Archive for the ‘
Behavior ’ Category
Thursday, May 9th, 2013
It’s been said that “a mother is only as happy as her least happy child,” and it’s so true that children’s mental health affects the whole family. If your child suffers from anxiety or depression or ADHD, you want to get her the best treatment just like you would if she had diabetes or asthma or cancer. And yet, stigma still does exist, and can get in the way of addressing a child’s problem. In our recent survey of more than 1,600 parents conducted in partnership with the Child Mind Institute, 48% said they think parents are to blame for children who exhibit disruptive behavior.
In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, there has been a call for improved mental health care—and mental health advocates are seizing this opportunity to talk about the importance of effective diagnosis and treatment. Indeed, our survey found that 60% of parents are concerned that kids who have a mental illness like Asperger’s Syndrome or depression are more likely to hurt themselves or others, and 61% of parents said that parents of children with mental health problems should not be allowed to have a gun in their home. However, the truth is that most violent crimes are not actually committed by people who are mentally ill, and kids with mental health issues can grow up to lead happy, productive lives when they get proper care.
“The Newtown shooting has lead to a national conversation about mental health—not just to prevent potential violence, which is very rare, but to prevent suffering, which is very common and often very treatable,” says Parents advisor Harold Koplewicz, M.D., president of the Child Mind Institute. “What we hope will come from the tragedy is openness that starts in each family and community, when we acknowledge our worries about our own children, and help make other parents feel safe enough to speak up about their worries, too.”
One piece of good news from our survey: 66% of respondents do believe that parents are now more likely to seek help if their child’s behavior worries them. We’ve also been encouraged to learn that an increasing number of pediatricians now have mental-health professionals working right in their office. Not only does that make access to care easier, but it sends a message that mental heath is just as important as physical health.
You can participate in the Speak Up For Kids campaign and learn more from the online events being hosted by the Child Mind Institute in honor of National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month.
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Tuesday, March 12th, 2013
Having grown up with a sibling with disabilities, I’ve seen firsthand what it’s like for a child to struggle making friends. My younger brother, Jimmy, suffered from a seizure disorder and learning disabilities, displayed violent-aggressive behavior, and had trouble regulating his emotions– all stemming from a benign brain tumor he was born with. It was clear from his earliest years that, despite my parents’ greatest efforts to give him a normal life, he was going to have challenges most kids don’t face – and creating friendships was one of them. We watched as Jimmy grew into a little boy who was kind, clever, and humorous (to say the very least), but his outbursts, impulsivity, and delayed brain development made it difficult for him to interact with kids his age.
Recently, I attended an event for The Meeting House, an afterschool program in New York City for children who lack “normal” social skills – a resource I wish we could have had during Jimmy’s growing up years. Through activities such as sports, music, dance, and homework help, the program helps school-age kids build their social skills and self-esteem in a fun environment where they can interact with others like themselves. Two fantastic experts, Fadi Haddad, M.D., the director of Child Psychiatric Emergency Services at Bellevue Hospital here in New York City and Sima Gerber, Ph.D., a professor of speech-language pathology at Queens College, spoke about developing social skills to a packed room that included parents of children with developmental delays and social difficulties, as well as educators and psychologists. Here are some points that jumped out at me, and that I hope can be helpful to parents who are in similar situations as mine were:
Know what’s normal. Be aware of the skills your child should be developing for his age group and look for any abnormalities (see red flags below). That said, if he’s behind or not interacting with others the way you’d expect him to, that doesn’t necessarily mean he has social difficulties. Dr. Haddad mentioned that it’s not unusual for over-anxious parents to bring kids to his office who are perfectly fine socially, just a little quirky.
Look for red flags. If your child is oppositional, angry/aggressive, awkward (to the point that it impacts his social interactions), or if he doesn’t show emotion, it’s worth getting a professional opinion.
Early intervention is key. The sooner the issue is identified and treated, the better chance your child has of reaching his next developmental milestones. Also, since it can affect your child’s overall happiness if he has trouble making friends, you’ll want to work on the problem right away.
There’s not always a pill. A child may have a hard time interacting with others because he is shy, or there could be a bigger issue going on, such as autism, abuse, ADHD, learning disabilities, or bullying. In those cases, once the primary cause is identified and treated, there’s a greater chance things will improve. Dr. Haddad stressed that it’s important for parents to understand there isn’t always medication that can help, and that other options like therapy, can be more effective than a pill.
Good social skills start at home. It’s just as important for children to interact well with adults as it is for them to interact with other children. Kids who have positive relationships with their parents tend to do better socially – since unhealthy parent-child relationships can create distorted judgments with friendships.
Find the right resources. While parents can make sure they’re providing their kids with positive child-adult interactions at home, it’s much more difficult for them to encourage healthy child-to-child interactions during class or playtime. Programs such as The Meeting House are so helpful because they give these kids the chance to bond with others like themselves, and ultimately build their social skills.
Image: Kids via Shutterstock
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Thursday, January 24th, 2013
I don’t know how we’d get through bathtime in my house without bath toys. What’s funny is that the gender lines are never so apparent as they are when my kids take turns getting clean. When my son takes a bath, he entertains himself with toys that squirt, whether its a duck that spits or a water pump he can aim at the ceiling. My daughter, on the other hand, acts out complicated stories with her Barbies.
When this Little Mommy Bubbly Bathtime doll hit my desk this week, I had a total flashback to playing with a doll in the tub when I was a child. My “baby” was a pretty basic plastic blob, nothing like this new Little Mommy. She has purple pretend paint on her belly that magically washes clean when you get her wet (thanks to color-change technology). She also comes with a tub that has a working pump (fill it with bubble bath) and a crazy-bird hooded towel to wear when it’s time to dry off. And she smells like vanilla. (Check her out below, on my windowsill!)
Little Mommy is age-graded for 2 and up. And although I keep referring to the doll as “she,” the hair is short enough to pass for a boy or girl (because some kids want to be a parent to a boy baby). And by the way, my son loves to be a daddy once he’s out of the tub…though to a vast collection of stuffed penguins who are all his “babies.”
Want to win one of these? Mattel will give away five Little Mommy Bubbly Bathtime dolls, worth $19-$22 each. For your chance, just leave a comment below; tell me how your child plays at being a parent, or your own memory of parenting toys when you were little. You can leave up to one comment a day between now and the end of the day on Wednesday, January 30th. Read the official rules here. Goody luck!
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Monday, October 8th, 2012
My friend’s sister has four children, ages 14, 13, 7, and 3. This woman’s 13-year-old son has a severe form of autism and a mood disorder with psychotic episodes; doctors have told his parents that their son is a very unusual case. As a result, life is extremely challenging for the entire family. Because their son is prone to frequent and uncontrollable outbursts, they’re all having a particularly difficult time in the condo complex where they moved last year for his mother’s job as a biotech scientist. Her heartbreaking Facebook post, which she allowed me to share, strikes me as the kind of thing every parent should read, particularly if he or she doesn’t have a child with autism–or any other disability or mental illness.
“I would like to say something to those people in our community who look at my husband, myself, and our disabled son in disgust or shout out your windows for us to just keep him quiet. He is a minor inconvenience to you. You get to go back to your lives, travel as you please, eat what you please, and go about your merry way. Imagine what it is like for us, constantly struggling to keep our son safe. Imagine what it is like for our other three children, whose friends’ parents won’t allow them to come over while our son is home, who are constantly told they can’t go places because it’s too difficult, and who often can’t make their needs heard above his yelling. But most of all, imagine what it is like for our son, whose level of anxiety is so great, whose suffering is so enormous, that he is driven to cry, driven to scream, driven to bang his head and bite his arms and legs. Have you ever in your life felt so much pain that you were driven to that? Be grateful for what you have, for being born with a normal functioning brain, and maybe you would consider being helpful instead. We could always use a home-cooked dinner, an offer to take one of our other children to a movie, or just a smile of support.”
Image: autism symbol design isolated on white background via Shutterstock.
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anxiety, autism, compassion, developmental disability, empathy, mental illness, schizophrenia | Categories:
Behavior, GoodyBlog, Health & Safety, Must Read, Your Child, Your Life
Friday, September 7th, 2012
This is a guest post from Mary Hynes-Berry, Ph.D., a senior instructor at Erikson Institute in Chicago. Erikson is a leading graduate school in childhood development, working to improve the care and education of children up to age 8.
Last week, a University of Virginia press release announced “Pretend Play May Not Be as Crucial to Child Development as Believed, New Study Shows.” Angeline Lillard, Ph.D., the lead investigator, reported that, in a review of 150 prior studies, “We found no good evidence that pretend play contributes to creativity, intelligence or problem-solving. However, we did find evidence that it just might be a factor contributing to language, storytelling, social development and self-regulation.”
Early childhood experts see those statements as contradictory. The last decade’s explosion of brain research firmly establishes that, in early childhood, development is very much intertwined; cognitive, social-emotional, and motor skills all affect one another. Developing language, storytelling, social development, and self-regulation will contribute to developing intelligence, creativity, and problem-solving skills—meaning pretend play is an active ingredient in all of them.
What’s more, while we can identify different kinds of play, it is difficult to isolate just one form—and that’s what this study does. The study concludes that constructive play is a crucial factor in developing creativity and problem-solving skills, but rules out pretend play. That doesn’t make sense. Think about how your own children play: When they’re imagining, they’re also usually physically moving about and constructing props or settings, such as turning a box or a few blankets into a castle or a rocket-ship, right?
The danger of this study is that it could fuel the current obsession with testing, which pressures teachers to drill numbers and letters into children, leaving no time for play-based learning. In fact, Dr. Lillard recognizes the same point in the conclusion of her academic article. Her final sentence should have been the lead for the press release: “The hands-on, child- driven educational methods sometimes referred to as ‘playful learning’ are the most positive means yet known to help young children’s development.”
Image: Barefoot baby girl “shopping” via Shutterstock.
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Friday, August 10th, 2012
Like many Jewish families, we usher in Shabbat, the Sabbath, by lighting candles, saying the blessings over the wine and challah bread, and blessing our children. Or at least we try to. Our older one has tried various forms of resistance over the past few months and seems to see her weekly blessing as some sort of, well, curse–or, at least, a babyish practice that she should have grown out of.
The blessing itself takes all of 10 seconds. My wife and I place our hands on each child’s head one at a time and recite in Hebrew the traditional blessing for girls: “May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah”–the Jewish matriarchs–followed by three short verses from the Bible. (Numbers 6:24-26, in case you were curious.) To me, it is a beautiful and moving custom, one that is deeply meaningful and makes me feel a special connection to my children every week.
Adira, who’s 5, begs to differ. A few months ago, she started running away from us when it came time for her blessing. We’d follow her into her playroom or elsewhere in the house, hands reaching out to bless her as quickly as we could, often on the move while we did so. We didn’t want to push her too hard and turn what’s usually a beautiful moment into a weekly power struggle. (Lord knows we have enough of those already.) We later started insisting she be at the dinner table for these few moments, but as a concession in the lengthy negotiations that followed, agreed to bless her without touching our hands to her head.
I can live with that.
Recently, however, she’s been asking when she will be old enough not to be blessed, throwing out suggested ages when she feels this weekly torture should surely be past her. I proudly and emphatically tell her that at no point in her life will I stop blessing her. I usually launch into an explanation of the blessing and why it’s so meaningful, but by then she’s running off to play, after a quick pause to help us bless her younger sister.
We recently did agree that if she becomes taller than me–and it’s a toss-up at this point whether my very-short daughter will catch up to my very-short self–I will agree to let her forgo this bit of tradition, if she still wants to at that point. I’m betting that by then she’ll have come around and enjoy her weekly moment, or will have forgotten this agreement altogether. If not, somehow I think I will renege on this promise and find a way to keep offering her her blessing.
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Friday, August 3rd, 2012
Same-sex marriage has been on my mind, but not because of a certain chicken restaurant. On Sunday I’m going to the wedding of a cherished friend, who is marrying his boyfriend of nine years. When the dress I’d ordered for it arrived last week, I tried it on, explaining to my daughter Julia (who turns 7 at the end of the month) where I planned to wear it.
Julia: Who’s getting married?
Me: My friend Glenn.
Julia: Who’s he marrying?
Me: A man named Jeffrey.
She stopped chewing her bagel and was immediately puzzled.
Julia: A man?
Me: Yes. Men can marry men if they want to, and women can marry women. I don’t think you know anyone who’s done that, but I do…
Then her face got red and I could see that she was almost going to cry.
Julia: I am very confused.
Me: I know, honey. I can understand that. But what’s the matter?
Julia: If they have babies, then they won’t have a mommy, just two daddies.
Me: Aw, but that’s okay. You only need one parent who loves you, and many kids have two if they’re lucky.
She was still totally flustered and actually had tears in her eyes.
Julia: But how do they have a baby if they’re two men?
Me: Well, they can adopt a baby. Remember we talked about adopting?
And that was pretty much that. The topic hasn’t come up since, but I wondered if I’d handled it correctly. Did I say the right things?
I turned to Deborah Roffman, a sex educator in Baltimore who’s been teaching children and counseling families for more than 30 years. I thought she’d be an ideal person to ask since she just came out with a very helpful book called Talk to Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ “Go-To” Person About Sex. “I think you did great. My guess is that you might have been unnerved by her reaction,” she ventured. Yep, I said–honestly, I feared that it revealed some underlying prejudice. “This subject makes us feel insecure, and we worry that we have to be so very careful with it, but we really don’t,” said Roffman. She believes Julia had a pretty basic assumption about the world–men only marry women–and it was scary to her that she was wrong, that she didn’t understand something so fundamental to her. “Her reaction was more about the confusion than the topic.”
Then she gently suggested that with subjects like this, I consider being more proactive going forward. In this case, I could’ve prepared Julia by saying something like, “Listen, I’m going to a wedding next weekend and it’s going to be interesting, and I want to tell you about it. Most couples you know, like me and Daddy, are women and men. But it’s also possible for men to marry men, and for women to marry women. My friend Glenn is marrying a man named Jeffrey.”
Her advice really made sense to me. “A lot of parents hesitate with stuff like this, thinking, I have to wait until my child asks. No, you don’t,” she explained. “It’s a little easier, sometimes, if they ask questions, but with the important things in life, you want to front-load, so your point of view can get there first.”
Have you had tricky conversations like this with your child? How’d it go?
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Tuesday, July 31st, 2012
First of all, I’m laughing that my post yesterday, about how it’s going to be nervewracking to watch the Olympics with my almost-7-year-old daughter, comes right before a post by a mom who shares what it’s like to watch the Olympics when your daughter is actually in the Olympics.
But I figured I’d update you on how it went last night when we watched the rest of Sunday’s gymnastics competition with Julia. Short answer: totally fine! I’d drilled it in to her that one person was going to be eliminated, and as soon as Jordyn Wieber teetered on the beam, Julia declared, “I think she’s going to get cut.” Soon after that, she announced that Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman were her favorites. So when Jordyn was indeed cut from the all-around finals, Julia wasn’t so fazed. And there you have it. On to today’s team competition…
Photo: Keep Calm and Carry On Against the British Flag via Shutterstock.
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