Check out the Wellness Ed Lab:
Check out the Talking Out Loud Podcast:
Check out the Mental Health America website:
Check out the JED Foundation:
Summer time is upon us and the race to find ways to keep our children busy this summer break has been well underway. In fact, during a recent chat with some parents, I realized that parents were feeling stressed about how to fill up their children’s upcoming free time. I heard a variety of concerns, like coordinating drop-off and pick-up, cost and distance of activities, coordinating with planned and unplanned vacations, co-parenting on a different schedule, avoiding learning loss, making sure summer isn’t spent on devices and children’s overall wellbeing. While summer break can be a great time to unwind and recharge, it can still present its own challenges, and our children’s mental health and our own are important to keep in mind as we ease into summer.
Below are some tips and resources that might help your child and family manage mental health and prioritize wellness this summer.
Stay connected to friends and family. While summer is a good time to take a break from some of the social stressors that can happen at school, it’s important to avoid isolation. Summer can bring many opportunities to spend unstructured time with friends, neighbors, extended family and even make new friends.
Keep up a routine
While one of the best parts of summer is sleeping in and staying up late, we can still create a sense of routine and balance. Keeping a routine through the summer can help maintain good hygiene and healthy eating and sleeping habits, which are key for mental and physical health. Let's not forget that this will also make the return to school much smoother.
Engage in self-care
Now that there is a little more time, encourage your child to engage in self-care activities. Self-care can look different for everyone and is defined by taking an active role in one’s wellbeing and happiness. This is generally something we talk about doing during times of stress, but there is something pretty magical about engaging in self-care when our stress doesn’t get in the way of doing it.
Try something new
Having extra time can give us time to try a new hobby or activity. Who know? Maybe it will stick around even when things get busier. It could even turn into a form of self-care.
Spend some time in nature
There are countless of articles on the mental health benefits of spending time in nature. From forest bathing to mindful walking, there are many ways to improve our wellbeing when we get outside and connect with nature.
Try a digital detox
This can be a tough one for child and parent alike, but it could be worth a try. Maybe it’s one day, maybe it’s one week or maybe even more. Try it together as a family and show your kids what your childhood was like without cellphones and internet (at least if you’re as old as me).
Additional Resources for Summer:
If your child is open to it and they have time on their hands, I highly recommend the free, online course, The Science of Wellbeing for Teens, by Dr. Laurie Santos. This article discusses the popularity, benefits, and structure of this Yale course. It also has a link to access the course. https://www.washingtonpost.com/wellness/2023/01/23/yale-happiness-course-teens/
If the course seems like too much, you can have your child explore short YouTube videos from the course by Dr. Laurie Santos. https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=laurie+santos+teen
SPUSD Train Your Brain Website
Check out our website where you can find information on the TYB program, referral info, mental health resources, TYB x TCN podcast, parent webinars and TYB articles.
Mental Health Resource Guide by ESS
Our mental health partner this year, Effective School Solutions, published a mental health guide for teachers and parents as part of Mental Health Awareness month this May.
Summer Schedule: Is It Too Controlling?, by Dr. Emily Edylnn
A great article by one of my favorite psychologist-mom bloggers.
Strategies for a Successful Summer Break, by Beth Arky
Another great article from a contributor at Child Mind Institute.
It goes fast, so enjoy your break and get in as much rest, relaxation and recharging as possible. We’ll see you in the new school year!
SPMS “TRAIN YOUR BRAIN” COUNSELOR
This week we experienced the unthinkable and heartbreaking loss of a valuable member of our SPMS and South Pasadena community. As our community grieves, we may struggle with how to talk to and answer the questions our children have about death, grief and loss. We may struggle with our own grief, which can lead to additional challenges in processing and supporting our children. Some caregivers may have never engaged in discussions about death with their children, while others may have had to discuss painful losses.
Here are some things to consider when supporting children in processing grief and loss:
I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to Principal Cheryl Busick, our PTA and the DUDES for being essential supporters of our Wellness Center, which made it possible for us to have a space to support our students at SPMS this week. Thank you also to Toby Banger and her therapy dogs, River, Cody and Ember, in providing emotional support to our students all year and especially this week.
For more resources on the topic of grief and loss, please visit the links below. If your child needs counseling support, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, your child’s counselor, or an administrator. Please also encourage your child to visit our Wellness Center at SPMS to access support, if needed, during the school day.
SPMS “TRAIN YOUR BRAIN” COUNSELOR
When I look back on the time as I prepared to be a first-time mom, I recall gathering information from other caregivers and parenting sites on baby gear, sleeping, feeding, and milestones. What I don’t remember is ever really being told just how much parenting would involve letting go. As my children have developed into more independent humans, making their own decisions, I have at times felt unprepared for how to manage this emotionally and, more importantly, in my parenting style. From the moment children are born, the process of letting go begins and in adolescence caregivers and their children often reach new levels of stress in determining just how much independence is manageable for the child and the caregiver.
According to Erik Erikson’s theory on the Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development, during the fifth stage of development, between the ages of 12 to 18, an adolescent’s primary developmental purpose is identity formation. This is a period of intense personal exploration and shaping of one’s personal identity. During this time, caregivers may find that their child experiments with different lifestyles, which can lead to changes in their tastes, fashion, belief systems, interests, priorities and friendships. This can be a rollercoaster ride for parent and child alike. Erikson’s theory highlights that successfully forming one’s identity in this stage of life, supports a person in being more prepared for getting though the next developmental stage of life.
In my role as a school social worker, I often hear about the many struggles between caregivers and their children when it comes the evolution of changes around identity. Sometimes caregivers feel distress when their child no longer wants to continue with a long-time commitment, such as playing a musical instrument or a sport. Other times, their child’s friend group is completely different and along with that their dress style, music tastes and general interests may change, too. Other topics that may shape adolescent identity can include: use of social media and video games, sexual orientation, gender identity, body image, intimate relationships, drugs, and generally testing limits and/or breaking rules. So, when should parents be concerned and, more importantly, when should caregivers step in and set limits? As with most things, the answer is complex and varied depending on the child, family, situation at hand, and considerations regarding whether the situation is safe and age-appropriate.
When it comes to parenting, I’ve often heard people say things along the lines of raising a child based on the adult you want to see in the world, not the child in front of you today. When I think of the challenges of letting go of a certain amount of control as my children grow, I think about these words. Although it’s not so black and white, these words make sense to me. I wonder how will my children learn self-confidence, if I don’t trust them; resiliency, if I don’t let them fail; responsibility, if they don’t take on more responsibilities (including basic chores and life skills!!!); or leadership, if I don’t let them make some big decisions.
Not much about letting go feels easy, especially when considering that our children’s lack of experience and maturity can make it difficult for us to trust, but trust we must. Trust that they will make mistakes and bounce back; that they may give up on some things and change because that’s a part of life; and that they won’t always be happy and well-adjusted because sometimes life is like this. However, if we are there alongside them, through their trials and tribulations, believing in their strength and gifts and showing them love, we may better support them in becoming the adults we want to see in the world.
As I think about how to adopt an autonomy-supportive parenting style with my own children as they grow older, I consider the following:
There is so much research and many parenting books and websites that support the benefits of raising autonomous children, which can help us build a healthy framework for letting go with a purpose. Below I am including several resources that may be of interest to you, if you want to learn more about this type of parenting style. However you choose to parent, may you be gentle with yourself, reminding yourself that you are doing the best you can with what you’ve got while continuing to do better.
Autonomy-Supportive Parenting, by Emily Edlynn, Ph.D. (pre-order)
How to Raise an Adult, by Julie Lythcott-Haimes
Free Range Kids: How Parents and Teachers Can Let Go and Let Grow, by Lenore Skenazy
“Parenting Teens: What You Should Know”
“Supporting Vs. Enabling”
Ask Lisa: The Psychology of Parenting – https://drlisadamour.com/resources/podcast/
Psychologists Off the Clock – https://offtheclockpsych.com/
Emily Edlynn, Ph.D. – The Art and Science of Mom – https://www.emilyedlynnphd.com
*** Many of the articles on this website and Dr. Edlynn’s upcoming book were the inspiration for this article***
SPMS “TRAIN YOUR BRAIN” COUNSELOR
This is a common question when it comes to anxiety and the range of moods tweens and teens often experience. Our child experiences distress and we wonder, “Is this normal?”. It makes sense that we have been exploring this question as a society, considering the rates of anxiety (and other mental health concerns) in children, adolescents and adults have been on the rise for some time, with a dramatic increase following the Covid pandemic, and it’s not just the pandemic. Our youth today are concerned about a myriad of issues, including the climate crisis, school shootings and the war in Ukraine, to name a few.
So, if you have wondered whether your own child’s anxiety levels are normal, you are definitely not alone. Anxiety in and of itself is, of course, normal. We need a certain amount of stress and anxiety to accomplish the things that need to get done. However, there is a saturation point in which anxiety can take over and reach levels that make it difficult to get anything done. Considering that anxiety is not only normal, but even necessary at times, exploring its normalcy may not be as effective as assessing whether the anxiety is helpful or unhelpful. In other words, is the stress or anxiety leading to helpful action, or is it interfering with functioning?
Your child wants to attend the upcoming dance, but isn’t sure if they want to go because they don’t know if any of their friends are going?
This sounds like a very typical experience for a middle schooler. Even adults can feel a bit nervous to attend a party when they are unsure as to whether they will know anyone there. How is the child’s anxiety affecting them in this situation? On one end the stress may motivate them to communicate with friends to ask whether they are going to the dance. On the other end, the anxiety could lead them to feeling despair that paralyzes them from reaching out to friends and instead the child chooses to isolate and not attend the dance, despite wanting to go. Even the latter response is in the realm of normal because middle schoolers are just starting to navigate the social world independently. However, it doesn’t sound very helpful if the child can’t move past the worry at some point in their social development and isolation becomes a pattern, rather than the exception.
In reality, it’s difficult to deduce how critical a situation is from one event and more often than not we need to look at the bigger picture to get a better understanding.
Given that each child and each situation is unique, it can be helpful to ask yourself and/or your child some questions:
If you have specific questions about your child and their wellbeing, please email me at email@example.com, so we can discuss your child's unique situation.
Supporting vs. Enabling - https://childmind.org/article/supporting-vs-enabling-a-child-with-challenges/
What To Do (and Note Do) When Children Are Anxious - https://childmind.org/article/what-to-do-and-not-do-when-children-are-anxious/
ForgetWeed, Wine and Xanax: Science Has Better Ways to Treat Anxiety - https://www.newsweek.com/2022/10/21/forget-weed-wine-xanax-science-has-better-ways-treat-anxiety-1750921.html
Young People Need Experiences That Boost Their Mental Health - https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-03172-y?mkt_tok=MjEwLVlJUi0wODUAAAGHbBguUDwx-4uj7CWkeeFwxEkrbdzLMIdI5Tlgwn9sczKDPuEYVj3Not0LYMGs-tZpUBpRAIPVYOFuUte29vy7IvhkJS73dA3Js7ZR
SPMS “TRAIN YOUR BRAIN” COUNSELOR
When it comes to managing anxiety, we can never have too many tools in our toolbox. What works for one person, may not work for another. In this article, I’m rounding up some methods I have found helpful in supporting students during times of distress, and I hope some of these can help you in supporting your child.
Identify the Problem
Before we can help our child, it’s important to get clarity on what’s triggering the anxious feeling. Encourage them to be as specific as possible. If there is more than one stressor, have them prioritize what is worrying them, from biggest to smallest worry.
Normalize the Feeling & Empathize
It’s normal to worry when we experience a stressor event. Situations like taking a test, having an argument with your friend, starting the school year, or presenting in front of the class are typical experiences for a middle schooler that can lead to anxiety. We can express empathy and reassure the child that feeling worry about a stressor event is a human response. It is something adults experience, too.
Distinguish Between “False Alarms” & “True Alarms”
Check out the previous article on this topic https://spmspta.com/a-different-take-on-anxiety/
Once you have a grasp on the issue at hand, engage the child in coming up with a plan of action. In other words, explore what is within their control and what can they do about it. Perhaps it’s studying, asking someone for help with something, or having a difficult conversation. Whatever it is, let them come up with some ideas to address the problem and help them explore the pros and cons of each idea, then have them select an idea or two to implement. More than one action may be needed, but the idea is for the child to identify what they can do about the stressor in order to increase their sense of control over the situation.
Learn to Let Go
Once a plan of action has been identified, there may still be worries left about things outside of their control, for example, what questions are on a test, how someone will respond to a conversation, or who they will sit next to in class. Worrying about things outside of one’s control generally increases one’s sense of anxiety because it’s easy to start making predictions that may or may not occur. Ask the child, “Is this a problem right now?”. If the answer is no, normalize their worry around factors that are not within their control, then ask, “Have we identified a plan of action for what is within your control with regard to this situation?”. If the answer is yes, then it’s time to let go of the rest. If the child expresses continued worry, make sure the problem was clearly identified, normalize the worry, and encourage them to execute their plan to address what is within their control.
Engage in an Uplifting Activity
In order to help your child let go of their worries once they’ve created a plan of action, encourage them to engage in an uplifting activity. Ask them what sort of activities they find fun and uplifting. If the child struggles to come up with activities, come up with a list together. Some common activities could be drawing, listening to music, calling a friend, taking a walk, playing with a pet, or reading a book. The important thing is that the activity is mood-lifting and helps shift their focus to something other than worry.
The way we navigate the stressors of life in front of our children, can be one of the most important ways we teach children how to manage their own anxiety. If your child sees you worried about something, you can tell your child a brief and age-appropriate explanation of the problem, normalize your feeling and let them know that you are working on a plan of action to reduce your stress. Let them see you engage in a mood-lifting activity to shift your focus from the stress. It’s not only okay for children to see the adults in their lives experience anxiety, it’s helpful for them to see them navigate anxious experiences in a healthy way.
If it Persists, Consult with a Professional
Sometimes anxiety can become a chronic issue for a child. When this occurs, it can often be helpful to turn to a professional for consultation and support. You may want to consult with your child’s pediatrician, school counselor, school social worker, or a mental health professional in the community.
Remember that everyone is unique and so is their situation. Problem solving with our child may work one day, while listening, normalizing and empathizing is what our child needs the next time. Though this is not an exhaustive list of tools you can use, I hope that you find this general framework of support helpful. Below are additional resources that can further assist in growing your knowledge around managing your child’s anxiety.
If you have other mental health topics you would like to read about, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine
By: Michele Borba, EdD.
SPMS “TRAIN YOUR BRAIN” COUNSELOR
Worried. Nervous. Scared. Stressed. There are so many ways to describe anxious feelings, and more and more we are hearing children express feeling overwhelmed and anxious for a variety of reasons. As caregivers, it can be difficult to find ways to support a young person in distress. This is especially true when the perception of anxiety is that it’s a “bad” experience. A more helpful idea is that anxiety can have benefits, though it can be unhelpful at higher, chronic levels. Understanding the complex duality of anxiety can allow us to support our children in navigating this experience.
Without some sense of urgency or worry, we wouldn’t be very effective at meeting deadlines, responding to emails or phone calls, or even waking up in the morning. It’s important to recognize that anxiety serves a purpose. It functions as an internal alarm system -- at its highest level it keeps us safe and alive and at lower levels keeps us doing the things we need to do. Clearly, this can be beneficial to living.
There are times, though, when our alarms system can become overactive. Our mind starts to tell us that everything is an emergency or that we are in danger when we are not. These can be considered “false alarms.” Our children can experience an overactive alarm system that includes both “false” and “true” alarms. By getting a better understanding of the purpose anxiety serves in our lives, we can support our children in distinguishing between “true” and “false” alarms, give them a better understanding of how anxiety can be both helpful and unhelpful, and identify steps to manage their anxiety if it is interfering with their day.
False Alarm vs. True Alarm
Our internal alarm system exists to keep us safe and alive through our Fight, Flight or Freeze Response System in our amygdala, housed in the limbic system of our brain. When a person has an overactive alarm system, they may feel in danger when they are not. For example, an upcoming test or a sport game may produce a level of anxiety akin to that experienced in a life-threatening event. The amygdala of a child with an overactive alarm system then misidentifies a relatively benign stressor as dangerous. Their Fight, Flight or Freeze Response is activated. We do want to acknowledge that the anxious feeling is a very real experience for the child, and we also want to help them explore whether the amount of anxiety they are experiencing is proportionate to the stressor event. If the anxiety seems disproportionate to the stressor, we can engage them in reflecting on how their anxious feelings (e.g., excessive worry, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, etc.) may be related to a “false alarm” rather than a “true alarm.” By exploring this worry with the child, we can help them identify that feeling some anxiety is a normal response to a stressful situation. If it becomes clear that the worry may feel bigger than the situation, we can support the child in finding ways to manage their worry so that they can focus on the benefits anxiety can have while diminishing the negative experience of too much anxiety.
The middle school years can be challenging ones for children and parents alike. Each child is unique and so are their life experiences. As caregivers, being a consistent, supportive and loving adult in our child’s life is one of the most valuable resources a child can have to thrive during these years.
In my next blog I will share more tips on ways caregivers can support children in managing their anxiety. If you would like to hear more on another social-emotional topic, please email me your question or area of interest to email@example.com.
Helpful Short Reads:
Signs and Symptoms of Stress in Kids
Does Social Media Cause Depression and Anxiety in Teenagers?
Books to Check Out:
Middle School Matters: The 10 Key Skills Kids Need to Thrive in Middle School and Beyond – and How Parents Can Help
by: Phyllis Fagell
The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed
by: Jessica Lahey
Natasha is the TYB Specialist & Social Worker at SPMS. Natasha shares her insights on mental health and adolescents in these articles, based on over 15 years of working with children in the field of social work and mental health.