All Posts in Category: General

Benefits of Psychological Assessment for Children

If someone has suggested that your child might benefit from a psychological assessment, you may be confused about the need for one and wonder what takes place during a meeting or evaluation with our child psychologists.

Children may be referred for a psychological assessment for a variety of reasons. Among other things, they may be depressed or anxious, have attention or behavior problems at home or in school, be subjected to bullying, or have a learning disorder. Often when kids are struggling in school or seem to be behind their peers developmentally, a counselor or teacher will suggest the child undergo a psychological assessment.

The results of this type of evaluation will reveal which areas the child is doing well in and which are the ones he or she might need to address (for example: an undiagnosed learning disability).  Dr. Ryan Seidman, the Clinical Director here at the Children’s Center notes that, “Having your child evaluated can promote improvement in academic and emotional functioning.”

Who Performs a Psychological Assessment?

Assessments are done by specially trained child psychologists who are experts at what they do. These mental health professionals evaluate the child’s strengths and weaknesses, then work with parents and teachers to formulate an approach to help the child progress.

What Happens During a Child’s Psychology Test?

These evaluations aren’t intimidating the way an “actual” test can be. It is best if the child is relaxed during the assessment, so the evaluation isn’t a pass or fail test like the kind you would normally study for.

During a psychological assessment, the child psychologist will:

  • Interview (talk with) the child and their parents to learn more about their emotional and behavioral skills, in addition to their neurological functioning in areas such as spatial processing. In some cases, they may also talk to the child’s teachers or others who know the child well.
  • Will observe the child during the evaluation. Depending on the reason for the test, the child psychologist may also visit the child at home or at school to further evaluate their interactions with others.
  • Will have the child complete a standardized test. These tests have been taken by many people and allow the child psychologist to compare your child’s results with those of others in order to assess a range of abilities. They want to know how the child functions in areas such as behavior or movement (dexterity) and in subjects like reading, writing and math.
  • May evaluate medical records, school records, or interview or test the child’s parents or teachers to learn more about the child.

Psychological testing isn’t a quick evaluation. The assessment often takes several hours to complete and likely will involve more than one session to be certain the psychologist has all the details about a child. By putting all the information together, the child psychologist comes to an understanding of where a child needs assistance and can develop strategies to help the child reach their full potential.

What Happens When We Get the Results of a Psychological Assessment?

When the testing is complete, the child psychologist will go over the results with the child’s parents. Keep in mind that the outcomes do not reveal 100% of a child’s potential, abilities or skills. Rather, the evaluation is used as a way to learn about the child’s “present functioning level” emotionally, in their school and home environments, how they learn, and their strengths and weaknesses.

The child psychologist will discuss areas in which the child does well and offer suggestions to help them improve in areas that need to be addressed. If the child is diagnosed with a learning disability, or a behavioral or emotional issue, recommendations will be made for ways to help the child manage that specific concern or problem.

By evaluating and understanding where the child has issues, child psychologists can provide positive coping strategies, reduce the child’s stress and enrich their competence and well being.

Learn More about Children’s Psychological Assessment

For more information about how our child psychologists can evaluate your child through psychological assessment, 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 Bullying – Defense for your Child

October is National Bullying Prevention month. During the entire month, schools and organizations work together to increase awareness of school bullying and help prevent its impact on children.

School bullying is the use of power to control another person. The student who is being bullied may have a hard time defending themselves or may be unable to guard against these attacks. Bullying always intends to harm the targeted child – usually psychologically, but sometimes physically, as well. Additionally, bullying is carried out by the same person or the same group of people who repeatedly go after the same child.

The children most at risk of being bullied are those who:

  • Are less popular than others
  • Have low self-esteem
  • Have few friends
  • Are depressed or anxious

Bullies usually:

  • Have social power
  • Like to dominate others
  • Are concerned about their popularity
  • Often also have issues with low self-esteem
  • Are aggressive and often act impulsively
  • Are easily pressured by their peers

Most bullying happens in middle school and about 1 in 4 children report having been verbally or socially bullied at school.

Types of Bullying

While bullying can be physical (for example: hitting, fighting, or forcing a person to do something they don’t want to do) or verbal (teasing, name-calling, threatening someone), today’s children also face social bullying:

  • Cyber bullying – Kids practically live on social media, but this has created an environment in which the bully can be anonymous. Since they don’t have to face their target or witness the effects of their bullying, they don’t have to be sympathetic about the pain they are causing. Texting and social media allows the bully free reign to post embarrassing pictures, make rude comments, or post humiliating videos almost instantly and without recourse.
  • Social Alienation – In social bullying, the idea is to damage someone’s reputation, get them excluded from social activities, and to get others to avoid them. This can often be accomplished by cyber bullying.
  • Slut shaming – censuring a female’s character in sexual terms in order to embarrass, humiliate, or intimidate her for actions that are a normal part of female sexuality. For example: a male teen may be praised for his sexual experimentation, however a girl may be bullied and called a slut. This scenario has been explored in Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why show (you can read our recent article about it here. In the show, the girl who is slut-shamed ends up committing suicide.

What are the Effects of School Bullying?

A child who is bullied may avoid situations and interactions with others that could actually be positive for them. The effects of school bullying can create depression and anxiety disorders in the child who is being attacked. Often this depression and anxiety will stay with the youth and follow them into adulthood. In fact, someone who was bullied in school is more likely to be the target of workplace harassment as an adult.

The symptoms of school bullying can be both physical and emotional. Your child may experience:

  • School refusal
  • Headaches, stomachaches or other aches or pains throughout their body
  • Weight loss
  • Nightmares and/or sleeplessness

Fight Back against Bullying

StopBullying.gov offers the following suggestions to help stop school bullying.

They say:

  • Look at the kid bullying you and tell him or her to stop in a calm, clear voice. You can also try to laugh it off. This works best if joking is easy for you. It could catch the kid bullying you off guard.
  • If speaking up seems too hard or not safe, walk away and stay away. Don’t fight back. Find an adult to stop the bullying on the spot.

StopBullying.gov also lists things your child can do to stay safe in the future:

  • Talk to an adult you trust. Don’t keep your feelings inside. Telling someone can help you feel less alone. They can help you make a plan to stop the bullying.
  • Stay away from places where bullying happens.
  • Stay near adults and other kids. Most bullying happens when adults aren’t around.
  • Stand up for others When you see bullying, there are safe things you can do to make it stop.
  • Talk to a parent, teacher, or another adult you trust. Adults need to know when bad things happen so they can help.
  • Be kind to the kid being bullied. Show them that you care by trying to include them. Sit with them at lunch or on the bus, talk to them at school, or invite them to do something. Just hanging out with them will help them know they aren’t alone.

Additionally, child psychologists, such as the professionals here at The Children’s Center, can work with your son or daughter to develop coping techniques that will teach them how to react in particular situations. Child psychologists can also help bullying victims rebuild their self-esteem and confidence so that future harassment can be avoided.

In all cases of school bullying, it’s important to seek help and report the incident as soon as possible. Ignoring the issue often makes it worse because the bully begins to think it is okay to continue hurting others. Additionally, the targeted child sometimes begins to believe what is being said about them.

We Can Help

For more information about how we can help your child learn to defend against school bullying, 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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Autistic Children Find Help through Virtual Reality Therapy

Children with autism and Asperger’s often have phobias that limit their interaction with others. One child may be fearful of any social gathering, another of going shopping, while someone else may be afraid heights or be terrified to be in a crowd of people. These phobias can be so difficult for the child to experience, that often family members will go out of their way to avoid a situation they know will trigger the child’s fears. Additionally, children with Asperger’s syndrome and autism spectrum disorders often have trouble with safety boundaries that others take for granted, such as needing to stay within their own yard or being able to cross a street without harm. But, studies are showing that the new field of virtual reality therapy can help autistic children learn to manage everyday situations, allowing them to live a more normal life.

How Does Virtual Reality Therapy Work?

Virtual reality therapy (VR therapy) is a computer-based simulation of the world around us. It is multi-sensory, providing both visual and auditory environments that can be configured to mimic a setting. By going through VR therapy, an autistic child can challenge and overcome their fears in a safe setting and in a way that gives them control.

With virtual reality therapy, a simulated environment allows the child to use an avatar to interact with others. Reminiscent of a video game, the children move their avatar through the program while a therapist views the session and provides coaching and feedback to the child. The kids have the ability to pause, repeat, or review their avatar’s interaction inside the setting until they feel confident about the situation.

How Can VR Therapy Help Autistic Children?

Among other applications, virtual reality therapy is being used to teach or enhance social cognition skills and emotion recognition to help children with autism become more comfortable in social settings. Social interaction is often a source of discomfort for autistic children because the syndrome keeps them from picking up on the subtle social signals most people take for granted. In fact, Daniel Smith, the senior director of discovery science at Autism Speaks has said, “Virtual reality and avatar-based programs may be especially promising for people with autism who are uncomfortable in social interactions where subtle social cues are important.”

Studies have proven that virtual reality therapy can actually rewire the regions of the brain that relate to social skills. VR therapy also amplifies those areas that relate to attention and information exchange. The result is an increased understanding and awareness of social signals and a higher perception of the back and forth exchanges that is the foundation of conversation.

In addition to teaching social skills for circumstances such as attending school, sitting for a job interview, going to the mall, or going on a date, VR therapy has helped teens and children overcome more physical situations involving things like a fear of heights, phobias surrounding crowds, and traveling on a school bus. Because the virtual simulations can be configured to show real-world settings, they can be adapted to conform to each child’s specific fears.

For example: for a child who is afraid of heights, VR therapy can create a situation in which the child – via their avatar – experiences riding an escalator or crossing a bridge. The scenario introduces the child to the situation slowly and increases the stimulus as they learn to desensitize their fear and build up their tolerance.  The child is given encouragement and feedback by a child psychologist and has full control of the scene, so they can turn back or go to an earlier (less frightening) version whenever they need to.

After working through these phobias, the children are able to transfer their new skills to real-life situations – something that is usually difficult for autistic children because they focus on details instead of intangible perspectives. By targeting a child’s specific fears, virtual reality therapy provides real world scenarios with immediate feedback, which greatly enhances the child’s ability to cope under stress.

Need More Information about Autism and Virtual Reality Therapy?

Our warm and welcoming Children’s Center offers a wide range of clinical, therapeutic, educational and supportive services specifically for children ages two through twenty two.

For more information about how our skilled professional can use virtual reality therapy to help with your child’s autism, 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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PANDAS Disease Following a Strep Throat Infection

PANDAS disease (short for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections) isn’t a true disease. Instead, it is a rare disorder that can occur in children following a strep throat infection. With PANDAS strep, the child’s body sets up an immune response to the invading streptococcus bacteria, but ends up attacking the child’s own tissues in addition to the strep bacteria. The result is inflammation within the brain, and the dramatic onset of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), tics, intense anxiety and other debilitating symptoms.

The hallmark of PANDAS is that these new symptoms and disorders appear or worsen very suddenly. In fact, parents say they come “out of the blue” or that their child changes “overnight.” Keep in mind that children who have been previously diagnosed with OCD or tics will always have their good days and their bad days, so an upswing in symptoms does not necessarily mean the child has PANDAS disease just because they’ve had a throat infection. With PANDAS disease, however, the child’s tics or OCD would flare up dramatically and continue to stay elevated anywhere from several weeks to several months.

PANDAS Symptoms

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that the diagnosis of PANDAS syndrome is strictly a clinical diagnosis. There are no lab tests that can diagnose the PANDAS disorder. Additionally, the diagnosis of PANDAS is controversial, so some clinicians either don’t understand it or may overlook the syndrome.

Currently, the only way to determine whether a child has PANDAS disease is to look at the clinical features of the illness, so health care providers use diagnostic criteria to make a PANDAS diagnosis.

NIMH’s diagnostic criteria for PANDAS:

  • Presence of obsessive-compulsive disorder and/or a tic disorder
  • Pediatric onset of symptoms (age 3 years to puberty)
  • Episodic course of symptom severity (see information below)
  • Association with group A Beta-hemolytic streptococcal infection (a positive throat culture for strep or history of scarlet fever)
  • Association with neurological abnormalities (physical hyperactivity, or unusual, jerky movements that are not in the child’s control)
  • Very abrupt onset or worsening of symptoms

If the symptoms have been present for more than a week, blood tests may be done to document a preceding streptococcal infection.

Additionally, the NIMH reports that children with PANDAS often experience one or more of the following symptoms in conjunction with their OCD and/or tics:

  • ADHD symptoms (hyperactivity, inattention, fidgety)
  • Separation anxiety (child is “clingy” and has difficulty separating from his/her caregivers; for example, the child may not want to be in a different room in the house from his or her parents)
  • Mood changes, such as irritability, sadness, emotional lability (tendency to laugh or cry unexpectedly at what might seem the wrong moment)
  • Trouble sleeping, night-time bed-wetting, day-time frequent urination or both
  • Changes in motor skills (e.g. changes in handwriting)
  • Joint pains

PANDAS Disease Risk Factors

The risk factors for PANDAS syndrome are:

  • A family history of rheumatic fever
  • The child’s mother has a personal history of an autoimmune disease
  • The child has a history of recurrent group A streptococcal infections
  • PANDAS is more common in males
  • It is more common in prepubescent children

PANDAS Syndrome Treatment

Treatment for PANDAS disorder is medication to treat the strep throat infection (*Tip: Sterilize or replace toothbrushes during and following the antibiotics treatment, to make sure that the child isn’t re-infected with strep.). Treatment also includes medications to control the neuropsychological symptoms and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help with the child’s OCD or ADHD symptoms.

Research does not indicate long-term penicillin use to try to prevent recurrence of PANDAS disorder. Current information suggests the syndrome is caused by the antibodies produced by the child’s body in response to the streptococcus bacteria, not by the actual bacteria itself. Research also does not support the removal of the child’s tonsils strictly to prevent recurrence of PANDAS disease.

Have Questions about PANDAS Disease?

If you are concerned your child may have PANDAS syndrome after a strep throat infection, we can help. Our Children’s Center focuses specifically on offering a variety of clinical, therapeutic, educational and supportive services to children ages two through twenty two in a warm and welcoming environment.

To learn more, 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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How Does Virtual Reality Therapy Help School Anxiety?

The start of a new school year is just around the corner. While many children are happy about heading back to the classroom and seeing their friends again, for some kids, a new school year embodies fear and school anxiety. But, what if your child could go into their classroom in a non-threatening way, interact with a new teacher and classmates, and learn effective methods for coping with the anxiety-inducing situations they dread in school? With virtual reality therapy, they can do just that.

This innovative treatment is emerging as a high-tech solution that lets kids challenge their fears in a safe, realistic environment, but in a way that gives them control. VR therapy can be used across age groups and can be adjusted to the child’s developmental age as they mature.

Additionally, this therapy can be tailored to vary the complexity of school phobia scenarios. For example, one child might be apprehensive about taking exams, while another dreads interaction with their peers. Both can be helped with virtual reality therapy, which is a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and in-vivo exposure therapy, but with a state of the art twist.

For example, if your child has a high level of test anxiety, as studies indicate anywhere from 15% to 25% of students do, virtual reality therapy will allow them to mimic test taking in a non- or less stressful environment (just like in-vivo exposure does) in order to overcome their negative thought patterns (“I always fail tests.”) through cognitive behavioral therapy. In a test-taking scenario, the virtual reality simulated distractions and stresses of taking exams would be minimal to start with, and then slowly be increased as the child learns to process and adjust to them. At the end of the therapy, the child will be able to face an exam with reduced or minimal fear.

What Happens During Virtual Reality Therapy?

Because most kids relate so well to video games, virtual reality exposure therapy seamlessly integrates treatment with real-world interface. It helps children retrain their brain so they have a defense against problems like meeting a new peer or being bullied, which makes them feel more comfortable about situations at school. VR therapy has also been successful in teaching or improving social cognitive skills and emotion recognition in high-functioning autistic children.

When kids go through VR therapy, they first learn coping skills to help them stay calm under a stressful circumstance. Once they are comfortable with these strategies, they continue on to virtual reality therapy, where they view computer-generated environments and use an avatar to experience interactions with adults and other kids.

As you can see in this Today Show video, the teens have the freedom to pause or review and repeat their avatar’s interaction with others inside the setting until they feel confident about the situation. A therapist listens in on the virtual reality session and offers feedback and coaching to help the child navigate the difficulties that have created their school refusal.

Studies have shown that virtual reality therapy actually “rewires” the brain so that the areas relating to sociability and attention are heightened. This leads to increased awareness and understanding of social cues, enhanced perception of the give and take in conversations, and more control when faced with real-life school issues. In studies done after kids have gone through virtual reality exposure therapy, scans have shown that the regions in the brain associated with social skills and those sections that exchange information during social interactions are heightened.

This interactive and visually stimulating approach to treating school anxiety delivers a dynamic platform that can simulate an unlimited number of phobia situations. By targeting a child’s specific fears, it provides meaningful close-to-life scenarios with immediate feedback, which greatly enhances the child’s ability to cope under stress.

Did You Know?

Our Children’s Center focuses specifically on offering a variety of clinical, therapeutic, educational and supportive services to children ages two through twenty two in a warm and welcoming environment.

For more information about how our child psychologist team can use virtual reality therapy for your child’s school refusal, 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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Sexual Abuse by Teachers is on the Rise

Lately, it seems like it has become common to see news stories involving the arrest of teachers who are being charged with sexual abuse and misconduct involving their students, some of whom are as young as 11 years old. Schools are expected to be a safe environment for children, but these arrests make people realize kids aren’t as safe as we’d like them to be when we send them off to school.

Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct & Exploitation (SESAME) is an organization that describes itself as a national voice for prevention of abuse by educators and other school employees. It has compiled alarming statistics on the incidences of sexual abuse in schools nationwide, reporting that just under 500 educators were arrested in 2015 (2016 statistics were unavailable as of this writing):

  • Of children in 8th through 11th grade, about 3.5 million students (nearly 7%) surveyed reported having had physical sexual contact from an adult (most often a teacher or coach). The type of physical contact ranged from unwanted touching of their body, all the way up to sexual intercourse.
  • This statistic increases to about 4.5 million children (10%) when it takes other types of sexual misconduct into consideration, such as being shown pornography or being subjected to sexually explicit language or exhibitionism.
  • Very often, other teachers “thought there might be something going on”, but were afraid to report a fellow educator if they were wrong. They didn’t want to be responsible for “ruining a person’s life,” although that is exactly what they are doing to the child if they don’t speak up, thus allowing the abuse to continue.

Reasons for the Increase in Sexual Misconduct

So, why are we suddenly seeing a rise in the number of cases of sexual misconduct and teacher/student relationships? It may be partially due to more transparency as schools seek to report what they formerly kept hidden and tried to deal with on their own. More than likely, however, the upward trend is due to the use of social media and cell phones.

The Washington Post ran a story in 2015 that related how about 80% of children age 12 – 17 had a cell phone and 94% had a Facebook account that year. In 2014, The Post says about 35% of the educators convicted or accused of sexual misconduct had used social media to gain access to their victims or to continue the teacher – student relationship.

Today’s technology makes it easy for predators to discreetly prey on children. Students usually have their phones with them at all times, which allows the perpetrator free and unmonitored access to the child. Even children without cell phones can be targeted through their laptop, tablet, or personal computer.

  • The Department of Justice notes that about 15% of children in the 12 – 17 age group who own a cell phone have received nude, semi-nude, or sexually suggestive images of someone they know via text.
  • 11% of teenagers and young adults say they have shared naked pictures of themselves online or via text message. Of those, 26% are trusting enough to think the person to whom they sent the nude pictures wouldn’t share them with anyone else.
  • About 26% of teenagers and young adults say they have participated in sexting.

Signs of Sexual Abuse by Teachers

If you are concerned your child might be being sexually abused, there are warning signs you can look for. Keep in mind that the presence of one sign doesn’t necessarily mean your child is in danger, but seeing several signs should alert you to the need to ask questions.

In general:

  • Unexplained nightmares or sleep problems
  • Refusal to eat, loss of appetite, or trouble swallowing
  • Sudden mood swings, insecurity, or withdrawal
  • A new or unusual fear of a certain person or place
  • Exhibits knowledge of adult sexual behaviors and language
  • Draws, writes, dreams, or talks about frightening images or sexual acts
  • Thinks of themselves or their body as “bad” or “dirty”
  • Not wanting to be hugged or touched

In teens or adolescents:

  • Running away from home
  • Drug or alcohol abuse or may be sexually promiscuous
  • Either stops caring about bodily appearance or compulsively eats or diets obsessively
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Attempting suicide

What to do if You Suspect Sexual Misconduct by an Educator

If your child tells you about being abused or if you suspect it, your reaction is very important.

  • Don’t overreact and don’t criticize or blame the child
  • Don’t demand details
  • Don’t downplay their disclosure because you’re trying to minimize their feelings (or yours)
  • Do listen calmly and keep in mind that children seldom lie about sexual abuse
  • Do assure the child it is not their fault
  • If necessary, seek appropriate medical care for the child
  • Notify local law enforcement, as well as the appropriate child services organizations. You can call ChildHelp: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) or RAINN, the national sexual assault hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

A Child Psychologist at our Children’s Center Can Help

Child victims of sexual misconduct often experience anxiety and/or depression, as well as feelings of guilt and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For this reason, consider making an appointment for your child to speak with a mental health professional who is experienced in dealing with child sexual abuse victims.

Psychotherapy can help them find a safe place to share their feelings and allows them to talk through things they might not want to tell a parent or family member. It will help the child learn coping strategies so they can deal with the emotions surrounding their exploitation. Therapy will also teach them how to better manage the stress of the situation.

For more information about how our child psychologist can help, 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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Sleep Away Camp and Separation Anxiety – Tips from a South Florida Child Psychologist

Summer is here and sleep away camp is just around the corner for many children. Some kids look forward to seeing friends from last year and are eager to take a break from their parents and siblings. Others dream about the adventures to come. Still more think about the new friends they’ll make and the independence they’ll get to experience. But the idea of being away from home can also bring up anxiety in children, as well as homesickness and depression. With that in mind, our child psychologist has some tips to help hold off or reduce your child’s summer camp separation anxiety.

Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Children

It’s a good idea to listen to your child’s concerns before they ever leave home – whether they are heading off for sleep away camp or not. It’s not unusual for a child to go through day camp separation anxiety when they attend a local summer program, even if they will be home every night.

Children with separation anxiety might have physical symptoms, such as:

  • Stomach aches, upset stomach, vomiting, or nausea
  • Trembling
  • Feeling faint or lightheaded and dizzy
  • Having headaches
  • Difficulty sleeping, having nightmares, or being afraid of the dark

Additionally, your child’s summer program separation anxiety might show up in the form of:

  • Being very reluctant to go to the camp
  • Crying or being overly clingy or whiny
  • Worrying excessively about possible harm coming to them or to you (or to another family member) while they are away at their summer program
  • Needing to keep a parent or caregiver in their sight at all times
  • Acting distressed when they can’t be with their caregiver or parent
  • Becoming physically ill if they are separated from their loved ones
  • Avoiding activities or refusing to participate in events that will take them away from their parents or caregivers even briefly
  • Being afraid to be in a room by themselves

How to Help with Summer Camp Homesickness

Our child psychologist recommends the following steps to help reduce or eliminate depression and homesickness in kids who are attending day camps or leaving home for a sleep away camp:

  • Let your child know that it’s okay to be worried, particularly if this is the first time they will be going to an overnight camp. Also let them know that about 90 percent of summer camp children feel anxiety and homesickness on at least one day of camp.
  • Help your child practice being away from home by letting them spend a night or two with a friend or a relative before they leave for their summer program.
  • Talk positively about the new friends they will make and the fun adventures they’ll have. Also – and this should go without saying – do not tell your child about any negative summer camp experiences you might have had! There’s no need to add to their anxiety.
  • Help your child choose something comforting to take with them to camp. For example, they can pack a family picture or a favorite book or toy to give them a familiar “anchor” to home.
  • Remind them of the successful outcomes they’ve had and the fun things they’ve enjoyed when they’ve been fearful of new experiences in the past.
  • Give your child lots of extra attention in the days before they leave for their summer program or day camp.
  • Send your child to camp with stamped and pre-addressed envelopes and paper so they can write to you. You might even go as far as printing out a calendar for your child so they can mark off days and see how fast the time is going.
  • Discuss your child’s fears with the camp administrators so they are aware of your child’s concerns and so you know what their plan is for dealing with homesick children.
  • It’s best NOT to reassure your child that you’ll come get them if they are too upset. Most kids get over their anxiety after a day or two once they get into the routine of the summer camp.
  • When you drop them off for camp, don’t drag out your good-byes. Make it brief and leave before your child gets too worked up about your departure.

Keep in mind, your child’s separation anxiety may still continue no matter what you do. In these cases, it is best to seek the help of a child psychologist. These professionals can help your child identify and change their anxious thoughts. Through role-playing and modeling of positive behaviors, your child will learn coping strategies to lessen their fearful response to their approaching sleep away camp experience.

Connect with a Child Psychologist at our Children’s Center

For more information about how a child psychologist can help with your child’s separation anxiety at sleep away camp, 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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Suicidal Ideation – Does the 13 Reasons Why Series Influence Teen Suicide?

As a parent, are you aware that Netflix recently launched a new teen drama series based on the young adult novel, 13 Reasons Why, by Jay Asher? In the series, the main character, Hannah Murphy, commits suicide after experiencing a lethal combination of bullying by her peers, an incidence of stalking by a classmate, and the petty cruelty that can make life in high school a hell on Earth. The teen records a series of cassette tapes (these are her 13 reasons) which detail her motives for choosing suicide. On the day of her death, she mails the tapes to the thirteen classmates who influenced her suicide, in the hope they will listen to them and understand how their actions can affect others. While the Netflix series may open the door to frank discussion on several topics between the teens who watch it and their parents (suicide, bullying, stalking, rape, sex, and depression are addressed in the drama), there is concern that the show amounts to suicidal ideation by over-glamorizing suicide. And, because the drama is popular with teens, there are fears that it will increase the risk of vulnerable adolescents taking their own lives.

Furthermore, much younger children have access to this show, as well as to additional overwhelmingly adult-themed programs on Netflix and other online and streaming services. Because of the content of some shows like 13 Reasons Why, it is critical that caretakers use parental controls to block and prevent their children’s access to programming that is above the child’s content level.

Does Suicidal Ideation Raise Suicide Risk?

Across the country, many school districts have sent warnings to parents about the hit series, especially now that the drama has been renewed for a second season. In Colorado, where seven teens in one small locality have committed suicide since the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year, the Douglas County School District temporarily removed all copies of 13 Reasons Why from its library shelves until it had a chance to review the content of the Jay Asher book.

Did they go too far? While we know that suicide is the second leading cause of death in teens, do we really know that books, movies, or television shows increase the risk of a certain behavior in impressionable teens? Is it possible that media coverage can spread “behavioral contagion,” which is defined as the situation in which the same behavior spreads quickly and spontaneously through a group?

The answer is unquestionably “yes,” according to Madelyn S. Gould, Ph.D., a psychiatrist at Columbia University. She states, “The magnitude of the increase [in the number of suicides] is proportional to the amount, duration, and prominence of media coverage. We know from a number of studies that the celebrity status of a suicide victim increases the impact of the suicide.”

In her abstract on the subject, Dr. Gould cites a study relating to suicidal ideation (Martin, G. 1996. The influence of television in a normal adolescent population. Arch. Suicide Res. 2: 103–117.) in which “students reporting frequent exposure to television suicide reported more suicide attempts.” This means that the glorification of a person’s death can present a compelling case for choosing death to a person who is already actively considering it. Add to that the feeling of being alone in their pain and the rapid sharing of condemnation and bullying via social media and, like Hannah in 13 Reasons Why, it’s possible a depressed teen might be pushed over the edge.

Suicide Warning Signs

Just as with an adult, adolescents who are considering teen suicide generally show unmistakable warning signs. In fact, four out of five teens who attempt to take their life give signals about their intent before their attempt.

These suicide warning signs can be:

  • Feeling down or depressed for more than a week or two
  • Sharing feelings of worthlessness, self-contempt, or of being hopeless and unsure of ever being happy again
  • Making jokes about dying or about suicide
  • Giving away possessions they formerly cared about deeply, such as favorite clothes or  mementos
  • Losing interest in activities or relationships they used to enjoy
  • Talking a lot about the suicide of someone important
  • Isolating themselves
  • May have insomnia or may over-sleep, may be lethargic
  • May exhibit extreme mood swings or have violent outbursts of grief or anger
  • May have had a significant recent loss (for example: they may have lost a close family member, been diagnosed with an serious illness, may have lost their freedom or security in some way)
  • Indulging in high-risk behavior, especially if this is not characteristic of the person
  • An increase in drug or alcohol use

Your teen needs to know you care about them and are taking them seriously. If your adolescent or teen exhibits some of these behaviors and you are concerned, either ask your child directly or have someone they trust ask them if they are considering suicide. It is okay to say the word “suicide” – simply using the word will not increase the chances of them acting on the idea.

If they are considering suicide, show empathy for their feelings and refrain from judging them. Enlist the aid of a mental health professional such as those at our Children’s Center, your child’s pediatrician, or a suicide crisis hotline. The crisis hotline is especially critical if your child is in imminent danger of attempting suicide.

Never leave your child alone if they are threatening suicide. If you believe your child is in immediate danger, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) in the United States.

Teen Depression? Our Children’s Center Can Help

If your child is showing signs of teen depression, don’t wait! Contact the experts at our child-focused Children’s Center for help. To reach the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida, call us today at (561) 223-6568.

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Smoking Weed: Marijuana Facts for Teens

With the relaxing of possession laws in states like Colorado and Washington, and the legalization of medical marijuana in other states, parents have begun worrying more than ever about the availability of cannabis (also known as weed, pot, grass, marijuana) and whether their child might be smoking weed.

First the good news: while we know that teens are smoking pot, according to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), marijuana use has actually decreased slightly. Approximately 7.1 % of teens were smoking pot as of 2013, which is down from ten years earlier (in 2003), when about 8.2% of teens were using the drug.

Now the bad news: as of 2013, this same study reported that the first use of any illicit drug was marijuana, by just over 70% of participants. In fact, nearly 50% of teens and adolescents say that it would be fairly easy for them to obtain cannabis.

Cannabis Effects on Children, Adolescents, and Teens

For these at-risk kids, the following marijuana facts for teens may change their minds about smoking pot.

Cannabis effects on the developing brain and body:

  • Impairment of athletic performance due to cannabis’ effects on coordination and timing
  • Potential for addiction
  • Learning and memory problems
  • Increased heart rate
  • Aggravation of asthma and other respiratory illnesses
  • Developmental delays; trouble learning something new or focusing on difficult tasks
  • Coordination problems
  • Failure in school
  • Possible panic or psychosis when using the drug
  • Worsening of psychotic symptoms in people who already have schizophrenia
  • Altered judgement, increase in risky behaviors
  • Potential to abuse harder drugs, such as heroin

Marijuana Facts

First of all, you may be wondering is marijuana addictive? The short answer is “yes”. Generally speaking, about 1 out of every 11 cannabis users will become addicted, but that number increases to 1 out of every 6 people for those who begin using marijuana in their teens. In addition, daily use increases the rate of addiction to between 25% and 50% of cannabis abusers.

We also know that exposure to cannabis affects the brain. The brain receptors for the drug are located in the areas regulating memory, coordination, and learning, which is especially troubling for teens and adolescents since brain development continues into a person’s early twenties.

Failing in school is another one of the sad facts about weed. Because of marijuana’s effect on the brain, teens and adolescents who use pot are more likely to have lower grades in school, to drop out, and may even have a lower IQ as a result of smoking grass. And, their IQ might not improve even if they stop smoking weed as an adult.

Athletic performance can also be impaired because of cannabis’ effects on movement and coordination. In addition, skills like timing the kick for a soccer goal or swinging a bat in baseball can be compromised

Smoking Weed: Second-hand Smoke Impacts Children

For some reason, there is a misconception that second-hand pot smoke is not as dangerous to children as cigarette smoke. As more and more states are legalizing the use of cannabis, however, new studies are showing that it impacts children far more than people realize. Just as with tobacco smoke, the vapors released by smoking weed can increase the symptoms of a respiratory illness, aggravate asthma, and make children more likely to catch viruses. Also, it has been shown that a “contact high” can result from exposure to cannabis, which means a child who inhales the smoke from an adult may have problems with memory, have lower attention levels, and decreased motivation.

Additionally, marijuana metabolites can be detected in children who have been exposed to the second-hand smoke of their parents, siblings, and caregivers. THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive component of cannabis, has also been found in breast milk. This raises the possibility of decreased motor development in the infant of a mother who uses grass.

Safe Storage of Cannabis

Now that some states legally allow adults over the age of 21 to possess a certain amount of marijuana, there has been an increase in accidental ingestion by children. For this reason, if you are using cannabis, always be sure to:

  • Store the drug (as well as any vitamins or medicines) away in a place that is high up and out of reach of your child.
  • Think about getting a lock box to store your medications and drugs. Be sure to keep the key in a different place, away from the box.
  • Never leave the drug or any medications out, even if you will be using them again soon. Keeping potentially harmful substances out of the reach of kids helps keep them safe.
  • Talk to your guests and to the parents of children whose homes your own kids may visit about keeping their marijuana hidden and locked away.
  • Be prepared to contact the Poison Help Center at (800) 222-1222 if you think a child may have ingested cannabis products.

Let Our Children’s Center Help

If your child is smoking weed, contact the professionals at our child-focused department to learn more about the Children’s Center’s parenting support services. To reach the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida, call us today at (561) 223-6568.

 

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