Kids worry…and we parents worry about our kids worrying.   It’s normal for a preschooler to fear separation from his/her mother or to worry that monsters are under the bed.  A school-age child might be nervous starting a new school or before a test.  But when a child of eight or nine is afraid to sleep alone or if test anxiety becomes a panic attack, this could signal a problem.

The difference between normal worry and an anxiety disorder is the severity and duration of the anxiety.  While feeling nervous is a natural and, even healthy, reaction to stressful situations, these nerves grow into a disorder when they interfere with a child’s ability to handle everyday situations, or prompt the child to avoid things that most children his/her age enjoy.   Nearly 15 percent of children ages 7 to 18 meet the criteria for some form of anxiety disorder.  Anxiety tends to go unrecognized longer in children than in adults because children are unlikely to understand the problem and ask for help.   Anxious children are often quiet, compliant and eager to please – flying under the radar of caring family and school personnel.
Heredity plays a role.  A child with an anxious parent is seven times more likely to develop an anxiety disorder, though the type may differ.  While adults with anxiety typically experience feelings of restlessness, irritability and trouble concentrating, anxiety in children tends to show up in avoidance behaviors or in somatic complaints.  Refusal to go to school or the homes of family or friends, chronic headaches, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, stomach problems and unusual tantrums and clinginess may all be symptoms of anxiety in the child lacking in the language skills necessary to express their feelings.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication are typical treatments. CBT is a skill-based approach that teaches new ways to think and act. CBT can help children examine how their thoughts, feelings and actions are interwoven and how shifting thoughts can help to balance feelings and actions. Parents should stay abreast of the strategies used in therapy so that the child can be encouraged and supported in practicing new skills. Medication options should be explored with an experienced child Psychiatrist. Children with untreated anxiety are prone to depression, substance abuse, and other mental-health problems.
Here are some ways to distinguish every day worries from several types of anxiety:

·   Severe anxiety is out of proportion. A second grader might be nervous about taking a spelling test. A boy with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) might be so worried that he starts studying for the test a week early and loses sleep for days.

·   Severe anxiety is being overly self-conscious. A girl might be nervous before performing in her first recital. Someone with social anxiety disorder might have a panic attack prior to ordering in a restaurant.
·   Severe anxiety is often unwanted and uncontrollable. A typical kindergartner might cry at school because he misses his mother. An older boy with separation anxiety disorder might cry at school because he can’t stop thinking that his mother will die if he is away from her.
·   Severe anxiety is unrealistic. A girl might be afraid of burglars robbing the house. Someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) might think burglars will come unless she touches everything in her room twice.
·   Severe anxiety doesn’t go away. While anxiety symptoms are common and even expected after a disturbing experience such as a car accident or a flood, over time most children bounce back. Six months later a boy with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) will still be having nightmares.
·   Severe anxiety leads to avoidance. A girl might be nervous about going to a birthday party. A girl with a specific phobia of clowns might refuse to go to birthday parties at all because she’s afraid that a clown may be there.
Examples courtesy of Child-Mind Institute, Jerome Bubrick, PhD
If you suspect that anxiety is interfering with your child’s ability to function, talk to someone – Pediatrician, Psychologist, School Personnel – and get a referral for help. Contact WISE Mind Solutions and we will brainstorm with you next steps for your family!   Be WISE!


Little boy image used with permission:  By Tina Phillips, published on 18 May 2010 Stock photo – image ID: 10016803
Little girl image used with permission:  By marin, published on 12 November 2012Stock photo – image ID: 100112499

With the holidays almost here, I wanted to share a few WISE words with you about being a parent. Once upon a time in a place not too far away, we parented in communities with the accumulated wisdom of generations of family members available to us. Today we parents are more isolated, often relying on the wisdom of a blog like this, a quick coffee with a neighbor or, if we’re lucky, a PTA program that doesn’t interfere with soccer practice. The fact remains, however, that parenting is a job that comes without an employee handbook, health benefits or a cubicle – unless you count being stuck in a tiny gas station bathroom with a car sick-3-year old – so, for many of us, parenting books have helped to fill the gap.

In 2013, give yourself the gift of wisdom and use those bookstore gift cards to get something that your whole family will benefit from – and remember, as you stock your library, that parenting is not a science – it’s an art. – Happy Holidays from WISE Mind Solutions

Here are my three (current) favorite:

Raising Children Who Think for ThemselvesRaising Children Who Think for Themselves by Elisa Medhus, M.D.
This book by Elisa Medhus, parent of five and eternal optimist, focuses on the impact of raising children to be realistic problem solvers, internally-directed by their own reasoning and moral compass.  It offers lots of examples and practical strategies to apply right now to change the course of your family!  This is super important in our world where external directions, such as tv, the internet, Facebook and YouTube present an all-you-can eat buffet of messages!

The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind

The Whole Brain Child by Daniel Seigel, M.D.
This book, by fellow “brain geek” Dan Siegel, offers a reader-friendly guide to fostering your child’s emotional intelligence.  The examples and strategies offer tips you can use right away in everyday situations to help your child understand their brain and to learn the power of integration.  You will love this book if you are trying to figure out some of the “whys” behind your child’s behaviors.

Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child The Heart of ParentingRaising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman, Ph. D.
This book by John Gottman, a family-dynamic expert, equips parents with a five-step emotion process that teaches kids to understand and regulate their emotional world.  This process allows for both teaching and modeling so that your child is getting positive coaching from all sides!  This book is especially powerful if your child has encountered bullying or demonstrates a desire to be a “peace maker” among their peer group.

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My 12-year-old daughter has a friend who is what some parents might call a Drama Queen. Whenever something happens, her reaction is always over-the-top. Her reactions are so dramatic that sometimes her parents feel the need to calm their daughter down by saying, “Come on, it’s not that bad,” or “Seriously, don’t get so upset!” Having endured their fair share of stomping and door-slams, they have concluded that often the best approach is to not pay attention at all. None of these responses really “work.” In fact, she seems to escalate no matter what her parents do…or don’t do. So her family has simply concluded this is just her personality and they just try to deal with it.

If you have a son or a daughter that sounds a bit like this, it can be frustrating to be dealing with emotional outbursts and handling temper tantrums on a daily basis.  Consider what you want when you have a problem: Do you want a quick solution?  Do you like to be left alone to figure it out for yourself? Do you like to talk it over with someone? Do you want advice? Lectures? Probing questions?

When youngsters have emotional outbursts, in nearly every way, they are just like adults in terms of what they want and need. They come to the problem, however, with less cognitive maturity as well as less experience at putting their feelings into perspective and expressing them appropriately. Here are some suggestions for helping youngsters at all developmental stages learn to process emotions and feelings in a way that will teach them how to resolve these feelings for themselves:


  • Give full attention with direct eye contact and a smile or nod. No one likes someone to listen to them halfway.
  •  Acknowledge what you hear with “Um-hmm?, Oh!” When people don’t want to talk, just simply let them know that you care and if they change their mind, you are there for them. Never push!
  • Give wishes in fantasy, such as “I bet you wish we could stay here all day!” Most of the time, the youngster just wants to know that you understand how they feel. This helps them accept unpleasant limits.
  • Name the feeling and then put that feeling word in a sentence that connects with what happened. “It’s annoying when Johnny bothers you while you do your puzzle.” Youngster need to learn feeling words as much as they need to learn any other kind of word. To a child, if a feeling has a name it must mean it’s okay to feel it. This is reassuring, because negative emotions can be scary!
  • Avoid journalistic questions like “Who?” “Where?” “When?” and especially “Why?” “Why” tends to put people on the defensive. Instead ask questions that focus on feelings rather than events.
Image creator’s user name:
“David Castillo Dominici”

Remember that accepting feelings is different from allowing hurtful behavior or acting out those emotions. Tell your youngster, “It is okay to feel (feeling name), but it is not okay to (unacceptable behavior).” Then brainstorm options for what the child can do if the situation happens again.

It is not the parent’s job to figure the problem out and solve it for youngsters. A parent’s job is to help their child sort through their thoughts, feelings and emotions so they can figure out a solution to their own problem! One of the most valuable gifts you can give your child is the ability to critically think through a problem and solve it! High Five!

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The Importance of WHAT and HOW
By Amy Fortney Parks, PhD-R

With the start of a new school year, it is a good time to think about WHAT we say to our youngsters and HOW it impacts their day-to-day experience, as well as their long-term success at school. Here are 10 tips for building self-esteem in children as they set off to a new year of learning and fun!

1. Encourage Patience and persistence – “You seem discouraged. Everyone makes mistakes! Let’s go over your mistakes together so that you’ll be able to avoid them next time.”

2. Emphasize what your child does right – “You’ve been doing great so far! Let’s see if we can work together to get you back on track.”

3. Promote planning – “Let’s break this project down into smaller, more manageable parts so that it doesn’t seem so overwhelming.”

4. Create conversations – “What was one of the things you learned today?” “What songs did you sing about in music class?” “What vegetables and fruit were in your lunch today?” “What equipment did you play with on the playground?”

5. Support self-expression and creativity – “You must have really worked hard to come up with such an original idea! The colors in that picture look so realistic!”

6. Craft constructive criticism – “Great! This report has many good ideas. You might consider arranging your thoughts to help the reader better understand your points.”

7. Compare your youngster’s progress to his/her own record – “Let’s not worry about your friend’s test grade. What’s important is your own efforts and achievements.”

photo credit: Vince Alongi via photo pin cc

8. Avoid labels – Off-handed comments are easily internalized by youngsters. DON’T say, “Joey never takes time to read directions.” “Sarah is a really shy girl.”

9. Focus on the here and now – “I’m pleased to see that you’ll be turning your project in on time.”

10. Continue to have high expectations – “It looks like a tough assignment, but with all that you have accomplished so far, I know you can do it!”