August 24: Mental Health Awareness Day

Mental health and our youth: bringing awareness to an under-reported issue

Blog provided by the following Baylor College of Medicine Pediatric Residents at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio: Dr. Nga Tang, PGY1; Dr. Alyssa Estes, PGY1; Dr. Matthew Sattler, PGY1; Dr. Christian Molony, PGY1; Dr. Ashley Gabriel, PGY2; Dr. Andrew Milera, PGY2; Dr. Cody Clary, PGY2; Dr. Amanda Scully, PGY2; Dr. Lauren Kjolhede, PGY3; Dr. Ann Marie Mojica, PGY3; Dr. Pedro Zavala, PGY3

Children’s mental health is an important part of their well-being and overall health as they grow and develop into adults. Anxiety, depression, bullying, suicide, social media exposure, addiction, and even school shootings are all issues that our children face today.

A common denominator is that all are related to mental health. But how often do we truly address mental health on a daily basis? What if we discover that our children need help? It can seem a daunting task, but we hope we can shed light on this day set aside to reflect on mental health and share resources to help our children and families when they need it most.

Continue reading “August 24: Mental Health Awareness Day”

Talking to your child about tragedy

Raising three little girls is no easy task, and I spend countless hours preparing them for issues that may arise in their worlds.  By far, one of the most painful things I have ever had to teach my daughter was what to do in the event of an active shooter in her school in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

As our country reels from yet another school shooting, many families are having difficulty finding the right words to explain what this means for their children. What you tell your children and how much you tell children can be challenging to navigate, particularly because you are likely not the only source of information for them. Depending on their age, they may be processing information from family, friends and neighbors; the news, including TV, newspapers, and magazines; and the internet, which often displays false information that is perpetuated by social media. However, you must remember that you will always be their favored and most trusted source. So what, and how, should you tell your children?

Continue reading “Talking to your child about tragedy”

Should I let my child watch 13 Reasons Why?

By Dr. Elena Mikalsen
Chief of Pediatric Psychology
The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio

Mental health professionals have become increasingly concerned about the new hit Netflix show and its portrayal of the suicide of the main character, Hannah. While I am glad that the show can start conversations about bullying, sexual assaults in high schools, and teen suicides, I am also very concerned about how the show incorrectly portrays some facts about teen mental health and suicide in general.

Hannah’s suicide is portrayed as being caused by the actions of other people (bullies, friends, school counselor, etc.). In reality, decades of research on teen suicide have shown that 90 percent of teen suicides are the result of mental illness. Teens first develop mental illness, such as depression, social anxiety, panic disorder, ADHD and then slowly, over time (one to two years), become unable to cope with stressors in their lives. When a teen with mental illness encounters bullying, divorce, family violence, academic stressors, and other stresses present in teen lives, he or she develops thoughts of suicide and begins to contemplate ending their life. This means family, school counselors, pediatricians, mental health professionals are able to intervene and help the teen if symptoms of mental illness are caught early on.

Continue reading “Should I let my child watch 13 Reasons Why?”

March is Child Life Month

By The Child Life Team
The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio

The month of March is set aside to celebrate children and the profession of child life specialists who are dedicated to providing positive coping tools to support your child. To celebrate child life month, our team of child life specialists will share a few helpful tips to help your child cope well with their hospital experiences.

If we’re being honest, nobody likes to be surprised by medical procedures. Whether it’s a blood draw or radiology exam, we all tend to cope better when we are prepared with information about what to expect for the procedure. Children are no different; they need age appropriate information regarding what they will encounter. At The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, our team of child life specialists work closely with other medical staff to make sure your child has access to the tools and resources they need to have a positive coping experience.

Child life specialists advocate for proper preparation and teaching because stress and coping theories tell us that children tend to cope well when they are given appropriate information regarding a potentially stressful event. According to these theories, our minds evaluate a potential experience based on two assessments: 1) the perceived threat of the stress, and 2) the access to resources to minimize or address the stressor (Lazarus & Faulkman, 1984). Child life specialists believe in addressing both factors to reduce stress and improve the overall coping experience.

Continue reading “March is Child Life Month”

Help your teen cope with stress

Elena Mikalsen, Ph.D.
Pediatric Psychologist
Section Chief of Psychology Department

Is your teen spending too much time on social media and not enough time sleeping? It’s one reason your teen may feel stressed and anxious. According to recent American Psychological Association’s (APA) Stress in America Survey, our younger generation is increasingly more stressed. More than one in four teens and young adults say they do not feel they are doing enough to manage their stress, compared with about one in ten older adults.

The APA’s survey also indicated that teens are more likely to report using passive rather than active coping strategies, which are not always as helpful. Teens rely mainly on taking a nap, listening to music, going online, eating and playing video games to cope with stress and depression. Below are some more active ways of coping which parents can easily discuss and teach to their children.

Physical activity
One in five teens and young adults reports exercising less than once a week or not at all. Exercise is one of the most effective stress and anxiety relievers. Any of these activities are helpful: yoga, hiking, biking, walking, dancing, running, rock climbing, and skateboarding. The best activity is one which involves a social component. It doesn’t need to be a team sport.

Continue reading “Help your teen cope with stress”

Child life specialists help children cope

Sarah Sims, MS, CCLS
Child Life Specialist, Emergency Department 
The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio

“Play is the work of the child.” –Maria Montessori

Hospitalization experiences can be scary and overwhelming for children and families. At The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, our goal is to provide excellent, quality care and an overall positive experience. That is why child life specialists are an important and integral part of our health care team. Child life specialists are professionals trained in child development and family theory. The child life team contributes to the patient and families’ plan of care to improve the hospital experience and promote positive coping.

Background Child life specialists have Bachelor’s and/or Master’s level training; this educational background prepares the child life specialist to assess psychosocial coping and provide meaningful and developmentally appropriate support. For example, a child life specialist can prepare you and your child for an MRI and offer coaching to help your child cope with the procedure. A child life specialist can provide developmentally appropriate diagnosis education for child and the whole family when the child has received a new diagnosis. A child life specialist can establish therapeutic relationships with patients and caregivers to support family participation in their child’s care during a prolonged stay for rehabilitation. These are just a few examples of the ways child life specialists work to help children cope with their health care experience.

Continue reading “Child life specialists help children cope”

My child is being bullied. What should I do?

By Elena Mikalsen, Ph.D.
Section Chief, Department of Psychology

There are more and more stories in the media about children being bullied at school. Finding out that your child is being bullied is frightening and you may wonder how much to worry and what to do to help your child. Here are some basic tips on what we know about bullying and ways to handle situations involving your child and bullying.

What is bullying?

  • Spreading rumors
  • Making threats
  • Physical/verbal attacks
  • Excluding someone from a group on purpose
  • Can happen on-line – cyberbullying

Continue reading “My child is being bullied. What should I do?”

Helping your child cope with anxiety in middle school and high school

By Elena Mikalsen, Ph.D.
Section Chief, Department of Psychology
The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio

Most children will have anxiety about starting middle school or high school. They worry about being good enough for sports or other electives, being smart enough for their pre-advanced placement and advanced placement classes, and fitting in with peers who all seem taller, prettier, smarter, and more socially savvy than they are. Each year brings new anxiety and most children will have some degree of anxiety and worry on their first day of school, even when it’s not their first year of middle or high school or even if they have many friends going with them to the same school. 

How to help your teen feel that she fits in
The most common worry for teens is fitting in with a new, and usually much larger group of peers. Adolescence is the time when teens struggle to find their identity and struggle to figure out which group of peers they wish to fit in with. Schools have multiple groups for teens to try and there will always be a group that will accept your teen. Reassure your child that he will absolutely find peers and acceptance. Encourage him to express his interests but also to try new things. Adolescence is a good time to experiment and try new hobbies. Encourage him to try different extracurricular activities, based on not just abilities but also interests. Especially, encourage children to try something outside of what their group of peers is doing, as often teens get stuck choosing activities based on whether they will grant an automatic acceptance to a clique. 

Continue reading “Helping your child cope with anxiety in middle school and high school”