In It For Health

Where health and psychology intersect

Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

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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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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When parents fight, babies don’t sleep

Posted by Dr. Susan on May 12, 2011

When an infant doesn’t sleep well, it can be easy to blame genetics, fussiness, colic and all sorts of other genetic and child-centered reasons–each one of which might, of course be the reason. However, a new study finds that the relationship between mom and dad may be a primary reason that a baby isn’t sleeping well. Specifically, this research determined that the more parents fight with each other, the more likely it is for babies to have disrupted sleep patterns.

This is powerful and important information for parents, because it lets us know that children are impacted by marital discord in so many ways and beginning at such a young age. Therefore, as parents, it needs to be part of the job description to protect kids from arguing and fighting. This doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t argue with one another–of course this is just a normal part of any relationship. However, it does mean that we need to exercise self-control as much as possible, saving our arguments for when our kids aren’t anywhere near hearing us–waiting for them to fall asleep isn’t good enough! It’s tough being a good parent, but in the end–when our kids are happy and well-adjusted–it’s worth it a hundred times over!

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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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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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