August 10, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers! In this issue we look at an Ohio camp offering grief support to kids who have lost a loved one – one of many across the nation. The potential benefits of kids starting kindergarten later. The mobile mental health program BeMe launches a campaign to raise teen awareness of deadly “fentapills.” And Vashti Harrison’s Big is a new book designed to help Black girls struggling with anxiety and loneliness practice self-love.

Plus, The Conversation looks at how even the tiniest acts of kindness can make a difference.

An Ohio hospice runs a camp for grieving Toledo-area youth

Path Finders Camp in Toledo, Ohio, is a lot like other children’s camps, with one important difference. “[The kids] had somebody, a person special to them, die at any time in their life. So for some, it’s been recent, for some it’s been years and it could be anybody,” said Maren Simon, one of the camp’s group leaders and the bereavement team coordinator at Hospice of Northwest Ohio (HNO), which runs the camp. Though Path Finders offer fishing, outdoor games, archery and other fun camp activities, Simon told The Blade, its mission and resources are geared toward youth who’ve lost a significant figure. Families are not required to have used hospice to participate. 

Like similar camps and community programs in Belgium and in California, Virginia, Pennsylvania and other states, Path Finders offers support and healing for grieving kids. “I used to feel like I can’t do anything. Like, I feel like if I do something, I’d do it wrong,” said Madison Stalker, whose self-image had changed drastically after the death of her grandmother and stepfather. “Unfortunately, some of these children are dealing with very tragic deaths,” said Jennifer Wilson, an inpatient social worker with HNO. “They’re learning what they feel on any given day is normal. It’s normal to be angry, it’s normal to be sad. But then they also have our professional support, so they’re learning coping mechanisms.”

Professional support is readily accessible to all participants. Each group leader in Path Finders is either a social worker, therapist, or school counselor equipped with the skillset to assist children with their mental health, and there’s patience with each camper’s comfort level. “[The kids] aren’t forced to participate in anything,” said Barb Sharek, communications coordinator for HNO. Instead, the activities are intended to help campers express their grief, build relationships and raise their self-esteem. 

Is it time to transition your preschooler to kindergarten – or not?

Ever heard the expression “kindergarten is the new first grade”? If so, you may also be aware of the growing debate over the best age to send your preschooler who is barely five to kindergarten. Some states don’t really allow a debate, Fatherly reports: If your child will be five years old by September 1st, kindergarten it is. In some places, though, parents have the option to ‘redshirt’ their students, or hold them back one more year before entering kindergarten. But how much difference does it really make?

A team led by Thomas Dee, a Stanford education researcher who studied the effects of redshirting on kids in Denmark, found kids held back a year had higher self-control in later childhood. In fact, they found a 73% decrease in inattention and hyperactivity at age 11 in kids who had started kindergarten a year later — a finding that suggests that there are long-term benefits to taking things slow. Education expert Kathryn Garforth told Fatherly redshirting shouldn’t necessarily be considered for every child on the cusp, but that parents are likely the best judges.

Her advice? Observe your child and pay attention to their emotional and social maturity. “By the time children enter kindergarten, they should be able to perform self-care activities such as feeding themselves, going to the bathroom, and putting on their clothing and shoes independently,” said Garforth. Just as importantly, they should be able to separate from their parents and advocate for themselves. If a child is not ready to ask for help, their transition could be a tough one — and preschool may be the better choice.

As you watch your children suffer mental distress, your own health may decline

As Sarah Delarosa’s daughter has transitioned in and out of treatment for bipolar disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, attempted suicide, and ADHD, her own health worsened. Thus far, Delarosa has survived mini-strokes and stomach bleeding, neither condition helped by the stress of missing hours from work to manage both her and her daughter’s care. Lately, even her youngest son has started acting out, she told CBS News. “Access to help, when it’s needed, it’s not available,” Delarosa said. “Now we have a whole family that needs help.

The mental health crisis being experienced by youth across the nation is reverberating across generations: The stress of working while trying to support and get care for a struggling child can have a detrimental effect on parents’ physical and mental health. “When you are worrying about whether or not your child is going to survive the day, you are constantly living on edge,” said Christine Crawford, associate medical director at the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Your fight-or-flight is constantly activated.”

Evidence-based research shows that the most effective child mental health therapies should include the parents. In example, it should stretch beyond simply coaching children to manage a child’s difficult behavior. It should also include active support for parents’ mental wellbeing. “I have so many parents sit across from me on the couch and cry,” said behavioral health specialist Danielle Martinez. “They felt so alone, felt like bad parents, felt like giving up…and then felt guilty for wanting to give up.” In an effort to more directly offer parents help, her hospital is creating peer support groups for family members whose children are under their care.

In other news…

BeMe, a mobile mental health program and app designed especially for teens, has launched a campaign to raise awareness about “fentapills,” a type of deadly synthetic drugs. They’ve partnered with Song for Charlie, a nonprofit named in honor of Charlie Ternan, who died after ingesting one such pill. As part of their efforts, they’ve released a series of resourceful videos on YouTube, ranging from 90-second PSAs defining fentapills, to one-hour long discussions with pediatricians and therapists on how to talk to children and teens about fentanyl and substance use. In addition, episode 20 of BeingMe: A Teen Mental Health Podcast offers an in-depth look at the fentanyl epidemic.  

Award-winning author/illustrator Vashti Harrison may have another hit on her hands with Big, her latest effort to help Black girls practice self-love. “Big was inspired by a lot of things,” Harrison told Kindred by Parents magazine. “Part of it comes from a desire to speak to a younger version of myself that needed to be seen, witnessed, and heard, sort of in a sadness, loneliness, and anxiety that I felt as a child, but also, you know, I wanted to be able to speak to some larger things that affect Black girls in our society, including adultification bias and anti-fat bias.” Check out the book from your favorite library or pick up a copy wherever books are sold. 

Even your tiniest, most random acts of kindness make a big difference. But it turns out, from childhood, we humans tend to underestimate their impact. According to this column in The Conversation, doing good to others is good for us all – giver and receiver – in more ways than one. Not only does an act of kindness improve our mood, but the connection it invites may also be a solution to our current loneliness epidemic.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.

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Type of work:

Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter and freelance writer. She is the host of COVID Diaries: Stories of Resilience, a 2020 project between WDET and Documenting Detroit which won an Edward R. Murrow...