How Do I Find a Special Needs Planning Lawyer?

This guest post is from Benjamin Rubin.

Let me begin by asking you a question. If you needed heart surgery, would you go to a general practitioner or an internist? Of course you would not entrust your heart surgery to anyone but an Blog-Special-Needs-Lawyer-Main-Landscapeexperienced heart surgeon. Likewise, when you need special needs planning, you shouldn’t be considering a general practitioner, or even a general estate planning attorney.

So, what is special needs planning?

The attorney should be experienced not only in drafting the two kinds of Special Needs Trusts, but also be experienced dealing with the Social Security Administration and the state when they review the trusts upon application for SSI and Medicaid, or upon redeterminations. The attorney should also be familiar with guardianship and the alternatives to guardianship, as well as how to navigate successfully the state’s children and adult services system for individuals with special needs including intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, mental illness, or those with significant physical disabilities. We often refer to it as the Illinois “maze” for services.

In addition, you want an attorney who will know, and advise you promptly, when new laws, rules, or procedures occur that impact your planning. You want to find an attorney or firm that can assist you, with compassion and understanding. Many special needs planning attorneys are themselves parents or siblings of individuals with special needs and “get it.”

I suggest that the first place to visit is www.specialneedsalliance.org, The Special Needs Alliance (SNA) is a national, not-for-profit, association of experienced special needs planning attorneys, a majority of whom are fellow parents or siblings. Membership is by invitation. I was honored last year to be invited as one of the youngest members to ever be invited to join the SNA and my father is honored to serve as President-Elect of that national organization. In fact, three of the four attorneys in our office are invited SNA Member Attorneys, and the fourth is an Affiliate SNA Member attorney.

Another source is www.specialneedsplanners.com. The Academy of Special Needs Planners (ASNP), a national group, is owned by three attorneys and is open to all attorneys, regardless of experience. My father was a charter member of that group and I remain a member of this group. There are many excellent special needs planning attorneys that are members of ASNP.

However, if you are considering an attorney who is not a member of Special Needs Alliance, I suggest you ask some questions such as:

  1. How many “third party special needs trusts” have you prepared in the past month? Six months?
  2. How many “first party special needs trusts” have you prepared in the past month? Six months?
  3. If the Social Security Administration or the State of Illinois has questions about the trust(s) you drafted, will you “handle” those questions without any additional cost/fees?
  4. How many adult guardianships have you handled and powers of attorney have you drafted for individuals with special needs in the past year?
  5. What other areas of practice does that attorney handle (check his or her web site)? That is, are they also doing business law, traffic, divorce, bankruptcy, personal injury, etc.? If they are practicing in other areas of law, then they will not be able to adequately stay current with the constant changes that take place in the area of special needs planning.

Finally, you are not just looking for someone to draft a document, but you are looking for a relationship with a firm that will be going down that road to peace of mind with you for many years.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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bnrbarmjrBenjamin Rubin limits his law practice, as does the firm of Rubin Law, to Special Needs Legal and Future Planning for his fellow families of individuals with special needs. Benji serves as Vice-Chair of the American Bar Association’s Special Needs Planning Committee, is a member of both the Academy of Special Needs Planners and, by invitation, the Special Needs Alliance, the national not-for-profit association of special needs planning attorneys, is President of SIBS (Supporting Illinois Brothers and Sisters), the Illinois chapter of the national Sibling Leadership Network, which is an organization of adult siblings of individuals with intellectual disabilities, developmental Disabilities, mental illness, among other special needs, is a member of the Board of Directors of The Arc of Illinois, is a member of the Clearbrook Associate Board (Clearbrook is an agency serving over 7,000 children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, one of whom is Benji’s brother Mitchell), is a member of the SEDOL (Special Education District of Lake County) Foundation Board of Directors, and serves on the Advisory Council of Encompass a joint venture that in partnership with Jewish Child & Family Services, Jewish United Fund, JVS Chicago, JCC Chicago, Keshet, and The Center for Enriched Living and Center for Independent Futures, seeks to provide adults with I/DD a full array of financially sustainable, community-based services and supports.Having Mitchell as a brother profoundly shaped who Benji is today, and thus the type of law he chose to practice. His personal experiences as a sibling offer a unique perspective into the responsibilities that come with caring for a sibling with special needs. Now, as an adult, those sometimes present and future responsibilities he will share with his older sister regarding his brother’s care, are a concern that he shares with all brothers and sisters of individuals with special needs.

How to Make Financial and Legal Decisions for My Child with Special Needs

This guest post is from Benjamin Rubin.

Estate planning for parents of a child with special needs is, regretfully, a very complex process. In order to provide for a “special needs” child’s financial security to assure that he or she remains blog-legal-and-financial-main-landscapequalified or able to qualify in the future for government benefits such as S.S.I. and Medicaid, and to protect any inheritance or gift from claims of the government for reimbursement for benefits provided to him or her prior to our death or receipt of the gift, parents must properly plan now. More importantly, we must plan differently than other parents who do not have a child with special needs.

The facts are that in Illinois, as is the case in most states, without proper wills and trusts, a child with special needs may inherit property or receive gifts only to be then disqualified from receiving government benefits. Additionally, without proper planning and drafting of estate plan documents, the government may claim reimbursement from the child’s inheritance or gift for benefits provided to the child prior to the parent’s death or receipt of such a gift. This result is true even with “traditional” family trusts with “spendthrift” provisions that many attorneys use for all parents. One of the primary objectives in estate planning for parents of a child with special needs is to assure that the child remains qualified and eligible for government entitlement programs, while protecting the family’s assets, and the child’s inheritance, from seizure by the government as “reimbursement.”

My parents, like nearly all parents of a child with special needs, do not want my brother to rely solely upon the government to provide the level of care that they, my sister and I desire for him. The good news is that there are viable alternatives. A special form of a trust has become the appropriate and preferred estate planning document for families such as mine. Illinois law provides that such a trust established for the benefit of an individual with special needs shall not be liable to pay or reimburse the State (and by current regulations, the Social Security Administration), or any public agency for benefits received. Illinois law also provides that property, goods and services purchased or owned by such a trust for and or used by or consumed by the beneficiary, are not to be considered assets of the beneficiary.

The second type of trust “option” is commonly referred to as an OBRA or “pay-back” trust. This second form of a special needs trust is needed to preserve government benefits and still receive personal injury or medical malpractice settlements, inheritances left directly to a child with special needs, or assets already in his or her own name.

As family members we must become familiar with the laws concerning “guardianship of an adult disabled person.” Parents must also attempt to educate their “chosen” people who will act as Custodial Guardians and Trustees about the relevant laws, regulations, programs and entitlements affecting or benefiting their child with special needs, as well as about their “plans” and desires, including the estate plans.  Parents must consider the school district, “residential alternatives,” special recreation association, religious programs available to individuals with disabilities and vocational or workshop opportunities available in the vicinity of their chosen custodial guardians.

Parents must also convince grandparents and other relatives that they are not doing their “special needs” grandchild or relative any favor by treating them the same as other beneficiaries in their own wills and trusts, but that they should leave the “inheritance” to the special needs trust that parents have created for such purpose.

There are many, many other topics that a family of a child with special needs may need to consider which we plan to cover in future blog topics, including:

  • When using the newly permitted ABLE Accounts might make sense and what states currently make them available to Illinois residents.
  • If the parents are divorced and child support is being paid to an adult child with special needs, how must the child support be paid to ensure benefits are protected and what other considerations such as life insurance and health insurance even after age 26 might need to be brought up in the marital settlement agreement?
  • If one or both of the parents has a public pension such as TRS, SURS, the Judges Retirement System Pension, police pension, fire department pension, and the US Military retirement pension, among others, many are permitted to be left as a continuing annuity to a special needs trust for the benefit of an adult child with special needs for their entire lifetime so long as there are certain, sometimes very specific, provisions in the trust.
  • What if the parents need skilled nursing care and are worried they will spend all of their assets and have nothing left to leave to their child’s special needs trust? How can the special needs trust be drafted to allow the parents to use their child’s trust to qualify themselves for Medicaid to pay for their own skilled nursing care?
  • What should be in a “letter of intent” document to educate the “future team?”

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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bnrbarmjrBenjamin Rubin limits his law practice, as does the firm of Rubin Law, to Special Needs Legal and Future Planning for his fellow families of individuals with special needs. Benji serves as Vice-Chair of the American Bar Association’s Special Needs Planning Committee, is a member of both the Academy of Special Needs Planners and, by invitation, the Special Needs Alliance, the national not-for-profit association of special needs planning attorneys, is President of SIBS (Supporting Illinois Brothers and Sisters), the Illinois chapter of the national Sibling Leadership Network, which is an organization of adult siblings of individuals with intellectual disabilities, developmental Disabilities, mental illness, among other special needs, is a member of the Board of Directors of The Arc of Illinois, is a member of the Clearbrook Associate Board (Clearbrook is an agency serving over 7,000 children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, one of whom is Benji’s brother Mitchell), is a member of the SEDOL (Special Education District of Lake County) Foundation Board of Directors, and serves on the Advisory Council of Encompass a joint venture that in partnership with Jewish Child & Family Services, Jewish United Fund, JVS Chicago, JCC Chicago, Keshet, and The Center for Enriched Living and Center for Independent Futures, seeks to provide adults with I/DD a full array of financially sustainable, community-based services and supports.

Having Mitchell as a brother profoundly shaped who Benji is today, and thus the type of law he chose to practice. His personal experiences as a sibling offer a unique perspective into the responsibilities that come with caring for a sibling with special needs. Now, as an adult, those sometimes present and future responsibilities he will share with his older sister regarding his brother’s care, are a concern that he shares with all brothers and sisters of individuals with special needs.

 

Helping A Child Cope Who Has A Parent in the Military

When a family is coping with a caretaker’s absence, it can be challenging and emotional, especially when it is due to deployment and military service.  The emotions, concerns, and needs of each family are unique but here is some information on what to expect from children when one of their caretakers are away on deployment, and some information on how to answer difficult questions children may have.blog-military-main-landscape

Here are some helpful hints about what to tell your children regarding their caretaker’s deployment:

  • Emphasis that the child is not at fault in any way for the parent leaving.
  • Let the child know where the parent will be. This can help reduce some anxiety about their absence.  You can show them where it is on a map, learn about the country where they are (language, customs, etc.).   In addition,  it can be helpful to talk about the parent’s schedule when they are gone and what they will be doing when they are there.  Remember to keep that information age appropriate.
  • TALK about it! Encourage your child to talk about their feelings regarding the deployment and acknowledge that it’s okay to feel that away. A child has a right to be sad or angry about the recent change.  Also, talk about the parent who is gone.  It is important to talk about the parent to help keep their presence at home and to help the adjustment when the parent returns.
  • Limit the outside information (news, papers, movies, and internet) that the child can access about war or military action. Make sure the information they do get is accurate and age appropriate.

Each child and family is different and their reactions can have a wide range of feelings and behaviors, but here is a few common reactions children may experience when coping with a parent on deployment.

0-2 years old: One of the biggest changes for this age group will be when the caretaker returns from deployment.  It is important to allow the child to warm up to the caretaker and understand that they need to get know the parent again.

3-5 years old:  At this age, children have difficulty understanding why the caretaker had to leave.  They also may be scared that the at-home parent may leave as well.  Being consistent in their schedule prior to deployment can help them feel calm and secure.   Adjusting to life after deployment can be difficult for this age group as well.  They may feel angry at the parent for leaving.

6-12 years old:  Be on the lookout for increased aggression or behavioral issues at home or school, or physical symptoms like stomachaches or headaches.  Children who are older may want to help out more around the house and take on that parent role.  Although there are still some concerns with adjustment after deployment, children in this age group are usually excited and proud of the returning caretaker.

13-17 years old:  Teens express emotions and feelings in a wide variety of ways and that is even truer of teens coping with a parent being deployed.  Teens may want to help out more, or act indifferent to the change.  It is important to look out for behavioral or mood changes.

The most important aspect of everything discussed in this blog is COMMUNICATION.  Allow your children to discuss their feelings and let them know it is okay for them to feel the way they do.

References:

http://militarykidsconnect.dcoe.mil/parents/coping/behaviors

http://www.military.com/spouse/military-deployment/dealing-with-deployment/help-child-cope-with-parents-deployment.html

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

Social Work

Fostering Independence in Your Teens

Working with your teenage children towards growth and independence can sometimes be a tug-of-war between providing guided support and allowing the right amount of freedom. This is blog-independence-main-landscapeespecially the case when it comes to children with special needs. Recognizing that it’s important to do a little bit of both is the key to success in independence!

Here are some proactive and reactive strategies to try that will allow you to foster independence in your teens:

Proactive Strategies  

  • Determine the Current Level of Independence

By looking at the many different areas of independence, from social interactions to daily living, figuring out where your child lies is a great starting point. By doing this you set yourself and your child up for success with directly pinpointing their areas of strength and deficit. From here, you can determine what they’ll need more support with and what they can begin completing independently.

  • Model the Behavior

One of the best ways for children to learn any behavior is through imitation. By modeling what a task looks like it gives your child the exposure and opportunity to imitate it. This can range from conversation skills and socialization to completing household chores and purchasing items.

  • Set Expectations

Setting clear expectations prior to emerging independence will give your child a set of rules to follow. With this, everyone will be fully aware of what the guidelines are when it comes to added responsibilities and freedom. Involving your child in the creation of these rules allows for an added bonus of independence and control. If they understand and discuss the ‘why’ behind the rule, they’re more likely to follow it!

Reactive Strategies

  • Provide Prompts

Providing the right type and amount of prompts will allow your teen to achieve the ultimate goal of independence, if utilized in the right way. Sometimes, too many prompts can teach your child to become prompt dependent. When this occurs they rely on the prompt to complete a task or activity and independence becomes less likely. On the opposite side, not enough prompts may teach your child the incorrect way to complete a task or activity.

Trying for independence first and then utilizing least to most prompting (below) is usually a good way to start:

  1. Vocal – Direct and/or indirect statements provided vocally
  2. Gestural – Physical movements indicating desired response (e.g. pointing, nodding, etc.)
  3. Partial physical – Minimal physical guidance using a light touch
  4. Full physical – Hand over hand physical guidance
  • Provide and Ask for Feedback

Much like including your child in creating expectations, providing and asking for feedback gives them accountability and control of their own development. Providing your child with feedback throughout their learning experience allows for progress and mastery to occur faster. It takes out guessing games and gives them exact corrective and positive information regarding their own behavior. Asking for feedback allows for growth in communication and relationship development. This gives your child a chance to be the one dictating what they need more or less of from you. Be willing to listen! When the experience is collaborative, the result is long lasting.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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Who Will Take Care of our Special Needs Children When We’re Gone? Who Will Provide for Them Financially?

This guest post is from Howard N. Suss, MBA.

These are questions my wife, Zahava, and I talk about. Our son Shimmy is a spunky, lively, 15-year-old young man with both Down Syndrome and Autism. Shimmy is usually the life of the partyblog-financial-main-landscape and can make everyone in a room laugh, but also exhibits extreme behavioral issues (Thank you North Shore Pediatric Therapy, for helping us improve in that area).

About two years ago, our family (my wife and 6 kids) attended a special needs family retreat and my older kids had an “ah ha” moment when they attended a siblings presentation (this is a presentation that was given by a social worker, who herself has a 30-year-old brother with Down Syndrome). This presenter opened their eyes to the probable eventuality that one day THEY were going to have to take care of Shimmy. That wasn’t something a 20-year-old was expecting to hear.

My kids, generally, are very good with Shimmy and they work really well with him as far as providing for his needs and well being, as well as his safety. Long term, I’m not really concerned about that. What I am concerned about, and what I have been counseling clients about for over 20 years, is the financial burden that I don’t want placed on the kids when they have to step in, one day.

I have been practicing long term financial and estate planning, in general, and special needs planning in particular, for over 20 years. My company, The Suss Financial Group, is located in Skokie, Il. and we have an attorney in the office (I am not an attorney, we often work together).

My client’s number one objective is to structure a plan to provide long term income for their special needs “child” without jeopardizing government benefits, such as SSI. We work on setting aside money, on a consistent basis so that there is money for the future. This is a must for everyone, but especially for families in our situation. Things can change, but as it appears now, our Shimmy will probably not be able to earn a living and that’s why planning is so important.

There isn’t one financial solution for every family. I would recommend that you sit down with both a special needs planning attorney and a financial planner to discuss your specifics, but here are some ideas that work for clients who have family members with special needs:

  • Systematic savings for the individual with special needs either in the bank or brokerage account
  • Stocks, bonds or mutual funds
  • Private investments
  • Life insurance

Usually life insurance is the way to go, because you can provide a large sum for not a lot of money. The thought is, that the real need for funds results when mom and/or dad pass away and in most cases that’s not until much later in life. We will discuss this in more detail in a future blog.

Please remember that you really don’t want to title any assets in your kid’s name as it will affect his/her government benefits.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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Howard N. Suss is a Registered Representative of Park Avenue Securities LLC (PAS). OSJ: 2550 Compass Road Suite H, Glenview, IL 60026. 847-564-0123 Securities products offered through PAS, member FINRA, SPIC. Financial Representative of The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America® (Guardian), New York, NY. PAS is an indirect, wholly-owned subsidiary of Guardian. The Suss Financial Group is not an affiliate or subsidiary of PAS or Guardian. 2016-28772 Exp. 9/16

howard-sussHoward N. Suss, MBD, has been practicing long term financial and estate planning , in general, and special needs planning in particular, for over 20 years. His company, The Suss Financial Group, is located in Skokie, Il. Howard resides in Chicago with his wife Zahava and 6 kids (one married and 2 in college) as well as 3 younger kids at home, including Shimmy, who has both Down Syndrome and Autism.

 

Howard can be reached at:

The Suss Financial Group
8170 McCormick Blvd., Suite 102
Skokie, IL. 60076
(847) 674 9470 ext. 1, office
(847) 674 9473 fax
www.sussfinancial.com

Handling the Death of a Family Pet

Pets, be it a furry dog, fluffy cat, or bright orange fish, become honorary family members quite quickly. Dealing with the Death of a PetHave you glanced at the latest family drawing your child created at school? My guess is the family pet is in the mix. Handling the death of the family pet can be an overwhelming and emotional experience not only for parents, but for children in the family as well. Below are some ways to help your child through this difficult time:

Planning the Goodbye

Although some pet deaths are unexpected, when they are not it is important that your child be able to take part in the goodbye process in an age-appropriate way. This could include writing a goodbye letter to their furry friend or drawing their pet a picture. These activities can help with the grieving process as they allow your child to review positive memories and experiences, as well as express their feelings in a healthy way. For younger children, it may also be helpful to read children’s books addressing this topic as a jumping off point for parent-child conversations related to your pet.

Informing your Child’s Support System

Letting your child’s teachers and caregivers know about the recent passing of a pet can create a safe environment for your child to express their feelings. Children, just like adults, may seem off, irritable, or sad during these times. When adults caring for children are made aware of recent events, they can be on the lookout for these emotional changes and be more accommodating as needed.

Moving Forward After Death

Each family is different regarding their interest in continuing to care for a pet. As the grieving process unfolds it may be helpful to speak with your child about the possibility of adopting a new family pet. Although your previous pet is irreplaceable, the process of adopting a new pet can allow for your family to work together and create a caring home for a pet in need.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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How to Motivate the Unorganized Child

Executive functioning challenges can often be overlooked as children are otherwise labeled as lazy or Unorganized Childunmotivated. If a child has difficulties with executive functioning he or she may present with behaviors of avoidance, emotional outbursts, or not even acknowledging the task at hand. This is probably because they are feeling overwhelmed and do not have the foundational skills needed to problem solve through organizational tasks. Helping your child to develop these skills can support their independent success and can increase future task initiation toward personal organization.

What Can Parents Do to Help an Unorganized Child?

Support them, assist in their growth of skills, and praise any small triumph! The general idea is to have the child learn the problem solving skills required to think through tasks that are seemingly overwhelming. First you always, ALWAYS start small, then tackle bigger projects as they can manage. Then as they make achievements, don’t forget to recognize their hard work! Praise moments of follow through and self-initiated tasks with recognition and/or rewards.

5 Tips to Help Organize Their Life:

  1. Establish a place to write it all down- daily planners and a family calendar are great tools to keep track of their time.
  2. Introduce Responsibility- Create a Chore chart and a To-Do list as a family. Don’t forget to keep their age and time needed for completion of these activities in mind when choosing the appropriate task(s).
  3. Acknowledge that the time is ticking- Visual timers are great for those children who tend to take more time than necessary on simple tasks. Timers can also help to keep a child focused and engaged in the activity.
  4. Create a place for all items to have a specific home- Designate places for items and stick to it. Growing up with the golden rule  ‘Always place an item back in its original place, in its same or better condition’ may help keep the house cleaner. Utilizing organizational tools, such as visual prompts (numbering, color coding) and charts can help too.
  5. Check in- They will need a little help! Have the children show you their completed work, planner, clean space, etc. Make them feel accomplished and help them problem solve solutions to existing problems.

5 Activity Ideas to Facilitate their Organizational Skills:

  1. Tackle a junk drawer, pantry shelf, or game closet- Have them help a parent problem solve through the organization of a messy place. Starting in a small place is key so there are no overwhelming moments too big for the child. Have the child think through the task with the parent facilitating only when needed.
  2. Cook with your child- A successful meal requires significant planning, working memory, organization, and time management.  See how much they can lead the cooking activity and help when needed. This can be fun for the child while having a great learning experience!
  3. Have them set up the family’s calendar for the next week or month- Give them the tools to place all of the activities on the calendar and check their work when done. Have the child help recognize and problem solve through time conflicts.
  4. Create an annual family night with board games- Board games are great for independent thinking and problem solving. Their success within a board game can greatly depend on their ability to organize themselves and materials within the game.
  5. Assist with putting together new things- Following written or verbal directions can be very difficult. With supervision and help, have the child responsible for constructing and/or setting up new purchased items.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

Meet-With-An-Occupational-Therapist

Smart Technology Guidelines for Kids

Like it or not, our world has changed especially in the realm of digital technology and our kids are the pioneers of this new adventure. Technology guidelines are becoming more and more important. I have had parents ask if they are “bad parents” for letting their kids have screen time and I am here to tell you that: Blog-Technology Guidelines-Main-Landscape

You most certainly are not a bad parent!

Like most everything, moderation is the key to having success in building children’s much needed strength in digital technology while still keeping them involved in school, making friends, finding a talent and being an active part of the family.

Here are some easy to follow technology guidelines for families:

  1. Have family discussions about screen time and internet safety
  2. Limit screen time. Set a limit before your kids plug in and stick to it!
  3. Create rules about technology usage. Technology is a large part of how kids now socialize but they still need our help to develop the skills to think before acting. Here is a great contract to use with older kids.
  4. Be the example. Your kids will notice if you don’t walk the walk. Be aware of your own technology use and find balance in your own usage and family engagement.
  5. Have technology free zones. Two examples of having technology free zones are at meal times and bedtime. Direct your child towards content that engages them while using as many senses as possible.
  6. Approve the Apps! In 2014 there were 1.3 million apps in the Apple app store. Help your child choose apps that promote learning and create mindfulness rather than mindless play. There are tons of reviews for guidance on age appropriate/suitable content to find online! It is okay to make an unpopular decision about an app or video!
  7. Most importantly, be involved! Talk to your kids about internet safety, the family rules about technology and which apps they are choosing. Talk to your kids about what they are playing! Ask them to show you their latest creation or how they beat a level in their favorite game. The more your child feels comfortable talking with you about their technology usage the more you will know and hopefully there will be more communication and less fighting!

More Technology Guidelines Tips for Preschool Aged Children:

  • Create limits on usage and be consistent!
  • Play games and or watch together! Make sure to ask questions and have conversations about content. There are great learning and discussion opportunities to be had.

More Technology Guidelines Tips for Elementary Aged Children:

  • Kids this age are more able to download and access more, making it more difficult for parents and increasing the need for limits and increased discussion about content and meaning.
  • Filter sites and internet content, such as YouTube, using age appropriate guidelines.
  • Remember those limits that are set and stick to them.
  • Model limited use

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

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Dealing with Divorce: Creating Stability No Matter How Unstable You Might Feel

Divorce can be scary, filled with uncertainty, and will ultimately lead to a ‘new’ family structure. It is Blog-Divorce-Main-Landscapeimportant to be mindful of how uncertainty can feel to your children and to proactively take steps to create stability for your children during the divorce process.

Below are some suggestions to improve your child’s sense of stability during a divorce:

Create a Visual Calendar

As you and your family navigate the divorce process, one concern your children may have could be around their living arrangements. If your children have friends with divorced parents they may be familiar with what custody arrangements look like, however, every family is different. Early on in the process, it is important that your child understands what his or her living arrangements will look like. Moreover, one way to reduce your children’s uncertainty is to create a visual calendar for them so they know when they will be at mom or dad’s house. Involve your child in creating the calendar and making it their own by adding drawings, stickers, and favorite colors. Also, remember to update the calendar as needed – change happens and it’s important to communicate this.

Create Comfort in Both Homes

Another way to create a sense of stability is to reduce the feeling your children may have that they are living out of a backpack as they transition between parent households. One way to do this is to make sure each household has a set of your child’s essentials (i.e. daily routine items, clothing, stuffed animals, homework supplies, etc.). This can create comfort for your child as well as prevent unnecessary moments of frustration. Involve your child in this process by creating a list of needs together, then finding these items within your home or shopping together for them at the store.

Create Positive Experiences

While your child is settling into this ‘new’ family structure it is important to continue to create positive experiences. This might look like exploring new neighborhoods, finding new parks and ice cream shops – if one parent has moved to an unfamiliar area. Or creating a Wednesday night pizza tradition. Or finding a Sunday morning breakfast spot. Although learning to manage change and uncertainty is healthy and a necessary part of emotional growth, predictability can be just as helpful during times of heightened stress. Allowing your child to look forward to your new family traditions and experiences can create a sense of comfort and excitement.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

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reinforcement and punishment

How to Properly Use Reinforcement and Punishment

Reinforcement and punishment are common terms that most people have heard of and use on a daily basis, whether they realize it or not. Although the concepts seem easy to understand and implement, it can be easy to confuse the basic principles and/or implement them incorrectly.  In order to understand the difference between reinforcement and punishment, it is important to understand the definitions of both terms.

Reinforcement

reinforcement and punishment

Reinforcement is a consequence following a behavior that increases the probability that the behavior will increase in the future. The consequence can be either positive or negative.

Positive Reinforcement is something added to the consequence that will increase that particular behavior in the future.

Example: Your child cleans his room the first time you ask, so you give him  a cookie as a reward. In the future he is more likely to clean his room the first time you ask.

Negative Reinforcement is something removed from the consequence that will increase that particular behavior in the future.

Example: Students do well on their math test so the teacher doesn’t give them homework over the weekend.

Negative reinforcement is often interpreted incorrectly and becomes confused with punishment. But from the above definition and example, you can see that negative reinforcement is used to increase desired behaviors, and is not punishing in any way.

Punishment

Punishment is a consequence following a behavior that decreases the probability that a particular behavior will occur in the future. As with reinforcement, the consequences can be positive or negative.

Positive Punishment:  Something added to the consequence that will decrease a certain behavior in the future.

Example: Your child talks back to you, so you make them do extra chores.

Negative Punishment: When a consequence includes the removal of an item or privilege that will decrease the behavior in the future.

Example: Your child fails a test, so you take away their cell phone for a week.

 

Tips for using reinforcement 

  • Always be sure to only reward behaviors that you would like to strengthen and see again in the future. It is easy to inadvertently reinforce negative behaviors without realizing it (Ex: You child is crying in the grocery store because you won’t buy them candy. You eventually give in and buy them candy, so the next time they want candy in the grocery store they are going to cry). In this example the behavior of crying was positively reinforced, so that behavior will continue in the future.
  • Vary the type of reinforcement used to avoid overindulgence of a particular item or activity (i.e., if you always reward your child with candy for good behavior, they are likely to get tired of the candy and may stop engaging in the desired behavior).
  • Before choosing a reinforcer, figure out what your child is currently motivated by and use that item. Some children can be motivated by the same item for longer periods of time, and others may change their motivation more frequently.
  • Be consistent with the delivery of reinforcement in order to maintain the desired behavior.

 Tips for using punishment

  • Be sure to only punish behavior that you want to decrease. In addition to inadvertently reinforcing negative behavior, it is also possible to accidentally punish appropriate behaviors.
  • When punishing a behavior you want to decrease, always make sure you continue to reinforce appropriate behaviors.
  • If you find yourself using punishment and the behavior is not decreasing, re-evaluate the consequence and try another consequence. Also, what may be punishing to your child this week may not be punishing next week. Just as you always need to re-evaluate what reinforcers to use, you also need to re-evaluate what punishing consequences to use based on your child’s current motivation.
  • Be consistent with the delivery of consequences in order to decrease the undesired behavior.

Click here for more great tips to implement positive and negative reinforcement during play dates.