Children with Special Needs and the Holidays

Children with Special Needs and the Holidays

As a psychotherapist who treats children, I work a great deal with children with special needs. Children who have Autism, ADHD, difficulties with being over stimulated by noise, processing difficulties etc. These children can respond differently to all the Holiday activities. Therefore, parents need to be prepared to cope with the Holidays. I recently read a blog by Lori Lite which gives good tips for how parents can prepare. I have provided some of her tips below.

Set Up a Safe Brain Break Space: Your child can enjoy downtime when they feel over-stimulated at your house or at your relatives. Set up a brain break space and be sure that the other children and guests know that this space is off-limits. Empower your special needs child to recognize when they need to go to their brain break space. Practice, practice, practice…. ahead of time to recognize when mood is escalating… Did I say practice? Empower children by packing a relaxation bag they can go to if they are feeling anxious. Bring earphones and their special relaxation music or stories. Play dough, stress ball, music, video game, even a camera can help children relax and give them a focus if they have social anxiety.

The Indigo Dreams Series gives you stories that incorporate actual relaxation techniques. The stories and music can be downloaded to an iPod or iPad. The other kids may actually be jealous…give them their own space to de-stress. You may start a new trend!

Get Ready: Social stories, books, and movies can be a big help in preparing your child emotionally for holidays. Comfortable clothing and small dose exposures to holiday sounds can help physically. Think ahead with an eye for anxiety causing issues. If wrapping paper too loud? Use easy open bags or just decorate with a bow. Are the electronic bears with bells at Grandma’s house going to cause sensory overload? Ask her to unplug them before you get there. Let friends and family know about triggers ahead of time. If your child doesn’t like to be hugged suggest a handshake or just a wave. Your friends, family, and special needs children will be glad you did.

Prepare Your Children For Gatherings: Eliminate unnecessary anxiety associated with getting together with family members you rarely see by looking through photos of relatives prior to your event. Play memory games matching names to faces. This will help your children feel more comfortable with people they may not have seen in a while. Aunt Mary won’t seem quite so scary when she bends down to greet your child.

Use Relaxation Techniques: Incorporate deep breathing or other coping strategies into your day. Let your children see you use techniques when you are feeling stressed. Encourage them to use relaxation techniques on a daily basis. Breathing, visualizing, and positive thinking are powerful tools.

Incorporate Positive Statements Into Your Dinner: This is empowering and reflective. Each person at the table can state an attribute of their own that they are thankful for. For example, “I am thankful that I am creative.” Feeling stressed? Try, “I am thankful that I am calm.” Your special needs child can prepare ahead with a drawing or sign language if they want to participate without speaking.

Don’t Rush: It’s simple; none of us are very good at rushing in a relaxed way. The two just do not go together. It is impossible for children or teens to rush without getting angry. Make sure you leave enough time to enjoy the journey and avoid meltdowns. Children with special needs should be given notice of transitions.

Write Things Down: Getting the constant chatter and lists out of your head decreases stress and anxiety. Kids love making lists. Give them a clipboard or dry erase board. Help your child make a list of what they want to do for the holiday. It might be helping decorate or what to pack for self-care relaxation bag. This will help you relax and help your children feel involved. Encourage them to add happy words like laugh or draw a smile face on their list.

Schedule Downtime: Don’t overbook your children. It’s important to use holiday time for relaxation. Try staying in pajamas till noon. Pop your favorite popcorn and watch a movie when you wake up. You’ll be surprised how an hour or two of relaxation can rejuvenate your children’s bodies, minds, and spirits.

Shopping: Avoid taking your children shopping on the busiest shopping days of the year. The chaos, noise of large crowds, and long lines will definitely add stress to your life. If your child is absolutely known to meltdown during shopping you can select a few gifts and bring them home. Set up a shopping experience in your home for your child. The whole family can participate. Have a checkout counter and a gift-wrapping table.

Be Flexible: Relax your expectations and definitions of what a fun experience is for your children. Most of us do not need the full blown exhausting experience of holidays to reflect that we had a good time. A few positive minutes is worth a lifetime of memories!

Let The Children Participate: Let your children do one thing for the holiday that makes them feel proud. Kids can collect acorns or place a few jingle bells into a bowl for a beautiful stress free centerpiece. Children can fold the napkins or put the forks out. Let them draw a special picture to place on your guest’s chair. Be prepared to accept their participation as perfect and wonderful. Restrain for correcting or straightening out the napkins and enjoy the holidays with your special needs child!

Dr. Michael Rubino has over 20 years experience working with teenagers and children with special needs. For more information regarding Dr. Rubino’s work or private practice visit his website http://www.RubinoCounseling.com.

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Screen Time Creates Mental Health Issues

Screen Time Creates Mental Health Issues

Research continues to show that the more time teenagers spend on line the more mental health issues they have such as depression & poor social skills. Screentime and Arrested Social Development | Psychology Today https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mental-wealth/201606/screentime-and-arrested-social-development

All I want for Christmas is Food

All I want for Christmas is Food

A teacher asked her first grade class to write letters for Christmas. She asked each student to write one thing they want and something they need. One of the children wrote this heartbreaking letter:

See the video above

The fact that is even more heartbreaking is she was not the only child. Several children requested food and blankets.

We assume that hunger is not a problem in the United States. However, one in five children live below the poverty level and do not have enough to eat on a regular basis. Many of these children are homeless too. It’s not because they have drug addicted parents either. Many of their parents work 2 or 3 jobs, but the cost of living in the United Stares is so high, they still cannot provide their children with the basic necessities.

I do see children in this situation for psychotherapy. These children are often depressed and see no hope for the future. They feel that they will be homeless for their entire life. I am able to provide these children psychotherapy because I see them pro bono.

The other sad fact is that the United States government is considering cutting programs that will make life worse for these children. Many of these programs are their only source of food. The children are the future of our country. Why would the United States, considered the richest country in the world, cut programs that will increase the number of children living in poverty? Should a child in the United States, need to be asking Santa Claus for food and a blanket? We are willing to cut these vital programs that these children who are legal United States citizens and turn around and spend $5 billion dollars on a wall. Where are our priorities?

Dr. Michael Rubuno had 20 years experience as a psychotherapist working with children and teenagers. For more information about his work with children visit his website at http://www.RubinoCounseling.com.

Text Codes that Some Teenagers Use

Text Codes that Some Teenagers Use

As a psychotherapist who primarily treats teenagers, I am very aware how important texting is to teenagers. It is the primary way that many teens communicate with each other. This seems harmless, but it can be very dangerous.

Many of the apps teenager’s use involve texting. Many of these sites allow teens to text with teens all over the country and the world. As a result it is done via computer websites, many teens may not know who they are texting to. There are many sexual predators that go on these sites looking for teenagers to prey on.

In addition to adult predators, teenagers use texting as a way to set up drug deals or advertise underground parties and raves. At these underground parties and raves there is usually drugs and alcohol. Many teens accidentally overdose at raves and underground parties because they do not know for sure what drug they are taking or if it is laced with another drug because they are buying the drug from a total stranger. They have no way to know if the person selling is honest or a con.

For these reasons and many others, many parents are worried about what their teens are texting about and to who. There are apps parents can install on their teens’ cellphones to monitor their teenager’s texting. However, many teens are aware that their parents may be monitoring their texts. Therefore, many teenagers have developed ways to hide their texts in apps on their cellphones and a code language for texting. This code language makes it very difficult for parents to know what their teen is texting about or who they are texting to.

The other day I was reviewing a post by “My Body is My Body.” They provided a list of codes many teenagers use to text secretly. Knowing these codes can help parents be more aware about what and who their teenager is texting to. I have included the code list below:

Dr Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience working with teenagers and children. For more information in his work and private practice visit his website http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or Facebook page at http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.

Issues Related to Texting that Teenagers Seldom Consider

Issues Related to Texting that Teenagers Seldom Consider

In today’s world texting has become a very common way for people to communicate with each other. If I go to a baseball game or the theater, I see adults texting the entire time. I have even seen people fired via text. We now have a President who makes major announcements via Twitter. His actions make teenagers feel Texting is normal. While it is becoming very common with adults, it is even more common with teenagers. The teenagers I see for psychotherapy text all the time. It appears that texting is now the preferred way that teenagers communicate with each other. If you remove their cellphones and they cannot text, many teens become very upset and I have seen many become violent.

While technology is advancing at a fast pace, our laws and ethics are having a difficult time keeping up with the latest advances. However, when laws are passed or ethical standards set, many teenagers and adults are not aware of the new laws. This is creating a tremendous problem for teenagers and their families. I have worked with many teenagers who are struggling with an issue due to texting and they had no idea they were doing anything inappropriate.

First, it is important to note that any time you post something, tweet or text, it is on the internet forever. This is why many celebrities have won very large monetary judgements against people who have posted false or embarrassing material. You can remove it from the site it was posted to, but it still can found on other sites. Therefore, if a teenager post something, they need to think about the fact that it will be out there forever and anyone can see it. This may lead to embarrassing situations.

Let’s consider the most common problems that teenagers encounter. The first one is texting sexually explicit photographs to their boyfriend/girlfriend. At the time they think it is no big deal. However, high school romances typically do not last. If one of the individuals feels hurt, they can post that sexually explicit picture all over the Internet. It can be sent to their families and friends. In fact, their entire school could see it. This would be extremely embarrassing. Even if the person who posted the picture is punished, the picture is still out there and the damage is done.

Additionally, teenagers fail to think about the fact that they are under 18 years old. Therefore, they could be violating child pornography laws by sending the picture or by receiving it and having a copy on their cellphone. In fact, Congress is trying to pass stricter laws regarding teenagers texting sexually explicit picture. Therefore, besides being very embarrassed, the teenagers involved might find themselves facing legal charges for violating child pornography laws.

The second major issue is harassment. Friends get mad at each other or often one teenager is singled out and they become the object of numerous texts telling them they are ugly, no one likes them etc. These texts can be sent so often and by some many other teenagers that the teen who is the target commits suicide. There are numerous examples of this and a common one is accusing a teenager of being gay. This is not harmless teenage game playing. This harassment can be vicious. They are also cases where the teenagers sending these texts have been charged with stalking or more serious charges if the teenager committed suicide.

When this occurs, the teenagers are shocked. They think they were just teasing another kid and it was harmless. They have no idea what this teenager is already dealing with in their life or what it can be like to have numerous classmates texting you every day all day long. It is not harmless teasing, but because technology has increased so quickly it is not the same teasing that use to occur at school. We have not had enough time to think about this point.

Another major issue is that texting is an excellent way for schools or police to arrest teenagers for dealing drugs, buying or using drugs. I have worked with many teenagers from numerous schools where the school catches someone using or selling marijuana on school grounds. The school then checks the student’s cellphone and looks at the text history. The school then starts calling in the student’s on the text history and asking about drug use or selling. One teenager getting caught at school can result in ten teenagers being expelled. The teenagers are usually in shock. First, they never thought they were doing anything wrong and they never thought a text could get them in trouble. However, it can and it does. I have seen many teenagers for psychotherapy because of a text found by the school.

Finally, new research is showing that texting is increasing the rate of depression in teenagers. Texting creates more access in some ways, however, it is isolating too. When you text you lose the personal interaction which is very important. People do need personal interaction for their mental health. When teenagers text they miss out on the personal interaction. This can and does at times lead to a lonely feeling. If a teenager is already having a hard time and then they experience of feeling isolated too, this can lead to depression. Research is showing an increase in teenage depression and I am seeing an increase in the number of teenagers I am seeing for depression. Therefore, we need to take a closer look at teenagers and texting.

Parents, we see adults getting into trouble due to texts they have sent, what makes us think that teenagers can’t get into trouble too? Remember they are not grown adults yet, so their ability to think logically as an adult is not fully developed. Even if it was, technology is moving so fast that adults are getting into trouble due to the rapid change in our lives due to technology. Therefore, we cannot expect teenagers to be able to sort all of this out on their own. Talk to your teen about texting, you may need to monitor their texting. There are apps that can help teenagers identify texts that may be inappropriate. Bottom line teenagers need to support and guidance from their parents regarding the ever evolving technology that we are facing. If we cannot keep up with the ethical issues, how can a teenager?

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with 20 years of experience working with children and teenagers. He also treats Internet addiction. For more information on Dr. Rubino’s work or his private practice visit his website at http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.

Issues Parents Need to Consider, When A Teenager has a Cellphone

Issues Parents Need to Consider, When A Teenager has a Cellphone

In today’s society many people including teenagers view cell phones as a necessity of life. I have seen teenagers argue with their parents how they could not function at school without their cellphones. Most teenagers also say they need Smatphones, a regular cellphone will not work. However, cellphones are a privilege not a necessity. We need to remember that fact.

It is the Holiday Season and many middle school and elementary school children will be asking for Smartphones or cellphones. Those children who already have a Smartphone will be asking to upgrade their phones. Therefore, many children will be asking for the IPhone X. Most children and teenagers who are asking for these expensive phones usually never consider the price. They believe they are entitled to have the latest cellphone.

Many people have forgotten that cellphones are privileges especially teens and children in Middle School. This is a common argument I encounter between children and parents. The other argument that is common between parent and children is how much and where the cell phone is being used. Teens basically accuse parents of child abuse if they say no to a phone or if the parent set limits. You are not being abusive, you are being a responsible parent. Remember being a parent is not a popularity contest. You need to do what you feel is best for your child.

Parents if you stop and think about it, why does an 11 year old child need an IPhone 7? They do not need to track mileage or expense accounts nor do they remember their own appointments. There is really no reason they need a Smartphone.

Smartphones are an area where technology has moved faster than our ethics. If you think about it, IPhones and Smartphones were not around in the year 2000. Now everyone including a majority of teens have an IPhone or Smartphone. In my opinion an adolescent does not need a cellphone until they enter Middle School and at that point all they need is a basic cellphone. They need a basic phone so they can check-in with you if their plans change or if they feel they are in need of help.

As I stated above, there is no reason that a teenager really needs a Smartphone. They are not taking care of a family nor are they running a business. Therefore, a basic cellphone should be adequate for what they need it for. I understand that given the way our society has changed some parents may find that it is helpful to their family if a child in middle school has a cellphone. This is a decision that every parent needs to make based on their family’s situation.

The parent needs to make this decision, not let the child guilt them into buying them a cell phone. If you are divorced and have children, this may be extremely difficult, but the decision about if your child gets a cellphone or not, should be a joint decision by both parents and a decision you both agree on. One parent should not buy a cellphone without consulting the other parent and they should not use it as a weapon in the divorce.

If you decide that your middle school child is mature enough for a cellphone, you should discuss the rules and guidelines about using the phone prior to getting a phone. Some things to discuss are who they give their cell number to, not texting during class and not taking it into the bedroom at night so they can text most of the night. Many kids will text with their friends until 2 or 3 am and then be too tired for school the next day.

Also there should be a discussion about sharing photos. You never know what someone will do with a photo if they get mad with you. Also there needs to be a discussion about the law. It is not uncommon for teens to send their boyfriend/girlfriend nude photos of themselves. What they don’t understand is they are under the age of 18 years old. Therefore, if they have a nude picture of their 15 year old girlfriend, they can be charged with possession of child pornography. Many may say this won’t happen to me, but I have had a number of teens in psychotherapy because they were charged with having child pornography. Also you need to remember, once those pictures are out on the internet, they are out there forever. There also needs to be a discussion about on-line perpetrators too. There are many pedophiles on line trying to lure unsuspecting teens into their plans. Your children need to understand this is a real risk and what to watch for.

Finally, it should be made clear that the phone does not belong to the child — the phone belongs to you the parent. Yes you are giving them the phone to use, but it still belongs to you. If you ask for it back, then the child hands it over no questions asked. Also if you feel they are using their phone in an inappropriate manner, all you need to do is call your cellphone carrier and request that their phone line be suspended. It cost you nothing and it is an easy way to control the phone. When you feel that your child has earned the right to have the cellphone back all you do is call your carrier to reinstate that phone line.

It is very important that you and your teen have an agreement about conditions regarding their cellphone use. All of these conditions and agreements should be written down in an agreement that you sign and the child signs. You each get a copy of the agreement and one copy is posted on the refrigerator. If there are any disputes about a rule, you simply go back to the agreement and you follow what is written. A written agreement is very important because I have seen parents have conversations, make agreements and then 6 months later there is a disagreement and everyone’s memory is slightly different so you have a big fight.

Also given how many adults have gotten into trouble with their Smartphones, if you are going to allow your child to use any kind of cellphone you must discuss the pros and cons so the child does not get into major trouble with the phone.

Below I have included a sample contract that you can use with your child and modify as you need.

Cellphone Contract

I, child’s name, will not bring my cellphone to the family dinner table.

I will not go over our plan’s monthly minutes or text message limits. If I do, I understand that I may be responsible for paying any additional charges or that I may lose my cellphone privileges.

I understand that I am responsible for knowing where my phone is, and for keeping it in good condition.

I understand that my cellphone may be taken away if I talk back to my parents, I fail to do my chores, or I fail to keep my grades up.

I will obey rules of etiquette regarding cellphones in public places. I will make sure my phone is turned off when I am in church, in restaurants, or quiet settings.

I will obey any rules my school has regarding cellphones, such as turning them off during class, or keeping them on vibrate while riding the school bus.

I promise I will alert my parents when I receive suspicious or alarming phone calls or text messages from people I don’t know. I will also alert my parents if I am being harassed by someone via my cellphone.

I will not use my cellphone to bully another person.

I will send no more than _____ texts per day I understand that having a cellphone can be helpful in a emergency, but I know that I must still practice good judgment and make good choices that will keep me out of trouble or out of danger.

I will not send embarrassing photos of my family or friends to others. In addition, I will not use my phone’s camera to take embarrassing photos of others. I understand that having a cell phone is a privilege, and that if I fail to adhere to this contract, my cell phone privilege may be revoked.

Parent Responsibilities I understand that I will make myself available to answer any questions my tween might have about owning a cellphone and using it responsibly.

I will support my child when he or she alerts me to an alarming message or text message that he or she has received. I will alert my child if our cellphone plan changes and impacts the plan’s minutes.

I will give my child _______ warning(s) before I take his or her cellphone away

Signed ______________________________ (Tween) Signed ______________________________ (Parents). Date ______________________________

Dr. Michael Rubino has been working with middle school and high school students for over 20 years. He is considered an expert in this field. Dr. Rubino is one of the founding members of the National Alive & Free Program, a program designed to work with teens. For more information about Dr. Michael Rubino’s work and private practice visit his website at http://www.rcs-ca.com or http://www.rubinocounseling.com or follow him on Twitter @RubinoTherapy.