It’s mid-august, and that means back-to-school season, so the next three blog posts are here to help support your transition to that this time brings. There can be a lot of stress associated with back-to-school season.
For some, back-to-school means an increased risk of in person bullying (as well as social media bullying) and scary headlines that include school shootings, piled on top of the normal stressors of navigating growing up and figuring out a career goal and growing from a child’s body into an adult body and all the growing pains in between, as well as getting adequate nutrition and adequate sleep and it’s just all so stressful.
So today I wanted to offer something positive that we can do to protect the physical and mental well being of our children for the rest of their lives… I have four ideas for you below to support your child’s health, to give them the best launch pad possible.
Even in the best of circumstances, most children are likely — at some point — to witness bullying or be directly bullied. Even just witnessing bullying has huge ramifications on their health. In fact, the medical literature (published in JAMA Psychiatry in Feb, 2016) confirmed something we already intuitively know — that victims of bullying in childhood have painful, lasting ramifications well into adulthood. It was the largest study ever to look at childhood bullying :
- Children who were not bullied and were not engaging in bully behavior had a baseline 11% rate of psychiatric diagnosis by the age of 29 years.
- Children who were exposed to bullying (witness to bullying) had a 23% rate of psychiatric diagnosis by the age of 29.
- Children who both were exposed to bullying AND then engaged in bullying behaviors had a 31% rate of psychiatric diagnosis by the time they were 29 years old.
- Being exposed to bullying — even just witnessing bullying — doubled the rates of psychiatric diagnosis in adulthood, including depression, anxiety disorders, and psychosis.
- Being bullied and subsequently bullying others almost *triples* the rates of a psychiatric disorder diagnosed in adulthood.
So here’s the bottom line: Being subjected to bullying — and even just witnessing bullying — significantly raises the risk of depression, anxiety and psychosis in adulthood.
If being bullied, bullying others, or even just witnessing bullying activity doubles and triples the rates of psychiatric disorder severe enough to require diagnosis and treatment as an adult — then we need to do more. Bullying is abuse. Doesn’t matter what the reason a child is being bullied for. Appearance, grades, size, shape, gender, sexuality… bullying causes lasting psychological damage equivalent to any other form of child abuse.
Over a decade ago, way back in 2012 (I can’t believe I’ve been sharing a healing blog post with you every single week for over 10 years! I truly hope these have been helpful) I blogged about a medical study that shows that physical punishment (in the form of spanking) causes a steep rise in psychiatric disorders… and this newer study shows that bullying behaviors — even ones where the child is never touched… just WITNESSING intimidating behaviors — is creating lasting psychological damage.
Child abuse happens in all races, all socioeconomic levels, all countries. Estimates are that about 40 MILLIONS children EVERY SINGLE YEAR are abused world wide. These studies serve to show it’s absolutely not just a concern over the child’s immediate safety and well being, but it is also a concern for long term health outcomes that reach well into adulthood.
Long term health consequences are not limited to physical health disorders such as adrenal fatigue, obesity, heart disease and cancer, but dramatically increase the incidence of psychiatric disorders in our adult population… including anxiety, depression, psychosis, suicide, addiction, PTSD and more. How?
Child abuse leaves epigenetic marks on the child’s genetic make up, inducing chemical changes in the way DNA is methylated and the way genes are expressed, activated or silenced.
This alters the way a cell functions and the way that organs and the body as a whole functions, causing poor health outcomes later in life. Published in the May 14, 2013 in the Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences, researchers show that childhood maltreatment causes different patterns of DNA methylation and genetic expression, causing a change in a child’s epigenetic profile.
So what can we do? You know I never provide any form of upsetting medical literature without giving you positive, holistic tools to effect real change.
So here are 5 things you absolutely can do, today, to support your child’s long term health, today, protecting them tomorrow.
5 Ways To Support Your Child’s Health Today:
1. Be affectionate to your children.
Parents who are affectionate during childhood support long term well being in their children, well into adulthood… mitigating some of the damage of childhood bullying.
According to research conducted by Darcai Narvaez at the University of Notre Dame, adults who reported that they received physical affection from their parents and felt supported by their parents, as well as did things as a family both inside and outside of the home, had lower rates of depression, lower rates of anxiety, less stress in social situations and a greater ability for empathetic behavior.
There was also a very interesting medical study that suggests that affection from a mother during infancy helps protect the health of that child well into adulthood — I wrote an entire article on that for you here.
So today, to give you tons of ideas on how to parent for the well being of your child, I’ve written an entire book dedicated to presenting the latest medical information and uplifting positive parenting ideas to support an entire lifetime of optimized well being in your child. I wrote it and offer it to you absolutely free, to help support you during that exhausting, often overwhelming job of parenting.
It’s a totally free, easy to read, fun, heart centered parenting workbook that blends the past 23 years of my experience as a physician with my own parenting journey as a mother of two beautiful children, who are now 20 and 22 years old.
I wanted my children to know that health is their natural state of being.
I want your children to know that too. So I wrote it all down for you:
2. Let your child adopt a pet
I strongly suggest if at all possible, you allow your child to have a favorite pet during childhood. Having pets has not only been found to cut asthma rates in half (as published on November 2, 2015 in JAMA Pediatrics) but it gives them many psychological benefits such as:
- giving children a very healthy exposure to unconditional love
- decreasing the rates of some childhood illnesses such as asthma and ear infections, as well as promoting longevity in adulthood
- providing stability and continuity during times of unavoidable stress in the child’s life (such as during a move to a new home, entering a new school, or a change in the family dynamics such as a death or divorce)
- providing a framework to talk about holistic and important topics such as death (often the death of a pet is a very healthy introduction to speaking about death before it pertains to a human family member) and reproduction (my kids saw many a baby being born by their guinea pigs, rabbits, and chickens, even hand bottle fed baby birds and helped house train all their puppies!)
Loving and caring for a special pet is a priceless, priceless gift during childhood. To go into more detail on this, you can read an article I wrote for you that reviews how having a pet can boost your child’s health not just during childhood, but for an entire lifetime, right here:
3. Address ADHD
A study published Sept 19, 2016 in Pediatrics found that children who die by suicide are more likely to have been diagnosed with ADHD than with depression. A national database tracked violent deaths from 2003 to 2012 in 17 different states During the study period, there were 693 early childhood suicides
- Children aged 5 to 11 years old who died by suicide were more likely to have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD than with depression.
- Almost 60% of suicide victims were diagnosed with ADHD, compared to only 33% having been diagnosed with depression.
- Researchers feel that it’s possible that although suicide in early childhood is rare, those with ADD or ADHD may be more vulnerable to reacting impulsively (in this case, following through on suicidal thoughts) during interpersonal challenges.
While there has been a large drive to promote awareness about the link between suicide and depression, there so far has been no real push to illuminate awareness around an even bigger risk, and that is the link between suicide and ADHD. So that’s why I bring it up here. Knowledge is power.
Even though I generally only review medical literature topics that are uplifting, this is an important study for me to highlight. And here’s why I’m discussing it: because there are lots of holistic ways to help support ADHD, which means there are lots of ways we can be preventing childhood suicide if we are brave enough to talk about it.
- Focus on fixing sleep. Sleep problems have long been considered a hallmark of ADHD, leading to reduced quality of life, reduced level of functioning and reduced school attendance A study published on January 20, 2015 in the British Medical Journal, has found that even a simple, brief sleep intervention improving the sleep hygiene of ADHD children provides lasting benefits that lead to decreased ADHD symptoms.
- Consider Omega 3 supplements. Published in the Journal of the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, researchers found that Omega 3’s were effective in treating ADHD. Studying over 700 children on Omega 3 supplementation there was a significant improvement in symptoms of ADHD, reducing both inattentiveness and hyperactivity. These results are exciting because the effects seen from Omega 3 supplementation (and in particular, eicosapentaenoic acid) were seen to show improvement as early as 7 weeks, which means Omega 3 supplements work quite quickly in helping treat ADHD.
- Serve broccoli, even if you have to hide it in their foods! A small but important study showed that a component of broccoli and broccoli sprouts (sulforaphane) can help give autistic patients a significant boost to social skills and verbal communication. Researchers studied 40 males between the ages of 13 and 27… all who had moderate to severe autism. 46 % of patients had measurably improved social and verbal skills just from taking broccoli-sprout extract for 4 months, compared to only 3% of the placebo group. Benefits included: improved social interactions, improved eye contact, improved verbal communication, decreased repetitive movements, decreased irritability and decreased hyperactivity.
4. Allow lots of time for open ended play.
Play is a child’s therapy. Play is not only a relief and a respite from the seriousness that stress, illness, or trauma can bring abruptly into a child’s world, but it is a way to restore innocence. It’s a way to off-gas and release inner workings and thoughts and fears that the child doesn’t even consciously know they have yet! Play is an avenue for healing.
As adults, we might find our way through stress by taking long showers or baths, working out until we reach physical exhaustion, crying until there are no tears left, prayer, therapy, reaching out to friends, acupuncture, massage and millions of other ways…
For a child, the direct route to this is through play.
One of the best ways to keep your child healing through play is to play with them. For help discovering your own play style and how it impacts your health too, I’m writing a full article devoted to the healing power of play next week. But for now, try to keep in mind as the school year starts not to structure their entire day. Allow for open ended time of possibility as well as time in nature, outdoors. The earth is perfectly suited to provide natural stress relief to your child, to help improve their sleep at night, to help reset their circadian rhythm, to decrease stress hormones like cortisol, and to allow their brains to relax into healing alpha brain wave patterns. Touching the earth (grounding) supports the body’s ability to heal. I have a huge list of medical studies that reveal the healing power of grounding for you right here.
Grounding so important for children that I wrote and illustrated a children’s book about it, called From The Ground Up, available on my website (and on Amazon and other booksellers.) This book can be an important healing tool that can set your child up for a lifetime of enhanced health by teaching them the value of spending time grounding outside.
Work even just a few minutes of outdoor grounding into their day, model for them touching the earth as a way to reset when you are not feeling your best, and you will have instilled in them a healing practice that will protect their health over the course of their entire lifetime. For more on how grounding helps you feel better, read this article I’ve already written for you:
5. Encourage positive, uplifting connections with others
It turns out, children are actually more open to positive mood states than to negative ones. And as a this study shows, teenagers in particular are more likely to be uplifted by being around others who are in a positive mood than to be brought down by being around those in a negative one.
Supporting and encouraging positive friendships in your teen’s life has the effect of not only boosting their mood, but of significantly reducing over all risk of clinical depression as well as doubling the probability of recovering from existing depression:
- Using the same models that are used in preventive medicine to assess the spread of infectious disease, researchers evaluated over 3,000 teens enrolled in US high schools.
- Mood was assessed by the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale.
- Followed for 12 months, there was a statistically significant *transmission* of health mood for teens who were surrounded by friends with a positive mindset.
- Teens with 5 or more healthy friends had half the risk of developing depression, and teens with 10 or more healthy friends were twice as likely to recover from a depressive episode.
- And happily, there was no statistical significant *transmission* of depressed mood for teens surrounded by friends with a negative mindset.
This is a hugely effective intervention — encouraging healthy friendships is a healthy, natural, holistic, non-medicinal way to create resiliency in your teen. I find it incredibly interesting that positive, healthy mood states fit into mathematical statistical models… spreading and replicating via human contact… while negative mood states do not.
So… is a good mood a contagion? Yes! Turns out, positive mood spreads in a similar way to a contagious or infectious exposure. So worry less and support your teen’s friendships and joy more… that’s the bottom line from this study. If you are concerned about your teen’s mind-frame, encourage them to get connecting:
- play sports
- join clubs
- connect with friends
- connect with family
- connect with their community
- and connect with therapists or other supportive mental health professionals if necessary…
…because medical studies prove that being around others with a good mood helps not only in the short term (transforming the energy of that interaction) but is protective over time to help decrease both incidence and prevalence of depression.
I hope these ideas helped give you some ways to help support your own beloved child as they navigate the back-to-school transition. Next week I dive more deeply into the healing power of play (and how to get more play into your child’s life!) and the following week I blog about repairing your child’s sleep deficit so they feel rested as the head to school each day.
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Dr. Koniver’s Uplifting Weekly Newsletter
Enjoy having children who are young enough to be under your care, and attending school. It’s such a cliche but it goes so fast and it’s such an honor to parent and care for your favorite people on earth. My daughter just graduated college and lives several states away and my son is halfway through college living on campus and damn do I miss those fabulous kids…
Laura Koniver, MD