Peer pressure

Social Thinking: Improving social skills to enhance socio-emotional health

What is social thinking?

Social thinking is what we do when we interact with people. For successful social interactions, it is important that the individual take in and process information embedded in both verbal and non-verbal cues and process how to effectively respond based on the context and topic of presented material. Joint attention, knowledge of expectations regarding behavior, and mental flexibility are all key components for appropriate social relationships. When a child has difficulty with focus, understanding the context of the environment around them, and lacks knowledge of how their behaviors make others feel, social thinking may be impaired.

Social skills deficits can have profound effects on your child’s academic performance, feelings about self, ability to connect with others, and achieve desired wants and needs. Breaking down the components of the social uses of language can help children navigate their social environments and various contexts. For example, children talk differently to their siblings than they would talk to peers at school and might present their anger at mom differently than they would present to their classroom teacher. To enhance the social skills, pragmatic language and engagement in expected behaviors can be targeted by both social workers and speech-Peer pressurelanguage pathologists.

For pragmatic language development, the speech pathologist works towards child comprehension of the context and function of a message and how to use language in social situations, such as turn taking, staying on topic, and how to use verbal and non-verbal signals. In terms of enhancing social relationships, the social worker aids the child in understanding the context of their environment and provides education for impulse control, how to evaluate potential outcomes to enhance positive choice-making, and how various behaviors impact individuals around them.

What you can do at home to improve social thinking

  1. Teach expectations of behavior. If a child can begin to associate engagement in positive behaviors with positive responses from others, and overall enhanced feelings of self as the result, they can then come to recognize the impact of their behavior on others. This can foster increased positive decision-making as they begin to make connections with how their behaviors affect them and those around them. For example, if the child complies with an adult directive, the parent feels happy and may offer praise and positive attention thereby making the child feel good and reaffirms that this choice is the correct choice given the situation.
  2. Differentiate between contexts. Teach your child that what is permissible and “expected” at home may not always be the same across the board. Define what behaviors are appropriate in a variety of situations and explain to your child why these changes exist. For example, you may be able to negotiate your wants and needs at home with your parents but at school, you need to listen and follow teacher directives.
  3. Role Play Scenarios. Practice different situations that allow your child to see the implications of their behavior. Play with your child to model real-life scenarios that would elicit both positive and negative reactions to learn about the interrelation between behavior and emotion. For example, “How would you feel if Tommy took away your toys?” Asking your child how Tommy could make him feel happy or excited about spending time together can help teach appropriate decision-making and modes of interaction.


helping a child cope with loss

Helping a Child Cope with Loss

Whether your child has experienced the death of a loved one, the end of her favorite school year, or has misplaced her favorite personal item, loss can significantly affect a child and her expectations for the future. Regardless of the type of loss, the same strategies can help your child process her feelings and move forward.

3 Strategies for Helping Your Child Cope With Loss:

  1. Validate your child’s feelings. Tell your child that she can talk about anything and share her feelings; there are no right or wrong answers. You can help your child process her feelings in the moment as you notice upset reactions or by setting up “free talk” time for open discussion so she can anticipate the conversation. If the child does not feel like communicating through conversation, encourage her to draw out her feelings. This way, the parent can see how the child is processing the event.  It also gives the child a tool to use in conversation if open-ended dialogue feels threatening.
  2. Set up expectations for moving forward. When a child experiences a loss, it can be difficult for her to wrap her head around future expectations. For example, she may wonder, “If Uncle Joe died, will I die? Will Mom or Dad die?” If this concern gets brought up, you can help navigate this by framing expectations for the future to reduce anxiety and get the child back to pre-loss functioning. This can be your opportunity to add in any values or core concepts relevant to your family (i.e. religious interpretations regarding death, personal viewpoints etc.) Pre-arrange with your spouse how you would like to proceed with these tough questions to help frame the child’s expectations for moving forward. If the child experiences the loss of her favorite teacher as she progresses in school, encourage her to identify the positives and negatives inherent in that academic year to create a blueprint to measure future years. You can advise that future years may not be exactly the same but that there will be other high points to come that she is unaware of now.
  3. Engage in therapeutic letter writing. This allows the child to gain closure over situations as she composes a letter to her deceased loved one, her favorite teacher who she is leaving, or the baby blanket she left in the hotel. Provide her with fun paper and makers to compose a letter processing her feelings, what she will miss, and what she will do moving forward. This letter writing process allows the child an opportunity to still connect with her lost item or person. In the case of her teacher, she can actually give them this letter if she feels comfortable.  If not, as with the other examples, she can attach her letter to a balloon and set it free. This will help the child process her feelings and sustain connection in a symbolic and therapeutic way.

Our mental Heath team can help if a loss seems to be overwhelming your child or family.  Click here to learn more.

tips to improve your child's self esteem

Tips to Enhance Your Child’s Self Esteem

Try these tips to enhance your child’s self-esteem

Self-esteem impacts the choices we make, the company we keep, and the desire to take risks. Without a positive self-image, children run the risk of experiencing negative peer relationships, social withdrawal, and reduced confidence in their capabilities.

By adding a strengths-based vocabulary and opportunities for your child to shine, you can encourage increased motivation and positive feelings of self in your child.

Adding a strengths-based vocabulary allows you to frame your dialogue in a positive, support language.

Using words like “you could” vs. “you should” promotes a sense of control and confidence in your child’s capabilities.  Challenging your child to replace words like “can’t” with “can” gives ownership over the task and enhances the desire to try new things and enter into new situations. For example, instead of saying, “I can’t do my math, it’s too hard,” it would be better to rephrase that as, “My math is hard but I can ask for help.  I can work on my other work first that is easier, and I can try my best and continue to practice getting the correct answer.” As a parent you can encourage your child to replace her negative vocabulary with the positive.

Offer positive words of praise.

Whether your child has succeed in task or not does not matter; try to identify the positives that exist including effort that was exuded, the skills that were still acquired ( i.e. new time management skills, new friends in the process), and the success of putting herself out there to try something new. Additionally, it is important to highlight what your child’s strengths are, and continue to find outlets to let them shine. If your child is more of a creative, artistic type, enroll her in extra-curriculars that allows her to tap into her strengths. It is not to say that she should NEVER try something outside of her comfort zone, though, because through this she can learn more about herself. But it is important to provide your child with balanced opportunities to excel and grow.

The Power of Yoga for Children

Yoga has become an increasingly popular form of exercise over the past few years. So much so that on every street corner there seems to be a new yoga studio advertising a variety of classes and programs. Yoga is practiced by people of all ages and skill level. The benefits of yoga, especially for children, are countless. Below are four of the reasons children should practice yoga.

1. Motor Planning

Yoga poses vary in complexity. While your child twists and turns their body to match the pose of the group, they are creating motor plans in their brain for these movement patterns. Creating and refining these plans are what help a child to improve their overall coordination. For children just learning the practice of yoga, try to practice poses where they hold the left and right sides of their body in the same position (down dog, cat, cobra). Once your child is able to efficiently assume these poses, try a few that require them to move the left side of their body differently than their right (triangle, tree, or warrior poses).

2. Strength and Endurance

Once your child has motor planned their way into a yoga pose, encourage them to freeze in that position for a predetermined duration of time without losing their balance or dramatically swaying from side to side. As their body endurance and balance improve, increase the duration they are required to sustain the position. Holding these static poses will help to improve your child’s muscle endurance.

3. Attention

Sustaining poses for predetermined durations can also help to improve your child’s attention. Holding the same pose with a steady and still body for even three seconds may prove to be a challenge. Try to choose a duration of time for your child to hold a pose that challenges their attention but that they also have a chance to be successful in completing. Once they master the ability to hold a pose for a shorter duration of time increase the challenge by a second or two to see if they can maintain a still and focused body.

4. Social Skills

Yoga can be a challenging form of exercise but it can also be a lot of fun. Working together with friends or classmates to practice and refine yoga skills offers vast opportunities for promoting social skills including flexibility of thought to participate group classes, active listening, turn-taking, imitating and replicating group dynamics, and identifying personal role in group activities.

In the coming weeks, especially while it’s still cold outside, look into kid-friendly yoga classes in your community. If you would rather, there are also some excellent videos and yoga cards that you can use in the comfort of your own home. “The Yoga Pretzel Cards” by Tara Guber and Leah Kalish are an excellent tool for practicing yoga with really colorful illustrations for kids to practice with. No matter the way or place you choose to do yoga, remember the cardinal rules for practice: breathe in, breathe out, and namaste.


How to Encourage Your Shy Child (While Honoring Her Nature)

Do you worry about your child’s ability to socialize with friends and initiate with peers? Does your child demonstrate a shy temperament? Follow these simple strategies to encourage your shy child to improve peer relationships.

Check in with your child about her expectations.

Is your child satisfied with the state of her affairs? Does she prefer to be the quiet one in the bunch? Is she content with limited exposure with friends outside of school? Finding out what your child’s goals are is helpful to resolving your own questions as now you can better help her meet her expectations. If your goal is to have your child be the social butterfly and she is telling you she prefers not, it is up to you to reformulate your thinking about what to expect. If you still feel like it would be in her best interest to improve face time with friends, encourage her to set up plans with a friend outside of school at least once a week. She can choose the peer and the activity. This is helping facilitate necessary social skills and interactions as well as meeting both your goals. If your child wishes for more in terms of peer relationships, validate her feelings and provide solutions to help her increase peer interaction.

Role-play scenarios to increase confidence.

Setting up time to practice conversation, initiation, and self-expression in non-triggering environments will allow your child the time to practice these skills. Another fun option would be to set up your child with a more outgoing sibling, cousin, or family friend who she feels comfortable with to practice age-appropriate social skills.

Don’t push but motivate.

Before entering into social gatherings, have a conversation with your child about how she imagines this situation will go. Arm her with options that she can engage in such as a variety of questions she can ask, activities that she can initiate and self-coping strategies she can implement if she does not want to interact with people (spend time with mom, offer to help the host, watch TV, bring a book to read). Preparation and planning is key to reduce any anxiety that may occur when in social situations.

Click here to watch a short video on encouraging your child to make friends.

Relaxation Strategies for Children

How do we teach our children to relax and self-soothe in a society that is inundated with constant stimuli? How do we re-frame the evil term “boredom” into an opportunity to make peace with our inner thoughts and feelings and calm our body? Often times, even adults, need prompting to relax and take a load off.

Here are some examples of activities that both you and your children can engage in to “recharge your batteries” and face the world with a more balanced mindset:

1. Mindfulness—Easier said than done. Mindfulness is the practice of connecting the mind and body to enhance attention and focus to the task at hand.  It means living in the moment and quieting out other “noise” to focus your attention moment to moment. This is a nonjudgmental practice that incorporates all the senses to be fully present. Two of my favorite ways to practice mindfulness are when you are eating or bathing.

  • Eating. We commonly eat in transit, in front of the TV, talking with others, or while multitasking. When we don’t focus on just the act of eating we miss a lot of cues such as satiety, flavor, texture, etc. Practice mindfulness when eating. Prepare your food and sit in a quiet space. Before indulging your food notice your body cues about the food. Are you starving, craving salt, is your stomach growling. Still, before consummation, notice the color of your food, the texture of your sandwich, the way the sandwich smells. We are wanting to eat with all our senses. Take a bite. What does it taste like and smell like? How does the meat and cheese and bread feel in your mouth? How many bites does it take to swallow? What does the sandwich feel like in your stomach? You get the picture. When we focus on the experience of eating in the moment we are more attune to how we feel and our mind and body and in connection.
  • Bathing. The same can be said for bathing. Notice how the water feels on your body, the temperature, the texture. Notice the smells of the product and how it feels to massage your scalp full of shampoo. Remember, use your senses to be present in the experience and try and steer clear of other intrusive thoughts that may enter about your upcoming day.

2. Music—Music can be such a relaxing outlet but make sure that the music matches the mood that you are seeking. Kids commonly want to relax to Top 40 hits, Hip Hop, or other high energy music but this in fact does not aid in relaxation as the body will mirror the energy it is hearing. If you truly want to relax, I recommend jazz or classical in addition to natural noises provided by a sound machine (waves crashing, rain falling, rainforest, etc.). Listening to music can help kids relax in times of transition (after school before homework, after homework and before bed) or when they are emotionally triggered.

3. Deep Breathing and Muscle Relaxation—Relaxing the body and calming our breath can enhance relaxation either when someone is emotionally triggered to be upset or anxious, during transitions, or prior to upcoming stressful events. Deep breathing requires breathing in through your nose for 5 seconds, holding the breath for 5 seconds, and exhaling the breath through the mouth for 5 seconds. Repeat this 5 times. Muscle relaxation includes tightening and then releasing various muscle groups. Sit in a chair or lay down in a quiet space. Start from the bottom of the body and work your way up. Squeeze your feet and toes tightly for 10 seconds and then release. Squeeze your calves for 10 seconds and then release. Squeeze your thigh muscles for 10 seconds and then release. Continue up the body. By isolating each individual large muscle group you are calling your attention to that part of the body and scanning it to release any tension or stress. You can use these strategies when you want to relax or you can make these into habits and incorporate them into a daily routine.

Click here for 10 ways to help your child unwind before bed.

3 Tips for Knowing When to Intervene in Your Child’s Relationships

Does your job description of mom also involve the role of a referee? Knowing when to step in to your child’s conflicts is key to keep you calm and teach effective negotiation skills to your child. Picking your battles to intervene will improve your stance as an objective outlet and foster independence and direct communication for your children.

3 Tips for Intervening in Your Child’s Relationships:

1. Stay out of it.

If your child and a sibling are in a constant argument over everything, whether it be deciding what games to play, where they sit at the kitchen table, or who gets the best spot on the couch, don’t involve yourself in all situations. If you have prior knowledge that your children are frequently at odds, prevent any future upsets by setting clear expectations at the beginning of the day or the beginning of the week to prevent any conflictual situations.  For example, creating a chart or system to prescribe turn taking may prove helpful. Setting up specific days for dinner table placement or free reign of the main couch and TV may prevent future arguments. If arguing does arise, keep calm and let them work it out.

2. Be strategic about stepping in.

Place your involvement in a series of steps each child can take if other compromise, negotiation, and communication skills fail.

For example, first set up with your child the ability to compromise and negotiate (If Claire isn’t honoring Sophie’s day for the prime couch seat, encourage her to communicate her thoughts and needs in a calm tone). If this doesn’t get Claire up, Sophie can then compromise and see if her and Sophie can switch days. If nothing works, then Sophie can get mom’s attention to enforce the schedule. Having the schedule already set up takes the emotionality and subjective nature out of the argument and mom can then reinforce what was already agreed upon.

3. Don’t let it get violent.

Another time when it would be helpful for the parent to intervene in sibling relationships is if violence and physicality ensues. Create a zero tolerance policy for hitting, kicking, and other acts of behavioral outbursts that negatively impact others so as to reduce these types of reactions to non-preferable outcomes. If these behaviors should occur, creating an objective stance towards consequences reduces any emotional reactions you may have and aligns with the overall family expectations regarding this type of conflict. Intervening reinforces that this mode of communicating and behavior is not acceptable and standard responses ensue.

When to intervene with friends:

When it comes to inflexible thinking and stress between a child and their friend, when should you intervene with wise solutions to problems, separation, and termination of plans? Keep an ear out for arguing, inflexible thinking, and any stress or tension but don’t move a muscle. Intervene when your child involves you. This allows your child and their peer to work through their stressor and communicate their own thoughts and feelings accordingly. What would they do if they were not in your presence?  We need to help encourage autonomous problem solving/conflict resolution skills.

Pre-arranging with your child their boundaries and what they think they can and can’t handle during a playdate will outline effective strategies they can utilize and when your involvement may be necessary. This will take some of the guess work as to when you should intervene as your child will be aware of when it is necessary to include you. Processing appropriate conflict resolution and problem solving skills prior to a playdate will arm your child with coping mechanism to prevent or troubleshoot challenges if they should arise.

Read here for 3 strategies to communicate with your kids without yelling.

The Importance of One-on-One Time to Enhance Family Functioning

Life is busy. Time is never enough. Organization for personal affairs often feels like a game of Tetris.why one-on-one time is essential to family functioning
Despite the shortage of hours in your day, it is important to find quality time with each member of your family.  A family meal or movie works towards strengthening the overall familial system (macro level), but alone time helps foster the individual mezzo level) relationships that embody the family.
Without individual attention paid to your children, the need to seek attention can increase and maladaptive modes to gain this attention may be employed. Negative attention is the attention provided to an individual based on inappropriate means.

Top 3 Board Games to Foster Therapeutic Skill Development

Board games not only provide a cure for rainy day boredom or a source for family entertainment, but they also provide a positive and collaborative outlet in which critical thinking and interactional skills can be enhanced. Therapeutic board games are not needed to help identify and foster skills like compromise/negotiation, turn-taking, impulse control, frustration tolerance and problem-solving.  Even the most fundamental games can facilitate the integration of these key social factors. Child growth and development in the most natural of settings provides real-life applications for how to implement these skills.

Here are a few of my favorite games to help foster skill development:

Connect 4: Success in this game comes from anticipating the next person’s move and negotiating his own patterns, while also making moves that prevent the other player from achieving his pattern. Social thinking, impulse control, and frustration tolerance are essential when playing this game. Teaching your child to look not only at his own goals, but also at the potential goals of the other person, is critical to win. One strategy to improve social thinking is to also implement impulse control. Ask your child to Stop, Think, Act.  This will help foster more favorable outcomes.

At the onset of his turn, encourage your child to do the following:

  • Stop!
  • Think about his future move.
  • Think about his opponents next perceived move.
  • Act. Put his chip in.

Add a visual or written schedule to decipher the appropriate steps for each turn.  This will help foster social thinking as well.

If your child gets upset if he lost the round, encourage him to evaluate the size and severity of this problem. This is a small problem, as compared to getting bullied or falling down and hurting himself, so the reaction should be small too.  For example, “Oh well, I can try again next time.” or “It’s ok to win and lose at times.” Read more

Should I Worry About My Child’s Imaginary Friend?

One night you are leaving to take your 4 year old to the store and as the door closes, you hear your four year old scream, “Wait! Don’t close the door on Emily!” You do not see anyone else close to you and as you look into your daughters eyes, you realize for the first time that she has an imaginary friend. You think to yourself, “Why does my daughter have an imaginary friend? What should I do about it?”

Do not worry; having an imaginary friend can be a normal part of childhood development. It does not mean that your child is lonely, upset, or has problems with peers.

Many children between early childhood and adolescence have had at least one imaginary friend in their life. Imaginary friends come in all shapes and sizes. They can be an animal, a fantasy creature or another human. Your child will be able to tell you every detail about her friend. Having an imaginary friend is a child’s natural creative way to play out different experiences that she has had in her life. Read more