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Back To School Blues - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Back To School Blues

August 20th, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

As North Texas children return to school next week, parents are hoping for a smooth transition from summer activities to a great school year. But instead of excitement and anticipation, many children are experiencing the “back to school blues” as summer transitions to fall.

Parents often ask me what factors help usher in a smooth transition from summer to the new school year. Here’s the truth:

In the mind of a child, summer should never end! The return of routine and responsibility will damper their moods temporarily but they must learn that school and hard work are a part of life. Here are the key factors to keep in mind as school begins.

  • New Experiences Create Anxiety: How your child handles change and the anxiety that comes with it determines how bumpy the reentry into school can be. A new teacher, new friends, a new classroom, and a new schedule all create anxiety because the child is confronted with novel circumstances that demand more of him. He’s got to think faster, better and more effectively as he navigates the new environment.
  • Temperament and Personality: Temperament (which is physiologically determined) has a lot to do with how kids handle change and stress. For example, children who have a shy, slow to warm up temperament are going to retreat the first few days of school making a quick adjustment more difficult. Extroverted kids are going to “dive” right in and won’t skip a beat. Effective parenting that “fits” your child’s temperament style is essential. Be more patient with the slow to warm up kid and coach your extroverted child to enjoy school but behave in the classroom.
  • Major Family Changes Predict School Transition: Major family changes are tough on kids. Events such as separation, divorce, financial setbacks or relocation can affect how a child handles the first days of school. If a lot of change has occurred in their lives recently, they may just be more distracted. Coping skills may be “maxed out” and they may have trouble calming down
  • Academic History: Last year’s academic history affects this year’s beginning beliefs about school. Returning to school can be daunting if your child had a hard time last year. Remind him that he can determine a better start during this new school year by trying harder and doing his best.

Rarely, children can turn school jitters into something more serious. If you’re concerned, here’s what to look for:

After a couple of weeks, if your child is continuing to resist attending school or has prolonged bouts of tears before or after school, he may have a problem that needs to be addressed. Remember that problems with kids are usually progressive and develop gradually over time. A bad day once in a while isn’t a big deal. However, we become concerned when there is a steady pattern of misbehavior, sadness and school resistance. Take behavior changes seriously since children are often unable to articulate what is bothering them. They rely on you to figure it out.

Here’s my advice for parents to help their kids enter the new school year:

  • Teach Calming and Soothing Skills: Parents are the most important teachers in the world and when school anxiety overwhelms your child, you must stand strong. Do not become irritable because your child is struggling. Your job as a parent is to coach your child by helping him to restore perspective and resist catastrophic thinking. Don’t dismiss his concern, but use logic to argue against his worst fears and restore a feeling of predictability and safety.
  • Rules are Vital--Be Clear and Concise: Many of us fail to communicate clear expectations and goals for our kids since we usually think those rules are obvious. Don’t assume anything! Discuss clear expectations regarding friends, grades, school behavior, homework and morning and bedtime rituals.
  • Focus and Organize: The new school year and the new challenges that come with it make most kids feel out of control. Organize your child to reduce his anxiety. Assemble his school supplies, clarify his schedule, find his locker and organize his first week of clothes. Eliminate the unknowns as much as you can.
  • Be a Participating Parent: Nothing helps a child to feel safer and more secure than to have a parent participate in getting the new year started. Remain upbeat during the morning rituals and talk about how great things will be in his new classroom. Walk through the halls to his new classroom, meet his teacher, greet his friends and their parents and assure him that all is well.
  • Resist Helicopter Parenting: Do not over parent. Helicopter parenting is becoming a national epidemic and this parenting style has disastrous effects for our kids. Frequent rescuing prevents the child from learning how to resolve adversity, accept consequences and navigate his failures. Setbacks are a necessary part of life and make us stronger. Please allow your child to experience frustration and the proud accomplishments that comes from self-discipline and persistence.

The Quarter-Life Crisis - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dealing With The 'Quarter' Life Crisis

August 13, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

The twenties have traditionally been a time of establishing careers, marriages and financial independence. But in the current economic climate, psychologists are now reporting that today’s 20’somethings are struggling with epidemic levels of anxiety and depression. You may be wondering why it is so difficult for twenty-somethings in today’s economy.

There are several reasons why it is so much more difficult.

  • Affected by Economy: Young people in their twenties are experiencing brutal disappointment as they encounter a job market that is challenging for even the veteran employee. The economy is denying them access to entry- level jobs filled by more senior workers. Credit card debt, low pay, college loans and lack of opportunity are all common challenges. Such a collision of expectation with reality can lead to depression and disappointment.
  • Treading Water: Ambitious 20’somethings expected that their education would count for something. Those doors to greater opportunity are now remaining shut. Their twenties are becoming a series of disappointments rather than achievements or enlightening experiences. They move from job to job hoping for something better.
  • Longer Dependence on Parents: Today’s young person experiences a much lengthier transition from college to full financial and logistical emancipation due to education and financial hurdles. College typically lasts more than four years and may extend into six to seven years with graduate education.
  • Lack of Success Leads to Hopelessness: Such experiences build a sense of hopelessness, helplessness and even irresponsibility that can severely affect both their sense of effectiveness and their ability to activate in the present to achieve.

Parents often ask me if their 20’somethings have entered the working world with unrealistic expectations of success and why has it occurred? Here’s my usual response:

They absolutely have grown up with loftier expectations for themselves and the current economic logjam is an unwelcome challenge. Here are the core values of many members of this generation:

  • Mandated Happiness: Reared in a culture that taught them to feel good about themselves regardless of effort, fault or outcome, 20’somethings do not deal well with emotional discomfort. As a result, they tend to vacillate between two extremes – blaming everyone else and blaming themselves unfairly. Neither extreme is an accurate reflection of reality. Worst of all, such thinking does not allow them to improve. They remain stuck and indecisive.
  • Focus on Individuality: Individuality at any cost is a core value. Tattoos, piercings, and flattering pictures of themselves on social networking sites constantly update their fascinating lives.
  • Focus on Self Admiration: 20’somethings love to admire themselves. Eighty percent of recent college students scored higher in self-esteem than the average 1960s student. Worst of all, narcissism has risen as much as obesity and both are now epidemic. According to research, 10% of 20’somethings have already experienced symptoms of extreme self-centeredness. This trend is especially true for girls.

Those same parents then ask me if they had anything to do with why their children turned out this way.

Boomers definitely overshot the mark in their attempts to rear high self-esteem kids. “Over-parenting” and “helicopter parenting” are pervasive and this new generation has been cultivated, protected and praised too much. Suffering the consequences of your own bad decisions teaches you to be disciplined and to work harder. When kids are not taught the value of failure, sacrifice and altruism, they can develop unrealistic views of what life has to offer them. When they encounter a tough economy or even lose a job, they lack the psychological resources to deal with the setbacks. No one taught them the art of self-recovery and resilience. They become depressed, anxious and angry.

If you’re a parent of a twenty-something, here are some things you can do to help them in their time of need:

  • Cultural Overload: Realize that your child is “swimming” upstream against a culture that emphasizes instant gratification, connection and celebrity! Body image, body hugging clothes and achievement without earning it are values of our culture. Have some compassion for your struggling child but emphasize the lack of reality in our narcissistic culture.
  • Lessons of Failure: Emphasize in your own life and in your conversations with your 20’something your values of perseverance, self-discipline and the lessons of failure. Don’t lecture but build a bridge of disclosure and mentoring. Most of all stop rescuing and let them learn consequence.
  • Hardship is Temporary: Remind your 20’something that setbacks are rarely permanent and always manageable. The worst outcomes occur when people descend into negativity or simply stop trying. The choice to move forward against adversity is ever present and life determining.

Sources:

The Washington Post

“Emerging Adulthood” by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett

“The Narcissism Epidemic” by Dr. Jean Twenge, Ph. D. and Dr. W. Keith Campbell, Ph. D.

“Generation Me” by Dr. Jean Twenge, Ph. D.

Teen Sleep Crisis - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Teen Sleep Crisis: How Sleep Loss Causes Depression

June 11, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

Most of us as parents struggle with getting our teenagers to bed on time. Sports, school and socializing all postpone bedtime in a busy teen’s life but a major new study now reports that sleep loss can be dangerous. A new study of 15,000 teens sends some serious warnings to American parents.

This “just released” study from Columbia University is the first to examine the direct effect of sleep loss on the emotional health of an adolescent.

  • More Depression: Teens whose parents allow them to stay up past midnight on school nights are 42% more likely to be depressed than teens in bed by 10 P.M.
  • Suicidal Thinking: Less sleep can contribute to suicidal thinking. Kids who stay up late are 30% more likely to have suicidal thoughts in the past year.
  • Underestimates of Current Teen Distress: These statistics may underrate the severity of teen distress. With social networking sites and smart phones, kids are more active into the night and often refuse to comply with parental commands. It is easy to play on your iPhone into the next morning!

You may be wondering why lack of sleep is such a big deal for kids. There are a variety of problems when kids don’t get enough sleep:

  • Psychological Weakness: Kids who get less sleep are more impulsive, process their environment less accurately, become more helpless and descend into ineffectiveness.
  • Slippage of Grades: Academics are a huge problem for sleep-deprived kids — the less focus you have, the more distracted you are, and the less effectively you integrate new knowledge.
  • Loss of Emotional Stability: Even if they can tolerate sleep loss and still make grades, there is a psychological price that is paid in interpersonal diplomacy, regulation of emotions, and a general build up of frustration.
  • Obesity: Obesity is highly correlated with sleep loss. Teens are less likely to work out and eat moderately when they’re exhausted.
  • Driving Safety: Most fatal teen driving accidents involve sleep loss. Since kids need more sleep than adults, they are particularly vulnerable to carelessness on the road and falling asleep at the wheel.

There are a number of ways to get kids to go to sleep earlier. Here are a few ideas:

  • Eliminate Stimulants: Cut out the stimulants in kids’ lives, things like coffee, sodas and in some rare cases, amphetamines. They will go to bed earlier if they aren’t on a caffeine high!
  • Avoid Yo Yo Scheduling: Also, don’t allow your kids to do what is called “yo-yo scheduling” where they go to sleep late during the week and then go to sleep even later on the weekend! The lack of sleep on weekends has long standing effects on sleep patterns and melatonin levels, and kids often go back in to the work week more tired than they were on Friday!
  • Keep It Pleasant: Don’t engage in emotional conversations close to bedtime. Conflict interferes with regular sleep patterns and kids have a hard time settling down for the night.
  • If you want to know how to get your kids to sleep beyond these tips, the bad news is that there is no magic solution. There really is only one way to get your kids to bed:

    • Set Strong Limits: High school and college age kids average around 6.1 hours of sleep a night when they need 9.25 hours a night, on average. There is no way around it – parents must set stronger limits so their kids will sleep more! Your kids will have to experience that disappointment, but in the end you will also see improved performance both in the classroom and on the field.
    • Quick Emotional Benefits: Beyond the obvious benefits in school, adequate sleep can have a tremendous effect on your child’s mental health. Everything from mood to concentration to safety in the car can be improved. Even behavioral and academic problems can disappear with adequate amounts of sleep.

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