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  • jamesfeinberg

Have you actually thought about whether or not your child or teen is psychologically prepared to return to school? My hunch is: probably not! Don’t feel bad. Typically, most parents don’t give this transition much thought. Granted, for many kids, this is an uneventful transition. For other kids, this transition back to school is the cause of great anxiety and despair. So, which group does your kid belong to?

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To answer this question, a parent must take a trip down memory lane and recall how their child or teen responded to school resuming last year and perhaps, the year before that. Also, what did he say about school resuming in the past? Were his statements riddled with worry and despair, or what you would expect of a kid returning to school? Furthermore, what did his behaviors convey? Was he anxious and agitated, or fairly calm? In other words, unresolved problems occur over and over again until they’re resolved.

On the other hand, before an actual pattern has emerged, parents typically have difficulty determining if their child or teen is really struggling,or merely reacting to situational factors like starting a new school, chemistry of kids in the classroom, and/or a new teacher. The rule of thumb in such situations is that kids and teens should only exhibit temporary and minor adjustment problems, and not ones that persist for several months or longer as well as occur year after year.

Parental factors can also obscure whether or not a child is having significant adjustment problems. Because it’s heart wrenching for parents to admit that their child is struggling, sometimes they miss rather obvious signs of distress. And, when parents finally do see such problems, then, they want to know why versus what action to take.

The bottom line is that some kids may develop psychological problems because of hereditary factors and/or negative learning experiences. Although we can’t do anything about genetics, we can greatly influence how children and teens both think and feel about themselves as well as the world around them.

By doing so, we greatly bolster their coping ability as well as their self-esteem. Furthermore, the earlier we intervene, the brighter your child’s future will be. So, be proactive; after all, your kid’s future depends upon it!

Originally published on The Healthy Planet, July 31st, 2014

  • jamesfeinberg

As your child having difficulty making friends? If so, should you be worried? Given that a child’s ability to make friends, grow friendships, and maintain friendships over time not only reflects his current psychological health but his future psychological adjustment and success as an adult, the answer is without a doubt, yes.

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When children are not progressing socially, this is a strong cue that something serious is going on. In fact, lack of friendships is often indicative of an underlying behavioral, emotional, psychological, and/or neurological problem. A meticulous evaluation is essential to sorting out not only what is going on but what therapeutic interventions are warranted. However, often, after only a brief interview, a diagnosis is formulated and a prescription is written. This is usually where treatment stops. Although medication may alleviate some symptoms, it does not teach coping strategies or skills absolutely essential to learning about relationships.

So, how do children learn to make friends? Their brains provide an internal framework for social learning but interaction and modeling fine tune the process. Yet, some kids do not naturally learn the essentials, namely social judgment and social skills. Sadly, the harder these children try, the more their peers reject them for acting inappropriately. The more their parents and teachers try to help by pointing out what they are doing wrong or should be doing differently, the more shame these children feel. Clearly, these kids need help on a number of levels, but where do they and their families turn?

Pet assisted therapy is an extremely effective modality of treatment for childhood and adolescent social- interactional problems as it is highly empowering as well as non-shaming. Because children naturally gravitate toward pets because they want to love and be loved, the stage is easily set for social learning and emotional healing.

Through guided interactions with my highly skilled therapy dogs, G and Dude both of whom are German Shepherds; children learn the nuts and bolts of relationships without even realizing it. This learning occurs gradually and in steps where the initial goal is only to observe my therapy dogs’ behavior and speculate what my dogs are trying to tell them. Children then learn to observe the effects of their behavior upon my therapy dogs’ facial expressions and body postures. Later, these children are encouraged to try other social behaviors to obtain the desired response from my therapy dogs.

With time and repetition, these children not only learn to accurately read social cues and adjust their behavior accordingly, their emotional wounds are healed as well. Children and their parents consistently tell me that my loving four legged companions have greatly assisted them in transforming their lives. To quote one child, “G is the best teacher I ever had!”

Originally published on The Healthy Planet, November 28th, 2013


To the trained nose or eye, it’s no mystery why some children are bullied. Basically, these children behave differently than their peers. However, children who are bullied are actually very different from each other as are the reasons they are bullied. For example, some of these children are shy and timid, others are impulsive and jump in feet first without first thinking, and still others are out of sync and act oddly. What these children have in common is that none of them know what to do to stop the bullying and be accepted by their peers. Over time, these children will develop low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and increasing despair about their inability to connect with others.

Even though bullied children are a diverse group, adults frequently tell all of them to seek assistance from their teachers when they are being mistreated. Although we need to protect children, this overly simplistic approach only perpetuates the problem because it essentially disempowers these children by not teaching them anything about themselves, their behavior, nor why they are being mistreated by their peers.

You can’t fix it (i.e. bullying), if you don’t know what’s broken. For this reason, a thorough evaluation is indicated and should always precede any type of intervention. This entails interviewing and observing parents and their children as well as obtaining teacher feedback on peer interactions. Sometimes, actually observing the bullied child in the classroom is warranted as well. Only by gathering data can one determine what a child is and isn’t doing that makes them vulnerable to bullying.

It takes an expert with specialized education and training as well as extensive experience to interview/observe children and then determine what the problem(s) is. Dude is the man, I mean the therapy dog, for the job! He is a wise German Shepherd who puts kids at ease by his loving and gentle presence. However, he’s much more than just another pretty face.

The way in which bullied children interact with him and his feedback to them verbally mediated by myself, provide ample and repetitive opportunities for these distressed children to figure what to do differently in social situations and thereby improve their self-esteem, social awareness, social judgment, social skills, and social confidence as well as impulse control.

Originally published on The Healthy Planet, October 13th, 2011.

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