When a parent has mental illness, how to support kids

When a parent has mental illness, how to support kids

Between the long hours, many responsibilities, and lack of control, few jobs in our society are as demanding as parenting. If a parent has a mental illness like depression or anxiety, raising kids becomes even more difficult. Many parents live in secrecy, believing that they are the only ones who struggle like they do.

But parenting with mental illness is far more common than many people suspect. In a survey of U.S. parents, more than 18 percent reported having a mental illness in the past year. While a parent’s mental illness increases child’s risk for a future mental disorder, this is by no means the only possible outcome.

“Having a parent with mental illness does not always lead to clinically significant distress in a child,” says Dr. Patricia Ibeziako, associate chief of clinical services in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Services at Boston Children’s Hospital. “It depends on many factors, including the type and severity of the parent’s mental illness, how long it lasts, and the age of the child.”

A parent’s mental illness affects children differently at different ages

Children are most vulnerable to the effects of a parent’s mental illness at specific stages of emotional development. The first stage starts early, from infancy until about age 5. “This is an important period of brain development when infants and toddlers form strong attachments,” says Dr. Ibeziako. But a parent with mental illness may not be able to meet their child’s need for bonding. An infant or toddler deprived of positive emotional connections may develop problems regulating their own emotions and behavior. This may play out in tantrums, trouble sleeping, regression in potty training, or bedwetting.

The next vulnerable period is adolescence. As difficult as their behavior may be at times, adolescents rely on their parents for structure and positive reinforcement. But a parent struggling with mental illness may be less attentive to their teenager’s needs. Or they may focus entirely on things their child is doing wrong without balancing negative feedback with praise. “A parent’s depression, irritability, or low frustration tolerance can cause teens to act out in disruptive ways,” says Dr. Ibeziako.

The lack of energy that depressed parents often experience may also affect their ability to pay attention to their child’s school routines. Without a parent’s support, school-aged children may struggle to get to school or after-school activities on time. Completing homework can become an overwhelming challenge.

A parent dealing with an anxiety disorder may be overprotective, depriving their child of the chance to learn problem-solving skills. Or a child who witnesses their parent’s anxious behavior may in turn develop fears and worries.

How to help kids develop positive coping skills

Despite these challenges, many children do find positive ways to cope. Parents can help.

Stuck in the middle with you: How parents and children can get through the 'tween' years

Stuck in the middle with you: How parents and children can get through the ‘tween’ years

Pre-teens begin to see the good and bad in people — the ones they’re friends with can be fun, but also mean and nasty. Picture: iStock Not long ago, she got invited to Paw Patrol-themed birthday parties. Now, your 11-year-old is receiving invitations to pamper parties with beauty treatments. Only a few years ago she watched Shaun the Sheep — now she’s making TikTok videos.

The tween stage can catch parents off guard. And it can be equally disorientating for children — that nine to 12-year-old cohort who are on a bridge between young childhood and the teens. It’s a steep trajectory and child psychotherapist Colman Noctor says children can be at different stages of it. “Some will enter it much quicker. They’ll be racing towards the teens, while others will cling to childhood — hold onto the Lego, the stuff they enjoy that’s no longer deemed cool by the others.”

Noctor says as children approach the teens, they can struggle to come to terms with the unpredictability of people. “In primary school, friendship is very territorial — ‘you’re my best friend, I’m yours’ — it’s very contractual. Pre-teens begin to see the good and bad in people — the ones they’re friends with can be fun, but also mean and nasty. They see another side of people and their social world becomes more complex.”

They’re also beginning to anticipate — with some anxiety — the organisational autonomy that will be expected of them. Noctor sees this starting at about age 11 or 12 when secondary schools come to pitch their schools to sixth class pupils. “The impending change plays on their mind. They’re hearing about timetables, lockers, different classrooms, and they’re thinking ‘crikey, how am I going to cope with this?’”

Brain flux

Joanna Fortune, psychotherapist and author of 15-Minute Parenting 8-12 Years, says the pre-teen stage is one of significant growth and development across cognitive, social, emotional and physical faculties. “Their brains are in a constant state of flux. This process of intense change can feel confusing for parents,” she says.

Tweens are gradually capable of greater degrees of logic, their pre-frontal cortex is still very immature, she says. “So we see evidence of emerging maturity, self-regulation and capacity for greater responsibility. But it’s mixed with flashes of temper and emotional meltdowns that seemingly come from nowhere. And it is all part of this stage of middle childhood.”

At this age, children start pulling away from parents and family as their hub of social development, and towards peers. “They become very focused on what they think their peers are thinking about them,” says Fortune.

Noctor says parents can struggle with seeing children become less communicative with them. “Tweens need to retreat. They start spending more […]

Why Do People Have Repressed Anger?

  • People’s habitual way of dealing with anger falls into one of two sets of patterns—externalising it or internalising it.
  • As people who repress anger divert their anger toward themselves, they often suffer from depression, anxiety, and somatisation.
  • When a person represses anger, they may find that many of their other desirable feelings also get numbed out.

Anger is a natural emotion and has to be processed in one way or the other. Normally, people’s habitual way of dealing with anger falls into one of two sets of patterns—externalising it or internalising it.

When these patterns are held in a rigid way or used excessively, there can be detrimental health consequences.

Internalised anger is also known as repressed anger, and it can take different forms. In this article, we will discuss what causes people to repress anger.

When people think of anger, externalised forms of anger often come to mind—someone shouting, hitting something, or acting in an aggressive way. Therefore, many people mistakenly equate anger with aggression. However, being angry does not have to mean someone lashes out.

Externalised anger is not always unhealthy. Healthy expression of anger can help us set boundaries, assert our rights and protect ourselves. People who do not internalise or repress their anger know it when they feel it. Once they have expressed their anger, either through speech or behaviours, the feeling leaves their system. It does not get stuck in the body, remain stuck, or fester. For people who repress their anger, however, the opposite happens.

Repressed Anger and Not Being Able to Get Angry

People who internalise anger hold it within their bodies and psyche. They may direct anger toward themselves and get aggressive toward themselves. They may carry all responsibilities for any conflicts in relationships, blame themselves excessively, and do not assert themselves even when they should. As they divert their anger toward themselves, they often suffer from depression, anxiety, and somatisation (emotions turning into bodily pain or physical ailments).

The problem is that, although it is unconscious, it takes a lot of energy to suppress and re-divert anger. Therefore, people with repressed anger may find that they rarely feel angry, but experience chronic tiredness.

Another problem is that on the flip side of anger are positive human feelings such as love, excitement, and passion. When a person suppresses anger, they may find many of their other desirable feelings get numbed out too. They find it difficult to get excited or passionate; they may also be disconnected from their own needs and desires.

A young person can also hold repressed anger. When they do, they may have coping mechanisms such as self-harming, selective mutism, or restrictive eating. There is no channel for them to express how they feel, and they could not afford to express anger toward their parents who can’t tolerate it. The only way to cope, therefore, is to blame themselves for feeling angry. When these children grow up, they are more prone to suffering from disorders related to internalisation, such as quiet borderline personality disorder or chronic depression.

Another well-known fact about repressed anger is that it can cause physical strain on our bodies. Holding back anger creates inner tension, which can then cause a wide range of psychosomatic ailments, such as indigestion, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, frequent migraines, and even cancer.

Reasons for Repressed Anger

People do not choose to repress their anger voluntarily. While their innate temperaments play a role (“nature” factors), it is normally the result of a person’s childhood experiences (“nurture” factors) and social/cultural conditioning. One may have learned to repress their anger because, as a child, they were discouraged, punished, shamed, silenced, or ignored when they tried to express themselves.

How to Break the Exhausting Habit of Revenge Bedtime Procrastination

How to Break the Exhausting Habit of Revenge Bedtime Procrastination

What Is Revenge Bedtime Procrastination?

Revenge bedtime procrastination is the act of deliberately putting off sleep in favor of leisure activities — binging Netflix or scrolling TikTok, for example — that provide short-term enjoyment but few long-term life benefits. Revenge bedtime procrastination is especially likely when busy schedules and daily responsibilities prevent the enjoyment of “me time” earlier in the day. (The idea is that you’re exacting “revenge” on all of life’s stressors and obligations by delaying sleep for leisure and entertainment.)

Of course, sacrificing sleep carries its fair share of consequences — namely exhaustion, poor productivity, health ramifications, and shame. In short, revenge bedtime procrastination is an unhealthy habit – and one that may be more common and troublesome for adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD).

Revenge Bedtime Procrastination: Origins, Signs, and Impact

Revenge bedtime procrastination is the approximate English translation of a Chinese expression for delaying sleep to regain freedom lost during the day. The term took off during the pandemic, as sleep problems and psychological distress collectively skyrocketed.1

Anyone can engage in revenge bedtime procrastination, but people with high-stress, busy lives and/or poor time-management skills might be more likely to put off sleep for personal time. That demographic is heavily weighted toward women, who as a group lost significant personal time during the pandemic as they took on a greater share of parenting and housework compared to men.2

Though a relatively new term, bedtime procrastination is not a new concept to researchers.3 The behavior – defined as going to bed late, absent of external reasons, and with an understanding that the delay will result in negative consequences – is conceptualized as a self-regulation problem.4 (You know what else is often described as a self-regulation problem? Yep, ADHD.)

Proper sleep is vital for functioning and overall health. That’s why inadequate sleep and poor sleep hygiene can contribute to a list of problems including:5

  • impaired cognitive functioning (memory, focus, concentration)
  • weakened immune system
  • dysregulated metabolism
  • anxiety and other mood disorders
  • increased mortality6

Revenge Bedtime Procrastination and ADHD

Why might individuals with ADHD be particularly susceptible to revenge bedtime procrastination?

Sleep Problems and ADHD

Research shows that individuals with ADHD experience problems with virtually all aspects of sleep, including:

  • difficulty falling and staying asleep7
  • daytime sleepiness3
  • Poor sleep quality and difficulty waking up8

ADHD is also associated with “increased eveningness” (preference for a later bedtime).9

Kids with obesity need acceptance from family and friends, not just better diet tips

Kids with obesity need acceptance from family and friends, not just better diet tips

Hundreds of programs over the past four decades—from the removal of junk food from school vending machines to Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign—have tried to get kids in the U.S. to eat healthier food and exercise more often.

But none of these efforts lowered national child obesity rates. In fact, child obesity has continued to increase. This has been particularly true during the pandemic.

We think we know why. Most programs that seek to lower children‘s body mass index, or BMI, focus on healthy food and physical activity. But as child obesity researchers who specialize in human development and family science, we know that slimming down requires much more than attention to diet and exercise.

Those factors are important, but we found that acceptance from family and friends also plays a critical role in slowing the rate of weight gain for children with obesity.

To reach this conclusion, we collaborated with colleagues to follow almost 1,200 children in first through fourth grades in rural Oklahoma to find out more about the lives of kids who are overweight or obese. Our intervention programs allowed us to compare a traditional food and exercise approach to managing child obesity with approaches that also targeted the social and emotional aspects of children’s lives.

Family and peer acceptance

We conducted a randomized controlled trial in 29 Oklahoma schools. More than 500 first graders who were at-risk for obesity—meaning their BMI was above the 75th percentile—were assigned to either a control group or a group that received a combination of three interventions.

These interventions focused on family lifestyle, family dynamics and the peer group.

The family lifestyle intervention focused on healthy food and physical activity. Participants learned to use a color-coded food reference guide similar to this one when selecting food. Parents tracked their children’s food consumption and physical activity, and also learned how to avoid conflict over food. This conflict might involve arguing about how much the child is eating, whether the child can have dessert or whether the child has eaten enough of everything else on the table to get a second helping of a favorite food.

The peer group intervention taught social acceptance in the children’s school classrooms. Our research has shown that the more children weigh, the more their classmates tend to dislike them. However we’ve also demonstrated that we can decrease the rejection that happens in elementary school classrooms by teaching children to be more accepting of one another.

Effect on obesity

We measured children’s heights and weights at the beginning of first grade and then after the intervention—in first, second, third and fourth grades. Only those children with obesity who received all three interventions—family lifestyle, family dynamics and peer group—had significant decreases in BMI gains compared with the control group.

Ongoing analysis indicates that the peer group intervention was particularly important for children who were severely obese, with a BMI in the 99th percentile.

Our results show that to reduce BMI gains in the early school years, kids need more than healthy food and physical activity. They need parents who encourage their healthy choices and accept their emotions. Knowing you can come home and talk about how angry and sad you are is essential to healthy physical and mental growth. And children must also have friends and peers who accept them for who they are—regardless of how much they weigh.

Tips on how to nurture kindness in your children

Tips on how to nurture kindness in your children

The holidays will soon be upon us. What is likely to make you feel better – receiving a gift, or giving one to someone in need?

Research is clear that, as the proverb goes, it’s better to give than to receive.

“Doing kind things makes you feel better,” said a sociologist at the University of Toronto Andrew Miles. “It fulfills a basic psychological need, like giving our bodies appropriate food. It helps you feel like your life is valuable.”

Miles is currently leading a large, controlled study aiming to quantify the ways in which doing good may help to counter the anxiety and depression that currently undermines the health and well-being of many people in all walks of life.

And the need for kindness may have never been greater.

The economic, educational and vocational stresses associated with the pandemic continue to take a toll.

In addition, the media, the Internet, and even neighbourhood streets are often filled with physical threats and hateful remarks directed at large segments of the population. It is important to foster a child’s emotional well-being by accepting and nurturing the child you have, not trying to forcefully create the one you want Although members of minority groups, are increasingly willing to speak out against verbal and physical attacks and discrimination, many targetted individuals continue to suffer in silence.

Little wonder that rates of anxiety and depression remain high.

Children, who can readily sense the emotional distress of their caregivers, often share the pain.

But experts said there’s an antidote that could benefit everyone.

They call it “prosocial behaviour”, or acting in ways that help other people.In her recently published book, Social Justice Parenting, an associate professor of education at Florida Atlantic University Traci Baxley emphasises the rewards of teaching compassion and kindness to a new generation.Her goal in fostering a more just world for all is to raise children “who can ultimately self-advocate, empathise with others, recognise injustice, and become proactive in changing it”.Her book, which I found hard to put down, is replete with excellent examples and advice that can help parents raise children with a healthy self-image and regard for the welfare of others.She wrote, “It is our obligation to teach our children to stand up and be allies for groups that are marginalised and silenced”.

Baxley, the mother of five, told me that upon returning to school after the pandemic lockdown, many young people experienced an increase in depression and social anxiety that can be counteracted by prosocial behaviour.“Just seeing compassion and kindness in action releases chemicals in the brain that helps them calm down,” she said. “It slows the heart rate and releases serotonin that counters symptoms of depression.”Prosocial behaviour may come naturally to some. Even […]