The Mind/Body Connection, Part I: Sleep

sleep

Written by Laura Lê, LCSW

This post is the first in a series on the connection between physical health and mental wellness. Look for future posts on this connection in the coming months!

Earlier this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidelines on how much sleep children and teens need. Sleep is a requirement, one that ensures our minds and bodies are functioning properly. Lack of sleep can lead to behaviors that mimic mental health issues like anxiety and depression, or difficulty with impulse control, focus, and frustration management. Lack of sleep is also tied to physical problems like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression. For parents who are concerned about their child’s focus, impulse control, depression, or anxiety, supporting a greater amount of sleep can make a large difference in their child’s life.

Life is increasingly designed to keep us and our children from getting the sleep we need. Homework is demanding and time-consuming, and in an effort to ensure an appropriate amount of exercise, many children participate in sports several times a week. Add family dinner, play time with friends, and other extracurricular activities like music lessons and clubs, and its easy to squeeze out time for sleep. Below are the National Institutes of Health Guidelines for how much sleep people need, by age:

  • Newborns:  16-18 hours
  • Preschool-aged Children:  11-12 hours
  • School-aged Children:  At least 10 hours
  • Teens:  9-10 hours
  • Adults (including older adults):  7-8 hours

For children and teens who wake up at 6am for school, they should be falling asleep at 8pm at the latest. Likely, their bedtime routine should start around 7:30pm. If that sounds unattainable for your household, here are some strategies to try:

  • Prioritize activities. If your child (or children) are rushing from one activity to another, consider which activities you can drop. Being rested allows a child’s brain to absorb information and learning better, so consider quality over quantity. Being a part of many activities can make a child appear well-rounded, but if his or her brain is not primed to get the most out of it, the activity or lesson may not be the best use of time.
  • If you have several children involved in activities that prevent an early bedtime for both or one of them, consider finding help. Perhaps a neighbor can help with childcare or the bedtime routine while the other finishes. Many local colleges can also recommend students who are interested and available for affordable, part-time childcare. An extra set of hands might help make an earlier bedtime more realistic for your family.
  • If your family has achieved a balanced schedule but your child struggles to fall and stay asleep, maintaining what’s known as “sleep hygiene” can help. The CDC defines sleep hygiene as “the promotion of regular sleep.” Some often-stated tips include:
    • For children, have a set bedtime and a bedtime routine. Don’t use the child’s bedroom for timeouts or punishment.
    • Go to bed at the same time each night, and rise at the same time each morning, even on the weekends.
    • Follow a bedtime routine that is calming, such as taking a warm bath or reading.
    • Sleep in a quiet, dark, and relaxing environment, which is neither too hot nor too cold.
    • Limit foods and drinks that contain caffeine. These include some sodas and other drinks, like ice tea. Chocolate also has caffeine.
    • Don’t exercisejust before going to bed. Do exercise earlier in the day — it helps a person sleep better.
    • Spend time outside every day (when possible) and be physically active.
    • Help your child use the bed just for sleeping — not doing homework, reading, playing games, or talking on the phone. That way, he or she will associate the bed with sleep.
    • Don’t watch scary TV shows or movies close to bedtime because these can sometimes make it hard to fall asleep.

In fact, the American Association of Pediatrics recommends all screens be turned off at least 30 minutes before bedtime and suggests keeping televisions, computers, smartphones and other screens out of kids’ bedrooms. This recommendation can sound unrealistic to parents, so one strategy is working with your child or teen to generate a solution that works for both parties. Be open to your child’s suggestions, as long as they accomplish the goal of turning screens off 30 minutes before bed time. Instead, use the 30 minutes to build a calming and relaxing routine that works for both of you.

If these strategies are not effective and you are concerned that your child sleeps too little or too much, consult your pediatrician.

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Helping Children of Divorce Through the Holidays

Written by Hannah Page, MEd, NCC, LAPC

A sweet young girl holding a Christmas present

While working with Children in a therapeutic setting, I have met many divorced parents who are stressed on a daily basis trying to provide their children with equality in both homes and trying to ensure that their child is able to cope with the many changes and transitions that come with divorce. This stress can reach an all-time high for you and your ex- spouse during the holiday season, as tension increases from managing the busy events and schedules that accompany the holidays.

Unfortunately, it is not only the parents who are stressing out during this time. Often, children pick up on the stress and can feel the tension that you feel during the holidays, which can lead them to feel anxious, depressed, and overwhelmed as well. The holidays stir up a lot of mixed emotions and feelings for your children, especially if this is their first Thanksgiving, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, etc. following your divorce or separation. Keep in mind that this may be your children’s first holiday without certain family members and family traditions that include the entire family.

Although this time may be incredibly demanding and painful for you, your ex, and your children, one of the best things you can do as a parent during the holidays is to rebuild a sense of family and redefine your holidays with your children. By planning ahead and managing conflicts between you and your ex, divorced parents can still find ways to maintain their sanity and create happy holiday memories with their children. Here are some things you can do to help your children of divorce enjoy and embrace the holiday season:

Communicate and plan with your child’s other parent:

If this is the first holiday season as a divorced family, this will most likely be a year of many changes. It is important to be on the same page as the other parent about the new holiday plans. In some divorce cases, the court will decide how families are to spend the holidays. In other cases, it is up to the parents to determine how the holidays will be spent. Make sure to communicate and plan the schedule ahead of time. Lack of communication and planning between parents typically leads to arguments and will only confuse and overwhelm out your children.

Plan ahead with your child:

Before the holidays approach, be sure to talk with your children and let them know what the holidays will look like this year. Discuss what will be different this year, and what will remain the same. Allow your children to express their feelings about these changes with you. You might ask your kids what they think will be hard about the holidays this year, or what they are most excited about.

Refrain from competition:

Remember what the holidays are all about! The holidays are not a competition, and your children will pick up on if you try to make it one. Communicate with the other parent about what gifts you each plan to give your children. Try your best to give equally. You want to teach your children the true meaning of holidays. Be an example for your children and teach them that the holidays are not a competition about who can give the best or the most gifts, and show them that the holidays are about love and spending time with one another.

Encourage your child to enjoy, even if it isn’t with you:

The most important thing for divorced parents to remember is that the holidays are about their children and not them. Keep in mind many children may feel guilty about enjoying their time with the other parent, and the last thing we want for children is for them to feel guilty about finding joy during the holidays. If you are unable to spend the holiday with your child, encourage them to have fun with the other parent and other side of the family.

The Importance of Mindful Play with Your Children

Written By: Cristine Seidell, LAPC

parent-child-play

 Most parents have been asked by their children to come play with them.  It is a dreaded question for many parents, as they feel they have “forgotten” HOW to play or they feel guilted into playing.  Yet, research has proven that playing with your child not only provides fun for both child and adult, but also an opportunity for bonding, acceptance, and the development of new skills for the child.  SO for all of the reasons why, here are a few ways to get started:

1.      Allow your child to invite you to play.  Children love to be creative in their play and may design a game that sounds familiar, yet they have made completely new rules to play by.  Give them the time to discuss them with you, ask questions, but don’t correct them.

2.      Desire to play with your children.  Children are notorious for approaching us when we are juggling 150 different things.  We may be on edge for a deadline or trying to gather ourselves to be able to prepare for a dinner party.  If your child requests to play with you, but you are unable to freely play at that moment.  Explain you can’t play right now, but really would like to play in ______ minutes/hours.  Whatever you say, make sure you follow through with it.  Children are amazing score keepers.

3.      Be open to different types of play.  Not all children play the same way.  Just because you like video games, doesn’t mean your child has to play what you want if you play with them.  Rough and Tumble, Board Games, Figures, and Sandlot Sports are just a few you can suggest if your child is clueless on what he/she would like to play.

4.      Play should be a two-way street.  Neither the parent, nor the child should be 100% in control.  If your child creates a game and agrees to play by a certain set of rules, but decides to change them.  It is important to remind your child that a set of rules were established and it important to play accordingly.  Similarly, if your child chooses to play figures and is building a wall that you feel could be built better, withhold from interjecting your opinions and allow your child to problem solve or be content with it as it is.  It is about play nor perfection.

At first parents finding playing feels a bit awkward and forced, but as they continue, they find that they enjoy the time and they themselves reap the same benefits that their children do.  So, put whatever electronic device you are reading this on down and get out and PLAY!!!

Don’t Throw Away those Halloween Pumpkins! Here’s a fun family project for your leftover pumpkins

Written by Janet Burr, MS, LPC

Now that Halloween has come and gone, here is a fun project to do with your kids to use those leftover pumpkins – make a melted crayon pumpkin! This project is great for all ages and requires just a few supplies. Use it as a fun, creative project or turn it into something more by adding some of our “expression questions.” Here’s how to do it!

 

Melted Crayon Pumpkin

Supplies needed:

  • Pumpkin (real or artificial)
  • Crayons
  • Tacky or hot glue
  • Hair dryer

Instructions:

  1. Prep – Place pumpkin on top of plastic, paper bags, newspaper, or cardboard.
  2. Step One – Remove the paper from the outside of the crayons. (Tip: A grown up can use scissors to slit the paper lengthwise, then kids can peel the paper off.)
  3. Step Two – Glue crayons around the top of the pumpkin (about 1 inch from stem). For smaller pumpkins, break the crayons in half.
  4. Step Three – Hold a hair dryer over the crayons until they begin to melt. Move around the crayons slowly, heating crayons until they have melted to your liking. (Take the heat away momentarily to allow the wax to drip down the pumpkin, then continue heating.)
  5. Optional – Add glitter while wax is wet.

 

Because it takes a bit of time to melt all of the crayons, this is a great time to connect with your child. Here are some “expression questions” you can use to encourage emotional expression, self-expression, and awareness:

  • Which of these colors is your favorite? What does that color remind you of?
  • Describe the change you see happening with the crayons.
  • What about the pumpkin…how has it changed?
  • What’s something that has changed in your life?
  • How do you feel when things change?
  • What makes your life colorful?
  • What’s your favorite thing about our family?
  • What do you wish would change?
  • Tell me something you like about this project (or about pumpkins). Tell me something you like about you.
  • Let’s pretend each of these colors represents a feeling. What would those feelings be?
  • What feeling do you feel the most?
  • What are some things that make you feel that way?
  • What feeling do you wish you would feel more of?
  • What feeling do you wish you could feel less of?
  • If adding glitter… What’s a characteristic that makes you sparkle?

 

Kids will often express themselves more openly when they are busy being creative. Their mind is stimulated and distracted, allowing them to emote and express without making a conscious cognitive effort. Using a fun, creative project like this is a great way to promote communication, connectedness, and expression. Have fun!

pumpkin12pumpkin-1

pumpkin4pumpkin-2

 

What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?

By Chrissy McClain, MA

DBT Therapy

DBT Therapy

Do you or your teen have difficulty managing thoughts, emotions and behaviors? Have you found yourself questioning how to cope with and work through these issues on a daily or weekly basis? DBT is a therapy that has been structured to help clients gain insight and skills to work through their negative thought processes, fluctuating emotions, and unhealthy behaviors.  Although DBT was originally created by Marsha Linehan in the 1990’s for adults with Borderline Personality Disorder, this therapy has been found affective for a broad range of issues including: emotional regulation, self-harming behaviors, suicide attempts, dichotomous thinking, impulsive behaviors, labile moods and unstable interpersonal relationships. Below are some brief descriptions of the skills used in DBT to help clients move towards a healthy and fulfilled life.

  1. Mindfulness: This is a skill that has become increasingly well known in our society today. Practicing mindfulness is a way to become aware of what is going on within yourself and moving from a negative energy to peace and calmness. Some important skills to use during mindful activities include observing as many details as possible, describing those details either out loud, in a journal, or in your own mind, and fully engaging and participating in the activity.
  1. Distress Tolerance: During times of distress it is essential to find ways to cope with high emotions in order to prevent negative behaviors. DBT’s distress tolerance provides unique skills to help clients distract themselves and calm down, accept the reality of the situation, and move forward by improving the in the moment.
  1. Emotional Regulation: People seeking DBT typically have difficulty dealing with their emotional responses to any given situation. Emotional regulation is a DBT skillset that is designed to reduce vulnerability by helping people to understand and respond to their emotions more appropriately. This deeper emotional understanding leads to a more positive experience during the stress that life brings.
  1. Interpersonal Effectiveness: The final module in DBT is used to help clients build strong and lasting relationships, balance priorities, gain self-respect, and maintain the skills learned in DBT.

While using these techniques, Linehan discovered that DBT skills are most effective when paired with unconditional validation. By balancing validation with problem solving, DBT has been shown to help clients make deep and lasting changes in their life. Here at Art It Out, we have formed a DBT-informed group for high schoolers as well as individual appointments for teens and adults. For more information about how DBT may be able to help you or a loved one, feel free to contact our office by phone at 770-726-9589 or email at Chrissy@artitout.com.

Inside-Outside Emotions Mask Activity

Written by Catherine Barton, MA, LAPC

inside-mask

I use the following art intervention or activity with clients in a group as well as individual setting to help the clients identify and express emotions; recognize that the emotions they show on the outside may differ than those within; and to provide a safe platform to discuss internal conflicts. This mask is extremely fun to make and often engages clients due to its tactile nature.

After making this mask, I find that adolescents often want to bring their parents into the session to discuss specific emotions and the weight they carry. This makes it a great conversation tool and allows the client to talk with his or her parent(s) about emotions, which may be difficult to verbalize.

Materials Needed:

  • Vaseline
  • Headbands
  • Plaster bandaging strips
  • Water
  • Paint
  • List of emotions handout (in photo)

Purpose:

  • To identify and express feelings
  • To develop self-concept and self-esteem
  • To identify and process healthy and unhealthy methods of self-expression
  • To develop perspective on how the client feels inwardly in comparison to what he/she expresses externally

Part 1

The activity is usually done in multiple sessions as the plaster takes a couple hours to dry.  It begins by the group or individual brainstorming what colors should be paired with which emotion on the handout.  In a group setting, this activity encourages the group members to compromise in a productive manner.

Part 2

The second part of this activity consists of the client or group members composing their masks (in a group, I recommend being intentional as you partner group members with one another).

The following is step-by-step instructions to making the mask:

  1. Cut the plaster gauze into strips (start with 20-30 strips that are 1” wide by 6” long).
  2. It is important to keep the hair out of the individual’s face. Therefore, tie the hair back and put a headband on the individual (remember that this plaster will stick to hair, so tie it back and put Vaseline on the edges).
  3. Instruct the individual to put a thin layer of Vaseline on his/her face. Make sure you supervise this part closely. The Vaseline keeps the hair from being pulled off the face and makes it easier to pull the mask off afterward, so make sure it is covering his or her entire face.
  4. Place towels or plastic bags on the ground for the individual to lie on. This activity can get messy!
  5. Place a bowl of water next to the individual’s face, and your stack of plaster strips next to the bowl.
  6. If doing this activity in a group setting, focus on the importance of communicating and self-advocating. Ask the person to communicate with their partner if they want their eyes, mouth or nose covered. Instruct the partner to consider going around the eyes, nose or mouth based on the individual’s preference.
  7. Now, working quickly, fully immerse a strip in the water, pull it out, and then remove excess water by running it through two fingers.
  8. Place the strip on the forehead, smoothing out any creases in the bandaging; repeat this step for the whole face. Start by outlining the individual’s face and then fill it in with the plaster strips.
  9. Give the face another layer or two, making sure there are 2-3 layers on the entire face.
  10. Running a wet finger over the entire mask will smooth out any bumps and combine the individual strips.
  11. Let the mask dry for 5-10 minutes. Make sure you tell the group that his or her face will feel warm right before it is ready to be taken off.
  12. To take the mask off, work around the edges slowly pulling away from the individual’s face.
  13. Carefully sit the mask onto a surface to dry for 3-4 hours.
  14. The individual will have to wipe the Vaseline off his/her face with a towel and then wash with water.

Part 3

After the mask dries, it may be painted with Acrylic or Tempera paint. Use the printed Emotions Handout to encourage the individual(s) to pair colors with specific emotions (as he/she or the group has designated). Discuss with the individual or the group that there are some emotions that we choose to show, even though we feel something different inside.  For example, someone might be embarrassed, but instead of showing embarrassment, they show anger.  Another example is that we may feel sad inside, but choose to display happiness.  Using the Emotions Handout, encourage the individual to paint the inside with colors representing emotions that he/she does not always allow others to see. Then paint the outside with colors representing emotions that he/she does allow others to see. Make sure to encourage that he/she is intentional with the size of the colors to represent the intensity or frequency of the emotions.

For parents, teachers, or therapists:

This project gives parents, teachers and/or therapists an insider’s guide not only to how the individual feels, but also to the feelings that they refrain from expressing and the impact of these trapped feelings.  It also opens the door for productive discussion using skills other than talking, such as creative expression. The individual may use this art project as an avenue to help explain internal feelings and conflicts, which may allow insight to complex emotions.

 

Preventing Bullying

bullying

Written by Laura Le, LCSW

October is Bullying Prevention Month. As it approaches, here is information that can help prevent bullying and support your child if bullying is already occurring.

Whether your child has shown bullying behavior, experienced bullying, or has not encountered bullying, talking about bullying is important. When parents create an open dialogue about a topic, it communicates to their child that it’s ok to talk about these things. Waiting for your child to confide in you may unintentionally send the message that talking about teasing and bullying is taboo. Share about your own experiences with mean teasing, being excluded, or being bullied. Ask your children how they define bullying, being excluded, and the difference between good-natured and mean teasing. To foster this open dialogue, many parents also find it helpful to ask questions that can give insight into their child’s peer relationships. For example, you might ask, “Who did you sit with at lunch today?” “What’s recess like?” “Have you ever seen another kid at school get picked on?”

Responding to Bullying

We do not recommend using physical responses to bullying, as many schools have a zero-tolerance policy. That means that hitting or pushing back can cause the child being bullied trouble as well. Instead, we encourage children to try these strategies:

  • Find power in numbers. Children in a group are less likely to be singled out. Stick with friends or acquaintances. If making and keeping friends is difficult, stay near a trusted adult.
  • Stand up for yourself. Tell the bully, “Stop,” in a direct, firm tone, using eye contact. This response can be difficult to accomplish when upset or scared, so be sure to practice with your child.
  • Tell a trusted adult. When it comes to safety, telling an adult is not tattling. Talk to your child about who are the trustworthy adults in their life.
  • Talk about it. Knowing you’re not alone and learning that bullying is not your fault can help cope with the stress of bullying.

If you’re child engages in bullying behavior:

  • Be clear about what bullying behavior is and how it’s harmful to others. The definition involves an imbalance of power and repeated or persistent talk early and openly about the effect of mean words and actions.
  • Communicate that this behavior is unacceptable. Be sure to model respect as you discuss consequences.
  • Help your child identify alternative ways to interact and strategies to use when tempted to bully. If you need support in this area, reach out to a child/adolescent therapist.

If you’re child has never experienced bullying behavior, he or she can still play an important role in stopping and preventing bullying. For example:

  • Display respect and kindness to all students. Encourage your child to be brave and sit, play, or partner with others who don’t make friends as easily.
  • Stand up when you see someone being bullied. Your child can help end an incident by getting the other child away. For example, your child might invite the person being bullied to play or tell the child that a teacher needs to talk to him or her.

Preventing Bullying

For all children, regardless of how or whether bullying has impacted their lives, developing confidence and self-esteem is critical. An important way to accomplish this is helping your child find something he or she loves. Feeling competent and successful feels good! Joining clubs, classes, sports, or other groups or volunteering also offers the opportunity to meet others who share similar interests. Being with like-minded people can potentially create friendships, a critical protection against the impact of bullying.

Stay in touch with your school. Many school districts have rules and procedures about bullying in their Student Code of Conduct. Read and know the policy so that you know how to support your child. As much as possible, read the school newsletter and attend open houses and parent conference nights. Having a relationship with the other important adults in your child’s life can help you be an advocate if bullying arises.

Bullying can feel isolating and humiliating; collaborating and speaking openly can help prevent and heal.