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Your Child

Are You Making Your Child More Anxious?

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When a child shows that he or she is anxious or in distress, a natural response is for a parent to want to remove whatever is causing the discomfort. However, according to a new study, it may not be the best reaction for your child in the long run.

Researchers call it the “protection trap.” Basically it means smothering children with too much attention or making the menace go away.

The research showed that certain parental coddling behaviors might actually boost anxiety in a child, although the study doesn't prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

"We found evidence that when parents try to help their anxious children they do a lot of things," said study co-author Armando Pina, an associate professor of child developmental psychology at Arizona State University. "Some of them are good, like promoting courage with warmth and kindness. Others are less helpful, like promoting avoidance by overprotecting, which many times leads to more anxiety."

Other experts have also weighed in on this topic.

"Left untreated, anxiety disorders in youth are associated with greater risk for other psychological problems such as depression and substance use problems," said Donna Pincus, director of research at the Child and Adolescent Fear and Anxiety Treatment Program at Boston University. Anxiety problems can also disrupt families and cause kids to perform worse in school, she added.

So what should a parent do or not do?

"When children are in distress or upset they need parental comfort, reassurance and extra love. This is good," said study lead author Lindsay Holly, a graduate student at Arizona State University. "Sometimes, however, parents end up providing excessive reassurance and doing things for the child, like making excuses for why a child who is anxious in social situations won't go to a birthday party or talking for the child by ordering at restaurants."

Here’s how the study was conducted.

Researchers examined the results of a survey of 70 kids aged 6 to 16 who were treated for anxiety and/or depression at a clinic. The kids were equally divided among boys and girls and among whites and Hispanic/Latinos.

The investigators found that some kids were more likely to have anxiety and depression symptoms if their parents reinforced or punished their anxiety through various approaches. Among the two ethnic groups, "the only difference was that Latino parents seemed to attend more frequently to their children's anxiety," Holly said.

Pina noted that previous research has indicated that a certain kind of therapy can help kids become less anxious and more resilient by teaching the importance of facing fears. One of the goals of the therapy is to teach parents how to promote courage in the kids through a combination of warmth and kindness, Pina said.

Some experts believe that by exposing children to anxious situations in a controlled, supportive environment, they can learn how to handle their anxiety better.

Holly suggests that parents encourage their children "to do brave things that are small and manageable." A child who's afraid of speaking in public, for instance, might be urged to answer a question about whether they want fries with their meal at a restaurant.

While every child is going to be anxious at one time or another, a more difficult situation is when children suffer from an anxiety disorder. That is a more serious problem where someone experiences fear, nervousness, and shyness so much so that they start to avoid places and activities.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse. Anxiety disorder often shows up alongside other disorders such as depression, eating disorders, and ADHD.

The good news is that with treatment and support, a child can learn how to successfully manage the symptoms and live a normal childhood.

The study conducted at Arizona State University, looked at typical child anxieties and how parent’s interactions either helped or prolonged the anxiousness.

The study was published recently in the journal Child Psychiatry and Human Development.


Your Child

Kid’s Insomnia Linked to Mental Health Problems



As a parent and an adult, you know how important a good night’s sleep is to one’s well being.  Children need a good night’s sleep too and if they consistently suffer from sleep problems it could affect their mental health.

A new study examined the possible connection between sleep and young children’s mental health and found that there was a link for children as young as age 4.

Researchers looked at sleep patterns and the mental health of 1,000 children starting when they were toddlers. They found that those with sleep disorders at age 4 were at increased risk for mental health problems -- such as anxiety and depression -- at age 6. They also discovered that children with mental health problems at age 4 were at increased risk for sleep disorders at age 6.

The study wasn’t designed to prove that a lack of sleep actually causes mental health issues or vice versa; the researchers could only show an association between these factors.

The most common type of sleep disorder is insomnia.  Not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep was diagnosed in 17 percent of the children at age 4 and in 43 percent of them at age 6. Insomnia increased the risk of anxiety, depression and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at age 4 and the risk of behavioral problems at age 6, the study authors said.

Children with anxiety, depression, ADHD and behavioral problems at age 4 were also at increased risk for insomnia at age 6, the researchers said.

"It is common for children to have periods when they sleep poorly, but for some children, the problems are so extensive that they constitute a sleep disorder," study author Silje Steinsbekk, an associate professor and psychologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, said in a university news release.

"Our research shows that it is important to identify children with sleep disorders, so that remedial measures can be taken. Sleeping badly or too little affects a child's day-to-day functioning, but we are seeing that there are also long term repercussions," she explained.

This study’s findings are not unique, previous studies have also found a connection between 4-year-olds with sleep disorders that show symptoms of mental health problems. The new study shows that this link also occurs over time and goes both ways.

It may be that both problems have similar genetic causes or share the same risk factors, the researchers theorized.

"Given that so many children suffer from insomnia, and only just over half 'outgrow it,' it is critical for us to be able to provide thorough identification and good treatment. Perhaps early treatment of mental health problems can also prevent the development of sleep disorders, since psychiatric symptoms increase the risk of developing insomnia," Steinsbekk said.

If your child has sleep problems he or she may benefit from an overnight sleep study. The study can help determine if your child has diagnosable problems such as sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, snoring or something more serious. Talk to your pediatrician  if you feel your child is having difficulty sleeping on a regular basis.

Source: Robert Preidt:

Your Child

Are Some Kid’s Behavioral Issues Really Medical Problems?



If a child has a cold, rash or any other number of other physical problems, just about every parent is willing to take them to the doctor for treatment. But parents typically don’t seek medical treatment when their child’s anxiety; depression, tantrums or inability to organize their homework are beyond the norm according to a new poll.

A recent University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health finds that many parents of children age 5-17 don’t discuss behavioral or emotional issues that could be signs of potential health problems with their doctors.

According to the poll, more than 60 percent of parents definitely would talk to the doctor if their child was extremely sad for more than a month, only half would discuss temper tantrums that seemed worse than peers or if their child seemed more worried or anxious than normal. Just 37 percent would tell the doctor if their child had trouble organizing homework.

Almost half of the parents polled said they didn’t see these types of behavioral issues as medical problems. Another 40 percent said they prefer to handle the problems themselves and 30 percent said they would rather talk to someone other than a doctor.

“Behavioral health and emotional health are closely tied to a child’s physical health, well-being and development, but our findings suggest that we are often missing the boat in catching issues early,” says Sarah J. Clark, M.P.H., associate director of the National Poll on Children’s Health and associate research scientist in the University of Michigan Department of Pediatrics.

“Many children experience challenges with behavior, emotions or learning. The key is for parents to recognize their children’s behavior patterns and share that information with the doctor. Unfortunately, our findings suggest that parents don’t understand their role in supporting their children’s behavioral health.”

Behavioral health problems, also known as mental health problems, affect boys and girls of all ages and can have an impact on their learning, social interactions and physical health.

Some behavioral and emotional issues are short lived and mild – typical childhood behaviors and responses.  However, some behaviors can be signs of long-term problems such as depression, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, mood and behavior disorders or substance abuse. All of these are medical issues that can and should be addressed by physicians or pediatric medical therapists.

“Some behavioral and emotional changes are just part of a child’s natural growth and development and just part of growing up,” Clark says. “However, health care providers rely on parents to describe how children act in their regular, day-to-day lives outside of the doctor’s office in order to identify situations or behaviors that may be signs of larger problems. This conversation between doctors and parents is an essential step that allows providers to assess the severity of the problem, offer parents guidance on strategies to deal with certain behaviors and help families get treatment if needed.”

Many children need help dealing with school stresses such as homework, test anxiety, bullying or peer pressure. Other kids can benefit from an objective third party to help sort out their feelings about family issues, particularly if there is a major transition going on such as divorce, a move or a serious illness. These significant events can trigger behavioral problems that can be addressed and worked through with a therapist.

Sometimes unseen medical issues can be tied to over-anxiousness, depression or ADHD that can be diagnosed and treated successfully under a physician’s care.

If a parent suspects that their child is withdrawing from the family or experiencing panic attacks or prolonged sadness, it’s a good idea to make sure your child has a complete physical and to discuss their symptoms with your pediatrician or family doctor.

The poll was part of a household survey conducted exclusively for GfK Custom Research for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Methods used were typical for previous published studies. The sample was subsequently weighted to reflect population figures from the Census Bureau and do not represent the opinions of the University of Michigan, the University of Michigan Health System, or the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

Sources: University of Michigan Health System,

Your Child

School Kids Benefit From Mindfulness Programs


Mindfulness is purposely paying attention to the present moment in a nonjudgmental way. A new study says that adding a mindfulness based stress reduction program to middle schools may help reduce kid’s stress and trauma.  

"High-quality structured mindfulness programs have the potential to really improve students' lives in ways that I think can be really meaningful over the life course," said lead author Dr. Erica Sibinga of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Children in many U.S. cities are at an increased risk of stresses and traumas due to the effects of community drug use, violence, multigenerational poverty, limited education and economic opportunities, Sibinga and her colleagues write in the journal Pediatrics.

 The study involved 300 students, in grades five through eight, at two Baltimore public schools. Children were randomly selected for either a twelve - week mindfulness based stress reduction program or health classes to take during the school day.

Nearly all the students were from low-income families and African-American.

The mindfulness program contained material about meditation, yoga and the mind, body connection; practice of those techniques; and group discussion.

The program helped the children be aware of their response to what was happening to them at the time.

"It allows them to not only know what is happening, but to stop and take three breaths and figure out how they want to respond to what is happening the present moment," Sibinga told Reuters Health.

By the end of the program, children in the mindfulness program had lower levels of general health problems, depression, recurrent thoughts about negative experiences and other symptoms of stress and trauma compared to the children enrolled in the health classes only.

Sibinga said the differences would be enough for the students to notice in their day-to-day lives.

The researchers acknowledge some limitations to the research, like children missing some classes and possibly being exposed to mindfulness practices outside the sessions.

While Sibinga acknowledged that she couldn’t say if the program would have the same results in other student populations, she suspected there would be benefits.

The next step is to look at how to spread the program to other schools, and look at how the program may work, she said.

"It doesn’t get us off the hook of trying to reduce the sources of trauma in our urban life," she said. But the study suggests adding structured mindfulness programs in urban settings would be beneficial, she added.

Some private schools in the U.S. have already implemented mindfulness classes in their school programs and have reported positive effects such as fewer behavioral problems and an increased ability to focus during class on school work.

Sources: Andrew M. Seaman,


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Your Child

Early Childhood Trauma Tied to Learning, Behavioral Problems


When children five years old and younger experienced a traumatic event in their lives, the fall-out from that event can show up in learning and behavioral problems by the time they enter kindergarten, according to a new study. 

Traumatic events, also known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), can range from physical, sexual or psychological abuse and neglect, substance abuse, mental illness, violence in the home to a family member in jail; anything that causes a great deal of stress or fear in a young child’s life.

The study, "Adverse Experiences in Early Childhood and Kindergarten Outcomes," in the February 2016 online edition of Pediatrics, includes data on more than 1,000 children in large U.S. cities whose teachers rated school performance at the end of kindergarten.

Students who'd experienced one or more previously reported ACE were significantly more likely to struggle in the classroom, displaying below-average language, literacy and math skills, as well as aggression and social problems.

The more adverse events a child experienced, according to the study, the more academic and behavior problems increased.

While it’s often said that children are resilient, and they are to a certain extent, when they are exposed to continuous traumatic situations, their body’s natural way of dealing with stress changes and the stress becomes toxic resulting in a higher risk of behavioral challenges, sickness and mental health problems.

Children who experience traumatic stressors will often look to the adults who care for them for reassurance that things will be okay and that they will be protected.

The most important adults in a young child's life are his/her caregivers and relatives. These adults can help reestablish security and stability for children who have experienced trauma by:

•       Answering children's questions in language they can understand, so that they can develop an understanding of the events and changes in their life

•       Developing family safety plans

•       Engaging in age-appropriate activities that stimulate the mind and body

•       Finding ways to have fun and relax together

•       Helping children expand their "feelings" vocabulary

•       Honoring family traditions that bring them close to the people they love, e.g., storytelling, holiday celebrations, reunions, trips

•       Looking for changes in behaviors

•       Helping children to get back on track

•       Setting and adhering to routines and schedules

•       Setting boundaries and limits with consistency and patience

•       Showing love and affection

Sometimes professional help is needed for children to learn new coping skills. In some cases family therapy is desirable. Parents or caregivers may wish to consult their pediatrician, their child's teacher, and/or their childcare provider for suggestions of professionals who specialize in early childhood mental health.

The authors of the study said they hope the findings encourage policymakers and practitioners to find ways for early childhood professionals like pediatricians and educators to work together to support at-risk children and their families. 



Your Teen

Mental Health Clues Found in Teen Brain Scans


If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many ups and downs in your teenager’s moods- there’s a very good reason; their brain is still developing. Brain scans from a research team at the University of Cambridge identified the areas of the brain that change the most during the teen years. It’s no surprise that areas associated with complex thought and decision-making are the ones going through a growth spurt during this time.

The scientists also discovered a link between teenage brain development and mental illness, such as schizophrenia.

The team from Cambridge's department of psychiatry scanned the brains of 300 people between the ages of 14 and 24.

They found that basic functions such as vision, hearing and movement were fully developed by adolescence. However, complex thinking processes and decision-making were still in a growth stage.

These areas are nerve centers with lots of connections to and from other key areas.

You can think of the brain as a global airline network that's made up of small infrequently used airports and huge hubs like Heathrow where there is very high traffic.

The brain uses a similar set up to co-ordinate our thoughts and actions.

During adolescence, this network of big hubs is consolidated and strengthened. It's a bit like how Heathrow or JFK have become gradually busier over the years.

Researchers found that genes involved in the “hub” were similar to those associated with mental illnesses, including schizophrenia.

The discovery is in line with the observation that many mental disorders develop during adolescence, according to researcher Dr Kirstie Whitaker.

"We have shown a pathway from the biology of cells in the area through to how people who are in their late teenage years might then have their first episode of psychosis," she told the BBC.

Genetics are not the only reason for mental illnesses. Older studies have also linked stress during childhood and the teenage years as a possible contributor. Recent findings have shown an association between maltreatment, abuse and neglect and brain development during childhood and adolescence. In addition, these types of stressors may also contribute to the emergence of mental illness.

Lead researcher, Professor Ed Bullmore, whose work was funded by the Wellcome Trust, believes the discovery of a biological link between teenage brain development and the onset of mental illness might help researchers identify those most at risk of becoming ill.

"As we understand more about what puts people at risk for schizophrenia, that gives us an opportunity to try to identify individuals that are at risk of becoming schizophrenic in the foreseeable future, the next two to three years, and perhaps to offer some treatment then that could be helpful in preventing the onset of clinical symptoms. "

The study also sheds light on the mood and behavioral changes experienced by teenagers during normal brain development.

"The regions that are changing most are those associated with complex behavior and decision making," says Dr. Whitaker.

"It shows that teenagers are on a journey of becoming an adult and becoming someone who is able to pull together all these bits of information.

This is a really important stage to go through. You wouldn't want to be a child all your life.

This is a powerful and important stage that you have to go through to be the best and the most capable adult that you can be."

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Story source: Pallab Ghosh,


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Struggling with feeding your kids healthy (er) meals. Rule of thumb: don't stress over it!


Struggling with feeding your kids healthy (er) meals. Rule of thumb: don't stress over it!

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