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Winter Blues

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Parenting

Helping Kids Cope With Tragic Events

2:00

Another all too common tragedy has saddened the hearts of Americans this week. Just 35 days after a man opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers in Las Vegas, killing 58 people and wounding nearly 500 others, another mass killing has taken place. This time in the small community of Sutherland Springs, Texas, leaving 26 people dead and 10 critically injured.  About half of the victims were children, according to news reports. This follows a terrorist attack in New York City on Halloween that killed 8 people. The heartbreak and numbers are gut wrenching to think about.

These kinds of horrific events can make the world seem like a terrifying place, particularly for kids.

How can you help your child cope with such frightening news? As a parent or a caregiver, how you react can have a strong impact on how your child views his or her own safety.

Dr. Jennifer Caudle, an associate professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, suggests that parents shield their children from news reports.

"Children may become upset by news coverage," Caudle said. So monitor and limit what they see, hear or read. This may reduce their anxiety and help them deal with these unsettling events, she explained.

Other suggestions include:

  • Ask your child what they have already heard about the event. 
  • Provide the facts but try not to make judgments about the situation. 
  • Avoid upsetting details, and reassure children that people are working hard to make things better for everyone. 
  • Don't pressure kids to talk about the events, but encourage them to share their feelings by talking, drawing or writing. 
  • Let children know they can come to you for information and that they are free to ask questions. 
  • Remind children that their home is a safe place. 
  • Let children know that people may react differently to hard-to-understand events.

If your child or adolescent seems to be obsessing over the events and is having a hard time putting things in perspective, they may need professional help. 

"Problems with sleeping, changes in appetite or behavior, mood changes and new physical complaints, such as stomach aches and headaches, could -- in some children -- be a sign that they are having a difficult time coping," she said. "If this is the case, make sure your child sees a health care professional."

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says that it is important to let your child know that you will do your best to take care of him or her, that you love them and it’s okay for them to feel upset or sad.

NIMH also offers these tips:

  • If your child is having trouble sleeping give them extra attention, let them sleep with a light on, or let them sleep in your room (for a short time).
  • Try to keep normal routines, for example, reading bedtime stories, eating dinner together, watching TV together, reading books, exercising, or playing games.

Unfortunately, these types of tragedies don’t appear to being going away anytime soon. But, you can help your child (and yourself) by reminding them that although there are some people that might want to inflict harm on others, most people are loving and kind. They want a safe place for children to grow up in and they are doing their best to make this world a better place.

Story sources: Mary Elizabeth Dallas, https://consumer.healthday.com/mental-health-information-25/child-psychology-news-125/helping-children-cope-when-a-mass-tragedy-strikes-728263.html

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/helping-children-and-adolescents-cope-with-violence-and-disasters-parents/index.shtml

Your Teen

Mental Health Clues Found in Teen Brain Scans

1:30

If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many ups and downs in your teenager’s moods- there’s a very good reason; their brain is still developing. Brain scans from a research team at the University of Cambridge identified the areas of the brain that change the most during the teen years. It’s no surprise that areas associated with complex thought and decision-making are the ones going through a growth spurt during this time.

The scientists also discovered a link between teenage brain development and mental illness, such as schizophrenia.

The team from Cambridge's department of psychiatry scanned the brains of 300 people between the ages of 14 and 24.

They found that basic functions such as vision, hearing and movement were fully developed by adolescence. However, complex thinking processes and decision-making were still in a growth stage.

These areas are nerve centers with lots of connections to and from other key areas.

You can think of the brain as a global airline network that's made up of small infrequently used airports and huge hubs like Heathrow where there is very high traffic.

The brain uses a similar set up to co-ordinate our thoughts and actions.

During adolescence, this network of big hubs is consolidated and strengthened. It's a bit like how Heathrow or JFK have become gradually busier over the years.

Researchers found that genes involved in the “hub” were similar to those associated with mental illnesses, including schizophrenia.

The discovery is in line with the observation that many mental disorders develop during adolescence, according to researcher Dr Kirstie Whitaker.

"We have shown a pathway from the biology of cells in the area through to how people who are in their late teenage years might then have their first episode of psychosis," she told the BBC.

Genetics are not the only reason for mental illnesses. Older studies have also linked stress during childhood and the teenage years as a possible contributor. Recent findings have shown an association between maltreatment, abuse and neglect and brain development during childhood and adolescence. In addition, these types of stressors may also contribute to the emergence of mental illness.

Lead researcher, Professor Ed Bullmore, whose work was funded by the Wellcome Trust, believes the discovery of a biological link between teenage brain development and the onset of mental illness might help researchers identify those most at risk of becoming ill.

"As we understand more about what puts people at risk for schizophrenia, that gives us an opportunity to try to identify individuals that are at risk of becoming schizophrenic in the foreseeable future, the next two to three years, and perhaps to offer some treatment then that could be helpful in preventing the onset of clinical symptoms. "

The study also sheds light on the mood and behavioral changes experienced by teenagers during normal brain development.

"The regions that are changing most are those associated with complex behavior and decision making," says Dr. Whitaker.

"It shows that teenagers are on a journey of becoming an adult and becoming someone who is able to pull together all these bits of information.

This is a really important stage to go through. You wouldn't want to be a child all your life.

This is a powerful and important stage that you have to go through to be the best and the most capable adult that you can be."

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Story source: Pallab Ghosh, http://www.bbc.com/news/health-36887224

 

Your Child

Exercise: Reducing Depression - Behavioral Problems in Kids

2:00

Two new studies examined whether kids that have serious behavioral disorders or who may be at a higher risk for depression might benefit from exercise. The results showed positive outcomes for both sets of children participating in the studies.

For one study, researchers focused on children and teenagers with conditions that included autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and depression.

They looked at whether structured exercise during the school day -- in the form of stationary "cybercycles" -- could help ease students' behavioral issues in the classroom. Cybercycles are stationary bikes equipped with virtual reality exercising games.

Over a period of seven weeks, the study found it did. Kids were about one-third to 50 percent less likely to act out in class, compared to a seven-week period when they took standard gym classes.

Lead researcher, April Bowling, said the results were meaningful.

"On days that the students biked, they were less likely to be taken out of the classroom for unacceptable behavior," said Bowling, who is now an assistant professor of health sciences at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass.

"That's important for their learning, and for their relationships with their teachers and other kids in class," she said.

The study was done at a school that enrolls kids with behavioral health disorders, many of whom also have learning disabilities. Their usual gym classes focused mainly on skill building, with only short bursts of aerobic activity at most, according to the researchers.

For seven weeks, 103 students used the stationary bikes during their usual gym class -- twice a week, for 30 to 40 minutes. Their classroom behavior was tracked and compared with a seven-week period without the bikes, when they had gym class as usual.

Overall, the study found, the students were better able to control their behavior in the classroom during the stationary-bike trial.

Another recent study from Norway, adds more evidence to the benefits of exercise in children. Researchers from Norwegian University of Science and Technology measured activity levels in 800 six year olds who were asked about their exercise habits and any depressive symptoms. Follow ups were recorded at 8 and 10 years of age. Overall, children who exercised more, at a moderate to vigorous intensity, showed fewer depressive symptoms years later.

While the researchers noted that exercise alone isn’t a cure for depression, it has been shown to alleviate some depression symptoms.

“I think that physicians, parents and policy makers should facilitate physical activity among children,” says Tonje Zahl, the study’s lead author. “The focus should be on physical activity not just for the here and now benefits, such as improving blood pressure, heart rate and other physical benefits, but for the mental health benefits over the long term,” she says. All children should be targeted for this, she adds.

Experts say there are several theories as to why exercise may help kids control their behaviors. Bowling suggests that exercise may redirect the brain away from worrying.

Another theory is that exercise affects neurotransmitters -- chemical messengers in the brain that help regulate mood and behavior.

Bowling notes that it’s unfortunate that many schools are focusing so much on academics that they are cutting out gym and recess.

"If we really want our kids to do well, they need more movement during the school day, not less", she said

If children are unable to get the exercise they need at school, there’s always active playtime, walking and sports after school that can help provide some of the same benefits.

Both studies were published in the online journal, Pediatrics.

Story source: Amy Norton, http://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/news/20170109/exercise-an-antidote-for-behavioral-issues-in-students#1

Alice Park, http://time.com/4624768/exercise-depression-kids/

 

 

Parenting

Cat Poop Parasite Doesn’t Cause Psychosis in Kids

1:45

Past studies have linked the parasite, Toxoplasma gondii - found in cats - to symptoms of psychosis in humans. These studies suggested that kids who grow up with felines are more likely to develop mental health issues. Much to the relief of cat lovers, a new study casts doubt on that link, finding no such connection between cat ownership and an increased risk of psychosis.

"The message for cat owners is clear: There is no evidence that cats pose a risk to children's mental health," study lead author Francesca Solmi, a researcher in the Division of Psychiatry at University College London (UCL), said in a statement released by UCL.

The Toxoplasma gondii parasite has been associated with the development of schizophrenia and symptoms of psychosis, such as hallucinations. Research published in 2015 also found the link between owning a cat in childhood and developing schizophrenia or other serious mental issues.

However, these cat studies were limited because they were small, were not rigorously designed and did not properly account for factors that could affect the link, the UCL researchers said.

In the new study, the researchers analyzed information from nearly 5,000 children who were born in England in 1991 and 1992, and followed them until they were 18 years old. The researchers looked at whether the kids' mothers owned a cat while pregnant, and whether the family owned a cat when the children were 4 and 10 years old.

The researchers also interviewed the children at ages 13 and 18, to assess whether they had experienced psychosis symptoms, including delusions, hallucinations and intrusive thoughts.

Overall, there was no link between cat ownership and symptoms of psychosis at ages 13 and 18.

Initially, the researchers did find a link between cat ownership at ages 4 and 10 and symptoms of psychosis at age 13, but this link went away once the researchers took into account other factors that could influence the results, such as the family's social class, the number of times the family moved before the child was 4 years old and the age of the child's parents.

While the researchers agreed that cat ownership doesn’t significantly increase the risk of exposure to the parasite, they caution women who are pregnant, to avoid cleaning litter boxes because the parasite can be present in cat feces.

"Our study suggests that cat ownership during pregnancy or in early childhood does not pose a direct risk for later psychotic symptoms," explains senior author Dr. James Kirkbride (UCL Psychiatry). "However, there is good evidence that T. Gondii exposure during pregnancy can lead to serious birth defects and other health problems in children. As such, we recommend that pregnant women should continue to follow advice not to handle soiled cat litter in case it contains T. Gondii."

The study was recently published in the journal Psychological Medicine.

Story sources:  Rachael Rettner, http://www.livescience.com/57978-cats-psychosis.html

https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/0217/220217-cat-ownership-not-linked-mental-health-problems

 

Parenting

Prince Harry and Helping Grieving Children

2:00

When the world poured out its grief over the loss of Princess Diana in a tragic accident, her 12 –year-old son, Prince Harry, shut down emotionally. Like many children who lose a parent or loved one, it was more than he could handle on his own.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, he said it was not until his late 20s that he processed the grief - after two years of "total chaos" and coming close to a "complete breakdown".

It was when his family intervened and begged him to get counseling that he came face to face with the consequences of delayed grief and healing.

Prince Harry told the Telegraph, “"I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well."

He added: "I have probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions when all sorts of grief and all sorts of lies and misconceptions and everything are coming to you from every angle."

Prince Harry’s experience is not all that different from other children who suffer the loss of an important family member. His life played out in public because of whom he is, but the same feelings of anxiety, detachment and mental anguish are felt by millions of others children that do not get the grief support and counseling they need to move through such a difficult time.

Prince Harry’s attitude was common for a child trying to deal with death. "My way of dealing with it was sticking my head in the sand, refusing to ever think about my mum, because why would that help?"

"(I thought) it's only going to make you sad, it's not going to bring her back. So from an emotional side, I was like 'right, don't ever let your emotions be part of anything,'" he said.

How do you help a child put the death of a mother, father, sibling or beloved grandparent or friend in perspective? The first place you can start is to reach out for professional help; someone trained in children’s grief counseling.

It can be challenging to parents and caregivers to know what to do for, what to say to and how to help children who are obviously hurting.

There are resources online that will link you to specific sites that deal with grief and children. One site is The National Alliance for Grieving Children at https://childrengrieve.org/about-childhood-grief

There are certain responses that are common for children to go through that parents can and should be aware of:

Grief is a normal reaction to loss: When children experience the death of a person who has played a significant role in their life, it is normal for children to struggle, whether the relationship with that person was caring and loving, or contentious and difficult. Grief is not a problem we are trying to fix for a child; it is an experience they are living. Mood changes or feelings of grief, even several years out from the event, are a common part of adapting to life without someone and to the changes that come with that person's death. Children need adults to be patient with them as they adjust to these changes.

Children need to know the truth: Quite often we avoid words like "dead" or "die," or we shade over the truth about how a person died in a desire to protect children. Unfortunately, in doing so, we often create other problems. Although it may be challenging to share the truth about how someone died, honest answers build trust, help provide understanding and allow children to feel comfortable approaching us with questions because they know they can trust us to tell them the truth.

Grieving children often feel alone and misunderstood: Many well-meaning adults try to avoid mentioning the departed loved one for fear of bringing up painful memories or adding to a child’s sadness. In doing so, children might feel as though talking about or even expressing their grief is not acceptable. When children feel understood by family and friends and when they have the opportunity to express their grief in their own unique way, they feel less alone and, in turn, fare better than they would otherwise. 

There are also camps and groups that children can attend that give them the opportunity to be with other children that have experienced the same kind of loss. Greater than any education, information or advice we can give to children who are grieving is to allow children who are grieving to connect with other children going through a similar experience. When children have the opportunity to interact with one another, they feel less alone.

Helping a child through the grieving process is difficult, but you do not have to do it alone. You can find support for yourself with other families and family grief counselors that can give you the tools and insights you need to move forward. There is no timetable on grief; it’s a process – one day at a time.

Prince Harry finally reached out for help, almost 20 years after the death of his mother. He needed it much sooner, but like a lot of folks, he felt like he could bury his feelings and the pain would go away. It didn’t until he was finally able to express it and learn about it and come to terms with the loss of his beloved mum.

Story sources: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-39618169

https://childrengrieve.org

Your Teen

Are Today’s Teens Avoiding Adulthood?

2:30

Are today’s teens riding a slow boat to maturity? Compared to teens in the 1980s and 90s, this generation of teenagers are not in any hurry to grow-up, according to a new study.

In some ways, that’s a good thing. High school kids today are less likely to drink alcohol or have sex, compared to their counterparts a couple of decades ago.

However, they are also less likely to go on dates, have a part-time job or learn to drive – all conventional steps to adulthood.

Are these changes in development good or bad?  Actually, they are both, researchers said.  It depends on how you look at it.

Jean Twenge, a professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, said there are “trade offs’ to each path.

"The upside of slower development is that teens aren't growing up before they are ready," she said. "But the downside is, they go to college and into the workplace without as much experience with independence."

Being unprepared for work or college is definitely a problem for many of today’s adolescents, according to one specialist in teen mental health.

"I think if you ask any college professor, they'll tell you students these days are woefully unprepared in basic life skills," said Yamalis Diaz.

Diaz, who was not involved in the study, is a clinical assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center, in New York City.

Today's students may be sharp academically, Diaz said -- but they often have trouble with basics like planning, time management and problem solving.

The findings, published online in the journal Child Development, are based on nationally representative surveys done between 1976 and 2016. Together, they involved over 8 million U.S. kids aged 13 to 19.

On the upside, many of today’s teens aren’t attracted to activities that can be destructive such as drinking alcohol, drug and tobacco use and having sex at an early age. Those are important changes that bode well for young adults and make parents happy.

So why the change in attitude and priorities? It’s complicated. Technology has altered how many people, particularly teens, communicate. Many are spending less time in face-to- face conversations, choosing to text or post on social media.

Parenting styles have also seen a transformation. The “helicopter” or “hovering” parental style has gained in popularity. Some parents are involved so heavily in their kids’ lives that they make all the decisions for them and try to keep their kids from experiencing any type of failure.

In recent years, Diaz said, parents have become much more "child-centric," compared with the days when parents would send their kids outside with instructions to be back by dinner.

And while that is well-intended, Diaz said, kids today may have few chances to deal with relationships, work through their own problems -- and otherwise "stand on their own two feet."

"On one hand," Diaz said, "today's parents should be commended for sending their kids the right messages about what's appropriate for their age."

But, she added, "sometimes parents want to keep doing everything for their kids."

Diaz suggests that parents give kids the space they need to develop necessary skills, like problem-solving, time management and the ability to hold down a part-time job. She also advised parents to create some "no phone" time every day at home -- and to encourage their kids to do the same when they're with their friends.

Story source: Amy Norton, https://consumer.healthday.com/kids-health-information-23/adolescents-and-teen-health-news-719/are-today-s-teens-putting-the-brakes-on-adulthood-726634.html

Your Child

Are You Making Your Child More Anxious?

2.00 to read

When a child shows that he or she is anxious or in distress, a natural response is for a parent to want to remove whatever is causing the discomfort. However, according to a new study, it may not be the best reaction for your child in the long run.

Researchers call it the “protection trap.” Basically it means smothering children with too much attention or making the menace go away.

The research showed that certain parental coddling behaviors might actually boost anxiety in a child, although the study doesn't prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

"We found evidence that when parents try to help their anxious children they do a lot of things," said study co-author Armando Pina, an associate professor of child developmental psychology at Arizona State University. "Some of them are good, like promoting courage with warmth and kindness. Others are less helpful, like promoting avoidance by overprotecting, which many times leads to more anxiety."

Other experts have also weighed in on this topic.

"Left untreated, anxiety disorders in youth are associated with greater risk for other psychological problems such as depression and substance use problems," said Donna Pincus, director of research at the Child and Adolescent Fear and Anxiety Treatment Program at Boston University. Anxiety problems can also disrupt families and cause kids to perform worse in school, she added.

So what should a parent do or not do?

"When children are in distress or upset they need parental comfort, reassurance and extra love. This is good," said study lead author Lindsay Holly, a graduate student at Arizona State University. "Sometimes, however, parents end up providing excessive reassurance and doing things for the child, like making excuses for why a child who is anxious in social situations won't go to a birthday party or talking for the child by ordering at restaurants."

Here’s how the study was conducted.

Researchers examined the results of a survey of 70 kids aged 6 to 16 who were treated for anxiety and/or depression at a clinic. The kids were equally divided among boys and girls and among whites and Hispanic/Latinos.

The investigators found that some kids were more likely to have anxiety and depression symptoms if their parents reinforced or punished their anxiety through various approaches. Among the two ethnic groups, "the only difference was that Latino parents seemed to attend more frequently to their children's anxiety," Holly said.

Pina noted that previous research has indicated that a certain kind of therapy can help kids become less anxious and more resilient by teaching the importance of facing fears. One of the goals of the therapy is to teach parents how to promote courage in the kids through a combination of warmth and kindness, Pina said.

Some experts believe that by exposing children to anxious situations in a controlled, supportive environment, they can learn how to handle their anxiety better.

Holly suggests that parents encourage their children "to do brave things that are small and manageable." A child who's afraid of speaking in public, for instance, might be urged to answer a question about whether they want fries with their meal at a restaurant.

While every child is going to be anxious at one time or another, a more difficult situation is when children suffer from an anxiety disorder. That is a more serious problem where someone experiences fear, nervousness, and shyness so much so that they start to avoid places and activities.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse. Anxiety disorder often shows up alongside other disorders such as depression, eating disorders, and ADHD.

The good news is that with treatment and support, a child can learn how to successfully manage the symptoms and live a normal childhood.

The study conducted at Arizona State University, looked at typical child anxieties and how parent’s interactions either helped or prolonged the anxiousness.

The study was published recently in the journal Child Psychiatry and Human Development.

Sources: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/overprotective-parenting-could-worsen-kids-anxiety/

http://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/children/childhood-anxiety-disorders

Your Child

Kid’s Insomnia Linked to Mental Health Problems

2:00

 

As a parent and an adult, you know how important a good night’s sleep is to one’s well being.  Children need a good night’s sleep too and if they consistently suffer from sleep problems it could affect their mental health.

A new study examined the possible connection between sleep and young children’s mental health and found that there was a link for children as young as age 4.

Researchers looked at sleep patterns and the mental health of 1,000 children starting when they were toddlers. They found that those with sleep disorders at age 4 were at increased risk for mental health problems -- such as anxiety and depression -- at age 6. They also discovered that children with mental health problems at age 4 were at increased risk for sleep disorders at age 6.

The study wasn’t designed to prove that a lack of sleep actually causes mental health issues or vice versa; the researchers could only show an association between these factors.

The most common type of sleep disorder is insomnia.  Not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep was diagnosed in 17 percent of the children at age 4 and in 43 percent of them at age 6. Insomnia increased the risk of anxiety, depression and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at age 4 and the risk of behavioral problems at age 6, the study authors said.

Children with anxiety, depression, ADHD and behavioral problems at age 4 were also at increased risk for insomnia at age 6, the researchers said.

"It is common for children to have periods when they sleep poorly, but for some children, the problems are so extensive that they constitute a sleep disorder," study author Silje Steinsbekk, an associate professor and psychologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, said in a university news release.

"Our research shows that it is important to identify children with sleep disorders, so that remedial measures can be taken. Sleeping badly or too little affects a child's day-to-day functioning, but we are seeing that there are also long term repercussions," she explained.

This study’s findings are not unique, previous studies have also found a connection between 4-year-olds with sleep disorders that show symptoms of mental health problems. The new study shows that this link also occurs over time and goes both ways.

It may be that both problems have similar genetic causes or share the same risk factors, the researchers theorized.

"Given that so many children suffer from insomnia, and only just over half 'outgrow it,' it is critical for us to be able to provide thorough identification and good treatment. Perhaps early treatment of mental health problems can also prevent the development of sleep disorders, since psychiatric symptoms increase the risk of developing insomnia," Steinsbekk said.

If your child has sleep problems he or she may benefit from an overnight sleep study. The study can help determine if your child has diagnosable problems such as sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, snoring or something more serious. Talk to your pediatrician  if you feel your child is having difficulty sleeping on a regular basis.

Source: Robert Preidt: http://consumer.healthday.com/mental-health-information-25/anxiety-news-33/study-links-sleep-troubles-to-children-s-mental-health-699182.htmlanxiety-news-33/study-links-sleep-troubles-to-children-s-mental-health-699182.html

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