Helping Kids Who are Afraid as We Reopen Schools

Helping Kids Who are Afraid as We Reopen Schools

Over the past two years children and teenagers have had to cope with a lot of emotions. The main emotions they have been facing are anxiety, fear and grief. If we look at their lives over the past few years, it is not surprising they have been dealing with these emotions.

In 2019, there was a mass shooting every day and a majority of these shootings occurred at schools (CDC). Students have been dealing with these shootings for 20 years and since 2010, the number of shootings increased every year (CDC). As a result, students were grieving for friends and teachers and were afraid to go to school. In addition, they were having mass shooter drills on a regular basis. These drills increased children’s anxiety about going to school. They were have more shooter drills than fire drills.

Besides dealing with mass shootings, they have had to cope with the Coronavirus Pandemic and having to go to school remotely. Furthermore, they were not able to see their friends as usual. Finally with over 525,000 Americans dying from the Coronavirus, many children and teenagers have been grieving for the death of grandparents, parents and friends. This has also created a lot of anxiety for kids. Many do not want their parents to leave the house because they are afraid that their parents might catch the virus and die.

Now we are changing children’s world again. We are telling them it is safe to go back to school. However, the Coronavirus is not under control and the mass shootings have started again. This will exacerbate the fear, anxiety and grief that children and teenagers are still dealing with due to the last two years. Honestly, can you blame them?

I have had many parents ask me how they can help their children and teenagers through these difficult times. However, many parents are finding it difficult because they are experiencing some of the same feelings and they know they cannot completely protect their children from mass shootings or the Coronavirus. This is correct, but as a parent all you can do is your best. Hopefully if you and your family work together, you can make it through these difficult times.

Dealing with children and teenagers as a psychotherapist for the past 20 years, I have seen many children with these issues. Additionally, I have researched these issues in addition to becoming certified to treat children and first responders for the traumatic events we are facing as a society. Below is the best advice I have found for parents who are dealing with children who are anxious, afraid or grieving.

As a parent, you can’t protect you children from grief, but you can help them express their feelings, comfort them, help them feel safer, and teach them how to deal with fear. By allowing and encouraging them to express their feelings, you can help them build healthy coping skills that will serve them well in the future, and confidence that they can overcome adversity.

• Break the news. When something happens that will get wide coverage, my first and most important suggestion is that you don’t delay telling your children about what’s happened: It’s much better for the child if you’re the one who tells her. You don’t want her to hear from some other child, a television news report, or the headlines on the front page of the New York Post. You want to be able to convey the facts, however painful, and set the emotional tone.

• Take your cues from your child. Invite her to tell you anything she may have heard about the tragedy, and how she feels. Give her ample opportunity to ask questions. You want to be prepared to answer (but not prompt) questions about upsetting details. Your goal is to avoid encouraging frightening fantasies.

• Model calm. It’s okay to let your child know if you’re sad, but if you talk to your child about a traumatic experience in a highly emotional way, then he will likely absorb your emotion and very little else. If, on the other hand, you remain calm, he is likely to grasp what’s important: that tragic events can upset our lives, even deeply, but we can learn from bad experiences and work together to grow stronger.

• Be reassuring. Talking about death is always difficult, but a tragic accident or act of violence is especially tough because of how egocentric children are: they’re likely to focus on whether something like this could happen to them. So it’s important to reassure your child about how unusual this kind of event is, and the safety measures that have been taken to prevent this kind of thing from happening to them. You can also assure him that this kind of tragedy is investigated carefully, to identify causes and help prevent it from happening again. It’s confidence-building for kids to know that we learn from negative experiences.

• Help children express their feelings. In your conversation (and subsequent ones) you can suggest ways your child might remember those she’s lost: draw pictures or tell stories about things you did together. If you’re religious, going to church or synagogue could be valuable.

• Be developmentally appropriate. Don’t volunteer too much information, as this may be overwhelming. Instead, try to answer your child’s questions. Do your best to answer honestly and clearly. It’s okay if you can’t answer everything; being available to your child is what matters. Difficult conversations like this aren’t over in one session; expect to return to the topic as many times as your child needs to come to terms with this experience.

• Hopefully these suggestions will help parents who have children or teenagers who are dealing with fear, anxiety or grieving for a loved one. Remember there are no perfect parents, so just do your best. If your child knows you are coming from a place of love, they will know you are trying to help and you will help them. If however, you feel your child needs more help than you can provide, arrange for them to see a psychotherapist who specializes in children and teenagers and specializes in treating trauma.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating children and teenagers. Additionally, he is certified to treat children, teenagers and first responders for traumatic events. For more information about Dr. Rubino’s work visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.

The Pandemic can Cause Children to act like they have ADHD

The Pandemic can Cause Children to act like they have ADHD

Many schools are starting to reopen. Also there are still schools operating remotely still. Either way many parents are tired about fighting over homework or telephone calls from school that about the fact that their child is not doing their homework again. As a result, some schools and family members may be suggesting to parents that their child has ADHD and needs medication. Many parents are not sure about the diagnosis and they are concerned about their child taking ADHD medication. I hear this very often from parents and do many assessments on children to determine if a child has ADHD. Yes ADHD is a really disorder, but too many teachers and schools rush to the conclusion that a child has ADHD and needs medication. Additionally given everything children have been through with the pandemic and remote learning, we need to be very careful about labeling a child with ADHD. There are a number of other options such as depression, anxiety and boredom.

According to statistics by the American Psychological Association, five percent of children in the United States have ADHD. It is also more common in males and it does tend to run in families. According to the CDC 15.9% of boys and 5.6% of girls have ADHD. However, not every child who has ADHD requires medication. Many children can be treated with psychotherapy and behavior modification. Therefore, if your child is diagnosed with ADHD do not rush to medicate your child. There are different subtypes of ADHD and different severities of the diagnosis.

If you child does have ADHD, they are entitled to accommodations such as extra time taking a test. It’s important to get them the accommodations they need. Children who have ADHD, but do not receive accommodations tend to show signs of low self-esteem around the fifth grade. These would be covered by a 504 plan. However, if your child has severe ADHD and needs resource assistance too, they are entitled to an Individual Educational Plan (IEP). Many schools may tell parents ADHD does not qualify for an IEP. This is not true. The severity of the ADHD determines if a child needs an IEP. They would qualify under the categories of Emotional Disturbance or Other Health Impairments.

If you feel your child may have ADHD or their school suggests the idea, make sure you have your child appropriately assessed by a professional who specializes in ADHD. In the past schools would often diagnosis children with ADHD. Schools are no longer supposed to make this diagnosis. If they feel a child might have ADHD, they are supposed to have your child evaluated. Many parents take their child to their pediatrician, however, many pediatricians are not trained in diagnosing ADHD. I would suggest having your child evaluated by a mental health clinician trained in working with children and in assessing for ADHD.

As I stated above, if you are going to have your child evaluated for ADHD, make sure you take your child to a mental health clinician who specializes in children and in doing assessments. The assessment for ADHD is not very difficult and an appropriate evaluation by an appropriate mental health clinician should cost around $250 depending on where you live. I have seen some parents who have spent thousands of dollars getting CT scans, MRIs and PET scans. You do not need an expensive scan of your child’s brian to diagnosis ADHD.

The DSM V, the diagnostic manual that mental health clinicians use, list the criteria needed for the diagnosis. I am including a link to the Center for Disease Control which list the criteria for the diagnosis and other information about ADHD, http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/diagnosis.html. Typically the diagnosis can be made by a clinician interviewing the parents, having a play session or two with the child and observing the child at school or consulting with the teachers. However, remember if you are going to have your child evaluated for ADHD, you want a mental health clinician who specializes in treating children and assessing children for ADHD. Your child’s pedestrian should be able to refer you to someone or if you call your insurance they will probably have referrals.

Before you rush to have your child assessed, remember some basic facts. Most children between the ages of two to five are very active. They also have very short attention spans. Sometimes you need to give a child some time to mature especially if you have a boy. Remember boys mature slower than girls and tend to be more active than girls. It is important to keep these facts in mind when you are wondering if your child has ADHD.

Now if you child is more hyperactive than other kids his age or his attention span is shorter than most kids his age, there might be an issue. Also if there is a strong family history of ADHD in the family such as his father had ADHD as a child and paternal and maternal uncles all had ADHD as children, there might be an issue. Also if your child was born premature or there were complications during the pregnancy or child birth, there might be an issue. Premature babies or babies with a difficult pregnancy or birth are more likely to have ADHD and learning disabilities.

Bottom line, if someone suggests that your child has ADHD don’t rush to the pedestrian seeking medication. Compare your child’s behavior to other children and consider the risk factors. If your child doesn’t have many risk factors for ADHD maybe wait six months and reassess the situation. The most important thing to remember is if you decide to have your child assessed for ADHD, make sure you go to a mental health clinician who specializes in children and ADHD. You want a mental health clinician who specializes in treating children with ADHD and assessing children for ADHD. Also remember you do not need any expensive scans like a CT scan. There are other treatment options besides medication, so do not rush to medicate your child either. Consider all the treatment options.

Dr. Michael Rubino specializes in treating children and assessing children. He has over 20 years experience treating and assessing children and teenagers. For more information about Dr. Michael Rubino’s work visit his websites at www.rcs-ca.com, http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page http://www.Facebook.com/Drrubino3 or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.

IEPs and 504 plans Exist with Remote Schooling Too

IEPs and 504 plans Exist with Remote Schooling Too

While most of the schools in California are using remote learning, it does not mean that Individual Educational Plans (IEP) and 504 plans are obsolete. In fact, due to remote learning and the pandemic many students are experiencing increased problems with learning and need IEPS and 504 plans as a result. Unfortunately I have been contacted by many families who were in the process of having their IEP meetings when the schools shut down suddenly due to the Coronavirus. These families have been contacting the school to finish their child’s IEP, but the district continues to postpone. Additionally, some children who didn’t have difficulties when they were in class are having difficulties with remote learning and increased anxiety due to the Coronavirus. Therefore, parents you are correct when you are asking to have your child’s IEP completed. Legally the school districts must complete a student’s IEP. The pandemic does not allow them to legally abandon IEPs and 504 plans. Also until they finalize the new IEP, the district legally must comply with the existing IEP on file. Furthermore, for parents who have children who need an IEP due to the remote learning or anxiety due to the pandemic, you can still legally request an IEP for your child. Additionally, school districts must comply with the existing IEP guidelines and laws. The pandemic does not allow a school district not to comply with the IEP and 504 laws.

It should be a straight forward process if your child needs an IEP, but many school districts play games with the process because it cost them money. However, they have enough money for IEPs. It comes down to a school districts priorities and how they choose to spend their money. Therefore, don’t be afraid to demand what your child is entitled to.

In order to help you understand how severe the schools play games with the process, here is one family’s experience trying to get their child an IEP and how the school district abused the family. The names have been changed for the family’s privacy. However, this same story happens daily to many families and children. In fact, I have three other families I am currently working with where the school district is doing similar things. Instead of decreasing, it appears the abusive behavior by the school districts is increasing every year. Therefore, parents please read carefully because you never know when you may be facing the same issues.

The story of Tara and her daughter Payton is a common story I have heard many times from families who have children who need an IEP. Prior to the age of 4 years old Payton was diagnosed with a speech and auditory processing difficulties. Payton was behind in her speech developmental milestones and attending preschool to address these issues. However, no one explained to Tara, Payton’s mother, what this diagnosis meant or the prognosis. Neither did anyone explain to Tara about the special education services she was entitled to.

Payton started kindergarten and do to her difficulties she needed to repeat kindergarten. Again, no one explained to Tara, Payton’s mother, how this may impact Payton and they also did not explain any other options, Tara agreed. She was not alarmed because Tara had to repeat kindergarten herself.

However, this started a never ending cycle, where Payton was not meeting the standards for her grade level even when she was receiving Resource Assistance. Tara stated some Resource Teachers were great and others knew very little about auditory processing issues so her daughter received no help.

Tara, watching her daughter struggle, decided to do her own research. She found out more about her daughter’s learning disability and that there was a private school which specialized in this learning disability. Mount Diablo School District continued to lie to Tara as she asked more questions. Also the District went to Payton’s father and lied to him. They told him if Payton’s mother was successfully in getting Payton into the private school, he would have to pay upfront. The District said they would reimburse him later. This is a lie. Also it is not uncommon for the school district to take advantage of a divorce situation and play the parents against each other.

This resulted in a long fight with the school district and in the family court. Payton is in 6th grade and after many years and a great deal of time and money, the fight continues. Mount Diablo School District never looked at the price Payton was paying not receiving the education she is entitled to and having to endure her parents fighting each other in the courts.

This could have been handled very easily if someone was honest with Tara and told her what her daughter was entitled to and if the District followed the legal guidelines. However, they lie to parents all the time hoping parents will give up. If they do, then the District doesn’t need to pay anything and can use the money how they want. Tara was a prime target. A single parent who does not have a lot of time or money. Mount Diablo misjudged Tara, she would not give up on her daughter.

Tara also found out something else parents need to be aware of when dealing with the IEP process. The parent liaisons provided by the district are not there to help the parent or the student. They serve as another way to confuse parents by providing incorrect information to parents. Most parents trust these people believing they are on the student’s side, but they really are there to support the District.

As I said, Tara and Payton’s story is not uncommon. I have worked with many other families who have very similar stories. Also as I stated above, the number of families in these situations are increasing not decreasing. Parents tend to believe school districts have the students best interest at heart. This is how it is suppose to be. However, I have worked with families across the United States and what I have seen is that school districts have their best interest at heart not the students. Tara had a very good way of stating the problem, “the child is the one who struggles for not having their needs met academically”.  How many more parents are out there with struggling students who have been given the same bad information?  I don’t know.  But we need to help them help their child, or these children will be at risk of dropping out and struggling the rest of their lives.  The school district is actually helping create children who are unable to get jobs and will be unable to afford decent housing when they become adults.  And that is a very very scary reality, no one wants to talk about it because it’s not their child who is at risk. However, it could very easily be your child. What do you do then?

Parents need to come together and demand that their children be provided the accommodations they are entitled to. Look up the educational law so you are aware of the appropriate procedure and accommodations. Also do not be embarrassed for standing up for your child’s rights. You are just being a good parent. The school districts need to look at how they are treating children. Also when it comes time to elect the school board, research the candidates and elect those who have a history which demonstrates they truly care about children.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating teenagers and children. In addition he has over 20 years experience serving as an IEP advocate for families. For more information about Dr. Rubino’s work or private practice visit his websites www.RubinoCounseling.com or www.LucasCenter.org or listen to my podcast Understanding Today’s Teenagers on Spotify and Apple.

Should Schools Reopen in the Middle of a Pandemic?

Should Schools Reopen in the Middle of a Pandemic?

Are we thinking about the safety of our children, school personnel and family members, when we are debating should we or should we not reopen schools in two to four weeks? Currently, the Coronavirus is out of control in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Arizona and California. Florida has used all of their ICU beds, in Georgia surgeons don’t have enough masks for surgeons and State officials in Texas, Arizona and California are requesting that their states be shut down and return to shelter in place (CDC, CNN, ABC News). Furthermore, the latest results indicate that people under 40 are the ones who are currently being infected (CDC). In addition to this fact, research does indicate that children can contract the Coronavirus and can die from the Coronavirus. A couple of weeks ago an 11 year old boy, in Florida, died due to the Coronavirus (CDC, CNN).

If the virus is out of control and children can contradict it and die, why are we pushing them to go to the school site, where social distancing is impossible? Additionally, many of these children have parents and grandparents living with them who are at high risks. Therefore, by going to school, they are exposing their families to the Coronavirus. How would a 10 year old boy feel if he brought the virus home and his grandparents caught it and died? It would be devastating to the child. The child could also transmit the virus to his teacher or his teacher’s parents who live with her. Again, if any of them died the little boy would be devastated and emotionally scared for life.

Chris Cuomo interviewed a wife, on his show Prime Time, whose husband was on a ventilator due to the Coronavirus. She had the virus too. They were not sure if her husband would survive. The family contracted the virus because their 21 year old son went to a party. The mother reported that emotionally her son was devastated. He was worrying that by going to his friend’s party, his father might die and he was blaming himself. If a 21 year old young man is having severe emotional difficulties dealing with this situation, how would an eight or 10 year old child handle it?

As a psychotherapist who specializes in treating children and teenagers, I have been asking my patients about how they feel about returning to their classrooms this semester or doing remote learning like they were doing at the end of last year? All the children and teenagers have discussed how it would be nice to return to school so they can see their friends. However, they all are also worried about contracting the Coronavirus and they are concerned about pacing the Coronavirus on to someone in their family. As a result of this fear, all the kids want to do remote learning. Additionally, all the children and teenagers that I work with do not trust the White House to protect them. We forget this is the generation that has grown up with Smartphones. As a result, they have access to news reports and are aware of what is happening in our Country. They also have opinions about the Coronavirus and how it has been handled. They also have opinions about the Black Lives Matter movement and the recent protests that have occurred across the Country.

When the physicians who are experts regarding this virus and public health experts all agree that returning to the classrooms at this time is not safe for the students, their families or for teachers or other school personnel, I think we should listen to them. They said we were reopening the government too fast and look at the mess we are in at this time. As of July 25, 2020, over 145,000 Americans have died and the state of California reported the highest number of people dying in the state today and Florida now has more reported cases than New York at its peak (CDC). This is for today. The numbers in Florida, Texas, Arizona and California continue to rise which means more people will be dying.

Besides medical professionals and educational professionals recommending that we have children do school by remote learning, children and teenagers are requesting remote learning. They are afraid of catching the Coronavirus. Again, the research indicates that children and teenagers do contradict the Coronavirus. When they do they are more at risk to develop a unique complication which is similar to Kawasaki‘s disease. As a result of this fact and other things we do not know about the Coronavirus, children and teenagers can and do die from the Coronavirus (CDC).

The only reason I can see to rush children and teenagers back into classrooms is so President Trump looks like he is doing something about the Coronavirus and being President. If he was serious about protecting our children, he could have started developing a plan to return children to school back in April instead of waiting until two weeks before schools start and then just ordering the children back to school with no safety plans. He also could have urged the public to wear face masks in April and May when that was the recommendation of the medical professionals. Instead, he waited until his poll numbers were so low, he had to do something. Having children return to classrooms is a very serious issue considering how this virus acts and the lack of information we have about the Coronavirus. We would need safety plans for teachers, school staff members, students and families of the students and teachers, if we were serious about children and teenagers returning to the school site safely. With all this happening, what is President Trump doing today? He is playing golf. He is not addressing this serious issue about the schools or any issues associated with the pandemic. Additionally, when the press asked KellyAnn Conway what the President was gong to do about his son Barron, Ms. Conway said it was a private matter between the First Lady and the President and they would be making the decision they felt was in their son’s best interest (ABC, CBS, Fox News, CNN). She never said Barron would be returning to the classroom. Therefore, if the President is not rushing his son back to school, why should your child go back with no firmly established safety procedures.

Given the fact that the White House has failed to take the pandemic seriously and the medical experts are recommending that remote learning is the safest option at this time, I would recommend listening to the medical experts. Additionally, many teachers are stating that it is not safe to return to the classrooms under the current conditions. Finally, the students are saying that they do not feel safe returning to the classrooms and instead they prefer remote learning because it’s safer. I think we owe it to the children and teenagers to listen their concerns and resume this semester via remote learning. In the meantime we need the government to seriously address the pandemic so we can return to normal lives like other countries.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating children and teenagers. For more information regarding Dr. Rubino’s work visit his website at http://www.RubinoCounseling.com, his Facebook page at http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 or his podcasts, Understanding Today’s Teenagers.