Currently browsing emotional development posts

1 in 10 Young People Self-Harm: Here’s How to Help

Self-harm is when somebody intentionally damages or injures their body. It’s usually a way of coping with or expressing overwhelming emotional distress.

Sometimes when people self-harm, they feel on some level that they intend to die. Over half of people who die by suicide have a history of self-harm.

However, the intention is more often to punish themselves, express their distress or relieve unbearable tension. Sometimes the reason is a mixture of both.

Self-harm can also be a cry for help.

Getting help

If you’re self-harming, you should see your GP (*physician) for help. They can refer you to healthcare professionals at a local community mental health service for further assessment. This assessment will result in your care team working out a treatment plan with you to help with your distress.

Treatment for people who self-harm usually involves seeing a therapist to discuss your thoughts and feelings, and how these affect your behaviour and wellbeing. They can also teach you coping strategies to help prevent further episodes of self-harm. If you’re badly depressed, it could also involve taking antidepressants or other medication.

Types of self-harm

There are many different ways people can intentionally harm themselves, such as:

  • cutting or burning their skin
  • punching or hitting themselves
  • poisoning themselves with tablets or toxic chemicals
  • misusing alcohol or drugs
  • deliberately starving themselves (anorexia nervosa) or binge eating (bulimia nervosa)
  • excessively exercising

People often try to keep self-harm a secret because of shame or fear of discovery. For example, if they’re cutting themselves, they may cover up their skin and avoid discussing the problem. It’s often up to close family and friends to notice when somebody is self-harming, and to approach the subject with care and understanding.

Signs of self-harm

If you think a friend or relative is self-harming, look out for any of the following signs:

  • unexplained cuts, bruises or cigarette burns, usually on their wrists, arms, thighs and chest
  • keeping themselves fully covered at all times, even in hot weather
  • signs of depression, such as low mood, tearfulness or a lack of motivation or interest in anything
  • self-loathing and expressing a wish to punish themselves
  • not wanting to go on and wishing to end it all
  • becoming very withdrawn and not speaking to others
  • changes in eating habits or being secretive about eating, and any unusual weight loss or weight gain
  • signs of low self-esteem, such as blaming themselves for any problems or thinking they’re not good enough for something
  • signs they have been pulling out their hair
  • signs of alcohol or drugs misuse

People who self-harm can seriously hurt themselves, so it’s important that they speak to a GP about the underlying issue and request treatment or therapy that could help them.

Why people self-harm

Self-harm is more common than many people realise, especially among younger people. It’s estimated around 10% of young people self-harm at some point, but people of all ages do. This figure is also likely to be an underestimate, as not everyone seeks help.

In most cases, people who self-harm do it to help them cope with overwhelming emotional issues, which may be caused by:

  • social problems – such as being bullied, having difficulties at work or school, having difficult relationships with friends or family, coming to terms with their sexuality if they think they might be gay or bisexual, or coping with cultural expectations, such as an arranged marriage
  • trauma – such as physical or sexual abuse, the death of a close family member or friend, or having a miscarriage
  • psychological causes – such as having repeated thoughts or voices telling them to self-harm, disassociating (losing touch with who they are and with their surroundings), or borderline personality disorder

These issues can lead to a build-up of intense feelings of anger, guilt, hopelessness and self-hatred. The person may not know who to turn to for help and self-harming may become a way to release these pent-up feelings.

Self-harm is linked to anxiety and depression. These mental health conditions can affect people of any age. Self-harm can also occur alongside antisocial behaviour, such as misbehaving at school or getting into trouble with the police.

Although some people who self-harm are at a high risk of suicide, many people who self-harm don’t want to end their lives. In fact, the self-harm may help them cope with emotional distress, so they don’t feel the need to kill themselves.

Useful organisations

There are organisations that offer support and advice for people who self-harm, as well as their friends and families. These include:

Find more mental health helplines.

Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.

** Resources outside the U.K.

  • Samaritans USA provides resources like hotlines and professional educational courses to prevent suicide.
  • NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the largest grassroots mental health organization in the US.
  • The Self Injury Foundation is dedicated to providing funding for self-harm research and education as well as resources and information about self-harm.
  • Recover Your Life is a self-harm forum.
  • National Parents Hotline provides emotional support for parents dealing with a range of issues.

 

NHS Choices logo


From www.nhs.uk





Connecting Kids to the World, One Class at a Time: Meet Empatico

Empatico is the newest initiative of The Kind Foundation.

It is a free learning tool, an online platform designed to digitally connect classrooms from across the globe. The project wants to promote empathy in children by showing them how diverse the international community is. Teachers are able to connect to other classrooms and together they complete activities using live video conferencing.

We at Pediatric Safety thought this was a brilliant idea, so we caught up with Empatico’s Business Development Manager Christina Bruno and asked her to tell us more about the project.

Where did the inspiration for Empatico come from? 

Our vision is to create meaningful moments for students and teachers to realize the world is a bigger place than they knew and to foster a lifetime of curiosity, kindness, and empathy. When we started out, we knew many teachers were already doing this work – connecting their classrooms and providing unforgettable experiences for their students to meet peers around the world – and we wanted to make it as easy as possible so that more classrooms, no matter what their experience, have an opportunity to connect. Making global connections in order to understand our shared humanity has been a long-term passion of our founder, our team, and the educators we worked with to build Empatico, and we also believe it is particularly relevant in this current climate.

How has the feedback on the project been so far?

Teachers are already sharing with us the positive impact Empatico has had on their students. They’re learning what other communities look like, how their peers from different places play and contribute to their communities, and they’re starting to realize their commonalities and become curious about their differences. We’ve also received feedback on how easy it is to use Empatico – teachers are automatically matched with another classroom based on their availability and interest in activities, and our activity plans provide teachers with all the resources they need for a successful connection. We’re in our early days, though, and we know the opportunity to bring this experience to many more students is still ahead of us.

Perspective is one of the greatest allies in creating a more compassionate world. What other steps do you think parents and teachers can take to help children gain a broader perspective as they grow up?

We completely agree! Parents and teachers can do many things in their day-to-day conversations with children to reinforce the skills taught in Empatico activities, like critical thinking and perspective-taking. For example, parents and teachers can challenge assumptions and encourage students to explore the world to find out their own answers by asking questions about new experiences, like traveling to a new place or meeting new people. It’s important for children to realize that many people they meet will have a unique way of perceiving the world and a different way of doing things than they do. When children recognize such differences, help them get into the habit of asking: “What is life like for that person? Are there other pieces to the story that I’m missing?” Parents and teachers can show children the value in learning from different perspectives and help them understand how different perspectives can influence behavior as well as change over time. This can be reinforced in role play exercises or when reading stories, watching movies, or even during discussions with peers.

What were some of the challenges you had to overcome while developing this initiative?

One of the greatest challenges we face is how to bring live video connections to as many classrooms as possible around the world, even if they have limited access to technology. Empatico was designed as a classroom-to-classroom experience rather than a student-to-student experience as a way to partially solve this challenge, so classrooms only require one device rather than many. Of course, there’s never a guarantee that technology will work perfectly, but we hope to make it significantly easier. We’ve also made it a priority to open access and target outreach to countries all over the world, rather than restrict access.

We also face the challenge of this kind of virtual connection being a regular part of school–on the whole, few teachers regularly teach this way. There are many teachers who have been pioneers in global connection and education, and we hope Empatico can help encourage many many more teachers to use technology in this way. We believe the right tool can help move global education and connection from the pioneer teachers to the masses, and we think making an easy and intuitive tool like Empatico plays a big part in achieving this goal. All students deserve the opportunity to see the world.

The website says you are currently in the beginning stages of this project. How large do you anticipate it becoming in the future? What other features can we look forward to seeing?

By the end of 2020, our hope is to reach more than one million students. To accomplish this goal, we’ll focus first and foremost on building a great tool for and with teachers. In parallel, we’ll work with partners, including NGOs in the education space, networks of schools and teachers, districts, and Ministries of Education to build awareness and increase adoption. New features will depend largely on the feedback we receive from our earliest users. A few potential areas of expansion include providing content for different age groups (beyond 8-10 year olds), offering translation to languages beyond English, and providing asynchronous opportunities for classrooms to connect when live video is not possible. 

What is your favorite part of being involved in this initiative?

I’m excited to be part of something bigger that can potentially change the way people perceive and interact with each other around the world. If you think about the ripple effects of reaching students early in life with an experience like Empatico, we have the potential to reach millions of people over time.

My favorite part is that it’s hard to choose just one reason to love Empatico… Our activities prepare students for future success by building 21st century skills like respectful communication, critical thinking, perspective-taking, and collaboration. And we combine the best parts of technology with the best aspects of humanity to ultimately help students better navigate their classrooms, communities, and world. What’s not to love?!

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After we found out about Empatico, we mentioned it to one of our PedSafe Experts, internationally recognized child character development and empathy expert Dr. Michele Borba. As it turns out, not only had she heard of it, but she had already spoken to them about the project.

We asked her to share her thoughts with us.

“New research reveals that empathy plays a surprising role in predicting kids’ happiness and success. Rather than being a nice “add-on” to our kids’ development-it is, in fact, integral to their current and future success, happiness, and well-being. And empathy the good news is that it is a quality that can be taught and a talent that kids can improve, like riding a bike or learning a foreign language.”

 

“We are more likely to empathize with those “like us”- our same gender, race, income, educational background, and culture. But we are raising our children in a global world where they will be exposed to differences. It’s why Forbes urges companies to adopt empathy and perspective-taking principles and the Harvard Business Review named it as one of the essential ingredients for leadership success and excellent performance.” Helping children step out of their comfort zones, widen their circles of caring and experience different perspectives: like visiting museums, reading books with diverse characters, having a variety of friends. Empatico is a powerful way to open their hearts to children of different cultures. It’s all why we must get kids to switch their focus from “I, Me, My. Mine” to “We, Us, Our, Ours.” And it’s up to adults to offer real and meaningful experiences to help them do so.”

 

Michele Borba, Ed.D. author of UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World

Cultivating empathy is without a doubt one of the most important things we can do to progress our global society. We are grateful for businesses and authors like The Kind Foundation and Dr. Borba for setting an example and helping create positive change.

Anxiety and Depression in Children: 5 Warning Signs to Watch For

Winter is approaching fast and along with it, cold wet weather and the usual assortment of colds and cold weather maladies.  By now your children should have already received their Flu vaccines.  If not, get that done now; flu season has already begun.  Your child should be well into the school year and the stresses of homework and other school responsibilities are beginning to take their toll.

Anxiety and depression in children are being recognized at a younger and younger age and you should be able to identify symptoms related to these issues. Some researchers claim that up to 6 – 8 % of adolescents are depressed or exhibit anxiety.  Look for unexplained changes in your child’s personality or behavior and a sudden drop in grades.

  1. Has your child always been very social and overtly friendly and now prefers to be alone and do solitary things?   Has he or she been avoiding crowds and acting more isolated?  Has she/she expressed feelings of sadness or disinterest in activities in which she/he was very interested for some time?  Has your child expressed feelings of loneliness or poor self-esteem?
  2. Have you been monitoring his/her use of social media (this should be a constant for you) and find his/her interests have changed dramatically?
  3. Has your child become more secretive and more prone to destructive or particularly self-destructive behavior?  Always ask them about smoking, alcohol and sexual activity!  This is a difficult conversation to have but is a must in order to monitor your child’s social development.
  4. Is your child sad or more emotional (tough to distinguish between normal adolescent behavior)?  Angry or irritable? Having difficulty sleeping? Is there a change in eating habits? Loss of energy or speaking about death or suicide?
  5. You need to be aware that when a teen talks about suicide there is a significant chance on carrying through on these thoughts and this should be an alarm bell – boys more so than girls. 

Any combination of things mentioned above should be brought to the attention of his/her Doctor as soon as possible.  Occasionally any of these signs can be displayed for short periods of time without definite problems but if they last longer than about 2 weeks and if they seem to be interfering with normal everyday activities, consider them worthy of evaluation. Depression and anxiety can be treated, but ignoring it can lead to further problems as your child gets older.

Raising children in our current social and economic environment is very difficult and with the ease of obtaining drugs/alcohol, it requires constant monitoring and parenting. You are not your child’s friend, you are his/her parent and you should be constantly advising and leading by example.

 

Can Wealth Be as Big a Parenting Risk-Factor as Poverty?

Many of us are now aware of the damaging long-term effects of growing up in poverty. The stress experienced by adults and kids who struggle to meet their basic needs can put kids at risk for lower academic achievement, health problems and emotional difficulties.

On the other side of the economic spectrum, however, we are finding that kids who grow up in an environment of affluence may also be at risk for negative outcomes. This may seem hard to believe—kids growing up in a prosperous home would seem to have all the advantages. A recent in-depth study into this issue helps us understand that affluence may go hand-in-hand with some parenting practices that may not promote the ideal development for adolescents.

Problematic Parenting

In both situations of poverty and affluence the issue of resources themselves are often not the sole contributor to developmental problems in children. Both poverty and affluence create situations in which parents’ behavior may be altered to the point that they are unable to adequately support their children. In the situation of poverty, the stress of lack of resources often makes it difficult for parents to be as patient, attentive and supportive as they might otherwise be.

In the case of affluence, parents’ behavior is also altered such that they might not be as emotional available or have enough time to spend with kids. The recent study points out two particular issues that seem to be the source of problems for kids.

  • High expectations with conditional love: having high expectations for kids’ behavior, academic performance or sports is not a problem, per se. When high expectations are combined with lack of emotional support and conditional love, they do become problematic.
    • Example: if a child is only valued or loved for what they can accomplish in the classroom or on the sports field, this actually undermines their development. Among affluent families, research finds that 25% of boys and 15% of girls describe themselves as “underachievers.” The obvious implications for children’s emotional development under these circumstances are worrisome.
  • Isolation from parents: both emotional and physical isolation are more common problems among affluent families. Due to kids’ expansive extracurricular activities, families may have little time together. This, coupled with increased physical distance due to larger houses, may create a situation in which adolescents feel increasingly distant from their parents.

The statistics we see among affluent families illustrate the effects of this isolation and conditional love scenarios among teens. Affluent teens have higher rates of clinical depression (25% higher) and substance abuse (15-35% higher) compared to non-affluent groups. Teen girls, in particular, are at risk for depression—20% of affluent teen girls have clinical levels of depression.

In both conditions of poverty and affluence, the types of parental factors that can mitigate the effects of each situation are similar. If parents can remain warm, emotionally responsive, supportive and provide some structure (without becoming a helicopter parent), then kids in both situations are much more likely to have positive futures.

2017 Parent Empathy Pledge: Focus on the “Other” Report Card

Now that the fall semester is underway, it won’t be long until your child’s progress report arrives, revealing not only their academic proficiency, but their conduct report as well. Studies confirms that children today are more self-centered than ever—and it’s a big problem. It’s why I urge parents to recognize the importance of raising empathic kids, challenge them to teach their children about caring and kindness today, and then take The Empathy Parent Pledge which follows.

An Empathy Pledge for Worried Parents         

Do your kids really care about others? All parents want to be able to give a resounding yes without hesitation. Yet, if we’re honest, too many of us have to stop and think about it—and when we do, we often reach a troubling conclusion.

America is raising a generation of kids who can’t see past their smartphones and jam-packed schedules of “enriching” activities to notice the human beings in front of them who need kindness and friendship. (Real friendship, not the Instagram version.) In fact, studies show that today’s teens are 40 percent less empathetic than those of 30 years ago. Could it be that we’ve focused too much on grades and grit and neglected the other side of the report card—our kids’ ability to connect and get along with others?

To recognize this empathy deficit in young people in general is one thing. To see it in your own child is quite another.

If you’re deeply troubled by the realization that your kids don’t seem to care, you’re not alone. Over and over, researchers are finding that empathy is THE cornerstone for becoming a happy, well-adjusted, successful adult. Studies show without a doubt that possessing empathy makes you more likable, more employable, a better leader, more conscience-driven…and it even increases your life span.

Even parents who haven’t read the research instinctively realize that kids need the capacity to care. They’re living the problem. They know exactly how bad it feels. They deplore the endless duck-face selfies, the disrespectful remarks, the materialism, the unwillingness to help with chores, the elbowing-to-the-front competitiveness. And yet despite their best efforts, they simply can’t move the needle on their children’s behavior.

No parent wants to raise an uncaring child. Yet we feel helpless not to because we don’t raise our kids in a vacuum. There are very real forces out there crushing the empathy out of our kids: social media, the bad influence of kids whose parents don’t hold them accountable, our own tendency to helicopter parent. But there are some things we CAN control—and how we reward and recognize success in our kids is a great place to start.

That’s why I’m urging you to take the empathy pledge: This year I will pay more attention to the OTHER side of the report card.”

I’m referring here to your child’s literal conduct grade, yes, but not just that. I’m talking about whether your child is a bully or stands up for others, whether he snickers at mean-spirited jokes or denounces them, whether she works together with peers or undermines them, whether she shares what she has freely or hoards it.

Yes, academics are still the metric by which the world judges success. I get that and I’m sure you do, too. But this lopsidedness is beginning to change. In fact, some schools, including Harvard, are reshaping their admissions processes to reduce some of the academic pressure and encourage service, caring, and reflection.

I am hopeful that such moves to encourage empathy will multiply. We need to fan the sparks we’re seeing until they catch fire and spread. We need a national conversation about moving our focus to the other side of the report card. Like all conversations, it starts at home…and I can’t think of a better time to start than right now. There has never been a time when our children need to learn empathy.

A few tips to keep in mind as you take The Empathy Parent Pledge

Stop over-emphasizing straight A’s.

Your kids know when you value academic success over all else. When you harp on grades and test scores and rarely mention sharing, caring, and kindness, they get the message. (There’s a Harvard study that backs me up!) When your child walks in the door, what’s your first question? If it’s: “What grade did you get?” it may be time to ask: “What caring thing did you do?”

…And start talking up empathy.

Model caring behavior for your child (of course) but also talk about it. Explain what empathy is, what it looks like in action, and what she can do or say to express it. And tell her in no uncertain terms that you will be watching how she behaves toward siblings, friends, teachers, parents, and even strangers.

Don’t just listen to what they say; watch what they do.

Your child likely has two personas: the one he shows to friends and on social media and the one he shows to you and/or his teachers. Sure, he’ll tell you that he’s being kind and inclusive, but don’t take his word for it. Observe him when he isn’t aware. Listen to how other people describe your child. Help him develop a Caring Mindset so he does the caring thing without your reminders or presence.

Put kids in situations where they can practice empathy.

Empathy is a skill set, one that can be taught and nurtured at any age. Get kids involved in a service organization or just spend time baking cookies and, together, deliver them to an elderly neighbor. Make empathy-building a regular part of their life. You want to hardwire it.

When you see those traits like caring, kindness, and thoughtfulness…acknowledge it.

Don’t give your child money or “stuff” in exchange for showing empathy. (Talk about sending the wrong message!) Do praise her, hug her, or maybe even take her out for an ice cream date and tell her how proud you are to be the mom of such a caring child.

But don’t give your child money or “stuff” in exchange for showing empathy. It actually decreases altruism!)

Start putting pressure on schools to emphasize empathy.

It’s possible your child’s school no longer measures conduct at all—or at least it’s seldom mentioned in the classroom. If this is going to change, it’s up to you.

When parents band together, we have tremendous power. MADD, for instance, dramatically lowered drunk driving rates. When parents set out to bring up our nation’s math and science scores a couple decades ago, they came up. What we focus on gets done—so let’s focus on raising a generation of kind, caring, empathetic, successful kids. Here’s a pledge to help us all get started. Please pass it on!

The 2017 Parent Empathy Pledge

  • This year I will pay attention to the other side of the report card.
  • I’ll reward kindness. Caring. Sharing. Teamwork.
  • I’ll make it clear that while grades do matter, empathy matters too.
  • I’ll teach my child to encourage the classmate who struggles,
    • To cheer on the kid who missed the goal,
    • To pick the kid who never gets picked,
    • To make friends outside the “exclusive” group,
    • To sit with the kid who’s shy or awkward or different,
    • To comfort someone who is having a bad day,
    • To notice when kids are hurting and try their best to help,
  • And I, as a parent, pledge to raise an Unselfie who thinks “we,” not “me.”
  • I’ll set the right example for my child in all I do and say,
  • Because I can’t talk anyone into caring…I can only walk the path and hope they follow.

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UnSelfie 140x210Teens today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were thirty years ago. Why is a lack of empathy—along with the self-absorption epidemic Dr. Michele Borba calls the Selfie Syndrome—so dangerous? First, it hurts kids’ academic performance and leads to bullying behaviors. Also, it correlates with more cheating and less resilience. And once children grow up, it hampers their ability to collaborate, innovate and problem-solve—all must-have skills for the global economy. The good news? Empathy is a trait that can be taught and nurtured.  UnSelfie is a blueprint for parents and educators who want activate our children’s hearts and shift their focus from I, me, and mine… to we, us, and ours.  It’s time to include “empathy” in our parenting and teaching!  UnSelfie is AVAILABLE NOW at amazon.com.

Depression Ruins Lives – What If My Child Has It?

Depression doesn’t just affect adults. Children and teenagers can get depressed too.

Some studies show that almost one in four young people will experience depression before they are 19 years old.

It’s important to get help early if you think your child may be depressed. The longer it goes on, the more likely it is to disrupt your child’s life and turn into a long-term problem.

Signs of depression in children

Symptoms of depression in children often include:

  • sadness, or a low mood that doesn’t go away
  • being irritable or grumpy all the time
  • not being interested in things they used to enjoy
  • feeling tired and exhausted a lot of the time

Your child may also:

  • have trouble sleeping or sleep more than usual
  • not be able to concentrate
  • interact less with friends and family
  • be indecisive
  • not have much confidence
  • eat less than usual or overeat
  • have big changes in weight
  • seem unable to relax or be more lethargic than usual
  • talk about feeling guilty or worthless
  • feel empty or unable to feel emotions (numb)
  • have thoughts about suicide or self-harming
  • actually self-harm, for example, cutting their skin or taking on overdose

Some children have problems with anxiety as well as depression. Some also have physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach aches.

Problems at school can be a sign of depression in children and teenagers and so can problem behaviour, especially in boys.

Older children who are depressed may misuse drugs or alcohol.

Why is my child depressed?

Things that increase the risk of depression in children include:

  • family difficulties
  • bullying
  • physical, emotional or sexual abuse
  • a family history of depression or other mental health problems

Sometimes depression is triggered by one difficult event, such as parents separating, a bereavement or problems with school or other children.

Often it’s caused by a mixture of things. For example, your child may have inherited a tendency to depression and also have experienced some difficult life events.

If you think your child is depressed

If you think your child may be depressed, it’s important to talk to them. Try to find out what’s troubling them and how they are feeling.

See some tips on talking to younger children and talking to teenagers.

Whatever is causing the problem, take it seriously. It may not seem a big deal to you, but it could be a major problem for your child.

If your child doesn’t want to talk to you, let them know that you are concerned about them and that you’re there if they need you.

  • Encourage them to talk to someone else they trust, such as another family member, a friend or someone at school.
  • It may be helpful for you to talk to other people who know your child, including their other parent.
  • You could also contact their school to see if they have any concerns.

When to get medical help

If you think your child is depressed, make an appointment with them to see your GP (*doctor).

  • If necessary they can refer your child to their local child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) for specialist help (in the UK)**.
  • See more about CAMHS.
  • If you are worried about any aspect of your child’s mental health, you can call the charity YoungMinds’ free parents’ helpline (in the UK)** on 0808 802 5544 for advice.
  • The YoungMinds website also has mental health support and advice for your child.

Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.

** Resources in the United States





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