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COVID paradox

The COVID Paradox

Never before in modern memory has the human race been faced with such a stressful and anxiety provoking foe. The novel coronavirus or COVI-19 has resulted in untold emotional unrest and fear among all nations and peoples of our world. There has been a lot of talk about the “invisible enemy,” an RNA based complex protein that looks like a World War 2 anti-ship mine with spikes sticking out of its surface. We are informed daily by the media that young and old victims of this virus are ending up on ventilators for weeks at a time if they survive. To “flatten the curve” and avoid overwhelming our hospitals we have had to become socially isolated, settle in place in our residences, wear masks when going out and remembering to wash our hands and not touch our faces. And after three months of dealing with this enemy of grown ups we are now being informed that children who we believed were not at risk of being made seriously ill have suffered as cases of a strange multi system inflammatory syndrome much like Kawasaki disease began to appear at hospitals.

The reality of this plague is bad enough to fathom by any rational person. The facts we are presented with certainly evoke fear and apprehension. Our frontline healthcare providers who are by their profession somewhat desensitized to run-of-the-mill suffering as they treat patients with terminal illness, heart attacks, metastatic cancer or debilitating strokes, find themselves traumatized by the COVID crisis.

So what is generating this degree of emotional suffering? Much of it comes from the unseen enemy, this virus that is only visible under special microscopes. Some of it comes from the fact that its genetic structure is novel. No human being had been exposed to it prior to its appearance in Wuhan so our immune systems had no defense against its onslaught. It is extraordinarily infectious so that an infected person will infect several people in close proximity over time.

What is the paradox that I am referring to? Actually, there is more than one paradox. The first one involves the media explosion that began last century and has exponentially continued this century. We appreciate all the benefits from being plugged in 24/7 to social media, internet messaging and an abundance of television news all day long. The digital revolution that amazed us has also proved to be harmful to our emotional well being. Multimedia exposure during the COVID pandemic has been like watching a horror movie that never ends! What we valued and embraced has turned out to be a traumatizing process. If you check the Centers for Disease Control website for data on the influenza outbreak for the 2018-2019 season you will find that 35.5 million Americans came down with the flu, 490,000 hospitalizations resulted, and there were 34,200 deaths. Imagine if the media tracked the annual flu season like they have tracked the COVID pandemic. Every flu season would be emotionally traumatizing. We certainly don’t go into lockdown every year for the flu nor do we social distance. We do have a flu shot available, but data on its effectiveness suggests a 45% effectiveness this past season. Our advantage with influenza is that over time, all of us have had some level of exposure to this family of viruses imparting a degree of “herd immunity.”

This brings us to the core paradox. If we stay locked down and isolated indefinitely there will be no herd immunity developing. The concept of herd immunity means that if enough of our population is exposed and develops immunity to this virus, ongoing spread becomes very difficult. For example, smallpox, chicken pox, measles and mumps had been the scourge of society until the administration of vaccines essentially created a herd immunity.

We will eventually have an effective vaccine for COVID-19 but it will be some time before we will be able to provide mass inoculation. If there had been no COVID-19 social isolation our healthcare system would be over run, resulting in a tsunami of fatalities.

So the course that is being taken is to gradually open up our lockdown while we carefully prepare for future waves of illness. Be reassured that there will come a day in the not too distant future that this horrible virus will be no greater a threat than the annual flu. That time will come.

Connect With A Child Psychologist At Our Children’s Center

If your child is experiencing anxiety related to the COVID-19 pandemic, our child psychologists are available for online services. 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 The COVID-19 Pandemic Affecting Your Child’s Mental Health?

Schools have been closed for the last couple of months since the coronavirus pandemic began to spread across the country. Stories about the virus’ effects and death rates abound on the news and on social media. Usually, we wouldn’t expect children to be too affected by broadcasts about a new disease unless someone close to them gets sick. In this case, however, their lives have been upended by school closings, parents working from home (or losing their jobs), the requirement to shelter in place and wear masks, and the inability to gather with friends or go to familiar venues.

Children are also likely tapping into their parent’s own fears and concerns. In turn, they may worry that they, their friends, or their family will catch COVID-19. We can estimate how this affects American kids by reading through the studies that were done on children in China, where the outbreak began.

In an article on Psychology Today, Jamie D. Aten, Ph.D., founder and Executive Director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, reports that, “due to uncertainties surrounding the outbreak and ongoing scientific research, it’s estimated that 220 million Chinese children are at a risk of facing mental health issues due to potential prolonged school closure and home containment.”

If this is true for the children in China, why would it be any different here for kids in the United States?

Why Kids Need Mental And Emotional Support During COVID-19

The stress and apprehension surrounding the coronavirus pandemic has altered children’s day-to-day world in a huge way. We know that natural disasters such as this can have a long term effect on kids, just as they can for adults.

As an example, one researcher, Carolyn Kousky, noted that in studies of children’s mental health after Hurricane Katrina, “researchers found high rates of PTSD symptoms as well as other negative mental health impacts and behaviors, such as aggression in adolescent.”

For older children, the added disappointments that have come along with the safer-at-home orders – such as the cancellation of graduations and proms, no school athletic games or activities, and isolation from friends – is sure to have emotional consequences, too.

In fact, it was reported in a 2013 study that researchers found that kids who had gone through a quarantine for disease control scored four times higher on a post-traumatic stress test than children who had not had that same experience.

How To Help Your Child Through Pandemic Anxiety

It’s important for parents and adult family members to help kids make sense of the pandemic, especially in an accurate way that minimizes their fears.

  • Let your child know that you are available to talk if they have questions.
  • When talking to your children, do so in a calm voice. Try to be reassuring and also remember that kids will pick up on cues in your body language and tone.
  • Consider reducing or limiting news broadcasts and screen time so your child doesn’t become overwhelmed by news coverage of the pandemic.
  • Remember that this pandemic can affect anyone, so try not to condemn or ridicule someone you know who may have contracted the virus.
  • Remind kids that rumors run rampant on social media and that many stories are inaccurate.

Teach your children how to stay safe during the pandemic (and afterward):

  • They should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (have them sing the birthday song twice as an easy way to count the time). They especially need to do this after sneezing, blowing their nose, or using the bathroom, and before eating or handling food. Hand sanitizer is a great option if soap and water are not available (supervise young children if they are using hand sanitizer).
  • If your child needs to sneeze or cough, they should do it into their elbow or a tissue (then throw the tissue in the trash).
  • Stay away from those who are sick or are sneezing or coughing.
  • Keep things that they touch clean. Wipe down frequently used objects such as doorknobs, light switches, the television remote, their phone or tablet frequently with a disinfectant to avoid spreading germs.

It’s important for parents to take steps to address and reduce any COVID-19 anxiety their children may have, so they can avoid any long term consequences. KidsHealth.org provides some great resources for keeping kids busy during the pandemic and offers some helpful hints for addressing the topic with your child.

Connect With A Child Psychologist At Our Children’s Center

If your child is experiencing anxiety related to the COVID-19 pandemic, our child psychologists are available for online services. 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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Coping With COVID-19

The virus pandemic has certainly had an impact on all of us. Not being able to meet with my patients in person has required a major clinical adjustment. Thankfully, telemedicine has provided me with the ability to provide necessary ongoing treatment. But I also know firsthand how difficult and taxing social isolation and sheltering in place can be.

What has made this viral illness so stressful? After all, we have been dealing with annual episodes of influenza for decades. We also successfully made it through the fears of the bird flu, SARS, and swine flu. What makes Covid 19 so special and so scary? Covid 19 is called a novel virus because it is a protein that is totally new to the world’s human population’s immune systems. Our immune systems therefore do not have the capacity to adequately fight off this infection. The elderly and those with chronic illnesses are especially at risk. But 20 to 65 year olds are not immune from infection and risk severe illness if they are not cautious and follow CDC guidelines.

We can all agree that there are reasons to be fearful of this unique virus. We would all agree that sheltering in place and social isolation plays a role in our unease and insecurity. The inability to see loved ones and friends certainly takes a toll. Job loss and the subsequent financial stressors contributes as well. Lack of definitive treatment or a protective vaccine adds to our worries. But the level of emotional unrest seems to be much greater than what these issues would suggest. So what accounts for our level of apprehension?

It is my belief that our emotional upset and fearfulness is being fueled by an incessant level of media exposure, a 24/7 bombardment of our senses by vivid and at times sensationalistic accounts of the impact of this illness on our society. The negativity is inescapable. The drama can be horrifying. I do believe that we are being psychologically traumatized by the effects of this multi-sensory media explosion. Modern theories of post traumatic stress disorder have now implicated the impact of day to day low level traumatic experiences. We certainly deserve to be kept up to date, but non-stop communication of human suffering at this level can be seriously problematic.

So what can we do to minimize the stressors of these times? The answers are rather straight forward and simple. When the world around you seems out of control, frightening and foreign it is important to pay attention to our own personal world and life space. You may not be able to change what is outside of you but you certainly can have the ability to influence your own world. These are some basic guidelines to follow:

  1. Add consistency, structure and predictability to your day to day life.
  2. Go to bed at the same time every night and awaken at the same time the next day.
  3. Schedule exercise, studying, work (if you are lucky enough to still be working), meals, fun etc. at set times.
  4. Get outside while following CDC guidelines on a regular basis, even if it means sitting on a balcony or patio for extended periods.
  5. Do not allow yourself to isolate. Maintain social contacts through phone calls, video chats, emails, etc. Socialize with a friend or family member while maintaining the appropriate safe distance.
  6. Limit your news media exposure. Get the data you need to be adequately informed but don’t give in to the tendency to be a news voyeur. Sensationalistic news coverage can be addicting. Be careful and avoid over exposure.
  7. Attend to your basic activities of daily living that include your appearance and hygiene, maintaining healthy nutrition and caring for your living space.
  8. And most importantly, recognize that this period of difficulty and sacrifice will come to an end.

There will be life after Coronavirus. At some point in the near future, this virus will be treated no differently than the annual influenza virus. The same way that pharmaceutical companies formulate the year’s flu vaccine by taking into account the types of flu viruses prevalent that year, it will also include the coronavirus as part of the vaccine recipe.

The real challenge for the future will consist of what we can learn from this experience. How can we be better prepared? How can we improve our healthcare system and its inequities? How can we maintain the improvement in our environment that has resulted from reduced pollution, crowding overuse of natural resources? How can we return to person to person human contact and minimize communication through digital media only? How can the media learn to balance coverage with more hope and support? I wish that I had the answers. We shall have to wait and see.

For more information or to schedule an appointment call us at (561) 223-6568 or contact us here.

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Telehealth

A Message About Telehealth Amidst COVID-19

We hope that you, your children and families are doing well in the midst of this unprecedented time. After carefully considering the CDC guidelines, we at The Children’s Center have decided that we will no longer be conducting therapy in our office at this time.

In good news, we have the capability to conduct appointments either over the phone or via Telehealth. We are happy to keep all appointments during this time. If you already have a scheduled appointment but you would prefer to postpone your to a later date or an alternate time, we are happy to do that as well.

We greatly appreciate your understanding during this difficult time. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or to schedule an appointment at (561) 223-6568.

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How Being On Your Phone Affects Your Child

woman talking on a cell phoneWe are all so “connected” nowadays. Everywhere you look, you see people of all ages engrossed in the online world. Children are asking for cellphones at younger and younger ages, while parents often seem so attached to their devices that they barely pay attention to their children. This brings up the question of how being connected to your own phone and devices might be affecting your child.

A colleague recently told me what she had witnessed during her last dental visit: a father came in with two young children under the age of 6. All three of them were on their own devices (dad had a phone, each child had an iPad).

When the little boy was being examined, he was told he had his first loose tooth. The child was so excited and he kept exclaiming, “Daddy! Daddy, my tooth is loose!”

The father barely acknowledged this milestone, even after several attempts by his son to get his attention. Finally, although he did not even look up from his phone, he muttered, “Uh huh, that’s great.” My colleague’s heart broke when she saw how disappointed the little boy was with his father’s lack of response.

In effect, the father had just told his son that whatever he was looking at on his phone was much more important than his child.

Are Parents Addicted To Their Phones?

Several studies and many experts say the answer is “yes.”

A 2015 study done by the online security company, AVG Technologies, found that more than 50 percent of the children who took part in the research ”felt that their parents checked their devices too often (54 percent); and their biggest grievance, when given a list of possible, bad device habits, was that their parents allowed themselves to be distracted by their device during conversations (36 percent) – something that made a third of the complainants feel unimportant (32 percent).”

How does this affect a child’s development? Children learn things like social cues, how to regulate emotions, and how to have conversations by watching and copying their parents. If a parent is hardly interacting with their child, it stunts the child’s development in these social skills.

In a recent opinion article in USAToday, Theresa H. Rodgers, a speech-language pathologist and the 2020 president of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), stated that, “Many of my colleagues across the nation say they are seeing more children entering kindergarten with limited communication and social skills. Older children, they say, are unable to handle formal social interactions, like ordering from waitstaff at a restaurant.”

What Are The Effects Of Cell Phones On Family Relationships?

According to an article on NPR, after watching a mother ignore her smiling, babbling infant in favor of viewing a YouTube video, Dr. Jenny Radesky, a pediatrician who specializes in child development, began to wonder about the effects of cell phones on family relationships. This led her to conduct a study (albeit an unscientific one) with the help of two colleagues over one summer. Together, they observed 55 family groups who were eating at fast food restaurants.

What they found was “forty of the 55 parents used a mobile device during the meal” and seemed to focus more on their devices than on their kids.

When children feel ignored, they often act out to get their parent’s attention. In her book about parenting, called The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair talks about how parents who ignore their kids in favor of their devices are telling their children “they don’t matter, they’re not interesting to us, they’re not as compelling as anybody, anything, any ping that may interrupt our time with them.”

Further, when Dr. Steiner-Adair did the research for her book, she interviewed 1,000 children, ages 4- to 18-years old. She kept hearing from the kids that they felt “sad, mad, angry, and lonely” when their parents were on their cell phones. This was so upsetting to them that some kids made a point of hiding or damaging their parent’s smartphones.

Help For Parent’s Cellphone Addiction

It can be hard to break your dependence on screen time, even though it’s what is best for your children (and, frankly, yourself). Try these ideas:

  • Limit your use of your cell phone and devices to just 10 percent during the time you are with your child. You can dash off a quick text if it is important, but for the most part – put the phone away.
  • Keep bedrooms, mealtimes, and parent–child play times screen free for children and parents.
  • Use phone apps to remind you when it’s time to stop using the phone.
  • Turn off the majority of your notifications.
  • Delete or limit your social media apps.
  • Stop using your phone as an alarm clock because it’s too easy to get caught up in checking for updates from friends, scanning texts, and reading emails if you pick up the phone to turn off the alarm.

Contact Us To Learn More

For more information and help with breaking your cellphone addiction, 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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Social Skills Training can help children and young adults connect with other.

Social Anxiety In Toddlers

Toddlerhood is defined as the age range from 12 to 36 months. During this period, a child’s emotional and cognitive development grows by leaps and bounds, as do their social skills. This also coincides with the time when children are likely to go into a daycare environment or head off to preschool. As they engage more often with other children and adults, it may also be the stage when a toddler’s social fears begin to emerge.

Just as with adults, some children are comfortable with social interactions while others may not be. Each group of kids will have the social butterfly as well as the “shy” child who quietly observes and doesn’t interact as much. It is one thing to be shy, however, and another to be intensely fearful and anxious in a social setting. Because we know it can show up early in life, a toddler who shows such strong reactions in a social environment is often regarded as having social anxiety.

What causes social anxiety in toddlers?

We aren’t really sure what causes social anxiety in toddlers. Genetics likely plays a role, since it contributes to a child’s temperament and personality. We also know that some genetic traits can influence certain mental health conditions.

A toddler’s environment could also predispose them to social anxiety. For a young child who already has a higher genetic risk, living with trauma or a severe parenting style may be enough to initiate social anxiety.

Social anxiety may also be learned from a parent, according to a 2006 study by de Rosnay, et al. Their research focused on indirect expressions of a mother’s social anxiety on their infant. The results showed that, “compared to their responses following their mothers interacting normally with a stranger, following a socially anxious mother-stranger interaction, infants were significantly more fearful and avoidant with the stranger. Infant-stranger avoidance was further modified by infant temperament; high fear infants were more avoidant in the socially anxious condition than low-fear infants.”

Is Social Anxiety a form of autism?

Studies have shown that social anxiety is not a form of autism, although the two have overlapping indicators, such as separation anxiety and avoiding eye contact. In fact, not only are they two distinct disorders, but the symptoms and diagnostic criteria for each are vastly different.

As the name implies, social anxiety is driven by anxiety. A child who has social anxiety will function within the parameters of their level of unease. For instance, they may simply keep to themselves, avoid other children, or might talk too quietly. Some kids may not talk at all.

On the other hand, a child with autism spectrum disorder doesn’t behave based on their anxiety level. Instead, this child has trouble understanding social cues and the nuances of communication. They might speak too loudly, may push their way into a group of children, or might misinterpret facial expressions or gestures.

Does my kid have social anxiety?

Children who have social anxiety may be branded as difficult kids because their anxiety can show up in forms other than just in social interactions.

Toddlers with social anxiety often show certain signs, such as:

  • Being a picky eater
  • Easily startled by noises
  • Not adapting well to new situations
  • May have a higher sensitivity to tactile sensations
  • Acting shy around new people and fearing strangers
  • Disliking being separated from their parents (separation anxiety) and distraction doesn’t calm them
  • Having strong emotional reactions and difficulty self-soothing
  • Might have sleep issues
  • Seems afraid to interact with peers, both individually or in a group setting
  • Often has other phobias or fears

Therapists who specialize in treating children’s mental health concerns can do an assessment, however a definitive diagnosis in a toddler with social anxiety may not be feasible due to their young age. The results should highlight challenging areas, though. It may also reveal the basis of the child’s social anxiety, which allows for early intervention.

How to help a child with social anxiety

At home, parents can demonstrate healthy social interactions when their child is with them, so the toddler learns not to be so fearful.

They can also rehearse a new situation with their child before it comes up. For example, a toddler who will be going to daycare for the first time might role-play some of the things they’ll do while they are there. Practicing certain aspects of the day or even dropping by the daycare a couple of times before officially attending can ease fears because the daycare will already be familiar. It would also be helpful to let the teachers or caregivers know about your child’s fears, so they can help build confidence.

Other supportive methods include:

  • Encouraging your toddler, but not forcing them into social interactions.
  • Using praise when the child successfully navigates a scary situation.
  • Not criticizing them for their fears.
  • Being calm and showing the toddler that you are confident.
  • Not being overprotective, which only reinforces the idea that the toddler has something to be afraid of.
  • Reading books or watching videos that show confident children.

Get Help for Social Anxiety in Toddlers

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. Additionally, our facility is the South Florida regional clinic for the National Social Anxiety Center (NSAC).

For more information about how our child psychologist can help your child with their social anxiety or other mental health needs, contact the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 223-6568.

References

  1. de Rosnay, M., Cooper, P. J., Tsigaras, N., & Murray, L., (2006). Transmission of social anxiety from mother to infant: An experimental study using a social referencing paradigm. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 8(44), 1165-1175. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2005.09.003
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Autism Spectrum Disorder: ASD And Anxiety In Children

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) comes with a variety of challenges. For many children, it can mean issues with compulsiveness and repetitive behaviors, learning and social deficits, and a resistance to change. ASD also can manifest with various emotional difficulties – although not specifically linked, we know that ASD and anxiety frequently appear together in children.

Kids with ASD and anxiety can have physical symptoms (example: racing heart or a stomach ache) or their anxiety may also show up in the form of rituals that can help calm them (for instance: shredding paper). Because many autistic children are either non-verbal or have trouble communicating, an outward display of anxiety may be their only way of telling you that they are distressed.

Autism And Anxiety Comorbidity

“40% of young people with ASD have clinically elevated levels of anxiety or at least one anxiety disorder, including obsessive compulsive disorder”, according to an article by Dr. Elisabetta Burchi and Dr. Eric Hollander of the Autism and Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Program at Montefiore Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

They stress the importance of anxiety treatment for children with autism spectrum disorder. “While untreated comorbid anxiety has been associated with the development of depression, aggression, and self-injury in ASD, an early recognition and treatment may convey better prognosis for these patients“.

Some studies have shown that high-functioning children suffer from more anxiety disorders than do lower functioning children on the spectrum. Additionally, other research reports that adolescents and teens with ASD may be more challenged by anxiety than their younger peers.

How To Recognize Anxiety In Asperger’s and ASD

It can be difficult to spot the signs of anxiety in a child who has ASD for a couple of reasons: kids who are verbal may not be able to recognize and express their emotions, while children who are nonverbal can’t tell you that they are afraid or worried.

Also, children with ASD often display common behaviors that can look similar to those found in anxiety disorders. For example, the compulsions that are carried out in obsessive compulsive disorder can look much like the repetitive behaviors that a child with ASD will use, however the autistic child may not actually be anxious.

Although there are no specifics to watch for, anxiety often presents in the form of physical or behavioral issues. The signs may not be apparent in a younger child, but may show up in later years as they mature and their world expands to include school and other settings.

  • Social anxiety may show up in the form of avoidance of social situations. This keeps the child from experiencing interaction with peers and the opportunity to practice social skills.
  • Separation anxiety may be present if the child acts out when being parted from their parent, such as when a babysitter comes to the home or when the child goes off to school for the first time.
  • Phobias are anxiety responses to specific fears (i.e. fear of insects or acting out after being startled by a loud noise).
  • Distress about changes in routine can show up in the form of physical rituals or repetitive behaviors that the child uses to soothe themselves until they can calm down.
  • Controlling behavior or threats to hurt themselves or someone else are often a sign of high levels of emotional distress.
  • In adolescents and teens, alcohol and drug abuse are destructive coping methods that may be used to mask anxiety.

Treatment For Autism And Anxiety

Research has shown that behavioral interventions are helpful for many ASD children who have anxiety. One of the most effect therapies for treating autism and anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This therapy is best for a child who has some verbal abilities.

CBT teaches kids how to uncover the fear beneath their anxiety so they can challenge their negative or inaccurate thoughts. For instance, if a child has anxiety about going to school, they may actually be afraid of getting lost and not being able to find their parents again.

Once the fear has been identified, the therapist can use small doses of exposure therapy to provide the child with evidence that they are safe. In the case of school anxiety and the resulting fears surrounding being separated from a parent, exposure therapy might involve having the child spend a minute or two in a room without their parent. When mom or dad come back in, the child feels safe. As the length of time apart from their parent increases with an end result of the parents returning, the child’s anxiety level can begin to decrease when they are away from the parent in other situations.

Depending on the child, an anxiety medication, such as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) like Prozac, may also be used in combination with behavioral therapy.

Need More Information About ASD And Anxiety In Children?

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 child psychologist can help your child with their ASD and anxiety, 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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Protecting Kids From The Momo Challenge

Recently, the media has been reporting that 2018’s online Momo challenge has resurfaced. They talk about children encountering it in seemingly innocent YouTube videos. Originating on WhatsApp, the reemergence of the scary social media game has prompted schools and police stations to issue warnings about the challenge so that parents can discuss it with their kids.

What Is The Momo Challenge?

The Momo figure was actually a sculpture called “Mother Bird”. It was created by Japanese artist, Keisuke Aisawa. The sculpture featured a wraith-like figure with bulging eyes and long, stringy hair. To date, no evidence suggests that the artist or his special effects company had anything to do with the Momo challenge and the sculpture has since been destroyed.

Reports say that when the game first started, children were contacted to participate in the Momo challenge through their interaction with WhatsApp. More recently, however, the media is warning that the figure has apparently been popping up in Peppa Pig or Fortnight YouTube videos.

When a child participates in the game, they are actually interacting with someone who tells them to perform certain tasks to avoid being “cursed.” Reportedly, these assignments often require the child to do something harmful to themselves or others. They might be told to take pills or stab or otherwise hurt someone. The tasks even go as far as telling the child to take their own life.

The Momo figure asks the child to prove they have completed a task by providing a photograph of themselves while engaged in the assignment. To advance through the game, the child must show this proof. At the end of the game, the child’s final assignment is to commit suicide while recording it for social media.

Is The Momo Challenge A Hoax Or A Real Thing?

When the Momo game initially came out on social media, critics were quick to dismiss it as a hoax. While there have been a few child suicides that were thought to have been a result of the challenge, there has never been any definitive proof linking them to the game.

Additionally, it is difficult to find online images of kids participating in the game. Doubters think that if the challenge was real, there would be many more social media pictures of Momo collaborations.

ReignBot, a YouTuber who is famous for videos that explore creepy things on the Internet says, “Finding screenshots of interactions with Momo is nearly impossible and you’d think there’d be more for such a supposedly widespread thing.”

Often, the warnings about dangerous online challenges spread farther and faster than the actual game. That said, it is potentially dangerous for a child who is vulnerable to self-esteem and other psychological issues to be exposed to something that could be harmful.

Talking To Your Kids About Momo

Regardless of whether the game is real, experts agree that parents need to address the topic with their children preemptively. Dr. Ryan Seidman, a child and adolescent psychologist and the Clinical Director at our Children’s Center, says parents should warn their kids about these online challenges.

“Discuss with younger children what to do if they see the face,” she advises. You might start by asking the child if they have heard of Momo, then tell them to get a parent or other adult if something scary or threatening ever pops up on an app or video.

For teens and adolescents who want more independence, it’s good to have periodic discussions about online encounters, as well as anything in their lives that is frightening or threatening to them.

Encourage your kids to tell you if they are being bullied (by the way, Momo is a form of cyber-bullying). Be sure they understand that you are trusting them to let you know.

Self Harm And Suicide – Who Is At Risk From The Momo Challenge?

It’s unlikely that an online challenge would affect a psychologically healthy child, but it could push kids who self harm or who are contemplating suicide to act on their thoughts.

Self Harm

Self harm isn’t restricted to a certain age group or race, or to someone with a certain socioeconomic or educational background. Anyone may engage in self harm, but the behavior happens most often in teens and young adults.

Self harm happens most frequently in:

  • People who have difficulty expressing their emotions
  • Those individuals who have a background of childhood trauma, such as physical, verbal, or sexual abuse
  • People who don’t have a strong social support network. Conversely, we know it happens more often in those who have friends who also self harm
  • Those who also have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, or in those who engage in substance abuse

Suicide

Keep in mind that suicide is the result of a mental illness. People who are vulnerable to online cyber-bullying and content like the Momo challenge are often already suffering from mental health issues, such as low self esteem, anxiety, or depression.

As mentioned above, the Momo game is thought to have led to several teen suicides last year, although the link hasn’t been proven.

Suicide is the second leading cause of teen deaths, but could a dangerous challenge increase risky behavior in an susceptible teen?

Madelyn S. Gould, Ph.D., a psychiatrist at Columbia University, thinks so. She says, “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.”

Add to that the feeling of being alone in their pain and it’s possible a challenge could push a distressed teen over the edge.

Adolescents and teens who are considering suicide usually give unmistakable warning signs:

  • Making jokes about dying or about suicide
  • Sharing feelings of self-contempt or worthlessness, or talk about feeling hopeless and unsure they will ever being happy again
  • Giving away possessions they used to care a lot about, 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 (or may have recently lost someone close to them)
  • Isolating themselves
  • Might have insomnia or may over-sleep, may be lethargic
  • May exhibit extreme mood swings or have violent outbursts of grief or anger
  • An increase in drug or alcohol use
  • Indulging in risky behavior, especially if this is not characteristic of the person

Your child needs to know you are taking them seriously and that you care about them. If you are concerned that they are exhibiting some of these signs, ask the child directly if they are considering suicide (or have someone else they trust ask them). Be assured that it is okay to use the word “suicide” – saying the word will not raise the chance that they will act on the idea.

If your child admits that they are considering suicide, be empathetic about their feelings – don’t judge them. Seek help from a mental health professional such as those at our Children’s Center, from your child’s pediatrician, or from a suicide crisis hotline. The crisis hotline is especially critical if you think your child is in imminent danger of attempting suicide.

Worried about the Momo challenge’s influence on your child? Talk with a Child Psychologist at our Children’s Center

For more information about our children’s mental health services,  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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Destigmatizing Mental Health Services For Youth

Studies have shown that children in the United States have many mental health needs that remain unidentified. In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that about 20% of the nation’s youth have or will have an emotional, mental, or behavioral disorder. Only about 7.4% of these children report having received any type of mental health services, however.

A 2014 National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) study by Jane Burns and Emma Birrell noted that many mental health problems escalate in adolescence and young adulthood. The effects of these under treated childhood mental health issues can be higher rates of substance abuse, anxiety, and depression, as well as suicidal ideation and self harm.

There is a stigma surrounding mental illness and its treatment. This disapproval is a barrier that keeps young people from seeking assistance. The consequence is that they are not receiving appropriate care, which translates to an increased chance of dropping out of school, employment or relationship problems, future incarceration, or even suicide.

Impact of Childhood Mental Disorders

The most prevalent mental disorder in children is attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). Other common conditions are:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Learning disorders
  • Eating disorders

A 2013 study by Khong, et. al. stated that “The highest-ranking top 25 causes of disability include anxiety disorders, drug and alcohol problems, schizophrenia, and bipolar effect disorders. By age 5, mental health and behavioral problems become an important and soon dominant cause of years lost to disability, peaking between ages 20–29.”

There is often a gap of up to 15 years between the onset of symptoms and the person getting the appropriate care. Because behavioral and mental health concerns are not being addressed early enough, they become issues down the road – major depression is one of the top four causes of disability in adulthood.

As the study noted, mental health conditions can begin to emerge as early as 5 or 6 years old. Symptoms of anxiety disorders often include:

  • trouble sleeping
  • trouble concentrating
  • fatigue,
  • irritability
  • restlessness
  • numerous, lingering, or intense periods of stress, anxiety, or fear that seem out of proportion to the triggering event and which affects the child’s daily life

Ways to Destigmatize Mental Health Services

Children with mental health challenges are often marginalized or bullied by their peers. This social exclusion keeps them suffering in silence, discouraging the majority of adolescents and teens from seeking help.

To destigmatize mental health in general, we need to:

  • Equate mental illness with physical illness. Mental illness is a disease, just the same as physical illnesses like diabetes or cancer, but mental health conditions are often thought of as something the person could overcome if they just “tried harder.” They are disorders of brain function, however, which means they are based in the physical body in much the same way as something like a heart condition or high blood pressure. We certainly wouldn’t expect a heart patient to just “try harder” to get their blood pressure or irregular heartbeat under control.
  • Show compassion to those with mental illness and don’t treat them differently. People with mental health conditions live meaningful lives, but they often have to fight to keep from being judged.
  • Watch what you say. Don’t use words like “freak” or “crazy” because this type of language continues the negativity against mental illness.
  • Change the culture by taking a good look at children who are acting out. Try to figure out why they are behaving in certain ways, instead of writing them off as bad kids.
  • Don’t judge yourself if you are struggling with mental health issues. Your condition is out of your control. Being ashamed only adds to the burden and can keep you from seeking help.
  • Encourage family members or friends to seek help if they are facing mental health challenges.
  • Familiarize your child with mental health concerns like anxiety and depression from a young age. For example, help them understand that everyone has days when they are sad or angry or feel stressed, but if they can’t shake those feelings, it is okay to ask for help.

People who are challenged with mental health issues often feel alone. The reality is that the majority of us have some type of mental health condition. Great examples include the new mother with postpartum depression, the college student with ADHD, and the coworker who has post-traumatic stress disorder from their military service.

By destigmatizing mental health problems and services from a young age, we can teach children to challenge negative attitudes so they are more comfortable asking for help.

Connect with a Child Psychologist at our Children’s Center

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

References

Monshat K, Khong B, Hassed C, et al. “A conscious control over life and my emotions:” mindfulness practice and healthy young people. A qualitative study. J Adolesc Health. 2013;52(5):572–577.

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Tips to Improve Your Child’s Executive Functioning Skills

The 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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