Gun violence and kids

Even among psychologists, this is a heated and highly debated topic. Rather than go into my opinion on the presence vs. absence of guns and violence or the presence or absence of mental health treatment availability and violence, I want to focus this blog on how we make our kids feel safe. Akin to acts of terrorism, gun violence has pervaded almost every aspect of our daily life. Over the past month, I have paid direct attention to the news and found at least one violent act occurring involving a gun every few days. Granted, I live in Washington, DC and it is a metropolitan area, but it does not take away from the importance of how this information is getting disseminated to our children across the nation.

During my last year of college I interned at a local news station in Washington, DC. I can remember being surprised that the most important stories broadcasted were ones of violence. When I asked several producers why we focused on the negative and not the large amount of positive items coming into the newsfeed, they reported, “it gets more ratings.” My own personal take away was that the media could develop bias to violence because violence “sells.” So, if this is the case (not ALL news media outlets are like this), we may be bound to see violent material in our news feeds in one way or another. If so, how we do handle filtering that information to our children? Here are some strategies I have found very helpful in addressing this topic with kids:

  1. Know what they are watching (as best you can); you can’t control what their friends pull up on YouTube when they are not in your own care.
  2. Maintain openness with them. You want your child to know that you are there for them to ask any questions they are concerned about.
  3. Do not try to “shovel worries/concerns under the carpet.” What does this mean? Too many times I have seen kids bring up heavy topics with their parents and their parents become so distressed they want anything but that conversation to happen. If your kid is talking about it with you, they NEED to talk to you to digest the information they are getting in a safe manner. Try and tolerate the distress you are experiencing to give them that chance.
  4. Do positive problem-solving. Try and come up with an active plan that makes your kid safe. If they feel they have a solution, they will be less likely to be caught up in worry.
  5. Let kids be kids at the same time. Of our lives, we only have around 10 years to be a kid. That’s only about 12.5% of our lives. Kids need to have fun and be silly to grow and develop. Refocus them on the fun they can have, while not being dismissive of concerns they bring forth.

 

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Sleep and Kids

 

There are a lot of clinical issues that patients come in for, but rarely do I see someone just for sleep. However, sleep appears to be a rather HUGE issue in most of my patients with anxiety. A few things I discuss with parents of kids and teenagers regarding sleep getting in the way of anxiety, school, relationships and responsibilities:

  1. Eliminate naps-naps throw off our regular circadian rhythm and can disturb the quality and quantity of sleep overnight. There are exceptions to this rule (e.g., if you just had a newborn baby and they and you need naps (only for a shorter-term duration) or if you are physically ill).
  2. Make sure to go to bed by a decent time. This translates to at least before 1130 if you are a teenager. Teenagers in high school have to get up around 530-630 am. Falling asleep, not just being in bed, but actually sleeping, at 1130 only gives one between 6-7 hours, which is still under the minimal for sleep recommendations in this age range.
  3. Know the normal age range for sleep for your child:
    1. Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)
    2. Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)
    3. Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)
    4. Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13
    5. School age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
    6. Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5
    7. Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
    8. Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
    9. Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category)

(information copied and pasted from the National Sleep Foundation, 2015 studies).

  1. Being tired is not an indication that you need to sleep more (i.e., more sleep won’t necessarily fix that feeling of “tiredness.”)
  2. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule for your kids as best you can.
  3. Limit access to any screens (ipad, tv, computer) at least 1 hour before bedtime (you want to mimic the signs your body naturally receives when the sun sets. If your body perceives light, it thinks it needs to wake up and become activated).

 There are many more sleep remediation points for discussion, but these are some good ones to get covered on your own.