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Jun 25, 2016 · Parents, take note: 6 tips to help your children control their emotions

They throw temper tantrums. They hit their siblings.  And when denied the tiniest desire, they can melt into inconsolable puddles.

Yet, somehow it’s up to you to help mold these little emotional tornadoes into reasonable human beings.

What’s a parent do?

Giving names to feelings is the first step to helping the under-8 set regulate their emotions, says Catherine Mogil, PsyD, an assistant clinical professor at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.

“When you think back to being a child, you’ll remember that emotions often washed over you, and you rarely had the words to express them,” said Mogil.  “That can be frustrating and challenging.”

Therefore, teaching children to identify strong emotions – and the steps needed to regulate them — can go a long way toward helping them calm the storm within and get their needs met.

A licensed clinical psychologist, Mogil specializes in teaching families how to better cope in stressful situations.  In her years as director of training and intervention development at the UCLA Nathanson Family Resilience Center, she has advised families with parents deployed in the military, foster families and children living in dangerous neighborhoods.

Her top six suggestions are:

  1. Don’t hide your negative emotions. It’s natural for parents to want to shield their children from anything unpleasant. But make sure your children understand that, like them, you experience sadness, frustration and disappointment. Doing so not only shows them that these feelings are alright to have, but that you can manage them.  Children who rarely see their parents express and cope with negative emotions worry that Mom and Dad can’t handle them, which is frightening for them.
  2. Label your own emotions. Did you just get cut off in traffic?  Calmly describe your sense of irritation to the little witness in the back seat.  When you take real-life opportunities to put a label on an emotion that you’re feeling, you are teaching your children a better way of expressing what they feel but might not necessarily have the vocabulary yet to describe.
  3. Label your child’s own emotional states. Notice that your daughter is struggling to assemble those last two pieces of a Lego set? Come right out and describe what she must be feeling. “Oh, how frustrating,” you might say. “You’re working really hard to get those Legos together, and they just won’t go.” By putting words to your children’s experiences they learn how to better express their own emotions. And if they can talk about their emotions, they’ll be less likely to act them out.
  4. Define your own coping mechanisms. Did your child just witness your confrontation with a shopper who sharp-elbowed you out of a coveted sale item? Explain how you’re going to calm yourself down.  And after you call your sister to laugh about the experience, explain how the step helped defuse your lingering irritation.  Not only do children learn coping techniques from your example, but they also see how resilient you are.
  5. Help your children identify their own coping mechanisms. After the best friend had to pack up and head home following a particularly fun play date, offer a hug — or whatever helps cheer your son up.  But explain why you are doing so.  “I’ve noticed that hugs tend to help you cheer up when you’re feeling sad,” you might say. Repeatedly matching successful coping mechanisms with specific feelings teaches children to reach for the right implement in their emotional tool box.
  6. Don’t forget all the teachable moments that come up during play. Getting out dolls, trucks or books is not just an opportunity for fun – it’s an opportunity to understand emotions.   Is Elmo happy because his best friend came over to play with him?  Pretend you’re a sportscaster and provide emotional play-by-play of what the doll is feeling.  Or if Elmo is sad because the best friend had to go home, ask your child  to describe coping skills that might help cheer him up. Discussing the emotions of a play thing or fictional character can be less threatening than discussing one’s own emotions.

By instilling emotional regulation, you’re helping your child now and for the rest of their lives.

“Learning to regulate emotions is going to be the building block for a child’s future success in school, in work and in relationships,” Mogil said.

Jun 21, 2016 · Kids coping with disaster need guidance. UCLA app helps parents give it

New UCLA app provides tips for coping with such natural disasters as wildfires.

New UCLA app provides tips for coping with such natural disasters as wildfires.

When wildfires rage, anxiety can rise as high and as fast as temperatures.

In fact, little in life matches the stress of having to pack up your entire family and move to safety as fires race toward your home and all you hold dear.

“Evacuating with little to no notice in the face of a wildfire can be one of the most traumatic experiences that a family faces, especially if the family home or pet is lost, and the family’s dislocation proves lengthy,” said Melissa Brymer, a psychologist specializing in trauma at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.

Families in the path of a fire aren’t the only ones who can feel the heat. Parents whose little ones hear the sirens of firetrucks, see billows of smoke in the sky or watch raging flames in news coverage can find themselves trying to calm jangled nerves.

Enter “Help Kids Cope,” a mobile app that Brymer helped develop for families in the midst of natural disasters. The app provides guidance on coping with wildfires and other types of disasters, including earthquakes, extreme heat, floods, hurricanes, landslides, tornadoes, tsunamis, windstorms and winter storms.

Already downloadable from the Apple store, the app will become available July 15 for Android mobile phones. It is free, courtesy of UCLA.

Features include:

  • Checklists to prepare the family before disaster strikes.
  • Safety and response tips in the event of a disaster.
  • Age-appropriate language to use “in the moment” to help calm and support kids.
  • Audio clips of parents recounting their own experiences in several natural disasters.
  • Explanations from child psychologists on how kids commonly respond during and after disasters.
  • Tips for parents to care for their own emotional needs during the stressful period.
  • Suggestions for no-supplies-needed activities to distract and entertain little minds.

Sources for the information include the Red Cross, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Recent wildfires underscore the need for marshalling coping materials into a single source such as the app, Brymer said. The situation, which prompted the county to declare a state of emergency, also highlights the value of downloading resources in well in advance of trouble.

“Having downloaded the app in advance will help you retain access to information in the event your phone loses coverage, electricity gets cut or internet sites crash due to a high volume of traffic,” Brymer said.

Brymer is the director of terrorism and disaster programs at the UCLA–Duke National Center for Child Traumatic Stress, a network of 78 centers that supply psychological services in the event of disaster. Network colleagues helped produce the app, which was the brainchild of parents affected by the catastrophic multiple-vortex tornado that struck Joplin, Mo., five years ago.

“When the tornado tore through power lines and cell-phone towers, parents lost access to the web,” Brymer said. “While we were able to provide handouts with information, the paperwork often got lost as families moved between shelters and temporary housing. Parents kept saying, ‘We need an app.’”

Funding for the project was provided by the Missouri Foundation for Health, Ozark Center, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Apr 22, 2016 · New program helps vets suffering from invisible wounds of war

Guests attending the opening of UCLA Operation Mend’s new intensive mental health program wite messages of hope on rocks as inspiration for future patients. Photo credit: Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

Guests attending the opening of UCLA Operation Mend’s new intensive mental health program wite messages of hope on rocks as inspiration for future patients.
Photo credit: Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

More than 100 well-wishers gathered April 13 at a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony for UCLA Operation Mend’s new program that is designed to heal the hidden, yet lingering, wounds of war.

“This is a new day, a program we can be proud of,” said retired General Peter W. Chiarelli an executive advisor to the Ronald A. Katz Center for Collaborative Military Medicine at UCLA, told L.A. Daily News reporter Susan Abrams.

In addition to Chiarelli, who is a former vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army, dignitaries in attendance included UCLA Chancellor Gene Block; John Robert, executive vice president of warrior relations with the Wounded Warrior project; Ann Brown, medical center director of VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System; and philanthropist Robert Katz.

Wounded Warrior Project helped fund Warrior Car Network, which includes Operation Mend and similar programs at three other U.S. academic medical centers dedicated to addressing effects of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress in post-9/11 military veterans. Katz founded Operation Mend, which so far has served 152 patients in need of reconstructive surgery.

With three weeks of intensive care at UCLA and three weeks of follow up in the veteran’s community, Operation Mend’s intensive mental health program provides highly individualized, intensive treatment that draws on UCLA’s nationally recognized expertise in neurology, neurosurgery, psychiatry and integrative medicine.

The service is provided at no cost to participating veterans or their families.

The clinic will treat seven to ten veterans and their families at a time for three weeks living on UCLA’s campus at the Tiverton House and then three weeks once they return home. Families participate too, Operation Mend program director Melanie Gideon explained to KPCC reporter John Ismay.

“Families are suffering along with our wounded warriors,” Gideon said.

For more information, visit or call (310) 267-2251.

Apr 18, 2016 · Teaching the difference between bullying and playful teasing

Through Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital program that encourages community engagement, staffers (from left to right) Jamie Chazen, Erika Lozano, Robbie Harries-Depriest, Leilanie Ayala, Sunnie Dishman are raising awareness about bullying in Compton schools.

Through Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital program that encourages community engagement, staffers (from left to right) Jamie Chazen, Erika Lozano, Robbie Harries-Depriest, Leilanie Ayala, Sunnie Dishman are raising awareness about bullying in Compton schools.


Maybe bullying would be easier to stop if kids themselves knew how to recognize it.

If so, a lesson in the differences between normal teasing and bullying might be best delivered in the location where so much teasing takes place: school.

To that end, a team from Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA recently led a six-session bullying awareness program in Compton Unified School District designed to teach kids the difference between teasing and bullying – and how to “act” to stop it.

The team – consisting of three registered nurses, a mental health practitioner and a recreational therapist – hopes to eventually establish a community-wide bullying intervention program in the district. More than a year in the planning, the anti-bullying effort is believed to be the first of its kind in Los Angeles County.

“Studies have shown that a lot of bullying experiences – in person and online — are not addressed because kids tend not to tell their parents or guardians about them,” explained Leilanie Ayala, a Resnick registered nurse who led the team.

Team members first gave an hour-long presentation to social workers, school counselors and school nurses in the district’s pupil services department.  They then provided five sessions at Emerson Elementary School, including a 30-minute presentation to the school’s teachers and four hour-long group sessions with the school’s sixth graders.

Teaching from a curriculum previously used in a bullying awareness study conducted by the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., team members provided a clear definition of bullying and how to distinguish it from “playful teasing.”  They also armed students with the acronym A-C-T:

  • A-ssess if the situation is bullying.
  • C-onfront the bullies if it is safe and if not
  • C-all for help and T-ell a trusted adult.

The team’s efforts were quite obviously needed, said Ayala, who is a nursing professional development specialist.

“In one of my group sessions, we discussed the effects of bullying and stress to an individual,” she said. “On the list shown to the participants, one of the students pointed on ‘wanting to hurt himself/herself.’ It was sad that at 12 he had those thoughts.”

The project was an initiative of the UCLA-Resnick Global Health and Community Outreach Committee, which encourages volunteer efforts among staff.

To thank the Emerson sixth-graders for their participation, the team is bringing them to campus April 25 for a tour.

“Some of the kids asked if UCLA was four hours away,” Ayala said. “We want them to be inspired and even imagine themselves getting accepted in UCLA someday.”

Other team members were Jamie Chazen, a mental health practitioner; Erika Lozano, a registered nurse; Robbie Harries-Depriest, a certified recreational therapist; and Sunnie Dishman, a registered nurse.

 “The Office of Mark Ridley-Thomas, through Kathleen Austria, was instrumental in launching this project in partnership with the Pupil Service Department of the Compton Unified School District.”  

Apr 11, 2016 · For schizophrenia patients, exercise can be a powerful therapy

Van Nuys maintenance worker Marco Tapia had a schizophrenic breakdown at age 24. His family thought he had been taking drugs because he was acting so … strange. When he tried to use a window instead of the door to get into their Van Nuys apartment, they realized something was terribly wrong. His parents then had him hospitalized.

After stabilizing him, Harbor UCLA Medical Center referred Marco to UCLA’s Aftercare Research Program. The program is a cradle for innovation and research on schizophrenia. Best of all, given the Tapia family’s modest means, the program was – and still is – absolutely free.

Marco enrolled in an intensive two-year research project, the results of which are in press now in Schizophrenia Bulletin. Preliminary findings from a follow-up study were recently presented at the biennial meeting of the Schizophrenia International Research Society.

The findings show that a rigorous regimen of specific brain games and physical exercise can help repair one of the least-known but most-debilitating aspects of schizophrenia — deficits in memory, problem solving, processing speed and social intelligence. These social and cognitive deficits are among the disease traits most likely to result in disability for people with schizophrenia.

The results are extremely promising, but researchers caution that interventions need to occur as quickly as possible after the first breakdown, because each recurrence leads to additional cognitive and social deficits. They also need to be used in conjunction with antipsychotic medications.

“What’s striking to us is the power of combination,” said lead investigator Keith Nuechterlein in an interview with Kaiser Health News. Nuechterlein is a professor at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. “Both [brain games and exercise] done separately help somewhat, but when done together, the boost in cognitive function is greater.”

The combination appears to stimulate the growth of neurons and connections between neurons, improving cognitive performance, researchers say.

As for Marco, 28, his conversation today reveals no trace of his prior problems. Four years after his breakdown, he’s employed, plays the guitar, has an active social life and is eager to let others know the importance of getting immediate help — and the right kind of help — for schizophrenia.

Neuchterlein ranked as one of most influential scientists in his field

Long-acting antipsychotic medication revolutionizes treatment of schizophrenia

Mar 31, 2016 · 6 Ways to help your child positively manage stress

As parents, it’s tough to see our children upset, worried or stressed. And while it’s natural to want to remove every hardship from their lives, letting them experience stress can actually be healthy. They will benefit in the long run from learning how to manage stress on their own, says Blanca Orellana, PhD, clinical psychologist at UCLA Nathanson Family Resilience Center and UCLA Family STAR Clinic.

Here are six ways you can help your child manage stress:

  1. When stress is good: It’s OK if your child feels anxious about a book report, a ballet recital or a class presentation. Instead of trying to make the feeling go away, show your child how this stress can motivate him or her to work hard and rise to the challenge. The experience of feeling stress and overcoming it with hard work is invaluable. Learning these skills at a young age enhances a child’s ability to cope with stressful situations in the future.
  2. Experiencing “fight-or-flight” response: When your child is overwhelmed, his or her body engages in “fight-or-flight” mode, which results in greater focus, strength and alertness. By teaching children to recognize these signs, they can learn how to take control of their stress and make confident, smart decisions.
  3. Provide your child with a safe space: We all need a steady figure in our lives that helps us through turbulent times. For your child, you are that figure. Help children become more resilient and manage their stress by providing a safe and open environment in which they can safely express their emotions to you. Together, you can help your child develop and practice problem-solving skills and relaxation techniques.
  4. Stick to a routine: Make sure your child gets plenty of sleep, eats a well-balanced diet and has a regular, predictable routine. These habits lay a strong foundation for strengthening your child’s coping skills.
  5. Recognize signs of stress in your child: Know the signs and symptoms of stress in your child so you can be prepared to help him or her through it. These may include:
    • Irritability
    • Anxiety
    • Muscle tension
    • Rapid heartbeat
    • Difficulty separating from caregivers
    • Sleep problems
    • Frequent headache and stomach pains
    • Sadness
    • Changes in eating habits
  6. Don’t be afraid to seek help: “Bad stress” is when your child is so overwhelmed with a problem that it is interfering with his or her ability to function normally. Don’t be afraid to seek help, both for your child’s sake and your own. A mental-health professional may use cognitive behavioral therapy to help your child learn how to cope with stressful situations and manage their time better to reduce stress. In certain cases, a doctor may recommend anti-anxiety medications.

To find a pediatrician, pediatric subspecialist or family doctor, visit the UCLA physician/provider directory.