Child psychologist Dr. Mary Goodarzi joins Piper + Enza as an expert contributor focused on supporting parents and caregivers in fostering emotional well-being and resilience in their children.
What led you to pursuing a career as a child psychologist?
In undergrad, I realized I wanted to go into psychology, but didn’t know exactly what speciality within the field I’d like to focus on. During my Master’s program, I completed research positions at UCLA focusing on children, teens and young adults. That is when I realized I wanted to focus my training and education on children, psychoeducational assessments, and parenting.
How have your personal experiences, both as a parent and otherwise, informed your professional journey?
Oh my goodness, where to start! As a parent, patience has taught me the most. I always talked about patience in my sessions and the importance of being patient not only with your child, but with yourself. I’ve often advised parents to take “time-ins” for themselves. But I never knew how patience can impact your relationship deep down to your core until I was dealing with my own screaming toddler. The biggest lesson that I keep learning each and every day is to continue being patient and validating.
Building our little ones’ emotional well-being will allow them to become more confident, more curious, more sincere, more motivated, and truly believe in themselves. I have learned that so much is about the narrative that we use to assist our children in how to understand and make sense of many of their experiences. It’s not only how we say things, but what we say, how we frame our words to really foster their understanding and growth.
In your role as a mental health professional, especially during the pandemic, what have you observed that families are most often challenged with when it comes to interacting with and supporting their kids?
What I noticed most during the pandemic was the exhaustion that many parents faced, (and some continue to face) while having to continue working, teaching, working around their children’s school schedules, figuring out teaching materials, maintaining the household, and all in isolation. Overall, depressive and anxiety symptoms increased for many adults as well as children. Overnight, our children were pulled from everything they knew: school, peers, sports, activities, family events, etc. The age range that I noticed to be most affected were the 12-15 age range where they had a difficult time expressing and understanding the difficult emotions they were experiencing and feeling stuck and isolated at home.
What I recommended parents to focus on during this challenging time was building their child’s resiliency. Parents were also having difficulty finding the right words to talk to their children about what was happening, without wanting to create more anxiety around Covid, the pandemic, and having no answers to when it would all end. Now as we head into some more “normalcy”, we still have some challenges ahead as we move towards summer activities.
Can you talk a little bit about the way kids today experience anxiety and how parents can address it?
What is unique about my industry is that each child’s temperament determines how their symptoms may present. So, two very different children’s presentations of anxiety could present very differently. Look out for any of the following in your child:
- more behavioral outbursts: clinginess, meltdowns, sibling rivalries, etc.
- not engaging in activities that they once loved.
- sleeping more or less.
- withdrawal, isolating themselves, and/or seeming more irritable.
If you’re noticing that your child is asking more specific questions, always answer in a calm tone, meet them at their eye level, and repeat if needed. Asking the same question over is a way for little ones to process the information. It is important to note that anxiety and depressive symptoms may go hand in hand.
(This is all information meant for educational purposes, If you have additional questions, I would recommend personally contacting a mental health expert or psychologist.)
How are you hoping to support the Piper + Enza community?
I hope to support Piper + Enza in any way that I can, both professionally and personally. I hope to bring support around psychological growth in the narratives created for Piper + Enza to help parents and caregivers introduce certain topics in a developmentally appropriate way for our children to process these experiences, fostering resiliency, strength, confidence, and emotional growth.
Dr. Mary Goodarzi is a Southern California-area child psychologist and a Piper+Enza expert contributor.