Ask the Guidance Center Experts, Blank Slate, April 24, 2021

Ask the Guidance Center Experts, Blank Slate, April 24, 2021

In this monthly column, therapists from North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center answer your questions on issues related to parenting, mental health and children’s well-being. To submit a question, email NSCFGCexperts@gmail.com.

Question: I had my beautiful baby girl two months ago, but being a mother is nothing like what I expected. I am so depressed most of the time that I have trouble getting up in the morning, let alone taking care of my baby. I’m also paralyzed by fear that something bad will happen to her. How can I be so sad when this is supposed to be one of the best times in my life? I feel like the worst mother in the world. 

Distressed Mom

Dear Distressed Mom: It’s very possible that what you are experiencing is a condition known as postpartum (maternal) depression. First off, please know that this is not about whether or not you are a loving and dedicated mother. It’s a disease like any other, and there are steps you can take to get better.

While many women experience some mild mood changes during or after the birth of a child, 15 percent to 20 percent experience more significant symptoms of postpartum depression and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

The symptoms can include feelings of anger, sadness, irritability, guilt, lack of interest in the baby, changes in eating and sleeping habits, trouble concentrating, thoughts of hopelessness and sometimes even thoughts of harming the baby or herself. These symptoms can also begin during pregnancy, not just after they have the baby.

The good news is that help is available. One resource is North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center’s Diane Goldberg Maternal Depression Program. Services include:

  • Screening and assessment
  • Individual, couple and family therapy
  • Crisis intervention consultation
  • Psychiatric evaluations and medication management, where needed
  • Support groups
  • Back-to-work family support
  • Help with self-care

Another great place to find help is the Postpartum Resource Center of New Yorkpostpartumny.org, (855) 631-0001.

While motherhood is wonderful in many ways, it’s OK to admit it can be really hard, especially in the beginning. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help!

Question: My son is in fourth grade and is insisting all his friends already have a cell phone. We think it’s too soon. What should we do?

— Old-fashioned Parents

Dear Old -Fashioned Parents: There is no “right time” to give your child his own cell phone—but acquiescing to the “but everyone has one” plea is definitely not a smart move. Is he apart from you often beyond school hours and active with extracurricular activities? That might make it a useful means of communicating with you. Is he typically responsible with his possessions? Is he good when it comes to respecting limits you put on screen time?

If you feel like it might be useful for him to have a cell phone but you think he is too young for access to texting or the Internet, look into plans that only allow phone calls.  Other plans will allow for just calls and text, but that’s all.

Stay tuned for next month’s column, when we’ll talk about how to regulate your child’s use of phones and other tech devices.

During the pandemic, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center is seeing clients remotely via telehealth platforms or, when deemed necessary, in person. To make an appointment, call  (516) 626-1971 or email intake@northshorechildguidance.org.

Ask the Guidance Center Experts, Blank Slate, March 27, 2021

In this monthly column, therapists from North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center answer your questions on issues related to parenting, mental health and children’s well-being. To submit a question, email NSCFGCexperts@gmail.com.

Question: We think our son might be engaging in unsafe driving behavior.  The other night, he came home from being out with a friend and we could smell beer on his breath. Worse, he’d been the driver. What can we do?  

—Nassau Parents

Dear Nassau Parents: You have reason to be concerned. The statistics are frightening: More teens die from motor vehicle crashes than any other cause of death, and teen drivers are 17 times more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash when they have alcohol in their system as opposed to when they are sober.

The same holds true for marijuana and other drugs. A report from Liberty Mutual and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) found that one in five teens admit driving under the influence of marijuana, and one in four say they would take a ride from a driver impaired by alcohol or prescription drugs.

While many adults make foolish decisions about driving when they’ve been drinking, teenagers are even more susceptible to feeling like they’re safe to drive even when intoxicated. Their brains are still developing, and they tend to behave more impulsively, especially when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Plus, when they do consume alcohol, teens are more likely to binge drink than adults.

While the good news is that drinking and driving among U.S. teens has gone down by more than half since 1991, they still drive after drinking an average of 2.4 million times a month.

As a parent, you play a crucial role in your teen’s choices, even though sometimes it might not feel that way. Some ways you can encourage safe driving include:

  • Make a driving contract with your teen that agrees upon zero tolerance for drinking alcohol or using drugs when driving.
  • Tell them that getting in a car with anyone who has been drinking or using substances is never OK.
  • Promise you will pick them up if they end up in that circumstance.
  • Insist upon a “no texting while driving” rule—or their phones will be taken away.
  • Require seat belt wearing for both the front and back seats, even for a short trip.
  • Consider limiting nighttime driving, especially if your teen is a new driver.
  • Be a good role model: Follow all the rules of the road and never drink and drive.

Question: I hear about all the things people are accomplishing with their pandemic “down time,” but I feel more stressed than ever, since I’m working at home and have two kids who are in remote schooling part of the time. Am I being too hard on myself?

—Tired All the Time

Dear Tired: In a word, yes! Despite the fact that Shakespeare purportedly wrote King Lear during a pandemic, he surely didn’t have kids pulling on his cloak and asking for help with homework.

The stresses brought on by the COVID-19 crisis have been overwhelming. Please give yourself a break!  You don’t need to master crocheting or learn a new language right now. And don’t forget to take care of yourself while you’re focusing on everyone else’s needs. Whatever it is that soothes you—yoga, a warm bath, some time on Netflix—put it in your schedule. And ask for help, whether from your spouse, friend or another person who cares about you. You won’t be a good parent if you are burned out.

During the pandemic, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center is seeing clients remotely via telehealth platforms or, when deemed necessary, in person. To make an appointment, call us at (516) 626-1971 or email intake@northshorechildguidance.org.

Ask the Guidance Center Experts, Blank Slate, April 24, 2021

Ask the Guidance Center Experts, Blank Slate Media, February 10, 2021

In this monthly column, therapists from North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center answer your questions on issues related to parenting, mental health and children’s well-being. To submit a question, email NSCFGCexperts@gmail.com.

Question: My sons, who are four and seven, seem to be having more bad dreams than usual. They’ve both woken up during the night saying they were scared that we would die or get sick and they’d be left all alone. Any tips how to handle these nightmares?  

—Up at Night

Dear Up at Night: The pandemic is impacting the daily lives of our children in numerous ways, with anxiety related to remote learning difficulties, loss of social activities and fear of illness and death creating a mental health crisis. So, it’s no surprise that COVID worries are also encroaching on their nights.

With our younger clients, we use creative ways such as drawing or playing with toys to help them express and process their fears. Many of them have been drawing scary monsters or big waves that overwhelm them, which reflects the fact that feel they have no control over the virus. Odds are that your boys are having the same thoughts.

There are several things you can do to help your kids at bedtime. First, suggest that they comfort themselves with items that help them feel safe, such as a favorite stuffed animal or a special blanket. You could also try a practice that we use with clients, called “Grounding in the Five Senses,” which involves thinking about five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. This process helps them let go of their worry of the future and focus on the here and now.

Some other strategies:

  • Stick to their normal bedtime routine, perhaps reading an extra book that focuses on a happy, comforting topic.
  • Validate their worry and other feelings so they feel seen and heard.
  • Model reassurance and safety either verbally (“I’m here, I will protect you”) or physically with a hug.
  • Encourage them to imagine happy endings for their dreams before bedtime.
  • Limit their exposure to COVID-related news—but do respond to any of their questions in an age-appropriate way.

Question: As the mom of a daughter who has depression and anxiety, I feel guilty thinking about spending time on my own needs. Is it selfish to want some me-time?

—Exhausted Mom

Dear Exhausted Mom: Have you ever heard that if an airplane loses cabin pressure, parents should put on their oxygen masks first, so they are able to help their children?

It’s way past time that moms (and dads, too) learn that self-care isn’t selfish, especially if you have a child with special needs. If you are depleted and neglect your own mental and/or physical health, you won’t be able to be there for your family.

Prioritize your wellness, even if you have to tell yourself you are doing it for your daughter. The basics: Get enough sleep; fit in some exercise, even in five-minute spurts (it all adds up!); add a short period of meditation to your daily routine; and eat healthy foods. Most important of all: Ask for help! Family and friends rally around you if your child has cancer. Chances are, they’ll want to be there for you when the issue is mental health.

During the pandemic, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center is seeing clients remotely via telehealth platforms or, when deemed necessary, in person. To make an appointment, call us at (516) 626-1971 or email intake@northshorechildguidance.org.

Ask the Guidance Center Experts

Ask the Guidance Center Experts

In this new monthly column in Blank Slate Media’s The Island Now newspapers, therapists from North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center answer your questions on issues related to parenting, mental health and children’s well-being. To submit a question, email NSCFGCexperts@gmail.com.

Question: We’ve recently been concerned that our teen daughter seems to be feeling more blue than usual. Her grades have been going down, and she wants to sleep all the time. When we ask her how she’s doing, she gets very emotional. Should we be worried?
—Panicked Parents

Dear Panicked Parents: The pandemic has created an enormous amount of stressanxiety and sadness for all of us, including our kids. We’ve been dealing with this strange, new reality for eight months now, and there’s no clear answer as to when we will turn the corner and be back to our routines.

The fact that your daughter is feeling stressed and sad isn’t surprising; in fact, studies indicate that these feelings are on the rise all over the country. Changes in sleep and eating patterns are common, as are struggles with the unusual school schedule. Kids are also worried that their loved ones may become ill.

It’s crucial that you always keep the lines of communication open. As parents, we tend to jump in to try to “fix” what’s wrong, instead of realizing that sometimes, your child just needs you to listen and be empathetic, acknowledging their feelings and assuring them you are there for them.

There are some things you can do to help your daughter, and yourselves, during this challenging time. Basics like eating healthy foodsexercising regularlyspending time outside in the fresh air and setting up a regular school and sleep routine can make a big difference.

Of course, it’s important to look out for signs that your daughter’s issues might be more significant and require therapeutic intervention. Some warning signs: a continued drop in grades or refusal to go to school; withdrawing from friends and family; significant changes in weight, either losing or gaining; the inability to feel joy; increased anger; physical complaints like headaches or stomachaches; use of drugs or alcohol; and expressing thoughts of suicide or preoccupation with death.

North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center is seeing children and teens via remote therapy during this time, or in person when the situation calls for it. Our Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project offers a host of services to help children and teens experiencing suicidal thoughts. Don’t hesitate to call us at (516) 626-1971 for an evaluation.

Ask the Guidance Center Experts, Blank Slate, April 24, 2021

Ask the Guidance Center Experts, Blank Slate Media, December 1, 2020

In this new monthly column, therapists from North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center will be answering your questions on issues related to parenting, mental health and children’s well-being. To submit a question, email NSCFGCexperts@gmail.com.

Question: We’ve recently been concerned that our teen daughter seems to be feeling more blue than usual. Her grades have been going down, and she wants to sleep all the time. When we ask her how she’s doing, she gets very emotional. Should we be worried?

—Panicked Parents

Dear Panicked Parents: The pandemic has created an enormous amount of anxiety and sadness for all of us, including our kids. We’ve been dealing with this strange, new reality for eight months now, and there’s no clear answer as to when we will turn the corner and be back to our routines.

The fact that your daughter is feeling stressed and sad isn’t surprising; in fact, studies indicate that these feelings are on the rise all over the country. Changes in sleep and eating patterns are common, as are struggles with the unusual school schedule. Kids are also worried that their loved ones may become ill.

It’s crucial that you always keep the lines of communication open. As parents, we tend to jump in to try to “fix” what’s wrong, instead of realizing that sometimes, your child just needs you to listen and be empathetic, acknowledging their feelings and assuring them you are there for them.

There are some things you can do to help your daughter, and yourselves, during this challenging time. Basics like eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, spending time outside in the fresh air and setting up a regular school and sleep routine can make a big difference.

Of course, it’s important to look out for signs that your daughter’s issues might be more significant and require therapeutic intervention. Some warning signs: a continued drop in grades or refusal to go to school; withdrawing from friends and family; significant changes in weight, either losing or gaining; the inability to feel joy; increased anger; physical complaints like headaches or stomachaches; use of drugs or alcohol; and expressing thoughts of suicide or preoccupation with death.

At North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, we are seeing children and teens via remote therapy during this time, or in person when the situation calls for it. Don’t hesitate to call us at (516) 626-1971 for an evaluation.

Question: My eight-year-old son is in school two days a week and home the other three doing remote learning. While he’s been on this schedule for over two months now, he still struggles at times. What can I do to help?

—Port Washington Mom

Dear PW Mom: It’s common for kids of any age to have difficulty remaining focused on their remote schoolwork, since being at home offers up all sorts of temptations and distractions.

While it can be hard for parents to manage their children’s classwork alongside their own work and other responsibilities, familiarize yourself with your son’s school schedule to ensure he attends online classes and doesn’t miss assignments.

Another way to set him up for success is to create a small, quiet area where he can attend classes and do his homework. You can make it more appealing by personalizing the space with poster boards decorated with name tags, stickers and maybe some favorite photos.

Here are a few more pointers for all parents:

  • Encourage movement – build in time for exercise and movement before and during your child’s school activities.
  • Reduce distractions including noise and visual clutter.
  • Enlist your child in setting up a designated workspace that is comfortable.
  • Give your child, and yourself, breaks during the day.
  • Particularly for young children, give immediate positive feedback like a sticker or check mark on completed work to help with their motivation.
  • Establish good and healthy routines in the home.
Ask the Guidance Center Experts, Blank Slate, October 10, 2020

Ask the Guidance Center Experts, Blank Slate, October 10, 2020

In this new monthly column, therapists from North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center will be answering your questions on issues related to parenting, mental health and children’s well-being. To submit a question, email NSCFGCexperts@gmail.com

Question: My son and daughter are athletes on their school’s sports teams, and they’re really struggling with the loss of these activities due to the pandemic. How can I help them deal with this difficult situation?

—Sports Mom

Dear Sports Mom: Being part of organized sports is such an important part of life for many of our children and teens, and you’re correct in describing this as a loss.

The many benefits of sports to a child’s physical and mental well-being are well known. Sports help kids develop fine motor skills, reduce stress and boost their immune systems. Children who participate in sports tend to have greater self-esteem. They learn teamwork, responsibility and perseverance, and they develop lasting friendships.

Many of our kids are experiencing a deep sense of grief. They’ve not only lost sports, but also many other important activities and the many relationships closely tied to those experiences.

As with any disappointment, encourage your child to discuss their feelings instead of keeping them all bottled up. You never want to give the impression that this isn’t a big deal. It is!

While they may want to spend more time on their screens, it’s important to set limits. Too much screen time is likely, in the long run, to make kids feel more isolated, unmotivated and demoralized. It’s fine to relax those rules to some degree, allowing for the diversion and connection with their peers, but don’t abandon reasonable limits altogether.

Perhaps your most important tool is to create other opportunities to keep your child healthy and engaged. Those could include family walks or other physical activities, such as practicing drills together or doing an online exercise class.

Although we don’t have a timetable for when the pandemic will be over, let your kids know that the best medical experts in the world are working on the solution and that you are optimistic that things will return to normal.

Question: Our daughters, one in middle school and the other in elementary, were taunted by one of their classmates because they are Chinese Americans. The boy called them derogatory names and said that they caused the pandemic. What can we do to protect them from this type of discrimination?

—Heartbroken Parents

Dear Heartbroken Parents: Sadly, anti-Asian bias has been widespread throughout the country and right here on Long Island. Verbal and even physical assaults against kids and adults have risen dramatically.

Your first job is to listen to your children closely and validate their feelings. They are likely frightened, angry and even embarrassed—all normal responses to such a traumatic event. Tell them they have nothing to be ashamed of and being bullied is not their fault.

Report the incident to their teacher, guidance counselor and principal. Suggest that they discuss bias and racism in the classroom and assemblies. Students need to be taught that any type of racist behavior or slurs will not be tolerated. They also need to learn about the value of diversity from a very early age.

Some more important steps:

  • Advise your children to record these interactions with their phones as soon as they begin.
  • Give children age-appropriate facts about the virus, so they know no culture is responsible for the pandemic.
  • Model the behavior you want to see in your children by being anti-racist yourself.
  • Teach them to stand up for themselves respectfully without escalating the situation further.

If the bias is an ongoing problem or there is any physical harm or threat of harm, contact the police, and make sure your children know to dial 911 if they are ever in danger. You can also report the incident to Nassau County’s Office of Asian-American Affairs at (516) 572-2244.

Helping your teen through back-to-school social challenges: 10 tips from LI experts

Helping your teen through back-to-school social challenges: 10 tips from LI experts

By Beth Whitehouse, Newsday, September 18, 2020
Photo: Olivia, 11, and Samuel Murad, 15, were both anxious and excited about returning to school.  Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Olivia Murad, 11, was anxious about more than just entering a new school with new teachers and new classes ahead of her first day of middle school in Great Neck. This year, she also has to deal with concern of the coronavirus.

“She’s a little nervous; wants to know if she’s going to be safe,” says Olivia’s mom, Ianthe, 46, a clinical audiologist. Murad and her husband, Rachid, 48, who works in human rights at the United Nations, have decided it’s important to send Olivia back to the classroom alternate days according to the district’s hybrid plan. “We really have been attached at the hip since lockdown in early March,” Murad says of herself and her daughter. “I feel that the social component is so critical at this age.”

So does Olivia. “When I heard we had to do online school, I had no motivation to get up in the morning and do my work,” she says. “My motivation is seeing my friends.”

Samuel, 15, who is in 10th grade at a private school, is attending five days a week. “I’m very happy about that,” Samuel says. “Getting back to a normal schedule, waking up really early, going to class.” He jokes that he should have readjusted within the first two months.

Like other parents, the Murads are hoping their children adapt easily and any anxiety fades away. “This is a major moment. They’re going to school during a pandemic, which has upended everybody’s world and is pretty scary,” says Karen Fleiss, psychologist and clinical director of the NYU Langone Child Study Center’s Long Island office in Lake Success. Fleiss and other experts offer these 10 ways to help the fall be happier for tweens and teens:

1. Understand and validate

Parents should validate their teen’s feelings to help them process emotions instead of internalizing them, says Elissa Smilowitz, director of triage and emergency services for the North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center in Roslyn Heights.

Mark Lashley, a pediatrician at Valley Stream Pediatrics, part of Long Island’s Allied Physicians Group, likens the pandemic to a rock thrown into a pond creating ripples. “Covid has added a layer of complexity to these worries kids have and the stress they feel,” he says. Separation by six feet may hinder their typical manner of socializing. “They’re worried about the joyful activities they were expecting to have and whether they’re going to have them.”

Parents can be an outlet. “Sometimes teenagers are just looking for people to hear them,” says Pia Alexander, a family therapist in private practice in Brooklyn and Mineola who has two teenagers.

2. Be flexible

“Because things are changing so much moment to moment, it requires a lot of flexibility,” Alexander says. Not just from the kids. “When things don’t look the way you were expecting, it’s about how you respond to those differences.”

Do what’s right for your family and your children, Alexander advises. “Instead of comparing your own family to what other families are doing on social media, families have to define what is special to their own family,” she says. “People are curating these images to put out a story they want to represent them instead of what is really going on.” Eschew the “shoulds,” she says. “Families are going through different experiences.”

3. Try to foster excitement

“There’s an undercurrent of disappointment in what school is actually going to be like this year. They know what it was like in the spring, and they didn’t love it,” Fleiss says. “The energy of the new school year, all the newness of it, it’s just not there.”

Fleiss has one client, she says, who asked her mom if she could change her room around to make it different and a fresh start for the school year; parents can try to help students find ways to feel more engaged.

4. Accept your child’s weaknesses

Accepting their vulnerabilities can reduce family stress. Kids may be worried whether their friend groups will still accept them after having been apart, Smilowitz says. “The worry is, ‘Are they going to talk to me?’” They may have fears about their academic performance.

“Your kid might not be able to achieve everything they would in a typical year,” warns Caroline Mendel, a private practice psychologist from the North Shore. Adjusting expectations will make everyone happier, she says.

Acknowledge that this is hard. “When you see them off task, remind them that you’re with them and they can do it,” says Don Sinkfeld, a mental health practice owner in Valley Stream who has a 13-year-old daughter. Adolescents don’t relish hearing a parent say, “Didn’t you get the instructions about how to turn this assignment in?” “If the kids feel like they’re going to disappoint you, they’re not talking,” Sinkfeld says.

5. Impose daily structure

“Children don’t have the best, what we call in pediatrics, ‘executive functioning.’ They need guidance,” Lashley says. “Providing structure is very important — time for work, time for play, time for bed, time for exercise.”

That routine may look different from a year ago, but a predictable routine is grounding, Mendel agrees. Parents may need to help children break academic tasks down into manageable steps, she says.

Try to limit electronics, Lashley adds. “We lump all electronic devices — TV, tablet, phone and gaming consoles — into one category,” he says. During the summer, experts told parents they could relax the normal advice to keep children entertained in isolation. But now, parents ought to resume some restrictions, Lashley says. The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines recommends teens have no more than two hours of recreational screen use per day, he says.

6. Allow teens some autonomy

“They’re in this stage where they need to start making decisions,” Fleiss says. Come up with your non-negotiables, what are absolute musts for you, and then allow some choice and ownership on other decisions, experts say.

“Instead of imposing boundaries, you want to discuss it with them, especially with older teens,” Alexander agrees. Say, for instance, “In our family, we all try to get to sleep at this time. Does that feel reasonable to you? What do you propose?”

7. Try to offer socialization outside of school, albeit safely

“Any therapist who works with teens knows that the social setting — their peers, their friends — is the most important thing for them,” says Kathy Sionit, a social worker in private practice in Great Neck who has five children between 11 and 17.

Schools that are totally remote or keeping children six feet apart may not truly offer satisfying socialization, Alexander says. “Parents should, as much as they can, and by what is safe for their family based on medical issues, try to tailor some social interaction for their tweens and teens with others.”

8. Embrace nature

A positive during the pandemic has been the amount of time tweens and teens may be spending outside, Sionit says. Other experts echoed her. “Getting outside into nature is very helpful for children who are having trouble adjusting,” Lashley says.

9. Have a sense of humor

Tweens and teens are trying their best, Sinkfeld says. When things go wrong, try to laugh. “Have a sense of humor about it.”

10. Watch for depression/anxiety

Some teens may experience depression, anxiety, hopelessness, apathy, loss of motivation, even suicidal ideation, experts say. Parents should watch for changes in sleep patterns and appetite, increased irritability or sadness, and decreased ability to concentrate, Lashley says.

It may be a temporary adjustment disorder, Sinkfeld says. “Adjustment disorder means the person is experiencing some kind of life event that they are having trouble adjusting to. COVID changes to school and household routine, even how you learn, that is definitely a huge adjustment,” Sinkfeld says. If parents are seeing signs, they should consider reaching out to a professional for help, experts say.