Early childhood is a critical time period in development when children begin to learn about their environment, develop a sense of self and explore how to express their emotions. While a huge part of development occurs prior to entering school, children continue to grow and develop as they encounter new life experiences. Positive relationships with parents help children develop trust, empathy, compassion and a sense of right and wrong.
It is important that parents foster social and emotional learning throughout early experiences. According to experts, when kids learn to work well with others, regulate their emotions and engage in problem-solving, they are better prepared to deal with life’s challenges and be more successful in school.
What Is Social and Emotional Learning?
Social and emotional learning (SEL) involves creating positive relationships and emotional connections as part of learning to help children develop the skills they need to be successful in life. SEL has often been emphasized in schools, given the amount of time spent in the classroom and the opportunities available to practice these important skills. SEL skills include having the ability to:
Strategies for Supporting SEL in Kids
Remember that life is unpredictable, and many children are learning by watching the actions of adults in their lives. Early childhood is also a critical opportunity to teach social and emotional skills. As kids grow and develop, it is necessary to prepare them to deal with uncertainty now to help them thrive in adulthood.
Visit the Therapy for Black Kids book recommendations for books on fostering SEL: http://bit.ly/T4BKbooks
A version of this was originally written by Dr. Erlanger Turner for the US News and World Report For Parents Blog
It’s important to keep in mind that sadness and depression are not the same. While we all may become sad at some point in life, depression is a mental health condition. Common symptoms of depression may include sadness for an extended period of time, irritability, sleep difficulties, lack of appetite, and problems concentrating. Given the recent increased rates of suicide among Black youth, it is important to monitor for symptoms of depression in your child. A recent study reported that Black children between ages 5 to 12 had a suicide rate approximately two times higher than their same-aged white peers (Bridge, Horowitz, Fontanella, et al., 2018). During this stressful time period, it is important to look out for warning signs and seek help from a mental health provider to help address concerns with depression or other mental health difficulties. Many providers are offering services via teletherapy or online therapy.
The National Institute of Mental Health offers these questions to ask your child to help determine whether they may be experiencing depression:
Warning Signs for Parents to Seek Professional Help
Parents have the responsibility to protect their children from all harm. Physical pains are often easier to recognize and treat than mental disorders. Still, it is sometimes challenging to identify when a child is having emotional or behavioral problems at home, school, or with their friends. These related emotional behaviors often leave parents feeling confused and unsure about how to best support their child.
In addition to concerns about depression, research suggests that nearly one in six children between the ages of 6-17 is affected by an emotional or behavioral disorder (Whitney & Peterson, 2019). As a parent, you may recognize that something is not right with your child but might have challenges in understanding the mental health signs or knowing what to do next. Because children and teens are still learning how to identify and talk about thoughts and emotions, their mental health symptoms are often behavioral. Each mental health concern has its own specific symptoms, but common symptoms in children and teens may include the following:
By observing these behaviors and listening to your parental instincts, you can voice your concerns and begin the journey of finding and advocating for the professional help your child may need.
Bridge, J. A., Horowitz, L. M., Fontanella, C. A., Sheftall, A. H., Greenhouse, J., Kelleher, K. J., & Campo, J. V. (2018). Age-related racial disparity in suicide rates among US youths from 2001 through 2015. JAMA Pediatrics, 172(7), 697-699.
National Institute of Mental Health (2020). Teen Depression. Retrieved March 25, 2020 from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/teen-depression/index.shtml.
Turner (2019). Mental Health Among African Americans: Innovations in Research and Practice. Rowman & Littlefield Publishing.
Whitney, D.G., Peterson, M.D. (2019). US National and State-Level Prevalence of Mental Health Disorders and Disparities of Mental Health Care Use in Children. JAMA Pediatrics, 173(4):389–391.
Originally written by Dr. Erlanger Turner and Dr. Thomas Vance for Successful Black Parenting
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition related to brain development that impacts how a person perceives and socializes with others, causing problems in social interaction and communication. The term "spectrum" refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment, or disability, that children with ASD can have. ASD is diagnosed according to guidelines listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) vary from one child to the next, but these children typically have difficulties in three areas: social impairments (e.g., lack of interest in peer relationships, impaired non-verbal behavior), communication difficulties (e.g., delayed speech, repetitive language), and stereotyped behaviors or restricted interest (e.g., hand flapping, preoccupied interest). The NIMH provides a guide for parents on understanding autism that is helpful for understanding the disorder and its treatment.
Tips on Seeking a Diagnosis
The following "red flags" may indicate your child is at risk for an autism spectrum disorder. If your child exhibits any of the following, please don’t delay asking your pediatrician or family doctor for an evaluation or referral for a psychological evaluation:
While there's no proven cure yet for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), treating ASD early, can greatly reduce symptoms and increase your child's ability to grow and learn new skills. According to the NIMH, research has shown that intensive behavioral therapy during the toddler or preschool years can significantly improve cognitive and language skills in young children with ASD. There is no single best treatment for all children with ASD, but the American Academy of Pediatrics recently noted common features of effective early intervention programs.
These may include:
• Starting as soon as a child has been diagnosed with ASD
• Having small classes to allow each child to have one-on-one time with the therapist or teacher and small group learning activities
• Encouraging activities that include typically developing children, as long as such activities help meet a specific learning goal
• Providing a high degree of structure, routine, and visual cues, such as posted activity schedules and clearly defined boundaries, to reduce distractions
• Guiding the child in adapting learned skills to new situations and settings and maintaining learned skills
• Social skills, such as joint attention (looking at other people to draw attention to something interesting and share in experiencing it)
• Self-help and daily living skills, such as dressing and grooming
• Cognitive skills, such as pretend play or seeing someone else's point of view
A version of this post was authored by Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D. for Psychology Today.
This blog is maintained by Therapy for Black Kids.