Girl Power!: How to Empower Middle School Girls

MIDDLE SCHOOL GIRLS. What comes to mind when you hear those words? Moody? Self-absorbed? Preoccupied with peers? I often hear parents ask, “What happened to my sweet little girl?” or “Why doesn’t she open up to me?” As a parent, you may feel frustrated, confused, or sad about your daughter’s behaviors, especially if she did not act this way before.

The transition from childhood to adolescence, marked by the shift from elementary to middle school, is a challenging time. In fact, this transition marks one of the peak times when self-esteem decreases. These “tweens” may feel caught in the middle-given more responsibilities and expectations and no longer treated like a child, yet not treated like an adult. These changes they go through in the adolescent transition can challenge their self-esteem levels-how they think and feel about themselves and how they think others perceive them.

3 Challenges to Self-Esteem:

1. Shifts in academic expectations:

Middle School introduces multiple teachers, different classes, and an increased homework load that students are responsible to juggle and middle school girlbalance. Students may struggle with these changes, which can impact how they view their intelligence and ability to succeed. If they viewed themselves as good students in elementary school, this transition can be especially challenging to their academic self-esteem.

2. Shifts in social expectations:

Middle school involves students from multiple elementary schools, and girls navigate the transition from having the same best friends in elementary school to determining which groups they belong to in middle school. With more focus on cliques and popularity, girls may feel confused, isolated, and anxious about fitting in and feeling accepted. The emphasis on who is “in” and “out” can create a heightened sense of awareness in girls about how their peers view them. With the constant shifts of what behaviors, attitudes, activities, and clothes are accepted and rejected by, girls may feel the need to reinvent themselves, which can create instabilities in self-esteem levels.

3. Shifts in physical appearance:

Middle school marks the beginning of physical changes (ex. Puberty, acne, weight and height changes, braces, glasses, etc), which can feel scary, overwhelming, and embarrassing. These uncomfortable feelings can stop girls from reaching out and discussing these changes. Because of this, it is possible for girls to feel very alone, as if they are the only ones having difficulties with these changes.

So, how do we address these challenges to girls’ self-esteem? We empower. While the adolescent transition is a challenge to self-esteem, it is also an opportunity to improve and build high self-esteem. Teaching girls tools to explore who they want to be; take care of themselves; reach out for support; and create meaningful, positive relationships can help strengthen self-esteem.

4 Tips to Address the Challenges and Empower

1. Create an open space for conversation. Girls transitioning to adolescence may feel isolated, as if they are the only ones going through difficulties. Acknowledging to your daughter, “Middle school brings lots of changes for everyone” and asking open ended questions, such as “What have you noticed that is different about middle school?” can show her that these topics are on the table. Even if she does not want to answer right away, knowing that her parents understand that changes exist can help her open up in the future.

2. Listen and provide empathy before problem solving. As a  parent, you may want to help your daughter by giving advice and problem solving. Before these steps, however, your daughter needs to feel heard. Show that you are present with your daughter by nodding, asking open-ended questions (“What happened next?” or “How did you feel?”), and checking in to make sure you understand (“So you are saying that your friend said something that made you feel embarrassed?”). Demonstrate empathy by acknowledging that she could feel this way (“I could understand why you would feel angry”), even if you disagree with her behaviors or would feel differently yourself. Once you listen and provide empathy, empower your daughter by helping her problem solve. Ask questions, such as “What do you think you should do?” and “What do you think would happen if you did that?” Problem solving can help your daughter explore what type of student, friend, sister, daughter, and person she wants to be. Guiding her through this process can help your daughter feel supported and effective, which can increase the likelihood of her opening up to you in the future.

3. Begin potentially uncomfortable conversations.  There are many conversations (peer pressure, romantic relationships, puberty, etc.) that can be potentially uncomfortable or awkward to have with your daughter. Beginning these conversations, however, is important so that your daughter knows she can talk to you about these issues. These conversations can also serve as an opportunity to discuss the importance of self-care, which can improve self-esteem levels. Bring up the conversation in a gentle, matter-of-fact way (“There are many physical changes you will be going through that can feel confusing. Let’s talk about them together”). Acknowledge, normalize, and empathize with possible discomfort and awkwardness. Beginning the conversation can show your daughter that you are there to support them through this time.

4. Create opportunities for positive relationship building.  Because girls transitioning to adolescence can feel isolated, opportunities for meaningful, positive connections are vital. This can include enhancing already-existing relationships or seeking new ones. One way to build relationships is to join a social group. North Shore Pediatric Therapy is offering a 10-week group for middle school girls to strengthen their self-esteem levels. Click here for more information.

Good Handwriting | When Should Your Child Develop Writing Skills? | Pediatric Therapy TV

Pediatric Occupational Therapist Gives Our Viewers Age Guides For When Children Should Have Legible Handwriting

In This Video You Will Learn:

  • What age children should have legible handwriting
  • What age they should have their capital letter by
  • What age they should be writing words and sentences

Video Transcript:

Announcer: From Chicago’s leading experts in pediatrics to a worldwide audience, this is Pediatric Therapy TV, where we provide experience and innovation to maximize your child’s potential. Now your host, here’s Robyn.

Robyn: Hello and welcome to Pediatric Therapy TV. I am your host, Robyn Ackerman. Today I am standing with pediatric occupational therapist Deborah Michael. Deborah, at what age would you say children should have legible handwriting?

Deborah: Children are developing at different speeds and they have different exposure to fine motor play and to handwriting. Definitely, by kindergarten they need to have their capital letters. By the beginning of first grade, they should have their lower case letters. By the end of first grade they should be writing words, and by second grade we want sentences. Now, having legible handwriting does not mean that the actual spelling will be correct. Children use inventive spelling and you need to give them time to get their correct spelling.

Robyn: Great. Thank you, Deborah, and thank you to our viewers. And remember, keep on blossoming.

Announcer: This has been Pediatric Therapy TV, where we bring peace of mind to your family with the best in educational programming. To subscribe to our broadcast, read our blogs, or learn more, visit our website at

Five Tips to Help Your Child Use the Internet Safely

With recent advances in internet technology, we are able to communicate readily and quickly with long-distance friends and relatives; find information through search engines that connect us to multiple sources; and even have access to engaging, child-friendly websites that assist in teaching! The internet also presents possible dangers, however, and parents may find themselves wondering how to balance supporting their child’s access to the benefits internet provides, while ensuring her internet safety.

Below are five tips to help maintain this balance.

1. Set clear guidelines about internet use privileges

  • Explain to your child that internet use is a privilege that can be taken away if used in unsafe ways. Ask your child what websites she wants to use to confirm their appropriateness. Be sure to emphasize that this is tgirl on computer with parentso keep your child safe.
  • Decide on rules for internet use (ex. Time limit, purpose, days of the week, which sites are acceptable/not acceptable, etc.) and post them in a place where everyone in the family can see. You can have both common and separate rules for parents and children to show your child that internet safety is important for everyone.
  • Review the rules as a family and sign them as an agreement to commit to fun, appropriate, safe internet use.

2. Talk to your child about the potential dangers and benefits of the internet

  • Warn your child about the dangers of giving out personal information (name, age, birthdate, school, address, phone number, etc) on the internet and give her safe options for when she faces situations that ask for personal information. For example, “We cannot give out personal information to people we do not know because we do not know if they are safe. If a website asks for personal information, do not give it and tell mom or dad. If any person you do not know emails/Facebook messages/IMs/etc you, the first thing I want you to do is tell mom or dad so we can figure out a plan to be safe.”
  • Keep explanations age-appropriate and give enough information to be clear, but not too much information to provoke anxiety or fear. For example, “There are people or websites on the internet that can try to trick or hurt people. So when we are on a website or hear from someone we do not know, we have to be careful.”
  • Discuss cyber-bullying with your child. Ask if your child knows anyone who makes mean comments to other children on the internet or if it has ever happened to her. Let her know that if someone chooses to bully her online, it is not her fault and that she should report it to you so you can keep her safe. For more information about cyber-bullying, click here.
  • Talk about the fact that statements and information your child puts on the internet cannot be revoked. Although the internet seems more anonymous, teach your child not to write anything online to someone that she would be embarrassed to say in real life.
  • Talk also about the benefits of the internet to teach the difference between fun, appropriate internet use and dangerous internet use. Together, you can come up with a list of safe and non-safe uses and post them by the computer to remind your child of your conversation. You can also introduce your child to new, fun, interactive child-friendly websites that she can use.

3. Monitor internet use

  • Contact your internet provider for safeguard features so that you can protect your child from graphic, inappropriate material.
  • Put your computer in the family room or some public place in your home so that you can easily check in with your child about her internet use.

4. Join with your child in her internet use

  • Support and praise safe internet use by learning about your child’s favorite websites. Visit these websites together to learn about what your child enjoys. Visiting these websites can also help you to determine possible dangers to discuss with your child.

5. Create an open, safe space for your child to talk about any issues or concerns she faces during internet use

  • Emphasize to your child that your goal is to make sure she is safe and that if anything happens that makes her feel scared, confused, or upset online, she can talk to you.
  • Let your child know that you can problem solve together when something potentially unsafe happens on the internet.
  • Talk with your child in an open way by listening to her opinions and encouraging questions so that she feels comfortable and understood.

What are some of your family’s internet rules that have helped keep everyone safe? Please share with us!


8 Tips to Help Your Child Gain Control of His/Her Emotions

Many people, both adults and children, have difficulties dealing with emotions. Parents sometimes struggle with helping their children appropriately express their feelings. Taking the time and energy to teach children how to manage their feelings is extremely important and beneficial for children. There are several advantages that children can gain from being able to control their emotions. Some possible advantages are: paying better attention, being more likely to appropriately interact with others, and being less likely to act on impulse. Below are 8 tips that can help you teach your child how to gain control of their emotions.

Tips To Help Your Child Control Their EmotionsGirl Crying

  1. Talk about emotions/feelings. Make sure your child understands all the different kinds of emotions he can feel. Talk about what kind of behaviors and facial expressions might come from different emotions. In addition, when he is expressing different emotions, talk about why he is feeling this way and exhibiting certain behaviors.
  2. Be able to recognize how others feel. Your child also needs to know how to read the feelings/emotions of others. By being able to read the facial expressions and body language of others, your child can recognize how others are feeling and get a better understanding on how to interact with those individuals. This in turn can help him build more meaningful and beneficial relationships.
  3. Identify coping strategies. Help your child identify different coping strategies that he can utilize when he needs to gain control. Your child should know that it is possible for people to lose control; however, there should be different coping strategies in place to help them regain control. It is important to make sure that you identify appropriate coping strategies for your child because each child is different and will need different techniques to help them calm down. Some coping strategy suggestions that might be useful to your child are: listening to music, coloring/drawing, going to a quiet area, squeezing a stress ball or stuffed animal, blowing bubbles, drinking a glass of cold water, etc..
  4. Write stories. Once you have distinguished different triggers that can result in your child losing control as well as the proper coping strategies he/she can use to help regain control, sitdown and write a story together. In the story, you want to write out the things that upset your child and the different actions and coping strategies he/she uses to help him/her calm down. Read and discuss these stories on a daily basis, as well as, before a certain situation or activity might take place that usually upsets your child.
  5. Catch him in control. When your child maintains control, provide verbal praise. You want to make sure that your child receives the praise and credit he/she deserves for appropriately handling an upsetting situation.
  6. Coach him if out of control. If your child does not use his/her coping strategies to help them calm down and regain control, be sure to coach him and provide feedback. Do not start coaching or providing feedback until your child is calm. It will not help anyone if you try to immediately coach and give feedback when your child is upset and not in control. Once calm, your child will be able to think more clearly and will be able to rationalize what could have been a more appropriate way to handle the situation.
  7. Practice makes perfect. Use role-play to help your child work through different upsetting situations. By practicing and talking about different upsetting situations that could possibly happen, it can help your child be prepared to deal with future upset. Try to let your child independently provide as much information about what he/she would do in the different situations, before you offer help and guidance.
  8. Lead by example. Children learn a lot from others and are very quick to pickup and mimic behaviors, either good or bad, that they have seen exhibited by others. Be a good role model and practice what you preach. We are human and get upset, but you need to try to be aware of your coping strategies and utilize them to maintain control.


Stranger Danger: Teaching Your Children to be Safe

Teaching children about “stranger danger” is about teaching the possible dangers they may face as they are out in the world. But, this is not as simple as saying, “Don’t talk to strangers.” I tell children that it is safe to talk to strangers when they are with a grownup they know (such as when a child is with Mom at the Stranger at parkgrocery store and the nice older woman asks what her name is).

We need to teach our children to be functionally weary of strangers. It’s important that your children feel confident rather than fearful. Having information will help them know what to do rather than being afraid if a stranger approaches them.


Educating children on good vs. bad strangers

Kids should be taught that not all people they don’t know are dangerous. They need to know the difference between “good strangers” and “bad strangers”. They should know that there really are more good people than bad. Sometimes, kids may need to approach a stranger for help. They may get lost in a store and need help finding you. Teach your children about the best possible stranger to approach for help.

When in public, a good rule of thumb is to teach children to ask an employee (who is easily identified by a uniform or name badge). If your child cannot find an employee, or is not lost in a store, he is better off approaching a woman for help. Although female predators exist, they are less common than male predators. Also, approaching a mom with children is usually a good bet.

Ploys by Predators and What to Do

Some strangers can be persuasive. Tell your children that adults don’t usually need help from a child. It makes more sense for them to ask another adult for directions, finding a lost pet, etc. Children should be taught to never go anywhere with an adult they don’t know.

Predators can be sneaky. They may tell your child that he is a friend of yours and you sent him to pick up your child. Or, the predator may tell your child that you have been injured or are sick and the child has to come with the predator to come see you.

What to tell your child if you can’t pick him up:

  • Explain to your child that you will never send anyone he doesn’t know to pick him up. Tell him if anyone says otherwise, the person is lying and he should get away from the stranger as fast as he can.
  • If you don’t have a group of trusted people who could pick up your child in an emergency, choose a password that you will give to the person picking up your child. The password should be something important to your family that would be difficult for a stranger to guess.
  • Tell your child never to go with anyone who doesn’t know the password and change the password after each use.

9 Stranger Danger Tips to Teach Your Children

1. Know your name, address, and phone number (this will help if the child needs help from the police to get home or contact you).

2. Never walk anywhere alone (this is great for older kids too).

3. Trust your instincts. If you feel you are being followed or something is not right, find help right away.

4. If a stranger approaches you, you do not have to speak to him.

5. Never approach a stranger in a motor vehicle. Just keep walking.

6. Do not accept candy or other “presents” from a stranger.

7. Never walk off with a stranger no matter what!

8. If someone is following you, try to remember the license plate of the vehicle and tell a trusted adult right away.

9. If a stranger grabs you, do anything you can to stop him from pulling you away or dragging you into his car. Drop to the ground, kick, hit, bite, and scream. Get the attention of others who can help you. Scream out, “This is not my dad,” or “this is not my mom!”


*North Shore Pediatric Therapy, Inc. (NSPT) intends for responses to the blogs to provide general educational information to the readership of this website; all content and answers to questions should not be understood to be specific advice intended for any particular individual(s).  Questions submitted to this blog are not guaranteed to receive responses.  No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by NSPT  to people submitting questions.  Always consult with your health professional first before initiating or changing any aspect of your treatment regimen.

Helping Your Child Plan and Organize Their Daily Lives

The start of school brings many changes with children’s daily lives. Children must be able to transition between subjects, organizing their work, sitting at home, and independently taking the initiative to do their homework and monitor their own productivity. These above behaviors all fall under the label of “executive functioning.”

homework with mom and daughterMany children are able to complete these tasks and behaviors independently; however, a large portion of children also struggle with one or more of the behaviors and tasks. As a result, many children benefit from strategies to help develop their organization, planning, problem solving, time management, and monitoring of their work.

Parents vs. Children on Homework Assignments

As a psychologist, I often have parents inform me about constant battles that they have with their children to complete daily homework assignments. Specifically, parents often report to me that their children will do anything but start their homework (surfing the internet, texting friends from their cell phones, or watching television/playing video games).

Two major executive functioning tasks are involved with the child’s ability to complete daily homework: Initiation of action and time management. Children who demonstrate issues with their ability to complete daily homework benefit from strategies and interventions that target their ability to start and complete their work in a timely fashion.

Tips to help children complete daily homework:

  • Developing a daily “Need to” (homework, chores) and “Want to” (baseball practice, dance lessons, video game time) list of tasks
  • Prioritizing the list with estimated time requirements for each task
  • Verbally and physically prompting your child before starting each task by (e.g., “John, what is the next thing we should do?” while tapping him on the shoulder)
  • Positively reinforcing all self-initiating tasks by giving praise when your child starts a project on his/her own

Dealing With Your Child’s Forgetfulness About Assignments

Another major area of concern I hear from parents is that although their children are able to actually complete the work, they struggle with their organizational skills and will either forget about the assignments or lose the work between home and school. As a result of the difficulties with organization, all children benefit from strategies to improve this area of functioning.

Strategies that have proven to be effective with the development of a child’s organization include:

  • Structuring and scheduling designated ‘study time’ as part of your child’s daily routine.
  • Completing homework in a central location away from distracters including television, computer, telephone, and other people who might be disruptive.
  • Creating time-lines for long-term projects, breaking tasks down into basic elements with separate due dates for each task.
  • Discussing homework expectations with their teacher to determine the recommended amount of study time.

With the start of school, we want to help children be as organized as possible and ready to complete daily homework in a timely fashion. Following the above strategies and developing some of your own will ensure that your child will be more organized and less stressed!

How Social Groups Can Help Your Child Navigate Friendships

Making friends involves an array of complex skills, from taking turns, to initiating interactions, considering others’ perspectives, negotiating, problem-solving, repairingKids Group communication breakdowns, and being flexible. For many children, these skills can be incredibly challenging, often resulting in difficulty with making friends.

What are the benefits of social groups?

Social groups are designed to help children develop and practice social skills in a supportive therapeutic setting. Many children lack the necessary skills to navigate peer relationships. Social group therapy directly teaches and practices any specific social skills a child may be struggling with. For example, research has documented that children with language-impairments often have difficulty verbally initiating peer interactions. Research has also well-documented that social group therapy can increase verbal initiation for children with language impairments. Social groups have also been found to improve skills such as:

• Greetings

• Nonverbal communication (e.g. understanding facial expressions)

• Turn-taking

• Cooperative play

• Dealing with confrontation and rejection

• Flexibility and sharing

• Initiating and joining in play

• Building confidence with peers

• Listening to others

• Problem-solving and negotiation

• Verbally communicating with peers

Should my child attend a social group?

Your child should attend a social group if you have any concerns with their ability to interact with peers. Additionally, social groups can also be a proactive way to prepare your child for social settings ahead of time. For example, a “kindergarten-readiness group” is an excellent way to encourage your child’s social skills prior to the first day of school.

Here are a few indicators that your child may benefit from a social group:

• Your child’s teacher often reports difficulties interacting with peers at school

• Your child seems to avoid interacting with other children

• You notice frequent conflicts during play dates or interactions with other kids

• Your child feels afraid or refuses to attend social gatherings (e.g. play-dates, birthday parties)

• Your child has difficulty being flexible during play activities (e.g. sharing others’ ideas, winning or loosing)

• Your child has difficulty joining in play or initiating interactions with other kids

• Your child uses physical actions instead of words to communicate with others (e.g. grabs a toy instead of asking, pushes others instead of verbalizing how they feel)

• Your child has had less opportunities to interact with age-matched peers

Last but not least, trust your intuition. If you are worried about your child’s ability to navigate friendships, then consider signing your child up for a social group. Contact a licensed therapist with questions or concerns to gain more information about whether or not your child may benefit from social group therapy. Social groups can also be an excellent way to prepare your child for school or camp ahead of time.

What is the next step?

If you think your child may benefit from a social group, contact our Family Child Advocate who can answer your questions and connect you with a licensed therapist. For more information, click the Social Skills button below:

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How To Help Your Child Adjust To A New Routine, Classmates Or Classroom

We all know children respond best to routine and schedules, but it is also very important to teach your child to be flexible with change. Throughout a child’s life they will be placed in new situations and they will frequently find themselves having to change their routine and schedules, there is no avoiding it! There are ways to make it easier for your child so they can adjust to change and learn to be flexible.

Tips to Help Your Child Adjust to a New Routine

The Earlier the Better:

Start introducing your child to change as soon as you can! The more exposure they have to it, the better equipped they will be at handling it appropriately and effectively. If your child is used to change, it won’t be a big deal when it occurs in everyday life.

Plan For Positive Changes:

Pair changes with good outcomes as frequently as you can! You want to make sure you don’t allow your child to think that change results in a negative outcome. Create changes from time to time so your child is used to it and make sure that the change results in something that may be more fun or exciting. As much as we wish this were always the case, there will be times you have no control and that is why it is important to create situations that allow change to be a good thing, rather than a bad. This way if there happens to be a situation that leads to a negative outcome your child won’t always correlate change with bad.

Create Schedules:

Always create a schedule with them that emphasizes exactly what their new routine or schedule will look like. This allows the child to know in advance what they will be doing and reduces some of the anxiety they may be feeling of not knowing.

Plan New Play-dates:

If your child is meeting new classmates, create a little get together in advance so your child has the chance to meet them in a comfortable, familiar setting such as their home or a familiar park. This again will reduce some anxiety of meeting new people in a new place. The idea is to familiarize your child with as much as you can in a comfortable setting to avoid overwhelming them too much.

Visit The School:

If your child is going to a new classroom, set up visits to the school so they can visit the classroom and teacher a few times before school starts. This will familiarize him with the school and classroom so they can focus on making new friends, rather than learning where they are.

Practice New Routines:

If you are changing a routine, walk through all of the steps involved in the routine ahead of time so your child is prepared. For example, if your child is going to start taking the school bus as their routine to go to school, set them on a schedule to be ready for the bus a week before school starts and practice with them what it will be like to take the bus. For example, review where the bus will pick your child up, drop them off, etc. This will create a sense of comfort for your child to know what the expectations are in the new routine. If necessary, create a little checklist for your child that consists of each step in the routine. This will increase their independence with the routine as well as their confidence in completing it.