7 Ways to Support Your Child’s Mental Health

June 19, 2020

Our children and teenagers are suffering the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the civil unrest that has shaken our nation, just like we are. Even if they and their immediate families have stayed healthy, these crises have taken a toll on young people. From the outrage over the murders of countless unarmed Black people at the hands of the police and the racism it put on display, to the sadness of missing important life milestones, and the anxiety  they surely feel from all of the bad news out there, our youth need our support more than ever.

It’s natural that many of our children are sad and grieving, but increasingly, health experts worry about long-term mental health issues. While it’s true that children are often tougher, smarter, and more resilient than we give them credit for, we need to take their mental health seriously. Here are a few ways you can support your children.

 

Let Your Kids Be Sad and Grieve

Section 1As a parent, it’s natural that you want to protect your child from pain. However, denying them or trying to distract them from their sadness is actually doing them a big disservice. According to AltaMed’s Director of Behavioral Health, Sandra Pisano, PsyD,  this can make your child less resilient, which means they may have a harder time bouncing back from future sadness and disappointment. To help your child develop this important resiliency, help them participate in creative and playful activities. “Creativity and play stimulate the “pleasure” and “calming” parts of the brain, which in turn prevents or reduces sad and fearful reactions,” Dr. Pisano says. You might consider challenging your child to draw or write a story about what they’re feeling. This will stimulate their creativity while allowing them to honestly process their thoughts.

 

Communicate Honestly but Optimistically

Section 2

Even if your first instinct is to protect your kids from the harsh realities of current events, this could backfire. To some degree, your kids know what’s going on – and if they aren’t getting the full picture, they are probably imagining that things are much worse than they really are. 

Communicate with them honestly and frequently, including discussions about the impact of recent events, especially if your family or friends have been directly affected. Be straightforward and include reasons for optimism, too – for example, point to how individuals and communities across the country have pulled together to offer support for one another during these uncertain times.

 

Introduce Them to Mindfulness

Section 3Maybe you’ve heard about mindfulness at your job or from a social media influencer. It’s the practice of being present: slowing down, doing one thing at a time, and focusing on living in each moment. 

Mindfulness can help kids deal with anxiety and negative emotions, but it also has many other positive benefits, such as helping them make better decisions and improving their self-esteem. And, if they learn mindfulness at an early age, they can use it for the rest of their lives.

If you’re new to the concept, there’s a simple exercise you both can practice together. When you or your child find yourself in a stressful or uncomfortable situation, just STOP:

S: Stop. Whatever you’re doing, take a time-out.
T: Take a breath. As you breathe, tune everything out but the feeling of pulling air into your body. 
O: Observe. Notice what is happening, and your thoughts and feelings, too. 
P: Proceed. Whatever you do next, think about what you’ve experienced in this moment. 

Some people who practice mindfulness combine it with meditation, but you don’t have to – and neither do your kids. The best way to teach your kids mindfulness is to practice it yourself, and then together.

 

Limit Their Intake of News

Section 4Thanks to social media and being home all the time, we’re all seeing more news than ever – and many of us are finding that it’s terrible for our mental health.

An easy way to limit the intake of news is by limiting device usage and screen time. Think about creating device-free zones or times – for example, no devices at the dinner table or an hour before bedtime. You can also make time for your family to watch or read the news then talk about it. Try to speak about the news honestly, while also emphasizing any positive aspects,  and discuss what you can do to keep your family safe, healthy, and connected to loved ones during this time.

 

Keep Providing a Healthy Environment 

Section 5One of the best ways to support your child is by continuing to maintain a nurturing, stable environment. 

⦁    Make sure you create structure and routine in their daily lives.
⦁    Even if you want to spoil them or give in to requests for fast food, continue to cook healthy, balanced meals – good nutrition can make a big difference in their moods (as well as your own).
⦁    Keeping them healthy means keeping them on their vaccine schedule. This is more important than ever since many children have missed their shots, which could put your child at risk when schools start to open up.
⦁    Kids require more sleep than we do – even teenagers require 8-9 hours a night, so help them get a good night’s sleep.

 

Recognize the Signs that Something’s Not Right

Section 6We all know kids – especially teenagers – can be moody. However, look out for these clear signs that there could be a bigger problem.

⦁    Noticeable changes in personality and temperament
⦁    Fatigue or claiming to be tired all the time
⦁    Anger or acting out – children often mask their depression with aggressive behavior
⦁    Socially withdrawn
⦁    Difficulty thinking or concentrating
⦁    Expressing feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
⦁    Talk of self-harm or suicide

 

Get Them Help If They Need It

Section 7Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues are real, and they can have serious consequences for children if left untreated. If you believe something is wrong, talk to your pediatrician. They may be able to give you additional guidance or refer you to a Behavioral Health specialist

Our pediatricians are taking appointments now – your child may be able to have a virtual visit, but in-person visits are required for immunizations. Your and your child’s mental health matters to us, and we want to help!
 

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Why Having a Routine During Quarantine is So Important

May 28, 2020

It finally looks like we may be seeing some light at the end of the tunnel regarding COVID-19 lockdowns. So many of us have been sheltering at home, some of us without jobs, others trying to help our kids learn at a distance, all of us wishing for positive news giving us a date for when things will be back to normal. 

Even though there are reasons to be optimistic, we are still a long way from our lives returning to the way things were before COVID-19. Coming up with a routine or a regular schedule for your life is more important than ever. It can help you and your family deal with uncertainty and put you in the best position for whatever comes next.

 

Why Have a Routine?

Section 1

Humans are naturally hard-wired to crave stability and dependability. Our brains and our bodies perform better if we can follow a regular schedule. At first, it may feel fun or relaxing to have a lot of free time that you can use however you want – especially if you have a job you can no longer go to and other responsibilities that have shifted.  

However, the decisions you make about how to spend your time cause stress. Do I go to the market or wait another day? What time should I wake up the kids? Should I look for jobs online, or should I watch TV? When should I start cooking dinner? 

Without a routine, during a single day, you could be making hundreds of decisions, and the stress and anxiety will add up. Building a routine can take this pressure off and sticking to a routine can help boost your self-confidence. 


What are Other Benefits of Having a Routine?

Section 2

Having a routine can help you become more efficient. Say, for example, you need to look for a job, but you only give yourself a few minutes, here and there. You will probably spend a lot of time online, searching your computer for resumes and other important documents, and not get that much work done. But if you make it a habit and start a routine – such as spending two hours Monday, Wednesday, and Friday – you will get into a rhythm that will make your time more productive. This is true for almost anything, whether it’s work, school, cleaning around the house, or even working out.

Following a routine or schedule every day could also help you get a better night’s sleep!


Who Needs a Routine?

Section 3

Everyone in your household can benefit from having a schedule – especially children. In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has uprooted their lives the most, taking them away from school, their friends, and all the social interactions that stimulate their young brains. There are signs that many children may already be suffering from anxiety and depression. 

The truth is, this has been hard on all of us. You don’t have to create a perfect routine that mirrors how life was before but work with your family to create structure for everyone.


How Do You Make a Routine?

Section 4

Start out by writing out all the things you need and want to get done, then list them by priority or urgency. The key is to stay busy, yet still have time for meals and personal care.

If you still feel like you don’t have a lot to do, then, look at what you can break down. For example, if one of your items is “cook a healthy dinner,” then you also might need to add “go to the store,” “search online for good recipes,” and “wash and dice the vegetables.” Breaking big to-do items into smaller tasks will help you fill out your day.

Throughout your day, it may help to include things that you used to do regularly. No, you don’t have to get dressed up, but a small thing – for example, putting on earrings or lipstick can help. If you always went on coffee break at 10:30 a.m., you can still have a cup at 10:30 – it will help you feel more normal. 

One of the ways you can help create a sense of stability is to create dedicated areas for certain activities. Identify a space in your house for working, create a pleasing environment with all the things you’ll need, and then only work there. Do the same for exercise, family time, leisure, and self-care.

However, you should be realistic about what you can get done. If you try to do too much and miss the mark, you may get discouraged and then give up.

And, just like there are great apps to help you live a healthier life, there are many free apps you can use to start and stick to a routine. More than 20 million people use Todoist, a free app that’s available for both Apple and Android. And Habitica is great for children (and those who are young at heart).It takes a game-like approach to setting goals and rewarding good behavior.


When Should a Routine Go into Effect?

Section 5

Right now! You can start by creating routines for a few days a week, or even for an entire month.

Don’t feel too bad if you go off your schedule. You can try again tomorrow. The point of a routine is to make your life better.


Don’t Ignore Your Health Routines

AltaMed is open to serve you in any way we can, and we don’t want you to forget about your family’s health routines. Children’s vaccinations are more important than ever, and we have taken steps to protect you and your family’s health so it’s safe to bring your kids in. We are also offering online and over-the-phone doctor visits so you can continue to get the care you need. Call us and make an appointment today!
 

Busting Myths Around Screen Time: Balance is Key During Quarantine

May 06, 2020

Because of the COVID-19 epidemic, many of us are now working, playing, socializing, and going to school online. That’s a lot of screen time. And you may be wondering if all of that time spent looking down at a laptop, cellphone, or tablet is good for you.

The answers aren’t always easy. In a nutshell, spending 6, 8, or 10 hours online every day isn’t great for you, but you may be able to undo some of the harmful effects. Read on to learn more about common screen-related problems and how you can fix them.

 

The Myth: Increased Screen Time Can Lead to Weight Gain, Diabetes, and Other Health Problems

man playing video games

The Truth: There’s scientific evidence that too much sitting – whether it’s in front of a screen, on a couch, or behind the wheel of a car – can lead to heart disease, a shorter life, weight gain, increased risk of dementia, and many other health problems.

With increased screen time, you’re probably seeing more online ads and commercials for fast food, snacks, and other unhealthy products. These ads can stick in your brain and influence what you buy later.

Finally, there is a connection between lack of sleep and weight gain. If your device use affects your ability to get a good night’s sleep, then you may be eating more, moving less, and gaining weight.

The Solution: Include more movement in your day. Even if you’re having a difficult time with vigorous exercise, just start moving as much as you can. At least once an hour, get up from your computer and walk a lap around your house. And read on for tips to keep your devices from keeping you up at night.

 

The Myth: Too Much Screen Time Interferes with Your Sleep

woman writing a document

The Truth: This is true, for a number of reasons:
1.   First, your devices give off a light that may keep you up or make it harder for you to shut your brain off.

2.   If you spend too much time reading the news and worrying about the day’s events, that can also cause you anxiety and make it harder to sleep.  

3.   Finally, if you find yourself consistently binging content or texting in bed when you should be asleep, you could be throwing your schedule off, making it more difficult to get restful sleep.

The Solution: Put your devices down at least an hour before bedtime, but if you absolutely, positively need to be on your phone, switch your apps over to dark mode, which is easier on your eyes, your brain, and your phone’s battery life. Also, set limits on the amount of news you see.

 

The Myth: Staring at a Computer All Day is Bad for the Eyes

boy using an smartphone with his father

The Truth: Finally, some good news! Increased screen time won’t permanently ruin your eyes, and no one has ever gone blind just by staring at their phone all day. But you can get temporary eye strain, discomfort, and even headaches. 

The Solution: You can take steps to correct the strain and protect your eye health. One easy thing you can do is simply to blink more often! This will help refresh and moisten your eyes. If you wear contact lenses, try switching to glasses (if you have them) or working without your contacts. A few simple changes to how you work at your computer can prevent eye strain as well as headaches and backaches, too. Believe it or not, sore, dry eyes can lead to an achy back, so try these stretches and exercises to keep your spine mobile

 

The Myth: Too Much Screen Time Hurts Kids’ Brains

back of a kid watching tv and wearing headphones

The Truth: An excess amount of screen time can harm young, developing brains. Studies have found too many hours in front of a device can lead to developmental delays, poor social skills, behavioral problems, and a general feeling of unhappiness or a lack of well-being. 

The Solution: For younger children, limit their screen time to the absolute minimum. The American Academy of Pediatrics has developed these guidelines:

  • For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, no more than one hour per day.
  • For children over the age of 6, set limits on the time as well as which devices and content, and make sure this time doesn’t interfere with getting enough sleep and physical activity. 

Work with your children so they’re doing as much schoolwork offline as they can. Encourage physical play and exercise – get outdoors as much as possible, while still being safe. Make screen-free family time a priority, and do as much IRL (“in real life”) socializing as you can safely, paying attention to the latest recommendations from our mayor and governor.

 

Set a Good Example for Your Family

mother and daughter speaking at the table

We understand how essential phones, tablets, and computers are right now, but as so many of us are battling isolation and loneliness, do what you can to connect with those in your household.  Create device-free times throughout the day – and even no-phone-zones throughout your house (for example, at the dinner table).

We’ll get through this – and until we do, AltaMed is here for all of your family’s health needs. We’re even offering appointments by phone to help you grow healthy, no matter what.