Category: Child Development

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When Discipline Worsens Performance in Competitive Sports

00Child Development, Coaching, Featured news, Parenting, Self-Control, Sport and Competition, Trauma May, 17

Source: Petr Magera on flickr, Creative Commons

On December 19, 2015, former National Hockey League (NHL) player Patrick O’Sullivan revealed shocking details of sports-related childhood abuse. In a blog article on The Players Tribune, he disclosed that his father began abusing him at 5 years old when he got his first pair of hockey skates.

At the age of 10, it worsened:

“It would start as soon as we got in the car, and sometimes right out in the parking lot.”

He reveals that his father would put out cigarettes on his skin, choke him, and throw objects at him. At times, he endured whippings with a jump rope or an electrical cord.

“As twisted and insane as it sounds, in his mind, the abuse was justified. It was all going to make me a better hockey player—and eventually get me to the NHL.”

The more goals Patrick scored, the more the abuse intensified.

Patrick’s father assumed that these harsh disciplinary practices would enhance his abilities and success, but experts say otherwise. The scars of childhood abuse have a lasting negative impact.

John O’Sullivan (no relation to Patrick), a former soccer player, coach, and founder of the Changing the Game Project, says this parenting behaviour burdens the child, hindering performance.

In an article on the Changing the Game Project website, John writes:

“If a child believes that a parent’s love is tied to the expectation of winning, and he does not win, he may believe that he is less loved or valued. This creates anxiety and inhibits performance.”

Childhood maltreatment leads to decreased mental and physical health, even decades after the abuse. Rutgers sociology professor Kristen Springer and colleagues reported that, in their population based survey, physical symptoms and illnesses, like hypertension and cardiac problems, were present in those who experienced childhood abuse years earlier. And childhood maltreatment is also associated with increased anxiety, anger, and depression—symptoms that can be heavily detrimental to an athlete’s performance.

Some studies also show that early childhood maltreatment, such as the abuse endured by Patrick, shape aspects of socio-emotional development in adolescence and adulthood. A study conducted by Pan Chen and colleagues at the University of Chicago supported the relationship between childhood abuse and aggressive behaviour in adulthood. The researchers note that early trauma may increase impulsive behaviour and lashing out in abuse survivors.

But some, like Patrick, seek help. He says in an interview with ESPN, “…I have put the money and time into my own health.”

He acknowledges that not everyone has the opportunity to find the help they need—especially as an athlete:

“Players don’t feel like they can say anything because it’s a huge red flag. You say you need to see a psychologist and you’ll get a call from your agent saying he spoke to the General Manager of the team and wants to know what your ‘problem’ is.”

In addition to how isolating the experience of abuse can be for professional athletes and adults, Patrick emphasizes how helpless and frightening it can be for a child. He describes his own feelings of disempowerment, at the age of ten: “I just tried to survive. Each morning, I’d wake up and think: Here we go again. Just get through it.”

It didn’t help that others turned a blind eye. Patrick says that parents and coaches would catch a glimpse of the abuse, but no one stepped in. Bystanders may feel hesitant to intervene, out of fear of being wrong. But he counters, “If you are wrong, that’s the absolute best case scenario.” He hopes his story will raise awareness about childhood abuse in young athletes.

As for parents, soccer coach John O’Sullivan says that empowerment may be key to promoting competitive success, instead of harsh discipline and criticism. “The best players play with freedom, they play without fear and they are not afraid of making errors, they can play up to their potential,” he says in an interview with Kids in The House.

He shares that “I love watching you play” are the best five words you can say to a child after a game. “Because when you tell your kids, after a game, that ‘I love watching you play’, what you do is you free them from the burden of being responsible for your happiness as a parent”.

–Khadija Bint Misbah, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

–Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Learning to Manage Emotions Boosts Children’s Well-being

00Child Development, Education, Emotion Regulation, Emotional Intelligence, Empathy, Featured news, Relationships February, 17

Source: holiveira on DeviantArt

English, Math, History, Geography…classes found in school curricula build foundational knowledge and promote future success.

Schools lay the groundwork for cognitive development, especially in academic areas. But what about emotional development? Proficiency in that is equally important for leading a successful life. Yet, little effort has been made in school to teach children how to manage their feelings.

With the introduction of RULER, this may not be the case for much longer. More and more schools around the U.S. are implementing the program aimed at teaching students—and teachers—to ‘Recognize, Understand, Label, Express, and Regulate’ emotions.

Supported by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, it incorporates social and emotional skills training into the school curriculum to support child development. Specific curricula are available from kindergarten to grade 12, and ongoing implementation is necessary to solidify these skills as children get older.

“They’ve started to teach students about feelings as explicitly as they teach math and reading,” writes Seattle Times education reporter John Higgins.

The program is based on the work of two psychologists, John Mayer and Peter Salovey, who began their scientific study of emotional intelligence over two decades ago. They focus on a direct link between critical-thinking skills and emotions.

According to Meyer and Salovey emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, monitor, and manage the emotions of others and oneself, to guide actions and ways of thinking.

Studies show that those who are reluctant to understand and express their feelings experience higher levels of anxiety, depression, and certain psychiatric disorders. They also report lower levels of well-being and social support.

At school, children experience a wide range of emotions every day. In addition to the stress of managing their studies and homework, they face a number of social struggles, such as conflicts with friends, romantic relationships, and bullying.

Marc Brackett, Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, and one of the developers of RULER, says that the way students feel at school has a profound effect on how they learn, influencing their chances of success at school, at home, and with friends. And some individuals are generally more successful at handling emotions than others.

Through different tools, RULER provides a common language for expressing emotions, for dealing with conflicts between students, and for addressing conflicts between students and teachers, making for an open and supportive environment necessary for learning. For example, the “mood meter,”—a sheet of paper divided into four coloured quadrants—is designed to help students build a vocabulary around different emotions.

“I have a teacher who checks in with the Mood Meter on Monday mornings and it’s nice to just know that someone’s listening. It gets us in the mood to work, eases us back into school,” explains a grade 11 high-school student in the program.

Other tools, such as the “meta-moment”, train students to use the few seconds following a moment of anger to take a deep breath and imagine how their “best self” would react.

One 7-year-old student talks about her experience with the meta-moment:

“When I’m not in a good mood, RULER can help me solve the problem. Like when my brother pushed sand on my sand castle and wouldn’t fix it. I felt really angry at him, but I took a meta-moment and realized it wasn’t hard to fix what he did and he didn’t do it on purpose. Then I felt a little more forgiving.”

Some are critical of social and emotional learning initiatives within a classroom setting, arguing that schools are not an appropriate venue for emotional education. Others emphasize the price-tag; an online resource and four days total of in-person training costs $10,500 per school (for up to three participants).

However, Brackett’s research shows that implementing RULER can improve a school’s climate while fostering positive development and academic achievement among its students. Some notable improvements include better relationships between students and teachers, more student autonomy and leadership, improved academic success, and fewer reports of bullying.

Students’ mental health profiles greatly improve as well. Kids and adolescents who are involved with this program have experienced reduced levels of anxiety, depression, aggression, hyperactivity, social stress, and alcohol and drug usage. And research shows how children’s ability to handle their emotions and to be mindful of others’ feelings has a significant effect on their mental health.

Not all children come with the tools necessary for academic and social success. Programs like RULER provide a platform for children to learn how to navigate emotional struggles, so they can leave their primary education with methods to succeed in their work and personal lives.

–Eleenor Abraham, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

–Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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When the Expectation is for Parents to Hover

00Attachment, Attention, Child Development, Featured news, Identity, Parenting December, 16

Source: Dennis Skley on Flickr, Creative Commons

In September 2015, the Supreme Court of British Columbia, Canada, ruled that a mother, known only as ‘B.R.’, could no longer leave her eight-year old son home alone for two hours after school. As reported in a Vancouver Sun article by Brian Morton, this court decision implies that children under the age of ten cannot be left unsupervised under any circumstance.

The implications of this case reach far beyond B.R.’s personal story, and may have serious consequences, raising questions around babysitting, and even whether parents can leave children alone in the house to fetch something from the backyard or to have a conversation with the neighbours.

The ruling is seen by some as reflecting a shift toward helicopter parenting, where parents “hover”, rarely leaving children alone or allowing them to make their own decisions. This consistent interference may in fact hinder a child’s development.

Kathleen Vinson, a professor at Suffolk University, views parental hovering as preventing children from gaining a sense of independence and privacy, which in turn can impede a child’s ability to mature into a healthy, responsible adult later in life. In her research, Vinson found that:

“…the impact of having helicopter parents may have resulted in children’s under-involvement in decision-making; reduced ability to cope; and lack of experience with self-advocacy, self-reliance, or managing personal time.”

Vinson’s research highlights a helplessness and lack of control that many of these children feel. As they move through adolescence to enter university and an increasingly competitive job market, these young adults may find it difficult to juggle the stress brought on by sudden autonomy.

Similar views are expressed by Lenore Skenazy, author of the blog Free Range Kids.With tongue-in-cheek, this self-proclaimed “world’s worst mom” speaks out against tactics such as GPS-tracking one’s children. She supports the idea that it is normal for both parents and children to make mistakes. According to Skenazy, these experiences are an opportunity for a child to develop and mature:

Childhood is not a crime. Down time is not dangerous. In fact, it’s the fertile soil where creativity takes root. Do you wish you’d grown up with your mom tracking your every move? If not, don’t do it to your own kid.” 

But parents often believe they are doing the right thing. Over-attentiveness may come from a place of genuine concern, and the consequences of leaving one’s children unattended.

A Parents Magazine article explains that for many, even the smallest failure or accident can seem disastrous, especially if parental involvement could have prevented it.

And parental involvement is a crucial aspect of a child’s mental health and development. In their textbook, Home and School Relations, University of North Dakota professors Glenn Olsen and Mary Lou Fuller examine the impact of parental participation in children’s education. The authors found that children whose parents showed more interest and involvement in their growth tended to excel academically across multiple domains, including classroom performance and standardized testing—a trend that continued well into higher education.

Still, problems arise when parent involvement extends too far, leaving young adults helpless in trying to find their footing, impeding normal development and failing to foster independence.

For such competencies are necessary to cope with the trials and tribulations of adult life.

–Andrei Nestor, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

–Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Divorce an Unreliable Predictor of Aggressiveness

00Anger, Child Development, Divorce, Emotion Regulation, Family Dynamics, Featured news, Parenting, Self-Control August, 16

by Afifa Mahboob, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

“Tomorrow is the day of retribution, the day in which I will have my retribution against humanity, against all of you.”

Elliot Rodger spoke these words in a video he recorded before stabbing and shooting fellow students at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) in May 2014. After killing six and injuring 14 others, Rodger took his own life.

In a 140-page manifesto called “My Twisted World,” Rodger explained that he was seeking revenge for being a virgin at 22 years of age. Tormented by loneliness and rejection, he detailed many painful experiences that helped push him over the edge. In a final video, he threatened the life of every female student in UCSB’s most popular sorority house and anyone else he saw on the streets of Isla Vista.

Rodger sent this manifesto to his parents and therapist before the killing spree, blaming them for his sexual frustrations. His father, Peter Rodger, later explained that his son began dealing with mental health problems at a young age, following his parents’ divorce. In an interview with Barbara Walters on ABC’s 20/20, Rodger’s father spoke about Elliot’s fear of interaction with other children in high school:

“He felt the inability to get along with them. And this is when we realized that he had a real fear of other human beings, of other kids his age.”

Stories like those of Elliot Rodger lead us to seek explanations. We try to understand how something like this can occur. In the 20/20 interview, one explanation advanced was the idea that Rodger’s life changed when his parents divorced.

Source: Yuliya Evstratenko/Shutterstock

The idea of divorce being profoundly damaging to children offers a compelling explanation when it is otherwise difficult to understand certain individual actions. Research shows that children who experience divorce at a young age may develop separation anxiety and dependency. When they do not receive equal attention from both parents, they may become sensitized to rejection and react strongly to this same type of rejection in social situations. Over time, they may develop lower self-esteem and negative expectations regarding intimate relationships.

But even among this small fraction of children, severe aggression is rare. In fact, most children of divorce are able to cope relatively successfully with their situation and go on to develop close relationships, experiencing few behavioral problems. Yet it remains common to view divorce as being destructive for children.

Janine Bernard of Purdue University and Sally Nesbitt of the Counseling and Psychological Services Center in Texas both found no significant differences in levels of anger, aggression, and passive-aggressiveness between children of divorced or disrupted families and children of intact families. In their two-part study, they found that while all children are affected by the quality of their parents’ relationship, environmental and sociocultural factors are just as important in determining individuals’ temperament. Similarly, internal levels of maturity, personal coping styles, and other relationships can and often do counterbalance the negative impacts of divorce.

Bernard and Nesbitt note:

“For generations couples have been disillusioned by the marriage myth, which promised life happily ever after. The more recent divorce myth is equally dogmatic and suggests that divorce has inordinate powers to hurt people regardless of the mental health and maturity of the adults and children involved.”

People with such views tend to expect children from divorced families to become socially isolated and develop behavioral problems. Bernard and Nesbitt explain that this is a common hypothesis among researchers conducting divorce studies. The bias may impact their judgment and cause stilted reporting of results, with more focus on a child’s negative behavior and less on their positive qualities.

Eva Bennett on flickr

Source: Eva Bennett on flickr

Elliot Rodger is an example of one individual who was psychologically disturbed and viewed his parents as responsible for his suffering. But he is certainly not a typical example of a child of divorced parents.

His social isolation may have felt unbearable to him, and he and his family sought an explanation for his violent actions, just as we all do when we hear about tragic stories like this. But our best explanations can be misguided. Reliably predicting violent behavior is still difficult to do.

Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Book Review: The Marshmallow Test

00Behaviorism, Career, Child Development, Cognition, Emotion Regulation, Featured news, Self-Control June, 16

Source: Jørgen Schyberg on flickr

Walter Mischel, a psychologist best known for the Marshmallow Test, produced his first book at the age of 84.

The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control hit bookshelves in the fall of 2014, and became an instant media sensation. Part memoir and part scientific analysis of Mischel’s work on self-control, the book reviews research on the Marshmallow Test, which he first carried out at Stanford University, and which has since been replicated around the world.

The Marshmallow Test is a way of assessing children’s capacity for delaying gratification and resisting temptation. Children are placed in a room by themselves and given one marshmallow. An experimenter explains that if the child waits 15 minutes, they will receive a total of two marshmallows to eat. If they don’t wait, they’ll receive only one. After the experimenter leaves the room, the child is observed through a one-way mirror or recorded. The longer a child is able to wait, the greater the ability to delay gratification.

Many videos of children taking the Marshmallow Test have been posted to YouTube, often showing amusing coping strategies children use to maintain restraint. The Marshmallow Test has been so widely popularized that even the Wall Street Journal referred to it in assessing a proposed budget by U.S. president Barack Obama.

In his book, Mischel looks at the correlation between outcome on the test at age 5 or 6 with social skills and academic performance later in life. Results show that children who are able to wait longer for two marshmallows have better social skills and higher academic test scores. The book provides several explanations for this phenomenon, including the possibility that the Marshmallow Test accesses characteristics, such as delay of gratification, that are related to developing positive social skills and performing well academically later on.

For those seeking a step-by-step guide to improve self-control and achieve higher grades, this is not the right book. Mischel discusses theoretical concepts and summarizes research. Although he integrates many personal narratives to add a human touch, the book is not meant as a guide to self-improvement.

With critical and thorough analysis, Mischel instead explains how genetic, environmental, and social factors can impact self-control. He emphasizes that self-control is not predetermined or universal across all areas of an individual’s life. Someone who shows a great deal of control in academia may struggle to show that same level of control when overcoming problem drinking.

Making the content more personal, Mischel often incorporates his own challenges with overcoming a nicotine addiction and how his research was often affected by observations of his own children.

Empowerment is another important issue discussed throughout the book. In one section, Mischel refers to his time as a trainee in a clinical psychology doctoral program, recalling how he watched his mentor, George Kelly, work with an extremely anxious woman. The woman had asked Dr. Kelly, “Am I falling apart?” to which he replied, “Would you like to?”

Using this case, Mischel shifts the focus from the Marshmallow Test and how it might predict future action to how perceived self-control can impact demonstrated self-control. This is an idea that Mischel calls the ‘The Engine of Success.’

The idea is that there are essential resources nurturing and cultivating self-control. Mischel explains this theory through the case of George, a student completing his bachelor degree on a full scholarship at Yale University.

At the age of nine, George was enrolled in a KIPP school, which is an American charter school. Mischel explains how such schools attempt to integrate self-control, self-discipline, brain development, and delay of self-gratification into their curriculum. He emphasizes the need for more schools like this.

Although the original Marshmallow Test predicts a specific type of self-control in later life, Mischel stresses that self-control is fluid. Taking control of any area of your life, he suggests, starts with asking the very question George Kelly asked his client: Would you like to?

– Genevieve Hayden, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Russian Adoption Laws Leave Children Warehoused and Unwanted

00Attachment, Child Development, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Health, Law and Crime, Parenting June, 16

Source: John Manuel Sommerfeld on Flickr

It is a life of deafening silence, colourless walls, and empty corridors, a life of intense longing and disappointment. For over 600,000 children living in Russian orphanages waiting to be adopted, it is the only life they know.

In 2013, Russia passed a law to ban the adoption of orphaned children by American citizens, in part because of tense political relations between the two countries. In 2014, Russia also banned the adoption of orphans into any country that acknowledges same-sex marriage in order to “protect children’s psyche from the undesirable effects of exposure to unconventional sexual relationships.”

With these measures in place, finding homes for orphans outside the country has become very difficult.

Meanwhile, adoption within the borders of Russia faces its own set of barriers. Cultural prejudice against adoption perpetuates feelings of rejection among orphaned children and contributes to fears amongst potential adoptive parents that orphans have inherited undesirable traits and tendencies from their biological parents.

As one adoptive parent, Vera Dobrinskaya, stated in a BBC interview, many orphanage staff members discourage adoption when meeting with prospective parents. She quoted a nurse as saying to her, “Their parents abandoned them, and you want to take care of them?”

Unlike orphans in other countries, 95% of Russian orphans have at least one living parent. Often, they are taken forcibly into state custody because of family illness, disability, or poverty.

While institutions manage to provide for children’s basic physical needs, most Russian orphanages fail to take mental health into consideration. Research has shown that mass institutionalization and the absence of regular adoption practices harm children’s health and development.

To make matters worse, the interaction of staff members and children in these facilities is minimal and conducted in a formal manner, with little warmth or emotion. Daily activities like waking up, showering, dressing, and feeding are carried out in a militaristic way.

As the BBC explains, the problem of Russian orphanages is mainly in their self-identification as warehouses for unwanted children.

Georgette Mulheir, an advocate in the movement to end child abuse, explains why mental health neglect is a problem for these children in a recent TED Talk. While visiting a Russian orphanage, Mulheir reported seeing rooms lined with rows of barred beds, with children quietly gazing up at the ceiling. Newborns also lay in silence, often wearing soiled diapers but not crying, unfamiliar with the help that comes from attentive caregiving. And the head nurse proudly told Mulheir, “You see, our children are very well-behaved.”

Lacking proper stimulation and without secure attachment, many children develop odd and often self-injurious behaviours, such as rocking back and forth or banging their heads into walls. Just as healthy attachment between children and caregivers provides a sense of security for psychological, emotional, and physical development, lacking appropriate caregiving can seriously damage mental health.

As Stephen Bavolek, in the field of child abuse suggests, some of the problems these children can expect as they grow up include poor impulse control, impaired foresight, and a lack of trust in and affection for others.

Several months after the Russian adoption bans were implemented, the United Nations held a meeting to develop alternate childcare programs. Local governments within Russia were instructed to begin transferring children from orphanages to foster families.

This process, however, has encountered resistance from the institutional staff. As child rights protection activist, Maria Ostrovskaya, explains, “Institutions reject sending children into families, as state funding brings jobs and paychecks.”

The situation remains unresolved while many thousands of children wait for politicians to decide their fate. The stakes are high, as many of the children grow up with a risk of being sold into slavery, committing crimes, entering prostitution, or taking their own lives.

– Sara Benceković, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Plastic Surgery to Cope With Bullying?

00Addiction, Bullying, Child Development, Depression, Featured news, Health, Self-Esteem June, 16

Source: Aimee Heart on Flickr

Looks matter. Focusing on appearance is nothing new. And the growing popularity of plastic surgery has, to some extent, normalized changing our bodies to fit our ideals.

But how do we understand the limits, especially where children are concerned?

In 2014, fifteen-year-old Renata underwent nose and chin surgery to put an end to the constant bullying she was facing at school.

The teasing had become so bad that Renata was homeschooled for three years. And while she says that she is happy with the end results, there was great concern raised at the time by parents, health professionals, and the public over the surgeries.

Experts are split on whether children can benefit from undergoing plastic surgery to avoid bullying. But it should be acknowledged that Renata’s story is not that uncommon.

Fourteen-year-old Nadia Ilse, as well as 7-year-old Samantha Shaw, both had surgery to pin back their ears in response to bullying. They had the operations done for free by the Little Baby Face Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to correcting facial deformities of children from low-income families. Founder Thomas Romo tells NBC News that such procedures can have a positive impact on a child’s functioning:

“You take a child, and you change the way they look. To anybody who sees them, they’re good looking. That gives the child strength. We can’t go after the bully. But we can try and empower the children.”

A study by the Department of Psychology at the University of the West of England supports the idea of this kind of surgery, which can have a positive impact on mental health. In a pre- and post-operation comparison of 51 plastic surgery patients and 105 general surgery patients, the plastic surgery group experienced a greater decrease in their depression and anxiety.

But the extent of these positive results is questionable.

Over the course of 13 years, the Norwegian Social Research Institute studied body satisfaction in over 1,000 adolescent females, 78 of whom underwent cosmetic surgery. They found that although satisfaction with the specific body parts that were operated on increased, overall body satisfaction did not improve. Furthermore, participants who underwent cosmetic surgery had an increase in depression, anxiety, and substance abuse compared to those who had no surgery, suggesting that the positive mental effects of plastic surgery are localized and short-lived.

Child psychologist Nava Silton also tells Fox 9 News that plastic surgery could be covering up underlying emotional or mental health issues that a child might have, such as low self-esteem. Unaddressed emotional issues could lead to a plastic surgery addiction in adulthood.

Currently, there is no pre-surgery screening process for mental health issues. The American Board of Plastic Surgery (ASPS) recommends children only have plastic surgery if they understand the benefits and drawbacks, do not have unrealistic expectations, and initially requested the plastic surgery themselves. Yet media personality Laura Schlessinger questions a child’s ability to demonstrate such qualities, noting the importance of parents in guiding their children towards better decisions:

“Children, by virtue of their lack of maturity, may have exaggerated notions of how these procedures will improve their lives.”

Still, Renata insists that surgery was the right choice for her—one that she says boosted her confidence enough to return to school.

Children of different ages and different cognitive abilities vary in their ability to appreciate what they are getting themselves into, but wherever possible, it’s important to help them be realistic about the anticipated consequences of a surgical procedure that will change them permanently.

– Anjali Wisnarama, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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“Normal Barbie” Challenges Body Ideals

00Body Image, Child Development, Eating Disorders, Featured news, Gender, Politics May, 16

Source: Laura Lewis on Flickr

The Lammilly doll, a more realistic version of the Barbie, is challenging body image ideals perpetuated by the children’s toy industry. Proportioned like an average American woman, the doll comes with accessories that represent realities of the human body: acne scars, stretch marks, and cellulite.

The development of the Lammilly doll, reflecting the average 19-year-old body, was a crowd funded venture, raising over $95,000 in less than a day and over $501,000 in total. But the project first came together when Nickolay Lamm, the creator of the doll, realized that the dimensions of Mattel’s Barbie doll were physically impossible for any woman to attain.

“I created an alternative to suggest that it’s okay to not look like a supermodel, it’s okay to look like a normal person,” Lamm told The Telegraph. He is quoted in the Huffington Post as well, adding: “If we criticize skinny models, we should at least be open to the possibility that Barbie may negatively influence young girls as well.”

The effects of playing with dolls depicting an unrealistic body type have been debated. A study by Helga Dittmar at the University of Sussex found that young girls showed decreased self-esteem and decreased body satisfaction after being exposed to images of Barbie dolls. A recent study conducted by Doeschka Anschutz and Rutger Engels at Radbout University in the Netherlands similarly found that young girls had a decreased appetite after playing with thin dolls.

Eating disorders, such as Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa, have been frequently linked to the media depiction of the “thin ideal” for women, and are increasing in incidence among adolescent girls in North America and Europe. These disorders can lead to immune dysfunction, permanent physical damage, and death.

Lamm found the design of the original Barbie particularly disturbing for this reason. “There’s nothing wrong with being a supermodel but I just had the impression that the wall of supermodels suggests that something is wrong with you if you don’t look like one,” Lamm explained, referring to the Barbies stacked on the shelves of a toy store.

But Kim Culmone, the vice president of design for Barbie, defends the proportions.

“Barbie’s body was never designed to be realistic, she was designed for girls to easily dress and undress”, she said in an interview with Fast Co Design, suggesting that Barbie was meant to be unrealistic, a fantasy in a young girl’s play. “When they’re playing, they’re playing. It’s a princess-fairy-fashionista-doctor-astronaut, and that’s all one girl. She’s taking her Corvette to the moon, and her spaceship to the grocery store.”

But children’s fantasy doesn’t have to include fashionistas in Corvettes.

The Lammily doll comes with her own range of accessories. The “normalness” of the doll does not stop children from being imaginative. The doll can be accessorized with stickers of glasses, bandages, moles, scars, casts, grass stains, and tattoos, all of which promote creative storytelling.

But the Lammily brand may also have its shortcomings. The doll has come under criticism for trying to be too average. Despite Lammily’s popularity with fundraisers and parents, its performance may fall short on the toy store shelf. Many children, bombarded with ads and images of the tall, thin, ideal female, may not be so attracted to the average-looking Lammily doll.

In a story for The Guardian, writer Lionel Shriver describes the doll’s appearance as “downright dumpy”:

“…Has anyone asked the little girls if this is the doll they want to play with? Who pre-ordered these dolls? Parents. Who really wants these dolls? Parents. Are children quite so easily manipulated as this?”

Still, Lammily successfully sold over 22,000 dolls when it launched in November, 2014, and that number continues to grow as the doll becomes available at retail locations. A popular young icon and pop star, Demi Lovato, has voiced her support for the “normal” Barbie, contributing to its popularity.

With both feet firmly planted on the ground, the Lammily doll encourages acceptance. As Lamm states, “I see ‘average’ as inclusive of all of us, not a standard which excludes. I want to show that reality is beautiful.”

– Khadija Bint Misbah, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor, Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

3 When adolescents claim the right...-de9954d24af18995b17b05ebb4d8e7f8b35ed6a1

When Adolescents Claim the Right to Refuse Treatment

00Child Development, Decision-Making, Family Dynamics, Featured news, Parenting, Therapy April, 16

Source: UnitedNotions Film, Used with permission

In a personal essay in the Hartford Courant, 17-year old Cassandra C. recalls her legal battle when she refused to undergo chemotherapy after being diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.

The Connecticut Superior Court ruled that as a minor, Cassandra did not understand the severity of her condition. She was taken to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, where she was forced to undergo chemotherapy.

In her essay, Cassandra wrote:

“I should have had the right to say no, but I didn’t. I was strapped to a bed by my wrists and ankles and sedated. I woke up in the recovery room with a port surgically placed in my chest. I was outraged and felt completely violated.”

When Cassandra’s mother did not bring her to medical appointments, the Department of Children and Families took Cassandra into custody. She was medically examined and placed into foster care.

A month later, Cassandra was allowed to return home once she agreed to continue chemotherapy. After reluctantly undergoing two days of treatment, Cassandra claimed that it was beginning to take a toll. Feeling trapped, she decided to run away to evade treatment, only returning home out of fear her disappearance would land her mother in jail.

It is common for cancer patients to experience adverse side effects while undergoing chemotherapy. In addition to physical side effects, patients often experience a range of psychopathologies, including depression, fear, anxiety, and hopelessness.

In court, Cassandra argued that she cared more about the quality of her life than the duration. Yet she was told that undergoing chemotherapy would increase her chance of survival by 85 percent. Without it, doctors said there would be a near certainty of death within two years. Although Cassandra acknowledged this risk, she maintained that she had the right to make decisions about her own life and body.

In an interview with the New York Times, Cassandra’s mother supported her daughter’s decision to refuse chemotherapy:

“She knows the long-term effects of having chemo, what it does to your organs, what it does to your body. She may not be able to have children after this because it affects everything in your body, it not only kills cancer, it kills everything in your body.”

Both Cassandra and her mother denied that Cassandra’s decision was anyone’s but her own. But there is some concern that Cassandra’s opinion on medical treatment could have been influenced by her parents. This issue is especially important given the far greater chance of survival offered by treatment.

A study by psychiatrist Paola Carbone in the Journal of Child Psychotherapy describes how young cancer patients may have trouble accepting treatment because of its severe effects on their developing bodies. Adolescent girls often express dissatisfaction with their bodies and lower self-esteem. The side effects of chemotherapy, such as weight loss, may negatively affect their fragile self-confidence.

The right to independent decision-making at this age is also a factor. In her essay, Cassandra writes:

“I am a human—I should be able to decide if I do or don’t want chemotherapy, whether I live 17 years or 100 years should not be anyone’s choice but mine.”

Researchers, Coralie Wilson and Frank Deane, suggest that it is important to teach adolescents’ that part of being more independent and autonomous is being aware of when and how to seek the support of others.

An extreme need for independence can result in self-imposed isolation, which is why Carbone maintains that adolescents are particularly in need of familial support. Other studies have also found that family involvement in discussions about the side effects of chemotherapy improves social support and decision making, lowers physical and mental distress, and increases emotional wellbeing.

Carbone explains:

“Chemotherapy refusal by adolescent patients should not be considered an obstacle to be eliminated at all costs, but rather a message to be welcomed and worked on.”

Cassandra was discharged from hospital last April, after completing treatment. Prior to being released, she wrote on Facebook, “I have less than 48 hours left in this hospital and I couldn’t be happier!”

She reported that she was grateful that she responded positively to the drugs and was predicted to survive cancer-free. But she also added:

“I stood up and fought for my rights, and I don’t regret it.”

– Khadija Bint Misbah, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

3 Teaching children about trauma-e64c0cff78bc1c36a18b5896fe10be70f88635cd

Teaching Children about Trauma: The “River Speaks” Series

00Child Development, Emotion Regulation, Family Dynamics, Featured news, Grief, Therapy, Trauma March, 16

Source: Freaktography on Flickr

In her latest series of children’s books, River Speaks, author Sandy Stream conveys the emotional turmoil that children and families go through when dealing with trauma.

Children who have undergone loss, abuse, and other traumatic experiences are often unable to fully understand or express their feelings. Their inability to verbalize the emotional impact the crisis had on them makes it difficult for therapists to determine how to best help them heal.

Although research has shown children’s literature to be a helpful tool in therapy, its use is still not particularly common.

The stories found in Stream’s books are meant to help therapists provide relatable experiences for children to help them come to terms with their own trauma. They revolve around a baby bird, Sparky, who is snatched away from his family. In dealing with his captivity, escape, and eventual return, Sparky and his family learn to articulate the complex feelings they experience.

Sparky does return home, but the series does not employ the conventional happily-ever-after ending. Instead, the stories address the turmoil felt by everyone both during his captivity and after his return.

The seven books in this series, Sparky Can Fly, Sparky’s Mama, Tweets and Hurricanes, Feathers, Flex, Roots, and The River, all feature a different main character, retelling the narrative from the perspective of the victim, the parents, the siblings, and the therapist. Each book also deals with different emotional themes, including grief, loss, isolation, and acceptance.

Many of the communication strategies seen in River Speaks can be linked to Jean Piaget’s work on child development. According to Piaget, healthy coping and a sense of self cannot exist without establishing trusting relationships during childhood. Trauma can interrupt this process, and the River Speaks series is intended to restart and re-establish healthy connections.

Research, including that of psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk, professor at Boston University, shows that children must understand the emotions caused by trauma. This research emphasizes that therapists should teach children to regulate emotional distress, with the first step being acknowledgment of the distress’ severity.

Stream’s metaphorical approach helps children grasp the complex concepts that make the healing process. Comparing Sparky’s inability to express anger and grief to “hurricanes” and “tweets” helps make the abstract more tangible.

This strategy allows the River Speaks stories to personify complex psychological issues such as emotional defense mechanisms like denial, fear of abandonment, and Stockholm syndrome, making her books well-suited to children as young as three or four years of age.

Stream’s stories are accompanied by illustrations from Yoko Matsuoka. The colourful drawings were designed to keep the oftentimes-dark subject matter child-friendly, and work well in conjunction with Stream’s metaphorical portrayals of emotions and trauma.

Such illustrations are a common tool in dealing with childhood trauma. The use of visual art to depict emotional reactions has been found to benefit children during the normal grieving process. A paper by Cynthia O’Flynn at North Central University explains that art therapy can be especially beneficial for children suffering from serious traumatic grief.

The article cites numerous other studies reporting that art allows children to bypass the language and vocabulary needed to explain their grief or loss, making self-expression much easier. The children are able to perceive greater control over their emotions and feel safe while reflecting upon their experiences.

Alexa S. Rabin of Alliant International University reinforced these findings in 2012, stating that art is an exercise which allows children to assert themselves and their boundaries. Rabin explained that such therapy significantly decreases acute stress symptoms, noting that the purpose of trauma treatment is to help children find a way to cope.

Stream’s books bridge the two sets of findings—using both art and language to reach out to children and better their self-expression across both media. A therapist using Stream’s books would be more flexible in tailoring the therapeutic style to the child’s age and individual needs.

Feedback from psychologists such as Jacqueline A. Carlton and fellow author Cheryl Eckl, applaud Stream’s attempt at tackling such difficult subject matter. And while research would be needed to gauge the helpfulness of her specific stories, existing research suggests that her books may ease therapy for both clinicians and children.

– Olivia Jon, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today