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Thursday, May 23rd, 2013
Sesame Street and the USO have now partnered for five years to support military families around the world. As they celebrate this milestone, Rachel Tischler (Vice President of USO Entertainment) and Lynn Chwatsky (Vice President of Sesame Street’s Outreach Initiatives and Partners) offer this guest blog post to announce the new world tour of The Sesame Street/US Experience for Military Families.
The children of US service members scream and wave at the start of the USO/Sesame Street Experience for Military Families at USAG Humphreys in South Korea February 9, 2010. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)
Imagine you are five years old and you haven’t seen your mommy or daddy’s face, touched their hand or received their hug in six months because they’re deployed overseas. Now, imagine two years have passed and your mommy or daddy is back home, you have lots of friends at school, and you’re told the family is moving to a new base far away for the third time. How do you feel? And as a parent, what do you do?
These are just two of the many unique and challenging issues our nation’s military families face everyday. It’s also THE reason Sesame Street and the USO partnered and are celebrating five years of working together to take The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families around the world. Over the past five years our two organizations have brought the messages from Sesame Street’s military families initiative, Talk, Listen, Connect, to life for more than 368,000 U.S. troops and military families. We’ve performed 631 shows on 145 military installations in 33 states and 11 countries.
We are kicking off our new world tour at a special USO Care Package Service Project event with help from Cookie Monster and our supporters on Capitol Hill. Next, we’ll head to Alaska to begin performing for and meeting even more military families this year as our journey takes us to 41 bases in 8 European and Pacific countries over the next six months.
For those unfamiliar with our adventure, the tour’s first phase focused on deployment. Kids and parents related when Elmo said, “Elmo’s Daddy had to go away on a very important trip for lots and lots of days. Elmo sure misses Daddy when he’s away, and sometimes Elmo feels sad.” Elmo and friends got those same families singing, dancing, and there was even the occasional Muppet mosh pit.
As the military transitioned away from long deployments, The USO and Sesame Street created a brand new show tailored towards another challenge, military family relocation. The new show introduced a new character named Katie. Katie is a military kid, and her experiences really echo those faced by military kids. The show is designed to help other military kids like Katie with issues related to relocation – letting kids know they can stay in touch with old friends and even make new ones when they move.
Kids perk up in surprise as Katie identifies with them, telling audience members, “I’m moving AGAIN.” And it’s thanks to Katie and her Sesame Street pals Elmo, Rosita, and Cookie Monster, who help her realize that while moving can be scary, she can still rely on her friends to help her through life’s transitions.
The USO and Sesame Street know that families everywhere can relate to the anxiety of moving to a new place, and having to go to a new school and make new friends. But for military families around the world, it’s a way of life. According to our friends at the Military Child Education Coalition, kids with parents in the military move six to nine times during their pre-school through high school education.
That’s why it’s important our military families know that Sesame Street and the USO are there. We know it’s hard to be away from a loved one and that some days are harder than others. Whether you’re a child, a military spouse, a service member or a nonmilitary member, nothing can change the fact our troops and their families are serving this country every day. And in the words of Elmo and his pals, “We’re gonna be there for [them].”
As we celebrate the fifth birthday of The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families, we ask that you join in the celebration by offering your own support of military families. We’ve come up with five things that everyone can do and we hope they will prompt and inspire you:
1. Volunteer at one of the more than 160 USO locations around the world and discover ways you can take action locally.
2. Offer to help a military family on the home front who live on or off base. Whether you see that their lawn needs to be mowed or garbage cans taken in, helping with simple household chores and errands can really relieve some of the stress a family may be feeling.
3. Teach your child how they can help support military kids in their school by visiting uso.org/get-involved.aspx and or Facebook.com/SesameStreetforMilitaryFamilies.
4. Lend an ear to listen to a military spouse as sometimes just having someone there to vent to or talk to when you may feel all alone can be the greatest support of all.
5. Say thank you to a military member and their family for their service, sacrifice and strength. Our troops and their families make sacrifices so we don’t have to and those two simple words say so much.
Whether on the frontlines, with their loved ones, in recovery or in remembrance, the USO and Sesame Street are adapting to meet the needs of those who need us most. The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families is one of the ways we can help them navigate life’s challenges. To learn more and to see where the tour is headed next visit USO.org/Sesame.
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Sesame Street characters pose for a photo with service members and their children following a performance of the USO/Sesame Street Experience for Military Families at Atsugi Naval Air Field in Japan, January 19, 2010. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)
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Behavior, Health, Must Read, Parenting, Red-Hot Parenting, Stories
Tuesday, May 21st, 2013
As a parent, you may be wondering why such a fuss is being made about the release of the DSM-5 (the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association). Here is a brief overview of why it may be (0r become) relevant to you – and why it’s important to learn about the issues that are being debated.
Many Kids Will Experience A Mental Disorder
The primary reason parents need to know about DSM-5 is that many psychiatric disorders that originate in childhood are not uncommon. Consider some rough numbers:
- Around 1 in 50 kids are being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Around 1 in 10 kids are being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
- Around 1 in 10 kids are being diagnosed with Conduct Disorder
- Around 1 in 10 kids are being diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder
- Around 1 in 10 kids are being diagnosed with a Mood Disorder
- Around 1 in 2 teens have reported meeting diagnostic criteria for at least 1 disorder in their lifetime
Having a good look at these numbers means that lots of parents will be faced at some point in time with the possibility of having their child evaluated for a disorder – and will need to consider treatment options. That’s where the DSM-5 comes in.
DSM-5 Is The Primary Guide For Clinical Diagnosis
The DSM-5 is the handbook used by a broad range of health care professionals who evaluate individuals (youth and adults) for potential psychiatric disorders. It’s an authoritative guide that reflects a consensus statement on the best way to categorize disorders along with the specific symptoms and rules to be used to make a diagnosis. The intention is to make it reflect current clinical thinking that is supported by research. It is not perfect, it reflects a particular point of view by those charged with generating the guidelines, and there is much debate (and criticism) of the diagnostic approach taken by the DSM-5.
All that said, the fact remains that the DSM-5 will be used if you bring your child to a health care professional for evaluation. The clinician will consider lots of information during this process – the DSM-5 does not dictate what information they use and how they get it. It’s intended to serve as a guide to the endpoint of making (or not making) a diagnosis. And it serves as the template for a health care provider to request reimbursement from insurance companies to support treatment.
Why All The Controversy Now?
The DSM-5 is a revision of the prior version which was released in 2000. As such, it includes a number of changes – some of which are minor, some of which are major. Beyond the more general discussions about what’s “normal” and what isn’t, the key things that parents need to know are the practical implications of the changes. As a parent, you should be aware of the changes to disorders that are especially relevant for youth. Here’s a brief overview:
Autism Spectrum Disorder: Major changes have occurred. In the prior version, a spectrum of disorders were available to clinicians, reflecting important variations in symptom profile. Four disorders were listed: Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, Childhood Disintegration Disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. The key change is that there is now just one diagnosis made of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – and the other diagnostic categories will no longer be used. Proponents of this change suggest that it is more accurate by defining the core features of ASD that were common to all of the disorders in the spectrum and allowing for differences in severity level under one diagnostic umbrella. Critics suggest that a number of youth who require diagnosis and treatment will not be diagnosed – and that the reliance on severity levels may make it harder for kids with more mild symptoms to receive treatments they need. There’s no answer to these issues yet – they will unfold over time as data are collected. But if your child is evaluated for ASD, it’s in your best interests to be up on the debates and have informed discussions with your clinician in order to make sure you are advocating for the best care for your child.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Minor changes have occurred. In the past, there had to be evidence that a child showed symptoms of ADHD before age 7. That has been extended to age 12 in the DSM-5. There is also more attention to making diagnoses in adults more manageable. All of these changes mean that if you have an older child who has never been diagnosed with ADHD, they might now be evaluated differently. It’s also important to know what isn’t in the DSM-5 – a lower limit on age. That is, there are no guidelines in terms of how young a child may be when making a diagnosis. This is relevant as there have been (controversial) suggestions that kids as young as 4 years of age could be diagnosed (and many in fact have). Know that DSM-5 does not offer guidance here and you will need to make up your own mind if this makes sense for your child – hopefully with the appropriate guidance of a well-trained clinician. Overall, the worry here is that kids of all ages may be overdiagnosed.
Conduct Disorder (CD): Minor changes have occurred. Conduct disorder represents a persistent pattern of rule breaking behavior and behavior that violates the rights of others. It can be diagnosed in young children as well as teens. The primary change has been to incorporate symptoms indicating a callous and unemotional interpersonal style. The thinking here is kids with this profile may be especially prone to experience problems in the future – and require more intensive management and treatment. Be aware that these symptoms will receive more attention now in the diagnostic process.
Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD): This diagnosis reflects a major change – it is a new diagnostic category. The idea was to provide a diagnostic option for kids who show persistent irritability and extreme emotional and behavioral outbursts. The rationale for developing the DMDD criteria was to make sure kids who show these symptoms do not get mislabeled as having pediatric bipolar disorder – but still may qualify for treatment. The controversy is that many feel that there is not sufficient evidence to support this new diagnosis – and in the worst case scenario kids who do not have psychiatric problems will be diagnosed with a disorder and get treatment that they don’t need.
Over the next few days, I will publish blog posts that consider each of these four disorders in greater detail, and provide some guidance for parents to help sort through these complex issues. There are no straightforward answers to be found – rather parents need to know about DSM-5 so they can be prepared to navigate the best decisions for their child.
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Monday, May 6th, 2013
One of the most important traits you can nurture in your child is optimism. The roots of optimism take hold early in life, and contrary to popular opinion, are primarily the result of experience, rather than genetics (or put another way, optimism can most definitely be taught even though some may be prone to be more optimistic than others). Optimistic kids have an edge – they are protected from depression and show much more resiliency when faced with challenges. And by optimism, I’m talking about the realistic kind – not the Pollyannaish brand. The core of optimism is to perceive the realities of a situation and focus on the things you can do to help make things better. It’s a motivational fuel that propels behaviors necessary for success, as discussed in Paul Tough’s recent book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.
How can you encourage optimism in your kids? Well, the easy answer is to say being optimistic yourself. That said we all know that parenting is hard, and the realities of the daily grind can wear down even the most optimistic parent. To that end, I spoke with John Jacobs – co-founder with his brother Bert of the Life is good Company – to get his insights on the role optimism has played throughout his life. Why John Jacobs? He and Bert spent five years selling homemade tee shirts without much success. One of their ideas, though, caught fire – a drawing of a face with an infectious grin and the slogan “Life is good.” Turns out that deceptively simple expression of optimism resonated with lots of folks, and now “Life is good” is a hugely successful lifestyle brand, as well as an ambassador for the power of optimism in people’s lives. Today, Life is good’s mission is to spread the power of optimism and help kids in need, which they accomplish by donating 10% of their net profits to the Life is good Kids Foundation.
The Jacobs brothers selling tee shirts
John is well positioned to talk about optimism for many reasons. In addition to his successful career and the central role that optimism plays in the “Life is good” story, he credits many experiences he had growing up with optimistic parents. And, as John is a dad to a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and a baby not yet six months old, he lives the life of a parent who brings optimism into his kids’ lives on a daily basis. John articulated a number of important take-home messages for parents drawn from his many experiences – which I share here as 4 things you can do right now, everyday, to cultivate optimism in your kids.
LAUGH MORE, COMPLAIN LESS
John did not grow up with many traditional advantages. He was one of six kids growing up in a small house. Yet the emotional climate of the house was very positive:
“There was plenty to complain about if you wanted to, yet it seemed like when we woke up in our bunk beds, we’d hear our mom singing or cracking up over something. She just decided to focus on things that made her laugh or things that would be exciting to her kids. There was no dwelling on the fact that the toast was burning again or one the kids was wearing cleats to school because they couldn’t find their shoes.”
The bunkbed from John’s childhood
John summed up his mom’s parenting strategy as “keep the circus moving forward.” Yes, life with kids can be chaotic, stressful, and a little crazy sometimes. It can wear you down. But, making the decision to laugh (at least some of the time) rather than complain or dwell leads to a positive emotional climate in the home – and the foundation for an optimistic attitude in kids which doesn’t deny reality, but makes the best of it.
FRAME THE DAY
John recalls that there was something especially powerful about waking up each day to the sound of his mother’s happy, joyous singing. He, too, suggests that parents “frame the day” by setting a positive tone:
“I love the word ‘excited.’ It can be used every day when you wake up! You can talk in an excited voice about the color of the trees today or what the sky looks like. You can generate enthusiasm about what you’re planning to do that day, or who you’re going to see. It’s not a trick. You can fuel a kid’s excitement so that they get pumped up about playing with an empty box and they end up turning it into a rocket ship or an airplane or a clubhouse. It’s a decision you make on how you are going to frame your day from morning to night.”
This advice resonates strongly with clinical experience. Many families who express lots of negativity and interpersonal stress start off their day this way. There are usually triggers that gets parents and kids started with a negative attitude first thing in the morning – whether it involves issues with eating breakfast, getting dressed. These little things might not sound like a big deal – but it drags the energy level down and can turn into a way of seeing the day’s tasks as a burden.
John’s idea is so powerful because it covers the entire day – he also suggests you try to “frame the day” at night as well. How? Simply put, instead of everyone talking about all the lousy things that happened during the day (and we know there are usually a few every day), you make a concentrated effort to also talk about the good things that happened. John’s family has a habit of everyone (even the toddler) taking a turn at the dinner table and talking about one good thing that happened that day:
“Before dinner every person at our table shares what they are grateful for. Our four-year-old has taken over the leadoff slot. He likes to start the conversation and usually he just keeps going – it’s good stuff! He’ll say things like, ‘I’m grateful for the floor, for the ceiling, for the lights, the ocean, and the color green.’ We love hearing that and seeing the smile on his face makes it hard to cut him off. The food might get cold but you’re thrilled to see a kid that young frame the world in that way.”
It’s a powerful way of making sure that the good doesn’t get lost in the bad – and that your kids develop the habit of framing their day with realistic positives, including both expectations of things to come and appreciation for things that came.
We’ve all heard our young (and not-so-young) children complain about how bored they are. Such boredom often comes hand in hand with a dreary, enervated experience of the world. Don’t tolerate it! And certainly don’t mitigate it by allowing your children to watch television. John has a powerful recollection from his childhood days:
“I remember distinctly my mom saying to us ‘The only people who get bored are boring people.’ That was the last time I used the word ‘bored’ – when I was maybe six years old.”
Part of boredom is to shoot down ideas – to find the negative in anything. You know the drill – I don’t wanna do that ‘cause it’s boring. Blah blah blah. But this kind of pessimism doesn’t serve kids well. Check out John’s perception based on his career as an entrepreneur:
“Pessimism closes doors and squashes ideas before they have a chance to breathe, grow and develop. If you have a naysayer who’s squashing things, who focuses on why something won’t work, you’ll never have an innovative idea. Negativity sucks the energy out of a meeting; it sucks the life out of it. That’s why optimism is a trait we look for when hiring people.”
Give your kids the message that it’s up to them to make life interesting. It’s up to them to find ways to make themselves happy. It’s up to them to find ways to engage themselves. This is a fundamental aspect of optimism that you don’t necessarily hear that much about. Try it. You will be very surprised and pleased to see how creative your kids will be when left to their own devices.
If you don’t try something new, you won’t succeed. It’s that simple. A primary reason kids become reluctant to try new things is that they are afraid of failure. John – like many entrepreneurs – has always embraced mistakes as a key way to learn:
“Even though you know you’re going to ‘fail,’ one of the biggest lessons we learned was that when you try, you either succeed, or you learn. These are both positive things. My business partner and I made so many – hundreds! – of mistakes, yet the power of the message and mission of our company, which is to spread optimism, just carried us through. We learned to try to keep trying, to stay nimble enough to try out new things, to make mistakes, to fall down, and to learn from all of that ‘failure.’ That’s how you get smarter. If you fold your arms and tuck away and get defensive, it’s not a good recipe to grow and develop.”
John strongly encourages his kids to try new things, even if they don’t know whether they will be good at it. As he tells them, they don’t have to do something perfect the first time:
“The most tangible example for me was teaching my oldest son to ride a bike. It was so exciting! We had the brief little protest of ‘I don’t have the training wheels’ and ‘I needthe training wheels’ – that kind of thing. But he got focused on what was in front of him and started to push down that front pedal. Twenty minutes later, he had a big smile on his face. It was a metaphor for so many stages in life. There are so many of those situations growing up when a kid is not sure and nervous about trying something. Then you go for it a little bit and maybe you stumble once or twice but eventually you have a positive experience.”
If your kids don’t learn how to learn – that “mistakes” are a part of the learning curve – they will deprive themselves of the chance to get good at something. The optimist knows that they will get better if they really pay attention to all those mistakes and use them as a platform for improvement – one small step at a time. Those small steps add up when you take them.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
As John reflects:
“This idea of what you choose to focus on is one of the most basic foundations for a happy life for you and your kids. Do you want your child growing up thinking how lucky he or she is and how incredible this world is—and how many opportunities there are every day to do things that are new, and to grow as a person? This isn’t corny to me. It’s what I truly believe.”
If you make these kinds of choices, your kids will also believe that “Life is good.” The will know how to ride out the bad times and learn from them. And they will have the skills to ensure that good things will come.
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Monday, April 29th, 2013
It’s been two weeks since the Boston Marathon tragedy, and since then many stories have emerged about helping those whose lives were changed that day. There are a number of ways you can support the healing of those involved. Here I will share one particularly inspiring story.
Megan Conner – a top singer/songwriter in Nashville who is also a fitness expert – crossed the finish line about 15 minutes before the explosions occurred. She was close enough to hear the explosions go off and see the clouds of smoke. The experience of being there that day not only gave her a sense of connection to all those involved, but also, as she described to me, an “overwhelming love and concern” and a need to do something for the families who are dealing with a very long healing process. So she wrote and recorded a song called “Dear Boston” as a way of capturing the emotions involved and serving as a platform for raising funds to help those who need help.
You can hear the song and watch her accompanying beautiful video on YouTube. Follow the link on the video to download the song for $1 (which will help support the victims and their families) or click here for a link to do so.
It’s a great song for a great cause.
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Monday, April 15th, 2013
The news of the explosions at the Boston Marathon once again necessitates that parents take control of what their kids will hear and see. Here are a few key points to keep in mind.
Be aware that coverage (TV and online) of these explosions – and the coverage will be continuous and extensive – will have some graphic footage. There are recordings of when the explosions happened. There are images of injured people on stretchers. You will see the aftermath which can be disturbing. It will be on TV. It will be online. Keep this in mind in terms of what your kids will see. Kids of any age will find this disturbing. It’s a good idea to monitor your kids now so you can be in control of what they see – and be on the ready to switch off quickly if there are things they shouldn’t see.
In addition to footage, remember that interviews will contain graphic talk. People will be describing what they saw and heard. Many will be distressed. The talk may be graphic and reference fatalities. Online, you will read quotes by witnesses. Again, you might want to actively screen this information.
While shielding your kids from footage and conversation that is upsetting, it’s also important that you be the source of information for them. You can explain things in the best way possible without deviating from being honest. Keep your descriptions short and factual (“Yes something bad happened. Some people were hurt.”) without going into much expansion. Allow your kids to ask you questions and answer exactly what they are asking. For example, if they ask if anyone died, you can simply answer “Yes” and see if they ask anything else. Try to be calm and in control even though these catastrophes rattle all of us. Even though we can’t assure our kids that we can keep them safe every second of the day, we do want them to feel safe with us and have some sense of control.
Finally, be aware that your kids may have questions for awhile, as this tragedy will undoubtedly be in the news for some time. Keep the lines of communication open and be ready to have frequent and short conversations about it – kids may have a question here or there and they are only looking for an immediate answer to it. You can rely on your knowledge about your kid’s personality, but do bear in mind that kids typically don’t want the level of detail that we adults would pursue.
And of course do what you do best – hug your kids. That will speak volumes.
Mom Soothing Child via Shutterstock.com
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