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Is My Child Depressed? What You Should Know About Childhood Depression

What the Numbers Show

Research has shown that children, even babies, have experienced depression. In the United States alone, research studies suggest that up to one percent of babies, four percent of preschool-aged children, five percent of school-aged children, and eleven percent of adolescents meet the diagnostic criteria for Major Depressive Disorder. Blog-Childhood Depression-Main-Landscape-01

It is important to understand the risk factors and symptoms of childhood depression to help your child receive the necessary therapeutic interventions. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, adolescents, and young adults aged 10 through 24 (http://jasonfoundation.com/prp/facts/youth-suicide-statistics/). Suicide is significantly linked to depression, so early detection and diagnosis is critical and sometimes even life-saving.

Symptoms of Childhood Depression

Just like adults, children are capable of changes in mood, expressing negative thoughts, but are more likely to show depressive symptoms in behavioral ways. For example, a child experiencing depression may complain of fatigue, stomach aches, headaches, or experience irritability, changes in appetite, and changes in sleep patterns. These physical symptoms, often known as somatic symptoms, are expressed physical aches and pains that are real experiences for your child, although they have no known medical causes. These somatic complaints are often common in children who experience depression. It is important to rule out physical illness or other medical problems with your pediatrician if your child is experiencing these symptoms.

What Parents Can Do to Help

Parents are a child’s greatest advocate and support, so it is important to know what to do to help your child if you suspect that he or she is struggling with depressive symptoms.

  • Talk about depression with your child. Support and encouragement through open communication help your child feel comfortable to express his or her feelings. This lets your child know that he or she is not alone, is loved, and understood.
  • Talk with your child’s pediatrician. Mental health is just as important as your child’s physical health. If you notice your child is experiencing symptoms of childhood depression, call your pediatrician to alert him or her of your child’s emotional concerns. Your pediatrician may recommend a diagnostic screening or refer to an outpatient licensed therapist.
  • Don’t ignore it! Depression is a serious mental illness that cannot be brushed aside or ignored. Ignoring your child’s emotional concerns will not help your child obtain the treatment that he or she needs to overcome depression.

Treatments Offered

Depression is a treatable illness with success rates of up to 80% for children and adolescents who receive therapeutic intervention. The other 20% may respond well to medicinal interventions along with traditional therapy (https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/what-adults-need-to-know-about-pediatric-depression/). Recommended treatments include play therapy, family therapy, and individual talk therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that helps children re-frame their negative thinking patterns to help them change their self-perception and consequently, improve their mood. Cognitive behavioral therapy is goal-oriented, problem-solving focused, and is one of the most commonly used interventions to treat depression.

Medicinal options are another commonly used treatment for children who experience depression, with the goal of reducing depressive symptoms. The majority of children who take antidepressant medications will be able to stop their medication with support from their pediatrician or psychiatrist when their symptoms improve. It is important to note that the use of antidepressant medication for children and adolescents may carry a higher risk for suicidal thoughts for this population. It is imperative to receive ongoing medication monitoring to assess risk of side effects and other interactions.

I Think My Child is Depressed. What Should I Do?

If you suspect that your child may be experiencing depression, it is recommended that you contact your pediatrician. Share your concerns and plan for a medical evaluation to begin the diagnostic process. If medical testing shows no other reason for the fatigue, stomach aches, headaches, sleep, appetite changes, or sadness that often come with depression, a licensed mental health professional will evaluate further to determine the most appropriate treatment plan.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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A Counselor’s Take on 13 Reasons Why

If you have a preteen or teen child, you probably have heard of the hugely popular Netflix show 13 Reasons Why. The show, based on a best-selling novel, centers around Hannah, a teenage girl who dies by suicide and leaves behind tapes to the people she feels pushed her towards ending her life. This popular and controversial show has brought in discussions about mental health, bullying, sexual assault, substance use and suicide. As a counselor, I agree that raising awareness on these topics is crucial and necessary, especially considering the frightening increasing rates of these issues. However, I am concerned about the potential impact that this show might have on young teens. Blog-13 reasons why-Main-Landscape-01

Teenagers are very vulnerable to graphic content. The show can be hard to watch, and some scenes can be potentially very triggering. Many teens are binge-watching the show, which increases concern about the possible emotional distress that can be caused by doing so. I do not recommend that anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts watches the show as it might develop potential ideas or even romanticize the idea of suicide. The problem with the ultimate fantasy is that the character does not get to change her life with suicide nor does she get to find out what happens next. Suicide is final.

13 Reasons Why also misses the mark in its failure to address mental illness or depression ( the most common risk factor in completed suicides). Depression can look differently in teens than adults.

Some risk factors include:

  • Significant sense of sadness
  • Significant irritability
  • Isolation
  • Negative comments about life
  • Loss of interest in sports, hobbies, etc.

My recommendation is that if your child wants to watch the show, you watch with them.

Although it might be hard or uncomfortable, it might bring an opportunity to discuss important topics such as:

  • Talk to your children about bullying and what it might look like. Bullying can be physical or verbal abuse, excluding others, or using the internet/social media to attack and humiliate the victim. Teach your child to not be a bystander or support bullying.
  • Talk to your child about resilience and options on how to reach out for support if they are being bullied. If children develop resilience and strong self -advocacy, it can help them further develop their self- esteem and instill courage.
  • Talk to your child about symptoms of depression. 1 in 5 teens experience depression and suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15-24-year-olds according to the CDC. Discussing the issue of suicide does not plant the idea. It creates the opportunity to offer help. Have a conversation with your child about trusted adults in their life that they can reach out to if they need help.
  • Listen to your child’s comments without judgment. Do not minimize or trivialize what you see. If it appears insignificant to you as an adult, remember that this is a daily reality that teens are faced with each day. Allow your child to discuss any issues without judgment or punishment.

In addition, the Jed Foundation has released a great list of additional talking points. You can check those out here: https://www.jedfoundation.org/13-reasons-why-talking-points/

We need to use shows like 13 Reasons Why as a reminder. A reminder to be emotionally present and let children know that they are loved and supported. Children need you to be their secure base, to support their exploration, help them, enjoy with them and watch over them. Make sure to create a space for listening that is nonjudgmental and supportive.

If you need to talk, or if you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline 1800-273-8255 or 1800-SUICIDE (784-2433).

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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Fostering Independence in Your Child

Picture this: your 6 year old carries his cereal bowl to the sink, leaving a trail of milk along the way. Your initial impulse might be to tell him to leave the bowl and let you take care of it. Blog-Independence-Main-Landscape

Picture this: your 11 year old daughter has just showered and washed her hair in less than 15 minutes and you highly suspect that either she didn’t use shampoo, or didn’t thoroughly wash herself, or both. You have the impulse to tell her to come over so you can check to see if her hair is thoroughly rinsed.

Finally, picture this: your 12 year old son is putting the finishing touches on his science fair project and you see that his poster is written in black ink with no additional color or pictures. You have the impulse to tell him that what his poster really needs is a pop of bold color to make it stand out.

What do these scenarios have in common? They are opportunities for our children to learn independence!

One of the toughest jobs of a parent is to allow a child to fall down, scrape a knee, lose a championship, receive a low grade, wear mismatched clothing, and tell a botched joke. Taking care of, preventing disappointment/messes/hurt feelings/embarrassment and a long list of other unpleasant experiences is part of the fabric of our parenting instincts, however, by doing these things we deny our children learning opportunities that they need as much as the shelter, food and love that we provide.

How do we foster independence? We accept the fact that childhood gets messy, uncomfortable, embarrassing, unpredictable and sad. We allow ourselves to feel the discomfort that we know our child may feel, and we tell ourselves that the feeling will pass and our child will be stronger and more resilient because of it. As we allow our child to pour his own milk, make her bed, select his outfit, style her hair and create that special Playdough, glitter and Styrofoam center piece, we promote problem solving, self-motivation, creativity and independence.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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Separation Anxiety and Sleepovers

Distress around separating from a primary caregiver can be very common among children and a normal part of development. Children from 1-year-old to about 4-years-old are in the process ofBlog Separation Anxiety Main-Portrait gaining confidence to be independent. Because of this natural part of development, symptoms such as worry, tantrums and clinginess when separating can be common.

If as your child gets older the fear of leaving a parent or caregiver does not decrease that could be a sign that your child is experiencing separation anxiety. Separation anxiety can be defined as intense nervousness around leaving a primary caregiver. Obvious signs of separation anxiety vary from children verbally expressing resistance to go somewhere or displaying unhappiness through crying, fighting or physically holding on to a parent/caregiver. The not-so-obvious ways children can display anxiety around separation can look like silence in a child who is usually talkative, shutting down or physical symptoms like being sick.

There are a number of factors that can attribute to nervousness and hesitation around separating from parents or caregivers. Lack of familiarity in a new environment, break in routine, fear that something will happen when they are away from their family or an over-bearing and clingy parent. If a child feels that their parent does not want them to leave then they will be more likely to fear leaving as well.

As children enter middle school and high school, sleepovers become a more common occurrence among friends. This can be a fun activity for some children or a source of anxiety for others. A sleepover to a nervous child can mean sleeping in an unfamiliar environment, not being able to say goodnight to a familiar person and losing structure/routine often found around bedtime.

Recommendations for parents to help ease their children’s separation anxiety and embrace the pastime of a sleepover are:

  1. Acknowledge and identify the fears that your child’s experiencing. Figure out what are they most nervous about and what are their expectations for the sleepover?
  2. Support your child. Let them know you are proud of them for becoming more independent
  3. Plan a fun activity to do together the day following a sleepover. Planning an activity together reassures your child that though you are encouraging them to do something on their own you are still there to spend time with them
  4. Figure out if there is a parent or caregiver that your child separates more easily from, then try to have that person drop off your child

Children with a healthy attachment to their parent or caregiver are most likely to feel confident when leaving. As a parent, make sure you are promoting your child’s independence while also making sure to be available for your child when they need you.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140.

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Parenting vs. Technology: Helpful Strategies to Combat Electronic Overload

Chromebooks, iPads, Nooks, oh my! It would not be surprising if your child has access to more than one piece of technology in your home. With that said, the struggle to balance technology needs for school with the games and activities that take over your child’s night and weekends is real. BlogParents-vs-Technology-Main-Landscape

Although it may be frustrating to accept that technology is not going away, it’s important to recognize these moments as learning opportunities and a way to become a more creative parent.

Below are some helpful strategies to implement when combating technology:

Reward Responsibility – Create a system in which your child can earn ‘technology minutes’ for completing chores. Similarly to earning an allowance, this can be a great way to get your child more active in helping around the house.

Limit Bingeing Behaviors – Allowing your child to play on technology for multiple hours at a time on the weekend will likely make shorter episodes more difficult to transition out of. When your child has more time available, limit play to 30 minute or 1 hour increments, with other family activities in between.

Practice Transitions – Turning off the iPad, Xbox, or computer is a great opportunity to practice transitions. Provide your child with time warnings, clarify expectations, and work with your child to plan for the next opportunity to use electronics. Remotely turning off the family Wi-Fi can also be a helpful way for children to recognize that their time is up.

Become a Minecraft (or fill in the blank of which game your kiddo likes) expert! – Many of the games and activities your child plays can be a great way for you to spend quality time with your child in “their world.” Ask questions about the games. Read up on the latest news. Show interest and join in!

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140.

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How to Help Your Child Who Feels Overworked in School

Does your child feel overworked in school? School-related stress is nothing new, but it is now happening to even younger students. With the increased importance of testing on students, teachers, and schools- children are facing more stressBlog-Overworked in School-Main-Landscape in school than parents may have experienced when they were younger.

Here are some helpful tips for how to help your child if they are overworked in school:

Don’t over-schedule kids

Although it is important to have children in activities outside of school like sports or clubs, don’t schedule so much that they are not able to do their homework. If you only have an hour scheduled for homework because they have to run to their art class, then swimming class and they only have time for a quick dinner and then bed, a child may feel rushed or pressured to get everything done. In addition, ask your child what works for them and let them have some control over their schedule. Some kids like to get to work as soon as they get home, while others need a break after school.

Praise effort, not grades

Everyone wants their child to succeed and most importantly everyone wants their child to feel successful and proud of themselves. In some children, that may mean that they bring home straight A’s every quarter or semester, but in some children that may look different. Emphasizing that a child needs a certain grade can lead to them feeling stressed and anxious. The truth is that some students may not be an A student. Praise effort and improvements, rather than A’s. Also, don’t ignore those classes like art or music.

If a child is really struggling in math, but excels in the fine arts, praise them for that specific talent rather than ignoring those “easy” classes. In addition to praising effort, it is important to try and limit consequences for lower grades. If a child studied and put forth effort, but came home with a lower grade than what was expected, don’t punish them- talk about it and how they could have studied or completed the work differently.

What not to say: “7th grade is the most important” “Junior year is the most important” “you need this grade in order to do this…”

When adults make these statements to children, they often hope it will motivate them to study longer or focus more, but it can often do the opposite. If a child hears these statements regularly, it can cause feelings of anxiety. If a child is anxious, they are less likely to be able to study and focus efficiently. It may be more helpful to show specific examples of how certain topics can be used in real life situations. This shows that the information they learn is important, but it alleviates the pressure that if they don’t master the topic, they won’t be successful.

Teach kids effective study habits, and how to balance it.

Sometimes it is not how much you study, but how you do it. Help kids learn good study habits like taking breaks, not cramming for tests, healthy sleep habits, and being organized. Ask your children what works for them. Some people need absolute silence, while some enjoy music in the background. Don’t force a habit on a child that may not work for them. Teaching children these skills will not only help them in school, but as a future employee as well.

Finding a work-life balance is something that a lot of parents and adults struggle with. It is important to model a healthy balance of work and fun to your children, so they can learn how to achieve that balance.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140.

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How to Help a Child Who is Struggling with Self-Esteem

As children get older and start spending more time with peers, it is natural that they begin comparing themselves to others. It’s healthy for children to want to excel and do their best, but itBlog-Self-Esteem-Main-Landscape becomes problematic when it comes at the expense of their self-esteem. Self-esteem can take time to develop and strengthen, but there are some things you can do to help enhance it during the earlier years.

What to Look for in a Child with Low Self-Esteem

If you notice your child making a lot of negative self-statements, this is indicative that he or she may be struggling with self-esteem. Negative self-statements are self-deprecating and tend to represent black and white thinking patterns. An example of a negative self-statement would be “I am dumb” or “I will never be good at this.”

It is very healthy for children to develop interests or hobbies and to spend time around others who enjoy similar things. Explore a variety of activities with your child and try to provide him/her with options. Whether it’s a cooking class or swimming lessons, your child is bound to show interest in something. Listen to your child and give him/her the autonomy to choose something that really interests him/her. Check out your local park district or community center to see what programs they offer. The Chicago Park District has dozens of wonderful programs and activities that may interest your child.

Each child has their own strengths, talents, and qualities that make them unique. That being said, it is great to point them out when you notice them! It is human nature to enjoy hearing that others are noticing the things we are doing well. At the same time, it is important to help your child understand that they are not defined by their achievements. Think about some adjectives that describe your child (i.e. compassionate, kind, caring). These intrinsic qualities are really what makes someone special – not the amount of trophies or ribbons on their shelf. Plant Love Grow is a wonderful website that has lots of self-esteem boosting activities that you and your child can do together.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140.

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Separation Anxiety and School

It’s normal for children to sometimes feel worried or upset when separating from their main attachment figures. Although it can be difficult for parents and the child, it’s a normal stage of blog-separation-anxiety-main-landscapedevelopment.

Kids will often cry, whine, refuse to part or be overly clingy when it’s time to separate. Usually, these behaviors decrease with age, but sometimes, some kid’s reactions are extreme, and they interfere with their functioning in different areas of their lives. These kids may be suffering from Separation Anxiety Disorder. Kids who suffer from Separation Anxiety Disorder have a persistent fear of possible harm occurring to close attachment figures or excessive fear that they will leave and not return.

Some common behaviors related to separation anxiety include:

  • School refusal
  • Frequent somatic complaints (headaches, stomach aches, nausea)
  • Recurrent nightmares
  • Crying or having temper tantrums
  • Avoiding going to new places
  • Refusal to be alone

A common place where these behaviors occur is at school. For some kids, they might refuse to go to school, or they might have a hard time when being dropped off. No matter what type of anxiety the child is dealing with, it’s important to educate and teach your child about anxiety.

If your child is having anxiety about separating from you, here are some recommendations to consider:

  • Do not allow your child to stay home from school. This only worsens the symptoms over time and doesn’t allow them the opportunity to face their fear.
  • Do not ignore or deny the child’s worries. Teach your child about anxiety and its impacts.
  • Keep calm during separations. If your child sees you staying calm and cool, they are more likely to do so as well. When it’s time to say goodbye, make sure not to sneak out. This will only make the child more afraid.
  • Once your child makes it to school, identify a safe place for them if they are having a hard time. You can work with teachers or school counselors in identifying what would be appropriate.
  • Allow your child to pack a comfort item from school (favorite blanket or animal or a picture) that they can use when they feel homesick.
  • Create a goodbye ritual- maybe a special handshake or goodbye which can help the child feel more secure during the transition.
  • Praise your child’s efforts. Reward brave behaviors, however small they are!

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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Managing Anxiety in the Classroom

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues in our country, affecting millions of adults and children alike. Children with anxiety at school may be experiencing it for several different blog-anxiety-in-school-main-landscapereasons. A few common reasons children may be anxious at school revolve around separation from parents or caregivers, social anxiety or test anxiety. Sometimes, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the cause is, which is okay too. The important thing is that the symptoms are managed appropriately. Since kids spend the majority of their day in a classroom, it is paramount that teachers and other staff are trained to recognize, support and advocate for anxious students.

Identifying anxiety early on is a very important step as it can help mitigate larger problems later on in adolescence and adulthood.

Let’s start by discussing some common signs and symptoms that we may see in an anxious child. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Refusal or reluctance to attend school
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Negative self-statements
  • Perfectionist tendencies
  • Withdrawing from other children
  • Lack of participation
  • Tearfulness
  • Excessive worrying
  • Frequent trips to the nurse
  • A decline in academic performance

Over the years, our education system has made tremendous progress in identifying and helping children struggling with anxiety. One of the most common are accommodations under a 504 Plan. An example of an accommodation used in a 504 Plan would be adjusting the child’s seating arrangement (often referred to as “preferential seating”). An anxious child may feel more comfortable sitting closer to the teacher, or further away from a highly-energetic or rambunctious child. Another accommodation is extra time on tests (often referred to as “time and a half”), since test-taking can be a common trigger for anxiety. If you feel a 504 Plan might be helpful and appropriate for your child, it would be a good idea to plan a parent-teacher conference to discuss your options.

Close communication and collaboration between teachers and parents is a great way to ensure that your child is getting his or her needs met in the classroom. Sometimes, anxious kids just need a little extra encouragement and reassurance. Positive reinforcement is an excellent tool used for pointing out a child’s successes and efforts, and rewarding them for it. Many schools have a social worker or counselor on staff as well. Social workers and counselors are specifically trained to help children struggling with anxiety and other social-emotional issues. One-on one or small group sessions can be extremely beneficial in helping manage anxiety at school. Incorporating social work minutes into your child’s schedule is a great way to provide your child with extra support during the day.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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Improving Your Child’s Social-Emotional Growth Through Board Games

In the fast-paced, high tech world of childhood, girls and boys are much more likely to reach for the iPad and Xbox than a set of dice. Although, technology can provide immense growth in your blog-social-emotional-main-landscapechild’s life, it can also delay important social-emotional learning that the old-fashioned board game has to offer.

Below are some important reasons to bring back the board game to work on social-emotional growth:

Practice Social Skills

Board games are a fantastic outlet to practice turn-taking, rule following and positive sportsmanship. Depending on your child’s age, choose an appropriate game to begin the process of reading the rules, modeling the steps of a turn, and providing examples of positive praise and compliments. Commend your child as they begin to integrate this set of skills into their regular play!

Enhance Flexible Thinking

Board games also allow for children to work on improving their frustration tolerance. Many parents can often relate to observing their children shutting down, becoming angry, or walking away from the game after a missed turn, wrong move, or misunderstanding. Flexible thinking skills to practice include compromising, negotiating, and problem-solving. Taking a break and calm breathing can also be helpful strategies. Practicing how to handle frustration in the context of a board game will help children to better handle frustration in other areas of their lives.

Helpful Tips

  • Incorporate your child’s favorite stuffed animal or Lego character as an additional player in the board game when other family members are unavailable.
  • Cooperative games are a helpful way to practice teamwork and can prevent competition from getting in the way of practicing rule-following and turn-taking skills.
  • Involve your child in picking out the board game in order to increase their interest in this new activity.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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