When a parent has mental illness, how to support kids

When a parent has mental illness, how to support kids

Between the long hours, many responsibilities, and lack of control, few jobs in our society are as demanding as parenting. If a parent has a mental illness like depression or anxiety, raising kids becomes even more difficult. Many parents live in secrecy, believing that they are the only ones who struggle like they do.

But parenting with mental illness is far more common than many people suspect. In a survey of U.S. parents, more than 18 percent reported having a mental illness in the past year. While a parent’s mental illness increases child’s risk for a future mental disorder, this is by no means the only possible outcome.

“Having a parent with mental illness does not always lead to clinically significant distress in a child,” says Dr. Patricia Ibeziako, associate chief of clinical services in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Services at Boston Children’s Hospital. “It depends on many factors, including the type and severity of the parent’s mental illness, how long it lasts, and the age of the child.”

A parent’s mental illness affects children differently at different ages

Children are most vulnerable to the effects of a parent’s mental illness at specific stages of emotional development. The first stage starts early, from infancy until about age 5. “This is an important period of brain development when infants and toddlers form strong attachments,” says Dr. Ibeziako. But a parent with mental illness may not be able to meet their child’s need for bonding. An infant or toddler deprived of positive emotional connections may develop problems regulating their own emotions and behavior. This may play out in tantrums, trouble sleeping, regression in potty training, or bedwetting.

The next vulnerable period is adolescence. As difficult as their behavior may be at times, adolescents rely on their parents for structure and positive reinforcement. But a parent struggling with mental illness may be less attentive to their teenager’s needs. Or they may focus entirely on things their child is doing wrong without balancing negative feedback with praise. “A parent’s depression, irritability, or low frustration tolerance can cause teens to act out in disruptive ways,” says Dr. Ibeziako.

The lack of energy that depressed parents often experience may also affect their ability to pay attention to their child’s school routines. Without a parent’s support, school-aged children may struggle to get to school or after-school activities on time. Completing homework can become an overwhelming challenge.

A parent dealing with an anxiety disorder may be overprotective, depriving their child of the chance to learn problem-solving skills. Or a child who witnesses their parent’s anxious behavior may in turn develop fears and worries.

How to help kids develop positive coping skills

Despite these challenges, many children do find positive ways to cope. Parents can help.

Social-emotional skills are a pre-requirement for learning: experts (part two)

Social-emotional skills are a pre-requirement for learning: experts

Several experts in the education system say that social/emotional learning (SEL) is an important component of formal education. Part of the pandemic response has been recognizing that learning can’t take place when children are stressed from disruption to their routines and their social connections.

Several experts in the education system say that social/emotional learning (SEL) is an important component of formal education. Part of the pandemic response has been recognizing that learning can’t take place when children are stressed from disruption to their routines and their social connections.

The Saskatchewan Teachers Federation, through their Professional Learning (STFPL) branch, highlights a framework from a US-based organization called CASEL, which stands for Collaborative Social/Emotional Learning. CASEL’s goal is to integrate SEL into every classroom. The framework has five components for self-regulation:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship skills
  • Responsible decision-making

The key idea behind having a focus on competencies such as those above is that social/emotional skills benefit from study and practice – much like any other skill. Authorities in abstract fields such as math, chemistry, and biology may nevertheless be unable to grow strong relationships or manage their own emotions. Research shows that emotional stability and resilience can be taught and learned at any stage, from pre-schoolers to adults. The earlier the learning, the better the outcome.

STF’s professional development branch has an upcoming workshop focused on SEL and self-regulation.

“What we offer to educators,” said Connie Molnar, an associate director with STF Professional Learning, “is both the research side – a broad view of what the most current research is saying in terms of impact and importance of social/emotional learning and self-regulation – and the teacher practice side.”

Molnar works with a group of educators called the Provincial Facilitator Community. The group researches, plans, and facilitates professional development opportunities throughout the province. Molnar and her colleagues also receive feedback from the community on what the current needs of the provinces’ teachers are.

Molnar works with a group of educators called the Provincial Facilitator Community. The group researches, plans, and facilitates professional development opportunities throughout the province. Molnar and her colleagues also receive feedback from the community on what the current needs of the provinces’ teachers are.

One of the researchers whose work is used is Dr. Bruce Perry. Perry is a senior fellow of The Child Trauma Academy and a professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences.

In a 2009 YouTube video, Perry said that the brain is made up of a series of complex systems, only one of which is responsible for thinking. These systems are related to and dependent on each other. If a child is emotionally unregulated (upset, distracted, fidgety, or bored) and doesn’t have self-regulation skills and strategies, learning is that much more difficult and inefficient.

How to Help Young Children Build Resilience

How to Help Young Children Build Resilience

  • Between the global COVID-19 pandemic, the associated economic downturn, last year was difficult for everyone.
  • Decades of research have documented serious consequences from chronic stress in childhood.
  • But psychologists have identified ways in which parents teach children how to cope with adversity.
  • Here’s how to teach children resilience in the new year.

Between the global COVID-19 pandemic, the associated economic downturn, and widespread protests over racism, the last few years have been difficult for everyone. Many people are struggling, consumed with anxiety and stress, and finding themselves unable to sleep or focus.

As a developmental psychologist and researcher on anxiety and fear in infants and young children, I have been particularly concerned about the impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health. Many have not physically been in school consistently since March of 2020. They’re isolated from friends and relatives. Some fear that they or loved ones will contract the virus; they may be hurt in racial violence or violence at home—or they might lose their home in a wildfire or flood. These are very real-life stressors.

Decades of research have documented serious consequences from chronic stress in childhood (McEwen, 2011). But psychologists have identified ways in which parents teach children how to cope with adversity—an idea commonly known as resilience.

The Effects of Childhood Stress

Children cannot be protected from everything. Parents get divorced. Children grow up in poverty. Friends or loved ones are injured, fall ill, or die. Kids can experience neglect, physical or emotional abuse, or bullying. Families immigrate, end up homeless or live through natural disasters.

There can be long-term consequences (Masten et al., 1990). Hardship in childhood can physically alter the brain architecture of a developing child. It can impair cognitive and social-emotional development, impacting learning, memory, decision-making, and more.

Some children develop emotional problems, act out with aggressive or disruptive behavior, form unhealthy relationships, or end up in trouble with the law. School performance often suffers, ultimately limiting job and income opportunities. The risk of suicide or drug and alcohol abuse can increase (Khoury et al., 2010). Kids who are exposed to chronic stress may also develop lifelong health issues, including heart attack, stroke, obesity, diabetes, and cancer.

So how do some kids thrive amidst serious challenges, while others are overwhelmed by them? Researchers in my field are working to identify what helps children overcome obstacles and flourish when the odds are stacked against them.

It seems to come down to both support and resilience. Resilience is defined as the ability to spring back, rebound, or readily recover from adversity. It’s a quality that allows people to be competent and accomplished despite tough circumstances. Some children from difficult backgrounds do well from a young age. Others bloom later, finding their paths once they reach adulthood.

Ann Masten, a pioneer in developmental psychology research, referred to resilience as “ordinary magic.” Resilient kids don’t have some kind of superpower that helps them persevere while others flounder. It isn’t a trait we’re born with; it’s something that can be fostered.

The Key Factors That Help Kids Build Resilience

The same executive function skills that create academic success seem to bestow critical coping strategies. With the capacity to focus, solve problems, and switch between tasks, children find ways to adapt and deal with obstacles in a healthy way.

Controlling behavior and emotions is also key. In a recent study, 8- to 17-year-olds who maintained emotional balance despite mistreatment were less likely to suffer from depression or other emotional problems.

However, relationships seem to be the foundation that keeps children grounded. “Attachment relationships” provide a lifelong sense of security and belonging. A parent’s or caregiver’s consistent support and protection are crucial for healthy development and the most important of these relationships. Other caring adults can help: friends, teachers, neighbors, coaches, mentors, or others. Having steadfast support lends stability and helps kids build self-esteem, self-reliance, and strength.

Do Mindfulness Interventions Improve Obesity Rates in Children and Adolescents: A Review of the Evidence

Do Mindfulness Interventions Improve Obesity Rates in Children and Adolescents

Mindfulness interventions have shown promise in improving self-regulation, depression, anxiety, and stress levels across all ages. Obesity rates in children are rising worldwide. It has been postulated that through improvements in self-regulation with mindfulness interventions, obesity rates can be improved in children and adolescents. In this review, we attempt to explain how mindfulness interventions may impact obesity rates and obesity-related complications and give the current state of evidence for the following mindfulness interventions: Mindful Eating, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Yoga, Spirituality, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy.

Over the last 20 years, childhood obesity has become a major public health concern in the United States. According to the most recent data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2015–2016, 18.5% of American youth between the ages of 2 and 19 were classified as being obese using a body mass index (BMI) threshold >95% for age.1

The rate of obesity increases with age in children. Children between the ages of 2 and 5 have an obesity rate of 13.9% as compared to 20.6% in children between the ages of 12 and 19. In addition, obesity has some ethnic predispositions, with obesity rates being most prevalent among Hispanic and Non-Hispanic Black children with no significant difference between the sexes.1

Obesity begins in childhood due to a combination of genetic, social, physical, and psychological factors.2 As children with obesity age, they often develop obesity-related comorbidities including insulin resistance, early onset diabetes mellitus (DM), hypertension, hyperlipidemia, depression, and sleep apnea.3 These medical conditions often persist into childbearing years and adulthood.4 Pregnancies of women with obesity are more likely to have perinatal complications or be stillborn.5 Infants born to mothers with obesity have increased rates of neuropsychiatric disorders including autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, eating disorders,6 and adult obesity.7 This circular pattern perpetuates, increasing obesity rates in all ages.

With the increase in families with obesity, pediatric medical providers are consistently charged with finding evidence-based treatments. One area of interest is the use of mindfulness interventions to modulate eating behaviors.

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is a psychological process of purposely bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment without judgment.8 Mindfulness activities have been effective in altering human behavior to improve health promoting behaviors.9–11 In addition, mindfulness activities have consistently shown improvements in levels of stress and anxiety and increased stress has been associated with weight gain.9–12 For these reasons, it seems that mindfulness activities may provide value as a treatment option for patients with obesity.

Human Eating Behavior

To further understand how mindfulness may affect obesity, it seems paramount to understand the psychology of human eating behavior. Human eating behaviors are based on the existence of personal and psychological constraints that operate in addition to food availability. Figure 1 was created by Ulijaszek et al13 based on the initial work of Mela et al,14 and describes a mechanism where human body-weight homeostasis may be maintained or lost based on different factors including food availability, energy density of the diet, genetic, psychological, physiological, behavioral and cultural factors.

Through this theory of the psychological contribution of weight gain, it would be a logical deduction that being more mindful of emotions and how emotions affect eating behaviors would allow one to control what he or she eats. As a consequence, there may be decreased consumption of high calorie foods and increased consumption of healthier, low-calorie foods. With time, this change in food preference may lead to weight control or weight loss and decreased amounts of obesity.

Figure 1. This flow chart explains that when one is exposed to high fat, sweet, or highly processed foods combined with learned feeding behaviors, preferences for these foods may be established. The combination these preferences, Increased availability of unhealthy foods, loss of dietary control from social and cultural eating patterns, and emotional eating or eating environments, predisposes individuals to over-consumption of energy dense foods. This in turn leads to overeating, positive energy balance, and weight gain. Low physical activity and genetic predisposition may negatively impact the picture further.

Teach children how to be responsible for their own learning to gain agency

Teach children how to be responsible for their own learning to gain agency

One cannot fail to notice that concerns about mental health and wellbeing are increasingly figuring in all news media, especially in relation to young people. This raises questions as to whether this is primarily a product of our rapidly changing, volatile and unpredictable times, or a lack of parenting and schooling practices that fail to develop strong volition, perseverance and the capability to deal with life’s inevitable challenges. Challenges, albeit in different forms, have always been part of human history. For example, bullying was ever-present in yesteryear, but we hear more about it nowadays, especially in relation to the online environment. Similarly, poverty and discrimination of various kinds are not new existential phenomena, they have always been part of human interactions – or the lack of them.

Certainly, statistics paint a disturbing picture, with one in eight children and adolescents in the UK experiencing a mental illness (NHS, 2018). The high prevalence of depression and anxiety in young people is often said to be a result of the lack of resilience among them. Similarly, Loretta Breuning, in her article Why I Don’t Believe Reports of a Mental Health Crisis (2014) argues that the escalating emotional distress experienced by millennials is, in part, due to over-reliance on mental-health services, which aim to alleviate natural emotional responses. She maintains that by depending on mental-health services individuals do not learn how to manage life’s disappointments themselves, and consequently often lack self-reliance.

Invariably, aspects of all the above scenarios will apply to some individuals, certainly not all, and generalisations can be dangerous. In this article, I will focus on what can be done to help students to self-regulate their learning and maintain a positive sense of wellbeing. Also, to identify environments and experiences that have negative effects, and how best to mitigate the consequences.

In the final analysis people, young and old, irrespective of culture or context, have to make choices and take action on how they respond to the demands that the external environment may throw at them – whether caused by their prior actions, the actions of others, or serendipity. Furthermore, they must fully realise that their ability to effectively manage internal perceptions and emotional states is a crucial part of self-regulation and maintaining wellbeing.

We know from extensive research that a whole host of physical, social and emotional experiences have massive implications for brain development, physical and mental wellbeing. For example, Swaab (2015) summarising the evidence, highlights: Children who are seriously neglected during their early development… have smaller brains; their intelligence and linguistic and fine motor control are permanently impaired, and they are impulsive and […]

What Is Integrative Medicine for ADHD? A Holistic Health & Wellness Guide

What Is Integrative Medicine for ADHD? A Holistic Health & Wellness Guide

ADHD doesn’t only affect attention. Better considered an executive function and self-regulation deficit, ADHD affects the whole person — the mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, and social self. It increases daily stress and chips away at a positive sense of self. It interferes with self-care and makes it hard to keep healthy habits.

This helps to explain why ADHD is linked to chronic stress, burnout, anxiety , mood disorder , sleep problems , substance use, and other conditions and issues. The reverse is also true: chronic stress and anxiety can worsen ADHD symptoms.

ADHD impacts the whole self, so is treatments must likewise target more than inattention and impulsivity. Integrative medicine is growing in popularity because it’s a treatment approach that addresses symptoms and promotes general health and wellness. Integrative Medicine for People with ADHD: Index of Topics

What Is Integrative Medicine?

Integrative medicine considers the whole person and leverages all options — holistic thinking , complementary therapies , and conventional treatments — in devising a patient’s care plan.

Studies exploring the effectiveness of integrative approaches for ADHD specifically are limited. Moreover, the most common treatments for ADHD are the conventional – medication and psychotherapy. Still, just as ADHD affects many aspects of wellbeing, a variety of treatments and approaches can do the same.

As an integrative practitioner, my approach for treating patients with ADHD is this: If the ADHD symptoms are significantly impairing, I start with medication, and then phase in other strategies, often outside of conventional care. If the ADHD symptoms are mild to moderate, the non-medication and lifestyle approaches can be tried first.

Over time, as the other skills and strategies are employed, the need for medication can be re-evaluated and the dose reduced.

An example of an integrative medicine plan for ADHD may combine psychotherapy (a conventional strategy), stress-management skills (holistic thinking), and omega-3 fatty acids (a complementary supplement).

Conventional Treatments for ADHD

Holistic Wellness and Lifestyle Approaches for ADHD

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

  • Brain-gut health
  • Acupuncture

Integrative Medicine for ADHD: Combining Holistic & Conventional Care

Most of the following approaches address ADHD’s secondary symptoms — namely stress, anxiety, mood, low self-esteem, and emotional dysregulation. Treating these factors can help decrease the severity and impairment of ADHD’s core symptoms.

Stress Management and Executive Function

Psychotherapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps patients develop a greater understanding of their ADHD symptoms and teaches skills that help with executive dysfunction.

CBT aims to improve patients’ problem-solving and stress-management skills by setting realistic goals and teaching organizational and time-management skills to achieve them. This type of psychotherapy can also improve balanced thinking and communication skills by focusing on one’s unique challenges (e.g., history of trauma or other comorbid mental health conditions).

ADHD coaching

Like CBT, coaching helps individuals meet their goals and develop skills to address ADHD-related barriers along the way.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness — a practice that includes meditation as well as awareness shifts in daily activities — has been shown to improve both inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive symptoms, as well as selected measures of attention, emotion regulation, and executive functions1.

By analysis of automatic habits, the practice allows you to change them in the moment. For example, mindful awareness may help you realize that you are procrastinating, and help you tune in to the emotions that are driving the procrastination.

Self-Compassion

A facet of mindfulness, practicing self-compassion is particularly important for mental health. Offering yourself some validation and kindness — “This is hard. I’m stressed. I’m struggling” — will make a difference in how stress is experienced.