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September is Suicide Awareness Month

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for kids, ages 15-24, and continues to be a developing concern. With roughly 1,700 adolescents annually completing suicide attempts, there has been a significant push towards increasing awareness, prevention, and support resources for students, parents, teachers and care givers. blog-suicide-awareness-main-landscape

The following outlines some warning signs as well as steps that can be taken to prevent adolescent suicide. It needs to be said that not all children who present with some of the warning signs below are suicidal, it is important that you communicate with your children and assess their individual situations and needs.

Warning Signs of Suicide

  • Talking about death and dying – Discussing death can be a normative part of a child’s development, but a sudden increase or fixation of death and dying could be a warning factor
  • No future planning – As children, and adults, we plan for our futures and often discuss them with others. Individuals struggling with suicidal ideation often feel no hope for their future, and cannot express thoughts, hopes, or wishes that things could change or get better.
  • Recent loss – It is always important to support our children when they have experienced a recent loss; attuning to our child’s grieving process is an important component of supporting them.
  • Changes in sleep or eating habits – Any drastic or sudden changes to sleeping or eating habits that cannot be explained by another medical/social condition should be monitored.
  • Changes in behavior – Unexpected changes in performance at school, home, work, or with peers; often noted as “difficulty focusing.”
  • Changes in mood – Presenting as down, depressed, withdrawn, reclusive, angry or lonely can be warning signs. Some individuals also become elated or very happy prior to an attempt; emotional presentation that may be inappropriate given circumstances

Things You Can Do

Develop a positive relationship with your kids: Talk to your kids on a consistent basis about their day-to-day life; encourage appropriate expressions of emotions; provide a safe and stable home environment; spend quality time; listen without judgment.

Provide a Safe Environment: Do not keep firearms or other potentially lethal means in your home, or if necessary, keep them securely locked away without access.

Take threats seriously: Regardless if you believe this to be “real” or not, the youth is trying to express a need and reach out for support.

Provide resources and support:  For kids struggling with mental health concerns, provide access to care and support. Have access within your home to crisis hotline numbers, or emergency contacts your kids can reach out to for support.

Resources:

Suicide Prevention Toolkit: http://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/SMA12-4669/SMA12-4669.pdf

You Matter Campaign: http://www.youmatter.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

References:

Berman, A., Jobes, D., & Silverman, M., (2006) Adolescent suicide: Assessment and intervention (2nd ed.) Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 456 pp.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or 1-800-273-TALK

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 (847) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

Social Work

Helping Your Anxious Child Return to School

With the summer months winding down, and the back to school sales in full force, it’s probably time for Blog-Anxious-Back-to-School-Main-Landscapeyou and your child to start the annual transition from summer camp to school! For many children, this transition is filled with excitement and happiness. For others, the worry monster might be just around the corner. Children might demonstrate tearfulness, tantrums, and frustration due to their anxiety about school.

Below are a couple suggestions to help you and your anxious child get through the first few days back at school:

Create a School Day Routine

The structure of the school day might look a lot different than your child’s summer schedule.  Before school begins:

  • Create a morning routine with a timeline of activities your child will need to accomplish. Depending on your child’s level of independence, think about how much supervision your child will need for each task.
  • Remember to adjust your child’s wake up time to fit the school day schedule if it had changed during the summer. Helping your child create this routine prior to the first day of school will allow your child to understand what is expected and can lead to lower levels of worry.

Transitional Object

Separation from parents in the first few days of school can be traumatic. For younger children, a handful of difficult drop offs is age-appropriate and should decrease over time as your child acclimates to this new routine. One way to support your child through this transition can be through allowing them to bring something to school that reminds them of mom and dad. Transitional objects should be small and minimally distracting in class. A special key chain, small plush toy, or laminated picture of the family can be used for this. Remind your child to hold or look at these objects if they are feeling worried or missing home.

If you notice that your child is having a harder than expected time, their functioning in school is being impacted, or their anxiety about school is not subsiding, reach out for additional support.

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!

Social Work

Handling the Death of a Family Pet

Pets, be it a furry dog, fluffy cat, or bright orange fish, become honorary family members quite quickly. Dealing with the Death of a PetHave you glanced at the latest family drawing your child created at school? My guess is the family pet is in the mix. Handling the death of the family pet can be an overwhelming and emotional experience not only for parents, but for children in the family as well. Below are some ways to help your child through this difficult time:

Planning the Goodbye

Although some pet deaths are unexpected, when they are not it is important that your child be able to take part in the goodbye process in an age-appropriate way. This could include writing a goodbye letter to their furry friend or drawing their pet a picture. These activities can help with the grieving process as they allow your child to review positive memories and experiences, as well as express their feelings in a healthy way. For younger children, it may also be helpful to read children’s books addressing this topic as a jumping off point for parent-child conversations related to your pet.

Informing your Child’s Support System

Letting your child’s teachers and caregivers know about the recent passing of a pet can create a safe environment for your child to express their feelings. Children, just like adults, may seem off, irritable, or sad during these times. When adults caring for children are made aware of recent events, they can be on the lookout for these emotional changes and be more accommodating as needed.

Moving Forward After Death

Each family is different regarding their interest in continuing to care for a pet. As the grieving process unfolds it may be helpful to speak with your child about the possibility of adopting a new family pet. Although your previous pet is irreplaceable, the process of adopting a new pet can allow for your family to work together and create a caring home for a pet in need.

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!

New Call-to-Action

Social-Emotional and Behavioral Red Flags for Toddlers and Preschoolers

It might be hard to imagine what mental health concerns may look like for your toddler or preschooler. Red FlagsHowever, it is important to realize that children experience the same emotions as adults do. They experience happiness, sadness, anger, fear, loneliness and embarrassment, however, they do not always know how to express these feelings in appropriate ways, so it’s important to look for red flags. When their feelings get too big, children do not always have the words to use to express themselves, resulting in using challenging or unsafe behaviors to express these big feelings. These behaviors make learning, play and relationships at home, and in the classroom difficult and can be very distressing and frustrating for everyone involved.

Here is a list of common red flags that can help you to determine if your child needs support:

  • Separation Anxiety:
    • Extreme distress (crying, tantruming and clinging to you) when separating from you or knowing that they will be away from you.
    • The symptoms last for several months versus several days
    • The symptoms are excessive enough that it is impacting normal activities (school, friendships, and family relationships).
    • The continuation or re-occurrence of intense anxiety upon separation after the age of 4 and through the elementary school years.
  • Social Concerns:
    • Little interest in playing with other children.
    • Poor body awareness that impacts relationships with peers
    • Failure to initiate or to participate in activities
    • Difficulty making eye contact with others
  • Behavioral Problems:
    • Defiance: Failure to follow rules or listen to directions and is often argumentative with adults.
    • Overly Aggressive Behavior:
      • Temper tantrums that last more than 5 to 10 minutes.
      • Excessive anger through threats, hitting, biting, and scratching others, pulling hair, slamming/throwing objects, damaging property, and hurting others.
  • Difficulty with Transitions:
    • Difficulty focusing and listening during transitions
    • Extremely upset when having to transition from one activity to another. Before or during each transition, your child may cry excessively or have temper tantrums that last more than 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Excessive Clinginess or Attention Seeking with Adults
    • Excessive anxiety related to being around new and/or familiar people/situations.
    • Child freezes or moves towards you by approaching you backwards, sideways or hiding behind you. Your child behaves this way in most situations and no matter how you support them, they continue to avoid interacting with others.
  • Attention concerns:
    • Difficulty completing tasks and following directives on a daily basis.
    • Easily distracted and has difficulty concentrating or focusing on activities.
  • Daily Functioning Concerns:
    • Toileting: Difficulty potty training and refuses to use the toilet.
    • Eating issues: Refusing to eat, avoids different textures, or has power struggles over food
    • Sleeping problems: Difficulty falling asleep, refuses to go to sleep, has nightmares or wakes several times a night.

Children can exhibit concerns in the above areas off and on throughout their childhood. It is when these behaviors begin to impact peer and family relationships, cause isolation, interfere with learning and cause disruptions at home and in school that it is time to reach out for support.

Who can help?

  • Licensed Clinical Social workers (LCSW),
  • Licensed Clinical Professional Counselors (LCPC),
  • Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT)
  • Psychologists

Therapists will work with your child to help them to learn how to handle their big feelings and behavioral challenges. Therapists will use a variety of modalities during sessions including play, art, calming and self-regulation strategies, behavioral therapy, parent-child therapy, and parent education and support. They can also provide parent support and coaching to assist in diminishing the challenging behaviors at home. Often these professionals will collaborate with your child’s school and can provide additional support for your child within the school setting.

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 today!

New Call-to-Action

Maternal Mental Health after the Loss of a Child

Today’s guest blog by Stacey Porter, founder of the Tangerine Owl Project, discusses maternal mental health after the loss of a child.

I have found these last three years to be particularly trying in terms of rebalancing my life.  Three yearsmaternal mental health ago I lost an infant daughter who was born at 25 weeks gestation due to preeclampsia. That was a profoundly impactful life altering experience, and it’s made me a different person. I learned to cope, gave myself permission to grieve, and began to shape that experience into a way that I can help others in my community who are suffering through the trauma of the NICU and/or child loss.  Since then, I have started to become very in tune with the amount of pain, devastation, confliction, perseverance and hope out there for these parents. I have witnessed and talked through the anxiety and depression that looms over these mothers like dark ash and exhaust from a fire that doesn’t allow one to take a breath.  I have seen how these losses can both defeat them and strengthen them all at the same time.  I can’t explain how that’s possible, but it happens. The thing is anxiety and depression aren’t just happening for those mothers who have experienced a trauma or loss, or even post-partum depression. Maternal mental health issues effect 1 in 8 mothers out there. That is a shockingly high number, yet these issues seem to fly under the radar so well. How is that possible? I can count right now, out of the number of women I know simply through my social network and family which would mean that at least a handful of them may be experiencing this (or have at some point) that I was/am completely unaware of.  How are we supposed to support the mothers who are struggling if we don’t even know they are struggling?

I have dealt with acute depression just out of college with all the transitions happening in my life, it was too much, too fast, and I was struggling to adapt to them all. This was situational for me and I was able to find my way out of if with the help of counseling and some short term meds, but that doesn’t stop me from wondering if It’ll come back again later. In fact, I’m actually pretty surprised that the loss of my daughter didn’t throw me into a well of despair. Don’t get me wrong, I grieved….hard….. but there is a difference between grief and depression.  I have long advocated for mothers to share their stories and their grief when they suffer loss, because knowing they aren’t alone in their feelings and that how they feel is absolutely OK, no matter what those feelings are. They are theirs and they are justified. It’s not surprising that this simple act works wonders in their processing of their emotions and figuring out how to work through them in rebuilding their lives. That holds true for mothers as well.  Much like trauma and loss, anxiety, depression and other disorders that effect mental health are not picky on whose life they descend and wreak havoc.

So why the stigma?  When can someone share that they are struggling more than normal and not get chastised or written off for it? Why is it not ok for a mother who seemingly has everything to struggle with getting out of bed in the morning?  Why does it take an extreme of a mother on the news who drowned her children to call attention to mental health?

Mothers struggle with these disorders. Every. Single. Day. So, why can she not open up to her friend and say, you know, this is a really terrible day and I am not quite sure if/how I will make it through..Maybe she can, and maybe she did. But are we listening?

Parenthood is hard. Motherhood is hard. It’s not because she doesn’t want to open up, but because she is afraid. She’s afraid of what other people will think, she’s afraid at how others will react, she’s afraid of who she is being compared to, she’s afraid that if she admits it then it will be real, and maybe she’s terrified that no one will be able to help her. It takes a lot of someone to admit they are dealing with these mental health issues, and there are too many things that play into the reasons behind these disorders, (social-emotional hard wiring, upbringing, life situation, etc.) but one thing seems clear:

When they exist, perhaps the most harmful thing for them is when their feelings aren’t acknowledged (by others or by their own logic). They may already be fighting with themselves thinking:

  • “I’m just overreacting or being dramatic”
  • “Others are much worse off than me, what do I have to be depressed/anxious/upset about?”
  • “Everything’s fine, I’ll be over in a day or two”, or “I just had a hard week”
  • “I’m just tired”
  • “I’m just feeling sorry for myself”

When others say these types things to them, it further invalidates their feelings so they are less likely to either realize that there truly is a problem or feel like their feelings are not appropriate. There is a fine line in determining what is actually going on in someone’s head and how to respond to any of these statements, that’s what the professionals are trained in and there for.  What WE can do, is be a human being.

In general, it seems that people have such low tolerance and patience they don’t see all the work that is needed to combat these feelings and move through life. Some do a very good job of hiding it and the smile masks all the chaos going on in their minds. For many it is a daily battle, and we need to be wiser, we need to be more patient, and we need to be open.  Many of us are not in the business to offer professional mental health counseling to the women in our lives that struggle, but all of us are certainly able to have a conversation with our friend, our sister, our co-worker, the mom to one of our kid’s friends, etc. Much like helping a bereaved parent, you don’t have to understand what they’re going through to be able to help them.

You don’t have to fix someone’s problem for them, you just have to be there to listen should she decide today is the day she opens up to someone the real answer to that question “how are you doing?”.  Sit with her on the floor as she cries. Let her talk about her fears, celebrate the small winnings of the day if you recognize it took a tremendous amount of effort to accomplish for her.  It may take more than a friend to help her through, but being there to listen will certainly go a long way.

For far too long, there has been an undeserved stigma associated with mental health, so if you are dealing with it please don’t keep it to yourself. 1 in 8 there is likely someone right alongside of you that is sharing a similar struggle. For those of us who are lucky enough not to be struggling with this, don’t halt the conversation if it starts, and pay a little extra attention.  Depression and anxiety are called “invisible” illnesses.  Are they invisible because they are hidden so well or are they invisible because we refuse to see them?

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. 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 today!

Helping a Child Cope With Death

Books to Help Children Cope with the Death of a Loved One

Books are powerful and serve a variety of purposes.  Reading books can provide individuals with entertainment, knowledge, and skills.  For children who are not yet able to read, books may represent special bonding time with a parent, caregiver, or older sibling.  You may not have realized it, but books provide a great resource for social-Book List: Help a Child Cope With The Death Of A Loved Oneemotional learning.  Examples include books about going to school for the first time, making friends, dealing with bullies, managing anger, and the list goes on.  Other children’s books are written about specific adversities such as divorce, death, or illness to name a few.  The focus of today’s blog is using books for helping children understand and process the experience of losing a loved one.  Below is a list of books that can be helpful in supporting children’s understanding of death, dying, and the grieving process.

Books to Help Children Cope with the Death of a Loved One:

  1. When Someone Very Special Dies: Children Can Learn to Cope With Grief by Marge Heegaard
  2. Remembering Crystal by Sebastian Loth
  3. The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
  4. Everett Anderson’s Goodbye by Lucille Clifton
  5. The Saddest Time by Norma Simon
  6. Hold Me and I’ll Hold You by Jo Carson
  7. I Miss You: A First Look at Death by Pat Thomas
  8. The Purple Balloon by Chris Raschka
  9. Saying Goodbye To Grandma by J. R. Thomas
  10. A Taste of Blackberries by D. B. Smith

There have been many, many books written about the topic of grieving, death, and dying.  Some books are simple picture books that kids can read on their own.  In most cases, it is recommended to read the books with your children so that you, as the adult, can participate in the conversation that is sparked by the stories.  The grieving process is complex and does not look the same way for all children.  In general, when children are going through difficult times such as grieving the loss of a loved one, they will likely require more support than usual.  If you are concerned about your child’s grief reaction, or you yourself are struggling to support your little one through this experience, don’t hesitate to consult a professional.

Do you have other ideas about particular books or ways to use books to support children after experiencing a loss?  Please leave your comments below. 

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. 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 today!

impact of untreated mental illness

When Mental Illness Goes Untreated

Homelessness, incarceration, violence, suicide.  These terms bring dark and upsetting images to mind for most everyone.  You may be asking, what do these phenomena have in common?  The answer is that the chances of experiencing one or more of these adversities is increased when individuals with mental illness do not receive proper treatment.  The National Alliance on Mental Illness defines mental illness as “aThe Impact of Untreated Mental Illness condition that impacts a person’s thinking, feeling or mood may affect and his or her ability to relate to others and function on a daily basis. Each person will have different experiences, even people with the same diagnosis.”

With so much variability, it seems nearly impossible to provide a truly comprehensive answer to the question: What happens when mental illness goes untreated?  However, in recent years there has been a growing amount of research studies analyzing the impact of mental health on both individuals as well as society as a whole.  The impact that mental illness can have on individuals changes throughout the lifespan.  Young children with separation anxiety, for example, likely experience significant challenges related to the transition from spending their days at home with Mom to spending their days at school.  This can take a toll on both the upset child as well as her or her parents.  An older child with depression, however, may struggle to stay focused in class, have difficulties forming and maintaining friendships, and even fall behind academically.

Although we, as mental health professionals, still have a great deal more to learn about mental illness and treatment, one fact we know to be true is that earlier detection and treatment leads to improved outcomes.  When untreated, mental health conditions can worsen and the impact on daily life (work, relationships, physical health) can grow significantly.  Often people with mental illness develop methods of coping that can have negative consequences.  The sooner individuals can gain understanding and learn to manage their mental health effectively, the smaller the impact that the mental illness will have on their lives.  After all, borrowing another quote from the NAMI website, “without mental health, we cannot be fully healthy.”     

Anxiety Disorders

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. 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 today!

Emotional boy

Getting Help For Your Child’s Emotional and Behavioral Needs

As a parent you may have difficulty deciding at what point you may need to seek therapeutic intervention for your child’s emotional and behavioral needs. When a child goes through the different stages of development, they can often experience conflict and challenges as they achieve new milestones, confront new situations and encounter new demands. It can be common for children to have emotional ups and downs and feelings of anger, sadness and disappointment in response to these new experiences and significant life events.  A child’s reaction to these different circumstances can range from mild and short lived to severe and long lasting. When your child’s problems and emotional/behavioral concerns do not resolve themselves and they appear to be affecting your child’s everyday functioning at home, school or with peers, it is time to seek outside help. It is also important to know that significant life events like losing a parent, the loss of a pet, moving to a new area, experiencing a trauma or going through divorce can trigger concerns that may be indications that therapeutic support is needed.

Ask yourself the following questions:Emotional boy

How is my child functioning at school, at home or with peers?

How often does this behavior occur and how long does it last?

Has there been a recent change or a new stressor in my child’s life?

Do I or my family find that we are walking on “eggshells” all the time when we are around my child?

Is my child meeting developmental milestones? (See our infographics and resources to learn more)

Look for warning signs:

  • Extreme difficulty separating from primary caregiver
  • Withdraws from primary caregivers
  • Ignores other children or isolates self from group
  • Does not initiate or participate in activities
  • Difficulty with transitions from activities on a regular basis
  • Difficulty expressing a wide range of emotions
  • Excessive fears of being alone
  • Difficulty with transitions between activities
  • Overly aggressive behavior, i.e. biting, hitting, kicking
  • Excessive crying and difficulty self-soothing
  • Problems sleeping, i.e. refusing to go to sleep, nightmares
  • Behavioral problems, i.e. refusal to obey adults (will not follow rules or listen to directions) and poor self-control

If you feel like your child exhibits some of the above behaviors and these behaviors are impacting their ability to function and be successful at home, school or with their peers make sure to talk to your pediatrician or a local mental health provider for support. If your child has expressed a desire to harm himself/herself or another person your child may need more serious interventions and should contact 911 or take them to the nearest emergency room to be assessed for mental health services.

 

More helpful resources include:

Center for Disease Control and Prevention:  Learn the Signs. Act Early

        PBS Parents- Child Development Tracker 

girl with bear

The Benefits of a Transitional Object

 

 

 

Often times when children are observed they are carrying something around with them, and at times they are even talking to and playing with that item. With further observation of the same child, it may be noted that he or she is transporting that object with them to multiple places, throughout the day over a span of time. Their toy is likely more than just a toy; they are likely to be carrying what is called a Transitional Object.

girl with bearTransitional objects are possessions that are meaningful to a child and help them to feel comfortable and secure. Transitional Objects can be helpful for young children when entering a situation or environment that is either unfamiliar or challenging. Transitional Objects can be used to help a child have a more seamless time separating from a caregiver. Oftentimes, Transitional Objects are used when going to school for the first time, when starting various groups or activities, when vacationing, and when playing in a new friend’s home. While it is common that a young child is seen with a Transitional Object, older children can also reap the benefits of a Transitional Object—if starting a new school, attending overnight camp, or when participating in a potentially stressful activity such as a an important ball game or singing in a choral concert.
Furthermore, Transitional Objects will also benefit a child who is receiving any type of therapy. Therapy is often challenging and it and takes a child out of his or her comfort-zone. The support and comfort that come with carrying their Transitional Object to  therapy can help a child reach new goals and attempt new tasks. Children can talk about their beloved Transitional Object with their therapist, which allows them to open up and feel a heightened level of comfort and confidence in therapy.

Transitional objects can be blankets from early infancy, dolls, action figures, or a picture of family members or from a special vacation /event. Other common Transitional Objects are “lucky” coins, a rabbit foot, or anything that has special or “lucky” sentiment. A Transitional Object can be anything that is small and light enough to be carried around, the items listed above are merely just examples and can be used to provide a young child with if they do not already have something considered to them as a Transitional Object.

See also:

Top 5 Anxiety Disorders In Children eBook





Giving kids power

Benefits of Routines for Children

Why is Routine Important?

Children benefit from routines. Routines provide structure, a sense of security and help children develop self-discipline. Like all of us, children manage change best if it is anticipated and materializes in the context of a common routine. Routines help us appropriately self-regulate and control our environments. Schedules help parents maintain consistency with expectations.

 

6 Benefits of Routines

1)      Routines eliminate power struggle: It is already outlined what happens at a certain time of day.

2)      Routines help children cooperate: Routines reduce stress with transitions.

3)      Child doing homeworkRoutines help kids learn to care for themselves: As children learn routines (for example, brushing their teeth before going to bed getting dressed, packing their backpacks) they become more independent.

4)      Children learn to look forward to activities: Routines help children learn responsibility and patience. For example, homework is always completed first, then there can be free time.

5)      Daily routines help kids to be organized and on a schedule: This promotes ease with falling asleep at night and ensuring a good night’s sleep.

6)      Routines help parents build in special time with their child: Instead of losing focus and “moving kids through the day,” build in special time in the routine. For example, reading a book every night or having breakfast together.

 

http://www.ahaparenting.com/parenting-tools/family-life/structure-routines

Dr. Laura Markham: Structure: Why Kids Need Routines