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Tips to Keep Your Child Cautious Yet Calm During the COVID-19 Pandemic

This week one of our social workers, Rachel van Zevenbergen, shares some tips on how to teach children to be cautious while remaining calm during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are officially halfway through the year 2020, and we can all probably agree that it has been a very challenging year.  The COVID-19 pandemic has invited new fears and worries into our daily lives, and has had a significant impact on the mental health of many people. As we navigate this “new normal” and try to manage our own stress, anxiety and worry as adults, we need to make sure that we are also looking out for the mental well-being of our children. That being said, parents and mental health professionals have seen a noticeable uptick in anxiety and worry symptoms in children over the past several months. Between fears about the virus itself, along with social isolation, lack of physical activity, and plain boredom, many parents have witnessed their children struggling more than ever. It can be especially difficult because we do not always have the right words to comfort them, as this is an unprecedented time with information changing almost everyday.  

Below are some simple tips on how to help your child stay cautious yet calm during these trying times.

Limit exposure to COVID 19 news
First and foremost, I would suggest being very careful about your child’s exposure to media outlets, and limiting it as much as possible (depending on age and maturity level). As an adult, reading the latest headlines can be very panic-inducing. Now imagine how a child feels, who has a much more limited understanding of the world. Even if the news is on in the background, kids are very perceptive and may hear something that can really scare them. To take it a step further, it might be a good idea to mention to your childs’ friends parents that you are trying to keep things simple and brief when it comes to COVID information, and perhaps asking that they talk to their child about being sensitive to this. The last thing you need is for your child’s precious time with friends to set off a new spiral of panic.

Remind your child of the positives
Talk to your children about the positives. With so much doom and gloom surrounding us, it can be hard to find that sliver of hope. One important thing to note is that according to the World Health Organization, although children are just as susceptible to COVID, evidence to date suggests that they are less likely to get severe symptoms that require hospitalization  Additionally, a very high percentage of people who are young and in good health recover from COVID. Scientists all across the world are working very hard on a vaccine, and vaccine trials are already underway in the United States.

Use this opportunity to teach your child about good hygiene
This is also a great opportunity to have honest conversations about hygiene and good health. Some of these conversations can include the importance of hand washing, covering mouths and noses when sneezing or coughing, staying home when you feel sick, and respecting the personal space and boundaries of others. To make things a bit more fun, let your child order their own mask in a design they like, or have them decorate their own with stickers, pompoms or tye dye! You could even try adding a few drops of food coloring to your hand sanitizer.  Now could also be the perfect time to motivate your child to really kick that nail biting or thumb sucking habit! 

Stay connected
Social isolation and lack of structure and routine can have a negative impact on mental health and lead to feelings of loneliness, sadness and irritability. 2020 has brought the meaning of isolation to a whole new level, and finding ways to keep kids occupied and socialized has been a major challenge, especially for working parents. Phone calls, FaceTime, texting, a shared digital photo album with family, and even good old-fashioned snail mail are great ways to keep kids connected to friends and family. Now that Illinois is in Phase 4, we have gotten the green light to get together with others in small groups. Socially distant picnics, hanging in the backyard, or taking walks are a great way to get that face-to face contact while staying safe.

Practice Gratitude
There are many people who are being impacted by the pandemic that do not have a lot of resources or the luxury of staying home (I’m looking at you, essential workers!) This could be a perfect time to talk to children about gratitude and helping others. This can be as simple as making a list of things your child is grateful for, sending a letter or some artwork to a nursing home, donating supplies to shelters or underprivileged communities, or even hanging some art in the window to cheer up a passerby.

Keep up with therapy
Last but certainly not least, parents should try their very best to remain consistent with their child’s mental health treatment! Telehealth is a fantastic way to stay connected with your child’s counselor or social worker from the comfort of your own home. For kids who already struggle with anxiety, depression, conduct or mood disorders, it is imperative that he or she continue to get support.  Most insurance companies have already approved telehealth sessions, but it is always a good idea to double check with them to make sure this is a covered service!

NSPT offers services in the Chicagoland Area. 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!

How to Help Your Child Adjust to Summer During COVID 19

This week one of our Social Workers, Robyn White, offers advice for helping your child cope with changes to summer plans this year. 

As we navigate the summer months, many families are wondering what to tell their children amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Both parents and children face the uncertainty of what they will do this summer. Some children look forward to attending camp, some play sports, and others stay with extended family members. What will this summer look like, and how can families prepare to cope with these changes? Here are some tips on how to maintain some normalcy and manage stress during this unprecedented time.

Stick to Routines and Schedules

During times of uncertainty, it is important to create structure in the household so children can feel a sense of control over their environment. Parents can make a daily schedule for their children so they know what to expect. Depending on the child’s age and developmental ability, families can work together to create a picture or word schedule. Parents can encourage children who feel upset about missing camp to write a list of their favorite camp activities and add those to their summer agenda.

Make Time for Movement and Exercise

If there is one thing this pandemic has taught us, it is that children need to move. During the stay-at-home order, many families have more time to relax and spend quality time together, but there are fewer opportunities to move around. With limited movement, children are not releasing as many feel-good chemicals, called endorphins, which can exacerbate symptoms of ADHD, depression, and anxiety. When creating your children’s schedule, make sure to include movement and activity breaks. Feel free to ask your kids to share 10 indoor and outdoor activities to engage in, including: taking nature walks, going on bike rides, creating obstacle courses, playing sports, doing yoga, creating a treasure hunt, building a fort, gardening, playing hopscotch, or completing family projects.

Monitor Screen Time

One of parents’ main concerns while their children are in quarantine is the amount of time spent in front of screens. Whether children are playing video games, watching television shows, or texting friends, technology seems to be playing a center role in their lives. In serious cases, this can lead to internet addiction, preventing the child from developing key social and attentional milestones. To deal with this issue, parents can monitor and set limits on the amount of time their kids spend on their devices. A good rule of thumb is to limit children between the ages of 2 to 5 to one hour of monitored screen time per day and to increase that slowly by age. Parents can replace screen time with more enriching activities, such as: board games, puzzles, singing, cooking, reading books, or journaling about this time in history.

Utilize Virtual Support

Of course, parents are not superhuman and do not always have control over their children’s technology use. During this time, many children are required to join Zoom meetings and complete schoolwork on their tablets or iPads. Some sports teams and other extracurricular activities only have the option to meet over screens due to social distancing recommendations. Many children are yearning for more social connection during this time and can greatly benefit from virtually connecting with friends and family. So, families should choose their screen time wisely, and can use it to deepen relationships and model the importance of connection.

Stay Positive

As we know, children mimic their parents’ behaviors and will assuredly pick up on their attitudes and belief systems. Although this is a difficult time with many trials and tribulations, parents can model a positive attitude by highlighting the good things that can come out of this difficult experience. Children and parents can talk about gratitude and think of aspects of life they feel thankful for during this time. Instead of saying, “We have to stay at home this summer,” parents can say a more encouraging phrase, like, “We have the opportunity to spend quality time as a family this summer and create lasting memories together!” A small change in a child’s mindset can help increase their motivation and help them remember their summer in a positive way.

Acknowledge and Accept Feelings

While families can work on practicing positivity in the household, children will likely feel a range of positive and negative emotions throughout the summer months. From disappointment due to changes in fun summer plans to missing seeing their friends, children may feel sad, frustrated, or lonely. Parents can encourage children to express their feelings and practice acceptance. For younger children with limited emotional vocabulary, parents can instruct them to draw their feelings. Older children and adolescents can journal or talk about their feelings to express themselves. Furthermore, parents can set up a weekly family meeting for family members to share their feelings openly and honestly. Families can create a list of rules to respect one another and try to suspend judgment in a loving, open environment.

Get Help if Needed

If your child feels helpless, try to listen to their concerns and explain any new plans with the crisis in a developmentally appropriate manner. If parents notice that their children are feeling ongoing symptoms of depression, anxiety, irritability, have lost interest in their normal activities, or have difficulty concentrating, please reach out for help and ask to speak with a mental health professional. Remember that mental health is a real health issue, and early intervention is key. During this time, many therapists, including the professionals at North Shore Pediatric Therapy, offer both virtual telehealth visits and in-office sessions.

As the days and weeks pass by, families will soon find their “new normal.” Humans are very resilient and somehow find ways cope, even in the most stressful situations. So, resist the urge to be a perfect parent, reconnect with loved ones, take a lot of deep breaths, have some fun, and we will make it through together!

NSPT offers services in the Chicagoland Area. 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!

Is My Child Depressed? What You Should Know About Childhood Depression

What the Numbers Show

Research has shown that children, even babies, have experienced depression. In the United States alone, research studies suggest that up to one percent of babies, four percent of preschool-aged children, five percent of school-aged children, and eleven percent of adolescents meet the diagnostic criteria for Major Depressive Disorder. Blog-Childhood Depression-Main-Landscape-01

It is important to understand the risk factors and symptoms of childhood depression to help your child receive the necessary therapeutic interventions. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, adolescents, and young adults aged 10 through 24 (http://jasonfoundation.com/prp/facts/youth-suicide-statistics/). Suicide is significantly linked to depression, so early detection and diagnosis is critical and sometimes even life-saving.

Symptoms of Childhood Depression

Just like adults, children are capable of changes in mood, expressing negative thoughts, but are more likely to show depressive symptoms in behavioral ways. For example, a child experiencing depression may complain of fatigue, stomach aches, headaches, or experience irritability, changes in appetite, and changes in sleep patterns. These physical symptoms, often known as somatic symptoms, are expressed physical aches and pains that are real experiences for your child, although they have no known medical causes. These somatic complaints are often common in children who experience depression. It is important to rule out physical illness or other medical problems with your pediatrician if your child is experiencing these symptoms.

What Parents Can Do to Help

Parents are a child’s greatest advocate and support, so it is important to know what to do to help your child if you suspect that he or she is struggling with depressive symptoms.

  • Talk about depression with your child. Support and encouragement through open communication help your child feel comfortable to express his or her feelings. This lets your child know that he or she is not alone, is loved, and understood.
  • Talk with your child’s pediatrician. Mental health is just as important as your child’s physical health. If you notice your child is experiencing symptoms of childhood depression, call your pediatrician to alert him or her of your child’s emotional concerns. Your pediatrician may recommend a diagnostic screening or refer to an outpatient licensed therapist.
  • Don’t ignore it! Depression is a serious mental illness that cannot be brushed aside or ignored. Ignoring your child’s emotional concerns will not help your child obtain the treatment that he or she needs to overcome depression.

Treatments Offered

Depression is a treatable illness with success rates of up to 80% for children and adolescents who receive therapeutic intervention. The other 20% may respond well to medicinal interventions along with traditional therapy (https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/what-adults-need-to-know-about-pediatric-depression/). Recommended treatments include play therapy, family therapy, and individual talk therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that helps children re-frame their negative thinking patterns to help them change their self-perception and consequently, improve their mood. Cognitive behavioral therapy is goal-oriented, problem-solving focused, and is one of the most commonly used interventions to treat depression.

Medicinal options are another commonly used treatment for children who experience depression, with the goal of reducing depressive symptoms. The majority of children who take antidepressant medications will be able to stop their medication with support from their pediatrician or psychiatrist when their symptoms improve. It is important to note that the use of antidepressant medication for children and adolescents may carry a higher risk for suicidal thoughts for this population. It is imperative to receive ongoing medication monitoring to assess risk of side effects and other interactions.

I Think My Child is Depressed. What Should I Do?

If you suspect that your child may be experiencing depression, it is recommended that you contact your pediatrician. Share your concerns and plan for a medical evaluation to begin the diagnostic process. If medical testing shows no other reason for the fatigue, stomach aches, headaches, sleep, appetite changes, or sadness that often come with depression, a licensed mental health professional will evaluate further to determine the most appropriate treatment plan.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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A Counselor’s Take on 13 Reasons Why

If you have a preteen or teen child, you probably have heard of the hugely popular Netflix show 13 Reasons Why. The show, based on a best-selling novel, centers around Hannah, a teenage girl who dies by suicide and leaves behind tapes to the people she feels pushed her towards ending her life. This popular and controversial show has brought in discussions about mental health, bullying, sexual assault, substance use and suicide. As a counselor, I agree that raising awareness on these topics is crucial and necessary, especially considering the frightening increasing rates of these issues. However, I am concerned about the potential impact that this show might have on young teens. Blog-13 reasons why-Main-Landscape-01

Teenagers are very vulnerable to graphic content. The show can be hard to watch, and some scenes can be potentially very triggering. Many teens are binge-watching the show, which increases concern about the possible emotional distress that can be caused by doing so. I do not recommend that anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts watches the show as it might develop potential ideas or even romanticize the idea of suicide. The problem with the ultimate fantasy is that the character does not get to change her life with suicide nor does she get to find out what happens next. Suicide is final.

13 Reasons Why also misses the mark in its failure to address mental illness or depression ( the most common risk factor in completed suicides). Depression can look differently in teens than adults.

Some risk factors include:

  • Significant sense of sadness
  • Significant irritability
  • Isolation
  • Negative comments about life
  • Loss of interest in sports, hobbies, etc.

My recommendation is that if your child wants to watch the show, you watch with them.

Although it might be hard or uncomfortable, it might bring an opportunity to discuss important topics such as:

  • Talk to your children about bullying and what it might look like. Bullying can be physical or verbal abuse, excluding others, or using the internet/social media to attack and humiliate the victim. Teach your child to not be a bystander or support bullying.
  • Talk to your child about resilience and options on how to reach out for support if they are being bullied. If children develop resilience and strong self -advocacy, it can help them further develop their self- esteem and instill courage.
  • Talk to your child about symptoms of depression. 1 in 5 teens experience depression and suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15-24-year-olds according to the CDC. Discussing the issue of suicide does not plant the idea. It creates the opportunity to offer help. Have a conversation with your child about trusted adults in their life that they can reach out to if they need help.
  • Listen to your child’s comments without judgment. Do not minimize or trivialize what you see. If it appears insignificant to you as an adult, remember that this is a daily reality that teens are faced with each day. Allow your child to discuss any issues without judgment or punishment.

In addition, the Jed Foundation has released a great list of additional talking points. You can check those out here: https://www.jedfoundation.org/13-reasons-why-talking-points/

We need to use shows like 13 Reasons Why as a reminder. A reminder to be emotionally present and let children know that they are loved and supported. Children need you to be their secure base, to support their exploration, help them, enjoy with them and watch over them. Make sure to create a space for listening that is nonjudgmental and supportive.

If you need to talk, or if you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline 1800-273-8255 or 1800-SUICIDE (784-2433).

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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Separation Anxiety and School

It’s normal for children to sometimes feel worried or upset when separating from their main attachment figures. Although it can be difficult for parents and the child, it’s a normal stage of blog-separation-anxiety-main-landscapedevelopment.

Kids will often cry, whine, refuse to part or be overly clingy when it’s time to separate. Usually, these behaviors decrease with age, but sometimes, some kid’s reactions are extreme, and they interfere with their functioning in different areas of their lives. These kids may be suffering from Separation Anxiety Disorder. Kids who suffer from Separation Anxiety Disorder have a persistent fear of possible harm occurring to close attachment figures or excessive fear that they will leave and not return.

Some common behaviors related to separation anxiety include:

  • School refusal
  • Frequent somatic complaints (headaches, stomach aches, nausea)
  • Recurrent nightmares
  • Crying or having temper tantrums
  • Avoiding going to new places
  • Refusal to be alone

A common place where these behaviors occur is at school. For some kids, they might refuse to go to school, or they might have a hard time when being dropped off. No matter what type of anxiety the child is dealing with, it’s important to educate and teach your child about anxiety.

If your child is having anxiety about separating from you, here are some recommendations to consider:

  • Do not allow your child to stay home from school. This only worsens the symptoms over time and doesn’t allow them the opportunity to face their fear.
  • Do not ignore or deny the child’s worries. Teach your child about anxiety and its impacts.
  • Keep calm during separations. If your child sees you staying calm and cool, they are more likely to do so as well. When it’s time to say goodbye, make sure not to sneak out. This will only make the child more afraid.
  • Once your child makes it to school, identify a safe place for them if they are having a hard time. You can work with teachers or school counselors in identifying what would be appropriate.
  • Allow your child to pack a comfort item from school (favorite blanket or animal or a picture) that they can use when they feel homesick.
  • Create a goodbye ritual- maybe a special handshake or goodbye which can help the child feel more secure during the transition.
  • Praise your child’s efforts. Reward brave behaviors, however small they are!

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, 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!

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Managing Anxiety in the Classroom

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues in our country, affecting millions of adults and children alike. Children with anxiety at school may be experiencing it for several different blog-anxiety-in-school-main-landscapereasons. A few common reasons children may be anxious at school revolve around separation from parents or caregivers, social anxiety or test anxiety. Sometimes, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the cause is, which is okay too. The important thing is that the symptoms are managed appropriately. Since kids spend the majority of their day in a classroom, it is paramount that teachers and other staff are trained to recognize, support and advocate for anxious students.

Identifying anxiety early on is a very important step as it can help mitigate larger problems later on in adolescence and adulthood.

Let’s start by discussing some common signs and symptoms that we may see in an anxious child. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Refusal or reluctance to attend school
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Negative self-statements
  • Perfectionist tendencies
  • Withdrawing from other children
  • Lack of participation
  • Tearfulness
  • Excessive worrying
  • Frequent trips to the nurse
  • A decline in academic performance

Over the years, our education system has made tremendous progress in identifying and helping children struggling with anxiety. One of the most common are accommodations under a 504 Plan. An example of an accommodation used in a 504 Plan would be adjusting the child’s seating arrangement (often referred to as “preferential seating”). An anxious child may feel more comfortable sitting closer to the teacher, or further away from a highly-energetic or rambunctious child. Another accommodation is extra time on tests (often referred to as “time and a half”), since test-taking can be a common trigger for anxiety. If you feel a 504 Plan might be helpful and appropriate for your child, it would be a good idea to plan a parent-teacher conference to discuss your options.

Close communication and collaboration between teachers and parents is a great way to ensure that your child is getting his or her needs met in the classroom. Sometimes, anxious kids just need a little extra encouragement and reassurance. Positive reinforcement is an excellent tool used for pointing out a child’s successes and efforts, and rewarding them for it. Many schools have a social worker or counselor on staff as well. Social workers and counselors are specifically trained to help children struggling with anxiety and other social-emotional issues. One-on one or small group sessions can be extremely beneficial in helping manage anxiety at school. Incorporating social work minutes into your child’s schedule is a great way to provide your child with extra support during the day.

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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Improving Your Child’s Social-Emotional Growth Through Board Games

In the fast-paced, high tech world of childhood, girls and boys are much more likely to reach for the iPad and Xbox than a set of dice. Although, technology can provide immense growth in your blog-social-emotional-main-landscapechild’s life, it can also delay important social-emotional learning that the old-fashioned board game has to offer.

Below are some important reasons to bring back the board game to work on social-emotional growth:

Practice Social Skills

Board games are a fantastic outlet to practice turn-taking, rule following and positive sportsmanship. Depending on your child’s age, choose an appropriate game to begin the process of reading the rules, modeling the steps of a turn, and providing examples of positive praise and compliments. Commend your child as they begin to integrate this set of skills into their regular play!

Enhance Flexible Thinking

Board games also allow for children to work on improving their frustration tolerance. Many parents can often relate to observing their children shutting down, becoming angry, or walking away from the game after a missed turn, wrong move, or misunderstanding. Flexible thinking skills to practice include compromising, negotiating, and problem-solving. Taking a break and calm breathing can also be helpful strategies. Practicing how to handle frustration in the context of a board game will help children to better handle frustration in other areas of their lives.

Helpful Tips

  • Incorporate your child’s favorite stuffed animal or Lego character as an additional player in the board game when other family members are unavailable.
  • Cooperative games are a helpful way to practice teamwork and can prevent competition from getting in the way of practicing rule-following and turn-taking skills.
  • Involve your child in picking out the board game in order to increase their interest in this new activity.

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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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!

Social Work