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Children

How Learning Disabilities Affect a Child’s Mental Health

By | Adolescents/Teens, Children, School & Academics | No Comments

For many children and teens, learning disabilities are a frustrating part of life. Learning disabilities not only bring a sense of shame and isolation, but they can also lead to mental health issues in some children.

What Are Learning Disabilities?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a learning disability is any disorder of the fundamental psychological processes involved in understanding or using language. These can ultimately result in difficulties thinking, listening, reading, writing, math, and spelling.

Learning disabilities are quite common among young children and teens. According to the NCES, of the 7 million students who receive special education services in the country’s public school system, 33% have at least one learning disability. Common learning disabilities children deal with are ADHD, dyscalculia (trouble with counting and numbers), dyslexia, and others.

Learning Disabilities and Mental Health Issues in Children and Teens

While a learning disability isn’t a mental health issue in and of itself, both are closely related. When children and teens have a delay in learning, they can feel as if their academic efforts aren’t paying off. They can feel like a failure and, if their classmates aren’t sensitive, they can also feel like the butt of many jokes. This puts children and teens with learning disabilities at a higher risk of developing anxiety and depression.

It’s important that parents and teachers of students with learning disabilities look for any signs of anxiety or depression. These may include:

  • Sudden fear
  • Worrying
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Anger issues
  • Feelings of sadness and/or hopelessness
  • Changes in social behaviors (not spending time with friends)
  • Changes in appetite
  • Thoughts of harming themselves

Once any signs are noticed, parents should bring their child to a qualified mental health therapist. This professional will help the child manage their symptoms so they can better function at home and at school. Some sessions may include the parents while in other sessions, the therapist may want to work one-on-one with the child.

Many child psychologists use cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) to help children become aware of their own thoughts and feelings and then change their thoughts, emotions, and reactions to challenges at home and at school. CBT helps a child become independent and evaluate whether their thoughts and feelings or logical or distorted.

Does your child or teen have a learning disability? Do you believe this disability has caused them to develop depression or anxiety? If so, and you’d like to explore treatment options, please get in touch with me. I would be happy to speak with you to see if I might be able to help.

 

SOURCES:

4 Exercises to Help Teach Young Children Mindfulness

By | Children | No Comments

Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of your body and feelings in the present moment. If you’re silent for a moment, you will notice the subtle smell of your freshly washed clothing, the sound of your breathing, and watch a small leaf blow past your window. Mindfulness is an incredibly calming, relaxing practice that can help adults in numerous ways, and it may surprise you that it can help children, too.

Studies have shown that children who learn mindfulness practices showed better grades, increased patience and improved coping skills. When taught in schools, mindfulness increases optimism in classrooms while decreasing bullying and aggression.

It can be remarkably simple to teach a child mindfulness. Here are four exercises to get started.

Muscle Awareness

Teach your child to become aware of their body with a muscle awareness exercise. Sit down on the floor and do some exercises where they focus on one muscle at a time. They can point their toe and hold, and as you do the same ask them what they feel and where exactly they feel the tightening of their muscle. Hold for a few seconds and release, then repeat with other muscles.

Breathing Buddy

Have your child lie on her back with a favorite stuffed animal on her belly. Have her watch the stuffed animal, which will naturally rise and fall as she breathes in and out. Teach your child to breathe in through their nose slowly, to hold their breath for a few seconds, then slowly release the breath as they watch their stuffed animal rise and fall to match their breaths.

A Mindful Walk

Take a mindful walk around the block or at a local park with your child. Take in the sights, sounds and smells. What does your body feel like as you’re walking? What muscles do you feel working the most? Notice sounds you may hear, especially subtle sounds like a leaf skittering across the grass, or the crunch of a leaf as you step in. This will help them relax, get in a little bit of exercise and learn to appreciate all their body does to keep them moving.

A Mindful Snack

Have a mindful meal or snack with your child. As you eat, do so mindfully. Focus on the food. What are the colors? How does it taste and smell? Have your child describe what happens when they chew and swallow. Have them notice what muscles are moving as they eat or bring the food to their mouth.

Children learn what they see at home, so by modeling mindfulness practices yourself, you will benefit them greatly.

Are you a parent looking for unique ways to cope with challenging parenting issues? A licensed therapist can provide the support and guidance you need. Give my office a call today and let’s schedule a time to talk.

Teaching Kids Mindfulness: The Benefits and Easiest Ways to Do It!

By | Adolescents/Teens, Children | No Comments

“Pay attention!”

It’s a phrase that is uttered dozens of times a week (if not more) in households where children between the ages of two and 18 reside. How is it that when they WANT to, oh say when they are playing video games or watching cartoons, kids can have a tremendous attention span. But at any other time, getting them to be present is harder than getting them to close the refrigerator door!

While getting kids to pay attention can seem frustrating, there is an answer to the madness: mindfulness.

Mindful Kids are Happier Kids

Several studies have shown that kids who participate in mindfulness programs are happier. And the sooner you get kids started with mindfulness, the easier it becomes for them to develop a capacity to become calm and centered when life throws them stressful situations.

What does this look like in real life?

Well, picture how a normal 7-year old responds to a situation that is scary, overwhelming, and generally unpleasant. Say they are getting ready to take a hard test or going to the dentist. Most will become so fearful and anxious that they have a hard time being calmed by a parent or other guardian.

The 7-year old who practices mindfulness meditation knows to stop, closed their eyes, and breathe deeply to get themselves calm and focused.

The two outcomes are vastly different. That’s because meditation and deep breathing exercises actually change the physiology of the brain, according to scientists. Instead of kids reacting emotionally to a charged situation (being controlled by their emotions), children can control their impulses and reactions to that situation.

OK, but how do you get kids to practice mindfulness when it’s difficult to get them to do pretty much anything, let alone meditate!  Here are some ways you can help your kids become more mindful:

1. Help them discover their inner experience.

Spend time helping kids understand what is happening to their bodies during stressful and calm situations. Ask them to explore their emotions. The more insight they have into their inner experience, the better able they will be to control their responses to external experiences.

2. Breathe with Them

Practice deep breathing with your child. You can do it while driving or before putting them to bed at night. Share with them how to relax, slowly breathe in deeply and exhale. Invite them to feel any tension melt away.

3. Be a Good Example

Your child will not even want to try and be mindful and in control when they see you out of control. Are you one to yell at other drivers? Do you get far too angry when your dog tracks mud in the house? Does a telemarketer at dinner send you through the roof? If so, it’s time to try deep breathing and meditation yourself. Be an example. If your child sees mommy or daddy handling stress in healthier ways, they will be far more likely to give it a go.

While it will take some effort to get your kid to commit to practicing mindfulness, the results that it will bring to their life are completely worth it.

 

SOURCES:

Finding the Sweet Spot: Is Your Child Over-Scheduled?

By | Adolescents/Teens, Children | No Comments

Families are busy these days. Between a parent’s busy home and work life, and kids in school with after school activities, it can be hard to figure out a balance. Certainly activities outside of school will enrich your child’s life, but at what point is it adding value, and when is it pushing your family over the edge?

 

Lack of Sleep

It’s important to make sure your child is getting enough sleep. After they’re done with school and their extracurricular activity, they should have enough time to do homework, eat dinner, and get at least eight hours of sleep. If you have trouble getting them out of bed in the morning, if they’re lethargic all day or sleeping in class, your child may be over-scheduled because they’re not getting enough sleep.

 

Lack of Down Time

Kids benefit from unstructured time. Unstructured time helps them relax and decompress. It’s important to note however that screen time is not unstructured time. Time spent using electronics doesn’t relax them or help them decompress from the day. It doesn’t add stress, but it doesn’t take it away, either.

 

Your Child Acts Out When They Get Home

One of the biggest signs that your child is over-scheduled is if they come home from school and have a meltdown. When kids are at school, there’s much that’s expected from them. They have to have self-control all day, and a lack of unstructured time over the week can make them feel like they can’t take it anymore.

 

Finding a Balance

It can be difficult to find that sweet spot between a healthy number of activities for your kids, without your family having to sacrifice in other areas. First, evaluate how much time you’re spending on an activity. Include time spent at the activity, the time preparing, time spent at practice and driving to and from. Research shows that eight hours a week works best for children. Five to seven activities over the course of a year is at the top end of the “sweet spot” before extra activities start to have a negative impact.

 

Make a conscious decision to have some down time over the course of a year. Maybe pick a season not to have any activities scheduled for your children, so you can all enjoy some structured family life. Things like doing chores, helping with dinner, etc. is a boon to both children and families. Everyone benefits from family engagement.

If you’re a parent and you’re struggling or just need some support, call my office today and let’s schedule a time to talk.

How to Help Your Child Manage Their Anxiety

By | Anxiety, Children | No Comments

For many, childhood is the most wondrous and exciting time in a person’s life. But even when a child is growing in a loving and stable family environment, they can feel fear and anxiety.

Think back on your childhood. Everything new was something to be not-so-sure of. It was easy to feel a bit anxious on the first day of school or meeting someone for the first time. A child often feels anxious at bedtime, having to go to the doctor or dentist, or on their first day of summer camp.

When children experience anxiety, they may run away, become very quiet, scream, shake, act silly, cling or have a tantrum to avoid the stressful situation. You may have tried to talk with your child and reason with them in these moments. But this generally doesn’t work.

Brain research suggests that it is extremely difficult for young children to think logically or control their behavior in these anxious moments. They are experiencing real fear and the fight/flight/freeze mode that accompanies it.

Here are 3 science-based ways parents can help their children manage their anxiety so they may regain a sense of safety.

1. Stimulate Their Vagus Nerve

The vagus nerve is located on both sides of the voice box. Studies have shown that stimulating it can interrupt the fight/flight/freeze mode and send a signal to your child’s brain that he or she is not under attack.

Some easy ways to help your child stimulate this nerve are:

  • Have them chew gum
  • Hum or sing
  • Gargle with regular warm water
  • Eat a piece of dark chocolate (this is also a parasympathetic regulator)

2. Help Them Slow Their Breathing

Like adults, when children are anxious they tend to take rapid shallow breaths from the chest. Taking slower, deeper breaths from the abdomen sends a signal to their brain that they are safe and can relax.

Older children may be able to follow you as you show them slow breathing exercises. For younger children, there are some playful ways to get them to slow down and control their breathing. You can have them blow bubbles, blow into a pinwheel, imagine your fingers are birthday candles and have them slowly blow them out, teach them to whistle and simply see if they can hold their breath for three seconds as if they were swimming.

3. Be Silly

Research also suggests that humor can significantly reduce anxiety. Humor has a way of distracting, relaxing muscles and releasing endorphins that combat stress and anxiety.

Try silly knock-knock jokes or word games like “I went on a picnic.” A quick internet search will result in a ton of corny jokes that your youngster will most likely love, so print some out and have them on hand.

Anxiety is a part of life, but if you use these three techniques, you can help your child manage theirs.  If you think your child could benefit from speaking to someone, please feel free to be in touch. I’d be more than happy to discuss treatment options.