Tips to Improve Your Child’s Executive Functioning Skills

Children's Center Now OpenThe first time you hear the term “executive functioning”, you may think it refers to the leaders of a worldwide conglomerate, but nothing could be further from the truth. Executive functioning is actually a life skill we learn in childhood. It forms the basis of the actions we perform every day. From taking a bath and getting dressed, to getting ready for school or doing homework, executive functioning helps us plan things, organize our lives, control our emotions, and learn from our mistakes. It lets us evaluate information, come up with a solution, and carry it out.

Some kids learn executive functioning with ease, but for others, it can be difficult to choose appropriate actions, develop time-management skills, or anticipate the consequences of their actions. Kids who have poor executive functioning often need constant guidance for simple tasks, such as packing their backpacks for school. They may forget to turn in the homework they worked on so diligently the evening before or have difficulty making decisions because they get bogged down in the mental strain of weighing pros and cons. Fortunately, there are ways to help these children acquire organizational skills. Apps, like our Giant Leap app, are great learning tools for, among other things, teaching behavior strategies and generating lists to help kids start and complete tasks.

Learning Tools for Executive Functioning

Executive functioning learning tools help children overcome struggles with organization and follow-through.

Some keys to building executive functioning abilities are:

  • Checklists – Checklists make tasks easier for a child with executive dysfunction. Often, these kids don’t follow through because they can’t visualize the steps required to complete a task, but a checklist lays it all out in front of them. You can make a checklist for anything. If your child consistently misses the bus, for example, you can make a checklist of the things he/she needs to do before leaving the house. This eliminates their need to ponder what they’ve just done and trying to decide what they must do next. Instead, when they follow a checklist, they know they have to move from brushing their teeth to putting on their clothes, then onto putting on their jacket, and picking up their back pack. Laying things out the night before can also help eliminate morning drama.
  • Planners – Teach your child to write things down. No one can remember everything, and noting tasks in a planner or on a checklist ensures they won’t forget to do it.
  • Rationale – Remember when your child was about two years old and constantly asked, “Why?” In the same way, children who have trouble with executive functioning do better when they understand the reason behind what they need to do. Without a rationale, they may feel like planning or following a chart is a waste of time.
  • Figure out how your child learns best. Are they visual learners? Then charts and apps are great for them. Are they tactile learners? Counting necessary steps on their fingers might be better for these types. Do they learn more easily when they hear something? Try laying out the steps for something like a homework routine in story form or in a song.
  • Make it a routine – this is especially good for older children. Set a time to start the task and a time limit in which to finish it. Practice breaking down tasks with your child so they develop an awareness of how long something takes, which allows them to better plan their time. For instance, a child might need thirty minutes to write a book report, but not think about the fact they need three days to read the book. Learning to think through each step of a task also builds organization skills and helps the child anticipate that Step A comes before Step B, etc. In the book report example, a child might think about the task of selecting a book and the task of writing the report. If they have executive dysfunction, they may completely forget they have to read the book or turn in the report.

Apps Turn Daily Routines into Fun Activities

For children who can’t read (and even those who can), the colorful images on an app can make all the difference. Eye-catching charts and graphics give the child something to focus on. They also make it easier for these kids to understand the bigger picture – for example, by showing when a task needs to be completed or by listing action steps that need to be taken.

Once parents set up their child’s chart, these visual aids help the child see the tasks they need to complete. Additionally, engaging images capture kid’s attention, making it more likely that these visual reminders will instill the routine in the child’s mind.

Some apps, like our Giant Leap app, are customizable. This flexibility allows parents to generate personalized charts with the specific behaviors their child needs to learn. Giant Leap gives children executive functioning issues an easy way to stay organized and can support their unique needs. Additionally, Giant Leap permits parents to update their child’s charts in real time within the app and allows them to print each chart out for daily or weekly use.

Apps encourage consistency and make daily routines easier to set and follow. When a child completes the tasks on their chart, they not only begin to acquire executive functions, they also gain self-confidence. Successfully learning organization skills translates to self-reliant, responsible in kids and gives them the tools they need for future success.

Learn More about Giant Leap and Executive Functioning

For information about how our Giant Leap app can help your child improve their executive functioning skills, contact the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 223-6568.

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School Violence – Tips for Dealing with This Week’s Mass Shooting

The nation has been horrified to hear about another school shooting. For many in South Florida, however, the trauma surrounding school violence has hit particularly hard because this week’s shooting happened right in our own backyard. Many people likely know someone or know of a family with a child who attends the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. Because of this, you might find it challenging to deal with your feelings about the event.

Keep in mind that it is normal to experience strong emotions, such as anger, fear, sadness, grief, and shock – even if you don’t know someone who is personally connected to the shooting. You might also have trouble concentrating or difficulty sleeping and you may even feel numb when talking about the incident with others. All of these reactions are typical responses of trauma psychology.

Tips for Overcoming Trauma

It will take a while to move past this heartbreaking tragedy, but we have some tips for managing your emotions during this horrific time. Following these guidelines can help you build resilience – the inner strength that you can draw on when you’re exposed to trauma or adversity.

  • Take care of yourself. It’s significantly harder to work through strong emotions when you’re tired or not eating well. Try to eat a balanced diet and get plenty of rest. Set aside some time during the day for physical exercise, which is proven to reduce stress. Also, try not to use alcohol or drugs to dull your emotional pain – studies show they intensify negative emotions.
  • Turn off the news coverage of the event. Watching endless repeats of the news coverage overexposes you the anxiety and raw emotions of the violence. Reading numerous reports on the internet can increase your stress. In particular, images of the school violence can prolong episodes of distress or trigger new anxiety about the event. Try to focus on something positive to help raise your optimism, which will, in turn, help you feel more encouraged.
  • Keep to your routines. Patterns can provide a sense of comfort and security when your world has turned upside down.
  • Don’t suppress your feelings. Everyone processes a stressful situation in different ways. Give yourself time to mourn the tragedy and remember that working through grief takes a long time. Don’t try to rush it. If you have a more intense reaction than you feel you should, talk to a mental health professional.
  • Talk about it with others. By sharing your shock and distress, you’ll feel more supported, less alone, and less overwhelmed.
  • Help out someone else. Not only does being of service to someone distract you from life’s problems, it boosts serotonin levels which helps you feel more positive.
  • If you and your family or friends have been directly impacted by this mass shooting, you will experience some form of grief. You may also have some survivor’s guilt, particularly if you have a loved one who was at the school during the violence. You may feel alone and want to avoid others. Grief is unpredictable – it can seem to lessen, then reappear when you least expect it. Milestones, such as birthday or holidays, will often trigger a fresh round of mourning. Understand that this is part of grief and grieving is a long process.

*If you can’t move past this school violence or another traumatic event that has happened in your life, it may be beneficial to seek out a support group or turn to a qualified, licensed mental health professional in order to move forward. It is especially important to do so if you are unable to carry out the daily tasks of living, such as sleeping, eating, and other functions.

The Aftermath of School Violence – We Can Help

Our Children’s Center  has specially trained clinicians on staff to help those who need help dealing with the school shooting or other traumatic situations. For more information, contact The Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 223-6568.

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SMART Goals Method Teaches Kids About Goal Setting

We’ve gotten through the first month of a new year and many of us have already abandoned our New Year’s resolutions. As adults, we have good intentions about goal setting for things we want to work on or change throughout the year. Stating a goal is easy, however, while actually seeing it through can be much tougher. Goal setting and accomplishing objectives can be even more challenging for kids because they have a much harder time envisioning the future outcome, which makes it difficult for them to keep their eye on the prize. But, what if there was a way to help children learn how to set specific goals and teach them how to attain them? This is where working on SMART goals can help.

SMART is an acronym that stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable, Achievable
  • Realistic and Relevant
  • Time-Limited and Trackable

For kids (and some parents), goal setting through the SMART goals method teaches an important life skill that simplifies an ambition and breaks it down into actionable steps, making it more likely to be achieved. The great thing about SMART goals is that this method can be used for any type of goal setting, ranging from something like aiming to read a certain amount of books as a child, to more difficult tasks like paying off debt as an adult – and everything in between.

SMART Goals Examples

A goal is an outcome that will make a difference when you achieve it. Measurable goals can’t be too ambitious that they’re out of reach, but they also shouldn’t be so simple that it’s not challenging to attain it. The goal should be realistic, but should require attention and effort to achieve it. That’s one of the reasons goals need to be trackable and time-limited, and why measurable action steps need to be step up. That way, you can keep track of progress and make adjustments to the steps as necessary.

Breaking down each step, here are some SMART goals examples:

  • Specific – Don’t say, “I want to get better grades in school.” Do frame the desire for better grades in the form of something such as, “I will get all B’s and higher on my report card.” Stating the specific goal in concrete terms helps it become measurable.
  • Measurable – How will you know when you’ve achieved your goal? In the case of getting better grades, you’ll know if you’ve succeeded when the next grading period ends and you can see the results of your efforts.
  • Attainable (Achievable) – It’s probably unlikely that a student could go from mid-level grades to making straight A’s in one grading period, so they would want to set a goal they know they have a good chance of hitting. Don’t say, “I will make all straight A’s on my next report card.” Instead, do say, “I will raise all my grades by one letter by the end of the next grading period.
  • Realistic and Relevant – Again, it’s going to be tough (and, therefore, self-defeating) to try to go from C-grades to straight A’s all at once. Raising grades by one level is realistic, however, setting this goal won’t matter unless it’s relevant to the child. Is the goal something they are excited about attaining?
  • Time-limited and Trackable – Using the goal of raising grades on a report card, a time-limited goal would be to set the goal of achieving the result by the end of the next grading period or maybe the end of the school year. This goal is trackable if the child (and you) have a way of keeping tabs on their grades. Talk to the teachers to see if they’d be willing to give the child progress reports to help keep them motivated. Another way to track results is by keeping a chart of grades from papers, tests, and projects, so your child can get an idea of their progress. Keep the age of the child in mind – preschoolers have much shorter attention span. Their goals need to have a shorter time period.

The biggest barrier to attaining goals is that they are often too lofty and hard to achieve. By using the SMART goals method of goal setting, you can break your goals down into detailed, manageable chunks and set up action plans and benchmarks that will keep you focused on the end result.

Our Giant Leap App Helps with SMART Goals

Our Giant Leap app contains customizable charts that give your child a visual reminder of their SMART goals. Eye-catching charts and graphics give kids something to focus on and makes it easier for them to understand the bigger picture – for example, by listing actions that need to be taken. In addition, the app’s colorful images engage and hold children’s attention, which is particularly important for young children who can’t read. For added convenience, Giant Leap lets parents update their child’s charts in real time within the app and allows them print charts out for daily or weekly use, if needed.

For more information, contact the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 223-6568.

 

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Is Medical Marijuana Use Linked to an Increase Anxiety and Depression?

As of this blog post, 30 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico have all approved the broad use of medical marijuana. In addition, several other states allow limited medical use and 8 states (plus the District of Columbia) allow recreational use of pot. Even though the use of marijuana is becoming more acceptable, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) still classifies pot and weed (marijuana) as a Schedule I substance, meaning it is likely to be abused and it completely lacks medical value. Because of this classification, there hasn’t been much research into the efficacy of the drug for medical conditions. In particular, we lack long-term studies that would tell us whether it is safe and/or effective when used over a long period of time.

What we do know is that, in our clinical practice – and in those of colleagues in other practices – we have seen an increase in the number of incidents of anxiety, depression, panic attacks and even psychotic reactions since marijuana use has become more mainstream.

Did you know that:

  • THC, the primary chemical in marijuana, is believed to stimulate areas of the brain responsible for feelings of fear.
  • A 2015 study found that university-aged young adults are more likely to have a higher risk of developing depression from heavy marijuana use.
  • Numerous research studies show that marijuana is an addictive substance. The more you use it, the more you need to use in order to get the same “high.”
  • Frequent or heavy use in adolescence can be a predictor of depression or anxiety later on in life – especially for girls.
  • According to available scientific literature, people who use weed have higher levels of depression and depressive symptoms than those who do not use cannabis.
  • Scientific evidence suggests cannabis use can trigger the onset of schizophrenia and other psychoses in those already at risk of developing it.
  • Even if using cannabis seems to alleviate symptoms in the short-term for some users, it can lead to delay in getting appropriate treatment.

Recreational Marijuana vs. Medical Marijuana

Whether it’s used recreationally or medicinally, both forms of pot are the same product. The medical version contains cannabinoids just like recreational marijuana. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the main chemicals found in the medical form.

Although medical marijuana is used for many conditions (among them: multiple sclerosis (MS), seizure disorders, cancer and glaucoma), its effectiveness hasn’t been proven. “The greatest amount of evidence for the therapeutic effects of cannabis relate to its ability to reduce chronic pain, nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy, and spasticity[tight or stiff muscles] from MS,” says Marcel Bonn-Miller, PhD, a substance abuse specialist at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.

Mental Illness and Psychoactive Substances

As we’ve said, right now there aren’t many studies out there on the relationship between marijuana use and mental illnesses, such as anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder. However, there was a study done in 2017 which examined marijuana use in conjunction with the depression and anxiety symptoms in 307 psychiatry outpatients who had depression (Bahorik et al., 2017). The results of this study showed that “marijuana use worsened depression and anxiety symptoms; marijuana use led to poorer mental health functioning.” In addition, the research found that medical marijuana was associated with inferior physical health functioning.

A big part of the problem with using marijuana either medically or recreationally is that there is no way to regulate the amount of THC you’re getting in the product, because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t oversee it. This means that both the ingredients and the strength of them can vary quite a lot. “We did a study last year [in 2016] in which we purchased labeled edible products, like brownies and lollipops, in California and Washington. Then we sent them to the lab,” Bonn-Miller says. “Few of the products contained anywhere near what they said they did. That’s a problem.”

Another area of concern is that, as we know from regulated psychiatric medications, one dose may affect you differently than it affects your sibling or a friend. People are unique – each person’s reaction to a medication will vary, which is why psychiatric medications are monitored by the prescribing doctor so that the dosage can be adjusted for your specific needs.

Be Careful with Marijuana Use

In summary, if you choose to use marijuana either recreationally or medically, be careful. Talk to the physician who authorized it, or speak with a mental health professional if you find yourself experiencing the symptoms of depression or anxiety, or if you have panic attacks that begin or worsen while you are using marijuana. Additionally, be sure your doctor knows your psychiatric history before they authorize medical marijuana for you, especially if you have been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, experience panic attacks or have bipolar disorder or psychosis.

Do You Have Questions?

We can answer your questions about marijuana use and how it affects anxiety, depression, or other conditions. The mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida are here to help. For more information, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

Reference:  Bahorik, Amber L.; Leibowitz, Amy; Sterling, Stacy A.; Travis, Adam; Weisner, Constance; Satre, Derek D. (2017). Patterns of marijuana use among psychiatry patients with depression and its impact on recovery. Journal of Affective Disorders, 213, 168-171).

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Virtual Reality Apps Are Helping Children With Anxiety

Sometimes it isn’t easy to go through childhood. There’s a big, scary world out there and new activities or experiences can often bring up anxiety in children. But, what if there was a way for your child to experience a new scenario in a safe, nurturing way so they could reduce their anxiety before taking part in the activity? Enter virtual reality apps. The growing field of virtual reality therapy is combining cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and in-vivo exposure therapy in a fun way – on a powerful and engaging game-like platform that children can easily relate to.

How Can VR Apps Help My Child?

The Children’s Center’s innovative Giant Leap app is great example of a high-tech solution that gives kids control over their fears. Giant Leap and other VR apps can be used in a variety of scenarios, such as:

  • Helping to reduce school anxiety
  • Addressing the child’s concerns before a visit to the doctor
  • Calming their separation anxiety when staying home with a babysitter

For example, one child might be apprehensive about classroom interaction in school, while another may worry about an upcoming medical procedure, such as getting an MRI. Both kids could conquer their fears by watching exposure stories on the app, which will show them what to expect from the upcoming experience.

VR apps can also be used to manage behaviors and teach your child emotional regulation techniques. Featuring customizable avatars that can be configured to match your child’s hair color, style, and skin tone (and can even use a photo of your child), these entertaining virtual reality apps encourage independence and motivate kids through stories, videos, and flexible charts and reward systems.

How Effective Are Virtual Reality Apps?

Studies are showing that virtual reality apps amplify the areas of the brain that are related to attention and control. The result is that children:

  • Strengthen their daily living skills
  • Learn emotional regulation techniques
  • Report having more control when faced with real-life issues

Animated stories like the ones provided on the Giant Leap app gradually expose the child, via their avatar, to the scenario they are worried about (for example: visiting the dentist). Kids work through one scene at a time, at their own pace, until they are ready to move forward to the next one on their own. These meaningful, close-to-life scenarios offer immediate feedback, which greatly enhances the child’s ability to cope under stress.

Furthermore, positive behavior can be learned and reinforced through virtual reality apps and tailored to each child’s individual needs. Flexible programs allow parents to customize the app to their child’s specific activities and situations while encouraging routines and building life skills. By motivating and rewarding appropriate behavior, children learn to function independently, and gain powerful tools that lead to future success.

Learn More About Our Giant Leap App

For more information about how virtual reality apps like our Giant Leap app can help with child anxiety treatment, contact the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 223-6568.

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Meet Dr. Andrew Rosen

Our very own Dr. Rosen was recently interviewed by VoyageMIA! See the full interview here.

Dr. Rosen, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.

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