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Children's Mental Health

8 Ways To Raise Kids To Be Allies

Being an ally of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community is not just about knowing LGBTQ+-related vocabulary by heart or lobbying for trans-inclusive bathrooms. Even young children can be considered allies when they treat all people — regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or sex charactertistics (SOGIESC) —  with compassion, acceptance, and respect. 

“Raising kids to be kind and accepting benefits not just the recipients of those kind acts but also the children themselves,” says Dr. Kathryn Braganza, a neurodevelopmental pediatrician practicing in Manila and mother of two children aged 18 and 6. “Being kind will make them feel good about themselves, ease their anxieties, make them happier, and boost their self-esteem.” 

While it is easier to teach children to be allies when a relative is queer, even families without homosexual, bisexual, or transgender loved ones can raise children to be open and loving. Dr. Braganza, who also has a gay older brother living in the United States,  shares some tips from her personal experience on how parents can create a culture of kindness and inclusivity at home:

“When my husband makes inappropriate jokes, for example, I call him out in front of the kids in a nice way. In other instances when it’s okay to do so, I politely share science-backed data to counter other people’s stereotypes and misconceptions.”

Kathryn Braganza, Neurodevelopmental pediatrician
  1. Embrace diversity. From a young age, expose your children to people, shows, music, or literature that positively represent a variety of SOGIESC. “In the building where I live, we have a transgender neighbor who dotes on my six-year-old daughter, hugging and kissing her all the time,” relates Dr. Braganza. “And because my husband and I did not make an issue out of it, my daughter thinks of her as just a loving neighbor and not ‘that transgender neighbor.’” 

Many television shows now also have diverse casts and roles, so Dr. Braganza suggests that parents co-watch with children to better explain to them what they are watching. 

Finally, let your sons wear pink, your daughters wear blue, and let them play with whatever toys they want. “In developmental pediatrics, we encourage parents to let kids engage in pretend-play, such as playing with dolls, to boost socio-emotional skills,” Dr. Braganza says. “Some parents have told me they are hesitant to let their sons play with dolls because they worry it would make him more feminine, but I just explain to them that research has shown that toys do not determine or influence gender identity.”

  1. Emphasize WE, not ME. Encourage your child to look for what they have in common with others instead of how they are different. Any time your child points out how someone is unlike them, Dr. Braganza suggests that you say, “There are lots of ways people are different from each other. Now let’s try to think of ways you are the same.” 
  1. Encourage open and accepting minds. “You can model this in everything you do, even in situations that are not related to gender,” says Dr. Braganza. “When your kids see you treating everyone the same regardless of their social status or their appearance, they will also do it on their own.”
  2.  Openly speak with pride and love about family members, friends, and colleagues who are LGBTQ+ (as long as they are out and are comfortable with you discussing them with others).  “My brother came out to me and my parents just before I got married and we supported him whole-heartedly,” Dr. Braganza recounts. “So when my children were growing up, his sexual orientation was never an issue because they saw that their grandparents and I did not treat him any differently than other people. Before the pandemic, we would all even frequently visit him and his husband in the US and my children treated their relationship as something normal.” 
  1. Be mindful of hurtful or derogatory comments or behavior. Children are always watching, so they will notice kindness, respect, and when you speak up on behalf of someone receiving unfair treatment. “Of course, choose your battles,” Dr. Braganza clarifies. “When my husband makes inappropriate jokes, for example, I call him out in front of the kids in a nice way. In other instances when it’s okay to do so, I politely share science-backed data to counter other people’s stereotypes and misconceptions. But when the hurtful remarks come from an elederly relative, for example, I just say quiet to show respect, but once we are at home I explain to the kids that what they heard was not right.” 

“I also frequently tell my children that everyone is raised differently, so if other people give a different point of view, just be polite but at the same time they should be firm in their belief that they know what is right,” she adds. 

  1. Answer children’s questions simply and honestly. How you respond can either create stereotypes or prevent them from forming. For very young kids, usually a one- or two-sentence answer is enough. Dr. Braganza gives some examples:
  • “Mommy, he’s a man but why is he wearing makeup/dressing like a woman?” 

Answer: “That’s what he likes to do, it looks nice anyway, right?”

  • “Daddy, he is a boy, how can he be a girl?” (when referring to transgenders)

Answer: “He likes to be one, there’s nothing wrong with that.”

  • “Why does she look like that/talk that way?” (when referring to someone with a different gender expression)

Answer: “That’s how she likes to look or talk, there’s nothing wrong with that.”

In any situation, always tell your child that everyone has the right to choose how they want to express themselves,” she says. 

  1. Ask yourself one critical question every day: “If my child had only my behavior to copy, would they be witnessing an example of what I want them to emulate?” “So always model kindness and optimism,” explains Dr. Braganza. In doing so, your children will learn to be allies and treat everyone with compassion and kindness. 
  1. Update yourself on the latest facts about the LGBTQ+ community. There are many myths and misconceptions about sexual orientation and gender identity, so it is important that we educate ourselves to avoid inadvertently  projecting obsolete ideas onto our children and tainting their views. “Update yourself with what science tells us about SOGIESC,” she suggests. “The internet has a wide array of information to get you started.” 

MindNation also gives talks on SOGIESC in partnership with Balur Kanlungan, an online wellness community for LGBTQI youth in the Philippines; just email us at [email protected] to set a schedule. 

If you need help on improving your communication skills or forming a closer relationship with your child, our psychologists and WellBeing Coaches are available 24/7 for teletherapy sessions. Rest assured that all conversations will be kept secure and confidential. Book a slot now through FB Messenger http://m.me/themindnation or email [email protected].

Categories
Children's Mental Health

10 Ways To Cultivate Positive Teen Body Image

Body image is defined as how and what you think and feel about your body. It includes the picture of your body that you have in your mind, which might or might not match your body’s actual shape and size.

“A person has a positive or healthy body image if they feel happy and satisfied with their body, and are comfortable with and accepting of the way they look,” says Danah Gutierrez, a body positivity advocate and host of the podcast “Raw and Real.mp3” together with her twin sister Stacy. “They accept that everyone is diverse, and that the body is not an ornament to be looked at.”

On the other hand, a person with a negative unhealthy body image feels unhappy with the way they look. “People who feel like this often want to change their body size or shape,” Danah adds.

A person’s body image is influenced by many factors. These include family environment, the attitudes of peers, social media, cultural background, and more.

Puberty is also a big influence. This is a time when a child’s body goes through lots of changes; at the same time, teens encounter the pressures of fitting in and finding a sense of belonging. “In my high school, conversations about who are the best-looking in our batch were common; students would be ranked based on who was the prettiest, and I was told many times that if I lost weight, my rank would go higher,” Danah relates.

This is why if you are a parent to teens or work with teens, it is important to know that you have an influence on your child’s body image. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting your child to be well-groomed or present themselves well; these are good values,” Danah points out. “But how much do you value appearances, and is it perceived in a healthy way? Because there can be situations when teens will not process it the right way.”

An unhealthy teenage body image is directly related to low self-esteem, which are risk factors for the development of risky weight loss strategies, eating disorders, and mental health disorders like depression. “It might also lead teens to look for detrimental ways to feel desired, to feel a sense of belongingness, or to be valued, such as turning to peers or the media,” cautions Danah.

On the other hand, teens who feel good about their body grow up more likely to have good self-esteem and mental health as well as a balanced attitude to eating and physical activity.

“When teens feel good about themselves and who they are, when they carry themselves with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness — that makes them beautiful!”

Danah Gutierrez, body positivity advocate

Here are the things you can do to help your teen develop a positive body image:

  1. Explain that weight gain is normal during puberty. During this time, children feel “out of control” with the changes they are experiencing in their body. It can help tremendously to know about and understand these changes before they occur. Girls who are experiencing their first menstrual cycle, especially, should realize that growth and weight spurts are necessary and normal for their development.

  2. ‘Instagram vs. reality.’ Tell your teen to be more discerning of what they see on social media or tv. Help assuage their insecurities by explaining how the images are often digitally manipulated so that people look more ‘beautiful’ than they really are.

  3. Focus on inner beauty. “Beauty is a state of mind, not a state of body,” says Danah. “When teens feel good about themselves and who they are, when they carry themselves with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness — that makes them beautiful.”

  4. Discuss self-image. “Have an honest and vulnerable discussion with your teen about weaknesses and flaws (theirs and yours), share your own struggles and what healthy ways you took to be better,” Danah explains.

  5. Help establish healthy eating and exercise habits. If your child wants to eat differently or do more exercise, that’s OK – but make sure it’s for healthy reasons, and the dieting and exercise don’t become extreme. “Let your child know that healthy eating and physical activity aren’t just for weight loss – they’re vital for physical health, now and in the future,” points out Danah.

  6. Praise achievements. “Don’t have to limit compliments to appearance, i.e. you’re so fair-skinned, you’re so skinny,” says Danah. “Tell your child that you’re proud of them for things that aren’t related to appearance, such as ‘I love how you’re so eager to learn about life’ or ‘You’re so mature for your age’ or ‘I really enjoy your company.’” 

Also focus on what their body can do, rather than how their body looks. For example, you can say, ‘Wow, you hit that ball a long way’, rather than ‘Gosh, you’ve got big arm muscles’.

  1. Set a good example. If you show that you feel positive about your own body, it’ll be easier for your child to be positive about their body. Talk about eating healthy, not dieting; talk about exercising to be stronger, not to lose weight; and do let your child see you eating a variety of food, vegetables, and lean meats, not only diet foods or fat-free foods.

  2. Discourage family and friends from using hurtful nicknames and joking about people who are overweight. Teasing can have a negative influence on body image and can also lead to bullying. It’s important to let everyone in your family know that teasing about weight or appearance is not okay. “I would call out the commenter by saying right away ‘What did you say? I don’t think that’s funny,’” Danah says. “Then I would have a private conversation with that person and tell them I would appreciate it if they did do that in front of my kid, that’s not going to help my child in any way, and I think my child is beautiful just the way they are.”

  3. Connect them with body positive role models. There are things teens cannot share with their parents, and that is normal. “So make sure there are other older people in your circle who are trustworthy, have good character, are grounded, and who carry themselves with confidence,” says Danah. “This way when your child needs to seek advice, they don’t just rely on their peers who  are just as confused and clueless as they are.”

  4. Actively listen and communicate with your child. Respect that they have insecurities. “Don’t just tell them ‘What you are feeling is wrong,’ take the time to listen and figure them out,” suggests Danah. “Assure them that their looks are not the only thing about them, that they have so much more to offer. Make them understand that their body is an instrument, not just an ornament; it’s an instrument to experience good things and bad things, to enjoy life. And tell them that they can be beautiful in so many other ways than just through their appearances.”

As a parent, teacher, or close adult relative, you are the most influential role model in your children’s life. If your teen seems to have anxiety or stress about how he or she looks, start by talking with them about your concerns. And if things don’t change and you’re still worried, consider reaching out to a health professional. MindNation’s psychologists are available 24/7 for online consultations with you or your child. Book  a session now through http://m/me/themindnation or email [email protected] . Rest assured that all conversations will be kept secure and confidential.

Categories
Children's Mental Health

10 Ways To Talk To Teens If They Don’t Want To Talk To You

Whether we like it or not, teenagers are complicated creatures. From being sweet, wholesome, and talkative kids who cannot wait to tell you stories about their day, they can become moody, temperamental, and impulsive adolescents who prefer to stay glued to their phones and answer your questions with grunts and eye-rolls.

Don’t worry, it’s really part of growing up. “There is a science behind this change in behavior during the teenage years,” assures Dr. Margaret Mae Maano, a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist. “During adolescence, teenagers experience changes in their bodies and brains and these changes don’t take place at the same time. The first part of the brain to develop would be the limbic system, or the part that deals with emotions, which will explain why teens can become moody. The last to develop would be the prefrontal cortex, which is the decision-making part of the brain, and explains why teens are more prone to engage in high-risk behaviors.” According to the National Institute of Mental Health in the United States, this brain remodelling will continue until the teen turns 25, so it’s important that adults around them be a steady and constant presence to protect them from the negative impacts of their impulses. 

In addition, the combination of a developing brain and experiencing so many physical, emotional, and social changes may make teens ill-equipped to handle stress and cause them to develop mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. “Before the COVID-19 pandemic, teens could always turn to their friends for mental health support,” says Dr. Maano. “But now that schooling is online, this support system is no longer as accessible. It’s up to the adults in the house to become their source of strength and support.”

Just because your teens seem withdrawn and reticent does not mean that they will not appreciate your efforts to maintain a close relationship; you just have to approach them the right way. Below are some ways you can connect with your teenagers and get them to open up (even if they seem like they don’t want to):

1. Make family meal times sacred. Aim to have the family complete during one meal time each day and institute a no-gadget rule at the dining table. This creates a safe space where family members can share how their day went or talk about whatever is on their minds. “When family mealtimes are the norm, this will ingrain in our teens’ minds that their parents will always make time to listen to them,” says Dr. Maano. 

2. Ask open-ended questions. This allows teens the opportunity to open up on their own terms and the freedom to talk about what they are comfortable to share.   

3. Keep the conversations stress-free and casual. Limit the lectures. “The key is to actually listen to what your teen says,” points out Dr. Maano.

4. Tone down the criticisms, turn up the praise.  “Sometimes, that positive statement from you may be the only good thing they have heard in a long time,” Dr. Maano says.

5. Don’t demand compliance; opt for negotiation. “Because teens are at a stage when they are trying to develop independence from their parents, they may not respond positively if we force them to do something,” opines Dr, Maano. “Instead of imposing your will, help them come up with a better way to handle their issues. Teens may not want you to solve their problems for them, but some guidance would be great.” 

6. Ask them about their opinions about what is going on in the world. This is a good way to understand what is going on in their minds. “It also makes them feel respected and valued,” points out Dr. Maano. 

7. Be clear with your family rules, such as non-school related screen time, smoking, swearing, etc. Everyone in the household should be in agreement with the rules and even adults should be bound by them; if some parts of the rules are contentious, negotiate during family meal times. 

8. Pick your battles. Don’t fight with your kids over every infraction committed. “Teens feel omnipotent, that diseases and dangers do not apply to them. They also tend to be experimental, so for example, they may try to smoke or drink alcohol out of curiosity but then stop on their own,” explains Dr. Maano. As a parent, the most you can do is guide them in making their own decisions. And if you do catch your teen disobeying your rules, such as skipping class, smoking, or drinking, address the issue calmly. Don’t lecture them because they will only shut you out. Find out why they started doing it, then negotiate on getting them to stop. If there are consequences, help them face up to it; and if they stop, commend them for making a good decision. 

9. Allow them some liberties but give them additional responsibilities at home as well.  Giving them responsibilities also means that you are trusting them as a young adult and boosts their confidence. 

10. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you find yourself facing an issue beyond your control or expertise, ask help from your child’s school counselors, your pediatrician or adolescent medicine specialist, or from mental health professionals. Dr. Maano gives some examples:

  • If you catch your teen doing drugs, this will require professional intervention. 
  • If you and/or your teen are uncomfortable talking about sex or reproductive health, find another trusted adult whom he or she can talk to, like their pediatrician. “But as early and as often as possible, I encourage parents to teach children about respect for the body, that private parts should remain private. If your daughter feels she is not ready to have sex with her boyfriend, tell her it is ok to refuse and say no.  And if your son has a girlfriend and she says no, he should respect that as well.”
  • Finally, self-harm and suicidal ideation should be treated as a cry of help from the teen. “Consult a mental health expert right away,” Dr. Maano advises. “If your child is reluctant to see a mental health expert, he or she might be more comfortable talking to their school’s guidance counselor first. The counsellor will be the one to recommend further evaluation.”

There are no hard and fast rules for parenting. “The good news is the majority of teenagers go through adolescence without any problems,” assures Dr. Maano. “Just be a constant presence in their lives, talking to them, listening without judgement, and keeping an open mind. Step back and allow them to discover things on their own. When your teen knows that you are just there, ready to listen, he or she will open up to you when they are ready.”

If you or your teen needs someone to talk to, MindNation’s Care Hotline is available on FB Messenger. The FREE service is available 24/7, all year round, and is completely confidential. Drop them a line here http://m.me/themindnation.

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Children's Mental Health Featured

4 Ways To Prevent Student Burnout

With many schools transitioning into remote or online learning because of the pandemic, the toll of the virus, isolation, increased workload, and other associated effects are rising among many students. According to a May 2020 survey by Best Colleges, an online college planning resource, 81% of high school and college students surveyed said they somewhat or strongly agreed that they were experiencing increased stress due to the learning disruptions stemming from COVID-19.

If you or your child need someone to talk to, MindNation psychologists are available 24/7 for teletherapy sessions. To book a session, visit https://bit.ly/mn-chat or email [email protected].

“There are many disadvantages to online schooling, chiefly the lack of physical connection with other humans — no more hallway chats, high-fives, pats on the back, or hugs from friends and teachers,” says Dr. Natasha Esteban-Ipac, a pediatrician and adolescent-medicine specialist. “Students also need to contend with virtual learning fatigue because it takes extra effort to interpret the non-verbal cues of the person on the other side of the monitor. Lastly, let’s not forget that there are physical ill-effects of spending too much time online — eye strain, headache, and fatigue can affect their general well-being.”

“If left unresolved, these can affect a child’s ability and capacity to succeed at home, in school, in relationships, and in work later on.”

Dr. Natasha Esteban-Ipac, a pediatrician and adolescent-medicine specialist

All of the above can lead to the development of mental health issues in children such as anxiety, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorders, depression, and other mood disorders, sleep disorders, and even addiction to technology. “If left unresolved, these can affect a child’s ability and capacity to succeed at home, in school, in relationships, and in work later on,” says Dr. Esteban-Ipac.

What can parents and educators do to protect a student’s mental health? According to Dr. Estebal-Ipac, “All we need is L.O.V.E.”

  • L – Label and validate emotions. 

“We need to help children express their emotions in healthy ways so they do not bottle up their feelings,” she says. This includes teaching them calming techniques such as deep breathing exercises, pausing to count from 1 to 10, or writing in a journal or diary. “When a child knows what to do when they are faced with certain emotions, they feel a sense of control and are comforted,” she adds

  • O – Offer to listen and respond.

Empathize and talk with your children when they are feeling tired, stressed, or scared. “Believe in the power of touch—hug or cuddle your children. Do not be afraid to be firm, though, if they do something wrong or anything that will compromise their safety,” reminds Dr. Ipac-Esteban. 

  • V – Value routine, rules, and schedules.

Having a structure at home is very helpful especially during stressful situations like this pandemic. When children have some form of control over the things that will happen throughout the day, they will feel more safe and secure. “Have a routine for waking up, preparing for school, mealtimes, activities such as playing or reading, and bedtime,” she says. 

Things not to miss out in these routines, rules, and schedules include:

  • Regular times for meals and exercise
  • Limiting non-school related screen time 
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Always learning. “Part of learning is also teaching the children about life skills, or how they can be functional adults. So involve them in doing household chores, preparing meals, cleaning parts of the house, or doing the laundry,” Dr. Esteban-Ipac advises. 
  • E – Embrace mistakes, chaos and imperfections: both your children’s and yours.
    Negotiating and resolving conflicts is an important skill children should learn because it develops resilience, and they learn it best with adults around them, be it parents or teachers. Some things we can do:
    • Try to solve problems together. If it is really overwhelming for them, help them break down the task/problem into smaller tasks so they can solve it one step at a time. 
    • Help them organize their time and give them the opportunity to decide how they will tackle their tasks (be it school work or chores).
    • Reframe their mistakes as learning opportunities and involve them in planning ways to improve their work. Reassure them that it’s okay to make mistakes, and that you do not love them any less. 

All these strategies will really require time and patience, so if you are a parent or teacher, don’t forget to practice self-care. “‘Mental health begins with M.E,’” says Dr. Esteban-Ipac. “A stressed parent will lead to a stressed child, and in the same way a happy and healthy parent will result in a happy and healthy child.”

“A stressed parent will lead to a stressed child, and in the same way a happy and healthy parent will result in a happy and healthy child.”

If you feel your child is really troubled with online learning, talk to them and help them identify their reasons for being stressed or sad. But if it is really overwhelming, even for you, do not be afraid to seek professional help if needed.