Fernway School: Helping children with the unexpected

The fire that broke out at Fernway Elementary School on July 10 surprised Shaker Heights residents, young and old.  Anyone who has a history and connection with the school feels a sense of sadness and loss. People are sharing their thoughts, memories, and feelings about their experiences and are trying to process the unexpected.

Children often are challenged by surprising events, and need parents and sometimes professionals who can help make sense of what seems senseless. Loss of any kind, even a beloved school building, is disruptive, confusing and makes everyone feel helpless and vulnerable – raising the yet-unanswerable question, “Could someone have prevented this from happening?”

Feelings of fear and uncertainty often result from an unexpected event. “How could such a thing happen in my neighborhood?” “Why now, today?’ “Why my school?” “What if I or my friend or favorite teacher was in the building when it happened?”

Children can be comforted and reassured by adults doing their best to answer questions.  Even when there might not be specific answers, children feel understood when they have the opportunity to discuss their questions and worries. However, when an adult or older child is dismissive, it is often because they feel the same vulnerability and worry as the child. Saying to a child, “Don’t worry, that could never happen” or “That does not make sense” makes a child, as well as adult, feel misunderstood.

Reassurance and information helps children feel safe and grounded. Allowing verbalization of irrational and scary thoughts helps everyone feel safe. For adult and child alike, feeling empathic toward one another’s discomfort, and speaking kind and loving words, leads to a feeling of safety and eventually to mastery of a difficult event.

Image courtesy of Shaker Heights Schools

Discussion on the new Mr. Rogers movie

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor” – the new movie about Mr. Rogers by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville – is getting great reviews and tons of press. It’s also of interest at Hanna Perkins, which has always been closely aligned with Fred Rogers’ understanding of early child development, and what children need from the adults around them.

Hanna Perkins Clinical Therapist Joanne Naegele, MA, LPCC-S, will lead a  psychoanalytic-based discussion of the movie on Sunday, July 8, from 7:30-9 p.m., at the Cleveland Psychoanalytic Center, 2460 Fairmount Blvd., Suite 312, in Cleveland Heights.

The discussion is free and open to the public. If you’re interested, you’ll want to see the movie on your own before the discussion. Anyone interested in Mr. Rogers’ impact and legacy, or child development in general, is invited to attend.

The Parkland school shooting: What your children need right now

Another horrific event has occurred, and it will dominate the news and social media for days and weeks.

Except for the very youngest children, you won’t likely succeed in sheltering them from it. They will seek to understand what they see and hear, trying to put it into the context of what they know about the normal and expected.

The amount of information children need from parents in such situations differs depending on the child and, of course, his or her age. Here are a few resources to help talk with your children about the school shooting that took place on Valentine’s Day in Parkland, Florida:

 Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Inoculating our kids against pedophiles like Larry Nassar

The news has been full of Larry Nassar, the team doctor for USA Gymnastics who will spend the rest of his life in prison for sexually abusing girls and young women in his care. Much has been said about the harm he caused, and about the disheartening lack of response to those who previously tried to report him.

But Jackie Acho and Eva Basilion, who learned the Hanna Perkins Way when their children attended school here, offer important words for parents in their essay, “Inoculating Our Kids Against Pedophiles like Larry Nassar.”

Parenting tips on overly competitive behavior

As I love to watch non-professional sports, I have been a regular at area basketball games over the past few months. Thus I witnessed struggles by children and adolescents with overly competitive behavior.

Parents seated nearby shared my concerns and wondered if sports encourage aggressive outbursts in participants and if competition is healthy for children. One mother, alarmed by her son’s behavior, inquired, “How will I know if he needs professional help?”

Good question. And, at her request, I shall address it.

Perhaps the best way to think of this issue is in terms of normal childhood development. Toddlers begin to have competitive feelings with siblings, which often focus on the issue “Me first!”

Gradually these competitive feelings get expressed outside the family with peers in preschool. But by kindergarten and certainly 1st grade, children should be able to relate to age-mates as partners with feelings. Thus they are socially ready for group play. Competitive feelings still exist, but not in such a demanding, mean-spirited way.

By their nature, games are an arena for the deployment of competitive skills – some of an attacking and others of a defending nature. Governed by inflexible rules, participants must be able to tolerate frustration and control their aggression.

 As they play and compete, all children compare themselves to others to see where they fall on the achievement scale, priding themselves on their abilities and worrying about their shortcomings.

Eventually healthy children get on friendly terms with their strengths and weaknesses and gain both proficiency and pleasure from competitive games. They also develop an appreciation for their teammates’ skills and can play cooperatively without becoming overly excited or aggressive.

But some children suffer in silence, withdrawing from group play as they feel so inferior to their peers. Others show off their superiority – taunting and ridiculing those who cannot perform at their level. In both of these situations, children are telling adults, through their behavior, that they are in need of help.

Other indicators of a need for professional assistance include:

  • Overly aggressive behavior with a desire to hurt others
  • Inability to tolerate frustration leading to outbursts
  • Overly controlling behavior (ie. “ball hog”)
  • Endless complaints about unfairness and being mistreated
  • Repeatedly cheating
  • Inability to tolerate losing; desperate need to win
  • Showing off and always expressing “better than” feelings

For more Parenting Tips, visit www.westpsychotherapy.com.

Image courtesy of Naypong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Support Hanna Perkins when you shop at Heinen’s

If you shop at Heinen’s and use its Preferred Card, you can help Hanna Perkins School receive valuable donations that support us in providing valuable services to families throughout Northeast Ohio.

Through the grocery store’s Tasteful Rewards program, Preferred Card users can select a school to receive a donation form Heinen’s of 1% of whatever they buy during the school year (Sept – April).

If you already have a Heinen’s Preferred Card, please help by visiting heinens.com/schools and clicking the link there to designate Hanna Perkins School as your ABC School Program recipient. If you don’t already have a card but want to join the program, click here to register.

When the kids are just too busy

Some time ago, parents sought me out and indicated they very much wanted my assistance with their daughter. But when it came time to schedule an appointment, I had to contend with step-dancing on Mondays, piano lessons on Tuesdays, pottery class on Thursdays with sleepovers on Fridays. Barely eeking out C’s, the girl informed me that she did her homework in the car on the way to her various activities. Clearly too muchness was part of her problem.

This reminds me of the proverbial kid in the candy store who wants everything. Parents wouldn’t dream of permitting him/her to have it all. “You’ll get sick!  Just pick one or two pieces.” But when it comes to helping children reach their full potential, parents often throw this sound thinking out the window.

Emotionally, children need meaningful relationships with their parents — not as cab drivers, but as moms and dads.  Family life and school need to be their top priorities.

When children bombard you with the ”I wants,” help them grow up by having them prioritize and select a couple activities (for preadolescents) – with one preferably on the weekend.  Then, after homework, plan simple family activities — cooking dinner together, family movie night, a hike in our lovely MetroParks, a trip to the public library.

Three of these examples allow for talking, but don’t jump in there and pepper your child with questions. Let him/her take the lead and practice good listening. Remember:  A relationship with you is much more important than any extracurricular activity.

“But mom, Hannah gets to take tap, ballet and art classes too.”

“Every family has their priorities and this is just right for us.”

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

5 things you can do to support and promote children’s mental health

happy_david garzon photo_freeimages.com

Thursday, May 4, 2017 is National Children’s Health Awareness Day.

We talk a lot about this thing called mental health, but what does it really mean and how can we promote it in our children?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Mental health in childhood means reaching developmental and emotional milestones, and learning healthy social skills and how to cope when there are problems.”

Laying a strong foundation from the start can help children develop appropriate emotional, social and coping skills.

Here are 5 things parents can do to promote good mental health.

  1. Help children verbalize feelings from a very young age. The more an individual can use words to describe difficult feelings the less he or she will rely on their body to communicate (e.g. tantrums, hitting or acting out in school).
  2. Help children be problem solvers. Protecting a child from every possible failure sends the message that he or she cannot cope. Facing failures and frustrations in bearable bits helps build emotional muscle that will last a lifetime.
  3. Validate feelings rather than negate or stop them. If a child is crying, there is a valid feeling behind it. Be investigators together and find the reason for the feeling. Telling children they have nothing cry about, or telling them everything will be fine when it may not, teaches them to suppress feelings, rather than building tolerance for hard feelings.
  4. Encourage children to manage their own feelings. Just because a child is angry at you does not mean you have to fix, handle or change the situation. They have a right to their feeling and they have the power to find ways to make themselves feel better – even when life seems unfair.
  5. Promote empathy. Wonder with your child how other people may be feeling, especially when they may have hurt someone else’s feelings. Encourage children to talk through conflicts and hear another point of view. Make an apology a natural part of conflict resolution – rather than words that must be recited to avoid punishment.

This year, on National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day – and all the days that follow – let’s do everything we can to build the foundations for success in our children.

Image courtesy of David Garzon/Freeimages.com

Kimberly Bell, Ph.D. Hadden Clinic at Hanna Perkins Center

Kimberly Bell, Ph.D.
Hadden Clinic at Hanna Perkins Center

Emotional Intelligence

2 boys_david castillo dominici_freedigitalphotosThe foundation for future learning is established between birth and age six. During this time, a child transitions from dependence to independence, and develops an emotional blueprint that informs every aspect of his or her life.

Emotional intelligence – the ability to understand and manage feelings – is considered the driving force behind intellectual and social achievement, and the strongest indicator of human success.

Emotional intelligence can be fostered most effectively during the preschool years, regardless of the genetic or temperamental predispositions with which a child is born. It is an area in which we can make a difference. Children who receive the gift of adult mindfulness during these early years develop essential assets, such as

  • Curiosity
  • Problem-solving
  • Competence
  • Mastery
  • Creativity
  • Management of worries and fears
  • Ability to focus
  • Self-control
  • Kindness
  • Self-advocacy

By understanding this and addressing a child’s inner life, all children can be helped to cultivate  critical life skills. Children who receive the gift of adult mindfulness during these early years develop essential assets, such as flexibility, relationship-building, conflict management, self-awareness, self-discipline and planning skills.

Through emotionally-based learning, children are best equipped to build resilience and maximize their own potential.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/freedigitalphotos.net

 

A parenting technique that really works

At a gathering of parents sponsored by The Hanna Perkins Center for Child Development (HPC), Licensed Independent Social Worker and HPC Child Psychoanalyst and Therapist Deborah Paris addressed a range of questions and concerns, including this one:

 Q: I keep hearing about “attachment parenting” and other parenting techniques. Is there a particular technique that you like?

A:  My preferred technique is whatever works best in promoting healthy development. It begins with understanding there are certain goals in raising young children:

  • Self care
  • Self regulation
  • Self determination

What makes people healthy is developing this sense of self – not us as parents doing for them.

You know, we do a funny thing these days. On one hand we see the helicopter parent, who is over-involved in everything the child tries to do. On the other hand we sometimes act like children are little adults, and we expect all sorts of things from them that they aren’t ready to handle – like sitting quietly through a long meal at an upscale restaurant.

In both extremes, what’s happening is the parents are trying to control the outcome. It’s as if by just doing or demanding all the right things, everything will come out fine. This is actually leaving the child – as an individual person – out of the equation.

If you insist on controlling the outcome, then your child is going to struggle to learn and practice self care, self determination, self regulation. It will be about you instead of about them.

But if you start from the perspective of what the child needs and what is going on inside of him or her– as opposed to adopting a specific parenting “technique” – you’ll end up in the right place.

Children have an inner world that is understood (or misunderstood) from the perspective of a 2- or 3- or 4-year-old brain. Be sensitive to this. Work with them to identify and resolve misunderstandings and misconceptions. Help them learn those things the developing self requires.

If you want to call this a parenting technique, I’d say it has a pretty good record of success.

Image of little boy courtesy of Julie Moore/Stock.xchng