Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Effects of Trauma on Infant Development

Thank you to our Guest Blogger Dr. Karen W Malm, PhD., Licensed Psychologist, for contributing this post!

I can remember when I started working with preschoolers back in the early 1980's and the general belief of the psychiatric community was that trauma or abuse in children that young had no real long-term effects. Children could get over those issues readily and could move forward. Infant mental health did not even exist and the concept that an infant would have mental health issues was far-fetched. When Lenore Terr wrote her groundbreaking book in 1992, Too Scared to Cry, she described how psychic trauma affects young children across the lifespan. With the discoveries in the neurosciences, we can now look at how infant brain development is impacted by learning and experience and can see how trauma can impact infants and their long term mental health.
We know infants are not passively experiencing their world, but their neurons are actively making connections and growing into neural pathways. When an infant cries and is upset, he or she is trying to communicate a need for help. In a calm mother with good parenting skills, she takes the infant and swaddles him or her closely which helps control his or her limbs over which the infant has no motor control. Then she holds him or her close to her chest where her calm heart beat can help calm the baby’s heart rate and her steady breathing can help calm the baby’s breathing, and her soft words tell the baby, “shh, there, there, you’ll be fine.” This experience goes right to his or her brain and the neural connections to learn self-calming are made. 

As adults, when we hit our head, somewhere in our brains is that soft voice, “shh, there, there,” which triggers our ability to self-calm. In a home with trauma, such as with domestic violence, the mother is not able to engage in these self-calming behaviors. Her own heart rate might be beating rapidly, her breath might be shallow and rapid, and she is struggling to keep her composure and is unable to calm the infant. The infant not only does not get calmed, but also may get more stimulated and the neurons get short-circuited with over-stimulation. Replay this scene multiple times and those neurons for regulating emotions get short-circuited as well. Infants in these trauma environments end up with difficulty sleeping, feeding problems, and are hard to soothe. They may have difficulty with eye to eye gazing and being comforted by others. With neural networking, we can see that with ongoing reinforcement of these neural pathways, an infant could “learn” these habits. This would case long-term mental health issues and difficulty with regulating emotions later in life.

As mental health experts in the field of infant mental health, our interventions involve re-teaching these self-calming skills. This involves working with the mother and helping her learn how to be a calming person who can provide safety and nurturing to her infant. She needs to learn to use her own calm body to provide a model for her infant’s sensory system and developing brain. By making new neural connections, the infant can start the process of learning to self-regulate and self-calm; a healthy step towards positive mental health.

Here is a great video to supplement this article!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Autism Awareness

 Autism. It’s a word we hear a lot, and often with mixed emotions. In fact, it makes sense, because 1 in 68 children nationally are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, making it the most prevalent childhood disorder in the U.S. (CDC 2014). It’s no wonder as a care coordinator that I get calls from concerned parents as to where to go for help.

I’m over-simplifying it, but children with autism typically have delays in language and social interactions. Here are some early indicators that your child may have autism (keep in mind that 1 or 2 from this list may not be indicative of a concern, but the more your child has, the more you may want to check it out):

·         No babbling or pointing by age 1
·         No single words by 16 months or two-word phrases by age 2
·         No response to his/ her name
·         Loss of language or social skills
·         Poor eye contact
·         Excessive lining up of toys or objects
·         No smiling or social responsiveness
·         Difficulty with engaging
·         Does not seem to enjoy or seek interactions with others

If you’re concerned, visit with your doctor. He/she can administer an MCHAT which is a simple screening tool for autism. From there, you may want to seek an assessment or evaluation. Help Me Grow can find community resources appropriate for your child from assessments to evaluations to treatments and information along the way. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

September's Aspire Parent Group

Thanks to all those parents who joined us at the recent Aspire Parent Group discussion on September 17, 2014! We had a great turn out with wonderful parents who were full of encouraging ideas.

It's so great to have the opportunity to come together to support and learn from one another's experiences. The Aspire Parent Group strives to facilitate an effective and important social connection for parents. Social connections are essential networks of support that include friends, family members, neighbors and community members who provide emotional support, help solve problems, offer parenting advice, and give concrete assistance.

During this month's group session, we all sat together, asked questions about services and their providers, and received great answers from our stellar parents! Below are the questions that were asked and the answers that were received:

Question 1: When you find “good help” or services, how do you make sure other parents know about it?
  • Social Media (Facebook groups ["The Mama Hood"], Pinterest, Blogs, Twitter)
  • Grab extra flyers for friends
  • Health fairs
  • Talk about it in a friend group
  • Tell friends in one-on-one conversation
  • Women's organizations (Relief Society, etc.)
  • Host a party and have family and friends talk about it
  • Text messaging

Question 2: What makes a service provider really, really good?
  • You can sense that they are genuine and that they care about you and your children
  • They give you time to ask questions
  • They show true compassion
  • They listen and don't judge as they try to understand the situation
  • They think outside of the box
  • They are kid friendly as they put emphasis on the kids
  • You feel comfortable because they have you in mind
  • You can tell that they want to be there and help you
  • They don’t make you feel bad as a mom

Question 3: How have services and service providers been a positive part of your life?
  • They have helped me to connect with other moms 
  • Their consistent follow-up has been very helpful
  • They have provided a nice break in life's routine
  • Their free classes have taught me and encouraged me
  • The various resources they have given me have been helpful 
  • They have provided helpful connections to other providers
  • Their caring about my child’s improvement has been a positive impact
  • They consist of people who I feel are on my "team"

Feel free to comment below if you have additional answers to these questions. We love hearing from our wonderful followers!

This monthly group is a great way for parents to learn and grow from each other. It's also a great way to get free babysitting for an hour, plus a free child's book!

We would love to see and hear from you! Come join us for the next session scheduled on October 15, 2014, at the Utah County Health Department. 

If you plan on coming, please RSVP so that we know how much material to provide! If you would like to be added to the email invite list, contact us at baby1@unitedwayuc.org 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Fall into Fun with the Family!

Fall is right around the corner! In just a couple more days you can officially start enjoying all of your favorite fall traditions.Fall is my absolute favorite season. The leaves are changing colors, the weather is starting to get cooler, football season has just started, and I can start getting ready for my favorite holiday: Halloween. It doesn't get much better than that! 

It is also the prime season for family fun. Here are some ideas for you and your family to do together this season:
  • Visit a pumpkin patch and have fun picking out the perfect pumpkin for your family
  • Have fun exploring a corn maze or going on a hayride. You can find a pumpkin patch or corn maze that is close to your home by visiting this website.
  • The weather is beautiful; enjoy being outside and go on a family bike ride or hike
  • Make a bird feeder. All you need to do is cover a pine cone in peanut butter, and then have your child roll the pine cone in birdseed. Hang it outside near a window and enjoy watching the birds come eat off of it.
  • Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies are my favorite treat to eat in the fall. If you love pumpkin just as much as I do try one of these other delicious pumpkin recipes.
  • Have a camp-out in your own backyard and make s’mores
  • Take a trip to an orchard and go apple picking
  • Make this yummy smelling pumpkin pie play dough for your children to play with
  • Bob for apples. Afterwards, you can make these tasty caramel apples!
  • Jump in a big pile of leaves and take lots of pictures!
  • Take a drive through the canyon and look at all the beautiful colors
                                                                Photo Credit         
  • If you are like me and eager for Halloween, get in the holiday spirit by watching one of these not so scary Halloween movies or reading one of  these  fun, Halloween books.

There are so many other fun activities to do and places to visit during the fall! What’s your favorite fall family tradition? 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Is your Child Ready to Start Potty Training? Find Out How to Know if it's the Right Time!

Every new parent always has the same question of...
“When should I start potty training my child”

Although most children start potty training between 22 to 30 months, every child is going to start at a completely different time.  One of the most important things to remember is that if you push your child to start early and they aren't ready then it can lead to frustration for both you and the child.  Before children can begin to start potty training, they have to be able to have the basic motor skills mastered by themselves.  Once they are physically ready for potty training then it's time to make sure they are emotionally ready! MamaOT shares some signs that your child may be ready to start the adventure of potty training:

  • Your child experiences discomfort when wet or soiled
  • Your child indicates that he or she has a dirty diaper
  • Your child has regular bowel movements on a fairly consistent basis
  • Your child can sit on a potty for a short time when placed on it
  • Your child demonstrates a pattern of being able to stay dry for about two hours or more at a time
  • Your child can pull down their pants independently
  • Your child demonstrates interest in watching and imitating other' bathroom-related actions
  • Your child can follow basic directions
These are only a few of the list that MamaOT shares! Check out the link to see more detailed information.

Now that you have seen the signs that your child is ready, do you want to know some helpful tips? Kids Health has a great list of how to help with the potty training process, but just remember that it doesn't happen overnight.

  • Set aside some time to devote to the potty-training process
  • Don't force your child to sit on the toilet again his or her will
  • Show your child how to sit on the toilet
  • Establish a routine
  • Try to catch your child in the act of pooping
  • Have your child sit on the potty within 15 to 30 minutes after meals
  • If your child has pooped in their pants, remove it from the diaper and put it in the toilet to teach children where poop goes
  • Don't have uneasily removable clothing on children when potty training (Overalls, lots of layers of clothing)
  • Allow your child to go a certain amount of time throughout the day without wearing a diaper. If they don't have an accident then you can reward them somehow
  • For the boys: have "target practice"
  • Reward your child with small things (stickers, stamps, etc.)
  • Make sure all caregivers (babysitters, grandparents, childcare workers) follow the same routine of bathroom time and use the same names for body parts
Once you feel ready to conquer the task of starting the potty training process, remember to be patient with your child. It will happen and every child will be different!  

Do any of you experienced potty-training parents have any suggestions or other tips that would be helpful to those parents struggling with teaching their child the tricks of potty-training?