Take the time to talk with them about their day. Certain kids might be more willing to share than others, but some sort of structured check in — say, sharing the highs and lows of each of your days around the dinner table — could be a great way to make this space.
School is really not easy these days. Many students have been out of school for a long time because of the pandemic, and the continued disruptions and anxieties are still breaking the flow of normal learning. What can parents do to help their children thrive and excel in school, particularly during these challenging and anxiety-provoking times?
To address this, we started a new series called ‘5 Things Parents Can Do To Help Their Children Thrive and Excel In School.” In this interview series, we are talking to teachers, principals, education experts, and successful parents to learn from their insights and experience.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure to interview Melissa Goldberg Mintz.
Melissa Goldberg Mintz, PsyD, received her Master’s and Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the University of Denver, and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the Menninger Clinic with Baylor College of Medicine. She currently owns a private practice, Secure Base Psychology, and holds the title of Clinical Assistant Professor at Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Goldberg Mintz is passionate about providing evidence-based care to children, adolescents, and adults who have experienced trauma. She is trained in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), the gold-standard treatment for traumatized children and adolescents, as well as Prolonged Exposure (PE), and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), gold-standard treatment for traumatized adults. Her new book, Has Your Child Been Traumatized? How to Know and What to do to Promote Healing and Recovery will be published by The Guilford Press in August 2022.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us a bit about your “backstory”?
Of course. I grew up in Houston, Texas and got my doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the University of Denver. I always knew I wanted to be a psychologist but had no idea what I wanted to specialize in until I happened upon an opportunity in treating traumatized children and families. I was taken by the effectiveness of some of the models that treat this population, and even more amazed by how a warm, supportive parent-child relationship can facilitate the healing process. In my own practice, I often found myself looking for resources for caregivers to support them in parenting traumatized children. The literature was scant, so I wrote a book to fill this gap.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I am blessed to be in a field full of interesting stories! One lesson I frequently find myself re-learning is not to make assumptions. Since I specialize in child trauma, I frequently have parents bring kids in after some horrific adverse experience. Frequently, the kids are unphased by the experience, and would rather spend their time talking about the plight of a failed romantic relationship or the latest friend drama. Sometimes this may be because a child is trying to avoid talking about something more uncomfortable, but other times it is truly because the child was resilient to the event and doesn’t need to talk about it!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My general philosophy is “connection is the best medicine we have.” This way of thinking stems from a quote I often heard from Dr. Jon Allen, a mentor of mine who said “the single best way we know to deal with emotional pain is through connecting to others that we feel securely attached to.” In my personal life, I strive to turn towards others — rather than away from them — when I’m feeling my lowest. In my professional practice, I try to support patients to do the same. This is often easier said than done, as what brings people to therapy most frequently is a struggle in relationships!
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I’d say I’m very connection-minded. Some people cringe at the word “networking” but I think forming relationships with people in your sector is so crucial to success. No one succeeds alone.
I’m also curious about my field. I certainly would not have had the stamina to write my book, Has Your Child Been Traumatized: How to Know and What to do to Promote Healing and Recovery (The Guilford Press, 2022), had I not been so eager to sift through research and curious about best practices in parenting and trauma.
Lastly, let’s go with enthusiasm. I enjoy the field of psychology and consider myself lucky to be a life-long learner. There’s always something exciting and new to learn.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m collaborating with some local organizations to adapt my book, into a curriculum for parents of trafficked children. What I believe is that parents play a crucial role in the healing process following exposure to an adverse event, but so many parents are overwhelmed and don’t know how to best support their children. This curriculum will help guide them through best practices.
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit about why you are an authority on how to help children succeed in school?
In my practice, I’ve spent years treating issues like social anxiety, school and homework avoidance, and separation anxiety, all issues that impact school performance.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. Can you help articulate the main challenges that students face today that make it difficult to succeed in school?
What’s been most prominent in my practice is social anxiety. Because so many students did virtual school for a year or more, returning to in-person classes felt overwhelming to many. The muscles these kids had for social skills atrophied, and the idea of forming new friendships or making small talk with peers and teachers was frightening. These kids were constantly on-edge in school, which makes it hard to learn.
Can you suggest a few reforms that you think schools should make to help students to thrive and excel?
More mental health support. Parents often have a hard time accessing therapy and psychiatry services for their kids — in Houston, for example, there’s often a 6–8 week wait to connect a child with a psychiatrist. Other parents may have a hard time transporting their kids to regular therapy sessions. Having mental health support in schools would help support our students and could get around some of the barriers to accessing mental health care.
Here is our primary question. Can you please share your “5 Things Parents Can Do To Help Their Children Thrive and Excel In School?” Please share a story or example for each.
1. Number one will always be to make sure your child’s basic needs are being met. A child who is sleepy from staying up all night on devices won’t learn well. Same goes for a hungry kid who regularly skips breakfast.
2. Take the time to talk with them about their day. Certain kids might be more willing to share than others, but some sort of structured check in — say, sharing the highs and lows of each of your days around the dinner table — could be a great way to make this space.
3. Build a relationship with your child’s teacher. Attend the back-to-school nights, the parent teacher conferences, and if your child seems to be struggling, reach out.
4. Offer homework support. This may vary based on your child’s individual needs, but often times, kids benefit from having a parent nearby that they can turn to when they get stuck.
5. Support your child’s social life. Your child’s social relationships are a big part of academic life. Get to know your child’s friends and their parents. If your child is having a hard time making friends, this can interfere with wellbeing at school. If your child is younger, set up regular play dates with classmates to promote friendships. If your child is older, consider supporting them in an after-school activity that aligns with their strengths and interests. For example, if you have a child that loves Broadway, encourage a theater production over a sports team.
As you know, teachers play such a huge role in shaping young lives. What would you suggest needs to be done to attract top talent to the education field?
Better pay for teachers. I love the generosity people across the country have with “clear the list,” but would love for our teachers to not have to rely on the generosity of strangers to get basic classroom needs met.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
That would be Oprah! I have loved her past coverage on child mental health and trauma.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Follow along on my website, www.melissagoldbergmintz.com, or my Instagram, @securebasepsychology
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!