By Victoria Costello
Over a decade ago, at age 17, my son Alex lost his ability to finish a whole sentence, wear shoes, get even a half night’s sleep, or face the other kids at school. After getting Alex to a psychiatrist for a mental health evaluation I learned that, like the majority of parents, I hadn’t recognized earlier signs of psychological trouble in my child. Other essential information I was missing was a complete family mental health history. As psychology researcher Dr. Terrie E. Moffitt of Duke University told me later, “Family history can make the difference between ‘treat now’ or ‘wait and see’.”
One problem keeping this valuable information secret for many is the stigma surrounding mental illness. Going back through three generations with the help of Alex’s psychiatrist, I learned that the alcoholism, drug use and erratic behaviors of my father and sister were likely signs of undiagnosed mental disorders. This knowledge put Alex’s symptoms in a different light, his doctor explained. She recommended a brief course of antipsychotic medication and two years of psychotherapy—treatment which brought my son to a full recovery for what turned out to be early signs of psychosis. With early intervention, mental illness is stoppable, even preventable.
Here are the top ten things a parent can do to safeguard a child’s mental health
1. Chart a “tree” of your family mental health history going back three generations, and include all known or suspected mental disorders and addictions. Use the US Surgeon General’s online form ( familyhistory.hhs.gov) for recording and storing this information and make it a shared family project to maintain it.
2. Plan your pregnancies! And strongly consider your mental and emotional health before and during pregnancy. If you are currently on an antidepressant, talk to a mental health professional before deciding whether to go off or stay on it during pregnancy. Medication may pose fewer risks to your child than would your severe depression.
3. Learn about toxic environmental agents that may cause miscarriages, birth defects or developmental problems later in childhood. A good web resource for the latest information on everything from chickenpox to plastic bottles is the March of Dimes (www.marchofdimes.com)
4. Take paternal risk factors into account Children of men over 50 are at a higher risk for schizophrenia and autism. A man’s alcohol intake and drug use at any age is also associated with higher miscarriage rates.
5. Fix Mom first Think of your actions as an act of prevention for your child’s mental health. If your child already has similar symptoms, new research (from Columbia University) has shown that by treating the mother, a depressed or anxious child will get better too—without direct treatment.
6. Monitor your child’s behavior for early symptoms If there is a high density of any one mental illness in your family history, learn about the early signs for that disorder; for example, social withdrawal for depression, and keep a log of your child’s behaviors.
7. Normalize feelings As soon as your child begins to recognize and name her own thoughts and feelings, start an age-appropriate conversation about how people’s minds and hearts work. This “normalization” of differences makes it more likely that your child will confide any future psychological problems to you and be less inclined to stigmatize others.
8. Have Zero Tolerance towards Bullying Whether your child is the victim or the bully, and even if your child begs you not to make a fuss, understand that the potential psychological damage (including suicide) if the abuse continues is far worse than any temporary embarrassment.
9. Make Self Esteem a Family Priority Self-esteem has gotten a bad rap because it’s been confused with having an inflated sense of one’s positive qualities and abilities. True self-esteem is the basis of emotional resiliency, which gets severely tested at several points in childhood—especially around early parent-child separations and the tween years.
10. Build up your Family and Community Support System Down the street or online, don’t isolate, socialize. Ask for help and offer it to other moms and dads.
Want to Be a Better Parent in 2012? First, Be a Better You
By Irene Shere
Q: I often feel like I’m a bad mother, I get stressed out and feel like I take it out on my children. This year my New Year’s Resolution is to be a better mom, but already I feel like I’m slipping and don’t know how to improve. Can you please help?
A: Being a better parent sounds like such a simple thing, but in actuality it’s a huge goal that can encompass so many things. When you are in the moment with spilled Rice Krispies, barking dogs, and a crying child, it’s very hard to think in terms of big goals. What I would suggest is to look back at the moments that cause you stress with your child and pick out specific things that you want to improve.
When my children were growing up, I knew I was the emotional center of the home and that I needed to be more centered as a mom to create a more harmonious home, but I needed guidelines to help me control my self-talk. So I created my own list of resolutions that I taped to the refrigerator and read the list every morning to re-center myself. To get you started on your own list, I’d like to share my own list with you:
New Year’s Resolutions For My Inner Parent
1. The Only Thing I Can Control Is Me I can control only my inner life. I will try to get control of my inner thoughts and perceive a tough situation in a positive, controlled manner.
2. Breathe Breathe again. And again. Breathe out that stress. These are not perfunctory breaths—these are slow, conscious, measured breaths to get control of myself. Get control of the situation. Slow down time. Slow down. Slow.
3. Will This Be Important Five Years From Now? What is really, really important here? Blow off everything, except for meals and illness and injury. Put off almost everything until tomorrow.
4. Everything Important Takes Time, Lots Of Time In our electronic age, real life has sped up in a surreal way. Dinner takes three minutes in the microwave, but the family itself needs time to cook over a leisurely meal of sharing good days and bad days. Information can be delivered in twenty seconds by email or text, but really connecting and communicating with people requires patience and much time.
5. Lower My Expectations. Bring Compassion I know that I am doing the best I can. What if I bring more compassion to my life and expect less of myself? I feel instantly relaxed. What if I extend this to others and truly embrace the fact that all the important people in my life are doing the best they can at this very moment. Compassion replaces expectations. Compassion replaces stress. I relax.
6. This Is My Child’s Journey. This Is My Child’s Struggle With Being ___ Years Old. This Has Nothing To Do With Me And much of the time that is true. I need to remember that many of the conflicts between me and my child are the result of my child struggling with age-appropriate issues. I need to give ownership of the problem to my child—this is my child’s journey with their growing up and has less to do with me than with their own internal challenges.
7. Allow Myself Fun My life is different if there is a good book in the background. I’ll keep it in my purse for waiting times; I’ll read while waiting for a pot of water to boil on the stove. Allowing myself this small joy and feeling that I deserve this gift provides a wonderful oasis of pleasure in my other-centered life. I need to check my gauges and know when I am “running on empty” and re-fuel with simple pleasures before I start to yell or cry or tantrum myself.
8. Pretend Today Is My Birthday I love my birthday. As a carry-over from when I was a little girl, I feel special, happy, deserving, and appreciated on my birthday. My birthday is a day to savor and revel in, with bumps and halts seen as minor distractions. When I pretend that today is my birthday, my whole perspective on the day changes and the day becomes relaxed and special.
My list refined and changed as I grew and evolved as a parent, and yours will too. I hope this list helps you and your family have a more harmonious 2012.
How to Get Your Kids Running for Fun
By Laura Ouimet
Kids love running, they just don’t know it, yet. Take a look at any school playground during recess and you will see kids of all ages engaging in many types of activities and games that revolve around running. From soccer to tag, to basketball and hide and seek, kids are running every single day!
To encourage kids to run, activities must be fun and also safe. Here are seven tips to help get your child into a pair of running shoes and loving running for life.
1. Warm up, before you lace up Start your child with a few warm up and dynamic stretches (moving stretches, not static or stationary stretches). As a parent, your goal is to ensure that your child avoids any injury while running. Stretching gets the blood flowing, the heart pumping the muscles warmed up and allows for less potential injuries. To warm up, try jumping jacks or jogging in place with high knees. To make it fun, turn it into a contest to see how many the kids can do in one minute.
2. Keep pace in mind Kids will run as fast as they can and have a lengthy endurance. For kids, the motto is: “full speed ahead!” A great way to teach your children that they need to have control when running is to have them run at their fastest pace (laps, time or distance) for as long as they can . Have your child repeat this step, completing the same amount of laps, time or distance at a moderate consistent pace, this allows your child to hold a conversation as they run. Once this pace is determined, keep practicing at that pace.
3. Technique is important Teach your child proper form first.
• Stand up straight and shoulders back.
• Your child should be able to fully fill their lungs, slouching will hurt their back and not allow them to breathe properly.
• Arms should swing forward to back, not side to side.
• Thumbs should lightly graze the hip bone.
• Head up and looking forward.
• Most importantly kids need to know how to breathe. Slow deep breadths at first in the nose out the mouth. Eventually they will be breathing in and out through their mouth only as they continue.
4. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate Kids may be able to run for great lengths of time, but they need to hydrate just like an adult. Water is needed for any run under an hour. If your child can keep going after that, you have a super star! One thing to note, make sure they drink an electrolyte replacement or sports drink!
5. Get the Proper Running Shoes For safety purposes, make sure your child has the proper running shoes. Children (and adults) cannot run in their skate shoes, dress shoes or everyday tennis shoes as much as they’d like to or tell you they can. Lace up!
6. Make it fun Give your child a challenge. Have them set a goal for themselves. Reward them for their efforts.
7. Cool down, before you sit down It’s important for your child to cool down and stretch after every single run. This is the time to sit and do static stretching. Proper stretching after a run will ensure their next run is enjoyable and injury free.
10 Tips to Get Fit
By Angela Kraber
Set A Defined Goal, And Be Realistic Just saying you want to lose weight, or get healthy, isn’t a set enough plan. You need an actual goal that you can measure, and put time on it. You have to define what that looks like for you. And be realistic. You aren’t on the Biggest Loser, so saying you want to lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks is out of the question.
2. Stay Hydrated You should feel like you are constantly drinking water! Dehydration can sometimes be confused as hunger, so get at least 8 glasses of water a day to help curb your appetite.
3. Eat Clean As adults, you should be aware of what is and isn’t healthy for you. A good rule of thumb: if it doesn’t come from the earth or an animal, stay away! Stick to foods in their most natural form.
4. Plan Your Meals Life is crazy and hectic. Add a few kids, a household, a career and you just might go insane. We make our worst eating choices when we have little or no choice. Plan out your meals for the week, including snacks, and you have one less thing to worry about.
5. Get Sleep Your body needs 8 hours a sleep a night. Yes. Don’t laugh. Hormones are released that aid in weight loss only during your REM sleep pattern. Being well rested is more important than alone time late at night watching the “Real Housewives.” You will thank me, I promise.
6. Make More Good Choices Than Bad Let’s be honest, nobody’s perfect. And I am sure anyone that has tried a strict diet of cutting out all carbs, or all sugar usually leads you to a binge-eating session, and a ton of guilt. Decide what treat you want to have, allow yourself an indulgence every now and then. And when you do, savor every bite. That way you truly enjoy what you are having, instead of downing it and being left with the guilt.
7. Find A Buddy Accountability is key to staying on a healthy path, and sticking to a fitness routine. Find a friend that is excited to work out too, and make a pact you will encourage each other!
8. Be An Inspiration Put it out there for everyone to know that you are making changes to your health and fitness. People want inspiration; they want to see success happen. Knowing they are counting on you helps you stick with it.
9. Take A Day Off You can’t be on all the time. You need a day off. Rest, eat something naughty, and stare at the TV. Sometimes knowing that you have that luxury on the weekend helps you hold out during the week.
10. Focus On Making A Lifestyle Change, Not Just Weight Change You are changing habits for your health, for the rest of your life. Things will happen, you will miss a workout; you will eat something terrible for you. The important thing to keep in mind, is that you are always just one workout, one healthy meal, or one good night sleep away from being right back on track. Don’t beat yourself up. That’s what got you here in the first place.