5 tips to raise kids with an attitude of gratitude

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BloomBrite conducted online painting contest on the theme “Thank You”. There were lot of entries from kids. They participated from various parts of India. They expressed gratitude for their parents, teachers, helpers, soldiers, environment, and God. After going through the paintings, a question kept haunting me. Kids have their studies, play time, story times and hobbies that they love to pursue, then why bother about their attitude of gratitude?

There are published studies that state that by learning gratitude, kids become sensitive to the feelings of others, develop their innate capacities for empathy and altruism.  They make more friends, appreciate what they have, show responsibility, and in general more life satisfaction in later life. So, we need to focus on narturing an attitude of gratitude if we want our kids to be happy.

But how can we instill gratitude in children who are naturally self-centered and growing up in an entitlement-driven society? Here are the 5 tips to raise kids with an attitude of gratitude:

1. Model Gratitude: They say kids learn gratitude by seeing others display appreciation in everyday, unplanned moments. You can model gratitude by thanking God in the morning for a beautiful day, for health and happiness, thanking the environment, helpers. Convey your appreciation for others with hugs, words, and small thank you notes. Discuss acts of kindness that you come across, appreciate the good deeds of your kids. Respect people, things, and the environment. Remember the fastest way to boost character is through examples.

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2. Appreciate what you have: The ability to know “what is enough” is one of the most important skills you can teach your kids.  Through the understanding of this concept kids learn moderation, and self-control. They understand the value of eyes, when you make them interact with blind children. Understand the value of their toys when they see slum kids playing with stones. To learn to appreciate food, shelter they need to come across less previleged ones.

3. Teach Family Values: Many children grow up believing that life is about acquiring money, and material possessions. If your family values hard work, saving money and simple joys, make sure your principles are being communicated regularly. It’s important to involve kids in household chores so that they appreciate the hard work of other family members, and helpers.

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4. Celebrate the joy of giving: Receiving gifts can be fun, but make sure your children also recognize the joy of giving. Around the holidays, focus on celebrating the joy of giving. Make visits to relatives, orphanages, organize fund raising drives. Face-to-face experiences can go a long way in helping kids appreciate their blessings.

5. Practice Mindfulness: It’s important to teach kids to stay in the moment. To breathe the fresh air while walking in the park, to appreciate the taste of food while eating a meal, actively listen when someone talks to them, persevere when it comes to adhere to a goal, etc.

You’ve probably heard it said that “happiness is a choice.” While it can be difficult to choose happiness in tough times, research suggests that happiness is, in fact, less the result of circumstance and more the product of our own thinking and habits. When we make our children mindful, aware of their blessings, and inculcate a habit of expressing gratitude, we not only make their path easier and happier, but also pave the way for a better future around us.

5-tips to raise kids with an attitude of gratitude

IMG_0503

BloomBrite conducted online painting contest on the theme “Thank You”. There were lot of entries from kids. They participated from various parts of India. They expressed gratitude for their parents, teachers, helpers, soldiers, environment, and God. After going through the paintings, a question kept haunting me. Kids have their studies, play time, story times and hobbies that they love to pursue, then why bother about their attitude of gratitude?

There are published studies that state that by learning gratitude, kids become sensitive to the feelings of others, develop their innate capacities for empathy and altruism.  They make more friends, appreciate what they have, show responsibility, and in general more life satisfaction in later life. So, we need to focus on narturing an attitude of gratitude if we want our kids to be happy.

But how can we instill gratitude in children who are naturally self-centered and growing up in an entitlement-driven society? Here are the 5 tips to raise kids with an attitude of gratitude:

1. Model Gratitude: They say kids learn gratitude by seeing others display appreciation in everyday, unplanned moments. You can model gratitude by thanking God in the morning for a beautiful day, for health and happiness, thanking the environment, helpers. Convey your appreciation for others with hugs, words, and small thank you notes. Discuss acts of kindness that you come across, appreciate the good deeds of your kids. Respect people, things, and the environment. Remember the fastest way to boost character is through examples.

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2. Appreciate what you have: The ability to know “what is enough” is one of the most important skills you can teach your kids.  Through the understanding of this concept kids learn moderation, and self-control. They understand the value of eyes, when you make them interact with blind children. Understand the value of their toys when they see slum kids playing with stones. To learn to appreciate food, shelter they need to come across less previleged ones.

3. Teach Family Values: Many children grow up believing that life is about acquiring money, and material possessions. If your family values hard work, saving money and simple joys, make sure your principles are being communicated regularly. It’s important to involve kids in household chores so that they appreciate the hard work of other family members, and helpers.

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4. Celebrate the joy of giving: Receiving gifts can be fun, but make sure your children also recognize the joy of giving. Around the holidays, focus on celebrating the joy of giving. Make visits to relatives, orphanages, organize fund raising drives. Face-to-face experiences can go a long way in helping kids appreciate their blessings.

5. Practice Mindfulness: It’s important to teach kids to stay in the moment. To breathe the fresh air while walking in the park, to appreciate the taste of food while eating a meal, actively listen when someone talks to them, persevere when it comes to adhere to a goal, etc.

You’ve probably heard it said that “happiness is a choice.” While it can be difficult to choose happiness in tough times, research suggests that happiness is, in fact, less the result of circumstance and more the product of our own thinking and habits. When we make our children mindful, aware of their blessings, and inculcate a habit of expressing gratitude, we not only make their path easier and happier, but also pave the way for a better future around us.

5-tips to spend the Christmas holidays with kids

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Christmas is round the corner. Kids are ready for their holidays. As parents, we want to make sure that they have a good time. And, the vacation gets exciting for them. Many of us have trip plans, many have already enrolled kids into various winter camps. And then, there are some of us who are going to stay back at our respective cities. What would be good ways of keeping our kids engaged, having fun, and quality bonding time?  Here are  the 5-tips to spend the Christmas holidays with kids:

1. Gratitude Jar: This is the time to bid goodbye to the year 2017. Any farewell is not complete without thank you notes. As new year is nearing, it is a good time now to orient kids to gratitude. Gratitude to the things that they have been grateful for. It’s actually great fun to decorate a gratitude jar. Then think of all the memories of the last 12 months. And write those down in small pieces of paper, and put that in the jar. That way, you and kiddo get transported to the memories, and all the things that you have been thankful for.  Trust me, this is a great way to know your kiddo too! Later, you can pick a special time to pull out notes at random and ask kids to read them aloud. It leads to great bonding, and family fun.

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2. Cooking FunCooking is an important life skill for kids. It offers kids opportunities to use their senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. It helps build fine motor skills, self- confidence, perseverance, and bonding with adults in the kitchen. It orients kids to nutrition and  self care. And in addition is a lot of fun. Christmas is a great time to have fun over  baking cakes, cookies; and pan cakes!

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3. Charity Work: A great way to reinforce charitable values in kids, is to make giving a family activity. This Christmas holidays, you can organize charity events for kids at your apartment, or in the neighborhood. Kids can sell stuff like pop corn, juices, or their baked items. You can help them by donating the raw materials. Finally, the amount collected can be used for donation to an orphanage, or for buying gifts for helpers who take care of the locality. Newspaper donation drive is also an enjoyable charity event. Charity events are great platforms to orient kids that they are part of a larger community and that we are responsible for everyone around us. I remember one such event when kids wanted to buy mosquito repellents, and warm clothes for the security guards of their apartment!

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4. Story Time: We have grown up on stories narrated to us by our grandparents, parents and other elders in the familyThose stories helped us learn some important moral lessons of our lives. Now, with technology invading our lives like never before, nuclear families and working parents overpowering the social set up, the art of story-telling has become rare. However, kids love story time with adults. Story times encourage listening skills in kids, help develop ,vocabulary,  strengthens emotions and thinking ability. Overall, kids bond very well with adults over stories. You can visit www.bloombrite.com for stories on life skills.

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5. City Tour: Every city around the globe provides myriad options for fun and entertainment for kids and adults. You can take your kids to museums, botanical gardens, historical monuments, or other places that used to attract you as a kid, have a picnic outing, or stroll down the lazy roads!

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These are just a few of my thoughts, but would love to hear yours! How have you decided to spend the  holidays? Do write back under the comments section. Merry Christmas!

ExpertSpeak: What Parents need to know about Autism

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Recently, there have been a lot of debate in social media about autism. Scientific data show a rise in autism diagnosis rates in children.  Many parents feel that doctors are over-diagnosing the disorder. So, what’s the truth behind the data? Here are the excerpts from a discussion with Dr Suhas Chandran from the Department of Psychiatry,  JSS Hospital, Mysore.

What is autism?

– Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition. It affects the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills.  The terms such as Classic Autism or Kanner’s Autism (named after the first psychiatrist to describe autism) or pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) have been used interchangeably to describe the disorder.

What is the prevalence and incidence of autism?

– According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every 88 children under the age of 10 years old suffer from autism or autism like disorder. These are broadly called Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). The rate of incidence of autism is increasing 10-17% per year in the US according to the Autism Society of America. Incidence extrapolations for India for Autism are 11,914 cases per year, 250 per month, 57 per week, 8 per day, 1.4 per hour.

At what age do one start to see the symptoms of autism?

– The symptoms are first observed by the time a kid reaches 3 years. Boys are four times more likely than girls to be autistic. Autism is not caused by a person’s upbringing, their social circumstances or bad parenting and it is not the fault of the child with the condition. The disorder has a strong genetic basis, though the root causes are not completely understood yet. ASD is a wide-spectrum disorder. This means that no two people with autism will have exactly the same symptoms. The combinations of symptoms may differ. Also the intensity of symptoms may vary greatly. Many autistic children are perfectly normal in appearance, but spend their time engaged in puzzling and disturbing behaviours that are markedly different from those of typically developing children.

What are the common symptoms of autism? 

The common symptoms are as follows:

-Aggressive, self-injurious behaviour

-Odd/ritualistic behaviour like rocking back and forth, waving hands

-Resistance to change in normal routines

-Language: not/ slowly developed

-The child prefers to spend time alone

-Has little interest in making friends

-Lack of attachment is often noted

-Less responsive to social cues, poor eye contact

-Lack of spontaneous / imaginative play

-Does not imitate other’s actions

-Hypersensitivity to touch and sound

-Sleep problems: Some children may have features suggestive of mental retardation (now known as intellectual disability) and a seizure disorder along with a combination of the above symptoms.

What is Asperger syndrome?

Asperger syndrome is an ASD where the child generally has normative language development and skills, but struggles in other areas, such as social interactions.

What are the misconceptions and misinformation regarding autism?

– It is absolutely imperative for a parent, a teacher, and other caregivers to watch for signs of autism. The earlier a child is diagnosed, the sooner he starts getting the necessary treatment and care, the more successful his treatment will be. Long before receiving the diagnosis of ASD, parents do suspect that something is different about their child but what often comes in the way of an early or an accurate diagnosis could be misconceptions and misinformation regarding autism. These include:

-Autism affects only the rich.

-Individuals with autism do not speak at all.

-All children with autism are lost in their own world.

-Autism is a western disorder. It is rarely seen in the subcontinent.

-Autism is a result of poor parenting and a proper home environment can cure the child.

How early can the health care professionals diagnose ASD?

– Health professionals can reliably diagnose ASD in kids as young as 16 months old. They rely on behavioural observations, medical screenings and a child’s developmental history for their diagnosis. Then, families and experts work together to come up with a tailored integrated treatment plan. Children with autism shows significant development even in the core areas of impairment if the intervention provided is appropriate to the child. Reversing autism is one of medicine’s toughest challenges. Though there is no absolute cure for the core symptoms, drugs are available to treat overt symptoms such as anxiety, repetitive behaviours and irritability.

What is the role of behavioral therapy?

– Behavioural modifications are however the gold standard where therapists work with children to modify their behaviour and develop social skills with a combination of techniques, like positive reinforcement and chaining — breaking a skill down into small chunks so it’s easier to learn. Programs and services aimed at helping children with autism enhance their quality of life, like speech therapy and occupational therapy, which teach specific daily living skills. Remember adulthood lasts a lot longer than childhood and we must enable these children with these skills. Some children have special skills say ‘isolated islets of intelligence’ referred to as savant skills – heightened ability in math, music etc.

What is the goal of therapy?

– Not all people with autism have an incredible gift or savantism but the goal of therapy is to potentiate what a child can do rather than emphasize on what the child cannot do, to focus more on their strengths and interests rather than behaviours that negatively impact their life. The idea is if they can’t learn the way we teach, then we teach the way they learn. It is not surprising that parents, and some educators, would be taken with the possibility of a quick cure. In contrast, behaviour based education requires tedious hours of one-on-one work not just by professionals but also by parents who will be the child’s best therapist, once again reiterating why it is important to diagnose early.

What are the current needs in India in terms of dealing with autism?

– With the exception of a few parent initiated support groups, few families of children with disabilities in India have access to mental health professionals for correction of the myths or an outlet for their own feelings of grief and helplessness. There is urgent need for services to support parents with coping strategies to deal with the stress of parenting a child with autism.

What is your final take on autism and related disorders?

– Ignorance is not bliss: Early diagnosis and early intervention should be the mantra in Autism

– The most important thing to remember is that autism doesn’t mean a child isn’t smart, or won’t go on to do great things later in life. Researchers now believe that some of our greatest minds — people like Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, and Mozart to name a few may have had a form of autism. Think of it: a disability is usually defined in terms of what is missing, but autism is as much about what is abundant as what is missing, an over-expression of the very traits that make our species unique.

To quote Dr. Temple Grandin, an American professor and a prominent Autism spokesperson “The most interesting people you’ll find are ones that don’t fit into your average cardboard box. They’ll make what they need; they’ll make their own boxes”.

 

 

5-tips to boost sunshine vitamin for kids

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When I was a kid, I used to observe this age old tradition. The tradition of  laying down  infants on the verandah of the house, in the morning. And that was for the dose of sunshine vitamin or Vitamin D. The practice has slowly vanished, mainly because of urbanization. When I was a kid, we spent a lot of time time at the playgrounds of our school. The playgrounds welcomed kids for unstructured play during 30 mins of lunch break daily. Today, schools have playgrounds. But kids are mostly allowed there during sports periods. At home also, kids donot get enough Vitamin D. This is because of the following reasons. Now-a-days, kids play mostly indoors, or at covered play spaces.  The result is quite obvious from recent studies on Vitamin D. Today, doctors say 6 out of 10 children suffer from Vitamin D deficiency, due to less exposure to sun. Not only kids, several studies over the years have shown that more than 50% of the Indian population is vitamin D-deficient.

What is Vitamin D and how is it useful for our body?

Vitamin D is fat-soluble vitamin.  It is needed for strong bones, muscles and overall health. Vitamin D is essential for calcium to enter our bones. This prevents rickets (dental and skeletal deformities, bone pain or tenderness, impaired growth) in children, and osteoporosis and osteomalacia (bones to become weak, brittle and more prone to fractures) in adults. Deficiency of Vitamin D is also linked to autoimmune diseases, heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer.

What is Vitamin D deficiency?

The most reliable marker of vitamin D status is the serum concentration of 25(OH)D.  In infants and children, it is desirable to maintain 25(OH)D between  15–20 ng/mL. To maintain that, Vitamin D intake of at least 400 IU in infancy and 600 IU during childhood and adolescence is essential. In adults, 25(OH)D < 20 ng/mL is considered as deficiency, insufficiency as 20–29 ng/mL and sufficiency as ≥30 ng/mL.

What are the sources of Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is made when sun light reacts with a compound called, 7-dehydrocholesterol,  in our skin. The sun emits light with varying spectra. The UVB (the B band of ultra violet rays) stimulates the production of vitamin D. In 30 minutes, around 3000IU (international units) of vitamin D is formed and absorbed into the body. Most people require only few minutes of exposure to obtain their daily requirements of this important vitamin.

Vitamin D is also found in a small number of food items. The richest natural source is cod liver oil. The other sources are egg yolks, some fish (mackerel, catfish, tuna, sardines and herring) [cholecalciferol] and certain mushrooms (maitake, chanterelle and morel) [ergocalciferol].  There are many fortified food items available in the market. These are milk and milk alternatives, cereals, orange juice, yogurt etc.  Cholecalciferol causes a greater rise in vitamin D levels compared to ergocalciferol when given at a same dose.

We get almost 90% of our vitamin D from sunlight, and less than 10% of the daily requirement from diet. The duration of sun exposure required to produce optimal levels of vitamin D depends on skin pigmentation, proportion of body covered, time of exposure, latitude, season, and the level of atmospheric pollution.  Here are 5-tips to boost sunshine vitamin for kids: 

1. Avoidance of excessive use of sunscreens: Increasing sun avoidance and high-SPF sunscreens is a huge factor in declining blood levels of Vitamin D. So when you want to give a boost of Vitamin D avoid excessive application of sunscreen.

2. Clothing during exposure to sunlight: It is important to expose 18% of the body, that is bare arms and bare face; without  protection with clothes. Post sun exposure, you can apply aloe vera or lacto calamine to sooth and calm the skin.

3. Duration of exposure to sunlight:  We make enough precursors by exposure to the sunlight for 5-10 minutes every day or 30 minutes three times a week. This can be made possible in kids by encouraging them to play outdoors, or taking them for brisk walk over the weekend.

4. Timing of exposure to sunlight: UV-B radiation from the sun are most intense during mid-day. The best time of exposure is between 10 am to 3 pm. Outside this duration, little longer exposure may be required to produce the same amount of the vitamin.

5. Supplementation in diet: Most experts feel it is tough to get Vitamin D dose from diet alone. Along with sunlight, they recommend to provide Vitamin D rich foods and supplements. Children with fat malabsorption, and those who require long-term use of seizure medications may need higher dosages of vitamin D because of increased risk of deficiency.

Not only physical health, sunlight is an important indicator of our mental health too. Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. Serotnin is considered our happy hormone. Serotonin boosts our mood and helps feel calm and focused.

They say “When we open ourselves up to receive the light, our beauty shines forth”.

5-tips to awaken joy in kids

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Can joy be cultivated? And, if so, can we teach our kids to be more joyful in their lives? There are research based practices like gratitude, emotion coaching, compassion that bring true happiness. These are proven to be best prescriptions for ones’ wellbeing. But the question is that why do we need to teach kids to be joyful? Aren’t kids born happy?

Research points to the fact that some people are born happier than others. Interview of parents with two or more kids also support the same. Scientific evidence pinpoints to the fact that personality is controlled by the frontal lobes of the brain. The left side of the frontal lobe is more active when people feel happy.  Whereas, the right side of the frontal lobe is more active when people feel sad.  Thus, the trick is to take what nature has given your kid and nurture him for a lifetime of happiness. By coaching what stimulates the left prefrontal cortex you can encourage him/her to be happier. Similarly, by practicing what calms the activity in the right prefrontal cortex you can train him/her to reduce sadness.

The question comes back again about how to teach kids to be more joyful in their lives? How can one stimulate the left prefrontal cortex or calm down the right one? Here are the 5-tips:

1. Emotion coaching: Every human walks around with with a basket that is full of emotions. Emotions like happiness, sadness, embarassment, anger, fear, joy etc. Emotional turmoil directly affects our mood, thoughts and relationships. Importantly, emotions play a vital role in our overall well-being. Life is ironic as it takes sadness to know what happiness is. Anger to appreciate the state of calm and content. Thus all emotions are important. Research shows that children who understand their feelings and learn about their emotions are able to control the activity of their prefrontal cortex, and stay healthy. So how to coach emotions?

The first step is to identify feelings by giving them labels. “I hear you laughing, are you happy?” “You look sad. It is because you broke your toy car?” “Are you angry because mummy didn’t give you the ice-cream?” “Nita fell down, how do you think she feels?” Such labels can be practiced by talking, drawing different faces with emotions, or emotion crafts like emoji ping pong  balls, balloons, picture books or flash cards. 

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You must also talk about your own feelings and how you express those feelings. “Remember yesterday when the water in the sink would not go down the drain? Mommy got so mad and do you remember what the face looked like? Can you make a mad face like Mommy’s? What do you do when you get mad? When I get mad I take a deep breath, count to three, and then try to think of the best way to deal with my problem.” The idea here is not to try to suppress the emotion labelling. But label it, acknowledge that emotion, and find out ways to deal with it!

Praise your kid when she tries to talk about his feelings instead of just reacting. It is important to let your kid know  how proud you are of her for talking about feelings.

Finally, support your kid when she goes through emotional turmoil. I know of a friend’s kid who had hidden his school diary in their car dicky. He had received a diary note about bad behaviour at school. He was so scared to discuss that with parents that he told everyone that he lost his diary. Once found out, the parents couldnot believe that their kid was capable of such an act. I was worried about the emotional turmoil that the kid had gone through!

2. Letting them do things that they enjoy: When I look back at my childhood, I remember the endless time that I had spent with my friends. The unstructured games like hide-and-seek, kabaddi, play dates with dolls were the most enjoyable moments. I spent lots of time on art and crafts, reading story books, gave performances from school etc.  We kids had time and support from family to explore things around, and also time to become bored. Then figure out how to overcome boredom. We had the time to get into trouble and find our way out of it, time to daydream.  Now-a-days, the focus is given more to academic achievements, and adult directed sports and other activities.

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Recently, kids came up with the idea to celebrate halloween festival at our apartment. They divided themselves into age based groups, dressed up for the evening with with little support from parents, and visited the flats to play “treat or trick”. Parents were over impressed with their efforts. And they started the discussion to have an structured event next year!  Where’s the liberty for kids? There is scientific evidence to adress the fact that unstructured play helps children learn how to work in groups, to share, negotiate, resolve conflicts, regulate their emotions and behavior, and speak up for themselves. It is thus very important to let kids do things that they enjoy. And coach them to be self responsible by inspiring them with real life examples. Once, they understand why academic performance is important, they themselves will allocate time for studies and other activities accordingly! I had a friend who used to watch a movie before exams, yet excell in academics.

3. Gratitude: It is very easy to teach gratitude to kids if started early. As the practice is to learn to thank, help, appreciate others, notice own blessings, know our gifts, and serve others. Gratitude could be as simple as having eyes to see, food to eat, and air to breathe;  thankfulness for having good friends or it could be someone offering an umbrella when it rains.

We once took our kiddo to a facility that house abandoned kids with cerebral palsy. There were kids of all ages. Most were seated in wheel-chairs. Only few were able to walk without support. It brought tears to her eyes, and she thanked God for all the privileges that have been gifted to her as birth right.

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4. Kindness: Kindess is a practice that fosters life long happiness. Kids are innocent, once we coach the skills we actually prepare them for life. I had organized a newspaper donation drive with kids. They visited all the apartments at our society, and requested for old newspapers. The idea was to collect fund by selling those. And use that towards welfare of our supporting staff. “What shall we buy?” There were many answers that ranged from mosquito repellants for security uncles, earthern pot for water, to winter jackets. I was amazed at their thought process. We made the selling process of newspapers fun by giving points to teams that guessed the right weight of a bunch picked up by the vendor uncle. Overall, the process was joyful for all of us!

5. Friendships: Studies have shown good friendships convey a range of health benefits. So learning how to make friends is a critical skill that can take people far in life.  When kids are younger, experts say parents should create opportunities for them to socialize with kids who share common interests. This could mean signing them up for activities they enjoy, help set up play dates, and model teach kids about how to be good hosts to friends, and how friendships bring in joy. And model tips to nurture and value friendships.

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Whenever we teach our children—and ourselves—to shine a light on the good and to rest our minds on uplifting moments, we are strengthening the ability to empathize with others, feel more connected, build resilience, and be inspired to make this a better world. And that makes for a more joyful life for all!

MENTAL- 6 ways to promote mental health in kids

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A write up on promoting good mental health in children? This is what came to my mind as soon as I entered the hospital lobby. There were banners everywhere about the significance of the day. It’s  October 10th today. The day is celebrated throughout the globe as the World Mental Health Day. The objective is to raise awareness to ensure that people with mental health problems can live with dignity. The awareness is very important as mental health issues are on the rise in the millennial generation.  Take the case of India. According to studies, the prevalence rate of mental health disorders is 12.5 % among children aged 0-16, and 12 % among the 4-16 year-olds. Suicide death rates in India are among the highest in the world, standing at 36 for every 1,00,000 youth citizens.

What is causing mental ill health on such a scale? And what can we do about it? These are difficult but important questions. Is the modern life incompatible with mental well being for most people?Even if it is, what about children? Shouldn’t all children naturally have good mental health habits? After all, childhood is supposed to be a pretty relaxed time of life! Then why is the prevalence rate of mental health disorders high in children too? Is this because they live in this era of technology and globalization?

The other day I observed a mini school van entering my apartment complex in the evening at around 6 pm. The van belonged to a reputed preschool and day care. There were around 8-10 kids. They were of the age group 3-5 years. They are usually out of home for 9-10 hours. Two kids were dropped off at my complex. One kid was carried home by his grandfather, and the other went with his dad. They looked tired. In this era of technology, globalization and the trend of nuclear families, I understand the need of parents to send young kids away from home. On the other hand, I felt bad for the kids. At such a tender age, are not they getting used to some kind of an office schedule? As childhood is supposed to be a pretty relaxed time of life, are not kids exposed  to stress because of our altered life style?

Every parent wants to give  best to kids despite challenges. There’s a saying that children spell love as “TIME”. And that healthy parents don’t find family time, they make time. When 1,500 school children were asked the question, “What do you think makes a happy family?

“The most frequent answer was “doing things together”.

Doing things together, spending quality brings in positive mental well-being in kids. The time parents spend so hard earning money for them, is actually the same time that kids crave from parents. So, what do we parents do to help kids avoid the blues? Here are my 6 ways to promote mental health in kids.

M: Mindfulness– Mindfulness helps with emotional regulation and cognitive focus. It helps children improve their abilities to pay attention, to calm down when they are upset,  make better decisions and social skills. There are many mindful exercises like breathing exercises, mindful posing, jar etc. that you can expose your kids for the above benefits.

E: Exercise– Overall, studies provide support for the benefits of 60 mins of physical activity daily in children and adolescents on executive function, brain activity, and depressive symptoms. This is because exercise releases happy chemicals in the brain. You can do Tabata, DanceFit, walking, running, or other partner exercises like ball exchange, badminton, table tennis etc. together with your kids for 10 mins to half an hour daily, or over the weekend as “Me Time with Kiddo”.  Trust me its going to be very much fun. It creates bonding with kids.

N: Nutritious food– The brain and body work best when blood sugar levels remain steady throughout the day. Eliminating highs and lows in blood sugar levels can help eliminate ups and downs in your child’s mood and energy levels. The best way to do this is for your child to eat a diet rich in whole foods such as vegetables, fruit and whole grains. A balanced diet with positive eating habits as a kid promotes  long term mental health.

T: Time for play– Many a times kids miss out on their unstructured play time with friends because of academic pressures, coaching classes for academics, and other after-school activity classes.  Studies have shown that unstructured play allows children to relax, and builds up their 4C skills like creativity, curiosity, communication, and collaboration skills and promotes emotional well-being.

A: Adequate sleep– Adequate sleep is required for giving rest to the brain. Kids need 9-12 hrs of sleep at night based on their age. You can instill good sleep hygiene in kids right from their childhood. 

L: Love from family They say confidence grows in a home that is full of unconditional love and affection. You can promote good mental health by the things you say and do, and through the environment you create at home. Take time off from your social platforms, be an active listener, and encourage the efforts of your kid whether he/she achieves or fails in goals. Read stories together, do role plays. Be a role model by taking care of your own mental health: Talk about your feelings. Make time for things you enjoy.

“Every child deserves a champion – an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be”- Help your child find someone to talk to if she doesn’t feel comfortable talking to you.

Having good mental health doesn’t mean kids don’t experience difficulties or worries. Feeling worried, sad or fearful is normal. Kids who are mentally healthy are equipped to handle many of life’s curve-balls that come their way. They also don’t let their emotions overwhelm them. As a result they learn better and have more friends as well. And finally, excel in academics and succeed later in life.

5 ways to get kids interested in reading story books

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I was talking to a friend the other day. They recently moved to India after living in the United states for 15 years.  She used to work as a child educator there. Initially, she was very skeptical  about the schooling of her 11 year old in India. But is relieved now as her kid is having a lot of fun at school. Fun like sharing lunch box, celebrating festivals, and getting to know new friends. Despite these positives, the educator mum was feeling low because of the lack of public libraries for kids. “In USA, they say parents must read stories to kids for at least 20 minutes daily. And most parents do that. Because of this, kids get into a habit of reading. Reading is so important for overall development“, she kept on talking. Her words reminded me of days when we had to struggle to get our kiddo to regular reading habit.

Our daughter used to love to listen to stories. But she won’t read on her own. We used to buy her age appropriate story books. First few years the books used to be very colorful, had 3-D images of characters, and letters were written in big fonts. The characters used to attract her, she used to love her books. But used to expect one parent to do the reading. There was a time when her friends parents would talk about the addiction of their kids to reading. We just used to listen, and feel hopeless. And then it changed. It changed so much that she is almost addicted to story books.  She also reads the bibliography of authors, writes excerpts, and gives suggestions to friends on what to read!

As I am composing this blog, she wrote a few lines about her experience. Here it goes: 

” The idea of reading story books came about when I was 8. Well actually the idea came from my parents. But since I hated reading, I pretty much tried everything to make sure that their ideas do not work. Alas, my methods failed and my parents made sure I read. No matter how much I tried, how many obstacles I placed, they just passed. And boom! There was a sudden explosion by the time I was 10. The reading (story book) hater (myself) all of a sudden turned into a reading lover. From Enid Bliton to Nancy Drew series; to the masterpieces of Agatha Christie and Rick Riordan and today stories by J.K Rowling, I am among the most savage reader you will ever find. Don’t know how a stubborn person like myself changed. But, well, it did happen.”

So what should parents do to get kiddo to love reading? 

1. Instill a regular reading habit: For some kids, love of reading doesn’t happen automatically. It needs to be nurtured and guided till they develop the liking for books. A regular dedicated reading time helps in the same. Give kiddo the opportunity to explore different kinds of fiction, poetry, graphic novels, books of world records and kooky facts, sports heroes, or gross-out science books.

2. Dedicate time into reading: According to a survey by the reading charity BookTrust, Adults spend more than 90 minutes on computers, phones or other types of technology, as opposed to just 25 minutes reading with their children. It also found parents were skipping pages when reading with their children, finishing the story before the end or refusing to read a second story. Almost half of the parents who admitted to doing this said they did so because they were ‘too tired’. So, it is important to give kids the love and support that they need. Sometimes, you have to read the stories. You can also negotiate to read half a page for every half a page the child reads.

3. Pick age appropriate books: That helps sustain interest. You can also pick books that match or slightly exceed the reading ability. This ensures continued effort from the child. The books that just exceed the reading ability helps expand the envelope.

4. Story clubs: Parents can host story clubs. Find out your kid’s  friends who are into reading, and encourage them. If they are already into reading, then the peer groups will encourage themselves. If not, you can be the catalyst to get every friend into reading.

5. Don’t give up: Don’t give up till kiddo gets interested into reading. It can sometimes be a struggle to get kids interested in reading, but it’s so important, in ways we may not always think about. Reading and storytelling are vital to preserving cultural identity, developing healthy brains, and cultivating curiosity in youngsters. So, if your kid is not into reading be a role model. Take a few minutes, sit down and read a book yourself. You will see the difference in few days for sure.

Our kiddo has now started reading Harry Potter. And interestingly, the stories are included in her school curriculum. This has made her eager to attend the classes, and take part in group discussions. Now-a-days, she give us an update about the literature class after school. We are glad to see this change over the last few years. Now, we have enrolled her to JustBooks library. We also buy her books. We encourage her to write an excerpt after finishing a book. Our kiddo has become more creative, improved upon her vocabulary, and communication skills. The 20 minutes of reading time has become the most sacred time for her.

Albert Einstein said “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales”. We are glad that we read and read to inspire her into reading!

Suicide, the mistake you won’t live to regret

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“On the night of October 7th, 2005, the lives of Peter D’Souza and Elizabeth D’Souza were changed forever when they discovered that their thirteen year old son, Kevin had committed suicide by hanging.

Traumatized by the horrific and tragic situation they’d been thrown into, the parents of Kevin searched desperately for answers as to why their son would feel so lost, that he felt suicide was his only option.

Kevin had been described as a lovely child, who was able to always make people smile. Why such a sweet and happy seeming child would commit suicide, was a huge mystery to all.

And here’s the truth, the bitter narration which will leave you all in a bitter taste. Kevin was a victim of intense bullying from his schoolmates leading him to confess a fear of going back to school. His parents advocated the seemingly-reasonable approach of talking to the principal, an idea opposed by Kevin who feared it would make matters worse. However, unbeknownst to his parents, the bullying continued. Comments were made about his sexuality and even his close friends joined in telling others he was no less than a joker. It was ultimately too much for Kevin to bear and he killed himself at the tender age of thirteen”.

“There was yet another case of a young teenage girl taking out her life being a victim of cyber bullying. She was found hanging in her bedroom by her sister with the legs dangling and the ghastly eyes open, the teenager was a very bubbly girl who fall prey to a sick mind who abused her online, hid behind a mask of anonymity and attacked this vulnerable teenager to an extent of taking her life”.

“Bekon Smith committed suicide by walking into the path of a truck. Prior to the incident, she had scheduled a post on her public Tumbler page to go live after her death. In her final message, Bekon stated “my death has to mean something”. She wrote about her struggles as a young transgender teen, detailing her wish to live as a woman with her parents, who had denied her request, claiming it to be an insult to God. The post broke the hearts of thousands of readers, who actively shared the message in order to publicize the tragedy. After her death, Bekon’s mother still refused to use female pronouns for her daughter and would only refer to her by her given name of Bekon. She also refused to allow Bekon’s best friend, who had supported her decision to live as a woman, to attend the funeral

The above case studies are our attempt to raise awareness on the issue of suicide of children and teens.

Suicide is a difficult subject to address. There are far too many tragic stories of people who felt the only way to escape their troubles were to take their own lives. When the people at the center of these events are children, the dreadful emotions we feel are amplified. Well hear the truth there are much more of the shocking motives and piteous stories of children who ended their own lives, horrifically from as young as 6 years old!

Suicide among teens and children often happens after a stressful life event, such as problems at school, a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the death of a loved one, a divorce, or a major family conflict. So it’s important for parents to know the warning signs so teens who might be suicidal can get the help they need. Some adults feel that kids who say they are going to hurt or kill themselves are “just doing it for attention.” It’s important to realize that if teens are ignored when seeking attention; it may increase the chance of them harming themselves (or worse).

Keep a close eye on a child who is depressed and withdrawn. Understanding depression in teens is very important since it can look different from commonly held beliefs about depression. For example, it may take the form of problems with friends, grades, sleep, or being cranky and irritable rather than chronic sadness or crying. It’s important to try to keep the lines of communication open and express your concern, support, and love. If your teen confides in you, show that you take those concerns seriously. A fight with a friend might not seem like a big deal to you in the larger scheme of things, but for a child/teen it can feel immense and consuming. It’s important not to minimize or discount what your teen/child is going through, as this can increase his or her sense of hopelessness.

Most teens interviewed after making a suicide attempt say that they did it because they were trying to escape from a situation that seemed impossible to deal with or to get relief from really bad thoughts or feelings.

There’s a thin difference between child and teen suicide. Child suicides aren’t like teen or adult suicides, which usually start with an idea, proceed with a plan, and end with action. Suicide among children is more likely to be spontaneous and less connected to psychiatric disorder or aggression. This is often reflected in the method: Instead of hanging or cutting or using a gun, “suicidal” kids tend to kill themselves by doing things their parents have warned them against, such as running into traffic or jumping out of a window. Children who kill themselves often have a mood disorder, ADHD, or a “conduct disorder,” which basically means antisocial behavior. Living an in abusive household can lay the groundwork for suicidal behavior, and an incident like getting kicked out of school or a dying relative can trigger it.

Often parents discuss death; suicide etc in front of children, what they don’t realize is that it can create a deep impact on the immature mind. Do not discuss these dark topics in front of the child/teen. They are too young and vulnerable to understand. The child might think it as a fun and even before you realize the child is gone the same was the American child smothered himself to death trying to fidget with the hook that hung his shirt.

Please raise awareness, please stop suicide among children and teens for you won’t realize how much it feels to be sad every single day without your child even when you experience joy, for it’s the goodbyes which hurt the most when the stories aren’t finished, for you parent will never understand until it happens with you, for it’s the child you will miss when you are breathing.

Save a Child, save the Nation. Make the world a better place to live.

Note: These are case studies, name changed to protect identity

Subject to Copyright

~Rimli

 

 

5-tips for parents to prepare kids for puberty

 

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Jeeya was gleefully playing when Emmy screamed “Look the blood, it’s down your thighs”. All of a sudden the two children were surrounded by their classmates. All were curious. Jeeya felt helpless. Her little feet had droplets of blood somewhat maroon shade.  She felt she had been bitten by some bug. There was a knot in her stomach too. All she needed was her parents. Little did she know or could understand that she was now a full grown woman!

Jeeya’s story is not an unique one. Many kids of her age go through the same experience daily. And thanks to all the endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) present in food stuff for early menarche. These chemicals are ubiquitous in our environment, and are considered by scientists to be a significant public health concern. Although EDCs are thought to pose a threat to adults as well, children’s bodies are more sensitive to exposure to exogenous hormones.

Jeeya’s mother had a tough time dealing with the child.  From a bawdy child she withdrew herself, she developed a heightened sense of self awareness and she showed signs of insecurity, she thought she was abnormal, she developed acnes.  The mother had to take her to the dermatologist.

Australian researchers have found that children who go through early puberty are more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems. The study from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne has found 21% of girls and 19% of boys go through puberty as young as eight years old. While girls who hit the early puberty suffer from emotional problems; the boys experience more of behavioral problems. The age that teenagers begin puberty has dropped around the world, though doctors are not sure why, they say there’s an awful lot to be known about early puberty. As puberty marks a transition for a whole range of  mental health problems, behavioral problems, and problems like self-harm, eating disorders, social digression etc.

Here are a 5 tips for parents to prepare kids for puberty:

1.Preparing for the first event: It’s probably best to avoid “The Talk” about menarche. Instead, try to spread it out into lots of smaller conversations — education about how the human body works, about the body partsThe privates are always a curiosity for kids. Kids reaching puberty should already know what’s going to happen to their bodies. As kids attain menarche early these days, it is advisable to start discussions in steps right from the time they are 9-10 years old, or earlier based on the maturity level.

2. The explanation – Parents need to explain puberty in a positive way. That it’s part of physiological working of the body. And that there is nothing wrong in having periods. Parents must pay attention to the child’s group of friends. There are many good reasons to do so. Sometimes, kids fall prey to misleading information.

3. Love and support – Parents need to love and support their children more than usual when they go through puberty. Studies show that children who have warm relationships with their parents have fewer anxieties and depression. And suggest to parents to never forget to use that old verbal substitute for physical affection that never goes out of style, the “I love you”  words.

4. Nutrition and wellbeing – Children’s diets should include a wide variety of natural plant foods as possible including, green vegetables, squashes, corn, carrots, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, avocados, beans, fruits and whole grains. All they require is a healthy, well balanced diet. They should be encouraged to carry on with regular exercises, and normal daily schedule as much as possible.

5. Taking care of hygiene – Parents should list out the good and bad hygiene habits – clearly tell them what is considered good and healthy, and what is bad or unhealthy. Repeat it as many times as possible in different situations.

For all parents who are reading my blog, please remember “The limbic system explodes during puberty, but the prefrontal cortex keeps maturing for another 10 years for it’s a traumatic process which the children can’t realize.”