Friday, February 11, 2011

Watch for Signs to Prevent Teen Suicide

One in four teenagers thinks about committing suicide, says Dr. James R. Varrell, MD, Medical Director of the Center for Family Guidance in New Jersey. I asked him about the warning signs and how parents can ensure that their children do not become a tragic statistic. There is a much higher percentage of girls who will have suicidal behavior, such as cutting oneself or taking some pills – things that are not so aggressive. More often than not they are looking for help. When boys attempt suicide, it tends to be more of a true attempt and it tends to be much more violent, such as shooting or hanging oneself.

There are three reasons why teens want to kill themselves. One is that they are so demoralized and depressed and they think that nothing will ever change and nothing they do can make a difference. They feel helplessness and hopelessness. The second reason is that they want to get even with somebody. It’s a very immature way to punish someone else. The teen will believe that others will realize how important she was and they’ll be sad for the rest of their lives. In adolescence there’s still a strong belief in what we call magical thinking. It’s like believing in Santa Claus – something that’s out of reality but we take it as true. They’ll be visualizing people at their funeral and there’s some sense that they’re going to be there. There’s also a lack of a sense of permanence with suicide. The third reason is purely to avoid some kind of consequence of their actions. There are kids who have tried to commit suicide because they got pregnant and they didn’t want to tell their parents. They didn’t know how to cope and they thought there would be such humiliation, embarrassment and disappointment, that suicide was a better option.
The are warning signs that parents need to watch out for. The first is depression, when kids start to change their behavior or withdrawal. They keep to themselves, their grades fall, they are over-eating or sleeping or under-eating or sleeping. They stop smiling and laughing and seem sad. Usually, they don’t show their parents depressed moods, they show them irritability. Parents will sometimes think it’s teenage angst when it’s really a depression problem. There is a high level of stress and expectation on children these days, particularly in more affluent areas where there’s a real push to perform.

If you see any of these signs, first, you need to talk to the child about whatever your concern is. You might get resistance initially, but you need to be ready for that. Say, “Hey look, I know that you don’t want me in your business, but I want to be supportive and I want to be sure things are cool. I don’t need to know everything you’re thinking, but as someone who loves and cares about you, I’m going to need to know that you are okay.” If the child breaks down in tears or gives you an indication that there’s a problem, you should get them into therapy. Keep at it until they talk to you.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Snow Days Can Provide Great Learning and Bonding Experiences

Snow days can put a real crimp in any household. Never mind you were supposed to go to work, the gym, the grocery store – you can fill in the blank. But now your toddler needs to be occupied all day long. What is a parent to do?!

Take advantage of the situation! Your job or errands can survive without you (believe it or not.) Here’s a great opportunity to do things with your kids that weren’t in the schedule. These unscripted moments make lifelong memories and can provide really special bonding times.

Here are a few suggestions:
1. Exercise together – So, you missed the gym. You and your toddler can work out together. You must have something around the house that he can use as weights….maybe bean bags or water bottles. Let him exercise with you – it will be lots of fun, tire him out a bit, and you will demonstrate the importance, and fun, of exercise.

2. Crafts – Find things in the kitchen and office, such as pasta, cereal, paper scraps, and bits of yarn. Together you can make a great mosaic or collage. You won’t believe how fun and relaxing it is to do arts and crafts. Just spend some time coloring and you’ll feel great!

3. Watch a movie together – Pull out a classic that you and your child can enjoy together. Make popcorn, snuggle in a blanket and enjoy an hour or so of cuddling. When the movie is over, talk about what your child liked best, and use this as a jumping board for other conversation.

4. Play a game – There are so many educational ways to enjoy time together. Play a memory game, Go Fish, match the number on dice to pennies, etc. You can have fun while helping your child develop her skills.

5. Build a snowman – Before you know it, your child will want to play in the snow with his friends, not with you. While they are little, build a snowman, make snow angels, throw snowballs, and have fun. Give your child a small shovel and let him help you shovel the driveway. The fresh air will do him good, and you are teaching him that it’s every family member’s responsibility to help clear the driveway.

6. Make hot chocolate – Warm up with some hot chocolate. Let your child help put in marshmallows (she can count them out.)

7. Take a nap together – Snow days are meant to be lazy. Fall asleep together and appreciate how sweet your child is while she’s napping.

Snow days can be wonderful with a little planning. Enjoy!!