Stressed-out Kids in School

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While some kids can’t wait to go back to school, others get stressed-out by the very thought. Erika Feldpausch, a behavioral health therapist, informs us what parents should look for and how they can help.

Ted Simons: Some kids can't wait to go back to school. Others get stressed out by the very thought. Bullying, peer pressure -- kids face quite a lot. Here to tell us what parents should look for and how they can help is Erika Feldpausch, a behavioral health therapist at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center. Good to have you here Thanks for joining us.

Erika Feldpausch: Thanks for having me, Ted.

Ted Simons: The impact of school on behavioral issues with kids, talk to us about that.

Erika Feldpausch: Well, for children, adolescents especially, their peer group is the most important group to them. This is at the stage where they're starting to pull away from their families and starting to develop their own self-identity, and right now, the identity is depending on whether they fit in with their peer group and whether they are wearing the cool clothes, whether they know how to wear their hats and speak the right type of language. And so it's important to them their peer group.

Ted Simons: And I know things like bullying, that's a biggie. I want to get to that and you mentioned peer pressure and trying to fit in the stress of being a new kid in school. For most people, they thought of school days as this, that and the other, but for some, it's trying stuff.

Erika Feldpausch: Very much so. It causes a lot of anxiety, a lot of fear and worry. And they often find themselves--asking them what we call distortive thoughts in the field of behavioral health. Catastrophizing; what-iffing. "What if I go to school, and this happens?" "What if I go to school, and nobody invites me to sit with them at lunch in the cafeteria?" "What if this person isn't nice to me." And, I would say, the best way to address this with children is to talk openly with them, and have a dialogue and understand the concerns and not dismiss them, saying, "You'll get over it; you'll be fine." To help them by saying if there's no evidence to support the what-ifs, then throw your mind off it.

Ted Simons: Is that a warning sign or a red flag if you start hearing a lot of what ifs or repeated what-ifs?

Erika Feldpausch: It certainly means your child has fear and anxiety. But I'm not sure it's to the length or the limit that they would need an intervention yet.

Ted Simons: Talk about signs of anxiety that might be in need of an intervention.

Erika Feldpausch: When your child starts pulling away from their family and friends, when you notice that they're no longer responding to go text messages from friends, they're not being invited to go out places or they're withdrawing from going out to the movies or the skate park with their friends.

Ted Simons: This is different than just the garden variety sullen teenager kind of activity. This becomes -- what? -- Chronic or serious or both.

Erika Feldpausch: Correct, when this has been going on for at least a couple of weeks to a couple of months, that's red flags that it's more than just moodiness; it's more than just being grumpy, It's leading toward depression and looking at that being treated.

Ted Simons: Are there triggers for suicidal thoughts and actions in adolescents?

Erika Feldpausch: Certainly, about 70% of most teen suicide attempts are triggered by some type of interpersonal conflict. Meaning if a boyfriend or a girlfriend has broken up with them. If they're not getting along with their peer group anymore, if their friends stop inviting them to go place, if a rumor starts erupting about them at school, it usually leads to them feeling unwanted, unloved, that they don't fit in and it leads to them 0having hopeless thoughts.

Ted Simons: We hear about cutting. Talk to us about that. Is that similar it a suicidal thought? Obviously, it's not suicide, but it is a damaging action.

Erika Feldpausch: Right, it is harming their bodies. To the teenager, though, they don't conceptualize it as leading down the path of ending their lives. They really -- when they're doing this, they're doing it to release stress, to release tension, to release those pent-up negative emotions and to them, they're seeing it as a coping skill to make themselves feel better whereas suicide is what a person considers a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
Ted Simons: Is cutting something, obviously it's something you need to have addressed, but is that something that often does lead to suicide? Or, again, are those different tracts?

Erika Feldpausch: I would say that if you notice that somebody is cutting to seek help immediately. I think if you notice somebody is cutting, to seek help immediately; it means that something is going on with the teenager in question that they need help.

Ted Simons: What about bullying? We hear a lot about bullying, has the concept of bullying changed over the years?

Erika Feldpausch: I would say so. Over the generations, that some people have taken kind of a walk-it-off type of approach, stand up for yourself: if somebody picks on you, you know, punch them back. And nowadays, especially after Columbine, many schools across the nation have been putting in antiviolence policies, and there's been less tolerance of somebody even name-calling, so there's aggressive bullying, physical bullying, and then there's cyber-bullying: people talking about each other on facebook, rumors starting over text messaging. And then there's social bullying: just ignoring somebody, not inviting them to the party, being the only one not invited to the party.

Ted Simons: Signs your child is being bullied at school.

Erika Feldpausch: When you notice they have a pessimistic outlook of going to school that they start to avoid it when they hadn't in the past. Not because they have a test they didn't study for, but they're starting to talk negatively about school, and also when you notice that they aren't going out with their friends as much, and start to become more sullen, depressed, withdrawn.

Ted Simons: Is -- much of what we've talked about, be it peer pressure, be it bullying, be it depression, there are signs--there are obvious signs, and maybe more subtle signs, but when -- when -- all kids go through this, to a certain degree, I would imagine.

Erika Feldpausch: Correct.

Ted Simons: When do you know the line has crossed, and what do you do?

>> When it's been persistent. When it's to a degree when it's not just one comment made that you're stupid or you're ugly or you're fat. When it's concentrated, when it's going on for an extended period of time and when your child begins to develop symptoms of depression and anxiety; they get physical symptom even like irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, stomachaches, migraines, headaches.

Ted Simons: And there are resources out there for these parents and kids?

Erika Feldpausch: Correct. If it was an emergent situation, a crisis situation, I mean this person is in danger right now, I would encourage any parent to take their child directly to the nearest emergency department. For example, Banner Thunderbird has an emergency department with a specific zone after a person gets medically cleared, they go to what we call a purple zone where they're evaluated by a board certified licensed mental health professional, and that professional can direct the parent and child into the right level of care, the right resource.

Ted: Alright, very good information. Thanks for joining us; we appreciate it.

Erika Feldpausch: Thank you for having me.

Erika Feldpausch, LCSW: Behavioral Health Therapist;

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