Tag: troubled children

Back to School: Tips for the Transition

Back to School: Tips for the Transition

Starting school after a summer vacation triggers behavioral problems in many troubled children and teens.  A rocky start can result in problem behavior for a couple of months.  Your child does poor academically during those months, and their behavior primes teachers to treat them differently.  This guest article by Eileen Devine, LCSW, breaks down the issues and offers solutions for parents.


Back to School: Tips for the Transition
Eileen Devine, LCSW

It’s that time of year again—back-to-school sales at all the stores, school emails and supply lists, fresh questions about new teachers and new classrooms. The summer break is winding down, which for some brings relief at the idea of returning to more structured days (with some respite for parents and other caregivers).  For others,transition into school brings the dread and stress of educating a new teacher on our child’s unique way of being in the world, bracing for what seems to be inevitable challenges inherent in our child’s experience of school.

Wherever you fall on that spectrum between relief and dread, there are things you can do as a parent to begin building a new foundation of collaboration with your child’s teacher. Set up a goal for everyone that leads to a successful school year.

To Disclose or Not to Disclose

Many children with brain differences (trauma-induced, biologically based.) might appear to be “neurotypical” or normal, causing their brain-based disability and related challenges to go unnoticed.

Teachers often don’t recognize the symptoms of your child’s disability and interpret them as disrespect, defiance, lack of motivation or laziness.

Parents with whom I routinely work will struggle with when to disclose that their child has a brain-based disability that makes seemingly simple tasks incredibly difficult.  Parents are worried about the impact this disclosure might have on their child, that the stigma accompanying various diagnoses will cause negative ramifications.  (See “Teachers and Stigma – Judging and Blaming Families“)  The stigma is real, and yet with this reality in mind, my challenge to a parent is always this:

What will the impact on your child be if you choose not to disclose?

How will you advocate for them?

If you don’t disclose, how will your child access the accommodations they so rightfully deserve, based on their brain-based disability?

If your child is not fully understood by those who interact with them each day, the ability for your child to having meaningful and positive relationships with school staff is greatly diminished. I always advise pro-active planning (early disclosure) vs. waiting for a problem to occur, which can force the disclosure under less-than-ideal circumstances.

Getting Clear on Brain Tasks

When was the last time you gave serious consideration to exactly which cognitive skills or brain tasks are especially difficult for your child? We often can pinpoint the situation or recall the event where it occurred, but what brain task was involved that sent your child into a meltdown or a fit of rage?

Does your child get “stuck?”  Does your child’s thinking limit his or her ability transition without substantial support? Do they get trapped in verbal or behavioral loops? Are they unable to initiate an appropriate activity independently, even one that you know they love?

Does your child only see black and white? Are they cognitively inflexible, and respond to everything as, now or never, right or wrong?

Do they have difficulty processing sensory input? If so, what types of sensory input are especially challenging (noise, bright lights, crowded spaces, smells)?

Does your child struggle with social and emotional skills? Do they act younger than they are, and are they still learning what it means to think of others, empathize, share, and compromise?

Is their verbal communicating “off?” What do you know about the limits their brain has turning thoughts into speech?  How would you describe their memory and recall challenges?

Teachers and other school staff need specific answers so they can appropriately treat your child.

As parents who daily experience challenging situations with our child, we usually have no difficulty articulating what event or situation “set our child off” or caused them distress. But if we can take a step back and link it with brain function, we gain an essential piece of the puzzle in terms of how to understand our child in all environments and situations.

Taking the step back, making the list of brain tasks and then translating them for others—teachers, para-educators, administrators, bus drivers— is essential for these professionals and their ability to be pro-active in their approach with your child.

I clearly remember my own first steps up the steep learning curve of trying to understand an individual with brain differences from a neurobehavioral perspective. It was challenging. I needed reminders and re-teaching. I needed to be gentle with myself when I failed to parent differently, and needed support in doing it better the next time around.

Teachers are on their own steep learning curve with this approach. It’s often not taught in education classes or offered in professional development sessions, leaving educators unprepared or ill-equipped to see children from this lens. There are ways we can help bring the information together for teachers in a concise, but comprehensive way, to help them understand what it means for our child to struggle with those identified brain tasks.

Write a succinct summary of what brain tasks your child has the most trouble with and translate what this looks like in the classroom. Then explain what works to help.

For example, for a 9-year-old child who is experiencing “dysmaturity” (a gap between the developmental age and the chronological age) might be emotionally closer to age 4.  One might observe:

Johnny’s social behavior is frequently younger than his chronological age (as much as 4-5 years younger). Because of this social and emotional developmental gap, he can sometimes be seen as irresponsible or ‘acting like a baby;’ this is what it looks like when he is much younger developmentally. Remembering that he’ll benefit (and be safest) when understood as being a younger age than he appears, will help prevent development of frustration, personalization and anxiety for Johnny.

For LaQuisha, the 11-year-old in fifth grade:

LaQuisha is a very good listener, but she listens slowly (think: ten-second-child in a one-second world). She will often say “I don’t know,” or “What?” because she cannot maintain or track the typical flow of classroom conversation. Slowing down and giving her space between sentences works for her. Giving her prompting questions or other visual cues before the instruction or classroom discussion begins will allow her to participate more fully in what is being discussed.

For Miranda, who is 13 and in middle school:

Miranda struggles with memory and recall, which makes changing classrooms throughout the day— each with its own teacher and differing set of rules and expectations— overwhelming for her to manage. She will benefit from visual cues and reminders from each teacher about those rules or expectations, which she can keep at the front of each section in her binder for that particular class.

For Omar, who is a 16-year-old in high school:

Omar has significant challenges related to executive functioning as a result of his brain-based disability. One of the ways you will see this in the classroom is when he is unable to initiate a task on his own (freezes up or gets stuck) and he may need additional prompting and support to get into the assignment at hand. He also experiences difficulty forming links, such as hearing instructions and then transitioning into doing the expected task (hearing into doing), seeing instructions for a writing assignment on the board and then translating that into writing on a paper (seeing into writing), formulating his thoughts and then verbalizing them (thinking into talking). He will experience success in your classroom if it is understood he needs more time and support in this area.

Always describe your child’s strengths too, not just their limitations.  Suggest how a teacher can help your child be successful by building on things they are naturally good at and enjoy.

From the Flipside – Tips from a Teacher

Many of these ideas are formulated from the perspective of a parent preparing for a child to return to school, but what about the teacher’s perspective? What suggestions would a thoughtful, experienced special educator have for parents and children about to shift into back-to-school mode?

Kelly Rulon is a teacher I’ve come to know through her work with our daughter. She’s been teaching special education for seven years, working across multiple schools and districts. She’s a strong believer in research-based systems and instruction. In her experience, with those in place, every child can be educated in their neighborhood school, without restrictive placements.

Here’s what she had to say, from a teacher’s perspective:

I know that transitioning back to school can be a time of great anxiety, both for parents and kids. A little preparation can go a long way. Here are a few things that can help your student get emotionally ready to return to the routine of school:

  1. Set aside time for an intentional conversation about the return to school. Ask your child what they are excited about for the year, as well as what might be causing feelings of nervousness. It’s a wonderful opportunity for you to connect with them. As a teacher, I love hearing about these things too! It really gives everyone the chance to begin the year with a strengths-based approach, as well as an idea of potential struggles. Knowing about these feelings early on helps to get folks on the same page, and to get some proactive strategies in place.
  2. The looser, less-structured routines and schedules of summer can be fun, but moving abruptly from that to school day schedules can be hard. Help your child gradually get back into the school routine ahead of the first day of school, be it bedtime or wake-up time or meal time. This will help with that exhausting transition back to school. (I know I’m asleep before my head hits the pillow those first few weeks back!)
  3. I always invite my students to come for a short visit to the school during the week of in-service, before school begins. It’s a busy time for teachers as we’re prepping away for Day 1, but a short, informal visit helps me establish positive, low-stakes contact with challenging students and families. This may not be the case for all teachers— and I have many colleagues who have wonderful family relationships without this meeting— but it’s worth an ask if you think your child could benefit from a preview.


A book I like is by Diane Malbin
, “Trying Differently Rather Than Harder.” It is an easy-to-read resource on the neurobehavioral approach. Although specific to FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder), the information applies to other neurobehavioral challenges. Buying your teacher a copy of the book and highlighting sections that are particularly reflective of your child is a wonderful way to expand understanding of your child.


As Kelly suggests above, before school begins, but when teachers have returned to prepare their classrooms, contact the school and request a 30-minute introductory meeting with the teacher(s). Use this as an opportunity to set the stage for collaboration and provide the teacher(s) with the concise-but-comprehensive write-up you’ve thoughtfully prepared. This is not the meeting to go into your child’s extensive history or to detail their previous challenges in school. Keep it short and positive, making it clear that you’re there to be a source of support in how to work with your child. If you know your child has a “honeymoon” stage at the beginning of the year, be upfront about that, so the teacher is not blindsided by it. If you know your child typically has a rough transition back, but then settles into the routine after a certain amount of time, let the teacher(s) know this, too, and suggest ways you can work together to support your child through the anticipated rough patch.

Bringing it all Together

Transitions are hard, and from my experience working with parents who have children with brain-based differences, the back-to-school transition is often one of the hardest. My final suggestion is for you, as the parent, to make your own plan for self-care.  Focus the plan on what you will do to take care of yourself as you gear up to support your child through this potentially intense period. Rally the troops you have around you to help buffer some of the stress. Be clear with those closest to you about what you need during this period to make it through without burning out.

If you have a thoughtful, well-considered plan in place for you and your child, if you’re positive, clear, supportive and realistic with your child’s teacher(s), and if you’re able to place your child and their needs at the center of the conversation, the transition back to school doesn’t have to be simply a rewind of previously challenging transitions.


Eileen Devine, LCSW, works in Portland, OR as a therapist supporting parents of children with special needs. She is also a consultant for families impacted by FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders) and other neurobehavioral conditions through her private practice, FASD Northwest, working with families nationally and internationally. She lives with her husband and two amazing kids, one of whom happens to live with FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome). For more information, visit FASD Northwest.

 

12 Ways Dogs Reduce Depression & Anxiety

12 Ways Dogs Reduce Depression & Anxiety

Most people know that dogs are good for one’s wellbeing, but these creatures literally improve one’s physical and mental health.

Dogs are medicine.

1. They lower our blood pressure

Research has proven time and time again that dogs significantly lower heart rates and blood pressure, before and after performing strenuous tasks. Blood pressure drops when one pets a dog. Petting dogs have also been known to ease pain and improve one’s immune system. It is like a dog’s mere presence is beneficial for pet owners.

2. They offer a soothing presence

Pets, particularly dogs, offer a soothing presence when one is performing tasks that take up a lot of mental energy. This goes a long way in helping speed up recovery of mental conditions.  It is well-known that some children will only respond to animals due to trauma or autism or intense anxiety.

3. They offer unconditional love and acceptance

Dogs are incapable of criticizing, judging or voicing their opinions. They snuggle up next to you even if you smell like poop.  Two reports describe the medical benefits of pets.  According to a 2013 white paper from the American Heart Association “…owning a pet, particularly a dog or a cat, is associated with decreased cardiovascular risk factors.”  The November 2015 Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research published research showing “pet therapy programs have been shown to be effective in helping improve socialization abilities, lower blood pressure, and combat loneliness.”

There are other great therapy pets : “Benefits have been seen in owners of pets ranging from dogs, cats, birds, and fish to goats, chimps, and snakes.”  Be sure the right animal is matched to the owner.

4. Dogs alter our behavior

You or your child could come home annoyed at a million little problems that happened during the day, and maybe even taking anger out on someone. But imagine that before this happens, a smiling, tail-wagging dog walks up for attention.

Imagine, you or your child kneels and pets her, she licks your face and you smile. Just like that, your behavior is altered and chances that someone will become a casualty of frustration are now much better. People calm down in the presence of a dog, and don’t anger easily or use curse words.  Dogs make us slow our minds and our speech.

5. Dogs promote touch

There is no disputing the healing power of touch. An article published on Huffington Post cites that a 45-minute massage can reduce the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, and build white blood cells which optimize one’s immune system. Hugging floods human bodies with oxytocin, a hormone that lowers heart rates, blood pressure and stress levels.

A study conducted at the University of Virginia showed that holding hands reduces stress-related activity in the hypothalamus region of the brain, which makes up part of the emotional center. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that stroking a dog can boost dopamine and serotonin levels while lowering heart rate and blood pressure.

6. Dogs distract us

It’s not a problem but a benefit! Dogs take us out of our heads and plunge us into another reality – one that involves affection, food, water… and scratching doggie butt for as long as we allow it. Distraction is sometimes the only thing you or your child needs when you have lost mental or emotional control. It is tough to ponder feeling awful when your dog is breathing in your face.

7. Dogs make us responsible

Owning a dog comes with responsibility and research has shown that responsibility promotes mental health. Psychologists assert that applying our skills to a job and taking ownership of a task helps build our self-esteem, which is why dogs are the most common therapy animals. When your child nurtures a happy healthy dog, it reinforces confidence and a sense of competence. This is especially important for troubled children who are often overtaken by their own thoughts and emotions.  Finally, pet care helps kids and teenagers learn independence and brings structure to their day.

Dogs pull a depressed or anxious child (or parent) out of their troubled head.

8. Dogs increase social interaction

Staying connected to other people or creatures is good for our depression. Starting a conversation is particularly scary for people suffering from depression. That isn’t true with dogs. They are natural social magnets that help pet owners connect with other people and maintain positive social contact.  Walk a dog, and people come up to meet the dog.

9. Dogs help one get into physical shape

Other than grooming, dogs need physical stimulation. This means taking walks and going out to a park to play. In the process of tossing a Frisbee or hiking with your pup, you get to exercise and enjoy nature simultaneously.

The energy boost consequently boosts your mood or blow off some steam.  Blood flow and oxygen to the brain is good for depression. When outside with a dog, your skin synthesizes vitamin D from the sun, which helps fight symptoms of depression.

10. Dogs are great listeners

The most effective way to release stress is to talk about it with someone. But what if you don’t have the courage to approach a friend? What if the idea of talking about your innermost worries makes you anxious?  Pet owners, particularly those who own a dog, will share their wishes and thoughts with a caring partner, with the guarantee that they won’t be disclosed to someone else. Even better, you can talk about your worries knowing that you won’t be judged

11. Dogs provide sensory stress relief

Movement and touch are some of the most effective ways to manage stress. Dogs offer the need for touch such as in grooming, petting and exercising them. Such tasks also help with sensory stress relief, which is particularly important for people suffering from depression.

12. Dogs help you find meaning and joy in life

Taking care of a dog can help lift morale and increase a sense of self-worth, optimism, and fulfillment.  If you’ve adopted a shelter dog, it’s also fulfilling to know you (and your child) provided a home to a dog that may have otherwise been euthanized.

Take care of your dog and your dog will take care of you.

Conclusion

The physical and mental health benefits of owning a dog for children, teenagers, and even the elderly are proven by research.

Note: Owning a dog is not a miracle cure for a family and child coping with anxiety and depression. Dogs are for those who appreciate and love domestic animals, and those who invest money and time to keep their dog healthy and happy.

By Andy McNaby

Founded by animal lovers, we provide honest reviews of pet products. We review products hands-on and we test products side-by-side, so you know you’re getting good honest reviews.

How to help your child cope with anxiety

How to help your child cope with anxiety

We all get anxious, but it becomes a “disorder” when it prevents a person from normal functioning. Anxiety and panic are very real, whether triggered by life in general or certain things such as phobias. Take it serious–it’s not something an extremely anxious child can “get over”.  Willpower alone does not work.

Anxiety disorders are also one of the most common psychiatric conditions in children and adolescents, but often go undetected and untreated. Early, effective treatment can reduce the negative impacts on academic and social functioning.

Excessive worry or anxiety about multiple issues, which lingers six months or more, can indicate an anxiety disorder. 

Anxiety is often expressed in physical symptoms:

  • Anxious mood: excessive worry, anticipating the worst
  • Tension: startles or cries easily, restlessness, trembling
  • Phobias: fear of the dark, fear of strangers, fear of being alone, fear of animals, etc.
  • Insomnia: difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, nightmares
  • Intellectual difficulties: poor concentration, memory impairment
  • Depression: decreased interest in activities, inability to feel happy
  • Somatic complaints (muscular): muscle aches or pains, teeth grinding
  • Somatic complaints (sensory): ringing in the ears, blurred vision
  • Cardiovascular symptoms: tachycardia, palpitations, chest pain, feeling faint
  • Respiratory symptoms: chest pressure, choking sensation, shortness of breath
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms: difficulty swallowing, nausea or vomiting, constipation, weight loss, abdominal fullness
  • Genitourinary symptoms: frequent or urgent urination, painful menstruation
  • Autonomic symptoms: dry mouth, flushing, pallor, sweating
  • Physical behavior: fidgeting, tremors, pacing
  • Other: risk of abusing alcohol in adolescence, cutting and other self-injury (not suicidal)

Cutting

Physical pain reduces psychological pain by shocking a person’s attention into the here-and-now.  Like a glass of water thrown into someone’s face when they are upset, the shock overrides inner turmoil, and releases adrenaline and endorphins.  It’s stimulating, even energizing.  According to statistics from research, cutting becomes addictive after about 14 episodes.

True story: Laurel, age 14, cut herself regularly on her fingers, preferring to cut under her fingernails.  She hid the cuts and scabs with nail polish.  Her father eventually learned about this and asked her why: “I feel more calm because the sting feels good and distracts me.” A therapist recommended that Laurel draw “cuts” on herself with a red pen instead of a knife, and also wear a rubber band on her wrist or fingers and snap it when she wanted to feel a sting.

It is common for cutters to hide their scars or scabs under clothing if they think you will try to stop them, or they will cut in a place you won’t see unless they are unclothed.  They may also make an excuse about an injury if you do see visible cuts.  You can look for unexplained blood on clothing.  Don’t be afraid to ask if they are cutting; many young people have freely ‘confessed’ when asked.

Treatment for anxiety

A child or teen will often be diagnosed with more than one type of anxiety disorder, in addition to a psychiatric disorder–30% of all anxiety cases include a diagnosis of depression and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), in combination with antidepressant medications “have consistently shown efficacy for anxiety disorders in children and adolescents.” Many anti-anxiety medications on the market are addictive, so a doctor or psychiatrist will be very cautious about prescribing them except on an as-needed basis. Treatment must also include parent involvement, especially if the parents are also anxious.

Cutting relieves psychological pain because it stimulates endorphins and adrenalin

Instead of cutting, allow your child to experience pain that is harmless, for example:  hold ice tightly in their hand as long as they can, taste vinegar or a hot pepper.  These may sound strange, but these are effective techniques used in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) to help an anxious person tolerate stress.  You find out more about CBT and DBT here:  Therapy types explained – DBT, CBT, CPS, and others

How you can help

  • Validate or affirm your child’s feelings. If he or she is worried, fearful, upset, or distraught, don’t insist they should not have their feelings, regardless of the reason. You can let your child know that feelings are normal and it’s OK to have a little fear at times.
  • Reduce their dependence on you. Help them learn to cope by offering less reassurance, which can undermine their commitment and skills for coping. Messages that “everything will turn out OK” teaches them that you will help them through all fears, but they need to learn that they can get through fear on their own.
  • Avoid helping too much. If you try to protect your child from all harm, it prevents them from becoming independent and keeps them socially immature; traits they need to learn in their teens. Learning and maturing require that kids handle challenges on their own by confronting small anxiety hurdles along the way.
  • Model how to cope*. A parent’s anxiety greatly aggravates their child’s anxiety.  If you are anxious, tell your child how you plan to cope with it. For example, “Sometimes I feel nervous when I have to climb a ladder, but I just need to take a deep breath, be careful, and do it. If I get too nervous, I can always climb back down, and try it again later.”

* Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D. “Anxiety: Three Messages to Avoid Giving Kids”

Anti-anxiety diet

This article has a shopping list of foods and minerals that specifically target brin functions to increase calmness and reduce anxiety.  “Brain Food for Troubled Kids.

Escape plans

If your child is in a situation where they are experiencing severe distress, always have an escape plan or an “out” so your child can leave the situation as quickly as possible. Prepare yourself ahead of time so you won’t feel inconvenienced when it happens, and accept this as part of their treatment needs.

  • This reduces anticipatory anxiety when they are exposed to stress, and teaches them how they can manage themselves on their own. This is also a teachable moment when you reinforce self-calming skills.
  • This builds trust in you and a willingness to listen to your guidance. (When I did this consistently, my child grew more comfortable in similar stressful situations.)


Don’t forget to take care of YOU

 

If you’ve found ways to reduce your child’s anxiety, share them in the Comments section for others to consider.

–Margaret

Call 911 – Make a crisis plan for your troubled child

Call 911 – Make a crisis plan for your troubled child

Don’t let your family become emotionally battered when your troubled child or teen goes through one crisis after another.  It’s the last thing your family needs—more stress and exhaustion!  Since your main job as a parent or caregiver is to reduce stress, you must manage the inevitable emergencies in a way that quickly settles down your family, as well as get help for your child.  Are you prepared to head off a crisis when you see one coming?  Does your family have a crisis plan for when (not if) your troubled child has a mental health emergency that puts everyone or everything in danger?

Never be afraid to call 911 when there’s a danger of harm. You will NOT be bothering them!

I got my crisis plan idea from the “red alert” scenes on Star Trek, when red lights flash and an alarm sounds, and crew members drop everything and run to their stations with clear instructions for protecting the ship.

 

Think of your family as crew members that pull together when someone sounds the Red Alert because your child is becoming dangerously out of control.  Each family member should know ahead of time what to do and have an assigned role, and each should know they will be backed up by the rest of the family.  This will be tremendously reassuring to everyone.  Together, you can manage through a crisis, reduce the dangers, and ensure everyone is cared for afterwards.

 

Have a crisis plan for the home, the workplace, and the school

…and start by asking questions.  Here are some examples:

 

o        Who goes out and physically searches for a runaway?  This person should be able to bring the child back to school or home without mutual endangerment, and they should know how to work with police or community members.

 

o        Who gets on the phone and calls key people for help?  Who do they call, the police or a neighbor or a relative?  Does your town or city have a crisis response team for kids?  Some do.

 

o        Who should be appointed to communicate with the child?  This should be a family member or friend that the child trusts more than the others.

 

o       Can a sibling leave to stay at someone else’s house until things cool down at home?  Which house?  An escape plan for a sibling can protect them and help them manage their own stress.

 

o       Who should step in and break up a fight?  And what specifically should they do or say each time to calm the situation?  Believe it or not, your troubled child can often tell you what works best and what makes things worse.  Listen to them.  It doesn’t have to sound rational to you if it works to calm them down quickly.

 

o       How should a time-out work?  Who counts to 10, or who can leave the house and go out for a walk?  Where can someone run to feel safe and be left alone for a while?

 

o       What should teachers or co-workers do to calm down a situation and get their classroom or office back to normal as quickly as possible? 

 

Experiences and evidence has shown that a rapid cooling down of emotions and rapid reduction of stress hormones in the brain supports resilience—the ability to bounce back in a tough situation.  Your entire family needs resilience, not just your troubled child.  A simple crisis plan makes all the difference.