- Talk about the positive- Constant complaining, from kids and parents, brings everyone in the family down. Instead, try focusing on parts of the day that went well. This can be great exercise for family dinner, with everyone taking a turn to share positive events or accomplishments, or try a family gratitude journal as part of bedtime routine.
- Give opportunities for success and trying new things- Kids experience a boost of pride and confidence when they can be successful on their own! To practice at home, give children age-appropriate chores and the chance to do them well. Try new activities and promote the fun of trying new activities, rather than automatic proficiency. Kids will be excited to show you their new skills and accomplishments and embrace the fun of trying something for the first time.
- Help your child handle it- When your child is feeling hurt or sad, parents understandably want to step in and try to fix the situation- but this doesn’t help your child to develop problem-solving skills. Instead, talk with your child about what’s bothering him or her and then guide your child in developing an appropriate response plan.
- Reframe- When faced with a frustrating concept or more naturally talented soccer peers, many children will interpret the situation using a negative thought such as “I’m bad at math” or “I’ll never learn how to dribble.” This mindset, though, doesn’t allow for progress or change. Reframe those thoughts by normalizing your child’s experience (“Lots of kids on your team have to learn to dribble”), mentioning another situation in which your child was successful (“Remember when you learned subtraction? That was hard at first too, but you kept working hard and now you’re great at it”) and remaining hopeful (“This is a hard math worksheet, but you can do hard things.”)
- Be realistic and hopeful- Optimism requires realistic thinking, not just positive thinking. If you child is worried upset about something that’s realistic but not pleasant, such as making new friends at a new school, acknowledge the experience first. Share any relevant experiences from your own childhood and reflect what your child is telling you- “It’s hard to move to a new place. You’re worried that you won’t find any friends you like as much as your friends from our old neighborhood.” Once your child feels heard, he or she is more likely to move to problem-solving and ask for your help in making positive changes.
Resilience and optimism have a range of well-document positive effects on mental and physical health for kids and adults alike! Below are some tips on helping your child and your family develop positive thinking habits.
Many teens are chronically sleep deprived. The recommended amount of sleep for adolescents is 8-10 hours a night to function at their best, yet most average only about 7-71/2 hours. An earlier high school start time, physiological changes, involvement in extracurricular activities, and demands related to completing academic work may contribute to less sleep. In addition, screen time (video games, phone and social media use) is another important contributor to reduced sleep and sleep problems for many teenagers. As described in a previous blog, getting less than the recommended amount of sleep will influence mood, behavior, learning and academic success. Teens may be more easily frustrated, have more difficulty regulating emotions, display increased risky behavior, exhibit memory and attention problems, and drive drowsy increasing their risk for car accidents.
Recommendations for improving sleep for adolescents:
If problems are ongoing and significantly affecting child (or parent) functioning please seek additional support to rule out medical issues or causes. Also, medications, stress, anxiety and depression can each influence the quality and amount of sleep and should be considered when evaluating the causes of problems and where to begin for support.
Resources and References:
Learning how to communicate effectively with your partner is an important aspect of a relationship. This is what most people know. However, what people don’t always know is how to be a good communicator. Below are five tips to help you become more successful at communication.
The practice of mindfulness can help children improve their abilities to pay attention, to calm down when they are upset, and to make better decisions. In short, it helps with emotional regulation and cognitive focus. Help your child to start a mindfulness practice using one of the apps below. (All are free to try; some are entirely free and others are fee-based to access extra content).
Breathe, Think, Do (preschoolers)
This Sesame Street themed app helps preschoolers to work on problem-solving, self-control, planning, and task persistence using animated characters.
Calm (kids and teens with parent help; older kids and teens for independent use)
Calm provides a range of guided meditations and relaxing soundscapes in lengths of 3, 5, 10, 15, 20 or 25 minutes. It also includes several stories that parents can read to children to help them fall asleep.
DreamyKid provides kid-friendly meditations, guided visualizations, and affirmations.
Headspace provides calming sounds and guided meditations suitable for all levels. Teens will likely prefer the adult version, but kids and tweens will probably prefer the kid version.
Insight Timer (everyone)
Insight Timer focuses on relaxation, stress management sleep, and concentration. Meditations and activities are available for kids and adults.
Relax Melodies (everyone)
Relax Melodies allows kids and teens to pick specific sounds and make their own relaxing mix.
Smiling Mind (everyone)
Smiling Mind has a wide variety of mindfulness activities aimed at different age groups and settings. Kids may need an adult’s help to discover and use all the options.
Stop Breathe & Think Kids (kids and teens)
This app turns mindfulness into a game, offering children a fun and easy way to identify and process their emotions. Kids pick up to three emotions they’re currently feeling, and the app will suggest a few relevant activities. From counting breaths to frog jumps, each completed activity brings fun rewards to keep kids engaged! For older teens, try the adult version.
Three Good Things (kids and teens)
This online gratitude journal helps kids and teens to focus on the positive and recognize what went well each day. It’s a great way to begin an individual or family gratitude practice.
Sleep Blog 3a: Recommendations and Strategies to Help Children Get Sufficient Sleep By Kirsten Ellingsen, Ph.D.
There are many reasons that children and teenagers do not get enough sleep. Illness, medication side effects, anxiety, parent behavior and expectations, FOMO, an inconsistent sleep routine, and bedroom environment can each contribute to the amount and the quality of sleep for a child. The consequences of not getting adequate sleep were presented in an earlier blog about sleep along with the recommended number of hours of sleep by child age (see https://www.sleepfoundation.org/excessive-sleepiness/support/how-much-sleep-do-babies-and-kids-need). Below are some general recommendations to help foster sufficient sleep for children. A subsequent blog next month will outline recommendations for teenagers.
Sleep problems or issues for children are common. It is important to consider how child health, temperament, parent values and behavior, and setting might all influence sleep. *If problems are significant and longstanding it might be important to determine if your child has an underlying medical condition or sleep disorder that needs to be addressed.
Parent behavior matters. Parents can facilitate better sleep by establishing a calm and consistent bedtime routine. Start a bedtime routine early enough in the evening to facilitate sleep (an overtired child can make it harder to fall asleep; start the routine 30 minutes earlier if a child takes longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep). Create special bedtime rituals with your children. Also, discuss clear and reasonable expectations.
Sleep environments are also important. Dark, cool, and quiet rooms that have a comfortable bed (or crib) help facilitate and maintain sleep. Using a white noise machine also helps reduce distractions and night waking.
Age specific recommendations for increasing quality sleep are provided below.
Toddlers: Common problems include reluctance or resistance to go to sleep, night awakenings, fears, and trouble falling back to sleep after waking up.
Establish a consistent bedtime routine. Start with helping your child relax, consider quiet play without any television or loud noise for 60 minutes before bedtime. Reading stories. Give a bath. Listening to soft music. Routines only need to be 5-30 minutes, but should be consistent to help create positive sleep associations. Aim for the same bedtime every night.
Preschool Children: Common problems include resistance to go to sleep, night awakenings, sleepwalking, night terrors, and nighttime fears.
Continue to maintain a consistent bedtime routine with a similar start time each night. Include toileting, brushing teeth, bathing or washing. Read books. Proactively offer water. Use a nightlight if needed. Recommended practice is to leave your child’s room before he or she falls asleep and if your child gets up and comes to your room, help the child return to his or her bed and say good night again. Use minimal words. Keep the noise level low in the home so that TV or other sounds do not wake your child (particularly the first hour after he or she falls asleep). Preschool children may no longer nap during the day, but still benefit from rest and quiet time in the afternoon.
Elementary School Age: Academic work, extracurricular activities, screen time, and worry can contribute to reduced sleep. Children might develop a fear of dark or concerns about being alone in the middle of the night.
The following recommendations are from www.nemours.org to help develop good sleep habits for school age children:
TIPS to address fears or anxiety:
If your child is still not able to sleep, ask what might be bothering them or what they are thinking about (e.g., nervous about a test, excited for a party, teasing at camp).
If prolonged talking about daily worries is a problem at bedtime it might be helpful to set up a designated time earlier the day to discuss these concerns.
If your child is afraid of sleeping in the dark, play games with flashlights to increase comfort.
Another good habit to start is ending the day on a “good note”. This might involve you as a parent writing down positive behaviors you observed during the day (being brave by trying something new, listening to your request, getting along well with a sibling) or asking your child to remember something positive they enjoyed or that was good that happened during the day (this can also be helpful for children who tend to be negative or think in absolutes).
If your child has ongoing or prolonged sleep challenges despite implementing these recommended practices, please talk with your pediatrician. If you need support identifying or implementing contact a therapist with experience supporting healthy sleep practices.
References and Resources:
For safety considerations and more recommendations for infants and toddlers see:
For parents who do not necessarily have the time or energy to pick up a parenting book in the evenings but would like to learn some new information, podcasts are a great way to learn a few things while driving or exercising. Here are a few of Licensed School Psychologist Tara Motzenbecker’s favorite parenting podcasts:
The mission of Parent Footprint is to make the world a better place — one parent and one child at a time. Host Dr. Dan Peters teaches parents, families, and caregivers how to leave their best footprint for the next generation. Listeners will learn how to parent with increased awareness and how to be purposeful about leaving a healthy footprint on our children.
Hand in Hand: A Podcast for Parents
Every week hosts Abigail and Elle decode children’s difficult behaviors and share new and exciting ways to turn things around by covering topics such as setting limits, handling lying, and how to get a child to eat when they refuse.
NPR Life Kit Parenting: Raising Awesome Kids
What do math, kindness, and self-regulation have in common? They're ingredients to raising an awesome kid. In partnership with Sesame Workshop, Life Kit talks to parenting experts for tips and tricks to empower kids to be compassionate, embrace math without fear and cultivate self-control.
NPR Life Kit Parenting: Difficult Conversations
Is Santa Claus real? What happened to the cat? Why is that kid's skin color different? Raising children means facing tough questions. Sesame Workshop's child development experts have 50 years of experience with giving answers. They help us handle three sensitive subjects: magic, race, and death.
AT Parenting Survival Podcast (Anxiety and OCD)
Do you want in-depth advice on how to parent kids with anxiety and OCD? Tune in to this weekly podcast. Check out the back episodes on every imaginable topic on anxiety & OCD.
Hearing stories out loud is a great way to develop children’s reading and literacy skills. In addition to reading out loud to your child, podcasts can add some extra magic while also building skills. Here are a few of a Licensed School Psychologist Tara Motzenbecker’s favorite podcasts for children:
One of the first kids' podcasts to grasp podcasts' storytelling capabilities, this podcast is still going strong with kid-friendly renditions of classic stories, fairy tales, and original works. These longer stories with a vivid vocabulary are great for bigger kids past the age for picture books but who still love a good bedtime story. Best for: Big kids
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls
The Podcast is a fairy tale podcast about the extraordinary women who inspire us.The show is based on Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, the global best-selling book series inspiring millions of girls and women around the world to dream bigger, aim higher, and fight harder. Best for: Kids
Wow in the World
One of the newest podcasts to hit the scene, NPR's first show for kids is exactly the sort of engaging, well-produced content you would expect from the leaders in radio and audio series. Hosts Guy Roz and Mindy Thomas exude joy and curiosity while discussing the latest news in science and technology in a way that's enjoyable for kids and informative for grown-ups. Best for: Kids
This is a gentle podcast that encourages relaxation as well as mindfulness. Great for bedtime, but also any time of day when kids could use a calming activity, this podcast combines breathing exercises with whimsical visualizations for a truly peaceful experience. Best for: Preschoolers and little kids
But Why? The Podcast for Curious Kids
Kids are always asking seemingly simple questions that have surprisingly complex answers, such as "Why is the sky blue?" and "Who invented words?" This cute biweekly radio show/podcast takes on answering them. Each episode features several kid-submitted questions, usually on a single theme, and with the help of experts, it gives clear, interesting answers. Best for: Kids
Taking the first step to setting up a therapy session is very brave. You have decided that you are ready for something to change. But what do you do once you get there? What should you talk about and how honest can you be? How do you know if you’re making progress? Here are a few tips that therapist want you to know.
View therapy as a collaboration.
Your therapist is there to help you learn how to help yourself. Express your needs, ask questions, do the “homework” assignments and don’t be afraid to speak up if something doesn’t make sense. If you have something specific to talk about during the session then let the therapist know. This is your time and your therapist wants you to use it in anyway that will be beneficial to you.
Say anything in therapy.
People often censor themselves for fear of judgement or appearing impolite. However, saying what you really want to say will actually help lead you to making progress. Censoring yourself will only limit you. So speak up, whether it’s about how you don’t want to be in therapy, or you don’t like how the therapist said something or if you don’t understand why you keep having certain feelings about unrelated topics. Whatever comes to mind, say it. The therapist can only help with the information that you have given them. If you aren’t telling them how you’re really feeling, then they won’t be able to provide you with the appropriate advice or recommendations.
Do the work outside of the sessions.
Therapy sessions only last on average 50 mins and typically sessions are only once a week or every other week. If you limited your efforts to improving to just that time, it would take you forever to make any progress. This is why it’s so important to take the recommendations from your therapist and apply them outside of therapy. Do the “homework” assignments that are given to you. You will see progress quicker. If you are having trouble implementing the recommendations, then talk about it with your therapist so that you both can adjust them as needed.
Understand that progress takes time.
Therapy is a process and progress typically doesn’t happen quickly. Depending on how rooted the problem or issue is in your life, it could take months or years to completely be free from it. For some, it’s an ongoing process where they will be in and out of therapy depending on how the issue is affecting them at any particular time. However, if you feel like you have been in therapy awhile and there still isn’t any progress, talk to your therapist about it. Have an honest conversation about what could be stopping that progress from happening.
For many families, summer break is a great chance to shake up the family routine by adding a day camp or sleepaway camp experience. For some kids, this change is seamless- but for others, the change in activity requires a little extra support to ensure that your child has the best experience possible! Here are some tips to make the transition as smooth as possible.
For more information:
Part one of my blog series about sleep identified the recommend number of hours of sleep for optimal health for children and teens. This blog provides more information about the consequences of not getting adequate sleep and benefits when children do.
Why is sleep so important? Getting enough sleep is important for physical health, learning, and mood. Too little sleep at any age can affect cognitive functioning, emotional reactions, and a child’s ability to fight germs and stay well.
“Studies have shown that kids who regularly get an adequate amount of sleep have improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, and overall mental and physical health. Not getting enough sleep can lead to high blood pressure, obesity and even depression.” https://www.hopkinsallchildrens.org/ACH-News/General-News/The-importance-of-sleep-for-kids
When children and teens do not get adequate sleep on a regular basis the following negative effects can occur:
Mental Health and Cognitive Functioning:
Deficits in sleep can have long-term negative effects on brain functioning. https://www.webmd.com/children/features/good-sound-sleep-for-children#1
In addition, a “lack of sleep causes irritability, increased stress, forgetfulness, difficulties with learning and low motivation. Over time, it can contribute to anxiety and depression.”
Behaviors (symptoms) parents may see when children or teens are not getting enough sleep include the following:
Getting an adequate amount of quality (uninterrupted and well-timed) sleep is restorative and important for the well being of children and teens. When the recommended amount of sleep is attained on regular basis there is “improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and mental and physical health. https://aasm.org/recharge-with-sleep-pediatric-sleep-recommendations-promoting-optimal-health/. According to Sick Kids (Canada), children who consistently get a good night’s sleep are more creative, have better concentration, show better problem-solving abilities, make more positive decisions, learn and remember things better, have more energy, and make and maintain more positive relationships with others. There are many reasons why a child or teen does not get adequate sleep including medication, use of electronics, and stress. The final blog in this series will provide practical recommendations and resources to help facilitate better (and more) sleep for children and teens.
Please talk with you pediatrician if you have concerns about the amount or quality of sleep for children.
Additional Resources and References:
Does your child struggle academically or behaviorally in school? If the answer is yes, many parents like you are left wondering what to do over the summer to make sure their child catches up academically or at least stays on track. You may be looking into academic programs or tutors for the summer. The school may suggest ideas for you. Well I am here to help you advocate for your child’s mental health needs. Summer is the perfect opportunity to allow children to engage in the activities that feel good, that they are good at and that leave them with higher self-esteem. Children that feel better about themselves will be better in other aspects of their lives.
Let’s think about a child that struggles to focus at school. He feels bad about himself because his grades are poor and he spends his afternoons doing hours of homework because he couldn’t get it done at school. This poor guy doesn’t get to grow his strengths because he is spending all of his time and energy on his vulnerabilities. Summer is his chance to focus on his strengths and to equip him with the self-esteem he will need to return to school in the fall. Maybe he loves fishing. Attending a fishing camp would make him feel excitement and motivation. He would have to pay close attention to learn how to tie a certain knot and then engage in trial and error until he succeeds in tying the knot. He has to be aware of his surroundings for safety. He has to stay quiet in order not to scare the fish away. These are all skills that will help him in school (and in life) and he will feel good about working on them because he is engaging in an activity that makes him happy.
So when you are deciding on your summer plan, pause if you start thinking, “what will catch him/her up academically?” and change that thought to, “what will make him/her happy?”. You’ll be pleased to find out that the latter thought will have a much more dramatic impact on your child’s academic future.
Parent and Child Psychological Services is a private practice serving children and families in the Sarasota, Florida area. The practice is owned and operated by Dr. Gibson, a Licensed Psychologist who is Board Certified in Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.