By Amy Steele, LCSW, Courier & Press, February 28, 2017 –

The pressure children feel from standardized testing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety.  While low levels of anxiety can motivate students to study and perform well, severe anxiety can make it difficult for a child to go about their daily activities.

Some students experience physical symptoms of anxiety such as stomachaches, headaches, feeling too hot or too cold, or feeling like their heart is beating rapidly.  Others experience emotional symptoms such as “blanking out,” having difficulty paying attention, or experiencing trouble thinking clearly.  If your child describes these symptoms, talk to their teacher and the school social worker or school counselor about ways to help them.

Start preparing your child emotionally by understanding their feelings.  Talk to them about their feelings about the upcoming test, listen for the level of confidence they seem to have, and ask them what about the test worries them.

Particularly during times of stress, children need extra comfort, nurturing and understanding to help them feel secure and confident.  Build time into the day to give them some one-on-one attention.

Encouraging your child to talk about how they feel and listening to them with empathy assures them their feelings are normal.  Let them know you have confidence in them and believe they can do it.  Help them rehearse positive thoughts and statements, such as “I’ll do my best” or “I’ll show what I know.”

Teach them ways to relax or stay calm before or during the test by practicing at home, possibly before bedtime.  Have the child take a slow deep breath while spelling out their name, one slow deep breath as they say or think each letter.  Another way to help them relax is to talk through and imagine a scenario where they go to school, have a good day and feel calm as they take the test and do well.

Remind your child of the strengths, talents, and personal qualities that make them special and unique. Make sure they know those qualities go far beyond what a standardized test can measure.  Be specific so they can remember these valued qualities when they need to remember them most.

Finally, express your unconditional love to your child.  This gives them confidence, security and a relational bond that is a great boost for their hearts and their brains.

By Vicki Kirkman, LCSW, LCAC – February 21, 2017 – Courier & Press –

Stress is a natural part of life and something everyone experiences.  It can be positive or negative and affect your daily life greatly if not managed appropriately.

In some situations, stress can motivate us to do better or work toward hard-to-reach goals.  Other circumstances can leave someone feeling overwhelmed, anxious and out of control.

Children and teens are affected by stress in several ways.  Parents need to remember that all children respond to situations differently.  What causes stress for one child or teen might not affect another one.

However, some stressors are common for children and teens.  These stressors include pressure at school, being involved in too many after-school activities, or conflict with friends and family.

Other big and complicated issues like divorce, death of a loved one, drug use, and financial problems at home contribute to stress.  Medical illnesses and world events like natural disasters or war can also be sources of stress.

It’s important for parents to recognize signs of stress in their children and help them manage it in a healthy manner.  Young children who are stressed out may complain of stomach aches, headaches or say they don’t feel well.  At school, they may visit the school nurse frequently or try to avoid attending school.  They may also be more tearful than normal, have trouble sleeping, wet the bed or not eat as much at meals.  Some children experience nightmares or have acting-out behavior such as outbursts and tantrums.

Teenagers can experience many physical reactions to stress.  Digestive problems and headaches, tense muscles, racing heart, frequent colds and feeling fatigued are all signs of stress.  Teens might also feel overly emotional, irritable, depressed and experience mood swings.

Mentally, teens with stress overload may feel forgetful, lack concentration and have a negative attitude.  Both children and teens often withdraw from activities they enjoy and isolate themselves from friends if they experience too much stress.

Parents can play a key role in helping their children and teens manage stress.  Most importantly, parents can model good coping skills and stress management in their own lives.  If children see their parents deal with stress in a healthy and positive manner, they are more likely to apply that to their own life.

Other ways parents can help their children are listed below.

  • Teach your kids how to identify their body’s cues for stress overload.  Pay attention to headaches, upset stomach, tearfulness or tense muscles.
  • Limit extra-curricular activities. Too many evenings participating in sports, extra lessons or just running errands can cause kids and teens to become tired and pressed for time to do homework or just relax.
  • Prepare ahead of time to avoid extra hassles. Lay out the next day’s clothes, pack lunches, put homework and bags in an easy place to grab, etc.
  • Monitor and limit exposure to television, social media and cell phone use. Phones should be put away at night so kids can sleep and not be tempted to text friends or surf the internet.
  • Encourage relaxation and leisurely activities with friends and family.
  • Get plenty of rest and eat a healthy diet.
  • Teach communication skills like problem-solving, good decision making and sharing feelings and thoughts with others.
  • Recognize when stress is too big of an issue to tackle alone. Don’t hesitate to speak to a counselor, social worker or doctor for extra support and help.

Stress management is crucial in life and best handled with the guidance of parents and supportive adults. By helping children and teens manage stress, they can be better prepared for life’s challenges.

By Nicky Devonshire, LCSW, Courier & Press, Feb. 14, 2017 –

Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate those we love.  If you are a parent like me, however, romantic dinners have been replaced with frantic nights of creating the perfect Valentine’s treats for your children and their classmates.

Sweet treats make for an extra special day for most kids.  For children with food allergies, however, this day can lead to anxiety and fear.

As a parent of a child with food allergies, I understand how these celebrations can lead to additional worries and concerns.  With the support of others, I can plan ahead to keep my child safe, which helps alleviate some of the anxiety my child may be feeling.

Currently, one out of 13 children has a food allergy.  Some studies have shown that children with food allergies are more likely to experience anxiety when separated from their parents.

You may be a grandparent, teacher, coach or friend of a child with a food allergy.  You can help relieve some of the anxiety by making children with food allergies feel safer in their environment.  Here are some helpful hints:

Learn to read ingredient labels or save labels for the parent to read.

Many foods may not contain the actual allergen as an ingredient but could be manufactured in close proximity to other foods that do contain the allergen.  As a food allergy parent, I read every label.  I’m the lady standing in the grocery aisle blocking your way because I’m reading all 89 ingredients in the crackers that I have bought 100 times before.  Yes, I read it every time because ingredients change.

Know the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, repetitive coughing, wheezing, nasal congestion, itching, swelling, hives and tingling of the mouth and throat.  Be aware that sometimes only one or two symptoms will occur.

Learn how to use epinephrine injections.

If a child has an allergic reaction, it is important to act quickly.  Epinephrine is a medication that can help reverse symptoms and possibly save a life.  The most common injection is the EpiPen.  Learn how to use the EpiPen before a reaction occurs.  A video of instructions can be found on Directions can also be found on the label.  After you inject, call 911 and get immediate medical attention.

Understand that an allergic reaction can be induced by a very small amount.

According to “The Peanut Allergy Answer Book” by Michael C. Young, an individual could have a reaction to 1 mg, or 1/1000 of a gram.  The average peanut weighs 500 to 800 mg.  This makes my heart race a little.  Let’s face it, kids bite their nails, pick their noses, and well, eat.  So if my kiddo happens to put his ham and cheese down where your kiddo had his PB&J, the results can be scary.  This is why parents often request that classrooms be free of food or certain allergens.

Go the extra mile.

I’ll use this category to give some examples of incredible people who “go the extra mile.”  My friend thoroughly cleaned her car (just to be safe) before driving my toddler to the movies.  A teacher stopped her first grade class to call the 1-800 number on the box of cookies so she could assure my son they were safe for him. We have friends who still invite us over for dinner even though we can be complicated to feed.  I’m thankful for the people who allow me to educate them on food allergies and listen sympathetically to my concerns.

When a food-allergic child knows they are in the care of someone who understands their allergy and takes extra time to make them feel safe, they will likely feel less anxious.  These individuals and their efforts do not go unnoticed. On this Valentine’s Day, I would like to thank them for their continuous understanding, kindness and love!