Ask the expert: How to handle back-to-school stress

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Carolyn Snell, PhD

My child has expressed some anxiety about going back to school. How can I help?

Anxious in Andover

Back-to-school can be a stressful time for children of all ages, as well as for their parents. Children and teens may worry about practical things such as being able to find their way around the school building, may have concerns about their ability to get work done and receive good grades, or may experience anxiety related to friends and peer relationships as the year begins.

One way that parents can help is by giving children information or experiences beforehand that allow them to have a clearer idea about what to expect. For example, sharing information with a young child about what the classroom schedule and routine will be like, or about the child’s teachers, can help kids feel prepared.

Read more, and watch this video interview with Dr. Snell to learn how to help your child.

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Celebrating parents: “You are doing a great job”

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Many patients and families spend hours, days and sometimes weeks in our halls and in our care—Linda and her son, Christos included.

Christos, 17, is a medically complex child who has had many admissions lasting two weeks or more.

During a recent admission, Linda was inspired by a post written by mother and writer Lexi Behrndt. The post, she says, is a source of hope and a reminder that parents “are not alone.”

“When Christos is hospitalized, I sometimes walk the halls to try and relax,” Linda says. “I see other Moms, the look on their faces trying to be strong. I see them talking to the doctors trying to understand what it all means. I see some crying. Sometimes I just want to hug them and say ‘I understand.'”

Parents are on the frontline. You are researchers and advocates. You are compassionate and love unconditionally. You sit bedside and wipe away tears and carry your children through their medical journey.

To honor parents near and far, Lexi is kindly sharing her experiences with our Thriving readers.

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Mason’s story: A newborn with a peach-sized tumor

momandmasonWhen Tara Johnson found out— after 10 years of trying to get pregnant—she was carrying boy-girl twins, she was thrilled. “It was so exciting, it felt like a double blessing,” she remembers.

The pregnancy progressed normally until her 21-week checkup when everything changed. Doctors found a large growth on the neck of her unborn son.

Tara’s care was transferred to Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and doctors from Endocrinology and Otolaryngology at Boston Children’s Hospital formed a team to manage her son’s care.

When she was 31 weeks pregnant, Tara and husband Bruce were in Boston to meet with Boston Children’s Associate Otolaryngologist-in-Chief Dr. Reza Rahbar for the first time, when she unexpectedly went into labor. Doctors were able to stop the labor, and Tara was put on bed rest at Brigham and Women’s. “I was really at the right place at the right time,” she says.

The ensuing weeks were filled with a lot of waiting and anxiety, two MRIs, many ultrasounds and multiple meetings with Dr. Rahbar to plan for the twins’ birth and the inevitable surgery to remove her son’s ever-increasing growth. Dr. Rahbar was certain the tumor was a benign teratoma, but couldn’t determine exactly the severity until the baby was born. Bruce remembers, “I worried a lot about whether Mason would make it through all of his medical issues, and at the same time I also worried about the long-term complications if he did survive.”

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Alina’s Story, Part II: 7 tips for long hospital stays

When four-year-old Alina Siman was waiting for a heart transplant in 2011, she had to stay at Boston Children’s Hospital for a total of five months. Alina had suffered from severe heart failure and was building strength on a Berlin Heart, a mechanical device that temporarily takes over the heart’s pumping functions.

Alina received her new heart on February 28, 2012. Her mother, Mary Jane Siman, shares what she learned about staying positive, active and entertained while you’re stuck in the hospital for a long time.

“These few tips were created with the help of the entire team that worked with Alina: doctors, nurses, social workers and all the great people around her,” says Mary.

No1

Have a schedule.

Alina's scheduleMary made Alina a daily schedule so she could look forward to certain activities and the day felt organized and purposeful. She made sure to fit in mother-daughter private time, too. “That’s when we’d have dance parties,” she says.

No2

Create a biography of your child.

journal modernHaving a biography helped Alina easily answer the questions she was asked repeatedly, especially when a nurse was taking care of her for the first time. (For example: Which finger did the last nurse use for the pulse oximeter? What time do you go to bed?)

No3

If you are spiritual, take advantage of the hospital’s chaplaincy services.

prayingBoston Children’s chaplains honor every journey of faith and are here to assist you in meeting your unique spiritual needs. “It is always helpful to feel peace during the storm,” Mary says.

No4

Don’t neglect education.

school deskMary arranged for a tutor to visit Alina two or three times a week. During these sessions, Alina would review her colors, numbers and other things that she would have been learning in a normal pre-school program. This helped ensure that Alina was not behind when she re-joined her peers in school.

No5

Get moving!

Alina riding bikeAlina went for walks around the unit every day. She also rode a bike, played soccer and even built a snowman with her Berlin Heart. “Alina loves to sing and dance and make other people laugh,” her mother adds. “Every day at 5 p.m., she’d take her microphone and put on a show for the nurses. The nurses’ station was right outside our room, and they would all come around to watch.”

No6

Take advantage of the hospital’s inpatient programs.

girl with craftThe hospital cares for the well-being of its patients and parents. Child Life Specialists visit your room (if your child can’t go out) and bring supplies for whatever activities your child feels comfortable with, such as crayons and paper or board games. You can also pick out games and movies from the floor’s playroom, where group activities are also held throughout the week.

Make new friends.

make new friends 2Mary met and grew close to other families on Alina’s unit. “I’m still in touch with them via Facebook,” she says. “You feel attached to them; they become a part of your life, part of your family. We cried and we laughed together.”

Mary and Alina also grew close to the clinical staff, especially the nurses, who made custom jerseys for Alina’s soccer games, and Dr. Christina VanderPluym, the Medical Director for the Mechanical Circulatory Support Program.

“The entire Transplant Team made us feel special,” says Mary. “Christina [VanderPluym] was our angel. She made Alina laugh for the first time when she was hospitalized. She made me realize that life in the hospital can have a little bit of fun. We love her and love to see her, if we can, every time we’re at Boston Children’s.”

Stay tuned for Alina’s story part III: Life after Transplant

Learn more about the Heart Failure/ Heart Transplant Program at Boston Children’s Hospital.

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