Sleepy Teens 4.5 Times More Likely to Commit Crimes as Adults

-Traci Pedersen

Teenagers who feel sleepy in the middle of the day are more likely to engage in antisocial behaviors, such as lying, cheating, stealing, and fighting. Now, a new study shows that those same teens are 4.5 times more likely to commit serious crimes as adults.

“It’s the first study to our knowledge to show that daytime sleepiness during teenage years are associated with criminal offending 14 years later,” said Adrian Raine, the Richard Perry University Professor of Criminology, Psychiatry, and Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Perry and Peter Venables, an emeritus psychology professor at the University of York in England, published their findings in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Raine had gathered the data for this study 39 years earlier as part of his Ph.D. dissertation (studying under Venables) but had never analyzed it. Recently, he began noticing cross-sectional studies — those that evaluate several behaviors at a single point in time — connecting sleep and behavioral problems in children. He pulled out his old data to see if there is an association between sleep and criminal behavior in adulthood.

“A lot of the prior research focused on sleep problems, but in our study we measured, very simply, how drowsy the child is during the day,” said Raine.

Raine evaluated 101 teens (aged 15 years) from three secondary schools in northern England. At the start and end of each two-hour afternoon lab session (1:00 to 3:00 p.m.), he asked participants to rate their degree of sleepiness on a seven point scale, with one being “unusually alert” and seven being “sleepy.” He also measured brain-wave activity and sweat-rate responses to stimuli, which indicates the level of attention a person pays to a tone being played over headphones. This represents brain-attentional function, Raine said.

Next he gathered data about the teens’ anti-social behavior, both self-reported from the study participants, as well as from two or three teachers who had worked with each teen for at least four years.

“Both are helpful. There are kids who don’t really want to talk about their anti-social behavior, and that’s where the teacher reports really come in handy,” Raine said. “Actually, the teacher and child reports correlated quite well in this study, which is not usual. Often, what the teacher says, what the parent says, what the child says — it’s usually three different stories.”

Finally, Raine conducted a computerized search at the Central Criminal Records Office in London to determine if any of the original 101 participants had a criminal record at age 29. Raine excluded minor violations, focusing only on violent crimes and property offenses and only those crimes for which participants had been convicted. His findings revealed that 17 percent of the original participants had committed a crime by the age of 29.

With these data in hand, Raine also factored in the participants’ socioeconomic status. He found a connection.

“Is it the case that low social class and early social adversity results in daytime drowsiness, which results in inattention or brain dysfunction, which results 14 years later in crime? The answer’s yes,” he said. “Think of a flow diagram from A to B to C to D. Think of a chain. There is a significant link.”

“Daytime drowsiness is associated with poor attention. Take poor attention as a proxy for poor brain function. If you’ve got poor brain functioning, you’re more likely to be criminal.”

Of course, drowsiness in and of itself doesn’t always predispose a teenage boy to becoming antisocial, said the researchers. And many children with sleep problems do not become lawbreakers. But they did observe that teens with sleepiness and a greater frequency of antisocial behavior were more likely to commit crimes as adults.

These findings could potentially help with a simple treatment plan for children with behavioral issues: Get more sleep at night.

“That could make a difference not just for anti-social behavior at school with these teenage kids but more importantly, with later serious criminal behavior,” Raine said. “More sleep won’t solve crime, but it might make a bit of a dent.”

Kids Who Believe They Can’t Sing Tend to Quit Music Education

-Traci Pedersen

Elementary school children who have confidence in their own musical abilities are more likely to continue their music education through middle school, while those with poor musical self-concept are more likely to opt out of music class — regardless of their true talent for singing or even their love of music, according to new research at Northwestern University.

For the study, the researchers took a close look at the attitudes and beliefs that help determine whether children will continue to take music classes in middle school and how these factors relate to their actual singing ability.

“The decisions people make as a child could have lifelong consequences for their relationship with music as an adult,” said Dr. Steven Demorest, a professor of music education at Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music. “We are talking about a major form of human expression that many people may be missing out on because they believe, falsely, that they do not have musical talent.”

Although music is a required subject in elementary school, only 34 percent of U.S. students go on to register for elective music instruction when they enter middle school, according to recent statistics.

To gain a better understanding of why so many students choose to opt out of music class, Demorest, with co-authors Jamey Kelley and Peter Pfordresher, surveyed 319 sixth-graders from five elementary schools. The students were asked about their family background, attitudes toward music, their beliefs about themselves as musicians, and questions relating to peer influence and other variables. Then they waited until those same students chose their classes in middle school.

The study found that a combination of family background, musical self-concept, and peer influence predicted with 74 percent accuracy which students choose to continue in elective music. Surprisingly, students’ attitude toward music, or how much they liked it, was not a predictor of whether they chose to continue.

“This decision seems to be rooted in our mistaken belief that musical ability is a talent rather than a skill,” Demorest said. “Children who believe themselves to be musically talented are more inclined to continue to participate in music, and subsequently they get better and better. Conversely, children with a poor musical self-concept were inclined to quit, a decision people often grow to regret as adults.”

In part two of the study, the researchers measured the singing accuracy of students drawn from the opt-in and opt-out groups. They found no significant differences in singing accuracy between the two groups. There was, however, a link between musical self-concept and accuracy.

“The data raises an alarming prospect that singing accuracy could be part of a self-fulfilling prophecy in the case of individuals with poor musical self-concept,” said co-author Dr. Peter Pfordresher, professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo SUNY. “If a child falsely believes he or she is a poor musician, for a variety of reasons that child may actually become one.”

This research builds on a previous study, published in the journal Music Perception, which suggested that the ability to sing accurately is more of a skill than a talent — meaning it gets better with practice. In that study, Demorest and Pfordresher compared the singing accuracy of three groups: kindergartners, sixth graders, and college-aged adults.

The researchers found considerable improvement in accuracy from kindergarten to late elementary school, when most children are receiving regular music instruction. But in the adult group, the gains were reversed — to the point that college students performed at the level of the kindergartners on two of the three tasks — suggesting the “use it or lose it” effect.

Demorest theorized that the children got better at singing because they practiced regularly while the adults may have stopped working on their singing skills altogether.

“The current study provides support for the interpretation of the previous study because the kids who chose to go on differed from those who did not in background and musical self-concept, but not in terms of ability,” Demorest said.

The new findings are published in the Journal of Research in Music Education.

Teens Who Get Mental Health Help Less Likely to Suffer Depression Later

-Janice Wood

Young people with mental health problems who have contact with mental health services are significantly less likely to suffer from clinical depression later in their adolescence, according to new research.

The study, published in Lancet Psychiatry, found that 14-year-olds who had contact with mental health services had a greater decrease in depressive symptoms than those with similar difficulties, but who had no contact, according to researchers at the University of Cambridge.

By the age of 17, the odds of reporting clinical depression were more than seven times higher in individuals without contact than in those who did access mental health services, the study found.

Researchers from the university’s Department of Psychiatry recruited 1,238 14-year-olds and their primary caregivers from secondary schools in Cambridgeshire, and followed them up at the age of 17. Their mental state and behavior was assessed by trained researchers, while the teenagers self-reported their depressive symptoms.

Of the participants, 126 (11 percent) had a current mental illness at the start of the study. Only 48 (38 percent) had contact with mental health services in the year prior to being recruited for the study.

The researchers discovered that contact with mental health services appeared to be of such value that, after three years, the levels of depressive symptoms of those teens were similar to those of 996 unaffected individuals.

“Mental illness can be a terrible burden on individuals, but our study shows clearly that if we intervene at an early stage, we can see potentially dramatic improvements in adolescents’ symptoms of depression and reduce the risk that they go on to develop severe depressive illness,” said Dr. Sharon Neufeld, first author of the study and a research associate at the university.

The study is believed to be the first in adolescents to support the role of contact with mental health services in improving mental health by late adolescence. Previous studies have reported that mental health service use has provided little or no benefit to adolescents, but the Cambridge researchers argue that this may be because the design of those studies did not consider whether service users had a mental disorder or not.

The approach taken on this new study enabled it to compare as closely as possible teens with mental health disorders who received treatment and those who did not.

The researchers add the study highlights the need to improve access to mental health services for children and adolescents. Figures published in 2015 show that National Health Service spending on children’s mental health services in the UK has fallen by 5.4 percent since 2010, despite an increase in demand. This has led to an increase in referrals and waiting times and an increase in severe cases that require longer stays in inpatient facilities, the researchers noted.

Earlier this year, the Prime Minister announced measures to improve mental health support at every stage of a person’s life, with an emphasis on early intervention for children and young people.

“The emphasis going forward should be on early detection and intervention to help mentally-ill teens in schools, where there is now an evidence base for psychosocial intervention,” said Professor Ian Goodyer, who led the study. “We need to ensure, however, that there is a clear pathway for training and supervision of school-based psychological workers and strong connections to NHS child and adolescent mental health services for those teens who will need additional help.

“As always, the devil is in the detail,” he continued. “The funding of services and how the effectiveness of intervention is monitored will be critical if we are to reduce mental illness risks over the adolescent years. With the right measures and school-based community infrastructure, I believe this can be achieved.”

Dealing with Big Feelings – Teaching Kids How to Self-Regulate

-Karen, Hey Sigmund

Life with a small human can be hilarious, wonderful, ridiculous and unpredictable. And wild – so wild. All kids are capable of ‘bewildering’ behaviours that can bring the strongest of us to our knees. These behaviours can take different forms. There are the ones that can be seen through the eye of a needle from a solar system away, no trouble at all – meltdowns, outbursts and tantrums, hitting, screaming. Then there are the ones that are a little harder to spot, but which light up our radar all the same – the worries that spin out of control, the sadness or withdrawal that lasts a little longer than it should, the tendency to bottle up feelings.

None of us were born knowing how to control big emotions and our children will take a while to learn. This is okay – time is something they have plenty of. In the meantime, the job for us as the adults in their lives who care about them, is to nurture their ability to manage their emotional responses in healthy, adaptive ways.

Of course, it would be a lovely thing if the small humans in our lives were born knowing how to stay calm, or with the capacity to respond to disappointments with the adorability of a sleepy kitten, but that’s just not how it was meant to be. Young children don’t have the words to describe what they want, or to explain how they feel. The sheer frustration of this can make them vulnerable to being barreled by the big feelings that can overwhelm any of us from time to time.

So when you say ‘self-regulation’ …

Self-regulation is being able to manage feelings so they don’t intrude heavily on relationships or day-to-day life. This might involve being able to resist ‘losing it’ in upsetting or frustrating situations, or being able to calm down when big feelings start to take over.

Self-regulation is NOT about ‘not feeling’. Locking feelings away can cause as much trouble as any outburst. There is nothing wrong with having big feelings. All feelings are valid and it’s okay for kids to feel whatever they feel. What’s important is how those feelings are managed. The key is to nurture children towards being able to acknowledge and express what they’re feeling, without causing breakage to themselves, their friendships or other people.

Why is self-regulation important?

When children are able to regulate their emotional responses, they become less vulnerable to the ongoing impact of stress. They are also more likely to have the emotional resources to maintain healthy friendships, and the capacity to focus and learn. Research has found that the ability to self-regulate is a strong predictor of academic success.

Outbursts? Or opportunities.

Every outburst is an opportunity to steer them in a different direction and to strengthen the skills they need to name and manage their emotions in a way that works for them, without the seismic fallout that can happen when kids are unable to regulate their emotions.

High emotion and tantrums are NOT a sign of bad parenting or bad kids. They are never that. Taking tantrums or wild behaviour personally can make it more difficult to use them as an opportunity to nurture valuable skills in your child. It can be easy to feel judged when our kiddos choose the top of the escalator on a busy Saturday morning to throw themselves on the ground because you peeled their banana all the way to the bottom and nothing – nothing – can ever be the same again, but you are raising humans, and it’s hard and it’s important and the path is a crooked one with plenty of uphills, downhills, and hairpin curves. Some people will never understand. Let that be their problem, not yours.

My child does body throw-downs like they invented the move. When is the lack of self-regulation a problem?

All kids are different, and they will develop according to their own schedules. As anyone who has small humans in their lives will know, there are some things they just won’t be hurried on – breakfast when you’re in a hurry, stories at bedtime, and of course, the potentially life-altering decision of what to have on their toast. And self-regulation – they won’t be hurried on that either. All good things take time, and when you’re trying to master an art, patience is required from your entire support crew.

By school age, most kids tend to have the foundations for self-regulation. This doesn’t mean they’ll get it right all the time – they won’t. What it means is that by about age five, most kids tend to be fairly able to regulate their emotions most of the time. By this age, they can generally wait a short while for something they want, take turns, focus on what’s being said to them, and they are less likely to bring out their wild side when things don’t go their way.

Not all kids will grow out of difficult emotional behaviour by school. Sometimes, difficulties with self-regulation are just a matter of emotional immaturity. Sometimes, it can be a sign that there might be an underlying issue. Some of the common ones are ADHD (difficulty focusing and frustration with not being able to complete certain tasks can lead to high emotion), anxiety (tantrums or aggressive can be driven by anxiety – it’s the fight part of the fight or flight response), or learning difficulties (again, driven by frustration).

Of course, just because your child might be struggling with self-regulation, that doesn’t necessarily mean there is an underlying issue. It’s just something to keep in mind if there is a constant struggle with self-regulation that doesn’t seem to show much improvement by school age. Remember though, all children will develop at a different pace, and all will struggle with self-regulation until they strengthen the skills. Regardless of age or stage of development though, opportunities to strengthen the capacity for self-regulation is something that all children and teens will benefit hugely from.

How does self-regulation develop?

Gradually. And with plenty of support from a very dedicated and wonderful crew – modeling, coaching, and responding in a way that makes it safe for kids to explore and experiment with their own responses.

The part of the brain that is heavily involved in regulating big emotions and considering consequences – the pre-frontal cortex – won’t be fully developed until sometime in the early 20s. Until then, the brain is wide open and hungry for experiences that will strengthen it in a way that will support them as healthy, strong adults.

We can see signs of emotional regulation in babies, such as when the soothe themselves by sucking their thumb. By about age two, most toddlers are able to wait a little while for something they want, or listen when they are being spoken to. As children grow and experiment more with self-regulation, they will be more able to widen the gap between a feeling and response.

My teen is moody and explosive. What’s going on?

By adolescence, you might notice that your teens are having more difficulty than ever with self-regulation. This is a very normal part of adolescence. During adolescence, the teen brain is powered up with about a billion new neurons. This is to give them the brain power they need for the developmental mountain climbing they’ll do during adolescence – new skills, new experiences, new relationships, new milestones. With so many new brain cells looking to strengthen and connect, things can get a bit hectic up there, which can drive behaviour that is far from adorable. They probably wish it could be different too. Remind yourself that they are being driven by a brain under construction and gently hold the boundaries. (And I know this isn’t always easy!) And then write this on your mirror where you’ll see it every day or whenever you retreat to the bathroom for a deep breath or a chardonnay: ‘It’s a stage. It will end.’ Like all stages, when they have done the important developmental work they need to do, they’ll come back stronger, wiser, more wonderful and more capable than before.

What can I do to help my child learn how to self-regulate?

  1. Explain where their big emotions come from.

    When high emotion drives difficult behaviour, it’s a sign that the distance between the stimulus – whatever has upset them – and their response is short and fairly automatic. When kids are in high emotion, they are being driven by the part of their brain that acts on impulse. The problem is that this all happens so quickly, the thinking part of the brain doesn’t have time to engage and steer them towards a healthier response. They key is helping them extend that distance so they are less likely to act on impulse, and more likely to let the thinking part of the brain (the pre-frontal cortex) get involved. Kids do great things with the right information. Talk to them in the language they will understand. Nobody knows your child better than you, so adjust the language to suit. Here is an idea of the way it could go:

    ‘Feelings are important and it’s always okay for them to be there, but when feelings get too big, they can make the thinking, calming part of your brain take a little break until the big feelings are gone. That’s not good for anyone. This is when you can end up making silly decisions or doing things that land you in trouble. Your brain is strong, healthy and magnificent, but it’s important to learn how to be the boss of it, even when you have big feelings. To do this, you need to strengthen the thinking part of your brain at the front of your head. It does a fabulous job when it’s on, but we need to make it stronger so it stays in charge even when the big feelings come. This will take a little practice but for sure you can do it. You’re pretty amazing like that.

    So how can you be the boss of your brain when big feelings take over? One of the most powerful ways is to breathe strong, deep breaths. Remember how big feelings can get a little bossy and tell the thinking, calming part of the brain that it’s not needed? Well thankfully, strong deep breathing relaxes your brain enough, so the thinking part can do the magical things it does – calm down your big feelings and help you to make sensible decisions. There’s a teeny problem though – it’s too hard to do new things when you’re really upset, so the way around this is to practice when you’re calm. The more you practice strong deep breathing when you’re calm, the easier it will be to do when you’re feeling upset. And the more you remember to do it when you’re upset, the stronger your brain will be.

    Here are some fun ways to practice. You can do them anywhere – in the car, in the bath, while you’re kissing the cute face in the mirror, while you’re pretending to be a rock star – anywhere, anytime …

    Hot Cocoa Breathing

    Pretend that you have your hands wrapped around a mug of hot cocoa. Breathe in through your nose for three seconds, as though you’re smelling the deeeelicious chocolatey smell. Then breathing out through your mouth for three seconds, as though you are blowing it cool. Keep doing this four or five times, until you start to feel yourself relax.

    Figure 8 Breathing

    Using your finger, imagine that you are writing the figure ‘8’. You can do it anywhere you like – on your arm, your leg, your tummy, a soft toy gorilla – anywhere. As you draw the top of the 8, breathe in for three. When you get to the middle, hold for one. Then, as you trace the bottom part, breathe out for three. Let it be a really smooth, relaxing movement, and repeat it a few times. Ahhhh … bliss.

  2. And now to strengthen their brain … Mindfulness.

    The research on benefits of mindfulness could fill a small city. Mindfulness works by changing the structure and the function of the brain. First, it strengthens the part of the brain that drives high emotion, so that reacts less automatically or impulsively. Second, it strengthens the pre-frontal cortex – the thinking part of the brain that is able to weigh in and calm big emotions and consider consequences. Finally, it strengthens the connections between the two, meaning that in times of high emotion, the pre-frontal cortex will be quicker and more able to work with the emotion centres of the brain to find calm.

  3. Now, about expectations …

    It’s critical not to expect more of children than they are capable of, given their stage of development. Young children just don’t have the capacity to be calm and reasonable all the time. Punishing them for a lack of self-regulation is like punishing them for not being able to fly. It won’t help anything and will run the risk that shame will get in the way of them feeling safe enough to explore a different way to respond. Ideally, it’s best for them to learn the best way to respond by figuring out for themselves the best way to be. Doing something because they know it’s the right thing to do, will be a more enduring and more powerful response than anything that is driven by a fear of the consequences.

  4. But don’t let them outsource the job.

    It can be so tempting to smooth the rough edges for them when they have an outburst, but this won’t be doing them any favours. In fact, it will rob them of the opportunity to learn a valuable skill – how to manage their emotions themselves. When we move in too quickly to soothe it or ‘fix it’, we’re not giving them the space and opportunity they need to learn how to self-soothe. This doesn’t mean we leave them to it. What it means is not rushing in too quickly or working too hard to calm them when they get upset and behave poorly.

  5. Let them ‘borrow’ your prefrontal cortex.

    When things get wild, try to dampen things down with some pre-frontal cortex sensibility and calm. (The pre-frontal cortex is the calming, thinking part of the brain.) For young children, the pre-frontal part of the brain is still developing, which is one of the reasons it can be sent so easily offline when they are in high emotion. What you can do, is loan them yours. The way to do this is to stay calm, be a strong, supportive presence, and wait for them to catch up. Continue to have boundaries, but before you talk about a better way to do things, lead them gently out of the chaos and into a space that’s calm and settle.

  6. Shift the focus.

    There’s so much for our kiddos to learn, and they will all have their strengths and the things they need a little more coaching on. If your little person needs a hand learning how to regulate their emotions, think of this as just another skill that needs nurturing, rather than ‘bad behaviour’. Shifting the focus from ‘a bad behaviour that needs changing’ to ‘a skill that needs strengthening’ is more empowering for you and your child. It takes the shame away and makes it easier for your child to hear the important learnings you need them to know. It will set the scene for you to work on this more as a ‘team’ and less ‘you vs them’.

  7. Provide a ‘scaffold’ between the behaviour that is and the behaviour you want.

    The idea of a scaffold is to provide a bridge between what they know and are capable of, and the skills they need to learn. Give your child just enough to move them forward. Let’s say there is a clashing of minds between your child and a friend over – who’s going to be the policeman and who is going to be the baddie. Your child is getting upset because he has to be the baddie ALL THE TIME because the other child, ‘steals the police costume ALL THE TIME because she thinks she is the boss of the police costume, and I never get to be the police so I always have to be the baddie and that’s not fair because she thinks that the police are allowed to use the yellow cup but the yellow cup is MINE!’ Sounds reasonable.

    In this situation, scaffolding might involve coaching the children on the words to use, as opposed to resolving the situation for them. This might not always go in a smooth steady line, but when you’re four and there’s a police costume on the line, it’s not just about who gets to wear the good gear, it’s about power, voice, feeling heard, fairness and feeling validated. If coaching on the conversation doesn’t lead to an outcome that both people are okay with, scaffolding might involve making suggestions, such as taking turns, or playing something else. The idea is that next time a conflict arises, the child can be encouraged to remember the things they tried last time. ‘Do you remember when you had the argument about the policeman’s costume? What were some of the things you did to work through that?’.

  8. Expose them gently to manageable amounts of stress.

    Gently expose them to situations that call on their need for self-regulation. The brain builds by experience, and the more experiences they have, the stronger they will be.

  9. Teach them to ‘step back’.

    This is a valuable skill for all kids and teens. Stepping back puts distance between them and their behaviour, enough to let the see the bigger picture, or parts of the picture that might be out of their close-up view. When there has been an incident of high emotion, and they are on their way to finding calm, ask them to imagine stepping back and watching what happened as though it was a movie. ‘If someone was doing what you were doing, what would you think of them.’ ‘What do you think they are feeling/thinking/needing?’ ‘What would you want to say to them?’This is a great skill that will build empathy and strengthen that part of the brain that can look logically and rationally at a situation. Don’t worry if they don’t get it straight away, or if they need a little coaching.  The more opportunities they have to ‘switch it on’, the more likely it is that they will be able to do this themselves eventually.

  10. Provide the opportunity and support for self-reflection.

    Self-reflection is a skill that many adults haven’t yet mastered, but it’s such an important one. When children can explore their behaviour and their feelings in a safe, non-judgemental environment, they are going to find their own answers and wisdom. There are no lessons or learnings that are more meaningful than the ones we find ourselves. To nurture their capacity for self-reflection, calmly and gently, in a non-judgemental, non-critical way, help them to explore their experience. Encourage them to get a sense of what happened when things got out of control. At what point did things start feeling bad? What happened? What happened in their body? How can next time be different?

  11. Accept where they are, but that’s not the ending.

    This involves two things that seem to be opposed – acceptance on the one hand, and pushing for change on the other. When they are used together, they can be more powerful than each on its own. To do this, acknowledge that your child is doing his or her their best, ‘I know that you’re doing the best you can right now, and I also know that you can do better.’ The acceptance that comes with this provides a safe, non-judgemental space to experiment with a new way to be. The idea is to teach them the skills they need, while at the same time holding them strong with a gentle, loving acceptance and a belief in what they are capable of. This focuses on the strengths and the opportunity, not the deficiency.

And finally …

Although some kids naturally have a more even temper, all kids will need a hand to build strong self-regulation skills. Nobody was born with these already established, and all kids will take time to build them up. Remember though, all kids are different. What they lack on one front, they’ll make up for in another.  Being able to regulate their feelings and behaviour, self-soothe, and stop very valid feelings spinning out of control are big jobs for all kids, but important ones for them to learn.

Fear of Missing Out, and Not Even Trying…

-Donna C. Moss

Dear Folks, I’ve been off line a few days with a family emergency.  In that time I was interviewed for a radio show called “Emotions R Us” about how vulnerable normal teens are in this day of news feeds and violence and social media.  What I explained to my host was that we are used to assessing kids with pathology: be it depression, panic or anxiety, etc.  But I am finding now that pathology is not in them but in us.  Our society has become poisoned by alienation, rage and revolt.  So that an A student is now shaking with fear during a test because she is afraid of getting shot.  So that the captain of the football team is paralyzed to apply for college because football kids are crazy.  So that an 11th grader stopped looking at colleges because her parents are tapped out.  This is how we live.

It becomes easier to simply avoid your life.

Avoidance reinforces more avoidance.

If you don’t try to make friends, meet new people and have new experiences from the age of teen and young adult you get trapped in a cycle of stagnation.  You fail to individuate.  You are stuck at home.  You develop a lingering depression.  You become glued to your phone.  You wake up when you’re 28 and say, wait, I forgot to grow up.

Here’s what you can do right now to stop hiding in your room.

  1. Get outside.  Even once a day.  Vitamin D is good medicine from the sun.
  2. Get some exercise, even a simple stretching routine will do.
  3. Get get your sleep cycle regulated, even on the weekends.
  4. Get a hobby that you can do anywhere, anytime, whatever it is.  Having a passion makes you interesting.
  5. Do one new thing, and report back.  Even if it sucked, at least you now know what you don’t like.
  6. Break it down: if you have to go somewhere, map it in your head.  Each step will become easier.
  7. Dare to love and be hurt.  It beats the alternative of loneliness and isolation.

You can use CBT, DBT and basic tricks and tools for this Halloween to stay calm and centered.  Called, “Taking in the Good,” you can train yourself to be more compassionate first to yourself and then to others.  What’s the worst that can happen?  Trick or Treat, hide or be hidden, first be real.  You can thank yourself right now.

How Parents Can (and Why They Should) Utilize Principles of Play Therapy in Everyday Life

-Meghan Owenz

The goals of play therapy pretty easily translate into the goals of parenting: to have a good relationship with your child and create a safe environment in which he or she can be themselves. Parents can utilize some of the techniques in a specific play therapy intervention within their own home.

What Is Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)?

Play therapy is a form of psychotherapy designed for children. The general goals are pretty simple: help the child to bond to the therapist, enact conflicts in a safe place and heal through the accepting relationship.

Parent-child interaction therapy is a wonderful therapy intervention aimed at helping families when a child has a behavioral health issue, such as Attention-Deficit Disorder or Conduct Disorder. It is designed for children aged 2-7 years. Rather than treat the individual child, this therapy aims to coach the parents to improve their relationship with the child. Research demonstrates that a strong attachment or bond between caregiver and child improves behavioral outcomes and increases compliance.

This form of therapy places the relationship between the caregiver and child as primary. This is an important distinction as often in other forms of therapy, the relationship between the therapist and client is primary. The client is either the child in therapy or the parent, often in parent-education groups. In this therapy, the “client” is the all-important relationship between the parent and their child. Therapists often stay out of the room! They provide coaching to the parent via an earbud while they observe the parent and child through a one-way mirror.

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy has been shown to be very effective in research studies. When used with preschoolers with Conduct Disorder, symptoms abate and their behavior is within normal range in follow-up studies.

How Can it Help Me?

The principles taught in PCIT can help every parent. That’s because it’s based on Baumrind’s theory of parenting styles and attachment theory. It aims to teach Authoritative Parenting, meaning parenting that has a good mix of responsiveness and nurturance, balanced out by clear communication and firm boundaries. Parents who utilize this style have high expectations for their children and provide them with the support and guidance they need to meet those expectations. Children of authoritative parents have been found to be socially and academically skilled. Attachment theory posits that a responsive, attuned caregiver results in a strong attachment between that caregiver and child. The strong attachment makes child compliance an intrinsically motivated behavior. The child naturally desires to please a caregiver who seems to care for and understand him or her.

What Can I Learn From It

PRIDE Parenting Skills

The first phase of PCIT involves helping a parent learn how to follow child-directed play. While this may be a simple skill; it is not necessarily an easy one. Parents are likely to use the parenting scripts their parents used with them. If their parents were not effective or comfortable with child-directed play, it is likely that they as parents are not either. And many adults are not accustomed to giving a child the reigns for anything, including play. However, allowing a child to guide their own play can result in increases in executive functioning and build self-esteem. When a parent is a willing participant in this play, the emotional bond between the parent and child is undeniably strengthened.

To set up a child-directed play session, simply pull out some toys, sit down with your child for 15 minutes and tell them they get to choose what the two of you will do together during this “special play time.” During this child-directed play, parents are taught how to implement the PRIDE parenting skills. Here’s what you need to know about that:

Praise: Praise appropriate behavior from the child. Acknowledge hard work. “Wow, you are working hard to balance those blocks!”

Reflection: Just reflect back what your child says to you. This demonstrates that you have their full attention and is naturally calming. If your child says, “I built a big tower,” you say, “I see you built a big tower.”

Imitation: This allows your child to lead and shows that you can follow and are engaged. If the child says, “I am going to build a big tower,” you say, “I will build a big tower too.” Follow their lead in the play.

Description: Describe what your child is doing. This shows you are paying attention and helps build the connection during play. “I see you are using a pattern of red and blue to build your tower.”

Enthusiasm: Demonstrate interest in playing with your child. “Wow! This is fun!” Show that you enjoy playing with them.

While some of these skills may seem obvious and simplistic, they are designed to keep the parent’s attention on the child. The whole purpose is to allow the child to lead the play and for the parent to demonstrate their interest and attention in their child. Research has demonstrated that relationships become stronger and more connected when parents regularly do just five minutes of special play time using the PRIDE skills.

Avoid Micromanaging and Intrusive Behaviors

Have you ever seen a child burn out from all the commands and redirections they receive in a day? I recently saw this in the library with a caregiver of a child. The child walked into story time and was followed by a slew of commands which didn’t end until they left the library. “Don’t put your jacket there. Hang it up. Sit on a square like the other kids.” (Before the child had even surveyed the room). “Move closer or you won’t be able to hear. Stop fidgeting. Look at the book. Answer her question.” (During the story) “Do you want to glue that nose there? The nose should be under the eyes. You want to make the face look regular. You don’t want to waste the glitter.” (During the craft). It sounds exhausting right? Too many questions, commands and critiques can undermine the bonds in any relationship. During special play time (and as often as possible), try to avoid the following:

Commands: During special play time, the goal is to follow your child. Don’t guide your child with commands, follow their play. The giving of commands is disruptive to the child’s flow. In general, limiting the number of commands you give your child during the day will increase their compliance. Don’t command something unless it is really necessary.

Questioning: Questions often require an answer or are an attempt to redirect play. Allow your child to lead.

Criticism: Allow your child to lead. Don’t criticize the way they are playing or what they are doing. You can actively ignore behaviors you don’t like during this time period (i.e., whining).

Increase Compliance

It’s intentional that the child-directed play and skills come first. This follows the “connect before you correct” rule. It’s important that your child feel connected to you before you attempt to take charge. After the connection is well-established, a parent can begin to learn how to lead effectively, which in PCIT includes the use of effective communication and consistent consequences. Effective communication means providing a child with a clear, simple, developmentally appropriate instruction when necessary. The consequences used in PCIT are a timeout. My preference is for naturalistic consequences and the use of timeout only when absolutely necessary.

Try it Out

Start your day off with 15 minutes of special play time per child. See how it sets the tone for the day, for both you and your child.

Mindfulness for Children: Fun, Effective Ways to Strengthen Mind, Body, Spirit

-Karen, Hey Sigmund

Mindfulness has an extraordinary capacity to build a strong body, mind and spirit in ourselves as adults, as well as in our children. Science has told us that it can help to protect against stress, anxiety, depression, illness and pain, ease the symptoms of autism and ADHD, improve academic performance and social relationships, as well as expand the capacity to experience positive emotions.

Mindfulness is about stepping back and seeing thoughts and feelings come and go, without judgement, but with a relaxed mind, fully focused on the present moment.

Children are wonderfully present in what they do, but as life picks up speed, the capacity to experience that calm, strengthening stillness can become more difficult to access. The sooner we can encourage the little people in our lives towards mindfulness, the greater their capacity for mindful presence will be. A regular mindful practice will ensure that existing neural connections are strengthened and new ones established.

Mindfulness for children generally works best it’s kept to about five minutes or less. Of course, if they’re able to go for longer, brilliant – go with that. Ready to play?

  1. Mindful Breathing.

    Get your kiddos into a comfy position and ask them to close their eyes. Next, ask how their breath feels as they draw it into themselves, and then as it leaves. If they put a hand on their belly, they’ll be able to feel the rise and the fall of their breath. Do this about five times – five inhales, five exhales. After five breaths, guide them to any thoughts and feelings they might be aware of, then invite them to let go of those thoughts and feelings. Ask them to imagine that the thoughts and feelings are bubbles, floating away, as they return to their breathing. Repeat the five breaths – five in, five out – and do this as many times as feels right.

  2. Thought Clouds.

    This is a slightly different take on the above exercise. When your mindful ones are into the rhythm of breathing in through the nose for three, and out through the mouth for three, ask them to try this: ‘As you breathe in, imagine that your thoughts are forming as little clouds above your head. Imagine the cloud floating away as you breathe out. Keep breathing slow, strong breaths and let your thoughts come, and then go.’

  3. The Mind(ful)-Body Connection.

    The way we hold our bodies has a powerful effect on the way we feel and the way other people see us. Different poses can actually change body chemistry. Nurture the awareness of the mind-body connection in your children by asking them to explore how they feel when they strike a pose. Here are some good ones to try, particularly if they’re about to do something that could make them a little anxious. In a quiet space where they feel safe and private, encourage them to strike one of these power poses and explore with them what they feel – hopefully more confident!

    •  Superman:  Stand with feet just wider than hip width apart. Clench fists, stretch both arms out, and fully lengthen the body. Expanding physical presence by stretching and opening up can increase feelings of power and pride (think of athletes who crosses the finish line first and throw their arms into the air).

    •  Wonder woman:  Stand up tall and strong with legs apart and hands on hips.

  4. And while we’re on superheroes …

    Ask them to switch on their super ‘Spidey-senses’ to find out what they can taste, smell, hear, see and feel in the moment.

  5. The Mindful Jar.

    A mindful jar works in a couple of ways. First, it will to help them to understand what happens when strong emotion starts to take hold of them. Second, it can help them find calm when they are feeling stressed, upset, or overwhelmed. Here’s how:

    Start with a jar and fill it almost to the top with water. Into the water, add a few big dollops of glitter glue (or school glue and dry glitter). Pop on the lid and give the jar a shake. Here are some words:

    Mindful Jars

    ‘Imagine that the glitter is like your thoughts when you’re stressed, mad or upset. See how they whirl around and make it really hard to see clearly? That’s why it’s so easy to make silly decisions when you’re upset – because you’re not thinking clearly. Don’t worry this is normal and it happens in all of us (yep, grownups too). [Now put the jar down in front of them.] Now watch what happens when you’re still for a couple of moments. Keep watching. See how the glitter starts to settle and the water clears? Your mind works the same way. When you’re calm for a little while, your thoughts start to settle and you start to see things much clearer.’

    The beautiful part of this exercise is that while they are learning about their emotional selves, they are also engaging in an act of mindfulness as they watch the glitter fall to the bottom of the jar.

  6. Safari.

    Oh but not just any safari! The idea here is to guide them towards switching on their senses, turning down their thoughts, and being fully engaged in the present moment. Take them outside and explain to them that they are on safari, looking for any animal that crawls, flies or walks. Let them know that they have to be quiet and alert, with their hearing, feeling and seeing super-senses switched on so they can discover tiny wild beasts that the world may or may not have seen before.

  7. Mindful Smelling.

    Take a bunch of delicious smelling things from around home – candles, fresh herbs, flowers, fruit, vanilla, cinnamon, grass – anything – and invite them to breathe in the smell and to feel what happens in their body as they do that. (‘The cinnamon reminds me of Christmas,’ or maybe ‘The lavender makes me feel sleepy.’)

  8. A Breathing Buddy.

    Have them lie down with a soft toy on their tummy. As they breathe, guide them towards noticing the toy moving up and down. This can help them to understand what it feels like to have strong breaths, which is a powerful way to calm themselves when high emotion overwhelms them.

  9. A Mindful Walk.

    Take a short walk together to help them to learn to be mindful while they’re moving. First, ask them to focus on their breath. Then turn their attention to anything else their senses tune in to in the moment – the breeze against their skin, the sound of the trees, the smell of fresh air, the way their body feels as they move. The idea is for them to experience the sensations, rather than to become too ‘heady’ by thinking too hard about them.

  10. The Mindful Snack.

    Next time you have a bite to eat together, try mindful eating for a few minutes. ‘Let’s try something called mindful eating. It’s where you slow things down when you eat so you can notice things you don’t usually notice. What does your food feel like to touch? What about the smell? What if you squish it a little – what does that feel like? Now take a bite but chew very slowly. Really notice your mouth moving up and down. Can you feel the food against your tongue and between your teeth. What does it taste like? What does it feel like? Keep chewing for a little while (20 to 30 seconds). When you’re ready, notice what the food feels like as it moves down your throat and towards your belly.’

  11. Guided Meditation.

    The Smiling Minds app has guided meditations for ages 7 to adult. It’s free, easy to use, and brilliant.

Being ‘still’ can be hard sometimes (for all of us). If your kiddos are squirmy at first, just keep practicing in short bursts until they become more used to it. Afterwards, do something fun with them – give them your full attention with a little chat about what they did, read a story, have a cuddle – whatever works for them, so they associate it with special, fun time.

Anything you do to introduce them to a mindfulness practice will be worth it. In no time at all they’ll be doing it on their own and gearing themselves with an incredible skill that will give them a solid, sturdy foundation from which to explore and experience the world.

This school replaced detention with meditation. The results are stunning.

-James Gaines

Imagine you’re working at a school and one of the kids is starting to act up. What do you do?

Traditionally, the answer would be to give the unruly kid detention or suspension.

But in my memory, detention tended to involve staring at walls, bored out of my mind, trying to either surreptitiously talk to the kids around me without getting caught or trying to read a book. If it was designed to make me think about my actions, it didn’t really work. It just made everything feel stupid and unfair.

But Robert W. Coleman Elementary School has been doing something different when students act out: offering meditation.

Photo from Holistic Life Foundation, used with permission.

Instead of punishing disruptive kids or sending them to the principal’s office, the Baltimore school has something called the Mindful Moment Room instead.

The room looks nothing like your standard windowless detention room. Instead, it’s filled with lamps, decorations, and plush purple pillows. Misbehaving kids are encouraged to sit in the room and go through practices like breathing or meditation, helping them calm down and re-center. They are also asked to talk through what happened.

Meditation and mindfulness are pretty interesting, scientifically.

Photo from Holistic Life Foundation, used with permission.

Mindful meditation has been around in some form or another for thousands of years. Recently, though, science has started looking at its effects on our minds and bodies, and it’s finding some interesting effects.

One study, for example, suggested that mindful meditation could give practicing soldiers a kind of mental armor against disruptive emotions, and it can improve memory too. Another suggested mindful meditation could improve a person’s attention span and focus.

Individual studies should be taken with a grain of salt (results don’t always carry in every single situation), but overall, science is starting to build up a really interesting picture of how awesome meditation can be. Mindfulness in particular has even become part of certain fairly successful psychotherapies.

Back at the school, the Mindful Moment Room isn’t the only way Robert W. Coleman Elementary has been encouraging its kids.

After-school yoga. Photo from Holistic Life Foundation, used with permission.

The meditation room was created as a partnership with the Holistic Life Foundation, a local nonprofit that runs other programs as well. For more than 10 years the foundation has been offering the after-school program Holistic Me, where kids from pre-K through the fifth grade practice mindfulness exercises and yoga.

“It’s amazing,” said Kirk Philips, the Holistic Me coordinator at Robert W. Coleman. “You wouldn’t think that little kids would meditate in silence. And they do.”

I want to be as cool as this kid one day. Photo from Holistic Life Foundation, used with permission.

There was a Christmas party, for example, where the kids knew they were going to get presents but were still expected to do meditation first.

“As a little kid, that’s got to be hard to sit down and meditate when you know you’re about to get a bag of gifts, and they did it! It was beautiful, we were all smiling at each other watching them,” said Philips.

The kids may even be bringing that mindfulness back home with them. In the August 2016 issue of Oprah Magazine, Holistic Life Foundation co-founder Andres Gonzalez said: “We’ve had parents tell us, ‘I came home the other day stressed out, and my daughter said, “Hey, Mom, you need to sit down. I need to teach you how to breathe.”‘”

The program also helps mentor and tutor the kids, as well as teach them about the environment.

Building a vegetable garden. Photo from Holistic Life Foundation, used with permission.

They help clean up local parks, build gardens, and visit nearby farms. Philips said they even teach kids to be co-teachers, letting them run the yoga sessions.

This isn’t just happening at one school, either. Lots of schools are trying this kind of holistic thinking, and it’s producing incredible results.

In the U.K., for example, the Mindfulness in Schools Project is teaching adults how to set up programs. Mindful Schools, another nonprofit, is helping to set up similar programs in the United States.

Oh, and by the way, the schools are seeing a tangible benefit from this program, too.

Philips said that at Robert W. Coleman Elementary, there have been exactly zero suspensions last year and so far this year. Meanwhile, nearby Patterson Park High School, which also uses the mindfulness programs, said suspension rates dropped and attendance increased as well.

Is that wholly from the mindfulness practices? It’s impossible to say, but those are pretty remarkable numbers, all the same.

Early Childhood Language Skills May Impact Depression Risk

-Rick Nauert, PhD

Emerging research suggests language skills children possess early in life can predict the likelihood they may experience depression.

Childhood depression can lead to social, emotional, and academic setbacks during childhood and later in life. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, about one in 20 children and adolescents in the general population suffers from depression at some point.

Children under stress, who experience loss, or who have attentional, learning, conduct, or anxiety disorders are at a higher risk for depression. Depression also tends to run in families.

University of Missouri investigators discovered that children who experience low levels of language learning stimulation beginning at three years of age are more likely to experience language delays by first grade. The children are then three times more likely to develop depression by third grade.

“It is clear that the amount of language that children are exposed to early on is very important for their development,” said Dr. Keith Herman, a professor in University of Missouri’s College of Education.

Kids can experience language via a variety of sources.

“Whether it is through pre-school classes, interactions with parents and siblings, or through consuming media such as television and books, exposure to greater amounts of language and vocabulary will help prepare children to succeed socially and academically when they begin school.”

Researchers discovered falling behind on language can lead to social and academic deficits by the first grade. Thereafter, chances are they will continue to fall further behind in school each year, which can lead to negative self-perceptions and depressive symptoms by third grade.

The study appears in the journal Prevention Science.

Herman and a team of researchers examined data from 587 children and households in Hawaii. The data included children’s language skills and exposure to language stimulation in the home beginning at age three.

The children were tested on their language skills in the first grade and then tested for depressive symptoms in the third grade.

The children who had higher language exposure and stimulation as three-year-olds were more likely to have adequate to better-than-average language skills in first grade. They also were much less likely to experience depression by the third grade.

Children who did not receive adequate language stimulation early in life were much more likely to have poor language skills and ultimately experience depression.

“These findings are important because we have been able to identify key stages of child development that can help determine the mental health of children later in their academic careers,” Herman said.

“By understanding that the amount of language a child is exposed to early in life is important, we can create interventions and programs that can help parents and childcare providers improve language exposure during this critical development age,” he said.

“Also, we can identify first graders who may lack language skills and give them extra attention to help catch them up academically and socially before they develop depression.”

The study was coauthored by Daniel Cohen, Sarah Owens, Tracey Latimore, Wendy M. Reinke, Lori Burrell, Elizabeth McFarlane and Anne Duggan.

Were You a Needy Child? There is No Such Thing

-Jonice Webb, PhD

My mother has complained about my behavior as a child for YEARS. When I was little, she says I “always wanted to be held,” and was “so dramatic” as a teen, acting out to get attention. I was nearly held back in Kindergarten for lack of social skills; I hadn’t been around children my age regularly until then. In occasional situations with peers, she reports that I clung to the wall.

She was faithful to pass along my father’s criticisms, because he rarely spoke. He had no friends and didn’t participate in social activities. He was hospitalized this January, and my mother didn’t even tell me! He passed away 3 weeks after I found out he was sick. I have no tears; I barely knew him. He hasn’t been gone 6 months and the house I grew up in is already on the market.

Perhaps they assumed that if their kids were fed, clothed, sheltered, and in school, their work was done. My mother said once that it never occurred to her that she should be teaching her children to take care of themselves. We were her job.

I’ve struggled for over 50 years to find my strengths, and am scared and frustrated to be without a career (or job) at an age when most people are preparing for retirement.


Dear Anon,

Reading your mother’s description of you as a child breaks my heart. She thought you were excessively needy. I can, without even knowing you, say with 100% certainty, that you were not needy or poorly behaved.

You were emotionally starving.

In reality, there is no such thing as a needy child. All children are emotionally needy by definition. It is the parents’ responsibility to try their best to understand what their child needs and to try their best to provide it. Whether it be structure, limits, freedom of expression, emotional validation or social skills, it’s all part of the job.

Growing up emotionally ignored results in growing up with a tendency to ignore yourself. When you ignore yourself, you don’t have a chance to truly know yourself. What career should you be in? What kind of job would you excel at and enjoy? Not knowing yourself makes you feel lost, alone and at sea. The answers are there inside of you, but you were not taught how to find them.

Many parents (yours included) don’t realize that their job is not simply to provide for their children and raise them; they’re also supposed to respond to their children’s emotions. Wanting to be held is a healthy and normal requirement that all children have. “Drama” is nothing other than a judgmental word for emotions. Teenagers act out when they’re either over-controlled or under-attended to by their parents.

How can you know yourself when your parents never knew you? How can you feel that you’re lovable when you didn’t feel love from those who brought you into this world and are supposed to love you first and best?

Fortunately, dear Anon, you can still get where you want to be! Accept that you are worth knowing, and start giving yourself the attention you didn’t get as a child. Notice what you like, love, hate, enjoy, prefer, and need. Start noticing what you feel, and start using those feelings to guide and connect you.

If you haven’t yet read Running on Empty, please do so as soon as you can. If you don’t have a therapist, please consider finding one. The social and emotional skills you missed can be learned. You are a classic example of Childhood Emotional Neglect. And you can heal.