Tag Archives: Children’s mental health

Normal or Not Normal? Part 3

When should parents of young children seek help?

Red FlagsImage

Early identification of mental health problems in young children is extremely challenging.  There are many resources to help parents learn “red flags” for autism, but other forms of mental disorders are even less clear cut.  Sometimes a parent’s gut instinct is the most powerful “red flag” of all.

When my son with ASD was young, he would throw violent tantrums if his schedule was different, if I took a different route home from his preschool, if he was in too noisy a place, or even if the phone rang or someone flushed the toilet with the lid down.  He would throw the phone across the room, hit his sister or me, and once knocked down rows of boxes in a shoe store.

Given that this happened on a regular basis, I found it really insufferable when other people would say to me, “Oh, every child throws tantrums.” I had an older child and, yes, she had had her moments, but there was absolutely no comparison between the two.

I knew that I was not doing anything to drive the tantrums, like giving in, hitting my child or losing my temper.  Despite my exhaustion and embarrassment, it was EXTREMELY important that I kept my calm.  Otherwise, I just made things worse.  I also used a non-threatening way of restraining him with my arms and legs, so that he was safe and did not hurt himself or others.

If you have provided the right environment and know that your child is getting food, sleep, love, attention, physical activity, and appropriate play experiences, but he or she is still unhappy, disconnected from caregivers, aggressive and/or self-destructive, then you should ask for help.

Talking to Medical Professionals: Describing Behaviors

If you really feel that something is “not right” with your child, please don’t hesitate to talk to your child’s pediatrician or, in Hennepin County, call Help Me Grow at 612-348-TOTS (8687).

When talking to medical professionals, though, it’s best to be as precise as possible.  You could keep a Multiple_Behavior_Chart for one week to show the doctor how often child throws tantrums or hurts himself.  If your infant or toddler cries a lot, time how long the crying lasts.  If you report to the doctor that your one-year-old cries every night for 4 hours, that would have more impact than saying, “My kid is driving me crazy with all his crying.”

NORMAL FOR TODDLERS

NOT NORMAL FOR TODDLERS

Occasional tantrums – Daily tantrums that can last several hours;
– Violent or self-destructive behavior, such as head banging;
– Aggressive behavior toward others
Meeting developmental milestones at slightly different rates – Delays of at least 6 months in walking, talking or social behavior;
– Dramatic loss of skills (speaking, etc.) after a period of  normal development
Meltdowns when tired or hungry – Inability to be soothed or comforted;
– Overreacts to minor changes in routine, noise, light, etc.;

Normal or Not Normal? Part 2

ImageWhen Parents of School-Aged Kids Should Seek Help

Parenting children through their school-aged years can be exciting and fulfilling, but also frustrating.  You may delight as you watch them grow, but you may not always know how to help them through challenges. Remember that childhood is not always rosy, and our kids can be confronting difficult issues like bullying, problems with schoolwork, and peer pressure.

How our kids are responding to the normal stresses of elementary and middle school years is important to know.  The guide below should help parents to consider what types of behavior are considered normal and when behaviors should be of concern.

NORMAL FOR SCHOOL AGED KIDS

NOT NORMAL FOR SCHOOL AGED KIDS

Sometimes not wanting to go to school
  • Actively and continually resisting going to school;
  • Routinely crying about school or having tremendous anxiety about school.
  • Skipping school
Not excited about schoolwork
  • Declining school performance
  •  Getting very behind in schoolwork
  • Easily distracted or unable to pay attention
Growing awareness of and some anxiety about external peer and school pressures, as well as broader issues such as spirituality and world events.
  • Extreme, obsessive or long-term anxiety that interferes with eating, sleeping, or other daily living activities.
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches that don’t seem to have a medical cause.
Body changes and awareness of sexuality
  • Sexual acting out that is inappropriate for a child’s age
Some mood swings
  • Having “up” or “down” moods that last for several weeks at a time;
  • Experiencing a dramatic personality change;
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Talking about death or suicide
Testing out behaviors and taking risks
  • Displaying patterns of lying, cheating and/or stealing
  • Aggressive or hurtful behavior, fighting or bullying
  • Recklessness to the point of endangering self or others
  • Substance abuse

Sources: Minnesota Department of Human Services; University of Maryland Medical Center

Normal or Not Normal? When Parents Should Seek Help

 NEWS FLASH: My teenager is driving me crazy!Image

OK.  I pretty much hear that all the time from my friends. I have two teens right now, and life is often like an exhausting roller coaster ride.  They are “coming in to their own” and asserting their independence, but they also need guidance.  I find myself in a precarious balancing act between letting them learn through experience, but also keeping them safe. And when I see troubling behavior, I often feel at a loss as to what to do.  Do I dismiss it as a normal part of adolescence or is it a warning sign that something is very wrong?

Often, troubling behaviors are a question of degree.  For example, many teenagers experience stress, but then bounce back quickly.  The question you should ask yourself is, “Does the stress interfere with my child’s daily living and functioning?”

As a general guide, I’ve listed below some “normal” and “not normal” behaviors.  I’ve borrowed heavily from the folks at the American Psychological Association to give it more authoritative heft.

But the most important thing of all is that you talk to your child and keep lines of conversation open.  This means you need to do MUCH more listening than talking.  If you have a nagging feeling that something is really not right with your child, please seek out professional help.  You are not alone.

NORMAL FOR TEENS

NOT NORMAL FOR TEENS

Arguing for the sake of arguing Being overly aggressive or violent; Abandoning long-time friendships;
Jumping to conclusions Thinking everyone is judging them negatively; Not trusting anyone
Being  self-centered Becoming isolated; Not wanting to leave one’s room; Having very low self-esteem
Finding faults with adults Being openly hostile to adults on consistent basis; Being unremittingly defiant
Being overly dramatic Displaying overly fearful reactions; Crying excessively; Injuring self;
Having mood swings Having “up” or “down” moods that last for several week; Experiencing a dramatic personality change; Dropping activities that used to be fun; Declining school performance
Experiencing stress Having so much fear or anxiety that it interferes with daily living; Having lots of physical complaints like stomach aches, joint pain, headaches or dizziness, problems with sleeping, and feeling fatigued;
Taking risks Committing crimes; Abusing drugs or alcohol; Endangering self or others; Being promiscuous;
Link

New Mental Health Website for Youth

New Mental Health Website for Youth “You Are Not Alone”

NAMI Minnesota has just launched this new mental health website for youth.  It’s definitely worth a look.

Summer Can Be Fun

We all struggle with finding ways to get our kids outside and moving in the summer.  When kids have mental health issues or disabilities, it’s even harder to find fun activities for them that match their interests.  I’ve gathered a list of some different kinds of activities in and around Hennepin County and also places you can contact to get even more information.

Three Rivers Parks District – Lots of different types of activities for families, from fishing and farming events to day camps for kids.  Please contact 763.559.9000 if you have any questions about special needs accommodations.

Get Out, Get Active!  Hennepin County and area cities have teamed up to offer a great brochure  with listings of fun activities and recreation resources as well as a participation card, that gives you a chance to win a free pass to Three Rivers Parks District (a $150 value).  The contest starts now, so check it out!

Hoofbeats and Heartbeats (763-441-2274) is an equestrian learning center dedicated to providing therapeutic riding and teaching proper horse care and management to individuals with emotional and physical disabilities, elderly and youth. Located in Otsego, MN

Mall of America – Nickelodeon Universe Parents of Kids with Special Needs children can stop by customer service within Nickelodeon Universe for your Park Handbook. A Manager will sign off on rides appropriate for your child and an adult can ride all the rides free of charge with the special kid as a chaperon. The book will also enable up to four people in the party to enter the rides from the exit so there is little to no wait time.

Pump It Up – Sensory Play Night – Come play on the giant, soft, fun-filled interactive inflatables 2nd Monday of each month from 6:00 to 7:30.  During this evening event the area is reserved exclusively for special needs children and their families.

Sensory Friendly Films at AMC Theaters For families affected by autism and other disabilities, these are special opportunities to enjoy their favorite films in a safe and accepting environment. The movie auditoriums will have their lights brought up and the sound turned down, families will be able to bring in their own gluten-free, casein-free snacks, and no previews or advertisements will be shown before the movie.

More Resources and Ideas:

Reach for Resources (952-988-4177) provides therapeutic recreational services to Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center, Maple Grove, Golden Valley, Plymouth, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka, Chaska and Chanhassen.

  • YMCAs – summer and after school camps, lots of other activities
  • YWCAs – summer and after school camps, lots of other activities

City Parks and Recreation Departments – Classes, camps, sports,

Link

Can We Finally Stop Blaming Refrigerator Mothers?

Can We Finally Stop Blaming Refrigerator Mothers?

This recent genetic study by the National Institute on Mental Health found that five major mental disorders–autism, ADHD, bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia–share some of the same genetic risk factors.  

Check out the film clip attached where one of the study’s authors discusses that a common trait amongst these disorders is how the brain regulates the flow of calcium into neurons. This is known to affect the brain circuitry involved in emotion, thinking, attention and memory.

On the Problem of Avoiding

ostrich-head-in-sand1

When it comes to mental health issues, lots of people avoid them.  Teachers and school staff don’t want to bring up touchy subjects with parents, so they speak in vague, indirect terms, rather than confront the issue more head on.  Instead of saying, “Allison seems sad,” and stopping there, teachers should keep going. They may need to add, “The fact that Allison cries every day, does not seem to have any friends, and falls asleep in class regularly really concerns me.”  From there, a teacher might need to advance to: “You might want to have your child get an evaluation,” or “Your child may benefit from seeing a therapist or counselor.”  If possible, a teacher could offer a list of therapists or low cost clinics that a parent could call.

Of course, this type of honesty has to be offered in a framework of caring and concern.  Even if the topic is introduced thoughtfully and gently, teachers still may experience major blowback from parents.  After all, navigating a child’s mental health issues is a very emotional experience and carries with it an implicit set of blame for the parents. No parents want to hear that their own kid has a problem.  But they need to.

If teachers don’t say anything or coaches or pastors or principals, then parents can continue to tell themselves that their child’s behavior is somehow normal. Avoidance can last for years, often until a devastating crisis occurs.  Here’s a new approach: let’s focus on avoiding crises instead.

Link

Access to Children’s Mental Health Care

Access to Children’s Mental Health Care

I was particularly excited when I read this study by Child Trends: Adolescent Highlight: Access to Mental Health Care.  They really captured what parents have been saying for a long time about

  • missed opportunities for early intervention,
  • difficulties finding providers
  • services that wait for a crisis before being triggered,
  • a system that is poorly coordinated and difficult to navigate AND
  • the important role that school based mental health services COULD play in remedying many of these problems.

Rather than Armed Guards, How About Trained Mental Health Professionals in Every School?

ImageWhen my teenager had a meltdown at school a year and a half ago, she was called into the counselor’s office to talk through what was going on with her.  This talk and this counselor really helped her that day and in coming weeks as more red flags emerged.  Over the next year, the counselor shepherded my daughter and my family through a mental illness diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

This counselor was not an academic counselor or a school psychologist, whose primary duty was to administer tests.  She was a licensed, trained professional employed by a community based mental health agency who worked from the clinic in my daughter’s school.

Once I learned the gravity of my daughter’s situation, we set up weekly appointments. My insurance company paid for these services, and I didn’t have to drive her to weekly appointments.  I didn’t miss work and she didn’t miss much school, but she got the help she needed. I’m happy to report she is doing much better these days, but some days are still a struggle.

There are lots of kids with mental health issues and most kids go to school.  Why not bring mental health services to kids where they are?  If we want to protect our kids, my money is on school based mental health, because it actually works. It works because more kids get help and they get it earlier in their illness.  It works because counselors can build trusting relationships with students.  It works because counselors can work with teachers to help students who are struggling.  These are things that actually help prevent mental illness from spiraling out of control into tragedy.

These are things that armed guards cannot do.

Link

Are Psychotropic Meds Overprescribed for Teens?

Are Psychotropic Meds Overprescribed for Teens?Dr. Carrot

Parents who need to resort to prescription medication for the treatment of their child’s mental illness sometimes question their decision. This recent study by the National Institute of Mental Health should help them feel a bit better about their choices.  It concludes that psychotropic medications are not being oversubscribed for teenagers, as some media stories had reported.

The three groups most likely to be prescribed these medications were teens with ADHD, eating disorders or anxiety disorders. The report also suggested that youth being treated by a mental health professional were more likely to receive appropriate care than those being treated within general medicine or other facilities.