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.

Helping Children with Grief during the Pandemic, By Elissa Smilowitz

Helping Children with Grief during the Pandemic, By Elissa Smilowitz

Last month, our country reached a devastating milestone: More than a half million Americans have died from COVID-19. 

Losing a loved one can be devastating under any circumstances, but it’s especially difficult now, when we’ve also lost many of the traditions that bring us together in our grief, such as wakes, Shivas and funeral services. Moreover, many were unable to say good-bye because of restrictions at hospitals and nursing homes.

In the pandemic era, more children and teens are grieving perhaps than at any other era in our history. Even if they haven’t personally lost someone, odds are that they have a friend who has, and it comes at a time when they’ve lost so much—school routines, graduations and a host of other activities.

While our instincts are to protect our children from pain and sadness, death is a universal experience in all our lives. As a parent or caretaker, it’s your job to help guide them through the often-complicated process of bereavement, but how?

One of the most important things you can do is simple but powerful: Listen and validate your child’s feelings, which may run the gamut from denial and confusion to anger and sadness. All those emotions are a normal part of grieving, and they need to know it’s OK to have them and talk with you about them. 

It’s also important for them to know that you are sad, too. When you express feelings of sadness, it will make your child feel more comfortable expressing their own grief.

Younger children may not fully grasp the concept of death and the fact that their loved one is not coming back. That’s one reason to use accurate terms when discussing the loss. Avoid saying grandpa “passed away.” Such vague terminology creates confusion.

It’s also helpful to bring up fond memories of your loved one. Focusing on the person’s life, not only their death, is a part of the healing process. 

Also, grief often comes out behaviorally with young children, expressed in tantrums, clinginess or other forms of acting out, so it’s important for you to recognize that this might be their way of coping. 

It’s also possible your child may feel some guilt and fear surrounding the death. Reassure them that they are not to blame, and that you and they are safe.

How do you know it’s time to seek professional treatment? If your child or teen isolates and seems withdrawn for an extended period of time, that may indicate that therapy would be helpful. Other signs might be sleep problems, changes in appetite or an academic decline.

Additionally, many children are reluctant to speak about their loss because they are afraid it will make their parents sad, and therapy can help provide a safe space for them to talk about and process their grief.

Of course, if your child expresses recurring thoughts of wanting to join the deceased or any other indication of suicidal feelings, it’s imperative to take that seriously and contact North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center or another mental health provider. 

If your child is experiencing grief from a loss, or facing any other mental health challenge, please call North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center at 516-626-1971 or email intake@northshorechildguidance.org

Elissa Smilowitz is the Director of Triage, Emergency and Suicide Prevention Services at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center. She also heads up the Guidance Center’s Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project.

I Don’t Want Another Family to Lose a Child the Way We Did, The NY Times, March 25, 2021, By Pamela Morris

I Don’t Want Another Family to Lose a Child the Way We Did, The NY Times, March 25, 2021, By Pamela Morris

The thought of suicide is terrifying, but we have to make talking about it a part of everyday life.

Dr. Morris is a developmental psychologist whose research has focused on early childhood education. Recently, she has turned her attention to preventing suicide.

I always felt so blessed watching my boy-girl twins; even as teenagers they would walk arm in arm down the street, chatting and laughing together.

But that blessed feeling evaporated in June of 2019, when I lost my daughter, Frankie, to suicide, three weeks before her high school graduation. Ever since that day, I have thought of little else except how I could help the next struggling teenager, the next Frankie.

Several days after her passing, we opened our home up to our community, including Frankie’s very large group of teenage friends. It was a muggy June day, and the air conditioning was no match for the hundreds of people who came through our New York City apartment.

There was a momentary pause in the steady stream of people offering hugs and condolences when a parent of one of Frankie’s friends put her hand on my shoulder and said gently: “What strength Frankie had. It must have taken enormous energy for her to do what she did each day.”

That was Frankie. She had the strength to engage in school and in theater, despite her anxiety and depression. She had an ability to connect — emotionally, profoundly — with others, even when she was struggling herself. Her friends spoke to us of being caught off guard by her hugs or endearing comments. A teacher once described her as “empathy personified, with quite the fabulous earring collection.”

I like to think that some of her strength came from the home we tried to give her. Whether that strength came from her home or somewhere else, or both, Frankie just had a way of drawing out warmth wherever she went.

But like many who struggle with suicidal thinking, she kept her own pain camouflaged for a long time, perhaps for too long.

Suicidal thinking, whether it is the result of mental illness, stress, trauma or loss, is actually far more common and difficult to see than many of us realize. A June 2020 Centers for Disease Control survey found that one in four 18- to 24-year-olds reported that they had seriously thought about taking their lives in the past 30 days; prepandemic estimates found that just under one in five high schoolers had seriously considered suicide, and just under one in 10 had made at least one suicide attempt during the previous year.

That’s a whole lot of kids. And some, like Frankie, are able to muster the energy to make their struggle almost invisible. Despite 50 years of research, predicting death by suicide is still nearly impossible. And with suicidal thinking common, suicide remains the second leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds, after accidents.

Like others who have lost a child to suicide, I have spent countless hours going over relentless “what ifs.” And because I am a developmental psychologist who specializes in prevention programs, my “what ifs” also include the ways the world might look different so that another family won’t experience our fate.

One day while driving on a familiar stretch of highway with “what ifs” swirling in my head, I saw a sign flash “Click it or Ticket.” It struck me: Maybe what we need are seatbelts for suicide.

“Click it or Ticket” was born in part out of a concern in the 1980s about teenagers dying in car accidents. Just as with suicides today, adults couldn’t predict who would get into a car accident, and one of the best solutions we had — seatbelts — was used routinely, in some estimates, by only 15 percent of the population. Indeed, as children, my siblings and I used to make a game of rolling around in the back of our car, seatbelts ignored.

Three decades later, our world is unlike anything I could have imagined as a child. Putting on a seatbelt is the first lesson of driver’s education; cars get inspected annually for working seatbelts; car companies embed those annoying beeping sounds to remind you to buckle your seatbelt; and for added measure, highway signs flash that “Click it or Ticket” message as part of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration campaign. The result? Most of us (estimates range as high as 91 percent) now wear a seatbelt.

What would it look like if we had an approach to suicide akin to universal seatbelt safety, starting early in adolescence?

Just as my parents couldn’t predict in the 1980s what seatbelt safety would look like now, I am not sure what suicide prevention should look like in the future. But I imagine a world in which every health worker, school professional, employer and religious leader can recognize the signs of suicidal thinking and know how to ask about it, respond to it and offer resources to someone who is struggling. Just as today we all know to dial 9-1-1 in an emergency (a system that came into being in the late 1960s), we would all know the national suicide prevention hotline (1-800-273-TALK, which will also be reachable at 9-8-8 in 2022) and text line (text HOME to 741741). We would “suicide-proof” our homes by locking up handguns, lethal medications and other things teenagers can use to harm themselves. And families would ask their children often about suicidal thinking.

When I told Frankie’s orthodontist about her suicide, his response surprised me: “We really don’t come across that in our practice.” Even though orthodontists don’t ask about it, they see children during their early teenage years, when suicidal thinking often begins to emerge. Can you imagine a world in which signs for the prevention hotline and text line are posted for kids to see as they get their braces adjusted? Or one with pamphlets in waiting rooms that instructed parents about suicide’s warning signs?

What if the annual teenage pediatric checkup involved a discussion of one-at-a-time pill packaging and boxes to lock up lethal medications, the way there is a discussion of baby-proofing homes when children start to crawl? What if pediatricians handed each adolescent a card with the prevention hotline on it (or better yet, if companies preprogrammed that number into cellphones) and the pediatrician talked through what happens when a teenager calls? What if doctors coached parents on how to ask their teenager, “Are you thinking about suicide?”

What if we required and funded every school to put in place one of the existing programs that train teachers and other school professionals to be a resource for struggling students? A number of states mandate training in suicide prevention, some as part of the Jason Flatt Act. States like New York and California (along with 13 others) encourage, but do not mandate, such programming. A few, like Rhode Island (which incidentally has the lowest teenage suicide rate in the nation), have no mandate but have still managed to pair training of teachers with resources for students, who are often the first to notice the signs of suicidal thinking in their friends.

But doesn’t asking about suicide put the idea in a kid’s head? Nope. Scientists at Columbia University have shown that it does not make them more suicidal, findings that were confirmed in a recent meta-analysis across studies of adolescents and adults. While it’s true that safe messaging about suicide matters, asking about suicide among adolescents does not increase their risk.

I recognize that despite progress identifying effective programs to combat suicidal thinking, their success rate and simplicity does not compare with what we see with seatbelts. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do more.

Part of doing more also includes making the world more just and caring. To give one example, state-level same-sex-marriage policies that were in place before the Supreme Court legalizedsame-sex marriage nationally have been linked to reductions in suicide attempts among adolescents, especially among sexual minorities. Just as safer highways and car models make seatbelts more effective, asking about and responding to suicidal thinking is only one part of a solution that also includes attention to societal injustices.

I understand, of course, that asking about suicidal thinking is scary. But if it is scary for you to ask about it, it is even scarier for the teenager who is thinking about it.

I will never forget sitting with Frankie in the waiting room in the pediatric psychiatric wing on the night I brought her to the inpatient unit, three months before she took her life. We had been there for hours, seeing one group of doctors and then another. A nice nurse had given us some apple juice and granola bars. Sipping from those child-size juice boxes and munching on one of the granola bars, Frankie turned to me and said, softly, almost in a whisper, “You know, I am so glad you finally know.” I could hear the relief in her voice. I just nodded, understandingly, but it broke my heart that she held on to such a painful secret for so long.

How do we build a more supportive world for our children? I find myself inspired by Frankie’s teenage friends, who cared deeply for her and now support one another after her passing.

During high school, Frankie found warmth and healing in the theater program office, tucked behind a door in a bustling New York City public school. On good days, she would sit on the worn couch in that office, snuggle in a pile of teenagers and discuss plays, schoolwork and their lives. On hard days, she would hide in an untraveled corner of that same office and allow the anxiety and depression to run its course. And in that corner space, she would text a friend to help her get to class or, after she had opened up about her struggles, encourage others to open up as well.

The fall after Frankie left us, some students decided to remake that hidden corner, dotting the walls with colored Post-it notes. Scrawled on a pink Post-it were the words “you matter”; a yellow one read “it gets better”; an orange one shared a cellphone number to call for help. Tiny Post-it squares had transformed the corner into a space to comfort, heal and support the next struggling teenager.

I don’t know if a seatbelt approach would have saved Frankie. And I understand that all the details of such an approach aren’t fully worked out here. But I don’t want us to lose any more children because we weren’t brave enough to take on something that scares us, something we don’t fully understand, something that is much more prevalent than many of us realize.

If 17- and 18-year-olds who’ve lost a friend have the strength to imagine a world dotted with healing, then the least we can do as adults is design and build the structure to support them.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You can find a list of additional resources at SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources.

Pamela Morris (@pamela_a_morris) is a professor of applied psychology at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development.

If your child or teen is expressing suicidal thoughts or feelings, we can help through our Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project. To learn more, click here

Illustration by Sally Deng

Celebrating Our Mental Health Professionals

Celebrating Our Mental Health Professionals

As we reach the end of National Social Work month, which runs through March, we want to take the opportunity to thank our wonderful staff at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, which consists of social workers, mental health counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, all of whom devote themselves to the children and families they serve.

Following are thoughts from some of our dedicated staff members on why they chose to work in the mental health field, making a difference every day of the year!

Although my undergraduate school major was economics and I thought I was headed for a career in big business, I chose to pursue a career in social work after working as a volunteer, first as a Big Brother with a couple of school-age kids while at Rutgers University in the early 1970s. About a year after I graduated, I joined Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) and worked with teenaged boys and girls in a low-income Mexican-American community in Grand Island, Nebraska. After spending three years in Nebraska, I knew I had to go back to school if I wished to pursue this kind of work as a career. After some research, I thought the social work field suited me best because of its values. Social work didn’t only see troubled kids as broken objects to be fixed, but as whole persons with assets and strengths. It recognized one’s environment as a critical influencing factor in their life—for good and bad. And, finally, social work believed in self- determination, human dignity and social justice. It was a good fit.  – Andrew Malekoff, LCSW

“Blessed are the flexible for they shall not get bent out of shape.”

We are living in a time of unprecedented chaos and transitions; our children and families are in search of an accepting, calming environment to strengthen their skills and successfully overcome challenges.  As therapists we can provide a much-needed safety net and take a transformative place in role modeling effective communication, adaptive self-care and mental health wellness in children and families. It is a privilege and a passion to continue my journey as a Mental Health Counselor.  – Hillary McGrath, LMHC

The past year has highlighted the importance of mental health services and support for our society.  As social workers, we’ve known this for a long time, and I think it’s a reason that many of us have chosen to do this work.  It’s not easy work, and it’s often undervalued, but the reward that comes from making a difference in the life a child or their family is what keeps me going. – Vanessa McMullan, LCSW

“Social work didn’t only see troubled kids as broken objects to be fixed, but as whole persons with assets and strengths.”

I chose social work after realizing that no matter where I worked or in what role, I always wanted every person I spoke with to feel like no matter what issue they had at the time, someone was in it with them. There’s no stop sign on your corner? That is concerning, let’s call public works together! Not enough crunch topping on your ice cream cone? Maddening! Let’s see what we can do. (Yes, I was fired from TCBY). I got my Master’s in social work as my third degree. I have worked as a journalist, supervised a long-distance learning department and managed a local radio station. I worked in various settings, from a run-down office in Southern Brooklyn to a posh corner suite on Wall Street. It was never quite right, and whatever I did never seemed enough. Working with children and families is special; so much of our understanding of the world and ourselves comes from the experiences from our family system. Small changes at home can really generate positive impact in other areas of our lives, especially for little ones. – Laura Mauceri, LCSW

After I started my Master’s degree, I knew right away that I would do clinical work. If only I can help people tolerate their distress and contribute to their better mental state by being empathic, listening to what they go through, teaching them coping skills and sharing my positive energy. They say, “Better late than never.” I am very thankful to my new profession which allows me to contribute to others and wake up every day knowing that I can make a difference. – Masha Leder, LMSW

“Having chosen the career pathway to work with children and families has proven to be both invaluable and rewarding during these unprecedented times.”

A career in social work provided me the choice of working in a multitude of settings. Counseling is a rewarding practice, as this service can improve outcomes for children, families and their communities. I have always valued the importance of a stable family unit. Having chosen the career pathway to work with children and families has proven to be both invaluable and rewarding during these unprecedented times. All children deserve the opportunity to thrive throughout their lifetime, and I am proud to foster their success. – Julia Bassin, LMSW

I wanted to be a social worker and to work with adolescents and families because I had hoped to become a trusted person that youth could connect with and let inside their world.  Having children and teens open up and share their inner feelings and experiences during the most challenging times in their lives is an honor and a privilege.  – Brooke Hambrecht, LMSW

“Small changes at home can really generate positive impact in other areas of our lives, especially for little ones.”

In retrospect, there was nothing I wanted to do more than to become an agent of change, and I found that in social work.  One could say that social work found me!  As I went through my years within the social work field and up to the day I decided to complete my Master’s in social work, I found that my passion lied specifically in working with children and families.  That is where I felt that I would have the most impact to make change possible.  Families live, grow and heal together, so why not be present for these struggles, changes and achievements to support families in seeing the end of their own rainbow? – Edenny Cruz, LCSW 

I have no children of my own, and it is heartache, but I feel good about them and me when I reach out to these little ones and see them grow.  I am in the fight to save as many lives as I can during this season. – Ruthellen Trimmer, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner 

“I am very thankful to my new profession which allows me to contribute to others and wake up every day knowing that I can make a difference.”

I entered the world of social service post undergrad due to my own personal experience with individual therapy and watching my own family navigate various systems of care for my older sister who is diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, and my father who was diagnosed with a terminal illness early on in his life.  I spent five years working with adults with a variety of psychiatric diagnosis in various settings prior to return to school to obtain my Master’s in social work. The turning point to obtain this degree for me very much had to do with wanting additional knowledge and training to have more accessibility to other settings of care. My supervisor during my first clinical placement said something to me that made me pivot to working with children. She said, “Whenever I have felt complacent or that I was overly knowledgeable in an area, I have challenged myself and changed the populations or setting I was working in.” Perhaps she sensed my complacency in the adult mental health world at the time. This is what led me to request that my second clinical internship be with young children and families. That was a defining moment for me, and I have been working with children and families since. I didn’t know it then, but I most certainly know now, that this is in fact my calling: to help children and families heal with an array of challenges and dynamics that this life presents. I take pride in wearing this title and continuing to improve my practice.  –Gillian Pipia, LCSW

I went into psychiatric nursing with children because I always liked working with children and their families. I like getting to know people in a more intimate and involved way. The relationships are ongoing and meaningful for the time that you are with them. It is rewarding and gratifying to see them move on and make progress. I am happy to be a part of that. – D.S., Psychiatric Nurse

The Back Road: The Recurring Nightmare of Anti-Asian Bias. By Andrew Malekoff, Published in Blank Slate Media/The Island Now, March 15, 2021

The Back Road: The Recurring Nightmare of Anti-Asian Bias. By Andrew Malekoff, Published in Blank Slate Media/The Island Now, March 15, 2021

Note: The Guidance Center received permission from Andrew Malekoff to post this commentary which he authored independently.

“We have seen this terrible nightmare before.”

So said Chinese-American activist Helen Zia during a forum on anti-Asian racism hosted by the Washington Post on March 8th. What she was referring to is the disturbing uptick in verbal and physical assault against Asian-Americans of all ages ever since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Zia and historian Erika Lee, reviewed some of the historical markers in this recurrent nightmare, beginning with the establishment of Japanese internment camps from 1942 to 1945, in reaction to Japan’s 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into WWII. The interning of Japanese-Americans has long been considered one of the most dreadful violations of American civil rights in the 20th century.

Some 70 years earlier on October 24, 1871, in what some have labelled the largest mass lynching in American history, up to 20 innocent Chinese immigrants were beaten, murdered and hanged by an enraged mob after a police officer and rancher had been killed, supposedly as the result of a conflict between two rival Chinese gangs.

Ten assailants were prosecuted and eight were convicted of manslaughter. The convictions were later overturned on appeal due to technicalities.

Eleven years following the Chinese Massacre of 1871, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 became law. It was aimed at curtailing the influx of Chinese immigrant laborers into the United States.

This marks the only time in American history that a specific law was passed that prohibited all members of a particular ethnic or national group from settling in the United States.

One hundred years later, in 1982, Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American draftsman was beaten to death in Detroit by two white men – a Chrysler plant supervisor and a laid-off autoworker.

Asian-Americans of all backgrounds became prime targets, as automakers from Japan who were producing more fuel-efficient cars were blamed for layoffs at “The Big Three” – Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. Chin’s murderers got off on probation.

Looking back, “people knew from personal experience that we were lumped together,” said Helen Zia. “But in terms of identifying as pan-Asian, the key thing was that a man was killed because they thought he looked like a different ethnicity.”

In her latest book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents Pulitzer-prize winning author Isabel Wilkerson cites anthropologists Audrey and Brian Smedley who explain, “We think we ‘see’ race when we encounter certain physical difference among people such as skin color, eye shape and hair texture.

What we actually ‘see’ are the learned social meanings, the stereotypes that have been linked to those physical features by the ideology of race and the historical legacy it has left us.” Indeed, most of the attacks against people of Asian descent in American are not against Chinese but anyone who looks East Asian.

Fast forward to 2021. The public health crisis we have been facing for a full year now has put a bullseye squarely on all people of Asian descent living in the U.S. According to reports by the Anti-Defamation League, “Go back to China” has become a familiar taunt against anyone who looks to be Asian and thought to be a source of contagion and disease.

Historically, immigrant communities have been singled out in times of public health crises. Their passage to the U.S. has been given pejorative labels such as plague and invasion, objectifying them as if they are riddled with infection or akin to swarms of insects carrying disease.

Here we are in the opening decades of the 21st century and the nightmare is back with a vengeance. In recent months it was brought to my attention that a 5-year-old Asian-American child was on the receiving end of a coronavirus-driven tirade while playing in a park in Nassau County. The verbal assault left him shaken and stunned that someone would yell such things at him.

On February 10th, USA Today reported that “in one week in February, a 91-year-old man in Oakland Chinatown was brutally assaulted, a Thai man was attacked and killed in San Francisco and a Vietnamese woman was assaulted and robbed of $1,000 in San Jose.”

Law enforcement can and should help, but nothing less than empathy will ultimately make the difference – “radical empathy” as Isabel Wilkerson advised, “the kindred connection from a place of deep knowing that opens your spirit to the pain of another as they perceive it.”

We all – all of us, bear the moral responsibility to stand up, as opposed to sitting by silently when we witness this terrible nightmare come to life.

Staff Profile: Vanessa McMullan

Staff Profile: Vanessa McMullan

Since the beginning of her career at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center 15 years ago, Vanessa McMullan’s work has focused on bringing healing to the youngest of our clients. 

“It’s a misconception that little kids only have little problems,” says McMullan, LCSW, Supervisor at our Marks Family Right from the Start 0-3+ Center. “Some children have difficulty regulating their emotions and behavior, and some have had to deal with very difficult circumstances” such as divorce or loss of a loved one.

Additionally, the pandemic has impacted youngsters in profound ways. “They may not fully understand what’s going on, but their lives have changed dramatically,” she says. “They’ve lost their pre-school routines, visits with grandparents and more. The anxiety level is very high for both kids and their parents.”

In her work with children, McMullan—mom to Riley, 4, and Addison, 2— incorporates a variety of tools, including games, music, books and the Guidance Center’s organic garden. “Youngsters can’t necessarily sit still and just talk to process problems,” she says. “Using creative methods to engage them is really the hallmark of what we do at Right from the Start. It’s woven into all our work.”

Another important part of McMullan’s work is her role as Coordinator of our Diane Goldberg Maternal Depression Program, where she has helped numerous mothers experiencing postpartum depression and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. 

“Maternal mental health and early childhood health are so connected,” she explains. “We help these moms realize that they are not alone, they are not to blame and there is help!”

McMullan is grateful to her coworkers, both current and past. “Everyone on the team is dedicated to the work that we do,” she says. “It makes dealing with these difficult times so much better. We all really do have each other to lean on.”

Covid Questions: A Q&A with Dr. Leana S. Wen

Covid Questions: A Q&A with Dr. Leana S. Wen

Washington Post contributing columnist Dr. Leana S. Wen answered reader questions on the coronavirus in a recent interview in the newspaper. Below are excerpts from that column that most directly relate to children and families. To read the full transcript, which covers many more topics, click here.

Q: My spouse and I just received our second vaccine. Can we visit our children and grandchildren even though they are not vaccinated?

Wen: My answer here is yes: if the main reason you were not visiting the rest of your family was out of concern for your health, if you are now fully vaccinated (and it’s been 14 days to allow for optimal immunity), you should be able to visit them. Just remember that you could still, in theory, carry coronavirus and be a danger to them, so try to reduce your risk as much as possible before seeing them (i.e., do not also have other social gatherings), and make sure you are wearing a mask during travel. Longer answer about dos/don’ts after vaccination are in my latest column here .

Q: When will teenagers be allowed to get the vaccine?

Wen: Teens 16 and above are able to receive the Pfizer vaccine when it’s their turn, and those 18 and above are authorized for the Moderna vaccine. Studies are now being done for children 12 and above. Those should have results by the summer.

Q:  My 5- & 6-year-old children have been doing remote learning since last March, however their friends have been back in school for a while now. Is it ok for us to have playdates either indoor or outside with them? None of their families feel that it is necessary for the kids to wear masks on playdates, which has made it pretty awkward for us. We pretty much just stick to ourselves, but I am wondering if that is totally necessary? It is getting harder to explain to them why so many of our friends and family members are back to normal life, while we are definitely not.

Wen: I would not have playdates with families who are not taking the same type of precautions as you. If you do have playdates, make sure there are masks on at all times from all involved and that they are outdoors. Remember that most infections are not arising in formal settings (like schools), but in informal social settings. Your family and so many others have given up so much during the pandemic. We are not far from the end–let’s hang on for a little longer!

Q: Should pregnant women be vaccinated? Does the answer change if the otherwise healthy woman developed gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy?

Wen: The vaccines were not tested in pregnant women, so they aren’t explicitly recommended for them, but there is also no recommendation against it either. There is no known adverse effect in pregnant women, and the vaccine does not contain a live virus, so there’s no physiological reason as to why it can’t be given. Multiple groups of OB/GYNs have said that this decision should be left up to the woman, in consultation with her doctor. Pregnant patients are at higher risk for severe disease from covid-19. Someone who is in at high-risk for exposure (i.e., essential worker) and/or has underlying medical conditions may decide that the risk of contracting covid-19 outweighs any theoretical risk of the vaccine.

Q:  We live in MD and have a son who is a young adult with autism. The best place for him to receive the vaccine is at our PCP’s practice because they know him. He will not wear a mask and will be very afraid. So why are these doctors not being allocated vaccines? Ours has the necessary storage for either one.

Wen: Good question. I really think it’s critical for primary care doctors to have access to the vaccine. Many patients prefer to go to their PCPs. PCPs are also trusted messengers, and it would make sense for PCPs to recommend the vaccine and then have the vaccine right there and then for their patients, instead of having to refer them to mass vaccination sites or pharmacies. I think this will change as there is more vaccine supply. Having the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will also help, as it’s one (like AstraZeneca’s) that can be stored for months at normal refrigerator temperatures. Best wishes to you and your son!

Q: Thinking ahead to the late spring/early summer – what is the possibility that large gatherings will be safe if held outside and everyone attending is vaccinated? What about the necessity of masks?

Wen: There’s a good chance that we can get together with others by the summer if everyone there is fully vaccinated. Whether this happens will depend on several factors, including if vaccines are found to offer excellent protection against emerging variants, if vaccine verification can be done reliably for all attendees, and if data continue to show that vaccines will reduce likelihood of being a carrier for coronavirus. Depending on the answers to these questions and the size of the gathering, masks may still be advised, but I’d predict–based on what we know thus far–that outdoor events like weddings and such can probably be held by the summer.

Q: Once I’ve had my second vaccination shot and the appropriate amount of time afterwards has passed, what freedoms do I now have? Can I be around other people who have not had their vaccinations? Do I still need to wear a mask? Basically, how should I behave now?

Wen: The short answer is that we don’t know yet. That’s because the vaccines are so effective at preventing you from getting sick from coronavirus yourself, but we don’t yet know whether it prevents you from being a carrier and transmitting it to others. The CDC recommends that you continue wearing a mask and practicing social distancing for this reason. It has not given guidelines for interacting with others. Here’s what I’d say. I think you should be able to see others who are fully vaccinated, because the chance of you infecting the others involved and vice versa, and getting sick from it, is pretty low. I also think that grandparents who are eager to see grandkids should be able to do, with some precautions.

Q: Why is there not more guidance on ineffective face coverings like bandanas and gaiters? Even employees in drug stores and groceries often use them. Can you please further redefine face covering to masks and described how they need to fit. Clarity does not necessarily lead to public resistance, just as likely to better cooperation.

Wen:  The CDC has come out with updated guidance on facial coverings . I like their new guidance on double-masking too, especially in higher-risk areas (i.e., surgical mask on first, then tighter-fitting cloth mask on top).

Q: After having had Covid-19 and if you are exposed to someone else who has it should you quarantine?

Wen: The CDC issued new guidance about this last week: if you’re fully vaccinated and/or have recently recovered from covid-19, you do not need to quarantine after being exposed to someone with covid-19.

Donor Profile: Andrea and Michael Leeds

Donor Profile: Andrea and Michael Leeds

North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center is dedicated to providing the highest quality services in order to restore and strengthen the emotional well-being of children and their families. 

Joining us in this lifesaving mission are two of our most devoted and active supporters, Andrea and Michael Leeds. 

“It’s been a privilege to be part of the Guidance Center,” says Andrea, who has been an invaluable member of our Board of Directors for more than two decades. “The Guidance Center’s programs continue to grow to meet the needs of children dealing with difficult personal issues like depression, anxiety, bullying and so many others. The mission is more important now than ever during the COVID crisis, with illness, death and trauma having a devastating impact on the children and families in our community.” 

All in the Family 

The Leeds family’s connection to the Guidance Center has a long history. Andrea was introduced to the Guidance Center by her mother-in-law, Lilo Leeds, a Board Member for many years. In recognition of the family’s remarkable intergenerational support, in 2007 we named our Westbury location “The Leeds Place—Serving Young People.” 

Michael and Andrea with Lilo and Gerry Leeds at The Leeds Place 

As philanthropists, Andrea and Michael have assumed many leadership roles. They have co-chaired seven galas and served as co-honorees for our 65th Anniversary Gala in 2018, which raised a record-breaking $622,000 to support our lifesaving work. 

Andrea has proudly served on many Guidance Center committees, including Steering & Development. She and Michael hosted a special evening in their home, where therapist Linda Silversmith led the discussion as grandparents shared stories and gained insight on the importance of their role in the American family. 

Andrea and Board Member Jo-Ellen Hazan also co-chaired a memorable dinner where Mary Tyler Moore spoke about her life to a large and appreciative crowd. The event created awareness and raised funds to support the important work of the Guidance Center’s then-new Lucille S. and Martin E. Kantor Bereavement & Trauma Center. 

Through these events, the Leeds have introduced our mission to many of their wonderful friends, with several becoming Board members themselves or serving in other vital positions. 

“It’s a joy to be able to give back to the community,” says Andrea. “When you are personally involved, you receive so much more than you give.” When their daughters were young, Andrea played an active role in their school, synagogue and many other organizations, while Mike headed up publishing giant CMP Media. 

“I love how the Guidance Center has provided an ever-evolving range of innovative services for children and their families—and they do so regardless of the family’s ability to pay,” says Andrea. “The new Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project is a prime example of how the Guidance Center recognizes a need and jumps right in to make a difference.” 

Adds Michael, “It’s been inspiring to see how the Guidance Center has responded so quickly to the COVID-19 crisis, pivoting from in-person therapy to telehealth so every child and family gets the help they need during this incredibly difficult time.” 

Big Hearts and Boundless Energy 

Andrea and Michael are very proud of their wonderful family: twin daughters Caryn and Lauren, Tracy, son-in-law Nick and grandson Samuel. While the family is now bicoastal, they spend as much time together as possible. 

Andrea and Michael with their daughters, son-in-law and grandson.

“When I walk through the doors of the Guidance Center and look at the parents, I totally relate,” says Andrea. “As the mother of three girls, I understand a child in pain. I understand the relief a family can feel when treatment is helping to sort out complex, emotional situations.” 

According to past Board President and current Board Member Nancy Lane, the Leeds’ compassion for others is what sets them apart. 

“Both Andrea and Michael have big hearts and boundless energy, and they continue to be passionate advocates for the mental health of children and families in our community,” says Lane. “Having such a dynamic couple as part of our Guidance Center family is a real blessing.” 

If your child or teen is expressing suicidal thoughts or feelings, we can help through our Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project. To learn more, click here

To learn more about supporting North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, contact Director of Development Lauren McGowan at (516) 626-1971, ext. 320. 

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

The Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project

The Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project

It’s a phone call we get all too often: A parent tells us their son or daughter is experiencing severe depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide. And the situation has worsened due to the COVID-19 virus. 

“The isolation brought on by the pandemic is hard on everyone, but it’s especially difficult for young people,” says Regina Barros-Rivera, Associate Executive Director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center. “All their normal routines have been upended, like going to school, playing sports and celebrating special occasions. Many have lost someone close to them, and they are in a constant state of fear. It’s a crisis that’s getting worse by the day.” 

Sadly, suicide among young people isn’t a new problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for ages 10-24, with more teens and young adults dying from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, birth defects and other major illnesses combined. 

Thanks to a generous gift from Donald and Ellen Feldman, in September the Guidance Center launched a new program, the Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project, an expansive initiative that aims to tackle the epidemic of suicide among young people. 

“Through the Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project, we will bring essential, life-changing services to the children and families in our community,” says Elissa Smilowitz, who is heading up the program. “We will address high-risk cases with a thorough evaluation for suicide risk; multiple weekly sessions of individual, group and family therapy; and a culturally sensitive treatment plan that focuses on safety strategies, healthy coping skills and relapse prevention.” 

Evaluation with a psychiatrist regarding the possible use of medication will also be provided, along with in-home treatment and referrals to programs and services that will support parents’ efforts to protect their children. 

The Guidance Center will also provide educational forums and a suicide survivors’ support group for those who suffer this tragic loss. 

Andrew Malekoff, Executive Director of the Guidance Center, says, “We are grateful to the Feldmans for enabling us to develop a suicide prevention initiative that will enhance our ability to reach young people who may see no way out from the despair they are feeling. It’s a prime example of how our dedicated supporters make a profound difference in the well-being of our community.” 

He adds, “Join us in spreading the word to schools, community organizations and friends. Information is power, and this program can save lives.” 

Donations to support the Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project can be made at www.northshorechildguidance.org/donate or by calling (516) 626-1971, ext. 320. 

Maternal Depression Rates Rise During Pandemic, By Vanessa McMullan

Maternal Depression Rates Rise During Pandemic, By Vanessa McMullan

Originally run in Anton Community Newspapers

Pregnancy and childbirth are exciting times in a family’s life, filled with joy and awe. For some mothers, however, the situation is far more complex. While many women experience some mild mood changes during or after the birth of a child, 15 to 20 percent of women have more significant symptoms of postpartum depression and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders or PMADs.

Fifteen to 20 percent of women have more significant symptoms of postpartum depression and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders or PMADs.

At North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, we work with moms and pregnant women whose symptoms may include feelings of sadness, irritability, guilt, lack of interest in the baby and changes in eating and sleeping habits. Some also experience trouble concentrating, thoughts of hopelessness and even thoughts of harming the baby or herself.
Research shows that the pandemic has increased the incidents of PMADs, and also heightened symptoms. One study found that the rate of symptoms of depression in new mothers amid the pandemic was nearly three times the rate of new mothers’ symptoms pre-pandemic.

The reality is that, as with so much about the virus, there are still many unknowns as to the impact of COVID-19 during pregnancy and for babies and young children, which creates enormous stress. Being a new mother can be isolating under normal circumstances, but during the quarantine and social distancing protocols, the sense of isolation has been greatly magnified. Expectant and new parents are concerned about a host of issues, from financial and job stability to the health of their babies and themselves.

The pregnancy and birth experience, especially during the height of the pandemic, was anything but normal. Many pregnant women and new moms had to go to their doctor’s appointments by themselves, and if they got bad news, they had no one with them to lean on. Most had no baby showers, no visits from grandparents, no birthday parties—even an absence of partners in the hospital before, during and after the birth. They often had very little support from friends and relatives who typically help the new parents in the days after the baby comes home, for fear of catching or transmitting the virus.

Families who have school-aged children have had to struggle with the decision of whether or not to send them back to the classroom, where they may be exposed to the virus and bring it home to the family. Even though New York has improved in terms of COVID-19 numbers since the height of the pandemic, being cautious is still important, and we have no way of knowing what the next several months will bring. And the fact that all of us will be inside more will likely present significant challenges.

The good news is that North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center has been able to serve these moms and families during the pandemic through remote therapy, either by video or phone. In addition to individual and family therapy, the Guidance Center has continued to offer remote group counseling, so parents don’t feel so alone. Our psychiatrists are also seeing clients remotely, in the cases where medication is needed.

Through our Diane Goldberg Maternal Depression Program, the Guidance Center provides:

• Screening and assessments
• 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

As one new mother told us, “You’ve been my lifeline during this time when I needed connection and reassurance and support.”
If you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression or other perinatal mood disorders, call the Guidance Center at 516-626-1971 and tell them you are seeking help for maternal depression. We are here for you.

Vanessa McMullan, LCSW, is supervisor at The Marks Family Right from the Start 0-3+ Center at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center. She also heads up the organization’s Diane Goldberg Maternal Depression Program. Call 516-626-1971 or visit www.northshorechildguidance.org to learn more.

COVID, Kids and Nightmares

COVID, Kids and Nightmares

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. But COVID is also having a big effect on their nightly lives.

Gillian Pipia, who works with North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center’s younger clients at our Marks Family Right from the Start 0-3+ Center, has seen a significant increase in children’s intrusive thoughts related to COVID-19, particularly when it comes to their bedtime routines and sleeping patterns.

“Bedtime is usually a period when the usual distractions and tasks of life such as school, homework, dinner and bath time are completed, and children are left in bed, in the dark, alone with their thoughts,” says Pipia, LCSW. “The virus has created a situation of heightened anxiety that has resulted in behaviors such as bedtime avoidance, clinging to parents during their bedtime routine, refusal to get off electronics or more frequent nightmares.”

It’s not uncommon for children to internalize and hold in their fears as a way of coping, she adds, which is why their pandemic worries are likely to manifest in nightmares.

While some older kids can articulate their feelings by discussing them in therapy, younger children need more creative ways to express their feelings; therefore, during therapy sessions, Pipia encourages them to draw, write or play with toys as a way to express and process their fears.

“Many of the children draw scary monsters, and some have had reoccurring dreams where they are drowning, which reflects the fact that the virus is invisible,” she says. “They feel they have no control over it.”

When it comes to reducing nightmares, Pipia encourages her young clients to think of items or people that help them feel safe, such as a hug from a parent, favorite stuffed animal, special blanket or night lights. She also teaches them a practice 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.

“It helps them to let go of the worry and focus on something more concrete,” says Pipia. “Parents can teach this to their children and use it anytime they are having trouble sleeping, or for other anxious moments.”

Parents can incorporate many other strategies to help children with COVID-related nightmares:

  • Stick to their normal, calming 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.
  • Don’t tell them they have nothing to worry about or are being silly.
  • 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.
  • During the daytime, give them the choice about whether to draw, talk or in some other way convey their feelings, which will help them feel some sense of empowerment in the face of uncertainty and fear.
  • Limit their exposure to COVID-related news—but do respond to any of their questions in an age-appropriate way.

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. Remember, we never turn anyone away for inability to pay.

A Dangerous Addiction Among Youth, By Dr. Nellie Taylor-Walthrust

A Dangerous Addiction Among Youth, By Dr. Nellie Taylor-Walthrust

Note: The following column will run this week in the Roslyn News and other Anton Media newspapers.

Despite the economic woes brought on by the pandemic, one type of store is popping up in increasing numbers in neighborhoods all across Long Island: smoke shops, which carry everything from cigarettes and e-cigarettes to pipes and bongs. 

These stores are taking advantage of the growth in popularity of vaping, which involves inhaling and exhaling an aerosol (or vapor) produced by an e-cigarette, vape pen or other smoking device, some of which resemble flash drives or other everyday objects. You may have heard vaping referred to as JUULing, since the brand JUUL has become so ubiquitous. 

Many e-cigs are clearly designed to appeal to young people, with flavors such as strawberry, gummi bear and cotton candy. In 2020, 83% of youth e-cigarette consumers used flavored e-cigarettes. (New York is seeking a ban on the sale of these flavored products, but an appellate court placed a hold on the ban this September.)

Today, there are approximately 3.6 million middle and high schoolers who are regular users of e-cigarettes, and the numbers have been growing. Studies show that from 2017 to 2019, the percentage of teens who said they vaped in the past 12 months doubled: from 7.5% to 16.5% among eighth graders; from 15.8% to 30.7% among 10th graders; and from 18.8% to 35.3% among 12th graders.

Alarming Health Impacts

Although many tweens and teens are sold on the idea that vaping is far less dangerous than smoking regular cigarettes, the research strongly suggests otherwise. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the vast majority of e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and can harm adolescent and young adult brain development. In addition, a variety of toxic chemical additives are often in the mix, including ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deeply into the lungs; diacetyl, also damaging to the lungs; and heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead. 

So what is a parent to do? First, let your kids know that e-cigarettes are not safe alternatives to cigarettes. The studies increasingly show that they can cause:

  • Damage to the brain, heart and lungs
  • Cancerous tumor development
  • Preterm deliveries and stillbirths in pregnant women
  • Harmful effects on brain and lung development when use occurs during fetal development or adolescence

When you approach the conversation, instead of lecturing, ask an open-ended question, such as “Have you heard about vaping?” and “Is it popular at school?” Offer honest, science-based information, geared toward your child’s or teen’s age—and start these conversations when your kids are young. 

Make your reasons for not wanting your child to vape clear. Many of them have no idea that e-cigarettes have nicotine and are highly addictive, since marketers have told them it’s safe and “cool” to vape. You may want to rehearse a situation where they might be asked to try vaping, letting them practice saying, “No thanks, I don’t smoke” in a direct, clear fashion.

If your tween or teen has already started vaping, don’t punish or shame them. Explore online programs like “Truth Initiative,” which offers a free smoking cessation program called “This is Quitting,” or call the American Lung Association at 800-LUNGUSA for more resources. 

Finally, be a positive role model and don’t smoke. Your behavior matters far more than you might imagine.

Dr. Nellie Taylor-Walthrust is the Director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center’s Leeds Place, which operates an Adolescent Outpatient Chemical Dependency Treatment Program. If your child or teen is having problems with vaping, drugs or alcohol, call the Guidance Center at (516) 626-1971 for help.

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.

Helping Kids Cope with Traumatic News Events

Helping Kids Cope with Traumatic News Events

Last week’s news of violence and rioting at the U.S. Capitol building has shaken us all, regardless of political affiliation. The uncertainty, worry and fear many of us are experiencing is also impacting our kids, and many parents are struggling with how they can help them navigate this troubling situation.

“Much of what you say to your children should depend on their age,” says Vanessa McMullan, Supervisor at our Marks Family Right from the Start 0-3+ Center. “For younger children, your focus should be on letting them know they are safe and that you are there to help them.”

Children under age seven shouldn’t be exposed to news media, especially information that may be traumatic. Of course, that doesn’t mean they won’t hear about troubling events—perhaps on a news preview on television, from friends at school or overhearing conversations from the people around them.

“Kids are always listening,” says McMullan. “Even if we think they don’t understand what we’re talking about, they hear it and are trying to make sense of what they’re hearing.”

So what’s a parent to do? “Ask your children what they already know, and provide simple information in a comforting way,” says McMullan. “They pick up on your energy, so it’s important that you remain as calm as possible.”

Also, be sure that you are giving yourself a break from the news and practicing self-care so you don’t get overwhelmed. “It’s understandable that you want to stay informed, but to be the best parent for your kids, you need to take care of yourself, too,” she says. 

Older children and teens will likely be exposed to more information and have more nuanced questions and responses to events such as the ones we saw last week, as well as any kind of traumatic occurrence. 

Encourage them to share their thoughts with you and to express their emotions, which may range from fear and confusion to sadness and anger. Let them know their feelings are normal and that you are there to listen. Give them information that is fact-based, sharing news and information resources that you trust. 

For kids of any age, news events provide you with opportunity to share your values with them. For example, with Martin Luther King Jr. Day coming up next week, perhaps you can speak with your kids about issues such as diversity, discriminationracism, non-violence, activismvolunteerism and other pertinent topics. 

North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center has been there for children and families during crises of many sorts since our founding in 1953, including Hurricane Sandy, the attacks of 9/11 and the more recent COVID-19 pandemic. We are currently providing remote therapy and, when needed, in-person sessions. Reach out to us at (516) 626-1971 for help, and remember, we never turn anyone away for inability to pay.

Below are some tips on how to handle media coverage from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network:

tips_for_parents_media_coverage

When being SAD Is More Than Just the Winter Blues

When being SAD Is More Than Just the Winter Blues

When do you feel like winter has begun? Do you or does your child experience what’s often referred to as the winter blues? How can you tell if it’s more serious depression?

For many people, the period after the holiday season can be very difficult as we deal with cold weather, more darkness and less time outdoors. And it’s particularly challenging this year, as safety considerations related to the pandemic prevents us from gathering together to reap the emotional benefits of social connections.

While it’s perfectly normal to feel a bit blue during the winter months, for some people, the challenges can be more serious and lead to a condition known as SAD, for Seasonal Affective Disorder.

SAD is a type of major depression characterized by its seasonal pattern. While summer-pattern SAD does exist, it is far more common to experience SAD symptoms during the colder months when daylight is scarce, known as winter-pattern SAD. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of SAD may include:

Studies vary according to the prevalence of SAD, but it is estimated that about 10 million Americans experience the condition, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. The age of onset is typically young adulthood, between 18 and 30, but younger people can be diagnosed with SAD. Four out of five people with the condition are female, and more live in the Northern parts of the U.S. Those with preexisting bipolar or major depressive disorder are more likely to have SAD. In addition, SAD sometimes runs in families.

Although the cause of SAD is not entirely clear, two chemicals in the body may play a role: melatonin, which is related to sleep and is produced in greater quantities when daylight is reduced; and serotonin, the “feel-good” chemical that is increased by exposure to sunlight and thus reduced in the winter.

Treatment for SAD may include light therapy, which involves sitting in front of a specially designed light box for 30-45 minutes a day; psychotherapy; antidepressant medications; and/or an increase in Vitamin D (although there is disagreement about this in the medical community). Getting outside in the sun more, even during the winter, is also recommended.

If your child or teen is diagnosed with SAD, here are some steps to consider, courtesy of Kidshealth.org:

  • Participate in your child’s treatment. Ask the doctor how you can best help your child.
  • Help your child understand SAD. Learn about the disorder and provide simple explanations. 
  • Encourage your child to get plenty of exercise and to spend time outdoors. Take a daily walk together.
  • Find quality time. Spend a little extra time with your child. Your company and caring are important and provide personal contact and a sense of connection.
  • Be patient. Don’t expect symptoms to go away immediately. Remember that low motivation, low energy and low mood are part of SAD — it’s unlikely that your child will respond cheerfully to your efforts to help.
  • Help your child to eat right. Encourage your child to avoid loading up on simple carbohydrates and sugary snacks. Provide plenty of whole grains, vegetables and fruits.
  • Establish a sleep routine. Encourage your child to stick to a regular bedtime every day to reap the mental health benefits of daytime light.
  • Take it seriously. Don’t put off evaluation if you suspect your child has SAD. If diagnosed, your child should learn about the seasonal pattern of the depression. Talk often about what’s happening, and offer reassurance that things will get better, even though that may seem impossible right now.

If your child’s depression is impacting their ability to function, regardless of the cause, it’s important that you seek help. To contact North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, call (516) 626-1971.

Sources:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder

https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/sad.html

Hopes for the New Year, from the Staff at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center

Hopes for the New Year, from the Staff at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center

They say that hindsight is 20/20 vision, but a look back at the past year conjures up a blur of mostly unpleasant images. From COVID-19 to economic insecurity to political divisions to natural disasters to social and racial unrest, 2020 has challenged all of us profoundly and led to a crisis in mental health for children, families and adults alike.

Thankfully, we head into 2021 with a vaccine that brings hope of finally marking an end to the devastating effects of the pandemic. We can also hope that, perhaps, our country will grow stronger as we make strides toward a more socially and environmentally just world. 

With 2021 just around the corner, we asked the staff at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center to reflect on their hopes for the year to come. Following are some of their thoughts:


In this time of uncertainty and devastating loss, we are, perhaps, more divided as a nation than at any other time since the Civil War. Sadly, even common sense measures, affirmed by science, such as protecting our loved ones and neighbors by wearing masks and social distancing, have become politicized.

Despite the hopelessness and despair many have been feeling, there is a steady ray of sunshine in the selfless and heroic efforts of health care workers across America, as well as all others who have performed essential work, putting their own health at risk for the good of the many during this perilous time.

Once again, our staff, board and community supporters have demonstrated their commitment to our mission in the face of disaster. Each challenge makes us stronger and so, looking ahead, I have every confidence that we will continue to be a major force for healing, which will be needed more than ever as we move into 2021. —Andrew Malekoff, Executive Director


As we enter this New Year, I reflect on this past one with gratitude and appreciation for the health of my family and loved ones. I also feel heaviness and empathy for those who are unable to say the same for theirs. I move forward with hope for a world where COVID is a thing of the past. — Brooke H.


I really wish resilience and health to all our clients, their families and clinical staff providing services during this stressful time in the pandemic. — Erika P.


My hope for 2021 is that we can return to some of the simple pleasures that we took for granted. We’ve come to realize the value of things like family gatherings, play dates, meeting a friend for coffee and sending our kids off to school.  I hope that we can come together again in a way that is safe and comforting, remembering the importance of family, friendship, kindness and health. I’m sending wishes to all for a peaceful New Year and good things in 2021. —Vanessa M.


For world peace. That everyone comes to the saving knowledge of the higher power of their choice.  That humankind comes to a better understanding of how to care for themselves and others. That my health be restored to what it was before 7/14/20.That 2021 is the best year of my life thus far. — Ruthellen T.


My hope for 2021 is that we all come through this pandemic with a greater understanding and appreciation for our own strengths and resilience. —Lauren M.


My hopes and dreams for 2021 are a world without COVID-19!! — Pascale N.


I want to take a moment to reflex on the fantastic work The Leeds Place outreach staff continue to do during this pandemic.  No person is whole until their physical, social and emotional needs are met.  I am so grateful for the caring and compassionate work they have exhibited week after week—leaving the comfort of their home where they are authorized to do virtual work via zoom and phone contact, but instead they are out in the Westbury community picking up and delivering food and personal care items to seniors, young mothers and families that have a tremendous need. The staff has still been working collaboratively with the Westbury School District, providing prevention counseling and support to numerous students that are struggling with academic, social and emotional concerns. I salute them and send them my greatest blessings for the New Year as we continue to work together for the betterment of the community that we are committed to serve. —Nellie T.


Rumor has it that there will be a “new normal” coming in 2021. My hope is that this new one will be a lot better than the one that existed even before COVID descended upon us.” —Jolie P.


My hope for the New Year and beyond is that the stigma that is still too often associated with mental illness becomes a thing of the past. With so many people of all ages experiencing depression, anxiety and even suicidal feelings, perhaps our society will finally begin to truly that there is no shame in having mental health challenges and that getting help is a sign of strength, not weakness. —Jenna K.


I am in awe of the strength, resiliency and adaptability that our clients have already demonstrated thus far. Parents have adapted to working from home, and children have mastered online learning with no preparation. I am inspired by people’s fortitude to continue onward and make adjustments to their daily lives. I know it has not been easy! So, with that being said, my hope for the New Year is that our clients recognize the progress that they have made so far and that they continue to find strength within themselves and within the supports they have. We are all in this together, so together we will persevere in 2021! —Kerry E.


New Year’s has always been a time of hope for the many people. It’s a time where people take on New Year’s Resolutions, and it’s almost like a reset button, where many set goals for themselves and their families. For some, it’s a major financial goal, a vacation they want to take, a piece of jewelry they want to get, a cruise they want to go on…

This year feels very different. Obviously, no one could have predicted the collective trauma that the entire world has experienced this year from this global pandemic. No one could have foreseen that our lives would be turned completely upside down and things we once took for granted were now out of our reach. Simple things like spending time with friends and family, visiting people in the hospital, traveling, going to church/temple, visiting parents/grandparents, going to school, working from the office, having indoor parties/get togethers, weddings—all were no longer an option this year. It left people feeling isolated, lonely, confused, terrified and extremely unsettled.

While it’s easy to get lost in all of the fear and focus on how much the year stunk (which it did!), it also gives me a very different perspective going into the New Year. I’m not thinking about my dream vacation, my next big purchase or how much money I want to make. All I truly want is for things to “go back to normal” and to enjoy the simple pleasures of life that I will undoubtedly not be taking for granted this year.

Life is often like that: We don’t truly appreciate what we have until it is gone. When I asked my clients (young kids) what they hoped for this year, they all had the same answer: for corona to be over so things can go back to normal.

I will not be making a long list of hopes, goals and dreams this year. I will simply be hoping and wishing along with my clients that we can eradicate this terrible virus and go back to truly enjoying the simple things in life. — Jennifer P.

Celebrating Diverse Holidays: A Great Teaching Opportunity

Celebrating Diverse Holidays: A Great Teaching Opportunity

The United States is known by many monikers, but among the most popular is the concept of our nation as a “melting pot,” a place where people of many ethnicities, races, cultures and religions make up the fabric of our society. 

It’s true that accepting, welcoming and celebrating diversity is an ideal that is often tested in our country, especially in today’s deeply divided times, but that makes it more important than ever to teach our children the value and beauty that comes from America’s diversity.

Although teaching about inclusion, acceptance and anti-racism is important throughout the year, the winter holiday season provides a rich opportunity to highlight the diversity of the many celebrations that happen during December and January. Just a partial list (and you can google those that are unfamiliar): Christmas, Hanukkah, Chinese New Year, Kwanzaa, Bodhi Day, Pancha Ganapati, Winter Solstice, Las Posadas, Three Kings Day, St. Lucia Day and Diwali (which occurs in October or November).

Children are very curious about other cultures, so by discussing the varying traditions surrounding these holidays in a respectful, nonjudgmental and welcoming manner, you are planting the seeds that will help your children develop an appreciation of the melting pot that is our country and our world. 

Some suggestions:

  • Show respect for the differences and traditions in the various celebrations while also highlighting the similarities, such as a focus on family, kindness, and common value of caring for those in need.
  • Emphasize the spirit of sharing and giving by donating to your local food pantry, buying gifts for a toy drive, volunteering or taking part in another charitable act. These are all great ways to participate in what globally unites us as we celebrate at this time of year.
  • Take part in some of the rituals surrounding holidays that you don’t typically celebrate by cooking special foods, listening to another culture’s music, reading books about the celebrations, watching videos or doing a craft project. Your community library is a great resource on all these subjects.
  • When life returns to normal and social distancing is a thing of the past, bring your children to celebrations of other cultures at museums, parades, restaurants, religious institutions and more, and invite people of other cultures to celebrate at your home.
  • Children learn best from you. Be a role model in acceptance and respect for different cultures and expose them to a variety of people and places.

Wishing everyone a healthy, happy and safe holiday season!

To learn more about the winter celebrations around the world, visit this website from National Geographic Kids.

DONOR PROFILE: ROCHELLE LIPTON

DONOR PROFILE: ROCHELLE LIPTON

Following is the donor profile from our August 2018 Guidelines newsletter, highlighting our devoted supporter and past board president Rochelle Lipton, who passed away earlier this month. 

Nearly four decades ago, Rochelle Lipton went to a presentation and book signing by author Susan Isaacs that was a benefit for North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center. With her usual jovial spirit and engaging storytelling, Isaacs, an honorary Guidance Center board member, wowed the crowd, including Lipton. 

“It was a very pleasurable event,” says Lipton. “I met some lovely people, and I decided to find out more about the Guidance Center’s work.”

That was a very fortunate day for the Guidance Center, because Rochelle Lipton has been one of our most dedicated supporters for all these years since. She has served in a wide capacity of roles, most notably as the President of the Board of Directors for two terms, from 2001 to 2003 and again from 2003 to 2005, although she was a board member long before that time.

“Rochelle was always a delight to work with,” says Lucille Kantor, a former Board President and longtime Guidance Center supporter. “She was very serious about her responsibilities as president, and she did a wonderful job. Whenever and wherever the need was, Rochelle was right there, and she still is active today. She’s so bright— and beautiful too!”

Prior to her role as president, one of Lipton’s first projects for the Guidance Center was to co-chair an art show with her friends Judy and Roger Hockstein and Linda Lane. Shortly thereafter, she became a member of the development committee and chaired a dinner dance at the American Folk Art Museum in Manhattan. “It was a beautiful evening,” recalls Lipton. “And of course, it was so important to raise funds to support the Guidance Center’s work.”

A Pivotal Event Lipton had just become President of the Guidance Center’s Board of Directors when the fateful events of September 11, 2001 occurred. “This was a very intense time for the Guidance Center,” she says. “So many children had lost a parent; many people lost spouses, or sons and daughters. We also saw firefighters, police officers— everyone was deeply affected.”

The Guidance Center played a huge role in helping these grieving families and others to begin the road to healing. “We had many bereavement and support groups,” explains Lipton. “And we received many grants from places that had never supported us before, like Robin Hood Foundation, which almost never gave grants outside of New York City.”

During 9/11, Marion Levine was the Executive Director of the Guidance Center, and Lipton has high praises for her leadership. “Marion is the most wonderful person on Earth. Her guidance, assistance and steerage took the Guidance Center to amazing places. She was brilliant, and she is the most caring and kind individual. She grew the agency and started to make it what it is today.”

Lipton’s leadership during the 9/11 crisis also gets high marks from current Executive Director Andrew Malekoff.

“In the immediate aftermath of the attack on September 11, 2001, we mobilized our staff to provide a rapid response wherever we were needed in the New York metropolitan area,” says Malekoff. “During this period of time Guidance Center Board President Rochelle Lipton provided stellar leadership in rallying our Board of Directors to develop and support a number of successful fundraising events in New York City to support our work with surviving family members and others who escaped the attack who were living with post-traumatic stress.”

A Legion of Fans According to Andrea Leeds, who served on the Board of Directors under Lipton’s leadership and is still a VP on our Board today, Lipton’s contributions to the Guidance Center are immeasurable. “Rochelle’s ability to be efficient and multitask was evident as she not only presided over our productive meetings, but she was also capable of always serving a wonderful dinner!  Moreover, her dedication and compassion to our mission is obvious as she continues to work hard on committees and support our programs.  It is always a privilege to work with Rochelle.”

Another fan of Lipton’s is Jo-Ellen Hazan, a Board VP and also former President of the Board. “Rochelle has always been willing to roll up her sleeves and do whatever was needed to get the job done,” says Hazan. “She had and continues to have creative ideas on how to reach out for support and to advocate for children’s mental health. Her heart is always in the right place for the kids and their families.”

Current Board President Nancy Lane says, “Rochelle has the enviable ability to be creative yet practical. Her thoughtful contributions are invaluable. I am delighted that Rochelle has recently become more engaged in committee work. In addition, Rochelle and [her husband] Hal have always been generous with their financial support. The Guidance Center is most fortunate to have their support.”

Although no longer a board member, Lipton’s dedication to the Guidance Center has never wavered, and she continues to participate actively on committees, at events and wherever she is needed. “I’m most proud of being part of such an incredible organization that does such wonderful work,” says Lipton. “What it does is invaluable to our community.” She adds, “The whole thing is about people helping people. If anybody’s in need, the Guidance Center is always there to lend a hand and help.”

Toy Safety in the Pandemic Era

Toy Safety in the Pandemic Era

Tis the season of gift-giving, and though many things have changed because of the pandemic, kids are as excited as ever about receiving a bounty of toys! 

For parents whose children may have special needs, the good news is that there are many toys that are designed for a variety of developmental and educational profiles—just google “toys for special needs” and you’ll come up with dozens of companies.

As with any year, safety is paramount when choosing toys. The potential dangers are clear: The U.S. Computer Product Safety Commission reports that in 2019, there were an estimated 162,700 toy-related, emergency department-treated injuries and 14 deaths to children younger than 15, with most of the deaths associated with choking on small parts such as small balls, small toy parts and riding toys.

The pandemic has led many people to shop for toys online rather than stores—not a bad thing in and of itself, but it does present a potential problem. “Our concern is that there may be an increase in counterfeit toys out there,” says Joan Lawrence, Senior Vice President, Standards and Regulatory Affairs at The Toy Association, a not-for-profit trade association. “If those sellers skirt the rules on intellectual property [by selling counterfeits], then we worry they may also skirt the rules on safety.”

Her recommendation: Buy toys on a website owned by the toy manufacturer or on a big box retailer website. “Look for verified sellers, whatever marketplace you buy from online,” she says. 

While it can be difficult to identify who the verified sellers are, major brands are good bets, because they are likely to abide by safety regulations. Lawrence adds, “Does the seller have its own website? If not, it may be red flag. And if there are typos in the listing or poorly photoshopped images, those are clues that it may have been put together on the fly.”

Another important piece of advice from Lawrence: Parents should always check and follow age guidance on toy packaging. The age-grading isn’t about how smart your child is—it’s safety guidance that’s based on the developmental skills and abilities of children at a given age, and the specific features of a toy.

Following are some more safety tips from The Toy Association:

  • Adults should always supervise play, especially for younger children.
  • Avoid toys with small parts when shopping for children under age three and children who mouth toys. Test the size of toys and other objects around the home with a Small Parts Tester.
  • Check to see that plush (stuffed) toys have age-appropriate features such as embroidered or well-secured eyes and noses for younger children, and seams that are reinforced to withstand an older child’s play.
  • Dispose of all unnecessary toy packaging and gift-wrap as soon as possible (piles of discarded gift-wrap can conceal sharp objects and the edges of hard plastic packaging that can cut small fingers).
  • Read instructions carefully. Save directions, warranties and assembly hardware.
  • Regularly sort through the toy box to discard broken toys.
  • Get on the floor and play with your kids! Demonstrating the correct way to use a toy or game is the best way to make sure your child understands how to properly and safely enjoy it.

North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center’s therapists are experts on the use of toys and games to enhance social and emotional growth and well-being, says Paul Vitale, Executive Vice President Finance & Operations at The Toy Association and President of the Board of Directors of the Guidance Center. “I’m proud to be part of an organization that always puts the health, happiness and safety of children at the top of the list.”


Sensory Play Ideas for Children with Special Needs

Here are some great ideas for things to do with your child who may be on the autism spectrum, diagnosed with ADHD or OCD or have any sensory processing disorder, from The Genius of Playwebsite:

  • Get Your Beat On
    Sounding out words, while critical to language skill development, can sometimes be a challenge− especially if a word has multiple syllables. Turn frustration into fun by putting it to music. Tap/shake an instrument as kids say each syllable. Music can also allow a child struggling to verbalize words a way to express themselves and their understanding.
  • Surprise Box
    Think of this like a surprise sensory bin. Exploring an unknown object in a safe space can help decrease your child’s discomfort and fear of new unknowns in the future, while also aiding their processing and communication skill development. Try using uniquely shaped or textured objects!
  • Puppet Play
    Puppets can serve as versatile tools for play and learning. Beyond communicating their emotions, puppets can also be used to practice conversational skills and reinforce learned tasks by having kids teach it to the puppet.
  • Big Art
    Allowing kids to take movement breaks throughout the day can help them to reset and refocus. Why not turn it into art? Grab some chalk and/or washable markers and let kids use their whole bodies to create larger-than-life designs.
  • Basket Toss
    Who says a laundry basket is just for dirty clothes? Use it for game time and help build up a child’s gross motor skills in the process.
  • Freeze Dance
    Movement of any kind is great for helping develop a child’s sense of body awareness and balance. Adding a “freeze” element to your dance party can also support kids’ ability to process, organize, and respond to different sounds.

Sources:

https://www.cpsc.gov/Safety-Education/Safety-Education-Centers/holiday-safety

https://www.toyassociation.org/

https://thegeniusofplay.org/

http://www.playsafe.org/

Dear North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center Community,

Dear North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center Community,

Olivia’s first visit to the E.R. for self-harm and suicidal thoughts came last fall, when she was just 14 years old. But instead of admitting her, the hospital referred her to North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center.  

We saw her the very next day — an unheard of rapid response at most mental health centers, which often take weeks or even months to schedule appointments. 

Olivia thrived in our Latina Girls Project, an innovative bilingual and bicultural therapeutic program that addresses the unique challenges affecting Latinas and transforms these vulnerable girls into happy, healthy young women. 

Then COVID-19 hit. Olivia’s mother contracted the virus, and the teen watched helplessly as her mother battled the disease for two months. 

When Olivia missed her virtual appointments, her therapist Anna asked Olivia to attend an in-person appointment. Anna realized immediately that the girl had lost weight and desperately needed help. Anna began seeing Olivia and her family for therapy three times a week remotely and connected them with an eating disorder specialist. At the Guidance Center, we treat the whole child, not just their symptoms. 

Thankfully, Olivia’s mother is now well, and so is Olivia. She told Anna, “I can’t believe I ever thought I wanted to kill myself. I feel so much better!” 

This story could have had a very different ending, but thanks to you, we are able to bring children from hurting to healing every day — which is especially important as the pandemic continues to threaten the mental health of our kids. Please consider making a gift this holiday season to ensure that children like Olivia can live happy and healthy lives.  With gratitude,
Paul Vitale,
President 

P.S. The future of our children is in your hands. Please support our lifesaving mission today.
Ask the Guidance Center Experts, Blank Slate Media, February 10, 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.
Drinking, Drugs and Driving: A Dangerous Mix for Teens

Drinking, Drugs and Driving: A Dangerous Mix for Teens

The period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is described by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals as “one of the deadliest and most dangerous times on America’s roadways due to an increase in impaired driving,” which is why December has been designated National Drunk & Drugged Driving Prevention Month.

This year, with the pandemic still raging, chances are you won’t be heading out to holiday gatherings as much as in the past, but it’s still as important as ever to stay sober if you’re driving.

It’s also crucial that you have a serious conversation with your teen drivers. 

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. 

Dr. Nellie Taylor-Walthrust, Director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center’s Leeds Place, where we operate our Adolescent Outpatient Chemical Dependency Treatment Center, says that while many adults make foolish decisions about driving when they’ve been drinking or using drugs, teenagers are even more susceptible to feeling like they’re safe to drive even when intoxicated.

“Teenagers brains are still developing, and they tend to behave more impulsively, especially when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol,” she explains. “Plus, when they do consume alcohol, teens are more likely to binge drink than adults. It’s a very dangerous situation.”

While the good news is that drinking and driving among teens has gone down by more than half since 1991, high school teens still drive after drinking about 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:

  • Create a driving contract with your teen that spells out the most important rule: zero tolerance for drinking any alcohol or taking drugs when driving.
  • Let them know they should never get in the car with anyone who has been drinking or is using drugs.
  • Offer to provide them with a ride if they ever end up in that circumstance.
  • Institute a no texting while driving rule—ever.
  • Mandate seat belt wearing, even for the shortest trips and in the back seat.
  • Limit nighttime driving, especially for new drivers.
  • Model safe behavior by following the rules of the road yourself and never drinking and driving.

If you think your teen is experimenting with drugs or alcohol and needs help, we’re here for you. Call us at (516) 626-1971.

For more information:
Get your copy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s parent-teen driving agreement and learn more about safe teen driving at www.cdc.gov/ParentsAreTheKey

Sources:

https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812450

http://www.sadd.org/

https://www.safekids.org/press-release/number-one-killer-teens-motor-vehicle-crashes

https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/teendrinkinganddriving/index.html

Celebrating During the Pandemic

Celebrating During the Pandemic

Thanksgiving is just days away, which means Christmas, Hannukah and other celebrations are not far behind! 

The calendar at this time of year is typically loaded with gatherings of friends and family, where we get a chance to express our gratitude to those we love and have fun.  But with the pandemic still raging, holiday plans are anything but typical.

While things will be different this year, that doesn’t mean they can’t still be joyful. Here are some ways to help your kids cope with the changes that revised planning may bring.

First, make sure you allow your children and teens to express their disappointment, anger and sadness. It’s hard enough for adults to deal with missing our normal get-togethers, but for kids, it feels even bigger. Not being able to see grandparents, cousins and other family members is sad; let them know you feel the same way, but that you have high hopes things will return to normal for next year’s holiday season. 

Thanksgiving is all about expressing gratitude. Around your table this year (and, in fact, every year), ask each person to express what they are grateful for. Remembering what we do have—the love of family, a full belly, a warm home and the promise of a vaccine in the new year—is a great way to put things in perspective.

While your usual traditions may need to be on hold for the time being, it’s a great time to create some new ones! Some possibilities:

  • Try a new game or enjoy a standard like charades.
  • Get crafty and create some homemade decorations, holiday cards or “thank you” signs to front-line workers that you can display in your front yard.
  • Bake something yummy for your neighbors, especially those who aren’t with their families this year.
  • Take advantage of our beautiful Long Island parks and take a family hike.
  • Ask your kids what they’d like to do that would make the holidays more special.

To read about safety tips for your Thanksgiving from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, click here.

The Fay J. Lindner Foundation Triage and Emergency Services: Rapid Response When It’s Needed Most

The Fay J. Lindner Foundation Triage and Emergency Services: Rapid Response When It’s Needed Most

When a child breaks a leg or has acute stomach pain, you know where to go: the emergency room at your local hospital.

But if your child is severely depressed or anxious and is talking about self-harm or suicide, where can you turn? 

For the most part, trying to get a quick appointment with a therapist or psychiatrist is nearly impossible.

“We have heard many stories of desperate parents seeking help for their child who is experiencing a mental health crisis, and they’re told that the wait is more than two or three months away,” says Andrew Malekoff, Executive Director at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center. “That is simply unacceptable.”

To handle such urgent situations, the Guidance Center created the Fay J. Lindner Foundation Triage and Emergency Services, a program that promises to see these cases within 24 to 48 hours.

“From the moment we receive the call for help,” says Malekoff, “our goal is to stabilize, strengthen and support these children and families during this challenging time.”

The program, made possible by a generous grant from the Fay J. Lindner Foundation,  offers rapid response to psychiatric emergencies— a sudden set of circumstances in which there is an impending risk of danger to the child or adolescent such as a risk of suicide or of physical harm to others. It also addresses situations that involve a state of seriously impaired judgment in which the child is endangered, and situations of risk to a defenseless victim involving abuse, neglect or exposure to domestic violence.

Through the program, our expert team of therapists helps the child or adolescent stabilize their mood, learn healthy coping skills and decrease the need for emergency room visits or in-patient hospitalizations.

“If parents can avoid bringing their child to the emergency room during a mental health crisis, that can prevent the child’s exposure to another potentially traumatic situation in the emergency room itself,” explains Malekoff. “Avoiding hospitalization during the pandemic is especially important.”

There has been a dramatic increase in psychiatric emergencies referred to the Guidance Center over the past several years due to a variety factors, including the difficulty in accessing inpatient hospitalization; the decline in availability of inpatient and day treatment beds for children and adolescents; the closing of many mental health clinics in Nassau County; and the escalation of prescription pill and heroin addiction among teenagers and young adults on Long Island.

“The Covid-19 crisis has also impacted our young people, with extremely heightened anxiety and depression levels,” says Malekoff. “Sadly, many have lost parents and other loved ones.”

The Guidance Center is very grateful to the Fay J. Lindner Foundation for its ongoing funding of this lifesaving program. As Lauren McGowan, the Guidance Center’s Director of Development, says, “The Foundation has been one of our most devoted supporters, and we look forward to creating new partnerships as the need for our services continues to grow.”To learn about other naming opportunities, contact McGowan at (516) 626-1971, ext. 320. For more information about our Fay J. Lindner Foundation Triage and Emergency Services and our other programs, please call us at (516) 626-1971.