Gun violence is an all too common occurrence in our communities. Children may experience fear, anxiety, and confusion after experiencing, witnessing, or hearing about shootings in their community. The authors of the New York Times best-selling, award-winning book about a police shooting, Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice, Marianne Celano, PhD, ABPP, Marietta Collins, PhD, and Ann Hazzard, PhD, ABPP, created a new book, Something Happened In Our Park: Standing Together After Gun Violence, to help kids and grown-ups talk about gun violence and explore positive ways to respond. This excerpt from the extensive Reader’s Note in Something Happened In Our Park provides guidelines for discussing community gun violence with children. The Incidence and Impact of Gun Violence Every year over 15,000 children and teens, ages 0-19, are killed or injured by shootings, an average of 43 per day. An estimated three million children witness a shooting each year. Exposure to community violence puts children at increased risk for a variety of negative psychological outcomes. These children spend less time outside and are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Additionally, emotional concerns and concentration problems contribute to poorer academic performance. Helping Children Cope with Anxiety We all want our children to feel safe. Yet, we also want to prepare them for the dangers they may face. At times, this preparation might increase their anxiety, although appropriate education also increases children’s actual safety. These are competing priorities, and finding the right balance is challenging. Individual and Family Strategies to Increase Safety and Reduce Anxiety Children who become aware of shootings may become fearful and want to avoid certain activities and places. Other symptoms of anxiety are sleep and appetite changes, physical complaints, concentration problems, clinginess, irritability, or behavior problems. Parents have an important role in helping children cope with anxiety. Children sense when their caretakers are stressed, so it is important for parents to develop strategies to manage their feelings. Children also rely on parents to help them understand and manage their feelings. These approaches may be helpful. Limit your child’s exposure to graphic violent imagery in the news or in other media such as video games. Ask your children questions to find out what information they have and how they are feeling. Discuss your child’s reactions and concerns. Validate their feelings. Help your child manage their reactions using some of the strategies below, designed to help them cope with feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Expressing Feelings: You can help your children manage stress by coaching them to “turn down the volume” on emotions that feel overwhelming. Deep breathing, drawing, humming or singing, snuggling with a pet or favorite cuddly object, and visualizing a safe place, positive memory, or situation where your child mastered something scary are all calming strategies. Any activity which helps your child feel empowered, like music, sports, or prayer, can help to balance feelings of vulnerability. Encouraging Positive Thinking: Positive thinking means encouraging your child to thinkRead More
Magination Press’s new series of activity books, The Find Out Files, help kids explore emotions and relationships. Magination Press interviewed author and parenting expert, Isabelle Filliozat, about creating My Fears, one of the books in The Find Out Files. Magination Press: You chose a meerkat as the animal guide for My Fears. Why is a meerkat well-suited to the topic of fear? Isabelle Filliozat: Meerkats are called the sentinels of the desert. They have this behavior of looking around and paying attention to any movement, this quick reaction. That’s why I choose them to illustrate the “protection from danger” system. Fear being the primary emotion of that system. MP: You explain how fear is a physical reaction that protects us from danger, and so sometimes fear is a good thing. Why is it important for people to learn to tell the difference between real dangers and perceived ones? IF: If it is a real danger, fear is useful. It can save us. Fear helps us perceive danger, see a movement, identify a threat. It gives us the energy to step aside, run, escape. But if it is not a real danger, there’s no use to stress our body like that ! Shivering in front of a mouse, or a dead rat, panicking on a plane or choking in an elevator doesn’t bring us any positive benefit. But all those irrational fears come from our story and if we listen to them, and analyse their roots, they help us cure our inner-self. MP: How did you decide which common fears (swimming, monsters/nightmares, or meeting new people) to feature in the book? IF: I wanted to feature a physical fear, a mental fear, and a social fear. Then you have tools for about any fear. MP: Sometimes, when people are afraid, they get angry. Why is that? IF: Because it is the same structure in the brain that sends the order for fear or anger: the amygdala. Both emotions ensure protection. When there is a threat, the amygdala triggers the stress reaction. Depending on the circumstances, we have three possibilities: fight, flight, freeze. So facing a danger, someone may display a fighting behavior. Also, if you were taught as a child that you shouldn’t be afraid, that boys don’t fear, you fear your fears! You don’t want to surrender to fear, don’t want to be seen as a coward… so you display aggressive behavior. Or if you were beaten or harshly scolded when you were afraid, then feeling fear is so stressful, so you attack! Some people like scary movies or books. Why do you think that is? Some people like taking physical risks, to climb cliffs, to drive their motorcycle fast, to jump from high bridges, to surf big waves. Stress, fear—it’s adrenaline. It’s sensations. It’s excitement. It’s feeling alive! But we don’t all dare take risks! Almost all of us like suspense in movies or books, we identify with the characters, we feel sensations, quiver, thrill, our heart beatsRead More
Expert Guidance for You and Your Anxious Child
Learning the difference between a psychologist, psychiatrist, and social worker or understanding clinical terms such as cognitive–behavioral therapy can be overwhelming. Finding the right resources is critical to addressing a child’s mental health needs and moving forward toward effective care.
In How to Find Mental Health Care for Your Child, seasoned child psychologist and author Ellen B. Braaten offers clear and expert guidance to help anxious parents navigate the complexities of mental health care.
Being a teenager is hard enough, but the COVID-19 pandemic has added new aspects of uncertainty, isolation, and potential danger to the challenges teens navigate. Is your teen experiencing run-of-the-mill worries, or dealing with a pattern of excessive anxiety? In this repost from January 2018, you can explore the difference and find some tips to help you spot signs of anxiety in teens. For many parents, it’s difficult to understand whether your teenager is feeling worried over routine events and situations—a fallout with a friend, perhaps—or experiencing more significant symptoms of anxiety. The teen years are full of stressful moments that warrant some worrying, and teens sometimes even relish and thrive on the modern-day stress culture. For example, a teen saying, “Ugh, I have so much work to do!” could consider it a badge of honor. But roughly 31 percent of teens in the U.S. experience more extreme symptoms that constitute an anxiety disorder.1 For these teens, the symptoms go beyond the occasional sleepless night or emotional outburst, signaling an underlying condition. So, how do you know the difference between an appropriate amount of worry and possible excessive anxiety? What is the difference between anxiety and worry? It’s normal for teenagers (and people of all ages) to worry from time to time—it makes sense to feel worried before the first day of school, for example. In some instances, feeling some anxiety about a situation can actually help keep us safe. Imagine that you encounter a large, snarling dog during a walk; your mind starts to get anxious and communicates a feeling of danger, and you slowly back away. What escalates those worries into unhelpful anxiety is when your mind tells you that a situation is dangerous when it isn’t, or when the chance of danger is very small or unlikely. That communication causes your body to react as if the danger is real. One way to think of it: Replace the large, snarling dog in the previous example with a tiny Chihuahua, but imagine that your body responds with the same fight-or-flight reaction. In that instance, you’re experiencing unhelpful anxiety. What are some anxiety symptoms in teens? For teenagers throughout every generation, much of the anxiety they experience revolves around being left out or being judged by their peers. But this generation of teenagers also faces the relatively new phenomenon of social media pressures. Bundled together, it can be a lot to handle and can result in anxiety. Typically, most anxiety and fears diminish or disappear in less than six months. If your teen has been feeling anxious off and on for a long time, or if the anxiety doesn’t pass in a few days, it can be considered excessive. In teenagers, anxiety is typically made up of three components: an anxious mind, an anxious body, and anxious actions. These three components feed off of each other, and create a system we refer to as the Worry Wheel. The Worry Wheel starts when your teen experiences a thought that makesRead More