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    Reading aloud may be the single most important activity parents do with their child

    Reading aloud may be the single most important activity parents do with their child. That's because a child who is read to is more likely to enjoy reading and will want to learn to read.

    Once a child becomes passionate about reading-he or she will have the opportunity to enjoy a lifetime of learning.

    According to Dr. Andrea Pastorok, education psychologist for Kumon Math and Reading Centers, reading aloud stimulates the brain and serves as the foundation for literacy development. Studies show that the more a person reads, the better he or she becomes at it and students who read the most are more likely to stay in school and experience academic achievement.

    Dr. Pastorok recommends these tips to make reading aloud fun and interesting for your children:

    1. Begin reading aloud to your child as soon as possible. Reading to infants helps them develop a sense for the rhythm and pattern of language.

    2. Remember, the art of listening is acquired. It must be taught and cultivated gradually. Read slowly enough for your child to build mental pictures of what he or she has just heard.

    3. Reading aloud helps children develop their imaginations and creativity. Looking at illustrations also encourages an appreciation of art.

    4. If chapters are too long for one reading session, find a suspenseful stopping point.

    5. Use plenty of expression when reading. If possible, change the tone of your voice to fit the dialogue and adjust the pace of your voice to fit the story.

    6. Avoid long descriptive passages until the child's imagination, vocabulary and attention span are capable of handling them.

    7. Unusually active children may find it difficult to sit and listen. Paper, crayons and pencils allow them to keep their hands busy while listening.

    8. Encourage conversation about what is being read. Foster a child's curiosity with patient answers to their questions.

    9. Remember to set aside regular reading times each day for your child to read on his or her own.

    Dr. Pastorok is an educational specialist with Kumon Math and Reading Centers. She has a doctorate in educational psychology, a master's degree in counseling psychology and more than 30 years' experience working with children.

    5 Steps To Raising An Optimistic Child

    I had just completed a session with 17-year old Julie who suffered from severe depression. Julie believed she was a total failure and would never be able to change anything in her life. Julie also felt all her shortcomings were her own fault.

    Where, I ask myself, did such a young person acquire this negative and fatalistic thinking?

    The answer soon became apparent when I invited her parents into the session. They began discussing numerous life events and explaining them in ways that their children were learning. The car, for example, got dented because you can’t trust anybody these days; Mom yelled at brother because she was in a bad mood; you can’t get ahead in this world unless you know somebody, etc.

    As a parent, your own thinking style is always on display and your children are listening intently!

    The Importance of Optimism

    Why should you want your child to be an optimist? Because, as Dr. Martin Seligman explains: “Pessimism (the opposite of optimism) is an entrenched habit of mind that has sweeping and disastrous consequences: depressed mood, resignation, underachievement and even unexpectedly poor physical health.”

    Children with optimistic thinking skills are better able to interpret failure, have a stronger sense of personal mastery and are better able to bounce back when things go wrong in their lives.

    Because parents are a major contributor to the thinking styles of their children’s developing minds, it is important to adhere to the following five steps to ensure healthy mental habits in your children.

    How Parents Can Help

    Step 1:  Learn to think optimistically yourself. What children see and hear indirectly from you as you lead your life and interact with others influences them much more than what you try to ‘teach’ them.

    You can model optimism for your child by incorporating optimistic mental skills into your own way of thinking. This is not easy and does not occur over night. But with practice, almost everyone can learn to think differently about life’s events – even parents!

    Step 2:  Teach your child that there is a connection between how they think and how they feel. You can do this most easily by saying aloud how your own thoughts about adversity create negative feelings in you.

    For example, if you are driving your child to school and a driver cuts you off, verbalize the link between your thoughts and feelings by saying something like “I wonder why I’m feeling so angry; I guess I was saying to myself: ‘Now I’m going to be late because the guy in front of me is going so darn slow. If he is going to drive like that he shouldn’t drive during rush hour. How rude.’”

    Step 3:  Create a game called ‘thought catching.’ This helps your child learn to identify the thoughts that flit across his or her mind at the times they feel worst. These thoughts, although barely noticeable, greatly affect mood and behavior.

    For instance, if your child received a poor grade, ask: “When you got your grade, what did you say to yourself?”

    Step 4:  Teach your child how to evaluate automatic thoughts. This means acknowledging that the things you say to yourself are not necessarily accurate.

    For instance, after receiving the poor grade your child may be telling himself he is a failure, he is not as smart as other kids; he will never be able to succeed in school, etc. Many of these self-statements may not be accurate, but they are ‘automatic’ in that situation.

    Step 5:  Instruct your child on how to generate more accurate explanations (to themselves) when bad things happen and use them to challenge your child’s automatic but inaccurate thoughts. Part of this process involves looking for evidence to the contrary (good grades in the past, success in other life areas, etc).

    Another skill to teach your child to help him or her think optimistically is to ‘decatastrophize’ the situation – that is – help your child see that the bad event may not be as bad or will not have the adverse consequences imagined. Few things in life are as devastating as we fear, yet we blow them up in our minds.

    Parents can influence the thinking styles of their children by modeling the principals of optimistic thinking.

    Signs of Child and Teenage Depression

    Written by Kadesha Adelakun; a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), in the state of Georgia (License # CSW004135), and has Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology from Morris Brown College and a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Georgia.

    Depression amongst children and teenagers is becoming more and more common.  Being a child or teenager is not easy, especially when there is bullying going on at school and on the internet, family financial problems, break-up or divorce of parents, etc.  Depression is something that should be taking seriously, as it could have many consequences.  Sometimes, parents ignore mental health issues/signs, but will take physical health issues/signs more serious.  Mental health issues are just as important as physical health issues.

    One of the most serious behavioral problems among troubled teenagers is depression.  It is essential that parents recognize when a pre-adolescent or adolescent child is depressed, because treatment is more effective with early intervention.  The more serious consequence of untreated depression can be risk of suicide.  Therefore, any indication that a child has been depressed for six months or more should be treated in the same way you would if you saw signs of physical disease in that child.

    Occasional bad moods or acting out is to be expected, but depression is something different. Depression can destroy the very essence of a teenager’s personality, causing an overwhelming sense of sadness, despair, or anger.  One of the obstacles facing parents is that the child may simply seem like what many believe is a “normal teen” – angry, withdrawn, irritable, isolated or a loner, etc.  These behaviors when isolated to events or short periods of time may well be the growing pains of adolescence, but when they extend beyond a six-month period and don’t seem to go away, parents need to seek intervention before more serious indications arise.

    According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents and teenagers.  For every teen suicide death, experts estimate there are 10 other teen suicide attempts.  Teen girls and boys are both at risk for suicide.  Teen girls are more likely to attempt suicide, but teenage boys are four to five times more likely to die by suicide.  Over half of teen suicide deaths are inflicted by guns.

    Major depressive disorder is a serious condition characterized by one or more major depressive episodes.  In children and adolescents, an episode lasts on average from 7 to 9 months (Birmaher et al., 1996a, 1996b).  Depressed children are sad, they lose interest in activities that used to please them, and they criticize themselves and feel that others criticize them.  They feel unloved, pessimistic, or even hopeless about the future; they think that life is not worth living, and thoughts of suicide may be present.  Depressed children and adolescents are often irritable, and their irritability may lead to aggressive behavior.  They are indecisive, have problems concentrating, and may lack energy or motivation; they may neglect their appearance and hygiene; and their normal sleep patterns are disturbed (DSM-V).

          The typical signs of depression are:

    • Child/Teen feels “low” most of the time
    • Child/Teen is irritable
    • Weight loss or weight gain (more than 10% of normal weight)
    • Insomnia or sleeplessness, or the opposite, excessive need for sleep
    • Low energy
    • Child/Teen says things that indicate low self-esteem or feelings of worthlessness
    • Suicidal thoughts, ideation, or threats (with or without a plan)
    • Drop in grades
    • Drop in social activities, interactions with peers and family, or sudden change in friends
    • Frequent bouts of crying, often “for no reason”

          Several factors increase the risk that a child/teen will attempt suicide:

    • Depression or feelings of loneliness or helplessness
    • Alcohol or drug addiction
    • A family history of abuse, suicide, or violence
    • Previous suicide attempts; almost half of teens who commit suicide had attempted suicide previously.
    • A recent loss such as a death, break-up, or parents’ divorce, illness or disability
    • Stress over school, relationships, performance expectations, etc.
    • Fear of ridicule for getting help for problems
    • Being bullied or being a bully
    • Access to firearms or other lethal objects

    Tips for talking to a depressed child/teen:

    • Offer support – Let depressed children/teenagers know that you’re there for them, fully and unconditionally. Hold back from asking a lot of questions (teenagers don’t like to feel patronized or crowded), but make it clear that you’re ready and willing to provide whatever support they need.
    • Be gentle but persistent – Don’t give up if your adolescent shuts you out at first. Talking about depression can be very tough for children/teens.  Be respectful of your child’s comfort level while still emphasizing your concern and willingness to listen.
    • Listen without lecturing – Resist any urge to criticize or pass judgment once your child/teenager begins to talk. The important thing is that your child is communicating.  Avoid offering unsolicited advice or ultimatums as well.
    • Validate feelings – Don’t try to talk teens out of their depression, even if their feelings or concerns appear silly or irrational to you. Simply acknowledge the pain and sadness they are feeling.  If you don’t, they will feel like you don’t take their emotions seriously.

    If your child or teenager seems stuck in a pattern that includes some of these behaviors, for more than six months, it is time to seek therapy and make sure your child is properly treated should he or she be suffering from depression.  If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, call 911 or take the person to the emergency room immediately.  Call a suicide prevention hotline, such as 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433), or a local suicide prevention hotline, such as Behavioral Health Link (if you are in Georgia) at 1-800-715-4225, or mental health centers to help someone who is thinking about suicide.