Category: Parenting

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For Families Touched by Homicide, the Media Prolongs Pain

00Featured news, Grief, Health, Law and Crime, Media, Memory, Parenting, Resilience, Stress, Trauma October, 14

On January 1st, 2008, fourteen year old Stefanie Rengel was murdered a few meters outside of her Toronto home.

After receiving a mysterious phone call from someone she believed may have been a friend, Stefanie put on her shoes, told her younger brother that she would be right back, and ran out the door. She never returned.

Leading a normal life one day, and suddenly being thrust into the inevitable bureaucracy that follows a murder is excruciating for families affected by homicide.

The Trauma & Mental Health Report had the chance to speak with Stefanie’s mother, police officer Patricia Hung, who discusses how media involvement and court proceedings sometimes prolonged the healing after her teenage daughter’s murder. She also commented on support available for bereaved parents.

Patricia: Trying to get justice for Stefanie, in some ways… it kept her alive. It gave us something to focus on. I don’t know if that prolonged the grieving, but it certainly spread it out. When a child dies in a car accident, and there are no reporters or trial, you have no choice but to deal with it all right then. For us, we dealt with it a little at a time.

For families affected by homicide, the grief is drawn out. The media, bail hearings, preliminary trials, adjournments, mental health assessments, impact statements, perhaps a trial and hopefully a sentencing, all act as constant reminders of the tragedy. Prolonged investigations and legal processes have these families re-living the trauma of what happened to their loved ones.

Patricia: The day after Stefanie died the reporters were there –it was terrible– it felt like an attack, when all we wanted was privacy. They would come to our door at all hours of the day and night. They would go to my children’s schools and would piece together a false relationship between Stefanie and her killer.

Following a high profile murder case, reporters can unwittingly create chaos for families. The constant questioning, often well intentioned, can turn into intrusive and harmful reminders of the trauma.

Patricia: In the beginning, the press is really friendly to you because they want the gory details and all the juicy information. If you say one wrong word, they can turn on you [for a story]. The last thing grieving families need is to feel tried in the newspapers.

Unfortunately, most bereaved parents aren’t sure what it is they need right after their child’s death. They often feel as though no stranger is going to be able to help them and are unaware of how important it is to reach out for help.

Victim Crisis Assistance and Referral Services (VCARS) is a Canadian charitable service, with 48 sites in Ontario alone that provide immediate on-site assistance to victims affected by tragedy. Bereaved families can use victim services at any point during their recovery even if they initially decline assistance. Victim services offer a variety of support programs for long term assistance and can even help families deal with the media.

Patricia: Being a police officer and having to go through the legal system, I realized how scary it must be for other families who have absolutely no idea what to expect. So to those families who are feeling lost and overwhelmed, know that someone from victim services can be taking notes for you at the preliminary trial, someone can guide you while preparing for your impact statement, and can sit with you during trial.

One of the great difficulties at trial for bereaved parents is informing the judge or jury on how their child’s death affected their life. Impact statements can help determine the offender’s sentence, and parents feel the pressure; victim services help families write these. 

Patricia: Testifying and giving an impact statement was very difficult. I was trying to make sure that I wouldn’t mess it up. You’re so worried that if you say something wrong it could screw everything up. 

And adding to the heartache: 

Patricia: There are things that you don’t expect to happen that do. When I was at court, I went to the washroom and the accused’s mother was in there. It was just so hard. At the time, it wasn’t me against her. I actually felt quite sorry for her… it was a whirlwind of emotions.

Trial is very draining for families. Not only do they hear details of the child’s death, but also the accused is just feet away. Having external support such as VCARS ensures that bereaved families are aware of what steps they need to take and provides comfort at a time when family ties can become strained. 

Once a verdict is made, bereaved families still have much to deal with. Grieving the loss of a child never really ends. As time passes, families fill their lives with new memories and the moments of grief become more intermittent.

But of course, as parole hearings approach, families have to face the trauma of losing their child all over again.

– Contributing Writer: Tessie Mastorakos, 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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To Share or Not to Share (the Family Bed)

40Alcohol, Anxiety, Appetite, Attachment, Child Development, Empathy, Featured news, Health, Parenting, Sleep, Smoking October, 14

Some of the most common questions posed to parents of newborns, particularly by other parents, relate to sleeping patterns. Choices around sleep can be personal and sometimes controversial.

In western cultures, it is normal to put infants in different rooms. But in much of the rest of the world, the baby either sleeps with parents (bed-sharing) or in close proximity to the parent (co-sleeping).

These differing traditions often present a dilemma to parents in western societies who hear opposing points of view when seeking advice.

James McKenna, professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame considers that despite the dominant view (no bed-sharing), parents increasingly are opting for co-sleeping or bed-sharing. In fact, half of U.S. parents with infants bed-share with their children during at least part of the night.

This is especially true for breastfeeding mothers as co-sleeping can make night-time feeding easier to manage. It is thought by many that co-sleeping while breastfeeding results in the mother being more in-tune with the infant’s immediate hunger needs and as a result, the infant quickly learns that their needs can be satisfied. This contributes to the development of secure attachment

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, mothers should sleep in close proximity to their baby not only to help facilitate breastfeeding but also to improve the survival rate of the developing infant. 

McKenna also indicates that from an anthropological viewpoint the proximity and sensory touch associated with bed-sharing induces positive behavioural and physiological changes in the infant. Studies have found long-term benefits of bed-sharing or co-sleeping. For example, children who bed-shared were found to have less anxiety and a higher level of comfort in social situations later on.

Traditional western medical views on bed-sharing tend to be rather negative. Based on the Joint Statement on Safe Sleep: Preventing Sudden Infant Deaths in Canada, the main reason cited is the threat of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

The Joint statement defines SIDS as, “the sudden death of an infant less than one year of age, which remains unexplained after a thorough case investigation, including the performance of a complete autopsy, an examination of the death scene, and a review of the clinical history.”

Because it is difficult to distinguish specific causes of death that occurred during sleep, in many SIDS cases the cause may be cited as “unintentional suffocation due to overlaying,” which may be used to discourage bed-sharing.

Yet in many of the studies where infant deaths are discussed, parental smoking, alcohol consumption and unsafe sleeping practices are often major factors, as opposed to bed-sharing per se. Understanding preventative measures and safe sleeping practices can help reduce the incidence of SIDS.

Further, some research has found a strong link between breastfeeding and lowered risk of SIDS. Fern Hauck of the University of Virginia reviewed 18 studies that looked at the relationship between these two variables and found that babies exclusively breastfed had a 70% lower risk of SIDS, and the risk is lowered further the longer breastfeeding continues. Researchers attribute this lowered risk to infants being able to awaken more easily, reducing the risk of sudden death.

Daniel Flanders, pediatrician at North York General Hospital in Toronto, states that as a physician he follows the guidelines for the prevention of SIDS, but feels that strong recommendations against bed-sharing undermine parental choice on how to raise one’s child. He notes that in non-westernized communities bed-sharing is often a major part of the cultural practice of child rearing, and therefore his approach is to present the most relevant and up-to-date information available so the parent can make an informed decision.

There are several measures one can take to reduce the risks associated with bed-sharing. One of the most important things for the baby’s safe sleep is ensuring that the surface the infant sleeps on is firm, smooth and flat. Sheets should be tucked and never loose, whether the child sleeps with the parents, in a sidecar or in the crib.

If parents choose to bed-share there should be ample space for all, with both parents agreeing to the arrangement. The bed should not be shared with multiple children, especially if one or more are slightly older. Also, if the bed is raised off the floor there should be a mesh guardrail around the bed to prevent the baby from falling over. If the bed is against the wall, parents should ensure that there is no gap between the bed and the wall at all times.

Although bed-sharing is often discouraged by many in the medical community due to its association with an increased risk of SIDS, this does not mean that the practice is without benefit. Done safely, bed-sharing and co-sleeping offer unique opportunities for the development of closeness between parent and child.

Parents must choose the arrangement that works best for them and their families. For more information: Safe Sleeping Practices for Infants

– Contributing Writer: Saqina Abedi, 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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Acid Attacks: The New Gender Terrorism

00Dreaming, Ethics and Morality, Fear, Featured news, Gender, Law and Crime, Marriage, Parenting, Punishment, Resilience, Trauma September, 14

With her head bent down staring at the floor, saliva running down her chin, a woman is unable to lift her head or close her mouth. Acid has melted her skin.

An estimated 1500 people per year are victims of acid attacks; 80 percent of whom are female and 40 percent are under the age of 18. Although acid attacks are becoming increasingly common in countries such as India, Cambodia and Afghanistan, they occur more in Bangladesh than anywhere else in the world.

 About 60 cents a bottle, acid (hydrochloric, nitric or sulfuric) has become the weapon of choice against women in countries where their rights are still limited.

 In November 2012, the BBC reported a story about a 15-year old girl, attacked by her own parents because she turned her head to look at a boy passing on a motorcycle. Claiming that she “dishonoured her family,” the parents together beat her and then poured acid over her. After two days without being taken to a hospital, the young girl died of her injuries.

 Rarely resulting in death, the horror of the attacks is nevertheless striking. Within seconds, the acid melts skin, fat, muscle and sometimes bone. Women may be left blind, some with sealed nostrils, shriveled ears and damage to their airway from inhaling the fumes. In time, formed scar tissue tightens and pulls what is left on the face and neck, causing intense physical pain and discomfort.

 Why do the attacks occur? Most show a common theme: a woman stepping out of her subordinate gender role thereby causing dishonour to her husband or family. Choices many of us make without thinking, such as rejecting a marriage proposal or a sexual advance, are enough to instigate an attack.

The violent act is a threatening message not only to the victim, but to women in general, leaving many in a permanent state of fear.

 Victims are left permanently disfigured, socially isolated, and emotionally scarred. With the end results so extreme, some have called for punishment of death for those who inflict this on others. Yet in most cases, the perpetrator is left to carry on as if nothing happened. Laws have been passed with jail sentences as high as 14-years. But inefficiencies and corruption within the legal systems where these attacks occur mean that fewer than 10 percent of cases make it to court.

Many human rights agencies have advocated banning the sale of acid to decrease its availability. But for those who are motivated, acid can be found; many attackers are now using the inside contents of car batteries.

Sital Kalantry, the Cornell international human rights clinical director has called the phenomenon a form of “gender terrorism.” Unless women are able to step into a role of equality of rights and freedoms, the problem will persist.

Worldwide, many are taking action to raise awareness, provide treatment and ease pain. The 2012 Oscar award winning documentary Saving Face, tells the stories of Pakistani women who were victims of acid attacks, and follows them through their fight for justice, through their battle to get their lives back.

Featured in the film is British plastic surgeon Mohammad Jawad who has devoted countless hours to reconstructing the faces and bodies of women damaged by acid. He is one of many who have donated their time to try and heal these women.

The Acid Survivors Foundation, established in 1999, is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping women find a place again by connecting them with treatment and rehabilitation services offered by people such as Jawad.

Still, surgeons cannot repair everyone. For some already suffering from malnutrition, an acid attack can leave their skin almost fossilized, with scar tissue left to take over. For those who are able to undergo surgery, it can take over 20 procedures to restore basic functioning, a process unaffordable to many already living in poverty.

In addition to the physical damage, acid attacks inflict emotional damage and can destroy hopes and dreams. Uli Schmetzer, a Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent, told a story in 1999 of a 20-year old girl, Sufia, who became the victim of an acid attack meant for her sister who had turned down a marriage proposal. Having been accepted into university, Sufia had plans to become an agronomist; following the attack, she was likely to end up a beggar.

Often living as social pariahs following mutilation, these women are left with little hope. Seeing perpetrators get off without consequence, others are left to live in a state of fear that they will be next.

 – Contributing Writer: Crystal Slanzi, 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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Dr. Mom and Dad

00ADHD, Anxiety, Attention, Child Development, Depression, Environment, Featured news, Health, Intelligence, Leadership, Motivation, Parenting, Psychiatry, Psychopharmacology, Self-Control, Sleep September, 14

We live in a world of self-diagnosis. With access to online medical databases like WebMD and kidshealth.org, it is easy to type symptoms into Google, find a diagnosis and present findings to the family physician.

Self-diagnosis may seem harmless, but it can become problematic when we diagnose ourselves or our children with more complicated conditions, behavioral disorders like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The over-diagnosis of ADHD and the over-prescription of medications like Ritalin, Adderall, and Vyvanse (to name a few) have been longstanding problems in the health care community. Clinical psychologists Silvia Schneider, Jurgen Margraf, and Katrin Bruchmuller, on faculty at the University of Bochum and the University of Basel found that mental health workers such as psychiatrists tend to diagnose based on “a rule of thumb.” That is, children and adolescents -often males- are diagnosed with ADHD based on criteria such as “motoric restlessness, lack of concentration and impulsiveness,” rather than adhering to more comprehensive diagnostic criteria.

Parentsmotivation to get help for their child’s problems along with free access to online information may play a role in the over-diagnosis of ADHD.

A study by Anne Walsh, a professor of Nursing at Queensland University of Technology found that close to 43% of parents diagnosed and 33% treated their children’s health using online information. Of concern, 18% of parents actually altered their child’s professional health management to correspond with online information. Considering the questionable quality of some online health information, these numbers are worrisome.

Furthermore, as primary caregivers can sometimes be persuaded, it is possible that parental conviction of the child’s diagnosis may play a role in physician decisions to treat. With basic diagnostic criteria for ADHD readily available online, some parents may be quick to self-diagnose their “restless and impulsive child.”

“It sometimes happens that parents come to me convinced that their child has ADHD [based on their own research] and in many circumstances they are correct,” says Dan Flanders, a pediatrician practicing in Toronto, Canada.

 According to Flanders, there are certain traits that make a child more likely to be misdiagnosed with ADHD. “Children who have learning disabilities, hearing impairment, or visual impairment may be mistaken as having ADHD because it is harder for them to focus if they can’t see the blackboard, hear their teacher or if they simply cannot read their homework.”

Flanders adds that gifted children, children with anxiety or depression, and children with sleep disorders are commonly misdiagnosed with attention disorders. “Gifted children learn the class objectives after the first 10 minutes of a class whereas their classmates need the whole hour. For the remaining 50 minutes of class these children get bored, fidgety, distracted, and disruptive. The treatment for these children is to enrich their learning environment so that they are kept engaged by the additional school materials.”

Children with anxiety and depression can be misdiagnosed with ADHD because there may be an interference with a child’s ability to learn, focus, eat, sleep, and interact with others. For children with sleep disorders, “one of the most common presentations of sleep disorders is hyperactivity and an inability to focus during the day. Fix the sleep problem and the ADHD symptoms go away.”

It is, however, important to note that these disorders are not mutually exclusive of each other. “A child can have a learning disability, anxiety, and independent ADHD all at the same time.” 

While it is often beneficial for parents to consult online databases for background information, Flanders warns against relying solely on information found online because the information may not be up-to-date and cannot replace a thorough psychological assessment.

Why, then, do parents resort to this quick fix of information?

Walsh reported that parents use online health information for a range of reasons including feeling rushed and receiving limited general lifestyle guidance from their doctors.

Flanders points out that the doctor’s approach should always be to review the data honestly and objectively with parents and then openly present the treatment options available to them.

“The most important part of ADHD treatment is making sure of the diagnosis. There are so many children who are started on medication inappropriately. Throwing medication at the problem is not the answer unless the diagnosis is well established and the differential diagnoses have been exhausted.”

– Contributing Writer: Jana Vigour, 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