Teen Dating Violence

By: Mary B. Hammock, MSN, CPNP

Dating is an important part of growth and development for teenagers. It molds emotional health, identity and self-worth and helps to prepare a teen for future relationships. Healthy relationships can have a positive impact on development and unhealthy relationships can negatively impact a teen’s entire future. Learning to communicate effectively, appropriately managing uncomfortable feelings, such as jealously or anger, and treating others with respect are learned tools of healthy relationships. Dating violence is a widespread problem crossing the boundaries of age, gender, ethnicity and financial status. Research indicates one of 3 teens experiences dating violence and two of every three victims tell no one it has occurred. Many fail to report abuse due to embarrassment, fear, and the notion that the violence will never occur again. Dating violence has long-term and short-term effects on its victims. Knowing what to look for and early intervention can help safeguard your teen.

What is Teen Dating Violence?

Teen dating violence is defined as the physical (pinching, hitting, shoving, slapping, or kicking), sexual (forcing a sexual act without consent – can be physical or nonphysical through threatening to spread rumors or stop dating the partner), psychological or emotional (harming his or her sense of self-worth via bullying, shaming, intentionally embarrassing or other such behaviors) violence within a dating relationship, including stalking. It can occur in person or electronically and might occur between a current or former dating partner. Youth who experience teen dating violence are more likely to experience dating violence during college and later. Being the victim of dating violence often leads to symptoms of depression and anxiety and potentially could result in abuse of tobacco, alcohol, and/or drugs. Antisocial behaviors, including avoiding typical activities, skipping school, and isolating oneself with or without the dating partner, and thoughts of suicide are much more common among victims of dating violence.

Ramifications of Teen Dating Violence

Violent relationships in adolescence can have serious ramifications by placing the victims at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior and further domestic violence. While researchers are still trying to define the problem and how big the problem is, it is estimated that half of the youth who have been victims of dating violence attempt suicide, as depression is a common reality for them. It has been determined that teen girls who have been sexually or physically abused are six times more likely to get pregnant and twice as likely to have recurrent sexually transmitted diseases from high risk sexual behavior.

How to Stop Dating Violence

The ultimate goal is to stop dating violence before it begins. Again, it is vital to lead by example and promote healthy relationships. Help your teen work through case scenarios to strengthen their self-worth. This will also train him or her arming him or her with the ability to appropriately and rapidly respond in an unhealthy relationship. Communicate that you are your child’s most staunch defender; that no matter the circumstances you will do your very best to protect him or her, as long as there is an open dialogue between the two of you.

As it turns out, getting a little one to sleep through the night and to use the potty may have been easier parenting jobs than protecting teens from themselves and others. While they search for the own identity, it is important that we give them enough space to explore but stay close enough to continue to protect and guide them. Healthy Steps Pediatrics is helping to grow healthy children one step at a time. Call today if you need teen guidance or any other pediatric need. 678-384-3480.

Protecting Our Most Precious Resource –Our Children

By:  Mary B. Hammock, MSN, CPNP

Protecting Our Most Precious Resource –Our Children

We have all passed that adorable child in the park or the mall that refuses to acknowledge our friendly banter or smile. That is a child that likely has been educated to avoid contact with strangers, as a way to protect the child. Parents naturally want their children to feel safe, secure, and valued and part of a parent’s responsibility is to teach them the skills which will keep them safe from harm.

Most importantly, your home must be a place of trust and support by your taking an active interest in your children’s day-to-day lives and listening to them intently. Building a child’s confidence and self-esteem will equip him with the ability to assert himself in potentially any dangerous situation, rather than simply identifying strangers to avoid. Statistics repeatedly point out that most perpetrators are known to the child or family. Identifying a bad guy will not be a particularly helpful skill.

Safety At An Early Age

Talking about safety with your child should begin at an early age. Discuss safety in an open, matter-of-fact, and calm manner. This will teach your child that safety is part of reality and will be less likely to induce stress. Young children can be taught safety rules. Preschoolers are concrete thinkers who are very much focused on themselves. A preschooler can quickly and easily identify his name and his parents’ names. Making up a song can assist teaching them addresses and telephone numbers.

Check First

They can also be taught to CHECK FIRST. They should check first before going outside to play. They should check first before leaving the area to go to the restroom. They should check first before accepting anything from anyone. Finally, preschoolers should be taught it is OK to SAY NO if someone does anything that makes them feel scared, uncomfortable, or bad.

Elementary Age

Elementary aged children are generally eager to please and cooperative, which can make them vulnerable in dangerous situations. Children this age learn better through role-playing a wide variety of situations and through repetition. Be sure the child knows his full name, his parents’ names, address, telephone, and even driving directions to his home. Make a plan for addressing phone calls or doorbells. Continue to reiterate the need to CHECK FIRST and it is OK to SAY NO. Teach your elementary-aged child the NO-GO-TELL system. First, the child should say NO if someone is trying to do something that makes one feel scared, uncomfortable, or bad. Second, the child should GO away from the situation quickly. Finally, the child should TELL an adult – someone that you and your child have established as trustworthy and reliable.

Middle and High School

Middle and high school children benefit from on-going discussions and open dialogues. Discussing real-life situations provides opportunities to problem-solve and practicing saying NO should a situation of peer pressure arise. Practicing standing one’s ground against bad choices makes for a confident youngster. Encourage teens to never go out alone, as there is safety in numbers. If your child is old enough to go out alone, demand to know the three W’s – Who he is with, Where he will be and When he will return home. Communicate with your teen that it is incredibly smart of them to let someone know who, where and when.

Let Us Help

Although talking to your child about safety can be unpleasant to downright daunting, it will pay off in prevention. Healthy Steps Pediatrics is helping to grow healthy children one step at a time. If you need advice teaching your child to be smart, strong, and safe, call 678-384-3480.

How To Stop The Summer Slide

By Mary B. Hammock, MSN, CPNP

How To Stop The Summer Slide

Summers bring water parks and beach trips, picnics and barbecues, and hopefully, rest and relaxation. For children, it can also bring the “summer slide.” This is name given to the period of time that little brains sit idle in the summer. According to the National Summer Learning Association, “A conservative estimate of lost instructional time is approximately two months of the school year…It’s common for teachers to spend a least a month re-teaching” the forgotten material at the start of the next school year. Families are children’s most important teachers and there are some great ways to keep your children reading, and thus retaining, during the summer.

Read – Combine – Provide – Motivate

Read aloud to your children. Reading to an infant stimulates brain growth as the child listens, looks at the pictures and begins to turn the pages of board books. That brain growth continues for decades to come. The summer months provide extra time for read-alouds at the local library or special school functions. Read-alouds help stimulate the imagination and those themes will evolve into playtime. Once children are old enough to read for themselves, encourage them to read to you. This continues to strengthen interest and appreciation of reading.

Combine summer activities with book reading. Choose books about the beach or a baseball game. Discuss what you read about over the sand castle building or over hotdogs at the ballpark. Tell your child why you liked the book, what you learned from the book, or how the book helped you and then listen as they tell you the same.

plenty of reading material. Storybooks are great for young readers but informational material may spark interest in constellations, underwater sea animals or dinosaurs. Older readers may be interested in magazines and newspapers. Books that teach children how to make or do something will do wonders to break the boredom. A weekly trip to the library will keep reading materials fresh.

Motivate your children to be active readers. Leading by example helps teach children the “skill and will” to learn. Reading for enjoyment can get lost among the job-related reports and journal articles but when nearly half of all young adults are not reading for pleasure, it is imperative to turn off the television and curl up with a good book.

A Real Book Does Wonders

A recent study published in The Reading Teacher revealed findings that are suggestive the E-Books may not be the best way for young readers to read. It seems that the multitude of features may be interfering with the comprehension of the text. Certain flourishes, including creatures that emit noise and move around the screen or birds that flutter and sounds playing in the background, cause comprehension to fragment. E-books can also lead to less time reading overall. Another study cited that children spent 43% of their e-book engagement time playing games embedded within the e-books rather than reading the text. It is imperative to review E-books for the best reading opportunities for your children.

Learning Is Fun!

Children who do not read over the summer will hit that “summer slide” and lose up to two months of learning. You and your children need to keep reading this summer and keep the learning fun. So, grab a good book and take it along to the beach, the pool, and the picnic. Enjoy! Healthy Steps Pediatrics is helping to grow healthy children one step at a time. Call 678-384-3840 to schedule your children’s summer check-ups.

Helping Children Deal With Grief

By: Mary B. Hammock, MSN, CPNP

Helping Children Deal With Grief

There is evidence all around us that children are not little adults. That is certainly noted in the grieving process. Most young children don’t understand, nor can explain death, but most young children are aware of it. Death and loss are all around them – cartoons, video games, and movies. Some are also aware of the death of a pet or the loss of a loved one. Death is often a confusing process for children but giving guidance through the process can equip children with the coping skills needed for healing.

We All Grieve Differently

Everyone grieves differently, especially children. Children express over 100 acknowledged symptoms of grief. Quick-changing moods are common in children and playing often helps children cope. Symptoms tend to come and go for children. A child that cries and then runs off to play doesn’t indicate the child is no longer sad. That can simply be a defense mechanism to prevent from feeling overwhelmed –overwhelmed by loss, lack of routine, fatigue, the number of people visiting or new people present in the home. Crying, lethargy, sadness, bargaining, anxiety, anger, numbness and denial are common symptoms of grief, as well as learning and attention issues, decreased performance in school or activities, behavioral problems including irritability, arguing, and fighting, and disengaging from friends and family.

Asking Questions

Children learn by asking questions. When a child asks questions about death, even the hard ones, it is important to provide sensitive, age appropriate answers. Avoid telling them un-truths to buffer them from the loss. Think about the age group you are talking with. Telling a preschooler that “Papa passed” or overhearing a mom tell someone “I lost my husband” may lead the child to believe the person will return or simply needs to be found. When a child questions what happened, use concrete words such as “died” instead of vague terms like “passed away.”

Stages of Grieving

Children grieve in stages as they grow and brain development occurs. Comprehension increases as thinking becomes more abstract. Younger brains tend to be more protective and may produce mild symptoms. Times of stress and hormone development can make children vulnerable to reviving grief and may lead to major symptoms.

Encouraging children to express whatever they are feeling is important. Sometimes, it easier for a child to express him or herself through drawings or through play. It is important to simply talk with children about the person who died. Share what you remember about the person and encourage the child to share memories as well. Talking about the person who died will give the child permission to share feelings and it will tell the child that you are hurting as well and you can provide comfort to each other. Listening without judgment is extremely important. Don’t try to fix or evaluate a child’s feelings and avoid phrases such as “it will get better,” or “I know how you feel.” This can quickly negate the child’s feelings. Validating their experiences and emotions through open-ended questions and reflections will help a child to regain a sense of safety, balance and control.

In Conclusion

Prepare a memory box with and/or for your child. Put photos, special items and keepsakes in the box and place it in a special place for your child. Write down your own memories and help to record the child’s memories for them to review later. Be available to go through it with the child as often as they like.

It is equally important that parents don’t ignore their own grief. It is imperative to discuss your own grief and emotions with your friends, family, and support groups as needed. Parents never intend to forget a child’s grief but it can easily happen, especially if they are grieving for a child or over an unexpected loss. School teachers, church leaders, friends, and extended family can all play a role in supporting and encouraging a child through the difficult times so don’t forget to ask for help.
The important thing is to recognize that no matter how or when it happens, grief will eventually hit and a child will need to experience it to heal. Be available to love, listen and role model for your child. Healthy Steps Pediatrics is helping to GROW healthy children one step at a time. If you feel your child is suffering through the grieving process, call 678-384-3480 for a consultation today.

Do You Discipline or Punish?

By Mary B. Hammock, MSN, CPNP

Do You Discipline or Punish?

Punishment controls behavior by using pain or unpleasantness to end a wrong behavior. Thousands of studies show that punishment teaches fear, aggression, and avoidance. Punishment is typically carried out in anger, frustration or in an attempt to establish dominance and immediate obedience. If your goal is to change a negative behavior, punishment should be the last tactic you choose.

What is Obedience Worth?

A high value is placed on obedience. Discipline helps teach children a value system and the benefit of doing what is right. It builds self-esteem, teaches responsibility and helps to develop self-control.

When to Disciplin

While it is very important to be swift and consistent in disciplining, try not to correct your child in front of others, including grandparents. This will embarrass your child and likely cause resentment, just as you wouldn’t want your boss to correct you in front of your peers.

You are The Example

As always, set a positive example. If it is not appropriate for your child to scream at his brother or call him names, don’t lead by bad example. If you find it appalling that your four year old slapped her friend because she took her red crayon, be sure she is not being slapped or spanked as a discipline method in your home.

A Great Tool For Obedience

Another tool to obedience is to teach and to practice. Children are not mind readers and were not born knowing how to clean their room, pick up their toys or clean off the table – especially to our particular liking. Tell your child why it is not acceptable, demonstrate the correct way to do the job and practice until they get it right. And of course, the power of praise will reinforce the great job that was done. Sometimes it is necessary to practice on your schedule and not theirs. Waking them at seven on a Saturday morning to practice cleaning their room can have more of an impact than 4 o’clock on a Thursday.

Children Want To Be Important Contributors

Children are more likely to choose positive behaviors and choices when they see themselves as capable individuals and responsible community members. Parents using positive language can help children build that self-perception. Name concrete, specific behaviors your child is displaying. “I was really proud when you gently took your sister’s hand and walked with her through the parking lot” is more effective than “Good work.” It is equally important to use a warm tone and avoid being over sentimental. “Thank you for inviting your brother to play the game with you” is more appropriate than “You are mommy’s good girl.” As a bonus, your language helps those within earshot form a positive perception of your child, which further enhances your child’s self-perception and promotes positive behavior.

Being a good parent is a full-time job. Rewards can come slowly in the trenches of daily life. It is easy to get overwhelmed and exhaustion can lead to poor choices resulting in punishment, instead of discipline. No change comes quickly but even small changes in your disciplining methods will result in big changes in your child’s obedience and self-worth. Healthy Steps Pediatrics is helping to grow healthy children one step at a time. Call 678-384-3480 for your appointment today.