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Parenting 101: Managing Childhood Stress Part 2

Wednesday, March 23, 2016 12:16 PM

With only a few months left until the school year is over, you may find your child is feeling more stress than ever, and figuring out how to help them handle the pressure they could be feeling takes time.

Dr. Rebecca Nelson, Developmental Psychologist within the department of Pediatrics, returns to answer more questions from parents on working with their children to manage their anxieties.

My daughter (14) is very hard on herself, expecting far more from herself than we do. She doesn't feel pretty or popular, and some of the middle school stuff is sometimes too much. Are these feelings normal for her age? Is there anything that I can do to help?
You’re right, middle school can be a very challenging, and I’m sorry to hear your daughter is having a hard time. Not feeling popular or pretty is common. Middle schoolers are very concerned about their appearance and peer status, and these can be sources of anxiety and stress. What is not typical and signs to look out for are feelings or complaints of being overwhelmed and socially isolated (not involved in peer or extracurricular activities or being neglected or rejected by peers). When both of you are relaxed, have some conversations with your daughter about your concern for her. Start with open-ended questions about how she is feeling about school, her social life, her interests, etc. Let her know you want to see her happier and more comfortable, and that you will support her. If you feel she continues to be hard on herself, it might be helpful to see a counselor together. Your child’s pediatrician can provide you with a local referral.

When my 15 year old son is punished, we remove the video games or cell. He then becomes so obsessed with not being able to play or use the cell; it is a real struggle. He will refuse to eat, and complain and harass us non-stop for the item back. Sometimes, he lashes out verbally at his other siblings. He has ADD & is taking Vyvanse for it, with amazing improvements in focus and school work. The stress and anxiety from the punishment is very hard for him and me to cope with. Any ideas on how we can deal better?
I’m glad to hear of your son’s improvement in focus and school work. It sounds like behavioral and emotional challenges remain, and this is not unusual for children and teens with attentional disorders who can have about a 30% delay in emotional and behavioral maturity. This can present a parenting and social challenge indeed. Generally, the optimal treatment approach for attentional disorders when symptoms interfere with daily functioning is a combination of medication and therapy to manage not just the attentional aspects, but also the social and behavioral aspects. I would recommend consulting with a child and family therapist familiar with ADHD and teenage boys to help with the behavioral challenges (contact your child’s pediatrician for a referral). This is about positive discipline and behavioral management strategies appropriate for your son’s emotional maturity level, not necessarily his chronological age. Also, the work of ADHD clinician, researcher, and educator, Russell Barkley, PhD is widely available on the internet. His seminal book will likely be especially helpful for you: Taking Charge of ADHD, Revised Edition: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents (2013).

As a mother who struggles with chronic anxiety and ADD, I realize I am probably more sensitive to any signs my daughters exhibit that hint at these disorders, which have at times been debilitating for me. My eldest is nearly 8 and her perfectionism and need to feel superior to her 4 year old sister is the impetus for outbursts, fear of failure, disappointing authority, etc. I'm also concerned that girl bullying at school is feeding into these anxieties and insecurities. Any advice?
It sounds like your family could use some support and guidance right now, so thank you for reaching out and sharing your situation. When parents are struggling with ongoing anxiety and additional challenge, like ADD, helping our children with issues of sibling rivalry and peer bullying can be especially daunting. Your daughter must be having a hard time both at home and school, and you’re a good parent to recognize getting her to a better place is important. We have experienced child and family therapists here at NorthShore from the Deptartment of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences located throughout the Chicago Metropolitan area. You can also contact your child’s pediatrician for a local referral.

My child is 9 and often has issues with quickly and emotionally reacting to situations that end up with her "checking out", and being negative and unwilling to get back into things. It could be the simplest thing or a more complex thing. She will often say things like "I'll just quit", "I'm not good enough", etc. We spend time with her to encourage her and help her understand that sometimes we fail before we succeed. How do you help her learn to not react so quickly to situations and learn to deal with the stress?
Based on what you provided, it sounds like your daughter tends to react more strongly and intensely than other children her age, and can be easily discouraged. It also sounds like you do a good job of being patient parents, and have good perspective. Keep that up! Individual differences means different capacities for stimulation and demands before we reached our limit and feel too pressured. Emotionally sensitive and reactive children generally benefit from increments of small successes and gradually working their way to bigger challenges in structured and supportive settings. I don’t know enough about your daughter to give specific assistance, but it may be helpful to work with a child therapist who can get to know her and your family to provide more tailored recommendations to help her feel more comfortable and confident. Your daughter’s pediatrician can provide a referral or NorthShore has child and family therapists available.