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How to nurture your child’s mental health

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You can’t protect your kids from stress and difficult times. But you can help them develop good self-esteem and give them the tools to cope with adversity in a healthy manner.

As parents, we want our kids to be happy. But no matter how hard we try, we can’t guarantee their happiness. What we can do, however, is help them build a strong foundation for lifelong mental health.

To support good mental health, parents can help kids feel good about themselves, develop healthy strategies for coping with difficult times and strive for physical health. Parents should also be able to recognize the signs of more serious mental health problems—and know where to go for help.

Building Self-esteem

Kids with good self-esteem are happier, says Jane Meschan Foy, MD, FAAP, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) who served on the Mental Health Leadership Work Group and is a professor of pediatrics at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. “They are also less subject to peer pressure and able to make better decisions under stress.”

To help children build self-esteem, parents can:

Offer sincere encouragement and praise.
It’s important to acknowledge kids’ efforts—not just their accomplishments. Be descriptive in your feedback—for example: “Good job turning your book report in on time. You included a lot of great details about the main character.” Try to avoid vague feedback, like: “You’re so smart!” or “You’re terrific!”

Give Kids age-appropriate responsibilities.
Help children develop a sense of purpose and contribution by giving them age-appropriate tasks that matter. Then, let them do the job without your constant supervision.

Let them know they belong.
Every child needs one-on-one time with parents, Dr. Foy says. This should be a time when phones, TVs and computers are shut off.

“Even if it’s just 10 minutes a day, it should be protected and should never be subject to discipline,” she says.

Let the child decide, within reason, what he or she would like to do during that time—such as reading, singing, playing a game or just talking.

Promoting Resilience

Resilience is a key component of overall mental health, according to the AAP.

“We can’t give our children perfect childhoods, but we can help them learn from stress and loss,” Dr. Foy says. “Most children will experience some sort of loss during childhood. Many experience multiple losses—moving, divorce, deployment of a parent, death of a grandparent or loved one, or change of school.”

Each child responds differently to stress and trauma, but all kids can benefit from certain tools, such as:

Good Communication Skills
“Help children from a very early age put emotions into language and to use language to reach out to others,” Dr. Foy says. By being a good role model, you can help kids learn how to express their own needs—and to respond kindly to the needs of others.

Good Relationships
“It’s important that kids have a social network they can rely on,” Dr. Foy says. Help kids build relationships early by teaching them how to help, how to take turns, how to win and lose graciously and how to accept responsibility.

Methods for Managing Stress
For example, teach kids ways to relax, such as stretching, exercise and spending time in nature.

A Positive Outlook
“Parents can help children feel appreciative of the good things in life,” Dr. Foy says. “Draw attention to positive things about life.” A gratitude journal is a good tool, for example. For some people, prayer can also express appreciation, she says.

Minding the Body
Mental health requires a healthy body. Kids need sufficient sleep, a balanced diet and regular exercise.

“Sleep is very critical to mental health,” Dr. Foy says. “Children who are sleep-deprived may have symptoms of emotional disturbance.”

Help kids get the sleep they need by establishing a regular bedtime routine. And make sure kids use beds for sleeping only—not for homework or texting. If they have their own cellphones, have them give you their phones at a set time every night to ensure that they aren’t on them all night.

A healthful diet and daily exercise are also important to mental health, in part because they help kids maintain a healthy weight. “Being overweight is associated with lower self-esteem and more stress,” Dr. Foy says.

All children have to cope with challenges. Parents need to monitor their child’s reaction to problems and know when to seek help.

“Children will vent in different ways,” Dr. Foy says. “Some vent through misbehavior and acting out. Some internalize and become more anxious or dependent or cautious.”

Often these behaviors will pass as the child works through the difficult situation. Talking with your child and listening to his or her concerns and fears may help. But sometimes outside help is needed.

“If a child settles into a pattern of being irritable or sad most days, withdrawing from friends, or struggling academically, these could be signs that a child is in trouble,” Dr. Foy says. If problems persist, talk with your child’s doctor.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

By Lebanon Family Health Services

Recently, the American Cancer Society released a hopeful report that stated that death rates from breast cancer have dropped 34% since 1990.  This sharp decrease is a strong testament to the steadfast efforts of health advocates working to promote national and local awareness campaigns about the importance of early detection and increased research for breast cancer.  Each year, this is evident in the month of October as we recognize National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

While we celebrate this progress, the fact remains that breast cancer is still the most common cancer diagnosed among women, only being surpassed by skin cancer.  In fact, breast cancer accounts for 1 in 3 of all cancers diagnosed in women.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, 40,000 women die each year from breast cancer even though it is one of the most preventable forms of cancer.

Therefore, this month we must celebrate and build on the lessons we have learned over the past couple decades.  This means continuing to spread the word about the importance of early detection and supporting efforts that have aided countless women to take control of their personal health.  This starts with knowing the common signs and symptoms of breast cancer, such as:

  • New lumps or a lump in your breast that has changed
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Pain in the breast or nipple that does not go away
  • Flaky, red, or swollen skin anywhere on the breast
  • A nipple that is very tender or that turns inward
  • Blood or any other type of fluid coming from the nipple (not breast milk)

Along with knowing the common signs, practicing basic health and wellness is essential.  By staying physically active with regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and limiting alcohol consumption a woman can reduce her risk for developing breast cancer.  Furthermore, if you are over the age of 50, you should be getting a routine mammogram.  Finally, carefully discussing with your healthcare professional the costs and risks associated with using Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) at menopause is an essential component in maintaining breast health.

For over 40 years, Lebanon Family Health has been a local resource for women to diagnose breast cancer at its early stages and as a result, has aided them in seeking treatment.  During the month of October, help support our continued efforts to combat breast cancer by participating in our “Pink Drink” campaign.  Throughout the county, various establishments are supporting this initiative by selling their featured “Pink Drink” and collecting $1 donations from their patrons.  A portion of all proceeds will assist us in continuing to bring these lifesaving practices to the women of Lebanon County.

New Jersey man pays attention to family history, and lives to tell about it

By American Heart Association News

Sammy Rabin doesn’t like to brag but, until he learned he needed triple bypass surgery, he’d considered himself “the poster child for good health.”

He’d been exercising regularly for 30 years, ate a vegetarian diet and ran marathons.

“I did everything I could to stay healthy,” said Rabin, 65, the director of operations for a travel company in Fairfield, New Jersey. “I had to, because I had genetics working against me.”

Rabin’s father, Jack, died of a heart attack when he was 68. His brother, Arthur, died from one when he was only 46.

Sammy Rabin with his father, Jack, who died of a heart attack at 68. (Photo courtesy of Sammy Rabin)

But Rabin had always felt fit and strong and so he wasn’t concerned when he felt a mild pain in his chest in 2013 while training for the Philadelphia Marathon.

“I thought I’d pulled a muscle, even when it hurt for three days straight,” he said.

But on the fourth day, when the pain started radiating down his arm, he realized it wasn’t something to toy with.

He called his cardiologist to describe his symptoms and, before he’d even finished, the doctor stopped him mid-sentence and said he wanted Rabin in his office the very next morning.

A stress test, heart scan and angiogram revealed serious blockages in three of Rabin’s coronary arteries. The doctor said the situation was so serious, he wanted to do bypass surgery that night.

But Rabin put the brakes on that notion.

“I wanted some other opinions,” he said.

He talked to five other cardiologists, and four of them recommended surgery.

The fifth? He suggested stents, but with the caveat that, if Rabin went that route, he’d never be able to run like he had before.

“I decided to have the surgery,” he said.

Giovanni Campanile, M.D., Rabin’s cardiologist, said it’s rare for someone like him to have such severe coronary blockages.

“I told Sammy that if he didn’t live the kind of healthy lifestyle he did, he might have had a heart attack 10 years earlier,” said Campanile, director of Ornish Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation at Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey.

The bypass surgery went well and Rabin was soon walking the hospital corridors. Released after only five days, he was jogging slowly within three and a half weeks.

Sammy Rabin and his wife, Debra, at a resort two months after his heart surgery. His chest scar is visible. (Photo courtesy of Sammy Rabin)

But the recovery wasn’t without its bumps. Several weeks after surgery he had a bout of pericarditis, an inflammation of the fluid-filled sac called the pericardium that surrounds the heart. An anti-inflammatory cleared up the condition and he hasn’t had a relapse.

According to Campanile, at least once a year and for the foreseeable future, Rabin will undergo testing to measure blood flow through his coronary arteries. And, if he continues living his healthy lifestyle, his long-term prognosis is excellent.

Still, Campanile cautioned, when it comes to heart health, Rabin’s story highlights the importance of looking beyond the numbers, such as cholesterol and blood pressure, and taking your family history into account.

“Because both his father and brother died of heart attacks, Sammy knew to see a doctor when he was having those chest pains,” said Campanile. “That probably saved his life.”

Two years to the day following his surgery, Rabin ran the 2015 New York City Marathon. While his time of 5 hours, 10 minutes, 6 seconds was his slowest ever and well off his personal best of 3:36:43, he no longer keeps his eye on the clock.

He has bigger things on his mind.

“That marathon was the most meaningful and rewarding one ever for me,” he said. “After crossing the finish line, I had tears mixing in with my sweat. I felt blessed to be running at all.”

Sammy Rabin in 2015, as he neared the finish line of the New York City Marathon. (Photo courtesy of Sammy Rabin)

Ovarian Cancer: The Silent Killer

Ovarian cancer is often dubbed “The Silent Killer” because it typically goes undetected until it has progressed into later stages. Sadly, only 19% of ovarian cancers are detected in the early stages according to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. The signs and symptoms of this silent killer are often described as being vague and therefore dismissed as a mild discomfort or an annoying illness. As a result, this cancer is typically detected by healthcare providers in the later stages when women are usually experiencing more severe symptoms and the condition is dire.

While the symptoms of ovarian cancer may be vague, it is important to know what they are. More importantly, it is important to note that the persistent occurrence of these symptoms is more of a key indicator of the condition. As a general rule, if a woman experiences some of the following symptoms for more than 2 weeks, she should contact her healthcare provider:

  • Bloating, upset stomach or heartburn
  • Pelvic/abdominal pain
  • Back pain
  • Menstrual changes, frequent urination or constipation
  • Pain during sex

While family genetics does play a role in ovarian cancer, only 5-10% of ovarian cancers have a genetic link. Therefore, all women should be aware of the symptoms and have an annual pelvic exam as part of their personal healthcare plan. Ovarian Cancer is detected after a woman experiences the above symptoms on a persistent basis and a healthcare provider begins to notice a change in the size of the ovary through a rectovaginal pelvic exam. If ovarian change is suspected, a transvaginal sonogram or a blood test called a CA-125 may be ordered. However, it is important to note that the “Pap Test” does not detect ovarian cancer. Pap tests detect the early stages of cervical cancer.

For over 40 years, Lebanon Family Health has been helping women to take control over their personal healthcare with affordable access to annual pelvic exams and pap test screenings.   We offer free and low cost services based on income and accept some insurance plans. Making an annual well-woman exam is something all women can do to take control of her personal health. Call 273-6741 to schedule an appointment or visit our web site at

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