"Children and parents can have bad days, but if noticeable changes in mood are happening often, there could be an underlying mental health issue." - Lori Cull-Deshmukh
Understanding a child’s behavior can be difficult sometimes. All children have trouble from time to time with emotions, but unlike adults, children are not as good at regulating their emotions. How do you determine when challenging behavior is typical or something more? Let’s start by asking yourself the questions below.
Are my child’s problems getting in the way of his or her day-to-day functioning? A tantrum or procrastination getting ready in the morning, avoiding chores or homework and/or getting to bed on time can be typical. However, if this behavior happens daily, or multiple days a week, for many weeks without successful redirection, this is worth looking into with the help of a professional.
Does my child get enough sleep, exercise and nutrition? Adequate sleep, exercise and nutrition are essential for healthy kids. If you feel your child is lacking in any of these areas, set some goals to make sure these needs are met.
Can my child stay focused when they need to? Sure, children get distracted. But if not being able to focus is preventing them from getting their homework done each week, it may indicate a mental health problem.
Does my child change moods for no apparent reason? Children and parents can have bad days, but if noticeable changes in mood are happening often, there could be an underlying mental health issue.
Is my child flexible with changes to their routine or new situations? All parents hear “I don’t want to” at some point. But if it feels like a struggle whenever something unexpected happens, it’s worth looking into further.
Did something scary or violent happen to my child? When children experience an event that is extremely upsetting or violent, they can develop symptoms and behaviors that may need specialized treatment.
Parents and caregivers are in the best position to observe and consider their children’s behavior. Communicating what you know and asking questions of yourself and mental health professionals can support children in overcoming barriers to mental health. The earlier you raise concerns, the easier it is to reduce symptoms and improve your child’s well-being. Just like your child’s physical health, there is a certain time when you may need to get a professional’s help.
"If we are more focused on our smart phone than our children, we may be pushing them away from us and encouraging bad behavior without even realizing it's happening. " - lori cull-deshmukh
At the beginning of the month, I went on vacation with my daughter. Our first stop was Atlanta, Georgia. She has been wanting to visit the Coca-Cola museum for over a year. The first morning of our trip, we were walking to our first destination (the Coca-Cola museum was not going to happen at 9:00am for this parent). I open my purse to get my cell phone, not sure why, and I dropped my phone! The phone lands glass down on the concrete sidewalk and shattered so bad that I could feel the cracks in the glass.
My first thought “what am I going to do without my phone for 8 days!” I didn’t make a big deal about it, but my daughter asked me the same question, continually, the entire day, “What are you going to do without your phone?” My reply each time was, “I’m going to enjoy my vacation with you.” Honestly, I was shocked at my reply and my calm demeanor.
Because this vacation turned out to be the most relaxing and one of the best trips we have had together, I started thinking about how much time I am using an electronic device and what that is teaching my daughter. I found that when I have a few seconds of down or wait time, I grabbed for my phone or iPad. I caught myself replying to work emails after ordering in a restaurant. I caught myself grabbing for my phone while I waited for the traffic light to change.
After a few days of this, I was feeling frustrated that I had allowed an electronic device take away time from my daughter--time that will someday be gone. I then decided to take it one step further. I went places to observe other people with children using electronic devices in the same manner as I am guilty of using them. These are my observations:
As parents/adults, are we so focused on our electronic devices that we forget what message this is teaching children? If we are more focused on our smart phone than our children, we may be pushing them away from us and encouraging bad behavior without even realizing it's happening.
In fact, parents may react negatively when their kids try to pull them away from their phone, leaving the child struggling to compensate for attention. Some of us adults have become so engrossed in smart phones, they're making us less "smart" as parents. The children are acting out with bad behavior when they need to compete with a device for attention. Kids are saying 'pay attention to me!', so I challenge all parents to at the least, take a day to turn off the cell phones and iPad, and interact positively with your kids.
Putting down the cell phone and interacting with a child face-to-face is a way for parents to show kids how important they are in a world filled with technological distractions. This shows a child they are important enough that you would rather not be checking business or other social contacts--that you are interested in them. Our children must feel important and this is a memory and feeling they will have for a lifetime.
So, take the challenge. Pick a day, free of electronic devices, and show your child they come first.
Lori Cull-Deshmukh, LMSW, CPT
Too often, we wish we would have done something but didn’t make the time. Now is your chance to truly have a rewarding summer, full of purpose and accomplishment.
It’s that time of year again! The weather is warming up, school is winding down, and teens are excitedly awaiting their summer. For many teens, summer plans include sleeping in, going to the pool with friends, less responsibilities, and less stress. Although this can be a great time to relax and recuperate from an overwhelming school year, the decreased structure and social connection can bring a variety of unwanted feelings. Many teens face a real challenge in the summer, especially for those experiencing depression.
Too much free time: When a teen doesn’t have the external expectations and structure that school provides, they have all that time to THINK. For those with depressive symptoms, their negative thoughts lead to distorted beliefs that they “don’t have a purpose”. These thoughts can lead to feelings of guilt, frustration, shame, and anger. School provides teens a sense of purpose and opportunity to feel accomplished on a daily basis.
Isolation: With all this free time, teens are more likely to isolate from family and friends. They get in a habit of watching tv, being alone, and closing themselves off from social activities. It’s often easier, and safer, in their minds to be alone. Although the school setting can create conflict and stress with peers, it also provides them the opportunity to check their negative thoughts with reality and make healthy comparisons with their peers.
Lack of stimulation: We all know that the school year can be overstimulating for many teens, especially those with anxiety and depression. The benefit to these social engagements is that it allows their attention and focus to be distracted from their negative thoughts and feelings. They may not always enjoy being stimulated in a classroom but can create healthy stimulation for themselves in the summer.
Structure and social connection are extremely important to continue throughout the summer to combat this. There are many ways that teens can continue to implement what school provides in a healthy and desirable way.
If you need help creating structure or want to focus on combating those negative thoughts during your downtime, I encourage you to reach out. Summer is a great time to work through your anxiety or depression and learn new skills to support you now and in the next school year.
Allison Kidd, LSCSW, LMAC