Creative Conversation Starters: Get Your Child to Talk to You

Having regular conversations with your child can be beneficial in many ways. You get to learn more about each other and further develop your relationship with them. Additionally, you can helblog-conversation-starters-main-landscapep
their confidence, self-esteem and their social skills.

I understand it can be difficult to find time between your busy schedule and their busy schedules, so we have to get creative! Some ideas of times you can maximize to get conversations with your child can be during a car ride to and from their activities, in a waiting room, during dinner and before bedtime as a part of their routine!

Get the Conversation Going

When I say conversation, it doesn’t have to be dry. Get creative with topics that may be fun or interesting to your child!

Here are some ideas to use as conversation starters:

  • Check in with your child daily. Ask about their day, what was something interesting that happened to them, what did they like about their day or what is something that could have been better.
  • Play 20 questions by thinking of an object, animal or person and have the child ask 20 questions to find the answers by only asking yes or no questions. Take turns!
  • Telling a story! If you or your child can’t think of one, you can go in a circle and say a word each to tell a silly story.
  • Take turns telling jokes.
  • Play would you rather with your kid. Ask age appropriate questions like would you rather not be able to go outside all day or not be able to go inside all day? Would you rather have a pool filled with chocolate chip cookies or Oreo cookies?
  • You can have a jar of questions at the dining room table. Place previously written questions in a jar and take turns going around the table answering them. The questions can be general like what is your favorite food, sport, vacation, music or movie? You can purchase one already made.
    • You can also incorporate specific questions if you are wanting to work on a particular area such as self-esteem. Then you can add questions such as: what do you like best about how you look? What do your friends say they like about you? What do you do that gives you confidence?
  • Play games that allow for open conversation. There are many out there including Chat Pack, Scruples, or Thumball are a few favorite.

Remember

Remember the point is to get the conversation going and have fun with your child! This helps further develop your relationship with them, because you are creating opportunities for them to share, problem solve and to know they can discuss anything with you. You are modeling appropriate behaviors, social skills and self-esteem. Who better to teach them this than you! Remember to really listen and respond in cool/calm way, there is no judging their response if they are being silly or answering sincerely. If you want to mold their response because you feel they could have done better you can ask: “What is another way you can answer that?” or “How would that feel if that was you?”

Resources:

http://idealistmom.com/raise-kind-kids/

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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Kindergarten Firsts: Fire Drills, Lock Down Drills and Tornado Drills

It’s that time of year: backpacks are filled with new crayons and pencils, new shoes and outfits have been selected and are ready to go. Along with back to school clothes and medical check-ups, Blog-Kindergarten-Firsts-Main-Landscapethere is another important detail to remember to address with your kindergartner, talking about fire drills, lock-down drills, and tornado drills.

For some children, the idea of fire trucks arriving at school is thrilling and having a break from their classroom to walk outside is a welcomed break. For other children, particularly children with sensitivity to loud noises or changes in routine, fire drills, lock-downs and tornado drills can trigger uncomfortable feelings and even panic. Unfortunately, safety drills are a part of life, but the good news is, there are steps you can take to help your child be prepared for them.

The first step in preparing your child for safety drills is to have a conversation, or several conversations, about them. Approach your child at a time of day when he/she is calm and broach the topic. You can introduce the topic by talking about how excited you are for your child to begin school, reminding him/her of the fun of meeting his/her teacher and seeing his classroom. Next, talk about a variety of things he/she will learn about, like animals, letters and numbers. Then, mention that you want to tell him/her about something that teachers and students learn about and practice so that they are prepared in all situations. Explain that drills are routines that teach them steps to do to keep them safe in case of a fire at school or an unsafe person, or unsafe weather.

You will want to keep the language you use very simple and non-threatening. Emphasize that schools are very safe places and that these routines are practiced because “practice makes perfect;” and that practicing the drills will help them remember the instructions that will keep them safe and keep them calm. If your child has sensitivity to loud noises or changes in routine, you will want to alert your child’s teacher before school begins.

Finally, remember to use calm and reassuring words as you discuss the drills, reinforcing the idea that teachers and staff are trained and that schools are strong and sturdy. If you feel your child may need additional support or reassurance, notify your school principal and your child’s teacher. Remember that North Shore Pediatric Therapy’s services provide counseling and can address persistent worries or other concerns.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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September is Suicide Awareness Month

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for kids, ages 15-24, and continues to be a developing concern. With roughly 1,700 adolescents annually completing suicide attempts, there has been a significant push towards increasing awareness, prevention, and support resources for students, parents, teachers and care givers. blog-suicide-awareness-main-landscape

The following outlines some warning signs as well as steps that can be taken to prevent adolescent suicide. It needs to be said that not all children who present with some of the warning signs below are suicidal, it is important that you communicate with your children and assess their individual situations and needs.

Warning Signs of Suicide

  • Talking about death and dying – Discussing death can be a normative part of a child’s development, but a sudden increase or fixation of death and dying could be a warning factor
  • No future planning – As children, and adults, we plan for our futures and often discuss them with others. Individuals struggling with suicidal ideation often feel no hope for their future, and cannot express thoughts, hopes, or wishes that things could change or get better.
  • Recent loss – It is always important to support our children when they have experienced a recent loss; attuning to our child’s grieving process is an important component of supporting them.
  • Changes in sleep or eating habits – Any drastic or sudden changes to sleeping or eating habits that cannot be explained by another medical/social condition should be monitored.
  • Changes in behavior – Unexpected changes in performance at school, home, work, or with peers; often noted as “difficulty focusing.”
  • Changes in mood – Presenting as down, depressed, withdrawn, reclusive, angry or lonely can be warning signs. Some individuals also become elated or very happy prior to an attempt; emotional presentation that may be inappropriate given circumstances

Things You Can Do

Develop a positive relationship with your kids: Talk to your kids on a consistent basis about their day-to-day life; encourage appropriate expressions of emotions; provide a safe and stable home environment; spend quality time; listen without judgment.

Provide a Safe Environment: Do not keep firearms or other potentially lethal means in your home, or if necessary, keep them securely locked away without access.

Take threats seriously: Regardless if you believe this to be “real” or not, the youth is trying to express a need and reach out for support.

Provide resources and support:  For kids struggling with mental health concerns, provide access to care and support. Have access within your home to crisis hotline numbers, or emergency contacts your kids can reach out to for support.

Resources:

Suicide Prevention Toolkit: http://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/SMA12-4669/SMA12-4669.pdf

You Matter Campaign: http://www.youmatter.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

References:

Berman, A., Jobes, D., & Silverman, M., (2006) Adolescent suicide: Assessment and intervention (2nd ed.) Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 456 pp.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or 1-800-273-TALK

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (847) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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Helping Your Anxious Child Return to School

With the summer months winding down, and the back to school sales in full force, it’s probably time for Blog-Anxious-Back-to-School-Main-Landscapeyou and your child to start the annual transition from summer camp to school! For many children, this transition is filled with excitement and happiness. For others, the worry monster might be just around the corner. Children might demonstrate tearfulness, tantrums, and frustration due to their anxiety about school.

Below are a couple suggestions to help you and your anxious child get through the first few days back at school:

Create a School Day Routine

The structure of the school day might look a lot different than your child’s summer schedule.  Before school begins:

  • Create a morning routine with a timeline of activities your child will need to accomplish. Depending on your child’s level of independence, think about how much supervision your child will need for each task.
  • Remember to adjust your child’s wake up time to fit the school day schedule if it had changed during the summer. Helping your child create this routine prior to the first day of school will allow your child to understand what is expected and can lead to lower levels of worry.

Transitional Object

Separation from parents in the first few days of school can be traumatic. For younger children, a handful of difficult drop offs is age-appropriate and should decrease over time as your child acclimates to this new routine. One way to support your child through this transition can be through allowing them to bring something to school that reminds them of mom and dad. Transitional objects should be small and minimally distracting in class. A special key chain, small plush toy, or laminated picture of the family can be used for this. Remind your child to hold or look at these objects if they are feeling worried or missing home.

If you notice that your child is having a harder than expected time, their functioning in school is being impacted, or their anxiety about school is not subsiding, reach out for additional support.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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Handling the Death of a Family Pet

Pets, be it a furry dog, fluffy cat, or bright orange fish, become honorary family members quite quickly. Dealing with the Death of a PetHave you glanced at the latest family drawing your child created at school? My guess is the family pet is in the mix. Handling the death of the family pet can be an overwhelming and emotional experience not only for parents, but for children in the family as well. Below are some ways to help your child through this difficult time:

Planning the Goodbye

Although some pet deaths are unexpected, when they are not it is important that your child be able to take part in the goodbye process in an age-appropriate way. This could include writing a goodbye letter to their furry friend or drawing their pet a picture. These activities can help with the grieving process as they allow your child to review positive memories and experiences, as well as express their feelings in a healthy way. For younger children, it may also be helpful to read children’s books addressing this topic as a jumping off point for parent-child conversations related to your pet.

Informing your Child’s Support System

Letting your child’s teachers and caregivers know about the recent passing of a pet can create a safe environment for your child to express their feelings. Children, just like adults, may seem off, irritable, or sad during these times. When adults caring for children are made aware of recent events, they can be on the lookout for these emotional changes and be more accommodating as needed.

Moving Forward After Death

Each family is different regarding their interest in continuing to care for a pet. As the grieving process unfolds it may be helpful to speak with your child about the possibility of adopting a new family pet. Although your previous pet is irreplaceable, the process of adopting a new pet can allow for your family to work together and create a caring home for a pet in need.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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Social-Emotional and Behavioral Red Flags for Toddlers and Preschoolers

It might be hard to imagine what mental health concerns may look like for your toddler or preschooler. Red FlagsHowever, it is important to realize that children experience the same emotions as adults do. They experience happiness, sadness, anger, fear, loneliness and embarrassment, however, they do not always know how to express these feelings in appropriate ways, so it’s important to look for red flags. When their feelings get too big, children do not always have the words to use to express themselves, resulting in using challenging or unsafe behaviors to express these big feelings. These behaviors make learning, play and relationships at home, and in the classroom difficult and can be very distressing and frustrating for everyone involved.

Here is a list of common red flags that can help you to determine if your child needs support:

  • Separation Anxiety:
    • Extreme distress (crying, tantruming and clinging to you) when separating from you or knowing that they will be away from you.
    • The symptoms last for several months versus several days
    • The symptoms are excessive enough that it is impacting normal activities (school, friendships, and family relationships).
    • The continuation or re-occurrence of intense anxiety upon separation after the age of 4 and through the elementary school years.
  • Social Concerns:
    • Little interest in playing with other children.
    • Poor body awareness that impacts relationships with peers
    • Failure to initiate or to participate in activities
    • Difficulty making eye contact with others
  • Behavioral Problems:
    • Defiance: Failure to follow rules or listen to directions and is often argumentative with adults.
    • Overly Aggressive Behavior:
      • Temper tantrums that last more than 5 to 10 minutes.
      • Excessive anger through threats, hitting, biting, and scratching others, pulling hair, slamming/throwing objects, damaging property, and hurting others.
  • Difficulty with Transitions:
    • Difficulty focusing and listening during transitions
    • Extremely upset when having to transition from one activity to another. Before or during each transition, your child may cry excessively or have temper tantrums that last more than 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Excessive Clinginess or Attention Seeking with Adults
    • Excessive anxiety related to being around new and/or familiar people/situations.
    • Child freezes or moves towards you by approaching you backwards, sideways or hiding behind you. Your child behaves this way in most situations and no matter how you support them, they continue to avoid interacting with others.
  • Attention concerns:
    • Difficulty completing tasks and following directives on a daily basis.
    • Easily distracted and has difficulty concentrating or focusing on activities.
  • Daily Functioning Concerns:
    • Toileting: Difficulty potty training and refuses to use the toilet.
    • Eating issues: Refusing to eat, avoids different textures, or has power struggles over food
    • Sleeping problems: Difficulty falling asleep, refuses to go to sleep, has nightmares or wakes several times a night.

Children can exhibit concerns in the above areas off and on throughout their childhood. It is when these behaviors begin to impact peer and family relationships, cause isolation, interfere with learning and cause disruptions at home and in school that it is time to reach out for support.

Who can help?

  • Licensed Clinical Social workers (LCSW),
  • Licensed Clinical Professional Counselors (LCPC),
  • Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT)
  • Psychologists

Therapists will work with your child to help them to learn how to handle their big feelings and behavioral challenges. Therapists will use a variety of modalities during sessions including play, art, calming and self-regulation strategies, behavioral therapy, parent-child therapy, and parent education and support. They can also provide parent support and coaching to assist in diminishing the challenging behaviors at home. Often these professionals will collaborate with your child’s school and can provide additional support for your child within the school setting.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

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Teacher Tips: Accommodating an Anxious Child

Sometimes anxiety can be easy to identify, such as when a child is feeling nervous before a test. Blog-Teacher-Tips-Anxiety-Main-LandscapeHowever, in some children anxiety may look like something else, such as ADHD or a learning disorder.

The following is a list of tips to use in the classroom to accommodate a child with anxiety:

  • Some children may participate in therapeutic services. Therefore, it is imperative to talk with parents/guardian about strategies that work (and do not work) at home. Teachers can use and modify those strategies to help in the classroom.
  • Also, checking in with parents regularly is important to ensure that accommodations are helping and determine necessary adjustments

Homework & Assignments

  • Check that assignments are written down correctly
  • Using daily schedules
  • Modifying assignments and reducing workloads when possible
  • Allowing the child to take unfinished assignments home to complete

In the Classroom

  • Preferential seating that is less distracting
  • With regard to class participation
    • Determine a child’s comfort level with closed ended questions
    • Use signals to let the child know his/her turn is coming
    • Provide opportunities to share knowledge on topics he/she is most confident
    • If possible, only call on the child when he/she raises his/her hand
  • Extended time on tests
  • Provide word banks, equation sheets, and cues when possible
  • Allow for movements breaks throughout the day & relaxation techniques
  • Determine a discreet way the child can indicate he/she needs a break, such as a colored card the child places on his/her desk to signal he/she needs a drink of water, to use the restroom, or any other strategy to lessen feelings of anxiety
  • Allow the use of a fidget for children who have difficulty paying attention

Please refer to the following websites for additional information about anxiety in children and accommodations that can be used, or modified for use, in the classroom.

Resources:

http://www.worrywisekids.org
http://www.childmind.org/en/posts/articles/2015-4-13-anxiety-classroom
http://kidshealth.org/parent/classroom/factsheet/anxiety-factsheet.html
http://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/children/anxiety-disorders-school

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Helping The Anxious Child Using Exposure Therapy

Anxiety and worry serves a biological purpose. It helps protect us from potential danger by pumping our body with the chemicals and energy to fight or flight. However, sometimes children (and adults) experience anxiety over situations that pose no danger.BlogExposureTherapy-Main-Portrait

What’s a parent to do in this situation? When your child expresses discomfort or anxiety over something benign, like riding a bike or the neighbor’s friendly dog, a parent’s first inclination is to do anything to alleviate that anxiety. For example, a parent with a child who begins to develop worry over sleeping in their own bed might allow the child to sleep in their bed because it eliminates that uncomfortable, anxious feeling. This approach might help in the moment, but avoiding situations that provoke anxiety often further perpetuates that anxiety. This fact is the underlying theory for exposure and response prevention therapy, a treatment approach for anxiety that has been empirically validated through multiple research studies.

How Does Exposure Therapy Work?

Exposure therapy involves creating a hierarchy of situations around a specific fear with the most anxiety provoking situation at the top. In treatment, therapists can support your child in developing this hierarchy, learning coping strategies, and providing exposure to each trigger on the hierarchy starting from the bottom. While exposure therapy is typically a short term therapy for mild to moderate cases (8-12 sessions), the goal is to go slowly and at the child’s comfortable pace. You only move on to the next step on the hierarchy when the anxiety provoked by the previous step has faded.

What is the One Simple Step Parents Can Take to Help Their Anxious Child?

Help them face their fears and not avoid them. Talk to your child about how you want to help them feel comfortable in that situation and ask them to identify baby steps to slowly work towards that comfort. Exposure therapy should only be done under the care of an experienced clinician. If your child struggles with specific fears or obsessive-compulsive symptoms, seek a skilled therapist to guide you and your child in overcoming these symptoms and improving their daily functioning.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

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Teach Your Child to Pay it Forward

Teach Your Child to Pay It Forward

I get comments all the time like, “You are so mature for your age.” or “You have an old soul.” or “I can’t believe you’re a millennial!” Apparently someone in their 20s doing something kind or responsible comes as a big shock these days. It’s kind of sad. I’m living in a generation known as “Millennials,” but now the stereotype has grown to the point that we are also referred to as “The Entitlement Generation.” Children need to be taught about citizenship, community, and caring for others. Let’s work on bettering ourselves and our communities while teaching our children in the process.

Be the change you want to see in the World! – Mahatma Gandhi

Let’s show our kids how much good there is in the world, and how they can pay it forward. Random Acts of Kindness make the world a better place.

Ways to Teach Your Child to Pay it Forward:

  1. Lead by Example – Kids love “monkey see, monkey do” for a reason. They love to emulate thoseTeach Your Child To Pay It Forward that they look up to. Be the person you want your kids to respect. Show someone around you some kindness, and your kids will follow suit.
  2. Start Small – Let someone with a couple items in front of you in the checkout line, or hold a door for someone. Give someone a compliment or a nice note.
  3. Teach Empathy and Awareness – Watch a sad movie, read some books, or bring your kids to volunteer somewhere. Have a discussion afterwords about how thankful you are for the things you have and how life must be hard for the person or characters. When you go to the store or the mall, teach your kids to be aware of people around them. Something so simple can make a huge impact. Many people who act “entitled” may have just never learned to look at the world around them and see how their actions impact others.
  4. Help a Cause your Child Cares About – Is your little boy fascinated by firemen? Bake some cookies together and bring them to your local fire station. Your little one can meet his idols and may even get to slide down the firepole. Does your daughter want to be a doctor when she grows up? Look for a volunteer opportunity at a children’s hospital or your local pediatrician’s office. Does your child love GI Joe? Help him create a nice care package to send a random soldier. You can even find supplies at your local dollar store. – These are just a few examples, but there are so many possibilities. Keying  into your child’s interest will ensure he remembers it for a long time to come.
  5. Pass It Along – Encourage your child to go through his old toys to find things he doesn’t use anymore and donate them. Have a closet raiding “party” as a family and look for unused clothes or pantry item to donate.
  6. Make a Commitment – Work together as a family to come up with “pay it forward” ideas and goals. A good one might be that each family members agrees to find a way to pay it forward by the end of the week. At the end of the week everyone can share what they did, and how the experience made them feel.
  7. Keep a Balance – It’s good for your children to be happy when they help someone out, but make sure they learn the difference between doing something for someone else and doing it for themselves. If they want to do something for the praise they get afterward, then they haven’t really gotten the message. Paying it forward is about helping the other person. Doing this naturally feels good!

Pay it Forward has really become a movement in the last few years. I see stories every day about children asking for pet food donations to their local shelter instead of birthday presents, an endless line of people paying it forward in a Starbucks line, or people choosing to honor the memory of a loved one by holding a “Pay It Forward” day. It is so great to see these stories. They constantly inspire me to pay it forward myself, and hopefully this blog will help your family to do the same – to be the change!

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Books To Help Kids With Anxiety

Books To Help Your Child With Anxiety

There are so many books available today that talk about anxiety and children that it can be difficult to decipher which book will best meet your child’s needs as well as your needs as a parent. I often recommend the following books for children and their parents when I am treating child with severe anxiety.

Books About Anxiety For Parents:

Books About Anxiety For Children:

If your child continues to exhibit severe anxiety that is affecting his/her daily functioning at home and/or school I would recommend that you seek a consultation from a mental health therapist to further assess the severity of your child’s anxiety and to gain support for your family.

Anxiety Disorders

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!