The Dublin Community Recreation Center hosted Dublin City Schools Student Support Specialists, Kristi Masters, LISW-S and Kim Oppliger, LISW-S in a morning session, and Cami Winkelspecht, PhD Psychologist with Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Dublin Behavioral Health in an evening session to the community. The ample conference space was full, with nearly 100 caring parents and professionals. [Photo credit: Dreamstime]
A 2011 survey asked Dublin students ‘How often do you feel nervous?’ and 10% of the students said ‘most of the time’; 60% ‘some of the time’. A subsequent question asked how often students felt worried about doing well in school and 40% said ‘most of the time’; 40% ‘some of the time’.
Pomegranate Clinical Director, Demetra Taylor notes that admissions census tends to increase in direct correlation with events during a teen’s school year. (Listen to Pomegranate’s podcast series http://www.phs-kids.com/blog.html or click the podcast links http://www.pomegranatehealthsystems.com/home.html)
Ms. Oppliger noted, ‘We recognize that school is a major source of stress in our students.’ This included 8th, 10th and 12th graders. The speakers cited additional research from the National Institute of Mental Health that ‘Studies suggest that about 25% of 13-18 year olds have a lifetime prevalence of an anxiety disorder.’ The Anxiety and Depression Association of America statistic shows, ‘At any given point in time, research supports that anxiety disorders affect 1 in 8 children.’ Untreated anxiety disorders can impact school performance, social interaction and substance abuse and often co-occur with other disorders according to the ADAA. Far from being abnormal or unusual, the speakers pointed out that ‘stress is a normal response to a threatening situation’ and ‘anxiety is a normal response to stress’.
A Q&A with the audience resulted in many relating typical stressors that morning, in fact. For instance, one mother related as when her newly minted driver took the wheel to drive to school for the first time. Another mom added that stress increased when both parents schedules were disrupted because transportation for a child did not materialize.
The speakers outlined normal developmental worries by age group, from infants and toddlers, to school age, to adolescents. Behaviors related to anxiety include everything from an edgy feeling, trouble concentrating, or the mind going blank (author recalls the pop math quiz!), muscle tension, sleep disturbance, avoiding school, physical complaints, tears, or frustration, and fear. In addition to school demands, the teen years bring anxiety through physical and hormonal changes, peer group pressure, changes within the family structure such as divorce, expectations that are too high, life transitions and the daily news. One example included the physiological differences between early middle school and entering high school just 2 years later- some kids are taller than their peers early on or shorter, later. The speakers explained that the transition from 9th to 10th grade (middle to high school) often brings additional stress academically.
In the ‘coping with stress’ section, parents should avoid all-or-nothing thinking and empower a child to discuss what fears they’re facing, and how to be pro-active. An empathetic approach works better instead of admonishing the child not to worry. Stress reducers included physical activity, games, reading, faith, creation of a worry box, and filtering a relentless diet of TV news. Ms. Masters said that “Under stressful circumstances the thing that often goes to the bottom is a parent taking care of themselves, and that’s the one thing that should be honored.’
The speakers outlined the types of anxiety disorders, treatment and strategies to support a child after a tragedy. A parent should look for signs a child is experiencing additional anxiety through withdrawal, nightmares, or a-typical behaviors. Talk with the child and his/her teacher, school counselor, coach etc. Discuss the change in behavior with the child/teen’s pediatrician or family doctor, or a mental health professional. The speakers listed several school and other resources to support children after a tragedy.
Here are a few links from the presentation:
PBS Parents Talking with Kids About the News: http://www.pbs.org/parents/talkingwithkids/news/index.html
How to talk with kids about the Newtown School Shooting by Dr. Michele Borba http://www.micheleborba.com/blog/2012/12/14how-to-talk-to-kids-about-the-newtown-school-shooting/
National Institute of Mental Health http://www.nimh.nih.gov
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry http://www.aacap.org
See also, Pomegranate’s facts page on the website http://www.phs-kids.com/facts.html
and/or resource page on the website, http://www.phs-kids.com/links.html
[Photo credit: Guidance counselor-stern; by Lisa F. Young/Dreamstime.com 711305]