Tag Archives: stress

The Hidden Population of Caregiving Youth in Our Schools



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 Ann Farone, EdD; Connie Siskowski, RN, PhD; & Carol D. Goodheart, EdD


As students around the country are excitedly gathering their backpacks and school supplies in anticipation of the new school year, there is another group of students who are more worried than excited…worried about the family member(s) they are caring for…”What if something happens when I am at school?”  “What if people at school find out what I do…will they take me away from my family?”


These are not carefree days for caregiving youth.


The National Alliance for Caregiving research (2005) on this population estimated there are over 1.3 million youth, ages 8-18 years, who are sacrificing their education, health, well-being and childhood by providing care for an ill, injured, elderly or disabled family member. It might be a parent, sibling, grandparent or even great-grandparent or other relative in today’s extended families.  Frequently these students are assisting more than one person.  Their responsibilities include administration of medications, transferring, bathing, toileting, cooking, translating at doctor’s visits, and anything else that an adult caregiver might do.


Yet, they are still children – developing, maturing and trying to figure out life and their futures.


“Why me?” some ask. Most do not identify themselves as “caregivers.”


A child’s job is to learn. With the challenges of academic success compounded by adult-sized caregiving tasks, how do these youth manage and cope?


They often feel isolated and alone. “Who else does this?” they wonder.  Feelings of anger, sadness, anxiety and depression are typical and normal responses to tough circumstances.


What can be done?


A Model Program


In the U.S. the first comprehensive program to address the challenges faced by these children began in Palm Beach County, FL in 2006. At the time, many were skeptical. However, in partnership with schools, the Caregiving Youth Project (CYP) of the American Association of Caregiving Youth (AACY) began.  Youth caregivers and their families were no longer alone – others understood and would help to support their challenges.


School staff began to look at the back stories of children who had frequent absences or acted out in school. They learned that before school one student made sure her mom got off to dialysis safely.  A boy was having trouble staying awake in class. Why? He was up during the night settling down his mentally ill mother.  Furthermore, financially insecure families often do not have computers or internet access for homework help.  If the sole parent is ill, who helps with school projects, buys the supplies or advocates on their child’s behalf?  Lack of participation in school meetings may be misinterpreted as disinterest in the child’s well-being.


Interventions – The CYP has developed specific prioritized support services for student-caregivers:

  • They are identified through a screening process in grade six.
  • The CYP professional team provides Skills Building groups from 6th grade through high school.
  • Lunch and Learn sessions educate about illnesses common to care receivers such as heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and autism.
  • CYP staff participates in School Based Team meetings, working with school counselors to identify student issues and collectively strategize solutions.
  • The home visit results in linkages to resources to strengthen families and reduce stress on youth.
  • Sponsored activities, including an overnight camp, provide caregiving youth time to bond with each other and experience childhood fun.


Our Changing Society

Not everyone agrees that a child should be in the role of a family caregiver. However, changes in family composition and healthcare delivery impacts children:

  • There are more single parent as well as multi-generation households.
  • Complex care, formerly delivered in medical facilities, is now done at home.
  • Managed care programs have decreased home care support.
  • More grandparents are raising grandchildren with little consideration for illness or disability affecting that family unit.


Particular Risks for Caregiving Youth

We must face the realities of youth caregivers’ lives, recognize their valiant work, and strive to reduce their worries so they can focus on learning.


Risk of invisibility – Few people are aware that the numbers of youth caregivers far exceeds those in the foster care system. They face the risks for school drop-out, depression, anxiety, physical injury, trauma, abuse, grief, loss of normal developmental and social activities.


Risk of not meeting school expectations – signs of caregiving may include tardiness, absences, incomplete assignments, non-participation in school events, distraction or inability to focus, lethargy, unkempt appearance, and being isolated, anxious or bullied.


Risk of school dropout – the Civic Enterprises Silent Epidemic (2006) reported that among young adults who had dropped out of school, 22% said it was to care for a family member.  Others reported dropping out for financial reasons.  Did these young people have to go to work because mom or dad was no longer able to work?


Risk of exposure – Families may fear that if others knew their child was providing significant care, the child would be removed from the home. They do not know about possible resources to support their family.


Risk of role “blindness” – Parents may not be aware of the anxiety that family illness creates. The child, realizing how overwhelmed the family already is, may not share his/her own feelings or concerns.  Also, when an adult in the home is employed, the adult may not fully appreciate all the caregiving the child is doing when the parent is not home.  “But, I’m the caregiver” a parent said until asked if her son gave medications or assisted with feedings; then the mom realized that he too was providing care.


All caregivers within a family deserve recognition and support!


Educators, counselors, school nurses, psychologists and others can help by identifying and then supporting a caregiving student.




American Psychological Association, Connecting with Caregivers:  http://www.apa.org/pi/about/publications/caregivers/consumers/index.aspx

American Association of Caregiving Youth: www.aacy.org or call 800-508-9618 or 561-391-7401 for direct assistance. The AACY website has suggestions and links that can help families, professionals and school-based staff to assist these vulnerable students.

View short videos of real caregiving youth as broadcast on national TV via the home page of www.aacy.org


Help caregiving youth to gain recognition and support by sharing this blog post.




Ann Farone, EdD, is the Director of Education Services at the American Association of Caregiving Youth (AACY). With over four decades of experience in the field of education, Dr. Farone began her career as a teacher in NYC. She has also been the Program Director for the NYS Department of Education, Assistant Dean of the Graduate School of Education & Human Services at St. John’s University, and as a Principal in NY & FL.

Connie Siskowski, RN, PhD, is founder of the American Association of Caregiving Youth (AACY). She was named as a Purpose Prize winner in 2009 and a top 10 CNN Hero in 2012. She went to nursing school at Johns Hopkins University and holds a PhD in Public Administration from Lynn University. She founded AACY in 2006.

Carole Goodheart, EdD, earned her doctorate in Counseling Psychology at Rutgers University and is a licensed psychologist practicing in Princeton, New Jersey. She was the 2010 President of the American Psychological Association. She is also a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, a Distinguished Practitioner in the National Academy of Psychology, a Registrant in the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology, and the recipient of national and state Psychologist of the Year Awards from Psychologists in Independent Practice and from the New Jersey Psychological Association, as well as the recipient of the Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement in the Practice of Psychology.


Image source: iStockPhoto.com


Filed under: Aging, Children and Youth Tagged: academic problems, caregiving, caregiving youth, Education, school absences, stress

A Tale of Two Tantrums

Young boy having a temper tantrum

This is the second 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 E. Durrant, PhD (Associate Professor of Family Social Sciences, University of Manitoba)


Picture this: You are in a store.  Two young children are nearby with their parents.  Each of them suddenly erupts into a tantrum.  Your intense irritation leads you to utter, “What those kids need is some good, old-fashioned discipline!”  In that moment, you want those parents to make those children stop crying and do whatever it is that their parents have told them to do – now!


When our emotional brain reacts to an aversive event, it ignites an intense desire to regain control, driving us toward coercion and punishment. This is a reaction to the immediate moment.  Think of it as looking through a camera lens that is ‘zoomed in’ on a small part of the scene, showing you only the irritating behavior.


Now ‘zoom out’ to see more of the scene, and what preceded it. You see that one child has had a nasty flu for several days.  You see the other child’s father speaking to her in American Sign Language.  She’s been trying to explain her feelings to him through signs, but he hasn’t understood her.  Your perspective shifts and you realize that these two tantrums are happening for very different reasons: the first because of exhaustion, the second because of frustration.  You quickly realize that punishment wouldn’t help in either situation because it wouldn’t address the actual issues.


Interestingly, the Latin root of ‘discipline’ is discere, which means ‘to learn’ or discipere, which means ‘to grasp intellectually.’  Discipline is about learning, understanding, processing, resolving – actions taken by the child, not done to the child.  It is an active state of constructing knowledge.  But how do you foster this when you and the child are both stressed out?


1. Think long-term

The way we respond to stress is what the child is learning to do. The child is likely to attend to, process, remember and re-enact our response at a later time. How do you want your child to respond to conflict with peers? Keep this foremost in your mind.



2. Reduce the stress

Over recent years, we’ve learned about the importance of ‘self-regulation’ – our ability to calm ourselves when we’re upset. When we can calm ourselves, we can zoom out and see more of what’s going on, helping us to respond constructively and fostering the development of self-regulation in the child.


3. Think about how the child sees the situation


When we’re frustrated, we tend to attribute blame to the child – “He’s defying me;” “She’s misbehaving on purpose.” This feeds our anger and our drive to punish.  But the child also has a perspective on the situation.  The child could be tired, hungry, unable to express herself, frustrated by our behavior, or not yet able to self-regulate.  When we consider the child’s perspective, we’re more likely to respond constructively.  And when we model perspective-taking, we nurture that ability in the child.


4. Ensure the child’s physical and emotional safety

Adults’ first responsibility to children is to keep them safe. When children are scared or anxious, they aren’t able to take in information, process it and remember it the way we hope they will. The might remember how scared they felt in that moment, but this is not the same as constructing knowledge or understanding. We learn best when we are calm and open to new information.


5. Involve the child in resolving the situation


Taking things away, isolation and other punishments don’t help the child to acquire skills. When we talk with the child about our perspective and theirs, and ask them for their ideas about how it can go better next time, we are helping them practice conflict resolution, as well as nurturing their insight.  ‘Discipline’ is a participatory process that helps children gradually learn how to solve problems without aggression or coercion.


Check out these resources, to learn more about:




Dr. Joan Durrant is a Child-Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor of Family Social Sciences in the Faculty of Human Ecology at the University of Manitoba.  Dr. Durrant’s research focuses on the psychological, cultural, legal and human rights dimensions of corporal punishment of children in Canada and worldwide. She was the principal researcher and co-author of the Canadian Joint Statement on Physical Punishment of Children and Youth.


Filed under: Children and Youth Tagged: child development, conflict resolution, discipline, emotional development, emotional health, parenting, parenting tips, punishment, self-regulation, stress, stress management

How Mindfulness Can Lower Your Stress and Anxiety in 2017

Sharing their spirituality

By Tiffany Chiu (APA Minority Fellowship Program Office Intern and Undergraduate Student at University of California, Irvine)

It’s a new year and we know that 2016 was a stressful year for many of us. Thinking of a way to manage your stress and anxiety in the year ahead? Practicing mindfulness may be the answer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2010 about 9 percent of Americans reported feelings of hopelessness or despondency associated with depression (CDC, 2010). How can we overcome such negative emotions? Prescription medications help many to alleviate depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. However, practicing mindfulness and relaxation exercises (e.g., meditation, yoga), may be equally as effective, if not more so, to alleviate stress and anxiety.

In a psychology study, cancer patients reported lower ratings of pain intensity and attributed pain relief and emotional positivity to praying and framing positive thoughts (Dezutter, Wachholtz, & Corvelyn, 2016). This study shows that we can all use mindfulness to build a therapeutic outcome in stressful situations.


There are three subjective themes to Mindful Meditation and Centering Prayer:

  1. Community: Participating in prayer groups can be an opportune time to show vulnerability without the fear of judgment. Having a safe forum allows us to build close friendships and share a sense of connectedness and purpose (Jones, Bodie, & Hughes, 2016).
  2. Peace: Practicing mindful meditation can also lower cortisol levels, the stress hormone (Turakitwanakan, Mekseepralard, & Busarakumtragul, 2013). Practicing mindfulness can give us strong clarity in our thoughts and peace during stressful and uncertain times.
  3. Moral Purpose: Mindful meditation and prayer can allow you to connect with your moral compass. Having a confirmation of your purpose and identity may lessen anxiety and stress in your daily life (Fear, Kenney, Loucks, McPherson, & VanOverbeke, 2005).

As a college student who struggles with anxiety, I became interested in practicing mindfulness after experiencing stigma for seeking professional help from within my community. The discrimination I experienced further fueled my passion for public awareness as a means for reducing the stigma of mental illness. To learn more about mindfulness, I conducted an independent research project on the effects of prayer practices on college students by interviewing and learning about students’ experiences with stress management.

Throughout my research, I discovered the prominent roles that mindfulness may play on the mental health of young adults. I am also interested in pursuing research that demonstrates how mindfulness may be implemented in wellness programs at institutions, such as federal prisons and schools. I would love to learn more about:

  • How we can use mindfulness to lower recidivism rates and increase social support in federal prisons.
  • How we can utilize mindfulness to make learning more effective for so many students in schools.

I hope that I can contribute to the answers of these questions as a researcher and school psychologist in the future.

More than adding to my professional capacity in research, mindfulness has improved my personal self-care. Practicing mindfulness in my everyday life has allowed me to create a balance between spending time with myself and connecting with others. Whether it’s praying in solitude or practicing yoga, these practices regulate my emotions and avoid burnout.


Here are 3 ways to implement mindfulness and relaxation exercises in your daily life

1. Mindfulness:


Find quiet time to sink into deep thought about the blessings in your life. Remind yourself of the people and things that you are most grateful for. Positively framing your thoughts can remove distractions of distressed thoughts and focus your mind on positive emotions.

2. Yoga:


This relaxing exercise allows you to practice your deep breathing techniques and simultaneously find clarity in your thoughts and emotions. By aligning and disciplining your mind to focus, you may also engage in reflective learning.

3. Reflective Journaling:


Writing in a journal is not only a way to document your thoughts, feelings, and values, but it allows you to know more about yourself by critically thinking, evaluating, and making sense of the events in your life.


Other Resources: 

Check out this handy infographic for how to do a 5-minute mini meditation:


Or watch this TED Talk video by psychologist, Dr. Kasim Al-Mashat, on how mindfulness meditation can redefine pain, happiness and satisfaction.


Overall, practicing mindfulness is positive for your emotional and physical health!

How do you practice mindfulness in your daily life? Please share your experiences in the comments!



Chiu, T. (2016). Prayer and biblical meditation for college students. (In Progress).

Dezutter, J., Wachholtz, A., & Corveleyn, J. (2011). Prayer and pain: The mediating role of positive re-appraisal. Journal of Behavioral Science, 6, 542-549. doi:10.1007/s10865-011-9348-2

Fear, F., Kenney, P., Loucks, R., McPherson, K. & VanOverbeke, J. (2005) Mindfulness and moral purpose: Exploring connections. Journal of College and Character, 6, 1-9.

Jones, S., Bodie, G., &Hughes, S. (2016). The impact of mindfulness on empathy, active listening, and perceived provisions of emotional support. Communication Research, 3, 1-14.

Turakitwanakan, W., Mekseepralard, C. & Busarakumtragul, P. (2013). Effects of mindfulness meditation on serum cortisol of medical students. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand, 3, 222-249.



Tiffany Chiu is currently a fourth year undergraduate student majoring in Psychology and Social Behavior at the University of California, Irvine. She is currently participating in the UCDC Internship Program, with placement in the APA Minority Fellowship Program Office. She is interested in pursuing a graduate degree in School Psychology and ultimately becoming a School Psychologist. If you have any questions regarding her research interests, please contact her at [email protected].

Image sources: #1 (iStockPhoto.com), #2, #3, #4 (Flickr via Creative Commons) and #5 (GuardYourHealth.com)  


Filed under: Health and Wellness, Stress and Health Tagged: anxiety, depression, meditation, mindfulness, mindfulness meditation, mindfulness strategy, prayer, stress, yoga

8 Tips for Surviving Thanksgiving with Your Family Post-Election

Angry Woman wanting to hit her spouse with a spoon

By Elaine Ducharme, PhD, ABPP (Clinical Psychologist)

The holidays have always been a time of emotion and increased stress. People assume everyone else has a perfect family or is having the perfect meal. Loved ones come together. Other loved ones are missed.

This year, Thanksgiving is arriving on the heels of an extraordinarily controversial presidential election. Rarely have we seen this level of anxiety and stress during an election cycle. The country became more polarized than ever. Friendships and romantic relationships were taxed and some even severed. And now, these same friends and families are wondering how they are ever going to have civil conversations again let alone sit down and share Thanksgiving together.

Many families will share the holiday this year with at least one person with a different political view. It is easy to get caught up in our differences. It is important to recognize that as families and friends, we share many things as well. Here are suggestions for families and friends to navigate these holidays.

  1. In some cases, it may be better to avoid political conversation. Consider telling guests ahead of time that political opinions will be checked at the door or outside of the dining area. Then talk about anything else — food, kids, plans for the holidays, etc. Anyone that brings up a controversial topic can be gently reminded of the policy.
  2. If this policy doesn’t work for you, or if issues related to the election are raised anyway, remember the importance of listening. You do not have to respond. All of us like to feel we are heard. We don’t have to agree. But acknowledging feelings can go a long way. This sets a great example for the younger guests at your table.
  3. Focus on areas of agreement if you can. Do you share similar concerns about your family, health care or your job?
  4. Mitch Albom, a journalist and -best-selling author, noted in the Detroit Free Press, that we need to remember that many things in the news that were and continue to be reported as near facts proved to be massively incorrect. So remind yourself and each other that maybe we need to wait and see. Then comment. But not predict.
  5.  Know when to walk away from the conversation. If you find yourself getting upset by the conversation, take a personal time out, head for the kitchen and start to clean up, go entertain the kids, or even take a trip to the bathroom.
  6.  Suggest ideas to work together for the good of your community.
  7. Remember: These are your friends and family. You can have different opinions and still love one another.
  8. And finally, reflect on the fact that we are better together and as Americans we have a great deal to be thankful for. Additional information on managing anxiety and stress can be found at APA’s Help Center.



Elaine Ducharme, PhD, ABPP has specialized in the treatment of trauma and abuse for over 30 years. She is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Glastonbury, Connecticut and is an adjunct professor at the University of Hartford. Dr. Ducharme is the author of Must I Turn the Other Cheek, a book about the effects of premature forgiveness on recovery from sexual abuse and Assessment and Treatment of Dissociative Identity Disorder. She has lectured locally and nationally, and is a frequent guest on both radio and television.  Her weekly blog on WRCH, where she is a monthly guest on their morning FM radio show, provides information on a variety of mental health issues. As Public Education Coordinator for the Connecticut Psychological Association she is a frequent contributor to local and national magazine and newspaper articles. Dr. Ducharme is often called upon to provide expert testimony to the courts on issues related to sexual trauma.

Filed under: Uncategorized Tagged: difficult dialogues, election, election stress, family conflict, politics, stress, surviving the holidays, Thanksgiving

Are You Guilty of Positive Ageism?


By Sharron Hinchliff, PhD (Senior Lecturer, University of Sheffield UK)

Every year, on October 1st,  we celebrate the International Day of Older Persons. The theme for 2016 is ‘Take a Stand against Ageism.’

What is ageism?

Ageism is the term used to describe prejudice towards and/or discrimination against an individual based on their age. It is rooted in stereotyping, where we cluster perceived traits together and make assumptions based on social categories. Its effects can be powerful and damaging.

Ageism against older people is widespread, and in Western countries we hear about:

  • people not being allowed to serve on a jury after age 70,
  • older patients not being given the same advice about a health condition as their younger counterparts,
  • the fewer opportunities to progress at work once one is past the age of 50, and
  • the older woman who is unlikely to be believed when she reports her sexual assault.

These are just a few examples.

People are treated differently because of their (older) age on a regular basis, and we are not always attuned to it. Ageism is taken for granted so much so that we may not even notice it when it is happening. It is something that can affect us all and is more tolerated than racism and sexism, with many arguing that it is ‘socially-condoned’ (North & Fiske, 2012).

Ageism can affect young people, but it is mainly thought about in relation to old people. And because it is a form of discrimination and prejudice, it can be negative or positive. However, we rarely hear about the latter and as a consequence few recognize that ageism has this alternative side.

What is positive ageism or ‘sageism’?

You may have heard the saying ‘the older the wiser’? It connects with stereotypes of older people as having gained wisdom through their longevity and life experiences (Palmore, 1999), and has been described as ‘sageism’ (Minichiello, Browne & Kendig, 2000: 268):

“With sageism, people interact with older people as venerated elders who are respected for their knowledge and experience. There is potential for negative effects, however, if the elder cannot meet such expectations.”  

They go on to describe how, in their study, older participants felt that they were being sought out for their wisdom and listened to more. However, older people did not always enjoy this ‘unexpected respect’ as it created a pressure when they could not live up to these expectations but did not want to let the younger people down.

Indeed, Jill Chonody (2016) argues that positive stereotypes of older people

‘may appear to be emphatic, but they are actually paternalistic in nature and support ageist behaviours, which can be detrimental to older adults’ (p.208).

She uses the example of asking older people for advice (a positive ageism item on the Relating to Older People scale):

“There is nothing about age per se that makes individuals better conversationalists or even better at giving good advice. Furthermore, if we replaced old peoplewith another social categorization, such as gay men, these statements would be somewhat laughable (re: I enjoy conversations with gay men because they are gay).” (Chonody & Teater 2016: 12)

Some academics note the link between positive ageing and positive ageism. Positive ageing grew out of a dissatisfaction with ageing being portrayed negatively, and thus it challenges the ageing-as-decline narrative. But, it has an unexpected consequence as it can become a form of ageism in itself. Sally Chivers (2003) applies this argument to older women’s bodies and physical appearance, telling us that positive ageism occurs through the process of promoting an impossible youthfulness and a denial of bodily decline. This is damaging because, as above, it forms an expectation that older women cannot live up to.

The same is happening with regard to older people and sexual activity. In my own work, I have seen a shift over the past few years from older people being viewed as asexual to sexually agentic. By challenging the asexual stereotype, an unintended effect was the creation of a new stereotype where all older people are expected to be sexually active if they are to age well. A failure to maintain sexual agency/autonomy is perceived as submitting to old age.

So, while positive ageism can be positive because it celebrates rather than denigrates older age, it can be detrimental too. In whatever form ageism takes, positive or negative, there is a risk that it does more to reinforce inequality than address it. 



Chivers, S. (2003). From old women to older women: Contemporary culture and women’s narratives. USA: Ohio State University Press.

Chonody, J.M. (2016). Positive and negative ageism: The role of benevolent and hostile sexism. Journal of Women and Social Work, 31(2), 207-218.

Chonody, J. M., & Teater, B. (2016). Why do I dread looking old?: A test of social identity theory, terror management theory, and the double standard of aging. Journal of Women and Aging, 28(2), 112-126.

Minichiello, V., Browne, J., & Kendig, H. (2000). Perceptions and consequences of ageism: Views of older people. Ageing and Society, 20(03), 253-278.

North, M. S., & Fiske, S. T. (2012). An inconvenienced youth? Ageism and its potential intergenerational roots. Psychological Bulletin, 138(5), 982.

Palmore, E. (1999). Ageism: Negative and positive. New York: Springer.



Sharron Hinchliff, PhD, is Senior Lecturer at the School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Sheffield UK. She has a BMedSci (Hons) and a PhD in psychology. Her research spans the areas of ageing, gender and sexual/reproductive health, as well as the psychology of health and health care. Sharron is co-editing the forthcoming book ‘Addressing the sexual rights of older people: Theory, policy and practice’ which is due for publication in 2017. For further details about Sharron’s work, see sharronhinchliff.com.

Image source: Flickr user Nick Moralee via Creative Commons

Filed under: Aging Tagged: ageism, discrimination, positive ageism, prejudice, sageism, stereotypes, stereotyping, stress

We Need to Talk About How Race-Related Trauma Hurts Black and Brown Youth in Schools

School girl victim of violence

By Dawn Henderson, PhD (Associate Professor, North Carolina A&T State University) and Alexis Lunford (Research Assistant)

Witnessing or experiencing race-related trauma damages the psychological wellbeing of minority youth. African American, American Indian, and Latino youth not only encounter race-related trauma in their neighborhoods but also in school. Schools should be a safe space for all children, but some disturbing data prove otherwise.

  • The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice reported African Americans and American Indians between 20 and 34 will more likely experience death from police than any other ethnic group. Just within the past two years, African American, American Indian, and Latino youth have witnessed, via social media or directly, police officers kill fathers— for example, Antonio Zambrano-Montes, Allen Locke, and, more recently, Philando Castile.
  • Teachers, school personnel, and resource officers often enact violence against children of color. Hyman and Perone (1998) wrote about this understudied aspect of school violence more than fifteen years ago and while the CDC does not provide any indicator, a disturbing 2015 video captured a school resource officer at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, SC violently wrestling an African American female to the ground while other students numbly watched.

Minority youth not only witness or experience physical violence in school, they also deal with constant alienation, discrimination, and microaggressions. In our work with suspended youth, we have uncovered these encounters and are capturing them more intentionally through interviews with minority students.

  • Alienation manifests in our interviews with students like Natalie[1], a Latina, who mentioned, “I felt like I did not belong, like I wasn’t worth anything and didn’t mean anything.”
  • Discrimination—Teachers and school personnel discriminate against minority youth in discretionary discipline practices and recommendations for advanced courses. Racial discrimination can increase anxiety and depressive symptoms among youth (Chavous et al., 2008; Cogburn, Chavous, & Griffin, 2011).
  • Microaggressions (intentional or unintentional language and behavior that is derogatory or negative) are evident for students like Samantha, an African American female:

I was the only black child, well the only black female in the computer engineering science class. And the teacher wouldn’t help me, he kind of pushed me [to] the side and he’s always like you can figure it out. But then Billy needed help so he just raised his hand and the teacher would assist him. But when I raised my hand he would overlook [me].

When youth like Natalie and Samantha begin to internalize the belief “I wasn’t worth anything and I didn’t mean anything”, it is obviously a detriment to their mental health. While Natalie and Samantha survived and are in college now, the scars from feeling alienated, encountering discrimination, and emotional abuse in public school remain etched onto their psyche.

Unfortunately, a number of African American, American Indian, and Latino youth may not be able to survive the emotional assault; they will either lash out in aggressive or self-destructive ways or leave school completely. The National Center for Education Statistics reports African American and Latino youth between ages 16 through 24 have the highest high school dropout rates.


How do we counter race-related trauma and build resilient youth and schools?

In order to decrease race-related trauma among children of color we will need to target the context in which they spend much of their time—schools. We offer a three-pronged approach to how schools can provide a context for intervention.


  1. Adopt Stress Reduction Practices in Schools 


Stevenson (2008) wrote, “student-teacher relationships are stressful interactions that have the potential of being perceived as threats or challenges by both parties and that this primary appraisal is followed by a secondary appraisal of controllability or self-efficacy” (p. 356).

Adopting stress reduction practices, such as mindfulness, in schools to use with youth, teachers, and other school personnel can reduce tension and mitigate conflict. The work of the Holistic Life Foundation shows that mindfulness reduces stress-related behaviors by using meditative practices to improve attention, reduce stress, and increase self-regulation among adults and children. If we can identify ways to adopt stress reduction practices in school, we can reduce racial tensions.


  1. Support Advocacy through Youth –Adult Partnerships

Advocacy through youth-adult partnerships centers on improving community and civic engagement among youth. These partnerships can link youth to social support and provide opportunities for them to address racism and participate in decision-making in school. These types of activities can improve school engagement and build a number of skills for youth, such as social competence and self-efficacy (Zeldin, Christens, & Powers, 2013). In addition, training teachers and other supportive adults to model mindfulness in youth-adult partnerships only boosts the ways that youth manage stress and build resilience.


  1. Facilitate Truth and Reconciliation Groups

Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRCs) are a restorative justice process used in global human rights violations. Modeling TRCs into smaller groups in schools can potentially bring together multiple stakeholders such as youth, teachers, parents and other community members to address racial disparities in schools and develop solutions. These groups may not only foster partnerships between youth and adults, they may also increase opportunities for parents and other community members to inform school practices. Androff (2012) indicates TRCs can target problems states fail to address because they rely on individuals impacted by the issue and foster collective action—such as redesigning discipline practices.

Reducing race-related trauma in public schools will require us to understand how it occurs and then identify ways to reduce stress, racial anxiety, and support the abilities of minority youth, their parents, and communities to drive decision-making in schools. This is a lofty goal but it can be accomplished if we work together to support youth of color and show them that they matter.



Androff, D. K. (2010). Truth and reconciliation commissions (TRCs): An international human rights intervention and its connection to social work. British Journal of Social Work, 40, 1960–1977. doi: 10.1093./bjsw//bcp139

Chavous, T. M., Rivas-Drake, D., Smalls, C., Griffin, T., & Cogburn, C. (2008). Gender matters, too: The influences of school racial discrimination and racial identity on academic engagement outcomes among African American adolescents. Developmental Psychology, 44, 637–654. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.44.3.637

Cogburn, C. D., Chavous, T. M., & Griffin, T. M. (2011). School-based racial and gender discrimination among African American adolescents: Exploring gender variation in frequency and implications for adjustment. Race Social Problems, 3, 25–37.

Hyman, I. A., & Perone, D. C. (1998). The other side of school violence: Educator policies and practices that may contribute to student misbehavior. Journal of School Psychology, 36(1), 7-27.

Lanier, C., & Huff-Corzine, L. (2006). American Indian homicide A county-level analysis utilizing social disorganization theory. Homicide Studies, 10, 181–194.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2015). The condition of education 2015 (NCES 2015-144),Retrieved from the U. S. Department of Education website: https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=16

Stevenson, H. C. (2008). Fluttering around the racial tension of trust: Proximal approaches to suspended Black student-teacher relationships. School Psychology Review, 37, 354–359.

Zeldin, S., Christens, B. D., & Powers, J. L. (2013). The psychology and practice of youth-adult partnership: Bridging generations for youth development and community change. American Journal of Community Psychology, 51, 385–397. doi: 10.1007/s10464-012-9558-y



Dawn X. Henderson, PhD, is a Community Psychologist and member of Division 27 (Society for Community Research and Action) of the American Psychological Association and Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at North Carolina A&T State University. Her research includes how trauma occurs in the public school system and interventions targeting economically disadvantaged ethnic minority youth. Alexis Lunsford is a Research Assistant and graduate of Winston-Salem State University. Any comments or feedback can be sent to [email protected].

[1] All names listed are pseudonyms assigned to protect the identity of the students.

Image source: iStockphoto.com

Filed under: Children and Youth, Culture, Ethnicity and Race Tagged: African American youth, American Indian youth, children's mental health, discrimination, Education, Hispanic youth, Latino youth, microaggressions, mindfulness, prejudice, race-related trauma, racism, resilience, school dropouts, stress, stress reduction, trauma

Racial Trauma is Real: The Impact of Police Shootings on African Americans


By Erlanger A. Turner, PhD (Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of Houston-Downtown) & Jasmine Richardson

There have been many changes within the criminal justice system as a means to deter crime and to keep citizens safe. However, research demonstrates that often times men of color are treated harshly which leads to negative perceptions of police officers. The recent shootings in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas have exposed many individuals and their families to incidents of police brutality that reminds us that as a society work needs to be done to improve police and community relations.

In light of these recent events, many people have witnessed these traumatic incidents through social media or participation in marches in their cities. The violence witnessed towards people of color from police continues to damage perceptions of law enforcement and further stereotype people of color negatively. In a study published in the American Journal of Public Health (Geller, Fagan, Tyler, & Link, 2014), the authors reported that 85% of the participants reported being stopped at least once in their lifetime and 78% had no history of criminal activity. What is more concerning is that the study also found that those who reported more intrusive police contact experienced increased trauma and anxiety symptoms. Furthermore, those who reported fair treatment during encounters with law enforcement had fewer symptoms of PTSD and anxiety.


What is Racial Trauma?

In addition to the mental health symptoms of individuals who have encounters with law enforcement, those who witness these events directly or indirectly may also be impacted negatively. In an attempt to capture how racism and discrimination negatively impacts the physical and mental health of people of color, many scholars have coined the term “racial trauma” or race-based traumatic stress. Racial trauma may result from racial harassment, witnessing racial violence, or experiencing institutional racism (Bryant-Davis, & Ocampo, 2006; Comas-Díaz, 2016). The trauma may result in experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, feelings of humiliation, poor concentration, or irritability.


Effects of Racial Trauma on Communities of Color

Decades of research have noted the impact of discrimination and racism on the psychological health of communities of color (e.g., Bryant-Davis & Ocampo, 2006; Carter & Forsyth, 2009; Comas-Díaz, 2016). Although not everyone who experiences racism and discrimination will develop symptoms of race-based trauma, repeated exposure may lead to the following. According to a report on The Impact of Racial Trauma on African Americans, Dr. Walter Smith notes the following effects of racial trauma:

Increased vigilance and suspicion – Suspicion of social institutions (schools, agencies, government), avoiding eye contact, only trusting persons within our social and family relationship networks

Increased sensitivity to threat – Defensive postures, avoiding new situations, heightened sensitivity to being disrespected and shamed, and avoid taking risks

Increased psychological and physiological symptoms – Unresolved traumas increase chronic stress and decrease immune system functioning, shift brains to limbic system dominance, increase risks for depression and anxiety disorders, and disrupt child development and quality of emotional attachment in family and social relationships

Increased alcohol and drug usage – Drugs and alcohol are initially useful (real and perceived) in managing the pain and danger of unresolved traumas but become their own disease processes when dependency occurs

Increased aggression – Street gangs, domestic violence, defiant behavior, and appearing tough and impenetrable are ways of coping with danger by attempting to control our physical and social environment

Narrowing sense of time – Persons living in a chronic state of danger do not develop a sense of future; do not have long-term goals, and frequently view dying as an expected outcome


Coping with Racial Trauma

Racial trauma or race-based trauma often goes unnoticed. These hidden wounds that adults and youth of color experience are worn like invisible weights. Hardy (2013) provides the following eight steps to heal after experiencing racial injustices in our community.

  1. Affirmation and Acknowledgement: This involves professionals helping the individual to develop a sense of understanding acceptance of racial issues. This step is important because it opens the door for us to dialogue about issues related to race.
  2. Create Space for Race: Creating space allows an open dialogue with our communities about race. Hardy notes that we must take a proactive role to identify race as a significant variable and talk openly about experiences related to race.
  3. Racial Storytelling: Gives individuals an outlet to share personal experiences and think critically about events in their lives. This provides an opportunity to hear others voice how they have been treated differently due to their race and it helps expose hidden wounds through storytelling.
  4. Validation: Can be seen as a personalized tool used to counter devaluation. This provides confirmation of the individuals’ worth and their redeemable qualities.
  5. The Process of Naming: With the scarcity of research on the effects of racial trauma on mental health, there is of course no name as of yet making it a nameless condition. This in turn increases the doubt and uncertainty. By naming these experiences we give individuals a voice to speak on them and also recognize how they impact them. If we apply a mental health condition, individuals may experience symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  6. Externalize Devaluation: The aim for this step is to have people focus on increasing respect and recognizing that racial events do not lower their self-worth.
  7. Counteract Devaluation: This step uses a combination of psychological, emotional, and behavioral resources to build self-esteem and counter racial attacks. This helps prevent future kiss if dignity and sense of self.
  8. Rechanneling Rage: By rechanneling rage, individuals can learn to gain control of their emotions and not let emotions consume them. This is an important step because it empowers people to keep pushing forward after adversity. This may include taking steps to engage in activism or self-care strategies such as spending time with family.



Erlanger A. Turner, PhD, is a Clinical Psychologist and an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Dr. Turner’s research focuses on access to child mental health services, health inequity, help-seeking attitudes and behaviors, and cultural competency in clinical practice. He teaches courses at UHD in clinical psychology, multicultural psychology, and child psychopathology. Dr. Turner is also a blogger for The Race to Good Health. Dr. Turner is a member of the American Psychological Association and the Association of Black Psychologists. He has served in numerous leadership positions throughout APA and APA Divisions. He earned his B.S. in psychology from Louisiana State University and an M.S. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. Dr. Turner is currently Chair-Elect for the APA Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest and he was recently appointment to the Behavioral Health National Project Advisory Committee for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health.

Jasmine Richardson, BS earned her psychology degree from the University of Houston- Downtown (UHD) and is a former research assistant at the UHD Race, Culture, and Mental Health Research Lab under the supervision of Dr. Turner.

Note: An earlier version of this blog was published on BlackDoctor.org



Bryant-Davis, T., & Ocampo, C. (2006). A therapeutic approach to the treatment of racist-incident-based trauma. Journal of Emotional Abuse6(4), 1-22.

Carter, R. T., & Forsyth, J. M. (2009). A guide to the forensic assessment of race-based traumatic stress reactions. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online37(1), 28-40.

Comas-Díaz, L. (2016). Racial trauma recovery: A race-informed therapeutic approach to racial wounds. In Alvarez, A.N. (Ed); Liang, C. T. H. (Ed); Neville, H. A. (Ed), The cost of racism for people of color: Contextualizing experiences of discrimination. Cultural, racial, and ethnic psychology book series (pp. 249-272). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association.

Geller, A., Fagan, J., Tyler, T., & Link, B. G. (2014). Aggressive policing and the mental health of young urban men. American Journal Of Public Health, 104(12), 2321-2327

Hardy, K. V. (2013). Healing the Hidden Wounds of Racial Trauma. Reclaiming Children And Youth, 22(1), 24-28.

Image source: Flickr user blogocram via Creative Commons

Filed under: Criminal and Juvenile Justice, Culture, Ethnicity and Race, Human Rights and Social Justice, Violence Tagged: coping, discrimination, mental health, policing, racial bias, racial discrimination, racial profiling, racial trauma, racism, stress, trauma

7 Ways to Talk to Children and Youth about the Shootings in Orlando


By Robin Gurwitch, PhD

Once again our nation is coping with a violent tragedy.  In the aftermath of the Orlando terrorist attack, we find ourselves distressed, grief-stricken, and even angry that such a horrible thing could happen.  Children and teens may find the event even more challenging.  Here are some suggestions on talking with your children about what happened.

  1. Engage in age-appropriate honest discussions

Children and teens may have watched news coverage of the event and its aftermath and/or heard adults around them talking about the shooting. To best help youth, let them know that talking about it is a good thing. You can help by starting the conversation with your children. It may start with, “As you know, there was a terrible shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, FL. Many people were killed or injured. I want to talk to you about this and answer any questions or worries you may have.” Be honest in your discussion, but the gruesome details are unnecessary to share.

Keep the conversation at a level that the child or teen can understand. In other words, what you may say to an 8 year old may be very different than the language you may use with a 16 year old. Remember, your frank discussion, while difficult, will help separate fact from fiction and clear up any misinformation or misunderstanding. Children will “fill in the gaps” with ideas that may be far more frightening than the reality. Because of this, try to be mindful of your adult conversations about the attack as, again, children may not fully understand what they hear.

  1. Monitor social media and television exposure

Young children should not watch this at all. Older children and teens may have some exposure, but it is important that we discuss what they are seeing or hearing with them. With teens, we can often ask, “what have your friends been posting or saying about the attack in Orlando?” This may open the door for further conversation. Remember, as adults, we also need to take a break from coverage. We are also vulnerable to stress reactions, including worries and anxieties.

  1. Promote human values  

Because this attack happened at a gay nightclub, there may be questions about the attack’s location. It is important to let children and teens know that no one deserves any act of violence for their sexual orientation, gender identity or, for that matter, race, religion, culture, or other beliefs.  We live in a time when fear-mongering and hate speech directed at anyone who is different are heightened in our country. It is important to share with children and teens the values and beliefs we want them to develop as we help to shape their world view. For parents and other important adults in the lives of LGBTQ youth, it is essential that we provide extra support and understanding as this tragedy unfolds. Unfortunately, hate speech may occur and we need to remind our children and teens in the LGBTQ community that they are not alone.

General resources for LGBT youth and their parents include resources from the Family Acceptance Project, which works to prevent health and mental health risks for LGBT children and youth, and “What Does Gay Mean?” – a brochure to improve understanding and respect for LGBT youth, available from Mental Health America for a minimal cost.  The Public Interest blog will explore needs of LGBTQ youth in a future post. We also must not overlook the fact that Muslim youth may be the targets of Islamophobic attacks in the aftermath of this terrorist attack. They will also need compassion and support in the days and weeks ahead. Encourage children in both of these groups to seek out a trusted adult to share their questions, concerns, and worries as they may experience the event in a more personal way than others.

  1. Recognize safety and security

Concerns related to safety and security are often paramount after tragedies. Talk to children and teens about the heroic response from law enforcement and ongoing steps being taken. Share with youth that communities across the U.S. have plans to help keep residents as safe as possible before, during, and after any disaster or terrorist attack. This is an opportunity to discuss family plans for safety. For all children and youth, providing an extra dose of patience, attention, and love will help everyone during this time.

  1. Anticipate possible stress reactions

In the aftermath of tragic events, particularly terrorist events, you may see reactions to stress and trauma in your children. These may include difficulty sleeping and changes in appetite. Encouraging proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep is helpful. There may also be problems with attention and concentration. For many children and especially teens, there may be an increase in irritability and mood swings (above what we would expect). Children and youth may think about this event, even when they don’t want to. Keep the lines of communication open and check back in with them often in the days and weeks ahead.

  1. Accept possible reminders of suffering or loss

Traumas such as this recent shooting may bring up personal suffering or losses, whether or not the loss was the result of violence. Help children and teens remember how they have successfully coped with past hardships and encourage them to use similar strategies now. Grief and loss are unique for each of us and children and teens are no different. These emotions follow no timetable. Building and maintaining a strong social support system is paramount to the healing process. Besides family and friends, support systems may also include faith and culture-based organizations.

  1. Foster hope

The aftermath of the Orlando terrorist attack also reminds us of the goodness in people. As we watched thousands respond to the call for blood donations, we witnessed the desire to help, the wish to say, “we stand together; we are united; we will persevere.” Children and teens may wish to find a way to help. Consider making a donation to the American Red Cross or similar organizations from monies they have earned.  A handwritten note to responders in Orlando, as well as in your own community for the work they do every day, can be another positive contribution.

Consider age-appropriate ways for your children to volunteer in your community, your neighborhood, and in your cultural or faith-based organizations to help others. These and myriad other acts of kindness remind us that while these acts of terrorism seek to threaten and cower us, the effect may be the opposite. These acts bring out our strengths and assure us that we will support each other today and into the future.

Distressing reactions to this tragedy will likely lessen over time. If they persist or interfere with day-to-day functioning, a psychologist can help you develop a strategy to move forward.  Go to APA’s Psychologist Locator or reach out to your state psychological association for resources in your area.

For further tips on talking to your kids during tragedy, check out these resources:

And for your own self-care in these difficult times, check out:



Dr. Robin Gurwitch has been involved in understanding the impact of terrorism and disasters on children since the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, providing direct service, training, and conducting research. She is a member of the APA Disaster Resource Network, American Red Cross, and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Dr. Gurwitch was recently appointed to the HHS National Advisory Committee on Children and Disasters.

Filed under: Children and Youth, Violence Tagged: Children, children's mental health, gun violence, hate crime, homophobia, islamophobia, LGBT, LGBT Pride Month, LGBT youth, Muslim youth, Orlando shootings, parenting, stress, teenagers, teens, terrorism, trauma