Helping A Child Cope Who Has A Parent in the Military

When a family is coping with a caretaker’s absence, it can be challenging and emotional, especially when it is due to deployment and military service.  The emotions, concerns, and needs of each family are unique but here is some information on what to expect from children when one of their caretakers are away on deployment, and some information on how to answer difficult questions children may have.blog-military-main-landscape

Here are some helpful hints about what to tell your children regarding their caretaker’s deployment:

  • Emphasis that the child is not at fault in any way for the parent leaving.
  • Let the child know where the parent will be. This can help reduce some anxiety about their absence.  You can show them where it is on a map, learn about the country where they are (language, customs, etc.).   In addition,  it can be helpful to talk about the parent’s schedule when they are gone and what they will be doing when they are there.  Remember to keep that information age appropriate.
  • TALK about it! Encourage your child to talk about their feelings regarding the deployment and acknowledge that it’s okay to feel that away. A child has a right to be sad or angry about the recent change.  Also, talk about the parent who is gone.  It is important to talk about the parent to help keep their presence at home and to help the adjustment when the parent returns.
  • Limit the outside information (news, papers, movies, and internet) that the child can access about war or military action. Make sure the information they do get is accurate and age appropriate.

Each child and family is different and their reactions can have a wide range of feelings and behaviors, but here is a few common reactions children may experience when coping with a parent on deployment.

0-2 years old: One of the biggest changes for this age group will be when the caretaker returns from deployment.  It is important to allow the child to warm up to the caretaker and understand that they need to get know the parent again.

3-5 years old:  At this age, children have difficulty understanding why the caretaker had to leave.  They also may be scared that the at-home parent may leave as well.  Being consistent in their schedule prior to deployment can help them feel calm and secure.   Adjusting to life after deployment can be difficult for this age group as well.  They may feel angry at the parent for leaving.

6-12 years old:  Be on the lookout for increased aggression or behavioral issues at home or school, or physical symptoms like stomachaches or headaches.  Children who are older may want to help out more around the house and take on that parent role.  Although there are still some concerns with adjustment after deployment, children in this age group are usually excited and proud of the returning caretaker.

13-17 years old:  Teens express emotions and feelings in a wide variety of ways and that is even truer of teens coping with a parent being deployed.  Teens may want to help out more, or act indifferent to the change.  It is important to look out for behavioral or mood changes.

The most important aspect of everything discussed in this blog is COMMUNICATION.  Allow your children to discuss their feelings and let them know it is okay for them to feel the way they do.

References:

http://militarykidsconnect.dcoe.mil/parents/coping/behaviors

http://www.military.com/spouse/military-deployment/dealing-with-deployment/help-child-cope-with-parents-deployment.html

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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Executive Functioning and Self-Regulation Skills for My Child

Children aren’t born with executive functioning or self-regulation skills, rather their brain has the capacity to develop them. As a result, these skills that support a child’s capacity to learn, grow and develop can be inhibited by a number of factors including stress, environment, relationships, or delays. They can blossom and develop more fully with support from adults and the environment around them. Some children require more focused support to better develop executive functioning and self-regulation skills. Support can be through Early Education Opportunities and/or more formal intervention and support like Occupational Therapy, Behavior Therapy or Mental Health Services. blog-executive-functioning-main-landscape

How to Identify on Track Development for Executive Functioning and Self-Regulation Skills

Positive Engagement in School

  • Your child has a positive experience at school, cooperates with expectations and meets expectations most days.
  • Your child completes their work in a timely manner and typically understands the material.
  • Your child’s school work is typically organized and can be located easily.
  • For younger children, they attend school most days without difficulty. They can share what happens at school each day and can tolerate when things change.

Pro-social Skills

  • Your child can get along with others, can initiate interaction and negotiate play appropriately.
  • Your child typically understands and follows routine expectations and rules.
  • Your child typically responds to redirection without difficulty.
  • Your child can communicate his needs, wants, or wishes appropriately and effectively.
  • Your child can take responsibility for their actions and can understand the consequences.
  • For younger children, they engage in turn-taking, sharing, and show emerging empathy for others if they get hurt or sick.

Healthy and Safe Choices

  • Your child makes safe choices when interacting with others across settings (home, school, and in the community).
  • Your child can recognize and understand the importance of rules and safety.
  • Your child can make healthy choices for themselves (balanced eating, exercising or participating in activities that make them feel good).
  • Your child can access and utilize help when needed.
  • For younger children, they can talk about the rules at home and school. They can cooperate with important routines like sleeping, eating and toileting.

Communication and Coping Skills

  • Your child can express their needs, wants, and feelings verbally and effectively.
  • Your child can typically communicate or express their frustration or anger in a safe, appropriate manner.
  • Your child can accept support or help from others.
  • Your child can advocate for themselves appropriately.
  • For younger children they can ask for help, ask for their needs with words or gestures, and can calm down with adult support.

How to Promote Executive Functioning and Self-Regulation skills

  • Provide a visual guide for routine and rules at home.
  • Make expectations clear and concise; talk about what happened if expectations are not being met.
  • Provide 1 or 2 step directions when giving instructions.
  • Spend time together for multi-step activities like art, a puzzle or baking activity; talk about the steps needed.
  • Encourage and praise hard work and persistence especially when trying something new or challenging.
  • Use first/then statements i.e. First we put the toys away, then we can have snack.”
  • Take time for calm and quiet activities together i.e. reading, taking a walk and coloring.
  • Model how to calm down or take deep breaths when upset.
  • Model healthy living and safe choices.
  • Develop Family Rituals that provide time to reflect and share about thoughts, feelings, and experiences (i.e. Highs and lows from the day over dinner, 3 best parts of the day on the drive home, marking off days on a calendar to look forward to a family outing).
  • Talk and share about feelings. Be willing to share your own.

Resources:

http://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/executive-function/ 

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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Teaching Children Mindfulness

By now, there’s a good chance that you have heard of mindfulness. It seems to be everywhere these days, but what exactly is it? Mindfulness is a meditation practice that begins with paying blog-mindfulness-main-landscapeattention to breathing to focus on the here and now. It means being aware of your present moment (thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations) without judgments and without trying to change it.

Why Teach Mindfulness?

In today’s world with TV, video games, computers and busy schedules it can be hard to focus on the here and now, however, the benefits of being able to be mindful are vast. Recent scientific research has shown the positive effects it can have on positive well- being and mental health. It has been shown to improve attention, reduce stress, and increase the ability to regulate emotions and feel compassion and empathy.

3 Benefits of Being Mindful for Children:

  1. Being mindful can give you more choices and more control over behaviors. Being fully aware is important if a child is overly emotional or impulsive. It allows them the opportunity to slow down and catch themselves before they do something they might regret later.
  2. Being mindful can increase compassion and empathy for oneself and others. When kids learn to be aware while being nonjudgmental, they can turn the criticisms into observable facts.
  3. Being mindful can help with focus and make kids more productive. When kids stay focused, they can stay engaged better in activities and school work.

How to Teach Mindfulness at Home:

An excellent way to teach mindfulness at home is to model and participate in mindfulness as a parent. Setting routines to take a few moments, close your eyes, notice your breath, thoughts, emotions, physical sensations without judgment can make a great impact on the whole family. Parents can encourage their kids to take a few moments during homework time, stressful times or just any transition time to practice being mindful. Being mindful can be fun too!

Try the following exercises with your child:

  1. The seeing game can be asking your child to take a minute to notice things around the room they haven’t noticed before. Did they notice anything new or different?
  2. Going on a nature walk can be turned into a mindfulness exercise encouraging your child to use their five senses (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch) to be mindful of the world around them.
  3. The “tense and relax” exercise; in this exercise kids tense different muscles in their bodies for a few seconds and then release. This is a great way for kids to relax and be present.
  4. Breathing friends- Use a stuffed animal to help your child practice mindful breathing. Teach your child to take deep breaths and notice how their body feels as their chest and belly goes up and down. Then have the child teach the deep breathing to the stuffed animal to empower them.

References:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18365029

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17940025

Rathus, J. H., & Miller, A. L. (n.d.). DBT skills manual for adolescents.

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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Bullying Warning Signs

Bullying is an ongoing concern for parents, care givers and teachers. How to tell if your child is being bullied can be difficult, as bullying can take on many forms. The act is a deliberate imbalanceblog-bullying-warning-signs-main-landscape of power; and can be physical, emotional, sexual or verbal.

Having a working knowledge of warning signs is essential for supportive parenting. If your child has some of the warning signs below, it is not a guarantee that they are being bullied. Open and honest dialogue with your children will provide more insight into the potential causes of some warning signs.

Below are a variety of warning signs that could signify your child is the victim of bullying:

  • Noticing your child has damaged belongings; this can span from clothing, to book bags, to text books, etc.
  • Unexplained physical injuries like bruises or cuts
  • Tendency to isolate from friends and peers
  • An increase in anxiety or fear related to attending school and often will explore opportunities to miss school (i.e. Excuses, faking sick, etc.)
  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns; suffers from frequent nightmares, poor appetite
  • Appears sad, upset or angry when returning from school
  • Decrease in academic achievement
  • Health concerns; most often frequent stomach aches, headaches, etc.

Beginning a discussion with our children about bullying can be challenging, as many kids tend to shy away from disclosing this information. The most essential component is that as a parent you remain calm and supportive, not reactive to what your child discloses.

There are several questions below to guide a conversation related to bullying:

  • There has been a lot of bullying in the news lately. How does your school handle bullying? Tell me about a time you saw someone being bullied, or experienced it yourself. How did you handle it?
  • I’m worried about [insert behavior/symptom/action]. I’m wondering if you could tell me more about what is going on?
  • Tell me about your friends this year. Who are you spending time with, and what do you like about them?
  • Who do you spend time with at lunch and recess? Tell me about your bus rides home. With whom do you sit?
  • Are there any kids at school who you really don’t like? Why don’t you like them? Do they ever pick on you or leave you out of things?

If your child discloses that they are being bullied, it is essential that you remain calm. Overreaction can result in regret of disclosure or a tendency to limit discussing such content in the future. As a parent, the strongest role you can take if your child is being bullied is to provide support and care, validate to your child that this is not their fault and that you are here to love and support them.

At times, children can be very hesitant about disclosing bullying due to fear of retaliation. If you notice concerning symptoms, but your child denies, it is appropriate to reach out to your student’s teacher and express concern.

The following questions may provide greater insight into your child’s experience during the school day:

  • With whom does my child interact on a daily basis?
  • Tell me about my child’s peer interactions. Which are going well? Are there any you find concerning?
  • Have you noticed any behavioral changes within my child over the past [days, weeks, months]?
  • What is one thing my child does very well in school, and what is one concern you have for my child.

If you suspect your child is being bullied, beginning dialogue and providing a safe non-judgmental space is the first step in supporting your child. If you have greater concerns, or have information that your child is being bullied, it is important that this be addressed as soon as possible. Reach out to your school, principals, teachers, and notify them of your concerns. Provide your child with support and listen when needed, and if appropriate, provide the access to a licensed mental health provider for additional care.

References:

https://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/warning-signs/

http://www.violencepreventionworks.org/public/bullying_warning_signs.page

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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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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Dealing with Divorce: Creating Stability No Matter How Unstable You Might Feel

Divorce can be scary, filled with uncertainty, and will ultimately lead to a ‘new’ family structure. It is Blog-Divorce-Main-Landscapeimportant to be mindful of how uncertainty can feel to your children and to proactively take steps to create stability for your children during the divorce process.

Below are some suggestions to improve your child’s sense of stability during a divorce:

Create a Visual Calendar

As you and your family navigate the divorce process, one concern your children may have could be around their living arrangements. If your children have friends with divorced parents they may be familiar with what custody arrangements look like, however, every family is different. Early on in the process, it is important that your child understands what his or her living arrangements will look like. Moreover, one way to reduce your children’s uncertainty is to create a visual calendar for them so they know when they will be at mom or dad’s house. Involve your child in creating the calendar and making it their own by adding drawings, stickers, and favorite colors. Also, remember to update the calendar as needed – change happens and it’s important to communicate this.

Create Comfort in Both Homes

Another way to create a sense of stability is to reduce the feeling your children may have that they are living out of a backpack as they transition between parent households. One way to do this is to make sure each household has a set of your child’s essentials (i.e. daily routine items, clothing, stuffed animals, homework supplies, etc.). This can create comfort for your child as well as prevent unnecessary moments of frustration. Involve your child in this process by creating a list of needs together, then finding these items within your home or shopping together for them at the store.

Create Positive Experiences

While your child is settling into this ‘new’ family structure it is important to continue to create positive experiences. This might look like exploring new neighborhoods, finding new parks and ice cream shops – if one parent has moved to an unfamiliar area. Or creating a Wednesday night pizza tradition. Or finding a Sunday morning breakfast spot. Although learning to manage change and uncertainty is healthy and a necessary part of emotional growth, predictability can be just as helpful during times of heightened stress. Allowing your child to look forward to your new family traditions and experiences can create a sense of comfort and excitement.

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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Tips for Helping An Angry Child

Everyone knows that feeling of anger. Whether it is extreme and long lasting or brief and mild, anger is an emotion that all people experience from time to time. People can successfully manage their anger by being aware of what triggers their emotions and using tools to help themselves calm down. Blog-Angry-Child-Main-Landscape

While children are smart, creative, funny, and strong they sometimes have a harder time than adults in calming themselves down and managing their anger. By helping them to recognize and understand this emotion, you can help them feel prepared and confident to navigate their environment successfully. The following are some tips for helping an angry child.

  1. Teach your child about the emotion “anger” along with other key emotions such as happiness, sadness, and fear—the movie “Inside Out” is a wonderful film that helps to explain these emotions (and others!) in a friendly and meaningful manner.
  2. Let your child know that they are allowed to feel all of these feelings and that it is normal for all people from time to time to feel anger—this helps them reduce any guilt or upset they have about their feeling of anger.
  3. Acknowledge your child’s angry feeling, ex. “I see that you are feeling angry,” and other feelings as well so that they can learn to differentiate the myriad of feelings they’re experiencing. It’s definitely confusing to do that at times, so with your help they will begin to do this on their own.
  4. After acknowledging their feelings of anger, encourage them to find something positive about the situation they’re in. Ex.) they are feeling angry about missing a day at the pool due to the rain, help them to see that they still get to play with their friend, have a treat, etc.
  5. Remind your child that they can and will feel better again—and even sooner if they try the above strategy!

These tips will certainly help any child that is feeling angry and they have the added benefit of improving your connection and relationship as well as there will be no shame or disappointment expressed to the child. If it feels like your child is having angry moments on a more than regular basis, extra support may be needed to help explore other feelings and situations that may be bothering your child. Working with a trained pediatric social worker can help explore these areas. Contact North Shore Pediatric Therapy today.

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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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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