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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tomorrow is Veteran’s Day, when we honor all the brave men and women who have served our country. In addition, all of November is Military Family Appreciation Month, when families are recognized for their commitment and contributions in support of our military and nation.
Our country is facing one of the most challenging times in our history, with social unrest, economic hardship and a deadly pandemic. Kids and adults alike are fearful that their loved ones may contract COVID-19. Many have grandparents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities whom they are unable to see. And we are about to embark on a holiday season where our traditional family gatherings likely need to be put aside.
Sadly, some children are dealing with the grief of having lost parents, grandparents or other beloved family members.
For military families, these worries and losses are compounded by unique challenges. Children in these families often must deal with lengthy separations from their parents—difficult on their own, but add to that the fear that a loved one may not come home, and it’s clear why these kids are under enormous stress and experiencing heightened anxiety and depression.
Not surprising, studies show that one third of school-age military children show behaviors such as being anxious, worrying often and crying more frequently.
Luckily, there is something parents can do to care for their kids—and themselves—when facing a deployment. Here’s some advice from KidsHealth:
Be honest. The words you use are important and can mean different things depending on a child’s age and maturity, so give kids the truth in terms they can understand.
Let kids know that they will be taken care of. Kids need to feel protected in a parent’s absence, so tell them who will be taking care of them during the time away.
Make a plan to stay connected. Let kids know that goodbyes are hard for everyone — even grown-ups. Remind them that they’ll be thought of and loved while the parent is away and talk about the people who will be there to help them feel better when they’re feeling sad.
Spend extra time together. In the days and weeks before departure, many military parents feel pressure to get the house in order by tackling their overloaded to-do lists. Though fixing leaky faucets and taking the car for a tune-up are important, so is plenty of one-on-one time with each child.
Keep a routine. Help offset feelings of uncertainty by keeping life at home as predictable as possible. In the face of big changes, even small things that stay the same — like a simple bedtime routine or a fun Saturday morning ritual — can be extremely reassuring.
Keep the absent parent a part of children’s lives. Whether it’s counting down days on a calendar, making a scrapbook or organizing an activity your loved one would like, encourage your kids to find creative ways to stay connected to the parent who’s away.
Talk often and listen well. Talk to them about the things that upset them and let them know it’s OK to feel worried sometimes and that you feel that way too.
Get support. A parent’s departure is not only unsettling for the kids, but also overwhelming for the partner who must absorb all the extra duties. The armed forces have many programs to help families get through the tough times. Visit www.usa.gov/military-assistance for information.
Remember, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center is here for your family! Call us at (516) 626-1971 for help.
Tomorrow is International Stress Awareness Day, and if ever the world needed some stress reduction, it’s now.
The pandemic is an ongoing global concern, especially with winter just around the corner. With the U.S. nearing eight months of virus-related closures, all of us are understandably experiencing heightened levels of anxiety and depression.
In addition, the holidays are just around the corner, and this year, the usual holiday stress is magnified by the fear of becoming ill, the loss of treasured family traditions and the isolation that seems to permeate much of our lives. And for many, this holiday will mark the first time they will be without a loved one who passed from the virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 stress can cause the worsening of mental health conditions, and that’s definitely been born out by our experience at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center.
“For kids who already experienced anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges, the pandemic has definitely increased their symptoms,” says Regina Barros-Rivera, Associate Executive Director of the Guidance Center. “They’re worried about the health of their parents and loved ones, and many families are struggling financially because of job losses. Remote schooling can be stressful, too.”
The pandemic can also result in changes in sleep and eating patterns; trouble concentrating; and increased use of alcohol and drugs.
Now is as good a time as any to learn some techniques to help both you and your family manage the many stressors in your life. Although the following are good steps to take all year long, they’re especially important now, and apply to kids and adults alike.
Eat healthy foods
Avoid drugs and alcohol
Get outside in the fresh air as much as possible
Establish a routine for getting 8 hours of sleep each night (or more for children and teens)
Connect with family and friends, even if you can’t see them in person
Schedule time to have fun and engage in activities you enjoy
Limit your exposure to news
Develop a practice of meditation and deep breathing (see “Breathe Deep”)
Also, know that help is available. At the Guidance Center, we are providing remote telehealth services or, when needed, in-person therapy. Call us at (516) 626-1971, or email email@example.com.
Just one week from today, many Americans will be exercising their rights and heading to the polls—that is, if they haven’t already voted early or by mail. People on both sides of the aisle are calling this the most important election of our lifetimes.
It may surprise you, but the reality is that, for a variety of reasons, many people opted not to vote in 2016. The Pew Research Center says that four years ago, 40% of adults who were eligible to vote chose to stay home. In many states, this figure was closer to 50%.
If doing your civic duty isn’t enough reason to get you and your loved ones to the polls, here’s something that might help: There is a correlation between good overall health and voting!
According to the authors of a review that appeared in the July 2020 Public Health Reviews journal, overall, “Lower voting rates are consistently associated with poor self-rated health.”
And the opposite is true, according to another study that reported that voting participation in local elections “is positively associated with self-assessed health.”
Here’s how an article from University Health Services in Wisconsin put it:
The well-being of teens and young adults also correlates with taking part in this most honored tradition. A 2018 study in the journal Child Development followed nearly 10,000 youth ages 11-20 for 15 years and found that those who engaged in any of three activities—volunteering, voting or activism—were not only likely to be healthier, they also had higher incomes and educational levels than those who did not.
Another way mental and physical health are connected to voting: Politicians don’t all agree on healthcare options such as insurance coverage choices, access to care, preexisting conditions and affordability. It doesn’t matter if you are a Republican, Democrat or Independent, you deserve to be fully informed. So, do some research and find out the position of your local, state and national candidates on the ballot.
Remember, your vote can impact the level and quality of your healthcare, so don’t miss your opportunity to make your voice heard!
Are your youngsters excited about the upcoming holiday? Halloween is a favorite time of year for most kids, but this year brings some new challenges.
No one wants to take the joy of this annual fest/feast away from kids. To help keep them safe, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has put out some smart guidelines on trick-or-treating and other Halloween events.
Mask Up but Mask Right!
First, make sure that your child wears a mask—and that doesn’t mean one that comes with their store-bought costume. One strategy is to dress them up as a doctor or nurse so a surgical-type mask is a natural part of their outfit. But if they want to be a character from Disney or Harry Potter or just dress up as a traditional ghost or witch, in the time of Covid, masks are a must.
Important note: The CDC advises that it’s not a good idea to wear a costume mask over a cloth mask, since it can make breathing more difficult. Also, masks should not be worn on kids under two.
Handling Kids and Candy
The usual method of having children choose their treat out of a bowl or handing some treats to them are problematic this year, since safety requires as little physical contact as possible.
Some possible solutions: Set up a trick-or-treat “station” (or table) outdoors that has individually bagged treats that kids can pick up themselves. Spread them out a bit so each kid touches only his or her bag and be sure to wash your hands before stuffing the bags. You might even consider having hand sanitizer near the treat bags for kids to stay germ-free.
Since you may not want to miss greeting your young visitors, feel free to stand six feet or more away from your goodie bag table— and don’t forget to wear a mask yourself.
Tips for Trick-or-Treaters
Before heading out, make sure your children wash their hands after they’ve put on their protective masks. Bring hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol with you (or give it to your kids, if they are old enough to go out alone, typically 11 and up).
Going out in big groups increases the risk of transmission, so you may want to consider keeping it to just family or perhaps one or two good friends.
Once they bring home the booty, make sure they wash their hands thoroughly before eating any of it. If you want to be extra cautious, you could put it aside for a few days and have some candy on hand that you bought to tide them over.
The Usual Precautions
Pandemic aside, the normal safety advice applies to this year’s Halloween.
Tell kids to cross only at corners, looking left, right and left again before crossing, and never run across the street.
Ask them to leave the phones at home, or at least put them down so they can pay attention to where they are walking.
If your older children are going alone, plan and review the route that is acceptable to you. Agree on a specific time when they should return home.
Use reflective tape or stickers on costumes, which should never be too long to trip over. Carrying glow sticks or flashlights is also a good idea.
Remember to drive with extra caution on Halloween, both day and night, since kids may dart in front of your car.
Remove hoses, tools, bikes and other possible hazards from your front lawn and porch.
Go through your kids’ candy before allowing them to eat it; throw away anything with a tear in the wrapper or that is homemade; and set limits on how much candy per day can be consumed.
Protect your pets by keeping them inside and away from the front door.
Never let a child of any age carve a pumpkin without close supervision—better yet, decorate with paint and stickers.
Finally, if you’re not comfortable sending your kids out this year due to the pandemic, there are alternatives. Some ideas: Hide candy around your house; visit a pumpkin farm or corn maze (bring masks and hand sanitizer) that is practicing social distancing; attend a scavenger hunt; hold a socially distanced costume parade; or host an outdoor movie night with a few close friends and neighbors.
In this new monthly column, therapists from North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center will be answering your questions on issues related to parenting, mental health and children’s well-being. To submit a question, email NSCFGCexperts@gmail.com
Question: My son and daughter are athletes on their school’s sports teams, and they’re really struggling with the loss of these activities due to the pandemic. How can I help them deal with this difficult situation?
Dear Sports Mom: Being part of organized sports is such an important part of life for many of our children and teens, and you’re correct in describing this as a loss.
The many benefits of sports to a child’s physical and mental well-being are well known. Sports help kids develop fine motor skills, reduce stress and boost their immune systems. Children who participate in sports tend to have greater self-esteem. They learn teamwork, responsibility and perseverance, and they develop lasting friendships.
Many of our kids are experiencing a deep sense of grief. They’ve not only lost sports, but also many other important activities and the many relationships closely tied to those experiences.
As with any disappointment, encourage your child to discuss their feelings instead of keeping them all bottled up. You never want to give the impression that this isn’t a big deal. It is!
While they may want to spend more time on their screens, it’s important to set limits. Too much screen time is likely, in the long run, to make kids feel more isolated, unmotivated and demoralized. It’s fine to relax those rules to some degree, allowing for the diversion and connection with their peers, but don’t abandon reasonable limits altogether.
Perhaps your most important tool is to create other opportunities to keep your child healthy and engaged. Those could include family walks or other physical activities, such as practicing drills together or doing an online exercise class.
Although we don’t have a timetable for when the pandemic will be over, let your kids know that the best medical experts in the world are working on the solution and that you are optimistic that things will return to normal.
Question: Our daughters, one in middle school and the other in elementary, were taunted by one of their classmates because they are Chinese Americans. The boy called them derogatory names and said that they caused the pandemic. What can we do to protect them from this type of discrimination?
Dear Heartbroken Parents: Sadly, anti-Asian bias has been widespread throughout the country and right here on Long Island. Verbal and even physical assaults against kids and adults have risen dramatically.
Your first job is to listen to your children closely and validate their feelings. They are likely frightened, angry and even embarrassed—all normal responses to such a traumatic event. Tell them they have nothing to be ashamed of and being bullied is not their fault.
Report the incident to their teacher, guidance counselor and principal. Suggest that they discuss bias and racism in the classroom and assemblies. Students need to be taught that any type of racist behavior or slurs will not be tolerated. They also need to learn about the value of diversity from a very early age.
Some more important steps:
Advise your children to record these interactions with their phones as soon as they begin.
Give children age-appropriate facts about the virus, so they know no culture is responsible for the pandemic.
Model the behavior you want to see in your children by being anti-racist yourself.
Teach them to stand up for themselves respectfully without escalating the situation further.
If the bias is an ongoing problem or there is any physical harm or threat of harm, contact the police, and make sure your children know to dial 911 if they are ever in danger. You can also report the incident to Nassau County’s Office of Asian-American Affairs at (516) 572-2244.
Bullies have been around since time immemorial, but with the heightened tensions and anxieties in our country related to the virus, politics, racism and more, children and teens are experiencing an increase in conflict and bullying incidents.
Bulling comes in four basic forms:
Verbal bullying involves the use of spoken words, with the bully threatening or calling someone by degrading names. It may also involve the use of slurs toward family or friends of their target.
Physical bullying involves hitting, kicking, pushing or any form of unwanted touch.
Relational bullying is when the bully purposely excludes his or her victim from activities, groups or events.
Cyberbullying is when someone uses Facebook, Instagram, texting or other social media to spread rumors and lies about another person.
While bullying can happen at any age, middle school is a particularly active time for bullies to do their worst. Here are some bullying facts:
One out of every five students reported being bullied.
Of those students who reported being bullied, 13% were made fun of, called names or insulted; 13% were the subject of rumors; 5% were pushed, shoved, tripped or spit on; and 5% were deliberately excluded from activities.
Students who experience bullying are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, sleep problems, poor grades and dropping out of school.
The reasons for being bullied reported most often by students include physical appearance, race/ethnicity, gender, disability, religion and sexual orientation.
Students who reported frequently bullying others and students who report being frequently bullied are at increased risk for suicide-related behavior.
Bullies use intimidation as a tool to keep their victims quiet, which makes many kids reluctant to report the behavior. That’s why it’s very important for schools to tackle this subject directly, educating students on what bullying is and what they can do when they witness it or experience it themselves. In fact, research indicates that school-based bullying prevention programs decrease bullying by up to 25%.
Dr. Sue Cohen, director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center’s Marks Family Right from the Start 0-3+ Center, treats many children and teens who have experienced bullying, and advises them to use their power to speak up.
“Look the bully in the eye and tell him or her to stop in a calm, firm voice,” she says. “If it seems unsafe, walk away immediately. Either way, tell a trusted adult about the incident.”
Confronting the bully directly may be frightening, she adds, so often it’s easier for the child to tell a parent, teacher or counselor. “Since silence only encourages the bullying behavior, speaking out is crucial. Keep the lines of communication open with your child.”
The prevalence of social media and other technologies has made bullying more pervasive than ever, so kids need to be taught smart ways to protect themselves online—and also how to not be a bully themselves. “Teach your children to be kind to others and to never post anything out of anger or that is gossip,” says Cohen. “Also, let them know they should never pass on a nasty message, photo or rumor about anyone.”
Parents should be on the lookout for signs that their child is using verbal or physical aggression to deal with conflict; talking about getting even with others; or suddenly has items that don’t belong to him/her.
Finally, if you are a parent and your child is being bullied at school or by other students outside of school, don’t confront the bully or the parents. Contact the school principal or guidance counselor, and contact the police if your child is threatened with harm.
As of the beginning of the 2020 school year, officials in both Nassau and Suffolk County have put organized school sports on hold. While opinions vary as to whether this is a good idea, what’s important for parents is knowing how you can support your children’s physical and mental well-being during this difficult time.
Andrew Malekoff, Executive Director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, was a multi-sport athlete during his school career and says that being involved in sports provided great opportunities for him. “Participating gave me something to look forward to every season, year-round,” he says. “It kept me out of trouble after school and on weekends.”
But it was more than a distraction, he emphasizes. “From an emotional growth perspective, sports can teach lessons about competition, cooperation, perseverance and resilience.”
The many benefits to a child’s physical and mental well-being are well known. Sports help them develop fine motor skills, reduce stress, boost their immune systems and maintain a healthy weight, which makes them less likely to experience a range of medical problems. Children who participate in sports tend to have greater self-esteem; they learn teamwork, responsibility and develop lasting friendships.
How to Help your Child Deal with the Loss
As with any disappointment, encourage your child to discuss their feelings, as opposed to keeping them all bottled up. “Many of our kids are experiencing a deep sense of grief from what they may experience as a devastating loss,” says Malekoff. “They’ve not only lost sports, but also many other important activities and the many relationships closely tied to those experiences. Try your best to keep an open dialogue, validating their experience and acknowledging that it’s a lot to deal with. You never want to give the impression that this isn’t a big deal. It is!”
You can also help by being a role model for how to deal with loss. Stay calm and try to be encouraging without dismissing how badly they feel. Don’t minimize the impact. “Although we don’t have a timetable for when the pandemic will be over, let your kids know that the best medical experts in the world are working on the solution and that you are optimistic that things will return to normal,” says Malekoff.
While they may want to spend more time on their screens, it’s important to set limits. “Too much screen time is likely, in the long run, to make kids feel more isolated, unmotivated and demoralized,” says Malekoff. “It’s OK to relax those rules to some degree, allowing for the diversion and connection with their peers, but don’t abandon reasonable limits altogether.”
Perhaps your most important tool is to create other opportunities to keep your child healthy and engaged. Those could include family walks or other physical activities, such as practicing drills together or doing an online exercise class. (To read about the benefits of physical activities on children’s mental health, read our blog, “Get Excited About Exercise.”)
Precautions to Take If You Decide to Keep Your Child in Sports
During the pandemic, some parents have chosen to keep their children active in sports through community youth leagues, private or group instruction, or even just through games with other children. That is a personal decision for each family to make. But there are guidelines created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that can protect your child if they participate in sports.
To reduce risk, here are some important tips:
Let players, coaches and others know that if they are experiencing any symptoms of illness, they should stay home (they should also remain at home if they have been in contact with anyone who is ill).
Designate appropriate spacing using tape on floors or fields for drills and downtime.
Tell spectators to socially distance and wear masks.
Teach appropriate hygiene and safety measures, which means washing hands for at least 20 seconds; using hand sanitizer when soap isn’t available; not sharing towels or other items; discouraging high fives and fist bumps; creating distance during breaks and whenever possible; and wearing masks at all times.
Since the situation is evolving, it’s wise to keep up to date on the health department regulations statewide and by county. Click here for more information.
For more information:
NYU Langone created a webinar to advise parents regarding steps they can take to foster a safe return of their kids to youth sports. You can listen here.
October marks the beginning of Adopt a Shelter Dog Month, but if you’re thinking of adding a dog (or cat or other pet) to the family, adoption is a great way to go any time of year. You not only add a wonderful companion to your life, but also save a life.
Many families have adopted animals during the pandemic, since they’ve had more time at home to spend with their new pets. While it’s important to be sure you will be able to continue to care for your pet once life returns to a more normal schedule, the benefits to your children and teens are so numerous that you can be sure that the added responsibility is well worth it!
Just some of the benefits of having a dog or other pet for your family, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry:Developing positive feelings about pets can contribute to a child’s self-confidence. Positive relationships with pets can aid in the development of trusting relationships with others. And a good relationship with a pet can also help in developing non-verbal communication, compassion and empathy.
Pets provide unconditional love, which is important for every child, but especially helpful for kids who have difficulties with depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. In fact, research indicates that children with pets tend to have higher levels of empathy and feelings of self-worth compared to those who don’t have animals. They can also help children with issues such as shyness and autism with their social skills.
Some other benefits for kids of pet companionship: Leads to an increase in physical activity; reduces stress; provides companionship and social support; helps children learn responsibility; gives them someone to talk to; and fosters a connection with the natural world.
So, given the benefits to children’s mental and physical health of having a pet, visit your local shelter and bring a bundle of love home!
Want to learn more about pet adoption? Click here for a great source of information.
In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, this week’s blog takes a look at our Latina Girls Project, which was created to respond to the alarming rate of depression, school refusal, self-harm, sexual abuse, suicidal ideation and attempted suicides by Hispanic teen girls.
In her work as Associate Executive Director at the Guidance Center, Regina Barros-Rivera has counseled numerous teens who suffer from depression and anxiety. But nearly a decade ago, she noticed a disturbing trend: An increasingly large number of first-generation Latinas were coming to the Guidance Center with severe depression, self-harming behaviors and suicidal thoughts. Many had stopped going to school, and some had been hospitalized for suicide attempts.
Barros-Rivera soon discovered that nationwide research mirrored what she was seeing at the Guidance Center. Studies show that Hispanic teenage girls are significantly more likely than their non-Hispanic peers to suffer from depression and thoughts of suicide.
As the daughter of immigrant parents, Barros-Rivera was gravely concerned—and determined to do something to help the teens and their families. She gathered a team of bilingual, multicultural counselors from the Guidance Center and created the Latina Girls Project, an innovative program that employs individual, group and family therapy, along with monthly outings and other activities, all designed to tackle issues such as depression, low self-esteem, school refusal and suicidal ideation.
In addition to bilingual individual, family and group therapy, the program incorporates a youth enrichment component that is comprised of monthly supervised outings to places such as theaters, museums and other cultural and educational sites. These trips, made possible by the generosity of John and Janet Kornreich, expose the girls to world in a way that would never have happened if not for this Guidance Center program. The trips also offer respite to the parents who are relieved to know that their daughters are in safe hands.
The pandemic has caused a temporary halt to these outings, and the girls have reported how much they miss them—a testimony to the importance the trips play in their lives.
As Barros-Rivera says, “The monthly trips play a significant role in the Latina Girls Project’s ability to transform these girls’ lives. They serve to boost their confidence and sense of independence. The girls also discover that there’s a great big world of opportunity out there for them, which allows them to feel hopeful about their futures.”
As one girl put it, “The therapy helped my mother and I communicate and become very close, and the monthly outings showed me a world I never would have seen. I felt that I wanted to be a part of the larger world. The trips gave me the feeling that I could be truly happy in my life.”
The Guidance Center looks forward to starting up the outings again as soon as it is safe to do so. In the meantime, we have continued to see clients via telehealth, making sure that the girls have support as they and their families navigate these very difficult times.
By Beth Whitehouse, Newsday, September 18, 2020 Photo: Olivia, 11, and Samuel Murad, 15, were both anxious and excited about returning to school. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara
Olivia Murad, 11, was anxious about more than just entering a new school with new teachers and new classes ahead of her first day of middle school in Great Neck. This year, she also has to deal with concern of the coronavirus.
“She’s a little nervous; wants to know if she’s going to be safe,” says Olivia’s mom, Ianthe, 46, a clinical audiologist. Murad and her husband, Rachid, 48, who works in human rights at the United Nations, have decided it’s important to send Olivia back to the classroom alternate days according to the district’s hybrid plan. “We really have been attached at the hip since lockdown in early March,” Murad says of herself and her daughter. “I feel that the social component is so critical at this age.”
So does Olivia. “When I heard we had to do online school, I had no motivation to get up in the morning and do my work,” she says. “My motivation is seeing my friends.”
Samuel, 15, who is in 10th grade at a private school, is attending five days a week. “I’m very happy about that,” Samuel says. “Getting back to a normal schedule, waking up really early, going to class.” He jokes that he should have readjusted within the first two months.
Like other parents, the Murads are hoping their children adapt easily and any anxiety fades away. “This is a major moment. They’re going to school during a pandemic, which has upended everybody’s world and is pretty scary,” says Karen Fleiss, psychologist and clinical director of the NYU Langone Child Study Center’s Long Island office in Lake Success. Fleiss and other experts offer these 10 ways to help the fall be happier for tweens and teens:
1. Understand and validate
Parents should validate their teen’s feelings to help them process emotions instead of internalizing them, says Elissa Smilowitz, director of triage and emergency services for the North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center in Roslyn Heights.
Mark Lashley, a pediatrician at Valley Stream Pediatrics, part of Long Island’s Allied Physicians Group, likens the pandemic to a rock thrown into a pond creating ripples. “Covid has added a layer of complexity to these worries kids have and the stress they feel,” he says. Separation by six feet may hinder their typical manner of socializing. “They’re worried about the joyful activities they were expecting to have and whether they’re going to have them.”
Parents can be an outlet. “Sometimes teenagers are just looking for people to hear them,” says Pia Alexander, a family therapist in private practice in Brooklyn and Mineola who has two teenagers.
2. Be flexible
“Because things are changing so much moment to moment, it requires a lot of flexibility,” Alexander says. Not just from the kids. “When things don’t look the way you were expecting, it’s about how you respond to those differences.”
Do what’s right for your family and your children, Alexander advises. “Instead of comparing your own family to what other families are doing on social media, families have to define what is special to their own family,” she says. “People are curating these images to put out a story they want to represent them instead of what is really going on.” Eschew the “shoulds,” she says. “Families are going through different experiences.”
3. Try to foster excitement
“There’s an undercurrent of disappointment in what school is actually going to be like this year. They know what it was like in the spring, and they didn’t love it,” Fleiss says. “The energy of the new school year, all the newness of it, it’s just not there.”
Fleiss has one client, she says, who asked her mom if she could change her room around to make it different and a fresh start for the school year; parents can try to help students find ways to feel more engaged.
4. Accept your child’s weaknesses
Accepting their vulnerabilities can reduce family stress. Kids may be worried whether their friend groups will still accept them after having been apart, Smilowitz says. “The worry is, ‘Are they going to talk to me?’” They may have fears about their academic performance.
“Your kid might not be able to achieve everything they would in a typical year,” warns Caroline Mendel, a private practice psychologist from the North Shore. Adjusting expectations will make everyone happier, she says.
Acknowledge that this is hard. “When you see them off task, remind them that you’re with them and they can do it,” says Don Sinkfeld, a mental health practice owner in Valley Stream who has a 13-year-old daughter. Adolescents don’t relish hearing a parent say, “Didn’t you get the instructions about how to turn this assignment in?” “If the kids feel like they’re going to disappoint you, they’re not talking,” Sinkfeld says.
5. Impose daily structure
“Children don’t have the best, what we call in pediatrics, ‘executive functioning.’ They need guidance,” Lashley says. “Providing structure is very important — time for work, time for play, time for bed, time for exercise.”
That routine may look different from a year ago, but a predictable routine is grounding, Mendel agrees. Parents may need to help children break academic tasks down into manageable steps, she says.
Try to limit electronics, Lashley adds. “We lump all electronic devices — TV, tablet, phone and gaming consoles — into one category,” he says. During the summer, experts told parents they could relax the normal advice to keep children entertained in isolation. But now, parents ought to resume some restrictions, Lashley says. The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines recommends teens have no more than two hours of recreational screen use per day, he says.
6. Allow teens some autonomy
“They’re in this stage where they need to start making decisions,” Fleiss says. Come up with your non-negotiables, what are absolute musts for you, and then allow some choice and ownership on other decisions, experts say.
“Instead of imposing boundaries, you want to discuss it with them, especially with older teens,” Alexander agrees. Say, for instance, “In our family, we all try to get to sleep at this time. Does that feel reasonable to you? What do you propose?”
7. Try to offer socialization outside of school, albeit safely
“Any therapist who works with teens knows that the social setting — their peers, their friends — is the most important thing for them,” says Kathy Sionit, a social worker in private practice in Great Neck who has five children between 11 and 17.
Schools that are totally remote or keeping children six feet apart may not truly offer satisfying socialization, Alexander says. “Parents should, as much as they can, and by what is safe for their family based on medical issues, try to tailor some social interaction for their tweens and teens with others.”
8. Embrace nature
A positive during the pandemic has been the amount of time tweens and teens may be spending outside, Sionit says. Other experts echoed her. “Getting outside into nature is very helpful for children who are having trouble adjusting,” Lashley says.
9. Have a sense of humor
Tweens and teens are trying their best, Sinkfeld says. When things go wrong, try to laugh. “Have a sense of humor about it.”
10. Watch for depression/anxiety
Some teens may experience depression, anxiety, hopelessness, apathy, loss of motivation, even suicidal ideation, experts say. Parents should watch for changes in sleep patterns and appetite, increased irritability or sadness, and decreased ability to concentrate, Lashley says.
It may be a temporary adjustment disorder, Sinkfeld says. “Adjustment disorder means the person is experiencing some kind of life event that they are having trouble adjusting to. COVID changes to school and household routine, even how you learn, that is definitely a huge adjustment,” Sinkfeld says. If parents are seeing signs, they should consider reaching out to a professional for help, experts say.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on our country and across the globe, impacting the physical and mental health of children, families and individuals of every kind.
But the Asian-American community has faced an additional trauma: All over the world, including right here on Long Island, there’s been an enormous increase in acts of bias against Asian-Americans.
According to NBC News and the Center for Public Integrity, more than 30 percent of Americans have witnessed someone blaming Asian people for the coronavirus pandemic, with 60% of Asian-Americans reporting the same thing. Children of every age, along with adults, have been physically and verbally assaulted. Taunts such as “Go back to your country” and “Coronavirus is all your fault” have been common.
Kevin Sun of the Great Neck Chinese Association said his organization has had several reports from local families whose children have experienced harassment, including one recent incident where two sisters were cursed at by another group of middle schoolers, who also destroyed their bicycles. The girls are now afraid to leave home and go out in their own neighborhoods.
In response to this troubling situation, on September 10, 2020, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center presented a webinar titled “Anti-Asian Bias: What Parents Need to Know,” to discuss the traumatic situation and to provide useful information to our communities on how they can help their families when such incidents occur.
The panel, moderated by Andrew Malekoff, Executive Director of the Guidance Center, featured State Senator Anna Kaplan; Regina Barros-Rivera, Associate Executive Director of the Guidance Center; Christine Liu, the Vice Chair of the Nassau Asian American Advisory Council and a board member at the Chinese American Association of North Hempstead and Herricks Chinese Association; and ChenXin Xu, Board Member of the Great Neck Chinese Association and Founder, New York Music & Arts.
“Sadly, in every pandemic, a scapegoat is needed,” said Malekoff. “The ‘frozen moments’ [of traumatic harassment] stick with you for the rest of your life.”
State Senator Kaplan reported that her office has seen an escalation in reports of racism against Asian-Americans. “Bias and xenophobia have made the problems of the pandemic more severe. It’s going to take all of us working together to make sure are kids are protected.”
Kaplan encouraged those who’ve experienced any form of discrimination to contact her office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (516) 746-5924.
Christine Liu described the treatment that Asian-American children are experiencing in our local communities. “Kids are being bullied, shunned and shamed,” she said.
Her advice: “We have to report every single instance of bias, no matter how big or small. Every time we fail to report, we lose the opportunity to seek justice and bring awareness to our community that anti-Asian bias exists in Nassau County.”
Liu also stresses the importance of recording situations of hate and bias from the moment they begin.
Barros-Rivera advised parents to listen to their children closely and to validate their feelings, asking them what happened, what they wanted to say and do and what they did.
“Parents should invite their child in for communication,” she said. “You want to help them develop a sense of competence and the ability to take care of themselves.” She also emphasized that they need to know they can talk to the parent, teacher or guidance counselor.
It’s also vital to teach your children that racist behavior or slurs of any type is not acceptable, and to be careful what you say in front of your children. “Kids learn from you,” said Barros-Rivera, “and they will take that in and share it on the outside.” One great way to encourage them to be anti-racist is to expose them to the outside world and different cultures.
A few days following the webinar, ChenXin Xu reported that the event received a tremendous amount of support from not only the Chinese community but the entire community of Great Neck. “This was a beginning for all community members and official leaders to shed a light on bias and discrimination toward Asian-American families. It opened up more dialogue, and unfortunately uncovered more unpleasant experiences that happened to children and adults on this very issue at home and social media. We hope and urge the local officials both from Nassau County as well as the school districts to emphasize and educate further.”
Kevin Sun said, “The webinar brought the community together to learn about an important topic during this tough period. All the panelists gave the community unwavering support as well as numerous valuable suggestions, ranging from how to empower kids when they face discrimination to how to deal with the psychological aftermath.”
If your child has experienced bias or harassment and is feeling depressed, anxious or frightened, contact North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center for help. Call (516) 626-1971 or visit www.northshorechildguidance.org.
Note: The free webinar was recorded and can be viewed by clicking here. It will be available in Chinese at a later date.
It’s a phone call we get nearly every day at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center: A parent tells us their son or daughter seems very depressed and anxious. They worry that their child may be at risk for self-harm or even suicide.
“Families are in desperate need of help because their tweens and teens are expressing suicidal feelings,” says Regina Barros-Rivera, Associate Executive Director of the Guidance Center. “And with the isolation and heightened anxiety brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s created an even more dangerous situation. Kids have lost their school and social connections, and many families have experienced the loss of loved ones. As a result of being secluded in an unstable home, children may also be exposed to domestic violence, substance abuse, neglect or other forms of violence.”
Sadly, suicide among young people isn’t a new problem on Long Island or across our nation. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the secondleading cause of death for ages 10-24, with more teenagers and young adults dying from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and lung disease combined.
For all of our 67-year history, the Guidance Center has been helping children and families in crisis, and we are increasing our efforts with a new program designed to prevent suicide and suicide attempts.
Today, on World Suicide Prevention Awareness Day, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center is announcing the launch of the Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project, an expansive initiative that aims to tackle the epidemic of suicide among young people. The program is made possible by a generous gift from Donald and Ellen Feldman in memory of their son.
Elissa Smilowitz, who heads up the Triage & Emergency program at the Guidance Center, has been treating suicidal youngsters for several decades. She will also be providing leadership for the Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project.
“We’ve always seen emergency cases within 24 to 48 hours, but with this new initiative, we will be expanding our efforts substantially,” says Smilowitz. With the Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project, the Guidance Center will continue to address high-risk cases with a thorough evaluation for suicide risk; multiple sessions of individual, group and family therapy each week; and an individualized treatment plan that focuses on safety strategies and healthy coping skills.
The Guidance Center will now offer services that will decrease the prevalence of suicidal thinking and actions in our children and teens through educational forums, both face-to-face and with webinars. In addition, we will launch 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 supporting the development of 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—especially during a time of unprecedented risk, deep divisions in our nation and a global pandemic.”
He adds, “Join us in spreading the word to schools, community organizations and friends about the Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project. Information is power, and this program can save lives.”
Donations to support the lifesaving work of the Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project can be made on the Guidance Center’s website at www.northshorechildguidance.org/donate or by calling (516) 626-1971, ext. 320.
If you or a member of your family is in crisis, call North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center at (516) 626-1971. You can also call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Both children and teens are at risk of depression and suicide when they experience traumatic events in their lives, such as divorce, death of a loved one, abuse or illness. Today, the stresses of the pandemic compound that risk.
Parents must acknowledge that the risk of suicide is real and that it’s very dangerous to view their child or teen’s behavior as a normal part of adolescent melodrama.
Here are some of the warning signs that a child or teen might be suicidal, from the Mayo Clinic:
Talking or writing about suicide — for example, making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” or “I won’t be a problem for you much longer”
Withdrawing from social contact
Having mood swings
Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
Doing risky or self-destructive things
Giving away belongings when there is no other logical explanation for why this is being done
Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above
So, what do you do if you suspect your child or teen may be suicidal? The first step is to consult a mental health professional. The Guidance Center team will assess if the situation appears urgent and will make an appointment to see the child within 24 to 48 hours (if it’s deemed extremely urgent, we advise you go to the Emergency Room). We can be reached at (516) 626-1971, or via email at email@example.com.It’s very important that you communicate your concern to your child in a loving, non-judgmental way, says Elissa Smilowitz, who heads up the Guidance Center’s new Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project. “Talking about suicide will not make your child more likely to act upon it,” she says. “The opposite is true. Also, let them know that you believe that getting help is not a weakness, but rather shows their strength.”
September is National Obesity Awareness Month, but it’s always a good time to talk to your kids about healthy eating—especially with many adults and children alike having put on weight from stress eating and inactivity due to the pandemic.
Sadly, being significantly overweight is very common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s.
Today, nearly 1 in 5 school age U.S. children and young people (6 to 19 years) is considered obese. When you factor in those who are considered overweight but not yet obese, the figure rises to 31%.
Why the dramatic increase? Behavior and habits are the most likely culprits. According to Dr. Sue Cohen, Director of Early Childhood and Psychological Services at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, technology plays a big role.
“Many families have become sedentary, with TV, computers and videogames as the culprits,” she says. “And it’s not just the kids; parents, too, are often modeling these behaviors.”
Of course, shaming a child for being overweight is never appropriate. From a very early age, parents should nurture a positive body image with their kids, focusing on their bodies as the miracles they are!
But if your teen’s weight has become a health concern, you can address it in a loving, non-critical way.
Dr. Cohen recommends approaching the issue as a family topic rather than focusing on an individual child. “The message should be that we all need to eat healthier and we can all start a fitness program as a family,” she says. “You don’t want to make your child feel badly about themselves, so focusing on healthy eating and activity rather than appearance is extremely important.”
Here Are Some Things to Keep in Mind When Broaching The Subject Of Weight With Your Children, From The Academy Of Nutrition And Dietetics:
Encourage open dialogue. Go ahead and talk with your children about weight and encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings about body image whenever they arise. When children discuss feelings about weight with you, be sure to listen and acknowledge that the feelings are real. If you have had similar experiences, it may help to share them. Explain that people come in all different shapes and sizes and you love your child no matter what.
Don’t make negative comments. Judging your own body or your child’s can result in lasting detrimental effects to your child’s body image and relationship with food. Set a good example for children in the way you talk about your own body as well as others. Skip the lure of fad dieting yourself.
Take action. Children learn fast, and they learn best by example. Teach children habits that will help keep them healthy for life. In general, if your child is elementary age or younger and you have some weight concerns, don’t talk about it; just start making lifestyle changes as a family. The best thing you can do is make it easy for kids to eat smart and move often. Serve regular, balanced family meals and snacks. Limit the time your child spends watching television or playing video games. Look for ways to spend fun, active time together.
Avoid the blame game. Never yell, scream, bribe, threaten or punish children about weight, food or physical activity. If you turn these issues into parent-child battlegrounds, the results can be harmful. Shame, blame and anger are setups for failure. The worse children feel about their weight, the more likely they are to overeat or develop an eating disorder.
Talk with your healthcare provider. If a health professional mentions a concern about your child’s weight, speak with the professional privately. Discuss specific concerns about your child’s growth pattern and ask for suggestions on making positive changes in your family’s eating habits and activity levels.
Seek advice. Check out local programs and professionals who specialize in youth. Look for a registered dietitian nutritionist with a specialty in pediatric weight management. Many hospitals and clinics have comprehensive programs with education and activities for both kids and adult family members. Some of these options may be covered by your health insurance plan.
Finding Healthy Foods
Are you among the Long Islanders whose location and/or financial issues make it difficult to access healthy, fresh foods? Many soup kitchens and food pantries don’t have a large supply of fresh groceries, but Community Solidarity shares nutritious food to those in need, with 50% of that being fresh produce. To find out more, visit communitysolidarity.org.
Leaving for college for the very first time is an incredibly challenging, exciting and important moment for students and their families. With so many uncertainties still surrounding college life amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the normal fears and anxieties in both incoming freshmen and their parents have been escalated.
When I first left to attend college in my freshman year, the transition from living at home to living in a new state at a school where I knew no one was a challenge. But it is a challenge that was incredibly formative in becoming who I am now. I have so much empathy for this year’s freshmen, and I recognize that just as difficult as the challenges of this year are on me as a senior, the pandemic has altered many crucial traditions and elements of freshman life.
However, regardless of the circumstance, making the decision to leave home to attend college is a major milestone for a family. It is a bittersweet moment for parents who have worked so hard to make this dream a possibility for their children. Their freshmen often feel overwhelmed in their new environment and may feel homesick, especially during the first semester.
Quarantine has made all of us experts when it comes to communicative technology. FaceTime, Zoom and other services allow us to connect over long distances. These tools can be immensely valuable to homesick freshmen and worried parents. In my own experience, FaceTiming my family allowed me to feel connected to them while being able to become fully invested in my new experiences. Being able to check in with parents, see the family pet and connect quickly make these resources the perfect way for freshmen, in particular, to reduce anxiety.
The uncertainty of college experiences this fall will also benefit from this quick communication. Students can stay in touch with their families and keep them updated on the situation, which can be stress-relieving for the students and their worried parents at home.
Taking a trip home can be a great way to relieve stress during freshman year. I encourage students to not push themselves too hard and to listen to themselves if they feel they need a break. If it is a safe and possible option, a weekend trip home can make a world of difference for a struggling freshman.
While parents will always worry about their children, it is my hope that technology will continue to connect us while we are apart. Students and families have to make the right decisions for themselves and their safety. Every student and family will navigate freshman year differently. But whether you choose to take classes remotely and stay home or choose to return to campus, freshman year is a challenge for all. It is a time to reflect on who you are and who you hope to become in the next four years.
Some of the traditional advice for freshmen about getting involved on campus may not be applicable this year. However, schools are working hard to ensure that students can continue to connect with one another and remain engaged in their community. Club meetings are being held virtually, campus newspapers are publishing on their websites, and some traditional events are being redesigned to ensure social distancing and safety while giving freshmen the chance to have some of the cherished memories of the college experience.
I want to encourage incoming freshmen to reach out to organizations on campus that they are interested in and see how they are operating in the fall. Even if things are being done virtually, it will still be an opportunity to connect with others and begin to establish a life for yourself in the school community.
Schools often remind their freshmen throughout their first semester that these will be the greatest four years of their lives. But as this pandemic has shown us, we are not able to predict the future. As someone who ended up transferring from what I thought was going to be my dream school, not every moment has to match your expectations. Often, it is the act of working through the ongoing challenges and finding small moments of pure joy that makes college as special as it is.
This is not the freshman year anyone could have imagined. But it is that unexpected reality that will forever bond this class (and all the others that have been affected). It will find joy in laughing at technology failures during online classes, sharing our fears and concerns with others to find they have just the same ones. It will make for memories that we will not forget and a gratitude like no other. We cannot predict what this fall will bring, but we can only hope for the best and be grateful for each moment.
As fall approaches, the return to school is weighing heavily on students and their parents alike. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, most schools have adopted at least a partially remote learning model for the fall semester. Families were first rushed into remote learning in March 2020 as schools quickly shut down, and many are looking to find ways to improve the experience of remote learning for the fall.
For younger students especially, remote learning can pose many challenges. Young children often struggle to remain focused on their work, and the home environment and its many distractions can heighten this difficulty.
Parents should attempt to mitigate the distractions for their children while they are doing schoolwork. Try to find a small, quiet area of the home for them to attend virtual classes and complete homework. Personalize the space (and enjoy some creative crafts!) with poster boards and decorate with name tags, stickers and school supplies for the area.
While it can be hard for parents to manage their children’s classwork alongside their own work and other responsibilities, it is important to help younger children stay on task. Familiarize yourself with the schedule your school has set up for your children to ensure they attend online classes and do not miss assignments.
For older children in elementary and middle school, parents can see this as a chance to foster their children’s independence. While, again, it is useful to be familiar with your children’s schedules, encourage them to keep track of their work themselves. Simple planners, dry-erase calendars and creative task lists can be helpful.
This age group will also likely struggle with managing distractions. Encourage your children to include fun activities in their schedules. Once their school day comes to an end and their homework is complete, use these activities, such as video games or outdoor play, as a reward for finishing their tasks.
It is also important for these children to keep in touch with their peers safely. Explore virtual options to connect with friends, including Netflix party and Jackbox Games. Weather permitting, take advantage of the outdoors to spend time with friends safely and enjoy the fresh air.
High school students will need their own space to do their work. Ensure that they have a quiet environment to attend their remote classes and work on their assignments. These students will need to stay on top of their responsibilities. With remote learning, this can be a challenging task for the most organized of students. Encourage them to maintain planners and take advantage of online resources. Google Suite offers many different services that can aid students of all ages, including Google calendar, drive and classroom. Applications for both smartphones and computers can also help to stay on track, including the Reminder app from Apple (already pre-installed on all their devices!) and Todoist.
College students are in a particularly difficult state of flux. With many schools opting for either hybrid or entirely online plans, many students are unsure of where they should choose to stay. If you are on-campus, explore the options that are safely open. Libraries and study spaces at many universities have been redesigned to ensure social distancing and adherence to safety protocols in order to remain available to students.
Whether at home or in a dorm, be sure to establish a dedicated space for studying and attending classes. Just like all the other age groups, minimizing distractions is a must. When attending an online lecture, consider putting your phone in another room and set all notifications on your computer to “do not disturb” for the class time.
Make a master list of synchronous class times, in-person class events (if you have them), asynchronous assignments and due dates, as well as the dates of any exams you have and the way in which they will be administered. Reflect on the end of last semester and the beginning of online courses. What worked for you? What did not?
Reach out to your peers, advisors and professors for advice if you find yourself accidentally falling behind. Many professors are empathetic given the turbulent situation, so try not to get too down on yourself if you slip up. You are only human, and your professors know this too. These are trying times for everyone, so remember to be kind to yourself. Just as younger kids will need dedicated time for non-school-related activities they enjoy, incorporate alone and self-care time into your schedule.
While this semester will be challenging and unpredictable, parents and students alike should attempt to stay focused and calm as best they can.
Dr. Sue Cohen, Director of Early Childhood and Psychological Services at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, expresses the challenges remote learning poses on families. “This process can be difficult for teachers and students,” she says. “In addition, the parents/caregivers might be juggling their own jobs, childcare issues, teaching their children and technology issues.”
Here are some tips from Dr. Cohen for families helping their children with remote learning:
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.
By preparing ahead of time, you will make this challenging situation a workable experience!
On Tuesday, August 4, heavy wind and rain from Tropical Storm Isaias hit much of the east coast. More than 2 million customers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut lost power as a result of the storm’s impact. One week later, some are still in the dark.
While power outages are always frustrating, the situation was made much more difficult with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A large number of people are working from home and are dependent on their power, WiFi and phone services to be able to do so. With the cancellation of many summer programs and activities, lots of kids are bored at home already, and without power, they lose much of the entertainment they rely on so heavily.
As Director of Early Childhood and Psychological Services at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, I’ve seen how COVID-19 and social distancing protocols have reduced or even eliminated many opportunities for respite, such as staying at the home of a friend or relative who has power. All your usual options that can help in an outage aren’t necessarily there.
It is crucial that parents do their best to remain calm, as your children will model their own behavior from you. When you lose it, they will do the same—and, fortunately, the opposite is true, too.
Before the next outage hits, take preventative actions by creating power outage kits for the entire family. These should include necessities such as flashlights, batteries, nonperishable food and water, but also off-the-grid activities for the family to participate in together. In our digital world, it is especially important for children to find engaging activities that do not take place on a screen. Power outages provide an opportunity to introduce these experiences to your children and remind them of the need to disconnect every so often.
Though it can be hard to find anything positive that has come from the COVID-19 pandemic, parents have mastered the act of improvisation. For months, they’ve learned how to entertain anxious children and navigate uncertainty. While power outages can be difficult, they offer yet another opportunity to spend quality time with your children and to explore new activities.
Parents need to take a step back and try to think outside of the box. Power outages have provided the foundation for some of my most treasured memories. One time, my daughter wanted to bake cookies, but due to the power outage, she attempted to make them on a pancake griddle. Though the cookies may not have turned out as good as usual, the memory is one that always brings a smile.
Parents should also attempt to find the positive in this situation. Just as your children should try different, off-the-grid activities, you should do the same. It’s easy to slip back into the smartphone-focused world we usually live in. Use this opportunity to establish small habits such as daily reading or writing time or meditation exercises that can bring calm to your day.
Younger children may enjoy hands-on activities such as making crafts, going on a scavenger hunt, putting on a puppet show or playing dress up. Older children can get lost in a book, engage in healthy competition in a board game or learn card games.
No matter the season, power outages are difficult for families to deal with, but when they occur alongside a pandemic and a heat wave, they are even more challenging. However, this experience may serve as a teaching moment for parents and kids to learn the benefits of unplugging and finding enjoyment in the simple things in life.
This school year will certainly be one like no other. For college students like myself, the idea of another remote semester can be incredibly frustrating, and it is hard not to feel anxious about the opportunities and experiences we have lost. College is built around time spent with peers, from living together in dorms to cheering on our school teams. With so much surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic still in flux, many college students do not know what this fall will bring.
I will be beginning my senior year at Fordham University in the Bronx this fall. I am incredibly grateful to be attending school in New York, where cases are considerably lower than the rest of the country. The process of moving in will not be as complicated, as I do not have to quarantine myself, nor do my roommates. Even so, I have struggled with a lot of anxiety throughout the summer already, wondering whether I am missing out on so many precious senior year traditions and whether we could potentially be sent back home.
Universities are taking many different approaches to the situation, and it largely depends on where the school is located. I was given the opportunity to opt for remote classes or in-person (with the professors being given the final say). I am able to live in my apartment on campus regardless of which method I choose.
With many classes being held online, whether by choice of the students or the professors, the financial benefits of still paying for on-campus housing or an apartment nearby are uncertain. Many students are grappling with paying large amounts of money to live with their peers and attempting to preserve what they can of the traditional college experience. Others are opting out, choosing to take online classes from home. Students from universities across the country have even urged for their schools to lower tuition due to online instruction.
There is no right answer in navigating the college experience amid the unprecedented pandemic we are facing. The decision to move on-campus, live in off-campus housing or stay home, as well as to take online or in-person classes, are deeply personal. Each student must consider their own comfort level, their physical and mental health, their financial situation and much more.
No matter what you have decided, the uncertainty looms above us all. It is hard not to feel like we are still losing so much as things continue to be cancelled or changed. Knowing that my senior year will, at least for the first half, be held largely online with a much quieter campus environment is upsetting, but I am comforted in knowing that we are all in this together. We are putting the health and safety of the community first, and that is what matters most.
I have found that this experience has taught me so much about myself. What I can handle, how much I can overcome. This generation that is experiencing such upheaval in times that are so precious will emerge with a strength that we will carry throughout our lives.
The uncertainty has brought many of us together, and this shared experience will be a deeper bond for the classes of 2020, 2021 and so on that we will not forget. We are also living in an age of technology that has allowed us to stay connected above all. While undoubtedly not the same, this technology is a vital tool for us to continue to remember those who are still by our side and who are struggling with the same worries and fears.
Anxiety is normal amid any kind of uncertainty, and we must learn to never feel guilty or ashamed for being worried. If you feel that you are struggling, do not hesitate to reach out to family or friends. There is no shame in seeking help — if you feel that you need assistance, mental health resources are here for you, including North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, which is seeing clients remotely. Remember that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Just months ago, many of us could never have imagined a situation like this. But here we are, and here we continue to go. We cannot make up for the time that would have been spent on campus. It is a reality we must come to terms with in order to move on. However, college is much more than the campus itself. It is the community forged from the shared experience of an institution and, if anything, going through this together, as a school community, can strengthen that. We know now that we can handle whatever is thrown our way.
Pregnancy and childbirth can be challenging experiences at any time. But amidst a global pandemic, many of the typical difficulties have been escalated. Many unknowns still linger regarding the potential impact COVID-19 can have during pregnancy as well as the virus’ potential impact on young children, making this an incredibly stressful time for new and expecting mothers in particular.
Unfortunately, one recent finding has demonstrated a worsening of anxiety and depression in new mothers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study, from the University of Alberta, 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.
Concerns about financial security, job stability and overall health weigh far more heavily on new and expecting parents now than ever before. Considering the pandemic’s widespread financial difficulties, the prospect of paying for all the expenses that come with a new baby can be incredibly daunting.
The rate of symptoms of depression in new mothers amid the pandemic was nearly three times the rate of new mothers’ pre-pandemic.
Added stress can also come from the precautionary measures to protect against the spread of COVID-19, especially social distancing. These measures can mean that extended family, grandparents particularly, may not be able to provide the support (such as childcare) for the new parents as they might normally. This can add to the parents’ stress and is also an immensely frustrating and disheartening reality for the grandparents and other family members who may not be able to see the new baby safely. Additionally, concern about potential exposure to the virus in public settings, especially during essential doctor visits for the newborn, aggravates anxiety symptoms.
Though the pandemic has heightened depression and anxiety rates for mothers, postpartum depression has been on the rise for many years. Postpartum depression is a mental health condition following childbirth in which a new mother experiences symptoms of depression that do not go away, as do the traditional “baby blues.” Some symptoms include feeling disconnected from the baby, a lack of motivation, restlessness and overwhelming feelings of sadness.
Statistics point to a notable disparity in the age of the mother. Teenagers face the most risk, with teenage mothers twice as likely to develop postpartum depression. Teenage mothers also suffer from higher suicidal ideation rates and are more likely to suffer from PTSD due to a higher likelihood of exposure to traumatic events.
Racial disparities play a role in both maternal mental health and teenage pregnancy. Researchers have noted that Black mothers suffer from postpartum depression and other perinatal mood disorders at a higher rate than white mothers. Additionally, though rates of teenage pregnancies have been decreasing across races, the pregnancy rate among Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black teenagers is more than twice that of non-Hispanic white teenagers. Given the connection between postpartum depression and teenage pregnancies, intersecting racial disparities can create an incredibly vulnerable new mothers’ population. COVID-19 has only added to this vulnerability, with the virus disproportionately affecting racial and ethnic minority groups.
North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center has two programs that address postpartum depression. One is called Good Beginnings for Babies, which seeks to help pregnant and parenting teens in a variety of areas to combat these vulnerabilities. Dr. Nellie Taylor-Walthrust, director of the program, explains, “The goal is to reduce the isolation of young parents in the early years of their child’s development and increase the community’s sense of responsibility for young families, by building a community of young parents who support one another.” This support is crucial in preventing adverse mental health conditions for teenage mothers.
Good Beginnings for Babies also provides screening for maternal depression and other perinatal mood disorders, as well as treatment or referrals for mental health care.
The other program is the Diane Goldberg Maternal Depression Program. It provides rapid response and diagnosis for mothers of all ages suffering from postpartum depression and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders
Good Beginnings for Babies is located at Leeds Place – Serving Young People, our office in Westbury. For more information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or (516) 626-1971.
The Diane Goldberg Maternal Depression Program is located at our Marks Family Right from the Start 0-3+ Center in Manhasset. Call 516) 484-3174, ext. 415.
In the age of COVID-19, seeing a health care provider in the traditional office setting has become a potentially dangerous matter. Many health care providers, including doctors, mental health professionals and others, have closed their physical sites for their clients’ safety.
But a viable, necessary alternative has emerged in the form of telehealth, which refers to the use of communication technology such as cell phones or laptops to access health care services remotely.
North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center seamlessly pivoted to telehealth after our offices were closed in mid-March, and we’ve been seeing clients for individual, family and group therapy since that time. We’ve found some unexpected benefits of telehealth, including the ability to bring together family members who may have lived apart; getting insight into a client’s home life; and seeing clients who, because of illness, lack of transportation or other issues, cannot come into the office.
In addition, many individuals in need of mental health services may hesitate to get help, or even avoid it altogether. This can be for a variety of reasons, including (but not limited to) an inability to afford the services or the pervasive stigma surrounding mental illness.
Unfortunately, a delay in receiving these services can have devastating effects. Without help, the situation often escalates, and it can even grow into a matter of life and death. As Andrew Malekoff, executive director of the Guidance Center, explains, “Access delayed is access denied.”
Malekoff highlighted the value of telehealth in a recent Long Island Weekly article, where he emphasized recommendations for New York State to permanently remove barriers to telehealth services after the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided. He noted the experience of Vanessa McMullan, a clinical social worker at the Guidance Center, who discussed her recent experiences with clients and the benefits of telehealth in a variety of circumstances.
In one example, McMullan noted that many new mothers may delay mental health treatment out of fear that they may expose their vulnerable babies to illness or due to a lack of supervision for children at home. Given the pervasive nature of postpartum depression and other maternal mental health issues, this resistance can be highly detrimental to the mothers and their families. As McMullan explains, “These women are typically those who need services the most.”
With family therapy in particular, therapy sessions via video calls allow therapists to have a new sense of connection and intimacy with their clients. Therapists are able to see into the client’s home life and are able to understand more of their context than when in a removed office setting. The ease of online visits also enables the inclusion of family members who may be difficult to include in a traditional therapy setting, such as separated parents living in different areas.
Increasing access to telehealth services could also allow young adults attending college away from home to maintain a relationship with their local therapist, thus preserving the work that has been done.
While telehealth tools are not a perfect replacement for face-to-face sessions, they are undoubtedly a necessary service that enables accessibility of mental health care, and they should remain an option for the future. Accessibility of these services is more vital than ever, with rates of anxiety and depression rising rapidly amidst the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now is the time to utilize all tools at our disposal to ensure that clients who need care can receive it in a timely manner.
At North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, accessibility to mental health services for all is a central mission of ours. For more information, we invite you to learn more about Project Access, an initiative designed to identify obstacles to accessing necessary care and finding solutions for change.