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When Gaming Is No Longer A Game

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist and Therapist

Many parents are wrestling with how much time their children are engaging with screens, and finding themselves wondering how much is too much. Children who experience difficulty related to symptoms of ADHD are especially drawn to the stimulation of screens. And children with ADHD tend to require frequent and immediate rewards, making them especially drawn to screen-time activities. While a specific cause for ADHD has not been identified, there is some consensus that a shortage of dopamine could be to blame. Dopamine not only plays a role in how we feel pleasure, it is also significant in the uniquely human ability to think and plan.

Part of the allure of gaming – and social media – is that each new level reached and each new “like,” instantly releases a small dose of dopamine directly into the brain’s reward center. If you have ever had to fight with your child to get off technology, this is likely why. A deficit in dopamine is easily fed by screen-time activities, leading children to want more. This has led to a demand for content, resulting in tens of millions of dollars having been made by YouTubers whose entire platform is gaming, and children love watching them. They are entertaining, and kids learn tips for improving their own gaming.

Children worship gaming YouTubers, and many strive to be one someday. It is challenging for parents to keep up with the content their children are accessing largely because YouTube has created an algorithm in the system that suggests what to watch next based on frequent views or recent searches. YouTube’s recommendation system is specifically engineered to maximize watch time and often “up next” videos play automatically. In fact, this feature is responsible for more than 70 percent of all time spent on the site, indicating that children, and others, are consistently and reliably exploring recommended “up next” content. It is important for parents to do their research and know who their children are watching and following on YouTube, as they may be drawn into content that could be highly influential and contrary to family values. While many YouTubers are harmless, there are those who include brief, perhaps undetectable messages (e.g., PewDiePie) that influence what shows up next. Children are curious, and YouTube’s goal is to keep them engaged, which can turn into the perfect storm.

YouTube consists of a business model that rewards provocative videos with large sums of money. They strive to attract viewers by leading them down paths meant to keep people engaged. While much of the content may seem innocuous, there are reasons to be cautious as things aren’t always as innocent as they seem. Provocative content creates intrigue. It piques interest and may be especially attractive to older children and adolescents. As individuals strive to create the next viral video, putting forth extreme beliefs and violent content may be their pathway to becoming a celebrity. For these reasons, and as technology becomes increasingly embedded in children’s lives, it is important for parents to do their research and stay informed.

Some helpful resources include:

https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2020/07/28/parenting-children-in-the-age-of-screens/

https://chadd.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/ATTN_06_15_TooMuchScreenTime.pdf

https://childmind.org/article/healthy-limits-on-video-games/

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

The Uncertainty, Stress and Anxiety About What School Will Look Like

By | NESCA Notes 2020

*This blog post was originally published prior to the start of in-person school last fall for some. While many students have returned to their school buildings, many others are just now returning or will be in the coming weeks. 

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow and Therapist

Much of adjusting to the world in the midst of a global pandemic has been learning to live with nearly constant uncertainty. Undoubtedly, this pandemic and ensuing uncertainty has caused significant stress for youth and their families. The experience of persistent stress can result in increased vulnerability to anxiety and depression. Symptoms may become magnified in those who already faced mental health challenges. There is little doubt that there will be increases in mental and behavior health problems for children and families both in anticipating the re-opening of schools, and when schools reopen their physical buildings.

We all wonder what school will look like in the fall. The anticipation of returning to school can be especially stressful, and will likely be so for most youth. Given that students will not have been in schools with their peers for several months, it can be anticipated that they might feel a heighted sense of insecurity and uncertainty. Even in “normal times,” returning to the complex social and educational environment of school can be worrisome for many children and adolescents.

Each individual child will have had their own experiences while schools were closed. Some children and/or staff members may have been impacted by COVID-19 and some families and/or staff may be experiencing financial hardship due to parental unemployment or loss of household income. It is important to realize that regardless of their experience, each individual will have a unique response. It is helpful to recognize the signs of stress and help children learn positive ways of coping with it.

Signs of stress in preschool children include, but are not limited to, anger, nervousness, eating and sleeping problems (including nightmares), fear of being alone, irritability and uncontrollable crying.

In elementary age children, stress may manifest as increased complaining of headaches and stomachaches, feeling insecure, reduced appetite and difficulty sleeping, withdrawal and worrying about the future.

Signs of stress in pre-teens and teens may include anger, disillusionment, distrust of the world, low self-esteem, stomachaches and headaches, panic attacks and rebellious behavior.

As each person works through this very challenging situation, it is more important than ever to adopt a position of acceptance, as we never truly know what another person is experiencing or has experienced. The following are offered as suggestions on how to help children and teens cope with stress.

  • Help them identify how they are feeling and acknowledge and validate those feelings.
  • Encourage them to talk about what is bothering them.
  • Share strategies you use to cope with stress.
  • Talk openly and, as appropriate, share stories about stress in your day.
  • Find a physical activity and/or hobby that they enjoy and encourage them to participate.
  • Encourage them to eat healthy foods and emphasize the importance of a healthy lifestyle, especially as it relates to stress.
  • Make sure they get plenty of sleep.
  • Set clear expectations, without being overly rigid, and allow for “down” time.
  • Spend time outdoors, encourage them to do something they love – read a book, ride their bike, bake, etc.
  • Learn and teach your children relaxation skills, such as breathing exercises, muscle relaxation exercises, meditating, yoga, drawing or writing.

Our world will have changed by the time children re-enter their classrooms. No matter what happens in the fall, when it is time for school to start, it will inevitably be stressful. Learning to cope with and manage stress is important for physical and emotional health. However, if you are concerned about your child or are struggling yourself, seek help and support for yourself, your child or anyone in your family who is struggling.

Below are some helpful resources:

https://www.apa.org/topics/children-teens-stress

https://nesca-newton.com/helping-your-anxious-child-through-covid-19/

https://childmind.org/article/how-to-ask-what-kids-are-feeling-during-stressful-times/

https://healthy.kaiserpermanente.org/health-wellness/health-encyclopedia/he.stress-in-children-and-teens.ug1832

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations. Currently, Dr. Hess is a second-year post-doctoral fellow in pediatric neuropsychological assessment, working with NESCA Londonderry’s Dr. Angela Currie.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

When Gaming Is No Longer A Game

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist and Therapist

Many parents are wrestling with how much time their children are engaging with screens, and finding themselves wondering how much is too much. Children who experience difficulty related to symptoms of ADHD are especially drawn to the stimulation of screens. And children with ADHD tend to require frequent and immediate rewards, making them especially drawn to screen-time activities. While a specific cause for ADHD has not been identified, there is some consensus that a shortage of dopamine could be to blame. Dopamine not only plays a role in how we feel pleasure, it is also significant in the uniquely human ability to think and plan.

Part of the allure of gaming – and social media – is that each new level reached and each new “like,” instantly releases a small dose of dopamine directly into the brain’s reward center. If you have ever had to fight with your child to get off technology, this is likely why. A deficit in dopamine is easily fed by screen-time activities, leading children to want more. This has led to a demand for content, resulting in tens of millions of dollars having been made by YouTubers whose entire platform is gaming, and children love watching them. They are entertaining, and kids learn tips for improving their own gaming.

Children worship gaming YouTubers, and many strive to be one someday. It is challenging for parents to keep up with the content their children are accessing largely because YouTube has created an algorithm in the system that suggests what to watch next based on frequent views or recent searches. YouTube’s recommendation system is specifically engineered to maximize watch time and often “up next” videos play automatically. In fact, this feature is responsible for more than 70 percent of all time spent on the site, indicating that children, and others, are consistently and reliably exploring recommended “up next” content. It is important for parents to do their research and know who their children are watching and following on YouTube, as they may be drawn into content that could be highly influential and contrary to family values. While many YouTubers are harmless, there are those who include brief, perhaps undetectable messages (e.g., PewDiePie) that influence what shows up next. Children are curious, and YouTube’s goal is to keep them engaged, which can turn into the perfect storm.

YouTube consists of a business model that rewards provocative videos with large sums of money. They strive to attract viewers by leading them down paths meant to keep people engaged. While much of the content may seem innocuous, there are reasons to be cautious as things aren’t always as innocent as they seem. Provocative content creates intrigue. It piques interest and may be especially attractive to older children and adolescents. As individuals strive to create the next viral video, putting forth extreme beliefs and violent content may be their pathway to becoming a celebrity. For these reasons, and as technology becomes increasingly embedded in children’s lives, it is important for parents to do their research and stay informed.

Some helpful resources include:

https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2020/07/28/parenting-children-in-the-age-of-screens/

https://chadd.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/ATTN_06_15_TooMuchScreenTime.pdf

https://childmind.org/article/healthy-limits-on-video-games/

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Kids Want to Do Well and Would If They Could

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow and Therapist

Ross Greene, Ph.D., is the author of several books including The Explosive Child, Lost at School, Lost and Found, and his most recent book, Raising Human Beings. He also is the founder of Lives in the Balance, a non-profit dedicated to supporting families with behaviorally challenging children. The foundation of his approach is that all kids want to do well and would if they could. Dr. Greene emphasizes using a collaborative problem-solving approach, which he calls Collaborative and Proactive Solutions (CPS). This model is based on the assertion that challenging behaviors arise when a child is faced with expectations that exceed their capacity to respond adaptively. Thus, adults are encouraged to take a collaborative, proactive approach to managing challenging behavior as opposed to relying on punishment and rewards.

The focus of collaborative problem-solving is not on the child’s challenging behavior, which could range from crying and whining, to hitting and biting, but rather on the expectations the child is having difficulty meeting. Adults work to identify the problematic expectations and the skills the child is lacking to meet the expectations. Dr. Greene refers to unmet expectations as “unsolved problems.” The goal is to solve those problems rather than modify behavior. Dr. Greene describes the CPS model as non-punitive and non-adversarial, and as such, it decreases the likelihood of conflict, enhances relationships and improves communication.

As a result of the pandemic, many parents and children are spending much more time together. For some parents of challenging children, their child’s behavior has been exacerbated by the increase in uncertainty and constantly changing expectations. There are many situations that arise that may lead to power struggles with children. It is important to remember that behavior is communication. Families are encouraged to reconsider their expectations and work collaboratively with their children to solve problems, especially when faced with extraordinary circumstances.

The specifics of collaborative problem-solving are much more detailed than there is space in this blog, and I encourage you to check out the resources listed below. While the consequences of the pandemic are certainly very stressful, they also present a good opportunity for families to enhance communication, uncover unsolved problems, teach skills and foster resilience.

 

Books for families by Dr. Greene:

The Explosive Child

Raising Human Beings

Website – contains educational videos and free resources for families and educators: https://www.livesinthebalance.org/about-cps

There are many YouTube videos available about CPS, but this one is pertinent to our current circumstances

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations. Currently, Dr. Hess is a second-year post-doctoral fellow in pediatric neuropsychological assessment, working with NESCA Londonderry’s Dr. Angela Currie.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

“Doomscrolling” and Creating Space for Gratitude

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow and Therapist

A recent article in the New York Times (July 15, 2020) discusses a newly coined term for a coping strategy that has become pervasive amidst all the uncertainty: “Doomscrolling.” In the article, doomscrolling is defined as, “…the experience of sinking into emotional quicksand while bingeing on doom-and-gloom news.” It has become so common, it has a name.

We are collectively experiencing a great deal of anticipatory anxiety, which occurs when we feel anxious or stressed about an event that will happen in the future. We know there will be an event, but we do not know when or what that event will be. For those who participate in doomscrolling, perhaps it is an effort to find a sense of certainty. If we know what is coming next, it helps us feel more in control. However, while doomscrolling may provide a short-term sense of control, like many maladaptive ways of coping, it will eventually take a toll on our mental and physical well-being. Several wonderful suggestions are offered in the article and a follow-up piece to deal with doomscrolling. Another positive strategy for coping with anxiety and stress is practicing gratitude.

According to the National Institutes of Health, early research suggests that a daily habit of practicing gratitude may improve emotional and physical health. Practicing gratitude reduces stress and anxiety by regulating stress hormones in the brain. It also enhances the production of dopamine and serotonin, two neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions and sense of well-being. Practicing gratitude can be as simple as taking a moment to appreciate a good cup of coffee or a refreshing breeze on a hot day. There are many ways to create space for gratitude:

  • Take a few moments each day to write down as many things as you can that you are grateful for
  • Try to notice positive moments as they are happening
  • Compliment yourself each day and say it out loud
  • Keep a gratitude journal that includes: Compliments that you give yourself, current challenges and what you are learning, people you are grateful for, and significant assets of your life right now.
  • Start a gratitude jar with your family where each person writes one thing they are grateful for that day on a slip of paper and adds it to the jar. The notes can be read aloud at the start of each new week.

For further reading check out these articles:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/15/technology/personaltech/youre-doomscrolling-again-heres-how-to-snap-out-of-it.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/16/technology/coronavirus-doomscrolling.html?searchResultPosition=2

https://positivepsychology.com/neuroscience-of-gratitude.

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations. Currently, Dr. Hess is a second-year post-doctoral fellow in pediatric neuropsychological assessment, working with NESCA Londonderry’s Dr. Angela Currie.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

How to Talk to Your Kids about Racial Inequality and Current Events

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow and Therapist

It is old news that parents and children have been experiencing an increased sense of uncertainty and vulnerability due to COVID-19. That vulnerability may be exacerbated by the news of violent protests that were sparked by anger over police brutality against black men and women. News of widespread violence around the country spread rapidly in a country already stressed to its capacity in dealing with a global pandemic and the resulting economic hardship. In the aftermath of these recent tragedies, parents should be aware that children may be experiencing collateral consequences, such as fear, anxiety and confusion. Rhea Boyd, MD, MPH, stated, “Whether from social media accounts, conversations with peers or caregivers, overheard conversations, or the distress they witness in the faces of those they love, children know what is going on. And without the guidance and validation of their caregivers, they may be navigating their feelings alone.” So, what do we do?

First, take care of yourself. Now is a good time to practice self-compassion and selfcare. The stress of watching traumatic events on television and smartphones “lingers within our bodies and minds,” states developmental pediatrician Dr. Jenny Radesky. Recognize that vicarious trauma is real, and even if you have not been directly affected, you may be experiencing heightened anxiety, difficulty sleeping, fatigue or increased irritability. Practice accepting your own feelings, instead of controlling them. Go for a walk, talk with a friend, practice relaxation techniques or do something you enjoy.

It is important to consider how we talk with children. While children from birth to age three do not understand what is happening, they can feel it through the reactions of the adults around them. You may notice that your young child has become more irritable, or perhaps crying more than usual. In addition to calming your child, limit the amount of time you spend accessing unsettling news reports in the presence of young children.

With elementary children, it is wise to begin your discussion with, “tell me what you know.” By elementary age, children have a good idea about what is happening. Asking children what they know and following up with any questions they might have will help you to provide age appropriate information. It is important to keep channels of communication open, because as time passes it is likely more questions will arise. Children may want to know that they are safe and, if they ask, provide reassurance. With that being said, limit their exposure to media, be it on television, tablet or smartphone. If they are accessing media, be aware of what they are watching and learning. Answer questions as appropriate and, as with all ages, validate their feelings and assure them that whatever they are feeling, it is okay.

It is probable that teenage youth have seen the images and been involved in learning about the events that precipitated the violence that unfolded. They may even be getting involved in activism by posting and re-posting social media messages. Teenagers often process events by talking with their peers, and it can, at times, be difficult to engage them in conversation. Approach the topic with your teen from a position of curiosity. What do they know? How do they know it? How do they feel about it? It is also a good time for you and your teen to become more educated about the history of racism in our country and how it has been perpetuated through generations of people. A broader societal context of racism will help youth have a better understanding of the anger seen in the demonstrations. A documentary called “13th,” about the 13th amendment, takes an in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it mirrors the nation’s history of racial inequality. It is both educational and provides a starting point for having conversations about race with your teen. Additionally, as much as possible, be aware of your teen’s online activity. There is a lot of misinformation and inflammatory rhetoric on social media, and teens need guidance on how to be thoughtful and responsible consumers of all types of media.

Given that the recent unrest was sparked by anger over police brutality against black people, it is important take this opportunity to have these conversations with children about race and racism. By age four, children have begun to internalize cultural attitudes and values, thus, it is not too early to introduce your child to the concepts of race and inequality. Books that include multi-racial characters are a good way to introduce children to people of color in a positive light. Common Sense Media has a list of books appropriate for kids of all ages beginning in infancy, and the link is provided below.

Experts stress that parents also need to give their children the broader societal context of racism to try to explain the rage of protestors filling the streets of cities across the nation. Doing so helps build empathy and teach perspective-taking, shifting the focus from the child’s specific fears. Helping children to view events from different perspectives provides understanding and promotes empathy. When your child sees something on television, YouTube or social media, employ a sense of curiosity. Ask them what they saw, how they felt about what they saw, and have them think about and share how they think different people involved in the situation felt. Dr. Radesky suggests, “Instead of focusing on questions the child may have about concrete things, ask them questions like ‘How do you think those people were feeling? Do you know why they were angry? What do you do when you feel like something is unfair?’” We all have our different perspectives regarding racism and the complex history of race in our country. Providing space for children to ask questions, discuss their feelings and process the world around them will help them cope with the myriad emotions that may arise due to current events and the sense of helplessness and fear they may be experiencing.

 

Some helpful resources:

https://www.pbs.org/parents/authors/jenny-radesky-md

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/books-with-characters-of-color

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/black-history-movies-that-tackle-racism

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/movies-that-inspire-kids-to-change-the-world

https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/144/2/e20191765

https://raisingequity.org/

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations. Currently, Dr. Hess is a second-year post-doctoral fellow in pediatric neuropsychological assessment, working with NESCA Londonderry’s Dr. Angela Currie.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

The Uncertainty, Stress and Anxiety About What School Will Look Like

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow and Therapist

Much of adjusting to the world in the midst of a global pandemic has been learning to live with nearly constant uncertainty. Undoubtedly, this pandemic and ensuing uncertainty has caused significant stress for youth and their families. The experience of persistent stress can result in increased vulnerability to anxiety and depression. Symptoms may become magnified in those who already faced mental health challenges. There is little doubt that there will be increases in mental and behavior health problems for children and families both in anticipating the re-opening of schools, and when schools reopen their physical buildings.

We all wonder what school will look like in the fall. The anticipation of returning to school can be especially stressful, and will likely be so for most youth. Given that students will not have been in schools with their peers for several months, it can be anticipated that they might feel a heighted sense of insecurity and uncertainty. Even in “normal times,” returning to the complex social and educational environment of school can be worrisome for many children and adolescents.

Each individual child will have had their own experiences while schools were closed. Some children and/or staff members may have been impacted by COVID-19 and some families and/or staff may be experiencing financial hardship due to parental unemployment or loss of household income. It is important to realize that regardless of their experience, each individual will have a unique response. It is helpful to recognize the signs of stress and help children learn positive ways of coping with it.

Signs of stress in preschool children include, but are not limited to, anger, nervousness, eating and sleeping problems (including nightmares), fear of being alone, irritability and uncontrollable crying.

In elementary age children, stress may manifest as increased complaining of headaches and stomachaches, feeling insecure, reduced appetite and difficulty sleeping, withdrawal and worrying about the future.

Signs of stress in pre-teens and teens may include anger, disillusionment, distrust of the world, low self-esteem, stomachaches and headaches, panic attacks and rebellious behavior.

As each person works through this very challenging situation, it is more important than ever to adopt a position of acceptance, as we never truly know what another person is experiencing or has experienced. The following are offered as suggestions on how to help children and teens cope with stress.

  • Help them identify how they are feeling and acknowledge and validate those feelings.
  • Encourage them to talk about what is bothering them.
  • Share strategies you use to cope with stress.
  • Talk openly and, as appropriate, share stories about stress in your day.
  • Find a physical activity and/or hobby that they enjoy and encourage them to participate.
  • Encourage them to eat healthy foods and emphasize the importance of a healthy lifestyle, especially as it relates to stress.
  • Make sure they get plenty of sleep.
  • Set clear expectations, without being overly rigid, and allow for “down” time.
  • Spend time outdoors, encourage them to do something they love – read a book, ride their bike, bake, etc.
  • Learn and teach your children relaxation skills, such as breathing exercises, muscle relaxation exercises, meditating, yoga, drawing or writing.

Our world will have changed by the time children re-enter their classrooms. No matter what happens in the fall, when it is time for school to start, it will inevitably be stressful. Learning to cope with and manage stress is important for physical and emotional health. However, if you are concerned about your child or are struggling yourself, seek help and support for yourself, your child or anyone in your family who is struggling.

Below are some helpful resources:

https://www.apa.org/topics/children-teens-stress

https://nesca-newton.com/helping-your-anxious-child-through-covid-19/

https://childmind.org/article/how-to-ask-what-kids-are-feeling-during-stressful-times/

https://healthy.kaiserpermanente.org/health-wellness/health-encyclopedia/he.stress-in-children-and-teens.ug1832

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations. Currently, Dr. Hess is a second-year post-doctoral fellow in pediatric neuropsychological assessment, working with NESCA Londonderry’s Dr. Angela Currie.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Now is a Great Time to Practice Self-compassion

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow

In this new era of social distancing, and where homeschooling has gone from being an exception to a new way of life, many are feeling confused, overwhelmed and wondering what to do next. Many parents have found themselves adrift in a sea of uncertainty without a compass. In her New York Times article titled, I Refuse to Run a Coronavirus Home School, Dr. Jennie Weiner discusses the perils of comparing ourselves with other parents on social media and of setting unrealistic expectations that we are going to navigate this wild period of uncertainty perfectly and with grace. Parents who are working at home may be feeling as though they are unable to meet the demands of parenting, teaching, and performing at their jobs, leading to feelings of inadequacy. About her own family’s experience, she states, “We love each other, we yell, we apologize, we laugh, [her kids] punch each other, we yell some more, we make up. We live, we try to be compassionate and we hope this will all be a memory soon. And when it’s over, the schoolwork will be there.”

Within the context of uncertainty and inevitable change, there are opportunities to help kids develop important life skills. While reading and math are certainly an important part of a child’s education, there are many “soft skills” that lead to healthy outcomes in life. At school these softer skills are nurtured when children are asked to wait patiently in line; whether it’s for gym class, lunch or a turn on the swing. In the classroom they are expected to listen to others, raise their hand or wait to be called on by their teacher. Navigating these tasks requires children to monitor their behavior, plan for when it’s their turn, direct their attention to their goals and be respectful. Many of these soft skills are already practiced at home and in the course of everyday life. Children are learning while waiting for their turn to play a game or watch a show. They are also learning while waiting for a parent to play a game, watch a show or read a book with them. Times like these can be very challenging for children and their parents, but learning to manage the often-inevitable frustration, anger and/or disappointment, helps children become more resilient and self-reliant – skills that are not always overtly taught, but are important as children continue to grow into adulthood. Be gentle with yourself knowing that at any given moment you are doing your best, and that is good enough.

As we all head down this path of uncertainty, Dr. Weiner suggests that we meet this new challenge head on, holding our breath, crossing our fingers and accepting that it’s going to be messy and that is okay. At the end of the day, tell yourself gently: “I love you. You did the best you could today, and even if you didn’t accomplish all you had planned, I love you anyway.”

To read Dr. Weiner’s article:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/19/opinion/coronavirus-home-school.html?referringSource=articleShare

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations. Currently, Dr. Hess is a second-year post-doctoral fellow in pediatric neuropsychological assessment, working with NESCA Londonderry’s Dr. Angela Currie and Dr. Jessica Geragosian.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Managing Stress in Stressful Times

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow

News of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is everywhere. The outbreak of the Coronavirus, or any critical event of this magnitude, can be stressful for people and communities. For some, the anxiety can be overwhelming. Children may also be experiencing stress and anxiety as news spreads through classrooms and on the playground. Furthermore, they are likely being asked to wash their hands or use sanitizer more frequently than ever before; a constant reminder of the seriousness of the situation, often without a having clear understanding of why these actions are important. As with any critical incident, it is important to maintain open communication with children and provide them with factual information, without going into too much detail, especially when the specifics are changing every minute. With regards to children:

  • Answer any questions they may have honestly and in a way they will understand. You may not know all the answers, but it’s important that they know that they have someone with whom they can share their concerns.
  • Encourage your child/children to share information they may have heard about the coronavirus with you and to share their feelings about it. Correct any misinformation they have heard, also in a way that they can understand.
  • Reassure your child that the risk of COVID-19 infection still remains low, at least at this time, and remind them that children seem to be having milder symptoms.
  • Limit children’s exposure to the news.

When events happen in our world that feel out of control, we often experience high levels of stress. Now is a great time for everyone, including parents and caregivers, to remember to practice self-care and self-compassion. Acknowledge your own feelings of stress and anxiety and accept that they are a natural response to a critical situation and one over which we have no control. With that in mind:

  • Exercise is a great tool for managing stress and anxiety. Try to carve out time to move your body by keeping up with a current exercise regimen or going for a walk.
  • Practice mindful breathing. Deep breathing reminds your brain that you are okay. These exercises can be short, 30-60 seconds of a mindful activity that relieves the pressure that intense periods of stress and anxiety create. They can also be done with children. One technique is breathing in for the count of 4, holding your breath for 7, and exhaling for 8. Do this 3-or-4 times and notice the relief.
  • Try using a grounding technique where you look for 5 things you see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can taste, and 1 thing in the present moment that you are grateful for. This exercise focuses on your senses, which are present moment experiences.
  • Pay attention to your sleep and make sure you are getting enough rest.

For more advice for managing this uncharted territory in which we find ourselves, several helpful websites are listed below.

Keep calm and breathe, and remember, this too shall pass.

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/share-facts.html

https://www.cdc.gov/childrenindisasters/helping-children-cope.html

https://childmind.org/article/talking-to-kids-about-the-coronavirus/

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/coping.html

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations. Currently, Dr. Hess is a second-year post-doctoral fellow in pediatric neuropsychological assessment, working with NESCA Londonderry’s Dr. Angela Currie and Dr. Jessica Geragosian.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Mindfulness: It’s Not Just for Grown-ups

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow

There has been increasing interest in intervention strategies that target self-regulation in childhood. Self-regulation is the process through which the systems of emotion, attention and behavior are controlled in response to a situation, stimulus or demand. It develops rapidly in the early years of life. Self-regulation is necessary for social development because it supports and enhances peer acceptance and social success. Furthermore, it increases academic performance, particularly in elementary school. Problems with self-regulation and the accompanying executive functioning have been shown to correlate with a number of behavioral and emotional problems, particularly depression and anxiety. Mindfulness is emerging as an effective intervention for children struggling with self-regulation, especially when implemented at a time when children are acquiring these foundational skills.

Mindfulness is a way of paying attention, on purpose and non-judgmentally, to the experience of the present moment. Being mindful involves reflecting on the current internal experiences such as thoughts or emotions and the current external environment, such as sights and sounds, both clearly and objectively. This act of purposeful reflection enhances and facilitates self-regulation by promoting control, such as sustained attention and cognitive flexibility. Furthermore, it helps to reduce the incidences of such things as snap judgments, emotional reactivity or distressing thoughts.

Mindfulness-based social-emotional training has been shown to be effective in reducing stress, improving coping skills and building resilience when used with children. Mindfulness teaches children the skills needed to improve focus, calm themselves, plan and organize, and behave in a thoughtful manner. Research on adult populations shows that practicing mindfulness may reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and limited number of studies show some of the same benefits in children. Mindfulness is well tolerated by children and has been proven to improve psychological well-being. Introducing mindfulness practices to children has the potential to make a positive impact on a child’s ability to self-regulate, and thus facilitate their social, emotional and educational growth.

There are a number of ways to introduce children to mindfulness. One activity that children have responded positively to is being challenged to sit still and silent for as long as they possibly can. I have used this strategy in classrooms of children from pre-k to high school, as well as individually with children of all ages. Sometimes they are able to sit for 15 seconds, but they embraced the challenge of trying to beat their record by trying it again. Another mindful technique that works well with children is called “grounding.” Grounding techniques use the five senses to bring ourselves into the present moment. One grounding technique is finding five things in the room – they can be 5 things of the same color or any five things; four things the child can feel; three things the child can hear; two things the child can smell; and one thing the child can taste. Mindfulness can be playful and fun for children and families while effectively reducing stress, improving coping skills, improving ability to self-regulate and building resilience in children.

 

Helpful resources for families:

Mindful Games Activity Cards: 55 Fun Ways to Share Mindfulness with Kids and Teens. Susan Kaiser Greenland and Annaka Harris

A Still Quiet Place: A Mindfulness Program for Teaching Children and Adolescents to Ease Stress and Difficult Emotions By Amy Salzman, MD

I am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness By Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds

Breathe Like a Bear: 30 Mindful Moments for Kids to Feel Calm and Focused Anytime, Anywhere By Kira Willey

 

References:

Britton, W. B., Lepp, N. E., Niles, H. F., Rocha, T., Fisher, N. E., & Gold, J. S. (2014). A randomized controlled pilot trial of classroom-based mindfulness meditation compared to an active control condition in sixth-grade children. Journal of School Psychology, 52(3), 263-278.

Masten, A. S., Best, K. M., & Garmezy, N. (1990). Resilience and development: Contributions from the study of children who overcome adversity. Development and psychopathology, 2(4), 425-444.

Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Oberle, E., Lawlor, M. S., Abbott, D., Thomson, K., Oberlander, T. F., & Diamond, A. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social–emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental psychology, 51(1), 52.

Schonert-Reichl, K. A., & Lawlor, M. S. (2010). The effects of a mindfulness-based education program on pre-and early adolescents’ well-being and social and emotional competence. Mindfulness, 1(3), 137-151.

Sibinga, E. M., Webb, L., Ghazarian, S. R., & Ellen, J. M. (2016). School-based mindfulness instruction: an RCT. Pediatrics, 137(1), e20152532.

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations. Currently, Dr. Hess is a second-year post-doctoral fellow in pediatric neuropsychological assessment, working with NESCA Londonderry’s Dr. Angela Currie and Dr. Jessica Geragosian.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.