Childhood friendships boost social, emotional development

Newswise — As kids head back to school, many parents have heard this complaint: “None of my friends are in my class or lunch period.” And many parents have offered this advice to a distraught child: “Well, this is your chance to make some new friends.” But making and keeping friendships is harder for some children than others, and friendships are critical to a child’s social and emotional development. Friendships help children develop essential social skills, build moral support, and shield each other from bullying, notes Cynthia Whitham, licensed clinical social worker and director of the UCLA Parenting & Children’s Friendship Program. Whitham says that parents can encourage this process by asking their child about school playmates, actively networking with other parents, and helping their child arrange one-on-one play dates. She also emphasizes that the quality of friendships, rather than the quantity, is most important. The UCLA Parenting & Children’s Friendship Program teaches children the steps to make new connections, form friendships, and sustain those friendships. Whitham says, “The group teaches both sportsmanship in playing with others and etiquette in hosting successful playdates.” Founded in 1982, the UCLA Parenting & Children’s Friendship Program has served over 2000 families in parent-assisted social skills groups for children in elementary school who are having problems making and/or keeping friends. Whitham is a clinical instructor in the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute and has authored “Win the Whining War & Other Skirmishes: A family peace plan” and “The Answer is NO: Saying it & sticking to it.”

How to help your child with school-related anxiety

The end of summer vacation and return to school causes many children to experience anxiety, an unpleasant sense of apprehension that can be accompanied by stomachaches, headaches and restlessness. For most children, the discomfort dissipates within a couple of weeks as they become re-accustomed to the demands of school. While some anxiety is normal, as many as 20 percent of children ages 6-17 experience anxiety serious or persistent enough to cause problems at home and school. It’s important for parents to talk to their kids about going back to school and to keep the conversation going for the first couple of weeks, says John Piacentini, Ph.D., ABPP director of the UCLA Center for Child Anxiety, Resilience, Education and Support (CARES). Piacentini can offer tips to help reduce school-related anxiety. He is a board-certified clinical child and adolescent psychologist whose work focuses on the development and testing of effective treatments for childhood anxiety and related disorders. Piacentini has played a lead role in several major treatment studies for these disorders and has published over 240 research papers, many in leading medical journals, chapters and books. He serves on boards for several organizations, including the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. He is also past-president of the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.

Bullies: helping your child cope

Bullying can happen in school, on the playground – and now even on the Internet through social networking sites. Bullying is intentional tormenting that can be physical, social or psychological. Hitting, shoving, threatening, shunning, and spreading rumors are forms of bullying. Kids who experience bullying can suffer from depression, low self-esteem and develop physical ailments. More seriously, they may even consider suicide, as did a 13-year-old Staten Island boy whose suicide Aug. 11, 2016, was linked to bullying at school. There are few things as disturbing as finding out your child is a victim of bullying. Other than seeing signs of physical harm, it may be hard to know about bullying unless your child tells you or you ask. That’s why Dr. Mark DeAntonio, a professor of clinical psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA’s Semel Institute, says it’s a good idea to bring up the subject, even if you don’t suspect anything. DeAntonio can discuss warning signs of bullying and how to help your child deal with the situation. DeAntonio has been the director of the Child and Adolescent Inpatient Service at the UCLA Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital since 1987, as well as the medical director of the UCLA Adolescent Inpatient Eating Disorders Program. He specializes in treating psychiatric disorders of adolescence, including eating disorders, mood disorders and developmental disabilities. He is a distinguished fellow of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Protecting student athletes from concussions

As students return to school, Dr. Christopher Giza, director of the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program and a professor of pediatrics and neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, can advise parents how to help protect their children from athletic concussions and other brain injuries. He is a member of the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center and principal investigator in a National Collegiate Athletic Association-Department of Defense consortium that’s using impact sensors and advanced brain-imaging to identify possible biomarkers related to concussion predisposition and recovery.