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Actionable Strategies To Rebuild and Help Our Children

Pediatrician, Director of Center for Child Health, Behavior, and Development at Seattle Children's Hospital Research Institute, and child health expert, Dr. Dimitri Christakis joins Dr. Phil on the next “Phil In The Blanks” podcast. They’ll discuss the long-term effects of the COVID-19 crisis on children’s health, education, and emotional well-being. The pair also explore actionable strategies that adults can take to effectively help children recover and rebuild from time lost in the classroom and missed opportunities for critical social development during the stay-at-home phase of the pandemic. A must-hear for parents, grandparents, and educators!

We recorded this episode earlier this year before schools reopened and prior to the Delta variant. And judging by the current mental health studies of adolescents, I do believe we were right on track and our words ring true today. Scroll down for resources and tools to help you navigate the mental health needs of your children. Thank you for listening


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"What's very exciting to me is not my research alone but being part of a larger enterprise doing such important work. I'm surrounded by talented, energetic people attacking autism, fetal alcohol syndrome, depression, obesity. You name it, and we're buzzing here trying to make a difference in the lives of children in our community and around the world. And I think we are making a difference." Dr. Dimitri Christakis

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Podcast Page: DrPhilintheBlanks

Dimitri A. Christakis MD MPH is the George Adkins Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington, Director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, Editor and Chief of JAMA Pediatrics and an attending pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Professor Christakis graduated from Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and completed a pediatric residency followed by a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholarship at the University of Washington from which he received his MPH. He is the author of over 230 original research articles, a textbook of pediatrics and The Elephant in the Living Room: Make Television work for your kids. (September 2006; Rodale). In 2010 he was awarded the Academic Pediatric Association Research Award for outstanding contributions to pediatric research over his career. His passion is developing actionable strategies to optimize the cognitive, emotional, and social development of preschool children. The pursuit of that passion has taken him from the exam room, to the community and most recently to cages of newborn mice.

Christakis’ laboratory focuses on the effects of early environmental influences on child health and development and his work has been featured on all major international news outlets as well as all major national and international newspapers. He speaks frequently to international audiences of pediatricians, parents, educators and policy makers about the impact of early learning on brain development.

Christakis Lab

  • The Christakis Lab studies how the early environment impacts childhood behavior and development, and develops strategies that help parents optimize their children's social, cognitive, and emotional development.

  • Lab's researchers have made a number of landmark findings.

    • First to discover that early TV exposure, particularly to fast-paced programs, can lead to attention problems in later life.

    • Playing with blocks can improve young children's language development

    • Substituting prosocial programs for violent ones can lead to reduced aggression and improved behavior in preschool children.

  • Current research and clinical studies build on these themes and include a study that uses an Internet-based model to teach parents strategies that may help maximize their children's development.

All Resources Via CDC:

Activity Book This activity book is intended to provide information to young children and families about how to prevent and cope with COVID-19. This resource may be useful for children and young people of all ages.

Conversation Starters

Get immediate help in a crisis and find a health care provider or treatment for substance use disorder and mental health.

Children and young people can be particularly overwhelmed by stress related to a traumatic event, like the COVID-19 pandemic. They may show stress through increased anxiety, fear, sadness or worry. When children and young people are struggling to cope with stress, they may exhibit unhealthy eating or sleeping habits, changes in activity level, substance use or other risk behaviors, and difficulty with attention and concentration.

Parents, caregivers, and other trusted adults can serve as sources of social connectedness; they can provide stability, support, and open communication. They can also help children and young people express the many different feelings and thoughts on their mind.

Here are some quick ideas for how to get conversations started with children and young people about how they are feeling and what they are struggling with regarding COVID-19. You don’t have to use these exact words—you know best how to speak with your child, adolescent or youth. In addition, how we talk to children and young people varies depending on their age and developmental level.

  • COVID-19 is a new disease, which can be confusing. Do you have any questions about it? If I don’t know the answer, I can try to find it or maybe we could search for it together.

  • People can be angry, sad, or worried when something bad happens. Those feelings can make you feel confused or uncomfortable. Tell me what you have been feeling since the changes started.

  • What worries you most about COVID-19?

  • Have you been feeling nervous about going back to school because of COVID-19?

  • Wearing masks and staying at a distance from others is not something we were used to doing. How do you feel about that?

  • When our minds are stuck on bad things, it can be really hard to focus on other things. Have you ever felt this way? What kinds of things does your mind get stuck on?

  • Is there anything that you are looking forward to, for when we can connect in-person more safely and return to more normal activities—like a vacation, movie, graduation or playing on a sports team? Tell me about what that might look like!

Some of these conversation starters are used in Psychological First Aid (PFA)pdf iconexternal icon – an approach commonly used among disaster survivors to cope with trauma. PFA can be useful for parents to help children and young people cope by enabling and maintaining environments that promote safety, calmness, connectedness to others, self-efficacy (empowerment), and hopefulness. Remember: It’s okay not to have an answer, just being there to listen in a non-judgmental way can be helpful!

Below are some resources to help you learn more about PFA and other tools for parents and caregivers to help children and young people cope.

  • National Child Traumatic Stress Network

    • Helping Children Cope with the COVID-19 Pandemicpdf iconexternal icon (Yale Child Study Center)

    • Psychological First Aid: Field Operations Guideexternal icon (2nd Edition)

  • Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, Uniformed Services University

    • Psychological First Aid: How You Can Support Well-Being in Disaster Victimspdf iconexternal icon

    • Discussing Coronavirus with Your Childrenpdf iconexternal icon

    • Finding the Right Words to Talk with Children and Teens about Coronaviruspdf iconexternal icon

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