On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Kojo For Kids welcomes psychologist Mary Alvord, Ph.D., to the show on Monday November 9 at 12:30. Listen live by streaming the show on this page or by tuning in to 88.5 FM in the Washington, D.C. region. Kids can call in with questions at 800-433-8850.
Kids bear a heavy burden.
The pandemic has disrupted their childhoods. They are growing up in a bitterly divided country. And they suffer the corrosive effects of racial and economic inequality.
To help children cope with this anxiety and sadness, we’re calling on psychologist Mary Alvord, Ph.D., one of the region’s most respected academic and clinical experts on the mental health of kids and teens.
She’s been helping young people grapple with their problems for more than 35 years. Now she’s talking to our young listeners and taking their calls, aiming to make them feel more empowered and less alone.
All kids are invited to call in but we’ll also be hearing from the students from our school of the week, Paul Public Charter School, in the heart of D.C.
Note: At noon, prior to Kojo For Kids, Alvord — whose practice is not limited to young people — is the guest on a segment on the mental health challenges faced by adults.
This show is part of the “Kojo For Kids” series, a Kojo Nnamdi Show segment featuring guests of special interest to young listeners. Though Kojo has been on WAMU 88.5 for 20 years, this is the first time he has had the opportunity to reach out to an audience of kids, most of whom until recently had been in school during our live broadcast. We’re excited to hear from our youngest listeners! Join us!
Produced by Lauren Markoe
- Mary Alvord Psychologist and Director, Alvord, Baker & Associates; Adjunct Associate Professor, The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences; @DrMaryAlvord
KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. The world can seem as if it's spinning out of control these days. There was an election that left us very divided, and there's a pandemic that's got us all stuck at home, away from friends and activities. School is online. Then there are the usual challenges of being a kid: finding friends, managing schoolwork and dealing with peer pressures.
KOJO NNAMDIToday, on Kojo for Kids, we're going to talk about what's bothering kids today, from the little things to the big things, with Mary Alvord. You should also know that Dr. Alvord is also a child psychologist in private practice and the founder of The Resilience Across Borders, a nonprofit that promotes mental health care for young people. She's been helping kids and teens deal with their problems for more than 35 years.
KOJO NNAMDIAlso with us today are the students from our school of the week, Paul Public Charter School in the District. They're calling in, and we hope you will, too, if you're a kid. Mary Alvord, before we talk about some of the stresses that kids are under these days, we'd like to learn a little bit about you and when you were a kid. Where were you born, where did you grow up, and what did you like to do when you were young?
MARY ALVORDSo, I grew up in New York, in Queens, New York, as a child of immigrants. And we did not speak English at home. We spoke Russian and Armenian. And my friends, for the most part, also in my community, were children of immigrants, or perhaps themselves came as young children. And, you know, what was important to me were my friends. And also, I liked to swim. So, I was never a competitive swimmer, but that was something that I enjoyed. Being in New York City there weren't as many opportunities, so I also liked doing crafts and just dancing to music.
NNAMDI(laugh) When and why did you decide you wanted to be a psychologist? And what, a kid would ask, exactly does a psychologist do?
ALVORDWell, I think, early on, I felt that I wanted to work with children, either teaching them or really understanding what makes life so rich. And then I came about studying psychology and understanding human behavior. It was very exciting to me to be able to have some impact. And especially what impressed me was more I function and practice from a cognitive behavioral approach. It's very much a -- and also the resilience work that I do, very much a focus on what we have in our assets rather than just our deficits and our problems.
NNAMDIDr. Alvord, kids may want to know, how do you get to be a psychologist?
ALVORDWell, you go to college, and then you go to graduate school. So, it's more advanced training to get your doctorate. And then you do a lot of practice. You do an internship and you typically then, after you practice, you do more practice, so that you really have people helping you and guiding you just, you know, as teachers do, guiding you along the way.
ALVORDAnd there are many different kinds of psychologists. There are psychologists that work in schools. There are neuropsychologists who do a lot of testing, and work on that. And what I do is more clinical work and see children in therapy individually or in groups. And there’s great power to doing group work, because you know you're not alone.
NNAMDIWell, as I mentioned earlier today, we also have with us the students from Paul Public Charter School in the District. A Paul Public Charter School student who would like to remain anonymous sent us an email, who says: I have never felt panicky before, but I feel panicky about everything now. What are ways that I can calm myself down? How do I know if I should see a doctor?
ALVORDThat's a great question. And I think that what we also noticed is that the searches on panic are going -- a lot of people are having panic attacks. It's not panic disorder, but they are feeling overwhelmed. And what I would say is we have to take each segment at a time. It's just like if you have a huge group project due in a month, you don't start the day before, and you don't think about all of it at once. You break it down into small parts.
ALVORDAnd for this I think, you know, you look at what are some of the things you're panicked about, who are your support systems that you can talk about, all of these. And then get some ideas and strategies. And know if you see around -- you know, what we have learned with psychology is that there is -- it's far more acceptable. You don't have to have a gigantic problem to see a psychologist or see a school psychologist or see the school counselor. Because that might be someone to talk to first, and then decide if you need more help than the school counselor could give you.
NNAMDIWell, we know what it means to take care of our physical health. We should eat nutritious food and get enough sleep and exercise. But what is mental health, and how do we take care of it?
ALVORDWell, mental health is a combination of our thoughts, and so we need to really be aware of, what are we thinking? You know, what is that self-talk? Are we critical of ourselves? Are we (word?) ourselves? Are we able to problem-solve in our heads? You know, are we doing a lot of worrying, what-if thinking? Are we doing a lot of seeing the things that are going wrong instead of what's going okay, all right?
ALVORDAnd then mental health is also how we behave, because we know with anxiety, people start avoiding. And then you're not really able to fulfill all your activities and enjoy and have joy in your life. So, mental health is all those aspects of thoughts and behaviors and emotions. But it also includes the body, because what we have learned is that the body and the mind are very connected. And if I think, oh, my gosh, this is just too much, I can't handle this, right, our stomachs usually tighten up and -- or we tense up and we may not think as clearly, either. So, mental health really encompasses those four parts, but it focuses on our emotions and our thoughts.
NNAMDILet's talk about some of the things that are bothering a lot of kids these days, starting with the pandemic. Thankfully, kids seem to be the least likely to suffer serious symptoms of the coronavirus, but many are worried for their older relatives. What do you say to kids who are scared of getting the virus or, I guess, that someone they care about will get it?
ALVORDRight. You know, I think what I saw, what we say is, what the scientists say has been changing. But we're going to do all the things to try and protect you, the child, the teen, as well as those we come into contact with by doing the three things they're suggesting. Keeping that physical distance, and that's very hard when you're a kid and you can't play with your friends necessarily in the normal way. And, you know, have a mask. The kids seem to be adapting very well to the masks, I will say. It seems to bother them less than it does adults. And, of course, you know, washing our hands.
ALVORDSo, there are things that we can do to help with that -- the worry about the pandemic and COVID. And there's some things that we can't control, and so we have to learn to kind of tolerate some of that discomfort, but really focus on what can we control and what can we do.
NNAMDIBecause of the pandemic, most kids in this area don't get to go to school in person and may not get to see their friends. How can they deal with that separation?
ALVORDYou know, it's one of the hardest things that I am hearing from the kids. They're really missing their friends, because for so many of them they see many of the friends when they go to school. So, I am encouraging them to do video chats, text and go outside. And that way, you can have more physical distance and maybe you can ride bikes or connect with somebody and say, hey, let's get together and ride a bike or take a walk. Or there are even some playgrounds that are opened up now.
ALVORDFor teens, you know, they are using so much of the social media as a way to connect, as well. Connect, connect, I say, you know. And if we can't do it in person, then we try to modify, how can we do it in person but keeping some distance? And then if we can't do that, then the next level is, how do we do it virtually?
NNAMDIHere is 10-year-old Sam in Washington, D.C. Sam, you're on the air. It's your turn. Go ahead, please.
SAMHello. My name is Sam, and my question is, when do you think we'll be able to do things that we used to do, like to go back to school and play with our friends?
NNAMDIAre you missing that, Sam?
NNAMDIOkay. Here's Dr. Alvord.
ALVORDIt's hard. First of all, Sam, thank you for being brave enough to speak on a radio show. That's very brave. You know, I wish I knew. I think that sometimes the adults don't know, either, for sure, so we can't say for sure when things are going to happen. But I can say that there are many scientists and doctors and people of all types who are working very hard to get us back to being able to get back together and get back in school.
ALVORDSome schools are working on a hybrid, where they'll go one or two days a week. But most in this area are still virtual. So, I know it's really hard, but it's not forever. It may feel like it's forever, but it really is temporary. It's not going to be -- this is not going to go on for a long time, but it may go on until the summer.
NNAMDIYes, who knows? But, Sam, thank you very much for your call. Dr. Alvord, the country just had an election, which showed how divided Americans are. The campaign got pretty ugly. And it also showed that many adults believe ideas that -- at least certainly according to what we are reporting in the mainstream media -- ideas that are just not true, like the idea that the election was stolen. How are kids supposed to deal with the fact that some adults who tell kids to be kind and to be responsible don't necessarily act that way themselves?
ALVORDYeah, that's an excellent question, because adults really are the role models for children, and they don't necessarily have the skills to discern what's the truth and what's not. And, of course, as they get older, they can learn more, for example, media literacy, and hopefully learn sources that are backed by evidence.
ALVORDYou know, as a psychologist, what I practice is evidence-based, meaning it's science-based, through experiments. And I think kids need to understand that people are divided, that the world really isn't so much, you know, one extreme or the other, but it seems that way now. It seems like people are completely on one end of the spectrum or the other. But there is hope that people will meet in the middle and that evidence will prevail.
NNAMDII'm interested in how your profession will handle psychologists who are presumably supporters of the president who, despite the fact that they are trained psychologists, nevertheless believe that the election was stolen and are probably counseling kids, even as we speak. What would you say to those psychologists? Because -- go ahead.
ALVORDRight. I think, as a psychologist, we work very hard to keep our personal views separate from, you know, how we counsel. You know, when we do therapy, we're really looking to people to express what they value and what's important to them and what are they motivated to change. Of course, if they bring up political situations, I don't think it's appropriate to go in detail if you are really angry about something, you know, unless the client is bringing something up.
ALVORDAnd there are psychologists who are taking the point that the election isn't over until everything is counted. And there are many others who are saying, well, the evidence -- let's look at history. You know, history is usually, there is a winner declared and it's not -- it's, you know, before it's certified. And there's usually a gracious concession.
NNAMDIIndeed, it would appear that President Trump just lost the election. You sometimes talk about what it means to be a good loser. Why is it important to learn how to lose, and how can we be good losers?
ALVORDWell, you know, I developed a curriculum called The Resilience Builder program. And, in that program, we actually teach leadership skills to many of the schools in D.C. and in Maryland, and then, of course, in our practice and throughout the country. Leadership skills are so critical because, you know, all our kids are going to be future leaders. And one of the components of being a good leader is teamwork.
ALVORDAnd being a good team player means you're not hogging the ball all the time, you know. And we practice and we talk about if your team loses a soccer game, what do you do? You go across the field and everybody shakes hands -- not now, but we did. Now we do air shakes, probably. But it's important to be a good loser, because you can't always be a winner. If you were always a winner and everybody else was losing, nobody would want to be with you.
ALVORDAnd life is really having friends, and it's a give-and-take. And so being a good loser is critical, because we show maturity and we show that, you know, we can take it. If we lose the soccer game, it's not just our fault. We're all a team, but it's not really a fault. It happens. There's always winners and losers.
NNAMDIDr. Alvord, online school can be tough, not only because you can't see friends in person, but it can be hard to keep track of classes and assignments, not to mention doing everything on a computer. And some kids get bullied. Does that still happen in virtual school?
ALVORDYou know, I don't know that it's happening in virtual school while the teachers are there monitoring it, but it certainly happens in cyberspace and after, with texting. So, I think it's still a concern, and it's probably always going to be a concern, but there are ways that you can deal with that.
ALVORDAnd I teach kids to sort of hold themselves, you know, stand up, shoulders up -- shoulders back and down so that you, with a firm voice, know -- and this is where the self-talk comes in -- you know in your head they're not right about whatever they're saying. And I also think that anybody who's name-calling or bullying, you can think of them, as a kid, that's pathetic. Like, do they not have anything better to do than bully or name-call? So, I know I used that as strategy when I was a kid and really short and people would make comments. I grew, but I'm still not tall. (laugh)
ALVORDBut, you know, we all need our ways, but we also need the confidence to say, what they're saying is not true and, wow, I kind of feel sorry for them, because don't they have something better to do than bully?
NNAMDII'd like to talk about screen time and video games, because many parents and kids argue about this. Kids want to spend more time on screens, and parents are always telling them to shut it down. What's a good way to deal with fights over screens?
ALVORDWell, first of all, there is also research on screen -- there's a lot of different kind of opposing views. But I think we've come to the point we're looking at, it’s not just time, but it's what is going on and the context. And I say to parents, first of all, know what they're doing on the screen. That is important. And maybe even join them with some of the games, that you have a better sense, and that there's also some interaction.
ALVORDThere's also a strategy we use called contingency management. It's, basically, you have your preferred activity, which might be screens, after you do your non-preferred activity, which might be homework or something else you do, you know, practicing a musical instrument. Maybe that's not as preferred.
ALVORDAnd then having time, you know, with -- I know with my kids, often, I would just say, it's time to go outside. Don't care what the weather is, don't care how cold it is, it's time to be outside in nature. And so, we can't just say don't do screens. I think we need to make sure there're alternative activities that are fun that kids can do. And, certainly, outdoors, they can be so creative.
ALVORDSo, that's the problem I'm seeing is that, you know, it's not just you have this many minutes, but kids often don't know what else to do. They feel like it's so stimulating, that they want to keep doing it. So, join them, talk about it, talk about the risks and the benefits, and then have them go outside and play or do creative time.
NNAMDIHere's 11-year-old Xavier in Maryland. Xavier, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
XAVIERHello. So, as you said, I am from Maryland, and my question is about how do you think other – so, I'm very into politics, and so I'm wondering, like, how other people felt, like how they had so much pent-up, like, suspense about, like, who was going to win. Because I know some are just like waiting for Trump to get away, but also others want Trump to be reelected to keep America great. So, I'm just wondering how people have, you know, like, been relieved when they found out. Like, how much stress, you know, and how much, you know, time and all that.
ALVORDYeah, good question. You know, Xavier, I think you are saying, in a nutshell, what's happening is some people are jubilant that there will be a new president. And there are other people that are angry and sad, and not taking it seriously. And your question is sort of, how do you wait? This was a difficult week, I think, for everyone but particularly, I suggested people just unplug. Because if you're constantly looking at -- looking for the results, that means you can't do other things. It also means you might get upset, you might have high emotions and low emotions. And it's kind of like a yoyo.
ALVORDSo, I think learning to be patient and sort of doing other things, living life while you are waiting and really turning off some of the news sometimes and some of the social media so that, you know, you can. And then learn to talk to other people.
ALVORDYou know, we are all Americans, and I think the greatest hope is that everyone learns to talk to everyone and is not extreme on either side. You know, as a psychologist, I have to deal with people who have many different kinds of beliefs. I have to take them and meet them where they are, and then we work on how that interferes in their life and what can we do to improve their life. I hope that answers, Xavier.
NNAMDIXavier, thank you very much for your call. And that's about all the time we have. Mary Alvord is a child psychologist in private practice and the founder of Resilience Across Borders, a nonprofit that promotes mental health care for young people. Dr. Alvord, thank you for joining us for this entire hour.
ALVORDThank you so much for having me. And, again, thank you for highlighting mental health and mental wellness.
NNAMDIAgain, thank you for joining us. Kojo for Kids with psychologist Mary Alvord was produced by Lauren Markoe. And our conversation with Dr. Alvord about how adults can care of their mental health was produced by Julie Depenbrock. Coming up tomorrow, we discuss the newly-released film "Residue" by D.C. native Merawi Gerima, which chronicles an aspiring filmmaker who returns to the District to find his own neighborhood gentrified beyond recognition.
NNAMDIPlus, on Election Day, D.C. residents overwhelmingly voted to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms. What will that mean, and what do we know about the medicinal effects of fungi like mushrooms? That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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