The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.
We know that the world has been quite unpredictable and anxiety provoking for many of us as adults, but the kids in our lives are experiencing this as well. Joining us to shed some light on how to talk with kids about the things that have been happening and how to best support them is Licensed Psychologist Dr. Erlanger “Earl” Turner. Dr. Earl and I chatted about how to start difficult conversations with kids, the impact of such an uprooted routine and things to consider post pandemic, how to recognize if the kids in your life need additional support, and some of his favorite coping strategies to teach kids.
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Session 194: Helping Kids Cope
Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 194 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We know that the world has been quite unpredictable and anxiety-provoking for many of us as adults; well, the kids in our lives are experiencing this as well. To shed some light on how to talk with kids about the things that have been happening and how to best support them, is Dr. Earl Turner.
Dr. Earl is a licensed psychologist and university professor in Los Angeles. As a media psychologist, he writes a blog called The Race to Good Health and often contributes as a mental health media expert for outlets such as Oprah Magazine, The Washington Post, Bustle, and NBC News. He's also the host of The Breakdown with Dr. Earl podcast. Dr. Earl served as the 2020 President of the Society for Child and Family Policy and Practice (APA Division 37) and is the first African American male to be elected to this position.
Dr. Earl and I chatted about how to start difficult conversations with kids, the impact of such an uprooted routine and things to consider post-pandemic, how to recognize if the kids in your life need additional support, and some of his favorite coping strategies to teach kids. If something resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, be sure to share with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession. Here's our conversation.
Dr. Joy: Thank you so much for joining us today, Dr. Earl.
Dr. Earl: Thank you for having me.
Dr. Joy: It is an absolute pleasure. Dr. Earl, you know, you and I are APA friends, fellow Louisiana friends, so it's always great to have someone on the podcast that there's a previous history with. But I would love for you to start by talking with us about the work that you do with the RACE Research Lab.
Dr. Earl: Yes. So I started my lab a couple of years ago after I transitioned into an academic setting. Prior to that, I was working as a licensed psychologist and providing services to children and families. And I got into academia again because I really wanted to continue being able to do research but also train the next generation of clinicians, specifically those that are going to be working with marginalized communities. And so my research and my lab really focuses in on a spectrum of things related to understanding mental health.
More recently, it focused on the black community and really understanding: what are the connections between understanding racism and discrimination? But also how just living in America can be stressful and traumatic and traumatizing. And so really integrated all of those things into my research to understand what are those connections to poor mental health outcomes. But also what are some of the resiliency factors that might contribute to the things within the black community in terms of connections to religion and spirituality? And even more recently, understanding how can activism be actually a source of social support to prevent some detrimental outcomes related to mental health? And so those are the areas that my research tends to focus on with my lab.
Dr. Joy: You know, Dr. Earl, I am curious if you even know where to go, based on this last year. There are so many things, it feels like, you could study next. Are there things kind of particular to the pandemic or the racial unrest or everything that we've seen in this past, like, 11 months that you're thinking you want to study next?
Dr. Earl: Yeah. You know, that's a really great question because one of the things that I just did recently was to actually create a new website, Therapy for Black Kids, and the focus really is to address some of the mental health challenges with kids and offer resources to parents. In addition to that, I really wanted to explore how has the pandemic impacted the black community, and specifically thinking about black kids. And, you know, being at home and dealing with the stressful environment from that, the challenges of maintaining relationships or lack of relationships.
And so some of the areas that I'm hoping to explore for research is really just sort of understanding how the black community has been able to cope with the stress over the last year. And specifically with the pandemic and the racial unrest, which can be an additional stressor, how have we been able to really maintain some sense of wellness? We know that the data that has been coming out in the last couple of months has really shown that individuals have experienced a lot of stress and even more stress, anxiety, depression, over the last year than the previous year. And so we know that the impact of the pandemic as well as racial unrest has impacted individuals.
On top of that, we know for the black community, one of the challenges or concerns (and you know this as well) is that we oftentimes don't want to seek therapy for a number of reasons. And one thing that adds to that is in the pandemic, people may now want more preferences to work with someone that looks like them or that's from their community and so that adds another challenge to that. So those are some areas that I'm hoping to look at in terms of how does sort of racial... increases of injustice in communities then shift preferences for working with different types of providers?
Dr. Joy: Oh, that is gonna be such needed work. And I would love for you to talk just a little bit about how you think our kids are doing. We know that we, even as adults, are struggling with isolation and loneliness and being disconnected from our support system in a lot of ways and I think that that's magnified for our kids. So can you talk a little bit about how are the things that you're seeing related to kids as it relates to isolation? And some signs that we might look out for (for the kids in our life) about whether they might be struggling with something like depression or anxiety.
Dr. Earl: Yeah, those are really great questions. And, you know, I'm not seeing clients right now but from what I hear from a lot of my colleagues that are, they have been inundated with requests for services, and I'm sure you've probably experienced the same thing. But just looking at some of the data at CDC or Centers for Disease Control as well as Mental Health America and the American Psychological Association–you know, a lot of organizations are trying to examine this right now. And what they found specifically related to kids is that kids are reporting a lot of concerns over the last year, so the stress of school.
Think about schooling at home where you’re stuck in the house. You may be dealing with siblings but you can't do all the things that you used to do for fun but then these expectations about sort of maintaining yourself in that space for an extended period of time. Whereas in school, they can go out and maybe have recess, they can get breaks, they can move around the classroom, but when you're stuck at a computer for a significant amount of time, that's really difficult.
We also know that where kids, specifically those that identify within the LGBTQ+ community, that those youth are also experiencing increased difficulties related to isolation. Even dealing with coping, just sort of not having safety at home for a lot of those kids, and so increases from concerns about suicidal thoughts and depression within that particular population. And so those are a lot of challenges that we are seeing related to difficulties that kids are dealing with. And obviously parents are the first resource, oftentimes, to make sure that a child gets help and they do need to know what are the signs that their kid is struggling.
And so I think some of the things that I oftentimes talk about with parents is really trying to notice these specific changes in mood or behavior. And so if you notice that your kid is usually even-tempered but now they may be more frustrated or are sort of on the edge all the time or irritated, that may be a concern that something is going on and now you need to seek out a therapist. We also know that difficulties with sleep are a major concern and so are they having problems with sleep onset or falling asleep at night because maybe they're worried and stressed out and so their mind is constantly going? Are they waking up in the middle of the night and not sleeping enough? Those are gonna be some additional things that might sort of warn parents to be like, okay, I need to go see what's going on with my child and get them some support.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, you know, this brings me to another question from what you're saying, Dr. Earl. What level of awareness can we expect young children to have maybe versus older children? Like I have a four-year-old and I am sometimes shocked by the things that he will say like related to the Coronavirus. And we largely try to keep him away from like the news and stuff like that but I'm still shocked by the level of awareness that he sometimes has. So can you talk a little bit about that? Like what kinds of things he is maybe experiencing or even aware of, related to everything that's going on.
Dr. Earl: Yeah, that's a great question. I think kids, regardless of if they are a young child or if they're a teenager, they tend to be very aware of what's going on. And one thing that I oftentimes talk about with parents is that they may not communicate that awareness to you but they observe things in their environment. They may not be watching the news with you and hearing about some of these things that are going on but they realize when they can't go out as much and they can't go see grandma or grandpa, and they can't spend time with their friends and go to sleep overs. So they're like, hey, what's going on? And so they will begin to navigate those spaces in ways that they can, either by acting out or exhibiting things in terms of anxiety or sadness that I sort of mentioned before.
But kids tend to be very aware and so one thing that I think is really important is that you do like a check-in with your child. And before you even jump into an explanation about talking about, let's say, the pandemic and what we're dealing with, just say, “Hey, how are you feeling? What's going on inside of your head?” And give them that chance to really communicate that to you from their own developmental perspective. As opposed to us as an adult or parent trying to say how do I help my child make sense of what's going on and how things have changed since they were a year or two years ago?
Dr. Joy: Yeah, that definitely feels like it is important. You know, we often hear a lot about letting the child lead because a lot of times, like you mentioned, they do know a whole lot more than we give them credit for. So really just allowing them the space to kind of talk about what they know before you even share what you're wanting to talk with them about.
Dr. Earl: Absolutely.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, yeah. So we are fresh into February but January was a doozy. You have probably seen like the memes and stuff about the four Wednesdays in February–so we went from an insurrection to an impeachment to the inauguration and then the Wall Street issue. And so it feels like even as an adult, it is really hard to kind of wrap your mind around the rapidness with which the news changes. And so I'd love to hear just about how much we should be sharing with our kids.
You know, some older kids, I think–even though younger kids, like you alluded to, can still be aware. But you know, some older kids have their own mobile devices and so they are kind of like keeping abreast of what's happening in the news for themselves. So how do you talk with the kids about these rapid cycles in the news?
Dr. Earl: Yeah, you touched on so many important points. One of those, I think kids have access to these devices and so they may be on social media and reading the same information and you don't even know it. I would even say now I feel like even some younger kids have devices and so, obviously, like monitoring access to things is really important for parents. Because I have a niece who's eight years old and she has a smartphone and she knows some things about, like these games on there that I had no idea of. You know, how detailed and like sophisticated... And it’s a kids’ game but it is very complicated and it looked like, oh, she's teaching me about that. And so I think parents really do need to have an awareness about what apps their child has on their phone and sort of, you know, monitoring their use of it from that perspective.
But also just sort of being able to (when you have a child in the home) being mindful about how much exposure to this news that they do get. Because if you know you’re a parent who, let's say, has your child sitting with you watching the news every day or occasionally, some of that news may be really difficult for them to process. And so are you taking time to like reflect after those situations with your child to get a sense about how they understand and make sense of the world and what's going on? Or do you just, you know, turn the television off and it's time for dinner or for bed and so now they have all of this stuff going on inside of their head?
And so I always recommend that parents are really intentional about the amount of exposure that they give their child to the news on these types of events, so limiting the amount of television that they watch and getting exposure to those things. Or even if you are engaging in peaceful protests or rallies, that you sort of are prepared to talk with your child about those experiences and have them have a sense about what the importance of engaging in this action is to even changing some of the injustice that is occurring. So that they're just not going to these events and potentially getting exposed to like witnessing more traumatic things that might be sort of stressful.
I've recalled several situations where I see on the news a child and a parent are together at these rallies and all of a sudden there's a sort of incident with a police officer and the officer’s like pointing the gun either at the parent or the child or someone else. And so that can sort of retraumatize kids after just witnessing these things through the media.
Dr. Joy: Yeah. And, you know, I know that I'm sure that you have been paying attention to this, given your life experience and because of your research interests. We know how the pandemic and all of the racial unrest is disproportionately impacting black and brown communities. And so it feels like, again, as adults, there are these issues that we're having to deal with just in terms of grief related to lost loved ones related to the pandemic, and loss of employment. There's all this research coming out about how many black women specifically have like left the workforce or been unemployed.
And so I would love to hear just about how you think that black and brown children are being disproportionately impacted due to everything that's going on, and where we might go once... Some schools are already opening up but maybe more of them will be opening up in the fall, so I'd love to kind of hear about how you think they're being impacted now and what might we expect when schools maybe open again in the fall.
Dr. Earl: Yeah, those are great questions.
Dr. Joy: More from Dr. Earl after the break.
Dr. Earl: I think one of the things that is really important is for parents to sort of sit with themselves and recognize how they are doing and how they are coping with everything that's going on. And the reason I think that's important is because kids are watching and so they're going to see how you respond to these incidents. And so I think this is a really important teaching opportunity to model for kids how do you navigate these types of experiences. Obviously, you know, a pandemic happens every couple of years or decades or so but there are going to be life experiences that are going to be difficult and they have to sort of understand how to cope with those things. And so I think sometimes parents want to shield kids from these experiences and not talk about it or not allow the child to see how they handle things emotionally, and I would say do it in a healthy way that you're demonstrating for the child how you respond to those incidents.
And so I think one of the things that has come up a lot is kids are dealing with similar situations as their parents or the fallout of those situations. So as you sort of mentioned, if a parent has lost a job and may be sort of dealing with that, obviously it can go many ways in terms of it provides opportunities for you to be more present and be at home with your child. But it also may be additional sources of stress for you in terms of like how do you financially support the family? And so kids may sort of witness some of those changes as well.
I think the other thing that I sort of touched on earlier is about how kids are navigating this home-schooling stuff for those that are at home over this time. I know some schools are splitting the time where it’s like they attend school in like these cycles or whatever, and so I think for those situations it can be really disruptive to “routines.” And so what we know about kids is that routines and structure, it’s really important for them in terms of their overall development and so the pandemic makes it very difficult for us to have routines and structure.
So even to the point in, you know, for others or things that I've seen on the media, like people don't get dressed up for certain things. So like for a kid... You get dressed from the waist above and for kids as well, they may just have their pajama bottoms and they’re doing the Zoom class with like a T shirt or their uniform shirt on or something like that. That's a huge routine shift. And so I was reflecting on this earlier and just sort of thinking about when we do go back to whatever this new normal is, how do we sort of help kids but also ourselves to be able to shift all of these habits that we've developed over the last year?
And so it will take some time for parents if you haven't kept some sense of like routine of what life was like before the pandemic. And obviously, you know, things have to be changed to some degree but you’re gonna have to readjust once this is all over. And so being able to get them in a schedule in terms of like waking up in the morning and things like that, once we return back to those sorts of situations.
Thinking about relationships for kids, I think there has been some research that has really talked about the importance of connection. And for kids, traditionally, they spend a lot of time in the classroom or in school settings where they're around their peers, navigating all of these sorts of relational things that are really important to teach social skills that apply to us as adults. And so I think those things are also going to be somewhat challenging for kids. Specifically, for those kids who, let's say, may be shy or may be anxious and have difficulties with warming up to others and having conversations and talking to their peers, now they may potentially struggle more with those concerns once we start to transition back. They may need some additional support, even a therapist, to be able to work through some of those social skills, challenges and anxiety.
Dr. Joy: Yeah. You know, as I'm listening to you, Dr. Earl, and even with other conversations with other guests, I am just so worried about the mental health load even on the other side of the pandemic, even though we don't know when that's gonna be. I mean, so we know systems are really stretched thin now, like you’ve already talked about. Like people are wanting to connect with a therapist and a lot of therapists’ caseloads are already full. And there is going to be, I think, even more of a need for mental health support to how to help with this readjustment.
Like I even myself feel like, when am I actually gonna feel like it's okay to really be back outside? So, you know, as adults if we're thinking that, I am sure that kids will be thinking some of that too. And so I'm really worried about like what kinds of mental health supports we're going to even have available on the other side of this to help both the adults and the kids to kind of cope with this new normal.
Dr. Earl: Exactly. And I think the other piece of it, and you sort of touched on this briefly earlier about sort of the impact of the insurrection at the Capitol. And so I'm also curious about how does that in addition to these somewhat challenging, I'll say, relationships across race that can be difficult to navigate... That even now after what's happened with Breanna Taylor and George Floyd in this past summer, that now that also makes it potentially more difficult for kids (and parents, obviously) to feel comfortable working with a therapist that is not from their community or that does not look like them.
Because there may be some awkwardness in terms of that relationship piece and being comfortable talking about things and does this therapist who is not a person of color have an anti-racist sort of viewpoint and can be able to sort of work with them and understand their situations that they're going through and how that can be–can be, and I stress that–an additional challenge for how they navigate the world. And if that therapist is not able to have some recognition about that and be comfortable talking about some of those racial challenges, then I think that also makes it difficult for those parents and the families to now connect with that therapist to be able to do the work that they need to do to heal.
Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. Yeah. I mean, if I'm not mistaken, one of the people who actually was arrested after being in the Capitol was a school therapist.
Dr. Earl: Yeah. And there are people in many different career paths that were involved in that and so it’s like who can you trust?
Dr. Joy: Exactly. And we already know that there was such a huge issue in the mental health field already and so now we have even more evidence of why it may be difficult to trust some providers.
Dr. Earl: Absolutely. So I'm hoping that as people had all these conversations last year around sort of being anti-racist and things like that, is that people continue to do the work and advocate for change. So one of those changes, as we've been talking about, is lack of providers but also lack of support in schools, related to counseling and therapy and even just sort of identification for kids. And so are people going to be able to advocate for policy changes in communities to make sure that they are putting money into schools so that they have the resources to be able to even screen kids for these mental difficulties.
Because sometimes parents may not have the money to be able to take their child to go get an assessment or to check in with a therapist and so are schools gonna, at minimum, have the resources that they need to be able to do school-based screening to see, like, what are the risks that we're dealing with in terms of these kids? And then can we get them the support that they need in terms of a therapist or some referrals?
Dr. Joy: Right, right. I want to go back to something you mentioned earlier, Dr. Earl, in terms of like debriefing after maybe you've taken your kids to a rally or something. Or even debriefing after the insurrection. Like, I definitely had no clue what to tell my children about what was happening. And so I would love to hear if you have any thoughts or like resources or things that parents could use to have conversations with their kids about these things that have happened.
Dr. Earl: You know, that's really important and so I've been doing interviews around sort of talking to children about race for years, definitely more so in the last year, given all of the injustice that we've experienced. Because I think, for me, we're always going to be talking about race in some capacity, unfortunately, because this country was built on systems of oppression or systems that have oppressed, I'd say. Until we are able to be in a society where those systems no longer engage in these oppressive and discriminatory practices, we're going to have to have conversations like this and so I think we need to talk about it.
Because we haven't talked about it, then that means that we keep growing up with these cycles because people are not wanting to have conversations. And so if you can't talk about it, how can you move forward and be able to heal then and develop better policies around preventing some of these continued issues? So I think that parents should have those conversations with kids. I think, one, as we've mentioned before, being able to start off with the check-in. I'd like parents to take some of the stress and anxiety off of themselves about talking about these things and so don't feel like you have to have the answers to everything. And we know like little kids specifically are gonna have a lot of questions. And so I think, you know, starting off with just checking in, having the child really communicate what they think about the situation.
One, that just gives them opportunities to work on their own expression of their feelings and emotions, but then it also provides an opportunity for you to really see what understanding does your child have and are there things or misinformation or myths that you maybe need to address with your child around sort of raising why some of these things are occurring in society. The other piece of it is then that you as a parent can be able to sort of shape talking about these racial experiences from this racial socialization sort of perspective that we talk about as psychologists and researchers. About the importance of having conversations with kids about race that can be connected to challenges around understanding sort of experiences of racism.
But socialization around race also focuses in on talking about the positive things and so Black History Month can be one example where you are talking about contributions of black people to the society. And so I think those sort of give a child an opportunity to look at race from this holistic perspective, where it's not always about negativity and all about being mistreated because of your skin color. But you can have healthy conversations to talk about the positive benefits of being black, for example. And so when incidents like the insurrection happen, that you don't want to just sit and talk with your child about all these negative things. In those difficult conversations we’re then sort of highlighting ways to decompress, so maybe, as a family, you go for a walk or you watch a funny movie or you talk about what are the positive good things about being black. And those can sort of help balance kids in being able to sort of cope with that.
And then one resource that is out there that I oftentimes refer parents to is APA, the American Psychological Association, has a website around resilience and also talking about race. And so if you go to Apa.org/RES, you'll go to their resiliency website and there are lots of resources there for parents about how do you have these conversations around race as well as looking at it from developmentally if a child is five versus if a child is 17, how can you talk about those conversations differently? So there are some tools there as well.
Dr. Joy: I appreciate that. Something else that I've heard, Dr. Earl, is that, yes, there are of course a new set of stressors related to like lots of kids homeschooling. But my understanding is that lots of kids also feel less stressed by not being at school. So things related to like bullying and school shootings... Like I've read stories of parents sharing how their kids feel safer at home and don't have to worry about maybe something happening at school. And so I'd love if you could share, kind of, any thoughts about, you know, just when schools maybe open up in the fall. How maybe even some of that may be difficult because now there will be this reintroduction to a space that isn't always so safe.
Dr. Earl: I think one of the things that's really important is, again, going back to having these conversations with kids. I think one thing that we traditionally thought about kids is like kids can be kids–they can just sort of play and they don't get stressed out. And that's not true. They do get stressed out about a lot of different things and so I think having that talk with kids to prepare them to go back.
Again, it's this sort of opportunity to engage in this discussion but also give them some tools that they can use to be able to make the transition back to school easier, for those that may have been experiencing bullying, or even just having anxiety about being in school or about taking tests and things like that. That you can plan and so having a plan for how do you deal with these emotions is really helpful. Having them identify who is a person at school that they can also be comfortable talking with. So that can be another peer, maybe that's a conversation for them to just have a friend that they can have a connection with. Or it may be a teacher or an adult who they can maybe check in with if they are being bullied, or if they are anxious or worried about things at school. That when those feelings start to arise, that they can say, okay, this is my check-in person, so I can go talk to Mr. or Mrs. so-and-so at school to be able to help me with this situation. Whether that's now they can step in to intervene if that situation is occurring, or sometimes kids just need a safe space to be able to sit with this person or to talk, and those things make them feel at ease.
And so I think it's about, as parents, talking with the child about what's going on with them or what things they may be concerned about related to uncertainty, and develop a plan that's going to be helpful for them to make that transition back. And obviously, on the other side of that can be getting them support through a therapist that might also be helpful to talk with them. And that's a different relationship that might be helpful to give them additional tools as well, if it is at the level that warrants them working with other professionals.
Dr. Joy: We'll be back with more of this conversation after a quick break.
Dr. Joy: You know, something else, Dr. Earl, that I think you alluded to earlier. There has also been news just about like suicide rates again increasing in much younger people. And so I know that that is something that a lot of parents just have no idea about how do I... You know, if we're struggling talking to them about the news, how would I ever talk to them about suicide? So I'd love to hear some thoughts about like, how to kind of maybe pay attention to that and how you might be able to talk with your child about like any suicidal thoughts they might have.
Dr. Earl: Yeah, that's a really important question. I mean, there's been a lot of research that has shown suicide rates increasing in youth and specifically in black youth. And so I think for a long time in the black community, we've sort of had this viewpoint that suicide doesn't touch us, in terms of like we don't engage in those types of behaviors. But the other piece of it is that, you know, people are uncomfortable talking about suicide in general but also with kids, because they feel like now I am going to put things in their head and that may encourage them to engage in these types of actions.
And so I think the first thing is really for parents to just start to get comfortable having that conversation. And we know that when you talk with kids about these things, it doesn't make them at an increased risk for engaging in these behaviors, so just to sort of put that myth aside. And then I think the other things that are really just sort of being aware of some of these warning signs that come up, and so if you’ve witnessed things with your child in terms of changes. Let's say, for younger kids that may engage in drawing or coloring, that could be noticing that they're drawing things about someone dying, frequently. So things of death commonly come up in the kids that may be suicidal–those may be some things that you may be concerned about.
If kids verbally express that they're going to kill themselves or they want to die, those may be additional concerns. And I think if that does happen, that parent shouldn’t respond to that with “don't say that” because then that now makes them feel even worse about what they may be dealing with. And so I think it's a matter of if they say that, then to say why are they feeling that way? So ask that question. And then that gives you more information to be able to say, okay, this is what's going on in their life, in society, that may be contributing to these suicidal thoughts. These are also red flags to let me know that now I definitely need to reach out to get some support and seek therapy for my child.
Other signs that may come up for kids, and this can be across the spectrum, feeling hopeless and so feeling like nothing is ever going to change, nothing is ever going to be better, and they may actually say that. And so I think recognizing those types of things when they happen to then say, okay, we need to possibly go seek out a therapist. If they feel like they are being like a pain or making other people feel bad or stressed out, so this sense of like being a burden to their parents or others, that may be a really important sign as well. And honestly, again, things like sleeping, sleeping too much, feeling tired or exhausted, or even being irritable and angry all the time. Those may be some additional warning signs related to risk around suicide.
Dr. Joy: Something else that we talked about a lot with adults is just the grief that a lot of us have experienced this year. But I think we often miss that kids, of course, also experience grief. Can you talk about how that might look different for kids? And maybe even something around like how do we talk to kids about things like death and the grief that we've had in this past year?
Dr. Earl: Yeah. Some of those similar things that I sort of mentioned with suicide risk. And obviously as a psychologist and for mental health professionals, we know there's a lot of overlap in terms of these symptoms for a lot of different conditions that may occur, and so if the child is always tired or sleeping too much in relation to the loss of a loved one. But also thinking about (and I just had a podcast on this recently) what are the other losses that they may have experienced that they can also be grieving? And so I think that's another dynamic that we don't oftentimes think about with kids in relation to grief.
And so are they grieving the loss of not being able to go to parties at school, you know, for holidays? So for a lot of young kids, I remember growing up and every holiday we had a little party in the class and everybody brought some candy and things like that. So grieving the loss of those experiences that they may not be able to have anymore because of COVID and the restrictions around like washing your hands and wearing a mask and those types of things.
Grieving losses around important milestones for kids that may be transitioning to middle high school and being able to like join clubs or activities like the marching band or the dance team, those may be changes that may be lost. Even thinking about graduation and transitioning to college and being on campus, a lot of universities are not in-person right now so those may be some additional losses that kids may grieve as well.
In terms of just sort of recognizing some of the differences, obviously as I mentioned before, younger kids demonstrate a lot of their emotions through their behaviors. And so if they are now feeling like isolating themselves from a lot of people, that may be something to sort of check in on. If they are drawing things about death related to individuals, that may be another sign related to grief.
You want to be able to talk about their experiences related to like funerals. So if someone close to them did pass, did they have an opportunity to talk about what that was like for them? And one of the things that sort of we've seen differently now is that not as many in person funerals are occurring for a lot of individuals, so kids may not have opportunities to get some of that closure. And so how do you talk with them about that and really honor the person that they may have lost? And so doing activities with them around that, maybe keeping a memory box where they write down memories of that person, they can be able to sort of hold on to those things. So I think having those types of rituals can be really helpful.
And, obviously, it's important to consider when a therapist might be necessary to do these things. So I don't want parents to have that assumption that they have to do all of these things to help their child cope, because now you also may have to take on some of those emotional things and obviously be concerned about the wellbeing of your child, and that can be difficult for you to even process in addition to processing everything else. And so being comfortable to talk with the child or to talk with someone so that you don't have all of that responsibility.
Going back to this idea about, sort of, routines with kids when there is grief. So how does that change their routines? They may not want to engage in schoolwork anymore and so if you’ve noticed that the child's grades are declining, that may be a function of they're dealing with grief and so they don't have the energy or motivation to do these particular tasks. And so you want to look at, sort of, schooling changes that may occur in relation to grief as well.
And then some of the things that, as discussed before, about kids can be really irritable as a response to grief and so feeling mad all the time and angry and upset may not always be like there's an anger problem with the child. Maybe they're dealing with grief or even sometimes anxiety comes off as being anger. And so I think, for parents to recognize that when the child may be exhibiting some of those types of emotions, is that you want to sort of check in to see what's underlying that.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, that's really important, Dr. Earl. Thank you so much for that. So you talked about this a little earlier where we often hear that kids are resilient, like they can kind of bounce back. But I think we can't just say that without like also giving them some skills and tools to be able to bounce back. You've already talked about like going on walks with your family or maybe watching funny movies. Are there other coping things that you would offer for kids to be able to help them to deal with some of the difficult experiences that they may be experiencing?
Dr. Earl: Absolutely. Well, I think I'll mention another website for parents. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. So if you go to NCTSN.org, they have some resources, there for parents and like these brief little handouts and tool sheets that might be helpful for a number of different things in terms of grief, for example. So I think some of the ways to really sort of cope with these types of experiences is we can go into this sort of therapy perspective about how that might be helpful, but just sort of helping kids with changing the thoughts that they utilize. So what is the child telling themselves about this sort of moment and moving forward?
So if they are always negative about this pandemic is never going to end or I don't want to go to school virtually because I'm not going to be able to learn as much here. Or just having other thoughts about, you know, I hate myself because of XYZ... That you want to try to help kids to reframe that and one way, I think, to do that is really encouraging them to use positive self-talk. And so have them express some things differently about the situation. So what is it that you can pull from the fact that you have to do schooling at home or at the computer? And saying, you know, I can do my best. And so those little things matter. It may not seem like it does, but we do know that your thoughts have a huge impact in terms of your mood and emotions and so those little things can be really helpful for kids.
I think trying to make sure that they also get breaks and exercise and so obviously that can look differently for kids and families. But I think we know that making sure that if a child is doing schooling at home, is that you try to give them some breaks. I would say 20 to 30 minutes of sitting and working then they might want to get up for 10-15 minutes to do something and move around, and obviously in different situations. So I want to acknowledge that if a child is required to sit for an extended period of time, then there may be limited ways to sort of get around that.
But if they're doing like, you know, asynchronous work where they work independently at a computer, you do want to create some sort of structure for them to be able to navigate that so that they cannot get so overwhelmed and not sort of stay seated for a really long time. And then engage in some sort of physical activity, I think, is another strategy that's helpful. Maybe it's a family thing that you do, go out for walks or you do some exercising. But if not, then try to get the child to do something. Are there spaces that are safe (given some of the limitations around COVID) that they can get some activity?
Because we also know that physical activity also helps with mood regulation and so if a person was to get some physical activity, it regulates some of the brain chemistry... without getting into a long conversation about that! But physical activity is really helpful with mood regulation so that can help to elevate mood and prevent kids from maybe getting into this sort of deep sadness and possible depression that they may experience as well. So those are just a couple of things that might be helpful.
Dr. Joy: Thank you so much for that. We will, of course, include all of that information in the show notes. Well, Dr. Earl, can you tell us where people can find you? I know you have an incredible podcast that you've already mentioned, so can you tell us your website as well as any social media handles you'd like to share?
Dr. Earl: Absolutely. I again want to thank you for having me on to talk about this really important topic but you can connect with me on social media at @DrEarlTurner. You can also check out my new platform that I mentioned earlier, TherapyForBlackKids.org. I'm excited about this. You know, I started Therapy for Black Kids because during the pandemic and what some refer to as a double pandemic (we're dealing with COVID as well as racial injustice) I felt that kids were being left out of the conversation. And specifically black kids.
And as we know, they may have some challenges in terms of getting access to care and so I wanted to create Therapy for Black Kids as an opportunity to provide resources to parents so that they can, one, know about some of the things that we'll talk about in terms of warning signs related to stressors and mental health. But also to provide resources for families around health and development and focusing in on socialization, because we know that those are really important to resilience and wellbeing. There will be a lot of resources that will be helpful there in terms of how to help kids navigate these experiences. And you can also check me out on Facebook as well @TherapyForBlackKids.
Dr. Joy: Perfect. Well thank you so much for all of this today, Dr. Earl. I really appreciate it.
Dr. Earl: Thank you again.
Dr. Joy: I'm so glad Dr. Earl was able to join us for today's conversation. To learn more about him and all the incredible resources he shared, be sure to visit the show notes at TherapyForBlack Girls.com/session194. And please text two sisters right now and tell them to check out the episode as well.
Don't forget that if you're looking for a therapist in your area, be sure to check out our therapist directory at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/directory. And if you want to continue digging into this topic or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Yellow Couch Collective. It's our cozy corner of the internet, designed just for black women. You can join us at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/YCC. Thank y'all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all, real soon. Take good care.