by Nancy Kislin, LCSW, Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist
If you’re a parent (or a grandparent, aunt or uncle, or godparent) chances are that what scares you most about the coronavirus is the impact the epidemic could have on the kids you love. With news of the virus’ widespread effects constantly unfolding, it’s easy to conjure up endless scenarios, each ending with harmful, even tragic, consequences for the kids in your life.
As a mother, I get it. We all feel the need to do something, even when we’re fully aware that our actions, like snapping up face masks on eBay, might be all but useless. What parents often don’t realize is that the best steps we can take in protecting our kids—supporting them emotionally and psychologically—are those within closest reach.
As in any psychologically fraught situation, the most important thing any of us can do for our children is resist the urge to panic. That’s hard, especially when we’re facing an epidemic which has already shut down the world’s second largest economy. But no matter how old or young your kids may be, your panic will become their panic. And that’s not a place you want your kids—or, for that matter, yourself—to be.
Before you talk to your kids about the virus (and, yes, it’s essential that you do) check in with yourself. Through decades as a therapist on the front lines and, more recently, treating the severe stress and trauma caused by nationwide lockdown drills, I’ve witnessed how parents who take a moment to play that calming, reassuring role for themselves first are able to bring their whole self to interactions with their kids.
Ask yourself how you’re feeling, whether it’s afraid or anxious, frustrated or even angry. Trace those emotions to specific causes. Maybe you’re worried about economic effects of the virus trickling down to your job; maybe you’re (understandably) concerned for your own physical wellbeing. These are legitimate, and often healthy, responses.
But when it comes to having a conversation with your kids, you need to be fully present and that means you can’t be trying to battle emotions on your mental sidelines. Put the phone down (or, better yet, leave it in a different room) and turn off the news. Start the conversation by asking open questions concerning what your kids have heard about the virus, what they believe to be true and what they don’t understand. Listen to what they say, without trying to debate or contest it, acknowledge how they feel, and be honest about the limits of your own knowledge.
Once your kids have expressed themselves, you can help reframe the conversation by reminding them of the procedures that have been put in place to protect them, like limits on travel and public gatherings and public directives to sneeze into your elbow. You can put a positive focus on the discussion by thinking about proactive steps your kids can take, like strengthening their immune systems with eating healthy food, lots of sleep, and stress-minimizing mindfulness techniques.
Finally, reassure your kids that there are lots of highly trained experts working round the clock to contain the virus and that, eventually, it will be brought under control. Simply put: let them know they’re safe.
Will this approach quell every fear or feeling of anxiety? Unfortunately, it won’t. Negative emotions are part of our lives, whether the cause is a virus, the specter of violence, or everyday worries. What’s important is knowing there is a way to talk to your kids about all these things which will help make them more resilient and less prone to the ravages of stress and trauma.
Coronavirus might be here a while longer, but we can learn from our own responses, much in the way epidemiologists are learning from the way our bodies respond to the virus itself. Doing this in a calm, collected way, we strengthen the psychological and emotional “immune system” that plays a central role in all our lives.
Tips for Talking To Your Kids in the Aftermath of Another Mass Shooting
by Nancy Kislin, LCSW, author Lockdown: Talking To Your Kids About School Violence
1. Turn off the news! Pay attention to what your kids are watching and listening to!
2. Be the Positive role model. Be calm and in control when you talk about gun violence, mass shootings and lockdown drills.
3. Reassure your child that they are safe. That although this did happen, millions of children stay safe at school everyday.
4. Be Honest! If they ask direct questions, don’t pretend the event did not occur.
5. Spend extra time with your children today and in the coming days. Do a special project together, take a walk or just be with them.
6. Choose family time over spending time on your technology. Make this time to celebrate life, family and your community.
7. Create opportunities for your kids to give back to the community. When we concentrate on the needs of others, we lower our stress levels. We feel part of our bigger community and we create space for joy.
8. Prayer! Say a Prayer for the children and their
family. If you are not religious, recite a poem or make up a prayer with your kids. The act of prayer creates a sense of hope and creates a ritual helps establish a foundation to help your kids heal and process their emotions.
9. Keep your kids close to you, if that is what they need. If they want to sleep in your bed – suggest a slumber party on the floor of your bedroom.
10. Respect your child and their feelings! Acknowledge their fears, sadness and needs. Pay attention to behaviors such as trouble falling asleep, nightmares, escalation of fears, loss of appetite, unexplained anger and increased anxiety. Don't be afraid to seek help.
11. Help Your Children Heal! Give them a way to express their feelings! Give your kids paper and crayons to help them express their thoughts. Or give them modeling clay or playdough to express their emotions.
12. Take a moment for your Yourself to Breathe and have Gratitude for all that you have in your life. When we come from a place of Gratitude, life’s journey is a little bit easier.
Nancy Kislin, LCSW, MFT
Child, Adolescent and Family Psuchotherapist
Author, LOCKDOWN: Talking To Your Kids About School Violence
10 Reasons NOT To Talk To Your Kids About How To Stay Calm in a Climate of Fear
by Nancy Kislin, LCSW, MFT
It is critically important that children feel physically and emotionally safe. This is not an easy task in the world today.
With the current climate of gun violence in our country, it is crucial that you have an important conversation with your children as you help pack their bags for their summer adventures.
Too often the news flashes on your kids technology, stating: “Another shooting happening in blank city” and “School blank is in lockdown, waiting for more information.”
Our country is mourning over the senseless loss of lives in another shooting, at a school, synagogue or church, and the latest—a public municipal building. The world has changed drastically in the last six years since the shooting in Newtown, CT.
Since the start of 2019, 234 schools have experienced gun violence with 228,000 school shootings. The wave of terror extends beyond the death toll to the 4.1 million during 2017-2018 school year who hid under desks, barricaded behind doors, or squatted on a toilet seat during lockdown drills in schools throughout the country. Millions of school children are being instructed to arm themselves with rocks, books, and bats, waiting to jump on the potential shooter during school drills, not knowing if it’s a drill or the real thing until it is over.
As parents you need to have a direct conversations about how they are feeling about school safety. Get CURIOUS about how they have experienced school safety drills, known as LOCKDOWN drills, this academic year. This will help you better understand what they experience regularly at school and how they feel about it. It is likely that these emotions, such as of fear and hopelessness, will be brought with them on their summer travels.
But I understand that you are busy, stressed and it is uncomfortable to have certain conversations.
10 Reasons NOT to Talk to Your Kids:
Don’t talk to your kids about the fact that they are feeling scared to death in school, in the movie theatre, in synagogue and even at Camp if:
Remember your goal isn’t to raise your child’s anxiety but to create a space for them to talk to you about anything. Don’t freak out if they share frightening stories of their experiences of the emergency school drills. Remind them that they are safe, that millions of kids go to school, camps, summer programs and are safe.
Make a commitment that you will educate yourself about the various lockdown drills and learn about the schools protocols this summer.
If your child expresses anxiety or fear – remember this is to be expected in today’s climate. Anxiety isn’t a negative thing by itself – it is what one does with their experience of anxiety. Anxiety is the result of an overactive mind, telling yourself scary stories. Encourage your child to develop a mindful practice of using deep breathing and other self-soothing skills to lessen or eliminate anxiety.
To learn more about how to talk to your child in this climate of gun violence please read LOCKDOWN: Talking To Your Kids About School Violence. My conversation starters will help you and your child have meaningful conversations.
Nancy Kislin, LCSW, MFT, parent educator and author is available to come to your community to speak on this topic as well as other parenting topics.
In addition, I am available to come to your community to work with parents and kids on how to thrive in this climate of fear.
Dear Parents and Friends:
Prom and Graduation season is here! This is a very special time in many of our students’ lives. For parents and police however, this same period is filled with apprehension and fear. This time of year rarely goes by without some kind of teen alcohol or drug incident. As you prepare for these important celebrations I want to remind you to talk with your son or daughter about these safety concerns:
6. Don’t be shy about talking about drinking, drugs, date rape and other tough subjects to talk about. Remind your daughters and sons about the dangers of sexual abuse and that they always have the right to stand up. It is okay if they get annoyed and want you to stop talking. It’s your job to be the parent.
7. Give your child permission to use YOU as an excuse. Remind them if they are ever in a situation that is uncomfortable they can pull out the parent excuse. For example, “I can’t do ……. my parents would be so upset.”
I hope these tips are helpful. It is daunting times to be raising kids. Communication is key to helping your child navigate this journey into adulthood. Don’t be afraid to say No and to enforce consequences!!!!
Remember – it is not a right but a privilege to attend ……….. Prom, Post Parties, Graduation Parties, etc. If something doesn't feel right, trust your gut!
Please go to my facebook page and like Nancy Kislin, Parenting Navigator. You will see all my latest blogs and videos.
Congratulations to all the parents who have children graduating!
Stay safe and be strong.
Nancy Kislin, LCSW
Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist, Marriage and Family Therapist
Check out my you tube video. I provide parents with the latest research on vaping as well as share tips on how to talk to your kids. Vaping is an epidemic. You need to stay informed.
Every Parent Needs to Know What a “Finsta” Is!
by Nancy Kislin, LCSW, MFT
Your child’s finsta account will give you a window into their inner world– what you find on these accounts may be concerning. Finsta is a second Instagram account used for sharing with a smaller circle of followers.
Many middle and high schoolers today have finsta accounts, otherwise known as a fake Instagram account where they limit who gets to follow them, usually allowing anywhere from 50-100 “friends.”
On these accounts, they are showing the world an “unfiltered and unedited” version of themselves. This is where they share their most private struggles, their dreams, their complains about you, and everything else that goes through their mind. Think of it as the previous generations’ use of diaries– could you imagine if Edith Wharton had a finsta?
While your child’s real Instagram account, or “rinsta,” may be open to the public, a finsta is private and more selective. They often use a fake, clever username and allow themselves to be more “real” on this account. Some teens even give their friends their passwords, which sometimes backfires when friends get in a fight.
One teen told me this is where they post photos of themselves that aren’t perfect, and don’t include “photoshopping every part of their body.” But many teens also use these accounts to post pictures of themselves doing illegal things, thinking future employers won’t be able to see it on these private accounts.
This all might not seem so bad at first, but ask your teens how much time they spend on finsta? Do you even know if they have one?
All this time spent on “Finstas” is time that your kid is not using to explore nature, have eye-to-eye heartfelt conversations, learn intimacy skills or how to read emotions and body language.
They are developing an external sense of self while doing nothing for their internal self. Who are they? What are their values? What makes them feel worthy? What brings them joy?
How many times a day, a week, a month, are they comparing themselves and their lives to what other people post?
To me, this is terrifying, and quite honestly I don’t understand why good parents are continuing to allow this technology to rob their children of healthy development.
Let your child know that you must know all of their account passwords. Go over the content once a week with them and limit the amount of time they spend on it. Remember that having access to technology is a privilege not a right.
I have trust in you– you are a strong parent.
Now go do your job.
Nancy Kislin, LCSW, MFT
It’s Not a Vaping Problem– It’s a Parenting Problem!
by Nancy Kislin, LCSW, MFT, Parenting Navigator
I work with parents just like you every day.
I’ve worked with kids just like yours for over 30 years.
I am Nancy Kislin, an adolescent and family psychotherapist, and in the last year, I have seen the latest epidemic of vaping spreading throughout our community.
But I’m going to be honest with you–
Your kids are not at fault.
YOU are the problem.
I know you don’t want to hear it, and many families quit working with me when I tell them they are part of the problem, but I hope you can listen.
The problem is that you don’t want to hear the truth.
You are funding your kid’s vaping habit. Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the vapor produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device.
If your kid is using a dab pen, then you are funding their drug use.
A Juul vaping starter kit costs $49.99 and up.
The nicotine cartridge costs $15.99 for a 4 pack, but since your kids are underage, they are buying it from someone else who is charging them $20 and up.
Dab pens cost anywhere from $100 and up– they aren’t cheap.
And the cost of weed? Well, ask your kids.
Parents, you are the problem. How are your kids paying for their vaping supplies? Where are they getting all this money?
Birthday cash from Grandma, your credit card, or perhaps cash is missing from your wallet?
And don’t forget, a kid that vapes most likely has a dealer. And we know that vaping can be a gateway to other drugs.
So let’s get back to the parenting problem:
It isn’t that kids today have gone wild, it’s that parents have gotten scared and lazy.
Parents come to see me and I help them navigate the world of parenting. I help them find their courage and give them permission to set rules and enforce consequences. And as a result, they build healthy relationships with their kids. Your kids don’t want you to be cool or be their “friend” when they’re in middle/high school.
Now, I want you to do some snooping:
And most importantly, talk to your kids.
Explain your family’s expectations and values, remind them that these things are illegal because they are under 21.
The last time I gave a program on vaping, I asked the parents to go home and snoop and then text me or email me what they found. You cannot believe how many kids hide their devices under the bed. Many, many kids like hiding their vaping supplies under their bed.
Remember, kids feel safer when there are rules and consequences.
It makes them feel like you are paying attention and care (even if they don’t show that appreciation at first).
It is not your job to be the cool parent, it is your job to raise healthy, well-adjusted children that help make the world a better place.
You can see more of my ideas on my Facebook page, “Nancy Kislin, Parenting Navigator” or follow me on Instagram @nancykislin.
Talk to your kids. And even if you think they aren’t vaping today, they sure know who is. It is better to prevent a drug problem than to treat a drug problem.
All this technology is making it harder than ever for kids to get their parents’ attention.
During one of my educational workshops, “How Much Screen Time is Too Much Screen Time?”, I asked my group of 5th to 9th graders some tough questions, eager to explore how all this screen time is affecting our kids’ lives. I asked them how much time they spent playing video games, texting their friends, watching YouTube videos. But most importantly, I asked them how they felt after spending hours playing video games, and how their moods might have changed after hours of screen time.
Their answers were seemingly honest:
“I get a bad headache after I play Minecraft for hours,” stated one girl.
“I get anxious when I find out some of my friends are hanging out and I’m not included.”
“Sometimes I can be really nasty to my mom after I’ve been playing video games,” chimed in a young man. “She blames it on the fact that I play ‘violent’ video games, but I don’t think that’s why,” he added.
One of the older boys said he routinely goes for extra help/tutoring with his teachers every day after class because he’d rather play computer games during class. “Why not just listen and learn while in class?” I asked him.
His answer? “No one really pays attention during the class, the boys play video games and the girls just chat online and shop.”
To conclude my meeting with the kids, I informed them that I would be meeting with their parents the following night to discuss the same subject. I asked, “Is there anything you want me to ask or tell them?”
One younger boy’s hand shot up. “Can you please ask my mom to please pay more attention to me and my sister and spend less time on her phone?”
You can guess how I opened the second part of the program that following evening.
Mom and dad - “Put your phone down.”
That evening, I asked parents if they were aware of their children’s activities on their devices, to which they all shook their heads and responded, “No.”
Parents, look your kids in the eyes, listen, and be present.
In that single moment you are helping your child develop a strong sense of self. Instead of leaving them feeling abandoned, you are right there with them. By being present with them, you are helping them build the confidence they need to feel secure in leaving the nest someday. Our job as parents is to raise our children to head down their own path someday, and having a strong sense of self is crucial to their development. But this demands our full attention to building strong, resilient, passionate, confident individuals. You simply cannot do that if you are always distracted by a screen.
Just yesterday during my morning walk I passed a mom and her son– the mom had her head down in her phone as they walked by. It took everything in me not to scream, “put down your phone!”
Instead I said, “Hello, how are you?” very loudly to get the mom’s attention. She looked up, said hello, and put her phone away. You’d think she knew what I was thinking.
Childhood passes in all but a moment. One minute they’re taking their first steps, the next they’re off to college, off into the world on their own. Don’t miss out on those precious years. Put your phone down.
Nancy Kislin, LCSW, MFT
Nancy Kislin, LCSW, MFT and Parent Educator
Talking to your kids about suicide following a community tragedy can be one of the hardest conversations to have as a parent.
As the parent, you need to make it clear to your kids that suicide is never, ever the solution to a problem.
Growing up is never easy. And while things may seem scary, overwhelming, or hopeless in the mind of a child or teenager, you have to reassure them of the following:
You are safe, and we are going to help keep you safe.
Bad things happen to really good people. Something bad happening to you doesn’t mean you are a “bad” individual.
We are here to talk without judgment.
Nothing is more important than your well-being – not grades, not sports, and no, not even your friends.
This too will pass. These emotions, this pain, will not last forever.
Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
You are surrounded by people who love you and care about you, and we are always available for you to speak to. If you don’t want to talk to us, we can find you a person to speak to.
I am sorry if I have been too busy with my life and work to see you, to hear your pain. I see you now.
There is nothing you could do that would be terrible enough to make suicide a good choice.
We love you unconditionally.
Parents, your child needs to feel reassured that you will take care of their physical and emotional needs. Show them this reassurance through effective communication that is clear and honest.
Remember that children grieve differently from adults. Even if they act like something isn’t a big deal, pay attention– it could take some time for them to process what has happened.
During that time, always check in on your kids. Don’t let them spend hours alone in their room, and be sure to keep an eye on what they are doing on social media and electronic devices. Set limits on how much time they spend using these devices, and use that extra time to plan family activities. Giving your children a solid support system is crucial to helping them get through some of life’s most challenging years.
If you suspect your child is struggling, please do not be afraid to seek help for them today. Remember there is a nationwide epidemic of children suffering from depression, anxiety, and self-harming behavior. On average, there are 121 suicides per day, making it the 10th leading causes of death in the US.
Talk to your kids. Let them know that help is always available. Find a trusted therapist, guidance counselor, clergy member for your child and for your family.
For additional information go to https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/.
No one needs to suffer alone, there is no shame around mental illness!
Chocolate Syringes are Not a Good Idea for Kids
by Nancy Kislin, LCSW, MFT, Parenting Educator
In the midst of a national opioid crisis the last thing we need is for our kids to be desensitized to drugs and drug culture.
Just when I thought I had seen it all with trends targeting kids, I learned about the Chocolate Syringe.
What is a chocolate syringe?
A large, plastic syringe that is filled with liquid chocolate and marketed to kids.
These are a training ground for young adults to become anesthetized to syringes, all while luring them into getting a “shot” to alter how they are feeling. Let’s be real – consuming a large quantity of chocolate will alter how you feel – a “sugar rush.”
Not to mention that the kids gather in a bar like setting to order their chocolate “shot.”
What does this drill into their heads? Hanging out at a bar, feeling like you have to “improve” or alter how you feel to have a good time, being comfortable with syringes?
One famous chocolate-themed restaurant posts on their menu & website “Get Addicted, Be Happy” while describing their ganache-filled chocolate syringe.
Many parents will remember the candy cigarettes we pretended to smoke when we were growing up. Many countries have banned them, concluding that they would encourage children to smoke real cigarettes.
The natural conclusion is that chocolate served in these syringes is just as likely to normalize drug paraphernalia and possibly promote children to use drugs one day.
We can’t ignore the enormous social issues facing so many children in America.
Kids see other teens and adults on TV and YouTube drinking alcohol—and lots of it!
They see kids in their school bathrooms and locker rooms vaping nicotine and weed.
Kids even recognize that most adults they know are stressed out, anxious, and use alcohol and weed to make them feel better. If adults do it, why shouldn't they do it?
Kids still need to be protected from things that just don’t make good common sense. There’s no need to desensitize them to more of the harmful influences they will likely encounter at some point in life.