Category Archives: From the Real Experts at NYU

Giving Thanks at Thanksgiving: Practicing Gratitude with Your Kids

thank-youThanksgiving and the holiday season that follows are a wonderful opportunity to instill a sense of gratitude in your children and teens. We often think about gratitude as a way to show others we appreciate them or that we are thankful for the things we have when others are less fortunate. But, did you know that practicing gratitude can also help the giver?

Positive psychology finds that gratitude benefits our mental health, our friendships and connections to others, and our daily mood. What is important is feeling positive and noticing what we have and appreciate, so do not roll your eyes if your teen is grateful for his video games! Here are some ways you can practice gratitude with your child:

•Try sharing 3 things you are grateful for from your day, or have everyone say something they love about another family member at the dinner table.

•Make a Gratitude Jar or Box. Decorate the outside however you’d like with paper, paint, or stickers. Every day, write down at least three things you are grateful for on little slips of paper and add them to the jar. The jar will fill up, and you or your child can revisit the slips of paper when you need a mood lift.

•Help your child write a letter to a person they are thankful for and have them personally deliver it. They will get a boost seeing how happy that gift of gratitude makes the recipient.

•If you want to make gratefulness more of an activity at the Thanksgiving table, combine it with a fun craft. Make colorful leaves or turkey feathers out of construction paper with a prompt for everyone to write (or draw) something they are thankful for, then share answers around the table and put the leaves/feathers in the centerpiece or on a central picture of a tree or turkey. You can hang up the final project and create a nice memento of the shared meal.

While Thanksgiving is a great time to talk with your family about gratitude, it’s a practice that would benefit the family to continue year-round.

Lauren Knickerbocker, PhD, is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health. Dr. Knickerbocker specializes in treating selective mutism and anxiety in young children, ADHD and difficulties with organization and time management, disruptive behaviors, and parent management training. She is also the co-director of Early Childhood Service at NYU Langone’s Child Study Center, a part of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital.

I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts: How to Handle Your Child’s Supernatural Sightings

Ghosts and Kids

It’s Halloween time again—neighborhoods are filled with decorations featuring witches, ghosts, gravestones, and more. Children are excited about the prospect of trick-or-treating and are planning their costumes. With this increased focus on Halloween, this time of year may also come with an increase in children talking about the supernatural or worrying more about ghosts, monsters, or more.

If a child expresses that they think they have seen something scary or supernatural, there can be several explanations. Most commonly, these statements are related to the fact that young children have difficulty separating fantasy from reality. Children are hard-wired to learn through imaginative and pretend play and therefore they can slip between reality and fantasy much more easily than adults. Also, children’s visual perception skills develop most quickly in infancy and toddlerhood, but these skills are still developing throughout early childhood so they are also more likely than adults to misperceive a visual stimulus. Therefore, while an adult might dismiss something they see quickly out of the corner of their eye as “nothing” or have a reality-based explanation, children might insist they saw a ghost or a fairy or some other creature.  Additionally, this perception feels real to them and they might get upset if an adult tries to convince them otherwise.

We also have to look to what the response to this declaration is. Attention is the currency of childhood – if a young child who states he or she has seen a supernatural gets a great deal of attention for that statement, he or she is much more likely to make such a statement again in the future. It goes back to basic principles of rewards: behavior that gets rewarded continues and attention is a great reward for most children. We must also look at the function of the behavior. Does declaring that there is a monster under the bed delay the separation from parents at bedtime that can be challenging for many children? In this case, the reward is the parent staying in the room longer.

Of course, more than one of these issues can be at play at any given time. A young child may genuinely misperceive a sight or sound as being a monster, their difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality leads them to fully believe that monsters are real, and then they are rewarded with time, attention, possibly some soothing from parents, and with the delay of the separation at bedtime.

So what’s a parent to do?

Start with validating the child’s concern or fear, while helping them distinguish reality from fantasy. Sometimes offering an explanation can help allay fears, for example, letting them know that at this time of year witches and ghosts and the like are on our minds more. If attention seems to be motivating the behavior, decrease the amount of attention you provide for these statements and increase the amount of attention you give to other things they say. For example, a statement about seeing a ghost gets a brief “Uh-huh” while a statement about what they are doing or the dog they see outside gets an enthusiastic “Wow! That’s great! What color was the dog?” A quick “monster check” at bedtime is typically fine for a young child, but as children get older parents should help with differentiating fantasy from reality and reminding them that monsters are not real.

Aleta G. Angelosante, PhD, is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health. She is a child psychologist and the Clinical Director of the Anita Saltz Institute for Anxiety and Mood Disorders at the Child Study Center, part of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone.

Keeping Kids Safe from Eye Injuries

eye injuries

Eye injuries are one of the leading causes of vision loss in children and teenagers. Injuries are most likely to happen at home or in familiar spots, to happen by accident, and are nearly always preventable! Most of us think that eye injuries happen during sports or rough play—and they certainly do—but keeping your child’s eyes safe should always be on your mind.

What can be injured and how?

Any of the tissues around the eye can be damaged by injuries. This includes fractures of the bones of the orbit, scratches (abrasions) and cuts (lacerations) to the eyelids or eyeball, burns from heat or chemicals, blunt trauma causing internal swelling, bleeding or inflammation, or penetrating trauma into the eyeball itself.

Prevention. Prevention. Prevention.

Your child’s eyes will be safest if you avoid dangerous activities. I know many people get squeamish when thinking about eyes and eye injuries so I won’t go into much detail, but you can use your imagination that care should be taken with sharp objects, projectiles like sports balls, or explosives like fireworks. Unfortunately, there has been a steady rise in serious eye injuries from paintball guns, airguns, BB guns, and other firearms, even with recommended safety goggles. From an eye safety perspective these activities should simply be avoided.

What about sports?

We all know eye injuries happen during sports, especially ball sports. Many leagues have taken great measures to make eye safety equipment standard. If that is an option for your children, insist that they wear it. Often injuries will happen during informal games like pick-up basketball, soccer, or badminton. So get your child a pair of sports goggles. These are usually cheap, durable, and provide excellent protection. Most sporting goods stores will sell models with good fits and styles. The same thing goes for using safety goggles for woodworking or grinding metals where small pieces can fly into the air.

What if my child already has glasses?

With the right pair of glasses your child will be seeing well and will be better protected. Just make sure they have the right:

  • Fit- The lenses should fully cover the eyes, the nosepiece should rest comfortably on the bridge of the nose, and the ear pieces snuggly around the ear. Try using a strap around the head to keep them on while doing activities.
  • Lenses- All kids should get impact resistant lenses made out of a material like polycarbonate plastic. Remind your eye doctor to write that on the glasses prescription.
  • Style- If your child does not like the glasses he or she will never wear them!

Prescriptions can also be placed into sports and safety goggles for extra protection.

Accidents happen…

If you suspect an eye injury, try the following:

  • First, if you think the injury opened the eyeball or if you see something sticking into the eye, do not touch it or try to remove any objects. If you can find something that can be used as a protective shield (a paper cup works well) tape it over the eye. Go immediately to an emergency department.
  • If you think an object or chemical got stuck around the eye or under the eyelids, try to irrigate or wash it out with clean water for 10-15 seconds and then seek medical help.
  • If after an injury your child is complaining about eye pain, a change in vision, light sensitivity, or is unable to open the eye, take him or her to an emergency department or local ophthalmologist for a complete eye exam.

Your sight is one of your most valuable senses, protect it! NYU Langone Health has ophthalmologists trained in eye trauma at our offices and every emergency department to help when you need it.

Zachary Elkin, MD, is a pediatric ophthalmologist and assistant professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at NYU Langone Health. He sees patients at the NYU Langone Eye Center in Manhattan.

Depression in Children: Signs and How to Help

Depression in Kids

Is My Child Depressed? What Parents Should Look For, and How to Help

Approximately 5-10% of children struggle with depressive symptoms. Indeed, children as young as 3 can demonstrate signs of clinical depression, and rates of depression increase sharply during adolescence, particularly for girls. Feelings of intense sadness, emptiness, and/or loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities are the cardinal features of depression in adults; however, depression sometimes presents differently in youth. Indeed, irritable mood can be the first sign of child depression, and persistent irritability that causes significant problems in your child’s life at school, with friends, or with family indicates concerns beyond typical adolescent behavior.

Signs your child may be struggling with Depression:

  • Withdrawing from extracurricular activities, or continuing to participate in them without enjoyment.
  • Spending more time alone, and isolating from family or friends.
  • Constantly feeling bored, like nothing is interesting or worthwhile.
  • A significant drop in school grades, homework completion, and/or overall motivation for school.
  • Urges to avoid school.
  • Significant change in behavior: being more oppositional or argumentative, using drugs or alcohol, or caring less about consequences that used to matter.
  • A change in appetite: eating much more or much less.
  • A change in sleep: difficulty sleeping, or sleeping much more than is typical.
  • Feeling tired, without energy.
  • Increased difficulty concentrating in school or in conversations.
  • Thoughts of death or dying.
  • Engaging in self-injurious behaviors (cutting).

How can I support my child?

  • Talk to your child. Ask how they are feeling and what might be bothering them. Actively listen, without judgment, and reflect back what your child says to show that you understand.
  • Tell your child’s pediatrician. Schedule an appointment with a mental healthcare provider to discuss your concerns and to learn more about treatment options. There are evidence-based therapies and medication that can help.

Therapy:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps children to identify the connection between depressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, to observe patterns in their mood, and to learn coping skills to improve mood. Behavioral activation is often a key component of CBT for depression, and focuses on helping youth boost mood by changing behavior.
  • Dialectic behavior therapy is a more intensive treatment for youth who struggle with chronic emotion dysregulation and problem behaviors, such as chronic suicidal thoughts or actions, self-injurious behavior, and other risky behaviors.
  • Other evidence-based therapies include interpersonal therapy and attachment-based family therapy.
  • Medication:  Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are considered the first line medication for depression. For more information about antidepressant medication, consult with your child’s pediatrician or psychiatrist.
  • Promote safety. Encourage your child to share their feelings, including thoughts about death or dying. Normalize that this is a common symptom of depression, and develop a plan that includes people to reach out to for help and mood-boosting activities to engage in when they have those thoughts. Ensure that your home is safe by locking up guns, knives, medicines, and alcohol.
  • Stick to the treatment plan. If your child is in treatment, ensure that they attend therapy consistently and/or take medication as prescribed. Your child may feel frustrated or defeated if they do not feel better quickly. Treatment works, but it takes time. Model hope, and communicate concerns with your treatment provider.
  • Provide praise and acknowledgement for small steps. Depression can feel like a weighted jacket, and activities (schoolwork, chores) that used to be easy to carry can feel impossible to lift. Rather than focus on what your child might not be doing, model attending to the positive by acknowledging and praising what your child is doing well.
  • Educate others and externalize the depression. People in your child’s life may misperceive depression as your child being lazy or purposefully grouchy, which can make it difficult for your child to receive the care and support they need. Remind yourself and others that depression is driving these symptoms, not your child.
  • Enhance social supports. Help your child to connect with peers and family. Look for opportunities to bolster the relationship you already have with your child by taking a brief “vacation” from daily chores and responsibilities to engage in enjoyable activities together. Facilitate social engagement by helping your child to schedule after-school hangouts with friends, providing transportation, and offering other means of support.
  • Monitor for risk factors for suicide, which includes your child having more intense or frequent thoughts about death or dying, talking about suicide online or in person, and using substances. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1 800-273-8255 or online at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Anna J. Swan, PhD is a licensed psychologist and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health. She sees patients for evaluations, individual cognitive-behavioral therapy, and group therapy as part of the Anxiety and Mood Disorders Service at the Child Study Center’s Manhattan and Hackensack locations, part of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone.

Back to School with Diabetes Management

diabetes managementAdapting Your Child’s Diabetes Management for a New School Year

With a new school year just around the corner, many parents are strategizing for their children to receive the medical care they need in their new classroom environments. The goal for families of children with diabetes is for their kids to have access to appropriate diabetes management while having the same school experience as children without diabetes. Here are some aspects of care at school that parents of children with diabetes should consider in order to meet that goal:

  • Is there a nurse at school? If not, who can take responsibility for helping to assist with the day-to-day management of diabetes? There should be a medical plan in place and parents should discuss that with the school administration.
  • If your child is involved with after-school activities or field trips, will there be care available at those places?
  • What supplies does your child need at school? Think about the amount of supplies they will need, whether they will be centrally located for the child, or whether they will be carrying their own testing equipment to treat hypoglycemia.
  • If your child is involved with after school sports, make sure the school administration is aware of their condition. Parents should also talk to the child’s coaches so they can assist if needed.
  • Make sure your child always has something on them to fix a low—and coaches, teachers, and other staff should be aware so they can help if necessary.
  • Some school systems, like New York City public schools, have carb count menus for school meals up online. If your child is buying their lunch at school, check the menu ahead of time and review it with your child. Kids dose insulin according to carb counts, so it’s very important to plan for that. If your school doesn’t have a menu with a carb count, work with the school cafeteria and school administration to come up with carb counts for the menu.
  • Your child’s schedule will change when they go back to school, sometimes going from a schedule where they are more active during the day to being more sedentary during the day and active in the evening. If you notice your child’s blood sugar levels are out of range, be in touch with your diabetes care team so they can adjust insulin doses to the new school schedule.

You should go to your child’s diabetes care team with any questions. Other great resources for Safe at School information can be found at the American Diabetes Association, JDRF, and Children with Diabetes websites.

 

Christine Lally, RN, CDE, is a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator at the Robert I. Grossman, MD, and Elisabeth J. Cohen, MD, Pediatric Diabetes Center at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital of New York at NYU Langone. She provides education and support to patients, families, and caregivers, and helps them fit diabetes management into their lives in a healthful way.

Splish Splash Safety: Tips for Keeping Your Child Safe Around Water This Summer

swimWater activities are a great way to enjoy the outdoors during the hot summer months. Whether it’s time spent at the pool, a lake, or a fun day at the beach, there are many opportunities for children of all ages to enjoy water activities. It is important, however, to remember that water can be dangerous, and drowning is preventable. Here are some important tips on how to keep children safe around water.

Supervision: Watch children when they are in or around water – even if there is a lifeguard around. If many adults are present, choose one designated person to supervise without distractions. This will assure that an adult is watching at all times without assuming that someone else is watching.

Pool Safety:
• Fence: Install a fence around home pools. The fence should be at least 4 feet high with gates that are self-closing and self-latching. The latch should be placed as high as possible so that young children cannot reach it, and the gate should completely surround the pool, separating it from the house.
• Access: Whether you have an inflatable or above ground pool, make sure to remove any access to the pool (such as a ladder) when not in use. Additionally, remove any furniture that can be used to climb into the pool.
• Toys: When toys are not in use, be sure to remove them from the pool, as they can attract small children.
• Cover: Keep the pool covered when not in use. Make sure the pool cover is on securely to avoid danger of a child falling into the pool and being trapped underneath the cover.

Swimming lessons: The American Academy of Pediatrics supports swimming lessons for most children age 4 years or older. In younger children (ages 1-4) swimming classes may reduce the risk of drowning, but as children develop at different rates, no age specific recommendations are made.

Swimming partner: For adolescents that know how to swim, make sure that they always have a swimming partner with them, whether at the pool, lake or the ocean. Never allow them to swim (even with a partner) without a lifeguard around.

Know what to do in the case of an Emergency. If a child is missing, check the water first and call 911 if needed. Parents, caregivers and pool owners would benefit from learning CPR, as it may help save a child’s life.

When it comes to water safety, prevention is key! Be safe, and have fun in the water!

hassFrom the Real Experts at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone:

Doreen Benary, MD, is a pediatric emergency medicine physician and clinical instructor in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Emergency Medicine and the Department of Pediatrics at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone.

Beat the Heat: Tips to Keep Your Child Safe from Heat Related Illness This Summer

heatAs temperatures rise and we find ourselves spending more time outdoors with children this summer, it’s important to remember that high temperatures and too much time in the heat can have negative effects on your child’s body. Here are some tips on preventing heat related illness in children.

HYDRATION:  Staying hydrated is one of the most important things we can do to prevent heat related illness. It is essential to give your child water frequently while they are outside on a hot day. Many children may not ask for water while they are playing outdoors, but it’s important to provide children with water even if they don’t ask for it. Additional and frequent hydration with water or sports beverages is especially crucial while children are playing sports or exercising. Infants less than 6 months of age should not be given water, but they can be given extra breastmilk or formula to keep them hydrated.

SUN PROTECTION: Protecting your children from the harmful effects of the sun’s rays is also important. Dress your child in lightweight and light-colored clothing. A wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses can offer additional protection. Keep children in the shade as much as possible and try to avoid exposure to direct sunlight on very hot days, especially during the sun’s most intense hours (between 10 AM and 4 PM).

Apply sunscreen that is at least SPF 15 to any areas of your child’s skin that are not protected by clothing. Using sunscreen that says “broad spectrum” or UVA/UVB protection is ideal. Sunscreen should be applied at least 30 minutes before going outdoors.  Don’t forget to apply sunscreen on cloudy days as well, as the sun’s rays are still present.

Infants less than 6 months of age should be kept out of direct sunlight as much as possible. If you do take young infants outdoors, be sure to keep their skin protected with lightweight clothing and a hat and to keep them in the shade. You can apply a small amount of sunscreen to your infant’s exposed skin if needed.

STAY COOL: Staying indoors in a location with air conditioning is a great way to beat the heat on days when temperatures are extremely high. If you do not have air conditioning available in your home, think about going to a public location such as a library, museum, or mall. This is a great way to engage in a fun activity for the day while still staying cool. Additionally, a cool bath or shower may help cool your child down on a hot day.

MONITOR: While prevention is the key, it is also important to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. If your child exhibits any of these signs or symptoms, speak to your child’s pediatrician or take them to be evaluated by a physician immediately.

•Dizziness
•Nausea
•Vomiting
•Headache
•Weakness
•Fatigue
•Confusion
•High body temperature
•Muscle Cramps

Following these tips will ensure a fun and healthy summer and will help you beat the heat!

hassFrom the Real Experts at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone:

Kavita Patel, MD, is a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone.

How to Prepare Your Child for Sleepaway Camp

campfireFor some children, heading off to an overnight summer camp is natural and easy, and their parents aren’t too concerned. For others, especially those who are younger, more prone to anxiety, or who have special needs, the approaching first day of camp can be daunting.

Whether your child is spending a week or the whole summer away from home, here are a few tips to help you prepare your child (and yourself!) for a smooth transition to camp.

Manage your own anxiety.
Maybe you’re questioning your decision to send your daughter away to camp at her young age. Maybe you’re nervous that both you and your son will spend the first few nights of camp crying. Fears are natural, but don’t let your kids know how worried you are!

Take care of yourself and your needs first. Speak to friends and family about your anxiety, but make sure that you convey an excited, optimistic attitude when talking to your child. Remind yourself why you wanted to send her to camp in the first place. Making new friends, learning new skills, playing in the fresh air, and gaining a sense of independence are all wonderful experiences that will benefit her. You can also look forward to getting a brief respite from parenting duties while she’s away!

Whatever you do, never tell your tell child that you will miss him too much or that you wish he could stay home. If he asks if you’ll miss him, let him know that you love him, but that you want him to be at camp and that you can’t wait to read his letters and hear all about camp when he gets home.

Preview the camp schedule.
For anxious children or those who have difficulty adjusting to new routines, checking out the camp’s daily schedule together can be beneficial. These are often available on the camp’s website. If you can’t locate it, email the camp and ask for the schedule for your child’s age group.

With your child, review when wake up, bedtime, mealtimes, and activity periods will be. If he has been waking up and going to sleep on a drastically different schedule, slowly adjusting to the camp’s schedule can help make it more likely that he’ll fall asleep easily when he arrives. Taking a look at photos on the camp website to preview the new surroundings can also be useful.

Make sure to read the list of activities that are offered at camp. Generate excitement for both of you by talking about which new things your child wants to try at camp!

Let the camp know about your child’s special needs.
If your child has special needs, chances are that you have already discussed them with the camp director. If not, make a phone call or send an email to the camp administration to let them know. They will be glad that you shared information that will make the start of camp easier for both your child and for her counselors.

Full-time camp staff are childcare professionals who have seen and heard it all, so don’t worry about upsetting them with this information. Many children who require unique diets, have psychiatric diagnoses such as ADHD, or who have behavior problems in school have wildly successful summer camp experiences.

Although you might feel anxious and want to call multiple times, restrict yourself to one or two communications with the camp before the first day, unless the camp indicates that more are necessary, as camp directors are extremely busy just before and during the summer season.

Practice spending nights away from home.
If your child has rarely spent the night outside the comfort of her own bedroom, practice for the camp experience by having her sleep at friend’s and family member’s houses a few times before camp begins. Don’t call her to say goodnight; allow her to become accustomed to doing her bedtime routine under the watchful eye of another adult. When she returns home, praise her for her success at staying by herself.

Your child might ask if he can come home if he changes his mind about a sleepover or about camp. Reiterate that you’re confident that he will have a great time without you. Prepare him for the experience by saying, “A lot of kids feel homesick on their first few nights away. It’s okay if you feel that way or if you don’t feel that way. If it happens to you, don’t worry that it means you won’t have a good summer anyway.” Never promise your child that you will pick him up if he feels homesick.

Let go.
Once your child arrives at camp, the staff will take care of her needs. If there’s a problem that you need to know about, they’ll call you. Enjoy your freedom and give yourself time to relax while the children are away. Remember, whatever happens, your child will be home in a few weeks!

hassFrom the Real Experts at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone:

Arielle Walzer, MA, PsyM, is a psychology extern at the Child Study Center, part of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, and a doctoral candidate at Rutgers University.

Summer Socializing: How to Help Your Child Make Friends Over Summer Break

summer-friendsAs with times tables, proper spelling, and other academic skills, social skills can decline over summer vacation if children sit at home for months and ignore them. Yet, just as summer school and intensive tutoring in July and August can help kids catch up to their peers academically by September, so too can summertime be used for strengthening kids’ social skills and increasing their circle of friends before the new school year begins.

For children who struggle to make friends during the school year, the summer can be a valuable time to break free from their school-based social circles and form positive relationships with a variety of other peers. Follow these steps to learn how to maximize your child’s chance of success:

Choose the right activity.
Children are most likely to succeed in making friends when they are engaged in an activity that they love. While you might desperately want your video game-loving kid to get some exercise this summer, soccer camp is probably a poor choice if your child can’t stand organized sports. Crying or complaining about the activity is unlikely to attract new friends!

Play to your child’s strengths. What does your son or daughter talk about the most? If your daughter talks non-stop about animals, a nature program is where she’s most likely to find friends who share her passion. There are camps and classes out there for everything – coding, cooking, science, and movie-making camps are all alternatives to traditional sports and swimming summer programs.

Make sure the activity meets often.
Although it might seem like other kids make friends during chance meetings on the playground, these are unlikely to turn into lasting relationships without thoughtful follow-up. Even if your son enjoys splashing around in the pool with a boy he’s just met, it would be hard for him to turn that one-time interaction into a genuine friendship without repeated contact. Friendships tend to form over time when there are repeated opportunities to play together. If your child isn’t attending a daily camp program, try to ensure that the activities she’s enrolled in meet at least once per week to increase the odds that she’ll form a connection.

Identify potential friends.
Kids who struggle to form peer relationships often find it hard to identify potential friends. Even when they do report friendships, parents sometimes can’t help but wonder if the feeling is mutual. When possible, watch your child at the end of a program to see with whom she gets along well. If you can’t watch or if you find it difficult to tell, ask the group leader. Teachers and camp counselors are usually excited about helping facilitate new friendships and are likely to have good insight.

Make the first move.
Once you’ve figured out who might be receptive to an invitation from your child, approach the parents at pick up time or ask the group leader for contact information and call them. Suggest a specific activity and date.

Remember that parents and children often have busy summer vacation schedules, so it might be hard to set a time. Remember, there are many possible reasons that your playdate idea might be rejected! If unsuccessful at first, try again with a different family.

For an older child or teenager, help her brainstorm the activity and encourage her to ask peers herself, as those out of elementary school rarely have adults coordinate their get-togethers. If she’s nervous, role play with her until she feels more comfortable. Remember to rehearse staying calm and shrugging it off if the peer says no.

Keep playdates short and planned.
To help reduce the likelihood that kids will become bored with each other or get into an argument, first playdates should be short and sweet. Aim for two hours or less.

Inviting the child to your home with a vague plan to play can be a great choice once the friendship is established, but it’s not the best move for a first playdate. It might be hard for the kids to choose an activity, and the playdate could quickly become boring or contentious. Instead, choose a specific activity that you know both kids enjoy. Activities such as watching a specific movie or completing a craft project can take place in your home, while visiting a children’s museum or a zoo are good options for outings.

Have realistic expectations.
Summer programs can be a great way for your child to improve his social skills and make friends, but remember that summer vacation lasts only a few months. Celebrate small victories, such as a single successful get-together with a friend or even the exchange of social media usernames. If your child’s summer buddy doesn’t turn into a year-round pal, that’s okay. Even a short friendship is worthwhile if it helps your kid feel less lonely and learn new skills for the next friendship. There’s always next summer!

Does your child have social communication difficulties? The Child Study Center’s Social Learning Program offers a wide array of social skills group therapy services for children as young as 3 through young adults up to age 35. Groups are appropriate for individuals with social communication difficulties related to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder, anxiety, depression, or other challenges. Both children and parents participate in separate weekly groups that run concurrently for 12-16 weeks. Clinical faculty and staff use evidence-based interventions based on research that shows positive long-term outcomes. For more information about our social skills group sessions in Manhattan, please contact our Social Learning Program intake team at 646-754-5284 or email csc.sociallearning@nyumc.org.

hassFrom the Real Experts at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone:

Arielle Walzer, MA, PsyM, is a psychology extern in Autism Spectrum Disorder service at the Child Study Center, part of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone. Rebecca Shalev, PhD, BCBA, is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone.

Tips to Get Your Teen on a Regular—and Healthy—Sleep Schedule

teensleepI hear from many parents that they struggle to get their teens to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Consistent sleep schedules are difficult for teens because there are many environmental factors—including school schedules, homework, extracurricular activities, and jobs—that regularly force teens to adjust their schedule in an unnatural way. The biological clock or circadian rhythm of a teen is actually designed to shift toward a delayed schedule; that is, teens naturally want to go to bed late and wake up late.

We notice this circadian shift starting around puberty, and we think it happens for two main reasons.  First, teens are the strongest, fastest, have the best immune response, tolerate pain and extremes of temperature better than adults, and they are more likely to take risks (like put themselves in harm’s way).  As a result, teens and those in their early twenties (“adolescents” in today’s parlance) are the best suited to protect the cave and clan while others sleep.  So, the adolescents stay up until the wee hours, while the adults sleep.  The oldest among us then awaken early and relieve the young protectors, who can now go to sleep as the dawn is breaking and the threat of predators has considerably lessened.

Second, teens have reached puberty and so are ready, by evolutionary standards, to begin coupling and reproducing.  And so, they need time alone with other teens, without the watchful eyes of parents, to get to know one another, measure up, and decide who belongs with whom; there’s no better time for this than late at night when the parents are asleep.  For these two reasons, teens and young adults typically have a delayed sleep schedule.

While studies show that teens actually benefit from later high school and college start times—and the CDC actually has advised that high schools not start before 8:30AM—fewer than 20% of American schools adhere to this recommendation. If your family is struggling with getting your teenager on a consistent sleep schedule, here are some helpful tips:

Learn about sleep and teach your kids. There are many great books, and the data on getting more sleep is compelling. I teach a college class on sleep at NYU, and I’ve learned that young people really do want to understand their sleep and get better at it. I talk with my own kids about the effects of not getting enough sleep, from the physical to the neuropsychological. Things like immune system functioning, digestion, height, concentration, muscle growth, skin strength, decision-making, memory, anxiety and mood, and so many more factors all improve when you get a good night’s sleep. And on the flip side, illnesses, wrinkles, weight gain, exhaustion, and irritability are all side effects of not getting enough sleep.

Take away screens an hour before bed and limit their use. Screens are distracting and keep us awake. Remember, moms and dads, you own the phone.

Limit sleep-disrupting light exposure. Try eye masks and/or heavy curtains to keep the light out of their eyes while they sleep. Download apps like lux or use ‘nightshift’ on their smartphone so that the blue light that blocks melatonin is removed from their screens. Light is the most influential factor in setting our internal circadian clocks, so we want to control light and make sure that we live in dim light for about 3-4 hours before bed, at the least.

Keep the last few hours before bed calm. Try and do something that’s not stressful before bed, at least for the last 30 minutes. Don’t watch a thriller or action adventure movie before bed—it will jazz your kids up.  Instead, read something relaxing, watch something easy like the food channel, or do something else that eases your mind.

Figure out a schedule that allows for sufficient sleep. As parents, try to help schedule your children’s lives so that they can get sufficient sleep. Make sure homework gets done as early as possible. Make it clear to your kids that while school performance is important, they shouldn’t pressure themselves to stay up all night long to work or study. In fact, we know from lots of data that people remember and learn much better when they’ve slept 8-9 hours than when they sleep less. Students who get more sleep do better in school.

Start going to bed earlier yourself.
Parents are the role models—when we take sleep more seriously, our kids will as well.

hassFrom the Real Experts at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone:

Jess Shatkin, MD, MPH, is a professor in the Departments of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the Child Study Center, part of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone. He also serves as the Vice Chair for Education in the Department of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Director of Undergraduate Studies for Child & Adolescent Mental Health Studies (CAMS) at NYU College of Arts & Science. He’s also the author of Born to Be Wild: Why Teens Take Risks, and How We Can Help Keep Them Safe.