Season’s Greetings! Many of you have been following KidsAndMentalHealth.com for years – in fact I founded this blog in 2011! Thank you for your readership, comments and questions over the years.
Recently, I had someone move this blog from WordPress.com to WordPress.org (a self-hosted platform) though the blog name & URL remain the same. I’m going to be ramping up this blog in a big way and I hope you’ll join me in my new “home” for more quality content about:
I haven’t yet installed a “subscribe here” widget (though I may do that today!) but if you’re interested I would love it if you’d visit KidsAndMentalHealth.com regularly, comment, like, share, subscribe, and read my posts. If you have questions or would like a particular topic covered, please contact me any time.
Sending you heartfelt wishes for a cozy holiday season. May your 2021 be full of positive mental health, enjoyable family moments, well-balanced kids and serenity.
I was recently talking with a friend about being an HSP or “highly sensitive person.” She hadn’t heard the term before so I briefly outlined the criteria:
prefers to spend a lot of time alone
intuitively “gets” people and feels their vibes
passionate about the arts and music
does not like to be rushed
cannot watch bloody or violent movies or shows
doesn’t like to be watched while performing or taking a test
You can take the full quiz here on Dr. Elaine Aron’s site. Dr. Aron is one of the foremost experts on highly sensitive people. Once my friend heard me mention some of the items on this list, she thought it sounded like one of her sons.
The realization that I was an HSP has been a godsend to me as I often wondered why I reacted differently to things than most people. If your child or teen is an HSP you’ll probably have an “a-ha” moment when you take the quiz.
Your child may have been told, “You’re too sensitive!” or “Don’t take it personally” over and over again. Unfortunately, when you’re an HSP, you have no choice but to take things personally and to feel things deeply. Understanding this will help you relate to your child.
It’s important to let your highly sensitive child know that you understand her and get what she’s feeling. Read up on HSPs and try to interpret how they might be feeling at a big, loud party where others are having fun but she’s covering her ears from the noise.
Similar to HSP is RSD or rejection sensitivity dysphoria– both can cause major upset to the nervous system and need to be managed correctly. If a child grows up without understanding and nourishing their sensitivity, they may experience a lot of stress, pain, frustration, misunderstanding and feeling of “otherness.”
Let your highly sensitive son spend some time alone if he’s had a rough day or a busy week but encourage him to get out in nature, spend time with family or get some exercise too – staying in a quiet room all day isn’t good for anyone.
Overall, your HSP kid can be a wunderkind with room to be creative, original, loving, daring and innovative. If you show him the path and appreciate that he might feel things that you don’t feel, you’ll be giving him a big advantage in life.
Does this resonate with you? Do you feel your child might be an HSP? If so, let me know here in the comments or by contacting me. And, by the way: I hope you like the look of my site – I installed a new theme recently.I’m really happy with it.
No doubt you’ve heard of “imposter syndrome” – the idea that we achieved something through luck or by accident – not by hard work, expertise or skill – and that it could disappear at any moment.
According to Wikipedia: “The feeling of being a fraud that surfaces in impostor phenomenon is not uncommon. It has been estimated that nearly 70% of individuals will experience signs and symptoms of impostor phenomenon at least once in their life. This can be a result of a new academic or professional setting. Research shows that impostor phenomenon is not uncommon for students who enter a new academic environment. Feelings of insecurity can come as a result of an unknown, new environment. This can lead to lower self-confidence and belief in their own abilities.“
You know what? Kids can have it too. You may have noticed a hint of this if your child says something like, “I’m not good enough to be in the school play so I won’t bother trying out” or “I can’t accept that spot on the team. I’m not fast enough; they’ll probably cut me” or “Maybe they should ask someone else to be the student council treasurer – it must have been a mistake.”
Now, this could be due to anxietyof course and we all get anxious or have doubts about achievements, promotions, try-outs, etc. It could also be due to low self-esteem which can be something that plagues kids and adults pervasively.
To help counter-act imposter syndrome, experts talk about building self-esteem, resilienceand understand the concept of “fake it ’til you make it.”
Other ways to help your child combat imposter syndrome is to provide examples in your own life – when you’ve felt like an imposter or a fraud in a new situation – say a great new job, the go-to yoga teacher, school mom, president of a non-profit board, presenter in an awards show, mentor for others, speaker at a conference – and how you overcame (or masked) those feelings to take on scary new situations and thrive.
If 70% of people experience imposter syndrome, it’s pretty likely that our kids will experience it too. We should be ready to show them that many people feel like frauds when presented with exciting opportunities and that’s okay – we can:
give ourselves a pep talk
discuss the feelings with trusted adults or mentors
and… hopefully tackle the situation and come out more confident on the other side!
Do you or your child suffer from imposter syndrome? If so, what did you do to combat it?
Hello! Let me first apologize for my abhorrent delay in posting. It’s been 4 months (!) since my last post and I don’t really have a decent explanation for the ridiculous gap. Is pandemic madness a good enough excuse…?
Now that my apology is done, let’s get down to brass tacks: School 2020.
Normally, the beginning of September is an exciting (albeit anxious) time for parents, children and young adults.
Being that it’s 2020, even the term “back to school” is tenuous. Are your children doing virtual schooling? Attending physically? A combination? No matter the mode, how are you and they handling it?
I’ve had friends and family members tell me that they’re freaking out, worried and anxious about their children attending school due to Covid. I totally get that – anyone who reads, watches or listens to the news knows that there’s a SERIOUS risk of getting sick once school starts.
However, even though I’m an anxious person by nature, I’m doing a pretty good job of staying calm. First of all, my teens want to go to school so that’s good. I feel like it’s important for their mental health to be physically at school interacting with their peers and teachers.
And, while I’m a huge fan of all things digital, virtual school just doesn’t cut it for me. Even my high-achieving daughter tells me that virtual school did not work for her and it certainly didn’t work well for my super intelligent son who also happens to have ADHD.
The chance of…
getting hungry and grabbing a snack
losing interest in the content
having technical issues
becoming distracted by ambient noise
etc. etc. etc. is so great.
Time will tell if our children’s learning & mental health will suffer due to the effects of the pandemic. Optimists will say that children areresilient and most can adapt. Realists will tell us things will never go back to normal, our children and young adults will lose much of their academic smarts and that we’re going to have to re-think our education system.
There ARE some cool creative options that people are investigating including: learning pods, outdoor or “forest” schools and OG homeschooling. We have no choice but to adapt and move forward.
I’d love to hear what you and your family are planning to do for school 2020. Feel free to comment here or write to me at the email address in the “About” section.
“Trauma is a fact of life. It does not have to be a life sentence.” I like this quote from Dr. Peter A. Levine, psychologist. We’re all going through some form of trauma right now – whether that’s being laid-off; having to cope with new responsibilities; concerns about sick family members or friends or feeling scared of the unknown.
Our kids are suffering too. They may be silently mourning the end of their school year, missing friends and teachers or feel isolated and alone.
There are lots of suggestions to keep kids busy, happy and healthy during these strange times (some of which are mentioned here and here).
But there are also ways in which parents might think about helping themselves if we’re feeling traumatized, ill, anxious or scared. I wanted to create a short “round-up” of resources and suggestions that may help.
A freelance writing colleague Meredith Resnick, LCSW, has written a number of books about narcissism. She just had a new edition published in April in her series of books. Check out this edition or her other books if this is an issue you or a loved one might be dealing with.
A woman named Rachel whose blog I follow and whom I respect wrote a book called Yeshiva Girl about a young woman forced to go to a religious Jewish school and the conflicts she feels towards this and her father who has been accused of sexual misconduct. I’m really looking forward to reading this book as Rachel is a wonderful writer, has two Master’s degrees and is working on a third!
Caring Organizer is a platform built by a friend of mine who saw a need for “meal train” software. This site offers a concrete way for friends, family and neighbours to help those who are sick or have someone who has passed away. This site, available for people in the U.S. and Canada, not only offers meal organization tools but tips, resources and calendars as well.
I hope these resources are of assistance to you. Sometimes if we better understand ourselves as adults – or help someone in need – we can be better partners, friends and parents.
As an aside: I’m going to be working on upgrades to this blog in the very near future. I’m excited about this change and the new look that will accompany the swap to a self-hosted platform. Thank you for your support and please stay tuned.
As always, feel free to comment or write to me with any feedback or questions.
Whether you live in India, Finland, Canada, Britain or anywhere else — we’re all feeling the sting of self-isolation. Here are a few important and relatively quick ways you can help improve your children’s mental health.
Sitting in a chair doing school work or on the couch using SnapChat all day isn’t healthy. Depending on their age, you can offer to sing silly songs or make up a song. You can do a TikTok dance, you can ask Alexa to play “workout songs” and do an indoor workout. This family has fancy outfits and a choreographer to design their dance but you can still make your own silly video!
And, if you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you definitely know how I feel about the importance of going outside.
We’re all missing our friends, colleagues and/or extended families. For single parents or essential workers, life isn’t necessarily boring but it can be stressful and lonely. If your kids are missing their friends, grandparents, or cousins, there’s always social media of course.
But if you’re trying to get them offline – you could show them how towrite a letteror poem. Some parents are using this time to teach their kids life skills, like laundry, dishes, garbage, etc. Depending on the age of your child, you could do something more fun like writing a handwritten letter, write the address on the envelope, put a stamp on it and put it in the mailbox. It might seem funny to some of us, but many children and even teens have never written a letter!
Have you or your kids had a chance to read any new books (or re-read favourites) during the shut-down? Now that online school is on for many in different parts of the world, reading books may fall to the wayside.
I admit that even my reading has waned recently but I’ll get back at it this weekend. I am actually paying my kids (judge me if you must!)to read books during the pandemic. They have to be “real” books (not comics or magazines) but the topic and genre can be of their choosing.
Remember that it’s okay to shut down mentally, physically and literally (shut down your computer, your kids’ devices, the TV, etc.) at the end of the day or whenever makes sense) for you – and do something that takes your mind off of current events.
Sometimes the path of least resistance is best. So, if you and your kids like to ride bikes – do that (in a socially distanced manner of course!). If you prefer playing cards or listening to music, by all means! Maybe drawing or talking or just sitting quietly is best for everyone.
Whatever you do, remember that we don’t need to be watching the news online or on TV or the radio constantly; we can all use the time to sleep, dream and think.
What have you and your family been doing to stay healthy & sane? I’d love to know.
I didn’t want to write this post. I feel like many people are taking advantage of the COVID-19/coronavirus to hawk things or make money (re-selling hand sanitizer anyone?), spread misinformation or cause unnecessary panic.
However, several close friends and family members have mentioned that their children are feeling anxious about the pandemic and they don’t know what to say or how to help their kids feel better and more calm – not to mention: what to do for three weeks while their children are off school (or out of daycare as the case may be). Here in Ontario, the government has mandated an extra two-week school closure in addition to the traditional March Break (beginning this weekend/Monday).
While, I’m not a psychologist, social worker or psychiatrist, I have written a lot about mental health, learning disabilities, anxiety and depression – both for this blog and for organizations, magazines and web sites. We can’t completely shield our children from panic or tragedy, but we can try and make sense of it for them.
For starters, depending on the age of your children, you might want to explain the science of how viruses spread and how we can ALL do our part by:
Washing our hands frequently and with soap (a lot of kids forget the soap part or the drying off part)
Not touching our faces (so difficult – especially with colds or allergies)
Keeping away from others as much as possible (again, tough for kids who are mostly social animals and want to give hugs and high-fives)
Eating healthy foods and drinks (there are lots of ways to inject fruits, veggies, fibre and probiotics into our diets)
Getting plenty of fresh air and exercise (more on that below)
I’ve pre-warned my tween/teen children that none of us is going to spend the next three weeks just staring at devices. We can read actual books, play games and cards and utilise this opportunity to clean and de-clutter our spaces — which is also a great way to improve mental health!
And, since we’re doing the “silver lining” thing: For me, this is just another excuse to get outside for a hike or a walk or a bike ride. (Anyone who reads this blog or knows me personally, knows that I am a hiking/fresh air fanatic!). As social distancing and no non-essential travel are being advised, local hiking, trekking and biking is the perfect activity.
Here are a few blog posts that can help motivate you and your kids to get some exercise and fresh air during the COVID-19 school closure and throughout the spring and summer:
What are you doing to keep yourself and your family sane during this unprecedented time in history? Are you able to stay calm and enjoy a hiatus of sorts or is the closing of schools and limited travel putting additional stress on your family? Feel free to write to me or comment below.
Any parent knows that we should encourage children to be themselves and not mold them into “Mini Me’s.” However, sometimes this is easier said than done.
Even if our kid isn’t going to be the next Serena Williams or Bill Gates, we all have SOME expectations. We might want them to excel in music or sports or be social or get straight A’s or be a master chess player. This may because this is something that we realized as a young person or because we see a spark in them and want them to develop that spark into something brighter.
In many cases our children will disappoint us at some point in our lives. It might be that they date someone we’re not crazy about or fall in with the “wrong” crowd at school. They might fail certain subjects or not have friends. If our child has a mental health challenge, this can be even more disappointing – I’ve recently read of parents who were saddened by their teen not going to prom or not going to college or university when it seems like every other teen on the planet is doing just that.
How do we separate ourselves from our children and allow them to grow and develop into the best version of themselves? Do we need to take a step back and realize that our expectations are unreasonable – or try to temper them accordingly?
With a tween and a teen, it seems that one of my kids is constantly testing me: just when I think they’ve achieved something or moved beyond a certain nagging problem, something else crops up. Honestly, it can be very hard to digest and deal with at times. For me, there are certain expectations that are non-negotiable: show up for school on time; pass all courses; get a good night’s sleep; take care of personal hygiene and chores; have a good attitude; show up for family dinner and to family events…
These are very basic things. I expect my kids to go above and beyond those basics and to achieve something more. However, sometimes even these basics are not achieved! That can be frustrating at best. Even if learning disabilities or mental health challenges get in the way, I still expect my children to try their best and not to make excuses.
Have you experienced frustration when dealing with what you think are basic expectations? Does your child’s mental health challenges get in the way? I’d love to hear what you think and how you deal with these dilemmas.
This weekend I won two tickets to a “retro 80’s” video dance party at a club downtown. My partner and I were already thinking about attending – as two friends were going. Once I won the tickets, we decided that the universe was nudging us and that we should definitely go. While we neglected to wear our best 80’s neon and preppy clothing, it was an absolute blast and we were able to forget about life’s demands for a few hours as we danced the night away.
Now, it’s not like I’m a martyr and stay home all the time to cook and clean and pay bills (though sometimes it feels like it). I go out with friends – mostly when my kids are with their dad but we do outings as a family too – and my partner and I go to the movies, to restaurants, on trips, etc. We try our best to enjoy life but, lately, the to-do list seems endless and the fun side of life gets buried in a stack of bills, report cards, and dishes.
If you work outside the home, you know that getting kids to sleep on time and then up in the morning, packing lunches and dropping them off at school prior to getting into work can use all of your energy stores – then you still have to work all day – and then do it over and over again a la Groundhog Day. If you work at home or are a stay-at-home-parent, staying on top of and/or getting out from under the clutter of lifecan be a downer.
But going out this weekend reminded me that parenting doesn’t have to be a chore. We all work hard and worry about our kidsand their mental health – but our mental health as parents is important too. In fact, I submit that when we’re happy and cheerful and feel that our needs are met, we’re not feeling resentful to our children and can be more “present” in their lives.
Going out doesn’t have to mean an expensive get-away or partying until 3 am (though I do recommend it once in a while!). It can be as simple as going to your favourite book store or library and perusing the shelves and grabbing a coffee. Or, you can hit the local gym and do a Zumba class or lift some weights – or even go for a walk – alone or with a friend while ignoring the dirty laundry and piles of dishes for an hour or two.
Parenting can absolutely take over and get overwhelming and demanding. But we owe it to ourselves and our kids to take a break every once in a while and enjoy ourselves. We are human too. I also think it’s important to show our children that we have our own lives, friends, interests, hobbies, etc. and that we can prioritize our interests at times.
So, next time a friend or neighbour asks you to grab a coffee – “get into the groove” and take her up on the offer. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Let me know about your tips for balancing life, work and parenting! You can reply in the comments or send me an email.
Recently I asked “Ashley” to share advice on my blog. Ashley is a colleague and parent to an 11-year-old girl diagnosed with Mood Disorder.
I have learned a lot about mood disorders and was blown away by her candor.
Please note that this post was originally published in 2013.
1) Can you describe “mood disorder” and its symptoms?
Last spring, my daughter was diagnosed with ADHD and we put her on a stimulant. She began having rages, getting verbally aggressive (threatening to kill people) and physically aggressive (biting, hitting, kicking) family members to the point that she left bruises and other marks. We took her off the medication and the rages decreased for a while, but returned along with ADHD symptoms that interfered with school.
We tried another stimulant and the rages increased. Her paediatrician suggested that because she was raging on stimulants that he highly suspected that she had a mood disorder. At his suggestion, I read the book The Bipolar Child and cried because the symptoms described in the book were almost a verbatim description of my daughter.
2) Why were you surprised by this revelation?
I was surprised that the way that bipolar presents in children is very different from the way it looks in adults. Some of the symptoms that resonated with me:
rapid cycling (going from giddy to irritated very quickly and back again)
carb cravings (my daughter would binge on sweets and bread)
Another trait exhibited by my daughter was that she didn’t show her rages and violence to anyone outside the family and I was her main target.
3) Please provide some insight into the relationship between ADHD and mood disorders and how they’re sometimes confused.
According to the book The Bipolar Child, one-third of the children diagnosed with ADHD actually have early onset bipolar. Many symptoms of bipolar overlap with ADHD, such as being impulsive, emotionally volatile, hyperactive and distracted. When I was reading Bipolar Child for the first time, the description in temper tantrums between children with ADHD and children with mood disorders was what finally convinced me that my daughter was bipolar.
Bipolar temper tantrums can often last for hours, can involve destruction or violence and are typically triggered by not getting what they want. The book described that ADHD tantrums typically last 20-30 minutes and are caused by sensory or emotional stimulation. I thought about the previous evening and how my daughter had spent over two hours hitting us, screaming and chasing after us and realized that my daughter was bipolar.
4) What advice can you offer parents?
My biggest advice is to find support. I found the forums and support groups at The Balanced Mindto provide me great information on both the medical side and the coping side.
At first I was really scared to tell anyone about my daughter’s diagnosis and even more about her repeatedly hurting me. I would wear long sleeves to cover the bite marks and bruises and worry that someone would see. But then I shared with trusted friends what we were going through and was very surprised that instead of judgement, I received love and support.
My other advice is to find the right team of doctors and therapists. It took several tries to find the right fit for our family and my daughter’s situation, but we finally found a neuropsychiatric that has been lifesaving for us. We also began working with a behavioural therapist to help our whole family learn strategies to deal with the bipolar symptoms.
5) How do you and your family (and your child) best cope with this mental illness?
When she is raging, we try to remind ourselves that this is the bipolar talking, not our daughter. We also make sure that every member of our family gets time to enjoy the things that make them happy and get a break from my daughter. We also all meet with a therapist to talk about our feelings of living with the disease in our family.
6) Anything else you’d like to add?
If you suspect that your child has a mood disorder, get him or her evaluated as soon as possible. Life has gotten dramatically better once we found the right medication and have begun learning to understand the disease.
Does any of this resonate with you? I thought republishing this post might help a parent or friend who has a child with a mood disorder.