Children's Health: Having a Happy and Healthy Summer
In this Fox 8 House Call series, Cone Health experts discuss children's health, including:
- Vanessa York, MA, LPCA, talks about how to help kids manage stress associated with end-of-grade tests.
- Jenna Mendelson, PhD, explains what autism is and how to plan for a successful transition into summer.
- Wes Swan, MS, NCC, LPC-A, LCAS-A, discusses teens and substance abuse.
Children’s Health: Stress and Anxiety
As the end of the school year approaches, many kids and teens will take their end-of-grade and end-of-course tests. There are several things parents can do to ensure their children aren’t stressed. Make sure your kids get a good night’s sleep. Don’t cram until 2 a.m.! Parents should also make sure their children eat well the night before and the morning of their tests. Several studies have linked poor eating and sleeping habits to stress.
Parents should encourage their children, replacing negative thoughts with positive ones to help further reduce stress. Ideas include:
- “You can do this.”
- “You’re successful.”
- “I believe in you.”
- “I’m here for you.”
- “I’m proud of you.”
- “It will all be OK.”
Children who are reassured and told they will do well are often much less anxious.
Help your kids to be prepared several weeks before the tests begin so they feel much less apprehensive and jittery the morning of. Deep breathing to clear their minds can also help. Think outside the box to make it fun for kids and to reinforce positive thoughts. Ideas include playing feel-good music when they wake up, or leaving them sticky notes with encouraging messages.
Vanessa York, MA, LPCA, is a therapeutic triage specialist with Cone Health Behavioral Health Hospital. She received her bachelor’s degree in professional counseling from Liberty University. York has worked with adolescents for 25 years.
Children’s Health: Understanding Autism and Preparing for End of School and Successful Transition to Summer
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that causes impairment of social interaction, as well as repetitive behaviors and interests. More than 3.5 million Americans live with ASD. Difficulty with social interactions can include inconsistent eye contact, limited use of gestures, and trouble forming and maintaining friendships. Repetitive behaviors can include spending hours lining up toys, showing interest in a very restricted range of topics, and demonstrating sensory likes and dislikes. The range of abilities and challenges among individuals with ASD is broad and varies a lot. It includes individuals who may remain nonverbal and require lifelong care, as well as individuals who go on to higher education and professional careers. Everyone with ASD has unique talents, challenges and personality traits that must be considered when planning for their education and care. For children with autism, structure is very important. To prepare for the end of school and ensure a successful transition to summer, parents should plan to maintain their child’s routine. They should look for opportunities for social interaction with their peers. Play dates are encouraged, but should be short (less than 2 hours), structured and closely supervised.
Academic skills can backslide in younger children. Make the skills they learned during the school year part of their summer routine. Parents with verbal children should talk to them about things they can look forward to and be excited about. Parents of nonverbal children should make a visual schedule and show them places they’ll go and things they’ll do.
Children with autism may go to many therapies during the school year. Parents should make sure they continue those, but realize a break or lapse is OK. It’s important to relax and have fun during the summer!
Jenna Mendelson, PhD, is a licensed psychologist at LeBauer HealthCare at Oak Ridge and Summerfield Village, and a member of Cone Health Medical Group. Mendelson specializes in developmental disabilities, especially autism spectrum disorders (ASD). She received her doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She completed a fellowship at the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development and an internship with the Marcus Autism Center at Emory University/Children’s Hospital of Atlanta.
Children’s Health: Teens and Substance Abuse
Substance abuse in teens is on the rise. While alcohol use has declined, vaping has risen. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), 1 in 5 high school seniors say they’ve vaped nicotine in the last month.
Xanax and other related drugs (benzodiazepines) are on the rise. Health care professionals believe this is due to the increased pressure and stress teens are feeling, availability of the drug and an increase in the rate of prescription.
Marijuana use is up as well. According to NIDA statistics, 25% of high school seniors report using an illicit drug in the past month, with the most popular choice being marijuana.
Prescription drug misuse, which can include opioids, is among the fastest growing drug problems in the United States.
Parents should monitor their child’s behavior and watch for signs of drug use. Those include:
- Changes in behavior – For example, they don’t like something they used to have an interest in.
- Physical changes – Includes dilated/unusually large or small pupils, and bloodshot eyes.
- Odd odors in their clothing.
- Loss of interest in the way they look and physical appearance (e.g., for boys, they stop shaving).
It’s important for parents to talk to their teens about drugs. If your teen is taking opiates (after getting their wisdom teeth out, a sports injury, etc.), monitor their use. Be open about how the painkillers make them feel; are they feeling any positive or negative side effects?
Set clear expectations in your household, the kinds of behaviors to expect and realistic consequences. For example: “If I catch you smoking, you lose your cellphone and you won’t go out on weekends.” If substance abuse is already a problem, help teens see their choices and options.
Wes Swan, MS, NCC, LPC-A, LCAS-A, is a counselor with Cone Health Outpatient Behavioral Health at Greensboro. He received his Bachelor of Arts in history from Asbury University and his Master of Science in counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Swan is a licensed professional counselor associate and provisionally licensed clinical addictions specialist associate.