Tag Archives: children’s mental health

“Shall We Dance?” How Parents Can Work Together to Teach Kids About Race

Family dancing together


This is the fifth in a series of blog posts that the American Psychological Association (APA) will publish regarding racial/ethnic socialization practices, programs, and approaches. APA is putting together a clearinghouse of resources to help parents/caregivers to protect youth of color and themselves from the psychological damage of discrimination and racism. For more information regarding APA’s new initiative and to provide feedback as we continue to engage in this series, please visit: www.apa.org/pi/res


By Shawn C. T. Johnson, PhD (Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Pennsylvania)




In the world of reality contest shows, are any more fun than those that center around dancing? On shows such as Dancing with the Stars (above), individuals with varying levels of talent pair up with others—sometimes as novice, sometimes advanced—to practice and eventually perform a set routine.  If you have ever watched these shows, you can appreciate the time and effort it takes to get the count right, keep rhythm etc.


As a racial-ethnic socialization (RES) scholar, watching these shows has also gotten me to think about another dance that goes on (and is often unnoticed) for many parents: working together to teach their child how to navigate a racialized world. Unlike faulty steps meaning the difference between staying on a show and going home, the stakes for effectively providing your child with affection, protection, and correction, as Dr. Howard Stevenson describes it, are much higher. Yet, while we often consider racial socialization one of the most critical parenting practices, there is not much that exists to help parents think through how their individual and collective skills, what they bring to the dance, can have important consequences for safeguarding their children physically, mentally, and emotionally.


So You Think You Can Dance?


Individually, it may be important for each parent to consider their styles and comfort around talking to their children about race. For example, one parent’s experiences with racial discrimination may make them more or less committed to preparing their children for potentially similar experiences. For another parent, they may still be carrying forward the messages that they were taught about race as a child, and these messages may inform how they plan to talk about race. Even experiences such as where parents’ grew up can impact how they think about race and the importance of teaching lessons to their children. So it is crucial to ask your co-parenting partner to share thoughts and feelings on race and RES.


It Takes Two…


giphy (1)


In addition to what each parent brings to the dance floor independently, how well parents work together impacts how successfully they can teach their children about race. Have you ever seen two capable dancers stumble through a routine? Oftentimes it has to do with a lack of communication. The most seamless routines are often found when communication is open and frequent. For RES, like dancing, this can mean using verbal or non-verbal means to let your partner know where you are going.


Another element of effectively navigating RES may center on discussions of role-taking or leads. Have you discussed who might be the one to teach your child what to do if they get stopped by the police, or is called a racial slur?


No Parking on The Dance Floor




Even once parents are able to work together to get into a groove that includes mutual understanding and open communication, it is important to also take a look at what is going on in you and your child’s world. Very skilled dancers may still find it difficult to be successful on a dance floor that is too crowded, and communication may become difficult if the music is too loud. Does the neighborhood or school your child inhabits make having these conversations more critical? How do the current political climate and exposure to social media change the ways in which your maneuver? How do other important people—grandparents, stepparents, and fictive kin— fit in with how we are teaching our children about race?


While RES unfortunately does not come with an instructional dance guide, and there may not be just the “right moves”, working together to teach your children about race is achievable. Share experiences and perspectives on race; support one another in co-creating an approach to talking about race; and accommodate one another when disagreements about how to proceed inevitably arise.


So tonight, perhaps after watching the latest episode of DWTS, you can pull up APA’s RESilience Parent Tip Tool, and ask your co-parent, “Can we have this dance?”




Shawn C. T. Jones, PhD, is a National Science Foundation SBE Postdoctoral Fellow in the Human Development and Quantitative Methods division at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. Currently, Shawn works with Dr. Howard Stevenson in the Racial Empowerment Collaborative (REC), which centers on applied research to promote racial literacy and empower families as a means of reducing the deleterious impact of race-related stress. He received his doctorate in Clinical Psychology with a Child and Family emphasis from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was a Child Clinical Psychology Pre-doctoral intern at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. During his time at UNC, Shawn was both a Ford Foundation Predoctoral and Dissertation Fellow. Shawn also holds a Master of Health Science in Mental from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health (2010) and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Duke University (2008).

Dr. Jones endeavors to impact the psychosocial wellbeing of Black youth and their families by: a) exploring mechanisms undergirding culturally-relevant protective and promotive factors; b) translating basic research into interventions that harness the unique strengths of the Black experience; and c) disseminating this research to be consumed, critiqued and enhanced by the communities the work intends to serve. Clinically, Dr. Jones is committed to the provision of culturally-informed child, couple and family therapy and assessment. Finally, Dr. Jones is passionate about eliminating racial health disparities, particularly those related to mental health services, which he sees as obtainable through stigma-reduction and mental health literacy interventions.

Filed under: Children and Youth, Culture, Ethnicity and Race Tagged: children's mental health, ethnic identity, parenting, parenting tips, racial and ethnic socialization, racial discrimination, racial identity, racial socialization, resilience

3 Essential Tips to Help All Kids to Embrace Their Race and Ethnicity


This is the fourth in a series of blog posts that the American Psychological Association (APA) will publish regarding racial/ethnic socialization practices, programs, and approaches. APA is putting together a clearinghouse of resources to help parents/caregivers to protect youth of color and themselves from the psychological damage of discrimination and racism. For more information regarding APA’s new initiative and to provide feedback as we continue to engage in this series, please visit: www.apa.org/pi/res


By Chelsea Derlan, PhD (Asst. Professor of Developmental Psychology, Arizona State University)


In their daily lives, children receive many direct and subtle messages involving their racial-ethnic background from others:


“But how can he be your dad? You don’t match.”


“You should put on sunscreen because you don’t want to get too dark.”


“I always thought Black people couldn’t swim. You act White though, maybe that’s it.”


Although we cannot control every interaction our child has with others, what we can do is build up positive messages that influence the effect these interactions have on them. For example, what if we had engaged in racial-ethnic socialization (RES) that involved the following messages:


“You are such a perfect mix of mine and your fathers’ cultures.”


“You have beautiful brown skin. I love how you get darker in the sun.”


“Your ancestors are Black kings and queens. You can do anything you put your mind to.”

The RES we provide can have profound effects on our children’s well-being. Here are a few tips:


1. RES is important for all children.

It is important that we talk about race-ethnicity with children – all children. A recent ethnic-racial identity intervention study provided an opportunity for teenagers to explore their culture and develop a clearer sense of what their ethnicity-race meant to them. Participating had positive effects on youth from all racial-ethnic backgrounds.

As caregivers, we can set up similar opportunities by providing a space for our children to ask questions, process, and learn. Given our unique histories and everyday realities, we will want to tailor messages based on our children’s specific culture and experiences. For example, we might choose to prepare children for bias they may encounter, highlight stories of their ancestors, or build pride in their appearance. For ideas and activities, check out 25 mini-films for exploring race-ethnicity.


2. It is never too early to start.

Caregivers often wonder when it is the right time to begin RES. The answer is that it is never too early to start. Research tells us that by kindergarten, many children already know what their race-ethnicity is, and use race-ethnicity as a way to understand themselves and others. We know that when caregivers engage in RES it has positive effects on children’s academics, behavior, and language skills.

An important thing to keep in mind is to craft messages so they make sense to children based on their age and level of understanding. Very young children tend to focus on the parts of culture that they can see, such as skin tone and hair. For example, with Black children, you might start with books or videos that highlight how all hair is good hair, skin comes in lots of wonderful shades, or that feature Black boys and Black girls as main characters. Sometimes it is easiest to simply start talking, and other times it is helpful to read a book or watch a video, and then build a conversation afterwards.


3. Don’t give up!

Despite our most dedicated efforts, there will be times when children question and/or disagree with our teachings.

I came across an article in which a mother wrote about a time when her daughter said: “Mommy, I don’t want to be Black like you.” After talking to her daughter she realized that

“… it wasn’t that my daughter didn’t want to be Black, she was simply struggling to deal with her perception and understanding of who she is. Realistically, I know how the world will view her, and I can’t shield her from it. What I can do is make sure she knows who she is, that she is loved, and that she loves herself, fully.”

Although times like these can be discouraging, we can’t give up. We have to listen, and remember that the ways our children are understanding and interpreting their experiences may not always match our own.


RES is a process that involves many lessons over time. As children have different experiences, new things will pop up. Our goal is to create a support system so they know there is someone they can go to who will talk and/or listen. It is about planting those positive seeds for them that they can water when they need to. It is an opportunity for us to show our children love and compassion, to help them understand themselves, and to prepare for a better tomorrow with our children today!


Learn more:

Start healthy conversations about race/ethnicity with your kids today. Download APA’s RESilience Parent Tip Tool




Chelsea Derlan, PhD, is an assistant professor of developmental psychology at Arizona State University. Broadly, her work examines how risk factors (e.g., discrimination) and resilience factors (e.g., cultural socialization) inform ethnic-racial minority youths’ positive psychological, academic, and health outcomes. Guided by cultural ecological models, she considers the role of family, school, and other key contexts. Her research is focused in two main areas:

(a) assessing what young children understand and feel about their culture (i.e., ethnic-racial identification), and how this plays a role in development, and

(b) examining the interplay between individual and contextual factors as they inform adolescents’ ethnic-racial identity and adjustment.


Image source: iStockPhoto.com

Filed under: Children and Youth, Culture, Ethnicity and Race Tagged: children's mental health, ethnic identity, ethnicity, parenting, race, racial and ethnic socialization, racial identity, resilience, stereotypes, stereotyping

What is One Simple Thing You Can Do to Prevent Gun Violence at School? Say Something



By Julia Mancini (Intern, APA Office on Children, Youth and Families)


It is crucial for schools to be supportive environments for youth learning and growth. Too often, they become places of violence and fear. Nationwide, it has been found that 6% of children do not go to school at least once a month because they fear for their own safety at or on their way to school1. This shows that this place that should foster healthy development can be a source of traumatic experiences. Further, violent and toxic school environments are all too common and hinder educational, social and personal development. School should be a place where children can express themselves and be comfortable reaching their maximum potential.

On December 14th, 2012, 20 first graders and 6 educators were shot and killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. This tragedy has been central to many of the conversations surrounding gun violence in schools and hits close to home for many.

Research has shown that when it comes to violence, suicide and threats, most are known by at least one other individual before the incident takes place.


Imagine how much tragedy could be averted if these individuals said something?

Say Something Week raises much needed awareness and educates the community, students, and educators through media events, advertising, public proclamations, contests, and school awards. It provides the confidence and tools to create a safer and healthier school environment. It is important to create positive dialogue around school safety in order to be proactive against community violence and fear.

Say Something Week empowers children to help others and prevent tragedies. They are taught to ‘Say Something’ to a trusted adult to prevent a friend from harming themselves or others. This programing has the potential to save lives in the communities it reaches. Though it is a daunting task to ensure that no student ever has to go to school in fear, campaigns such as Say Something Week can work with schools and youth programs to maximize their safety, learning, and potential.


What is Say Something Week?

While there is no simple solution to this problem, Striving to Prevent Youth Violence Everywhere (STRYVE) and Sandy Hook Promise are partnering to implement the Second Annual Say Something Week.

STRYVE is a multi-sector consortium of organizations that work nationally to support local youth violence prevention efforts in states and communities. Sandy Hook Promise (SHP) is a national, nonprofit organization based in Newtown, Connecticut. They are led by several family members whose loved ones were killed in the tragic mass shooting. SHP is focused on preventing gun violence (and other forms of violence and victimization) before it happens by educating and mobilizing youth and adults on mental health and wellness programs that identify, intervene and help at-risk individuals. Their goal is to honor all victims of gun violence by turning their tragedy into a moment of transformation.


How can you be a part of this?

Consider joining Sandy Hook Promise, the American Psychological Association, and thousands of other school and youth organizations for the second annual Say Something Week from October 16-20th.  To sign up, visit: http://www.sandyhookpromise.org/saysomethingweek



1 School Violence: Data and Statistics . (2017, August 22). Retrieved October 10, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/youthviolence/schoolviolence/data_stats.html



Julia Mancini is currently a junior Psychology and Criminal Justice double major at George Washington University. Julia has a particular interest in children and families and is excited to be interning with the Children, Youth and Families office this fall. Julia has been involved with behavioral genetic research through The Boston University Twin Project. She also worked as a Clinical Research Intern at Safe Shores, DC’s Children’s Advocacy Center, investigating disparities in PTSD presentations among minority youth. This past summer Julia interned for the Child Protection Unit in the District Attorney’s office in her home state of Massachusetts. She also had the opportunity to work internationally with a non-profit in Cochabamba, Bolivia that provides psychological, legal, and social services to child survivors of sexual violence.

Filed under: Children and Youth, Violence Tagged: #STRYVE, children's mental health, gun violence, gun violence prevention, Say Something Week, school safety, school shootings, suicide prevention, teen suicide, youth violence

Black Pain, Black Joy, and Racist Fear: Supporting Black Children in a Hostile World

African American father and son

This is the second in a series of blog posts that the American Psychological Association (APA) will publish regarding racial/ethnic socialization practices, programs, and approaches. APA is putting together a clearinghouse of resources to help parents/caregivers to protect youth of color and themselves from the psychological damage of discrimination and racism. For more information regarding APA’s new initiative and to provide feedback as we continue to engage in this series, please visit: www.apa.org/pi/res

By Angel Dunbar, PhD (Post-Doctoral Associate, University of Maryland)

On Saturday August 12, 2017, I awoke to images from the night before of dozens of White nationalists marching through the University of Virginia Charlottesville carrying torches and chanting “you will not replace us.”

This chant, “you will not replace us,” embodies the perception held by White nationalists that people of color are eminent threats to the continuation of White supremacy. However, this dangerous fear is not limited to self-proclaimed White nationalist. It runs deep within and across various institutions that impact adults and children alike, including the education and justice systems.

Taking in the images from Charlottesville and considering them against the backdrop of other overt and covert displays of racism in recent years, I was reminded of the intense emotionality of racism and its effect on Black children.

I imagine the level of fear it must take for a police officer to shoot a 12-year-old Black child within two seconds of arriving on the scene. I wonder about the level of hatred one must hold to be able to shoot at Black teenagers enjoying music in their car. I recall the anger and pain one feels at not only experiencing racism but also vicariously witnessing and learning about racism. And I consider the constant emotional restraint needed to remain composed so as not to become another victim of racist fear.

Unsurprisingly, parents and caregivers are increasingly concerned for the wellbeing of Black children. Research shows that:

When it seems like Black children are mistreated for expressing anger, fear, joy, or for simply existing, it can be a daunting task to figure out how to best protect them from harm while also allowing them to live and thrive unapologetically. Here are a few things to consider from the research:


Facts of Life


1. Strike a balance

It is reasonable to encourage children to control their emotions (e.g., “don’t get too upset” “don’t react in anger”) and monitor their behavior in certain contexts—such as with teachers and administrators, law enforcement, and unknown adults—in an effort to decrease their chances of being harmed or treated with bias. Research shows that not talking to Black children about racism and what they may witness or experience can actually lead to more distress later, due to the shock of unexpected exposure.

However, excessive suppression of emotions without an outlet can lead to depression, anxiety, acting out, and can even take a toll on cardiovascular health. For balance, caregivers can encourage children to feel comfortable expressing their emotions at home and with close friends and extended family.

Speaking of emotional outlets…

Carefree children running and playing in garden


2. Processing emotions is essential

As adults, experiencing or witnessing racism can be extremely emotionally upsetting. So imagine how overwhelming it must be for children, who are still developing the skill of managing their emotions, to experience or even learn about racism. Research shows that validating and being sensitive to children’s feelings of fear, anger, and sadness helps them learn to effectively cope with these emotions. It also helps to prevent depression, anxiety, and behavior problems.

Validation and sensitivity comes in many forms, including allowing children to express their feelings, comforting them with physical affection and reassuring words, and problem solving with them. Here are some questions you can ask your child the next time he or she is upset by images they see in the media or something that happened to them….

“What happened?”

“Why do you think that happened?”

“How did it make you feel?”

“What can we do to feel better?”

Also check out this blog post by Dr. Riana Anderson about how our own emotional distress to racism can impact these conversations with children.


Close up portrait of a happy little boy smiling

3. Surround children with love and remain joyful

Being discriminated against and learning that others may not like them simply because they are Black can take a toll on children’s sense of self-worth and overall health. Having positive, warm, and supportive relationships both in and outside of the home can buffer against the negative impact of racism.

Such warm and supportive relationships are a constant reminder to children that they have people to turn to and that they are loved, lovable, and have immense value. In addition to everyday love and support, sending children counter messages and positive affirmations about blackness can also boost their confidence and self-esteem.

Despite the violence against Black lives and the accompanying trauma, the Black community continues to persevere and remain joyful. In the words of activist and writer Kleaver Cruz, “Black joy is resistance.” Most importantly, Black joy is healing.



Dr. Angel Dunbar is a postdoctoral associate in the African American Studies Department. Dr. Dunbar completed her M.S. and Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies at the University of North Carolina Greensboro and her B.A. in psychology and sociology at the University of Delaware.

Dr. Dunbar is a Developmental Scientist whose research focuses on understanding the unique developmental challenges that children of color encounter and the family processes and individual factors that influence positive adaptation in the face of these challenges. Specifically, her program of research addresses the following: (1) the detrimental effects of racial/ethnic discrimination on the social-emotional, psychological, and academic outcomes of children of color, (2) the messages parents relay about race/racism and emotions in an attempt to mitigate these effects, and (3) children’s individual protective factors such as emotional, behavioral, and physiological self-regulation and emotion understanding. Dr. Dunbar’s research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Filed under: Children and Youth, Culture, Ethnicity and Race, Human Rights and Social Justice Tagged: African American children, African American youth, black children, children's mental health, racial identity, racial socialization, self-esteem, self-expression

Beyond the “Melting Pot”: Why We Need to Support the Multicultural Identities of All America’s Children

It’s that time of year again – back to school! Follow along with our newest blog series on prepping your young ones for the new school year. Most posts will focus on issues affecting children (K-12) and eventually college age youth.

By Kalina Brabeck, PhD (Associate Professor of Counseling, Rhode Island College)

At a recent community meeting I co-facilitated, a Guatemalan immigrant mother shared that, in response to the election of Donald Trump, her eight-year-old daughter posed the following question: “I was born here in the US. But I’m Latina, because you are from Guatemala. Does that mean even though I was born here [in the US], I don’t belong here?”

Embedded in this girl’s question was the assumption of a binary: She could be American, or she could be Latina/Guatemalan, but she could not be both. By eight years of age, this child has the cognitive skills to reason and think more abstractly, and to understand that identity is constant and multifaceted. Indeed, it is during this stage of development that personal identity becomes more complex (kids can understand, for example, “I’m a girl/ daughter/ Christian/ soccer player/ Latina/ American”). But after the US elected a president who ran on a platform which pitted (White) Americans against (Latino, Muslim) immigrants and posited families like hers as a threat to the United States, it is understandable why this child, despite her cognitive capacities, questions her ability to be both Latina and American.

Unfortunately, when we create an environment that leads children to feel ashamed of their ethnic identity, or to think that they cannot be both ethically identified and American, we are robbing them of a crucial protective factor that enhances their development. Numerous research studies have found that strong ties to cultures of origin, multilingualism, and multicultural identities provide cognitive, academic, social, and emotional advantages. Speaking multiple languages is linked to greater cognitive flexibility- like the ability to quickly go from playing outside to doing homework. It has also been linked to the ability to follow directions and stop/think before acting.

Kids who are adept at navigating different cultural contexts are better at taking the perspective of others and developing empathy. Embracing one’s culture of origin connects children to a community of people, a set of values, and a sense of history, all of which help offset the negative effects of racism, discrimination, and poverty. Children with greater ties to their cultural identities are more likely to value and be motivated to succeed in school. Moreover, when immigrant children are allowed- and encouraged- to bring their languages and cultures into US classrooms, White and English-speaking students benefit from learning from them. It’s important preparation for living in an increasingly global and diverse world.

The old idea of the “melting pot,” in which ethnically diverse individuals “assimilate” into a monolithic American culture and identity, while losing roots to the culture of origin, has long been debunked in the social science literature. Rather, we encourage integration– that is, adaptation to the dominant cultural and continued identification with the culture of origin. Multicultural identities, in which individuals are able speak multiple languages, navigate different cultural expectations and norms, and effectively interact with diverse communities, are linked to better health, academic, and social outcomes for all our children. Their ability to succeed in a global and multicultural world also benefits our country. Let’s not disadvantage our children, or our country, by forcing them to make a false choice.




Kalina Brabeck, PhD, is a psychologist who specializes in discrimination, immigration and trauma at Lifespan Physician Group and Rhode Island Hospital. She speaks English and Spanish and works as part of the Latino Mental Health Program team, where she provides psychotherapy to Spanish-speaking patients. Dr. Brabeck is an associate professor of mental health counseling at Rhode Island College. Dr. Brabeck’s research focuses on the effects that poverty, discrimination and legal status have on Latino immigrant families. Her work has been published in many peer-reviewed journals, books and encyclopedias. She is a member of the American Psychological Association. She is also a member of the APA’s Committee on Children, Youth, and Families.

Filed under: Children and Youth, Culture, Ethnicity and Race Tagged: academic achievement, bicultural, bilingualism, children's mental health, cultural identity, ethnic identity, immigrant children, immigrant families, multicultural, multilingualism

“But Daddy, Why Was He Shot?”: How to Talk to Children about Race Today

Facts of Life

This is the first in a series of blog posts that the American Psychological Association (APA) will publish regarding racial/ethnic socialization practices, programs, and approaches. APA is putting together a clearinghouse of resources to help parents/caregivers to protect youth of color and themselves from the psychological damage of discrimination and racism. For more information regarding APA’s new initiative and to provide feedback as we continue to engage in this series, please visit: www.apa.org/pi/res


By Riana Anderson, PhD (Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Pennsylvania)


Whenever there is news of a criminal’s non-indictment for violence committed against Black people, I run to Facebook to assess the pulse of my friends and colleagues. It’s a phenomenon that started the day after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the murder of Trayvon Martin. My newsfeed was ablaze with the desperate, despondent, and disastrous beliefs of current and hopeful parents.


“It almost seems irresponsible now to have and raise a child of color in this country.”

“Deeply saddened. Disappointed. What is the message for my sons, cousins…don’t go outside?”

“…I love you and I am scared as you guys get older.”


All parents are concerned for their children’s safety, but parents of color shoulder a particularly challenging burden raising children in a racially charged society. In particular, the messages and behaviors that parents express to their children regarding race are known as Racial/Ethnic Socialization (RES). Much has been written on RES —formal review articles, blogs, more blogs, and even more blogs—but at a time when racial conflict is especially visible via social and mass media, caregivers may be wondering what is best to say to children of color.


Although no magic formula exists for helping children of color get through the racial dynamics of our society, here are a few things that research tells us are useful:


1. Talking is both said and unsaid

You may believe that you have said all the things you want to say to your child, especially the things the research indicates most parents of color say to their children—cultural socialization (or pride), preparation for bias, promotion of distrust, and equality—but have you also noticed what you are not saying to them? If the TV is on and you are full of emotion, do you explain to your child what it is that is making you so scared and frustrated? RES is not just the explicit sharing of messages, it is also implicit—what we don’t say is just as important as what we do say. This is true for actions too – what we do and don’t do both provide models for our children. Children are always watching (and parents thought they had eyes in the back of their head!), so be mindful of what they see and how you explain your actions.


2. You have to start somewhere

Sometimes, parents can be so paralyzed by our own frustrations or fears that it is challenging to talk to our children about race. Some parents may even feel like bringing up race can add to the anxiety that our children feel about racial experiences. On the contrary, the majority of research shows that there are some great benefits to instilling pride and preparing both children and adolescents of color for the bias they will face. Children of color often have better psychological, physiological, and academic outcomes when parents use some combination of pride and preparation. We think of it this way – if a flight attendant prepares passengers for plane crashes, wouldn’t it be just as logical for parents to prepare children for the sting of discriminatory experiences that the majority of Black people report facing throughout their lifetime?


3. Do you understand your own stress?

Just as my peers indicated in their Facebook posts several years ago, a very real fear may exist in communicating with our children about racial encounters. Oftentimes, parents have unresolved stress and trauma ourselves, so asking us to provide assistance for our children can be challenging. Prior to talking to your children, it may be useful to talk to your partner, parent, friend, or therapist about how you feel.

If we as parents are not attuned to our feelings on racial matters, we may be unconsciously communicating our discomfort to our children. Indeed, children who receive more frequent messages of distrust (which can be a generalization from a personal or communicated experience) and/or equality (which may just be avoidance of racial topics for some parents) have less consistent well-being outcomes relative to their peers who receive pride and preparatory messages. Although it is important to start somewhere with our children, we may have to start with ourselves first.


Since very young children can detect differences in race and start to make meaning of those differences, it is important for caregivers to be prepared to have open and honest dialogue about the history, present-day practices, and future hopes for race in our society.


To learn more about APA’s new initiative on racial and ethnic socialization (RES), please visit http://www.apa.org/pi/res and watch the video below:


Questions for you to consider:

  • What are my personal beliefs about racism and discrimination today?
  • How is my child being impacted by the racial climate around him/her?
  • In what ways am I addressing both my and my child’s concerns about race?
  • What resources would help me to feel comfortable and confident in addressing race issue with my child?


Don’t miss our Twitter chat!

Join the conversation! APA will cohost a Twitter chat (#kidstalkrace) on the benefits of parents having healthy conversations on race with kids on July 28, 2017 from 4 to 5 PM (ET): http://vite.io/kidstalkrace

Resilience _KidsTalkRace Flyer 2.png




Riana Anderson, PhD, is a Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in the Applied Psychology and Human Development Division (APHD). Her current fellowship is with Dr. Howard Stevenson in the Racial Empowerment Collaborative (REC), which centers on cultural pride, coping and parenting, culturally specific parenting strategies, and other ways of reducing race-related stress. She received her doctorate in Clinical and Community Psychology at the University of Virginia and was a Clinical and Community Psychology Pre-doctoral Fellow at Yale University’s School of Medicine. Dr. Anderson graduated from the University of Michigan in 2006 with degrees in Psychology and Political Science. She then taught for 2 years with Teach For America in Atlanta, GA. She has also conducted community based participatory research at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD, and neuropsychological research at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Anderson aims to assist at-risk youth with practical applications of her research and clinical services, as well as through academic instruction and policy recommendations. She strives to improve the psychological outcomes for African American youth through expanded coping strategies, discovery and encouragement of alternative outcomes, culturally and contextually relevant parenting programs, and community building, participation, and collaboration. One of her goals is to create youth centers and interventions that support the mental and physical health— as well as educational goals—of African American youth in urban communities.

Filed under: Children and Youth, Culture, Ethnicity and Race Tagged: children's mental health, ethnicity, parenting, parenting tips, race, racial bias, racial discrimination, racial identity, racism, resilience

Are You Talking to Parents About Keeping Guns Away from Children? 5 Reasons You Absolutely Should

A small child staring at a hand gun within reach on a table

By Clinton W. Anderson, PhD (Interim Executive Director, Public Interest Directorate, American Psychological Association)

Psychologists are recognized as having important knowledge about psychological health and development. That is why parents routinely seek our advice on a wide range of issues affecting their children’s well-being. However, protecting children from gun violence is a rarely broached topic. June 21 is National ASK (Asking Saves Kids) Day. Launched in 2000 by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the American Academy of Pediatrics, the ASK campaign reminds health professionals, parents, and caregivers of the importance of asking if there are unlocked guns in the homes where children live and play.


Once this question is asked, a frank discussion about protecting children from the dangers of gun violence can begin. Although the conversation may be awkward, having it could potentially save their child’s life. And yes, psychologists and other health professionals are well within their rights to do so. A federal appeals court in Florida recently ruled that state laws prohibiting doctor-patient discussions of guns violated the First Amendment. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that doctors and nurses address firearm safety as part of their routine guidance with patients and parents.  As psychologists, we have extensive education and training that equip us to understand and communicate the dangers of guns in the home. Regardless of our areas of expertise or professional setting, we have a vital role to play.

Here’s why:

1. Firearm safety is a public health issue:

Gun violence has leached into every aspect of our American way of life. It occurs in every setting whether Americans are at work, at play, at worship, at school, or at home. Our efforts to prevent gun violence need to be informed by the best evidence.

2. Children often have far too easy access to guns:

Parents should be aware that guns are like Christmas presents – kids will find them no matter how well hidden they are. Many parents have unrealistic expectations about their kids’ behavior toward guns. High-quality research shows that training kids to stay away from or not handle guns does not work. We must communicate to parents that the best preventive measure against gun injury or death among children is removing guns from the household entirely.

3. Developmental factors contribute to risk of gun violence for children:

Many parents are unaware of the developmental factors that make keeping firearms in the home risky for children. For instance, they underestimate the inquisitiveness of young children who are primed to explore and test boundaries. Many don’t even realize that 2- or 3-year-olds possess the strength to pull a gun’s trigger. Similarly, during the teen years, traits like impulsivity, a sense of invulnerability, and temporary but intense feelings of despondency contribute to risk of firearm use. Some experts counsel that it is best not to have guns at all in a home with teenagers. Psychologists and other health professionals can help parents understand these risk factors.

4. Children with behavioral problems are at greater risk:

Parents with children showing behavioral health problems should consider that these problems may elevate risk of harm when there are accessible firearms in the home.  If they have children or teens with mood disorders, substance abuse (including alcohol), or a history of suicide attempts, encourage them to remove or restrict access to firearms. Arrange for the adult to talk to a psychologist or pediatrician if questions persist.

5. If guns are in the home, they should be treated like all other household dangers:

We routinely tell parents to take precautions to make their homes as safe as possible for their children. We tell them to keep household cleaners, prescription medicines, and even alcohol and cigarettes out of their children’s reach. Households and families with firearms should treat guns the same way.

  • Encourage parents to store all firearms at another location – alternate storage options include:
    • at another licensed gun owner’s home
    • in a secure storage unit
    • in a bonded warehouse for gun storage
  • If adults insist on keeping firearms in the home, emphasize that it is critical to store guns unloaded, in a securely locked location, and with ammunition stored in a separate locked container. One caveat: although locked storage provides some protection, parents should know that it may not prove effective against children’s creativity, curiosity, and persistence.
  • If their child will be spending time in another family’s home, advise parents to ASK whether there are guns in the home, and if so, how they are stored before sending their child over to play.

We all have a responsibility to reduce the risk of gun violence in America, particularly for our youngest citizens. It starts with you:



I would like to thank Susan Sorenson, PhD, (Director, Evelyn Jacobs Ortner Center on Family Violence), and W. Rodney Hammond, PhD, (retired Director of the Division of Violence Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control) for sharing their input and expertise for this blog post.


Image source: iStockPhoto

Filed under: Children and Youth, Health and Wellness, Violence Tagged: accidental death, ASK day, children's health, children's mental health, firearm safety, firearm violence, gun safety, gun violence, gun violence prevention, homicide, parenting, parenting tips, public health, suicide

[CROSS-POST] Put Aside What We Don’t Know and Support Justice-Involved Youth with Mental Health Needs


This post originally appeared on the Campaign for Youth Justice blog and is cross-posted with their permission.

By Micah Haskell-Hoehl, Senior Policy Associate at the American Psychological Association

We need to be careful about the language we use to discuss mental health and juvenile justice—and even more careful about how we meet the mental health needs of justice-involved youth.

By the numbers, the link may seem straightforward. Up to 70 percent of youth detained in the juvenile justice system—three to four times the rate among their peers in the community—have diagnosable symptoms of a mental health disorder. Depending on the individual diagnosis, the disparity can be even greater, and, particularly alarming, justice-involved youth experience severe emotional disturbance at two and a half times the rate in the community.


Yet, the association between justice-involvement and mental illness during childhood and adolescence is anything but direct. Mental illness is not the same, research has shown, as risk for delinquency and recidivism. Similarly, the evidence-based practices for treating childhood mental health disorders and treating needs related to risk for delinquency are not one and the same. Because of this, we must avoid reducing juvenile delinquency to mental illness and making statements that stigmatize mental illness and delinquency by framing the former as a cause of the latter.


As cloudy as this picture may seem, though, it should not dissuade juvenile courts, juvenile justice systems, and public mental health agencies from jumping in with both feet to help these young people. We know a tremendous amount about how to address mental health needs among justice-involved youth effectively. Indeed, a wealth of resources exist to help policymakers enact reforms and help agencies build capacity and improve practices. Below is a quick—nowhere near exhaustive—list of a few key dos and don’ts.


DO use evidence-based methods. Provide a mental health screening for every young person detained and, when indicated, follow up with assessment, treatment planning, and treatment by a licensed or certified mental health practitioner with expertise in childhood mental health disorders.


DO divert youth, whenever public safety imperatives allow it, to home- and community-based services. The overwhelming majority of justice-involved youth will respond better—including reducing their risk of recidivism—to treatment in their homes and communities. Furthermore, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program funds will cover these services, unlike those provided within secure facilities. In situations of mental crisis, law enforcement can divert individuals—even prior to arrest—into mental health services, as is practiced in models such as Crisis Intervention Teams.


DO ensure that evidence-based care delivered by a licensed or certified mental health professional practicing in their area of expertise is provided, when, as a last resort, it is absolutely necessary to hold a young person in a detention or corrections facility. Adequate staffing is critical to providing effective services.


DO adopt a trauma-informed lens. Research has found a strong association between trauma, especially polyvictimization, with risk for delinquency. Both internalizing symptoms (e.g., depression, anxiety) and externalizing behaviors (e.g., aggression, vandalism) can be manifestations of traumatic stress, though also mistaken for symptoms of other mental health problems. If traumatic stress is the primary driver of symptoms, this should inform treatment decisions and goals. Traumatic stress requires specific types of intervention and also makes the treatment of comorbid mental health needs more complicated. However, professionals need training in trauma-informed policy and practice to address these needs effectively.


DO account for the differences between boys and girls. Research shows that certain types of trauma and abuse, such as sexual victimization at the hands of family and community members and traffickers, are more prevalent among girls. This means that girls frequently have pathways into justice-involvement that are different from boys and need treatment that addresses their gender-specific background, experiences, and needs.


DON’T address mental health problems and delinquency problems as one and the same. Despite the high prevalence of mental health disorders among justice-involved youth, mental illness is not the same as criminogenic risk. While critical that these young people receive needed mental health services, they alone are unlikely to reduce risk of recidivism, which should be treated in an integrated fashion with mental health problems.


DON’T give psychotropic medications, unless they’re part of a treatment plan based on a mental health assessment developed by a licensed or certified mental health practitioner with expertise in childhood disorders. Psychotropic medications carry risks that must be weighed against their potential benefits, and clinical trials have not been performed to establish their safety and efficacy in children and adolescents. They should never be prescribed to a young person exhibiting behavioral problems for the convenience of facility staff.


DON’T exacerbate traumatic stress or symptoms of mental illness by holding youth unnecessarily in secure detention or correctional facilities. These settings can expose already vulnerable youth to chaos, victimization at the hands of staff and other young people, violence, and other potentially harmful situations, and evidence indicates that the use of secure confinement tends not to bring about desired outcomes, such as reduced risk of recidivism.


Again, this brief list is far from exhaustive and hits some of the high-points. For additional resources on evidence-based and promising best practices, program development and improvement, and funding, please visit the websites of our colleagues at the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice, Models for Change initiative, and Juvenile Delinquency Alternatives Initiative. Additionally, the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention provides grants, training, technical assistance, and other resources for agencies and policymakers looking to improve treatment for this group of young people.


With willingness, the excellent knowledge we have already, and the research that is going to further improve policy, practice, and programming, we not only can meet the serious level of mental health need among justice-involved youth, but help them cultivate their strengths, thrive, and develop into their best selves. Please visit APA’s page on Children, Youth, and Families policy, email me, or follow me on Twitter, for additional information.


Micah A. Haskell-Hoehl is a Senior Policy Associate at the American Psychological Association. He co-manages the APA Congressional Fellowship. Responsible for issues related to children, youth, and families and criminal and juvenile justice.

Filed under: Children and Youth, Criminal and Juvenile Justice Tagged: children's mental health, justice involved youth, juvenile justice, juvenile justice reform, youth in detention

Think of the Kids: Four Questions with Two Child Psychology Authors


By Jim Sliwa (Director, APA Public Affairs)

To mark Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day (May 4), we posed a series of questions to the authors of two titles from APA’s Magination Press, which publishes innovative books that help children deal with the many challenges and problems they face as they grow up.


jon-lasser-200x300Jon Lasser, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, school psychologist, professor and program director of the School Psychology program at Texas State University. He is the co-author (along with his daughter Sage Foster-Lasser) of “Grow Happy,” which teaches children how they can play a pivotal role in creating their own happiness.

Grow-Happy Cover


DrSileoHeadshotFrank J. Sileo, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and the founder and executive director of the Center for Psychological Enhancement in Ridgewood, New Jersey. He is the author of “A World of Pausabilities: An Exercise in Mindfulness,” which uses rhyming verse and illustrations to introduce children to mindfulness and how to apply it to simple, everyday moments.

Pausabilities Cover


Why, in your professional opinion, is children’s mental health so important for success later in life?

Lasser: We have different ways of thinking about success that encompass successful careers, relationships and social status. Investing in children’s mental health helps kids achieve positive outcomes in all that they do. Consider the importance of emotional regulation at work, at home and in communities. Children’s capacity to take the perspectives of others, think before acting and self-regulate serve as the foundation for effective learning and collaborating. By promoting the social and emotional health of children, we cultivate internal resources that will serve them throughout their lives.


Sileo: Early on, it is important for parents and caregivers to build healthy and strong mental health for children. Parents tend to focus exclusively on building and maintaining physical health. In order for children to reach their potential, attention must be paid to a child’s mental health. The relationship a child has with parents and the variety of caregivers can help shape the developing brain. When there is instability in brain development, it can greatly impair learning and the development of healthy and appropriate relationships with others. For a child’s developing brain, we want to nurture the growth of learning, social skills and overall physical health. When children are provided with a strong foundation early on in life regarding their social-emotional needs, we lay the groundwork for potential success later in life.


How does child mental health differ from mental health in adults, if at all?

Lasser: Children and adults have much in common. We share a need to communicate and a desire to be connected with others. Our basic psychological needs for relationships cut across the lifespan. That being said, there are significant developmental differences. For example, depression in children may be more likely expressed as irritability. Some mental health concerns for children can be best understood in the context of family or school systems. Helping children with mental health needs often requires the collaborative efforts of parents, teachers and other influential adults. We can help children by ensuring that their developmental needs are being met and that environmental demands (such as teacher and parent expectations) are appropriate.


Sileo: Children can show signs of mental health issues similar to adults. Children can receive diagnoses like adults (e.g., anxiety disorders, depression). It can be difficult for mental health providers to identify mental health issues in children. Mental health professionals have to differentiate diagnosing a mental health issue from normal child development. Children differ from adults because they undergo various physical, mental and emotional changes as they go through typical growth and development. Children have not yet learned how to cope with others and the environment around them. Moreover, children respond to and process emotional experiences differently due to lack of maturity, inexperience and brain development.


Your book is geared toward children age 4 to 8. While it’s most likely that these children will be reading the book alongside their parents who can help them make sense of the concepts, how did you go about creating and structuring content that would be accessible and useful to young minds?

Lasser: Writing a children’s book requires careful thinking about the children to whom the book will be read. For Grow Happy to work, my co-author, Sage Foster-Lasser, and I thought carefully about writing the book in such a way that young children would be able to understand. We piloted early drafts with children in the target age range and revised as needed. We also worked hard to keep sentences short and to limit the vocabulary to very short words. Chris Lyles’ beautiful illustrations are also attractive to young children and bring the story to life. Children identify with Kiko, the main character, who is a child. They also fall in love with Chico, her dog.


Sileo: I have been working with children for over 21 years. In my practice, I do play therapy and read a lot of children’s books to children and on my own. I also keep a pulse on the youth culture by periodically watching the shows that are of importance to children. When I write my books, I often read them to family and friends who have young children to make sure the words and concepts are kid-friendly and understandable. I also read my books to my patients before I send them for possible publication. In my practice, I treat children of various ages, diagnoses and learning/reading levels. This affords me a good barometer [of] whether young people can understand the book’s content and message. Kids can be brutally honest. If they don’t like or understand something, they will tell you. The feedback is always helpful to me. Kids know what they like and what they don’t.


What are some simple things that you would recommend parents of young children can do to help support healthy emotional and psychological development?

Lasser: Children thrive when they have a deeply rooted understanding that they are loved and valued, and parents who express this unconditional positive regard to their children daily are meeting a basic psychological need. That alone can go very far in promoting mentally healthy children. When parents play with their children, particularly imaginative play (pretending to be animals or royalty or robots), it encourages the development of so many social and emotional skills, such as perspective taking, communication, and planning skills. Parents can also help by allowing children to express their feelings freely and listening to those feelings without criticizing or judging. In other words, parents build their children’s mental health by being present and engaged.


Sileo: It really depends on the age of your child but here are some general guidelines:  Remember that you are their role models for behavior, identifying emotions and how to express them appropriately. Be a good listener. Communication is a two-way street—talking and listening.  Build your child’s self-esteem and confidence. When children have self-esteem, they are happier, have a sense of security and are better adjusted. When they have good self-confidence, they can learn to work hard despite challenges, learn to ask for help, and do better in school. We can show children that we respect individuality. Children have their own interests, strengths and talents. Do not compare your child to others. Play and make time for your children. Make memories, catch them being good, read with them, limit electronics and provide structure and regular schedules around bedtimes. Set limits and boundaries to make them feel safe in the world. Be consistent in what you say and do.  Lack of consistency can cause kids to feel anxious. Simple things you say and do can go a long way.

Jim Sliwa is director of public affairs for the American Psychological Association.


Image source: Shutterstock




Filed under: Children and Youth, Stress and Health Tagged: Children, children's mental health, children's mental health awareness day, emotional development, healthy development, Magination Press, mindfulness

7 Essential Tips to Help You Master Disciplining Your Kids


This is the fifth in a series of weekly blog posts addressing discipline and parenting practices. In this series, we will explore reasons that parents choose among discipline approaches, the science behind those techniques, and alternative approaches to discipline.


By Joan Grusec, PhD (Professor Emerita of Psychology, University of Toronto)


Discipline has a significant role to play in what is arguably the world’s most important job—raising children to be moral and responsible members of society. And, not surprisingly, there’s no shortage of advice about how to do it. Type “disciplining children” into a search engine and you’ll get hundreds of thousands of results. If you want a book about parenting and discipline there are thousands to choose from.

Unfortunately, there is also a lot of contradictory advice to choose from—

  • be strict but not too strict,
  • comply with your child’s wishes but don’t give in to them too much.
  • Be a tiger mom, a dolphin mom, a jellyfish mom….

So, what does a substantial body of psychological research, spanning more than 70 years, tell us about the best way to teach moral values to children?


Children learn values, both good and bad, from observing other people including their parents, siblings, friends, teachers, and television characters. They learn values, both good and bad, from talking about those values with parents, siblings, friends, and teachers. When children fail to behave well, however, parents have to turn to discipline.


Check out the seven tips below:

For discipline to work, children have to be clear about what the rules for good behavior are and they have to be willing to go along with or accept those rules.


How should parents make rules clear?

  1. Be consistent—it’s confusing when what was OK yesterday isn’t OK today.
  2. Provide reasons for good behavior that make sense and that the child can understand. Most 4-year-olds won’t comprehend discussions of property rights but they do understand that it feels bad to have your possessions taken without your permission.
  3. Have your child’s full attention. Too much anger and upset (on the part of both parent and child) is not conducive to calm discussion. Wait until tempers have cooled before talking about rules and the reasons for them.
  4. Make sure you don’t end up implicitly condoning unacceptable behavior. For example, in addition to its direct effect on children’s learning of values, discipline provides a model of how to resolve conflict. When your discipline involves calm discussion, exchange of points of view, and explanation, as well as negotiation and compromise if appropriate, you provide a good model for conflict resolution. Discipline that involves yelling, hitting, insulting, or unreasonable requests sends the message that verbal and physical aggression, along with an unwillingness to take into account the other person’s perspective, are acceptable ways to behave.


How should you get your children to accept the rules?               

  1. Let them experience appropriate negative consequences but don’t threaten their feelings of autonomy — no one likes to be forced into behaving in a particular way. Autonomy is supported when you:
    • allow choice where reasonable (for example, “you have to eat vegetables but would you prefer spinach or green beans”),
    • provide good reasons for required behavior,
    • try to understand your child’s perspective, and
    • don’t apply more negative consequences than are necessary to promote good behavior.
  2. Be accepting and caring so that your child wants to please you.
  3. Encourage your child to feel empathy by talking about the effects of their actions on others.



Joan Grusec, PhD, is a Professor Emerita at the University of Toronto. Her research interests throughout her career have focused on discipline and the development of children’s prosocial behavior. She is the author or editor of several books related to the socialization of children, as well as more than 100 book chapters and research publications.


Image source: Flickr user Bethany Petrik via Creative Commons

Filed under: Children and Youth Tagged: child behavior, Children, children's mental health, discipline, parenting, parenting skills, parenting tips, positive parenting