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Social Media and Me

Everyone once in a while I remove Facebook from my phone. Not because of any privacy concerns, or for some major protest over over-sharing and globalization, but because my kids accuse me of looking down too much. So I remove it, and find myself scrolling through my phone purposefully but fruitlessly.  I get off social media for a while, and then find myself going back on for work, or to search out information. Inevitably, I find myself scrolling through old posts and the more I scroll, the worse I feel. Every post, every flip of my finger, I feel worse and worse. Watching all the smiling faces, all the parties, all the happy children and parents. Sometimes I feel like it’s me drowning, watching everyone else party on the inside, and my imperfect life, family, children, social life pale in comparison. The more I scrolled, the worse I felt. Until I finally stopped. And walked away from the social media platform. Because it was making me feel bad. The medium isn’t bad, it’s just how I feel when I’m on it. And I am learning to walk away from things that make me feel bad. I know that what’s presented on social media is filtered: everybody posts what they want others to see; the life they want to present to the world. It’s not real. And that’s ok. But I don’t have to engage in things that make me feel bad. I think I need to learn how to moderate. Look a little, notice myself and my feelings, and leave when I start feeling down. Or when my inner voice starts making me feel bad. Because social media isn’t gong anywhere. And my behavior teaches my kids how to use social media responsibly. Not just when to look at it, but when to notice it affects my feeling and my behavior, it’s time to take a break.

How to Deal with Those Who Hate

It seems that we can’t escape the news, no matter where we hide. Our social media pages, televisions, and conversations are peppered with messages of intolerance, and hate. Pictures flash through our screens of people screaming, swatsikas and flags proudly displayed, torches and angry faces. As adults we have difficulty processing these strong emotions; how to we help our children understand this world? It’s important, if we are asked, to be honest and open. We share information only to the extent that the child understands: Who are these people? Americans who are unhappy. Where is this occurring? Today, Virginia. What is happening? People are angry and upset about their vision of the country. Am I safe? Yes. What can I do? Love others. Know that what makes this country great is that we can have differing viewpoints, and in this country we don’t get in trouble for respectfully and calmly stating them. Violence is never ok. Inciting fear and bullying is never acceptable. But listening is. Loving others is. Knowing that talking with people is good, especially those who don’t agree with you. Really listening, and trying to understand other people leads to acceptance and tolerance. It’s important that we give our children and ourselves a sense of peace and stability; that we assure them that the helpers are still there: their parents, teachers, doctors, and those who help keep our communities safe. For ourselves, we should remember that strong emotions are best countered with a calm demeanor and tone. Listening with an open mind and heart, not to answer, but to understand, is key. That’s how we bridge divides; that’s how we change our world. We show our children that we don’t stand up to bullies with more pitchforks and torches, but with love and a willingness to hear. And when all else fails, we understand that what makes this country great is our freedoms: of speech, of thought, of peaceful assembly. And in the end, none of us HAVE to listen. We can leave: shut off our televisions, put down our phones, not engage in social media or disturbing dialogue.  Knowing how to turn the negativity off, how to find the helpers and self soothe, allows our children and ourselves to heal. Listening and loving helps our community, and our country, grow.

"Self-Care"

I think the buzz-phrase for a while has been “self-care”. Recently we have been bombarded with messages of how we need to take care of ourselves; how important it is to make sure we don’t burn out; how if we aren’t ok, we won’t be able to take care of anyone else. I think in the current climate, the notion of “self-care” is more important than ever. We are being bombarded with news and feelings from all sides: our friends, our family, the news. Even our recent diversions don’t allow us to escape: Facebook and Twitter are rife with political and emotional messages. We need to stop. We need to take care of ourselves. Burnout has never been so close as it is now. We need to take care of bodies and our minds, because if we aren’t ok, we can’t be effective friends, spouses, parents. Here are my suggestions: Disconnect from all social media. Listen to audiobooks in the car. Meditate, color, knit, run. When you find yourself becoming upset, drawn in to a thought or argument that will raise your hackles and blood pressure, walk away. Think about your breath coming in and out of your body. Remember you don’t have to pay attention to those pesky notions running through your mind. The world has changed. But our role in it has not. We need to be there for those who rely on us.  We are the helpers and the healers. But this time, more than ever, it’s important to take care of ourselves.  We are worthy people, too. Self-care is more than just a buzz-phrase today. It’s a lifestyle.

Social Anxiety in Young Children

Sometimes, walking into kindergarten can be super scary; new children, new teacher, no mommy. It may take a few days or weeks for some children to warm up and be comfortable. Those who don’t warm up, who continue to cry and have difficulty adjusting to novel social situations may be suffering from Social Anxiety. Social Anxiety doesn’t end in kindergarten, but may continue throughout a person’s lifespan. In young children, parents and caregivers are more likely to schedule social interactions, which help young children become less socially anxious. A recent study by Hoff et al (2015) found that older children who suffered from social anxiety had greater difficulty in social, academic, and overall functioning as they aged, even when home and family problems decreased. Interestingly, these social and academic problems were greater among children who suffered from social anxiety than those who suffered from other types of anxiety. It’s possible that socially anxious adolescents are more able to avoid social situations, whereas younger children’s social calendar is controlled by their parents. Whatever the cause, early intervention for social anxiety might prevent socially anxious younger children from becoming socially anxious adolescents and adults. Hoff, A.L., Kendall, P.C., Langley, A., Ginsburg, G., Keeton, C., Compton, S., … Piacentini, J. (2015) Developmental differences in functioning in youth with social phobia. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15374416.2015.1079779

Exercise and Your Child

Remembering back to one hot spring day years ago, as siblings often do, my first and third son were just at each other; screaming, yelling, possibly trying to pull the other one’s hair out. And I had had enough. The lawn was a mess. It was a beautiful day. I screamed for everyone to go outside and start pulling up every weed that I could see. And three hours later, we had a beautiful lawn and garden. More importantly, my son’s behavior was impeccable for days. He was polite. He sat when appropriate. He was kind. He got along better with everyone. This lasted for about three days. Then everything went back to normal. Sigh. What is it about sweaty and sustained activities that changes these children? There is a plethora of scholarly articles that talk about how various parts of the brain are “rewired” temporarily through exercise. There are probably even more anecdotal stories you will hear about how this person’s life changed when they began to, say, play soccer. While there’s a lot of neurochemistry involved, here’s a simple analogy to understand how learning works with kids, especially those who have ADHD. Imagine you ride a bicycle through dry dirt which is hard and packed solid.  Regardless of how often you ride the same path, you probably won’t make a significant dent.  Now, try riding the same path after it has rained. The ground is wet and muddy. The more you ride in that same path, the deeper the trench you make with your tires. Even when it dries, that trench will still be there for a bit.  After a while, sure, it dries out and you have to start again. But riding over that same area, again and again, over years, creates a deep groove in the ground, and that’s the path your bicycle will naturally want to follow. This is how children learn. And the more they exercise, the more they are able to pick up on appropriate social cues and provide appropriate responses.  By being rewarded, even by the simple fact of feeling good because they aren’t being yelled at, the more likely they are to do that behavior again. These kids need a little more help to understand how they should behave. Exercise helps them read the social cues being thrown out all around them. The more they exercise, the more they are able to read the social cues. The more they practice that behavior, the more reinforced that behavior is. In the long run, children who regularly exercise will not only develop a love for it, but will have the tools to help them relieve and cope with stress.  Ultimately, it is a wonderful way to help them learn how to be able to learn.

Early Signs of Autism

Children are increasingly being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at higher  rates than previous years.  It can look different at different stages of life.  But what does it  look like preschoolers? Here are some behaviors to look out for.  Remember, if you are concerned, please  seek out an early childhood specialist, such as a psychologist, to get a clear diagnosis. Signs in Language Development
  • Young children are learning to talk. So they remember words, and then forget words. They make up words. This is typical. Some children who are suspected of having ASD have words, and then lose them.  But, they don’t regain those words. They may use language in their own way, such as calling a “cookie” a “coocoo.”  These children are resistant to changing their language.
  • Young children tend to repeat words just for the sake of repeating them. This, too, can be a normal part of language development. Children repeat words, as a way to grasp what the sounds are or how their mouth moves.  But children showing signs of having ASD have no obvious intention for repeating words.  For instance, they might hear someone say a phrase like “Do you want a cookie?” and repeat it over and over again.  They aren’t looking for a cookie; they are just repeating the phrases.
Social Cues Children with ASD often have poor eye contact.  Also, they often don’t respond when their name is called.  Their lack of response is not with a smirk or meant to give silent treatment.  There is simply just no response.  Many of these children also seem very independent. They don’t need your help because they do everything themselves. And when they can’t, they don’t ask for help; they may take your hand and use your finger to point or reach for what they want. At Play Play in early childhood develops at different rates. Some children like to play by themselves. As they get older they may choose to play near other kids, doing different or similar things. Only later do they play together, in a group, towards a common real or imagined goal.
  • Children with ASD tend to play by themselves, their own games, even when most of their other same-aged peers have moved on to a more parallel or cooperative play.
  • They may be interested in parts of a toy, playing with it in ways that are unintended, such as spinning the wheels of a truck over and over again. They may lay on their head, looking at the truck out of the side of their eye.
  • Their toys may have to be laid out in a certain manner, according to their own organizational rules. They may play with their hands or body in ways that other children don’t, such as flapping, rocking, moving their fingers near their eyes.
As with all other diagnoses, if you have concerns, seek out a trained medical professional.  A psychologist, who specializes in early childhood, can help determine what the concerns are, and how best to treat your child. Autism Spectrum Disorder is not the end of childhood, but these children have a much better prognosis if they receive treatment earlier rather than later.

Dr. Deena: Interviewed on "Psyched Up" with Dr. Howard Gurr

Dr. Deena Abbe PhD, a leading clinical psychologist specializing in infant and children, was recently invited to talk to Dr. Howard Gurr, the host of Suffolk County Psychological Association's videocast "Psyched Up" about therapy with children. Dr. Deena’s areas of expertise include ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome, Autism, Social Phobias, and Aggression in children. She is currently affiliated with O’Connell, Selig and Associates, Island Therapies, and other Long Island Early Intervention agencies.

Mental Health Blog Day – May 20th

Today is Mental Health Blog Day and I remember when my son was first officially diagnosed with ADHD, he was about 6 years old. Kindergarten. Hmm…. How to explain to him, “Yeah! You were diagnosed with a neurological disorder that makes you move, and fidget, and call out, and have some social issues with your peers!” No matter how smart he was, that wouldn’t go over well. So I started thinking; in life, everyone has something. Some people are good at sports, but not a reading. Some people have difficulty letting go of their blankie. Sometimes, people’s strengths and weaknesses don’t have a name: they are just a group of behaviors, while sometimes if we’re lucky, those groups of behaviors have a label. That’s good; in many cases that means that there are many other people who also have those behaviors and we may know how to help. Many times, when we give something a label or a name, it means that it’s real. It validates the experience. So that’s what I did for my son. What’s good about this approach is that it normalizes the experience for kids. It also gives parents much needed perspective. ADHD isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a thing…and everyone has to deal with something. Feel free to read more of my blog posts here: Long Island Child Psych Blog. Remember, don’t be ashamed of your story; it will inspire others. It’s time to think outside of the stigma. Today is the day: #mhblogday

Ask Dr. Deena

Licensed clinical and school psychologist Dr. Deena Abbe has over a decade of experience successfully diagnosing, treating, and helping children and families live with ADHD/ADD, Autism, Depression, Anxiety, OCD, ODD, feeding concerns, and more. She has a thriving practice and is well-known for her sound and comprehensive mental health work. Dr. Abbe is a member of the New York State Psychological Association, Suffolk County Psychological Association, Association for Behavior and Cognitive Therapy, and American Psychological Association. For the next month leading up to National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, beginning on Sunday, May 3rd till Saturday May 9th, 2015, Dr. Abbe will be opening her social media pages for you to ask any mental health questions regarding children and youth. You can ask her your questions on Facebook, Twitter, the Long Island Child Psych website or via email. At the end of the month, Dr. Deena will choose a question and answer it in a vlog and post it on her social media sites during National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week. Ask Dr. Deena your questions through any of these channels: Facebook: Long Island Child Psych
Twitter: Dr. Deena Abbe Twitter Page (Tweet questions: @DrDeenaAbbe and hashtag #AskDrDeena, or send Dr. Deena a direct message)
Website: Long Island Child Psych website
Email: deena@longislandchildpsych.com Dr. Deena wants to help your family be its best.

When People Make Comments About Your Kid

I remember the first time someone said they didn’t want their son playing with mine. They were both about 5 years old, and the mom said my son was “just too rough.” She didn’t want her son getting hurt. This was someone I considered a friend. The kids played well together often, I had thought. So when mom said this, I was absolutely taken aback. I spent the next few days just listening; watching how other parents and kids interacted with my son. I know he had issues, but I wondered how others dealt with him. To be honest, when kids are that young, parents aren’t often cruel. There is usually an expectation of “Oh, he’s a five-year-old boy”. However, when they get older society expects children to grow up and sometimes our kids don’t get that memo. They may not mature as quickly as their peers or act as other kids expect them to and then the hurtful words come. In addition to that, there are the sly glances and the avoidance. How you handle that as a parent effects how your children will handle these social games as well. Here are some tips that I hope will help you handle these difficult situations with aplomb. 1. Don’t worry so much about what other people think. This is true in general, but especially when it comes to your child. You are the expert on your child. Other people are merely consultants. This will also help you to be less hurt and upset by what they say. 2. Smile. A lot. It’s a great habit to get into. When you are angry, or upset at someone else, just smile at them. They get confused and don’t know what to do with that. And it keeps the tension of the moment off of you and yours. Imagine if that’s a skill your child could emulate? It’s such a great gift you can give to them! 3. Hug your Child. They are loved, and they need to know that. We may think they don’t hear the comments or see the glances, but they do. They need to know that you, their rock, their support, still loves them unconditionally. 4. If you must reply, be calm. See number 2. Yelling and getting emotional just makes everything a tangled mess. When you are calm and in control, you can control the situation. Whether you are stopping someone else from disciplining your child, or you are correcting a misperception, it should only be done when you can take a calm breath and maintain that mood. If you yell and scream, you lower yourself to their level. And now there are many children fighting, even ones that are really big and should know better. 5. If all else fails, walk away. That old adage is true: if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything. Some people aren’t happy and some people think pointing out other peoples flaws make them look better. You don’t have to be part of that. Leave. You and your child deserve better. Everyone is going through something, it’s just that sometimes those “things” are more obvious. Remember that you love your child, regardless of what other feel and that is what’s really important.
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