Smoothing Your Child’s Transition to Middle School

Ah, middle school. Though your child may barely be entering puberty and may still be a pre-teen, the transition to middle school is a big step on the road to maturity. A big, scary step. Regardless of what specific grade marks the beginning of junior high or middle school in your community, your child will be both excited and afraid. Researchers have found that students anticipating the move to middle school worry about three aspects of the change: logistical, social, and academic. Your child with learning or attention difficulties shares the same worries as his peers, and may be afraid the change will be even harder for him.

While you won’t be able to calm your child’s fears completely, with some advance planning and open discussions you can substantially ease her mind. The first step is understanding what may worry your child.

Logistical concerns

When researchers asked kids what aspect of moving to middle school most concerned them, the top answers related to how things at the new school worked (Akos, 2002). How would they find the right classroom? What happened if they were tardy? Where was the cafeteria? What about the bathrooms?

Middle school is a much more complex environment than grade school. The campus is larger, there are more students, and instead of one teacher and one classroom, your child will have a separate instructor, and classroom, for each subject or block of subjects (e.g., language arts/social studies or math/science). It’s no wonder kids worry about finding their way in this new world.

For your student with learning or attention problems, understanding the rules and procedures of the new school may be even more important. The challenge of navigating multiple transitions between classes and organizing books and materials for every subject may be all she can handle in the first few weeks. Here are some strategies for helping your child make a smoother transition to middle school:

  • Explore the school’s Web site with your child. Search for announcements, schedules, and events.
  • Accompany your child on campus tours and orientations offered to parents and incoming students. The better you understand the school layout and rules, the more you can help your child.
  • Include a couple of your child’s friends on campus treks. They can boost each other’s memory about where things are when school starts.
  • Take advantage of summer programs — academic or recreational — offered at the new school for incoming students. Your child will get the feel for the campus in a much more relaxed atmosphere.
  • Get a copy of your child’s class schedule and mark the location of her locker and each classroom and bathroom on the school map. Tape both of these inside her binder. If your child has trouble reading maps, walk the route between classes with her — more than once, if necessary — and note landmarks that the student can use to navigate.
  • Find out the length of the passing period between classes. Time it out for your child. Demonstrate how far she can walk in that amount of time.
  • Get a copy of the student handbook. Review rules and requirements — especially the school’s code of conduct, which describes consequences for violations of the most important rules. Ask the school staff questions about anything that’s unclear.
  • Buy your child a lock for her locker several weeks before school starts to give her plenty of time to practice opening and closing it. 
  • Make sure your child has an easy-to-read wristwatch so she can quickly see if she needs to hurry to be on time to class. 

Social fears

Another area of worry for students moving to middle school is the social scene. Will I see anyone I know?  Will it be hard making friends? Will I have to eat lunch alone? Are the older kids bullies?

Your child is moving from the top of the elementary school heap to the bottom rung of the middle school social ladder. He may have heard that the older students tease or bully the younger ones. He knows for sure that he and his best friends are unlikely to be in every single class together, and, even worse, there may be classes where he doesn’t know anyone at all on the first day. And if your child with learning or attention problems struggles to make friends anyway, then this all adds up to a potential social nightmare.

Remember that, in addition to changing schools, your child is entering adolescence, a stage when kids start to rely much more on peers and pull away from parents. This is a time when being part of a group is very important and being perceived as different can be devastating. It’s not surprising that finding friends in the new school is a top priority.

The good news is that the more varied social environment also offers many opportunities to meet people. Being in multiple classes each day means your student is surrounded by more potential friends. The better news is that, once students are settled into middle school, they report that friendships and the social scene are among the best things about school.

Some things that you can do to ease the social transition:

  • Encourage your child to join sports teams, clubs, or other extracurricular activities.
  • Ease any loneliness in the early weeks of school by helping your child arrange weekend activities with neighborhood, church, or grade school friends.
  • Encourage your child to join group conversations. Discuss how to join in without interrupting, to add something relevant to conversation in progress, etc.
  • Talk about traits that make a good friend (such as being a good listener).
  • Talk about social skills. Discuss how words and actions can affect other people.
  • Practice skills needed for difficult social situations.
  • Remind your child to make eye contact when speaking or listening.

Academic concerns

Though most students worry more about the logistical and social aspects of middle school before they get there, once settled in, academic concerns rise to the surface. Will the classes be too difficult? Will there be too much homework? Are the teachers hard graders?

It’s quite typical for students’ academic performance to drop upon entering middle school. Along with everything else that’s going on – rollercoaster emotions, physical changes, and social upheaval – your child is also coping with harder classes, more homework, and a whole new set of academic expectations. Middle school teachers don’t form the close bonds with students that your child enjoyed in grade school. There is less small group and personalized instruction. Teachers expect students to take charge of assignments and projects with less day-to-day guidance.

For a student with learning or attention difficulties, these changes can come as quite a shock. Teachers may vary in their willingness to understand and accommodate your child’s learning needs. Organization and time management demands rise to a new level. Though it can seem overwhelming, keep reminding your child that he can manage these changes successfully, though it will take time and practice.

Some tips to help ease your child’s academic concerns:

  • Meet with teachers early in the school year. Give them a profile of your child’s strengths and where he needs help.
  • Encourage teachers to continue using strategies that have worked for your child in the past, such as writing homework assignments on the board, or assigning your child a “homework buddy” he can contact if he forgets what her assignments are. If the school has a homework hotline, make sure your child knows how to use it.
  • Help your student with time management skills. Work together on a schedule for study time, break time, chores, etc.
  • Work out an organizational system with your student. Acknowledge and make allowances for his anxiety; at first, he may need to carry everything for all classes all the time in order to feel prepared.
  • Avoid overreacting to grades. Making sure your child gets a handle on how to meet the demands of the new school is the critical factor in the early weeks.
  • Stay connected to your child’s school work. Try to teach your student to work more independently while supporting her enough to give her confidence.
  • Go to back-to-school night, open houses, parent-teacher conferences and other events where you can connect with your child’s teachers.
  • Help your child be his own advocate. Encourage his to discuss problems and solutions with teachers on his own, but be ready to step in and help as needed.

The best way to help your child through this transition is to keep a positive attitude about middle school. You may remember how clueless, awkward, and self-conscious you felt at that age. Empathize with him if he feels the same way, and tell him it’s normal for middle school students to experience those fears and emotions. Reassure him that he will become more comfortable and confident with time. Remind your child that the school and the teachers want him to be successful and that he has what it takes to make it all work.

Most students make the adjustment to the routines and demands of middle school within a couple months. If your child is still struggling as fall gives way to winter, then a meeting with his guidance counselor may be in order. Together, you, your student and the counselor can pinpoint specific trouble spots and brainstorm ways to get things on track.

Try to give your tween plenty of information about how things will work in middle school, but be careful not to overload him. Be proactive in sharing information with him while also encouraging him to ask questions. The more your child knows up front, the more comfortable he’ll be on the first day, and beyond.


7 Things a New Father Can Do to Bond With His Baby

Seven things out of seven million possibilities, this list is intended to get fathers thinking about how they will “connect” with this new life. All too often, men stay out of the new baby equation until the child can walk and talk, robbing both the child and the father of the most incredible and crucial years of the child’s life. Let’s get started!

Be there pre-birth. Bonding with your baby actually begins before the baby is born. By forming a “teamwork” oriented relationship with Mom, a smart father steps far ahead of those dads waiting for their child to be born. Think about it. What affects Mom also affects the child. Many people believe that actually talking to the baby in the womb begins the process of bonding. Being present in Lamaze classes and the delivery room are invaluable to a man’s understanding of what goes on in bringing a new life into this world.

Find opportunities to hold your baby. No one is going to force you to get involved with your child. In fact, there is almost an expectation still prevalent today that a father will not get involved until much later. Hold your new baby the very first instant possible. Get familiar with the incredible new life you hold in your hands. This beautiful little baby will not be this size for long.

Get involved in feeding your baby. Think you can’t get involved with your child when Mom breastfeeds? Think again. You can make a production out of bringing your baby to Mom, burp the baby, interact with the baby to keep her awake, etc.

Dress your baby. Learn to dress your baby from day one. Learn how all the snaps work and what looks good and what doesn’t. Change diapers from the first day, too. Trust me, diaper changing is much easier in the first few months. The time you put in now will pay off when you have to deal with a really messy diaper later.

Read to your baby. Tons of studies show what people have known for years – reading to newborns, even children still in the womb, increases their ability to learn language patterns, develop an interest in reading, and can even positively affect intelligence. There are no downsides to reading to your baby, whether it be Spiderman comics, Isaac Asimov or the daily newspaper.

Dance with your baby. Music and dance are incredible bonding opportunities for dad. Children respond in the womb to music, and the swaying rhythms of dance are a form of communication to young and old alike. You don’t have to be Fred Astaire, you just have to move to the music while holding your baby. It is that simple.

Find ways to spend time with your baby. In the previous six examples, the common denominator is that you must spend time with your child. This will be true for the rest of your life. Your baby will learn more about you and his/her world if you take the time to get involved. Love is not the most important thing you can give your baby. Time is. If you don’t put in the time, you can’t show the love.

Bully Proof Your Kid – Self Esteem, Stress Management and Bully Solutions Now

If your child has recently shared with you that he or she is being bullied, you are certainly feeling upset and angry right now. But at least consider yourself fortunate to be in on the secret. Many children refuse to share that they are being bullied. This is why it is so important for teachers and parents to work together and constantly remain mindful of the signs of bullying.

Signs to look for that your child may be a victim of bullying are:

  • mood swings
  • aggressive behavior at home
  • withdrawal (happy kids don’t normally withdraw)
  • sleep problems
  • no interest in school
  • excuses for not going to school
  • upset/depressed at the thought of returning to school after the weekend
  • fear when talking about school
  • doesn’t talk about any friends or school events
  • nothing positive to say about school
  • seems depressed or distant
  • just seems sad

Bullying can be physical, emotional, verbal, cyber, rumors, threats, and/or damage to personal property. A bully’s energy can be strong, overpowering and intimidating. And that’s exactly what the bully wants your child to perceive.

Over 160,000 children miss school each year due to bullying. Bullying has drawn nationwide attention due to the devastating effects it can have on children, even costing lives in some cases. Bullying is a very serious social issue around the globe and must not be minimized.

Boys and girls both are susceptible to bullying. However, boys tend to report it less due to embarrassment. Bullying has reached epidemic proportions in America today. The number of bullying victims does seem to go down as children get older, as a study from Clemson University showed in 2010. However, older children who were bullied tend to have been tormented for years. Additionally, according to that same study, kids felt they were without protection from bullying. It’s really up to us as parents then to equip our children with what they need to combat bullying. So what tools can we give our kids? Following are the techniques to use and ideas to share with your children right away.

1. Control personal space and walk tall. Bullies choose their targets by picking on whom they perceive to be easy targets who won’t make much of a fuss. They often choose those who do not seem likely to fight back. If your child does not learn to stand up for himself, he may easily become the target of a bully. Walking nervously with the head down and shoulders bent attracts attention and screams out “I don’t feel good about me.” Practice assertive body language together by walking taller and with confidence at home. Help your child learn to claim personal space as his own and never let someone else come too close and make him feel smaller than he is.

2. Stand up for yourself. It’s hard to do sometimes, but necessary. Fifty percent of the time the bullying will stop if the victim just stands up for him or herself. Simply tell the bully to stop it!

3. Your child must build self confidence. In order to do this, he has to project himself with confidence, in his mind and in his environment. Start using positive affirmations and nightly positive visualizations so your child can begin to really see himself as strong, confident and capable. Nighttime audio relaxations will also help your child manage stress and anxiety better. Talk with your child to see where he feels he would like to improve himself. Sometimes children can say nasty things. If your child is very confident in who he is, he will not be as affected by other’s statements and opinions. Take the time to develop your child’s self esteem. This is critical. Bullies choose their targets from children with weakened self esteem. You may not even know why your child’s self esteem is weak, but right now the most important thing is to start building it up. You can start tonight.

4. Teach your child to make healthy eye contact with others. Making eye contact shows you are confident in who you are. Practice at home, while out shopping, at the post office – any time your child gets the opportunity to practice healthy eye contact. Healthy eye contact goes back to healthy self esteem. When a child feels good about himself, he will naturally stand taller, make eye contact, start friendly conversations with others and stand up for himself. You want to help your child be bulletproof to bullies.

5. Make sure the school and teachers are aware of the situation. Teachers and parents should work together as much as possible to control bullying situations. Many times teachers are not aware of what is happening, but even when they are, children often report that little or nothing is done to help. In the study done by Clemson University, 30% of boys in grades 3-5, and 60% of boys in grades 9-12 said their teacher had done little or nothing to stop the bullying. The truth is, many teachers are not equipped to deal with bullying issues and simply don’t know how to handle it. Appallingly, some teachers are even bullied themselves by students. However, a few teachers have been specially trained to deal with bullying issues, and there is always the hope that your child’s teacher will be well versed in how to deal with bullying. In any case, at the very least, talk the situation over with the teacher and the school counselor. Ask for recommendations. Do not listen to recommendations that include ignoring the bullying. It doesn’t work. Children end up internalizing the pain even more.

6. Enroll your child in martial arts. Often it takes just several weeks for your child to feel completely different about any bully situation. Today many martial art classes have integrated anti-bullying programs as well and are well aware of this problem in our society.

7. Take the little things your child mentions seriously, even if just he mentions it in passing. Any threat he has received should be immediately investigated and taken seriously.

8. Realize that bullying is often perpetuated by groups of children rather than one child alone. When this happens, victims can feel very helpless and isolated, as if everyone hates them and as if it really must be their fault if so many children are against them. Most parents are not aware of the magnitude of group bullying or the devastating effect it has on children and teens. Thanks to a handful of parents and educators coming forward in the media recently, awareness is growing.

9. Talk to your child continually and always allow the door of communication to remain wide open. Do not allow your child to become withdrawn and simply chalk it up to “adolescence”. In a school environment, your child may be away from you for 8 or more hours a day. You may have no idea what your child is going through during that time. Stay alert and perceptive, make sure your child trusts you and can rely on you to help her and believe her no matter what.

10. Seek individual and/or group psychotherapy for your child with a licensed psychotherapist, such as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

People tend to think that being bullied is a normal part of growing up. It is not. We should never subject our children to threats, physical harm or emotional violence. In today’s society, things can get out of hand very quickly and most children do not know how to deal with high levels of stress and pressure that bullying inflicts. Most parents only become aware of childhood stress when their children begin to exhibit extreme anxiety. This stress needs to be dealt with immediately.

One last form of bullying to be aware of as a parent is sexual bullying, which is another form of sexual harassment. Professor Dr. Dorothy Espelage of the University of Illinois says half of all bullying in elementary and middle schools involves the use of gay slurs. Sexual bullying is happening in high schools too. Sexual bully is defined as sexual threatening, intimidating, spreading sexual rumors, making sexual comments or writing them on bathroom walls, sending videos or texts or even being physical with the victim like touching, grabbing and poking. Sexual bullying also incorporates gay harassment which can be targeted at any student.

All forms of bullying are devastating to a growing child or teen in the midst of creating and identifying his true self. Act now and don’t delay. Help your child heighten self esteem, manage the stress and equip your child with exactly what he needs to be the very best he can be.



Addiction and Judgment: What Happens to the Family Struggling With Addiction?

When a family member is struggling with addiction the entire family system suffers. Life inside the family system can become a roller coaster of emotions. It is common for parents to blame each other or themselves when their child is suffering from addiction. All family members are affected with the chaos that addiction brings to the family unit. Emotions often range from denial, grief, fear, anger, shame, and a tremendous sense of loss.

People are quick to judge an individual addicted to drugs or alcohol. They are often stereotyped. For example, the homeless man on the street, the drunk at the bar, or a prostitute. People may think that a person addicted to drugs or alcohol is a bad person. This is not true. Addiction is a disease, not caused by being a good or bad human being.

An Individual addicted to drugs and alcohol maybe closer to home than you think

• The young man in a fraternity that died of an oxycotin overdose.
• A 16-year-old girl died from alcohol poisoning after the prom.
• A 15-year-old boy who died of a heroin overdose in the suburbs.
• An 21-year-old young man died of an accidental drug overdose in his bed.

For these young people we may hear the following comments: “My kids would never take drugs! Where did he get that? How did his parents not know? Oxy is just a pain killer how could that kill him? He must have been from a bad family. His family did not care enough to pay attention to his mental health. He probably had problems his entire life.

I’m glad my kids weren’t friends with someone like him. What a loser. What kind of college is that? I’m glad my kid just drinks and smokes weed! At least my daughter just gets drunk she doesn’t do drugs. My daughter said she never drinks. My son has too much going for him to consider taking drugs. If she has a drug problem why doesn’t she just quit? That person is weak it only takes will power to quit.”

These are some examples of people being judgmental without understanding the disease of drug and alcohol and addiction. The situation I am referring to is what happens to the family of the person struggling with addiction. Before jumping to conclusions and passing judgments on others it might be helpful to educate yourself and look at the other side of this painful situation.

Addiction and alcoholism is a family disease and dealing with it effectively involves the whole family getting an understanding of the disease in order to deal with it as a united front. Individuals that are addicted to drugs and alcohol are typically bright smart people that are unfortunately affected by this cunning baffling and powerful disease.

It is important to remember that individuals that suffer with addiction can get help and learn to live in recovery. Living in recovery does not mean that relapses will not occur. Addiction is a life long disease. If a relapses occurs that individual can fight addiction and be in recovery again. I believe it is important never to give up hope. It is also essential for the family of a person struggling with the disease of addiction to go on with their lives.

Individual and family therapy can be a useful coping tool and a helpful resource during this difficult time. Living with addiction in the family can be overwhelming. Practicing self-care is important for survival. Attending Alanon family group is one way to help the family cope with this disease. A common saying in Alanon is that it is important to “Place the oxygen mask on yourself first before you put it on someone else.”



Men’s Midlife Crisis

Many men go through a phase when they take a hard look at the life they’re living. They think they could be happier, and if they need to make a big change, they feel the urge to do it soon.

These thoughts can trigger a midlife crisis. By realizing you’re in this phase, then making wise choices, you can steer yourself out of a midlife crisis and into a happier life.

How to Spot a Midlife Crisis
A true midlife crisis usually involves changing your entire life in a hurry. An example is a man I counseled who wrote a note to his wife, withdrew his money from the bank, and moved to another city without warning.

This type of midlife crisis is rare.  More often, men go through a midlife process in which they make smaller changes over time.

You might tell your wife, “I’ve got to get out of this job” , and you do. Or you say to your wife, ‘I’m done. The marriage isn’t working for me.” You don’t change everything and you don’t do it frantically. And for many people, after this agonizing reappraisal, they decide to stay with what they’ve got.

Signs that you’re going through this midlife phase, or that you may soon, include:

  • You’ve hit your 40th birthday. Colarusso, who has a special interest in issues that affect adults as they age, most often sees men struggling with these midlife questions in their 40s and early 50s.
  • You’re uneasy about major elements in your life. This may include not being satisfied with your career, your marriage, or your health, and feeling the urge to take action to make your better.
  • You feel that your time for taking a new direction is running short. Many men feel a pressing need to make changes.
  • You notice your appearance is changing or your stamina isn’t as high as it used to be.
  • You become a grandfather.
  • A friend or parent dies.

However, it’s not inevitable to go through a midlife crisis when those things happen.

You’re making unusual choices. Men may go through a “teenage-like rebellion” at this point in their lives.

A sure sign you may be in a midlife crisis is if you are feeling trapped and very tempted to act out in ways that will blow up your life. These may include:

  • Drinking more.
  • Leaving your family.
  • Feeling that your life no longer fits you.
  • You’re more concerned about your appearance.
  • You feel more desire for excitement and thrills.

Navigating Your Midlife Issues
A midlife crisis can lead to “growth or destruction” for men. You can look for the causes of the unhappiness you feel, then make thoughtful decisions to address them. That’s growth.

On the other hand, making impulsive decisions, like trading in your familiar life for a relationship with a younger partner that quickly ends or buying a car you can’t afford, leads to destruction.
During this season of your life, be sure to:

Remember that your feelings aren’t commands. Just because you feel like you have to escape your home, job, or marriage doesn’t mean you have to actually do it. These feelings may indeed point to problems that need solving. But they may also fade or change over time.
Be thankful for the good things. Take time to be grateful for the parts of your life that make you happy. Ask yourself how you’d feel if you took an action that caused you to lose them.

Talk it over. Before you make major decisions, discuss them with someone whose advice you’ll trust. A friend, pastor, or psychotherapist can give you another opinion on whether you’re making wise choices.
Ask whether your wishes are realistic. Men make plenty of successful changes in their 40s and beyond: Going back to college, traveling the world, or starting their own business. Just make sure your new goals are practical and within your grasp.
Avoid jolting your loved ones. Realize that you may not need to blow up your life to be happy. But if it needs to be dismantled, then doing so thoughtfully will be less destructive to the people around you.

How To Manage Post-Holiday Blues

It’s a let-down for many.

After weeks, maybe even months, of decorating, shopping and wrapping, baking, visiting and being visited, the whole thing is over in a day or two. Suddenly, the display that seemed so essential to get up on the house looks just wrong. The tree is dropping needles. The house that was so sparkling clean before Christmas now decidedly needs a good vacuuming. How’d that happen? Yeah. Kids and dogs and visitors are a household demolition derby. If that weren’t enough, you’re trying to make peace with the fact that your sister gave you soap when you gave her a lovely sweater and the uncle you spent so much agonizing time making a vegan dish for you, but decided not to even stop by. It’s hard to stay in that twinkly holiday mood when it feels so over.

It’s not that unusual. Some studies show as many as 25 percent of Americans
suffer from low-grade to full-blown depression after the holidays. The hype
and excitement and, yes, expectation, for jolliness buoy up many in the buildup
to the Big Day. But then expectations hit reality. Relatives aren’t always kind.
Gifts aren’t given and received in the spirit intended. The fantasy that maybe this year will be different is dashed yet again. It’s hard for even the most resilient not to feel a letdown. For those who are prone to depression anyway, the weeks after a holiday can feel like the emotional rug has been pulled out from them.

Yes, there are some things to do about it.

If you are taking antidepressants: This is not the time to stop. You may feel they aren’t doing their job but it’s also possible that things would be much worse if you weren’t taking them at all. Confer with your psychiatrist.

If you are in therapy: Make sure you talk about what is bothering you. Your therapist can’t help you if you skirt around issues or if, in some misguided attempt not to bother the therapist too much, you don’t tell him how bad you feel. If things are feeling really grim, you might want to ask for an extra appointment.

Whether in treatment or not:

Take care of yourself. From Halloween to New Year’s, Americans tend to redefine the basic food groups to sugar, fats, sugar, and sometimes alcohol. “Enough” is redefined as “stuffed.” Get back to a healthy diet with reasonable portions. Add a walk at least once a day and a more regular bedtime. Regular routines of self-care may have disappeared over the past month but you can reclaim them.

Take a meditative few minutes a couple times a day. Focus on what did go right over the holidays. It’s an old-fashioned idea but “counting your blessings” is an antidote to the blues.

Kids home for the week? They may be exuberant. They may be demanding. If you give them attention in a way that is pleasant for you as well,they may well settle down. Get down on the floor and enjoy kid time. Play with the blocks and Legos. Help the kids make a fort or tent with the couch cushions. Read together. Mostly be grateful that they are OK and want to play with you.

Call a friend. Steer the conversations away from a festival of complaints and commiseration to a lively conversation of what has been going well and what you can laugh about. Sharing humor is a great way to lift the spirits.

Make a pact with yourself to do something small but positive for yourself at least five times a day. Stay in that hot shower a few extra minutes. Get nicely dressed and comb your hair. Make the bed up clean. Straighten up your kitchen. Make yourself a cup of tea and let yourself have 10 minutes to savor it.

Give yourself the gift of giving to someone else. It’s transformative to do those random acts of kindness. Whether it’s a call to one of the older relatives who doesn’t get much attention or taking food to a shut-in, focusing on someone else’s needs has the paradoxical effect of helping the giver.

Arrange things to look forward to. The holidays aren’t the end of life as we know it. They are only the end of the holidays. It’s time to shift the focus to everyday things that give us pleasure. Make a coffee date with a friend or a movie date with your spouse. Turn the kids’ thinking to what will happen in school over the next few months.

Give yourself an attitude transplant. If being one of those who looks at the world through mud-covered glasses has never worked for you, why continue it? Take charge of your life and your mood by doing any number of the ideas listed above and adding some of your own.

Still grieving the holidays? Wait a week or two. The stores will be filling up with Valentine decorations and candy. Start planning a Valentine’s blowout now.

Helping Your Teen Manage School Stress

No matter what age your teens are, school is probably stressing them out. Even the most organized teenager is not immune to the daily pressures faced at school. Trying to keep on top of school work, handling peer pressure, maintaining some type of social life, participating in after-school activities and even figuring out what to wear in the morning can be a lot for any teen to handle.

That may be the reason why one in five teenagers has abused prescription drugs, according to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Managing school-related stress is one of the top reasons why teens turn to prescription drugs. Contrary to the belief that teens use prescription drugs to get high or feel good, teens often turn to their parent’s medicine cabinet or their friends for the following reasons:
• To lower stress and anxiety
• To boost their mood
• To stay up all night studying for an exam
• To enhance athletic or academic performance
Parents often see no problem giving their teens some of their pain medication or anti-anxiety medication, figuring they are helping their teens alleviate symptoms. Because it is so common for adults to receive prescriptions for their own symptoms, it is easy to think you are helping your teens by giving them even half of a prescribed dosage.
However, making prescription drugs accessible to your teenagers is not the best way to help them manage their school-related stress.

Encourage Activity
One of the best ways to alleviate the symptoms of stress is to get active. Encourage your teens to get involved with a sport or engage in daily exercise to help manage their stress. Regular physical activity can increase your teen’s self-confidence and lower symptoms associated with stress, mild depression and anxiety. It also boosts the levels of endorphins in the brain, which can result in improved mood and increased energy.

Get Social
Good friends and laughter can help your teenager forget about their stress. Make sure your teens are spending enough quality time with friends, both after school and on weekends. If your teens have like-minded people around them who they can talk to and who understand the stress they are under, they will be better able to manage school-related stress.

Keep Organized
A lot of stress is due to feeling overwhelmed by deadlines, finals and activities. With so many things going on at once, your teens may not know how to keep track of everything. Help your teens establish a good way to keep everything organized. Get them a calendar to keep track of assignments and deadlines, and show them how to effectively organize their room and backpack to keep things manageable. Nothing adds to a teens’ stress like forgetting to bring the paper they spent all night writing.

Boost Their Self-Esteem
High school is a time of insecurities and diminished self-confidence. Do your part to keep your teens’ self-esteem high by recognizing their achievements and reminding them how great they are. While you may get the occasional eye-rolling, your teens will appreciate knowing that their parents hold them in such high regard.

Don’t Pressure Them
A lot of school-related stress can come from parents. Teenagers may feel pressured by their parents to get stellar grades, join multiple clubs and score the winning goal. Don’t underestimate how much stress you can cause your teens by pressuring them to do or achieve more than they are able to. Know your teens’ limits and encourage them to do as best as they can without making them feel like they are letting you down if they don’t.

Make Sure They Relax
You’ve watched your teens pull all-nighters or write a paper for six hours straight without leaving the computer. Any time you see your teens overworking themselves, get them to take a break. Even if it’s just going for a walk, watching a show or having a snack with you, a break will help them clear their heads and provide a few minutes of needed relaxation.

Offer to Help
The last thing most teenagers want to do is ask their parents for help, but if you realize there is something you can help your teen do, offer to help. You may be able to quiz them for a test, help them bake something for Spanish class or even help talk through a problem they are having with a friend. Don’t ever be afraid to ask your teens if they need help – they may be too worried to ask you for help themselves, causing them more anxiety than they may already be experiencing.

Watch for Procrastination
Teens, like all people, are likely to procrastinate when they have an assignment due. That can lead to a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety. Help your teens manage this by being aware of any big projects that are due and helping them set a timeline so they don’t leave everything to the last minute. This may feel as though you are micromanaging them, but it will help them better prepare for college and result in a less stressed teen.

Set a Good Example
If you are constantly stressed, worried, anxious and panicked, there’s a good chance your teenager will follow by example. Learn to manage your own stress in healthy and productive ways, and let that be an example to your teens.

Encourage Positive Thinking
Teenagers tend to be hypercritical of themselves and others, and plan for worst-case scenarios. Encourage your teens to instead focus on positive outcomes and find the good in situations and people. Not always worrying about what may happen or what other people are doing or thinking can help reduce stress.

Change of Environment
It may be that your teens cannot handle school-related stress due to environment, severe depression or anxiety, a learning disability or other factors.

If that is the case, you may want to consider an alternative school for your child, such as a teen boarding school, learning disabilities school or a wilderness therapy program. The change of environment can remove daily stressors and help your teens learn to manage stress, anxiety or any learning disorders in a more supportive and structured environment.
If your teens have developed an addiction to prescription medication, an adolescent treatment program can help them break their addiction while teaching them healthy ways to cope with stress so that drug addiction does not become a life-long problem.


Depression After a Job Loss: How to Cope

For many people, losing a job not only means the loss of income and benefits, but also the loss of one’s identity.

A recession can exacerbate unemployment as more and more people suffer from downward mobility and income volatility. Job loss for people in the United States—where many people’s work and self-worth are interchangeable—can be an extremely traumatic experience, often leading many to despair and depression.

As income falls—as in the case of job loss, , rates of depression increase, according to a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Community Psychology.

Losing a job can prove especially traumatic for men, who tend to identify more with their careers than do women. The suicide rate among unemployed men is twice that of men who are working.

The risk of suicide increases with age as well. Men who are without work sometimes view themselves as expendable and often describe the loss of a job using terms such as “catastrophic” and “devastating.”

Unemployed people are twice as likely as employed people to suffer from psychological problems (34 percent to 16 percent), and blue-collar workers are more distressed by unemployment than those who’ve lost a white-collar job.

Low income workers, too, are more likely to suffer from the effects of income volatility than are higher wage earners. Income volatility itself appears to be increasing as employers in the U.S. and elsewhere continue to shift economic risk from themselves to their employees. What that means is that it’s likely the psychological problems associated with unemployment and under-employment will continue in the foreseeable future.

Coping With Job Loss
It’s perfectly normal for a person to grieve the loss of a job. It’s important to remember, however, that a career is not an identity.

Separating one’s self-worth from one’s job is especially important in the United States, where employment volatility has been on the rise for more than three decades.

For instance, in the U.S. in 2008 (the last year for which numbers are available), barely ten percent of workers had worked at their current jobs for two decades or more while nearly a quarter had been with their current employer for less than a year. The stages of grief in the wake of a job loss are much the same as the Kübler-Ross model for death and dying. They include the stages of shock, fear or panic, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance and, finally, moving on.

It’s particularly important for the recently unemployed to realize they are far from alone and to reach out for support from friends and family, a counselor or therapist, or a support group.

A Special Note About Stay-At-Home Dads
In the wake of a job loss, many men today find themselves in the position of being a stay-at-home dad while their wife becomes the “breadwinner” for the family. This reversal of traditional roles can be particularly difficult for certain men.

A big part problem is social isolation. Again, perhaps the best solution is to connect with others. Joshua Coleman, co-chairman of the Council on Contemporary Families in Oakland, California, recommends joining—or starting—a stay-at-home dad (SAHD) support group.

Symptoms of Depression After a Job Loss
People who’ve recently lost a job are at special risk for developing major depressive disorder (MDD), a serious condition that requires treatment. It is difficult for those with MDD to imagine a positive way to overcome their employment woes. Symptoms of MDD include:

  • feelings of worthlessness, self-hate or guilt
  • feelings of helplessness and/or hopelessness
  • fatigue or chronic lack of energy
  • irritability
  • difficulty concentrating
  • loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities such as a hobby or sex
  • insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping)
  • social isolation
  • changes in appetite and corresponding weight gain or loss
  • suicidal thoughts or behaviors

In the most severe cases, sufferers may experience psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations.

Diagnosis and Treatment for MDD
A doctor or mental health care provider will ask a patient about his symptoms and medical history and prescribe antidepressant medication if necessary.  Seeing a therapist, such as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, for talk therapy, combined with medication, is the most effective treatment.

Kids and The Holidays: How To Avoid Stress

We are reminded, every year at this time, how difficult holidays can be for people who are lonely or alone. But let’s be honest: even for families rich in children, holidays can be stressful—both for parents and kids.

Why are holidays so fraught? Because expectations are heightened, and holidays can feel like a test of how happy and successful your family is. And if you have children with psychiatric or learning disorders, even favorite traditions can turn into a test of stamina and patience.

Here are some tips to help minimize stress on kids—which will make them more fun, and fulfilling, for you, too.

1. Make festivities fun for kids.
Some holiday traditions depend on kids being on their best behavior: lengthy services, parties with lots of strangers, elaborate meals that may not appeal to picky eaters. Try to keep those to a minimum and customize festivities for your kids’ frustration level. Don’t schedule more than one demanding event in a day. Make sure to include physical activity and plenty of downtime.

2. Be open to change.
Talk with your kids about your traditions—which ones they love and which you might evolve to make them more fun or memorable for everyone. This is especially important when family dynamics have changed because of divorce, a new marriage or sibling, or a death in the family.

3. Be realistic.
Factoring in kids’ limitations when you make plans will reduce stress on everyone. Kids who are anxious about meeting new people—or even encountering the extended family—will need support and realistic expectations. Kids who have trouble with organization will need help to succeed at gift-giving. Children who tend to be impulsive need structure to minimize disruptive behavior. Not overestimating your kids’ patience and ability to focus will help you enjoy yourself more, too.

4. Prep kids for changes in routine.
Holidays represent a change in a family’s normal schedule, and for some kids that’s unsettling. Preparing them for changes in their routines—what to expect and what you expect of them—will help head off meltdowns. If you’re traveling, bring familiar toys and books, and make sure you have quiet one-on-one time like reading before bed.

5. Give them a role in preparation.
If you give gifts, decorate your home, or do holiday baking, try to give the children roles. Children usually feel less anxious and more valued if they’re participants in the process, and at holiday time, the preparations are often as fun and as meaningful as the end product.

6. Share with kids the meaning of your celebrations.
Whatever your faith, let kids know what you believe in and what the holidays mean to you. Try to connect gift-giving and holiday feasts with the ideas and values that inspire them.

7. Think about others.
Include your children in your volunteering and charitable giving—donating toys, collecting food for the needy, or using a web site like to let them pick a project they would like to support.

8. Tame the gift monster.
Let’s be realistic: it’s probably not “visions of sugarplums” that are dancing in your kids’ heads at holiday time. Kids are focused on the gifts they hope to get, and you want it to be a good experience for them. But it’s important to keep your head and help them keep theirs.

9. Give yourself a break.
Don’t stretch yourself too thin trying to create the “perfect” holiday season. Decide what is important, prioritize, and say “no” to what you can’t handle.

10. Be sure to laugh.
Kids pick up their parents’ stress and tension, so they’re more likely to be irritable if you are. Have a sense of humor, enjoy your kids for who they are, and keep in mind that what you’ll all remember when it’s over is likely to be the unexpected moment when everybody was relaxed, not the brilliantly choreographed party, dinner, or outing.

Depression and College Students

A lack of sleep, poor eating habits, and not enough exercise make up a recipe for depression among college students. The stress that comes with academia—including pressure to get good grades, financial worries, failed relationships and conflicts with roommates—are enough to force some students to leave college or worse.

In fact, depression is the No. 1 reason students drop out of school or commit suicide.

Depression Among College Students Statistics

Depression is an epidemic among college students. Some of the more alarming statistics:

  • 1 out of every 4 college students suffers from some form of mental illness, including depression
  • 44 percent of American college students report having symptoms of depression
  • 75 percent of college students do not seek help for mental health problems
  • suicide is the third leading cause of death among college students
  • young people diagnosed with depression are five times more likely to attempt suicide than adults
  • 19 percent of young people in the U.S. either contemplate or attempt suicide every year
  • 4 out of every 5 college students who either contemplate or attempt suicide show clear warning signs

The Risks of Depression Among College Students
A recent U.K. study found that the current generation of university students are at a greater risk of anxiety and depression than their predecessors. The study by the Royal College of Psychiatrists found that many students are unprepared for university life and face higher debt and fewer job prospects than previous generations of students. Many students will simply drop out of school.

In addition to dropping out, depressed students are at a greater risk of developing problems such as substance abuse. In fact, more than two-thirds of young people with substance abuse issues also suffer from a diagnosable mental illness such as depression.

Depressed college students are more likely to binge drink, smoke marijuana, and participate in risky sexual behaviors to cope with emotional pain than are their non-depressed peers.

The Problem With Young Love
Often, a breakup will precipitate a bout of depression. This is especially true for young women.  College-aged women experience greater distress, ruminate on a former relationship longer, and have higher rates of sadness, anxiety, and overall negative emotions than do young men.

Risks of depression related to a breakup include intrusive thoughts, difficulty controlling those thoughts, and trouble sleeping. As many as 43 percent of students experience insomnia in the months following a breakup. Students that are most likely to become distressed after a breakup experienced neglect or abuse during childhood, had an insecure attachment style, felt more betrayed, and were more unprepared for the breakup.

Fortunately, the best therapy for depression precipitated by a breakup is time.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy and, especially, complicated grief therapy have high success rates for helping to heal a broken heart.

Suicide and College Students

In the U.S., suicide is the third leading cause of death in young people between the ages of 15 and 24. Young men commit suicide at five times the rate of young women, although female college students attempt suicide more often. The majority of young people who commit suicide do so with guns.

Depression is the biggest risk factor for suicidal youth. Other risk factors include:

  • substance abuse
  • a family history of depression and mental illness
  • a prior suicide attempt
  • stressful life events
  • access to guns
  • exposure to other students who have committed suicide
  • self-harming behaviors such as burning or cutting

Diagnosing and Treating Depression in College Students

College is a stressful environment for most young people, therefore it’s especially important for parents, friends, faculty, and counselors to get involved if they suspect a student is suffering from depression.

Students themselves are often reluctant to seek help due to social stigmas related to depression. A mental health evaluation that encompasses a student’s developmental and family history, school performance, and any self-injurious behaviors should be performed to evaluate at-risk students before a treatment plan is made.

The best treatments for college-aged students suffering from depression are usually a combination of antidepressant medications and talk therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy. Depressed students are also more likely to benefit from exercise, eating a healthy diet, and getting enough rest than many other groups.