Committee for Children Blog

Winter Well-Being Q&A with Dr. Mylien Duong

Dr. Mylien Duong

A new self-care video series from Committee for Children, A Psychologist’s Guide to Winter Well-Being, is designed to support parents’ mental health. The videos feature Dr. Mylien Duong, a clinical psychologist and senior research scientist at Committee for Children. We sat down with Dr. Duong to ask her a little more about her involvement in the new series and why adult well-being is an essential topic for her and our organization right now.

We recently launched a new video series where you’re the featured expert. What was the motivation behind the series, and what are you hoping to achieve?

Dr. Duong: This is a such tough time for everyone. There’s so much going on, especially for parents who are working full time and taking care of their kids during the day. At Committee for Children, we’ve been inspired by this everyday heroism, which we think is underrecognized and underappreciated. And at the same time, we know a lot of people are struggling and looking for solutions. This is our way of giving support in whatever way we can. We designed the videos to be short and sweet and offer a simple self-care activity each week for parents to practice and easily integrate into their daily lives. It’s our goal to bring well-being into focus for parents, simplify it, and empower them to prioritize self-care and mental health this winter.

As you mentioned, the video series focuses on adult well-being, particularly that of parents and caregivers. Why do you think this is important?

Dr. Duong: Since the founding of Committee for Children over 40 years ago, we’ve been focused on children’s safety and well-being. We’ve specialized in developing programs for children. And as we’ve done that work, it’s become clear that we also need to think about the adults in children’s lives. Kids don’t grow up in vacuums; their families and their schools deeply influence them. If we want thriving children, we need thriving adults, too. We know focusing on adults is essential, and this is actually one of a few exciting things coming out of Committee for Children. We’re working on a professional learning program for adults in K–12 schools for 2021 that we’re really excited about. We know adults in schools will benefit from focusing on their social-emotional competencies. When adults are doing well and feel their best, our kids pick up on that, and they will thrive, too.

That’s very interesting. Can you share more about the connection between social-emotional competency and mental health?

Dr. Duong: Broadly speaking, social-emotional competency is mental health. Here’s how the American Psychological Association defines mental health: “A state of mind characterized by emotional well-being, good behavioral adjustment, relative freedom from anxiety and disabling symptoms, and a capacity to establish constructive relationships and cope with the ordinary demands and stresses of life.”

And here’s how CASEL defines social-emotional learning (SEL): “SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”

In both definitions, there is a component of emotional wellness, strong relationships, and the ability to manage the demands of life. Both definitions map onto the research base showing that our social-emotional competencies span three domains: emotions (identifying and regulating them, managing stress), relationships (taking someone else’s perspective, teamwork), and cognition (solving problems, reflecting). Of course, there is a genetic or biological component to many mental health disorders, but social-emotional learning is one evidence-based approach to population-health prevention of mental health disorders. Essentially, teaching and learning social-emotional competencies can bolster our mental health, helping us become more resilient and adaptive to all of life’s stressors.

For each week of the series, you show a new strategy. What advice do you have for people who are new to trying out some of these strategies?

Dr. Duong: One of our goals is to give people simple and concrete tools and routines they can use when they feel like they’re struggling and strapped for time (some take as little as 20 seconds). If you try each strategy for a week, you’ll get a feel for how to do it, and you’ll be more likely to remember that you’ve got them in your toolkit for when you need them.

Just like anything else, it’s crucial to practice immediately after learning something new. Do the strategy right after you watch the video, before you lose momentum. With little things like these, it’s easy to say, “I’ll do it later.” But the research shows we typically don’t (do it later). You can make it more social by doing the strategies with a friend, colleagues, or a group of other parents (say, your PTA). The first week the video launched, someone at work sent me a message that said, “Did you write your permission slip?” That kept me accountable!

What are the short– and long-term benefits of using these types of strategies for our mental health and well-being?

Dr. Duong: Well-being, like social-emotional learning, is a process, and it’s lifelong. Just like diet or exercise, think about these as a way of life. When we incorporate practices like expressing gratitude and deep breathing into daily life, we become more emotionally and mentally resilient to stress and anxiety. It helps us make the stressful things feel less stressful.

For more information about the new Winter Well-Being video series, check out the full announcement and visit the Committee for Children YouTube playlist for a new video every Monday through January 2021. And make sure to check our Second Step® SEL for Adults program page for updates on the upcoming launch.