity ads gone wild

Posted by Dr. Susan on May 6, 2011

There is a furor about Georgia’s child-obesity campaign which portrays overweight kids, with seriously depressed facial expressions, talking about how bleak their present life is and how bad their future will be, unless they lose weight.

Now, I’m all for shock-value if it gets the job done, but this ad is a problem. To begin, it give ammunition to other kids who bully, or are considering bullying an overweight child. From a kid’s perspective: “If you’re talking about all the negatives that you experience, then why can’t I?” It’s not a taboo subject anymore.

Next, the parents and educators who are not already working on helping overweight children won’t really be impacted by this–they know that this is what the kids look like already–it’s live in front of them! What they really need to see is overweight adults in the ads talking about what it was like to be an overweight kid and still be overweight–and then remind the viewer of the ads to take responsibility for helping the kids.

Using vulnerable kids–those in the ads and the those who will inadvertently become associated with the ads–creates an unfair playing field. The adults need to take responsibility for the problem and of course, the solution.

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The grim reality of spring break

Posted by Dr. Susan on April 3, 2010

It’s too bad that it takes a 17-year old with the prospect for a glowing future to remind us how dangerous spring break can be for high schoolers. When Ohio high school senior Matt James (headed for Notre Dame on a football scholarship), fell from a balcony to his death after drinking too much during spring break in Florida, we all stopped for 5 minutes to shake our heads and those of us with high school students were grateful that it wasn’t our kid.

But the thing is that unless you make the choice to supervise your teen on spring, winter and every other break it could just as easily be your kid! There is no specific type…most kids drink; many get drunk–they just don’t tell their parents. In fact, one national study (conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention) found that nearly 75% of high school students have had one or more alcoholic drinks in their life. That’s any kid–your kid or my kid!

Every teen’s life is worth saving, every teen has a glowing future and should have a chance to make better choices when their brain has developed and along with it, their judgment. Until then, it is the job of the adults–parents, teachers, chaperones, even hotel owners, to make sure that teens are well supervised and kept safe: even from themselves.

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