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Summer Mental Health Tips for Children

It’s summer and…I’M BORED!!!

This is an all too familiar complaint for many parents.  Summer is supposed to be laid-back, less stressful, and full of positive feelings, right?  However, the transition from a structured schedule to the unstructured days of summer often can be challenging.  This is especially true for children with anxiety, ADHD and autism spectrum disorders.  Summer also tends to have a focus on being more social and this can lead to feelings of isolation for some children who struggle with depression or social challenges.

Here are some tips to be mindful of during the summer months:

Parenting on Purpose: Discipline

DISCLAIMER: This blog is not written by a psychologist with superpowers who has never become frustrated at her children. This blog is written by a real mom who recently caught herself yelling “Stop yelling at your sister!” …and the irony had her thinking, “Hmm. I could blog about that.”

When responding to our children’s negative behaviors, from minor infractions to blatant disobedience, it’s best to leave emotion out of it. If we get too frustrated by our children’s behavior or feel personally offended by it, our response is often more emotional than logical. A bit of mindfulness (being in the present moment without thinking about the past or future) can be useful here. When your child throws a tantrum, the focus should be on this one tantrum, not that it is his fifth tantrum over the past 2 weeks or that you have to get dinner ready in 30 minutes. Responding to the moment without the emotional baggage of what has happened or what needs to happen can free up our resources and allow us to approach the situation—and our children—more rationally.

When In Doubt, Talk It Out

Humans have communicated via storytelling for thousands of years. Prior to the codification of language, non-verbal acts such as pantomime were used to inspire, educate, and entertain. The advent of language allowed for a more refined method of addressing some of life’s most pressing questions.

Within the process of storytelling, both the teller and the listener are thought to benefit. The former is given an opportunity to share, while the latter may find comfort in the connection. Case in point: my first-ever concert was legendary blues guitarist B.B. King at the long-gone Poplar Creek Music Theater. As was typical, he opened the show with his classic tale of woe, The Thrill Is Gone. As he bellowed such lines as “the thrill is gone away from me / although I’ll still live on / so lonely I will be,” the crowd erupted with cheers of approval as the storyteller put words and melody to a universally relatable feeling.

Recent findings from UCLA’s Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory appear to support this idea. This research team found that when participants were shown photos of angry faces, the region of the brain that prepares us to defend ourselves exhibited increased activity. When participants were then asked to verbally assign descriptive words such as “angry” or “mad” to the images, the same area of the brain appeared to cool. In the words of UCLA psychologist Matthew Lieberman, “This is ancient wisdom, but now we can verify it with brain mapping.”

Spring Forward with more Steps!

With winter coming to an end (hopefully!) and spring approaching, what better way to ‘Spring Forward’ than incorporating more movement and exercise into our daily routines. Why is exercise really the ‘best’ medicine and why does my doctor keep recommending that I exercise more? Is there really a correlation between exercise and mental health? Absolutely!

In general, consistent exercise has proven to:

  • Reduce stress
  • Improve sleep
  • Boost self-esteem
  • Prevent feelings of anxiety and depression

The Mind, Body and Soul Connection

When was the last time you enjoyed a quiet mind? Have you found yourself attached to an emotion or thought? Have you noticed that often thoughts and emotions produce physical symptoms? In order to improve the well-being of an individual, we need to view them from a mind-body-soul perspective.

We often have heard “just try taking a deep breath” when stressed. Why? We know that when we take a deep breath it signals to our brain to relax. Focusing on breathing has been found to have positive results on well-being. One way that psychologists teach this technique is through the use of biofeedback. Biofeedback is a form of treatment that teaches individuals to use signals from their body to improve their health. This leads to an awareness into how their minds and bodies work together in response to stress and anxiety. Learning about one’s heart and breathing rates when stressed is an example of how this awareness is achieved. Biofeedback can help many different conditions such as anxiety, chronic pain and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.