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The Youth Mental Health Crisis

by Colaborador EMedia

Leading Pediatric Behavioral Health Expert Offers Tips to Help Parents and Youth Cope with An

No one needs to be reminded we are all living in unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic represents a game-changing global emergency and understandably contributes to a great deal of uncertainty which is having a significant impact on today’s youth.

“Uncertainty ignites a host of emotional and behavioral problems,” says Robert D. Friedberg, PhD, ABPP, professor and head of Palo Alto University’s Pediatric Behavioral Health program.   “The US Surgeon General, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychological Association are all sounding the alarm regarding a mental health crisis for youth,” added Friedberg.

Dr. Friedberg offers these eight tips for helping parents and children cope with the next normal and is available to the media to discuss this topic.

1. Be a good coping model

Managing your own moods and worries is a key first step in helping your children cope. When they see caregivers taking care of themselves by sticking to routines, engaging in pleasant activities, doing relaxation, using proper problem-solving strategies, and employing healthy self-talk, they learn to do so also.

2. Balance acceptance of the distress and coaching to cope

Uncertainty is naturally unsettling and communicating to children that being worried, sad, angry, etc. is understandable forms an important part of the equation, but it is only one part of carrying on during stressful times.  Balancing acceptance with active coaching to cope is essential. Distress and discomfort are an inevitable and unavoidable part of being human. However, escorting your children through these periods with effective skills to tolerate rather than avoid troubling times rounds out the responsive parenting equation.

3. Help children increase their tolerance for uncertainty and decrease their fears of loss of control

Uncertainty is inevitable but decreasing fears of the unknown and unpredictability is possible. A helpful technique involves clarifying the difference between what is probable (will happen) from what is possible (might happen). Encourage your child to BE MIGHTY and replace “will” with “might.” For instance, if your children are anxious and hold the absolute thought “I will get sick” invite them to re-engineer their thinking with “It’s not a sure thing, I only might get sick.”

  4. Avoid catastrophizing

Catastrophizing accelerates worries and anxieties. When you think the worst thing that can happen is a certainty, there is nothing you can do, and no one can help, the world becomes dreadful. A useful strategy is to invite your child to list the worst and best things that could happen. Then coach them to rate the likelihood (possibility) of them happening on a scale from 1 (not likely) to 10 (for sure).  Next, come up with a problem-solving or coping plan for the worst event that could happen.  Review the likelihoods of each outcome with your child and come up with a conclusion.  Finally, ask your child, “If we have a coping plan for worst thing, how catastrophic could it be?”

5. Redefine success and reduce perfectionism

Like intolerance of uncertainty, perfectionism is another process that contributes to lots of distress. If you are perfectionistic, you place yourself in a constant state of failure since perfection is an impossible goal. Set smaller goals for your child and yourself, recognize effort rather than outcome, and reward steps toward reaching these benchmarks.

6. Encourage children to manage distress rather than avoid it.

Actions always speak louder than words. Like the Pixar Movie Inside/Out teaches us, sadness, anxiety, fear, disgust, and anger are part of the human experience. The key is to make these feelings work for you rather than on you! Therefore, do not shield your children from unpleasant emotions but rather coach them to navigate their way through and past them.

7. Search for reputable resources

Being a well-equipped coping coach is crucial. Therefore, outfitting yourself with authoritative resources is necessary. Fortunately, there are some great ones. Here are a few recommendations. Internet sites such as On Our Sleeves

(https://www.onoursleeves.org/partnerships) and the Child Mind Institute

(https://childmind.org/guides/) offer handy and downloadable information. There are a couple of awesome parenting books such as Freeing Your Child from Anxiety by Dr. Tamar Chansky and the Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child by Dr. Alan Kazdin. Finally, Drs. Michael Tompkins and Katherine Martinez have penned the excellent self-help book for anxious youth (My Anxious Mind).

8.  When professional help is needed, mindfully select professionals and be an informed consumer.

When professional help is needed to compliment responsive parenting, please act as responsible and informed consumers. Psychotherapies do work but not all therapies work equally well.  Fortunately, there are a few reputable internet sites that direct to you to recommended treatments so you can be more fully “in the know.” They include the American Psychological Association Division 53 Clinical Child and

Adolescent Psychology (https://effectivechildtherapy.org/), Academy of Cognitive and

Behavioral Therapies (https://www.academyofct.org/), Association of Behavioral and

Cognitive Therapies (https://www.abct.org/), Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Research (https://beckinstitute.org/), and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (https://www.aacap.org/).

Dr. Robert Friedberg is a cognitive behavioral therapist (CBT) focusing on children, adolescents, and families. He is recognized as one of the leading experts in applying Aaron T. Beck’s model of cognitive therapy to children.  Beck’s system has been most widely used in cases of depression where cognitive therapists help clients recognize the negative thoughts and errors in logic that cause them to be depressed. Friedberg is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association (Clinical Child Psychology, Div.53) and the Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.

About Palo Alto University

Palo Alto University (PAU), a private, non-profit university located in the heart of Northern California’s Silicon Valley, is dedicated to addressing pressing and emerging issues in the fields of psychology and counseling that meet the needs of today’s diverse society. PAU offers undergraduate and graduate programs that are led by faculty who make significant contributions to in their field. Online, hybrid and residential program options are available . PAU was founded in 1975 as the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology and re-incorporated as Palo Alto University in August 2009. PAU is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).  PAU’s doctoral programs are accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) and its master’s in counseling programs by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP).

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