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Health Tips for Parents

2006 Issues

How can I help my child transition from summer to school?

Changes and transitions—especially during back-toschool time—can be stressful for children. Children generally show signs of stress based on their age and maturity:
Children in early-elementary school often worry about separation from a parent and may become clingy with parents.
Children in mid-elementary school may start worrying about how well they fit in or how they stack up against others in terms of academics, sports and social standing. Worries about natural disasters, their own health and safety, or the safety of others are also common.
Pre-teens and teenagers are consumed with how they fit in and often feel stress about academic performance or social evaluation and acceptance. They may also worry about decisions they made in the past and conflicts they perceive in the future.

Parents of younger children can help by asking what they are most concerned about and then help demystify the cause of their worries. For example, in response to back-to-school worries, it may be helpful to drive by the school, meet the teacher in advance or arrange play dates with classmates. Parents of older children can help by inviting the child to take stock of his or her achievements in the past few years to help boost confidence.

Anxiety: Cause for concern
According to John Piacentini, Ph.D., a clinical child psychologist and director of the Child OCD, Anxiety and Tic Disorders Program at UCLA, an estimated 10-15 percent of children and teens suffer from a formal anxiety disorder. Parents who suspect that their child has a more serious anxiety should look for subtle changes in the child’s behavior and should pay close attention if they notice that their child continues his or her unusual behavior longer than a few days.

According to Dr. Piacentini, when children start avoiding certain situations, that’s a red flag. “Children with anxiety disorders try to avoid the stress-inducing situation at all costs,” he explains. Typical warning signs that may signal an underlying anxiety disorder may include:
• Avoiding friends • Displaying temper tantrums or aggressive behavior
• Refusing to attend birthday parties or other social events
• Seeking more parental approval than normal
• Refusing to attend school
• Being unwilling to commit to a group, such as a sports team
• Complaining frequently of physical symptoms such as stomachaches and headaches
• Initiating conflicts at home

Parents can help
“Parents should begin by talking to their child in a non-judgmental way to try to find out what their child is really concerned about,” explains Dr. Piacentini. For example, a child may refuse to separate from a parent after hearing about a death in a friend’s family or after watching a tragic story on the evening news. “It is quite common for external factors, such as a medical illness or injury or divorce to manifest itself as anxiety in children,” he says. Parents can help by reassuring their child and then helping to generate positive thoughts about school or an upcoming event. “Help give the child some control by discussing the scary situation ahead of time and creating a ‘game plan,’” he says.

If positive reinforcement and coping mechanisms fail, a more formal evaluation for an anxiety disorder may be indicated. Effective treatments—such as cognitive behavior therapy and medication— help children regain control over their lives.

This information is provided courtesy of the pediatricians at the Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA. UCLA Healthcare pediatricians are conveniently located in your neighborhood. In addition to our Children’s Health Center in Westwood, we have offices in Brentwood, Culver City, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica, and West Los Angeles. Additional information can be found on the UCLA Healthcare web site at www.healthcare.ucla.edu or by calling 1-800-UCLA-MD1 (1-800-825-631).

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