By: Nicole Filiberti, MSW, LCSW
These days, putting the news on can be a daunting task. Negative news centered around shootings, a divisive political landscape and ongoing mental health challenges are sure to saturate the content being shared with us. It's no secret that children are like sponges, soaking up what they see and hear. Having these kids exposed to this content without taking some steps to support them can cause them to struggle with feelings of anxiety and fear. Here are some steps you can take to minimize the damaging effects of the media on your children.
1. Engage them in conversation
From a young, but developmentally appropriate age, set the tone that there can be an ongoing conversation that occurs between you and your children. Regularly check in with them if you know they have been nearby while you have the evening news on. Children are extremely adept at picking up on things, so the approach of avoiding the topic all together, even if the news is bringing up difficult feelings for you, will most likely not be effective. It's okay to admit to your child that something on the news made you feel sad. Engage them in a discussion on what feelings it may have brought up for them and then discuss healthy ways of coping with sadness.
2. Answer questions -- to a degree
This is where you must use your judgement to determine what your child can or cannot handle. There are also times where there simply is no logical answer. It's okay to admit to your children that you don't know why something was done or why someone did something. Providing them with developmentally appropriate answers to other questions is okay. There is no need to include graphic details of certain situations, but again, this is a case by case basis and you must use your judgement.
3. Offer your ongoing support
Remember that your child may not be ready to have this conversation. Offer them your listening ear but do not force them to talk about it. Remind them that you are available if needed and validate their feelings when and if they do approach you. Remind them of all of the safety measures that exist to keep them safe. It also may be helpful to take a proactive approach and tell them that they may see or hear things in the news or on the internet that makes them sad or scared or uncomfortable. Share with them that you are available if they ever come across anything that makes them uncomfortable.
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Dr. Liz Matheis, PhD reviews "Sharing Love Abundantly in Special Needs Families" by Jolene Philo and Gary Chapman:
"Jolene and Gary have prepared a thoughtful book that truly looks at the struggles of the family with a special needs child or children. The relationship, within a special needs family, between husband and wife has additional stressors that often dissipate once children grow older and more independent. Jolene tenderly has shared her personal experiences which is brave and comforting to the reader. Filling each other's love tank in the family by understanding each individual family member's love language is invaluable. Even as a Psychologist who understands relationships, this book has offered me new insight into the communication patterns and needs between parents, parents and children, and children and children within a family. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I need this book in my library!"
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By: Dr. Liz Matheis, Ph.D
#AskMe about managing your mental health as a parent
I’m Dr. Liz, a Clinical and School Psychologist in private practice in New Jersey. I am also a mom of three kids, and one of them has disabilities. I am also a mom who struggles with anxiety. Personally, and professionally, I strongly believe that our own mental health -- as parents -- is a topic we have not given enough attention to, and the time is now! This week, I will be answering your questions
“My child’s needs won’t go away. What can I realistically do to work on my own mental health?”
When we became parents, our children became the center of our universe. Our own self-care became secondary. This is especially true when we have a child with disabilities. Our child’s needs become primary, but one thing I know is that by not taking care of yourself, you will not be able to take care of your child.
How many times have you thought, “I should read/sing/talk to my child because it’s good for her,” even when you really don’t want to?
You may be experiencing some burnout. That is, you feel like you are tired — tired of thinking about what’s next, what if, what will I do when… and you’re managing all of these thoughts while trying to hold on to the guise of being a woman or a man, a wife or a husband, a daughter or a son, a brother or a sister and a friend. If your head is spinning, I understand. I hear you and I feel you.
I know when I get to the point where my head is going to explode with the constant running lists, when I’m checking those lists on my phone and I’m adding more “things,” I know I am good to nobody. Not my kids, not my husband, not my patients; no one, nowhere.
I know it’s really hard, and I combat the feelings of guilt of wanting to run away and hide in a corner for a few hours right along with you. I crave silence in my head, even when the room is quiet. I crave not having my name called for the 523.67th time in the past hour. I want to owe nothing to no one.
That’s just plain old burnout in its truest form.
When I get here, I know something has to give. I know I have to change my mindset and my routine in order to survive.
Shifting your mindset
I have always felt the strong urge to “do the right thing” by everyone in my life, but especially with my children. I want to make sure that I am providing them with every opportunity for them to be happy and achieve their potential. I strive to keep my home clean, prepare a health dinner, have healthy snacks in my pantry, and to provide experiences that are educational and enjoyable.
Big goals that serve as big a pressure, and that are also highly unrealistic.
It has taken two years in therapy for me to come to terms with the idea that I cannot give 100 percent in every direction of my life because at the end of the day, I only have 100 percent to give, not 10,000 percent.
I am embracing the idea that I can still be a “good” parent to my children while not checking each one of the items from my mental checklist I just mentioned. On some days, it’s OK if their primary form of entertainment is the TV, their phone or iPad. It’s OK if I order in or we eat a bunch of frozen meals that have been sitting in the freezer for… I don’t know how long! It’s OK. It’s really OK. Your children and my children will not suffer.
Sometimes, it’s OK to be good enough. Give up the guilt and, in the wise words of Elsa from the movie “Frozen,” let it go!
Makes sense? What are some other ways you can shift your mindset?
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By: Dr. Liz Matheis
A child with special needs (or as some parents and children would rather call it: a disability) can be a very demanding job for parents. Throw into the mix a sibling or two and now you are managing several different worlds of need. Oh, and a spouse or partner – now it’s a party but without the disco ball!
Now let me change the perspective: what it’s like to be the sibling of a child with special needs. In my house, my daughter can be exceptionally demanding and difficult on most days. These are the days when I find myself drained and unable to respond to my other two children with patience or just plain old consideration.
When I sit with my thoughts at the end of the day – the daily day-in-review beat down you are all familiar with – I feel guilty. I feel like I’ve cheated my two boys. I feel like I didn’t connect with them about their day’s struggles or celebrations. I feel like I became consumed by the intense emotion that gets riled up in me and that I work so hard to manage.
Every few months, my older son will confide in me that he needed something from me but didn’t tell me because his sister needed me more. He doesn’t ask for help or vent especially on the days that my daughter is especially difficult because he can see I’m exhausted. I understand why he does what he does but I’m also sad that he feels like he has to wait.
It’s not his job but I realize that there is a unique dynamic that happens in the home of a family with a child with special needs. When I think about my own children’s’ experiences as well as the experiences of the children with whom I work professionally, there are a few things to note about their day to day.
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By: Jennifer Mandato, LAC
For a child with ADHD, navigating the school environment can be a scary place. Everyday tasks such as organization, time management, peer interactions, and remembering to visit the school nurse can be a struggle. Often they are faced with many new battles throughout the day.
Unfortunately, mental health diagnoses, including ADHD still have a negative stigma attached to them. In reality all it really means is their brain works differently and they will need extra support. Along with school accommodations, medications are also sometimes used. This is not without its own negativity; it can subject not only the parent but child to bullying. Parents can be seen as not knowing how to handle or discipline their child. In turn, many parents do not confide in family or peers for support. For the child, it can result in being teased for the struggles they have and “fake” friends using them for access to medications.
For a child with ADHD, sustaining attention is a constant challenge. Their impulsivity may cause them to be disruptive to others. This can make navigating peer relationships difficult. They may not understand the social boundaries which can push peers away. They may talk over or interrupt their peers and their peers may find this annoying and begin to separate from them. Peers may tease them for their loud tone or their inability to engage in a conversation with them.
How can we help?
Keep the dialogue open with your child. Talk to them about school, their teacher and their friends. Be mindful of any changes in their demeanor or avoidance of the topic when you bring them up. If they go from being enthusiastic about school to changing the topic when it is brought up, inquire deeper. If they express to you something is happening at school or you suspect something, reach out to their counselor or teachers.
Involve them in social skills groups. Working with peers their own age with similar challenges will help normalize their experience as well as know they are not alone in this world. These groups will help guide them through social boundaries and interacting with peers.
Work with an executive function coach to help them with their school work. A coach can assess their executive functioning profile and see the challenge areas to work on. This can include giving them an organizational system for school, time management or study skills.
Dr. Liz Matheis
Dr Liz Matheis and her team specialize in assisting children and their families with Anxiety, Autism, AD/HD, Learning Disabilities and Behavioral Struggles