Test for Success

Grades are important, they help determine college selections, scholarship eligibility, and can guide future careers. One-third of all teens experience anxiety, particularly leading up to midterms, finals, ACTs and SATs. As parents, you can help ease children’s anxiety while encouraging them to do their best.

“Parents should support their children academically; however, some parents will add to the pressure a child already feels,” said Stephanie Moses, MAMFT, Outpatient Therapist for Canopy Children’s Solutions. “Children need the freedom to be children while acknowledging their academic responsibilities. It’s about balance.”

Preparing your child for strong academic performance begins at an early age. Instilling a love of learning through books, puzzles and academic play shows your child that learning is important. As a child grows, adapting those learning skills helps to support them in school and shows them you are equally engaged in their success. Ways to support these skills include practicing spelling words in the car, reviewing fractions while baking cookies, or reading a chapter in a book together before bed. Establishing strong study skills early is also important so that a child is accustomed to balancing school and other responsibilities. Well before a child reaches high school, these skills should be well-established. However, parents still play a critical role in their reinforcement, especially around busy test seasons.

Time management. Encourage your teen to develop a study schedule. Remind them that subjects where they excel will require less time than those where they may struggle and to budget time accordingly.

Conducive environment. Help your teen identify a setting that supports productive studying. Find a peaceful place without distractions that will help your child focus.

Encouragement. Offer your child an encouraging word when you check in on their progress. Checking in also helps you gauge burnout when a teen may need to take a break or move to another subject.

Perspective. Some teens thrive under stress but if stress negatively impacts them, give them perspective. One test or one grade isn’t going to impact their lives all that much. Reassure your teen that it will be ok, regardless of the outcome, as long as they do their best.

It’s ok to ask for help. If your child needs help, seek out local resources such as ACT prep classes, tutors or study groups. Also, if your child can’t control their stress and anxiety, schedule an appointment with a local therapist to help them develop positive coping skills and give them an opportunity to work through their stress.

Stay healthy. Ask your teen to join you for a bike ride or take a walk together. Provide nutritious meals and snacks that fuel their body and their brain. Remind your teen they need adequate sleep to properly focus and retain information. Drink lots of water and boost your immune system with daily vitamins to help stay well during test seasons.

no stress

Celebrate small victories. Did your teen complete their report on the Greek Classic The Iliad? Did they score an 89 on their Trigonometry test? Did they just come home from their first time taking the ACT? Then celebrate! Go out for dinner and ice cream, watch a movie, grab a cup of coffee or go shopping together. These opportunities tell your teen, regardless of the outcome, that you are proud of their efforts and you support them no matter what.

While it is important that we support our children’s goals and push them to reach their full potential, we must be cautious not to push beyond their limits. Remind your children that if they do their very best, that’s all you expect. It is our jobs as parents to support our children in failure and success.

By Laura Walker, staff writer for Canopy Children’s Solutions

Proactive Parenting: Recognizing when your teen needs help

In the U.S., 1 in 5 children experiences a significant mental health challenge. Even more disturbing is the fact fewer than 20 percent ever receive proper treatment. Early intervention is a key component in helping children to lead happier healthier lives.

“After living through a difficult situation, you don’t necessarily ‘get over’ what happened, but you learn how to cope,” said Anna Cox, LPC, CMHT, NCC, M.Ed., Program Supervisor for Canopy Children’s Solutions. “Teaching coping skills is one of the biggest elements we use in therapy.”

Being a proactive parent means allowing your child to experience life’s challenges, but being able to recognize when he or she may need help. Being proactive means playing an active role in a child’s life and being aware of the warning signs pointing to child’s struggles. Here are a few:

  • Mood changes. Look for feelings of sadness or withdrawal that last at least two weeks, or severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships at home or school.
  • Intense feelings. Be aware of feelings of overwhelming fear for no reason, or worries and fears intense enough to interfere with daily activities.
  • Behavior changes. Drastic changes in behavior or personality, as well as dangerous or out-of-control behavior. Fighting frequently, using weapons and expressing a desire to badly hurt others are also warning signs.
  • Difficulty concentrating. Look for signs of trouble focusing or inability to sit still for any length of time, both of which might lead to poor performance in school.
  • Unexplained weight loss. A sudden loss of appetite, frequent vomiting or use of laxatives might indicate an eating disorder.
  • Physical symptoms. Compared with adults, children with a mental health condition may develop chronic headaches and stomachaches rather than sadness or anxiety.
  • Physical harm. Sometimes a mental health condition leads to self-injury, also called self-harm. This is the act of deliberately harming your own body, such as cutting or burning yourself. Children with a mental health condition also may develop suicidal thoughts or actually attempt suicide.
  • Substance abuse. Some kids use drugs or alcohol to try to cope with their feelings.

Source: www.mayoclinic.org

“Having periods of sadness, anxiety, or anger are normal,” said Cox. “When a difficult situation or intense emotions affects a child’s ability to function normally, that’s when you should be concerned. Seeking help from a professional will help them explore how they feel and why.”

Half of all children who develop mental health disorders exhibit symptoms by the age of 14. The earlier parents seek help for their children, the better chances of a positive outcome.

Working with a child therapist or counselor helps a child develop positive coping skills and gain a better understanding of their thoughts or feelings. Getting help early, even if it is just connecting the child with someone to talk to, is the best way to proactively help that child build strong mental health and overcome the many challenges they face.

Contributed by Laura Walker, staff writer for Canopy Children’s Solutions

This article was originally published in Parents & Kids Northeast magazine as part of the April/May 2018 issue. For more from Parents & Kids visit www.parentsandkids.com.

The Alarming Rise in Child Suicide and What You Should Know

Youth suicide is on the rise. After 15 years of decline, rates took a steady increase at the turn of the 21st century. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 15,141 youth suicides (ages 5-18) in the U.S. between 1999 and 2009. Between 2010 and 2016, there were 11,939 youth suicides, an average increase of 31 percent in six years over rates of the previous decade. Let’s think about that. These statistics start with kids as young as five years old.

The CDC reports suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth ages 12-18. These tragedies leave many families, friends and loved ones asking, “why?” Youth interviewed after suicide attempts often report feelings of despair, emptiness, wanting revenge or needing an escape. When young people experience intense emotions related to difficult situations, such as breakups, a recent loss or abuse, they often seek out ways to regain a sense of control over their lives. This may come in the form of healthy coping skills like talking to a trusted adult or journaling to make sense of their feelings, or they may resort to unhealthy mechanisms such as self-harm or self-medicating. If a child takes an unhealthy path, he or she is at an increased risk of suicide.

Self-Harm

Knowing what is happening in children’s lives and recognizing when to get help are the best ways to keep children safe. If you notice your child is struggling, having a conversation with your child’s pediatrician or primary care physician is a great first step. They can serve as a guide before a situation dangerously escalates, and they can help rule out chemical imbalances or other medical diagnoses that may contribute to changes in behavior. If you feel something is amiss, it is important to take action.

What if I know a child grappling with suicidal thoughts?

Many times, individuals who are considering suicide show clear signs of trouble. Signs can include: talking or writing about death; loss of interests; withdrawing from friends and family; changes in appearance or decline in hygiene; trying to access medications or weapons; giving away possessions; or showing intense anger or hopelessness followed by sudden calm. If you have suspicions about a child, talk to them openly and directly to determine the help they need.

When talking to someone about suicide, whether you are a parent or another trusted adult, you need to know how urgent the situation is. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Show confidence in the face of crisis
  • Be up front about your concerns
  • Ask them directly about suicidal thoughts; don’t be afraid to use the word “suicide”
  • Recognize they may not be honest, so observe their behavior
  • Listen and validate their feelings; don’t be judgmental
  • Ask them to give you specific details about their thoughts including how they would commit the act, when, and if they have the means to carry it out
  • If the child is in imminent danger, DO NOT leave him alone and seek medical help immediately
  • Do not mistake a cry for help as a ploy for attention; all thoughts of suicide should be taken seriously

Some youth may be embarrassed to admit they have thoughts about suicide. Under no circumstances should you promise to keep someone’s thoughts about suicide a secret. Explain that as a person who cares about the youth’s wellbeing, that this is not a secret you can keep. Assure them they should not feel ashamed or alone and thank them for being honest. Connect them with a counselor and offer to go with them for emotional support. If you are not the parent or guardian, encourage the youth to have an open conversation with their parents about how they are feeling. Continue to be there for them – your sustained support may be their greatest reinforcement.

Get real about suicide

Suicide is a hard topic to breach, but one that every parent should talk about with their child. In all likelihood, your child probably already knows about suicide either from popular teenage drama series like “13 Reasons Why,” popular YouTube videos, or any number of social media posts, movies, or maybe even real life experiences. Parents can’t hide children from the reality of suicide, but informing yourself about what children are seeing, and talking to them about what they’ve seen or heard can offer a powerful lifeline. Helping them to grasp the severity of suicide – no coming back, no opportunity for things to get better, no reward or satisfaction – will help to save lives.

Get help

Just because an imminent threat has passed doesn’t mean the danger is gone. The CDC estimates 90 percent of individuals who commit suicide were experiencing a mental health crisis at the time of death.

“Mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety, have periods of improvement and worsening,” said Dr. John Wilkaitis, Medical Director for Canopy Children’s Solutions. “Even though a child may seem okay, it is important to seek professional help to better understand and address the underlying cause of suicidal thoughts and feelings. Therapists can help youth develop a safety plan as well as aid them in developing positive coping skills to deal with intense emotions.”

Feeling alone is one of the most critical factors of suicide. Know that you are never truly alone; there are a number of resources available to those in crisis. Mississippi Department of Mental Health is the statewide provider for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. If someone is in imminent danger, go to your nearest emergency room immediately. If you find you need someone to talk to about suicidal thoughts or difficult situations, seek out a local mental health organization or contact area churches about free counseling ministries.

Contributed by Laura Walker, staff writer for Canopy Children’s Solutions

This article is shared with permission from Well-Being Magazine. It was originally
published in the magazine’s March/April 2018 issue. For more from Well-Being visit www.wellbeingmag.com.

Mayor Gives Official Proclamation for National Safe Place Week

The South Mississippi Children’s Center (SMCC), part of Canopy Children’s Solutions, hosted a special proclamation ceremony in honor of National Safe Place Week. The event, working in conjunction with the mayor’s office and Hattiesburg Fire Department (HFD), took place Thursday, March 22, 2018, at HFD Station No. 1.

Mayor Toby Barker

The ceremony included an official proclamation and remarks from the Hattiesburg mayor, the Honorable Toby Barker, and Canopy South Central Regional Director Tammy Miller in honor of National Safe Place Week. SMCC also recognized Safe Place sites who were in attendance with a certificate of appreciation for their partnership in the program, including HFD, Hattiesburg Police Department and the city library, among others.

Tammy MillerSafe Place is a national youth outreach and prevention program for young people under the age of 18, and up to 21 years of age in some communities, in need of immediate help and safety. As a collaborative community prevention initiative, Safe Place designates businesses and organizations as Safe Place sites, making help readily available to youth in communities across the country.Safe Place site partnerSMCC is the Safe Place agency in south Mississippi, offering safety and shelter to youth in crisis in Forrest, Lamar, Covington, Jones, Stone and other surrounding counties and states. SMCC has 43 designated Safe Place sites throughout the region including local restaurants, libraries, daycare centers, youth organizations, and police and fire departments, where youth can go for immediate help and get connected with SMCC. These sites are designated by the black and yellow Safe Place sign.

“Youth who come to SMCC through Safe Place can stay at the shelter up to 21 days at no cost to the parent or guardian,” said Teri Gay, Case Manager for SMCC. “We ensure that basic needs are met for every child that enters the shelter as well as services that include individual and group counseling, referral, support, case management, educational services, recreational activities, medical (physical, dental, and vision exams), and other services as needed. We work on a safety plan and long-term plan to ensure youth return to a safe environment when they leave the shelter.”

 

Mississippi Safe Place Agencies

In addition to the proclamation ceremony, Canopy staff across the state wore the signature colors black and yellow to show support of Canopy’s Safe Place programs.

National Safe Place Week is designated for March 18-24, 2018. This week marks the 35th anniversary of the founding of Safe Place in Lexington, Kentucky in 1983. Since that time, Safe Place has developed partnerships with 138 Safe Place agencies in 37 states nationwide with more than 21,000 partnering sites within local communities. Mississippi has three Licensed Safe Place Agency programs, including SMCC in Hattiesburg, and the Warren County Children’s Shelter, also part of Canopy Children’s Solutions, located in Vicksburg.

For more information Safe Place, please visit nationalsafeplace.org.

Love Shouldn’t Hurt

Rachel was dating the local high school basketball star. Ian was charming, well-liked and handsome. He showered her with gifts. He told Rachel that she made him stronger and he was a better person for having her in his life. She stopped responding to her friends’ texts and her presence faded from social gatherings. “She’s with Ian,” they’d say. 

Entering her senior year, Rachel decided not to try out for the cheerleading squad after Ian said practices and games would interfere with their time together. The two became practically inseparable. When Rachel’s friends tried to include her in “girls only” outings, Ian accused them of trying to sabotage his relationship. Rachel would comply obediently and reject the invitation. 

One Friday evening, Rachel reluctantly accepted an invitation to celebrate her best friend’s birthday. Ian had a basketball game and was agitated that Rachel agreed to attend the party without him. Despite his efforts to change her mind, Rachel went. At the end of the evening, Rachel was surprised to find Ian leaning against her car on the street. He threw an empty bottle into the nearby bushes as Rachel approached. He grabbed her and shoved her into the car. She could smell the alcohol on his breath. Ian screamed about his awful performance and fumed that it was her fault for taking his focus off the game. When Rachel tried to reason, he slapped her. Blood trickled down her lip. 

The next morning, Rachel awoke to a text message that read, “I’m so sorry. I love you.” When her mom asked Rachel what happened to her lip, she responded, “Oh, you know. I’m just clumsy. Wasn’t watching where I was going.”  

 Rachel knew Ian was sorry. He was just frustrated; it wasn’t really his fault. He cared for her. Last night was a one-time thing. They were in love. People sometimes do crazy things when they are in love.  

 

It is difficult to accept the person you love is abusing you. Many victims don’t realize they are being abused until it is too late—seemingly perfect relationships progressively turn life-threatening, resulting in approximately 6 domestic violence deaths per day in the U.S. 

 The National Youth Risk Survey indicates 1 in 3 U.S. teens will experience dating violence. Dating violence can come in many forms including physical harm, emotional abuse, sexual assault and stalking. Abusive relationships are rarely apparent in the beginning. After months or years of building what seems like the perfect relationship, an abuser will assert power, holding his or her partner in a psychological trap making them believe what is happening is the victim’s fault.  

 Dating violence can happen to anyone—male, female, young, old, every race, socioeconomic status, educational status. Knowing the warning signs may help you identify a friend or loved one victimized by dating abuse:  

  • Intense mood swings 
  • Loss of interests 
  • Withdrawal from friends and family 
  • Signs of physical harm 
  • Drug use 
  • Unexplainable fear 
  • Sexual activity 
  • Inability to make decisions without partner’s consent 

You may also observe red flags in a partner that can indicate abuse is occurring: aggressive or controlling behavior, paranoia, verbal put-downs, insisting on unprotected sexual contact, isolating or threatening behavior, monitoring technology use, unwillingness to spend time apart, stalking, interests in violence, and jealousy. Many abusers learn these behaviors from abuse as a child. 

 One of the leading questions for people involved in abusive relationships is, “Why didn’t they just leave?” It’s not always so simple. Many victims want to believe they can do something to fix the relationship. Some may fear their partner will hurt them or their loved ones if they leave. Separation from their support system may leave victims feeling they have nowhere to go. Two-thirds of dating abuse victims remain silent about their abuse often because of fear, guilt or shame. 

 If you or someone you know is experiencing dating abuse, speak up. Resources such as loveisrespect.org or contacting the Mississippi Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1.800.898.3234 can help you navigate difficult situations. Your voice is your most powerful tool—tell the police, neighbors, friends, family, teachers, even strangers until you get help. Love shouldn’t hurt. Help end teen dating violence. 

Contributed by Laura Walker, staff writer for Canopy Children’s Solutions.

This was a featured article in the March-April 2018 Issue of Parents and Kids Magazine-Desoto County. 

Cutting through the Pain

After sharing a deeply intimate night together, Lauren’s boyfriend, Bryan, broke up with her. She was angry, sad, devastated, and felt used. Hoping to cheer her up, Lauren’s friends talked her into dinner. When she arrived, Bryan’s car was outside. When Lauren saw Bryan and Jenny there together, he smiled and pulled Jenny close. Lauren could feel her heart in her throat; it felt as though everything was spinning around her. She turned and ran out the door to her car. The pain in Lauren’s chest was agonizing. She felt sick to her stomach and could not stop crying as she drove home. Her friends told her to calm down, that it was no big deal. Lauren felt like no one was actually listening; no one understood. The pain was too much and it had to end.

When she got home, Lauren found a pair of scissors on her mother’s sewing table. In the quiet of her bathroom, she carved small cuts into her arm. Lauren was careful not to cut too deep as to leave visible scars. She placed them carefully as to be easily concealed. With each cut, she felt a sense of calm rush over her. Exhausted from such an emotional evening, she cleaned the scissors, placed them back on the table and went to bed. Lauren felt empty inside, but the pain of the cuts helped her remember she was in control of her pain.

Cutting became a source of release for Lauren. It cleared her mind and caused her emotional pain to subside. Lauren found control in cutting. She could decide where and how deeply to cut. It helped her to relieve anxiety and stress. It was a secret she kept to herself. Rather than relying on the support of friends or family, Lauren would cut when the world became too much, until the night that even cutting couldn’t ease her pain.

When teens are faced with new levels of stress, whether it is over grades, or relationships or how they will perform during a game, they must find a way to relieve the stress knotted up inside their body. Some teens turn to positive coping mechanisms such as moderate exercise, meditation, journaling or listening to music. Others find ways that alter the way they feel through alcohol use and self-medication, self-injury (such as cutting) or participating in risky behavior. Much like alcohol and drugs, self-injury can lead to an immediate feeling of relief but each time it requires more and more to have the same effect.

“When working with a child who self-injures, the first important thing to understand is ‘why’ they self-injure. What pain are they trying to mask,” said Caitlin Mudd, Program Director for Canopy CARES Center. “Your brain releases chemical endorphins as a self-preservation mechanism when your body experiences physical injury. For many of our kids who have experienced a lot of trauma, it is actually easier for them to experience physical pain than emotional pain, so self-injury helps them replace what’s going on inside with something they can manage through the body’s natural response. We work with them to understand their pain and find a healthier way to address it.”

Self-Harm

Each year, one in five girls and one in seven boys engage in self-injurious behavior. Approximately 90 percent of individuals who engage in self-harm, do so during their teen and pre-teen years. If often starts by the age of 14 and can carry on into their 20s without the right help. Self-injury can occur for many reasons including an individual’s attempt to relieve emotional numbness or pain, inflict punishment on themselves, reenact abuse, establish what is “real,” or regain a sense of control over one’s self. Self-injuring behaviors may start from introduction from a peer, something the youth has seen on the internet or television, or it may happen merely out of impulse or by accident. Self-injury can, but does not always, accompany the presence of a mental health challenge such as anxiety, depression, or eating disorder.

Self-harm is identified by a number of behaviors. The most common include:

  • Cutting
  • Burning
  • Interfering with wound healing (picking or reopening wounds)
  • Punching or hitting oneself or other objects
  • Inserting objects into the skin
  • Purposely bruising or breaking one’s bones
  • Pulling out eyelashes, brows or scalp hair (not for grooming)

Self-injurious behavior is often concealed. Do not confuse this as a ploy for attention as individuals often don’t broadcast self-injury wounds, making these behaviors sometimes difficult to spot. If you notice someone wearing unusual clothing for the time of year, i.e. long sleeves during hot summer months, they could be concealing self-injury wounds. A person may also refuse to participate in activities they once enjoyed that would reveal such wounds, i.e. going swimming or visiting the beach. A sign can also be if a person has consistently fresh wounds but also has a seemingly logical story, i.e. cat scratches, or getting in a fight no one saw to explain a broken hand. You may also notice items that they use to self-injure in peculiar places such as razor blades in their backpack or pocket.

If you suspect someone is self-injuring, approach them and tell them you want to help. When you broach the topic, remain calm and don’t be demeaning. Tell them what you’ve noticed that concerns you. Ask them about things that are going on in their lives and how it makes them feel. Be particularly mindful of feelings of emptiness. Encourage a teen to be open with their parents or trusted adult who can connect them with a mental health professional. Finding adequate support can help to end or ease the frequency of self-injury.

If you or someone you know is self-injuring, confide in someone who can help find a better way to cope. This can be a counselor, therapist, teacher, coach, parent, youth minister, pediatrician or other trusted adult. Don’t just assume symptoms will go away on their own. Getting professional help is important for long-term safety. Ignoring the problem can push a child toward more dangerous and risky behaviors.

Canopy Children’s Solutions is a Mississippi-based non-profit with Behavioral Health Clinics in Jackson, Hattiesburg and Gulfport working specifically with children and adolescents ages 5-20. For more information on Canopy outpatient clinics, contact a Care Coordinator at 800.388.6247. You can also click here.