* The Truth About Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

By Elizabeth Christmas, LCSW, LCAC, Courier & Press, March 24, 2017 –

Rumor has it … ADHD is nothing more than an excuse for lazy, irresponsible behavior, poor parenting and “drugging” children in place of discipline and self-control.

The truth is … ADHD is a medical condition, and medication along with therapy can effectively manage symptoms.

In every situation, the best solution involves parents, physician and child collaborating, with feedback from teachers and therapist to decide the best course of treatment.

Clinical ADHD involves symptoms such as:

Inattention

  • Frequently makes careless mistakes, skips over, loses things
  • Easily distracted, difficulty following directions
  • Unorganized, doesn’t finish tasks
  • Avoids or procrastinates tasks that require sustained effort

Hyperactivity/impulsivity

  • Can’t sit still
  • Runs/climbs at inappropriate times/places
  • Talks excessively/loudly
  • Extremely impatient/can’t wait turn
  • “Driven by a motor”
  • Blurts out/interrupts/intrudes

Sometimes anxiety, effects of trauma or immaturity are misdiagnosed as ADHD. Practitioners should only diagnose ADHD when symptoms persist for at least six months and impair functioning at school and home.

Boys are identified younger and more often due to more commonly presenting with hyperactive or impulsive symptoms; girls often go undiagnosed longer due to mostly inattentive symptoms.

ADHD affects the brain’s ability to learn and perform but also leads to social/emotional struggles. Day after day these kids unsuccessfully try to keep up with “average brain” expectations.

Frustration and low self-esteem trigger misbehavior that’s intended to distract from “below average” performance. Overall classroom productivity declines. Self-control is more difficult, but ADHD isn’t an excuse.

Dr. Ned Hallowell describes it this way, “It’s like your brain has the motor of a race car (powerful, fast, capable of enormous success) but with bicycle brakes.” Imagine trying to stop a powerful, fast moving racecar with the brakes of a bicycle. Sounds impossible, doesn’t it?

Fortunately, there is hope for “strengthening” the brakes. Research shows best practice is medication and therapy.

If your child is struggling with ADHD, or if you’ve sought help before that didn’t work, don’t quit. Contact your physician to discuss concerns. Consult the teacher, principal, social worker and any other valuable resources available.

They can provide diagnostic questionnaires, letters describing symptoms, referrals for treatment and encouragement. The sooner these issues are treated, the more positive the outcomes.

According to Dr. Alan Wachtel, psychiatrist and ADHD expert, “Untreated ADHD is among the most debilitating disorders to live with. Risks include: academic (failing, suspension and dropout), social (risky behavior) and emotional (anxiety/depression) problems. These issues follow a person into adulthood impacting job performance, marital/family relationships (2 times more likely to divorce), mental health and automobile safety. (Research shows untreated ADHD teens are more likely to destroy a vehicle than a drunk adult driver).  Children with ADHD who are not treated are more likely to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.”

Wachtel goes on to say, “If left untreated, adolescents will self-medicate. There is a 100 percent increased risk of substance abuse among this group of teens. Teens who self-medicate (typically progresses from tobacco to alcohol to marijuana to cocaine — all create focus for ADHD brain) will become calm and centered enough to read a book or concentrate on a task. Why wouldn’t they continue?”

Ask yourself, what are the risks of medicating my child? But don’t stop there. You must also ask, what are the risks if I don’t?

* The Importance of Family Rituals

By Sarah Postlewaite, Courier & Press, March 17, 2017 –

It’s no secret that all families are busy.  Besides homework, many families have music or sports practices, performances, club meetings and games.  In most families, one or both parents work while the kids and the parents are involved in various activities.

Our days and years go by so fast we hardly have time to breathe.  When we look back at the week, sometimes it’s hard to remember if the whole family spent any quality time together.

I grew up in a large, busy family, but I do remember having lots of quality time with both my parents and siblings.  My parents placed importance on family rituals. These rituals really shaped my childhood and were so ingrained in me that I now try to make them central to my own family.

Family rituals are important to the health and well-being of today’s families trying to juggle the busy demands of work, home and social lives.  Family rituals are powerful organizers of family life that offer stability during times of stress and transition.

One of the more common rituals is family dinnertime, sharing a family meal together one or more nights a week with no phones, electronics or other distractions.  Bedtime is also a great time to start a ritual, especially with smaller children.  Parents and children can end the night reading books, telling stories or sharing one good thing that happened that day.

Another option is choosing a day of the week that is less busy for your family and making that a “family day/night.”  When the weather is nice our family takes a Sunday night walk together or discusses the upcoming week over a small family meeting.

Of course there are always holidays and birthdays built in throughout the year that can be celebrated and made into special events with little money spent.

Whatever you choose to do with your family, just make sure the rituals created are tailored to the needs, attitudes, personalities and limitations of your family.  Try to work within the framework of your “real” life as much as possible.  Creating something that is tailored to your family life will help these rituals stay consistent, enjoyable and lasting.

Family rituals also give children a sense of belonging and validation.  They promote a sense of identity in the child, which will later serve as a basis for adult development.

The importance of recurring family rituals, from the simple decision to enforce an attendance policy for evening meals to more complex family gatherings cannot be over emphasized.

If we look at the possibilities in ritualizing some of our current family experiences, we begin to see ourselves, our families and our time with them in a different light.  Through the use of rituals we can help ourselves find extra time with our family that we may be missing.

* Mindfulness and Meditation

By Katherine Baker, Courier & Press, March 7, 2017 –

For the past three years, Youth First has been providing Dialectical Behavioral Training (DBT) to its social workers.  The concepts of mindfulness and meditation, which are part of DBT were new to me.

We are busy people with lots of responsibilities.  Most of us rarely take time for ourselves or our relationships.

The concepts of mindfulness and meditation can be intimidating.  After practicing DBT skills, however, I clearly see the benefits and how it can help you feel more peaceful and in control.

Mindfulness involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them.  Unfortunately, our society is prone to making judgments.

Our brains move from topic to topic.  We ignore and push feelings away.  We find it difficult to focus and concentrate.  Learning how to be mindful and “in the moment” can reduce the stress in your life, improve relationships, and help sharpen your concentration and focus.

One way to begin a mindfulness practice is to find a quiet place, sit in a chair or on the floor, take a few deep breaths, close your eyes and begin to focus on your breath for two minutes.  It sounds easy, but you may find your mind wandering.  If this happens, simply return your thoughts back to your breath.

Practice this daily and gradually work up to 10 minutes.  Relax and let your body and mind work together.

According to the website Greater Good (http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition), mindfulness is defined as maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment.

Some of the potential benefits of mindfulness listed in this article include the following:

  • Mindfulness is good for our bodies.  Practicing mindfulness and meditation boosts our  immune system’s ability to fight off illness.
  • Mindfulness is  good for our minds.  Several studies have found that mindfulness increases positive emotions while reducing negative emotions and stress.
  • Mindfulness helps us focus.  Studies suggest that mindfulness helps us  tune out distractions and improves our  memory  and  attention  skills.
  • Mindfulness  enhances relationships.  It helps people feel more accepting of and closer to one another.
  • Mindfulness is good for  parents  and  parents-to-be.  Studies suggest it may  reduce pregnancy-related anxiety, stress  and depression  in expectant parents.
  • Mindfulness helps schools.  There’s scientific evidence that teaching mindfulness in the classroom reduces behavior problems and aggression among students and improves their happiness levels and  ability to pay attention.
  • Mindfulness helps  health care professionals  cope with stress,  connect with their patients  and  improve their general quality of life.  It also helps  mental health professionals  by reducing negative emotions and anxiety and increasing their positive emotions and feelings of  self-compassion.
  • Mindfulness helps  veterans.  Studies suggest it can reduce the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the aftermath of war.
  • Mindfulness  fights obesity.  Practicing “mindful eating” encourages healthier eating habits, helps people lose weight  and helps them savor the food they eat.

Instead of worrying about what may happen, try mindfulness and meditation and be fully present.  You will be amazed at how quickly your stress levels decrease.

* Emotionally Preparing Your Child for Standardized Testing

By Amy Steele, LCSW, Courier & Press, February 28, 2017 –

The pressure children feel from standardized testing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety.  While low levels of anxiety can motivate students to study and perform well, severe anxiety can make it difficult for a child to go about their daily activities.

Some students experience physical symptoms of anxiety such as stomachaches, headaches, feeling too hot or too cold, or feeling like their heart is beating rapidly.  Others experience emotional symptoms such as “blanking out,” having difficulty paying attention, or experiencing trouble thinking clearly.  If your child describes these symptoms, talk to their teacher and the school social worker or school counselor about ways to help them.

Start preparing your child emotionally by understanding their feelings.  Talk to them about their feelings about the upcoming test, listen for the level of confidence they seem to have, and ask them what about the test worries them.

Particularly during times of stress, children need extra comfort, nurturing and understanding to help them feel secure and confident.  Build time into the day to give them some one-on-one attention.

Encouraging your child to talk about how they feel and listening to them with empathy assures them their feelings are normal.  Let them know you have confidence in them and believe they can do it.  Help them rehearse positive thoughts and statements, such as “I’ll do my best” or “I’ll show what I know.”

Teach them ways to relax or stay calm before or during the test by practicing at home, possibly before bedtime.  Have the child take a slow deep breath while spelling out their name, one slow deep breath as they say or think each letter.  Another way to help them relax is to talk through and imagine a scenario where they go to school, have a good day and feel calm as they take the test and do well.

Remind your child of the strengths, talents, and personal qualities that make them special and unique. Make sure they know those qualities go far beyond what a standardized test can measure.  Be specific so they can remember these valued qualities when they need to remember them most.

Finally, express your unconditional love to your child.  This gives them confidence, security and a relational bond that is a great boost for their hearts and their brains.

* Supporting and Facilitating Stress Management in Children & Teens *

By Vicki Kirkman, LCSW, LCAC – February 21, 2017 – Courier & Press –

Stress is a natural part of life and something everyone experiences.  It can be positive or negative and affect your daily life greatly if not managed appropriately.

In some situations, stress can motivate us to do better or work toward hard-to-reach goals.  Other circumstances can leave someone feeling overwhelmed, anxious and out of control.

Children and teens are affected by stress in several ways.  Parents need to remember that all children respond to situations differently.  What causes stress for one child or teen might not affect another one.

However, some stressors are common for children and teens.  These stressors include pressure at school, being involved in too many after-school activities, or conflict with friends and family.

Other big and complicated issues like divorce, death of a loved one, drug use, and financial problems at home contribute to stress.  Medical illnesses and world events like natural disasters or war can also be sources of stress.

It’s important for parents to recognize signs of stress in their children and help them manage it in a healthy manner.  Young children who are stressed out may complain of stomach aches, headaches or say they don’t feel well.  At school, they may visit the school nurse frequently or try to avoid attending school.  They may also be more tearful than normal, have trouble sleeping, wet the bed or not eat as much at meals.  Some children experience nightmares or have acting-out behavior such as outbursts and tantrums.

Teenagers can experience many physical reactions to stress.  Digestive problems and headaches, tense muscles, racing heart, frequent colds and feeling fatigued are all signs of stress.  Teens might also feel overly emotional, irritable, depressed and experience mood swings.

Mentally, teens with stress overload may feel forgetful, lack concentration and have a negative attitude.  Both children and teens often withdraw from activities they enjoy and isolate themselves from friends if they experience too much stress.

Parents can play a key role in helping their children and teens manage stress.  Most importantly, parents can model good coping skills and stress management in their own lives.  If children see their parents deal with stress in a healthy and positive manner, they are more likely to apply that to their own life.

Other ways parents can help their children are listed below.

  • Teach your kids how to identify their body’s cues for stress overload.  Pay attention to headaches, upset stomach, tearfulness or tense muscles.
  • Limit extra-curricular activities. Too many evenings participating in sports, extra lessons or just running errands can cause kids and teens to become tired and pressed for time to do homework or just relax.
  • Prepare ahead of time to avoid extra hassles. Lay out the next day’s clothes, pack lunches, put homework and bags in an easy place to grab, etc.
  • Monitor and limit exposure to television, social media and cell phone use. Phones should be put away at night so kids can sleep and not be tempted to text friends or surf the internet.
  • Encourage relaxation and leisurely activities with friends and family.
  • Get plenty of rest and eat a healthy diet.
  • Teach communication skills like problem-solving, good decision making and sharing feelings and thoughts with others.
  • Recognize when stress is too big of an issue to tackle alone. Don’t hesitate to speak to a counselor, social worker or doctor for extra support and help.

Stress management is crucial in life and best handled with the guidance of parents and supportive adults. By helping children and teens manage stress, they can be better prepared for life’s challenges.