Tag Archives: superheroes

The Half Dozen, or How to Return to School

1. Be proactive about mental health
No news is good news is absolutely incorrect in this case. How can you recognize when your child is having a tough time? Look for signs and symptoms that something is wrong: these include isolation, irritability, low mood, poor frustration tolerance, difficulty sleeping, lack of motivation, lack of enjoyment of normal activities, crying, or concerns about safety. I’d recommend having a very low threshold for getting professional help.

2. Consider the effects of layers of change
In general, in any circumstances, going back to school is a big change. But it’s a whole new setting especially for kids who are going from elementary school to middle school or middle school to high school. All of a sudden, they’re expected to know what they’re doing. It’s a huge shift from being in their space at home to now being in this world of back to school. Or a new school. If your child is having a hard time with the transition, think about how they normally act when they’re stressed and look for those behaviors. For example, if your child gets headaches or stomach aches when they’re anxious, you’ll know that school is stressing them out should they start having them more frequently. Of course, big markers are mood changes, anxiety on Sunday nights before the school week starts, and outright school refusal.

3. Establish routines before and after school
Kids need stability during times of change. Be present, predictable and consistent. Family might be the only part of their lives that feels that way right now. Be there for them and follow their lead as much as you can. Maintaining appropriate times for bed, dinner, prepping for the week, recreational time, and chores is more important than ever. Doing as much as possible beforehand is also comforting to kids. Pack your lunch or snacks, put out clothes you want to wear, prep your backpack, go over the schedule for the next day, all the night before.

4. Be peaceful energy
If your child’s reactions seem different, perhaps snippier than usual or even overreacting to seemingly small stressors, the best thing you can do is meet the reactions with compassion, warmth, and calm, instead of reacting yourself. An overreaction can take the form of minimizing in order to be presumably reassuring, being overly solicitous of fears or worries, or just being impatient. Now is NOT the time, as I always tell families, to get into conflicts, or try to confront bigger issues in the household. Times of transition require calmness. As school starts, building up the daily routine and foundation of daily household functioning creates scaffolding.

5. Make things fun
I have kids pick masks that they enjoy, personalize their backpack or notebook with buttons and stickers, select snacks that they love to take to school, make a playlist of favorite YouTube snippets or music that cheers them up and give it a special name (mine is Monday, Monday), and bring something personal with them to school, a small stress toy, journal, or stuffed animal. In my office, I have an assortment of squeezy toys, animals and dinosaurs, and action figures. Sometimes clients like to pick and take a toy with them. It connects them to a sense of safety, known as a transitional object.

6. Reassure them that they are not alone
Many kids have not seen their friends or teachers in over a year. Kids have questions. They want to know how they are going to get from class to class on time. Are they going to miss their bus? How will they get around the school building without getting lost? What will they do if they start having anxiety during class? Where will they sit at lunch? What if they don’t know anybody in their class? Being able to discuss all of these questions without minimizing worries or concerns is needed. Making school advisors, counselors, and administrators aware of any medical or mental health concerns beforehand is also recommended.

Superhero Therapy and Mental Health

When we think of Superman, all sorts of powers come to mind: flight, heat vision, near-complete invulnerability. But we may overlook his greatest characteristic: compassion. He chooses not to harm. Superman’s greatest power is his compassion. Throughout every successful iteration of the character that one virtue remains constant: he is an extremely powerful and endlessly resourceful being motivated by bottomless reservoirs of compassion to help people in whatever way he can. He experiences great distress when he is not able to aid someone in pain or peril.

The beauty of superhero stories, for me, is that they invite us to identify with the superhero, to imagine ourselves with their burdens and challenges, but also with their capabilities. Superhero stories are prevalent in some of the therapy work that I do. The characteristics of well known and loved heroes, and villains, are often catalysts for deeply personal disclosures and discussions by patients. For example, following the release of Black Panther, many of my patients were split about their favorite character in the movie, Killmonger or T’Challa. I call this Superhero Therapy: incorporating the characteristics of Superheroes into evidence-based therapy (CBT, Mindfulness, etc.).

The compassion of Superman and mental health
Dr. Steve Cole, a medical researcher at UCLA, conducted a study in 2012 assessing the characteristics of ‘very happy people’ and the possible relation to physical health. They found that people who were happy because they lived for pleasure or fun (sometimes also know as “hedonic happiness”) had high inflammation levels but that, on the other hand, people who were happy because they lived a life of purpose or meaning had low inflammation levels. Inflammation is implicated in a host of chronic illnesses, including cancer, heart disease, and obesity. A life of meaning and purpose is one focused less on satisfying oneself and more on others. Compassion is strongly associated with longevity and good health. 

Another way in which a compassionate lifestyle may improve longevity is it protect us against stress. A large study by the Department of Psychology at the University at Buffalo found that stress did not predict mortality in those who helped others, but that it did in those who did not. In addition, people who practiced a more compassionate lifestyle, including volunteering and community service, had significantly lower rates of anxiety and depression.

Finally, compassion may boost well-being by increasing a sense of connection to others. A number of studies have shown that lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure. Social connection strengthens our immune system (research by Steve Cole showed that the same genes impacted by social connection also code for immune function and inflammation), helps us recover from disease faster, and may even lengthen our life.

The compassion of Superman can be a useful metaphor in psychotherapy, where people are often struggling with difficult questions:

Are they doing or accomplishing enough?
How are they going to manage restraint and impulse control and still have a voice?
How are they going to be there for others and self-care at the same time?

On the Psychology of Superheroes

Mr. Boseman embodied the idea that anyone can be a superhero, if they choose. He played King T’Challa, a superhero and leader of Wakanda, in the film Black Panther – which was praised as a cultural milestone for having a primarily black cast and portraying women as more than equal warriors, rulers, leaders, and scientists.

His character was seen as an inspiration for young black people in particular – as Black Panther was the first high-profile black Marvel superhero, and Wakanda was a strong and thriving country with the most advanced technology on Earth. Dozens of young clients I have worked with spoke of Black Panther as a very important influence in their life. Many a time, children came into my clinic wearing a black panther mask.

As tributes pour in for Boseman, who died of cancer at age 43, many are remembering the impact that his character had on them, and their families. In addition to the Black Panther, Mr. Boseman portrayed Jackie Robinson, Justice Thurgood Marshall, and legendary singer, James Brown. He had an exceptional range. Yesterday, we learned that he was a superhero in his personal life, who had been battling a virulent form of cancer, and was quietly and diligently working on his craft and movies between treatments for over four years.

In 1977, psychologist Albert Bandura developed the theory of social learning, proposing the idea that learning occurs within a social context through both observation and direct instruction. Developmental psychologists have stated that social learning theory has applications for the way in which children develop an understanding of morals and empathy. Most famously, Bandura tested his theory using the Bobo Doll experiment, in which adults modeled violent behavior towards a doll and were then punished, rewarded or provided no consequence. Children were then observed to determine if they would replicate the behavior that they observed. At a high level of significance, they modeled the behavior they saw.

It is quite common for superheroes to be presented with the option of whether to fight or not to fight – to use their moral compass, so to speak, before making big decisions. Importantly, these moral dilemmas occur so frequently within comics they give children the opportunity to observe how their favorite role model problem-solves through ethically laden situations. Super heroes ARE role models and facilitate learning. The regal presence and grace of King T’Challa has left an impact on an entire generation of children. And adults.

Embolden Psychology

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Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

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