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Coming this Summer! Adolescent Mental Health: Parenting to Wellness

Adolescent Mental Health: Parenting to Wellness is a supplemental parent-education module and is part of the Thrive Initiative. Like all Thrive supplemental modules, Adolescent Mental Health: Parenting to Wellness is designed to serve as a complementary learning opportunity for parents and caregivers who have previously completed a universal parent-education program (i.e., Take Root, Sprout, Grow, and/or Branch Out).

Achieving and maintaining good mental health are as important as achieving and maintaining good physical health. Adolescent Mental Health: Parenting to Wellness offers support to parents and caregivers of adolescents who experience mental health challenges. The purposes of this supplemental module are to address specific concerns parents or caregivers might have about a child who is experiencing mental health challenges and to offer information and parenting strategies. Parents and caregivers will learn about various mental health conditions, available treatments, and strategies that could be used to support their child.

Seeking mental health support can be an important element as you help your child return to wellness. There are different approaches to mental health treatment that may be used.

Some of these treatment therapies include the following:

  • Behavior therapies: These therapies are used to identify if problematic behavior is being triggered or reinforced by something in the child’s environment.
  • Cognitive therapies: These therapies are based on the understanding that our emotions are often influenced by our thoughts of which we may or may not be aware.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapies (CBT): CBT uses both therapies mentioned above and teaches strategies for dealing with unhelpful thoughts and behaviors that are associated with mental health disorders.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): In using DBT, therapists intend to promote current acceptance (e.g., of the current situation, of one’s own problems) and future change (e.g., of behaviors that are being used to deal with one’s problems but that are maladaptive or creating larger problems).
  • Family Therapy: This therapy refers to a range of treatments in which a therapist works with the entire family.
  • Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT): These therapies are designed to help improve one’s mental health by examining their relationships and interpersonal skills.

For parents and caregivers, consistently using skills, like actively listening, maintaining clear expectations, and establishing consequences, is critical when their adolescent is struggling with mental health concerns. These strategies are initially discussed in the age-appropriate universal Thrive program (i.e., Branch Out), but they are also reinforced in this supplemental module and presented in and tailored for specific scenarios. Mental health concerns can be stressful for parents and their children to experience so remember to communicate your love and support to your child at all times but especially when they are struggling.

Providing Support to your Child Before, During, and After a Move

In the United States, peak moving season typically occurs during the summer months when many families take advantage of warmer weather and the break between school years. Children who are faced with an impending move may experience a range of emotions – sadness, anger, excitement. If a move is in your family’s future, there are steps you can take to help your child manage the transition.

Before your Move

Talk to your child about the move. Provide your child with age-appropriate information regarding why you are moving (e.g., a new job, desire to be closer to family, tighter finances), where you are moving to, and when you plan to leave your current location. To alleviate concerns, you can share the aspects of their life or environment that will remain the same (e.g., pets and other family members will move with you, same toys and furniture) and discuss the parts of their life that will likely change (e.g., climate, school, daycare). Encourage your child to express their feelings about the move, and share some of your own feelings (i.e., excited to explore new places, anxious about making new friends, sad to leave current friends) about the move with your child. Reading books together about moving with your child can help guide your conversations and can help you explore the many emotions you and your child may experience throughout the move.

Involve your child in the moving process. Involve your child in the moving process, and visit the new community, location, or home as a family, or explore the location together online. Take time to learn about your new community and make a list of activities to do and places you, your child, and your family would like to visit. You may also want to include your child by having them pack their belongings and ask them for their help in selecting items to donate that the family no longer needs or uses.

Make time for goodbyes. Allow time for your child to have closure with the people and places they will leave behind. Schedule playdates with friends, visit favorite places for the last time, and take photos your child can put together in a scrap book or frame. Talk about the emotions that can occur when you say goodbye to friends, and make a plan to keep in touch with those you’re leaving behind. Setting up times to make phone calls or video calls, writing letters, and planning for future visits can help ease the sadness of goodbyes. For older children, online games and social networking sites can help children maintain contact with friends. If online safety worries you, there are resources you can use to ease your concerns.

During your Move

Keep some routines consistent. A home full of boxes, hotel stays en route to your new location, or an empty home upon arrival to your new place may disrupt your typical routines. Ensure some routines remain consistent, such as maintaining mealtimes, naps or rest periods, and bedtimes as much as possible. If your family has any rituals, like an evening walk or reading a favorite book before bedtime, try to continue those activities.

Manage stress. Moving is often considered one of the most stressful experiences in one’s life. Your ability to cope with the move’s planning, preparation, and execution is critical for you and your family. Ask for help when needed, ensure you get enough sleep at night, and take it one step at a time –  or one room at a time. Moving may also cause stress for kids. Be sure to take breaks, eat healthy snacks and meals, and reflect positively on the process. Additional strategies to help you manage your stress are available here.

Add in some fun! Moving is hard work. You and your family deserve a break and even a little fun while you’re in the middle of a move! Prepare ahead to provide activities for your child that will entertain them while your family is living in a packed-up or empty house or making a long-distance drive. Coloring books, picture books, and travel games that are portable do not take up much space and are easily transportable. Audiobooks, video games, and special movies for car rides can also help pass the time and keep children entertained. If your move has you traveling long distances, schedule in some sightseeing along your route. Visiting national parks, museums, or historical monuments may help to break up the trip and may allow your family to see or do things you may never have experienced.

After the Move

Get settled and explore your new community. Unpack your child’s bedroom first to help them feel settled in their new home. Build in time to begin to visit the places you explored while you were preparing to move. Schedule a tour of your child’s new daycare or school to familiarize your child with their new environment. Introduce yourself to neighbors; join a local gym, community center, or spiritual space; and engage with community members (e.g., local store owner, restaurant server) to make your new area feel more like home.

Help your child adjust to their new environment. Establish routines at home such as mealtimes, chores, and bedtimes to create a sense of normalcy for you and your child. Create opportunities for your child to meet others, such as going for a bike ride in your new neighborhood, visiting a local park, or enrolling in a new sport or activity. Practice skills that can help your child make new friends, such as role-playing how they can introduce themselves to new friends and how to invite new friends to play with them. For school-age children, being the new kid in school can be an uncomfortable feeling. You can help ease the transition by maintaining open communication with the new school and providing encouragement and reassurance to your child. Additional tips for adjusting to a new school are available here.

Check in with your child. It may take some time before your child feels settled in their new home or school. Talk with your child to learn how they are adapting to the move. Note any challenges such as academic struggles, lack of friends, or prolonged negative feelings (e.g., anger or sadness) that won’t subside. Seek professional help if needed. School counselors; your family doctor; or, for military families, non-medical Military and Family Life Counselors can offer a listening ear and additional support to you and your family.

Moving can be difficult, but it can also be an opportunity to foster resiliency. With some planning and preparation, you can help make your next move a positive experience for all members of your family.

Children’s Books about Moving 

Picture Books

  • Dear Tree Frog, By Joyce Sidman
  • Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away, By Meg Medina  
  • Goodbye, Old House, By Margaret Wild
  • Hello, New House, By Jane Smith
  • Moving, By Janine Amos
  • Moving Day, By Ralph Fletcher
  • Ten Beautiful Things, By Molly Griffon
  • Yard Sale, By Eve Bunting

Chapter Books with Characters Experiencing a Move

  • Anastasia, Again!, By Lois Lowry
  • Back to School, Mallory (Mallory Series #2), By Laurie B. Friedman
  • Lost and Found, By Andrew Clements
  • New Kid in School (Ellie McDoodle Diaries Series), By Ruth McNally Barshaw
  • The Kid in the Red Jacket, By Barbara Park

Journals about Moving for Children and Teens

  • My Very Exciting, Sorta Scary, Big Move: A workbook for children moving to a new home, By Lori Attanasio Woodring, Ph.D.  
  • The Essential Moving Guided Journal for Teens: My Life and My Thoughts Before and After Moving, By Sarah Elizabeth Boehm  

The Division of Responsibility in Feeding

What is the Division of Responsibility in Feeding? 

The Division of Responsibility model, created by Ellyn Satter, is a feeding method that is used to encourage children to trust and use their natural hunger cues and instincts when eating (Ellyn Satter Institute, 2015). This approach gives responsibilities to the parent and the child: parents decide what food is served, when it’s served, and where their child will eat the food; children decide how much they want to eat and whether they will eat the food (Ellyn Satter Institute, 2015).  

What are the benefits of using this method? 

Mealtimes can be different for every family, but this approach can be incorporated into any family mealtime – breakfast, snack, dinner. When using this method, parents allow their child to make decisions, which can be a positive experience regardless of the child’s age. In addition, family meals can influence a child’s food-related behaviors. For example, when families share a higher frequency of family meals, research indicates that family members’ fruit and vegetable consumption increases and fried foods and soft drinks consumption decreases (Neumark-Sztainer et al., 2003). When parents provide healthy food options for their families, children begin to learn life-long, healthy eating behaviors.  

Family meals also provide a time for bonding that allows children to connect with individual family members and for the family to connect. Regularly scheduled meals can manage children’s expectations around food and can help children feel safe, loved, and secure. 

How can I start to implement this method? 

Children are still exploring their senses, including their sense of taste, and feeding times provide an opportunity to instill healthy feeding habits that could last a lifetime. When beginning to implement this method, offer new foods along with foods that you know your child will like and eat. In other words, the child is given choices but within limits. 

As a parent, you should offer a variety of healthy foods at regularly scheduled times and at a table (or location) where there are no distractions, like televisions or screens. Let children decide which of the offered foods they would like to eat. Start with small portions, and permit children to eat more if they say they’re still hungry or to stop eating if they say they are full. This removes the pressure you may feel to control your child’s eating, and it benefits children because they learn to pay attention to their internal signals of hunger and fullness. 

As your child gets older, they may become more vocal about what they want to eat during meals and snacks. Try to provide opportunities for them to help make decisions regarding what your family is eating or what they may have as a snack. For example, allow your child to help you plan a weekly menu, or, depending on their age, have them be the chef for the night. Remember, it is important for your child to start making decisions, but it is equally important for you to trust your child to make decisions for themselves and for you to be okay with the decisions they make. 

Tips for eating and mealtime (Ellyn Satter Institute, 2015): 

  • Talk to your child when they say they are full. Allow them to recognize when they are no longer hungry to help them learn to listen to internal cues of fullness. 
  • Serve as a role model and set good examples for healthy eating behaviors by offering and eating a variety of healthy foods. 
  • Eat meals regularly with your child. 
  • Offer your child healthy choices, for example “Do you want a banana or yogurt?,” to give your child the opportunity to decide between two healthy options. 
  • Remember, it can take up to 10 or more times for a child to be introduced to a food before they will try it. 

Keep in mind, you and your child have responsibilities when it comes to feeding and eating. This can help the entire family create a positive relationship with food. As your child grows and learns how to trust their own body cues, they will be able to understand what they need and make healthy choices on their own. 

References

Ellyn Satter Institute. (2022). Raise a healthy child who is a joy to feed: Follow the Satter Division of Responsibility in Feeding. https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/how-to-feed/the-division-of-responsibility-in-feeding/

Ellyn Satter Institute. (2015). Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding. https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/ELLYN-SATTER%E2%80%99S-DIVISION-OF-RESPONSIBILITY-IN-FEEDING.pdf 

Neumark-Sztainer, D., Hannan, P. J., Story, M., Croll, J., & Perry, C. (2003). Family meal patterns: Associations with sociodemographic characteristics and improved dietary intake among adolescents. Journal of American Dietetic Association, 103(317). https://doi.org/10.1053/jada.2003.50048  

 Thrive. (2017). Grow parenting program. https://thrive.psu.edu/universal-parenting-programs/grow/ 

 Thrive. (2018). Sprout parenting program. https://thrive.psu.edu/universal-parenting- programs/sprout/